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The Book Thief
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
On Gold Mountain
Bread & Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
City of Tranquil Light: A Novel
The Distant Land of My Father
The Paris Wife
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Fall of Giants
World Without End
A Stolen Life
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
The Pillars of the Earth
Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation
The Road
Trials of the Earth: The Autobiography of Mary Hamilton
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal
Cutting for Stone

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Entries in grief (2)


joy & pain

In August I visited my friend Val and her mother, Cheryl. This post is dedicated to them.The thing about joy is that it is compatible with pain. 

This past Thursday, the earthly army of believers lost a valiant warrior. Cheryl Mong, mother of my dear friend Val Schubert, went home to the arms of her Savior. She battled fiercely for the Kingdom, for her family, and finally against breast cancer. We surely feel the loss. I would like to dedicate this post to her. She lived a life worthy of the gospel. Her life testified to the fact that pain and joy can reside in the same tabernacle. 

I am aware that a great many in the body are hurting, suffering. I have to suppress a cringe when I hear some good-natured Christian exclaim “it was so God!” when something turned out exactly right for her. Haven’t we all had seasons where things didn’t “work out” as we had planned? And can’t we say that God’s grace was upon us during it?

I went through just such a season of unraveling after our return from Honduras.

Often I felt that my brokenness was not welcome in church. In all fairness, our pastors teach correctly on brokenness and pain. We do not hear a prosperity gospel. Nonetheless, I perceived that “there was no room in the Inn” for my suffering and pain. I watched video stories touting larger than life images of lives given away, healed from bondage, stretched and molded.  God had come through for them.

Yet I could not reconcile that with my experience of giving my life away and finding myself beaten up and mauled. Nobody wanted to see my story on the 40x40 video screen. I know other stories of heartbreak. I will share a few. A young man goes to Mexico to be a missionary and becomes so distraught with the suffering of children that he begins to starve himself to death surviving on one tomato a day. He loses his faith and to this day is an atheist. A missionary couple leaves medical practices and head to South America. They decide to return home because their children are not doing well. Thirty days later he walks away from his family and his faith. Another couple prays for years about adoption and decides God has called them to it. They invest over $25,000 to rescue a baby from an overseas orphanage. The government shuts down the adoption program for no good reason. They never see their money again or the baby God seemingly had called them to. It happens. People walk into situations/ministries that they believe God has called them into and the house falls in around them. Marriages over. Friendships destroyed. Children abused or abandoned. Ministries lost. Lives changed often appearing to be ruined.

Lest we feel like square pegs in round holes, look at Hebrews.  Our forefathers “were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” Hebrews 11:35-38.

Lewis Smedes said something like this: The true test of joy’s integrity is this: is it compatible with pain? Only the heart that hurts has a right to joy. 

Sometimes pain invades our lives and takes our breath away. We don’t often talk about it at church, that life often doesn’t work out as planned - the elephant in the sanctuary. There are times when this Christian life does not look so great. In fact, life sucks. This colloquialism is biblically accurate. 

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33. 

I just want to admit that often my life does not follow the four point plan I had. Whose does? Babies die. Father’s get colon cancer. Marriages fail. Children are sexually abused. Tribulation. Hell yeah, and how. When he says, “take heart!” It’s not take two verses and call me in the morning. It is this: take courage, be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. He has won! 

My cheer comes from knowing that one day - like Cheryl - I will see Him face to face. He is far, far angrier about evil than I am. He will end it one day in a lake of burning sulfur.  He will wipe every one of my tears away! He is my shield and my very great reward. 


And yet it may happen in these the most desperate trials of our human existence that beyond any rational explanation, we may feel a nail-scarred hand clutching ours. The tragedy radically alters the direction of our lives, but in our vulnerability and defenselessness we experience the power of Jesus in His present risenness. 

Apart from the risen Christ we live in a world without meaning, a world of shifting phenomena, a world of death, danger, and darkness. A world of inexplicable futility. Nothing is interconnected. Nothing is worth doing for nothing endures. It is all sound and fury with no ultimate significance.

The dark riddle of life is illuminated in Jesus; the meaning, purpose, and goal of everything that happens to us, and the way to make it all count can be learned only from the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

Living in the awareness of the risen Christ is not a trivial pursuit for the bored and lonely or a defense mechanism enabling us to cope with the stress and sorrow of life. It is the key that unlocks the door to grasping the meaning of existence. All day and every day we are being reshaped into the image of Christ. Everything that happens to us is designed to this end.  - Brennan Manning


remembering Honduras

On the day we left our home of four years, the gravel crunched beneath our feet and I felt as if the Earth may fall away. The children lined up on the road at Rancho Ebenezer snailing their way to school on the first day back. We rounded the first bend in the steep dirt road to be greeted by two oxen pulling a cart and a Honduran man with a staff mumbling out commands only oxen understand. The man tipped his hat at us as the oxen seemed to imitate him with their horns. They saluted us goodbye. 

I memorized the road. The house with the geranium in a coffee tin stood as a reminder of my first trip down this mountain some 6 years earlier. The Honduran people had impacted me, changed me, with their easy smiles, gentle demeanor and determined generosity. On that trip we had inched down the road in a pick-up truck. Hondurans give pick-up a whole new meaning. When our load maxed out at around 20 people hanging off the sides and packed inside, we stopped and picked up four more walkers. The Hondurans smiled, scooched over and never uttered a word of complaint. The geranium house came to symbolize this people for me. They can do a lot with a little and smile the whole while. 

I swallowed hard and nodded goodbye to the pulpería (a small “corner” market) and the tears fell as my heart filled up with love. The soccer field across the street served as a local gathering spot. Just down the mountain, the health clinic and middle school buzzed with activity. We reached our top speed of 25 and hit the pavement a short while later. A fog of pollution and smoke hung over the city. I scanned the skyline and begged my brain to take it all in.

The crowded airport air hung around us like robes. Typical of the culture, the pseudo-line had dissolved into complete chaos. A short man with a belt-buckle the size of Texas pressed against my back. His breath on my neck was hotter than the sun. We held onto our boys and I tried not to wail out loud. My fingers read their faces like Braille. 

The crowd swallowed us up like a giant ameba and we had to let them go. The grief I felt was far heavier than Samuel in my arms.

The crowd pressed into a semi-circle around one doorway. Someone started shouting for us to let a disabled woman through. I remember looking on in a daze as the allegedly handicapped woman walked closely behind a man waving a walker over his head. 

Someone near me, an official I think, began yelling that I was getting high blood pressure and had a baby and needed passage. I might faint, he said, if they did not let me through. The crowd parted like so much Red Sea. Pressing forward in a stupor, I crossed the threshold of the security door with Sam (9 months) and Joshua (5). Matt and Matthew stayed with the crowd and the carry-on luggage. I located the correct gate and bee-lined it to the nearest window. I could not silence nor soften the sobs that wracked through my body. My forehead rested on the floor-to-ceiling-glass pane that separated me from the country I had grown to love and from my children. Desperately, I searched the parking lot below. I wanted one last glimpse of them. 

I felt a presence beside me. It was the woman of the walker. However, now she leaned on it and invaded my personal space. I was too emotional to notice and before I knew what hit me she enfolded me in some of the largest, warmest, most welcome arms I have ever been hugged by. I blubbered out some of my story and she comforted me with words I do not now remember. It had something to do with God’s timing and His sovereignty. Truth. I recognized it. Her words were right and healing and spoken with such kind compassion they did not sound cliché. She held me for a while – me and Sam with Joshua close by. I needed the words but mostly the arms. Finally, I looked up to see Matt and Matthew struggling like beasts of burden to the gate. He joined me at the window and we scanned to and fro. No sight of our boys. We boarded the plane and began our long journey away from Honduras and the children we loved.

While my family and I waited at the baggage carousel in Miami, I spotted the supposed handicapped angel. As I looked on incredulously, she heaved a giant trunk off the conveyor belt with the apparent ease of a wrestler. Was she handicapped? Had she experienced a miraculous healing? Was she a fraud? Was she a mirage? I do not know. All I know is that she was God’s perfect provision at the perfect time. 

Four years later to the day, I sit in profound awe of how He has provided perfectly for us. Often, I have questioned his timing. Lord, now? Or you want me to do what? Why? At times, the darkness of grief has enveloped me and I wondered if God was with me. On this side of it, four years later, I can say that He is true to His word. He never left me nor forsook me. 

I am grateful for the way Honduras changed me. I learned many lessons at the feet of Hondurans. One is the relevance of time. Another is the value of relationships. How to greet someone. How to hug. How to pray. How to serve. How to love. 

I went to Honduras to love Hondurans and yet their love profoundly changed me.