Pain, an Invitation to Hope

I’m compelled by the beauty of those who have walked down broken pathways but still lift their eyes to a horizon of hope before them. I’m compelled by the people that have shaped their scars into stories that tell of a merciful, loving, compassionate God in the midst of a weary and broken world. Their light humbles me, because it shines the light of a love that’s far greater than anything life could hand us. It’s something grown, something tended, and something far greater than anything we stumble upon. Yes, it’s far more than that, it’s something formed.

Pain changes things. Even more, pain changes how we see things. Pain, I’m learning, can be the greatest invitation to hope that we’ve ever received. Pain is loud and its presence cannot be overlooked, but it’s amazing the way it responds to hope. Pain doesn’t scream and shout in the midst of hope, it speaks kindly of a healing and redemption and love. Pain heals when it meets hope. Pain isn’t the completion of things, pain isn’t the end of the story. I see it in the light of those who walk through dark valleys but know they’re only passing through. I see it in the light of those who are not afraid when the winds and waves rush through their lives, for they know that love can never be shaken or taken or diluted. I see it in the people who use their scars as invitations to others with fresh wounds, letting them know that healing exists even in the midst of brokenness and pain. Pain, I’ve found, isn’t always lifted this side of heaven. But pain is never useless. It’s not the pain itself so much as the way it’s shaped our stories. It’s not the pain we feel so much as the lessons and the growth and the healing that it opens us up into. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising that some of the greatest fruits –compassion, and forgiveness, and love, and hope—are the things that are not found, but grown. They’re rare because of the process we must grow them through. I’ve found that heartache and loss and sickness and grief don’t stop there, they grow to become empathy, and compassion, and love, and gentleness, and patience, and understanding, and generosity, and selflessness, if only we let them. And when you stumble upon a person who lets them, my goodness, they will take your breath away. You will be knocked off of your feet in the midst of their beauty, because they are shining the beauty of our Lord.

Hope and a Future {Coffee for Your Heart}

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Today Holley’s Coffee for Your Heart writing prompt was about encouragement that our hearts need to hear. It’s so sweet and so special to me that as I sat to write a post about hope for a future, Holley’s post was on the very same thing. With such special timing I can’t help but pause and savor the sweetness of the moments God reminds us we never walk alone.

Today I’m reminded that we must fight to keep our eyes before us, always waiting with a gracious hope that believes in the light even when it only flickers from a distance. Today I’m reminded that we must look to the horizon instead of the raging waters. There is a bright future beyond a gloomy place; there is a hope beyond this aching. It’s easy to believe that things will always be this way, but today is fresh and new and leading us to a place that once again blossoms. Today may look an awful lot like yesterday, but it’s brand new and even if it frightens us to the core, we can bravely look at the day unfolding and say with faith, This is the day that the Lord has made, and I believe He will fill it with the wonders of His love.
He draws near to us with tenderness and compassion, in the aching and in the unfolding. Though we may not see how, there is a future full of hope and full of love unfolding for us day by day. May we find the courage to believe this today and always.

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When You Feel You’ve Exhausted The Search of a Cure

Have you ever been graced with a sweet moment of companionship within a Bible story? A moment where the story relates to you so deeply you feel as if God was speaking to you through it? It’s such a lovely kind of moment. A sense of awe wraps your heart as your souls relaxes into the peace of His presence. A few weeks ago, I had one of those moments. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the tale, but Mark shares a few special details that melted my heart. Let me share:

A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition. (Mark 5:25-29)

As the story continues, Jesus turns around in the crowd in search of the woman. When they meet, he tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

Do you ever feel like this woman? Going from doctor to doctor, trying medicine after medicine and remedy after remedy, trying diets and herbs and supplements, traveling to specialists, having lists of tests, but never finding a cure? I find this story deeply encouraging for a few reasons and I hope you will, too. This woman is certainly an inspirational testament of faith, as she has suffered for many years yet still kept hopeful and faithful, even among disappointments. But another beautiful thing is that God’s love is so transforming that it doesn’t matter how complicated or hopeless our diseases seem this side of heaven, He can cure each of them instantly. He didn’t give this woman a form to fill out about her symptoms and ask her about her diagnosis. He sure didn’t need to do that! She believed, He loved, and healing came at once. It certainly doesn’t mean we should stop trying our treatments, because surely He can use those for His good, too! But it does mean that even if we try and try and nothing seems to help, it’s never hopeless, for He will come again and all pain and sorrow will fall away. So we take our supplements and try our treatments and see our doctors and trust that healing can come in any way, but we know that even if it takes longer than we expected, we’re drawing nearer and nearer each and every day.

Week 4: It’s Okay to Rest; It’s Okay to Need Care

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. ~1 Peter 5:7

In her book, “You’re Already Amazing”, Holley Gerth dedicates a chapter to why it’s okay for us to care for ourselves. She gives us permission to release the lie that “it’s selfish to care for ourselves” and instead, guides us to the truth that we need to care for ourselves so that we have the inner resources to care for those around us. She gives us the imagery of an “emotional bank account” and talks about how it’s so important to balance our deposits and withdrawals. I find her simple explanation so refreshing. It clicks in the way that lights up the eyes and an understanding “ohhhh!” escapes the lips (or, the more comical light-bulb flicking on above the head). When I took time to reflect on this, I noticed just how out of sync my “balance” was, and I fear that you may find the same. It is so easy to overextend our energy balance when each movement costs us valuable energy, but in a way, it is such a powerful little reminder about prioritizing, simplifying, and accepting the here and now so we can return to a state of balance.

I believe, with such joy, that spending time with Christ with an open heart and surrendered spirit leads to us finding true balance. He’s the God of radiant redemption. It’s time to let Him gently take off our masks that say, “I’m fine” and “I should be able to do more”, to let Him lovingly draw near to us and intimately look into the face of His child. Let Him see your authentic soul, He longs to. He knows you need care, and He isn’t disappointed. There is no shame in Christ. No guilt, no earning, no striving, and no condemnation. Especially not for the weak, for it’s the weak He came to rescue (Mark 2:17). We believe many lies that steal our rest and joy, and I believe this deeply saddens our Lord. Our all-loving Jesus knows just how to cleanse us from these lies. He knows how to help us see that it’s not selfish to rest (Matthew 11:28). He knows we don’t need to “do more” because He has already accomplished the true victory (Romans 5:6). He knows how to help us stop striving to please others so vigorously that it leaves us empty (Galatians 1:10-11), and He knows how to fill us up again (John 16:26). He knows how to remove our doubts, insecurities, and anxieties and replace them with peace (John 14:27). And the most beautiful thing He knows how to do is simply to care for you (Luke 12:6-7). I pray that you will let speak truth into your life and spread peace throughout your soul.

{If you’d like to read the original post 5 Truths Your Heart Needs to be Reminded, please click here!)

Week Two: Your Pain is Significant

As we wake in the morning, open our eyes to the sunshine peaking through the cracks of the blinds, and are embraced by a fresh new day, it doesn’t take long for pain to slip in. You may awaken beaming with hope and feel your soul dancing with joy, but somehow, pain still creeps into the shadows. There are so very many ways it can. Maybe it’s aches all over your body, crashing as strongly today as they did the day before. Or maybe it’s the tender wounds that a broken relationship inflicted on your heart. Perhaps it’s the loneliness in the midst of a loss you haven’t been able to fill. If none of these things, perhaps what you feel is the exhaustion of being downtrodden by emotions that you’ve battled day in and day out–feeling oppressed by their weight and conquered by their power. No matter what you feel or how deeply it’s affected your heart, these pains are so very real, and they matter. These pains may have stolen your gaze and slipped lies into your heart. They may have taken the serenity of the morning and twisted it into the sorrow of mourning. There is such a vast sea of sorrow, and yet, every drop of it matters.

These words may look like a small statement to offer such a big wound; somewhat like a band-aid offered to a life-threatening wound. But please don’t let the simplicity of this statement fool you; these words have a great power to them. Neatly packed within that statement are two beautiful, strong, soothing, and inspiring truths. Will you take a closer look with me as we unpack them, one by one?

The first garment of truth is comforting and cozy and just what it sounds like: your pain is noticed; your pain matters. You may have grown used to your pain. You may have accepted it as a companion, even though you’ve longed to be freed from it. But there is still hope, and there is still peace, and there is still freedom for each and every one of your wounds. Your pain matters. If you’ve felt it for an hour or you’ve felt it for many years, it’s still a terrible pain that you do not have to simply adjust to and overlook. It matters. You don’t have to hide it or push through it. You can show your heart, your wounds, your tears, and your desire for restoration. You do not have to be ashamed; not ashamed in front of God or in front of me, because we both understand what pain feels like.

In Psalm 56, as David cries out to God, he shares a verse that roots the truth that our pain is significant. He says:

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

God pays special attention to us. He sees your tears, your sorrows, your pain, your worries, your doubts, and all those broken pieces you’re trying to put back together. He doesn’t simply see them, but comes along side you and offers His comfort, understanding, and redemption. This means that He knows not only the wounds, but how to heal them, and how to protect you from worsening them. As we open our precious Bibles, we are introduced to a God who was involved with and empathetic toward His children in every pain and sorrow. He’s a rescuer and a comforter. Please allow Him to come along side you, to cleanse your wounds and tenderly wipe the tears away from your eyes. Allow Him to tell you that He has a plan and a purpose for you, and you don’t have to hopelessly endure pain. He is with you. Allow Him to talk to you about your pain and to bring you His rest. He longs to be near you and share this burden with you. He doesn’t want you to try to bear this on your own; He longs to be your faithful companion.

The second garment of truth is bold and graceful and has deep meaning. This truth is that your pain has purpose. Pain itself is a terrible, awful, and entirely dreadful thing, but we learn a great deal from it. It isn’t the pain itself that is so significant as what it teaches us and how we let it form us. It’s not the fact that we need pain, but that we need the lessons that pain sobers us to. Pain reveals a divine hope that is independent of earthly comfort. When we let go of earthly safety nets, here are a few of the lessons and virtues we learn and grow in: gratitude, mercy, empathy, true friendship and companionship, patience, endurance, healing, hope, redemption, compassion, appreciation, depth, deliverance, purpose, joy, faith.

If you’re stuck in the midst of sorrow, wondering how pain and heartache can shape your heart and soul into something more beautiful than it was before this grief every touched you, let me remind you of how sweet little snowflakes are formed. As the rain falls down from the sky–that gloomy, formless rain slipping from grey clouds–the bitter air touches it. The bitterness stills each and every motion of that falling drop of water. The drop stretches and falls and the bitterness freezes its every motion into a masterpiece. And that’s certainly what a snowflake is, a piece of irreplaceable art that is tiny in size yet immense in God’s craftsmanship. And these lovely snowflakes are never the same, but always unique. The form, the artistry, the beauty, and the unique design of every little snowflake is a direct result of the bitterness it came through to fall upon your shoulder, stick to your coat, and bring a smile to your face.

So take heart, and be courageous, because God even redeems the rain. And as the sweet, beautiful snow reflects the sunlight, so His love shines upon us.

{If you’d like to read the original post 5 Truths Your Heart Needs to be Reminded, please click here!)

When Loss is Gain

A few weeks ago, one of my closest friends and I went on a tiny adventure to a church in a neighboring town. It was a night of worship and a message for college aged kids, and the large and lovely church was filled to the brim with twenty-somethings. The summer series had just begun, and it was all about Godly relationships.

The speakers were a married couple, and they spoke about the significance of self-sacrificial relationships. Kemper began with the example of a fuse; the component of a structure that is designed to fail so that the rest of the machine doesn’t. He spoke about how when an overwhelming electrical current hits, the fuse is designed to take that current so that the other parts of the mechanism don’t have to. The fuse gives itself up, by design, for the sake of the machine. He then turned this example to us and spoke about how we need to let go of certain parts of ourselves for the sake of our relationships. Both he and Laura were careful to explain that we need to be attentive to what we are willing to sacrifice. We need to let go of the negatives, not the positives. We need to let go of the things that hinder God’s glory in the relationship, not make decisions just to please the other person. I couldn’t have worded it any more beautifully and cleverly as they did that night. Their words deeply touched my heart. The truth was so refreshing; so soothing. It’s stayed with me, and it’s reached toward other parts of my life, as well. Because I can’t help but think that if we need to let go of negative things like selfishness, fears, and control to have graceful, nurtured, and healthy relationships with others (and we know we do!), don’t we need to do the same for our own well-being, too?

It may seem to be a strange question. How can we be selfless, for the sake of ourselves? But let’s put it another way:

“…Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” ~Hebrews 12:1

Because when the stress hits, and the choices come, and the days ache, what are we releasing and what are we gripping? Because, my dear friend, if we are clenching our pride and we are releasing our peace, we really must reconsider our choice. What is it that hinders, that so easily entangles us? Are we willing to let go?

Are we willing to let go of the fear of the unknown, so that we can hold on our faith in our unfailing, all-loving Christ?

Are we willing to let go of our prideful desire to do everything ourselves, so that we can accept the grace and hospitality of others?

Are we willing to let go of trying to accomplish tasks we know we are not well enough to, so that we can spare ourselves energy much needed for the things we can do?

Are we willing to let go of the lies that we are incapable, so that we can rejoice over our accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem?

I pray that our view of our relationships and ourselves would be refreshed with the gentle and powerful reminder. We are designed with a vast, intimate potential for intentional, faithful, redeemed relationships and that comes from letting ourselves be freed from all the lies that have stood in the way. This starts in our own hearts. Let us be kinder to ourselves today.

May I ask you this: what are you willing to give up today? And what will you gain when you lose it?

(If you would like to learn more about the message I referenced, please view the “Vintage Ministries” podcast: Love and Nunchuck’s #2 by Kemper and Laura Lewis.)