“C.J. likes you.”
I can hear my friend Scott saying those words to me like it was yesterday. It was the first time a boy I liked actually liked me back. I was twelve years old and ecstatic to be having my first boyfriend.
It was two whole weeks of bliss. Our courtship consisted of an umpteen number of one-on-one basketball games, excursions together on our skateboards, and one date to Burger King — the meal being paid for by C.J. who had proudly told me to order whatever I wanted because he was loaded. (He had five dollars. I ordered a small hamburger and a small drink.)
And then it ended. “C.J. wants to break-up with you because he has to go back to California soon,” said my friend, Scott. I was crushed. It was bad enough to be dumped, but to have Scott do the dumping for him? I did the only thing I could. I ran home to dad.
Through the tears, sniffles and hiccups I gasped out my story. My dad hugged me and told me it would be okay. Then he said . . . “Unfortunately, honey, this won’t be the last time this happens to you.” I couldn’t believe my ears. This is what I got for a pep talk? My father telling me I’d grow up to be a loser who would constantly be dumped by boys?
Of course, my father didn’t mean that at all. Being the straightforward, bottom-line Army officer that he was, he knew the odds were I’d be dumped a couple more times in my life, and he wanted me to be prepared for the realities of dating. While I would have relationships that were sweet, I would also have some that weren’t ideal, fraught with all the angst of adolescence at its worst.
Life has followed the same pattern. Many of my days are filled with joy and laughter, but too many are also filled with pain and grief and struggles, whether my own or those of people whom I care about and love.
As I’ve worked through some of the “bad” times, several different pieces have emerged from my psyche. Maybe some of them will resonate with you.
A couple of years ago a dear friend called to tell me that she had lost the baby she was carrying in her womb. Since I have had two babies of my own die in utero, my heart broke for her as we cried together. Later that day, I was given an assignment to write a letter which told a story, and the below was the result.
The Car Song
I cried for the last time today. Probably not forever “last time” but at least for now. My heart still aches with the longing of what’s not to be, but I heard a song today that sealed the tears. Country western, of course.
I had been sitting in my car with the younger two, waiting at the bus stop. Since we were five minutes early, like always, the children had asked if they could listen to the radio. I had put it on, thankful for this gift from God, the opportunity to simply sit in blissful numbness, a relief from the forced cheeriness I’ve had to exude for the children’s sake.
The car was a mess, of course, worse than it’s normal state, so I made some attempt to clean up. Wrappers, mostly granola bar ones, littered the floor of the mini-van. Steve had taken dance and softball duty this week while I was in the hospital, so presumably these had been the kids’ snacks.
I wouldn’t have minded so much about the wrappers, but the not quite empty juices boxes, sticky from half-sipped straws almost did me in. Thankfully, the bus pulled up just then, and I had to hurry to get the children and their backpacks out of the car and into the bus.
As I was settling back into the driver’s seat, my lumbar cushion toppled over, and I had to straighten it behind me. As I leaned to the side closest to the door and it’s inside speaker, I heard the song.
A man was crooning about all that makes life real, and for some reason I was mesmerized by what he was singing. Suddenly instead of the sand-dotted floor mats, I saw the cemetary. Instead of the musty sweet smell of juice, I inhaled the scent of the cut grass around the grave. Instead of the crunching tires rushing past, I heard the birds that sang so beautifully at the funeral.
It was real, so very real, and I began to cry. I mean, really cry. I cried with all the brokenness of my heart, as I’ve needed to all week. Heavy, suffocating sobs, the type that make your chest heave.
And it was good, so very good, because it was so real, just like you were real. Are so real.
Always remember: Mommy loves you, Samantha.
I’m convinced a friend of mine had to have been born under a most horrible star. In all the years I’ve known her, it’s just been one bad break after another. Recently as we spoke after a long time of absence, she related everything which had happened in an eight month period, and I couldn’t help but think of those soap operas people get hooked on. It was just unbelievable to think about all she had been enduring. As I tried to work my head around it later, the below poem was the result.
These Lives We Lead
There was a gentleman once,
his last name, Spafford; his first, Horatio,
Who penned a song, It is Well with My Soul,
in the midst of his own tragic woe.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 had ruined him financially
and left him broke.
He sent his daughters and wife ahead to Europe,
not knowing the pain it would evoke.
The sailing ship hit another and sank too quickly
for his daughters to be saved.
His wife survived and sent a note:
“Saved alone” was all she engraved.
As he travelled to meet his grieving spouse,
over the spot of their deaths he sailed.
As grief warred with faith, haunting words he wrote,
to show that hope still prevailed.
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
I thought of these words as you shared the year’s struggles
over which you had no control.
A serious accident, wounding one of your children;
a freak storm damaging the house;
the children grieving deaths of young friends;
an opportunity for work meaning separation from your spouse;
taking your brother’s sister’s children into your care
after she tried to end her life in despair;
new cars being totaled;
and a rare illness sapping your strength and might:
I wondered how God expected you to bear up
under burdens so heavy, not at all light.
You must have read my mind because you asked
that question we often say,
“Just what is it that God expects me to reap
and come out with at the end of day?”
When the hardships and difficulties have finally ceased,
and we’re on the other end,
are there really lessons and truths we’ve learned
which only suffering can extend?
Why can’t our lives be sunshine and blue skies
and peace all the time?
If God is so good, why does tragedy continue
to mar the sublime?
There are both many answers and none at all
to questions such as these.
The words that we rationally speak
so very rarely affect the emotional unease.
But I wonder at our experience, that knowledge
we hold in our hearts alone.
Aren’t there truths about this life
which we know to be sown?
To learn how to love, you need to be shown love;
to be able to forgive, you must know what it’s like to be forgiven;
compassionate natures are bred by kindhearted souls;
mercy is taught by folks who are mercifully driven.
If we never experienced suffering,
whether physical, mental or heartache,
could we ever truly learn
to be empathetic for another’s sake?
Could we fully embrace
those moments of great joy
if we’ve had no sad moments
as a contrast to employ?
What about attaining peace and strength,
growing in character and perseverance?
Experience teaches that during the struggles
is when these traits gain coherence.
Would I have been able to cry
with my friend who was in pain
if the grief of losing my own babies
hadn’t been a part of my own life’s refrain?
Would that young woman
who needed to know that life can go on
received such care from me if
my own depression I’d not undergone?
How about the girl who wanted
nothing more than to escape
from a life she deemed now over
because of what happened, that horrible rape?
Would she have completed college
and married a wonderful man
if God hadn’t put me into her life
at just the right time, according to plan?
A once or twice occurrence,
maybe I could explain away,
but when time after time
shared experience saves the day,
I have to wonder whether
there isn’t truth to the thought
that it’s through the struggles in life
where goodness can be caught
if we remember in those times of pain
that God does indeed take heed
and works in both the good and the bad
of these lives we lead.
A couple of years ago, we experienced several deaths in both our extended family and friends’ circle. As I wrestled with the sadness and thought about my own life, I wrote about an important choice I had made which has helped me through all the difficult times in my life.
The Chosen Road
A poem by a man named Frost illustrates the made decision
to walk a path less travelled, a road with little precision.
As I dwelt upon the journey I have taken,
I realized that my chosen road is no less mistaken;
not a way where no step had yet trodden,
but a winding passage, a trail with people sodden.
I had elected to embark upon an expedition
where walking alone was not my supposition;
instead, I would choose those twists and turns
which led me to people with all their concerns:
an unknown woman, crying heartbroken in a pew;
a stranger on the bus, seeing life askew;
that I helped them in their need is only part of the tale;
in the years since, they have encouraged me full-scale.
Even as I sought to aid those around me,
into my life have come others meant to be:
the parents, siblings and extended family relations,
who for me have made many, many accommodations.
the age-old friends with whom my life would be incomplete,
having walked with me through the good and the indiscreet;
the high school teachers who touched my heart,
recognizing there was more to me than just being smart;
the InterVarsity staff, church pastors and team,
through whom God has spoken about many a theme;
the husband and children for whom I express gratitude
to my God who continues to bless, despite sinful attitude;
the folks who have become family, though of no relation,
simply because they’ve loved me and my family, to our great elation;
friends from those college years, difficult as they were,
whom my insecurity and antics did not deter.
There are women who are older than I,
to whom I turn for experiential supply.
There are folks whom I know, compared to me quite young,
for whom the words I speak are a mothering tongue.
There are my breakfast and lunch groups of friends,
upon whom my day to day sanity depends.
There are those whom I meet through the children, directing and school,
who over time become more than an acquaintance pool.
There are many who attend my and Tim’s classes and Bible studies,
who over the years have become our buddies.
There are my neighbors, now quite a queue,
for whom I am grateful that they are tried and true.
Several people have remained and followed my course;
for wisdom and care, they are my source;
but others have come and gone, their time quite fleeting,
touching my life significantly, though only one meeting.
Old connections have become renewed,
proving that lapsed time doesn’t friendship preclude.
New people have come into my life, filled with much wit,
whom I have been delighted to find are a great writer’s fit.
For some of my friends, there was an instant connection;
despite very little in common, great-sized affection.
With many, the relationships deepened into the sublime,
only through our commitment of regular time.
Still with others, they touched me most through their death,
as I realized the “more” I should have done before their last breath.
The road I have followed has not always been smooth,
Choosing to live with people does not constantly soothe.
There are those times when they simply drive me mad,
because common sense and reason seem not to be had.
There are times when I wonder about my decision,
scorning the path I am walking with great derision.
“Why do I purposely put myself through the heartache?”
“Have we really met at this time at this moment simply for my sake?”
Travelling a road riddled with folks
is sometimes a choice I need to coax;
because being with people means sharing who I am,
letting them see beyond the sham.
Opening up to people means learning to accept
and forsaking those ungodly judgments kept;
but I think of the alternative, hiking the trail alone,
having no one to aid if I trip and am thrown.
If picking a road less travelled the difference makes,
is it a disastrous journey which community forsakes?
I consider losing that delight at sharing an occurence
which brings laughter with each remembered recurrence.
I ponder whether as a person I can even grow,
if there were no one to challenge my status quo.
Every person I’ve encountered along the way
has added delight (and sometimes angst) to my life’s soiree;
but regardless of part, I know this to be true:
I would be different if another path I had gone through.
My chosen road continues to be a people-filled journey,
because only through their touch can I truly be me.
Through their reflection of my actions toward them,
my thoughts about myself truly stem.
I can see myself as God wants me to,
as someone who needs continual transforming anew.
As the years move forward, and I look back,
I can see how I’ve changed, how He’s filled the lack.
Faith, joy, peace and hope; all have been sowed,
through my journey along this chosen road.
A few years ago, I was slated to speak to a group of Christian women about the topic of “suffering”. Over the course of several hours, I presented on various points, but the one that seemed to strike the women most was the mini-talk about God’s presence. I’m including it here for anyone who might find it relevant.
HE IS WITH US
The Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, “God with us.” ISAIAH 7:14
In the Bible in the book of Isaiah chapter seven, King Ahaz, the king of Judah, is told by the Prophet Isaiah to pick a sign as God’s assurance that Judah will not be conquered by Aram and Israel, and that Aram and Israel will, in fact, be destroyed themselves by Assyria. Ahaz, however, refuses to choose a sign, so the Lord gives Ahaz a sign of His own choosing.
The Lord tells Ahaz that the sign will be the birth of a child whose name will mean, “God with us.” The sign the Lord decides to give is not something which will point to His power or provision – both of which Ahaz and we, too, would like to see in our times of struggle – but something which assures Ahaz of His presence. I can’t help but wonder why. What is so important about God’s being with us in times of suffering.
In 1959 Harry Harlow, a psychologist, did a series of experiments using orphan monkeys and “mothers” made out of either wire or terry cloth. The wire “mothers” provided nourishment to the baby monkeys, while the terry cloth “mothers” only gave the comfort of soft, warm cloth. Harlow discovered that in the event of a frightening experience, the baby monkeys went running to the “mother” who provided them with a degree of comfort, rather than to the “mother” who provided for their needs.
We, too, have a similar need for comfort in our times of distress. When my children are frightened, they call out for mommy and daddy to be with them. It’s our presence that is a comfort to them. When my husband and I are struggling with hardship, we are comforted by the fact that we are going through the crisis together and not alone. Very often we receive phone calls from friends who want our presence after they’ve received bad news.
I believe God knows this about us, and in our times of distress He promises us what we need – the comfort of Him being with us and helping us through our trials. He assures us that we are never alone in our suffering.
In Matthew 28 when Jesus is leaving His disciples to ascend to heaven, He commands them to go into the world, making disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching what He’s taught them. We know from the book of Acts and the biblical Epistles that Jesus’ command to His disciples was not without its share of suffering. So it’s significant that Jesus’ last words to them don’t end with the command but rather with “and surely I am with you always to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).”
Jesus promises the disciples that in the midst of everything they will do for Him and suffer for Him as His servants that He will be with them. They will indeed suffer much, but they will never be alone.
And I believe God makes that same promise to us today – “I am with you to the very end of the age.” Troubles will come. Hardship will be a significant part of our lives at times. We will suffer on occasion. But into each of these situations, the Lord of the universe – more powerful than any being, more capable of providing for our needs than anyone else, most able to comfort us in times of need – assures us that He is indeed with us.
In John 14:26, Jesus tells His disciples, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Even as Jesus prepares His disciples for His physical leave of them, He assures them that they will not be without the presence of God. The third party to the Trinity will now be with them, even as the Father has been with the Israelites since Abraham and as He, the Son, has been with them in the flesh. He is not leaving them without support or guidance. The Holy Spirit will support them by reminding them of all that Jesus has spoken to them and will also guide them with teaching in all things.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit is with those of us who believe. We are told in the book of Ephesians chapter 1 verse 13 that once we believe in Christ we are marked in Christ with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. This promised Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (1 John 5:6) and lives in us and helps us to guard the teachings of Jesus in our lives (2 Timothy 1:14). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God who helps us to understand what God has freely given to us (1 Corinthians 2:12); and if we do not know what to pray the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26). God the Father, Jesus the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have united together to make sure that we are never alone at any point in our lives, especially in our times of struggle.
In the book of Titus chapter 3 verse 8 we are told that the words spoken in verses 4-7 are a trustworthy saying about the work of God the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Let us see what that trustworthy saying is by reading Titus 3:3-7 together and reflecting upon the following questions:
1. What was our state before we were saved (vs. 3)?
2. What three words are used in verses 4-5 to describe the work God the Savior did for us? What is not the reason He saved us?
3. What part did the Holy Spirit play in saving us (vs. 5)? What images come to mind when you think of rebirth and renewal?
4. What part did Jesus have in saving us (vs.6)? What is your reaction to God having so generously poured out on us? Can you see the intricacy of God’s plan for our salvation?
5. What four things are we assured of through this amazing work of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (vs.7)?
6. Let’s use the next few moments to thank God for His plan of salvation which essentially was His plan to bring His presence into our lives.