Fall Into Jesus

Grief reminds us that life is broken and sorrow reminds us that we are not whole.

But we do not fall into despair. We fall into Jesus.

We grieve hard and long. We mourn deeply and cry long. We feel the loss as close as the skin stretched tight over bone.

Our faces are wet with something akin to rain and seas.

We remember and it cuts like a sword. We stare at dark ceilings and the years roll over our hearts like rivers in springtime.

But we do not stop at the ceiling. Instead, we pour out our hearts to our Father and Friend who is even closer than the ceiling and our own skin pulled tight.

Our hearts break. We hurt like we are going to die. And then we are afraid we will forever live like we are dying.

Yet, one day, we will realize that we are really dying to live. And because of Jesus we will live again.

We go through days and weeks and months that feel like all is dark, all is silence, all is loss.

We will doubt ourselves. We will doubt everything we ever did. And we will doubt the goodness of God himself.

Words will flow from our wounded hearts like November winds—pointed yet empty. We will hurt people because we hurt.

Our sorrows will burst out of their bandages at the strangest of times. The oddest of things will remind us that we are not healed. Not yet.

Not fully until Jesus comes back.

Sleep will haunt us or consume us. Music will choke our throats. More memories of something else. Something we wanted to forget.

But God is with us…

We will hear unhelpful things, hurtful things, hateful things. Hurting people hurt people.

We will be broken yet greater and cut still deeper.

We will doubt love. We will question the effort 1 Corinthians 13 calls for. We will be tempted to never love again.

We will dump buckets of pieces of our broken hearts at Jesus’ feet and ask him why it hurts so much.

He will again remind us of how greatly and deeply he loved us then and how greatly and deeply he loves us still.

Gospel.

We will not fall into despair. Instead, again, we will fall into Jesus.

And in his broken hands, our broken hearts will realize that we will be okay.

Sea billows will roll over our souls, but because of Jesus, it will be well with our souls.

Maybe not fully today or tomorrow or even next year but One Day. On that day, all sorrow will be crushed under the feet of the One whose Presence is the very fullness of joy itself.

Beauty from ashes. Joy in place of sorrow. All comfort for all mourning.

We do not fall into despair. Instead, we fall into Jesus.

Safe.

Whole.

 

 

Dandelions

 

One can either see them as hideous, nuisance weeds or one can choose to see them as flowers the color of sun and hope. Either they are pepper shakers of seeds that will cause more problems in future years or they are vessels for a thousand wishes to be carried off in the wind.

During my couple weeks off between semesters, I was able to spend much time in prayer and reflection on the previous months. And either they can be viewed as a series of hard days or they can be viewed as the means God used to bring me to this very place. I will not say that I’ve always seen the past months and years as a blessing—far from it on many days. But through it all, I deeply believe that Jesus does all things well (Mark 7:37). Even the things that hurt. And sometimes especially the things that hurt.

My heart and soul are at peace that my time simply ran out. I have no other way to describe it except to say that the sand in the glass finished falling, the track ran out of blacktop, and ashes were all that remained of the fire. In some ways I burned out, in other ways God called me out. In both ways, he was speaking to me. Both were a gift even if they didn’t both look that way at the time.

Though I may not be done with the after effects of the past, it is with deep gratitude that I look back and see that Jesus has led me all this way, even when I couldn’t see him, feel him, or hear him. He is my salvation, and it is with joy that I draw from that well—the one with living water that will never run out (Isaiah 12:2; 55:1, John 7:37).

God was very kind and brought some precious people into my life to walk this journey with me. I have not gone alone. Their prayers, care, grace, and encouragement were the sweet gifts of a compassionate God. Because of these people, I know more of grace now than I ever did before this year. And to these people who embodied this grace of Jesus in ways I neither expected nor deserved—I am forever grateful.

Along with gratitude for the faithfulness of God in this past season, I look forward to this next year with joy. Joy does not erase all sorrows or heal all hurts, but there is a deeper joy in Jesus that goes far below the past and present circumstances of life (Psalm 16:11).

There is much joy at returning to school. Joy in learning more about Jesus to love him more. Joy in the rejoicing of being with family and friends. Joy in delighting in the little things—bugs dancing on the water, lilacs outside the window, owls crying in the trees at night. Joy in both old and new relationships. Joy in a church that feels like coming home every week. Joy in the full, precious, beautiful gospel. Joy in the majesty, grace, and sovereignty of our Savior King. So much joy.

In this next year of life, I long to more fully see the past grace that brought me to this place in the same light as the dandelions in the field behind my apartment. Beautiful. Immensely so.

The Day In Between

In between the day we remember Jesus dying a brutal death on the cross and the day he rose from the dead, we have this day of silence. It was a day of brokenness, deep sorrow, and heavy questions. Outwardly, it looked like the devil had won. Wrapped in soft linen, Jesus’ body was buried in a tomb. He had not taken himself off the cross, he had not called down an army of angels, and he had not even yelled insults from the rough tree. Instead, offering forgiveness to his killers, he simply placed his spirit in his Father’s hands and died.

To Jesus’ followers, it probably looked like everything had come to a close. For Peter, it was likely a day of deep anguish and shame. For the other disciples, it surely carried much grief and loss. The acrid tastes of extreme emptiness, inconsolable sorrow, and unending questions would have been nearly too much to bear. Simply put, it was a hard day.

In pondering that day of in-between, two things stand out:

From the ashes, beauty will rise

In the aftermath of Good Friday, it looked like all was lost. Hopeless. Death was still king. Could anything good come from so much bad?

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. (1 Cor. 15:20a)

From the ashes of death and loss, Jesus broke in. In the strength of the undefeated King he truly is, he smashed Death into the ground. From the horribleness of Friday, hope rose with the Son of God.

Even when our situations in life tell us that nothing good could come from the wreckage, we are not without hope. We may be crushed, but we are not in despair. We may be dying to live, but because of Jesus, live we will. We may be broken beyond recognition, but we are not destroyed. We may be utterly forsaken, but we are never alone. In great sorrow, but still rejoicing (2 Cor. 4:8-18; 6:4-10).

Having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Cor. 6:10)

Because of Jesus, we have everything. These trials and the smoldering ashes they leave behind are working in us an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). One day, we won’t even think of mentioning the great suffering and sorrow we experienced down here, because it will seem so very, very small and weightless compared to the greatness of being with Jesus.

Everything is held in sovereign hands

There is a great assurance to be had in knowing that nothing will fall into our lives that has not already been sifted through the sovereign, gracious hands of God. No sickness, no pain, no loss, no death, no nothing has ever taken God by surprise. And nothing ever will.

Even when that day before Jesus rose looked hopeless, God still had it.

Death did not have a hold on Jesus, because God was always in control. He is the one who calms storms, commands seas to give up their dead and raises the dead, tells the number of the stars, knows every hair on our heads, counts every tear on our faces, and brings forth the seasons in his time (Mark 4:39-41, Rev. 20:13, John 11, Ps. 147:4, Luke 12:7, Ps. 56:8, Job 38). This is our God.

I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. (Psalm 135:6)

In his sovereignty, God saw the days and times of our lives long before we ever took our first breaths, dreamed our first dreams, and cried our first tears. How precious it is to know that the very hands that were nailed to a tree for each one of our sins are the very same hands that created us from dust and will sustain us until we are with Jesus forever.

Even on that middle day, when things looked hopeless, God was still reigning. Jesus would rise. Death did not win. And even in our middle days (or years), when things appear hopeless to us, God is still reigning. Sovereign hands of infinite kindness hold each of our moments and will safely bring us home to Jesus.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Tim. 4:18)

The Greatest Grief

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Heart Butte, MT

A year ago, my family gathered for a quiet graveside service to remember the life of my grandpa. The wind was strong, the harmonicas were beautiful, the memories were precious, and the time together was all of that and then some. It was too early for flowers to poke up in the earth, too cold for buds to pop out on the wet trees, too soon for life to completely cover emptiness.

We grieved together, prayed together, and continued to live life together. In some ways, grief was a kind friend in pointing our eyes to Christ, the one who smashed death when he died on the cross. The one life that mattered most died like all of us will someday. But the one grave that mattered most of all turned up empty three days later. This one empty tomb gives hope that all graves will burst open with shouts of praise to the death-conquering One.

In all of life, we grieve. We grieve for losses large and small—relationships, jobs, health, a life we never had, and thousands of other things that break our hearts. We mourn over loss of physical life. We cry when dust returns to dust, when death drops our beloved friends and family members into the open hands of the Savior who died for them and us. We grieve as people who loved well and lost hard. We lament the loss of life cut off too soon. Simply put, we cry a lot and often in the course of a simple life.

But as much as life breaks us when death snatches our believing friends away, there is a greater grief than this.

In the course of the past couple weeks, two people who made an impact on my life died. Both people hardened by the pain of life and steeped in bitterness and seclusion. Broken people who desperately needed Jesus. God knows their final moments, but from all appearances, both of them died without believing, trusting in, and clinging to Jesus.

And that is the greatest grief. These are deaths to grieve deeply over. These are deaths that break our hearts in hard ways. But these are also deaths that should drive us into the arms of Jesus, with hearts overflowing in gratitude that he loved us first, commanded our spiritually dead corpses to breathe, and saved us from living a life and dying a death without him.

Because I cannot imagine a life without Jesus, it is a great pain to think of people having lived their entire lives cut off from the one who is what life is all about. It moves me to tears to think about people spending every waking moment and every sleeping breath not realizing that they are missing out on something immensely precious. And it should break our hearts that people we know and people we don’t are living and dying without a love so strong, so rich, so beautiful.

We grieve often and we grieve a lot. And well we should. Along with Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb, we should be outraged at death. We should let death upset us. We should be indignant that the sickness of sin sucks the God-given breath of life right out of our friends and acquaintances.

And we should be brokenhearted that there is an answer to death but so many souls die without knowing that this answer has a name—Jesus.

This is the greatest grief.

Bittersweet: God is Working in Our Pain for Our Benefit

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Over the span of four days, I slowly read the story of Jesus and Lazarus in John 11. This story is heavy on emotion and relationship and life in and after death. But the thing that really got my attention this week was Jesus’ statement to his disciples: “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (v. 14-15).

This verse used to make me cringe, as it seemed nearly heartless. After Jesus purposely chose to wait two more days so Lazarus would be good and dead, he follows that action by saying this?

On our own, we do not see this as a helpful sentence from Jesus. Many times, our broken, sad hearts think that what would be the most beneficial for us would be for Jesus to take our advice and fix things—exactly as we tell him would be best for us. We don’t necessarily care about the big picture when we are so consumed with just trying to make the pain stop. And oftentimes we think that Jesus must not see or care.

And we miss glory. Our tear-glazed eyes cannot see beyond our own lashes. We don’t always see and value that God is working in our lives to bring glory to himself (v. 4). Nor do we always understand why he often uses the trials in our lives to bring more glory to his name.

But not only does God allow and use pain and loss to bring glory to his Son, he also allows and uses pain and loss for our benefit—ultimately, our belief in him (v. 15, 26). Jesus places great value on belief, faith, and trust in himself and he will do whatever it takes to strengthen our belief in him (Mark 9:23-24, John 14:1, John 20:29).

Jesus is not a heartless or powerless God. On the contrary, in his great love and care of his followers, he pours into our lives the very things we need to deepen our trust in him. The heart-wrenching pain, sorrow, or suffering we experience were never meant to be an end in themselves. This “momentary affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17) is meant to drive us into the arms of the one who has loved us with an everlasting, faithful love (Jer. 31:3); and in this great love, ordained for us the very days, times, and seasons of our lives (Eph. 4:1, Ps. 31:15, Ps. 139:16). Our hearts and lives are safe with him.

Even when we cannot yet see what he is doing in our lives, Jesus is working for his glory and our faith in him. The suffering, loss, and deaths we experience are not wasted, nor are they the result of an unkind or weak God. Rather, our very lives are held in the hands that were wounded for us, to bring us to God.
(Is. 53:5, 1 Pet. 3:18).

As with everything he does, for his glory and our belief in him, Jesus does all things well (Mark 7:37).

Bittersweet: Write to Live

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Bittersweet. Over three years ago, I wrote a post with that title. At that time, I was in the middle of a transition like nothing else I had ever experienced before. New job, new church, new ministry opportunities, new home (actually, I had to move in with my dad for two months, as I was in between apartments—thanks, Dad), no longer using the degree I was paying off…generally everything I counted comfortable and certain from the previous few years had been turned upside down.

During those months, Father God loved me in a way I hadn’t fully experienced before. I was confident in his call on my life, but was as uncertain as the wind on just about everything else. For my birthday that fall, my older sister gifted me with a book that spoke to and held my heart in that season. She gave me Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way.

At the same time that I was reading Bittersweet, I was also seeing my counselor who not only helped me walk through the transitions but faithfully pointed me to Jesus in the process. I remember this one cloudy Thursday morning in particular. In between our chairs was a globe of the world and outside the rain-streaked window were lots of car lights. People going places. I felt stuck on something.

My counselor was reading my journal entries from the previous week, when he just stopped, looked up at me and asked a question I have hung onto ever since, “Rach, who are you when it’s just you and Jesus?”

That was something I thought about for a very long time—and something I still think about. Weeks later, I was able to tell him that my truest self is who I am on the pages of my journals. The prayers, the stories, the thoughts, the memories on those pages are the realest reflection of my relationship with Jesus.

In response to my answer to his question, he simply told me, “Write. Rachel, write often and much. Put it all down on these pages and pour out your heart to God.”

Over the years, I have continued to pour out the depths of my soul in tight, black letters of ink and smudgy tear spots. And over the years, I have also come to the realization that in some sense, my very life depends on writing. I write to feel, to understand, to live. I write because the deepest places of my heart need Jesus the most. And when the prayers and cries of my heart find their way onto paper, their verbal counterparts seem to be pulled from my lips in audible words to Jesus.

Sometimes, I get too busy, too tired, or too sad to write. Sometimes, I have no energy to give words to the dark, deep places of my soul. But in this bittersweet season of change, I have been compelled to once again take my counselor’s advice from several years ago and simply write.

Write to live. Or rather, write because I desperately need Jesus, because Jesus is life itself.

A Broken Song

img_0634A few years ago, a beautiful song was written that has been the music of my soul ever since. This incredible creation is by Rend Collective, simply called “Simplicity”.  It is all of slow, contemplative, sorrowful, deep, and yet joyful. It is honest, heartfelt, and vulnerable. There is a tension between what should be and what is not. And yet, in the pain, hope is found.

Jesus has faithfully used this song to hold my heart together and remind me that he is worthy of all worship—even when it is broken and torn. Over the years, I have come to realize that if we wait to worship God until the happiness returns and the joy overflows in our souls, it is very possible we will be waiting a tremendously long time. While I fully believe that there is a deep, full joy in Jesus, I wonder if it isn’t nearly always walking hand-in-hand with sorrow. When Paul said that he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”, I think he had a better grasp on how these two things can be so closely entwined to be inseparable for much of our lives (2 Cor. 6:12).

Before Jesus went to the cross, he told his disciples to remain in his love, followed by telling them, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Abiding in Jesus’ deep love brings a full joy, but that does not mean it is a joy absent of all sorrow. In fact, in this same conversation with his disciples, Jesus goes on to tell them that they are going to be deeply sorrowful—sorrowful to the point of tears—but that it will all go away when he returns (John 16:20-23).

Jesus does not tell his followers to simply be “happy” and paste a smiley face sticker over their hearts. Rather, he acknowledges that the sadness they feel is real—and in a sense, right. Our hearts were made for Jesus—and though his Spirit lives in us, we long for the day when we will be physically at home with him. Jesus also knows that all the pain this earth brings will be forgotten when he returns as the fully reigning King, with he himself being the one to wipe away all tears and forever remove the mourning, crying, and pain that is associated with this sin-soaked earth (Rev. 21:3-4).

Going back to Jesus’ conversation with the disciples before his death, he ends his conversation by telling them that, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is heartening to hear Jesus tell them to “take heart” instead of “be happy”. In both Greek and English, this word/phrase means to be courageous or be comforted. How grateful I am for the vast difference between the comfort of Christ making one courageous amidst tremendous difficulties and the superficial obligation to find some semblance of happy in order to appear a certain way.

Sometimes, Christians are unsure with what to do with sorrowful, suffering people. Sadness can make us uncomfortable. Brokenness needs to be fixed and fast. Sometimes, we even unintentionally nudge people to some form of outward wholeness so we can quit feeling awkward around the pain and wounds they carry. We remind them that Christians should be the most joyful people around. And yes, because of the gospel, that is absolutely true, but the deep joy that characterizes the lives of many believers is often wrapped in sorrow and suffering.

We are broken, wounded souls who come to Jesus with broken worship. And while we have an unshakable hope and joy in Jesus, that does not mean we are absent of all sorrow and pain. The afflictions in our lives are at work to prepare us for a weight of glory that will surpass any sorrow we experience down here (2 Cor. 4).

The past years of my life have helped me more clearly see that it is possible and right to worship King Jesus—even (and maybe especially) when our souls are completely broken in the dust at his feet. We will again praise God with full joy, but part of hoping in God is going to him when our souls are crushed, knowing he alone is healer (Ps. 42:5). And knowing that he is worthy of our worship.

Jesus, receive our adoration. May our wounded hearts and broken lives give you the praise, honor, and glory that is due to your beautiful name.