Nearly two years ago, I wrote a post based off a quote of Bonhoeffer’s that expressed the turmoil of wondering who he really was—one person says one thing, I feel another. He closed his poem with the simple line—“whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”
If I can be gut-wrenchingly honest, I am in this place. The questions swirl though my thoughts, tug on my very soul, and stir the water behind my eyes. I am in a season of transition and change. My heart fully believes that the same God who called me to this previous journey has, again, whispered to my soul that this is the path he is setting before me.
But, goodness, it hurts like a root canal. Incredibly painful while also being incredibly good in the end. Friends, I do not even know who I am anymore. I feel broken beyond words and aged beyond my time. The depths of my soul ache. I hardly know anything anymore, except for these things.
1. God is still God
Even in the pain, the questions, the doubt, God is still the same. He is still reigning and nothing in all creation could ever take him by surprise. Even when we don’t know who we are anymore, he never has that question. Who he was thousands of years ago is who he still is today (Heb. 13:8). The wonder-working God of the Exodus still does miracles today. His arm has not gotten weak, he is not tired, he has not changed (Num. 11:23, Is. 59:1). And when God asked that rhetorical question of Moses all those years ago, the space following should still be filled with a resounding, “No! This God has not changed. He still does all things well—even in brokenness, pain, change, and loss.”
2. Love has a Name
And his name is Jesus. The entire story of the Bible is one of the great love of God to his broken, lost, sinful people. Jesus came to die for us, so we could be with him (2 Cor. 5:18). This God loves us with a love too vast, too deep, too consuming for us to understand. His love is everlasting and will be forever lasting (Jer. 31:3). Nor does it wane with the day-to-day cares of life. In the darkness, his love brings light, hope, and comfort.
3. Jesus won’t break us except to heal us
It could feel like the worst thing to ever happen to you, but Jesus wants you to trust your very breath with him. He will not blow out your flickering candle, even in the bleakest situations of your life. He will make your light shine again—with Him. He may break you, but he will heal you—even if it never looks like what you would have chosen for yourself (Hos. 6:11, Job 5:18). He will carry you in his arms (Is. 41:11) and the very pieces of brokenness will one day sing for joy (Ps. 51:8).
4. God knows who we are, even when we don’t
This is something to rest in. The Potter sees what his piece of clay is turning into, even when the clay is being squished, spun, and burned. We only feel the great pain, the incredible discomfort, and anxious uncertainty in all of it, but God sees our very end from the very beginning. He will finish what he has started in our lives (Phil. 1:6), even when we can’t see where we are going, who we are, or why we’re even here. He knows. Hands of infinite tenderness caress and carry our broken vessels. He is with us. And he knows us intimately.
There is much I do not know about this season of life. But these things I do know: God is still God, he loves us deeply, he will heal our brokenness, and we are completely known. I may not know who I even am anymore, but Jesus still does. He died to make the sadness happy, the confusion clear, the broken whole. This life may split us in two, but Jesus is never divided in his great love for us. This God can be trusted with the questions, the tears, and the change. He will not rip the rug out from under us, except to pull us into his arms.
Jesus, You restore my soul. It is well with my soul, only because of You.
This past Wednesday, my grandpa went home to be with Jesus. It is surreal to think that never again will we see his twinkly eyes and ever-present smile. Never again will he give those hard, tight hugs that squeezed the last particles of air from our lungs. I hear his voice in my memories of him, but I’ll never hear him speak again this side of eternity.
He was the only grandfather my siblings and I had, and all our growing up years, he was our second favorite man in the entire world. He delighted in his grandchildren and positively beamed with pride over our dad—his son.
Grandpa passed down his love of dogs to me. If he knew I was going to be coming over, he would save the table scraps for me, so I could feed his dog, Rusty, and in later years, the neighbor’s dog, Sheba (who always came to visit their farm). All our years in Iowa, he was the one who took care of my dogs and cat when we took our annual trip to Tennessee. When Dad would call home, I would always ask him to ask Grandpa how Pal or Harvard was doing.
When my six-month-old puppy, Pal, was put down, Dad took me to my grandparents for a bit. As a seven-year-old, I didn’t even know how to grieve a loss that gigantic. This was the puppy I’d been praying for since I was about four, and suddenly, he was just gone. All I knew was that I ached. But the pain was soothed a bit by just being held.
At the height of my dog show craze, Grandpa would record the AKC/Eukanuba dog shows for me. I learned more about the breeds of dogs from those videos than I did from college. Grandpa would also send up newspaper clippings about animals for me, which I always loved.
Grandpa loved my sister, Keren’s, and my cats and would pet them when he and Grandma would come to the family home on Thanksgiving. Perhaps, pet is too gentle of a word—it was always more like a rub-down that you’d give a horse or a large dog. We gave him updates on their latest “accomplishments”, and whether he enjoyed hearing the stories about them or simply listened in amusement, we’ll never know.
Sometimes, Grandpa would join Grandma and my sisters and I when we’d have hot chocolate with marshmallows. He and I loved the same mug, so when Grandma gave us the mugs we’d used growing up, she couldn’t give me the one I usually drank from at her house, as Grandpa was still using it.
As an adult, it was always to Grandpa and Grandma that I’d write from the depths of my heart. The pain of loss was lessoned by pouring it out on paper to my grandparents. And the ecstasies of joy were heightened by having them share in my happiness.
One of my favorite memories of Grandpa is from just a few months ago. He nearly died in the hospital, and my siblings and I piled into cars and went down to Fort Dodge to see him that cold, windy evening. We thought we were seeing him for the last time, and hugged him tighter and held his hands longer.
Grandpa’s faith was always a very private thing, but that evening in the hospital, he spoke more about Jesus than he ever had before. Heaven was a very near thing that night and the presence of God was equally close. Tears flowed freely down faces reluctant to cry.
God pulled him from the brink of death, and allowed Keren and I another precious afternoon with Grandpa. We bought him the softest blanket we could find and he seemed to love it. Only later did Dad tell us that Grandpa said it was too nice to use, so he just kept it folded up on the arm of his chair. Every so often, he would reach over and pet it like our cats from years ago.
Then came last Wednesday. No one saw it coming, but it was Grandpa’s last. I read a text early that morning telling my siblings and me that Grandpa was dying. We scrambled to rearrange our schedules to allow us to drive down to Iowa to be at his bedside, one final time. As details were falling into place to allow me to leave early, the first song I began to sing was Bethel’s “Our Father”. It was as much a prayer as it was a song. Jesus’ famous prayer poured forth from my heart, with the depths of my soul crying out for His kingdom to come here—on earth, in our lives, in us.
We made it down just in time to be with the family as Grandpa breathed his last. I rubbed Grandpa’s shoulder as Dad held his hand. So much rest, silence, and peace as Grandpa’s soul went back to the very hands who had created him 93 years ago.
And so much love filled that space in his room. Once again, tears flowed like good wine. Hugs were freely given and received. We gathered around his bed, held hands, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Oh the angst of the here but the not yet in those beautiful words of Jesus.
Jesus, may Your name be lifted higher, may Your kingdom come, may Your sovereign will be done—here on earth as it is in heaven. King Jesus, the kingdom is Yours, the power is Yours, and the glory is Yours. Forever.
Yesterday, we formally gathered to remember and honor Grandpa. Psalm 23 was read, my brothers played hymns on their harmonicas, we recited the Lord’s Prayer one more time, and sang “It is Well with my Soul”.
Yes, Grandpa will be deeply missed. But because of Jesus, we do not grieve without hope. Because of Jesus, we will walk through the valley of death and not be consumed by it. Because of Jesus, our hearts will be restored. And it is truly well with our souls because of Jesus.
I remember long ago another starry night like this.
He was a beautiful soul and I miss him already. Just as I miss his cousin of sorts, Rip, who died just two days before him.
Fernando was one of my favorites. He had a quiet personality and preferred to play the background to his brother. I loved his rex fur, especially as it had been several years since I’d had a “little lamby”. Fernando was not food-motivated like Santi. He would nearly always choose a head rub or the chance to get out and cautiously explore near his cage over a tasty morsel.
He had no fear of my cats, and both boys had their paws bitten by him, when they got too nosy. He also made me laugh, when he pulled Harvard’s tail through the wires of his cage. Whether he was going to make it into a nest or try to take it up to his hammock, I don’t know, as Harvard got it out of there as soon as he realized it was being gently yanked! He had a great propensity for chewing and successfully demolished every nice hammock he got. He was never a ground rat, and even on his last day, managed to get on top of his nearly shredded condo.
Fernando and Santi were very close—they did everything together. So, it was a terrible loss for Fernando when Santi died. Fernando had to “show” me where his brother was and didn’t want me taking him out of the cage.
After the loss of Santi, Fernando went into a deep depression. He refused to eat and I was certain he was going to die too. It was like he’d made up his mind that he didn’t want to live. He was sad and reserved and wanted out of his cage in the worst way. I ended up giving him a different cage, to hopefully give him a fresh start to help him forget Santi.
It seemed to help some, and extra attention from me helped too. He also seemed to appreciate moving closer to the other cage of rats, so he felt like he was with them. After his several days of not eating and getting steadily weaker, something changed. It was like he decided he wanted to live after all. In all the years I’ve had rats, nothing like that has ever happened. Once a rat makes up his mind that he is dying, there is next to nothing that can be done to change it. This time, I think God changed his mind for him—maybe to let me have my buddy for just a bit longer in this season of death.
He began to eat yogurt drops and a few pieces of puppy food. Yogurt drops were his staple food until he died, as nothing else appealed to him, for longer than a couple days. He loved the spoon the canned food was on more than the food itself. Just two days ago, he got that greedy look in his eye and refused to let me take the spoon back. I like to think he was enjoying seeing his handsome face in the metal but maybe he just wanted something to hide in his hammock.
Yesterday morning, I knew it was the end. I gave him a small green fleece blanket and tucked him into bed. I petted his coarse yet soft head and told him I loved him deeply.
When I came home last night, he was nearly gone. I gave him the hot water bag, and made him a plush bed on it. He looked so content as gentle heat began to warm his cool body. I rubbed his dear face, and he closed his eyes in pure contentment. He laid his head down and I petted him one last time, before turning off his lamp and telling him to go be with Jesus.
Early morning found him gone.
Fernando, you were a precious friend and I’ll always love you. Forever, you’ll be in my heart.
In just a few short hours, it will be a new year. 2015. I can’t say I’ve been waiting all my life for this year. Nor can I say that I’ve even thought much about what this New Year may bring. But there are no backward looks at 2014. I have no desire to stay in this year.
Fully agreeing with Paul, I am choosing to forget what lies behind, and instead, press on for what lies ahead (Phil. 3:13). My heart knows that the future holds a life that is far better than anything I’m leaving in this past year.
In the previous verses, Paul states that his desire is to know—fully experience—Christ and the power of His resurrection and share—take part in—his sufferings, “becoming like him in his death.” He goes on to say that he longs to make this his own, because Jesus has made him His own.
When 2015 comes to a close, I long to be able to say that my heart knows Jesus deeper, that I’ve experienced more of his power, and have become a bit more like Him while going through times of suffering and sorrow.
The desire of my heart is that this year will find me with a more steadfast, enduring hope and trust in Jesus. That I would “press on” and push in to Christ, instead of retreating and distancing myself from Him. I pray that my trust in Jesus would be stronger than the doubts of the devil, that I would hear the voice of Jesus above the storms. That instead of feeling that He has left me, I would be constantly reminded of the fact that “Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12).
All of life is as fluid as water, as uncertain as the wind…but the great certainty in all of it is that I have a Savior who calls me His own and loves me with a love that takes my breath away.
In the pain of this past year, it was easy to feel that God utterly hated me and loathed my life as much as I did. He was not near—in fact, it seemed as if He had removed Himself entirely from my life. Except to cause just one more loss.
Loss is inescapable, unavoidable. All of life is painted in loss, but that doesn’t mean I should be done with Jesus—just because I can’t see him through the blurry vision of tears and pain. So, this year, I am choosing to go hard after Christ Jesus, even when I can’t see Him, touch Him, or hear Him. He has made me His own—I belong to Him.
Loss changes us. Loss takes away what we love and leaves a hole that may never get filled. Time does not heal all wounds, nor does love always happen again. Sometimes it is far easier to hold onto a beautiful memory or a special photograph than it is to be vulnerable and love again. It is especially difficult when you know that another loss will be eminent and your heart will be broken all over again.
All of us have experienced broken hearts. Times when we think it impossible to ever love again. And when we do not have the effort or desire to love again, we become jaded and cynical.
… but …
God calls us to love with open hearts. We are called to live lives of deep love that will lead to deep sorrow in loss. We are encouraged to love like Jesus—perfectly, completely, beautifully. Jesus didn’t give up on love when people didn’t love in return. Nor did he quit loving when people walked away from him. Instead, he looked at the retreating figure of the rich, young ruler and “loved him.” He loves us when we “get it” and ultimately follow him. But he also loves us when we drift away from him and do our own thing for a time. And wonder of all, he still loves us when we walk away from him—forever.
Thinking about his disciple, Judas, one can’t help but realize that though Jesus knew from the foundation of the world that this man would betray him, he still loved him. Clearly, Judas was treated no differently from the other disciples, as there are no verses in the Bible mentioning, “We had no need to ask Jesus who was going to betray him, as the past three years definitely showed us that he didn’t feel the same about Judas.”
No, Jesus invested into this man, just as he did his other eleven followers. Yet, all the while, he knew that there would be no return on this investment. That for all the time poured into him, there would be no benefits for anyone. When the going got tough, Judas would change sides, listen to the lies of religious people, and make heart-breaking decisions. Judas would kill himself instead of falling at the feet of his dying Savior, Lord, and Teacher—pleading for forgiveness and confessing his great sin.
And, I wonder, do I love like Jesus? Do I choose to love again and again, even when my heart is broken? Do I see the high priority of love and realize that there is no other choice but to love? Will I choose to follow the example of Christ and invest in relationships—even when they disappoint, drift away, or die?
Or, do I shut out love for fear of having my heart broken again? Refuse to love again for fear of abandonment? Keep my heart “safe” from making poor investments in others by not developing relationships at all? These are all questions I’ve been asking myself over the past several weeks.
So, I want to close with the easiest story to tell of all the stories happening now. Baba (African for “born on a Thursday” and the name of the sheep in “The Little Drummer Boy”) was my best boy. This rat made me smile when I got home in the evenings and I loved cuddling with him on snowy, winter nights. He was a burst of joy in every day and a sweet gift from God—especially, considering that he shouldn’t have survived when all but one of his siblings died soon after birth.
Before I went to the D.R., he had a tumor removed from his neck. Within a week it was back and I knew he was living the last of his life. A piece of my heart died when I said good-bye to him early that Sunday morning, as I knew that that could very well be the last time I’d see him with the breath of God filling his lungs. But I knew that God had called me on this trip and it was going to have moments of loss and sorrow—beginning with Baba.
The Wednesday I returned home, I found Baba had slipped away. My heart broke and I cried for him and me and all the other things in life that couldn’t be understood and explained away. I told his buddies that I would never love any of them like I loved Baba. I kept my word for the next two weeks until something broke inside of me and I realized again that love isn’t love until it’s given away. And with all the circumstances swirling around telling me to guard my heart, I made the choice to love instead.
Freely. Strongly. Deeply. In all circumstances. In all relationships.