Burls and Guys

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outward self is wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-11,16-18; 5:7

I once sat in on a sermon where the pastor speaking posed this question: what is the best meal a person could ever eat? People in the audience chuckled, and a few brave souls raised their hands and ventured a guess. “My mom’s home cooked lasagna,” claimed one. “Olive Garden bread sticks!” another chimed in. “Definitely a well made steak,” shouted a third.

“No,” the pastor continued. “The best meal a person could ever eat is the meal that follows a marathon. It doesn’t matter what the meal consists of – it could be bread and water – what matters is the hunger that was created by the activity that proceeded it. If you’ve run a marathon first, that will be the best tasting bread you’ve ever eaten and the most deliciously refreshing water that you’ve ever drank – I promise.”

Recently, I tested the pastor on this point. I am serving as a wilderness trip leader at a camp in the Adirondacks for the summer, and so naturally, I went on a couple of training trips with my co-leaders during preseason. One of the trips was a canoe training trip. As Murphy’s Law would have it, our canoe training trip coincided with the worst torrential downpour of the millennium. I’m talking rain coming down so heavily that you could go from comfortably dry to drenched to the skin in 0.002 seconds. The you can’t quite keep your eyes open kind of rain. It was a cold rain. It was a furious rain –  the alright now, who angered God? kind of rain.

It was utterly m i s e r a b l e.

I have nothing against rain. There are few things I enjoy more than curling up with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa, listening to rhythmic patter of rain against a window. I grew up in an old farmhouse with a tin roof, and I spent many nights being sung to sleep by the soothing sound of rain against the roof. But there’s an important operative difference between those scenarios and this one – in both of those ones, I’m happily dry and comfortable; in this one, I’m shivering and exposed.

And as if the rain wasn’t bad enough on its own, it was soon accompanied by a thunderstorm. Again, nothing against thunderstorms. I just prefer enjoying their beauty from the safety and warmth of my house.

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time outdoors knows that rain, while an inconvenience, is at least tolerable and manageable for the sole fact that you can keep moving as needed. With a thunderstorm, however, arises several complications. First of all, you can’t be on water for obvious reasons. Which, as a canoeing group of five people desperate to get to the spot where we could make camp for the night, this was more than a minor inconvenience. Secondly, you want to avoid open areas (and thus avoid being the tallest point around.) We had to portage the canoes along a well worn path if we wanted to keep moving forward. But the canoes are made of aluminum, which is another thing you don’t want to be in close proximity to during a thunderstorm.

Inevitably, we were forced to come to a complete halt. We sought respite along the side of the path that we had been portaging on, under the trees. We then assumed “lightening position” (a sort of crouch where you make yourself as small as humanly possible, tucking your head down, and keeping your feet together so you don’t have more than one contact point with the ground – a position that frankly, I thought we had only learned ironically) on top of our lifejackets and waited it out.

I’m sorry, did I say earlier that merely canoeing in the rain was utterly miserable? No no. This was utterly m i s e r a b l e.

After the half hour that lasted a lifetime and aged me twenty years, we were finally able to plod on. The rain hadn’t stopped, but the thunderstorm had. Soggy, we slogged on, arriving at our campsite like wet dogs with our tails between our legs. We fanned out – some setting up tents and tarps, some working on dinner. Through it all, the rain droned steadily on.

But let me tell you this, chicken rice stew has never tasted so good. (From the way my male co-leaders raved about it, you would have thought I’d missed my calling as a chef.)

I didn’t run a marathon, but that night, lying in my tent, still slightly damp from the day’s events, the pastor’s words echoed in my memory: The best meal a person could ever eat is the meal that follows a marathon. It doesn’t matter what the meal consists of – it could be bread and water – what matters is the hunger that was created by the activity that proceeded it.

Immense hunger leads to immense gratification.

“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of this world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”
– John Piper

Detours

I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier to fantasize myself as a “good” Christian when I’m not behind the wheel of a car. When I’m driving, suddenly it’s as if this totally different person emerges. I promise, every time I drive, every other driver on the road that day is conscientiously driving in such a way as to intentionally annoy me and make my driving experience as miserable as possible. It’s this weird thing. Don’t people know that the left lane on the highway is intended for people who want to go fast, not take a leisurely Sunday drive? Also, I wasn’t aware that turning signals are so difficult to turn on. Nor was going the speed limit.

But few things are worse than hitting construction while on the road. As a person who already struggles with punctuality, hitting construction while driving is the stuff of nightmares for me. When I come to a complete standstill on the road, sitting in a vehicle intended for motion, it rapidly becomes undeniably clear that the Lord is not finished with me yet.

And so it follows that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of detours either. I don’t want to add twenty or more minutes to my drive. I want to go straight and arrive at my destination at the time I was expecting.

But that’s not how detours work.

Perhaps the reason I hate detours so much is they’re all too familiar to me. My entire young twenties thus far have felt like one detour after another. I have ruthlessly and painstakingly planned, and yet, no sooner do I place the finishing touches on a plan than God deems it necessary to place it under construction and send me on a detour instead. I have been in and out of school, jobs, churches, and ministries. I’ve planted only to be uprooted and sown without reaping. If you want to know the truth, it’s immensely discouraging.

The rain keeps coming down; I keep plodding on. I’ve even been forced to halt entirely at times and wait out a storm.

Ironically, I’ve only realized I had an expectation that my life would look differently than it does in this cosmic undoing of it. I don’t know what exactly I thought my life would look like, but I definitely thought that by this point if I wasn’t already married, I would at the very least be in a serious relationship to that effect. I thought I would be done with my Bachelor’s degree and in a job I loved. I thought I would be settled somewhere.

I thought a lot of things.

At the very least, I thought my life’s trajectory would be straightforward and somewhat “normal” looking, as opposed to how it has actually looked.

But, this past semester, finally fed up with watching my plans crumble and tired of trying to make things look differently than they do, I cried out angrily to God from my own personal Valley of the Shadow of Death – a valley marked with loneliness, broken relationships, directionless ambiguity, and monotony.

“Why?!” I demanded angrily. “Why me? Why whywhywhy WHY?!”

The Lord answered me out of the whirlwind and said:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—
surely you know!
Or Who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or Who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
(Job 38:4-7)

“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.”
(1 Kings 19:11b-12)

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
(Psalm 46:10)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,”
declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Isaiah 55:8-9)

The issue was not that I was asking why – or even that I was angry. God is big enough to handle both of those things. The issue was that I was demanding an answer for my situation as a condition for contentment. I was willing to struggle, but only with the stipulation that I knew why I was struggling. God wanted me to cease striving, and know that He is God. It was almost as if I heard Him sigh and say

Oh my sweet girl.
My beloved creation.
Don’t you know Me yet?
Trust Me.
Though in your heart you may plan your way,
It is I Who establish your steps.
It is I Who is your confidence.
I AM WHO I AM.
I Am working all things together for your good.
(Proverbs 16:9, 3:26, Exodus 3:14, Romans 8:28)

Making plans is not wrong. Nor is desiring to be a wife and mother, or aspiring to finish college, or working towards having a successful career. None of these things are wrong, or even ignoble aims. The problem is when we start holding things with clenched fists instead of open hands. Because if God is not God of the detours, He’s not God of the successes.

“What harm can happen to to him that knows that God does everything, and who loves beforehand everything that God does?”
– Madame Swetchine

Burls

I love being in the Adirondacks in the summertime. There’s so much greenery and it smells like nostalgia and the happiest parts of my childhood. The sunrises are only surpassed by the sunsets, and the sunsets are only surpassed by the vivid clarity of Adirondack stars. But perhaps one of my favorite details of all is the overabundance of burls among the trees in the Adirondacks. A burl is an abnormal spherical growth on a tree that looks like a giant bark-covered wart. It can be near the roots of the tree, nearly anywhere on the trunk of a tree, or even encircle the trunk of the tree entirely. I used to find them hideous obstructions, an aesthetic disgrace, and now I find the opposite to be true.

Though scientists have yet to ascertain precisely what causes a burl to form on a tree, the common assumption is that a burl is formed as a reaction by the tree to some kind of trauma – damage to the exterior of a tree, an insect infestation, a virus, or a fungi, to name a few. Although the burl may look unhealthy, it doesn’t typically affect the overall health of the tree. Moreover, because a burl grows with the tree that it’s attached to, removing a burl while the tree is still alive can cause more harm than good. Unlike the wood grain in a tree, which runs in one direction, the wood grain of a burl is chaotic and complex, and thus highly prized by artisans, making it the most valuable thing a tree can create.

I think that few things encapsulate the beauty of what God does in us through trials – through detours, rained out canoe trips, and loss – better than burls. The tree does not stop growing because it has been afflicted. It does not cease reaching towards heaven. Instead, it stands boldly, rooted, proud. Daily wearing the scar of the battle that it has undergone and survived, an ongoing invitation to others to be vulnerable and honest with where they’ve been, what God has brought them from, and the beauty and value God has created from it. It is an opportunity to rejoice at God’s salvation, preservation, and redemption.

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
Isaiah 55:12

I have spent these past six months feeling immensely vulnerable and exposed, shivering in the unrelenting rain of my trials, forced on a detour that I didn’t choose. But God is in the business of making all things beautiful (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and I’m excited to see the burl He will create out of this season – a burl that boasts of His glory and grace. Also, through this season, God has awakened in me a hunger for Him unlike any I’ve ever known. My appetite has been whet through my circumstances, and I have truly never met a better meal than the Bread of His body and the Wine of His blood. I don’t expect I ever will. Man does not live on bread alone (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4), and nothing tastes sweeter than Jesus.

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
John 6:35

“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.”
Psalm 34:8

“Why does God allow us to spend so much of life in the heat of the battle?
Because He never meant for us to sip His spirit like a proper cup of tea. He meant for us to hold our sweating heads over the fountain and lap up His life with
unquenchable thirst.”
– Beth Moore

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Romans 8:18

 

The Miracle Worker: How Theatre Saved my Life

For as long as I can remember, I have always been entranced by the power of a good story. As a child, I was an avid reader, devouring books of all genres, topics, and sizes, barely digesting one before I was halfway through another. My appetite for stories – for a better understanding of the human condition – could not be satiated. I watched the world around me with curious and eager brown eyes, constantly on a quest to better understand others – and, whether I realized it or not, through that, to better understand myself. I wanted to know the why behind the what. I craved context. I wanted to know the motives that drove actions. Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?

When I was young, going to the theatre as a family was always big production. Together, we annually attended the musical put on by my local high school. And, even though we were just attending a show at the high school theatre, my mom always made us wear dresses – with tights. It was much ado about nothing, if you asked petulant seven-year-old me. We always lamented about being subjected to dress up to attend the shows – “but mo-o-o-om, no one else has to!”

However, whatever anguish we suffered at being subjected to dressing up was quickly forgotten as we settled into our seats, the curtain went up, and we got swept away with the story.

The lights. The music. The intensity and frailty of live performance. The palpable adrenaline and rawness of it all. It’s truly inexplicable. My breath often caught in my throat more than once, and it had nothing to do with the constricting waistline of my tights.

I don’t even remember the specifics of most of the shows that I saw. I do, however, vividly remember the first time I realized that the stage was accessible to me. We were leaving the high school theatre, the Indian River Theatre of Performing Arts, (or IRTOPA, as it is affectionately nicknamed through its acronym) after watching a family friend perform as the fairy godmother in Cinderella. Seeing someone I knew onstage changed my perception of theatre entirely. Suddenly, the people who played the characters I saw depicted in shows ceased being these larger than life caricatures as I had fabricated – untouchable and unattainable beings. Instead, I understood and recognized them for what they were: people. Mere people: daughters, sisters, students, sons, friends. Yes, the cast of a musical was a conglomeration of immensely talented people, united toward a common goal. But they were still simply a group of people, nonetheless. I left the theatre determined that I would join their ranks and be among them (that is, as soon as I was old enough.) There was a million things I hadn’t done, but just you wait. The world was gonna know my name. I intended to break both legs on that stage.

Little did I know then that theatre would save my life.

I landed my first speaking role as a sophomore. I depicted the Mayor of Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz. (Believe me, the irony of that being my first speaking role didn’t go over my head either.) The following fall, I played the endearingly spoiled Amy March in Little Women. I then played the despondent eleven-year-old Alena Lederova in A Child Shall Lead that winter, a play based on Terezin, a concentration camp that the Germans put the more prominent Jews and children in during the Holocaust. It was a “show” concentration camp of sorts, as disgusting and horrifying as that prospect is. I transitioned from hating dressing up for shows to willingly dressing up in order to put on a show.

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I loved it all; the entire process. The auditioning. The rehearsals. Blocking. Memorizing. Props. Sets. Doing character work. The excitement of opening night and the sorrow of closing night. The comradery and the community. IRTOPA became my home away from home and my fellow cast members became my second family.  Through the roles I had the honor of depicting, I was beginning to gain a deeper understanding of myself.

My senior year, I landed my first lead role as Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. There aren’t words to describe the elation that I felt upon seeing the cast list for the first time. I was entirely overwhelmed and ecstatic. I had been dreaming of this day for years. I couldn’t believe it had finally arrived.

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“Teacher: t-e-a-c-h-e-r.”

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DSC_1494A short few months later, The Miracle Worker closed and the time to audition for my senior musical was rapidly approaching. I spent hours honing and perfecting my audition piece. I was determined to realize the dreams of 2006 Amy and make her proud. I would dare to dream the impossible dream.

On December 9th, 2011, I walked into audition for Annie. It was a Friday night, so I wouldn’t have access to seeing the cast list until Monday.

Fortunately, much to my relief, later that night, I received a call from the director:

“You did it. You’re Annie.”

In that moment, if you had asked me to fly, I could have.

I’d done it. I was Annie. 2006 Amy could rest easy, knowing all her dreams had been fulfilled. I sprinted up the stairs to tell Nancy and my mom. Breathlessly, I panted, “I’m Annie. I’m ANNIE!!”

Nancy wasted no time engulfing me in a hug. “I never doubted for a second that you’d get it. I’m so unbelievably proud of you. You’re going to do so well!”

My mom smiled broadly and squeezed my shoulder. She knew how much this meant to me.

That night, I went ice skating with Nancy, Jeriah, and my sisters, alongside a small cluster of our friends. In truth though, I was floating around the rink. I was Annie. Annie.

My cheeks burned from smiling so much.


It only makes sense that I would have to come back to earth eventually. But I wasn’t expecting for it to happen so soon nor so abruptly.

The weekend wasn’t even over before the cloud I had been floating on dissipated and I found myself free falling, entirely unprepared, toward the harsh reality of earth. I hadn’t even had the chance to see the cast list for myself yet.

I suppose there’s no way for you to ever be adequately emotionally prepared to sky dive. But the show always must go on.

December 11, 2011 brought a plot twist into my story that I never could have prepared for. Nancy’s passing broke parts of me that I didn’t even know I had, much less that those parts could be broken.

My cheeks burned from crying so much.


I had never gone sky diving. I was going to have to rapidly teach myself to deploy my parachute blindly, or be dismembered by the rocky reality awaiting my descent into grief.

I opted to deploy my parachute. Theatre, by the grace of God, simply afforded me the tools and instruction I needed in order to do so.

The show must go on. And I intended to be a part of it.

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Me, scrawling my initial next to my name on the cast list of Annie, the Wednesday after Nancy died and my first day back at school. By placing my initial next to my name, I was indicating to the directors that I accepted my role.


I immersed myself in Annie. It provided the ready distraction I needed to limp through those first few months after Nancy’s death. Nearly everyday, I sang some portion of the phase: “The sun’ll come out, tomorrow. Bet’cha bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun.” I lived and breathed those words. They became my mantra. Yes, “weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Annie was suddenly much bigger than simply the realization of 2006 Amy’s dreams – it salvaged and rescued 2012 Amy. I had to make Nancy proud. I had to finish what I started. For me, it wasn’t a choice; it was a duty. Nancy would be so disappointed if I dropped out on her account. I couldn’t disappoint my beloved sister.

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Sandy. 


I would never wish that anyone lose someone close to them. It is a wound that never entirely heals, it’s merely a wound you learn to live with. However, God, in His omniscience and grace, brilliantly timed the death of my sister in a way that allowed for the imminent and immediate distraction of both me and two of my sisters, KristiAnn and Emily (who were also cast in Annie.)

Annie became my parachute. And for that, I’m forever grateful.

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NYC, what is it about you? 

Even losing Nancy was an act of inexplicable grace. Whether I had realized it or not, I was still living a predominantly works-driven, legalistic faith. Legalistic faith is an unsustainable one, and wreaks havoc to the soul. I didn’t understand the gospel. I didn’t understand grace. I only understood performance. But when you lose someone so close to you, there’s no room for performance. Simply functioning requires any energy you possess. The masks, the make-up, the costumes you wear in your daily life are stripped away, and the truth of who you are is spotlighted: a broken vessel, in desperate need of grace. However, while the performer in me was entirely incapable of saving me, God still made use of the performer in me to save me. It’s this beautiful, glorious oxymoron.

God is good. 

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The Miracle Worker is the story of how Annie Sullivan drew young Helen Keller out of the dark, lonely world she was living in and taught her to speak through sign language. Annie is the story of an eleven year old orphan living in the slums of New York City. Through a stroke of incredible luck, she meets and is eventually adopted by a millionaire, Daddy Warbucks.

Both of them are stories of rescue; of people discovering their voice through immense hardship and tragedy.
God wanted to equip me to do the same.


The first Broadway show I saw was Wicked. For my sixteenth birthday, Mark and Tami Adams, my best friend’s parents, bought both her and I tickets to see it when it came to Rochester.

The May after Nancy died and after Annie closed, I got to travel to New York City on the Drama Club trip and see Wicked in the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway, due to the immense generosity and determination of my friends (they both convinced my parents to let me go on the trip and fundraised for me so that I could go.)

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Both times, I was was overwhelmed and amazed by Elphaba’s (the green “wicked” witch) bravery in the face of immense pushback and misinformation. She had the courage of conviction to do what she knew to be right, even when Glinda, her very best friend, didn’t.

And she wasn’t celebrated for it. In fact, she was persecuted for her honesty and bravery. She was rejected and detested by the people of Oz. (Mark 6:4)

I deeply craved that certainty of purpose. However, I failed to count the cost (Luke 14:25-33). I failed to recognize that to much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48)

I have been given much, so much. I had the opportunity to not only be Nancy’s sister, but to also be her very best friend. I also have been given much through her death, in being afforded the opportunity to know God intimately, in a way that few my age are able to.

For a long time, I resented these things. I’m only 23 but my mind is older. I hated being “different.” I idolized normalcy. I resisted drawing as near to God as He was calling, fearing loneliness and further separation from my peer group. I feared ending up alone if I sought God too closely. I feared rejection.

Fear was choking my joy.

But God is a jealous God. He will not be upstaged by our petty desires. He was not interested in playing a supporting role in my life. He wanted to play the lead. He wanted me to trust that He was sufficient to meet my every need.

I’m ashamed to admit how long I resisted allowing God to take center stage in my life. Even now, it’s a daily choice, a daily commitment. But I had to realize, like Elphaba, that any “love” that require I pursue God less comes at much too high a cost.

I may not have chosen to go sky diving. But I think that while I’m here, I’ll try defying gravity.

 

Lionesses: Ladies with a Bite

A necessary (and perhaps overdue) rant about the church, relationships, and feminism.

Frankly, I’m tired of apologizing for being a woman that knows her own mind and sets high standards for herself and those she surrounds herself by.

And I refuse to continue to apologize.

“It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry about.”
– Amy Poehler

I’m sick of being told that I’ll “never find anyone” because my standards are “too high” and I’m “too picky.” I’m tired of being invalidated by other people that assume they know better simply because they’re older or because they’re willing to settle for less.

Not me. Not today. Not ever.

I will only have you if you are sweeter than my solitude.

I will not apologize for knowing my own mind and standards. I will not apologize for being self-aware and knowing what I need. I will not apologize for my confidence.

I will not apologize. 

Insecurity is not humility. To know Christ is to know who you are because you know Whose you are. And once you know who you are, it’s not only hard, but impossible to settle for less.

“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”
Psalm 139:14

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“If we base our significance, self-worth, or self-esteem on anything other than the strong nails of our identity in Christ, then we are at risk of collapsing when the strong winds of adversity come our way. The truth is: you are who God says you are.”
– Sharon Jaynes

I’m not going to diminish myself to be with someone. I’m already under five feet.

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“What matters is not the length of the wand but the magic in the stick.”
– Anonymous

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“‘Are you a princess?’ I said and she said, ‘I’m so much more than a princess, but you don’t have a name for it yet here on earth.'”
– Brian Andreas, The Story People

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Rachel Aiden Garben, one of the most beautiful and passionate souls I know.

“‘I love myself.’
The quietest.
Simplest.
Most
Powerful.
Revolution.”
– Nayyirah  Waheed

Leslie Knope to Ben: “Here is my wall of inspirational women.
Ben: Is that a picture of you?
Leslie Knope: Yes

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“The woman who doesn’t need validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.”
– Mohadesa Najumi

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The Jesus I know didn’t just warm a pew on Sunday morning. The Jesus I know wasn’t politically correct. The Jesus I know was passionate, bold, and even at times irritable.  (See John 2:13-22, 11:35.) Jesus refused to sacrifice truth on the altar of love. He loved people enough to tell them the truth of the gospel. The Jesus I know always treated women as equals and with the utmost respect. The church and His followers, unfortunately, have not always done so.

It is my prerogative to be picky. It is my prerogative to have high expectations. I think that the person you marry (if and when you marry) is the single most important decision you make – second only to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. You’d better believe I’m going to be picky. I’m not intending to divorce. 

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Nora: That is just it; you have never understood me. I have been greatly wronged, Torvald — first by papa and then by you.
Helmer: What! By us two — by us two, who have loved you better than anything in the world?
Nora: [shaking her head]. You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me…
I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so.
Homer: How unreasonable and ungrateful you are, Nora! Have you not been happy here?
Nora: No, I have never been happy. I thought I was, but it has never really been so.


Nora: Alas, Torvald, you are not the man to educate me into being a proper wife for you…I must stand quite alone, if I am to understand myself and everything about me…I believe that before all else, I am a reasonable human being, just as you are – or, at all events, that I must try and become one. I know quite well, Torvald, that most people would think you right, and that views of that kind are to be found in books; but I can no longer content myself with what most people say or what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and get to understand them.


Helmer: You are ill, Nora; you are delirious; I almost think you are out of your mind.
Nora: I have never felt my mind so clear and certain as tonight.

(Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House – highly recommend)

Friends, I beg of you, stop undermining the people with high expectations. I know that my standards are not unrealistic, because I know Who my God is. He is faithful, and He passionately pursues us. He is patient. And gracious. God is love (1 John 4:8.) Thus, to know God is to know how to love.

I will not apologize for my desire to be a loving wife and mother. I do desire to nurture and raise children, and I believe that God has called and equipped me for the task. However, I’m not going to settle down with someone just for the sake of accomplishing those goals. Because frankly, it’s not worth it to me. When I pick a man to marry, I’m picking the father of my children. As my mother always says, it’s better to be single and happy than married and miserable.

 “And you,
You scare people.
Because you are whole
all by yourself.”*
– Lauren Alex Hooper

*completed in Jesus without the aid of another person.
Revolutionary.

I’m also sick of the overwhelming volume of articles that plead “Don’t overlook the nice guy!” I understand the intention behind the articles, and it’s a nice sentiment. However, just because a guy is nice does not mean that he and I (or you and him!) are necessarily compatible. Good is the enemy of great. Just because something isn’t terrible, doesn’t mean you should put a ring on it.

God does not call us to complacency. Why would I settle in this area of my life? He calls us to radical obedience. He calls us to obey even when it’s uncomfortable. Or even when we have to wait. (Psalm 27:14.)

“My heart was saying,
‘Lord, take away this longing, or give me that for which I long.’
The Lord was answering,
‘I must teach you to long for something better.’
– Elisabeth Elliot

I believe that women were created equal to men, but not uniform to them. Unfortunately, the text in Genesis depicting the creation of Eve loses a lot in translation.

“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

As Chuck Swindoll puts it, in English the term “helper” sounds “menial, even pathetic.” But in order for the full weight of what was being spoken here to be understood, you have to look back at the original Hebrew, and not limit yourself to your English understanding of the word. In English, the word helper is generally understood to mean “aide” i. e. someone who comes alongside and supports a person who is already equipped for the task. This makes a helper superfluous and unnecessary. In Hebrew however, the word has much deeper implications. The word helper, or ezer “has the idea of supplying something crucial that is lacking, and it most often refers to God” (Swindoll, Marriage is God’s Invention.)

Wow. What an incredible statement.

To be clear, I do not think that women were created as subordinates or to serve men. Rather, they were created so that all of humankind, who were made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26-27) would better reflect all of His attributes. The creation of woman brought into existence attributes that apart from her, simply didn’t exist in an earthly capacity. How very cool and empowering.

“God created woman as the answer to the very first problem.”
– Lisa Bevere

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I believe that women should receive equal pay for equal work. I do not however, think that a woman should be looked down upon should she choose to be a homemaker. Honestly, my personal priority is going to be with my family first – ahead of my career. Not because I lack the abilities, talents, or the education to be immensely successful in a career, but because I would personally rather invest that time and those talents in my children. I don’t think that to make this choice I’m holding myself back. I do not desire to be a mother because “it’s what society has told me to do” or because I’m operating on “internalized oppression.”

(Yes, I have actually received pushback and been asked these questions by self-proclaimed feminists. It is immensely discouraging and demeaning – not to mention the glaring irony of being second guessed by the very proponents of those who support “all women.” I promise you, women who know their worth can still objectively make this choice for themselves. I know my own mind, and I am a force to be reckoned with. I am not a robot, dictated by the expectations of society. In fact, I would make the argument that at this point and in my experience, American society has gone a different direction and you are more looked down upon for making the choice to sacrifice a career for the sake of your family than you are for pursuing a career. To be clear, I do not think that either choice is necessarily objectively wrong. People do not belong in boxes. But I know the choice that I will make, if and when I meet the right person, because that’s where my personal priorities are.

Again. Not that you can’t do both. And not that someone who chooses differently is lesser than me in any way. This is just where I have landed personally. I think that to simply ignore that I desire to be a wife and mother is just as terrible as becoming those things out of obligation to a false idea that it’s what society expects of you.)

To be a wife and mother is to make a very valuable choice. I don’t think that women choosing to stay home and raise their children are necessarily holding the women back who choose otherwise. Isn’t feminism about supporting all women, in whatever choices and endeavors they choose?

In my opinion, an investment in people – specifically children – is never a waste. They are the future. And by raising strong men and women, I am tangibly contributing to progress.

My parents made the financial sacrifices necessary so that my mom could stay home. My mom, together with my dad, was brave enough to raise us to know our worth.

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The Requiem of the Moon Poetry. Via Pinterest.

I will not apologize for knowing my value. And I will raise my children to know theirs.

“She’s the type of woman you go to war beside, the type of woman you marry.”
– R.H. Sin


“‘I’m sorry, Aslan,’ [Lucy] said. ‘I’m ready now.’
‘Now you are a lioness,’ said Aslan. ‘And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.'”
– C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

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Biceps, s’mores, and barbed wire Sharpie tattoos.

“It is an awesome thing, the becoming of you, and you are bound to make them uncomfortable;
Leave them to their discomfort, for you, oh you, blossom beautifully within their fires.”
– Nicole Lyons


“She didn’t need to be saved. She needed to be found and appreciated, for exactly who she was.”
– J. iron word.

Everyday Joy

“To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
but life without meaning is the torture of restlessness and vague desire –
it is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.”
– Edgar Lee Masters

Recently, I’ve been feeling very restless with the monotony prevalent in my life. I’m tired. I’m tired of the day to day, mundane routine that my schedule has sorted itself into. I’m tired of being in college. I’m tired of being broke consistently. I’m ready to be onto the next stage of my life, doing ‘bigger’ and ‘more important’ things. I’m ready to step into adulthood.

However.

I’m wary of slipping into a “destination addiction” of sorts. I’m wary of idolizing the idea that true happiness, true joy is just around the next bend in the road. Because the fact of the matter remains that if I’m not content in the here and now, then I won’t be content in the there and then. Period. Mic drop. That is a fact.

You know why? Because contentment is not rooted in surrounding circumstances. It is rooted in Christ. And I have Christ now. So what else am I looking for? What else could I possibly need?

As long as I’m looking for contentment elsewhere, I’m setting myself up for inevitable and continual disappointment. My circumstances should not have the power to dictate my joy. The gospel should be enough to bring me to my knees in worship, adoration, and humility every day. As Dan Mohler says so succinctly in his sermon entitled “Becoming Love,” we don’t really understand the gospel. We have too many issues. We have too many rights.

We ought to have Jesus. 

“Each day presents a new opportunity to experience God…this is a sacred expectation!”
– A.W. Tozer

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1ab)

I’ve been struggling with insomnia for over a semester now. I haven’t been having issues falling asleep, but rather staying asleep. Every night almost without fail for the last several months, I have woken up at some point between one and four in the morning, and am typically unable to get back to sleep for a minimum of two hours. I had 8ams everyday of the week except Wednesday last semester. On Wednesday, I worked at 7am.

Needless to say, I quickly got very tired of this (pun entirely intended.) I require quite a bit of sleep, and don’t always function the best without it. Finally, in a rage (and as a last resort – perhaps right there is the problem), I prayed about it. (Well, more accurately, I whined to God about it in the semblance of prayer.)

God, I’m sick of this. I don’t understand why you’re doing this to me. It’s unfair. I’m tired. I’m in school and working. I don’t have the stamina to be losing 2+ hours of sleep every night. 

I know. Not my proudest moment. Looking back on it now, I can practically hear God gently smirking at me.

Be careful of the questions that you ask God. Because He just might answer you.

My precious child, those are hours you could be spending with Me. 

Ouch.

Who am I to demand anything of God? He owes me nothing. (See Job 40.) And thankfully, He is not willing to let me stay in the place of terrible arrogance where I presume that He does. He loves me far too much for that. He loves me too much to leave me in a place of complacency and pride.

God doesn’t want me to only understand enough of the gospel to save my soul. He wants me to understand the gospel to the point that my life is transformed by it. 

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To say it another way, (a more theological way), Jesus didn’t just die on the cross to save me for my eternity future (heaven.) He saved me for my present (earthly life.) He saved me for the now.

Wow.

God literally loves me enough to allow me to struggle with insomnia. He loves me enough to allow me to experience grief through the death of my sister and brother. He loves me enough to allow me to fight depression. He loves me enough to not always allow things to work to my advantage or how I expected them to work out. He loves me enough to allow me to find value in the menial monotony of life. He loves me enough to be faithful when I am faithless, because He cannot deny Himself.

He  l o v e s  me.

“When hardship comes your way, will you tell yourself it’s a tool of God’s grace and a sign of His love, or will you give into doubting His goodness?
Here’s the bottom line. Right here, right now, God isn’t so much working to deliver you to your personal definition of happiness. He’s not committed to give you a predictable schedule, happy relationships, or comfortable surroundings. He hasn’t promised you a successful career, a nice place to live, and a community of people who appreciate you. What He has promised you is Himself, and what He brings to you is the zeal of His transforming grace. No, He’s not first working on your happiness; He’s committed to your holiness. That doesn’t mean He is offering you less than you’ve hoped for, but much, much more. In grace, He is intent on delivering you from your greatest, deepest, and most long-term problem: sin. He offers you gifts of grace that transcend the moment, that literally are of eternal value. He has not unleashed His power in your life only to deliver to you things that quickly pass away and that have no capacity at all to satisfy your heart.”
– Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies

“The great paradox of the Gospel is that God’s love drove Him to do the unthinkable: become naked and exposed for those who rejected Him. We, who exposed ourselves through disobedience, are “covered” by the nakedness of Christ’s obedience.”
– Pastor Joshua Stewart

To get that – to truly understand the gospel – is to be transformed. There is a paradigm shift in your thinking. To know Jesus is to be changed by Him. (See James 2:14-17). Loved people love people. Forgiven people forgive. People who know mercy show mercy. There is no other way. It is a simple rule of logic.

“The gospel is such a revealing of man’s value. It’s not a revealing of man’s sin – it’s a removing of man’s sin. The cross removes man’s sin, it doesn’t expose man’s sin. It removes man’s sin to expose his value and his created purpose.

The cross brings destiny back into the picture – you can write legacy again.

YAY.

I don’t have to be disheartened. I don’t have to let life speak louder than truth.”
– Dan Mohler, Becoming Love

Oftentimes, we fixate on the last three years of Jesus’ life: His “ministry” years. Um. What about the other thirty? His whole life was a ministry. His existence in the flesh was an act of grace. You cannot properly appreciate His “ministry” years without acknowledging that it was those thirty years – those years that we know so little about, those years of silence – that equipped Him for the years we do know about and spend a lifetime studying. Those menial years full of monotony, those years of practicing obedience, prepared and enabled Him to act in continued obedience – even when the destination was the cross.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.” (Philippians 1:29)

“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)

What a privilege it is to know and serve Christ. I am overwhelmed, humbled, and so thankful.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 1:7a)

“‘Where is God?
Where can I find Him?’ We ask.
We don’t realize that that’s like a fish swimming frantically through the ocean
in search of the ocean.”
– Ted Dekker

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

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(If you click on the picture, it will bring you to the song “Ever Be” by Bethel Music. I have been saturating my mind with these truths recently, and wanted to share access to the song with you. This picture is taken at the Rock, a place we camp out at Beaver Camp, from a spot I’ve spent many quiet moments with God. Note the worship tree.)

 

For further encouragement, check out this sermon that was preached by my home church entitled “So Loved” by Pastor Joshua Stewart.

Kaleidoscopic Oceans

“To have been loved so deeply, even though the one who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
– J.K. Rowling

How do I begin? By all accounts, today is just like any other day. It’s just another Saturday. There are no holidays dedicated to the third of December. There are no parades. It’s a day that can easily slip by, undetected and unannounced.

And for most people that’s exactly what happens. It slides by, unnoticed. It’s difficult not to envy those people.

December is always a hard month for me, but this year it is especially so. This year is the first year that December 11th falls on a Sunday since it did five years ago – the day police arrived on my doorstep with my sister’s license in hand and my worst fear was realized.

My sister was dead. And what was previously unimaginable was my new reality.

This year is the first year since my sister passed that each day leading up to December 11th falls on the exact same weekday it did prior to her death five years ago. And somehow, that makes everything feel closer.

I can’t help but remember the Amy of December 3, 2011. She was so innocent, and so young. The Amy of December 3, 2016 is much more than five years older than her.

How do I capture how deeply devastated I was on that day? How do I describe the journey since? Grief is a tricky thing to describe, as no two people who have encountered it have seen or experienced exactly the same thing. No two relationships are identical. No two people are identical. So no one grieves identically – even if the grief is over the same person. It’s terribly isolating.

Grief is a kaleidoscope. But rather than just being something that you look through, it is a monster that engulfs you. Sometimes it’s all you can see. Your perspective is entirely changed as you look at life through the fragments of colored glass. Things are distorted. Even the things you once knew and loved look completely different. And just when you feel like you’re beginning to make sense of the “new normal,” the floor is knocked out from underneath you. Everything spins. And when you’re finally able to right yourself and make sense of your surroundings again, the picture that you were starting to familiarize yourself with has changed. And so on and so forth. Eventually, it’s hard to be motivated to stand up again. Or bothering to familiarize yourself with the new picture within the kaleidoscope.

Of course, take my words with a grain of salt: I’ve been trapped within a revolving kaleidoscope for five years now, and I’m a little dizzy.

Grief is an ocean. Deep and mysterious. Some days, the tide is low. The ocean is calm. The sky is blue. All is peaceful. Other days, there’s a hurricane brewing. The tide is high. The ocean is no longer inviting, but dark and dangerous. It’s a place where you could easily drown if you don’t tread carefully.

It would be easy to lose my identity in my grief. After all, what is one person to an ocean? Nothing.

Fortunately I know the Creator of oceans. He also happens to know the number of each and every grain of sand in existence, tucked alongside of the knowledge of the number of hairs on my head.

I am so deeply known and loved.

And this – this is where my identity begins.

Nancy and I were so intrinsically linked – so much of who I was, or who I thought I was before she died was tied to her. She drew out the best in me, while still allowing me to be myself. She “got” me. She was my hero and best friend. She was the type of person who inspired those pithy sayings that all the rest of us peasants aspire to. The world lost a beautifully precious soul on the day she died. I grieve for those who never got to know her.

Ever since she passed, God has been steadily working at reestablishing the foundation of what forms my identity. Not because the things I identified myself with – such as being a good student or as a singer or actress – are inherently bad things, but rather because they are only good things when they are superseded by greater truth. My identity is not, and can never be rooted in what I do. It has to be rooted in what God has called me: Beloved. (Which is actually what the name Amy means.) I am loved – not because of what I do, but in spite of what I do. I am beautiful, because of the work that God has accomplished through the Gospel in my life, not through my own effort or strength. As C.S. Lewis so succinctly sums it up, “When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed, but increased.”

I have been given my own personal thorn in my flesh to serve as a constant personal reminder that His “grace is sufficient” for me (2 Corinthians 12:9). I have struggled with depression since Nancy died, and it has been a harrowing – and exceedingly humbling – experience, to put it mildly. It is likely something I will wrestle with for life. To be perfectly honest, if I laid the years of my life side by side, and had to rank them, 2016 would probably not be at the top of the list. Or even near the top of the list. It’s been a hard year for me personally, for a myriad of reasons. But even in the midst of this, in the midst of such an insanely difficult year, I am overwhelmed by God’s grace and favor towards me.

My depression, as dark and oppressive as it seems some days, does not have the power to snuff out hope. It does not have the power to diminish beauty. And it certainly does not have the power to lessen my God.

I write about it now, not because it defines me, but because I think that vulnerability and honesty are the antidote to prideful isolationism. As Sheila Walsh so beautifully says, “My brokenness is better bridge for people than my pretend wholeness ever was.” I am no longer ashamed that I struggle with depression, because I have realized that it is not something that defines or cheapens me. It is not who I am. I am not a depressed person; rather I am a person that struggles with depression. Maybe that all seems like rhetoric, but the difference in those two statements, when applied, is key. Depression is something that brings me closer to people, because it’s created a deeper empathy within me than I ever could have cultivated without it. It has made me slower to speak and quicker to listen. It has helped me to be less hasty in my judgements of others. Not to mention, I was loved before I struggled with it, and I am still loved now.

I have wrestled with depression more consistently this past year than I have previously. Not because my life is less beautiful than it has been previously – but perhaps because in some ways it has been more so. This year, I began seriously dating someone for the first time – and it has been a wonderful wonderful thing. It has not been perfect – far from it, as we are both flawed individuals – but it has been good. Experiencing this relationship has been living breathing proof in my life of God’s faithfulness and I am so thankful. I never imagined that such joy could be mine in communion with another person following Nancy’s death.

“I do not know a perfect person. I only know flawed people who are still worth loving.”
– John Green

That isn’t to say that it’s been easy. You see, I know exactly what I am risking to love another person so openly and vulnerably. I know what it means to lose. Grief is the price of love. But I refuse to allow the fear of loss to creep into my life and paralyze me from doing the best thing humans are capable of – which is to love.

I will not live a life void of love to protect myself. What kind of life is that? Worse than no life at all. I will love, and in 2016 I was given the chance to love in a new and profoundly deep way – a way I have never loved before. I have wept for what is at stake in loving so deeply, and for the fact that Nancy will never have the chance to meet him or vice versa – at least not on this side of heaven. But I rejoice in this gift, in this capacity to love and go on loving. No matter how distorted things look through the kaleidoscope or how deep the ocean seems, this is one thing that will not be distorted or drowned: love is worth it.

Thank you Nancy for teaching me that and modeling it for me. I am proud to say that legacy will not die with you.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.”
1 John 4:11-12

Wrestling (Always Winter, But Never Christmas)

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
-C.S. Lewis on Aslan, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (emphasis mine)

“…we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
Hebrews 6:19

I’m going to be very honest here: some days, it’s really hard for me to believe. Some days, faith just seems too simple a response to the complex issues relentlessly plaguing our world. Is God really enough? Is He really in control? Because if He is, I for one would like to know where the hell He’s at.

Especially in recent years, I have been increasingly disillusioned. The church has disappointed me. Those closest to me have let me down. My only brother was stillborn, and my oldest sister passed away in a car accident. Christian culture as a whole seems very trite and fabricated to me, and thus, to be perfectly honest, I don’t particularly care to engage in it.

I have been wrestling, and it’s gotten sweaty…maybe even a little ugly.

In a world overrun with disease, death, natural disasters, corruption, racism, human trafficking, and inequality, how does a God Who claims to be good and sovereign fit? There is so much evil and chaos. Why isn’t He intervening?

Sometimes it seems like I have more questions than answers.

The only way I know how to answer the questions I just raised is by raising more questions: is God, in fact, not intervening? Or is He simply not intervening the way I would like or expect? And does this basis alone, the fact that I don’t get to dictate how God works, enough to dismiss His existence? Because obviously, if God doesn’t work the way I want or expect, it only follows that He doesn’t exist. That’s just simple logic right? If God (a Being presumed omniscient and omnipotent) doesn’t fit into the box I want Him to fit in, He must not exist.

Personally, I know I’ve been extremely hurt and disappointed by some of the circumstances I’ve gone through. And that accounts for only one person. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one. But is this alone enough evidence to deny the existence of a Being greater than myself? Is this alone enough to unseat my faith? Is faith merely something I cling to in ignorance simply to console myself when painful circumstances arise?

After all, faith is all about what feels good and what makes concrete sense…it has nothing to do with intangibles beyond what we can see or comprehend. It’s intended to cater to us, and our whims – it has nothing to do with God. That would clearly be ridiculous.

So if that’s the case, I can just decide when God exists according to when He is and isn’t convenient for my purposes.  Easy. Problem solved.

Or is it?

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
C. S. Lewis

Does a faith that only has merit apart from pain and suffering actually have any merit at all?
I mean, by definition, it is either always true or it is never true: it is as plain as that.

The interesting thing is, whether you subscribe to a belief in God or not, you still yearn for justice. In fact, you demand it. Where does this desire for justice come from? Why do we have any sense of morality at all? Could our desire for justice as a human race alone be indicative of a higher power?

Is the issue actually with God? Or is it with us? Let’s get to the root of the problem here.

In order to have unfulfilled expectations you must first have expectations. In order to be disillusioned, you must first believe something. This is simple logic. And the most common, basic argument I hear against Christianity (with surprisingly little variety) is: “A good God wouldn’t let ‘bad things’ happen to ‘good people.'” And if that is truly the case, I’m wasting my time – as indicated above. There are a lot of presuppositions that are wrapped up in that statement. So, let’s unpack it a little bit, shall we?

If indeed a good God wouldn’t let “bad things” happen to “good people,” then based solely on what we see in the world and our understanding of what a good person is, I’d say we have every right to deny the existence of a God entirely. Or, at the very least we have the right to be resentful toward the God that does exist, if not only for allowing “bad things” to happen to “good people,” but furthermore for claiming to be good in the first place if He really isn’t.

But, if indeed a good God would let “bad things” happen to “good people,” then we have to accept that to believe in Him and follow Him is not some sort of contract that guarantees our safety, comfort, and protection. Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?

The statement “a good God wouldn’t let ‘bad things’ happen to ‘good people'” indicates three major presumptions:
one, that God is good,
two, that there are good people, and
three, that we don’t live in a just world because bad things do in fact happen to good people.

Does a book as archaic as the Bible have anything to contribute to such a relevant discussion? I mean, does the Bible even address any of these problems?

Rest assured, it certainly does. In fact, the Bible is a book devoted to addressing problems just like this one.

According to the Bible, the entire premise of the argument is undermined immediately due to the fact that there aren’t technically ‘good people’ to speak of. Every human is sinful and flawed and possesses a hopelessly impaired judgement. Romans indicates that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). By this definition, then, ironically, it follows that it is our own fallen nature that is the direct harbinger of injustice into our world. Because if all people are innately bad, then to receive any goodness at all is actually to receive something we don’t deserve.

So, technically, justice is what we’re experiencing. We live in a world full of pain and darkness because the consequence of sin is death, not because God isn’t good. Still pretty bleak, I know.

“The White Witch? Who is she?” [asked Lucy.]

Mr. Tumnus: “Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”

“How awful!” said Lucy.

(The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, again emphasis mine)

At least it would be, if the story ended there. Just like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would be if Aslan never came to help the Pevensies bring about the dethroning of the White Witch and restoring Narnia to the way it was intended to be.

Can you imagine how the story would read? “And they all lived miserably ever after.” Who would honestly want read such a story? Evil triumphs over goodness, and even the smallest of the remaining flickerings of goodness are eventually snuffed out. Enjoy a life of hopelessness, kids.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
– C.S. Lewis

But the story doesn’t end there. It goes on to culminate in an epic battle in which, not only is the White Witch defeated once and for all, but, many Narnians are literally given their life back through Aslan’s breath. However, there is a point where it does seem that the White Witch has conquered and Narnia will eternally be subjected to a state of  bitter winter with no Christmas. Early on, Edmund Pevensie had aligned himself with the White Witch in ignorance, unaware of the costly ramifications of this choice. And thus, too late for him to change his mind, it is established he belongs to her. His blood is her property. The only way for him to be able to stand for Narnia and with Aslan is if he is bought back. This requires an exchange. Aslan offers himself as a sacrifice for Edmund. And in arguably the most emotionally jarring, sorrowful moment of the book, Aslan is killed – willingly – at the hand of the White Witch.

This is a moment that has been immortalized in my imagination forever. The palpable silence that descended with the murderous hand of the White Witch upon Aslan. The serene sadness behind Aslan’s gentle eyes. The terrified roaming eyes of the White Witch, even as she attempts to stay calm and collected. She knows the power she holds in that moment is borrowed – it is not something she could have achieved of her own accord. This unsettles her, even as she delivers the final blow to her enemy.

Aslan draws his last breath, and his majestic body goes limp as his life shudders to a halt.

The entire body of the White Witch exhales a visible sigh of relief. Somehow, up to that point, she had this terrible suspicion that she was being duped somehow. It couldn’t really be this easy – could it? She had been hoping for Aslan’s demise for longer than even she truly knew, but was paralyzed in the knowledge that she was incapable of matching with his strength and power. And yet, here he laid before her, lifeless, defeated by the Deep Magic and his own goodness.

It. Is. Finished.

Edmund has been redeemed and is no longer in bondage to the White Witch – but at great cost. And defeating the White Witch apart from Aslan’s wisdom and power is essentially impossible.

When I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for the first time, I was unsure as to whether I even wanted to turn the page after Aslan died. What else was left to be done? What story could follow such a tragedy? But sometimes the difference between sorrow and victory is only a matter of turning a page.

Lucy and Susan are depicted as walking aimlessly following Aslan’s death, completely distraught about what they just witnessed and uncertain of how to proceed. Suddenly in the midst of their mourning they hear the Stone Table crack and Aslan’s body is immediately gone. They turn to find Aslan behind them, somehow even more majestic than before. More magic? Indeed. Magic deeper than even the Deep Magic.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

C.S. Lewis is painting a meaningful picture here of the hope we as Christians have in resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-22):  an essentially “deeper magic” than the traditional categories of death and decay. Jesus’ resurrection defeated death – the consequence for our sin – once and for all, thereby defeating the evil forces of this dark world. Aslan is a picture of Christ, and Edmund Pevensie is a picture of all of us and the dire situation we’re in apart from Christ. We live in a world that is in the cold wintery clutches of evil, and yet something within all of us longs for something better, for a thawed Narnia. We recognize the world isn’t as it’s supposed to be. This is extremely relevant and noteworthy, because it is this recognition that causes a lot of people (myself among them) to get very frustrated with the deteriorating state of things in the world when God is powerful enough to stop it from occurring. I raise my puny fist toward heaven and demand that God answer for Himself. “How dare you! What do You have to say for Yourself?” I cry, my finite perspective bristled against His infinite one.

Funny, how infinite answers have a way of silencing finite ones every time.

You see, all of my questions I’ve asked as I’ve wrestled essentially boil down to one question: is the gospel enough?

Oftentimes, within the private wickedness of my own heart, I anticipate it not being enough. I anticipate the gospel failing me and all of the skepticism I’ve received as a result of my faith finally coming to fruition. And yet, the crucifix doesn’t disappoint, even in the crux of a problem – actually, I would argue, especially in the crux of a problem. I’ve found that the beauty of the cross has only increased throughout my life.

Do I really believe what I profess to believe? Because if so, than the suffering and injustice that surrounds me shouldn’t surprise me. They point straight back to the problem of sin and the need for redemption. We are all living, breathing testimonies of how desperately grace is needed to meet us in our broken state. History also attests to our inability to fix this issue with sin and injustice ourselves. We are not even strong enough to overcome the evil within us as individuals, let alone the evil in the world. We need something beyond ourself. This is why Jesus came to die. However, suffering is even built into the redemption story. Jesus is betrayed by one of His closest friends. He is brutally whipped. He is scorned. Nails are driven into His flesh. Crucifixion is a terrible, terrible way to die.

But Jesus’ crucifixion is not the end of a story of defeat. It is the beginning of a story of victory where death works backwards.

So, why did God choose do things this way? Why did He allow suffering to be built into the very circumstances that directly lead to our redemption? I have to guess it’s to teach us. To indicate to us that He is still in control: even in a world overrun with evil, His purposes will not be thwarted (John 19:11). After all, He allowed evil to be used in accomplishing our redemption.

 The question shouldn’t be, “Why does a good God let bad things happen?” but rather, “Why does God take such a single interest in humanity to allow us to experience things that will overwhelm us with His grace?”

As a Christian, we can walk in the assurance of knowing that while we can readily anticipate suffering, the separation between suffering and glory is oftentimes only a matter of turning a page.

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Romans 8:17-18

(This blog was partially inspired by a song by Relient K entitled In Like a Lion: (Always Winter). You can listen to the song here.)

Hard Pressed, Yet Still {So Indescribably} Blessed

“Where, oh death, is your victory?
Where, oh death, is your sting?

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:55-56

A punch to the gut. That’s what it felt like. A merciless, taunting, punch to the gut that left me speechless and unable to breathe.

“Is this your daughter?” the trooper had asked moments before, holding up Nancy’s license for Mom and Dad to see. When they nodded silently, the trooper continued woodenly, “She was in a car accident this morning and died instantly. I’m sorry.”

The world around me tilted wildly as my mind struggled to process this information.

Dead? How could my sister be dead? She was one of the most vibrantly alive people I knew. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense…

I was angry, but didn’t know who to target my anger towards. It was no one’s fault. However, I came to resent the ease and poise the trooper stoically carried herself with as she talked with us about the situation. The logical part of my brain recognized that she was just doing her job and being professional. However, I still raged against her internally, although she was just the messenger. DO YOU REALIZE THE GRAVITY OF WHAT YOU JUST SAID? DO YOU REALIZE THE FACT THAT MY LIFE JUST CHANGED FOREVER? HOW DARE YOU BE SO UNPERTURBED. HOW DARE YOU. DO YOU REALIZE?

Out of reflex, I thought, I need to talk to Nancy about this. She’ll know what to do.

Reflex thought or not, I immediately kicked myself for having it. Amy, you idiot. You CAN’T talk to Nancy about this. That’s the whole point. That’s why there’s a situation to begin with. She’s gone. 

I didn’t know how to come to grips with the situation. I didn’t know how to understand it. Throughout my entire life, Nancy had been a constant presence. I didn’t know the world without her in it. Suddenly everything seemed very harsh and cold.

The weight of this knowledge settled into my bones, exhausting me instantaneously.

I was tired for three years.


At the time when it happened, I remember thinking, (in a rare moment of clarity) This is when faith counts. This is when faith becomes just that: faith, “the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” The way I see it, I have two choices before me that will determine the course of the rest of my life: 

1: I can walk away from my faith and everything I previously claimed to believe since it doesn’t feel true right now, or
2: I can trust in the midst of confusion, knowing that God is in control even when I don’t understand His ways. 

Two choices. Two very different outcomes.

One life hinging on one decision.


I’m eternally grateful that I chose to trust. It has single-handedly changed my journey of grief more than the dozens of other decisions I’ve made since.

To be clear, the fact that I had faith did not change whether or not I grieved.

I’m still as human as anyone else. To this day, I still miss my sister. And I’ve come to the realization that I always will. Her absence has become it’s own kind of continual presence in my life.

However, the fact that I had faith did change the orientation of my grief. I was not grieving for Nancy. No, for the Christian, to die is gain. I was grieving for myself, for the loss of the presence of my dearest friend and confidante on this side of heaven.

With distance that time provides, and the graceful restoration that God is faithful to supply throughout time, I’ve actually grown to be exceedingly thankful that I lost someone so beloved to me so young.

Am I saying I’m thankful my sister died? No. Am I belittling the necessity of grieving or the emptiness that ensues when you lose someone you love? Not in the least. But I’m saying that in spite of all those things, in spite of how broken and alone and low I’ve felt at points since my sister passed away, I am thankful.

My sister’s death taught me the truth of the gospel and God’s sovereignty with the intense intimacy that nothing else could have. And now I have the joy of walking in that truth for the rest of my life. For that, I will forever be grateful. What an incredible privilege! I will even go so far as to say that experiencing the loss of my sister was perhaps one of the best gifts that God has ever given me.

Does it make sense? No, not even a little bit. Not how I understand logic to work at least. How can something so awful become something so beautiful? How can something so terrible be morphed into something so wonderful? You see, these are questions that I still don’t fully understand myself, but Christians get the divine honor of pondering. How can something so painful become cause for celebration? The only answer I have is to point to the cross, to Jesus’ resurrection, knowing that this glorious mystery begins and ends there: at the place where death was defeated and true life was born.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
1 Thessalonians 1:13-14

“If there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only in this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people to be most pitied.
But Christ has indeed been raised, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
1 Corinthians 15:13-20

Realizing what the gospel is, well, it’s enough to change your life.


To be honest, since Nancy’s death I’ve gotten into several car accidents. Some just due to inexperience, others due to weather. Based on the amount of car accidents I’ve been in, and the caliber of some of them, I should be dead.

But I’m not.

The most recent accident I was in paralleled the accident that took Nancy’s life (almost) perfectly. I was going around a corner and I hit black ice. My car began to slide uncontrollably. I was absolutely terrified. A tree shattered the driver’s side window, causing an explosion of glass and noise.

It was only when my car came to a shuddering halt on the side of the road that I gave myself permission to cry. I didn’t understand why God had allowed me to survive another accident…particularly an accident so similar to Nancy’s. And yet here I was, unscathed again. Crying. I was an emotional wreck for weeks afterward.

And yet I know that I will not die a moment before I’m supposed to, nor did Nancy die sooner than she was supposed to (Psalm 139:16). I know this because God is in control and knowing that, I have the confidence to live fearlessly.

Understand, I don’t mean the kind of “fearless” that is used to justify stupid life choices. I mean the type of fearless that permeates through everything  – the type of fearless that is evidenced in a quiet confidence, an understanding in Who the Lord is and who I am in relation to Him. I mean the type of knowledge that only comes through trials and heartache and grief.

Not living in fear means living in freedom.

Yes, in knowing all these things, how can I be anything but thankful for my sister’s death?

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
– Hymn, The Love of God

Three Years and Counting

It never ceases to amaze me how in a matter of moments, everything can change. How something can go from meaningless to meaningful instantaneously. How fragile life really is.

I spent years of my life – nearly seventeen of them in fact – with December 11 being nothing more than another day in December. Maybe it meant something in that it brought us one day closer to Christmas – maybe. But even then it only derived its meaning from the next big holiday I affiliated it with. The day itself blended with all the other mundane activities that we call life. And yet, now it marks the single most devastating and important anniversary on my calendar.

The death of my beloved best friend, sister, and confidante, Nancy Lee.

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A Letter

My dearest sister Nancy,

You are infinitely missed. Perhaps more than infinitely. In fact, if there were something of greater depth and breadth than infinity, the amount I miss you would exceed that too.

I still remember finding out that you were gone vividly. When the troopers came in and told us, it felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me…like someone had knocked the wind out of me to such an extent that I no longer remembered how to breathe. I gasped for breath, trying to wrap my head around what this meant – what life could possibly look like without you to enjoy it with.

I came up with nothing. It was literally impossible for me to imagine my life without you as a part of it. Later that night, I remember thinking that the only person I wanted to talk to about this with and process it through was you. YOU! Nobody else. You just got me. You always understood me better than I understood myself. And I know that I’m not always the easiest person to be close to. I’m needy and annoying more times than not. But you weren’t deterred by that. You just loved me so much and so deeply. I hope you were fully aware of how much I reciprocated your love, in my way. But knowing you, and knowing how you knew me, I’m sure you did.

In a way, these past three years have been primarily me recovering from that initial punch in the gut. Re-learning how to breathe, if you will. The breaths were few and far between at first, very shallow and painful, almost nonexistent. But now they are much deeper, and sometimes I can even breathe without having to think about it. Sometimes.

It’s funny, because I think people think that once a person is gone that they’re actually gone – the whole out of sight out of mind mentality. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are just as much a part of my life now as you were when you were still living on earth with us, if not more so. The person I’m becoming is very deeply embedded in the person that you were – you are an irremovable part of who I am. As you always have been and you always will be.

I never thought I would heal from your death. Or ever be even remotely okay again. And there’s a part of me that will never be, honestly. But these few years have taught me something. Healing doesn’t mean that you are restored to the person you once were. It means you are restored to a better person than you ever were before, and could’ve ever been apart from the brokenness that now dwells inside you. There is a part of me that died with you Nancy, a part of me that you brought out that is gone until our reunion in heaven. I can’t even count the times I’ve longed to ask you for advice…even though I know exactly what you would say, it doesn’t eliminate the desire to hear it from you.

Would you believe that I’m actually a (somewhat) physically affectionate person now? I especially love cuddling. I know, I know. Why did I hold out on you then? It wasn’t intentional I promise. It’s just that all those years of forced hugs eventually wore me down. Apparently even the most stubborn of people have an expiration date when they finally yield to the inevitable. Also, I’ve graduated from high school, the Bible Institute and Jefferson Community College in the time since you’ve been gone. I still maintained my role in Annie my senior year because I knew you’d be angry if I dropped it. And I moved down to the Hudson Valley region of NY this fall. I’m planning on finishing my Bachelor’s at SUNY New Paltz. I stood up for Heather at her wedding this past June, and now Sarah is engaged to David! No worries though, I’m still as single as ever. I have alot of ambitions and things I need to figure out before I even think about inviting someone in on this mess. There was a time that I thought I was ready, but circumstances proved differently. I also not only own my own car, but I pay the insurance on it. It’s crazy. All these big things of adulthood we were looking forward to doing together I’m facing alone.

I still grieve. I grieve not only for the things that are never to be, but for the people you’ll never meet and the things we’ll never share. I grieve for Lorilee and Sadie Mae, who only had a few years with you, for KristiAnn and Emily, who will never be able to share their high school events and beyond with you, for my future children who will never know you, for my college graduation that you’ll be absent from, for my wedding that you can’t witness, for all of the little moments that become the big moments in retrospect. All those big adulthood moments that we spent a childhood anticipating doing together I grieve for. I’m so thankful for your example of faith, because faith is the only thing that has sustained me and kept me functioning these past few years.

There is so much more to be said, but I’ll close with this: Nancy, you have impacted more people than you know, and your legacy of love will never be forgotten. It’s a good thing we have eternity to catch up.

I love you.

Always, your sister,
Amy Joyce

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Life in the Rearview Mirror: A Perspective on Perspectives

 

"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."  1 Corinthians 13:12

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

 

It’s hard to put into words the torrent of emotions that have defined this last year of my life. I have struggled in ways I never thought I would, but as it would turn out, I’m just as susceptible and human as anyone else.

Perhaps that sounds a bit conceited. But to borrow a popular colloquialism, the struggle is all too real my friends. When you’re young, you want to believe that you’re exceptional and invincible, somehow above the menial problems that seem to plague others needlessly. That maybe, you can somehow get through this life without experiencing the repercussions of being human.

Um.

I admit, the logic there isn’t exactly in tact. I’m not even sure what I was aspiring to. “I am human, so therefore, let me deny my own natural tendencies of ‘humaness’ to the point that I cease being one?” You don’t even have to think about that statement to recognize its errancy. Ceasing to be a human means ceasing to exist. And that’s definitely less than ideal, so what exactly was I desiring?

There was a movement in the early church among a small group known as gnosticism in which the material and physical world was rejected. The soul was believed to be good, but the body was believed to be evil. Therefore, any pleasure derived physically was also evil.  What a horribly unfortunate way to live. Though they were physical, they were not allowed to exist in a way that allowed them to appreciate their physical experience in a physical world around them.

Again. Um.

Now, gnosticism is not grounded in proper theology or doctrine, but people still adopted those beliefs and lived divided against themselves. Unwilling to accept the human existence for what it was. I have been guilty of doing the same. Not in the rejection of physical, but rather by rejecting the emotional aspects of humaness. I’m not sure when exactly I started equating strength with a lack of emotion, but somewhere along the way, I started to suppress how I felt so I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain that the emotions brought with them. I was also so frustrated with how emotionally driven some girls are that I was determined not to join the club. But I went too far with that.

Growing up in a home that was deeply embedded in Christian principles, I knew how I was “supposed” to feel about things. And when I didn’t feel that way, I would make it so I would. But that’s not Christianity. That’s not how God intends it to be. If it were so, He wouldn’t have provided us with a seemingly bottomless arsenal of emotion. He wants us to feel things, to truly experience life through all the capacities He has given us. He wants us to live life passionately. The standards He gives us are not to hinder us, but rather to help us experience life, and “life more abundantly.” (John 10:10). In fact, He came down to earth and lived a physical life with all of its ramifications to prove it. Jesus’ life on earth is perhaps one of the most moving accounts of passion ever recorded. And Jesus was emotional. In fact, he wept (John 11:35).

I’m not saying that our emotions should consume us. We will feel many things that contradict what God has clearly established as truth in His Word. I’m merely saying that emotions should not be ignored and suppressed. They need to be dealt with. They need to be addressed. They need to be felt.

I am of the opinion that the Christian community could do a lot better by not being so scared of genuine emotion in regards to pain or loss. This is life, everyone. It’s how it works. Sometimes, slapping a Christianese band-aid on something does more harm than it does good. In fact, it can wound further. For the record, there is a lot of emphasis and value placed on being slow to speak in Scripture. I’m not denying the good intentions behind the words. However, I don’t think that it is a good testimony to the love we profess to be recipients of. As Christians, it’s both ignorant and arrogant to pretend like there is an easy answer to everything. Sometimes, life just hurts. Sometimes, we need to sit in silence and hold people’s hand as they cry, and cry along with them. Sometimes, we need to be silent with ourselves as well. It’s okay to allow time for healing. And it’s okay to admit that sometimes, healing takes a long time.

This does not, of course, change the character of God or His truth in anyway. Circumstances don’t dictate who God is. And neither do our emotions. That is not the point. The point is, you cannot live an effective, fulfilled life when you are aspiring to be more than human. I mean, if you’re reading this, you are one. So, be human! Be genuine! Be okay with not being okay. Don’t allow yourself to become a white-washed shell, empty of the reality of who you were created to be. As the wise president Abraham Lincoln once noted, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Though he was referring to a nation, the same holds true for an individual. Embracing who I am, emotions and all, is terrifying and overwhelming, but necessary.

And the good news is, I am not without hope throughout my journey. Not because I am somehow exceptional, but because I serve a God who is. In Psalms 84:5-7, it says:

“Blessed are those whose strength is in You,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it into a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.”

According to the Ryrie Study Bible, the Valley of Baka is not a specific place, but it references two different things, both of which conjure strong images. It is a reference to a place of weeping, as the Hebrew word Baka is derived from the root meaning “to weep,” as well as a reference to a valley of desolation, as the Hebrew word Baka is from the singular word for “balsam trees,” which grow in arid ground. Incredible. As I continue on my pilgrimage, valleys of desperate weeping and desolation will be made into places of springs as I entrust God with everything, including my emotions.

 

On the Subject of Pain

Image

“He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

 

I had someone tell me recently that truth is subjective. And upon first appearance, that seems like a lovely notion. It eliminates any possibility for conflict and judgement – because while you may not agree with someone’s viewpoint, it doesn’t matter, because at least they’re doing what’s “true for them” and they’re happy. And you’re doing what’s “true for you” and you’re happy – so everyone’s happy, right? Everyone wins.

Wrong. Ultimately, everyone loses. If there is no such thing as absolute truth, than the logic only follows that nothing, in fact, is true. If nothing is true, then we are all wandering around blind, with no greater purpose than ourselves to live for. And if that is the case, my friends, then we might as well live as we will, because everything we do is meaningless (see Ecclesiastes for more on this topic, specifically Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 for the conclusion of the matter). We will be forgotten after we die anyway, so why accommodate to others? Who honestly cares? I want x, y, and z to happen in my life, and I frankly don’t care how I achieve those things. I need to look out for Number One, because no one else is going to do it. And if I offend someone along the way, too bad. At least I’m abiding by what is true for me. I’d hate to be hypocritical.

Lack of absolute truth only results in mayhem. Where does the moral code come from? There has to be an Ultimate Standard to draw from. Why do we as a society deem one action “bad” and another “good” if the standard varies from person to person? Understand, I’m not claiming that everything is black and white. There are grey areas, even in Scripture. However, I am claiming that there is something larger than life that allows for certain absolute truths; things that are true for all men in all times through all circumstances. Joe Schenke, the Dean of Students at Word of Life Bible Institute in Pottersville, NY once defined truth this way:

“Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, glory, and being of God.”

Some other attributes of truth include (as taught in the same sermon by Schenke):

  • It is revealed, not not invented.
  • It is unchanging, even though our beliefs about truth change. Beliefs cannot change a fact, regardless of how sincerely they are held.
  • It is not affected by the one professing it.
  • It is narrow. Contradictory ideas cannot both be true.

I say all that in order to simply say this: God is good. I realize that this is not necessarily a popular thing to say, and in fairness, I want to clearly state the perspective from which I’m coming from, recognizing that I’m claiming something that may strike people as ignorant and hopelessly optimistic. I am an unashamed believer in Jesus Christ – He is the Savior of my soul. In the words of C.S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but by it I see everything else.”As a believer, it follows that the Bible is the starting place from which I draw my conclusions. Not to do so would be inconsistent with that which I claim to believe. I know that the subject of the goodness of God, or the existence of God Himself is a divisive one, especially in reference to pain. However, as previously stated, the denial of truth does not make it any less true; and therefore, not believing that God exists does not cause Him to cease to exist.

Now to address the question, if God is good, than why do bad things happen? How can such a “good” God allow such atrocities? It’s certainly a fair question. Looking at the prevailing pain in the world around us, it seems inconsistent to argue that God is simultaneously good AND sovereign. We don’t want to accept that. If God is sovereign, why doesn’t He eliminate pain? It’d be easier to believe in a good God if He was rendered helpless, unable to intercede on our behalf to prevent pain. Or it’d be easier to believe in a God that was sovereign but disconnected and disinterested in our lives; therefore making our pain of no consequence to Him. It is hard to accept that God possesses both attributes. But it is vital to understand if we are to experience a relationship with Him that goes deeper than a superficial fandom.

The reason this world is so broken is a direct result of the sin that exists therein. What is sin? Anything that contradicts the will, character, and word of God. A quick theology lesson: God created the world without sin. However, He loved the human race enough to give men a choice as to whether or not to follow him. The first humans, Adam and Eve, chose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which they were expressly told not to do by God Himself. In eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they disobeyed Him and committed the first sin (see Genesis 3 for more details.) Romans 5:12 says that: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” So, in Adam, we all fell. Any one of us would have made the same decision he did. So why did God even give Adam and Eve the option? Because He loved them (and us) enough to give them the power to choose. He granted us free will because (to quote C. S. Lewis again): “though it makes evil possible, [it] is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” Love that is coerced isn’t love at all. God loves us enough to allow us to choose Him.

But I still haven’t answered the nagging question, how can a good God allow pain? Doesn’t He want us to be happy? Yes, of course. But His desires for us are so much larger for us than satiating the desires that we think will make us happy. More than happiness, He wants us to be holy. In Elisabeth Elliot’s book Passion and Purity, she records a conversation that captures this mindset well:

“The blue eyes filled with tears. ‘Doesn’t He want me to be happy?’ (I heard an echo of Eve in Eden).

‘He wants you most to be holy.’

‘Miserable and long-faced then. Is that what holiness has to mean?’

‘Has to? No. Not only doesn’t have to, but can’t. Real holiness can’t possibly be miserable and long-faced Jane. Holiness means ‘wholeness.’ Comes from the same root as hale–you know, hale and hearty. Healthy. Fulfilled.’

‘Well, that has to mean happy.’

‘That’s what it means for sure. The problem starts when we make up our own minds what will give us happiness and then decide, if we don’t get exactly that, that God doesn’t love us. We slither into a slough of God-hates-me self-pity.’

‘But you just said He wants us to be happy. He must want to give us what we want, doesn’t He? I mean, within reason.’

‘He wanted Adam and Eve to be happy, but He didn’t give them everything they wanted. He knew it would be the death of them. So they got mad and decided He didn’t love them and was being stingy when He told them not to touch the fruit. How could He love them if He didn’t let them have it? They put more stock in the snake’s reasoning than in God’s.”’

I am not in anyway trying to belittle pain. I am simply stating that I serve a God whose sovereignty supersedes pain. In knowing that God is good, I can trust in His goodness, knowing He only allows things for my betterment. Because He loves me enough to place circumstances in my life that force me to recognize my inadequacy and need for Him. It’s easy to claim a faith when it’s never tested. The contents of our hearts are revealed in trial. Only then do we start to recognize the depths of our depravity. Until we come to the end of ourselves, we will tend live in our own strength, whether advertently or inadvertently.

Job is the classic example of a righteous man that underwent trials of massive proportions. In a matter of a few days, he lost his wealth, his children, and his health. As he sat in the ashes scraping off his sores with a piece of broken pottery, his wife inquired, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” To which Job replied, ” You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:9-10).

Yes, and how would we recognize pain if we had never experienced good prior to it? To experience great loss means you first have been blessed enough to experience great joy. It is God’s grace that allows us to experience good in the first place. We are not entitled to blessings. God is not our heavenly vending machine.

I have recently realized that I have a very low view of God. This was unsettling, to say the least. In working through my own grief of the death of my dear sister, I’ve recognized how very shallow my view of God is. As A. W. Tozer describes it, “To admit that there is One who lies beyond us, who exists outside of all our categories, who will not be dismissed with a name, who will not appear before the bar of reason, nor submit to our curious inquiries: This requires a great deal of humility, more than most of us possess, so we save face by thinking God down to our level, or at least down to where we can manage Him.” I am definitely guilty of this. But really, my question in the midst of trials should not be “Why me? I don’t deserve this.” Instead I should be humbled that God loves me enough to take such interest in me that He is willing to allow events in my life that will overwhelm me with His grace.

The key difference between believers and non-believers is not that believers never experience pain. In fact, based on Job, there doesn’t appear to be any immediate correlation between righteousness and adversity. BUT there is one between godliness and grief. And that difference is, believers have hope. We can rest assured in God’s goodness and love by virtue of the fact that He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins. But the story doesn’t end there. He was resurrected, defeating death, the ultimate consequence of sin. So as believers, we can claim victory over this life and our circumstances through Christ. Yes, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:55-56.)  We know that our immediate trials are not all we have to look forward to. As Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18). Our lives are not dictated by circumstances, but rather truth.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

“For we live by faith, not by sight.”

(1 Corinthians 4:8-9; 16-18; 5:7).

 

 

Passages for further study:

  • 1 Peter 1:3-9
  • James 1:2-4
  • Hebrews 4:14-16
  • 1 Corinthians 1:3-5
  • Isaiah 55:8-9
  • Psalm 119:49-50, 71-72
  • Psalm 34:18
  • Romans 5:1-5; 8:28, 31-38