I’ve been chewing on some rather rough thoughts lately. My mind has been working some serious overtime to try to figure things out… to make sense of things… to make the chaos fit into a logical thought pattern. And, I simply cannot do it. I can’t make insanity make sense. I have found myself spinning. And searching. And seeking. And screaming. And sobbing. And finally – surrendering.
I like for things to be predictable – to go the way they “should” go. For example: Christmas gifts. I was always a sucker for beautifully wrapped gifts. In my simplistic mind, I deduce that beautiful wrapping = amazing gift. (Turns out, that isn’t always the case.) If you need proof, just check my Dirty Santa resume… I’m always the girl who leaves with a plunger. After 36 years on the planet, you’d think that I would learn to expect the unexpected… but, I have not.
Often, my adventures in the unexpected are humorous. A few weeks ago, after several weeks of non-stop chaos, my sweet husband planned a surprise date- night for us. I love it when he has those really thoughtful moments, so I was PUMPED! I was even more excited when he revealed that we would be heading up to Hope Church in Memphis to a Third Day concert. Because the date-night was a bit impromptu and time was quite limited, we opted to grab a to-go “supper” from our kitchen and head straight to Hope Church. Who cares that the only “to-go friendly- food” we could find was a couple of bananas and some rice & bean chips??? We were going to a concert!!
Imagine our confusion when we pulled into the church parking lot and saw vast emptiness. No. One. Was. There. Not Third Day. Not a ticket taker. Not a fan. Not a single soul. After a few moments, we finally pulled out the tickets and closely examined them. No worries!! We had simply arrived early. Very early. A month early, actually. The rest of the night was a comedy of errors – every restaurant that we selected happened to be closed, every turn we took was wrong, every contingency plan failed…. So what did we do? We ran to the mall, picked up a shirt that we had ordered months ago, bought a new pair of sneakers for Vance, wandered through the aisles at the Brookstone store (I wandered… Vance tried every single gadget in the store), headed back home, and went to bed at 9:30.
Our date night was certainly not what I expected. It was not bad – just not what I expected. And, that, my friends, is what the Lord is teaching me lately. I. Am. Not. In. Control. But, He is. I can choose to question every single thing, OR I can choose to praise Him and serve Him – in every moment- especially the unplanned ones.
Our date night was an unexpected breath of fresh air. But, those fresh breaths have been scarce lately. The Lord has placed hurting people in our lives a lot lately- people with hurts so deep, so unimaginable, that we struggle to come to grips with the reality of their suffering. Their pain and their struggles are sometimes so overwhelming that I almost feel that I am suffocating- choking. Most of the situations are so tragic that I have not even been able to find the words to write or speak about them. To add to the pain that we feel for the people we serve, we have had more than our share of personal pain lately. It has been almost unbearable. Hopeless. Heart-breaking. Hard.
Lately, I cringe when people ask how ministry is going because I just don’t feel like it gives God a lot of glory if I burst into tears and begin my testimony with, “This has been HORRIBLE!!!….” Something about a weeping, snot-covered woman bellowing about tragedy and pain doesn’t inspire people to serve our Savior… so, I choose a different approach. Instead of falling apart, I have plastered on my fake “happy face”, choked back tears, and answered with vague responses like, “Whew, it has been busy!” or “There is always something, ha!” When people ask about Love Works… I’ve been a liar; but, I’ve totally been lying out of love for you, I promise. (I’ll repent when I finish this post. I pinkie-promise.)
Love is soooo not easy. The work is easy, but the love is difficult – not for the reason you may think, though. See, superficial love doesn’t really cost me anything. A quick hug, a batch of freshly baked cookies, a sweet note – those things are easy- painless. That’s not the love that has brought me to tears lately. I’m talking about painful love. Messy love. Real love. Radical love. Love so deep that you willingly endure hurt for the good of someone else. That’s what has been killing me.
Love hurts. The love that put Jesus on the cross was real. My Savior looked at me in my wretched state and loved me enough to die. He knew every single thing about me – every lie, every malicious thought, every “secret”, every everything. He knew me, really knew me, and still made the choice to love me in an unthinkable way. He laid down His life. Let me repeat: HE laid down His life… because He loved. What a gloriously happy ending for all the sinners like me! Hope was born for us – out of HIS LOVE. That is simply magnificent news! Such amazing hope came for us… but, it came only after Jesus suffered on the cross to pay for our sins. Painful love.
And, that, my friends is the second lesson that I have been learning. Those sweet moments… those hope-filled moments… those moments when the presence of our Lord is so thick that you can feel it on your skin – those moments frequently come after a season of painful moments – of suffering. And, when the sweetness arrives, all that pain; that hurt; that anguish; that fear – all the junk that seems to cripple us- disappears. The pain is forgotten. The hurt is gone. The fear seems foolish. And you breathe again. You breathe hope. You breathe love. You praise Him for the pain. You look back and see His plan, notice how He was moving in the middle of the trials, recognize His grace as He lovingly refined you through the journey. You remember your purpose. You remember your Savior.
Indeed, lately those feel-good happy-endings have seemed almost nonexistent, and suffering abounds. Many days, I have felt like time is moving in slow motion while I watch a scary movie unfold before my eyes. It is tragic. Surreal. Painful. There have been lots of days here lately that I would have preferred to avoid it all and stay snuggled up in my bed. I’d like to pretend that all the bad stuff doesn’t exist. I’d like to take the “ostrich approach” and bury my head in the sand. I’d like to focus on fun things like romantic movies, puppies, fuzzy slippers, sunshine, and cake. But, I can’t.
I surrendered. And, that surrender changed me- even in the moments when I want to un-surrender (is that even a word??)- I cannot will myself to turn back. I am beginning to realize just how hard this whole “following Jesus” thing is. Knowing all about Him is easy. Loving Him becomes a bit more difficult. Following Him in total surrender… is painful. He keeps leading me to places filled with turmoil and pain and fear. Places I could never find on my own. Places filled with people who need love. People who are desperate. As I stare into the faces of desperate people that I am called to love, often I see myself. I see my own sin. I see my depravity. I see the amazing grace that was extended to me on the cross. I see the love that Christ has for me. I remember that His love for me cost Him. I remember that He suffered.
Those thoughts move me. They help me get back up. They help me dry my tears. They help me to love.
And that, my friends, brings us to the third thing I’ve learned lately. It is pretty simple actually: He wins.
I’ve read the book. I know the ending. He wins. Better yet, because I am His, I win too! Even if every single day serving Him on this earth is painful; even if I never again feel His presence or see His face; even if tears and tragedy mark every moment – Eternity in the presence of the Lord is worth it.
He wins. He wins. He wins. Death has been defeated, and He wins.
Praise Him with me. Serve Him with me. Love Him with me. Through His pain, we win too.
Put faith in action. Don’t let fear cripple you. Believe Him. Love works.