Take Heart

He clutches his ‘nearly-the-size-of-him’ backpack tightly to his chest. His shoes, somehow having landed on the wrong feet, stand motionless- flaps to the wind. But thankfully we remembered the bus pass. He holds the tiny stub of paper with the little bit of tape I stuck on for good measure, absently rubbing it against his cheek.

There is fear in his eyes.

He is going on a different bus today, but because he is right now alone, this experience is terrifying to him. It is unthinkable. To get on a vehicle you have never before traveled and trust that it will end up somewhere familiar is beyond his capability right now. All he wants is something sure and someone familiar. Someone recognizable to travel this road with him that will eventually take him toward home.

Don’t we all?

Life is lonely. And so very hard.

We were never promised easy. Never guaranteed a trouble-free road.

That road might look different depending on where you stand, but the road remains the same. Challenged with obstacles, roadblocks, detours, barriers and obstructions of every kind.

{“In this world you will have trouble.” It’s a certainty. A sure thing.}

I stand beside him with my hand on his back. I see the tiny tears welling up in his eyes, and my own heart breaks in two. Breaks into a piece for him and a piece saved for all the others that I will stand alongside in comfort and offer my heart of hope.

I crouch down beside and whisper those very words of hope that I believe. Words that I trust will bring him peace of mind and ease of trouble.

I tell him that his brother is on his way. It won’t be long, they will soon be reunited. We both look toward the door in anticipation. For when that older brother appears, all anxiety will subside. Brothers offer that kind of sustaining optimism sometimes. When they do, it is a powerful thing to behold.

{“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”}

Sometimes we wait for things to come to us. But sometimes we must move towards those things we know are waiting.

We two walk toward the outside door, through it and then up the stairs and towards the classroom buzzing with voices where we know Big Brother patiently waits for his own release.

The lost is found.

{“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”}

We know this world is fraught with tribulation, difficulty, pain and hardship. We are all located somewhere on that continuum of trouble. Where we are located is different depending on the story, depending on the variables. But the outlook is hopeful no matter what the situation.

For He has overcome the world.
And that very fact makes all the difference.

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Brokenness is better than a hallelujah

2015-03-16 19.12.30

God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

She was just a mess, broken pieces, shards of glass. And as she sat on a bridge one fine October day, feet dangling over the water’s edge, all she could think of was how much she hated him. How much he drove her crazy. They would never make it, him and her. They were too different. Too opposite. And he didn’t understand her- what made her tick, what fueled her tank.

God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Months had passed into years, and she had all but given up hope. Things were just too far gone. There was no hope for this situation- they would never get it right. Some things were not meant to be. And they were one of these things: mismatched, unevenly aligned. Two people going in two different directions.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

She had talked about it for quite some time to the one person she trusted the most with these kinds of details. And that person had supported her through it all, but had also stipulated that they believed God was in this marriage, even if the Girl didn’t yet see it. That person said they were praying. They could see the best in this impossible situation. The Girl wasn’t so sure. In spite of her limited faith, the hope that the One Praying had, seemed to do for both of them.

The woman holding on for life
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Besides, it was not due to wrongs that either she or the Man had done to one another in any moral sense that this Great Divide had been created: it was due more to those little hurts that come by way of more intangible situations. From depriving one another love, from holding back. From the cold that grows inside a heart that is turned off love. And in time, little hurts like these can give way to bigger ones: anger, resentment, fear, insecurity, sadness, isolation, anxiety, panic and loneliness.

The tears of shame for what’s been done
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

So when she found herself telling him that she wished it was over, wished that she had never even begun, it was almost like the floor had finally given way in a dilapidated old house that had served its purpose one too many years. Everything fell apart.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And while I still don’t know quite what happened, I can say that one day the Girl woke up and there was a change in her heart. She couldn’t quite put her finger on the exact moment, the time and day. But she knew somehow, someway- something had changed. She was different- and so was he. There had been something miraculous happen to bridge the Gap between them, something had toppled the massive walls that had been erected to separate, fortresses made from the strongest of materials. Something had changed between them. They were no longer enemies, at odds with one another. They were friends.

Better than a church bell ringing
Better than a choir singing out, singing out

The Girl and the Boy tentatively adjusted to their new life, lived in freedom from the former chains. Chains that had once held them captive and enslaved to their own self-serving interests were now broken. They were gone. And the Girl and her Boy lived in peace with one another, free to love each other. Free to love themselves. And free to serve one another in love.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

And because they had witnessed nothing short of a miracle, it was right to tell the world. That their broken mess of a marriage had been made into something beautiful. Just like a broken hallelujah from the lips of one breathing their last. Just like a melody from one who has lived to see another day. Their lives were a living testament to grace. Their lips could do nothing less than sing of God’s amazing grace.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

When we share with one another the brutal in our lives, along with the beautiful, we are able to clearly see the truth on which our lives are built. Unashamed and unconcealed. Broken and free. We are unchained melodies.

For we are more than just the pretty details we show one another in social media, more than the cute pictures we post on Facebook, the funny stories we share in our news feeds. We are more than just the casual “I’m fine” that we say so flippantly when asked how we are doing. We are people with real lives, real stories. Real pain. And none of our lives are perfect. None of us has that market cornered yet. We live lives of suffering that can be marked on a continuum that measures the varying degrees. And none can judge the shoes another walks in because we cannot ever know the pain we feel inside. Cannot really know the emptiness of wondering, “Is this all there really is?” This has to be one of the greatest points of despair in a person’s journey: wondering what is the purpose of a pointless life that seems to be heading nowhere. This is grief at its lowest, this is emptiness in its fullest.

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

Can we believe this truth?
Our lives are better than a beautiful melody sung by angels.
Our tears are better than a hallelujah uttered in church on Sunday morning.
Our cries are better than an Amen.
Our rage is better than apathy.
Our anger is better than indifference.
Our acknowledgement of the brokenness of our lives is better than a hallelujah.

Bearing truth to the messy, complicated in our lives is better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

(It’s better than a hallelujah sometimes)

Words to the song “Better Than A Hallelujah” are written by Amy Grant

The Lies We Tell

Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. The lies we blatantly tell to others. Those little half-truths that we convince ourselves to believe, that we try to influence others into believing as well. Words can be so deceptive. So smooth and yet so distorted. We find ourselves saying things like, it will be a good day tomorrow, and this is all going to get better; saying things like everything is going to be okay and the best is yet to come. And more shameful still: It can’t get any worse.

Tomorrow will be easier.

Really?

Are we so sure? Do we know it will be a better day tomorrow? And is everything really going to be okay? Do we know everything is going to get easier? That it really can’t get any worse?

Do we know this for sure?

He was in tears at my classroom door. It had been a DAY. Truly a day. A day of spills and messes and meltdowns and breakdowns. My patience had been tried. And there he stood in front of me, with tears in his eyes- apprehension written across his face. I was exhausted and spent myself and had my own set of problems that needed fixing. But I looked him in the eye and I said something I would later regret. I said, “It will be a better day tomorrow.”

I mean, really. Who am I to say?

In my experience, problems that need mending don’t just disappear overnight. Trouble doesn’t up and vanish, heartaches don’t just melt away like icy snowflakes on an outstretched tongue. We can’t make promises about tomorrow. We don’t know. We are not there yet. We haven’t got a clue.

And who are we to say what tomorrow will be?

All I know of tomorrow is I am not there yet. If tomorrow proves anything like today, it will bring with it laughter intermingled with challenges, tears and sorrow- a day of highs and lows. If it is anything like today, it will probably be hard.

I am driving in a rush from the rink to piano and then over to pick up Daughter at her school- a child whom I have failed to secure an after-practice ride home for, yet again (hoping in vain that Husband would have remembered- he didn’t). While I drive, I can feel the stress creeping up my back- pain spreading as muscles are clenched and knotted. I arrive late only to find that someone else has taken her home. A family friend. While I am relieved, I also feel shame for not having ‘dotted all my i’s and crossed all my t’s’. I should have made arrangements earlier. A good mother would have done better.

While I turn the vehicle around so as to return to my previous commitment, I hear a sound-bite from NASA archives come bounding across the airwaves. President Kennedy’s moon speech from September 12, 1962- on why America was making such efforts to land man on the moon and return him safely to the earth:

“Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

I am moved by the beauty and conviction with which these words are spoken, stunned also for moments as I assimilate the message. More sound-bites follow, which I cannot now remember, washing over me like anaesthetic. Numbing me. For all I can think about right now- can think in this moment- is the core of that moving message. Kennedy’s call for action. That is, we don’t choose to go bravely forward into the unknown, forging paths through the darkness, merely because it is EASY: we do so for the very fact that it is HARD. We do so for the reason that it is hard. We move forward toward the challenge seeking opposition- knowing in fact, that life without challenge is not really life. It is lifeless.

We choose to face tomorrow- and all the tomorrows after that- knowing they will be hard. Accepting that they will be hard. But bravely facing them anyway. Knowing we can face these challenges and hardships, these tests of our endurance: because we’ve proved we can already. We did them today. We CAN do hard things because we’ve already done those same hard things today. We’ve lived through, coped with and survived those hard things already and we know that we can face them again tomorrow.

And the tomorrow after that.

The challenge to live today so we can face tomorrow is one we must accept- for if we are willing to live our lives courageously- willing to live our lives fearlessly: we must live knowing that life is hard but also live knowing that life lived to the fullest is also a possibility. It’s possible to live life well and full even when it is hard. And we can win in the face of such tremendous odds, we can face this enormous challenge of tomorrow head on (and other challenges like it too) because this we know for sure: LOVE WINS. Love always does.  It’s the one surety.  And because love wins, so can we.

I rise early before day has even broken across the sky. Everywhere is blackness, everywhere is darkness. I stumble my way down the stairs toward the shower. The minutes and hours stretch before me like a blank slate. I have no knowledge of what will come. No guarantees that what I anticipate will actually transpire. All I know for sure is there will be hard things. I know this.

But I can do them.

{I Corinthians 13: 13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”}

Let the light shine on

Winter solstice awaits eagerly in the wings while I slip on my teen-aged son’s outgrown winter boots that pinch my heels and take to the snow-covered road.

Dusk settles over the white fields enveloping all that the eye can see in muted tones. Black, grey, white and brown. I step carefully as traffic has increased on this little side road due to the transportation closures of last week, a response to the two days of freak flooding our area experienced. Now a dusting of white covers everything, as if to convince the passer-bys that Christmas is truly on her way. I cling to the shoulder of the road hoping to not lose my foothold and find myself by some unplanned error in the ditch.

My mind is full tonight, as always. It’s Christmas time. But instead of looking expectantly forward to the lights, sounds and flavours of a magical holiday, preparing for the holidays: I have spent days visiting my Dad at the hospital on post-surgical, Unit 2 and now at his new spot, on the adjacent Unit 3. His room, equipped with a lift that assists him in getting from bed to chair and bed to wheelchair when his legs are not cooperating.

Two weeks tomorrow, Dad was home, living his life.

Not that things then were perfect- far from it. Dad has Parkinson’s and the effects of the condition have gradually stolen from him a way of life. Taken from him the ability to be independent. Taking first his ministry and ability to provide financially for his family, and then attacking his health and well-being aggressively in his early fifties .

I am not oblivious to the fact that the very decade Dad possibly began experiencing initial symptoms is the one I am living out right now. Parkinson’s has taken much: stolen from Dad the ability to drive and carry out tasks independently. And now, as he struggles to walk, finding even the few steps he does take unassisted to be a challenge, we his family watch helplessly from the sidelines. He had not even been able to stand without two nurses on either side of him all week although the last few days have seen him able to take a limited number of steps. Yes, life has changed. For Dad and for all of us. And while it wasn’t perfect before hospital admission- it was being lived by him as the new normal.

We ask ourselves, why? Why this? Why now? Why all this heartache at Christmas?

Our family has had its share of tragedy, as have most families that we know well and love. Just the other day, I met a friend in the store after leaving the hospital from where I had spent time with Dad, and I conveyed to her the sadness I feel at the reality of people I love aging and getting older. She reeled off the stats on her aging parents and in-laws. Heart conditions, lung conditions. And the list went on.

And then this news. Just the other day, a friend stopped me to share the tragic news that a close family member of hers had lost their full-term baby due only a few short days ago to an unknown cause.

We ask- we cry out: WHY? Why all this hurt, all this sadness?
It is easy to feel crushed under the weight of all this oppression. Easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Easy to give up and let go of all that holds us together.

I make my way down the slope of the road toward my favorite little inlet where the fish jump gracefully in the summer, the bulrushes their gentle home. The waterway has widened to a swell due to last week’s torrential rains; in the evening hour, this little corner of the world looks like a black-and-white photo. I watch as two blue herons spread their wide wings and lift to the sky in graceful motion.

It is serenely beautiful.
The land fading into sky washed in varying tones of grey, save for the sliver of fading pink that still pools light into the horizon. This sunset tonight is breathtaking, a gorgeous wash of pastel light, yet it seems incongruent alongside the picture taken from where I stand down below, dismal at this hour of the day. But in looking up to that glorious pink sky, I am left spellbound and breathless, wishing only for my camera to capture what would have been a perfect shot. I settle for a memory instead, savoring the moment.

This radiant light. It is the promise of a dying day- that there will come another. Time makes sure of that. There is always light to be found within darkness. Light always finds a way to penetrate the darkness.

Slipping through cracks in walls, through slats in doors.
Bursting through hallways, trickling down corridors.
Meeting me on the road where I now look for it. This light, it is my constant comfort and hope. For light always finds a way to shine, always finds a way to win over the darkness.

“The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5, NIV)

It was just four short days ago that I was traveling home from Charlottetown in a thick fog. I had pulled into Summerside for a coffee as my eyes were trying desperately to shut, so weary I was after a long day. I was getting ready to head back on the road when I realized how challenging my ride home was about to be. Everywhere my eyes landed there was a haze. As I pulled up to a stop light, I noticed that directly in front of me was a small aluminum trailer attached to a truck. As I turned out onto the highway, I could hardly see a thing to my right or my left, but I thankfully could always see the four red lights shining out toward me on that trailer. I watched those four red lights as if they were a beacon. And for mile after mile after mile, those red lights were my focal point on which I intently set my sites. When I lost track of the lights, I lost track of the road. When I was in view of the lights, I was safely where I needed to be.

Those lights led me home.

In the dying light of day, Light leads forward into another morn, come what may. For there is always light and light brings hope. Hope spills recklessly like a beam of brilliant light over a darkened world, reigning eternal. Showing us the way, leading us home.

To this we say: let the Light shine on

Be the miracle today

This is dedicated to all the “miracle-makers” in my life. Thank-you is not words enough….

I think the truest miracles in life come to us one at a time, moment by moment. Largely private, largely unseen. The ones that are life-changing, that make all the difference, are often the ones most subtle in form. Not announced by loud proclamations over the wires, but whispered through heartfelt words from person to person. Not felt in the thunder, or through all the noise- but experienced in the quiet, in the still.

In the secret.

She was there on the phone, crying. Sobbing, actually. She had just had lost her job, experienced a medical emergency and had a huge debt to pay. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. There was so much more to her story: so much more pain, so much more sadness, so much more tragedy. We who knew her well understood. We felt for her. Our hearts were breaking. But for the longest time, could do little to help her, physically speaking. She was desperate. And for now, this was where she was at. At a crossroads. Standing at a decision point. It was either ‘sink’ or ‘just keep swimming’ for her. She didn’t know how much longer she could do the latter. She was ready to give up completely.

Because she couldn’t see any way out of this mess.
Because she didn’t know if there was room in this world for a miracle for her.
Because she wasn’t sure entirely she still believed in miracles. At least, miracles designed for her.

She was sharing this distress with her friend, this absolute desolation- when something life-altering happened. Another heart was intertwined and involved in this story. Something happened within the heart of her friend. And while that same friend had already been praying, God opened a door and this friend- her kindred spirit of a friend, whom she was talking to RIGHT THEN AND THERE…walked through a doorway, so to speak. Walked into her heart.  And it happened almost by miracle. Truly by miracle. Because, surely, that’s what this was all about. Miracles of the everyday kind. And because this friend had been there too, in the sense that she had been through the fire, through the storm… through it all- there was a comradeship between them. An understanding. A bond. For both believed that if miracles were to happen, they would happen of their own accord, under God’s careful watch.

Heart to heart, hand to hand. Without anyone ever knowing save for God Himself.

And as the two were talking, the answer appeared. As if by vision- for truly there was a Providential hand at work. The answer came to them both immediately. And for the one who gave freely as from an open heart- as well as for the one who received with broken heart, there was no doubt in either mind: a miracle had just occurred.

It was transformational. A God-inspired moment.

And no one but them would ever know the rest of the story

Sometimes the miracle is so small we might dismiss it entirely: a kind word. A smile. A caring touch. A hug. Sometimes the miracle is bigger, more public in reach. It’s amazing. The thing is, a miracle can happen just about anywhere, anyhow. And all that is often needed is a willingness to be used. To be a vessel. For our hearts are made for this very thing, this very purpose. For such a time as NOW. For such a moment as this very one we are living.

Our hearts were designed to be miracle-shapers. Miracle-makers.

Our hearts were designed to reach out to one another in love. In compassion. In empathy. In heartfelt concern. A miracle can take place just about anywhere…but it is often in the secret that the miracles that mean the most are felt and experienced the most deeply.

Miracles that happen heart to heart are almost indescribable with mere words.
Friendship is one of life’s greatest tangible miracles. Having a friend is miracle in and of itself. Knowing another heart was given to you to hold gently, yet compassionately: this is one of God’s greatest gifts to us as human beings. For when we can join our hearts in love for one another, each for the other: miracles truly do take place. We were all designed for this. To be part of the miracle taking place both in our own lives as well as to be witness to the miracle underway in the lives of those we love and hold the closest. All of us can be a friend. All of us can be a miracle.

And each one of us was given today- this very moment: to be a miracle for someone else.

{sunset picture retrieved from dreamatico.com}

This messy, complicated life? {It’s worth it…}

She starts to talk, but her voice cracks. Tears are falling, even though I can’t see them over the phone-line. They’re there. Welling up in her eyes, free flowing down her cheeks. Splashing onto her hands and fingers- her chin trembling.

And even though I can’t see her- I know all about it, know that she is struggling. Struggling with accepting this. Struggling with understanding this. Struggling with living all this- putting one foot in front of the other. She is struggling with showing up each and every day to her lived reality.
Because showing up and facing this hard life that doggedly pursues us, day in and day out is one of the biggest obstacles we must overcome.

Life is hard.

She and I both know it. In fact, we all know it. And don’t we all just wish we could fix it up and take away all the messy? Take away all the trouble and pain and struggle and heartache we and our loved ones must endure? We just wish it would all vanish, leaving us with happiness and joy and peace as a trade-off. Because everywhere we look, it’s there.

Heart-ache.

It’s there. In our conversations. In our homes and our families. In our schools, and workplaces and communities. In our nation and scattered heavily throughout our world. Pain and heartache are there every time we turn on the news, turn on the television. This world is so full of trouble- it’s depressing. It’s certainly one of the surest things we can count on in this life.

And wouldn’t life be so much better without it there- without all that misery?
Because life would be so much better if it were perfect. And sometimes we look around and we compare ourselves and our lives to others. Maybe it’s simply comparing ourselves to what we see as the ideal. Maybe it is someone elses marriage. Or their seemingly perfectly-kept home. Or maybe it’s their children that we see as so amazing- and what we wouldn’t give to have our children behave/perform/act in the very same ways.

Maybe it’s another person’s career we’re after or their success in life we want. Maybe it comes down to money and health and overall happiness. We crave for what we do not have. Maybe it’s just everything at times- because things just look so bleak in our own lives. We look around and take stock of our troubled, pain-filled lives- finding they always fall short of where we’d like them to be.

Our lives are hard.

Maybe we might look around and see something we don’t have in our lives and think “if I only had that one thing”- that missing ingredient (which, if we had it, then would make everything just as it should be). Maybe it is something we see as missing within us, some imperfection:

Our struggle with weight.
Our frustration with appearance.
Our un-acceptance of our God-given personality.

Or maybe what eludes us is closer to home.

Our difficult relationships with significant others.
Our parenting mistakes.
Our chaotic households.

And when these things we hold near and dear to our hearts are in turmoil, doesn’t everything else seem to be affected? The whole world appears to be in disarray. Our lives are so colored by the success of what is going on inside our own minds. If we are not at peace within, there seemingly is no peace.

And when we live in such a state of personal discontentment, we look out and see the larger world around us and believe there is absolutely no hope.
How can there be when life is so full of pain? So full of struggle?

And so, that is exactly what discouragement and despair and disappointment can do to us. They restrain us, detain us- hold us in bondage. They pin us down, hold us back. Lock us up and leave us in darkness. For despair would have us to forget the joy and the sweet beauty that pain in its hardship can bring.

For what caterpillar in its simplicity could ever imagine that out of the pitiful ugly would come beautiful wings?

What soldier could ever explain the surrender of leaving all so as to serve a greater cause? It is a sacrifice made so that peace might come. All that hardship and sorrow and painful separation from family done so as to bring peace and freedom to the many.

What mother can ever forget the joy of delivering her precious children into this world? A journey taken for both mother and child that calls for great sacrifice and huge cost. It is hard, messy, difficult work to be born- to give birth, but what joy and precious beauty is brought because of it?

And for all of us. We forget that we are being made beautiful in time as well. Our lives count for something bigger- this is not all there is. Our pain is making us stronger. Our hardship causes us to grow more deeply in compassion. Our struggle helps us to become more empathic. And in sharing our heartaches, we help others to know that they are not alone.

We never are- for He is always with us.

And sometimes we forget to acknowledge that we’re in this life together. We are in this with other people. In this life with a God that loves us- who is always rooting for us, wanting us to win. We are in this life with a God who doesn’t expect perfection- He just asks that we show up to the imperfect, messy lives He’s given us to live and give them our all. Give it “mostly enough.” And might we all remember- not one of us humans is doing this life up perfectly. Because there is no perfect in the here and now. No such thing as flawless in this life.

Perfection is an ugly myth- it is a lie.

But for those who believe in the fullness of time, we know that someday we will have that which slips through our fingers today. Someday we will know and understand. Someday it will all be clear. And we hold fast to the hope that there is more to living life than merely surviving the messy present. More to it all than merely enduring the day to day heartache. For this world is not our home- He has set eternity in our hearts.

The story isn’t over.

And all the pain and trouble and heartache of this life are here to grow our hearts in understanding- grow our hearts in love. One toward another. So that we can come to realize: life is worth the living- worth doing it together.

It’s worth it all in spite of all the trouble we must face as we go through.

We are not alone.

In This World…

In this world, you will have trouble…

There will be trouble.

There will be sorrow.

I sit one row back as my heart grows heavy. Prayer request after sorrowful request for those needing a special touch are called for. Requested for those needing a miracle. I turn to speak with a man behind me and his head falls to his chest as we converse, tears close to the surface. He isn’t able to finish his thought; mid-sentence, his grandson steps in to finish the story where he left off. The grandfather’s cherished grand-daughter and the young man’s sister: she is dying. “It will probably be today” the younger of the two men says simply. I am at a loss for the right words to say, offering only what I have to give: my sorrow. A young sister, a granddaughter: dying, even as we speak. She chokes and fights for life while I dispassionately sing the choruses about joy and living. Truly her short days on this earth have not been easy. She has never run or walked or played. She has missed those taken-for-granted moments, trading them in for a life of long-term care. It is too close for comfort- this story, and I fight back emotions.

We just buried my aunt not even two weeks ago.

As I turn back around in my seat, the stark reality of another struggling family hits me square in the gut: a local family from the next community over has lost a home. It burned down Friday night- the cause, an electrical fire: they escaped with only their lives and the clothes on their backs. The weight of these and the many other accounts of adversity that I am hearing begin to cover me in grief: a friend whose has been inflicted with a near-detached retina, who might not regain her eyesight back even within the year. Another friend who put her knee out. Church friends who feel more like family: hospitalized, bed-ridden. Cancer and various other long- term illness the cause. My own back and shoulders ache with tension.

I can’t bear all this sorrow.

And my mind wanders to my own immediate family coming to terms with the death of our only aunt on my mother’s side, a woman who had been bed-ridden for thirty-one years. The death of her baby: our only cousin from that side of the family- a baby taken before his time. Jesse Robert Maclean. And the questions still unanswered burn within me: why. Why her? Why him? Why them? Why us?

Why all this sorrow?

In this world, we are promised many things.

There will be joy.

I pull together a meal: pork-chops with seasoning, rice laced with chicken broth. Corn, fresh garden salad, rolls and angel food cake topped with cherry conserves. My sweet friend has just given birth to her second child: a darling baby boy. I hold him against my shoulder and breathe in the sweet fragrance of his baby smell, while his mama and I talk. He is a joy- a precious gift to cherish and gaze at in awe-struck wonder. I take in the ease with which his mother tenderly nurses her child and we both revel in the moment. The joy and the wonder of it all.

The absolute miracle.

Later, my own family of six head down to my in-law’s sprawling property, grass growing greener by the day. We are here for an impromptu birthday party, of sorts. Cats lying lazily on the back porch greet us while hot spring sun shines brightly overhead.  We will celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday with a still-warm-from-the-oven banana chocolate chip cake topped with whipped chocolate icing. Cake, ice-cream and candles- can afternoon snack get any better than this? She beams with pride as the grandchildren envelope her to help blow out the dwindling candles, wax dripping down onto the icing below.  There is easy banter and laughter. This home is filled with love and joy. Filled with happiness.

For in this world, there will be joy. There will be celebration. Pleasure, delight, elation.

But we are promised this surety as well: there will also be sorrow. It’s a promise.

I wonder at this prospect.  This reality. There will be trouble.  There always has been and there always will be.

There will be pain. There will be suffering. There will be disease. There will be hardship. There will be persecution. There will be loss. There will be adversity. There will be poverty. There will be destitution. There will be difficulty. There will be obstacles.

There will be death.

We stand over the grave and I try to process my feelings and sadness. A body is buried. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This is the final resting place for her, indeed for all of us: a grave.

When we as family leave the graveside, after singing “What a Day It Will Be”, the caretakers will cover over that coffin with dirt. It will be lowered six feet under. And the shell that she was will be buried underneath the soil and grass.  A tombstone remaining to commemorate her life and death. The sorrow and mourning will also remain as the reality of this closing chapter of a mortal life that is now over. The sadness and sorrow lingering long after that final mound of dirt has been patted down.

The thought of this all is so very troubling. So difficult to deal with.

For the troubles of this world remind those of us who still remain, those of us who remember: that death is waiting in the wings. It lurks in the shadows for everyone of us.  It is coming.

We will have trouble.

And with this reality as our surest promise, I wonder still at the hope one can garner so as to carry on. So as to continue.  So as to press forward and live, in spite of it all.

How do we find that hope to face trouble in this world? To face pain and suffering?

How then shall we now live?

In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, there is One who has overcome the troubles of this world.

There is One who is over trouble. Who is over heartache. Who walks through adversity with those who call His name. There is One who has crushed Death underneath His feet with the words, “It is finished.” There is One who has gone on before us to prepare the Way.

And He has not forgotten us. He has not left us alone.

He is God with Us: Immanuel.

He knows our deepest longing, our darkest fears. He whispers into our soul that He is near. He reaches out, extends His love and peace and hope to fragile souls like mine in our greatest moments of need.

And He has overcome.

It’s a surety, a promise. There will be trouble, but His Word is true.  He has overcome.

Prevailing over trouble and suffering and disease and hardship and persecution and loss and adversity and poverty and destitution and difficulty and all other obstacles this world has ever known.

He has triumphed over death.

So we take heart.   In this world there will be trouble.  We will endure much hardship, much suffering.  We will suffer, forging forward through this time of trouble.  But in a little while, we will be with the Father- can’t you see Him smiling!

He waits for us with arms outstretched. He encourages and calls out to us in the brutal harsh reality of the here and now.  And one day when this life is over, He will welcome us home.

Where He will remind us of that other precious promise, that hope and joy: that He was always with us.  Even through the storm.

Even in the distressing trouble that was our painful reality.

He was always there- and forever, He always will be.

He has overcome.  And one day, we will too.

It’s a promise.