Maybe, like me, you grew up in Sunday School hearing the same Bible stories over and over again. The men healed from leprosy, the faith of the Centurion, the paralytic and his persistent friend, and… More
Loss has piled up on me and the heartbreak has been great. Over the past several years I have been hammered by the reality of this fallen world and the messiness life can bring. Pummeled with trials, we have had little rest in between; few seasons of calm. Desperate to find joy in the sorrow and beauty in the ashes, my husband and kids have been the best life-givers and smile-bringers this world could provide. With them, I have also had my youth group.
For seven years I have served in the best youth program this side of heaven (at least in my humble opinion). The students I first mentored have now graduated high school, bright futures awaiting them on the other side of teenage life. My first year serving, I was scared and timid, doubts running rampant through my head. Would the kids like me? Would I mesh with the team? Would I even enjoy the activities and the retreats away? Would I know what to say and how to lead?
And most of all, would I have impact?
Tucking my daughter into bed, I asked the routine question, “Is there anything you want to pray about tonight?”. With the start of school on the horizon, I anticipated prayers like “for my electives schedule, “for my best friend to get my lunch period”, or “for so and so to be nicer this year”. Pondering for a minute, she answered instead…
“I want to pray for North Korea.”
Surprised at her request, I asked some follow-up questions, gaining a much deeper picture into the heart and mind of my child. As I listened to her concerns, not based out of fear but on knowledge of the situation, I realized why God deeply values the faith of a child. Bold, unwavering, and full of trust, she believed her prayers could make a difference. The cause wasn’t too hefty, too complicated, or too messed up for our all-powerful Creator.
My girl had just massively challenged my own prayer life. And possibly changed the world in the process.
“Time heals all wounds.”
“This year of firsts is always the hardest.”
“Hang in there, it will only get easier.”
“At least this isn’t your first holiday without her.”
People mean well. We really do. Desiring to offer comfort, we oftentimes reach into our pocket of go-to phrases. Bits of advice that feel like a reassuring pat on the back. A slick balm to hopefully ease a stab of pain. We want to make it better. We yearn to help each other move to a brighter side of life. Let’s face it – grief is a downer! For the past couple of years I have often felt like the sad one. The downtrodden sour puss. The weary raindrop among the happy parade. There have been times I believed I should not be THIS sad anymore.
Does grief really get easier with time?
Today marks two solid years since I held my mom, witnessing her say goodbye to this world and hello to heaven. 730 days since I saw her face, whispered encouragement into her ear, prayed for her healing. The first year was a blur in some respects. Cleaning out her house was arduous, but occupied my mind. Putting her affairs in order was taxing, but a distraction. Through the busyness, holidays came and went. Her void was palpable. Her lack of presence a sharp pang of reality. Among the demands jockeying for my time, I forced myself to feel the emotions. I gave myself space to mourn her loss. Denial frequently looked like a better companion, but reality made its way into the depths of my heart. Year one was hard. Really hard.
After honoring her first anniversary, I believed the second year would dawn brighter. At least that is what I had told myself, along with dozens of other hurting people before me. Believing that, like my pocket-full-of-wisdom, time could soften my pain. Years gone by would become less intense. Even that the passage of time could heal my brokenness.
But the truth is…
No amount of time can heal my heart. Only Jesus can.
Coach P. and Dr. B. Two Names. Two men who taught me. Two teachers who believed the best in me. Both of these educators modeled kindness and what it meant to be a team player. They challenged me, desiring to see my potential met. Even-tempered and filled with love, they rallied students together to reach goals, to impact others, and to leave a legacy of hard work and love wherever we went.
I don’t ever recall hearing them talk about God.
Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, my upper-middle class high school oftentimes felt like a private school. We had over a dozen National Merit Scholars, a majority of our graduates went on to attend four-year university, and we produced leaders in all areas of sports, music, and extracurricular activities. Our band performed on an episode of Barney my junior year, and Jessica Simpson sang in our choir. I loved this school and my not-so typical years there.
As a teenager, I was already a Christian but didn’t care two hoots about God or my walk with Him. I was saved at age nine, on a hot, summer morning in central Texas. Standing on the wooden deck of my camp cabin, my counselor prayed with me to accept Jesus as my Savior. My sister was abroad with an international peace organization, and my parents were off on a two-week vacation, so I was sent to TBarM Sports Camp. Thrilled to specialize in gymnastics, I was hoping to learn how to land my back handspring on the beam. Swimming, games, campfires, and tower-repelling delighted my adventurous spirit as well. Being nine years old, sleeping away from home for two weeks should have been a terrifying experience, but me and fear weren’t well acquainted yet. Throughout those sticky, summer nights I heard the Bible stories, sang “Lean on Me” a dozen times, and decided that maybe God did love me after all. Minutes after praying with my counselor, I bolted off the deck to jump back into the pool. I was changed but didn’t know it yet.
Thinking back to my high school days, I can’t remember knowing any Christian teachers. Maybe it was because few existed. Perhaps it was because they didn’t talk about it. Quite possibly it was because I didn’t care. Whatever the reason, I didn’t hear people talk about God much. The only reference to Him that I recall is seeing the Young Life posters in the hallway on Monday afternoons.
Today there is a growing pressure on educators to tow the faith line. Praying on the field before games, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or talking about your beliefs during a world religions unit, are frowned upon, if not forbidden. In a tight spot, you know that faith-based conversations and activities need to be student led and run, but you want to share the hope that you have. What can you do?
Casserole makers. Card senders. Flower arrangers. Prayer warriors. When crisis strikes, we want to help. Deeply desiring to care for one another, we, oftentimes, come up short on appropriate words or actions. Having little idea of the person’s needs, we become frozen in our ability to help in a way that is a blessing, not a burden, to us or to them.
Deep down I believe we all have good intentions. We care. We empathize. We want to help. We just need to be taught how.
Mom was dying, and I was completely overwhelmed by the demands before me. Not having close family nearby, we were left to navigate this season on our own. Caring for our three young kids while being Mom’s primary care giver, I needed help. Honestly, I couldn’t survive without it. During this time of need, a core group of people stepped in to bless, serve, and encourage our family in ways I never could have imagined. Their selfless service to my family and Mom is a debt we can’t repay. Developing a bond that drew us together, this community took our burdens as their own, helping us focus on the path ahead. Their service modeled the love and nearness of Christ in a dark and desolate season. Not everyone played the same role; not everyone could. Depending on the closeness of our relationship and their own time and circumstance constraints, people used their gifts to serve us in a way that was a blessing, not a burden, on either party. There were others in our community who didn’t reach out at all. Deeply knowing and loving these people, I firmly believe is wasn’t due to lack of compassion, rather an inability to assess the needs and know what role they could play.
What is our role when we find someone in our community suffering? What is the appropriate way to reach out, to love, to care for them? Sarah Beckman has written a book that is a must read for anyone desiring to be a blessing during a difficult season.
I had a breakdown outside of Safeway the day before Thanksgiving. Running to my car in the rain, I slammed the door behind me to endure my ugly cry in solitude. The trip should have been painless; I just needed to pick up a few last minute items. Yet, stopping by the florist department on my way to the checkout counter, set me heart into a tailspin. As I delicately placed a bouquet in my cart, the tears welled behind my eyes. Realization hit hard – while most of my friends were baking pies and cooking with their moms that afternoon, I was left to only deliver flowers to the cemetery. Holidays are hard. Triggers are everywhere.
Wiping my eyes in the parking lot, I pondered this question…
How do we be thankful when life hurts so bad?
Skiing down the majestic slopes of Mt Hood, my little girl raced ahead of me, weaving in and out of passing skiers. Uncontrolled in her movements, I watched in horror as she entered the tree-lined bank, crashing into a twisted heap of skis, legs, and gear. Rushing to her side, I found equipment littering the landscape and fresh tears falling down her cold, pink cheeks. Sprawled flat on her back, she muttered this one simple question,
“why does it hurt so bad to fall?”
Bending down, I gently picked her up from the ground. Dusting the fresh powder out of her hair, I looked intently into her eyes and replied,
“because I haven’t taught you how to fall properly.”
Out of the pain of losing Mom, a web community has been born.
When Mom first got diagnosed with terminal cancer in February 2015, I searched far and wide for resources to help navigate the journey. I wanted to find stories of other people who had walked a similar journey, anyone who could provide me a window into the future. I desperately needed to find redemption and hope when the circumstances seemed void of it. My search came up very short. Feeling like I was in uncharted territory, I turned to a few friends who had walked this road before me, knowing not everyone has people who can support in this way.
After Mom’s death, a deep desire has been birthed in my heart. Knowing others were experiencing similar grief, I yearned to create a space where people can gather when a terminal illness enters their world. A central hub of resources and information. A place to share the ups and downs of our stories. Most of all a corner to experience HOPE.
After walking Mom through her final stage of life, I was able to see gifts, big and small, that were given to us during those months. The word “terminal” began to take on a new meaning to me…
Strong. Fortified. Impenetrable. Deep. The roots of our tallest oak tree spread under the surface of our yard like a maze of power. Unseen from the eye, they are hidden beneath layers of rock, soil, and mud. How vast they travel no one knows, until a bulge happens under the sidewalk or across the yard. When the root finally pushes through the surface, it is obvious and intrusive. No longer hidden from the world around it, the damage must be dealt with swiftly, to lessen the blow to the surrounding landscape or to a pedestrian passing by.
There are deep roots in my heart too.
Wounds happen, words sting, friendships fail, opportunities are lost, and we mess up from time to time. Living in a fallen world with broken people insures that. Not able to escape the ugliness of human nature, we grow weary from feeling slighted or forgotten. Consumed by continual disappointment, certain people reinforce long-formed hurts, growing deeper and more complex as time goes by. Yet sometimes we forget that we have done our fair share of hurting too. That other people might have been pushed down by our words or inclusiveness. Forgetting that our bitterness is hurting us more than them, our heart is weakened by holding on to the pain of past deed or present circumstance.
My bitter root of unforgiveness can’t be ignored anymore.
Growing up my parents sent me and my sister on trips across the world. Starting at the tender age of eleven, I began participating in international peace camps through an organization called Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV). My travels took me to far away places such as Brazil, Sweden, Belgium, and Slovakia. Living for a month at a time with children from around the globe, I fell in love with various cultures, people groups, and places. Beginning to see other cultures in light of my own, differences weren’t obstacles to our friendships. Skin color didn’t determine the depth of our relationship. Language barriers couldn’t stop lifelong bonds from forming.
Experiencing the world at a young age helped me to value all people. Most specifically those different from my mainstream, upper-middle class, white, American, Christian self.
Camps like these are rare and hard to come by. I don’t take it for granted that my parents sacrificed much to give us these opportunities. Besides a semester long stint in Switzerland, my kids haven’t grown up with the same opportunities I had. Longing for them to experience other cultures, we have had to actively seek ways to help them touch the world afar. It sounds like a great goal, but it is hard to know where to start. So the question becomes, “how can we spark a love for other cultures in the hearts of our children, when it is so far removed from our every day lives?”
Author, Jaime Martin, has found a way.