Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

It’s the messiest time of the year!

December 25, 2016 1 comment
THE HOLY FAMILY – the nativity figures are hand carved from some place in Africa (which I realize really doesn’t tell you much, but I can’t remember which country). The doily is from Heidelberg, Germany – a gift from my parents when they returned from a trip to Europe when I was about 16 years old.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the messiness of Christmas.

A young unwed girl becomes pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Today, we would either say the girl is lying or get her psychiatric help. Or both. Mary’s pregnancy could of left her poor and destitute at best, or stoned at worst. I can’t imagine travelling far distances on a donkey – but to do so 9 months pregnant?

Then to be turned away and offered a place with the animals to give birth. Talk about unsanitary conditions! The son of God could have been born in a palace – but a manger was his bed. I watched a funny video of children telling the story of Jesus’ birth and they commented on how Jesus probably “pooed” and it was probably very smelly. Having worked at farms, farm animals are kinda stinky! Not very king-like. Definitely very messy. The son of God not only took on human flesh, but came as a helpless baby, totally dependent on others for his care.

Instead of the elites coming to praise and worship this king, shepherds – smelly, dirty, poor shepherds were the invited guests. I remember reading somewhere that they would not have been allowed into the temple – but they were invited into the miracle and mystery of God becoming flesh.

Then King Herod gets wind that there’s a new king born. He is so intimidated by a little baby, that a massacre of male babies under two is commenced. The “holy innocents” as the church calls them and their families bear the price of human sin, pride and power. Jesus escapes – but as a refugee in another land. Less than two years old, his life is wanted. It definitely wasn’t “the most wonderful time of the year”

This is how God sent his son into the world. Jesus took on human flesh and experienced the vulnerability and messiness we face as humans. This is such a mystery to me that God would choose such a messy way to come into the world. And yet, it is such a comfort and hope to me for Jesus knows my messiness – and believe me, I’m messy! Ultimately Jesus redeems that messiness through the Cross. But I think one of the mysteries of Christmas is that Jesus not only knows our messiness but it experienced it.

And so as I – and people I love – face messiness in our own lives – I take comfort tonight in the mess Christ chose to be a part of out of love for you and me.


I’ll never know

I have to do some writing about my life. Don’t bother asking what it’s for – it’s not that important. I only mention it to say that today I’ve been revisiting court documents which of course hold records of some of the most painful details of my life. Let’s just say – this sucks. But it needs to be done. I asked some close friends to pray for me as I dive into this material once again and start filling out the paper work. Well, after filling out the paper work as much as I can and writing two paragraphs of a summary, I was more than ready for a break.

Decided to go for a walk. I can walk pretty fast when I am determined and frustrated and angry. even on the slippery sidewalks. I wasn’t really all that aware of anything but my own frustration and God who walks beside me. I got thinking about the details of my life – details that very few know. And found myself wondering yet again – why do I have this story???? Why couldn’t I have been given another story to tell of God working in me – why one with so much suffering and loss?

My siblings came to mind, picturing them shaking their head as I rehearsed in my mind the three reasons I went through with a statement. For their protection. I remember too well when that was read out at the appeal and four of my siblings shook their heads in disbelief.

They do not know what they have been saved from. They do not know the pain I have been through. They have been spared – of how much, I may never know – but definitely, they have been spared of the full depth of pain I have endured. I am thankful. But I may never hear gratitude from them. And why would they – they have no idea the cost I have borne to keep them free of the pain I know.

Longing for comfort, and admittedly quite angry at God, i shouted in my mind to Him. God – you don’t get it. you don’t understand. You gave me a task that cost me a great deal including the ones whom I have tried to protect. And guess what? They’ll never know! They’ll never know the cost. They will never know the price I have paid for their sake.

I didn’t think God would have a real answer to my angry cry. So I kept walking. Frustrated, hurt, angry.

On my way back from the store, I found myself humming a praise and worship song. Couldn’t think of the name or even the words, but it’s a pretty tune. So I kept humming.

And then the words came.

I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross.

(Here I am to Worship)

In that moment, I felt God say to me that actually he does understand. More than I’ll ever know.

every once in awhile I get a glimpse of how my suffering teaches me about God and Christ. Not just about his unfailing love or grace or whathaveyou. But it is a glimpse into the heart and mind of God. For I now know pain endured for the sake of another, a cost that the other will never know, never fully understand.

But then – I’ll never know what it felt to look upon your son, your only son, who died so that a broken and sinful humanity might life. I’ll never know the cost of my freedom.

Tonight though, I caught a glimpse. From the God who understands my pain from a depth I’ll never comprehend.

Waves of Grief


In keeping with my New Year’s resolutions, I am trying to get my place ready so that I can offer hospitality at a moment’s notice. I make it work, but often feel like i need to apologize for not being organized or tidier. I am a natural born slob. I can live in a state of chaos and not have it bother me. Until people come over. And then, I become acutely aware of my strong disorganizational skills!!! Tonight I’m tackling my room which has books that need to be organized, clothes that Shalom has claimed as his bed, and piles of paper and photos. At first this was a joyful task, in part because I am seeing a floor that I haven’t seen since I moved in. But more importantly, I found pictures of my siblings and drawings and letters they made for me. Last post I talked about what is necessary to me. These are gold to me – these little pieces of paper are worth more to me than all my belongings put together. These treasures give me hope that one day they will look back and at least remember fondly some moments with me. Maybe not yet. But one day.

But below the treasures are other things. There are court documents. Lots of court documents. I’ve kept everything. When you are involved in a criminal trial as a witness and your words are the only evidence, you keep every written word possible. I can’t bring myself to read these papers yet, though the day is near as there are things that need these documents. But for now, I have the willpower to just stick them in a file folder.

But then there are letters. Letters from my mother. Letter from some distant relatives. Letters from my grandparents. And whenever I rediscover them, I lack the willpower and strength to put them aside. I’ve read them so many times looking for hope that I have most of them memorized. It doesn’t matter how many times I read them, the bitter words are still there and the words of hope that I long for are missing.

There are letters from my grandparents – Grandma’s unmistakeable handwriting. I’ve always loved the way she writes my name. It’s an elegant letter E that I have never been able to replicate (My handwriting today is a culmination of trying to copy the way various people wrote their letters in a cool way!). These letters hold their prayers along with some difficult words. Grandma and Grandpa were prayer warriors when they were alive. They faithfully prayed for so many people, including each of us every morning after breakfast. I had the privilege of sitting in many times as they condensed their prayers for my sake.. they were still long!

We love you Elizabeth […] and know that one day our prayers for reconciliation will be answered. {2006}

We miss you very much and pray that 2007 will be the year of reconciliation. We know that God hears our prayers and that His answer will come in His own way and time. {Christmas 2006}

The way reconciliation works in this situation is that it all depends on me. I received many letters that conveyed prayers to God that *I* would reconcile. There has never been a full recognition for what I have been through. What my stepfather did might have been wrong, but reporting it – that was the unforgiveable sin. Reconciliation meant, then at least, that I would apologize for making it up and calling children’s aid and go back to the family that has only ever shown me love. That ‘reconciliation’ hasn’t happened. Neither has the real thing.

But as I read my grandmother’s words that were no doubt faith-filled, more waves of grief fill me: We know that God hears our prayers and that His answer will come in His own way and time. I still struggle with this for I have prayed too. I have longed. The above letter was the last time I heard from Grandma by mail and I had brief phone conversations in winter of 2007. That was it. I had short exchanges with Grandpa up until a year and a half ago. They left this earth to be with our Lord. And reconciliation never came – not even a chance to say goodbye.

God’s timing? God’s ways?

Is it possible that there is still time? With a God who orchestrates all of eternity, sure. But not on this side of earth. I don’t know what to make of the many prayers that have been denied in effect by my grandparent’s passing. What’s the point of praying for these things? Is reconciliation not what God is about?

I find myself again before God in tears – the time has passed. it is gone. they are gone. I am left with an ache and a longing for something I will not have on this side of earth. Death is pretty final. And has a bitter taste. And it hurts.

I don’t understand what God is up to sometimes. My unanswered prayers for reconciliation and my unanswered prayers for safety as a young teen still have me wounded by God. I may never understand his ways. I may never lose the ache. But somehow, God is still God. God is still faithful, loving, compassionate, wonderful, generous and all the other things that I have come to know about him. I don’t know how these things work together. He doesn’t always feel close.

And the words of the Lord to Job come to mind

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?


Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?


Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this?

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does the darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwelling? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!


Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?


Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!


Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at all who are proud and bring them low, look at all who are proud and humble them, crush the wicked where they stand; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.

(Job 38:4-5, 12-13, 18-21, 34-35; 40:2-3, 8-14)

This is found at the end of the book of Job, a theodicy of sorts that addresses the Problem of Evil and how a good God and evil co-exist. God has heard Job’s agony and bitter complaints. He has listened.

And I, having reread these words and realized yet again that I can do nothing of the sort of things that God has done, I find myself lacking words. I, the writer, have no answer to God to these questions. All I can do is say the words that were Job’s reply:

I know you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand. (Job 42:2-3)

Melodies of the Heart


Tonight, I sat in the corner of a dimly lit room at a baby grand piano that is somewhat out of tune. It’s quiet, though there are people around. As I sat at the keys, I noted the curious facial expressions of people who were a little rough around the edges and having a tough day. People who I have heard complaining all day and fighting over who knows what. Angry, sad, hurting people.

Truth be told, I’ve been a little rough around the edges myself and been facing difficult times as I process the passing of my grandfather and another layer of grief with my family. There have been times when it is all-consuming and there have been times when I feel that I have nothing to contribute to the world beyond carbon dioxide at this very moment.

I am not sure what inspired me to play this evening. I fiddled around for few minutes, totally out of practice and cringing with every mistaken note. I soon gave up playing the great classical pieces in front of me for fear that Beethoven or Chopin would roll in their graves.

Instead, I just played…. from my heart. Not sure where this song came from, but it came and I couldn’t stop it. Emotion poured into my fingers on the piano – notes of sadness and sorrow, interspersed with melodies of hope and joy.

And soon the room filled. People smiled. People cried. My little ditty on the piano met people who I do not know very well at a deep level. They asked for more and bragged about being able to have front row seats at an unexpected concert.

I was asked whose song it was that I played – I sheepishly told them it was my own.

A few broken chords on an out-of-tune piano and a melody that shared my heart more than words could at this very moment. A melody of a grace-filled pain and beauty in the midst of difficult times. For a moment, I lost myself playing the piano – and for a moment, others were gathered into the song.

After they left, I was reminded of a book I read in second year university by Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning). Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who was in the concentration camps. He was stripped of everything – even his hair of his head was shaved. But one thing that could not be taken from him was who he was – and his care for others. He began to use his gifts of listening and helping people in the context of the horrible concentration camps. And as he did, he found meaning in his own suffering – through his suffering, he was in a position to help those around him. It doesn’t take away the pain, but it brings meaning into it.

As I played the piano, I was reminded of how even in my difficult days, I do have gifts to offer. Tonight, my little melody brought a smile to a few people who had not smiled much today. My little expression of emotion uplifted others and encouraged them to continue to seek beauty. In fact, one gentleman referred to the piece giving him a reminder that he needs to keep on, keeping on.

There was something beautiful in that moment. I was able to share the gift of music and an expression from my heart and my own woundedness with those around me. The moment doesn’t take away the wounds I have been facing – but it did serve as a deep reminder that there is meaning in suffering and that God can use me in the midst of difficult and painful stuff to bless others.

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Death of a hope


I’ve been encouraged to write again – for my own healing, but also to encourage those who meet me at points in my journey.

My grandfather’s passing has been very hard and very hard in ways I wasn’t expecting. Somehow, I thought it would be easier than my grandmother’s a few years ago. I had had the chance to say goodbye and that I love him over the phone one day. It was awhile ago, but it was a special moment. I made arrangements for a private viewing to keep funeral drama to a bear minimum. I was able to read a letter saying goodbye and a few of the things that I wanted him so badly to hear. And I had a moment that maybe now – as he rests in the life beyond here – that now he was able to hear me. I went with a friend to the funeral and hung out with some cousins’ wee ones when the service became too much. I slipped in, I slipped out. Noticed eventually, but there was no direct interactions. I even got to hear one of my brothers speak and two of my sisters sing – and that is a gift I treasure.

The funeral marked more than a life well lived. It marked the death of a hope that I have clung to for a long time. I have longed and prayed for a restored and reconciled relationships with my grandparents for many years. I believed it would happen – in God’s timing, but that it would actually happen. After awhile, I realized that what I wanted – that they would come to know and understand my pain – would likely never happened. I changed my prayers – I wanted a relationship. We didn’t need to come together and talk about my experience. We just needed to come together.

Right until the day the Lord took my grandpa, I was waiting for him to call me or to ask for me. I stayed by my phone, I cancelled everything else so that I could be just minutes away as I knew this time round with a deep hunch inside that there wasn’t going to be much time.

That phone call never came. And now, it never will. Death is a sharp ending to an 8 1/2 year long prayer.

What do you do with that?

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told to just pray – and reconciliation will happen.

or to just trust God, and watch, you will be restored with your grandparents.

I can’t tell you the number of times people have reassured me that when you are aging and near the end, you often reflect over your life and want to tidy up loose ends, and make peace in relationships.

Those words – meant to comfort – are devoid of meaning as I read a goodbye letter to a body whose soul I knew had gone from it.

I have so many questions – about God, about prayer, about life. And words are simply not sufficient. Yesterday’s Scripture in the Celtic Daily Prayer lectionary was the one from Isaiah that God’s ways our higher than ours. I can’t say I find comfort in that right now.

But maybe there is a glimmer of hope – that the death of my grandfather and the hope I held – is part of something that I don’t understand. But God does. For his ways are higher than mine, as are his thoughts.

Fragile Glimpses


These Hopes

fragile glimpses of a

better future

glances at the wide-angled


struggle for a word that

describes the road

we share

asking the honest question

“why?” untroubled

finding a solidarity, a

kinship in loss

our griefs combine without


and tell us of a better way –

the way of shared

suffering and

fragile glimpses of a better future.

– Phil C. Zylla (The Roots of Suffering)

8 Years


Tomorrow marks a very important day in my journey.

Some of my readers will know this as my “Exodus Day” – indeed, it was a day that I left behind what I knew and ventured into the road towards freedom.

I’d like to tell the story of that day.

That term, I had been struggling with what was going on at home. I would stay at the university late or stay at a friend’s house or my grandparents’ house to escape the abuse. I had plans to move out in June or July (I can’t remember which month now). Technically, my stepfather had said that wasn’t allowed. So, I found myself a job and a place to live and simply announced it and proceeded as if everyone was cool with it. For me, it was non-negotionable.

But I was struggling emotionally. So I went to friends and shared a little of what I was going through. They supported me, I didn’t tell them much, but told them enough. We were to get together for lunch when my exams were over.

That day was April 28. And over lunch, one of my friends informed me that she was obliged to call children’s aid because there were young children in the home. I tried everything I could think of to get her to change her mind. After all, I knew children’s aid only to be anti-Christian and against families. After awhile, I realized a call was going to be made…with or without me. And I decided that I wanted to take on the responsibility of calling. So we made the call together.

And then I knew I could never go home that night.

That was eight years ago. We were studying Exodus as a Bible study at the time and I really found myself in that story. The abuse was a slavery of sorts – a slave to one’s selfish and misdirected passions. I had been freed from bondage to this way of life.

Yet – as the drama continued and I found myself with an angry family, without a home, and overwhelmed, I found myself saying that it was better at home. Yes, I knew what I was saying – but the desert isn’t a fun place either. I found myself crying out to God like the Israelites – it was better in Egypt. I remember each day as a struggle. Many days I could not fathom getting through, let alone reaching eight years.

And yet, here I am. 8 years later. I love God and know that he is with me. I am thriving in school and work and in life and enjoying all that God has blessed me with. While I have my moments, a joy and peace has filled my life and sometimes I cannot contain it. Each day I am discovering that God’s love is deeper, longer, wider, higher than I ever thought imaginable. I have learned that God’s timing is perfect (though for a perpetually impatient one like myself, I think this will be one of those things I will learn and relearn throughout my life. I have come to see how God can take what is ugly and messy and orchestrate beauty out of it. I can laugh at knowing that God loves me and knows me better than i know myself.

8 years… and there’s still pain, but there’s a lot more healing. The picture above is a clay vase made by a friend of my aunt and uncle. It has become my symbol and hope in healing. For the longest time, I had the other side visible… a woman, with her head down and in chains. And then, I turned it around at some point in my journey… we will overcome some day. I’m not sure one ever stops healing. I think healing and growth continue throughout one’s life.

But my friends and family and readers who have journeyed with me thus far…. we have overcome.

Thanks be to God.