When Mother’s Day is Hard

When Mother’s Day is Hard

Mother’s Day can be hard.

For me, this year at least, it’s because we are finally seeing light after a full 10 days of a virus coursing through our children’s bodies, causing our home to become a quarantine hospital and school, with me as the doctor and headmaster. I took two – yes, two – naps today. Eventually, I will recover. But maybe not before Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day 2008 was harder. My work involved a camp that overlapped Mother’s Day, and one of our thoughtful male colleagues had bought flowers to give to each of the mothers who were spending their special day with university students instead of with their own children. It was so sweet, but my mind was already full of remembering my first little baby who had died from miscarriage just 5 months earlier. As he came around with the flowers, I was torn. I was a mother but had nothing to show for it, no child to hold.

Mother’s Day can be hard for a lot of other reasons as well, ones which are not so familiar to me but are well known to some of my dearest friends. Mothers and children are distanced from each other, either physically or relationally. Women long to have children, but that desire seems impossible to fulfill. Mothers have passed away, leaving so much wisdom untapped. Children have died, leaving an aching void in their mother’s hearts.

In our exhaustion, our loneliness, our wrestling, we thirst for a place where we can be honest about how we feel on a day like Mother’s Day. What I love about the Bible is that so many of its prayers, poems, and songs are incredibly raw, and the words resonate with those cries of our hearts that are difficult to speak aloud.

There is the story of Hannah, who was ridiculed and bullied because she was childless. 1 Samuel 1:10 records, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.”

Then there is Psalm 13:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

But the psalm ends with a change of tone so abrupt that it almost feels like whiplash.

“But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.”

How can the writer so confidently affirm his trust and joy, while still in the midst of sadness?

The answer is in the “salvation”. Isaiah 53 stirringly describes the agony and the beauty of the death of Jesus Christ that would actually take place hundreds of years after Isaiah’s writing. It explains that he took the punishment that we deserved because of the ways that we have rejected God and hurt other people, so that we could have forgiveness and peace when we trust in him. But the fullness of salvation doesn’t end there.

Verses 3-4 say, “He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…” (highlights mine).

Luke records a time when Jesus stood up in a synagogue, read a portion of Isaiah 61:1-2, and claimed that he had fulfilled those words. These verses, along with verse 3, are helpful to our understanding of Jesus’ purpose. Here are some highlights.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…

to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

You see, with Jesus Christ there is space to be vulnerable and real, because he intimately knows pain. But we can also expect healing and restoration of joy, because he took our pain for us so that we don’t have to carry it forever. Sometimes we hang on to our pain because we don’t know there is another option or because it has become familiar, but Jesus wants to comfort us, to bestow us with beauty, to anoint us with joy, to clothe us with a spirit of praise. And because he defeated death by rising to life, we know that he has the power to give us these things.

There I sat, on Mother’s Day 2008, in a room with many other mothers, unsure of whether I was worthy to take a flower. Thankfully, I had shared very openly with my team about my loss and heartache, so everyone knew what I was processing. They had given me space to be real. As my colleague came near with the flowers, I decided to reach out and grab one. Even as I was still grieving in that moment, I received a measure of healing from my community and from the Lord. And the healing process would continue.

Maybe for you, this Mother’s Day will be the day that you will take your flower, that you will begin to receive healing and joy. Maybe you will seek out someone who can give you a safe space to be honest but will also believe and pray with you for the healing that Jesus offers. Maybe you will spend time with the Lord alone, handing your pain to him and asking him to give you joy and praise in return. My hope is that you know from experience, this Mother’s Day, that you are deeply loved.

And just because I can’t do it for you… feel free to go out and buy yourself a flower.

A special note of thanks: Thank you to the women – great-grandmas, grandmas, aunts and great-aunts, babysitters, teachers, and friends – who have invested in the lives of my children. Your love and support of them is priceless. Thank you also to my dear friends who remind me to enjoy the gift that my parents are to me.

The Sophomore Slump

The Sophomore Slump

The sophomore slump.

 

I came up with that term after working for several years with university students. Most of the students I interacted with had a fantastic freshman year, full of intense growth and exciting experiences. Although they began their sophomore year with anticipation, most became discontent, disillusioned, and critical. Of course, there were always exceptions, but the trend was so great and so terrible that it deserved a name.

 

This summer closed the books on our second year of living overseas as a family. In the late winter, I had encountered my first personal sophomore slump. Just as I had never identified exactly what triggered university students to slip into it, I have yet to completely rationalize why and how my despondency came.

 

I have no doubt that this is a common experience among people living abroad, and whether it comes in their first, second, or tenth years makes little difference. Even some of you who don’t live overseas may have experienced or may be experiencing a deep downturn. For that reason, I’ll write a bit about what the slump looked like for me.

 

Crying. Lots of tears. For three months, from January through March, I cried every single time I went on a date with my husband. Once a week for three months. Can you imagine? My poor husband. We would be at a restaurant when I would break down, and because staring is accepted as normal in this culture, people would start looking. And because it’s rude to blow your nose in this culture, I would dab at my nose with dozens of tissues, while all of the people would stare even more at this strange foreign lady who had tears streaming down her face.

 

In addition to the tears, I became withdrawn, critical, negative, and decidedly lacking in joy. Even things that would become the greatest blessings to me in the spring began for me with no emotion. A friend had asked me about the beginning of something new, “Are you excited about this starting this week?” I shot back a quick reply. “No. I’m not excited about anything. But it will be good.”

 

What I can say for certain about those three months is that I felt as if I were drowning in purposelessness. And comparison wasn’t helping me feel any better. I knew coming in that I would have six months of resting and waiting to see what it was that I was supposed to be doing in this place while my husband was working. But after a year and a half of learning humility and patience, I was done. I found it incredibly stretching and difficult to have such a wide background in public speaking, administration and event planning, advising and supervising, leading and facilitating, and to now be known solely as the mother of three children. I wanted to be happy and thankful for the gift of time to work at home with my kids. While I had always viewed being a wife and mother as one of the highest callings, I couldn’t suppress the sense that there was something additional that I was made for and wanted to do. But I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t want to add more activities to my life just to fill the void.

 

At the same time, I felt alone. We were contemplating a change of schools for the kids along with a potential change of homes, the house we lived in had problems that I needed to somehow address with our landlord by using my broken Mandarin, one child developed itchy eyes due to an unknown allergic reaction, and another child began wrestling with questions of what is real. At the time, all of these things were under my jurisdiction. All together, they overwhelmed me.

 

In the midst of that season, I had thoughts about my life that a person doesn’t dare to speak aloud. All I can say is that I am so thankful that I’ve been trained to reject those lies immediately and to replace them with truth.

 

Having come out on the other side of those months, I’m amazed at the grace I received in the midst of it. I learned some things that seem now like no-brainers, such as the fact that I have a husband who is wise and can help me with some things! A group of extraordinary women from several countries unknowingly influenced our decision to keep our kids in the same school, and that decision was confirmed quickly after we made it. I saw clearly some of the darkness in my own soul that affected my marriage, and I kicked it out. My children have grown in relational and emotional development, and I’ve savored the deep conversations that we’ve shared together.

 

I recently read a Psychology Junkie article from August 2, 2015 entitled How Each Myers-Briggs Type Reacts to Stress (And How to Help). While personality and temperament indictors do not dictate how a person lives, they can be helpful in understanding more about yourself and why you respond in the way you do. For me, this article stated what I experienced but would not have been able to put into words.

 

Here are some of the things, according to the article, that stress my personality type.

 

“Having to focus too much on sensory/concrete details” – check. Think laundry, housecleaning, cooking, and all of the tasks that consume a mother’s time.

 

“An overload of sensory stimulation or noise” – check. Think renovations next door that sound like a jackhammer in your living room from 9am to 6pm, and when going out to get some relief from that, there are always the 24 million people who call this city home.

 

“Interruptions” – check. What can I say? I’m a mom.

 

“Not enough alone time. Too much extraverting” – check. People in my house, people outside of my house, people everywhere.

 

“Lack of appreciation or understanding” – check. It’s getting better actually, but there’s not much affirmation by little ones for all the tiny things you accomplish for them each day.

 

“Unfamiliar environments with overwhelming amounts of details” – check. Moving to a new country will do it.

 

“Not having a clear direction” – check. I’m still waiting…

 

“Not being able to use their intuition or envision the future” – check.

 

“Having to focus too much on the present” – check.

 

Having a basic understanding of these stressors will hopefully enable me to take better care of myself in the future. I can find a place of quiet, I have a plan for alone time thanks to my husband, and I can let housework go sometimes so I can have space to dream.

 

The most important thing is that I know Someone who gives hope instead of despair and joy instead of mourning. And that Someone has not abandoned me.

 

I’m quite happy to say good-bye to year two because I’m planning to take into year three the things that I loved: my friends, my good conversations, my stronger marriage, my commitment to raising my children, and my joy.

 

And junior year is always better.

 

So long, sophomore slump.

Taking Flight

Taking Flight

Even youths grow tired and weary,

And young men stumble and fall;

But those who hope in the Lord

Will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

They will run and not grow weary,

They will walk and not be faint.

            – Isaiah 40:30-31

We all face times in our lives when we need to step into the unknown, when a rejection of taking this risk would result in self-protection based in fear. Some of these situations happily force themselves upon us, such as marriage or graduation from high school or from the university and the necessity to set the course for the next stage of our lives. Others slam us hard, like a job loss or an unforeseen change in relationship. And still other opportunities are created from a calling, an unrest, a longing.

Whatever the situation, the question all Christians must answer in transition is this: Do I have enough trust – enough confidence – in my God to move forward?

One year ago, Josh and I boarded a plane bound for China. There is something eerie and terrifying about leaving your children on the other side of planet Earth.

Flight Map

That May flight, the first of five 24-hour flights that we would make in the course of three months, began our look-see trip, the one in which we visited the prospective city to make sure we wanted to go ahead with applying for the job opportunity.

But in those three summer months, and in the five months before that, what impacted me most was not the physical flight, but the spiritual and emotional flight that accompanied the transition.

I think that the Lord knows I need recurring themes in my life so that I can finally learn the main point of whatever He is trying to teach me. Those themes don’t usually come in the form of mental pictures, but I am grateful that one did, which I will tell you about now.

Twelve years ago this summer, I stepped into my first season of work and career. I sat at a round table with five other new staff, in a room of 200 more just like us. In the midst of a highly intense 10-day training, and at this table, God placed an image in my mind. I was visibly shaking and sobbing as I emotionally processed what this might mean.

My group leader asked me what was going on, and I explained the picture to him. In this image, I saw myself standing at the edge of a high cliff. Everything beyond the cliff was enshrouded in darkness. I sensed the Spirit of God beckoning me to jump off of the edge, into the abyss.

It was obvious to me that this referenced the new work I was stepping into, since I had little clear idea of what lay before me for the next five plus years. All I knew was that I did not want to fall off of that cliff.

I no longer remember my group leader’s exact response (and I’m pretty sure there’s a meme around now with this same idea), but the essence was this: What if, instead of falling, God gives you wings to fly?

And He did.

A few moments over the next eleven years of work felt like I got banged up on the side of the cliff, but even with that, my trust and confidence in God built as I saw Him come through for me over the long haul. He developed in me strength, endurance, vision, and faith that I didn’t have before responding to His invitation into the unknown.

10 ½ years later, I again sat in a room full of staff, this time 2,000 of them. I had grown restless, feeling trapped and looking for a new passion.

I shared with a colleague that my husband, just that week, began pursuing a potential job in China. I asked my colleague to pray for discernment in the situation, and he wisely asked me how I was feeling and thinking about all of this. He listened intently as I explained my desire for a new adventure and opportunity for myself and for my family.

When I had finished, my colleague described to me the image God placed in his mind as I was speaking. He had envisioned wings on my back, spreading out more and more as I spoke. I was ready to fly.

Of course, taking flight did not come easily. I grieved the loss, albeit temporary, of people and places that I loved. And once again, I found myself launching off into the darkness, this time unsure of my purpose, my passion, and my calling.

I don’t know what risk God is asking you to take. Obviously, assessing God’s call needs to be done with wisdom and with the counsel of wise people. But after discerning clearly, going for it is the best thing you can do for your spiritual life. Maybe your risk of faith looks like serving your spouse, or giving up your summer plans, or giving your life to Christ, or moving overseas. The size of the risk is not important – after all, Jesus tells parables about servants who are faithful in small matters being put in charge of larger matters.

When you take a risk, you might not get the outcome that you expect. This is why the Bible says that those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength, as opposed to those who hope in a certain outcome. When you answer God’s invitation to take a step of faith, you are saying, “Yes”, to the God who knows and loves you.

Taking a risk of faith, even a small one like tangibly loving someone or speaking truth, is… risky. But it’s exhilarating and freeing. It places us in the position where we HAVE to depend on God to come through for us. Trust deepens when we experience that the God who asks us to jump will teach us to fly.

I will leave you with the song that has been my anthem of trust for a year and a half now. To borrow the words of the song, may your faith be made stronger in the presence of the Savior.

Chinese New Year Through the Eyes of a Laowai

Chinese New Year Through the Eyes of a Laowai

People in our part of the world have been talking about the lunar new year for a long time. As a first-time expat to China, I had low expectations. After all, this is not “my” holiday. The new year celebration caught me off guard, and here I present to you a small window into my first Chinese New Year experience as a foreigner.

The Lead-Up

Most of us who grow up in the States know the feeling of anticipation that comes along with the Christmas season. A sense of excitement fills the air, everyone chats about the holiday and their plans, and preparation begins for meals, decorations, and gifts. Spending my first lunar new year in China, I was struck by the oddity that I could feel that same anticipation. Even though I speak very little Mandarin and had no background in this holiday, I could just tell that the excitement was building all around me.

People cleaned their homes thoroughly. Employees received bonuses. In addition to a bonus, we gave our ayi a fancy box of frozen fish, and she reciprocated with a huge box of butter cookies for the kids.

My husband’s company held their annual Chinese New Year party. All of the employee’s families were invited, and the planning team worked for weeks to arrange a location, a catered meal, prizes, and entertainment.

My daughter’s school invited all of the parents to watch a Chinese New Year performance. I was so proud when my girl spoke into the microphone in Mandarin – with good tones! The children did a dragon dance and lots of songs to celebrate the year of the goat.

The Decorations

Of course, decorations also added to the excitement. My daughter even came home with some window flowers and paper lanterns that she had made in school, and we used those to prepare our home.

Local malls set up lunar new year displays.
Local malls set up lunar new year displays.
People decorate trees and shrubs near their houses.
People decorated trees and shrubs near their houses.
This guy delivers flowers that already have new year baubles attached.
This guy delivered flowers that already had new year baubles attached.
Hotel lobbies welcome the lunar new year.
Hotel lobbies welcomed the lunar new year.
Folks hang red lanterns near their doorways and place greeting signs and paper cut-out flowers on windows and entryways.
Folks hung red lanterns near their doorways and place greeting signs and paper cut-out flowers on windows and entryways.
Apartment lobbies join in the festivity.
Apartment lobbies joined in the festivity.
Red lantern decorations hang from street lamps.
Red lantern decorations hung from street lamps.
Owners deck out their businesses to celebrate the new year.
Owners decked out their businesses to celebrate the new year.
And, of course, it wouldn't be a holiday without decorated Coca-Cola bottles.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a holiday without decorated Coca-Cola bottles.

The Travel and Meal Prep

For 1-2 weeks before the lunar new year began, people started traveling in droves. Most people left the city to go back to their hometowns and spend the holiday with their extended families. Subways going to railway stations and airports were packed with people carrying luggage and boxes of alcohol, fruits, or nuts to take home with them. Schools let children out for almost one month at this time of the year.

CNY Travel

Small family shops closed down early, even a week in advance of New Year’s day, to factor in travel time.

Businesses Closed For CNY

In my husband’s family, the Christmas eve dinner is an event all to itself. The meal spread takes time to cook, but it looks and tastes amazing. Similarly, in China, the New Year’s eve meal maintains a special place in the holiday tradition.

People pack out a supermarket to buy food two days before the lunar new year.
People packed out a supermarket to buy food two days before the lunar new year.

Of course, the Chinese have traditional dishes that they cook and eat for the big meal. Since I know almost nothing about these dishes, I thought it would suffice to ask our ayi to make some jiaozi for us before she began her vacation. These dumplings taste so yummy dipped in a spicy chili paste and vinegar mixture.

Our ayi taught my daughter how to prepare the jiaozi.
Our ayi taught my daughter how to prepare the jiaozi.
The jiaozi waits to be boiled.
The jiaozi waits to be boiled.

I would love to someday share in a New Year’s eve meal that is truly Chinese. In the meantime, we ate our own concoction of American and Chinese foods to celebrate. I enjoyed our evening together as a family, but to be honest, I felt like we were missing something… it was like having Christmas alone, without grandpas and grandmas, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Maybe we can convince someone to visit us to celebrate next year.

Spahr New Year's Eve Meal

The Fireworks

The fireworks in China during the new year holiday are fantastic. Personally, I think that since China invented fireworks, they ought to be spectacular. A good friend put it this way: It’s like all of the 4th of July shows you’ve ever seen, and ever will see, rolled into one night.

Although the police were cracking down a bit more this year on people who might go overboard, fireworks here are basically a free-for-all. Many of our friends have told us stories of their balcony windows being shot out by stray fireworks, or of having to cover their children from fireworks that turn on them from the other side of the street.

One of my Chinese friends explained that people shoot off one set of fireworks to say good-bye to the previous year and another set of fireworks to say hello to the new year. Each night of the week also gives a different reason for fireworks, and the most popular is the fourth night, when fireworks are lit to welcome the money god. The amount of fireworks on the fourth night rivaled the amount the we witnessed on New Year’s eve.

Firework stands popped  up on every block the week before the new year.
Firework stands popped up on every block the week before the new year.
Notice the "No Smoking" sign on this one.
Notice the “No Smoking” sign on this one.

On New Year’s eve, our family went out and lit some sparklers, one fountain, and some ground spinners. On our walk outside, I noticed that our security guards had also prepared for the new year fireworks.

There are no firework restrictions in our neighborhood, so the guards have to be ready. I'm not sure this is enough preparation.
There are no firework restrictions in our tree-filled neighborhood, so the guards had to be ready for potential fires.

Around 11:40pm, the booms began to accelerate. We stood out on our bedroom balcony to see more clearly. The sights were beautiful, with bright blasts and golden fizzles. The flashes of light bounced off of city buildings  and lit up the sky in every direction.

Almost more incredible were the sounds. With pings and explosions ricocheting through the city, our neighborhood turned into an audio war zone. Our neighbors uncoiled a massive roll of firecrackers, which stretched from the beginning of our “cul-de-sac” to the post near their house that they attached the end of the firecrackers onto. They had this down to a science. A little before midnight they came out, laid everything out, and lit it up. Once the firecrackers started popping, they went into the house to save their eardrums. Josh and I stayed out to watch and hear the spectacle, and my ears rang for minutes afterward.

Fireworks 1 2015

Fireworks 2 2015

Fireworks 3 2015

It seemed that there was an entire fireworks show on every block, which made it challenging to take everything in at once. Our incredible children slept through the entire production.

The next morning, our neighbor went out again to unroll his coil of firecrackers, this time to welcome the new year. I was just loading the kids into the car when I noticed activity next door, so I pulled them all out and we watched from the sidewalk. Our neighbor was kind enough to smile at us as we all gawked at him and as I tried to explain to the kids what was happening.

Our neighbor used a coil of firecrackers similar to the rounds in this photo, except that his was bigger.
Our neighbor used a coil of firecrackers similar to the rounds in this photo, except that his was bigger.

As soon as the noise subsided, our neighbor came back out of his house and handed each of our kids a red envelope, which brings me to the next aspect of the lunar new year.

The Gifts

I could be wrong on this because I haven’t seen it in person, but my understanding is that on the morning of the new year, children wake up early with excitement to rouse their parents out of bed. The children bow in respect to their parents and ask for a hongbao, a red packet or envelope, which contains a gift of money.

Hongbao

My eldest daughter had been begging for a hongbao for weeks before the lunar new year. She learned about it from her Mandarin class at school, and she received an envelope from her teacher which contained chocolate coins.

Josh and I thought it would be a fun tradition to observe, so we surprised the kids with one hongbao each. My two-year-old had been crying about something, but when she ripped into the hongbao and pulled out the contents, her face lit up and she exclaimed, “MONey!”

I told one of my American friends about how generous and thoughtful it was for our neighbors to also give a hongbao to each of our children. We observed that in our culture, giving money is a cop-out gift, the kind of thing that you give to someone when you don’t want to take the time to be personal and creative with a gift. But here, at least at this time of year, a gift of money feels like something special. For us, it was also a great opportunity to work on the kids’ math skills and to teach about saving, giving, and spending our resources.

Many children also receive clothes, since wearing new clothes is a tradition on new year’s day. It reminded me of the American tradition of getting a new dress or suit for Christmas and Easter. It’s a big deal. However, the only new thing our kids received was toothbrushes (because they needed them!). They don’t know anything different, so they were actually quite excited about their little prizes.

New Year Hope

Everyone beings a new year with hope, with expectations for what this uncharted year could bring. One of the best questions asked of me in college was, “Why do you get out of bed in the morning?” The answer cannot be as simple as, “Because I have to go to class” or “Because I have to go to work”. You don’t HAVE to do those things. Some motiving factor underlies those decisions. Why do you work? Why do you go to class?

It’s worth asking: What do you live for?

So much of what we live for is merely trinkets, stuff that will rot or go with us to the grave. But I’ve been reminded lately that the hope of the nations, the one that won’t fade, is Jesus Christ. And He gives so much joy – like the blow out your eardrums with firecrackers, dance in the streets, eat huge meals with people you love – kind of celebratory joy.

I don’t know about you, but I spend far too little time celebrating my hope.

That being said, my prayer for the Year of the Goat is this:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

To all of my Asian friends, happy lunar new year!

Finding Hope

Finding Hope

My heart is heavy. Between Ferguson, world upheaval, ebola, friends back home who have desperately prayed for their child’s life, and others who are wondering “why” about their situation… there is so much struggle. So much pain.

I have several posts in mind about our journey to Asia, but I want to write about the things that matter, about the things that are hitting deep. My words will not do justice to what I feel and think at the moment, but here is my feeble attempt.

 mother child necklace

This is my mother and child necklace, with a birthstone for each of my four children. As my kids and I walk the streets of Shanghai, bystanders ask “San ge?” incredulously. Three of them? All yours?

Yes! I will gladly claim all three of my kids, and yet we are missing one. Our first.

I was eight weeks pregnant, expectant and joyful, waiting to tell our families until my first doctor’s appointment. Josh and I went out to a movie for my birthday and got to bed late. That night, I awoke to massive cramps and bleeding. I remember sitting in the bathroom, sobbing as I realized what was happening, while Josh, unable to help me, tried to get some sleep.

The calls to our families the next morning were bittersweet. “I was pregnant… but the baby died.” My mom gave me good solace and wisdom, saying, “Never say that you lost the baby. It’s not your fault.”

Josh and I bonded in this, our first big challenge as a married couple. We grieved, we wept, we loved a child that we never held. Even now I wish that I could have seen that baby for a moment and told her that I loved her.

In the midst of the doctor’s appointments that day, the tears and sense of deep loss, God gave us hope. I can’t explain it. There was no good answer to the question, “Why?” There were rational explanations, physiological explanations, but no explanation to satisfy the ache.

And yet, I had hope. It was not a peace per say, or a resignation to reality. It was an expectation for the future and an assurance of God’s goodness. I knew that something beautiful could, and would, grow out of the ashes.

After all, this is what Jesus Christ came for. The prophet Isaiah describes Jesus: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Miscarriages in particular are awkward because there is little public space to grieve. There is no funeral and few people share this private experience with others. But Josh and I chose to make room for remembering. We named our baby Xiwang (Hope). Josh bought my necklace with her birthstone. We would not pretend it didn’t happen or that it wasn’t painful, but we would remember and expect God’s goodness.

hope plaque

My dear friends throughout the world, much of what you are going through is significantly harder than my experience. I wish I could sit down with you face to face, listen to you, and cry with you. You are courageous, and you are my heroes. I don’t have platitudes for you because nice words will not satisfy your ache. As my friend and colleague Rick Mattson says, evil is not a respecter of persons. We live in a battlefield where there is disease, death, hatred, and it hits all of us in different ways whether we have been “good” or “bad”. No one is exempt. No, what you are going through or what your loved one is going through is NOT fair. Satan doesn’t care about fairness. He is not just.

So where is hope? The Bible speaks frequently of suffering and hope linked together. If you are in a place of hurt, I ask God to fill you with hope. He loves to give us good gifts like that. Psalms 42 and 43 are raw songs of grief and hope. I wish for you, like the author/s of these psalms, the space to grieve, to be honest, to remember what God has done for you, and to renew your trust in Him. Know that Jesus Christ has felt EVERYTHING that you are feeling and is not a stranger to suffering. May something beautiful grow out of your ashes.

Although we are in the battle, the war has already been won. God’s kingdom has broken through into the world through Jesus. Evil and injustice will be eradicated when Christ returns. Some days, I just long for Christ to come and set things right, for tears and pain to be wiped away.

In the meantime, those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ get to be His ambassadors to bring hope into the world, to give folks a little taste of what the fullness of God’s kingdom will be like.

If you are a Christian reading this, who is God asking you to bring hope to today? It may be your own child. It may be your spouse. It may be a friend. It may be someone you’ve never met. It may be an entire people group. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can make a difference for someone. Be their financial contributor. Be their cheerleader. Be their safe place. Be their prayer warrior. Be their advocate.

Final words: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17