Hard and Holy

One of the things I have found myself talking to my kids and others about in the last year is the fact that because something is hard, even painful and grief-laden, does not mean that it cannot also be profoundly beautiful and holy. While I prefer the times of sunsets on a mountain top where I can easily raise my worship, I often find myself most drawn into the arms of my father in a true, barley-able-to -breathe sacrifice of praise in the dark and painful times. I can see God in the eyes of another no matter the circumstances, but learning this is not easy.

We’ve been through our own share of grief, tragedy, and loss in our lives – just like all of you. No one’s story is void of it, and the longer we are on this earth diving into what He has for us, the more we see and experience it. I’ve see it in my kids’ eyes a lot over the last few years – that look of grief touching a part of their soul yet holding it in because they are not ready to process it. I saw it last night as we talked about a friend who is at the end of his life way too soon for our desire. Death became a reality to them sooner than I had wanted in their lives.

As I’ve asked God to help me walk with people better, I have often found myself unable to handle the amount of emotion that comes with that. “Rejoice with those who rejoice” is easy and full. But mourning with those who mourn is heavy, dark, and often triggers some of my own laments in life. Too often I have let that allow me to “turn off” emotion and not really feel. I can walk with people and help in tangible, real ways without being a vat of emotion, right? They don’t need the “extra” Heather, they need someone who can take charge and be in control.

What if it isn’t either/or but the true definition of walking alongside someone is actually both/and. You can be a person who, in one moment cleans the kitchen, makes meals for the week, walks the dog, gives the kids a bath, organizes grocery delivery, and gasses up the car. But in the next moment, as the person is sitting and tears are falling, you need to be the one who allows your own tears to fall and intermingle with theirs while possibly sitting in awkward silence and praying. I know I’ve needed both of those at the same time and couldn’t articulate it. I am thankful for Spirit-filled friends who listen and obey.

In those times – when the tears are falling, when there are no words and you feel helpless to do anything – because you ARE helpless to do anything – those are the times when the Father turns a hard, impossible moment into something holy. The things I remember most about the death of both my parents are not the flowers or the food received (though we appreciated those thoughts) but the times when people would call out of the blue and tell me I was on their heart that day. The times when they saw me crying and didn’t offer any words, just a tissue and their presence. When I didn’t feel as though I had to apologize months later because I “should be past it” and instead had them acknowledge that grief is a strange monster and my way of doing it wasn’t wrong.

Still, as I have helped carry the burdens of others, I have found my own joy being squished and compacted into this tiny, little space where I could not even access it anymore. How do I feel what they feel and sit in it with them and not be swallowed up in it myself? As a person in ministry, this is not only part of my “job description” but an honor and privilege. However, it’s not just for the professionals – all of us who profess to be followers of Jesus are called to do this.

Like with anything of purpose in life, we cannot do this in out of our own strength. It requires us to live in that daily surrender of self to Him. In the daily reckoning that we are dead to our selves and alive in Jesus because of the work he did on the cross. I can’t make more room in my heart and my emotions for the burdens of others. But I can offer my heart to the one who has already changed me from the inside out and allow his heart and life to be lived in and through me. It is in those times that we see how even the hard becomes holy.

Would you take time today to ask the Spirit to fill you and expand your ability to walk well with others?

Made in His Image

When we landed in Entebbe, Uganda to prepare for our trips to Sudan and rural Uganda with our mission, we were picked up at the airport by a taxi driver and driven to our guest house for the night. I had not been back to Africa since we left Malawi a few years earlier, and I was so happy to be back on the continent. I was also absolutely exhausted, already missing my kids, and unsure of and anxious about spending the next two weeks with strangers in places I had never been – essentially with it being a “job interview,” since we would find out if one or both teams would invite us to come do life with them. My mind was doing a million things and I had a hard time focusing.

But I can clearly remember driving through Entebbe and Kampala in the dark, seeing fires on the side of the roads as people hawked corn and pastries and whatever else one might want to stop and eat after a long day. Children ran everywhere – dressed in varying amounts of clothing. Some laughed and squealed, some cried with runny noses and flies buzzing. The diesel smell filled the air as the traffic buzzed and hummed all around. There were conversations being spoken in a language I was not at all familiar with. I couldn’t take it in fast enough.

As I drank it in with all my senses, I kept thinking, “I don’t know any of these people, yet they all have a story.” They have all loved (and probably lost.) They have desires for peace and family, love and happiness. They long for security, need money and shelter, do the daily tasks of living life. And, most importantly, each of them were created in the image of God, just like me. We couldn’t be from two more different worlds, yet we all had our Maker in common. God loved each of us.

The difference was that I knew this truth. It was one of the reasons I wanted to be in rural Africa – I wanted to be a part of spreading that truth to those who may not understand it yet. Yet as I sat in that taxi, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was one small, tiny, minuscule little speck in the tapestry of history. My own story and my life was important – so much so that I knew Jesus would have gone to the cross for just me. But it was not the only story.

One of our desires for living overseas was to help our kids see this. Yes, they were the most important people to US, but they were NOT the only important people in the world. Each person, made in the image of God, is unique, beautiful, and important. Each of us are also broken, wounded, and sometimes feel worthless. God knows every single person intimately. The Bible tells us he knew us before we were formed in the womb. He knows the numbers of hairs on our heads.

I couldn’t fathom that thought as I stared into the chaos of an African city street at night. Small houses with tin roofs; charcoal fires cooking foods that perfumed the air; layer after layer of houses and people and houses and people and houses and people – going far back into the darkness with millions I would never even see, let alone know.

But God does.

This year as I think about the verses and things God has laid on my heart, I want to continue to be aware of this truth: that each person I meet – EVERY SINGLE ONE – is made in his image. Whether in a developing country where poverty is in your face every day and the needs are obvious, or in a place like DC, where wealth, status, and influence seem to permeate everything in life. The truth is still that people living in all these environments are all made to have a relationship with their Creator. Nothing else can fill that void. No matter what color, culture, belief system, background, political leaning, education, sexual preference or identity, or gender. Whether or not they are “easy” to love, or if it takes a bit of intentionality. Whether I have the margin or I feel depleted on my own strength. Whether I believe it in the moment or not, it doesn’t change the truth. Each person I meet is made in his image and important to God – therefore, they need to be important to me. Their dignity, their desires, their needs are all things that I want to be conscious of. While I know I cannot impact and truly love every single person in the world, I can be aware of who He sets in my path each day and be an imager-bearer to them so they can meet Jesus where they are and truly know Love. As I set my mind on things above and surrender my heart to him each day, I believe that I will see him in ways that will make me more like him.

“Show me you in each person I meet, Lord.”