Compassion always matters: Principles of Healing by Elaine Elliott, Antigua, Guatemala

But God will judge the world May 19, 2022

1 Peter 2:11-25 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

A sweet, unexpected thing happened. I walked outside to get in my car and a stranger walking by spoke to me, saying, “I always like walking by your house because of your heart-shaped tree stump. It encourages me.” And her dog pulled her away.

The stump left from our beloved dead tree is heart-shaped? I hadn’t noticed.

My neighbor’s comment healed some of my sadness at having to cut down our aged beloved tree. Her “honorable behavior” blessed me. I don’t know exactly where she lives. I’m watching for her so I can meet her properly and thank her.

When I walked out this morning to take a photo of the stump, I noticed a thistle growing beside it. Thanks to all the rain we’ve had, weeds are flourishing. I decided the thistle illustrates the heart-weeding I need to do of the “worldly desires that wage war against our souls.” So for the moment, I left it in the ground, and in the photo, to remind me to do both kinds of weeding.

Thistle vs. heart-stump. “Worldly desires” vs. “honorable behavior” flowing from hearts filled with God’s love. Peter offers twelve indicators of honorable living. Look up the passage and count them!

I want to focus today on the last one, “you have turned to our Shepherd for healing of your wounds and for spiritual protection,” in verses 24 and 25. I’ll do this by sharing with you ten thoughtfully penned Principles of Healing recently sent to me by my sister-in-law Elaine Elliott. Check out Elaine’s Art and Scripture posts. You’ll love the way she illustrates Scripture with inspiring art from a wide variety of artists.

Elaine’s explanation is longer than what I usually post, but so worth your consideration. I’ve bolded the principles to help you return to them when you need them. I’ll post five today and five next time.

As one of Karis’ aunts, I watched her life (usually from afar) with wonder. The fact that she survived beyond her first month made her a miracle baby. The sacrificial care Debbie gave to her repeatedly prolonged her life. When the family moved to Brazil as Karis seemed completely healed and well, this marked another miracle.  When her health declined and eventually led to her transplants, we followed the ups and downs with prayers for her. When in a medically induced coma after the first transplant failed, I assumed this was the end of the story so was astonished when she traveled to Brazil before transplant #2.  Her example of patience with pain and determination to enjoy life despite her limits served as an inspiration.

For me, Karis’ life, and the book Karis: All I See Is Grace remains an inspiring story of healing despite the messy medical procedures, her suffering, and her ultimate death.  My own journey to understand healing explains why.

The following ten principles have emerged for me over the years. 

Principle 1: Accept and use wisely the advances in medical science

During my freshman year of college, I heard for the first time about the baptism of the Spirit as a post-new-birth experience which led to increased gifting and power.  I was immediately on-board and immersed myself in this exciting new way of being a Christian.  Of all the gifts, healing struck me as the most glamorous, and I read books by contemporary healers hoping to receive this gift.

My immediate thought as a healthy person was to pray that my eyes would heal, thereby removing the need for contact lenses or glasses.  When this did not come about after about three months of unnecessarily poor eyesight (while in college squinting at the blackboard!), it suddenly struck me that I was ignoring the obvious:  if God gave mankind wisdom to come up with something as ingenious as contact lenses, then I should accept that healing could come through medicine. 

This became an important principle for my understanding of how God works, teaching me we must simultaneously pray and trust God as we collaborate with medicine and doctors. We should not be like King Asa of whom it says he “developed a serious foot disease. Yet even with the severity of his disease, he did not seek the Lord’s help but turned only to his physicians.” (II Chronicles 16:12) Nor do we want to be like the woman Jesus healed who “had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse.” (Mark 5:26)

God has used scientific advances to transform treatment of leprosy, such a scourge throughout the Bible. Identified as caused by bacteria in 1873, the first disease so recognized, the accidental discovery of antibiotics in 1928 led to an effective drug in the 1940s and became multi-drug therapy by the 1980s. The disease has nearly been eliminated. I think of how important it was for Jesus to heal lepers with no cure available then or for nearly 20 more centuries. For new cases today healthcare workers diagnose the disease and prescribe some pills. This all can be celebrated as a gift from a wise God who shares his wisdom with curious people.

Using the wisdom regarding preventative illness correlates well with some of the sanitation, dietary, and admonitions to rest in the OT law.  We do well to eat well, exercise, rest, and reduce our stress—all things consonant with living in the Spirit.

Principle 2: Accept the possibility of death as God’s way of healing

I learned another principle when in my second year of college, we went to pray for a girl about eighteen years old whose family went to our church. The girl was so developmentally disabled she was confined to a crib, which I found horrifying. I prayed diligently for her healing. One afternoon I was so convinced she had been healed that it shocked me completely when my grandmother told me she had just died.

After the shock subsided, I suddenly realized, “She is completely healed in heaven!”  Ever since, I have held the strong belief that God, who has the power of life and death, knows when it is best for someone ill to be with him, relieved of their suffering. When things are uncertain, we know death can be an acceptable outcome.  As Paul says, “when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:54,55) We may grieve, but we have hope.

Principle 3: Prayer close by and from a distance both matter

Often those praying for healing lay hands on someone or anoint with oil or remain present in prayer. But prayers from far away matter too. As the Roman officer who trusted Christ’s authority said, “Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8) Our family experienced a profound healing of my sister Bev who had convulsions at the age of 18 while in Mexico. She went into a coma and the doctors predicted either death or brain damage. I learned about her situation while far away in Tucson but prayed for her as did many friends far and wide. She opened her eyes, but at first seemed like a small child. By the time I saw her several months later at Christmas time, she had partially recovered—perhaps to grade school level—but by the following fall went to the university with no ill effects and no one aware of her severe illness unless she told them. Though far away, I felt very present to her through prayer as did many others. It convinced me my prayers mattered.

Principle 4: We can have faith for others even when they lack faith

Another principle is that while it may be helpful for the sick person to have faith for themselves, it also works for us to have faith for others. It is unnecessary to guilt anyone about their illness or to demand they exercise faith. The disciples praying were the ones exhorted that their faith had been inadequate when they failed to heal the epileptic child. (Matthew 17:19,20) 

Someone I knew who struggled with alcoholism did not have much faith for change.  We who cared provided the faith that this challenge could be overcome and rejoiced when that happened.

Principle 5:  Exercise compassion rather than ascribing sin or judgment as the cause of illness.

We do not have a right to explain illness as God’s judgment for sin. When the disciples saw a blind man, they asked “Why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” (John 9:2,3) God’s power then proceeded to heal him.

Even if someone contributed to their own illness in some way, including sin, Jesus is present to heal, not to condemn. Jesus wasted no time castigating the paralyzed man brought by friends on a mat but pronounced forgiveness and told him to stand. We too can receive forgiveness and forgive others as we have been forgiven, a critical part of inner healing which leads to physical changes.

I remember a woman telling me “Depression is just sin.” But traumatic events that create depression often are not the fault of the one suffering. Seeing trauma and depression healed, I am convinced that loving presence helps transform painful experiences into something full of wisdom. Compassion always matters.

Radical love

But Jesus’ message is different

Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Hebrews 10:24 Let us think of ways to motivate each other to love and good works.

Shutterstock: askib

The contrast between the message the guards were ordered to spread by the Jewish leaders and the message Jesus told his disciples to teach could not be more different:

The premise of the Jewish leaders: If we lie convincingly enough, we can get away with murder. Jesus’ premise: God loves you so much I was willing to lay down my life for you.

The intent of the Jewish message: to save their own skin. Jesus’ intent: to save the world.

The authority on which the orders of the Jewish leaders were based: human distortion of biblical teaching (Matthew 23:23 “You ignore the more important aspects of the law: justice, mercy, and faith”). Jesus’ authority: given him by his Father, the Creator, Sustainer, and Sovereign over heaven and earth.

The heart of the Jewish message: “Maintain the status quo with us in charge.” The heart of Jesus’ message: Love God and others (Matthew 22:37-39); lay down your own life to serve others (Matthew 20:28).

Radical love. Radical service.

What does that mean to you today? I’m on a retreat with a group of lovely and strong-minded people. Many opportunities to recognize ways I’m more like the Jewish leaders than like Jesus, and to realize how generous Jesus’ love is (even for me!). Opportunities to grow!

The power of lament

But God heard Jesus cry

Hebrews 5:7-9 While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.

Matthew 26:38-39 Jesus told Peter, James, and John, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Psalm 116:10-11 I believed in you, so I said, “I am deeply troubled, Lord.” In my anxiety I cried out to you.

Have you ever felt your soul crushed with grief?

I can’t compare my experience with Jesus’s. But in the months following Karis’s death, these counter-cultural verses from Hebrews were lifesaving for me. They gave me permission to express my anguish, rather than just confining it inside and going into the death of long depression. They add so much color and sound to the Gospel accounts of Gethsemane that I wonder whether the anonymous author of Hebrews might have been in the olive grove that night.

Oklahoma City National Memorial, Shutterstock: angie oxley

When we give expression to our heartbreak, voicing lament at the same time helps us define and contain it. It seems the entire world has lost its moorings, but no: I realize I am torn up inside about this and this and this.

Lament is like releasing pressure from a pressure cooker, so the contents can be dealt with safely. We can lament privately, but it’s effective in a different way when someone we trust hears and feels with us and to some extent at least understands our anguish, feelings too overwhelming to deal with alone. I’m grateful for Luke 22:43, which tells us an angel came to Jesus in Gethsemane to care for him when the disciples failed to do so. In my experience, feeling alone in grief compounds its impact many times over. Compassionate people can help anchor us and give us the safety of boundaries when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

What happens when we don’t lament? The pressure inside us can come out in anger and mistreatment of others. It can generalize into paralyzing fear leading to irrational beliefs and actions. It can freeze into chronic depression. It can manifest in illnesses.

I called the verses in Hebrews counter-cultural because somehow in some Christian traditions the idea took hold that expression of emotions is not godly or decorous; it reveals a lack of faith and maturity. We admire people who are “strong,” meaning they bear their sorrows stoically. At all times they wear the demeanor of a “victorious Christian.” They keep their masks firmly in place.

Until, if they are like me, they simply can’t anymore. And then they may hear words like, “I’m disappointed in you. I always thought you were a woman of faith.” This anti-biblical culture, I believe is changing. I’m glad.

Jesus, the perfect, sinless, Son of God, lamented with loud cries. And though his Father could not remove the cup of suffering from him, Jesus walked into the betrayal of Judas and all that came next as he was mocked, scourged, slandered, and nailed to a cross knowing his Father had heard him and walked with him. Though his own disciples fled, Jesus knew he was not alone. David, the man after God’s own heart, expressed lament through the psalms. Jeremiah wept over his people. The great apostle Paul told the Corinthians some of what he had been through for the sake of the Gospel.

Lament is a gift we all need. I’m grateful for the biblical characters who model it for us. Beginning with Jesus, our Lord.

My friend Timmy introduced me to the sung Psalms of The Corner Room. Here’s an example. They are helping me give expression to the feelings stirred up by the launch of Karis, só vejo a graça in Brazil. Maybe they will help you, too, in your own need to lament in faith.

And this website might help as well.

What will we choose today?

But Jesus accepted the woman’s gift, and knew what it cost her

Matthew 26:6-16 Meanwhile [while Jewish leaders plotted his death], Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon … While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste!” they said. “It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, replied, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. She has poured this perfume on me to prepare my body for burial. … Then Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Hebrews 12:15-16 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal.

Shutterstock: Tara Steffen

If you’ve been following this blog or have read Karis, All I See Is Grace, you know Karis identified closely with the woman in this story, seeing her life as perfume broken and poured out over the Body of Christ, the church.

But today I want to ask a simple question. Today, what choice will you and I make?

Every day we face the choice to offer ourselves to the Lord, pouring out our time, our talent, our treasure to honor him. Or to try to use our special status with God, as his beloved children, for our own benefit, twisting the Gospel into a tool of manipulation or a means of personal gain.

We see this blatantly on television, in politics, and sadly, in churches. In our own lives it may be more subtle, especially if we value the prestige that goes along with appearing godly or spiritual. What it costs us to actually be godly, following Jesus into places where we may suffer criticism and misunderstanding like the woman in this story, is a choice more difficult to make.

Whose approbation do we value most, Jesus’s or other people’s? Do we each have one or two or three people who know what that struggle looks like for us personally, what our specific vulnerabilities are to the enemy’s wiles? Each of us needs someone with whom we are transparent, who can support us in choosing God’s grace.

Because the choice comes to each one of us, whether in big ways or small.

They didn’t get it. Do we?

But Jesus knew

Matthew 26:1-4 Jesus said to his disciples, “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”

Hebrews 11:27-28 Moses kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. It was by faith that he commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.

Colossians 1:15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.

“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Remember that silliness from Monty Python? It’s a wee bit of humor that keeps our family laughing in times of unexpected events. If we only knew what will happen next, we could better prepare for it, right?

It’s normal to feel anxious. Anxiety is fear, dread, and uneasiness about what may happen in the future, which usually resolves along with whatever we’re worrying about. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, don’t resolve without help and treatment. According to the APA, anxiety disorders increased fourfold in 2020-2021 as compared with pre-Covid 2019:

7.4% – 8.6%

Range of average monthly percentages of U.S. adults reporting symptoms of anxiety, January–December 2019

28.2% – 37.2%

Range of average submonthly percentages of U.S. adults reporting symptoms of anxiety, April 2020–August 2021 

Not too surprising, right, that a worldwide pandemic and all its permutations would burst our bubble of optimism about the future? Once something we’re anxious about goes really badly, or when we’re shocked by a completely unexpected traumatic event, we’re more vulnerable to feeling anxious. I’ve had to fight anxiety about the births of each of my youngest children and my grandchildren, worrying that something will go wrong. I didn’t have that problem before Karis surprised us with a life-threatening congenital defect in her digestive tract.

Jesus told the disciples outright many times that he would be crucified. But they just couldn’t get it. If they had been paying better attention, they wouldn’t have been caught so flatfooted. You and I know what will happen to him on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this week. What we don’t know is how this remembering may affect us.

But Jesus knows. He knows the treasures he has prepared for each one of us in this Holy Week. We can prepare by keeping our eyes on him, God made visible, and following where he leads us. Remember, our Father only gives good gifts to his children, even if we don’t immediately understand.

Shutterstock: vystekimages

Turn toward, not away

But Jesus predicts hardship

Matthew 24:7-14, 20, 25 Nation will go to war against nation … There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. … See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.

One reason Karis cites in her journals for wanting her story told is the prevalence in some places of a “health and wealth gospel,” the idea that if you have “enough” faith, God will make you prosperous and free of suffering. A message Jesus neither modeled nor taught. Karis reacted passionately against the implied judgment of this belief on many of her friends who were neither healthy nor wealthy but lived their lives of hardship in deep faith and joy in God’s love for them, measured not in gifts of the world but in gifts of the heart.

Karis’s journals, written over twenty years in her tiny script

One time when Karis was hospitalized as a teenager, suffering from uncontrollable diarrhea and dehydration that led to several months on TPN (nutrition through her blood stream), “chained,” as she said, to an IV pump, a woman we didn’t know showed up in her hospital room. The woman told me she had crossed Brazil by bus to deliver a message from God to Karis. She then turned to Karis, who was too weak at the time to stand, and demanded she confess her sins of unbelief, get out of that bed, and live the triumphant life of faith. “You are a disgrace to the Gospel and to God,” she shouted at Karis. “Shame on you! Shame on your family, pretending to be ministers of the Lord. Look at you, wasting resources on hospitals and machines and medicines. Unbelievers! This money should go to the churches!”

She walked over to Karis and yanked her arm. “Down on your knees now, you hypocritical sinner! Confess your unbelief! Then stand up and walk and end this charade!”

By then, of course, I was loosening the woman’s grip on Karis and escorting her to the door. “I have been obedient! I have delivered God’s message! The rest is up to you!” She was still shouting as I closed the door and ran to Karis, who heaved with sobs.

Later, when she was stronger, Karis spoke to me about the woman’s visit, with an intensity I had not seen in her before. “Mama,” she said, “that woman blasphemed my Lord. I can’t bear it.” She began crying again. “It’s not what she said about me—I can handle that. I know I need to grow in faith, especially in faith to trust him when I’m weak and in pain. It’s what she said about who God is, as if he hasn’t walked with me and loved me and comforted me and provided for me with such gentle tenderness all my life. As if his words to me every day—words of love and encouragement—are not true. That hurt me to my core. Mama, please don’t let such a thing happen again. I can’t bear it. It’s like a sword piercing my heart.”

Then her smile broke out. “Maybe that woman doesn’t know about the thousands of people praying for me around the world. They can’t all be as deficient in faith as us, right?” She giggled. “Well, I’m in cahoots with God. From now on, I’m going to pray for God to heal whatever has wounded her. I’m going to pray she can know how extravagantly her Father loves her.”

Perhaps in Heaven Karis has been privileged to know the result of her prayers for this woman whose name we never learned. Lord, if she’s still alive, please care for her.

Reading Matthew 24—which sounds all too sadly familiar, doesn’t it?—this is what caught my attention. “Many will turn away from me … and the love of many will grow cold.”

Love God and love each other (John 13:34-35). Isn’t that Jesus’ central message? A direct contrast to “betray and hate each other.”

When we turn toward Jesus, our love for him and for people grows. When we turn away from Jesus, the natural consequence is hatred and slander.

Let’s turn toward Jesus. Whatever the circumstances of our lives.

Where do you go for refuge?

But God cannot lie  March 17, 2022

Hebrews 6:18-19 It is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.

Jeremiah 17:7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.

I love what this image communicates to me about resilience. I took it Monday beside our front steps.

The world is full of misinformation, and no one is smart enough or wise enough to figure it all out. So, I love this word from Hebrews. There is a place where we can relax and rest, a place to anchor our souls with confidence: God’s strong and loving heart. A place to anchor our resilience in the face of all the challenges we each face.

I want to share with you today the “But God” story of Lawrence Chewning. I don’t know him, but he’s made his story public through youtube.

And I think you’ll be encouraged with me by singing “We have an anchor” along with Loretta Adjetey from Ghana (“Lor” is her stage name). Priscilla Jane Owens, 1829-1907, wrote this song. I’ve been to Accra and have worshiped with and been blessed by the generous hospitality of Ghanaian people. Listening to Lor took me right back there. If you know any of their history, you’ll appreciate even more the beauty of this song in their context. It’s an amazing story of resilience.

What do you want to tell your Father today?

But God knows  March 14, 2022

Matthew 10:29-31 But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Matthew cites Jesus calling God his Father 45 times (Mark only 5; Luke 18 times). Why do you think Matthew paid so much attention to this? I would love to know your thoughts—you can write them in the Comments.

Most often, Jesus calls God “your Father,” as he does here. Read the verse again and then close your eyes for a moment. Can you imagine Jesus coming to you, right now, today, and saying these words to you?

Shutterstock: Natalya Lys

Don’t be afraid. You are valuable to God. Don’t be afraid. Your Father knows. You matter to him. He notes even the smallest details of your life.

What do you want to tell your Father? What are you afraid of? Can you offer your fears to your Father, and then be still, receiving his peace?

“I cannot clutch this peace,” wrote Karis in one of her poems.* No, this is a daily transaction with our Father, clearing our souls of fear, letting his Presence touch and comfort us, re-centering into his peace. A transaction of trust. Imagine yourself as a small child, burrowing into the comfort of your Father’s lap.

Shutterstock: Jamesilencer

Peace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uW6xcmqfiY4

A song for Ukraine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duOnmlJuNJQ

Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul (Matthew 10:28).

*The poem “Caçula,” which means in Portuguese the youngest child of a family.

Bittersweet Christmas

But God heard my cry for mercy

Psalm 31:5, 21-22 I entrust my spirit into your hand. Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. … I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. … In panic I cried out, “I am cut off from the Lord!” But you heard my cry for mercy and answered my call for help.

“It’s the hap-happiest time of the year …”

Well, no. Not for everyone.

The first Christmas after Karis died, I thought I would drown in grief. She loved Christmas so. I couldn’t bring myself to do the fun Christmas-y things: the tree, the decorating, the baking, the gifts. I wanted somehow to leap over not only Christmas but January, when Karis was hospitalized with a line infection and, unknown to us, H1N1, and February, with her death and memorial service and indescribable pain. I wanted to skip winter altogether. I wanted spring, with its hope of new life, with reassurance there was still reason to live.

Rachel and Valerie came to my rescue, though they were grieving too. They managed Christmas for our family that year. I didn’t realize how hard this was for them until Rachel mentioned it a couple of weeks ago as we discussed plans for this year.

Yesterday’s poem in Guite’s Waiting on the Word, number 28 of 131 poems published in 1850 as In Memoriam, is framed around the sound of Christmas bells. Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote these poems across seventeen years, tracing his grief over the sudden death of his best friend. His pain is still raw, yet the last stanza carries a note of hope:

                             This year I slept and woke with pain,

                                           I almost wish’d no more to wake,

                                           And that my hold on life would break

                             Before I heard those bells again.

                             But they my troubled spirit rule,

                                           For they controll’d me when a boy;

                                           They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,

                             The merry, merry bells of Yule.

“Sorrow touch’d with joy.” It’s an apt description of my first few Christmases after Karis’s death. Grieving is not speedy. If we try to skip over the pain, it won’t heal. The only way out is through.

This year, I find I can invert Tennyson’s phrase. “Joy touch’d with sorrow”—yes. That works. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for hearing my cry for mercy.

The joy candle, third Sunday of Advent Shutterstock: Roza Sharipova

The crack is how the light gets in

But God loved the world 

John 3:16-17 For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son … God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

Romans 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.

James 1:16 Every good and perfect gift comes down to us from God our Father.

When I was in high school and in awe (I still am) of my later to become sister-in-law Elaine, we had a (for me) eye-opening discussion of John 3:16-21. I was steeped in judgment—my parents judged me, my school judged me, I judged myself—always as inadequate and unworthy of love. I naturally believed God viewed me the same way. I had no concept of him as a loving Father.

Elaine showed me in these verses and John 5:24 that people’s natural state was judgment, but God had done everything necessary to change that. All we had to do to pass from death to life (John 5:24) was to accept God’s love through Jesus’ life and sacrifice in our place.

Sometimes I forget and continue to judge and condemn myself. This Advent, I’m asking God to take me to a new level of understanding of his love for me as my Father NOT based on my performance. I’m trying to listen more to his words of love and less to my own inner critic.

What about you? What do you long for from your Father in this season of gift-giving?

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in        Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Shutterstock: makasana photo