There & Back Again: The Gift and Call of Suffering

So lately, I’ve been building my library, adding books to shelves in a quest to answer a timeless question:

Why do we suffer?

Yet, as I absorb Daniel Carrington and Philip Yancey, I’m curious if we should reconsider the inquiry as, ‘How should we suffer?’

For if suffering is a kingdom, a divine call, and the resilience guide to discovering God, then surely the way we endure merits discussion.

Perhaps you’re like me looking to mature through past and present challenges and hoping to think outward as opposed to inward. Either way, as we near the home stretch of 2022, these are the musings of yours truly…the emotional evolution of one still processing the passing of his youngest.

Sweet Jubilee…oh, how I miss you.

Granted, much has started to calibrate since my last post. The returns to certain norms are imminent. There have even been times I’ve wondered why I’m not more depressed than I am.

But at the core of it all, Lys and I feel like Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo returning to the shire from Mordor. Remember what Frodo said when he returned to Bag End in ‘Return of the King‘?

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on…when in your heart you begin to understand…there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend…some hurts that go too deep… that have taken hold.”

To me, this begs the question: What then can ‘untake’ that hold? How then should the heart resound, if not through soundless bites that in hardship can be the most beautiful expression of vulnerability?

Answers aside, the line resonates, a heart prick that has compelled me to relish the truth:

The author and perfector of my faith is the same author and perfector of my pain who from the beginning of time ordained it as a means for me to choose Him!

Like any day I’m alive, I’m taking hold of it as one made in His image. Like any hour I’m awake, I’m taking hold of it to press into His likeness. Just because my heart is healing, doesn’t mean I can’t partake in divine remedy, the sweetness of God’s Immanuel presence and the power of His strength piercing the darkness.

When I’m tempted to retreat, I remember the out I have to retreat into Jesus. And from there, I springboard into the dichotomy between the questions above…that the difference between “Why do we suffer” and “How should we suffer”, in purest form, is the asker of the latter knowing he is loved by God and is willing to trust in His purposes. That it is unfathomable love wrapped in mystery orchestrating the narrative of triumph and perspective rising from the depths.

Like Lys and I of late, you may feel like Frodo, called into adventures beyond your understanding, wishing the rings of adversity, be it disappointment or grief, hadn’t come to you. Yet, in those Moria moments, remember that’s when the Spirit finds and refreshes us as Gandalf did to Frodo:

So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Sure, the year of Jubilee may be over but as her name implies, the happy ever afters are only beginning. Accordingly, we celebrate our precious daughter Hebrews 12:1 style, knowing she’s not only part of a great cloud of witnesses but also co-inspiration stirring us to lay aside the weight of anguish clinging closely…

…her voice an echo to the Master urging us to run our race with endurance.

As for you, my friends, whatever your mission is, know to be overwhelmed is only human and often the evidence of doing something right. Why not then fuse some Hebrews 12:1-2 along with some Romans 8:28 and Galatians 6:9 into the questions you’re asking? Why not faint not…knowing God works all things, including our sufferings, for good and makes things new as words trustworthy and true (Revelation 21:5)? You don’t have to bear the weight of deciphering your circumstances. Rather, you can bear each other’s burdens delighting in the fact God has you going somewhere. Even if loss is incurred along the way, remember nothing can separate you from God’s love and the victory He has in store for you.

At the very least, take it from Jubilee. Her life was a gift but even more so her legacy. What keeps her Spirit alive is the same Spirit who in whispers:

  1. Reminds us He’s there because He’s been there and…
  2. Ignites us to see how discovering God through perseverance as the best way to journey through suffering.

In closing, I return to Yancey: “As we rely on God and trust His Spirit to mold us in His image, true hope takes shape within us, ‘a hope that does not disappoint.’ We can literally become better persons because of suffering. Pain, however meaningless it may seem at the time, can be transformed. Where is God when it hurts? He is in us—not in the things that hurt—helping to transform bad into good. We can safely say that God can bring good out of evil; we cannot say that God brings about the evil in hopes of producing good.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: mckellen.com

Miracle in the Making: The Jubilee Journey (Finale)

Jubilee’s goodbye letter as shared during 1:10:00-1:17:23 of today’s Celebration of Life live stream: https://youtu.be/xUD-NkRrzvk

Dear Jubilee,

For almost two weeks, I’ve been trying to find the words. There’s so much I want to say but don’t know how. So, I’ll start with the obvious.

I love you. Not more than you know, but as you now know.

Indeed, in this moment, I write to you within the ultimate paradox. Having fought with you for 13 months along with your mom and two of the world’s best NICU medical teams, I was desperate to see you experience fullness, not just of health but of life, love, and whatever joy you could possibly know within your fragile state. Now, look at you, all smitten and sassy, safe in the Father’s arms aware of that fullness in ways I can’t possibly understand. The world’s greatest former micro preemie fighter…at peace with her Creator. His breath is in your lungs as you pour out your praise.

No question, you challenged and changed many hearts from the ones entrusted to your care to ones who barely knew you. From your primaries to prayer partners across the globe, you reminded us how special each day truly is, and how much the present is a gift you can never take for granted. Packed within a year of forced rest, you compelled us to take baby steps into unchartered belief, to ride the waves far out of our depth.

Yet, through it all, we fell in love with His might and light in your fight. Christ in you, Christ in us, we learned how to be content at the end of our rope. how to fall and press into Jesus at the same time, not to mention the technical terms, the bells, and whistles of a brave, new world.

Often, there was much to take in, much beyond our ability to process. And so, we prayed. Every day. Without ceasing…that the same Spirit behind your smile, that fueled your tenacity would be known across the hall, down the aisle, from the parking lot and front desk to each emergency, operating, and visitation room. Every day. A chance to stiff-arm the ‘why’ and embrace the strive-less rhythms of grace. Every day. An opportunity.to gaze into your eyes to find God looking back at us through them.

In a way, you inspired joy in persevering through chaos and crisis. You taught us how being still in weakness is, in fact, strength. And you reminded us how surrender must also rise with hope, how to embrace those mini-Gethsemane moments throughout each day: Not my will but yours be done.

To your mother and I, your sister and brothers, we marvel at the vessel God designed you to be, the way you took in unity, prayer, and love and churned out life upon life on the other side. Granted, your days were numbered less than what we would have hoped. Still, we know in this grand mystery, there is purpose, hope, and freedom within the appointed number of days God called to your earthly tenure.

And so, I stand here with a new appreciation of the question I must ask. For it is not, ‘Why did God let you die’, but rather ‘Why did God let you live?’

Past day 1 when you had no business surviving traumatic labor at 25 weeks. Past day 80, when both your lungs collapsed. Past days 290-340 during which you coded over 15 times.

Why did God let you live?

While your family and I will have many years to discern the answers, for now, I want you to know it is well in my soul God called you to reflect childlike faith, wonder, and helplessness for 393 precious days and it is well in my heart God anointed you to inspire NICU personnel and families towards the loving arms of Jesus, to help them consider what is it that kept you going, kept fighting, and kept defying the darkest of diagnoses.

As for ending this letter, having embarked on this joyful journey like no other, I ask one more question, one I’ll be sharing with many who know and will know your story. And that is, based on the legacy of your life, ‘How is it we must never be the same again?’ To quote your great grandmother whose husband you now know, “you were a diamond loaned to us from God’s ‘stash’, a pure, bright, beautiful solitaire to show us how beautiful heaven must be.” Of course, with your former limitations and restrictions on earth, a celestial, prismatic perspective may seem farfetched. But to me and your family and friends sitting in this room today, the metaphor hits home. Like a unified tribe, we’re all witnesses to how you reflected eternity through epic resilience. From a micro-preemie plagued by chronic lung disease and pulmonary hypertension to one born again into paradise, we celebrate not only your victory and triumph over sickness and death but relish the truth that for thousands of people, your face is now a thumbnail capturing the kind of Romans 5 endurance they want to run the rest of their life with.

Creds to the Master. Tell Him we’re forever grateful for the Year of Jubilee, for having the chance to love and support you as your immediate and extended family. True, there was a lot of pain amidst the patience and perseverance during your short life. But as C.S. Lewis once said, while God whispers to us in our pleasures and speaks in our consciences, He shouts in our pain. For it is pain that insists on being attended to as His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. So, as we say goodbye in this setting, as a community who loves you, we declare the voice you now have via the Almighty as one that will heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and announce favor and grace to those who mourn. The joy of the Lord as your strength, help prepare the way for the risen Lord.

After all, the season’s changing and God is rebuilding everything. So, we will listen with humble hearts, with gladness and gratitude, to the people shouting, ‘This is Jubilee’.

With sincerest affection and adoration,

Dad

Cover photo by Cameron J. Fry

Miracle in the Making: The Jubilee Journey (Part 9)

One week into August…and we’re starting to hit those milestone anniversaries. Crazy how we’re already at the one-year mark from when the Juby Journey started, at least as we know it.

For those following our page updates, Juby has been oscillating on her paralytic the past 48 hours netting in a positive direction. Honestly, given the dire position she was in a few weeks ago, I’ll take baby step progress any way we can get it. Yet, while the arrow is a mild point up at the moment, I can’t help but feel I’m riding a similar line spiritually speaking.

In a sense, I feel so hollow, so numb…it’s like I’m threading the needle between supernatural protection and self-preservation. On one hand, it’s not hard for me to routinely release Juby into God’s hands and anchor surrender in yielded trust; on the other, the depressive thoughts continue to mount, the slope ever more slippery as the need for thought captivation increases.

From the ‘God, am I somehow the hold up to Juby being fully healed’ to ‘I wish I could go back to student pastoring again…somewhere far away from here’…the thought captivity meter is basically in whack a mole’ mode. And I wish there was an off button.

Still, every hour is one at a time laced with opportunities to say ‘no’ to fear and ‘yes’ to higher alternatives. From upticking K-LOVE radio play to binge watching posthumous footage of Joy Dawson, there are many ways to punch Satan in the face these days.

But then there’s last Sunday when Lys had the opportunity to share the Word at The Gate Church in Franklin.

Listening to her speak, I couldn’t quench the goosebumps as she delivered a message similar to one I shared with LEGACYouth six years ago during an ‘Intentionality of Jesus’ series.

Past and present infused, there I was in Matthew 14:22-33, storybooked next to Jesus ahead of his second Sea of Galilee cameo.

Six chapters earlier (Matthew 8:23-27), Jesus had demonstrated His power over the water in the boat; now He was about to manifest His power, patience, and Immanuel presence on the water outside the boat. You talk about poetic symmetry in motion. Here was the Son of God who used His voice to quiet the waves, who proceeded to miraculously feed the 5,000, who had already previewed His identity to the disciples…yet hadn’t employed His move strategic maneuver. At least until v. 23 in which Jesus retreats to pray following a massive ministerial stretch and learning his cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed. Aware of the weather conditions, Jesus then calls notable audible in v. 25:

…He came to them.”

Now, for most reading this, these four words are perhaps anecdotal to the passage’s climax in v. 33 when the disciples acknowledge Jesus’ identity. But to his guy, these words hit close to home in a way I couldn’t possibly understand outside this current season.

‘Cause truth is: The disciples didn’t call out to Jesus to come to them; rather Jesus made the first move, calling out to them so they could call back and respond accordingly. Almost a complete reversal of Matthew 8, Jesus isn’t arbitrarily prayer-walking around waiting for something to happen. Conversely, He is resetting into the Father and planting himself, albeit in distance, to make His presence known. How many times have we sensed the faint fragrance of Christ and like Peter couldn’t resist the urge to confirm its realness?

Granted, we should respect Peter in this story for breaking physics through child-like faith alone. For he knew He couldn’t control the elements yet understood His calling in the moment…get out of the boat and draw near to Jesus…cyclone be darned. Through hell or high water, Peter knew what mattered most was where he was going and who he was going to; hence, why he had no problem doing what he deemed most sensible when he lost visual: He cried out to Jesus for a supernatural, warp-speed extension of the hand ever reaching into the chaos…

…met with the grasp of saving grace.

Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?’ (v. 32).

Not a reprimand, mind you, but a reminder: I’m with you always and was there from the beginning. Don’t ever think my hand is too short to save.

Back in the NICU, I continue to marvel at this little life. As one who feels small often, I can resonate to a certain extent. But strangely, I couldn’t care less…because like Peter, if Jesus confesses His proximity and in response, I ask Him to ask me to believe the impossible…heck, yes, sign me up for that as long as I have breath. No matter how long Juby lives, I don’t want to ask Jesus to save her, to save me, to save my family…if I’m not willing to walk on water amidst the neighboring halls praying without ceasing. I don’t want to ask Jesus to help me if I’m not willing to press into the Father…if I don’t make vertical reliance a priority over a given moment or assignment.

After all, the Son of God is with me…and comes to me. May our faith, like Peter, understand what’s most important and progress correspondingly…

Selah.

Cover photo creds: ImageVine

The Struggle is Kneel: Why Surrender is Hard [at it’s] Core (Part 1)

So lately, I’ve been pondering the challenges of juggling family, vocational, and liturgical responsibilities. After all, my greatest passion is helping marketplace leaders balance the sacred and secular while discovering their influence within their spiritual gift mix.

However, if I’m being straight-up honest, I’m finding this calling, at least in recent months, more difficult than I could have imagined. In fewer words, I could cite career adjustments and pandemic troubleshootings in 2020 as well as the Jubilee journey kickoff in 2021 as justifiable narratives. But this wouldn’t scratch the itch of what lies beneath – the insecurities in the closet, the anxieties swept under the rug, and the fears at bay yet preserved in toleration, just to name a few.

Perhaps time will eventually permit me to unpack this series in greater detail. For now, what I will say is as we hit new strides in an unsettling world, let’s not empower the past by assuming God can’t do a new thing in familiar settings.

For some of you, this is not a struggle, but to me, this can be tough. In fact, I would submit the wrestling, while worth it from a perseverance perspective, is ironic: As we grow through life, as we war through the ups and downs, so do our laundry lists grow of what we wish we could have done differently.

I look at 20-25 and I see a double-minded Christian meandering like a chicken with his head cut off. I look at 26-32, as one who aligned but took too much personally and could have been a more consistent leader. And now after years of counseling and spot-start ministerial assignments, I’m ready to get back into the game. The problem is my hands are tied primarily by what I can’t control…

…and that’s okay.

What’s not okay is the propensity I sometimes fall prey to: Defining relationships by emotional impressions.

By this, I’m referencing the practice of perceiving a person through the greatest internal reaction they’ve elicited be a single moment or repeated pattern. For instance, within a single connection, there may be nine positive interactions; however, if the tenth provokes a strong negative response (seen or unseen), we may taint the entire association to the point of withdrawal.

Again, the issue with this mindset ties to our natural minds. Without holy parameters and godly beliefs, we are almost always going to scale the magnitude of these moments incorrectly. Not to mention if we’re not sensitive to the Spirit to surrender at the point of awareness, that snowball is only going to get bigger.

As I’ve been asking myself…

…what will it take to fully surrender certain disappointments and discouragements?

If I’m waiting on divine intervention in the form of a burning bush, I’m not only likely going to miss opportunities to serve but also moments to show [and grow] up where overcoming can happen.

If this sounds blunt, know it comes as one pointing the finger at himself. Clearly, this is a habit I need to mature in as the first half of 2022 concludes.

Granted, I know I’m not alone and if anyone needs to hear this, I hope this prompts a boost for you to stay the course, forgive past offenses, and deflect the lies of the enemy. As much as we’re curious to know what deceptions other people are plagued by, especially as they pertain to us, dare to not hold your destiny hostage. Instead, find yourself in Philippians 3:13-14 (ESV) and focus on the next best step.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

As C.S. Lewis once said…

Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.

Stay tuned next time when I’ll take a deeper dive into how we can integrate surrender into our quiet times, fuse it with our curiosity, and apply it relationally. Until then, I pray Jeremiah 10:23 over you in the sense God guides you to His heart to direct your steps. In all you say and do, remember the way of man is not in himself but in acknowledging and knowing God. Why not draw near, be still, and be at peace as you lean into His highest?

Selah.

Cover photo creds: iStock

Master Relater: Why Jesus Doesn’t Just Heal our Infirmities

Not long ago, my eight-month-old daughter, Jubilee, received her tracheostomy – an answer to months of prayer, waiting, and wondering.

At last, The Master Physician…not just making a way for greater health but advancing her recovery to the next level.

Yet, in recent days, as I’ve considered the Cross with Easter still in mind, I’ve been moved by the Messianic prophesy captured in Matthew 8:16-17:

“When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'”

A popular verse among those quoted in hospitals, I want us to consider Isaiah’s verb choices.

For instance, he doesn’t say verbatim Jesus would cure our infirmities and heal our diseases. Rather, he suggested Jesus would take them up and carry them – a metaphoric preview pointing to the Cross to come. Granted, on the surface this may seem discouraging for those seeking immediate results; however, I submit these words can carry powerful resonance if we allow them.

Think of it this way: Before Jesus could heal our diseases, He first had to relate to them. As Hebrews 4:15 emphasizes, Christ identified with us in our sufferings so He could restore our brokenness, transform our perspective, and fix our eyes to His presence. Cross in mind, this is why Jesus did not purchase our eternal freedom at the cost of iniquity alone as He knew our physical reconciliation was part of the package. Hence, why we must understand…

…while Jesus died for our sins and eternal relationship, He also endured our physical limitations so we could better relate to Him in our weakness.

To me, this blows my mind knowing…

…Jesus, even in His final moments, was not only proactive to consider our need to walk in fullness by His grace but cared just as much about our physical restoration as our spiritual freedom.

As for how this can encourage us in the short-term? Again, consider the Cross within Matthew 8:16-17. Before Jesus could instantly heal, there had to be a way to Him and for Him to call us to receive His healing. By establishing this pathway, He also made clear a critical order: Healing, in its rightful place, is not a catalyst but an overflow – a means to relationship with God. Accordingly, since Jesus is the answer (John 14:6), we must be careful not to assume His divine intervention is even close to the solution He is.

Yes, the NICU life, like many settings and situations, is a struggle stirred by our desire to know the ‘why’ of God’s plan, but this shouldn’t deter us from pressing into Jesus. As Matthew 8:1-17 reminds us, healing is a holy prompt to discover God as He connects to our circumstances. While miracles are often perceived as the mic drops of God’s power, dare to see the waiting for them as opportunities to know His love, nearness, and faithful sovereignty in a fresh way.

After all, it’s God’s heart our burdens aren’t the only things growing amidst our perseverance.

Bottom line: While healing is a culmination of God’s power, the anticipation of it should excite our hearts knowing He never stops pursuing us in the midst of chaos and crisis. Even though many of us reading this have felt the letdown at one point or another, take heart: The next time you sense God knocking, open the door, cast your anxieties, and let Him minister to you in ways only He can.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: Shutterstock