I’ll just say it: yesterday was rough.
Like, really, really rough.
It was the day that should have marked my sweet Tage’s third birthday, but he lives in Heaven now.
The Lord has bolstered my faith in recent years – building supports and adding more layers, making it harder and harder to knock down – and for that, I am in awe. Most days, I stand on that wall of faith with the determination to trust I’m safe no matter what comes and the peace of knowing what, or Who, gives me hope.
But yesterday was hard.
It didn’t help that the mid-March Indiana clouds are currently thick and low and smothering, and my skin and spirit yearn for sunshine. My emotional pump was already primed to feel the darkness.
Then, I had had the privilege of getting to share Tage’s story with a group of women that morning, the morning of his birthday, and I was reminded that God continues to work in my story and in the aftermath of Tage’s death. But with every sharing of my story comes the reminder of the pain.
At the event, I got to talk with one of my mom’s dear friends, who looked me in the eyes and told me as tears fell from hers how much she misses my mom. Me, too. Me. Too.
After speaking, I got to hear from women who told me their stories of miscarriage, child loss, divorce, and questioning God. Their tears proved their raw pain.
Later, I had a hard conversation across a restaurant booth. More memories of pain.
As I drove downtown to a birthday party that evening, my car hitting every pothole on the crudely patched and crumbling pavement. I passed the home of another friend who had also lost an infant. Then, my route took me through a rough part of town. Windows were boarded up. Toys and trash were strewn across tiny yards behind broken chain link fences. I stopped at a red light and glanced to my left. A man walked down the cracked sidewalk, his gate greatly altered by a physical condition. I thought of all the harsh stares he must receive in a day as he simply struggled to walk. He was clearly in pain.
That’s when I finally lost it.
The knot cramped up in my throat, and the tears poured from my eyes.
“When, Lord?” I begged. “There is so much brokenness. It’s everywhere. When are You going to come? How long do we have to live in this mess?”
Sometimes I can’t hold back the brokenness anymore. Sometimes I can’t handle seeing one more sad thing, one more broken family, one more child in a wheelchair, one more girl who thinks her beauty is proved when she bares her body on Instagram, one more elementary student of mine who needs to prove his toughness because no one tells him they love him, one more tear stained face telling me of their deep pain.
“When Lord? When are you going to come fix this? I can’t handle it today.”
I just left that those questions hanging in the air of my car. I wiped my eyes, took a deep breath and went into the party.
The next morning, I stepped out to take Marty for a walk, grinning at the early light just above the horizon. A pink glow crept down the tall, barren trees of the park as the sun slowly rose higher in the clear sky. Birds sang their joyful tunes, a chorus of life awakening from the long, winter slumber.
I inhaled the fresh air. I had paused my conversation with God, and I knew He was right there when I was ready to start again.
“Thank you for this sunshine…and for the birds.” I took another deep, soothing breath, hoping the light would get to the deepest places. “Sometimes I just don’t know how to live among all the mess, Lord? We are so broken. This life, it’s like we’re swimming in a pool of bitter vinegar, but sometimes we don’t even realize it because we have just gotten used to it. But today, I taste it. It is so bitter sometimes. What are we supposed to do? How do we keep living like this?”
Then, He whispered a reminder to me of when He looked around and grieved for what He saw, too. He was entering Jerusalem, just before His crucifixion. As He got to town, He looked around and saw all of their brokenness and the mess.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” Matthew 23:37
Jesus looks at the town and the people around Him who He loves, and He grieves for them. It breaks His heart to see them so lost and broken. He expresses His longing to protect them.
He says, “I see the brokenness and it breaks my heart, too. It was not meant to be this way.” I think maybe He understands the mess we live in. I think He’s seen it and lived in it, too. He understands when we grieve for the brokenness around us. He did, too.
He says He wished to gather the broken people, to protect them and comfort them.
My friend Katie has taught me how to hug by example. Since the day I’ve known her, I have loved her hugs. She spreads both of her arms out wide, wraps them around you, and pulls you into her with gusto. She gathers you in and holds you in her embrace for many seconds, long enough to make you take notice. You can’t help but take a deep breath and let your shoulders go down. She doesn’t let go quickly. It’s the best feeling in the world.
I’m pretty sure Katie hugs how Jesus hugs. I see Jesus longing to do the same thing here, to bring us into a place of protection and safety and warmth when He said, “How often I have wanted to gather (you) together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”
It does beg the question: Am I letting the Lord protect me? Am I letting Him comfort me? Or am I running to other things?
But Jesus doesn’t stop there.
“ And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Matthew 23:38-39
He sees that their house is abandon and desolate, just like the boarded-up homes I saw on my drive. And He knows He is leaving them that way for a time. He offered the people Himself, and in just a few chapters He will die for these people. He knows He will be leaving them soon in this desolate, abandoned condition. Yet, that’s not the end of story. Because then He says that He will be coming back, and when He does, everyone will know He is who He said He is.
That’s the thing I have to always remind myself: This is not the end of the story.
Sometimes it is really hard to see the light through the clouds. Some days, or seasons, we wonder if Jesus really sees us. Sometimes I wonder and doubt. Sometimes I question whether this whole thing is made up and that I will look like a fool at the end if Jesus never comes.
But…what if I’m wrong?
What if there’s more and this life is not the end?
What if there’s a Hope we never even dreamed we could hope for?
What if Jesus really will come back and make everything right and new and beautiful?
What if He can even take the darkest parts of our lives and make them radiant?
And then I remember: He’s doing that in me. He’s been doing that this whole season of suffering.
And I’m not special – He will do that in all of us if we ask Him.
As I rounded the back of the park, the birds chirped so loudly I had to raise my voice as I chatted to my dog. Their song filled the acres of trees around me, all different tunes and rhythms. It was glorious, and I couldn’t help but smile.
Then, suddenly I was aware of another sound in my ears. It was the buzz and hum of the highway just on the other side of the trees. It was as loud as the birds when I stopped to listen to it.
But I had been so taken with the chirping birds, that I wasn’t depressed by the sound of the highway. I was focused on their songs.
I must remember and hold tightly to Jesus’ own words that remind me He is not leaving us alone in this condition forever. He is making everything new:
“Then I (John) saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne (Jesus) said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.”
Revelation 21:1-7 (parenthesis mine)
Perhaps that’s what the birds chirp about.
There is beauty amid the pain. There is hope amid the mess. Because as every Hoosier knows, an Indiana March never lasts forever.
And in our pain there’s a promise: the brokenness won’t last forever.
Spring is coming!