Your story, with its twists and bumps and overwhelming, faith-testing hurts — your story, with its lens of sadness or tints of joy — your story, ordinary though it may be — your story….
It’s not wasted.
And right now, in the thick of it, when your emotions are so tangled you don’t even know what you feel, and tears slide silently down one cheek with every hidden, unnoticed sob, and bitterness threatens to dictate your next words, and you look at yourself and wonder how it all got here…
Know that your story is not a never-ending, exhausting cycle of how you feel, but a recipient of persistent, constant, faithful grace.
It’s all grace.
Your story is not wasted. Not because someday you’ll pick yourself back up, or because we’re all a mess and it’s okay to be a mess together. Not because you manage to find the silver lining on the cloudiest days, or because eventually you’ll look back and see the lesson you were supposed to learn…
Your story is not wasted because the grace of Jesus goes deeper than you could ever imagine, and while your pain-filled, trust-broken, bitterness-ridden, broken-hearted mess rages,
He does not waste a thing. Where sin runs deep, his grace is more. In the middle of your mess, he redeems you from it.
Sweet friend, your story is not wasted, not because of you, but because of Jesus.
This is the gospel. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Not because we were worthy, but for the glory of the Father, whose extravagant love saw fit to include us in his covenant grace story.
Your story is his, and his story is never a waste. Rest in the freedom of knowing, believing, clinging to the truth that your life, your hurts, your story…. belong fully to Jesus.
Thursday night, I sat in the third row of a packed sanctuary, surrounded by the heavy sadness, lingering shock, and deep sobs of an all-too-soon funeral.
Friday night, I dressed up, went out with my friends, laughed, and danced away the night at my college Christmas banquet.
It almost felt wrong. This sorrow lasted longer than a night.
Thursday, I listened to an agonizingly beautiful lullaby, played and sung by heartbroken parents over their precious 17-year-old daughter, now still, and felt the unspeakable weight deep in the core of my being.
Friday, as energy pumped through the hall and excitement ran high, that music felt dreadfully empty.
The permanence of death didn’t sit well. Isn’t joy supposed to come in the morning?
Thursday night, the ears of my heart listened in agreement as we talked of hidden pain, and depression, and the value of each voice speaking up and speaking out, breaking the silence in which the devil likes to do his dirty work.
Friday night, my mind wandered amid the motion as I couldn’t help but wonder why my secret battle ended after a few short months while hers ended her earthly life; and why a similar struggle had different outcomes, and why I don’t understand, and how it’s all just not fair.
Grieving is exhausting.
Thursday night, we talked about love. Fierce love. The fierce love of a mother relentlessly interceding for her daughter, and standing watch as she slipped away – escorting her from the arms of her earthly parents to the arms of her heavenly father with grace, and with the gut-wrenching acknowledgement that “This. Doesn’t. Feel. Well.”, but with the confidence of eternity in the presence of Christ.
And ofthe fierce love of the Spirit, who intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
Thursday night, I sat directly behind a woman who played a huge role in my faith journey as a child – also a mother who has experienced the death of a child to different tragic circumstances. As we mourned, in our separate seats but as a corporate body, I watched her raise her hands as we proclaimed “from life’s first cry to final breathe, Jesus commands our destiny” and knew she really, truly believed that. And as we listened to words of the unconditional love of God, I watched Vivian’s mama stand to her feet as if to acknowledge that any ounce of strength still pulsing through her system was a result of that deep overflow of love.
Because we do not grieve as those withouthope.
Friday night, I did laugh. I did dance. Not in flippancy, or in ignorance, or even in happiness. But because in the shadow of the cross, there is deep hope. There are deep promises. There is deep faithfulness. There is deep truth. And in the midst of our deep sorrow, there is a God whose character runs deeper still. That does not undermine our heartache. That does not diminish our bereavement. But in the words of our pastor, “grace runs downhill”, and in that flowing grace is deep victory over death.
As we deeply grieve, Vivian is dancing in that victory.
I know I’m not around much. I know I keep saying we should go on another sibling date and don’t follow through. I know that I don’t do the dishes my fair share, and I don’t show up for all your events, and I’m not home for late-night chats and silly face competitions much any more. I know it feels like I brush you aside sometimes. I know my college life is almost as challenging to keep up with for you as it is for me. I know I don’t say it enough (as in…ever), but I miss you. And as I watch you grow up, albeit from more of a distance now, there are a few things I want you to know. Things I wish I would have known. Things people probably told me, but I didn’t listen to because those people were adults who were supposed to say stuff like that. But right now, I’m only sort of an adult. So, from the heart of your big sister who really does love you a whole lot, here goes.
1. I like you. I really actually do think you two are great human beings. I mean, you’re hilarious. Both of you. And smart. Like, ridiculously, unfairly intelligent and smart. You’re thinkers and doers. You’re not ashamed of what you believe. You are friendly, likable, entertaining, and witty. I have fun with you. Very few people can make me laugh as much as you two. You’re both different, and that’s a good thing. J, you help me understand how guys think (or, at least I try to understand), and B, you teach me how to be truly thankful for girls whose disposition is the exact opposite of mine. Both of you inspire me with your unique faith journeys, and the different ways you express who Jesus is to you and who you want him to be in your life as you learn to know him more. J, I like your style. B, I like your stories. I like your personalities. I like your hearts. I like you.
2. I’m not perfect.
Lets read that again: I am not perfect. That statement could not be more true. Maybe you don’t see it, maybe you’re sick of living in the shadow of your older sister who always does everything right, maybe I imply that I am by telling you how to do things all the time – but I’m not. I make mistakes. Sometimes I make intentional choices that are wrong. I hurt people, I’m not always compassionate, I don’t live out love very well, and I’m an incredibly self-centered person. Maybe from what you see, looking up to me, I have it all together. But I don’t. And here’s a secret…no one does. Not a single person. We’re all broken, and that includes me. I need grace desperately, and anything “good” that I do is by grace alone. Strong brother and sweet sister, I love you dearly, but don’t make me the standard by which you live your life. Look to Jesus. You don’t have to compare your actions to mine – instead, follow the example of Christ. He is the only truly perfect older brother you will ever have.
3. You have awesome parents.
Stop rolling your eyes, no one bribed me to say that. But you really do. Mom and Dad take their calling to invest in your lives seriously, and they probably know you better than anyone else. Know that while sometimes they make mistakes and can be frustrating and confusing…they walk by grace too. Be willing to offer them a little. They have life experience that you can’t even come close to claiming. They know Jesus, and in discipling you they are fulfilling a responsibility given them by God. You can trust them. You can share things with them. They are truly wise, they desire to see you walking in the truth, and they are willing to get their hands dirty in training you how to do that. They want to have a good relationship with you, but that has to go two ways, and for you to experience that blessing you have to be willing to put your effort in as well. Believe me, having a good relationship with Mom and Dad when you head off into the big crazy world is invaluable – and the time to build into that is now. Don’t miss out.
4. You don’t need to rush.
Yeah, that whole relationships thing. It’s a pretty big topic to tackle, and quite frankly, I don’t want to. But here’s what I have for you: it’s okay to slow down. What’s the hurry? You have your whole life ahead of you, and high school has enough drama of it’s own without the whole dating dynamic. Take it from someone who’s run the gamut of perspectives – I know the difficulty of having to be the one to end a relationship, and the hurt of being the one rejected; I understand a little of the ache of wanting there to be someone when there simply isn’t, and the peace of being confident in the decision to not “put myself out there”. Contrary to popular opinion, the fact that I didn’t date in high school was not because mom and dad had ridiculous rules (although boundaries they did have), it was because I intentionally chose that I didn’t want to deal with that scene at that point in my life. And looking back, I truly treasure that time. Honestly, sometimes a little part of me wants to go back to when it was simple and easy and relationships weren’t difficult to navigate because I didn’t have any self-imposed pressure to “find someone”. J, some girls are gonna throw themselves at you. Treat them with respect, dignity, and gentleness, but set your standards high and be strong in those standards. Constantly be in Scripture and learn to be open to the word “wait”. It’s not a race. There’s time. Let yourself mature as a man of God before involving the sacred emotions of another heart in your decisions. B, fall in love with Jesus before you let your heart focus on anyone else. You don’t have to be constantly wishing for what’s next, but instead enjoy every moment as it is given to you – these days are precious! You do you, girl, but choose to set your sights on things of eternal value. Honor your brothers in the faith. Surrender your relationship fears to Jesus. It’s not a race. There’s time. Grow into the woman God has called you to be and exuberantly serve him in whatever capacity he places you. And both of you are welcome to sit me down anytime and we can talk and pray through this whole crazy trust adventure together. I mean that.
5. People will fail you, Jesus will not.
Mom and Dad will fail you. I will fail you. You will fail each other. Your friends, employers, coworkers, professors, advisers, and mentors will fail you. Basically, people can be pretty stupid. Love them anyway. But don’t live your life for the purpose of impressing fallible people. Don’t compare yourself to the individuals surrounding you, because someone will always come up short. Don’t wrap your identity in the acceptance that you receive from other people, because it will never satisfy, it will never be enough. You are called by God and equipped with his Spirit to make his Name known and be a blessing to the nations – seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Pursue holiness. Walk in truth. Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. Seek the approval of Christ and walk in accordance with his Word. He is always faithful. He will never fail.
I love you, brother mine and sister dear. I really do.
Oh, and today I washed all the dishes, just for you.
I slid my meatballs into the oven, threw some spinach in with the sautéed mushrooms, sat back down to edit the opening paragraph of my Rhetoric essay, and exhaled slowly.
Why this weightiness? Why so heavy, heart?
I carefully went through a mental checklist of the various aspects of my life: a college that I love, two jobs I enjoy, new friendships to build, old friendships to nurture, celebrations to share in, a supportive family, encouraging mentors in the faith – a beautiful collage of people and places and shaping experiences that on most days would have me feeling filled to overflowing. So why was today so different?
I narrowed the search in the database of my brain and deliberately outlined the specific events of my day: Class. Class. Class. Lunch. Homework. Class. Work. Homeward commute. Make food while doing homework. And that was that. Here I was.
I pulled out my planner to outline tomorrow’s schedule, and doodling in the margins, noticed one little box in today’s agenda that was still unchecked. A detail that had somehow slipped my notice as I was crossing off tasks on my way out the door this morning. An endeavor I had ignored as I was rushing through my very full, could-have-been-vibrant day.
Yes, in the wee hours of the night as I was scratching out the necessities of the forthcoming day, something in my soul had prompted the actual scheduling of surrender. And I, in my determination to enter each new hour fully prepared, had conveniently danced right around that responsibility – ignoring lingering hurts, stuffing some raw emotions, holding on to unconfessed sin. The result was an empty ache, a heavy spirit, and a confused heart.
In waltzing around surrender, what did I miss?
The joy of casting my cares on the Lord and allowing him to sustain me. (Psalm 55:22)
Partaking of the peace of God which transcends all understanding. (Phil. 4:7)
Receiving rest through offering up my weary heart at the feet of Jesus. (Matt. 11:28)
When we come thirsty, He fills us up. When we come lonely, He brings us into fellowship with Him. When we come with a humble heart and a loose grip, He gently takes the burden out of our hands. Surrender is the act of hauling our brokenness to the foot of the cross and proclaiming, “I do not want this anymore. You can have it all.” It is intentional. It is daily. It is beautiful.
I closed the laptop, checked the meatballs, and set distractions aside to let God do His freeing work in my soul. First thing on the agenda tomorrow? Surrender. I don’t want to miss out on this again.
How have you seen the power of daily surrender in your own story?
Where do you need to schedule surrender in your daily life?