They shall know we are His…

Can I see God in pain?
In the eye-closing brilliance of a warm sun, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the sound of a child’s laughter: symbols of what is “well” in this world, I see God. His goodness, beauty, sweetness.
But in pain?
Do I see God when I contemplate—or actually see—those trapped in poverty or sex slavery or sweatshops or starvation?
Do I see God in someone struggling with mental illness, addiction, or great physical pain?
What about in grief? When a family loses a beloved child, a woman her spouse?
In natural disasters, birth defects, and broken relationships?
Do I see God then?
I know—He says it plain—that suffering was not part of His design for us. The garden was replete with purpose, goodness, wholeness.
But that is not the world we live in. So, does His beauty shine in pain? In the brokenness of this world and its people?
Or could it shine through?
When we look into heartache, what bears the most beauty is when those outside the deepest circle of pain enter in it. They open their hearts and arms; they give of their time and money, and they step into the trouble, into the mess, into the nitty-gritty.
We smile through our tears when we see this happen, or, in the deepest of grief, we nod in gratitude—that the brokenness is not reigning supreme, that an unselfish choice (or, more likely, a whole series of them) is beating back the insistent darkness. Selfishness is innate to all of us, so we know that to choose discomfort over comfort—when comfort is an option—is not natural.
It must come from above.
It must, just as it did when Christ did this for us, “stepping in” for us, bearing the full force of God’s justice.
His beauty shone through pain on the cross.
And when we follow Him in this act, bearing others’ “crosses,” stepping into the trouble of others, His beauty shines forth again.
How shall they know we are His?
By love.
His love.

Cousin Seth giving Maddie a ride on their tree swing--always a huge hit!

Cousin Seth giving Maddie a ride on their tree swing–always a huge hit!

The piece above was started a year ago, just after I returned from a trip to Africa. I begin a new journal every school year (a new Word document), and that piece has greeted me every time I opened my journal for the past twelve months. I’ve tinkered with it throughout the year, and it bears the influence of the events of those months.

My kids with cousin Michael and Uncle Dan (back left) and one of their friends just after the five kids went zip-lining.

My kids with cousin Michael and Uncle Dan (back left) and one of their friends just after the five kids went zip-lining.

I’ve just returned from another trip, this time a journey by car to family in the Southeast, East Coast, and the Midwest. It’s been a wonderful trip, completely worth the 40 hours we spent in the car. Yesterday, when I opened my journal and looked at the piece above yet again, I realized that I saw evidence of that very kind of love in each of the homes I’ve visited on this trip. Each one does have interests in other countries, with the poorest of the poor, with those unreached by the Gospel. They give; they go; they send; they serve.

My four kids with cousins Michael and Lucy and my sister Lynda

My four kids with cousins Michael and Lucy and my sister Lynda

But the testimony that stood out most to me is the way they have allowed their very homes to be used. Each has set aside the American dream of the home being a castle: undisturbed, controlled, and, most importantly, “MINE and for my comfort.” The pattern of their lives and their homes are often in states of disruption because they’ve set aside this dream. The invasion of our family of six was only a minor blip of disturbance to them because they’ve had singles/couples/families settle in for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. And they do it over and over, whenever God brings a need to their attention and puts it on their hearts.

PJ and cousin Grace giving a stirring performance during a karaoke afternoon.

PJ and cousin Grace giving a stirring performance during a karaoke afternoon.

I was talking with one of them about this, and she said, “I’m learning that disruption is good for me. Discomfort is good. It shakes me up. It makes me come face to face with my own issues and shortcomings and brings me to the end of myself. Stagnation and holding tight to what is ‘mine’ does no good for my soul.”
This kind of hospitality can be downright sticky. The outcomes often aren’t smooth-edged and wrapped with a bow. They’ve sometimes turned their lives—

my kids with cousins Sarah, Grace, and Anna

my kids with cousins Sarah, Grace, and Anna

and the lives of their families—upside down.
But they’ve stepped in and loved.
And it’s so very clear they are His.

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