What is Suffering?

The slim little book, LAMENT FOR A SON, by Nicolas Wolterstorff was a lifeline for me in the first few weeks after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

It wasn’t just because both of our young adult sons died in an accident.

It was mostly because Wolterstorff refused to distill the experience down to one-liners.  

He admitted that (even ten years later-which was the copy of the book I received) he was still struggling to make sense of all the feelings and spiritual implications of child loss.

And I love, love, love that he picks out every single thread and follows it as far as it goes.

Here is an excerpt on suffering:  

What is suffering? When something prized or loved is ripped away or never granted — work, someone loved, recognition of one’s dignity, life without physical pain — that is suffering.
Or rather, that is when suffering happens. What it IS, I do not know. For many days I had been reflecting on it. Then suddenly, as I watched the flicker of orange-pink evening light on almost still water, the thought overwhelmed me: I understand nothing of it. Of pain, yes: cut fingers, broken bones. Of sorrow and suffering, nothing at all. Suffering is a mystery as deep as any in our existence. It is not of course a mystery whose reality some doubt. Suffering keeps its face hid from each while making itself known to all.
We are one in suffering. Some are wealthy, some bright; some athletic, some admired. But we all suffer. For we all prize and love; and in this present existence of ours, prizing and loving yield suffering. Love in our world is suffering love. Some do not suffer much, though, for they do not love much. Suffering is for the loving. If I hadn’t loved him, there wouldn’t be this agony.

This, said Jesus, is the command of the Holy One: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ In commanding us to love, God invites us to suffer.

~Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

My heart receives two truths from his words: 

  • that if I love, I WILL suffer.  That’s the nature of love-risking all for the benefit of another means that my heart is ultimately in their hands; and
  • pain is part of but not all of suffering.  Pain can often be dulled, dealt with, the source remedied.  Suffering is a state of the heart, mind, soul and spirit.  It can rarely be undone.  It must simply be endured.  

Understanding that the only way I could never suffer would be to never love helped me embrace this blow with a willing heart.  Even if I had known it was coming, I would still have chosen to love my son.  All the years I had are worth all the years I will carry this burden.

ann voskamp love will always cost you grief

And understanding that there is no cure for suffering changes my perspective from looking for a way out to looking for a way to persevere.  

Nicholas Wolterstorff will never know my name but I will never forget his.

I am so grateful for Wolterstorff’s words.  

So thankful that he chose to share them with others.

Forever in his debt for being one of the first hands proffered to me on this journey.  


Sacred Scars

In the church we LOVE a good testimony:

“Jesus saved me from a life of drugs and alcohol abuse!” 

“The Lord healed my marriage and now we are best friends and ministry partners!” 

“God gave me a child after a decade of infertility!”

But you know what we DON’T love? 

We don’t love broken stories that can’t be tied up in strings of victory. 

We rarely love the walking wounded.

its hurting again

Why?  Probably because we really, really want to believe that Jesus+time+counseling+the right attitude fixes everything.

But it doesn’t.  There are some things that will not be “fixed” this side of heaven.

There are some among us who bear sacred scars.

Not all scars ARE sacred.  But if the person whose body and heart are wounded has offered up those wounds to Jesus as an act of praise and sacrifice they are sacred, holy, set apart for His use and His glory.

And we need to make space within His Body to bear witness to these also. 

We need to honor the heart that has said, “I will not turn back even though the road is long and hard and has no rainbow at the end.”

courage and perseverance

When Thomas doubted the disciples’ claims of having seen a resurrected Jesus, he wanted the wounds as proof.

Jesus appeared and complied-allowing the doubting one to see that He had, indeed, risen.

 He drew close to Thomas.

Jesus: Reach out and touch Me. See the punctures in My hands; reach out your hand, and put it to My side; leave behind your faithlessness, and believe.

Thomas (filled with emotion): You are the one True God and Lord of my life.

John 20:27-28 VOICE

John describes Jesus in Revelation:

And there between the throne (with the four living creatures) and among the elders I saw a Lamb (Christ) standing, [bearing scars and wounds] as though it had been slain

Revelation 5:6a AMP

Wounds are not shameful. 

They are often the mark of endurance under trial.  

If the Lord Himself is bearing witness to His suffering for all eternity by displaying the scars from His wounds, then should we not also welcome others to do the same?

When we receive with gladness those who bear sacred scars we honor the life of Christ in them.  We bear witness to the power of His love to supply strength and passion to persevere. 

We are raising up a testimony to the world that says, “He really IS enough!”

my grace is sufficient




Repost: Eye on the Prize

I’ve strived and struggled for many things in my life-most of which have little eternal value.

I am striving now for the only prize that really matters, to enter the Presence of my Saviour and to hear, “Well, done, good and faithful servant”.

When the days are long and the nights are longer, I try to remember that.

“To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears.” [emphasis added]

~ I Corinthians 9:25 TLB

I remember one particularly grueling semester in college.  I had foolishly stacked five upper level political science classes on top of one another thinking that taking them together would be easier.

That was a dumb idea.

Read the rest here:  Eye On The Prize

Chronic: Continuing, Ceaseless, Unabating

Chronic:  (of a problem) long-lasting and difficult to eradicate.
Synonyms:  constant, continuing, ceaseless, unabating, unending, persistent, long-lasting, severe, serious, grave, dire

If you’ve followed the blog for long, you know I have Rheumatoid Arthritis.  What you may not know is that it is not at all like the arthritis most people experience as they age.  Instead of a gradual wearing out of joints due to use and, sometimes, injury, RA is the result of my body attacking itself.

I was 44 when diagnosed after both ankles suddenly swelled so that I could barely walk. 

I’ve been living with it for over ten years. 

It’s a chronic disease.  It can be treated with greater or lesser success to modify and mediate symptoms, but it is always, always, always there.  And it affects every aspect of my life-from getting dressed to driving a car.

I find that most folks just don’t understand that.  

We are used to getting sick, going to the doctor and being prescribed a drug or treatment or even surgery and getting well (after some period of time).

But some things can’t be “fixed” and must simply be “managed” and endured.

endurance is patience concentrated

Child loss is like that.  

It cannot be fixed. 

It cannot be healed. 

It cannot be undone or ignored or sequestered so that it doesn’t impact daily life.

And that is hard for people to understand if they’ve never dealt with a chronic illness or other circumstance that defies remedy.

Every morning I walk down my stairs one step at a time like a toddler because my joints are too stiff to bend until I’ve been up for a few hours-that’s how I have to accommodate my arthritis.

Every morning I sit in my rocking chair and journal and talk to other bereaved parents before daybreak-that’s how I have to accommodate my grief.

Neither of these conditions is a choice.  

Each of them happened TO me-not because of anything I did or did not do.

And they are life-long.  




grief and pain and forever

Trade With the Gifts God Has Given You

Sometimes it seems more trouble than it’s worth to try to tease out truth from antiquated language.  

But may I encourage you to find at least one quote a day that makes you stop and think? 

It’s good exercise for the mind and the soul!  

Here’s one I ran across just recently (with modern “translation” between stanzas):

Trade with the gifts God has given you.

Lend your minds to holy learning that

you may escape the fretting moth of

littleness of mind that would wear out your souls.

Be who you are-don’t spend time lamenting who you are not.  Do the thing God has given YOU to do.  Work the field God has given YOU to work.

Fill your mind with Truth from Scripture and from trusted sources.  Enlarge your vision by embracing an eternal perspective lest the struggle of daily life eat holes in your hope like moths in a sweater.  You might not realize it until you need it most, and then it won’t be serviceable.  

Grace your wills to action that they may

may not be the spoils of weak desires

Train your hearts and lips to song which

gives courage to the soul.

Learn to act according to principle and not desire-rise above the moment and lean into the long view.  Don’t give in to every lust that pops into your head-that only leads to sorrow and addiction.

Sing in the daylight when it’s easy and you feel like singing so that it’s a habit. 

You will need it in the dark.

Being buffeted by trials, learn to laugh.

Being reproved, give thanks.

Having failed, determine to succeed.

Homily of St. Hilda, Abbess of Whitby, 657-680 A.D.

You are going to be knocked down, learn to laugh about it-or at least to smile.

You will be criticized, learn to receive it with thanks-there is usually some truth in it.

You will fail. 

Don’t give up. 

Try again and again and again.

May we never tire of doing what is good and right before our Lord because in His season we shall bring in a great harvest if we can just persist.

Galatians 6:9 VOICE


Time Alone Does NOT Heal

time does not heal its a lie Time, by itself, does not heal the pain of child loss.

But time, plus the work grief requires, plus God’s grace poured out on my heart and in my life, does bring a measure of healing.

heals the broken hearted

I did not believe that in the first months or even years. But I can testify to that truth today.  It has been a slow and very painful process full of stops and starts, one step forward, two steps back.  

Am I still very broken?


Am I still limping?


Until the day I die I will never be the same.

But I have grown stronger and better able to carry this load of sorrow and God is helping me turn the ashes into something beautiful.

beauty-from-ashes-clothespinThat something bears witness to my son, to my pain and to the truth that, with God’s help, I can endure faithfully to the end.


And God is no respecter of persons-He has not given me anything He will not pour out on every single heart that asks.  

My prayer for each wounded reader is that you will feel the Father’s loving arms around you and that He will flood your broken heart with His grace, mercy and comfort.   


close to the brokenhearted

Grief and Self-Care: Surviving the Unthinkable

My first instinct as a mother and a shepherd is always, “How can I help?”

I routinely set aside my own needs for the needs of others.  Not because I’m so selfless but because that’s how I’m made-I’ve always had the heart of a caretaker.

That’s not a bad thing, most of the time.

But if taking care of others means NOT taking care of myself, then in the end, I’m of no use to anyone.  When I allow every bit of energy-emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual-to drain away until there’s nothing left, I am unable to meet my most basic needs, much less the needs of others.

I’ve written before that grief puts a hole in my bucket It guarantees that no matter how much is poured in, I’m never truly full.

I’ve also written about setting boundaries and trying to preserve margin as I walk this Valley.  I have to create space between me and the people around me if I’m going to make it through.

But there are some other steps I can take to help ensure my heart is strong enough for the journey.  It’s not always about what I don’t do.

Sometimes it’s about what I choose TO do.

Here are some ideas for self-care in grief (or really ANY hard place in life):

  • Be patient with yourself.  There is no time frame for grief.  Each heart is unique.  Extend grace to yourself, just as you would to a friend.  Try not to take on extra responsibilities.  It’s better to allow for some flexibility in obligations during this time (even around holidays!).no timetable for grief
  • Listen to your body and your heart: If you need to cry, then cry. If you need to sleep, then do so. If you need to talk to someone, seek out someone who will listen. If you need to reminisce, then take the time. It is important for the grieving process that you go with the flow.
  • Lower expectations for yourself and communicate this new reality to others. You are not able to operate as you did before loss.  Your capacity for interacting with others, managing tasks and being available for the needs of others has been dramatically altered.  Own up to it, and let others know that it will be some time before you can shoulder the responsibilties you once did.
  • Let others know what you need from them.  No one is a mind reader.  While we who are bereaved think our needs are obvious, it’s simply not the case.  Communicate to family and friends how they can support you.
  • Accept the help of others. Understand that grief is hard work. It requires a great deal of energy and can be exhausting. Even though we place a high value on self-sufficiency, it is important to ask for, and accept, help from those close to you. Others careand genuinely want to be of assistance, but usually do not know what to specifically offer. In particular, it is vital to know who will listen and be supportive. Sharing your story out loud is one key to healing. And, remember that professional guidance is also available
  • If you need counseling, get it!  There is NO shame in asking for help. Get all the support you need. There are many bereavement support groups as well as counselors or spiritual advisors who specialize in bereavement counseling. Don’t hesitate to contact a medical and or mental health specialist if you have feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts.emotions-faces
  • Accept your feelings. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are. Sadness, loneliness, fear, confusion, anger—these are among the many feelings you may experience, and are completely normal. Emotions are often raw early in the grief process, but it is important to express them. Attempting to stifle feelings usually leads to an emotional outburst at an inconvenient time.
  • Face your feelings. The painful emotions associated with grief are a natural and normal response to loss. You can try and suppress them or hide from them all you want but in the end this will only prolong the grieving process. Acknowledging your pain and taking responsibility for your feelings will help you avoid the complications often associated with unresolved grief such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.
  • Express your feelings. The most effective way to do this is through some tangible or creative expression of your emotions such as journalling, writing a letter expressing your apologies, forgiveness and the significant emotional statements you wish you had said, or art projects celebrating the person’s life or what you lost.
  • Keep a journal.  Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you to validate and work through your grief.
  • Feel whatever you feel. It’s okay to be angry, to yell at God, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, or to let go when you’re ready. Your grief is your own and no one can tell you when you should be “over it” or when to “move on.”
  • Pay attention to physical needs. It’s easy to ignore your health when all you want to do is give up and give in.  However, it is even more important NOW to take care of yourself.  Eat balanced meals (set an alarm if you have to), try to get adequate rest (get medication if you need to) and make sure to get in some physical activity every day (set a timer if necessary).
  • Get physical exercise.  If you exercised prior to your loss, try to maintain the same routine. If you did not exercise prior to your loss visit your doctor before embarking on a physical exercise routine. Physical exercise can improve the way you feel.
  • exercise and mental health
  • Eat right and get enough sleep.  Maintaining a healthy diet and getting proper sleep is essential for functioning as well as you can. If you are having difficulty with either, visit your doctor.
  • Be aware of short-term relievers – these can be food, alcohol/drugs, anger, exercise, TV, movies, books, isolation, sex, shopping, workaholism, etc. Most of these things are not harmful in moderation but when used to cover-up, hide or suppress our grief they get in the way of the work grief requires.
  • Take the time to do the things you need to do for yourself.  When you feel up to it, engage in activities to which you feel drawn. It could be visiting a place you haven’t been to in a while, walks in nature, reading, etc.
  • Pamper yourself. Treat yourself well. Do things for yourself that are helpful like walks, being with people who are nurturing to you, and inexpensive activities

Grief is a lifelong process-a marathon, not a sprint.  

Maintaining space to do the work grief requires and engaging in activities and health habits that help me do that work is the only way to endure.  

physical mental well being