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.  


Repost: Why Do We Turn Away?

No one chooses pain. No one chooses to bury a child or live with chronic disease or the after effects of stroke.

But others get to choose whether they come alongside, practice compassion, serve as witness and call out courage or just walk away-thankful it’s not them that suffer.

THAT’S a choice.

The news goes out over Facebook, over phone lines, over prayer chains and everyone shows up.

Crowds in the kitchen, in the living room, spilling onto the lawn.

It’s what you do.

And it’s actually the easiest part.  Lots of people, lots of talking, lots of activity keep the atmosphere focused on the deceased and the family.  The conversation rarely dips to deeper waters or digs into harder ground:  “Where was God?”;  “Why him?”;  “Why do ‘bad’ things happen to ‘good’ people?”

But eventually the busyness and noise gives way to stillness and silence.

That’s when the harder part starts.

Read the rest here:  Why Do We Turn Away?

The Prayer of the Average and Broken

I am so thankful for my children.

While I was the teacher for their early years, they are now teaching me.

fiona and cash at home (2)

From my daughter, Fiona:

It’s tempting to look at someone doing a hard thing (like foster care) or living out a hard truth (like child loss) and label them as “special”, “brave”, “extraordinary”, or “chosen by God for a big purpose”.

I get it.

Those things ARE hard and downright terrifying… and a lot of days the sacrifice weighs heavier than the reward (in this life).

But as long as we relegate Christ-like love and endurance to the “chosen few”, we excuse ourselves from walking the hard (and often lonely) sacrificial path God has called each of His children to.

“On earth as it is in Heaven” is not the prayer of the brave, it’s the prayer of the average & broken who know that they are not extraordinary but dependent; who know that there is no formula for this life that will keep you & your loved ones safe this side of Heaven; who have decided that they are not content to simply get their own selves or families safely to shore.

Only you know in your heart what your kingdom work is on this earth and only you can decide if you will do it.

Every single one of us is weak and tired and ordinary and lacking “ideal” circumstances and timing and resources.

God doesn’t ask us to be “special”, He asks us to be obedient with no guarantee of earthly rewards or success.

You are one of the ordinary people loved by an extraordinary God.

“Brave, special, extraordinary, sacrificial, & compassionate” are not the calling.

They are characteristics of regular folks forged in the fire of immense challenges who start by saying a scared “yes” to our broken world’s screams for help. 

used everything up

Different is Just Different

We all have at least one.

That friend or family member who knows the “right” way to do EVERYTHING.

And they cannot tolerate any one else’s method or opinion or idea if it doesn’t mesh with theirs.

He or she is often very good at what they do.  But the problem arises when being good at SOME things is interpreted as being good at EVERYTHING.

No one is good at everything.

Including me.

It has been a steep learning curve (and 54 years!) for this “A” student to figure out that my way is not always the best way.  My viewpoint is not always the right one.

I have a log in my eye as big as the log in the next person’s and I am just as incapable of pulling it out on my own as they are.

Truth is, different is just different.  It’s not better or worse.

You may be a night owl.  I am an early bird.

You may need to dirty every dish in the kitchen to make that favorite recipe.  I like to minimize mess and clean as I go.

Are you a social butterfly?  I’m almost a hermit.

I’m often judgmental about other people’s methods and choices when they are not the ones I would use or make. 

I need to stop doing that.

God made each one of us for His purpose in the world and for His purpose in the Body.

How very boring and awful if we were all made alike!

When I’m tempted to forget, I remind my heart with this verse:

For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].

Ephesians 2:10 AMP

God has work that He planned JUST FOR ME.  And He has work that He planned JUST FOR YOU. 

You can’t do mine and I can’t do yours.

So let’s appreciate our differences and make room for one another to walk the path God has made for each of us.




Heartache, Healing and Hope

I spent last weekend with eleven other bereaved mamas in a small Christian camp in Mississippi*

I’ll be honest-what sounded like a great idea a few months ago had begun to sound like an awful and intimidating idea about three days before I was supposed to go.

Even though I felt more prepared for this event than the  Through This Valley Conference in October, I was still filled with trepidation at facilitating five sessions over three days with women I had only “met” online.


melanie at hhh retreat 2018 last session (2)

I wanted to go.

I wanted to take this next step toward sharing and serving and healing for my own heart.  But I was still more than a little scared.

I am so, so glad I went!

Every single mama who came through the door brought one more measure of grace into that cabin.  Every heart that cracked open and shared spread the sweet aroma of brokenness and compassion rose up to meet it.

hhh retreat pics of kids (2)

Every tear was acknowledged, every sorrow counted, every story heard.

It was beautiful.

I was overwhelmed by the grace, mercy and love that flowed in, around and through the women there.  It was a perfect picture of how God intends the Body of Christ to work!

We were all poured out in service to one another.

No need for a kitchen committee or clean up crew because it was natural to reach out and pitch in.

I am oh, so sorry for the reason that brought us together.  But I am absolutely amazed at the blessing that ran like a river through that place.

hhh retreat hugging cristal (2)It was a river of healing and life.

No one left “healed”But we all left a little better equipped for this journey.

No one received “answers”But we all left with a few more truths tucked into our belts.

Our hearts are knit together because we chose to show up and be vulnerable.

It is a gift I will carry with me wherever I go.

healing power of exchange


*If you are looking for a lovely place to hold a children’s camp for your ministry, please consider  Abby Acres Christian Camp Facebook Page

Love in Action: Being a Friend

For fifty years I was on the “other side”-the one where I looked on, sad and sometimes horror-stricken, at the pain and sorrow friends or family had to bear.

I wanted to help.

I wanted to say the “right thing”.  I wanted to express how very much my heart hurt for them and that I badly wished I could carry some of their load.

Sometimes I think I did a pretty good job of reaching out and touching the wound and offering a little bit of comfort.  But other times, I would say nothing because I didn’t know what to say.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: Being a Friend

Love in Action: How the Church Can Serve Grieving Parents and Other Hurting Hearts

One of the hardest things for me  to hear is how sometimes the church fails to minister to grieving parents.

I don’t think it’s because leadership decides to ignore them and others who have intractable situations.

But I do think that our modern emphasis on programs and platforms often leaves hurting hearts behind.

I am a shepherd.  My goats and sheep depend on me for food, for guidance and for their security.

And every day I am reminded that a shepherd’s heart is revealed by the way he or she cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of the flock.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: How the Church Can Serve Grieving Parents and Other Hurting People