(If you have not had a chance to read the birth story I linked to on Thursday, please take the time to do that now. Today I emailed Kelle, the writer of that blog and the mother of beautiful Nella, to ask her permission to use a photo from her blog and post my thoughts. In her reply she said that this post, which she read while holding little Nella, encouraged her today and gave her goosebumps. Wow. Some days I love the blog world.)
When Marc and I were getting into bed the other night we were talking a bit about the sermon he was preparing for Sunday and the problem of suffering. I told Marc that even though life is great right now, I “felt” God a lot more this summer when life was pure chaos. Not like I don’t feel God now. It’s just that there’s something about being in the middle of stress and chaos and despair that makes God a little more present.
And sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily feel like he’s there. Sometimes all you feel are those raw, painful emotions. But there is something to pain that is strangely life-giving.
Marc was going to be broaching the Haiti subject in his sermon. And how do you even find words that properly express such complete despair? And how do you even show the smallest ray of hope in the middle of such loss? Sure I had a stressful summer and a really crappy year a couple years ago, but how can you compare that to the loss of just so many people and the inability to go on for those “lucky” enough to have survived. My pain seems so pathetic. Like I’m crying about getting the Pink Glitter Barbie instead of the Purple one for my birthday.
But this is not about the amount of pain. This is about God in the midst of the pain.
And I believe that God can bring hope to the most hopeless situation. And furthermore, I believe that God has chosen to knock the whole world on its head and use those moments of pain and despair — the moments that should break us completely — to show us his love even more.
That is the foolishness of the cross, as Paul would say.
Let’s just admit it. That is screwed up. Joy out of suffering? Hope out of hopelessness? Couldn’t you quite easily define suffering as “the absence of joy” and hopelessness as “the absence of hope”? I mean, those good things are just. not. there. Pain is pain. And suffering is suffeirng. And people die for no reason. And it makes it all kind of seem pointless.
Is there a pain worse than loneliness? Can’t insurmountable odds be overcome just by knowing someone is there with you? Yet, here’s what Henri Nouwen said about loneliness in “The Wounded Healer”:
… the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon — a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding. …The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift. Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. But perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.
And that’s it, isn’t it? God decided to turn everything upside down. When you lose you win. When you know pain you can know greater love. Maybe all of the times we are confused, lonely, or fearful are simply opportunities to experience life and love just a little bit fuller. The word really is “fullness”, isn’t it? It’s not some simple, one-sided happy-clappy love. It is the kind of thing where you’ll feel slapped and kicked and naked and ugly at any given moment and yet have this heart-breaking, heart-healing realization that you are still loved. It’s not pretty. But it is strangely perfect.
If you’d seen my face when I was reading little Nella’s birth story for the first time last night, you would see that even just looking at that kind of love is not pretty. I was sobbing. I couldn’t talk. My face was starting to get all puffy. All because I had a little taste of the love and despair that mother went through at the moment of her child’s birth. But what I love, is that that woman faced all of those emotions (and continues to face them), but recognizes that there is such a great love to be found in the place she is, in that baby who was not what she expected.
There is love in unexpected places. There is love in scary places. There is love when things have been turned upside-down. And I love that God has chosen to infuse those times with love — just the opposite of what we feel and expect in those times.
When we are willing to face the Grand Canyon of pain in our human existence, we can cherish the divide. It becomes an “inexhaustible source of beauty”. Because God loves through it all. Through it all.
And even though I have only had what seem like a few brief glimpses of pain in my life, I know that God’s love is big enough for it all. And I am so thankful that I can call on God for the strength to look at the unexpected bits of life when they say, “Love me. Love me. I’m not what you expected, but oh, please love me.” and look it in the eye and see the beauty. The real beauty. Because God’s love is shining through. And there is not anything in the whole world I need more than God’s love.
There were a lot of “moments” in the story of Nella’s birth that grabbed my heart, but this picture affected me the most. Raising a glass to the wonder of Nella. It does not matter that she was not what was expected. It does not matter that her life will bring challenges. What matters is that she is who she is. She was created and is a wonder and something to be loved and cherished. And she will be. She already is.
I just remember happiness. From everyone. All of the blessed souls in that room celebrated as if there was nothing but joy. Everyone knew…and there were a few puffy eyes, but mostly, it was pure happiness. More friends trickled in. More smiles. More toasts. And hugs with no words…hugs like I’ve never felt. Ones that spoke volumes…arms pulled tightly around my neck, lips pressed against my forehead and bodies that shook with sobs…sobs that told me they felt it too…they felt my pain and they wanted to take it away.
Thank you for sharing your story, Kelle. Even though we have never met, and I’d never seen your face before yesterday. You’ve reminded me again of how love endlessly abounds in unexpected places.