Category Archives: Poetry

Charcoal Fires and Forgiveness

The Apostle John was a master storyteller. As with any excellent fiction writer, he painted such detailed pictures of the disciples’ interactions with Jesus that we can almost step into the scenes of his gospels. John’s gospel, likely the last gospel written and the first gospel to attempt contextualization to another culture, approaches Jesus’s life differently than the synoptic gospels.

While John moves swiftly through the first half of the his gospel, often called the book of signs, he slows down in the last half of his gospel account. Suddenly, we move from high-flying overviews with an occasional drop down into detail into a more detailed account of the last week of Jesus’s life.

After the long discourse recorded in John 14-16 and the long prayer recorded in John 17, John leads us back into action in John 18.

Jesus, crossing the brook Kidron, moves into action, having set his face toward the coming Cross. He is in full command throughout the entire chapter, showing the other-worldly nature of his kingdom, which he declares to Pilate in verse 36: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

One seemingly small detail jumps out to the observant reader: a charcoal fire.

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As Jesus is brought before the High Priest, having boldly, calmly giving himself up to those who sought him in the dark with torches and weapons (v.4-5), the Apostle John gives us a vivid picture of Peter warming himself around a charcoal fire (v. 18, 25).

John juxtaposes Jesus’s care and concern for everyone else in the moment of his greatest need with Peter’s selfishly warming himself at the fire. John has set the stage for Peter’s three-fold denial around a charcoal fire. The reader can almost imagine the light and dark shadows, the watery eyes from the smoke, the smell lingering on the clothes long after the fire is out.

Later, after Peter’s persistent failure given three chances to identify himself with Jesus, we find another poignant scene taking place around a charcoal fire.

Jesus, having risen from the dead and appeared first to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples who were hiding in a locked upper room, surprises his disciples who were fishing just as the day was breaking (John 21:1-4).

Jesus first recreates the scene of his original calling of the first disciples, helping them recognize him as the Risen Lord (Luke 5; John 21). In line with his impetuous nature, Peter jumps into the water to swim toward Jesus, forgetting for a moment the wall of awkwardness that still stood between them.

He walks up the beach to a charcoal fire where Jesus is cooking a meal for Peter and the disciples. Peter gave away his chances to align himself with the Lord, but the Lord continues to give himself to Peter in sacrificial, costly love.

Jesus, in line with his nature, does not shy away from the hard subject. Rather, he gently leads Peter there in healing conversation, forcing him to relive his failures by asking him three questions around a charcoal fire. Eyes filled with tears, the smell of charcoal smoke, the interplay of light and darkness. Same scene. Different ending.

Peter is graciously reinstated around the same kind of fire where he radically failed. What a merciful and masterful Jesus we serve.

Charcoal Fires 

Charcoal fires would never be the same,
Their smell would invoke his shame:

Threefold denial of Jesus’s perfect name. 

Days later, at another fire he was fed
Fish with Christ fresh from the dead.
By coals’ warmth to forgiveness he was led. 

Around charcoal fires, Peter spoke of grace,
Sharing good news with God’s chosen race,
Showing them in Jesus God’s own face. 

Now in glory, warmed by Christ alone,
Peter both fully loved and fully known
Sees the Lamb of God upon the throne. 

What are the charcoal fires of your life? What scenes of failure might Jesus be inviting you to revisit with his grace?

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you might be feared…O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130:3, 7-8).

Simple Feasts

In the past six months, my refugee friends have taught me more about feasting than I learned in all my decades prior.

I have sat in the middle of an unfurnished, one-bedroom apartment and enjoyed a meal and company better than a Michelin-star-restaurant could offer. We may eat off of mismatched plates gathered from gracious friends, but every dish is garnished with a heaping dose of gratitude and love.

My Afghani friends have completely uprooted my American views of abundance. They have helped to better align me with what the Scriptures teach.

“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it Proverbs 15:16-17).

Jesus feasted continually wherever he was because he always enjoyed the Father’s smile and obeyed him fully. Yet, he drank down the dregs of God’s wrath and ate the corrupted meal of the curse we deserved (Isaiah 51:22; Jeremiah 25:15).

As such, we are invited to feast no matter where we find ourselves. We can feast with him even in the PICU or in the midst of cancer treatments. We can picnic with him. even in the midst of deeply painful experiences. For even a feast of herbs garnished by his grace is better than a five-course meal enjoyed in his absence.

A Simple Feast

Better a dinner of herbs where love is
Than a feast garnished with strife. 
Better than a lavish life of luxury 
Ranks a simple, righteous life

The fare furnished by simple faith 
May not be flashy but it feeds. 
The promises and presence of God 
Meet the believer’s daily needs

This wisdom sounds so simple,
However, none of this is free. 
Sincere love and righteousness
He purchased for us on the tree. 

He ate the bitter herbs we earned
So that we can feast on His love. 
No matter the present circumstance,
We’ve unseen abundance from above

Feast, my friends, for even crumbs,
With His presence, satisfy and sate. 
The ever-loving Lord is your portion;
He abundantly fills an empty plate. 

Having Him, we have all; 
Without Him, all is nothing. 

Eucatastrophe: A Different Vision of Apocalypse

Usually when we hear the term “apocalypse” we imagine scenes of great catastrophe: burning cities, abandoned, shell-shocked villages, and other dystopian visual scenes. We automatically think of apocalypse through Hollywood’s lenses but the Greek word apokalupsis actually means “an unveiling, an uncovering, a revelation, or a revealing.”

The day of the Lord’s return will be a great revealing. All that is hidden will come to light. Again, when we initially hear this we began to rightly quake thinking of hidden sins and thoughts being brought to light. Yet, this great unveiling will also reveal great glory where we have missed it. For the believer in Christ, apocalypse does not have to mean catastrophe, it can mean eucatastrophe.

Eucatastrophe is a term created by J.R.R. Tolkien who added the prefix eu- to the common term. It is meant to signify that feeling or moment in an epic story when everything is made right and finally comes together. For Tolkien, Christ’s incarnation and resurrection are eucatastrophes.

I love this term because it captures what the end of this world will mean for those whose trust is hidden in the person of Christ. We need not live in fear of coming catastrophe, for we have inherited a living hope and have an eternal eucatastrophe waiting upon us by grace through faith.

In his first letter to the churches, Peter talks about the glory to be revealed for those who share in Christ’s suffering.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:13-14).

Similarly, the Apostle Paul speaks of the glory to be revealed (apokalupsis) upon the Lord’s second coming.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8: 18-19).

As believers, we need not fear the day when the invisible will be made visible. In fact, the Scriptures seem to urge us to long for this day as those wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ. The Scriptures also invite us to use this coming day of revealing as motivation to walk in a manner worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1). We are compelled to remember that one day all that is hidden will be brought to light. We are urged to be those who will be exposed in having inconspicuous good works brought to light rather than hidden sins (1 Timothy 5:24-25).

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In light of the coming eucatastrophe, we are reminded to not grow weary in well-doing. Though the world may not see and appreciate our fight to be faithful to God and his word, our God sees it all. Our God will not be mocked. One day, all that is sown to the Spirit will be revealed in a glorious harvest (Galatians 6:7-9).

Eucatastrophe

You who sow in unseen fields,
Raising rows that raise no eye,
Keep cultivating your corner.
The All-Seeing One passes by. 

The flesh-fields seem to flourish,
But your Maker won’t be mocked. 
The harvest fields He hastens
Will leave the mockers shocked

He sees every seed sown in faith,
Prayed over, and watered by tears. 
Work-wearied laborers, press on:
The surplus will exceed your years.

Those who go forth weeping
Will return skipping with glee;
Toil and tread without dread;
Your God works besides thee. 

Wipe your tears, lift your eyes,
Tarry longer, take up your hoe. 
Planted promises will fully fruit;
Fallow fields will golden glow.  

She Said Yes

She said yes.

My husband officiated the wedding of two dear friends last night. And what a wedding it was! We are officially at the age and stage when we no longer fit as groomsmen or  bridesmaid or even matrons. And I am so thankful.  Our new roles as officiant and prayer-gatherer, errand-runner, perspective-offerer are far more suited to us (and far less make-up is involved, at least for me).

When a woman-in-Christ says yes to marriage, she steps out in bravery into multiplied brokenness and beauty to be exposed both within herself and without. She says yes to leaving all she has known (the good, the bad, and the ugly cloaked in the comfortable garb of the familiar). She says yes to cleaving to an imperfect man cleaving imperfectly to a perfect Savior. She says yes to an unknown future of employment and unemployment, to struggles and sicknesses that they ca not yet see or imagine in their ripped and ravishing counterparts.

She says yes to quiet nights bearing heavy struggles. She says yes to conflicts that she could never contemplate. She says yes to meeting needs she doesn’t have. She says yes to championing and complementing her husband, even when he and/or the world think there is not much to champion.

That’s a lot of quiet, hidden yeses hidden behind the initial yes.

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But she does all of that in the power and on the promises and in the presence of the Christ who says yes, let it be so.

For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 2 Corinthians 1:20. 

Before time was wound, when the Father set Him apart, to simultaneously be the sheep to be slain and the shepherd to lay down His life for the flock, He said, “Yes, let it be so.

When the time came to step into time and be born as a crying newborn, He cried,  “Yes, let it be so.”

In the garden, after wrestling with the looming shadows of death, He wrested a, “Yes, let it be so.”

After three days in darkness, the Father called him forth from the grave, as he had recently done with Lazarus,  and he shouted, “Yes,  let it be so.”

As I was thinking about all these yeses, Sarai-soon-to-become-Sarah, the brave matriarch came to mind.

Sarai Said Yes

Yes to the unknown. Yes to leaving her home.
Yes to follow her husband to an unknown land.
Yes to the God who refused to fail her when foolish Abram did. Twice.
Yes to her husband’s God becoming her own.
An impatient yes to her nagging fear that birthed an Ishmael.
A dubious laugh betraying unbelief that God could do what could not be done.
Yes in the formed of shocked laughter as she held her promised child in her wrinkling arms.
A horrified no when Abraham took their beloved son on a death-doomed errand.
An exultant yes to the God who said no just in time because a greater Yes was to come.
A tearful, triumphant yes to her aged partner as he held her hand on her deathbed, asking, “My sweet Sarah, would you do it all again?”

Watching friends and church members say yes always points me to the One whose Yes enabled my own yes.

Christmas for Caregivers

Despite the decorations and the upbeat tunes, my heart struggled to conjure festive feelings this Christmas. There were thoughtful gifts and sweet hours playing games with each other, and I count those moments as gifts. However, I could not help but see Christmas through the eyes of my dear mother-in-law. And, through her eyes, the Lord gave me the gift of seeing Christmas through the eyes of caregivers.

Decorations don’t change diseases; they barely scratch the surface. And when the cookies stop coming, the need for constant care does not. As strange as it sounds, visiting my in-laws gave me the best gift for Christmas: the Christmas season stripped of its frivolity and bathed in deep faith.

To watch a spouse spend herself to care for her husband who has been hounded by fifteen years by an unrelenting disease is to watch a thing of terrible beauty. To see the fierce resolve of exhausted parents advocate for their child with cancer is to get a glimpse of the kind of love that initiated what we know as Christmas.

The wonderful monotony of sustained love puts sentimental surges of love to shame. For a burst of love as compared with committed love is like a firework as compared to the constancy of the sun. Love that keeps showing up and cleaning the sheets. Love that keeps providing for an adult child with special needs during years that are more associated with traveling around the world than traveling to doctor’s appointments. Love that learns to laugh and roll with the punches of Alzheimer’s and dementia. This love which remains resolute is a common grace that points to an uncommon Savior.

She Smiles

She smiles as he sips
His imaginary tea. 
This isn’t what she thought
The end of years would be. 

Though she dreams of travel,
Just to help him down the hall,
Traveling from bed to bath
Everyday requires all. 

There’s little time for plans;
His care takes centerstage. 
Neither disease nor decline
Such love will assuage. 

For love stays at its station,
Even when sorrows close in. 
When energy is threadbare,
Commitment doesn’t thin. 

She smiles as he sips
His imaginary tea. 
He will know he’s loved
No matter what will be.
 

Such solid and sacrificial love shows the thinness of sentimental love. And I’ve a feeling that the tired feet of caregivers hitting the ground in the middle of the night more closely approximate the Christmas spirit than the feet of rushed shoppers in the mall.

Wreathed Doors and Wrecked Dreams

Delicious cookies and debilitating disease;
Decorated trees and displaced refugees.
Only Christ can reconcile all of these.

Wreathed doors and wrecked dreams.
Sweetly-sung carols and silent screams.
Only Christ can contain such extremes
.

True hope does not ride on holiday cheer.
Real joy is not procured just once a year.
Security is anchored in God-come-near.

This Christmas, I found myself exhaling the deep relief of caregivers who fall exhausted upon an inexhaustible Rock of Ages. This Christmas, I found myself with front row seats to the reality that new mercies every morning really means every morning. Even for thousands of days of caregiving and months of appointments.

The Christmas gift that caregivers most need is the truth that Christ keeps the keepers and cares for the caregivers (Psalm 121; Isaiah 27:1-6). As they carry heavy burdens, caregivers need to know that the God of the universe carries them (Isaiah 46:3). As they comb and wash graying hairs, they need to know that even to their gray hairs, God will keep them (Isaiah 46:4). As they keep vigil by hospital bedsides, listening to what could be last words, they need to constantly reopen the gift of Jesus’s last words to us in the Scriptures: “Surely, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20).

There aren’t many Christmas carols sung from the perspective of caregivers, but there should be. For they, more than most, know the need for the One born to die that death might die. Thank you, caregivers, for the glimpse you have given me this Christmas into our Christ. It was the gift I didn’t know I needed.

When Glory Became Granular

All our lives are hidden in the life of an infant born in a nowhere town. Our salvation was swaddled up with a baby and laid in a feeding trough. Our fear of death was neatly folded and discarded with his grave clothes. Our hope rose with Him as he returned home to father. Our future will be secured with his second coming. 

When Glory Became Granular

Incarnation:
When glory became granular
And omnipresence particular;
When the unapproachable
Bent to be perpendicular.

Crucifixion:
When perfection was pierced
And Holiness Himself hounded;
When right reward was traded,
For a curse long-compounded.

Resurrection:
When death was decimated
And sinners’ salvation secured.
When life itself was liberated
Through His righteous reward.

Ascension:
When Holiness came home
And the Heir took the throne.
When the fecund Father
Welcomed back His Own.

Return:
When the Victor revisits
And the children renamed.
The kingdom consummated
And the garden reclaimed.

An Elastic Love

Until I had children, I don’t think I realized the elastic nature of love. Of course, love has a comfortable resting state, an optimal window in which it most likes to operate; however, love is far more elastic than most of us know. I have watched human love stretch to extremes: parents loving a child mired down in the morass of mental illness, spouses faithfully caring for each other through the indecencies of aging, children deeply committed to parents who have failed them time and time again, loved ones living in Intensive Care Units.

While human love stretches, it is also easily strained. I know from my own experience as a parent that my love, despite my best intentions and even at its most elastic, is often not long enough. From little failures like late pick-ups and lacking lunches to larger failures like my own impatience and pre-occupation, the not-enough nature of my love grieves me. But even parental love sometimes fails, as David, the poet-king of Israel knew.

“For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in” (Psalm 27:10).

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Not so with agape love, the love that originates with God and God alone. Our most elastic love can and will fall short, but “the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save” (Isaiah 59:1). Even though our sins have made a separation between us and God, an eternal gulf too far for any human to fathom (Isaiah 59:2), God’s elastic love has crossed the chasm through incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.Speaking through Isaiah the prophet, God reassures his children of the elasticity of his love.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands, your walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Elastic Love

You love us to extremities –
From heights of heaven to depths of hell,
Both in living and dying, you loved us well. 

You love us in our extremities-
In heights of beauty, in depths of depravity,
Your steadying love is our only gravity.
 

You us through extremities-
From east to west, Your arms were spread,
To make the ever-living from the long-dead.
 

Your Love meets us in our extremities- 
Elastic and eternal, Your love does stretch.
From every place, Your children You fetch.
 

The shortness of my love (which often comes out in the shortness of my temper) can become an opportunity to point to the elasticity and enough-ness of God’s love.

In one of my favorite verses in the entire canon of the Scriptures, John the beloved apostle simply states, “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

The Greek word telos, translated as “the end” above, carries a broader range of meaning then its limited English translation. While it refers to the end of Jesus’s life, it also refers to the full capacity, the full-length, the full-strength of his love. He loved them to the end, yes, but he also loved them to the fullest elasticity of his love.

When my often-inflexible, never-enough love keeps me up at night, the reality of his fully elastic, ever-enough love soothes me to rest in a love far fuller than my failing love.

An Austere Beauty

Sometimes beauty shows up most clearly on a backdrop of barrenness.

I have known this theoretically and biblically, but this past weekend, I experienced it physically. My boys are in a phase where they have become obsessed with the National Parks System, and I am not complaining. They get it honest from their grandparents who have become second-career park visitors. Since we are privileged enough to live in a state which boasts nine National Parks, my boys have set their sights on visiting all of them.

Having visited Joshua Tree (the closest to our home), we decided to visit Death Valley, the next-closest park. Sounds inviting, right?

When I think of National Parks, I imagine epic waterfalls, treed forests, towering animals- in a word abundance. Not so much in Death Valley. Boasting the hottest, driest, and lowest point in the Western hemisphere, Death Valley is a land of scarcity. As it receives less than two inches of rain per year, it is not exactly a welcoming place. In fact, the National Park rangers do an excellent job of scaring you with warnings of death by overexposure and dehydration.

Yet, this inhospitable land also boasts an austere beauty. Those who dwell therein (namely the kangaroo rat, roadrunners, and some brave horned sheep) have learned to live on the edge of existence.

I couldn’t help but see an obvious spiritual parallel. Much of the Bible was written in the context of the desert and desert places play a prominent role in the Scriptures. There are far more deserts and waste places in the middle of the Scriptural story than there are gardens and lands of abundance. Those take a prominent place in the beginning and the end of the story (which is really the beginning of a restored heaven and earth for eternity).

The older I get, the more I find myself in dry, arid places (literally and figuratively). I see friends panting for life-giving water in the desert wastes of both childhood and adult cancer and bereavement. I have friends who are dwelling in what would seem to be the lowest points on the spiritual topographical map. I have friends looking down on empty cribs who feel like they are in the spiritual badlands.

But these friends will learn the secret that God teaches us best in the desert places: the gift of austere beauty. Speaking in the power of the Spirit, Isaiah (another dear desert-dweller) speaks of a coming day of abundance.

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing…For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes…and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall up upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:1-2; 6-7; 10).

In the meanwhile, we walk in a land of austere beauty, of subtle sustenance. Lord, give us eyes to see the beauty all around us. For, even in the most inhospitable places of the soul, you have made your home within us.

An Austere Beauty

An aura of austere beauty,
A land of superlative extremes,
Rocky heights and sublime depths,
The stuff of both space and dreams. 

That anything could make its home
In such an inhospitable place –
That life should be sustained here
Is an exhibit of His glory and grace.
 

Your design portfolio’s diversity 
Speaks of your infinite mind;
Your desert’s delicate balance
Stems from your heart so kind.

The Maker of Death Valley
Knew a thing or two of each:
Deserts, valleys of weeping,
And a cross His people to reach. 

He who sustains an ecosystem 
In the extremes of such a place
Will surely keep His children,
By, for, and with His steady grace.

Gladness Isn’t Glibness: A Preemptive Perspective for the Hurting during the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us. This means scrumptious food, seasonal decorations, and a whole smattering of unspoken, though deeply felt shoulds.

While many people disagree on when you should buy your tree or how long you should brine your turkey, our culture loudly agrees that we should be glib during the holidays and that the festivities and food should drown our the pain we feel in the depths of our hearts.

But, the Scriptures say believers should be glad, not glib. While glibness implies a giddiness which is often insincere and/or shallow, the Scriptures call for gladness which is rooted in the unchanging character of God and the deep works for God rather than changing circumstances.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night…For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:1-2; 4)

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord! Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!'” (Psalm 122:1).

In the Old Testament, gladness is often correlated with oil which represents the Holy Spirit. The first time Jesus opened the Scriptures during his public ministry, he quoted from the prophet Isaiah who mentioned the oil of gladness which would replace mourning in time.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant to those who mourn in Zion- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;” (Isaiah 61:1-3).

The gladness the Scriptures speak of is cultivated through worship as a discipline and accompanies the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Psalm 92, which I quoted above, the writer connects gladness to the works of God. However, this statement was not spoken cheaply or lightly. In the Psalm, we hear an honest outcry that the wicked seem to be flourishing (Psalm 92:6). However, time spent in the presence of God and a fresh anointing with oil (Psalm 92:11; 13), the psalmist is given new eyes to see the same things differently. The situation has not changed; the psalmist’s perspective on the situation has. Thus, his ability to be glad in the works of God and the nature of God in whom “there is no unrighteousness” (Psalm 92:15).

Don’t let the subtle shoulds of the season demand a surface glibness. Rather, hear the should of Scripture which invites you to gladness that can coexist with honest disillusionment, deep grief, and trying circumstances.

The poem “Christmas Eve” by Christina Rossetti captures the depths of gladness the Incarnation brings.

Christmas Eve” by Christina Rossetti

“Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing moon.
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show;
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.”

Suffering Sharpens Sight

Suffering and grief make our brains feel fuzzy and forgetful. They make us fatigued and sleepy, body, mind, and soul. But they sharpen our sight, if not in the moment, in the longterm.

I remember reading a book written by a Vietnam veteran who wrote honestly not only about the horrors he saw in Vietnam, but also about his experiences of color and beauty in Vietnam. It wasn’t that the colors changed or were brighter there; it was more that living on the thin edge between life and death made him see more clearly both the beauty and brokenness of earth.

Corrie ten Boom, while living in the nightmare that was a concentration camp, talks about moments of being utterly stunned by the beauty of a bird or a small flower or blade of grass.

Suffering trains our eyes not only to see sharply but also to see through. Suffering cuts through the gauze of this earth and removes its shiny veneer. It exposes much of the laughter of earth as hollow and many of its pleasures as transitory.

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In her poem “Thy Friend and thy Father’s Friend forget not.” Christina Rossetti poetically captures the sight that suffering offers.

Friends, I commend to you the narrow way;
Not because I, please God, will walk therein,
But rather for the Love Feast of that day,
The exceeding prize which whoso will may win.
Earth is half spent and rotting at the core,
Here hollow death’s heads mock us with a grin,
Here heartiest laughter leaves us tired and sore.
Men heap up pleasures and enlarge desire,
Outlive desire, and famished evermore
Consume themselves within the undying fire.
Yet not for this God made us: not for this
Christ sought us far and near to draw us nigher,
Sought and found and paid our penalties.
If one could answer, ‘Nay’ to God’s command,
Who shall say ‘Nay’ when Christ pleads all He is
For us, and holds us with a wounded Hand?”

Suffering can help us to see earth as “half spent and rotten to the core.” Suffering can aid in focusing our longing and hope on the lasting land of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Pain unsettles us and points our hearts back to lasting promises, so that we can say with Peter, “But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

In our suffering, we have the opportunity to see the Suffering Savior as he is. In our suffering, we have the invitation to be held by the Wounded Healer.

For the believer in Christ, suffering is punctuated and purposeful. It will come to an end in the presence of Christ. There, we will see him as he is and all things as they should be (1 John 3:2).

May our suffering, be it minute or monumental, commend to us the narrow way which leads us to the broadest places of His presence.