There’s a Structure.

There’s a structure;

It exists it’s on its own.

It exists. Trust me.

It exists.

I wish you could see…

…The pain inside me.

…The structure…

The Structure is a number

A number is a symbol; which

Represents a substance;

And Substance provides for need.

But…

I am me

What provision meets need?

A substance clear and thick?

Something against you can kick?

A challenge and a crisis?

(What rhymes with crisis?)

Won’t anyone take the time to see…

What’s slowly consuming me?

Substance as a weapon

Used to abuse and to shame;

Stealing your reputation and your name.

The very thing that smiles as you kneel

Naked in the disgrace you feel.

I’ll never forget that look,

You never fucking forsook.

Substance as nothing and absence.

That silence and that smirk,

That “I’m-not-seeing-this” look.

Brings the most violent blow

Rendering substance to flow.

I cringe at your name and your mention

Just the mere thought is mental detention.

Take this for what it’s worth

There’s a structure, it exists.

On its own, it definitely exists.

Trust me, it exists, I wish you’d understand;

You’re nothing but a pawn in its capable hand.

There’s a structure; it exists on its very own;

It exists. I know you see it; to you it’s known.

Not So For You: A Mother’s Day Post.

“To bring children into the world and slowly to birth one’s death and to accept it rather than to get it over with, quickly and if possible without awareness of it–as our shabbiest fantasies would have it–are acts of participation in creation. They refuse to fall in love with the alien reality of money and violence that has laid hold of life. The pain of birth encourages and convinces us of life. Just as a piece of bread can convince us of God, so this pain is a sacrament, a sign of God’s presence. How could we ever have lost it?” – Dorothee Sölle – Against the Wind: Memoir of a Radical Christian

 

During a conversation about summer break awhile back, my second son casually offered, “Well, mommy’s always on summer break.” The statement was like a needle scratching across a record; the party went silent. My eldest son sat up straight and gave his brother the look of, “Dude, you’re on your own now…” as he scooted down the bench at our dinner table, creating a healthy distance for/from the wrath he expected to land in his brother’s lap. My husband was in the kitchen slicing something; the slicing stopped as his eyes–filled with what I would call a healthy (and proper) dose of panic–darted from my second son to me, back to my second son, back to me. The toddler babbled about something; she saw the whole thing as an opportunity to shove the remainder of her dinner on to the floor… “oooops…fressert pweeze?”… <<giggle>>.

 

The one who uttered the statement looked around; everything about the tension in the air told him he’d just said something wrong. Very wrong. He realized it. His head slowly turned, and his blue eyes slowly met mine.  I was calm–let’s be more honest about that–I was as calm as I could be on the outside. In a cool and very controlled tone–the tone that my children know as the tone of sit-still-say-nothing-nod-amply–“Summer break?…Really?” I asked him. He nodded. I knew why he’d assumed that and even why he said it…out loud. “Just because I don’t leave to go to a job or go to work, doesn’t mean I’m not working at a job. If you really want the truth, Mommy doesn’t get summer break and she barely gets a vacation. Not even my sleep is mine. Mommies are at work every hour of every day, every day of every week, every week of ever year… Summer break?” I chuckled, and shook my head slightly. I poked around my dinner plate with my fork. “Not even close, buddy.”

 

No this isn’t a post about the unsung heroism of the stay-at-home-mother’s work day. Though, these works should be praised. The myriad of things I do every day from the hours of 4am to 9pm (when I practically fall into bed) to keep this house running, to keep #TheLarkinThree alive, and to maintain the barely existing heartbeat of my own professional work is worthy of applause. But I don’t want applause. I hate applause. (Anyone who knows me well enough knows just how much I hate applause and praise.) So, I’m not writing to be told I’m doing a good job or to be told that being a stay-at-home-mom is a noble choice…if I hear that one more time when I meet someone from my husband’s office, I’ll lose it.

 

I told the story above because what dawned on me (much, much later) is that if my son thinks I’m always on summer break, then maybe I’m doing my job right and well.  That he doesn’t see me as working hard or that I’m always burdened by them, is indicative of a daily aspect of motherhood most don’t see in operation until death.

 

You can look upon my body and see the scars of having become a mother. From the moment a plastic stick tells me I’m “with child” my body starts to change.* My brain chemistry will alter (forever); I’ll be hardwired from here on out to put an other before myself. When he cries, I’ll come. When he stumbles and falls, I’ll scoop him up. When he’s troubled, I’ll comfort. When he runs away, I’ll run after. During pregnancy my body will betray me. My own body will choose him over me. My nutrients course through my body first to him and whatever is left, I’ll get. My mind and my body sacrifice me for his life; way before holding him in my arms, I’ll go through a multitude of deaths to bring forth life.

 

Not least of which is laboring to deliver. In labor I am confronting death to bring forth life; no small task. And I’ll confront death alone. No one takes my hand and guides me through it. It is here where the ferocity that is woman comes to the fore; I will come close to and growl at death, bring it, Death! I’ll stare it down. My life for his! I’ll cry. And I’ll bear the wound of this battle in my physical body.  (Wounds that will later allow men to judge me as unattractive and unappealing, judgments I’ll absorb and utter against myself as I look over my body reflected back to me by the bathroom mirror).

 

I could bring up the continued wounding of my physical body–how my breasts are now oddly shaped because of years of nursing, expanding and contracting; how my weight fluctuates depending on the time I have to take care of myself; how the nutritional values of my meals is skimpy because I’m gleaning from left overs remaining on little plates by little people. But the reality is that it’s not merely my physical body that incurs the wound, pain, and suffering, of being a mom. As I said, you can look upon my  body and see the scars and disfiguring of being a mom, but there’s more you can’t see unless you not just look but also listen.  For the suffering and pain of being a mom isn’t merely restricted to my body, but also to my mind and my soul. My body–inside and out–is continually broken for these children of mine.**

 

“The real question the pain of birth gives us would be how we might come to understand pain as birthing pain, labor pain as doors opening, groaning as ‘the onset of the glory of the freedom of God’s children.’ How do we approach our pains so that they do not torment us like pointless kidney stones, but, as pains of labor, prepare the new being?…We need a different theology of pain that finally feminizes the questions and relates our pain to the pain of God. The question then will be: How does our pain become the pain of God? How do we become part of the messianic pain of liberation, part of the groaning of a creation that is in travail. How do we come to suffer so that our suffering becomes the pain of birth?” – Sölle***

 

But there’s more beyond the inner and outer breaking of my body. There is something you can’t see or hear, because this war that wages is one that is mine alone. This battle is between me and the age that has come before me on behalf of the age to come. And it wages everyday I walk the earth; it’s the battle I’ll take with me into the grave. (And, truly, if I fight well, you’ll rarely see the effects or feel the impact of this war.) It’s more than just a my-life-for-his: it’s: his-life-will-be-free. Free from all of the generational shit that has been repeatedly passed down over and over and over again. Free from pain and suffering that should’ve never have happened…ever. Free from anxiety, stress, fear where there should’ve been peace, tranquility, and comfort. The battle is one that is not about a body breaking but the very opposite; it’s about a body strong, resilient, being a stronghold in the time of disaster. Like a dam holding back tons of water threatening to wash out and drown what lives peacefully in its shadow and protection, my body will hold back what has come crashing into it from the repetition of history to protect those who live and depend on my protection. Everyday I will awake and make intentional choices, decisions, and actions that repeat my motherhood-mantra: it will not be so for you. And, this shit ends with me; I’ll wrestle it into the grave it so deserves. Everyday, I will utter the divine “no more” that has infiltrated my language because of my encounter with Christ who defined love as suffering, love as a body broken, love as freedom where there was oppression, love as comfort where there was fear, love as tender embrace where there was abuse, love as acceptance where there was rejection, love as new life as a gift to us out of/because of Christ’s death and resurrection.

 

 

 

 

*In rather imperfect terms (needing some renovating and updating) I’ve written more about the process of death to life as it relates to the very beginning of motherhood here: https://laurenrelarkin.com/2016/08/12/death-to-life-in-fertility-to-birth/

 

**I’ve written here about the inner body breaking: https://laurenrelarkin.com/2016/06/22/my-body-broken/

 

***Thank you to David W. Congdon who supplied me with the quotations from Dorothee Sölle.  You can follow him on twitter @dwcongdon; I’d recommend it. 🙂

Easter’s Present: Hope Springs Eternal

He is risen!

Hallelujah!

The Lord is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

I’m not one to put more emphasis on one aspect of the liturgical calendar over and against another aspect. I know the importance of holding in tandem all the events of Christ: birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Though I do hold these events in tandem, each one solicits from me a different response. Christmas brings with it anticipation and expectation: the baby has been born, the great rescue plan is under way! Christ’s life solidifies that I can have that expectation and anticipation; he is the perfect one, his is the same mission pursuit as the One who sent him: to seek and save the lost, to heal up the brokenhearted, to set right what was wrong, to defend the defenseless (to mention a few). Good Friday thrusts me in to solemnity that leads to my own death as I witness Christ’s death because he so loved the world that he couldn’t leave the cries of the burdened and oppressed go unheard. Easter is the brilliant light in the darkness; Christ’s resurrection draws from me a deep sigh of relief: my hope finds its grounding and fulfillment. The ascension reminds me: God is with me, God is working in the world, perpetually making things and people new and overhauling the dead.

As a rational and logical person I hold these events of Christ’s activity toward and on behalf of the world in tandem, but as someone who has suffered violence at the hands and words of other humans, Easter pulls strongest: hope springs eternal.

As a sufferer, I need to be called out of myself in the midst of my suffering, I need to be called to look not down at myself (turned/turning inward) but up at Jesus, raise my face to see this very God who is merciful and unyielding in His love; who, by the life of His one and only Son, through the event of the incarnation and the cross, has declared “it will not always be so.” Darkness, depression, sorrow, suffering, grief, loss, and pain have been given their verdict: no; and we have been given ours: yes.

Suffering has a unique way of drawing us to the Suffering God who suffered for us on the cross, who was raised from the dead and has declared that the suffering of this life will not last forever, that it is not the final word, and that He has conquered it. Suffering draws us to this God who is not far off when we are at our worst, ugliest, decrepit, sick, infirm, maimed, even when we are angry at Him about our own suffering or the suffering of those close to us.

Suffering draws us to this God who has come close and breathes into our breathless lungs—lungs carried in bodies exhausted from the battle, pelted by the hail-storms of pain and loss, bones made brittle by unfulfilled pleas and petitions. It is this God who breathes into our lungs and re-creates us from the dead, gives us real and true life and new hearts, who causes us to love him and to love others and uses all those things intended for evil for good. Even in suffering, the Light cannot be overcome by darkness.

This is Easter: hope. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is our hope. Hope that is so vibrant and fertile that it is the sole reason so many of us who have suffered incredible pain still walk this very earth. Our hope is historical, it is current, and it turns our faces toward the future because the promises of God have been fulfilled, are being fulfilled, and will be fulfilled. The resurrection of Christ is the event that reverberates through the halls of time; it is the voice that echoes: “hold-fast; I am.”

The event of the resurrection of Christ gives the broken-down, the oppressed, the suffering, the down-trodden future hope that (in it’s most amazing and beautiful way) reaches back to the now and gives it life, life abundant. Future oriented hope in resurrection makes this current life vibrant technicolor rather than drab monochrome. We can walk through this life with our scars, because a new body, a new life waits, one free from the muscle memory of pain and fear. We can bear the pain of loss and sorrow deep in our bones and carry on in life because the future hope of resurrection and reunion reorients our gaze upward toward the one who defeated death once and for all. We can fight for and free the oppressed because our future oriented hope gives us the audacity and freedom to do so in the here and now, to live into thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Hear ye, beloved, these comfortable words:

“He will swallow up death for all time, And the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken” (Is. 25:8).

And the Lord GOD has,

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15)

Today, Easter, hope springs eternal because Christ is risen from the dead.

Hallelujah!

He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

A Nail in the Wall

There are things I read as I research for my dissertation that will stick with me, even if it is unrelated to the topic I’m researching. And it’s not the type of sticking that’s “oh, hey, that’s really fascinating; let me mentally ruminate on that some more…” It’s the type of sticking that is more reminiscent of a good kick to the gut, the type that steals the very breath from you, leaving you curled up on the floor. It’s the type of sticking that’s akin to someone throwing cold-water on your face, and you find yourself all too alert to your current situation; really alert, like, “holy crap…this is really my life” and the reeling sets in because the stark reality is burdening your balance.

This punishment, too, springs from original sin; and the woman bears it just as unwillingly as she bears those pains and inconveniences that have been placed up her flesh. The rule remains with the husband, and the wife is compelled to obey him by God’s command. He rules the home and the state, wages wars, defends his possessions, tills the soil, builds, plants, etc. The woman, on the other hand, is like a nail driven into the wall. She sits at home…so the wife should stay at home and look after the affairs of the household, as one who has been deprived of the ability of administering those affairs that are outside and that concern the state. She does not go beyond her most personal duties. (LW, Lectures on Genesis, 202-3)

Luther is articulating the consequences for the woman as it is laid out in the curses articulated to Adam and Eve by God in Genesis 3. He’s specifically expounding here on the “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16b-c) portion. I don’t typically lie awake at night thinking about and spend very little emotional energy on Genesis 3. I spend way more of my time thinking about the reality of the event of justification in my everyday life than I do the curses proclaimed to Eve on that miserable day in the Garden. Like any other human being, I prefer good news to bad news.

But, on Monday, when my eyes crossed over Luther’s words, “The woman, on the other hand, is like a nail driven into the wall”–on the heels of falling to my knees, after an atrocious potty-training experience with my toddler, feeling generally poured out from an already long day, and uttering the words, “This, this is my life; this is all I’ll ever do…change diapers and make lunches…”–I felt that gut-punch, I felt that cold-water drench me. I was feeling stuck and frustrated and Luther’s nail imagery described what I was feeling: the effects of the remnants of the curse spoken long ago, a curse with lengthy tentacles reaching all the way into 2016. I was a nail hammered so deep into a wall that the only hope to recover the nail would be to tear down the wall; the only other recourse would be to just admit the nail was lost for ever.

But over the past couple of days, I’ve come to realize that Luther’s imagery, while very apt to my situation as a stay-at-home-mom/wife and specifically articulated about womanhood in light of the curse, was actually an image that could be broadened to all of humanity. Whether you are male or female, feeling stuck, feeling like a nail in a wall is a reality. It could be anything: being so financially strained that you can’t leave a dead-end job; existing in a marriage that has ceased to function like a marriage; strained relationships with your children; suffering under the weight of loss, grief, anxiety and fear; the general malaise of the day-in and day-out because nothing ever changes; that unrelenting thorn in your side that you can do nothing about and just bear and tolerate, and the list could go on. Feeling stuck, really feeling like a nail in the wall is not only a curse that affects womankind, it affects all of humankind; it’s a human problem, none escape it.

But it’s not the final word; it’s not the final nail in the coffin.

There’s hope for us nails in walls, and His name is Jesus Christ. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans,

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. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (18-25)

Because Jesus Christ–fully God and fully man–climbed upon the hardwood of the cross and bore nails in his hands and feet, we who are stuck and suffering pain and frustration in this life have hope. By faith in Jesus Christ and by being united to Him through faith in Him, we–you and I–have hope, we have abundant hope. This life, this body is not all there is; there is more, abundantly more for those who are in Christ Jesus. Even in the midst of our very present and difficult realities, our faces are turned upward and bronzed by the glorious hope we have in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit because we know that our God is not only the one who promises but also fulfills His promises, and He has told us: it will not always be so.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:1-4)

And we have hope, even now…hope.

Words, Words, Wonderful Words

Words are powerful. I doubt anyone would argue with that. Anyone enjoying an average day on The Twitters understands the power of an ill-used or well-used word. With only 140 characters, Tweeters work hard to come up with that perfectly and tightly packaged thought; one ill placed word…and their good day swiftly swirls down the drain. Word vultures flock in to consume not only the tweet, but also the Tweeter herself; for this very reason, I’ve stopped having “original thoughts” on twitter because #ImAfeared and #ICantJamMyThoughtsInto140Characters.

But words are powerful. Words and word-phrases like: yes, I love you,  you’re beautiful, that post was inspiring, you did that really well!, I’m so happy to see you, etc. build people up and create life. And then there are words and word-phrases that do the opposite: no, try again, that wasn’t good enough,  just go away,  I hate you, etc; these words tear down and destroy those who are the intended hearing recipients. No one will argue with this; we’ve all–at one point or another–been on the receiving end of life-giving and death-dealing words and word phrases. I’ve been torn down by words and I’ve been built up by them; so have you.

So, words are powerful. But what I find so surprising as a member of this word-speaking group of people called humanity, is how often we still forget just how powerful words are. I recently had an encounter with a (let’s call him) colleague where I chose a word that was funny and wink-wink to me, but offensive to him. It took some time and some dialogue (the exchange of words) to figure out what had occurred. A simple word caused the disturbance. Yet we forget just how powerful words are…we just forget because we are surrounded by so  many and we so often use them carelessly.

But, words are powerful. As a theologian, I’ve been front-seat at a near knock-down drag-out argument over a word. I’ve actually been in those arguments; I’ve also rolled my eyes when a peer says, “Well, I’ve an issue with the words…” and I’m all #FacePalm. Those of us who have invested their lives in the pursuit of understanding the nuances of theology, know full well how powerful words are. From studies in Church History to Pastoral Care, students of theology know without a doubt how powerful words are; and, to some degree, it’s inexcusable when we forget this truth.  We don’t have the luxury of miss using words because often our congregants, our family and friends, and even the random strangers that follow us on twitter have been abused by words.

So, if words are important and we (theologians, pastors, leaders of the church) know just how important those words are, then why do we still try to use words that have caused a lot of damage to our people in the past? I can only chalk it up to the fact that those of us in authority over the sheep stop listening to the sheep, stop listening to their bleats of pain, hurt, anger, and fear. Why do we keep trying to stress “obedience” when so many people coming out of fundamentalism and legalism have been beaten up by that word? Why do we stress “submission” to a group of women coming out of churches where they were held down by that word? Why do we look at those men who have nearly died under the wait of  “headship” and “leadership” and still speak those words?  If our people have PTSD from the abuse of certain words (the above being a small sampling) why do we still use them? It’s not enough to say: well Paul used them so we should. It’s also not enough to try to find a new way to define such words (like: leading is serving) because, at best, our definitions (while true on many levels) are too ambiguous for the mind to understand and comprehend and at worst aren’t heard anyway because we lost our listener as soon as we used the dreaded word to begin with. And, let’s be honest, it’s really hard to pretty-up the club that was used to clobber your hearer to the point of death.

Since words are powerful and also since words have wounded our listeners, we need to use new words to discuss those old themes. How do we do this? A Friend once told me that he had a colleague who had an issue with the word-phrase “Law and Gospel.” I asked him, “Well, how did you work around that?” (at the time only understanding those two terms to define the biblical hermeneutic I ascribed to). He said, “Simple. I switched in ‘Command and Promise’ and ‘Death and Life.'”  With so many words at our fingertips and there for our use, why don’t we employ this word-switch tactic more often? Rather than talk of “obedience”, what if I said, “Just love God and love your neighbor because you have been radically loved”? Is not loving God and loving your neighbor the fulfillment of everything that qualifies for obedience?  Rather than talk of “submission” and “headship/leadership” I said, “Just love your husbands and wives”? Is that not that the goal of Paul’s exhortation in the first place? You might, to both statements, ask, “Well, how do I do that?” Or, “What does loving God/Neighbor/Husband/Wife look like?” It doesn’t matter how I answer those questions, because what’s happened is that the dialogue has been restored; I’ve not lost you. By eliminating the painful words and speaking with new words that you’ll listen to, I can enter into a dialogue with you. I can then say, “Well, submission is actually mutual…sit down, let’s talk more about this.” By carefully choosing words and by carefully listening to you, I can wade through your pain with you while keeping the channels of communication open.

To all those I’ve wounded with poorly chosen words: forgive me, please. To all those who are still listening to me, I promise you: I’m listening to you and to your words because they are so important and tell me how to choose my words. May the Lord help me never to forget just how powerful words are.

 

“Jesus Died to Save Sinners”

I should be working. But I’d rather tell you a story…

The day was like any other day, especially any day I go to Walmart. In and out. As fast as possible. Determination in my step, focus in my eye; deftly weaving and wending the cart through the other customers merely browsing. Watch out; I’ve a mission!  My toddler called out the names of all the things she saw, like a baby Adam on a naming urgency. Ball! Doggy! Kitty! Boon! Baby!

I swept in to gather the few things I needed for the weekend and to capitalize on the rollbacks on school supplies for last year; something I recently learned to do from a new friend.

With everything I needed and everything I could find in my cart, I zoomed up–yes, I know it’s Walmart, but it’s also 8:30 in the morning, so I zoomed–to the do-it-yourself checkout. Waited a minute and then was ushered to an open checkout and pulled up. Typically, my modus operandi is as follows: go as fast as possible and keep your eyes trained on your task at hand, God forbid anyone talk to you… But on this particular day, I was beaming with conquest, prideful with reduced price; I was a lioness returning to the pride dragging a buffalo…Yes, gaze and gawk…I’m just this awesome…

The older lady who ushered me to open checkout flirted with my daughter, who was flirting back. And then I made eye-contact with the lady.

“Looks like you’ve got some school supplies there…” She said.

“Yes,” I replied and smiled confidently. It is a beautiful buffalo isn’t it… I continued, “A friend of mine explained to me that you can school shop for next year just after the current school year starts because the school items are reduced…”

“Oh,” she began. “Just like just after Christmas is the best time to do Christmas shopping…” We bonded over that. Then she added, “I was hoping to retire this Christmas, but it looks like I won’t be able to…”

That’s one of those statements that can’t go ignored, even though I contemplated ignoring it and getting out of there. But, I still had some items on the belt; so, “Oh, why won’t you be able to retire?” I asked her. She explained to me her financial situation, which was tight because it’s just her. She told me of her hopes for eventually getting her social security along with her husbands and that would be very helpful. I nodded to all of this. And then, prompted by something she had said about her youngest child, a girl, I asked, “How many children do you have?”

“I had four kids and I was step-mom to four more and then including the grandson I’ve raised, that makes 9 kids!”

“Wow! Well I’m sure they were 9 well loved kids!” was my response.

She told me more about the other ones who chose her ex-husband over her and a lot more about the youngest daughter who had earned a number of degrees. And then there was a pause; I was now loading my bags into my cart. Then she told me about her step-daughter.

“One of my step-daughters died in a hot-tub…” I all but dropped my bags to the ground. Maintaining my composure, I put the last bags in the cart and turned to her.

“I’m sorry,” was all I could think of saying.

“Oh, it’s all right…she was really messed up and cheating on her husband…She was drunk and still drinking when she drowned in the hot tub” she tried to dismiss it and blow it off, like she didn’t care, like somehow her step-daughter asked for this to happen.

I looked at her. She did care. “You know, it doesn’t matter what the events or actions are surrounding a death like that, it’s still a loss…” is what I said to her.

Her eyes softened. “Well I blame the people who owned the tub, they just left her alone still drinking. They found her when they came down the next morning to close up the tub.”  I nodded; I understood what she was feeling and what she was doing. There was a pause and then another softening of her posture, “You know…she was in such a bad spot, hurting, I’m sure she’s in a better place now, free of pain. She was just so messed up there at the end.” She mentioned something about a troubled marriage. “But I know she’s in a better place now with our father.” She smiled, but it wasn’t any smile it was the smile of hope. She had hope.

“I’m really sorry for your loss,” I said and I readied to leave. She smiled at me again and told us to have a great day; we wished her the same, or, rather, I did…Liza was busy naming things…

As I rolled out to the car my hope fled. The weight of the life of a young woman that was cut short too early–no matter the circumstances surrounding the death–weighed my heart down. The realization that our world is just that broken–something I’m not typically faced with everyday–fell into my lap. I couldn’t help it; I cried. I cried as I loaded my car with my bags and my toddler. I cried as I got into the driver seat. I cried as I drove home. My heart aching; my conscience troubled; my soul grieving.

I came to a stop light and waited for it to turn green. It’s one of those long lights. But on this day, it was a tad longer than normal–or so it seemed. As I sat there behind a big, green, beat-up truck, I stared mindlessly ahead, my mind preoccupied with hopelessness and brokenness. And then, for some reason, my eyes narrowed in on a long, thin, rather bland bumper sticker on this big, green beat-up truck. I avoid looking at bumper stickers in the area I live in because they’re usually just offensive or over-the-top. But this one caught my eye, maybe because it was bland (black block letters on a white background) or because it was long and thin (a non-classic bumper sticker style). And as my eyes focused in on the words, I cried again…

“Jesus Died to Save Sinners”

And hope returned. Because deep down, that is our only hope, that is our only comfort in this very broken world. In this world where lives are cut off too short and at all, we need to know that something has occurred to remedy the broken situation. We need something we can look to, focus on, be reminded of that is beyond or bigger than this broken world and our broken selves. And there is nothing more concrete than:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15).

This is the foremost foundation of our hope in the face of brokenness, of loss, of grief, pain, and all types of suffering. Because Jesus’ coming is the manifestation of God’s love for us and the fulfillment of his promise to us that it-won’t-always-be-so–as are His death, resurrection, and ascension, too.

But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 8:23-25)

Our faith in Christ (in the totality of who and what He was and is and all that He did from his birth to his ascension) is the foundation of our hope. And not just hope that we will get out of this life and be brought into another one (though, this is part of our hope), but that in the face of suffering and sorrow, loss and grief, pain and turmoil, we can stand with those who are hurting, we can comfort and not abandon, and we can look forward to (and point to) the day when our hope is realized because His words do not fall flat. The Great Promiser who promises will do it.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)