Vigil for the Dead

At 11:40 the church was ablaze with lights, a shining, welcoming jewel in the darkness. I had changed into dress pants and blouse out of respect for the solemn, sacred duty ahead.

I rattled the front door. Locked. Checked the side entry. Also locked. I returned to the front and, being early, waited outside. The warm wind whipped through my hair. It was late, but comfortable enough to spend a few minutes seated on a bench awaiting my time slot. I wanted there to be some overlap in case there were instructions to pass on.

At ten ’til I rapped on the door. Moments later, a woman opened the door, scarf wrapped around her hair, still reading out the Psalms from the psalter she carried.

The deceased lay in his coffin, peacefully facing the altar area, the faces of Christ, the Theotokos, angels and saints surrounding us. Above him the beautiful chandelier, imported from Eastern Europe, is ablaze, brass shining. Candles flicker from candle stands, from tall, narrow jars beneath various icons, and next to the readers stand.

As the clock flipped to midnight, the reader finished one Psalm and handed off to me. As I began, she made her reverence to the icons as we usually do when entering or upon leaving a service, and hurried off into the night.

I enjoy chanting. Chanting in this temple is a delight. The architecture allows the voice to fill the space with little effort. Something happens as I pray, read, chant, or sing. It feels as if my voice is joined by something unseen.

My head turned to catch a perceived movement from the corner of my eye. Though I saw nothing, I felt something there–something glorious, ethereal, warm, bright, otherworldly. At this point, it would have seemed normal to find angels winging overhead.

The newly departed looked peaceful. He had not been embalmed, so I was surprised to find him looking like this. It was an honor to chant the Psalms for him on his last night above ground.

Have you ever noticed how many of the Psalms talk about death? Standing vigil, you become aware in a new way. Reading aloud of God’s goodness, His faithfulness, His mercy, and His glory in the presence of the dead imbues it with a sense of depth, of eternity, of…dare I say, holiness.

There aren’t proper words for what happened last night. The departed, asleep in his beautiful handcrafted casket, resting in this peaceful ceremony, so full of humanity in its best form, and in the divine, the veil between this world and the heavenly so thin it seems a mere breath could pierce it and heaven blaze through…it seemed entirely reasonable and to be expected for the deceased to sit up, to rise from his casket and join in praising God.

I was surprised he didn’t.

This duty, this task, despite chanting myself hoarse, did something unexpected. I went, thinking I was doing a service for the deceased and for his family, but left feeling honored and privileged to have been able to participate. Something happened there that is more than reading, more than praying, simply more. I sense that I am changed in some way. I feel more…human.



I’ve started reading Frank Schaeffer’s “Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion” and while I can relate to a lot of his coming to Orthodoxy story, I find myself challenged that I am living Protestant in the Orthodox Church. That is, the individualistic thinking and determination of a Protestant mindset has invaded how I try to live Orthodox. I decide for myself that it is okay to say my morning prayers while laying in bed instead of standing or kneeling before my icon wall. I decide for myself how much fasting I will or won’t do. I’m puzzled when people ask for Father’s blessing before doing an endeavor, in a way that proves to me that they will not proceed if Father does not give his blessing. I am baffled by the idea of asking permission to do things.

After all, I think, isn’t it clearly my choice whether to go visit a monastery or not? Isn’t it??? And yet I find that those who have been Orthodox for a long time, culturally as well as religiously, ask. They go for a blessing before travelling. Holy water (or “blessed water”) is taken on a daily basis. Blessed bread is wrapped and taken home to be shared with someone who could not attend liturgy or to be eaten throughout the week.  Some worry about recycling to the point that they are almost paralyzed into inaction because they cannot determine if it is more wasteful to throw away the glass jar or to use enough water to rinse it clean for recycling.  These are not the trivial matters that they appear. They are evidence of lives that are intent on living their faith, lives of people who struggle to redeem the time, redeem the physical world in which they live, to live humbly in obedience and righteousness.

I find myself saddened and sickened by how secular I have allowed myself to be. I read recently (I can’t remember where) that there is nothing that isn’t sacred, but there is sacred and defiled or desecrated. That’s mind-blowing, don’t you think? If everything is sacred, then I should be very conscious what I do with it.

So I am going to speak with Father about these matters, so that I can get some guidance in how to live a sacred life so that I do not desecrate the sacred. And to repent of my independence of thinking that I know best how to live an Orthodox life. I don’t.


Last night I went to confession.  This is a sacrament which is so misunderstood in Protestantism, and I am only beginning to understand it.  I accept it as a teaching of the Church, and as such I go to confession, at first hesitant, now willing, but still somewhat reluctant to share my sins and failings with another.  God understands; others? Not so much.  Or that is how I feel.  But I am learning that I can say things to my priest that I would not admit to another human being. And so I found myself, after prayer and contemplation, weeping before my Father Confessor, and my Savior, Jesus Christ, in the sight of all that crowd of Saints who have gone before, in front of the Theotokos, and admitting my sins, repenting, and fearing that my tears are not solely of repentance but of self-pity as well.  The God who forgave David is the same one who looks down on me with compassion. And in this life it is a great comfort to hear those words, “God forgives.”  For it is not the priest who forgives me, it is God, and my confession does something that is hard to describe and explain.  It is a building block in a wall of strength and forbearance in the future.

I will confess to you that the words admonishing me to withhold nothing or be the more guilty (wild paraphrase), is a hard one for me.  How does one make a full confession?  If my sins are as the sands on the shore, I not only cannot know them all, I cannot begin to recall them during confession. Do I willfully withhold? I think that is the key, but I am not the expert here. Do not willfully withhold from your spiritual father. Hmmm.  The correlation that comes to mind is seeing a doctor but not telling them all the symptoms.

I was mortified to be weeping there in the nave (sanctuary), but I remembered a song from years ago, and the words if this is not a place, where my heart cry can be heard, where, tell me where do I go to cry?  I realized that there is no better place to go when you have a need to cry, when you need to unburden yourself, when you need to confess, when you need healing, when you are grieving, when you are lonely, when you are celebrating, when you are joyful…when…

I don’t have a big, grand point to this post, but I wanted to explain in a small way what confession is in Orthodoxy.  I remember having such a revulsion to the idea of confession, as it was related to Roman Catholicism, and as most Protestants will attest, anything that is remotely evocative of the Roman Catholic Church is to be avoided at all costs.

Confession?  Why that just means that you live like the devil all week, but go to confession on Saturday night and it’s all good.  Genuflection? That’s just vain ritual and empty repetition. Robes and vestments? Showy. Chanting? Old and boring. 

I have now come around to where the beauty of these has been revealed, as if the curtain has been pulled back and I can finally see the truth, only the truth is more beautiful and more real than I had imagined.  One of those beauties is in confession. But I don’t go to confession for beauty, I go to confession because it is a sacrament of the Church, and I have placed myself in subjection to her.  Glory to God!

Significant Among the Trivial

Twenty-one heads hit the dirt. Twenty-one martyrs for Christ, made the ultimate sacrifice, and I stayed home from Divine Liturgy because of a sore throat. I’ll grant you that my throat was mighty sore, but these twenty-one men had their throats cut. Twenty-one families lost husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, and my attention? It’s on the storm raging outside my window, though there is a bigger storm going on throughout the world. The People of the Book are waging war against the People of the Cross. I need that cross written in blood across my heart. I need that cross weighing on my hands, my back…

While I sit here, safe and warm, my concerns seem so trivial, my pleasures so trite. There us a deeper and truer place to walk, it seems, though the road appears to be the same. It’s like The Matrix, what seems real and beautiful and enjoyable are simply keeping us quiescent in the face of our own destruction.

I recently watched part of the Grammy Awards. The opening number boldly proclaimed that we are on a highway to Hell. The crowd danced and clapped, and sang along, sporting devils horns on their heads. I could have wept. I probably should have. Proudly they proclaimed something so dreadful, so awful. All in fun, of course.

The evening continued on, but I couldn’t help but think that our national past time seems to be to laugh at the very idea that we could be on the highway to hell. But I believe most fervently that these 21 latest martyrs are welcomed into the arms of our Savior. I have to wonder if there is enough evidence to convict me of being a Person of the Cross.

The Journey So Far (Part 2)

Well, much has happened since the first part of this series.  I had intended to write more quickly, but found that my thoughts were scattered and that this, among other things, was rather distressing.  One of the things that I must grasp to be able if there is a possibility of understanding Orthodoxy is their claim that scripture does not stand alone, and scripture was and always has been together with verbal teaching.  I was taught that scripture stands on its own, is able to be understood and interpreted by individuals, and that nothing else is needed for instruction in the faith and in Christian living.  That this is different from my personal experience never occurred to me.  Also, it made it seem that scripture is written by men, while I have always understood that men wrote scripture as they were inspired (or breathed) directly from the mind of God.  How, I was asked, do you think the early church had any notion of how to behave, how to have a service, how to live, since scripture had not been written (after what we term the “Old Testament”)?  Where did scripture come from, I was asked.  Was scripture not the compilation of the history of the church and of letters written to the various churches?  Were the apostles teaching prior to the written word?  What determined that these letters and these gospels are inspired scripture among the many that were written?

The question is answered as it has always been. The church determined which letters and books were scripture and were inspired.  I had never thought much about that, but in this context it really threw me.  If men determined which books were scripture, is all of faith merely something determined by man?  Was my faith merely a made up thing, a construct of man?  I struggled with this, although my experience with God was never in doubt.  How could I know in my innermost being that God is real, having spoken to him and heard from him, having seen the unexplained and having had his healing touch on me, and yet be wondering about scripture and the church?  Unless you have been a person of faith, you may not understand the shaking that went on inside of me, the feeling of living in an earthquake.

I was at the time enchanted by some wonderful science documentaries, reading some books on physics and scientific history and preparing for some additional science classes in college, and enjoying the studies greatly.  The math of it, even though I don’t understand it all, seemed so beautiful, so magnificent and so clearly designed by a Creator.  As I heard once  again the scientific theory of the Big Bang and the explanation of it by a famous physicist, it struck me how this sounded like the creation story–from nothing something, from no time to time, from a formless earth, to seas forming, and on and on, until it seemed to make poetry of the Genesis story of creation, just as the Orthodox understanding of the creation story had been explained to me.

Additionally, I have some health challenges, one of which seems to bring out the inner snake oil salesman in every crowd, every nutritionist, every wacky theory and so many differing opinions from health people that it is confusing, so I tend to take the things presented to me and look for the scientific tests behind it, the facts, the proofs.

One day as I was thinking through the problem of scripture being inspired or man made, it occurred to me that there was no difference in this and scientific theory.  How do we know that the earth is round?  People used to believe it was flat!  They used to believe that earth was the center of the universe.  How do we know differently?  We observed.  We studied.  Theories were written, equations formulated, tested and put up for peer-review.  While the initial review of a round earth theory was ridiculed and rejected, continued review proved it to be true.  The science didn’t make it true, what was true was simply observed and then the observation was reviewed by others and the consensus was that, yes, the earth is round.  Other scientific theories are presented the same way.  Einstein didn’t make the universe behave in a way it hadn’t previously, he simply observed and developed a way to explain and quantify what was already there.  The math was there, waiting to be discovered.

In the same way, God and his ways are not created by man, but observed, explained, and witnessed by man.  The truth of those observations, explanations, witness testimony and understandings are then put to the test by others.  Others who have made it their life to observe, explain, witness and understand God and his ways, and the ways of Christ and his Church, then discuss those things and come to a consensus.

The difference between what I feared was being said about scripture and what was being said is this:  Scripture was written by men, inspired by God, and the understanding and approval of this as Scripture and truthful teaching has been tested and approved by the Church and her leaders, by those who witnessed and told of those events and truths, it is not simply made up by men.  It is peer-reviewed, as it were.

With that struggle out of the way, I need to examine what the church teaches and what I believe, what those contrasts are and determine–is this the true New Testament Church?  Are they what they claim to be?

The Journey So Far (Part 1)

Why Orthodoxy?

Friends, family and spiritual mentors (also friends) will be puzzled and alarmed when I tell them of my examination of Orthodoxy and will ask (and some who know of my struggle have already asked) “Why Orthodoxy?”

The introduction to Orthodoxy came through my older brother and his wife. Some may think that I always give too much credence to my brother’s opinion on absolutely everything, but that is simply not true. When he/they went to the Lutheran denomination, and from there increasingly more and more obscure forms of Lutheranism that tried to get back to the root…I felt not the slightest temptation, not the least interest. I honor my brother in his search for truth, but I did not and could not follow him there. So why Orthodoxy, you ask? Surely Orthodoxy is even stranger, even more obscure, even more odd, and their claims even further from my very strict Protestant roots.

The Brethren

I was a very rebellious Plymouth Brethren, not outwardly, but inwardly. My questions were dismissed; I was stifled and tried desperately to submit to a teaching with which I did not agree in many aspects, and with a church whose practice was and is offensive to me in the way mercy is withheld from each other. Among the Brethren, behavior is strictly monitored, not outwardly, but it is the not- too-hidden secret of the Brethren that holiness is defined by meeting very narrow lifestyles, personality characteristics and behaviors. They also hold to some beliefs and practices I find…well…opinions, not necessarily truth.

They do not permit the display of the cross. Why, you ask? My understanding is that they have an aversion to the display of the cross as it was surpassed by the resurrection. Each time I have come across this peculiarity, I hear the verse in my head, “the preaching of the cross is foolishness to them who perish, but to those who believe it is the power of God.” Or how about this one: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross…”

Women are not permitted to speak–at all. I mean, not to request a certain hymn, or even to proffer a prayer request. Women must wear head coverings, even though the verse says, when she prays or prophesies, and for sure women are not going to pray or prophesy in a PB church. Brethren assemblies are closed, or variations on closed, not in the way that Orthodox or Catholics are closed, in that they withhold communion from those who have not been baptized or chrismated into the church. Some brethren assemblies are so closed you have to be invited to attend. Some make you sit in the foyer or lobby during service if you are not “accepted” (I’ll address that soon.) Some merely make you refrain from communion, although for some (considered liberal or “bad”) they allow it as a matter of conscience.

The manner in which you become “Accepted into Fellowship” is a secretive thing. I attended a Brethren assembly for years, until marrying and moving away, but was never “accepted”. I returned when we moved back several years later, and was never “accepted”. No one told me what I must do to become accepted or even admitted to me there was this special group. When you aren’t part of the group, no matter who thinks otherwise, you know it. Trust me on this one. Toward the end of my time with the Brethren, I came across a strange list while doing some work at the church. I puzzled over the names on the list—who was and was not included—and what the notations meant. Suddenly I became aware that this was IT, this was the list. This was the list of those who were “accepted.” I was right. I was not on this list. How to get on that list remained a mystery, something that irritated and bothered me then as it does now. How one joins a group should not be a great mystery. It wasn’t until I left the Brethren seven years ago that I learned the secret, at which point I no longer cared.

My faith, my world-view, my education, my politics, my science and my family were all influenced heavily by the Brethren. My beliefs about the way the church should operate were formed in large part by the Brethren. Fortunately I had other influences as well. Being an outsider in a group to which you wish to belong cannot help but influence you. Reading the Bible for myself influenced the questions I had. My own experience of God together with Scripture led me to ask questions the Brethren did not want to address. As far as they were concerned the matters were settled. Finished. Done. You were not to wrestle with these issues on your own or you were considered rebellious or ungodly. Smarter and wiser men had settled these matters and you should simple accept it blindly.

Having said all that, and leaving much out that would speak even less kindly of the Brethren, I want to say that I love the Brethren. I don’t like some of what they do, and I may disagree with them on many things, but I love them. Some things they have done, both to me and to others, breaks my heart, but I love them; so many of them are the dearest of Christens…the most precious of friends.

Leaving the Brethren

I left the Brethren the year I turned 40, which may be considered by some to be a mid-life crisis event, but in truth, I had escaped the Brethren several times, simply by moving away. I was unwilling to subject myself to the scrutiny of yet another Brethren assembly in a new location. The Brethren claim they are all independent, and in matters of finances and legal structure, they certainly are, but they have other ties that are amazingly tight. Letters of introduction follow you from place to place, and I have been told that the wording of these letters, despite sounding outwardly friendly, warm and complementary, contain messages that those in the know decipher easily, allowing one group to tell the next that this one is trouble, that one is not fully trusted…whatever. In this way, a person can never escape whatever the first group of elders thinks. If a group decides that your questions are rebellion, that your life isn’t pretty enough for them, if you don’t pretend to be sweeter than you are, kinder than you are, if you hang out with the wrong people, if you are not horrified by things/people that horrify them, if you feel called to ministries that they don’t wish to be involved in, or if your children have struggles (and they find out about it) well, their disapproval of you will follow you and you cannot live it down. And, heaven help you if you’ve struggled or fallen, you will never be allowed to outlive your worst moment.

The Non-denoms

There are other stories to tell, but suffice it to say that I’m so over the various denominations with varying degrees of legalism (and the false reasoning behind it), with those who believe that their politics are the divinely inspired (I used to be one of them, I do know this one.) I am not impressed by high church that looks down on the jeans and t-shirt crowd, nor am I thrilled with those who think either their poverty or their wealth is godly. I’m sick of phony, I’m sick of being expected to be phony. I happily reached the non-denoms. I want to be with folks who study scripture, who follow after God with their whole hearts and who don’t forget the loving charity toward fellow mankind. I don’t want to be where the homeless are reviled as if they have character flaws and deserve their plight (and thus are undeserving of our time, attention and charity) rather than people made in the image and likeness of God.
I long to see a charitable people, who are humble enough to love and help those who do not deserve it, as surely as I do not deserve the gracious mercy I have been given. I long to BE that person and strive toward that. I found plenty of humble among the non-denoms. I have wondered though whether we haven’t thrown away some of the best of the church along with the legalism. We have cast aside a sense of church history, thrown away solemnity, of occasion as it were. Easter is celebrated, now not even with an entire service. (Really? A single hour? An hour and a half? Is that too much to ask?) Now Easter, the very celebration of the resurrection of the Lamb of God, is fit into a service with some kind of series tie-in to the Struggles of Modern Society or something like that. I find myself hungry for more, longing for more.

Enter Orthodoxy

While I have been hungering for more and struggling to create some of the traditions of the church in my own life, my brother became Orthodox. !!!!! This is no small matter. The Orthodox don’t believe in the Rapture, they don’t believe in eternal, once-saved-always-saved, they kiss paintings, they have recreated the altar and a representation of the Holy of Holies in their churches, they act like Catholics, with their incense and confession, priests in robes…AND THEY CHANT. Uggg. They make claims that are outrageous! They claim to be the one, holy, apostolic church, with unbroken line of leaders and authority from the first Apostles. They use the Apocrypha. Did I mention the chanting? The art and style of churches, music, and décor is from the Byzantine period. Why? I don’t get it.
Orthodoxy was not introduced to me in a way that was attractive—in fact, I never even gave it much of a thought, except for being puzzled that my brother had gone this route. So why do I find myself thinking on it, studying it, considering its claims, troubled by it, both drawn and repelled by it? Ah, I’ll get to that.


(First published on: Dec. 4, 2009)

So many hurting people and a faith tradition that I don’t believe answers sufficiently the trials and troubles we face in this life. How is it that our expectations became so distant from the truth of scripture? I have had people tell me that God will step in, that he will heal, that he will change the circumstance, that he will lift us out of trouble. I have puzzled over that for years.

The Bible that I read says that Stephen was stoned, that sometimes a prophet was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, one was sawn in pieces. Most of the apostles were martyred, many of the first century Christians as well–Nero was known for using Christians as torches. Every one that I can think of who was mightily used of God led lives of suffering. Not everyone mentioned in Scripture, but the mighty ones.

How does this mesh with our belief that God is in the business of making our lives okay? Even when our theology disagrees with this belief, our internals are set (at least here in America) for rescue, earthly reward, etc. We buy into the beliefs that all we have to do is work hard, live cleanly, go to church, watch our tongues and try to clean up the behavior of society and our lives will go well. Our careers will flourish, our bank accounts increase and our later years will be easy.

We struggle when people have problems. We struggle when their children go astray, and we find all the reasons why, usually things that blame the parents and make us feel better because, since we are doing everything right, our children will not fall into the same things. We struggle when someone suffers from cancer, or when a friend becomes a young widow and we comfort with the lamest offerings we have–God means it for the best, and God has better things for you, or just look at what God will teach you! We don’t suffer with them, we recoil from their trouble. It messes with our safety. If we acknowledge that these things aren’t the result of their individual failings, or that they aren’t some wonderful path they are on, then we acknowledge that we may have to suffer as well.

We turn from the family who is underemployed when they have to turn to social services for help. Well, they shouldn’t have to go to social services for help. They should be taken care of by the church! The early church did just that. “And there were no needy persons among them.” Read Acts 4.

The thing is, we were promised suffering. We were promised the difficult path. The Joel Osteen’s of the world want you to believe that there is something wrong in that. They deny what scripture teaches and their words make me want to puke! Seriously. They are a vile distortion of scripture.

We are promised suffering. We are promised trials. Not, ohmygosh, I couldn’t find a decent parking space at the mall today kind of trials, but real soul-wrenching, faith-stretching difficulties.

Some of us will have God step in and rearrange the circumstances. He provides some with miraculous healings, some with that tremendous job at just the right time. He provides those Lifetime Movie moments for some. But sometimes (and for me it seems more often than not) he does not intervene. God allows the bad thing. He allows the failures, the loss, the discouragement, the cruelty of others. He allows the loss of possession, the failure of the family or the church, the financial devastation, the job loss, the humiliation of government or charitable assistance. He allows the loss of a precious daughter, that special friend, the husband and provider. He allows a man to walk out on his wife for another woman or for a man. He allows a mother to walk out on her children. He allows parents to abuse their children and children to torment their parents. So very often he does not step in. What then?

Seriously, what then?

If you are a reasonably serious student of scripture I think these things should not surprise us. We should not be surprised by trials of various description. We were promised them. We were promised that the testing of our faith would produce endurance. We were promised the endurance would complete the work. We are promised that we will suffer many things for Christ’s sake.

That’s not what we want. Heck, it’s not what I want. So often I look at others and see God rescue them when he is not rescuing me and I wonder, “why?” It’s not a mildly curious question, it is a gut-wrenching, depth-of-my-soul question.

I used to beat myself up for those questions, and for asking God to deliver me out of my trials when it appeared he wanted me to walk through them. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane asked to be rescued from his upcoming suffering. He asked over and over in a torment that we are told made him sweat as it were drops of blood. That’s some serious torment. That’s some serious praying. We are told that after hours of this praying–alone, because his friends couldn’t be bothered to stay awake while he is suffering so–he says, ‘nevertheless, not my will but yours.’

And that’s the key. I do not understand suffering. I can’t explain it. I still prefer the miraculous saves. I know God could have stepped in and healed 18-year-old Alyssa even at the moment of her death. He did not. Why? I don’t know. But I know my faith is tested through it.

My faith is not tested when God steps in and does the miraculous Lifetime Movie Moment save. It’s joyous and I celebrate his goodness with everyone else, but God is good when he doesn’t step in, just as he is when he does. God’s love is no less when he elects to allow our suffering than when he elects to lift us out of it.

I need to remember this. My faith is useless unless it can deal with the bad things. It is useless to me and useless to others.

When Uncle Robb was dying of pancreatic cancer, he had been suffering for a long time, but really doing much better than I expected. I visited him one day in one of those moments where I just knew I was supposed to go right then. Things were falling apart. It was a cold snap and the window guys were there replacing the old, drafty windows. He seemed rattled. We were standing in his kitchen. The power snapped off in half of his house (I still don’t understand this one) and it was the half with the furnace. At that moment, he crumpled. I don’t know how I saw it, because his outward posture didn’t change, but I saw it anyway. He said, “I’ve lost hope.” I knew what he meant, and for a change I had the right words.

I reached out and wrapped my arms around him, after all, I knew he was dying from the moment I heard his diagnosis. Don’t ask me how, but I felt that this time God wasn’t stepping in. And there were signs along the way that told me to prepare for his death. Anyway, with my arms around him, I smiled and said, “You haven’t lost hope. You’ve only lost hope for healing in this world. You still have every hope for healing in the next.” Robb died fairly peacefully. He was in hospice around two weeks, and in that time was cheerful and sweet and unfailingly appreciative of everything people did to care for him. He was precious.

I miss him and may never stop missing him. I cannot explain his suffering away. I will not try to. I accept that this was an awful thing. Horrible. Terrible. Many things in life are. I have two friends my age and younger who are suffering from cancer. My neighbor back home is just finishing up her final round of chemo from this bout of cancer (it’s her second.) Alyssa went home to be with the Lord a short time ago, and God has allowed us to lose our house. I cannot explain these things. I cannot explain away or put a happy face on the suffering that my friends are going through.

What I cling to and come back to is that God says he loves us. He says he is good. If I believe anything it is that he is who he says he is and that my understanding of that does not change it. If I need evidence, the cross should be all the evidence I need, but I am weak and sometimes (okay, usually) require more. God being God, there is no shortage of evidence of his might, his power, his glory and his love.

When I get messed up is when I expect God to step in and stop people from doing terrible things to each other. I get messed up when I assume that we are supposed to live a financially successful, disease-free and trouble-free life, or that because God can do something means that he is required to do it–for me.

Let me never try to encourage someone by telling them that God will rescue them. From experience I know that God can and sometimes does rescue us. From experience I also know that sometimes he does not. May I never tell someone that they just need to believe, as if their faith is the issue, not God’s will. When I give false promises, when I tell people that, I am stealing the faith and hope that is real. I deny the truth of scripture.

I hear such nonsense and I want to spit. Ptuey! I was once told that our car breaking down was not “the abundant life that God promised” and that if I had faith it would not happen. “Don’t you believe God loves you?” the prayer line lady asked. I thought of Stephen at that moment. I mean gimme a break. Was Stephen stoned because of a lack of faith? Was it because God did not love him enough? Was Jesus crucified because he wasn’t grasping hold of the abundant life? Or is that faith sad and weak and useless for the reality of life?

Your life and my life will have trials. God may miraculously carry you out of yours. Excellent! God may not. Praise him anyway. He is worthy of praise, not just because of what he does for us day by day, but because of who he is! God may part the Red Sea, or dry the river Jordan, or he may hold us in the midst of the flood. He may rescue us or walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He may heal or he may not. Nevertheless, not my will, but his. It was good enough for Jesus.