ARTICLES BY COLLEEN CHAO

Category: Suffering

Category: Suffering

Cancer

A story for kids (especially those who are hurting)

Several years ago I wrote a story for my son whose world had been turned upside-down by both chronic illness and my first cancer diagnosis. As a mom, I longed to create a gentle place for Jeremy to process his grief, so I asked God to help me do things like keep an open dialogue with him, create joy in our family even through the hardest days, and track down support for him within our community. I also wanted to address his suffering in a creative, disarming way, so I asked God to help me wield the language of story, putting words to those tenderest places of a child’s grieving heart. Even as I wrote Out of the Shadow World, I prayed it would care not only for Jeremy, but also for other kids who have been touched by cancer, chronic illness, and grief of many other kinds. While I’m not a child therapist nor am I an authority on kids’ suffering, my heart beats big to share the comfort our family has received from God through many years of walking together through various sufferings.** This story is one of the ways I can share that comfort—gently addressing themes of grief and pain and death through adventure, friendship, and a touch of zany humor. What a joy it would be to care for a child in your life who’s suffering right now. I’ve included Chapter One here so you can get a feel for the story. . . ~ ~ ~ CHAPTER ONE: THE CLIMBING TREE Pax Jackson was a ten-year-old boy who didn’t know if he’d make it to his eleventh birthday.  He had gray eyes, a bald head where thick curls used to grow, and a little more of his dad’s dark skin than his mom’s fair complexion. He also had a nagging cough that rattled his bony body and kept him up at night. Instead of shoving his homework into his backpack and rushing to catch the bus home from school that afternoon, he sat on the back deck of his family’s log cabin, dangling his feet over the edge and watching a fat lizard do push-ups in the warm sun. With the sound of his own wheezing loud in his ears, he didn’t notice the squeak of the school bus brakes on the street out front.  Jayni Suko was a petite ten-year-old girl with almond eyes and paper-straight black hair. Stepping off the school bus, she bent forward under the weight of a bulging backpack as she made a detour toward the house next door. She bounded up the driveway of Pax’s home and hurried around to the backyard.  “Pax!” Jayni ran up the steps of the deck, dropped her backpack, and sat down beside her friend. She studied Pax’s face. “We missed you at school. This a bad day?”  “Yeah.” A smile peeked out through the dark circles around his eyes. “What’d I miss?”  “Not much. Miss Halpin gave me your homework but said if you weren’t feeling up to it, don’t worry. She’ll help you catch up later.”  Jayni pulled two tattered textbooks out of her backpack and a few wrinkled worksheets and plopped them between her and Pax.  Pax only glanced at his homework, then turned away.  Jayni followed his gaze out over a sloping hill peppered with pine trees.  Jayni was the youngest daughter of the Suko family who’d moved next door to the Jacksons almost twelve years ago. The Sukos and Jacksons had become fast friends, and when Pax and Jayni were born two years later, the neighborhood had grown a little louder and a lot more fun. Jayni looked over at Pax. “You okay?”  “Yeah, I guess.” Pax’s voice softened. “I’m glad you’re here.” The friends sat in silence. The lizard darted away and disappeared under the deck. Pax took a deep, rattly breath.  “Do you think you could make it down to the Climbing Tree?” Jayni asked. “I can help you.”  “’Course I can, Spitfire. And I don’t need any help.”  Spitfire was Pax’s nickname for Jayni. He’d read it once in a book about dragons and knights, and it seemed to fit his friend who was as fiery and fearless as a dragon.  Jayni laughed as she hopped up. “I just have to be home by dinner, so we’ve got two hours. Let’s go!”  Jayni reached down for Pax’s hand, but he pushed it away, eager to prove he was stronger than he looked.  The two friends descended the deck steps and scampered down a small bank covered in crunchy pine needles. Their footfalls stirred the scent of a thousand Christmas trees into the warm spring air. Pax paused to catch his breath along the way. Ten steps forward, a right at the boulder, a hop across the stream—and there stood the Climbing Tree, like a giant with an oversized head of shaggy hair.  They’d discovered the enormous oak when they were just six years old, and they’d been returning ever since—to dream up stories, build forts, and talk about important kid stuff, like the proper ratio of ketchup to French fry. Sometimes on the weekends or holidays, they’d pack snacks and books and blankets, and read under the expansive branches till the sun got sleepy.  This is also where they’d had their biggest fight, the summer they were seven. And where they’d run to take refuge two years ago—on the day Pax got his diagnosis. Jayni beat Pax to the tree and lifted a thick, drooping branch high so he could pass underneath. But Pax grabbed the branch himself and waited for Jayni to enter first. She shot him a withering look but marched inside anyway. When Pax let go of the branch, it swished and thudded against the ground. Now safely beneath the canopy of branches, the children headed straight to their favorite spots. Pax chose a low broad limb and slung his body over it like a sloth, arms and legs dangling free.  Jayni

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gray soil pathway between grass
Cancer

Why hasn’t God healed me?

I used to think suffering was meant to teach me lessons—hard but good life lessons—and as soon as I learned what God wanted me to learn, my suffering would come to an end.  I see things so differently now. Suffering isn’t a classroom—it’s an invitation into the heart of God. The greatest thing I can do with my life is love God and love people (Matthew 22:36-40), so whatever furthers that goal has to, ultimately, be insanely good for me—and for those my life touches.  And in my own experience, it has been pain and grief and loss and long waits and distress and brokenness that have best helped me experience Jesus’ perfect love—and best enlarged my heart to love others in a way I never could have imagined twenty-five years ago. (We see this reality all over the Word. See Philippians 3:10 and Psalm 119:71 for starters.)  I haven’t effortlessly embraced hardships in my life, and I haven’t easily accepted cancer. Not by a long shot. After both diagnoses, I wrestled long and hard with God, with lots of sobbing sessions in the dark corners of my closet, processing with family and besties and counselors, searching Scripture and asking hard questions. Lots of sleepless nights grieving harder than I thought my heart could endure.  But if, for me, terminal cancer is the way into greater love for both God and people—then it is a gift, not a linear lesson to be learned as quickly as possible. My present suffering will only get harder and harder, and it won’t end until I die, but every day I’m pressed further and further into God’s heart—and that enables me to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” with a God who also “leads me beside quiet waters” and “restores my soul” (see Psalm 23). Mysteriously enough, the process of walking with him through that valley and beside those waters is what teaches me how to better love and care for others.  God may heal me yet, but only if my healing presses me further into Love. Only if healing can eternally accomplish what terminal cancer cannot.  So my prayer has not been for a miracle, but for more days here to love God and love people, and I fight toward that end, especially for the sake of my husband and my son. The pressing question is no longer, “Why doesn’t God heal me?” but, “What if healing would rob me of a life of love?”

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Community

Dear Younger Self

Dear Younger Self—I know it’s cliché,But I would go back if I couldTo say: Make yourself small,Don’t resent being weak—Humility before GodWill set you free. Practice his presence:Listen and rest—A quieted heartHears his voice best. Don’t go it alone.Seek wisdom to knowWho to keep closeAnd who to let go. Gratitude strengthens.Counseling helps.Measure your beauty,Measure your wealth In joy,In friendshipIn laughterIn pain.In lossesIn crossesIn wakingAgain. Love as he loves you,Don’t fear what folks think.Forgive (you’re forgiven!),See what he sees. Don’t be surprised—More suffering’s to come.Grief will undo youAnd seem to have won…. But his Word will grow sweeter,His nearness will beYour joy and your good—Your everything. And when Death comes knockingYou’ll look back and seeLife had more purpose thanAll your first dreams. For each pain invitedYou into his LoveFurther and deeper And more than enough. (Written between March 2020 and Fall 2022)

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closeup photo of sprout
Poetry

Merciful undoing

September 29, 2006 You use pain so wisely,With infinite care,Knowing right whereTo push and pull and tearAnd break and burnUntil I’ve finally learnedWith all my being to yearnFor You only. Merciful undoing:This pain sets me free.My blind eyes now can seeUnspeakable mystery—This death leads to life,No shortcut through strife;With my good in mindYou’ve afflicted me.

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person on cliff
Poetry

Mystery

June 14, 2022 Mystery— Living in theIn-betweenThe unknownThe not-yet Shadow, substanceLong and shortHandspan, breath…Infinite Holding on andLetting goOpen handedLingering Fragile, fearfulUnmoved, strongLaughing joyBitter drink Hoping long andgrieving slowSleepless nightsMercies dawn Straining forwardDoubled downKneeling, prostrateFighting on Misery andMiraclesHaunting hoursHoly days Pain and promiseLoss and loveBreathless, burdenedGreatest grace Past and futureEternal nowDeath is almostHistory In-betweenHere and ThereHe is foundIn mystery.

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person holding orange pen
Cancer

Three years ago today

Three years ago today, my phone rang with terrible news. My doctor’s office called to inform me they finally had the results of my three-and-a-half months of medical testing. When they wouldn’t disclose the results over the phone, I knew exactly what they were.  This past week I revisited my journals surrounding that phone call and the diagnosis that followed several hours later. In Scripture, God often calls his people to remember where they have come from and how good he has been to them. And so, today I’m inviting you to look with me over my shoulder and marvel at God’s breathtaking kindness. Here is how he loved on me in the days just before and after my cancer diagnosis…… Friday, November 3, 2017 Good morning, Abba. This morning I’m thankful for a better night’s sleep—and so much peace from yesterday afternoon till about an hour ago. That was a beautiful gift from You, and I thank You for it.  Dear child of Mine, I was so happy to give you that sleep and peace. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you walk through fire you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  I see you right now: your head tight and pounding, your neck and shoulders scrunched up, your breathing shallow. This wait has been grueling, and while I’ve protected you with My peace and joy from much of its toll, I’ve still made you walk through an enormously long and complicated waiting process. I know it’s been anguishing, especially as it all comes to a head this week.  I can hear you too, beloved: wondering how you could move from this level of exhaustion (these past three months of a new demanding job have been intense) and weariness into a cancer diagnosis. I hear your anxious thoughts, “What will we do financially with such awful insurance?” and “How can I juggle all that I’m already responsible for and then add cancer treatment?”  I hear those thoughts, dear Colleen, and I care about them. I care to change your thoughts from anxiety to peace and trust and surrender and hope and joy.  I also know how big this is for you. You’re feeling the scope and enormity of these past ten years of chronic illness and insomnia and wondering how I could drop you in the middle of something so potentially awful. Right when you were feeling well for the first time in a decade. I know you are tasting the freedom and joy of dynamic community and you finally have bandwidth for all these incredible relationships, and you feel like this could be isolating again, overwhelming, 100 steps backward. I know this feels insurmountable to you, even when you are so willing to trust Me and surrender to My will. I am glad to be with you and treat your weakness tenderly. I am beside you at this very moment. Above you, overshadowing you with My wings. I am behind and before you, and NOTHING can touch you apart from My good and kind and loving will.  I can do something about this, dear heart. I have everything you need to wait through another day as you wonder, “Cancer or not?” Monday, November 6, 2017 Thank You, Abba, for giving me a supernatural anticipation of Your goodness, no matter what my biopsy results. It was almost a wave of excitement yesterday, the culmination of long waiting and arduous weeks of medical fiascos, to know with such certainty that “this lump is a gift” (as You told me many weeks ago). I believe that more than ever, and now with pending results—any moment receiving a phone call—I know You are going to unfold goodness to me as I have yet not known. Wednesday, November 8, 2017 “This lump is a gift,” You said a few months ago. And then yesterday we finally heard the diagnosis: ductal carcinoma, invasive. Cancer. And You stretched out Your hands with that gift, and said again, “I am with you. Don’t fear. I have redeemed you and called you by name—you are Mine. As you pass through these waters, I am with you, and through these rivers, I will not let them overwhelm you. As you walk through this fire, it will not burn you; the flame won’t consume you.” And Jeremy, in all his tender-heartedness and teary eyes last night, asked Eddie to read the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. And after Eddie finished, Jeremy said, “There are four of us in our family.”  Four in the furnace. Four in this family.  This morning he said, “Sorry that you’re having cancer.” And I smiled and thanked him and told him I’m not fearful because You’re with me. He said, “And He’s teaching me in this too. What you told me last night—to strengthen me.” Lord, I know You will not waste this in his life.  And as I begin to read text after text from people who love me and who care—I know You’re not wasting this in anyone’s life. You use suffering so wisely. So tenderly. So powerfully.  Thank You for the two skies You painted for me yesterday: the first on my way to meet Eddie to drive to the doctor’s office—those dark, angry, jagged clouds in the shape of arms and hands (almost angels wings) reaching down from heaven, out of a beautiful blue, puffy-clouded sky. And then the second sky on our way home after the news: it was picture-perfect, like pink, foamy waves on fire. One sky said, “I know what this is for you. I am angry at sin and the toll it has taken on you. And I don’t willingly afflict you with this. I am distressed in your distress.” And the other sky said, “I am making all things beautiful. I will make a thousand beautiful things out of this (even more than a thousand), and I am with you.

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Grief

Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (Book Review)

When I was a child, my mother passed along to me a deep appreciation for the life story and writings of Elisabeth Elliot. As a teenager I read her book Passion and Purity, convinced that my own Jim Elliot was right around the corner. In my twenties I often read from Keep A Quiet Heart as I wrestled with both depression and singleness. In my thirties I clung to Elisabeth’s mantra, “Do the next thing” as chronic illness made a home in my body and altered my life ambitions. And I spent the summer I was 42—recovering from chemotherapy and major surgery—savoring every last word of Suffering is Never for Nothing. When Elisabeth passed in 2015, I dug up an old picture I’d taken with her at a speaking engagement 20 years before. Although there had been seasons when I’d tired of her crisp-and-conventional style (after all, she was from my grandparents’ generation, not mine)—and I’d let her books collect dust on my shelves—I looked at the picture with a heart full of love and gratitude, feeling that I’d known her well. Little did I know how little I knew her. Last month I picked up a copy of Ellen Vaughn’s new authorized biography, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot—a captivating look at the woman behind the best-selling books, the lauded story, and the global speaking engagements…. as well as the criticisms. (My friend A.K. is not the only one who spent time with Elisabeth and left with the impression that she was rude and aloof.) Thanks to Vaughn’s writing prowess, laborious legwork, and extensive use of Elisabeth’s personal journals, I felt as if I were shadowing Elisabeth from her birth to her early thirties (Vaughn is writing a second volume to tell the story of Elisabeth’s later years). I vividly saw, smelled, heard, even tasted Elisabeth’s world—from her scrupulous East Coast childhood home to the perilous jungles of her twenties. I felt her agonies and ecstasies, her terrific triumphs and heart-wrenching failures. I wept through words that painted Elisabeth so human—so like me. She too wrestled with depression, a flawed personality, broken relationships, and weariness. Elisabeth wrote, “It is not the level of our spirituality that we can depend on. It is God and nothing less than God, for the work is God’s and the call is God’s and everything is summoned by Him and to His purposes, our bravery and cowardice, our love and our selfishness, our strengths and our weaknesses.” Not only was Elisabeth well acquainted with Weakness, she was also on a first-name basis with Mystery. Vaughn shows how the cumulative loss and death and “unfruitfulness” of Elisabeth’s twenties transformed her from the once “dutiful, devout . . . high-achieving new missionary” into a seasoned woman of tenacious faith who didn’t mind asking the tough questions. Her unresolved sufferings—and the God she came to know intimately in the midst of them—laid the bedrock of her lifelong message that captivated millions around the world. She wrote, “Obviously, God has chosen to leave certain questions unanswered and certain problems without any solution in this life, in order that in our very struggle to answer and solve we may be shoved back, and back, and eternally back to the contemplation of Himself, and to complete trust in Who He is. I’m glad He’s my Father.” While Elisabeth is best known for her husband’s martyrdom and her consequent decision to live with the tribal people who murdered him—and although she did write a number of best-sellers and travel the world speaking to thousands—Vaughn beautifully demonstrates that the most celebrated parts of Elisabeth’s life were “just part of her story. For Elisabeth, as for all of us, the most dramatic chapters may well be less significant than the daily faithfulness that traces the brave trajectory of a human life radically submitted to Christ.” Elisabeth had boring jobs and monotonous days that threatened to suck the life out of her; she endured appalling living conditions in both New York City and Ecuador; she faced long, hard years isolated from dear friends and family; she waited half a decade for the man-of-her-dreams to decide whether or not he was going to marry her. And then after that man finally married her, he was killed 27 months later, leaving her with a toddler and the formidable task of running a jungle station. As I devoured page after page of Vaughn’s biography, I began to realize that while I’d known the indomitable Elisabeth through her testimony, her books, and her messages, I’d not known the flesh-and-bone “Betty” I was discovering through Vaughn’s careful unveiling of her life. Vaughn doesn’t force any preconceived ideas of Elisabeth—in her own words, she wanted “to lay bare the facts of Elisabeth Elliot’s case” by using Elisabeth’s own words, and the words of “so many who knew her well.” Vaughn does this masterfully. As a result, this biography will appeal to a broad audience—not only to those who grew up with Elisabeth Elliot as a household name, but also to a young new generation who asks, “Elisabeth who?” This article also appears on ERLC.com.

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photo of person holding cup
Suffering

Words of wisdom

May the wisdom and hope of these dear saints encourage your hearts as they have mine. We may live in a dark world, but his light shines brighter. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Take the very hardest thing in your life, the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. —Lilias Trotter, Parables of the Cross The Lord knows how to order things better than I. The Lord sees further than I do; I only see things at present. … And how do I know that had it not been for this affliction, I should have been undone. —Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment It grew harder and harder. There was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy. But…one thing became increasingly clear. And that was the reason the two of us were here. The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the word of God. —Corrie ten Boom,The Hiding Place (recalling her time spent in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp) Spare not the pain though the way I take be lonely and dark, though the whole soul ache, for the flesh must die though the heart may break. Spare not the pain, oh, spare not the pain. —Ruth Bell Graham, Clouds are the Dust of His Feet When it costs most we find the greatest joy. We find the darkest hours the brightest, and the greatest loss the highest gain. While the sorrow is short-lived, and will soon pass away, the joy is far more exceeding, and it is eternal. … In the presence of bereavement, in the deepest sorrows of life, He has so drawn near me that I have said to myself, “Is it possible that the precious one who is in His presence can have more of the presence of God than I have?” —Hudson Taylor If I refuse to allow one who is dear to me to suffer for the sake of Christ, if I do not see such suffering as the greatest honor that can be offered to any follower of the Crucified, then I know nothing of Calvary love. —Amy Carmichael, If The deep of misery calls to the deep of mercy; the deep of transgression calls to the deep of grace. Greater is the deep of mercy than the deep of misery. Therefore let deep swallow deep. Let the deep of mercy swallow the deep of misery. —Girolamo Savonarola (Italian Dominican preacher martyred in 1498), Reformation Commentary on Scripture Let no incident of life, pleasing or painful, injure the prosperity of my soul, but rather increase it. —Christmas Evans, sermon from the early 19th century I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable. . . . Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library.—C.H. Spurgeon, The Complete Works of C.H. Spurgeon, Vol. 34 May I not instruct thee in my troubles, but glorify thee in my trials. —Valley of Vision, page 133 It has everything to do with God and his grace that sustains—not just over the long haul, but grace given in tiny moments, like stepping-stones leading you from one tick of the clock to the next. And the beauty of God’s grace is that it squeezes those hard moments together, eclipsing the years until one day you look over your shoulder and all you see is five decades of God at work. Try as you may, you cannot recall the horror of it all—grace softens the edges of past pains, choosing only the highlights of eternal importance. What you are left with is peace that’s profound, joy that’s unshakable, and faith that is ironclad. It is the hard but beautiful stuff of which God makes your life.—Joni Eareckson Tada, The Scars That Have Shaped Me Grant me thy blessings with bitter things,to brighten and quicken me,not to depress and make me lifeless.—Valley of Vision, p.140 The weightiest end of the cross of Christ that is laid upon you, lieth upon your strong Savior. For Isaiah says that in all your afflictions he is afflicted [63:9]. … Glad may your soul be, even to walk in the fiery furnace, with one like the Son of man, who is also the Son of God. Courage up your heart; when you tire, he will bear both you and your burden [Psalm 55:22].—Samuel Rutherford, Letters (1628) God has seen to it that [in my life] there has been a certain measure of suffering, a certain measure of pain. And it has been out of that very measure of pain that has come the unshakable conviction that God is love.—Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering is Never for Nothing Untried faith is such little faith that some have thought it no faith at all. What a fish would be without water, or a bird without air, that would be faith without trial.—C.H. Spurgeon, The Trial of Your Faith: Sermons on 1&2 Peter and Jude Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. … That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.–C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce If Christ be not in view, there is nothing but wants.—Isaac

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a person sitting on wooden planks across the lake scenery
Love

Everything my heart craves

Before the foundations of the world were laid, you saw me and knew me and knew my days. You had already determined the era of history, down to the very environment, I would live in. You knew that I would enter a toxic world, a world riddled with crisis and cruelty—but a world of breathtaking beauty and wonder too. You set me in an age of indoor plumbing and technology, overcrowded cities and racial strife, advanced health care and incurable cancer. You brought me into being though you knew I would be your enemy from the first day—born into sin, enslaved to Self, hating your ways. You knew my greatest suffering would come from within, not without. You foresaw the brokenness and the beauty (of myself and my world), and you tenderly, tenaciously placed me in the thick of it—to write a story of surpassing goodness. Even as you have allowed pain to have its wanton way with me these many years, even now as you have let rampant disease, racial division, and political upheaval change the shape of our days, I praise you for you have also—moreso— revealed the path of life to me (Psalm 16:11) made my heart glad (16:9) hemmed me in behind and before (139:5) helped me, sustained my life (54:4) rescued me from every trouble (54:7) fulfilled your purpose for me (57:2) upheld me and exalted me (18:35) delighted in me (18:19) hidden me in the shadow of your wings (17:8) increased strength within me (138:3) loosened my bonds (116:16) turned your ear to me (116:2) given me a confident heart that is not afraid of bad news (112:7) supported me with your faithful love (94:18) made me happy by disciplining and teaching me (94:12) never left me nor abandoned me (94:14) made me rejoice by what you have done (92:4) welcomed me into your house (5:7) been my refuge in times of trouble (9:9) listened carefully to me (10:17) seen my trouble and grief and taken it into your hands (10:14) provided safety for me (12:5) counseled me when my thoughts trouble me (16:7) given me a beautiful inheritance (16:6) satisfied me with your presence (17:15) led me along the right paths (23:3) guided me with your faithful love (26:3) God, you are Love itself, and in you I have found everything my heart craves. Teach me to love you more. (All quotes from the Book of Psalms, Christian Standard Bible)

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wide angle photo of mountains
Singleness

That Beautiful Arduous Hill (reflections on singleness)

Singleness is a long hike up a steep hill. Chances are, you’re either on the hike yourself or you know someone who is. Everyone has stories to tell of it. (It’s that kind of hike. It’s that kind of hill.) I’m so grateful for my 34-year ascent up that Beautiful Arduous Hill. It was harder than I could hope to describe, and I’m left with some hardy callouses, a few long-term injuries, and a smidge of PTSD. But I look back at that climb as one of the greatest experiences God has ever entrusted to me. I’ve been married for nine years now (I didn’t hike nearly as far as some), yet I still smell strongly of the earth and pine of that hill. Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t “arrive” when I finally married; life didn’t “begin” when I got a ring on my finger and a baby in my womb. The path altered significantly, yes—but the Goal and the Guide remained the same. I think often on my singleness, even occasionally dream about it still. In a crowd of people, I find myself drawn to the woman who also knows the ways of The Hill. In fact, my own story has become inextricably woven into the stories of many single women I’ve met over the years. I’ve learned that we each shoulder a unique load; we each view the hill through different eyes. Truth is, you could talk to a hundred different single women and get a hundred different versions of this hike. But all of us have agreed on one thing in particular: We’re not meant to go it alone. We’re meant for joyful relationship with Christ and his people. Our one great good is God himself, and one of the best ways we can experience him is by being in relationship with each other. The psalmist David put it this way: I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides you.” As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the noble ones. All my delight is in them. (Psalm 16:2-3, emphasis mine) These two things can sound contrary, but in fact they perfectly coexist: God is our only good, and his people are all our delight. And an uphill climb requires gargantuan good and strong doses of delight. This relational joy we share with each other and our God enables us to do feats otherwise impossible. And, at least in my own experience, singleness sometimes felt like an impossible feat. I knew it was part of God’s good plan for me, and it was the conduit of incredible blessings in my life, but it wasn’t what I had prepared for, and it definitely wasn’t “the norm” in my social circles—hence the uphill feeling. The problem was actually a good one: as a single woman who loved Jesus and his church, I held a high view of marriage, sex, and childbearing. I was convinced God is the creator and sustainer of these beautiful gifts—gifts he chooses to give most women. I also understood that marriage would not be the answer to all of my problems. And I wasn’t duped by the notion that a man (or children) would fulfill my deepest desires. Only Christ could do that. But when almost every last friend of mine had made it to the altar, and I was still standing on the sidelines with half a dozen bridesmaid dresses in hand—I felt somewhat disoriented, even occasionally distressed, as I figured out how to function outside the natural order of things. I deeply wanted what God wanted for me, and on those days when I didn’t want it, I asked him to help me want it. But I was a square peg in a round hole. I didn’t know how to fit into a world made for couples and families. ~ ~ ~ It wasn’t that I lacked friends. I had an ever-expanding social circle and more relationships than I knew what to do with. But for all practical purposes, I was flying solo. I paid my own bills, made my own meals, haggled with the repairman at the car shop, held down high-pressured jobs, cleaned and calendared and dealt with conflict all by myself. (Day after day, year after year.) Even though I was blessed with friends and family and roommates who shared in some of my life tasks, I bore a tremendous amount of responsibility alone. One of my former roommates, Sarah, expressed my feelings perfectly: “The hardest part of being single,” she said, “is knowing I’m no one’s first priority.” Sarah was not one to view singleness as suffering, but she grieved the reality that there wasn’t one “main person” to do life with and for. I’ve had many single friends echo this sentiment. I felt it keenly myself. What a bizarre experience it was to spend my days in the company of so many wonderful people, to be busy and fulfilled doing work that mattered—yet all the while feel so… on my own. But to every grief there is a gift, and the absence of a “first priority relationship” afforded me the time and motivation to seek Christ in focused ways. While some of my married friends confessed they were struggling to perceive God’s presence—I was experiencing his nearness in almost palpable ways. He was my First Love, and I felt like his beloved. As much as I didn’t like the Apostle Paul’s enthusiasm for singleness, I had to admit he was right: I was enjoying a unique and beautiful devotion to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). ~ ~ ~ Over the years, I came to be known as a strong, self-sufficient woman (an identity not without its own issues), but still there was this underlying tone in many people’s comments to me—an unintentional message that I was not as “complete” or mature as my married and mommied friends. We’ve all been guilty of spouting folly in our eagerness

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Category: Suffering

person on cliff
Poetry

Mystery

June 14, 2022 Mystery— Living in theIn-betweenThe unknownThe not-yet Shadow, substanceLong and shortHandspan, breath…Infinite Holding

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