Suffering Making a Difference: 6 Stories

I am still feeling the ripples from the great joy of greeting our Risen Lord on Lemon Hill last week. In fact, the entire week was awesome. One of the greatest things about our time on the hill was hearing the stories of people whose suffering made a difference to them and to the world. They were moved with our season Six Ways Your Suffering Made A Difference, which, in part, was a journey through the Gospel of Mark.

Mark ends on a cliffhanger because it propels us to live into the story. Mark wrote his version to comfort suffering people. We have come through suffering with Jesus. We have been changed. We are different. It’s all surprising still. Death to life. Suffering to transformation.

Because the stories were so rich, I think they bear repeating. Here are a few of the ones we shared. I am sure there are more that you can add to the list too!

circle of hope, philadelphia, philly, south jersey, Jesus, suffering, lent, churches, non-denominational, radical faithDave

My name is David and I suffer from clinical Major Depression. I first noticed the depression when I was fourteen and have lived with it ever since, for the last fifteen years. For me, depression is a barrier to experiencing the love of God. I have often taught that every human bears the image of God, every person carries a divine imprint from the Creator, and this creates a special bond of love between the Creator and the created. And if what Paul says in Romans 8 is true – that nothing can separate us from the love of God – then my experience with depression is a small but bold asterisk at the end of that declaration. My depression makes it nearly impossible for me to experience God’s deep love for me. Instead of the beautiful words of Romans 8, I more often identify with the words of Christ on the cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

I have learned a lot about my depression over the years; a turning point came when I was telling a mentor how much I hate – even loath – depression. The mentor told me, “David, you have a gift. You have a closer experience to the death and resurrection of Christ in one year than I have in ten. Use that gift. Try to see depression as your friend.” Over the next few years I dwelled on the words of my mentor and began to – only by the grace of God – find meaning in my suffering. I began to empathize with the depth of emotion with which Christ yelled the words of Psalm 22:1 from the cross. More importantly, I began to live the meaning of Christ’s resurrection and joyfully acknowledge the following verses in the psalm: “And yet you sit on your throne as the Holy One.” Christ is alive again. And so am I.

circle of hope, philadelphia, philly, south jersey, Jesus, suffering, lent, churches, non-denominational, radical faithShelby

Suffering through vulnerability in sobriety has been really challenging because it’s actual vulnerability and causes real transformation. Since I was drunk for five straight years, I always ALWAYS had back-up. It was never just me hanging out to dry, offering my unapologetic self to anyone. I was basically cheating at intimacy, because I had “performance enhancing drugs.” Now that I’ve experienced vulnerability in its intended sense, I really value the way it deepens my relationships with others and God via my discomfort. I have had many special moments with my brother and father during my amends processes where vulnerability set the tone for our interaction. I used to actively avoid intimacy and vulnerability and now I crave it. I have a low tolerance for small talk and want to get right into a deep rapport because I’m less afraid of people seeing who I really am. I let people see me now because I know who I am and who I am is a family member of Jesus Christ. I belong to God and I’m okay with that being who I show people.

circle of hope, philadelphia, philly, south jersey, Jesus, suffering, lent, churches, non-denominational, radical faithDawn

My mom died last month. Even though I had processed many layers of her various illnesses for some time, I was certainly not prepared for the deep sense of loss and grief. I had, and continue to have, so many feelings that I am willing to face and feel, but don’t necessarily know what to do with, or if I have to do anything but feel, release, and let heal. The release is a bit tricky. I confessed at my mom’s funeral to over 100 people that I live with regret. Joshua [a pastor in Circle of Hope], who was at the funeral, later publicly valued that admission, and affirmed it as healthy. This impacted the way I handled the regret. Instead of letting it turn to a permanent shame, I fell to my knees and asked for forgiveness: I asked God, I asked my mom, and then, I asked myself. And it was there in all three cases, listed in order of difficulty. There have been nights when I’ve asked my husband to just hold me and he has; times when I have gotten really frustrated and asked for help and it has been there. I didn’t need to ask for prayer, because it was a constant in two cell meetings during the last two weeks of my mom’s life and after her death. Friends brought me dinner, fellow teachers covered some of my classes, and students were so tender. I am continuing to process so much, but the old habit of suffering alone died with my mom and there is a sense that my community wants to know my whole self, and my grieving process is generating a deep sense of wanting to be a whole person, who can thrive in the thinnest of places.

circle of hope, philadelphia, philly, south jersey, Jesus, suffering, lent, churches, non-denominational, radical faith Sara

Considering the death of just one person is so significant. During Lent I know that together we have been present with our own suffering and the suffering of those around the world; of the fifty thousand that have died in South Sudan. To think of death is intense, there may not even be words to describe our experience with it. To journey with Jesus to his death is challenging. In every season of my life I have had to experience death to get to the life and associated joy of the next season. Even this very morning I am uncertain if I am ready for resurrection. Lent was long, but not long enough in ways. I sometimes still feel dead. And we know that even though we aim to continually be in the resurrection and practice resurrection, we still have to contend with death here on this earth.

This Lent I also have been spending some time with a friend of mine who was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Her cognitive capabilities have declined significantly over the last year and to be with her as she wrestles with her own death – all of which is emotional, mental, and physical for her – has had an impact on me. Not only do I now know weird facts about physician assisted suicide and safer ways to end one’s life through my research and conversations with her, but I have seen the significance of wrestling with something outrageously hard and scary, and how that shapes capacity; and I believe that to be a capacity of heart. For my friend, the idea of planning her death feels like safety and gives her the comfort of feeling some control as her mind continues to become less reliable. It takes a lot of heart for her to trust that what’s around the next bend will be okay, as she worries it could potentially be worse than even death. Continuing on through loss and after a death is expansive: usually threateningly painful, but certainly expansive. It turns out my friend is braver than she ever thought she could be, and has even some fight left in her, which she shares with me. It also turns out that Jesus is risen, despite the emotional cobwebs that may collect in my soul from time to time.

circle of hope, philadelphia, philly, south jersey, Jesus, suffering, lent, churches, non-denominational, radical faithSteve

Since I was a small boy I loved making structures and buildings with LEGOs, Tinker toys, and blocks. And, like many of us, I was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was always engineer or architect or builder. In all, I spent about 12 years studying in college and working in architecture offices preparing to get an architect’s license. Architecture was the main thing in my life. But, when my first son was born, my career-centric identity ended. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad and homemaker for five years and I have learned so much about empathy and about how to relate and how to care for people, especially small people. God has really impressed on me that I’m made for relationships first, and career is secondary. I can relate the love of God to anyone regardless of my station in life. Will I go back to the office? Probably, maybe. I dunno. The American career dream isn’t all bad, but it’s only a dream. The real reality is that I need to love people and people need love everywhere: in offices, playgrounds, schools, conference rooms, rec centers. It kinda doesn’t matter where I go or what kind of job I do as long as I bring Jesus with me and love the people I encounter, whomever they are. Then I am truly living in Jesus’ resurrection life.

circle of hope, philadelphia, philly, south jersey, Jesus, suffering, lent, churches, non-denominational, radical faithBryce

My sorrow is the sorrow of a competitor with a rather hefty appetite.

Lent started softly for me this year. It took me the first couple of weeks to hone in on the stuff God had for me. But I wanted to go with the faith I have instead of the faith I don’t have….so I picked it up where I could.

I refuse to let demands on my time and demands on my emotions knock me out of the ring, or eliminate me from the race.

My sorrow is the sorrow of a competitor with a rather hefty appetite.

The demands I face are not unlike many of yours, a spouse and children, a full-time job with increasing accountability and responsibility, a faith in the world we are building together as followers of Jesus which compels me to bring my best stuff (or at least the stuff which is no less than the stuff I bring to my work and family) to you all – the community through which I am being saved. And when I have time to think about it there’s things I like to do too just for me.

My sorrow is the sorrow of a competitor with a rather hefty appetite.

I mostly think of life as songs and the song I often sing in my head is an old spiritual.

“I keep so busy workin for the kingdom…”

And you might say, “Well, your ‘sorrow’  is, for the most part elective. Can’t you just stop doing so much?”

I think my joy is best found in these words from Jesus:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

I heard a proverb some time ago getting passed around our community. It goes something like this: “There’s a weekend in every moment.”

I think that proverb helps me understand these lyrics by Stuart Murdoch:

“Be good to the one that’s near and bow down to the one that’s wanting
When the fearless step comes calling
You’ll be ready if you’ve listened
To the voice heard in prayer, to a steady invitation
Shut your eyes when you’re angry
Bow your head when you get lonely
On another Saturday
Look ahead with hope and cheer
Look ahead with raising spirits
‘Cause the one that made us wants us to spread joy amongst the living
And though times may be hard
And the week behind was painful
He won’t ask us to shoulder a weight too much to carry
On another Saturday”

God is teaching me how to have more of that moment-by-moment, sustaining presence of God in order to transform the sorrow which comes from being a “competitor with a rather hefty appetite,” into the joy of being

  • a tenacious leader,
  • a person who sees what doesn’t exist yet and works hard to make it a reality,
  • a playful father,
  • a persistent employee,
  • a dedicated, fully initiated partner in the work of our tribe,
  • a present husband.

Each story ended with a call and response. Join together, even as you read this now.

There you will see him, just as he told you!

We see you Jesus, rise up among us!

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