Saturday, December 21, 2013

Waiting and Working Through Advent

No one likes to talk about the ministry that happens behind the front lines. It's not glamorous, it doesn't feel like it's changing lives, and it can seem a whole lot like waiting. We're in one of those seasons of ministry when waiting means working and working means waiting.

Our team is working toward the launch of what we pray will be an urban church planting movement, that we all want to see happen...yesterday. Our Christ the Victor Church-planting plans and resources are being fired and hammered out and re-fired and hammered out and re-fired and there are days when it feels like a process that will never end.

Some days, when I'm drowning in project tasks, my face glued to the computer screen, and when Andrew is running errands for the ministry and serving behind the scenes, it's easy to question the impact we're having. It's easy to get frustrated and antsy and get sick of waiting. Intellectually we know that these resources, if done excellently, will help urban leaders plant churches in an effective and reproducible way in our city and beyond, but it takes big dreams and faith in our calling to wait for it.

As Advent draws to a close I find it not at all coincidental that we find ourselves not just in a figurative season of waiting, but in a season of waiting for our ministry that can be frustrating and exhausting. Our desire to see churches invade the darkest corners of our cities fills us with holy discontent, which is merely an extension of the holy discontent that filled God's people waiting for the kingdom of God to break through the skies and fill the darkest corners of our world with the light of the Son. God's people waited and waited and worked and worked and there seemed to be no point, until one night some shepherds heard the long-awaited good news.

Advent shows us that waiting on the Lord and his kingdom is never done in vain. It gives us hope to work through silence, discouragement, set-backs, confusion and even cross-eyed computer stupors and to claim the victory of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ even in our waiting.

There was nothing glamorous about the evening the Messiah was born until the Son of God breathed his first breath of air as a baby boy. There is nothing glamorous about what our ministry team is doing until and unless the Lord uses it to break through darkness with his unquenchable light. Our hope is pinned on the proclamation of the angels who spoke of a good news for all people, extending even to the dirtiest and darkest corners of our cities.

Even as our longing finds itself in various forms of peace and impatience this season, we will work and we will wait putting every ounce of our hope, not in ourselves, but in the Lord, who leads us in victory.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Grief is a Funny Thing

My heart was pounding and I told myself not to cry. It wasn't the first time I've spoken publicly, but it certainly was the most personal presentation I've ever given. Recently I shared our testimony at an event for women and couples who have lost children in and outside the womb through miscarriage, abortion or foster care/adoption, SIDS, etc. I spoke about our recent miscarriage and shared the many and confusing emotions that have ensued in the last four months. 

I made it halfway through without crying. I hate crying in public but the well of emotion spilled over when I spoke of the pain we've wrestled with in regards to our pregnancy loss: "And, because it is fairly common and because it is a less tangible form of loss it’s something that people stop talking about very quickly, and you’re left to tie up loose ends and sort of just move on with life." I stood silent for a minute before continuing, trying to keep the tears from picking up momentum.

Tying up loose ends and just moving on has never been my strong suit. I like solid and decided closure, wrongs to be made right and pains acknowledged. When life doesn't hand me those things, as it rarely does, I try to stuff the confusion and pain below the surface, avoiding the tumultuous emotions and soldiering on, because, what else is there to do? And, isn't that what people expect of us anyway?

But grief is a funny thing. Sometimes its origin and conclusion are easily identified, but often it stretches its painful fingers through time and space, swallowing a specific loss into a vacuum of all your unresolved losses. This has been true for me recently. Our miscarriage has embodied all of the loss we have experienced in the last few years, complicating the already painful emotions. Were my tears for the loss of our baby or  the loss of our beloved city or the isolation we felt as we left? Were they for the years of intense ministry we saw in St. Louis and the distress of seeing so many lost and hurting? Were they tears of decompression as the physically and emotionally intense environment of North City were processed? I still can't tell you.

In the days following the service I have done a lot of thinking and healing, and realizing that I still have so far to go. The service for child loss was a beautiful moment to say out loud what hurts and to look into the eyes of others who understood your pain. It was a time to acknowledge that there is no shame in grieving and, yet, there is hope. There was a sense of closure that accompanied this acknowledgement.

Even in light of this healing experience I am realizing that I still have so far to go. There are many of our recent losses that don't have such poignant closure. Anger, anxiety, guilt, and depression, like concentric circles, can ripple outward from the point of unresolved grief. In the past few weeks I am discovering they have had more impact on my life than I even knew.

As I shared in our testimony, the Lord has been so faithful to our family. He has led us through difficult seasons of life with merciful hands, embodying for us the verses of Lamentations 3:22-24 which say, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

These words are truth and they have been our hope, even in the darkest hours. However, just the other day I realized afresh how I often cling to these words, putting one foot in front of the other, yet don't let them penetrate the deepest places of my heart. During our Sunday service we prayed the words of Psalm 122:7 "[May] peace be within your walls" and I had to admit that there has not been peace within the walls of my heart lately. Processing again the loss of our baby along side our other losses has whipped up the hurricane winds of my mind, spewing random and entangled feelings of sadness and anxiety and guilt anew, and I need the peace of Christ to calm the storm. I find myself frustrated by the one step forward, two steps back, process of healing.

On one hand healing is such a complicated process and yet on the other hand it's not, for in all things the answer is Christ. I don't know if I'll ever be better at handling the loose ends of life, but I can be better at acknowledging my need for and surrender to Christ in all situations. It is he who brings about the healing.

His mercies are new every morning. He is my Hope. He is my Peace. He is my Healer.