At the end of 2017, when I turned 50, I announced that the theme of the year would be 50 WEEKS OF FUN. I wanted to soak in life and enjoy all of it and 50 weeks seemed reasonable. I would have two weeks off, but the rest would be all about fun.
This included things like:
Getting my ears double pierced. (So crazy, I know…. Happy to tell you the story sometime.)
Eating Eggs Benedict as much as possible instead of just the family tradition of “only on Christmas morning.” (Ask me about that too.)
I went to concerts and dinners and as I kept a list, I found that I was enjoying things more simply because I had proclaimed the decree that this year would be 50 weeks of fun. In some ways, my list turned into a gratitude list because I was becoming more aware of so many gifts in my life. And that felt important and good.
But then I turned 51 and a lot of not so fun things started happening and I found myself feeling emotionally and physically exhausted and kind of crawling into my 51st year. I found myself in a place of deep discouragement and unsure about a lot of things if I am honest. Some days I wondered if my new mantra could be 51 weeks of naps or something that would just allow me to coast through what might be a difficult year.
But I think we all know that coasting doesn’t really work either.
We are a week away from Easter and I want to write about suffering. And yet, I pray that this might be my most hopeful post of this entire Lenten season.
I feel like a lightweight when it comes to suffering, especially suffering well, but I love people who have suffered and are suffering in unfathomable ways. The weight of it can be overwhelming.
So I want to share some thoughts by Katherine Wolf of Hope Heals who is deeply acquainted with suffering. When she was 26, she suffered a massive brain stem stroke and should have died. If you don’t know her story, I encourage you to read her book Hope Heals. You will not be the same after reading it.
Even though Katherine lived, she suffers daily from the disabilities that came with her stroke and the surgery that saved her life. She has paralysis on her right side, has one functioning vocal cord, has double vision, can’t hear in one ear, and while she can walk with assistance, she is mostly bound to a wheelchair. And yet she might be one of the most joyful, hopeful people I have ever encountered.
I got to hear her speak a few weeks ago and at the beginning of her talk, she said,
“Don’t miss this. This is part of your story.” I am pretty sure she was staring right at me as she said it. Because if we only want to stay awake during the fun, we will miss experiencing Him in every detail of our story.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I believe that there should be a suffering quota. Like once you experience something traumatic, that should be it. No more suffering. And we know how that must be working out for me.
Katherine shared that she felt that way a little bit when a few years after her stroke, she learned that she had an aneurysm in brain, unrelated to her stroke, that needed surgery. Her first thought was, “Really, God? Haven’t I been dealt enough suffering in the brain department?”
It would make sense, right?
The day before her surgery, she woke up in the middle of the night, terrified. She was sure that she would die during the operation and that this would be it. The anxiety was crippling. She couldn’t stop the spiral in her mind.
But then something happened.
At that very moment, a friend across the country texted her Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope, firm and secure, as an anchor for our soul.”
Her husband woke up and she shared her anxiety with him. She let him into her fears and he began to pray.
And she somehow got up and went to church in her pajamas. Yes, her pajamas. She didn’t really explain how exactly that happened, but it was significant because she is a proper southern girl and you simply don’t go to church in your pajamas. So this felt like freedom to her.
Her husband had planned a fun afternoon for their family, so they proceeded with their plans in spite of her fear. And at one point, in the middle of this sweet time, she sensed that God was calling her to celebrate life before knowing the outcome. Not to celebrate the pain or the fear or the possibility of tragic circumstances, but to celebrate the truth that God is present with us in our mess. She emphasized that it is so important to live life like a celebration.
She shared the story of a friend who was diagnosed with cancer. His family, overwhelmed by the diagnosis, sat together to process the weight of his news. They talked about the steps they needed to take and at one point, he looked at his family and said, “I want to have a party with the people I love. I want to celebrate how God is going to walk through this dark time with us.”
Katherine acknowledged that this attitude is counter cultural, but she liked thinking about it. So she planned the first annual Brokenness Brunch with some of her closest friends. All of these friends were walking through really painful, difficult circumstances and this brunch allowed them to connect in the middle of all of it. This was not a brunch to minimize their pain, but a chance to recognize together God’s presence in their mess. It was a time of tears and vulnerability, encouragement and prayer, as well as good food and laughter. They recognized together that as Corrie Ten Boom once said that they could “trust an unknown future to a known God.” It was a reminder that in order to really celebrate God’s presence in our mess, we need each other. Community matters.
We must do this if we want to experience joy before heaven.
As Lent comes to an end, may we remind each other that this is the hope of Christ. We can celebrate His presence in our mess because He suffered and died on the cross for us. He understands great suffering and yet the story doesn’t end there. His resurrection is our hope. As Katherine said, “Let’s tell ourselves the right story.” Not oh look how pitifully broken I am, but look at the life I have found in Christ. May we remind each other of His truth, His grace, His hope and His presence in spite of how painful life can be. May we cling to the hope that Easter changed everything.
Sunday is coming.