As I share my stories, people tell me theirs. And they tell me how my story made them feel seen, or gave them hope in the midst of something hard, or even inspired them to pray a courageous prayer…”because I know you went through this.” My favorite is when someone tells me how a story I shared however many years ago is helping them through something they’re going through now.
Stories are like seeds. When they’re told, they’re buried in minds and hearts. And one day—maybe even years later—they bear fruit.
I’m 38 years old. I’ve been married for 17 years. And I have no children. This is not the story I would’ve chosen for myself, but it’s the one I’m living. And though it’s not an easy story to live, I love it. After all, who wants to read a story where the characters are always happy and never experience anything hard? Give me the stories with adventure, surprises, and conflict, the ones that end with the characters completely transformed.
So here I am in my wonderful, messy story. And as I type these words, I’m sitting on my couch with a heating pad on my belly as I recover from a total hysterectomy.
A number of years ago, a dear friend of mine (who’s only a few years older than me) walked the road of infertility, multiple surgeries, and then ultimately a hysterectomy. She chose to be open about her struggles and anguish. She poured out her heart in the beautiful, dissonant words she typed on social media. I don’t think she had any idea what kind of seed she was planting in my heart as I silently read her posts. Neither of us knew I would live her words several years later. The difference for me is I had less to discover on my own. Her wrestling emboldened my battle. And her hope in God became kindling for mine.
When it was my turn to get a hysterectomy, I knew it was a good thing, that my life would still be abundant and beautiful. I knew because I saw her go through this. And in the moments when I felt afraid or discouraged, her story gave me courage. After my surgery, I texted her, “I remember when you walked this road. Knowing you went through this made it less scary for me!”
The surgery is over, but I’m suddenly in another chapter. My surgery thrust me into menopause, no transition to ease me into it. And I find I’m completely clueless. I grappled with questions about my womanhood when I came to grips with my barrenness, and now I’m asking questions about my womanhood again as I take my first steps in the sea of menopause. I don’t know how to swim in these waters.
Menopause is one of those things in our culture we don’t discuss beyond a few jokes here and there. And because of that, I grew up believing menopause was something to be dreaded, something that carried all sorts of horribleness and no possible good. I don’t quite know what the truth is about menopause or how to discover it. Generations of women have walked this path before me, yet I feel like I’m clearing the path for myself all alone.
The areas we choose to make taboo are the areas where we rob the next generation from flourishing. I wish I could have entered this new phase of life armed with the stories of women who have gone before me. I can’t change what was. But I can change things for those who will come after me.
So here’s my challenge to all of us:
Whatever our stories are, it’s time to bring them to the light. And let’s create a culture that cherishes these stories and celebrates their telling, no matter how mundane or painful or joyous. Let’s plant these seeds so those who come after us can eat of their fruit and flourish!
***Some words of caution about sharing your story that I added later:
While I believe we could powerfully impact the generations that come after us by giving space to tell stories about things that were once taboo, I’m not advocating we share every detail about everything. We need wisdom and care with the stories we share.
I consider whether or not a story is one I’m willing to be vulnerable about. Being vulnerable means opening ourselves to the possibility of being hurt. So when I’m considering whether or not I’m willing to share something, I ask myself, Can I handle someone saying something mean or insensitive about this right now? I don’t believe we should open up everything in our lives to that, especially areas where we’re still in the process of healing.
When a story involves other people, I consider whether or not a story is completely mine to tell. There are stories I’ll never blog about because even though I feel comfortable sharing my part of the story, it’s not my place to decide when other people will be vulnerable with their part.
One last thing: some stories can be shared openly and publicly. But there are some stories that should be reserved for spaces where we feel safe, whether that’s a small group or a one-on-one conversation with someone we trust.
When lupus entered my life, I lost half my hair. At first the hair loss was due to discoid rashes on my scalp that caused my hair to fall out in clumps, leaving behind bald spots. After starting treatment, even more hair felt out. Because of scarring on my scalp, the doctors weren’t sure if all my hair would grow back. So I asked all my friends to pray for me. It seemed like a silly thing to pray for, but God didn’t think my request was too silly to grant.
Tiny hairs began peeking through the bald patches on my head that were once scarred. (Read that sentence again! Hair grew back where there were scars! That’s not supposed to happen! It was a miracle!) The budding hair throughout my scalp made me brave. And inspired by Anne Hathaway in Les Mis, I went to the salon and asked them to to chop it all off so I could start over.
For the past seven years, I’ve been growing my hair out again. Each new inch has been a sign of grace, a reminder of how God has walked with me through every part of this journey. At the start of this year, I decided I wanted to pay it forward. One of my goals for 2019 is to donate healthy hair. And this weekend, I took the plunge. It was all the feels! I don’t know that I could say I’ve had a worshipful experience during a haircut before, but that’s what this was. Joyful, thankful worship.
“Children With Hair Loss is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that provides human hair replacements at no cost to children and young adults facing medically-related hair loss. When a child’s hair is lost due to Cancer treatments, Alopecia, Trichotillomania, Burns, etc., the painful effects are far deeper than just cosmetic.” (from Children With Hair Loss website)
It took me a long time to decide my goals for this year. For me, year goals are important. I’m the type of person who’s constantly working on improving myself—I’m a 1 on the Enneagram—but having times of reset helps me evaluate my progress and recalibrate. So months before this new year, I spent a lot of time dreaming and asking God for direction.
In an episode of The Office, the Dunder Mifflin employees were watching Andy perform in a musical. As Michael Scott was muttering something at the start of the performance, Darryl said, “Shh. If we don’t listen to the overture, we won’t recognize the musical themes when they come back later.” That’s what this post is: an overture for this year. You’ll see these themes in my writing. And hopefully, as this year progresses, those who do life with me will see these themes become more and more woven into the fabric of my life.
My Goals for 2019
1. Love well.
I want my life to be marked by love.
I want to love God well. I want to love my husband well. I want to push myself beyond my introvert tendencies and love my friends well over cups of coffee. I want to love my students and the people I minister to well, going beyond requirements and pouring my heart into their lives.
2. Cultivate a prophetic ear.
I want to cultivate a prophetic ear so I can have a prophetic voice. I don’t mean I want to stand on a street corner with a sign warning of the end of the world. I want to be a voice that speaks life and hope and change into my culture and generation. And this starts with something simple: less noise and more prayer.
3. Spend money meaningfully.
I’ve got three subgoals for this one:
Live on a budget.
Slow/ethical fashion. (I know that’s not a complete sentence, but I’m still trying to figure this one out and this is going to be a year of learning.)
This one scares me because I had this goal last year and didn’t come close to achieving it. And when I realized it wasn’t going to happen, I was filled with guilt. But the end of this year, my book proposal doesn’t have to be completely finished, but I want to make significant progress towards being done.
5. Grow into the performer I want to be.
I want to keep refining my craft, to be a more secure performer, to have a stronger vision for what I want each piece to be, and to push my artistry and ask more of the music.
6. Love what I see in the mirror.
My perfectionism makes it tough to look at myself in the mirror. This year, I want to cultivate healthy rhythms of exercise and rest. But more than that, I want to look in the mirror and see beauty regardless of my weight, hair, or makeup.
Also, I want to dress like an adult…because I’m 37 years old and don’t need to wear Hello Kitty and three separate patterns. It’s time to limit my outfits to one cutesy thing at a time. Again, progress.
7. Donate healthy hair.
When I was diagnosed with lupus, I lost about half my hair. Because of scarring on my scalp, the doctors weren’t sure how much of it would grow back. The long, healthy hair that falls on my back is part of my testimony. It is an Ebenezer reminding me that God has brought me this far. But a few months ago, I realized that I can’t just let my hair grow out forever. So this year, I’m paying it forward.
8. Make the library in our house a place where I want to be.
This is my decluttering goal.
9. Read/listen to 100 books.
How will I do this? I’m an avid reader, but my husband introduced me to a game changer: Hoopla. An app where I can borrow audiobooks for free? Yes, please!
10. Do at least one fun thing every month.
The fact that I made this a goal this year is already a sign of growth. This goal may sound frivolous, but my struggle to intentionally take time to have fun has worn on my mind, emotions, and even my body. And to be perfectly honest, this is the goal I’m scared of the most.
A quick note about goals: As this year began, I didn’t expect sudden change. If I would’ve done that, I would have already felt like a failure and given up. I’m approaching this year looking for progress, not perfection. So if you’ve started this new year feeling like you’ve already messed up your New Year’s resolutions and goals, that’s okay! The year’s not over!
Update (December 17, 2019): It has been one year since I wrote this blog post. It has also been one year since my last cortisone injections! Hallelujah! (Insert shouting and happy dancing here.) As I look back and read the words I typed a year ago, a different set of challenges weighs on my heart. But these words are still true: “God is with me. And today, when my mind is full of questions, that’s all I need to know.”
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Yesterday in church, I found myself swept away by a song that spoke of the God’s goodness and repeatedly declared,
I didn’t know that I was preaching truths into my soul I would need to hold onto the next day.
People ask me, “How are your hands?” more often than, “How are you?” Lupus has been unkind to my joints, adding difficulty to my life as a pianist. Every few months, I get multiple cortisone injections in order to continue to use my hands and play the piano. For those of you who are wondering, yes, the injections hurt. But the relief they bring and the music they allow me to produce are enough to keep me coming back for more.
Today, I visited the hand surgeon for my routine injections—one in each thumb and index finger. Four in total. “Do you think they’re working?” he asked. Then he answered his own question: “Well, of course they’re working. You wouldn’t be back here to subject yourself to this if they weren’t working.”
And then he spoke of the best way to proceed, expressing concern about the danger of repeated injections for so long. I told him, “The rheumatologist doubled my dosage of Plaquenil last Friday, and hopefully that’ll help me to not need shots as frequently.”
“Then, let’s see,” he replied. “Let’s see how things go with the new dose of Plaquenil, and then when”—not if—“you come back, let’s do an MRI and consider surgery.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed surgery. In past visits I’ve barraged the poor doctor with a multitude of questions:
Will surgery affect my piano playing? (Possibly.)
If I get surgery, is it possible I will need surgery again? (Yes.)
What is the likelihood that surgery will be effective in my case? (It’s hard to say.)
The prospect of surgery has never sounded attractive to me. But as the doctor spoke today, the prospect of continuing as I have been looked equally unattractive. No option comes with a guarantee; and no option is without dangerous risks.
This is where I’m at. A place where I have no idea what the best way to move forward is. A place of unknown. A place where the mind easily imagines worst case scenarios.
So today I’m facing my worry with quiet trust. I’ve prayed short prayers—anything longer than a few words will bring me to tears. It’s not that I’m afraid of tears and emotion. I’m sure I’ll be ready to cry ugly tears tomorrow. But today, I want to process. To let the words of the doctor sink in. More importantly, to let the words I sang yesterday sink in.
You’re never gonna let,
Never gonna let me down.
You’re never gonna let,
Never gonna let me down…
After all, what’s the point of singing words like this on Sunday if I can’t continue to sing them as I face the darkness on Monday?
I’m not praising God out of naiveté. I can sing to God, “You’re never gonna let me down,” because I’ve been through the unknown and darkness so many times already and He’s never stopped being good or left me to fend for myself. He’s always been with me. He’s always brought me through.
God is with me. And today, when my mind is full of questions, that’s all I need to know.
“‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
This past week, I was invited to speak at a monthly luncheon at Drury University where I’m a piano professor. In front of students, the university president’s wife, the school chaplain, and the dean who hired me, I stood up, took a deep breath, and shared my story…
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be part of something special that our university has to offer and for allowing me to share my story with you today.
Before I begin, I want to let you know that I’m 36 years old and I have a decade’s worth of experience teaching in higher education. I am not—as most freshmen believe upon seeing me the first time—their classmate. I tell you this so you’ll know that as I speak to you today, I’m not speaking from my youth; I’m speaking as one who has experienced life, had my ideals come crashing down, and come through on the other side to know that amid the darkness, there is good to be found in the world and that God truly is who He says He is.
Six years ago, I got a Master’s degree in piano performance—a huge feat considering I had been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis in both hands and wrists before I started the program. I was also a music professor at a college and I was performing across the country. I felt like my career as a pianist was beginning to take off. On top of that, my husband and I have felt a call to one day move to Japan to start a church, and everything was happening right on schedule.
But then everything changed.
I first realized something was wrong when I was preparing for a recital and noticed my hands were stiff. “Maybe I’m practicing too much. Maybe I’m stressed,” I thought.
On July 8, 2012, I wrote in my journal:
“My shoulder keeps slipping out of place and the joints in my hands are swelling. I was planning on taking a break from the pain medications [I’ve been taking for carpal tunnel and tendonitis] this summer, but instead I’m taking more pain pills that I’ve ever taken in my whole life just to function. I have some important performances coming up this month. It will take a miracle for my hands to endure the physical requirements of my pieces and make it through from start to finish. At any moment, my hands could stop, ending my music career forever. I go into every performance with a strong awareness that this could be my last one and it will happen only because God will make it happen.”
A few weeks later, on July 25, I wrote:
“Faith isn’t a surface belief but a knowing that God is doing something. I know that God keeps His promises. I know He is my healer. I know He has not sentenced me to a life of arthritis. I know He holds my future in His hands and His plans for me are good.”
Looking back, this entry makes me want to cringe. At the time, I thought these were faith-filled words, but now I see that my faith had a lot of growing to do. I still believe God is my healer, that He holds my future in His hands, and that His plans for me are good. But the prolonged, excruciating pain made me take another look at what the Bible says and reevaluate my definition of faith. Is faith just believing for miracles or can faith be bigger and deeper than that?
Over time, the stiffness turned into pain and spread all over my body to the point that I couldn’t move on my own. My husband, Daniel, had to lift my body out of bed and walk me one step at a time through my morning routine. I couldn’t even squeeze toothpaste onto my toothbrush.
It took every ounce of my strength to make it through each day.
On September 5, 2012, I wrote:
“It’s not that I’m not trusting God to take care of me and my future. I feel secure in Him. I don’t find myself doubting Him. I am full of hope and peace. But it’s the PAIN. The pain is just so much. And the new medicine the doctor gave me makes me feel worse. It makes me feel like I don’t have full control of my mind, like I’m not completely me.”
Keep in mind that I was teaching a full load at the college and this was still the beginning of the school year. On top of that, one of the professors in my department had unexpectedly passed away a couple weeks before the school year began. So not only was I a professor to these students; I was also a counselor to them as I navigated my own grief. And it was crucial that each day I came to work, I was fully present.
And that’s why a couple days later, I wrote:
“I had to make a difficult choice this morning: function in my hands and body or function in my mind. I didn’t take any pain meds last night because it was making me sleepy, dizzy, nauseous, and unable to think clearly. This morning, I woke up in extreme pain. I needed help getting out of bed, turning on the sink, getting in the shower…I didn’t know what to do. I chose to have my mind today. I am in so much pain.”
And September 17:
“The pain is getting worse. Me and Daniel are growing more exhausted. My muscles are disappearing. The doctors still have no answers. But God is sustaining me.”
As I look back, it’s crazy to me that I was able to continue teaching. There’s no way I could have done it if God hadn’t been sustaining me day by day.
It was during this time when I truly understood the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9.
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
All the while, I went to numerous doctors, and they did test after test and had no answers. Weeks of waiting turned into months, and the pain was too much for me. My hair started falling out until half of it was gone. And I began to wonder, “Am I dying?”
There was one time when I was laying in bed, and I asked Daniel to come to my side so I could tell him my dying wish: “Promise me that if something happens to me, you’ll still go to Japan.”
This was a scary time. I was scared of what the doctors would say. I was scared for my future. I was scared that I might be dying.
Even though I was in horrific pain, this was a beautiful time in my relationship with God. I was acutely aware of my dependence on Him. And because every movement was excruciating, I spent a lot of time lying in bed and praying to God. Early on, I couldn’t understand why God would allow me to suffer for so long (at least, what seemed long to me at the time), but I needed the wait so God could transform my heart. Looking back, I can see clearly how God was being good and wise in allowing me to wait.
Instead of allowing me to have the diagnosis the moment I wanted it, God waited until the moment I was ready to hear it.
On October 3, 2012, I wrote:
“Still no relief from the pain. I am very dependent on Daniel for a lot of basic things. I have lost almost 20 pounds since the end of July. I am exhausted. I saw 2 doctors today. They are close to having a diagnosis. Right now I’m waiting for test results…[and] I don’t like some of the words the doctors are saying. But I’m too tired to be stubborn.”
Then I wrote in capital letters:
“GOD IS BIGGER THAN ANY DIAGNOSIS.”
I wasn’t afraid anymore of death or bad news. I had hope because I had God.
Several days later, on October 8, I wrote:
“Still in pain. But God has given me a tremendous peace. I feel His presence and the support of His people. When I look around, I can still see God’s goodness in my life. In the midst of extraordinary pain, He has given me extraordinary strength.”
The very next day, the doctor called to tell me that I have lupus, an autoimmune disease where the immune system can’t tell the difference between a good cell and a bad cell, so it attacks anything and everything. That phone call changed my life. The months of waiting for answers were so hard, but because God waited until the perfect moment to let me have them, that phone call did not fill me with despair, but with worship. And as soon as I got off the phone, I cried happy tears and said, “Thank You, God!” I was so relieved that I finally had answers, and I could finally move forward.
That day in my journal, I wrote down a verse from Scripture:
“Because the Lord is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.”
That same day, my husband came home with a couple of trays of food from a friend with a card. On the card was written the same verse.
The past 6 years have been hard. Too often, if something is hard, we equate that with it being bad. Hard doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes hard is bad, but sometimes hard is just hard.
I still wake up in pain every morning and I have to take medication every day just to function and survive. Every few months, I get cortisone injections in my hands so I can continue to use them and to play the piano. In October, I’ll perform a third piano recital here as a faculty member of Drury. It would be so easy to say, “This is too hard. I quit.” And to be honest, on my hardest days, that’s what’s going on in my head. But every practice session and performance is a victory and a declaration of what God has done in my life. And you know what? If the day ever comes when my hands are no longer able to play the piano, that will be hard, but God will still be good and my life will still be abundant.
The reality is my life is hard, but my life isn’t bad. Even with lupus, my life is good and God continues to be good. And with all of the struggles and obstacles I’ve faced the past six years, I can confidently say, “Because the Lord is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
So here’s what I want you to take away from my story:
I want you to know that whatever you’re going through—no matter how dark, or hopeless, or difficult—God is bigger. He’s bigger than your circumstances, bigger than your dreams, bigger than your fears. He’s even bigger than your failures. There’s nothing and no one that is beyond what God can handle or redeem.
I want you to know that God is who He says He is. He is good, He loves you, and He is with You. What we experience in this world doesn’t change that. When we suffer, it becomes more difficult to believe those things. So do the work of theology. That’s not something that’s reserved for “theologians” and pastors; it’s something we are all called to do as Jesus followers. Over and over in Scripture, we are beckoned to know God, not just about Him, but to know Him personally and deeply. So dig into His Word and wrestle with your doubts, questions, and preconceived ideas through study, prayer, and even community. That’s what I was doing as I wrote in my journal. I was wrestling. And as I did that, God gave me what I needed to be able to face my difficult circumstances with hope and peace.
I want you to know that you don’t have to be afraid of the waiting or the silence. Just because we can’t see or hear God doesn’t mean He’s not there. There are things that God can do in the waiting and silence that are more powerful and more beautiful than we can imagine in the moment. So amidst the waiting and silence, cling to God. And when it feels impossible to cling to Him, allow Him to cling to You.
And I want you to know that it’s okay to pray ugly prayers. When I was waiting for a diagnosis, I prayed a lot of ugly prayers. They weren’t always the most reverent or refined. They were raw, and gut wrenching, and tear-soaked. And most importantly, they were honest. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. God wants all of us; not just the pretty, put-together parts of us. The same Jesus who cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading to the Father so intensely that He sweat drops of blood—this same Jesus is not offended or shocked by our ugly prayers. In fact, he’s able to empathize with us and understand our pain. And because it’s in our ugly prayers when we’re most honest with God, those are the moments when He’s most able to speak into our hearts.
I’d like to close with a verse you’ve heard me read a couple times already, but this time from the New Living Translation. Whatever you’re going through today, let this be your anthem:
The day we got married fifteen years ago, we were babies. I was twenty-one; you were twenty-three. At the time, we thought we were so grown up, but now I see how naive we were. Our entire future lay before us: bright and overflowing with possibility. We were going to conquer the world! Not really, but it certainly felt like it.
We didn’t know that our first ministry position would be at a church plant that would fail before it fully launched, that in its final week you would become the lead pastor with the responsibility of shutting it down with dignity. You were amazing; I can’t remember if I ever told you. We didn’t know how bad the situation was until a veteran minister told us that what we went through was the worst he had ever seen. Surely not, we thought. But further corroboration came a decade later when we ran into several pastors who had seen what we went through and each told us the same thing: “We’re so happy you’re still following Jesus.”
When we were in the midst of that ministerial catastrophe, we felt like our lives were over. We had no idea our lives were just beginning.
We didn’t know that in less than a year, we would move to the Philippines and join the pastoral staff of the largest church in the country. (What a turnaround from what we had come from!) Our minds didn’t have the capacity to anticipate how much we would learn, how much we would heal, and how much we would fall in love with a people we never expected to fall in love with. When we eventually left the Philippines to follow the dream we had in our hearts since before we got married, we again felt like we could conquer the world.
We left the Philippines to move to Springfield, MO. Not really. We left the Philippines because we wanted to move to Japan to start a church, but we needed to prepare first. And God wanted us to prepare in Small City, USA. “Five years,” we said. “We’ll live in Springfield for five years and then we’ll move to Japan.” No we wouldn’t.
When we hit the two-and-a-half-year mark, we were halfway done with our gotta-do-before-we-go-to-Japan list. We were right on schedule. And then…
“Daniel, my hands hurt. Look, my fingers can barely move.” After getting a master’s degree in piano performance, we thought my hands were just tired. We had no idea our lives were about to get harder.
Months later you wouldn’t just be my husband; you would become my caretaker. Every morning, you would carry me out of bed and move my legs toward the bathroom because I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own. You would lift my hands over my head to help my arms move as I would scream and cry in pain. It was torture, but it had to be done. It was the only way I would be able to shower on my own. When you weren’t at work, you were spending all your time taking care of me. I could see the exhaustion and worry on your face. Before we went to bed each night, I would cry because I knew the next day we would have to do it all again.
All of this was during your first semester of seminary. When I was in grad school, you supported me. “When you start working on your master’s,” I said, I’m going to support you.” I’m so sorry I couldn’t keep my end of the deal.
When I was diagnosed with lupus, people told me, “Your husband is amazing because he stayed.” This isn’t what you signed up for the day you married me. And yet you stayed.
“But what about Japan?” people asked us, as though God was completely shocked by my lupus diagnosis and had no idea it was coming when He placed the dream for Japan on our hearts. We didn’t know that the first time we would have a chance to minister in Japan, lupus would be the key. I would share my story of God’s goodness amidst suffering. It was Christmastime, so you would talk about Narnia, the darkness of winter, and the coming of spring. And God would do amazing things. We had no idea we would have to wait so long for this dream, but God has been good enough to let us have a little taste.
The excitement of that trip was soon overshadowed by more pain. “This is harder than the failed church plant,” I cried, “This is harder than lupus!” You nodded. You felt it, too. Finding out we couldn’t have children was devastating for both of us.
The day we got married, if I would have known the kind of suffering we would experience, I don’t know that I could have gone through it. I would have looked at all the hard stuff and walked away. But if I had, I wouldn’t have known the profound joy that has blossomed out of each painful experience.
In the months that followed the failed church plant, we found another church in Washington, D.C. where we were surrounded by people who spoke life into our hearts. In that church, God taught us to stand up again. Whenever we go back to visit D.C., I love that we always make a stop at that church’s coffeehouse as a kind of pilgrimage. How fitting that it’s called Ebenezers: “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” And as you sip your coffee and I sip my iced chai, we remember that we’re standing on holy ground, a place where God met us. And when we look back on our lives and remember all we’ve been through, we’re filled with fresh excitement for our future. God brought us this far; He’s not about to stop helping us now!
I’ve heard people say that you don’t really know what love is until you have children. But when you carried me—literally—each morning as we thought I might be dying, you showed me what love is. You showed me a capacity for love beyond what I could imagine. And as we have walked through the deep waters of chronic illness together, you have been my advocate and my champion. When I began to walk on my own again, you cheered for me and made me feel like I had conquered the world. I can’t articulate well the gratitude I feel knowing that I have such an amazing person to celebrate every victory with.
And as we walked through the wilderness of infertility, you refused to let me stop dreaming. I love what we’re doing with our lives now. We’re doing things we probably wouldn’t be able to do well if we had children. We wanted so much to be able to leave behind a legacy. We thought we needed children to do that; God showed us we don’t.
And the cherry on top: you’ve shown me how fun it can be when it’s just the two of us. Five Bookstore Friday dates, late night Waffle House runs, and spontaneous “Ooooh, what’s that? Let’s check it out!” adventures.
When we were young, we wanted so much for God to show us His plan for our lives. We know better now. We don’t really want to see all the stuff that God sees because it would terrify us. We would run the other direction and miss all the good stuff He has for us.
I don’t want to know what’s going to happen next. I just want to keep living this adventure with you.
I could see the wheels in their heads spinning wildly as they hurried to conjure something to say. I wished they focused more on being present and speaking life rather than just trying to make conversation. At least they were being nice, right? Or maybe they missed an opportunity to speak the words I needed to hear in that moment.
When I was diagnosed with lupus six years ago, I was inundated with people who had a lot of advice for me—both medical advice from people who had no medical degrees but vast knowledge obtained from Google, and spiritual advice from people who could quote passages of scripture but didn’t take enough time to get to know me and where I was with my faith. Early on a friend gave me some good advice that saved me a lot of frustration: “People will say things to you that are insensitive or even hurtful, but they mean well and don’t know any better. So when that happens, it’s an opportunity for you to show grace.” I don’t have the energy to dwell on the hurtful things people say, and I’ve found that when I show grace to others, I’m also saving myself from bitterness and frustration that can drain me of my limited strength.
Unfortunately, this story repeats itself many times over for those who suffer in any form. People want to help, but all too often say the wrong things. They’re trying to be nice, but they’re still missing the mark. And when I say, “people,” I mean me, too. I’m guilty of saying “nice” things that miss the mark.
When we were kids we were taught, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This is great advice to teach children to not be mean.
But is that all? As followers of Jesus, when we speak, is the most important thing for us to avoid being mean or is there something more? Are we missing out on opportunities to be salt and light by being satisfied with our “nice” conversations?
When I think of the words of Jesus (and even Peter and Paul), “nice” doesn’t come to mind. Kind, powerful, honest, but not “nice.” If you removed from the Bible all the words of Jesus that didn’t follow the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” maxim, I don’t think you’d have very much left.
So let’s change the motto: “If you don’t have anything life-giving to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Speak life. That’s what made Jesus’ words—even the ones that stung—so good. He wasn’t careless with His words. He never spoke just to fill the silence or just to get something off His chest. When He spoke, He spoke life.
I want to be the kind of person who speaks life.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT)
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”(Ephesians 4:29 NIV)
Our words should
be good, helpful, and beneficial
be appropriate for the occasion and meet people where they’re at in that moment and season of their lives (which means you’ll need to listen carefully first)
Don’t just be nice. Don’t just say what you feel. Don’t just give advice. Speak life.
Speak life to the mom and her children who have had a rough day.
Speak life to the couple who is facing infertility.
Speak life to the woman who is struggling with chronic illness.
Speak life to the man who exhausted from working hard to provide for his family.
Speak life to the high school kid who’s struggling to get your fast-food order right.
Speak life to the one who feels like their life is falling apart and they just can’t get it together.
Speak life to the public official who has to make the decision several times a day between doing what’s easy and doing what’s right.
Speak life to the college student who is carrying heavy loads, learning to be an adult, and is reminded of the uncertainty of their future every time someone says, “So what are you doing when you graduate?”
Even speak life to the pastor who carries the burdens of the people he (or she) leads while spending unseen hours writing sermons and handling administrative duties that keep the church functioning week to week.
I’m a bibliophile. I live in a house that is overflowing with books. One of my favorite genres? Theology. Aside from the Bible, wanna guess what my first theology book ever was? Not some masterpiece by Augustine, Bonhoeffer, or even C. S. Lewis.
My very first theology book was Wee Sing Bible Songs…complete with a cassette tape. I acquired this priceless gem around the first grade. I had never heard of the word “theology,” yet deep theological truths were sinking deep into my heart as I sang along with the cassette tape that played over and over and over again in my parents’ car.
Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones, to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes Jesus loves me…
God is so good. God is so good. God is so good, He’s so good to me…
I’ve got peace like a river. I’ve got peace like a river. I’ve got peace like a river in my soul…I’ve got joy like a fountain. I’ve got joy like a fountain…
The songs we sing matter. I don’t remember any sermons from the first decade of my life, but the songs I sang are still imprinted in my memory.
In the months that led up to my lupus diagnosis, my body was frail. I couldn’t keep down food and lost about 20 pounds in two and a half months. (If you don’t know me, I’m 4′ 10″, so those 20 pounds were significant.) I couldn’t get out of bed or squeeze a tube of toothpaste on my own. Simple things like walking and playing the piano were excruciating. This is when I truly began to understand: They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me…
At first, I was hopeful that it wasn’t anything serious, and even if it was, certainly God would heal me soon. But as time went on with my health getting worse and no answers from the doctors, I felt like my time in this world might be coming to a close. And one evening, I asked my husband sit beside me as I lay in bed. Through tears, I let him know I loved him and told him my dying wish. I was sad at the thought of leaving him behind so young, but I was no longer afraid of death or what the future may hold. I had peace. I’ve got peace like a river. I’ve got peace like a river…
I remember wanting to read my Bible, but my fingers were too weak to hold such a bulky book. So I spent a lot of time lying in bed, alone with my thoughts. Nothing to distract me from the tender voice of God. I still cherish those moments. Yes, they were excruciating, but God’s presence was so sweet. I prayed with rawness and honesty; I didn’t have the energy to offer dignified prayers. And as I silently poured out my heart, God wrapped me in His loving arms. God is so good. God is so good. God is so good, He’s so good to me…
Someone once told me that there’s something about suffering that changes a person; suffering refines us. It is suffering that has taught me the depth and richness of the words I sang as a girl. And as chronic illness brings pain and challenges to daily life, these songs keep my mind fixed on the God who is strong and good, who loves me, and who fills my soul with peace and joy.