I’d like a refund for this cup of suffering

by Elizabeth Vahey Smith

“It’s not fair,” I whined in the backseat of the car, my sister next to me.
“It’s not fair,” I moped from the end of the line.
“It’s not fair,” I mourned, overlooked for a role I wanted.
“It’s not fair,” I gasped, taking the fall.
“It’s not fair,” I wailed, watching everything I’d built fall apart.

“But look at what God is doing through this,” they point.
“It’s not fair,” I say again.

I think it’s just awful that wonderful things come out of terrible things. I hate that you have to bury seeds for them to bloom. I hate that pearls come from irritants. I hate that delicious strawberries come from fields fertilized in manure. And I hate all of those things because I hate that post-traumatic wisdom only comes from going through tragedies.

Yeah, I guess if you have to go through hard things, it’s nice that something good can come from it. But why do we have to go through hard things to have the good things that come after?

I can point to the traumas and tragedies that have brought me to a place of being able to weave words into stories that present hard truths in soft ways. I cherish the times people tell me how these words altered the trajectory of their homes in ways that brought them closer to the unconditional love of the Father. But surely there is another way to learn this wisdom and pass it on?

Everything is possible for you, Father.
Take this cup of suffering from me.

And thus begins a sacred journey.

We all know that life’s not fair, but it makes it a bit easier to not have to go it alone. To know that the Lord has gone before us even in this. To know that the journey through unfair trauma and tragedy can take us to glorious destinations. To know that we have a comforter, a counselor, and a light to guide our path. 

I have a journey before me, but I’m standing at the front desk with a complaint, “Excuse me, sir, I specifically asked that this cup would be taken from me. And yet, behold, still there is a cup. I would like this to be rectified.” And Jesus comes alongside me to guide me. “Yet not what I will, but what you will,” He coaches me.

“I’m sorry, what?!” I’m doing double-takes as Jesus leads me forward on the journey. I am a reluctant follower. But I follow, nonetheless, and I see how the path I walk is neither new nor novel but a well-worn road.

My soul has been overwhelmed with sorrow.
I have felt betrayed.
I have stood silent against accusations.
I’ve had friends abandon me.
I’ve experienced pain.
I’ve had tragedy happen.
I’ve survived it.

But it’s interesting, isn’t it? That’s not the end. The story, the journey, it isn’t over yet. Jesus isn’t yet at the right hand of God, and I have no wisdom to offer anyone yet.

It seems that after the death of Christ, we stop focusing on his humanity. We talk extensively about the agony of the cross, which makes sense because all four of the Gospel writers draw us into this tragedy. The curtain is torn. Darkness falls. And the focus shifts from Jesus to the perspective of those left behind. That makes sense for the Gospels. What was Jesus doing at this point? We hear about the work of Jesus conquering Death in the epistles, but his followers didn’t know these things.

Even on Easter morning, the focus doesn’t shift back to Jesus. We continue to follow the story of the women and the disciples. Jesus just appears and disappears until he finally ascends. That’s how the authors wrote their gospels, so it makes sense that we would follow along that way. 

We receive so many emotion words from the women and the disciples. I can imagine Luke interviewing people and hearing from their perspective, “We were so frightened; we thought he was a ghost. Even when we saw he wasn’t a ghost, we still couldn’t believe it. We were amazed and overjoyed” (Luke 24:37-41). How was Jesus feeling during this? The eye-witnesses were too gobsmacked to notice and give account. 

Thus, the sacred journey continues. 

My eyes fixed on Jesus; I see how my journey overlays His.
I’m aching and weary.
The moment of trauma is over, yet my body is still on high alert.
My skin feels electrified. Every brush of my own clothes sears my skin.
I feel like my back’s been flayed.
And I look toward Jesus.
I don’t know how his back is doing, but the wounds of his hands and his side are still gaping.
Honestly, it’s a miracle he’s even alive.

We each come across a couple of our friends, but they don’t recognize us.
Our friends recount our own story to us, but they totally miss the point.
I’m furious and think, “How foolish you are!” (Luke 24:25)
I explain to my friends, and He explains to His, in a way that they don’t miss the point.
And then Jesus walks away.
 
“No, no, no,” I call him back. “These are our friends, our people.”
I’m clinging to what I know.
He keeps walking until his friends urge him to stay, even though they still don’t recognize him.
It’s like he wants me to be willing to walk away from people I’ve grown away from.
I’m not ready for this lesson.

When he comes back, I’m glad.
I watch them eat together.
In the common monotony of everyday life, his friends finally recognize him.
But it’s only two people.

It happens again.
Different people. More cherished friends.
They don’t understand what’s happened either.
“You’ve changed,” they tell me.
“Why are you troubled? Look at me. It’s me!” I implore them.
My words echo His, as Jesus tries to convince his friends he’s not a ghost.
They believe: we’re each still who we are.
Now what?

“Do you have anything to eat?” Jesus asks.
He invites us back into the common monotony of everyday life.
We eat, we talk, we tell the story again.
It’s hard to tell every time.

The hardest part is reconciliation, so I hang back and watch.
Jesus comes to Peter.
Peter recognizes him and dives off the boat to greet him. Classic Peter.
Jesus invites them to eat.
I take notes. Always start with food. It brings people together.
Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him.
I’m thankful for this interchange.
I don’t have to be content with one apology and be expected to get over it.
I can request reassurances in proportion with the damage rendered.

Finally comes the conclusion.
Finally comes the ascension.
Finally the journey ends. 

Trauma is like any other story. It’s got a setting and rising action before the conflict and climax. And it ends with cleaning up all the leftover messes. Often the leftover messes of a trauma are the relationships: reconnecting, repairing, reconciling, and settling back into normal rhythms. This is a hard part of trauma that is often overlooked. Many times this hard part takes a lot longer than we expect. 

In this time following Resurrection Sunday and leading up to Ascension Sunday, we hold sacred the long journey through trauma and tragedy to the good that God has in store for us: the wisdom that these experiences give us. And as much as I cherish that wisdom and the goodness God has for us through the hard things, I’m going to stay mad about the awfulness of how this broken world functions. I can do both. 

I refuse to get over how awful it is that good things come from hard things. 

I will hold this space for those of you still in the early stages of your journey, for those of you banging your fists on the front desk, demanding a refund for this cup of suffering, insisting that it’s not fair. I’m here to say, “You’re right! It’s not fair! And most importantly! You’re not alone.” 

For those of you further along who are activated and who feel disconnected from their communities, who wonder why it had to happen like this, who wonder why it’s not getting easier in the wake of tragedy, I’m here to say, “You’re right! It’s not fair! And most importantly! You’re not alone.” 

For those of you who have seen the beautiful things that the Lord has wrought out of the awful things you’ve lived through, who are turning back and grieving for themselves that they ever had to endure that, I’m here to say, “You’re right! It’s not fair! And most importantly! You’re not alone.”

And I can point out to you the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death, and He will walk with you.

It seems agonizingly unfair that much of wisdom, strength, and personal growth comes from difficult and painful journeys. Not just the hardship, but the recovery, coming back to people and them not recognizing you, being met with doubt, and having to convince people of the journey you’ve been on. 

In this season, we remember the sacredness of this journey, a trauma-versary that changed the world forever. The Lord has gone before us. But moreover, he goes alongside us, today, at whatever stage of the journey we’re in. 

Trauma doesn’t make us stronger, but continuing onward through the hard things toward healing does. 

And I hate that for us. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Elizabeth Vahey Smith is a TCK mom who spent 5 years in Papua New Guinea as a missionary. Now her family explores the globe full-time as worldschoolers. Elizabeth works remotely as the COO for TCK Training, traveling often for work and always for pleasure. She is the author of The Practice of Processing: Exploring Your Emotions to Chart an Intentional Course. Follow her travels on Instagram @elizabeth.vaheysmith and @neverendingfieldtrip. Learn more about research-based preventive care for TCKs @tcktraining.

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

The End of All Things

Darkness and grief, shadow and death
The Hope that had been
Sags low without breath

Weak and alone, absorbing the pain
The one who was Love
Endures for my gain

“Forgive them,” he prays,
“Jews, Romans, all!”
Redeeming us from our sins and the fall

“It’s finished!” he yells
For his sons and his daughters
His life and his mission now lead to his slaughter

Giving it all, keeping naught in reserve
The Lamb takes my place
Taking all I deserve

The darkened sun hiding, the women are weeping
The earth loudly cracking, the curtain now ripping
Blood and water are dripping

The death of the Lamb is obscene, but predicted
The fog of great evil begins to be lifted
But first, the end of all things

The son of God dies.

“He left us!” they cry, confused and alone
“Our friend and our brother, terminated by Rome!”
“Our hopes have been broken, our dreams have been pierced.”
Disciples sit trembling, ashamed of their fears

Three quiet days come and go without Word
The King is nowhere and faith seems absurd
But behind the scenes now, the deep magic stirs
The plan before time finds its time and occurs

The broken world groans, the stone starts to move
Rome’s power now fractures, the Light’s breaking through
The splinters that pierced, pierced more than just flesh
They tore holes in despair, pushed back the darkness

Ascended!
Enthroned!
The King wore his crown
Taking authority, striking Death down

Conquering sin, the grave, and all hist’ry
He gave up his life so all souls could see
The dawn of new life and eternity

The Kingdom has come!
The Lamb has been slain
Our sins have been wiped
Along with the stains

The Kingdom has come!
Christ is risen indeed!
Right here and right now, the
Beginning of all things

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You can listen to the poem here or below:

 

How Holy Week Prepares You For Ministry

He is Risen!

He is Risen Indeed! After Christ’s crucifixion and the agony of Saturday this refrain never gets old.

Lent culminated yesterday—technically Saturday night at midnight for some churches, or early morning as the sunrises for others, or at any hour your tradition follows. Holy Week is rich not only for our faith, but for the ways Jesus taught his disciples about a life in ministry.

Earlier when they asked him to teach them how to pray, he did not hesitate. He taught them. I believe if they had asked him to teach them how to live a life centered on service and ministry, He would have pointed to Holy Week. The passages detailing the week in the Bible could be mandatory pre-field training and on-going training for each of us.

 

  1. Jesus will be recognized for who he is.
  1. Later, some who recognized him as Messiah will reject him.
  1. Jesus is a God affronted by injustice as he fashions a whip and goes after the moneylenders.
  1. Ministry requires patience, but a time may come that you need to curse the fig tree, so to speak, and move on. Fig trees take about five years to bear fruit. While Jesus was not using the fig tree as a time measurement, he does say fruit is one way to measure a project, team, or season.
  1. Learning from Jesus is important. Much of Tuesday is dedicated to Jesus’ final public teaching. What does he emphasize in his last lessons? In part, God’s heart for his children and how love will be a hallmark of His children.
  1. Silence. Nothing is recorded for Wednesday. In a week where we know more than any other week in Jesus’ life and ministry, Wednesday stands like a gapping hole. Ministry also can abruptly have silences from leaders, supporters, and teammates, even God Himself.
  1. There will be times to go broad. Take Tuesday. Jesus poured into the many as he taught.
  1. There will be times to go deep. Thursday evening finds Jesus with the twelve. Even though he knew his time with them was coming to an end, He invested in them until the very end.
  1. Betrayal is a part of ministry. Recounting Judas and Peter, neither or overly villanized, instead their actions are reported. We also see that not all betrayal is the same. Judas did not reconcile with Jesus this side of death, Peter did.
  1. Accusation is also a part of ministry. Jesus was falsely accused and paid dearly for it. If Jesus Himself was falsely accused, should we be surprised when we are?
  1. Jesus will serve you. Ministry is not only about us ministering to others. We too will have our feet washed by Jesus.
  1. Jesus will feed you. Take eat. Then He took the cup. Do this in remembrance of me. Ministry is a life of pouring out and feeding others. But do not confuse feeding others with feeding yourselves. Jesus will feed you; you do not have to feed yourself. He will be creating in feeding you, but it is not on to be fed.
  1. Death is a part of ministry. This side of heaven, death is woven into ministry. People die, relationships die, hope may die, even ministries may die.
  1. But death is not the final word, resurrection is. Somewhere, somehow, life will sprout.

Jesus never held back any punches on the realities of ministry, did He? He understood the blessings and cost. And because He loves us, He never tires of investing in us as ministers of the Good News.

Which of these 14 lessons stood out to you today? What is Jesus saying to you about that lesson?

///

Have you wondered what Spiritual Direction is like but thought because you are overseas you won’t get to experience working with a Spiritual Director? Part of the Velvet Ashes Retreat involves working with a Spiritual Director. Have you signed up? Did you know there is a generous scholarship fund because God wants to be with you? For only $15 you will receive personal spiritual direction, testimonies from those who walk in your shoes, a retreat guide, and more. Remember #12 from above? Register today.

But I’ve done all these good things . . .

train-tracks-1081672_960_720a

The question came as Jesus was beginning His last journey to Jerusalem. It came as He was heading toward His most heart-rending task, as He was starting the long descent toward death: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We all know the story. A young, rich, religious man calls Jesus good and then asks Him how to achieve eternal life. Jesus first scolds him for calling anyone “good” but God. Then, feeling genuine love for the man, Jesus tells him to follow the commandments and proceeds to list several of them.

The man defends himself. “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young,” he says. But Jesus informs him that there is still something he hasn’t done – namely, to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. The man’s face falls when he hears this, and he goes away sad, for he was a very wealthy man.

I’d always glossed over this incident, thinking it might not apply to me. (I’d also neglected to notice until now that it occurred just before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time.) But this month as I again worked my way through the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, it suddenly struck me: the story of the rich, young ruler is my story.

“I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” — once upon a time I said those words out loud, too. I’d just been confronted by my own sin, and I was shocked. I remember protesting, “But I’ve spent my whole life trying to follow God!” My statement was just another version of the rich, young man’s statement; it was just another version of pride.

And like the man, my face fell too. When I saw my attitude for what it was — sin — I did an abrupt U-turn. I interpreted my sin as the worst of all sins and became very depressed. My sin wasn’t a sin that could be forgiven, you see. A sin like mine didn’t deserve God’s grace and forgiveness. Where before I had thought I was better than others, I now thought I was worse.

I rolled around in my sorrow and self-pity until a friend gently pointed out that I was exhibiting reverse pride: the kind of pride that says my sins are so bad they can’t be forgiven. I had flipped from the regular old pride of thinking I was a good person to the insidious, upside-down version of pride that said I could never deserve God’s forgiveness.

But my goodness was never good enough anyway, and reverse pride is a sin to repent of, too. So Jesus basically said the same thing to me that He said to the young man: “There is something you still lack.” That something was a humble awareness of grace. Because in the end, Jesus didn’t ask me to give up all my possessions. (Moving to Asia isn’t the same thing.)

What Jesus has asked me to give up is the idea of myself as someone who has done good things. He’s asked me to give up the idea that I’ve followed the commands well. Because I haven’t. And He’s asked me to give up the idea that any sin is beyond His reach, including the prideful belief that I have no (or very small) sins.

As Jesus watched the man in this story walk away, He explained to His disciples how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven. His announcement left the disciples wondering who in the world could be saved – because to a certain extent, we all trust in both riches and our own good works.

But here is where the story gets good, because Jesus told His disciples that “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” And He kept walking toward Jerusalem to make the impossible, possible. He kept walking toward Jerusalem to make the man’s question irrelevant. He kept walking toward Jerusalem to demonstrate His genuine love for us and to give a very un-good humanity the goodness that belongs to God alone.

Whether we’ve done “all these things” since our youth or not.