Waiting in Wilderness: The Deal with Pain

The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before.
That’s the deal.
~C.S. Lewis from A Grief Observed

The beach at Tohoku, Japan where the tsunami hit 10 years ago today.

For thus says the LORD of hosts,
Once more in a little while,
I am going to shake the heavens and the earth,

the sea also and the dry land.
I will shake all the nations;

and they will come with the wealth of all nations,
and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.
Haggai 2:6-7

the rubble still piled on the beach at Tohoku, Japan, a year after the 3/11/11 tsunami
She recognizes its crest in the way he looks at her. 
The wave is as vast as the roiling mass in the Japanese
Print they had paused in front of at the museum,
Capped with ringlets of foam, all surging sinew.
That little village along the shore would be
Totally lost. There is no escaping this.
The wave is flooding his heart,
And he is sending the flood
Her way. It rushes
Over her.

Can you look at one face
For the whole of a life?

Does the moon peer down
At the tides and hunger for home?

~Michele Wolf “The Great Tsunami”

In March 2012, we stayed with our friends Brian and Bette Vander Haak at their cabin on a bluff just above the beach at Sendai, Japan, just a few dozen feet above the devastation that wiped out an entire fishing village below during the 3/11/11 earthquake and tsunami. We walked that stretch of beach, learning of the stories of the people who had lived there, some of whom did not survive the waves that swept their houses and cars away before they could escape. We walked past the footprints of foundations of hundreds of demolished homes, humbled by the rubble mountains yet to be hauled away to be burned or buried and scanned acres of wrecked vehicles now piled one on another, waiting to become scrap metal. It was visual evidence of life suddenly and unexpectedly disrupted.

This was a place of recreation and respite for some who visited regularly, commerce and livelihood for others who stayed year round and then, in ongoing recovery efforts, was struggling to be restored to something familiar. Yet it looked like a foreign ghostly landscape. Even many trees perished, lost, broken off, fish nets still stuck high on their scarred trunks. There were small memorials to lost family members within some home foundations, with stuffed animals and flowers wilted from the recent anniversary observance.

It was a powerful place of memories for those who lived there and knew what it once was, how it once looked and felt, and painfully, what it became in a matter of minutes on 3/11. The waves swept in inexplicable suffering, then carried their former lives away. Happiness gave ground to such terrible pain. It could never have hurt as much without the joy that preceded it.

We want to ask God why He doesn’t do something about the suffering that happens anywhere a disaster occurs –but if we do, He will ask us the same question right back: why don’t you do something about the suffering you see around you?

We need to be ready with our answer and our action.

God knows suffering, far more than we do. He took it all on Himself, feeling His pain amplified, as it was borne out of His love and joy in His creation.

Now ten years later, on March 11,  beautiful Tohoku and Sendai, and its dedicated survivors have mostly recovered, but their inner and outer landscape is forever altered. What remains the same is the tempo of the waves, the tides, and the rhythm of the light and the night, happening just as originally created.

In that realization, our pain gives way as God soars above the storm. Pain cannot stand up to His love, His joy, and His sacrifice on our behalf.

photo by Nate Gibson at Sendai, Japan

Hide me now
Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father, you are King over the flood
I will be still, know You are God

Find rest, my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

It’s All Right Now

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
~Derek Mahon,”Everything is Going to be All Right” from Selected Poems

It’s tough to find reassurance these days; in a mere five months, things have gone from “doing okay” to outright disastrous. There is no expert anywhere with a crystal ball who can tell us what things will be like in another five months. We simply have to live it out as best we can.

I regularly remind myself: history has a way of repeating itself, and yes, the world has been in this place before. We’ve fought back against global pandemics and economic depressions and devastating world conflicts and we somehow manage to come out the other side.

It takes time and patience and prayer and groaning and a fair amount of teeth gritting.

So the sun rises in spite of everything. The clouds still fly by above us. We still love one another even when it takes a little work. So let’s give ourselves a little break from the bad news and just love, oh Lord above, in the glory of now.

Everything is going to be all right. Let your heart be watchful and untroubled.

Truly.

Like Right Now

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.


Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out––no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.
~William Stafford “Yes”
from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems

Of course there are no guarantees — no matter how selfless we are, how devout our practices, how righteous we appear in others’ eyes.

The natural disaster still happens, the illness progresses, the unexpected still happens because there is no warranty on how things must go while we’re here.

What is guaranteed is our vision of God’s glory as portrayed through His infinite sacrifice, His infinite worth, His infinite value, His infinite presence and transcendence. We glorify him through our enjoyment of Him — right now, right here — the bonus of another morning, another noon, another evening. It is bonus, not anything we are owed.

Guaranteed glorious. Unlimited warranty.

Let the Face of God Shine Through

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photo by Joel DeWaard

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photo by Joel DeWaard

 

 

All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line 
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from; 
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
 
Over these things I could not see;
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small
My breath came short, and scarce at all.
 
The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by. 
~Edna St. Vincent Millay – the first two and last stanzas of “Renascence”, written when she was twenty

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photo by Joel DeWaard

 

Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, is seen approaching Puerto Rico in this NASA GOES-16 satellite image taken at about 3:15 p.m. Eastern on September 6, 2017.

 

 

Millions of people have left their homes and possessions behind this weekend to find safe haven – a churning swirling monster hurricane closes in, mowing down whatever it touches, rendering sea and land indistinguishable, pinching East and West together and flattening hearts and souls as the sky caves in.  As with any natural disaster – the earthquake, the tsunami, the wildfire, the flood – we are reminded of our sheer helplessness before power that existed before us and will persist beyond us.

We are bounded and limited.
God is unbound and unlimited.

Our only hope is reviving our dormant faith, our renascence – cracking open heart and soul to let the face of God shine through us.
We are lifted up, not flattened.
We reach out to Him, grab hold and hang on.

 

 

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photo by Joel DeWaard

 

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Supposing It Didn’t

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“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”

“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.

Piglet was comforted by this.
~A.A. Milne

 

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It is the final week of a very long academic year and tension is running high.

Among those students to whom I provide care,
there are many who dwell deeply in “what if?” mode,
immobilized in their anticipation of impending disaster.

I understand this line of thinking,
particularly in this day and age of
“in the moment” tragedy
played out real-time in the palm of our hand
and we can’t help but watch as it unfolds.

Those who know me well
know I can fret and worry
better than most.
Medical training only makes it worse.
It teaches one to think catastrophically.
That is what I do for a living,
to always be ready for the worse case scenario.

When I rise, sleepless,
to face a day of uncertainty
as we all must do at times~
after careful thought,
I reach for the certainty I am promised
over the uncertainty I can only imagine:

What is my only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own, but belong
—body and soul, in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

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“Supposing it didn’t” — He says to reassure us.

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May God Have My Jewel In His Keeping

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God keep my jewel this day from danger;
From tinker and pooka and black-hearted stranger.
From harm of the water, from hurt of the fire.
From the horns of the cows going home to the byre.
From the sight of the fairies that maybe might change her.
From teasing the ass when he’s tied to the manger.
From stones that would bruise her, from thorns of the briar.
From evil red berries that wake her desire.
From hunting the gander and vexing the goat.
From the depths o’ sea water by Danny’s old boat.
From cut and from tumble, from sickness and weeping;
May God have my jewel this day in his keeping.
~Winifred Lett (1882-1973) Prayer for a Child

This prayer has hung in our home for almost three decades, purchased when I was pregnant with our first child.  When I first saw it with its drawing of the praying mother watching her toddler leave the safety of the home to explore the wide world, I knew it addressed most of my worries as a new mother, in language that helped me smile at my often irrational fears.  I would glance at it dozens of time a day, and it would remind me of God’s care for our children through every scary thing, real or imagined.

When our eight year old daughter was hospitalized with a life threatening E.Coli 0157 infection, this prayer comforted me when she was so sick, as I knew only God’s care and keeping would make the difference in a condition where there was no proven medical treatment other than watching and waiting with intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration.

And now this poem is in my mind once again, prayed fervently for two children separated by a vast ocean, but united through God’s church family.  One is our little neighbor Faye, turning two in three days, who also has E.Coli 0157 infection and is at Children’s Hospital in Seattle.  Her life and her family are incredibly precious to us at Wiser Lake Chapel.  Please pray with us that God will protect her through this awful illness, and give her parents endurance through long days and nights and an extra strength of faith and assurance of His love.

In Tokyo, Japan, we pray with our sister church Grace Harbor for their pastor’s son, Towa, age fourteen, who this week sustained a serious neck injury causing paralysis of his arms and legs.  His healing and recovery will take much time and his long term outcome uncertain.  He and his family too are having to depend on God’s power to help heal his body, and to prepare their hearts and minds for the unknowns and potential of life long challenges.

In addition to the two whose names we know, there are so many thousands of children hurting now in Nepal and other parts of the world, whose names we do not know, but who desperately need this prayer:

From cut and from tumble, from sickness and weeping;
May God have my jewel this day in his keeping….

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Faye