When You Face the Night

stars“The dark is about bravely being a canvas for light — about courageously letting your dark be a canvas for sparks of God glory, a backdrop for ambers of mercy in the midst of your fire.” – Ann Voskamp {Read Ann’s brave post here}

There are some lights that can only be seen clearly at midnight.

I remember standing under million star nights in South Sudan.  The stars painted the dark with light.  I found a sky full of promises in the middle of a war zone.

When I went to South Sudan, truthfully I went expecting not to come back.  I thought I would lay my life down in that soil one day and would have done so happily.  I faced off with machine gun toting rebels, Ebola scares, cholera epidemics, cerebral malaria daring death to do its worst.

In some ways death-by-missions seemed an admirable and easy end when ever that end came.  I wouldn’t exactly hasten it, but I sure wouldn’t stave it off either.  I was cautious with the lives entrusted to me, but not with my own.

But the end didn’t come.  Not that way.  Instead I was plunged into my absolute worst nightmare with a ripping, searing so extreme I didn’t know if I’d survive to see the healing. One whole year.  Sack cloth and ashes and a night of grief so profound, I almost forgot what morning looked like. I’ve known the singed earth of a pain so deep you think it would physically rip your heart in two and then the agony when it doesn’t.

And it was not an issue of faith. You don’t “faith” grief away.  It is not a matter of saying right things or pulling up your bootstraps or commanding or declaring or finding the right formula or putting on a holy game face.  It just isn’t.

When you face the night, sometimes the only thing you can do is let God hold you through the weeping until the morning comes. In the middle of the night, these words are etched as light in the dark.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matt 5:4 NASB

The word mourn doesn’t just mean sad, it means to bewail someone and grieve for them, to mourn the death of a friend, to weep. It is the intensive version of the Greek word pathos that means pain, affliction, calamity and suffering.

All transitions, even the best kind, embody loss.  You have to let go of what was in order to step into what is to come. And when the transition is a painful one, all the more.

When obedience costs you everything you hold dearest to say yes: then transition is about trusting in the valley of the shadow of death. It is a dying to what was so we can live to what will be. And it is the most painful thing I have ever walked through.

I didn’t know I would live through it.  There were days I was so sick and heartsick I could barely get out of bed and I wasn’t sure I wanted to live through it.  Add in the fact that all the malaria rewired the way my body processes anything that is stressful, it is purely God’s grace that I am here at all. It felt like my life was over and there was nothing left and no way out.

In the middle of suffocating loss, I found out that the pain could press me deeper into Him. There is always a way in Him.

I am grateful to have found the right combination of medications, diet and lifestyle changes in this season that allows me to keep going. Yes, I did say medications. There is no stigma for dealing with panic or anxiety or anything else on a medical level so you can gain enough ground to let God bring about deeper answers. I need some neurons rewired, thank you very much.

Brave is not suffering in silence out of fear of being thought weak for having a problem.  Brave is valuing your own life enough to get help. It is not yet the healing I believe for, but it is an answer to so many prayers.

lovelightWhen you face the night, brave is about letting God show you the stars, letting the darkness become the backdrop for His love to shine.  Shame hides. Love shines.

For they shall be comforted.

Confortare. That’s the promise. He fortifies us with His love.  Even when we can’t feel anything but the stark stripping searing pain of loss, even then.  Comfort is a military term that mean preparation for battle.  Comfort from Jesus doesn’t tiptoe carefully into the situation, it boldly marches.

Aug 9, 2014 one year to the day of turning the projects in S Sudan over to my sending organization, I found myself sitting in Jacksonville meeting my Congolese friendship family for the first time. We are a gateway city and resettling location for 100s of refugees, many of them from Congo and South Sudan. Only Jesus.

Before I knew it their friends came over and we all sat around telling stories with the help of our precious interpreter. Doors have flung wide on a whole Congolese and Sudanese refugee community in my backyard in ways that I am still stunned by. Tears of joy. I have no words for how grateful I am.

And then the next day, the first day of this new season, God’s comfort marched right into the center of my grief and said, NOW. He pulled me out of the last year of letting go right into the center of where I am going.  In a moment, the shift happened. The Son rose and the dawn came.

Don’t hide your struggles. Please don’t. The places of our deepest callings are often birthed in our most difficult struggles. When you face the night, let Him transform the darkness to become a display for the breadth His promises. In Jesus His promises are always yes and amen.