Two Funerals and a Reality Check (#Nevertheless. She Persevered.)

It’s been a week. Not that long ago, I spent some time in the UK. I passed teens and twenty-somethings on the street. I smiled at their gregarious antics, laughed at their spontaneous music and art on the streets of London. I talked to strangers on trains and in bookstores. This week, I wonder if any of those people are grieving.

Manchester.

This week, I also think about veterans and those who followed Jesus’ teaching to its end when he said that a true friend will give his life for others. I think about my dad, who came home but never spoke of it, and my uncle who did not. I think of a friend’s son’s anguish over what he saw in war and could not unsee that overwhelmed him to take his own life. This is not an uncommon occurrence.

01c17-unclealtoned

Memorial Day.

I wonder if this world that seems, at time, swept over with anger and violence is what they fought for and if they were here, would they believe they had won?

Whatever’s Next.

And then I found this old blog post, which seems more relevant now than four years ago. While we talk about persevering, I want to remember, on this Memorial Day weekend. I want to remember what’s worth persevering about. In the end, we can persevere through all kinds of things, but if they weren’t the things that mattered, why did we bother?

If we fight the good fight and then discover we fought the wrong enemy, what was the point?

If we were right all along but being right was not our task, what did it profit us to win the argument?

if we survive but don’t really live, why make the effort?

I want to persevere in holding out the things that bring joy to God and persevere in fighting the things that bring him grief. If anything will explain to you who I am and why I persevere for the things I do, it’s these events of four years ago. Especially the life and loss of a young man who made me question whether my life was governed by what really mattered or what I wanted to matter.

So, two funerals and a reality check. From four years ago.

This week I’m writing a funeral sermon. I’ve never done that before. It’s not been high on my list of career goals. But in fact, this weekend I have two memorial services, at the same time, for two people very dear to me. I can’t help but think that is very, very wrong.

I hate this.

A mutual friend put it well when she said, “I hate that we are mortal and I hate cancer and I hate satan.” I know exactly what she meant. This morning, I am hating the same things.

I hate death. I hate pain. I hate that parents grieve for their child and little boys will grow up without a father. I hate that some people will never see this gorgeous fall day.

But it goes deeper than that. I hate sin that brought death into this world. I hate that I am guilty of it. I hate that, if I went looking for the source of evil in the world, I’d find my own hands stained with the fruit of the Garden of Eden. I hate anger and unforgiveness and pride. The list is endless.

303e6-397747_4204597960159_756383061_n

Making a List

It is making me realize more than ever what belongs on that list and what doesn’t. It’s putting into perspective what we mean when we toss around phrases like “I hate that teacher,” I hate my ex-wife,” “I hate fill-in-the-politician’s name.” I can’t hate any human being today, as I say goodbye to two I loved.

It’s an election season. There’s a lot of hate flying around out there. I have my opinions. But hate? I just can’t muster that up for any political candidate, any person who disagrees with me, or even, yes, any lunatic with a shotgun who barges into a movie theater. Not today. I’m occupied with hating more important things.

The real things. The roots of all this garbage. The things we’re all victims and perpetrators of at the same time. Sickness and cruelty and selfishness and apathy. Those things we once rightly called “sin” but are too fashionable to label so now.

I want to spend my energy and time hating those things. I want to use my life to fight those things. Not petty battles that only give way to more skirmishes on more subjects once they are out of the way. I never want to expend an minute of my limited time hating another human being. What’s the end game there?

I’m done with witch hunts and knowing everything and dividing people with categories that made me feel better but accomplished nothing real.

IMG_5849

Hate and anger are serious things. They are not created for me to use as weapons. The only way I can beg Jesus to sanctify them in me is to use them where he did–against the powers that caused his friend Lazarus’ death, the injustice that left women to fend for themselves as best they could, the evil that offered him (and continually offers us) power in exchange for worship.

That’s a fight I want to persevere at. That’s a sanctification I want to persevere in seeking. Two men I loved are gone. They fought that fight. Sometimes they lost; in the end, they won. That’s the glory, and the reality, of these two funerals. Amen.

Miriam Rockness: 30 Years of Persistence Along the Humble Path

This week, I have a guest post from a dear friend. I spent ten days in this wonderful woman’s house in the UK, surrounded by peace, intelligent and spiritual conversation, and persistent hospitality. She is the real deal of wanting to make Christ her center. I love it when someone’s story gets so entwined with our own–like my own fascination with Betty Greene’s flying story that I wrote about earlier here. Here is Andrea’s contribution to #Nevertheless. She Persisted. Enjoy!

download

Many Beautiful Things

I have fallen madly in love with a biographical film about the life of Lilias Trotter, Many Beautiful Things. Trotter’s story has captivated me like not many stories have. Without the persistence of Miriam Rockness and a handful of other generous souls, this story could have been lost forever. I feel honored and humbled that somehow, I have become but a tiny thread woven into this beautiful tapestry of tales.

Lilias Trotter lived in late 1800’s England. She was a gentle, bold, creative, forward-thinking, courageous and faith-filled woman. Lilias was skilled in her art and dedicated to serving mankind. She was most persistent in her faithful walk with Christ, being willing to go wherever He led. This would include the dark streets of England and, later, the desolate mission field of North Africa. Lilias, by her own right, was a woman who persisted in following her humble path faithfully to the very end.

Each time I watched the film, a different story begged to be told—the story of the woman behind the story. Miriam Rockness seemed to be a woman who remained faithful and persistent along her own humble path to the telling of Lilias’ story.

Putting pen to my thoughts, I was grateful to have the opportunity to talk with Miriam by phone. As we visited, I noticed similar qualities in her to those I had noticed in Lilias from the film. Miriam’s gentleness and persevering passion forged its way effortlessly through the air waves to my soul.

The Story behind the Story

5d359befa9dd31fc21e1abd49795f5c3

Miriam explained that the layers of Lilias Trotter’s story were peeled back over the span of 3 decades. Careful not to draw accolades, she wanted to point out that, throughout her research, she had all the typical tasks that fill the days of most wives and moms. She explained how she stole moments as she could to read, journal and correspond. It’s also important to note that much of her research was done prior to the internet age. Imagine international phone calls and transatlantic snail mail and you can gather how this project was harried but certainly not hurried. Her passion has clearly stood the test of time as she recounted to me a treasure trove of stories.

“It’s so hard for me to separate the Lilias story from my own walk of faith.” 

Miriam first heard of Lilias Trotter from three sisters who visited the church her husband pastored. A connection was made and a few months later Miriam received a package from them containing a cameo biography of Lilias Trotter. It was a beautifully designed leaflet tied up with a satin ribbon. This little devotional inspired Helen H. Lemmel to write the hymn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. “I was just smitten,” said Miriam.

With her interest piqued, Miriam wrote back. The sisters would send more over the next several months and would eventually entrust the entirety of their collection to her.

“I felt like Lilias was confirming in my heart what really matters. She never saw the church visible. It (her life) wasn’t sensational but all of the writing and insights that helped her deal with the ups and downs of life and ministry and people were feeding richly into my life.” 

Once the last book from the sisters came, Miriam realized that pieces of Lilias’ story were missing. The search for answers to her questions took her down the path of an untold story. Along the way, God provided people, ideas, leads and resources in miraculous ways that would put feet to her pursuit.

images-1

Persistence in the Telling

I asked Miriam if she ever thought of quitting, if she was ever confronted with opposition. She said, “Oh, yes!” Noting that so many in her life, namely her husband and children, were most supportive, there were a few who believed the quest to be that of an endless black hole. She faced roadblocks at times that seemed impassable. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Over the span of these 3 decades, she would follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and remain faithful to do what He asked – even if the doing looked more like waiting. Through physical hardships, emotional turmoil, geographic boundaries, time restraints, monetary challenges and more, Miriam Rockness persisted in discovering and telling the beautiful story of Lilias Trotter.

Miriam was quick to give God all of the credit throughout this entire journey, but to be sure, God needed a willing, faithful and persistent vessel. He chose very well.

“You can never tell to what untold glories a little humble path may lead if you follow far enough.” ~Lilias Trotter

Miriam Rockness faithfully followed the humble path to Lilias Trotter’s story… far enough. Her persistence paid off. And oh, the glories she has told!

What path do you need to follow just a little bit farther? I wonder what stories and glories await you just around the bend.

For more:

A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter, Miriam Huffman Rockness

Lilias Trotter’s Sketchbooks and Journals

Many Beautiful Things (film)

Many Beautiful Things (soundtrack by Sleeping At Last)

cropped-andrea-stunz

Andrea Stunz is a wife, mom, mother-in-law, and grandmother. She is a world traveler from Texas and finds hope in a beautiful sunrise and a good cup of coffee. A stumbling pilgrim who is ever so grateful for grace, Andrea longs to encourage others in their stories by sharing a part of hers because “a story worth living is a story worth sharing.” Find more of her writings at AndreaStunz.com.

Circle of Light: #Nevertheless. She Persisted

IMG_8765

Twelve years. That’s how long this woman persisted. Imagine twelve years of your life. From 12 to 24. Or 30 to 42. Maybe 70 to 82. Pick any twelve. Now imagine how much you would miss if for those twelve years, that entire span of time, you had had little human contact. No one wanted to invite you over for dinner. No one hugged you or let you cry on them. No one played a simple game with you or walked with you through the spring daffodils.

Your medical condition made you always think you were going to die, and sometimes, you wished it was true.

Imagine the shame and the disconnection and the fear.

Then you can start to appreciate the woman today who persisted. It’s one of my favorite Bible stories.

As Jesus went with Jairus, he was surrounded by the crowds. A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” (Luke 8)

I am intrigued by this woman. She has suffered in shame for twelve years. Her medical problem is assumed to be a “feminine” one—which makes her doubly unacceptable in social situations. She probably had to hide her face in this crowd; otherwise, someone will recognize her, and the whole crowd will form a space around her, marking her by her uncleanness in a painful, public way.

Maybe you’ve been in a circle like that. Maybe as a child on the playground the others circled around you, keeping the distance of “other” and making fun of you for your clothes, your face, or your accent. Maybe as an adult you’ve felt the circle more than seen it. It forms around you if you’re divorced, or single, or another race. If you have “difficult” kids or not enough money for ladies night out.

The circle can be cruel.

a61a1-img_1112

This lady didn’t want a circle to form, so she crept up to Jesus, unseen, and touched the hem of his clothing. Look at this. Just. Look. At. This.

She believed she would be healed if she touched his clothes. While other people are standing in front of him, demanding his attention, calling for light shows and free bread and dances on water—this woman just wants to touch the outer fringes of Jesus. She knows this will be enough. Just the tiniest frayed thread of his hem. She believes He has that power. She doesn’t need a show to prove it.

That is faith I would give a lot for.

This woman persists for twelve years, partly, I imagine, because she has no choice. Partly, I am certain, because this faith right here is at play in her soul. She doesn’t come up with this level of faith right there on the spot. She has carried it, nurtured it, fanned its tiny, quivering flame for twelve long years. She has believed, when believing seemed futile.

And she is right. Jesus heals her, without even paying attention to her. A miracle healing occurs.

76ffc-img_6251ed

But then another miracle happens. This one she does not anticipate. This time Jesus knows full well where his power is going and what it’s doing. In fact, he’s deliberately making it happen. He insists she come out of hiding and be seen. While she had wanted, needed, to remain hidden in the crowd, Jesus calls her out of hiding. She has to tell everyone what has happened. The details. Which are very personal.

A second miracle occurs. She is not only healed of her sickness. She is healed of her shame. She is called out of the center of the circle and told she does not ever have to stand there again and listen to the mocking of the crowd. She never has to hear their judgments or see their side eyes or wonder if she will be let into the group. She is free of the shaming circle. She is healed all the way through.

Jesus’ power says that if somehow today you’re standing in the middle of a circle, you don’t need to. Whatever shame you’ve carried, you can leave it there. Whatever worry you’ve wrestled over, whatever judgment someone has rained down on you, whatever fault you can’t seem to shake—touch his cloak, leave it in the circle, and walk away free. Don’t be afraid to step into the light and look at his face as he forgives you or heals you or blesses you–whichever you need.

Just persist.

Jesus greatest miracle isn’t the healing.

It’s the calling into the light. It’s the demand that people be seen and known, no matter who they are or what their circumstances have been. It’s their restoration as creations and images of God.

5f758-115

The miracle is that we no longer have to be afraid of the light, because the circle is wide. Wide as his love. It’s ours, all thanks to a little lady who persisted.

#neverthelessshepersisted

Starting Over. #Nevertheless. She Persisted.

IMG_2696

She invites me to sit on the black vinyl couch, with its split seams and billowing middle. We communicate with pointed fingers, slow words, and smiles. I don’t know this woman, but I will come to over the next four months. That’s how long I have to teach her how to do what I have assumed as common knowledge since I could hold a pencil.

Fill out a form.

Name. Address. Date of Birth. Something I have to do virtually every day. Something most of us grumble through, having to write or type it all our one more time. We feel immensely grateful for autofill on our browsers, as if typing an address is a major hardship. I know the sounds of impatience I make when I realize whatever site I’m on is not going to autofill. I find it irritating, infuriating on bad days.

It has never occurred to me that filling out a form is a luxury I am genuinely blessed to manage with ease.

My new friend can’t spell “Name.” She can’t read it. She doesn’t know what I mean when I ask her to pick out an “M” from the pile of UpWords tiles I have spread out before her, clattering all over the cloudy glass topped table. She, who has to fill out school forms for her four children, endless forms for doctors, insurance and apartment rental . . . cannot complete the first word of this thing we take for granted.

I get the privilege of teaching her.

IMG_2704

She will persist, because she knows she needs to know this. God knows, she has persisted through much worse.

I don’t have any idea what this woman has persisted through.

I don’t know her past life, but I know some basic facts: At the end of 2015, refugees from her country numbered 495,724. Living conditions for most refugees in host countries near hers are harsh, unhealthy, and unsafe. Overcrowded conditions with no opportunities for work or recreation result in high rates of sexual violence, prostitution, early pregnancy, and school dropouts. Many refugees suffer from a high degree of trauma from their exposure to violence, torture, and assault.

In her country, a woman is raped every minute. It is the highest rate in the world. In her country, boys are regularly abducted into the militia and forced to torture and kill innocent people. Young girls are abducted to “serve” the men. This violence has become the norm in society as it trickles outward.

This is what her family fled. I don’t know if she had any other children they lost there. It’s likely. I don’t know what may have happened to her or her small daughter. I may not want to. I know she is fortunate to still have her husband. The fact that I can’t write her name or country here is partly for privacy, partly for safety.

They have been here three months. The transition is beyond my comprehension. Urban vs. rural. English vs. Swahili. Work in a factory vs. work outdoors. School vs. home. As one woman puts it, “There are so many places to go every day. I was so worried I could never be successful. I would never learn all the places and things I have to do. It is so hard when you come.”

She and her husband and four children are willing to start over. Lose everything. Take any opportunity offered. Just to live without constant fear. And yet, all I hear from videos like this one and from people who attend the English classes I’ve helped with is how hopeful they are and how they know, with time, life will be good again. All I experience are smiles and hand shakes and deeply sincere thank you’s. I am floored by this faith in the face of whatever they have endured.

IMG_2690

So this woman whom I cannot name is my poster child for #Nevertheless, She Persisted. This is the most amazing persistence I can imagine.

That first day this week, we sat on her couch, together filtering through the clattery, plastic letters. I quickly realized I needed tiles that showed lower case letters, not only upper case. Which is she more likely to encounter every day? I also quickly realized I had no idea how to explain the concept of upper and lower case letter to someone who had never learned to read and could not understand my words. What ever would you say? I just kept repeating, “Big, small, same thing.” And smiling. We smiled so much.

My lesson plan of  eleven words immediately cut to four. Four words—just the words that would enable her to write her name. That will take us a couple weeks. Adding the address and anything else will come in time.

Meanwhile, we played a game to lighten up the work. An easy board game of rolling a die, moving our red and green horse pieces I had pilfered from my daughter’s Lord Of The Rings Risk game, and answering questions. What’s you favorite food? What’s your address? How many people are in your family?

She beat me to the finish line. She was so thrilled. I learned that her favorite color is white and her favorite food is rice. I learned small things about her that first day. Every week, I hope to learn more. Small things will add up, and one day I may know this woman whose persistence is beyond my imagination.

For now, I’m going out to buy flashcards. With lower case letters. Because I am the privileged one who gets to teach her how to use them and to have a front row seat to her persistence. I am dumbfounded. Astounded. Amazed. Every adjective in the Thesaurus. I can’t believe I am so lucky.

#neverthelessshepersisted

None of Us Alone

08498-img_5059

Hello! Today I’m featuring a guest post from a friend who knows what it means to persist. I am in awe of Ellie—so I give you her reflections and her story. Of persistence.

#Nevertheless. She Persisted.

A woman forlornly shopped for produce at the grocery store. She had a look I recognized, even without knowing a thing about her. Things were getting to her, but she was trying hard to stay strong. Women’s intuition, I guess. We just know things. I asked her if she was ok. She said yes and continued randomly dropping cucumbers in her basket. I kept up with my own shopping. Moments later she was sobbing and had dropped her basket. The manager was there comforting her. It was nice to see in what can be a cold world. She wasn’t ok, but nevertheless, she persisted.

IMG_8380

My neighbor has stage 4 breast cancer. She’s only 42. Cancer knows no limits, but it feels extra unfair. Her preteen children don’t appear to grasp the seriousness of it, which could possibly be a blessing.  My neighbor sometimes seems fine, and other times she seems horribly sad. Nevertheless, she persists.

I have a dear friend who is the very definition of a survivor. She has survived breast cancer that was supposed to kill her. She watched her home burn to the ground. She continues to survive the loss of one of her sons every day. She’s been given plenty of reasons to lose faith, yet her faith in God remains. She’s absolutely the most rock solid Christian I’ve met. She’s faced, and is still facing, so many hard times, but nevertheless she persists.

IMG_8379

Then there’s me. Malignant Multiple Sclerosis, Trigeminal Neuralgia, and chronic migraine are only the beginning of my list of chronic illnesses. Every day is a struggle through pain and emotions that are hard to find words to explain. But I persist. Because quitting isn’t allowed.

These women are my heroes because of more than just their obvious strength. I admire them because I see a little bit of my struggle in theirs, and it gives me such courage to know that none of us are alone. Women are amazing and fierce. Keep on persisting.

FB_IMG_1492706444069_resizedEllie is a 45 year old woman living in South Carolina. She works as a cashier but is always dreaming of more; she’s just not sure of what more is. Her favorite hobbies are reading, writing, and yarn crafts. Her biggest hope in blogging is to help no one ever feel alone in their journeys with chronic illness, or anything else. Follow her at It’s Just Ellie