to suffer together.


Sometimes there are no adequate words, no pictures to be painted with stories, nothing that will do heart ache and tragedy justice. There’s a hollow echoing of a broken heart and we are left wondering how life will move on when it all seems so messed up. We are swallowed in darkness as we see the light more further and further away. And if God is good, if God is only good, how can holy feel so far away?

I found a piece of paper crumpled up under my bed the other day, it was my scribbled handwriting. I faintly remember writing down the words before falling asleep one night, but they adequately portray the heart shattering way of African life.

When I dream at night

sometimes it’s of dying babies or friends.

It’s the African way- to die.

To be subject to an unjust life.

They give and they give and they toil in the land

but the land has no sympathy

no forgiveness, no fairness

it’s all and it’s nothing.

sometimes when I dream at night. “

I always heard that “compassion” translated as “to suffer with“, but I never truly understood compassion until this year.  I was scribbling notes before bed, crying during thunderstorms and praying for mercy.  It’s breaking and searching for the glue that will hold us all together through the long nights and the never ceasing tidal waves that threaten us.

To suffer together, to hold and to be held.  In my quest for holy, for a good God, I’ve realized that maybe we have this life all wrong, maybe the American church has it backwards.  Maybe the superficial Sunday greetings and the lukewarm Christianity was never anything but hollow, no depths of the graces of Christ.

Maybe we forgot to talk about suffering together, to feel the breaking constantly and if we are not feeling it maybe we are not bending low enough, reaching out enough. I imagine Jesus with calloused feet and arms that continually welcomed the hurting–He sat and listened, He did not run away from pain, He stayed, He wept with those suffering.

Maybe we were meant to live with broken hearts, ones that beat with compassion; with suffering for one another.

We live in a fallen world and sometimes the hollow beating of our hearts were meant for more; to strive to wash the feet, to kneel before the sinners, to hold the weeping, to break for the ones who are wandering with no place to go, to love the orphan without hesitation. Maybe we were made for compassion.

I found her standing near the door after church– she reached out for a handshake and then wrapped her arms around me in a hug; she’s the sweet girl who was made an total orphan a couple months back. I remember the text message I received and the way my heart stopped for a moment at the news of her mother’s sudden death, the way I stayed up late praying and thinking “this is wrong, oh Jesus, please no.”  I sat beside her as she whispered stories about how angry she was at her mama for leaving her, she cried tears in her own fog of pain and confusion. At the same time she stands in front of the church and praises God for life.  It’s the darkness and the light and the collision of it all.

But now,  as we stand outside the church she tells me with a big smile that she wants me to come visit her at her home and come see her high school.  I told her I would come. If only this precious girl knew how big I dreamed for her.  And I know now, compassion is not the way we feel during a Sarah McLachlan commercial- it’s not a feeling, it’s action. It is a deep and broken echoing of suffering that’s being made into something beautiful again, maybe even something holy.  Her brave beating heart is teaching me all the things I never understood about tragedy and loss, but there is also a steady rhythm of hope.

It’s in the hard and hoped filled places that holy does not seem far away.  It’s an Savior saying “touch the scars in my hands, they are strong enough to hold you, they are making all things beautiful in their time”.  So we hold each other and we wait in expectant hope that heaven is near.

We are better together- in the deepest joy and greatest sadness.

Lord, break me again and again.  Let me suffer with them if it means heaven is reaching down.


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