Category  |  Suffering & Tragedy

Into Our Storms

Wind howled, lightning flashed, waves crashed. I thought I was going to die. My grandparents and I were fishing on a lake, but we’d stayed out too long. As the sun set, a fast-moving squall swept over our small boat. My grandfather instructed me to sit in front to keep it from capsizing. Terror flooded my heart. But then, somehow, I began to pray. I was fourteen.

I asked God for His reassurance and protection. The storm didn’t weaken, but we made it to shore. To this day, I don’t know if I’ve experienced a deeper certainty of God’s presence than in that night in the storm.

Jesus is no stranger to storms. In Mark 4:35–41, He told his disciples to head across a lake that would soon turn windy and wild. The storm that night tested and bested these rugged fishermen. They too thought they were going to die. But Jesus calmed the water, then led His disciples to deeper faith.

Likewise, Jesus invites us to trust Him in our storms. Sometimes He miraculously stills the winds and the waves. Sometimes He does something equally miraculous: He steadies our hearts and helps us to trust Him. He asks us to rest in the belief that He has the power to say to the waves, “Quiet! Be still.”  

How Long?

In Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks, “How long is forever?” The White Rabbit responds, “Sometimes, just one second.” It sure felt that way when my brother David suddenly died. The days leading to his memorial dragged on, intensifying the sense of loss and grief we felt. Every second seemed to last forever.

Another David echoed this sentiment, singing, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2). Four times in just two verses, he asks God, “How long?”—reminding us that, sometimes, the pains of life are made wore because it seems as if they will never end.

Into this heartache steps the presence and care of our heavenly Father. Like King David, we can honestly go to Him with our pain and loss, knowing that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). The psalmist discovered this as well, allowing his lament to move from a minor key to a major key singing, “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.” (Psalm 13:5).

In our seemingly endless moments of struggle, His unfailing love promises to carry us through.

Wonders in Focus

Some of us are inclined to look at the world and see only what’s wrong. DeWitt Jones is a National Geographic photographer who has used his profession to celebrate what’s right about the world. He waits and watches until a shaft of light or turn of perspective suddenly reveals a wonder that had been there all along. He uses his camera to find beauty in the most common faces of people and nature.

If anyone had reason to focus on the wrongs of the world, Job did. After losing all that had given him joy, even his friends became his accusers. Together their voices taunted him for not admitting that he was suffering for sins he was hiding. When Job cried out to the heavens for help, God remained silent.

Finally, from within the chaos of a whirlwind and the darkness of a storm, God asked Job to consider wonders of nature that reflect a wisdom and power far beyond our own (Job 38:2–4).

Would He now ask us? What about something as natural as the ways of a dog, cat, fluttering leaf, or blade of grass? Could a shaft of light, or a turn of perspective, reveal —even in our pain—the mind and heart of a Creator who has been with us and for us all along? 

Three-Lettered Faith

With a tendency toward pessimism, I quickly jump to negative conclusions about how situations in my life will play out. If I’m thwarted in my efforts on a work project, I’m easily convinced none of my other projects will be successful either and—even though utterly unrelated—I will probably never be able to touch my toes comfortably. And, woe is me, I’m an awful mother who can’t do anything right. Defeat in one area unnecessarily affects my feelings in many.

It’s easy for me to imagine how the prophet Habakkuk might have reacted to what God showed him. He had great cause for despair after having seen the coming troubles for God’s people; long and arduous years lay ahead. Things really did look dismal: no fruit, no meat, and no creature comforts. His words lure me into a pessimistic bed of hopelessness until he jars me awake again with a small three-letter word: yet. “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Hab. 3:18). Despite all the hardships he anticipated, Habakkuk found cause for rejoicing simply because of who God is.

While we might be prone to exaggerate our problems, Habakkuk truly faced some extreme hardships. If he could summon praise for God in those moments, perhaps we can too. When we’re bogged down in the depths of despair, we can look to God who lifts us up.

Everywhere and Nowhere

A family friend who, like us, lost a teenager in a car accident wrote a tribute to her daughter, Lindsay, in the local paper. One of the most powerful images in her essay was this: After mentioning the many pictures and remembrances of Lindsay she had put around their house, she wrote, “She is everywhere, but nowhere.”

Although our daughters still smile back at us from their photos, the spirited personalities that lit up those smiles are nowhere to be found. They are everywhere—in our hearts, in our thoughts, in all those photos—but nowhere.

But Scripture tells us that, in Christ, Lindsay and Melissa are not really nowhere. They are in Jesus’ presence, “with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). They are with the One who, in one sense, is “nowhere but everywhere.” After all, we don’t see God in a physical form. We certainly don’t have smiling pictures of Him on our mantel. In fact, if you look around your house, you may think He is nowhere. But just the opposite is true. He is everywhere!

Wherever we go on this earth, God is there. He’s there to guide, strengthen, and comfort us. We cannot go where He is not. We don’t see Him, but He’s everywhere. In each trial we face, that’s incredibly good news.

Able and Available

My husband was at work when I received news about my mom’s cancer diagnosis. I left him a message and reached out to friends and family. None were available. Covering my face with trembling hands, I sobbed. “Help me, Lord.” A resulting assurance that God was with me comforted me through those moments when I felt utterly alone.

I thanked the Lord when my husband came home and support from friends and family trickled in. Still, the calming awareness of God’s presence that I sensed in those first few hours of lonely grieving affirmed that God is readily and faithfully available wherever and whenever I need help.

In Psalm 46, the psalmist proclaims God is our sanctuary, strength, and steadfast supporter (v. 1). When it feels as if we’re surrounded by chaos or everything we thought was stable crashes down around us, we don’t have to fear (vv. 2–3). God doesn’t falter (vv. 4–7). His power is evident and effective (vv. 8–9). Our eternal Sustainer gives us confidence in His unchanging character (v. 10). The Lord, our secure stronghold, remains with us forever (v. 11).

God created His followers to prayerfully support and encourage one another. But He also affirms He is always able and available. When we call on God, we can trust Him to keep His promises to provide for us. He will comfort us through His people as well as through His personal presence.

The Hand of Comfort

“Patient is combative,” the nurse’s notes read. 

What she didn’t realize until later was that I was having an allergic reaction as I awakened after a complicated open-heart surgery. I was a mess, with a tube down my throat. My body began shaking violently, straining against the straps on my arms, which were there to keep me from suddenly pulling out my breathing tube. It was a frightening and painful episode. At one point, a nurse’s assistant to the right side of my bed reached down and simply held my hand. It was an unexpected move, and it struck me as especially gentle. I began to relax, which caused my body to stop shaking so badly.

Having experienced this with other patients, the nurse’s assistant knew that a hand of comfort could minister to me as well. It was a vivid example of how God uses comfort when His children suffer.

Comfort is a powerful and memorable tool for any caregiver, and Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 it’s an important part of God’s toolbox. Not only that, but God also multiplies the impact of His comfort by calling us to use the memory of the comfort He gives us to comfort others in similar situations (vv. 4–6). It is but another sign of His great love; and one we can share with others—sometimes in the simplest of gestures.

Trust Tally

Before my husband and I surrendered our lives to Christ, we seriously considered divorce. But after committing to love and obey God, we recommitted to each other. We sought wise counsel and invited the Holy Spirit to transform us individually and as a couple. Our heavenly Father continues to help us develop healthy communication skills. He’s teaching us how to love and trust Him—and one another—no matter what happens.

Yet, even as we head toward celebrating our twenty-fifth anniversary, I occasionally forget everything God has done in and through our trials. Sometimes, I struggle with a deep-seated fear of the unknown—experiencing unnecessary anxiety instead of relying on God’s track record.

In Deuteronomy 1, Moses affirmed the Lord’s reliability. He encouraged the Israelites to move forward in faith so they could enjoy their inheritance (vv. 1–21). But God’s people demanded details about what they’d be up against and what they’d receive, before committing to trust Him with their future (vv. 22–33).

Followers of Christ are not immune to succumbing to fear or anxiety. Worrying about what difficulties we may or may not encounter can keep us from depending on faith, and may even damage our relationships with God and others. But the Holy Spirit can help us create a trust tally of the Lord’s past faithfulness. He can empower us with courageous confidence in God’s trustworthiness yesterday, today, and forever.

Rooted in God

When friends moved into a new home, they planted wisteria near their fence and looked forward to the lavender blossom that would appear after five years of growth. Over two decades they enjoyed this plant, carefully pruning and tending it. But suddenly the wisteria died, for their neighbors had poured some weed killer by the other side of the fence. The poison seeped into the wisteria’s roots and the tree perished—or so my friends thought. To their surprise, the following year some shoots came through the ground.

We see the image of trees flourishing and perishing when the prophet Jeremiah relates them to God’s people who either trust in the Lord or ignore His ways. Those who follow God will send their roots into soil near water and will bear fruit (v. 8), but those who follow their own hearts will be like a bush in the desert (vv. 5–6). The prophet yearns that God’s people would rely on the true and living God, that they would be “a tree planted by the water” (v. 8)..

We know the “Father is the Gardener” (John 15:1) and that in Him we can trust and have confidence (v. 7). May we follow Him with our whole heart as we bear fruit that lasts.