The Pain of Rejoicing, The Pain of Praise

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

As I waited with my grandson Sully for his being called to triage, we met another St. Jude patient. She was the same age as Sully, born the same day. Sully had infant A.L.L. leukemia. She had a brain tumor. His chances of survival were minimal. Her doctors back home sent her home on hospice care. Her mother contacted St. Jude and she was admitted as a patient. Sully died at age fifteen months. She survived. Genuinely I rejoice and am grateful for this child’s life. Through my volunteer work at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital I know other children who are survivors. O how grateful I am for their lives.

I genuinely rejoice when I hear stories of children who are survivors of pediatric cancers. My prayer and hope is that stories of survival will greatly increase. I genuinely praise God and rejoice in his grace for the healing and survival stories. Yet there are those times when there is pain in rejoicing, pain in praise.

Parents write with such beautiful words of joy, faith, and praise, as they tell of their child’s being declared cancer free. Words of praise to God, rejoicing in his love, his goodness, and his power. “God is an almighty God. God answers prayer. God is always good,” boldly and gratefully written. I genuinely rejoice in the good news of healing. I praise God. Yet, when I read the joyful words of praise and thanksgiving for a child healed, there is pain in my rejoicing, pain in my praise, the pain of loss, the pain of missing my grandson, the pain of Sully not surviving. This is not jealousy or envy. Rather this pain in rejoicing and pain in praise comes from the love I will always have for Sully. 

This pain is not a lack of faith. Rather pain in rejoicing and pain in praise comes from faith having experienced the crucible of suffering, loss, and grief. When God Almighty does not move the mountain, when God does not answer in the way he was begged to answer, when the good does not come from God who is always good, faith struggles to rejoice and to praise God. There is pain in the rejoicing. There is pain in the praise. There is faith holding on in the midst of the pain.

“But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul”

“Even If” by Mercy Me


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Mother, an Image of God

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yes, but also the image of mother is used to speak of God. On this Mother’s Day, reflections on God as mother.

God watched his people suffer the consequences of their sin in Babylonian captivity. Time came when God could no longer wait. He would deliver his people. Image of this divine deliverance is that of a woman in labor and giving birth. God speaks. “For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant” (Isaiah 42:14).

I still remember, best I can as a man, watching my wife bearing our children and giving birth. She experienced the body changes, the anxiousness, especially near the end. Birth, seeing her experience the pain, the exhaustion, and the exhilaration. I remember her growing in a connection with and in love with the baby in her womb. How her love grew, reaching the point of wanting to give birth, to hold the baby in her arms. Hers was the love of a mother, giving herself unselfishly and compassionately to her child.

This picture of God, like a mother in labor, we see God’s heart. We see God’s love for his creation, his love for humankind, a self giving love.

“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth” (James 1:18 NIV84). God’s love, like a woman bearing and giving birth to her child. God was willing to experience the work, the pain, the exhaustion, the risk, of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to give us birth, new birth in Jesus Christ. Like a mother, what exhilarating joy is God’s in giving us new birth in Christ.

“And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16). 

Image changes somewhat. I still picture the image of a mother. Her newborn child knows nothing of life. The child is dependent on the mother for nurturing and learning. Mother leads and guides her child through the treacherous waters of growing up. She leads and teaches her child along the unfamiliar paths of every new experience.

So it is with God toward his children. He nurtures us. He guides us. He leads and teaches us. The darkness he turns into light. The rough places of life he smooths, making them easier to navigate. He nourishes, giving us strength. Like a mother he never forsakes us. His love is faithful, always with us. God gives us the assurance of his love. He never forgets us. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).

Weeping over Jerusalem, over his people, Jesus cried out. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37). Through the prophet we once again hear God. “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:15).

A mother protects her children. She has a sixth sense. Hers is an awareness knowing what is going on in the lives of her children. She is there, present. Always she is ready to hold, to comfort, to give first aid, to defend, to discipline. Her children are her heart. So it is with God toward his children. Mother, the image of God.

Personally I was blessed to have such a mother in whom I saw the image of God. I believe my children have such a mother. Grateful am I that my grandchildren have such mothers.

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Jesus Is Risen!

“The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said’” (Matthew 28:5, 6).

Jesus has risen! “Where, O death, is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The tomb is empty. Hope is alive! “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. So in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22).

Visiting the graves of my parents and my grandson Sully, my love remembers their lives and love. My heart smiles, yet my heart also grieves. I remember the empty tomb of Christ. He is risen! Hope is alive! The graves which hold my parents and my grandson no longer instill hopelessness and fear within my heart. The grave which one day will hold my lifeless body is no longer fearful to me. Death’s strangling grip on my heart has been broken. Jesus is risen!

The risen and living Christ frees us from the fear of death. For in Christ we are alive in God and live with the hope of the resurrection to eternal life. This hope is not a “what if”, an “I hope so, but I’m not sure.” This hope is hope for it is certain. “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (1 Corinthians 6:14).

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Why I Still Believe

Why I continue to believe in God through Jesus Christ. Why, whatever happens in my life, I entrust myself to God in Jesus Christ. 

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:3, 5, 12).

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:22-25).

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (1 John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

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Jesus, Sorrowful and Troubled

“After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me’” (John 13:21).

There is a large wood carving of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper on the front wall of the chapel in the ALSAC Danny Thomas Pavilion at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. A few years ago, on a Tuesday afternoon, after donating blood at St. Jude, I went into the chapel for quiet time and to pray. I sat in front of this beautiful carving. Da Vinci, in his painting, portrays the varied emotions of the twelve disciples as they hear and react to Jesus’ shocking words that one of them was going to betray him.

In the carving, unlike Da Vinci’s original mural, the eyes of Jesus are looking up. On that Tuesday afternoon as I looked at Jesus, his eyes focused upward, the sorrowful and troubled spirit of Jesus seemed all the more evident.

When the supper was finished and Judas had gone out to betray Jesus, Jesus and the other disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew records in his gospel that Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’” (Matthew 26:37-38). The translations vary some. Jesus “began to be sorrowful and very heavy,” “began to be grieved and distressed,” “began to be in terrible distress and misery.” “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful,” “My soul is deeply grieved,” “My heart is nearly breaking.” Such human emotion of pain and of grief.

My eyes and heart focused on Jesus in that carving of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. I was reminded that our faith is not in a Savior, a God, who is so transcendent, so far away, from our human reality. Our faith is in a Savior, a God, who shared in our humanity. He suffered as we suffer. He experienced death as we have experienced death of loved ones and will ourselves experience. His emotional and physical suffering experienced that Thursday night before his death, his death on Friday, Jesus is a compassionate and loving Savior. For he knows personally the sorrows, suffering, and grief we face. He understands our hearts, our pain, our emotions, and our grief. Jesus is able and is there for us.

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Free to Cry Out in Our Suffering

In 2008 I wrote the following as our ten month old grandson Sully was in the midst of his heroic fight for life as his little body was afflicted by leukemia.

Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet of God, I highly respect, finding him to be a fellow sufferer with the suffering. God called him to a ministry that by man’s standards of judgment was a failure. His congregation, the nation of Judah, rejected his message and hated him. His life was threatened. He was thrown into a muddy cistern. He suffered the anguish and grief of the destruction of the nation (Judah) and city (Jerusalem) he loved. The weeping prophet he has been called.

As Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem he laments his own suffering. What draws me to Jeremiah is his faithfulness to the Lord’s calling in the midst of his suffering. I am also drawn to him because of his lament when he cries out to God. As I understand Lamentations 3, Jeremiah is laying his suffering at the feet of God. He complains. He accuses. God “has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long” (verse 3). “Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer” (verse 8). Read verses 12-20. His suffering is terribly painful. He complains to God. He blames God. Then he remembers and has hope. He remembers the love and faithfulness of God. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (verses 22-23). He waits on the Lord. His hope is in God.

I am drawn to Jeremiah and his words in Lamentations because they free me and you to cry out in our suffering. Yes, God accepts our struggles, our depression, our complaints, and shaking our fists at him. He patiently forbears with us. When we are finished, in the midst of the tears, we remember God’s love, compassion, and kindness in our lives. We remember his love so graciously given in Christ. In the midst of our tears we remember, and like the prophet, we turn again to our faith and wait on the Lord. In him we place our hope.

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Disney’s Frozen 2, A Lesson in Grief

We went to see Disney’s animated film, Frozen 2. It was fun until… When Anna realized that Elsa was dead she sang a song about her grief. This is no child’s song. It is not the stirring song that was Elsa’s “Let It Go”. The lyrics of “The Next Right Thing” and the emotion in Anna’s (Kristen Bell) voice, settled heavy on my heart. Leaving the theater, the whole evening, my heart was heavy. It was as if I had just experienced a loss. Any moment I felt I could break down. I went to see a Disney animated film, a story for children. Here was this song that I believe speaks to those who have experienced the loss of a loved one. It speaks to those who have experienced the gravity of grief pulling them down.

“The Next Right Thing” vividly describes grief. Kristen Bell’s performance captures the emotion and the pain of grief. I have given here the link to a lyric video of this song. If you have experienced grief, are experiencing grief, I am sure these lyrics capture well what you have felt, what you are feeling.

In her grief Anna realizes she has a choice to make. Is she going to wallow in her grief and give up on life? Or is she going to listen to that tiny voice whispering in her mind telling her in the midst of the hopelessness she is feeling, in the midst of the night and the darkness, do the next right thing? Though nothing will ever be the same again, she will make the choice to hear that voice and do the next right thing.

So is the challenge we all face in our grief. In the context of the story the next right thing for Anna is to carry on what Elsa came to do. In the context of the story of your grief what is the next right thing to do? Not right in the sense of there being only one right way to grieve. There isn’t. Rather the next right thing to help you grieve in a healthy way. The next right thing to do in carrying on the memory, the legacy, of your loved one. The next right thing, even the smallest of things, to make a step, however small, toward life. Make the choice to take a step, then to step again, as difficult as that can be.

“I won’t look too far ahead,” Anna sings, “It’s too much for me to take. But break it down to this next breath, this next step, this next choice is one that I can make. So I’ll walk through this night, stumbling blindly toward the light, and do the next right thing. And with the dawn what comes then, when it’s clear that everything will never be the same again? Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice and do the next right thing.”

In my faith that voice is God telling me he is present. He has not forsaken my loved one now gone. He has not forsaken me. “Trust me,” God says, “Take that first step, and the next, and the next. Through the darkness of this night, this valley of death, I am with you.”

(Music and lyrics of “The Next Right Thing” by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez)

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On this Christmas Day…

Monday I spent the morning at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I sat by the bedside of one of my young friends. When I first met this child a year or so ago, the energy my friend had when we played! As I like to say, what a hoot! Remission filled his parents and all of us with joy. Remission was not to last. The cancer is back. Monday I sat by my young friend’s bed watching a very sick child. My heart Monday morning was sad. Mom told me she is at peace being back at St. Jude. This Christmas morning I am thinking about this young friends. I prayed for him and other St. Jude children who have captured my heart as they so bravely fight their battles. I prayed for the families of my little friends who died this year.

We naturally ask why. O how I asked why not me instead of my sweet, innocent grandson Sully. Now, as I sat in this room two rooms down from the room where my grandson died, I ask why when this old man sits by the bedside of a young friend fighting for life. There is no satisfying answer, no heart comforting answer. Yet on this Christmas Day I remember the coming of Christ. I remember his embodiment of the love of God. God’s love which we are promised never forsakes us. As difficult as it is, I see Christ on the cross and his empty tomb, and yes, I trust that God’s love is always present. I trust the hope of Christ is so very real. The love of God and the hope he gives, yes I have to believe, is with my little friend, with all my young friends at St. Jude, this morning. As they were with our precious Sully and still are.

May the love, the hope, and the peace of God in Jesus Christ fill your hearts this Christmas day. God’s blessings.

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“To feel pity…is almost an insult.”

“To feel pity for anyone so magnificently brave as Joy is almost an insult.” 

W. H. Lewis (Warnie) wrote this concerning Joy Davidman on the occasion of her marriage to C. S. Lewis. The marriage took place in Joy’s hospital room. She had cancer. Douglas Gresham, Joy’s son, reflecting back on his mother’s illness, wrote, “And brave she certainly was; the spring-steel fibre in her personality bent further and further time and again, but it never broke!”

When I read this I immediately thought of our grandson Sully. For one so young he lived with courage in the face of leukemia. I thought of the many children I have known at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Then came the news of the death of Tyler Trent, a Purdue University student, on January 1. The story of his fight against cancer and his fierce support of Purdue football, became national news. At the memorial service for Tyler, Purdue quarterback David Blough described Tyler, “Our family member, our friend, our teammate, captain, a classmate, a cancer fighting warrior.”

“A cancer fighting warrior,” this best describes our grandson, the children and young people, and yes adults, who fought and are fighting cancer. It is the description used by parents to describe their children. Of course, there are so many children and adults who are fighting other life threatening diseases and injuries. Children and adults for whom “fighting warrior” is the best description.

Joy’s son, Douglas Gresham, further wrote of his mother. “Strangely, all through those hard, bad, bitter months, it was Mother who comforted us rather than the other way around. She encouraged Jack [C. S. Lewis] and teased him out of his sorrow, she delighted Warnie with her wit and conversation, she cuddled me when I needed it and chided me also when that was required. Mother, from her bed of pain and fear in the common room, became the support and the strength of the whole family. Strange as it now seems looking back at it, had it not been for her strength, we all would have broken down. Mother’s courage and her indomitable spirit were the bonding agent of the Lewis household.”

I have heard similar descriptions given by parents of their children who were cancer fighting warriors. Sully taught us, encouraged us, made us laugh, kept us going, as he so courageously fought for thirteen months of his fifteen month life. Tyler Trent inspired a university football team and so many others with his courage and his encouragement. For Sully, for Tyler, and so many like them, compassion, yes. Love and support, yes. Encouragement and presence, yes. Pity, no. They are heroes among us. 

“Heroes”—this message is on a shirt designed by his parents remembering Sully and all the children whose lives are stricken by pediatric cancer. “Warriors”—a message declared by a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, displayed for all to read who walk by the Alphabet Wall at St. Jude.

Purdue quarterback David Blough had one additional description of Tyler Trent. “Most importantly tonight we get to remember Tyler as a follower of Jesus.”

To feel pity for anyone so magnificently brave as Sully, as Tyler, as the many children fighting childhood cancer, is almost an insult.

(The quotes from Douglas Gresham are from his book, Lenten Lands, My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis (New York: HarperOne, 1988, 2003), pages 75 and 81.)

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Elf, A Lesson in Faith and God

My wife and I took a trip this past Thanksgiving. In a hotel I turned on the television. The movie Elf was playing. This movie has become a Christmas classic for many. I watched. Had some laughs. Santa Claus getting stuck in Central Park especially caught my attention. As Buddy and Santa find each other in the park Santa explains why his sleigh is grounded. “The Clause meter suddenly just dropped down to zero. There’s just no Christmas spirit anymore.” Then there is what Santa says to Buddy’s brother Michael when Santa’s sleigh lifts up off the ground. “You made my sleigh fly….This baby used to run solely on Christmas spirit. You believed in me. You made my sleigh fly.” As the dreaded Central Park Rangers and their frightening horses close in on Santa, Buddy’s girlfriend leads a crowd gathered outside the park in singing Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. As they sang the Christmas spirit grew in their hearts and they once again believed in Santa Claus. The Clause meter began to rise and Santa, sleigh, and reindeer were on their way.

Wait a minute, I thought, this is what many people think about God. He is only as strong and as able as the amount of faith people have in him. God is limited by our limitations. What happened to Jesus’ words “faith the size of a mustard seed”? Unlike Santa and the Claus meter, God is not energized and fueled by our faith. God is not waiting for me to have enough faith so He is able to work in my life. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24-25). God acts out of his very being as Creator and Almighty God. He acts out of his wisdom, patience, mercy, kindness, righteousness, holiness, and love. Thank God he does. We could never believe enough to empower God to be and to do as he already is and does, the Lord God our Creator and Savior.

(The picture is from

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