I wanted to write a blog post earlier. But there were no words. Only a numbing grief and lament. In the past five weeks, India and now Nepal has gone through a devastating second/third wave of the covid-19 virus. This has resulted in the deaths of several of our friends and colleagues we have known for many years. Many others remain sick or thankfully have recovered. Since we are still on a leadership team for South Asia, though right now not being able to be there physically, we have been in daily involvement from fundraising for needs to communication for prayer.
So many questions have come from our friends with so many faithful, servant-hearted people dying and sick. Why is this happening? Where is God in all this? When will all this be over? Sometimes I have some of those questions myself. But for now, few answers are available beyond a trusting in Redeemer God who works even in the midst of terrible pain and suffering. Usually we do not yet see redemptive answers when we are in the middle of the storms of life. It often takes some time and space to start to see those fresh buds of life growing from dead stumps. We may not see them yet, but as we look closer after some time, we will.
Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, the day in the church calendar when we remember and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts, Chapter 2. It is a day when we affirm our desperate need for help, for daily empowering from the gift of the Holy Spirit within us as we follow Jesus. I sat in church yesterday feeling emotionally numb, yet in that place of need knowing that my dependence was not on my own resources, but on the God I have walked with for 54 years since I was 7 years old. There are many days and seasons of life when my need is not as apparent, but this past few weeks I have felt the rushing wind blowing on the hurt and ache in my soul. The promise of Pentecost is not only for when we are feeling strong, but actually more when we are feeling our weakest.
A few weeks ago, just as the fresh covid wave was beginning to hit India, my wife and I journeyed to the gorgeous Oregon coast in the NW part of the United States. I had been asked to officiate at the wedding of a long time friend and colleague who worked with us in India. It was a very small wedding due to covid cautions, yet was an incredibly beautiful event both physically as well as in the deep love of the bride and bridegroom for each other. The flowing of life between them touched my soul in a profound way. They had come to love later in life, each having their own story leading them to wonder if they would ever marry anyone. Then two years ago they met at church, and the romance began to blossom shortly after.
What a privilege and gift it was to be there and lead this couple in their vows and witness their celebration and joy. It took place at Pacific City in Oregon, right in front of a mammoth monolith called Haystack Rock. (pictured in the photo). It is one of two giant rocks known by that name on the coast, and this one is a bit higher than the one in Cannon Beach. At 327 feet, the one we were able to enjoy for two days is actually the fourth largest ‘monolith’ in the world, with the largest Ayers Rock in Australia. My wife and I felt like we were given a second honeymoon, as the marrying couple gave us a hotel room with an amazing view of this rock.
In the morning I went for a long walk on the beach, and in the evening we were graced by a magnificent sunset with the rock in the foreground. As I stared at the beauty and immensity of Haystack rock, I was reminded of two different Psalms. First was Psalm 61:2: From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. As I felt so overwhelmed and weak in soul, the immensity of this rock spoke to me again of the strength and firmness of God.
The second Psalm I was reminded of was Psalm 46: 1–3: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Sometimes our struggles seem like they would cause even the mountains to shake, even one like the Haystack rock. But even in those times, God is a very present help in trouble. And the Holy Spirit has been given as our deposit, downpayment, that someday we will indeed experience face to face the desire and hunger of our souls.
This wedding happened in what has been a very hard few weeks for us personally, but even more for many of our friends on the other side of the world. I want to draw from this gift a few lessons I have been learning afresh when our soul is crushed by loss and grief. Perhaps they could mean something to you in whatever you may be going through at this season of life.
1. In times of great struggle, we do not need to depend on ourselves. There is One who is a VERY present help in time of trouble. It may not be immediately apparent how the comfort and help of the Holy Spirit is there for you, but remember one of the names Jesus gives for the Spirit is the Helper. There will be abundant help for your time of need. Be attentive to the perhaps strange and wonderful ways that help will come.
2. Try to find the beauty of creation in times of deep personal need. You may not even be an ‘outdoors person’, but still there are exquisite works of God waiting to speak to you, like Haystack Rock for me.
3. Be attentive to where life is happening around you, even if you feel numb or dead inside. Perhaps it will be a wedding or the deep connecting love of two people like it was for me. Perhaps it is a new born, or the gift of a child discovering their fingers or toes for the first time. Perhaps it is hugging a person you have longed to hug after the long covid isolation. Let life flow into your places of pain and mourning.
4. Pause in stillness long enough to be honest about your own pain, and the pain of others. For me, it was an incredible gift that the stillness happened in front of Haystack Rock. What a place to meditate on the greatness of God, and my smallness!
5. Give yourself permission to grieve, to lament, to just not be right for a while. Everyone grieves at a different pace, a different rhythm. We are all so very different in these fundamental ways.
I will keep the image of Haystack Rock in my mind for a long time to come. I still feel numbness inside. But I also know there is a very present help in trouble, and I will lean on that Help today.