i would like to begin by saying that while this blog entry speaks of the recent grievous situation concerning my dear sister, who was and is loved by so many, this is in no way a reflection of our loss. or her life. rather, this is a reflection of how i have seen Him working through several recent experiences to reveal to me His redemptive purposes.
i say this so that, in reading these words, you do not arrive at the end and feel robbed of a more appropriate reflection of loss, in light of our recent situation. so that you do not think me shallow in this reflection. i make no offer to speak of anything other than redemption at this point. if, at a later time, i am gifted with words to speak of loss, i will be obedient to share them. but, for now, i will speak to what i have been shown. and i pray that these words would speak to you, where you are at.
i’ve had two roommates in my life. one is my wife. the other was during my freshman year of college. i lucked out, too. even after so many years, we still stay in touch and enjoy getting together. even though we no longer live near each other.
among many other similarities (we’re both ocd in terms of tidiness, both the oldest of three, both were dating a jennifer at the time we met…), we share initials, my old roommate and i. so when we do get together, it’s often referred to as ‘rp-squared.’
our shared initials led to a good laugh every now and then. calls to the room for “ryan” quickly got confusing. “ryan there?”, “ryan who?”, “ryan p?”, “ryan p, who?”…
he had a chance to visit recently, and we spent some time catching up on life, ladies (for him, i have just one) and work over some amazing burgers downtown. the kind of burgers you know you’ll only be able to enjoy a few more years, before your heart completely shuts down for even looking sideways at so much cholesterol.
and it was during this meal that ryan asked me about my writing. he was familiar with my dreams. he knew about my desire to write in a way that helped reveal Christ to others. and he asked me what i thought my angle would be, in the long run. what my niche would be, were i to continue writing. and, because of a handful of recent conversations, and because of a recent opportunity to put my life story into a short video, i was able to answer his question without even giving it much thought.
“redemption,” i said, with nearly a pause. “i think my story is going to be about redemption.”
from so little
i’ve talked about this here before, but i traveled to portland a while back to film a video. the video was for a contest being put on by an author i really appreciate, donald miller. he was inviting people to submit a 90-second video that showed how they’re trying to tell a better story with their life.
the contest was based on the theme of miller’s most recent book, a million miles in a thousand years. a book that just happened to coincide with some incredible changes in my own life. changes that would retell the story of my life, in a way i never thought possible.
and, it was during the filming of this video, while working through what my story would be, and being in conversation with my best friend about the project, that i began to see how my story is about redemption. it is about how He has redeemed me from my background. how He has taken what was, and He has bought it back. to use for His purposes. and it is just one example of how He works through the lowly things of this earth to share Himself with others.
not just my story
but it’s not just my story that’s interwoven with the theme of redemption. time and time again we see it in His word. with people throughout history. whether it’s joseph being torn from his family, sold into slavery, and then finally ruling over egypt. or God using david, a guy who herded sheep for a living, to defeat the giant of a man named goliath. before becoming king. or moses beginning his story as a baby floating down a river, to become a member of pharoah’s household, and then finally leading millions of God’s people out of slavery.
God tends to do incredible things in places we’d least expect it. with people we might not expect Him to. and i think all of this is to show us reflections of His plan of redemption. like He’s saying to us,
look, I am doing an amazing thing here. something that will blow you away. but I am not doing it how you’d expect. no, I am doing it in a way that, when it’s finished, you will be able to look back on this story and realize, it was all Me. it was all My work.”
there is no doubt in my mind that God’s desire is to bring us back to the spot we belong, in right relation with Him. to a place of redemption. and that reguarly means using the lowly things of this world. He works best through those sort of vessels. not the sort who think themselves worthy, but, on the contrary, those who could not imagine why God would ever want anything to do with them. those are His kind of people. those are the kind of people we see Him using time and time again.
and so, if that is you. if you feel like you could not sink any lower. if you feel like the walls of life are crashing in all around you. like you are not sure if you will be able to breathe for the weight of the challenges on you now. i would say to you, be comforted. for He is not far from you. and i am confident He will work through your pain and your struggles. for His glory. that is redemption. and He plans to use it.
a walk downtown
i remember walking with ryan out of that downtown restaurant that friday night, and explaining to him my reasoning for saying i thought my story would be one of redemption.
“it just doesn’t make sense, that He would use me, a kid who grew up in a single-parent household. literally from nowhere. the middle of cornfields and dairy farms, really. to tell others about Himself. that just doesn’t make sense, right?”
i paused, to make sure ryan was tracking with me. he was.
“but that’s how He works. and i feel like, if i am obedient to Him, allowing Him to speak through my life, and the pain i’ve experienced, then He is going to use that to tell others about Himelf. to tell others about His redemption.”
and it’s difficult to communicate, but i felt, at that moment, that there was freedom. that, by being candid about these experiences, even in the face of fear for what others might think, He was freeing me up to reveal His redemptive work in my life. and, in a very real way, i felt like that is what this is all about. that that is the underlying purpose behind all of these painful experiences. that He wants to redeem them. that He wants to buy them back. so that He might use them to reveal His glory. His redemptive plan. to others.
and i felt like if i were to keep these experiences from others, i would somehow be robbing God of the opportunity to share His story of redemption through my life. i know it sounds ridiculous, because i truly do believe God to be sovereign. and i believe God is going to use particular experiences in my life to reveal Himself to others, whether i like it or not. but, perhaps for the first time, i felt like He was showing me why he wanted me to loosen my grip on these experiences.
as we continued walking downtown that night, under the street lights and amongst the foot-traffic of those standing in front of bar fronts, of those welcoming the weekend, i continued, “i just can’t help but feel like He is going to use this. all of this. to help share with others His goodness.”
the purpose behind His redemption
the truth is, i don’t deserve any of this. the life i’ve been given. the incredible family and friends. the job that not only pays the bills, but that i enjoy. the opportunity to study at the school of my dreams. all of the blessings. even my desire for Him is a gift. and it’s nothing i could ever deserve. yet He keeps giving them. and i don’t think it’s so that i can sit back and revel in these gifts, but so that i can use the blessings i have received to bless others. to me, that is the beauty of redemption. not just that He redeemed my life, but that it doesn’t end there. it doesn’t stop with any of us, but it continues on. changing lives in its path.
the beauty of redemption is not simply that we are saved, but that we are part of this beautiful story. God’s story. a story of how He is bringing back His wayward children to Himself. to a place of love. to a place of redemption. to the place we all belong.
the point of all this is not that you would be blessed, but that His story of redemption would be told. that it would be shared with others. through us. and it often happens through our pain. through the darkest of experiences.
a song of redemption
i heard this song recently, and i loved it at first hearing. i’m a lyric guy, for sure. so the words immediately caught my attention. about a minute into the song, this is what she sang,
i know You hate to see me cry,
one day You will set all things right.
yea, one day You will set all things right.”
and there was so much comfort in those words. i felt like He was using these words to acknowledge the brokenness of this world, something i was so thankful to have acknowledged. something i needed to be acknowledged. but then i felt Him reminding us that He plans to make it right. that He’s not just going to leave things broken. and that He’s at work at this. even now.
i was delighted when, a few weeks later, a girl in our church, a girl not yet in her twenties, sang this song in front of our congregation on a sunday morning. it was not just that i liked this song, though, and that i was excited to hear it. the best part about this scene was that this song was being sung by this girl in particular. by the vessel He had used to share these words with us, that morning.
i don’t know all the details, but i know she has been raised by parents other than her own. and i know that, in recent years, she has found herself in and out of church. going through some rough patches in life. and, most recently, i know she has been faced with the reality of an unexpected pregnancy. not married, not yet 20, and pregnant.
i’m sure it’s not a place in life she had planned for herself. and i’m sure the pain she has experienced from this, and the resulting ripples in her life, go deeper than i likely know. but, that morning, as she sang these words in front of our church, i couldn’t help but think God was using this picture to show us all a picture of His redemptive plan.
this girl was, at that moment, for me, a sign of the trouble we all get ourselves into. and i mean no disrespect to this girl. i truly don’t. but what i saw that morning was someone in a situation they never imagined, and one they’d surely rather not be in. but then God was using that situation to display His glory.
and as she sang these words to us that morning,
i have unanswered prayers;
i have trouble i wish wasn’t there.
i have asked a thousand ways,
that you would take my pain away;
that you would take my pain away.
i couldn’t help but feel like He was singing to all of us there, that morning. through this girl’s voice. saying to us,
I know things are broken. I know things are painful. but you have to trust Me. where there is pain now, it will be healed. for I will make all things right.
i remember the first time i met this girl. four years ago. it was at our first apartment, not long after my wife and i were married. it was around 9:30 or so at night. which means i was making my second dinner. and she stopped by with jen’s sister, hayley.
and i remember them coming into the kitchen. where i was working away on some bbq chicken. pretty sure hayley stole a bite. and we talked. the four of us. we talked about old tv shows, among other things. i’m pretty sure are you afraid of the dark may have come up. and she told hayley i looked like mr. smith. apparently a substitute teacher of theirs. i still don’t know who mr. smith is.
she seemed funny. she seemed like she had a good heart. she seemed like a great friend to jen’s sister. to my sister.
at her bedside
a few weeks ago, we found ourselves sitting at my sister’s bedside. in the hospital icu. my wife’s family and i. and it seems so unreal. even now, thinking back, it seems like some bad dream. but it was not. it is not.
we spent most of the week there. at the hospital. sitting at hayley’s bedside. watching her chest rise and fall with each breath. and, even though each inhale and each exhale came with the assistance of a machine, they were a sign of life. and, when i allowed myself to forget about the machines and the tubes and the beeping sounds for long enough, i was actually put to ease watching her breathe. as if she were simply sleeping, and we were invited to watch.
but then the reality of the situation would return, like a cold hand in the darkness, turning you to see things for what they actually are. and, as blue as the sky looked outside that week, inside the room felt so dark. and so cold.
and i remember kneeling at hayley’s bedside, holding her hand, resting my chin on my arm, and looking up at her mom as she spoke.
“i just feel like God is going to use this for good.”
about a week later, i took the stage at our church. on a thursday afternoon. to speak to more people than i’ve ever spoken to before. to keep a promise i made a year and a half ago. telling them about my sister. sharing memories. talking about what she meant to me. talking about what she meant to all of us. sharing the final days we spent with her.
and, before concluding, i invited those who were hurting, those who felt like they had nowhere to go, to come and find me after the service. i offered to pray for them. so that, in this way, i might be able to help those who were close to my sister. and so i did, not knowing if anyone would take me up on the offer.
it was around this time, around the time we lost my sister, that a passage of scripture continued to play over and over in my head. it was from a conversation Jesus had with His disciples shortly before His death.
whoever loses his life for me will find it.
and i remember thinking what a terrible example this was… i remember thinking, “He must not understand.”
with the painful sting of death so green. so fresh in my mind. i remember thinking, “how could He use such an incredibly painful topic – death – to talk about what it looks like to follow Him?” and i remember doubting the value He placed on life. or at least thinking we must place more on it than He.
but then i recalled another passage of scripture. i remembered a scene where a friend of Jesus’ had died. a guy by the name of lazarus. and i remembered how He reacted when this man’s sister came to tell Him of the news.
knowing what was to come. even knowing that He Himself would raise this man back to life, we read that Jesus wept. He cried, even though He knew this man’s death was only temporary. that he would soon be returned to life, and that those who loved Lazarus would once again be enjoying his company very soon.
and that was helpful for me. that scene reassured me that Jesus absolutely valued life. that He absolutely understood the incredible loss that comes with death. and it showed me that, even knowing the devastation that comes from losing a life, He still chose to use these words to talk about what it looks like to follow Him.
it is only when you lose your life for Me that you will find it.
conversation with a stranger
“she was two years older than me in school, but we were friends,” she said, in-between tears, as we sat together at the front of the church. “and she was so amazing.”
this girl had come to me, with tears in her eyes, after my sister’s memorial service. and i was so glad she did. she shared with me how she knew hayley. she shared with me her memories of my sister. and she told me about how hayley had changed her life. for the better. how the words she spoke had saved this girl from traveling a terribly painful path.
“i remember going to an all-county dance together one year. and i remember waking up the next day and just talking to hayley. and she was just like you said. so beautiful, but so humble. i remember she told me, ‘you’re better than this. you’re so pretty.’ and i was like, ‘hayley, you’re gorgeous. you of all people are better than this… why are you saying these things to me?’ and she just replied, ‘because these are the things i wish someone else would’ve told me.'”
and i sat there beside this girl. as she cried. beside this girl who i didn’t even know. and i was so incredibly thankful to hear this story of my sister. and i was proud. proud that she spoke these words into this girl’s life. that, even in the darkness, she was bringing the light.
“and you know what?”, she continued. “that was the last time i ever went to a party. it’s been two years, and i haven’t been back since.”
i couldn’t help but think, at that moment, “that is it. that is redemption!” i didn’t say this, of course. because that would’ve just sounded weird. but i thought it. quietly. to myself. i thought, “that was God at work. through hayley, for this girl.”
and i prayed for her. for this girl who introduced herself to me that afternoon. who poured out her heart to a perfect stranger. i prayed that God would use her story, an incredible story of redemption. that He would use the life He saved her from for His good. to help others.
as she turned to leave, her story put a smile on my face. to think how hayley spoke up to this girl. and for the pain she saved her from. and i was so thankful. i was so proud.
after two hours of sitting with people who knew my sister. some friends. some teachers. some co-workers. and hearing memories of her. and praying for them. i caught up with my family. and we sat down, to enjoy a meal together.
working through pain & loss
i am not sure why. and i am not sure how, exactly. but God works through pain. through loss. and we are told His power is made evident in our weakness. and those weaknesses are often revealed through incredibly difficult experiences. experiences He uses to help us. to heal us. to turn us back toward Himself. for His glory.
are there things in my life i would prefer to do without? are there terribly painful circumstances that stop me dead in my tracks, that bring me to tears, which i would love to pray away? absolutely. and i do pray over those situations. but, i also remind myself that it’s in the darkest places of our lives that His light shines brightest. and so i do so knowing that He is hard at work, often times through us, in those dark places. so that others might see Him at work. so that others might see His beautiful, redeeming power.
the greatest loss is our gain
and the clearest picture of this redemption, of how God works through pain to bring about goodness, healing and His glory, comes in the glorious picture of Jesus Christ. the life of the perfect, spotless Lamb. laid down. for us. that we might have life.
the greatest loss imaginable, for our gain. Christ, The Lord, taking on human flesh. only so that it could be pierced. for our sake. all other pictures of good through pain. of redemption. they are all merely a reflection of this picture. that we would see His sacrifice more clearly. like arrows pointing toward His great redemptive plan.
this is what it looks like. this is what it looks like. this is what it looks like.
redemption is the language He uses to speak most loudly to us. it is the language in which He reveals Himself most clearly to us. it is the language in which we receive His love. the love He deeply desires to share with us. with each of us. that we might see Him more clearly. it is the language in which He whispers,
this is love… not that you first loved Me. but that, in my Son, I displayed My love for you.
and if you ever wonder why. if you ever wonder how I could sacrifice My own Son’s life to show you that, it is because nothing less would do. it would not pay the price. it would not open your eyes.
but, in that pain. in that terrible sacrifice. My love for you is displayed. and I am using that love to buy you back. to redeem you. for My glory.”
washed in His love
at some point, many of us begin to realize things simply aren’t as they should be. we realize things in this world are broken. and that we are included in that brokenness.
and when we begin to realize that truth, we find ourselves turning to something. anything. for healing. something to help with the brokenness. and, at some point, some of us turn toward Him. to be made right. and when we begin to do so, the filth in our life becomes more and more apparent. like a child who has been playing outside, never once stopping to realize the dirt on their hands for enjoyment of the play, but then realizing they must first wash up before going to the dinner table. we too desire His help to become clean when we begin to turn toward Him.
and when we approach Him with this desire, we find Him patiently waiting. with a warm, loving smile. and as we step through His door, His hand falls lovingly on our shoulder, encouraging us, leading us down the hallway to the sink to wash up.
He turns on the faucet and the warm water comes pouring out. He flicks it with His fingers, testing it to make sure it’s not too hot before inviting us to give Him our hands. in all their filth. He places our hands under the warm running water, and slowly, we see the dirt and filth come tumbling off. and, almost immediately, we begin feeling better.
then, He takes the snowy white bar of soap and begins working it into a lather under the running water. He places the soap back to the side of the sink and, taking our rinsed hands in His, He begins washing the cleansing soap of His sacrificial Son over our hands. His firm hands cleansing ours. and, where before there was dirt and filth, now there is none. looking down, we turn our hands over to see each side. and we notice they look just as they should. cleansed, by the love of the Father. by the sacrifice of His Son.
He rinses them once more, and then, taking a sun-warmed towel in His hands, He dries ours off. and, stooping down, so as to look us in the eye, He places His hands on each shoulder and He tells us softly that He loves us. He tells us we can now come to His table. without shame. without hesitation. that we are welcome.
He does great things when we’re willing to come to Him to be cleansed. when we’re willing to put everything else aside and draw near to Him. when we’re willing to lose our very life for the sake of His glory.
He meant what He said. those who lose their life for Him will find it. but, the unfortunate part is that all too many of us simply do not wish to lose our lives. we are holding on to them far too tightly.
newness of life
an englishman by the name of c.s. lewis has taught me much about the faith. his words speak so clearly to my heart, but also to my mind. a rare combination. and he speaks to this newness, this cleansing that comes from the Father, though the Son.
the central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. (mere christianity, p.57)
lewis reminds us that Christ offers newness of life. He reminds us of the beauty of redemption. that God’s desire is to take us from where we were – with dirty, filthy hands from playing out in the yard, in the world – and give us this fresh start. this newness of life. so that we might grow into what He desires us to become. a perfect reflection of His Son.
if He has done this for you already. if you have been washed by the Father, through the Son. if you have been made right with Him through this process of redemption. i pray that you would not take it for granted. not one breath of it. for i have every confidence that where He has brought life, He plans to use it. to do great things. to tell His story of redemption. a story you play a part in. as driscoll says so well, we are agents of His redemption.
life to be lived
and if we truly believe He gives us this newness of life, in His Son’s sacrifice, then we must believe He gives us life to live. how sad it would be to save someone’s life, to literally give back to them what they had lost, only to find them sitting on their hands for fear of losing it again.
if you have felt the life-giving touch of God’s redemption in your life, then i would ask you, what are you doing with it? are you putting it to use? are you using it in a way that makes Christ look great? that makes others thirst for more of the life He alone can give? are you living in a way that others might consider risky, in the hopeful obedience of glorifying His name?
or are you wasting it?… are you idly letting each day pass by? complacently sitting on the most beautiful gift any of us could ever be given.
if you realize you are fading softly into a life of complacency, rather than the redeemed life of beauty and life-giving risk He desires for you, i would ask you to consider why that is. is it out of fear? fear for not knowing what’s going to happen when you take that step? or is it simply laziness? is it because the deadened, default lifestyle of not doing anything with your faith is so much easier?
if He has redeemed your life from what it was, then you have been blessed with a new life. a fresh start. your life has been redeemed from the pit. so live it! and live it for His glory. with all you have, live it for Him.
you will not get to the end of this life and regret that which you did as much as that which you should have done but did not do. my greatest fear is getting to my last day and wishing i had done more. wishing i would have at least given it a shot. given it my best, even if i failed. knowing that i would delight in the fact that i took that step in faith for Him. and for His redemption in this world.
content with hot dogs
and the thing about redemption is that, for us to desire to have new life, we must first acknowledge that we need it. we must first acknowledge the brokenness of this world. and of our own life. someone perfectly content with the life they have would balk at this idea of new life. they might even take offense to this offer. but He wants to give us so much more.
He wants to give us Himself. yet, for many of us, that offer simply has no value. we are holding on far too tightly to what we have. to this false picture of what life is supposed to be like. to this picture the world offers, rather than Him.
and it’s a shame. in fact, it’s actually quite ridiculous. it’s kind of like walking up to someone and offering them a perfectly prepared filet mignon on a platter, only to have them refuse it because they have a hot dog in each hand. and walk away with their nose in the air at your offer. perfectly content with the processed “meat” in each hand.
to those who are satisfied with the life this world has to offer, to those who have found comfort in the brokenness of this world, newness of life and redemption have no taste. they are a joke. but, for those who are in despair. for those who dream of a brighter day. for those who desire to taste life the way He intended it. in right relation with Him. this newness of life is like honey to the lips. sweet and satisfying.
the beauty of redemption
and when i get right down to it, i’m not sure there’s any other story to tell, but that of His beautiful redemption. that He takes broken lives, and He uses them to paint an incredible picture. He dips His brush into the lowest, darkest parts of our lives and uses them to write this beautiful story of redemption into history. you cannot see it from close up. but when you step back far enough, when you take your gaze off of your own life, it is there when you can have a good look at what He is doing.
it is there where you can see how it is beginning to come together. not just with our own life. but with others’ lives. to display a beautiful picture. a picture of how He bought us back from what we were. lost in despair and steeped in pain. and used us for something beautiful. for healing. for His story. His story of redemption. and just the thought of it brings a deep joy to my soul. and a smile to my face.
that He would intentionally use the lowly things of this world to display His splendor. purposefully pouring His light into the dark places of the world, so that we can see His glory. and it makes sense, when you think about it. for we do not turn our lights to see where there is already light, but where it is dark. so it is with Him.
be encouraged. He is at work. and in your brokenness, He is displaying His love to the world.