Yesterday was Easter. For me, it was a day filled with warmth and love. The Chicago weather was bright and practically balmy–a herald of spring after one of the longest winters in recent memory. My husband Joey and I were able to spend the day worshipping at church, laughing and eating with family and friends. When I finally sank down into my bed last night and closed my eyes after a full day of activity, I was genuinely exhausted, but in a way that spoke of a satisfying sleep to come. I was worn out, not from tiresome tasks, but from hours in which my mind and heart were flooded with grace-filled, deeply joyful images: singing together with fellow believers of Christ’s resurrection; chattering across the table with friends at lunch; the joy of seeing my pregnant sister-in-law for the first time after learning that she and my brother-in-law are expecting their first child.
This morning, I awoke with a deep feeling of gratefulness and a lingering sense of hope. My proverbial cup “runneth over”. Yesterday had sung note after note over my soul of the miraculous way that new life can come after death. Of how hope can rise from ashes. How the familiar faces of family and friends–and their embrace–can be a healing balm for a broken heart.
And my heart has been broken. Many times. But the one closest to my heart right now is my separation from my church family.
I am still reeling from a three-month old split with the church where I worked, and where my husband and I worshipped and built friendships for nearly three years. If you have never invested your whole self in a church and left under difficult circumstances, just know that this kind of separation brings a particular kind of pain. The penetrating pain that comes from sudden and multiple blows to one’s deepest sense of identity and well-being: spiritual, vocational and social. The lingering sting that comes from losing a job and a church family in a single, swift turn of events.
My grief comes because truly, something has died in my life. A part of my experience is being laid to rest and is no more. A chapter has come to a close, and I have to start over again. Finding a new job, church, and trying to understand somehow the way to find balance between maintaining former relationships and building new ones. Added to the sadness of relational loss is a frustrating sense of confusion and powerlessness.
In my deepest heart, what best describes what can be found there is a sense of feeling ostracized, cast off and forgotten. I have been separated from the place and people I once called “home”. I bear some of the blame in this, indeed. But I do not bear it all. My teeth are set on edge by the way this whole experience hearkens back to childhood memories I wish were long-forgotten, yet resonate still within the throes of my forever photo album.
Yet that is why my yesterday has given me so much hope for today and tomorrow.
Yesterday, I experienced personally the hope of new life in so many ways. I experienced bonds with people I didn’t know would exist just a few short years ago. I saw new life and happiness come to a man previously devastated. I saw light in the eyes of children with the broad road of the future before them. I witnessed a couple encouraging each other’s dreams. A mother and father providing for their children. A niece daydreaming with her uncle. My husband singing beautifully with his siblings around a piano.
These are God-given, grace-filled images. These are markers and moments that show me that God is still here, bringing new life to the dead. Bringing celebration where once there was only grief. These are glorious glints of God breathing life into my family, friends and me. This is God inviting me to look at Him and engage with Him and remember Him. To remember His Word and His promises, and His love. To remember that when Jesus died, the curtain was torn and I am no longer a separated-being. That I am not alone, forgotten and cast-off.
I am encouraged that there is hope rising out of the ashes of my life as I reflect on these markers that trumpet the anthem that God sings to my heart, reminding me of who He is, who I am and the future that is promised because of His work:
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,to proclaim freedom for the captivesand release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favorand the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mourn,and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beautyinstead of ashes,the oil of joyinstead of mourning,and a garment of praiseinstead of a spirit of despair.They will be called oaks of righteousness,a planting of the Lordfor the display of his splendor.They will rebuild the ancient ruinsand restore the places long devastated;they will renew the ruined citiesthat have been devastated for generations.Strangers will shepherd your flocks;foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.And you will be called priests of the Lord,you will be named ministers of our God.You will feed on the wealth of nations,and in their riches you will boast.Instead of your shameyou will receive a double portion,and instead of disgraceyou will rejoice in your inheritance.And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,and everlasting joy will be yours.“For I, the Lord, love justice;I hate robbery and wrongdoing.In my faithfulness I will reward my peopleand make an everlasting covenant with them.Their descendants will be known among the nationsand their offspring among the peoples.All who see them will acknowledgethat they are a people the Lord has blessed.I delight greatly in the Lord;my soul rejoices in my God.For he has clothed me with garments of salvationand arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.For as the soil makes the sprout come upand a garden causes seeds to grow,so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousnessand praise spring up before all nations.–Isaiah 61
As you reflect on Isaiah 61, on what I’ve written here, and Easter, what comes to mind for you? What are some memories you have or recent “eyewitness accounts” you have experienced in your life or the lives of those around you that give you hope for the future–even in the midst of devastation? Feel free to comment here, or on Facebook or Twitter.