From Michelle. 1 February, 2012.
Dear friends and family,
January has been kind to us, a soft opening to a new year. Outside my window, a blue sky and faintly rustling palm trees echo the sweetness of the season, climatically the coolest and most gentle time of year in the Philippines. Though Steve still struggles with a weak left leg, overall numbness and general discomfort and fatigue, I have not seen that odd, stiff limp that had begun to creep into his walk in late 2010. His weight has stabilized. He has worked hard and somehow managed. We continue to be the recipients of many thoughtful acts of kindness. We are amazed by the ongoing fervent prayers on our behalf. In short, we are counting our blessings and feeling very fortunate indeed.
Lately, Steve has been reflecting on 2 Corinthians, Chapter 1. Among other things, it says the following: “…We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
It seems that I cannot learn this lesson often enough, nor can I ever fully grasp the depth of God’s faithfulness to me in my weakness. Thankfully, I have had many reminders. Though somewhat rueful about this at times, I say this with genuine thanksgiving. Life’s design repeatedly prompts me toward these two all-too-familiar truths: (1) I truly cannot do this on my own, and (2) God really is faithful to sustain me. At its core, the interplay of these result in the sweetest cure for isolation. I know an everlasting companionship whose depths I can never plummet. The joy of this friendship runs deeper with each trial, so that it is less and less easily disturbed by the vagrancies of life.
I finished a book recently that underscored this truth. In it, a young missionary lives out her faith in the darkest of circumstances: a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia during the Second World War. For three years, she endures constant hunger and privation, separation from and eventual death of her beloved husband in a distant camp, and at the end of the war, near starvation, torture and months in an isolated cell with no human contact. Somehow, God’s presence and faithfulness is apparent to her in every circumstance. He neither removes the hardship nor shelters her from the worst of punishments. Rather, she finds his fingerprint in the smallest and most intimate of signs, and in the sweetest of whispers in her heart. There is a dance between her prayers and his responses that is real, bearing fruit in her weakness, bringing light to her fellow prisoners as well as to her Japanese oppressors, and elevating her to a position of leadership within the camp. The mystery is that real life happens through that juxtaposition of weakness and strength, and her faith grows without water and light of an earthly kind, fed only by the tender promises and constant companionship of the Most High, both Father and Friend. It confounds reason, that her heart remained soft, that hope survived, and that life grew in that wretched, blood-drenched earth.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that 2012 would be a year to grieve, not for the purpose of grieving itself, but in order to move forward toward a new beginning. A dilemma occurs in this process, however, because hope must somehow hold its place alongside mourning. It will be a long time before we fully know our losses. I still believe further healing lies in our future. Life is far too fluid to be easily measured exclusively in sorrow or happiness. We remain unbelievably fortunate as well as deeply challenged. In the end, what we are doing is less like burying and more like releasing. What is released may or may not return. With no assurance, we choose nevertheless to relax into a posture of trust. In our open hands, in our self-declared weakness, and in the acknowledgement of what is momentarily or permanently lost, we trust that strength will continue to flow and that new depths of faithfulness will be discovered. Life has grown and will continue to grow even here. It confounds reason. It requires faith.
Some of the things we are releasing are: guitar playing, running after the boys, soccer/basketball/tennis and other sports, long walks on the beach, our favorite hikes, late nights, tickling, intimacy, tireless energy, rugged adventures, heavy lifting, quick transitions, long days, hard seats, and bounding up stairs. Friends, it stretches our faith to lay these things down, but from experience I know that God is truly faithful to answer our weakness with his strength. In so doing, we may or may not gain our best wishes. Our greatest desires will not magically materialize as a reward for our compliance. But we rely on a God who is faithful through the direst of circumstances, and who brings abundant love and companionship for every step of the journey.
Last night we sat around our dining room table, singing a silly song Steve taught the boys this week. The chorus repeats: “every single cell in my body is happy, every single cell in my body is well.” As he sings, the boys are laughing and trying to follow the motions. No one feels the least bit of irony in the radiant words sung with stiff hands and weak arms. As we go around the table in our nightly ritual of thanksgiving, words of thanks come easily to us all. We are abounding in love, we are rich with each other and with Christ.
Elsewhere in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 1 it says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
We have been greatly comforted by your faith and love, and hope that you too may know comfort through our own.
With love and thanksgiving,