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When The Healing Doesn't Come.

Behind The Child - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 18:07
I have friends on my mind. Multiple friends.

I don't think any of my friends are entirely unscarred; we are, mostly, the walking (or wheeling) wounded, limping along and praising God. Ignoring the mountains and tripping over the molehills.

Bereavement, disability, infertility, chronic and incurable health conditions, abuse and intolerance and marital breakdowns and general horrific life stuff. I think we're all well used to the idea that following God doesn't magically inoculate anyone against major life woes. I think we've also all met people who have experienced the miraculous; illnesses turned around, lives changed, tumours vanished. Hallelujah for each and every single one, and this post isn't intended to criticise any of the good stuff.

But I'm thinking tonight of the modern day Jobs I know. Families (more than one) who have adopted a child, only for that child to die, or be diagnosed with a terminal illness, and not just once, but twice or even more. Families struggling with the needs of their disabled child, only for the parents to develop health conditions of their own, followed by siblings of the disabled child. Families where the death of one child is chased by the illness of another, woes upon woes upon woes. Where the foundations of family life are pulled apart, one brick at a time, until only bare earth remains.

How is it possible that I know of more than one family where a sibling to a profoundly disabled child has lost their own sight?

I could trot out some platitudes about how God doesn't give us more than we can handle. But I'm pretty sure most of these families know exactly how true that isn't, and know how much more than they can handle is being thrown at them, day after day after day. I could try saying that where there's life, there's hope; but I also know how hopeless some of my friends are feeling right now, and honestly? I'm not sure I'd be hopeful in their situations either.

There's an assumption that some kind of major negative life event ought to cover you. That one Really Bad Thing ought to be enough, and that, having been through the worst, the rest ought to be better and better. And I see so many families drowning under the evidence that it really doesn't work that way. Whilst other families go through something similarly awful, or significantly less awful, and then having been thoroughly scared by the what might have beens, go on to live a beautiful and rich and altogether lovely life. Which is great, but not for those who are still swamped by the ever rising tide of awful.

There's a lot of pressure on these families to somehow make it all be good. To find some kind of simple meaning in what's happening, to give hope to those around them, to protect their friends and supporters and acquaintances. I'm sure no one means to pile on the pressure. But every "Have you tried...", every "What about...", every "Oh a friend had that and they did this" just piles on the torment. Even a simple "So how's it going?" is exhausting when the answer is the same, or worse, than it was the week before and the week before that, and the week before that. And the week before that. Even if it's the last thing on the asker's mind, the act of dashing the hope for good news, having to recap the awfulness, bringing the situation back into the forefront of the mind, when it might have temporarily been pigeonholed behind closed doors to allow for a brief moment of thoughts of something else is just plain exhausting. When it's not devastating.

Waiting on God is hard work. Railing against God is even harder work, and possibly not helpful, but I do know He can take it; if his hands can hold the whole world, then his shoulders are definitely broad enough to absorb all the anger and sadness and frustration and fury and fear that's thrown his way. And I'm absolutely certain He'd rather hear all about it directly, than hear us all muttering to each other about the generally massive unfairness of it all whilst trying to avoid laying the blame at his door. And that's possibly just me, maybe my friends are much too mature to be doing any of that.

It's hard, being helpless. Knowing that absolutely nothing I can do can help, or change what's happening. I can watch Imogen on a difficult day (and there are some very difficult days now), and wonder how many more breaths she has left, scared that I might be counting her very last ones. And I can watch her on her better days, and celebrate the singing and the shouting, and revel in the smiles. And know that I have too many friends who aren't having any better days right now, and my own joy is bittersweet.

In my head, these past few days, the phrase "This is the year of The Lord's favour" (Isaiah 61). And this has been an amazing year for me. God is good, God has poured out amazing things on us this year. Deepening friendships, abundant rainbows, and two daughters still with me; not something I expected to be the case this time last year. I'm profoundly thankful, and profoundly confused - how about a little less for me, and a little (or a lot) more for my drowning friends? I wish I understood.

A story from a speaker back in February. I'm sorry, I don't remember who. The essence of the story; a baby with meningitis, a night of prayer and torment in hospital, a miraculous turnaround, and a family singing and praising God in the morning as they came home with a healthy baby; nice neat prayers being answered. And the question "Would you still praise if you'd been coming home without your baby?" My friend and I - who have both lost children - looked at each other and answered "well we did." Because we know, even when we don't understand, that God is Good. All the time, even in the moment of the unthinkable awfulness. And He remains good, even in the decade of awfulness some of my friends are living through. God is Good. It's a good job it's a short sentence; when things are hideous longer convoluted thoughts are just too complicated.

I don't understand. It isn't fair. My friends have suffered enough. My girls have suffered enough, if it comes to that, although this isn't really about them.

I want to make it better. I can't. And by trying, I only end up making it worse. All I can do is pray.

A friend will text me occasionally at three o'clock in the morning. One word; "Pray." I don't need the details, I don't even need to know which friend it is (and I don't always, as she sometimes has to borrow someone else's phone). Doesn't matter, because God knows exactly who and where and what and why and how. Sometimes a friend needs to know I'm praying for them. Other times, I think knowing that you are being prayed for adds its own pressures; it is a very hard thing to believe yourself to be somehow responsible for the faith of others. And unanswered prayer is a hard thing to live with.

I do know this though. That as certainly as God is Good, no prayer is ever ever wasted or unheard. I may never understand the reasons why some prayers are answered in such awesomely amazing ways, whilst others appear to be flat out denied (and I'll never believe it's as simple as Yes, No, or Wait - the God who intervened at the Tower of Babel surely has unlimited vocabulary up his sleeve). But my own understanding isn't what's important here. God is Good and Prayers are Heard.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.

The importance of having people who pray for you

Missionary Blogs - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 13:51
Here is a video by one of our colleagues in Japan and he touches on the importance of missionaries having people who pray for them. Really good! (Just over four minutes.) http://vimeo.com/112811754


Missionary Blogs - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 03:59
 Thanks, Ginny for the pictures!

The Ultimate Christmas Gift—- The Yogi Book

Ben Witherington - Bible and Culture - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 03:35
The French would call him Mssr. Malaprop, but Peter Lawrence Berra was not just a funny guy, and even his funny sayings, taken in context make a lot more sense than they do in isolation. Most recently you may have run across the guy for whom a famous comic book figure (Yogi Bear) was named, [Read More...]

Container Conundrum Part XVIII: O.U.T.

Missionary Blogs - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 00:51
                  I keep thinking of the proverbial “money pit” this week.  You buy a sweet charming old house.  You can’t wait to do a...

Great Scott! Exodus God’s and Kings

Ben Witherington - Bible and Culture - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 22:46
Ridley Scott is known for films on a epic scale— think Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Prometheus, Robin Hood or if you like sci fi, Blade Runner. Exodus: Gods and Kings is of that ilk. He out Cecil B.Demille’s Cecil himself. Suddenly, the Bible has become popular fodder for films again (see the recent re-do of [Read More...]

Shop & Support Casa de Amor!

Missionary Blogs - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 18:40
                                    Global Orphan Assistance League (Casa de Amor)      ...

An interesting week

Missionary Blogs - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 14:45
I've had some unusual days this week.  Tuesday On Tuesday afternoon I caught a train, then bus to visit my parents up in Toowoomba. The plan for the had begun as an attempt to fulfil one of...

Making Our Season Bright

Missionary Blogs - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 13:13
It's just been an average week around our place.  Not much has happened that's blog worthy, but I have taken a few photos to share with you.  Jingles is making his daily appearance and the...

Really Random Stuff

Missionary Blogs - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 10:32
Here's some really random pics and words from the past few weeks.   Recnetly I was up in Arua, waiting for some passengers from South Sudan to arrive.  As often happens there, a large...

The Sense of Christmas– Part Three

Ben Witherington - Bible and Culture - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 03:11
The Christmas story, as we now celebrate it, is a winter’s tale. Never mind Luke’s mentioning that shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks by night, rather than huddled in a cave, which suggests an event sometime other than winter. Never mind that people didn’t tend to ‘travel from afar’ during the winter [Read More...]

The Marvelouseness of Manitoba!

Missionary Blogs - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 17:48
So.. I grew up in Alberta and was always a Conservative.  Makes sense as the Conservative government has been in provincial power for as long as I can remember.  Ralph Klein is a boyhood...

Translation and identity

Missionary Blogs - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 12:00
I am an American. Sometimes people in Ghana asks me where I am from. I tell them the United States. I have not yet had someone ask me where that is. I have a national identity which is recognized...

Japan Kid's Newsletter December edition

Missionary Blogs - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 07:09
Our latest Kid's newsletter for your enjoyment and, if you wish, use. Email me for a better copy (address on the right of this).

And three months later....

Missionary Blogs - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 07:04
Yes, 3 months later. I can't believe it. In 3 more months we will be back in Lichinga again. Our time has been so filled it is hard to know where to begin. It has been a good home assignment for us....

The Sense of Christmas— Part Two

Ben Witherington - Bible and Culture - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 03:22
I intimated in my last post that one of the real problems for Protestants in celebrating Advent and Christmas is: 1) that Advent is hardly celebrated at all, with too many Protestants only having a nodding acquaintance with the whole notion of the ‘Christian year’; and 2) too much is loaded into Christmas day itself, [Read More...]

Remember Ronin.

Jamie The Very Worst Missionary - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 19:26
When my two younger sons walked in after school that day, I could see it in their glassy eyes, their sagging shoulders and low hung heads, I could hear it in hitched breaths and stuttered sniffles; they already knew.

Their young friend and teammate was dead.

Upper Natoma Rowing Club (photo courtesy of Facebook)
We all got in the car and drove to the lake, where, in place of practice, our little UNRC crew team and coaches and a few parents gathered around picnic tables in shock and mourning. The youngest boy on the team was gone, and the group desperately wanted to understand the tragedy that took him. He was simply too vibrant and too precious and too young to be dead. How could this have happened?
It couldn't be real. How could we lose a twelve year old to suicide?

I stood nearby, heartbroken by proxy, trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears as the group of teens took in this shocking news. At first they could only cry. Gratefully, an adult stepped forward and said, “Hey, I didn't know him very well, can you guys tell me about him?” Then, alternating between laughter and tears, they would tell a silly story about the quirky, sweet, funny kid who joined the team at the beginning of the season, and then quietly fall back into their grief over his absence. They talked about his favorite song, the green shirt he wore to every single practice, his knack for losing unusual things and then finding them again, how he always had food in his bag, his love of youtube, and how he gave the very best hugs. They quoted his words and imitated his ways and listed hilarious nick names he'd bestowed upon teammates. They smiled when they recalled how his team sweatshirt was so huge on him, and then they cried at that same image in their head. It seemed like everyone had something positive to say about the little coxswain/Jr. Rower/unofficial Kid Brother to a team full of teenagers.
But no one said his name.

No one could.

His name was caught in their mouths like a secret, yet to be told. It clung to their lips, too precious to be spoken. With the last few minutes of dusky light, as the air grew cold and the sun dipped low over the lake, it was almost as if his name, his memory, his lifewas a treasure from which the team had been privileged to receive a small share. They sat together, near the water, silently guarding this special gift until the sun set on the horizon, the world went dark, and the universe stepped in to take over the rest of the story.  Ronin's story.
#riproninBy the time we arrived at a candle light vigil in front of his house that night, there were network news vans, reporters, and cameramen all over the place. And by the time we got back home, Ronin's death had become a feature story.
Over the next few days, my boys watched their young friend's face go viral -- his full life and tragic death summarized again and again in just two words; cheerleading and bullying. Overnight, they saw his name turned into a #hashtag and his picture become fodder for armchair activists and purveyors of grief porn around the globe. They were rowing with Ronin on Monday, and on Friday they were watching his death be appropriated by the Internet and used as glorified click-bait, in sensational headlines, to push agendas, and as a source of dramatic flair for social media “like” whores.
When my youngest saw himself in a newscast using footage from the candlelight vigil, he was furious and he asked if he could sue to have his image removed. He wanted no part in the media circus, no part in what he saw as the digital desecration of his friend's memory. He thought Ronin should be remembered as more than a hashtag, more than a cheerleader, more than the poster child for anti-bullying, because he was, indeed, more than those things. So I promised my boy we could take back the internet on Ronin's behalf, and I believe that's true.

I think we need to share Ronin's story, but only if we're willing to let it change our lives. Otherwise, we're just part of the circus capitalizing on his death.

But, in truth, everyone should be talking about Ronin Shimizu. The whole world should know his name. I want everyone to have his precious face burned into their minds, because when a 12 year old takes his own life after being bullied and picked on and harassed simply for who he was, we have a responsibility to remember him. My hope is that we can and will continue to share Ronin's story, not as fear-mongers or tear-jerkers, but out of our desire to make the world a better place, to make our children better people, and to create a positive legacy after the death of a boy who deserved better from us in life. 

Statement from Ronin's parents.
We may never be privy to exactly what led to his death - those are sacred details for the people who knew him best and loved him most – but we do know that Ronin was the victim of bullying throughout his childhood. We also know his parents did an amazing job giving Ronin the freedom to be Ronin, while doing their best to shield him from cruelty. Moving forward, we know we can honor Ronin's life by actively caring for and protecting other kids like him, by recognizing their specialness, by loving them and valuing them for it, and by tellingshowing all of our children to do the same.
Some of the kids on the crew team, mine included, are struggling with feelings of guilt and remorse over their friend's suicide. They can't stop recounting the details of every interaction they'd ever had with him, and recalling their last words to him. They wish they'd said more, done more, seen more; They wish they'd loved Ronin better in the brief time they had with him. As his face continues to pop up in their news feeds, I can see their hurt and frustration mounting. They were his community, and they feel like they failed him. Now, with a great twist of the knife, the internet is overflowing with tributes of friendship and devotion to a boy who died (at least in part) as a result of cruelty, loneliness, and isolation. Oh, the #irony.
Jamison and Ronin
Head of the Lagoon 2014We've been assured our little crew team was a source of joy for young Ronin, but still, I think everyone with even the slightest proximity to him has regrets. They certainly weren't his antagonists, but when our crew kids read some of the stuff they find online, they can't help but feel an ache of remorse and flash of anger, because it's so easy to hear a story like Ronin's and imagine you'd have been the one to notice his anguish, or you'd have been his best friend, or his greatest encourager. It's easy to hashtag a picture of his smiling face and declare your anti-bully rage. It's easy to click “share” on his sad story. 

...But in real life, loving people is hard, being selfless is hard, recognizing the hidden pain of others is hard. In real life, we often pick safe and silent over brave, anti-bully sentiments. In real life, we tend to pick the in-crowd over the outcast.
In real life, we knew a small boy with a bright smile and a big, blue sweatshirt, and we never perceived his pain. 
Ronin changed my real life. 

He changed my sons' lives. He changed our family. He challenged our community and he shook our Church. 
Ronin is teaching us to recognize and uphold the specialness of others. He's teaching us that compassion isn't a choice, it's a necessity. Like air. We need to live and breathe it. He's asking us to open our eyes; to seek the wounded, to shelter the weak, to reach for the hurting. He's telling us that "kids will be kids" and that sometimes kids are vulnerable, so adults need to be adults and teach the kids who are being assholes to be nice.
Our communities will, undoubtedly, become better places through the things we learn from Ronin.  
...But it shouldn't take the death of a tormented 12 year old to teach us a lesson in how to treat each other. This should never happen again. And I believe that it if we remember him, if we honor his life and his story, if we let him, Ronin will change the world.  

Remember Ronin... 

You are a world changer, Ronin. Rest in peace, baby boy. 

To make a contribution to the Ronin Shimizu Memorial Fund, click HERE. Thank you!

A battle for joy

Missionary Blogs - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 14:36
It’s that time of year. Joy is everywhere: in the air, under the tree, and baking in the 375 degree oven. Or at least, it’s supposed to be. But today was a really hard day for me....

The Sense of Christmas— Part One

Ben Witherington - Bible and Culture - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:40
If you are able to wade through all the nonsense of Christmas— the materialistic excess, the narcissism of giving yourself and your immediate family tons of gifts, while ignoring the needs of the homeless and the poor and the hungry at Christmas, and you burrow down to the heart or sense of Christmas, what is [Read More...]

An age-old question: "Am I Okay?"

Missionary Blogs - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 09:04
I found this encouraging blog post "Am I okay?" three and a half years ago, in the midst of a traumatic series of months in our lives. I didn't get around to posting about it here, but it...
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