By / Sep 6

Before getting married, I was afraid of adversity, afraid of getting hurt, and I sought to protect my heart from both of these things. But God exposed me to adversity and deep hurt five years into my marriage. I found out things about my husband I didn’t know, numerous struggles came to the forefront at this time, and we were going through counseling.

In response to all this, darkness invaded my heart and my mind. Sleep evaded me at night, I had bouts of depression, and thick anxiety clouded my thoughts. I quickly went from being “not much of a worrier” in general to extreme anxiety that felt completely out of my control. If anyone ever told me to “take my thoughts captive” it felt futile. How can someone take their thoughts captive when they can’t even discern one of them? They came at me like a myriad of daggers at once. At the same time I was in deep mourning for my marriage and the husband I thought I’d married. I suffered a grievous loss. It was like mourning a death.

Suffering as death while alive

Suffering is a form of death in this life; it’s part of the curse from Adam and Eve. We rightly feel that this world is not as it should be, because we lost our paradise. In his Christian Guides to The Classics: Milton’s Paradise Lost, Leland Ryken says that the paradise of the Garden of Eden is “an image of longing—longing for the irretrievably lost,” and, “a universal human longing for a place that no longer exists in our physical world.” Suffering feels wrong, because it is wrong. God originally made us to never die or suffer. But one choice to eat a piece of fruit, one act of rebellion and autonomy, changed the course of the human race.

Though suffering and death are wrong, God now miraculously uses death to bring us back to him. Spiritual death to self is now the only way back to God, and physical death is the only way back to paradise. God is in the business of death and resurrection. It’s the pattern he’s left behind for us in creation, and the pattern he designs for our lives.

It’s even the literal pattern Jesus followed. In the Garden of Gethsemane he was in great distress, the suffering he was about to experience weighed on him, and he cried out to God to take away his cup of death (Luke 22:42). Yet, we know he endured the cross because of the “joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2). The joy was not in the midst of the suffering and death, but found in the resurrection to come. On the road to Calvary, Jesus had not arrived at joy yet, but it was “before him”. He had to take the road of death and suffering to get there.

For Jesus, the joy was in the resurrection to come. And our own coming resurrection can be a source of joy for us amidst the suffering and death of life. In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul says,

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Suffering in this life and the hope of eternity

This life of suffering will afflict us, but will never eternally crush us, because Christ was crushed for our sins.

In this life, we are guaranteed suffering. But one day we will share in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6:5). Suffering and death will be no more. Paul says he’s confident that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:14). Because of this final resurrection we do not lose heart, even though our outer self is wasting away, for it’s our inner self that’s being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). This is the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17)

This life of death and suffering will afflict us, but will never eternally crush us, because Christ was crushed for our sins. Suffering and death might perplex us, but ultimately we can’t despair, since we have a hope of future glory. We can be persecuted in this life, but ultimately we won’t be forsaken, because Christ was forsaken for us on the cross. We can be struck down in this life of death, but we won’t ultimately be destroyed in an eternal death. And though “we are being killed all the day long” (Rom. 8:36), none of this will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). This is the power of Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf.

During my marital hardship, I felt like I was being killed mentally and emotionally. But I came to a place where I submitted to the providence of God in my life (even if it meant facing all my fears) in order to rise again. God used death in my life to bring resurrection to my heart. He knew facing my fears was the death I needed to die, so I could blossom more fully.

At one point in the process, God convicted me of anger toward him. I realized that ultimately this was between him and I, more than between me and my husband. When I saw that I was angry at God’s providence in my life, I was able to more effectively wrestle with God’s sovereignty and goodness. Then I confessed my anger to God, and asked for his help. Not long after this confession, I felt a supernatural peace invade my heart and mind. It seemed like I had every natural reason to be anxious and fear the future, but I felt none of that.

It was the work of the Spirit that brought my resurrection moment; but suffering still made me long for the day when this curse would finally be broken forever. I experienced a small scale resurrection in my heart, but it’s nothing compared with the final resurrection to come.

My favorite Christmas hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, totters on this balance of death and resurrection. The song itself carries a mournful tune of deep longing for things to be made right. The lyrics are a cry of deliverance and yearning for the coming Messiah. The people of Israel were waiting in “lonely exile”, but desiring God to be with them forever. Though Jesus (our Emmanuel) has already come, we still wait for the day when we’ll see him face to face and be with him forever. We wait for “death’s dark shadow to be put to flight” completely and finally. Then we’ll experience the ultimate resurrection still to come.

By / Aug 25

Todd Wagner teaches parents how to deal with failure, and encourages them not to give up even when things are tough. 

By / May 5

My first pregnancy didn’t end the way I would have hoped or desired. I entered the doctor’s office, prepared to hear the heartbeat of my growing child, only to be told that our child had stopped growing, and there was no heartbeat to be found. That was a devastating day. What I couldn’t have been prepared for at that time was that I would experience the pain of miscarriage three additional times. After having four miscarriages, I understand that Mother’s Day may be a painful experience for many women.

Author and blogger, Jessalyn Hutto, also understands the pain of miscarriage and has written a book to help encourage the faith of those who have experienced it. In this interview, she gives insight for how she’s cared for others, encouragement to those struggling and wisdom for how we can remember those mothers who have lost their children.

Trillia Newbell: You have, unfortunately, endured miscarriages. Could you tell us about that?

Jessalyn Hutto: My husband and I have lost two children through miscarriage. Our first pregnancy (in 2008) ended in an early miscarriage at eight weeks gestation, and a second miscarriage (a late miscarriage at 17 weeks gestation) took the life of our fourth baby in 2011.

TN: What made you decide to write about your experience in Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb?

JH: I began blogging about miscarriage shortly after we lost our daughter, Anastasia. At that point, we had been blessed with two darling little boys, but had also endured the painful loss of two babies in the womb. It had become obvious that healthy, uneventful pregnancies were not things that I could take for granted. Having a deep passion for theology and how it applies to my everyday life, I began writing about my own struggle to trust God in the midst of such great loss, and most specifically, how to trust him with the possibility of losing more babies in the future. My hope was that these posts would bless other women out there who were experiencing similar trials—women who were forced to deal with their view of God’s sovereignty and goodness in the midst of such terrible providences.

Time and time again, women would write in to me, explaining that they had stumbled upon my blog as they were searching for hope in the midst of their miscarriages. Of course, in a sense, the popularity of these posts did not surprise me. After losing babies myself, I became aware of the startling frequency at which miscarriages occur among women. It seemed as though everywhere I looked, women were suffering from the pain of losing their unborn babies, infertility and even stillbirths.

What did surprise me, however, was the silence that seemed to surround these topics on the part of the church. Rarely were these particular tragedies—which are so strikingly common—being addressed by pastors or women’s ministries. Suffering women simply were not getting the biblical counsel they desperately need. Instead, as they suffered in isolation, they would often turn to the internet for answers and comfort. But much of what they would find there focused on the emotional aspects of losing a baby rather than on how the truth of God’s Word applied to their loss. They were receiving empathy from the articles they were reading, but not necessarily the hope that could be found in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Rather than being put off by the theological explanations I was offering on my blog, women were being encouraged and finding greater peace in the midst of their suffering. I became convinced that the church was in desperate need of a theologically driven—yet at the same time sensitive—work on the topic of miscarriage, both for the women who suffer and for those who desire to minister well to them. When Cruciform offered me that exact opportunity, I enthusiastically said, “Yes!”

TN: Miscarriage seems more common than we think. Have you found this to be true?

JH: One of the greatest blessings God has given to me as a result of my miscarriages has been the opportunity to minister to the many women who are called to walk through this same terrible trial. Because of my own experiences of loss, I’ve had the privilege of being allowed to grieve alongside dear friends, church members and even family as they’ve had to walk the same path of suffering. In fact, while I was in the process of writing Inheritance of Tears, three of my close friends were affected by miscarriage. Truthfully, it seems that with this particular trial there are always opportunities to share the hope of the gospel with those who are suffering. Miscarriages are common, and the women who suffer from them need their friends and family members to be equipped to serve them in their time of need.

TN: Do you find that many women have a difficult time talking about their experience?

JH: Yes and no. In a sense, miscarriage is a very intimate topic and therefore, one that is difficult to speak about. It can be hard for a woman to express the debilitating grief she feels for the death of her child when the ones seeking to comfort her may not have even known that the child existed. Often, you have to inform others about your baby’s existence as you simultaneously inform them about his or her death. This can be a very difficult thing to do.

Women can also find it hard to share with others how deeply they are impacted by the loss of their unborn children. Because of the “invisible” nature of her loss to the outside world, a woman who miscarries can be tempted to feel guilty for making such a big deal about it. While others may think that she is healing and coping well after her loss, in reality she may still be experiencing profound grief and even depression. Often these women are tempted to feel guilty or ashamed for bringing up their continuing pain, assuming that others don’t want to hear about her ongoing struggle.

In reality, however, I believe that women who suffer from miscarriage are desperate for a kind, listening ear. They long to be able to have their loss validated by someone who will recognize their miscarriage for what it truly is: the death of a child. Having someone who will do that, and then walk alongside them in their grief as they seek to trust the Lord with such a difficult providence, is an incredible gift.

TN: You have kids now. How did you fight the temptation to fear another loss once you were pregnant again?

JH: We have been incredibly blessed to have four children (three boys and one girl). With each of their pregnancies, I encountered the debilitating fear of losing them. Having experienced a miscarriage with my first pregnancy, I knew with great clarity just how fragile each of the tiny lives I carried within my womb were. Then, after miscarrying again in the second trimester (the point in your pregnancy when everything is “supposed” to be smooth sailing), I was confronted with the complete unpredictability of God’s providence.

Each and every time I carried a child within me, I had to make a conscious decision to submit myself to his will, no matter what that would be. This does not mean that I did not fear. To the contrary: this was a huge struggle for me, especially after our second trimester miscarriage. But the Lord was gracious to me during those times, teaching me to be open with him about my fears (as though he couldn’t see them already!), confessing them and asking him to replace them with the faith to trust his goodness, even when I did not understand his purposes.

I also found Jesus to be all the sweeter to me in those moments (days and weeks, even!) of fear. I experienced great comfort in recounting the terrible moments our Savior spent in the garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. There in the garden, Jesus sweat great droplets of blood at the mere thought of the tortures before him. He even asked his Father to remove the cup of suffering he was sent to endure, but in the end submitted himself to his Father’s perfect will. This account from God’s Word was a continual reminder of his ability to tenderly care for me in my moments of fear. He knew the struggle I was going through; he knew what it was like to dread the next day.

What a glorious blessing to know that the one who created the heavens and the earth understood the complicated emotions surging through me. What an example I had in him as I sought to submit myself to my heavenly Father’s will—whether that meant a healthy pregnancy or another miscarriage.

TN: There’s an unexpected gift in trials—we get to comfort with the comfort we’ve received. If you were sitting across the table from a woman who has just experienced a miscarriage, how might you comfort her?

JH: Initially, the most important thing I want to convey to a woman who has miscarried is that her pain has merit. What I mean by this is that I want her to know that what has happened to her truly is as terrible as it feels. I don’t want her to feel burdened to “get over” her loss quickly simply because it is hard for those around her to understand. She has lost a child—death has robbed her of one of the sweetest gifts we can experience in this life! —and that is worth mourning. The pain she is experiencing is justified, and I want her to know that I am willing to walk through those dark valleys with her.

However, we will not do that without hope, because even in the valley of death, we have a good Shepherd, who loves us and cares for us. This good Shepherd sacrificed his life for us, so that such terrible experiences of suffering, like miscarriage, would one day be done away with. Through his substitutionary death on the cross and victorious resurrection, we are assured of a day when pain and suffering will be no more.

Because of this wonderful truth, I will never be afraid to acknowledge the real and deep suffering a woman encounters when she miscarries, but I will also confidently and joyfully point her to the One who came to earth to wage war against the root of all her suffering: sin. He came and he conquered. Hallelujah!

TN: How might you comfort a woman who has experienced several miscarriages?

JH: I think the most important thing to remember when ministering to a woman who continues to struggle with miscarriages and/or infertility is to not forget about her. It can be so easy to become numb to her pain when you are not the one experiencing it—especially when it continues to happen time and again.

Each miscarriage must be treated with the same gravity as the first, and there must be an understanding of the emotional trauma that is building in her soul each time she loses a child or the pregnancy test comes back negative. It isn’t routine for her; it is heart breaking, each and every time. She needs your constant support and prayers.

In a similar vein, I would add that there is a great temptation to become fearful for a woman when she has miscarried several times and then becomes pregnant again. This is completely understandable because it is a scary thing to know how fragile the gift of pregnancy is. However, you must endeavor to be joyful with her when she becomes pregnant, welcoming the new life as you would any other child, praying for his or her safety, and caring for her as she develops the usual pregnancy symptoms. She needs to know that people love her children and do not feel as though she is burdening them when she announces each new pregnancy.

It is not wrong to acknowledge the very real “risk” of miscarriage. In fact, it is good to understand the fears that are surely surging through her heart. Acknowledge them and pray for courage, but at the same time offer thanks to God with her, for the new life blossoming within her womb. Be the person she looks forward to sharing the news with every time because she knows you will be happy for her.

TN: What are ways that we can encourage and comfort husbands who endure this trial?

JH: I think it is important to understand that husbands are in a very difficult position when their wives miscarry. They, too, experience intense grief when their babies die, but at the same time, they know that their wives are grappling with the loss on a whole other level. These men need to grieve themselves, but are simultaneously seeking to comfort their distraught wives. They need good, faithful friends who will walk alongside them, check in on them consistently, pray with them and simply listen to them as they grapple with the deep emotions and questions they are confronted with at the loss of their children.

God gives us a call to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We have an opportunity this week to rightly rejoice with those mothers who serve their children day and night. Let us also remember the ones who long for the day they will get to hold a child and call them their own. This Mother’s Day, let’s appropriately rejoice with all mothers while also remembering the ones who have lost their children.

By / Apr 6

Gloria Furman is a wife, mom, cross-cultural worker and author. Her husband of 12 years, Dave, serves as the pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai in the Middle East. About five years ago, Dave developed a rare nerve disorder that causes shooting pain in his arms and hands, leaving them unusable. In this interview, Gloria shares about her life and ministry and encourages those who serve and love others suffering from a disability.

When did Dave go into pastoral ministry?

Here’s the long story abbreviated: The Lord saved Dave in college. When we got married, Dave was leading a residence hall ministry on a university campus. While we were both in seminary, we organized and led overseas mission trips for college students for five years. After we graduated, we did a year-long church planting residency with Fellowship Associates in Little Rock. Then we completed some more cross-cultural ministry trainings, fundraising, and moved to the Middle East to study Arabic. Five years ago this month, Redeemer Church of Dubai was planted.

When did you discover Dave’s physical disability? Is there a name for it? Tell us what it is?

Around the same time that we made a commitment to move out to the Middle East, Dave came back from a seminary class and told me that his pinky finger on his right hand was buzzing. Weird, right? We thought so, too. The doctors he saw thought it was a carpal tunnel issue that could be solved by better posture, ergonomic keyboards, etc. Then, within a few months, the buzzing spread up his arm and turned into burning pain. I remember how desperate those days felt, especially because I was pregnant with our first child. Then, rather quickly, the same thing happened to his left arm.

I guess in layman’s terms, you could say that the nerves in his arms are really messed up. Over the years, he’s had more medical procedures than I can count and two large-scale surgeries on both arms to attempt to release the ulnar nerve from being entrapped (it’s the nerve that people call their “funny bone”). Physicians have described his condition as resembling Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (AKA Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) and ulnar neuropathy.

How does his disability affect everyday tasks at home?

It’s hard to think of everyday tasks that aren’t affected. We need our elbows and wrists for so many things! Turning on a faucet, shaking someone’s hand, holding a pen, cutting food on your dinner plate, putting on your seatbelt, opening a door, driving a car, pushing the lever down on the toaster, buttoning your shirt, cradling your baby…

But with thankfulness in our hearts, we humbly testify that God has given our family more than what we need. These gifts of undeserved favor come in various shapes and sizes. Our daughters have buttoned Daddy’s shirts since they learned to button their own. Our older son likes to run ahead to get doors and push elevator buttons. God gave us friends here who are sensitive to the needs of our family and help us in many ways—from the men who ask me if there is anything around our flat that needs fixing, to the teenagers who come find me at church events to take our four kids to and from the parking lot and help buckle everyone in, to the women who brought us meals when I’ve had a newborn. We now live in a flat downtown with plenty of public transportation options, and we’re walking distance to just about everything we need for daily life stuff (except the children’s school). God provides!

You are essentially a wife, mom of four and caregiver. How are you able to serve with joy?

Short answer: by grace through faith.

Sentence answer: According to Christ’s pattern, by his power, and holding onto God’s promises of future grace.

Chapter answer: “Mothers Are Weak, But He Is Strong” – chapter 10 of Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full

Interview answer: Family Life Today interview on Glimpses of Grace and God’s faithfulness in disability.

Are there certain verses that help remind you of God's faithfulness as you work for the good of others and to his glory?

1 Peter 4:10-11 means a lot to me:

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

If you could sit down with someone who feels like they are suffering with those who suffer, what would you say to them?

People who care for the suffering also experience genuine loss and grief. In the midst of true loss, there is a need for true grieving, which means there is true hope in Christ available to you. If you’re suffering with the suffering, don’t pretend you’re not in pain; cling to Jesus and grieve with hope. I’d also give them a copy of the book Dave is writing to encourage those who help the hurting (forthcoming from Crossway in 2016).

Dave is a pastor and helps lead a pastoral training school. I imagine that his ministry often keeps him away from the home. How do you balance work, life and ministry?

(I wonder how our close friends might answer that question for us?) The balancing act is dynamic—more like art than science. Our responsibilities require different things from us at different times (at varying levels of intensity!). The one thing that is constant is God’s faithfulness to give us more than what we need to do what he has called us to do.

When we bought our first iPod in 2003, we renamed it “ourPod.” That stopped the tug-of-war over who got to use it. In the same way, we also share ministry as “ours” as we play different roles. He would say that he is not able to do the ministry he does without my help, and I certainly couldn’t serve the way I do apart from his equipping and encouraging leadership and direction. We love how God designed the beautiful perichoretic (mutual indwelling) quality of complementarian marriage. (That ourPod still works, by the way. It sits on an ourPod dock in the kitchen.)

Practically-speaking, when Dave is traveling outside the country or is in a busy season of working long days/nights, then I find lots of occasions to be thankful that he is the head of our family. I can see his godly influence over the kids and me as his thoughtful leadership steers us even when he’s not physically at home. We also revisit our ongoing time commitments regularly, communicate about spontaneous plans often, and plan in advance about a year out at a time.

What is one of the best ways a caregiver can truly care for someone in need of assistance?

One of the best ways to truly care for someone is to understand their spiritual needs. Fellow believers need their faith strengthened, and our non-believing friends need Jesus to save them. Our physical abilities and resources are all different, but spiritually-speaking, we are the same.

What I mean by that is a hurting person’s deepest problem is the same as your deepest problem. We were made for unbroken fellowship with God, but our sin separates us from him. Our deepest need is to be reconciled with God and our only hope is Jesus and his cross. Holding the truth of the gospel in your mind, respond to God’s call on your life to serve others in word and in deed with the strength that God supplies so that Christ gets the glory.

You asked for “one” of the best ways, but can I give two? I like to encourage people to use their imaginations. Often people look at others and say, “Wow, I can’t imagine what it would be like.” I think the love of Christ enables us to use our imagination and say instead, “I don’t pretend to understand everything about what you’re going through, but I want to try. Help me understand what you need and how I can help you.”

What freedom that we don’t have to know all the right things to say or even the best ways to serve, but that we can seek out those we love and simply ask how we might help. May we all seek to love our neighbors as ourselves through spiritual and practical service.

By / Mar 17

One of my less exciting Christmas gifts to myself this year was a sparkly new crown on one of my upper molars. It began in October with a simple cleaning that led to the discovery of a small cavity. It wasn’t bothering me in the least, but I decided to go ahead and get the work done as preventative maintenance. Midway through the procedure, mouth numb and tooth drilled, the dentist looked at the tooth and my x-ray and gave me the bad news, “I think we need to do a root canal.”  

They whisked me out the regular dentist chair and led me to a different room. Another needle was inserted, drilling commenced, and I was given a foam wedge to bite on to make it easier to keep my mouth open for the next two hours. The loud, high-pitched drill screamed, my lips cracked with dryness and at times I felt unable to breathe as water pooled at the back of my throat. Sounds fun, right?

In the midst of rather uncomfortable circumstances, I kept reminding myself of three truths:  

  1. The dentist working on me was competent and good
  2. The work he was doing was for my benefit and protection
  3. Eventually, I would be back at home and this would all be over

Mulling these thoughts over in my head brought peace in the midst of the discomfort. The greater reality of my momentary experience kept me from flailing wildly in my chair, fighting with the dentist, or trying to think of various escape plans (which I most certainly would have done had I not been sure of these three truths).

As I sat uncomfortably in the chair, I realized that these are the same principles that anchor my soul in the storms of life. Knowing that God is able and good, he actively works all things for my benefit and protection, and one day soon I will be safely home in heaven secures me in the midst of life’s painful trials.  

God is both able and good

Reflecting upon the goodness of God in the midst of trials helps us to bear them with courage. Knowing that everything that comes into my life flows from a loving, forgiving, gentle and compassionate Father changes my interpretation of my circumstances. God does not give me over to the whims of fortune or chance. He loves me so much that the very hairs of my head are numbered.  

My inability to see the entire scope of my life prevents me from knowing what is best for my soul. Waiting, suffering, trials and afflictions come at just the right season to prune me so that I may bear more fruit. When I focus on the pruning shears, I grow fearful, but when I focus on the One doing the pruning, I have renewed hope in the midst of suffering. Without this perspective, I am tempted to wrestle and fight with God, running from Him in my distress. However, the more I trust him, the more I come to him as a daughter, running into his arms for comfort. God loves me too much to leave me in sorrow, unless the trial must be for the betterment of my soul.

The work is for my benefit

When I went into the dentist that day, I was in no discomfort. I thought my teeth were in pretty good shape. However, underneath the surface, decay was causing problems that would eventually cause me pain. The dentist could see the underlying problems and worked for my good to restore the damage.

In similar fashion, God is always working to restore and redeem me from the sin that so easily entangles my soul and causes me to run my race weighted and weary. As Thomas Case wisely noted, “Behold, I show you a mystery: sin brought affliction into the world, and God makes affliction carry sin out of the world. God has never intended more good to his children than when he deals most severely with them.  He would rather fetch blood than lose a soul.” What grace is ours that God redeems affliction and fashions it for our good!

Soon I will be home

As I sat in the chair with various instruments in my mouth and unappealing sounds ringing in my ears, I closed my eyes and pictured being at home. I considered that soon this temporary discomfort would be over and I would be back at home, going about my day.  

In a similar way, afflictions teach us to long for our heavenly home. The longer we live and the more trials we endure, the greater our hope for our eternal dwelling. Losing faith in this world propels us to hope in the world to come. Second Corinthians 4:16-18 encourages us in the midst of suffering:

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

May we have eyes to see the eternal glories that await and hearts to trust our gracious Heavenly Father.