Grief and the Good and Hopeful Life


In my last blog post, I took a birds-eye view with some thoughts on why we don’t know what to do with grief. I’m not trying to talk us out of grief by rationalizing. It only makes sense that we don’t readily know what to do with grief. It can hurt like hell. Its existence means something has gone dreadfully wrong. There are moments where it feels completely dark; I’ve known those moments myself. But perhaps it’s for those very reasons that I think it’s important to look at it from more angles than the typical ones we come at it with.

In this blog post, I want to spend some more time on my final thought in the previous post: We struggle to see what a good and hopeful life can look like with grief always present.

This isn’t to deny the permanent wound a significant loss can leave on us; life will never be as we knew it. But with social media feeding into the rather narrow (read: curated) ways we define a good life which often include some version of lying carefree, young and beautiful on a luxury vacation, it is no wonder that we can feel almost doomed once significant suffering or loss find their way into our lives.

What are we doing to ourselves – and to each other – when we primarily define a good life as one that involves minimal heartache and tears?

What we do when we define a good life in a narrow, idealistic way

We live superficially and don’t allow ourselves to be challenged to consider what can make for a meaningful existence even when circumstances are deeply painful and far from ideal.

We miss out on a certain depth to our perspectives and our care for others that can really only come through wrestling with harder questions and circumstances.

We create a divide between perceived haves and have-nots, further isolating those who are suffering and compounding their sadness with despair.

We set our hope solely upon ideal circumstances that aren’t guaranteed to hold up, and this lays shaky ground for our long-term sense of well-being.

What we can do when we learn to broaden the definition of a good and hopeful life to one that includes grief

We can discover a different and more solid foundation for life – a process that is, quite frankly, work. It’s built through a process of dismantling old foundations that might’ve been easier to establish, ones that are sufficient for effortless days but can never hold up in the storm. It’s built with hammering, fire, sweat, tears, questioning if it’s worth all the cost and effort. But in the end, the new foundation holds solid, firm, unshakable when everything else is shaken. It can be terrifying to build and test, but it ends up providing the greatest sense of security we could find.

We develop an intimate understanding of hope beyond ideal circumstances where there was once ignorance.

We are less intimidated by people who are suffering and develop more capacity to share space with them without feeling desperate to sugar coat the conversation.

We discover deeper and more authentic community. Is it not true that when we are hurting, we gravitate more towards those who have been through similar heartache and less towards those who seem to have never tasted hardship? Our ability to truly know and be known by one another grows in new dimensions through shared suffering. My richest and most significant relationships are with those who have shared their grief with me and who have borne mine as well.

I wish grief upon no one, but we do ourselves such disservice when we pretend that we can or should avoid it throughout our lifetime. Its reality is sobering, but its reality also does not automatically mean a good and hopeful life becomes unattainable for all who experience it. Without discounting the very real pain that suffering brings, my years of being an ICU nurse and my own encounters with personal grief have taught me that in some ways, those who wrestle hard with grief are the ones who find a deeper understanding of what a good and hopeful life really mean.

Why We Don’t Know What to do With Grief

(Taken from my nursing blog, http://heartofnursing.blog)

In my recent interview for an upcoming NPR TED Radio Hour podcast (9/17) on “Heartbreak,” the host, Manoush Zomorodi, asked a series of insightful questions from many angles about my experiences with grief over the years as a pediatric ICU nurse. Those questions have sparked many thoughts that I believe are worth exploring and sharing in a series here on grief, with hopes that we can take a closer, courageous look at grief and reframe our perspective on it during a time when we are all feeling it perhaps more than ever.

Unfortunately, recent world events give us countless issues to grieve on many levels. Please note this blog series will primarily focus on grief and loss more on the individual/personal level, though I think some of these ideas will be pertinent to broader societal issues.

And with that, the first thought I want to tackle is: Why we don’t know what to do with grief.

Before we tackle some reframing of grief, I think it’s important to consider why we run for the hills from it before we even give it a chance to just be a normal part of our lives.

Denial of its possibility is ingrained into our culture from day one.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard or said myself, “I just thought that happens to other people in other places, not to me, not to us here.” Our blind spots to the assumptions we make about life as people in a wealthy, powerful nation profoundly shape our shaky personal response to real suffering, loss and grief.

We are a culture obsessed with convenience and easy fixes. Any ICU nurse (that’s me) can tell you how much we love our easy fixes to life’s pains and problems (hello, all the medical interventions), but also how powerless and detrimental some presumed fixes can actually be (again hello, all the medical interventions). We just keep assuming we can always find a way out of our grief, if not avoid it altogether.

Grief is too closely associated with negativity.

This is a tricky statement because there is obviously some connection between the two. But sometimes “toxic positivity” is completely out of touch with reality, and grief is more in touch with reality than we care to admit. You can have days of intense grief and intense negativity, but they don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. You can also have days of intense grief and also have solid hope. Because we have such a hard time recognizing this, and we are a fix-it culture addicted to “positive vibes only,” we are strongly tempted to reply to someone’s healthy, normal grief with “At least you…(can still have another child),” or “You should just be thankful that x, y, and z.” This actually ends up invalidating and somewhat shaming what is actually a normal, healthy response of grief to a real loss. We think it’s necessary (and even possible) to somehow cancel out the grief by diverting attention to some more “positive” thing over there, instead of giving healthy space and permission to cultivate and process normal grief.

In other words, we only know how to battle negativity by trying to shut it down, which in most cases is probably wise to not indulge it too much. Unfortunately, because we almost automatically associate grief with negativity, this means we typically respond to grief by trying to squash it as well, even when its manifestation is actually a very healthy thing.

We struggle to be quiet and patient with hard questions.

With Google Search at our fingertips, we are more accustomed than we realize to having all the seemingly hard answers so readily accessible. Will my children growing up in this Internet age really even learn to think for themselves? It is in many ways a gift to crowdsource knowledge and have others do so much of this hard work for us. But when it comes to grief and loss, which are so intensely personal and complicated, we have to do the work ourselves of wrestling with the hard questions grief often raises, and this feels daunting because we simply don’t practice it much day to day. We deeply resist the discomfort of having our worldview and our assumptions of how life “should” operate be so profoundly challenged, and often prefer relief and escape from that discomfort over working towards the building of a different, deeper life foundation.

We don’t know what to do with things that cannot be explained.

Even as we work through hard questions, there remain some things that cannot be fully explained. There may be a medical explanation, coroner’s cause of death, but there are other types of answers we often search for that we simply won’t find in their entirety. Our need for control and power chafes against this. But when I’m suffering, it’s usually not clear and specific answers that actually soothe my soul. As the wise singer/songwriter Rich Mullins once sang, “And I know that it would not hurt any less…even if it could be explained.” When I’m suffering acutely, I find the most comfort in having space to lament, being accepted and embraced as I am by safe loved ones, and being helped to just take the next step forward when everything else about the future seems too murky or overwhelming.

We struggle to see what a good and hopeful life can look like with grief always present.

This, I think, is key, and will be the topic of a future blog post. (Note: it won’t be a blog post with answers, per se, but an exploration of what we do to ourselves and each other when we only define a good life in a narrow way – and what we can do for ourselves and each other when we learn to broaden that definition of a good and hopeful life.)

Thanks for reading this far. I would love to hear thoughts, comments, disagreements, as long as they stay civil and productive.

A Strange Gift

Warning: This post is a bit on the heavier side, especially compared to the silliness of my recent conversations with Siri.

Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever done post-mortem care on a little patient, minus the partial experience I had as a nursing student a few years ago. Surreal hardly begins to describe the experience, from cleaning up a messy room that bears witness to the intense activity involved in coding a patient, to making eye contact with parents who are absolutely raw with grief, to bathing the patient in order to restore some small sense of dignity, to wrapping the patient with a shroud and bringing the patient to the hospital morgue.

Surreal. But it is part of my world. Our world, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

I was drawn to ICU nursing because I have a strong appreciation for the depth of issues that we face there, and I see it as an incredibly precious time to be a support for not only the patient but their grieving family members as well, particularly when we are dealing with end-of-life care.

But the weight of it all is substantial. The quiet entrance into a room full of grieving family members is the entrance into a space that has just suffered the most violent of all emotional earthquakes, looking for a foundation, is there one left? A space full of disappointment beyond measure but sometimes also hope, anger but sometimes also peace, and exhaustion… always exhaustion. After all, it takes everything you have and everything you are to say good-bye to the heart of your own heart. It takes all your being to search for light in a very dark place. This is the space that I entered as a nurse yesterday. What could I bring? What could I bring, and would it change anything in this space?

I could bring juice and crackers to parents who have thought very little of their own needs for hours, days, weeks, months, years.

I could clean up the room, quietly, gently, respectfully. There are some parts of saying good-bye that you just don’t need to remember, especially in an ICU. I could reduce the sense of chaos in some small way. I wanted such a clean room for them.

I could bring silence. Of course if they had questions, I would do my best to answer. But in terms of consolation for newly grieving parents, I am convinced that less is more. Maybe I say this out of my own lack of tolerance for pat answers. The movement towards resolution with our suffering is simply not as neatly packaged and bow-tied as some might have us think, and I am convinced we need to learn how to get more comfortable with being really uncomfortable in the gray areas – even as people of faith. I am convinced that the gift of silence to a grieving family is the recognition that they have now been thrust into an extremely uncomfortable, gray area, where they will likely stay for a very long time. Trying to move them out of it with premature clichés is counterproductive and potentially very hurtful.

I was so thankful for the accompaniment of an incredibly tender-hearted, skilled social worker who truly bore the brunt of the family’s grief yesterday. I told her how thankful I was that she was there, and that she did what she did so well. Her response was inspiring, sober, and honest. “Some of us are just gifted for this. And it’s a strange gift to have.” I am not an expert. I am awkward and new and scared as a young nurse facing these kinds of big issues. But by the grace of God, I believe I am gifted and called to this work. And I could not agree more. It is a strange gift to have, but it is mine, and it is what I have to offer.

The answer to a Charlie Brown prayer

The other evening, I received a small but profound blessing, a seed.

We had gone away for a brief vacation, both of us burdened by the sadness of many hearts, and weary from the battle for hope and joy and light when the darkness felt so thick. I asked a dear friend to house-sit for us. Yes, and can my other friend come too? She has been looking for a time of retreat. It couldn’t have worked out better. We prepared and cleaned as hastily as we were able, and I was glad that our time of getting away could in turn allow for other hearts to also find a time of hiddenness and rest. We left a small list of things we needed them to do – gather the mail, water the plants, take out the trash. I wanted their work to be minimal, and their rest to be true. I felt a bit badly for the countertops I didn’t get to clean before we left, though I knew these friends wouldn’t mind.

Our vacation was perfect. Mammoth was my much-needed reminder that beauty did not always require heartbreaking effort to find. That is the mercy of God over me. I hope in His redemption but I rest in His unshakable love.

Returning home from vacation always involves a mix of relief (there’s no place like home) and low-grade dread (I’ve got some work to do). On the long drive down U.S. Highway 395, I began to plan what we would do when we got home. First things first. Wash the towels and bedsheets. Wash the dusty dog. Semi-organize all the stuff we unload from the truck. Wash up. The rest can wait until morning.

Weary, though in a lighter-hearted kind of way, we finally arrived home. After unloading our vacation-in-a-truck, I walked into the main living space, and there it was, the blessing. Clean towels, washed and folded. Bedsheets newly washed, beds remade. A handful of thoughtful gifts, and a note. Everything has been washed. Enjoy your rest after a long drive. I walked into the master bathroom, and saw there was more. The countertops I hadn’t gotten to were now wiped down. Even the jacuzzi bathtub, which we hardly use, had the embarrassing spiders and dust rinsed from it. These friends had served us in their own time of retreat, beyond what we could have asked. They gave us a blessing.

In a profound Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz, Charlie Brown whispers a prayer one dark night after reassuring a very frightened Snoopy that the sun would eventually come out again. Who comforts the comforter? That was my heart as I wept in my prayers before leaving for Mammoth. God, my heart feels so drained, and so lonely. Who comforts the comforter?

These friends had given us the blessing of meeting anticipated needs. They were God’s answer to my prayer. I know what you need. I know what you need. He moved hearts to be thoughtful in the most substantial form of the word, to be sacrificial, to be incarnationally compassionate down to the most minute details.  I took this blessing, this seed, and put it in my heart. It is growing. Hope. Joy. Light. Life.

Reblogged: Can Grief and Joy Coexist?

I deeply appreciate the honesty of this blog. I have lost my stomach for pat answers laden in overspiritualized vocabulary that invalidate the reality of what people experience when life is just honestly, hard. I have a deeper hunger for something both honest and real when we talk about joy in Christ, because of Christ. The same Christ who knew the Father was good, loving, and in complete control when He was broken on the cross and asked why He had been forsaken. He knew He wasn’t back Home yet, and He knows we are not either, not yet. This is the Savior I love, in whom I hope and in whom I can rejoice.

Clearing Customs

There is a phrase in Mandarin Chinese, bei xi jiao ji (悲喜交集), meaning “mixed feelings of grief and joy.” Grief and joy aren’t commonly thought of as partners, but when faced with loss, cross-cultural workers need to understand that one doesn’t necessarily cancel the other one out.

Expressing Grief

Dr. Steve Sweatman, president and CEO of Mission Training International (MTI), says that the call to take the gospel of Christ to another culture “inevitably is a call to sacrifice, to losses, to things that you will have to leave behind or give up.” This sacrifice takes many forms, and MTI has identified five categories of loss experienced by Christian cross-cultural workers. They are

  • a stable home
  • identity
  • competence
  • support systems
  • a sense of safety

In an audio presentation at Member Care Radio (entitled “Good Grief“), Sweatman also discusses the differences between concrete and abstract losses felt by cross-cultural…

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this was all I had, you see

All I had in hand was a sheet of paper with pairs of sentences, one in English, one in Japanese.

Please show me how to buy a bullet train ticket to Kyoto. (Japanese translation)

Please show me how to buy a local train ticket to the Kyoto University neighborhood. (Japanese translation)

Please show me where I can call for a taxi. (Japanese translation)

It was my first time traveling alone. I had my suitcase, this paper, a map, and a small amount of trust in strangers. My parents dropped me off at the airport, and suddenly I was alone with my excitement, alone with my fears, alone with my issues. I had more baggage than just my suitcase. I slowly inched through the security line, passing the same faces as the line weaved, back and forth, back and forth. A large group of obviously close friends was traveling together, and I shamelessly eavesdropped on their conversation because what else is one to do in a line so long, so tedious? Well, my eavesdropping proved to be quite serendipitous as these turned out to be friends of friends, and beyond that, they were people that I had been hoping to meet for awhile because they were of wonderful reputation. And here was our most unexpected introduction. A long time to sit otherwise alone, now blessed with company. Twelve hours later, we parted at the bullet train station, my courage strengthened. With each remaining leg of the journey to Kyoto, I stopped any person wearing a hint of kindness and pointed at the appropriate sentence. There were nods and hand gestures and a lot of bowing, ‘arigato.’

By the time I stepped off a small local train near Kyoto University, I had been traveling for over 18 hours and it was near midnight in Japan. I was jet-lagged and exhausted. I still had to walk the remaining few blocks to the University itself with my suitcase, but it was summertime, and it was midnight. What would I do if the dorms were closed? I called the number on my wrinkled paper, and mercifully, a voice answered on the other line. I could not stop the trembling as I tried to explain, I am here for a summer school program, I just need to know if I can get in, I’m sorry it’s so late at night. It was obvious the person on the other line did not fully understand my English, but he understood my fear. “Ok…. ok.”

I arrived, both hopeful and resigned, at the door to the dormitory. I knocked, and I waited. A tentative face appeared at the window, and then slowly, the door opened.

It was a summer of strangers, new friends, a new culture, a summer of shedding the old me. A summer when a complicated relationship intensified and ultimately ended. A summer of getting to know myself, getting to know God’s voice in the thunderstorms that shook the earth, getting to know God’s humble friendship when I walked the streets, heavy with homesickness but known, so deeply known. I brought my paper, my suitcase, my excitement and my fears. I left with a heart that was full, known, broken, healed, loved.

when my mess tumbles out and God comes in

In all the 20 years that I have been leading worship in music at church, I still get nervous every single time. It’s more than stage fright, though that remains a significant component. It’s anticipation, longing. Wanting more than a sentimental musical experience. Wanting something real, something deeper. Creating a space with the music for people to go beyond words in bringing their hearts, their hurts, their fears, their doubts, their shame, before a God who says to every broken soul, “Come to the cross, I will not turn you away there.” Creating a space where the heart is opened and everything tumbles out in the mess that we often feel we are, and we try so hard to contain our mess and apologize that we didn’t get it together before we came before this Holy One. Only to find ourselves caught up in the embrace of the Father who ran to us while we were still a long way off and says, “Welcome home.”

I long for this as a worship leader. For this real exchange to happen. For people to find themselves found by God, because of Christ. I am afraid of getting in the way with too many words, not enough words. Awkward pauses. Wrong notes. I’m afraid of a Sunday with a weak voice, an off voice that doesn’t inspire others to proclaim, “I am His beloved, and He is so good.” I used to think that quality and skill in music didn’t matter that much as a worship leader, but particularly after going through John Piper’s series, “Gravity and Gladness,” and reading Bob Kauflin’s book, “Worship Matters,” I am convinced that quality and skill do matter. Quality in music, quality in leadership style, skill and discernment in both. I don’t think I can take the ministry of worship in music too seriously. I am leading people, through song, to come before a holy, loving God. The Creator and King of the universe. Our Life-giver. He is holy, holy, holy. I tremble with this, every week. I don’t want to sing flippantly to this God who sees my heart of hearts. I want to be used by You, God. I don’t want my pride to get in the way. I don’t want my fumbles to get in the way. Give us Yourself. We need You. No one brings life the way You do. Not me, not my music. Give us Yourself and help me not to get in the way.

There is a deep joy I share with my fellow worship team members. I love musicians who offer what they have to worship the Lord. They get it. They get that the backing off with an instrument is a humble expression of worship, a humble act of service to the church family, just as much as the loud strums and beats. I don’t have to play, to be heard, to be recognized, all the time, because it’s not about me. We’re creating a dynamic with our music, the rise and fall of our hearts when we hurt and we hope and we fall and we get up, when our brokenness robs us of our words before God and when our joy can’t be contained so we have to sing and shout and clap. There are certain Sundays when we know that the Lord has been gracious to us in our time of music, He has been there. The weight of His glory lingers even after the benediction has been given. I exchange glances with other worship team members and we just know, He has glorified Himself through our offering, and our hearts are so glad. Sometimes, I have trouble talking with people afterwards because I feel so amazed that He would give us this gift of Himself, our little broken but beautiful church community. He is what we have longed for. We need Him to go with us into our traffic and our housework and our tense relationships and our Monday morning blues. Give us Yourself, God. As you always have, would you now, again, graciously give us Yourself.

Less is More

A common half-joke about Chinese cuisine is that the Chinese don’t waste anything. That’s why your most popular dim-sum items include chicken feet (which I’m fairly certain have no place in the USDA food pyramid) and tripe. I grew up eating liver, heart, and pig feet, though I could never get myself to stomach bites of brain or cubes of pork blood. Whenever the husband goes deep-sea tuna fishing, my mom will come over to watch him filet his catch, and will always insist that he refrain from throwing out the portions of fish with the bitter blood line. She remains convinced that it is perfectly edible, and scolds him for wasting ‘good stuff.’

This was, at first, the greedy mindset I brought into growing my herbs. My basil plant started off growing beautiful, large, fresh leaves. But as time passed, it began to produce flower buds on most stems, and the leaves, though many, were looking smaller and less substantial. I had read that once your basil starts to flower, you need to prune the plant or the leaves will become bitter. The plant will also wind up spending energy on the flowering process rather than on growing large, sweet leaves. I was reluctant and doubtful at first, so I only pinched the top flowers off. I wanted to somehow preserve as much as I could.  It quickly became obvious, however, that there were not only too many flowers, but too many stems and underdeveloped leaves competing for limited space and resources.

Reluctantly, I pinched off the first stem and mourned the loss of the accompanying leaves, some mature but others less so. I could hear my mom’s voice in my head. “That’s good stuff! Don’t waste it!” My reluctance soon dissipated, however, as I saw the healthier, younger leaves underneath with the real potential, if only they would be allowed. Pruning became addictive, fast. The loss mattered less than the gain that I could foresee. More than that, the gain necessitated the loss. I wanted my plant to grow, and grow well. A reluctance or failure to prune on my end would signal foolishness, neglect, or ignorance at best.

Father in Heaven, You are wise, loving, and so attentive in Your pruning of my life. Where I often look for quantity, You look for quality. Where I look for breadth, You look for depth. Now I understand a bit better that You want me to grow, and grow well. Now I understand a bit better how.

The Case for Counseling

At first, I thought it was a copout response. My patient’s mom knew that her child was extremely sick, but she told the medical team that she didn’t want any real “bad news” until the father was able to join her in a week. The overly practical part of me thought, with a shameful lack of sympathy, “So we’re just supposed to keep this poor child in medical limbo, and an expensive one at that, until Dad gets here to make any sort of plan one way or another?” The more that I considered the mom’s position and response, however, the more I saw and respected her self-awareness and her humility. She knew that any decisive family conference would essentially determine the entire course of her child’s life – aggressive but painful measures to try and fight the awful disease with a poor prognosis, or comfort measures that would likely lead to an earlier but hopefully peaceful death. This mom was aware that one set of shoulders and one heart, valiant but frail, was not enough to hold the weight of this burden. She needed the help of another, and not to mention, the dad certainly deserved a voice in the matter. She was wise to advocate for herself, because it would not do her other child, healthy and growing, any good for mom to become consumed by the heartache of a burden too great.

This is my case for counseling. A friend and I talked over lunch about the taboo that still exists with regards to seeing therapists. I understand completely that therapy might not be for everyone, or perhaps only for certain seasons of life. But why do we hold such judgment towards one another for our common brokenness, our need for the help of another?

When a person has a broken leg and cannot walk, the doctor is wise to prescribe a crutch and the patient is wise to lean on it. Unhelpful pressure is alleviated, and healing can happen. The person who tells the patient that he should be strong enough, brave enough, to just keep walking without a crutch is not kind nor wise. It always saddens me when I hear deeply hurting friends say in response to the suggestion of counseling, “I just don’t want to be seen as someone who needs counseling.” I have to ask again, why do we judge one another and judge ourselves so harshly for our brokenness?

I’ll dare to get even more controversial here. Some Christians say that the Bible and prayer should be sufficient for any faith-filled believer to work through his or her troubles. I love the comfort and the direction of the Word of God. My heart has been relieved of many burdens through times of prayer. But does this mean that the Apostle Paul was wrong when he wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in so doing, fulfill the law of Christ”? Did he misunderstand the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, our Wonderful Counselor, when he penned these words? God knows I need my family and friends when life is hard. Why can an insightful therapist not be another tool that God uses to help carry out this exhortation in our times of trial and confusion?

I have not been a parent to a dying child in a pediatric intensive care unit. But I have faced issues in my life that have been bigger than me, bigger than my understanding, bigger than my maturity, bigger than my solitary heart could manage. It is the discernment, the objectivity, the outside, unbiased perspective of a tender-hearted, insightful, truth-speaking therapist that has helped me untangle myself multiple times from the mess of painful circumstances, the twisted lies of Satan, the flawed voices of people too close to the situation, and my own spinning thoughts. I can see situations for what they actually are, and I can breathe again. The outside pressure is alleviated, and I have the space I need to heal.

I am thankful to God for those who have the courage to help bear our burdens this way. It is my prayer that we will be kinder towards one another and towards ourselves when considering the option of undergoing counseling in our times of need.

my belly says no but my soul says yes

I like free things. It’s so easy, so convenient. Really? I can just have it? It always feels a little funny, a little cheaper, however, when the giver of the gift says, “Oh, it’s no big deal. I got it for free too.” They care less, and suddenly, I care less.  Oh, that’s cool, thanks.

After embarking on my test run of this photo project to raise funds towards fighting child trafficking, I was overjoyed by the requests that began to come in for prints. People have been so supportive and so excited to contribute to this amazing organization, to this incredibly important cause. ZOE staff will go to the ends of the earth to rescue children in great poverty who face the potential of an otherwise horrific future of physical and sexual slavery. This video of my dear friends in Thailand as they carry out a child rescue brings tears to my eyes every. single. time. Every aspect of the video is real. I’ve been exhilarated to see how this hobby that is so much more than a hobby of mine could suddenly become something that could also fight a terrible evil in the world on a very practical level. I’m so thankful for my full-time job, which allows me to do this project with no strings attached. People can pay my suggested price for the print, but they can pay less if they need or donate more if so desired, given that all of the proceeds will go towards ZOE Children’s Home, either way. I have the joy of sharing my photography, and serving as a glad conduit for the fundraising.

As deep as my joy has been with this project thus far, however, there was still curiously something that did not feel quite right. Something felt incomplete.

It felt too easy. Selling the prints doesn’t require a whole lot of effort from me, just a little coordination. Then I get to write the final check from this test run to ZOE, which will be wonderful. But it’s just been so convenient. It hasn’t really cost me anything. I think I still feel like this rich person doling something out to the poor, something that’s not even mine for that matter. The sense of personal disconnect unsettles me.

My heart began to burn. God’s conviction, His gentle but deep push. Match the donations, dollar for dollar. Feel the pinch in your own pocket. See again how rich you really are, how you think you don’t have a lot to give, but you actually do if you’re willing to forego a little of your own extra indulgences here and there. Taste even just the smallest hint of feeling your own financial resources challenged. Learn how to identify yourself, even just a little bit, with those who have so little.

Honestly speaking, it’s not as if I’m taking any real financial risk by matching donations at this point in the project. I can match dollar for dollar and not worry about where my next meal will come from. But the conviction to do even this much already reveals how much selfishness still exists in me. There is reluctance in me. I crave the fancier meal that the extra money could buy if I kept it. Which is exactly why I need to give. Somehow it means a bit more, to ZOE and I think to me as well, for this to cost me something too. I feel as though I’m experiencing for the first time in a while what it means to actually live out the Gospel, to practice a little of what I preach. That God loves the broken, that Jesus saved me to give me a new heart, a new mind, a new purpose, to live out His love through who I am and what I have so that others might know that His love is real. That they might know that His love is tangible and practical in the face of something like human trafficking.

I’ve got a feeling He’s looking to push me more in this area. And I’ve got a feeling this work of His Spirit in my heart is at least partly about loosening money’s stranglehold over me, and flipping it up on its head. Taking hold of money to use it for all the good that it has the potential to do.

Is this not the fast that I have chosen:

To loose the bonds of wickedness,

To undo the heavy burdens,

To let the oppressed go free,

And that you break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;

When you see the naked, that you cover him,

And not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then your light shall break forth like the morning,

Your healing shall spring forth speedily;

And your righteousness shall go before you;

The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’

Isaiah 58:6-9

Taken in a remote Thai village. Photo credit: Stephen Sato