“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The moment I laid eyes on her I knew I wanted her as my own.
Her beauty was noticeable. The colors in her face illuminated the room.
*I’m not talking about my wife Sarah—although I did want her as my own—the moment I laid eyes on her 10 years ago—her beauty was noticeable and the colors in her face illuminated the room, too.
Michael and I were sitting in a dimly lit coffee shop last December. Across the table was a weeping woman we were meeting for the first time.
Her initial email to us was entitled – “Personal Prison of Fear” (she asked us to share it):
I’ve been afraid for so long.
Afraid that the most important people in my life—my husband, mother and father—would die. They did, and within less than 5 years.
Afraid I would lose another job. I was among thousands let go from a large company in the 80s. In the last 10 years, I lost three more jobs, all in group layoffs. Two were in the last 3 years.
Afraid there would not be enough money after my husband died. There wasn’t.
Afraid the man I was living with would hurt me. He did.
Afraid of losing my house. I did.
Afraid I would have to declare bankruptcy. I did.
I was afraid after the first robbery. And then it happened a second time. And then a third.
I was afraid when my identity was stolen. That freaked me out, but I’ve done all I can do to prevent damage.
I could be real afraid right now, because I don’t know where I will be living this fall. In this house where the landlord will take no responsibility if something catastrophic should happen that could cost me thousands of dollars. Or having to move again, which is just one big expensive distraction.
As we listened intently, overwhelmed by all that we were hearing from her that day as she explained her email, my eyes noticed a painting hanging right above her head.
A spotlight focused on the painting, causing it to rise off the canvas, as if the character was sitting at the table with us.
Was the character sitting at the table with us?
The portrait was of a lion’s face. It seemed to us as if the lion’s face summarized the very human journey we all find ourselves on—one marked by pain, sadness, and loneliness—but also one of much faith, hope, and love.
The shades of dark blues and browns and grays in the lions’ face and mane adequately expressed the darkness that sometimes surrounds us. The tear streaming down the lion’s cheek encapsulated those moments when life is too much to bear alone, and shedding a tear or two, as the woman across the table was able to do that evening, is our only release. But the lighter blues and greens and tans and whites in the painting captured the anticipation, hope, and joy that is yet to come, a day and time when there will be no more crying, no more pain.
Our correspondence continued for many months. We remember writing to her,
How are you still standing today? What keeps you going?
She asked if she could have a pass on answering that question. She said she wasn’t trying to avoid answering it, but she really wanted to take time to process an honest response.
Two days later we received another email. She expressed fear about many things. But, at times, she indicated, she also experiences peace.
Her message explained:
Tom, you asked me how I’m still standing after all that has happened to me. What is it that makes some people keep going? I don’t know. For me, I think it’s pure faith that I will be OK. When I was facing breast surgery in February less than 3 weeks after my abnormal mammogram, I was afraid at first. Every woman is. But in the days before my surgery, I had a strange sense of calm about it. I wasn’t afraid. I fully and truly put my trust in God. My realtor, a 10-year breast cancer survivor who has counseled many women with breast cancer, was yelling at me, “You better be afraid. You need to be afraid. You should be afraid.” But I wasn’t. I think I just trusted in God at that point that it would be OK, and I’m putting my trust with God again that my 6-month mammogram in September will be OK. When you have gone through everything I have the past few years, faith is all that is left. Somehow, this will work out. God’s got this.
For now, I do know that I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I’m tired of being afraid.
Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. We continued meeting with her every week at the same coffee shop. We continued, by God’s grace, to provide the compassionate presence and the listening ear she needed. She needed to know that she wasn’t walking through the valley of the shadow of death by herself. She didn’t need to be afraid because there were others who cared about her.
The “Personal Prison of Fear” she had been living in was beginning to subside, and a new day was dawning. She was ready for a change. An opportunity opened up for her to move to another state. A fresh start and a new beginning – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – was exactly what she needed. So, she packed up her life and she went. The darkness and deepest gloom she had been living with, the chains that had kept her in bondage for so long, were snapped. God was rescuing her.
The morning after our first meeting with the woman, I received the news via text message: a good friend of mine had suddenly lost a family member. It happened moments after breakfast when my son slammed his tiny finger in a waffle iron, causing the blood to well up underneath the nail.
After consoling my son for a few moments, I opened my inbox, noticing several emails from people who are facing extreme sorrow – a severe illness, depression, loneliness, and disappointment.
The list goes on and on and sometimes causes us to wonder why life has to be so hard and so painful? At times it seems almost incomprehensible and we question if things will ever get better.
The word “consolation” is a word we remember learning about in our psychology classes in college and seminary. It means “to be” (con) “with the lonely one” (solus). To offer consolation is one of the most important ways to care because it reminds all of us that we aren’t alone in our challenges. The term refers to the act of comforting someone who has suffered by offering empathy over the pain experienced. It also offers hope that better days can come ahead. To offer consolation is one of the best and most effective ways to care for others.
We often wonder – in the midst of life’s pain, with its sadness, loneliness, and disappointment – what we can do about it?
What do we say to someone (such as the woman in the coffee shop) who is incredibly frightened by what has transpired in her life?
There isn’t much to say and we believe God is okay with that.
But at least we could “console” her, letting her know that she is not alone, that we were with her in her agony – and would continue to be. It was important to her, as it is for all of us, to know that someone else can help us carry the burden. Consolation implies that better days are ahead and that there is hope to be found.
Our consolation reminds us also, that God-Is-With-Us, too, and always is and always will be. God – Immanuel – means “God-With-Us”.
This year we finished our second book – Moved With Compassion (and are awaiting its publication sometime in 2016). It was one of the harder projects to work on for a number of reasons. But one of the primary reasons is because living a compassionate life is hard. Really hard sometimes.
As we wrote, and re-wrote (and re-wrote again ☺), we needed to be reminded, moment-by-moment, that God is a perfectly compassionate God. As one of our good friends has shared with us before:
“God doesn’t ask us to be God. God simply asks us to be faithful.”
This is the best news we have received all year! In Jesus Christ we are reminded of what the perfectly compassionate way looks like. The fact that Jesus would empty himself of all his special privileges (Phil. 2) and “move into the neighborhood” of our messy, fractured, confusing, and fearful lives, gives us much hope and anticipation.
We long for a day when suffering and anguish is no more—and we trust that by our compassionate presence(s) in the world—we are moving towards that end goal—knowing that one day it will be completed.
In the book of Revelation, the author pictured a day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth. This is the vision that we patiently wait for and expect to come. But in the meantime, we walk with people through their darkest valleys, offering consolation and support, letting them know that they aren’t alone and that God-Is-With-Them.
When our first meeting with the woman in the coffee shop concluded, I went up to the counter and asked the clerk about the painting. She gave me the artist’s phone number, but dejectedly said that the painting had been sold. On my way home, I called the artist and asked her about the painting. She mentioned that she had painted another one at a local restaurant but that it too had been sold. I was deeply saddened.
Six months went by and we were entering the Christmas season of this year. Driving home one evening after a full day of offering consolation and support, first to a wounded soldier struggling with PTSD and then a single mom battling suicidal thoughts, the image of the lion appeared in my mind.
I thought of the lion and the strained look on its face. I thought of Jesus and the strained look on his face as he entered our broken world to offer us consolation, to “be with the lonely one” and to remind us that we aren’t alone in our suffering, confusion, and pain. I also thought of how He left us and is now waiting for us when there will be no more pain and no more sorrow. That gives me great joy and great encouragement.
When I arrived home that evening, I remembered saving the artist’s phone number just in case I ever noticed another one of her paintings. On the spur of the moment, I decided to give her a call, reminding her about our conversation many months ago and of the painting of the lion. I explained the significance of the painting to us and the ministry of Someone To Tell It To. I asked her about it and its significance for her. She talked about how she grew up learning that her name – Dreon – has come to mean “lion strength”, “lion-strong”, or “lion-hearted”. She talked about how she grew up reading the late theologian C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series where the main character, Aslan, is “the great Lion”:
Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, a traitor who may deserve death; in the same way that Christians believe Jesus sacrificed himself for all. In Christian belief, Jesus is associated with the Biblical “Lion of Judah” of Revelation 5:5.
When our conversation concluded, she agreed to paint a special painting (just for us … so we could hang it in our office). She calls it “Judah”. It has been the greatest Christmas gift we have received this year. It hangs on our wall to remind us of much, but especially of Jesus “moving in the neighborhood” of our lives to experience all that we experience and patiently awaiting a day when he will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.
I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.
Revelation 21:1-5 The Message (MSG)