The Clarity in Suffering

One night I sat across from my friend at the bar inside the Canal Street Pub. He had just finished getting a divorce.  We were talking about struggle and suffering and our relationships with God.  He looked at me and said:

“I’ve never felt or heard God as clear as I have right now.”

If you haven’t had the chance to do it, please check out my last few posts.  Our church suffered a major loss as our pastor Bryan Koch and his wife Lynn were in a motorcycle accident.  Lynn passed away and Bryan is still in ICU. The accident was last Sunday.  The day after the accident, my grandmother passed away in the hospital.

Now, Val and I have the same issues as every married couple. We deal with money problems, stress, the kids, and how to fill a summer now that elementary school is out for Carter. When things ramped up this pas week, I found the idea to be true.

There is a clarity in suffering.

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In church, we witnessed a congregation of almost 3,000 people gather on Wednesday night to pray in unity for Bryan and his family.  At the reception following my grandmother’s funeral there was a board of photos. As I looked over the pictures, spanning the 99 years of my grandmother’s life and our family, my dad eventually appeared at my side. I started asking him about specific pictures and he told me exactly what was happening in them.

The memories came clear and vivid.  We laughed at old times. Others at the reception stopped to look with us.  In those moments, you feel the bonds of family.

Suffering gives us a target. When things go well we can get scattered.  When the bottom falls out, we have a target. We have a clear and present need. God opens a door for us to experience his presence.

Suffering gives us a reason. We look to God in the good and bad.  We are driven towards the everlasting when we are reminded that everything else is temporary. People ask, “Where was God?” The answer can take a lifetime to realize and communicate.

Suffering gives us a result. The more I go, the more I believe that suffering is a part of faith.  Don’t believe those that tell you a life of faith is one of paradise.  Our struggles are the building blocks of faith. We must go through the fire to see how God pulls us through. The ending is not quick but it is worth it.

We will see joy once again. We will have peace and understand faith. We will get to the next chapter.

Until then, we give thanks in all things because it is the ultimate victory, the push against the hurricane of this world that threatens to blow us off course. It is our recourse, our unity, our chance to show we are in this world and not of it.

If you are in the midst of suffering tonight, turn to God and be honest.  He can take it.  Let it out and, if you can’t sleep tonight, do it again.  You will make it through.  I promise.

~Matt

I wrote a small e-book about struggle based on my experiences in life, marriage and family. It is available for free. Check it out and let me know what you think. You’ll find it at the link below.

#FaithResponders

This evening we went to a prayer service at church for Pastor Bryan Koch and his family.  The building was full, all the seats taken and overflow seating filled in the older sanctuary of the building. We listened to friends and colleagues of Bryan offer up stories and prayers.  Scott Kramer told us that he grabbed Bryan’s left hand, the throwing arm of the former major league catcher, and squeezed it hard. When he did this, Bryan opened his eyes.

Praise God.

ground-stones-pebbles

Greg Hubbard, evangelist at GT, delivered a word about being a faith responder, one who talks differently, sees things differently, and reflects the presence of God. The room was emotional, more than a thousand people in a family gathering of prayer and worship. As a church, we will keep moving forward.

As a writer, I’ve changed. The filters are gone. This is about you and me, about words and life and faith.

I thought I had the story figured out. I was wrong.  This is a story about unity, about faith in times of darkness.  This is about a community overcoming tragedy and having hope.  This is thanking God in all things, keeping focused on Jesus when everything else tells you to look away.

When I interviewed Bryan for the book he was warm, gracious, attentive and caring.  He gave me more time than I asked for. He was forthcoming in his words and genuine in his spirit. He hugged me after our interview and offered to check in with me in the future.

I’m taking him up on it.

The day he walks across the stage at church to preach again is one I will not miss.

In the end, this is about victory. It is about family and using darkness to show the million-watt brightness of God’s love. So tonight I’m praying, carrying home the closeness of the Spirit, for anyone reading this.  If you are in a dark place, know you are not alone.  If you are suffering, it is not wasted.

Know I’m here for you. My family, brothers and sisters in Christ, are here for you. God is here for you. Things can and will change. The future is coming and we must respond.

There is no choice. Join me and be a #faithresponder

~Matt

You can see news coverage of Pastor Bryan’s story by clicking here.

The Hardest Day

I’ve consulted a number of articles on content creation, SEO, marketing, graphics, and blogging. Normally, when I write these things, I take all this into consideration before putting a post together.  Tonight, you won’t see that.  Tonight is no filter, no line between you and me but the screen you have chosen to read this on. No linguistic tricks or debate.  This is what happened today:

I was in the shower when Val came into the bathroom breathless and upset.  She informed me that, last night, the pastor of our home church and his wife were involved in a serious motorcycle accident.  Bryan and Lynn Koch loved to ride a motorcycle.  Someone in an SUV crossed the line and hit them head on.  Lynn died at the scene.  She had just been ordained last month.  Her and Bryan had delivered the message on Mother’s Day together. Bryan is in ICU with severe injuries, his left leg amputated and multiple times in surgery coming up. They have three sons and had just found out they would be grandparents in October.

After work, Val and I went to church to pray.  They had opened the sanctuary all week and had provided counselors on site.  Wednesday night we have a church-wide prayer service.  As we sat in the darkened sanctuary we prayed with others and poured our hearts out to help this family that has been destroyed. When Val and I left the church we were met with swirling storm clouds.  The rest of the night was punctuated in thunderstorms, rain, and funnel clouds spotted in the area.

This afternoon I get a text message that my grandmother, Hazel Shaner, had passed away in the hospital.  She had lived a full 98 years.  Her husband, my grandfather, had passed away three years ago.  They were married for almost 70 years. I spent my summers, before working full-time jobs, at their house while my mother worked. This woman anchored a family through WW2, numerous dinners and holidays, ups and downs. I was honored to have her as a grandmother.  She reflected what it meant to love God and love your neighbor. She impacted the lives of so many and was the rock that built this family.

So here I am.  In days like this you find yourself standing in the darkness, looking across the room at the only thing that could be there.  You look at God and you ask why.  I believe Lynn is in Heaven and experiencing the fullness of joy.  Could you imagine, being in an ICU bed and not knowing you have lost your wife? Her parents, tonight, are driving in from Ohio.

The church, our church, is beaten down and mired in sorrow.

But it is not over.

I believe joy comes in the morning.  I believe in bigger and greater things, in ministries that touch this community and change the world.  I believe in healing, in recovery, and that Pastor Bryan will walk across the stage to deliver a sermon again.  I believe in miracles, in the presence of God felt with electric reality. I believe in lives changed, that Lynn’s loss will not be for nothing, that her and Bryan’s story will change the lives of those that hear it.

Yet, for tonight, there is darkness.  Thunder still crashes around our house. The boys are sleeping.  I’m typing and I’m here, like you, having the hardest day I’ve had in a long time.

I ask you to pray. Pray for Bryan and Lynn’s family.  Pray for their boys as they figure out a way to live.  Pray for their grandchild, that Bryan will get a chance to hold him in the future. Pray for their extended families and our church.  Pray for peace.

As for me, I’ll make it through.  There is so much more involved here. Keep your eyes up with me. Dawn will come soon.

~Matt