It’s been two years now since my sister took her last breath.
She was 32.
Her rounded cheekbones matured and her eyes sparkled with blue hues. Her hair changed colors as frequently as the leaves in the crisp Kentucky fall. There was a slight Southern accent in her Romanianized-English–an accent of heavy roots and new shoots. Her laughter, when full and deep, would bring tears in her eyes. Her body carried the seal of four pregnancies with much grace, stretch marks, varicose veins, and youthful exuberance.
Motherhood softened her hips, rounded her body, and reshaped her bones. She had a glow on her face, perhaps a permanent remnant of our Eastern European belonging. The twinkles in her eyes brought out optimism and thanksgiving, a perfect mélange of autochthone and American cultures. A woman of two beginnings, really. Living anew in a country that embraced us both with all our foreign roots and strange affinities.
Suffering changes people from the inside out. It just does. Suffering hurts the heart and the body, all at the same time. But suffering also refines the most conflicted of feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. Suffering curses and blesses, lifts up and brings down, rejoices and decries, hopes and despairs, heals and hurts, binds and opens.
Suffering deep while hoping big. Is it possible? Is it godly? Can it be?
I heard of a faithful man who suffered big. He lost children, riches, health. He’s the epitome of a man of hopeful misery. Open. Genuine. Raw. Inflicted. His name is Job. Suffering took a hold of him and he became unrecognizable, inconsolable, and deeply silenced. Suffering made this resolute, strong man hutch down in balls of weeping and wailing. The dust arose and cuddled his cries like a mist of deadly remembrance: “from dust we come, to dust shall we return.” Silence in the heart of suffering was the most powerful movement of his mouth. Not a word for seven days and seven nights. As if to gather enough breath to air out all at once his entire inner man, his thoughts, his grievances.
His silence breaks with some of the most outrageous words from the heart of a man that fears God: cursing – not cursing of God, but words of curse nonetheless.
Is it possible to suffer with hope? To live while dying? To rejoice while suffering? To praise God while lamenting?
Job speaks in utter contrasts about his life and about God. These contrasts bring me comfort. “God wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal” (Job 5:18). Job never denies God’s goodness or His faithfulness. On the contrary, he finds God’s steadfast character even in the depths of life’s most conflicting and contrasting circumstances. He knows that after wounding, God binds. After shattering, God heals. Job’s contrasts of divine actions expose an even more faithful, present, caring, loving God!
Job’s contour weakens as he decries new days ahead. And yet, there are robusts strides of strength uncovered in this new painful living. In his intense suffering, Job needed to learn how to live again when sighs replace the bread, groanings are poured like water, and death takes away his kin.
Job’s ultimatum fans my faith: “Though [God] slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.” (Job 13:15). Though God would never have considered Job an enemy to be slain and discarded forever, Job’s resolution to hope in God “no matter what” frees him to live again for his Lord even in suffering.
Job stands by God in his evil days like he did in the good days. Job chooses to confide in God in suffering, just like he did in blessings. Job believes that God will show him favor in his death, just like He did in his living. Job’s strength is his attitude to trust in God no matter what. He suffers with unshakable hope, yet a terribly shaken body and heart. Job’s inspiring hope calls my heart unto God every time I read his story.
Today, I know I will laugh and cry; hope and despair, come undone and then together; soar and crush; have peace and taste war; wish her born, and not at all. But like Job, I want to constantly draw my conflicted heart and mind near God; remain in His peaceful presence; continue to tell Him all my pains and sufferings; and faithfully accept His dealings with our lives.
Today, in the wake of two years since her death, I choose to hope in Him no matter what still!