Our mailbox has been filling with Christmas cards, and we normally wait until December 25 to open them all.
But I accidentally opened one card. Well, maybe it wasn’t an accident.
The beautiful writing. The heartfelt honesty. The confessional truth.
The words stirred my heart for Advent.
I was so moved I decided to do something I’ve never done before and ask permission to share the letter with all of you. (Kleenex warning).
This is from Jessi Heilman who oversees the women’s homelessness initiative and women’s ministry at Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, Colorado, where her husband Jesse serves as pastor of the church. (Yes, they call themselves Jessigirl and boyJesse). We’ve been longtime fans and supporters of this congregation who reaches “the right brained and left out.”
Brothers and Sisters,
If you have talked with either Jesse or I recently, it is no secret that life at Scum of the Earth is a beautiful, though not always enjoyable, mix of life and death.
It is extremely exhausting & life-giving. It is fascinating & repetitive.
Somehow, we are a constant story of redemption & hope and a story of unbearable burden & pain.
Some of you immediately understand what I am talking about, for your experience of Kingdom on Earth gives similar feelings. Trauma, loss, pain have been your story too. Others of you may have no idea what I am talking about.
No matter where your understanding is as you read this letter, it is important to remember that our God is amazing. His work is incredible.
As my deeply wounded friend so wisely disciples me in often…
His ways are not our ways.
I spend more time than I’d like, asking God about Job. I get the overall picture—God calls the shots, even Satan has to submit to Him. No matter what we experience, we can praise the Lord & celebrate His ways.
I am comforted to know this and thankful to have Scripture to give us insight into how the relationships between God, man and Satan plays out.
As someone who deals regularly with spiritual warfare & demonic attacks, I take confidence that Satan is not allowed to just do as he pleases. We have a sovereign Lord who rules & as Psalms declares, “whatever the Lord pleases, He does…”
I’m so glad He decides what’s going on.
But here’s the thing, when I read Job I think, “I hate his story. Job, who ‘was perfect and upright, & one that feared God, & eschewed evil’ is picked to experience suffering & deep wounds at the hands of the very One he praises & trusts.
Lord, I believe it is somehow good because you are good, but honestly, I hate that this is Your method of receiving praise.”
I don’t like that (Job 5) “He wounds, but he also binds up, he injures but his hands also heal.” How about You not wound and injure people, Lord?
I want the God Who Heals & quite honestly, I can be angry & bitter when He won’t.
I used to think that Job was the exception, that God made an extreme example of him so that we could clearly learn to praise God in all things.
I no longer think this.
After years of walking alongside sisters & brothers who experience trauma & loss & struggle & suffering day after day after no matter how much they submit themselves to Jesus, I know that the methods used with Job are still the methods God often chooses today.
It comes in all forms: Depression. Death. Illness. Rape. Neglect. Nightmares. Rejection. Addiction. And more.
These struggles provide opportunity for lies of shame, jealousy, anger, & abandonment to take root and overwhelm.
My spiritual family is plagued with suffering & pain & we are to praise Him for it.
Can we mourn and struggle? Yes.
But we are to lavish our praise to the Lord.
“For my thoughts are not Your thoughts, neither are Your ways my ways., declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55)
“Embrace the pain.”
I remember saying this to a woman at Scum as she was in the final stage of labor & about to give birth for the first time.
It has since become something I say on repeat as I disciple others.
“Embrace the pain & it will produce life.”
I say this because I see it all over Scripture. I see it in the story of the Israelites as they journey away from Egypt and towards the Promise Land.
I see it as Jesus ministered to people on earth and placed Himself on the cross. Hardship & suffering… pain. Accepting & surrendering…life. I see it all over Scum of the Earth.
I recently sat with a suicidal woman who asked me, “Jessi, why? Why do I have to suffer? I beg God to help me, to relieve me, & He won’t. Why won’t He heal me? I can’t keep living with this pain.”
I wish this was the first time I had heard these words, but these thoughts are common among my believing sisters.
I’m tired of having to give the reminder that our loving & faithful & kind Father may choose to have us to suffer until we die.
But I do speak these things, because they are true.
We don’t have promises that God will heal us this side of heaven, but He may. Either way, we can choose to embrace the pain and find the life that He has provided for us.
Life that can be & should be enjoyed. Life that is abundant & generous to others.
That day she chose to embrace the pain, to trust God with the cleaning of her wounds & she found that He loves & cares for her—no matter what. Likely this embrace is temporary, that same pain will rise again & attempt to consume her.
When this happens, she will have one more experience to remind her she is was held and will be safely held once again.
“You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable: kinship.
You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.” ― Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion
The choice to engage in sacrificial love can leave us beat up & in tremendous & diverse pain.
Think of our Savior on the cross.
I feel weak & weary because there never seems to be enough of us able to stand up strong under the weight of the darkness.
All of this exists in the truths that God sustains us all. God provides. God is Healer.
And His ways are not our ways—His ways are best, and good and more whole than we can imagine.
Those are my current thoughts & I wanted to share them with you because you have journeyed with Jesse & I in ministry. You have been present, faithful & sacrificial supporting us as we minister to others.
Some of you have met our Scum family members, poured out prayers and concerns & met needs that we couldn’t.
And some of you have chosen the burden of caring specifically for Jesse and I – loving us, checking in on us, listening to us, holding us to account.
For all of this we are so very grateful. It is super hard and rewarding to work at Scum – it is much better that we get to do it with you.
If you feel compelled to support the work of Jessi and loving those in pain, you can give by going to Scumoftheearth.net and scrolling to the bottom. Click staff and give to Jessi Heilmann through the site.