Sitting With Suffering

Summer is finally here — I always look forward to the first barbecue of the season. I had just flown in to join friends around a table for good conversation and good food. Normally that combination is tough to beat, but this barbecue was a little different.

In honor of this new skin on the old blog, I’m throwing an open house. For the month of July and into the first days of August I am going to introduce you to some others in my life who have their real stories of how He has used the seemingly “bitter”  to create new space for Him (and sandwiched in between I’ll have some of my own writing). Though I could write a whole post about each one of them, I’ll let their stories speak for themselves. I love these people. I love Him in them. I love the diversity of His fingerprints on each of their lives.
Today, I introduce you to Esther Fleece. Our paths collided during this whirlwind of a process towards publishing my book and she has a life-story that makes me want to know Him more.

It commemorated the two-year anniversary of our friend Wesen’s death. As I sat next to her beloved husband and we enjoyed delicious Pilipino food, I asked him, two years into his grief, how his he is doing. (Probably the most insensitive question to ask someone who’s lost a loved one.)

I’ve experienced grief, but I have had a tough time knowing how to navigate through it in a healthy way. And if I am to be honest, I live my life in such a way to avoid grief at all costs. No one likes pain and suffering, and to those who have experienced it firsthand, you know what I mean when I say I do my best to avoid it. Whatever your coping mechanism may be – be it stuffing, shopping, or silence, we don’t do well in handling grief and we tend to avoid people who are in it themselves.

Fence Post MJ


“They need time”, we say. Or, “they need space, I don’t want to be a bother”. And by “bother” we usually mean we really don’t want to be inconvenienced — or we don’t know what to say, or don’t know what to do.

Grief is not a disease. You can’t catch it if someone else has it, and you certainly shouldn’t run from people who are experiencing it.

And so I sat with my friend, two years after his wife’s death. I miss her, and I think of her often, but as I am sitting next to her HUSBAND who has a hard time waking up every morning I have no idea what to say.

Bemni & Esther

As I listen, I cannot believe the strength coming out of his voice. He speaks of his deep grief, and studying the scriptures to find out how people of old dealt with pain and suffering. He shares of how he is teaching a class at church to help people know how to walk with friends in similar pain. With strength in his eyes, yet brokenness in his voice, he is persevering every day. Watching my friend worship God in the midst of deep pain and sorrow was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed.

And for the first time in years, I thanked God for my own suffering.

I thanked God for not delivering me overnight. I thanked Him for being longsuffering with me. I thanked Him for what seemed like a delay in my own healing. I thanked Him for not answering everything I’ve ever prayed for. I thanked Him for His timing. I thanked Him that my own losses were not so easily forgiven– and most certainly not forgotten. This healing has taken time, and grace, and work, and grieving in order to move forward.

Because while Jesus in His infinite wisdom and timing does choose to deliver some of us quickly, many of us spend years persevering. We spend years waiting, or years forgiving, or years fighting for what we know to be true. It is often not an easy road.

log MJ

My pain, though treacherous and deep, became meaningful for the first time. It helped me sit next to a friend in pain and realize that life and healing is not fixed with a formula.

What if we began to see life’s delays as a way that God is weaving patience and mercy into the fiber of our being? What if the delays are actually a gift where another can be heard, felt, and understood? IMG_1899 As a Christ-follower, God suffered for me, and as His children, we have the delicate privilege of sharing in His sufferings. I hope to be a friend – a disciple – who is patient in affliction. Time does not heal wounds, but (as Ravi Zacharias says) “over time, we will see God heal.”

Esther Fleece has an impressive track record of connecting influential individuals and organizations to their mutual benefit. Christianity Today noted Fleece’s skills and success as a “relationship broker” in an article highlighting the Top 50 Women Shaping the Church and Culture, and she was honored by CNN as one of the “Five Women to Watch” in 2012.
An in-demand millennial expert and international speaker, Fleece has been identified as one of the “New Faces of Evangelicalism” by USA Today. Esther is the President & CEO of a consulting firm called L&L, and you can follow her on twitter @EstherFleece.