I started handlettering this line from “Come, Ye Disconsolate,” when I first got word in the summer that my great uncle was dying. We had known it might be coming, but thought it would be from his longer-term health struggles and not from the cancer that had crept in in the midst of it. Only weeks later it became clear that my cousin also would soon be going home. Amid tears and prayers for healing and comfort, I began sketching, but it was never right.
As we settled into our new home, I took it up again, four months after Uncle John went home and two and a half after Kristen, a year after Ezra’s aunt and my cousin Hannah’s best friend also passed away. In between quiet moments with pencil and pen, there were quiet moments with a book in hand – Mindy Belz’s “They Say We are Infidels,” about Christians on the run from ISIS, the pre-ISIS persecution of Christians in Iraq, and ISIS’s rise to power.
I inked the words, “earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal” with a heavy heart, full of sorrow – sorrow for my great aunt, having lost her husband and other family members this year, for my aunt and uncle grieving their daughter, Ezra’s grandfather grieving his, and my cousin, always aware of her best friend’s presence no longer there. But as I read about Christians fleeing ISIS, giving their lives, leaving everything… and the world doing nothing, even more tears and sorrow came.
Often I worked with them side by side and had to ask God, “Really?” even as I worked on memorizing “Be Still My Soul,” and the lines “thy Jesus can repay/from His own fullness all He takes away” played over and over in my head.
I scanned and edited the words, and finished the final pages of the book, but the book had no ending. How can it, when ISIS still scours the Levant while the world continues to barely lift a finger? Belz wove in words of hope here and there, but the lingering feeling of despair won out, the same question I wrestled with so much in the darkness of postpartum depression – “how can this sorrow ever be healed?”
I don’t know what God is going to do in Iraq and Syria, what He’s going to do with ISIS or how there will ever be healing in that land, or how we will get used to life without Kristen, Uncle John, Maddi, and Aunt Sue. But I went back to the rest of the hymn, remembering the faith of the Christians Belz interviewed, the same faith shared by those seeking a better Kingdom in Hebrews 11, and found there a reminder of hope.
Hope not in these wounds being healed on earth where our bodies are made only to be worn out and used up, but in heaven – where the Comforter, the Joy of the desolate, Light of the straying, Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure is, where we come to the feast of love – healed.
Earth has no sorrow heaven cannot heal, not because those sorrows will all be healed and made right on earth, but because a Baby was born in Bethlehem who lived through sorrow like unto that of our time and died so that all will one day be Right again.
“…All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own… they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
“…by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight… tortured, not accepting their release that they might obtain a better resurrection… stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death with the sword… destitute, afflicted, ill-treated of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”
(Excerpts from Hebrews 11 & 12)
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.