Matt Bays has faced the darkness and pain of life with honesty and courage. His story of abuse, addiction, and loss have helped many understand how the gospel is more powerful than the waves of grief and loss that may wash over us. He leads us to see that if we strain our eyes amidst the shifting shadows, we will find Jesus there: and though every detail of His face might not be recognizable, His form is unmistakable. It’s a grace to welcome Matt to the farm’s front porch today…
My sister and her boyfriend, Chuck came for a visit this past weekend.
As soon as she climbed out of their truck, I could see the effects the chemo had taken on her.
Her body was not her body.
She had gained quite a bit of weight from the steroids, and her face was no longer the shape of my father’s face, as it always had been.
It was swollen and odd.
A friend of mine who was a nurse told me not to look at Trina with “the death stare.”
So I decided that if I needed a moment to gather myself throughout the weekend, I would escape to my closet or go sit in the backseat of my car, both of which I ended up doing several times.
I had a group of friends gather while she was in town to pray for Trina’s healing.
We collected our love and prayers around her and as we prayed, tears streamed down her face and ours.
Afterward, while everyone waited their turn to talk to her, I overheard her tell a friend of mine that not having hair was great for riding on the back of Chuck’s motorcycle because she didn’t have to worry about how she looked when she took off her helmet.
It was what I had always loved about her: her ability to believe the best in any situation.
And even with the room littered with cancer, threatening her life, showing itself in her warped body, swollen face, and hair loss, her sense of hope hadn’t changed one bit.
She put on her makeup just as she always had, as if she were just as gorgeous as she had always been.
These things—these incredible things—I carry them with me.
I have so many of them locked away in a Special Jar—a Jar filled with the things in this world that seem to be pointing me to something greater, to someOne greater.
Sometimes it feels as if God has invited Himself into my pain, when I had hoped to be invited into His healing. We want a God who heals our wounds, but it seems we have a God who heals our hearts.
I realized over the weekend that I might know her better than anyone ever has. We had come up in the same family, drawn together as survivalists in the war zone. And as survivors often do, we had formed a bond that would never be broken.
She is not replaceable as my sister.
The thought of losing her is absurd.
I am writing this too early to know what will happen to her. And if she passes, I don’t know what will happen to me.
It is impossible to gauge whether I will completely fall apart or discover some kind of new strength, which I don’t want if it only means losing her.
As far as God is concerned, I have gone down this road before.
I have lashed out, unbelieved in Him, accused Him, and sworn to back out of any deal I’d made with Him.
But in the end, I have found Him capable of restoring my faith because He knows me better than I even know my sister. He’s shown up, amid the visceral pain, in powerful ways I could not excuse, leaving me fully aware…
that He’d been there.
I can’t possibly begin to know that I will always believe Him, love Him, forgive Him, let Him in, but so far, in the midst of the most difficult personal circumstances…
He has not left me.
He hasn’t answered all of my questions, and He certainly hasn’t “worked all things out for the good” in any way I would’ve expected.
But once when I was at an all-time low, He entered into my broken world so unexpectedly and in a way that was so tangible even my peculiar heart couldn’t deny His presence.
This heavenly encounter and the personal gift He arrived with will forever remain in my Special Jar.
If my sister doesn’t survive her fight with cancer, I will be wrecked, and I won’t pretend I shouldn’t be. I will tell God what a liar He is and shake my fist at Him for all the bad things that happen. I will tell others He’s a fraud and that He kills the people other people need. I will walk my cul-de-sac in protest. I may even abandon Him.
But then I imagine He will do what He always does. In some unexpected way, He will show up—show up for me, and in your pain, show up for you. And together we’ll find Him.
We will find God in the ruins.
After watching a YouTube video that so moved me the other day, I looked down to see the remarks others had written about it. There were several, but my eyes focused on one:
It was one of the few phrases I could still recall from my college Spanish class. Someone had watched the same video, and I imagine had a moment for which they had written only two words: “Me encanta.”
Those things left unredeemed in us are unfinished stories we’re desperate to punctuate, hoping to turn the page and see “The End.”
But tragedy will always be with us, as will disbelief, fear, abandonment, and the abysmal injustices we see every time we turn on the television.
At times the adversity and pain of this world have siphoned off whatever belief was left in me.
But then I go to my Jar and I conjure up the image of my dearly beloved sister, riddled with cancer from head to toe, talking about the benefits of not having hair as if even the storm cloud that is cancer has a silver lining, and I don’t hear unbelief at all or even death.
Instead I hear two words:
I don’t know why I hear them, but I know I can’t shake them. And truth be told, I don’t want to.
They are imprinted into the spiritual DNA of who I am, and they speak to my tragedies, my doubts, and my personal failures.
Time and time again, I hear them called out to me in the tiniest voice—a voice so small it could fit only within the most peculiar crack of my heart.
Me encanta. Me encanta. Me encanta.
Do not miss this video. Just — absolutely do not. Me Encanta.
Matt Bays is a writer, speaker, and musician with a passion to call people out of their hiding places. In ministry for twenty-one years as a worship pastor, he now joins the ranks of writers such as Ann Lamott, Donald Miller, and Ann Voskamp in offering readers an honest, raw, funny, creative, and insightful compassion for sorting through the struggles and joys of life. He and his wife, Heather, live in Indianapolis with their 2 teenage daughters.
Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain will usher you into a life where gratitude overpowers anger, hope overcomes despair, and hunger for God replaces indifference to God. Unlike memoirs of traumatic life stories, Matt’s approach is as a pastoral companion, reaching out to anyone who struggles with where God is when it hurts. Full of unforgettable stories of loss and healing. This is a gripping, powerful read and Matt is a tremendous writer.
[ Our humble thanks to David C. Cook Publishers for their partnership in today’s devotion ]