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Following Jesus

Broken But Blessed: Examining the Beatitudes

June 24, 2016 by

In her series “Broken But Blessed” Rebekah Domer has been blogging about the Beatitudes. Her most recent three posts (read them here) considered the first blessing of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Today she reflects on the next one: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).


Heartbroken

My Curtis is dead. Heartbroken. . . read the terse email message I opened on a Monday morning just weeks ago.

I read the words again, but they didn’t make sense. Curtis – dead? He’s a healthy fifty-one-year old. I picked up the phone and dialed Curtis’s mother to find out what was going on.

Sherri
Sherri

I’ve known Alberta Luster for almost thirty years since I was her daughter’s lab partner in college. We were both studying medical laboratory technology. Entering my first lab seminar as an insecure seventeen-year-old, I was partnered with Sherri, a gorgeous black girl with an impish sense of humor. She joshed around about blood, pee, and poop, making it sound like they were old hat for her. Well, they sure weren’t for me – yet! But my initiation was just around the corner.

“Each of you will now take a specimen cup from the front table and bring back a urine sample to be examined by your laboratory partner,” intoned our instructor.

Sheepishly, we made our way down the hall to the restrooms. Returning, embarrassed, to the classroom, Sherri handed me her specimen, and I gave her mine. My urine was a clear pale yellow – as it rightly should be. But Sherri’s was black.

Choking back my shock, I sputtered, “Sherri, what’s wrong with you?”

“I have Sickle Cell disease.” Her reply conveyed deep sadness, and fatigue. “But I’m gonna beat it!”

It didn’t take long for Sherri and me to become friends. We laughed our way through hours of microscopy as we mastered the art of diagnosis. But, just weeks into the semester, Sherri crashed. Unable to continue school, she was admitted to intensive care, fighting for her life.

It was at Sherri’s bedside that I first met her parents. After class each day, I’d head to the hospital to visit her until her parents got off work. Sherri suffered – a lot. It was distressing to hear her cry out in pain and to watch her struggling to breathe. Her agony was mirrored in the eyes of her parents as they sat helpless by her side.

Over the next nine months we witnessed her slow decline. And then, in September of 1987, she died. At age twenty-two.

Ray and Alberta with their children Brian, Curtis, and Sherri
Ray & Alberta with (L-R) Brian, Curtis and Sherri

Heartache followed Ray and Alberta through the years. Their youngest son Brian and his wife lost twin babies – a boy and a girl – and then had premature twins who survived, but just barely. One of the surviving twins was diagnosed, like Sherri, with Sickle Cell disease. Worn by years of sorrow, Alberta took on the appearance of a bronze relief etched with grief. Ray’s sadness ran deep but silent, like the pounding waters that chisel canyons out of rock.

And then this April came the unexpected death of the Luster’s son Curtis. No one knows exactly how he died. Curtis was scheduled to preach to the kids at church that morning but never showed up. Stopping by his house to inquire, a fellow pastor found him dead on the floor of his apartment.

What do you say to a mother who suffers anguish as deep as Alberta’s? And how do you comfort a father as he once again begins the agonizing process of burying a child? I will not easily forget the sight of Alberta weeping as she followed her son’s casket down the aisle, supported by her husband Ray.

Curtis playing the saxophone
Curtis

I spoke with Ray about the Beatitudes, and asked him why, in the second Beatitude, Jesus blessed those who mourn. Shouldn’t Jesus have blessed the stoic and strong? Ray’s thoughts reinforced my own when he reflected that “our troubles and afflictions point us back to God. They lead us to a greater dependency on him. They humble us. Really, they’re not given to us for ourselves per se, but to help us do God’s work.”

“There’s a scripture that says we’re supposed to comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received,” he continued (2 Cor. 1:4). “I’ve experienced the reality of that. You can’t teach something you don’t really know. And you won’t know unless you’ve been there. God uses our struggles to refine us – to show us things about ourselves we had no way of knowing before. And with that knowledge, we can comfort others.”

“Where is God?” people ask when calamity strikes. God is right there, with us, when we suffer. An oft-sung chorus in Handel’s Messiah declares, “Surely, he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4). What a comfort it is to know that Jesus understands – and has borne – every sorrow we will ever know.

I, too, have experienced that sorrow can expand our hearts, softening us and allowing us to empathize with others. Embracing their grief as our own, our love becomes authentic. Like a catalyst, suffering can spur us on, awakening a deep yearning for the day when God will wipe every tear from our eye and death shall be no more (Rev. 21:4).

In Lament for a Son, a favorite of mine, Nicholas Wolterstorff invites us to journey with him through the months that follow his son’s tragic death in a mountain-climbing accident. His final reflection illustrates the transformative power of grief:

To believe in Christ’s rising and death’s dying is also to live with the power and challenge to rise up now from all our dark graves of suffering love. If sympathy for the world’s wounds is not enlarged by our anguish, if love for those around us is not expanded, if gratitude for what is good does not flame up, if insight is not deepened, . . . if aching for a new day is not intensified, if hope is weakened and faith diminished, if from the experience of death comes nothing good, then death has won. So shall I struggle to live the reality of Christ’s rising and death’s dying. In my living, my son’s dying will not be the last word. But as I rise up, I bear the wounds of his death. My rising does not remove them. They mark me.

Check back in two weeks for my next post in this series. See my previous posts here.

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About the author

Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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  • Dear Rebekah, Many thanks for your blog on the second Beatitude. I think it is wonderful and complete. It is not an easy Beatitude to explain and my experience is that I do better person to person than writing to people. Silence and presence helps some people more than words. Maybe some lines of the Bible also help. Your blogs are wonderful. Continue your good work. May The Lord and the Holy Spirit continue to direct and help you. With lots of love, prayers and thanks. Veronica

    Veronica
  • Dear Rebekah, Thank you again for not just providing a heart-warming story, but teaching us to remember the meaning or purpose behind suffering. I have always thought those who died young were more evolved souls who have served their purpose in this life and are rewarded with an early call to God. It has long been my belief that those left behind suffer the loss of the person, but the person is in a better place. We only lose their corporal presence. Their spirit remains with us to comfort us if we are open to it. However, your writing has provided greater understanding of the purpose of why some goes through so much suffering and loss. Thank you and God bless you for offering these pearls of wisdom to us.

    Rosalie V Gambino
  • Dear Rebekah, Thank you again for not just providing a heart-warming story, but teaching us to remember the meaning or purpose behind suffering. I have always thought those who died young were more evolved souls who have served their purpose in this life and are rewarded with an early call to God. It has long been my belief that those left behind suffer the loss of the person, but the person is in a better place. We only lose their corporal presence. Their spirit remains with us to comfort us if we are open to it. However, your writing has provided greater understanding of the purpose of why some goes through so much suffering and loss. Thank you and God bless you for offering these pearls of wisdom to us. Your friend and her family sound like lovely people. How lucky you are know them. Rosalie

    Rosalie Gambino
  • Another deeply touching article. You write so well. Blessings, Lola

    Lola Riddick
  • Hello Rebekah, Thank you for the story about your friend and her family, and especially about our heavenly Father growing Sherri's father through such tragic loss and hurt. When I spoke to our young men here at the Ranch, at yesterday morning's meeting, I finished with the story from your link. I wanted them to know that even in lousy circumstances and great loss, their Heavenly Father is building strength and compassion and more, within them, so that they will be able to strengthen and encourage others in the future. Thank you. Hollis Warner

    Hollis Warner
  • Rebekah, congratulations on another story well done. I have been wondering why it seems like some folks live a difficult life of loss and pain. Then there others who seem to be exempt from all of that. Marcy

    Marcy Bibens
  • Well done Rebekah….very moving John M

    John Martin
  • Hello Rebekah. Since my husband Derek died last year, I am going through trying to understand why I feel I have had so much tragedy in life, why do Christian people suffer so much? Then I have thoughts that God does care for me. I am so blessed to have so many Christian friends to support me as you do. God has brought so many people into my life since Derek died. Some days are very hard, It's so hard to try to live alone without someone who has been part of your life for so many years. I feel Derek is always with me just not in his physical body and that's how I cope with each day. I still cry most days, pray a lot, and even shout at God sometimes but I know he loves and cares for me and pray one day I will find peace. May the Lord bless you for the love and support you give to so many. Ann

    Ann Richards
  • Dear Rebekah That is quite a moving story. And what Ray says is so very true. They both must have a very deep faith. I also can’t help but think of the words in the poem "Your Cross" by St. Francis de Sales where it says that he “weighs everything in his loving hands before he sends it to you to carry.” Keep up the good work.

    Anonymous
  • I really enjoyed this blog post. Very touching for sure. We have a lady friend that has gone through similar heartache in her life. She loves the Lord and is ready for His return. Thank you for the reminder that it's through trials that He shapes us and teaches us more about His faithfulness. We sang "Hallelujah! What A Savior" taken from Isaiah 53 at our meeting yesterday. Thank you for reminding us that He understands our grief.

    Gerald Scarbrough
  • Beautifully written, Rebekah. Loving and losing is part of our human condition. I am so grateful that our Heavenly Father is acquainted with our grief, and carries us through those valleys.

    Ruth Sill
  • Ray's comment echoes that of my father-in-law when he and his wife lost their last child as an infant. He said, "That he points us to Jesus is a joy." As a 23-year-old new convert, an infant myself actually, I just did not understand that, but it struck and taught me. Thank you, Rebecca.

    Phil
  • That is totally amazing. I’m so glad you wrote it, because so many people struggle with why innocent people have to suffer, or that it seems like some people have to suffer so much more than others. At least I always think about that. But it’s so amazing what the father says about how suffering isn’t given to us for ourselves, but to help us to do God’s work. I never thought of suffering as a gift. That’s really amazing faith. THANK YOU --Esther

    Esther