Today we saw the fruits of months of labor for a new ministry at our church, a ministry called Bags of Hope. These bags will be given out to parents of infants in the NICU at a nearby hospital. The bags contain handmade blankets, bottled water, snacks, quarters, a journal, a new testament, and other encouraging materials. They are meant to bring Hope and comfort to families who truly need it.
This ministry began in the heart of my friend, Kasandra Begley. Kassy (as we call her) gave birth prematurely to a son, Logan, who spent 17 days in the NICU before he passed into the care of our Father God. But that wasn’t the end of the story for Kassy. She could have easily given up there that day, given in to the desire to die within, given in to the numbness that consumes those who are grieving monumental loss.
And perhaps she did, for a time, give up. Goodness knows she still grieves and probably always will, who wouldn’t? But she kept choosing to live, even if sometimes only barely, and she kept seeking something to fill that gap left behind by an infant son.
I met Kassy nearly a year ago when she began to attend our church with her boyfriend. She was very quiet at first, yet friendly. After a time, I asked her if she would like to do a bible study with me, and to my surprise, she agreed! 🙂 We spent quite a few months going through The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, a chronological approach to the gospel.
I sensed that Kassy yearned for a relationship with our Heavenly Father, but something was standing in the way. At times, I felt she was but a moment away from trusting in Him, only to experience a quick withdrawal. I knew what was bothering her. How could a loving God allow her to become pregnant, live through difficult circumstances, carry a baby, birth a baby, and watch him suffer for seventeen endless days before losing him? How could He?
What does one say to a question like that? I don’t know. I don’t always understand the ways of the Father, but I believe He wants to bring good out of even the most despicable situations. So, that’s what I told her.
We continued to work through our study, right up to the suffering of Jesus, God’s one and only Son, as He willing surrendered His life for our sin.
It was then that Kassy loudly proclaimed, “Me and God have something in common!” I was a little startled and not sure what she meant by the statement. I prodded, “What do you mean?” She excitedly explained that God was showing her that He had lost a Son, too, watched Him suffer physically, be beaten, scorned, and hung on a cross to die a slow and agonizing death. God allowed His Son to die, not only for His Son’s glorification, but also for the good of all mankind.
And suddenly I realized where she was going with it. God knew her pain, felt her loss, understood her life-draining sorrow. He, too, lost a beloved child. The hair on my arm stood on end as I literally felt this truth she was experiencing right before me. It was a moment so powerful and beautiful that every fiber of my being stood at attention. I couldn’t move; I couldn’t speak. The only thing I could do was furiously bat my lashes in an attempt to stem the floodgates. She said, “Oh, man, I just got the chills!” Me, too, Kassy, me, too.
That was the aha! moment for Kassy, the moment she realized God is accessible. He’s not just some faraway deity who metes out punishment when necessary while apathetically ignoring our most desperate pleas. He knows pain is real, wounds are real. He doesn’t turn away from the raw and often ugly emotion that oozes forth from us in our most wretched moments.
No, instead He comforts us with a comfort only He can give, overwhelms us with His very presence, and lavishes love upon us even as we cry out, Why? Why, Father, why?
I imagine Mary Magdalene felt a similar despair when she found her Savior’s tomb empty. The words of the angels were of no comfort to her. The Promised Messiah was dead; what hope was left? She couldn’t even have the satisfaction of caring for his body. In her despair, she turned away. In her despair, she failed to see Jesus before her. In her despair, she questioned.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
And then He said her name.
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
When Mary saw it was her Messiah calling her, the questions faded away. All that mattered was Him, standing there before her, Hope in the flesh. She left quickly to spread this comfort that she’d been given.
What it really comes down to is this: do you believe that He loves you? I don’t just mean that you say you believe it, or that you want to believe it, but do you truly believe – heart, soul, mind, and strength? Because if you do, if I do, then we can let go of the whys and embrace the gift, the gift of total, unconditional love and acceptance for those who believe in and call on the name of Jesus. When we look at Him, the author and perfecter of our faith, when we truly see Him, Lord of Lords, Blessed Redeemer, those doubts, those questions, those fears, walls, wounds, and chains…..they all fade away into the background.
So, after my friend Kassy accepted this gift, she began to grow and change. I started to see the real Kassy, the one who isn’t shy or quiet at all, the one who likes to laugh and often threatens others with bodily harm (but she doesn’t really mean it, ….well, most of the time). 😉 One day she approached my husband and I about this idea to crochet baby blankets for infants in the NICU. She wanted to honor the memory of her son by doing something she enjoys, something that brings her peace. She also knew that our twins spent some time in the NICU four years ago when they were born prematurely, so we understood the difficulty and fear many parents experience. She thought the church might want to be involved as well.
After discussing what NICU parents might need during an extended stay, we developed a list of items to give along with the blankets. Eventually we settled on a name – Bags of Hope! And just like that a new ministry was born from the pain of her situation, beauty from ashes, joy from sorrow.
Isn’t He amazing? Isn’t His comfort amazing? It is a comfort that we just can’t contain; we are compelled to share the comfort we have received with others. We are compelled to tell them:
There is Healing. There is Joy. There is the Promise of a better tomorrow and a perfect everlasting.
What comfort have you received, my friends? Are you still searching for it? It’s there for the grasping – look to Jesus. He’s waiting for you, calling for you. If you already have comfort, are you passing it along? Our stories, our testimonies are powerful tools in the Father’s hands.
Praise be to God, for His name is Comforter.
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