I still remember the words of my friend Roger at the visitation after my father died 37 years ago. “I know what you are going through,” this classmate from grades 1-12 said quietly. “I lost my daddy, too.” A dozen words, ten with one syllable, none either fancy or profound. But they came from a heart informed by experience and inspired by God to speak. Isn’t that often God’s way? “He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times, so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us” (2 Cor. 1:4, The Message). These words from Paul highlight two fundamental truths, both illustrated in the life of a gracEmail subscriber named Jim Hughes.
We cannot share what we have not experienced. Maps may provide general directions, but only one who has traveled the road knows what it is really like. No one willingly chooses hardship, disappointment or sorrow, yet those things produce competency and authenticity available nowhere else. Jim Hughes did not decide to lose his mother, brother, grandparents, father-in-law, and his dad’s second wife. He did not will his own heart attack, his wife’s pituitary tumor, or his daughter’s chronic illness. Career issues and broken relationships were not his choice. But as these things came his way, Jim looked to God for comfort and strength, and he learned from each experience. By doing so, Jim became a deeper and richer human being.
We receive in order to give. In 1999, Sara Faye and I were privileged to make a pilgrimage to Israel. While there, our group floated in the Dead Sea. The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, but the sea has no outlet of its own. As a result, it is eight times saltier than the oceans, and everything once living within it has died. Jim Hughes is not like the Dead Sea. Since retiring in 2002 from a 33-year career with Texaco, he has become a Volunteer Lay Chaplain at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and a Lifeline Chaplaincy trainer for individuals preparing for hospital ministry. He leads a weekly support group for caregivers, now in its third year, and a grief support group that meets periodically. Jim also serves as a Shepherding elder at First Colony Church of Christ in suburban Sugar Land, Texas.
“About the time we think we have God and life figured out,” Jim says, “we find our human wisdom shattered by a new event, and we’re left to pick up the pieces and rebuild our understanding of God and our lives. It’s easy to say, ‘God is good!’ while we’re on the mountaintop. It’s harder to say when we’re in a dark valley.” But life does have its dark valleys, Jim notes, “and that’s where spiritual growth occurs. And when we emerge from the valley, we have a wound from the struggle, and a new life.” Jim shares some things learned in his own journey through his blog, “Difficult Seasons” (go to http://difficultseasons.com). And he continues to learn from others. “This blog is a way to bring others into the conversation,” he says, “so that we can learn together.”