7 years ago, on an ordinary day in April,we became members of the Young Suffering Club (read that story, here). We didn't join willingly, and if we could have revoked our membership, we would have. Yet this club of which no one wants to be a part has many members, maybe even you.

In a secular world-view, there is perhaps no greater tragedy than suffering inflicted upon a young life. Such a story reveals our greatest fear...that we won't get to live the lives we always dreamed we might live. We grieve the loss of innocence, the pain of unmet expectations, and the shattering of our best-laid plans, and we are undone.

This is not just a secular response. It seems even the "people of hope" often forget the true story of hope, one that is most profoundly birthed through the story of suffering. We need look no further than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to see this paradox of hope-through-suffering made manifest.

Hope Heals' "Young Suffering Club" seeks to re-narrate the story of suffering by sharing the lives and lessons of real people--their honest answers, vulnerable struggles, and surprising transformations through enduring life's greatest storms. As we share the scars and even the yet-to-be-healed wounds that come with such territory, the question remains...could we bravely wear our suffering as a badge of honor? Could what appears to be the greatest loss possibly offer the greatest gain?

In the telling of these true stories of suffering may we remember, and in the remembering may we find gratitude, and in the gratitude may we find hope, and in the hope may we find our healing.

What's your story of suffering? This is ours...

[VIDEO: Matt McCartie / PHOTOS: Emily Blake / GRAPHICS: Alex Wolf]

*   HOW DO YOU HANDLE SETBACKS?

{JAY} Each setback has taught us there is no quota on suffering. We don't get to check it off our bucket list even if we've already really been through the ringer. This shouldn't lead us to despair or a fatalistic view of our future, but it should inspire us to figure out what we've been given in that very moment and champion it. If we had waited until our lives looked normal again, without setbacks, to began re-narrating the hopeless story of our lives into a hopeful one, then we perhaps would never have begun. It is a challenging revelation, but God most desires to draw us to Himself, not to simply create the outcomes we expect for our lives.


* WHAT ARE THE MOST VITAL TRAITS TO DEVELOP AS A CAREGIVER?

{JAY} Caregiving has instilled in me a seemingly paradoxical set of traits: the desire to fix it all but the knowledge that I cannot. If I don't desire to be a part of making things right, then naturally, I won't stay, but if I think I will be the ultimate source of the fixing, then my own expectations will crush me, leaving deep frustration, even shame, and I won't stay either. To hold these two truths in harmony prompts me to rise to the occasion while simultaneously humbling me, bringing me low. We caregivers play a role in the care, an indispensable one, but we must release our efforts into the reality that the real healing doesn't come from us.


* HOW HAS SUFFERING SHAPED YOU?

{KATHERINE} My suffering, both after the stroke and to this day, has been a powerful informant for me.  I lived a fairly oblivious life before my stroke.  While undeniably awful and painful, calamity has meant this beautiful and heartbreaking deepening in me.   I’m not quite as naive to the world around me – both the beauty and brokenness. 

I am close to Christ in a way that I never was before this happened.  I have tasted true suffering.  I still taste it to a degree everyday of my life.  As a severely disabled 33 year old, I NEED to believe the truths of our Father. I don’t just believe in him anymore.  

The state of California deemed me permanently disabled in the fall of 2010.  As a 28-year-old girl, I was put on medicare, my driver’s license was revoked, and I was issued a PERMANENT handicapped license plate for our car.  

I have had 11 surgeries since my stroke, much painful emotional and physical heartbreak, a severely broken leg, 2 dramatic, cutting-edge facial reconstructive surgeries, and almost 2 years in hospital settings while my son was 6 months – 2.5 years old.

Deep pain and suffering of every sort has been a reality of my life for the past 7 years.  I have learned NOT to fight it.  Despite what every self-helply piece of propaganda will tell you, I have embraced the suffering. I have learned not to fight, but to lean in hard when it hurts the most. The pain has been the instructor through which I have learned deeper truths about myself and God.

I have been broken and battered, but I am not bitter.  I feel special in fact.  I was chosen for this.  We all “were chosen for such a time as this”.  We long to lead lives worthy of our calling.  We truly do see our pain as an award – a special club we were initiated into on April. 21, 2008.  Nothing will ever be the same, and we don’t want it to be. 

* WHAT HAS BEEN THE GREATEST BLESSING TO COME OUT OF YOUR PAIN?

{KATHERINE} Watching my son James grow up around and engage mommy’s saga is this strange gift to watch. He is seeing my story – his story – our family’s story, as it unfolds. James (and our future son!!!!) will never live in oblivion about our broken world. They won’t grow up unaware the way their mommy did. Their baseline for entering into tragedy will be different, and my suffering will inform the way they live.  They will know redemption and perseverance and hope first hand.  They will also have seen how well their daddy takes care of me. They will see devotion an commitment in marriage – truly in sickness and health. The world rejects sad and hard and broken things.  Their understanding of those things will be deep and extraordinary. We could never teach him to engage pain and cultivate perspective quite like this.  It is the greatest blessing in the midst of my greatest pain.   


* HOW DO YOU FIGHT FEAR?

{JAY} Every day, every decision, the question must be posed, what is motivating me? Is it fear? If so, the fear must be exposed and considered and pulled apart. Write it down. Pray it out. The process of revealing the things we fear, rather than just allowing the visceral, pit-in-the-stomach dread to make our decisions for us, begins to tip the scales in the favor of truth, the enemy of fear. Remind yourself of truth. Remind yourself that you are not in control, but a God who created it all, transcends it all, and loves it all is in control. As a practical tip for emotional health in general, look to the Psalms. David and the other writers neither elevated nor suppressed their emotions. Certainly the elevation or the suppression of fear can have profoundly negative ripple effects, but to name our fears and humbly cry them out to God seems to hit the middle ground just right.


* HOW DO YOU KEEP A HOPE-FILLED PERSPECTIVE?

{JAY} Hope, like contentment, is learned experientially and only through a daily choosing to live in it. This process is first rooted in an awareness that our reality is out of our control, hopeless even. Yet this awareness is often only really clear to us when we live through deep loss and suffering. Then, the practice of seeing God in the midst of the hopeless begins to draw us into a rhythm of gratitude and perspective-taking. This creates a trust that the source of hope is already in the midst of the hopelessness with us. We must remind ourselves of the awareness of that past hope by telling our story, and the greater story of God's redemption, to each other, in community. In the remembering of our past experiences of hope, we begin to anticipate a future hope, even strain towards it, rather than pushing against the fearful unknown.