Bitter and Sweet

A little over two months ago, a man broke into a dark and lonely room in India and raped and ravaged my Michelle, the dearest person to my heart.

In a little under ten months from today, I’ll be getting married to her, in what will be the beginning of a lifetime of sharing love, laughter, pain and tears, as we learn to trust God each step of the way.

I find it difficult at times to take both those truths at once.

I have pictures in my email inbox, a few Michelle sent me in the weeks after the incident — her neck red and bruised with scratches. A bloody cut on her lip. Raw marks from where he sunk his teeth into her beautiful fingers. My stomach churns ever time I look at them. Then, not far above the email is another, this one with pictures of Michelle in a few wedding dresses she was trying on, looking absolutely stunning, radiant and so beautiful. Those two realities are so hard to take sometimes— to know that there can be such pain for someone I love and care about so deeply and yet to experience so much joy an excitement as well. But this is life; bitter and sweet, full of fear and trust; and so much redemption, grace and mercy.

I’ve struggled to write at all since the Spring. As I started my own journey in pursuing marriage and my desire to propose to Michelle, the the Lord taught me to wait, be patient and to humble myself before her and her family. I wrestled with thoughts and emotions, and just couldn’t bring the words to the page to write. And then this summer brought the worst nightmare I could imagine — that someone I love and cherish so much would be treated with such contempt, disgust, hatred and evil. The news of it left me speechless, sobbing my way through one of the longest nights of my life. We wept. We’ve been learning. I still struggle to know how in the world God can use me to love and bring healing to such hurt in Michelle. Then in Autumn I proposed, was engaged, and was given the privilege to one day be married to that same beloved Michelle, and to be so excited to spend the rest of my life with her. Finally I’m finding the words — or trying — realizing that if nothing else, my words will be just as broken and jumbled as myself — and hopefully sprinkled with grace and truth.

Grief. It’s funny the stories that tend to be told to children in Sunday school. Daniel in Lion’s Den, David and Goliath, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They’re amazing stories — stories of God’s faithfulness in times of trial. I still love these stories. But now I find myself asking what happens when the three men make it out of the furnace with burns all over their bodies and their clothing torched by the fire. Is God still good? Or what if Daniel had been torn, mutilated and left for dead, lying in the pit with the lions? Would we still trust God’s faithfulness? In times like these, after what happened to Michelle, I crave the darker side of scripture. I’m desperate to be reminded that God is still faithful, even when terrible things happen to innocent people. I read story of Tamar, sending myself into a tumble of tears and crying out to God as I drive to work, knowing the weight of her words when she says, “where could I carry my shame?” I see the crushing weight of that shame and the unworthiness that so easily finds it’s way into Michelle’s heart. And it breaks my heart. As if enough evil hasn’t been done already, Satan tries to leave his mark of shame as well.

I turn to the words of Hebrews, finding refuge in remembering what is all through the Bible: that suffering is not the exception amongst God’s people, but the norm.

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:37-40

No, the world is not worthy of Michelle. Evil is not worthy of her. Because she has placed her heart in the Author and Perfecter of our faith — the ever-faithful, ever-gracious, ever-loving God of justice and mercy. His love and His grace are so evident in everything about her, and I can’t begin to describe how unworthy I feel to be marrying someone like her, and to see the way Christ lives and breathes in her each day. It’s beautiful. You can read her words here as she talks through what happened, and what the Lord is continuing to do in her heart.

But darkness is real, and the fear is unbearable at times, as aftershocks continue to haunt her, in memories, flashbacks and triggers. Sometimes it’s easier than others. I remember the first time that I was cause of a trigger for her, and all the memories and feelings that came with it. I remember it hit me like a lead weight. It was the first time I got to tangibly feel the damage that a man who hated Michelle could do to her — to her emotions, her heart and her body. But God is gracious, and there is never darkness without His light. And in the pain and the fragility of brokenness, His love is all the more abundant.

God never promised us an easy life. But He promised to go with us, and that’s the promise we cling to. In my life, God was gracious enough to give me Michelle — to give me a picture of His love and His grace lived out in a person day by day. And He was gracious enough to choose her to suffer — to taste a deeper darkness than some, and to know a deeper love and trust in His love than some. She’s not perfect, but she holds on to the One who is. And what a privilege it is to get to be her husband someday, and to walk with alongside her every step of the way.


This picture means a lot to me. The scars on her fingers as a permanent memory of pain and terror — scars Michelle will carry for the rest of her life. But at the same time it’s a reminder that God brings grace and redemption, and with the ring she wears is a promise and a reminder that I get to play a small part in God’s love and healing for Michelle. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


Disconnect, re-connect. Touch down, take off. Sleep. Sleep some more. Recently, life has just been a whirlwind of moving. It’s been almost a month since I slept in my own room. Instead, I’ve been all over the place on beds, floors and couches, a few sleeps at a time. Now I’m back. Still not in my bed, but in my house at least. And while in some ways it’s good to get back into routine, In other ways, routine is hard. I’m faced with the job of reconnecting — of going back to classes, meeting people, doing homework, doing laundry, and trying to return to “normal”. Only, normal isn’t always where my heart would like to be.

A week ago today, I said goodbye to my girlfriend, Michelle, and boarded a plane back to Alberta and my life in Edmonton. These few days have been filled with remembering. Re-membering. I’ve never really thought about the word before. I suppose it’s the opposite of dismemberingcutting off a persons limbs, dividing them or tearing them apart, as Oxford Dictionary of English puts it. Time and distance, they both seem to dismember. Whether it’s people, places, or things, separation hurts as distance pulls apart, muddies memories and fades recollections. But I re-member — piecing together the fragments of memory, attempting to undo the separation — to somehow preserve.

I have a pair of mittens Michelle wore a few times when I was with her, when her hands were freezing and her gloves weren’t warm enough to help. Now they smell like her, and if I hold them to my nose and close my eyes, I’m almost there. Almost with her. I remember. I walk back through memories, attempting to freeze a moment or hold on to a thought, a smile or a word. I stop reading mid-sentence in a book Michelle lent me, to trace the folded crease in the corner of the page — knowing that her fingers were there a few weeks ago, folding that spot to mark the page. I use a note from her as a bookmark — a note from our short time in Montana, left on the door for me when I arrived late at night. “We’re glad you’re here,” it ended. A little smiley face peeks out at me from where it sticks out of my book. I cherish the pieces — all the little dismembered fragments.

I fear the way memories seem to slip away in time, and fade. It’s getting harder to smell the scent on the mittens now. Before long they’ll be back to being “normal”, and I’ll start wearing them again, and stop trying to preserve that little hint of a memory. Thankfully Skype, letters, emails and pictures make up for that fading smell. They fill that space between the next plane ticket and the next goodbye. They help the remembering.

I remember. I try with so many things. I try desperately to preserve Pakistan in my mind, to gather together memories in a room somewhere in my heart, where I can go back and walk through them all, hoping they haven’t changed. I hoard the memories together, as many as I can, so they’ll be there, somewhere. But they always change. Change is inevitable. Memory is fluid, and fragile, just like the hearts it lives in. I find comfort in a verse Michelle shared with me this week – in knowing that there’s One who never forgets, whose memories don’t fade, and who isn’t dismembered by time or distance. And even when my foolish heart forgets, I am remembered.

Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth!
Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people
And will have compassion on His afflicted.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
And the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
“Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.

Isaiah 49:13-16

What I Will Remember

With Remembrance Day tomorrow, I find myself faced with a mixture of emotions and feelings again, as a part of what seems to be a yearly mess of thoughts. It’s with a certain amount of timidity that I even write about my feelings at all, since I know that at times the ideas I entertain would perhaps disappoint and hurt people who are close to me – people who have been a part of these wars in the past, and who are personally invested in Remembrance Day. With so many emotions felt on all sides, as my American friends observe Veterans Day, or others Armistice Day, or Poppy Day, I honestly begin with some fear. These feelings run deep in people’s hearts, and I write not meaning to hurt or make light of the loss that people have suffered.


I hate war. Justifying bloodshed and killing has been a complex, messy, and emotional debate that has gone on for centuries, and I think will continue to do so. Very rarely has there been a just war. Not only that, but even in wars that are deemed ‘just’ by society and history books, there is no shortage of sorrow and death. Try to explain to the woman who lost her child that it was for a just cause that a foreigner took away her child’s life. Or explain to a wife that her husband died holding up the unjust end of the fight, and that the man operating the machine gun who killed him, was doing so out of just sense of duty. War is loss. It is filled with grief, regardless of whether it was deemed just by the people that wrote the history books after.

One of the core purposes of Remembrance Day is to honour and respect those who have died in the conflicts that my country has been involved in. However, along with this, there seems to come an underlying sense that I need to somehow honour the wars in which these people were killed. I know this may not be the case for everyone, and many might disagree; But in honouring someones death for a cause, I do in some way, honour the cause for which he died – something that I really, in right conscience, cannot do. I don’t think that every war Canada has fought in has been an honourable one. Most were far from our soil, and most resulted in the deaths of all kinds of people – both for its own men, those on the other side of the conflict and even those caught in the middle as well. Do I honour these wars? I grieve over them.

Another clause, if you might call it that, of Remembrance Day is the reason we honour these people who died. Time and time again the phrase is repeated, “for giving their lives to preserve the freedom of this country.” Again, I just don’t feel that I can be a part of that statement. I realise that even as I write this, I enjoy freedoms that were given to me as a result of events in the past. I don’t want to cheapen the lives that were lost, but I just don’t feel right about it either. Was the freedom of this country worth the lives of people from another nation? Was my freedom more important than theirs? Even the freedom of this country can be debated as well, seeing as the vast majority of Canadians essentially sit as invaders in a land that we have claimed as our own, from people who enjoyed freedom in this area before its colonisation and occupation. Yes, we have freedom, but we have it while we sit on someone else’s.

At these times I ask myself the question: how would I observe Remembrance Day if I spent it with my German friends, or anyone from the other side of the war? I have lots of friends from Germany. We’re not enemies, yet somehow we are called to honour the lives that were lost while killing people from the opposite side of the conflict. How would I observe Remembrance Day if I spent it with those who had lost family members and had been Canada’s “enemies” in the past? Would I talk about how glad I am to have my freedom and that their ancestors didn’t occupy ‘my’ land? I think I would simply grieve. And I suppose that’s where I have come with regards to Remembrance Day.

I will remember. I will remember the lives that were lost on all sides, in all our wars. I will remember that life is not cheap, and that victory is often simply a label placed over countless heartbeats that have been silenced and broken-hearted people who have lost those they love. I will remember the thousands of stones that stand in countries, marking where humans like me were buried – both those who were fighting and those who weren’t. I will remember the grief. But more than anything, I will remember the true sacrifice that was made, and the singular life that was laid down that “whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”(Jn. 3:16). Because this was the ultimate act of love, shedding Christ’s own blood rather than our own, though we made ourselves enemies to Him. This is what I will remember.

For me, Remembrance Day is grief; for lives lost on all sides, for humans in any uniform. This is what I will remember.

Another Ending

The dust has finally settled. After the past couple weeks of wrapping-up school work and winding down for the year, I can finally sit back and ask myself what in the world happened. I’m not really sure why, but somehow amidst all the flurry of assignments over the past few days, I seem to have dropped into total disrepair. Afternoons and evenings would go by and I would be reminded at night that I had eaten hardly anything since breakfast. How does someone forget they need to eat? It seems like a mildly important aspect of life, so I’m not sure how I forgot it. I doubt if this is a problem for the majority of students in college, but apparently for my room mate and I, it is.

However, I have decided to eat again, forcing meals down myself today at specific meal times, in an effort to bring some normality back to my life. I didn’t realise how accustomed I had become to a mildly empty stomach, until I felt sick forcing myself to eat. I’m not really surprised that, as a result of all this, I’ve found myself quite tired and a bit of an emotional wreck. As I contemplate moving out of my flat, I have been sorting through my things in the process of packing, and have been finding myself wrapped up in old pictures, notes and papers. Forgotten memories find there ways into my hands and soon I am engulfed in a world I used to know, sitting in the centre of my small college room as it makes its way into boxes and suitcases. Each new move and change seems to echo all the others — years of good-byes to people and places. Another ending to a year, a job, or a home.

Unresolved grief. Is that the term for when you feel like crying at the most unusual moments throughout the day? Or when you just want to reach out and touch something familiar — to somehow embrace the memories in your mind. Or when that knot in your throat seems to make its way up until you’re not sure if it will just stay stuck there, and you wonder what words it will say when it finally bubbles up. Perhaps it will have nothing to say.

I know that much of this will change. With a couple regular meals, a few good nights of sleep, and some time with family and a three year old cousin who loves me to death, I’ll soon be a bit more mellowed out. However, grief is probably something I will always carry with me. Scar tissue from farewells and places that felt like home. And yet it’s not so much the grief of leaving home that hurts, but rather, not having a place to call home. Maybe it’s because I wonder if I’ll ever have a home. Maybe its the fear that someday I will have one, and like the dog who finally catches the car, doesn’t know what to do with it, and finds himself wondering why he was so eager to get it in the first place.

Thankfully I join a rich history of grievers — people without a real place to call home. People who, by faith, welcomed each sunrise with joy and expectation.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. Hebrews 11:13