Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Retrieve Lament: a mourning story from Cheryl Sellstrom

Each year during Holy Week, I ask friends to share a mourning story from their own life as a way to help us see Christ in the midst of suffering. My courageous friend shares today's story with us.  I have learned so much from her deep, deep love for people and for Christ.  She has suffered more than most people I know, and manages to also be someone who laughs more infectiously than most people I know.  In our time in Austin, she and Trey have been some of our closest confidantes.  I feel privileged to introduce you to her here.
Our wedding day, 1993

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Jesus spoke these words from the cross as people were hurling all kinds of abuse at him.  As His disciples, he commands us to do the same.  But, what if our anger is not aimed at those who have sinned against us? What if our anger is aimed at God? What if it's God we need to forgive?  

My journey with the Lord has been both beautiful and ugly all at the same time, but isn't that the cross -- both beautiful and ugly?  
My husband Trey passed away a little over two years ago. What many people don't know is that it was the second time I have been widowed. I was married to my first husband, Terry, for 7 years, until he was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident.  

The Lord has walked me through the valley of shadows several times.  The losses that seem to cut the deepest, or the losses that have made me question God the most, were the loss of my sister Kim, followed by Trey five years later.  

My older sister Kim and me

These two people were the most significant people in my life. Kim always took care of me (acting as a second mother), and she was the best sister anyone could ask for.  Trey was the embodiment of Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her."  Most of my inner healing, I owe to Trey's love for me. Kim and Trey were the two people I could depend on to be there for me no matter what.

I remember saying to myself once in prayer shortly after Trey died Now, there is only Jesus.  Doesn’t that seem funny?  I mean Jesus is enough, right?  We hear those platitudes all the time: ”Jesus is all you need.”  

But after Trey died, I wanted flesh and blood to touch. I wanted flesh and blood that -- in turn -- could touch me!

In the few months that passed after Trey's death, I was praying in a huge chair in my living room.  As I got quiet before the Lord, I could feel His presence and His arms wrapped around me as I was grieving, and I felt like a little girl pulled up in His arms.  So I rested in His lap, weeping.

But then my weeping turned to wailing, and my peacefulness  to anger.

I began to beat the chair, but in my heart and mind, I was beating the Lord. I was flailing about like a three-year-old who did not get her way. As I continued to feel the arms of Christ holding me tightly, I screamed over and over again, I hate you!  I hate you!

When I had hemorrhaged all the anger and bitterness of my mind and heart to the Lord, I fell exhausted into His arms. His grace  became sufficient, and His presence alone became enough.  

I didn't hate Jesus. He knew that. He knows that I have been ruined for any other Lover since I met Him thirty years ago.  I am perplexed by Him at times, but I have learned to trust Him.  

In the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy asks, "Is He safe?”  “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

Trey with our daughters

One year ago this week, our family suffered another loss. Trey's mother, Nell Sellstrom, died of pancreatic cancer.  Nell broke the mold when it comes to mother-in-laws -- in a good way.  I miss her terribly. 

Though the Lord took our family deeper into the valley of the shadow -- instead of beginning our ascent after grieving Trey -- I was at peace.  Again I was perplexed, but at peace, because  though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.

I have forgiven God for these ugly parts of the cross.  It is there, that I, in a small way, taste and offer a tiny bit of suffering -- mingling it with His. In a small way, I am becoming like the One who asks for my unwavering trust, no matter where He leads -- even when He asks me to stretch out my hands and die. I am becoming more like Him when He asks me to forgive those who, in their own brokenness, have broken me, to die to dreams, to die to unanswered prayers, to die to my need of an explanation, and to die to my need to put God in my terms -- terms that I can understand.  

From the cross, Jesus put His hope fully in the Father. He trusted that the Father was able to raise Him from the dead, just as He had raised Lazarus from the dead.  He trusted that the Father, through Him, was restoring what was lost and making all things new.

Christ on the cross gave the most beautiful private offering to the Father -- His unwavering trust. Christ bids us to do the same. I have learned, and tell you, He is worthy of our trust, and His communion is the sweetest of all!  He is the King, I tell you, and He is good!  

Father, I forgive You - even when I know not what You do.


Cheryl is learning how to be a single 
parent to her to lovely daughters Kate
and Claire. She loves serving as a Spiritual Director
for Tres Dias weekends, and leading small groups for
Living Waters. She found a new passion recently-
power lifting! 


I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days. Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. The philosopher Blaise Pascal said that Christ suffers until the end of the world. As we welcome each other's stories, we welcome the Suffering Servant himself.


(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from previous years here)

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