One of the people I most admire is Britt Merrick. He's a pastor, about my age, who leads a church in southern California near our old hometown of Ventura. He's a surfer and his family owns a famous surfboard-making company. He's a brilliant communicator and has the kind of real, raw, vibrant faith - infused with power - that makes me want to know Jesus more. His teachings on the Holy Spirit comprise the best talks on this topic that I have yet come across; I have listened to the series at least three times. Britt might be the only pastor I know with his talents and capacities who doesn't use social media, and even limited his teaching to his immediate church for a while because he feared his growing reputation might limit his effectiveness in working with his own congregation. He wanted to stay humble. To me, this speaks volumes.
During the years I was living in Ventura and listening regularly to Britt's teaching, his daughter Daisy was battling cancer. He and his family lived through this ordeal openly and humbly. The two sermons he gave about on topic, When Sparrows Fall and When My Heart is Overwhelmed, broke me when I heard them. I remember where I was when I learned, three months after our move to Virginia, that Daisy had died; I was in the middle of painting the kitchen in our new house. I wept bitterly.
Irony of ironies, I didn't know that Britt's wife Kate Merrick had written a book until this month - another 3,000 miles east of where the Merricks are in southern California. Turns out a new friend and who joined our Bible study, a girl whose hometown is just up the road from where we were in California, also knew the Merricks. Not only did she tell me about Kate's book, she leant it to me (even better). I read it last week.
It's called And Still She Laughs: Defiant Joy in the Depths of Suffering, and I really liked it. Kate uses laughter as a unifying theme and looks at the lives of the biblical women Sara, Bathsheba, and Mary. She looks at how they're able to actively lean into God and, through His power, transcend their own experiences of suffering. In the book Kate tells her story of losing Daisy, wrestling with whether God is still good, descending into bitterness, and ultimately being recovered and restored by God. To the place where, once again, she can rightly laugh.
She writes, "Real-life stories bring salve to a wounded soul. Knowing Bathsheba and I share in some sad experiences draws me deep into her life, and seeing her rise from the ashes buoys my confidence in God's goodness - that I, too, will survive the great loss."
This is the greatest value of Kate's book - sharing her own story... a truly heartbreaking one. By giving us a window into her experience it in a raw, relatable way, and by relaying the conversations she had with herself (and God) that helped lead her through grief, bitterness, anger with God... she shows us how He brought her back toward a healthy soul. Kate's real, she's funny, she's insightful. And she encourages the corner of your soul that needs - and mine too - to continue to believe that God is who he says. That he's good, no matter what, and worth following.
This might have been my favourite bit of the whole book - a prayer she prayed when she finally was ready to surrender herself to God's goodness after Daisy's death. It's a prayer of yes.
Yes, I trust you.
Yes, I believe you when you say there is something so much better coming that all will pale in comparison.
Yes, you will walk me through the frightening austerity of life.
Yes, you made the ultimate sacrifice for me.
Yes, you are real, you are good, you are the Beginning and the End.
Yes, you have not left me alone. You see me, you've collected my tears in your bottle, and you have future plans for me.
I love the prayer, this set of affirmations to God. I went back at least twice in the days following my first encounter with it and reread it to myself. It bolstered my heart with its truth... and with my camaraderie with Kate, who walked through the worst and came back to this place of surrender to her Maker. She wrestled and kept on till God show up... and now she can, once again, live.
I will continue to follow the Merricks, and to be thankful for their hearts and their faith. And for all that God is doing through them.
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