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About the Author
Aubrey is a church planter and the director of discipleship and equipping at Renewal Church, the author of The Louder Song and Overcomer. A member of the Redbud Writers Guild, Aubrey also contributes to Propel Women. She is a speaker, preacher, wife, and mama of three boys.
Read an Excerpt
when your game is changed
An Invitation to Lament and Hope
I sit on a black leather couch next to my husband, Kevin, in a grief-counselor's office. A box of Kleenex rests on a small coffee table in front of us. One of those framed pieces of coffee-shop art — a black-and-white photograph of rough-hewn hands holding coffee beans — hangs on the wall above us. Coffee and Kleenex, this office seems to say, will solve the world's problems. If only.
We've had a crazy last few years. In 2015, we opened the doors to our church plant, Renewal Church, just as my first book came out. We rejoiced, celebrating some tremendous movement of God in our lives and our neighborhood.
Then — the very same week — I woke up inexplicably unable to walk. I couldn't put any pressure on my legs whatsoever. For days, I scooted around our home like a dog scratching its hindquarters.
Assuming it was a running injury, I tried the old faithful: rest, ice, compression, elevation. No improvement. After a short hospitalization, I was able to walk again, thankfully. But this surprising illness-visitor has evolved into a long-term tenant. I now experience new health issues so disruptive that Kevin has, on more than one occasion, had to carry me around the house. I can't pull tissue from our counselor's box of Kleenex without much effort, let alone hold coffee beans in my palms without experiencing severe pain.
While I suffer from the physical discomfort of this mysterious illness, Kevin suffers too. He made that "in sickness" vow before God and all of our friends and family without really knowing what that might one day entail. Here it is — come to collect. Come to test if we are truly people of our vows.
As if that's not enough, there's also the unresolved search through Crater Lake, Oregon, for a loved one, my cousin and dear friend Cameron. Park rangers find remnants, clues: a coat, broken branches on the side of a cliff, snowshoe prints near a well-traveled photo spot — a place where many hikers before him have gone and returned safely. But not Cam. We hold his funeral in an airport hangar. Photos in lieu of a coffin. Unanswered questions instead of resolution.
And still this: our youngest son's developmental issues. His spinal-cord surgery and ongoing aftercare. His life-threatening allergies. Weeks at Lurie Children's, months of therapy, years where my mama-fears have morphed from molehills into mountains.
And so the bad comes with the good, and it's all a bit too much to manage, contain, or make sense of. It feels like hell and heaven are having coffee together in my kitchen, secretly laughing about some inside joke. But I have no idea what's so funny.
I'd like to tell you that in the face of adversity, I rise above. I overcome. I more-than-conquer. Truthfully, I'm exhausted. And even that doesn't feel quite right. Exhaustion implies that at one point there was a commodity of energy to be used. And that there is hope for rest again in the future. But with my illness, along with the grief and fear that I currently carry, I can't foresee rest anytime soon. So it's not that I'm exhausted. It's that I'm done, numb, running on empty.
Is this spiritual attack or just my new reality? Life has become this thing I never thought it would. In my youthful naiveté, I believed that hardships were supposed to be the exception to life, not the rule. But suffering is not an exception, after all. It's not a surprise. It's not the interruption to an otherwise easy life. The older I get, the more I realize that no person is untouched by some level of pain and heartache, big or small. Get to know anyone deeply and you'll find their wounds.
Even though I know this fact — that everyone suffers — what's become especially apparent throughout this season is that there's some voice in my head, some combination of pastor/parent/professor/platitude that says I need to handle this suffering and handle it well. Learn whatever lesson God is trying to teach me so that I can graduate on to the next stage of spiritual maturity. Be brave. Be strong. Be an example to others. Keep that chin up. Pass the test. Choose joy. Fake it till you make it. Smile.
So I try. I strive. I work excessively to prove how buoyant I can be in the face of adversity.
If a friend is in pain, I can be near her suffering without needing to fix it or clean it up. I'll spend hours listening and crying with her. I'll let her grieve and scream for as long as she needs to. I'm not afraid of sadness. But when it comes to my own pain, for some reason, I've responded differently.
I don't know how to hold these two opposing truths in my hands at the same time: Evil is evil, and God is good and in control over it all. I don't want to admit that I might have to learn to hold God's sovereignty and my own suffering in tension. I don't believe God is the agent of pain, evil, or death. But I don't know how to make sense of God also being the one who didn't stop pain, evil, or death from happening to me or those I love.
This is not an ontological argument about God and the existence of evil. I'm a real person, with real faith, wrestling with real pain, in my real-life setting. And it's very difficult. So in these early days of pain, I'm doing everything I can to avoid my conflicting emotions, to avoid reality — to prove how okay and optimistic I am. To keep the spotlight on the Good while ignoring the Bad.
Frankly, it's become absurd. I've become an absurd version of myself. For example, when I'm tempted to feel sad, I'll turn on some upbeat show tunes instead and sing along — loudly. Kevin has heard multiple renditions of "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "A Spoonful of Sugar."
The problem is that no matter how loud I sing, how hard I try to stay positive, my best efforts at "perky" can't mask the fact that what I really long for are answers, reasons, meaning. Yet even that longing is conflicted and complicated because I also want to pretend that none of this is happening. I want to tie up my pain in a pretty little package. I want to place my suffering in a vacuum-sealed container and hide it under the bed with my skinny jeans and old journals — things I'm desperate to ignore.
But grief won't be contained. Grief won't stay hidden. Grief explodes. Though I know this, I try anyway — try to contain pain with pith. Every cloud has as silver lining. Everything happens for a reason. Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before. These are things I tell myself and anyone else who will listen. And I keep singing.
"She went full Broadway musical," they'll say in the documentary about my life, just before the scene where they show me going full Grey Gardens.
That's a long way of telling you that Kevin and I should have called the grief therapist when I first started singing smash hits. We probably should have called when, though hounded by grief and illness, I continued to travel across the country to preach, speak, and give life to others; returning a hollow wife and mother, with not much left for my family.
We definitely should've called the therapist when Kevin said, "It's like you're running a marathon with one of your legs cut off, and that's noble and all. But you're expecting me and the boys to run with you, and we're just standing here begging you to stop running altogether. But you can't even hear us. You refuse to listen. Aubrey, we don't want to carry your lifeless body across the finish line."
We finally call the therapist the night that Kevin tries a direct approach, "You're refusing to accept reality. Something has to give. I can't do this anymore."
We have doctors. We have accountability partners. We have close friends in ministry. But we need something more. We need a guide. We need a way through our new season of trial.
So here we are with Mark, the grief and life-change expert. Our thighs sticking to his leather couch, our hands wringing nervously; our shared grief and the coffee-bean art above us, creating an odd sort of cameo.
Mark begins with the dreaded question: "Why have you come in today?"
At which point Kevin passes me the box of Kleenex because at long last, instead of singing, I burst into tears. After a few moments of me blowing my nose, trying to gather my confused thoughts, Kevin senses that if anyone's gonna start this conversation, it has to be him. He scratches his beard and thinks for a moment. "I don't know what to tell you, Mark. The past few years have just ... they've been a game changer."
I nod in agreement. Kevin's words feel right. Everything is different. Where there wasn't one before, a demarcation exists now, a dividing of my life: before and after. How do I learn to stop pretending and avoiding? How do I learn to exist in this, my new epoch?
The Louder Song
A few appointments later, Mark offers this: "I'd like you to think of suffering as an invitation. You have two choices: Continue to pretend that it doesn't exist, which clearly isn't working, or accept the offer."
To accept comes from the root to grasp, to willingly take what is offered. It's the willingness part I wrestle with. I am currently unwilling to take this cup, mostly because I have a lot of questions about it. What precisely does this particular invitation mean? How difficult will it be to accept? I feel a bit like C. S. Lewis, writing to his friend and minister, "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."
I catch my first glimpse of the answer when a friend invites me to a choir concert. I could use a night out, a night off from everything, so I join her.
The performance takes place in this cool little theater-in-the-round in downtown Chicago. As we arrive, ushers pass out programs and point us to our seats. We're running late, so I briefly glance at the program, barely registering the title of tonight's concert. I fold it up and stick it in my purse. We grab our seats just as the lights dim, and a large projector screen descends from the ceiling. The screen flashes a line from Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear: "The weight of this sad time we must obey; speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."
Choir members clothed in all black walk onto the stage and start to sing a slow, sad, ancient funeral dirge. Meanwhile, the screen flashes a trigger warning, then cycles through a series of raw images — a starving mother and baby; a child soldier; lands ravaged by famine; high school students participating in a walkout; a funeral; and other visual depictions of pain, poverty, and corruption. The mood in the theater, previously expectant, excited for the concert to begin, soon grows sorrowful and heavy. Why did we come here tonight? I think. This is a mistake.
What my friend and I don't realize is that while we watch this depressing performance in front of us, a second choir has silently filed into the room and surrounded the entire audience. Quite unexpectedly, they raise their voices and begin to sing over us. It's startling, certainly, but not scary. I immediately recognize their song from my adolescent days, a classic U2 refrain: "I still haven't found what I'm looking for."
As I listen to the familiar words, a thought begins to gently poke and needle at me: What am I looking for? Soon, the answer hits hard, sharply. It's a realization about the crux of my struggle, the reason why I've been relentlessly avoiding the reality of suffering.
It's not the pain itself, I realize. It's not even the grief. It's not the fear about what might happen. It certainly is those things, but they are coupled with something more, something I haven't wanted to admit. Something I'm terrified to confess, because then it will be real. But this concert, this night won't let me keep it inside anymore.
Here's the truth: I've been looking for God to show up, and he hasn't. Or if he has, I can't seem to find him.
I'm disappointed with God.
He hasn't acted like himself.
He hasn't intervened, or healed, or done what I've assumed he should.
He didn't keep Cameron's feet from stumbling.
He didn't protect my bones from disease.
He didn't prevent my son's struggles.
Where's the healing, the wholeness, the rescue in Jesus that I've been promised?
I've walked with Jesus for so long. We've been through much together. We've overcome together. But now I feel utterly and completely abandoned. I don't know if he will ever calm this storm. I don't know if I will ever find a peace that passes all understanding. Where is God in this? What's he doing? I have no answers for these questions. All I know is that God no longer fits into the box I have designated for him.
I'm trying so hard to fake hope, but I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I'm so afraid I never will. If God never shows up, if he never rescues me, if he never meets me here in this pain, then my entire life of faith — the solid rock upon which I stand — will have been nothing more than quicksand.
Sure, I'm a mature enough Christian to know that when we feel these doubts, we're supposed to choose faith, choose truth, choose hope. Endure. But right now I'm tired of supposed to. Tired of pretending to rise above.
In the book of Judges, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he pronounced, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." You can almost hear Gideon's guffaw in response. Yeah, right. If God is with us, then why has all this happened to us? Where are God's wonders? Where is his rescue? God is not with us. He has abandoned us.
I'm here, wanting the same thing Gideon wanted, the thing that every sufferer before me has wanted — proof of incarnation, proof of God's ability, proof of God's power over evil. God, if you're Immanuel, if you're truly with us, then prove it.
Unlike Gideon, I can't bear to lay out a fleece or ask for that proof, because I am afraid God will refuse. He'll be offended that I've even dared to ask. What if he doesn't answer? What if he won't show up? Then what will I do? How will I keep going?
"Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you," Gideon pleads with the Lord.
"I will wait until you return," God patiently, lovingly replies.
As I sit listening to these two antithetical choirs in front of me, I plead, silently, along with Gideon. God, I don't feel strong enough to lay out a fleece, to ask you to show up. But at the very least, please don't go away.
* * *
Lost in my thoughts, I don't realize that something about the concert in front of me is shifting. I'm not sure I even realize what happens as it does. Maybe it's because I'm familiar with the U2 song, or perhaps it's due to the way the choir has wrapped themselves around the audience like a warm and comforting blanket. They sing like they're performing lifesaving emergency surgery. And somehow the second song begins to overpower the suffering song in front of us. The dirge-choir is still singing. The visceral images are still flashing in front of us. But the hopeful song grows louder. The audience's focus has moved from one song to the other. I believe in the Kingdom Come. ... You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame ...
Soon, the choir director invites the audience to sing along with them. My friend and I sit there listening to the rising voices around us. We're crying now, both of us. Almost the entire audience is in tears. We're united by this strange, shared experience. I'm singing and laughing through tears — that emotional cocktail when you feel everything all at once and your body doesn't know which outlet to choose.
At last, I give myself permission to drop the pretending, drop the can-do Mary Poppins spirit. From my gut, my chest, my throat, I let out a deep, loud, guttural sigh, a moan. It's like all of the tidy, tightly coiled pieces of my broken, confused heart finally unfurl and release, exploding all at once. My friend looks at me, shocked. "Are you okay? Do we need to leave?"
"No," I say more forcefully than I mean to, through tears. "We need to stay right here."
For the first time in a long time, I choose to be still. To bear witness to my own suffering and the suffering of others. I don't want to leave. I want to remain present in what feels like a holy, necessary moment.
This concert director has somehow managed to do something I have not been able to do, and I want — no, I need — to soak it in. She has artfully acknowledged the existence of evil and suffering without any sugarcoating, without any need to lighten the mood with a show tune, without needing to organize it perfectly on a shelf. She has allowed the unanswerable to remain unanswered while still declaring that suffering will not have the final say.
And then, from someplace sacred and holy, from somewhere deep within the myth inside all of us, I remember that this is what God does.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Louder Song"
Copyright © 2019 Aubrey Sampson.
Excerpted by permission of NavPress.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Shannon Ethridge xiii
1 When Your Game Is Changed 1
An Invitation to Lament and Hope
How: Ashley's Lament 17
2 It's Okay to Be Honest 21
Expressions of Lament
3 Begin with How 39
Responses to Pain
4 The Grief of Love 51
Yet: Pam's Lament 61
5 Hitting Walls in Lament 65
When You'd Rather Not Face Your Pain
6 We Carry Each Other Home 77
Lament and Relational Conflict
7 When Pain Is Chronic 91
The What-Might-Have-Been Lament
8 Learning to Say "Yet" 105
Seeking God's Presence in Our Pain
With: Mitchel's Lament 119
9 When You Just Need to Do Something 123
Handholds in the Days of Doubt
10 Beyond Yourself 135
Lament Loves Company
11 What Kind of God Do We Have? 151
Appendix A Advice (Or Not) 165
Advice about Advice
Appendix B Verses to Cling to in Pain 169
Study Guide Your Lament Journey 177
What People are Saying About This
A book written from the mind reaches a mind; a book written from the heart reaches a heart; and a book written from a life reaches a life. This book is a life reacher. Aubrey invites us to hold the suffering of life and the sovereignty of God together with both hands.
There’s no denying we live in a fallen, broken, and sinful worlda world of painwhere suffering is a reality for all of us at various levels. Aubrey Sampson peels away the layers of pretense that often masquerade as outward strength or valor as she unpacks an expressive theology of lament. Anchored by her own faith journey and experience of personal loss and suffering, Aubrey encourages authenticity and fosters hope for those who are in the midst of pain and suffering. I am confident this book will be of great encouragement to you as you reflect on the experiences of lament in a world of suffering.
Aubrey Sampson is a fresh voice when your broken heart needs a fresh wind. Lean into these pages and you’ll hear the beauty of the Louder Songthat your soul is desperately longing to hear.
This is a beautiful book. It is real about lament and honest about suffering, but not without hope. With reflections on lament that are both deeply personal and guided by Scripture, The Louder Song composes a harmonious tune that will be restorative music to the ears of anyone who has felt isolated, unknown, or hopeless in their pain. Emily Dickinson once wrote, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stopsat all.” The buoyancy of enduring, Christ-filled, soul-stirring hope, even in the midst of pain, comes through in Aubrey Sampson’s transparent and evocative writing. This is a song you’ll want to put on repeat.
If you want permission to ask God the hard questions about suffering, Sampson extends an embossed invitation. Here she offers a highly accessible tour of the lost art of biblical lament, teaching along the way with utmost pastoral careand with just enough vulnerability to persuade hurting readers that their guide is trustworthy. One certain outcome: You will never look at snow globes the same way again.
I’m celebrating this book on lament. Don’t we all need better ways of grieving? Don’t we need a better understanding of suffering? Aubrey dives deep into the Scriptures and returns with a biblical map and a voice I shall return to again and again.
If you are in the middle of deep hurt, The Louder Song is a powerful reminder of how God meets us in the middle of our pain and reminds us we have victory through him. Aubrey’s story is a personal lesson in how to pass through disappointment and pain without getting stuck there.
If you have ever felt the weight of pain pulling hard at your body and souland I know you havethere is solace in these pages. Aubrey teaches us not to hide from pain but to look it in the face, hard and long, and lament . . . and, in the depth of this hard, honest song, to find the Louder Songthe presence of the Comforter.
In this vulnerable account of her own pain, Aubrey Sampson helps us believe that life can be hard . . . and God can still be good. Anchored in Scripture and enlivened by storytelling, this powerful book makes something lyrical of lament. And I suppose this, too, is a mysterythat the most beautiful songs are often born out of suffering. The Louder Song will be a pleasure to recommend and reread.
Having walked through suffering in my own life and with others, I know how tempting it can be to skip right past the hard stuffand how much we miss out on if we do. In this book, Aubrey Sampson perfectly articulates the beauty of lament and offers it as a gift to anyone who has ever cried out to Godand to the churchin their pain. Through her own story and keen insights, she helps readers learn how to walk through grief while remaining anchored in hope.
The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament is a rare book written with honest, raw emotion about experiencing life’s most challenging times. Aubrey Sampson uses stories from her life and Scripture to remind us it’s okay to cry out to God when we don’t understand. If you’re going through a challenging time right now or trying to help someone who is, this book is for you!
What does a person who believes in a good and powerful God do with unimaginable pain . . . and seemingly stone-cold silence from heaven? Aubrey Sampson, from Scripture and experience, says we must lament. Not to find answers, but to “be still in the unanswerable.” Not to force God’s hand, but to be intimately “tethered to his presence.” The Louder Song gives hope that in the midst of life-shattering wounds, God sees us and invites us to cry outraw and realto him. In response, he comes close, walking with us through our pain, until the day when pain is no more. A must-read!