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In times of suffering, God’s love strengthens us

When I was a high school freshman, most Saturday nights, you’d find me at some all-ages club or coffee house watching The Violet Burning. The goth band wore all black clothes and spiked their dyed hair into trapezoidal formations. My friends and I would barely dance, more like sway lethargically in the darkened venue, lit only with purple mood lighting.

For all their artistry, reminiscent of other bands out there at the time, The Violet Burning sang songs about Jesus.

The song that absolutely captivated me was called “There is Nowhere Else.” The lyrics took their cue from Romans 8:38–39, verses I knew well from my Christian school education: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

These were words I needed to hear. The truth was, I wanted desperately to be loved.

The year before, after years of an abusive marriage, my parents had divorced. In the aftermath, I felt I had lost love from both parents, and as adolescence bloomed, I hoped some dreamy, dark-haired boy would sweep me off my feet.

But of course, God had other plans.

In that club that reeked of clove cigarettes, St. Paul’s words to the Romans washed over me.

I knew I was loved.

St. Paul didn’t say these things lightly. He knew he was writing to a community of people who were suffering. They were just returning to Rome after eight years of exile by the Emperor Claudius. They were hurting.

And it wasn’t as if St. Paul was throwing platitudes their way. He understood these words intimately. He had been stoned, left for dead, thrown in prison and even shipwrecked. But in all of this, he knew he was never separated from God’s love. 

I didn’t know all this then. I just knew the words were meant for me too. God didn’t want me to settle for some 15-year-old boy with a skateboard. There was something about singing those words aloud that solidified them in my heart. Nothing could separate me from God’s love. I knew this. The words settled in my bones. They gave me strength. I didn’t feel alone. I felt loved.

St. Paul wanted the Romans to know that suffering did not separate them from Christ. Christ was right there with them.

These words sustained me. I’d return to them over and over throughout the years when my suffering grew larger than my parents’ divorce and a few bouts with puppy love. And I’d return to them over these last few months, when suffering took a new dimension that I would have never imagined.

Christ was there with me, enveloping me with his love.

And I sing a hymn of praise:

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me.

Read the Spanish version of this column. 

Northwest Catholic - July/August 2020

Shemaiah Gonzalez

Shemaiah Gonzalez, a member of St. James Cathedral Parish, is a freelance writer with degrees in English literature and intercultural ministry. Find more of her writing at shemaiahgonzalez.com.
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Shemaiah Gonzalez, miembro de la parroquia de la Catedral de Saint James, es escritora independiente con diplomas en Literatura inglesa y Ministerio Intercultural. Puedes encontrar más de sus redacciones en: shemaiahgonzalez.com.

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