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Posts Tagged ‘Suffering’

Let me preface today’s post by saying that it might be too dark, too filled with questions, too real for you today. Most days I keep my focus on wonder, on the light, on hope. But, let’s be real, life isn’t always that bright. Yes, I still believe that God has a plan. Yes, I still believe that good wins over evil. And, yes, I know that because of Christ, there is hope. But … I also know that sometimes our perspective of where we are is shadowy and requires a mournful lament of our helpless state.

So … stop reading now if (in the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men) “you can’t handle the truth”.

It happened again, like it has happened dozens of times in the past few years. One of our daughters had spent numerous hours in the ER, looking for answers, for relief from pain, for the assurance that it was just another flare and not a bowel obstruction or kidney stones or ulcers (just to name a few possibilities … avoiding the less appropriate for public discussion).

Again, it was just a flare … nothing serious.

Again, all they could do was offer IV fluids, pain relief (in the form of acetaminophen or opioids).

Again, they headed home, still in pain.

I didn’t hear about this, latest episode, until she was headed home ’cause … what can mom do anyway? why cause her to worry? Sometimes I hear about it before they go to the ER, looking for another to help them decide if it’s worth it to sit, in pain, in uncomfortable ER chairs, for hours (though they have discovered that vomiting in the waiting room is most efficient way to fast track themselves through the process of triage).

For one it took almost two years and the other four years before diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. But the pain began (for both) years before pursuit of origin of pain and eventual diagnosis (one of their diagnosis was delayed because the specialist didn’t look in the most common area affected by the disease, delaying her diagnosis by over a year).

SO many doctors, specialists, tests, procedures and even surgery to get to a diagnosis!

Crohn’s Disease is an auto-immune condition (their immune systems fight their own cells as though they were invading cells) where inflammation affects the intestines, causing ulcers to form, thickening of the intestines and scar tissue. This is the Coles/Cliffs notes description. Suffice it to say that it is (quite literally) a painful, stomach-churning, shitty disease.

It is said that about 1/5 people with Crohn’s disease have a family member with it … our family has 2/5.

Our girls have experienced the relief of human biologic medicines that have given both measured relief … temporarily. Steroids are another (short-term) option, but … sigh … anyone who knows steroids knows that sometimes the medicine is almost worse than the disease.

Both are now currently waiting for the next help … the next (short-term) miracle.

Speaking of miracles …

I believe in them. I believe in the miracle worker Himself. The one who formed these souls, so precious to this momma’s heart. Each of their existence alone are miracles. They were prayed for, prayed over, dedicated to God, from before either took their first breath (and one of them took her good ol’ time to take that first breath).

The other night, I reached my breaking point. After hearing about this latest episode, from my girl, sobbing in pain … again (after she left the hospital). I uttered words that I just never imagined coming from my lips …

I just don’t see any hope in this.

I am not one who feels they deserve better than others. Nor do I think that life is without pain, or struggle or difficulty. But … this is hard, really hard … not for me, but for them. Their struggle is one that touches every other part of their life … from work, to relationships, to physical stamina, to travel, to mental health, to future dreams.

A few days later, I am still struggling to find hope in this shitty mess.

This is me, being really real today … lamenting, like the Psalmist (13:1) who cried out “how long, O Lord …”

And I do believe that hope will resurface, somewhere, sometime, “in the shadows of disappointment and darkness” (Nouwen).

“Hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world, and success in the business. Hope is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown. Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness. No one can truly say with certainty where he or she will be ten or twenty years from now. You do not know if you will be free or in captivity, if you will be honored or despised, if you will have many friends or few, if you will be liked or rejected. But when you hold lightly these dreams and fears, you can be open to receive every day as a new day and to live your life as a unique expression of God’s love for humankind. There is an old expression that says, “As long as there is life there is hope.” As Christians we also say, “As long as there is hope there is life.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times

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Yesterday I wrote about worship. I touched on the example of Job who praised God, even in the midst of losing every earthly thing that a man or woman could hold dear. His is not an easy example to follow, but I do believe that his response to adversity is one worth aiming to mirror in our lives.

One of the difficulties of reading the Bible is that we cannot always be clear as to how a person is saying the words that they say. We are missing key elements of communication. We do not always know what words in their sentences are emphasized more (or less), we do not know how their face looked, and we do not know if they rolled their eyes while they were talking (I have teenagers in my house, and something like ‘yes mom’ can have so many different meanings, depending on how it is said, what they are doing with their bodies and what their eyes are doing).

Our communication is so so much clearer when we experience it face to face.

But we do not have that opportunity when we read the Bible, so we are left to guess, assume, and input our own take on just how things might have been communicated. I, being an internal processor, would tend to go with the third option, that of inputting my own take on just how things might have been communicated.

When I think of the disasters, disappointments and losses that Job faced, I am pretty confident that he did not say, in a way that my kids might announce an A+ on their Math test, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, praise the name of the Lord.” I also do not think he made that announcement as a question. I also do not think that he said what he did without tears of true and sincere pain falling down his cheeks.

I believe that God heard Jobs cry, I believe that God accepted Jobs praise, through his lament, through his tears and through his not seeing or understanding the big picture that God could see. And, I believe that Jobs tear-filled praise of the name of the Lord was sweeter than honey to the ears of God. Not because Job gave God praise that was due to Him (although it was), but because despite the outer turmoil that Job was facing and experiencing, head on, he gave his praise to God … anyway. He praised because that was what he was created to do. It was his main purpose, and he was fulfilling it … even though he was suffering.

God does not ask for the sugar-coated prayers and praises that we so often give (in public). God asks for prayers and praise that are saturated in the tears of his children. He wants our offering to Him to be one that we deliver on the alter … one that took effort and sacrifice. One that came from the heart … the heart of His child.

I hate suffering! I honestly do wish that I could live my life on easy street, and have every wish granted before I speak it. I do wish that there were guarantees in this life. But, that is not real life, here in our sin-filled world. I also have to say that the times when my heart felt as though it might be ripped in two (or I wished that it would be) by the pain I was feeling, are also the times when I was most real to God. I scream, I shout, I cry … I forfeit … yes, I give up. It is then, when I am so worn out, so discouraged, and feeling so hopeless that I finally hand control of my life back over to the only one who can control my life … my creator, my savior my redeemer.

That giving up of control, is when God takes over. Because we have been sincere in our heart, He is able to mold our lives.

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I went to bed Saturday night with the excitement and anticipation of a child awaiting the arrival of the Easter Bunny!

I knew, that when I awoke on Easter Sunday, coffee with

cream

awaited my taste buds!

For the first time since before the season of Lent I would not just have the habit of my morning hot and steaming cup, but also the enjoyment of the taste!

Hubby was making the coffee that morning, and asked how many cups I wanted. The anticipation was so great that I knew one cup would not do. He decided to double his regular amount as well. Of course this meant that the waiting for it to brew also took double the normal amount of time!

You know how they say that a watched kettle never boils? Well, let me tell you, the same goes for a watched coffee maker!

Once I was pouring the hot, steaming dark into my cup of cream, the rest of my senses awakened with delight. The marriage of the white and black into a caramel cup of visual wonderland. The steam was beckoning my inhaling of nasal delights. And my hands sought the warmth pushing through the ceramic mug. All that was left was to lift it to my lips and enjoy.

And enjoy I did! It was such a treat for my senses.

I also made a realization … this Easter Sunday treat created such a delightful start to my Sunday.

I feel embarrassed to admit that I had not looked forward to Sunday like this in … too long.

This omission of cream in my every day morning coffee, although such a miniscule sacrifice, did give me a fresh appreciation of what Jesus sacrificed. Everything about the Easter story was clearer, more meaningful to me. Not because I had omitted cream from my coffee, but because I had participated in sacrifice. In a sense I awoke on Easter Sunday feeling as though I had gone to the tomb and found it empty.

I had participated in walking the final steps with my Lord, and that was even sweeter than cream in my Sunday coffee. It has made the six to seven week walk to the cross, to the tomb and out …

my walk.

” … stay here and keep watch with me.”
Luke 22:38b

“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ,
so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:13

 

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I-Am-Not-A-Victim

A conversation with one of my daughters recently, has been going through my mind, penetrating my heart, my soul.

The conversation related to her studies concerning the pursuit of equal rights of women in history, but it was my own mantra (belief) that surfaced in that conversation, and in my thoughts since.

My mantra is this :

I do not, nor ever will, live life as a victim.

So, to my three kids, who I love more than words could ever communicate …

Know this … I have :

whined
complained
cried
shook my fists into the air
said, “why me”
said “it’s not fair”

And then I move on.

Oh, it might take me days, or weeks … or years

but I do eventually

move on,

because

I will not, nor ever will, live life as a victim.

Live is not fair … this is so true!

You WILL experience

hurt
rejection
persecution
deception
hate

in your lives.

Expect it!

But do not ever live life as a victim.

You might be treated unfairly for:

your gender
your hair color
your cultural background
your language
your religious beliefs
your athletic abilities (or lack there of)
your political views
your age
your education
your lifestyle choices
your family

or because you wore the ‘wrong’ color t-shirt.

This is part of life.

But do not ever live life as a victim.

You might experience unfairness at the hands of :

your brother/sister
your best friend
your neighbor
your classmate
your teacher
your politicians
your country
your community
your church

your mom

This too, is part of life.

But do not ever live life as a victim.

Being treated unfairly will make you :

angry
vengeful
heartbroken
sorrowful
depressed

And this is all normal, expected, understandable.

But do not ever live life as a victim.

do not give your anger fists
do not blame
do not sit in your sorrow
do not allow the unfair things of life …

… to steal your life!

Do not ever live life as a victim.

keep dreaming
keep hoping
keep breathing

My kids, who I love enough to tell you this truth that life is just not fair …

When life throws you those expected lemons, make lemonade. You might not even have enough sweet sugar to make it palatable, but it will quench your thirst.

Do not ever live life as a victim.

And … please remember this …

this life, these years of one to ninety … they are not eternity!

This earthly life does not even touch our eternity to come.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.
In the world you have trouble and suffering,
but take courage–I have conquered the world.”

John 16:33

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Suffering stinks!

It does not matter how wise and religious we are, suffering is … suffering, and it can be accompanied by pain, fear, despair, and even hopelessness.

When I read the following blog post title, by Nate Pyle, called Confronting The Lie: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle, I was intrigued. So, I read, and my curiosity turned to nodding in agreement, and even an ah-ha moment or two.

Nate says he has “taken on writing because it forces me to be authentic and vulnerable.” This post is that, and raw, and transparent.

As you prepare to read, realize this is not fluff, not feel-good … it is real, authentic, in the moment reflections on suffering.

Check out Nate’s post (below) and check out who he is at www.natepyle.com.

Confronting the lie: God won’t give you more than you can handle

March 11, 2013

“The past three weeks have been the most difficult I have ever gone through.  These three weeks have been filled with illness, the terrible-three’s (the terrible-two’s are an out-and-out lie), a friend suffering the consequence of sin, a ministry I am a part of reeling in confusion and pain, having to cancel a trip to celebrate my parents 60th birthdays, and our family experiencing the emotional roller-coaster of finding out we were pregnant only to be told the pregnancy was ectopic and could be life-threatening to my wife if it was not ended.

Needless to say, I have had enough.

DIGITAL IMAGE

I know I am not alone.  As trying as the last three weeks have been for me, I know some people who have dealt with far more for far longer.  But that doesn’t change the fact that this has been painful for me and my wife.  In the face of all this, I can honestly say I feel no pressure to be the “pastor” and have the answer for this.  Honestly, even as a pastor, I have no answer for this.  My questions before God about the reality of what my family has experienced over the last three weeks are the exact same questions anyone would ask.

Why?
Why not step in?
Why not act?
Why wouldn’t you make it right?
Why couldn’t you part the clouds and provide a moment for us to catch our breath?
Why everything at once?
Why?

Not only am I okay asking those questions, but I think there is something holy and sacred in being courageous enough to ask them.  Don’t be fooled, those questions are only to be asked by the courageous.  It is easy to spout trite Christian platitudes designed to make people feel better with bumper-sticker theology.  But insipid axioms do little in the face of the actual brokenness of the world.  It is more courageous to ask the hard questions of God and wait for him to answer than it is to find hope on the side of coffee mug.  Asking those questions requires courage because, in the end, it is very likely they will not be answered.

Ultimately, it isn’t about the questions.  Behind the questions is a deep current of emotion threatening to overtake us.  But too often, when the fracture in the universe threatens to swallow us up in pain we fail to get fully present to our emotions.  In those moments I think we do one of two things.  Either we ask the questions but never investigate what emotion is driving those questions, or we resort to some banal Christian slogan to try and make us feel better.

This experience forced me to look at one such statement that gets spouted often when people go through a lot:  God won’t give you more than you can handle.  If I may be so bold, let’s just call that what it is:

Bullshit.

Tell that to a survivor of Auschwitz.
Tell it to the man who lost his wife and child in a car accident.
Tell it to the girl whose innocence was robbed from her.
Tell it to the person crushed under the weight of depression and anxiety.
Tell it to the kids who just learned their parent has a terminal illness.

Limp, anemic sentiments will not stand in the face of a world that is not as it should be.

Now that I have said how I feel, let me back up this argument with some actual Biblical evidence.  This particular statement, that “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” isn’t even in the Bible.  There is a statement that sounds like it.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”  But notice that verse is about temptation.  That’s it.  You won’t be tempted beyond what you can stand up against.  This text is not saying that you will not experience more than you can bear.  That idea just isn’t Biblical.  If anything the exact opposite is true.  Look at this text.

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:8,9, emphasis mine).

Later, Paul will write it is when he is weak that the strength of Christ is seen.  In other words, when we can’t do it any longer.  When we are fed up.  When it has become too much.  When we have nothing left.  When we are empty.  When it is beyond our capability to deal with it.  Then, in that moment, the strength of the God of resurrection will be seen.  Until we get to that point, we rely on ourselves thinking we can handle it and take care of the problem.

Don’t hear me saying I am rejoicing because of the last couple of weeks.  I am not.  Not once have I danced around our house shouting, “Yeah suffering!”  Instead, in the midst of pain and hurt, I am actively expecting God to do something.  I don’t know what.  I don’t know when.  But I am expecting the God of resurrection to heal us.  I am expecting God to restore us.  I am expecting him to redeem this situation.  I am expecting him to do this and so I will be actively looking and waiting for him to do something.  I believe expectant waiting can only happen when we exchange our feeble platitudes for an authentic faith that engages God with the full brunt of our emotion and pain.  Only then can salvation been seen.

But that exchange takes courage.”

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For the next week, I will be featuring guest posts, as I spend my regular ‘writing time’ preparing for a speaking engagement. If you feel led to pray for me in this regard, I would so appreciate it, and specifically that Pinterest does not pre-occupy my writing time 😉 … I am so weak !

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The guest post today is a video of a song I have been listening to since it’s recent release.

This song is written and performed by Plumb, the stage name of Tiffany Arbuckle Lee. Tiffany says this song came out of her high school years when she suffered terrible physical pain, brought on by anxiety, as well as a tough season she had recently been going through. Through these experiences she has always called on God, and He has always been there with her.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:28-31

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“My heart will choose to say273875221061192505_k4upYWa7_b
Lord, blessed be Your name”

Worship is a beautiful, action to participate in … in the sanctuary, under our roof, out in the open of God’s creation.

Some days our worship is ritualistic … I do it because I should.

“When I’m found in the desert place”

Some days our worship is intimate … I do it intimately, even in a crowded room.

“In the land that is plentiful”

Some days our worship is robotic … I do it, hoping the outward becomes the inner.

“When the darkness closes in”

Some days our worship is joy-filled … bursting from every cell in our body.

“When the world’s ‘all as it should be”

Some days our worship is loud and proud … I do it with a party in my soul.

“Where Your streams of abundance flow”

Some days our worship is silent … I am a face in the crowd, but I cannot open my mouth.

“On the road marked with suffering”

Some days our worship is against our will … through the clenched teeth of an angry heart.

“When the darkness closes in, Lord”

Some days our worship is saturated by the tears of our heart.

“Though there’s pain in the offering”

Worship is not limited to where we are, when we are there, who we are with, how we feel or the circumstances of our lives at that specific time. Worship is an act of love, respect and honor and it is received as that. Worship is good when things are going well, but it is even better when we can worship our Creator through times of difficulty, suffering and pain.

As I sang the words,

“You give and take away”

It, that which I lost, that which I loved, came clearly into my mind, and for a moment the sorrow of loss weighed heavy on my heart. For a moment that common heart response emerged into my thoughts … why?

When we lose something we love, when our life takes a u-turn, when plans change, and loss is what we feel most profoundly, it is then that why comes crawling back. The word without a consoling response. The word with no bandage effect. The word that causes festering, more pain, more sorrow.

Then came the next line, the one with the salve that gives healing, comfort, consolation …

“My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name”

To choose to say, in the pain, in the suffering, in the darkness, in the sorrow, in the loss,

Lord, blessed by Your name

That is the only covering bandage that will make what is lost to not be the end of the story.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:21

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A good day for me might involve a wonderful conversation with a friend, or a time of deep belly laughter with my children, or morning coffee on a day off with hubby, or a walk on the trail with the beast.

images-2A bad day can take many forms, but would often include rain … especially anytime from November to March, when the monsoon season is upon those of us in the Pacific Northwest.

Just as rain falls on us all, so suffering comes to us all.

Matthew 5:45 tells us, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Now I do not mind the idea of sharing the sun with the evil, but do I really have to share in the rain? Shouldn’t life be, well, easy for those of us who are good, and righteous, and more difficult for those who are evil and unrighteous? Isn’t that only right, only fair?

I sometimes think that my biggest problem in living this life is that I am looking for fairness, for goodness, for ‘payback’ here in this life. I think that I am looking for the rewards of following Christ to be handed out here and now.

I read verses like those of Deuteronomy 11:25-26, “see, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods,which you have not known,” and I figure that the blessing is for me for today, for now.

And maybe it is for now. Maybe I am being blessed on a daily basis (and indeed I am) but I am not even acknowledging the blessings that are mine. Each day I can enjoy the greatest blessing, that of walking each and every step, not alone or on my own strength, but with my God, and the power to live my life being energized by His strength in my weakness.

But maybe, just maybe, the blessings are for another time, another place. Maybe here on our God-created, but sin-soiled planet we cannot even receive the perfect blessing that God has for us.

Maybe the rains of suffering, given to all … good and evil, righteous and unrighteous, are to remind us that we are not good, or evil, but we are what God’s grace has transformed us into … blessed creatures, living under the grace of our perfect God.

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I have this picture in my mind of Jesus on a cross, near to the point of succumbing to death. He is beaten and bruised. He is bloodied, with fresh, as well as hours old dried blood. He is alive and yet so near to death.

In my mental picture, I am standing behind him, as he breaths some of his last, pain-filled breaths. I am dirty with the shame, the guilt, the sin that is part and parcel of being fully human. I am marred, scarred and unattractive. None of the dirt and the shame and the guilt and the sin is visible to anyone … except for me. It is internal. I look to others normal, clean and attractive, but, in my heart … that is where the reality of my condition is visible.

Then Jesus turns his face to look at me behind him. I know that He can see the real me … one who is so unworthy so close to one who is so perfect. He looks at me, and a tear falls from his bruised eye. He can see the sin in my life, and the embarrassment I feel causes a lump to form in my throat. I bow my head in shame, and tears fall from my internally bruised eyes.

I sob, more for myself than for the man suffering on the cross. I now feel the guilt of turning my face away from him, in HIS final hour. “How selfish,” I say to myself.

I force my head to lift, I force my eyes to look up to him.

He sees my guilt-filled eyes, he sees my sins … ALL OF THEM. I muster all that is within me to not look away.

Then, he does something that changes my life … forever.

He moves his head, how I do not know, for it was taking such efforts for him to even breath. He positions his head so that he is now looking at me through the cross, not around it. It is as though the wooden cross has become translucent, so that he is looking at me through the cross.

What he sees, as he looks at me through the cross is very different from what I know I am. He sees me as clean, He sees me as spotless, He sees me as beautiful.

Through the cross, Jesus sees me as the perfect creation that I was always intended to be. But, it is only through His seeing me through His cross that I am made new.

“So, Jesus sees you, and he’s like, my son, my daughter, perfect, spotless, blameless.”

“That’s the whole point of the cross, is that you’re gonna fail, and you’re gonna stumble, and you’re gonna feel dirty and you’re gonna feel awkward the whole point of the cross of Christ is there be this mighty picture of His love and pursuit of you, so the cross is necessary, because of you but it’s also the picture we have of just how far God is willing to go because He loves you.”

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