Sometimes I Forget (a PINK Tuesday post)

Blue wooden bench.

Image via Wikipedia

Today’s blog includes input from my friend and guest-blogger, Jen Haefner.
 

It is funny how much I take for granted. I know I am blessed, but I think sometimes I forget how incredibly blessed I am.”

My friend Jen took the Trek to the Manger with us during Advent. Her Trek baggage was heavy this year – heavy with the weight of unresolved health issues and the stress that those unknowns can create.

Even more than the discomfort of not knowing your diagnosis, Jen says that “…pain is a vicious monster and can make you turn into someone you don’t recognize or like very much.”

Ouch. That one hits mighty close to home.

Sometimes our pain is physical, like Jen’s.

Sometimes our pain is emotional, maybe even caused by the panic that rises up in us as we try (yet again) to describe what we’re experiencing to another doctor in a series of doctors who don’t seem to ‘get it.’

Sometimes our pain is leftover from what we didn’t do that we should have done; or what we did and now wish desperately we could un-do.

This vicious monster has reared its ugly head in the lives of many, including the life of Martin Luther. In the pages of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, we read that “As [Luther’s] health declined, everything seemed to set him off. When a congregation sang anemically, he called them “tone-deaf sluggards” and stormed out. He attacked King Henry VIII as “effeminate” and blasted his theological opponents as “agents of the devil” and “whore-mongers.” His language waxed fouler and fouler.”

For all of his memorable reforming, it seems that even a church father can turn into someone you don’t recognize or like very much.

Given the opportunity to look back over the path she has walked these past months, my friend Jen realizes “I now find myself at a crossroads as I’ve gotten some answers and still have more testing to do. I’m finding that some of my joy has been lost during these past two months.

But of course, none of us can relate with Jen on that… right? (sarcasm)

It’s just that, sometimes I forget that joy is within my reach!

Sometimes I forget to hold onto those flutters and glimpses of joy, only to find that when I need them most, my hands are empty and my joy is gone.

But the story doesn’t end here – at least not for Jen.

“Luckily, our minister must’ve know the perfect quote to put into our church bulletin, by Mark Twain, which is: ‘Grief can be solitary, but to reap the full value of joy, you MUST share it with another!’ This quote literally WHACKED me across the face.  It’s like God was speaking directly to me.  What I heard Him say was, ‘Get up, don’t let life and the things in your earthly walk get you down. Stand up and know that I love you.  On earth you will hit hurdles, road blocks and make detours along the way, BUT keep on going.  Feel the joy in everything and be present in every moment because I am in CONTROL. When you trust fully in me, you won’t have grief, but perfect and steadfast JOY!

After the church service my mom, step dad and I went to walk along the Boulevard. There I watched seagulls flying, kids chasing seagulls, kids putting their feet in the 50 degree water, people walking, rollerblading, biking… there were just so many different things going on around me that it literally took me out of myself for a few minutes as I sat on a wooden bench and observed the world around me.

I knew, without a doubt, that God put me there on that bench; He put those people and activities around me; He wanted me to be WITNESS to the joy around me!

I do know that He is right and I need to be thankful for my health, for every sunset, every breath, every moment with my kids, and not take for granted a single thing on this earthly walk.”

Sometimes Jen forgets, as do I, that with each simple breath comes an opportunity to inhale joy and to exhale praise to the One whose presence guarantees that we are never, ever alone.

Sometimes Jen forgets, and more than anything in those absent moments she needs the witness of our inner Twain to remind her that joy is incomplete if not shared.

Sometimes I forget why I’m doing what I do, day in. Day out.

Sometimes I forget how incredibly blessed I am.

On this PINK Tuesday, don’t let me forget!

Don’t let me forget to be a partner in joy by simply being a partner to another in their pain.

Of course sometimes I forgetbut that is why I have you.

(Thank you, Jen!)

 

 

The Rescue (a PINK Tuesday post)

Save Me

Image by JamesReaFotos via Flickr

 

“The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.”   –John Stott

It’s been this way since time began.

 

The fact that you are still reading tells me that nothing has changed… SUFFERING a LOSS raises questions and doubts and fears and anger as it CHALLENGES our ability to cope and adapt and recover.

But the good news today is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

You are not alone in your suffering.

You are not alone in your loss.

We don’t need to look beyond our own circle of friends & family to find others who are suffering losses, too. Our stories and their stories inevitably are marked by people, places, experiences and situations where what we once held dear is no longer ours to hold.

Consider the scriptures.

Story after story about people who not only experience the mountaintops, but the depths of grief as well:

Adam & Eve

Because of a choice that they made, they lost their fellowship with God AND their home in the Garden. Later in their story, they lose a son – or, perhaps they lost TWO sons – as the one killed the other in a fit of jealousy.

Joseph

The one with the coat. Lost his family at the hand of brothers who hated him. They sold him into slavery. Told his father he was dead. This same Joseph, trying to live a godly life as a slave, is falsely accused of sexual harassment by his boss’s wife and thrown into prison for years. NONE of these losses, by the way, were a result of Joseph’s choices. He had no say. They just happened TO him.

Job

Lost his children in one horrific accident. Lost his livelihood. Lost his health. All because of things going on around him that he had no control over. It wasn’t his fault.

David

KING David. The one we know as “a man after God’s own heart”. Lost his fellowship with the Lord, for a time, because of a series of bad choices that included sleeping with someone else’s wife and then having her husband murdered. David’s loss didn’t end there. Even though he married the woman he had gotten pregnant, she lost the baby. Lost a child. Another loss.

Elijah

The prophet. The one used by God to call down fire on a soaking wet altar, putting the competition in its place. Even Elijah suffered loss. Loss of hope. Loss of perspective. He suffered from depression. Depression that was undoubtedly linked to the death threats he had received from a very powerful woman. His choice? A chemical imbalance? Does it matter?! A loss nonetheless.

Finally, the Apostle Paul.

Wrote much of the New Testament. Spoke the message of Christ far and wide with boldness and passion. This hero of the faith found himself at the end of life, sitting in a cold prison cell, alone. Lonely. And he suffered from the loss of fellowship he had known – we know this because he wrote it in a letter to his friend, Timothy. We can read it in God’s Word.

What we ALSO read in God’s Word are words like these:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

(He must be really STRONG in ME – weakling that I am.)

And,

“In this world you WILL have trouble, but take heart – I have overcome the world.”   John 16:33

Our God makes it clear over and over again in scripture that He is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18).

He tends to our wounds.

He is our RESCUE.

But just in case words like these sound trite and churchy to you, know that God “keeps track of every toss & turn through the sleepless nights.” Each tear and ache is entered into His book (Ps. 56:8).

There’s a Hebrew custom – the jar of tears – have you heard of it? At funerals, a tiny jar is passed around and each mourner puts a teardrop into it. The jar of tears represents the hearts that are suffering the loss of the person who has died.

I believe that God not only keeps track of the tears we shed, but that His big heart breaks for us in our suffering. And there is nothing that we are feeling or have felt that He, through Jesus, hasn’t felt before.

God is ready to do something big for you today! He’s coming alongside you in your suffering, your grief, your loss…

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

God uses our experiences to prepare and uniquely position us to come alongside others who are suffering, too. The heading over this section in the Message Bible is “THE RESCUE”.

He rescues us, and then He gives us the opportunity to extend that rescue to others.

I see a rescue in your future, my friend.

Maybe it’s yours to be HAD.

Maybe it’s in your power to GIVE.

Either way, we had better get busy. There is SAVING to be done (praise the Lord)!

 

OUCH! The Necessity of Discomfort (a PINK Tuesday post)

RAD 66 bandaid front

Image by sarawestermark via Flickr

Discomfort comes in many forms, in varied shapes and sizes. Whether circumstantial, relational, physical, financial or spiritual, the thing we all know about discomfort is THAT IT COMES.

Our natural tendency is to recoil when pain and discomfort hit close to home. We FIGHT it! We DENY it! We COMPLAIN ABOUT it! We RUN FROM it! We try our hardest to protect our children from it. We put on our Christian ‘happy face to try to camouflage it. And we wonder what we did in order to ’cause’ it.

But we’re looking at it ALL WRONG.

Surely you’ve read in the Bible about the lepers. These poor, suffering people were outcasts of society because of their disease, which served to deform their bodies and make others very, VERY uncomfortable. Leprosy is still a problem today in parts of our world, and leper colonies still exist. But leprosy itself is often misunderstood.

We tend to think of leprosy as deforming sores on the body – an uncontrollable ‘rash’ of sorts that is extremely contagious. Leprosy is actually marked, though, by a lack of pain sensation – nerve endings that don’t work properly and are unable to send pain signals to the brain. The result of this condition is that people with leprosy don’t feel pain. Much of the damage done to the limbs of those with this disease is a result of this inability to feel pain. When they injure themselves, it doesn’t hurt. They can’t feel infection. They don’t know when to stop scratching. There is no pain trigger to let them know that something is wrong.

For the leper, physical discomfort and PAIN would be a GIFT.

Discomfort is just as necessary for you and me.

It forces us to SEEK COMFORT.

When we’re feeling comfortable, we tend to assume that we’ve got everything we need. Everything is taken care of. We’ve got it all ‘together’ – right? Our immediate need for God is diminished by the faulty assumption that we can handle whatever comes next (because we’re smart enough, rich enough and connected enough).

God knows this about us. One role of discomfort is that it forces us to look for comfort and, ultimately, for God. Our pain draws us closer to the one true source of comfort, but in the process it makes a seeker out of us. And if there’s one promise for those in discomfort that God wants to keep, it’s the one that says,

“Seek and ye shall find.”  Matthew 7:7

It reminds us that all is NOT RIGHT in the world.

We like our illusions, don’t we? Especially the ones we create to keep us feeling safe in a world that is constantly threatening to spin us out of control. More often than not, when pain is absent in our lives, we perpetuate the lie that all is well when in reality, all may seem well with US, but all is NOT WELL with the world around us. People are suffering. People are dying. People are lonely. People are being victimized. People are being ignored. These things are NOT ALL RIGHT, and the God who made those who are suffering is not served by our immature, knee-jerk tendency to live life in the Christian bubble, blinders on to what’s happening all around us in the ‘real’ world.

Our discomfort, then, is a reminder that there is work to do in the Kingdom of God.

The world around us would be thrilled to see us ‘settle’ for an illusion of personal comfort, especially if that lie would keep us from operating in the power of God’s Spirit on this earth. God, on the other hand, is issuing an invitation to you and to me to be an active, living representation of His Kingdom in this world. And His invitation is sealed by the discomfort that we feel. Our pain serves to motivate us to see the world around us as it really is – wounded, needy, hungry, imprisoned – and to join God in His ongoing mission to DO SOMETHING about it.

It STRETCHES us.

When we’re comfortable, we don’t see a need for change. In fact, we FIGHT CHANGE if it threatens to ruffle the feathers of the cozy nest we’ve made! Pain and discomfort require that we stretch our knowledge, understanding, boundaries and limits. It pushes us into new territory and necessitates new ways of thinking as we are stretched to fit the new realities that our pain and discomfort have revealed.

Sometimes God uses this stretching to re-shape us, creating a better fit between our personal life and ministry and the world in need around us.

Sometimes God stretches us for the purpose of expanding our capacity for things like love and grace, making us more able to hold all that He is pouring into our lives for the benefit of others.

Either way, God’s stretching is His way of making the footprints of our lives more like those of His Son.

The necessity of discomfort is a fact of life for the one who wishes to walk the narrow road with Christ. Pay attention to your pain, my friends! Each pinch and poke can cause you to seek the Healer, who has promised to be found when you seek Him with all your heart. Wiggle and writhe willingly as you break open the seal to the holy invitation you’ve received. Answer the call to join in the ongoing work to redeem His creation outside your front door. Persevere through the stretching of your life as you are shaped and grown to meet the needs of the walking wounded in your midst.

And in your discomfort, may you find that these faithful words of Christ are true:

“Staying with it – that’s what God requires. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry, and you’ll be saved.”   Matthew 24:13 (The Message)