Category Archives: Suffering

Charge of the Mosquitos

Alaskan Mosquitos Shirt

“Enjoy Alaska! 40 million mosquitos can’t be wrong!”

This illustration is from the sketchbook I made when we visited Alaska back in 1995. One, as the hand-written caption says, that I’d seen on a t-shirt someone was wearing.

The mosquitos were indeed horrendous, biting wherever I had neglected to put Off: in my ear, in the part of my hair, on my eyebrow… They would hover in a cloud outside the car when we stopped, waiting eagerly for us to open the door while inside we were busily spraying ourselves with another round of  Off. They even swarmed in the midst of a rainstorm.

And that’s all nothing compared to the stories of those who venture into the really wild parts, full of lakes and rivers.  Yes, by itself the mosquito is a small thing, and its bite, while annoying, is hardly life threatening. But thousands of them? In a July 2000 article in the Lifestyles section of the Anchorage Daily news described living with mosquitos thus:

Greg Balogh, an endangered-species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said dealing with them on the job is ”truly a mental game.” He said he has seen crew members bug out from the constant buzzing.

That explains why people who work outdoors become methodical — almost fanatical — in dealing with bugs. Some douse themselves with super-concentrated DEET; others pile on layers of protective clothing; still others invest in a mosquito head net.

It was under Colonel R.B. Thieme’s teaching that I first heard about the charge of the elephant vs the charge of the mosquito — the Colonel’s colorful metaphors for the two different categories of trials and tribulations that we face as Christians.

The charge of the elephant represents the outright disasters like seeing one’s house burn down or one’s marriage fall apart or receiving a diagnosis of cancer, whereas the mosquitos represent the little things. The little annoyances that shouldn’t get to us, but do.

And the more there are of them, the more difficult they become. I find them generally more challenging than the elephants, primarily because with the elephant I know there is nothing I can do but ride it out. I have no control over the situation and thus no choice but to leave it to God.

But the mosquitos!  Ah, now those, I think I can control. After all, I only need a fly swatter, right?

The thing about the “mosquito” problems, though, is that mostly I don’t recognize them for what they are. They seem to buzz about my head, but too seldom do I stop and take a step back to actually look at them.

Unless, as with the insect version, there are too many of them and you can’t get away from them.  Like one day last week…

I was trying to get back to my routine of writing, as mentioned in previous posts, motivated by the information gleaned from the talk John Cleese gave on Creativity. I’d set a goal of just getting into the office for an hour and a half of pondering each day, and wasn’t doing too badly. A couple of days I even managed about 4 hours of work…

But then my right elbow began to hurt and twinge. I first noticed it while I was walking Quigley (or more accurately “hauling” him off a captivating smell), but then it started intruding when I was writing. Then, in addition to that and the already intermittent throbbing of my foot from the plantar fasciitis I’d recently developed (from wearing worn-out walking shoes), my wrist joined the party, the old carpal tunnel issues resurfacing enough I had to stop in the middle of writing my morning pages (part of my attempt to get myself working every day). Thinking to give myself a break and come back to it, I went  into the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and in the process stuck my right thumb into the point of a knife when I reached down to pick up the utensil basket. Puncture wound under and alongside my right thumb — where it hurt to hold a pen. It throbbed all day.

And if all that wasn’t enough, my eyes were also giving me increasing trouble, as mentioned in an earlier post — the beginning of the shingles relapse though at the time I thought it was dry eyes (well, our dew point was something like 13 and our hmidity 24%)… Of course it’s always been dry here, especially in the winter and I’d never had a problem before. I figured I was just reacting more, maybe from age, or maybe from the previous shingles problem…

So writing was out for that day and several more and finally I just gave up.

Pastor Farley had mentioned something about there being times when God will temporarily shut down the operation of one’s gift for “training purposes.”  I wondered if that was what was going on.

Never before this book have I ever felt the need to discipline myself so badly.  Writing was something I had to do. It was like that burning Jeremiah speaks of that forces you to speak. I was driven to write. The other things were the intrusions, the things I shuffled aside, and let go…

Now it’s the other way around. So, yes, once again, the pendulum has swung back, and I’m thinking maybe God really has shut me down in this area for a bit. And if so perhaps I should just turn my efforts to the far too long list of things to fix and mend and take care of around the house. And read some fiction as well (I mentioned this in an earlier post)  I’m almost done with Executive Orders, in fact, (since the eye problem interfered with that a bit) and still really enjoying it. But that’s a post for another day.

I Love This Video and Song

Recently my pastor’s daughter sang this song at the end of service. I loved it, but missed some of the words so I looked up the lyrics and came across the music video below. I’ve since learned that this song, Blessings, written and performed by Laura Story, received the GMA Dove Award for Song of the Year in 2012. The video, uploaded by LoveOneAnother March 4, 2011, has been viewed by 5 million people.

Here are the lyrics. The video follows. ENJOY.


We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

Quote: Affliction vs Happiness

“Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence…the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal or trivial to be endurable. This of course is what the cross signifies, and it is the cross more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.”   ~Malcolm Muggeridge


Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge (24 March 1903 – 14 November 1990[1]) was an English journalist, author, media personality, and satirist. During World War II, he was a soldier and a spy. He is credited with popularising Mother Teresa and in his later years became a Catholic and morals campaigner. (From Wikipedia)

An Acorn Becomes an Oak

Photo by by MunstiSue

Pastor Farley has been using the metaphor of an acorn becoming an oak as an illustration of our spiritual growth in many of our recent lessons… particularly to show that it’s painful and confusing. The acorn has to be buried in the ground, and then it swells until its hard shell cracks and splits, and pretty soon roots are coming out. And the acorn’s going, “Roots? What are these? I’ve never done roots before.”

And after a while maybe it says “Okay, I get it, I’m gonna be here underground with my roots and this dirt and I’m okay with that, I’m getting the hang of it, here.” And then suddenly there’s a stalk and its pushing upward and there’s pressure and leaves flying about and just one thing after another, and pressure here, and no pressure there and wind and light and rain… If all you are is a little acorn, it’s pretty dramatic. All of it is something it never had or was before.

And so it is with us as we grow into the new life Christ has given us. It’s really not at all like the old life and the old ways of thinking… particularly this Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil thing — The more I think about it, the more profound this teaching seems to be become. The Tree of Life, which is the thinking that goes with New Life in Christ is really absolutely foreign to anything we ever thought before, anything the world thinks, and even to the parts that feel so good and right… but aren’t.

Anyway, I love the acorn metaphor , so when Pastor Farley mentioned that CBS has a photographer that did a video of time-lapse photographs showing this very process I had to go and find it.

Pretty cool!  Here it is:

Journal Entries – Part 3: Affliction

4 – 5  November 2011

6:27pm  I’m in the midst of re-listening to last night’s message. Pastor John’s talking of how we have affliction to bear more fruit and that instead of reaction and resistance, our response to affliction and suffering should be:

“I’m going to allow the Holy Spirit to develop in me those virtues the Bible says He’s developing in me: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

“I won’t resist, react, panic, despair, go to the world’s way to solve these problems. I know what’s happening now. I trust my Father to handle them.”

Can having more things to do than you can get done be affliction? Yes. I think it certainly can. The temptation and too often the result is that I do resist, panic, react and despair and often go to the world’s way to solve the problem — be more organized, follow Flylady, get more discipline.

And yet… our world and the prosperity we enjoy in the United States especially gives us more choices than ever of how we can spend our time. Not only on activities but possessions — for every possession takes a bit of our time in some way, if not in care and maintenance than in the guilt it inflicts on us for not doing the care and maintenance (or simply not being able to find the time to use the possession as we thought we would).

And then there is the barrage —  the tsunami? — of information and social contact we endure, even sitting alone in our homes. It’s greater than at any time in history. Mind-boggling. Perhaps literally.

And as I mentioned yesterday, even Pastor John brought this up with his reference to the article he’d seen in the Wall Street Journal article called “How to Get More Done” which, he said, really means “How to be More Busy!” And then he exclaimed, “God help the people who want to be more busy! Who wake up every day and say, I want to find a way to do more things (get more things done).”

That’s just what I do: wake up every day and wonder how I can get everything done. And it’s not fun. But to even consider I might not  have to get all those things done, starts a panic in my soul: No! If you do that, you’ll never get anything done. You’ll live in chaos and squalor!

Well, not if I trust God the Holy Spirit to move me.

It occurs to me that I haven’t heard any of the pastors teach that Colonel Thieme phrase about the organized believer having a schedule for each day according to his priorities, so that he has a time for everything and uses his self-discipline to carry it out… Haven’t heard that in a long time.

Instead what I’ve heard has been that as fallen creatures we don’t have the self-discipline. Most of us can’t do it. (Yes, I do think there are areas where we can be disciplined… but most of us if we’re honest can pinpoint at least one in which no matter what we do, we just can’t hold the line for very long). And today the phrases that are coming to mind are “you set yourself to do a thing or not do a thing, have a couple days of success and then it all falls apart. We can’t do it!”

That’s pretty much been my experience.

In fact, Pastor Bob has often spoken of the problems and hindrances and people brought into his life to disrupt his plans. Of God the Holy Spirit changing his message at the last minute. Even in the midst of a message he and the others sense the leading of the Spirit and go off on a tangent and often it’s the best, most important part of the message! I’ve experienced times when I was wrestling with something and the pastor went off subject for just a bit to say something tangential that was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. How can one ever schedule that? And why would one insist on ‘sticking to the notes’ when to deviate might be precisely what someone needs at the time?

Pastor John actually challenged the whole organized life/plan-out-your-day-and execute-it thing with his teaching a few years ago when he said that was actually a function of the flesh. We, in our own souls, from our own standards, make a list of things to do today and then watch ourselves fail and condemn ourselves for it.

Pastor Bob says,”Don’t try to plan too much. Let God the Holy Spirit plan your day and lead you through it.”

I’ve experienced that leading repeatedly, yet it’s still hard to really trust it. That is, to believe that this could actually be the way I’m to live. I like the idea of making plans and then executing those plans and all being in order. It’s safe. It’s known. It requires no faith, no moment by moment guidance from and reliance upon God.

If only the plans would work out as I had … planned.

Next: Part 4 – Busy-ness is Not Devotion

Journal Entries – Part 2: Pruning

 1 November 2011 Tuesday

 1:15 pm   Another morning lost. I finally, just a bit ago, admitted I was out of line. I had not focused on my calling, but indulged my whims. Then I tried to guilt myself over having wasted the morning and now I have to PAY. But I reminded myself: He gives to His beloved even in her sleep (Psalm 127:2). So yes, I might have to reap what I’ve sown this morning. Or God might give me some progress anyway…

11pm   And so He did. I moved to page 7 of chapter 4.  Tomorrow I want to get up and get immediately to work…

3 November Thursday

~ 8:00am  I’m feeling anxiety and something like being beaten down. Another day to fail, basically. Another day to have everything go wrong, or all these little things that I’d hoped would be one way, or get done or whatever, not happen. It’s frustrating. And I guess I’ve known that for a time. That part of the feeling I have is frustration, anxiety, discouragement because I can’t seem to get out from under the load of things I have to do.

Just keeping the house on the minimum maintenance and writing and dealing with all the other stuff takes all my time. Except for the time I spend writing about it. Or whatever other weird things suddenly consume me.

11am   Last night in Bible Class Pastor John talked about all the trials being for our benefit. They produce endurance, and we’re to let that endurance have its perfect effect. We’re told to consider and know Him and let endurance work. Or Him work – clearly I am not clear on this matter. What I know is the struggle is familiar and long-standing.

“Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” ~ James 1:2-4

I know I’m not supposed to be anxious. And the testing of my faith means “Do you believe what God’s word says? It’s not enough to know the promises and doctrines. Do you believe them?”

So what is all this chaos supposed to lead me to believe? That God’s got it all under control and I don’t have to change my self or fix everything? I don’t even know what to fix! Have I gotten distracted? Or am I being hindered in ways that are not my fault?

I’ve lately recalled that when I’m at peace and relaxed I work at the writing better. And yet I have all these other things to do just to keep the house, laundry, etc, on track.

So on the one hand – “You must get X, Y and Z done so you can cross it off your list and not have to think about it, free to focus on the book, free to be relaxed, to let it come…”

And on the other, “Just get in there and write before you get too tired or distracted!”

I guess I’ve always thought my problem was just simple failure to have self-discipline, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe I just have a kooky idea of what life’s about.

Pastor John talked of God using afflictions to get us to move beyond our simplistic, humanistic and very small ideas of who He is. Some people have a Vending Machine god — you put in your money (prayer) and out comes what you want. Others have the Tit for Tat god — I do this for You, You do that for me. There’s the Short Order Cook god, where you step up to the counter, put in your order and voila! There is is. Or the Mechanical God, where you wind Him up, or plug in the formulas and He does the same thing every time.

I think that’s involved here. I think my idea of god is the Organization Guru god. Or maybe the Drill Sergeant god.  I have an idea of what He want my life to be like: Colonel Thieme’s little outline where you decide your priorities and schedule out your day accordingly, then proceed to execute your plan. That assumes you have the power to control your day…and it also doesn’t need God. It’s me doing it.

If only I could muster the self-discipline to follow my plan.

Except self-discipline is a fruit of the Spirit. So… it can’t be the same as an unbeliever’s self-discipline. I had a lot of self-discipline as an unbeliever. My mother was fantastic at it. But it came out of apprehension and guilt. Whatever you’re to do hangs over you, making you uncomfortable until you do it. Which is not a proper motivation for someone who is in union with Christ.

11:00pm  From today’s Bible Class Pastor John said,  “We don’t want to learn how to get more things done!” How to be more busy.


We’re in John 15:1 now and he’s teaching on the True Vine, which is Jesus and the Vinedresser, which is God the Father. We are the branches, and sometimes He has to prune the branches so we will bear more fruit — cutting things out of our lives, challenging misconceptions, molding us day by day into the likeness of His Son.

“Pruning gets rid of non-essentials, narrowing and simplifying life so you can see clearly the target ahead of you. You have a great rule now as far as what’s important, how you decide what stays and what goes. In the past you didn’t know what you were going to be doing, so you kept all kinds of things you might need. But now you know.”

He talked of how we hear about this idea of “the unnecessary things in our lives and then give ourselves another project: to figure out what’s unnecessary and get rid of it. No! God’s the one who prunes and who identifies and will do what’s needed to make these things perfectly obvious to you and maybe even get rid of them for you.”

This has so much application to my life! I’m just not quite sure how. I keep coming back to the notion of RELAX and let Him do it. Stop trying to be “responsible” and work, work, work, get so many things done. I know I have too many things to do – more than I can do. But I don’t know what to do about it. Let some things go? What things? Declutter my life of areas of responsibility. He’s supposed to do that.

Well… maybe I’ll let Him…

Next: Part 3 – Affliction

Journal Entries — Part 1: The Journey Begins


Well, it’s been over a week since I last posted. I don’t know where the time goes, just that it goes much too fast. Especially when I’m wrestling with something, which lately I have been.

For awhile I’ve been waking up in a weird mood, sort of down, yucky, discouraged, blue… I struggle to describe it precisely, can’t really find a direct source for it, though I’ve been having lots of dreams where I am trying to accomplish various tasks and keep running into obstacles, distractions, roadblocks, hindrances… A lot like my actual life.

The funny thing about the yucky feeling is that once I am thoroughly awake it goes away.

I read an article on dreams once – I think it might have been in The Smithsonian – that reported the results of a dream study some institution had done. In the study, subjects’ dreams tended to fall into two categories. One was where they dreamt of trying to accomplish something over and over and never succeeded until they woke up. Subjects who’d had this sort of dream tended to feel out of sorts afterward. And often there were elements of unfinished business in their lives that the dreams seemed to be springing from

The other category of dream was where the subject might dream over and over about something they were trying to accomplish until ultimately they succeeded and woke up. They felt much better than the other group of subjects. I think they might not have had the same sort of unfinished business in their lives as the first group of subjects…

At least that’s the way I remember it.

Anyway, it did seem to me that my dreams might indeed be echoing my reality, and that perhaps that was the reason for my waking up with the out of sorts feeling.

So this is where my wrestling began, and over the last two weeks or so has led to a spiritual journey of sorts that I’ve decided to set down here in my blog as a series of posts incorporating excerpts from my journal.

Come back tomorrow for the next installment.

Wednesday: It’s Never What It Seems

For one thing, my Mother was not discharged today, and we did not go to the oncologist’s office. I did manage to talk to him on the phone, however.  Turns out when they did the ultrasound for the lung tap, the lung doctor asked the technicians to look at the liver for cancer spots and they had found them, larger than they’d been in January, so they know it’s reactivated.  Dr. Schwartz also said the edema in the legs is the result of the liver malfunctioning, but that the disease can be treated.

Meanwhile the hospitalist ordered an official ultrasound of the liver. Those results will not come until tomorrow. But we did get back the results of the test of the fluid that was taken from Mother’s lungs: no tumor cells. Which means there’s no cancer in the lung.  Hooray! Dr. Clements said there can be tiny holes in the diaphragm allowing fluid from the abdomen to enter the chest cavity, and in fact, he thought it did seem like there might be a fair amount of fluid gathering in her abdomen. Turns out they can extract that pretty much like the lung fluid was. In fact, if the ultrasound shows there is in fact fluid there he’ll order what they call a paracentresis — basically the same thing he did with the lung done to the abdomen. It’s possible that could significantly reduce the swelling of her legs which would be awesome. They don’t hurt her, but with the skin splitting and the fluid and blood dribbling everywhere they would be very difficult to deal with at home like that.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect results that dramatic, but still it would be nice to do something to lessen the edema. The primary means of treatment, though, is to go after the source of the problem which is the liver. Right now we’re waiting to see if mother can get back to eating and drinking and sitting up, able to move on her own again. Turns out that the fluid in the abdomen can cause the stomach to feel full and discourage eating, contribute to an acid reflux sort of effect and cause the patient to swallow a lot of air that will in turn be burped up.  So it looks like we might have an explanation for all the burping and so-called indigestion… We’ll know more later. But who woulda thought?

It is sooo cool to see God’s hand in all this, to see the way He’s got things orchestrated. In addition to all that, I got up this morning and went searching for my Thieme booklet, The Faith Rest Life, which  think I first read 35 years ago. It’s amazing to reread it and see things I never saw before, because my perspective has changed. But the coolest thing was that it really is true that I’m to do nothing. I keep fighting that. But if you’re going to give a problem over to God to solve, why would you keep trying to solve it yourself?

There’s more — he talked a lot about patience and how hard it is for us to wait on the Lord. And of course there has been a LOT of waiting these last few days. And the more I have to wait not knowing, the harder it is to stay relaxed. I even was griping to one of my friends about it… what’s the point of all this sitting staring at walls, waiting? I don’t understand. Well, there it was in the Faith Rest book — a very specific answer. And then tonight, live back in Massachusetts, Pastor McLaughlin taught  on … Patience!

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” 

I love it.

Temporarily Moving

Starting Sunday I will be moving in with my mother to care for her while my sister returns to her home in Santa Fe for three weeks or so. This has been a big struggle, a daunting potential, something I felt averse to, didn’t want to do, was advised not to do, but rather put her in some sort of facility or get 24/7 in home care.

The thing is, her situation keeps changing. No one really can pin down what’s causing her problem, which is no longer high blood pressure but low. She’s been fainting once or twice a day for several days now, even though she’s doing better on keeping hydrated (drank 8 glasses of water yesterday). Yesterday we visited the doctor and he cut both her blood pressure meds in half. He said he was more concerned with the low blood pressure readings (which some nurses and helpers have considered “good”) than the 175/80 readings. My sister’s been taking her blood pressure throughout the day and the low readings account for about 90% of them. And then, after the visit, as we were consulting with the nurse, my mother fainted.

My sister leaves, as I said, on Sunday and I take over. I have no idea how it will go. I signed up for some in-home care if I need relief, but turns out they have a four-hour minimum. I was hoping for a two-hour minimum, which is more in line with what I’d see myself needing. The home care agency also don’t operate on the immediate “as needed” basis I was given to understand it did. To get a good match they need not only several days notice, but want us to commit to some sort of regular weekly schedule. Right now, that doesn’t seem quite what we need.

 On Monday I’ll take Mother for a PET scan. On Tuesday, we go to a local hospital for an ambulatory blood pressure monitor that she’ll wear for 24 hours, then return to the hospital. Meanwhile the physical and occupational therapists will continue to visit and work with her.

She’s way better than she was last week. Except for when her blood pressure drops, she’s quite alert and mentally sharp. Still gets tired easily and naps several times a day, but that’s to be expected after her hospitalizations.

For me, the picture ahead is a big blank. I have no real idea what to expect, but I’m seeing it clearly as God’s will and an opportunity to trust Him to handle things rather than driving myself crazy trying to project possible scenarios and solutions. I’ve been in this situation countless times before, especially when writing. Abramm’s experience in the desert (in Return of the Guardian King) where he had no idea which direction to walk in, only that he had to walk, is a good parallel.  Plus, more and more I’ve been aware of the fact God’s been leading me to do things, of how He orchestrates things down to the second, and how, even though I have no plan for how I am going to get something accomplished, somehow it ends up happening.

It seems like I’ll suddenly “get an idea” to do something and do it and only afterwards see that it’s exactly what I was supposed to do. But I had no preconceived idea that I would do it. No plan that at 9am I would do such and such. In fact, sometimes I’ve got an entirely different plan for 9am… So really this is a tremendous opportunity to trust Him and relax.

And last night, after all the drama of yesterday and continuous conversations with my sister about why Mother might be fainting — all speculations, since no one can say for sure and though, the doctor advanced several possibilities, he also added that trying to get the blood pressure to stabilize in situations like these is really tricky  —  last night, in going through earlier entries in my journal I came upon this statement from Pastor McLaughlin, who of all people has had abundant experience in dealing with medical crises:  “Give up worrying about medical stuff! Like, ‘Did I eat the right thing? Take the right meds? Am I doing the right thing?’ God will handle it.”

And further, we’re told to “cast all our cares on Him.” We’re told “Trust in the Lord with all your heart (system of thinking) and do not lean on your own understanding (human viewpoint, human good, worldly medical practitioners’). In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

The best way to bring glory to God is to trust Him. And it’s in situations that challenge us in this regard that we have to ask ourselves, “Do I really believe what the Word of God has to say, or do I not? Because if I do believe, there is no place for worry; and if I am determined to solve the problem and fix the situation on my own, then I’ve shoved “believe the Word and trust in Him” right out the door of my soul.

Quote of the Day

“The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”

                                                                     ~ Thomas Merton