Tag Archives: Suffering

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.

Blessings

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?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ&rel=0]

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:

What About Task Four?

Last week, in detailing my experiences with coming back to a habit of working on a novel, I mentioned I’d come up with five tasks for myself to be completed in fifteen minute increments. I told about tasks one through three, but left out four and five.

Task Four was to spend fifteen minutes answering fan mail, a practice I have been seriously remiss in pursuing for probably close to a year now. Every once in a while I would come in and do a spate of answering, but as the numbers of unanswered emails mounted so would my guilt and self-recrimination. The whole thing got too hard, especially given all the other stuff going on.

Now, I would tackle that mountain, once more in baby steps. Reading through the emails has the added benefit of reminding me that God really can use the gift He’s given me (duh) and I shouldn’t be letting it idle in the closet. Reader responses are tremendously encouraging. In fact, the very day I embarked on this new system I received an email from “Sandi,” which was one of the most encouraging I’ve ever received. She graciously consented to letting me post an edited version of it here:

Karen,

I cannot thank you enough for writing the Legends of the Guardian-King series. It has profoundly impacted my life.

I discovered your books during one of the most painful times of my life. The stories were so captivating and the spiritual insights so rich that the books actually helped me work through the intense emotional pain and spiritual struggle I was going through.

I loved the way you depicted life as the constantly challenging spiritual journey that it is — fighting the shadow within and the shadow without, trying to be steadfastly faithful to God down to the most subtle of levels of the heart, etc. You described it all so powerfully in LGK!

I have read the series through twice now and will probably read it again. I “soaked” in it and did not want the story to end. Oh how I would like to see the series made into films! Meanwhile I have tried to tell as many people as possible about the books to keep the word of mouth about them going. I hope this amazing series stays in print forever.

Sandi Shelton
Franklin, TN

Cool, huh?  Thanks, Sandi! Your timing was exquisite.

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

2011 Arizona Bible Conference

For awhile it was touch-and-go as to whether I would be able to actually attend this year’s Arizona Robert McLaughlin Ministries Bible Conference held at the Doubletree Hotel (about a mile from my house) with all that was going on with my mother, but the Lord worked it out and I not only got to attend every session, but also went to lunch with friends from out-of-town one day and hung around for several fruitful conversations on the other days.

And I was absolutely blown away by the conference’s theme this year: Suffering.

Or, to be more specific, “The positive outlook toward suffering that all Believers can have, depending on their attitude toward that suffering.”

 Well, the timing of that subject could hardly be more appropriate. Pastor had mentioned that suffering was going to be the subject some weeks back, but I’d totally forgotten until I sat there in my conference chair and watched the words flash onto the screen. It blew me away. It felt like God speaking directly to me.

And of course He was. Here are some of the lines that especially stood out for me as recorded (and thus sometimes paraphrased) in my notes:

When we’re suffering, we have a desire for a finale — any finale. “God! Just let it stop!” And God said, “No, I won’t let it stop!”

In processing pain, we must identify what thoughts drive us. What thoughts are driving you? Pain and bitterness?  

How well are you caring for yourself?

How much are you surrounding yourself  with people who are feeding you? 

How much power do you give to people who don’t care about you?

You’re not weak when you’re hurting — you’re hurting.

God called me specifically to handle this. And in it I “could see God’s hand in the situation, moving the chess pieces as only He could.

At times it seemed like Bible Doctrine did not help. No. Of course it helped, we just don’t always use it. We let it sit on the shelf while ascribing to the Satanic view of suffering — that it’s punishment.

Or — my thoughts here now — that it’s wrong. That it shouldn’t be.  It’s that old concept from Star Wars — something is disturbing the Force. Something is wrong. It must be righted. In fact, that’s pretty much what novel structure is about. You start out writing, showing the protagonist in his status quo, where everything is right or at least comfortable or tolerable. Then you throw in something that stirs everything up, injustice, loss, pain, violence… and from there on the protagonist sets himself to solve the problem and set everything to right.

We watch that pattern unfold in countless movies. Sometimes, the protagonist finds that he cannot set things right because life just isn’t fair. I don’t like those kinds of movies. Sometimes the protag finds that he could set things “right” but the price he’d have to pay is too great, and he decides to live with the new reality, because again, life stinks, really, when you get down to it. I don’t particularly like those kinds of movies either.

Our culture decries any sort of problem, tragedy or suffering. The news is constantly telling us about something that went wrong, and then everyone wrings their hands trying to figure out how to make sure it never happens again.

A little girl, riding a familiar horse in a rodeo parade for the first time is killed in a not-particularly-freakish accident  when you consider that horses are involved. Now everyone is investigating! Oooh! How can we avoid this! How can we make sure this never happens again.

A loon guns down a congresswoman and several others in a Safeway parking lot… oooh! How can we make sure this never happens again?! I know! We’ll take away all the guns. We’ll insist that everyone speak nicely to one another and never disagree.

Don’t eat this, don’t do that, don’t go there, make sure you use your seatbelt, get a flu shot, stop smoking… and on and on. Our entire society is suffering-averse. Consider it a blessing? Consider it an honor? Consider it something we need? Are you nuts?

But it is. Adversity plays a major role in our lives, said Pastor Bob last weekend, because suffering is like a parent. How? What responsible parents do for children, suffering does for the adult. Suffering challenges us to learn to use the divine assets God’s given us.

In a way, it’s like learning to play golf by reading a book, or listening to lectures. Maybe even watching others play. That’s all fine and good, and part of the process, but you’ll never really learn to play if you don’t go out and swing that club!

You can say you are ready to die, are not afraid of it at all, since you’ll be going to heaven, meeting your Lord, etc, but until you actually face death, you’ll never know if you are or not.

More than that, one of the most important ways we bring Glory to God is by trusting Him. How can we do that if we never have to endure hardship, uncertainty, loss, pain? What’s the big deal about trusting God is everything is going well?  Elisabeth Elliot said, “Faith only works in the dark.” Very true.

Helen Keller said, “Character can’t be developed in ease and quiet. Only in experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

And the word of God elevates suffering to the same level of importance of salvation itself. Both are considered a gracious gift.

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”

If you’d like to listen to the messages from the conference you can find them at Barah Ministries for the time being, though I expect they should be up at the RMBM website shortly.

Thanksgiving Turkey

One of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s earliest points in The Black Swan regarding the difficulties of prediction resides with the Thanksgiving turkey. Though Taleb is specifically addressing the inadequacy of using the present and even the past to predict the future, his discourse stimulated lots of branching thoughts for me that had little to do with his original point…

First though, Taleb’s point: For the first 1000 days of a hypothetical Thanksgiving turkey’s life, he is protected, cared for, fed, and treated kindly. Looking at days 1 – 1000 of his life, neither the turkey nor an uninformed observer would have reason to think his life would not continue as it has. But then on day one thousand and one (which this year would be November 26) something utterly unexpected and disastrous befalls the turkey. He experiences a very negative Black Swan event.

Thus Taleb illustrates the fallacy of relying on past observed data to make accurate future predictions, a practice that people seem to do all the time, particularly, says he, in economics, where they add insult to injury by making their faulty predictions with great authority and conviction. Just one among many flaws of the cosmic or worldly what of thinking, and a valid point… but not where the turkey illustration led me.

Let’s go back to the farmer who, of course, knows what he has planned. It’s the turkey who’s out of the loop. The comparison of the turkey’s relationship with the farmer and ours with God is unavoidable. You might argue that God would never do such a nasty thing as the farmer did to the turkey — raising us up and caring for us just to eat us! Well, of course He’s not going to eat us, but there are similarities nevertheless.

The farmer has plans and purposes that go far beyond the turkey’s simple life and understanding. He is raising the turkey to feed his family, to provide for their sustenance, nourishment, pleasure and blessing. The Thanksgiving turkey has become an icon of God’s blessing Americans in the warmth and closeness of family, and in celebration of the struggles, faith, needs and provisions for the people that began this great nation. And the freedom we still enjoy.

The turkey has to die, has to be consumed for the farmer’s (father’s?) purpose to be fulfulled. So it is with our Lord, the Father’s beloved Son, and so it will be for us as believers, followers who walk after the pattern established by the Son. There must be death for life to follow.

He who seeks to save his life will lose it; the one who loses his life will find it.

The farmer allows the turkey to continue in ignorance of his plans, first because the bird would be unable to understand his attempts to communicate them (even if the farmer came into the pen everyday and chased the turkey around with an axe, he’d only scare the creature not convey any sense of purpose), and second, even if he could, such plans would only frighten and distress the creature, producing a skinny bird and an unsatisfactory Thanksgiving meal.

Most of God’s people are in an uncannily parallel situation to the turkey. If they knew all the trials that were going to come their way, they would only live in fear and distress and probably go insane from the pressure, not fulfilling His plan at all. Therefore, most are left in the pen, relying on the notion that since yesterday passed without disaster, tomorrow will as well.

But it is not God’s desire for us to be out of the loop like a Thanksgiving turkey, pecking and scratching and gobbling about our pens in ignorance until the big Black Swan blindsides us. No, He may not want us to know specifically what’s ahead, but  His word undeniably warns us there will be suffering, undeserved and deserved, in our futures . “Momentary light affliction is part of His plan for us. And if we learn His Word, make it part of our thinking, it will enable us to handle whatever suffering we have to face. The Black Swan event may be surprising, but not unexpected, and it will be something through which we can be assured we will see God’s hand and wisdom and grace.

His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways. We can’t know them apart from knowing His word, and I don’t mean a casual superficial knowledge, I mean really knowing it, digging deep, learning constantly from a prepared pastor. Such knowledge produces the capacity to receive greater knowledge, deeper knowledge, until we reach a point where it’s impossible for us to perceive the Black Swan’s that God places in our lives (has placed in eternity past, actually) as anything but positive and right.

Turkey image by freeimageslive.co.uk – valuestockphoto

A Few Small Brushstrokes

Yesterday I wrote a bit about my mother’s resistance to being rehabilitated, which perhaps had caused her therapists to see her in a light not entirely accurate. Because, for all her resistance and fears and stated distrust, in the end she’s done pretty much everything they’ve suggested she do, and even a lot of the things I’ve suggested she do. (She’s even gone into the pool twice now and has decided she likes that part best of any of it!)

Then today, God provided her that bit of validation of her effort and suffering I had hoped for yesterday, as we both suddenly realized that she can now pull her foot directly under her knee when she sits in a chair, something she had not previously been able to do. She also noted she’d had a much easier time getting into the car when we went to her radiation appointment than she’s had in a long while. So clearly there’s been progress, and progress she can feel.

Even better, the physical therapist responded to an email I’d  sent him Sunday night regarding her continuing inability to move her leg though she is trying hard. He said he’s thinking now that the radiation treatments she’s been getting might be causing her muscle weakness (that muscle is right next to the bone that’s being irradiated). He wanted to know what kind of radiation they’re treating her with and her radiation oncologist is going to contact him directly about it. So it looks like they’re dropping the “you’re not trying hard enough” line and moving on to other methods of treatment.(Thank you, Lord! Amazing how He can turn things around with just a few small strokes of His brush.)

Not to say the path is clear ahead of us, just that for today we both had a bit of a respite and things look much brighter than they did on Thursday night.

Pain and Rehab

Well, my days continue to be chock full of tasks and responsibilities as I continue to help my mother with her rehab, and take her to her radiation treatments (Only three of the latter left. Hooray!)  as well as tend to other responsibilities — as much as I can, anyway.

Rehab continues to be a struggle for my mother. Not only does she not understand why it’s necessary, she doesn’t believe the physical therapists and doctors know what they’re talking about. In fact, now that the exercises have started to make her sore and stiff, she’s REALLY not sure any of this is necessary, despite the fact I’ve explained it to her numerous times and so have the physical therapists.  But when I suggested we could simply stop today if she really didn’t want to do it any more, she decided that she would keep on with it.

Hopefully she’ll begin to get some solid validation for her efforts and suffering before too much longer.

On Thursday she met with her main PT. He got her started on an exercise bicycle then cornered me to ask how she was doing. Well, I thought she had progressed and was doing better, but I was wrong. He was shocked at how little progress she’d made, and “very concerned.” The next thing I knew both he and his assistant were confronting me, shaking their heads, saying they had expected much more improvement and that if she didn’t begin to show some significant changes, they would have to kick her out of the program. I stood there looking at them like  a deer caught in headlights.

They thought she was refusing to try hard because of her fear of the pain, which could well be the case. They describe her in their notes as cautious, fearful, reluctant and afraid of the pain. All of which are true. She didn’t want to go into the pool because she’s afraid of the water and told them so very plainly. She didn’t want to get on the exercise bike because it was scary and made her very uneasy, which she freely communicated (though she did get on it). She doesn’t want to use an electric heating pad because those are scary (but she used one). She doesn’t know if she wants ice on her knee or not, or heat or not, or electrical muscle stimulation or not (but she accepts whatever I suggest she do). She tells them she doesn’t want to use a cane because it feels weird and unstable and she’d rather walk without anything. She orders people not to touch her leg (though they do anyway), orders them not to manipulate it (and they do anyway), makes terrible faces as if she’s in great pain when they do, and gets plainly irritated when they ask her questions about how she feels and what is her level of pain. She tells them she doesn’t know and can’t answer.  

But then, she IS almost 82. I guess being crotchety about it all isn’t that out of the ordinary for someone who’s 82 and never really been ill or helpless or had to answer all these questions about how she feels and what’s the pain like, and where does it hurt…  In fact, today when I told her she could take some Tylenol for the pain, she got angry and asked why she should have to take drugs. I realized then that she’s probably angry about all of it. Angry that the whole thing is happening, angry that she’s been so debilitated, angry that she’s hurting worse now than last week and how can something that’s supposed to be good for you hurt like this?

And how can I explain that suffering can be a blessing? That the pain God sends into our lives, He intends to bless us, whether because it wakes us up and gets us back on the right track, or whether it’s there to prune us and train us, or to provide that eternal weight of glory stored up for us in heaven. Americans are so generally afraid of pain. Our culture seems in many ways all about eradicating pain. “It shouldn’t hurt to be a child,” reads one of Arizona’s license plates.  Really? What about “beat him with a switch, he shall not die?” What about, “he who spanks his son loves him, but the one who lets him go hates him?” How about Jesus learned obedience from the things that He suffered?

We spend too much time thinking pain is bad, wrong, ought not to be when in reality, we should embrace it for its refining power, its ability to mold us and make us stronger, more compassionate, more patient… so many things we can learn in it and from it. If we weren’t trying so hard to avoid it.

Life is Cruel

We were seeing the oncologist a week or so ago to discuss options and risks for my mother’s upcoming treatment for the return of the cancer and hit upon the subject of the vagueries of the disease — why it hits some who have been health conscious all their lives  while others who have not been, go free; why it comes back for some and doesn’t for others;  why different patients have different types of cancer cells, some responding readily to less debilitating treatments, while others need to be walloped.

My mother is rarely sick, takes only one medication on a regular basis, has never before this had any operations, illnesses or medical procedures. She’s long been preoccupied with health, eating an organic vegetarian diet, avoiding soda, packaged foods, cell phones, microwaves, genetically modified foods and plastic. What’s more she did everything she was told to do when the cancer first showed itself a year ago. Yet here it is, back again. “Life is cruel,” she blurted to the doctor. And he nodded soberly. “Yes,” he said. “It is.”

 In fact after all the years he’d been at his profession, he confessed there was a certain randomness to it all that he simply did not understand.

In medicine — and even in alternative therapies —  it seems there is this idea that if we can just do the right thing, find the right combination of treatments or even preventatives, we can avoid the cruelty of disease. Sometimes we do. But other times we don’t and there is no “logical” reason from the human perspective.

So yes, Life can be cruel, but only because one doesn’t really understand it, or our purpose in it. The world is not heaven, after all, but fallen and filled with fallen creatures who are mostly under the control and deception of the greatest of all fallen creatures, Satan himself. The Adversary. The Accuser. The Cherub angel who, as the guardian of the Lord’s Righteousness, was akin to His best friend… and who betrayed Him. Not only in heaven with that first sin of independence, but later, on earth when he possessed Judas to sell out his Teacher for 30 pieces of silver…

And thereby sent Him to the cross for which He had come.

I sat there listening to my mother and the doctor, not knowing what to say, my mind full of realizations. I know that the world is not random, that God has everything under control. He lets his sun shine on the evil and the just, sends his rain to the good and the bad. He knows the number of stars in the universe and he knows the number of the hairs on each of our heads at any given time. Not one event occurs He not only didn’t know about in Eternity past, but in fact chose as the best thing for His kind intention and for his creatures’ highest and best.

His intention was not, however, to reproduce heaven on earth, but to demonstrate to the angels, fallen and elect, and to mankind, His glory. And His glory is in His grace. He gave the man and woman a free will, just as He had given the angels before them free will. The angels used that will to turn against Him, and in the same pattern, so did man. Satan must have thought he’d won at the point where the man and woman had both fallen into the same state he was in.

But that’s because, despite having been in heaven, having seen the Creator, and even having guarded the very throne of The Lord’s righteousness, Satan didn’t really know who He was. Maybe none of the angels did because who God is is not readily apparent in a perfect and righteous environment.

So He made the earth and man and let Adam and the woman fall, and decreed that all their progeny should be born in the man’s likeness, fallen, sinful, cursed, condemned. So God could come down and save them. It’s all about what He was willing to do for His creatures — take on the form of a man, submit to the injustice of the seven trials that preceded the Cross and then allow himself to be nailed up there, the only perfect man. The only  Holy One, the only one worthy of opening the scroll in Revelation 5. We can only begin to comprehend what He did for us all, the ultimate sacrifice He made for His creatures, the majority of whom would continue in their independence and reject that sacrifice.

If we weren’t fallen, how could He show us that?

Sometimes God’s reality seems so incontrovertible, so compelling, so OBVIOUS. And at the same time, I can see the blindness in others who see the cruelty in disease and aging and loss rather than the necessary pressure those afflictions bring to a soul who is heading for eternal condemnation. They can’t see the grace in it, because they can’t see beyond the details. The material. The flesh, the people, the disease, the pain, the treatments, the decisions… the alternatives, the attempts to take control, to try and make this life something it is not and was never meant to be: perfect, without pain or sorrow.

It’s like this false template held up before their eyes through which they view all that is around them, and try to make things fit to it. A veil before their eyes that can only be stripped away when and if they come to Christ.

Operation Redwing

This will be my last post on thoughts generated from my reading of Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. So far all the material I’ve quoted from and blogged about has come from the first third of the book, the training phase. I haven’t even gotten to the disaster of Operation Redwing, and won’t really. That part doesn’t bear excerpting and discussing really — it just has to be read and experienced for itself.

What I found cool about it all, was that, as bad as BUD/s training was, and in particular Hell Week, on the Redwing mission Marcus ended up using all of it. So much of what he experienced during Hell Week (and I only touched on a small bit of his description — that, like the mission itself deserves to be read in its entirety to get the full effect) he went through again, this time in the face of and at the hands of the enemy. So it not only makes sense of all the training, but it bridges over to our lives, and makes sense of our training as well. If we can remember to see it as such.

One thing in particular that hit me about Marcus’s time in the Hindu Kush under fire, surrounded, badly injured, no way out, was that for the first time ever he had to go it alone. Bear his own cross as it were, another area that coincides with the Christian life. There comes a time we all have to go on alone. Our comrades, our team has been stripped away from us, just as it was stripped from Jesus and from the Apostle Paul. And often, as with Marcus, our own strengths and assets have also been stripped from us. It’s us and God and sometimes all we can do is keep on keeping on. And that was pretty much where Marcus ended up — and he knew it, because God made it very clear to him. I loved it.

Well, I loved LOTS about this book. As I said, I could go on and on, but I won’t. Life is moving on around me and I’m accumulating too many other subjects to blog about without sufficient time or energy to get to them. Besides, I’m afraid if I do any more I’ll end up violating copyright on this book. Suffice to say, I have not read as enlightening and inspiring a book as this one in a long time and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in living the Christian life, particularly where it comes to suffering. It’s an amazing story.

It’s also surprisingly moving.