blessings for healing: suffering

We have to be gentle with the hard words of Jesus.
Hating the messenger, though, is kind of part of the deal.

I woke up early, remembering a promise.

Even though all fall away, I will never . . . 

I look out at the darkness. If I open the backdoor soon, I will hear the neighbor’s rooster announce the sunrise.

. . . even if I have to die with You. And all the disciples said the same thing, too.

My eyes itch from sleepiness. My daughter’s Snuggie wrapped around me to keep me warm. And I am full of sympathy for the first followers of Jesus. The ones who were right there. He had warned them it was time, He told them He was in agony, and He asked them to be on the look out while He prayed. But they were tired.

So you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?
Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation;
the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Matthew 26:40-41

* * * * *

I am convicted about effort. And how this week has become just like any other. How my excited dinner plans of two days ago went out the window last night with everyone scattered to activity. All it would have taken on my part was a little effort. A little self denial. A trip to the store. And maybe turning off the tv.

Ugh. Willing, but weak. So, so weak.

Jesus went alone to trial. To beatings. The disciples fled.

By morning, the crowds that had praised on Sunday were screaming crucifixion.

Peter grieved. He had made a promise to Jesus — a vow — and he couldn’t even last the night.

But all eleven disciples who fell asleep in the garden that night, who were afraid and fled, who denied they knew Jesus, who hid among the crowds, would suffer in time. Trials, beatings, stonings, imprisonment, exile, extremes of torture to death.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  — Matthew 5:10-12

I wonder how many of the disciples clung to these words in their own hours of agony.

* * * * *

My life has been ease. 

I’ve never been beaten, thrown in prison, or condemned to death for what I believe — and  I am not likely to.

But people are, still, today suffering for their commitment to follow Christ. They are fulfilling the promise to go with Jesus all the way — even if they have to die, they will not deny Him.

I think of Pastor Saeed, an American citizen who has been imprisoned and tortured and is awaiting a trial in Iran. And the thousands of others like him today, persecuted for their faith. (A news website, just launched this week to alert us of Christians who are suffering worldwide.)

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:3

I have suffered nothing.

Because I have had the good fortune of growing up, not just in a country that has the freedom of religion built right in to its Constitution. Because I was born into a family that embraced Christianity as truth.

In his book St. Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton wrote:

“Through all his plunging and restless days ran the refrain: I have not suffered enough; I have not sacrificed enough; I am not yet worthy of the shadow of the crown of thorns.”

And since I finished reading the book last week, I’ve had a song flowing through my mind:

Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,
while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas? — Isaac Watts

I have lived a comfortable life of ease when it comes to being a Christian. It’s easy to take it for granted.

* * * * *

But, the Beatitudes are just a preface. Jesus is about to open up a can of worms, and I get a little nauseous just thinking about it. Because as much as people love blessed are the merciful, they hate the hard words of Jesus.

I take a look at the words past this point of the Sermon on the Mount, and I want to hold up a white flag and shout, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”

Hating the messenger, though, is kind of part of the deal. (There’s a caution here, though. Because some people like to claim being hated as a badge of honor. The fact people don’t like you doesn’t always mean you’re in the right.)

We have to be gentle with these hard words of Jesus.

Jumping onto political bandwagons, identifying publicly with a controversial cause just to provoke argument, re-posting memes with witty retorts . . .  only in the free West can we afford such wanton displays of wearing Christianity without costly discipleship. In the West, Christians have the luxury of fighting amongst ourselves over Jesus’ words, of writing multitudes of books on them . . .

If it began to cost me something to follow Christ, to do and speak His words, would I follow? If the government and the will of the majority stripped away every last vestige of morality and sanctity of human life, and my beliefs are shouted down as bigotry and hate-speech?

The truth is, following Jesus will cost something. Even in America.

* * * * *

As the sun rises this morning, I am praying for my brothers and sisters in Christ, like Pastor Saeed, who are suffering more than I will ever know.

And I am thinking of Peter, who watched from the shadows that long morning while Jesus, beaten and bleeding, carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. Peter, who had no idea at that moment what he was going to suffer for teaching Jesus’ hard words.

And I see hope for all who cower, ashamed of themselves, in the shadow of the crown of thorns.

Peter wrote a letter about suffering, very likely from Rome, where Nero was using Christians as torches to light his parties and feeding them to lions to amuse the jaded and bloodthirsty masses.

Here are some of Saint Peter’s words for this Good Friday:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;
and while being reviled, He did not revile in return;
while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,
so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. I Peter 2:21-24

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  I Peter 3:14

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing,
as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ,
keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed. I Peter 4:12-14

blessings for the broken part four

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .
When did we buy the lie that happiness is the means to happiness?
That what feels good is right and what is painful is wrong?
Hungry is not comfort. Thirsty is not pleasure.

We are at a crossroads.

Poor and powerless. Grief-stricken. Broken.

In any direction, as far as we can see, the landscape is exactly the same. Dry, dusty, barren, flat.

Nothing distinguishes one path from another.

Turning around seems like the smartest decision.

Going back by a way we know.

Going back to what? We’ve come too far.

It doesn’t matter which path we choose now.

They are all marked suffering.

* * * * *

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .

When did we buy the lie that happiness is the means to happiness?

That what feels good is right and what is painful is wrong?

Hungry is not comfort.

Thirsty is not pleasure.

It’s true in our physical being. And true in our spiritual being as well.

If we fill ourselves with real food, we’ll crave more good and be filled. If we fill ourselves with junk food, we only want more — more junk, more anything — just more.

The bad takes away our appetite for good. The bad takes us on a high and abandons us to crash. Snickers does not satisfy.

But we try.

And we keep trying. Over and over.

The cake when we’re stressed. The gossip when we’re hurt. The computer when we’re lonely. The money when we’re rejected. The applause when we’re insecure. The rage when we have no voice. The drugs when we can’t face the day. The busy so we don’t have time to notice . . .

The goal of all this stuffing life full is to be unconscious of our thirst. Hunger hurts, so we have numbed it. We numb it until we don’t feel longing anymore.

* * * * *

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.

Jesus at the well. A woman, draws water for herself. Jesus asks for some. She recognizes him as a Jew. She is a Samaritan. Jews do not associate with Samaritans. She objects.

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4)

She wants this. Never to thirst again. Never to take a weary walk to a well in the heat. Never to carry heavy jars home and watch them empty fast.

Go, call your husband and come back.

Wait. What? I don’t have a husband, she says.

You are right. He says. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.

Uh. Wow. We were just talking about water.

No. We were talking about what you crave. You thirst for fulfillment. And you haven’t found it. Given up yet?

* * * * *

We have come to this crossroads.

The cake has made us fat. The gossip has gone too far. The busy has given us an ulcer. The virtual relationship led us to unfaithfulness. The money is gone. The applause has faded. In rage we have beaten others, ourselves. The drugs have destroyed our life.

Now it’s no longer possible to numb. To deny. To excuse.

We can go back to numbing.

Or we can choose to feel the pain and hurt and ache and longing and let it be what it is.

We can choose to accept our hunger and thirst.

* * * * *

So what is this righteousness?

What is this thing that I seek first instead of clothes, comfort, food, money, success?

The people gathered around Jesus on the mountain want to know, too.

They are hungry. They are thirsty.

And Jesus tells them their hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.

They don’t get it either — unless they are the poor in spirit, unless they mourn, unless they are meek.

Righteousness isn’t about not doing or doing. It’s about Jesus Himself.

We will not know how He satisfies until we admit we are not satisfied by anything else.Until we drag our poor, powerless, broken selves through the desert of suffering to the Well instead of going back.

My soul yearns, even faints for the court of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:2

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after thee. Psalm 42:1

In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Blaise Pascal

“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” St. Augustine

the truth heals, part one

Rebuilding a house
Rebuilding a house carried out of the Santee-Cooper Basin
Jack Delano, 1941

How did you rebuild trust? someone recently asked me.

How did you make it from the lies to now.

I thought I could give a one post answer. But it’s not that simple.

So I write. And I think. And I pray.

And I ask God to give me words to say to people who feel as though their hearts have been ripped from their bodies. Who are hollow and broken, limping cautiously across a minefield knowing that no matter how lightly they step, eventually there will be an explosion.

I remember how it was to plead with God for an answer.

Should I stay, God? Should I leave? Should I trust him? Should I make rules?

Wrestling. Weighing.

* * * * *

It took me a long time to really understand that Dave had to own his recovery.

As much as I wanted to help, as much as our future was dependent on the outcome and as much as I felt like I deserved to have answers, ultimately my determination had nothing to do with it.

I had to let go of this. This control.

Every time Dave was caught in lies, I had a meltdown. And then I made a plan. Steps Dave could follow to regain my trust.

He’d do them for a while. But too often he was doing it just to please me.

And he really needed to be doing it for himself.

There was nothing. Nothing I could do to fix Dave. Nothing.

No agreement. No counseling. No contracts. No threats. No intervention. No violence.

God had to get ME to a place where I would let HIM work on Dave.

I had to decide if I was willing for God to do the fixing.

* * * * *

I heard it on the radio yesterday — this dilemma.

“You can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed,” I heard one preacher say yesterday. And I know it’s true.

Addicts have to get to that horrible place we try so hard to shield them from. For them, but mostly for us.

And you can’t rebuild trust with someone who doesn’t really intend to be honest.

Then another preacher says, “The love that forgives and restores . . . there is something precious in that Christ-like love.”

And I know this hard, hard thing is true.

That a love that endures involves suffering. 

False starts. Relapse. Repentance. Fights. Being lied to.

So my answer to the hard questions is a thing I don’t want to say.

* * * * *

We won’t know, until we look back, where the healing really began.

From the day Dave first confessed his addiction to the day he really did hit “rock bottom” more than three and a half years passed.

It took years for God to pry my fingers off Dave’s recovery. And God did not always do things the way I wanted Him to do them.

If you are married to an addict, ask yourself these questions:

Do I really want restoration? Or do I just want out?

Listen to what God is telling you about your marriage.

It is not for me to say if you should walk away.  I can only say what we did.

* * * * *

For us, restoring trust took time. Years.

I haven’t just been learning to trust Dave. I am learning to trust God. 

Over the next posts Dave is going to join me.  Because he had to earn trust from everyone in his life — not just me — and only  he can tell you how hard that was.

Because when he looks back, he sees the day he began telling me the truth. Being accountable. Living honestly.

But it was a very long time before I really did trust him.

And even now, I am reminded that it isn’t about me trusting Dave. Because in moments of weakness, the years come back.

And I’m reminded: It’s about me trusting God to make Dave the man He wants him to be. With or without my trust.

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate.

The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.

Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For You have rescued my soul from death,

My eyes from tears, My feet from stumbling.

I shall walk before the Lord In the land of the living.

I believed when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”

I said in my alarm, “ All men are liars.”

Psalm 116:5-11

Pain hurts

Russell Lee, 1939

March 28

Whenever I get discouraged I look at real estate on the internet. Sometimes, it perks me up to dream.

I’ve been doing this since 2001 when we began planning our move from Southern California to Tacoma, Washington.

But it quickly became an escape. A few minutes of dreaming that easily turns into hours.

It’s the house of possibilities that always intrigues me — the worn out old house on a big lot (I used to dream of farming, but my garden failures have made me see reason on that). Broken windows and weed covered garden beds catch my eye.  I dream that my life would be so much better if I lived there. And I would be a better person.

This week, I haven’t just been looking. I’ve found the gem of all gems: a little 1920’s Craftsman on a half acre lot. I’ve driven by. I’ve walked around the property and dreamed. And now I’m researching renovation costs . . . and I am fairly certain my extreme renovation skills and knowledge are not up to par.

Yeah. It’s been a rough week.

* * * * *

Today is my Grandparents’ 69th wedding anniversary. Grandpa arrived home from a week in the hospital yesterday and now he has hospice care. Sixty-nine years of marriage.

Grandpa, Grandma, and mom

Some people don’t know their grandparents very well. Or didn’t get to. I have been blessed to have all of my grandparents, and even a great grandparent, well into adulthood. I can’t imagine what my life would have been without them.

I’ve learned so much from my grandparents. I could write a book.

We lived with my grandparents a few times going to and from the other side of the world. And in college, when my parents were still a world away, Grandpa and Grandma Dow’s home was my home.

My Grandpa is 90 now. And I can hear his voice from years ago in my head. His wonderful, hearty chuckle. The silly voice reserved for talking to Grandma when he wanted something. And his serious voice that made you feel like you should take notes.

I recall knowing more about insurance, real estate and investments than anyone in my class. I probably knew the words “location, location, location” before I could subtract.

I remember I thought my Grandparents were millionaires because my Grandpa was into stock. I told people I was related to Dow Chemical and that my Grandpa owned the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Hmm.

By the time I was finished with the 6thgrade, I knew every song from the 1950’s. Every song worth knowing, that is. They had one of those multi-record collections of greatest hits. And Grandpa and Grandma loved to listen to them.

As he’s gotten older, and great-grandchildren have taken our places at their dining room table and the lectures on money and career have been replaced by stories of the days gone by. Of a swim to Catalina Island with his brother. Of his father the professional baseball player (at our last visit, my boys read every one of the newspaper clippings he had, reliving games from eighty years ago). Of the Great Depression. Of the South Pacific. Of what he would do if he won the lottery. And of what a wonderful woman he was married to. Our visits were just never long enough.

* * * *

I’ve been browsing the internet looking for that house of possibilities that will fill the void I’m feeling tonight. But it doesn’t. And really it never has. It just numbs the hurt for a while.

It’s a bad habit. A thing I turn to instead of God to make me feel better and go back to often enough for a fix that it becomes an obsession.

The older I get, the less sure I am that there are harmless distractions. When I allow myself to brine in discontentment (which is the inevitable result of looking at things I don’t have/can’t have time after time), I always end up depressed.

But I stopped tonight. Because running to real estate doesn’t make me NOT think about my Grandpa. So I decided to feel instead of escape. To write out my feelings. And now I have a headache.

Besides, if he were looking with me, I’d like to think he’d point out the enormous power lines, the state of the homes around it, and the real cost of renovating such a house. I imagine his words of wisdom. And I stop dreaming.

* * * * *

March 29

I am grieving today, along with my family. For ourselves. And for my Grandma. Grandpa made it through their 69th  wedding anniversary and left this morning for heaven.

This loss creates a deeper longing in me. Not a desire to escape through unsatisfying pastimes or addictions, but for the sufferings of the world to have an end. To desire pain-free heaven more than any house on earth.

I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis this week. The Problem of Pain. He was a very smart man. Too smart for me a lot of the time. But I ran across this quote I’ve seen often:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world .”

Too many times, I would rather muffle the megaphone than listen to what He’s saying to me. It hurts to feel pain. I’d rather numb it. And I was really happy to read that old Clive felt the same way:

. . . All arguments in justification of suffering provoke bitter resentment against the author. You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. . . I will tell you; I am a great coward. . . when I think of pain — of anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s heart out at one blow, of pains that seem already intolerable and then are suddenly increased. . . if I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you about my feelings? You know them already: they are the same as yours. I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ (Hebrews 2:10) is not incredible [unbelievable]. To prove it palatable is beyond my design. ”

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

Hebrews 2:9 & 10

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

I Thessalonians 4:13-14,18