The Best Promise

Image

     Recently I was talking with friends about what I consider to be the “worst day of my life.”  I was 19 years old and had gotten a call that morning about a very young relative who had been diagnosed with advanced leukemia; I was waiting for the results of a medical test, and THAT was haunting my moments; and I was in a car accident which scared me half to death, and my knee was throbbing from being slammed into the back of the seat in front of me.  I was reflecting on the day and was thinking, “O Lord, thank you for bringing me through it”, but I was also thinking, “O Lord, what a horrible day, I feel like I want to throw up!”

     And then I envisioned Joan of Arc.  Not the popular image of her (the one I also love!), armored to the hilt, sword unsheathed, rushing into battle – no, the Joan of Arc burning at the stake, at the age of 19.  Burned for heresy and for not renouncing her belief that she had heard the voice of God and the voices of saints, she was basically burned for the sake of fear.  An influential bishop took it upon himself to take her out in order to silence her.   He could not let her live and risk that she would influence the soldiers – and the common people – any longer. 

     Funny, how “poor me!” moments turn into “oh my” revelations about our (my) inherent self-centeredness.  And recognition of the promises made to us in scripture, that if we are faithful to our call to Live the Word, we will be redeemed by our Heavenly Father. The perfect scripture passage for this is in 1 Peter 5:6-11:

    “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you.

     Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you.

     Be sober, be watchful.

     Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

     Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.

     And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself

         restore, establish, and strengthen you.

     To Him be the dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”

     Isn’t that the best promise?  Not that you WON’T suffer, but that when you do, it will only be for a little while, and then you will be restored and strengthened.  Not that you will be spared from pain, but that God will be there to relieve you and take your suffering from you. 

     None of us is spared.  But let’s get some perspective; when you are having a hard time at work, think of Joan of Arc, burning at the stake for her faith in what she had been told by God.  When you are struggling with making ends meet, remember the Christians who are being persecuted and killed in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey – for their faith.  When you miss your bus to work, think of agonizing parents sitting in rooms up in Children’s Hospital, listening to beeping machines that are keeping pace with their child’s vital signs.  When your grown child makes the ten thousandth questionable decision and you are not sure that you can keep vigil – one more day – while they struggle and scrape to find their way in the world – remember that God Himself is with you, and He already knows what is going to happen, and that He has always held them in His hands –

     and that He is capable, beyond all human belief or speculation, of taking care of His own.

 

Advertisements

Affliction vs. Opportunity

Image

For almost three months I had been accosted by daily headaches, and only on the right side of my head.  I prayed about whether to go in early on, but wondered in the first month if the headaches were caused by my part-time job (cranky people wanting to get their meds, fluorescent lights, a chronically maladjusted co-worker), and so tried to dismiss my symptoms.  When I went to the doctor in March, she showed me that my previously-low blood pressure had been steadily creeping up since November of 2013, and put me on a beta blocker.  She also wanted to put me on a migraine medicine, but I pushed the issue with her, and she agreed to get some scans of my head.

The first MRI experience didn’t go very well – basically, as soon as they shoved the upper part of my body in the “open MRI”, I freaked out and asked them to cancel the test.  If it weren’t happening to me, I probably would have been cracking up laughing at my response.  Instead, they sent me to get a head CT with contrast (in which they inject a dye into your arm which promptly makes you feel like you have peed your pants!  thankfully, the nurse had warned me about that ahead of time). 

I knew something was up when a doctor from my practice called me the very next day, and asked me to sit down.  I was helping my mom to clear leaves from her flower garden and so refused, but I already knew what she would say, which was “We found something that looks like a meningioma, a brain tumor, on your scan.  We need you to get a sedated MRI as soon as possible.”  Believe it or not – I was relieved for a minute.  My nephew had had a very large meningioma removed from his head, and I knew that they are almost always benign; and the doctor said it was less than a centimeter, which to me sounded tiny.

And then I got the MRI (with the hand-holding assistance of my lovely husband and something called Xanax – also lovely), and the neurologist said in his report to my doctor that he felt it was “atypical” – a category that they lump tumors into when it looks something other than benign, but not as aggressive as an obviously cancerous malignant brain tumor. 

Uh-oh.

What the????

For five weeks I got to hold my breath (in between anxious calls to my sister, the mother of my nephew who had had that craniotomy) until I met with a neurosurgeon, THE guy in Western Pennsylvania for meningioma treatment.  I also got to enjoy daily, chronic bad headaches and a new ringing in my ears – both of which led to me acting like an 80-year-old because I was so distracted – “what, what did you say? What do you want me to bring upstairs?.”

That was fun.

That IS fun.

So now I felt afflicted: ear ringing, minor or major headaches all day, having to skip out on my women’s groups or other activities when my head felt like it would split open like a melon, getting irritated by my children – because, of course, the pain is WORST during my busiest mom times, which is 4 to 8 pm.  Part of the time, I felt sorry for myself (and my family), part of the time, I felt PISSED. 

Mad at God. 

See, as much as I would like to believe the opposite, there is a part of me that thinks that – if I am a good person, a good Christian, do works of service and mercy, give to my church and my prayer group and the food pantry, that I should be EXEMPT from this crap. 

“Crap” being suffering.

And then I read the book of Job.  AGAIN.  Job was a Man of God.  The Lord Himself, when questioned by the devil, called Job “blameless and upright.”  God allowed the devil to take everything from Job: his children, his sheep and goats, his HEALTH, his fellowship with others (as his body was so afflicted that worms had set up camp in his flesh, and his skin had started to break open).  At first Job was accepting of these things, and still praised God (as I had). 

And then, he got mad.  He complained to his friends, rent his clothes, rolled around in the dirt, and said to God “I loathe my life.  I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.  I will say to my God, why hast thou condemned me?”  One of his friends responded, “For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure and I am clean in God’s eyes.’  But oh, that God would speak, and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For he is manifold in understanding.  Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.”  He then tells him to suffer with grace; that if Job lifts his eyes to heaven, that all these afflictions and bad circumstances will be lifted from him and he will have more children and flocks and health than Job had before.

And then for TWENTY-SIX more chapters, Job bemoans his fate.  What is that in real time, a couple of weeks??? He bitched, and he moaned, and he rent his clothes, and he yelled at his friends. 

And finally, after all of that, the Lord responds!  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you will declare to me.  Where were YOU when I laid the foundations of the earth? ….Have you commanded the morning since its days began?…Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?….Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, that a flood of waters may cover you?…etc.”  And Job, chastised, answered the Lord: “Behold, I am of small account…I lay my hand on my mouth.  I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”  And God answered Job by reminding him of the relationship that they had had before Job was afflicted:  “Can you draw a Leviathan from the sea?…will he speak to you soft words?…Will he make a covenant with you to take him for your servant forever?…etc.”  and he continues to list the ways that a Leviathan that seems to be unstoppable –  is NOTHING next to Job’s God – the God speaking to him and questioning him – the God who was promising to restore to Job everything he had lost, and more, including numerous more days on the earth – 140 MORE years in which to prosper.

And Job stops.  Stops complaining, stops moaning, stops whining.  And remembers.  And declares aloud that he knows not what God’s plan is, and then repents before God, and covers himself in dust and ashes.  He is ashamed.  And he knows that even though he rent his clothes, and spoke ill of the Most High God, that his life and his belongings will be restored to himself.

I think, regardless of what happens from here on out, that I need to open this book every week.  To look at how quickly I crumbled into harshness against God, into grumbling, complaining, whining about my pain. 

To look at how my circumstances can serve to slow me down, to remember to be grateful, to see this pain as something to offer up, to find a way to be gracious, regardless of the circumstances. 

To see this as an opportunity for grace, and for the suffering to bring me closer to my God, and to others: to my husband, neighbors, siblings and friends, who continue to pray for me.  For those who have done little things to remind me that the love of God is apparent all around, if I just would lift my bowed head.  Who have joked with me, called me, texted me, made me meals on tough days, hugged me, cried with me, and who have let me talk when I am scared, frustrated or disappointed.  Who have been Christ’s hands and feet to me even when I’ve been acting like a spoiled brat.  For those who have encouraged me to run TO God, instead of FROM him.

Who have shown me, day to day, the face of God.

Who have blessed me.

May you, in your own suffering, allow others to love you.