Suffering

suffering w: christ

… that I may know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11, NKJV)

I’ve loved this verse since my college days… “marching orders” for how my friends and I planned to take our campus for Christ. In the midst of studying at the library and dining at the cafeteria, we would gather for worship and all night prayer vigils. We had the fervor of the gospel burning in our hearts — literally, we saw nothing as more important than telling our friends about the life adventure that awaited them if they chose to follow Christ.

The thing is, in my fervent reading, I think I focused on the “power of his resurrection”. I don’t think I dwelt long enough on “the fellowship of his sufferings.” I mean, what does it mean to be “conformed” to the death of Jesus, anyway?

Christians just finished celebrating the Easter holiday. We reflected on the awesome mystery of redemption and atonement accomplished in the cross of Christ. We tried to imagine the despair of the first disciples as they stood by helpless, watching the Son of God undergo a friend’s betrayal, a sham trial, brutal beatings, and Roman crucifixion. And we tried to identify with their hopelessness after they laid him in the tomb and rolled the stone to seal it shut. We can’t really know what it felt like, though. Or can we?

I’ve known something if helplessness and hopelessness these past few weeks.

Benjamin’s recent battle with ulcerative colitis has worn us, wearied us, beaten us down. And even though this suffering doesn’t directly stem from sin on his part, it is a result of living in a world broken because of the fall. The effects of sin surround us. We’re all affected. Each one.

B sickSo as we wade through the mire of disease and unknowing, as we ask the Lord for healing and wait for His response, we find something in common with Jesus and His followers as they experienced His death. A kind of fellowship.

Mystery. Despair. Helpless. Hopeless… but not for long.

Sunday is coming.

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” 

(Matthew 28:6 NIV)

Spring

I hear songbirds this morning, heralds of spring. The renewal of the earth is all around me… in budding trees, in chickadees, in green blades of grass pushing through dormant mats of brown.

 

And I’m forced to consider God’s promise to make all things new.

spring butterfly

Maybe God puts us in hard places, impossible places where the future is bleak, disease-ridden, and barren so he can show us what renewal really looks like.

One thing I know, our future depends on God being the incomparable, faithful, rejuvenating God he claims to be. Our hope is rooted in the character of God, who alone has the capacity to do something utterly new.

Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who bring out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord,

and my right is disregarded by my God”?

Have you not known, Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.

Is. 40:26-31

Not the end

Stories to Live ByLazarus was sick. Maybe it was staying out late fishing in the rain that turned his cold to the worst. Maybe the infected cut on his hand from mending the nets had turned to gangrene, or a pounding ache in his head that won’t go away.  But now, his sisters Mary and Martha had exhausted their salves and home remedies.  They sent for Jesus.  They needed the Healer.

But Jesus didn’t show up.  It wasn’t for lack of love for Lazarus, but because he loved him.  He wanted Lazarus to experience God’s glory.

When Jesus finally made his way to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days.  Mary and Martha’s grief overwhelmed them.  They both came to him with questions…

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Luke 11:21 and 32).

Lovingly, Jesus met them in their pain. He mourned death. He wept. But Jesus knew something they didn’t know.  Jesus knew about belief so strong that it conquers death. Jesus knew about resurrection and life — real life.

At the tomb, Jesus showed them.

He told them to roll away the stone.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (Luke 11:39-40)

…   …   …

Oh, how many times I have faced a brother’s tomb and come to Jesus with questions?

When a brother betrays his wife with years of a secret addiction; when a brother takes a joy-ride in his father’s sports car and kills his best friend in the accident; when a brother smiles, but in the end sees no option but to end his own life…

I ask, “Where were you, Jesus?  Couldn’t you have seen what was happening and stopped it?  Couldn’t you have stepped in?  You’ve healed others, why not my brother!”

Patiently he tells me roll away the stone of my doubts. Gently, he asks me to believe.  Quietly he whispers.

“I know it hurts. Remember Gethsemane? But I know how the story ends.  It’s for God’s glory. Trust me. The grave is not the end.”

empty_tomb_wide

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Luke 11:25-26).

 

This, friends, is the beauty of Easter.

What a wonderful Savior.

…   …   …

boy walking photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

empty tomb photo credit: icr.org

Check out Institue for Creation Research for an article on the impact of the empty tomb.  It’s a great read!

Sunday Mornings

blueberries Blueberries. Pancakes. Maple Syrup.

What a perfect way to welcome Sunday morning…

I love cooking for my family.  With three teenage boys to feed, I have plenty of opportunities.  When they were young, the thought gripped me that they would only eat what I offered them.  Well, minus the carefully selected beetle or mud pie.  For the most part, I manned the food-gates in our home.

So, I began a quest to find a satisfying, nourishing, taste-appealing way to feed them – without going broke in the process!  Along the way, I discovered the treasure of Sue Gregg’s Blender Batter recipes.  These Sunday morning gems originated with her.

 

Blueberry Blender Pancakes
adapted from Sue Gregg’s  An Introduction to Whole Grain Baking

1½  cups cultured milk (ie. buttermilk, thinned plain yogurt, plain kefir)
2 T. melted butter or olive oil
1 t. vanilla extract
1 cup uncooked brown rice
½ cup uncooked rolled oats

Place all the above ingredients in a blender; blend at highest speed for 3-5 minutes.  Cover the blender and let stand at room temperature for several hours or overnight.

2 t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
1 t. salt, to tast

Sift the above ingredients through a small strainer into a small bowl.  Set aside.

In the morning, just before baking, add to the blender

1 egg
1-2 T. coconut flour (buy on-line here) OR  3-4 T. all-purpose wheat flour

Blend on highest speed for 1-3 minutes.  Add additional liquid if blender doesn’t blend easily. Then, briefly blend in leavenings and salt.  Assist with rubber spatula if needed.  Do not over mix.

Rinse off a couple handfuls of fresh blueberries.  Set close by to where you will be cooking the pancakes.

Grease griddle or skillet if needed and heat till water sizzles when sprinkled.  Pour about ¼ cup batter on griddle and quickly drop 3-4 blueberries in each pancake.  With a spoon, lightly cover each berry with additional batter.  This keeps them from cooking too quickly and burning when you flip your pancakes.

When pancakes start to firm up and bubble in the middle (about 1-2 minutes), carefully flip to other side.  Cook on second side about 1 minute.  Transfer to a cookie sheet while you cook the rest of the batter.  I like to cover my cooked cakes with a hand towel to keep them warm.

Serve with butter and warm maple syrup.

…   …   …

Blueberry Pancakes

Last Sunday, sleepy-eyed and tousle-haired Andrew followed his nose into the kitchen and asked, “How many are you making, Mom?”

“The whole batch.”

“Just for us?”

“Yep.”

His smiles and hugs expressed his delight.

Andrew’s my youngest and is always ready to eat.  His older brothers were gone for the weekend, and Dad had already left for church.  This morning, it was just the two of us at table.

We both ate our fill, taste buds tingling with a burst of blueberry tartness, mellowed by maple syrup warmth.

I delighted in Andrew’s appetite.  A simple offering, eagerly enjoyed.  This mama’s heart brimmed.

 

What simple pleasures speak to your heart these days?

The Gaze of Trust

We met with a new doctor for Benjamin in Orlando last week.  Like others in her profession, she sees the disease, huge, foreboding. We see it as reality, but not defining.  Ulcerative colitis isn’t a period at the end of a life sentence for Benjamin.  It’s providing context for his story… and mine.

I’m drawn to the words of my story, to get them out.  So, here are bits of my journal, my honest heart before the Lord of mercy.  I pray you find a piece of your story as I share reflections on mine.

____________________

November 6, 2011

God, I need more of you.  

I need to see you, to adore you here, in the unknowing.  I don’t really know anything accept that I am afraid.

Afraid B’s not going to get well.  Afraid of him bleeding.  Afraid of the long, slow road of healing.  Afraid of harsh medicines that don’t heal the problem, only arrest the symptoms.  My fears pile up waiting for you to address and consume them.

How can I be so fearful?

Is this what lack of control feels like? Sleepless nights with stomach in knots, mind racing, weight on my chest.  Anxiety, God, is what this is.

Where is your peace?

I need to know what to do today.  How to help him today.  I wish my hugs could make him better.  I wish homemade chicken soup was all he needed.  Every day he’s not better, honestly, I feel like I am failing him.

How could he be so ill on my watch?

When he was a baby and having trouble sleeping, I would let him cry it out, and I would cry outside the door, hating to hear him struggle, but knowing he needed to learn how to sleep on his own.  It wrenched my heart and I asked you then what you were trying to teach me, through his struggle.  I didn’t get it then — or now.
Trust me.
I want to trust you.  I thought I was.  I am… I only want to do what you say.  But, you’re silent.  Where is the way to walk?  I’ll walk there.  I just don’t know where…
___________________
November 11, 2011
In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him.  Yet at present, we do not see everything subject to him.  But we see Jesus…                                                       Hebrews 2:8-9
I want to be subject to Jesus.  I want my life to reflect his glory.  I want to live in humble obedience to him.  That’s the only way life makes sense.
I’m definitely not experiencing “everything” subject to me!  My world has twisted completely out of control.  What I thought I knew about health and my ability to produce it seems shallow and vain in the shadow of B’s illness.  And, yet, this passage seems to be saying that seeing Jesus sets things right, in order.
Oh Jesus, you are my everything.  Really, there is nothing else to hold on to.  Health is fleeting.  Money runs out.  Possessions rust.  People disappoint… and die. Fill up my vision.  Be what I see.  Be my hands and feet, pointing others around me to you.

Bringing him to Jesus

On Sundays I try to slow down, reflect a bit on on the week, plan for the next.  This morning, while the apartment is quiet and the ticking clock on the wall accompanies my thoughts, I thought I’d share a bit more of our journey with Benjamin’s health.

We’ve come a long way from this spot last year… a point to celebrate, really.  But, the questions are still there, and we are still waiting…

_____________________

November 12, 2011

“Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them.  Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus, and after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven… I tell you, get up, take up your mat, and go home!”  Mark 2:3-11

I’m always amazed when I read this passage at Jesus’ response to the faith of the men on behalf of their injured friend.  I wonder if the men were disappointed at first that Jesus only said, “Your sins are forgiven.”

They were expecting healing.

I wonder if the man was healed at that point, only didn’t know it.  How did his legs grow strong enough for him to stand?  Was there a physical change?

Did the paralytic also have faith?

So, then I wonder, is this sickness Benjamin is experiencing a matter of faith?  Do we not have enough?  Have we not prayed enough?  Isn’t healing still available?

I know God isn’t a magic genie.  I know He doesn’t hold out answering our prayers for when we have jumped through enough hoops.  His ways are his own.  Mysterious.  Good.

I know that.

Benjamin’s condition just makes me sad right now… so sad.  There is a death, a mourning over the loss of good health.  The future seems cloudy and unsure.  But, I do believe that God’s ways are best.

Just because His ways aren’t mine doesn’t mean they aren’t good.

photo: www.weekendwordsmith.blogspot.com

Maybe we’re still digging through the rooftop to bring him to Jesus.  Maybe there is still work God is doing elsewhere in us that is keeping the healing at bay.  I want the same kind of faith those friends had…

… A faith that’s not content to let the crowds get between my son and Jesus.  He needs a touch from the only One who truly brings healing.

 

Father, do in me what needs to be done so we can hear you say, “My son, get up, take up your mat, and go home!”

Is God Near?

We’re entering into an anniversary of sorts.  One year ago this month we began to live life with the realization that our oldest son has an inflammatory bowel disease… ending up with the diagnosis of indeterminate colitis.  It’s chronic.  It’s disruptive.  It’s incredibly inconvenient. But, it’s the place God has us.  We are seeing God “show up” in amazing ways as we walk this journey.


This blog entry is the first in a series where I will try to recount the valley we began to walk last year.  We aren’t to the other side yet.  But, I believe that it’s important that we share this journey in community.   The way a few grains of sand in my shoe drive me batty, sorting stories alone leads to isolation.

But those same grains, when joined with thousands of others, provide a tender and inviting place to walk.  So stories, when shared in community, provide a gentle place to process what God’s doing.  The difference in is in the gathering.

When we share the journey with others, openly, God reveals himself in the process. Not just when everything works out like we hoped.

I’d love to hear your own stories about how God has met you in the midst of unknowing.

_____________________

September 28, 2011

Gathering information is a strength of mine.  It’s my “go to” move when I’m trying to cope.  So, when we learned that Benjamin has “indeterminate colitis”, I consulted my nutrition books and websites looking for answers, looking to fix it.  Unfortunately, there isn’t an “easy fix.”  But what in life worth doing or learning is ever easy?  Even so, information by itself is cold and steril.  In my searching, I craved more than information.  I craved a presence I knew was beyond me.  I needed God near.

You may have heard me speak about the nearness of God.  It’s my favorite thing about Him — that he doesn’t run away in times of trouble, that he celebrates with us in victory, and draws close when we cry.  But I have to say, after many days of Benjamin bleeding, even in the hospital, I started to feel desparate.

One morning, about 10 days into our hospital stay, I needed to be loud with God.  I went on a walk and yelled at him.  OK, God, this has gone on long enough.  Why don’t you do something?  Where are you?  I need you to press in nearer.  You’re not near enough.  I felt desparate.  Many times I sobbed and nearly collapsed.

As I plodded along the nature paths in our neighborhood, the morning silent and misty, a strange thing happened.  Instead of my thoughts swirling in despair, I realized that they had begun to settle on what brings God glory.  I noticed glistening dewed blades of grass, the beautifully haphazard array of wildflowers and weeds, a seasoned stump ringed with age.  Unintentionally, I was thinking about how God was bigger than “indeterminate colitis.”  He gently led me to a place of surrender and I no longer cared about being “delivered.”

Instead of rescue me… rescue Benjamin, my heart whispered do what brings you glory.

I asked him to glorify himself in the midst of our struggle.  I told him that if we could just stand in the radiance of that glory, it would be enough.  I rested there, sweetly.  God drew near.

I can’t say that Benjamin has been healed.  He will most likely have this condition for the rest of his life.  I can’t say that anything I’ve planned has worked out my way.  But, I can say that God isn’t wasting a minute of this.  He is bringing himself glory as he shepherds us in the valley.  He is good and the writer of good stories… and I’m so glad I’m his.