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Posts Tagged ‘suffering’

I am in need of Good Friday.  That’s because I’m in need of love.  Not the love that people “fall into” or “out of,” nor the kind too commonly used in place of “like” when fawning over a friend’s dress, sparkly ring, or new shoes.

Love, as shown by God, is compassion.  Compassion is “com,” meaning “with,” and “passion,” as shown on Good Friday by the passion of Christ.  God’s passion for me means that He desired something on my behalf so intensely that it caused His suffering.  Compassion means to suffer with.

Since childhood, I have sung “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  His love is not a mere hug and kiss.  It is not getting what I want.  It is not Jesus thinking happy thoughts about me.  Jesus’ love for me involved His persecution, sorrow, pain, abandonment, and death.  This love cannot be expressed in a romantic way, nor can it be summed up in the modern phrase, “I just want to be with the one I love.”  Defined in this way, love is more about how the one I love makes me feel.

God loves me, but it’s not because I make Him “feel good” or “happy.”  In fact, He is angered by my rebellious sins.  His love, therefore, takes me by surprise.  He does not declare me unlovable!  He does not turn His face from me as I deserve, but comes to suffer with me!  “God loved the world so that He gave His only Son.”  The word “so” is not used here for emphasis; therefore, I really shouldn’t paraphrase John 3:16 as “God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.”  This verse more accurately reads: “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave His only-begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”

Good Friday doesn’t seem like a “good” day for Jesus.  But, it is a good day for me.  Yes, there is His tortured body on a cross that I would prefer to look past so that I can experience the joy of Easter.  But there cannot be a Resurrection Sunday without a suffering Friday.  On this Friday, the love of God is shown to me!  God so intensely desired my rescue from sin that He suffered with and for me.  He laid the burden of my sins upon His only Son who did what I could not do for myself.

What wondrous love is this?  It is the suffering Servant Jesus.  It is His submission, humiliation, and death.  This Love could not be kept in a grave.  Love is risen… and abides forever with me.  With you.  With all who call Him Savior and Lord.

Even when we’re feeling unlovable.

 

(With appreciation to Rev. David H. Petersen)

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3-Two grandpas - CopyMy dad is my hero.  He is not my only hero, but he is my first. 

At 93, he continues to be my hero because, as my father, he is still teaching me what it means to be human.  In other words, he is teaching me what it means to be a person created in God’s image.  

I’ve always looked at my dad as my hero, but until recently I didn’t truly understand the reasons why.  Early last summer, I asked Dad if he would write his story; a kind of autobiography, if you will.  I promised that I would serve as his editor, creating a book for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  Bless my dad’s heart!  He did it!  His willingness to record history and his perseverance to stay on task gives evidence of his respect for family.  More so, it is an act of obedience.  “[T]ell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He has done” (Ps. 78:4). 

The wonder of my father’s life is that he is a common man set apart for uncommon use.  He writes about a very ordinary life, but therein is the truth about being human.  From ordinary dust of the ground, God formed man to reflect His own extraordinary image.  Dad is the first to admit that he is a poor reflection of God’s image.  In his poor, sinful condition, he could have chosen to follow the pattern of the world.  But he did not because he sees his human identity in light of the fact that he was formed by God’s own hands for God’s own purpose.  My dad’s story proves to me that to be human does not mean to be self-defined, but God-defined.  And in each ordinary life experience recorded by Dad, I see that his identity affects his attitude and behavior. 

As you think about my dad writing his story, bear in mind that he writes with two hands, his left needed to steady his right.  One day, he appeared at my door, asking, “Do you still have that portable electric typewriter?”  By the end of summer, my hero entrusted to me a precious bundle of typewritten papers.  “Here!” said Dad with a knowing grin.  “You have some work to do!”

To be human means to be given work to do.  Work was a privilege given to the first man by His Creator.  It was God’s design that Adam work in the garden and keep it.  As a farmer, my dad has shown me the “thorns and thistles” that sin brought into this world.  I’ve seen the sweat on his brow, but also heard his sigh of accomplishment at the end of a long, hard day.  My dad has shown me that work is neither a punishment nor unpleasant.  When done to the glory of God, it is a source of contentment. 

To be human means to be male or female.  My parents did not preach to me when I was a child about the differences between men and women.  Rather, the behaviors and interaction of my mom and dad demonstrated to me that male and female are the two eyes of the human race, each needed for their unique perspective.   My dad valued my mom’s opinion and help.  He respected her even when she frustrated him.   My dad might not realize it (and perhaps I didn’t either until now), but he showed me that men and women are more than sexual.  God does not say: Be sexual, for I am sexual.  He says, “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  Men are especially tempted by sensual thoughts and desires, but my dad showed that because of Jesus Christ, a man (or woman) is not captive to them.

To be human means to have choices.   Dad helped me understand that choices are best made in light of our relationship to God and with trust in His Word because to be human means that Satan will surely slither up to us at the moment of decision, asking: “Did God really say…?”  Adam was given the instruction for life and the warning against death, but he failed to engage Satan with that Word for the sake of his bride.  My dad, being mindful of this, nurtured my respect for men because he’s never stopped trying to lead his family away from harm. 

To be human means to be forgiven.  My dad knows the consequence of sin.  But he also knows that because of Jesus Christ, God’s mercies are new every morning.  If I were to thank my dad for one thing, it would be for helping me understand the free and willing desire of Jesus to be my crucified Lord and Savior.  Easter, for a human being, means nothing without the Cross.

To be human means to suffer.   The only way for God to save humans from themselves was to become one of them.   The Lord Jesus Christ suffered as a human… and He died.  In this sinful world, we suffer, too.  And because of sin, we will die.  But my dad also taught me that to be human means to have hope.  Jesus rose from the grave, ascended back to heaven, and will come again to take God’s weary, but faithful children home.

To be human means to persevere.   Dad has experienced hardship, disappointment, and the loss of his wife, my mom.   But he is my model of daily perseverance no matter the circumstance.  “Keep calm and carry on” is a quote of Winston Churchill, but it is a way of life for my dad.  He has watched this culture change at warp speed, but because he knows that his call to think, act, and live like a Christian changes not, he continues to “run with endurance the race that is set before [him]” (Heb. 12:1-2).

Finally, for the human, “the greatest of these is love.”  Just as God defines humans, so also He defines love.   So, thank you Dad, for not loving carelessly.  Thank you for your patient, kind, and selfless love (1 Cor. 13).  Thank you for showing me “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). 

 

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A long time ago, the paths of two women crossed.  People who serve together in Lutherans For Life can easily become friends for life.  Beth and I don’t get to talk very often, but our conversations always pick up right where they left off.   I wish she lived closer.  In my imagination, I see us lingering over coffee or a latte as we discuss what’s happening in our world in light of God’s Word.  Right now, I would like to live closer to Beth so that I could be of encouragement to her.  To sit in silence beside her.   To walk with her through the shadow of death.

It is not Beth that is dying.  It is her husband, Cal.  His long, courageous battle with cancer may soon be over.  Beth has been faithful to include family and friends on this journey.  She writes of Cal’s wit and wisdom.   She writes with appreciation for shared faith.   She writes only as a daughter of God in Christ can write: with peace.  This is because Beth and Cal know that he is leaving – but only for a little while — to go ahead to their heavenly home.   The Spirit within Beth is lifting prayers to God when she cannot.

I think Beth, and those around her, are finding many teachable moments in the timing of Cal’s journey.

Christmas, even for Christians, can be a time of chaos and confusion.  We are easily distracted away from the birth of our Lord Jesus by preparations.  Gifts.  Food.  Family coming.  Programs and festivities.  I sense that Beth knows that she is distracted from both the birth of Christ and precious moments with her beloved Cal by preparations.  Decisions.  Legal matters.  Finances.  In-home hospital beds and oxygen tanks.  Hospice and palliative care.  Even so, for Beth and her family, there is a difference.  Beth writes, “We don’t fear death for Cal, nor does he fear his own death.  He has the hope and joy of seeing God face to face.  How awesome is that?” 

Christmas, even for Christians, can make us feel obligated to add Jesus.  “I have this to do.  And this.  I’m running out of time!  Oh, of course there’s Jesus, certainly the reason for the season.”  We create for ourselves such high expectations.  We want the perfect gift.  The perfectly orchestrated event.  A perfect meal.  Then, as life in this world typically goes, we are disappointed.  But, Beth is not obligated to add Jesus.  She is fully depending on Him to get her through perhaps the most difficult time of her life.  She has not created for herself high expectations.  Instead, she trusts God’s will and promise.  It is the promise of hope and eternal life that came to her and all people on the Holiest of Nights.  Beth knows that she will not be disappointed by the Creator of her life and the Author of her story.  Every word that Beth writes seems to rise up not from a well that is running dry, but from a well that is always replenished just when she needs it.

Many dream of a world without suffering.  A pain-free world.  A world where no one goes hungry.  Gets sick.  Falls into depression.   Faces difficulty.  That’s how “enlightened” and “modern” people like to think.  “Man is capable,” the believer in self claims, “of rising to a higher plain… removing suffering… defeating death and, in fact, creating life.”  This is, in its most honest form, inflated ego.  Arrogance.  Idolatry.  Beth harbors no such arrogance.  She and Cal understand that we all live in a fallen world.  They know that the very death they face is a consequence of The Fall.  Sin.  Disobedience and rebellion against the God who calls Himself “I Am.”

So, for Cal and Beth – and for me and my house – there is a strange joy in Christmas.  It is the joy of realizing who we are as fallen, desperate creatures.  Of realizing that, yes, human suffering in the midst of a fallen, sinful, messed up world is reality.  For this reason, we sing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear . . .

There is a curse in human suffering.  But, Jesus Christ is God come to earth to remove the sting.  Loosen the hold of death.  Take on Himself what we really deserve.  We sing “joy to the world” at Christmas because Christ is the only hope for a suffering world.  Failed expectations.  Hurting people.  Christ is Light in the darkness. 

My friend Beth knows this.  She clings to this Truth.  I think, based on Beth’s writing, that she and Cal find a special joy in the timing of their suffering.  For it is at Christmas that joy came to them.  The glory of Immanuel – “God with us” – is real to them.  His kingdom is open to them.

If I could, I would snap my fingers and remove Cal’s pain.  Beth’s sorrow.  The sadness of separation.  But, such wishful thinking does nothing for my friend.  Instead, I entrust Beth and her family to the Living Word for our lives… to Jesus Christ, Lord of Life.  Even though I am not sitting with her, I think I may hear Beth singing:

O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, Free them from Satan’s tyranny
That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save, And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

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When I was a little girl, my parents took my brother and me to Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior.  We returned for numerous visits.  I was fascinated with the lighthouse.  What fun, I thought, to be the daughter of the lighthouse-keeper!

Re-visiting the Lighthouse as an adult, I recognized the lighthouse-keeper’s job was a lonely one.  Daily structured.  Difficult in the midst of storms.   The duty of the lighthouse-keeper, after all, was to keep the light shining no matter what.  Wicks needed to be trimmed.  Plenty of oil on hand.  All equipment needed to be in working order so that nothing prevented the light from shining when fog quickly rolled in or darkness overwhelmed the shoreline.

There was another duty.  From time to time, the lighthouse-keeper was called down from his lofty place high on the hill to the rocky shore below where hurting lives lay ship-wrecked and in trouble.

Such is our duty, too.  We are called to shine our lights high on the hill to help everyone see.  The light of God’s Word flowing through us warns others of danger and shows the way of hope and salvation.  But, when someone is hurting because he or she has come upon hard times, suffering and pain, God’s Word compels us to step down from the hill to offer comfort and care.   To help carry the burden.  God’s love flows through our servant hands.

My friend’s mom, Gladys, came down from her lighthouse countless times to serve the needs of others.  Now, it is is the turn of her children and grandchildren to serve.  To show their respect.  To practice caring.  To model what Gladys taught them.  I know.  I know.  Gladys would much rather go to the mansion God has prepared for her, but not yet.  Not until God’s work in and through her is done.  For now, she can trust that God is doing a work through her for others.  She can trust that He is speaking to her about important matters of eternal significance.  Then, as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, she can know that God’s will is being accomplished.

Things for Gladys seem upside down.   Storms have carried her wrecked and helpless body onto the rocky shore.  But, the light in Gladys is still shining.  The oil of God’s Word has so filled Gladys that, even as a very sick patient, her light inspires others to kindness.  Patience.  A servant’s love.

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When disaster strikes, when health fails, when confusion seems to reign, when the earthly things I cling to fall away — I am left in awe and wonder by God’s Word to Job.

Job had everything taken from him.  Wife.  Children.  Home.  Possessions.  Job longed for days gone by.  For days when his life was good.  When he was blessed.  Having lost everything, Job was in misery.  Terrors overwhelmed him.  His days were marked by suffering.

Why?  For what purpose?  Was Job now abandoned?  Cast aside?  A righteous man cut off?

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm, saying,

Who is this that darkens My counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.  Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!  Who stretched a measuring line across it?  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?  Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?  Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?

Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades?  Can you loose the cords of Orion?  Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?

Do you send the lightening bolts on their way?  Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?  Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?

Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?

Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings toward the south?  Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high?

Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?”

And so, at the end of a tough day — when I am weary or disappointed, weak or doubting — I remember the Creator’s Words to Job.  They are His Words to me as well.

They are my comfort in the storms of life.

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It’s possible that very soon my friend, Gladys, will be called home.  Poison in her system cannot be contained.  Her kidneys are shutting down.  Her lungs are weary.  She is in pain.  My friend is impatient to go home, yet — a faithful servant of God to the end — she does not ask anyone to send her before her time.

What Gladys does ask is that she be kept as pain-free as possible.  In an article I wrote years ago, I quoted Dr. Matthew Conolly.  He acknowledged that the greatest fear of most patients — and, thus, the reason that “mercy killing” or euthanasia grows ever popular — is pain.  Too many physicians believe their most important role is to heal or cure.  When they cannot, the patient may become a reminder of the doctor’s “failure.”  At such times, some physicians abandon the patient.  What they could do, as Dr. Conolly pointed out, is learn the art of caring for the patient even when the prognosis is not good.  What they could do is to learn the art of pain control.  Appropriate pain control does not hasten death, but brings dignity to both patient and family.

Today, my friend’s daughter — my dear friend, Rita — is talking to the hospital chaplain and hospice care workers.  Rita does not want to decide when her mother should die.  That is up to God.  But, she does want to do all she can to keep her mother comfortable.

I am reminded of a story I’ve shared when speaking about end-of-life issues.  A pastor’s wife, in her battle against cancer, was undergoing extensive treatment.  She was placed on a rubber cooling blanket to keep her temperature down.  It was very uncomfortable.  “I don’t know if I can stand this,” she told her husband.  “If you cannot,” he told her, “tell the nurses you want to discontinue this treatment.”  Then, anxious and exhausted, he left to get a few hours sleep.  When he returned, he was greeted by a nurse.  “Boy, does you wife have something to tell you.”  The pastor rushed in to his wife’s room where he found her smiling.  “What happened?” he asked.  “It was wonderful,” she said.  Sometime after you left, I could bear it no more.  I prayed that God lift me from this suffering.  And, you know what?  Angels appeared.  I felt warm; snug as a bug.  I slept.”

Does God know our pain?  Does He hear us when we ask for comfort?  For strength to endure?  For courage?  Think about Jesus as He was preparing to take on the sins of the world.  On the night He was betrayed, He took His disciples with Him to the garden.  He told them, “Do not fall into temptation, but pray.”  Then He went off by Himself.  He was in anguish.  His sweat was like drops of blood.  “Father,” He prayed, “if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  Do you know what happened?  An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  (Luke 22:39-43)

When our physicians cannot heal, may we encourage them to comfort.  To seek better pain control.

And, when we feel that we are falling into temptation — ready to ask someone to end our life and send us on our way home — may we, instead, call upon the Great Physician.  The One who knows pain.  Who carried sorrow.  Who endured every whip and lash for our benefit.  If God heard the plea of His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, and sent an angel to strengthen Him, won’t He also hear us?  Won’t He give us exactly what we need, when we need it, until His work through us is done?

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My friend, Rita, is sitting at the bedside of her mother.  It has been Rita’s great joy and blessing to have Gladys as her mom.  Now, as mother battles life-threatening infection, daughter wants to serve as she’s been served.  She is doing that by faithfully remaining at her mom’s side… reading to her, praying with her, and re-counting treasured memories.

It is at such times, however, that even the most faithful believers ask, “God, where are You?  Why do you allow our loved one to endure this?”  Gladys has lived a full and good life.  “She has been faithful, Lord.  Isn’t her work done?  Dear Jesus, why don’t You just take her home with you?”

Our family asked similar questions not long ago when my father-in-law battled bacterial brain infection.  We were given opportunity to hang on to and put into practice every pro-life conviction on which we stand.  For years, I had been speaking to others about the value of one life — the life in the womb and the life in a hospital bed.  So, I had to ask myself, what value was I going to put on the life of my husband’s father?  After all, he was 80 years old.  (Gladys is 91.)  His life was blessed.  Full.  Active.  He knew Jesus as His Savior and I knew my father-in-law, Max, would be taken to heaven when he died.  I knew I would forever appreciate the wisdom he had shared and the lessons he had taught.

I remember days and nights when Max, almost catatonic, could only thrash fitfully in bed.  I remember spoon-feeding him and begging him to swallow before a feeding tube was inserted.  Without really meaning to, Max pulled it out three times.  Three antibiotics were flowing into his bloodstream by IV.  No one knew for sure what the side-effects of those toxic chemicals might be.  So, when the brain surgeon said there was no more she could do, and the infectious disease team told us the odds of beating this infection were not good, and the social worker encouraged us to “take your dad home to hospice,” we could have said, “It has been a good fight.  We did all we could.”

But, God wasn’t through with Max — and He wasn’t through with me or my family either.  There were so many more lessons yet to be taught and learned.  From a bed not of his choosing, Max challenged his family to make words real in deed.  Not by accident he became my teacher, model, and witness.  My journal is filled with lessons taught by a man who was ready to meet Jesus; yet so desperately clung to the life he loved.  Here are a few of those lessons:

SERVICE: How can we make a difference when we are helpless?  Max had always been a hard worker.  His hands tilled the soil and planted the seed.  But God does not need our hands or anything else we have to offer.  His work is accomplished in spite of us.  God said to Max Bartlett, “My power is made perfect in your weakness.”  This power was witnessed by family, friends, and the medical community.

DETERMINATION: Although we were willing to let Max be with Jesus, we weren’t ready to give up.  Nor was a man named Ravi Vemuri, a physician who seemed to have developed a personal interest in Max and his ever-present family.  Dr. Vemuri, a practicing Hindu, loved life too, and he had one more antibiotic to try.  In addition, perhaps moved by our involvement, he granted our request to compliment his chemical approach with nutritional supplements.  The determination of doctor, family, and the patient Max was not lost on those who watched.

CONTROL: Desiring some kind of control, I wanted to work with a plan.  On the days when we nearly lost Max, I planned for death.  On the days when he rallied, I planned for life.  But, through Max Bartlett, God showed me that He has a plan not like my own.  He asked me only to trust.

INCONVENIENCE: If asked how I would handle sometimes 15-hour days in a hospital room and shared sleeping quarters with assorted family members, I’m not sure how I would have responded.  But God did not ask me how I felt about such things.  Through Max, He simply asked me to be faithful.

SELF: During my first long stay at the hospital, my thoughts turned to self.  Does anyone appreciate what I am doing or realize what I’m giving up?  In a private moment I will never forget, God used the patient, Max, to help the caregiver, Linda, adjust her attitude.

WORSHIP: One evening, alone with my father-in-law, I asked, “Sometimes, when you appear to be sleeping, you are really talking to God, aren’t you Max?”  Squeezing my hand even tighter, he simply said, “Yes, you know, don’t you?”  What soul work was being done.  A frightening brush with death brought a humble man of God named Max Bartlett into an even closer relationship with His Heavenly Father.

So, what is the price of one life?  Is it the price of helplessness or suffering?  Is it the price of sleepless nights and frightening days?  Is it the price of inconvenience?

The price of one life is what God puts on it.  He planned that life.  He knit that life together in the secret place of a mother’s womb.  He promised to be with that life whether dependent on bottle-feeding or tube feeding.  He loves that life.  The greatness of that love is evidenced by the Cross on which His own dear Son, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed for one life — yours, mine, a preborn child, Max, and Gladys.

God wants us to love one life, too.  He wants us to protect one life and speak up for one life.  Early in my pro-life ministry days, I predicted that the generation that ushered in abortion would be ushered out by euthanasia.  This culture has been shaped to value human life only if it is wanted.  Convenient.  Not a threat to our own.  But, the value God places on the life He creates and redeems is priceless.  God wants us to be an advocate for each life.  To leave ourselves open and willing to learn every lesson taught by the “least of these.”  To trust.

If God gives us one life to love, He will also give us what we need — for as long as we need it — to care for that life.

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