“You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here.” 2 Corinthians 4:17
“Physician, heal yourself!” Luke 4:23
Have you ever been going along spiritually, humbly and holily, just minding your own business, when a voice inside says, “Teacher, teach yourself!” or, in other words, “Practice what you preach.”? Ouch!
I had just finished a conversation with my daughter, Katherine, when I heard that sentiment.
I’m fortunate to have a daughter who speaks into my life like a close friend. She probably knows me best, next to her father. 🙂 I’d made a comment and she gently corrected me. She was referring to a very humble and holy point I’d made; valuable spiritual insight and wisdom concerning a friend. Honestly, my point had truth; it wasn’t devoid of wisdom. But it’s not my job to point out other people’s potential mistakes. Right after she made her comment, Katherine arrived at the site for her photo shoot. And we abruptly ended our chat.
The phone went quiet and I instantly heard that still small voice telling me in so many words, “You were speaking under the guise of “helping and teaching” but really you wanted to appear better than the other character in the story. You wanted to make sure your daughter knows you’re the #1 spiritually mature woman in her life.
How did I reply? “Yes, Lord! Thank you so much!” “This stuff really DOES work!” I can rejoice over His correction because I know He loves me. Not only was I glad; I also laughed. It’s good to have a sense of humor and see the irony. I’m nothing if not a life-long student. I know there will never come a day when I finish learning and graduate from “God School”.
I recently had the privilege of speaking at a couple of women’s events. I’m still slowly shaking my head as to why those people trusted me. Actually, they trusted God.
Anyway, among the points I made was this one, more or less: Jesus left the Holy Spirit to His disciples as a compensation for His departure. The good news for us is that we Christ followers have that same Holy Spirit living in us; the same power who raised Jesus from the dead! The Holy Spirit, among comforting, teaching and all the other benefits, also convicts us of sin and enables us to live victoriously!
So there I was; finding out again how Christ- following works! HE IS IN ME. He showed me my heart. It goes a lot deeper than my lovely sounding words. He not only showed me my heart, but He’s already giving me ideas as to how I can alter my thoughts, pray and act redemptively towards someone I love whom I don’t always agree with.
Remember that young shepherd boy, David? The prophet, Samuel was sent by God to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse. Samuel’s task was to find and anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the future king. Samuel observed the “tall, dark, handsome” sons, thinking that one of those must be the chosen one. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
Finally, the youngest son, David came in from tending the sheep. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 1 Samuel 16:12
After all, what matters most is what’s in our hearts. That’s what God sees; not our outer shell. God looks on the heart.
“Faith must be tested, because it can be turned into a personal possession only through conflict. … Faith is unutterable trust in God, trust which never dreams that He will not stand by us.”
Recently my husband speculated about a lifelong friend; wondering why this person’s life had taken the turn it had. He pondered why certain things haven’t happened the way we expected them to; good things we’d hoped for him. Tom turned to me to ask what I thought. I almost surprised myself when I said, “We can’t figure out why things didn’t turn out differently for him. There are so many variables–life is uncertain.”
Lately, I’ve experienced visceral pain for friends who are in hard situations. Desperately praying; I carry them close to my heart. I remind them of my thoughts; what else can I do?
I used to know everything, or at least thought I did. Of course, I would never have said that; but when I look back I realize I behaved as if I had all the answers. I guess I thought most outcomes could be determined simply by choices; that things would work out if we behaved and worked hard, or something like that. Choices and actions are important. Then, there is that Ever Present Looming Universe Over Which I Have No Control.
I had a lot to learn in the compassion and humility departments.
Years ago, I probably would’ve had answers as to why our friend hasn’t achieved the things we expected. I’d have known what he should have done in order to be successful.
Before I had children, I’d hear screaming mamas and kids while grocery shopping. I’d roll my eyes in judgement. I could tell that mama what to do to make her kids behave. A parenting expert without children! That’s what I was.
I had suggestions when a friend suffered from depression. I truly cared for her, but I didn’t understand her inability to stay in a good mood. She needed to get involved with other people and get her mind off herself. I wanted her to snap out of it.
Somewhere along the way, the teacher called Life came into play. Bad things happened to me. My marriage partner for life decided to leave. The baby I was carrying when he left would have serious disabilities.
When my daughter was three, I dragged her with me several hours to a revival where a well known speaker would be leading the services. Apparently he was known for faith healing. The only thing needed from me was an ability to really believe she’d be healed. And believe I did! In my mind, I could see her normally engaging with people around her. But, sadly, the miracle I wanted never happened. And it hasn’t happened to this day, many years later.
My daughter wasn’t healed and I was painfully disappointed. Then, other troubles came upon my family. I won’t bore you with all the details but there were some very hard seasons.
As I look back now these many years later, I have a very different perspective than I did when I knew it all. I see all of the troubles and heartaches I’ve experienced, as a gift of sorts. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wish that “gift” on other people, and I don’t want to re-do those experiences. But they have begun to mold me into what I wanted from the very beginning. Christlikeness. I’ve seen the process over and over in other people. I honestly wonder if Christians ever change and grow without the trials that beat up against us. I tend to think they are a necessary part of life.
These days, I say, “I don’t know” all the time. Why did I ever need to have answers for everyone? Frankly, it was probably fear. If I could figure out how to create positive outcomes then I’d be able to avoid my own pain, which seemed like a good idea. I’m a chicken when it comes to pain.
I’m closer to God and trust in His miraculous power more than ever. The way He’s blessed my life and answered so many desires–especially my Tom– has humbled me. I pray each day for impossible things to happen in the lives of people I care about, and some people I don’t even know. I continually pray for a miracle for my daughter, Dawn.
I try my best to focus on Him and allow His Presence to overshadow the bad things that happen in this earthly life. Horrible things like young people dying and parents of small children taking their own lives.
I’m a more grateful person now. I’m looking for beauty in the moments; things I overlooked or minimized for so long.
I typically see folks now through a lens of compassion. Especially the ones I would have thought weird or scary in earlier decades. They’re the ones who I imagine have suffered the most. And they are still standing on their own two feet. Certain kinds of heroes.
I know far less than I used to know, but I’ve relinquished my life (a little) more freely to the One Who Knows Everything. And He is Wholly Good.
A few months ago, while waiting in a long line, I found myself listening to a conversation in a public place. There was mild irritation between a husband and wife who were disagreeing over a minor issue concerning a child. A mom, who wasn’t acquainted with the couple, commented to the wife that she was so glad she no longer had to endure arguing. She and her husband were divorced and she was happy to make decisions for her child alone, without friction. In my mind a lightbulb instantly went off and I knew this was something to ponder. Oh to be alone.
In the last six months I’ve had many thoughts about togetherness and aloneness and their results. My husband and I lived weekdays apart for about one and a half years. He’d taken a job in another state and I stayed home to take care of necessary things, such as our daughter’s wedding and helping out with our first grandchild. I was surprised and a bit concerned to find how relatively easily we adapted to living alone week after week. Sure, we’d look forward to our times together. But in between we learned to adjust quite well to an independent self-serving routine. Even sleeping alone had it’s advantages. Let’s just say that for me, it was a much quieter, restful sleep. Acclimating again to the sound of snoring wasn’t easy.
Soon after I moved to Columbia, my husband and I drove to Lowe’s to purchase a clothes dryer. We were turning into the parking lot and I rolled my eyes at the unorthodox, roundabout way he maneuvered into the spot. I said to him, tongue-in-cheek, “Tom, if you would just do everything exactly like I do things, and you’d say things exactly like I say them, you’d never bug me and we’d get along perfectly.” We laughed, and I acknowledged to myself that this was my Achilles’ heel in a nutshell. Selfishness. There is in all of us a natural impulse to do things our own way. We’re aware of these tendencies in all human relationships, but none more than marriage.
Occasionally married couples live apart for a season because of jobs or when a spouse is deployed. Understandable. Just recently I was chatting with a girlfriend about a mutual friend. The husband and wife were living separately while the husband was employed in a different city. My girlfriend said, “You know, I can really see how that could be easier”. I thought, ” Of course!” It’s easier to be alone—you have only yourself to consider.
Sometimes I wonder why people want to get married in the first place. I mostly wanted a man to love me and make me happy. I was a follower of Christ and I’d read Scripture and books about marriage. I knew a lot, I thought. But what part of my plan would make his life better? Do we go into that very important relationship thinking, “Now I get to really serve another person up close. I finally get to wash someone elses’ dirty underwear and clean up the messes someone leaves in the kitchen.” I may even occasionally need to hold my tongue or change the way I squeeze the tube or load the dishwasher! What’s needed in a particular moment might be affirmation and a loving touch, even if I don’t feel like it.
Some people live alone in different geographical areas due to work or other responsibilities. Others live alone even while under the same roof. I worry about them all. I truly believe that a marriage’s default is separation. None of us really need to work at focusing on ourselves; we have to work to keep our marriage covenant the priority. I’m afraid couples don’t know how easily they can lose what was once the Most Important Thing. Marriage isn’t an organism that magically keeps two people together. It’s an organism that requires its parts to work in a coordinated fashion to keep it going.
While nothing has revealed to me my self-focus and self-preservation like marriage, absolutely nothing has brought me more purpose and joy. Our marriage hasn’t been perfect in every way, but it has gotten better and better over the years as we have gotten better at surrendering to Jesus and putting each other first. The covenant of unending and unmerited love for another person. The adapting to the other in a way to actually change the person I am, and grow the person that he is. It’s just one of the most beautiful, meaningful arrangements divinely appointed to humans.
When asked his secret of love, being married fifty-four years to the same
person, he said, “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.”
I was feeling weak and vulnerable. Awake most of the night, I was anxious about house-buying decisions and transitions; then dragging around in a fog early the next morning,
When I showed up to take care of Eliza, Mary and John read my expression. Sharing with them briefly through my tears, and hearing their responses eased the pain.
I began to see some things differently in the light of day. I recalled the times I wish I’d asked for support; when I swallowed hard and acted strong and together. It wasn’t arrogance that caused me to appear unruffled and unemotional. I believed my stalwart demeanor was expected and even required. Everyone has challenges and no one wants to hear me complain about mine, I thought. I was self-conscious about my labored droning on and wasting someone’s time.
I never set out to be the strong one.
When I was a single mom of two young kids I pushed my emotions down deep inside. It was my responsibility as the care-giving parent to keep it together. I was worried that my son could be harmed by my debilitating emotional pain. I was the sole provider, working two jobs at times. I wanted to show him what I knew to be true: that God is a good Father and He would see us through.
My daughter with autism was ultra-sensitive to other’s emotions, and reflected what she perceived. I was extra vigilant when around her (and still am!) as her expressiveness could be very difficult to corral and manage.
Recalling my childhood I don’t remember ever talking about feelings. The unspoken message was to be quiet and good. We knew our parents loved us unconditionally, but it wasn’t exactly in vogue to share feelings.
Once while walking with my friend Cynthia, I casually mentioned how hard it had been staying up all hours of the night with Dawn who couldn’t get to sleep. It was an ongoing problem for years. It became routine; Tom and I would take turns staying up to keep her calm and try to coax her down to bed, sometimes not getting her to sleep until daybreak. It was horrible! Cynthia stopped abruptly and said she’d always wondered why I’d never complained about raising my special daughter. She didn’t know how I’d kept it together.
Another clue that I was holding it all inside.
I remember a pastor discussing what it’s like to have a broken heart. Without warning, I broke down in a way that I’d never done in the past and haven’t since. I hurt so deeply inside and couldn’t quit crying. Every memory demanded my attention. That very day I’d had such difficulty managing Dawn’s behavior so I could attend church. I cried so much that morning, experiencing such pain but ended up feeling freer somehow.
When my sweet mom passed away a few years back, so many griefs from the past seemed to tag along right beside the recent grief and loss. I promptly felt the pain of an earlier divorce, of raising a cognitively disabled child who needed constant attention and raising a son without his father. As I looked back, I actually felt sorry for that girl who endured so much pain and wished it could have been different for her.
Evidence of storing the pain away.
Recently, days apart, I bumped into two acquaintances from church. In each case, when I asked, “How are you doing?” each indicated that she was doing terribly. One began to cry. I felt grateful for honest answers! I really cared. I like to pray specifically for folks. The Lord used them as examples for me. I realized that there are people with whom it’s okay to cry and talk about my distress.
I still haven’t figured all this out but I want to be better at being honest. To not stuff emotions until a meltdown occurs. But to look at things in my life and take risks to share my burdens with others. I’m glad to do that for friends and I know there are folks who’d do the same for me!
I’ve begun to see true strength in a different light. I’m strongest when I’m transparent and honest with others and allow them inside my pain. To let some light in.
Bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:16
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how weird life is and the unbelievable contrasts that appear almost daily. Social media might be the best example to bear this out. Where all the latest best and worst news appears.
Several days ago, alongside close friends, I enjoyed a delightful breakfast on a pier overlooking the water at Wrightsville Beach. One of those perfect days, sunny and breezy and not too hot. At the same exact time, a well loved lady from our church lay in a hospital bed, in a coma, with little expectation for recovery. She had suddenly, unexpectedly taken ill, while fully enjoying life with her friends. The news sent shock waves through our community. Somehow it seemed wrong that I was enjoying the beautiful day with friends.
I remember many years ago when a beloved family member went missing. I clearly recall, running errands, noticing all the people scurrying around, as if nothing had happened. My heart was so distressed and I couldn’t understand how life seemed to be going on as normal.
Several months ago I was meeting with some ladies from a large local retirement community. They had asked me to consult with them as to how to utilize spaces and floor plans in some new apartments they were designing. There would be an open house in which I’d present- and more exciting were the potential contacts and business I would make.
As I was driving away from the meeting, my phone rang and it was my husband. It was raining and storming heavily and I asked if I could return his call. His tone was serious; “No, we need to talk.” As I pulled over to park, he told me that he was packing up his office after deciding to resign from the position he’d held for 13 years. It was so surreal; I couldn’t believe it was really happening. One day earlier he was a full time employee and now he was in job search mode.
Two days later one of our sons found himself out of work and it was likewise a shock. He’d help build the company and it seemed to be thriving.
Ten days after that, our younger son and wife were on their way to celebrate family birthdays when a young driver crossed 2 lanes of traffic to hit them and render their car unfit to drive.
That night after the accident we celebrated my birthday and Ben’s. I opened a gift only to find a Grandma book! It didn’t even register with me at first that this was our announcement- we were about to be grandparents for the first time! Juxtapositions.
I checked my phone after an organizing job, awhile back. There it was; a sandwich of contrasts; a sweet encouraging message from a friend, devastating news from another friend telling me that the baby they’d longed for and prayed for was not to be theirs, and then an audio of our first grandchild’s heartbeat!
I think about this a lot. How life is just crammed full of happy surprises and heartaches. The bright happy colors and dark morose ones you’d find in a hand woven tapestry. How do we clearly see the design of the bright colors? They show up as they contrast with the dark. When do we truly revel in a sunny, clear, sky blue day? After many rainy dark days. On the rare occasions that I’m sick, I’ve always noticed that after I recover from whatever cold or virus I happen to have had, all of a sudden I am so very grateful for good health!
JUXTAPOSITIONS. When I think about my life, I truly don’t think I would have known joy and gratitude without the pain. Heartaches, devastating life situations that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. In retrospect I know that the cumulative years of difficulty were changing my heart and my perspective. Without the ugly stuff I wouldn’t have recognized the beautiful. God is the Designer of my todays and tomorrows. The juxtapositions give me heightened awareness and keep me humble.
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15
“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” Og Mandino