How to Seek God’s Face

 

vineandbranches

I want to know God better.

Not know about Him. But to know what makes Him smile like I know what makes my husband smile. Or know what breaks God’s heart the way I know what breaks my friend’s heart. I want to know God in an intimate relationship, like a friend who enjoys spending time with me even if I’m doing “nothing.” When I struggled to feel God’s presence, the problem isn’t because God is elusive.

God created us because He wants a relationship with us.

He wants us to talk, hang out together, laugh, and enjoy a relationship that’s real, fulfilling, and love-driven.

The Bible is filled with passages that speak about seeking God (Deut. 4:29; 1 Kings 22:5;  2 Chron. 30:18-20; Ps. 14:2; Ps. 63:1; Ps. 78:34; Acts 17:27-28; Romans 3:10-11; Heb. 11:6). These verses and others reassure us that God is omnipresent (always near everthing and everyone). He also always stands by His children and works out circumstances for their good.

But when we neglect God, violate His Word, trust ourselves or others before Him, His face or His presence becomes obscured. Not because God moves away from us, but because our discernment becomes weak and clouded by pride, lies, false motives, and sin.

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

Photo Credit: Wanda Sanchez

 

So how can I return to a place of intimacy with God? What does it mean to seek God’s face, to truly know Him?

When I first met my husband Dan, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him. He was nine years older than me, drove a yellow Gremlin (some of you don’t even know what that is), and seemed shy and uncertain. But I knew Dan was special. By our second date, he’d won my heart. The Gremlin and his shyness had become part of his charm. Twelve months later I married the most amazing, loving, faithful, loyal man I had/have ever met.

I wanted a relationship with Dan. When he wasn’t with me, I waited for his calls. When he was with me, I hung on his every word. I talked about him to family and friends. I pined (longed) for him when he wasn’t with me. My heart was set on Dan–I wanted to spend every minute with him and get to know everything about him. My whole world was about him.

Seeking God begins with falling in love. 

I accepted Jesus as God’s Son who gave His life for my sins when I was eleven years old. But I fell in love many years later when I was a mother and understood for the first time what it would mean to hand over my innocent child to evil people, knowing he would be torturned and put to death–for the vicious, evil, perverted acts THEY had committed.

God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice overwhelmed my heart so profoundly that I have never been the same again. Profound love grew into gratitude. My job is to cultivate and grow those seeds.

I seek God by choosing a grateful heart.

I have MS. I can’t say I’m grateful for MS. I’d like to be healed, believe in God’s healing power, and have prayed to be healed. But I don’t demand to be healed. God determines my destiny.

I am grateful for many things MS has given me: a greater awareness of God’s presence, a heightened sensitivity for the suffering of others, opportunities to speak into the lives of the hurting, new friendships, new writing opportunities, just to name a few blessings.

Gratitude is a choice, not an emotion. It’s my goal to make it a lifestyle and the compelling force behind my love for others. God has blessed me with too much. Jesus gave too much for me not to be motivated by gratitude every day of my life.

I seek God by choosing my focus.

Everything around us speaks of the love, mercy, beauty, glory and power of God–the laughter of children, the brokenness of the world, the beauty of creation, the delight of the arts, the mysteries of science, the patterns of history. I can see God in the grain of the wood in the desk in front of me or smell the aroma of His beauty in the scents He created for our pleasure. Everything beautiful emanates from Him, the Source of Beauty, and speaks of His essence.

I find God in my work, whatever it may be, when I do it to His glory and as a love offering for Him and for the good of the city (community) where He has placed me.

I seek God by spending time reading His love letter to me and talking to Him.

My husband’s first letter to me is framed and hung in my office. If our house burns, this is one of the objects I will grab as I run from the house. Our words to one another are precious.

The Bible is God’s love letter to us. 

It’s God basically saying, “Look, these are the lengths I’ve gone to for you. This is alll I’ve given for you. I created a perfect world for you. You messed it up. You wrecked the world, but most of all you destroyed your opportunity to have a relationship with me. I sacrificed my one and only Son to fix the problems you created. I let you kill Him so you could live. I loved you that much.”

We can’t really know God unless we spend time reading the Bible and take time to pray. It’s that simple.

Whether I write or pull weeds or cook or grocery shop today, God is waiting to be with us, We can see Him all around us if we’re looking.we can talk to Him. He will talk back, using the Spirit of God, the people of God, the Word of God, and even His created world.

Seek God today. He promises to be found.

 

 

Beyond a Flannelgraph Jesus

FlannelgraphJesus

Flannelgraph: the mid-century technology of Sunday school lessons.

Flannelgraph consisted of various backgrounds painted on large flannel panels. The teacher placed cut-out figures of people, objects, trees, etc. on the background to depict the story being told.

The method seemed effective to me as a five-year-old. But then, I hadn’t seen The Passion of Jesus or The Passion Play at Oberammergau or even a church Easter presentation with flashing lights and illuminated crosses and deftly crafted tombs.

As a child, I wanted to know Flannelgraph Jesus, but I wasn’t sure exactly how.

After all, He wasn’t human like me.

I couldn’t talk to Him or hear Him talk back to me.

Or see Him or feel Him.

We all see Jesus that way sometimes–as in some other dimension. Perhaps like a character in a book or a historical hero. I think that’s the way non believing people often feel, especially if we talk about having Jesus “in our heart” in some kind of mystical way.

The simple truth is that we can and do know people we have never met or talked to all the time. My cousin Chris is the Burke family historian. He can tell you minute details about Burke (Bjork) family members generations past. How?

He’s read. He’s talked to people who knew these individuals. He’s examined public records and supporting documents. He’s researched. He’s even collected artifacts and antiques.

Why?

Because he has a passion for our family–for who we are, where we are, and how we have and are contributing to the world.

So how can know the eternal God of the universe?

I can know God by seeking personal relationship with Him.

This means taking initiative. God took the first step. He sent Jesus so we could know what perfect, redemptive love looked like in a language and form we could understand. Seeking a personal relationship with God starts with accepting Jesus as His Son and our Savior from sin.

A personal relationship means we talk to God. This is simple. We pray and read the Bible–God’s love letter to us. God talks back if we’re willing to listen. He uses the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God to do this.

I can know God by seeking His face.

This means looking for Him in everything–in nature, circumstances (blessings and heartaches). Seeking God’s face means looking God’s promises, design, and character in the world around me and offering my appropriate response in gratitude.

Somebody breaks into my garage. I’m angry, but I turn my anger over to God. I know He’s angry for me, too, because He hates injustice. I can forgive because of all God’s forgiven me. I don’t have to become in a cycle of bitterness toward the neighbor who robbed me.

I can know God by accepting that above all, He is motivated by love. God IS love.

Love is the very essence of God’s being. All love in the world emanates from Him. He cannot act on our behalf apart from love. It is not possible to act in a manner that is not motivated by my best interest. If I can truly grasp this central core concept about God and that He asks us to love others as He loves us, my life putter will fall into place.

God’s love isn’t an insurance policy against pain or suffering. Jesus didn’t live a pain-free life. We shouldn’t expect to either. As His followers, we should expect persecution and the human allocation that are part of a sin-filled world.

I can know God by admitting I’ll never fully understand Him.

God wouldn’t be God if human brains could comprehend His purposes and plans. So if you don’t understand everything about God, relax. It’s because you’re not supposed to. Think about it–the God of the Bible is GOD, not a god.

I can know God by spending time with Him. 

Reading what He’s written to me. Talking to Him. Taking the time to listen to what He says back. Telling other people how wonderful He is and asking them what He’s done for them. Hanging out with His best friends. Doing what He asks. You know…the kinds of things friends do for each other.

Or I can be satisfied with a Flannelgraph Jesus.

 

 

 

I Want to Live Like That

 

JonandGingerThis week I lost one of my best friends.

Monday morning I woke to one of Ginger’s encouraging texts. That afternoon she slipped quietly off to heaven while she was at home. Her death came as a shock but not a total surprise. About a year and a half ago, she survived a deadly hemorrhagic stroke.

After making a miraculous recovery, Ginger invested her stroke and recovery to begin an endeavor called This is What After Looks Like, a line of clothing that opens up opportunities for people to tell their unique before-and-after redemptive stories.

Ginger served, loved, and gifted our large church with her sweet spirit for decades. During that time she influenced countless lives. I was always surprised to learn how many people in our church of over 2,000 people knew her and had been mentored and encouraged by her.

She was 100% servant, heaping love on everyone she met. 

Not just people at church. People she met in the community. People she sat beside. People she met at work. People in her neighborhood. People who often went unnoticed. Anyone she happened to meet on any given day.

Most of all, her family

Ginger used every gift and talent, every job, every day of her life to show Jesus’ love to others and point to Him. She lived with a vision every minute of her life. She knew who she was and what she was here to do–to point people to Jesus in EVERY breath she drew.

Even in her worst moments as she teetered on the brink of death. As she fought back from her stroke. As she and her husband walked through personal crisis. None of it was about her–it was all about God’s bigger plan.

What if we all lived like that?

If we lived with the clarity of vision my friend Ginger possessed, the world would be changed.

More than 600 people stood in line for nearly an hour to tell family members how she had changed their lives. Most of those people hope to carry on Ginger’s legacy. More than 700 attended her funeral the next day, not simply to pay respects, but to honor the role she had played in their lives.

During her life, my friend shaped an army of people more devoted to God, more like Jesus, more able to share Christ’s love with others. It may take a thousand of us to do what she so artlessly accomplished with such grace, devotion and love.

I want to be like my friend when I grow up.

Vision-driven. Unshakeable. Grace-filled.

She showed us all how:

By understanding what humility is and living humble lives.

By trusting Jesus to be all we will ever need.

By loving people with all our heart, soul, and mind.

By loving our neighbors and even our enemies the way we want to be loved. (That encompasses everyone. Ahem.)

By being an embodiment of Jesus to everyone who encounters me.

To see more about Jon and Ginger’s testimony following her first stroke, click HERE.  

 

 

 

 

I

How to Create Greater Comfort for Your Loved One with Dementia

 Mom and Dad

My Mom and Dad

 

  • Do you really dislike the feeling of water on your face?
  • Do you hate sudden loud noises?
  • Do you, like me, dislike the smell of strong perfume?
  • Does having your feet touched creep you out?

Our senses create our stories.

Life is a sensory experience. We file memories as sights, smells, sounds, sensations, and tastes. Our senses give us the information we need so we know how to react to our environment (how high to step, how far to reach, how to balance, etc.).

As we age, we all develop preferences for certain kinds of sensory information and dislikes for others. We base our habits and preferences based, in part, on this. For instance, you may prefer bright vibrant colors, and your sister may prefer pastels. (Now you know why she painted her house lavender.) But as we age, our sensory efficiency declines, and we become less able to know how to react to our environment. Unfortunately, many caregivers don’t understand the importance of sensory loss in dementia.

Dementia in its many forms shrinks sensory functioning beyond the normal decline of aging.

For instance, you’ll see my mother in the picture above. She was born with severe vision problems and had many corrective eye surgeries over the course of her life. As an adult, her vision was always poor. As she aged, it became worse. With the challenges of Alzheimer’s, life became very confusing for Mom. Although she couldn’t put it into words, we discerned that she had difficulty making sense of her surroundings. Alzheimer’s experts tell us that Alzheimer’s patients often have difficulty interpreting their surroundings and even have hallucinations.

So how can you create a more comfortable life for your loved one with dementia?

Become an expert in reading your loved one’s

verbal and their body language.

What are their likes and dislikes? For instance, I knew my mother feared going from wide spaces into narrow spaces, for instance from the living room down the hallway. Something about wide to narrow or perhaps light to darker appeared frightening to her. She would throw her body backwards and fight moving forward.

  1. Know your loved ones preferences.

Do they prefer a bright environment or dark environment?

Do they find mirrors confusing?

Do certain colors soothe them? Stimulate them?

Do they seek or avoid music, the radio, conversation, and other auditory stimulation, etc.?

Do they enjoy or tolerate touch from those they are close to?

What kind of food do they like and dislike: spicy, sour, salty, sweet, cold, hot, crunchy, chewy, textures? (TIP: Expect these to change over the course of the illness.)

Do they enjoy scents and aromas or avoid them?

Do enjoy feeling textures?

Are they stimulated by books? Music? Children? Dolls or stuffed animals? Gardening? Coloring? Cooking? Singing?

Are they soothed by books? Music? Children? Dolls or stuffed animals? Gardening? Coloring? Cooking? Singing?

What kind of interpersonal contact is most effective with your loved one? (TIP: Tone of voice and eye contact are the two most important elements of communicating with a loved one with dementia. Speak slowly in an even, loving tone, choosing simple words. DON’T ARGUE OR TRY TO REASON. Communicate empathy and try to divert to another activity.

 

2. Create visual contrasts to help increase perception.

If everything in your bathroom is one color, put a contrasting color lid on the toilet seat.

Paint the doors of their bedroom and the bathroom a contrasting color from other doors in the house to help them find their room. (TIP: Those with dementia may increasingly find blues, greens and purples harder to differentiate.)

Paint handrails a contrasting color to walls.

Use plates that contrast with the color of the food.

Avoid dark rugs, which can look like holes in the ground (and also create trip hazards).

Avoid patterned floor coverings and know that striped pavement, square tiles, and changing floor patterns can cause confusion and disorientation, as well as revolving doors, escalators, or fast wheelchair rides.

Above all, love them by investing the time

to truly know them. 

In seemingly insignificant moments we learn to read the intake of breath that unmasks hidden pain. The narrowed  eyes that reveal fear. The knit brow that communicates confusion. As time progresses, your loved one will need you even more to help them see, feel, hear, taste, and touch their world.

Your caregiving will be one of the most loving,

Christlike tasks you will ever accomplish. 

What accommodations have you made for your loved one?

 

How to Cope When We Feel Ripped Off

strength-1148029_640

When’s the last time you felt ripped off?

Ten minutes ago? Yesterday? Last week?

Sometimes that surge of frustration comes in small doses. And sometimes feeling ripped off produces a tsunami of emotions that carry the power to decimate everyone in our path.

It may have been as you sat in a miles-long traffic jam on the interstate and cars flew past you so they could cut into the front of the line.

Or it may have been when your kid sat the bench again and wouldn’t see playing time for the seventh consecutive game.

Or was it when your sister who lives out-of-state said your mom certainly didt have dementia so she wasn’t going to waste her money by helping you with expenses for your mother’s caregiving. If you believed Mom had dementia, the cost of paying for her care was your responsibility.

The question is never if we will feel ripped off by life, but how often, how much, and how we cope with the hurt.

It’s normal to feel upset when people act unjustly. It hurts when people take advantage of us, disregard, and disrespect us. But the truth is that everyone lives from a self-centered core. That includes me and you. We choose friends who agree with us and our lifestyle choices. We believe our opinions are right. We spend most of our energy trying to make sure we get our way.

When someone rips us off, treats us unfairly, or acts unjustly, our response is usually a mix of emotions:

  • ANGERWe’ve all felt this familiar rush. I know I did the other day as I waited in line at a medical clinic for more than twenty minutes, leaning heavily on my cane for support as my legs cramped and throbbed. I finally gained the first position in line. My legs were burning, so I slipped into a chair near me to rest for a moment. Moments later the receptionist called “Next!” and the young man who’d been standing behind me raced to the counter. I instantly thought of bopping him over the head with my cane. He’d watched me stand in front of him since he’d walked in the door a few minutes after me. He’d seen me finally  sit down out of weariness and knew I was next in line. He simply didn’t care. And I wanted to smack him for his rudeness. Or at least give him a piece of my mind.
  • SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESSI immediately started an internal monologue about how disrespectfully people can act.   I would certainly never have done such a thing. I pumped up my feelings of righteous superiority, although I was blind to it that just then. I thought I was just observing the truth about someone who needed to learn how to respect others. But I failed to recognize that I was excusing MY disrespectful attitude just because I allowed someone to hurt my feelings.
  • ENTITLEMENT. I felt entitled to feel angry toward someone who treated me rudely. But truth should never be measured by our emotions–especially in moments of anger. Bug when we feel hurt, our default is to tell ourselves we’re entitled to have people treat us well. Jesus tells us to expect to be treated unjustly (Matt. 5:10-12; 2 Cor. 4:7-11; Jn. 15:18-21). As followers of Jesus, we lay down our lives and our rights. “I am crucified with Christ…” (Gal. 2:20).
  • DESIRE FOR REVENGE. I was once with a friend who was searching for a parking spot. After circling the parking lot for twenty minutes, he finally spotted someone pulling out just a few spaces ahead of us. But as the gentleman pulled out, another car driven by a young woman raced into the space behind him. My friend circled the lot one more time as the young lady entered the store. Then he returned to the car and deflated the tires on her car. Certainly not an action I recommend, but one I think we all have related to at one time or another.
  • BITTERNESS. Bitterness is resentment that bears poisonous fruit. (Deut. 29:18) Bitterness comes from walking in the stubbornness of our hearts (Deut. 29:19), refusing to change, or holding on to our anger. “…the one who… blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ In other words, in spite of what the Word of God says, we continue to think, speak, and act in a manner that justifies our anger.
  • VALIDATION. We try to garner support for our position and draw people into our “camp.” If you’ve ever lived through a church split, you’re familiar with this emotion. We long for other to see how right we are (and how wrong they are). We lose sight of the double-love command to love God with our heart, soul, and, mind and to love others the way we want to be loved.

Wow do we cope when we feel ripped off? 

  • Acknowledge emotions. God created us with emotions. It’s healthy to acknowledge them and unhealthy to stuff them. If an employee embezzles from you, it’s natural to feel angry. Acknowledge your anger and deal with it appropriately, but don’t let it rule your life, your tongue, and your choices. We can’t allow anger to take root in our hearts and tend and feed it like a pet petunia.
  • Heighten your awareness of your self-talk. Shut down negative dialogue and replace it with statements of gratitude. “Yes, I lost thousands of dollars, Lord, but I still have my wife and children.” Negative self-talk plays a major role in anger and bitterness, and it’s important for us to take control and stop the cycle.
  • Choose to focus on the positives in your life. If you don’t think there are any, create some. Look for someone who needs a friend. Volunteer at a hospital, school, or nursing home. Tutor. Teach a skill at a homeless shelter. Write letters. Break the cycle of victim thinking.
  • Spend time with GodThe more time we spend with God and the more intimately we know Him, the more our gratitude grows. The more our gratitude grows, the more we love others. The more we love others, the more we’re able to deal with emotions when we’re angry.
  • Pray for a humble heart. We’re all sinners saved by the Grace of God. Self righteousness and pride have no place in a believer’s heart. If you’re looking at people in terms of “them,” something’s wrong.
  • Commit to living an “altared” life. As Jesus disciples and God’s children, we’ve relinquished our rights. We live  to glorify God. Every moment is an act of sacrifice–including our responses to others’ mistreatment.
  • Pray for the other person. Nothing can change our hearts like praying for someone we don’t like. God uses prayer to change our hearts and our perspective, so prepare to be transformed. Ask God to help you see that person’s story, their wounds, their needs, and their heart.
  • Be still. Stop communicating with others about the issue. Be still. Read the Word. Listen to God. Let the Spirit of God work and trust Him to work in ways you cannot see. Then rest in the peace He will give you. We are responsible for bringing justice to every situation in the world. Our attempts often complicate matters further. We can trust a God who always works for our God and who does all things well.

When have you felt ripped off? How did you handle it? What advice would you offer to others?

Love Doesn’t Bury, It Covers

med-1044-depression

Not long ago, a number of adults in my Christian community had the courage to step forward and report abuse they’d suffered as children at the hands of a well-known Christian leader.

Of course they hadn’t reported what happened at the time. They were powerless, vulnerable, terrified children.

Although we tell children to tell if someone if someone hurts them, we often don’t back up our words with our actions. 

Sadly, the faith community most of these kids grew up in placed guilt on those who tried to seek accountability for abuse and justice for the abused.

One of the most tragic and sickening aspects of their story is that after suffering torture as children and abuse aftermath into adulthood, they were abused a second time by Christians who castigated them for reporting the criminal offenses perpetrated against them. Christians criticized them as unloving and unforgiving and did so in the name of Christ.

Unfortunately, Christians sometimes teach that it’s unloving and unbiblical to hold Christian leaders, pastors, friends, relatives, and other Christians accountable for sin.

People justify this line of thinking by saying Christians are called to love one another, and love “covers” a multitude of sins. “Covers” as in buries sin, hides sin, conceals sin, and pretends sin isn’t there or isn’t important. Love means we would never expose someone’s sin.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking just isn’t true. Jesus certainly never shied away from calling people out for their sin (the Pharisees, the woman at the well, Nicodemus, etc.). He confront the sin in people’s lives because He loved them, and this is  how He expects us to respond to Christian brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin. Jesus’ incarnation in a human body on earth is God’s statement that the price for humanity’s sin is so egregious that it could only be paid for by His Son’s life.

We cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice when we minimize sin’s presence, power, and putrifying consequences. 

Imagine eating your favorite meal at a fine dining restaurant with your husband, your best friend, and her husband. The bill comes and you find you owe several hundred dollars for the meal. You’re stunned and horrified because you know you don’t have the resources to pay.

Suddenly, your friend’s hand reaches across the table and slips the check out of your fingers.

“I’ll cover it.”

Her generosity doesn’t nullify what you owe. Her words and actions acknowledge that the debt you incurred needs to be paid. You racked up quite a bill, but she’s will to pay from her own resources.

This is how Jesus covered our sins for us. We’ve all racked up a debt of sin. We have no resources to pay on our own. Jesus paid everything we owed.

He gave up the wonder of heaven to live on a sin-infested planet in a human body with all of its limitations and frustrations.

He took every sin ever imagined or lived out upon Himself so we could be free of sin’s curse.

He gave up His life to torture and excruciating execution so we could experience freedom and life.

So how should we respond when a Christian friend seems to be caught in the grip of sin that’s eroding their life or the lives of those they love?

A few suggestions for how we can help lovingly restore Christian friends who may be struggling with sin:

  1. Approach them with love and humility. No matter what someone’s struggle, it could be yours or your loved one’s some day. We never know where life may take us. I’m very, very grateful that I’ve not been confronted with many of the life challenges that dear friends have faced. Pray for a heart of gratitude and humility before reaching out to others.
  2. Acknowledge the sin as sin, which is always accompanied by pain and loss. Sin isn’t making a mistake. It’s not messing up. Sin is violating God’s requirements, breaking the rules He’s implemented for our protection. Sin always comes at a cost–broken relationship with God and with others. Show compassion and grieve with your friend over the pain their sin has caused. Graciously help them count the cost of their actions for themselves and others. But confession must be accompanied by repentance, a change in behavior that demonstrates that the person has established a new direction in living.
  3. Establish appropriate and biblical consequences. Do they need to offer an apology to the person/s they wronged? Do they need to establish boundaries? Make reparations or restitution? Make lifestyle changes or relinquish habits or behaviors? Step down from a position or relinquish a title? Allow someone physical space and time to heal? Seek professional counseling or treatment?
  4. Cover the sin with mercy and offers of restorative steps. Offer hope that when we repent and turn from our sin, God promises hope and a future. Pray together and ask for the mercy you would hope for for yourself or a family loved one in this moment. Ask God to provide encouragement and your friend to establish resolve to walk through steps of restoration. Show genuine compassion (sympathy, warmth, kindness).
  5. Forgive. Forgiveness typically isn’t a one-time act by an ongoing decision to lay down one’s rights to be vindicated or proven right and desire good things for the offending party. We often have to do this over and over again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean a release from consequences because consequences (not retaliation) are the most profitable and therefore loving circumstances that can come into a sinner’s life.
  6. Establish accountability.  Accountability will look different, depending upon the circumstances of the sin. Criminal charges may need to be filed. A pastor may need to be asked to resign from his position. A family member may need to be asked to seek counseling or rehab. Accountability also requires consequences if someone fails to follow through.

In some cases, people choose sin over and above anything else.

A pastor of a Bible-preaching Midwest church recently announced he’d lost his passion for God, the Word, the church, and his family. It was later discovered he’d established a relationship with another woman, but other problems had also overtaken his life. Church leadership removed him from the pulpit and offered a lengthy sabbatical so the pastor and his wife could work on their marriage. The church paid for marriage counseling, They offered to pay for residential treatment at a Christian rehab center. Over a period of months, the elders surrounded him with prayer and offers of medical assessment and various forms of support. He declined again and again. After announcing that he planned to divorce his wife, the pastor was asked to resign and now lives in another community. The church continues to assist his wife as she raises their children.

These are the stories that break our hearts. Wives, husbands, friends, employers, parents pay the price of our sin.

The world needs us to see, empathize with, and love people enough to ask, “What’s going on beneath the gambling/drinking/affair/partying etc?”

Then who are willing to sit down, listen, and love.

Tell Someone You Care

A geriatrician holds the hand of an elderly woman with arthritis.

The chronically ill walk a fine line between honesty and duplicity.

Loving, well-intentioned friends and acquaintances frequently ask us how we’re doing. But “How are you?” is typically used as a social greeting in the same category as “Good to see you.” and “How are the kids?”

Most people who ask the question “How are you?” don’t have the time or interest, at least at that moment, for people to talk about how they’re truly feeling.

We may mean it when we say those words, but hearing a literal answer to the literal question is usually not our intent when we ask, right?

Which can feel disheartening to the chronically ill person, since at any moment in time we’re probably not feeling fine. In fact, we’ve learned to push through our pain if we want to interact with family and friends.

Feeling “fine” is often a memory the chronically ill grieve.

In many ways, our lives are not like the lives of our healthy friends and family. We do not have the same choices. Illness may have taken a toll on our finances and career. I may have eroded family relationships. Living with chronic illness means dealing with feelings and circumstances that healthy people are often unaware of. Talking about how we truly feel can sound like complaining, and if we tell people how we really feel every time we feel that way (which is often awful and exhausted every day), we run the risk of sounding like ungrateful, unspiritual wimps and whiners.

So we choose something polite to say, which is usually “Fine.” And we smile and push away resentment for the question. Especially if we’ve been saying “fine” for years when we’re really not so very NOT fine. Besides, if we’re or a social event, we’ve come to enjoy the event and the people. We don’t want to be defined by our illness.

If we’re lucky, we have friends who know what living with illness looks like for us. They probe beneath the surface because they want to help lift the burden, whatever it may be for us. They understand that compassion is an expression of love. They understand that suffering and pain are not to be borne alone.

I appreciate one dear woman who sits near me at church on Sundays. I don’t know her well. She always asks me the dreaded “How are you?” question. Then she tilts her head and follows it with one word: “Really? How are you really?”

The simple question “Really?” tells me she cares about more than a superficial answer.

I don’t go into detail, but I’m always honest when I answer. “It’s been a rough week. My walking has been pretty rough.” “I’m having increasing cramping and pain in my legs.” “My fatigue has really put me down this week.”

She always takes my hands and promises to pray. In less than a minute she has reached out and helped bear a burden.

I’m grateful for this woman who cares enough to ask me for more than a polite answer. It’s not necessary for everyone to do what she does every time they approach someone with chronic illness or who may be suffering in other ways, but it means a lot to know that people will pause and ask about our pain.

Last summer I went to our local zoo with my son’s family, who had come to visit. I knew I couldn’t walk the zoo, so I rented a motorized scooter. Even though I was using a scooter, I was exhausted after several hours and needed to find a place to cool off and rest. I drove the scooter toward the front of the zoo and pulled off under a tree to rest. People passed by me by the hundreds as they headed toward the exit. After I’d been sitting for about thirty minutes or so, a young black man approached me with a concerned look on his face.

“Ma’am, can I help you with anything? Are you all right? Can I get you something? Do you need assistance?”

I reassured him that I was waiting for my family and thanked him. But for more than a year, I’ve pondered what drove that one person to approach me and ask if I needed help. What gave this young man eyes of compassion when hundreds of other people never considered that a lone, obviously exhausted handicapped woman who appeared to be looking for someone might need help?

Do we see the crowd, or do we look for those in need in a crowd?

Who’s in need in your crowd? How can you help the sick and hurting in your community? Perhaps you could bring a meal, grocery shop, do yard work, run to the post office, watch their favorite TV show/athletic event with them, fix their car, help with home maintenance (no one in this house can change light bulbs), purchase their favorite fruit or flowers, or simply stop by for a visit.

Ask God to place one or two people in your life to occasionally look in the eye and ask “Really? You know, it’s easy to look good on the outside and still hurt like crazy on the inside.”

In body, soul, or spirit.

Who has asked you about how you are? What has it meant to you? Who have you helped to encourage and how?

 

One woman who