Partnering in Suffering

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I hung up the phone and cried. I wasn’t guilty of my friend’s accusations, and my heart was broken.

At one time or another, we’ve all been unjustly accused, betrayed, abandoned, blamed, rejected, or used. Sometimes the pain seems unbearable. The world seems unjust. Our suffering seems pointless. and we often feel alone.

At times the world seems unjust

and our suffering seems pointless.

We can’t understand others’ anger because we know our words and actions were motivated by love but somehow met by misinterpretation. The result is agonizing. “What’s the point?” we may think.

God’s word promises a purpose in our suffering: to partner in Jesus’ sufferings. In other words, when we suffer, we are also suffering with Jesus.  “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13 ESV

When we suffer, we are also suffering with Jesus.

Think of it like running a marathon at the side of a friend as an encourager and co-participant. This is one of the greatest purposes of our suffering–standing with Jesus in His suffering. What a privilege!

Jesus experienced pain beyond comprehension and gave His life for me. My perspective as co-sufferer with Jesus changes my attitude when I understand I suffer out of love for and in partnership with Him.

What about you?

Seven Signs Bitterness Has Become Boss

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The people I admire most don’t return anger with anger.

I recently watched a friend come under horrific false accusations. They calmly and respectfully laid down healthy boundaries, but they refused to retaliate in anger. The attacks continued for a long period of time and even increased in vitriol. Remarkably, my friend persisted in prayer for his attacker, refused to speak negatively about them, and successfully defeated bitterness.

The Bible is clear about how Christians are to handle bitterness. We’re to refuse to let it have power in our lives. And we don’t have to be rocket scientists to know when it has a stranglehold on our hearts.

 

  1. We talk negatively about the other person. We may try to hide our attitude with a false agenda, but people can see bitterness, even when we’re blind to it. We get annoyed just thinking something positive about the other person. We like it when other people make snide or critical remarks about people we hold bitterness toward. Take the time to be honest with yourself. You’re not hiding anything from God.
  2. We constantly compare ourselves to the other person and get jealous. We see what other people have or how other people are treated and we think, “Hey, I deserve that!”
  3. We avoid “them.” You know what I’m talking about. Moving to the other side of the church. Dodging down another aisle at the store. Not talking to that relative any more. Not going to that group any more. We find ourselves enjoying people less and less.
  4. We’re annoyed when something good happens to “them.” Something inside us wants them to suffer because we think they’ve gotten something we deserve.
  5. We take things personally that aren’t about us. We make assumptions about things without facts. People are against us. People are talking about us. Things aren’t fair. Someone is trying to irritate us.
  6. We complain a LOT about the same things and overgeneralize perceived or actual negative experiences. We develop “tunnel vision” about a person and can only see them from our single, bitter perspective. We hold on to negative perceptions because we’ve rationalized away the positives.
  7. We think the person (or the world) owes us. We feel like we’ve been wronged, we’re owed an apology, and life is unfair.

 

So what’s the answer to bitterness?

Hopefully, we will have the honesty and integrity to see when we’ve given in to sin, repent, and take action to change our heart. Sometimes we may need prompting from the Word or from a loving, brave friend. But left ignored, bitterness will destroy us from the inside out.

Jesus gives the simple (NOT easy) solution for bitterness.

1 Peter 2:23: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Jesus didn’t see himself responsible for responding to abuse and attacks. The word revile is a strong word that literally means to “lambaste” in the manner of attacking and abusing someone. Jesus chose to trust God to make things right. He remained silent.

In the face of abuse, Jesus chose to react with peace, verbally and physically, while trusting God to judge.

Easy? Absolutely not.

Possible? Absolutely, through the power of the Holy Spirit and our conscious choice to lay down what we falsely believe are our so-called “rights.”

He left vengeance in God’s hands. He did not become bitter. He prayed for his enemies’ repentance and best interests (Luke 23:34).

 

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15 NIV)

What Is MS: Multiple Sclerosis Awareness

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Many of you know that I was recently diagnosed with the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis (MS). My diagnosis came after a life-threatening appearance of a demylenating lesion in my brain stem (specifically the pons region of my brain stem) in 1999. This was followed by more than ten years where I experienced a number of bizarre, seemingly unrelated symptoms.

Although I visited a number of neurologists and other physicians, all but one seemed to find my symptoms unrelated. Several times I was told unequivocally by neurologists that I did NOT have MS. Over those years, my husband and I moved several times, and I couldn’t any establish continuity with any doctor long enough to make sense of my history of dizziness, falling down, headaches, choking, foot cramps, finger tremors, hearing loss, nausea, and a changing gait.

Then in late 2014, I developed additional neurological symptoms and was ordered to undergo a brain biopsy of a new large lesion that had appeared in and around the area of my brain stem. The neurosurgeon was confident it was a glioma, considered to be an early form of cancer. The biopsy required a crainiotomy and resection (p. 8) , which was an additional challenge to my neurological system.

Why MS is Often Misdiagnosed
My situation is not unique. Many disorders share symptoms with MS, making diagnosis difficult. Those disorders include

Lupus: can cause muscle pain, joint swelling, fatigue, butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks, and headaches
Lyme disease: fatigue, fever, headaches, and muscle and joint aches
Stroke: loss of vision; loss of feeling in the limbs, usually on one side of the body; difficulty walking; and difficulty speaking
Migraine: intense pain; throbbing; sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells; nausea and vomiting; blurred vision; and lightheadedness and fainting
Fibromyalgia: headaches, joint and muscle pain, numbness and tingling of extremities, memory problems, and fatigue
Conversion and psychogenic disorders: conditions in which psychological stress is converted into a physical problem — such as blindness or paralysis — for which no medical cause can be found
Sjogren’s disorder: dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue, and musculoskeletal pain
Vasculitis: joint pain, blurred vision, and numbness, tingling, and weakness in the limbs
Myasthenia gravis: drooping eyelids, double vision, difficulty with walking, speaking, chewing, and swallowing
Sarcoidosis: including fatigue and decreased vision
Vitamin B-12 deficiency: fatigue, mental confusion, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM): fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, vision loss, and difficulty walking
The National MS Society has created the following short video. It gives a simple explanation of what happens in a person’s body when they live with MS and helps us understand why the disease can be so difficult to diagnose, since MS influences every function of the brain, and therefore, the body.

The video helped me understand that because one of my largest lesions damaged the pons area of my brain, it makes sense that my breathing, swallowing, taste, sleeping, vision, hearing, balance, and walking have changed.

WHAT IS MS?

Immanuel: The God of Hopes and Fears

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For many of us, 2016 was a challenging year. 

Maybe “challenging” is the PC word you’d use if someone at church asked you about the year you had. In the privacy of your self-talk you might choose another word.

Heartbreaking.

Shattering.

Crappy, or other similar adjectives.

You may have lost a loved one. Been blindsided by abandonment. Been kicked to the curb in the face of injustice or self-interest, in spite of your faithful service. Or faced a dreaded diagnosis-yours or a loved one’s.

We look forward to a new year with hope that life will be better. Why?

Our hopes and fears are almost always intertwined. 

My first brain episode almost took my life. Doctors feared they might not be able to turn around the course of my rapid decline. My survival was in question, and it took over sixteen years for doctors to determine a diagnosis. During the first five years following that episode, I feared every symptom that struck my body would return me to a hospital bed and a dreaded diagnosis. I hoped and prayed I would remain healthy and thanked God for the measure of health and strength that returned to me. Many of my hopes and fears were tied to my health for years.

This year as I caught the phrase, “hope and fears of all the years of all the years are met in Thee tonight,” I’ve listened to the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” with new insight.

The hopes and fears of all humanity throughout history were met in Jesus’ birth. He lived among us, defeated death, and rose again. 

From the moment of His conception, He shared in our human experiences–our pain and suffering, sickness, heartbreak, disappointment, abandonment, hopes, and fears. He took the punishment we deserved to the grave so we could live with hope, free from fear of sin’s punishment and death. We all sin and fall short of God’s glory; we all demand our own way like the selfish rebels we are–yet He loves us so deeply we could never comprehend it.

Because of Jesus, I can look into my future without fear–no matter my diagnosis, income, feelings, or any human circumstances, because He is the source of all hope that has ever or ever will exist and the answer to every fear that has echoed through history.

IMMANUEL–God with us!

 

How to Find the “Real” You

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I’m a child of the sixties and seventies, a time when generations of young people were busy trying to “find themselves.” I was never quite sure what that meant, although it was pretty un-hip to say it outloud at the time. If I pinched myself, I was there. If I spoke, I could hear my voice. I could see my reflection in a mirror. So the “real” me had to be there, right?

Wrong.

My voice, my reflection, the sensations I feel–not even my emotions–don’t make up the essence of who I am.

So who is the “real” me?

I’m not an accident or simply the biological product of the combined genes of my parents and forbears. I am not the offspring of “Mother Nature.”

I am so uniquely, complexly crafted and designed that no one else who has ever walked the earth is exactly like me. God created me with a body, soul, and spirit. He also created me with a purpose and plan, and I will live every day of my life seeking purpose, love, significance, relationship, beauty that originates in Him and can only ultimately be found in Him as our Author and Creator.

When we look at the world, it’s easy to see we messed up the perfect creation God placed in our hands to care for. And we also mess up relationships because of our self-will, selfishness and sin. At the center of our hearts, we all are rebels shaking our fists at God, telling Him He isn’t fair and we should get to make the rules.

When we back away from the Word of God because we think what it says is too hard, or we’re trapped by our wounds, we lose sight of who we really are.

When we walk in freedom as sons and daughters of God we are…

Forgiven and free to forgive. 

Unconditionally loved and free to love unconditionally.

Gifted with mercy and enabled to gift others with mercy.

Inexpressibly beautiful and given eyes to see the beauty in others.

Confident in God’s purpose and plan for us, no matter our circumstances.

The “real” me is rooted in my relationship with God.

In the words of the gospel song, “All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee…to God be the glory” But how do I learn to get to know God better?

The same way you learn about anyone. By spending time with Him. By listening to Him. By paying attention.

  1. Read the Word. The Bible isn’t a manual or rule book or even material for sermons. It’s God’s written letter to us about who He is and how He loves us–what His plan is to save us from ourselves.
  2. Meditate, or actively focus, on Scripture. Focus on one small portion at a time and listen to see what moves your spirit.  Don’t go looking for verses to prove your point or cheer you up. Listen. Pay attention to the Spirit of God speaking to you.
  3. Ask questions.  What is God trying to tell me about Himself? Why is it important for me to know this? How does this affect His relationship with me? How does this relate to my life? Is there something I’m being prompted to change or do?
  4. Listen. As you move through your day, listen for God’s voice. Is He speaking to you through music, through the words of a friend, through a thought, a Christian message on the radio, a sudden memory?
  5. Keep the conversation going. Shoot up sentence prayers throughout the day. Chat with God out loud. Praise God by singing and dancing. Visualize Jesus standing beside you throughout the day–because He is–and talk to Him.

Be blessed as the real you blossoms growing in the presence of Jesus and resting in His love for you. 

To hear more on the topic of authenticity, listen to FreedomGirlsRadio, Finding Your Voice.

Eight Things to Tell Your Children Often

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Most Christians know they’re supposed to talk “nice.”

You know–grace-filled, life-giving words.The problem is that our words pretty much reflect the way we feel, and we often don’t feel grace-filled or life-giving. We often feel exhausted, annoyed, frustrated, and worn down by the unjust, imperfect, and frequently vile world we live in and the far-from-perfect people who populate it. (Including us.)

Then there’s the additional fact that we may feel weary, achy, bleary, and annoyed by bodies that don’t often work the way we’d like them to (this from someone a tad over 30). Sickness, whether it’s ours or the illness of someone we love, is part of the fabric of life. When our kids were small, they never went longer than 10 days without needing to be taken the pediatrician–until they were about eight years old.

It’s easy for parents to feel exasperated and exhausted, discouraged and distracted.

We can be unaware of the things we say about our kids in front of our kids, or simply not think through the realities of our choice of words from our child’s perspective. For instance, we may…

  • compare one child’s grades, talents, looks, or abilities to another child’s grades, talents, looks, or abilities (sibling, relative, or friend). This silently tells your child they’re not measuring up, that they’re not as good as other kids. It reinforces the negative message that they should measure themselves against other people to find their value and erodes their self-respect.
  • label them according to what they do or how they look (the shy one, the chubby one, the smart one, the athletic one, the beautiful one, the bully, the fearful one, etc.). This can communicate that our kids win our love and approval through their academic success, abilities, appearance, etc. It can also reinforce their own negative self-talk or criticism from peers.
  • say negative things about them to other people in front of them. Speaking disparagingly about your child, whether they’re in your presence or not, is disrespectful. Respect runs two ways in healthy relationships. (Speaking honestly to teachers or mentors about areas of learning and character that need work is a different matter.) Take every opportunity to teach and reinforce positive character and integrity in your child (this is not the same as bragging.) Affirm their accomplishments, character growth, and courage on a regular basis.
  • yell/scream at them out of exasperation. I struggled with this behavior for years, all the while feeling horribly ashamed. I ultimately had to go to my kids and confess my sinful behavior. But I could never take back the hurt. I knew my rage was toxic and that no child deserved to be spoken to the way that I yelled. I needed to change my heart and my behavior, and I did. If you rage at your children, get help, apologize to them, and help them understand that parents aren’t perfect.

Eight things to tell your children often:

1. I will always love you. No matter what you do as you grow up, I will never stop loving you, and I will never stop being your (mother/father).

2. I will always be proud of you. I may not be proud of everything you do in your life, but I am proud to be your (mother/father) because you are uniquely you. I’m not proud of you just for the things you do. I’m proud of you for who you are.

3. I have your back. No matter what you do as you grow up, I will always do what’s best for you. This doesn’t mean I’ll always do what you like, but I will do what will bring you the greatest good because I love you.

4. You aren’t perfect, and neither am I. Sometimes you’re going to disappoint me, and sometimes I’m going to disappoint you. That’s okay, We’ll pick up and move on.

5. I’m sorry. There will be times when I will need to apologize. I need to teach you to take responsibility when you hurt others or mess up, so I promise to tell you I’m sorry when I make wrong choices that hurt you or let you down.

6. I forgive you. I will not hold grudges or past disappointments against you. I will forgive the way I would want to be forgiven.

7. You are a valuable child of God and worthy of respect. Don’t allow people to deceive you into thinking that you are less than a child of God, worthy of dignity, respect, and value.

8. Respect others and treat them like you want to be treated. All human life is created in the image of God and to be valued. You are no better than anyone else. Treat others with the grace, respect, and dignity you expect.

I must be honest and admit I didn’t hit all these goals in my parenting. I wish I’d been more deliberate. As a grandma, I hope to be more strategic in the words I speak to my grandkids.

What about you? What things do you try to engrain in your children when you speak to them?

Photo Credit: Pixaby

 

 

It’s OUR Flood, America

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The flooding in Louisiana was nearly a week old before I learned of the news. I saw the extent of the decimation when I read through the postings of a dear friend on Facebook.

I was speechless and heartbroken. How had I missed a disaster more devastating than Hurricane Katrina–an event that had glued a nation to television screens for days and weeks? Where were the cameras? Where was our president? Why weren’t churches and communities racing to Louisiana to help?

More importantly, what can I do? How can I help, even in a small way?

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That’s the question I believe I need to be asking. The question I believe we all need to be asking.

The question each and every church in America needs to be asking. If Christians don’t respond to natural disasters on this level of horror, how can we speak authentically to our local communities about the love and compassion of Christ?

This week I will be re-posting original writings and reposts from dear friend and New York Times best-selling author Julie Cantrell (Into the Free and The Feathered Bone), whose family was among those whose homes were destroyed and lives were altered by the Louisiana flooding.

The following post is Julie’s powerful description of the onset of the flood. Please take the time to read it. You will be changed.

I appreciate the urgency Julie creates–the solid, continuous flow of her words that convey the pressure, fatigue, and surreality of those first days of the flood. Live this experience through her eyes as you read.

“First chance I have had to put my head around all that is happening in Louisiana. We are on Day 5 now (I think. Time has become fuzzy.) I witnessed more than a few people sobbing yesterday. The emotional fatigue is worse than the physical. Reality is setting in now for those who have lost their homes, vehicles, etc. The shock is wearing off and the strain is real. Imagine…you are in your BatonRouge home. A home that was built on high land. No flood plain. No history of having ever been flooded. You have no flood insurance. Few people do in this area. You know it is raining. It rains nearly every day in these parts. Heavy storms don’t worry you. But this time the rain doesn’t stop. It rains apx. 19 inches in 24 hours (and keeps raining for days). The pretty lake where your grandchildren fish is rising high as you take your little dog for a quick walk in the rain. By the time you get back to your door, the water is following you. It keeps coming, quickly, and before you can react, it is three feet deep in your living room. You don’t know how much higher it will rise. The roads are too flooded to leave by car. You live alone. You are a fortunate one who does not have to climb onto your roof or cling to the limbs of a tree or perch in our attic. You have a second floor, and you hustle to pull as many dry items as you can to higher quarters. You can’t save much. You can’t believe what is happening and your mind struggles to process. You try to devise a plan, slowly realizing muddy waters from the bayous and rivers are now claiming your home as their own. It happened so quickly. How much higher will the waters rise? Weather alerts are now firing disaster warnings. Millennial records are shattered. The flooding is affecting such a broad area, cell phones fail. Your landline no longer works. The night is long. Can you get to your neighbor’s house? At least then, you would have each other. But the waters are even deeper outside and you don’t know what’s in the water. Is it safe? Then the CajunNavy arrives via canoe. You have to hurry. Get in. What do you grab? Your dog. You get your dog. You can’t think of anything else. Oh, here’s a bag. You throw in a few clothes. Where will you go from here? You don’t know. Your entire community is nearly under water. Hotels are packed. Shelters have been flooded and are being relocated to second and then third locations. Your out-of-town relatives cannot reach your EastBatonRouge home because roads are closed. A friend steps in, says come with me. She has a hotel room. Her boss has offered to pay for it. You crash there for 2 nights. You learn to use Facebook messenger to make calls. It proves to be the only reliable source of communication, even though the connection fails frequently. You wait out the storms in the hotel, hoping roads will open so you can assess the damage. You begin to hear stories that Denham Springs has been 90 percent flooded. You know nearly everyone in that town and you don’t know of anyone who didn’t flood. You teach in that town, and the schools are under water. An entire community has gone under water. You think of Atlantis. Then you hear Walker is 75 percent flooded. You know even more people in that town where you reared your children. Nearly everyone you know in Walker has flooded too. The Walker church you have attended for decades becomes a Livingston Parish shelter, as it did during Katrina. You slowly realize this is worse than Katrina. Yet the hotel television airs not a single news report about the devastating situation happening outside your window. You rely on Facebook for vital information. Facebook becomes a lifeline for countless people who are posting in need of rescue, reunification, lost pets, road dangers, etc. Facebook friends who happen to see your daughter’s posts are shocked. They have no idea the flood has occurred. You see photos on Facebook. Countless rescues, floating caskets, submerged churches and houses and schools. Stranded motorists, scared pets, a missing woman with dementia last seen in a nightgown, a child with autism trapped at home alone. It is still raining. Waters continue to rise. Rivers cannot handle the backflow. Bayous top their catchbasins. You are a fortunate one. You have a hotel room with a friend. Others are spending a 2nd or 3rd night trapped in a car, an attic, a roof, or on a hard floor in a shelter packed with strangers and babies and dogs. Others are in boats helping rescue or serving at shelters or taking in strangers. By day 3, the flooded roads are beginning to open. A friend gives you a black dress from Walmart and the keys to her car so you can attend a funeral for a well-respected friend and community leader whose services would have normally included hundreds if not thousands of people. Fewer than 20 have found a way to attend, including relatives. A second friend says come stay at our home. We are dry. You go, gratefully. You can get to your home now to access the damage. The waters have receded. Everything in your lower levels has been soaked in 3 feet of dirty water but you know others who have it worse. You hear their stories. 6 feet. 8 feet. Above the roof. Everything is coated in mud. The smell is of decay. You are overwhelmed and exhausted but you cannot delay. Clean up begins. Relatives can finally reach you from out of town. Friends bring food and cleaning supplies. Neighbors helping neighbors. Strangers helping strangers. No one goes hungry. No one stands alone. You know you will get through this. You know you are fortunate. But, still, there are moments when you break. As you discard the antiques you saved from your ancestors. Or as your family photos wilt and mold. Or as the trunk your father carried to college on a train fails to have protected the tiny clothes your son (now deceased) wore as an infant or the stamps your father tenderly collected for decades or the hand-stiched heirlooms made by the women of your family who have long left this world. You have moments when you stare at the massive pile of rubble at the curb where nearly everything you have worked for your entire life now crumbles into an ashy, toxic mix of sheetrock and insulation and mud and mold. There are moments when you cry. But then, someone offers you a snocone. Or a plate of jambalaya. Someone else collects those moldy stamps your father loved and offers to try to restore them. Someone else takes your grandmother’s silver that survived more than one war and relocation. She will polish away the mud and the muck. People send texts and Facebook messages letting you know they care. They rally the troops and revive your spirit and remind you life is good. As your loved ones gut your home, leaving only the tired wet bones to dry, you have no idea how long it will be demolished. Your FEMA application is pending, and even if approved, the funding is low and limited. Your fears are many. Anxiety comes in waves. The future is unclear. And yet, your faith is deep and your will is strong. When morale starts to sink, the neighbors gather under your carport for food and drink and story and laughter. When joints ache and head pounds, someone else steps in to carry the load. And minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, you count your blessings. You look back on your life and realize how many times you survived when you thought you might not be able to go another day. You inhale. You exhale. You hug your family. You pray. You survive. And when someone from far away criticizes your homestate and the people of Louisiana, saying in a vindictive tone that this is the work of God, you look around at the thousands of people who are feeding, clothing, sheltering, stewarding, tending, rescuing, supporting, protecting, loving, sharing, and caring for life in all its many forms, and you say, Yes. This IS the work of God. #Louisianastrong” –Julie Perkins Cantrell

The greatest command in the Bible? According to Jesus, to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love others the way we want to be loved. (Matthew 22:34-40)

So if you had experienced the Louisiana floods, how would you want others to love you?

Yes, you.

Click HERE for update on the flood cleanup.