Friday, June 24, 2011

Suffering Part 3 ~ BFS for the Soul

Not too long ago, I was listening to Chris Fabry Live. He had a couple on who had gone through some very hard circumstances. As he was talking, giving the introduction, Mr. Fabry likened suffering to football. Often we feel like it's one thing upon another. Much like a football player who is carrying the ball, and then is tackled...he usually isn't tackled by just one player, but once he is down, player upon player jumps on top of him. This analogy got me to thinking about the BFS program, that our local school uses for their athletes. The 'BFS' stands for Bigger, Faster, Stronger. It's a strengthening program that utilizes weight-lifting, plyometrics (jumping), strength and agility training. The motto for BFS is "Be an 11". They encourage the kids to give their utmost. Don't be satisfied with being a 10, be an 11. Give it your all.

The first year our school implemented the BFS program, we saw a huge improvement in our second oldest's football game. He was the main running back for our team, so he ended up with the ball a lot. During one play of a home game, he had several guys try to tackle him, but he just kept running. I think he ended up with about 5 guys hanging on, and Levi just drug them down the field, on his way to a touchdown.

So, how does this relate to suffering? Well, if suffering is the guy trying to tackle you and take you down, then if you have been involved in a 'strengthening' program for your faith, it will be more difficult. We often want easy answers. Just give me a list to follow. Tell me the secret. Hand me the key to live victoriously. But you know what? There isn't an easy answer to faith. It's a gift from God, most assuredly, but it's also work. You have to exercise it. You have to spend time in God's word, getting to know it and Him better. You have to put forth the effort.

Levi didn't get strong enough to drag those guys down the field by wishing he were stronger. He had to get to the gym everyday and do the workout. It took determination and commitment on his part. He had to follow the program. Our faith isn't strengthened by us wishing we had stronger faith. We have to have the commitment to be in the Word and know God more intimately for our faith to be strengthened. When we enter into suffering ~ and we all will ~ we have to determine to keep our eyes uplifted and *trust* God to do what is in our best interests. But, that will be easier if we have put in our time in the 'gym' of Scripture.

Breaking those tackles wasn't easy. Levi still felt the full weight of those guys hanging onto him as he ran down the field, but, because he was strong, he was able to keep going. The play didn't end with one guy jumping on him. He wasn't sidelined by an injury. He. Kept. Going. He moved forward, keeping his eye on the prize. For him, that prize was yards gained, and ultimately a touchdown. For us, we run toward a much greater prize. We run toward Christ-likeness. We run toward glorifying God. We run toward a glorious eternity.

I don't believe we should look for suffering, but I do believe that we should see the value in it. The opportunity to 'flex' our faith muscle, and grow in grace. Suffering is going to come, will you 'be an 11"?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Suffering, Part 2

Seven years ago, we were joyfully anticipating the birth of our seventh child. In mid-June, I began bleeding one night, and so we headed to the hospital. After a pretty extensive ultrasound, they determined that everything was okay with our son and they didn't know why I was bleeding. After about 14 hours at the hospital, the bleeding stopped and I was sent home on bedrest for the week.

Late at night, on the 24th of July, I went into labor. We called my mom and asked her to come and get the younger children ~ the older boys were already at her house. We were overjoyed that this child would share his birthday with his Grammie.

The midwives were called and arrived and we settled in to wait for his arrival. I slept until about 4 am or so and woke up ready to have a baby. He was very active all through labor, and his heart tones were good. Everything was progressing very normally for one of my labors. I was laying on my side, laboring, looking out the window, thinking what a gorgeous day it was and knowing it would only be a short time before I would be holding my newest son in my arms.

Once I began to push, I felt being on my side was not productive, so Mike and the midwives helped me get upright on the birthing stool. As soon as I was upright, my midwife saw a lot of 'suspicious' blood and told me I needed to push and deliver him quickly. When his body was delivered, the cord hit my leg. Not realizing the gravity of the situation, I said, "The cord broke". At which point, the midwives began doing CPR. Mike called 911 and requested the life flight. And then we began to call friends and family, asking them to pray for a miracle ~ and we pled with God for our son's life.

It was not to be. Our midwives performed CPR for 45 minutes before the life flight crew arrived and took over. But his cord had broke at some point after he had entered the birth canal and he had bled to death before he was delivered. In the blinking of an eye, we had gone from laboring with a live baby to delivering a dead one. From the joy of a new life to the heart-shattering grief of the loss of a child. In a moment, with no real preparation (is there such a thing?), we were thrown onto the hardest path a parent can walk.

From the very first moments, Mike and I determined that our grief would drive us to God and that it would not drive us apart. As that first day progressed and we were finally alone, we began a practice that I believe enabled us to keep our heads above water. We actively looked for things within our circumstances to praise God. We were very blessed to be surrounded by folks who loved us and continually pointed us back to our Heavenly Father, reminding us constantly of His great love for us.

People would ask, "Why?" And I would answer, "Why not?" Who was I to be spared suffering? I don't have the words to adequately share my thoughts without perhaps giving the impression that my grief was not deep and overwhelming. Let me assure you, it was. I spent many days barely able to rise from my chair and many, many nights my pillow was soaked from crying myself to sleep. I carried within me a physical ache, that I truly believed would have killed me had it not been for my faith in Christ. Although my heart was broken and my arms ached to hold my son, I never really felt that Tucker's death was unfair. For me ~ perhaps. But not for him. I never looked at it as if he had died 'too soon', or 'too young'. 

Psalm 139 says, "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them." v.16

Tucker lived out every day God had ordained for him. His life was not cut short, it was lived just as fully as someone who we would consider had lived a long, full life. And God showed great mercy to Tucker. He leapt from the warmth and safety of my womb into the waiting arms of Jesus. He never knew or will know pain and sorrow, sickness, or sin. As we grieved the death of our precious son, he was in the presence of the Savior, living life more fully than I can even imagine!

I took great comfort in knowing that God knows what it is to grieve the loss of a child. We live in a world marred by sin. The immediate consequence of sin was death. We still live with that consequence today ~ each of us is born dieing. Each of us is born spiritually dead. God has grieved much over the loss of life and He is able to draw us close as we grieve and bring peace and joy to our hearts and lives once again.

God did not allow me to wallow in my grief. We had a houseful of children who needed me (what a blessing that was!), and within a few months of Tucker's death, God began to bring other grieving Mamas into my path. It was not an easy thing to do. Each time I heard of a baby or child dieing, emotionally I would be back at the morning we lost Tucker. But I found that as I reached out to other Mamas just beginning their grief journey, I was less focused on me and I was 'giving' purpose to Tucker's life and my own grief. While I certainly hoped and prayed that I was a blessing to them, the truth was that they were a huge blessing to me. To be able to reach out, to make 'use' of my own suffering ~ to be able to offer comfort to others out of that suffering, brought healing to my own heart.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Matthew 5:4

There is blessing in suffering, in mourning ~ God will comfort us. And then, as we take the comfort we have received from Him and in turn comfort others, we are again blessed.

I do want to point out that I did not just commisserate with these grieving Mamas. There is no comfort ~ for anyone ~ in that. I came alongside with compassion. I grieved with them, because I knew what it was to have my life shattered by the death of a child. And I did my best to glorify God and gently point them back toward their Heavenly Father. To remind them of His great love for them. This is where true comfort and blessing comes from. We will never find comfort and peace apart from God.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Suffering, Pt. 1

"And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you."
1 Peter 5:10

In our nearly 22 years of marriage, God has brought us through many trials. Some, in retrospect weren't that traumatic or significant, and others were definitely traumatic and life changing. 

We have lost four children to miscarriage, buried a stillborn son, had a son born dead (but thankfully revived!) with a severe - read: incompatible with life - heart defect, lost our home and belongings in a house fire while our youngest was in the hospital recovering from open heart surgery, and gone through over 2 years of un/under-employment for my husband. That would be the 'short list' of traumatic and life changing.

As you might imagine, I have given some thought to the topic of suffering. We live in a society that shuns suffering and tends to shun the sufferer. While we have certainly been shown a lot of love and care during our various trials, we have also experienced (and observed in the lives of others) abandonment during suffering.

We don't like to suffer. It's uncomfortable, difficult, unknown, and very often, lonely. Suffering lays bare our deepest beliefs, and, depending on what they are, either sets us adrift or anchors us more firmly. Suffering can bring us to misery and ruin, or suffering can be the catalyst for great growth, maturing and joy. 

Wherein lies the difference? How can we know which direction we will go when faced with a trial? It all depends on where (or on Whom) our faith and trust is placed. But faith alone is not enough. If our faith is not placed in the God of the Bible, the Creator God of the universe, then our faith will leave us flailing. Even then, faith without knowledge can still be of little help. If we don't know anything about the One in whom we place our trust, how can we really trust Him?

I believe a major problem within the church today is a lack of knowledge/relationship with our Father God. We say a lot of things about Him, which are true, but we don't know Him or His word well enough to actually believe those things. 
  • We say, "God is trustworthy." And yet we live like He's just waiting to grind us under His thumb.
  • We say, "God is faithful." But we live like He is fickle.
  • We say, "God is my provider." Yet we live like the providing is all up to us.
  • We say, "He will never leave us nor forsake us." Yet we live as if His presence is non-existent in our lives.
We say a lot of things that would 'prove' our faith, and yet we live our lives out practically as athiests.

Why don't we trust the One who created us? Who thought about us and our lives before time began? The One who numbers the very hairs on our head and who, according to Psalm 56, keeps count of our tossings, and puts our tears in a bottle, keeping record of them? Do you know what that means? God knows each tear you have cried and remembers what it was about. Do you? I know I don't remember every tear I've cried, but God does. That is how important you are to Him. 

Again, I ask, how can we trust someone we don't know? We can't. Not really. Until we have at the very least observed their actions, it is difficult to trust someone. If we observe them from afar, we might determine that a person is likely to be trustworthy or not (think: political leaders). If we are able to more closely observe someone and hear personal testimony of their character from someone we know, then we might determine that a person is true to their friends and those they come into contact with (think: a friend of a friend). If we are in relationship with someone, spend time with them and those that know them, then we know if they are trustworthy or not. We have personal, intimate knowledge of that person. Think about it ~ within your circle of friends and acquaintances, you know who you could call in an emergency and who you wouldn't think to call. Where my analogy falls flat is that at some point, every human, no matter how trustworthy, no matter how close your relationship, will fail you. It's inevitable. However, God will not. God never fails. 

Let me finish this with this thought. Suffering in our lives is not failure on God's part. If we are suffering, it does  not mean that God was taken by surprise, or that He somehow dropped the ball. God will have our lives glorify Him. God is interested in molding us into the image of His son, Jesus Christ. This just does not happen without suffering. 

"He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not."
Isaiah 53:3

I have also posted some thoughts on how this affects us as wives over on my marriage blog, Beneath Beams of Cedar  

Here is a song that speaks very much to my heart right now. I hope you enjoy it.