Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Comparatively Speaking

So, at long last, Christmas is over. The presents have been opened and feasts and parties for 2016 are memories now. I hope you made some good memories with your family and friends. How did you do with the stress of shopping and choosing gifts? I hope you were able to set aside unrealistic expectations and truly enjoy the holiday. But even if you did manage to do that, the holidays are often difficult for another reason.

At Christmastime, we see many people that we don’t see at any other time of year. It can be fun to catch up on what’s happening in their lives, but if we’re not careful, that catching up can cause us to stumble. I found this to be true for me this year, and I thought I would share with you, partly as a way of confessing and partly to see if perhaps any of you have struggled in this way.

Most of my family members are very fitness oriented. They are runners, cyclists, and exercise enthusiasts. Some are marathoners. I, too, have always enjoyed exercise, but my physical challenges limit me to the pool for the most part. I used to love to power walk, cycle, and do aerobics. I’ve had to give those up since my failed knee replacement and the encroachment of osteoarthritis in various joints. As I wrote about here, the loss of my mobility has been a real grieving process for me.

Enter Christmas, and the annual update of all my fitness enthusiast family members, most of whom are older than me. One shared about her continued progress in running; another eagerly told us about her new Cross Fit class and what a blast it is. The marathon runners chimed in too, with pictures of their finish lines and sense of accomplishment. Then, there’s me. I kept quiet in these conversations for the most part, other than offering the obligatory congratulations and encouraging words. In my heart, though, there was a desperate struggle going on between my flesh and my faith.

I have many Scripture verses and passages memorized for moments such as this. For some reason though, they were nowhere to be found. My flesh, which has a maddening tendency toward self-focus and self-pity, won out over the voice of faith, which was trying to tell me that their activities have nothing to do with me. But, alas, it could not outshout my fleshly response, which said, “Why do they get to do these things, while my body becomes more and more disabled with every passing Christmas? It’s not fair!” I am embarrassed to even type those words, but they are the honest truth. Sometimes, I just can’t get past the feelings of loss and grief.

So now, here we are a few days later, and I am back on track. How did I get there? By repenting, and focusing my mind and my heart on Christ instead of on other people or myself. This renewed focus shines a spotlight on what was wrong with my thinking. Here are just a couple of truths the Lord has shown my heart as I’ve thought about how I got to that place of sorrow:

1. Comparing ourselves to others will almost always cause us to sin.

Whether we think we are better off or worse off than someone else, comparison always leads to sin. If I think that I am in better shape than someone else, this will encourage me to be self-reliant, and I will forget my need of Christ. For example, if I see someone in a wheelchair and say to myself, “Well, at least I can walk,” then I will see myself as stronger than she is, and I will be less likely to lean on the Lord. Additionally, the fear of losing my ability to walk may creep into my mind as I look on her state as being worse than mine. After all, it could happen to me, too.

If I see myself as worse off than someone else, then I may become jealous of her, as I did on Christmas, and this can lead to bitterness. The other thing that jealousy does is take relationship and evangelism out of the picture. If I am jealous of someone’s physical ability, then my attitude toward her will be negative at best. How will I represent Christ to her, or even nurture a relationship with her, if my countenance reveals resentment and my motivation to approach her is squashed by envy?

2. There is a direct correlation between sorrow over loss and gratitude for blessings.

As I listened to these conversations on Christmas, I became more and more sorrowful about my losses. Accordingly, my grief got bigger and bigger, and my gratitude got proportionally smaller and smaller. I’d thought that I’d become pretty good at being grateful. I’d begun to thank God for the pool every time my toe hit the water, and I’d developed the good habit of sharing with others how grateful I am for the many ways He has sent comfort in my distresses. In retrospect, I am amazed at how quickly I went from gratitude to grumbling in a single conversation on Christmas day. Reflecting on it, I could almost hear the “whoosh” as gratitude left the building. This just shows me the truth that my will is weak, and my flesh is frail when it comes to combating sinful thoughts in this area.

3. When we are focused on self, we shut down our perception of others’ sorrow.

One of my fitness oriented relatives is estranged from her husband. He has chosen sin over his family, and she was alone on Christmas, without her children, who were with him. By being consumed with jealousy about her marathon, I completely disregarded the pain she must have been feeling as she looked around the room at the happy families sharing Christmas together there, one of which was mine. I had no sense of gratitude for my wonderful husband or my adult children in that moment; no compassion or care for her and her pain, though it is different from mine. When we become consumed with ourselves, my dear sisters, we miss many opportunities to express love and caring for those who may be hurting in a different way than we are.

I am very grateful to the Holy Spirit for His conviction of my sin in this area once again. I also thank the Lord for His forgiveness of me, which is ongoing. Part of my repentance has been prayer for my able-bodied relatives, none of whom know the Lord. I am so thankful that God saved me when He did. I hope that I would be willing to go through much more suffering if it would result in the salvation of my family members, through my testimony of gratitude for Him and love for them. I know that He is able to save them, just as He saved me. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Pressure's On!

It’s holiday time! I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot of pressure this time of year. Christmas shopping is just about the perfect storm for someone with chronic pain and mobility issues. Standing, walking, browsing, waiting in lines…Ugh, the very idea of it is dreadful. Yet, at the same time, I long to get just the right gift for everyone on my list, so I look for alternatives. Those motorized carts are so big and clumsy, and the last time I used one, it died in the middle of an aisle, at the farthest point possible from the door of the big box store I was in! Online shopping is less than ideal, as you can’t touch and turn the item in your hands. It’s hard to know how most things really look. Colors are often not true, and dimensions of things are hard to visualize. Gift cards are an option, but they seem so impersonal. It seems there is just no substitute for the painful process of actually getting out there and shopping, if you really want the “perfect” gift.

If you struggle with chronic pain and mobility issues, I’m sure you can relate, and you could probably add your own unique challenges to my list. So, my suffering sisters, what do we do with the holiday shopping dilemma? I hope you’re not like I was yesterday, feeling frustrated about the whole thing, snapping at my husband and generally being super grumpy (yes, I repented). I want to enjoy the holidays, don’t you? I want to focus on time with family and friends, not schlepping around the mall or sitting in front of the computer for hours. If this is going to happen, we are going to have to change our approach.

What is Christmas really about? Is it about gifts? Well, sort of. It’s about one gift—the gift of Jesus Christ coming into the world to save sinners like you and me. How is shopping necessary to celebrate that truth? It’s not. So why do we get so worked up over it? Is it because we want to express love to our families? We can do that without killing ourselves searching for the perfect gift. It’s OK to get a gift card, or to buy something online without knowing every detail about it. Girls, if we are going to enjoy the holiday, we are going to have to give up our insistence on things being like they used to be, or like we’d like them to be.

The fact is, the Lord has ordained this pain and/or disability for our good and His glory. If we keep struggling against the fact that “real” Christmas shopping is just too much for us now, then we will end up like I was yesterday, grumpy and discontented. We will need to die to ourselves if we are to truly represent Christ this year. Let’s give up this annual wrestling match, and enjoy the peace that this season embodies. The best way to let someone know you care is to love and encourage them all through the year, not to find the perfect gift for a single day.

It is not the gift that matters, but the relationship between the giver and the recipient. You can nurture that relationship without taking a single step into a store, or standing in any lines. Throughout the year, you can offer words of encouragement, a phone call to check in, a text of Scripture, daily prayer, and a thousand other things that will say to that person, “I love you and I truly care about you.” Then, when December rolls around, perhaps the gift-giving pressure will be off. Maybe you do these things already. If so, that’s great! What are you sweating about? Your friends and family know that you love them, and they know about your limitations. The last thing they would want is for you to put pressure on yourself for their sake.

Let’s do things differently this year. Let’s refuse to pressure ourselves about the gift-giving, and remember that God knows our weaknesses, and is able to give us the strength that we need—maybe not as much as we want—but all  that we need. Let’s trust Him to bless our Christmas in His way, by His grace. After all, this season only exists because of His birth. Who are we to say it has to meet certain expectations? No, we must repent of wanting things our way, and rejoice that He has already provided all we really need. Rather than becoming obsessed with the perfect gift, we must focus on the fact that we are perfected in Christ. Instead of standing in lines, we will stand on His promises. Cyber Monday can become a Sabbath, if we will only rest in His grace. Hallelujah! What a gift! What a Savior!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Red Flags

 I recently received a question from a reader, and as I began to compose my answer, it occurred to me that maybe some of you have the same question. So, I’m posting the question here, with my answer. Perhaps some of you struggle with this question too, and can help the rest of us. Please feel free to comment with your own strategies!

Here’s her question: “Suzanne, do you ever struggle with trying to 'fix' yourself or 'heal' yourself' and find that your thoughts are too much on yourself?” This reader had recently found a supplement that seemed to help with her pain, and it had spurred her to do some more research, trying to find other helps for the physical challenges she faces. As she researched, she realized that she was becoming very focused on pain relief, and she wondered if perhaps she had gotten too absorbed in herself in the process.

As I thought of what my answer would be, I recognized the problem right away in my own heart. I have spent a great deal of time and energy over the years seeking relief from my pain. As you know from reading this blog, I’ve researched surgeries, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, supplements, physical therapy—You name it, I’ve either looked into it or tried it. But, each time I go on a “heal-me hunt,” I come to that place where I realize that I have become more focused on pain relief than on God’s glory.

But how do you know when you’re approaching that point? It would be great to have some warning signs that you are crossing over the line between trusting God while seeking what He might provide for you; and seeking pain relief without regard to Him. Looking back over those times that this has happened to me, I see three warning signs that I was going too far:

1. An anxious heart

Any time that my heart becomes anxious as I am seeking pain relief, I know that I have gone too far in pursuit of it. When my search for help becomes consuming, I begin to sense fear that I won’t find the help I want. This is a red flag that I have drifted from trusting God and pursuing His glory, to trusting man (myself included) and pursuing relief. As my reader mentioned in her note, we are to “Seek first the kingdom of God.” When I become anxious as I research, that is a sure sign that I am not seeking my satisfaction in Him first, trusting that “all these things” will be given to me; No, that anxiety tells me that my focus is on pain relief and, ultimately, self-satisfaction.
I believe the anxiety comes from the “what if’s” of chronic pain:  What if I don’t find a cure? What if it gets worse? I’d better do all I can now, because I’m only getting older and it’s not likely that this will get better with age. If you find yourself focused on “what if,” then take that as a warning sign to redirect your thoughts toward a biblical response. How about Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct  your paths.

Ask yourself: Where is God in my research? If it gets worse, where will God be? Will he abandon me at a certain point, if I don’t keep trying to fix this? What do I need right now that He cannot give me? Your answers to these questions will help you determine whether you have gone too far.

2. Waning desire to read my Bible and pray

When the realization first hit me that this surgery had been a disaster, I sat down at my computer and rarely got up from it. I researched message boards, scholarly articles, and medical websites. I followed leads for surgeons who were experienced in this area, and made phone calls to Mayo and other research hospitals, seeking someone who could fix this. I was consumed with finding an answer.
Every time I sat down to read my Bible, I would begin to think about my leg again, and end up back on the computer, looking for something else that had come to mind as I was trying to focus on the Scriptures. I simply could not force myself to concentrate and focus on my reading because my mind was so preoccupied with finding the answer I wanted for my circumstances. In other words, my desire for temporal healing had superseded my longing for spiritual nurturing and growth.

Are you finding that you are less and less interested in God’s Word and more and more into whatever research you are doing? When was the last time you got up from your devotions feeling spiritually refreshed and encouraged? What is your mind occupied with most of the time? When you are not busy or distracted, where does your mind go? Your honest answers to these questions will give you a clue as to whether you’re on the right track.

3. More excitement about potential pain relief than about Christ.

During that time, whenever I found a new supplement, treatment, or technique that I thought might help, I couldn’t wait to tell people about what I had discovered. I knew all the details of how it worked, and how it would affect my situation. I spent time learning all about it, and was eager to tell my friends and family about this exciting new possibility. Other than asking people to pray that it would work, I don’t recall a single spiritual conversation.

Oh, I was still reading my Bible, but in a perfunctory, check-it-off-the-list way. I was rarely encouraged to the point that I wanted to share it with someone else, and my prayer life was very lame. I prayed for the salvation of my children, and I prayed the obligatory prayers for my husband and friends, but my relationship with the Lord was about as deep as a puddle. I was obsessed.

What about you? When was the last time that you shared Christ with someone? Have you experienced times of refreshing in the Word of God, and have you encouraged others with that? When is the last time you just sat and meditated on the goodness of God, or simply praised Him for all of His kindnesses toward you? If it’s been awhile, or you are splashing in puddles like I did, then it’s possible you have tipped the scales of enthusiasm from Christ to pain relief.

These are only a few of the many red flags that the search for pain relief has led to sinful self-focus. I was very happy to receive this question, because it shows that the person is zealous to guard her heart against anything that wants to take the place of God. Even the concern that this might be happening is a wonderful assurance that the Lord is near, prompting and cautioning. What a good Friend He is!
What red flags warn you when you are getting to deep into your desire for relief? Please share in the comments!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Two Friends

I have just finished another round of PT. While I did get my range of motion back to where it was before, I didn’t make any further progress; and, as usual, other areas of pain are flared up as a result of the rigors of PT. As I left the gym this morning, the thought occurred to me that pain is my constant companion. I don’t hate or lament it as I used to, it is just always there.

As soon as that thought crossed my mind, another came close behind it: I have another Constant Companion, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. These two are always with me: At work, at the gym, in the car, in sleep, on waking, and on and on. Neither of them ever leaves me, and that will be true for both until the day that I leave the one behind and run (or possibly skip) into the arms of the other.

So, what is the significance of this? Though they are both with me always, that is absolutely the only thing they have in common. Everything else is a contrast. So, I thought today that I would list out the many ways that my Savior and my pain are different. Though that may seem like a silly exercise, indulge me and you may find, as I did, that it is actually quite encouraging.

Pain wants to drive me away from God. Jesus draws me near. Matt 11:28

Pain wants to make me weary. Jesus gives me new strength. Is 40:28-31

Pain says, “You can’t.” Jesus says, “With me, you can.” Phil 4:13

Pain tries to make me afraid of the future. Jesus holds the future in His hands, and says that it is good. Jer29:ll

Pain tries to make me doubt the goodness of God. Jesus assures me that all things are for my good. Romans 8:28

Pain is temporarily relentless. Jesus is beautifully eternal. Revelation 1:17-18

Pain is ever changing. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Heb 8:13

Pain insists on having my attention, and makes demands to be treated and managed. Jesus is attentive to me, and provides all He deems needful for my comfort. Philippians 4:19

Pain wants me to look back on what used to be. Jesus lifts my head to see all that is yet to be. Psalm 3:3

Pain says, “How will you do this for the rest of your life?” Jesus says, “Follow me, one day, one hour, one moment at a time.” Matt. 6:33-34

“Pain says, if Jesus loved you, you would not suffer.” Jesus says, “Your suffering is a gift, to draw you to myself and give you opportunities to bring glory to My Name.” 2 Cor 1:4

Are you suffering today, friend? Maybe you can come up with more of these contrasts between pain and your savior. When I first thought of writing these out, it seemed a strange thing to contrast Christ and pain, but after doing it, I have even more of a sense of the love of Christ in my pain. Even better, I see how these two companions work together to keep my feet on that narrow way: One tempting me to wander, the other leading me back onto the path.

It is amazing how God uses our pain to work in our hearts. I would love to read some of the contrasts that you come up with, out of your own experience with these two constant companions. I hope you’ll think on this, and comment below. Bonus points if you have Scripture to back it up!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Revisit and Remember

Dear Friends,
This week, I begin another round of PT to try to keep my knee from becoming more stiff and immobile. I visit this therapist a couple of times a year, and so far the therapy is successfully maintaining the mobility achieved at that first round in 2014. I always go into PT with a little bit of dread because it is quite painful, and causes me to focus on the issue with my knee. It also brings back memories of those early days of pain, fear and despair as I struggled to cope with the outcome of the surgery.  
Today, I am sharing this post from a couple of years ago as a reminder, both for me and for you, that God's goodness is the same no matter what is going on with us. He is faithful, he loves us, and He is good. Amen?

“No one wants to hear, ‘That’s it for you; this is the best it’s ever going to be,’ right?”

These were the words of my physical therapist, as she worked on my leg last week. You may have read the blog post  in which I shared my decision making process when offered a new treatment. Well, I decided to go ahead and try the treatment, and that is what brought me to this conversation. As she was working on my leg, I asked my PT some questions about what my options might be, going forward. At some point, I will probably need some kind of surgical intervention again, and I am always interested in the knowledge and opinions of rehab professionals as to how soon that might be. In her attempt to be encouraging, she shared with me some strategies for “putting off the inevitable” in my case, and the sentence at the beginning of this post was basically her way of saying that there is always a chance it could get better.

For a brief moment after those words, I felt despair. No, I don’t want to hear that I’m never going to get better, have pain relief, or enjoy full mobility again. On the other hand, I don’t really appreciate a sugar coating on a bitter truth, either. My heart sank for a split second as her words sank in, but thankfully, the Holy Spirit, who is always busy in my heart, was quick to lift me up again. He reminded me about the truth of  “the best it’s ever going to be.” He brought to my mind the glorified body I will have when I am with the Lord. There will be no pain there, no limited mobility, no regret, no anger, sadness, or tears. I absolutely cannot wait for that day when this broken body is renewed, perfected, and made far better than it ever was in my lifetime.

Philippians 3:21 says that He “…will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Wow! My body will be like His, transformed by the power of His sovereignty! How can the words of any human being bring me down, when God’s Word says that I will not have to suffer this way much longer? This life, however painful or problematic, is a vapor (James 4:14), but my glorified, perfect body will be mine for eternity! When I imagine the things I will be able to do, I am so excited I can hardly contain it! Running and jumping come to mind, and I always loved skipping, even as an adult!

But do you want to know what I am looking forward to the most? Walking. Not just because I love to walk, or miss it, or wish I could do it comfortably. I want to walk because I want to walk with Him. I can imagine us walking side by side on the New Earth, strolling over beautiful hills and through quiet valleys. As we walk, I am telling him all the things that I love about Him, and thanking Him for all the many blessings He has poured out on me. We are talking about His Word, and how powerful it was in my life. He is telling me all about His glory, His goodness, and His perfection, much of which I could not see or understand when I was still living in my fallen state. We walk for miles and miles, never tiring. Sometimes we are silent, just enjoying the beauty and glory of perfection.

As I think on these things, the voice of the physical therapist fades into the background, and I am filled with joy instead of despair, confidence instead of fear, and hope instead of dread. My dear Savior is waiting for me in paradise, planning our eternal walk together. He has gone to prepare a place for me (John 14:3), and that place has more beautiful walking trails than any place on this broken planet. In a moment, in the blink of an eye, I will be healed, perfected, pain-free. Never again will I suffer the consequences of my sin or anyone else’s!  

There’s a song my mom used to sing that is playing in my mind as I write this today. It’s called “In the Garden,” and it was written by Charles A. Miles. The chorus goes like this:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Friend, even as you suffer today, ask the Lord for a glimpse of that eternal walk. Look forward to the glory He has in store for you in just a little while. You will be healed, you will be restored, and you, too, will one day walk with Him. Hallelujah! What a Healer!

Friday, September 16, 2016

I want it NOW!

Dear Readers,
This season of busyness in ministry has compelled me to repost an article I wrote back in 2014. I hope you will find it encouraging today. You might even get a little chuckle out of the video at the end!

Some people really love their sin. Are you one of them? If someone were to ask me this question, I would immediately respond with an emphatic No! I love the Lord, and I struggle against sinful attitudes and actions every day. My flesh is relentless in its desire to be satisfied, but I am battling it daily, with some success. I’m sure that I don’t love my sin!

But wait. If I don’t love my sin, then why does it seem I’m unable to uproot it from my heart?  I’m not talking here about the sin nature, or the flesh or the influence of the enemy. I’m talking about what we Christians call besetting sins. These are the sins that seem to be constantly tempting us. Like the child’s game of Whack-a-Mole, we think we’ve got it beaten, and it pops up somewhere else. It seems we are in a constant, life-long cycle of sin-consequence-repentance-forgiveness. This is very discouraging, and we wonder if we will ever overcome this sin.

These besetting sins seem more deeply rooted than others. If you think about it, you can probably remember other sins that used to be problematic for you in your early Christian days, but no longer seem to be much of an issue. For example, I used to have a significant anger problem. I was very impatient and easily annoyed, which would quickly turn to anger and frustration. I had to confess and repent many times, but eventually I seemed to get a handle on that, and it doesn’t control me anymore.

But there is another sin habit that really seems to have a death grip on my heart. My awareness of this particular issue has been keenly sharpened over the last few years as I have struggled with chronic pain and disability. That issue is self-pity. I am always amazed at how easily I can fall into this mode of feeling sorry for myself because I can’t do the things I want to do. I was watching an old Willy Wonka movie yesterday, and I saw myself in the character of Veruca Salt, who was terribly spoiled and petulant. As I watched her demand that her father buy her everything she wanted, I became convicted of my own discontentment.

But for me, it’s more than just discontentment. When I can’t have what I want, and my Father won’t get it for me, I begin to feel sorry for myself. As I watch others who seem to have a better life than I do, I become jealous, and this compounds my misery. I become a spoiled brat who believes she is entitled to whatever she wants, just because she wants it! This is not acceptable for a child of the living God! But how can I change? “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24). Thank God indeed, I already have the answer to my problem! I have been freed from this sin. Now, I must receive the pardon and break free of the bonds of besetting sin.

The truth is, I am not a slave to sin, but a slave of Christ. I owe Him my life, my every breath, my very soul! How can I possibly feel sorry for myself when I have eternal life? This time here on earth, in this broken body, is a vapor (James 4:14). Besides that, there are many who are living in much greater difficulty than I am. Some of them would probably give anything to have what I have. The key to uprooting this sin in my life is to open my eyes to these truths, and to the people all around me who are suffering. Ministering to others is the absolute best cure for self-pity. I have experienced this many times as I am working on this sin pattern in my own life. As I reach out to help others, my own problems are diminished, I am more grateful, and I begin to move toward that contentment that seems so elusive.

Veruca’s father repeated something to her over and over as she sang about all her demands. He said, “You can have all that when you get home.” This is the refrain I must keep in mind, to combat these feelings of self-pity, jealousy and discouragement. All these things I desire and cry out to God for, will be mine when I get Home to Him. There will be no pain, no sorrow, and no limits on what I can do. But I must be patient. My contentment rests in trusting God to enable me to do all He has called me to do here, nothing more and nothing less. I can be satisfied in knowing that He will bring me to perfection in Him on that day when I arrive at Home.

If you haven't seen the Willy Wonka movie, and you'd like to meet Veruka, click here. You may see a little bit of yourself in her, too!

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Counseling Case Study

I think that my favorite kind of counselee is one who has had a life-changing event, and now is just not sure how to cope biblically with it. This is true with almost everyone I know who is suffering with chronic pain or disability.  But, when you think about it, the inability to cope with a new trial is what brings just about every counselee through my door. A physical trial may have been brought on by trauma, disease, or some other event, but other types of problems (grief, anxiety, depression) have a point of origin too, and can be just as debilitating. Those of us who struggle with chronic pain sometimes think that we are a special case, and that our problem is unique. But in reality, chronic pain and limited mobility are "common to man" problems:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. ~1 Corinthians 10:13

The Bible says that no temptation to sin can come in any kind of package that has not been dealt with before. That's what Paul means when he says "common to man." Self pity, a victim's heart, and a cry of injustice will never be allowed for us, just because we think we're especially pitiable. No, our pain and limited activity do not give us a license to complain, or to bow out of opportunities to minister to God's people. 

Maybe you don't suffer with chronic pain yourself, but you know someone who does, and you want to help her. What should you do, and what practical steps should you take in counseling her? What passages of Scripture would be most helpful, and how can you help her to understand their application? This week, I have some answers for you over at Biblical Counseling for women, where I'm presenting a Case Study called, "Jane's Pain." There, you'll find the first three sessions of my counseling process with a hypothetical woman named Jane. 

I would encourage you to visit Biblical Counseling for Women for the next two weeks (session one was already posted last Tuesday, 9/6/2016). I think you will find it helpful, whether you are counseling yourself or someone else. On a personal note, this time of year really ramps up in counseling cases, and I am finding myself much busier than I've been in a long time. I hope to get back to posting regularly here soon. I appreciate your patience, and covet your prayers as I seek to lead others Near to the Healer in their trials.

Monday, August 29, 2016


I live in the Midwest, so certain seasons practically guarantee unstable weather. Right now, we have a continuous pattern of weather systems coming through our area, bringing intermittent thunderstorms, heavy rain and wind, along with rapidly rising and falling air pressure. As you know, if you have any form of joint disease, these changes in pressure can bring an increase in pain. As the pressure rises, fluid in the joints contracts, and as it falls, that fluid expands, putting pressure on inflamed joints and tissues. These weather changes can also affect migraine sufferers and others with various chronic pain issues.

There’s got to be a spiritual analogy here somewhere, right? I thought maybe I could talk about the pressure of just living the Christian life, and how it seems to rise and fall with certain circumstances. Paul said he was “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed,” and we can say the same. I could talk about how the strength and love of God braces our spiritual “joints” so that we don’t give in to despair. That would be encouraging.

Or I could talk about the stability of God. Even when circumstances change, God never does. Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. These weather changes are very temporary, and cannot touch my salvation, my relationship with Christ, or His faithfulness. Yes, I want to invite my readers to think on the stability and faithfulness of God.

But wait, there’s another one. How about the power of God? As I listen to the thunder (and the vibration of the pictures on my walls in response to it!), I can’t help but think of the majesty and wonder of God’s power. He rules the thunder, the lightening, the rain, the flooding river, and yes, the fluid in my joints! He is mighty to save, mighty to sustain, and mighty to conquer even the powers and principalities that want to drive my thoughts to despair in my pain. What a mighty and powerful God I serve: Even as I wrestle with a storm of thoughts that want to drive me away from Him, He draws me back with His amazing power.

When I woke up this morning, aching and stiff after a night of storms and little sleep, I grabbed my lasso before my thoughts could get away from me. Currently, my thought-capturing lasso is made out of 2 Corinthians 4 and 5, which I am memorizing. What a great encouragement this passage is to me! Once I got my thinking lined up with Scripture, I gratefully took myself off to the pool for some aqua therapy.

Arriving home, I discovered that a large tree branch had fallen on the road in front of our house, but was still attached to the tree. Before I could even begin to stress about that, the Lord demonstrated another of His attributes: His providence. As I pulled up, I saw my neighbor coming to the rescue, chainsaw and ladder at the ready, to trim off the branch and clean it all up. Also in God’s providence, my hubby happened to be working from home today, and the two of them made short work of the branch.

As He always does, God has shown me His goodness in yet another episode of increased pain. I really should start looking forward to these times instead of dreading them! God always does something amazing to show His love for me whenever I think I am going to give in to wrong thinking about my circumstance.  He truly does make a way of escape with every temptation. Hallelujah! What a Power! What a Providence! What a Savior!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

This Ministry

Therefore, since we have this ministry, 
              as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.                
~2 Cor 4:1

Sometimes, I think this ministry in which the Lord has placed me is as much about His working in me than it is about the counselees. I am always amazed at the amount of heart change that happens within me as I work with the ladies He sends to me. As I listen to them and begin to think about the Scriptures and principles that will best minister to them, those very words also minister to me.

When I first came to the realization that my surgery had been botched and my mobility would be permanently affected, I really thought I would never be able to serve the Lord in this body. I thought the pain, limited mobility, and sadness would keep me from being effective for the Lord, and I had pretty much written off any possibility that I would have any kind of ministry.

But the Lord took hold of me, and refused to allow me to stay stuck in that thinking. He pressed upon me to continue my training, even as I attended classes on crutches and did case studies between physical therapy sessions. I started out hopeless and full of self-pity, but with each training session, each book, and each homework assignment, I began to see things more and more from His perspective, and less from mine. God did a miraculous work in me, and now I have daily opportunities to serve Him in ways I never imagined could be possible.

I’m writing all this not to boast, but to encourage you, my suffering friend, to change your mind about what you can do. Maybe you think that because of your disease or injury, God can’t use you like He used to. That may be true in some ways. If you were formerly involved in a ministry that required a great deal of physical strength and stamina, then He probably has something different in mind. Regardless of what you did before though, ministry is not a thing of the past. In fact, ministry could very well be the source of encouragement that will brighten your future.

As I have suffered these last several years, I have consistently prayed that the Lord would redeem my suffering. I wanted to see the good that could come from it, and He has shown that to me through this ministry. As I hear from some of you, and as I apply what I’ve learned to my counseling cases, I have come to realize that this suffering is inextricably woven together with the ministry that God has so graciously given me. I wouldn’t have the insight for ministry if not for what God has taught me through suffering, and I wouldn’t have the appreciation for suffering that I have, if God had not placed me in such a ministry! The Psalmist says it perfectly:

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!  ~Psalm 27:13-14

Don’t lose heart! Believe that you will see the goodness of the Lord as you are living through your pain; as you are suffering through this life. In fact, like the persistent widow, keep coming back and asking Him to show you how He will redeem your pain. As you wait, be encouraged by the Scriptures. Stop lamenting the ministry you had before, and go after a ministry that fits your current capabilities.  God will enable you to do all that He calls you to do (2 Corinthians 4:2-3; 12:7), as He has proven to me over and over again.

My dear sister, you are so much more than your limitations. You are an instrument in the Redeemer’s hands. He will decide the function of the instrument. Your role is to cooperate with that decision. By the power of the Holy Spirit, you will minister to God’s family, because you are commanded to do so. Trust in your Father to fill in the blanks. He is faithful, and will use you as He sees fit, for His glory. Hallelujah! What a Master! What a Savior!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Time to Renew

I got a notice in the mail this week that it’s time to renew my disabled parking permit. Even just typing that sentence brings up emotions and feelings that I don’t want to be having. Now, I will say that I am not as disabled as some who have these permits and I might be one of those whom people would judge as they see me walking away from my handicapped spot. I look like I walk fairly normally, but I must limit the number of steps I take if I am to get through the whole day with a manageable amount of pain. I try very hard not to use the handicapped spots, but sometimes it is necessary, and during those times, I am very grateful to have it.

But that doesn’t eliminate the feelings about it. I have written now hundreds of blog posts about managing the emotions that come with chronic pain and mobility restriction, yet I still feel frustration and sadness when I see my neighbors out for a walk, and envy when my husband reports his Fitbit step score each evening. I always commit these feelings to the Lord, and lay them at His feet, but the sting remains, and it is a battle to calm it down.

As I was searching the DMV site for a way to get my new permit without actually entering their building, I kept having to type the word, renew, and of course I couldn’t help but think of the biblical meaning of that word, and the many Scriptures I have memorized about the renewal of the mind. So, I had to take a pause in my search to meditate on mind renewal as it relates to these emotions about the handicap placard.

The Lord and I have worked hard at renewing my mind about my “new normal,” and most of the time I do quite well with keeping my heart submitted to His will for me in this area. One of my favorite verses about mind renewal is Romans 12:1.

With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

I love this JB Phillips paraphrase, because it holds the exact encouragement that I need. Let’s go through this passage bit by bit, and just think it through together.

The first thing I am reminded about here is that God has shown me mercy in allowing my body to become something other than what I would like it to be.  I need Him to open my eyes so that I can see clearly that this is sanctifying me in a way that no other trial could have done; and accomplishing God’s purpose to the degree that nothing else would have reached. To me, this first sentence says, “Open your eyes, and see God’s mercy in this situation. Give your body to Him, and trust Him to use it for His glory.” This is a much-needed reminder for me, practically every minute. As I’m thinking about this placard that I want—but don’t want—I must remember that getting and using it is an act of submission to God’s will for me.

Next, I read that I am to let God re-mold my mind from within. So, He has changed my body, and now He wants to change my mind. The two are intricately related! God knew that nothing would bring me to my knees (at least figuratively!) like a physical affliction. He knew that my strength, stamina, and fitness had become an idol, and He absolutely cannot tolerate any other God in my life. I’m not saying that my current condition is necessarily some kind of consequence or punishment for sin, but it certainly has accomplished the knocking down of that idol.

The Lord has done an amazing work in my heart, humbling me and drawing me near to Himself with every step I take. My relationship with Him is completely different from what it was before. I am dependent on Him now in ways I never was in my able body. While I am far from perfectly humble, He has shown me the distance that my pride and self-focus had brought between us. Even better, He has shown me the beauty and wonder of intimate fellowship with Him. I had never imagined the level of closeness with Jesus that I could have until He brought me this affliction.

This passage tells me that I am to use my new thinking to show myself and others that this plan of His was good! This is why I must stop and meditate on Him when I begin to feel sad or am tempted toward self-pity about my situation. You know, we are always talking to ourselves. Maybe not out loud (ok, out loud sometimes!), but whenever we are awake, we are thinking. Thinking is self-talk, so if we’re going to talk to ourselves, we might as well say something good! When we are telling ourselves true things about God and our circumstances, our countenance will tell others about our trust in Him.

Much of what we call mind renewal really boils down to telling ourselves something different from what we’ve been telling ourselves. So, in this case, if I want to prove to myself that God’s plan for me is good, I need to stop lamenting over my need for a handicap placard, and start being thankful that I have it! So I tell myself as I park in that space, “What a blessing to have this privilege of getting to park close to the store on those days when it's hard to walk. Thank you, Jesus, for providing this for me!” Gratitude is almost always a mind changer, and it is my go-to thing when I want to put off self-pity and put on joy.

Friends, as this passage wraps up, we see that the goal is maturity. How are you doing in this area? I have to admit, I think sometimes that I am stuck at the toddler stage, tempted to throw a tantrum because I didn’t get what I wanted. But then I remember that God calls us His children no matter what age we are. I believe this is because He knows that we will not reach full maturity in this life. “Let the little children come to me,” he says in Matthew 19:14-15. Sometimes, I am that little child. As I come to Him, He offers me comfort, reminds me of His Word, and my mind is renewed. Hallelujah! What a Father! What a Savior!

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Salute

My husband spent several years in the military. One of the first things they taught him was to salute a superior officer. It didn’t take long before the habit was established, and the salute became almost involuntary after just a few days. Whenever a superior officer entered the room or walked by, his hand would go to his forehead almost automatically in a salute. When he got out of the military after six years, that salute was a tough habit to break. We would see his former superiors at the mall or grocery store, his arm would start to move in that familiar way, and he would have to stop himself.

The same is true of our habits that are sinful or ungodly. Somewhere along the way, we formed a habit or pattern of thinking that became automatic. Now, the Lord has revealed to us that it is sinful or displeasing to Him in some way, and we need to change it. Once out of the military, with no reason to continue saluting, it didn’t take a lot of effort for him to stop. But you and I are probably not going to get out of the circumstance that has brought about this habit that needs to change. We’ll have to put it off, right in the middle of the temptation:

“…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man, which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”    Ephesians 4:22-24

So as I read this, I see three steps to stopping a habit or thought pattern that needs to change: Put it off, renew your mind, and put on a new habit.

Put off
The first step is to put off the old habit. The language here pictures putting off a garment you’ve been wearing. Chances are, if you’ve been nurturing this behavior or way of thinking for a while, it’s pretty comfortable by now. This is one of the biggest challenges in the “put off” step. We are comfortable in it. Even when we know that it’s sinful; even when we really want to stop, it is hard because we are so used to it. The key to this step is to remember that, no matter how comfortable it is, the Lord can make the new, godly way of thinking just as comfortable—even more so, because we will be free of the guilt of knowing that we are indulging a sinful habit. So begin with prayer, and ask the Lord to give you a greater desire for repentance and heart change, than for the comfort of that old habit.

Renew Your Mind
The next step, according to our Ephesians 4 passage, is to renew your mind. What does it mean to be renewed in the spirit of your mind? The JB Phillips Paraphrase puts it this way:

...fling off the dirty clothes of the old way of living, which were rotted through and through with lust’s illusions, and, with yourselves mentally and spiritually re-made, to put on the clean fresh clothes of the new life which was made by God’s design for righteousness and the holiness which is no illusion.

I like how he says to fling off the old ways, seeing them as distasteful, dirty, and rotten. This is how we need to see our sinful habits and thought patterns, and it is an action on our part. Notice in contrast though, that being mentally and spiritually re-made is stated in the passive voice—this is something we must submit to, and that God does for us. He is the one who renews our mind, through His Word and prayer. After that, we’re right back to the active verb…

Put On

Now that we have flung away those dirty, used garments and the Lord has renewed our mind about this particular habit, we are to put on a new habit. This is a very important part of heart change. If we put off the old habit through the renewing of our minds, but fail to put a new habit in its place, that old garment will begin to look pretty comfortable again, and we may find ourselves picking it back up in moments of weakness. Every sinful habit MUST be replaced with a godly one. That’s why Paul follows up this passage with examples of change:
  • Put away lying and speak truth (v 25).
  • Let the thief stop stealing and begin to work with his hands (v 28).
  • Stop speaking corrupt words and start speaking gracious, edifying words (v 29).

What sinful habit are you convicted of lately?  Is it gossip? Put on humility and encouraging words. Is it arguing or dissentions? Put on peace and a gentle, quiet spirit. Self-pity? Put on gratitude and praise. I promise you, there is godly clothing to replace every ungodly garment you are led to fling away from you! With God’s help to renew your mind, through the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can (and must) change!

My husband has been out of the military for nearly a quarter of a century now, but he can still remember how quickly that salute could fire. I’d like to encourage you now to examine your heart for just one “filthy garment” you’d like to fling off. Pray and ask the Lord to help you be finished with those rotting clothes; to mentally and spiritually remake you in this area; and to show you His Designer clothes that are perfectly suited to replace the old ones. He is faithful, and will do it! 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Listening and Trusting

As many of you know, I have been dealing with the pain of two failed knee replacements for about seven years now, with pain and problems going back ten years. I have tried many kinds of treatments, both conventional and otherwise, to ease the pain and improve the function. Some have helped and others have done more harm than good. A few months ago, after a treatment that had helped in the past did not produce the expected result, I decided to have a talk with God about it.

Now, I had certainly prayed about all this many times before, but this was different. I was very weary of trying and failing to improve my situation, and I really wanted to be done struggling. So, I told my Father that I was going to take a break from trying to fix this, and turn my attention more to my heart about it than to the circumstance itself. Then, He started leading me to all kinds of readings and teachings about patience. I was amazed at the conversations, sermons, and devotions that I just “happened” to run across in the next few weeks. “Be patient. I am working” seemed to be His message to me, almost on a daily basis.

So I did something I don’t do enough these days. I listened. I began to take it easier at the gym, no longer pushing myself to get stronger. I’ve always been very aware that I can lose strength in this leg pretty easily if I’m not diligent to consistently do the PT exercises, and I find it very hard to resist the temptation to push myself. But, with this message of patience ringing in my ears, I chose not to push for more weight or more reps. I just stuck with what I’d been assigned to do, and trusted the Lord that it would be enough. This was not easy to do. My fearful heart has a distinct sense of dread of going back to the days of weakness and pain after the surgeries and subsequent injuries. But The Lord convinced my heart that this was an opportunity to learn to trust Him more, and I decided to grab it.

I have been amazed at the results. My leg is getting stronger! I am able to stand about twice as long as I could even just a few weeks ago. Walking is less painful, and I don’t find myself looking for a chair all the time! This is very odd for me and honestly, a little baffling. Perhaps, by pushing myself too hard, I was aggravating the injuries that were causing the pain, and pushing weak joints and tendons too hard. By doing this, I was keeping up a steady condition of inflammation that could never settle down. All of this because of fear and a lack of trust in God. Fear that if I backed off, I would suffer more.

This fear was the fruit of a lack of trust in God’s ability to sustain me in my pain. 

I desired to provide comfort for myself more than I desired to see God work in my heart through my pain.  In retrospect, I think I knew at times that I was causing some of my own pain by pushing too hard, but I think it just was somehow satisfying to know that I was doing something to help myself. That spirit of independence and self-sufficiency dies hard in most of us, and I am no exception. In my determination to fix my problem, I made it worse.

But it was not just the physical pushing that was to blame. It was also spiritual “pushing” in my heart. I had become impatient with God. After asking him for years to take the pain away; to heal my leg; to restore my mobility, I had lost my patience with Him. If I’m honest, other than a cursory “please heal my leg” now and then, I had given up praying for healing and pain relief, convinced by circumstantial evidence that He was not going to do it. While I know that circumstances are not a good indicator of what God may be doing, I used them as such anyway. My analytical, black and white brain was operating under an either/or attitude, even though it was not a conscious decision: “Dear God, either fix my leg or I will fix it myself.” This was the heart-set of which I had to repent at my meeting with God that day.

When I listened to Him instructing me to be patient, and began to obey that instruction, then He blessed me. I don’t know for sure that things will continue to improve, but I have learned a valuable lesson here: God’s timing is perfect, and I can trust Him to lead me as I work to maintain my mobility and manage my pain. I am not the owner of my body, God is; and He will use it, whether in pain or comfort, standing or sitting, strong or weak, for His glory. As He is glorified, I will be blessed. Hallelujah! What a Healer! What a Savior!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Funeral For a Friend

I attended a funeral this weekend for a friend I’d lost touch with some time ago. I’d met her when we were attending the same church. This was a church made up of several congregations that met in homes weekly, but met all together as a large group every couple of months. This friend (I’ll call her Joyce) and I had spent a lot of time together when our boys were younger, doing homeschool co-ops and such. Once the kids grew up though, our paths didn’t cross as much, and we lost touch. She’d moved away a couple of years ago but we had a mutual friend, and she and this other friend were still pretty close.

When I got the call that Joyce had passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I was saddened. Her children are just entering adulthood, a time when they really need their mom. (Is there a time when we don’t need our moms?) And, selfishly, I was worried about the funeral. I would have to stand in the visitation line; stand in the lobby talking with people from that former church whom I hadn’t seen since leaving it under not-so-great circumstances; stand by the gravesite. I knew that all of this standing would be painful, and I knew that seeing my former church members might be awkward and difficult.

But wait. 

I had to ask myself, as I began to dread this event on many levels, does it really have to be difficult? The Lord can enable me to stand physically, and He can work in my heart to give me love for those brothers and sisters in Christ so that I can stand spiritually. I needed to change my attitude, so I began to pray that God would strengthen my ankle, knee and hip so that I could stand among these hurting people and be an encouragement to them. I also asked him to help me keep on forgiving those who had hurt me when we'd left the church (this has been an ongoing process), and to begin to mend some of these relationships, if that would be His will.

I was not disappointed. 

Once again, God demonstrated his faithfulness to me and answered both of these prayers, and then some. The first people I saw when we arrived were my friend’s two boys, now grown-up men, and my heart instantly wanted to mother them. They were happy to see me and my family, as was their broken-hearted dad, who greeted us warmly and said how he appreciated our being there. The funeral was…well, it was a funeral so there were many tears. Joyce’s mother was especially woeful, as she and her daughter had been estranged, and there would now be no repairing of that relationship. Throughout the hour of the service, the common theme seemed to be, “Repair your relationships now, because you don’t know how long you have.”  

God was working mightily throughout the day. Many of the ladies with whom I’d been close approached me tearfully, some expressing sorrow over our broken fellowship or a desire to rekindle the friendship. I know that these emotion-driven desires are often short-lived, but I was touched by the goodness of God in bringing a warmth to the conversations that I would not have imagined was possible.

Physically, God strengthened me amazingly! I was able to stand much longer than I normally can, both in the funeral home and by the gravesite. He provided places to perch briefly, giving me just enough rest between periods of standing. My leg felt strong, and I experienced minimal pain, even during the longest durations of standing. I was able to keep my focus on the grieving family and friends instead of my pain, and I was incredibly grateful throughout the day for His grace. I really hadn’t wanted to go to this funeral because of the things I wanted to avoid: Physical pain and the potential reopening of spiritual and emotional wounds. But the Lord taught me that avoidance is not the answer if I truly want to live my life to glorify God.

What are you avoiding today, friend? 

Are you fearful of what you will have to suffer if you don’t avoid it? If so, go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for His help. Ask Him to help you manage the pain as you go. Ask Him to go before you and repair any breach that would be too wide for you to cross. Ask Him to go beside you, and help you with whatever you may encounter. He is faithful, and will answer your prayers. He loves you, and desires to give you everything that you need to fulfill the purpose of your life, which is to bring glory to His name. Don’t be afraid to go where He calls you to go. Don’t try to avoid something that seems to be too hard. Pray and trust that God knows your limits, and will enable you to do all to which He calls you!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Lesson Learned

Our little dog died last weekend. She’d been sick for a while, and we knew that something was very wrong with her, but I guess we were in a little bit of denial. She had been in our family for over 13 years. Our children, who have both moved out now, grew up with her. It was a very tough decision, but one that we knew we had to make.

I felt guilty when I got home from the vet. The last few years, as she’d gotten older, the dog had been more trouble than in earlier years. She’d begun to have more accidents, and she’d developed some tummy troubles. She couldn’t move as fast as before, and tended to get underfoot. During those same years, my life got busier. As the kids began to go their own way, I started working outside the home for the first time in Dottie’s little life, and she became needier. She literally got in my way a lot, probably wanting the same amount of attention I’d given her throughout her life in our home, but I was busy, and I got annoyed with her.

As I’ve reflected on these things, the Lord has shown me that my heart still lacks mercy. Over this last decade of pain, and sorrow over the losses related to it, I thought that I had developed a more merciful attitude. In some ways, maybe I have. But the Lord is showing me now that I have a long way to go. When I found out how sick my little dog was, my heart ached for the ways that I had been impatient and sometimes angry with her. While I didn’t know just how sick she was, my attitude and actions toward her show a heart that is self-centered and impatient.

As I have confessed all of this to the Lord, I have received His grace. It is because of His mercy that I don’t have to feel guilty about it. All of this brings me full circle, back to Jesus, who He is, and how very much I want to be like Him. I am so glad that he doesn’t get angry and impatient with me. Like my little canine companion, I am getting older and demanding more of my owner. I cry to him more, and depend on Him more than ever. But what I really want now is to be more like Him in the area of mercy. I want to look on the things and people that could frustrate me with compassion and mercy instead of impatience and frustration.

I will miss my little dog. She was with me through both of my surgeries and all the pain, anguish, and heartache in between. She loved me unconditionally, and was always there no matter what. She was the last of my “kids” to leave the nest, and our house is eerily quiet now.  I’m tempted to feel sad, and to dwell on the loss, but if I truly want to imitate Christ, I will use this heartache as an opportunity to be with Him, to learn more of Him, and to grow more like Him. As I do those things, mercy will grow in my heart, compassion will thrive, and my forever Friend and Comforter will be glorified. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

He Cannot

Do you struggle with the doctrine of the sovereignty of God? If I’m honest, I have to confess that I do. I have often said to myself, especially when I am in pain, “God could have allowed that surgeon to do my operation perfectly, but he didn’t. I don’t understand why, if he could spare his children suffering, he doesn’t. Can you relate?

But then this morning, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I ran across this post, from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, taken from one of her books:

"My path has been rough; but I have not had one trial which my heavenly Father could, in faithfulness, have spared me. He has dealt with me only in lovingkindness and tender mercy. I have not a doubt now, I shall see hereafter, that all His dealings with me have been for my good."
Susan Huntington, 1791-1823, suffered from lifelong physical afflictions. "In 1817 she lost both of her parents only months apart; in 1819 her husband died when she was eight months pregnant; and in the fall of 1821, two of her children died. In all these afflictions her suffering was intense, and she felt as if her feeble frame could not sustain her. But her merciful Father, who taught her that her strength was made perfect in weakness, upheld her, and she looked to Him as her only portion in life."  (From: Seasons of the Heart: A Year of Devotions from One Generation of Women to Another; Reformation Heritage Books)

As I read that first line, I realized that I have been wrong all along about whether God could or could not spare his children pain and trials. He could not. I don’t mean that He doesn’t have the power, because He certainly does. But He cannot spare us the pain of trials, because He loves us. In His wisdom, He knows exactly what is needed to make us more like Him, and He designs each of our struggles perfectly for our unique personality and soul. I am certain that I would never have fallen to my knees (at least figuratively!) over anything other than a physical trial. He had to cause me to be physically weak, because my physical strength was what I was trusting in. He knew I would not give that up if He did not provide for it to be removed, and so He graciously did.

As I type this, there are three dear saints in my church who are battling cancer, and many who are struggling with chronic pain. Tomorrow evening, I will attend a memorial service for a dear brother who went home to be with the Lord at thirty years of age, leaving a young wife and three little children. We begged the Lord to heal him, because we know that He was able to do it. But He could not. He could not heal that young man, because He loved him and his family.  Out of love for them, He has graciously given them this unique opportunity to trust and rely on Him, and to glorify Him in their response. I do not understand it, but I am content with the truth that, while He is able, sometimes, he cannot.

We are weak and frail, my sisters, but the good news is that our weakness, our frailty, and our dependence on God bring glory to Him. Isaiah 43:7 teaches us that we were created for the purpose of glorifying God. In His mercy, he arranges everything in our lives to allow us to fulfill that purpose. How could He take that opportunity from us? It would be cruel to create us for His glory, and then, by keeping our lives smoothe and easy, deny us the opportunity to fulfill that purpose!

Let’s begin today to look at our trials as opportunities to glorify God. I keep the following question handy at all times in the back of my mind, and when trials come, I pull it out and ask myself:

“I was created to glorify God. How am I doing right now?”

This helps me to reel in my perspective back to biblical truth, and it renews my determination to change my default response. I don’t always succeed, but I do have victory more than I used to, and that is what progressive sanctification is all about!

Friday, June 17, 2016

His Eye Is On the Sparrow

I overheard a conversation the other day between two people who were discussing the number of mutual friends who had died recently. They were talking about the rise of cancer among their acquaintances; a number of accidents; and one who had died of “old age.” But the comment that stood out to me the most was when one of them said, “Yeah, it seems they’re dropping like flies these days.” Now, this is an old expression I’ve heard many times, that simply means there are a lot of people becoming ill or dying, all at the same time. But the phrase struck me in a peculiar way this time, because I happen to know a number of people suffering with late-stage disease, and I’ve seen firsthand how they suffer. Flies seem a poor comparison for the precious people in this condition.

If I were to speak of my beloved friends dying, I think maybe I would say they’re dropping like sparrows:

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.—Matthew 10:28-31

No matter how many people pass on from this earth, they are all precious in the Lord’s sight. Jesus died so that not a single person should perish apart from him, but that all would have eternal life (2 Peter 3:9). When a dear brother or sister passes from this earth, I am sometimes envious of their new home. It causes me to think of heaven, of Christ, and of eternity.

When we suffer, not knowing how long we will have to endure, we do dream of heaven, and long for home. It is such a comfort to know that the Lord knows every moment of pain we experience, and will not allow it to go on one moment longer than it has to. This precious passage about the sparrows is a great encouragement to me as I watch several friends endure “terminal” illnesses. If the death of even a sparrow is known to God, imagine how He attends when one of His precious image-bearers suffers and dies. What a great and loving Father we have!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I Am Persuaded

Sometimes, I think that I’ve already written everything I can possibly write about living with pain. The Lord has always brought things to mind, as I’ve struggled with my condition, and then graciously given me the words to make my experience meaningful for you. But lately, I seem to be running out of things to say. Maybe it’s because I’ve achieved victory in the struggle, but I seriously doubt that, being human and all. Maybe it’s because, honestly, I’m just not thinking about it that much anymore. It’s become such a part of my life that my moments of self-pity or sadness over it are fewer farther between because I am so used to it. No amount of pain surprises me, and no return of pain that had subsided catches me off guard. These days, when I experience pain, my response is usually, “Oh, Lord I hurt. Please help me to do what I need to do today anyway.”

As I look over that first paragraph, I’m amazed that it was written by the same person who used to be paralyzed with fear whenever a new or unfamiliar pain cropped up. I am not exaggerating when I say paralyzed. I remember when I first injured my ankle while trying to rehab my twisted knee replacement. (Before I knew that the knee was misaligned, I had pushed hard to get it straight, and ended up tearing a tendon in my ankle.) As I experienced this new pain, I was terrified that my mobility would be further limited, I would need additional surgery, and I would suffer even more than I already was. I remember that initial pain plunging me into a deep depression, fueled by anxiety and self-pity, as I Googled my symptoms and panicked for days.

So, what changed? Did my condition become less painful? Did I develop a better tolerance for pain? Did the therapies and other modalities I’ve tried over the years for pain management make such a big difference that my pain is more manageable now? Well, to a degree, some of those things are true. But none of them made the difference in my response to pain that I’ve written about here. What has really changed is my heart. Our tagline at Reigning Grace Counseling Center is, “Heart Change for Life Change,” and my own experience reflects that perfectly. My life of anxiety, self-pity, and depression seemed hard wired until the grace of God changed my heart. When that happened, my life began to change.

I say the grace of God—not His mercy or faithfulness or love, though those have definitely played a part—because God’s grace was able to accomplish the two things that I needed before I could have true heart and life change. His grace provided the forgiveness I needed for my sinful attitude, and it also provided the power I needed to overcome that pattern of sin.

The first step in overcoming any sinful habit, whether it is an action or a thought, is confession. If we truly want to be rid of sin, we must confess it to God. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So, confession is the first and most important thing. God’s grace is what draws us near to Him when our sinful hearts want to run away. God’s grace assures us that our faithful and just God will forgive us when we humble ourselves to confess, and to ask for that forgiveness; and God’s grace is what brings us the heart peace of knowing for sure that our sins are forgiven.

As we walk away from that confession and restoration of peace, we walk into what can be the daunting task of heart change. Once we have assurance that we have been forgiven, we must draw on that same grace of God for the power to resist falling back into the same sin. Romans 5:20 says, “…where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” This shows us that sin and grace are inextricably bound, albeit in a mysterious way, to bring us to eternal life in Christ. So, when we confess our sin by God’s grace, that same grace empowers us to live a life that is pleasing to God. Without grace there is no forgiveness, and without grace, there is no power.

Here are just a few examples from Scripture that show us the connection between God’s grace and His power:

In the early church, the apostles spoke of Christ with great boldness, even in the face of persecution and the threat of death. How did they do this? They were empowered by God’s grace:

And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.  (Acts 4:33, NKJ)

The word of God spread, and God’s grace empowered Stephen:

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8, ESV).

God’s grace empowered Paul, even in the face of a great trial:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in   weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV).    

Paul received the power to minister the Gospel by God’s grace:                                                                                                                                                                
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power (Ephesians 3:7, ESV).

Have I made my case that our power to resist sin and live with godly heart attitudes comes from God’s grace? I sure hope so, because this is really our only hope of heart change! My hope that I am able to resist sin rests in the fact that I know that God’s grace is real because it was the agent of my forgiveness. If I know I am forgiven (because 1 John 1:9 assures me of that), then I know that I can call on that same grace to empower me to continue to think and live in a way that is pleasing to God.

So, in those moments when you are tempted to repeat that sin for which you have already received forgiveness, remember the grace that provided that forgiveness, and rely on it to empower you to overcome that temptation. There is no temptation that is more powerful than God’s grace, and no sin as satisfying as obedience to Christ and sweet, uninterrupted fellowship with Him. I know that pain brings great temptation, but remember: The power to resist that temptation is already yours. I’ll close with encouragement from Paul, shortly before his martyrdom, to Timothy. 

   For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day (2 Timothy 2:12).

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New Every Morning

If you suffer with a chronically painful condition, you are probably familiar with this routine: The alarm goes off, you instinctively begin to move and stretch, but then are stopped short by pain, either in a muscle or a joint, and you are once again reminded of whatever painful condition you are dealing with. Now fully awake, you gingerly move those painful joints and muscles until you can get your feet onto the floor and make your way to the bathroom or the coffee pot, or whatever your first task of the day may be. Once you get moving it’s a little easier, but those first few movements and steps are rough.

Now, this kind of painful daily wake-up call can be looked at in a couple of different ways. When I first began dealing with it, it really got my day off to a bad start. “Here we go,” I would say to myself. “I don’t even get to have one minute’s break from the pain. I have to deal with it from the second I open my eyes. Poor me.” That, obviously, is not the biblical response. I knew that it needed to change, so I began to search the Scriptures for something that would address this exact issue for me. It needed to be specific to the morning, and it needed to be full of hope.
God is faithful, and He led me to Lamentations 3:21-23.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

These are the words of the profit Jeremiah, as he suffered in exile with the people of God. I strongly recommend that you read the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, if you haven’t done so lately, so that you can understand the depth of the grief that Jeremiah was feeling. Though I am certain that he was suffering some physical pain when he wrote this, the majority of his grief was brought on by the disobedience of the people to God’s Word.  Yet, even though he knew he was writing about a stubborn and rebellious people who were being judged by the great and powerful Creator God, he still writes beautifully about God’s compassion and mercy toward that same rebellious people!

Now, as I think back to my “poor me” wake-up call, I realize that I was just as stubborn and rebellious as the Israelites. I believed that I was entitled to have a few pain free moments—at least long enough to get my mind awake and ready to deal with the pain all day. So, what was I recalling to mind in that moment? My perceived rights, focus on self, and rebellion against God’s plan to make me more like Himself are a few things that come to mind. What should I have been recalling to my mind? God’s mercy, compassion and faithfulness. I needed heart change in this area!

So, what does this process of heart change look like in practical terms? Well, for a while I had Lamentations 3:21-23 on a 3x5 card next to my bed, so I would read it before I fell asleep, and it would be one of the first things I saw in the morning. After a time, my mind had been trained to think of this verse each evening and morning, so it became easier to get my focus off the pain and onto the Lord. Now, when I wake up in the morning, I begin my day with the assurance of this passage, along with a prayer of thanksgiving to God, for giving this rebellious heart new mercies every morning.

Though certain joints are very stiff and painful to move when I first wake up, that pain has a different effect on my heart these days. Now, instead of that pain acting as a cue to self-pity or complaining, it is a cue to remember God’s mercies, and remind myself that the morning stiffness and pain come right alongside the compassion and mercies that God has provided for me to deal with them biblically. First Corinthians 10:13 says that the way of escape from sinful temptation comes with that very temptation! For me, this passage of Scripture is my way of escape from temptation to feel sorry for myself when my alarm goes off each day.

How about you, my suffering friend? Have you thanked God for His faithfulness and mercy lately? If not, I’d like to challenge you to do so tomorrow morning. Tomorrow, when your alarm goes off, or your children wake you up, or the sunrise interrupts your slumber, even if your first movements bring pain, remember that, with the pain, God’s mercies are new. He is faithful, and will provide that escape from self-pity or despair. Great is His faithfulness. Hallelujah! What an awakening! What a Savior!