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!