Category Archives: Suffering

Fosterless

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A spoken word re-wind never finished:

 

I’m broken inside; screaming, I cry.

But nobody hears.

It’s deafening, this pain. 

I keep trekking for gains,

But I’m losing my stance,

trying to keep pace with this grief dance.

So much I didn’t know. So much I couldn’t show.

Trusted and loved, but it couldn’t last.

Too broken to keep, too rejected too deep.

Lost and alone, 

Turned 18 with no home.

I suffer from their choice, I’m left with no voice.

The system failed me, why couldn’t they see,

I was just young and alone,

Just wanting home,

the day I turned 18

Hope ended for me.

It’s hard to look at others who have directly caused suffering and affliction through their actions and find a reason to honor them.

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It’s hard to look at others who have directly caused suffering and affliction through their actions and find a reason to honor them.

As a young teenager, I was on my own. I lived mostly normal-went to high school, work, sports, after school activities-only I wasn’t “normal” at all. My life was chaotic and often uncertain. The 8AM to 3PM block of time was the only consistent schedule I had. My “home” life was a wreck and then it got to the point where there wasn’t a physical home for a while. And then I became a social orphan having to navigate money, shelter, and food.. and everything in between.

Life had not always been that challenging. There’s a very brief time when I was very young, before parental mental illness surfaced. Things were calm. I remember a few traditions. A tiny bit of warmth still comes over me when I think of it, the faintest feelings of nostalgia I think. A time when I not only loved the people who then called themselves my parents, but I respected them.

My mother was fair, honest. My father was hardworking, sacrificial. They were respected in our community, courteous. There was much integrity in their actions and the ways they cared for others. I suppose I received some of those qualities from them. And to be fair, they still have some of these qualities, but perhaps not in the same ways.

The idea of honoring my mother and father has not been clear to me. I’ve wrestled with how to honor someone I don’t agree with, someone I don’t always respect, someone I can not always support. How do I honor others when I am hurt? When I am hurting? When I’ve been hurt by the same people whom I am asked to honor?

And I have come to realize that though I do not always respect or support their choices, though I may struggle with hurt, honoring someone is less about what they are to another, less about what they’ve done and more about who they can be at their very best. We all want people to believe the best in us, to see the best in us even when we are at our ugliest.

Those early glimpses of  my parents before the hardness and suffering of mental illness and grief and generational sin struck and took root, that’s who they are at their core, their  best selves. It’s the image of God they hold and it’s that image I can honor. I can honor who I see they can be in Christ and hold that hope until they can see it for themselves.

It’s hard to honor those who have hurt and offended, belittled and slighted us. It’s hard to look at others who have directly caused suffering and affliction through their actions and find a reason to honor them. But maybe honoring a parent is less about their role in “parenting” and more about seeing them as humans, fellow bearers of sin and suffering, but also Image bearers of God, wholly and dearly loved in the same way I am. And the ground is level, for all of us to commune with God and one another.

31 Days: HONOR

When my questions became lethal weapons

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I am not always sure God is good.

Yep. I went there.

For many years I knew much. I’m sort of that way. I read and analyze and digest. I remember things factually, repetitively, and could repeat them back as if I read them in a book. I had the book of James memorized. I was working on Hebrews.. if that gives you an idea…

And then my world crumbled in the worst and most painful of ways. Thinking about it all still takes my breath away some and leaves me with some stomach pain. My old world, it didn’t make sense anymore. Questions that had been there for many years became lethal weapons.

They could no longer be stifled.

They needed a space to breath.

I needed a space to breath.

And I doubted. I doubted God’s goodness and I often still do. I doubted God cared. I doubted others cared. I doubted I’d make it in life. I doubted others commitments to me and I doubted if God was really interested in me, if He cared for me, if He saw me, if He wanted me, if He was FOR me.

I was taught by precedence that doubting and questioning in the church-world wasn’t honorable. I felt ashamed of my doubt, of my questions. I began to feel like others saw me as a problem, but my life was just far more complex than most. And it’s actually these complexities that are bringing out the image of God in me, this place that struggles and doubts, but then comes forth with some sense of assurity, not so much in what I know, but in who I am.

And I’ve begun to realize it’s okay to not know. There’s a lot I don’t know. I can’t find stability in what I know anymore. My stability, my worth, isn’t from something I can manufacture.

I admire people who trust and believe with such purity. I really do. Each of us is so gifted differently, to work and strive and figure out this complexity. Mine will be one riddled with doubt and questioning, with fear and grief and inconsistency. But also with great awareness of grace, of gentleness, of commitment, of diligence. God’s not throwing me away because of my brokenness and inconsistencies. I’m staying in the process even though the process is anything but glamorous.

Because when I am dealing with doubt, God says that’s okay. Confusion? that’s okay too. Fear? Still ok. Faithlessness? ok. Anger?ok. Sadness? ok. Grief? ok. Depression, yea God still thinks you’re wonderful. He still wants you. The messy stuff, fear and doubt, anger, depression, etc. It’s okay. It’s okay to admit it. It’s okay to look at it. It’s okay to “miss the bar” in ministry. Because doctrine is what man sets up to understand the Bible. It’s important to many of us, but it can hinder and teach us to live and think in ways that actually keep us from knowing the fullness of God in Christ Jesus. Sometimes the things we set up to help us understand can be the same things that start to cripple us in bondage.

I thought I was ready for ministry. After all, it was about 8 years in before I started to go “downhill”, but friends, that’s a cultural ideology of ministry, this idea of “taking a wrong turn” or “going downhill”. Take a look at who Jesus picked as his first disciples. They totally missed the bar. NONE looked ready for ministry in the ways in which we judge and evaluate ministerial readiness. But Jesus valued them, even in their doubting and arrogance.

He loves us in our neediness and our brokenness, with all our doubts and fears. Afterall, what kind of Church is it where the sick can’t be sick?

And when the vicious waves of sadness or doubt  or anger or despair slam you onto the rocks and your tempted to hide, I hope you will know it’s okay if you want to hide, if you feel you need to, that’s ok. But also know you don’t have to. We’re all a bit more cracked and unkempt than we’d like to think we are. You’re not alone.

FMF:DOUBT

Dear Nurses

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Dear friends,

It’s been four years post-op for me. Four years since I had much of my intestines removed. Four years since a surgery that saved my life. Four years of learning to adjust to this new way of living.

Some things I’ve learned in the last 4 years:

  1. I don’t miss the hospital (but I never thought I would).
  2. It’s such a privilege to get to eat fruits and vegetables and not be confined to tuna, rice, applesauce, and tomato soup everyday. I don’t take that privilege lightly.
  3. I can do more physically then I ever imagined possible. I am limited, but I didn’t know I was capable of so much. Just yesterday as I was coaching a high school soccer team, I did a dozen penalty kicks on the goalie. I hardly knew I could still do that. It’s like all my pre-sickness skills are still there, in hiding (12 years later).
  4. I used to bleed and hemorrhage constantly. Often 5-10 minutes after eating or drinking anything. That limited my traveling and how far I could go. It also limited how traveling looked. If I was to travel, I would need special medicine and I could not eat for 15 hours beforehand and not eat until after I had arrived where I was going.
  5. Not everyone keeps spare underwear and pants in their purse. I did not even think this was weird until I was at an event recently. Someone spilled juice on themselves and said, “Wouldn’t it be so great if we all just kept spare pants and underwear in our purse.” I said I did. She looked at me like I was crazy. You see, incidents happen to me weekly, if not multiple times a week with a colostomy bag. Mostly no one ever knows they happen. I have many stories..funny, funny stories.
  6. I’ve learned to laugh at things that happen to me because of my colostomy bag. Some others are not comfortable with “potty” talk, and that’s ok, but it’s a legitimate and substantial part of my life. There’s just some things that are plain funny. I often forget most people aren’t aware I even have it.
  7. Some people know me by the water bottle I carry around. I like water, but I used to hate it. I only drink so much because I have to 🙂 I will still need to receive IV liquids twice each summer. With very little intestines I can’t absorb water, so during the warmer months, I need some help getting all the water in.
  8. Lastly, and more importantly, I’ve learned to value nurses. For 8 years I was in and out of the hospital often. For several of those years I had to go in at least every 3 months for 5-10 days just to stay alive, along with weekly day-long infusion/nutrient treatments, blood transfusions, and other appointments. I can’t recall one not nice nurse. I can recall many doctors though…  Now that I am out of much of the immediate”emergency” situations of my health life, now that I’ve been rarely having to visit the hospital and stay over night, I have such an appreciation for nurses.

You see, I appreciate you nurses. I was a lonely 17 year old. I had a friend or two and a young married couple that would visit me in the hospital as a young person. There was so much pain that no one saw. I had no words for the loneliness and isolation I felt being so alone in life. I was lonely and I was scared and I didn’t know what to do in the hospital. If I was cold, or thirsty, or needed the bathroom. I didn’t know I had a right to not be in pain, to ask for more blankets, or to have my hair washed. One nurse even painted my toes. I never had anyone paint my toes at that point. Another nurse brushed my hair and would french braid it every day. And I wasn’t even in the pediatric unit!

You, nurses, told me it was okay when I hemorrhaged and bled all over my sheets. I expected to be yelled at, but you just had compassion and said it was totally fine. One time you even brought me in a chocolate because you said I deserved a special treat for the types of pain I had to endure as a young person. Once, you said I was brave and you didn’t know how I did it all, how I held it all together. You encouraged me when I had so little of it in my life. The truth is, I don’t know either. But I do know that you nurses helped. You made the hospital a safe place and as comfortable as a hospital bed/room can be.

If a day would go by without a visitor (a day is a long, long time in a hospital), you nurses often sat at the end of my bed and talked with me, asked me questions, played games with me late at night. You listened as I read you parts of what I was learning in my bible. You sometimes shared with me some of what was going on in your life. You let me pray for you out loud. You told me about your families. You told me when you were leaving and when you’d be back.

Dear nurses, you guys are so important, you are so valued. You are so much more than the medical things that you do. You are much more valuable than you get credit for.

Dear nurses, you took an area that I was ashamed and terrified of, my heath, and you breathed dignity into it through your care and compassion, through the small acts of kindness and gentleness you showed to a stranger. Nurses, you made that young, scared, famililess teenager feel brave. You made me feel normal, regular, typical, special in a world in which I have often been an outcast and “different”.

Four years later and I am even more thankful for what you’ve done for me. Thank you nurses, for what you do. You offer healthcare, but you offer so much more too.

Gratefully,

A long-standing, former hospital room occupier.

Surviving our blessings

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What if our blessings come from raindrops? What if our healing comes through tears?

We’ve heard it said maybe more times than we care to recall, “all things work for the good…” [Romans 8] yeah, yeah, yeah. “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds…” [James 1]. They sting a little. The place inside me that once held a lot of hope hurts more than I thought imaginable. What do you do when you know these truths intellectually, but not realistically, when you should have joy, but dang it, you just don’t? What happens when you’re just trying to survive your blessings?

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

Faith is forced into the open when we’re just trying to survive the things/situations/places/people who are our “blessings“. There’s no pushing through and faking it when you’re too weak, too sick, too lonely, too humiliated, and too spent to thrust another smile on your face or another meal on the table.

Grief wells up, quite literally, it’s a well: deep, unclear, unknown, and changing. The very same things that are supposed to be our blessings, our gifts from God, can be reminders of our greatest areas of grief as well, they can reveal grief afresh, where life is not as it should have been. And we fight to survive the very things given to us as joy.

Grief and joy. They come together. Long after my physical scars have faded, the deeper ones remain sensitive to the touch. These deeper wounds, the ones that can’t be seen and rarely spoke of, came from friendly fire. The people closest to us have the power to hurt us the most.

“Not knowing what to say, they said nothing at all. I tried to empathize, but the silence still hurt. Anyone who loves deep knows the pain of such inflictions. Wounds of the heart happen when you need the gift of someone’s presence most and the person disappears, says something unintentionally hurtful, or lives so self-asbsorbed they barely see you at all. The absence cuts; the silence stings.”

“In life’s most significant moments, our minds become cameras. Every blink captures images of those who cheer when we grasp the diploma, toss rice at the wedding, weep at the funeral. We catalog those present, collect snapshots of those absent too. Standing in front of the mirror, I saw the images of those I counted as betrayers and deniers. I winced as I recoiled the names of members of my inner circle who rushed away at the first sign of trouble. The memories stabbed my soul. Now I was the table host and I didn’t know if I had the strength to feed, water, or wash their feet. Jesus, I want healing for my scars. Help me forgive…. silence, abandonment is it’s own form of betrayal.”

The road to resurrection is paved with disloyalty, buffered by guard rails of isolation, streaked with the skid marks of failing frienships. Most of us have felt the sting of betrayal or the ache of abandonment.

Jesus loved, served, and gave to his friends, until the bitter end. His very life demonstrates that giving to those who hurt and abandon us is loving. We can choose this type of joy, the joy that comes with forgiveness. It’s how we survive our blessings. It’s the only way, the Jesus way.

So those of us who are trying our best to survive right now, caught in the muck of abandonment and hurt and grief, we focus on loving the very others who were unable to love us. And the others of us who are on the other end not knowing what to say to those in grief, to those who know Romans 8 and James 1, but need support to stay in the fight and not “get out prematurely.” Remember, your presence is one of the most meaningful and most powerful things you can offer to someone who is suffering. And there are helpful things you can SAY and DO for us [adapted from Fight Back with Joy]:

  1. Let us know what we are “loved and prayed for today.”
  2. Let us know that your heart aches with us and for us today.
  3. Let us know that you’ve experienced loss and you’re sorry for what we’re going through.
  4. Tell us “You are so loved! What specific thing can I do and/or provide that would help you right now? Let me know and if you don’t have any ideas, I have suggestions.”

And there are things that those facing crisis can’t tell you but wish they could:

  1. Reach out to me: Please don’t walk about me to others, talk to me. Let me know you care and support me. Don’t ask a third party for information or updates about me, ask me. Connect with me. No matter how much time has gone by, your presence matters.
  2. Notice me: If you can listen without trying to fix the situation or me, that’s perfect. Notice my needs. Pay attention to what’s going on and ask.
  3. Do what you say you are going to do: Please don’t offer something that you can’t follow through on. This hurts and can bring numerous challenges in crisis situations. Offer realistic suggestions you can meet. Show up when you say you will.
  4. Ask God how to pray for me: Many people say they will/are praying for me, but somedays that’s hard to believe. Ask if you can pray with me.
  5. Skip cliches: Avoid Bible cliches. Please don’t mention anything about God’s will. These bible quick fixes can bruise rather than bless, hurt rather than heal. Please share passages that were meaningful in your time of suffering prayerfully and with gentleness.
  6. Meet my real needs: ask what they are. Pay attention to the ones I can’t vocalize or am too ashamed to mention. Be sensitive. Sometimes I might not need food or my laundry done. Sometimes I just need a friend, or a night out, or a gift card, or a day that feels normal.
  7. Remember my family: yea, I know it’s confusing to decipher who my relatives are and who my family is. My relatives are people I am biologically related too. My family is my inner circle, the people around me often. They get tired too. They need help and support. Pay attention to them.
  8. Stay with me: Ambulence chasers are a dime a dozen; rebuilders are hard to find. Billows of people appear at the scene of a crisis, but several months later they’re no where to be found. Crisis’ can continue for months, even years.

If you have a meaningful relationship with someone who has experienced great loss, keep letting them know that you love them and you’re still with them. Set reminders if you need. We need one another to survive our blessings.

I mourn the lack of Jesus in my own heart

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Last year, almost a year to the date, I went to a two hour Christian seminar with my roommate. We had both been in a rough place and struggled in a season when we were tired of church, and churchy people, and churchy music, and Christian books. We lost interest in things that once fueled and filled us. Don’t get me wrong, we loved Jesus and knew Jesus loved us, we just felt burned by a lot. She angry and me significantly depressed and physically sick. We struggled with all things church-related feeling like “church” and “church activities” and “churchy people” felt nothing like the Jesus we knew or the Church we first loved. You’ve probably hit that point during some season of life. Most of us do.

Dr. E Stanley Jones says that the greatest hindrance to the Christian gospel in India is a dislike for western domination, western snobbery, the western theological system, western militarism and western race prejudice. Gandhi, the great prophet of India, said, “I love your Christ, but I dislike your Christianity.” The embarrassing fact is that India judges us by our own professed standard.

The seminar was about discipleship. It was the first church-like thing I DESIRED to go to in over a year. The roommate thought it interesting. We both hoped it could restore to us some of the joy that had been lost in the preceding year. We wanted to be with people who were excited about Jesus, about caring for the marginalized, about breaking bread and eating with them. About REALLY living among them and becoming one in the same, and not just knowing of them or occasionally meeting with them for a pre-appointed period of time. The truth is, we desired this because we needed this sort of community in our lives.

In reply to a question of Dr. Jones as to how it would be possible to bring India to Christ, Gandhi replied: First, I would suggest that all of you Christians live more like Jesus Christ. Second, I would suggest that you practice your Christianity without adulterating it. The anomalous situation is that most of us would be equally shocked to see Christianity doubted or put into practice.

After the seminar, we got into the car and talked a little about it and what we enjoyed and appreciated about it. It was encouraging to meet more people who were similarly minded. So many young adults and some older adults who were passionate about Jesus AND caring for the “least of these”. People who were really doing something that had eternal significance in a way that resonated with the giftings and desires that roommate and I both had.

Roommate complained of the “long” 30 min drive home, of getting every red light imaginable, of being hungry and having to work in the morning. I sat silent in protest, frustrated at how much she was complaining. My attitude was not right. We were about 10 min from our home and hit another red light.

Third, I would suggest that you put more emphasis on love, for love is the soul and center of Christianity. Fourth, I would suggest that you study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically in order to find the good that is in them, so that you might have a more sympathetic approach to the people.- Ghandi

There was an old man (or woman, we honestly couldn’t tell) pushing a grocery cart across the road. It was 10:30Pm. He or she had probably 8 layers of “clothing” on. Truth is, it didn’t look like clothing. It looked like brown rags strung together over and over again, ratty and torn. This person had random items tied to the cart with the same dirt clad material he/she was wearing. And no shoes. It was April and he/she wasn’t wearing shoes!

Jesus said in Matthew 25 that he was going to get rid of the “play it safers” who won’t go out on a limb. They would be thrown into darkness. He would separate the sheep and goats, putting the sheep to right and the goats would be tossed away.

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.

Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

There have been many times in my life when I’ve been the overlooked and ignored one, where I’ve been the “least of these”. I’ve been hurt and injured and needing. I was the hungry. I was the thirsty. I was homeless. I was shivering. I was sick. And I was in prison to my own concepts of who I had been told I was. And sometimes people came to me and loved me, imperfectly and well. They gave.

So roommate and I are at this stop light. This very homeless person is walking across at 10:30PM with not another car or person anywhere near. It’s almost too perfect to be true. There’s a nudge in me. Roommate and I are dead silent, as if we are both aware we are supposed to do something but not sure what. I had nothing to offer but my flip flops on my feet. I felt the nudge. I reached for the door, but slinked back several times.

The light eventually turned green. We continued on, roommate in a rush to get home and me feeling like a hypocrite. Never had I been so sure of a prompting from Jesus. And I allowed fear to grip me. I was a “play it safer” in that moment. I ignored the overlooked. I pretended this person didn’t exist because I had much fear. And I felt intense grief because of it. I mourned the lack of Jesus in my own heart.

In that moment, I was a goat, not a sheep of Jesus. So much of the disdain I had for the “churchy” way of life, I had somehow become and I grieved that. I wept, alone in my room. And I begged God to change my heart. I had a lot to learn.

I don’t know what I’d do in that situation again, a year later. I hope I have a deeper love for Jesus and his Kingdom than I did a year ago. I hope I’m more scandalous and giving and extravagant in how I live. I hope some of the things I do and ways I give and love don’t make sense to others in a way that honors Jesus. I hope I have endurance and trust in Jesus to decide not to walk away, from the marginalized, from the struggling, from hard relationships, from the things in life that make us want to quit. The truth is, I am weaker and more afraid then I want to be.

The grief I had from saying no to the prompting of the Spirit was unlike anything I had experienced before. I had to admit that I was not so different from the same “churchiness” I was struggling against and I had to admit it to Jesus. But He didn’t leave me in that messy, hypocritical place. Jesus taught me to mourn the lack of Jesus in my very own heart, and by doing so I realize more keenly how much messy, sticky, self-righteous junk is still in there. I need Jesus. Every hour I need Jesus.