Thursday, August 26, 2010
Therefore we do not become discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied through fear). Though our outer man is [progressively] decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is [progressively] renewed day after day.
For our light, momentary affliction (this slight distress of the passing hour) is ever more and more abundantly preparing and producing and achieving for us an everlasting weight of glory [beyond all measure, excessively surpassing all comparisons and all calculations, a vast and transcendent glory and blessedness never to cease!]
Perhaps at this time it is impossible for you to add your "Amen!" to this verse. You are discouraged and wearied - and although it is true that your "outer man is [progressively] decaying and wasting away," the inner man seems to be absent. To speak of life-changing chronic illness as a "light, momentary affliction" is beyond you at this moment.
Few of us are as single-minded and strong as the Apostle Paul. But to speak like Paul, to walk like Paul, we have to figure out what his outlook was and how he got there.
Paul himself had a chronic affliction. Some think it was his eyesight, others have different theories. But it was chronic, constant and disabling enough that Paul prayed 3 times to be healed of it.
Think of this now: Paul, a man of whom the Word says "...and God did unusual and extraordinary miracles (Acts 19:11-12) by the hands of Paul so that handkerchiefs or towels or aprons which had touched his skin were carried away and put upon the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them."
And yet God refused to heal him.
God chose this illness for Paul, chose to use his ailing, weak body to display the power of grace. In answer to Paul's third request for healing, Jesus said to him, (2Corinthians 12:9) " ...My grace (My favor and loving kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]: for My strength and power is made perfect (fulfilled, completed) and show themselves most effective in [your] weakness."
Paul's answer to this is also recorded: " Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weakness and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me."
I can imagine some jealous individual sneering that Paul, who was a short, odd-looking man according to Josephus, could heal others but couldn't even heal himself. So added to his daily struggles were those who sought to defame and denigrate him.
Yet, Paul found Jesus was enough - His presence in the person of the Holy Spirit and His grace - that same grace that would "pitch a tent over and dwell " on him. From this response on Paul's part we know he availed himself of that grace, and sought continuously to have that tent pitched directly over him.
Do we avail ourselves of that grace?
I don't know about you, but complaints spill out of me as easily as water spills from a joggled cup. Then when I realize I was murmuring, I have to confess and ask His forgiveness.
But I want Christ to spill out of me, not complaints. I want others to see that tent of grace pitched over me and realize that I couldn't possibly handle this on my own, couldn't be a conqueror, let alone more than one (Romans 8:37).
I want my life to show that His grace is more than sufficient.
I have a loooong way to go. One step at a time.
How about you?
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
A friend who runs a mission in Mexico drives up to the desert here once each month to teach a Bible study. His website is Grace Thru Faith, or GTF.org, and is a fantastic resource, as he is a fantastic teacher. His mission is run on the principle "Where God guides, God provides" and any money received above operating expenses is given away.
He drove up one Friday with his wife and 4 year old son.
The car hit one of those guiderails that are meant to prevent a car going over the cliff, and we are thanking God it did its job. Aside from their badly needed car being totalled and a myriad of bumps and bruises, they are all ok.
It set me to thinking about how a split second can change your life.
When I was an AB, I never gave a second thought to something like that . It never occurred to me that my life would ever be anything different than what it was, or that my body would one day betray me.
Now, of course, I know better. Those of us with chronic illness know that we cannot put our trust in our bodies, nor take for granted its capabilities. On good days we trust our bodies only slightly - and thank God for a lessening of pain or increased function, or simply the ability to take a deep breath, unhindered. But that take-for-granted "I will feel wonderful tomorrow" attitude will never be ours again.
For most ABs, I would venture to say that it never crosses their minds that something might happen to hinder their existence and cause a paradigm shift in how they functioned in the world - it certainly never did mine!
But my friend's brush with death set me thinking about the One Who holds our breaths in His hands, and knows the precise number we will be able to draw on this earth.
I have had a number of split-second changes in my life that have ended irrevocably my way of life and/or how I perceive it. Looking back, the ones that hurt the most were not the ones that removed me from a profession I loved or changed my physical abilities, but the ones that caused a loss of someone I loved. I would not have survived those losses without Jesus.
He was with me for the last 3 of those losses - the last one caused the loss of my home and my way of life in CA, necessitating a move to the desert, where I now reside. That was the death of my caretaker and also my youngest, dearest brother - for months I felt like I couldn't breathe without him. If not for Jesus and the comfort and healing He provided, I don't know if I would have survived it.
Because out of all the split-second changes I have experienced, the most life-changing of all was when Jesus blasted His way through my arrogance and self-conceived image of "my" god into my life, changing it from black-and-white to living color in an instant, revealing to me the Ancient of Days, the Great I AM.
And trust me, it was probably one of His bigger challenges.
In the end, it is the only one that really matters.
I never, in a million years, could have imagined the path my life has taken, or dreamt of the existence I lead or the places He has walked with me, carried me, comforted me. What an amazing privilege it is to hear the Voice of the Living God speaking to me!
He has carried me through hours of pain, kept me company in endless sleepless nights, taught me to sing in my bed, and when pain raises its unbeatable head He, Who knows better than I ever will what the word "pain" entails, has taught me to worship - and somehow, in some unexplainable way, I am lifted above it. No, not lifted up in a chariot of fire and taken off somewhere - I am still aware it is there - but so is He, and that makes all the difference.
It has been estimated that each cell in the human body transacts over 300,000 chemical tasks per second. I look at my hand and find a wonder of construction and utility. My eyes work - a little worse for wear, but working nonetheless. Ears, legs, knees- even my replaced ones - a brain that perhaps deviates from the path now and then, but functioning still.
I am ashamed to say that, most days, I take these wondrous functions totally for granted, not giving a second thought to the fact that Someone keeps my heart beating, my lungs filling and emptying, and my blood with its assorted elements flowing to their destinations.
So, at least for a day or two (until I fall back into my bad habits again) I am going to try to be aware of this miracle I walk around in, the one that was Hand-formed in my mother's womb.
And I leave you with two simple questions:
How many times did your heart beat today?
How many breaths did you take?
Jesus knows the precise number. And He knows how many remain of those allotted to you.
He holds each one in His hands.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
These devotionals are for all of us who are chronically ill (hereafter referred to as CIs) and you able-bodied folks (hereafter referred to as ABs) can sneak in if you want to.
What is a devotional? It's a little story, basically, illustrating a verse of scripture that is noted at the bginning. It's a good way to start your day - thinking of God and His faithfulness to His kids, something to think about and chew on each day. Hopefully you will find something that "clicks" and will bless your sox off. I highly recommend looking up the full scripture at the end of the day, and think about it as you go to sleep.
Where will these devotionals come from? Well, basically, I'm sharing what I've learned from 20+ years of being ill, and being led and comforted by the Spirit of the Living God. This is an unabashedly born-again Christian blog. I depend on the Holy Spirit for each day's energy and needs. You may quote as much as you like, but please respect the copywrite and give due credit.
I make no claims of special holiness or being better than anyone else. I'm just a fellow sojouner, a sinner-saved-by-grace doing the best I can with what I've got, and turning it all, the good and the bad, over to Him.
Because being CI is not like being AB and getting sick, it requires a paradigm shift in your thinking - because we know that tomorrow when we open our eyes, by the grace of God, our illness will be there to greet us. The ABs have the hope that when they get sick, some medication and correct treatment has a pretty good shot at getting them better. We CIs know that won't happen. Each day we awaken to the fact that we are still sick, still make-it-thru-the-day challenged, fighting scary scenarios and self-pity, bed-bound or house-bound or wheelchair-bound and trusting that Jesus meant what He said in Hebrews 13:5, when He promised to never,never,never,never leave us (the implications of the Greek translation, emphatically promising to be there). And so far, He has honored that promise in my life. He has never left me, never failed me, never chastised me for failing Him. The Lover of my soul has carried me when I was too sick to walk, comforted me when yet one more thing was taken from me, and loved me through some of the the foulest moods known to mankind.
He is my rock.
So I'm sharing the lessons I've learned. Think about Him throughout your day and invite Him in - into the darkness and anger and fear and pain, or whatever else your day may hold.
And if you've never met Him, I invite you to do that also - He's waiting with arms open wide to welcome You to a kingdom that will open your heart to a new way of life. Just ask Him - something like,
" Jesus, Please come into my heart and be my Lord and King. I give my life to You, and ask for Yours in return. Thank You for dying in my place, for paying a debt You didn't owe when I owed a debt I couldn't pay. Teach me now how to walk daily with You, and learn Your ways. I ask this in the Name of the One Who, truly, died rather than live without us, Jesus. Amen"
If you prayed that prayer, welcome to the family! Get yourself a Bible in a translation that you can read - I prefer the Amplified Bible, which not only gives you a close to the original translation, but in parentheses the implied or alternate meaning of the words. And then read it - the gospel of John is a good place to start. Spend some time every day in the Word (church-speak for "your Bible"). Pray about anything that happens in your day - from your mood to an unexpected blessing. I'm not talking formal "thee and thou" stuff, just talk to Him the way you would your friend - your very best friend, who knows you deep down and doesn't get offended no matter what you say - because Jesus is like that. Find a bible-believing church that teaches through the Bible - a Cavary Chapel is a good place. You can find one near you by going to http://www.calvarychapel.org/ . You have chosen an exciting, amazing path to travel. The God Who created the Universe is actually waiting to hear your voice. And even more amazing, as time goes on you will begin to recognize His voice talking back, if you sit in the silence and listen. It won't be a thundering scary thing, it will be soft and quiet, the same way your own voice sounds to you when you are thinking, but He will be telling you things you would never think to say in a zillion years. Spend time worshipping Him - there are many praise albums out there to lead you on the way. And, this is very important, begin to trust Him. Things may be difficult, but He is there to listen, even when you are angry at Him, and He will love you no matter what.
By the way, the letters in parenthesis after the quoted verse refer to which translation I used : NKJB is the New King,James Bible, AMP is the Amplified Bible - and if I use any others, I will identiy them as they come up.
So, here goes:
"Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin?... Do not fear, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows."
(NKJB) Matthew 10:29-31 (NKJB)
It had been a really tough day. I'd not been ill very long and hadn't learned even one coping lesson yet. I'd never had a headache before in my life - and this one would recur every day for the rest of my life. Sound hurt. Light hurt. I had no energy and my body hurt so badly I felt like I'd been thrown into a clothes dryer with a sack of rocks and left by the side of the road to die.
I was not in a good mood.
Condemned to my shuttered bedroom, all the light was banished - except for a small, north-facing window that seemed to me my last link with the world (Did I mention I'm a bit over dramatic?) I plopped onto my bed and began praying, asking for some something that would give me hope or show me that He had indeed chosen this way of life for me at this moment in time.
I opened my eyes and looked out my window to the only light that didn't make my head feel like it was going to explode - and, dagnabbit! Smack dab in the middle of my precious, tiny rectangle of blue there was a huge, black telephone wire.
" Lord," I whined, " does there have to be a phone wire right there? There has to be about a billion other places for it. Why is it there?"
I continued in this saintly whining for awhile. I was discouraged. I was disgusted. I was in relentless spirit-crushing pain.
And I was scared.
Self-pity and I were having a battle. I knew that this grumbling stuff was not the way God intended this illness to change my life. So I was not going to give in to it. And the only way, in all these years. that I have ever found to beat self-pity is to yell, "No!" (inside my heart) and turn to the Holy Spirit saying, "If you don't take over I'm going to fall right into the middle of that pit. Please, Lord, Help me!" I had tears in my eyes, but I lifted my clenched fist to heaven and opened my hand, giving this whole mess to the One Who promised to meet my needs.
And God won.
I laid down again, looking steadfastly at that stupid wire cutting into my blue sky.
And then -
And then, a small yellow-rumped warbler landed on the wire (did I tell you I love birds)
And then it began to sing.
With tears running down my face and a ginormous smile, I was crying out to my Tender Loving Father thanking Him over and over, asking for forgiveness - how could I have ever doubted Him? My spirit soared out of that shuttered prison, singing thank yous and hosannas and joy.
I don't know how long the bird stayed - 2 minutes? an hour? Time seemed suspended. In the whole universe there was only this Tender, Loving God I was learning to trust, a beautiful, bright, yellow-patched singing bird.
And from that day forward, I have found it to be all I ever really need.
(uh...not necessarily including the bird)