Saturday, November 26, 2011

Struck down, but not destroyed

I've been reading in the New Testament in Paul's writings for the last couple of weeks, and I'm seeing him as I never have before.

When he was blinded at his conversion, the Word tells us that for 3 days he prayed, neither eating or drinking.  Wow. 3 days without stopping - what was he saying?

I cannot imagine being struck blind (my 6 weeks with one eye was enough, thank you).  Added to the fear of the present and future without sight. Is it permanent?  Is it a punishment for persecuting Jesus so harshly and condoning the torture and murder of His followers?  How terrifying to discover his whole life was - well, completely wrong and evil - a man who had studied every second practically since birth to know and follow the law according to the Pharisees - of which he was one - the group Jesus had pronounced the "woes" upon.

I think Paul's heart was broken. All this time he'd been trying to please his God - and he'd actually been dishonoring him. I can't imagine the sword through his heart, the nausea, the shame.  Did he spend those three days confessing sins and asking for forgiveness?  He knew nothing of grace yet, nothing of how "The Way" worked, its laws and customs.  Was he going over all the scriptures in his mind to see where the Messiah predictions pointed to Jesus?  Sick at heart, sick in body, hurting, isolated, totally alone and distrusted by anyone who knew Jesus, for Saul had a reputation that ranged far and wide, and it was not a good one to those of The Way.

And then, like his Lord, on the third day he arose.

"...something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see."

But according to tradition and clues in the Word, he could not see clearly.  It seems his eyesight was bad for the rest of his life.

Making him a CI.

Jesus said He would show Paul how much he must suffer for Jesus's sake.

And suffer he did. In 2 Cor:8-10 (Modern Language Bible) "We are hedged in from every side, but we do not live cramped lives;  we are perplexed, but we do not despair;  we are persecuted but not deserted;  struck down but not destroyed, all the while bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that by our bodies the life of Jesus may also be shown." He was also shipwrecked, spending a night and a day on the sea - I can't imagine clinging to a piece of flotsam for 24 hours, in the dark, sharks circling, circling. It gives me shivers.

Then there were the floggings - plural.  The Jews could only give him 39 lashes, but the Romans had no such rule.  The whipping with the cat o' nine tails had leather thongs with nails and thorns and sharp pebbles attached to them, ripping and shredding with every lash - and then being raw and rubbing against any clothing you wore, finally healing in long, ropey scars that would shrink with age into hard ridges - and nothing much in the way of pain relief was available (and if it was, prisoners wouldn't get it!).  He was stoned  by a mob - the people thought they'd killed him; perhaps they did - it may be then that Paul had his vision of heaven.

He often was imprisoned - he would consider an American prison a country club.  Those prisons were many times in caves, dark, cold, smelling of mildew and unwashed humanity.  In many there was no such thing as "cells", plural - many were kept in a huge enclosure, no lights, food shoved through a hole and the strongest got the most.  If you were ill or slow you didn't eat.  And Paul mentions being without food, without lodging, without warm clothes, naked, plotted against, lied about - the list goes on and on.  All while being CI and disadvantaged by not seeing well.  According to Josephus he was a small man.  I'm sure when he showed up somewhere people would look at him and say, "You're Paul?'

Amazing how those verses fit being CI!  Now, I am in noooooooo way equating my life with Paul's.  He got out and converted the known world!  But in those verses I found a blueprint for living.  There are hours of meditation in those words.

As a Christian CI, my life does not have to be cramped - I can travel the world in prayer, studying a specific country and praying for their needs.  Or, as the now defunct Pray! magazine recommended, to pray for the world in the grocery store - all the fruits and veggies are marked with the country they come from, and the specialty foods aisle has a smorgasbord of lands represented, all in need of prayer.  I get one of those rider carts and putt-putt my way around the world.

I never have to despair - although I am perplexed, a lot!  Despair and faith cannot live together.  Because He lives, I can face tomorrow (hmmm - that sounds familiar). The reason is, I may be persecuted because of my illness, by hospitals and health organizations impatient for money, declining coverage to many because of one tiny ailment when I have gazillions! Or it may be friends who slowly delete you from their lives, not calling, not including you anymore, breaking your heart over and over again - but I am not deserted.  The Comforter is always with me.  I may be struck down on bad days, but I am not destroyed - and these ailments are bearing in me the dying of Jesus somehow, mystically, and by my disabled, CI body the life of Jesus is shown - because one and all of these things - living free, not despairing, not deserted, not destroyed - are impossible in the flesh.  At least in my flesh! When I can do something, people know it ain't me.  It's Him.

2Cor:16-18 "For this reason, we are not discouraged,even though our outer nature suffers decay, our inner self is renewed day after day.  For this slight, momentary trouble is producing for us an everlasting weight of glory that exceeds all measures, because we do not fasten our eyes on the visible but on the unseen; for the visible things are transitory, but the unseen things are everlasting."  (emphasis mine)

I can see in Paul's life an everlasting weight of glory that exceeds all measures - Paul was definitely an A type personality, an abundant over achiever with a "face set like flint" to be a slave to his Master. He was the poster boy for abundant, loyal, unending sharing of his faith, spending his last breath in service to his Lord.

But Paul includes us in that "we."

That is an amazing thought. God sees something that is precious to Him when we bear with the pain, the weakness, the isolation.  He has allowed the suffering only to a predetermined point - this is not a random situation we are in, it is a planned event.  God chose us for some reason - clay vessels so leaky that His glory leaks out when we are not looking. 

I often think that God treasures things in an upside-down way.  The dearest treasure of earth - gold - will in heaven be merely pavement.  Instead of rock stars, God chooses us - tattered and weakened, souls worn down to the nub, not faithful in prayer (I speak for myself here,) often lowered from top priority on my "to do" list.  We are His examples of what He can do with nothing - weak, fallen mankind, sinners saved by grace and grace alone.

But it occurred to me today that is I, not God, who has things upside-down.  It is not for Him to bend Himself to my way of thinking, it is for me to be "renewed in my mind," transformed, not conforming myself to the world. God thinks straight, my thinking is a wee bit off.

OK, it's a lot off.

I am open-mouthed with wonder at what Paul accomplished, the travels he took, often having to rely on  others for health care (the beloved physician, Luke) and having a traveling companion, no doubt to help him when he had a physical need. 

Cesarea Maritime, the Bema seat where Paul stood in front of Felix and Herod Agrippa
I saw some of the places Paul went - to Cesarea, appearing before Felix and Herod Agrippa, to Corinth, to the Parthenon, to Pergamom, to Ephesus (I saw it in my sister-in-laws photos - I was sick that day).  It was an awesome thing to see the Bema seat where Paul stood - the climates so varied, in some places the heat intense, walking mile upon dusty mile, then sharing scriptures in the Synagogues, facing rejection by his people yet again, walking more, arguing prophecies and scriptures fulfilled.

If Paul, who was a mere mortal the same as us, could survive the things he did,, it humbles and encourages me. I have my soft bed with downy coverlets, pain medicine at hand,  help always available, no one (yet) breaking down my door to drag me off to a flogging or imprisonment. 

I am not negating the suffering that CI brings, the strange stretching of a time warp that makes minutes spent in pain seem like hours, or the isolation, or the discouragement.  But the same One Who comforted Paul is available to me, the same grace, the same promise that He is made strong in our weakness, that I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.  Inch by inch I am learning to stand on those promises. 

I pray for any who stumble on this blog, that His tender love and unending strength will fill you with peace, the knowledge that you are dearly loved, and the strength to endure.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Give thanks with a grateful heart

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I've been doing some ruminating lately.

And it has rendered me overwhelmed this morning by all I have to give thanks for: 

My right eye is functioning as well as my left - and the time without both eyes functioning taught me to give thanks for those things that still work, for the days with less pain, for the days with small joys, not just big ones.

Because of the bizarre eye paralyzation, more intense MRIs of the brain were performed which have provided the assurance that there is nothing growing or destroying my brain cells - a comfort when the headaches are blinding and the thoughts of glioma, a common cancer with CFIDS, come rushing in.

My brother survived a serious 911 emergency.  He had just installed a security front door and neglected to give me the key.  I knew he had fainted, had been vomiting for a long while, had split his forehead open with the fall, and did not have the strength to even crawl to a door to let us in.  The firemen had to break the picture window in his bedroom to gain entry.

Later that morning I remembered I did have the key to his back door.

The next day, he remembered I had the key to his back door.


But he is alive and well, the last remaining member of my "growing up" family.  And I am very,very grateful.

My sister-in-law, who makes my days possible, who looks out for me, drives me to appts when I don't feel good, cleans the house, does the dishes,and is generally my caretaker, is also doing well.

The house is paid for, we don't have to worry about foreclosure - just the maintenance and the HOA.

My Norwegian Forest Cat, Katrina, now middle aged at 7 years old, has recently begun to mellow, and will, on rare occasions, allow me to pick her up for a brief cuddle.  She also will allow me to pet her while standing on occasion.  This is the cat who firmly believes, after having been showered with love and attention for 7 years, that I have been planning all this time to kill her - but only while standing, and certainly if I bend down to pet her.  Accordingly, she runs under the bed, which is where she lived for her first 3 months here.

She stays at arms length and one inch beyond it.  She won't let me near her when she has something stuck in her mouth.

I took my complaints about her to my Eternal Papa and He said,

"She is just like you."


"For days you keep Me at arm's length - you go about your business and push me to the back burner of your life.  When You have something dangerous or something that won't go down stuck in your craw, you won't let me catch you, either, and insist on carrying it alone when my eternal arms are underneath you, ready to hold and comfort.  You're just like Katrina."

Oh. (a little throat clearing here while I search for a way to change the subject.)

The only thing that comforts me about this is that Katrina doesn't let me out of her sight.  She follows me faithfully and has to be within sight of me.  I hope that applies to my walk with Jesus as well.

And it makes me thankful for her.

When I look back at the last 24 years of illness, I can find much to be thankful for there, too.  It allowed me to be home for the last years of my mother's life, and a chance to get to know my youngest brother who died at age 45.  I have a mild case of  CFIDS - I can still read, on good days I can go somewhere, I have dear friends who don't forget me, and my doctor doesn't withhold pain medication, which many doctors have begun to do.  Withholding of pain medications is one of the chief causes of suicide in those with CFIDS - the DEA has begun to crack down on "drug pushers" in the medical professionn.  Unfortunately, they include chronically ill in the groups that use too much pain medication.  So far the Lord has protected me from that - another huge reason to be thankful.

Some very dear friends of mine have both had life-threatening illnesses in the last 2 years.  Things seem to be almost healed there and I am so very grateful.

I was able to go to a watercolor journal class - the first artsy fartsy thing I've been able to do in a couple of years, and I was able to attend both days.  I got to see my great-nephew for his birthday and go to one of my favorite restaurants in the California town I came from.

I had my first Starbucks confection  ever (the Peppermint lured me in).

I have a Pastor who is not only a great exegeter and teacher, but a tender-hearted man who daily seeks ways to be the Father's hands, to comfort, to shepherd his flock with a great tenderness - and a wicked sense of humor that not only keeps his sermons from getting boring, but communicates deep truths with it as well.

But mostly I am thankful for Philippians 4:13, for Romans 8:1 and a million and one other verses that comfort and call to courage under fire.  God gave us His Word to guide us, speak to us, warn us, teach us, and lead us to a relationship with Him that, truly, makes life worth Living, and the capital L is intentional. My great-niece described her life as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and I think that is a perfect metaphor for this life. The warnings the ride carries are also worth noting when the bottom drops out and you are screaming in seeming free fall - keep your seat belt on, don't try to stand up while the car is moving, and keep your hands inside the car.

I pray your Thanksgiving will bring with it much joy and leave you with many wonderful memories - and an uncountable amount of things to be thankful for.

God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The tenderness of Jesus

I've been reading in the Gospel of John, from Chapter 13 to the end, and I've been struck continuously by the tenderness of the heart of God.

He was so kind to them, trying to bolster their courage, praying for them, protecting them.

At one point He says to them, "I will not leave you orphans..."


It struck me that that is exactly how CI sometimes makes me feel.  Like an orphan. But no matter how overwhelming it feels, Jesus said He would not leave me an orphan.  He would send the Comforter -He promised.

Some days I cling to that.

Then in His prayer for us, He said He hadn't lost one of the ones His Father had entrusted to Him, except the son of perdition (Judas).  How many times did He protect them from unseen dangers and attacks, as they blissfully argued about who would be the greatest?  How many times did satan try to discourage them or destroy their faith?  How many times has He protected us?

And then lastly - and this one brought tears to my eyes - there was the matter of Mary Magdalen at the tomb. (I seem to be on a Mary kick lately)

I've read it so many times before, but this time I was there - I could feel her agony.

She was so anxious to to get to Him she came, John tells us, while it was still night!  Can you see her, hurrying through the darkness in the chill of the early Spring, running to get to the One Who had cast seven demons  - seven! - from her body?  See her as she wept broken-hearted, stricken to the core with grief, appalled and horrified that some creep would actually steal the body of Jesus?

She knew how much the Pharisees and Sadducees hated Jesus, could only imagine the disrespect with which His body would be treated. Or perhaps the rich folks were upset because Jesus was buried in their graveyard - they didn't want the notoriety, the scandal.

She'd come that morning to undo His hastily prepared body - Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea had been in such a hurry to get it done before the Sabbath began at sundown and perhaps had been sloppy (men!) She wanted His body properly prepared - washed well, the spices tenderly twined and wrapped, His body respectfully entombed with honor and reverence.

How absolutely horrifying to find the stone rolled back, the tomb empty!

She ran to the apostles and told them, then ran back, following them to the tomb.  Peter and John looked in, one after the other, looked at each other - and left!

Where did they go?  Why didn't they tell her what to do?

So she bent down to look into the tomb - and two men, sitting one at the head and one at the feet where Jesus had lain said, "Woman, why are you crying?"

Sobbing, she answered, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where to find Him."

Disconsolate, sobbing, confused, her stomach churning, her heart breaking, perhaps she was wondering if the demons would come back now that Jesus was dead.

Blinded by tears, she saw what she thought was the gardener.

He spoke to her, so gently, "Woman, why are you weeping?"

"Oh please," she sobbed, "If you've taken Him, just tell me where and I'll go get Him!" (translation liberties mine) "You don't have to do anything!  Please, please just tell me..."

And then her frantic sobbing and despair were banished by a single, tender, gentle word:


She knew that voice.  She knew it!

It was HIM!  And He was alive!

Sobbing now out of joy and wonder, she fell at His feet and did the only thing an unrelated female could do in that day and culture - she grabbed His feet - His precious, broken, nail-scarred feet.

Her grip must have fierce - and I believe there was a hint of a chuckle in His voice when He said, "Don't cling to me, Mary - I haven't been to My Father yet!  I'll be back."

And that very line - with my translation liberties and emphasis included - really hit me today.

Mary - not the apostles, not even His own mother, was the first person Jesus appeared to that Resurrection Day.  He hadn't even been to His Father yet!  Imagine it!

He loved Mary with such a great, overwhelming tenderness that He wouldn't let her hopeless grief continue a moment longer - or her fears that the demons would come back, or her horror that someone would desecrate His tomb, His body.

And He loves us with that same great, overwhelming tenderness.

He doesn't want us, either, overwhelmed by grief, or fear, or despair.

Being CI didn't happen to us by accident, dear one. And sometimes, yes, it is heartbreaking, and grief-provoking, and fearful and devastating.

But into that darkness, He speaks our names, too - tenderly, never leaving us orphans, or unprotected, or Comfortless.

Like the stars, He calls us each by name.

And all we need to do, really, is listen.