Saturday, November 14, 2009


I am among those blessed with physical pain. How can I use the word blessed in such a context? I remember now reading Elizabeth Barret Browning as a student and being deeply drawn to her immutability and passion despite her permanent set of disturbing circumstances. If ever there was a Job...still, she is recalled as having stood for something(1). She was also not without the blessing of God. I have been asking the oldest human question standing on a new plain: what do I do when "it" doesn't get better--ever?

Extended pain and/or deep grief is the kind of seemingly helpless experience that motives a person to start compartmentalizing and formulating out of sheer exhaustion. A person in real pain will feel no shame about trying every solution imaginable. "There is nothing new under the sun" by the way(2). King Solomon wrote that. (This coming from a guy who could have literally anything he wanted). I'm not sure whether he ever had physical pain, or if his problem was simply chronic boredom. Mindlessness is a sort of pain in itself; a disassociation from the reaches of God and the nonconformity of living in Him.

I see this offensive stance we take towards our pain as a normal human response to suffering. When there's discomfort, we fight it. Sometimes we even enjoy the fight--this makes us feel worthy. If we have to go through it, we'll stick some placebo in to mask the absence of real appeasement. I am no longer shocked by my inability to be composed during pain; I find there's nothing wrong with honest questions in the midst of maladies. These attempted judgments against our Maker only become infectious when we have seen them and continue to recline about with them. Unless we move towards God, they eventually become bedsores or gangrene and then we are terminal and must lose a leg or an arm to see bitterness go. The questions themselves are really just opportunities. We don't have to wait so long as to be engulfed by them. Questions are intersection points for action. If we fight this way, pain can't win.

I am not proud to say that I have frequented the halls of doubt--not at all a great champion of faith--but all is not lost. Doubt has been the implement of God's hand in forming many faithful heroes. I confess I have "consorted with flesh" in a myriad of compulsive questions against God(3). As though I could even hope to stand in His courtroom. My questions are something to this effect: "Why is everyone else being healed and not me? Is my faith not strong enough? I've been touched by God before, why wasn't wholeness sustained?" Though I have asked and asked again my pain seems indomitable, like I've rolled in a mixture of discomfort and super-glue. To those who know pain, I have compassion for your struggle, I hope the way God has compassion for mine. You are not alone. We ask the kinds of questions that cannot be answered with a trite word or a randomly quoted scripture verse. Those in some sort of pain, realistically most all of us, know what it's like to feel starved for encouragement.

Something new has begun to wake up in me, and I want to share. Encouragement has woken up in me. I have had a new opening of my eyes from God and now I know: perhaps His eternal dreams for my faith are greater than the immediate alleviation of my temporary pain. I have often wished that my body could keep up with my heart. Now casting a look across what my life has been I see moments when I felt so incredibly broken physically, when there was nothing that I could do to work harder or faster for God and no way I could try more or accomplish more. For me this has been a remarkably frustrating phenomenon, but those intersections were the "thin places" between heaven and earth, as CS Lewis calls them. The intimacy with God that has became my portion in those times is exquisite. I can almost say--I am almost surrendered to say-- this is intimacy worth all the suffering I've felt. Suffering is a process. Surrender is a process. God understands.

Impacting in my encouragement was the brinkmanship of Jesus's miracle in Bethany where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived(4). What I read has brought me to a yielding I can't escape from. God has tested my reliance. Lazarus died and Jesus knew He was dying ahead of time. This gave Jesus plenty of time to get to the siblings house. Surplus time aside, Mary, Martha and Lazarus were also loved by Jesus. Amplified Bible says "they were His dear friends and he held them in high esteem." So wouldn't affection be enough to motivate Jesus to give to the need of the moment? Mary and Martha hoped so. Like me their pain took hold and they couldn't deny their disappointment. They too wrestled with Jesus's sovereign will to hold off on healing those last few days. They told (asked) Jesus, to His face, "Master, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." I see here this lovely concept I've been told of is truth: we really can be highly esteemed and dear to Jesus and still struggle with His ways--to His face! Jesus's response to Mary and Martha is catalytic in stirring up their belief, reliance and trust. Jesus is asking them to "cleave" to Him. His heart for the situation is articulated earlier on when He says, "This sickness is not to end in death; but (on the contrary) it is to honor God and to promote His glory, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Saturated in these words of God I know He requires the ultimate in obedience and trust from me. He desires me to attain wholehearted determination towards the larger focal point of His glory. If I can cleave to Him, then all I will see will be Him. There will come a point when my own suffering will just not be consuming to me. I will have vision of a vast and good plan unfolding about me. Do I believe that He is a Good Friend and Papa? Do I believe that He raised Lazarus from the dead? Now Jesus is the One asking me questions. He so often uses questions to derail the rigidity of formulaic thinking.

On Wednesday I visited my doctor and asked Him to remove my warts. He went into a detailed explanation of what the procedure would entail and told me that I would be in a lot of pain, especially because my warts are growing out of my knuckles. He said the pain would be deep into my bones and would last long after the actual freezing had been done. I found out the process only yields the desired result, complete killing of of the tissue and hopefully the virus that causes the warts, about fifty percent of the time. Never the less, having had these warts and watching them grow and multiply for about a year so far, I told Him that I wanted to go ahead and try. Warts can take up to five years to clear on their own; the immediate pain seemed a measurable trade for ridding myself of the virus' roots in my hands. He got the liquid nitrogen ready and while chatting with my husband and I, positioned the tube to jet out over my fingers. He paused for a second and, without lifting his head, said with gravity, "this is going to hurt."

How many times have cried out to God for relief from internal and external pain being accentuated by my circumstances? How many times have I expected Him to "pony up", essentially saying, "look God, right now I have a need." I will put voice to giving Him permission to "do whatever it takes"...."go ahead God. Shoot that liquid nitrogen into my heart--I can handle it" When the ache starts in my core as God obliges me, how often do I refuse His sweet medicine to go back to an old concoction of my own, knowing full well I can do no good? We all get stuck sometimes. The old pain is more manageable to us than the new that purifies.

Elizabeth Barret Browning retained her effectiveness in life despite a chronic problem with her lungs, spinal injury at a young age, tyranny of her earthly father and loss of her brother. Through all of these circumstances God lifted her up with a remarkable ability to write and with love she experienced through her devotion to God and in her relationship with her husband. She "saw the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living(5)" despite apparent hindrances. God is not asking me to despair of all miracles as though He will never make good on His promises. Jesus wept before Lazarus's tomb and He was troubled over the suffering He saw. He is compassionate. He is not without genuine pathos. He is asking me to trust His deeper work in me. If He desires this pain remain for this earthly season, He assures me it is only temporary. Pain well worthwhile, pain for His glory: deeper faith, love, purity and anointing. If I can cleave to Christ, walking steadfastly, I will see the dead rise in my own life and the life of my beloved companions who also suffer. This will come in God's timing, when all spiritual ground in my faith is ripe to receive His glory. I will be His testimony and His letter will be written on my heart. I must keep believing my Abba, no matter how badly I hurt.

2)Ecclesiastes 1:9
3)Galatians 1:16
4)John 11
5)Psalm 27:13

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Father God

Father God, I say, You will have to show me who You are because even though I'm trying I don't know You, I can't see You.

I see a giant rainbow with red hot color sparks flying out as God's hand strikes it in the sky and hear THIS IS FOR YOU.

I see a million different animal species and enjoy their beautiful uniqueness and stand on a mountain road and overlook a vast display of trees and hills and hear THIS IS FOR YOU.

I see myself scooped (a naked baby) out of a cast-off mud puddle and robed clean and adopted


I see my heart held firmly in the grip of a strong and tender hand through every beating life has rendered me


I see my Savior Jesus crawl across the ground on His hands and knees in the dirt with his skin torn and scabby and blood dripping and I feel His heart in humility and obedience expand to take all of the sickliness and abuse imaginable to me


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Heaven Roars

I'm sitting in my quiet house on Tuesday morning. Everything seems normal, as if today is just another day. We see so little with our eyes. I can say this because it is true--and I own it for myself. There is a whole other realm carrying on while we sleep. Only when we beseech God does the door open. Only when we really want the answers does the deep knowledge start to come. What we have to understand about God is that He knows whether or not we really want the answers. He is not like Santa Clause. Maybe we could fool Him into thinking we have always been good, but God is not so easily fooled. He interprets us even beyond the point we can decipher ourselves.
I am in an unavoidable battle I become weary of because I do not see. I choose blindness to the heavenly armies awaiting my intercession, callousness to the peace and calm of God's glassy waters, indifference to His mighty Holy Spirit. Yet He is always moving. His power quakes around me more tremendously than the movement of any earthly shift. It is a wonder there is even a Kingdom He calls His own. I think perhaps He does that for my sake more than His. The universe and beyond is His home, but that is a bit too big for me. Since He wants me as His friend and lover, He understands and lays His life down for me (and you too of course). He knows how much it means to us to belong as part of a family and home, so He promises to make this special place for us.
Now here is the catch: if I want to come home to this amazing inheritance, I must also adopt the sorrows of Christ and embrace the sacrifices of His battle. A young bride is intertwined as her husband goes off to war and she is faced with the dilemma of love moving is really no catch at all since I am already in the battle whether I like it or not. Blind as a bat or conscious and alert I am marching. "Which way?" is the question to be asked.
People are looking for a limitless show of power and protection. Even those in this world who have never confessed Christ as Lord know someone's gotta help us--and quick! This longing for a larger-than-life mutant being to emerge from the ground, sky, shadows, blatant. Just go to the movies. What is our obsession with superheroes, really? Not that I don't thoroughly enjoy Spiderman's antics; does anyone know where His power comes from? And don't say a spider bit him. That is the apparent answer. No spider I know on earth could have that effect on a man. Who cares where this hero comes from, right? As long as he comes. I am really at that point, we are really at that point. (The point where we'd take power on any terms) I agree. I am, we are, desperate. Do we know who we are worshiping? Do we know where limitless power and protection truly comes from? We should beware counterfeits. One power will protect us, and one will surely betray us.
So I decide: I am in this battle. I want to rub the sleep out of my eyes. I don't wish to grope around with my vision blurred as though any pair of Wal-Mart specs will suffice. I need my prescription. And those of us who wear glasses and contacts know, only one prescription will do. Only one Power will never lead us to slaughter. Only One will always protect us, even to the point of laying down His life. Jesus would die before seeing our ruin.
I am not wise. I see dimly. I need help to see what is true. I need vision in the haze of this life. To find the goodness of God and bank my whole life on Him. Listen, look. Can you see and hear the heavenlies today? They roar. God's army marches out for love. Which way are we going? We can be certain, we are going one way or another, whether we like it or not. But God's great gift to us: we decide our direction. As we traverse this war-torn pathway, may we direct ourselves to shelter beneath only Him.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Leper in Me

When I read about the leper in Matthew 8 I wept. I'm not completely sure why I had this response but it's true that often when the Holy Spirit speaks a profound truth, the center of my heart gets clipped to make room for more of God; simultaneously I experience relief and hope with pain.
The leper's desperation touched me. He came up to Jesus and prostrated Himself, worshiping. I think, "How gutsy is that?" I don't imagine that until we have authentically known life-consuming desperation we have a chance at relating to what the leper was feeling in that moment with Jesus. This poor man confessed that through and through he was a leper with no hope for any part of his life without a move of compassion from God's heart. He was literally decaying. He confessed his need so adamantly even his physical body had to express his heart's pleading and he laid down in front of Jesus on the ground.
The reasons I struggle against intimate closeness with Jesus are many. One reason I can see in part today (thank God!): my heart still remains unsure that Jesus is willing to heal me, or even able for that matter. I say, "God forgive me" and He does.
This leper is quickly becoming one of my heroes because he says to Jesus, "Lord, if you are willing, You are able to cleanse me by completely (italics mine) curing me."
Then the precious, perfect Man-God we call Jesus reaches out His hand and touches the leper and says, "I AM WILLING; BE CLEANSED by being cured."
In the middle of recession, He is willing. In the middle of a thousand physical ailments that seem to press upon us relentlessly, He is able. Enveloping our cold, dead hearts He is our preservation against decay. There is still time, there is still hope. Will we throw the desperate leper inside us on the ground in front of our Savior? Can we offer up our last mustard seed to God, determining to call Him willing and able? I can and today, by the grace of God, I will.