Sunshine in the Valley

humor and encouragement from my heart to yours

Bearing burdens

When you hear the phrase “bearing one another’s burdens”, what image comes to mind?

I often tease Susanna about being “my little pack mule” because she frequently carries my bags when we go places if I’m too weak to do so myself that day. Unlike a donkey, however, she doesn’t require a bit or a bridle to do this…nor even a carrot dangling on the end of a stick! :) No, she has a very cheerful servant’s heart, and always acts as though it is a pleasure to carry whatever load I might have for her….and if I dare apologize for weighing her down, I get “the look”. :)  I never feel like I am inconveniencing or truly “burdening” her, though, because she makes it clear that it is her love for me which motivates her happy service.

I’ve thought often lately of the verse that says “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2) The law of Christ….yes indeed. He set the ultimate example of bearing burdens, and selfless love. I have been utterly astonished by the compassion and grace He has shown me on even my worst days…and the closeness that has developed as a result. That He would be so kind is not what surprises me (it is His very nature, after all), but the fact that He would do that for me. Knowing me utterly, all my failures and sin, yet He loves me still and is beside me on the darkest of nights, just as He is for all of His children. The knowledge and comfort of His presence has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. It has strengthened my walk with Him in priceless, unmeasurable ways, undoubtedly worth the cost.

And He desires the same in our relationships with others….He wants us to demonstrate His selfless love. So many people around us are hurting. As I travel through chronic illness, one of the most surprising aspects of this journey has been “the fellowship of suffering” discovered along the way. Going through long periods of trials of all different sorts lends a kinship with fellow folks who are hurting that is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. You feel for each other, and understand each other, in a way that I never knew was possible prior to my illness. We are bearing each other’s burdens. I feel as though my existing friendships are even more precious to me, and the new friends I am making along the way are impacting my life in unexpected ways. There is a clarity, an understanding of certain dimensions of life, which I never grasped previously. And I’m finding it to be a very, very good thing…..even in the midst of very, very bad things.

Learning to recognize the pain of another person is the first step towards bearing their burden. Hugs, encouraging words, prayers, cards, even just the squeeze of a hand….these tangible tokens of comfort can lift even the most burdened hearts. Taking note of and meeting specific needs, especially, can make a profound difference in the lives of those “in the valley”. (this has happened to me on numerous occasions….from loved ones as well as anonymous folks who dropped something in the mail for me to remind me that the Lord will always provide. What faith-building experiences these have been!) Just “being there” is sometimes the greatest gift you can give, and again, I have been blessed by so many who have been there for me through thick and thin. We live in such a fast-paced society that these things are easy to overlook, but taking the time to show kindness to someone hurting can have profound eternal significance.

And you know, I am finding that bearing the burdens of others actually relieves my own, to a great degree. Being aware of precious people going through deeper and far more painful circumstances than my own brings such a balance to my habits of thinking. It’s easy to start having a pity party at times, especially on rougher days when I can’t speak or walk, but then I talk to someone who lost the person dearest in the world to them….or hear of someone bedridden for months….or facing terminal illness…..and the Lord gently reminds me of my blessings and how much I should thank Him for on even what seem to be the very worst of days (they can always get worse!). And He also reminds me of the importance of praying for and encouraging those people, instead of thinking sympathetically of their plight and then going my merry way. (how often I’ve done this! But sympathy does little good if there are no hands and feet behind it!)

I am sitting here at my computer unable to speak at present, but how liberating to be able to type out my thoughts! I’m so grateful for computers! My handwriting is often affected by my neurological issues, but I can still type and text, and it makes it easier to know that I am not truly silenced. :) (it takes more than muteness to quench my abundance of words, ha)

Sometimes I feel so worthless to the kingdom of God, limited as I am. I can’t teach a Sunday School class, or play piano for church, or minister in any of the ways I would enjoy doing. But I am finding that there is a unique ministry in suffering. This may only be for a certain window of time in my life, and I long to take every advantage of it while I still can. I hope that I will take these lessons with me through all times in my life, both good and bad, but honestly….it is in the fire that often our words and actions speak loudest. I am not at all diminishing other forms of ministry (not at all!), but I am addressing this matter because I do not often hear it spoken of in churches. Dedication and love for the Lord are often measured by the number of services attended and ministries performed. But this is not how the Lord judges things. He looks at our hearts. He allows events to happen in our lives that often leave us on the sidelines – not because He’s mad at us or punishing us- but rather because He wants to use us in unexpected ways for His glory, not ours. I could never take credit for any of the ways He has chosen to use me during this time of extreme weakness, because there is no doubt whatsoever that my sufficiency has been in Him and His grace alone. It’s not in me. Pride is continually abased in times like these, and it has been good for me, though painful at times, to have “the things I accomplish” stripped away. This is a refining process, ordained by God to conform me to the image of His Son. I would never have chosen it, had He asked me. But I am learning to embrace the plan of One who knows ever so much better than I ever could, rejoicing in the unexpected ways He has given me to minister, even now.

Are you hurting today? Struggling in the face of unimaginable loss or serious illness? Take heart! The Lord has a purpose for you here, though it may be difficult to see at times. Let me encourage you to reach out to those around you….bear their burdens along with yours, and let the Lord use your weakness and sorrow to accomplish something beautiful through His all-sufficient strength. If you are not in the valley right now, reach out to those who are. One of these days that will be you…..and you will know just how deeply it means to have the support and care of others during dark and lonely times. I’m grateful that the Lord can use us no matter what state we find ourselves in at present….sickness or health, poverty or prosperity, sorrowing or rejoicing. He is able.

 

 

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A matter of control

We hear about submission all the time in church, especially regarding the will of God. But what does that really look like? What does it mean, honestly? I’m starting to realize the gaps that sometimes exist between what I know in my head and where it applies to my everyday life. It sounds so spiritual in church, but when the rubber meets the road….do we really know what we are talking about?

Submission: (noun) the action or fact of yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person. (synonyms: obedience – subjection – subordination)

The Lord taught me a pretty powerful lesson about this last week.

Things were going great. I was feeling well, working full days, and hopped in bed Wednesday night eagerly anticipating work day #4. In a row!! I realize this is no great accomplishment for most folks, but for me, it’s pretty significant these days. :) I was determined to finally work an entire week….and I was almost there!

Early in the wee hours of Thursday morning, however, I woke from a deep sleep and began having tremors and all the warning signs of an impending seizure. This was very unusual, as seizures generally do not hit in the middle of the night. Symptoms hit so quickly that I had no time to take meds or call for help, as my face and body were both paralyzed within moments. My heart immediately begged, “God! I want to go to work tomorrow!” I was distressed and frustrated, so close to fulfilling my goal of working a full week…only to have it seemingly vanishing before my eyes. The symptoms accelerated, and I could not so much as open my eyes as again I silently, desperately cried, “Oh God, I want to go to work tomorrow!”

I don’t know about you, but God does not often directly reply to my requests, so I will not soon forget the answer that immediately followed. It was not audible of course, but just as real in my heart as if I heard the words aloud….gentle and kind, a stark contrast to my desperate pleas. “You aren’t asking the right way: ‘I want’.

My heart was smitten by His simple words. The message could not be clearer. Throughout my illness He has taught me much about who is really in control of my life…..and it isn’t me. I used to subconsciously think I was, in the “little stuff” at least….I would confidently tell folks I would be somewhere or do something without ever once considering the fact that maybe I wouldn’t be able to…that maybe it was a good thing but not the best thing He desired for me. Even when I started becoming ill, I would make commitments and joke that they would happen because I was determined they would. Then I’d wake up unable to walk or talk, and have to cancel those plans after all. This frustrated me to no end, until I started learning what submission really means, and that it applies to all aspects of my life. I had forgotten about that little verse in James that says “For that ye ought to say, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or do that.” I wasn’t consciously rebellious towards the Lord (though perhaps the end result was the same) but when it came to day to day plans, I guess I thought I could handle those myself. How wrong I was! If He is not Lord of all my life, is He Lord at all?

Yet after so many such lessons, here I was, once again, telling Him what I wanted rather than being submissive to what He might want in this matter. I was so ashamed. As the seizure intensified, my heart grew calm and I accepted the fact that I likely would not be working the next day. Still, I quietly asked, “Lord…..would you let me go to work tomorrow?”

Every symptom fled. The seizure was gone, instantaneously.

I lay there in shock. This was honestly the last thing I had expected. I have prayed many times for the Lord to stop seizures or take away certain symptoms, but in His wisdom He has never chosen to intervene in such a dramatic way. Yet here I was, eyes opening, a body now responding perfectly normally: peace rather than the chaos wreaking havoc only moments before.

Again that gentle, quiet voice came. “I am teaching you here.”

Oh yes, was He ever! How easy it is to forget that attitude in prayer makes a profound difference as to whether that petition is granted or not. The fact is, what I was asking for was not wrong. It was good that I wanted to go to work. It was good that I cried to the Lord instead of getting angry. But I was not praying according to His will.  I was not being submissive. Just the day before, I had read in John where Jesus said “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me”. (John 5:36) If the perfect Son of God would live this way, how much more should I as a very imperfect human being!

That moment was also a reminder of His omnipotence and awareness of what is happening in my life. He effortlessly removed every trace of the seizure, with no “human help” whatsoever, and He could take away this disease entirely if He so chose. All He would have to do is speak the word, and those Lyme bugs wouldn’t stand a chance! :) But in His wisdom, He has allowed this into my life for His purpose and His glory, and it won’t remain a minute longer than He wishes.

I used to long that I lived in Jesus’ day, and mourned that I couldn’t touch the hem of His garment and be healed like the woman with the issue of blood. But the Lord has since reminded me that although times have changed, He is still the same. He hears my prayer just as surely as He heard the silent prayer of the woman that day. I just must trust Him when the answer doesn’t come as quickly as I think it should.

And amazingly enough, the next morning I woke up perfectly fine. No trace of the seizure was left behind, further proof that the Lord stopped that seizure, because I always have “fallout” the morning after. I worked a full day, and even had the energy to go to dinner with a sweet friend afterwards. God is so good!

Submission definitely doesn’t always result in getting what we want, though. :) I longed to work this week, but so far that hasn’t happened due to a rough weekend. But you know what? It’s ok. God is God. I’m not. And I’m grateful for that. :)

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Everyone should have a Susanna

Seriously. Susanna is my youngest sister, and the only one still living at home. (my other sweet sisters are of course living in Texas now, and boy do I miss them!) That girl lights up my life in a way that only a sweet “baby” sister could.

Last night is a perfect example. In spite of taking extra precautions to avoid them, seizures hit almost the moment I went to bed. Susanna was with me, and that precious girl comforted and helped me more than I could express in words. The first seizure was particularly bad, and as I came out of it, I could not stop the tears from flowing. I normally don’t cry much, and tried desperately to stop, not wanting to upset her. But I underestimated the strength of my little sis. She held me and soothingly encouraged me to “let it all out”, handling the situation with remarkable maturity and understanding, particularly as a sixteen-year-old girl. So I did. And felt immensely better afterwards. It didn’t take long for tears to turn to laughter as we found humor in the midst of the insanity. :) How I love that girl!

When another seizure hit only moments later, Susanna was prepared. We have learned that evoking strong emotion (by either making me laugh from something outrageously funny or making me very upset by something) tends to pull me out of the seizure quicker at times….so my hilarious sis went into full British comedic monologue mode. That girl is so stinkin’ funny, she was making me smile, and eventually laugh, in spite of the stiff immobility of my facial muscles. Yep, she was funny enough to override the paralysis. (I told you she was awesome!) I seriously wish I could have recorded her….she certainly would have had you all in stitches. Instead of going to pieces or wringing her hands, she thought of me, and did all within her power to help me through the healing power of laughter–and boy did she outdo herself! I’m laughing just remembering…. :D

I also am reminded yet again of the kindness of my Lord. He has given her such a compassionate heart that is immensely comforting to my mom and me. She may be the junior member of the family, but I’m telling you–she helps us tremendously in so many ways. This may be a rough week, but oh my….I have been given much, particularly in my little sis. Times like this make me increasingly aware of the little jewel living under our roof. She has such a tender heart of compassion for others, with just the right amount of spunk and humor. She is beautiful inside and out, and I know He has special plans for her life. She is going to make a lucky guy very happy someday. :) But in the meantime, I am so privileged to be the recipient of her gentle, nurturing ways and hysterically funny self! :)

If you have a Susanna in your life, you are blessed indeed.

 

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