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Saturday, July 20, 2019

And Then...

If each of us live long enough, we are bound to encounter seasons of pain and suffering.

I knew that was true.  Sort of.

For the first 51 years of my life, the only real problems I suffered through were inconsequential, the hardships of budgeting for new tires (instead of a new couch) or the 2 year old tantrums that demanded cake (instead of green beans).  Really, to be honest, life was easy. happy. good.  Family Get-Togethers.  Birthday Celebrations.  Job Promotions.  More smiles than tears those first 51 years.

And then... Cancer.

Mom's pancreatic cancer diagnosis shattered that naive, confident, easy-breezy view of life. The problems of the before melted into trivial.  In moment's of sheer honesty, we'd go back in a heartbeat and live an entire lifetime dealing with the tears of 2 year old tantrums instead of the soul-crushing anguish of that cancer journey.

Perhaps you are struggling through a period of profound pain and suffering too.  Could be life has coasted along smoothly...until a Divorce, or Job Loss, or a shattering personal pain.

Cancer ushered in a season of intense grief, heartache and loss in our family.

It was Suffering on a scale that we had never before experienced.

I heard an interview on the radio the other day, didn't catch all of it, but the gist of it was that Suffering can be a Gift.

Caught my attention alright.  Denial was immediate.

Then I started listening (wish I could link the show, but don't have the name, please forgive)... and after a few minutes I was swayed to begin to look at suffering in a new way...

When pain and suffering take us to the end of ourselves... When the hurt and loss push us to question everything we once thought certain... maybe here it is where growth can turn the suffering into gift, the heartache into fruit... maybe...

I listened on to the wise counsel on suffering and began to engage just a bit, perhaps the seasons of hardship and pain can shepherd us to a better place.  And I remembered a quote by Josh Shipp:

You either get bitter - or you get better...

There is a question there... During what seasons have we grown the most?  Seasons of rest and happiness?  Or seasons drawn from pain and suffering?

What season pushed me to choose?  Get Bitter? or Get Better?

For me, it was the cancer journey

And the growth didn't happen all at once, or even in big, mind-boggling ways.  It wasn't like we somehow had arrived at suffering well.  Actually it was quite the opposite.  We fought the suffering part tooth and nail.  I think you could say we were in denial until mom's final breath.


Looking back, I can see now that the growth, the changes, the strengthening... it was happening in so many small ways, hidden lessons in darkness, that have born fruit in the light.

We grew closer to the Lord.  I will never read scripture again without feeling the anguish of Christ's loss at the tomb of Lazarus... or his desolate cry in the garden of Gethesmane... oh Lord, we prayed too that our cup of suffering would pass us by.  There was a growing understanding of the depths of Christ's Love and Compassion.  A trust in His promise to never leave us nor forsake us.  And a growing step of faith to lay down our will for the perfect will of the Fathers.

Our eyes were opened in earnest to those who walked this road of suffering alongside us.  An outpouring of gratitude that we would never have felt if the cancer journey had never happened.  There is a blessing so infinitely sweet in the arms that held us during those grief-filled days and nights.  That Love healed our shattered hearts when I thought we would never smile again.

In walking through that dark Shadow Valley, we learned above all to trust in God's Faithful Goodness.  If we had never experienced the valley road, we wouldn't understand His utter goodness in making a way where there seemed to be no way.  We are confident that His grace walked that road with us and safely brought us though the overwhelming darkness.

And that lesson compels us to continue sharing our story.  The pain and suffering can be redeemed in the Hands of Grace... Greg Laurie speaks it well:

So, perhaps there is a truth in that suffering can be a gift, of sorts.

 And the thought made me dig deeper.  For I would never wish to elevate the cancer... it was the circumstance, yes, that threw us into a year of devastating loss, but I believe the choice to get Better came not from the cancer journey, but from the solid foundation of support surrounding us.

Because, if we are honest, pain and suffering can hollow out a soul and start a spiral down into a dark, dark pit that can swallow us whole.

What makes the difference?  To get Bitter... or get Better?

Time gives perspective as we've journeyed through this season.  It is not the same for everyone, this I know.  We all ride the waves of pain and suffering in very personal ways. Yet, I've seen a common thread in those who seem to suffer well, or as our radio host put it, those who find hope in the midst of suffering.

For us, the hope found root in a network of support. And others echo this truth.

The structure of community was our lifeline.  Loved ones stood in the gap for us, continually drawing our gaze back to Christ.  When we couldn't find the words, they humbly shouldered the grief and walked out love in our lives.

Within that community of support, we were given valuable coping techniques.  Each one gently offering their own experiences as a map for this valley road. Some tips were spot on, some advice perhaps not as useful to us, but all had merit and showed us a more excellent way to live life well, even in the midst of excruciating pain and suffering. 

One of the things that helped the most was taking a step of courage and meeting with the sweetest grief counselor.  Not easy.  And yes, I spent many of our sessions knee-deep in soggy kleenex, but, oh, the growth that came from those talks.  It was a gift, and a push, and utter encouragement to lay down our circumstances and choose Better, not Bitter.

Each of us will find the path that is right for us... when we make a conscious choice to take the next step... and the next, and the next.  Choosing Better over Bitter when we can.  Choosing to rest in Grace when we can't.  Cry, Breathe, Ask for help, Trust, Take the step... it is the way of living on this valley road.

Perhaps our suffering can be the catalyst for the kind of growth we could never have imagined. 

Trusting in the One who knows our suffering and Chooses Goodness every time.  That perhaps is the greatest gift of all...

Love, Always,

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy 4th of July!

Today we Celebrate our Nation's Freedom
Honor the Brave Men and Women
who have fought to Preserve & Defend it!

Grateful and Humbled every day
for God's outpouring of Grace and Blessing
upon this beautiful land!

Be safe, Be kind,
Be the light someone needs desperately to see,

Love, Always,