What Have I Learned So Far?

Upon first entering a valley, the pain is so great that there is room for nothing else. There is no desire for reflection or energy for deep thought. You merely try to exist...to keep going...to endure. Nothing makes sense. Doubt. Fear. Hurt. Sorrow. It's as if you are drowning. We are only a few months into what already feels like years and we are still in the thick of the fight. However, we have come up for air a bit and there has been time enough for some reflection and much wrestling with God...as this mama tries to reconcile what I "know" and what I "feel." It has not been easy, but as I read and study and pray and reflect, I am beginning to understand and submit to the idea that this suffering was made specifically for us - not for anyone else - and so we must travel this road in an effort to discover what God is teaching us...how he is trying to refine us in this fire. It is early, of course, and twenty years from now, I hope that I will have more insight - and possibly more peace...although I may never truly understand on this side of heaven. Still, there are some recurring themes that I cannot seem to escape, so I must assume that these are things I am not supposed to miss. I want desperately to grow from this, because if I don't...if I go back to the same old me having not learned anything, not drawn closer to God, not made any changes...then we suffered for nothing. 

There are books written by very wise people about why we suffer. I'm not a theology major nor am I am at the top of the intellectual pyramid. So, I'll leave the ruminating about the meaning of suffering to those who are much better equipped. I'm just a weary mom, walking with her warrior daughter as she fights a raging battle against an insidious beast. I am attempting (sometimes unsuccessfully) to see God along the way. In three months, this is what I have learned (but stay tuned, as I am sure there is much to come):

 - Thankfulness
We should be thankful in ALL things. Period.  As mentioned above, I'm no theologian, but I know there are a seemingly endless number of verses in the Bible about thanking God first and for all things. It is pretty clear, although I sort of ignored it before...the part about thanking Him for the hard too. I read Ann Voskamp's book, 1000 Gifts several months ago, and it confirmed what God has begun to show me. Finding joy in all things...from sunrises, to a life of chaos raising young kids, to illness...everything. It is still going to take a lot of work - but it keeps appearing everywhere, this word...thankfulness. So, I suppose it might be something I need to learn. :)

"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
-I Thessalonians 5:18

-Joy and sorrow can exist together
Whenever I was going through a difficult time in the past, I would want to hurry up and pass through it, so that I could get back to being happy. But when dealing with major suffering...whether it is illness, death, a handicap...sometimes you can't just pass through it...many times, it is something you have to live with forever. So, am I just sad forever...no joy again? Of course not - that is not how we should live. But this was new to me, and so I am learning how to balance the tension between the two...to find joy even when there is long-term pain and fear and hard. Joy and sorrow are not exclusive from one another, they can co-exist. It is difficult and I am still learning - but we have found much joy (and laughter) in the midst of some very difficult days

-We are suffering with Christ
Again, like so much of this, I have heard it for years...but until you are walking through it, living it...it is a difficult thing to understand. Christ suffered, so he knows. We suffer. There are a number of reasons for it, but this side of heaven...it is just part of the deal. We should be thankful that God is in control because if He wasn't, the suffering would be endless...unrestrained. As painful as it is, it is comforting to know that someone is running the show and there is a plan and purpose to it.

"God's plan for us in this life is to give us the benefits of heaven only gradually. By letting us struggle with the remnants of a sinful nature, and by letting us know pain, He reminds us of the hell we are being saved from. If we had an easy life, we would soon forget that we are eternal creatures...the stakes are enormous...Thus, it is only fitting that God should give us some sense of the stakes involved, some sense of the war's magnitude. He does this by giving us foretastes of heaven in the joys we experience, and foretastes of hell in our suffering."
-When God Weeps (by Joni Erickson Tada and Steven Estes)

"Jesus Christ did not suffer so that you would not suffer. He suffered so that when you suffer, you'll become more like him. The gospel does not promise you better life circumstances; it promises you a better life." 
-Tim Keller

-Suffering is designed specifically for the person it affects
Many times in recent months people have said to me, "I could never do what you are doing." But do you know what? I would have said the same thing six months ago. I never used to be able to watch the St. Jude cancer commercials because I couldn't dare think about what those kids and parents were going through...really...it made me tremble and I would change the channel every time. But we are living it now...in real life...and while it is REALLY bad, it is not as horrible as I imagined because God is now giving me the grace I need to make it. So truthfully, when people are making that comment, the reality is that they are thinking, "I hope I never have to have to walk through what you are walking through, it seems way too scary." But suffering doesn't work that way. You can't project someone's suffering onto your own life to determine how you would react, because it is not the journey God has for you. Plus, you don't usually get a choice. It comes and you have to deal with it...there is no way to opt out. I have a college friend with MS, four kids and a husband with a crazy job. I have another friend who upon discovering her husband's infidelities realized that he was not the man she thought he was. Yet another who has made the journey to MD Anderson every six months for over a decade to follow up and be sure her husband's brain tumor has not returned. Another friend battling terminal cancer. I look at each of these stories and countless others and think that I couldn't handle it...yet they are walking with strength and grace and dignity because this is the path God has for them. That doesn't mean things are smooth sailing or that any of them would have chosen those roads, there can still be very much hurt and pain and fear, but He fills you with the grace you need...only when it is time.

Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it -- made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.”  
-C.S. Lewis, The Problem With Pain

-Doubt and questions signify a very real and active faith
I see some going through trials and they are quick to quote scripture and claim God is in control and I often wonder...do they really believe that or are they in denial or following blindly? If they do truly believe without the struggle, then they are wonderfully mature believers and far beyond me (which is quite possible). But I am finding that the wrestling with God is alright. Being sinful is not alright, but really questing, praying, researching, trying to reconcile reality and theology...these are all perfectly acceptable and our big God can handle it. The doubt, the questions, and the wrestling signify a very real and active faith...they don't necessarily mean unbelief. (A great book to read on this topic is Wrestling With Angels by Carolyn Arends.) 

-My patience needs some work
Nothing to expand on here...this process has demanded more patience than I have ever known...it is hard and patience is not a strength of mine

-I really do need to live in the day
Cancer or no cancer, we never know what tomorrow will hold. I'm a planner and I spend much of my life going through the schedule, anticipating what is coming next, organizing logistics in my head, planning out every step...all in what I think is a subconscious attempt to convince myself that I have some control over things. But the bottom line is that we don't. He knows the hairs on our heads, the number of our days. We should not be anxious and we are to trust Him to give us what we need for today.

"All that planning ties you up in knots and distracts you from me. Attentiveness to Me is not only for your quiet time, but for all your time. As you look to me, I show you what to do now and next. Vast quantities of time and energy are wasted in obsessive planning. When you allow Me to direct your steps, you are set free to enjoy me and to find what I have prepared for you this day."
-Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (July 26)
 I need to be continually evaluating our priorities. Why are we here? Life is short and fleeting and precious. We need to be the best stewards we can be of our relationships, time and money. Are we pursuing eternal things or worldly things? Have I been sucked into the nonsense and affluence that can be American parenting? Am I buying into the busyness that is suburbia or are we truly living intentionally as a reflection of Jesus...loving and serving well? 

"You will never be in control of your life circumstances, but you can relax and trust in My control. Instead of striving for a predictable, safe lifestyle, seek to know Me in greater depth and breadth. I long to make your life a glorious adventure, but you must stop clinging to old ways. I am always doing something new within My beloved ones, be on the lookout for all that I have prepared for you. 
-Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (July 5) 

-God is good ALL the time and this may not be wrapped up in a neat little package
When we learned that Bailey's necrosis results were 100%, we received many messages that to some extent said the same thing...God is good! And He is...but God still would have been good if her necrosis had been 35%. He is not good based on whether or not we got the results we wanted...He is good regardless...all the time. It has been a major heart battle for me...to really struggle through how this looks. All of the what ifs...if life doesn't turn out as I wish...can I still trust that He is good? This is one of those things that I "know"...but feeling it can be a challenge...especially as I have watched my child hurt. This is a journey that may or may not be wrapped up in a neat little God-story package...and years from now I could still be wrestling with things that I don't understand. But He is still good.

"Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see - how good GOD is, Blessed are you who run to him. "
-Psalms 34:8 (The Message)

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
-Romans 8:28

This journey in young and there is much yet to go. Some days He feels far away and it is as if He has gone silent. But there are other days, when I know that He is carrying us. He is moving. Growth hurts. This refining...oh, does it burn! But there are things I am learning and I don't want to miss them - and this is a glimpse of what He has only just begun to show me as we wander in this desert.


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