Learning anything from the pain?

Suffering1   I knew I was beginning to recover from surgery when I became aware of the sticky square shapes in odd places on my body, the residue of monitoring patches. Now that I had the sense to realize they were there, it was time they were scrubbed off.

Hadn’t noticed them for a week. My days were filled with meds, meals, sleep and occasional trips to the loo.

Major problem; major surgery. Pain and suffering. Weeks of recovery.

I hope no one has told you that once you become a Christian, all your problems are solved. No more suffering or pain, just smooth sailing ahead.

It’s a lie. If someone told you this lie, I hope you don’t believe it. All it’s going to bring is disappointment with God over something He never promised.

Scripture actually teaches that we can expect trouble. Pick your translation and the upshot of 2 Timothy 3:12 is this:

“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer…”

Not might, will.

Most of my real problems started once I became a Christian. (Before Christ, my “problems” were mostly the by-product of my sin.)

When I embraced Christ, I made the mistake of inviting my running partners, now called “road dogs,” to my baptism. That pretty much cleared my calendar. The ones who stuck around, thinking this was just a phase, exited stage right when they realized I really was a changed person.

I suffered the loss of “friends.” Then there were the family members who went a little crazy, the religious people who didn’t go for all the “saved” stuff. The person who had given me my first Bible became unglued. To this day, our relationship is strained.

Bodily suffering can pale compared to emotional hurt. Still, all suffering hurts. We’d all like to avoid pain, but don’t believe that other lie that if you  “just had enough faith,” you wouldn’t get sick.

If Christians were immune to sickness, there would be no need for all the New Testament teaching on healing. Paul, who wrote much of it, suffered a thorn in the flesh that God refused to remove. Instead, He reminded Paul:

“My grace is sufficient for you; my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

God is with us in all our suffering. I encountered Him in the longtime nurse who brought cups of warm broth to soothe my aching throat after surgery left me barely able to swallow. I glimpsed Him in the bright bouquets that arrived on my doorstep, the meals brought, the cards mailed. I felt His embrace in the hugs of family and friends, heard His voice in their phone calls.

Suffering is part of the journey, not an aberration. It doesn’t last, but it will happen. When Paul encouraged disciples on his missionary journeys, he did not sugar-coat the reality of what it means to follow Christ, saying: “We must suffer many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

No servant is greater than his master. Jesus suffered; we will suffer.

“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

I’m learning that dust bunnies will wait. That the people I care about are more important than the work I do. That feeling good is a gift easily taken for granted. That, in spite of everything, God is good. He is faithful and worthy of obedience and praise.

Here’s to Your Health!

I spent a chunk of Sunday watching debate of the health care reform bill on the House floor. Today, that bill was signed into law. Whatever your politics, it is an historic moment. And it’s one that I personally celebrate.

Health care debate is not abstract for me. I was a grad student when Bill Clinton tried and failed to pass health care reform. Back then, I wrote a treatise on the absurd economics of American health care. Since then I’ve lived those absurdities.

  • My husband lost a job once and was offered COBRA health care coverage with a price tag higher than our mortgage payment.
  • A teacher changed jobs in the midst of medical problems and learned her new insurer would not cover continued visits to doctors who had treated her for years.
  • Relatives who didn’t qualify for affordable preventive care to remain healthy at home found they could get higher-priced nursing home care at government expense.
  • Seniors I drove to pharmacies for multiple prescriptions left empty-handed when they saw the bill.

Health care is a conundrum for small business owners, too.

  • The mother of my child’s middle-school classmate was diagnosed with cancer. The family owned their own business and nearly lost their home because of the illness. She survived, but became uninsurable because of her “pre-existing medical condition.”
  • A guy I know wants to offer employer-sponsored health insurance but can’t afford it. His workers buy their own insurance; and he pays for it. It skirts the law but is the cheapest way to do the right thing.

In all the debate, we’ve lost sight of these flesh-and-blood people. Congressmen and senators have talked in soundbites, denouncing government “take-over” of health care, invoking the image of illegal immigrants benefiting from a system for which they have paid nothing.

Several Congressmen sermonized about the unborn who might be aborted at taxpayer expense. One called his fellow lawmaker a “baby killer” for supporting the legislation. Mind you, some of these people claim conservative, Christian, family-values credentials.

I asked myself, “What would Jesus do”?

The Bible has much to say about the poor, the orphan, the stranger among us and how love for God should translate to “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus cares about all human life – before and after birth. He cares that people get sick and sometimes die in misery because they cannot afford care in a country whose medical care arguably is the best in the world.

The new health care law, like all man-made things, isn’t perfect. But it is a start. Some in Washington have vowed to repeal it, insisting the American people don’t want health care reform. The sick ones do. The rest don’t yet realize the difference one illness can make.

Prepare for Departure

“It is appointed for men to die once…”  Hebrews 9:27

I’ve been meditating on mortality – not in a morbid way, but in the way of embracing reality. You see, someone I love gradually is disengaging from life.

This someone gave me life and a love for books, afternoon newspapers, AME church liturgy, homemade meals, Roll Tide football, nightly news with Peter Jennings, “Paul Harvey… Good day” radio, the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Dave Brubeck, the comedy records of Moms Mabley and Perry Como Christmas shows.

Always a whirlwind, she is now silent and still.

I phoned her Florida nurses last night to ask if she is responsive. “I’m not allowed to say,” I was told. “You’ll have to call back.”


Two nights ago I sat bedside with a friend at the Raleigh hospital where she’d had breast cancer surgery. She made me laugh. I didn’t get to return the favor.  It hurt her to laugh back.

I fully expect her to recover and our decades-long friendship to continue until we both are round and wrinkled. Still, as we sat alternately silent and joking, it occurred to me that life is fragile and fleeting and fatal.

My mind went back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in the “Mountaintop” speech that would be his last: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”

He was killed the next day.

Living well, however long life lasts, is a worthy goal. Departure is certain. Make your destination sure.

Grow Old Along With Me!

Over holiday lunch with co-workers, the conversation turned to those personal summers that sometimes afflict women of a certain age. My hormone levels haven’t gone South yet. Nevertheless, the conversation was instructive.

What does one do about hot flashes?

  • Hormone replacement? “Absolutely not” was the consensus. Once routinely recommended, this therapy was shunned as a one-way ticket to cancer.
  • Black cohosh? Popular natural remedy, but doesn’t work for everyone.

“I don’t ‘do’ anything,” said the blonde seated across from me. “I’m just going to be old. That’s life.”

Getting old is part of life? You wouldn’t know it from watching TV or thumbing through women’s magazines. Americans spend a fortune on age-defying, wrinkle-reducing, de-aging creams and potions of every description.

Despite the marketing myth of eternal youth my co-worker somehow has managed to embrace this truth: “I have been young, and now am old.” Accepting the fact of aging hasn’t meant opting out of life and waiting to die.  She takes college classes, vacations abroad.

Growing old comfortably apparently requires a good attitude, the right medicine and a little money. Growing old without fear requires great faith in a God who promises to remain faithful through the march of time.

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you.” Isaiah 46:4

The poet Robert Browning extends an invitation I’ve come to appreciate:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith ‘A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!’