Tag Archives: pain

Is there a reason for everything?

When I was in college at Appalachian State University, I was super involved with the campus Lutheran Student Association (LSA). It was the first group I joined when I got to school and in many ways the friends I met in that group were a life-line during those four years. They were my people and they helped me get closer to Jesus. I loved being a part of the group and the larger church community that supported them.

Each year I became increasingly more involved — serving on leadership, helping to plan and lead events, mentoring other students, etc. By my senior year it came time to hold elections for the group’s leadership and I decided to run for president. There was another girl who was younger, had not been a part of the group for as many years, who also decided to run.

I remember sitting in the fellowship hall of the church after the voting process and hearing the announcement that the other girl had been elected. She had won and my heart sank. I won’t lie, my ego was bruised, but I also felt like the group that had been “my people” had turned away and said, “you’re not the one that we want, we choose someone else.”

I know a leadership position for a campus church group doesn’t sound like a big deal or something to get upset about, but at the time I remember feeling devastated, hurt, even cast-out.

However, I’ll never forget that moments after the results were announced the pastor of the church and leader of our campus group — who had become a great mentor and surrogate father to me during my time at Appalachian — came over and rested his hand on my shoulder, leaned down and whispered in my ear, “I really wanted that for you.” Then he gave my shoulder a squeeze and walked away.

In that moment it was like he said, “I see you. I see what your heart desires, and because I care about you, I want you to have it.”

I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the years and what it meant to know that someone saw me and saw my heart.

A lot changed for me that year. Partly because of the hurt I carried from that event, I pulled away from LSA and church. Some other really hard things had already been happening in my life and it became a bit of a perfect storm. I slipped into a deep, deep depression my senior year. I didn’t go to class, I started getting migraines and had to be taken to the emergency room because of one that was so bad I couldn’t stop vomiting. I even contemplated suicide at one point. As my friends struggled to understand what was going on with me and how to be around this changed person, I withdrew from them. I was angry, I was lonely, and I was scared.

But during this time I stayed in touch with that same Pastor. Even though I wasn’t going to LSA meetings or to church much, I would stop by his office every week and we would talk. He would encourage me and pray for me. In many ways he was the life-line that kept me from completely severing my relationship with God.

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We often say, “everything happens for a reason.” I have said this frequently over the years. But as I get older I’m starting to question if that’s true, or is it just a nice platitude we tell ourselves? Does everything really happen for a reason? Is there a reason a mother has to bury her child? Is there a reason a husband and father would lose his entire family in a car crash? Is there a reason the young, healthy newlywed gets a cancer diagnosis on her 26th birthday?

Do I believe God creates good out of every situation? Absolutely, without a doubt I do. I have seen it time and again where beauty has risen out of the ashes and joy and love have transformed the ugliest, darkest situations and sorrowful times. But that still doesn’t mean those things — those desperate, break-a-person-in-two things — were ordained by God and happened for a reason.

Of course God can make something beautiful out of life’s ugly, and create strength and redemption from weakness and brokenness. In the midst of tragedy He can bring together people who otherwise would not have come into each other’s lives. But I cannot sit here and say God caused a tragic accident so that He could do those things. Or that there is some bigger purpose for a mother and father to bury their child. The reality is that sometimes hard, devastating, crappy stuff happens.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to compare me losing some silly election for a college student group 25 years ago to these other real-life tragedies. But I can look back and tell you that I don’t see any reason why that happened. I don’t see any reason why God would have created that situation, with a darkness already looming in my life. But I often wonder how or if that year would have been different had I not pulled away from my friends and from church. Had I not felt a little bit cast-aside.

And yet, I do see where God made sure there was someone there in the midst of that who said, “I see you.” And that created a life-line for me to get through a really difficult time.

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Recently my daughter had a pretty disappointing thing happen to her. Something she wanted badly and had worked hard for, and due to a simple mistake — a forgotten deadline — she lost the opportunity. When she came home in tears my heart just broke for her.

Being a mom I wanted so badly to look for the reason. I wanted to say to her, “there must be a reason, let’s look for it together. What’s the good that can come out of this, how is God going to use this?” But I couldn’t bring myself to say it because the truth is, I don’t know if there is a reason. Maybe it’s just a really crummy thing that happened.

Will she learn from this experience and never miss a deadline again? Maybe. But I’m not sure that her feeling badly about herself and the sense of failure and disappointment she is carrying were intended for some loftier purpose.

So instead of pulling out the mom advice on what’s the big lesson we can learn here, or what’s God’s reasoning, I was just honest with her and said, “You know what honey? This sucks. I know it hurts and you’re disappointed, and I’m so sorry. I really wanted this for you. Because you wanted this, I wanted it for you.

I see how hard you are working and what you’re working towards. I see you. And I want you to know that.

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There’s probably someone in your life who, right now, just needs to be seen. Maybe it’s one of your kids. Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s a sibling, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. Maybe a teacher or a next-door neighbor. But I want you to find that person. Find someone who is going through something really crummy and please don’t give them that sad, old platitude that everything is happening for a reason when they start to pour out their heart to you. Instead, just come alongside them and simply say, “I’m so sorry. This sucks and I wanted better for you, because I care about you. Because I see you. I see your heart and I see that you’re hurting.

Maybe if we spend more time seeing each other and loving each other rather than trying to put quick fixes and patches on everything, then instead of wasting so much energy trying to understand why tragic things happen, we can simply be a beacon of light and love in the darkness.

Matthew 25:35-36

photo credit: alexandermazilkin Moscow’s summer via photopin (license)

My soul is crushed

He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38)

 

I had the privilege of teaching the message at our church this past Sunday. The message was on Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

I love this story.

Oh, I know that might sound strange. After all, it’s not an uplifting passage, like the Sermon on the Mount or one that demonstrates Jesus’s mighty power, like when he calmed the raging seas. In this passage our Savior is admitting how crushed his soul feels and praying to God to “take this cup from me”. (Matthew 26:39)

I believe it is probably the most vulnerable, raw example of Jesus’s humanness. And that’s precisely why I love this story so much.

I know what it feels like to have my soul crushed with grief. I know what it feels like to be on my knees, in complete agony, sobbing and sweating and crying out to God to take away the suffering. (Luke 22:44)

About 12 years ago my marriage hit a very difficult spot. I was pregnant with Daniel and Olivia at the time, Hannah was only two and I honestly thought my marriage was over and our growing little family would be forever fractured. I was so overwhelmed with despair and the crushing reality that my marriage, my life as I knew it with the only man I’d ever loved, was not what I thought it was; that our story was not going to end the way I had always planned and hoped for.

I remember one night lying on our bed just sobbing in the most ugly way you can imagine, barely able to breathe through the tears and it actually felt like I was being suffocated because the grief and despair was pressing in on me so much.

In that hour of desperation I cried out to God and prayed similar words to what Jesus prayed in the garden: “Dear God, please take away this pain. Take away my suffering.” And then I prayed, “Tell me what to do! Please tell me your will.”

And I heard God so clearly in that moment…and I think maybe we never hear him more clearly than when we are in this place of soul-crushing pain and despair…but He said to me: “Stay.”

Of course, I don’t know what Jesus heard when he was praying in the garden that night. But given that on the second and third time he prayed Jesus said: “If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done,” (Matthew 26:42) I believe Jesus heard God. I believe God confirmed what Jesus had to do. I believe God spoke to his heart and told him that his agony would be relieved, but only after he walked through the pain. He couldn’t go around it because God had a bigger plan, and Jesus’s death and crucifixion was the cornerstone of that plan. He was to become the “spotless lamb of God” to take upon the sins of the world. (John 1:9)

When I heard God that night telling me to stay, it was because He had a greater plan for my marriage, for me and my husband, and my children. It was greater than what I could see in that moment. We would have to go through months and years of struggle and pain before it was fully revealed. But now, today? I really can’t imagine my life having taken a different path.

Of course Jesus’s anguish was much greater than anything that we could ever imagine or even go through, and I don’t mean to belittle it by comparing it to my own struggles. But if you’ve ever been in a dark place, if you’ve had a season of extreme pain and brokenness, you know how hard it is. So we can take that and imagine how much deeper Jesus’s anguish would have been. Yet he submitted himself to God’s will. He trusted God to take the lead, even if it meant leading him directly to the most brutal, humiliating pain imaginable.

I think maybe we never hear God more clearly than when we are in a place of soul-crushing pain and despair.

Jesus prayed to God in Gethsemane, which was actually an olive grove on the Mount of Olives. Historians believe that there would have been olive oil presses in this place. In fact the Hebrew word for Gethsemane literally means “press of oil” (gat shemen).

While I was preparing for my teaching I did some research on how olive oil was made in Jesus’s time. The olives were placed in a large circular basin in which a great wheel-shaped millstone rolled in a circle crushing the olives — pit and all. The pulp was then collected in baskets, which were stacked several layers high in stone pits. A stone weight was placed on top of the baskets, and a heavy wooden beam, with one end in a hole in the wall nearby (often these presses were found in caves) was placed across the pile of baskets. Stone weights were hung from the beam, applying enormous pressure to the olives and squeezing the oil from the pulp. It was a multi-step process so that every bit of oil could be extracted and used.

[Here’s a great video if you want to learn more about this process].

The olive has to be crushed and then pressed with an enormous amount of pressure — multiple times — before it can produce oil.

Sometimes we have to be crushed before we can fully deny ourselves and rely wholly on God. Before we can fulfill God’s predestined plans. But we are never required to do it alone.

Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross before we could be saved, but God was with him in the garden and on the cross. (Luke 22:43, 23:44-46)

My marriage had to go through a period of brokenness to get to a better, stronger place, but God was with me and David in our darkest hours.

God is not in the business of giving us easy.

God is in the business of redemption.

God is bigger than my pain

Spring has begun here in Winchester, VA. The temps are rising and the daffodils and crocuses in my yard have just started to bloom, looking like sleepy maidens trying to awake from a long winter’s rest. This time of year is a beautiful reminder of fresh beginnings, new starts, and of course the miracle of resurrection.

I can’t imagine better timing for the release of my friend Crystal Sutherland’s new book, Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. While we still have a little over one month to wait for Journey to Heal to reach stores, I am honored and blessed to be part of Crystal’s book launch team, and was recently given the opportunity to read the first few chapters of her book. As I started to read, the primary message that leapt off the pages and into my heart is that God is bigger than our pain. His ability to heal will far surpass anything we can fathom. Crystal emphasizes this truth by sharing some of her story of healing – the healing of her heart and soul, and the healing of certain relationships.

In my own life I have experienced similar circumstances and been humbled by God’s awesome power to heal, especially within my family relationships. I confess, I have not always understood the importance of working at healing and restoring fractured relationships. At times it has seemed much easier to just walk away. But by my mid-20’s I started to realize that even if I walked away I still had to carry the burden of hurt, anger and pain – in fact walking away just made the baggage I was hauling heavier. This was especially true for me in my relationship with my mother. I had spent years waiting to hear the words “I believe you” and “I’m sorry,” thinking these would be the magic words to cure all, and as time passed, without even realizing it, the seed of bitterness grew larger in my heart.

Click here to continue reading the rest at CrystalSutherland.org

 

Finding rest in hope

It’s 4:30 a.m. I cannot sleep.

I feel a burden deep in my soul and it is so heavy sometimes I feel like it’s crushing me from the inside and I can’t breathe, my stomach hurts, my heart aches and all I can do is let the pain leak out through my eyes.

There is so much hurt and pain all around me. Friends with broken marriages, broken hearts, broken bodies, broken dreams. Those mourning the ones they love the most and trying to find a new normal. Others who have seen or experienced unspeakable evil. And I feel it. I feel all of their pain. I carry it with me…and I cry out to God, why?! How?!

Why is there so much hurt and loss and suffering and pain and struggle?

How do I help or comfort or ease or carry those things that are crushing the ones I love?

And I do the only thing I can do, because I know sleep will not come and tears will not wash away this burden: I seek His word. Over 1,100 pages in my bible, but I ask God to direct my eyes to the right spot and I find Psalm 16.

I read verses 5-7: “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.  I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.” – Psalm 16:5-7

I won’t lie, at first these words give me no comfort. They trouble me because while they ring true, I cannot come to terms with the thought that my “lot is secure” and the boundary lines have “fallen for me in pleasant places” when I see so much suffering around me. Why is this the scripture He led me to in the wee hours of this sleepless morning? And yet I know there is more. So I read Matthew Henry’s commentary of this Psalm:

“In this world sorrow is our lot, but in heaven there is joy, a fullness of joy; our pleasures here are for a moment, but those at God’s right hand are pleasures for evermore. Through this thy beloved Son, and our dear Saviour, thou wilt show us, O Lord, the path of life; thou wilt justify our souls now, and raise our bodies by thy power at the last day; when earthly sorrow shall end in heavenly joy, pain in everlasting happiness…..Heaven is an inheritance; we must take that for our home, our rest, our everlasting good, and look upon this world to be no more ours, than the country through which is our road to our Father’s house….Those that have God for their portion, have a goodly heritage. Return unto thy rest, O my soul, and look no further. Gracious persons, though they still covet more of God, never covet more than God.” – Matthew Henry

Henry’s words remind me that this world is temporary. The declaration of verses 5-7 aren’t referring to my lot here on earth or an earthly inheritance. The “boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” because my inheritance is heaven. The sorrow and hurt and pain that I see and feel around me will end. There will be joy and everlasting happiness. It is His promise to us.

I go on to read verses 8-11:

‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. – Psalm 16:8-11

Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Even when the world around me seems desperately broken and hurting, God remains next to me, my source of strength.

My body will rest in hope. I have hope because God’s promise is TRUTH. Heaven is our inheritance. The pain here in this world is only temporary, our suffering short. We do not own this heartache, this road to our Father’s house. And this hope gives me peace and lets me rest.

And while I still pray for my friends, asking God to heal their pain, and lift their sorrows, I take to heart Henry’s words: I covet more from God, but I shall not covet more than God.

Healing in Pine Ridge: Part Two

On October 3rd, 2015 ten of us landed in the tiny airport of Rapid City, SD. Four more were making the long drive from Virginia to South Dakota, and our group of 14 would be spending the week working on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Who knew so much could happen in one week?

This is part two of two. Click here to read Part One.

If you’ve ever been on a mission trip you know that the best part about missions work is you always come home having been more impacted, more changed, more spiritually full — just more — than any impact, change, or help you brought to the community where you served. This is the beauty of God and how He works. I knew this going to Pine Ridge, but I just never expected THIS.

The weeks leading to the trip had been hard…really hard. In fact I almost backed out of the trip at the last minute. So by the time we landed in Rapid City I was feeling very grateful that God had healed my body and enabled me to get everything done at home and work that needed doing so I could be here. I felt sure it was where I was meant to be and He had provided the way.

It’s a two hour drive from Rapid City to Pine Ridge. On the way we passed the badlands and stopped at an overlook to take in the view and snap a few photos. This being my first time to South Dakota I was inspired by everything I saw. I couldn’t wait to get a closer look at this endless horizon of rolling pinnacles and spires.

It had been raining when we landed, but thankfully stopped by the time we pulled off the side of Highway 40. The best view was just down a short hill, and a narrow dirt path led the way. Not really thinking about the fact that I was wearing my favorite Tom’s — great for flying, not so good for traction — I eagerly descended the narrow path. What I didn’t realize was the mud in South Dakota is not like Virginia mud. It is compact and sticky. While it felt pretty firm under my steps, it was sticking to the bottom of my treadless shoes, forming layer, upon layer of a thick, pasty mess. I made it about 1/3 of the way down the hill when I felt my foot start slide. In a moment of spontaneous reflex I shifted my weight to try and catch myself, and ended up rolling my left ankle and landing on the ground.

I felt something snap. I knew it was not good. My pride was bruised, my bottom muddy, but worse, my ankle was throbbing. I sat for a minute trying to compose myself. Some of the guys came over to help me up and I carefully tested putting weight on my ankle. Pain shot up my leg and I thought, “oh God, please. Don’t let this be serious.”

I managed to hobble down the rest of the hill (avoiding the narrow mud path), so I could get my tourist picture, while my internal dialogue said, “you’ll be ok; it’s just a twisted ankle, just walk it off.”

Jelise in front of the Badlands
This was taken a few minutes after my fall. Determined to get my tourist photo-opp, I kept telling myself I could just “walk it off” and tried to ignore the pain.

By the time I limped back to the top and removed my shoes to inspect the damage my ankle was already swollen, and by the time we arrived at Restoration Church in Pine Ridge an hour later, I was fighting back tears. The slightest movement or pressure sent lightning bolts up my leg. That’s when the reality that I was not going to be able to just “walk it off” set in.

A few hours later I was sitting in a pew with my foot propped up and ice on it. The rest of the crew was getting ready to walk over the hill to another building where the guys would be sleeping. I stayed behind and used the opportunity of being alone to call home. The tears came quickly as I told my husband what happened. I cried bitterly as I said out loud the words that I’d been carrying in my heart, “I don’t understand why! Why would God bring me here only for this to happen before we even get to the Reservation? I’m here to do a job and I can’t do that if I can’t even stand on my own two feet!” My husband comforted me the best he could and I dried my tears before the rest of the crew came back and saw me. But the frustration and anger began to form a bitter stone in my chest.

When everyone returned, Pastor Wade, the missionary we were working with, came over and asked how I was doing. I explained that everything was very tight and stiff and the slightest movement was incredibly painful. He then asked if he could pray for my ankle. I said yes and the rest of the team gathered around to pray over me. Wade placed his hands over my foot and ankle and began to pray. He said the exact words I had said to my husband moments before: “Lord, you have brought Jelise here to do a job. She can’t do that with an injured foot. Heal her so she can do your work.” Over and over he prayed, “I ask you to heal her in Jesus’s name.”

As he prayed I felt a deep heat start to form in my ankle and radiate out.

When he finished, Wade asked me if I could move my ankle. I hesitated, unsure of what to do, because I knew just moments ago I couldn’t. But slowly I started to point and flex my foot and was startled by the sudden mobility. Then I began to move it side to side and couldn’t believe that I felt little pain or resistance. I looked up at Wade and burst into tears because I honestly could not believe what was happening. I think everyone was stunned and no one talked for a few moments.

But it doesn’t end there…

…the next day was Sunday. I woke up and my ankle felt pretty good, albeit a little sore and I could still not put my full weight on it. But at least no lightning bolts were shooting up my leg. We traveled an hour to the church in Kyle where we’d be working and had Sunday service and shared lunch with the congregation. We did some light cleaning and assessed what supplies we needed to complete the work that was needed on the building. Then we drove back to Pine Ridge and a few of us went to the local grocery store. By the time evening came my ankle was once again swollen and hurting quite a bit. I felt it stiffening up again. Wade prayed over my ankle one more time before he left for the night and I felt some improvement immediately after, but told him it was still too painful to put weight on it.

Looking at the list of jobs we were going to be doing throughout the week — painting, laying tile, yard work, cleaning, etc., I wondered what I would be able to do that didn’t require either being on my feet all day or getting up and down often. And I felt the bitter frustration return.

At 10 p.m. that night I found myself alone in the sanctuary reading my Bible. Earlier that day Wade had talked about what it looked like to praise God. He talked about the many Hebrew and Greek words that were all translated into the single English word praise. He referenced the use of these different words throughout scripture, many of which are found in Psalms. So I opened my Bible to Psalms and started to flip through the pages. I settled on Psalm 18 and began to read:

“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears,” (Psalm 18:1-2,6).

I took comfort in those words, in knowing that God heard my distress call.

I continued to read until I came to verse 36: “You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I almost fell out of my chair when I read those words. In all of my years spent reading scripture I don’t ever remember reading a verse about an ankle. The words themselves, so specific to my situation — having rolled my ankle while walking a narrow path. I knew in my heart that it was no accident that I came to this verse, and I felt a sudden urging in my heart to pray that verse over my ankle.

I glanced around, thankful I was alone, placed my hands on my ankle and began to speak verse 36 like a prayer. “Lord, you widen my path so my ankle won’t roll. I believe you can heal me, and you can undo the damage because you make my path wide so my ankle won’t roll.” Over and over I prayed. Then I felt heat come into my ankle again. Tears slid down my cheeks as I kept praying the same words over and over again believing them more with each utterance. Finally the heat subsided and I stopped. I stood up and took a tentative step. I felt no pain.

I took another step and tested putting full weight on my left foot. Still no pain. I walked up and down the aisle of the church crying. I didn’t have to limp, my ankle felt loose and mobile, and there was no pain.

I spent the following five days scrubbing, mopping, laying tile and grout, assembling book cases, installing lights, and more. At the end of each day my back, my knees and my hands hurt from labor, but I had virtually no pain in my ankle.

Psalm 18:36

It was not until Saturday morning, as we departed Pine Ridge and headed for the airport, that I felt the familiar stiffening I’d felt days before. By the time we arrived at the airport I was limping again.

It’s been three weeks since I slipped on that narrow path and rolled my ankle. I know I did some serious damage because my ankle is still healing. But for those five days in Pine Ridge that we were working? My pain was gone. I know God healed me long enough to do what He’d brought me 1,500 miles to do.

Now, I realize some of this might be hard to believe. And that’s OK. I’ve been there. I’ve sat in your chair reading stories of healing and struggled to trust it was true. But the thing is God doesn’t need us to believe in order to perform miracles. His healing power is greater than you or me. He treats, and cures, and saves, and heals every day, whether our faith is big enough to accept it or not.

God will provide what we need in order to do His work.

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”

What area of your life needs healing? Relationships; physical health; emotional well being. Take your pain to Him. Trust in Him. He will hear you. He will heal you.