Tennis Courts

Suffering is Treasure

So, I have an AMAZING new job! It’s a job that I feel the Lord made just for me and He has been ‘making me’ for it, for years! I stand in awe of how perfect a fit it is for me and my family.  My skill set fills the job requirements exactly. And the best part? I work for a ministry here in Syracuse, so I literally am working for Jesus these days. How good is God?!?

The physical location of my office is in a rectory not far from my house, which happens to be right next door to the high school where Anna and Nichole went to school. In order to get to my office, I pull in the parking lot and drive down a long driveway with the building to my left and the high school tennis courts to my right. So, every time I go to work, embracing this wonderful new venture in my life, I am confronted with the all-too-familiar cross of old. My instinct is to move on and leave it behind in every way, which I so often do day-to-day. Who wants to live in pain, if you can escape it? But now it is there before me regularly and I can’t look away. The tennis courts. Oh how the antics and stories of Anna and tennis still have a life of their own for me!

One day recently the cross got heavy – too heavy and too insistent for me to happily smile through and walk on.  I had to bring Laura and Melissa into the high school for their dance rehearsal and suddenly all those days driving by the tennis courts with old feelings and memories surfacing, just bubbled up and boiled over. The pain of missing my girl was blinding.  But I knew it was for a purpose. I knew it would serve me and hopefully others. I remembered the Lord speaking to my heart about this time last year, as I was preparing to give a talk. “Your suffering is your treasure.” The problem wasn’t in walking into the school or driving by the tennis courts so often.  The problem was that I desired to happily walk on by and look only to the good, happy, and exciting things the Lord is doing. He’s continuously making all things new. He fills my heart with gladness and joy. I live in awe and wonder at His goodness all the time. He’s a good and generous Father desiring not only my good and my salvation, but even abundance and happiness in my life.

But none of those things would be as true for me, if I didn’t have this cross.  I could never see and appreciate the joy in the same way, if I had never walked the road to Calvary with Him and with Mary.  We simply don’t get the resurrection without first having the death.

So, I will walk through those days of pain, sadness, and burden, trusting my Daddy to fix it in His time and in His way. I will pray for Him to transform me for this present suffering, to make me worthy, to help me see and share the treasure.  After all, it’s an honor to share the cross with Him. And he showed me that I’m not afraid of this. In fact, I was made for this. And so are we all made specifically for the cross God has allowed in our life. I am being made for this because I love Him, and the more I love Him the easier it is to bear.  Somehow from the crippling moments, more joy is born. All the former good times, memories, accomplishments, and laughter that are now done and gone, are treasures of this Earth that He is helping me store up in Heaven, and Heavenly treasures don’t come cheap. In fact, they are priceless.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Mt 6:21

 

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Beyond the Suffering

When our son Mikey was diagnosed with a brain tumor seven years ago I was terrified. I was terrified that he might die. Plain and simple. A life lived without my child was just unthinkable. His life was, and continues to be, infinitely valuable. We were told there was no cure for his cancer but we scoured the earth anyway to find some glimmer of hope that could save our child. We clung to the only shred of hope we could find in modern medicine and it wasn’t much. One child had survived this. One. So we treated our son, our treasured baby, in the same way, and we HOPED. We hoped in medicine and protocols and surgery and doctors. We hoped for one end and gave little, if any, thought to the suffering that might result. The truth is, there was no choice that didn’t take us down a path of suffering. We understood that, deep down, from the very first. We couldn’t spare Michael and we couldn’t spare ourselves. The only thing we could do was love him and love his life and take care of him in the very best way we knew how. That included modern medicine. We also knew deep down, that if God wanted Michael to live, he would use doctors and medicine to bring about healing. So we learned to pray and begged God for that.

It was painful and difficult to watch his little body decline and go through such trauma. He endured surgeries and medications and being stuck in the hospital when he wanted to be home playing with his siblings. The chemo robbed him of the ability to walk and his days were spent in a constant state of nausea and vomiting. We did everything within our power to make him comfortable, to distract him, to keep his spirits up, and help him Hope in a future where he would feel good again. Most days he would lie there, desperately quiet, and I imagined him just begging God to let it be over. When we needed some reassurance that he was okay, he would selflessly smile and say, “It’s a beautiful day”. When we started to lose hope, the comfort was always that he was still with us. He was still breathing and as long as there is life, there is hope. It never crossed our minds, not even fleetingly, to put an end to his suffering ourselves. That would have taken the hope of life away from us, possibly for eternity. I shudder now to even think of the sentiment so prevalent in our throw-away culture that does not value life and really does not value suffering.

That suffering was a vehicle, of untold Grace and life unending.

Naturally, I needed to cope with watching my child suffer. It hurt so much. In my prayers, begging God to spare him, He led me instead to Mary. I pondered her journey again and again, trying to learn from her the way to endure. I felt as though I was walking that road to Calvary right next to her. She was quiet and accepting, abiding in something that eluded me. I was crying out, scared, alone and desperate. She stood at the cross without flinching and absorbed every blow to her son with quiet dignity because she hoped in something not of this world. She hoped in the one thing that rendered brutal suffering powerless. Resurrection. She surrendered and trusted and hoped in a Love so powerful that the suffering and the death became the treasure. Suffering is a treasure that has the power to transform our scared and desperate hearts into hearts full of Trust and Love and Hope.

It was an agony to watch my baby suffer and a difficult road for a 3-year old to walk. Even as we prayed for his rescue every day, I lived an agony that transformed me. We suffer many things in this world for lesser gains. God knew, like the perfect parent that He is, that He was giving me the opportunity to choose Resurrection. Mary knew it too, from a lifetime of grace and learning that culminated in the cross. I learned it from a beautiful little boy, a heart full of a mother’s love and a deep understanding that every breath of life has the potential to overcome death. I don’t look back on Mikey’s journey as a nine-month battle of suffering. I look back and remember every day that I loved him. I remember every moment that I held his chubby hand, quietly enjoying the weight of it in my own. I remember reading to him and singing to him and trying to keep him entertained, and I remember the reward of his beaming smile when I succeeded. I remember washing and dressing him and praying with him; inhaling his unique scent. He told me one day that he needed a sword. He said it was his job to help St. Michael the archangel and I remember the determination with which he said it. I remember him teasing his brother even from a hospital bed where he clearly did not have the advantage. He knew his role as big brother well without ever having been taught. I remember him doting on his infant sister, Laura, and him wanting to care for her and protect her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. No, I don’t look back and see only suffering. I see a million moments of living and loving that I would never trade. More importantly, I understand now how those moments, good and bad, were at work in this mother’s soul. God had plans to prosper me! And Michael. I couldn’t possibly have known all the plans the Lord had for me. I still don’t, but I trust Him.

When Michael breathed his last, I was no longer terrified or desperate.  In those moments of death and devastation when I felt utterly empty, I learned the most important Truth of my life.  God revealed His presence and I knew with a peace that passes understanding that I had all I truly needed. I had learned to pray, not merely for the end I desired, but the end that would bring the greatest good for all of us and I was filled with the deep Joy of knowing my baby was face to face with his creator and had fulfilled his purpose in this created world. His suffering taught me Love in a way I never could have learned it otherwise. I was re-created in Christ and could never have seen that coming. Mary knew it though. God makes all things new.

We don’t have a choice about suffering as it will surely find us, but we do have a choice to make. We can pick up the cross and walk the very narrow road, or try and go our own way.
When I get my turn to stand before my God I’m not sure I will say, “Yes Father, it’s been a rollicking good time. Let’s do that again.” But, I will definitely say, “Yes Lord, it was all very GOOD. I got to know You here.”

Seasons

We headed out for the holiday weekend to enjoy a few days of R&R at the beach before the grind of the school year schedule began.  I could not wait to plant myself and do NOTHING for a couple of days.   And other than the basic stuff like cooking, cleaning and laundry, that is exactly what I did for the first whole day!  I sat on the beach and napped and did nothing while the kids played.  By the second day, I was feeling a little restless.  All the reading I wanted to do suddenly held little interest.  The quiet time alone with the Lord that I had CRAVED felt fulfilled to a large degree.  The household chores that I planned to shortcut as much as possible started to feel more necessary and even urgent.  I was feeling anxious to get up and get some exercise.

I sensed in my being that my time for rest was done. (unbelievably, that only took one day!)

Here in the Northeast the change of season is upon us.  You can smell it and feel it in the air.  The nights are cooler and the greenery is perking up.  The kids are back to school and football has begun.  It’s a time of change when nature and culture seem to be in harmony.

After Christmas we will celebrate the New Year and many will make New Year’s resolutions to go along with the internal sense of change and renewal.  We will be done with one year and look forward to a fresh new start, a new season, in the next year.

In March next year, Christians will celebrate the most important day in our liturgical calendar, the Resurrection of Christ.  That season will be marked by signs, both internally and in nature, of new life.  A new season will be upon us once again.

As much as we are creatures of habit and traditions, we are also creatures meant for seasons.  Life is chock full of “deaths and resurrections” indicating that God never intended for us to be stagnant.

 Eccl 3:1-9 “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.  A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.  A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” 

And indeed He sent us his Holy Spirit to keep us moving!  We weren’t created for the mediocrity of settling for the status quo of this life.  Very often we ride along happily on cruise control and continuously strive for the ordered and pleasurable and self gratifying course. The great news is that according to God’s plans we are destined for that for all of Eternity.  The goal is that we will live in blissful harmony forever and all restlessness and yearning will be fulfilled.  It will be permanent Resurrection for all who know and Love God, but first we must navigate this beautiful Life in all it’s twists and turns, ups and downs, summers, winters, falls and springs.

As I write this there is a storm brewing outside, the wind is howling and the air is charged with a sense of ‘change’.  A big storm is coming and we just raced around to pick up the toys in the yard and bring in cushions and harvest what’s ready in the garden.  In a few minutes or a few hours it will subside as all our storms in life and at some point the sun will shine again.   Insert here a rousing rendition of Annie’s “The sun will come out tomorrow”.  Or not.  But you get the idea, “This too shall pass”.

And the question is, whether it’s a hill or a valley, how will you emerge?  The Spirit is working and moving through the storms and in the spring-times of renewal in our hearts and in our lives.  Our seasons serve as reminders or sometimes the catalyst for the change that allows us to live more fully in God’s will.

We rejoice when it’s the time for rejoicing and we mourn when it’s time for mourning, but in every time we are called to the embrace of God’s most holy desires for us.  He will work all for our good and wants us to emerge, again and again, as new creations.

And really what fun would it be if it were always the same season?  What fun would it be if we were always smoothly in control and in charge and knew exactly what we were in for?

There will be a time for that though.  It will be glorious.  It will be everlasting.

English: Resurrection of Christ

English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)