Archive for the ‘Parable of Affliction’ category

Lessons from Head Lice, Part 2:Community is Contagion and Cure

October 19, 2010
Korean War - HD-SN-99-03118

Image by US Army Korea – IMCOM via Flickr

In the last installment, a little bug had become bigger than God to me. Silly isn’t it? But, sadly we mortals are given to such short-sightedness about these things: too-few coins, or a centimeters growth of tumor, or a rift between you and the one you love–we magnify our weaknesses all the time. James McDonald has made an equation of it: Big God= small problems; small god= Big problems.   And the wrong focus will fill us with unrelenting self-pity and frustration and unanswerable bursts of  questions and angry upraised fists.

Yet the weeks  I endured of the patient combing-out of each of my eight children’s infested heads tutored me in perseverance, and strengthened the spiritual muscles of thanksgiving and faith and humility I would need for a very great struggle ahead.  The seeming triviality of this trial was really a microcosm of the Gospel–the shame that sucks up and sours all of life, the endless cycle of re-infestation with sin, the longing to just be clean as you load the washer again, the desperate reaching out for strength to endure, and at last, the blessed relief of repentance and rest found only in the One  who gently invites, ‘just come  as you are’.  And the repetition of this cycle of repentance and rest builds stamina.  Because, as  Alaistair Begg’s said,  ” Our patience in adversity produces wonderful security regarding the future.” Begg’s meant our eternal security, but I found  present security in Him, too.  And so the Father prepared me well for what lay ahead.

For as  I sat on the couch one night,  with a particularly vibrant-hued head in my lap, swiping at eggs, the phone rang.  I heard terrible news.  My brother, only fifty-three at the time, had just suffered a massive stroke, and was in the ICU.  There was  much intense prayer among us.  Yet he died.

I know that in the  few weeks duration of his suffering, my brother’s  own heart was being prepared for the future.  He had made a committment to Jesus as his savior as a young man, and I know that on his bed of affliction the Father was calling his prodigal home.  I will never understand why my brother was taken, leaving a wife and three heartbroken children. I said at his funeral that God is good and no-one will ever accuse Him of doing wrong. I spoke necessary words then, words that pointed to Jesus, who is our only hope.

I was not shaking my fist at God because I had been prepared in the discipline of giving thanks despite difficult circumstances, and so I  thanked God for the things I knew were true in this confusing crisis:  that my brother had re-united with his estranged wife, and they were joyfully planning a re-committment ceremony. That he had taken time, even time away from work, to purposefully  mentor his troubled son.  He had spent his last precious hours on earth restoring some kingdom order to his life.

I  was thankful as well that God sent my sister to that family ahead of time, before the crisis, and she was there with them in their time of need, to provide comfort and Godly wisdom and prayer.  Her ministry was that of presence.  She sat by my brother’s bed for hours, reading the scriptures out loud to him, and sometimes she was silently praying.  She listened to all the weeping and venting and the regrets.  She was Jesus with skin on to that benighted clan.

This  preaching of the ‘gospel without words’ —  usually a specious cover for those ashamed of the gospel  (and its accompanying aphorism is wrongly atttributed to Francis of Assisi, who neither did nor said it)  is often the only appropriate response to deep grief.

Remember Job’s comforters.

A soul  folded into the fetal position does not respond well to lots of talking. Two words like these will do: “Jesus wept.”   The Son of Man wept with the sisters who said to him, ‘where were you,  O God, when I needed you?’    Those of us who observe deep grief can feel great anxiety in the face of  these seeming unanswerable questions, and so we stupidly seek to fill silences, and have a fatal temptation to fix complex problems with platitudes.  We need to trust in the sovereignty of God ourselves, and  really believe that love never fails, and then speak only with fear and trembling. Grief is a holy ground we walk upon.

Some of God’s family walked  well, taking up our griefs as their own, and showed us sacrificial love.   When we needed housing for the funeral, our oldest and dearest friends took us in for the weekend, though they understood the risk of head lice–that though we thought we were free of nits, our infestation had been  recent.  I thank God that there are  such safe havens of hospitality and unconditional love.

Some reward for their sacrifice they got!  Nits in the hair of all the kids, and one child has hair past her waist, another a tendency towards dreadlocks.  Yet my friend was determined to endure even this humiliation and inconvenience to the glory of God–there would be no complaining!  That family will be recompensed for their  service, it will be returned to them, pressed down and overflowing, in heaven.

Such refreshing given to a weary pilgrim has a prophet’s reward. Still, some of us want a showier ministry– and so we drive with an empty tank, past the wounded Samaritan, multi-tasking and texting as we go, leaving little margin in our lives for the neighbor with no bread and great need.   But who is the faithful  servant, the one who comforts the fainting heart, or the one who just twitters his report of the calamity?  Facebook friends are often faithless ones.

I think it is those simplest things we do that have the amplest reward in  heaven, because they are often done with the least thought of self.  ‘What’, we say as we shake our heads in wonder at the return on our meager investment — ‘it was just a cup of cold water!  It was only a hug!’ Oh little faith! It was really a benediction! Those humble deeds are sometimes the most eloquent of sermons, for they are often the best means of changing a sufferer’s focus and helping him to know the Father’s goodness. That is the mystery of face-to-face community. It can be a carrier of the worst disease. Or it can be a container for God’s richest blessings. Oh, what He longs to pour out on his His people, but for our little faith.

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Lessons From Head Lice, the Sorrow and the Self-Pity, Part I

September 25, 2010
Line-art drawing of a louse.

Image via Wikipedia

Such a small creature  can still produce such misery.  It wasn’t just the itching, it was the surprising shame that still is attached to these “ugly, creepin, blastit” insects, as Robert Burn aptly describes them in his poem, “To A Louse.” He saw humour in his situation, and longed for the gift to see ourselves as others see us, when he saw a louse in a fine young lady’s bonnet at church. In my predicament, I began to see myself as my Father sees me, which is often the crux of these kinds of trials.  In vulnerability, I came even more out of  hiding, and had to depend more on God’s people.   And this light affliction produced in me endurance for a much greater trial that very shortly followed.

It was some years ago, when we first spotted the head lice on one child’s head  just as we were getting ready to leave for a “Weekend to Remember” Marriage Retreat.  I was ready to bail out of it, but our eldest daughters proved their mettle, and insisted that we go.  I left, releasing my control but still very chagrined, as piles of beautiful, shiny blond hair were forming on the bathroom floor, and shorn heads were being slathered in mayonnaise to smother the repellent insects.

So my husband and I enjoyed a luxurious weekend, writing love letters to each other in dappled sunshine, eating candlelit dinners and meditating on the wisdom of elders. Our heroic daughters hacked at hair, and combed out eggs and wriggling ‘wonners’, washed bedding and clothing and tried to keep restless young children amused in their quarantine.  A darker blight had just passed through our family, affecting these girls the most, and we had just endured an even more painful quarantine of therapuetic boarding schools.   What a gift these two young women gave to us that weekend, in serving us so well, that we might enjoy at last the sweet  fruit of a marriage  that had nearly broken in those same great trials.  I was so proud of my big girls.

We came back,  and everyone was alive and well–especially the head lice!  I do not recommend the natural treatments.  Spare yourself time and misery.  Go to the big guns, the neurotoxins.   But heed the warnings–they are not child’s play.   But happily, my littlest girl’s lovely blond locks had been spared the scissors.

And then I found them in my head too.  Gross!  Really gross.   How unclean they made me feel.  Oh, the self-pity I indulged in, as I spent my morning Quiet Time combing out my hair–it was distracting, all the itching! So I had to grab the lice comb, every time I felt their “creep and sprawl and sprattle”  on my poor scalp. I would sit, a magnifying glass in one hand, and a lice comb in the other, the Bible  open on my lap, but my attention wholly absorbed by the anxious question–is it a nit or just lint?  A little bug had become bigger than God to me.

I was magnifying the wrong things. When this realization dawned, I was on my face in repentance.   It is a good place to be when a storm hits.

Be A War Profiteer

May 30, 2010

Armors and Shields

“I’m sorry I’m so much trouble to you–she said as I massaged her back. She had been greatly oppressed again, and her face showed the strain.

“Oh, the trouble of driving me to Jesus, to seek His face and increase my faith, and my confidence in Him, and the trouble of learning to pray with perseverance? Is that the trouble you’re sorry for? Silly girl!”

I am the one who needs to apologize, I think. I am a crass profiteer off the war going on about her.

But I first learned about not wasting these opportunities for reckless profit  in the midst of my own fight for faith. Now I am a happy mother of children, but it was not always so. In fervent devotion I once offered up my body as a living sacrifice, holding nothing back, not even my womb–but I naively thought the Father understood my severe deficits in the  mothering department, and he would go easy with the actual numbers he put in my charge, and all their accompanying challenges. As the body count began to rise, I whined, “Why in the world did you give me so many children, Lord?  If you knew already I would be so unskilled in the battle of bringing them up in your fear and admonition?”

Oh those terrible days of much mourning over losses. I shrank back and hid. I sought to escape.

Back then I looked for magic wands and formulas to rescue me from the consequences. At last, I let my trouble drive me to Him, and to His rest, in the ruins of my life. Why do we resist Him so? It was unbelief that made me lose nearly everything before I finally surrendered to Him. But I have learned through much affliction to love and trust Him, and believe His word. God knows what blessings He can trust us with, and how much of a load of these gifts’ corresponding care and concern we can bear. He is looking for faith among those ruins. I have learned to pray, and I say to Him often enough, “Lord, either lighten the load, or strengthen my back!” But a load borne with faith is easy and light. And its weight is measured with joy.

So, I agree with David Wilkerson, who this week declared, “any affliction that keeps me from going astray—that drives me deeper into his Word—is healing. God’s most gracious healing force spiritually and physically can be afflictions. To suggest that pain and affliction are of the devil is to suggest that David was driven by the devil to seek God’s Word.”

So I no longer refuse Him who speaks to me so directly in the calamities He brings. He speaks so strongly and clearly to me in them, to come to Him, to cast my care upon Him, to rest in His unfailing Love. Affliction has been very good to me.

But there is no greater pain for a parent than to watch his child struggle under the weight of great loads we ourselves have learned with great suffering to bear. We long to rescue them–I long to save from  sorrows this blessing child whose aching shoulders I now massage, this girl who had just cleaned my room as a great surprise for me while I had been away and had broken one of my most prized possessions, a picture frame holding a hand-calligraphied portion of Isaiah 42. She had been dusting and the frame had fallen, and she was heartbroken–she knew how much it meant to me. How guilty she felt, and she couldn’t tell me.

She will learn for herself in time what are the real trophies of faith — the treasures that bear the marks of  further tests of faith– the marks of afflictions sent not to crush us, but to lead us to Him. She will learn that resting in Him is a glorious kind of overcoming. She will understand how the broken glass she mourns for is like the world that is passing away– but we have to look through those broken shards to see the enduring promises beyond.

Faith is a triumph of seeing. We take our eyes off the broken glass, the problems and cares and woes of life, and all that the Destroyer hurls our way in the sovereign will of God, and fix our gaze on the Word that He promises us will never return empty. This is all of grace. In the midst of the battle, in all the confusion and fear and lack of faith, he still will bless. Trials train our souls.

I would not trade these fierce battles for a life of ease — if only His presence goes with me and gives rest. For I am a War Profiteer.

The Reason For A Cage

September 19, 2009
dead bird

Image by celeste343 via Flickr

Some years ago, a dear friend who was breeding birds gave me a new-hatched canary whose mother had rejected him and was not feeding him. He looked pathetically naked and drawn up into himself like a fetus, and my heart was bonded to him. I worried myself over that scrawny featherless baby, and fed him with a dropper at all hours until he could eat mash on his own.

He feathered out gray and looked grave and distinguished like the finch his breed is cousin to, so my eldest brilliantly named him Atticus. He learned to fly, and would flap about the house till he landed on my shoulder, then affectionately peck at my face for attention. I was his mother. What a delight to the family Atticus was! He began to sing the most wonderful songs, and we wanted only the best for him, so we nurtured his musical talents with Mozart.

But foolish me, I could not bear to keep that sweet free spirit caged up, and I would let him fly free, but the wee bird would often walk about the floor as well, and in alarm, we would scoop him up to the safety of his cage. One day the unthinkable happened: Atticus was not in the safety of his cage, no, he was hopping about on the floor, when a hapless child stepped on him. Oh, my poor son! And oh, the mourning and crying over that bird! I wept, so heartbroken. And why did God allow that to happen to that poor sweet creature who only filled our troubled home with his cheery trills?

Recently I asked Him that again, and I think the Father knew I was strong enough spiritually to hear His tender rebuke. He said that I was given the responsibility for keeping our fledgling safe, and I ignored the cage that was provided for Atticus’ protection.

Ravi Zacharias has written in Recapture the Wonder

G.K. Chesterton once quipped that before you remove any fence always ask why it was put there in the first place. You see, every boundary set by God points to something worth protecting, and if you are to protect the wonder of existence, God’s instruction book is the place to turn. Anyone who thinks he or she can place the boundaries arbitrarily will either destroy the enchantment of life or else wear him or herself into exhaustion. God’s commands are there to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around. Implementing that truth in our lives keeps us from losing the wonder.

And even more vitally, implementing those truths keeps our very life. For I have heard many say, “God would never allow me to be deceived. He is good and loving. He would not give me a snake when I’ve asked for a fish.” Well, yes, indeed He is very good, but He has entrusted you with the stewardship of His Word in your life; and bold adventuring beyond the safe boundaries of scripture leaves you open to delusion and deception. And you will not feel deceived. It will always seem so right and natural, so emotionally satisfying to be rid of all that restricts the Spirit’s free expression. Caught up from the bliss of of flight, and not discerning the one who seeks to crush and destroy and render you captive to his will, you might never see that cruel foot coming down.