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In The Dark

Four years ago on this weekend our 12 year old son was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. When I heard the diagnosis the room went gray and I collapsed into darkness. A few minutes later we were telling our son the news and staggering through a bewildering maze of hospital procedures.

Four years later, this weekend we are waiting for news regarding a dear friend who seems to have run away to kill herself. It is a dramatically different situation, but there are painful similarities in the feelings of disorientation and helplessness.

Somehow it reminds me of a moment underwater at night in Hawaii. We were snorkeling with manta rays when our guide turned off the lights. I quickly lost my sense of which way was up. And I was desperate for some light to give me my bearings.

Although it seemed like an eternity, a few moments later our guide turned the lights back on. And today as well as four years ago, our Guide has the light in his hand. That light gives me my bearings. It shows me that God is still good. It reminds me that there is an endpoint out there, a time when the Judge of all will make all things right. It beckons me to follow Him toward heaven, where the pain of this world will become a distant memory… where I’ll be able to breathe freely at last.

Simplicity

This week looked complicated until I got sick. Then it got very simple: Sleep and get better. And somehow the world did not lose its way without all that I had planned to do. Life has a way of humbling me like that.

There are so many things that I feel I need to do or have. But when they are put beyond my reach by sickness or hardships, life actually gets simpler. And I notice things that I rushed by before: The golden rays of the sunrise falling on my sleeping wife, the whisper of God in a lingering quiet time, the late blooming roses in the backyard. Dad often told me to stop and smell the roses, but I rarely did.

Years ago a wise friend gave me this inspiring thought from the mystic E. Herman, and it continues to shimmer on the horizon of what I long to become:

When we read the lives of the saints, we are struck by a certain large leisure which went hand in hand with a remarkable effectiveness.

They never hurried;
They did comparatively few things,
And these not necessarily striking or important;
And they troubled very little about their influence.

Yet they always seemed to hit the mark;
Every bit of their life told;
Their simplest actions had a distinction,
An exquisiteness which suggested the artist.

The reason is not far to seek.
Their sainthood lay in their habit of referring the smallest actions to God.

They lived in God; they acted from a pure motive of love towards God.

They were as free from self-regard as from slavery to the good opinions of others. God saw and God rewarded: What else needed they? They possessed God and possessed themselves in God.

Hence the inalienable dignity of these meek, quiet figures that seem to produce such marvelous effects with such humble materials.


How are the “hardships” of your life leading you back to simplicity?

Get Real

I have two friends who are both in pain. They’ve both been severely hurt and disappointed by people whom they love. For one I am excited, because I sense that he’s on the verge of a breakthrough in his relationship with God. For the other friend I am concerned that they may be drifting toward being broken further and falling into even greater pain. Either one could go either way. And I sense that the difference is pride Vs humility.

Then there was my sister Linda. You might say she was feisty. At her funeral a few weeks ago everyone agreed that above all Linda was authentic. She was fiercely real. She simply would not tolerate pretense. Anything less than authentic would evoke a look of disdain like the one you see to the right, or a word of acerbic wit that would make you wince with pain as you were laughing. And it was refreshing.

Linda’s no longer in pain like my two friends. In this life she experienced more than her share of pain, but it did not leave her hard and toxic. Instead her heart remained tender and her presence was (usually!) winsome.

If you’d like to follow Linda’s example, take a few minutes to listen to her eloquent Kiwi neighbor Nan Lewis describe how Linda inspired her.  Just click Authenticity to download and listen.

What have you noticed about people who grow through their pain?

No Pain, No Gain?

Early this morning in the kitchen I was commiserating with one of the young people who live with us about aches and pains. Mine were from trying to keep up with my 12 year old in a father-son retreat. His were from a hard workout. As he left he quipped, “No pain, no gain!”

That may be true in physical conditioning. But is it true in spiritual growth? Do we really have to experience pain to grow in Christ? I’m hoping that there is an easier way.

On the one hand there is the passage my 12 year old pointed out to me during our retreat: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4). Graham read that and said, “That’s what happened in our family when Ian got sick and died!” (That’s quite an insight from a 12 year old!)

On the other hand there is John 15:2-3. "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean (literally “pruned”) because of the word which I have spoken to you.” I believe that Jesus was saying, “You’ve already been pruned by obeying what I told you.”

In other words, we can learn the hard way (trials), or we can learn the easy way (simple obedience). Or, you can learn both ways. So, I’d say that “no pain, no gain” would be an overstatement for spiritual growth.

But how far can we grow without pain? Is pain the graduate course of spiritual growth? Are there things that we really can’t learn without pain? What do you think?

Soul Gardening

Last weekend we enjoyed my sister’s garden.  Six week ago she left us for heaven, but the she left here garden is bearing fruit.  Her husband and friends are tending it now, lest she frown from heaven on our neglect of what she loved!  Her siblings and children gathered, and we ate the fruit of her vegetable plants, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes like nothing you can buy in the supermarket cooler.  

 

We laughed and cried together, savoring memories and comforting one another.  We peeked in her greenhouse and took joy from her flowers.  There were prolonged hugs and deeper sharing than we’ve known before… fruit of another garden: the Life-giving garden of Linda’s soul.  

 

Good gardening requires realism, a hallmark of Linda’s life.  Hard soil must be torn open to receive moisture and nutrition.  Weeds must be confronted and uprooted.  There’s hard work to do.  Then joy and laughter can grow.  

 

Sunday afternoon we discussed from 2 Corinthians 1 how we each receive and give comfort.  And we gave one another permission to each walk in our own way through the valley of the shadow of death described in Psalm 23.  And we tacitly agreed to keep “tending our gardens”.  

 

What are you learning about tending your garden when things are hard?

 

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