I was asked to tell my story and how I cope for our Women’s Retreat last weekend. I thot I would post it here, too.

Up front is really not my gift. They asked me to tell my story and how I cope.

We all suffer something. It may be because of our own choices. It may be from medical mistakes. A lot of times it comes from something way beyond our control.

I grew up in a family of hermits. I heard “don’t trust anyone” “don’t get close to anyone – they’ll hurt you.”  My brother was the smallest kid in the neighborhood. One day the guys would play with him and the next day they’d beat him up. I was even told that I was named for my Grandmother so that she would like me – and then told that it didn’t work. After she died I had my name legally changed.

You’ve probably heard the saying “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.” I had decided to become a witch so that I could get even for hurts that I knew would come. I had no people skills – didn’t relate to people.

So how does someone like me come to Christ?

He knows exactly what each of us needs and he provides it. For me it was a book – that old novel In His Steps. And then a real life miracle. Finally, I was able to trust him.

Then I met a guy while I was working at the seminary. I looked into his eyes and knew he was a safe place. He has become my friend, my husband and my pastor. He does it all! He and the Lord were very patient as they helped me out of my dark hole.

My family disowned me after that. I never got a reason for it. When you’re in a family, you don’t always see how dysfunctional it is. I didn’t. Being disowned is a strange feeling. It’s like a piece of the floor fell away. You have to find new places to plant your feet.

I began working on my genealogy – to try to understand my family. Just in my father’s side I found one generation where the mother died in childbirth and all the young children were raised by neighbors. The next generation was one of those pregnancy-had-to-get-married ones. They lived separately for decades before one of them committed suicide. The next generation saw the wife stricken with MS and the father deserting the family. The kids were raised in an abusive relative’s home. One of the children is now in her 80’s and I’m told she still can not bring herself to talk about what happened.

But the Lord broke that sad cycle when he adopted me. My favorite verse is in Romans: “you have been adopted into the very family circle of God and you can say with a full heart, ‘Father, my Father.’”  (Rom 8:15 Phillips) Just like any other adoption – it’s about finding, choosing and loving. It’s personal. And it changes you. You begin to become more like your new Father and to fit more and more into his family.

There are some who will tell you all your problems are solved when you accept Christ. But we all know that really isn’t true.

It’s true that when Jesus returns God himself shall be with them, and will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death shall be no more, and never again shall there be sorrow or crying or pain. For all those former things are past and gone.  (Rev 21:4 Phillips) But not now. We live with the same dysfunctional families, sicknesses, abuse – the same hurts as everyone else.

Some of you know that I have developed MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities). It’s an oversensitive immune system. I’m not sure what caused it – although there are a lot of suspects.

  • I grew up with two heavy smokers.
  • I worked for a while in an office in the basement of a mall. There was no air filtration back then. Everyone smoked. You could see the air. The office manager died of cancer. I left when I realized I had a cold – all the time.
  • Our first church was in southern New Jersey at the time when they sued Philadelphia for all the pollution coming across. And we were still there when the 3 Mile Island nuclear accident happened.

I recently heard that the wife of one of the Assistant Pastors while we were in NJ has the same problem – only worse – she doesn’t get to church – she rarely leaves her house.

MCS means that I have asthmatic reactions to perfumes, cleaning fumes, scented candles – essentially if I can smell it, I’ll react to it. It means that lots of homes, stores and even people are poison. Sometimes I wear a mask. Other times I just have to leave.

They call people like me “canaries” after the birds coal miners used to take into the mines with them. When the poor birds keeled over they knew to run – there was poison gas. We live in a time when there are more than 1,000 new chemicals introduced into our environment every year – with no data on how they will affect people.

So, how do I handle it?
I have to believe and I have to trust. I have been adopted into a family. My Father loves me. Nothing can touch me unless he wants it to. That’s where I begin.

Now I look back on my hermit childhood and I can see God’s hand in it. I spent a lot of time alone. As a kid I spent hours alone in all kinds of books. I still love books. And now with Kindle and iBooks there are no ink or paper smells!

For years I lead Bible Studies for teen girls and then women. But as my condition got worse I found other things to do. When He closed one door there was always another one for me to walk through.

  • I designed the banners and made all but two of them. They hung in the auditorium when we worshiped there. Some of them are in the Narthex rooms now.
  • I taught myself copy-writing and editing so I could work on various incarnations of the church newsletter as well as a women’s newsletter and one for Sunday School teachers.
  • When Glenn wanted a website that would give people an impression of SPEP, I studied websites and writing for the web and took on the website.
  • And then there’s Glenn. He is a talk thinker – so I listen alot. I support and encourage and I pray. And he tells me I give him his best ideas!

And one last thing:

We have silk flowers at Christmas and Easter now, but for years I couldn’t attend services around the most important times of the year because lilies and poinsettias filled the sanctuary – it was beautiful – but poison.  Each Sunday I would drive to church, not be able to stay and drive back home.

Finally, one Christmas Eve I drove home in tears. I just didn’t understand why he would shut me out. But that wasn’t his plan.

He lead Karen Kirk to buy silk flowers. Then he led the media guys to stream the services. Even more important – he led me to a verse that has come to be very special to me.

It has given me a reason. And more than that, he’s given me a purpose. It’s Col 1:24: Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (NIV)

It sounded like heresy the first time I read it – that Jesus didn’t do enough. Paul had to mean something else.

I finally got it: our suffering is not just about us. It’s about that new family. We have brothers and sisters who haven’t been adopted yet. He will not return until they hear. Until they join us. Peter said: Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation. (2 Peter 3:15)

The world hurts. We hurt. For their sake.

God has shown me that waiting is how we fulfill the sufferings of Christ. We continue to hurt from our own sins. From the sins of others. Or just because the world is cursed.

He has asked us to wait – and our waiting works the work of God. I have been dealing with this for more than 30 years. I wonder how many of you have come to Christ in that time. It works the work of God.

Bette Midler once sang:
And God is watching us, God is watching us,
God is watching us from a distance.
It’s just not true. God is not looking from some great height –  where nothing touches him. He doesn’t just see everything as beautiful because he doesn’t get close enough to see that it isn’t.

He is with us. He is in us. He knows exactly what He’s asking of us. He’s not called “a man of sorrows” for nothing. He knows what hurts. He knows exactly how much it hurts. He hurts with us. And he cries with us.

He won’t allow the hurting to go on even one second more than it needs to for that last child to come to him.

It’s important for me to remember what my suffering is for – actually – who it’s for. And …

I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!”  (Rom 8:38 Phillips)

He lived with the stigma of illegitimacy.

Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

At that time, boys were known as their father’s son – not their mother’s. He was about 30 years old, but the town still judged him by it. How would that have affected him. How was he treated? What difference did it make when he was in class in the synagogue? How did it affect his business? How many times did he have to deal with them “taking offense at him.”

And did it make a difference in how he dealt with others? Could that be one reason why he touched people? He didn’t need to touch them to heal them. He could heal from a distance – like he did with a centurion’s servant.

Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
(Luke 7:10)

But outcasts – like lepers – he touched. They may not have been touched for years. Even those who loved them didn’t get close enough to touch them.

But Jesus did.

I wonder … could that have meant as much as the healing?

As I look at Luke and read Mary’s story. And look at Matthew and read Joseph’s side of the story. Some interesting things strike me.

Both Mary and Joseph believed what the angel said to them. I guess, if I actually saw an angel, I wouldn’t doubt what he said either. But what he said to each of them was so big – and they were not. They weren’t royal. They weren’t rich. They weren’t even the top tier in their own village. They were ordinary people.

Jesus – on the outside – seemed just as ordinary. He didn’t seem any different from any other child. (Except, maybe that it says he was obedient!) He had a family tree – a line that could be traced. He learned and carried on the family business.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.(Luke 2:51)
Isn’t this the carpenter? (Mark 6:3a)

He seemed so ordinary, that when he began his ministry, his mother forgot the bigness of the promise:

“When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21)

So many times I’m stopped. I try to argue or correct and end up in a totally different place – with what I wanted to do undone. He didn’t get distracted. He didn’t leave those he was talking to and try to convince his family. He just said:

“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)

His brother ended up the head of the church in Jerusalem. Is there a lesson here?

Waiting

I love waiting, don’t you?

It’s mind numbing. You run out of things to think about – especially since whatever it is you think – you can’t do anything about until you can move on. If you’re waiting in a store line, you see all kinds of personal details from someone’s life that you have no business knowing. At the doctor’s office you’re told to get there 15 minutes early – so you actually get to wait even longer – looking at more personal details (only they tend to be historical there). There are any number of waiting scenarios.

I just love it.

That’s why this has always been hard for me:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (1Th. 4:16-17)

I realized I was thinking of just another line – others ahead of me again. But since Sunday’s sermon I have been thinking about the Lord’s return. (maybe today!) And it’s occurred to me that it won’t be waiting like I’m used to.

It will be a celebration.

Can you hear it? Can you see it? Trumpets. Jesus. Joy. Celebrating those who have gone before. Just imagine the applause. And all the cheering.

Bring it on!

Fences

There is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does – maybe more. (Parker J. Palmer, quoted in The Intentional Woman)

That quote struck me when I read it and it still does every time I read it again. When I pray for guidance, I look for opportunities or open doors. It’s what comes naturally. But what if closed doors are guidance? And what if fences that have no doors at all are guidance, too?

Every life has its fences. And there are lots of different kinds. I can try to ignore the fence, but walking into it really hurts. I can beat it with my fists until I’m exhausted. I can scream and yell until I’m hoarse. I can cry and mourn the loss of freedom. But the fence remains. Why?

Paul knew. His “thorn in the flesh” was frustrating and kept him from the things he wanted to do. He was an Apostle. You would think that God would have opened every door and torn down every fence to make the way clear for him. But He didn’t.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor 12:8-9a)

How would it change the way we respond to illness, disability and all the other fences if we thought of them as guidance? Would we sit down and just wait for it to be over? Or would we actually look for what is inside the fence? If it is God’s guidance, then I have to believe that there is something for me right where I am – inside the fence.

And, if His power is made perfect in weakness, then what I do inside the fence actually shows God’s power more than all the things I would like to do outside it.

(from 2004)

We don’t know a whole lot about Eve. Her personalty. Her lifestyle. Not even exactly how many children she had. But there are some things we do know. She failed big time. It turned out not to be just a bite of fruit. Her whole life changed. And, when Adam followed her, everyone else’s life changed too. But I read something interesting recently:

“Eve lived with the consequences of sin in her home but she was not paralyzed by the past. She accepted God’s forgiveness and lived in expectation of the promised Savior.” (Women of the Bible, Eunice Faith Priddy)

It’s so easy to be paralyzed by the past. To relive it. To punish ourselves over and over. Her sin was so big – so far reaching. Why wasn’t she paralyzed?

Everything she heard about God before came though Adam. But after the fall she heard God for herself. She heard his voice. She heard his word – his promise spoken for her. And she took God at his word. She focused on that promise and held on for dear life.

But, to do that, she had to accept God’s forgiveness. Sometimes that’s the hardest part. How can God forgive us when we can’t forgive ourselves? And then how can we hold on to a promise that rests on his forgiveness?

Consequences and sorrow follow sin. God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean that there won’t be any. And it doesn’t mean you’re not forgiven. But he will not leave you alone to deal with them. Focus on promises not the pain.

For Eve, it meant that leaves were not clothing enough – she had to watch animals slaughtered – death was required. And one son killed another. But she didn’t stay focused on the consequences, she focused on the promise.

When Cain was born she said: “I have gotten* a man with the help of the LORD.”  (Gen 4:1). When Seth was born she said: “God has appointed* for me another offspring instead of Abel…” (Gen 4:25) It makes me wonder if she said something similar every time a son was born.

She continued to look for that “he” of the promise:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring* and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”  (Gen 3:15)

Follow Eve’s example:

  • focus on his words – they are true – regardless of our feelings
  • then live in expectation
  • put one foot in front of the other and follow where he leads

 

I had fallen out of my family’s tree.

I didn’t know any extended family growing up – just heard some stories from my mother. And I seem to have been disowned by some of my family – I’m not sure why. I got into genealogy to try to understand those whys of my family.

I have found some answers but, I’ve been more surprised to find that there are people who have gotten into my heart.

There’s the guy taken by pirates who ended up taking the ship and bringing the pirates to justice. But there’s also the mother who killed herself when her baby was about a year old – they didn’t know about postpartum depression in colonial times. I hurt for her.

I recently got a message from a cousin I didn’t know. He had information on our grandmother. She died of Multiple Sclerosis. She went into a state facility in the 1930’s and was there for 20 years. I looked up the treatment she would have received and I’ve been in tears for her. It’s one of those times when I wish I could go back in time and do … something.

So, I am slowly climbing back into the tree and I’ve found that it isn’t just about solving puzzles, filling in dates or finding cemetery stones. It’s getting to know people. It’s sharing their lives long after they thought anyone would.

They say Whitney Houston was a Christian. She began singing in church. People say she was sweet. She was kind. She was loving. Then she fell for the wrong guy. And with him came the 15 years of abuse and drugs.

Why do our girls do that? I’ve been a pastor’s wife for a long time and I’ve seen it over and over.

Other people can look at him and say “he’s a loser” or “he’s dangerous” – they see it. The signs are there to see, but our girls don’t. And they pay a heavy price for the blindness. Bullying. Abuse. Hurt. Even drugs and alcohol.

We try so hard to protect them as they grow, but our girls need a realistic view of the world, too. We have to help them. We have to train them to look. To see the signs. And not just see them, but see them for what they are. It goes beyond the “sex talk” moms have with their girls.  They need to know fake loving from real loving. They need to be innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents – to know the danger signals and not brush them aside.

Sometimes their very lives depend on it.

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier …
(Greatest Love of All – Whitney Houston)

I read once that western cowboy stories are America’s knight-in-shining-armor stories. That author obviously wasn’t talking about the recent ones. But about Matt Dillion and ones like him.

Marshal Matthew Dillion was someone you could look up to – literally and figuratively. James Arness was 6’7”. He stood head and shoulders over everyone else in Dodge. But more than that, he was a hero. He stood for honor, justice, fairness, and right. He was a gentle man full of quiet strength. I am working my way through Gunsmoke episodes on Netflix and it always amazes me the way he walks right into danger – because it had to be done. Wrong had to be faced and stopped. And whoever was being hurt had to be protected.

I look at the “heroes” now and I don’t see any. They are just as apt to murder as the bad guys are – sometimes you really can’t tell them from the bad guys. Hollywood talks about flawed heroes as being more realistic. Maybe that’s so, but then who do you look up to? Who do those “heroes” inspire to be better people? Who learns about honor? Or justice? Or what makes a man?

So many of our kids are latch-key kids who raise each other. I wonder how they would be different if they had heroes like Marshal Dillion to learn from, to look up to, to want to be like.

I’ll miss James Arness. While he was here, it was like Matt Dillion was still here, too.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be the first. I walk through the produce section and some of that stuff looks really strange. I wonder who it was who had the courage to eat it that first time.

Eve was first. Everything she did was a first.

She began at peace. At peace with everything around her. Creation. Her husband. And God. Imagine what that was like. She had everything she needed. Even the animals were her friends.

Then it all changed. She ate the fruit from the one tree God had set off-limits. She listened to the serpent’s lies—that it would make her wise.

Instead of wisdom, she got embarrassment, blame, hurt, grief and guilt. She would give anything to get a do over. To just go back in time and say “No!”

But faith was also one of her firsts. God had talked to Adam in the garden each night. It doesn’t say that she was with them. But she heard the curses—especially the one to the serpent:

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

Imagine that first pregnancy. Imagine watching her body change. Feeling the child move. And only Adam to help when the pain started. I wonder how they knew what to do during that first birth. There were no mid-wives or doctors to tell them what to expect or what to do.

But she was focused on the promise of a Savior—someone to crush the serpent’s head. When Cain was born she said:

“With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.”

Cain was not the promised one. He went on to kill Abel, the son with faith. When Seth was born she chose a name that meant “restitution” because:

“God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.”

Eve had a strong and simple faith in a Savior to come. I’m looking forward to meeting her one day!

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