(From the Women’s Retreat, April 2014)
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.
After my father died I began working on my genealogy—to try to understand my family. Just on 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 will be true 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 quilted 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 an email newsletter.
And then there’s Glenn. He is a talk thinker – so I listen a lot. 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 led 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)