"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Way of Pain

By Micky Wolf

Many of my thoughts in recent days have been of a dear friend and her husband. The Lord brought us and several others together over 15 years ago to begin a ministry which continues to be fruitful today. She and I don’t talk every week, not even every month, yet when we see one another at church or a social gathering, we delight in exchanging hellos and a few moments of catch-up conversation.

It has been less than a month since they received the awful news—he has Stage Four cancer. While it is likely the disease has been quietly ravaging his body for some time, the outward signs and symptoms have been recent. There is no cure. They are a very private couple so most of us are kept apprised of the situation through one or two of their close friends.

My head says it’s too soon for him. They are recent empty nesters in the best of their middle years. Their adult children, barely out of their twenties, are too young to experience this kind of loss. My heart breaks. The pain is palatable. The sadness oozes through every pore of my being.

There was a time in my life when I would have sought relief from the heaviness and sorrow of another person's suffering, to say nothing of my own. Not anymore. To feel fully, especially when it hurts, is to live more intimately with our Creator God.

And so, as a Christian, I throw myself on God to beg for His mercy and loving-kindness—for the whole family and for all of us who love them. It hurts, Lord, it hurts so much.

“I know,” He whispers. “I know.”

Pain is…

Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin. We need look no further than Jesus or the Father to know how that impacts us as beings created in the image and likeness of God.

We embrace the joy part, the mountain-top experiences. There will be plenty of those, yet we cannot pass through this life without pain. We do ourselves a great disfavor when we expend countless hours and resources trying to ignore or deny this Truth.

We do not have to go looking for pain. It will come, of that we can be assured.

Pain touches every aspect of life, from our first wails as we wiggle into the bright lights of the birthing room to the last exhale from our lungs, whenever that may be. Your pain may be more or less than mine, it may be physical, emotional, or psychological, but that’s not the issue. That we will suffer is.

“I know,” He whispers, “I know”

To live fully is to feel deeply…

We are mortal. We are uncomfortable accepting that reality—until we realize resurrection into new life can only occur with the death of the old.

It is human and understandable that we resist the idea our days here are numbered and known only by God. For many, accepting the truth of our finite existence is more than enough pain in and of itself.

Yet by virtue of God bearing witness to us through the humanity of His Son, Jesus, we have a Comforter who knows only too well what it means to journey through this life.

To feel pain is to feel in the most profound way the depths of our loving and being loved—and what it means when we are separated, for a season, from those we love and who love us.

To feel pain is to accompany the one who is suffering by bearing the pain with them, whether we are near enough to take their hand, or at a distance and do so in our hearts.

To feel pain is to allow ourselves to be used of God as a living sacrifice for another.

To feel pain is nothing short of laying down our life for another.

It is good to be fully alive and feel—both the pain and the joy.

“I know,” He whispers, “I know.”


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Risky Beginnings

By Micky Wolf

What was she thinking?  Ϯ

Not sure how geese go about their family business but making a nest between the rails of a train track, albeit a side-section, seems risky business for everyone involved. Nonetheless, this gathering of five fuzzy goslings began life in a spot fraught with not-so-nice possibilities. Gives new meaning to the expression, "Heads-up--duck!”

Birds of the sky…

After my initial “oh my!” at seeing these little ones, a familiar Scripture came to mind:

“Look at the birds of the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?” (Matthew 6:25-27)

I’m sure Momma goose doesn’t read, let alone have a Bible stashed somewhere in another hidey place. Yet maybe she knows more about trusting God than you and I do. Maybe she sensed, from her unique feathered perspective, they would be safe and up, up and away long before they were in danger of being smooshed by a caboose or carried away by a vulture.

Babies of the world…

As much as I appreciate the birds of the sky, it gives me great consolation to know that “Are you not more important than they?” is a promise from God, especially as we observe certain events, those not so far from our own backyards, as well as in distant lands:
…infants being born into the worst kind of squalor

…babies brought homes to parents in bondage to an addiction

…little ones left to their own devices in the absence of responsible caregivers

…youngsters without the means to learn basic skills of reading, writing and communication

…toddlers who point to the growl in their tummy when school is out for the summer

Living is risky business…

Maybe your baby-beginning was healthy and whole. You did not want for material things and your family was reasonably intact and mostly reasonable, most of the time.

Or maybe your baby-beginning was less than ideal. Maybe you had a seat at the table but you struggled to find your place in the larger picture of life. You wondered if you were smart enough, pretty enough, or good enough to meet the standards others placed in front of you.

The goslings did not make the decisions which led to their being nested and born in the midst of risk. We can say the same for many of us as human beings birthed into this world.

But here’s the catch: other people will always make choices and take action in ways that may put us at risk—physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Tidy, neat and perfectly safe and secure habitats exist only in the casket—and even all of that will eventually turn to dust. All of it.

At the same time, let us not be too quick to assign others the responsibility for the (risky) choices and actions we make of our own accord. Hoping to ignore the signs of a serious health issue? Denying the discord foreshadowing the breakdown of an important relationship?  Delaying the reality of financial collapse tapping at the door?

Dependence on God…

“Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?”

Nope. Why then, do we expend so much effort doing so? There are plenty of good explanations, but regardless how we try to justify such behavior, engaging in worry as a way to resolve risk is like trying to move the rails of the track as you watch the train race toward you.

…Better to consider and remember how important you are to God.

…That He chooses to care for us in all ways, at all times, even when it seems He is elsewhere.

And that the circumstances of our arrival into this world do not dictate the outcome of the future—unless we choose not to take responsibility for our life as God leads and guides us in the direction He would have us to go.

Was I born into a nest fraught with risk?

How do I feel about those risks?

As an adult, do I feel powerless in a world full of risk?

What choice(s) am I willing to make in order to let go of worry?

Ϯ  Mom and goslings have moved to a nearby creek as they continue to grow and mature.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Gift of Uncertainty

By Micky Wolf

As the first-born growing up in a household with an alcoholic father, I knew first-hand and very quickly what it meant to wake up in the morning and go to bed at night with an ache in my gut. Not because I was hungry but because I never knew what the hour or day would bring. The uncertainty made for a miserable existence.

My chosen mode of survival was to be the good girl, the responsible one, to never ever rock the boat, or tip the glass. All of which helped me get through my teen years in one piece—and out the door and on my own six weeks after graduating high school. Having secured a decent paying, full-time job in the final month of school, it didn’t take me long to find a cheap, clean one-room walk-up to get moving with my life. I was more than ready to make my mark.

Many credible studies in recent decades have provided solid evidence that children born into families dominated by chaos (of pretty much any description) eventually leave these nests-of-disorder determined to not repeat the scenario.

As adolescents, we may not be able to fully explain why we will do almost anything to travel a different path, but that is the goal for many of us. We long for and seek consistent peace and quiet. We have had more than enough unpleasant surprises and disruption.  Eventually, as adults, we focus our effort and energy on maximizing the predictable and minimizing the unexpected.

For years, my sense of responsibility and deeply ingrained people-pleasing attitudes held me in good stead with employers and friends. Until I received a different kind of wake-up call from God: you can’t please all the people all the time and you certainly can’t make pleasing me a priority when you spend all your energy and efforts trying to manage every little detail of your life. 

Put another way: “When are you going to let go of your need to control? It. Is. Not. Working.”

“I know, God.” We’ve been through this a number of times. And yet, here I was, in need of a gentle Divine Reminder of this Truth in recent weeks.

Surprise and disruption are foundational to the Christian life. If they aren’t, you’re probably not paying attention to God’s will for your life but rather focusing on your own plans. Ask me how I know. I’m losing track of all the ‘surprises and disruptions’ that that have occurred in the past couple of months.

If it hasn’t been the weather messing with planting the vegetables and flowers, it’s been getting a summons in the mail for jury duty. And then there’s the increased weekend work schedule for my beloved which wreaks havoc on our couple plans, ministry and play. Oh, and let’s not overlook a corrective surgery which will be happening sooner rather than later.

You’d think all of this was a matter of life and death. It is. God has allowed it to be so. Why? To allow me to be in a position of seeing the need to die to self—again. Make that self-managing. Self-planning. Self. Self. Self.

Uncertainty made-to-order in surprising packages. God has an interesting way of gift-giving. The wrapping is nondescript. Or it may be so loud and colorful we want to close our eyes and plug our ears.

God’s gifts often don’t look, smell, taste, or appeal to us in the slightest. They sound weird, dress funny, and behave in a manner totally different from anything we have ever experienced. That’s the idea.

We know God works in mysterious ways but when He chooses something which, by our measure, threatens our sense of being able to control things, we plant our feet and jut our jaw, sometimes literally.

Opening the gift of uncertainty opens the door to more fully being the person God has created each of us to be. Yes. And I certainly can’t open that gift if my fingers have a white-knuckled grip on trying to manage every moment and detail of every real (or imagined) event or circumstance yet to unfold.

Don’t get me wrong. Being responsible is a good thing.

Wanting to get along with people and pleasing others is a good thing.

Having objectives and goals is a good thing.

All this good goes awry, however, when we make the “being, wanting and having” more important than trusting God, in the moment, to speak to our hearts in the hope we will respond to His light touch as He points us in a different direction, one He knows will be the blessing we cannot yet see or understand.

God is not a brute who will pry each of our fingers loose from old, outdated, behaviors and attitudes that may have served us well as children, developmentally or spiritually. He will, however, be quite content to allow the circumstances and people into our lives through which He can work to encourage and strengthen us in making choices more befitting mature daughters and sons of our Most High God.

I’m not so comfortable with uncertainty these days that I yawn when it shows up in my life. At the same time, the ache in the gut when another surprise or disruption occurs has pretty much disappeared. Not because I’m so responsible, always getting along with people or have clearly stated objectives and goals, but because I make the choice—again and again—to open the gift of uncertainty and believe God knows better than I what is best for this hour, this day.

As we grow more fully into the unique person God has created us to be, we learn His certainties will often feel like our uncertainty. But in order for us to bear the good fruit embracing the uncertainty is designed to produce, we have to die to those things which may have served us well as children. 
How do I feel about uncertainty? Fearful? Peace-filled?

How do I feel about surprises and disruptions? As God working in my life?