What comes next is better

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The last three months of the year, I need all the energy I can muster. Now this!

“That tooth has to come out,” my dentist had said.

Since last winter, I’d had more health issues than I cared to recount: sinuses, eyes, lungs, shingles, fibromyalgia, even depression from all the problems. As soon as one ailment lessened, another surfaced. And now dental work. Maybe that tooth would just supernaturally fall from my mouth.

My first experience with the supernatural was probably around age five. Mother took me to see an old man (probably in his 50s) who prayed warts away. The ugly knobs lined my fingers and fell across my knuckles. They were gross even at my age and short of seeing a doctor, I’d have done anything to be rid of them. My peers assured me I’d gotten them from frogs, although I had no proclivity for amphibians. Since my brother did, I figured I’d gotten them by some sort of relational osmosis.

Mother and I drove to Toler, Kentucky, a bend in the road, and a short jaunt from where we lived. I didn’t know the wart healer, though I’d heard of him. Mother explained the details so I’d be excited, not nervous: “He’ll pray a special prayer and the warts will slowly disappear over time.”

The warts didn’t fall off in front of me as I’d secretly hoped, but over the next couple of weeks, everything she said happened. No doctor, no grandma mixing weird, foul-smelling concoctions. Just Brother Whachamacallem praying.

I wished things could happen that easily today. Now, it seemed I needed restorative spackle, superglue, and duct tape for all the appointments, tests, and procedures I had with my eleven doctors. I was beginning to feel like the Israelites in the desert, following the cloud of the Lord. Except, unlike the Israelites, it didn’t feel like a guiding cloud—it was a dark cloud and it was trailing me.

So, my dentist made me an appointment with an oral surgeon because the back tooth somewhat hooded the tooth to be removed. The day of the extraction, I met the surgeon and was immediately put to sleep. He didn’t know me, didn’t mention that it may be a difficult extraction. Afterwards, he sent me home with eight pills, standard instructions, and a couple of stitches over a big hole. 

When the anesthesia wore off, pain raced into my neck, my teeth, and inside my mouth. My back tooth had an intense ache that medication and no amount of instruction could fix. About 6 PM, distraught and teary, I called the oral surgeon’s answering service and was put through to him.

If he was terse, I was pathetic. Hazy in my thoughts and ill-composed questions. I asked if the back tooth, which hurt to even touch, might be diseased. Why did my upper mouth feel like it had been raked. Was infection spreading? I’d never had pain like this.

“I’m not giving you any more pain medication!” he said emphatically.

I was blindsided. I hadn’t asked for pain meds though the two pills I’d taken weren’t working. I was more concerned about infection and if an Emergency Room visit was imminent.

I would be better in the morning, he assured me, when he could see me.

I hung up completely unraveled. He had shown no compassion and little concern for my well-being. And he treated me as if I was an addict. Surely there are easier ways to get drugs! But, addiction was a problem in West Virginia and he didn’t know me.

The rest of that evening and late into the night, the pain escalated and I cried myriad prayers. “Lord, help me to be resilient, and kind. Because frankly I don’t feel kind.” Then, “Lord, just heal me. Jesus died so I can be healed.” Finally, “Forgive me, Lord. Pain makes us empathetic, strong. Jesus endured. Help me to do the same.” My prayers ran the gamut.

I had resigned myself to two extremes—I would deal with the pain or the pain just might kill me—when an exceedingly manipulative, self-absorbed notion ran through my head: “If you really loved me, Lord, you’d heal me.”

I wished I could take it back. It wasn’t even how I felt. But, at that moment, having whispered the most contrived prayer of the night, I received grace. My pain went from 10 to 0, instantly! Beautiful Grace. Thank God for the mysteries of heaven and what Jesus did at the cross. As to my tiny role—I had spouted a litany of affected, nonsensical prayers, sprinkled with some faith.

Sobbing with relief, I thanked God and woke Alan to share the good news. It was 2:30 AM.

I’d like to say that’s the end of the story, but later that day a mild pain kicked in. The extraction horror—the unbearable pain—was miraculously gone! The socket pain, however, was pushing full throttle.

Befuddled, I prayed: “Lord, why heal me half-way? Why heal one pain and not the other?” And, “What was that pain-free night all about?”

I questioned God the way I did when, in my teens and twenties, I pushed Him away. Yet He never gave up on the five-year old who believed warts would vanish. Then and now, I expected Him to be predictable, like a mother, not considering the Bible, which pretty much establishes His un-predictability!

It was just hard to comprehend a partial move of God considering the time I’d poured boiling water over my hand (see Angels Amongst Us) and He’d completely healed me thirty dreadful minutes and two prayers later. From removing warts to finding Alan and me a new home (see House of Grace) many of my past appeals had been answered. Thoroughly. I expected more of the same.

I expected the expected.

I got the unexpected. He went off on a tangent. From Isaiah 43:19. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

God showed me this scripture, this principle, through a sermon by Pastor Steven Furtick that I knew was meant for me, and really, for us all. Our expectation of God mustn’t rely on our history with Him: we can’t look back to clarify the present. And while we’re at it, we can’t second-guess God today.

Our relationship is ever evolving.

I’ve asked God for many things—haven’t you? Asked Him to shape me, guide me, make me  more like His Son. Maybe this incomplete healing wasn’t incomplete at all. Maybe it would help accomplish exactly what I’d prayed for. He’d still performed a miracle. Not exactly how I’d envisioned, but the worst pain had vanished. God had blessed me in this wilderness!

Consider St. Paul’s declaration in 2nd Corinthians: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Unlike St. Paul, I don’t welcome adversity. I’m too 21st Century reliant on comfort, which may be why blind eyes and graves seldom open anymore. But I can, when I’m weak, let God take over.

It’s an extraordinary thing when God intervenes. You know in your “knower” that the Divine has touched you. Sometimes it evens translates through a warm glow, tingles, or a presence. But, with physical pain, at least in my two cases, pain just left my body. All at once. That’s pretty spectacular, too.

Must I  question the ‘why’ or even the ‘how’ when I know Who?

I realized I’d been looking at the cloud that was trailing me the wrong way. I’d seen a threat, when really, it was akin to the cloud of God’s glory that blessed the Israelites. They didn’t always see their blessing either. They grumbled even when they’d seen a feast of miracles. Yet everything they needed was in that cloud: water, food, shoes and clothes that never wore out. Military supremacy. I too had endured some pretty tough enemies. I too had grumbled. Still, God had brought me through.

Dental pain might be a stretch for many to see the hand of God at work, but dental pain, which kicked in my fibromyalgia, was a nightmare. (With thanks to my dentist for helping me through) I declare it my final trial in the succession of misfortunes that have loomed over me for months. I am grabbing hold of God’s promise in Hebrews 10:23. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

Yes, “He is faithful.” Yet, He doesn’t relate to me like he did my five-year-old self, or even the woman I was last year. He wants—no! He expects me/us to grow. What’s in front of us will always take us to greater heights if we’ll let Him work through us. God’s faithfulness is shown through a litany of saints—from Abraham, King David, and Queen Esther to Ruth and Naomi and St. Paul.

So it went with them, so it goes with us: What comes next is better!

Sure, they all went through the wilderness, and we will too. Just remember St. Paul’s “When I am weak, then I am strong” declaration. Lean on God. I mean, give it up. Press!

My best days are still in front of me. Even at my age, I believe that. Just because I can’t see, touch, or even understand what He’s doing at times, doesn’t mean—has never meant—He isn’t ever-present. His methods may change, but I anticipate, with joy and gladness, with awe and conviction, what God will do in my future. And I will remember His past faithfulness and His promises—to me and to the saints who went before me. I will stand on His Word with prayer and thanksgiving, knowing His promises are true. And believing with certainty Roman 8:18. “What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us.”

This Thanksgiving, as we reflect on the past and look to the future, as we see the fruit of our labor and the goodness of God, let us consider that our thankfulness and faithfulness have been and will be rewarded. Now and in the world to come.

I am so thankful for the blessings God bestows. I know you are too.

Be blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!


Jesus in 2017: Resolution to Revolution

Happy New Year!

Look forward—that’s the general theme of January. Many of us make resolutions we can’t keep, promising to be more forgiving, and/or throwing out old habits and junk. I quit making resolutions a few years back. Why? Because I never kept them.

The most profound resolution I’ve ever made was over three decades ago. I resolved to try and be the hands, feet, eyes, the very spirit of Jesus on earth. Oh, yes, I’ve failed miserably. But I’ll keep trying.

Why? Because I’m hooked, fascinated, Holy-Ghost filled. Because the premise seems too good to be true: Some two-thousand years ago, Christ incarnate walked the earth as an ordinary man named Jesus. Sent by a holy God, His own Father, who wanted to redeem us, His creation, from sin and death!

The Bible tells us that nothing about Jesus’ appearance was outstanding. He was only thirty years old when He started His ministry, a carpenter prior to that. Probably strong from walking and from his trade. His face was likely ruddy, his hands rough. No one would have pointed to him and said, “Oh look, the Son of God!” Even his name was ordinary for the time.

Today it’s this very ordinariness that makes many people take notice. Because how could someone so nondescript, so common, become the most influential, most celebrated man to ever live. If I were to argue for Christ, I wouldn’t point to his miracles, His amazing sermons and parables, or even His love. No. I would just say, “How could such an ordinary person change the world in such an extraordinary way unless He was who He said He was—the Son of God.” And close behind, how could twelve men, His disciples, mostly laborers, common and uneducated, take the gospel to the world? Further, why were these men willing to be martyred for him?

And if that ancient truth isn’t enough, two-thousand years later, lives are still being transformed because of the Gospel of Christ. Peace, joy, and love transform hearts and minds. A spiritual dimension once unknown opens eyes to the goodness, the mercy, the love, the very person of God. You see your “neighbors” in a new and enlightened way. Supernatural experiences become a reality. Even dying isn’t an issue.

Witness the twenty-one Christian Egyptian martyrs beheaded by the madmen of ISIS. Not one of them renounced Christ. Why? I mean, really. . . Why? They could’ve lied. Thinking about it, I wonder if I might’ve considered lying. There’s a lot of pre-Pentecost Peter in me and I fear I might’ve denied Him, might’ve said, “Okay, I’ll convert to Islam.” And then after the flogging for indecent dress, after the burka and the baptism from hell, I would’ve tried to hold Jesus in my heart as they scrutinized my every whisper. But, not these young, brave men.

I will never forget their images: twenty-one orange-clad heroic souls, their faces calm, some praying, their hooded, cowardly captors dressed in black, leading them as though they were dogs on a short leash. I wish I’d turned away.

How I prayed for their families, and hold that thought . . . how I prayed for their murderers. No, I didn’t pray they would be blessed. I prayed God would reveal Himself to them. (Which actually is a blessing) That He would convict them and they would see themselves the way God sees them. That the Almighty Creator would allow them a glimpse into the hearts of these decent Christ followers and it would haunt their nights and change their own hearts.

So, why did these martyred Christians not convert to Islam? Because the resolution they made to serve Christ is part of the revolution that Jesus began. People in Islamic countries know the risks, but even at the point of death, they know the benefits are greater. They/We are part of a bigger plan.

We, as Americans, must especially develop a determination, a resolve to be more like brave Christians around the world who stand up to ISIS, other terrorists, and hostile-to-Christian governments. More like those who work tirelessly to spread the Gospel of Christ, to feed the hungry, the thirsty, the poor. Even more like those who pray for those in ministry and in turmoil, and those who are especially forgiving, thoughtful, kind, and generous.

And my resolution, coupled with yours and others becomes the revolution that will eventually change the world and restore Christ to His throne. We don’t all have to die for Christ, but we should all live for Christ.

So as you make your New Year’s resolution, I hope you’ll remember God’s love, His Grace, and His promise: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Think about what this promise must mean to Christian martyrs, now at an all-time high, around the world. Think about what it meant to those rag-tag disciples of old who followed in the footsteps of Christ, eleven of them martyred.

Most of all, remember the one Man, Jesus, who left a throne in the kingdom of heaven to walk the dusty earth in cloth and sandals, unshaven, unkempt, and at the end, unloved. He died brutally for you and for me and we owe Him everything. Like those disciples who’ve gone before us, let us resolve to be part of the revolution, to spread the Good News of Christ’s coming and of His return.

In January 2017, and always, that’s a resolution worth making. Worth living for. And many think, worth dying for.