The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus. Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering. Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.
Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her life. To accept God’s love expressed in Jesus and trust God and put her life totally in His hands. She went away and Bobbie never found out who she was, but Bobbie did what the woman said and experienced a love so great that she was able to put her life in God’s hands. Three days later she was home breathing perfectly on her own. She sought a church to try to learn more, since she hadn’t ever belonged to a church, She joined a small Episcopal church of mostly intellectuals. Bobbie was a loving person with great competence in practical things, but had married at 15 and never finished high school. Though she expressed frustration with the complex vocabulary of her fellow Episcopalians, Bobbie became the heart of that little church. She started a clothing give away for the poor. She planted a lovely meditation garden of flowers. She had the whole church over for cookouts. Then, she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that helped her articulate the love she had experienced and she spent many hours helping with these weekend retreats and others at a near by retreat house. After almost a decade, Bobbie had a heart attack and spent a month in a distant military hospital healing from a by-pass operation that involved removing a large blood vessel from her thigh. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s leg became infected. So, she had to spend six more weeks in a hospital in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber daily, Though far from family through all this, Bobbie’s bright eyes and loving heart made many friends and helped others find hope each day. Some months after coming home healed and regaining her strength, Bobbie and her husband drove to Florida to visit their son. Bobbi began to have pain in her leg on the trip and when she returned had to have surgery for blood clots and a clogged artery in her leg. She ended up with her leg amputated above the knee. She struggled to get a good fit with a prosthetic leg. Once after attending the theater at our Renaissance Center, she asked me to carry the leg for her while she wheeled herself out, because of the pain. So, I carried her prosthetic leg over my shoulder like a gun and followed her to the car. Bobby had an incredible ability to laugh at herself and roll with the punches life gave her. She constantly amazed us with her joy in the midst of incredible challenges. But Bobbie had wounds from childhood that had left her with hard places in her heart. Bobbie had three older sisters and two older brothers. Her father was both an alcoholic and an abuser in every sense of the word. Bobby had survived by often hiding in a sun flower patch at the back of the yard. She hated her father and was glad he died in a fire. Bobbie loved being in her kitchen cooking for others. It was a bright room decorated with sunflowers. It was her safe place. Bobbie liked polishing the brass candles and cleaning the sanctuary at her church as she prayed and meditated. One day while doing this, she felt called to pray for grace to forgive her father. And suddenly, her heart softened and she was able to forgive her emotionally crippled father and even pray for him. She experienced other insights and emotional healing. Bobbie spent two months the next Christmas in the Hospital with multiple health issues and in a great deal of pain. I and other friends took turns spending the night with her, because she had fallen once and often it took so long to get her pain meds, that even never complaining Bobbie was in tears. So, one night when I stayed, I took her a small tape player with ear buds and spiritual music on it to help her get through the times of pain. Bobby had a kind of raspy voice and was not really vocally gifted at all. But in the middle of the night, I heard a lovely soprano voice singing songs of praise. It wasn’t the tapes, it was Bobbie singing along with them.
Bobby never gave up. With a little help she was even able to take up casting pots on a wheel. Her faith and her humor got her through many challenges. But as time passed, it was difficult to drive on her own and handle the wheel chair for the places a lot of walking would be needed. So she was shopping for a handicapped accessible van when she had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Bobbie’s miraculous healing, conversion, years of helping others both concretely and spiritually, her own emotional and spiritual healing, and the ongoing physical illness and challenges she kept her faith and joy through are an incredible witness to the reality that both miracles and suffering are part of life and that with the love of God that is grace, faith and love can grow through it all.
If we can forgive that another person cannot give us what only God can give, then we can celebrate that person’s gift. (Henri Nouwen)
I think as we go through life, we end up having to forgive our parents, our siblings, our children, our spouse, our friends,- etc. etc. etc.- for not being able to be what we need and want because they aren’t God. And our own neediness isn’t love either, so we end up having to forgive ourselves also. Forgiveness frees us to heal and move on.
The core of love is forgiveness. (*This doesn’t mean allowing ourselves to be victims.) It means realizing that we all fall short of perfection, so we can let go of bitterness and even self-hate as we continue to become the unique, imperfect, but with the grace of God, slowly ever more loving, person God created us to be
I don’t think any of us are intentionally evil, but we are all blind. When Jesus prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” he meant all of us. When Paul said, “We see through the glass darkly,” he meant all of us, including himself.
Without grace there is no way we can get beyond our limited perceptions. We are molded and even warped by our historical era, culture, climate, nationality, race, class, religion, education, genes, ancestors, parents, peers, personalities, bodies, health, and life experiences. We are all crippled and incomplete spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Only by dying to these limits, to our earthbound selves, can we become free to see, and then to love, as Jesus did. Since many of these influences are rooted in our unconscious, it takes times facing our demons in the desert to even begin to know ourselves and times spent in prayer on the mountain with God to be set free mentally and reborn spiritually and healed physically. There is a huge difference between praying, “God, if it is your will, heal me.” And saying, “God, heal me according to your will.” God wants us healed. Though mental, spiritual, and physical healing are connected, I have been with both the young and the old when they were at peace dying physically, because they had been healed spiritually and I have seen people healed spiritually by being healed physically. With God all things are possible. He is the same, but we are all different. There are no limiting rules, just the goal of bringing each of us home to live immersed in His Love forever.
The scriptures show Jesus approaching healing differently for different people. “Do you want to be healed?” “Your sins are forgiven.” “Stand up and walk.” “Go show yourself to the religious authorities.” “Your faith has healed you.” “Some things take prayer and fasting.” The question isn’t whether God wants us healed. The question is where does the process need to begin.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one word. Jesus struggling with his fears in the garden, feeling totally abandoned by his family and friends, his anguish so great that he sweat drops of blood, and finally being able to say, “Your will, not mine,” is what set Him free to rise again.
We are born again by recognizing and admitting we need to be set free, by putting ourselves in God’s hands, and then continuing to allow His Spirit to burn the chaff within us in life-long on going passiondeathandresurrections.
These things seem to me to be true: (I’ll get back to you later, when God tells me different.) 1.We all fall short: rich and poor, male and female, educated and uneducated, presidents and drug addicts, young and old, religious and non-religious, Republicans and Democrats. 2.Becoming is more important than achieving. 3. We can’t change anyone else. And the best way to help others isn’t by pretending to be a super person, but by sharing our struggle and our need for grace to become our best selves. (And that even our best selves may not be something to brag about!) 4. It takes a ton of grace and varying amounts of blood, sweat, and tears for each of us to grow closer to being the person we were created to be. (Some of us tend to make it harder for ourselves.)