I let both of my kids fake an illness and I don’t regret it

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My oldest daughter had become a regular in the nurse’s office. First it was her back. It hurt so bad that she couldn’t run so she sat on the bench at recess and it hurt when she tried to sit on the floor with the other kids so she had to sit in a chair. She found a way to call me everyday. Her teacher finally suggested that she come home.  She took a day to rest and use my heating pad. We got her checked out at the doctor and lightened the load in her backpack.

Then it was her tummy. It was every day for a week until one day it hurt the “worst that it’s ever hurt” and so I picked her up from school. The baby’s two month check-up  was scheduled for that day and we had already pushed it back several times. We couldn’t reschedule so I brought the ailing child with me. Walking into the doctor’s office had a miraculous effect. It may have been the wafting aroma of alcohol swabs. It may have been the healing presence of a caring doctor. But my guess is that it was fake all along and she had pulled one over on me.

On Friday of the next week she was back in the nurse’s office. When the nurse called, I asked to speak to my child because I wanted her to know it was not okay to keep tricking me. We talked for awhile…”I looked in the mirror and my face is so pale…my tummy hurts the worst that it ever has…I feel like I’m going to throw up”. I had heard it all before and so I called her bluff. “Okay, but if you come home you will not be going with your friends to gymnastics tomorrow.” When she answered “okay” I knew she wasn’t messing around.  I took her home and she actually was sick. She was sick in the toilet, she was sick on her bed, she was sick in a bowl and I felt horrible for second guessing her.

Then Monday rolled around and the little dude woke up with a tummy ache. He rolled around in the chair, he laid in the floor, he sipped his milk instead of chugging it. There did seem to be something wrong but nothing so drastic that I should keep him home from school. He is usually not a complainer so I told him, “Go to school and if your tummy still hurts later you can call me.” I didn’t expect to hear from him again. My husband dropped him off at 8:30, then at 9:25 my cell phone rang. I thought about the mistake I had made the Friday before with my 9-year-old and so I answered quickly. “Yeah, okay, I’ll come get him”.

I signed him out and he left the office dragging his backpack behind him. I started the car but waited for him to buckle up before I pulled out. “I was headed to Target to pick up some coffee. Do you just want to go home and lay down? I can get it later.”

“Target?…Well, I guess we could do that first and then we could go home…” He kept his voice nonchalant but the grin on his face gave me the first idea that maybe I had been fooled once again.  My second clue came when we walked through the sliding glass doors. He skipped over to the rows of cheaply priced items at the front of the store and began to shout from ten steps away. “I’m gonna get this slime…I can pick something out for Mia when we go look at the toys.”

In that moment I knew he was faking it but I couldn’t make myself take him back to school.

Sometimes when a child says they have a tummy ache they are trying to tell you something else that they don’t have words to express.  Then it’s my job as a mother to try to figure out what they are trying to say. “I have a tummy ache” could mean “I’m nervous…I’m bored…I’m scared…I’m tired…I don’t want to face this day…I am overwhelmed…I need to be with you…I need someone to listen…I want to feel like someone cares for me.” I felt like it had been days since I had even talked to my son and I think he felt it too. He had spent the night with a friend. I was taking care of an infant and his sick older sibling. We had church and small group and everyone needed clean laundry.

We got everything we needed at Target. The baby had started to cry so we checked out and headed out to the car. “Can we go home and play Minecraft? I’ll teach you how.” I chose to ignore the fact that he was skipping school to play video games and I just said “yes.” We built a house together. He knew all the right bricks to use and how to get my sheep into the pen we had made for them. He laughed at the cave I constructed just for storing my cake and laughed even harder when I called it my “cake hole.” When it started to rain, we hid in his tower watching the drops through the glass ceiling. We chased chickens and walked on top of the trees. He showed me an underwater castle and we played hide and seek.

When he got up the next morning he was fine. Whatever had been bothering him had passed…whether it was sickness of body, mind, or heart…it was better and he left for school without an argument. I thought back to the day that my daughter had gone to the doctor for her back. We got frozen yogurt and listened to Taylor Swift in the car. We went shopping and took selfies together. The day her tummy hurt she helped me take care of the baby and we laughed when the wind tried to blow our grocery cart away. We watched old 90s sitcoms and made cookies.

They will have to go to school every day for the next decade but how many more days do I have to play with them? Maybe next time I will give them time with me before they have to beg for it. But for one day I let them both get away with faking a tummy ache and I don’t regret a second of it.

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Revisiting The Desires of My Heart

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A few weeks ago I wrote this blog post on pursuing the desires of your heart. I encouraged readers to ask God for big things and to expect Him to act on their behalf whether it is through answered prayer or a change of heart.  In the process of praying over my list of desires I have imagined the possibilities of how God is going to surprise me with His answer. I have imagined meeting new people who introduce new opportunities. I have imagined big events and life changing steps. But in dreaming big, I failed to see one possibility that could arise from presenting my desires to God. What if He wants everything to stay just like it is? What if he looks at my list and nothing I desire lines up with His will and He doesn’t have anything bigger and better to give me in exchange? What if He gives me nothing more than I already have and His desire for me right now is to find contentment in what He has given me?

What if for every single desire on my list God’s answer is a big, obvious “no” or “not right now” or “I want you to stay just where you are” or “keep doing what you’re doing”…and what if it’s not even presented in some giant, miraculous life changing, burning bush kind of moment? What I want is for my life to take a huge swerve toward the magnificent but what if God is asking me to keep driving for hundreds of miles in the same direction on the same two lane road? We all want to give a hearty amen to the idea of asking God for big things but can we still affirm His ways when nothing of significance happens?

The answer to having joy when the desires of your heart are not fulfilled is to find contentment. So that you can say as Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”. It often means not getting what you want and in our “have it your way” culture it is not an attribute that is widely pursued. We may have good jobs, but we are told we could have a great one. We may have loving families but we are told that we could have perfect ones. We may live in a nice house but we are told it can always be improved. According to the world, our lives could always be better. If your list of desires has started to sound too much like our discontented culture…if your list has made you unhappy with the life God has given you…then you have missed the point of making the list.

If you find yourself holding too tightly to your list you may have developed some wrong ideas about what contentment means. You may find it hard to seek contentment because it sounds like too much work with little to no return. Even in Christian circles where contentment is celebrated, it is still surrounded by many misconceptions. It may help to point out what contentment is not. Being content is not:

  1. Settling for less.  It is trusting God more. Being content with what you have may not look like your idea of the best for you but in His sovereignty and wisdom God always knows what is perfect for His children. Trust that he knows what he is doing.
  2. God’s worst for you. It is ultimately His best. It may be hard and it may be frustrating but God is truly for you, not against you in the things he chooses to give you. He may be shaping your character which is far more important than getting what you want in the moment.
  3. Based on circumstances. It is based on how we think about them. The situation you find yourself in will never be exactly how you want it and if you don’t decide to be content in all things you will be chasing the perfect life around for the rest of your existence. If you find yourself saying “if I only had this” or “if only that would happen” or “if only this would go away” then you are probably battling discontentment and you should evaluate your motives behind your desires.
  4. A joy killer. It is a joy giver. Joy does not belong exclusively to those who get everything they want. In fact, those are the people who tend to be the most unhappy because they are always searching for the next thing that will bring them fulfillment. When I think about the most joyful people I know it is those that in plenty and in want have chosen to be content.

Here are some ideas for developing more contentment in your own life:

  1. Be faithful. Don’t wish for another role so much that you neglect the one you have or you fail to see the one that God wants you to step into. The problem may not be that you don’t know what God wants you to do next…it may be that you just don’t like what he is asking of you. You may want to lead a great revolutionary ministry but the next step may be to volunteer in the nursery. You may want to write a best-selling book but the next step might be to write a blog post that no one will read. You may want to get married but the next step might be to watch your married friends’ kids so that they can have a date night. You may want to find a job outside the home but your next step might be to change another diaper.
  2. Be thankful. Don’t complain. God has blessed all of us more than we ever deserve. Even if you are in a dead-end job…even if you feel underappreciated…even if you are lonely…even if you are chronically ill…God sent His Son to die for you and offered you salvation despite the fact that we are all terrible sinners. That in itself is enough to be thankful for but God chooses to bless us beyond that. Make it a habit to find something to be thankful for everyday.
  3. Be trusting. Don’t assume that God is punishing you or testing you. Remember that God’s plan is always perfect even if it doesn’t make us happy. Ultimately it is not His goal is not our happiness anyway…it is our holiness.
  4. Be obedient. Don’t try to leap ahead on the path you have been given. Take the next step in front of you. This is the way I think about it…I can see what I want in front of me but I am separated from it by a huge chasm. It is way too far for me to jump. God has prepared a path for me to follow that leads in another direction…one that is manageable one step at a time. I am not guaranteed that this path will lead to the thing that I want but it will lead somewhere and it is better than trying to leap over an insurmountable distance. But I know he is trustworthy and I know he has my best interest in mind and I know it is fruitless to jump or even to keep standing still staring across the chasm so I follow Him into the unknown. I can’t be guaranteed that my next step will lead to what I want but it will lead somewhere and that somewhere is part of God’s plan because it is all He has given me to do so far.

Being content does not cancel out the desires of your heart. It does not eliminate the need to ask God and seek Him. But it does offer an opportunity to hand your desires over and trust God with the outcome. It gives you a more peaceful avenue to follow as you run hard after what God places in front of you. So, keep pursuing your desires, keep seeking God but in order to remain at peace while you do it, find contentment in each step along the way.

The Desires of My Heart

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I hear my daughter in the kitchen. She pulls open the freezer door and then slides it shut. She stands for awhile in silence and then opens it again, basking a little longer in the frigid glow.

“Do you need something?” I call from the other room.

“Well…” She hesitates. “I wanted a snack…but…umm…I guess I will just have some fruit.” She grabs an apple from the bowl on the counter and disappears before I can ask anymore questions.

I know the routine. What she really wants is ice cream but she is afraid to ask. She is afraid to even speak the words for fear that I most certainly will say no. And so she settles for fruit…or yogurt…or popcorn…or something that she thinks I want for her to choose. Something that isn’t so sweet and delicious. She doesn’t ask, so I don’t even have the chance to say yes. And what she doesn’t know is that I would love for her to choose ice cream. I bought the ice cream for her to enjoy…and I want to enjoy it with her.

This is often how I approach my heavenly Father. I am afraid that what I am asking for is too big, too extravagant, too rich and so I dance around my desires, asking only for what I think he would want for me to choose.  I would love to have a book published. But what I end up asking for is that I will put those notions aside so that I can be content at home doing housework. I want to be a part of my husband’s counseling ministry. But I settle for simply praying for my husband and watching him do well from the sidelines. It’s good to seek contentment. It’s good to pray for my husband and his ministry. But it’s not wrong to pray to have a book published or to pray for opportunities to open for me to serve with my husband.

Psalm 37:4 speaks of these longings. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  I don’t interpret this verse as promoting a health, wealth and prosperity mentality. I don’t think God owes me anything or that I will receive blessing for anything that I do. But I also don’t think it means what I grew up believing…that if you want to do something it can’t possibly be what God wants you to do because God only asks people to do hard things…or your desires don’t matter and you should suck it up and shove them down and pray that God will change your desires to align with the most godly thing you can think of. Your desires are His desires. He gave them to you and He wants to use them. He even wants to enjoy them with you. Even if it is for the purpose of turning you toward Him or adding to the bigger picture that He plans to fulfill in the future.

As I said earlier, I would love to author a book. Maybe I pray everyday that I will get my book published. I work on it, I pray over it, I seek God, I give my desire to Him. This desire is not wrong and it is fueling me to write every single day. But maybe as I pray over the desire, other things come into my path: I am presented with a teaching opportunity. Now, because of that desire I have material to use to teach others. In the process my desire may become so strong for teaching that I no longer want to publish my book and I just use it to teach. Or I may teach for awhile and continue to work on my book while I teach and eventually get my book published because of the people I meet through the teaching opportunity. Or maybe God reveals to me that my desire has deep roots of selfishness and pride and He makes it clear that it is better for me to lay my desire aside until I can deal with those issues. God can even use your desire to pull sin from your heart in ways that never could have been accomplished if you had not pursued that desire.

Our desires are never wasted especially if we are praying over them and seeking God through them. We don’t have to shove our desires down to make way for  God’s desires. We can pray over the desires He has given us and let Him guide as He sees fit so that it is no longer “my desires” and “His desires” but they are one in the same.

So, in lue of a new years resolution this year I decided to make a list of the desires of my heart. This is my plan:

  1. Make a list of all the most extravagant desires that have been resting on my heart. Be aware of lurking selfishness and try to avoid anything sinful or self-promoting. Don’t be afraid to include the most exciting thing I can think of.
  2. Pray over the list every day. If I have missed any selfish motives in the first step, God will reveal them as I lift these desires to Him.
  3. Expect things to happen…because they will. Whether my desires are fulfilled, removed or changed God will do something. It will almost absolutely be something I wasn’t expecting, but it will be something.
  4. Don’t resist.It is futile to do so and will only makes things more difficult. Be okay with God removing or replacing things on my list knowing that God’s plan is perfect. Don’t try to fight Him for something that He is taking away, let my desires be molded as I continue the process of praying and seeking Him. God is sovereign and will do as He sees fit, resisting will only make it more painful.

I am not under the impression that this is some magic formula and that I will get exactly what I ask for.  I do not think that if I do this then God is obligated to give me something in return. I just know that my own heart has settled for less because I’m afraid to ask. James 4: 1-3 gives us a glimpse of what happens when our desires are not aligned with God’s.”What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”.

Desires are powerful. They can become so important to us that they stir up destructive emotions inside of us. These verses say that some of us may fight for our own desires even to the point of murder. But James goes on to say that these powerful emotions can be avoided. He says that we do not ask for the right things, we do not ask in the right way or we don’t even ask at all. Our desires go astray and are unfulfilled because we do not present them to God in prayer and trust Him with the outcome.

It’s not sinful to ask for bigger things. It’s not sinful to expect a big God to do big things. This year I plan to give Him the desires of my heart…as big as they may be…and see what He will accomplish with them.

The Dinner That Took Me 15 Years to Prepare

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“I think this might be the first time you’ve ever cooked for me.” Though I could think of a few other times I had actually made her a meal in the fifteen years that I had known her, the general concept was true. I hadn’t shared a meal with her as often as I should have. I wanted to deny it. I wanted to pretend it wasn’t fact, I wanted to fill in the gaps with so many other things that I had done for her instead…but the reality was still the same. I hadn’t cooked for her but it had nothing to do with the status of our relationship or the amount of hospitality I was able to perform…it had everything to do with how far I had sunk into an eating disorder and how long it took me to come crawling out.

I knew that I could always stand to be a better host but as I scrutinized the situation, I became less discouraged with my homemaking skills and more in awe of the amazing miracle that God has worked in my life. After years of only eating in front of people who knew about my food excentricities and didn’t make a big deal out of them. After years of avoiding restaurants and feeling terror over social gatherings that involved food. After years of not wanting to cook for anyone else because I lacked the physical capability of adding flavor to anything because of my strict limit on fat, sugar, sauces, dressings and carbs. I knew it tasted bad and I didn’t want anyone else to have to endure it. After years of bondange to an eating disorder I finally found freedom.

It was a process of handing things over to God. It was an exchange of my own desire for control for the understanding of His ultimate sovereignty and care. It was denying myself the need for approval so I could realize that I am already loved and accepted by the only one who truly matters. It was valuing and cultivating other characteristics in myself…kindness, love, generosity, patience, joy…above being thin. It was letting go of fear and letting mercy and grace reign. It was getting my life back after years of thinking I would be lost in that spiral forever.

She appreciated the time and work that I had put into her meal, not realizing it wasn’t just the hour spent in front of the stove. That meal was fifteen years in the making. She may never see all of the steps it took me to get there but in that moment I saw how far I had come and I was thankful.

A Concise Book Review: Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

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What do you get when you cross multiple generations and parenting? Usually a heated discussion or at least a mild disagreement. My grandparents generation was all about hard work, discipline and conformity. My parents leaned more toward responsibility and making supervised choices. While my generation seems to swing on the side of uniqueness, individuality and freedom to make mistakes. But this book has a refreshing perspective. No matter what generation, the Gospel should drive our parenting, leaving no room for changing views and waning strategies.

Grace takes away the need to be a perfect parent. Perfection is out. Grace is in. If we know that the work is already completed. Christ already died for whatever we are going to say. Christ already died for whatever my children are going to do. He has already completely covered over our mistakes and so when God looks upon our parenting He sees the perfect life of Christ. We are free from the guilt that says we aren’t enough. We are free from the anger that explodes forth when are kids don’t act the way we think they should. The Gospel isn’t a list of what we should be doing…it is a story of what was already done. And focusing on that through parenting is freeing on so many levels.

The entire weight of our child’s salvation does not rest on our shoulders…only God saves souls. Somewhere along the parenting path, God gave me a bit of parenting advice. Though I can’t remember the particular source, the concept has stuck with me over the last few years. My children are little eternally living souls that will be in heaven or hell someday. I took that advice to personally, as I always do, and began living as if every choice I made would determine whether my child would become a Christian or not. But as I read “Give Them Grace” I became more aware of the fact that God chooses who will be saved. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that brings anyone to salvation. We read numerous accounts in the Bible about godly parents who appear to be doing things right, but end up producing evil rebellious children…and we also read of many godly servants of Christ coming from horribly ungodly parents. God can harden or soften hearts to the exact same message. So salvation is truly a give of grace, not of my doing, but a gift given by God.

You are a sinner parenting a sinner. After reading this book, things changed drastically within my own heart before my parenting strategy saw any form of makeover. I was expecting my children to do more than I could do myself. Though I knew it was impossible, in my own speech and actions, I was expecting perfection from them and never giving them any way out. And that is not how God deals with me. Though my life seems to be an endless cycle of sin, repent, repeat, God is gracious to me. He says, “I know you can’t be perfect and that is why I sent my son.” And so I should be more willing to say to my children, “I know you can’t be perfect, that is why Jesus died”…and continue to point them toward obeying out of love and gratitude for that sacrifice instead of constantly expecting them to obey the rules to perfection because nothing less is acceptable.

It’s not a child’s behavior that’s bad, it’s their heart. Long before I read this book, I could quote a long list of scripture about how wretched and sinful our hearts are, but the way I was parenting was failing to apply those verses. Bad behavior produced a punishment, usually without any further discussion. You hit your sister, you go sit on your bed. You disobey mommy, you don’t get to ride your bike. But I failed every time to get to the root of the actions and to help my children look at their behavior as God does. The book gives many examples of what a conversation might look like when you take the initiative to talk to your child about their sin instead of just automatically producing a punishment. Here is one such conversation (condensed and paraphrased from the book):

When I tell you it is time to go, it is not okay for you to start screaming and to throw yourself on the ground. First of all because it is unsafe. God put me in charge of you to keep you safe. Also, it is sinful and disobedient to act that way. That is sinning against Mommy and God. I know it is hard to do the right thing and because it is so hard you need Jesus. Do you know what Jesus did when he had to go somewhere he didn’t want to go? He told God he would do whatever He wanted him to do and he went to the cross to die for us. He knew it was going to hurt a lot but he went anyway because he loves us so much. And God showed me today how much I need Jesus too because I have a disobedient heart. I had pride and anger in my heart. Discipline hurts, but God can use it in both of our lives to make us love Him more.

In this excerpt, we see a few key points of grace filled discipline. Explaining that a parents role comes from God is a crucial way to teach a child that all authority comes from Him, all sin is against Him and to teach the ultimate source to which all obedience, love and worship should be directed. All grace filled parenting centers around the gospel so at all times we should search for ways to bring the cross into our conversations with our children. Showing them their need of Jesus right in the midst of their sin gives them hope and shows them the seriousness of their actions. And this book also points out how important it is to admit your own need of Jesus as well. Humility and repentance can be learned through our example to them.

Bacon, Zombies And Back to School: An interview with my kids

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mia and zaneYesterday the kids went back to school…Mia, to first grade and Zane, to preschool at home with me. I sat down and asked them both a few questions about school and about themselves before the year gets started. I think the differences in their answers clearly reflect their unique personalities…

Mia

1. What is your favorite part about school? Getting to play on the big playground. All the first and second grade gets to play together so I get to see all my friends from last year and I get to make new friends. I made a new friend named Lily. I didn’t get to know very many of the names for the kids in my class…but there were two boys who didn’t go to Cherokee last year…I don’t know their names…I will find out and tell you tomorrow.

2. What do you look forward to learning this year? I don’t know what we are going to learn about this year…my teacher hasn’t told me yet. I already know how to read chapter books but maybe I will learn some more about science. My teacher told me that Ms. Kelly is the science teacher this year because our old science teacher is filling in for someone who was going to have a baby. So now there are only three kindergarten teachers, I think.

3. What do you want to be when you grow up? I used to want to be a teacher, or an artist or a doctor but I’m pretty sure that I just want to be an actor now. But not like a movie star…just like the kids on the Disney channel.

4. Who do you like to play with? Lillian and Jacob and all my friends at school and Brynn and Kate and all my friends at church and all my cousins…Bryce and Collin and Brooke…oh and Bronson, but he doesn’t really play yet…and Carly, when I get to see her.

5. What is your favorite tv show? Full House…but I watched them all already.

6. What is your favorite food? Bacon!

7. What do you like to do? Ride my new bike…I like it so much, I can’t stop riding it. It’s a princess bike and it’s bigger than my old bike and it has a place for my baby to ride and it has a bell. It can go faster than my old bike too. But it’s not as big as Anthony’s new bike so he goes a little faster than me. 

8. What is your favorite color? Pink and purple…and all the colors

9. What do you like to wear? I like to wear high heels but sometimes they don’t fit very well because my feet are SO SMALL! They are so tiny!! They are like the size of a toddler! 

10. What is your favorite place to go? I like to go to Ohio but we don’t get to go there very much.

 

Zane

1. What is your favorite part about school? Playing outside for recess

2. What do you look forward to learning this year? Umm…I don’t know. Can I just have my chocolate now.

3. What do you want to be when you grow up? A cooker, remember!?

4. Who do you like to play with? My scooter and my ninja turtles.

5. What is your favorite tv show? I like this (as he points at the tv…which pretty much means that he likes whatever he is watching at that moment)

6. What is your favorite food?  Happy’s Pizza!!!

7. What do you like to do? Play zombies with Bryce

8. What is your favorite color? Blue

9. What do you like to wear? My soft ninja turtle pajamas

10. What is your favorite place to go? The new mall

 

To Grieve and Give

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Have you ever read an open status update or blog post that you feel is directed toward you?…Things not to say to someone going through a divorce….What you shouldn’t say to someone who just found out they have cancer….The most insensitive comments I have received since my dad died….and you find, in fact, that you have said at least one of those things. Your heart sinks and you feel rejected. Though you tried to genuinely offer a listening ear and share your experiences without being offensive or presumptuous, you are left feeling as if you never want to try to help again when your comments are criticized.  You truly hoped and prayed to provide comfort only to be told your acts are unacceptable because you didn’t say exactly the right thing, at the right time, in the right tone.

But I also know…when I am in pain, I think it’s my job to offer advice in a public, open context to those who want to console or help me…because how else will they know how to respond unless I tell them exactly what to do and not do? how will they know how not to hurt my feelings?….don’t ask about adoption when I’m suffering with infertility…don’t offer suggestions about an illness you have never experienced….don’t pretend like your cat being sick is the same as my daughter having spinal surgery…I want people to say something and not avoid me but I don’t want them to say something that will hurt me and I don’t want them to say anything that will make me doubt and I don’t want them telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. I can unintentionally set up a parameter of guidelines that can never be contained…a pile of standards that can never be met. I want comfort from someone who is genuine, knows everything about my situation, is always sensitive to my feelings and never allows awkward silence. And I want to place blame and hold grudges against anyone who can’t get it just right.

I’ve had to remind myself often as I have endured difficult times that the amount of wisdom a person has is not a measure of their heart….and sometimes suffering is a lesson in my own pride. Sometimes in order to actually receive comfort I have to be willing to give of myself, let my own perceived rights go. Some of the most loving people have left the most hurtful impressions on my mind when I was suffering, not because of thoughtlessness or ill intentions or even because what they said was necessarily wrong…but because of my own expectations and my own selfish view of the situation. When I was struggling with infertility a friend approached me with her own predicament….”I think I might be pregnant” was all I heard and I shut down. How could she be so insensitive? How could she be so ignorant? I’m sitting here knowing that I may never have any children of my own and she is complaining about the inconvenience of getting pregnant a year too early. I didn’t take her perspective. I didn’t offer any comfort. I ruined the rest of our day and our friendship because I was selfishly focused on my own pain. I failed to see that she had no one else to turn to. I failed to see that she was as confused and scared as I was. Pain creates tunnel vision, it creates rights in our mind that aren’t ours to be taken.

We are called to be humble, we are called to put others first, we are called to comfort and create peace among our brothers and sisters in Christ…with no exceptions. Suffering doesn’t offer us a free ticket to be selfish…a pass to correct in bitterness instead of love. People don’t generally intend to be insensitive but sometimes they are…it doesn’t give me license to be insensitive in return. By pointing fingers and giving unsolicited advice and guidance in how to best help me, I’m not creating an avenue for comfort, I am creating a wall of isolation….pushing others away with the rules I have created for them. And in our hearts we begin to say, “I will only accept your help if it comes to me exactly like I want it.” No one will ever experience the exact same pain in the exact same way…no one will ever know exactly what to say…no one can read my mind to know what I want, especially when my feelings are indistinguishable to myself. So if I don’t want to sit alone in my pain, then I have to get over my rights and my feelings and let someone try to help…even if they fail.

Suffering is a part of a sinful world. As long as there is sin in the world, there will always be suffering. And as long as we are on the earth we are called to serve others…in a constant, never-ceasing way. So the balance between these two things cannot exist in a one or the other scenario. They should always exist together in a constant tandem. We don’t stop serving and thinking of others when we are going through a difficult time. The world tells us, “you just lost a baby, you need to take time to focus on you. You just be selfish for a while. You deserve it.” But that is not the stance that the Bible takes. In turmoil, in grief, in pain, in suffering our lives are not about us and if we take the view that love and service must cease while we grieve or suffer than we would never find a chance to reach out…we will always be reaching in.

On either side of suffering…experiencing it first-hand or ministering to someone through it…it is about keeping a cautious mouth and a heart that is eager to serve. It is about counting others as more significant as yourself, no matter what you are going through. I am not saying that there isn’t time to stop and grieve and allow healing. If you need to take a break from some things or pull away for a while, there is nothing wrong with that. But when time goes by and your life is still marked only by grief, then service has stealthily slipped from your radar.

As I write this I think about a dear friend who lost a baby last month in the second trimester of her pregnancy. She gave birth to a tiny, lifeless son who she loved very much. From her own account, the staff at the hospital was very helpful to her. They took pictures, gave her gifts and made sure she had all she could to remember the little life that grew inside of her. She found out that not all women get this kind of care. Many are sent home with no mementos and no resources. She nearly immediately set to work making sure that other women got the kind of special attention that she did. She contacted friends and family to begin giving donations so that she could compile resources for these women who have lost a child like she did. She is currently contacting hospitals, businesses and partnering with other organization to ensure that this area does not go untouched and overlooked. In the midst of it all she continues to grieve. But in the midst of it all she continues to give. (Check out The Ezra Project on Facebook for ways that you can help out).

And yet another friend of mine lost her husband to ALS only 20 months ago. In the midst of it all she fought to live amongst the pain, continuing to come to church, pouring into my life when we first moved here and repeatedly helping friends and opening her home when she truly only wanted to stay in bed and never get up again. At the time of her husband’s death and in the months to follow, grief was her life and it surrounded her and in that time she was taken care of and she cared for others. And now as time has worn on, she is reaching out even more. She has spear-headed the efforts of bringing a Griefshare program to our church so that she can help others who are dealing with the death of loved ones. She continues to grieve for the loss of her husband. But she also continues to give…and to an even greater capacity as time goes on.