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Chronic Love ~ Fruit of the Spirit Series

A week ago it was my birthday. I have always enjoyed birthdays, because the idea of celebrating a person once a year really appeals to me. It is such an easy way to show that you love and appreciate someone. On my birthday, it was no exception. My people showered me with gifts and well wishes and I felt the love. My husband always goes a little bit overboard on my birthday – but he delights in my enthusiasm as I enjoy every gift he gives. So last week, it went a little something like this…

“Ahh! I LOVE this mug so much I can’t wait to drink my tea out of it!”

“Wait, what? You got me tea, too? I LOVE TEA!”

“Yarn! I can’t wait to make something from this. I LOVE yarn!”

“Oh my goodness, this crochet hook is so amazing! I LOVE IT!”

You get the idea. I think every gift I opened, I said something about how much I LOVE it. And there is nothing wrong with appreciating tea, yarn, crochet, perfume, colouring books, etc. It’s just sometimes, you need a little perspective. Because in the same enthusiasm that I expressed my love over my new mug, I said this…

“Ohhh! A new Bible! I am so excited about this. I LOVE GOD!”

As soon as the words passed through my lips I cringed. Yes, I do love God. But do I love him the same as my new mug? I think sometimes we overuse the word love. We use the same word to describe how we feel about hobbies, television shows, clothing, buildings, and books that we use to describe how we feel about our loved ones. Can one word really describe everything? The answer is yes. If you look up the word love in the dictionary, it does cover “a great interest or pleasure in something” and “an intense feeling of deep affection.” It still didn’t really sit right with me, so I decided to look at it in a different way – Biblical love.

Where the word love in the English dictionary falls flat, the word love in the Bible doesn’t. Biblical love is much deeper, and more meaningful – agape love.  In short, this agape love can only be defined by the nature of God.  Because God doesn’t just love, He IS love. Everything that God does, flows from His love. And as Christians, we are to look at this love and try to model it. Love is the very first fruit of the Spirit mentioned.

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31

What does Biblical love look like?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 – It is selfless. Most people are familiar with this passage in the Bible because it is often used in weddings. But if we really looked at all these attributes we would see that when we love with an agape love, we will be putting other people before ourselves. This isn’t an easy thing to put into practice, but it is important.

Romans 12:9 – It is sincere. I didn’t know that I was missing real, sincere Christian love until I started attending my current church. We have a large church, so we have groups of people that meet weekly in homes around the city. These groups are named “life groups” because the people in these groups do life together – they are the people you can share with and depend on. My husband and I have been attending a life group for a year and a half now and every week when we get together, we feel loved. My heart can’t even express how powerful it is to know that we as a group care for each other. We aren’t just friends. We practically help each other when we can. We serve each other. We build each other up. I had only been going to this life group for about a month when my beloved grandmother passed away.  Even though they didn’t know me well, they blessed me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers because they knew my heart was broken. It spoke volumes – to me, it wasn’t just a bunch of pretty flowers – it was a testament to how we love each other. REAL, SINCERE, POWERFUL, SPIRIT FILLED LOVE.

Ephesians 4:2 – It is humble. We all make mistakes. But it is so essential to be able to gracious and forgiving, just as Christ is gracious and forgiving to us. Biblical love is not judgmental towards others who are struggling with sin. It is gentle and kind, it is giving corrective and godly guidance. It is acknowledging that you are not better than another because you don’t struggle in the same way.

1 John 4:18-19 – It is without fear. When we experience God’s perfect love, we are able to proceed without fear. I love what the message says here: “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.” In this light, we can be bold in sharing this love with others because God lives in us, and we have nothing to fear.

Proverbs 10:12 – It strengthens relationships. Relationships can be tricky, because we are sinful people. When someone has wronged us, we want justice – and the sooner the better. If we have been hurt, we want to act out in anger. But love. Once when I was a teenager, someone had said something hurtful to me. I wanted to punch them in the face, but fortunately I refrained. At the end of each school day I always downloaded to my Mom (thank the good Lord there was no Facebook when I was a teenager). This particular time she told me to “kill them with kindness.” I had tried many things to get this particular person to stop harassing me, so I decided to give it a try. My motivation was not Biblical love -it was the furthest thing from my mind – but I was kind. Eventually, the person gave up trying to be hurtful. And believe it or not, we actually became friends. Love overcomes all hurt. We just have to be disciplined to show Biblical love even when it is hard.

5 Things To Remember When Back to School Breaks Your Heart (1)

Now that we have looked at different aspects of Biblical love, let’s look at a different word for a minute. When you are at the doctor and they first diagnose you with something and they use the word “chronic,” everything changes. Because the word chronic means “long lasting and difficult to eradicate” and “constantly recurring.” So, if we put these two words together – chronic and agape love – we would have something amazing. I don’t know about you, but I want Biblical love to be constantly recurring in my life. Imagine what the world would look like if Biblical love was difficult to eradicate. It would be a very different place.

As I sit here, I am drinking my birthday tea out of my birthday mug. I do love them – the tea is delicious and the mug is adorable. I know they are just things – but in a very small way, these things reflect some of the Biblical love that my husband expresses to me. He loves me selflessly (most days, I mean, let’s be real). He loves me sincerely. He could have used his hard earned money to buy himself something because his birthday is coming up soon too. Instead, he chose to shower me with gifts. And if we are being honest, I will do the same for him when his birthday comes around.

More importantly than physical gifts, we should want to grow in God. We should want to  want to put this fruit of the Spirit into practice in our lives.  We should want to display Biblical love to others around us. And as we live out Biblical love, we will experience great JOY.

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When Back to School Breaks Your Heart

It’s a sunny August afternoon on the playground and you are sitting on the grass under the trees. You’re watching your children splash and play in the wading pool and run around the playground in sheer delight. You smile as you watch them play, but then something catches your eye. You pick it up and turn it over gingerly in your hands, and the sparkle in your eye disappears. Funny, that a single red leaf could do that.

You used to love the autumn. The sweet smell in the air, the colourful leaves dancing in the wind, the pumpkin lattes and cozy sweaters. You still do love all of those things – fall is still your favourite season. But something is different now. When you are at the store and see a Mom shopping for school supplies with her children, you cringe. When the days on the calendar start passing and the days nearing to September, you feel anxious. And you know as well as I do, sometimes back to school breaks your heart.

It’s the little things that people who don’t know autism miss. The ones who have kids that just shove the supplies into their bags and don’t carefully cross check items in their bag with the provided, checking again the week before school starts. And again once more the night before school, just to be sure. As if having everything on the list will calm their anxious minds  – and yours – about what is to come.

Because we know what is coming. Back to school isn’t as carefree and beautiful as it could be. After many weeks of having children at home, most parents look forward to the return of school. And you sit here, reading this with conflicting emotions. While you are ready for the break that school provides, you wonder if you are ready for the stress that comes with it. The phone calls from the school when your child misbehaves. Endless meetings to keep them on track. Packing lunches for a picky eater. Managing morning meltdowns and still getting your child to school on time. It’s not so beautiful and carefree for the autism Moms.

I know, because I have been doing this song and dance for a very long time. And every year when back to school starts, I get a little bit jealous of my friends who send their kids off with their extra full backpacks and carefully packed lunches. Friends who I imagine sit back with their hot cup of coffee and let out a huge sigh of relief before they head off to work or get started on the task ahead of them. I used to be that Mom –  until I was called to remove my child from school on his very first day. Now, I always wonder if it will happen again, so I hold my breath until he walks through the door in the afternoon. A ball of nerves and anxiety, jumping every time the phone rings.

Back to school breaks my heart sometimes. After a long summer with my children (which provides its own kind of stress), I am ready to send them back, but my heart breaks with the though of what is to come. Now, before you try to label me as a Negative Nelly or a Debbie Downer, just know that with two children under the autism umbrella I have pretty much seen and experienced it all. I’m not jaded, but I am cautious. I like to guard my heart because it’s been broken a lot, and it will be broken some more.

But here’s the thing – I have a list of things to remember when I feel like back to school is breaking my heart. It’s a list I like to pull out when something has happened and my kid has messed up again. It’s a list I like to pull out when I am feeling overwhelmed. It’s a list I need to have on hand before intimidating meetings. It’s a list I thought you might like to have too.

5 Things To Remember When Back to School Breaks Your Heart

You and your child are in the hands of a loving God. Nothing is out of His control. This is sometimes hard to remember when you were in the middle of something and you have to stop, drop everything and run. This is often the last thing you think of when you are sitting at a table with several people who are debriefing you on what your child has been up to. But this is the most important, most powerful thing to remember. Whatever you are facing, God is there. While we may not think a school suspension is a good thing, we need to remember that God can use all things for His purpose. When we look over our own lives, a lot of the negative experiences that we have encountered have shaped us into who we are today. It’s the same for your child – whatever they might experience will allow them to change and grow. Especially the difficult, hard situations.

Your child’s behaviour is not a reflection of you or your teaching. I often chant this as I am en route to a sticky situation. When my kid has messed up and I am dreading facing the teachers or staff waiting for me to arrive. It’s a hard lesson that I have had to learn over the years. You see, I KNOW that I don’t teach my children when things are going south to just throw a few punches. It’s so discouraging when they do the opposite of what you teach them. I remember crying to my mother on the phone on the way to the school one day and I said, “so many hours of intervention, lessons and love and he did THIS.” My mother has fielded many of these calls (and if we are being honest, will probably get her fair share this year) and she always listens and reminds me of this precious gem. “Your son’s behaviour is not a reflection of you or what you are teaching him. So wipe your tears and walk in there with confidence.” It’s safe to say that the school knows this is the case, and it hasn’t crossed their mind that you might possibly be a maniacal deviant. And here’s the thing – they don’t think your kiddo is either. Which brings me to my next point…

The school staff want what is best for you and your child. They are trying to help you. I am not going to be naive and suggest ALL staff is loving, kind and has the best interests of your child in mind. Yes, I know this is true because I have been there a time or two. It is safe to say, however, that people don’t decide to work in the school system because they want to become millionaires. Generally, they really do love and care about children and educating them. It is important to note that in certain school systems who have integrated educational structures where children with special needs learn along side their peers, it can be quite stressful for one classroom teacher to educate the whole class at their learning level. In these cases, you will likely meet the magical people who have chosen (yes, CHOSEN!) to work with special needs children day in and day out. If your children ever have the chance to work with an educational assistant (teacher’s aide, educational helpers, etc) – make sure you take a minute to thank them. I could write about this all day, but let me just say this: they are EVERYTHING. In the run of our children’s school careers, their EA’s have been bitten, kicked, painted, covered in food, screamed at and more. There it is, the secret is out – parenting autistic children is not glamourous. At the helm of all of this are the resource teachers who work endless hours at school and in their homes to make sure that every avenue has been explored so that your child can be successful at school. If educational assistants are magical, then resource teachers are the unicorns. They are patient, loving, kind, helpful, hard working, and go over and above to make school work for your child. So when you are rushing in to a situation, and you’re a bundle of nerves, remember they are doing the best they can. Take a deep breath and try to sparkle as much as they do.

Be gracious, kind, and helpful – even when it’s difficult. I have learned this the hard way. We once had a situation occur that left our son on isolation for pretty much the entire year. He rarely was in the classroom. It was so heartbreaking to see him isolated. Every meeting I attended I felt sick, and I can’t even tell you the number of times I felt like maybe I should just throw in the towel and homeschool. I felt like my voice wasn’t heard – and one fateful day – I made sure it was. It’s not a pretty picture either, so I won’t describe it eloquently. I was standing in the hallway, yelling at the person in charge at the top of my lungs at the end of the school day. I think the whole school heard me. Okay, maybe the whole neighbourhood. It was awful, it was ugly, and I have regretted it every day since. My grandfather said “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” and as we were walking home that day that line kept running through my mind. That year was such a hot mess that the next school year I decided that no matter what the situation was, I was going to be better. I might not be able to control everything in this autism life, but I sure could control myself. I hope that I have been gracious, kind and helpful since. If not, that is why I have this on the list to remind me. Long story short – when things get ugly, I don’t have to be!

Always stop to take a deep breath, pray, and remind your child they are loved. This is so, so important. People often ask me how I manage to deal with having two autistic children and still seem positive and put together. (Let me just say, they don’t see me at my house at 6:45 a.m. on a school morning when my kids are screeching like hyenas and I’m just trying to get it all together!) The real answer, though, is Jesus. If I ever seem positive or put together, it’s because the Holy Spirit lives in me and gives me the wherewithal to do this life. God is just so good to me. When I get a call or an e-mail or a text that something has happened, or something needs addressing – I always need to stop and take a deep breath and pray. It doesn’t have to be long. Sometimes I do this while the phone is ringing in my hands before I press the button and start talking. But God knows what I need, and it makes me feel better. If I have more time, I pray longer and more specifically – but I do rest in knowing that even if I don’t have half an hour to lay it all out there, He already knows and He is already waiting there for me.

The second part of this is to remind your child they are loved. In our experience, after our child has done something resulting in a phone call or note home, they feel terrible about it, and sometimes they feel like they are terrible because of what they’ve done. It is important to remember that children are not adults, and they can’t process relationships the way an adult can. While they are still growing and learning, they need to know that you love them regardless of the choices they make. I know there is a fine line in doing this, as the resulting behaviours and consequences need to be addressed, but when everything is all sorted – it is so simple and quick to remind them. It boosts their confidence and assurance that they don’t need to earn your love.

So there you have it. While you are printing off the back to school lists for supplies, why not print this off too? Tuck it away somewhere safe, or put it on your fridge. Keep it somewhere you can see it so you will be prepared for whatever the school year brings. I don’t know about you, but when I remember these things, back to school breaks my heart a lot less.

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Country Roads

Yesterday was an adventure. We were driving home from the stables with the kids when my husband decided to take a different way home. On the way there, we’d been sitting in the hot sun waiting because of construction.  Wanting to avoid that again, he took a different turn.

We won’t say the wrong turn. But it did feel like he’d made a mistake as we drove farther and farther away from home. We passed buildings I didn’t recognize. There were stretches where it was grass and trees as far as the eye could see. Now, we don’t live in a booming metropolis, but take this girl out of the familiar borders of town and fear gnaws at my heart like a beaver at the end of a log. And if I’m even in the vacinity of seeing something like that happening, I’m waaay out of my comfort zone.

I might have panicked a bit, distant memories of getting lost on a dirt road with my husband back when we were dating (but that’s another story for another day). I might have asked how long this detour would take. I might have checked the gas gauge once or twice to see if we’d be okay.  I might even have checked Google Maps a dozen times, but I wasn’t afraid.

I wasn’t afraid because I trusted my husband wouldn’t put us in harm’s way.  He loves and cares for us, and he had a plan. Granted, his plan took us on a 2 hour detour through country roads, but in the end we got home safe and sound and with a story to tell.

As I lay in bed last night, I thought about how easy it is to trust my husband simply because he loves me. And if it’s so easy to trust him as he takes me down unforseen roads, then why is it so hard to trust God when He does the same? If my husband loves me, He loves me more. If my husband has plans I can navigate through with comfort, His plans are greater. So wht is it so hard to trust?

Maybe because while His plans are greater, they’re also uncomfortable.  When we sing the popular words, “Spirit lead me where my faith is without borders” we need to take pause – simply because He can. It seems easy enough to sing the song while you’re listening to it on the radio or if you’re singing along in church. But the song is asking God to take you places you’ve never been before. Do you have enough trust for that?

What does it look like to truly surrender it all and go wherever He leads us? Not a question I have an answer for right now, but maybe it’s something you’ve been wrestling with.  For now I take comfort in Proverbs 16 verse 9:

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.

 I think my life is a testimony of this verse. Nothing I’ve planned for myself has come to fruition – none of the big, important life plans. Everything has played out differently than I would have chosen. But the beauty in that is that everything is different, but not a disaster. Because God’s plans are bigger and better than I’d imagined. 

So these country roads aren’t so bad. Every tree and bush and field are put there by an awesome God. And even if it makes me uncomfortable, I can lean back and enjoy the ride. Because over all my life, through every situation, I’m held in the hands of a loving God.
 

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Trading Spoons for a Fork

Heaven. It’s something I have been thinking about a lot lately.  Last month while I was away visiting family, I was able to visit an old friend of mine who is dying of cancer. It was such a gift to be able to sit with her. We shared laughter, and tears. It was lovely to be able to be with her one last time. She spoke openly about dying, about her fears of what her family would be like after she was gone. And we spoke of heaven, and what we imagined it would be like.

Heaven. It’s a mystery to us, isn’t it? I’ll admit, when I think of the word heaven, the old song by Fred Astaire runs through my mind. “Heaven, I’m in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak, and I seem to find the happiness I seek when we’re out together dancing, cheek to cheek.” It’s a sweet old song, but not really an accurate picture of what heaven is like. The thing is, we don’t really have an accurate picture, because we only know glimpses of what heaven will be like.

We know from Scripture heaven is where God is, and where believers go when they die. If we read Revelation 21, it gives us a bit more of a brief description of what it will look like with golden streets, jasper walls and decorated with many precious stones and jewels. And we know that it will be a place free of anguish because “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4) It’s this part that gives me pause.

No more pain. I can’t imagine what that would be like. Not just for myself, because pain has become a normal part of life for me. But for all those who live with chronic pain, who’ve endured serious illnesses, who are suffering with cancer. To imagine life without pain is a luxury. But then, if you have been saved, it is a reality. 

Not long ago, I wrote about my thoughts on the spoon theory. As it goes, for those who live with chronic illness or other conditions, they have a figurative set of spoons measuring their activity level. Each day they have a set number of spoons, and each activity requires a certain number of spoons. Some days getting dressed requires several spoons, others it doesn’t. Going to the mall, spending time with friends, and going to work require the greatest number. At any point in the day, one could run out of spoons, and there isn’t any energy left for anything else. 

But when I think about spoons, I think about forks. When I was a young girl, visiting my grandparents was a treat. They lived several hours away from us, so when we visited we were often treated to a full on feast. Delicious German mennonite food was passed around the table multiple times until we could eat no more. And just when we thought we were finished, my Gramma would say, “save your forks – the best is yet to come.” She would then present us with dessert, usually several different kinds. We would pick up our forks and dig right in. 
Recently when my family visited my parents house, my son noticed a plastic purple fork enclosed in my mother’s cabinet where she keeps her special dishes. When asked about it, she told us it was given to her by a friend who had spoken at a ladies retreat. Her friend had taught about heaven, and had used the forks as a tangible reminder that “the best is yet to come.” 

It’s easy to get caught up in the spoon theory.  It’s easy to focus on how tired we become, our how little energy we have.  It’s easy to lose ourselves in the negative. But we have a hope heaven. When Jesus is our Saviour, we know the best is yet to come. We may not know what heaven is like exactly, but pain free days spent with a loving God sounds pretty amazing. I don’t know about you, but I’m happily trading my spoons for a fork.  

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Mushy Strawberries Still Taste Sweet – A Personal Post

My hands are stained red tonight and I’m reminded I still have life.  Red, because after learning some devastating news this afternoon, we went to pick strawberries. Fresh, beautiful strawberries mostly picked by two boys filled with with excitement and joy as they tried to compete to see who could fill their bucket the fastest.  Red, because after they were in bed, I  took on the task of cleaning and hulling every last one. Cleaning and hulling as my thoughts were running and my head was spinning.

Today, unannounced, a nurse showed up at my door. Tasked by my doctor to do some assessmemts for wrapping my lipedema legs and other things to help my condition not progress to a point that the lymphedema kills me. Except she took one look at me and decided right there she couldn’t do it. I heard the usual things like how did this get so bad, your legs are so large they’re too big for this kind of treatment. Except this was my last hope. This was the final straw that I was grasping, desperate to not let go.

Letting go brings mixed emotions.  Leaving behind a world where sins are celebrated and my God is laughed at makes me excited to be in a place where there is no sin and my God is celebrated for the King that He is. But letting go, leaving behind this world also means leaving people I love. My husband, a man who works hard to provide for his family.  A man who handles our crazy life with grace and confidence and love. How can I let go and leave behind my partner, confidante and best friend? My sons – for all the love they throw around like confetti to everyone they meet who dares to look past the autism and allow themselves to see who they truly are. My sons, who bring me laughter in every day. My sons, who desperately need me no matter how much they think they don’t.  How can I let go and leave behind these precious souls that God has given me? My parents, who have been with me every complicated and confusing step of the way.  My parents, who have lived me before I was born and who provide in ways I can’t even describe even still. My mother, who weeps for me even though she’s not an overly sentimental person,  because the thought of losing me weighs heavy on her heart. Even more people come to mind. My sister, who loves me even though I was awful to her as a child. My brothers, who love me even though they don’t want to admit it. My best friend who is like a sister of my heart.  And my church who are my family. How could I let go and leave behind such love?

Juicy, red strawberry juice runs through my hands as I hull strawberries that are very ripe. As I turn one over in my hands, I see dents and slightly mushy areas. I think to myself this strawberry has seen better days. It’s not suitable to be placed in a pot with the other beautiful berries.  But I take a chance, and I pop the berry in my mouth. It is the sweetest, most delicious berry I have ever eaten. Even though it looked like trash. Even though it wasn’t how you’d imagine the most delicious berry would look. And I marvel at how I’m a lot like this berry. Because I’m beautiful and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m beautiful because Christ in me makes me that way, regardless of how dented and damaged my body might appear.

And that strawberry was all it took to soothe my weary and broken heart.  Because even though the nurse thought she couldn’t do anything and she lessened my timeline, she offered a glimmer of hope in a second opinion. And even though it’s going to cost money I don’t have, and even though it’s going to be painful, and even though I might be away from my family for a time, I have a new straw to grasp. And I’m not going to let go.

I have seen things on this journey that I never thought I’d see. I’ve endured things I never thought I’d endure. But even though I’m told this is terminal, I serve a big God. A God who still reigns supreme even through the present day. A merciful God who loves and heals in His own time. It’s this God who I put my hope and trust in. It’s this God who works in my life and has brought relief from my pain. It’s this God who truly knows the number of my days. So I’ll trust He’ll make a way where there is no way, because I’ve seen Him do it and I know He can do it again. And I’ll hope for more time with those I love so desperately. And I’ll serve Him while I’m waiting for His plan to be revealed.

Even if that means hulling strawberries late into the evening.  With these red stained hands I witness life left in me. And I’m going to fight to stay with everything I’ve got.  I don’t think He’s finished with me yet.

 

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Faith and Healing: When God Says Yes

It all started with a woman. A woman who had been suffering for several years with a bleeding disorder and all of the doctors she had seen had told her there was no cure. I can imagine it caused a lot of discomfort. Maybe she couldn’t participate in all the activities in her community. Maybe she had to stay home in bed often.

But then this woman heard some good news. She heard of a man who was coming to visit her town, a man whom she had heard could do amazing things. So she made sure that she was there when he was. But there was such a crowd of people surrounding the man, she had no way to get close to him, to ask him to help her. She might have felt discouraged. But she had faith. She pressed in as close as she could, reached out and touched the bottom of his clothes. And suddenly, the bleeding stopped. I can imagine the relief that flooded over this woman as she realized she was healed.

The man, of course, was Jesus. You can read this story of the woman and the bleeding disorder in Matthew 9:20-22 and Luke 8:43-48, but my favourite account is this:

A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition. Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” Mark 5:25-34

In recent years, this has become my favourite Bible story of all time. It’s not one of those stories you’d hear preaching on very often. It’s not a major story you’d learn about in Sunday school. But it’s so important to anyone who has ever suffered with a serious health issue.

I love how this woman knew if only she could touch Jesus’ clothes, she would be healed. She had such a strong faith that He was who He said He was, she knew it would be the answer to her suffering. How I long to be able to reach out and touch His clothes for healing too. While we may not be able to walk alongside Jesus, we do walk with Him. And while we may not be able to be close enough to touch His clothes, we can talk to Him through prayer always.

Have you ever prayed for healing over your situation? I know I have. So many times I have prayed for healing, or had lovely people who longed for my suffering to be over surround me and cry out to the Healer on my behalf. I can’t tell you how many times I have been prayed for. But my heart wasn’t in the right place. I was lacking something this woman had so much of – I was lacking faith. Faith and healing go hand in hand. You can’t experience healing if you don’t have faith that God can do it.

Sometimes, when people are healed it is evident immediately. Like this woman, and many others in the New Testament who were immediately healed with the Spirit intervened on their behalf. For others, it takes a bit longer.

Recently in a church service, a friend shared that when he was a child he had experienced such health issues that he was hospitalized up to seven times per year. His parents prayed for healing for him. The doctors told them there wasn’t anything they could do and that he might never finish school, let alone grow up and have children. For fourteen years, his parents faithfully prayed for his healing, taking him to the hospital when necessary. Let me tell you, friends – the prayers of the faithful are heard. Not only did my friend finish school, he is also the proud father of a really sweet little boy. Sometimes, it takes a long time to be healed – but there is great rejoicing when it happens!

  Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  James 5:13-16

I believe suffering, sickness and illness happens because we live in a sinful, fallen world. It seems Christians are even more likely to endure suffering because we are fighting a spiritual battle and Satan loves to attack. However, I don’t believe that any one individual is experiencing sickness, illness or disability because of their own personal sins.  When asked if a man was blind because of his sins or his parent sins, Jesus says in John 9:4-5 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins. This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” Whether we are healed or not healed, it is our God given assignment to use what He has given us for His glory. Whether it be in a healed body or one that is riddled with pain.

A few weeks ago, when I was at a weekend retreat with my church family, we had a visiting speaker and his wife. This man is well known as a man who can bring healing through prayer and intercession. A friend of mine asked me to go for prayer for myself. I have been prayed for many times without signs of healing, but I agreed to go. The weekend had been cold and rainy, so I had been using my cane and walker to navigate the bumpy campground as my arthritis and lipedema pains were quite severe. After they prayed for me, I rushed from the chapel to join my family in the dining hall. Half way there, I realized my cane was in my hand but it wasn’t touching the ground. I wasn’t using it at all! I can honestly testify that it was the most amazing feeling. Could God really have chosen me to be healed after all these years?

The previous week, I had run out of one of my pain medications that I had been using on a regular basis. My prescription needed to be refilled, and I had been slightly panicking about what to do as I wasn’t able to get in to see my doctor for another month. Throughout the week after, I realized I didn’t even miss it. I didn’t even need it. My pain was decreased. My energy level was increased. I felt as if the clock had been turned back three years, before everything started to quickly decline for me.

I can’t even begin to describe how amazing this is. Even as I write these words, my heart is overflowing with joy. Still, I don’t know if I will be completely healed. While the pain is much less, I still have this diseased body. When I kneel on the floor it is still excruciating. The redness of the lymphedema is still there. And of course, my legs are still large. But here’s the thing. Over the years, God has used this to change and shape me into who He wants me to be, bit by bit. If He completely heals me, I will be incredibly thankful. If He chooses not to completely heal me at this time, I am okay with that because I have faith He is using my suffering for His glory.

So what is next, then, for those of us who are still waiting for complete healing? If God is working on healing our bodies, He is working in our lives as well. We need to do as it says in James 5:16, to confess or sins so that we will be healed. We also need to do as it says in John 9:5, to quickly carry out the tasks assigned by the One who sent us. I pray that we would be be able to faithfully complete whatever He calls us to, whether that be an illness free life or one more similar to what we are living right now.

God is a God who heals today. Sometimes instantly, sometimes over time. Rejoice and rest in the fact that He is Jehova Rapha (the God who heals), whose timing is perfect. www.jerushaborden.com (1)

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Faith and Healing: When God Says No

A few years ago, I learned that a beautiful friend of mine was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. I was devastated to know that she was terminal, especially since she had two adolescent sons. She was far too young to die. She endured treatments and we prayerfully interceded on her behalf time and time again, asking that she would be healed and that she would survive. But she only lived for an extra year, and then she passed away.

At the same time, I had another friend who was suffering with this same aggressive terminal cancer. She also endured the treatments, but she lived. So one might ask the question, why did God allow one to live and the other to die?

We have all prayed for friends like mine who desperately need healing.  But there is faith in understanding that sometimes God says no. While we may not have any concrete answers for this, or guidelines to go by on why some people are healed when others are not, we do have faith. We can trust that God is a God who knows what He is doing.

I love the verse in Jeremiah 29:11, where it says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” However, it is so often taken out of context. This is what was actually happening at the time when this was recorded. The Isrealites were in exile as a punishment from God for their disobedience. They were listening to a false prophet named Hananiah who had “prophesied” that God was going to free Isreal from their Babylonian captors in two years time. God sent the prophet Jeremiah to set them straight – and right before this beautiful promise we read in verse 10, Jeremiah tells them in verse 7 to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I (the Lord) sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Do you think that was what the Isrealites wanted to hear? Not really. They wanted an easy way out, to know that there suffering would soon end and they would be able to return home. Instead, in verse 10, the Lord says, “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.” What a blow that must have been – some of those Isrealites would live and die in Babylon before the time came for them to leave.

Does this mean that God did not have a good plan for them? No. It just meant that they would have a period of suffering first. The Isrealites would learn what we have also learned –  that God is ever present in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1),  and that suffering produces endurance and builds character (Romans 5:3-5).  In light of this, it is important to understand when reading Jeremiah 29:11 that like the Isrealites, this doesn’t mean we will live life without difficulties or illness. In fact, our hope and our future as believers isn’t intended for life on this earth. Our hope and our future are eternal – a life with Christ for all time.  If this verse were intended for our life on earth, then why would we endure illnesses – especially those that end in death?

But there IS hope in God’s plan for our lives. If you take a look at the verse mentioned above in Romans, it says this:

But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  Romans 5:3-5

Our suffering allows us to change and grow into the person that God wants us to be. Just like the Isrealites who suffered in captivity in Babylon for 70 years before God knew they would be ready to be whole again.

We suffered a great loss when my friend passed away from aggressive breast cancer. As she endured her treatments, her body changed. She went from a beautiful, healthy looking woman to a woman whose body was damaged and dying. But her soul soared. She taught me and many others just what it means to suffer in Christ. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says,  ‘“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”‘ I could see the power of Christ resting upon my friend. She was positive, loving, encouraging and thankful the entire troubling way through. A few days before she died, we had a quick conversation. She told me she wasn’t afraid to die because she was ready, but that she was sorry to go.  We were sorry to see her go too. I miss my friend.

Sometimes God’s plan for us is hard. Illnesses and disease are so difficult to navigate. Pain is hard to manage, and life can be heavy. But God’s plan is so good. When we aren’t being healed, and we are obedient in trusting in His plan, He uses our illnesses and disabilities to point others to Christ.

I can’t think of any greater blessing than being able to use my disability as a tool for His glory. What a gift! Sometimes God says no, but in saying no, He blesses us with more than we can ever understand. www.jerushaborden.com