If God Loves Me, Why Do I Hurt So Much?

A busy week ahead … I wanted to run a couple of “classic” posts that have themes I think bear repeating. In this one, I address the question of why terrible things happen to us . . . and how the God who “makes all things work together for good” redeems even the darkest moments of our lives. This one originally ran in “Canticle” magazine.

The snow fell – first gently, then with greater urgency – as I turned my car towards home. Having all but flunked out of my first semester of college (my newfound social life had taken its inevitable toll), I took my parents advice and got a job until I figured out what I was going to do with my life. Clearly, engineering school was not “it.”

The gently rolling hills of northern New Jersey have a few steep stretches, including one mile-long incline I had to navigate downhill on the last leg of my journey. As I neared that section of road, I almost stopped at my boyfriend’s house. But we’d recently had a falling out, so I took a deep breath and kept driving.

The last thing I remember was the flash of a yellow light, warning of the blind signal ahead. It said nothing about the solid sheet of black ice – or the poorly banked road that would send my skidding vehicle into oncoming traffic.

Choices of a Lifetime

It’s one of the great ironies of the human condition, that the amount of time spent pondering a decision is seldom proportionate to its long-term significance. The special dress you spent weeks finding, altering, and accessorizing is but a page in some dusty scrapbook. One impulsive passionate interlude, on the other hand, can have life-long repercussions.

My car accident might have been prevented had I made any number of small decisions a bit differently: not going in to work that day, or deciding to stop at my friend’s house. I would have been spared a great deal of suffering (at least the physical variety). But I didn’t – and to this day I carry the scars of those choices on my body: tracks along my legs and abdomen, spinal arthritis, disk rupture, and pinched sciatica. And yet, God sometimes allows His children to suffer terribly … in order to draw them as close as possible to Himself.

I was hospitalized for more than a month. During that time, my romantic entanglement was abruptly severed (he found out my injuries were serious enough that I might not be able to have children). Fortunately, I had the steady support of another friend, who assured me that any man who deserved me would find the scars beautiful, “Because those scars are a part of your story, part of what makes you … you.”

I took great comfort in those words, and in the realization that – for all that I had suffered – it had been a small price to pay. God had my undivided attention for the first time in my life. Clearly, He had spared my life for a reason, and I wanted to know what that reason was. I didn’t know what His plan for my life would be, but it had to be an improvement on what I had done with it so far.

Wounded … or Scarred?

A year after the accident, the pin that had been set in my left femur worked its way loose, and began to dig into my hip joint. Since the pin no longer served a useful purpose, I was scheduled for surgery to have it removed. Unfortunately, I had to wait a week for an opening. A week of lying in bed and trying not to move.

Two days before the surgery, I was visited by one of the church elders and his wife, who came to pray for me. They believed that God wanted to heal me not through the hands of a surgeon, but through prayer. Not seeing a graceful way out of it, I grudgingly let them put their hands on my leg and pray – and was amazed when, a few seconds later, I was able to get up and jump around the room. (The pin was removed anyway.)

I should have been thrilled, but I wasn’t. That night I gave God a good talking to. Why had He seen fit to heal my leg in this unconventional fashion, when I was going to have the problem fixed in a few days anyway? Why would He bother with such a trifle when He had not healed my sister’s cancer or my Aunt Rosemary’s ALS? Why would He use “faith healing” to fix my leg, when all over the world people were dying from injury and disease far worse than mine, without any medical assistance?

There was no immediate celestial response, no zap of lightning for my ingratitude. Through the years, I’ve come to recognize that this is the way God often operates. The mystery is part of His charm. He can handle our questions, though the answers are sometimes years in the telling. He has the answers, of course – and He knows when we will best be able to receive them.

It wasn’t until years later, when I first heard of the Incarnation Principle (that God initiates contact with the human race through the sensible world) that I began to understand what had happened to me. God had not shifted that pin merely to spare me a few more days of physical pain. Rather, He wanted to remind me that I could trust Him to tend to me – on His terms, and not on mine – as a loving father cares for his children.

Have You No Scars?

Whether our wounds are physical, emotional, or spiritual, the principle remains the same: God uses the painful consequences of our actions to draw us into deeper relationship with Himself. As we endure the pain and the scars begin to form, those marks can become a source of bitterness … or thankfulness.

If in our pain we choose to pull away from God (either because we think He’s abandoned us, or because we are trying to punish ourselves), our scars become a constant reminder of our own failings and weaknesses. However, if we let ourselves draw close to God – in prayer and through the sacraments – He tends to our wounds and teaches us important lessons that we could not learn any other way.

When this happens, He does not remove the scars entirely; the pain may stay with us for a lifetime. However, these marks no longer accuse us, no longer have any power to determine our future course. They have been transformed into reminders of God’s providence and mercy. And with these scars, we are turned a little more perfectly into the image of the One who was wounded for our sins, and the sins of the whole world.

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Make a Gingerbread House! An Advent Tradition

At the end of November each year (the Friday after Thanksgiving may be a convenient time, since the project can extend an entire weekend), we get started mixing dough, cutting out the templates, and baking each cookie. The next day, we make a batch of royal icing (I cheat and use the powdered kind.

About cutting out the template for each piece of the house: You can make your own out of poster board or laminated parchment paper. If you’re not architecturally inclined, you can enlarge and trace this simple pattern. I also found this excellent tutorial on how to assemble a simple gingerbread house here at “Cookies, Cupcakes, and Cardio.”

We like to make two houses … one to keep, one to give. (I’ve found that teachers especially appreciate it if you offer to host a gingerbread decorating party in the classroom … and may even let you tell the story of St. Nicholas and the three bags of gold!). Continue reading

Miracle Monday: A Daughter’s Story of Life

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The other day “Mighty Mom” sent me this link to a moving story about a mother who chose life for her daughter, despite having every medical reason not to do so!

Thanks, Sarah, for being willing to share your story.  Your mom sounds like an amazing woman.

(At the author’s request, this story may not be reproduced without her permission. But please do follow the link and read it … you’ll be glad you did!)

Miracle Monday: “Make God Happy” — A Foster Mom in Israel Shares Her Story

Pam at International Mom sent me this wonderful story about this remarkable foster mother of three Israeli special needs children. Petra, who  often writes under the pen-name Christina Boerma, is a published writer who is originally from Holland. She and her husband of almost 30 years have lived since 1989 in Jerusalem, Israel. Presently she is working on her third historical novel.

“I watched as a mother sitting in a row in front of me put an arm around her daughter. The simple, natural gesture touched me. Bill and I had been married for 11 years, knew we could not have children, and didn’t miss them. Why was I so moved now? Why did “adoption” pop into my mind?
 
“I thought, OK Lord, if this is from you, Bill must bring up the subject.  A few days later, I was flabbergasted when Bill said, ‘If you desire to become a mother, we can either adopt or foster.'”

Confirmations came from different, unexpected sources. For instance, in a Dutch romance (of all places), I read, “The Lord is looking for empty nests, where He can place children that are ‘over’ and ‘too-much’ and are craving for a warm place. Don’t fret, but make the Lord happy by giving one of these children a place in your heart and home.”

To read more of the story entitled “Make God Happy” by Petra van der Zande, click here.

For another inspiring story, check out this post at Patrick Madrid’s blog, about Irena Sendler, a Polish woman (1910-2008) who saved more than 2500 children in the Polish ghettos of Warsaw during World War II.

Miracle Monday: “Forever Mom” at the Movies!

fosteradoptToday I came across a new (to me) website for those interested in learning about foster care, called “Learn to Foster & Adopt.” Although the organization focuses on foster and adoption in the San Francisco area, much of the information is relevant to the needs of foster and adoptive parents all over the country. (I was particularly impressed with the fact that they focus almost exclusively in promoting through new media.)

One article that caught my eye was by “Forever Mom,” a review of the movie Hotel for Dogs. The author writes, “… foster and adoptive parents should be aware that there are major foster care and adoption themes [in this movie] that might upset some children – particularly those who have experienced abuse and neglect, a lack of food, multiple moves and/or sibling separation.”

One of the most challenging parts of foster parenting (or foster-adoptive parenting) is trying to anticipate the long-term consequences of events that would be non-issues for other children. This movie is one such example, but the list can be endless: a holiday, birthday card, sleep-over, or new pet. Each of these things can bring back old memories, reopen new wounds.

However, I find this woman’s compassion and sensitivity a refreshing example of how foster parents — GOOD foster parents — can help children from troubled backgrounds gain perspective and healing from the past. Check out this wonderful website … You’ll meet other inspiring men and women just like her!

Weekend Ponderings: Motherly Solitude

play-timeTonight as Sarah and I were getting the kids ready for bed (all of us in one hotel room, which means that I am writing this in the dark as four exhausted kidlets and my co-adventurer slumber blissfully in their beds), I managed to twist my bad ankle. Again. And yet, like a goose I kept right on doing what I had been doing before I hurt myself. I think I was getting somebody some cough medicine, or lovey, or some other such life-or-death errand.

“You know, I COULD do that for you,” Sarah pointed out. And of course she was right. I could have retired to my bed and let her run around on her two perfectly good feet. Instead I gritted my teeth and soldiered on. What a dummy!!!

After I finally settled in bed that night, I recounted the story to Sarah about getting my crutches from the basement. I posted about this at “Mommy Monsters” the other day. What I did not mention in the story was the inner dialogue that took place before I actually hobbled downstairs for the crutches. For about ten minutes, I wracked my brain to think of someone I could call to come over and get those crutches for me … Someone I didn’t mind seeing the carpet full of puppy shrapnel (garbage bag bits, pieces of rawhide, assorted spongy toy bits), last night’s dinner dishes still on the kitchen counter, and a whole basement full of … well, let’s just say a basement full, and leave it at that.

I couldn’t think of a single person. Not one. Those I knew well enough to call either worked or lived FAR away, and those I knew casually … I didn’t have their phone number to “promote” them. So I got the blasted things myself.

“What does that say about me,” I asked Sarah, “that I don’t have any close friends to call at a time like this?”

“I think it means you’re like the rest of us,” said my good friend. “I have one person I could call if I had been in your situation, and when her husband told her they might have to move, I told HIM he might have to take me along, too. Most of my really good friends are online …”

I felt a little better then, but still I knew that this little red flag, popping up as it has so close to Lent, signals a character flaw that needed some attention. The problem was my idiotic pride, not wanting anyone to see the house in such a state. I mean, if someone had called ME to help after they had spent two days trying not to walk, I wouldn’t expect House Beautiful.

The funny thing is … it’s part of womanly human nature to help, to come alongside, to support. It’s infinitely easier to do that … than to ask for help. Even when we know it’s the right thing to do.

When was the last time you felt you needed help … and were too embarrassed/shy/self-conscious/fill in the emotion to do so? If you had it to do over … would you?

In today’s Gospel, from the eighth chapter of Mark, Jesus observes that those who are truly disciples are not those who stand on ceremony, or who are too proud to bend low and admit just how short of perfection they fall:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.”

In the Kingdom of God, those who labor to project a flawless, seamless image never get very far. However, those who are willing to let go of the things most precious to them (including their own reputations) in order to follow in the footsteps of our Master ….  leaning on Him all the way … attain the pathway to true perfection. “Saints,” we call them. 

Note to self:  Look for an opportunity this week to ask for a little help … exercise that humility muscle! The sacrament of reconciliation is a good place to start. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make a new friend along the way!