I just returned from a weekend conference in Michigan entitled "Living in the Face of Suffering". Session titles had names such as: "Hard Times", "Joy in the Midst of Suffering" and "Walking with a Limp" (a personal favorite). As soon as I saw this women's conference was within driving distance, I just had to register and attend. As you may know, suffering seems to be my middle name, and lately, the pain from my neck and back, combined with the neuromuscular disease causing burning, cramping, sleepless nights and inability to be as independent as I want to be, has been a bit overwhelming. All of this leads to me currently battling depression, anxiety, isolation and the accompanying loneliness.
I jumped (not literally, it was more like a slow hobble) at the chance to go and be encouraged. Eighty women gathered to hear, learn and worship together. It was indeed a much needed retreat from my daily life. Interestingly though, I went expecting it to be all about physical suffering, infirmities, and quite frankly, my situation. Turns out it wasn't about that kind of suffering, as the speaker focused more on the refining and sanctifying work that God does in our hearts.
I didn't glean ways to deal with my pain, but I did gain a greater understanding of the fact that we all suffer. Sometimes, I am so focused on my own issues, I forget to look up and notice everyone else's. Suffering comes in many forms- loss of a loved one, disability, failed marriage, mental health issues, a troublesome teen, being out of work, and the list goes on and on. And, yes, sometimes the rough edges God removes from our lives with sandpaper, can be accompanied by a lot of suffering as well.
The speaker defined suffering as "having what you don't want and wanting what you don't have." I never thought about it like that. By that definition, I think we can agree that we all suffer. The question then becomes how do we respond when we suffer or when we see others suffering. Our response is a choice. We can choose to ignore or withdraw, choose to be bitter, choose to shut people out; or we can choose to reach out to others in need and ask for help during times we have needs. We should learn to be vulnerable; letting people into our world. We should seek to be intentional in our relationships, looking for those who need support and encouragement.
There was a lot of talk about the importance of community, which has been a topic of great interest to me lately. The body of Christ is to be loving, serving, and caring for one another, and most importantly, praying! We should work to listen more than we speak. Learn to look for opportunities to serve others who are suffering. Maybe write a quick note, send flowers, bring a meal. It doesn't have to be an enormous effort. Just let them know you care, and are thinking about them. Pray how you might better serve others.
As we go through our own sufferings, we must learn to lift our eyes to the hills where our help comes from (Psalm 121). We make a choice- to either let it become overwhelming, or to reach out in prayer to God and in help from others (preaching to the choir here). The conference speaker reminded us that it is God who gives us our daily bread. Gives us joy for today. Grace for today. We are to live for today. Choose this day whom we will serve (Joshua 24:14-15). Is He enough for you? Is His Son enough for you?
God uses our suffering to mold us into the image of His Son, to sand off the rough edges, and to reveal our sin. Suffering may take many forms. These trials work in our lives to bring glory to God and for our own good. Reach out and be vulnerable! May we all suffer well and not do it alone.
Until next time ~
P.S. I just read a new book entitled "Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting" by Dave Furman. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a greater understanding about helping those around you who are suffering in various ways.
P.P.S. For those of you who have asked, I don't have much to update. Tomorrow is my 5th infusion, and there is one more in December. I follow up with my neurologist just after the new year at the 6 month mark. I have a repeat MRI to see if there is any reduction in the nerve inflammation in a couple weeks. I also have an appointment for a wheelchair fitting before Thanksgiving, which may give me a bit more freedom. I am undergoing another radiofrequency ablation of the nerves in my neck to help with pain and headaches next week too (the last one gave considerable relief for almost 7 months).
I don't feel like there has many much of any improvement, but I also don't think I have gotten worse. Sadly, this was the "worst outcome" as we won't know if the chemo slowed the progression of the disease, keeping me from getting worse, or since the disease itself is slow progressing, it could be that I just haven't gotten noticeably worse. Time will tell. God is gently preparing my heart to accept either outcome, being content where I am today and learning to ask for help and prayer. <3