Planted, Not Buried

It’s been nearly ten years since several doctors turned their backs on us. Ten years since I was told to take my two-and-half-year-old son home and wait for him to die. (Those were the words of Mark’s first pediatric neurologist. Needless to say, I quickly sought out a new one.) I was told to “count myself lucky” that Mark could walk and make any sounds at all. There were no insights shared and no help offered. We were very much left on our own.

But then again, we weren’t. No matter how we may feel or how we suffer, none of us are ever truly alone (Deuteronomy 31:6, Isaiah 41:10, Zephaniah 3:17).

Perspective isn’t just important. It’s everything. It makes all the difference. Take a seed, for example, placed deep down in the dark soil. Is it buried or planted?

Both descriptions are technically correct, but notice the difference implied with each word. Buried suggests finality, an end, no hope. Planted, on the other hand, communicates positive anticipation, transformation, growth, change and hope.

While suffering usually offers us little choice, we always retain choice in regard to our perspective. After all those doctors closed their doors on us—and even now, when new doctors admit they can’t help—the choice of perspective remains: I can be buried under the heavy burden of caring for a child who is in constant pain, gets lost inside his own head and has a future of increasing medical complexities ahead of him. Or, I can choose to rest in knowing that God has planted me right where I need to be, no matter how ill-equipped—and at many times heartbroken—I may feel. Focusing on that rock-solid truth keeps me safely grounded when it feels like I’m standing on little more than shifting sand.

None of us are where we are by accident (Proverbs 16:9, Isaiah 14:24, Job 42:2). None of us are experiencing anything—including suffering—without God’s knowledge and consent (Job 12:10, Isaiah 45:7). No matter what happens and no matter how we may struggle, we can have the confidence to go for broke. We can go all in because what we know doesn’t rest on how we feel or what we fear. When we know God, we can also know rest because we know our place:

We are under His protection (Psalm 121:3).
We are in His care (Isaiah 41:10)
We are guided by His instruction (Psalm 32:8).
We are bound to His timing (Psalm 27:14, Ecclesiastes 8:6).
We are covered by His grace (Romans 6:14).

Our inner dialogue, the self-talk that no one else hears, is vitally important because it shapes, molds and reinforces our perspective.

Experiencing uncertainty isn’t the danger. Letting it take root is. Let’s follow God’s instructions and trust in Him, not ourselves (Proverbs 3:5). Let’s accept His gracious gift of knowing without any doubt that we are firmly planted exactly where He wants us to be—even if that’s in the middle of suffering.

Let’s be intentional in our gardening, too, choosing our thoughts, words and self-dialogue carefully in order to sow beautiful gardens of flowers—not weeds—just as Scripture instructs us to do (Philippians 4:8).

Here are just a few ways to do this:

Practice self-control, not self control.
No matter how we feel or what we face, we always have a choice: rest in Jesus or continue to wear ourselves out. To suffer well means making a commitment to actively rest in Jesus by practice self-control over our thoughts and choices rather than giving in to fear by striving to control things ourselves.

Rest like you know Him.
Jesus is the source of our rest (Matthew 11:28-30), and it’s our great privilege to rest in Him. Do this! Purpose to make personal quiet time with Jesus spent in prayer and Bible study a priority but remember to make room for Him throughout the day, too. We all schedule sleep at night and breaks throughout the day to rest our bodies. Even more importantly, we should do this for our hearts, too.

Paint your perspective using His Word.
Emotions and feelings are fickle. Refuse to fall for them. Whenever one threatens to steer you the wrong way, stop it in its tracks by immediately replacing it with God’s truth: His Word.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

Act Like You Know Him

I’ll never forget Mark’s first day of fifth grade. It was a unique situation because the building was completely new to him, but the teacher wasn’t. She had previously taught Mark second and third grade at another building but had transferred to a new position at the same school Mark had been moved to.

I did everything I could to make the transition as easy as possible for Mark. I reminded him repeatedly that, yes, the building would be new and so would all the other students. But I reassured Mark by reminding him that he would have the same teacher whom he already knew and loved. I even made two separate trips to the new building during the summer, so that Mark could become more comfortable with what would be his new school.

He was proud to be starting fifth grade and excited to see his favorite teacher once again. So, I was honestly taken aback by his reaction when the first day came. In fact, I think his feelings and actions took both myself and Mark by surprise.

Together, we entered the cafeteria where all the students had been asked to gather on the first day. But that’s when I felt Mark’s clasp on my hand turn from relaxed into a death grip. And when I glanced down to see what had happened, I noticed he wasn’t breathing. He must have started to hold his breath prior to digging his fingernails into my right hand because I noticed his cheeks were beginning to turn the same shade of purple as his backpack. Oy.

It was packed and as loud as you can imagine one room filled with over five hundred excited and anxious children would be. But I did my best to find a bit of privacy. The very last thing Mark needed was to add embarrassment to everything else that was already overwhelming him.

“Mark,” I said as calmly but as loudly as I could so that he would be able to hear me. “You’ve got to breath, Sweetie. Breath.”

When that didn’t work, I relied on an old standby; I started blowing puffs of air into his face. Thankfully this worked, but after a few hard blinks, Mark suddenly took a loud gasp of air and proceeded to let out a blood curdling scream.

“Mark, calm down,” I said as I rubbed his arms, trying to relax his stiff, tight muscles, “What’s wrong? Tell Momma.”

“I…Uh…I…Uh…Uh…” he uttered repeatedly between sobs. I could tell he was close to passing out and could do little more than stutter at this point.

The not-so-small peanut gallery of other kids and several adults that was now surrounding us didn’t escape me, either. Neither did it help. So, I grabbed Mark’s hand firmly and guided him through the crowd back to the school office.

It took some doing. The office staff did not want to call his teacher down to the office. They wanted to protect her last few minutes of free time before the start of the school day. But I knew that she knew Mark and loved him as much as I did. I also knew that if Mark could just see her, he could remember that in the middle of all this newness, all this chaos, all this emotional suffering and distress, he could know that everything was going to be okay.

Fortunately, I was convincing enough. Either that or Mark’s inconsolable tears and incomprehensible stuttering did the trick. Who knows? Maybe both helped. But it took little more than a few minutes from the time the teacher was called to the moment she appeared in front of him, kneeling down to make eye contact with Mark on his level.

“Mark,” she said so softly I could barely hear her myself. “It’s my first day, too. Can we go into the cafeteria together?” And with that, there was a transfer of security. Mark’s now sticky-with-sweat and shaking hand transferred from mine to that of his teacher. In an instant, my own blood pressure likely dropped a good 30 points!

The situation didn’t change at all. Mark was still terrified and suffering terribly. But now he knew he wasn’t going to face the day alone. He knew his place: In the middle of this new and scary situation, yes. But also in the caring and proven hands of a teacher whom he loved, knew and trusted.

The same is true for us.

We can suffer well if we also know our place. Like Mark, knowingly stepping into a most uncomfortable situation, but comforted by knowing that he isn’t alone. Our place is with God. He is our rock (Psalm 18:2), our shield (Proverbs 30:5) and He “knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7).

What a profound privilege.

What a peaceful place to be.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

Rest in What You Know: God

Stress can snowball. As soon as my mind starts whirling with “should’ves,” “would’ves” and “could’ves,” I intentionally stop my thoughts and worries in their tracks. As soon as I’m tempted to slip into a place of self-pity, anxiety or anything less than gratitude, I (try to) hit my mental pause button. Then, I purposefully redirect my thoughts back to where they need to be: off of me and back on Him. I remember a favorite Scripture about God’s sovereignty. I talk with Him through prayer or journaling. And sometimes I quite literally just sit and rest, choosing to actively accept the Lord’s exquisitely simple yet profound invitation.

His invitation is always there. We may RSVP with good intentions, but do we actually show up with our actions?

I’m not gonna lie. This isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be a bit like trying to stop a freight train. Many of us—myself included—have much more experience with worry and letting our own thoughts run away with us than not. But like anything else, it can be changed, and practice can help us make progress in the right direction. When we do so, we’re better able to intentionally choose God’s blissful rest instead of our own exhausting worry.

Here’s some simple steps that will help:

Choose to let God be your Rock. Refuse to let your feelings and emotions rock you.
No matter how we suffer, we can know that we’re held by the Beginning and the End Himself (Job 12:10, Revelation 22:13). Purpose to replace doubt, worry and fear with God’s truth: He works all things for good (Romans 8:28). He is always in control (Isaiah 45:7). He is our light when we sit in darkness (Micah 7:8).

Practice pausing to make room for change.
Be intentional about choosing to respond rather than react. Jesus Himself demonstrated this when He stooped down to write in the sand when confronted by the Pharisees for an answer on the spot (John 8:1-11). Follow His example and take yourself off the stopwatch. Rarely is an immediate response required. Instead, practice giving yourself the time you need to be thoughtful and purposeful, even in your own self-talk.

Remember that experiencing His rest requires effort on our part.
God’s graciously offered us rest and He’s provided all the guidance and instructions we need to experience it. But it’s up to us to act on it.  Jesus couldn’t have been more clear: “Take my yoke upon you…learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Experiencing His peace and rest comes after we follow His instructions. In other words, taking action on His words is what enables us to be still when suffering threatens to rock us.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

Striving to Enter His Rest

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…
Hebrews 4:11

I’m still trying to teach Mark exactly how to stop when he’s in the hurry and the pressure of the moment. But that’s okay because I know from personal experience that hitting the pause button takes practice. It takes work. And the author of Hebrews knew this, too.

Reread the Scripture verse above and take a close look at the word in bold. (The formatting is mine.) To strive means to work, to put forth effort and to make an attempt at something. If I’m honest, I often only long for God’s rest. I want it, but my choices and actions never truly show an attempt to enter into it. Simply put, God makes the gracious offer and provides the instruction on how to get there. But we must accept His invitation and take the steps necessary to actually experience it. God’s opened the door and invited us in, but we have to purposefully walk through to experience His peace-filled company.

This might sound silly, but sometimes I can’t help but think that God often feels about us the same way I used to feel about Mark during the first few weeks he was finally home.

He was two-and-a-half years old and a tiny little thing, so tiny that clothing made for three to sixth month old infants fell right off his bony, brown frame. Yet his tummy was tight and protruding from severe malnutrition. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise as we adopted Mark internationally from an extremely impoverished country, but the juxtaposition of these polar opposites was alarming.

While we knew nothing about Mark’s genetic conditions, medical issues or special needs yet, Mark did show some behaviors—or rather lack of—that were concerning. My greatest concern was the fact that Mark wouldn’t feed himself. I was desperate to get food into his hard, bulging belly. But no matter how hungry I knew he had to be, Mark simply would not lift the food to his own mouth.

“Mark,” I said. “Aren’t you hungry? Here. Eat!”

Then, I’d place a bowl or plate of food in front of him, watching and waiting to see if he’d take the bait. But sadly, Mark would predictably just sit there.

It became almost comical. I would say the same things, offer him food and Mark would do little more than flash a toothy grin at me. Nate, meanwhile, would chow down and wonder why Mark wasn’t doing the same.

It took time, but thankfully Mark finally got there. He learned that—while I would eventually spoon-feed him (I wasn’t going to let him starve!)—he would eat a whole lot more quickly if he just picked the food up and fed himself. The food was there. I gave the instructions and Nate, his big brother and dining companion, provided the example to follow. All Mark had to do was put it all to use.

Again, much to my relief, he eventually got there. Mark finally learned how to self-feed. But, oh, how my heart ached in the process, watching Mark just sit there literally starving with a plate full of food in front of him. It’s right there! Just do it! Pick it up and eat it!

Sometimes I wonder if this is how God feels while watching us suffer, too?

Come (Matthew 11:28)!
Just stop (Ecclesiastes 4:6).
Be still (Psalm 37:7).
Lean on me (1 Peter 5:7).
I’m with you (Isaiah 41:10).
Rest (Exodus 33:14).

How it must break God’s heart when we decline His invitation for rest with our actions, choosing worry, fear and doubt in lieu of His loving and easy yoke (Matthew 11:29-30).

But all is not lost, not even when we’re suffering. Just being aware of God’s invitation and instructions to rest and our own tendencies towards the opposite is the first step. The next is recognizing that we need to rest in God not just because of the obvious benefits, but because that’s what He desires for us to do (John 14:27). When we truly rest in God, it’s evidence of our faith and trust in His power, plan and timing. After all, who are we to question Him? Yet often that’s exactly what we allow our choices, thoughts and actions to do.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

Ask for—and Act—on God’s Help

I was completely out of patience. Mark had blatantly disobeyed me repeatedly. By this time, it was early evening, and I was out of energy. While Mark’s long-term and short-term memory loss had trained me to be a broken record, on this day it had taken a particularly hard toll. Mark’s hearing was fine, and I knew he was listening. I had purposefully been using words that I knew he had heard before and could understand. There was just one problem: he was choosing not to obey.

“Mark, go to your room,” I said, not even attempting to hide my exasperation. I was about to lose it and desperately needed a moment alone.

“But why?” he said genuinely puzzled. “Why not I stay out here?”

“Do you really not know?!” I snapped back even though I already knew that he didn’t. Though Mark was being disobedient, it certainly wasn’t intentional. He was rarely noncompliant on purpose and truly nearly always wanted to please. Mark’s heart was incredibly pure and full of love. And that only added to my shame at this particular moment. I knew better, and I could do better. I just had no more energy left to do so.

“Mark,” I sighed. “Momma’s just all out of nice right now.”

And there you have it: the truth. Mark headed straight down the hall to his room and I fell down on the sofa. I needed a minute, a minute to figure out exactly how I was going to explain the error of his ways in a way that both made sense to him and was sensitive. (Again, I was momentarily all out of nice.)

After my self-imposed time-out, I picked myself up and slowly walked down the hall. All the way, asking God to help me. Help me find the right words. Help me practice more patience. Help me to help him.

“Mark? Can Momma talk to you?”

“You all better now?”

“I’m better, but I’m still frustrated. Do you know what that means? Have you ever felt frustrated?”

“No…” Mark answered honestly but with hesitation. Nervous that I was still in a fragile state, Mark didn’t want to confess to not knowing something.

“You know what it feels like,” I said. “I know because I’ve seen you frustrated.”

I sat down next to him on the bed, took one of his hands in mine and gently unfolded his fingers.

“See these marks?” I said pointing to some small, fresh scabs on the inside of his palm. “You clench your fists tight when you’re frustrated. When you don’t use your squeeze balls, you hurt yourself. That’s what frustration feels like. You get all tight and hot. It can feel like mad, but it’s different. And it can make you feel like you don’t know what to do. Do you understand?”

“But why you be frustrated?”

“Mark,” I started, looking for the just the right words as I said them. “I’m frustrated because I know you hear my words. I know you know what they mean, but you don’t do them. All you have to do is hear my words and do them. It’s that simple.”

“I frustrated too,” he managed to say through a stream of tears. “I not feel I do anything right.”

My heart broke and immediately my supply of nice was restored. In that exact moment, I understood completely what he meant and why. No one can follow through on what they don’t remember or even understand.

Sigh. How often does suffering and frustration crowd out what we already know to be true? How often does it rob us of remembering the safe harbor that exists for us at all times? How often challenges can falsely make us feel like there’s nothing we can do. In order to suffer well, we need to be careful to not fall for our feelings, not to fall for these lies.

Yeah, I understood exactly how Mark felt because I’ve felt this way, too.

If you’ve been there too, here’s some help:

Acknowledge how you feel. Choose authenticity over acting.
God already knows our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10, Romans 8:27), so we can be completely honest with Him. Refuse to let fear, guilt or shame prevent you for reaching out for God’s help.

Act on His guidance and instruction.
You wouldn’t just read the instructions on a bottle of medication and expect to get better. So, don’t treat God’s Word this way, either. It’s up to us to put to use what He’s already placed within our reach. Make a commitment to act on what you know is true rather than falling for feelings.

Accept His answers—whatever they are.
Trust isn’t just something we have. It’s something that we choose to do. Grow and strengthen your trust in God by reviewing His track record. Start by reading how He worked in the lives of others in Scripture and consider making a list of specific ways God has proven Himself faithful and trustworthy in your life, too.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)