Speak Life

The following piece was written by an eloquent client of mine whose heart was wounded when she confessed her deeper feelings for a good friend. He apparently wanted to be sure no misunderstanding or future disappointments would occur, so he replied, “It will never happen.” His words compounded other words from her past which had torn away at her self-worth. Now she fears she is not, nor ever will be, enough – that she will never be loved. Although she has not sent it, she wrote this letter to the man who broke her spirit. I hope it will speak to your spirit – and maybe even to hers.


You Spoke Death

I was in Hobby Lobby a couple of weeks ago and saw something that made me think of you. I felt a nudging to buy it for you and I thought, “God, why would you ask me to do this?” Then God replied, “Why would you let this man stop you from being who I created you to be… a giver, someone who sees needs and tries to help stand in the gaps and encourage others, to remind them I still see them even when no one is watching, that I see them?” I left the store, with a reminder of who I used to be in Christ and who I am now. I no longer stop. I walk by, and I try to make as little contact as possible.

I wish years ago when I held up my heart that you could have spoken life and been gracious instead of saying, “It will never happen.” I wish you could have known that you spoke death to me and who God was creating me to be. I wish you could have said, “I love you. I love the heart you have for God and the way He has created you to have a servant’s heart and encourage others. I have a different vision for my life, but if I was older and liked chunky girls, well then, I would be all about this, but that isn’t the case. I know God has a special person for you who can love you in a way that I cannot. I will start praying with you for God to bring that person who enjoys playing and serving and wants to build a life encouraging and growing God’s kingdom. And while I am praying I promise to continue to be your friend and help you grow in areas that will help you achieve what God has placed in your heart, and I know that these times will not be wasted because God will be working in and on me at the same time to grow me into a more godly man, better able to communicate, and that this walk will glorify God even if we both know it does not end in marriage to one another but in growth for His Kingdom and that we would ultimately become better versions of ourselves and better spouses for who I believe God has for both of us in the future. Thank you for trusting me enough to share your heart. God Bless!”

That is who I saw when I looked at you. But that isn’t who you are. Maybe I never knew you at all.


The man these words were meant to reach may never see them, but others will. There are two things any one of us can take away from her profound message. First, be careful with your words. They are not meant to serve you but to serve those around you, and they may have a more lasting impact than you could ever guess. Serve God with your words.

God Speaks Life

Second, mortal man is a flawed, fallible, careless and limited creature. Do not allow the words of a fellow human being to dictate your identity in Christ. What God has said, man cannot overrule. You are never unloved, never hopeless, never alone, no matter what anyone says to you or about you.

I hope my client speaks those words of life to herself that she wished to hear from another. Better yet, I hope she can hear God speak those words to her.

God showed his love for us when he sent his only Son into the world to give us life. Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us. (1 Jn 4:9-10, CEV)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Rom 15:13, ESV)

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. (Ps. 73:23-24, ESV)

Speak life to someone today.


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Crowded, Dirty, Humble, Holy

Jesus was born in a crowded, dirty place, forced by a clueless landlord to compete for space with transient visitors, stinking muck and the priorities of a world which put money and status above compassion. Perhaps you think I am talking about the stable in Bethlehem, but I am not. Back in the late winter of 1977, Jesus was born in the chaotic stench of my unbelieving heart. Each time He is born anew to someone here in this world, the inn at Bethlehem comes to life again.

It was a humble spot, fit for the poorest travelers, including Mary and Joseph who had expected to find a place there. And on that night, it was quite overwhelmed by the influx of strangers compelled to register for the Roman census. All the corridors and corners were already occupied. The floor by the hearth was taken. The kitchen maid’s grubby pallet likewise. No one puts a young woman in labor into the stable unless there is literally no other option. Donkeys, oxen and camels (unclean in Jewish law) jostled together, snorting, braying, stinking, eating and defecating in an open-air shed, over capacity.

How closely this resembles the situation of the human heart when Jesus enters!

Dirty

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Is. 64:6) Jesus would never have come at all if our hearts weren’t uncleanable except by Him. Every corner is covered with the filth of sin and selfishness. The vilest murder is not so much worse than a gift to charity when done without any regard for God. When Jesus first comes to us, adrift in our confusion, He finds a heart that knows no proper reason for being in the world, a heart which lives for something other than its created purpose, a heart which commits cosmic treason with every, bloody beat.

Crowded

The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. (John Calvin) The heart where Jesus is absent is home to a changing array of guests in an unsuccessful attempt to get its own deepest needs met. It lives for itself: the grumpy, clueless landlord who determines which guests take the best rooms. And in those rooms we put our favorites: self-righteousness, money, control, affirmation, sexuality, even good things like health, education or friendships. Sanctification is the life-long process of casting out all the strangers who have lodged above the Lord. Whatever special comfort you require for your happiness might be in danger of competing with Christ for your heart even now.

Humble

The stable where Jesus was born was humble and ordinary. Less than ordinary, really. No one would have thought to look for a king inside. If God had not pointed it out to a select few, Jesus’s birth would have been effectively hidden by the meanness of its location. If a king wouldn’t be interested in that stable, why would God? Some of us feel that way about our lives, too. I am no one important, nothing special, too defective to notice. But our God delights in choosing the weak things, the poor things, coming in ordinary moments to ordinary people. In fact, He comes only to those who know they are powerless. “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. (2 Cor. 12:9)

Holy

Would you have wanted to be anyplace other than that dirty, crowded stable in Bethlehem when Jesus was born? Imagine seeing the Savior of the World as He first appeared, a newborn baby, praised by angels, swaddled in cloths and lying in a manger. No, there was nowhere more glorious than that hidden, humble stage which was avoided by all except one couple in extremity. The unclean became worthy. What was crowded became still. The ordinary was made holy. And, yes, I am still talking about my heart and yours. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Eph. 1:4) When God enters, the vilest, wretched place becomes holy ground. You become holy ground: the intersection of earth and Heaven, a haven where miracles occur, a creche where God breathes and a cathedral where hope is born again.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

Coping With Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is like another person living in your house, and that other person is not a cheerful, active, motherly type who scurries around getting you tea and washing your underwear. Pain is more like a grumpy, scolding old man who never wants to talk about anything but his own problems, whining for you to clip his toenails and shouting for you to empty his bed pan. It takes a lot of emotional energy just to meet his needs without having your own tantrum, let alone get a good night’s sleep, be kind to your spouse or accomplish some of your other goals in life.

This is the last in a series of blogs about chronic pain, and having had a hip replacement this fall, I was reminded about the practical nature of struggling well with constant discomfort. In this piece I want to offer some strategies that have been helpful to me, and I hope you will share your own tips. Everybody is unique, and every situation is, too, so it pays to have a lot of ideas in your toolbox when you are hurting.

1.  Know yourself. No one else can ever experience what you experience or cope the same way you do. Not even doctors or therapists know your inner world, so it is imperative that you know yourself.

  • Learn to use a pain scale. This is for you and also for your doctors.  You can use a standard scale like this one, but I prefer to make my own. For example, I know that my pain is about a 6 when I can’t sleep through it. It’s an 8 when I start screeching and gasping. But those things may not be an accurate measure of your pain at all. Use the same scale every time for consistency. A pain scale can help you plan your activity level, gauge your need for medication or note changes in your condition.
  • Separate your poor coping from your healthy coping. We all develop coping mechanisms over time when dealing with chronic pain. You may not even be aware of yours, so take some time to observe and catalog them. What is healthy coping for some (distractions like computer games, for example) may be addictions or unhealthy escapes for others. I like my clients to develop a list of ten things that, at least sometimes, help them cope in a positive manner.
  • Consider your unique circumstances. Pain isn’t your only struggle in life. If you have an unhappy marriage, a sick child, a stressful job, a mountain of debt, etc. your inner resources are stretched thinner than the next person’s. It’s too easy to compare yourself to someone who manages “better” than you do, who does more or talks less about it. Give yourself some grace. What is normal and what is possible for you will never be exactly the same as anyone else, because no one else is you, living your life.

2.  Be the best you can be.

  • Pain shapes you. It’s easy to see this as a negative, but it doesn’t have to be.  Pain can help you become a more compassionate, more patient, more spiritual person. Being your best is a conscious decision, discovering what you can do at your best and what you need to avoid to be your best. It’s deciding what to share with whom and where you can give back using your unique gifts. Again, it’s not about comparing but about living the life you’ve been given in the best possible way. Decide to do it well.
  • Your pain can make you stronger or weaker. You can be an agent rather than a victim in your own life. The pain doesn’t control you; the pain doesn’t make your decisions; you do. Pain itself isn’t weakness. How you handle it can be weakness or strength. Keep reading.

3.  Emphasize emotional well-being.

  • Sometimes it’s a trade-off with physical well-being. People will ask you to do things, even expect you to do things, that are going to make you hurt later. Make good decisions based on your own experience.  After breaking my foot doing something I knew I shouldn’t be doing, I have more freedom to say no to some things. Don’t wait till you break a bone to start saying no! If you want to pick some activities that are good for your emotional well-being (like a trip to the mall you know will exhaust you), plan for the aftermath and limit the activity with time-constraints or mobility aids or accountability with others.
  • Loving well depends on your heart, not your body. The most important thing in God’s Kingdom is not activity or knowledge or competence. It is love. And love doesn’t depend on your physical ability. Your emotional well-being and your mark on the world are both enhanced by the ways you give and share love. Get creative. Share your words, your prayers, your art, your encouragement, your joy, your life-lessons, your affection.
  • Self-care. Your emotional well-being is no one’s responsibility but yours. Others can help, and you can ask for what you need, but you are the only one who can provide rest, treatment, stimulation, distraction, etc. at the right time in the way that you really need it. Sometimes people feel that self-care is selfish. It’s not. No one feels loved by you when you are stressed, resentful, complaining or frustrated. Self-care helps you love the people around you well. Make a list of things you need to be doing regularly (see below) and practice those things.

4.  What can I do, practically?

  • Find opportunities for worship. Pain IS an opportunity for worship. Jesus suffered terrible pain for me – I can just begin to understand some of that through my own pain.
  • Pray. Make your pain a subject of prayer. Less pain, more energy, but also God’s work through pain. Pick one person who is willing to pray for you that you can share with. Pray for the pain of others.  Keep a list or journal.
  • Keep doing. Make plans. Volunteer. Get out there every day you can – even when you don’t want to.
  • Watch your attitude. Be honest with some, especially those who will pray, but don’t let complaint become your defining characteristic. If it’s always coming out of your mouth, then it’s also living in your heart. That’s not good for you or your relationships.
  • Take your medicationMedication adherence is poor in people with chronic conditions. There are many possible bad outcomes from not taking the medications you’ve been given in the way you are supposed to, including over-medication, inconsistent pain control and mistaken assumptions on the part of your medical providers. Be honest with your physician about how you are taking your medications so she can adjust them in ways that are helpful.
  • Explore. Don’t give up. Try new medications when recommended, look at alternative therapies like massage, ice/heat, PT, acupuncture, etc. Different things help different people.
  • Exercise. The rest of your body still needs it, and some types of pain will benefit, too. Try swimming, walking, stretching, yoga, biking, Tai Chi. I have an arm-cycle at home that I use when swimming isn’t an option.
  • Find a group. Any kind of group. You need community!
  • Discover your heroes. Read a biography or memoir dealing with something similar to your condition. Join (or start) a support group. Find someone locally or online who is just ahead of you on the road.
  • Find creative ways to express your pain. Art therapy, journaling, writing a biography or blog…
  • Look out for depression. Depression and pain are comorbid. There are multiple reasons for that. If you are not sure whether you might be depressed, take a test or ask people who know you well. If you are experiencing both, be sure you are treating both. 
  • Try counseling. Find a counselor who knows about chronic pain (but not one who is a know-it-all). You need at least one place where you can talk honestly about your struggles and learn a few new coping strategies.

Your pain isn’t really a grumpy old man living in your house; it’s a part of the life God gave you. God knew everything about you before you were born, and He chose to allow you to walk this road. Everybody has their own kind of pain, but you have this. It is shaping you one way or another, and God’s purpose is always to create beauty. You don’t have a choice about whether you struggle. You only have a choice about whether you do it alone or in company with the One who knows and loves you best. Now for a little while … you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:6-7)