The towhead teenager at the airport reminded me so much of my son. He wiped his eyes after kissing his mom goodbye and pretty soon I was wiping my own.
I am flying home after eight days with my sister feeling conflicted as any sister would who is saying goodbye in the midst of unanswered prayers for my sister’s second child. Maybe I would have cried anyway when I said goodbye to Kenya, her Heeler mix who has stayed by my heels when I came back from the hospital each day, and I don’t think it had anything to do with my adding a little rice to her food bowl. She’s going to miss my “little treats” just as I’m going to miss her big soulful brown eyes. She knows something is amiss. Dogs always do.
What do you do when the report from the doctor isn’t what you had hoped? How do you dig deeper into trust? A weary father says, “We have to trust. All I have to hold on to is that God is holding on to you,” he says to his daughter. “Trust is the only way I can get through these days.”
A grieving daughter weeps, “I do trust but I just have to cry. I miss my life.”
We wait, we watch, we weep with our loved ones who endure suffering. “We join the fellowship of suffering with Christ,” the Pastor said following his sermon Sunday on Psalm 91. “Did you know that the soldiers at Dunkirk recited this Psalm by memory each morning?”
I did not.
I am writing to tell you that these days have reinforced something in me and I want to try to put it into words because my niece is suffering and with her, her parents, her sisters, her extended family and friends. I guess this is what you’d call “the fellowship of suffering…?”
How do we interpret this Psalm of David that has provided such a great sense of protection to so many while in the midst of danger or disease, perhaps pestilence or plague—like my friend, Carl, who fought in Afghanistan. GPS lost, a bolt fallen from the tire on his Jeep, but the tire stayed on and he arrived at his destination unharmed—into battle and then safely home.
Where are we going? What is God saying to us through all this as a thirty-year-old single mom is told she has to be patient when the treatments over the past twelve days of her hospital stay haven’t provided the results she’d hoped for. “You have to be patient,” her doctor said.
“I trust you,” the kind patient responded patiently.
Psalm 91 begins, “Those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety. He is my God and I trust Him. For He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease.” (NLT) I read the Psalm from my phone as the pastor read it aloud. “Unless He doesn’t,” I thought, hearing my husband’s voice in my head.
We debate this very thing over and over. I agree that we join with Christ in his sufferings then receive eternal life, but maybe not healing here on earth. How many faithful souls do we know who have not? Christ suffered and we join him in the deepest most profound way when we suffer. But that’s hard for me to explain. Maybe it’s not my job to explain.
“Do not dread the diseases that stalk in the darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. (Vss 5-6) “I will reward them with a long life…” Eternal life…”and give them salvation.” (Vss 9-12) Freedom.
Jesus asked his twelve Disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One God.” (John 6:67-68)
I’m going all the way, Mom said when she wasn’t healed. Near the end, God’s glory shown so powerfully through her some could barely handle being in her presence. They were standing on Holy ground.
As I look out the airplane window, clouds below, earth beyond, an endless blue sky above, I try to make sense of what my beloved niece, whose strength reminds me so much of my mom’s, is enduring. Only in the fullness of spiritual things can those suffering, faint and weary, be satisfied. “Lord,” we cry. “Where shall we go but to You? You prepare a table for us—Bread of life, food from Heaven.”
Wonder and revelation is revealed through the lives waiting on him and trusting. “I trust you,” she said to her doctor as if to say, shouldn’t you trust too?” It is a mystery, this level of suffering some are called to. To those who answer along with Simon Peter, “But Lord, where would we go?” To them, He reveals the hidden things we long to understand. I suppose these are the very ones Jesus points to when he says, “remain childlike.” Innocent and expectant.
Christ lifts up our weighed down spirits in the world and allows us to understand in the deep places within, all that is of love and true.
Last night, my sister and I stood side by side in her daughter’s kitchen, prepping food for Taylor’s return home today, if all goes according to plan. “Nothing’s changed,” Joanie said. “We just keep going as we have been. When you think you can’t, you discover you can.” She wrapped up the last of the turkey wraps her daughter loves and put them in the fridge along with all the other things she knows her daughter loves and will be able to easily eat.
My little sister’s wisdom has always astounded me. I suppose after all this pondering, this is the answer I’ve been seeking: “When you think you can’t, you can.”
But not in our own strength, in His. It’s a wonder-filled Mystery worth seeking.