Finding Joy in the Midst of Suffering

We listen to K-love almost exclusively in our family and pretty much every morning after I drop my husband off at work and am driving to the hospital to spend some time with N, some guy named Jud Wilhite comes on and starts talking about breaking things. He quotes Charles Spurgen who said, “Whenever God means to make a man great, he first breaks him into pieces.” Wilhite goes on to reference 1 Peter where it says that we all suffer trials to purify and strengthen our faith as gold is purified and strengthened in a fire. Wilhite encourages listeners that if we are being broken it is actually a good thing and we should trust the process and not give up because God is breaking us to remake us into someone He can use to fulfill His purposes. And every morning when I hear this, I respond– out loud, “I’m pretty much as broken as I get God! Can we get to the remaking part now?”

This inevitably startles H who starts crying from the backseat as if to punctuate the idea of suffering.

Our family has endured a lot over the last 14 months and the trials just seem to keep coming. I personally haven’t been well since September with colds giving way to sinus infections and a little bit of the stomach flu thrown in for good measure. My dear husband has been battling similar illnesses, chronic migraines and difficulties at work. N has had several colds and bacterial infections on top of the larger issues with her omphalocele and lungs and we seem to be stuck in a state of limbo, unable to really move forward in her treatment.

And there is always the normal life stuff that gets tough some times:

How do I buy a month’s worth of groceries for a family of 3 with $100… 

Do we pay this bill or that bill or buy diapers?

The car is out of gas and it’s a week until pay day…

Can we get assistance?

No! You make too much money!

But our daughter….

No! You make too much money!

But we can’t pay our bills……

No! You make too much money!

The roof is caving in— literally! (and figuratively!)

I pray and pray and pray and ask and ask and ask for healing, for peace for a break and God seems silent and at times maybe even absent. I feel like I understand David when he wrote in Psalm 22;  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”

But then I look back on the last 14 months.

And I see God’s provision: We have a roof over our heads and there is always food in the fridge and pantry and even though on paper the debts far outmatch the money coming in, we have managed to pay all our bills, handle the repairs,  keep gas in the car, and even paid off three credit cards and spoiled our girls for Christmas.

I see His providence: He has brought the right people into our lives at the right time to help care and nurture us through this season whether it is the nurses, doctors and social workers or unexpectedly moving us to a new church that provided new friends and support that we didn’t know we needed.

I see His grace and His unmerited favor: I spent a lot of the Christmas season feeling very angry about the situation we are in. Angry that we were spending another holiday season in the hospital, angry that I wasn’t getting my way. And that anger led to a weakening of my faith and depletion of my joy, but God showed me His grace. He gave our pastor a word at church last weekend regarding someone who had become so steeped in negativity about their situation that they had let it steal their joy and that God was calling to them to repent and to set their eyes back on Him and I sat there and wept because I knew it was me that Pastor Matthew was talking about and that God still saw me and was still calling me to Him. That He wasn’t going to let me sit in my despair and anger anymore.

I see His mercy: Throughout all of N’s illnesses she is still with us, in the community of families affected by omphaloceles there are a lot of families who aren’t able to say the same. God has not yet answered the prayer for a miraculous healing of her omphalocele or her lungs but He has kept her from having the heart defects, physical abnormalities and other life threatening issues and complications that tend to go along with having an omphalocele. He has saved her life more than once due to issues with her lungs including a mucus plug that occurred after a trach change and caused her to stop breathing completely.

And, as David goes on to say in Psalm 22: “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.”

When the Israelites called out to God to save them, He always came through. It very rarely looked the way they wanted but everything they endured ended up changing them for the better. Which has me thinking, maybe the breaking down and remaking aren’t two separate steps that we have to complete but rather being remade is a natural byproduct of submitting, in our suffering, to God and His infinite wisdom. In doing so we are allowing Him to strip away the pieces of us that are shattered and worn and sharp and harmful to us and others and what is left is who God intended us to be.

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