Archive for the 'Suffering' Category

Wednesday: It’s Never What It Seems

For one thing, my Mother was not discharged today, and we did not go to the oncologist’s office. I did manage to talk to him on the phone, however.  Turns out when they did the ultrasound for the lung tap, the lung doctor asked the technicians to look at the liver for cancer spots and they had found them, larger than they’d been in January, so they know it’s reactivated.  Dr. Schwartz also said the edema in the legs is the result of the liver malfunctioning, but that the disease can be treated.

Meanwhile the hospitalist ordered an official ultrasound of the liver. Those results will not come until tomorrow. But we did get back the results of the test of the fluid that was taken from Mother’s lungs: no tumor cells. Which means there’s no cancer in the lung.  Hooray! Dr. Clements said there can be tiny holes in the diaphragm allowing fluid from the abdomen to enter the chest cavity, and in fact, he thought it did seem like there might be a fair amount of fluid gathering in her abdomen. Turns out they can extract that pretty much like the lung fluid was. In fact, if the ultrasound shows there is in fact fluid there he’ll order what they call a paracentresis — basically the same thing he did with the lung done to the abdomen. It’s possible that could significantly reduce the swelling of her legs which would be awesome. They don’t hurt her, but with the skin splitting and the fluid and blood dribbling everywhere they would be very difficult to deal with at home like that.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect results that dramatic, but still it would be nice to do something to lessen the edema. The primary means of treatment, though, is to go after the source of the problem which is the liver. Right now we’re waiting to see if mother can get back to eating and drinking and sitting up, able to move on her own again. Turns out that the fluid in the abdomen can cause the stomach to feel full and discourage eating, contribute to an acid reflux sort of effect and cause the patient to swallow a lot of air that will in turn be burped up.  So it looks like we might have an explanation for all the burping and so-called indigestion… We’ll know more later. But who woulda thought?

It is sooo cool to see God’s hand in all this, to see the way He’s got things orchestrated. In addition to all that, I got up this morning and went searching for my Thieme booklet, The Faith Rest Life, which  think I first read 35 years ago. It’s amazing to reread it and see things I never saw before, because my perspective has changed. But the coolest thing was that it really is true that I’m to do nothing. I keep fighting that. But if you’re going to give a problem over to God to solve, why would you keep trying to solve it yourself?

There’s more — he talked a lot about patience and how hard it is for us to wait on the Lord. And of course there has been a LOT of waiting these last few days. And the more I have to wait not knowing, the harder it is to stay relaxed. I even was griping to one of my friends about it… what’s the point of all this sitting staring at walls, waiting? I don’t understand. Well, there it was in the Faith Rest book — a very specific answer. And then tonight, live back in Massachusetts, Pastor McLaughlin taught  on … Patience!

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” 

I love it.

Temporarily Moving

Starting Sunday I will be moving in with my mother to care for her while my sister returns to her home in Santa Fe for three weeks or so. This has been a big struggle, a daunting potential, something I felt averse to, didn’t want to do, was advised not to do, but rather put her in some sort of facility or get 24/7 in home care.

The thing is, her situation keeps changing. No one really can pin down what’s causing her problem, which is no longer high blood pressure but low. She’s been fainting once or twice a day for several days now, even though she’s doing better on keeping hydrated (drank 8 glasses of water yesterday). Yesterday we visited the doctor and he cut both her blood pressure meds in half. He said he was more concerned with the low blood pressure readings (which some nurses and helpers have considered “good”) than the 175/80 readings. My sister’s been taking her blood pressure throughout the day and the low readings account for about 90% of them. And then, after the visit, as we were consulting with the nurse, my mother fainted.

My sister leaves, as I said, on Sunday and I take over. I have no idea how it will go. I signed up for some in-home care if I need relief, but turns out they have a four-hour minimum. I was hoping for a two-hour minimum, which is more in line with what I’d see myself needing. The home care agency also don’t operate on the immediate “as needed” basis I was given to understand it did. To get a good match they need not only several days notice, but want us to commit to some sort of regular weekly schedule. Right now, that doesn’t seem quite what we need.

 On Monday I’ll take Mother for a PET scan. On Tuesday, we go to a local hospital for an ambulatory blood pressure monitor that she’ll wear for 24 hours, then return to the hospital. Meanwhile the physical and occupational therapists will continue to visit and work with her.

She’s way better than she was last week. Except for when her blood pressure drops, she’s quite alert and mentally sharp. Still gets tired easily and naps several times a day, but that’s to be expected after her hospitalizations.

For me, the picture ahead is a big blank. I have no real idea what to expect, but I’m seeing it clearly as God’s will and an opportunity to trust Him to handle things rather than driving myself crazy trying to project possible scenarios and solutions. I’ve been in this situation countless times before, especially when writing. Abramm’s experience in the desert (in Return of the Guardian King) where he had no idea which direction to walk in, only that he had to walk, is a good parallel.  Plus, more and more I’ve been aware of the fact God’s been leading me to do things, of how He orchestrates things down to the second, and how, even though I have no plan for how I am going to get something accomplished, somehow it ends up happening.

It seems like I’ll suddenly “get an idea” to do something and do it and only afterwards see that it’s exactly what I was supposed to do. But I had no preconceived idea that I would do it. No plan that at 9am I would do such and such. In fact, sometimes I’ve got an entirely different plan for 9am… So really this is a tremendous opportunity to trust Him and relax.

And last night, after all the drama of yesterday and continuous conversations with my sister about why Mother might be fainting — all speculations, since no one can say for sure and though, the doctor advanced several possibilities, he also added that trying to get the blood pressure to stabilize in situations like these is really tricky  —  last night, in going through earlier entries in my journal I came upon this statement from Pastor McLaughlin, who of all people has had abundant experience in dealing with medical crises:  “Give up worrying about medical stuff! Like, ‘Did I eat the right thing? Take the right meds? Am I doing the right thing?’ God will handle it.”

And further, we’re told to “cast all our cares on Him.” We’re told “Trust in the Lord with all your heart (system of thinking) and do not lean on your own understanding (human viewpoint, human good, worldly medical practitioners’). In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”

The best way to bring glory to God is to trust Him. And it’s in situations that challenge us in this regard that we have to ask ourselves, “Do I really believe what the Word of God has to say, or do I not? Because if I do believe, there is no place for worry; and if I am determined to solve the problem and fix the situation on my own, then I’ve shoved “believe the Word and trust in Him” right out the door of my soul.

Quote of the Day

“The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”

                                                                     ~ Thomas Merton

2011 Arizona Bible Conference

For awhile it was touch-and-go as to whether I would be able to actually attend this year’s Arizona Robert McLaughlin Ministries Bible Conference held at the Doubletree Hotel (about a mile from my house) with all that was going on with my mother, but the Lord worked it out and I not only got to attend every session, but also went to lunch with friends from out-of-town one day and hung around for several fruitful conversations on the other days.

And I was absolutely blown away by the conference’s theme this year: Suffering.

Or, to be more specific, “The positive outlook toward suffering that all Believers can have, depending on their attitude toward that suffering.”

 Well, the timing of that subject could hardly be more appropriate. Pastor had mentioned that suffering was going to be the subject some weeks back, but I’d totally forgotten until I sat there in my conference chair and watched the words flash onto the screen. It blew me away. It felt like God speaking directly to me.

And of course He was. Here are some of the lines that especially stood out for me as recorded (and thus sometimes paraphrased) in my notes:

When we’re suffering, we have a desire for a finale — any finale. “God! Just let it stop!” And God said, “No, I won’t let it stop!”

In processing pain, we must identify what thoughts drive us. What thoughts are driving you? Pain and bitterness?  

How well are you caring for yourself?

How much are you surrounding yourself  with people who are feeding you? 

How much power do you give to people who don’t care about you?

You’re not weak when you’re hurting — you’re hurting.

God called me specifically to handle this. And in it I “could see God’s hand in the situation, moving the chess pieces as only He could.

At times it seemed like Bible Doctrine did not help. No. Of course it helped, we just don’t always use it. We let it sit on the shelf while ascribing to the Satanic view of suffering — that it’s punishment.

Or — my thoughts here now — that it’s wrong. That it shouldn’t be.  It’s that old concept from Star Wars — something is disturbing the Force. Something is wrong. It must be righted. In fact, that’s pretty much what novel structure is about. You start out writing, showing the protagonist in his status quo, where everything is right or at least comfortable or tolerable. Then you throw in something that stirs everything up, injustice, loss, pain, violence… and from there on the protagonist sets himself to solve the problem and set everything to right.

We watch that pattern unfold in countless movies. Sometimes, the protagonist finds that he cannot set things right because life just isn’t fair. I don’t like those kinds of movies. Sometimes the protag finds that he could set things “right” but the price he’d have to pay is too great, and he decides to live with the new reality, because again, life stinks, really, when you get down to it. I don’t particularly like those kinds of movies either.

Our culture decries any sort of problem, tragedy or suffering. The news is constantly telling us about something that went wrong, and then everyone wrings their hands trying to figure out how to make sure it never happens again.

A little girl, riding a familiar horse in a rodeo parade for the first time is killed in a not-particularly-freakish accident  when you consider that horses are involved. Now everyone is investigating! Oooh! How can we avoid this! How can we make sure this never happens again.

A loon guns down a congresswoman and several others in a Safeway parking lot… oooh! How can we make sure this never happens again?! I know! We’ll take away all the guns. We’ll insist that everyone speak nicely to one another and never disagree.

Don’t eat this, don’t do that, don’t go there, make sure you use your seatbelt, get a flu shot, stop smoking… and on and on. Our entire society is suffering-averse. Consider it a blessing? Consider it an honor? Consider it something we need? Are you nuts?

But it is. Adversity plays a major role in our lives, said Pastor Bob last weekend, because suffering is like a parent. How? What responsible parents do for children, suffering does for the adult. Suffering challenges us to learn to use the divine assets God’s given us.

In a way, it’s like learning to play golf by reading a book, or listening to lectures. Maybe even watching others play. That’s all fine and good, and part of the process, but you’ll never really learn to play if you don’t go out and swing that club!

You can say you are ready to die, are not afraid of it at all, since you’ll be going to heaven, meeting your Lord, etc, but until you actually face death, you’ll never know if you are or not.

More than that, one of the most important ways we bring Glory to God is by trusting Him. How can we do that if we never have to endure hardship, uncertainty, loss, pain? What’s the big deal about trusting God is everything is going well?  Elisabeth Elliot said, “Faith only works in the dark.” Very true.

Helen Keller said, “Character can’t be developed in ease and quiet. Only in experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

And the word of God elevates suffering to the same level of importance of salvation itself. Both are considered a gracious gift.

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”

If you’d like to listen to the messages from the conference you can find them at Barah Ministries for the time being, though I expect they should be up at the RMBM website shortly.

Thanksgiving Turkey

One of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s earliest points in The Black Swan regarding the difficulties of prediction resides with the Thanksgiving turkey. Though Taleb is specifically addressing the inadequacy of using the present and even the past to predict the future, his discourse stimulated lots of branching thoughts for me that had little to do with his original point…

First though, Taleb’s point: For the first 1000 days of a hypothetical Thanksgiving turkey’s life, he is protected, cared for, fed, and treated kindly. Looking at days 1 – 1000 of his life, neither the turkey nor an uninformed observer would have reason to think his life would not continue as it has. But then on day one thousand and one (which this year would be November 26) something utterly unexpected and disastrous befalls the turkey. He experiences a very negative Black Swan event.

Thus Taleb illustrates the fallacy of relying on past observed data to make accurate future predictions, a practice that people seem to do all the time, particularly, says he, in economics, where they add insult to injury by making their faulty predictions with great authority and conviction. Just one among many flaws of the cosmic or worldly what of thinking, and a valid point… but not where the turkey illustration led me.

Let’s go back to the farmer who, of course, knows what he has planned. It’s the turkey who’s out of the loop. The comparison of the turkey’s relationship with the farmer and ours with God is unavoidable. You might argue that God would never do such a nasty thing as the farmer did to the turkey — raising us up and caring for us just to eat us! Well, of course He’s not going to eat us, but there are similarities nevertheless.

The farmer has plans and purposes that go far beyond the turkey’s simple life and understanding. He is raising the turkey to feed his family, to provide for their sustenance, nourishment, pleasure and blessing. The Thanksgiving turkey has become an icon of God’s blessing Americans in the warmth and closeness of family, and in celebration of the struggles, faith, needs and provisions for the people that began this great nation. And the freedom we still enjoy.

The turkey has to die, has to be consumed for the farmer’s (father’s?) purpose to be fulfulled. So it is with our Lord, the Father’s beloved Son, and so it will be for us as believers, followers who walk after the pattern established by the Son. There must be death for life to follow.

He who seeks to save his life will lose it; the one who loses his life will find it.

The farmer allows the turkey to continue in ignorance of his plans, first because the bird would be unable to understand his attempts to communicate them (even if the farmer came into the pen everyday and chased the turkey around with an axe, he’d only scare the creature not convey any sense of purpose), and second, even if he could, such plans would only frighten and distress the creature, producing a skinny bird and an unsatisfactory Thanksgiving meal.

Most of God’s people are in an uncannily parallel situation to the turkey. If they knew all the trials that were going to come their way, they would only live in fear and distress and probably go insane from the pressure, not fulfilling His plan at all. Therefore, most are left in the pen, relying on the notion that since yesterday passed without disaster, tomorrow will as well.

But it is not God’s desire for us to be out of the loop like a Thanksgiving turkey, pecking and scratching and gobbling about our pens in ignorance until the big Black Swan blindsides us. No, He may not want us to know specifically what’s ahead, but  His word undeniably warns us there will be suffering, undeserved and deserved, in our futures . “Momentary light affliction is part of His plan for us. And if we learn His Word, make it part of our thinking, it will enable us to handle whatever suffering we have to face. The Black Swan event may be surprising, but not unexpected, and it will be something through which we can be assured we will see God’s hand and wisdom and grace.

His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways. We can’t know them apart from knowing His word, and I don’t mean a casual superficial knowledge, I mean really knowing it, digging deep, learning constantly from a prepared pastor. Such knowledge produces the capacity to receive greater knowledge, deeper knowledge, until we reach a point where it’s impossible for us to perceive the Black Swan’s that God places in our lives (has placed in eternity past, actually) as anything but positive and right.

Turkey image by – valuestockphoto

A Few Small Brushstrokes

Yesterday I wrote a bit about my mother’s resistance to being rehabilitated, which perhaps had caused her therapists to see her in a light not entirely accurate. Because, for all her resistance and fears and stated distrust, in the end she’s done pretty much everything they’ve suggested she do, and even a lot of the things I’ve suggested she do. (She’s even gone into the pool twice now and has decided she likes that part best of any of it!)

Then today, God provided her that bit of validation of her effort and suffering I had hoped for yesterday, as we both suddenly realized that she can now pull her foot directly under her knee when she sits in a chair, something she had not previously been able to do. She also noted she’d had a much easier time getting into the car when we went to her radiation appointment than she’s had in a long while. So clearly there’s been progress, and progress she can feel.

Even better, the physical therapist responded to an email I’d  sent him Sunday night regarding her continuing inability to move her leg though she is trying hard. He said he’s thinking now that the radiation treatments she’s been getting might be causing her muscle weakness (that muscle is right next to the bone that’s being irradiated). He wanted to know what kind of radiation they’re treating her with and her radiation oncologist is going to contact him directly about it. So it looks like they’re dropping the “you’re not trying hard enough” line and moving on to other methods of treatment.(Thank you, Lord! Amazing how He can turn things around with just a few small strokes of His brush.)

Not to say the path is clear ahead of us, just that for today we both had a bit of a respite and things look much brighter than they did on Thursday night.

Pain and Rehab

Well, my days continue to be chock full of tasks and responsibilities as I continue to help my mother with her rehab, and take her to her radiation treatments (Only three of the latter left. Hooray!)  as well as tend to other responsibilities — as much as I can, anyway.

Rehab continues to be a struggle for my mother. Not only does she not understand why it’s necessary, she doesn’t believe the physical therapists and doctors know what they’re talking about. In fact, now that the exercises have started to make her sore and stiff, she’s REALLY not sure any of this is necessary, despite the fact I’ve explained it to her numerous times and so have the physical therapists.  But when I suggested we could simply stop today if she really didn’t want to do it any more, she decided that she would keep on with it.

Hopefully she’ll begin to get some solid validation for her efforts and suffering before too much longer.

On Thursday she met with her main PT. He got her started on an exercise bicycle then cornered me to ask how she was doing. Well, I thought she had progressed and was doing better, but I was wrong. He was shocked at how little progress she’d made, and “very concerned.” The next thing I knew both he and his assistant were confronting me, shaking their heads, saying they had expected much more improvement and that if she didn’t begin to show some significant changes, they would have to kick her out of the program. I stood there looking at them like  a deer caught in headlights.

They thought she was refusing to try hard because of her fear of the pain, which could well be the case. They describe her in their notes as cautious, fearful, reluctant and afraid of the pain. All of which are true. She didn’t want to go into the pool because she’s afraid of the water and told them so very plainly. She didn’t want to get on the exercise bike because it was scary and made her very uneasy, which she freely communicated (though she did get on it). She doesn’t want to use an electric heating pad because those are scary (but she used one). She doesn’t know if she wants ice on her knee or not, or heat or not, or electrical muscle stimulation or not (but she accepts whatever I suggest she do). She tells them she doesn’t want to use a cane because it feels weird and unstable and she’d rather walk without anything. She orders people not to touch her leg (though they do anyway), orders them not to manipulate it (and they do anyway), makes terrible faces as if she’s in great pain when they do, and gets plainly irritated when they ask her questions about how she feels and what is her level of pain. She tells them she doesn’t know and can’t answer.  

But then, she IS almost 82. I guess being crotchety about it all isn’t that out of the ordinary for someone who’s 82 and never really been ill or helpless or had to answer all these questions about how she feels and what’s the pain like, and where does it hurt…  In fact, today when I told her she could take some Tylenol for the pain, she got angry and asked why she should have to take drugs. I realized then that she’s probably angry about all of it. Angry that the whole thing is happening, angry that she’s been so debilitated, angry that she’s hurting worse now than last week and how can something that’s supposed to be good for you hurt like this?

And how can I explain that suffering can be a blessing? That the pain God sends into our lives, He intends to bless us, whether because it wakes us up and gets us back on the right track, or whether it’s there to prune us and train us, or to provide that eternal weight of glory stored up for us in heaven. Americans are so generally afraid of pain. Our culture seems in many ways all about eradicating pain. “It shouldn’t hurt to be a child,” reads one of Arizona’s license plates.  Really? What about “beat him with a switch, he shall not die?” What about, “he who spanks his son loves him, but the one who lets him go hates him?” How about Jesus learned obedience from the things that He suffered?

We spend too much time thinking pain is bad, wrong, ought not to be when in reality, we should embrace it for its refining power, its ability to mold us and make us stronger, more compassionate, more patient… so many things we can learn in it and from it. If we weren’t trying so hard to avoid it.


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