Feeling Helpless

I’ve seen a lot of suffering in my life. Quite often I’ve had a front row helplessly watching as people have struggled with illness (usually cancer) till there was nothing left of them to struggle with. Currently, my wife’s mother has been diagnosed with ALS which is terminal. I don’t have much problem with the dying part. We’re all going to die and that is sad enough, but it is the suffering that often comes before death that I find so hard to bare. 

My mother, on the other hand, is not terminal. Physically, she is great shape and she is not that old. But mentally she is tormented worse than anything I have ever witnessed. My heart aches for her, and I wish so bad I could end her suffering. Nobody is really sure what’s wrong. She’s been to some of the best psychiatrists and hospitals in her area. Everybody has their own opinions, diagnosis, and suspicions, but nothing is helping. The hospitals uually end up trying to diagnose her with dementia so they can pass her on to the nursing home and be done with her. But finding a nursing that will take her is not an easy task and its even more difficult to find one that will keep her. 

We’ve been through this several times over the last decade. I’ve actually lost count as to how many times. As I said, we are not sure what causes it, but each time she starts getting delusional, we know she has a urinary track infection. She is also a very brittle diabetic (type 1), which really complicates everything. She usually has to be hospitalized and each time she is, the hospital  just makes a bad situation even worse before trying to discharge her. This last time it took a court order for the hospital to even admit her. And each time a new doctor basically starts over from scratch. It is sickening. 

It’s one thing when the hallucinations begin and she may think she’s some sort of messiah or a demon depending on her mood), but it gets so much worse. I’ve seen her go for days sobbing, and I do mean sobbing not just crying. She walks around like a zombie completely lost and confused. She can get very mean and violent which scares all the patience. One time it took 5 police officers to get her in the car to go to the hospital. I’ve seen her ripping at her skin and screaming because she is convinced bugs are eating her alive. 

Recently, I was told how she was screaming and flopping around on her bed convinced that she is being raped. It reminds me of the old movie “The Exorcism” which scared me so bad as a child. Her head my not spin around, and she doesn’t speak in other lanquages, but the anguish and unrelenting torment is just as real and heartbreaking to watch or even hear about. 

This usually last a couple months, costs tens of thousands dollars that she has spent her life saving, and then slowly she gets better. She’ll go on living just fine for quite a while, and then it’ll come back all over again, and the whole process will begin again. 

I guess the most comforting thing about it is when it’s over she doesn’t remember most of it. But she does remember things which are distorted from reality, and this may cause her to be angry at family who have tried their best to help her. 

I haven’t been there for this episode because I live 500 miles away now, and it was her request for me to not be involved. That, of course, doesn’t make it any easier. I am so frustrated with hospitals who take her money and do nothing but cause harm. I feel a sense of shame that I can’t be there. I feel hurt that I’m not wanted there, but most of all, I feel helpless do change the situation.  

I am appalled by the mental health help available in this country. Most people are not aware of how bad it is until they see a friend or relative having issues. There are hardly no long term fascillities and quite often the only help offered by the most educated people involves doing little more than prescribing drugs. If that doesn’t work, they will give more drugs. 

I think we all dread the day we our parents pass from this life, but seeing the suffering is so much worse. 

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The Arkansas River Trail

Everybody needs a new toy once in a while just to keep life interresting. My new toy for the last month or so has been my bicycle, and I have really been enjoying it. 

I haven’t been doing a lot of cardio  exercise since my last 5K in February since I started having some nerve issues. As a person diagnosed with  Multiple Sclerosis, I decided to take it easier for a while. But thanks to my new toy I’ve been more active. 

I can’t go like the youngsters at the bike club, but I can still go and have fun. I also have a new app on my phone that makes it all more interresting. It keeps track of my miles and my elevation. It even records my efforts and speed. Cool right? Well, I think it’s cool. 

I’ve been hearing about a bike trail in downtown Little Rock that goes on both sides of the river from between interstates 440 and 30. So Tuesday my son and I decided to meet in Little Rock and go for a little bike ride. We started over in Two Rivers Park, which made the trip about 25 miles. There were places where the trial had to be shared with other traffic, but most of the time in was just pedestrians and bicycles with made it nice. We crossed three bridge altogether, and all three were bridges were devoted to foot and bicycle traffic. 

This is a picture of my son as we were going over the bridge from Two Rivers Park. He was smart enough to bring a helmet and sunglasses. Me, on the other hand, I brought a helmet and sun glasses, but they were still in the truck when my wife drove off to take our granddaughter to the zoo. 
The picture below is of the Big Dam Bridge which is the biggest bridge devoted to foot traffic and bicycles. It was really something to see. 

This is me on the bridge looking over the river. 

Parts of the trail were under construction, and I think some are still under water from all the rain we’ve been getting. Still it was a very nice ride. 

The next two pictures are from the third bridge located just west of I-30

On the other side of the bridge is the Clinton Memorial Library. We stopped there just long enough to take pictures in front of the big bugs out front. 

Downtown Little Rock has got a lot of construction going on which includes the bicycle path. So we had to find find our way around at times and travel on some very busy streets, but we made it through okay till we were back on the path again. 

Altogether my son and rode 30 miles before we put up our bicycles for the day. Both of us were a little sunburned and tired, but inspired at the same time. Where will we go next? I don’t know. But riding a bicycle is a whole lot funnier than running, and I plan on doing much more this summer.  

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My Anniversary

27 years ago my wife and I were married in Ponca City, OK at the Hartford Ave. Church of Christ. Finding a woman who is capable of putting up with me this long is a rare find. I’m sure most would have thrown in the towel years ago. I am not the easiest person to live with, and I am deeply honored that she stuck with me. My other blog (Poems, Songs, and Things I Believe In) has a song I wrote for her on this occasion. In this post, I just thought I would share some of my memories and pictures. 

We met at Oklahoma Christian during the fall semester of 1988. I was fresh out of the Marine Corps, and a total stranger to the Christian School environment. Paula was one of my first friends, and we’ve been together ever since. Both of us are shy people, but Paula was the first to make the move of asking me out on a date. I think I was the one to make most of the first moves from that point on. 

We were engaged on Valuntine’s Day 1989. It was a long engagement. Perhaps too long for those trying to live by Christian standards, but somehow we managed. 

We’ve gone through all sorts of changes together including moving 16 times.

This is a picture of the first house we lived in. Our first child was a dog named Maynard. I’ve always wanted a dog of my own, and when I saw a little Rottweiler mix at the fleet market, I just had to have him. The problem was the apartment we lived in didn’t allow pets. We hid him for a while, but eventually we had to move. Our house was not a nice house. We had to insist that the landlord get the cockroaches out. The floor was so rotted out that our water heater in the bathroom decided to fall through the floor. Yep. We were broke college students and the landloord wasn’t about to fix the situation, so I put it up some 2 X 4’s and that solved the problem for the time being. 

Maynard, didn’t like the garbage men for some reason and every time they would come by he got quite vicious. Twice he broke the window trying to get those evil men. After the second time, we decided just to board up the window and leave it till we had to move. I hope this doesn’t make us white trash. We had our first and only garden there. It resembled a jungle, but it did produce lots of stuff, including the hottest peppers I’ve ever eaten. 

One of our not so bright ideas was the decision to have a child at that point in our lives. I hold the Oakridge Boys personally responsible for this decision since they came up with that song, “Thank God for Kids.” We soon had to move again. Things were not going well with this landlord who refused to help us in anyway to make some very needed repairs. We couldn’t imagine living their with a child. So we moved to Oklahoma City. 

We managed to move while Paula was very pregnant. We were still full-time students highly stressed out, but we did what we had to do. The house was better, but I wasn’t going outside after dark. 

Tabitha was born May 18th at St. Francis Hospital. We had read all the books, taken parenting classes and the whole bit. We even went took Lamaze classes which were a complete waste of time. Trying to get your wife to breathe right during labor will get you killed. She wasn’t listening, and I thought she was going to kill me–seriously. Lesson learned: life never goes like the textbook. A lesson that has proven itself time and time again in my world. 

Tabitha was born after 20 some hours of labor. She would not nurse, and man alive was she cranky. My first nick name for her was Cabby Tabby. We would not figure out her stomach problems for over two years. 

Having a baby while going to school full-time is one of the most foolish decisions we made as a couple. It was very hard on our marriage, and our final semester was our worst. It was the only semester that I could not get straight A’s. If it weren’t for Paula’s parents helping out, I don’t know how we would have gotten through. 


The above picture is our graduation day. Paula’s parents are on the left of us, my mom and step dad Larry are to the right of us, and that his my grandfather on the far right. Little Tabitha is center stage. My father and sister also made the journey for this occasion, but there was no way my mother was going to allow her picture to be taken with my dad. I remember it was on that day that my father taught us how a one-handed man counts change. There’s no denying where I get my sense of humor. 

I graduated Summa Cum Laude, and getting that degree is one of my greatest accomplishments. It’s not so much that I got a degree, but when you figure in that I had a 1.56 gpa in High School, and I was in mostly special ed classes, it becomes quite significant. 

Looking back on it now, I think those times were just preparation for all the other things we would face during our marriage. It was kind of like Bootcamp in the Marines; it was tough, but tougher times were ahead that would make bootcamp like child’s play. 

In Oct. 1994, Caleb was born. He was born in Forrest City, AR. I was working at a church in Wynne, AR. This completed our family. My two children are about as different as me and Paula; they always have been. Even at the early stages I can look back now and see how their personalities were formed at such an early age. Just look at that mischievous smile on Tab’s face. 
 It’s been quite a ride over the years. ‘We’ve lived in 6 states and several towns within those states. We’ve always struggled financially, but we’ve always managed to get by. I don’t think we’ve made the best choices, but still we’ve survived. 

As a child of divorce, I desperately wanted a family that would stay together, and we have. When Paula and I first got together Ray Boltz was one of our favorite Christian singers. He had a song called, “The Ancor Holds” that I think describes our years together. “The anchor holds, though the ship is tatored. The anchor hold’s, though the sails have torn.” 

We’ve had lots of good times and bad times over the years, but the most important thing to me is that we’ve gone through the times together. We’ve lots of memories and more on the way. I was taught as a young man the principle of the buddy system. Sometimes we’d have to sleep by leaning up against each other’s backs. The idea solidified with me: I watch your back; you watch mine. That’s us!!! Watching each other’s back. When I’ve been weak, she’s been strong and visa versa.

It reminds me of another song I wrote years ago: “Together We will stand.” 

Together we will stand

Far stronger than we can alone

If we simply walk hand in hand

Our God will lead us home

We will fail if we try to make it, 

By the strength of our own hand

But with God and each other, 

Together we will stand. 

Together we have stood, and I am so honored to have the wife that I do. Love ya Paula

This is Tabitha Christmas 1994. I am always amazed at how much she looks just like her daughter, Grace. Tabitha had longer hair, and she wasn’t quite as happy as Grace, but it feels like I am getting to watch my daughter grow up a second time. 


This picture was taken when we lived in Wynne, AR. This was right before we moved to Tulsa. Caleb is his big ole cowboy boots.


This was one family picture when we lived in Wynne. I was in one of my exercise phases, so I was pretty thin back then. This was when I could carry both children up Petti Jean Mountain. I had one in a backpack and the other in my arms. Precious memories. 


This was a family collage taken when we lived in Rock Island. It was befor Paula cut her hair, I lost weight, and Caleb outgrew me. We took a lot of pictures in that park and I’m really glad we did. 

 

This picture was taken at Sunset Park in Rock Island, IL when the kids were older and I was fatter. 


This final picture is one that I consider as one of my greatest accomplishments and it speaks to me on so many different levels. It is a picture of my biological parents and their descendants. Getting my mother to be in a picture with my father is equivalent to walking on water. I’ve tried a number of times, but when I see rage in my mother’s eyes, I have to back off. You notice they are on opposites sides. My mother is far left, my father is far right. This is not a coincidence.

My only biological brother is standing to the left of my father. Not only was it difficult to get my parents together, but getting all my brothers children together at the same time was quite a task too. This is because my brother’s children come from three different women, and they don’t always get together. My brother’s oldest son is holding his child by a woman that he is no longer with. He has at least one other child by another woman, and he is not with her anymore either. 

My brother’s daughter is now a mother too. But she is not with the father, nor is she with her son. She’s had a bad drug problem, and currently there is a warrant out for arrest for various crimes largely involving members of her own family.  

I’m not trying to pick fault here, and I certainly don’t mean to offend my brother or his family.  However, as a man who is currently taking care of other people’s children who are largely here for reasons related to divorce, I understand just how incredibly important it is for families to stick together. 

My brother’s other daughter is also a mother, but she has been with the same guy for quite a while which is really good to see, and I hope it stays that way. 

 Marriage is not always easy, but when you make it through the storms, there’s a beautiful rainbow. 

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Believing In Yourself

Today I am going to write about something I struggle with a great deal: believing in myself. Lately I’ve been reading through a great deal of the self-help and motivation type blogs. They are quite popular. I guess it’s what everybody wants and we definately need it at times. For me though they only seemed to wake up the demons in my head. I call them my demons anyway. They are the negative voices that go off in my head from time to time which convince me everything is bad and prevent me from seeing the good there is in life.

Today I’m better rested and the angels in my head (the positive voices) have had time to wage a counter-attack and I feel the urge to write some thoughts. When I hear things like “Believe in yourself, and you can accomplish anything” I’m filled with an irresistible urge to SCREAM!!! First of all, IT’S NOT TRUE, and I am certain I can prove it. Secondly, it ends up being very discouraging for those who are alreading facing discouragement,  setbacks, and shattered dreams. That’s anything but motivating.

We’ve got to have goals, and accomplishing those goals has to begin with the belief that those achievement is possible. I don’t think there is much disputing that. The more we believe, the more likely we will achieve. On the other hand, if we don’t believe something will happen, we will certainly be correct. The thing to recognize is the faith (confidence) in one’s self doesn’t just happen;  it comes from success. Setting expectations  too high prematurely only produces disappointment and failure, and that is a vicious cycle leading not only to defeat, but also to a feeling of worthlessness.

With this in mind, I would like to make a few points about strengthening our belief in ourselves realistically.

Recognize different starting points. 

Not only do we have different body types, intellectual abilities, and personalities; our past experiences have an incredible influence on our self-confidence. If you were raised in an environment in which you were told repeatedly how you would never amount to anything, you are not going to be at the same starting point as somebody who has had a nurturing family. It’s easy to believe things always work out, when that has been your experience. However, if you’re a child of divorce, family conflict, drug abuse, and negative thinking, you are not going to have the same amount of self-confidence.  Therefore, don’t compare yourself with others who have greater advantages.

Be Realistic.

Not everyone is going to finish first place. Not everyone is going to be a star. Not everyone can be number 1. Not everyone can build a thriving business.  There is a whole lot that goes into being number 1. Things like physical and mental abilities, supporting friends, financial resources, expert advice, and let’s not forget just plain luck. all contribute to being numero uno.  I don’t care how much faith or self-confidence a person has, there is no guarantee you can be anything you want.  For everyone who achieves being the best at something there are countless others with all the drive who don’t make it.  Does that mean all those people are losers and failures? Of course not. But there are a lot of people who feel defeated when they can’t be the best. Being number one usually feeds our ego, but not necessarily our character.

Greatness is too high of a standard for the majority of people, but this has nothing to with our value as a person. In striving to achieve, there is also a need for contentment with our own abilities too.

Lower the bar

Not everyone is capable of greatness, but we are all capable of greater. Instead of striving to be the best, start by just trying to be better.  When our expectations are too high we just get depressed and discouraged. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, it’s a whole lot more motivating to compare ourselves to ourselves. In this way, I may not progress as much as I would like, but I still move in the right direction.

Enjoy the process.

One of the best t-shirts I’ve seen lately had on it the words, “I play guitar because I like it not because I’m good at it.” This not only describes how I feel about playing guitar, but many of the other things I do with my time. I really wish I could be good at playing guitar, and I spend a lot of time trying to be better. Considering how much time I spend playing, I should be better, but I’m not where I want to be. This has nothing to do with self-confidence or drive, it just isn’t happening. I can get very discouraged playing guitar or I can just enjoy the process of playing.

How to look at it. 

How I look at things makes all the difference between success and defeat. For instance, I have been playing guitar for over seven years. I know several who have been playing for less time than that who are so much better. If I compare myself to others, I get discouraged. When I hear that I could be better if I just believed in myself, I feel defeated. Not only am I not good, but now I have the extra added guilt of not having enough faith in myself to be good. It’s like telling somebody you didn’t win the race because you didn’t try. Who determines this?

On the other hand, if I enjoy the process of playing with contentment in my progress, and I consider how far I have come from when I started, I feel successful. One way builds faith (confidence), the other destroys it.

A friend of mine, Larry,  has had incredible success as a bodybuilder. Today, he owns a gym is highly sought by all sorts of athletes for his expertise. He is an incredible asset for athletes of all levels and fields. But I came to find out this story almost had an incredibly different ending. His father once told me that when Larry was young, he had  football coach who pushed Larry  beyond his abilities. Larry quit the team and was about to quit athletics altogether, but a different coach came along who managed to build on Larry strengths without making him feel defeated.

There is a very thin line between spurring a person on and pushing them to a point of breaking. This is also true in how we push ourselves. Overtraining among athletes is quite common when drive goes beyond the bodies ability.

There is strong tendency when we have achieved something to think that we discovered some new process by which anybody can do what we have done. We don’t all have the same abilities. We struggle with different things in different ways. I am sick to death of the old adage of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. The irony is you can’t do that. Think about it. We need each other’s help to do anything.

I hear several people claiming to be self-made man. Evidently, they have completely forgotten all the people and situations which made their success possible. But what gives me the most concern is when people look down on others who, for one reason or another, have not enjoyed the success. This isn’t motivating, it’s discouraging.

 

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New Hobby (cycling)

Since I’ve been having some nerve problems in my legs after running, I’ve begun a new form of exercise and hobby. I’ve been trying to get a decent bike for months and all I did was waste money buying things that were too small for me. But a couple weeks ago, I found a bicycle that I really like and my son bought one too. 

My son used to ride a lot when he was younger and he into it a whole lot more than I’ve ever been. His problem is he keeps getting hurt. He’s busted both bones in his forearm a few years ago, and now he has a metal plate in there holding things together. He’s also been hit by a car, but that didn’t cause any major damage–thank God. 

So he’s a bit accident prone, and I doubt that I’m much better. Our first ride together he fell and hurt his arm again. 😒 Hopefully, he’s up and running again. I just haven’t seen him in a while. 

Now I haven’t switched to a full out cyclist with all the clothing and such. So I don’t look as cool as my son does. And compared to all the people I am meeting on-line, I’m really embarrassingly slow. But hey, I’m trying. 

Anyway, I’m really liking it. I’ve already gone of several long rides. At least they were long to me. Last week I rode a loop between Conway and Mayflower in Arkansas. 

This was about 25 miles and since it’s in Arkasas, it. wasn’t exactly flat. I love my little app that tell the elevation I climbed. That trip was almost a thousand feet. 

Yesterday I rode up to Pettit Jean Mountain. So My elevation looked map looked like this. After climbing this massive hill (at least I thought it was massive) to took about a ten mile ride on top before coming back down. 

I was feeling pretty accomplished until I compared myself to others who rode the same hill. Compared to other cyclist with my app, I ranked in like 116th place. I can’t even imagine how some of these guys get up that hill as fast as they do. But it’s coming down the hill that freaked me out. The top ones averaged around 50 mph. I averaged about half that and I was incredibly anxious the whole time. I suppose I could have gone faster, but there was a truck in front of me and I was afraid I wouldn’t stop. 

I guess it will be more motivating for me if instead of comparing myself to the athletes, I compare myself to those who are more seditary in their lifestyles. For instance, I used to be a truck driver. Compared to most of them, I’m like a fitness god. 

Anyway, I’m having fun. I love the exercise, the challenge, and the views. I guess that’s all that really matters. 

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Loving Enough to Let Go

True love is not selfish. True love will seek the welfare of the one we love above our own desires. It’s been well over two decades now, but I can scarcely think of the event without tearing up. My daughter was just a toddler back then and very sick. We weren’t sure what was wrong with her, we just knew she was starving to death before our eyes and we felt so helpless. As a young father that little girl was my whole world and I would strolled the valley of Hell itself to save her from pain, but that wasn’t an option. 
We had to take her to a children’s hospital for a biopsy to try and figure out what was wrong. Before they could do the biopsy they had to get an I.V. in her arm which is incredibly difficult to do on a malnourished toddler. They had to strap her down and get the help of several people before they finally got that little needle in her arm. Meanwhile, my wife and I were asked to leave the room, but we were still close enough to hear my little girl scream at the top of her lungs as they poked her over and over again with that I.V. until somebody finally got it in. Listening to her scream, “DADDY, HELP ME!!! DADDY, WHERE ARE YOU?” over and over again as they kept poking her remains a fresh and painful memory to this day. She doesn’t remember it, and we’ve both seen her go through much worse pain, but I’ll never forget it simply because the phase of life I was in. 
To a toddler, daddy is Super Man. I could swoop in from nowhere when she fell in a pool. I’d carry her when she was tired, I’d bandage boo boo’s, and most of all I’d protect her. She counted on me to fix problems. But I couldn’t fix this problem without help, and for a short time that help meant that she would feel like her daddy had abandoned her. Little did she know my pain was much worse than her own. 
Just the other day a young teenage girl came up to me and asked, “Mr. Ken, do you think my daddy loves me?” I work for a children’s home, and she had recently been placed in our care largely because of a divorce/remarriage situation. She felt her daddy had abandoned her by putting her in our care. I told her that I don’t know her daddy, but my experience as a daddy is that he can’t help but to love his daughter even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.  
Now I don’t know the details of the decision nor the character of the parents, but based on what I see in the girl, I’m betting she has at least half-way decent parents. She is after all very pretty, polite, respectful, well-groomed, and intelligent. One thing I do know is that there are times when a family situation can get to the point where the most loving act for a child may be to get them to a better environment then can be established at home. It’s not giving up and it’s not abandoning the child; it’s getting help, and that may be the most loving act possible even if not ideal. 
I have seen a lot of situations like this. Real life is not anything like an episode of “Leave to Beaver.” People make some huge messes out of their lives and they make even bigger messes out of their children. For whatever reason, some parents really shouldn’t be parents. Some love their children very much; they just are not capable of raising them right. It’s a hard fact to face, but denying it may only causes more harm for the child and leads to a vicious cycle that causes more damage. 
I have a niece who has a child about the same age as my own granddaughter. But my niece is a drug addict and even though I think she is trying desperately to stay clean, she is losing the battle. She has stolen from just about everyone she knows and is facing prison time. Even if she got clean, she has a crimson record and no education. But she loves that child. Even though she can’t raise him, she isn’t willing let him go either. The real truth of the matter is that my niece was born to people who weren’t ready to be parents either. But they tried, and kept trying till they couldn’t take it anymore and then they passed on to whoever was willing to take her until they couldn’t take her anymore. 
I know of all sorts of young successful couples. They have money, education, a stable family and home life, but they simply can’t have children. The younger the child is placed into a stable environment the better chance he/she has at ending the cycle and leading a successful life. By the time a child reaches adolescents, families who try to care for them are not equipped to deal with the damage already done, so the child simply gets passed from one place to the other never reaching their full potential. I know my niece loves her child, but I also know the most loving act she can do for that child right now is get him into a loving family who will raise him as their own. Stating this, I’m sure, will tick off several family members, but I’ve already seen the cycle several times, and it’s heartbreaking. 
I know it’s hard for children who are adopted to understand why their biological parents would give them up. They may feel abandoned or unloved. But sometimes giving them to somebody else may be the hardest decision their parents ever made. At the same time, it may be the most loving thing they could have done. 

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Responding to Suffering

Suffering is the great equalizer in life. Nobody is immune. It can hit the rich, the poor; the smart,  the stupid; the educated, the uneducated; and the talented as well as the untalented. Nobody really knows when the bottom is going to drop out of your life, and we are all quite unique in how suffering effects us. Some seem to have a very high tolerance for pain and strive on seemingly unaffected by trauma. While for others simply careless criticism can push them all the way to death’s door steps with suicidal thoughts. 

But it really isn’t the actual suffering that I want to write about in this post; it’s how we respond when we see the people we care about suffering. I suppose my biggest concern is that quite often instead of making things better, we may make an incredibly bad situation much much worse. 

People suffer for a multitude of reasons. People may even suffer for reasons that they have no idea how to explain. Sometimes there’s a solution. For example, a person suffering from job loss or financial hardships can be helped out if another job can be given or some money to help them climb out of a pit. But the suffering I want to address here is the suffering that can’t be fixed. It is this type of suffering that we have the hardest time with especially if we are people of faith. 

I think people of faith have a particularly hard time with suffering because we assume that God loves us personally, and even though God allows bad things to happen to others, we are at a loss when bad things happen to us. We read how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, how the blind where given sight, the lepers cleansed, and so forth. So in our faith, we trust in what God is capable of doing while remaining dumbfounded when he doesn’t miraculously remove our suffering. But, God rarely removes such suffering. 

Now this may sound very pessimistic, but part of my trouble is that I don’t think God ever promises to shelter us from suffering. Furthermore, it isn’t exactly helpful for somebody who has just lost a loved one or who’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness, that God has a plan in this or everything is going to work out in the end. 

The last thing people want when they are suffering is to be preached at. It comes across as condescending and it is hurtful to those who are already hurting. Of course people who do so have the best intentions. It’s all part of a deep desire to fix things. This desire if very much apart of my make up too. When I see a friend suffering, I want to fix it; but some pain can’t be fixed. 

Having served several years as a preacher, I have done my share of funerals. Even though each is quite unique, there are some similaritities in how friends seek to comfort the suffering: 

  1. Some will get all theological saying things like God just needed another angel, or the passing loved one is a better place. These people like to quote scripture about the coming resurrection and how all things work together for the good for those who are in Christ Jesus. I’m sure the hope of seeing the loved one in Heaven does offer comfort to people who are grieving in many ways. But this does not take away from the loss they feel as they miss them NOW! They hurt NOW and someday doesn’t do a whole lot for the emptiness they are experiencing right now. They are in pain, and they should be allowed their pain. When people preach, it can carry the idea that they shouldn’t feel sad and their sadness is a mark of a shallow faith. This is ridiculous. Pain is enough. People don’t need guilt to go along with suffering. 
  2. Some talk all about the fun memories of the passed loved one. Humor definately helps in these situations and I do consider this constructive for some while being painful for others. 
  3. Some will talk about everything but the loved one who has passed. “How’s work?” “The weather sure been nice lately” etc. There may be nothing wrong with this because it may be comforting just to talk about something else.  But there is still an elephant in the room that is quite obvious  to everyone. 
  4. Then there are those who don’t say much at all, if anything. They don’t need have to. Chances are, the closer the relationship the less need there is to say anything. These people just seem to grab a cup of coffee offer a sad smile of sympathy and sit quietly by those who are greiving. 

I think it’s incredibly significant in the biblical book of Job when Job’s world falls apart his friends came together and sat with him for several days without saying anything. It’s only when they began to speak that it all got screwed up. Accusations were made, people became offensive and defensive, and people spewed out all sorts of nonsense that they really knew nothing about. I can just imagine God listening to the quarreling speeches thinking will everyone please just SHUT UP!

In so many ways it’s seems socially unacceptable to be sad. We’ll permit it for a while, just like Job’s friends, but sooner or later people feel the need to step in and say enough is enough. That’s when the accusations and judgment starts, relationships get ruined, and the person in pain feels more isolated then ever. 

Recently I read two books by some song writers that I greatly admire: Rory Feek and Steven Curtis Chapman. Both of these artist have been hit hard with loss. Rory lost his wife to cervical cancer, and Steven Curtis Chapman lost his little girl. There is no telling how many sympathetic tears I have cried listening to their stories. Both these men are obviously sincere in their faith and both were rendered a crushing blow in life. What I enjoyed so much about both of their book is: one, they were very open in discussing their heart-breaking story; and two, neither offered any of the typical garbage of “here’s how we overcame our grief.” They simply shared their lives. Instead of being the experienced teachers who discovered some godly truth that will fix every ill in 5 easy steps, these me shared their pain. They talked about their journey, and neither one is over their pain. Both books are incredible examples of inspiring faith through incredible pain. 

You see some pain just doesn’t go away. Sometimes God’s silence doesn’t make any sense to us. We are not going to understand certain things. I think faith has more to do with trust than it does with certainty. I know some have the idea that doubt is the opposite of faith, but I don’t. It seems to me that faith is trust in the midst of doubt. When I hear about the heroes of faith in the Bible, like in Hebrews 11, I know these people had their doubts. They didn’t understand why, but they trusted God with their lives, and that’s about all we can do. 

Perhaps the best thing we can do is be there for somebody in their suffering and sympathize with them. I don’t think there are many people who want a lecture when hurting, but it sure is helpful to have a friend who cares and is willing to listen.  The common statement of “if you need me, call” is not nearly as affective as a specific offering to help in a way you know is needed. People usually find their own ways of coping through the pain especially when they feel secure that there are people who care for them. Knowing you are loved and people care means great deal. 

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