I found myself in a heap on the floor. My heart felt like it had a hole the size of Texas. I had been up for 40 hours. In those two days, I’d returned from a staff/family retreat, stayed up all night doing laundry, boarded a plane in the wee hours of the morning, and arrived at the hospital in time to see my blessed Mother slip away into the arms of Jesus. Later, when I walked into my only childhood home, I almost felt like I was intruding. Dad & Mom were both gone now, within a 3 year period. Their lack of presence was painfully surreal. The signs of her last moments at home were there…the recliner where she was found unconscious from a stroke, the broken lock from the EMT’s forced entry, & the little indicators that said she had completed normal tasks & was resting. She had fallen asleep listening to Christian radio.
After Dad passed away, we tried to get Mom to come live with us in Phoenix. But she was adamantly opposed, wanting the familiarity & comfort of her own home in Iowa. So we arranged the necessary support system to fulfill her wishes. Driving away that first time, as she waved goodbye at the front door, was hard! Were we doing the right thing? Now, hearing the ticking of my great-grandma’s clock in the silence, a host of picture memories rushed through my mind. I was thankful we had honored her desires. And I was grateful to God for faithfully taking care of her.
The only furnace vent, in the upstairs of the folk’s house, was in the hallway. So when I couldn’t sleep after getting back from the hospital, I got up sometime after midnight & sat on the carpeted floor in front of it. My sis & niece were already sleeping. The waves of loss, & exhaustion from no sleep, were hitting hard by this time. Still in the midst of raising children, I felt too young for this to be happening. Some of my friends still had their grandparents. And because Steve’s parents were still living, he couldn’t relate to me on this one. Combined with the fact that he & the girls were still on the road, the whole situation made me feel isolated, lonely, & despairing…like I was suffocating. I was crying hard by this time & my silent, wailing plea was, “Dear God, help me!”
Nowadays, the phrase “God told me” is often flippantly used to validate independent decisions, to stop others from giving input, and ironically, to ignore unchanging principles already stated in the Bible. If things don’t work out, these folks will just slap on a new “God told me” & repeat the process. There’s a lot of pride evident in that mentality. This is NOT what I’m espousing in my experience that I’m about to share. Nor is it a phrase I use lightly. I better not be attaching Him to something I concocted for convenience. God doesn’t change His mind/Truth to accommodate my whims. In the parable of the Good Shepherd in John 10, Jesus makes it crystal clear that you can’t hear his voice unless you’ve received Him into your life. He is THE DOOR. (vs 7-11) He isn’t some catch-all phrase to justify self-driven decisions. “…He goes before them & the sheep follow because they know His voice…a stranger they simply will not follow…but will flee…because they do not know the voice of strangers…I am the good shepherd; & I know My own, & My own know Me…My sheep hear My voice, & I know them & they follow me; & I give eternal life to them,& they shall never perish; & no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” (vs 3-5,14,27-28)
Simply stated, the Spirit within the believer testifies to Truth when you hear it. But God will NEVER tell you to do something contrary to what is already stated in His Word. So when God spoke to me as I lay a weeping mess on the floor, it wasn’t some booming voice or some weird aberration. I recognized Him. What was in my mind, didn’t go against Scripture. And, I couldn’t have dreamed up what He whispered -- no matter how hard I tried. This was a defining, life-changing moment for me. He gave me my “marching orders.” In my deep sense of abandonment, I heard this: “Embrace the pain. Do not run from it. Milk it, (I pictured a cow) squeezing everything you can learn out of it. I AM IN THE PAIN. If you run from it, you will miss me.”
That was 19 years ago. My Mom’s birthday was yesterday. So in a way, I write this in honor of her memory. Without saying it in my words, she embraced a great deal of painful trials in her lifetime. But neither she or my Dad were crabby people. Pain didn’t make them bitter. They were loyal through & through. My Mom was a praying, believing, never-give-up-on-God’s Word & promises woman…to her grave. Even when things didn’t happen on her timetable. I am a more resolved person because of her unwavering, tenacious faith. She is in my personal “triumphs of faith.” (See Hebrews 11)
When we got to the hospital that chilly March day, they told us that she was paralyzed on her left side & that there was no brain activity. They’d kept her on machines so we could say our goodbyes. She didn’t give any indication of recognizing us nor did she respond to our conversation. I was holding her left hand on one side of the bed & my sis held her right hand, on the other. My brother was standing at the foot of the bed. As part of our goodbye, I started praying aloud, thanking God for her life & releasing her to Him. I can still see it. We witnessed the supernatural, no doubt about it. As I prayed, she turned her head toward my voice. Then, she resisted our hands, until we let her hands go, & lifted them out & above her head -- toward heaven. After about 30 seconds, she slowly lowered them into her lap, folding them exactly like she always did. We will NEVER forget this! I believe we witnessed her seeing Jesus. Spiritually, she was alive even as her body was failing her. After the doctor assured us, again, there was no brain activity, they turned off the machines. Mom’s heart beat for another 20 minutes before she was physically gone. What a GIFT God gave us that day! It was a beautiful goodbye, to be able to witness Mom’s eternal “hello.” And what sustaining Words washed my mind a mere 8 hours later, to soothe my human sense of loss.
Embracing pain has been my message ever since that cold March evening by the furnace vent. There’s rarely a day that goes by that God doesn’t remind me of it. His life-giving Words have sustained me through some the hardest situations in life, to date. Am I always prepared for it? No. I often feel stunned. Am I always thankful for it? No, not in the moment. Sometimes that happens further down the road. Can I control it? Rarely! But as I trust God’s Word, I see purpose for it. Plus, the Word teaches me that Jesus’s life on earth wasn’t a walk in the park. Most everyone misread His intentions, misinterpreted & misquoted His Words, & deserted Him in His greatest hour of pain. During His defining moments of grappling with God’s will in the garden, the disciples fell asleep…twice! And who stood at the Cross except his Mother & one disciple? 2 people not ashamed or afraid-- that’s it! Jesus learned obedience (submission/total dependence on His Father) through suffering. (Hebrews 5:8) Why would I ever think I deserve an easy, predictable, carefree life?
We can fight it all we want but I can honestly say that I have learned the most life-altering, freeing lessons through pain. In Christ, pain has an eternal purpose. Pain reveals our weakness & inability to help ourselves. Pain reveals our need, if we aren’t too proud to admit it. Pain can be a teaching tool, if we don’t resist the correction process. Pain can be a bridge to experiencing God’s great love, in Christ. “The Christian life is not about our own capacity and ability, but about God’s; not about who we are, but who He is; not about what we have to offer, but what He offers, which is all of Himself, if we are as available to Christ as Christ was available to His Father.” (pg 124 THE INDWELLING LIFE OF CHRIST—W. Ian Thomas)