Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Musings on Chickenpox, Pain, and Peace

Autumn began nearly three weeks ago, but today is the first day it really feels like it here in Sumter. A cold front moved in last night and today is gray and misty-rainy and windy and chilly. The temperature has barely gotten above 60, and to my heat-acclimated self that is just perfect! I've got all the windows cracked open so that the chilly breeze can blow through the house, and I put on a new crocheted sweater which I bought more than a month ago in anticipation of autumn. It seems the very best kind of day for sitting at home and drinking tea.

Even if it weren't for the weather, I would have a good excuse for staying in– I'm recovering from the chickenpox! Last Friday my good friend called me to tell me that her son, whom I had seen multiple times earlier that week (and also picked up, held, and kissed because of his exceeding cuteness) had the chickenpox, and she knew that I had never had it. The very next day, right after the Pilot and I arrived at Edisto Island to spend the weekend with his family in a delightful old beach house, I started running a high fever, so my vacation was spent on the couch– no boats for me! Actually I'm very thankful– it was just that one afternoon and evening where I felt really miserable; by the next day my fever was mostly gone and though my arms and legs were itchy, I wasn't actually breaking out. Now I feel perfectly fine, if just a little tired, and the only place I've actually got "the pox" is on my fingertips and knuckles, and (more disgustingly) in my throat. My throat was very sore Sunday and yesterday, but today it feels a lot better.

Every time I am sick with something, it reminds me of how much I take a normally-functioning body for granted when I'm well. Now that I have tiny red bumps sprinkled over some of my fingers, bumps that sting slightly when I apply pressure (trying to cut my sausage with a fork was challenging at breakfast this morning!) I find myself constantly noticing just how much I use my fingers. That sounds kind of obvious, but I think it's true that the more "normal" something is, whether the use of your fingers or your eyes or any part of your body, the easier it is to feel as though we somehow have a right to be able to use those fingers or eyes or whatever. Whenever I get a cold and my nose is stuffed up at night and I go to bed and find myself struggling to breathe, I think of how many hundreds and thousands of nights I've gone to bed giving no thought to how miraculous it is that I can breathe.

I've been following the blog of a lady who is a dear friend of one of my dear friends and mentors. Kara is the wife of the pastor of the daughter church which my home church in Colorado planted last year, and she has been battling breast cancer for about as long. Not long ago they found out that her cancer, which they hoped was gone, had actually metastasized, and the prognosis is very grim. Kara, however, is not. Even though I've never met her, I can taste her hope and peace and joy in Jesus which sings out from every post of her blog, even as she is very honest about her pain and her fear. God has been using her blog in the lives of the Pilot and I in multiple ways– we have mourned together over the hard news of the cancer's metastasizing, and prayed for Kara and her family for several weeks now. I think God is teaching us something about what it means to be part of the Body of Christ, His church– that we really do rejoice and mourn together, and that being followers of Jesus makes us into a family that transcends any kind of earthly bond, even for those of us who have never met each other.

God has also used Kara's story to bring perspective to my own heart as the Pilot and I face the uncertainty over whether or not he will deploy in the next month. Seeing Kara's peace and courage– which she would be the first to say do not come from her own strength but from the Holy Spirit within her– as she very possibly faces death, has helped me realize that God will give me the grace, strength, and peace I need to face the separation from the Pilot during his deployment and everything that goes along with that. It doesn't mean that it will be easy, or that I will feel strong or peaceful. Jesus says in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid." Strange as it might sound, the most comforting part of that verse to me is that Jesus says that the peace He gives is not the same as the world's. Too often I want the world's version of peace (which is really just a flimsy imitation of the real thing)– a conglomeration of feelings of tranquility, the absence of anxiety or stress, a sense that all is right with the world. But the world's peace is deceptive– it tries to minimize problems to make you feel better. The world's peace is also selfish, because it tells you to insulate yourself from circumstances and people who might disrupt your tranquil feelings.

But Jesus says explicitly that true peace does not mean a lack of trouble. In John 16:33, Jesus says, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Weird as it sounds, I love that Jesus promises trouble. When I encounter pain and trials, whether that means a difficult relationship, or the uncertainty and danger of my husband's job, or separation from him, or anything else, this verse means that I don't have to be surprised. When I hear about things like the deadly illness of a sweet mama of four who loves the Lord and has been a blessing to hundreds of people, I don't have to be afraid that God is saying, "Oops, how did that happen?" Pain and sorrow, in the myriad forms they take, are real, and the answer is not to try to escape them, withdraw from them, hide from them, or despair because of them. Jesus gives us the answer: "... in me you may have peace." Nowhere else. Not in more control, better circumstances, healing, or resolution of the conflict. True peace, real peace, is not the absence of trouble or stress or anxiety or even fear. Jesus doesn't say, "Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not feel afraid." No, he says do not be afraid. In other words, don't let fear reign in our hearts– we can feel fear, of course we will. But fear doesn't have the last word, it doesn't define us, because whatever our pain and struggles, Jesus is our peace. Our circumstances and feelings change, but Jesus doesn't.  Real peace is found only in the presence of God, in trusting in His sovereignty and His goodness, in feeling fear and pain and anguish and loneliness and choosing to believe Him and trust His promises more than we believe and trust our feelings.

I wish I could say I was perfect at this. At night, when I'm lying awake and the Pilot is asleep next to me, I so easily surrender my heart to fear, choosing to play the "what-if" game and let my feelings dictate what I believe. But I'm learning, by tiny little baby steps, to take those emotions (such tricky, changeable, fickle things!) and those very real fears, to my Lord and Savior who is no stranger to suffering, who experienced pain and anguish to an extend I will never comprehend, for my sake– and I'm learning to lay those emotions and fears at His feet, and ask for His strength and His peace.

P.S. I would encourage you to check out Kara's blog, Mundane Faithfulness. She is a living testimony to God's faithfulness and peace in the midst of the brokenness of the world. Two of her recent posts that touched my heart greatly are The Dream and Combating Lies.

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