In Between

IN BETWEEN
Thoughts on Faith and Disability

 

And the LORD said unto him (Moses), Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD?
– Exodus 4: 11

 

A NEW BIKE

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A new bike. There’s nothing like it when you’re seven.
A Wheelie bike no less. It’s New York, the summer of 1971, so a banana seat with a sissy bar is cool. As are monkey hanger handle bars with tassles. It’s got a kickstand and a bell and lots of spokes for baseball cards to make that machinegun rattle sound when you pedal.
A new bike catapults you to the pinnacle of neighborhood attention and admiration for a while. All the kids come over to your house to gaze upon it. It’s a status symbol. It’s coolness on wheels. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wants a turn riding it – even the older kids, the big brothers who normally just punch you in the shoulder or put you in a headlock.
You race your friends and win because everyone knows new bikes are faster. You tear up and down the street and pretend you’re Evel Knievel. You might even be able to talk your Mom into letting you go out of sight around the block. It’s the little kid equivalent of getting your driver’s license – this freedom to ride.
I don’t recall how long I’d had my new bike. The training wheels were off. I’m guessing it was still shiny, because one of the older brothers I mentioned – a 12 or 13 year old from next door – wanted to ride it one day, and to sweeten the deal, promised he’d teach me how to go down hills. (I’m seven, pedal brakes, remember?)
So I agree. He gets on, I hop on the back, and off we go to Barnard Ave just few streets over.
To see it now, Barnard Avenue is nothing. A gradual, tree-lined slope with tidy, modest houses. But then it was the steepest, longest hill in the area. In my little kid mind, it was like the Winter Olympics Luge course. And down Barnard we go.
The tricky thing about Barnard Ave is it ends at Lockerman Avenue, right where Lockerman comes up out of this low stretch. So there’s a second or so, where, if you’re driving a certain direction on Lockerman, you can’t see what’s at the crest. At the intersection.
The older kid reacted first. Apparently he saw the taxi coming or whatever, because he jumped off the bike. Which left me on the back of the banana seat against that sissy bar. No pedals. No handlebars. No control.
The taxi hit me from the left at full speed. I ended up in someone’s lawn.
Apparently there was a nurse attending an elderly patient in a nearby house who heard the accident and called Fire and Rescue. (No 9-1-1 in those days)
According to the hospital admission notes:
The child was brought in deeply comatose with stertorous respirations, and was intubated with an endotracheal tube. He was diaphoretic. Pupils were small and reactive. Eyes in the midline. There was no spontaneous motor activity and minimal response to deep painful stimuli. Plantar responses were nil. Abdominal responses were nil.
I could go on about multiple fractures, cranial nerve damage, emergency surgeries, a tracheostomy, contusions and hematomas, but in plain English I was a sweaty, unconscious seven-year-old boy barely breathing through a tube in my throat who would have to learn to walk, talk, and swallow all over again.
Truth is I don’t remember any of the above. The details of the accident and injuries were explained to me much later over the course of years in therapy and a court case and rare family talks. To this day, my earliest memory is waking up in a bed in ICU with tubes and wires coming out of me, surrounded by beeping machines, unable to talk and trying to air-spell “Who are you?” and “What happened?” to the two adults sitting beside me. Turns out they were my Mom and Step-Dad.
I remember nothing before that. That’s Day One for me.

INDOOR KID

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First time I got high, I was 13 years old.
I got a joint from a girl across the street who got it from her older brother. I stole matches from my Mom and snuck up to my attic to smoke it in front of the huge fan that sucked hot air out of the top of the house. Ten minutes later I was more light-headed from hyperventilating for fear of getting caught than THC, but I came downstairs thinking I was cool now, that I’d passed some kind of test, or crossed an invisible boundary that marked teenage-hood. Which I did, but not in a good way.
I grew up an indoor kid. Obviously. Still am, if I’m honest. My idea of vacation is reading a book somewhere warm. That’s because books and movies – not sports – were a huge part of my childhood. I survived, but the accident left me with a poor gait, terrible balance, and a crossed eye. No Varsity letter on my jacket. No school dances. I was awkward physically and socially. And back then, that made me an outsider.
A point about growing up in New York in the 70’s and 80’s: there was none of this anti-bullying, sensitivity, diversity awareness. You were different, you were picked on. That was the Law of the School Yard. Being bullied, teased, ostracized, mocked, picked last at Dodge Ball, fighting at recess and afterschool was part of growing up. Bullying and ridicule were constants in my childhood all through school.
I hope that doesn’t sound like whining. It’s not meant to be. That was a long time ago and it was what it was. It’s over. But that’s how it was.
Anyway… I grew up incessantly and horribly self-conscious. I suppose I was a proto-geek as well. An Early Nerd who read military history, Science Fiction, and Fantasy. I actually read William Shirer’s “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and Bruce Catton’s Civil War trilogy before Ninth Grade. I played chess and wargames, built models and collected toy soldiers. I devoured Star Trek and Chiller Theater, Carl Kolchak the Nightstalker and Godzilla Week on the 4:30 movie. They were my entertainment, my escape, my companions, my pursuits.
Until drugs.
Again, I’m trying to avoid melodrama here, but drugs were everywhere when I was growing up. Everyone knew someone or had an older sibling that knew where to get pot, hash, mushrooms, and LSD, anytime. Kids sold joints in bathrooms between class, in the cafeteria at lunch, and walking home after school. It was easier to spend your allowance on a dime bag (yes, $10 for a ¼ ounce) than hoof it to the local newsstand for the latest issue of Avengers or X-Men.
For me, getting high became not merely an escape, but a gateway to friendships. Potheads were the fastest growing clique in school and smoking pot became a ground floor opportunity to get into a social group, a tribe. And I did. With gusto. I went from Book Worm to Pot Head.
I’ll spare you the lengthy testimony – it’s all sad, middle class white kid stupidity anyway, probably nothing you haven’t heard, or seen, or experienced before. From pot gardens cultivated in conservation lands outside the town limits to dealing nickel and dime bags at Prep School, from friends breaking into liquor stores through the skylights, to taking a hit of acid every morning for a week at the Catholic School I attended after getting kicked out of Prep School, (still dealing nickel and dime bags) it really boils down to the fact I spent the next eight years doing my level best to stay high every day.
By the time I was 21, I’d dropped out of college, been told not to return home, was living in a basement apartment, could barely hold a job to scrape the funds together to afford the drugs I now needed every day just to function. There I was barely an adult, but I had spent years digging myself into a small, grubby, self-centered, self-destructive rut, and although I blamed my accident, my parents, my bosses, the general unfairness of the Universe, deep down I knew I had brought myself to that place. These wounds were self-inflicted. The truth I didn’t want to face was that I was my own worst enemy.

“PRAY THIS PRAYER WITH ME”

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It was late October of 1985, and I walked into the Sunday evening service of a tiny storefront church wearing a long, dark-gray cape with black trim, hair down the middle of my back, and – if I recall my limited wardrobe correctly – a black shirt and black jeans. I was there at the challenge, the dare, of a couple of friends who had become ‘Born-Agains.’
We had spent months arguing back and forth. When I told them I no longer wanted them to come by the apartment, (I mentioned using the back end of a pool cue in a very improper way if they did) they mailed me Chick tracts and left Jesus music on my answering machine. I was not civil and they were not sensitive. This was not a gentle, winsome ‘Come to Jesus’ kind of thing. Inconsiderate? Sure, but they fasted and prayed.
At the conclusion of a service I remember being ridiculous and repetitive, a man in the congregation asked if he could pray with me. “All I have to offer you,” he said. “is Jesus.” He told me the strength, the veracity of all Christianity’s claims rested on Jesus Himself. An honest prayer – that’s what God wanted.
So, not expecting anything to happen, I went forward, knelt on the water-stained commercial carpet and asked Jesus to forgive me. (I knew I had done plenty of things wrong)
In saying what is commonly termed ‘The Sinner’s Prayer”, I asked Jesus to make Himself real to me, and – if He was real – to help me live for Him the rest of my days. If I was going to believe, I wanted it to be based on personal experience and personal conviction, not from upbringing or indoctrination or some strange group psychology.
Jesus met me there.
Sounds painfully cliché I know, but that’s the only way I can say it. I hadn’t even finished saying the prayer when I experienced the presence of a specific person: Jesus. He was real and alive. I felt the knowledge of His love and forgiveness wash through me. I sensed addiction and dependence being broken in my core, and I had the very distinct impression God had given me the power to say “No” to my bad habits.
I stood up from that grungy carpet, mind reeling with the brand-new awareness of the reality of God. To be clear, I don’t mean I suddenly acknowledged the metaphysical possibility of a Creator or Intelligence behind the Universe, but the potent, intimate presence of God. The Person of Jesus, to be precise.
What’s more, not only did I experience forgiveness from God, but I had been changed in some very subtle, visceral way. It was as if Jesus had reached in and untwisted my soul.
I won’t go into the details of the following weeks; all the emotions, the moments of clarity, the ‘coincidences’, the incidents and interventions – all those tiny miracles that only meant things to me. Suffice it to say that Presence, this Jesus, stayed with me – at home, at work, on the beach, in the shopping market, when I woke up and when I fell asleep. I’d open a Bible and whereas before whenever I’d read it, all I saw was genealogies, ancient dietary laws, and the occasional epic act of judgment, now the words leapt right off the page. I understood it like a shot between the eyes. No one gave me a theology book or brought me to catechism class. The Bible spoke to me. And that Presence grew more real, more intense.
This went on for a couple months. It was all very new and bizarre, exciting and not a little scary. I was utterly captivated and totally weirded out at the same time.
Of course I was free to deny what happened, what was happening. But I knew I’d be lying to myself if I did, and I had the deep ‘in-my-bones’ sense if I did that, I’d pawn away something singularly remarkable.
That was the critical point right there because most of all I was tired of lying – to myself and to others. I was sick of hearing myself make excuses. I was tired of flailing and failing and falling short. This ‘Jesus thing’ offered not just forgiveness but a way to overcome all that. I felt great for the first time in a long time, but I also understood that if anything was going to change – really change – then I had to keep going. So I did.

PROMISE OR PROOF

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The church I got saved in was a break-off from the Four Square organization and part of a fellowship of independent churches rooted in Protestant Evangelical, Pentecostal theology. They were very committed, intensely focused on the Great Commission, and placed a major emphasis on spiritual gifts and preaching. Remember, this was the second half of the 80s in Ronald Reagan’s ‘Morning in America’ and I was fresh to the faith. My new life in Christ became an unending string of church services, revivals, ministry conferences, prayer meetings, Bible studies, and street outreach. The storefront church was filled with people my age, most of them new converts. The congregation kept growing, moving into newer, bigger buildings. Things were happening. God, I was told, was moving.
There were three services a week, prayer before every service, morning prayer before work. Add Saturday outreach for the Saturday night evangelistic service. We had Christian Rock Bands, Drama teams, street preaching, forests of fliers to hand out or put on cars, and spinner racks loaded with Chick tracts. “Death Cookie, anyone?”
Washed in the Blood, filled with the Holy Ghost, clad in the Armor of God, armed with the Sword of the Spirit, we were at war with the forces of Darkness. I must have sung “We can take the Land” a thousand times.
So yeah… I got involved.
Understand, this amazing event had happened- being forgiven and encountering God – and this ministry was my sole exposure to Protestant Christianity. I was not raised in a religious home. In fact, I can only recall my family going to church twice while growing up, and to this day I don’t know what the occasions were. I’d encountered Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, but I’d never met a Born Again. At least not that I knew. I did attend a Catholic high school for two years, but only because I was not ‘invited back’ to Prep School for my junior year. And after I was converted, I was told Catholicism didn’t count as genuine Christianity, sure as Hell was hot, seeing as most denominations were “dead religion” filled with “false doctrines,” and “lukewarm, old wineskins.” In fact, it was the Hand of God that I managed to escape the clutches of the Great Whore of Babylon as a teenager. Give Him praise. Amen?
The sermons were a steady diet of commitment, the call to live in victory, the mandate to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, the command to preach the Word, and the imminent Second Coming. (initiated by the Rapture of all true believers, of course)
At that time, it was a given that sold-out, Spirit-filled Christians only had two kinds of problems: Satanic attacks for pursuing God’s will, or judgments for secret sin. That was it. Weakness was your fault, not Gods. Public displays of the Spirit’s working – speaking in tongues, street preaching, deliverances, and healing – were the signs that confirmed the Lord’s Word, and it was the ministry’s holy and inviolate calling to see these things established and active in the congregation.
I lost count of how many short legs I saw grow out on stage.
Given the spiritual climate and culture of the church, it’s not surprising the Promises of God subtly morphed into Proof of Personal Spirituality. What started as assurances of hope, peace, assistance, comfort, guidance, provision, forgiveness, redemption offered in Scripture became the litmus test of an individual’s faith. According to headship, there were Believers and there were Disciples, anyone with a right heart pursued discipleship, and God blessed real disciples.
In that perspective then, the supernatural, the miraculous, in and through your life, was the de facto proof of your relationship with God. It was the barometer that gauged the level of your devotion to Him and your commitment to His Will. Somewhere along the line, faith became more about Pentecostal Exhibitionism than obedience and a Christ-centered character.
Was it really that like that or am I hyper-sensitive and “misremembering”? Sure, there were sermons on other topics. Many of them good, some quite terrible, a number of them genuinely inspired, a few profoundly transformational. But let me be perfectly clear – three ideas dominated the teaching and preaching for years:
1. Evidence: Health, prosperity, and uninterrupted fruitfulness were the evidence of God’s blessing and approval.
2. Burden: the burden to manifest these blessings fell on the Christian. It was not only their responsibility to exhibit them as a testimony to others but they were a gauge to the authenticity of one’s faith and an indicator of the intimacy of their relationship with God.
3. Suspicion: the lack of dramatic and rapid positive change rendered one’s faith and salvation suspect.
Whether expounded overtly – and they were bluntly stated more often than not – or implicit in the exposition of other topics, those three principles came to define a person’s relationship with God.
I’m not singling out the church I attended or its parent organization here. This school of thought dominated all the new Evangelical Christian books, was the main feature in revivals and seminars, was slathered across sermons from (in)famous televangelists, ministers, and celebrity preachers and teachers across America. This particular spin on faith, and the life of faith, was in the air like second-hand smoke.
I’d got a haircut and donated my black cape to the Drama Team, but I still had my limp and a bad eye. Even worse, after ten plus years as a Christian, instead of my health improving, I was getting increased pain and electric shock sensations in my spine, and my legs were starting to lose more of their already limited mobility.

THE REAL PROBLEM

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I know as a Christian writing about faith I should quote Scripture. Jesus, or at least the Apostle Paul. Maybe C.S. Lewis, in a pinch. But it was John Wayne who reportedly said:
“Life is tough. It’s even tougher when you’re stupid.”
The tricky thing about the principles mentioned previously isn’t that they aren’t true – they’re evident in Scripture. There is a Biblical call to ‘disciplined learning and imitation’ i.e. discipleship, God does bless and move supernaturally, blessings should and do manifest in a believer’s life, the Christian life does indeed require response and have responsibilities. Having experienced God’s healing, redemption, and restoration in my soul, I certainly believe all the promises of God are ‘Yes and Amen’ in Christ Jesus.
The issue is when those principles are taken out of context, when they are demanded not received, when they are dangled as bait or wielded like a bludgeon rather than portrayed as gifts and by-products of a relationship with God. It’s when they are blown out of proportion that they directly or implicitly undermine other foundational truths and dynamics of Christian faith. That’s thin ice there because it’s my understanding the Greek root of the New Testament word for heresy is ‘hairesis’, which means ‘to deliberately pick and choose only what you like’.
I am of the opinion Christianity gets sold with a false bill of goods in America: say you’re sorry, accept Jesus, give up your obvious bad habits, and life will get better and better. Happy family, perfect kids, good health, increasing prosperity, and finally the Ultimate Retirement Package… Sure, there will be trials and setbacks, but they’re the temporary, Family-Friendly movie kind, the ones that give you Important Life Lessons. Besides, someone will get saved at the end of them, right?
No.
We all know trials of faith either drive us to God or drive us away. Confused as I was, quitting wasn’t an option. I had to seek God and dig deeper.
As it turned out, the hardest thing to face wasn’t the deteriorating physical condition, loss of mobility, or pain. Not really. All the junk – the increasing contradiction between the ministry’s teaching and my circumstances, the mental and emotional ‘white noise’ from the distortions, the subtle ostracization, condescension, and suspicion from those in the family of God – that heat and pressure brought all kinds of ugly to the surface in me: anger, shame, guilt, self-pity.
Even worse, rather than correct them, God began to convict me. Once I got past my fits and tantrums and obfuscations, I was admonished that other people’s insensitivity or immaturity didn’t give me the right to shoot back. Or sulk. Pointing fingers or shaking my fist at the sky wasn’t going to change anything. Understandable as they were, even justifiable in some light, I was the one who had to repent of my bad attitudes. At the end of the day, I had to own my problems, the inner and outer ones.
The medical diagnoses and physical issues were real and unremitting. Another revival, another book, another seminar, another prayer line, another desperate, impassioned positive confession of faith, another soul-flogging ransack of my inner self wasn’t going to make them vanish. I was going for the ride – like it or not. The question became was I going with God, or without Him? It would have been the height of stupidity to ignore or camouflage my problems. It would have been folly to give up faith altogether because I wasn’t getting what I wanted, how I wanted it, when I wanted. Forward is the only direction God has given us, and I realized it was only in being honest that I would find the way to keep moving. And as with any recovery, the first step is admitting the problem.
No pun intended, the application for the handicapped placard, buying a cane and then using it in public were huge steps for me. It’s foolish in retrospect, but at the time, even acknowledging the physical deterioration, talking to neurologists, going to doctor’s appointments, enduring multiple MRIs, undergoing major surgery in an attempt to halt the deterioration, acquiring disability information from Social Security, all of it was saddled with this sense of retreat. Failure. Accusations of unbelief, laziness, and lying didn’t help.
“You really don’t need that cane.”
“Well, you got what you wanted.”
“You’re only getting that for the parking spaces.”
“If I walk funny, can I screw the government out of money too?”
“I’ve been praying, asking God to tell me what’s really wrong with you.”
Yes, I heard that and more, and yes, that’s pretty ignorant.
Full stop right here though: the last thing I want in relating my experience is make a mountain out of my problems and cry ‘poor me’. Neither am I suggesting this struggle somehow makes me more spiritual or ‘authentic’. It does not. I’m one person wrestling with a difficult facet of my life, being as honest with myself and God as I can. In the larger scheme of things, there are plenty of people dealing with far heavier loads. I’m not special, and accepting that hammers my problems back in their proper place. Looking back, I have to conclude God was more concerned with issues in my character than in my spine.

THE IN-BETWEEN

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That sounds like spiritual spin, doesn’t it? A religious smoke screen for my lack of faith. An easy out. Of course that thought crossed my mind. Actually, “plagued me like a swarm of Greenhead flies” is more accurate. But physical healing hadn’t happened. I had surgery. Not even to correct the problem – the damage was too severe – only an attempt to stop the deterioration.
Seeing as one of the verses that resonated with me early in my Christian experience was James 1:5, I kept seeking God for understanding.
Anyone who searches Scripture, spends time in prayer, studies church history and theology eventually runs into other core elements to the Christian faith. I’m talking about brokenness and suffering. They are the other side of the coin, clear and present counterweights to the Blessing, Positive Confession, and Full Potential teachings. Oddly enough, they don’t get the same ‘air time’ in modern society as their more attractive cousins. They’re certainly not popular with mainstream American Evangelicalism. I wager even mentioning them now causes some folks to balk.
Suffering and brokenness is one of those things you ‘know’, but don’t really come to grips with until you or someone you love is going through it.
It didn’t take me very long to understand the proposition that Christian Life was supposed to be constant victory – an ever-improving, increasingly blessed, tragedy-free life – was patently false. It’s nowhere in Scripture. Just the opposite. Faith in Jesus comes guaranteed to bring trouble. The emptiness of the claim should have been obvious when I considered the Crucifixion, which was the perfect will of God and the culmination of a redemptive plan set in motion from the foundation of the world.
God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. Hebrews 2:10
Of course I believe in the Resurrection, Restoration, and Redemption, but re-watch ‘The Passion’ for a reminder of just how uncomfortable the ‘perfect will of God’ was for Jesus.
From the example of my Savior being broken and humiliated for me, not to mention the injunction found in 1 Peter 2:21 to ‘walk in His steps’, to the Apostle Paul’s beatings, frequent court dates, stonings, corporeal punishments, imprisonments, and Big List O’ Trials in 2 Corinthians 11, ( to which is added God’s rather blunt explanation that ‘His strength is made perfect in weakness’) there’s no escaping the fact that suffering, humiliation, endurance and delay are present in Scripture side by side with divine healing, rescue, restoration, and supernatural intervention.
Now let me be clear: misery is not profound – it’s miserable. It is not the Moral High Ground. Pain is not holiness. It is not the ‘Cross we must bear.’ I’m not advocating a revival of medieval scourging, starvation, and self-flagellation. God is a giver, not a taker. He’s certainly not a celestial sadomasochist. Faith always says ‘Yes” to God because He is good and faithful. It is His mercy that endures forever, His faithfulness that stretches to the heavens. But faith is not the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Magical Chocolate Factory. It doesn’t make things easy – it makes them possible.
Strange as this is going to sound, I have prayed for people and seen them recover dramatically. Instantly in several cases. I have been helped and healed of other conditions more times than I recall in the past thirty-plus years. I don’t remember feeling anything special or having some extra ‘quantity’ of faith in those instances. Go figure.
Like I said, I’m confident in the promises of God. I have experienced some of them. I do indeed hold to an assurance of salvation, as well as the inheritance of the saints and the status of believers as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. But that concept of inheritance – lifted from the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans and usually employed as a proof text for claiming blessings – is actually explained in the context of the crud and contradiction of this world. In other words, suffering.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.           – Romans 8: 16 – 18
Funny, there is one character in the New Testament who demanded his inheritance early, all at once. As I recall, it didn’t turn out well for the Prodigal Son.
The plain truth is both Restoration and Brokenness are present throughout the Bible precisely because they are two inescapable constants in life, particularly Christian life. We may be ‘seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ but it’s obvious we’re not there yet.
Right now, we are mortals sentenced to Eternal Life. We are indelibly stamped with the Imago Dei but saddled with the Fallen Nature. We are sinners called saints, pilgrims and strangers passing through a dysfunctional world, clay vessels bearing inestimable treasure, broken people yet redeemed of the Lord. We inhabit the In-Between, not the New Jerusalem. To insist otherwise isn’t Faith, but Delusion. A smooth and trouble-free life is a Christian fantasy, a mirage. It’s Baptisneyland.
Once I accepted where I was, discarded a counterfeit standard, and stopped beating my head against that wall, not only was I freed to pay attention to how God was actually working in my live, but it woke me up to the blessings that were already all around me.

HOPE IS ALL WE KNOW

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There are three ways I could view my accident: That it has no meaning beyond my self-imposed, religious wishful thinking. I could grow bitter at God/the Universe’s indifference and cruelty in inflicting or allowing it. Or I could view every day after that August day in 1971 as gift.
I choose the third option. I choose it in the same way I choose to view the evidence as pointing to the existence of God rather than a Big Empty Universe.
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. – C. S. Lewis
You knew the C.S. Lewis quote was coming, right? But that sums it up for me. Not only did I have an awakening, a Born Again experience, I make a daily, concerted effort after thirty-plus years to keep my heart and life angled in that direction, despite all the problems I have and have encountered. God is and has been an active presence in my life. I am blessed in more ways than I know or appreciate. I have learned that when I align myself with that perspective, not only do I see events in a different, coherent light, but I am positioned in a place where serendipity and wisdom, where grace, is present and active. It is there that God somehow, someway, helps me.
And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
That verse gets whipped out in Christian circles when trials and setbacks hit. It doesn’t say that everything is good, or that God orchestrated the particular events or circumstances, just that God can and will bring good from them.
It’s a big assertion, that verse. Especially when a cancer diagnosis, an overdose, a tragic call from the police, a pink slip, a divorce is staring you in the face. It feels like a pat on the head or someone tossing Sponge Bob Square Pants Floaty Ring when you’re overboard in the raging sea. Yet there it is. God’s promise it will happen. Somehow. If we let Him.
I added those two qualifiers because despite what some book or preacher may say, there is no ‘faith formula’ to make it happen easily, and “Better or Bitter” may be cliché, but it is true. Our response to difficulties is crucial.
I don’t cling to the verse – I hold on to the God behind the verse. That’s what – Who – will uphold me and see me through in the long run. And as a Christian, it’s the long run that counts. God has His eyes on Eternity. More specifically, on us in Eternity.
I’ve heard that Time is the great equalizer, that character is made and revealed in the long haul. It’s pointless for me to mourn a life I was never going to have. I have a disability and while it might explain some things about me, it doesn’t define me. It’s a temporary condition, whereas my eternal soul, my deepest person, is hid in Christ. My real identity is in God and being formed by Him.
Years ago I read that the disadvantaged – the poor, the displaced, the disabled, the infirm – are God-given opportunities for us to develop our humanity. We get a chance to exercise empathy and compassion. We can give and serve, viewing people not in a hierarchy, but as fellow human beings, loving them not because they deserve it or for reward, but simply because they need it.
I don’t know if God has used me to stir compassion in another person. Have no idea. It’s not like someone is going to tell me, and if they did, I’d probably think they were weird. However, I do know God has helped me be more empathetic.
I think a lot of people are uncomfortable around those who are ill, injured, or disabled mentally or physically. Our affluent, youth and body-conscious culture doesn’t know how to deal with obvious problems. Quite often they condescend. At worst, they ignore or loathe them for their weaknesses. Yet those are the people I notice now.
I tend to think that discomfort is the engine behind so many people’s advice, or blame, or the insistence on simple, linear, Cause and Effect explanations. They’re not so much comforting the afflicted as imposing order on their internal narrative and need for certainty.
I’ll end with one more passage of Scripture.
Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5: 5 – 6
I’m married to a beautiful woman. We have three grown children and four grandchildren. I have genuine friends. I live in peace in a beautiful place. I run a small business, write fiction. I’ve ministered the gospel in the United States and other countries – all things at certain points in my life I was sure I’d never have or do. But God…
“Hope is all we know of God,” wrote poet Lisel Mueller. I agree.
We are offered God’s promises and His Presence. But we don’t get certainty – not really. Life is too messy, too radically contingent. God may have all the answers, but quite often He keeps them to Himself. Instead, what we get is grace to keep moving forward day by day, dragging unresolved conflicts, taking our bearings by God’s promises, trusting His faithfulness to work them all out in His time. That’s the mystery.
Thankfully, it’s a mystery that’s infused and informed by the love of God, and anchored on the promise of redemption for broken people.
People like me.