Suffering: Next-Level Training?

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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. ~ Romans 8:17

I hesitate to even broach the subject. It’s not exactly party fodder, or even the usual banter of close friends.

“Hey, what’s up? How’re you doing?  Yeah, I’ve been suffering quite a bit lately, and… Wait, where are you going?”

This being a blog post, and my not being a Theologian (or an -ogian of any sort whatsoever), I am not planning to go too long or deep into this. At least not yet. But a quick plunge, given recent events, is in order.

So here goes.

Ka’en and I were finally out on Saturday, celebrating our near-twinness. We were both born in August, but my birth came two years and 13 days before hers. The last couple of years we’ve tried to have a birthday celebration close to our birthdays, at least in August. But this August was insane, September was even crazier, and finally we settled on October 27 as our Daylong Birthday Bash. She planned the first part of the day (a secret to me), I planned the second part of the day (a secret to her), and in the middle we’d have lunch at a local Indian restaurant.

So after Ladies’ Self-Defense class, off we went for Part 1, which I discovered was a mani-pedi (my first ever). It was lovely. Then off to the Indian restaurant for the best curry I’d had in forever. Throughout the meal, Ka’en was grimacing, clutching her right side, and breathing heavily. Hmmm… after watching this for a bit I began to make alternate plans. We finished lunch, paid, and I began striding out to the truck. Glancing behind me I saw Ka’en, barely able to walk, which clinched it. Into the truck and off to Plan B:  Christiana Hospital.

Into the E.R., much heavy breathing and side-clutching, brief stint in the waiting room, pulled out for vitals check (elevated blood pressure, temp and oxygen normal), placed in a side room, the usual waiting, etc., Percocet and a stint in the hallway, off to another room, waiting for doctors. Meanwhile the pain was getting worse, steadily, a clenching agonizing squeezing. Hours passed. Ka’en furrowing her brow, heavy breathing, more side clutching. Various tests:  EKG, imaging… and I’m carrying her stuff and mine from place to place, while medical personnel try to figure what’s up with all this pain.

And I’m listening to Father God, aka Dad. How should I pray? Mostly my prayers were inarticulate: heartache for my friend, sad thoughts, feeling at a loss. How can I help? I asked for a pillow, let the nurse know even the morphine wasn’t helping, tried to get Ka’en to smile but not laugh.

Then the weirdest thought entered my mind. Maybe this suffering was part of her training. Ummmm…what?? I knew it wasn’t from me. I was mama bear/ fiercely protective best friend; I wanted to make the pain yelp away, its tail between its legs. But the thought persisted, and I remembered the show I once saw about the Army’s version of Navy SEALS, guys who were already in Special Forces, who wanted to go to the next level and become Combat Divers. Preparing for that level required a lot of suffering, hard training for their bodies but especially their minds. Many dropped out along the way. But the ones who endured to the end achieved what few in the world could.

I’ve heard it said, “God doesn’t want people to suffer. What kind of parent would do that to their kids?” I have prayed for healing, remembering Isaiah’s “the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Verses abound in all four Gospels about Jesus curing everyone who came to Him for healing. And I believe in healing. My own progressive lung condition –which presented as emphysema — was healed in 2010. But what about suffering?  Does suffering (mental, physical, emotional) serve a purpose in maturing believers? I believe it does.

Didn’t Jesus’ followers suffer? Don’t His people suffer in various parts of the world today? Why? Oh, this topic has filled hundreds of books, each hundreds of pages long. How can a blog hope to even touch on this?

So I will offer a tiny taste of what I’ve learned:

Suffering produces perseverance and grit. Seeing Ka’en set her jaw and breathe through the pain without losing it, seeing her for the first time ever not experience a panic attack in excruciating pain — the worst she had ever experienced — was incredible. She simply asked for help and looked to Jesus for strength. Sure the medical community helped but they never diagnosed her problem. After several hours the pain ebbed and they sent her home.

Suffering narrows our focus to the only One who, ultimately, can do anything to help. Two years ago I experienced the worst pain of my life. Ever-increasing sciatica, till my body was in white-hot pain. Waiting for my mom to come back from taking the kids to school I was finally able to scream it all out, knowing I wouldn’t freak the kids out, and do you know what I said? JESUS CHRIST IS LORD OF MY LIFE, HE IS LORD OF MY DEATH! HE IS LORD OF THIS RIGHT HERE, JESUS I PRAISE YOU! The words just wailed out of me. Then the most amazing thing happened.

I suddenly saw Jesus beside me, bloody on the cross, barely able to breathe. I was hanging next to Him, on my own cross. He smiled understanding through His tears and the blood and I saw in His wide-open white-hot pain-filled eyes: compassion, a deep knowing. And in that moment I shared in His suffering. I felt love surge through me as never before, His love pouring into me as a gift. A gift I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It was an honor to be there, to be in this pain with Him.

My mom returned and I couldn’t walk without a crutch. Every step shot screaming through my whole body. The whole ER visit was a kind of blur till the concentrated Motrin injection started to kick in. I asked Jesus How did you do it? How did you transcend the pain on the cross and actually pray for your accusers, your enemies, the horde that put you there? And He didn’t tell me — He gave me the answer. I suddenly had a love that shut out the pain. Yes the pain was still there, but suddenly all I cared about were the other people in that place, the others scared in the ER, not knowing what would happen next. All I cared about was praying for them. And I shared in the love, through my pain — transcending my pain — with the Jesus who suffered more than any of us.

Holding Ka’en’s hand in the ER on Saturday as she hurt beyond my ability to help,  I was once again in a place of immense, intense honor.

I stroked her head, roaring into the dark. I beheld the glory of our God, blazing through her eyes. And the Lion of Judah roared above us both, His purpose in this beyond us. I suspect someday it will be revealed. For He never allows His children to suffer without reason. And this training, while excruciating, will produce whatever He had in mind as we submit to it — and to Him.

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Why I Walk Into the Dojo

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Every Saturday morning I do what I never saw myself doing. I walk into a dojo.

I pull off my sneakers and walk onto the mats for a martial arts-style ladies’ self-defense class. During a pretty intense hour we punch, fall, roll, run, learn various ways to use everyday objects as weapons… I never know quite what to expect, but it’s always good. The class before last, we learned how to use two sizes of umbrellas to nail any attacker, causing enough pain to distract him. We learned how to double him over with groin pain, gag with a jab to the throat, legs collapsing from a blow to the back of the knees – apersonal favorite — or a good whack on a floating rib or two. Great fun to try them out on the instructor, who happens to be my bestie, Ka’en. And we train our minds into new and exciting paths: the way of a woman warrior.

The fact that I even darkened the dojo door in the first place, much less return on a weekly basis, is a bit of a mystery to me. As a kid I was a skinny, fluffy-haired outsider when it came to sports, staring at the ground when kids were picked for gym class games knowing I’d be one of the last three chosen. Chronically afraid of the ball and having a tendency to daydream seldom serves the team in the thick of a game. Joining a sports team? Unthinkable.

I was the kid literally out in left field (by choice) during gym class softball games in middle school, feeling the sun on my face, seeking out four-leaf clovers while the infield game hummed yards away. Once a ball rolled near my feet and some guy way back in the diamond hollered for me to Throw It! To whom??? So I threw it at the kid yelling, and got back to my clover quest. I was the kid staring into the gym rafters (is that a basketball up there?) when the volleyball shot my way and I caught it, stunned. I was the girl who got the basketball for our team and dribbled it with no one grabbing at it, my gym class teammates shouting what I thought was encouragement – and made a basket for the opposing team. I’d had my fill of humiliating stuff like this by the time I was in college. Fitness? I’ll work out by myself, thanks.

So why would I willingly join a group of ladies to literally throw myself on the floor, putting myself in compromising positions, sometimes with a man doing the compromising? What would make me choose to be put into choke holds, pinned to walls, or lay on the floor with some lady or guy on top of me so I could learn how to throw them off and run?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But I keep on coming back. This is what I do know:

  • I am worth protecting. This is a new concept for me. I’m a mother of four; the mama bear instinct is strong in me to protect them. And if you say something against my man or my friends, look out. But me? My go-to? Avoid conflict (run away – run away! Insert Monty Python guards here). It’s slowly seeping into my heart: God made me, so I’m valuable. I am worthy of protecting. So, by the way, are you.
  • I need tools and techniques so if I’m in danger I can use my training to overcome. I refuse to be a victim – but if I just blindly flail in the conflict, attackers will most likely have their way with me.
  • I need to do hard things to train my body and mind regularly so I’m ready for whatever comes. Going to the dojo every Saturday is often inconvenient, but it’s worth it. Heck, it’s becoming almost a compulsion, as I leave exhilarated. Every time.

When Ka’en, who’s been studying Ninpo for a couple of years now, first brandished bruises on her arms and legs I thought she was a little loopy, calling them her “training trophies.” So I smiled and nodded, indulging her — but really, that’s a little nuts, don’t you think?  And then a couple weeks ago I got a skinned elbow from throwing her off when she pinned me to a cement block wall. I found myself delighted – even proud – of my one-inch wound. I guess it’s a warrior thing, because now I love to feel the muscle pain the day after a workout, and scanning my limbs post-class for my own trophies. Another bruise? Yes!

So this scared little girl is finding her grit. In class, when we yell “Get OFF me!” and “No!” — our self-defense kiais — I feel the power surge. You will not violate me. I am worth protecting, and I need to keep disciplining myself to keep doing what seems counter-intuitive. Do the hard things in class behind closed doors, prepare for the unexpected. And keep practicing outside the dojo. Because there’s an enemy out there, and he doesn’t play fair. And I will defeat him if I stay focused and disciplined.

I still take time for daydreaming and chasing butterflies, wandering in fields of peace and joy. Because I carry the Spirit of God in me, I carry a deep well of joy under all the chaos that comes. And each day I prep for unknown, inevitable battles. This messed-up Earth’s a war zone, so it just makes sense.

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Every morning Leoa faces Heavenly Dad, clad in spirit armor. Bowing, I lay my sword at His feet, acknowledging His Lordship, awaiting orders. Often, He draws me in for a hug and some words of encouragement. He urges me to study His word to sharpen the sword I carry with His deep truths. I bask in His smile and hide His words in my heart. Then I lift the sword, sheath it, stride out of the throne room, carrying the King Himself in my soul.

And I face what comes knowing greater is He living in me than anything this world throws at me.

Together, we train.
Together, we fight.
Lion of Judah roars through Leoa’s kiais  —
And the god of this world shakes in his boots.

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