suf·fer (sfr) – v. suf·fered, suf·fer·ing, suf·fers
1. To feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm, or punishment.
2. To tolerate or endure evil, injury, pain, or death.
©Stefani Bush – Hope Rising December 9th, 2012
(Please forgive the raw and imperfect nature of the video, but I just wrote this last week and felt led to share it with you all. This will be the title song for my upcoming album also!)
This past year has been a tough one for our family for many reasons, and yes…we’ve had our fair share of suffering.
For me, I guess I’ve had to take a long hard look at my life, my expectations, and realize that, despite our suffering, we have been witness to great joy. Despite our tears, we have known contagious laughter. Despite our anger, we have known brilliant happiness. Despite our fear, we have known endless peace. Truthfully, over the past 9 years, I have been no stranger to suffering – we’ve actually gotten to know each other quite well. I have definitely had moments in which I’ve questioned the reasoning for all the struggle, pain, tears, fear, and heartache. I’ve had a lot of late night, desperate conversations with God trying to understand why God would allow my sweet and innocent children to suffer. It took years to fully understand and accept that ‘suffering‘ wasn’t just about what was happening to me, or my kids…it was about how that ‘suffering‘ was changing us and the lives of those around us.
Several years ago, my son and I had a conversation that changed my life forever.
Will had been feeling really sick and miserable, and he just broke down and started sobbing. He said to me, through tears, “Why did God make me broken? I don’t want to be broken!“
In that moment, it felt like everything stopped – I could almost hear the blood rushing through my heart with each beat. How could I respond with the words he needed to hear when even *I* myself had struggled with this question???
I took a deep breath and replied with this:
“Will, my sweet boy…we are ALL broken in our own way, and God USES our brokenness to change lives, help others, and grow us into the person He needs us to be.”
I explained how my brokenness was that I couldn’t keep all my ‘automatic stuff’ (like temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate regulation) in check.
He asked how God had used his brokenness….
And I told him, “Because of YOUR immune deficiency (and Sasha’s), we started doing blood drives…and because of those blood drives – thousands of men, women and children’s lives had been changed or saved.”
I saw a tiny smile creep across his quivering lips, he took took a deep breath in, bravely wiped his tear stained cheeks and quietly said, “Well, if that’s the way it has to be….okay.“
I thought to myself, ‘if only we all could have that faith like obedience when faced with tremendous struggle.‘
It was in that moment, that I began to truly realize how our suffering in our lives had given birth to great blessing. I had spent SO much time blinded by the suffering – that I was not able to see all the blessing that came from it. It was only in retrospect that I realized that, despite everything we go through, our Suffering Bleeds Joy.
Suffering in your life can be a bridge or a barrier, it can be the thing that brings you closer to others or it can be the thing that tears you away from the joy and light in this world.
Often times, we are so wrapped up in our suffering, that we (in that moment) can’t see the bridge and are too afraid to reach out to others for fear of judgement, rejection, or criticism – that we instead create a barrier in hopes to protect what little is left of our fragile hearts. What we don’t realize is that – because we instinctively retract, we basically are forbidding ourselves the support, healing, grace, and ultimately….joy that is waiting for us.
I’ve spent a countless hours talking with other people walking the road of Suffering, and the one common denominator that separates the ‘survivors‘ from the ‘victims‘ is that, those who reveal their wounds, their hurts, their anger, their doubt, their apathy, their fears, their aspirations,their dreams, their hope, their joy…those are the people who are able to find comfort and peace – and ultimately, a sense of freedom (even in the midst of crippling suffering). That’s not to say that they don’t struggle, have worries or feel emotionally desperate…they just are able to take that suffering and still find a way to shine the light through it.
I’ve had people tell me that I am like a “Super-Hero Mom” who effortlessly just breezes through all my struggles as if it were just petals on the wind swirling by. I can’t tell you how far from the truth that truly is! I struggle, I cry, I hurt, I doubt, I get angry, I make mistakes, I get lost, I throw temper tantrums…BUT…I also pray, reach out, write, sing, praise, and have HOPE. It wasn’t easy to change my focus from “Suffering” to “Joy” – it was a lot of work, it was a lot of tears, it was a lot of humbling myself and listening to what others had to say (that I didn’t want to hear), and it was a lot of trust and learning to surrender to God and His Plan. There are times, even NOW that I struggle…after all, I am only human.
What do I mean by all of this????
All of us, at one time or another, have endured suffering. Many of us take that suffering and shove it into the darkest corner of our souls and forbid it to ever see the light of day again.
Some of us choose to take that suffering and share it with others…not so that pity falls upon us, so that we may share our struggles to show others they are not alone, so we may be encouraged and lifted up when we need it most, but most importantly – so that we may be a testament of God’s Love and Grace.
When one thinks of all the anger, suffering, and loss that occurs in this world, the human side of us desperately looks for a place to lay the blame for all of it. All too often, I hear the blame fall squarely on the shoulders of God.
Psalm 42:10 says
“My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
If you listen to the words in the song I embedded at the top of this blog post, I tell you where He was…
He was WITH ME…God wasn’t absent, God was there, even if I didn’t see Him, feel Him, or want Him to be there…HE WAS THERE. I just wanted him to fix everything and make it all sunshine and roses. I was being unrealistic and demanding that life go the way that *I* wanted it to go, and not the way HE planned it to go.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Well if God is such a ‘Just and Great God’ – then WHY did he allow THIS to happen to me?”
“Why does God allow HIS people to suffer?”
“I put all my faith in Him and my life isn’t the way it should be.”
I could go on and on with all the ‘blame game‘ sentiments that I’ve heard, but when it all comes down to it – it all means the same thing:
People think that GOD should protect them from suffering. People think that, because they believe in GOD, they should be free from suffering.
While that’s a wonderful sentiment, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Romans 8:38-39 says
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This scripture talks about good AND bad happening and how God will always be with us through it. It doesn’t say, “Believe in God and you will be set for life.”
Truth is, I don’t know why bad things happen to good people…or why the young and innocent leave the earth too soon and in ways that tear your soul out of you and leave it weeping endlessly. I just can’t wrap my brain around it…but what I do know is that we are not alone. I truly believe that the path God sets for you will not lead where His Love cannot hold you and carry you.
I wanted to share with you 2 families who have taken their suffering and shared it with the world – raw, unedited, and honest about their struggles, their fears, and their weakness. During the worst of times, their suffering has bled joy.
Rebecca Arthurs Photography
Up until this past August, life for them was pretty much ‘normal‘ – they were busy raising 2 beautiful and very young children (Hunter and Liam), touring and sharing their incredible music (and faith in God), Becky was making fantastic handbags, and they were just living in the moment.
Becky started to have a little discomfort in her chest – she found that she had this bump in the center of her chest, but it felt superficial so she really didn’t seem to bother with it – she thought it was a pulled muscle. Soon after, Becky started feeling unwell, and short of breath. It got to the point where she could no longer ignore it, and she went to the ER to get checked out. Turns out Becky had a liter of fluid around her heart called a Pericardial Effusion. The fluid was making it almost impossible for her heart to pump properly and was a true life-threatening emergency. Unfortunately, that was not the end of their medical journey…Becky received a phone call from her doctor that the lump that she thought was a pulled muscle was cancer. It was that moment that the world stopped turning and everything came to a screeching halt. Becky was diagnosed with Stage 4 Large Cell Type B Lymphoma.
Suddenly everything was moving fast…so fast that it felt like they couldn’t even get their bearings.
Jonas stopped everything and began to re-evaluate the way he was living his life:
“I don’t who you are out there reading this stuff. Maybe it stirs your heart to see what we’re going through. That moves us. But please consider that we are believers in Jesus. I know to many this is an instant uncomfortable moment, but for us, it’s our life. This is why we have peace, not because we were taught to but because this is just one of many times in our lives where God has proven his love to us. Some see this as God’s punishment, some may see it as a sheer coincidence, we see it as the big picture. So far I’ve learned two very massive lessons. I’m going to tell you these even though it is extremely uncomfortable for me. 1st lesson learned: My faith is easily shaken. I sing about not being worried, and I sing about trusting that God has a plan. When it came out that Becky has cancer, I was lost. I knew the answers but I was still lost. I was confronted by my faith as I sat alone one night in the shower. It was an overwhelming sense of comfort followed by a massive sense of my loss of control. I’m a control freak (no surprise to anyone). Confronting that reality was so hard, but letting go and allowing God to do what He does best was a great relief to me. 2nd VERY HARD LESSON: I’m not the husband that I should be. It’s easy in the middle of something like this to get scared. Shoot, we thought Becky was dying 3 weeks ago. She was telling me what to do with the boys, how to raise them! We were both crying and terrified. As I sat there watching Becky rest with her eyes closed, all I could think was how much of a failure I’ve been as her husband. I’m a good dad, but a pretty lousy husband. My failure showed up in me pouring myself into my kids and giving whatever was left to my wife. She got the leftovers and there wasn’t all that much to give. I found that I put myself first in almost every situation. Needless to say, that changed in one night as I sat there watching my wife die, or at least I thought she was. Through this experience I’m learning to let go of my control and let go of myself. I have a lot more to learn but I’m EXTREMELY grateful that God would chose to use Becky and I to minister to you. Whatever that means. Becky truly believes that God is using her Lymphoma to help us grow closer to each other and more importantly to TRUST IN GOD MORE!”
Over the next 3 1/2 months, Becky and Jonas continued to share their journey though Suffering with the world in raw and unfiltered blog posts – humble yet hopeful entries that, many times, brought me to tears – because I could relate on so many levels. Becky wrote something that resonated with me as it is the way I’ve looked at many things:
“There are so many lessons we’re learning as a family. And I think the tough one that I’m face to face with is just that fact that this life is not my own. Although I’d love to be healthy and carefree and for this to pass IMMEDIATELY I have to realize that my life is to bring glory to God. And if that means I suffer in order for that to happen, that’s what needs to happen. If someone’s eyes are opened to God’s LOVE and his PROVISION and his PEACE through all of this….it’s all worth it! It’s hard to say that when you’re having a pity party for yourself, but I know in my heart that God’s plan is so much bigger than I’ll ever understand. I have to keep trusting. And God has never failed me. I can be mad I’m going through this, but at the same time…. I can’t stop praising him. He’s such a good God and I know He’s gone before me and He’s holding my hand through all of this. So…one day at a time!”
And even when the worst of the news just kept coming, Becky continued to be real and honest with the world about how she was feeling:
“I found out that the PETscan revealed some cancerous spots in my nodes in my throat and some in my lung as well as the mass I knew about in the sternum area. Just knowing it’s IN my lung… spread some in my throat… not comforting!! (it’s not lung cancer, still lymphoma… still stage 4…still treated same way) But they said because it’s not in just once location, I have a higher chance of it coming back after remission and treatment. And that if that happens the prognosis isn’t that good. (at least I think that’s what the guy said).”
And was able to find comfort in scriptures to guide her…
“…don’t be afraid, I have rescued you. I have called you by name; now you belong to me. When you cross deep rivers, I will be with you, and you won’t drown. When you walk through fire, you won’t be burned or scorched by the flames. I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, the God who saves you.” Isaiah 43: 1-3″
And was even able to share the things learned…
“Lessons learned this week:
– Silence is Powerful and sometimes imperative
– Victory can be found in anything if we keep our perspectives in order
– Real love is only conditional if we don’t understand the definition of love
– God is TRULY a comforter
– Cancer can be a gift (hard to type this but it’s true in our case)”
Becky is almost done her Chemo, and she is 99% Cancer free…but she has a very high risk of it reoccurring, so that ‘worry’ will always loom…but she keeps her HOPE alive by holding tight to her faith in God.
A few weeks ago, The Stable Coffeehouse did a surprise fundraiser for them (they thought they were coming to play for a family in need, when in actuality – THEY were the family we were raising money for!). It was a wonderful night of joy, blessing, truth, and HOPE.
Beast ADORED Becky!
Sasha thought Jonas was just the “Bees Knees”
These two lit up the stage and poured themselves out to us, it was awesome!
Liz, Kurt, Jonas, Becky, Me, and Beast
Will just fell in love with Becky and Jonas
And their journey through HOPE and FAITH is one in which others share and travel with them…
Meet the Menswar Family….
This is another family that was living a busy life. Emily was spending her days as a teacher at a local school, Brant was busy touring with his band, Big Kettle Drum
and also being one of the founders and pastors of Nomad Community Church
, and Brady and Theo were busy playing sports, video games and just being kids…..until Theo became ill. Emily and Brant stopped living ‘life
‘ as they knew it and began to search for answers. This search led them on a long and uncertain journey that took them out of state and left them with out of pocket expenses that were overwhelming…but they finally found their answer. Sadly, it wasn’t one they were prepared for.
Theo Menswar, a loving and wonderful 14-year old boy was diagnosed with Myleodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). MDS is a rare blood disease that requires a bone marrow transplant to treat and hopefully cure this disease. If left untreated, the disease can progress to become Acute Myeloid Leukemia and seriously hinder his chances of survival.Theo has been out of school since November 2011 awaiting a diagnosis and treatment plan. With the diagnosis now confirmed, his bone marrow transplant was set for August 9, 2012. He was admitted to the hospital on July 26, 2012, underwent a bone marrow transplant on August 9th, 2012. The full recovery process will take the better part of a year and will force him to miss his first year of high school. While the odds have stacked against him, Theo has remained in good spirits and is an amazing Warrior of Light.
I met Theo’s dad, Brant online through my friend, Kurt. He wanted to connect us because he knew that we both would be able to relate to the struggle, the heartache….and the hope that one feels when facing a battle with a formidable beast. Immediately I felt like I had known Brant forever, and my heart just went out to him, his wife, Theo and Brady. The months following that were ones of fellowship, prayer, and sharing. Emily kept family and friends updated on a Caringbridge Journal (and still does, nightly!) sharing the daily happenings, and Brant shared his gratitude, praise and heartfelt pleas. One of the most heartfelt updates from his dad was written the night before his transplant was to occur:
“Tomorrow at 10am, Theo will get a new lease on life. The bone marrow from the donor has been collected and arrived at the hospital at 3:25pm today. The process is surprisingly simple. They hang the marrow from his IV pole and open it up fully. It can take as little as 15 minutes or up to a few hours to complete. It then takes up to 2 weeks to fully engraft itself into Theo’s body. The next week will be the toughest on Theo. His body will try to reject the marrow causing him to run a fever and feel all around like poo. Today, however, Theo feels great! He had a few days of vomiting non stop but it seems to have passed for now. I know we have had thousands of people praying from Florida to India to Australia and back. I also know that many of you are participating in the 24 hours of prayer for Theo throughout the day tomorrow. Please know that they are working and we are energized and ready for tomorrow. They refer to transplant day around here as a “second birthday”. As Christians, we know we are already born-again. At Nomad we say we are born-again-again since we are finally realizing what it means to actually be a Christ follower. Now, Theo is born-again-again-again! Always needing to outdo the rest of us;) Wonder who he gets that from? Love to you all…the countdown to Day 0 is on!!! T-17 hours and counting…”
Even when doing what was necessary was terrifying, they went with Faith and Trust that this was the path they needed to travel…they still kept HOPE shining…
“TRANSPLANT FINISHED! It took way longer than expected…but the entire bag of marrow is now in Theo. His body will freak out a bit over the next week as it tries to engraft into his body, but the big step is completed. Thank you to all who prayed for us today and we ask that you keep praying until we can report the transplant has fully engrafted. Still a long road ahead but we are walking towards the light…”
And when things were at their worst, they reached out instead of holding it all in…
THEO UPDATE: it’s been a very difficult night. Theo has lost 6 liters of blood since last night. He is now in ICU. No one knows why he is bleeding. They are going to do a scope but are trying to keep his blood pressure stable. Things are pretty scary at the moment. We need prayer.
And Theo, man – he is just so down to earth, so bright, so REAL and HONEST with how he feels…whether it is hopeful, optimistic, reflective, goofy, or frustrated…
Elvis Has Entered The Building!
Emily and Brant have been such an inspiration to our family…
And Brady has been through so much, and still is smiling…and even got the lead in the school’s winter solstice play!
Their journey has touched lives across the globe!
And hearts close to home…
Not because they were chosen but because they were willing to be the ‘Bridge‘ and not the ‘Barrier‘ between suffering and joy.
When we went to Florida in October, we had the incredible blessing of being able to MEET the community of Nomad and also Brant, Emily, Brady, and Theo in the flesh! It was a wonderful meeting. I was so excited to just wrap my arms around all of them and give them a squeeze! Will and Sasha had been praying for Theo and following his journey all along the way, so they were beyond excited to finally get to MEET him!
One of my favorite pictures
And I was able to share with him the song I had written for him on the day of his Bone Marrow Transplant, called ‘Warrior of Light’.
As the months have gone on, Theo’s road has not been easy….but Theo continues to persevere, the family never stops praying, we never stop praying, and the doctors never stop trying~ even when things are tough, they are faithful and the doctors are creative.
“THEO UPDATE: Hey friends. Thank you for the prayers. They worked! Theo was released from ICU this afternoon and is back in his Bone Marrow Unit Room resting. We are going to try a new drug to see if we can get control of this Graft Vs Host Disease. We have to get special permission to try this drug but we are hopeful that this will do a better job than the steroids. Check this out…When the Dr’s went into find where the bleed was, what they found could not have produced 7 liters of blood. They were completely baffled. One of our nurses said, “Well, either we haven’t found the source of the bleed OR God healed it before we could go in to see.” We know how many thousands of you are praying…just thought you’d like to know WE GAVE YOU THE CREDIT;) Love you…thank you for walking next to us and holding us up when we want to just fall and cry…the last few days were the hardest yet. We wouldn’t have made it through without you…Love & Light…”
Today, as of this blog post, Theo is 120 days post Bone Marrow Transplant and continues to struggle with Graft Vs. Host disease. The battle is not over, but the war is in God’s Hands. our prayers continue…
I could go on and on about Becky, Jonas, Brant, Emily, Theo, Brady…and the countless others who have gone through unimaginable storms in their lives…some are still going through them. Some of these storms, I still struggle to understand that purpose of, but I keep thinking about how we are often just too close to the moment to see the bigger picture.
The past, present and future for all of us is like an incredible tapestry, and all of us have our own unique and amazing thread that gets woven into it. Our thread has hues that, alone, have no meaning or pattern. Sometimes we are just TOO close to see the beauty of our own thread, the meaning of its colors – let alone how it changes the entire tapestry. We can’t fathom how any of what we go through makes any sense…so we must learn to have faith that God’s Plan is Perfect – and, when it is time for us to step back and see the tapestry in all its beauty, we will be amazed and in awe.
Brant and I were having a conversation last week about the cliché, “You’re never given more than you can handle.”
Both of us disagree with this sentiment. I mean, seriously….if we’re never given more than we can handle, what do we need God and each other for????
A lot of times we are given more than we can handle…and that is when we turn our hearts to God and ask for His Strength. God gives us everything we need – He surrounds us with people in our lives that can lift us up, carry us, encourage us, walk with us, and push us to keep moving. The key is that we have to be willing to let those people into our lives and into our hearts, and we have to learn to surrender our pride and allow others to see our weakness, our struggle, and our needs. There is no shame in suffering and there is no shame in being vulnerable, afraid, or weak.
Ask yourself this…
Who hopes for what he already has???? Who works for something they don’t need???
Romans 8:24-25 says
“in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
You see, SUFFERING does not occur because God abandons us…as a matter of fact, the reality is that SUFFERING exists no matter what you believe. It’s what you do with that SUFFERING that matters most. Learning to take your suffering and surround it with HOPE until the joy arrives can be painful, daunting, and frustrating – but it can be done!
Romans 5:3-5 says
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
God never promised us that we would be free from suffering because we believed in him, on the contrary, the bible highlights countless stories and scripture that discuss SUFFERING. Suffering (or a past/present tense of the word) appears 184 times in the bible. Clearly, even back then, people suffered whether they believed in Him or not.
The reality is that none of us are immune to suffering, but those of us who choose to follow Christ have a promise that we will NEVER be alone in our suffering.
Isaiah 40:30-31 says
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
So please, those of you suffering…hang in there…I promise you, that Suffering Bleeds Joy…often when you least expect it.
It’s up to you whether you build a bridge or a barrier between the two.
If you want to help The Woods Family
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with their medical bills, you can click HERE
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Love and Light,
*A HUGE “Thank You” to the Woods and Menswar Families for allowing me to share their stories, their pictures, and their lives with all of you!