Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Value in the Struggle

It is the last day of 2013.  I'm keenly aware that I just posted yesterday, but I don't want this year to end or next year to begin without making this message pivotal today and always:  There is Value in the Struggle.

This lesson in living is the content of a blog post written by our dear & beloved friend, surrogate son & Pastor in Arizona, Greg Rohlinger.  He's endured a 3 year free-fall into a disease known as Multiple System Atrophy (MSA in short).  It behaves much like M.S., Lou Gehrig's & Parkinson's all rolled into one.  It is fatal, but not until it has robbed you of every stitch of independence & dignity synonymous with it's characteristics.  

No one with MSA has lived beyond nine years.  Most succumb within 2-5 years.  Greg's now 3 years into it.  Worse, he has the most aggressive form of the disease.  That said, he expects a miraculous healing, all the while looking for the goodness & grace to be found while enduring.   

So I say to myself this morning:  Listen up, Kathleen.  This is what it looks like to see God's hand in everything, even everything that remains when all seems lost.

Greg speaks:

Last night when I went to bed I was cold. Lori put a couple blankets over me to help warm me up.  She even tucked the blankets in over my shoulders to ensure that I’d stay warm over night. It worked well, and I quickly fell asleep.

This morning I woke up before sunrise, I’m guessing around 6:15. When I first woke up, I realized that I couldn’t move at all; nothing worked.  I tried moving my arms, my legs, even my eyelids … no luck. 

As I lay there, I began to wonder, “Is today the day the doctors have been warning me that would, at some point in this process, be the one on which I lose the ability to control my movements?  Could this really be the day?"

I took a moment to thank God for waking me up today, and then made the determination that if I had anything to do with it, today would not be the day. 

I quoted some off my favorite Scriptures, reminding myself that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength I need.” Then I went to work.

I focused and tried to move my arms; but the blankets were too heavy and too tight for me to move them. I focused and tried my hardest until finally my eyelids began to open just enough to allow me to survey the room. Although blurry, I could tell it was still dark.

I continued to push with all my strength, trying to move my arms. I grabbed at a wrinkle, and tried to move the blankets off of me.  Slowly, inch by inch I was able to nudge it off of my shoulders. Straining with everything I had to break out from the weight of the blankets enveloping me, I realized I am living out the illustration I’ve used in my message “Value in the Struggle”:  I am the butterfly in the cocoon.

It’s a familiar story to all of us; the caterpillar finds a branch or leaf, spins himself into a cocoon, and then goes through a metamorphosis. Over a period of time the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. When the transformation is complete, the butterfly begins the hard process of breaking out of the cocoon.  He struggles and pushes and slowly breaks through the cocoon, frees himself of its constraints and is able to fly away.

If you want to short-circuit what God is doing in the life of a butterfly, help him out of his cocoon. The problem is, if you make it easier for the butterfly by peeling away the cocoon, it will come out of the cocoon with underdeveloped wings, unable to fly.  It is in the process of struggling to break out of the cocoon, pushing and straining against its constraints that the bolo begins to flow into the wings and the wings develop their strength.  When the butterfly finally breaks out of the cocoon, it’s ready to fly. 

There is value to the struggle; God designed it that way!

As I struggled to break free from the constraint of the blankets, I had to laugh at the irony of my situation. I determined I was going to do this. I wasn’t going to call out & wake up Lori to help me. I was going to win this battle. I fought with all my strength, at points resting, sometimes falling back asleep. I watched the sunrise through the blinds. I continued to fight, resisting the feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to make it.  I asked God to help me; to give me the strength to do this. After more than 2 hours, I finally broke out, moving the blankets enough to lift my arms and move them freely.

It felt like a major victory to get my arms out from underneath the blankets. I laid in bed and quietly celebrated that today was indeed, not the day I would stop moving. 

I did wake up Lori, asking her to give me my morning meds. I continued my struggle and by 10:00 a.m. I was able to move my legs. With each small victory I was reminded “there is value in the struggle”. It was a great feeling when I finally rose out of bed and grabbed my walker to make my way out to the kitchen.

I don’t know what you’re struggling with today: maybe it’s the struggle to save your broken marriage, maybe it’s the financial struggle to make ends meet, maybe it’s the struggle to find significance in your life. I don’t know what your struggle is, but I do know that there is value in your struggle. God has designed it that way. The great news is you don’t’ have to do this alone. Ask God to help you. He has promised He will never leave nor forsake you. Keep fighting, keep struggling…you may not understand why you’re going through this, or how you’re going to make it, but God is going to use this to develop you, to make you more like Jesus. 

From one butterfly to another, there is value in your struggle!

The Rohlinger Family, July 4, 2013
L-R, Brittany (family friend), Greg (standing), Lori,
Zachary, Jake & Brooke (riding Greg's scooter), and Josh

Monday, December 30, 2013

Remains of the Year

For the past four years I have benefited greatly from the teaching of Pastor Art ~ an animated & godly man given to solid Bible exposition, humor & practical applications.  Recently he spoke of vicissitudes; those unbidden & unwelcome circumstances that often impact a life; those circumstances that sometimes leave us feeling all is lost.  His primary point:  Don't focus on what is lost (or gained), but on what remains.  

The message has returned to my thoughts repeatedly.  I hold it up to the light as if to see it better, or to see through it.  It contains more facets than an emerald-cut diamond.  Wisdom always does.  

It's not such a new or novel concept ... this business of where we train our focus.  But it's certainly one that percolates on the proverbial back burner, often unless or until something, or everything falls apart.  We know it by it's many similes, like looking at a half full versus a half empty glass ~ which, as you probably know, takes much practice.  Paul describes it this way:

I am not saying this because I am in need, 
for I have learned to be content 
whatever the circumstances. 
I know what it is to be in need, 
and I know what it is to have plenty. 
I have learned the secret of being content 
in any and every situation, 
whether well fed or hungry, 
whether living in plenty or in want.
I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:11-13 

From where I sit today, I can see 2014 in full view.  I've no choice but to head in its direction, but I do have a choice about whether what remains of 2013 is enough for the journey.  It's not so much about what I've gained, or want to gain.  Instead of carving new resolutions, I find myself taking stock of all that is ~ not what could be, as is so often my inclination.  

The remains of the year ~ a year of highs & lows, joys & sorrows, frightful possibilities & precious realities, dashed dreams & new adventures, a continued loss of youth & the garnering of age's wisdom ~ are worth treasuring.  I am mindful of & grateful for the the entire lot.  

No matter where I go or what I do ~ be it today or in 2014 ~ He is ALWAYS already there.  What more could I possibly need?

Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know Me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth ~ 
for in these I delight.
Jeremiah 9:23-24  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Avoiding Life's Malotia

I have no idea what was his real name.  If ever I knew it, I have long since forgotten it since we only lived in proximity for about nine months.  But I do recall that he liked to be called Wolfman.  He had an affinity for the plight of wolves in the wild.  

Mostly I recall his unique affinity for jargon, Word Junkie that I am!

Why this has come to mind today I cannot say.  Perhaps it's because I'm doing my level best to focus on key priorities instead of laboring over the trivial.  It's a delicate balance, this merging of the Mary & Martha in me.  Wolfman's perspective helps a great deal.

One day, while visiting across the lane with him, he shared a story about his days managing a labor force.  The details are lost to me now, but I still laugh ~ often aloud ~ when I hear the word minutiae (pronounced minoosha).  Think "trivial". Wolfman used the word malotia in its stead.  What's more, he used it every time he spoke, and in every application conceivable.  Never mind it has no  Merriam Webster endorsement.    

"It bothered me no end when people would get caught up 
in the malotia instead of the things that really mattered!"

"I need to take care of a lot of malotia before 
getting my taxes done."

Get the drift?

Are you laughing yet?

I never felt lead to correct Wolfman.  It was just far too much fun anticipating how he'd use malotia the next time.  Besides, I would never have had today's lividity levity had I done so.  I would also not have discovered a new take on Martha's obsession with malotia.