Sunday, January 10, 2010

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Rejoice Always ... even from a Wheelchair!


Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word
.” (Ps. 119:67)

Rejoice always, ...” (1 Th. 5:16)

This post is something of a follow-up to Jailer’s post “Doesn’t God Want Me to be Happy?” and my own post “Hard, but Amazing Grace”:

The second post deals with the fact that many come to Christ only after having made a real mess of their lives - and many relationships. Others, despite real faith, may persist in “simplicity” and likewise make that sort of mess, before finally humbling themselves before the Lord and submitting to Him. But then, while the Lord does “lift them up” (1 Pt. 5:6), rather than snatching them out of all that and into earthly bliss, the Lord puts them to work living with that mess, making it better where they can, and letting their faith glorify Him in the midst of it all.

Jailer’s post deals with the refusal of many Christians to accept that there may be things in this life that they simply may not have, at least not for their good. The two posts are connected in that this refusal is “simplistic”, in the sense of some of my earlier posts, and so is an important mechanism in the process many “little ones” in the church use to make that mess of their lives. One thinks, for instance, of the role that “Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” plays in so many of God’s little ones entering into relationships that will cause them lifelong heartache.

The subject of this post is a story of that sort, of one of His children, a dear friend, who came back to Him, only after many years of ignoring Him, and who, having left Him as a vital young woman, came back to Him much older, and as a stroke victim in a wheelchair. I think of her whenever I think of the subject of a “life verse”. Hers was Psalm 119, verse 67:

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.


Before she was stricken, my friend would have been seen by the world as a bright, effective, energetic and successful professional. But, though raised in the church, she had long since decided to live apart from God. Of course she did not altogether despise His precepts. Even in this “crooked and twisted generation” (Phil. 2:15), it’s hard to succeed doing that. But still, she did “what was wise in her own eyes” (Pr. 3:7). To her eventual dismay, she let that mindset also affect her response to her doctor’s warnings about being careful to take her blood pressure medicine. The result was a major stroke, which left her paralyzed on one side of her body. In addition to the purely physical effects, while she was by no means left mentally incompetent, she testified often to being slower in grasping things than she had been.

As another consequence, she was left with medical expenses that all too quickly gobbled up all her assets and left her supported only by Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income. That situation, in turn, left her in a nursing home near our church, where the arrangement was that the government check went to the nursing home provider, except for $35 which was left for her to spend each month on odds and ends. Along with that, life in the nursing home had many frustrations, including the fact that any valuables which the patients might have were often stolen. Many of them became quite bitter over all this, and the bitterness often seemed to harden them. My friend wrestled with these feelings.

Then, one day, just as we were closing up after a morning worship service, there she was: We were a presbyterian church and she had been raised in a presbyterian church, and so asked about worshipping with us. We straightened matters out where worship times were concerned and she began to attend. After a while, she asked about joining the congregation, and satisfied the elders that her profession was genuine. I won’t go into the details about my subsequent involvement in the life of this dear sister, or of that of several others in our congregation, but we were an important part of her life, and she of ours, up until the time of her death.

As I indicated above, when we knew her, she was not nearly as quick mentally as she had been while in the world, and so there is no dazzling story about books written, or classes taught, or anything of that sort. There’s just the story of a simple life of faith in a wheelchair, lived before - and encouraging - a few of her brothers and sisters in Christ. But, in the essential sense, she was able to “rejoice always” (1 Th. 5:16), and she helped all of us to do so too.

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