Weathering the Storms of Life (Part 2)

In my previous post, I told you about the recent storm that overtook my life and how God used the story of Mark 4:35-41, to speak to me.

Recovery from my storm took an unexpectedly long time. I developed pleurisy. It took three months for the fluid to leave my lungs, so breathing was challenging and painful. It also took three months for my red blood cell counts to get close to normal, so I was severely exhausted. I would lie down after lunch and not wake up until dinner.  Then I ended up in the ER two more times with atrial fibrillation. Both times I was dehydrated from the medication I was given to rid my lungs of fluid.bonnie_dripps

During those three months the world kept spinning. People were living their lives, and the ministry of DiscipleMakers was going splendidly. But somehow, I had gotten spun off the world.  I was isolated and lonely. It was humbling to realize how dispensable I was.

I started asking myself, “Is God really enough?”

When we suffer, life implodes. We want to know there is meaning in our suffering. We want see it make a difference. So, I began to pray that God would use my suffering to minister to others and show me his bigger story. He has answered that prayer as people continue to share how God used my storm to encouraged them in their storms.

It’s been over four months since the storm first hit. I still have not recovered all my strength. I was weeding my flower bed for five minutes, and my hands began trembling. I couldn’t write for a while. I am told that it could be nine months before my strength fully returns.

So what was God’s purpose in my storm?

I don’t know all the answers, but I do know that he showed me who he is more clearly than I’ve ever understood before. The Bible promises us that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). My knowledge of Christ gives me all I need for a godly life.

He showed me that my storm is part of a bigger story. He is weaving together my life with the lives of those around me.

The storm tested my faith and refined it. It showed me that we really can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil, for he is with us.

What is your storm right now? What are you afraid of? What causes you to doubt God’s love and goodness?

When storms overtake us, we can choose faith instead of fear by remembering the cross. Jesus gave up his life to rescue us. He cares. We can remember that he is right there in the boat with us and isn’t going anywhere! We can remember that he is commanding our storms. He is in control.

For years I have had a picture of a storm on the wall of my office. Underneath the picture, I wrote a quote from How People Change by counselors and authors, Paul Tripp and Tim Lane. It says:

“When you are in the middle of (storms), you haven’t somehow gotten yourself outside the circle of God’s love and care. God is simply taking you where you don’t want to go to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.”

Underneath this I wrote another quote: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) God is in our storms, refining us, completing us, making us like Jesus.

By his grace, we can dare to hope that we could actually join Jesus in peaceful sleep in the stern of our boat — even the midst of life’s worst storms. We only need to remember who Jesus really is.

Weathering the Storms of Life

Storms can suddenly and unexpectedly overtake us in life. And when they do, they present a multitude of opportunities to become fearful and anxious.

Bonnie DrippsMy recent storm began with months of sleepless nights when my heart felt like a herd of horses galloping in my chest. You’ve probably taken your car to the mechanic because it’s making a menacing noise, but when you get there, all is quiet. Then, on the way home, the menacing noise emerges again! So it was with my heart. The problem seemed to go into hiding whenever I stepped into the ER or wore a heart monitor. But one morning, after a sleepless night, I lost consciousness. The EMT’s were able to get evidence on the EKG that my heart was in paroxysmal rapid atrial fibrillation. That means it was unpredictably beating at 177 beats per minute, which my body could not sustain. I was hospitalized to get it under control.

I also have a rare blood cancer. I was diagnosed 13 years ago, and it has no cure. Without treatment, my blood becomes so thick that my organs shut down.This cancer and the medication I take for it, both suppress my immune system and increase my risk of infection.

While I was in the hospital being treated for the heart condition, I contracted a super bug — a nasty drug resistant bacteria. Treatment was a week of IV antibiotics. What no one realized until I returned home was that the antibiotics were creating a medium for an even more dangerous drug-resistant bacteria to grow. People regularly die from it.

A week later I was back in the hospital, in isolation. Fluid was filling my lung cavity and surrounding my heart. This made it difficult and painful to breathe. The bacteria suppressed my bone marrow so that I was not producing red blood cells. The doctors began talking about blood transfusions. The anemia was so intense that I fell asleep texting and talking with my husband. The doctors thought I may have blood clots in my lungs, so they did a CT scan. I’m allergic to CT scan dye, so for the next week, I had an angry rash over 25% of my body. Eleven pounds of water had taken up residence in my legs and feet. My fibromyalgia was very unhappy with the hospital bed, so my pain level was getting intense.

My body’s systems were like a row of dominoes. When the first one fell, they all came toppling down. The doctors were saying, “You are a complicated case. Nothing is straightforward with you.”

At the same time I discovered that my infant grandson was in the hospital on oxygen with RSV and pneumonia. Both he and my daughter had contracted it. She was staying at the hospital with him. My son-in-law was deployed. They were all the way across the US, and I couldn’t help them.

Storms lead us to ask questions. Did the medication set this all off? Do I need to stop the medication and go back to traditional chemo? Can my body endure chemo again? I was scheduled to speak at a women’s conference. Was I going to be able to keep my commitment? Since atrial fibrillation is unpredictable, was this the end of ministry as I had known it? But, there was one critical question I had to answer, and the answer would determine how I would weather this storm.

Who is Jesus?

Mark 4:35-41 tells us about a sudden fierce storm, the opportunity for fear and anxiety, the questions asked, and finally that critical question — Who is Jesus?

This passage ministered to me in my storm. Jesus had finished a long day of teaching the crowds by the Sea of Galilee. He asked his disciples to go to the other side of the lake to rest. When got in the boat, Jesus, exhausted, fell asleep on a cushion in the stern. Suddenly, a fierce storm overtook them. Waves were crashing and filling up the boat. I imagine the disciples were bailing fiercely. They were afraid for their lives, but Jesus slept through the storm! They were frustrated that he was not doing anything about their situation.

Isn’t this just like us? The storms of life hit, and we are scared and frustrated because it seems like Jesus is not doing anything about it. But Jesus knew that storm was going to hit. He knows everything. It was part of his plan to test their faith.

When God tests our faith, it’s not because he doesn’t know what we believe. It’s because we don’t know what we believe. Those tests reveal what we believe so that our faith can grow. Storms evoke a response of either faith or fear.

They woke Jesus and asked, “Teacher, don’t you care we are perishing?” First they called him teacher, not savior. How many mere teachers can heal diseases, cast out demons and raise a widow’s son from the dead? The disciples had seen Jesus’ power with their own eyes yet when the storm hit, they forgot.  Isn’t that like us?

Second, their question, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” exposed their doubt concerning Jesus’ care for them. Isn’t that one of our first responses when storms hit and things feel out of control? We doubt God’s goodness. “If he really cared, he would not allow this to happen to me.” Jesus doesn’t answer the disciples’ question. There had been plenty of evidence of his care for them.

We have even more evidence. Look at the cross! There, Jesus weathered the greatest storm anyone will ever experience in order to love and care for us. Surely, he will care for us in the smaller storms that overtake us in life.

Instead of answering their question, Jesus demonstrated once again who he is. He commanded the wind and sea to be quiet, and it calmed immediately. Then it was Jesus’ turn to ask the questions. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Faith is the opposite of fear. If they had faith in Jesus, they would not have been afraid. Jesus wanted them to remember all he had done. They saw his authority over sickness, demons and death. But, because they didn’t remember, he spoke to the wind and sea to demonstrate his authority over it. It’s easy to dismiss miracles that happen to others. But, this miracle was personal. It was happening to the disciples, in their boat, and it had tremendous impact.

They finally asked the critical question. “Who is this that even the wind and sea obey him?” They were beginning to see that Jesus is not just another teacher. What he did was the work of Elohim, the God who spoke creation into existence, commands it, and sustains it by his powerful word. This storm was planned to help them see who Jesus really is and to perfect their faith in him.

Thankfully, even though the disciples were fearful Jesus stayed with them through the storm. He does the same for us in our storms.

We are in the same boat as the disciples. When storms overtake us, we must answer the critical question: Who is Jesus? How we answer it will determine how we weather the storms of life.

(Bonnie Dripps helped her husband found DiscipleMakers in 1981.)

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Hope for Midlife

For the first time in my life my oldest child, Jack, beat me on a long distance run. Only a dozen years ago I held my sons hands to steady him as he learned to walk. Midlife can be cruel.

I visited my dad twice this past week. He is now in hospice care — stuck in bed, catheterized, and unable to stand or walk. Only a short time ago he carried me on his shoulders, and taught me how to throw a baseball. Cancer is cruel.

midlife_crisisI am 41 years old and I stand between my son and my dad.

I did not feel old a year ago but life circumstances have changed my perspective sooner than I anticipated. For the first time in my life I no longer feel like a young man. I am loathe to admit that I’ve reached life’s summit and will begin the second half of my journey — downhill.

So I will fight. I will run for two weeks without my son, and then ask for a rematch. I will re-read chapters of an excellent book on midlife by my friend Peter Greer40/40: Vision. I will make use of tools popularized by others. Meaning, I will:

  1. Mock old age. Bob Hope cracked, “I don’t feel old. I don’t feel anything till noon. That’s when its time for my nap.”
  2. Reclaim the perspective of a child. Henry Ford said, “Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
  3. Embrace the potential of age and silence my resentments. Pope John XXIII said, “Men are like wine — some turn to vinegar but the best improve with age.”
  4. Keep calm and carry on. Bette Davis warns, “Old age is no place for sissies.”
  5. Ponder slippery half-truths. Mark Twain claimed, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.”

And yet old age will creep closer with each passing day and I will desire more than clichés. So, I will turn to the Bible and attempt to see things from God’s perspective. I will:

  1. Remember God as I accept the inevitable.  “Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw nigh of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’… before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened (loss of sight) and the clouds return after the rain (incontinence)… and the grinders cease because they are few (loss of teeth) and the doors on the street are shut (loss of hearing)…before the silver cord is snapped… and the dust returns to the earth as it was (death), and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7)
  2. Rely upon Jesus to change the inevitable. “The dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable and this mortal body must put on immortality…then shall come to pass the saying, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’…Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:52-57)
  3. Return to hopeful living. “[Because of Jesus’ resurrection] be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. When death is defeated, life will be measured in millennia not years. When decay is reversed we will age stronger, not weaker. And when God restores his creation, all that is broken will be made new.

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Hope at Halftime

Peter Greer, President and CEO of Hope International, has written a new book called 40/40 vision: Clarifying your Mission in Midlife.  It is hot off the press. The parts I’ve read are excellent. Here is a summary of the book from Amazon:

517I65DyK6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_“At midlife, our perspective can become blurry.

Midlife is a disruptive season where we collide with limitations on all sides. We recognize there is more of life in the rearview mirror than on the road ahead of us. We wonder if our lives so far have been worthwhile. We are uncertain about what lies ahead.

But midlife is also an opportunity to recalibrate our vision. It’s a time to look back, take stock of our lives so far, and refocus on new dimensions of identity and calling.

Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty offer insight for navigating midlife with fresh clarity and purpose. Drawing on the wisdom of the book of Ecclesiastes, they show how we can come to grips with the realities of who we are and what we should become in the years ahead. In a world that can seem meaningless at times, God offers perspective that anchors us, renews us and propels us back into the world in meaningful mission and service.

Rediscover who God has called you to be. And see the rest of your life with the clarity of 40/40 vision.”