A Toothache, Tylenol, and Wise Words from Mom

I recently saw a sign that read, “If at first you don’t succeed, try doing it the way your mom told you to in the first place.” This is so true! And my mom is the wisest person I know. (She just is, and if you think yours is wiser, well you’re just wrong. You can ask my brother and sister.)  And so in honor of Mother’s Day, I want to share a little of her wisdom with you:

So – a week ago I had a tooth pulled. It hurt! It’s a week later – it hurts worse than ever. Saturday was one of the first Saturdays in a very long time that I could “sleep in” but I was up, showered and ready for the day by 7:30 a.m. Why? It wasn’t because I was feeling particularly ambitious, but rather because I couldn’t sleep anyway due to a throbbing toothache. I had pain medication that kept it somewhat at bay. I had also tried icing my face and toothache drops, and Tylenol, but nothing seemed to help. By 2:30 on Monday I finally decided to call back to the oral surgeon for some much needed pain relief. So, back to Ames I went to find out I had “dry socket”. toothache
Pain is a really amazing invention. It’s our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong and in need of attention. But why is it so hard to call on the one that can help the most with the discomfort we are experiencing?

This whole episode sort of reminds me of how we deal with pain and difficulties in our daily lives. We struggle and struggle and try to ease the pain or fix the problem on our own. All the while, God is waiting with open arms for us to run to Him. He is the one we should seek. He is the one that can bring healing. He is where we will find comfort and rest. For my toothache, I needed to seek help from the surgeon, but for the difficulties I face as I live out my life – I need to run to God and He will wrap me in His arms and give me comfort and healing and satisfy all my needs.

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The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11

Until next time, may you find comfort and joy in Him even in the times of trial and pain.
Be blessed!
Judy Cleveland

Not only is my mom full of wise words, but she’s also tough as nails. (I spoke to her several times during this incident and she never said a word about the pain.) Her experience with pain and delay in calling the doctor got me thinking about how I handle my own hurts. Why is it that at times I’m so hesitant to let God know about my pain? When He’s the ultimate healer and source of all comfort, why do I resist letting Him into the wounded areas of my life? Is it pride? Is it fear? Is it stubbornness? Is it lack of trust that He’ll meet me in the hurt? Is it that I’m blaming Him for the pain? Do I question if He really cares?

I don’t need to wonder, Scripture is clear that as a loving father, God does care and does want to comfort. God just doesn’t always provide the answer or the comfort in the way I want Him to. Here’s the rest of the story. After a trip back to the doctor, my mom was told that her tooth was healing, but was simply going to hurt through the healing process. She was comforted to know there wasn’t any additional problems, but the pain remains. Sometimes God doesn’t comfort by taking away the pain, but by assuring us that it will get better in time. Really, that’s what good parents do. They don’t always take the pain away from their children, at least mine didn’t! And it is in those moments that I find I grow, become stronger, and mature the most. And as His beloved child, God wants what is best for me, even if it means experiencing some pain! And He wants to walk with me through the painful times. I need trust Him with my pain and receive His comfort, even if it isn’t the kind of comfort I want!

Running with Jesus

I hate running. I’d rather watch FRIENDS reruns than pound the pavement any day. I hate sweating. I hate my lungs burning and gasping for air. I hate how sore I get. And I believe with all of my heart that workout clothes are just as useful for a lazy Saturday afternoon as they are for the gym. But…I want to be healthy and running makes me feel healthy. And not just physically healthy, but running makes me feel spiritually healthy too. The physical and the spiritual are connected and it seems that so often we forget that truth. God created both and calls us to care for both.

What I actually look like running. Yikes.
What I actually look like running. Yikes.
What I want to look like running.
What I want to look like running.

 

 

 

 

Recently I didn’t want to run, but I headed out anyway. I was struggling just blocks in. I like to talk with God on my runs. I run late in the evening when the air is cooler and the streets are quieter. (An ulterior motive is that there are fewer people out and about which means fewer people to watch me waddle along. See above photo!) Despite my dislike for physical movement, going out on a run does give me a great opportunity to talk with God while admiring part of His creation as I try to take care of part of His creation (me). However, so often when I come to God my mind is so cluttered and busy that I have a hard time finding a single topic to talk with Him about. And so in the midst of the physical and spiritual struggle, I confessed to God that I had lots of things I wanted to ask Him about and no idea where to begin. And I might have reminded Him that I hate running…

And then the strangest thing happened. Jesus was running next to me. No, not physically, but I could feel Him. And maybe not running as much as walking, maybe even floating, alongside me. (I can’t quite get my head around the idea of Jesus actually running hard enough to work up a sweat. I’m sure I’m slow enough that Jesus is more than capable of keeping up with me walking.) Nevertheless, Jesus was beside me and he stayed by my side for every painstaking step. At the end, when I wanted to quit, he held my hand. And I made it. In Christ’s strength, not my own.

On second thought, maybe Jesus running beside me isn’t that strange after all. I mean, doesn’t He always show up at our weakest moments?  And isn’t it always through our weakness that He is most glorified? 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” I must admit that I’ve always focused on the “jars of clay” portion of the verse. It’s so easy to focus on our weaknesses. I mean they are so obvious, well, at least mine are! But God is teaching me to read the whole verse and to notice what comes next, “this all surpassing power”. Honestly, most of the time I try to hide my weaknesses, but like I eluded to, that’s hard to do when they are so obvious! And maybe that’s another reason that I don’t like to run, I’m not good at it. It’s hard! But we don’t have to hide because when we rely on Jesus to show up when we are feeling weak, He does and His name is made great. God has granted us the great freedom of being authentic in both our shining moments and our ugly (and in my case sweaty and whiny) weak moments. We don’t have to hide, but we do have to rely on God. And if we do that, we get to run with Jesus.

 

 

Jesus Keeps Messin’ with Me!

I’ve been reading a lot lately…a dangerous endeavor for sure. It’s been messing with me. Margaret Feinberg’s Wonderstruck and Scouting the Divine challenged me to look for God in the details of life. God’s divine intervention and handiwork are all around me if only I would open my eyes and become sensitive to it. Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess has me questioning everything from what I eat to what I wear, what I watch to what I spend, and even where I spend it. I’m telling you, MESSIN’ WITH ME!

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But isn’t that what reading and writing are supposed to do? Shouldn’t my current way of thinking and acting be challenged as I gain new insights and knowledge? How else will I grow more like Christ? As I study God’s Word (and read other authors who have studied God’s Word), my heart should soften, my mind transform, and my behavior become more like Christ’s. If it doesn’t, what’s the point?

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Either I believe that what Jesus taught, and what he modeled, is really how he expects me to live or I don’t. Either I believe God’s Word is true or I don’t. Either I learn from the Israelites’ mistakes, heed God’s warnings and stay faithful or I suffer the consequences. Either I believe God is faithful to those who put their trust in Him (Daniel, Gideon, Elijah, and even Jesus) or I don’t. Either I believe God cares about the poor, the orphan, and the widow and calls me to do the same, or I turn away. Either I take “love your neighbor” seriously, or I don’t. Either I forgive others or I harbor bitterness and resentment. Either I step out in faith and risk looking a fool, or I stay in the boat, which might make sense with earthly eyes, but doesn’t allow me to walk on water.

Now those are nice things to say and easy things to think. Here’s the catch: if I actually believe they are true, then my behavior has to reflect that. I have to live life differently. And that is frightening. What if I ACTUALLY DO what the Bible says I should do? What if God really wants me to go through my closet and give away everything I don’t need – not  the “American” definition of need but “third world country” definition of need? Because let’s be honest, I don’t NEED six coats (and sadly that was just off the top of my head). And don’t even talk to me about or think about touching my shoe collection! (Read addiction.) What if God wants me to slow down instead of speed up? What if God wants me to turn off the television, or give it up completely? (GASP – as long as I can have it back before football season and fall sweeps!) What if God wants to use my natural tendency to compare as a way of making sure others have as much as I do instead of making sure I have more? What if?

And why does this all feel so scary, so crazy, and so threatening? I think it is because my identity is wrapped up in the very things God is asking me to let go of and sacrifice for Him. Let’s be honest, I’m a lot more like the rich young man who asked Jesus what he must do to follow Him and then walked away dejected when Jesus said, “Give all of your possessions to the poor” than I’d like to admit. It is comfortable and safe to have a lot of stuff. It is easy to ignore the “have nots” and forget that I’m one of the “haves”. Accumulation feels so good and denying myself doesn’t seem very appealing at all! It is nice to fit in and all the stuff and all the busyness help me create an identity, albeit a false and shaky one. You see, the food we eat, the entertainment we watch, the money we spend, the conveniences of life, the stress and busyness we participate in have all become idols. We worship and define ourselves by these things.

On the other hand, choosing to live how Jesus lived makes me stand out – and not necessarily in a good way! I might get criticized for making decisions that don’t make sense to the world, but store up treasures in Heaven.  And then Jesus comes along and says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)” Jesus commands people who love him to love their enemies and to give to any one who asks (Luke 6). Anyone!? Really? Even the annoying neighbors upstairs?

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So Jesus, can’t I give to the poor and still have my vast shoe collection and keep my brand new genuine leather jacket? I don’t know the answer to that. (Actually I’m afraid I might and just don’t want to acknowledge the truth about my choices.) Jesus, can’t I just love the homeless from a distance, do I really have to actually touch them? Jesus, can’t I eat my $10.00 take out in peace, do I really have to consider those going hungry right now? I know, I’ll donate to the food pantry, that’s good enough right God? Jesus was pretty clear when He said, “That which you do unto the least of these, you do unto me (Matthew 25:40).” He’s onto all of the ways I don’t follow His lead. I’m certain it was with grief, frustration, and a mix of other emotions that He said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say (Luke 6:46)?” I’m afraid that I don’t often do what Jesus said I am to do.

I don’t know what all this means for my lifestyle and I certainly don’t know what it means for yours! I know I’m embarrassed to admit how much anxiety I feel from the thought of shutting off my cable. I’m ashamed to admit how many flips my stomach does at the thought of thinning out my shoe collection (obsession). I’m overwhelmed at the thought of actually getting close enough to care about “the least of these.” But I know what God commanded and I know it is worth wrestling with. I know that I want my identity to be found in Christ and not in the clothes I wear or the activities on my calendar. I know I want my treasures in Heaven and not in the deep recesses of the drawers and closets in my apartment. And how else will I grow if Jesus doesn’t MESS with me once in a while?