February 11, 2015

Testing and Trials

So Brother James writes this exhortation to his followers (and those of Jesus Christ) in chapter 1, verses 2-8 NLT:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

This is powerful testimony meant to remind us of how we SHOULD act when we find ourselves in the midst of trouble (trials or turmoil). In these few verses, James makes sure to communicate the following:
  • Comfort - we are not alone when we suffer troubles
  • Purpose - there is a purpose to our suffering
  • Hope - if we struggle with endurance, we can ask for wisdom from God
  • Faith - we must believe for what we ask
  • Encouragement - to stand strong and expect help from God
Often, we like to recite verse 2 alone without the remaining verses. I will hear this first part of the verse, the command, in my head whenever I am in the midst of a difficult trial. So while, the first part is worthy to remember, the second part, the "power" part, is usually left aside.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials...

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

In my view, if we approach the troubles of this life with the mindset of "joy," often we will have the beginning of what is necessary to overcome the sorrow or challenge. Yes, a right attitude works wonders in many instances. But, if the trial or challenge is very difficult, our attitude, our will power, or our bullheadedness (in my case) is not enough to make a "hill of bean" difference. Let me explain...

Today is a perfect example of a day when James 1:2 percolated up into my head to remind me that it was my Christian duty to put on joy in the midst of trials. Yes, I was hard pressed this morning, and given that mornings are not my favorite time of the day, I did what I usually do at the first inkling of trial -- I complained, I grumbled, and I shouted. I don't like my morning routine disrupted, and I don't like to be put out unless I have "notice" that I am going to need to be "put out." What this means is this -- if I can plan for the inconvenience -- then I can deal with the fact that my morning routine is going to be tested and tried. In short, I don't handle inconveniences well when they occur in the morning hours.

The Case of the Termite Man

This morning, the Termite folks were coming over to the house to do whatever it is that Termite folks do. I was aware of the fact that today, at 9 am, the folks would be here banging, moving, drilling, and injecting poison into the ground to kill off the pesky buggers that have found their way into our home. Yes, the Termite lady was here two weeks ago to check out the damage, and arranged for her team to come back today to do the application of work.

Okay, so no big deal. I knew they were coming. I was aware of it. On top of that, I was also aware that certain items would need to be moved in the garage to make way for the guys to do their Termite-y stuff. My father was coordinating all of that moving and rearranging, and I asked and I offered to assist him on several occasions. I was politely refused, told that my time was not needed, nor was my help required. A brief aside here -- while this may be what was said -- the truth is and was that the work needed my help or that of my son because it meant moving and shifting heavy things that my elderly father simply couldn't manage. I protested as much as I could without causing major offense, and then I had to drop it because once my Dad says he doesn't need help, well, that is the end of the story as far as he is concerned.

Monday night, two nights before the Termite folks were due to arrive, I noticed him moving and shifting items (wood) in the garage. I had just arrived from work, and as I exited my car, I offered once again to help out. Note to self - your father is as bullheaded and stubborn as you are -- I digress. My offer was refused, again, and this time I pressed the issue because I could tell that my Dad was not physically able to do the work. He scoffed at me, waved me away, and instead of creating a major to-do right there in the driveway, I walked away. Of course, I grumbled all the way into the house, and then exploded in front of my Mom. I didn't yell at Mom, per se, but rather I yelled at my Dad whose stubborn streak rubs against my stubborn streak frequently. My Mom just reminded me that this is the way "Dad" is and to let it go.

I did my best to let it go. I pushed it back and made the conscious decision to not bring the matter up again. Until last night, that is.

It was 11 pm and I was getting ready to head to bed. I asked my Dad if there was anything I needed to do in the morning to prepare for the Termite folks arrival. I was told no. I asked if I should be out of bed (I sleep in now because I can and because I work afternoons and early evenings) by the time they arrive. I was told no. I said I would be up by 9, just in case I needed to do "anything" to help out. My Dad said that was fine, and he and I headed off to bed.

So 6:00 am rolls around and I am sound asleep. I hear the garbage truck rumbling through the neighborhood and the strains of the commuter traffic on Greenway Road. I normally sleep through this noise, but today the banging and jerking were louder than normal. Still, I rolled over and I fell back to sleep. It was perhaps 6:15 when I began to hear banging and jerking on the other side of the wall. I knew it was my Dad because who else would be in the garage at 6:15 in the morning. I ignored the noise, went back to sleep until about 7 when Winston began to pound on my bedroom door. He had been pushed outside around 4, along with Ike, who was being naughty and getting at my papers on my desk. Winston wanted in -- and he was bound and determined to make sure I did just that -- so I let him in.

I opened the door, returned to bed, hoping to sleep for another hour or so before I had to be up for the Termite guys. I am not sure of the next time I was roused from sleep, but I believe it was around 8:30 am when I heard my Dad exclaim something to the fact that I was not out of bed yet. I heard him loud and clear, and as usual for men and women miscommunication mishaps, what I heard him say is this: She is still in bed when I need her help this morning.

With that pronouncement, I jumped out of bed and shouted down the hall that I was coming. Yes, it was earlier than the agreed upon time (9 am), and yes, I was not a happy camper to be roused from bed for what seemed like the fourth or fifth time, when it wasn't necessary to be ready for a good 30 minutes more! Moreover, it turned out that there was "work" to be done, and this work clearly couldn't be done by my Dad alone. Once I surmised what needed moved, I knew that it required my son's help. Enter story: Grumpy Person #2.

We moved what needed moving, and we asked for the "umpteenth" time if there was ANY THING else that needed moved before we went back into the house. The answer was no.

Shortly after that time, I heard more moving, banging and shifting along with vacuuming and other noises in the garage. I opened the door for the last time to find my Dad moving ladders (of which had already been asked if they required moving). I was told that he decided to do it and to go back in the house because "I wasn't needed."

To make a long story short, the Termite men arrived, did their thing (more banging, drilling, and general mayhem), and finally the house returned to its normally quiet ways (at 10:43).

I know you may be thinking that this is a good example of a "woman getting in the way of a man doing his business." Yes, you are correct. Well, partially correct.

My father is a good man, a very good man. Yes, he is bullheaded and stubborn. Yes, he frustrates me, my Mom, and my son (my brothers too). It has always been this way, and for the last 50 years, I have learned to "deal with it." As my Dad has aged, however, this part of his personality has become more pronounced. He knows it. He is aware of it. Mom and I often bear the brunt of his sharp tongue and anger. We deal with it as best as we can. Still, there are times when it doesn't seem fair, doesn't seem warranted, and doesn't seem right.

My Dad is disabled, which adds to the mix of emotions and trial. So while I was put out this morning, really put out, what bothered me most is the fact that my Dad will have injured more than his pride by refusing to ask or accept help. You see, the work that he did will have taken a huge toll on his body, and due to his post-polio, the energy and strength he used to do this work, will not be restored to him -- ever! For you or I, we would simply chalk it up to overdoing physical exertion, and then we would rest a while. For my Dad, the physical energy he uses is depleted, and it will not return regardless of the rest.

Just yesterday, I found both him and my mother sound asleep in the middle of the day. I know, so what, old folks take naps. Yes, you are right, but you don't see what the toll is on my parents. My mother's CLL (Leukemia) causes extreme fatigue for her. Her CLL is worsening, and yesterday, she had a not so good report from her cancer doctor. My father's condition is worsening as well and the little bit of energy that he used to take my Mom to the doctor left him wiped out all day long.

I anticipate that today will be bad for him. Tomorrow will be worse. 

As I sit here today, I am reflect on my situation, I am reminded of the words of James. I am reminded to consider my trials as joyous occasions to practice endurance. I want to shout at James and tell him "No, thanks!" I don't want this stinking reminder to practice endurance, to be joyous while I am watching my parents decline in health, while I stand by helpless (and not for trying) and see them diminish in this life. I cannot physically help (my help is not wanted). I cannot materially help (my help is wanted, but I don't earn enough to provide more than what I currently can provide). My spiritual help is discounted, yet still I pray for them, I pray for them every single day.

This is why I remember James today. And, although I may not want to be joyous (and this morning, my attitude sucked, my countenance fell, and my words exploded), I realize that I cannot handle this situation, this life, without relying upon God's wisdom. I am not able to be joyous through this circumstance. I am not able to endure without God providing a way for me to endure. I cannot keep my tongue and ensure my countenance remains filled with peace without the Lord's intervention.

I will endure. I will resolve to endure. But I cannot do it without the Lord's help, His wisdom, and His provision. Of this I am certain, of this I am sure.

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