Hungry for Healing, Part III

Hungry for Healing, Part III
The Apple Pie

A number of months ago, I made an apple pie for my husband. Fruit pies are his love language. He loves when I get the crust just right. But he could probably revel in the filling with delight even if the crust weren’t flaky enough or got too browned around the pinched, ruffled edge. He simply loves pie. Really can’t live without it. And as long as it tastes delicious and close to heaven, he doesn’t care what it looks like.

While I washed, peeled, and sliced apples, I recall meditating on trees and fruit and baked goods. I contemplated Rachel Jankovic’s comment once that “trees which have borne much fruit should no longer look like a sapling.” I thought about God growing my tree, deepening my roots, expanding my trunk, filling out my branches, producing my fruit, and performing the harvest year by year. In her book, Loving the Little Years (which I haven’t read in a long time), I remember Rachel’s musings on trees and fruit: “The branches are our responsibility, the ground is not.” “The more fruit you make, the more fruit gets used.” “You cannot know the depth of His plan for your fruit. So throw it out there on the ground when you have no plan for its future. Waste it.” “Be bountiful with your fruit and free with it. The only thing that you can know for certain is that God will use it.”


While I blended flour and salt together, and cut fat into its grains with dedication and delight, preparing to wrap, enfold, cover, and encase those apple pieces… I thought about the process with a sense of recognition and familiarity. I remember texting a friend of mine to say that I was writing a blog post about apples, apple pie, body image, and mom life. I remember telling her that I had been peeled, cut, seasoned, aged, and baked – that I was realizing I was no longer an apple, but rather a pie. I vaguely recalled Robert Capon saying something which planted that seed.

I never hit publish on that. Partly because I lost steam, partly because I wasn’t ready to really expose my struggle.

But the image has not strayed from my mind. I’ve written and rewritten thoughts about this numerous times. None of them felt right. But the repeated phrase Jonathan Rogers told me this winter was to trust my instincts and to worry less about what I write. So this morning, I don’t plan to edit, rework, or nuance. I am writing stream-of-consciousness style, for better or for worse. It may be a jumbly, hot mess. That’s pretty much the state of my work these days. It’s simply true.

At nearly 35 years old, raising four children full-time, with thirteen pregnancies and a host of health & hormonal nuances under my belt, I am a woman learning to live post-anorexia and post-bulimia, loving my smile lines, embracing the little streaks of white dappling my carrot top. I think about Nate Wilson’s poetic phrasing in Death By Living when he said that his grandmother was the tree from which apples fell and grew, from which apples fell and grew, from which apples continued to fall and grow.
Apple trees produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees, which will produce apples, which contain seeds to produce trees…

Apple tree in old apple orchard horizontal.

I am not alone, stagnant, isolated, an island. I am an apple. I fell from a fruitful tree, I was sown and sprouted. I grew into a sapling.
But the rub comes when I fail to acknowledge that God has continued to deepen my roots, increase my fruit, lengthen my branches, and strengthen my trunk. I am not the girl I once was. I am not the firstyear fruit producer I had been. And while I love the imagery of remaining the tree, of looking forward to the days of needing my branches propped up, of having burls and truly gnarly bark thick with wrinkles and creases – there’s something about the idea of moving from the orchard into the kitchen that delights me.

I’m a baking addict, so that’s one thing.
I love flour, sugar, fat, spices.
I adore the sounds of thick syrupy fruit bubbling on the stove, and the schunk sound my knife makes as it slices through crisp apple flesh.
Even just imagining the smell of pastry in the oven makes my salivary glands dance.

And then there’s Father Robert Farrar Capon.
The man who really introduced me to onions.
The one who started me realizing that my hatred of my body and my war with food was truly a spiritual battleground, and I wasn’t seeing victory.
He is the one who reminds me that, yes, I fell as a crisp, ripe, firm, shapely apple from a strong and faithful tree. But when God took that apple, He didn’t set it on a shelf to be kept the way I was harvested from the tree of my lineage.

I was plucked in order to be used.
Apples are meant to give nourishment, to give joy.
I am meant to give life, nourishment, and joy too.

And just like the apple that is used up for those purposes, I will not be left the same.

Rachel Jankovic wrote, “our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dinted body… Scars and stretch marks and muffin tops are all part of your kingdom work. One of the greatest testimonies Christian women can have in our world today is the testimony of joyfully giving your body to another.”

She goes on to say, “make sure you aren’t buying into the world’s propaganda. While there are a great many rewards, the sacrifice is very real… [and] the answer to these obstacles is not to run away in fear as the world does, but to meet it with joy, and in faith.”

My life, my calling, my homemaking, my motherhood, my faith – these things call me to be used for the good of others, to give myself away, to be used up, to savor, to become considerable, to be relished.

As Robert Capon said in a beautiful benedictory passage in The Supper of the Lamb,

May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable… And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed… Eat well then.

I will determine, then, to turn from buying into the world’s propaganda. I will meet these obstacles with joy, and in faith. I will embrace my season of apple pie as sweeter and fatter than my firm and slender days as an untouched apple straight from the tree. I will endeavor to appreciate my softened body with a heart of thankfulness rather than a sense of resentment. I will seek to glorify God with this sweet season of bodily life, not grasping for control over the size of my jeans, the fit of my swimsuit, the taut of my belly skin, the roundness of my cheek.

May I be used. May I be molded, remade, served up as something even more marvelous than I was to begin with. And may I see joy and glory in the process and in the result. Not because my determination is a victory. But because God is in the business of making things new, and I want to give myself up to Him as He works new things in me and through me. Muffin top and all.

Glory be.


“for to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you might follow in his steps…
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree
that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
by his wounds you have been healed.”
1 peter 2:21, 24

Hungry for Healing, Part II

Hungry for Healing, Part II

For almost as long as I can remember, two physical features have been identifying features about me. Someone might ask, Melissa? Which one is she? and in a room full of people someone would simply have to say, she’s the skinny girl with the long red hair.

Those two terms have been about as defining to me as my homeschooling, my love of books & music, and my Christian faith. How’s that for a slippery position?! Skinny and redheaded. Because now at 34 years old, I am no longer skinny and the number of greys in my locks increases regularly (just ask my tweezers – we can’t quite keep up anymore).

How is it that I have allowed secular media and modern American culture to speak so broadly into my life?
Why is it that I have not been able to overcome this temptation, this struggle, this idol, this sin?
Where in the world did all of this hurt and pain and shame stem from in the first place?

The first time I viscerally remember feelings of shame surrounding my body was in a ballet class I adored, standing at the barre in front of the wall-sized mirror. Rather than my usual teacher, Miss Tammy, who was soft, sweet, and relaxed, the studio owner was teaching my class that day. I don’t even remember her name, I just remember the feelings of stress and shame I felt when she walked near me or gave me directions. On this particular day that stands out in my memory, she was adjusting my posture and probably some position, but all I really recall is her finger pressing into my abdomen and saying getting a bit chubby… I was eight years old. Eight.
After that, I remember really paying attention to my mom’s exercise routines and Jenny Craig diets. I picked up on the fact that she ate differently than the rest of us did – she ate “diet food” but cooked “regular food” for the rest of us – and I came to believe that that was a goal to tuck in my pocket for womanhood. Skim milk and diet soda were the norm, and the reasoning behind it in my head was to stave off fatness. My grandma always called me her “skinny granddaughter.” These were not things that happened out of purposed negativity – it was simply my life, and they are the things I remember about my childhood.
Then in my teen years I became entangled with a boy. A boy who wanted to be a man and continually fell short. Who manipulated me into believing him when he made compliments like, “you look pretty today – pretty and skinny.” I literally have journals full of these manipulative comments. Sneaking notes to each other in homeschool classes or after church, gigglingly talking about turning 21 someday so we could get married, me listening to turns of phrase that I did not even realize at the time were harmful, manipulating, controlling. It brought me multiple levels of shame and suffering which still infiltrate my life on a regular basis. Not the least of which is the skinny factor that he pressed into me. And as I felt more controlled and manipulated by him over the course of about six years of secrecy, the feelings of being spun out of control turned into actions of grabbing for control over the only thing I thought I could grab with both hands – my body. If I could not control anything else in my life, I was brought low enough to think that at least I could control the number on the scale and the size on my clothing tags.

While I don’t honestly know when I really gave in to letting the spiral control and pull me under, the seed was planted when I was eight, it was watered and fed in my preteen years, then sprouted and cultivated between about 14-18. By the time I entered college the temptation and struggle had taken root enough that I can now say it became a besetting sin and garnered enough of my focus to be an idol.

There are years of my life that are basically gone from my memory banks. I don’t know if it’s from a lack of nutrition and sleep or PTSD or a lethal combination thereof.
My tendency toward anxiety and OCD grew. I cared about a facade of perfectionism, straight A grades, and size 2 jeans. Maintaining the physique that would draw people toward my pretty clavicles, hip bones, wrist bones, and long red hair. Eating just enough in front of people so they wouldn’t question my habits. But flat out refusing to eat when I could, and coming to the point where I would eventually just forget to eat. Even now, I could definitely go 24 hours without anything but coffee before noticing it (and that’s only because I can’t get away from the comfort of holding a warm mug of aromatics). Old habits don’t die easily.

I was telling someone recently that it absolutely astonishes me that as a conservative Christian woman I am flabbergasted by some of the bad words I let take over my life. Want to know what those bad words are? Old and fat. That’s right: three letter, commonplace words that are as abhorrent as ugly itself.
That is where I have allowed our culture and mainstream media to infiltrate my worldview, to my own destruction. And I will be hogtied and hamstrung if I allow it to go on to the next generation and hand it down for their destruction.
In biblical culture – heck, in much of all culture, historically speaking – old and fat are words of goodness, blessing, prosperity, honor.
I want to see through that lens. I want to embrace that worldview.

In Rachel Stone’s book, Eat With Joy, she says, “it doesn’t help that images of extreme thinness are everywhere. Even the most seemingly mundane objects show the trend: the girl on the Morton salt container or on the bottle of White Rock water is thinner than she was twenty or thirty or fifty years ago. My children’s Candy Land game (made in 2010) shows highly idealized, thin female characters and muscular male characters, whereas in the 1984 version I grew up playing the characters were, if anything, a little chubby.” (p90)

Where are the role models for my children to show them the beauty of a wheat-heaped belly? that your navel is beautiful when in a rounded bowl rather than sunken between two jutting pelvic bones? that Song Of Solomon was right in praising the rounded beauty of the beloved bride?

Song Of Solomon 7:1-2
…Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies.

And here is what I realize now. I am their role model. It must begin with me. It must begin with the things I bring to them. And it can’t just be the words I say, the books I read them, the videos I let them watch. It also starts with my very own body. This physical set of flesh and bones and blood and fat and freckles that God has given me, where I grew these children in my belly, where I nursed them on my breasts, where I carried them on my back, where I cradled them in my arms; where I still snuggle them tight, hug them, kiss them, lift them up; where I teach by example what health, beauty, and loveliness are.

“The words we use to talk about food and bodies matter, as well, because they nourish and shape and feed us — or poison, warp and starve us — every bit as much as food does. Who can eat gratefully and joyfully while thinking, I’m an ugly pig who doesn’t deserve to eat? I couldn’t. Who can eat with real pleasure when the table talk centers on dimply thighs, flabby bellies, calories, cholesterol, and what’s ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’? No one can and such talk actually fuels disorder…” (Rachel Stone, Eat With Joy, p101)

My children make me hunger to be whole, to find healing, to shed the shame.
They make me long to love and embrace things like getting older and getting softer around my corners.
want to stop plucking out my grey hairs. I want to stop worrying about my muffin top.
I want to focus on truth, goodness, and beauty.
And this is my next step along the path of how I pray to get there.

“As Christians dealing with human hurts,
we have to remind ourselves again and again
that we are not called to be successful,
but to be faithful.
Our first directions come from the way Jesus told us to live,
not from what we think will work.”
(Doris Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less)

Hungry for Healing, Part I

Hungry for Healing, part I

First thought in the morning,
last thought before falling asleep at night,
forefront of my mind every time I prepare a meal or feed my family,
choking me when I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror,
paralyzing me when it’s time to get dressed or put on a nightie,
making me close my eyes when I have to undress – don’t look down – keep the lights off…

I’m fat and ugly, which translates to worthless and unlovable.

Processing through the written word has long been a healthy tool for me, and I have often thanked God for it. Throughout my life when I have dealt with something big, heavy, hard, complicated, or grievous, I have found my best healing through writing. When grandparents died, when romantic relationships broke my heart, when I struggled through endless miscarriages, when depression and anxiety gripped me ~ I wrote.

Often the writing happened in journals, tucked away for nobody’s eyes, but simply for the use they were in helping me process the burden God had placed upon me, the dark road He was leading me through. Occasionally, I have processed by writing letters with friends, working through a common issue or simply receiving the blessing of their listening ears (or reading eyes). When it has come particularly to my processing of the deaths of my babies and my physical problems resulting in miscarrying, I have been specifically open and honest in sharing my process through the medium of this blog. Of course, it helps somewhat that I have little-to-none as far as readership goes. Perhaps it sounds quite easy to be open and honest when you aren’t actually sure if anyone reads what you say to begin with. But I have not yet shared anything here that makes me feel ashamed. Perhaps I have delicately tiptoed across the questions of depression and anxiety in the past, rather than jumping in up to my neck. But I have had enough real-life relationships where I am comfortable sharing and discussing those struggles that I have not been pushed to the edge of needing to process through a version of public writing. Until now.

This morning as the kids were eating their breakfast and listening to an audio Bible before we packed up for a busy day at our homeschool co op, I was exercising in the back room and streaming a short podcast episode from Jamie Ivey on the subject of if you only knew which is based upon the premise of her new book by the same name.

Jamie shares,

 For so long, I was so afraid that if you only knew the mess I am so good at creating in my life, then things would be different. In many ways, my greatest fear was what you might think of me if you only knew the whole story.

As the chore of guarding the stories of my past got more and more difficult, I found that I wasn’t just hiding my poor decisions, I was robbing others of the beauty of God’s grace that had redeemed these moments.

And I realized that I have preferred to spend nearly twenty years now hiding in shame rather than share my brokenness with you. I have concealed chaos in my life in order to put on a good face and put my best foot forward… but this, in turn, has caused me to present a facade that only shows part of what God is doing. I have not arrived, but deeply hunger for healing. I feel starved for truth regarding goodness and beauty.

And I am not doing any good to anyone by covering up the raw realism and gritty facts.
All I am doing is choking myself with the struggle to maintain the facade and present only the portions I want you to see.

I stumbled upon a rich book a couple months ago called Eat With Joy, and I finally finished it. Today. It was a good read, but sections of it were downright challenging. I have a deeply paradoxical relationship with food, particularly with eating. To say that it is a love-hate relationship barely tosses an ice cube on the tip of that iceberg. This book prodded and picked and peeled at all the right scabs. And I began to bleed.

Backing up about two months prior to finding that book on my library’s shelf, I was hosting a mom’s night for the women who participate in our homeschool co op, and while I was serving up cheesecake and putting together the ooey-gooeyist-most-delicioso caramel chocolate chip cookie bars you can imagine, 0ne of the women mentioned in a haphazard way that she had spent the better part of her life recovering from an eating disorder… but that while you can learn to control the habits, the mindset often remains with you for the remainder of your life…

…and I melted into a puddle of tears.
Those me too tears that authentic familiarity recognizes immediately.

She does not go around sharing that part of her story with everyone, but for some reason God put it on her heart to open up to me that night and show me the beauty of what God has done to redeem that part of her life; her relationship with food, her body image, her fight against what good things God could bring from her life if she would relinquish herself to His hand.

And now I feel lead to do the same thing.
Because I have long hidden in my shame, struggling with self-loathing and a distorted body image that has claimed focus and happiness and health from my heart for twenty years… I have fretted within myself if they only knew, wondering who would blow me off, look down on me, or pat me on the head with a Bible passage while patting themselves on the back for solving all my problems with a Christian snippet.

But I am hungry to heal.
I am ready to reveal the redemption God has slowly been working in me.
I am starving to share my suffering and Christ’s satisfaction.

And if you find yourself thinking, oh man, me too! while you read this ~ as I did when my friend bared her heart in my kitchen, or when I read that book, or when I streamed that podcast ~ send me a note so we can walk this road together.

This is only part one of what I am hoping to share.
But the beginning is this: I am recovering from a tedious, troublesome journey with bulimia mingled with anorexia.
It is by God’s grace that I can hit publish on this post, and share with you that I am following Him through to the other side of the tangled web of eating disorders.


If you or someone you love needs some beginning resources, I found these additional links a good place to begin:

Final Lap of The Race

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Acts 20:24
“I consider my life worth nothing to me;
my only aim is to finish the race
and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—
the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

I’m not a runner. I may have gone through a short stint a couple years ago where I gave it a try, but it’s quite arduous and painful… so let’s just be doubly honest here, I am not and never shall be a runner. And yet as image-bearers of the Creator, we all do run ~ He is the one that determines and establishes our every step (Proverbs 16:9), He is the one that prepared our good works for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). Each step I take is of Him, for Him, by Him, through Him. Some of us run races faster than others (ahem, remember I’m just a walker?).

But I know what it is to run.
I recognize various parts of the race when I see others racing.
I can see the difference between the sprint, the endurance lap, the uphill grind, the downhill blitz.
Known as an encourager, I guess you could say I know something about standing along the sidelines and cheering others on.

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And have you noticed that the beginning and ends of the race are where the most stands are filled?
So much energy and exultation happens when the race begins.
In the middle, when things seem smooth and easy, sometimes there are stretches where there is nobody cheering; simply the occasional medic or someone handing you a water bottle. At other points in the middle when the hills are steep or the terrain dangerous, there may be more people gathering around to make sure you survive the toil and they cheer for you as you make each stride.
But it’s at the end of the race, in that final lap, where the cheering and rejoicing and clapping is most obvious. Even moreso than the energy expended at the outset. It is then, at the end, when you will see so much egging on, encouraging shouts, jumping up and down with loud exults, coming into downright cacophony nearing the finish line.

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Hebrews 12:1-2
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

My children and I have been spending hours every week at the elderly care home where my grandpa lives. So many of these people are finishing the ends of their races without coaches and cheerleaders. We have even semi-adopted two older men there who are bedridden, and we bring joy to them as they continue on these laps near the ends of their races.

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But recently it is Grandpa himself who has needed the cheerleaders amping up. For him, the final lap has begun. The finish line is getting closer. It can be so tempting to plop myself down along the sideline and just bury my head in my arms. I don’t have the best relationship with grief, I have probably a good bit of PTSD associated with it in fact.

This is not the time, though, for me to take a breather and leave my faithful runner alone on the path.
This is the time to cheer him on the most.
He’s almost there! He’s almost finished! That fullness of joy is nearly within his grasp!

Psalm 16:11
“You make known to me the path of life.
In Your presence there is fullness of joy;
at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

So here I sit, here I stand, here I’ll commit to staying ~ cheering on my grandpa as he rounds the final bend in these final laps. He has run with endurance. The finish line is in sight. His faith will be perfected, it will become sight, and soon he will see King Jesus face to face.

Grandpa! You’re almost there!
I may cling to your weary, wrinkly hand with all my might right now,
but I would not ask your soul to tarry.
Run. Fly.

Finish strong.
You have lived well. You have run with grace.
We will rejoice with you when you step at last
into the victory lap, joining the cloud of witnesses across the finish line.


Seventh: Final Thoughts on Serving those with Chronic Needs


… … … … …

… … … … …

Though you may feel that no one can understand
the depth of your despair,
our Savior, Jesus Christ, understands.

… … … … …

As we come to the final thoughts on this discussion of serving those with chronic needs in our local bodies of Christ’s people, what should we come away with on our hearts? What new insights have you seen from those who are suffering for days, months, years on end with either their obvious or invisible manifestations? What about new perspectives from four church leaders from multiple places in the United States, different churches & varied denominations? What things did you see emphasized repeatedly from the women who chimed in with ideas on how they have seen their congregations serve the suffering, or ways they individually have sought to reach out?

What stood out to you?
What themes can be found repeated throughout this series?
What ways do you need served?
What ways do you need to serve?
How can you tailor your prayers?
Where can you offer your gifts or time?
How might the Lord be calling you to sacrifice of yourself?
In what areas do you see the Lord stretching your faith here?

… … … … …

… … … … …

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly,
since love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8

… … … … …

I see a call toward tangible love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

~love your brethren with your prayers and your words but also your actions, no matter which side of the suffering coin you find yourself on personally ~ I see countless opportunities here for “one-anothering“~

I see a need for enormous grace on all sides.

~have grace with those in need ~ have grace toward those who serve ~ have grace on those who you don’t see either suffering or serving ~ none of us deserve grace (which is why it is classified as grace!), but all of us are called to bestow it liberally~

I see openings for each one of us to sacrifice more.

~there are very infrequent cases where someone may be already sacrificing to the fullest extent of what the Lord has called them to, but for most of us (especially in modern American culture), there are absolutely ways that we could deeper sacrifice for others in our finances, with our time, sharing our food or other physical possessions, praying more diligently, sending encouraging notes or making uplifting phone calls, spending an entire day per week or month simply living your life for someone else’s family~

I see opportunities for each one of us to humble ourselves and exalt others.

~as sinful humans, we are born with a grabby nature; but here we have been shown opportunities over and over again for how we can put others ahead & above ourselves and our own desires or needs ~ are you grabbing for assistance from others when maybe the Lord is asking you to simply endure your suffering for His sake with joy and peace? ~ are you grabbing at your own comforts or plans when maybe the Lord is giving you places to give up your comforts or plans for the sake of lifting the burdens of others? ~ in what ways can you (yes, you!) humble yourself and rather exalt someone else?~

I see the calling for each of us to be more like Christ.

~as Christians, we should continually be growing more and more into the image of Jesus Christ Himself, through our sanctification, so how can we open ourselves to more of His nature overcoming our selfish sinful humanity when we see people suffering around us? ~ how can we do that when we are suffering, bound to our house for endless months, or bound to a bed in home or hospital for days at a time? ~ how do you feel the growing pains of growing up into Christ your Brother, as you now look around you at the brethren who may be suffering, whether you currently know it or not?~

… … … … …

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will
entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

1 Peter 4:19

… … … … …

… … … … …

So in closing, what are a few last reminders & highlights of how we can serve those in our churches who are suffering various chronic needs?

  • write notes of encouragement, whether a real card or an e-card or an e-mail
  • make a phone call to pray with someone or just check in
  • cook extra food & put it in your freezer so that you have something to share when you see a need
  • offer to make food for someone, asking if they have specific recipes that suit their dietary needs that you can use
  • ask someone if you can come to their house to cook with their ingredients in their kitchen: show up with joy, do the work, clean up even more than the mess you personally made, and bless the person not only with food in their freezer but with your cheerful presence
  • read books or browse blogs for creative ideas on blessing someone who has X physical or mental need
  • rather than ask “how are you?”, tailor the question for the person, “honestly, how have you seen Christ show up in your suffering this week?” or “I would love to hear the nitty-gritties on how your week has gone”
  • give specific offers for help ~ specific tasks you are equipped to do, and a time you know you could show up to get it done
  • give your phone number and emphasize that you will do what you can to drop what’s on your plate if something emergent comes up
  • sign up to clean homes for those who are physically unable to do it
  • sign up to fill a freezer at your church
  • rally others to work alongside you to care for someone’s yard or run their errands or babysit their child(ren)
  • drop off flowers for a random person just to brighten their day
  • leave plates of goodies on a front doorstep, leaving unannounced without making the recipient feel awkward or have the need to make small talk
  • pray diligently for people, and remind someone when you have actually prayed for them
  • don’t be afraid to make people laugh, but don’t be afraid to make people cry
  • put on a spirit of meekness & humility, and stop judging the actions or inactions of others
  • recognize that there is not a single one of us who is not needy in one way or another; but we are still called to bear one another’s burdens
  • use your time wisely and well ~ when you are serving your own family, and also when you serve someone else
  • buy a $30 gift card next time you are at the grocery store, and find someone to bless with it
  • buy things in bulk (think Costco or Winco), and then give away the excess portions (the second bottle of shampoo, the third pound of ground beef, the extra green beans you know will go bad before you eat them…) to someone in need
  • dig up perennials from your yard or garden beds, and put them in little pots to deliver to someone who can not be out in their own yard or have their own garden
  • share the extra produce from your vegetable garden or produce box with a neighbor
  • when someone asks for help, go above & beyond what they have humbled themselves to request ~ give richly and joyfully
  • if you absolutely cannot fill a need when you have been specifically asked, try to help them find someone else who can fill the need! ~ ask your spouse, ask your best friend, ask an older woman in your church, ask a church leader ~ don’t just say, “I’m so sorry I can not drive you tomorrow to your appointment” but go the extra mile and add, “but let’s go find someone together right now who is available” ~ sometimes we can not fill a need, but there are ways we can help the need be filled nonetheless
  • preach grace ~ from pulpits and from fingertips
  • take someone out to coffee just because, or bring their favorite drink to them if they are homebound
  • remind someone with physical limitations that they are invaluable, and help them find non-physically-demanding ways to serve (phone calls? prayer chain? offering to have Bible study or choir practice in their home?)
  • remind someone with mental limitations that they are invaluable, and help them find ways to serve (if you can’t leave your home, can we come to you? if being around people or noise is overwhelming, could you do some cooking for someone else? can you cook or clean for someone else, even in the midst of your own mental suffering? if you have no energy, no time, no mental capacity to do a physical thing for someone else and can honestly not even keep up with the demands of your own home & family, could you write about your suffering to teach the rest of us who can not begin to wrap our heads around the thorn in your side? can you lead online prayer chains?)
  • ask to be on a prayer list ~ offer to put someone else on a prayer list
  • try your best not to stick your foot in your mouth ~ silence or an understanding squeeze of the hand can be enough
  • if you don’t know what to say, say THAT without apology
  • ask for elders to come pray in your home or to bring communion to you ~ if you are the caretaker or spouse of someone who is bed-ridden or home-bound, be the voice & advocate of the suffering one, and request these specific things ~ even leaders of churches will need someone to graciously teach them and help peel scales from their eyes
  • don’t give up when the suffering has no end in sight
  • acknowledge that you don’t understand what the other is going through ~ either in their obvious suffering or in their lack of it
  • offer free babysitting, along with a Starbucks (or other date-type place) gift card
  • invite someone over, and ask how you can make it possible for them to be comfortable in your home (allergies, dietary restrictions, time constraints, a place to lie down, making it quiet enough by having your children watch a movie in an upstairs room or putting the barking dog far away)
  • sometimes people have to plan way ahead, so make the sacrifice of putting something on the schedule to really help & truly fellowship
  • sometimes people can not plan more than a few hours in advance, so learn how to be more flexible and invite someone over last-minute
  • take the caretaker/spouse of the suffering person out to eat, out to play frisbee, or to your home for a time of prayer
  • focus more on others than on yourself
  • before you donate items to a thrift shop (furniture, clothing, books, appliances), see if anyone in your church has need of your things ~ be willing to drop stuff off for others at their homes if they need your old washing machine, your used maternity clothing, other clothing (sometimes chronic illnesses or even the medications for physical or mental illnesses can cause unpredictable weight loss or weight gain, and it can be difficult to shuffle one’s wardrobe back & forth without emptying the pocketbook), the books you collected on depression & anxiety or autoimmune diseases, extra chairs for around their table, etc.
  • don’t be shy about asking your church leaders for assistance; whether food or prayer or home/yard chores or childcare or transportation or financial assistance… humble yourself and ask for blessings… who would give a stone when asked for bread?
  • give an extra check in your church offering for the benevolence fund
  • remind your friends that it is okay if their kids need to be watching more movies than seems preferable, during this season of suffering
  • try not to give unsolicited advice
  • pray ceaselessly for the suffering around you
  • be in it for the long haul with joy
  • share what you have, give what you can ~ just show up and be faithful with what you’ve been given
  • grace, grace, grace, grace, GRACE!!!

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Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:12-17

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God our heavenly Father, please bless each of your children who have participated in this discussion over the last week. Please soften our hearts where we have been hardened, please humble us where we have been proud, please open our eyes where they were covered in scales, please unplug our ears where they were not listening. Teach us to love one another in word and in deed. Teach us to shower one another in grace upon grace upon grace. Make us more like Christ as we live together in local manifestations of His body.

We are Your chosen ones, O God ~ we are holy and we are beloved. Please teach us to treat one another as holy, beloved, chosen children of the Father. Please clothe us with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience! Please enable us to bear with one another, and show us how to do this with the compassion, kindness, humble hearts, meek spirits, and patient diligence that would most glorify You. When we strive against one another, when we begrudge one another for any reason, please plant a root of forgiveness in our hearts that will grow and bloom and blossom and bear sweet fruit, just as the forgiveness You have so freely offered us through Christ our Lord bears fruit in our own lives.

But above all the rest of this, heavenly Father, clothe us with love. The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell! And this is the love that we need to imitate, that we must pray for, as we grow up as Your children into Your image. Grant us love beyond measure, so that we can be bound in perfect harmony by Your grace.

Fill our hearts with the peace of Christ, and rule us by that peace so that our homes and our relationships ooze nothing but peace. We were called to His peace in one body, and we ask You to fulfill that calling by filling our cups to overflowing with the peace of Christ. Make us thankful. Teach us to be content with where you have us, suffering and all, with thankful hearts. Put words on our lips that demonstrate thankful hearts.

Put within us the words of Christ so that His rich wisdom and understanding fills us and shapes our relationships with one another. Give us Scripture and holy words in our hearts and minds as we memorize and meditate on Your Word. Give us opportunities to teach, admonish, encourage, and exhort one another with wisdom ~ and increase our wisdom by Your grace more and more as the day of Christ’s return draws nearer. Help us grasp opportunities to sing together, to proclaim psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to one another and for one another. Fill our hearts and heads with music that glorifies You and teaches us all the more about You. Grant us thankfulness to You as we give and receive wise, godly counsel and song.

By the power of Your Spirit, O God our Father, enable us to do all things, in word and in deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus to whom we belong and in whose blood we ourselves are covered and granted forgiveness. Strengthen us to give thanks to You, Father God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, as we serve, as we suffer, as we live together in the body of Christ and as we pray for the furtherance of Your Kingdom here on earth in our own homes.

Thank You, God, for hearing our prayers and granting us grace in this conversation. To You be all glory, now and forever. Amen.

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~part of our series, Serving Those in The Church with Chronic Needs~

Consider the Suffering: Study the Scriptures


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Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly.
Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively.
But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion
or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.
~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, p28~

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Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Romans 12:13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Ephesians 4:29 Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
Matthew 25:35-39 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
Matthew 5:42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Proverbs 22:9 The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
John 15:12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
Galatians 5:13-14 …through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
2 Corinthians 8:3-5 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.
Numbers 11:11-14 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a guardian carries a nursing child,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? For they weep all over me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me.
Deuteronomy 1:12 How can I alone bear your problems and your burdens and your complaints?
Romans 15:1-2 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
Romans 15:5-7 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
Galatians 6:2  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Acts 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Proverbs 14:31 …he who is generous to the needy honors Him.
Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Mark 12:31 ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
2 Corinthians 9:12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
Romans 12:10-11 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Romans 12:4-7 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching…
Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
Proverbs 31:20 She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

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I challenge each of us to search our hearts in reference to this load of Scriptures.
See where the Lord would encourage you.
See where He would exhort you.
See where He extends His grace to you & you can extend it to others.
Open your heart to the urging of the Spirit.
Open your hands to those around you who are suffering.
Open your life to the ones the Lord gave you ~ He gave you to them also.

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~part of our series, Serving Those in The Church with Chronic Needs~

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Prayers of Psalmody ~ in Suffering

Prayers of Psalmody ~ in Suffering
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As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God!
Psalm 40:17

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Suffering. Oh Lord, You know true suffering! Lord, would You please bend low to us as we come on our knees with uplifted hands today? With our tears, our anxieties, our pains, our needs—please, Jesus, intercede for us—please, Holy Spirit, translate our groanings—please, Father, in Your mercy accept our prayers as holy incense in Your presence.

In my poor neediness, O God, I beg you to hasten to me. You are my help! You are my deliverer! Do not delay, O Lord! (Psalm 70:5) My needs and my low estate have caused my heart to be stricken within me (Psalm 109:22), and I suffer distress and anguish. Sometimes I feel like death warmed over, I feel like I might slip into Sheol itself. (Psalm 116:3) O God of all creation, the young lions may suffer want and hunger, but I truly believe with Your psalmist that those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:10) I come to you asking for goodness, for my daily bread, for a respite in the midst of this suffering, for comfort when my heart is in in anguish within me (Psalm 55:4). Be near to me even now in the midst of this suffering, Lord my God, for although trouble and anguish are my companions, it is Your commandments that are my delight (Psalm 119:43). Raise me from the dust, lift me from the ash heap—the pillars of the earth are Yours, my Lord, and on them You indeed have set the world (1 Samuel 2:8)—all things are under Your feet, submitting to Your command. Because of Your power and sovereignty, I know that the needy shall not always be forgotten—no, Lord, not even I!!—and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever (Psalm 9:18), for You are merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy (Psalm 103:8). I am falling, Lord—uphold me! I am bowed down—raise me up! I look to You—give me food in due season! You know my desires, O God—open Your hand to bring satisfaction according to Your grace. (Psalm 145:14-16)

God, You are my God—there is none but You. I seek You earnestly, I thirst for You, I faint for You. I have looked upon Your power, Your glory, Your sanctuary—because I long truly for You like one suffering in a desert wilderness. Even so, my God, it is Your steadfast love that is better than life itself. Oh, I praise You! I praise You with my lips, as I long for the satisfaction of your presence. I will never stop praising You, blessing You, lifting up my hands to the heavens in Your name. When I remember You and all Your marvelous deeds, it satisfies my soul! I am satisfied like a king at a banquet with the fat and rich foods of feasts. Even when I lie on my bed, and when I lie awake at all hours of the night, I remember You and I praise You joyfully—because You indeed have been my help! In my meditations I sing for joy because I rest in the shadow of Your wings. Your right hand holds me up, and my soul clings to You. Sometimes I feel my life on the brink of being destroyed—Lord, the evil and invisible prowlers against my soul will go down into the depths of the earth, and I know You will conquer all my suffering and its causes through the sword and through the devouring of jackals. The mouths of liars will be stopped. I will forever rejoice in God! You will exult me in the end, my God, because I swear by You alone. (Psalm 63) You are the God and King of my life, and I seek to praise You right through my suffering. Give me bigger faith to see You through my pains and trials, to be faithful to You even when I can not see the end from the beginning—and the days can feel oh so long.

I dwell in Your shelter, O God Most High, and I abide in Your shadow, Almighty God. You are my refuge and my fortress! You are my God, and I trust You. I know You will deliver me, even when I feel the suffocation of deadly pestilence. I know You cover me with Your pinions, and I find refuge under Your wings, even in my anguish. You are faithful!! Your faithfulness is a shield to protect me and a buckler to equip me. Nights can be terrible, but Your presence allows me not to fear—days can bring unpredictable battles, but I don’t fear the arrows because You fight for me. Neither darkness or daylight will overcome me, with their pestilence or destruction—because You are for me, and I rest in Your protection. You are my guide, so while thousands fall at Your side and ten thousand at Your right hand, no evil can come near You. Your eyes will look and see the recompense of the wicked. You are my dwelling place, O Lord! You are my refuge, O Most High! Keep evil from me! Protect me from plagues! Command Your angels over me—have them guard me everywhere and at all times, so they can bear me up on their hands if I stumble. Cause me to overcome my foes and to rise up victorious in my battles. Allow me, my God and King, to hold fast to You in love. Deliver me and protect me. Answer me when I call to You, be with me now in my troubles. Please honor me—I know Your name!—and rescue me. O my God, show me Your salvation! Satisfy me with true life! (Psalm 91) Give me eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart that lives by faith alone—remind me through my suffering and despite my suffering that I am in Your shadow, under Your wings, and dwell in Your shelter.

You are my Lord, and You are near to all who call upon You—in truth, O Lord, I call on You now. Fulfill the desire of my heart and hear my cry—save me, God! I fear You and I love You, and I trust You to preserve me because of Your great goodness. (Psalm 145:18-20)

Grow my faith as I suffer, and deliver me according to Your will.
May all power and glory and dominion forever be Yours, from this time forth.
May my lips never cease to proclaim Your faithfulness and Your mercy.

In the name of Jesus, who carries my prayers to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in my soul—amen.

~part of our series, Serving Those in The Church with Chronic Needs~

Sixth: Chronic Suffering, the Leader’s Perspective


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Make the decision to do
what Jesus Christ has asked you to do.
~M. Russell Ballard~

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  1. What kind of ministry(ies) does your church have for those who have chronic needs?
    We’re a new church plant of about 55 people where internal needs are voiced and people rally to serve. We regularly support a local ministry called Vision House that provides housing and programs to homeless women and children, and our church sponsors Creating Friends, a program that provides fellowship and learning to children and young adults with special needs. 
  1. What kind of specific things would you find it personally helpful for individuals in your church body to step up for, rather than waiting for an official ministry?
    People already do this (serve one another’s physical needs for meals, prayer, companionship, or other assistance) consistently. I’ve been blessed to see it over and over. At this point my exhortation is like Paul’s: keep it up. 
  1. What do you do, as church leaders and shepherds of a particular flock, specifically to minister to a person/family suffering chronically?
    Ask how people are doing, pray, visit, and do regular counseling, in addition to keeping focused on prayer and teaching. I do ask others to check in on people when I know I’m out of the loop.
  1. As leaders of a church body, how do/did you perceive the difference between needs & desires in a family who is chronically needy? And what process do/did you go through in order to maintain relationships with these people so that you can assess their needs, and use godly wisdom in discerning how to offer aid? How do you seek to fully bless those who need help of multiple sorts without depleting the congregation on a chronic basis?
    This is very organic at this point. No official process. I think the best foundational thing is to preach the gospel in such a way that shapes people to love one another, and ask the Lord to raise up leaders/deacons to assist as they did in Acts 7. Relationships are maintained because everyone comes to worship the Lord together.
  1. Are there lessons for us (or not) in serving the needy by expounding on the principles in 1 Timothy 5 about widows? Are there other more pertinent Scriptures to give wisdom here? How should people in need balance seeking aid from family members versus seeking aid from the church?
    Family members are a natural first source of help, but believers should also seek the body of Christ. Everyone in the body of Christ should be fundamentally a giver and provider, as Jesus’ example with the widow’s mite. She is portrayed as massively generous, not chronically needy.
    Widows funds can be good if a congregation has that demographic.

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A church full of servants
will have unity & growth.
~Pastor Rick Warren~

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  1. What kind of ministry(ies) does your church have for those who have chronic needs?
    Our church has a mercy ministry team, led by our deacons, that are in touch with both acute and chronic needs in our body and, to some extent, outside our body in broader community. These men, at times helped by ladies in our church, stay in touch with those with chronic needs, to learn the status of physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. These are discussed at deacon’s meetings and plans for intervention made. To a lesser extent, this may also be addressed through our small group ministry. As folks learn of/identify needs among others in their small group (consequences of illness, loss of spouse, etc), these folks, usually without prompting, reach out to the needy person/family. The key here is small group intimacy/sharing that should be fostered.
  2. What kind of specific things would you find it personally helpful for individuals in your church body to step up for, rather than waiting for an official ministry?
    Key here is being able to discern needs before they become large problems. For example, in two families in our church (both with a large number of children), they often teeter on the edge of financial problems. In one family the mother just had a major hospital stay/procedure and their primary vehicle just died. In the second family, two of their four vehicles were totaled in separate car accidents involving their teenagers (although neither accident was the fault of their teens) in the last two weeks. Recognizing these events among the body and their potential for financial disaster and acting quickly to help is important. Thankfully both of these families are among those being regularly cared for by our mercy ministry team.
  3. What do you do, as church leaders and shepherds of a particular flock, specifically to minister to a person/family suffering chronically?
    No one answer; needs vary widely and so many things are relevant. As elders we minister to people in whom public sharing of the situation is appropriate and needed, as well as other situations where the details cannot be shared publicly for a variety of reasons. This requires particular discernment on the part of church leaders. Important in this as leaders is being able to love and care for people personally – to take the time to sit with them, to hear their concerns, and to pray with them before Him who is able to truly change hearts, lives, perspectives. Sometimes this involves the hardship of understanding the spiritual realities of discipleship and also hard choices regarding how we live our lives.
    t times, it is hard to discern, communicate, and accept the realities of what we are all called to as disciples of Christ – specifically that suffering should be expected rather than living on “easy street.”  I am reminded often of Paul, who in 2 Cor 12:7, described his chronic thorn in the flesh that God chose not to take away despite his prayer, so that he might learn dependency on Christ. And in the chapter before (2 Cor 11:25, 26) he describes the suffering he endured in ministry. Countless places in the Psalms, we see David’s laments and fears, often followed by his realization that his hope is in the Lord, not in the circumstances around him. No one wants to suffer (me included) but we all need to understand that this is the life we are called to as disciples, including those with chronic needs.
    Also related is sometimes helping people understand that their suffering is not necessarily a specific “punishment” for some bad choice. Nor that grace only comes as a result of our doing something “right” or “good” for the Lord. Grace is not grace if it must be earned. Others struggle so hard to understand/discern God’s “plan for their life.” We, in our church, have been learning again and again that it’s not so much that God has a plan for His people, but rather that God has a people for His plan. It’s so much more about our relationship with our loving Father and the thanks/worship He merits.
    Our job as leaders is to help those in need (and frankly all of us) understand all of this. To be reminded that, in spite of the circumstances, we are still incredibly loved and cared for and that Christ experienced infinitely greater suffering (undeservedly) on our behalf. Further, our ultimate deliverance is fully paid for in Christ and that our citizenship is not here but rather with Christ in glory. In addition, this sometimes involves, as leaders, communicating advice that may be hard to receive – encouraging people to live within their means, to be satisfied with what God has provided, discern carefully who you should marry, and, where appropriate, to not expect handouts but to work hard (Genesis mandate; Ruth 2:3 – gleaning) for their daily bread. These are the harder and deeper issues that can only be communicated in the context of a loving relationship (speak the truth in love) with a person or family, and that are often very hard for them/us to receive. Sometimes this even results in people leaving the local body if they have trouble accepting the truth. Leaders should not be deterred from sharing the truth in love for fear of losing congregants.
  1. As leaders of a church body, how do/did you perceive the difference between needs & desires in a family who is chronically needy? And what process do/did you go through in order to maintain relationships with these people so that you can assess their needs, and use godly wisdom in discerning how to offer aid? How do you seek to fully bless those who need help of multiple sorts without depleting the congregation on a chronic basis?
    Being able to communicate with needy persons/families must be done in the context of loving relationships. This relationship comes by spending time with people as described above, which is the job of a shepherd. For those with multiple needs and being sensitive to not depleting the church, I think it appropriate to talk openly about all of the things above: spiritual perspective/understanding, choices and consequences, living within means, pursuing work, assessing resources and relationships from the individuals broader family and the extent to which they are committed to helping. At times, women in the church may be more able to discern needs and stay in touch with needy women, widows, etc. and then to communicate specific needs to the deacons or others in the church. We have several widows in our church and, while our deacons and other men are sometimes in touch with them, often there are one or two women in the church (known to the deacons) who specifically reach out and have the level of intimacy with the woman/widow that they can discern need and get permission to share specific needs with deacons/others. This is a very helpful and important ministry for several ladies in our body.
    I think there is biblical precedent for people to seek aid from family members for real needs (not wants). In addition, as shared above, there are many examples in Scriptures about caring for the poor and widows. From the church’s perspective I have always been struck with the description of the early church in Acts where they “had things in common” and “shared as each had needs.” The passage illustrates that this occurred in the context of close and intimate relationships within the body, living “life on life” together; viewing what God has provided to you with an “open hand.”  The church really needs to invest time and resources into building small group ministries where these type of relationships can be cultivated/fostered.  And this approach to material possessions, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, to understanding needs vs. wants, etc. needs to be taught from the Scriptures in sermons, Sunday School, small groups, recommended bible study materials, etc.

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I have thought about this much over the years, and one particular passage seems often to bridge the gap between “wants” and “needs”.

Matthew 6:31-34
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

 When many Christians consider verse 33 [But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you], they seem often to lament that though they have been singularly seeking the kingdom of God, not all the things they have expected have come their way. “I’ve been wholly dedicated to God, and yet I haven’t the money to send all my kids to college, and my husband has to work two jobs so that we can keep up… The kids so desperately need braces, and we haven’t had a family vacation in three years. Why would God keep from us ‘all these things’ that He promises when we are so faithful in petitioning Him?”
But, what is promised in this passage? Food, drink, clothing. Although there are, to be sure, many of our brothers and sisters around the world who truly are lacking much, those in our American churches certainly are not. Even the poorest parishioners in American churches are amongst the richest few percent of the world’s population.
Jesus nowhere promises health, wealth, and an upper middle class standard of living for everyone who goes to church. “The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing.” [Psalm 34:10] If God is true—and He is—then those that seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing. And, if godly Christians believe that their lives do lack certain good things that they believe the LORD has withheld from them, “let God be true but every man a liar.” [Romans 3:4] Either they are not seeking the Lord, or what they are presuming to be good things are not good things for them, from God’s perspective.
Is not a particular definition of envy, my desiring of things which others have and which God has denied to me? Is it not quite often the direct, predictable, and inexorable results of choices I make which have given me the lot which I now lament? Is it not also an ungodly envy which would covet those tangible blessings others might have who took a different path early on? While not downplaying the blessings of large families, children are predictably very expensive to raise in the fashion which our modern yearnings have accustomed us.
I do believe it is a blessing for brethren to help brethren where help is needed. However, egalitarianism within The Church is as great a cancer as it is the world. And, the expectation that all things being equal all things ought to be equal, all too often transgresses the tenth commandment.
This is a very challenging topic.

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Moving forward implies motion
when in all actuality it may be
simply standing still & seeing the salvation of the Lord.
~John Paul Warren~

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From a financial aspect, we have a second offering once a month for our Mercy Ministry efforts. This is what we use to help those in need (acute and chronic needs), both in the church and in the community. We’ve had a few repeat but not really chronic community needs. Not all needs are money related, but this is the pool of funds we use to meet those needs. For those in the church with chronic needs, we tend to limit the number of Deacons interacting with the individual. This is really only for communication about the needs being met. That way folks don’t have to repeat needs/stories and the couple of Deacons involved can build relationships better. This isn’t to keep others, including non-Deacons, from getting involved. We encourage that when appropriate, and it often is. It’s not like you have to be an ordained officer to serve someone. We have just found that familiar faces ease pride and embarrassment.

We try to encourage the generosity of the congregation. I know there are people helping people all the time that we as Deacons never even hear about. A lot of this comes from small groups helping each other. A lot also comes from the ladies in the church helping each other (i.e. childcare when sick or moving, rides, etc). Most of the larger financial needs go through the Deacons. I do know of some folks that have sponsored other men/women for retreats/conferences. This is frequently done without Deacon involvement, although our Mercy Ministry fund is occasionally used for this as well. We give a monthly update on the Mercy Ministry offering to the congregation to show how the funds are being used. We keep personal details private but give generalities. We often take that time to encourage service and mercy also. It also informs visitors and others that don’t know about what we do. It has just seemed odd to folks when we pass the plate a second time if you don’t consistently remind and inform what its purpose is.

Sermons are online, and CDs of sermons can be made and delivered. Our elders will visit the sick at home. We have a public prayer list emailed and printed weekly in the bulletin. All public information is only given out with permission. We offer rides to church for those that need it. Elders counsel when needed or requested. Counseling is frequently done by the teaching elders (i.e. paid pastoral staff). This isn’t driven by the elders but many just feel that they have to go to a pastor for counseling, but all the elders too are shepherds and are qualified for this.

Needs versus desires are tricky. This is where building relationships helps. It is where needs can be discovered even if not expressed/requested. It’s also a place were special gifts from individuals can help. Approaching a few individuals for help getting a kid a bike is an example. Sure, a bike is a desire and not a need. But the joy of a bike for a kid and to the single mother that could not provide or felt awkward asking for aid for a non-essential item is great to see. We recently had a person in the church with construction skills. He donated skill and the church paid for a bathroom renovation for a wheelchair bound member. We would not have known about this need without the close friends hearing about the strain it was to bathe and toilet this individual. If funds are available for desires, then we try to accommodate. We just recently helped a family travel to see the wife’s brother. Others in the family were gathering and she could not afford to go. She hadn’t seen her brother in several years and her family did not have the means to help her. We were thankful that we had enough to do this. When multiple needs arise, especially a large or recurring need, we try to prioritize somewhat roughly as follows: members, regular attenders, outside community.

We refer back to Micah 6:8 frequently.
There is a good book as well that the Deacons studied together along with our senior pastor: Generous Justice by Timothy Keller. One of my favorite quotes is the following: “If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all?” The book also mentions Deuteronomy 24:14-19. “If we read this text closely, we see that part of the landowner’s harvest was “for” the immigrant and poor. That means that in God’s eyes, it was actually theirs. If the owner did not limit his profits and provide the poor with an opportunity to work for their own benefit in the fields, he did not simply deprive the poor of charity but of justice, of their right. Why? A lack of generosity refuses to acknowledge that your assets are not really yours, but God’s.

Here is a Jonathan Edwards sermon as well that we discussed at one point. It was a little tough to get through at times for me. And there was another book (Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace by Harvie Conn) that I enjoyed, although not as much as Keller’s.

It’s a hard battle with the idea that some people are not worth the effort or not deserving of help. It’s especially hard when the needs arise from repeated mistakes or mismanagement from the one in need. We must remember that there are no gradations in the image of God. All are our neighbors (even if not our brother/sister), and we are commanded to love our neighbors. From a spiritual standpoint, we were not made to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. If God provided for us when we didn’t deserve or earn it, we shouldn’t withhold mercy/justice.

As far as seeking aid from family vs the church, that’s a case by case basis. Many don’t have family that can help or are willing to help. Others are not in a relationship with their family that would allow or be beneficial for them to seek aid from their family.

A lot of this is generic and not specific to the chronic situations. The basics (at least as I understand) are love God and love others. No restrictions. No partiality. Mercy isn’t deserved and it isn’t earned. Relationships are important but they are also messy and complicated.

From Generous Justice, “Always try to err on the side of being generous, and always keep your policies flexible and open to cases that don’t fit your categories.”

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If we do not lay ourselves out for the service of mankind,
whom are we to serve?
~Abigail Adams~

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~part of our series, Serving Those in The Church with Chronic Needs~

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It is From Thy Hand

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You must submit to supreme suffering
in order to discover the completion of joy.
Thou, Lord, bruisest me,
but I am abundantly satisfied,
since it is from Thy hand.
~John Calvin~

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~part of our series, Serving Those in The Church with Chronic Needs~

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Fifth: Thoughts from those Who Serve the Suffering


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It’s a beautiful heart,
not a perfect body,
that leads to a beautiful life.
~Stephanie Nielson~

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We just started at a new church the beginning of this year and it has been overwhelming (in a good way) to see people truly and intentionally care for people in the body. Right now, we have no official ministries but I see the hands and the feet of Christ just so eager to move and be who Christ has called us to be. I am so encouraged by it. Our church is really great about announcing and praying every week from the front about ongoing needs by name and situation (with permission beforehand) which is incredibly helpful, so I have been able to reach out from that information given. I think meeting the basic needs of fellowship and friendship are really important, especially since these people often probably feel forgotten or alone. Making meals, cards and snacks come naturally for me, but I think it really ministers to people…

I know sometimes the church has changed the location of a Bible study or choir rehearsal to my parents’ house so she could be there, and that meant the world to her. Chronic illness is so hard. My mom has had MS for almost 30 years, and she doesn’t want people to pity her or look at her as a project or ignore her insights. Sometimes it can feel like people get impatient with the lingering nature of the disease and are frustrated when they can’t “fix” things or when years of accommodating these special needs continue and continue. Once Mom had a dear friend whom she had lost touch with visit. She was thrilled! And then said friend pushed her belief that drinking more fruit juice would help mom be cured of the MS. I mean, really. …how annoying for a friend to say this. So I think for people with chronic illnesses the trick is figuring out how to walk alongside them, valuing their personhood and expertise (not “let me do everything for you because you’re so disabled”), and know that you need to be in it for the long haul cheerfully. It is very hard.

Our church has a dedicated care task group who visit people, make meals, etc. I think having sermons online helps to feel a bit more connected to what is going on in the church if they can’t make it. People can find chronic conditions in others frustrating. Teaching from the front can help (e.g. about suffering, loving each other, practical tips) to help people know what to do and say (or not say!). Maybe interviewing people might help too – if they don’t want to go public someone could perhaps give their answers on their behalf. There are books that could be promoted: ‘How Long O Lord‘ by Don Carson might be a bit tough for some people (I needed a dictionary at hand) but excellent theology.

Online sermons. Communion delivered to shut-ins by an elder. Pastors and elders make themselves available to visit the home bound and address any spiritual needs.

I don’t think our church really has a formal ministry like this, and honestly probably doesn’t do a good job with this either.  Most of this type of thing is delegated down to small group leaders to organize for the immediate needs, however that means that someone needs to have signed up with one and be attending a group. One of the issues I see is that my church is generally good about wanting to respond to an immediate need, whether it’s meals or benevolence.  But if it’s an ongoing thing, people just forget. The second or third (or more) times someone is in the hospital, no one visits or brings a meal.  I think anything that communicates to the family that they are not forgotten and are not walking this alone is so beneficial.  It is very easy to feel alone when you are dealing with chronic illness – both the one with the illness and their caretaker.  For someone that can’t leave the house much, I think visits for prayer and communion are helpful, as well as online sermons or CDs/DVDs if they don’t have a computer to watch.  Hospital visits are nice if it’s an extended stay, or meal(s) for them when they come home and are recovering so they don’t have to worry about transitioning home and cooking.  I think it’s also good to be aware of any special needs when thinking of church events so that the person doesn’t feel like they automatically can’t go.

For me, just having someone show compassion (vs. pity) is such a boost. And, if my pride doesn’t get in the way—which it often does!!!—food is a blessing (cookies, casseroles, etc.).

I had the privilege of helping a dear sweet older lady suffering from Leukemia. I helped prepare her meals, did basic housework, kept her hummingbird feeders full, and spent time getting to know her and just doing any little thing that needed doing. I even did some accounting/bookkeeping spread sheets for her on her laptop so she could keep track of her medical miles. I could see that it was really hard for her to go from being independent to being bedridden with little to no strength. I think that is really a difficult thing for anyone who is used to being so independent to be able to ask for help and accept it too. I think it is also frustrating for those who are suffering to look around and see things that need to be done and have the mental capability but not the physical capability.
One thing that I learned early on is that it’s so important to try and do things how they would want them done or how they were used to doing them. I may wash dishes differently at home but that doesn’t matter because I’m there to serve her in her home.
Sometimes, she just needed someone there just to talk to and take her mind off her health & troubles. I remember my friend saying it really bothered her when well-meaning people would send her books on leukemia and offer dietary suggestions etc. My friend had already read all the books, done a lot of research and was already on a very healthy diet even before she was diagnosed. She’d already gotten all the opinions and advice from her doctors and was doing all she could. It became tiring for her to listen to yet another suggestion that wasn’t guaranteed to improve her health, or if it was something she already tried in the past two years.
I also told her that if she couldn’t find anyone else to take her into town for appointments or errands, to please call me and I would re-arrange my schedule if need be.

Keep updated prayer lists which sometimes reflect who is feeling up to having visitors.

Pastor/elder visits, communion drop-off, putting recorded messages on our website, etc. Pay for cleaning service (usually once a month or once every 2 weeks, depending on the need). Help pay for medical costs that insurance doesn’t cover (eg. hardware for the home that is necessary to keep person mobile and more independent). All church volunteers for when they needed help moving.

I know what my gifts are, I know what my resources are, and I have a heart that longs to serve and bless – so I seek out those who are suffering, and try to find ways to bless them without needing to be told by a committee what to do. That being said, I can write notes of encouragement, I can drop off goodies, I can fill a freezer with food, I can help run an occasional errand… due to my own limitations, I can’t relieve medical bills or pay for housecleaning services… I seek wisdom through prayer in how I can serve as an individual.

[In my particular needs] I didn’t need people to do anything time consuming or special but just being invited to join in what they are already doing and be a part of their family and their life makes all the difference. Words are not enough but the action doesn’t have to be big to make a big difference. It makes me think of who else is out there that is lonely and I can reach out to, and also that I need to be willing to reach out to people and be honest, accepting that I’m not a bother to them because they really do love me with the love of Holy Spirit.

Life groups (or small groups) is how members minister to members in our church. It is expected that as needs arrive within your life group, it is up to the other life group members to meet those needs (everything except financial, which we have a church wide Barnabas fund to meet members financial needs). If the need is greater than the life group can address, then the life group leader reaches out to other life groups for additional help. Examples of things that lifegroups help members with are: moving, temporary child care, transportation issues, home repairs, painting, meals, cards for encouragement, etc. Now, where people fall through the cracks in our church is if they chose not to join a life group. People would still be willing to help these members, but sometimes their needs go unnoticed. We also have a deep freeze with frozen meals.

I don’t have the gift of cooking but I would be happy to go clean homes for a member. It is more difficult for me to sign up to bring a meal to someone (although I try to do that anyway) because it is not my gift. I did offer to clean someone’s home for them when the wife had a lot of on-going issues but wasn’t taken up on the offer. Perhaps there is someone else in the congregation with other gifts like cleaning or household repair that is just waiting for an invitation to use them. If there was a formal ministry that included cleaning members’ homes I would sign up to help out a bit but I feel weird asking if someone needs me to come by and clean for them.

The men in our church sign up to be called for electrical, plumbing, washer/dryer repairs, yard work etc. The women sign up to be called to clean house, drive someone to appointments, cook, or whatever.  Just last month we each made casseroles, soups and stew—we spent a Saturday morning packaging and freezing meals.

I think, more than anything, the suffering need a listening ear. They need someone who genuinely cares about what they are going through even if we can’t fully understand the depths of that suffering. They need someone to rely on, who will be there for them and come to visit them on a regular basis. They can rest and relax so much easier if they know the basics are being taken care of: dishes, house cleaning, watering of plants/landscape, mowing of the grass, meal prep and so forth. My friend loved it when I brought her flowers or a jar of home-pressed apple juice or a little card I’d made. Even a phone call can be a blessing if you can’t physically be there. I would encourage everyone to reach out and see how you can help someone who is suffering: it was very eye opening to me in a lot of ways and helped me grow in compassion and empathy toward those who are chronically ill.

I am not on church leadership or any kinds of committees (nor do I plan to be at any point in the future), and my husband is no longer a deacon or in any official capacity either. But we are people who want (and believe it is our Christian privilege as well as duty) to serve, encourage, bless, and be active in the body of Christ. I have a vision of buying a stand-alone freezer for our church, and being in charge of filling it and using it as a freezer meal bank—but this is a future hope/goal, and not something the Lord has yet equipped my family to accomplish. I also write a few notes of encouragement to people each week, and pray diligently for them—I know the incalculable value of written encouragement and the unseen mysterious ministry of prayer, so I jump into those actions with as much gusto as I can.
~Melissa Joy~


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~part of our series, Serving Those in The Church with Chronic Needs~

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