The Rules of My Universe

March 26, 2018, by Kristin Neva

Poof, Conflict Resolved?

In maintaining the rules of the world I’ve created with strokes of a pen, I have a better appreciation for why God doesn’t always intervene in our lives.

Different genres of literature are set in various times and places, and it’s important for authors to maintain the rules of their particular universes. In Historic novels, they can’t utilize technology that hadn’t yet been invented. Authors of Fantasy and Science Fiction must describe the limitations of their universes and stick with them, otherwise they won’t be able to effectively create tension or the readers won’t be able to suspend their disbelief.

I write contemporary fiction because I love the real world—but I also hate it. When I drive my kids to school, I glory in the beauty of the sunrise over the Portage Canal, but I despise ALS and the toll it takes on caregivers and people with the disease who don’t have basic needs met.

We’re in a better situation than many, and I appreciate the support from family and friends, but life is still hard as a full-time caregiver for my darling husband, who is now paralyzed. Meanwhile, I battle my own chronic health issues, and I cry out to heaven, “Jesus, won’t you please come back? God, this is too hard. Why won’t you heal Todd? At least heal me so I can better care for him and our kids. Help!”

I pray for a cure for ALS, some medicine that would at least stop the progression. Better yet, I’d love to see divine intervention. A miracle. Poof, ALS gone, and my best friend can walk. We’d go on vacation and build sandcastles on a beach in Florida with the kids.

Alas, those are not the rules of the universe we live in, nor of the universe I’ve created on Copper Island. My characters experience the pain of life, and they’re frustrated when there are no easy answers.

One of the hardest parts of writing is to resolve tension and conflict organically, to let it play out. As I write, I get to know my characters, and they become friends. I want good for them—after all there’s a lot of me and others I love in them. But inevitably, because of the world in which they live, my characters get in situations where they feel like there’s no hope, and as the author, the god of my fictional universe, I don’t even know how they’ll find resolution.

With the stroke of a pen, I could employ deus ex machina, or god from the machine, a literary device used in Greek tragedies. At the dark moment, when all hope is lost, a crane would lower onto the stage an actor playing a god, who would resolve the conflict and conclude the drama. But if I tried this, it wouldn’t feel authentic.

Instead, my characters must grow through whatever tragedy they face. And growth is hard. Just as there are no easy transformations in our real lives, change doesn’t come easily in my fictional world. I write my characters into a corner, and they need to work through the messiness of life.

In my novel Copper Country, I would’ve liked for Aimee to have the kind of relationship she wanted with her dad, but there’s no easy cure for narcissism in real life. I would’ve liked for Russ’s parents to embrace Aimee, but the Saarinens held firmly to the sectarianism of their church. Anything else wouldn’t have felt true to character, true to the universe I created. So instead of these situations getting better, Aimee gets better and perseveres.

When my daughter was eight, I was reading her a story from a Children’s Bible in which Adam and Eve disobeyed God, ate the apple, and sin entered the world.

“It’s all their fault,” she bemoaned, absorbed in the story. And then she remarked, “On the bright side, there wouldn’t be mysteries or exciting movies if they hadn’t sinned.”

There is no story without conflict.

In our story, God subjected all of creation to futility. There’s a cosmic battle between good and evil, and an internal battle within our hearts and minds. We face loss. Tragedy. Broken relationships. Health issues. Internal angst. We struggle with faith in a God who can seem distant and absent. How can a loving, all-powerful God allow his children to suffer?

I can’t answer that question, but when I press hard, it gives way to a different question as I consider my creative pursuit of writing. Could have God created a different world in which we didn’t suffer?

Perhaps God could have written our story in a different genre, with different rules for our universe, but in doing so the world as we know it would cease to exist. We would cease to exist as we are.

My life story takes place in a messy, broken, sorrowful world, but it also contains beauty, joy, glory, and love. But when this story ends and the book is closed, I’ll enter a new world where the rules of the universe contain no evil or suffering. Only love.

 

This article originally appeared on KristinNeva.com.

The Truth About Happiness

March 23, 2018, by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.

Bryan and Todd Neva, Minnesota, 2011

$10 Billion a year! That’s how big the self-improvement industry, and it’s projected to grow by nearly 6% annually. So there are ten billion reasons why that industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about happiness.

If you were to ask others what would make them happy, they’d typically answer with such things as, winning the lottery, buying a car or home, or going on an exotic vacation. These material externalities are fleeting and temporal. Others look for happiness within themselves, going so far as a Tibetan monastery high atop a Himalayan mountain to find it. However, lowering your expectations or denying the reality of life only numbs the pain.

The word itself, happiness, implies circumstantial conditions, like happenstance, or luck. However, joy is so much more important than happiness. And joy is much closer than you might think.

Joy can be found in your heart, words, and actions. A heart for God seeks to obey his commandments for life, the greatest of which are to love God and your neighbor. Put God first, others second, and yourself third.

My younger brother Todd is one of the happiest people I know, and he’s a complete quadriplegic with ALS. He’s mostly confined to his home, but he lives his life in service to others. He helps his wife, Kristin, with her fiction writing and her YouTube channel The ALS411. He volunteers with his church as a webmaster and graphic artist. He speaks and maintains a blog, nevastory.com, on topics of grief and suffering.

I’ve asked him several times how he remains so happy, and he can’t give me an answer. But if you look at his life, he puts God first, others second, and himself third. He strives to live a godly life by obeying his commandments, and he seems to have joy in spite of the circumstances.

Suffering in life is a given. We’ll all must suffer in some way, physically or mentally, at some point in our lives. If we love others, we’ll suffer all the more through our compassion, but can still have joy. Rather than running from our problems, run toward the problems of yourself and others by helping them carry their burdens in some way.

This is not to diminish the need for medical help when needed. If you’re sick, go to a doctor and take your medicine. If you’re depressed or anxious talk with a confidant or mental health provider and take their advice. Depression and anxiety can be due to chemical imbalances in the brain, and thankfully medicines today can relieve some of the symptoms. If you’re struggling with addiction, find a twelve-step program. Don’t suffer in silence. Give others the opportunity to live outside themselves and come alongside you and help you carry your cross.

Suffering, sadness, and happiness are all parts of the human condition. Find joy in all those situations through your heart, words, and actions. We all must suffer in some way. So rather than running from suffering embrace it but do your best to overcome it. You’ll never appreciate the mountains until you’ve traveled through the valleys.

Accepting our sufferings gives us hope and meaning in our lives and ultimately leads to joy and happiness.

This article originally appeared in Profit At Any Price and was reposted here with permission of the author,

Now This is Humbling

December 18, 2017 by Todd Neva

I chatted with one of the white haired ladies at church on Sunday. We have much in common.

She was glad to see me, and I told her that getting out was good for the soul.

Her friend takes her to church on Sundays, and then they go to lunch. She’s dependent on her friend to get her out of her apartment. She was lamenting her doctor’s orders to not drive in the winter.

“But it’s just my pride,” she said.

“That’s true,” I said. “The hardest part is right when you lose independence. After it’s gone, you realize life goes on and it’s not so bad.”

Though I agreed with her, I would characterize it more as humbling than the loss of pride. I don’t think one needs to be full of pride to walk on his own or drive on her own. It’s natural. It’s normal.

This Christmas season, I’m mindful of all that Jesus gave up to walk among us. He humbled himself, and now we have a God who can sympathize with our weaknesses.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. ” Philippians 2:5-7

Merry Christmas

Expanding our World to Cope with ALS

September 19, 2017, by Kristin Neva

Someone recently asked me how I cope. “Prayer? Devotions?”

I think she was expecting a more spiritual answer. But I’ve found three basic things go a long way to keeping me sane.

First, exercise. Thirty minutes on the elliptical machine does wonders for my back, knees, and mood.

Second is sleep. We hire help to turn Todd at night. It’s necessary for his health. It’s necessary for my health.

And sleep enables the third method of coping — expansion.

In many ways, disease and disability shrink our world. We can’t have the adventures we imagined—hiking, camping, or vacationing with our kids. So our big annual event is the Houghton County Fair.

But even the fair took a toll on Todd this year. He went one day, and then needed to rest the whole next. He is most comfortable in his climate-controlled office, where he feels most independent on the computer.

And that is where our world has most expanded.

We’ve learned new skills in the last few years.

Todd has learned to draw with his HeadMouse. He makes graphics for our church. He helps me with my writing.

I’ve learned the craft of writing, having published the Copper Island Novels, and I’ve become comfortable speaking to groups. And I’ve developed a sales pitch selling the books and hand-tied wreaths at craft fairs.

Now we’ve started a couple YouTube channels. On the ALS 411, I talk about tips and tricks for disabled living. The things we’ve learned over the last seven years.

And since I’ve long had a passion for teaching kids to read, ever since I coordinated a tutoring program at the Milwaukee rescue mission, I started a channel to teach phonemic awareness to preschoolers, kindergartners, and struggling readers.

Our whole family has been helping with Time with Miss Kris. Sara and Isaac help brainstorm content, and they work the lights and camera under Todd’s direction. Todd has learned to edit videos, and we’re going to produce one video a week, posting them on Tuesdays.

The dream is that between the novels, wreath making, and YouTube, I would supplement our income enough to pay for sleep without having to rely so much on the generous support of our friends and family. (Thank you, by the way, to those who contributed to our caregiving fund. And thank you to those who’ve volunteered.)

But even if my business pursuits aren’t so lucrative, it’s good for our spirits to expand our world.

PS Check out the sample videos below. Like and subscribe, too.

What Seven Years of Sickness Taught Me about Marriage

August 24, 2017, by Todd Neva

Our vows were to the extremes – in sickness and in health.

For the first seven years, we were tested by the typical marriage issues. Communication. Intimacy. Money. Distractions. Lack of appreciation.

Much of the marriage advice worked. Hug daily. Never let the sun set on your anger. Pray together. Set boundaries. Date (each other). Affirm each other.

The wisest words were spoken fourteen years ago yesterday by an old man married 50 years — “All you need to say is, ‘Yes, dear.'”

I asked Kristin if there was anything she wanted to do that she would regret not doing.

“I want to live in the inner-city and minister to the kids there,” she told me.

That was my big “yes, dear.” I sold my plush condo on the east side of Milwaukee and we purchased a house in the hood.

We got to know some kids, but our biggest impact was to our next door neighbor Bob. He was a ragamuffin whom God loved, and we got to be with him when he died.

We closed that chapter of life, then moved to Racine where we had our kids.

A good job. A minivan. A beautiful bungalow.

Then in June 2010, I was diagnosed with a terminal disease. We held to our vows of “in sickness” as I got my affairs in order to prepare Kristin for widowhood.

But the 2-to-3-year prognosis has now turned to 7 years of disability.

And what issues do we deal with now?

Communication. Intimacy. Time management. Money. Distractions. Lack of appreciation.

Marriage is marriage, folks.

Disease is hard on marriages. Any tragedy is hard on marriages. Divorce rates rise after a death of a child. It pains me to see spouses collapse under the burden of caregiving.

I don’t know how Kristin keeps going, but she does.

I can’t hug her, and intimacy is understandably difficult, but we communicate. We pray daily. We talk through issues. We date — sometimes for just twenty minutes watching a show after the kids go to bed. I affirm her.

And I still try to say, “Yes, dear.”

Early in our marriage, Kristin talked about writing a book. She’d observed that most good books were written by people who were at least in their 40s, probably because they had something to say by then.

She wasn’t quite 40, but caring for a husband with a terminal disease seasoned her, so she had a vision for Heavy.

We wrote it so others who are suffering wouldn’t feel alone.

And then she took on the next big challenge — writing fiction. I love that, because there’s often more truth in fiction. We got to explore themes in Snow Country and Copper Country that we wouldn’t otherwise have touched.

And a week ago she asked me to write this anniversary blog, as she’s written the last couple.

But truth be told, this date snuck up on me, in spite of me sitting around all day. She had to remind me of the blog yesterday. I’ve been distracted by some other projects and Netflix.

Our marriage is tested by the typical issues.

I ordered her flowers this morning, and “yes, dear,” here is your blog.

Happy anniversary, buttercup!

Keweenaw Sweetness

July 17, 2017, by Kristin Neva

Sara Neva in Finnish Dance Costume

The Strawberry Festival is over, but fortunately the Keweenaw is still producing the little red berries. It’s some solace in a summer that’s slow in coming.

In Snow Country, Beth found hope in Pastor Chip’s words. “It’s going to take a long time for two-hundred inches of snow to melt, but it will melt and saturate the soil to give life to strawberries, thimbleberries, and blueberries.”

To the extent that Snow Country featured snow, Copper Country features berries. Keweenaw winters are marked by fall flurries, nearly daily snows in January, and spring blizzards. But our summers are marked by seasonal berries.

Early in the second book, Russ and Aimee visit Big Traverse Bay, where “low bushes with tiny white flowers, the genesis of blueberries, covered sand dunes.” And the “only shade came from a few Saskatoon trees, which would produce wild sugarplums in August.”

A few weeks later, Russ works for a lady where “trees encroached on the house, filling what was probably once a strawberry farm.”

Many of the old farms have been left fallow, as grocery stores prefer the almost tasteless strawberries genetically engineered to stay “fresh” for weeks during transport. But in the Keweenaw, we can still find berries that are half the size and twice the flavor sold by kids with roadside stands.

Later in Copper Country, Aimee and Russ are back at Big Traverse with Louisa picking berries, and the Heikki Lunta is serving fresh berry sauce on pannukakku.

There’s something genuine and earthy about a place scheduled by the seasons. Students, snowbirds, and tourists come and go, filling planes and cars in both directions. Businesses bustle or slow for their respective seasons.

I was bike riding with my kids when I spotted wild strawberry plants along our country road. I stopped and, searching for berries, found only a few for us to sample. They were small, but oh, so sweet.

With our cool weather, the berries are fewer and smaller, reminding us of how fragile and fleeting summer is. But we don’t despair. We celebrate all the more, savoring their sweetness because we know winter looms.

It reminds me of life as I reflect on living with my husband’s ALS. Life for the last seven years has been like a long winter, but we still have our good days. We’ll occasionally run to the Fitz in Eagle River for ribs. We’ll “stay-cation” for a week with daily visits to the Houghton County Fair. And we’ll celebrate and savor the Keweenaw’s strawberries, thimbleberries, and blueberries.

Seven Years Takes a Toll

June 10, 2017, by Kristin Neva

Seven Year Fam Pic IMG_6454Driving home after dropping the kids off for their last day of school, I was struck by the natural beauty around me. Lilacs blooming. The sun shining on trees full of apple blossoms. So much beauty, I can barely absorb it. We’re in the glory days of UP living.

At the same time, there’s much pain woven into this season of the year for me.

My second Father’s Day without my dad will be here soon. I think of him often with reminders of him everywhere. The shelf he built for Isaac to keep his Legos on. The dollhouse he built for me and then renovated for Sara. The clothesline poles he made for my birthday, and the fruit trees we planted together. There will always be an ache in my heart, and yet I’m grateful to have had a dad who loved so well.

This is also the season when we pass the anniversary of Todd’s diagnosis — seven years on June 11. There’s that same mixture of joy and pain living with ALS.

Seven years with a progressive terminal illness has taken a toll.

I’m currently trying to get Medicare to approve an alternating air cushion because Todd has pressure sores from sitting in his wheelchair. He gets uncomfortable, not being able to shift his weight. He loses muscle month by month. His feet — his whole body even — swell with edema. He has itches he can’t scratch.

It’s maddening not being able to scratch an itch. Try it. Think about itching right now, and you’ll probably get one. As I type this my face has an itch, and I’m trying to see how long I can hold out before scratching it.

That’s it. I scratched. Itch gone. Relief.

Imagine not being able to do that. Todd has an amazing attitude, but this disease is a monster.

And it’s not just hard on Todd. It has taken a toll on me as well.

After not getting uninterrupted sleep for a year and a half because I was up and down all night turning Todd, last summer I was at my breaking point. With the chronic Lyme disease I picked up from a tick bite, as well as the stress I’m under, my anxiety went through the roof when I was on duty without a break. We needed night-time help. We were thankful for the support we received so we could build the caregiver’s addition off of Todd’s bedroom, and now we are hiring help so we can both sleep at night.

Medicare pays for zero respite care, and Todd did not have a long-term care insurance policy. So the cost of nighttime care is a huge burden, and I can’t leave him to work as then we’d also have to pay someone to take care of him during the day. The yearly cost is over $35,000 for us to get six hours of sleep each night.

Thankfully, we have one volunteer who gives a night of her time every week, and we have a couple ongoing respite care grants from ALS organizations. We pay for a great deal of the expense out of pocket, but we’re left with about $15,000 per year that we couldn’t possibly cover. I’m hoping my writing takes off so we can close the financial gap, but until then we depend on our friends to generously gift us money.

Sleep is so necessary for Todd’s and my health. When caregivers cancel, as we asked them to when they’re sick, it’s as if I have a PTSD attack. I simply need sleep after I went without it far too long.

And yet, we celebrate. Todd has outlived his prognosis by two years, and the decline in his breathing continues to be gradual. I’m thankful I get to still do life with my best friend. The kids have their dad to help them with homework and encourage them. Todd finds purposeful activities to fill his time—counseling friends, creating graphics for our church, preaching a few times a year, and — my favorite—helping me edit my Copper Island novels.

There’s creative energy flowing in our house, and it’s good. Many times, I stop what I’m doing to write down something funny Todd says — inspiration for scenes in a novel. Or we’ll have a minor disagreement and I’ll say, “Let’s keep arguing and see where this goes. It’s good dialogue.”

My second novel, Copper Country, will be out at the end of the month, possibly by the end of this week if the proof copy looks good. There are some funny scenes in it. I have learned how therapeutic laughing is — especially in the midst of difficult circumstances. I’m reminded of what Todd wrote in our memoir Heavy, “There is pain and suffering in this world, but there is also joy, and not just suffering here and joy there, but suffering and joy in the very same place.”

**In celebration of this seven year anniversary of Todd’s diagnosis, the Kindle version of Heavy will be 99 cents for the month of June. Share with folks you know facing ALS or other tough stuff. It resonates with people who are dealing with various kinds of suffering.**

The Purpose of Suffering

March 14, 2017, by Todd Neva

The following is a transcript from the last of three Good News You Can Use radio spots, which aired January 16-18, 2017, on WMPL 920 AM.  I spoke on the topic The God of Suffering.

Mitch:

Todd Neva is a lay preacher at Evangel Baptist Church. Nearly 7 years ago, he was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal disease that causes total paralysis. He lives in the Hancock area with his wife and two children. He and his wife Kristin authored the book Heavy, A Young Family’s First Year with ALS, and they blog at Nevastory.com. Their speaking and blogging ministry focuses on the topics of grief, suffering, and finding meaning after a terminal diagnosis. As a complete quadriplegic, he is uniquely qualified to discuss the topic for today: God of Suffering.

Todd:

Good morning, Mitch. Today I’m going to wrap up this topic of the God of Suffering with the discussion on the Purpose of Suffering.

In the seven years I’ve had ALS, I noticed something interesting— many of the people who’ve come alongside me have their own personal stories of suffering. I got in the habit of asking people what tragedy has struck their lives. They survived cancer. A sibling died. A mother is disabled. A brother is intellectually impaired.

After having my first symptoms of a weak arm, I began seeing a chiropractor. He was kind enough to see me at the end of the day so I wouldn’t have to take too much time off work, and one evening as I left the building, I saw him load a man into the front seat of his car and then strap his wheelchair onto a carrier on the trunk.

The next time I saw the doctor, I asked him about the man — I thought it might be his brother, since they looked alike. “He’s my childhood friend,” Doc said, pointing to a framed photograph on his desk of two boys in Little League outfits. Not long after that picture was taken, his friend started having strange symptoms. His muscles would seize up. It took many years to get a diagnosis, but they finally figured out he has dystonia. Dystonia is almost the exact opposite of ALS — rather than the muscles losing strength, they all seize up involuntarily. He became totally paralyzed, but with severe pain and muscle cramping.

“Is that why you got into chiropractic care?” I asked.

“Yes, the medical doctors could help him, and I thought maybe I could at least give him some relief.”

Recently, after the tragic boating accident on Lake Superior, a recovery team came to look for the two men and the boy. The founder of the nonprofit organization had the best equipment money could buy, and he found the three, giving at least some sense of closure to the families. He had said he lost his brother, a firefighter who got swept away in the river as he was attempting to rescue someone.

When a loved one suffers, we suffer with them. There’s a word for that — compassion. It’s from the Latin words with and suffering. If you prefer Greek-based words, use empathy.

Yesterday, I talked about some things Christians say to try to comfort people in suffering. One that I left out is, everything happens for a reason. People like to point to Joseph, the son of Israel, being sold into slavery by his brothers. He ended up working for the Egyptian Pharaoh, in charge of storing food prior to a major drought. One day, his brothers show up begging for food. He was able to save his family. What man had intended for evil, God worked for good.

That’s a great story, but it’s a historic account of one situation. It’s not a promise that every bad situation is going to somehow turn into something good. There are many bad situations that are just awful, and nothing good will come of it except the change in our hearts if we allow God to work in us.

In Romans 8:28, the Apostle Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Pastor Paul is saying that even in a bad situation, if we love God and seek him, he can use that situation to build us up. The situation itself may be horrible, but he is able to redeem all situations. Sometimes, the best thing that might come of it is that we’ll have compassion for other people who are suffering.

Compassion makes us more Christ-like.

Jesus Christ, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to. He became human, and he suffered with his.

And he suffered for us. A few years back, a major motion picture came out called the Passion of the Christ, and every Easter kids around the world perform Passion Plays.

Words change over time, and passion has come to mean something like love and devotion, such as he has a passion for his work, or the couple was passionately in love.

The word passion originally meant to suffer. The movie was about the Suffering of the Christ, and the kids perform plays about the Suffering of Christ. His suffering was the ultimate act of love, so it’s not too far off base that we now use the word passion to mean a type of love.

I’ve suffered over the last few years with ALS. I’m a total quadriplegic. I have some pain, lots of discomfort, restless nights, itches I can’t scratch, and continual progression that will eventually lead to respiratory failure. I’m suffering, but the cool thing is that my heart has been open to the suffering of this world.

I feel more deeply for others, and I hope to play a small part in pointing people to the God of mercies and all comfort.

Beauty in Brokenness

BeautyinBrokenness

March 1, 2017, by Kristin Neva 

“The burden of grief is heavy, like the snow that crushed that old barn out in the field, but spring will come and the snow will melt.” In my novel Snow Country, Louisa comforts her granddaughter, who is grieving her broken engagement.

“But the barn will still be broken,” Beth responds, having lost hope.

After my parent’s old barn blew down, my mom made barn board picture frames. The weathered wood has character and beauty. The broken barn was repurposed.

We love stories of people overcoming tragedy, such as Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed in a diving accident. She went on to found Joni and Friends, which ministers to others with disabilities and provides wheelchairs around the world. Joni said her ministry is why she gets up in the morning. It is inspiring when we get to see pain recycled into something beautiful.

But what if we don’t see our pain made into something new?

When a terminal disease progresses. When a marriage dissolves. When sadness turns into deep depression. When there is just brokenness, like an old, collapsed barn rotting in the field.

Todd faces ALS with courage, born out of love for me and our children. I can’t imagine him telling me he hates me or biting me in frustration, but that is the depth of brokenness some of my fellow spouses experience daily in caring for their pALS.  Frontal lobe dementia. Emotional liability. Or just overwhelming grief.

Where is the beauty then, when not only the body is broken but the mind as well?

After Beth fails to see God’s goodness, Grandma says,  “Danny offered to take it apart and haul it away, but I like having it there. Sam built that barn, and when I see that weathered barnwood, I think of him. It’s still beautiful, even in its brokenness.”

The enduring value of the barn is not in what it does or what it can be repurposed to do, but in the love of and for its creator.

Insufferable Christians

February 8, 2017, by Todd Neva

The following is a transcript from the second of three Good News You Can Use radio spots, which aired January 16-18, 2017, on WMPL 920 AM.  I spoke on the topic The God of Suffering.

Mitch:

Todd Neva is a lay preacher at Evangel Baptist Church. Nearly 7 years ago, he was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal disease that causes total paralysis. He lives in the Hancock area with his wife and two children. He and his wife Kristin authored the book Heavy, A Young Family’s First Year with ALS, and they blog at Nevastory.com. Their speaking and blogging ministry focuses on the topics of grief, suffering, and finding meaning after a terminal diagnosis. As a complete quadriplegic, he is uniquely qualified to discuss the topic for today: God of Suffering.

Todd:

Sometimes the kindest, most loving people say insensitive things to people who are suffering. Seeing my body waste away, people have tried to comfort me with “biblical truths” — if this were television, and if I could raise my arms, you would see me put little air quotes around biblical truths because some of these old adages are nowhere to be found in Scripture. Personally, I’m not easily offended, especially when I can see compassion in their eyes, even when they say things like:

  • God has you right where he wants you, or,
  • If you have enough faith, God will heal you, or,
  • God won’t give you more than you can handle.

I know they’re just trying to make sense of a bad situation. But others have confided in me that they’ve been hurt by these insufferable Christians.

Let’s take each of these one by one.

First, God has you right where he wants you may be a deduction based on the sovereignty of God. God is all-powerful, all-loving, and he is capable of healing, so if he doesn’t heal, he must be choosing not to heal and has you just where he wants you.

Yes, I get it, but folks can feel abandoned by God, or punished even, when people attribute to God abuse, birth defects, or cancer.

We are often not where God wants us. Would you tell a little boy with leukemia that God has him right where he wants him? Would you tell young girl being sex trafficked that God has her right where he wants her? Then why tell a forty-six-year-old quadriplegic that God has him right where he wants him?

There is no promise of the pain-free life, in fact Scripture is replete with references to our suffering, as if it is inevitable. But we have a God who cares.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8 that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Even if you don’t know what to pray for, just imagine God himself being torn and conflicted over your pain, the Holy Spirit pleading with the Father.

Your pain hurts God. He takes no pleasure in it, so a plan has been put in place, and all of this will one day be made perfect. “He will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things [will pass] away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Yes, many would agree that God cares and he doesn’t want to see you suffer — so if only you had enough faith, you’d be healed. This one stings a bit, because I’ve prayed thousands of times for healing, yet my body continues to lose strength. It’s now getting more difficult to breathe, and I’m one severe cold away from death. It’s getting harder to swallow, and every time I eat I realize how easily I could choke. Yet I continue to pray.

It’s not due to my lack of faith that I’m not healed. If someone tells me that I only need enough faith, my response to them is — Jesus healed the paralyzed man due to his friend’s faith. So please pray for me. I’m counting on you, on your faith, to heal me. Sometimes Jesus healed people because of their faith, and sometimes because of others’ faith, and sometimes with no mention of faith at all — the reason Jesus healed was to reveal himself as the Son of God.

Now I can’t answer why God continues heals some and not others, or why he intervenes miraculously in some situations but not others, but he has a plan to fight evil in every case — the church. Christians should be actively fighting against evil. We should help the widows and orphans, comfort the sick, and fight injustice for the oppressed.

Well, maybe God won’t heal you entirely, but he certainly won’t give you more than you can handle.

Really? Right now I have way more than I can handle.

People may get this idea from 1 Corinthians 10:13 — “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

In that verse, Paul is saying there is no excuse for sin.

As for our suffering, there’s no shame in saying it’s too much for you to handle.

Years ago when Jesse Ventura was campaigning for governor of Minnesota, a reporter asked about his faith. He said that Christianity is a crutch. He didn’t need Christ in his life, because he was strong enough on his own. I hope he’s had a change of heart, but I’m not offended by the statement. I admit that Christ is my crutch. He’s more than my crutch — he’s my walker, my wheelchair, my life support.

Because ALS is so much more than I can handle, I have to rely on other people. And if it’s even too much even with their help, I still have the hope of heaven.

Until the renewal is completed, this life is often more than people can handle — it’s part of the earthly futility that God hopes would drive us to him. And if the church is doing its job, we would be coming alongside people in their suffering, and they would see the light of Christ in us.

 

The transcript from The Purpose of Suffering will be posted at a later date.