Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. (1 Peter 4:12-13)
We hear it all the time and we ask it all the time: "Why does God allow such suffering in the world?" It is the classic, age-old question, the one most people grapple with the most. This past month I have watched our God work in mighty and powerful ways. I have seen Him do amazing miracles in two very dear friends and I have seen Him show his glory in suffering. Please read on!
J.P. and Pam have been close to me for years. As priest of an Anglican church in California, he and his wife invited me out there often to teach or lead renewal weekends over the past several years and those were those were times of great rejoicing, prayer and praise. So it has been devastating to watch Pam go through the painful effects and deterioration of a major stroke and dementia over the past two years. Finally her doctors told J.P. that she would not live much longer and she was placed on hospice care in their home, confined to an adjustable hospital bed. She was unable to walk on her badly fractured ankle, unable to swallow solid food, and mostly non-responsive. I called J.P. to ask if he would like for me to sing for Pam's memorial service when she passes and he replied, "No, I'd like you to come out while she's still with us." So I booked my flight.
The words that follow are all my testimonies of Almighty God's miracle-working power; please do not think I am taking credit for ANYTHING except perhaps being obedient to go when He said go! All the glory belongs to Him.
I arrived to find Pam staring blankly at 1950s re-runs on TV, sipping protein shakes through a straw for her meals, and remaining silent except for occasional "yes or no" answers to her husband's questions. The first thing he did was teach me how to diaper her, which was doing day and night. I saw how sleep-deprived and weary he was, and how disengaged and discouraged she was. So I began with worship! I think almost every true healing miracle I have ever experienced has occurred in the midst of worship. Our worship attracts His Presence. I began singing old praise songs we used to sing together. Several times during that first day I read Scripture over Pam and worshiped the Lord in song at her bedside. I did the same in the night when I woke up to change her diapers.
The next day, when I began to sing, suddenly Pam began to sing with me! She sang every word of this older praise song and I knew her brain and her spirit were beginning to reawaken. In the afternoon she shocked her husband with this whole, enthusiastic sentence: "I want to sit up in my recliner!" She wanted to sit up! She wanted to engage. She wanted to live!
Sitting side by side in two recliners, Pam and I watched a movie together; one we had watched in days gone by, a classic old "chick-flick" that everybody knows. She saw the actresses on the screen and shouted out, "Steel Magnolias!" We watched it together and she laughed when it was funny and cried when it was sad. I put her to bed and then woke in the early dawn hours to change her diaper, and read her Psalm 103 again and worshiped God, Pam joining me in the songs of praise. I flew back home, giving Him thanks for each of those small victories, not knowing how much more He planned to do for Pam and J.P.
The day after I got back home, J.P. e-mailed to share the astonishing news. Pam had awakened that morning and asked to use the toilet. She told him she didn't want diapers anymore! He used her wheelchair and got her into the bathroom and all went well. Then she told him she wanted to go outside for a walk, so He used her wheelchair and for the first time in three months, she got out into the bright California sunshine, and they wheeled around the park. Three days later J.P. took her to her neurologist and to make a long story short, they were told that areas of her brain affected by the stroke were healing and they needed to cancel hospice services! She wanted to live, and God responded miraculously to her songs of praise.
Meanwhile, back in my own neighborhood, another friend named Betty had suffered a major stroke on the day the "Cyclone Bomb" snowstorm came through Colorado. At 80 years old, this strong, independent woman of faith was out shoveling snow from her sidewalk, and suddenly collapsed. I was alerted and had gone to her hospital room immediately, where I began to sing and praise God over Betty, and read His Word to her. Like Pam, Betty participated too. She spoke words of praise and gave God glory all through my songs. Her entire left side was paralyzed and her speech quite slurred, but her words of praise did not stop as I worshiped Him at her bedside. I stroked her hair and kissed her face and that night her son wrote me a question in a text: "What is this love you showed my mom? I've never seen this love before!" Her son has come to know Jesus in the Love that he saw.
Now it is about three weeks since Betty's stroke and I just went to her hospital room again to visit. They had put her on hospice and inserted a feeding tube, telling her family she had a maximum of two weeks to live. For a few days she had become lethargic and non-responsive, so I continued to visit her often, and worship God in song and in His Word. She always responded, whether it was squeezing my hand or whispering the words of a song. This week when I went to see Betty, I found her completely coherent, speaking without slurring her words, off of hospice care, and eating turkey and mashed potatoes! She greeted me with great enthusiasm, "Hi Kelly! Are we going to sing and praise God?" Of course we did - and God responded miraculously to her songs of praise.
But wait, there's more! Please keep reading. I want to show you how I've seen the opening Scripture, 1 Peter 4:12-13 in action this week. I want to help you, as God has helped me, to understand this Scripture and the answer to that age-old question. I visited my beloved friend, Iva, who is 96 and in a nursing home. She used to be in our weekly Bible Study until she got too frail and needed to be moved. This past week I found her sitting on her tiny bed, slumped over to one side, skin barely hanging on old bones, her dyed-bright-red hair sticking out in all directions. I sat next to her and she opened drooping eyes that used to twinkle starry-blue, and said, "Hi, Kelly. I'm glad you're here." She laid her head over on my shoulder and I began to sing "How Great Thou Art" and Iva sang all the words with me, about four octaves lower! I knew she was suffering, I could almost feel the pain and weariness in her aged body. But she sang and praised God. And then I noticed the glittery bling of her many bracelets and the bright blue nail polish on her nails. "Wow, Iva," I exclaimed, "your jewelry perfectly matches your hospital gown and your nails are gorgeous!" She giggled. "Yeah, I'm still a little crazy. But I sure wouldn't want to be normal. I like how God made me crazy!" She made me laugh. In the midst of her suffering, we giggled and we gave God glory.
We should not think it strange when we are going through fiery trials. We are partnering with Jesus, who suffered far greater than we can imagine, and our praise in the midst of these trials, is giving God great glory, which we shall one day see revealed. Our Lord suffered. His disciples suffered. Why should it be strange that we too suffer? I just pray that if I ever suffer as severely as Pam and Betty and Iva, and so many others, I will have the strength to sing His praises, and maybe dye my hair red and giggle and show those who visit me that I am crazy in love with my Savior, who partners with me, who never leaves me nor forsakes me!
Recently the Spirit of God spoke to me and directed me to establish a once-a-month gathering for prayer and for praise. He revealed His heart to me, and how greatly important it is to Him that His people be in much prayer in this season. I wanted to be immediately obedient to this call and began searching for a place where we might gather on a consistent, monthly basis. After calling several local venues, and finding their rental fee, even for one evening, to be remarkably high, I heard that Still Small Voice suggest to me that I should call a dear long-time friend at the nearby Anglican Church and ask if they would allow us to gather there. That door opened to us immediately!
Last Thursday was the second gathering and there were 12 people, from different seasons of my past, including the Anglican Church where I was raised. The Hebraic meaning of the number 12 is "that which is complete and forms a whole, perfect, harmonious unit. Twelve speaks of a complete nation, such as the 12 tribes of Israel." It was a most blessed and intimate time with the Lord as we joined our worship and our prayers in unity to the Holy One, forming a whole, harmonious unit. Afterward, I found myself in conversations with friends whom I'd met probably ten years ago in early Messianic gatherings, as well as friends I'd known for over twenty years in various churches. We were all marveling at how God had brought us together in unity and how glorious it was to look back over our shoulders and see that every single stepping stone we had each taken in our spiritual journeys had mattered so greatly.
Some people today are verbally bashing their former places of worship, recalling what they now feel was "idol-worship" or false doctrine or incorrect theology. I find it sad if that is someone's whole perception of their steps in seeking Truth. As we came back together last Thursday evening, we talked about the blessings we experienced in all the little steps of our journeys. God had given just enough Light for the step we were on, and whether or not we had it all right (and who has YET to have it all right?) we were on the journey and He was leading. Did we make mis-steps? Of course. Did we fall into idol-worship? Yes. We still do, every time we make something or someone more important in our lives than Yeshua, our King. Yet, we move forward, still seeking, still searching, still falling down and getting up and drawing closer and closer to the One with whom we desire deep intimacy. He is the goal and as long as our steps continue to take us deeper into relationship with Him, we are on the right track! And when we look back over our shoulders we see that many who walked with us on this journey blessed and enriched our lives.
On each stepping stone, we changed. We learned and embraced more truth and we let go of more false beliefs. Ted Dekker writes, "I've never met a sixty-year-old who believes all the same things in every respect that he did when he was thirty. Not one. Views on child rearing or love or judgment or the end times or what constitutes a healthy diet or a hundred other issues invariably change. Beliefs change. So let's not be too dogmatic at any age. We might very well be arguing with a future version of ourselves. Instead, may we extend grace to ourselves and to others and take the journey alongside each other in humility. May we open ourselves up to knowing our Father intimately, rather than defending what we think we know about Him."
Kelly Ferrari Mills