Thursday, October 30, 2014

Those that the American Church has Forgotten (from Rebecca)

**I originally wrote this post on my personal blog (Caravan Sonnet) in the summer of 2013. This post received support, praise, and much criticism from pastors across the country. I wanted to share it with you today as this is one of the passions of my heart and shares a little bit about the passion behind SEEN Gathering.**

"What is something you strongly believe in but maybe don't speak up about often? Why do you believe this and what causes you to keep quiet about it?"

When I read this question a couple of weeks ago my heart immediately was stirred.There are several topics that are close to my heart that I don't always write about on this blog(fostering children, supporting our military, and changing the reality of sex-trafficking). But there is another topic that has been weaving its way through my heart these last several years and I can keep quiet no more.

What I believe in but don't speak about more often is the lack of resources and compassionate response from the church for those that have serious or chronic illnesses. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that seven out of ten people struggle with chronic illness everyday. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that seventy-five percent of our health dollars go to the treatment of chronic diseases. With these staggering statistics the church needs to come up with a compassionate response to reach out to their members and the community at large who are hurting behind the scenes, especially those who are in their twenties and thirties.

While there is a small percentage of churches that have a "once a month chronic illness meet up", typically the church is silent on this issue. Overwhelmingly the church is quick to ignore this issue, pretend it does not exist, and state confusion or hurtful remarks for why those with chronic illness are not "regular attendees", and sometimes urge the necessity of having a stronger faith for healing. While prayers for healing are a vital part of ministry and should be encouraged, because God does heal, the church at large needs to be compassionately informed on what to do if those prayers go unanswered for days, weeks, months, and years. 

Unfortunately, through most of this the ill person and their families quietly suffers with questions of the future, intense pain and sickness, shattered hopes and dreams, relationship stress and issues, financial hardship, and questions about the sovereignty of God. 

In many ways I get it. Why, despite the staggering statistics that I listed above, the church stays silent. I get it. I do. I realize now, with humility that I was coming from a very prideful place as I would excitedly share my story of being miraculously healed of severe EndometriosisIn fact before I was diagnosed with Advanced Late Stage Lymes Disease and Cancer I sometimes would look at those with chronic illness and silently think in my head: "if only they would try {and fill in the words: diet, rest, this doctor, more sleep, this essential oil, having a new job, being stronger, "bucking up"}they would be ok". Or I would think, "it really can not be as bad as they are making it out to be- we all don't feel good or get tired at one point or another". Or, and I am ashamed to admit it, I would think, "are they really praying about it?". 

Lord, please forgive me for being so callous. For being so unkind to those who are hurting physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. 

The reality is that whether intentionally or unintentionally the modern American church does not understand or know how to respond to this issue. In the last several years (as my health declined) and especially this past year as I reached out to different pastors (including several well-known ones) and church communities I was often told the following helpful things:

(1) have you really prayed about healing?
(2) I have heard this doctor is really good- maybe you should try him/her
(3) hmm... we really don't have members of our church that struggle with chronic illness- we believe that healing is from Jesus and is for today
(4) You are only thirty-two- how can you be that sick?
(5) Do you really have the faith to be healed?

So why do I keep silent on the blog? To be honest I think that I was coming to terms with some of my own mortality. The realization that we live in a sinful world filled with disease, death, and the things like chronic illness that no one likes to deal with. I was also coming to terms with being told by a few former close friends that I "needed more faith". I was coming to terms with some of the loneliness and isolation that comes with having a chronic illness. Honestly, I also was afraid that I would sound like I was bitter. But the Lord has been doing something new these past several months and my heart is overwhelmed to share God's love with those that are hurting and struggling - especially from unanswered prayers. Because the thing is... whether the church wants to admit it or not it has lots and lots of hurting people in their pews. 
Our God is a BIG God filled with power and healing in His wings and I will never stop believing for myself or my friends for Him to work in miraculous ways. But in the moments where people are hurting and are struggling I will not keep quiet. For God's love is never quiet and it shouts to us through our pain and sickness and reminds us to never stop believing in hope. God's love reminds me that like the American church I have the opportunity to reach out and love some of those people who make up that staggering statistic that I mentioned at the beginning. 

Friends, if you are struggling through the dark night of suffering I urge you to hold fast to the story and find hope in the story of the Israelites. We see in the book of Exodus that the Israelites held on to the hope that God was still at work. As they limped out from under the hard yoke of slavery they carried their tambourines through the long trek of the desert believing that there would still be a song yet to sing. They didn’t know when the song would come, but held onto hope that God would show up. Despite the fact they had no assurances or promises of what their future would look like, they walked with their tambourines. They were fully prepared for the celebration that they did not yet have a time frame for. The celebration that only lay hidden in their hearts as they walked mile after mile in the desert. The same hope of celebration that the woman who was ill for twelve years was also expecting as she reached out her hand for Jesus’ cloak(Luke 8).

Grab onto Jesus, follow Him, and change your world. 

I have friends who are scattered around the world serving AIDS victims in Africa, ministering to the homeless and abused in Colombia, and caring for crying orphans in the heart of Haiti. Maybe you are like them and can venture to far off countries to rescue those that the world has abandoned. Or maybe you can quietly and powerfully write your story by showing up, and learning like I am to take one day at a time and minister to those that the world has forgotten. Either way we can all come to the cross and take His love into our worlds- no matter how big or small that might seem. 

God is at work friends. 

Hold onto truth:

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