I wanted to introduce the first teaching our son Seth has done in a short series he will be writing for the site called “Following Jesus in Suffering”. This first entry is titled, Embracing Real Life. I hope it ministers to you as it has to me!
Embracing Real Life
“I think it’s Tuberous Sclerosis”. The neurologist calmly affirmed. “You see, these white marks on his skin, along with the seizures make T.S. the strongest possibility.” Our hearts caved.
“What do you mean? What exactly is Tubular…how do you say it?” I asked as a wave of nausea came over me. “Well Tuberous Sclerosis is a rare condition; a multi-organ genetic disease that’s characterized by seizures that are usually difficult to control…here I think I have a picture in one of these books… It’s on page 47 I think”. He handed me a dusty copy of an old neurology book that I never dreamt held the details of a condition our newborn son would possess. Our precious Jude Winters was just 7 month old when my wife Vanessa and I received this devastating diagnosis.
Our hearts immediately felt betrayed. Why would the Lord allow this beautiful little one to suffer? Didn’t we believe in Jesus? Didn’t we pray during pregnancy for Jude to be healthy in both body and mind? Furthermore, didn’t we choose a life of following the Lord into ministry? We deserved better. We deserved a “normal”, happy, healthy child.
At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of our reputation as well. “Were all eyes on us watching to see if we were really committed? Would people think that we loved God only when life gave us roses? How would my ministry be impacted if I couldn’t respond in a godly way? What if I couldn’t hold my family together through this living nightmare?”
The ensuing months would be marked by many ups and downs. A dull depression and disengagement from life seemed to characterize our daily living. Months passed and Jude was having somewhere between 60 and 100 seizures a day. His little arms and legs would jerk upward; his face expressionless as if someone was unplugging him for a brief moment. All we could do was lay our hands on him, pray, and do our best to bring him comfort.
After numerous medicines and diets, we decided to take the only option left: brain surgery. While the surgery was never intended to take away his seizures and by all human standards ended in failure, God’s was abundant. Jude got out of surgery on March 11th, 2008 and has been free from seizures ever since. For nearly four years we have been praising God for our son’s precious deliverance. The lessons we’ve learned along the way have been innumerable but I thought it would be helpful to share a few simple insights from God’s Word that have shaped Vanessa and I’s perspective on suffering along the way.
Many of us, even unknowingly, have a tendency to adopt the worldview of the culture around us and apply this view to our understanding of how the Christian life “should work”. We live in a culture of affluence and deep down we believe that the American Dream is also God’s dream for our lives. Who doesn’t want health and wealth? Our desire for prosperity and happiness is not in and of itself wrong, and if we’re honest the Bible has much to say about God’s amazing heart to bless His children! At the same time we know that to follow Jesus is to willingly sign up for persecution and hardship. Jesus told us so. Consider his words,
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV).
If you think about it, we’ve chosen to follow a man who was brutally beaten and crucified. Not to be a downer, but we need to realize that following Jesus encompasses both hardship and incredible joy. It’s the most authentic way to live as it embraces life as it truly is in a fallen world. We believe in, live out, and celebrate God’s goodness each and every day, but our complete and lasting redemption comes later. As the title of one of Francis Chan’s chapters in Crazy Love so perfectly states: Your Best Life…[is] Later.
In John 6 we find an interesting account of Jesus’ teaching at a synagogue in Capernaum. Stop and pray for a moment that the Holy Spirit would make Jesus’ words alive to you:
“47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life” and then down in verse fifty-three we read,
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:47-48, 53-58 NIV
Jesus here, at least in part, is expressing His nature as being the great Sustainer. He is our Bread and no life can be lived apart from our feasting on Him. He holds it all, including us, together (See Colossians 1:17). He tells us that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. Implicit in this metaphor is the call that we embrace Jesus’ real life. His whole life. His real death. His real and final victory. To part from Him at any point is to miss the point altogether. Even when life is darkest and we feel hopeless, Jesus longs to minister His love to us. Brennan Manning quotes psychiatrist Gerald May as saying:
“I know that God is loving and that God’s loving is trustworthy. I know this directly, through the experience of my life. There have been plenty of times of doubt, especially when I used to believe that trusting God’s goodness meant I would not be hurt. But having been hurt quite a bit, I know God’s goodness goes deeper than all pleasure and pain – it embraces them both.”
I take great comfort in the reality that God’s goodness embraces both pleasure and pain. Think about it for a moment. Don’t the truly meaningful relationships in your life embrace both pleasure and pain? The sweet times we enjoy with loved ones are often sweeter because we’ve walked through hardships together. So this day, may we choose to rest our hope in the unchanging love, strength and beauty of our matchless God! He is always worthy of all praise and we can know beyond any doubt that He is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). May we embrace Peter’s exhortation today, who said:
10 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
 Brennen Manning. Ruthless Trust p. 22