Yes, He Does

God gives us more than we can bear. Yes, He does. The apostle Paul believed it:  “We should like you, our brothers, to know something of what we went through in Asia. At that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear, in fact we told ourselves that this was the end” (2 Corinthians 1:8 Phillips).

The oft-quoted supposedly comforting, reassuring promise “God never gives you more than you can bear” is not in the Bible. Rather, the statement is a misrepresentation of 1 Corinthians 10:13:  “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it” (HCSB).

In that quotation Paul is talking about temptation, an enticement to sin. He is not referring to life’s searing experiences of grief, poverty, abuse, sickness, income loss, a devastating divorce, desertion, a gut-wrenching betrayal, hopes dashed, destroyed dreams, rejection, exhausting 24/7 care of a declining parent, loneliness, a murder’s aftermath, a child’s terminal illness, and (you fill in the blank). Already you may have had that sterile moment when your bowels of suffering discharged the plaintive cry, “O God!”

Why does the sovereign God permit crushing burdens to infiltrate our lives–even the lives of those who are diligent in prayer and Bible study? The apostle Paul figured out the answer:  “Yet we believe now that we had this experience of coming to the end of our tether that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9 Phillips).

You and I are not indomitable. One of us may be able to hold up under a particular suffering longer than someone else, but all of us reach the point where we come to the end of ourselves. Knotted with anxiety, we feel we cannot absorb another thing.

As I placed the onion on the counter, I heard the refrigerator door open and then a thud. Turning, I saw Gail passed out on the floor, her hands curved like a bird’s feet in front of her.

After Jim and I helped her back to bed, I rushed to my study and closed the door. Daddy! Gail! My husband now diagnosed with Parkinson’s! I felt I couldn’t take anymore. I needed help. (page 175 of Before the Door Closes)

The help I needed was God. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been praying to God for wisdom and strength as I fought to protect my father against nursing home neglect and abuse. I was caring for him as I thought God led me. But having now reached my endurance limit, I was at the end of myself and ready to encounter God as Yahweh-Shammah (What’s in a Name?).

My focus had been that I could do as long as God did; but like Paul, I learned that I am to trust, not in myself, but absolutely in God. I needed to let go of me and let God.

The mindset that God will not give me more than I can bear makes life about me and what I can do or should be able to do. Life is never to be about me; it is all about God.

Well acquainted with life’s tempestuous events, King David left us this prayer:

Save Your people,
And bless Your inheritance;
Shepherd them also,
And bear them up forever.”
(Psalm 28:9 NKJV)

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Word Choice

The three-thousand-year-old song is popular in every continent on Earth. Its original tune did not survive the labyrinth of time but not so its lyrics. They are continuously repeated, recited, requested–often on the deathbed. A person may not know its composer, title, or ancient history but can recall without hesitation its opening five words:  “The LORD is my shepherd.” From that fountainhead flow the song’s succeeding lines, which pour consolation, comfort, and courage into  sick, grieving, and hoping hearts.

When individually emphasized, each of these first five words is like an oasis for a specific craving. As the dry and thirsty soul drinks deeply from the particular reservoir, the mind and spirit are uniquely refreshed:

The LORD is my shepherd

Traditionally, “the” is in a special class of adjectives known as articles (a, an, the). Unlike the other two articles, “the” particularizes the noun it precedes. So what’s coming next is not any Tom, Dick, or Harry. It is one of a kind.

The LORD is my shepherd

When someone calls you by your given name instead of  “Miss,” “Sir,” “Ma’am,” “Doc,” “Ladies and Gentlemen,” or such, you have been singled out–personalized. That is what “LORD” (with all caps) is: God’s personal name (not a title). The name “LORD” proclaims, “I am the one and only God from eternity past through eternity future.” The LORD is all in all. Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. Omnibenevolent. All of God’s nature and attributes are embodied in His personal name, LORD.

The LORD is my shepherd

“Is” stands straight and tall, emanating confidence . . . assurance . . . conviction. No doubt about it! Intrinsically strong and ongoing, this verb functions as the middle link in the sentence chain, connecting the two words on either side of it and giving notice that they can flip sides without losing their meanings.

The LORD is my shepherd

“My” gives the heads-up that the song’s theme is personal. In the King James 2000 translation of all six stanzas, the possessive “my” occurs six times, “me” seven times, and “I” four times. By contrast, none of these words appears even once in the oft-repeated Lord’s Prayer, or Model Prayer, that begins “Our Father” and continues the sense of community to the amen. Psalm 23 from beginning to end is me-centered; that is, self in a relationship with LORD. This is a free-will possession. The LORD who possesses all possesses me.

The LORD is my shepherd

My shepherd is the LORD, and I have chosen the LORD to shepherd me all my life–the One who knows the end from the beginning, has all resources at His disposal, knows me by name.

Having rested at the oases, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15 KJV2000) the magnificent Psalm 23.

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David
The Shepherd Psalm

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack.

2He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.

3He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The above translation is from the King James 2000 Bible version. Like my father, however, I memorized Psalm 23 from the King James Version of 1611. And that is what I used when I desperately attempted to stem the tide of manufactured mania. Night after night I called Daddy, a helpless victim of overdrugging at the nursing facility 1500 miles away, and we recited together The Shepherd Psalm before bedtime. One dark night my father chose a word that, much to my chagrin, defined his despair:

     . . . When we reached “He restoreth my soul,” my father said, “He restoreth my sanity.” . . .

     Absorbing the magnitude of what Daddy’s mind must be grappling with now, my brain concluded the worst fear of all. He thinks he’s crazy. (pages 62-63 of Before the Door Closes)

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Crossing the Boundary

“You’ll never go,” she declared within a spontaneous laugh. That laugh wasn’t because I had struck a chord of humor. Nor did it mean my mother would do all in her power to keep me from going to college. No, it reflected the absurdity of my dream. In my mother’s mind college was an absolute impossibility, for it cost every bit of money she could salvage amidst my father’s sea of alcoholism to keep the family afloat.

As her oldest child of six, my mother was counting on me for additional family income after I graduated from high school. She set the boundary when she fenced me into the commercial curriculum.

“Mama, I want to take the academic course.” I knew I needed the math, foreign language, and science classes if I had any hope of being admitted to a college. Without them how could I do well on the required ACT or SAT? My high school, allowing no overlapping, drew indelible lines for each curriculum (academic, commercial, general). I would be stuck for three years on the track I started in the tenth grade.

“Judy, you can’t get a job with that academic stuff. It’s foolishness. A waste of time. You’ve got to get a job, and you’re going to take the commercial course.”

When my hushed voice revealed I wanted to go to college, Mama’s laugh trashed my dream to the ridiculous and defined my boundary. Thus business arithmetic, typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping boxed my borders.

A few days short of my eighteenth birthday, I was assigned an office desk with a manual typewriter at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. As I handed my mother money for room and board each payday, her burden was a little lighter.

Every day I worked the clerk-stenographer job I starved intellectually and emotionally, all the while building up my strength to cross my mother’s boundary. Fifteen months later I matriculated at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

While sitting in general psychology class that fall, I learned my professor had crossed an imposed boundary too. His feat, however, was one that I, having belonged to the National Honor Society, could not imagine.

“I was tested as borderline mental retardation,” Dr. Cook told the class. “But that did not keep me from getting a doctorate. And that is why I’m always advising this college not to require ACT or SAT scores for admission. A student’s potential should not be bound to those tests.”

If anyone could say since David of old “With You I can attack a barrier, and with my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29 HCSB), it was Dr. Cook. Refusing to let a statistical standard hedge him in, he established his own boundary. Then, using his life experience, he fought for those who might be barricaded from achieving their potential. I was one of them, getting in just under the wire, though. The ACT was a freshman admission requirement when I received my B.A. four years later.

I also got into Carson-Newman because, adhering to my mother’s career confines, I saved enough to pay the first-year expenses and earned the credibility to be rehired during college summers. With God I moved a boundary.
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Left Without Limit

There was a time when they were thought of as distorted–if not cursed–because they were born into 10 percent of the world population. Forcing their dictated standard on the deviants, some teachers hit them with a yardstick, ruler, or on the head with a dictionary if they didn’t comply with the norm. At times the abnormal hand was tied behind the student’s back. Conformity to the mold of the 90 percent was the objective. Left-handers must be taught normality. Even if perchance they didn’t actually hear the words voiced, this minority was left feeling weak, backward, weird, “less than.”

Quite the opposite attitude toward lefties in thirteenth century BC! The Bible mentions an elite corps of warriors: “There were 700 choice men who were left-handed among all these people; all could sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judges 20:16 HCSB). A slingstone weighing a pound could be propelled up to a hundred miles an hour and hit the target a quarter of a mile or more away. sling_stones_lachish_british_museum-195x175x72

Do you think anyone gave a moment’s thought to changing their left-handed defenders? The ancient sharpshooters were accepted (and useful) just as they were.

There is a birthed minority that is so rare it can’t even claim 1 percent of the world population. In fact, you could count them on both hands and feet with some toes left over. Does that make this minuscule segment of society inconsequential? Three-foot-three Nick Vujicic proves not.

One of the few persons living with tetra-amelia syndrome, Mr. Vujicic’s ongoing spiritual growth has him touting: “No arms, no legs, no worries.” What makes him stand tall?Nick Vujicic“I found happiness when I realized that as imperfect as I may be, I am the perfect Nick Vujicic. I am God’s creation, designed according to His plan for me” (Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life, p. 1). Vibrant Vujicic stuffed in a nutshell what, more than three thousand years before, King David had spread into a song:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
    before I’d even lived one day.
(Psalm 139:13-16 MSG)

In the following ten-minute video clip, you can catch a glimpse of how Vujicic does not sell himself short:

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Own It!

Deluded, they take shelter behind the wall of repression. It seems a safe place to hide from the cornucopia of feelings and emotions. Denying them, however, is a false security, which can never result in the desired peace.

How can there be anything wrong with having feelings and emotions? They were built into humankind by the Creator, who Himself possesses them. Take jealousy, for instance.

Jealousy is in God’s personality:  “You shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 ESV). Holy God is to be the One and Only in the marriage covenant entered into with His people; and  He is emotional about preserving it:  “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies” (Nahum 1:2 ESV). God gets worked up over spiritual adultery.

God also grieves:  “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). Yes, God knows how it feels to have heart-stabbing pain. 

Like Father, like Son. Encountering church leaders headstrong on discrediting Him, Jesus “looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5 ESV). And that wasn’t the only time the Son of God showed anger:

In the Temple he discovered cattle and sheep dealers and pigeon-sellers, as well as money-changers sitting at their tables. So he made a rough whip out of rope and drove the whole lot of them, sheep and cattle as well, out of the Temple. He sent the coins of the money-changers flying and turned their tables upside down. Then he said to the pigeon-dealers, “Take those things out of here. Don’t you dare turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered the scripture—‘Zeal for your house has eaten me up’ (John 2:14-17 Phillips).

Jesus was also man enough to cry:

 When Jesus saw Mary weep and noticed the tears of the Jews who came with her, he was deeply moved and visibly distressed.

 “Where have you put him?” he asked.

“Lord, come and see,” they replied, and at this Jesus himself wept.

(John 11:33-35 Phillips)

Obviously, Jesus did not hide from His emotions. Why should we?

Feelings and emotions have no moral value in and of themselves. How one uses free will with the feelings and emotions makes those morally good or bad. The key to emotional health is emotional honesty. Accept the emotion or feeling, admit the emotion or feeling, and decide what action, if any, to give it. Free will enforces the judgment call to act or not to act.

Recently, I, who prided myself on having never told a lie (well, almost never), realized I deluded myself when I did not own up to a feeling. Convincing myself it was for the sake of peace in the relationship and out of kindness for the other person’s feelings, I “sucked up” what I felt was a personal offense time and again. Each time I locked it inside me, and the relationship I had thought would become beautiful corroded bit by bit.

Suppose I had been honest with the other person from the get-go and admitted my feelings were hurt. If I had truthfully said after the first occurrence “That makes me sad” instead of repressing the feeling, perhaps the relationship would not have eroded.

Behind the wall of repression is not a safety zone. Rather, it is a place of delusion. We have the free will not to go there or not to stay there, for “by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29 ESV).

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Father Manifestation

“What’s for supper?” my husband asked, peering into the kitchen. That was never a simple, face-value question. To me it meant I was not meeting his expectations. I wasn’t going fast enough for him. In the escalating self-inflicted irritation, I picked up my pace from sink to refrigerator to stove to counter to the cookbook and back to the stove.

That day my husband must have lingered a little too long at the kitchen bar, because he followed up with another question. “What did you think I was saying when I asked you that?”

With my eyes fixated on stirring the pot, I answered truthfully. “You were saying, ‘I’m hungry. Hurry up.'”

Immediately, I felt my husband’s body beside mine at the stove. “Judy, in our forty-eight years of marriage, I never thought that. Not once.”

How had I been so wrong for so long? Instinctively I traced the problem back to my father. In psychological terms I had been acting in the Parent part of me. According to psychiatrist Eric Berne, each of us is always acting in one of three ego states: Parent, Adult, Child. My husband’s simple “What’s for supper?” had stimulated a conditioning embedded in me by my father. Everything had to be done in a hurry. He could not be kept waiting. Even when he had driven me to a store on the morning of my wedding, my father told me to “hurry up” as I dashed from his car. (I revealed it and other father-influenced “hurry” incidents in Before the Door Closes.)

Whenever I think about having misunderstood my husband’s innocent question for almost half a century, I remember Jesus’ emotional reply after one of the apostles asked Him to show them the Father:  “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9 ESV).

What kind of Father did Jesus manifest? Stuart Townend shared his enlightenment when he composed “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”

The Son of God displayed to the world the Father’s sacrifice of love in His quest for a personal relationship with you and me. We cannot choose our earthly fathers, but we can choose God the Father.


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Trash Triage

Trash can 2He was sixty-one and at his job when he asked the morning newspaper boy to help him throw it in the dumpster (http://tampa.cbslocal.com/2014/04/03/housing-complex-clerk-mistakes-suicide-jumpers-body-for-april-fools-prank/). The ninety-six-year-old woman’s body hadn’t appeared human. To him she looked like a mannequin. A dummy.

The surgeon made a similar operating assessment when my friend’s father had been ambulanced from a nursing home with a fractured femur. Expecting a routine consult with the doctor prior to surgery, the daughter left the hospital at ten that night and returned at seven the next morning. The minutes ticked by. One by one the heavy hours stacked up. Where was he? Why didn’t he come?

At five-thirty the daughter was beside herself as orderlies wheeled her elderly father out of the room and she caught a glimpse of the doctor. Confronted with her consternation, he explained, “I did not come by because 90 percent of patients with dementia never have anyone with them.”

All too sadly his informed statistic mirrors society’s devaluation of the demented elderly. That 90 percent of them are presented to the medical community as throwaways is a result built family by family. Child by child. Son by son. Daughter by daughter.

What are we thinking? Father doesn’t know who I am? Mother doesn’t remember my name? They don’t know me; so what’s the point?

Why do we make love conditional? Did our parents make it conditional when we did not know their names? when we could not say words? In our helplessness didn’t we sense self-worth through the security of a swaddling blanket, the contentment of cuddling, the soothing sound of a lullaby? They imprinted personal value. We did not have to do anything or be anything except ourselves. Unadulterated.

My father, too, was diagnosed with dementia. His was mania manufactured by the misuse and overuse of antipsychotic drugs. (See http://www.amazon.com/Before-Door-Closes-Daughters-Alcoholic/dp/1490808949/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396716040&sr=1-1&keywords=judith+hall+simon.) My success in getting the mind-altering drugs eliminated did not restore the spark in my father’s voice that had belonged to him before he was made a zombie and cast off as nursing facility waste. I missed hearing that unique part of him the rest of his life.

The drugs, taking their toll, also left my father’s mental function vacillating between clear and unclear. On one of his hazy days, Daddy asked me, “Who are you?”

“Judy.”

“That’s what I thought. You’re the one who takes care of me.”

I’ll remember that the rest of my life.

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PBPGIFWMY

As a freshman member of Alcoholics Anonymous, my father memorized its renowned twelve steps. My memory of his success is  recounted on page 62 of Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father:

“More than fifty years earlier, Daddy had memorized its twelve-step program. ‘Listen to this, Judy,’ he said, taking a card from his wallet. Striding around the room, he repeatedly read aloud the dozen principles. Day after day he thundered them until they were rooted in his mind. That accomplished, there were times, it seemed, when he needed a reminder. Roping the family in it, he would unexpectedly walk to the middle of the living room, square his shoulders, and deliver each step perfectly.

“He sounded every bit like a fervent evangelist when his assured voice thundered, ‘Step Two. Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.'”

Thinking back on that now, I believe those were times when Daddy was asking his family for patience.  At his core he desperately wanted to quit drinking–never succumb to another slip. Making us listen to his recitation was his way of reminding himself and us.

The plea of Daddy’s heart was epitomized in a maxim in the late seventies/early eighties, abbreviated PBPGIFWMY:  Please be patient; God isn’t finished with me yet. Also during that time Joel Hemphill wrote the gospel song “He’s Still Working on Me.”

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The All-Weather Friend

“I was ‘startled,’ Judy, to receive your book,” my friend emailed me. “You know, we just don’t know people, do we?”

She was one of three out-of-state friends I surprised with a copy of Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father. They had had no inkling of my father’s alcoholism. The friendships were formed and maintained for decades without the trust of my shameful secret. I wouldn’t chance losing a friend who knew the whole truth about me.

Growing up, I wanted to have a best friend. But how could I start? I couldn’t invite anyone to my house. Daddy might be drunk.

The closest I got to having my desire for a bosom buddy was with my college roommate. Whenever we listed our preference for the next semester, I was afraid she would choose someone else. She liked me well enough, though, to stick with me for four years. But if she had known I was the daughter of an alcoholic, would that have changed her mind?

Her relationship with her father was totally different. He drove her back to college after the summer breaks. On one of those trips, she told me, he held her hand all the way from Florida to Tennessee. Strange! My father had never as much as put his arm around my shoulder.

In my forties I developed another close friendship. Her family had ties to my teenage neighborhood. Maybe she knew about my father’s history of alcoholism. I don’t know. We never talked of it, but we had a good time sharing stories about our children over lunch every few months. Then one day her name came up in a conversation with two other people. One of them said, “She is Judy’s friend that I took.” I wasn’t shocked. I had noticed the change in her and was glad I did not need to excuse it anymore.

But the friend who was emailing me about my book gift refused to read it until she laid down her ground rule: “Before I begin, I want to say I love you as a sister in Christ and as a person.”

“A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17).
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Me Before You

I was fourteen and had my first regular job. My neighbor, expecting twins, paid me that summer to give her a hand with her three toddlers and help with the housework. As soon as I ran home clutching my first week’s cash, my mother reached for the Sears catalog. “See how pretty this is,” she said, opening to an earmarked page. “It would be nice for Gail in the winter.”

My stomach felt sick as I looked at the pretty black-and-white wool coat with matching leggings and hat, realizing what my mother was really saying. She expected me to buy the outfit for my three-year-old sister. Again I had to prove I was not selfish. That time, however, I put up a timid objection.

“You’re supposed to help the family,” my mother replied. Knowing that because of my father’s alcohol abuse, she could not depend on him, I handed her the money she needed and bought my first can of hair spray with the remainder.

As surely as night turns to day, I had been taught over and over I should put everyone before myself. It was drilled in me at church too: God first, others second, yourself last. They were all wrong! God first, yes. But the adults in my childhood had reversed the other two tenets.

When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself ” (Matthew 22:39 NIV), He repeated verbatim words from Leviticus 19:18. A few years ago I finally understood what both the Old and New Testaments were saying. I could not love the one next to me until I loved myself. I could not know how to love someone else until I knew how to love me. To become unselfish I must first be kind to myself and give to me.

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