Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Stripes of Suffering

I could easily tell you a warm, fuzzy story of yesterday's milk carton rabbit craft with my three children, then a cool-of-the-evening walk across the hay field to fill them up in Oma's strawberry patch before sticky-fingered devouring all the sweet-smelling fruit.

I could grab your attention with an action story of me clad in purple-gloves, scrubbing out the red barn until the bleach gasses were so strong, I had to go out for air more than once...and that was before I washed the completely assembled skeleton of a mouse right out the front door.

I could offer a spiritual story to grab your heart, one of this morning's monthly visit to the nursing home, me running late as always but finding peace once there as I worked again on training my twins to walk in big brother's footsteps of showing Jesus' love and say "good morning" while offering a smile to those who need it most.

Each of those stories is 100% true--my husband and mother could easily attest to my "keeping it real" on this blog. Yet, all three give you an image of myself that I want to project, not an accurate image of me and where God has been working the most over the past five days.

When reading an autobiographical blog such as mine, there's an unconscious trust one places in the veracity of what he is reading, an image that forms in his mind of the author--even if that image is a false one crafted by fictional lies in the guise of truth.

Stephen Crane's "Illusion in Red and White" addresses this very issue. In the story's beginning frame, the correspondant writes, "Now this is how I imagine it happened. I don't say it happened this way, but this is how I imagine it happened."

Yet, at the conclusion of reading the imagined tale, my students would almost always forget the story was completely in the journalist's head and would, instead, retell the fiction as fact.

That is something I fear the most. Although I'm certain to only tell true stories in this space, I still don't want you to have, to retell a false image of me, of my Christianity, or my God.

God works through the sentimental musings of a mother's heart, through the laboring sweat, through participating in the spiritual disciplines...but He also speaks quite loudly through suffering.

For the past five days, I have learned a small measure of suffering. I haven't slept well. I've been fighting against being irritable with my loved ones. I've cried at least once. And I have searched for, yet failed to find, a faucet hot enough to make me pull back.

When taming the wilderness last Monday, I cleaned both poison ivy and poison oak away from my children's "playground." While I normally don't have a problem being allergic to these plants, this time, my labors left me with numerous brush burns, a long winding scratch up my shin, and dozens of lashes up and down the backs of my legs and arms.

In these open wounds, the poison silently seeped in, only to erupt in fiery blisters three days later, giving me bright red whip-like stripes across my body that have consumed me ever since.

Living with literal stripes on my body for the past six days is not how I would have chosen to remember Jesus' sacrifice this Easter. I am not worthy to bear His marks of suffering and sacrifice.

Yet, there are no coincidences with God. The constant reminder of the cat of nine tails that Jesus was beaten with--it has kept me close, close....too close at times to thoughts of His suffering.

Each time one of my children runs an interested, empathetic finger down my leg, tracing the lash of a poison-filled branch, I remember Him.

Such unspeakable gratitude....


  1. So beautiful and heartfelt. Love and miss you.

  2. You have been real... very real on your blog. And that is what makes me want to keep coming back here. When I have time, I scroll down to read what I have missed. And with each post I read, I get to know you a little bit more.

    Mothering isn't it, but it is your calling for this season or two. It won't be forever... the young ones grow so fast, before your eyes.

    And you grow with them as well, Jennifer. That's part of the deal.

    You are right, I also think it is a privilege - to literally experience a few stripes on your body this Holy week. What is the lesson for you, and for us who read your story? God has his way of driving home a truth.

    Pain redirects our focus... maybe a change of perspective... whatever... God knows best.

    I have discovered first hand that lessons learned the hard way are rarely forgotten.