Monday, April 12, 2010

"Good news, Pepper died!"

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ." Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)

Lisa, my husband’s younger sister, has Autism. Experts say if you have known one person with Autism, you’ve known one person with Autism. Classified as a “spectrum disorder”, the symptoms vary widely, and each individual case comes with a multitude of obstacles to overcome. Put very simply, my sister-in-law’s brain is wired differently than most other’s when it comes to verbal communication.

Doctors told her parents when she was very young that she would never speak, but they were wrong. She loves to talk, but long sentences are a chore and sometimes she doesn’t find the right word for the right emotion. So when we went to visit my in-laws one weekend shortly after the death of a family friend’s dog, Lisa blurted out to us, “Good news: Pepper died!”

My mother-in-law gently corrected her, “No sweetie, that’s not good news”. It seemed to us that Lisa was confusing her excited emotion for seeing us with the thing that had been weighing on her heart. She loved Pepper, loves all dogs for that matter, and was consumed by the loss.

Months afterward, I kept thinking about that phrase for some reason. During a bit of a dry spell after moving from Chicago to Columbus, filled with employment rejection for me, homesickness for my husband, and a less than abundant bank account for both of us, we decided that we just needed something to pick us up. We joked that “most of our good news has been more like, ‘Good news: Pepper died!’”. On our way to church one Sunday I used the tired, sarcastic joke one last time.

God must have anticipated my unflattering show of self-pity as He worked with our pastor on that Sunday’s message where he referred to the Gospel repeatedly as—you guessed it—“The Good News”. The best news there could be, really!

How foolish the Gospel makes my ego look. Decorating a home is inconsequential. My career goals are unimportant when I’m truly living to serve God. How easily I lose sight of what this life is really about.

At the moment of the ego-check I recalled hearing the story of Horatio Spafford’s hymn “It is Well” too many times to count during the past few months. For those of you who don’t know the story, here is a video:

Did I mention that one of my goals has been to become a better listener to God? Sometimes He speaks, and speaks, and speaks before I understand how His word applies to my life—and my bad attitude. Oh, thank you, God for your patience.

It is so easy to allow ourselves to be swept into the current of cultural expectations and the subsequent feelings of failure when we don’t measure up. (Hint: in a consumerist culture, we will never measure up. We will never be fulfilled.) The more I think of the world as a spiritual place, the easier it becomes to measure success.

When we get to heaven and all of our ailments fall away I wonder if Lisa will explain that she meant to say, “Pepper died, but it is well with my soul.”

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