Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Count It All Joy

What is it that makes us grow?  Last spring when we began to plan our Uganda Mission trip we decided to take the ashes of Diana’s parents to Ireland.  On the surface that sounds simple, in practice it was very complicated.  We had hoped to ship the ashes to Ireland two years ago and a funeral home repackaged the ashes and prepared them for shipping.  The planned trip fell through and the funeral home stored the ashes for us.

Now in the spring of this year the task looked overwhelming.  It was forty years since we had been in Ireland and most of those whom we remembered had died years before.  Who do we contact?  Where do we inter the ashes?  How do we ship them?  It was something that needed to be done, and there must be a way.  When something is overwhelming I start praying. 

We decided to extend our trip by a week for a stopover in Ireland, and started making phone calls.  Cousin Frankie in England gave us the phone number for Cousin Sammy McNutt in Tullybogley, Manorcunningham, County Donegal, Ireland.  The phone number actually worked.  It should be noted that it was the only time it worked.  Sammy turned out to be very welcoming and very helpful. 

The next problem was how to get the ashes to Ireland.  I had checked out the shipping problem on the internet and was informed that the U. S. Post Office was the best method.  Our local post office gave us instructions that included specs for the box and a tape that they required for registered mail shipping.  It took a whole day to get the box and the tape.  The ashes were packaged for shipping and I took them to the post office only to discover that they were too heavy to ship and the Post Office wouldn’t accept them.  When faced with these types of problems I pray.  What’s next?  I checked with British Airways and discovered that we could actually take them on as hand luggage.  I admit to some anxiety about taking the ashes through security, and what do we do with the ashes when we go to Uganda?  Security proved to be no problem, and at Heathrow in London there is Left Luggage storage.

On the way back from Uganda we picked up the ashes and our luggage and headed for the small airline that was to take us to Belfast in Ireland.  We arrived at the terminal in a rush, received our boarding passes, and rushed to the gate, only to discover that the flight was delayed, delayed three hours, including an hour on the runway.  We arrived in Belfast at 9:30 p.m. in the dark, picked up our rental car only to discover that there was no map.  It took an hour to find the bed and breakfast which turned out to be down a little side street. 

We had tried several times to phone Sammy in Tullybogley but we were never able to get through.  I had a map of sorts from Google Maps with directions that ended with in “2 minutes turn right, then in 1 minute turn left”.  None of the roads leading to Tullybogley were named.  By grace, and after a few course corrections, we drove up a hill and found a woman working in her garden.  Sammy and Ada McNutt, she told us were just one lane away.  We arrived unannounced at Sammy’s from door.  The rest of the arrangements for the interment fell quickly into place and we had a delightful visit with Sammy and Ada.  The interment took place at a hillside cemetery in a cool drizzling rain.  It was a very important resolution for both Diana and for me.

I’ve only given a brief summary of the stressful events surrounding the internment.  Everybody handles stress differently.  Did you know that the word “Stressed" is "desserts" spelled backwards, but eating only temporarily alleviates stress?  St. Paul knew a great deal about stress, and took time to list some of the stressful events in his life:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one- I am talking like a madman- with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.  Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;  in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).  

He wasn’t really whining or bragging but giving us an insight into his own experience.  What he discovered was:

“But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  

The Braid Scots New Testament makes the following comment on this text saying, “Christ’s power shows it glorious and perfect work in the lives and character of His people in the midst of their human weakness.  It is better for a man to be put into danger or go through hardships and trails, and be sustained through them all, than not to have the experience of meeting hardships and trials for it is through hardships and trails that we grow”  (Braid Scots New Testament, note on 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ed. Robin P. Smith).

I discovered some time ago that stress creates growth.  James tells us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).   Unsurrendered stress drives us to distraction, but stress, when surrendered to God stretches the heart, and we grow by being stretched.  The Psalmist says, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32).