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There she was, sitting in her wheel chair in front of 3,800 people.  She was speaking of life as a quadriplegic.  She was widely known for her artistic and writing abilities.  Art?  Writing?  Yeah, she uses her mouth to hold her pen and paint brushes.  After she spoke for about 45 minutes she stayed to sign (yes, with her pen in her mouth) her books for hundreds of the people in attendance.

Her name is Joni Earickson Tada.  She was injured when she dove into a lake headfirst as a high school student.  She has been paralyzed ever since.  When she spoke at our conference she said, “many Christians freely quote Philippians 3:10.”  It states, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…”  “Him” of course being Jesus.  Realizing that she had suffered greatly people nodded and agreed.  She asked, “Do you?  Do you want to know Christ and share in the fellowship of His suffering?”  She made it very very clear, “Do you really?”

Her words were that of warning.  She made it clear that the road marked with suffering was not glorious but clearly painful.  It wasn’t happy happy Christian speak.  It wasn’t singing from the mountain top about how great life was but instead suffering, and not just for yourself.  It was suffering for others and, in fact, knowing how Jesus suffers (ed).

Having a child with cancer I believe qualifies me as a member of the fellowship of the suffering (FOTS).  Not everyone, as I define it, who suffers is a member though.  The difference being is that it’s not just about your suffering that includes you in the FOTS.  It’s about having your suffering open your eyes (and more importantly your heart) to HIS suffering and the suffering of others.

I find great great comfort in the FOTS.  Not “comfort” in my more clinical sense of attaching comfort to suffering (ironically).  No, I mean it is comfortable to be with and/or around other members of the FOTS.  There is a knowing there.  There is no pretense.  There is no gloss.  There is no pretending that everything is ok because everything is not ok…and that’s ok.

It’s funny.  You do sense some people steering clear of you as they just don’t know what to say.  Others stay away because they don’t want to think of what might happen to them someday.  Others are afraid that they will get sucked into a long conversation about whatever you (I) am suffering from (now THAT is ridiculous…actually no, that very well may  happen though I am continually aware of this).  All in all suffering can be a  lonely place.  I find though, that those who intentionally suffer alone would have to…HAVE TO have it the worst.  To choose to isolate oneself in these times is tragic to me.  The thoughts and feelings that must rifle through your head and heart must be so harmful.  The opposite is true as well.  I don’t think that your suffering should overwhelm your identity either.

No, it’s the FOTS.  I will write more about this in the future as I feel quite unfinished about this (ironically I suppose given our current status).  For now I am simply saying that when I come across people who I know have experienced or are experiencing great strife and trouble…suffering, that there is a fellowship.  It’s a nod of the head.  It’s a shrug of the shoulders.  But you know what?  It’s ok here.


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