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My Story



Ministry has been the context of my life. I still remember my father preaching his first sermon when I was eight years old. In the years of my father being a minister and of my own education, military, and ministry, I have lived in many places: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, Japan, Viet Nam, Chicago, North Carolina and Maryland.

The Viet Nam war was intensifying in 1968, and due to a clerical error at the school, I was classified 1A by the draft board, which was not reversible. Since I was a private pilot, I chose to volunteer for the Air Force, and during my training, was married to Myra Jane Taylor ofConsultation Ministries - Gnarled roots representing the messiness of  life. Louisville, KY. My work in the Air Force was as a Radio Intercept Analysis Specialist. I was fortunate not to have had any traumatic experience in Viet Nam as so many did; nevertheless, I was there, and I was embittered by that experience, angry at life and angry with God. Viet Nam had not been part of my plans.

When discharged in 1974, I went to the University of Florida to finish college. My wife and I began our lives together again, including our church life. The Sunday School lessons were about the story of Joseph. As I began to hear again how he was sold into slavery and later framed and sent to prison, I really identified with Joseph. My Viet Nam experience felt like being sold into slavery and sent to prison.

As the story unfolded over several weeks, Joseph ultimately revealed himself to his brothers and said, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." I was so stunned at that! This was his chance for revenge! Why wasn't he bitter like me? Joseph's response to his brothers consumed me. It was the end of the semester by now, and time for final exams, but I found myself in the library preoccupied with Joseph's story. Where did he get his faith? How did he know that God meant it for good? I felt desperate for answers. Finally, it dawned on me that Joseph's faith was based on his dreams, the eleven sheaves of wheat and eleven stars. He knew God was speaking to him in those dreams, and he never lost touch with the vision given. God had worked redemptively through Joseph's suffering, using it to prepare him for his place of service in God's kingdom. He knew how to speak the Egyptian language; he knew governmental administrative procedures from the "federal" prison, and most importantly, he knew the way of faith.

Consultation Ministries - In reflecting on Joseph's story, I realized that God loved me and had purpose for my life as well. I didn't know how Viet Nam fit into it, or how all the pieces would finally come together, but I no longer needed that resolved. On a Sunday afternoon, in my living room, I knelt down in front of my coffee table and gave my life to Christ, "who loved me and gave himself for me." This was my adult decision of faith. My wife had come to a commitment of her own, and we were baptized together at North Central Baptist Church in Gainesville, Florida.

The University of Florida was my choice to finish college because of its Law School. During my Air Force years, I had determined that I wanted to be an attorney. Two years later, during my last semester, when it was time to take the LSAT and make application to the Law School, I was in much prayer about God's direction for my life. There had been such an incredible transformation in my soul. I had been reading through the New Testament devotionally. One afternoon between classes, I sat down under a pine tree and turned to the next passage, which was Ephesians 3 and quickly came across these words, "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." This verse was quickened to me by God's Spirit, and I knew I was being called into ministry.


Through the Shadow of Death
My Journey of Grief


Janie had suffered with Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes since she was thirteen. For most of those years she led a fairly normal life, although insulin shock was never a stranger. In the last four years, however, the demise of her health was catastrophic: blindness, kidney dialysis, seizures, amputation of her toes and eventually her lower leg, surgeries on her eyes, many episodes of peritonitis, and multiple hospitalizations.

Peritoneal dialysis was begun on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1987. It was an overwhelming task learning the sterile procedure, which had to be done four times daily. The overall medical regimen was consuming and felt like it was taking over our lives. At one point when we were talking about it, we made a covenant with God and one another that Christ was going to control our lives, not this disease. This was one of those breakthrough moments of grace that sustained us and gave us renewed focus and hope.

One of my prayers during this time was, "Lord, how do I pray for her?" Over the years we had prayed in many ways. In the last six weeks of her life, however, God gave me a three-word prayer: "Lord, have mercy." This prayer was liberating for me. I could cry out to God without it feeling like I was telling God what to do. It also gave me a sense of freedom because my emotions and faith were not locked into a particular outcome.

I wanted her to be healed and whole again. I wanted our family back to normal with all those daily routines and intimacies of life. Overall, however, I wanted her to be relieved of her suffering. In the mystery of life, if death was the only way for her relief, this prayer also became one of release. "Lord, have mercy." I prayed it over and over again. It was as close as my breath.

Janie died on September 26, 1989. We had been married for twenty years. Our fourteen year old son, Andrew, and I arrived at the hospital about three o'clock in the morning after a call that she had "made a turn for the worse." We each took some private time with her to say goodbye, but it was very incomplete. One does not say goodbye to a relationship of that nature in a few moments.

One of my first responses was relief. Her suffering had ended. It was as one author described it, "A Severe Mercy."[1] Even though we had anticipated her death, we were still caught by surprise. There was no way to comprehend the magnitude of this loss.

On the eve of her funeral I spent the whole night writing a tribute. As a minister most people tell me they want a brief funeral service; I never wanted it to end. It was just as she wanted. The weather was beautiful, and people lingered in conversation. It was a surreal, but meaningful time.

One of the men in my church was caretaker for a cemetery, and he advised me not to place a headstone until spring. The monument required a concrete footer, and there was not enough time for the cement to cure before freezing weather began. This turned out to be providential counsel because it gave me the winter to think about what I was going to have engraved on her headstone.

After the funeral the depth of grief began to grasp me in its clutches. The first routine task of normal life I did was to take my car in for servicing. As I was waiting in the lounge, I began to have a sense of panic. It was my first experience of real anxiety. My pastoral care professor in seminary, Dr. Wayne Oates, said the primary dynamic of grief is anxiety. I didn't know what that meant until now. I was beginning to engage life without her presence, and I didn't have a map for that.

I have since described grief like the columns in front of the Supreme Court building with each column representing a major area of life such as employment, family, faith, home, health. When any one of those columns is knocked out of place, it puts stress on all the others, and the building does not have integrity until the structure has been rebuilt. That is the work of grief, putting the structure of life back into place.

The cycle of regrets began to torment me. Why didn't I spend more time with her? Why wasn't I kinder to her? Why wasn't I more sensitive to her needs? They went on and on without mercy.

The God questions also began to emerge. They were frustratingly unanswerable, but very real. It was so unfair. Why did she have to suffer like she did? If she was going to die anyway, why did her leg have to be amputated only six months earlier? Why the seizures? Every aspect of her suffering replayed through my mind, and I angrily paraded them before God.

One morning as I was reading the Bible, I came to Psalm 77, which echoed my anguished questions to God:

I cried out to God for help;

I cried out to God to hear me.

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;

at night I stretched out untiring hands,

and my soul refused to be comforted.

I remembered you, O God, and I groaned;

I mused, and my spirit grew faint.

You kept my eyes from closing;

I was too troubled to speak.

I thought about the former days,

the years of long ago;

I remembered my songs in the night.

My heart mused and my spirit inquired:

Will the Lord reject forever?

Will he never show his favor again?

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?

Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"
(Psalm 77:1-9)

After taking a semester's break from seminary, I resumed classes in the winter term. My intellectual questions of God were as deep as the emotional ones. One of my courses was "The Theology of the Providence of God", having to do with God's providential care. This subject also covered theodicy, the issue of suffering.

The classical theodicy triangle is this: if God is a God of love, and if God is all powerful, then why does God allow pain and suffering in the world? This question posed a formidable, almost impenetrable problem.

My professor, Dr. Frank Tupper, whose own wife had died six years earlier, intentionally assigned me a paper to compare two of C. S. Lewis' books. In the first book, "The Problem of Pain",[2] Lewis carefully crafted a very reasoned and intellectual explanation of pain and suffering. Years later his wife died, and he kept a diary of his experience of grief, which was later published as "A Grief Observed."[3] In this latter book Lewis referred to his previous reasoned explanation of pain and suffering as a "house of cards" which came tumbling down, and he was afraid to construct another for fear it also would crumble. So he was content to allow the problem of pain and suffering to remain a mystery.

As I continued to struggle with this issue, I was led by God's Spirit to the person of Jesus Christ. Through Scripture, spiritual reading, and theological study, I particularly became aware of the humanity of Jesus. The Bible made statements such as, "Jesus wept," he hungered, he was weary, and he slept. I realized I had always focused on the deity of Christ, but his humanity was just as real and meaningful. John, the apostle, said, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14).

The redemptive path that Jesus chose involved suffering: temptation, harassment, persecution and crucifixion. As the prophet Isaiah had said, "he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). God the Father, however, was not a distant observer.  As the apostle Paul stated, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19).

The union of Jesus Christ with God was brought home to me through a book by Jurgen Moltman, a German theologian, entitled, "The Crucified God."[4] I began to get a sense of God�s identification with my pain, that God was suffering with me in my grief, and that God knew pain and suffering through personal experience. As I thought again about the theodicy triangle, it occurred to me that God does not choose to function through the power of force, but instead God exercises power through love. This invites me to be redemptively involved in God's effort to alleviate pain and suffering in the world.

Through my journey of grief I had maintained a personal time of worship each morning, which I would conclude by committing the day into God"s hands. One morning I had a lengthy "to do" list, and in my haste to get it all done, I jumped out of bed and began my errands: the bank, oil change and finally the grocery store. When I returned home, I began putting the groceries away, when all of a sudden I realized I had skipped my time of worship. I immediately left everything sitting on the counter went into the living room and sat on the sofa to pray.

To help me focus, I intentionally created a scene in my imagination. God was sitting on a throne, and the floor in front of the throne was a black and white checkerboard design. There was a semi-circular kneeling rail in front of the throne. I knelt at this rail to pray.

Events then began to unfold that surprised me, which I did not manufacture in my imagination. I felt a presence behind me and a hand on my shoulder. I immediately knew that it was Janie. I was stunned and did not know what to do. I looked up at God, and God said, "Talk to her." So I began telling her the things that had happened since her death and how Andrew and I were doing. She then whirled around and began to dance in a large semicircle around me. She was showing me that she had two legs now. Then she stopped, looked directly at me, and said, "And I can see too!" I knelt there and wept. She was okay now. God had made her whole.

Not long afterwards, my final resolution of this issue came through one of Jesus' parables. It was an odd passage that I had never before thought of in this context. It was the parable of the wheat and the tares:

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn." (Matthew 13:24-30).

This parable was saying to me that in creation God had planted good seed. Evil and suffering were not part of God's good creation. An enemy came along and sowed the evil. The makeup of reality is that none of us, nor anything, is completely pure nor totally evil, but somehow intertwined such that for God to eradicate the evil would do damage to the good. God's response did not dispel the mystery for me, but it did unexplainably bring a transforming resolution, that for now the wheat and tares must grow together, but in the end God will sort the evil from the good. Ultimately, God will deal with the evil. In the meantime I continue to pray along with the Redeemer Christ, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.";

In spite of her suffering Janie maintained a rather joyful spirit of hope and faith. I was profoundly affected by her courage in fighting the ravages of this disease. My in-laws' pastor visited her in the hospital immediately after the amputation of her leg. He asked her, "What would you like for me to pray for you?" She was literally writhing in pain as he asked, and I thought the answer to his question was very obvious, but she surprised me. Still not fully recovered from the anesthesia, she sat up in bed and said, "Pray for endurance."

The long winter ended and spring finally came around. It was time to place the headstone. I had prayed about it all winter. How do you sum up a person's life in one brief statement? Slowly I began to picture the layout of the engraving. A branch with a rose in the upper left corner, slightly off center to the right was our long last name, Wetherington, and then underneath, the epitaph God had given me:

 

 She Was the Joyful Presence of the Suffering God

 

________________________________
[1]Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 1977, 1980. (Try to find the hardback version.)
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Harper, San Francisco, 1940, ISBN 0060652969.
[3] C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed,  Faber and Faber, 1961, ISBN 0553274864.
[4] Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, NY, 1974, ISBN 0-06-065901-7.


Director@ConsultMin.com
2902 Bainbridge Dr Apt B, Durham, NC 27713, 919-564-6061
Copyright� 2001, Consultation Ministries, Inc., All rights reserved.
Photography by Larry Glover-Wetherington, Copyright� 2001.
 

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