Be Still…

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We had borrowed the van from our friends.

It was quite a lot to ask considering we took it round trip from Seattle to Los Angeles. It was our first real vacation and though it was an extremely tight-budgeted trip it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of my three little ones. I’m sure they still hold the record for number of times Disneyland was squealed in a twenty-four hour period.

To save money, I made our family matching clothes from a bolt of fabric I bought for 25¢ a yard. The Von Trapp Family likeness was not lost on me. The comical similarity stopped at the collars and hems of our blue and yellow plaid apparel– the hills were not alive with the sound of music and I definitely wasn’t singing.

I had pneumonia, strep throat and a kidney infection the week before our trip. I also had three ecstatic children I couldn’t let down so I kept pushing through, despite my husband’s repeated suggestion I stay home.

That should have been my first clue.

The short trip can only be described as emotionally cold and confusing. For me, our visit to The Happiest Place on Earth was more like Alice in Wonderland.

On our way home we stopped at a gas station somewhere in Oregon. My husband reached for the door and stated coolly, “When we get home I’m leaving you and the kids. It’s over.” He didn’t even look in my direction, nor did he acknowledge the weight of his words.

Those words sucked the air out of my lungs. Time stood still while our tumultuous marriage flashed before me. The previous nine years had included two separations but I had hoped Disneyland marked the turning of a new page in our lives.

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The opened van door felt like a portal into a black hole.

He used the men’s room while I sat frozen in the van with three little cherubs who didn’t have a clue. Had Thelma and Louise come out three years earlier I may have had the courage to get behind the wheel and in true country western song fashion I would have kicked up a plume of dust or lay squealing rubber or spray gravel like a Gatling gun–anything to mimic some control.

Instead I made a collect call to our pastor.

I stood in a dirty phone booth confronted with the surreal details of someone else’s nightmare. I couldn’t think straight. I can’t remember my exact words to him that afternoon because the intense emotions convulsing within were both unspeakable and deafening.

My pastor’s words were a branding iron on my cerebral cortex–not because of their comforting effect but because of their absolute absurdity.

“Be still and know that I am God.” He seemed to yawn the words.

Be still?

Are you kidding me? How does anyone even do that?

I was expecting something much more substantive–more directive. I was hoping the man of God would put the fear of God in my husband. I was hanging on  to spider silk with one hand and holding my kids’ future in the other–I needed something stronger than Hallmark sentiments.

There were a lot of s-words in my life then–not to mention the four-letter one–but the biggest s-word in my vocabulary was survival. There’s one thing I know about survival, it has no friendship with still. Survival takes hyper-vigilance. Survival requires water treading skills–there’s no room for kickin’ back in the gondola of life.

To me, the best picture of stillness is seen with Jesus in a storm-thrashed boat. It was dark. Loud. Wet. Cold. The crew and passengers were frantic.

But not Jesus.

He wasn’t just resting or chilling out, he was actually asleep! Sometimes our Sunday School version of this story keeps us from seeing the how to and what for of stillness.

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God has meticulously guided me through some soul-crushing terrain in the thirty years since I missed my scene in a Carrie Underwood music video. He has given me the opportunity to experience His exquisite grace. In the process I have learned something about the stillness Pastor Easterly spoke of in the phone booth that day.

My ability to come to stillness is found in the context of intimacy and identity.

Intimacy with God cultivates trust while identity fosters security.

This happens over time. It happens in the dark of night and in the countless ways God reveals His love and character through faithfulness and compassion.

My identity in Christ is unshakable. Intimacy with him develops my understanding of that identity and supports my willingness to trust that I am in his hands and he is good. The ability to come to stillness begins right here.

Knowing God’s word plays a big role in my coming to stillness but I can’t just know the scripture –I must know the God of scripture.

The ability to rest in the back of a sinking boat requires that I have already surrendered my life–in fact, that I have died to myself. Even daily. I can’t be still if I’m thrashing to save myself.

In closing, let me say that I think a big piece of Be still and know, is found in humility. Humility says, “Lord, I don’t need to inform you about this storm–this situation, this economy, this global humanity crisis, this political nightmare, the media-driven fear mongering and trauma triggering news feeds. You are my God and I trust you. My life is in your hands and it belongs to you. It’s yours not mine.”

We might not always be able to sleep soundly in the back of our sinking ships but we can always be stilled there in His embrace!

 

I’m Not Close to God!

Closeness to God isn’t measured in proximity that increases or decreases depending on spiritual activity.

In my early years as a Jesus-follower, I operated under the notion that closeness to God was based on my actions. It wasn’t an altogether faulty notion. James 4:16 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” I reasoned that if I engaged in daily devotions, if I read my Bible, prayed fervently, avoided sin and carbs I would then be close to God.

My unspoken illusion played out something like this: If I got close enough to God He would let me do stuff for Him and onlookers might say, “Wow, she must be super close to God.” (Smelling a stinky motive?)

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A few women in my family laugh about it now, but for us being close to God involved ritual and paraphernalia. When we felt close to God there was always equipment involved: a new Bible, cool Bible cover, highlighters, bookmarks, a few devotionals and a journal written in uniform handwriting. These items sat smartly in a chic basket next to our quiet time chairs where we faithfully met Jesus each morning—and make no mistake, it had to be morning or it wasn’t quite as effective!  It also didn’t hurt that visitors would notice the basket and the devotion and our closeness to God.

If our rituals lost momentum, became intermittent or even abandoned for a season, we no longer felt close to God and acted like defeated minions, hanging our heads like kids avoiding an angry parent.

I’ll never forget when a 20s something beach-tanned Jesus Freak walked into our little community church back in the 70s. He was literally barefoot, his long hair held back by strips of leather. He packed a Bible encased in a well-worn leather cover. Hand tooled on the front was the now iconic Maranatha Dove. His Bible had notes scribbled in the margins and verses underlined throughout.

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I had no idea we were allowed to write in our Bibles!

I also had no idea how much my observation of Mr. Maranatha’s Bible influenced some ridiculous behaviors and notions. I emulated other indicators of what identified a person walking closely to God. Most of it was a bunch of soulish activity that only served to make me feel good about my closeness to Jesus.

You guessed it. I got a Bible and began underlining and marking. Beginning with John 3:16 I indiscriminately underlined verses and added incredibly meaningful marginal notes like Very Cool!  Sooo Good!  I love Jesus! (The exclamation points marked with hearts of course.) It suddenly seems important that I mention I was thirteen-years-old at the time.

Years passed and things were great when I felt close to God but when I didn’t, I sheepishly retreated, distancing myself from Him. My closeness ebbed and flowed as I rallied and retreated, rallied and retreated. The rallies were preceded by fervent prayers asking Him to draw me closer. My routines were often self-fueled. My retreats were sojourns in sheepish defeat propelled by an underlying belief that God was upset with me.

The thing is, I really wanted to be used by Him.

I wanted to serve Him and the only ones who were chosen to serve were really, really close to Him— evidenced by the things people close to God say and do. Think part nun, part wild honey and locust eater.

What I didn’t know in those early years was my desire to serve God was impacted by brokenness and motivated out of need to remain in good stead with Him rather than by love for Him. My heart seemed to be saying See how faithful I’m being? Are you pleased with me?

The Lord has been so patient with me. He’s led me gently down a healing path which has enabled me to better understand and trust His love for me. I have since come to know that He didn’t just love me because He was obligated by some rash public declaration or because of an assignment His father gave Him.

He loves me willingly and completely.

(Even as I write this, the joy of that realization overwhelms me to tears.)

In John 14 Jesus is preparing His followers for his death and departure. In verse 10 He asks, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”

It was imperative that they understood this because Jesus urges again in verse 11, “Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

He goes on to encourage and explain. Look, I have to go away or you can’t be with me and you can’t be in me and I can’t be in you.

Jesus said,

When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

Did you get that?

“I am in you.”

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When I realized that Jesus didn’t come just to atone for sins and to reveal the Father but that His life, death and resurrection made available to me the same union that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share…

IT COMPLETELY CHANGED THE WAY I VIEW MY RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM! 

Not only is He my dwelling place but I am His. I’d say that’s pretty close, wouldn’t you?

“For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”  – Ephesians 5:30-32 

What is true of my marriage union applies to my union with Christ. You see, I’m no less united to my husband in marriage when we’ve had a disagreement or if we are separated by miles. The reality is:

  • We are united. 
  • It impacts my identity. 
  • It impacts my priorities. 
  • It impacts the way I live. 
  • It impacts my emotional security. 
  • It impacts how I spend my time. 
  • It impacts who I share my time with.

These things don’t prove I have union with my husband, they are a result of that union.

Our union with God is a union of love and we love God because He first loved us. Love is what drives the union of the Godhead and love is what drives my union with God—His for me and mine for Him.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, God does not move away if I mess up or fail to reach the bar—whatever that is.

My friends, God is not far off. He makes His home in us!

Let union, rather than proximity, depict your relationship with God!

Let love, not duty be the motivator in that union!

Dear Reader…

Autumn. Fall scene. Beautiful Autumnal park. Beauty nature scene

I begin this post with Dear Reader because it reminds me there is a flesh and blood someone on the other side of these words I hurl into cyberspace.

Where have I been, you ask?

This summer I did a lot of soul-searching and zero blogging. There was a fair amount of talk therapy splattered in there as well. I spent eight peaceful days alone in the woods contemplating my life and asking hard questions. I filled my journal with ink that told on my heart, revealing the conflict it contained.

Recently I had the joy of experiencing my two-year old grandson. His antics and adorableness make me grit my teeth in attempts at self-control. If given over to my impulses I would scoop him up and smother him with unending kisses. Though his tolerance for smothering gramma-affection has diminished, his desire for my undivided attention has not waned.

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Photo credit cjandjen.blogspot.com

We spent the morning playing and at one point in the back yard he observed and commented, “It’s windy.” For a poetic moment he stared off David Thoreau-like and added, “I like the wind. It blows the hot off me.” I could eat that boy up!

Though I enjoyed the occasional wind that blew the hot off me this summer, I more needed the wind of God to blow the dust layer off my outlook.

I took a hard look at my identity, my relationships, my purpose, my heartaches and my dreams. I also questioned my blog. (Ask a couple of my friends and they’ll tell you this happens on a regular basis.)

    • Why blog?
    • Do I have anything to say that isn’t already being said elsewhere?
    • What am I hoping to accomplish?
    • Do I have a theme and who’s my audience?
    • Do I have a readership?
    • Can I grow a blog while refusing Facebook and Twitter?
    • Am I too open and why for the love of boundaries do I freely bare my soul?

If you’ve read Grace Grips before, you know I’m intentionally transparent because I think people are tired of pretense, idealism, glossy rhetoric and religious cliches. Don’t you just want a place where make-up is not required?

One of my goals for this blog has been to acknowledge and share the messiness of mucking out my honest-to-goodness-real-life with its searing imperfections, frequent failures and side-lining discouragements.

I talk about living with depression and anxiety and PTSD and the effects of childhood sexual abuse. I talk about my relationship with God and share the things He shows me. And though I’m real, it’s not my intention to offer a steady diet of wallow and whine so occasionally I highlight the celebratory moments when It is well with my soul! 

I try to offer glimpses of Jesus in the midst of it all and illuminate the Grace that grips when I don’t feel I can hang on.

And, I just happen to think there are folks who benefit from some of this!

A couple weeks ago I listened to a new friend update me on her life. She’s a first-grade teacher taking a fully-loaded graduate course. All I could offer her in response was to say that I’m a stay-at-home grandmother operating in the self-termed ministry of availability–helping where I’m needed. I didn’t add: when I’m not stuck in depression that is.

While I cheered her, insecurity chided me.

Though I’m getting better, I’m a perpetual self-scolder. I tend to dismiss my dreams and habitually question my purpose. I work hard to push against the persistent voice of disqualification that has plagued me since childhood. I get lost between my feeling of not being enough and my fear of being too much. I stumble over my emotions. I get tripped up on the opinions of others. I fall flat when rejection jumps me. I wrestle with anxiety. I’m easily overwhelmed when two or more of these factors are present at the same time.

Mostly, I just can’t seem to keep a firm grip on who I am so I’m apt to look for clarification from others and wait in vain for permission to live my own life. And sometimes I isolate in a vacuum of self-effort while I attempt to work out a fix for my current version of broken.

One muggy August afternoon I whined to my therapist, “It’s like I keep taking courses but I never get the certificate and here I am at fifty-eight questioning my purpose and if I’ve wasted my life and where do I go from here…and I’m very, very tired.”

Pass the tissues, please!

The tissue-passer reminded me that I’m never going to arrive.  Her reminder was analgesic. This side of the gates I’m never not going to be broken, flawed and in need of transformation. I’m never going to be fully qualified or completely equipped. “But that doesn’t mean,” she added, “that you stop putting yourself out there.”

So this summer I laid my heart before God and somewhere in my contemplative exploration God turned the questions on me:

Does who you think you are carry more weight than who I say you are? 

Trust me, my only response to that was repentance.

As summer packed up for the year I had come to some conclusions. Most importantly I determined to identify myself as one dearly loved by God.

I am His chosen, uniquely created, intentionally-loved, perpetually-cared for recipient of unending Goodness, Mercy and Grace.

(Read that again, please, because it’s true of you as well!)

I decided to accept that His calling on my life is exactly that–His.

I determined to trust where He leads, no matter how seemingly incongruous the path.

I agreed to relinquish the outcomes of His initiations for and through me and to release my need to quantify their import or impact.

And I accepted, once again, the inescapable reality that I’m going to mess up and not everyone is going to like or agree with me.

Back to my blog. I’m going to keep at it even though it still scares me.

You might be a Grace Grip reader if you aren’t afraid of someone offering their vulnerable journey with Jesus through a messy life. My hope is to point to a life-simplifying relationship with God. In the process I hope to be relatable and to offer identification for those who think their struggles are unique and that they are alone.  I want to inspire courage for those looking at and dealing with the hard stuff.

Thank you, friend, for hanging out with me.

And, by the way, by taking a moment to comment, you join the conversation and broaden the impact—not to mention inspire trepidatious me.

Grace and Peace!

The Lost Art of Humility – Pt. 2

One Sunday he was just fine.

The following Sunday prayer was requested for an upset stomach.

The Sunday after that he arrived with a report of stage 4 cancer in his esophagus, his liver and his lymph nodes.

In the short span of time between his first scan and his second the spots on his liver had migrated into a single large one. Oncologists said it is advanced, aggressive, incurable, and untreatable. They advised against chemo and suggested a course of pain management and palliative care.

DSC_0325 (1)His response?

Glory. Glory. Glory. All glory belongs to our savior Jesus Christ! God can do whatever He chooses to bring glory to His name. I ask that God would give me strength to glorify Him in this and that I would not fail to praise Him in all things.

His wife sings harmony in this chorus, echoing those sentiments.

The report landed softly in the room where our Simple Church gathered. Our collective response was, O Lord, nothing is impossible for you. We ask you to heal our dear brother. We trust You with the outcome. 

Like a scalpel, the news sliced into our respective hearts confronting our faith, our theology and our unspoken fears.

As my fingers move over my keyboard just now, our brother is receiving, in faith, his first chemo treatment–against the advise of his doctors. There are days when pain and nausea thrash him like mortal enemies and still his lips speak praise for our Love-sovereign, gracious, merciful, omnipotent LORD who’s ways are perfect and worthy of all the glory.

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He’s no stranger to affliction.

  • He and and his wife worshiped while grieving the stillbirth of their twin sons and said, “We count it a privilege that God would consider us worthy to display Himself through our loss.”
  • When their wealth was vaporized by a Christian brother who had defrauded them they responded, “Nothing in this life compares to the riches of knowing the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And they forgave.
  • Presently, unless God intervenes, he is moving rapidly toward his heavenly home and great kingdom reward.

This unassuming couple is quietly speaking volumes in the way they are standing in this furnace of affliction. It’s a message about the incomparable worth of being a child of God with humility that is focused on bringing glory to Him.

You see, I’ve been giving this humility thing a lot of consideration lately. Early in chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul urges (actually entreats or begs) believers to walk in a manner worthy of Christ’s calling (or ordered steps) for our lives. He describes what that looks like, opening with humility:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…

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Right out of the gate I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who can walk into a room where 99% of its contents are in good order. Invariably my eye will fall on the crooked picture frame or the tilted lampshade. I’ve fought it my whole life. Flaw or gifting? I don’t know. Either way I try not to let it in the driver’s seat but I don’t  stuff it in the trunk.

As someone who has experienced childhood abuse, alcoholic family dysfunction and mental illness I can tell you that I’m no stranger to the world of self-help.

In my early twenties when I began my healing journey there was virtually nothing on childhood sexual abuse. PTSD hadn’t been coined. Adult children of Alcoholics was just gaining a voice. Melody Beattie’s spotlight on Codependency wasn’t mainstream. At that time most of the emerging self-help conversation was in secular arenas. The faith community eventually responded and has since contributed some amazing helps for wounded hearts and broken lives. But…

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I’ve noticed the pendulum swing wide since those early years when it was just me and Jesus gutting out my chaotic internal world. But now I think we have become obsessed with ourselves and with our wellbeing; with our passions, our purposes, our dreams, and our voices. We have personality assessments, gift assessments, love-language assessments, and ministry gift assessments. We have markers, labels, identifiers, and a whole vocabulary of newly coined terms–all intended to help us better understand ourselves and recognize each other.

We seek the deep mysteries in ourselves but in the process have we lost our appetite for the deep mysteries of God?

The result of this propensity for introspection, indicated in too many ways for me to list here, has been summed up in a Brennan Manning quote:

“God made man in His image and man returned the compliment.”

Have things gotten turned around in the relationship between the Creator and the created, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the worshipers and the only One deserving of worship?

I’ll never forget the impression made upon me by a book title that caught my eye in the 80’s: Write Your Own Ticket With God. Really? Not in my bible!

Entitlement has crept into our culture–not just in the secular arenas, but also the sacred. Sadly, I recognize it in my life as well. Ugh. I’ve noted how my conversation with God has shifted. It grieves me that:

  • I petition more than I worship. 
  • I too often scrutinize my life and world, determine what or who needs fixing and then petition God for remedy as though He were life’s Customer Service Agent.
  • I can be much more concerned with my petty agenda than I am of His kingdom purposes and of His redemptive story forged in and throughout my life. 

Ironically, the quiet humility of my friends has been God’s megaphone in my ear:

God is whispering to our preoccupied hearts. “Keep your eyes on me. Stay focused. Live to glorify me. Lose your life to find it. Be the least so you can be great in my kingdom. Trust my ways. Walk humbly before me.

The truth of the matter is that our lives really don’t belong to us, they’ve been purchased by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

The Lost Art of Humility—Part 1

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I’ll be honest. My life hasn’t been pretty lately, which may explain my absence here.

Presently, I’m sitting among a stand of fir trees and taking in beautiful Dickey Lake in northwestern Montana. The setting is perfect for woolgathering.

When life and relationships get messy, I tend to pull back and pull inside myself. My voice shrivels up along with any permission I feel I need in order to speak or to be seen or to belong. I hear and respond to the accusing voice in my head that condemns. Why should anyone listen to anything you have to say; you’re life is shaky at best?

My (sometimes) wonky, dilapidated life and perspective have driven me into hiding. Again. Pride and fear send me there. Again, the voice: After all, Miss Messy Pants, shouldn’t you be a little further along by now—shouldn’t you have this licked?

I’ve been here countless times before and thankfully, by God’s grace, I do manage to drag myself—or does He pick me up?–back to the simple truth that often drives the seemingly beat-up truck of my life–and of this blog.

The Lord’s words spoken to an infirmity-beleaguered, conflict-riddled Paul give me courage. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

I lean heavily upon this promise as I return to the page and allow God to use my vulnerability and my transparency–some would say foolish, indiscreet openness–to invite others to look at their lives as well. Hopefully to become more inspired or encouraged.

I don’t think it’s too bombastic to say that we live in a time where isolation has never been more culturally prevalent. It may be a generalization but don’t we hide our stage 4-shame-ridden selves behind religious mantras and our social media updates while we attempt to buy time to tidy up our real lives enough to actually engage in real time, with real people.

We’re afraid of being judged, uninvited, or rejected because our realities don’t quite measure up to the ideals we’ve adopted for ourselves, borrowed from the glossy pages of the picture-perfect examples plastered all around us.

We hide. We don’t connect. We don’t engage. And this incubates and spreads the virus of neglect in the body of Christ. Have we become so introspective that we can’t see past our own navels to the lives and needs of others? Ouch!

In the rare glimpses I am given into someone’s real-time life I often hear the don’t-judge-me-but… preface to their hesitant transparency and self-disclosures.

We desperately want to connect, we want to be in loving and nurturing community but we feel inadequate. Our messy cars, the unfolded laundry piled on our couches, the pastries we swear off and then order with our skinny lattes, our failures, our excesses, and our perceived deficiencies keep us confined to our privacy–and to our pain.

We say, I’ll crack the door open to my life but you have to promise not to judge or reject me because my life isn’t the way I want it to be and it sure doesn’t look anything like what I think everyone else’s life looks like.

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All the naval gazing I’ve been doing lately has led me to think about humility. I guess you could say Jesus has teamed up with life and they’ve graciously handed me a not-so-free scholarship for another term in the school of Grace and Truth.

My human nature and some gray matter issues medical science has assigned a stigmatized label keep me in perpetual supply of humility-inducing opportunities. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate it! I often mount Self-sufficiency and try to outrun my own life and my reality. I try to overcome in my own power. I fail. Every time.

“When you think you stand, take heed lest ye fall.” (Doesn’t that sound more impactful in the King’s English?)

“God resists the proud (self-reliance and hubris) but gives grace to those humble in heart.”

When I get caught up in trying to please man or achieve man’s standards for acceptance, favor or approval, I know that I’m walking in pride. I know that humility has become a missing spoke on my wagon wheel. And I know I’m flirting with a religious spirit. And I’m terribly close to a face plant.

There’s a line in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes that describes this propensity toward pride:

“The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up.”

Pride is going to come up in our lives for as long as we breathe earth’s air. Only humility can displace it. Only humility allows us to see rightly.

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We need grace.

I’ve determined that I cannot live in grace if I don’t walk in humility.

Two things are necessary for this sojourn we call our lives:

Grace-reliance and Humility-dependence.

  • Humility gives us the receptors for grace—it allows us to receive the grace our insufficiency requires.
  • Humility quiets our perfectionism and releases us from approval seeking.
  • Humility opens the door to let others see into us.
  • Humility keeps us from promoting ourselves and our purposes; it enables us to serve.
  • Humility stifles our tendency to judge and our propensity toward cynicism.

Humility positions us rightly before God—it keeps us looking to Him as the Awe-inspiring recipient of our lives rather than the resource for our agendas.

On that note, I’ll break here for part 2 of The Lost Art of Humility and post it next week.

An Organic Conversation – Pt. 2 of 2

Heal My Wounds

An Organic Conversation, Part 1

I ended my talk with these words:

We want to be offered solutions but He offers HOPE instead. Hope goes beyond the skin-depth nature of solutions. Hope does not disappoint, despite our continuously changing circumstances.

The vivacious woman who had strummed us into worship stepped into transparency and spoke first, “I’ve been hiding in plain site.” Her ministry call and various positions had left her feeling invisible and empty. Her love for children and her desire to be a mother had been met with an inexplicably barren womb. She sits with conflict and pain while Jesus holds onto her hands that may have lost some of their grip. Her heart hangs in the balance of a life transition and faith transformation that can’t be explained but can only be lived out.

A woman with beautiful eyes and an open heart said that she had experienced the hand of God lead her out of meth addiction, restore her career and her relationships but that the marriage and ministry she saw with the recovery package had yet to materialize. She sat in undefined limbo trying to find motivation for her life–in God and in loneliness. She vulnerably expressed her disillusionment and her dry faith. She feels reluctant to continue to till ground that has not yielded the harvest of her hopes and prophetic promises. And while she hasn’t turned her back on God, she sits with the unanswered and the unfulfilled.

My heart strings were being tugged toward the strong new-to-town military wife. Her zest for life seemed to show signs of weariness as she opened her heart and spoke in tones of frustration. She’s seen Jesus in big ways and collected, in faith, big plans but still she sits with a barren womb and a pile of God-directives that haven’t come to fruition. She’s weary of pushing upstream toward dead ends. She feels twinges of cynicism that she wishes weren’t there. She holds onto God while she handles the unanswered and the unknown. She speaks with candid kindness, “Please don’t tell me that God has something for me. I’ve heard it all before.”

The sweet young woman sitting nearest me sits wrapped in a beautiful scarf and a protective layer that hints of soul-fatigue but not despair. She lives a life quietly giving herself away but dares to admit that she feels empty. She wonders if her desire to be married and have children will get lost in the many places she busies her heart and hands to serve others. How does she get her cup filled in a culture that is so needy? How does she say yes to so many and still leave room for yes to herself? She sits with weariness, longing and unfulfilled dreams. How can she frame her life around the empty spaces?

The next to speak was a single gal with beautiful eyes and thick hair. With arms crossed over her chest she spoke out with confidence. “This message, it isn’t new to me…I hear Him speaking it all over.” She’s disillusioned about the culturally current church and the way it can leave attenders lonely and disconnected. She sits with a need for community and relationship but can absolutely no longer abide the “peganite” church practices that grieve her soul. She sits with questions. She sits with disconnection. She sits with wonder about what it is God is saying to us and how to live that out in a kingdom-serving way to a self-absorbed world.

I asked questions. Hearts were primed. We actively listened. A common thread emerged and outlined each woman’s exposed heart as they shared the vulnerable realities of their lives. There was a knowing that we would not leave that room, that night with a handout of formulas, recipes and pat answers rolled parchment-style in our clenched fists.

In the end we dared to exchange transient solutions for true Hope. 

Learning to sit with the mystery, with the unexplained, with the unmet longings, with the weariness, with the unfulfilled dreams and with the dissapointment sets us up for spiritual formation that cannot be achieved otherwise

It’s in this place of the “un” that we recognize resident potential for a more mature love for God. It’s here that deep spiritual formation germinates. It’s here that we sit in the presence of a God who cannot be manipulated, formulated or perpetuated in zealous ideals, ego-centric perspectives or religious boxes. He wants us to experience Him when all the dots connect but especially when they do not.

Habakkuk records in chapter 3, verse 17:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

If God’s ways and means could be fully explained all of the time, would He not lose some of the mystery that surrounds Him?  Our willingness, and desire, to devote ourselves to Him cannot be contingent on our understanding of His ways. He is every bit God in the unanswered, in the unfulfilled, and in the not yet attained. In the disillusionment and in the silence He is the God of love and goodness, mercy and kindness just as much as when He steps into our lives in bold and dramatic ways that lift our arms and raise our voices in praise.

Is it possible to echo Habakkuk’s praise?

In pain?

In loss?

In loneliness?

In brokenness?

In the holding patterns that eclipse the view of our desired destinations?

JESUS said:

“I have told you these things so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrow. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jn.16:33

SPEAK IT OUT

SPEAK IT OUTWe sit propped on pillows in bed drinking our morning coffee. We grant ourselves the luxury of resting on the Sabbath and decide to skip church. He has injured his back and can’t move without feeling significant pain. I am fatigued by a week-long push through depression and I can’t speak without choking up.  My soul is exploding with a slew of thoughts that have no home. I need to articulate, to debrief, but I don’t want to indulge while he’s hurting.

“I think I need to clear my head–are you feeling up to it?” I test the waters. In past years I wouldn’t have recognized my need until it had reached the fevered pitch of angst. Urgency to find relief and a solution would have driven us both into fix-it mode. In the end we wouldn’t have solved anything and would likely have ended up misunderstanding each other—the whole laborious ordeal culminating in frustration and anger.  I no longer expect to find a solution and he doesn’t feel required to provide one. Like an infected boil, I’ve learned there’s great relief in just lancing through it and letting it drain. Giving words to my pent up emotions does that for me.

The opening line of my monologue reads like a comic strip: “I feel like Charlie Brown.” I peel the thoughts from my reluctant tongue and continue. “I keep trying and trying but I still feel like an unaccomplished outcast—like I will never complete the edits on my draft of a significant life.” My words sound self-pitying as they bounce around in my adult brain yet at the level of emotional honesty, they are on point. We had watched the Peanuts movie the previous day with our grandchildren. I couldn’t help identifying with Charlie Brown throughout the movie. “I feel like people just don’t get me, like I’ll never belong, like my contribution will always fall flat.” I wipe tears and blow my nose. “All I can see are my failed attempts caught in a tree, dangling like the kites Charlie never managed to fly?”

“Actually, I thought of you through the movie as well,” he says. “I thought about how hard you work to get through what you’re up against.” He goes on to tell me how he sees me as a good-hearted woman and that, like Charlie, my character is far better than my accomplishments. For the next thirty minutes I pour out the weeks’ encounters and the bottled-up feelings I had cloaked in BRAVERY and bravado. I tell him about all the areas I feel confused and directionless. I tell him how I just wish I knew where my lane was and could stay in it. I confess to him my fear of being an imposter—that while I’m pushing past my illness that I worry I’m fabricating a better self, feeding a performance. I talk about how inspired I get by what the confident women around me are pulling off—and how it also makes me feel inadequate. I blow my nose and wipe the smudges of mascara from my face. I tell him that I don’t know if I can manage both a significant impact in the world and have anything left to manage my own world.

“A friend is one before whom I may think aloud.” 

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

He listens with kindness and I can tell that he’s not just enduring one more gripe session or self-pity monologue. He sees my genuine desire to get it right. I tell him about the things that overwhelm me, scare me and break my heart. I offer that I’m confused about medication and diagnosis and shrink at what my faith community thinks about me and my struggles—of how I get tired of trying to please and appease. I tell him that I know God loves me, that I don’t doubt His nearness. I tell him about my gratitude for His faithfulness that no matter how hard things become, there is always, always, always something to rejoice about. I admit that I need to close my ears to all the voices around me and simply stand silent before God and listen to what HE has to say.

I pause for a while and soon I feel peace beginning to take shape inside me. Nothing has changed except that I have been given the gift of a safe, non-judgmental friend to sort out my conflicting thoughts with. I haven’t answered any of the usual questions. I haven’t devised a new life strategy. I have, however, dislodged the words, errant or true, from my crowded soul and made room to receive the grace I so desperately need. God’s grace and the grace of those with skin on. When I have spent my words, I turn to God’s word—an assigned scripture–and I smile at what I read and I think I can see Him smiling too.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!

His faithful love endures forever. 

Has the LORD redeemed you? 

Then speak it out!”

Psalms 107:1-2

And so I speak it out!

Amid the things I do not understand, I understand this: God is good and He faithfully showers grace upon brokenness, imperfection, illness, failure and loss. Perhaps the calling of my life is simply to model trust in this God we cannot see. Maybe the way I follow Jesus will be the publishing house for my story. I may or may not speak from a platform or from the printed page, but my life can be, and is, a living epistle of God’s grace and redemption.

Whether or not I am ever healed, whether my life is ever notable or significant, I know that I am redeemed and God is faithful. And I’m speaking out!

Rock Harvest

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My family teases me about my proclivity for word pictures. Sometimes they’re useful in communication, other times I find I’ve applied a five-pound metaphor to an eight-ounce idea. When my youngest son was in high school I apparently used too many football metaphors to drive home my points because he’s a grown father now and he’ll still tease me. “Mom, it’s like you’re 3rd and 9 with 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter and….”

Well friends, today’s word picture is brought to you by the letter R.

I’m a city-girl who married a farmer. Like most farmers, my husband is outstanding in his field. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!)  Farmers mark their anniversaries by harvests rather than years. Though we are the quintessential example of the attraction of opposites we have successfully marked off twenty-four harvests. For farming families, life revolves around the seasons and few people better understand the principles of sowing and reaping than farmers. Can you imagine the fodder for word pictures here?

photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/49502994797@N01/2609223069/

A short drive around our large farm will reveal a number of rock piles. They represent years of cultivation, planting and harvesting.

Each spring, as soon as the ground is dry enough for tractors, the fields are worked in preparation for planting. Spring work involves a two-step process. The fields, which were disked after harvest the previous fall, are roller-packed and then harrowed in preparation for planting. Harrowing (no, it’s not scary) is like combing the clumps of dirt with rows of metal teeth. It’s like a giant earth comb. At first glance, the fields can appear nice and smooth after this process.

However, by the time the field has been planted the ground will have been worked over three separate times. This vigorous working of the soil brings large rocks to the surface, rocks which damage equipment and implements. You would think that after sixty years of working these same fields we’d have come to the end of rock harvesting. Not so.

No matter how smooth the ground appears prior to the growing season rocks are churned up every single year. It’s critical they be removed. No doubt, you’re already beginning to see where I’m going with this.

Whether we’ve been a Christian four weeks or four decades, the Holy Spirit’s cultivating process in our hearts will continue to uncover obstacles that are damaging to both ourselves and others. We can become discouraged when hidden things are continuously being revealed. I can. “Lord,” I lament, “where did that come from? I’ve worked so hard to overcome and here I am again, still dealing with the same old stuff.”

My rock pile consists primarily of shame and insecurity boulders. My heart intention is to live a cultivated, fruitful life to the glory of God but I still stumble over the same rocks–and their cousins. Two things can happen to me when those rocks crop up. One, I can get frustrated. And then, in my frustration, I can become vulnerable to deception and the temptation to throw up my hands. I’ll never be free of this. I give up!

When I’m working at something so strenuously and feeling frustration in the process it’s a good indication that I’ve moved over from grace-living into the dangerous territory of pride. I entertain the notion that I have what it takes to present a better version of myself. I think that by improving myself, even if it’s a pretentious show, then I will have the approval of people and therefore provide myself some security. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Self as the prefix to anything is dangerous ground!

The undeniable truth is that transformation is always a work of grace and divine power. The bible says that it is God who is at work in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It clearly states that God will complete the work He has begun in me. I am His workmanship. (Phil. 2:13; Phil. 1:6; Eph. 2:8)

I didn’t initiate this transformation process and it is certain that I will not accomplish it under my own power. My role in this process is not that unlike the ground on our farm. I yield. I yield to the initiation of God and His transforming power. When we step out on our porch at night, we don’t hear the ground grunting and groaning in an effort to bear fruit.

Humility yields to the work of Christ in our lives. It can be my only response to the transforming work of God in my life. Transformation requires humility; humility allows acceptance and surrender. Like the men in our fields, God wants to remove those rocks from us so that we aren’t encumbered by them but also so that we don’t become a stumbling stone for others.

King David earnestly prayed:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

My husband made peace long ago with rock harvesting. Rocks are part of the storyline in farming. And they’re part of the story God is writing of us. I have yet to hear him come in from the fields yelling, “You’re never going to believe the boulders I found out there!”

Friends, can we make peace with two things?

  • We need to regularly pray David’s prayer. We can be so easily deceived by our own hearts. “A man’s ways are right in his own eyes, but God weighs the heart.” (Pr. 21:2)
  • Secondly, let’s not be surprised (or frustrated or angered) by what is revealed in answer to that prayer!

My husband wants to find those rocks. He wants to know what is lurking beneath the surface so he can avoid a breakdown and prevent expensive repairs.

THE HOLE

shame“Every time I see you, you’re always crawling out of some hole.”

Her words sucked the air out of me. While the ragged syllables settled on my heart, my mind raced to understand what would have prompted her to speak them.

It has been some time now but that sentence will still loop in my head. And when it does, I’m still  tempted to defend myself. I decided then, and I keep re-deciding that Jesus can do a better job of that so I just keep giving her words and my shame back to Him.

But if I did find an opportunity to speak to her, I might say something like this…

Dear Sister,

I’m not sure what prompted your words–those hard words that made me feel judged and disqualified; those words that nailed my feet to the ground. I’m sure you had no idea the indictment they would become. I’d like to believe that they weren’t intended for my harm–that you simply had a lapse of grace.

You see, I am here, in the walls of this church today lifting my heart to Jesus and extending my hands to serve. I keep showing up. I don my greeter tag, put on my best smile and offer Jesus’ love. I lift up my face and worship the God who redeems and I declare through tears, You are Lord and I will trust You!

You see, my friend, I have chronic depression and PTSD and a racing mind that demands a lot from my faith. And then there’s the cloak of shame I throw off every day of my life, the one left by my molesters and neglecters. But I keep showing up.

My sister, what you may not know is that this has been a year of grief for me. I’ve watched helplessly as my daughter’s marriage disintegrated. I anguish as I observe my grandchildren’s lives and hearts be uprooted. In the process I have lost a son and our entire family limps with the loss of him as well. I have been leveled by the grief of it. But I keep showing up.

If I seem, dear friend, to be crawling out of a hole it’s because on some days I am doing just that. It’s the choice I’m given every day: will I stay in the darkness or will I move out in blind faith, in the Truth that supersedes my feeling?

Each day I put on my unseen prosthetics and maneuver life as gracefully and grace-filled as I can. And yes, some days all I can do is reach my hand up through the hole and let Jesus take a firm hold. Every day I get the privilege of living this miracle life, this life Jesus touched by grace for His glory. And I keep showing up.

More than you will ever know, I want Jesus to shine brightly through the shadowed side of my life. I want my witness to say: There is Hope–He never leaves and He never forsakes.

Let me speak for those of us battling mental illness, those of us carrying broken hearts, those of us sifting through loss, or those of us picking up the pieces of our shattered dreams; on the days we don’t make it out of the hole, Jesus shows up.

In the furnaces, in the caves, in the lion’s dens, in the storms, in the deserts, in the besieged cities, and in the broken lives JESUS KEEPS SHOWING UP!

He speaks life-words, “My grace is sufficient for you…my power is made perfect in your weakness.”

THE CANVAS OF EMPTINESS

Sitting

I stepped onto the wood floor of my bedroom moments after waking. The morning followed a fitful night with intruding dreams. Getting out of bed was my first act of warfare against the strong urge to remain in the sheets.

I padded to the back yard with a steamy cup of coffee in my hand and a pulsing ache in my chest for the presence of God.

The sun hadn’t yet risen but I basked in the golden pink light that poured over me and whispered a simple prayer:

“LORD! I need you.” (because I am empty)

I sat in the hush of morning stillness and gave thanks for the sweet and gentle breeze that kissed my bare arms–received as nothing less than my Father’s hug. It brought an appreciative smile to my face.

Again I spoke out softly:

“LORD! I need you.” (because I am lonely)

I let my eyes rest on the beauty that surrounded me. I listened to the song of birds and neighborhood sprinklers clap and spray. I gave thanks for the tranquil magnificence of His creation and determined not to let the gift of this moment go unnoticed.

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“LORD! I need you.” (because I’m conflicted)

I opened my bible to Ephesians and began reading in chapter 1: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Grace. And peace.

The sun continued to rise uninterrupted and unchanged, as it had since the beginning of time when God first formed it and declared it’s purpose. I tapped off those two monosyllabic words in my head like a cadence for the day. Grace and peace. Grace and peace. Grace and peace.

The rhythm of their sound was as the march of foot soldiers–routing lies hidden among the careless words spoken by others, the thoughtless actions and unkindnesses born of human imperfection. These declared reasons to fear and dread and cower; unfurling their assertions that I am irrevocably flawed and unable to belong.

I sat in the morning calm with my face lifted to God; Paul’s letter splayed on my knees.

What happens when you lose what this world said was yours?

What does it mean when others reject you but can’t give you a reason why?

What happens to your tired soul when the pursuit of significance can’t be found in what you do? Or in who acknowledges your worth–because they rarely do.

What happens when you sit in the thin place between I’ll never be enough and All that I am is His?

I placed all these in the empty hands that now rested upturned on my lap. I acknowledged the sin of my self-effort, I admitted the insufficiency of my self-sufficiency. I sat with this emptiness as one sits with grief–early forms of acceptance taking shape.

Paul’s letter continued.

“…The fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

God’s words: reminders of truth, encouragers of faith and declarations of promise!

As His words filled the empty expanses with creation: the sun, moon and stars; the earth with land and seas, vegetation and humans–so His words fill all the empty and formless places still. In me. In my relationships. In my purpose. In my desire that my life have significance.

I allow the vastness of grace and peace, more limitless than the expansive, immeasurable and ever growing universe, become the framework of this day.

I let Him who fills the empty, fill me.

And suddenly, I think I see something. Undistinguishable at first as an object off in the horizon. But like the dawning day, it becomes clearer. It approaches and I sit up straighter, my breathing shallows my heart quickens.

And there it is. I see it in the clarity of morning light:

Emptiness

 “With His F U L L N E S S, He fills all.” -Eph. 1:23 

There is no place where His glory is not seen, no life where His grace is not sufficient, no words that surpass the creative power of His intensions for us.

So I offer my emptiness, not as something representing the lack of but as a vessel ready for His filling.