Despair grows in the darkness of half-truth and silence

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“From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.”  Psalm 130:1

These heartfelt words of David are voiced with unedited emotional honesty. I think David’s unfiltered expression of soul is one of the things that makes him a man after God’s own heart.

The depths of despair?

We all experience them.

I recently gathered with thirty-some women at a cozy mountain retreat to participate in a conversation about hope: Hope as an Anchor for the Soul. Some of the stories I heard were deeply painful and seemingly hopeless— hard journeys visibly etched on sad faces.  Other women were on the rejoicing side of a long and soul-rendering season of suffering, their faith in God, thankfully, renewed, strengthened and contagious.

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One woman quoted a line from Anne of Green Gables, “To despair is to turn your back on God.”

I would add:

Despair comes from believing God has turned His back on you.

Many times I have found myself crumpled on the shores of despair. I’ve been so distraught and overcome that enduring one more day seemed impossible.

I am tempted to throw up my hands and quit when I’ve concluded my situation is hopeless–when relief is not even a spot on the horizon.

Despair knocks on the door when my incurable diagnosis seems to have disqualified me from my purpose or leaves me less than who I was meant to be, no matter my effort.

When my mind darts around and I can’t focus or remember what’s truer than my swirling emotions; when imbalanced brain chemistry hijacks my personality and pelts me with lies; when I’m confused about who I am and where I belong–despair sneaks in.

But despair moves in when successive storms leave me bone weary and void of any hope for relief. When I’m daily faced with the collateral damage of childhood traumas and the resulting grief suffocates me. When life piles up, as life does, PTSD launches a synaptic wild-fire inside, robbing me of sleep and subjecting me to an adrenalized fight with myself. It squelches peace of mind along with the joyful ease of simply being myself.

Throughout my complex set of issues I feel unrelenting guilt for letting God and others down, for not being able to control it or, after all these years, failed to overcome it.

“From the depths of despair, O LORD, I call for your help.”

I have a deep reservoir of empathy for people in suffering and affliction. One thing I’ve learned in my blind journey through heartache is that it helps to tell your story. I think too many people feel invisible and insignificant, in part, because their stories aren’t heard.

If your story isn’t known, can you be known? Maybe if your story remains hidden you are hidden as well.

Could a portion of despair stem from not being seen or known or heard?

There is a woman in my town. I see her regularly sitting criss-cross-applesauce under a tree or on a random sidewalk. When she’s not sitting and staring from haze, she’s walking in a staggering jerky motion along Main Street.

She’s pretty, or used to be. Light blue eyes pop from the ruddy canvas of her weathered face—her hair is sun-streaked but matted and stringy.  I don’t know her story, though it’s not hard to imagine the trail that led her to where she is now.

To me she is a picture of a life void of hope.

Despair doesn’t generally spring from one isolated event—though for some it can. The complete loss or absence of hope usually comes from a years-long, life-consuming, hard-fought series of battles where loss piles upon loss and grief layers upon grief. It comes when defeats far outnumber victories and circumstances repeatedly cycle from bad to worse.

Remember Naomi? She lost her husband and then both sons–the equivalent of destitution for a woman in those days. When she returned to Bethlehem with Ruth she said to the welcomers,

“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”

Despair is found when the promises God spoke to your soul feel like mocking empty memories of a time you dared to hope at all.

When was the last time you cried out to God with that voice of anguish trying to outpace despair? Psalm 130 continues:

Hear my cry, O Lord! Pay attention to my prayer.

Emotionally translated it sounds something like this: Aren’t you listening to me, Lord? Why don’t you answer me? It’s too much…Your hand has been too heavy upon me. I can’t go on. 

It’s a cry of anguish—an honest prayer that comes from the heart of one whose circumstances have wrung faith and hope right out of the heart.

David models the value in identifying our despair–calling it what it is. Nothing is gained in feigning otherwise. But identifying our hopelessness is only half the equation.

Despair grows in the darkness of half-truth and silence.

The apostle Paul reveals the hope side of our hardships:

We are experiencing trouble on every side, but we are not crushed; 

We are perplexed, but we are not driven to despair; 

We are persecuted, but we are not abandoned; 

We are knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

Paul admits the trouble yet he caps the lesser truth with the greater one…the incorruptible truth of But God!

He continues.

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now: rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

Despair is like the water Peter dared to walk upon. When I look at my problems, I succumb to the depths of despair. When I willfully lift my eyes from the temporariness of this life and fix my gaze on the eternal glory I’ll share with Him, I am able to turn my back on despair.

“I am counting on the LORD,” David says; “Yes, I am counting on Him. I have put my hope in His word.” 

My emotions may be a rudder-less ship at times, I may succumb to the currents that drive me hard into the storms BUT GOD has kept His hand upon me. I could easily have become that woman I see around town.

No matter my thrashing, God’s love has been an anchor for my soul. His promise to care for me has been proven over and over and over again in my life. I call it to memory.

Today, I’m hunkered down. My bible and journal sit on my lap. I’m choosing to lift my eyes. I have determined to blindly, inexplicably fix my gaze above and place my hope in Him.

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Can I encourage you, my friend, to lift your eyes from all that beats upon your soul? For a moment, look instead upon the Christ of the cross? He knows your suffering and He’s purchased the price of your hope.

Would you consider going a step further and remind yourself of a time when God came through for you?

Will you let those words tumble past your gritted teeth? Will you speak it out loud and let your heart be reminded to hope?

Will you echo the Psalmist with me?

 “I am counting on the LORD, yes…I have put my hope in His Word.”

There’s A Lesson in this Somewhere…

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We were sitting together on the couch one evening–an evening like so many others, well-worn with soft routine. On his lap was an iPad housed in a broken keyboard case. The keys stopped working long ago but he’s felt no compulsion to replace it. “The stand still works and I don’t really need the keyboard–it’s still a good case.” This from the man who suggested I replace my $MacBook Pro with Retinal display$ because it was three years old.

I am more guilt-prone than he, the one who usually scrutinizes our lives. I had been feeling uncomfortable with how much time we eat up in front of our screens.

“I’ve been thinking,” I broke the silence, my words directed at his profile. “What would it be like to put our computers away for a year?” Mister always takes his time answering. I usually endure a full thirty-seconds of non-response before I proceed.

“If we didn’t have this distraction, how much more productive could we be–more impactful?” Picking up speed, I rolled on. “We could read more…pray more…have more conversation…be more present.”

His face was lit in blue light. “That’s an interesting thought,” he offered.

The following week we headed out in Gladys, our small RV. I spent the morning of our departure reformatting my blog site and checking those ever-tempting stats–just one more time! (My nose scrunches up with that admission by the way.)

An upgrade notification from Apple alerted me so I robotically installed the operating system upgrade and headed out.

Don’t we all just want the latest version?

We stopped at Safeway in Madras, Oregon and parked next to an older high-top van obviously built out to live in. A lot of my computer time is consumed with YouTube–primarily channels on nomadic lifestyle, vandwelling, the tiny house movement and off-grid living. I’ve learned a lot about the van dwelling demographic. I fear it’s become an obsession.

On the way out of the store I said to Mister, “I’m gonna go over there and talk to that guy about his van.” I peeked into the opened side door where strains of moderately heavy metal music escaped.

I imagined the conversation would go something like this:

Me: Hi! Great van you have here…did you build it out yourself?

Van Guy: Oh hey! Thanks…yeah I did…wanna take a look?

Me: Sure…I am so fascinated by van dwelling. Are you a fulltimer?

Van Guy: I am–have been for two years. I love it and wouldn’t go back to sticks-n-bricks for nothin!

(He would then show me his build-out and I would show enthusiasm. I’d ask him if he’s heard of the YouTubers I follow.  We’d engage in convo about solar panels and composting toilets and where he planned to spend the winter. We’d shake hands and part as new friends.)

Don’t we all just want some connection on this journey?

This is how the encounter actually transpired:

Me: Hi! (His expressionless face unsettled me but I continued cause that’s what I do.)

Angry Van Guy: (He tilted his head in my direction while masticating a cheek full of sub sandwich.)

Timid Me: I…um…noticed your van. I follow some YouTube channels about van dwelling…uh…(nervous pause)...are you a full timer?

Angry Van Guy: (He looked away and with his sub-free hand gestured around his crowded van.) Well…apparently I am. (He paused mid-bite.) And I stay off the geek farm. I’m not into that @*%~ and I don’t need a $200,000 contraption those rich fools buy.

Stupid Me: I don’t need one either. (I wanted to defend my 25 foot, twelve-year old used RV.)

Angry Van Guy: Look at me! See how thin I am? (He looked my fluffy middle-aged frame up and down.) I actually do @%~. I don’t just sit around watching other people do @%~.

Regretful Me: Uh…well, looks like you have yourself a comfy home here.

Still Angry Van Guy: Yeah…I did some stuff to it. (His eyes dart around, pointing to his work.) It doesn’t have a shower or a fridge but I get by just fine..its all I need. (Unspoken words leaked out of his angry eyes. Now leave me alone and mind your own $@#% business.) 

Tongue-tied Me: Well…sorry to bother you…uh…thanks for…um…have a nice day.

Pitiful Angry Van Guy: Right.

Our interaction occupied my thoughts much of the trip. I wondered about his story and imagined his background. I prayed.

We later stopped in Redmond to grab a bite and some free wi-fi. Mister went inside to order while I opened my laptop. The geek farm he called it. The screen looked funny. It was black and filled with troubling computer code. I caught a few words as the tech narrative scrolled rapidly up my screen: <panic> debugger.

Panic was rising in me like mercury in August. I grabbed my phone and Googled. I hastily followed instructions I neither fully understood nor verified.

Don’t we all just want a quick fix?

After several unsuccessful reboot attempts I stared at a lifeless screen–swallowing a lump of fear that my computer had suffered a mortal blow. Too late to call tech support, we made our way to Wal-Mart for the night.

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We located an Apple Store the next morning. A diagnostic confirmed my fears–the hardrive was empty, data as well as operating system.

It was like pulling into my driveway and discovering a pile of smoldering ashes had replaced my house. There was nothing to do but stand there while reality seated itself.

Bank records, business documents, photos, writing files, journals, software, important notes, saved web pages–all were lost with no back up to turn to.

I walked out of the store and into the daylight of acceptance. This is not the end of the world, I admonished my emotions! Like the code that flashed across my screen, numerous and rapidly successive thoughts scrolled across my mind:

  • Didn’t I want to know what it would be like without a computer?
  • I lost some data but what about the Haitians that lost loved ones, their homes and any hope of sustenance or sustainability ?
  • There was the video posted by a little girl in Aleppo. Covering her ears, she swayed back and forth as bombs exploded outside her home? “We’re still alive,” she rejoiced.
  • I thought about what that young husband in California had lost. His beautiful  wife–the mother of his infant daughter–lost to an angry bullet in the line of duty?
  • A mental image then slid into view: Tents erected under the freeway overpasses I saw in Seattle last week when I drove our stage 4 cancer friend to his sixth round of chemo.
  • What of the woman who lives in her tiny car because she lost her job months before retirement–lost her pension in a bureaucratic wormhole? Social security won’t provide a roof over her head and three square meals so she follows good weather  and lives on the road.
  • And most pressing upon my heart is my niece. They were so excited about the arrival of their baby girl, but are now crushed under the weight of grief because a routine ultrasound revealed a rapidly growing brain tumor that will likely take their baby’s life before the baby will take a breath.

Don’t we all suffer under the crushing weight of loss?

When homes are leveled and lives are lost, when wombs are robbed and dreams disintegrate; when cancer displaces vitality and broken men have only bitterness to buoy them; when tents are no match for winter and pictures and stories can’t replace a mother’s embrace or anchoring love, what then?

Don’t we all just need someone to speak to the pain of it all?

Jesus speaks the words in red,

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. (John 12:25)

This life has a way of coming up empty and this world has a way of promising what it cannot deliver. When our hope is placed in anything but Him, we will be crushed under the weight of our losses. 

Of course we grieve. It’s human to bend with the winds of adversity in the storms of life.

But there is comfort found in the anchoring reality of the psalmist’s words:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, and he delivers those whose spirit has been crushed. (Ps. 34:18)

It’s interesting to note here that LORD in this verse is translated from Jehovah. “While Elohim exhibits God displayed in his power as the creator and governor of the physical universe, the name Jehovah designates his nature as he stands in relation to man, as the only almighty, true, and personal God.” (Quoted from biblestudytools.com) This is God who comes near, both physically and relationally.

He stands with us in our losses as the Almighty Last Word.

I spent the morning bowed almost wordlessly before the One who rewards faith and upholds the faithful.

As we lay our losses before Him, He proves his promise to fill those empty places with inexplicable peace.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, dear friends.  

 

Trust & The Would You Rather Game

Sad Young Man

Would you rather die in a burning building or drown in the ocean?

They usually asked it form the back seat of a boring car ride.

Would you rather fall into a pit of snakes or have 10,000 spiders crawl all over you?

I cringed at their morbid questions but played along to keep a he touched me war from breaking out.

My answer, more often than not, would be a groan followed by, Neither one

“Gramma, you have to choose one,” they’d insist.

I have to choose one? I don’t want to accept that I have only two undesirable choices.

I’m grieved.

I’m heartsick.

I’m ashamed.

I’m grieved because the political front in America is disintegrating into a sophomoric competition of blame shifting and low blows. Where have decorum, respect and decency gone? Not to mention morals.

We’re being forced to play the Would You Rather Game and I hear myself groaning more than ever before. I honestly don’t know what my choice will be on the day my answered is required. A lot of us are groaning and getting ugly with each other as well.

I’m ashamed because our great nation, the land that I love, resembles a circus–a house of horrors if you will. This land of benevolence and generosity has become a showcase for all the ways power and greed corrupt. It has become a global spectacle. Lack of character, morality and integrity leave us all cringing and bewildered.

I’m heartsick because police officers are being murdered in record numbers. My son in law is a police officer with a wife and six children counting on him to come home at night after serving his community.

I’m heartsick because officer involved shootings of our citizens are now too common. It’s becoming harder and harder to identify the good guys from the bad guys. Heated lines are taken to the streets while hatred and fear draw lines on hearts.

Fear is being fostered in every corner of life. It pushes us inside–inside our walls and inside ourselves. An entire population resists connection so we lose the fiber of community and the strength in our camaraderie, both as a nation and as the body of Christ. Basic trust is whittled to dust and hope is scattered on the wind.

Where is trust found? Who can we trust?

We can’t trust man or man’s systems. We can’t trust what is being spoken, or promised or offered. We can’t. We never could actually.

The words I read in John remind me again that Jesus didn’t trust either. When he walked among us he always knew we couldn’t be trusted.

Because of the miraculous signs…many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.  (John 2:24-25 NLT)

Jesus placed his trust in his Father.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  (1 Pet. 2:23 ESV)

Because he trusted his Father he was able to enter into covenant with untrustworthy mankind. He knew full well that we’d never keep our end of the agreement.

Jesus entered into kingdom-partnership with us knowing absolutely that we would mess it up and get it wrong.

It wasn’t chivalry or heroics that compelled him. It wasn’t obligation that propelled him through the mire of humanity.

It was Love.

He chose to love, sacrifice for and redeem a people corrupted by sin in every possible way and  though grieved, he is never surprised at what he encounters living among us. He came knowing:

• • That his own would not recognize him. • •

• • That the forgiven would refuse to forgive. • •

• • That the healed would fail to return and give thanks. • •

He knew that his friends would betray him, religious leaders would kill him and that his bride would be an adulteress.

Jesus, Embodied-Love, commingled with sin-infected humanity offering our only hope for stability, freedom, peace and transformation. A future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

We can’t trust political parties or political candidates—our hope can’t be placed in that arena. We can’t trust justice systems or religious constructs—they fail to manage the scope of our sin and immorality and self-absorption.

Jesus entrusted himself to his Father and so must we.

We trust His will, His power and His plan. We trust the completeness of Holy Love to keep our hearts afloat in a sea of depravity.

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We entrust our grieving hearts and broken souls to the One who is love, the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The One who is all this world cannot (and will not) offer.

For those reasons, we can live among a crooked and depraved generation without losing our love for them–without losing hope for them. We can encounter failing systems, failing governments and failing religious systems without losing hope that He contains, sustains and transforms lives.

We can look at the storms and not be shaken.

Jesus said:

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:1-3 ESV)

He is our home, both in this world, and the one to come.

Don’t let your hearts be troubled! This is our choice, weary friends! We can choose this! And in our choosing we can propagate hope in a world infected with sin.

DON’T BE AFRAID, FOR I AM WITH YOU.

DON’T BE DISCOURAGED, I AM YOUR GOD.

I WILL STRENGTHEN YOU AND HELP YOU.

I WILL UPHOLD YOU WIHT MY VICTORIOUS RIGHT HAND. –Isa. 41:10

Grace and peace!

P.S. I’d like to warmly welcome my new visitors! I see you from Italy, Germany, Brazil, Norway, India, France, Mexico and the UK! Many thanks to all who visit and follow Grace Grips. In a world saturated with good blogging, I am honored that you would spend a few minutes with me. Thank you for your referrals and for passing Grace Grips along to your friends. A big shout-out as well to those who can take time to comment! It is incredibly encouraging to know if these words inspire you! Big cyber hugs from a timorous author! 

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

An Organic Conversation! Pt. 1 of 2

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We like answers. We need to make sense of things. We like tidy explanations, reasonable timelines and unlimited resources. We don’t like delays or inconvenience or disappointment. And if I can be candid, Western Christianity can be perceived as entitled, narcissistic and fickle.

That’s the hard bit.

The heart bit?

God longs for us!

He desires us–He desires our love.

He is saying to us what He was saying to Jerusalem as He wept over her:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

So when I was asked to share the things God had been placing on my heart, I felt a willing reluctance. What I had to say felt too much like a reprimand that I had no right to deliver. So I meandered for two weeks down rosier paths trying to collect a pleasing bouquet. In the end I agreed to let God use me, come what may.

We assembled that Friday night in a state of expectancy but without the burden of over-expectation or the knowledge of each other’s history, hurts or hangups. We gathered amid vulnerable greetings, jagged dreams and epic weariness. Five generations of sisterhood took seats and settled into the evening with smiles and unvoiced burdens resting in our laps like swollen wombs filled with the awkward combination of hope and disappointment.

The Holy Spirit was welcomed in prayer as the worship leader asked that the Presence of God would draw us into intimacy with Him and prepare our hearts to hear and finally, that He would be glorified in all that was said and done. Amen!

Holy Spirit.

Presence of God.

Intimacy.

My head tingled. Those were the only words I had in my mind when I arrived as their guest speaker. It wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared. The Lord knows how much I had prepared. And when two weeks of prep hadn’t yielded a satisfying package I had begun to wonder if my Yes, I’d love to! should have been an I’m sorry, I’m not available that night!

After a time of mingling we eased ourselves into the rich melodic chords that resonated from a lone acoustic guitar. We lent our unrehearsed voices to God in heartfelt worship. We lingered. There was no rush to get through the set, no digital numbers pushing us through to the next segment. There was no platform, no performer and no push to keep a tight schedule. As the last note settled into silence I felt breathless in The Presence. (That’s  what I’ve been calling the Holy Spirit lately!)

And then all eyes were on me.

Those who gathered waited for something worthwhile, I’m guessing, to come out of my mouth–something that might fuel hope. I had been praying for them, praying that each one would come away with just one something that they knew came from His heart to theirs. Yet I literally had no idea what was going to exit my mouth when my lips parted. I uttered another silent prayer of faith, fully trusting that God’s pre-emptive promise would not disappoint:

“Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and will teach you what you shall say.”

You see, things have been stirring in my heart. Unconventional things. Ideas that seem abstract and countercultural. I’ve spent much of my life orienting to the norm and the status quo because my lack of identity and my sense of wellbeing depended upon it. When these inklings and ideas began percolating in my soul, I batted them away in deference to insecure conformance. Who was I to speak for God?

I opened up with the Cliff Notes of my testimony. They deserved to know a little about the woman they had come to hear. I shared what brought me, after decades of self-assisted Christianity, to the absolute end of myself. I shared the arduous shame-journey that depleted me of all self and ushered in a revelation of His love.  The familiar I once was blind but now I see had become I once was caught in deceptive self-loathing but now I know His love. 

After I had talked about the person of the Holy Spirit and the role He desires to fill in our lives,

after I shared that there is absolutely no substitute for intimacy with God,

after I talked about the overlooked need for Jesus-modeled solitude in our daily lives,

after I shared some of the ways Jesus’ life demonstrated an organic relationship/ministry model to follow,

after I urged us to take a look at the idolatrous photo filters we have placed over our lacluster lives,

after I expressed the ways we embrace friendship with the world and enmity with God,

after I talked about spectatorship assembly and Church, Inc.

after I urged consideration of the many distractions that keep our attention divided and our devotion diminished,

after I had challenged an examination of our worship, and

after I observed how so many of us have unwittingly substituted time in the bible for a quick read in Jesus Calling–I closed me lips and looked into the penetrating eyes of the women who gathered to sit with God.

And then the conversation that I had come to begin had indeed begun.

To be continued in Part 2 of 2

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Thank you for reading today! Please take a moment to share your thoughts. And do, please, feel free to share Grace Grips with your friends! 

 

Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus

Hole Up

Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus. 

The lines of that song came flooding into my head this morning, resurrected–I think–from a gray matter vault listed MEMORIES OF YOUTH GROUP circa 1974. I don’t think I’ve heard the song again since I sat in the Armory in Medford, Oregon with my gawky peers listening to Andre Crouch and the Disciples.

Last week I sat with puffy eyes and a pulverized heart, surrounded by a pile of wadded tissues in the corner of my bedroom. I repeated one prayer: “I can’t do this again, Lord!”

Let me lay down just enough background so that when I tell you what God did you will be encouraged in your heartache too. You will glimpse the nurturing heart of Father God like I did, and you will understand why my spirit regurgitated these lyrics:

Can’t nobody

    do me like Jesus

Can’t nobody

     do me like the Lord

Can’t nobody

     do me like Jesus

(Refrain) He’s my friend.

Six years ago I was dealt a heavy, life-altering blow by a loved one. I worked through it and worked hard to forgive and move on. Then last week I was blindsided with it’s sequel; the same gut-wrenching rejection and betrayal, the same heart-pulverizing crush that took over my thoughts and excavated the landfill of my life’s wounds. It triggered an avalanche of self-loathing and a running dialogue to run away–for good!

Perhaps you can understand that kind of hardwired pain with its large taproots that you’ve spent a lifetime hacking at. Sometimes current hurts can act like a key that opens the vault on terrible wounds. The pain of it can suck the breath–and rational thinking–right out of you.

I was pacing and praying and crying out in anguish and fear and confusion–cleaning and dusting when I stumbled upon a little piece of paper with a scripture reference I’d written. As I prepared to toss it, the Still Small Voice said, “Look it up.” I reached for my phone and looked up Psalm 46:10-11:

Be still and know that I am God…

I read it a couple times and let God’s voice settle into my thoughts and redirect my focus. As I was closing my Bible App, I received a Facebook notification. I clicked on the video  link. 

A newborn baby was crying and distressed, but when her daddy speaks her name and says, “I am here, it’s okay.” The baby immediately calms. A second time the baby is upset and crying her lungs out, once again she is soothed by her daddy’s voice. He repeats, “I am here…it’s okay, Daddy’s here…”—but this time the daddy adds, “…I love you.” The infant cranes her head in the direction of her daddy’s voice and then…

 …she opens her eyes 

Comedian Michael Jr. uses the video to illustrate an encouragement to those who are hurting:

“The key thing to do in the moment is to be still and listen to the Father’s voice….”

I became wrapped in the love and comfort of my Father. My prayer turned from “I can’t do this again, Lord! to “O Father….thank you for seeing me, for loving me.” I was so grateful that my Daddy heard my tears of pain and fear; that He stepped into the middle of it and spoke my name. I was calmed, ready to trust that same Love to lead me through wherever this will lead.

And then, as if on cue, the Andre Crouch throw back hymn played in my head. It was as if the Lord was saying, “Sherrie, I am the only one who understands your pain. I am the only one who sees you, truly sees you.

I’m you’re Father, let me soothe you—let me be your friend. 

Jesus knows the fiery burn of rejection. He knows what it feels like when your blessing is trampled underfoot. He sees the vulnerable efforts we make to love when our hearts want to run lock down. And he also sees how the enemy scoops up our pain and inflates it with lies and distortions and vivid remembrances of past hurts.

All of that, Jesus knows! He knows people will hurt us deeply…that we will hurt others.

But as He reached into my wailing room and spoke my name, calmed my fears and reminded me that He loves me, O, my friends He speaks your name as well.

Be still…your Father wants to soothe you with His love.

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.

It’s Not a Character Defect or a Faith Deficit!

SufferingI hate–I know that’s a strong word–my battle with PTSD.

I hate the way stress can jump out of the bushes while I’m happily strolling through life and trigger a storm that leaves me feeling hopeless. Helpless. And most of all, guilty.

I recently tripped over a pile of life’s inevitable stressors and landed a five point face-plant.  I rarely see it coming so when it happens I feel betrayed, duped and terribly undermined.

There is a progression to these storms.

Initially, I forget that I have to monitor stress in my life. Unfortunately I’m not always mindful when I’m getting in over my head. Stress triggers an emotional storm that seems to have a life of it’s own. I relate to the terrified Apostles being thrashed on an angry sea. I cry out:

Save me, Lord! 

I can’t convey the gratitude I have for the crucial role my compassionate husband plays in my life. He’s learned, right along with me, the nature of this illness and how best to manage it.

For me the storm begins with feeling overwhelmed on many fronts, like waking up to a To Do list that looms like Mount Everest in front of me. As a convicted perfectionistic over-achiever this can be be fearfully unsettling.

My Symptoms: I become hyper-aroused and startle easily. I get irritable, impatient and overly-introspective. It becomes hard to focus or follow through on tasks. I find it incredibly difficult to make a decision or arrive at solutions to the smallest problems.

I become defensive and verbally unfiltered.

Everything feels like a threat in some way. I find it hard to trust, especially myself.

I can’t sleep. Anxiousness buries me. I cry easily and sometimes I can cry for days with an inexplicably deep sadness.

The storm clouds darken and I become convinced I am neither loved or wanted but simply tolerated; that I have no worth and that my life is invalid and without purpose and that I’ll never achieve my highest potential.

And then I look for evidence to support my feelings. I call it the inventory.

My relationships come into question and inevitably I’ll find myself in conflict with someone because I have overreacted to something that under normal circumstances wouldn’t even register.

I withdraw. In my isolation I can ruminate and convince myself that I have only ever been defective and I haven’t enough time left for a successful do-over.

I feel angry–born of the extreme frustration of having worked so hard for so long and still unsuccessful at freeing myself from the crippling effects of childhood trauma.

While in the storm I have absolutely no grace for myself. In fact, I sometimes loathe myself.

God feels like a distant memory and I struggle to feel like a Christian. This is by far the most distressing aspect. It’s here that my prayer is simple and oft repeated:

 I belong to you, Lord!

Though I have painted a dark picture, there are rays of sunlight on this canvas as well!

God’s grace has carried me through.

I have learned to recognize and manage these symptoms. I’m quicker to suspect my thinking and to begin self-care. The emotional fallout and relational debris is significantly less than in the earlier years before I understood what was happening. Or why.

PTSD, and all mental illness for that matter, is not a character defect or a faith deficit. 

Illness brings suffering and suffering should illicit our compassion rather than our avoidance and judgment.

Understanding how trauma effects the brain, learning how to guard against an overly-stressful lifestyle and gaining skills to manage symptoms are all so vital in living with this disorder.

If statistics are accurate, you know at least 3-5  people who suffer from mental illness.

As my friend Angela Howard recently posted, we’re quick to rally around people suffering from other illnesses but avoid, and sometimes shun, those with mental illness.

Suffering is the operative word here.

We don’t have to have all the answers to be helpful. A little compassion and understanding can go a long way in bringing relief to those who suffer. And please, whatever you do, don’t suggest the sufferer has failed in some way!

Compassionate Hearts

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

STANDMuch of the time we soldier on when the enemy thwarts us because, though it can be tiresome and knock us off our mark, it’s usually moderate harassment. (Can I say that?)

By moderate I’m referring to things like the car battery being dead on the day you have an interview and the jumper cables are in your husband’s truck and he’s out of cell range and your neighbors have already gone to work and you accidentally locked yourself out of the house where your phone sits in the dock charging and your dream job is heading for the gutter along with the rain that wasn’t forecasted or you would have worn less strappy shoes and grabbed an umbrella along with your commuter mug with the lid that just decided to spring a leak and baptize your pale silk blouse in dramatic hues of espresso.

We’ve had those nothing goes right days but we just keep going…most of the time.

What I want to talk about are the attacks that knock the wind out of you, knock your feet out from under you and leave you a bit disoriented and feeling ambushed. The pressure won’t let up. It’s marriages. It’s health. It’s depression. It’s finances. It’s self-doubt and insecurity. It’s relentless and it’s loud. It presses in and it presses down.

You pray. You rebuke. You search the scriptures. You journal. You dialogue. You compare notes. You pull in your friends. You buy books. You up your worship. You hunker down. You buy more books. You see a counselor. You get on meds.

We try to fix it. And in our app-driven world we think there should be a ready solution at our thumb-tips.

I’m in the trenches. And so are many of you.

The fiery darts keep coming, the bombs keep exploding and we’ve been manning the guns and our counter attack–and we’re tired. It’s much bigger than our actions can influence, our muscle can manage or our minds can reason.

But Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 13:16:

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.      

Sometimes we just have to stand in it, even when we don’t think we can stand it anymore. But dear friend, we don’t stand in it–that mess, that storm, that cluster of circumstances that makes you feel like a rag doll in the jaws of a pitbull.

We stand in faith. And we stand FIRM.

We remind ourselves of who He is and who’s we are. The writer of Hebrews  suggested we do some remembering as well. (Chpt.10)

32Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ.j Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. 33Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. 34You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever.

35So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! 36Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

You have need for endurance!

I’m afraid I’ve become intolerant of inconvenience. I live in a world where just about everything is at my fingertips, literally. I want Amazon to agree with me about what overnight means. I want my wifi service to provide uninterrupted service at breakneck speeds. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to pull into a latte stand and be on my way with a perfect brew in less than 5 minutes. And don’t you agree, Walmart should have a line for shoppers who aren’t utilizing the ad-match guarantee?

Please don’t misunderstand me.

Like fit soldiers we are required to fight our enemy. But there is a time to stay put, stand guard and wait for orders from our Commander.

And sometimes God just wants to fight our battles for us.

“Now stand here and see the great thing the LORD is about to do.”        1 Sam 12:16