September 12th

firemanThere is a lot of attention given to September 11th.  Rightfully so.  It was a day that changed the way we see the world.  As a country, we are still looking through the lenses of fear we were given on that day 16 years ago.  We can’t help but remember the event which stunned and traumatized us on a day of painful memories. The attack on our country still fresh in so many minds, and yet, there are many younger people who do not remember at all.  Despite the T.V. specials and solemn observances the event fades further into history each year.  I imagine it to be like Pearl Harbor to the previous generation, who remember with vivid clarity the day, while those of us who came after have to listen to the stories to understand the depth of the pain and the sense of being violated. Just as that day ‘which will live in infamy’ so many years ago, September 11th is our generation’s day the world as we knew it, changed forever.  There was a lot of bad on that day, and each year we rehash it to somehow try to make sense of it all. We walk away from the remembrances with a knot in the pit of our stomachs, and confusion as to how we ever got here in the first place.  Talking heads pretend to know the answers to the unanswerable questions, which usually require some form of blame placing.  It is our human nature to try to figure out the whys of hard things.

harvey helpFor example, this year September 11th has been overshadowed by the hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  I have read articles that blame God, president Trump, the liberals or the conservatives.  I have heard the most farfetched reasoning for these storms imaginable.  It is as if we name what caused the storms, we can somehow reconcile the damage they caused, to benefit our own agendas.  What a sad state of affairs.  How petty is it to use the suffering of people to promote your own viewpoint?  Some of the explanations I have heard are conspiracy theories that act as if the wind and rain obey human theories and plans.  Others put God at the center of “teaching people a lesson” by bringing down his wrath in the form of killer storms.  Pardon me while I gag. In the meantime, while the press is crying alarmist, and differing parties are pointing fingers, and the church is calling down God’s wrath, people in the path of the storms need help.  My guess is they do not mind where it comes from.  It does not matter what color, what faith, what political affiliation, or what socioeconomic class the hand reaching out to you is when you are drowning.  When your world is turned upside down into survival mode, help is help. In fact, bonding through shared trauma minimizes our differences, and shows us just how similar we are to one another as fellow humans.

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On September 12, 2001, the helpers came.  Just as Fred Rogers said they would.  Helpers of all nationalities, religions, and political affiliations.  On September 12th, this year, the helpers have come again.  They are those who put down their agendas in order to pick up tools.  They are those who set aside their differences in beliefs to rescue others.  They are those who run into the aftermath to express compassion. THIS is the America I know.  The UNITED ones.

girl helpThe word unite means ‘to join together’ coming from a Latin root uni- meaning ‘one.’ We act as one when trials come.  In Huston, the best of us showed up.  Helpers who gave up their own comfort to share the pain of others.  Helpers who sacrificed their own safety to bring safety to those without any.  In Florida, there are those who went straight into the storm to insure others would not be trapped.  The helpers.  They are everywhere.  They outnumber the politicians and celebrities.  They have more impact than judgmental pastors and weather theorists.  Helpers don’t need a platform.  They don’t seek the spotlight.  They simply help…in whatever way they can.  There is power in their selfless humble efforts.  There is unity which plants hope in us again as a people.  We are not too far gone.  We are not as divided as all the talking heads want us to believe, because when it comes down to it, we are family.  Human family who hurts when others hurt.  Who help when others need help.  September 12th, the sun came up and the helpers showed up and the pain of the 11th started the long healing process.  Once again, the 12th of September finds us helping and healing one another in the aftermath of trauma.  And, THAT, my brothers and sisters is why we are called the UNITED States of America.

help for harvey

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Miracles (Part 3)

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I am a skeptic. I was raised in America where skepticism is clothed in the intellectual pursuit of knowledge.  The traditional church doesn’t seek out miracles due to the belief that they were only needed when the church was being formed and the Bible was being written.  The non-traditional church believes that healing happens every time, as long as you have enough faith.  I have walked both these paths. I have seen healing happen. I have also sat in hospitals and begged for healing that never came…at least not in the way I expected it to.  I wanted the supernatural-get-up-and-walk-out-completely-healed type of healing as I sat in the chemo chair.  I wanted the no-question-God-just-did-a-miracle experience when my husband had a brain injury. You know, take up your mat and walk.  Instead, I concluded there are many ways God heals, and sometimes he doesn’t at all.  He CAN heal, but he sometimes chooses not to.  It is what I have witnessed in my faith journey.  But just when I have come to some to peace with this healing question, he challenges me again by doing a miracle…the kind I have been asking to see.

IMG_1583In Romania behind a gate, a woman tells us she has trouble hearing us.  A scripture comes into my mind…faith comes by hearing.  I begin repeating it in my heart.  Faith comes by hearing.  Faith comes by hearing.  Over and over I pray it. The woman’s daughter tells the story to us.  Her mom had a bad ear infection.  They had gone to many doctors, but none of them could fix it.  It just kept coming back.  One doctor decided to go in and clean out her ear, which resulted in a punctured ear drum and permanent damage to her ear. Her head scarf covered her right ear.  A Racer on our team is bold enough to ask the woman if he can pray for her ear so she can hear. He asks her to remove the scarf and gauze from her ear.  He has seen miracles, and therefore knows they exist.  I, on the other hand, would not have been bold enough to even ask, because ‘what if’? What if it doesn’t happen?  What if she thinks we are crazy?  What if God looks bad? Fortunately, none of those questions had to be asked because after praying for her twice, her ear opened up and she could hear.  We offered a song and she gladly accepted the opportunity to hear a guitar and a chorus of Amazing Grace.

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Still amazed by this event, we continued our day with Kid’s Club.  It was a typical VBS type format, songs, bible story, and games.  Children followed us down the dirt road to our meeting place.  They arrived in all manner of clothing. Some with only underwear, some barefoot, some in clothes too big, all covered with a layer of dirt from the walking.  I was struck by the absence of shame or embarrassment as well as the innocence. During the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den, the reader asked, “Have you ever been scared like Daniel?”  There was a loud and unanimous “NO!” from the group of mostly boys. When the story was over, we were starting to make the transition to games, when one boy said he needed God in his life so he would not be afraid.  The other boys watched carefully as he sincerely prayed for Jesus to come and help him in his life to not be fearful.  Two more also wanted to pray, and though these childlike prayers were not dramatic on the outside, it occurred to me they were miracles nonetheless.  A broken heart made whole is no less significant than ears than can hear.

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Later in the evening when all the teams were reviewing the day, another story was shared by another self-proclaimed skeptic.  The mom of a Racer told the story.  They were conversing with a woman who was blind, when her Racer daughter simply asked the woman if she could pray for her eyes.  The woman agreed. They gathered around the woman to pray and afterwards, she said she could see a little.  The Racer prayed again, because she wanted to woman to see a lot!  Soon the woman was dancing, running around, and kissing everyone she SAW, because she SAW them. Her eyes were healed!  As the mom relayed the story, she said, “I am usually a skeptic, but what I felt as we were praying was like nothing I have felt before. What I saw I have never seen before.  It was real, and the woman could see.”  For the skeptics among us it was a gate-opening experience.  The places in our hearts that were sealed off to the possibility of dramatic miracles were swung wide open.  The King of Glory came in and showed us all what happens when we open the gates of our hearts for him to come in.  Once again, he used miracles to get attention for something much deeper than physically seeing or hearing, but rather to open hearts to SEE and to HEAR his heartbeat for everyone to be loved and whole.  The gates of Romania and the hearts which visit there are opening.  Maybe not ALL the way, maybe things are tentative, but they are opening nonetheless. They are a representation of all the ways we close ourselves away.  All the ways we divide ourselves and forget to look up to the one who can…open ALL the gates.

Romania (Part 1)

IMG_1629Outside my window there is a cacophony of noise, roosters crow, dogs bark, and pigeons coo.  Horse drawn carts clop, clop along and cars rev their engines and honk their horns.  The sky is baby blue with cotton ball clouds. Someone is sweeping down below and the sound of the broom echoes up into my 4th floor window, along with sounds of lively conversation in a foreign tongue of which I am beginning to become familiar.  After rain earlier in the week, there is a chill in the air, the first sign seasons will be changing soon.  Pigeons sit on the scalloped terracotta shingles; their feet make the sounds of tiny tap dancers above my head.  The gray concrete building contrasts with the tattered roof tops creating an old-world feel. In the distance, I hear a rooster crow and the birds outside my window seem to reply.  I do not understand the language of the birds here like I do at home, but I gather that they are joyful that the sun is shining. Some things are the same despite language and species barriers.

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Romania is a land of contrasts.  There are colorful signs in the modern cities which proclaim any number of products, sitting right next to buildings that have stood for centuries. The alleyways twist and turn in narrow branches which seem to have no pattern to my foreign eyes. Some buildings are skeletons of their former selves and others are shimmering with new sleek designs.  Cafes are hidden amongst the twisted maze of streets and behind the gates. If you stumble into one of the nondescript buildings you find laughter and good food abound within courtyard walls.  Just outside, markets from a bygone era boast with local produce. Drivers talk of old times, during communism when power came and went along with heat, but “It wasn’t so bad.” He tells us the fall came quickly, but the transition is very slow ‘in the minds’ because there are many who still think in the old ways.  The younger generation has their own vision, but it has not come to pass yet. We cannot tell if he himself has a preference.

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In the train station his words ring true, as I look into the faces of the Romanian people. The older women wear head scarves, printed dresses with aprons.  Their faces are kissed and leathered by the sun and hardened without a glimmer of a smile.  In stark contrast, the younger women are dressed in modern clothes. Old and young alike have eyes that tell a story of hard work and fending for themselves.  Old men with hats and talk to one another as if they are solving the problems of the world.  They are animated in their discussions revealing a passion you cannot see just by looking.  Aboard the train, chatter is happening all around and much of it contains the word Americani. We are easily identifiable among the local people. Soon we settle in for our 2-hour ride.  A baby cries nearby, and the mother works diligently to get her to sleep.

Outside the big glass window, the city fades into farmland.  Fields of corn and open skies trick me into thinking I am in the Midwestern US, until I see the fields upon fields of sunflowers.  Their heads are hanging down at the end of their season, but I can imagine the breathtaking scene it would be when they are in full bloom.  The farms roll on and on with villages in between. Patchwork rectangular fields create a quilt with dirt the color of chocolate, tall green grass, and swatches of golden stalks of corn at the finish of the harvest. Houses are surrounded with fences and gates, some beautiful, some bedraggled.  Most every house has some chickens wandering nearby. Within the many of the walls are gardens of flowers, fruit trees, and vegetables.  Roses and zinnias are lovingly cared for among many flowering plants which are unknown to my eye. On the streets, the older women sit on stools or benches beside produce that looks freshly picked from the garden behind the fence. In the heat of the non-air-conditioned train car, people doze on their journey to far away cities.  The occasional ring of a cell phone interrupts the feeling of being in another time period.

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The clouds outside the window have transitioned from white to gray and the sun has gone into hiding.  By the time we reach our stop the rain is beginning.  We hop from the train directly onto the track and wrestle our luggage over gravel and tracks.  We attempt to roll it down the stairs where we will wait for our ride.  The stray dogs greet us, hoping for a morsel of food.  It is clear that feeding one would start a frenzy from the others nearby who turn their heads our way, and so we resist the urge. After some time in the rain, we make our way under the overhang of a nearby building to wait for our ride who arrives shortly. We are travel-weary and wet while we wait, but once we are snuggly in the van, we drive past more gates of all kinds and colors.  They each tell their own story, and I have to quench the desire to stop and ask them for more details.  There will be time for that later.  We arrive at the church, the only gate that is open, and we are welcomed by our hosts with open arms and hearts.  I am intrigued by this country of contrasts and I look forward to having my curiosity satisfied in the days ahead.

Faith vs. Surrender

desertSince I wrote the middle-of-the-night-scare-your-family-and-friends blog titled I Wish, I have been thinking about it quite a bit.  Somehow it was extremely freeing to write from the depths of my soul like that.  I think to open up and let the hard stuff be seen was a big step for me.  I typically hold it all in and “just deal with it.”  I wrestle in silence. I hold on by my fingernails to my faith in which God is always working and things always work out.  But as I reread the blog, I am drawn to the last couple sentences, “Light always follows darkness.  I simply have to hold on until it does, but this time I am not holding on…I am letting go.”  These two sentences are the ones that caused my husband to jokingly rename this my suicide blog.

As I look at it again, I see how it caused many to think I was in that kind of desperate place, but I assure you suicide wasn’t on my mind.  It was surrender that was in my heart that night.  Holding on vs. letting go.  You see, I have held on for a long time.  That is what we are supposed to do as people of faith, right?  Hold on to God.  Hold on to his promises.  Have faith. Believe things will get better.  Say all the scriptures to remind myself of what I believe. However, in the wee hours of that morning it all seemed like a cop out.  A pretending. Not a genuine heartfelt belief, but a façade.  Just words I say to make myself feel better.  The essence of the blog was the wrestling between having faith and learning to surrender.

Sur =over    render=to give back.    Sur + render = to give back over.

The difference struck me so, that I had a conversation with God about it.

I will never leave or forsake you.

I feel forsaken.

I know you do.  That’s a lie.

I cannot drum up any faith that says otherwise.

It is not up to you to drum up faith.  It is a gift I give.

Do you take it back? It feels like you have taken my faith from me.

No, I don’t take it back, but it can go dormant for a season.

To me faith seems like an easy answer, a cop out.  Just have faith that things will be alright. But it doesn’t look to me like things will be alright at the moment.

It is one way to look for faith.  But there is another way…look at reality.  Not all the churchy answers, but the real-life problems.  They are hard and so many get stuck between the hard stuff and their beliefs.

Doesn’t faith ask me to deny what I feel?

Not true faith.  True faith rises up despite what you feel.  It is not manufactured by you.

Have I been manufacturing all these years?  Through all the trauma?

No.  You have been holding on, and now you have let go.  There is a difference.

Which way is better?

Neither.  There are seasons of both.  Holding on is trust in me.  Letting go is surrender.  Both are equally needed.  One feeds the other.  Faith is when you know that you know that you know.  Surrender is when you recognize you know nothing.  You stop trying to figure it all out.  Your mind disengages and you fall on your face.  You wait for me to do it, because you realize you cannot.

I know that much. I cannot go forward.  I don’t know anything.  But I don’t want to hold it against you anymore.  Forgive me for my tantrum?

Forgiven.  Of course, forgiven. Always forgiven.

Please show me.  I don’t even know what I need to know or see…I only know that you are the way to find it and that you will open it to me in time.

Now, after this dialogue with God, I find myself back in the Valley of Dry Bones…one of my favorite passages. Ezekiel 37:1-14.  I can so relate to those bones, just lying there dry with no life in them.  But this time, in the passage I see something new I haven’t noticed before.  Ezekiel has faith that whatever God says will come to pass. He might not even believe it himself “Oh Lord God, you know.”  I find it interesting he didn’t say, I know…yet he had the faith to hold onto God’s words and to speak them.  He had belief whatever he was told would come to pass.  A picture of holding on.

Then, there are the bones.  They lie there.  It is all they can do. No breath.  No way to stand.  Just dry desert, and sunbaked bones.  They are submitted to whatever happens because they have no ability in themselves to do anything differently.  A picture of letting go.  Surrender. To give yourself over.  To give up.   To cease resistance to an opponent and submit to their authority.  It is kind of hard to think of God as my opponent, but I resist his authority so often that I make him into one.  It is when I lie on my face in surrender that he can work most effectively in my life.  I give up my rights…to be angry…to be hurt…to be in charge…to defend myself.  All of it. He is much better at defending me than I am anyway.  I become a dry, lifeless, bone.  I wait for his breath, because I cannot even breathe without him, and until whispers over me, “Breathe, so you may live,” I am stuck.

I am in a season of surrender.  Face down, flat on the floor surrender.  I do not know anything about anything.  I do not know the future.  I do not know if I will be rescued or I if I will remain in the desert floor.   I do not know if I will lie here for a day or a year. It is entirely up to him.  All I know is I am here until he breathes on me, because I cannot breathe on my own.  I long for these words. “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your grave, O My daughter, and brought you up from your grave. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own place. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,” says the Lord.’”

Until I hear his voice calling to me….I let go.  I give up.  I surrender.

A Word About Vulnerability

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A word about vulnerability.  This word has been popping up in my comment threads recently as I have written about the hard place we are currently walking. (Thanks for the comments, btw.  It is nice to know people are reading and my words are not floating into a black hole somewhere. 🙂  )  Because of the frequency of the word showing itself, I decided to study its origins. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin root vulnerare which means “to wound.” Ability is simply defined as the “means to do something.”

Vulnerability = giving someone the means to wound you.

 Yikes, is it any wonder we avoid being vulnerable? It doesn’t sound too fun, and I can tell you from personal experience it isn’t, but it is necessary. Being seen, truly seen, is scary.  It is opening up the places inside yourself that even you avoid.  So much of what we do as humans is avoidance of letting others in.  There is fear we will not be loved or accepted.  There is shame that somehow, we don’t meet up.  Fear and shame partner together and feed our fears of rejection.  Our deepest need is to belong and be loved despite our shortcomings, and it seems life conspires against us in sharing that need. We keep hidden.  Our deepest fears thrive in the shadows.  Darkness conceals our shame, even to ourselves.  We self-protect in so many ways, using defenses to reduce the dissonance between who we are on the outside to the world and who we perceive ourselves to be on the inside. Hiding from ourselves and others reduces anxiety from the possibility of being wounded, but it does not assist us in meeting the deepest need for acceptance.  So, we wander around in life longing for acceptance, but at the same time pushing away the very thing that will bring us that connection.

Vulnerability.

Instead we opt for defense mechanisms like projection (blaming others), repression (denying our pain), regression (acting childlike), compartmentalization (pushing negative parts away), rationalization (defending our behavior), intellectualization (hiding behind logic), or any other number of defenses.  We are unaware that we are doing these things because they are deeply embedded in our subconscious, but they are the basis for much of our behavior and reactions to stressful situations. I have used all of these and more, and not in healthy ways either.

The one I use most is spiritualization (using spiritual things to deny reality).  I’m not sure that one is recognized in books or not, but I know how it works.  I hide behind the truth.  When something bad happens I say, ‘God is good all the time,’ even when I don’t think it’s true. Or I say ‘God always finishes what he starts,’ when I don’t see the end in sight.  Or ‘God is faithful,’ when it seems he is anything but.  My life verse says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I hide behind it every time something harmful happens to me.

I can feel you squirming as you read, but bear with me.  There is a difference between hiding behind the truth and holding onto it.  One is a defense mechanism, the other is being authentic.  One is a cover up, the other is simple faith.  Holding onto truth trusts that if I am honest and admit my doubts and fears, God is big enough to handle it. Here’s the thing, If I am not vulnerable with God, who can I be vulnerable with?  I have realized that I am using the shield of faith to protect myself from God.  I don’t let him past my scriptures and clichés, and if I don’t, he will not have the opportunity to heal my broken heart. I have to put down my shield, because in the intimate spaces with him I don’t need armor.  Armor is for battle against my enemy, not for the secret place with the lover of my soul.

I have to be vulnerable. I have to say, ‘I don’t get it. I don’t feel it.  I don’t believe you are for me right now.  Help my unbelief.’  I have to be real with my tears, and my confusion.  Sometimes I am not even sure he is safe and that’s about as honest as it gets.  However, I am willing to hold onto what I know in my head is true, even as I whisper to him what is in my heart. I have to be willing to let him show me himself, instead of projecting what I want him to be. Sharing deep things with God is risky, but here’s the rub, what if don’t share?  What if sharing the deep things, being my authentic real self, is the way to healing?

If that is true, then vulnerability is the path with God and with others.  Opening myself up and saying ‘I am not okay’ instead of ‘I am fine,’ is a huge step, but it makes people uncomfortable.  Sharing the dark places is not smiled upon in our culture.  We are expected to stand strong, push through, trust God, and have faith during our trials.  Vulnerability requires me to let go of those façades and be real.  Real is scary because of the possibility that rejection will follow.  The probability is high it will.  It is the risk of opening up and honestly saying what you feel when you are confused.  It is something that cannot be fixed with a few words from the Bible or an inspirational meme.  It requires time to find the courage to put down my armor in the presence of God and let him see me…the real me, unprotected and scared.

As I put these things down, and refuse to pretend all is well, I am finding some freedom.  A burden is lifted. I am not quite to hopeful yet, but there might be a spark beginning to glow.  As we revisit brain injury and look at how it affects us now, we are feeling relief of being known.  Each tiny step we take is beginning to crack the armor we have been carrying for years.  We are not hiding anymore.  Not from God.  Not from people.  We are finding the path of vulnerability to be narrow and overgrown, like walking through the jungle with a machete. Some days it is too thick to make much progress.  Others it seems to open up in front of us and invites us forward.  There is quicksand that bogs us down, and there are clear paths which seem straight, until they’re not.  We are walking through a journey and a process which, we are sharing as we go, in hopes of finding connection and belonging in the deep places… of vulnerability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Normal

humility“You will find a new normal.”  I have heard the phrase many times, and in fact, I have said it to others in trying circumstances. The new normal seems like a goal, a hidden place where all things line up once again.  However, what no one talks about is the strong longing for the old normal…before.  Before my arms ached for a baby who was alive.  Before my husband changed to a different person.  Before the scars from cancer marred my body. We all have our befores. Before death. Before disease. Before dysfunction. They are right, you do adapt to the new normal and learn to cope with losses.  With each loss, I learn to deal with a different reality than I previously had to consider.  But that doesn’t stop me from grieving the old normal.  I know people who have endured unimaginable losses.  Many of them have sent me notes as my last two raw blogs were published.  Some are dealing with diseases and the limitations they bring.  Some have lost children and have gaping holes in their hearts the size of the Grand Canyon.  Some have walked through divorce and are facing single parenthood, alone and scared.  Some have lost friendships that have ruptured their souls.  Others have loved ones who have died, or children who have turned their backs. Dysfunction has claimed families to the point there is no reconciliation.  Abusive behavior of a spouse, a sibling, or a parent has caused self-doubt and condemnation to rise up. And still, people say, “You will get used to the new normal.”

I want to spit on that phrase because it denies the truth of the loss.  It says, ‘just get used to it’ or the other common phrase ‘just get over it,’ as if it is ME who is the problem, not the circumstance.  The root of the finding the new normal is acceptance of whatever the loss is.  I have never been one to blindly accept things until have understanding, until I work through what a monumental loss means to me.  I used to ask why, but I long ago realized that is the wrong question, because it leads nowhere and has no answer.  It leads me around in circles, taunting me in my attempts to sleep and it puts all the reasons for calamity firmly in my court.  I didn’t DO something right.  If I had been better this horrible thing wouldn’t have happened to me.

Instead of why, a better question is what now?  What do I do now that my life is no longer normal?   I am an optimist…or I try to be.  I look for the silver lining because there always is one.  But sometimes I wonder in trying to look on the bright side all the time if I sweep too much under the rug.  In my effort to avoid being a victim of my circumstances, have I pushed the perceived pain away, or I have I simply denied it exists? The problem with burying the hard stuff is that it doesn’t really go away.  You end up, in a place like I am in now, where the rug is mountainous thus preventing movement. It is time to pull it back and examine the pieces I have swept under there so I can be truly rid of them rather than just pretending they aren’t there.

It is times like these where I can relate to the Children of Israel in the desert.  Going in circles is tiring.  It brings out the worst attitudes.  We look at the provision of God for them and think, ‘How could they not see God’s hand protecting and providing for them?  How could they complain against him in the midst of the miracle of manna? What whiners they were!’  Now I am the one in the desert who cannot see the promised land.  Now, I get it.  How long will I wander?  How long will the promises be withheld from me?  I gather manna daily.  I have for nearly 30 years.  I watch the cloud, the hand of God, cover me and I see the pillar of fire light my steps. I depend on him for everything because I have no other choice.  I worship him in the desert, but I also do not understand why I must stay here.  If I were Moses I would have beat the rock to death out of frustration.  I can so relate to why he didn’t do what God told him to do. I am sure it felt good to hit that stone, and once he got started he just couldn’t help himself.  Meanwhile, the cynicism of the people grew to the point that once they got to the land, the giants loomed larger than God. The daily hardships overshadowed the promise.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, it also clouds the eyes.  Hope becomes an enemy who never keeps a promise. The other shoe always drops, and the light just goes out internally as a means of self-protection. It hurts too badly to hope for a different normal.  The longing for milk and honey is overwhelming.  The loss of dreams never to be fulfilled is painful.  The dichotomy of those two is unbearable.  Instead, I find a “new normal” which denies my hurting heart expression.  I adapt.  I cope.  All while the mess under the rug gets bigger and bigger, until one day I am trapped in a room with a mountain that blocks my way out.  A day like today.  A day when life has to take a backseat to healing and where wholeness becomes a priority above all else.  A day when I decide to go retrieve hope from the old normal and bring it into the new.

In the Dirt

solitudeWhen I was a little girl, my dad used to take me on walks in the woods.  We would traipse around our property, sometimes not even on trails, just walking and seeing.  It wasn’t far, but to my little legs it seemed like miles and miles.  I learned a lot on these walks, not because he taught me exactly, but because I watched him.  I learned you can chew sourwood leaves in the fall, like gum.  I found out if you put your watermelon in a mountain spring it would be ice cold in time for the picnic the next day.  I realized to follow a stream provides water, as you walk through and underneath trees, which provide shade on hot summer days.  He taught me to be aware of snakes when I stepped over rocks and logs, and that not all snakes are poisonous.  He let me slide on a slick rock overhang into his arms over and over again.  Those lessons were learned through time together and shared experiences.

On the way back up the mountain, however, I was less likely to be enamored by the stroll through nature, because it had become a climb.  My little legs screamed to stop and my lungs agreed.  Dad used to carry me, but once I got too big for carrying, I had to stop and rest along the way.  I remember begging him to carry me, and I did not have the best of attitudes about it. I was tired and weary which translated into irritable, tearful, and cranky.

Fast forward to walks with my own children.  Going down the trail to a waterfall was all skipping and laughter.  Wading in the ice cold stream brought giggles.  Bill taught them about skipping rocks, and we picked wildflowers along the way.  Once we were at the bottom in the waterfall mist, their faces lit up at the magnificence and power of the water spilling down into the valley.  Then it was time for the climb back up. The trail was a switchback so there was steep incline followed by some more gradual slope, giving the illusion that it wasn’t exactly straight up.  However, little legs are not fooled by illusions.

Going into the second steep section the whining began, but there were four of them and only two of us.  They had all outgrown the baby backpack we had when they were little.  Carrying was not an option.  We encouraged, held their hands, and tried distraction techniques to get their minds off of the pain, “Was that a woodpecker over there on that tree?” or “Look at that beautiful orange flower.” To no avail.  By the next steep section, meltdown mode commenced for one of them.  No amount of, “we’re almost there” helped.  There was no consoling.  It was a sit-down-in-the-trail-refuse-to-go-any-further moment. Tears rolled down the face like the waterfall ran down the mountain and the frustration spilled out like a thunderstorm in the summer.

Desperate to keep the other three moving forward without incident (these types of outbursts can be extremely contagious in a family with four little ones), I moved on with the other three, while Bill waited for the first to cry himself out.  It was all that could be done.  He could not see the end of the hike was near.  He could not make his legs go any further.  He was weary and angry we wouldn’t carry him.  He was not climbing another inch.  Bill sat down in the trail next to him, while he flailed around in a full blown tantrum.  A father, just waiting, trying to soothe his child. In the midst of his tantrum, my son was not even aware that his father was sitting next to him in the dirt.  Once he became aware of it, he wanted nothing to do with him.  Every effort Bill made towards him was rejected out of anger.  It wasn’t until the patience of the father, sitting next to him, was evident that he finally relented and allowed a gentle calming hug.  Holding him, wiping the tears, quenching his thirst…not just for water, but for acceptance and understanding which only unconditional love can bring within the hard places.

Sometimes life is overwhelming.  Just like a child on an uphill climb, sometimes it feels impossible to continue.  It feels like God is not for me…and might even be against me…if he exists at all.  These dark nights of the soul are places where nothing is for sure.  All the neat and tidy spiritual explanations fall flat.  The heavens are brass, and my prayers blow silently away on the wind.  I am not the only one to ever experience this seemingly never ending dark place where brokenness is a companion.  I know others who walk here, who wonder and wait, and shake their fists at God at the same time they cry out to him.  I am a little girl who doesn’t want to walk one step further up this mountain I feel forced to climb. I want to yell and cry and kick and scream, “NO MORE!!” until I am carried, consoled, and soothed.  I realize that in order for peace to come, I have to allow my feelings to work themselves out. The volcano, which has been dormant for years, has erupted and it will release the built up pressure…once the explosion is over.

The complexities of emotions layered one on top of the over make it tricky to get to the root, which is the feeling that God has abandoned me.  What feels like a forever climb has left me in the dirt, wallowing around like a 2-year-old, unable to see my Father sitting next to me waiting.  Brokenness is a messy, ugly, dark place…but it is a real place.  People live here, not by their own choice, but by circumstances outside of their control.  That’s the rub with this place…there is no control here. Death, abuse, disease, rape, injury, loss, divorce, heartache…no one is immune from the pain of life. Life=loss. When my legs will no longer hold me up, I fall and cry out to God for rescue.

I am double minded, believing I am abandoned by him, while still receiving provision from his hand. I feel alone, despite his presence right next to me. I try to block him out since I no longer believe in him, only to find myself praying with desperate cries that he really exists.  I feel I cannot function, all while continuing to put one foot in front of the other. The dark night is a pretty mixed up place.  It is not depression, nor is it despair. It is more like losing the core of who I am, and questioning everything I have ever known…all while still knowing it.  Kinda.  I am rambling, in search of words and talking in circles.  Sorry about that.  One thing I know (maybe) is that when I am in one of these dark broken places I find out things…truths, that I might never grasp had I not sat down in the first place. So while I am groping around now, there will come a time (I hope) when my tears will be dried and my thirst will be quenched by the Father who sits next to me…in the dirt.

I Wish

 

shafts of lightI wish I could tell you I am always strong, but that would be a lie.  I wish I could say that I never have doubts, or tears, or fear, but that would be untrue.  I wish I could say my heart is whole and healthy, but it’s not.  It has been pummeled more times than I can count.  Crushed beyond what I can bear and it has left me a pile of shattered pieces.  Shards that are painfully deep, like splinters which, if not removed, turn into a festering mess of bitterness and resentment.  My attempts to glue it all back together are woefully inadequate.  Instead of creating art, I cut myself and bleed.  Instead of molding wholeness, I simply keep rearranging the same old pieces into forms which highlight just how broken I am.  Until now my faith has held me together through the unending traumas of life, but this time I am not even sure there is a mustard seed left.  Brokenness is exhausting.  Trying to muster up belief that overshadows the depth of my pain is not possible.

So here is the truth, I am NOT a strong woman.  I am NOT full of faith.  Sometimes I don’t want to pray because it doesn’t seem to do any good.  Sometimes I just want to quit. This is a raw place I am in, but it is also a real place.  A place in which my weaknesses are front and center.  A place where God is silent and I am so very tired.  I know the clichés.  I can quote the scripture, but sometimes sackcloth and ashes is more appropriate.  Sometimes grief and loss are companions that will not let me go.  They sing me to sleep, only to wake me in the night.  They whisper to me what could have been, and abandonment chimes in to remind me that whatever I do, I do it alone.  The weight of such thoughts banishes sleep and pumps my heart in crazy rhythms.  My palms sweat and my breathing becomes shallow.  I find myself back where I have always been, holding on for dear life.  It is not pretty.  I am not holding it together very well.  I am searching for my secret place to no avail.  I am lost to it, groping in the dark, trying to find peace that eludes me.  Dare I pen such a place?  Dare I speak it aloud? Should I put it on paper? It is easier to pretend all is well and all will be well.  It is easier to say what I want to hear, that everything will be fine.  It will all somehow work out like it always does.  But underneath those pretentious thoughts I wonder if it is true.  Will it ever be true?

Hard places.  Deep waters.  Struggling to breathe.  Just to breathe.  Sinking beneath the waves.  I cannot even cry out.  I am silent with my tears…which are the only prayers I have at the moment.  No words.  Pressure that has been my companion for years rises in my throat and sits on my shoulders. This is my lament.  It is my burden.  I know the sun will come up eventually.   I have lived long enough to know it is true. Light always follows darkness.  I simply have to hold on until it does, but this time I am not holding on…I am letting go.

The Land of Opportunity

This is a repost of a blog I wrote four years ago…right after I returned from Thailand to visit Hannah while she was on her mission trip around the world.  It is still accurate.

IMG_9772 I have spent the last year learning about the world. Through the eyes of my daughter, I have seen amazing and sometimes heart wrenching stories of poverty, slavery, and abandonment. I have gone half way around the world to see them for myself. Looking into hopeless eyes causes you to see things differently. They are like mirrors which show you your own reflection. What I saw there was disheartening to me. My ungratefulness for my blessings, my assumptions, the opportunities I have squandered away, all of it became crystal clear in the midst of the futility that blankets the red light district in Thailand. The traps, cycles, and living conditions are beyond anything I have ever seen.   To the people who live along this street it is how life is. There is no striving to make a different way. There is only life as they have known it, life as it is.

The ‘Land of Opportunity’ took on a whole new meaning for me this year. I guess I never thought about what the lack of opportunity would look like. It is built into our culture that you can be whatever you want to be if you work hard enough. You are only limited here if you lack vision. In other countries, you are born into your life. There is no question as to what you will do. To break away and do something different is rare. I have seen some beautiful stories of resilience among the poverty, but they are the exception not the rule. It is hard to describe how much appreciation this gave me for my own country. Don’t get me wrong, I know we have our problems…our divisions, and poverty, and social issues. I get that, but the choices we have are unending. We argue with one another because we are allowed to think for ourselves. We are a part of the process of deciding how we live our own lives. We have a say. Poor people here have TVs, bathrooms, and refrigerators for the most part. Our children are not usually sold into slavery. We do not have their kidneys harvested for money. We do not abandon them to the streets. Little girls are not forced to have sex night and day while being held captive. There is a chance that if you are born into poverty here you can get out of it. Hope lives here.

ImageI see why America seems like a beacon of light for so many who long to move here. They love our country without even knowing it. In America, we are free. In America, you can be anything. America is powerful. America is the Land of Opportunity to anyone who dares to dream of such a thing. People flock to see the “Americans” when you walk down the street in other countries. You have superstar status just because of where you are from. They ask questions about our clothes, our homes…our lives. They dream of having what we have…not necessarily in a material sense, they know well how to live without…they long for the freedoms we have. To speak freely. To pursue happiness. To gather. To worship. To be whatever they choose.

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All of this made me wonder what have I done with the opportunity I was born with. It also made me so very grateful for those men and women who have fought to keep us free. Have their sacrifices been wasted on me? Has the blood they spilled been in vain? It is Memorial Day…a day to honor those who died in battle, or as a result of their service. This year I get it. I have always attempted to pay my respects, but this year I see the true cost…and the benefits I have reaped my entire life from the price that was paid. My eyes are open in a new way. I cannot tell you how blessed we are. I cannot tell you how different life could be if I had been born in a different place on the globe. I cannot tell you how petty many of my complaints are, and how childish I am for not fully grasping how amazing our country is. Today I thank God for my country…and for those who knew this long before I did…and gave their lives in hopes that one day I would SEE it.

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God, bless those men and women…bless their families. Strengthen them. Show them the fruits of their sacrifices. Thank you for this land of opportunity. Thank you for hope, and choices, and freedom. Thank you for the men and women who died to give them to me…even when I didn’t get it. Amen.

Shafts of Light

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The light spills through my window.  It pours across the room illuminating the tops of candles as if they are lit.  It falls on the wall creating a secret golden window that leads to another world.  A world where light surrounds and permeates.  Where uncertainty is banished and heaviness is lifted.  A place I long for.

Outside my window shafts of light tumble through the trees.  The mist filters graceful beams through shades of green, which glow.  The arms of the trees reach for me, and beckon me to breathe in the light, only I don’t know how.

My chest is constricted.  Stomach in knots.  Sleep flees.  Exhaustion, my companion.  My only companion.  The one who understands, but does not relent.  Shafts of light beg me to pay attention.  Invite me into the secret world through the golden window.  Walls and doors all close.  The window is open.  Breathe the light.  If only I could ride shafts of light…