The Silence of God

 

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I sit in silence on my back porch, contemplating.  The leaves are worshiping all around me in a kaleidoscope of color.  I sit and wait, for what? I do not know.  I am drawn inward to listen for words which do not present themselves. I have found in order to jiggle them loose, I must wait.  Sit.  Ponder.  Feel.  It is the feeling part that is most difficult these days.  I’d rather be numbed, than feel what is currently in the atmosphere.

Momentarily lost in my thoughts, I am drawn back to my porch by the sound of the leaves rustling.  The breeze is speaking.  I listen and hear pitter patter, like rain, only not like rain. I am curious at the ‘non-rain’ rain sound.  I take it in, recognizing the tones are different than the usual storms.  There are no hissing or dripping sounds, only pitter patter.  It is not water falling…it is the leaves.  They swish on their way to the ground. With the wind, the kaleidoscope is moving and changing.  Rogue leaves hang on for dear life.  They do not know it, but they are already done, the hanging on will not last much longer.  Others are falling with style, twisting and turning, like ballerinas in a dance with the breeze.  Some are kamikaze and appear to be trying to take out as many others as possible by crashing into branches and leaves.  On this day, the sun is out and the glow of the dying leaves is spectacular.  Their constant shifting creates a new design every few minutes.  It is mesmerizing.  I cannot look away for the beauty of it.  And yet…

My heart is silent.  God is silent.  Only the leaves are speaking as they drift downward.   The grief of our world is nearly overwhelming sometimes.  Like the leaves, it is a blanket that covers everything.  Vivid reds are like the blood of the innocents, spilling out and seeping into the ground.  Fiery oranges are the flames of disunity and discord that are burning up our world in hate.  Yellows are the joy we used to know, fading away…buried in the decaying piles already fallen.   leaves on the groundMy usual giddiness at autumn’s splendor is subdued by the death spreading across the world.  A car running people over on sidewalks in New York, followed by the shooting in Texas during a worship service.  War in other countries is killing innocents by the thousands and starvation is killing the rest.  Storms have stolen stability and life from people in several regions, and fires burn homes to ashes in others, lives going up in smoke.

The wind groans, the leaves fall. The rocks and trees which usually cry out praises are heavy with the losses from our sin-saturated world.  We are a fallen creation. Even those who don’t believe in sin are seeing the results of it now, and asking ‘What is going on here?’  Eyes are being opened to truth of what our world looks like when left to our own devices.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, and we all know it.  Deep down, our souls cry out for relief.  The crazy thing is, sin has been forgiven…all of it.  We need only to receive what was freely given and walk in grace, but we resist.  We wrestle and writhe and insist that we have things well in hand.  And the leaves continue to fall.  The silence grows.

The day when God is absent, when he is silent…that is the beginning of prayer.  Not when we have a lot to say, but when we say to God, ‘I can’t live without you.  Why are you so cruel, so silent?’ This knowledge that we must find or die…makes us break through to the place where we are in the Presence.  If we listen to what our hearts know of love and longing and are never afraid of despair, we find that victory is always on the other side of it.” Anthony Bloom

The silence at this moment is deafening…but, it is creating a longing, not for God’s gifts or his hand, or what he does for us…but for God himself.  He is a place a safety, love, and belonging.  A place of grace and acceptance.  The wind blows, the leaves fall, and in the silence…our hearts cry out.

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Hope Wins…Again

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Darkness overcomes me.  Black as ink, not even a hand in front of my face is visible.  I am surrounded.  I am afraid of the absence of light.  My heart pounds.  I grasp and claw, until I realize it is futile to fight the black night of the soul.  I have no control.  I have no say.  I am at its mercy. I freeze like a statue.  Waiting.  Trembling.  Surrendered to its grip.  Knowing there is no way out, of my own making.  I resist the urge to run.  It would only make things worse.  Running in the dark is more dangerous than the dark itself.  Unseen obstacles hide in the dark.  They wait to grab me, to slap me, to trip me up.  The safest way is to stand or kneel or curl up, and wait.  Make myself small. Like a baby in utero.  I can hear my own heart beating in my ears.  I am blind.  I can see no way forward, or back.  Fear runs down my face in the form of tears.  My heart feels ripped from my chest. It is a gaping wound.  I cry out to the silence.  I feel nothing and everything. I know nothing.  I can only wait.  Alone. In the darkness.

My eyes play tricks on me.  Charcoal is lighter than black.  I blink.  Again, and again.  I strain, only to see nothing.  Still nothing.  Fear turns to curiosity. Am I imagining things? Could it be?  I still feel the darkness clawing me. Pulling me.  Trying to take me out.  The struggle is gone.  I have quit the fight.  It is no use.   But I also feel something else. Foreign but familiar.  A pull.  Maybe a sliver.  I fumble to my knees.  I kneel in silence.  Still silence.  Something is different.  Gray now.  No longer black.  I am sure of it.  Dare I be sure of it?  I fear certainty.  My imagination plays tricks sometimes. I quake at the word gray.  Gray means change.  Gray means new.  Gray is as scary as black.  My heart thumps.  No longer shredded.  Just steady thumps of…  What? Anticipation? Amidst the gray, there is expectation. Something is happening.  I don’t know what.

Shifting shadows.  There are only shadows if there is light present, right? The gray is lighter now.  I dare not believe it.  I hold back.  I want to investigate, but I am still frozen in place.  My eyes are open wide.  Watching.  Seeing.  Pink.  Pale and barely there.  Could it be true? The dark night of the soul, fading?  I am full alert now. I can see what surrounds me.  A completely different landscape. Nothing has changed but everything is different.  The dawn is breaking.  The pink is deep.  The gray lightens to purple.  There is magnificent color.  Glorious blushing.  Light in all its glory suddenly peeks out.  I recognize hope when I see it on the horizon.  The darkness is broken and transformed into day. I thought hope was extinct.  My tears are grateful ones.  My heart rises in excitement to see its old friend. I breathe deeply and take it in.  I drink thirstily from the well.  I try to saturate myself.  I bathe in it. I am weary, from my time in the darkness.  I bask to absorb its strength.  Ever so slowly, I begin to move.  Still tentative in my steps.  Still cautious to trust.  But hope beckons to me.  Calls me to follow.  Infuses me. The remaining shadows bow to the light.  Like a vapor, they disappear.  I can see clearly now. My vision is restored.  Hope wins…again.

Las Vegas

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Another city.  Another tragedy.  Another illusion of safety shattered by bullets falling from the sky.  We look to point fingers.  We want our illusion back.  Give us our illusion that nothing bad can happen in our country.  Give our false sense of security back.  The truth is we are not and cannot be in control of every person, weapon, mental condition or circumstance.  We can enact laws or not, we can tag certain people as dangerous or not, we can keep people locked up or not.  It doesn’t matter how we try to stop these things from happening, and maybe we should do all those things, but tragedy will still happen.  It isn’t the men themselves, it is the heart of men that has been shattered and broken beyond repair.  The heart is where the brokenness is and the only way to change things is from the inside out.

In the meantime, we grieve with families who are changed forever because a few minutes of broken heartedness spilled onto the streets.  We weep with those who weep.  We console them and try to wipe the tears that continue to fall.  We hold space for them to feel their sorrow and to fall into the arms of those who comfort them with no agenda, because when death steals someone precious from you, the weeping comes first. The disbelief of what happened is mindboggling.  The tears are important because they release the grief into a physical form.  Let’s cry, shall we?  Let’s release the pain that is built up in our midst.  Let’s fall on our faces and weep with these families.  Let’s uplift them in prayer.  Let’s hold their hands and allow them to bury their faces in our shoulders as their tears flow.  Let’s stop bickering and be there for them in their time of need.  They have experienced trauma and loss in epic proportions that the majority of us cannot comprehend.  They have been violated, and therefore so have we.  Let’s go to them and stand with them as they bury their loved ones.  There are no words that can bring them back from this horror, so let’s silently express our love as we hold them closely in our hearts.

Lord,

We ask for you to surround these families and all those involved in this horrific event.  We don’t understand the enormity of this situation.  In this moment, we don’t try to.  We simply ask for peace for the broken hearts.  We know you draw near to the broken hearted and we thank you for that promise.  We know your heart is broken too.  We feel your grief, and we share our tears with you as liquid prayers. We cry out to you.  We are at a loss for words, and so we simply say, help us.  We are lost and we say, find us.  We are wandering in this world and we say bring us home into your arms.  We cry out for rescue from this pain we are living in.  I ask you to make your love known to these families and to this city.  We look for your hands and feet, because we know you are always there in the form of caring and loving people.  Give us your grace to get through this.  Empower the people to love one another well in the time of grief.  I pray for the days and months ahead when the hole in families becomes gaping, you fill it.  You comfort them, like a blanket.  You restore their hope.  Bring them out of the pit of despair and into the place of your grace and mercy.  Show their tender hearts how to heal.  You lost a son, so you know the pain they face ahead.  Surround them with support from others.  Give them your peace that passes understanding.  Walk closely with them…carry them if necessary.  Help us to love them well, as you love them.  In Jesus name, Amen.

What is it with Millennials?

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By now most of us have heard or witnessed the problems with the millennial generation. This is what we hear, regularly. They cannot problem solve.  They have no motivation.  They want everything handed to them.  They are too sensitive.  We have also heard the reason for these issues is our parenting.  We presented them all trophies.  We overprotected them.  We solved their problems for them.  We gave them too much stuff.  All of these problems have been analyzed to death.  As with every age before us, there is a generation gap.  It is part of the individuation process for children to find differences with their parents.  No matter how much we thought “my children will never” our children did.  No matter how much we “trained them up in the way they should go,” some of them didn’t go that way.

However, I have a hard time painting all millennials with a broad brush. I know there are issues, but I do not believe every 20 something is responsible for acting like a spoiled brat.   I cannot jump aboard the millennial bashing train any more than I can take all the mommy guilt for raising them the best I knew how.  For me, it is not about finding out why this generation turned out the way they did.  It is about going forward now, and I am thinking maybe we need to look at things a bit differently.

  • The trophy generation- Every kid gets a trophy made them intolerant of injustice which is not a bad thing. They want to make sure everyone has equal opportunity. When they see injustice, they cry out loud enough to make others uncomfortable with the status quo.  Isn’t that what some of our revered leaders from history did?  They value fairness.
  • The technology generation- Raised on video games might have caused them to have a warped view of reality, but it also caused them to be innovative with all things techno…including all the apps we all use every day, and life-saving surgeries done by robotic machines. They think in computer language and interpret for the rest of us. They value technological progress.
  • The traveling generation- We wanted them to go, to experience the world in ways we never got to.  They came home with a global world view and the idea that people are worthy of care no matter their status. They love cultures and the differences in them.  They see value in diversity.
  • The spoiled generation- They got everything they wanted and then some.  They had so much that they realized life isn’t really about stuff.  They are not motivated by money and stuff because they realize it is futile.  They want to make a difference and change the world.  Hence, the tiny house generation. They value experiences.
  • The picky generation- They don’t want just any job.  That means good ones or bad ones.  They want the right job and because money doesn’t motivate them, they are happy to take odd jobs until the right one comes along. The corporate ladder doesn’t appeal to them, because they watched it nearly kill us.  They value balance in life.
  • The spotlight generation- They have lived their lives online.  Their every move is posted, and while this has contributed to self-centeredness and loneliness at the same time, it has also made them care less about what others say. They are bombarded with opinions that oppose theirs on a daily basis, in ways we could never imagine at their age.  That will be key when they are leading in the future and they have to stand strong.
  • The warrior generation- I believe these millennials have a unique perspective unlike any generation before them.  They are as yet, untested in what it means to lead others. They are idealistic and holding fast to their beliefs, unwavering and unwilling to compromise.  Just like we raised them to do.  We just didn’t think they would hold to beliefs other than ours.

So, to review. They wander.  They are not motivated by money.  They challenge the status quo.  They question everything and everyone, even us.  They don’t tolerate hypocrisy.  They accept all people.  They are passionate.  They are caring.  They want to love people and they want others to love people. They like to contemplate, discuss, and analyze. They make us think.

Jesus did all those same things.  Some of us taught them about him and his life, but we didn’t expect them to take us literally.  They snub the religious leaders of the day…which is us.  They walk away from church, because they disagree with the way it boxes God in and they are tired of being judged.  They question their faith, and many have left it entirely, because their views of the world don’t fit within the four walls. They have outgrown the church of their childhood; it is too small-minded for them in its current state.

We are desperately trying to get them back in, but what if it would be better for us to get out?  What if, instead of analyzing statistics we stepped out into their world for a bit to see what it is that drew them there?  What if their dispersal is part of the plan to expand the church instead of allowing it to die?  They are going.  They are loving people.  They are changing the world.  I’m not sure they realize it yet, or if we do, but they are.  They are young.  Untested. Idealistic. (Weren’t we all?)  But they are powerful.  They have roots.  They are not snowflakes deep down.  One day, hardship will awaken them to resilience they don’t know they have yet.

What if instead of speaking of them as if they are less than, we encouraged them or prayed for them? What would happen if instead of bashing their ideas, we listened?  What would happen if we brought them to the table to reason together?  What if instead of preaching down at them we walked beside them, shared our lives and experience while allowing them to step up and do things their own way?

My point? It is a different world than we grew up in, with different challenges.  It will require a different group with different skills.  They are that group.  Recent history has written parts of their story that are beyond their control, or ours.  Their lives have been shaped the way they have, bad parenting and all, for a purpose.  I believe that to my core.  They are going to rise up and carry us into the future, where they will be the leaders of the world.  Don’t you think it’s time we helped them get on with that?

Lord,

I come and ask that you would preserve this generation of young people.  Give them grace to step into their roles which you have ordained for them.  Give us grace to let them.  I pray you pour courage and confidence into them as the torch is passed from one generation to the next.  I pray those who have left their faith would find it again and that you would whisper tenderly of your love for them to their ears. I thank you for their passion and their desire to make a difference in the world.  I thank you that they see injustice in places we have ignored.  I thank you that they feel deeply for the pain of the world and that they do not shy away from it, but lean into it.  Give them creative solutions and eyes to see how to improve things.  When they experience difficulty show them the resilience you have poured into them unaware.  Help it to bubble up from within and spill over.  You have given them the power of questioning, to bring the spotlight to every system.  You have created in them the desire to know.  The desire to change things.  The desire to be better than those before them.  Show them how to steward these desires.  Protect them from disunity and divisiveness.  Protect us all from these things, so that we can move together and not apart.  Draw a circle around us that builds us up together.  Help us to stay inside your protective shield.  Give us eyes to see this generation as the warriors they are, in their ability to stand strong.  In their compassion.  In their hearts of care.  Help us to learn from them, by listening and going to see what they see.  Help us to come along side and to allow them to show us their point of view.  Help us to share our experience with them in a productive and helpful way.  Guard our hearts and theirs, from the pride and arrogance which stifles our ability to build friendship with one another. Help us to lay down our offensive posture, and to pick up peace and a desire to forgive.  Heal the rift between us so that we all can move forward stronger together than apart.  Lord, these are amazing young people.  They emulate you in so many ways.  Thank you for spreading them out.  Give them a vision of why.  Show them what your body looks like in action.  In Jesus Name and by his blood, Amen.

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.

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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.