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Slow death

I had several really fun posts planned for this week, including the promised announcements about on-the-road teaching gigs… but then I got hacked and my laptop had to be reformatted and I had a kind of mini-meltdown and pity party for myself.

Laptop-Reformat

In the middle of weeping and feeling sorry for myself and utterly overwhelmed, I stumbled across this amazing blog post by Ann Voskamp. (If you don’t regularly read her blog, you really and truly are missing out.) And some of what she wrote just jumped right off the screen and slapped me in the face like Cher in Moonstruck.

Life is Pain — and you get to choose: either the Pain of Discipline or the Pain of Disappointment. Nothing happens without discipline. No music gets played without discipline. No games get won. No finish lines get crossed. No freedom gets tasted. And you want that…

Brilliant doesn’t matter, if you can’t get out of bed. Talent doesn’t mean a thing, if you let Fear be some terrorist that takes you hostage. Potential doesn’t add up to anything, if you get addicted to perfectionism because perfectionism is slow death by self.

And then I had a conversation with my sweet husband, and aired the things that were dogging my spirit, and we made some decisions and found ourselves in agreement and a kind of fog lifted. Then a dear friend checked in with me today and we found we are walking a similar path, and I came face to face with this uncomfortable truth:

I’ve been undisciplined about a lot of things since I got sick in September, and it’s created a perfect storm of unhealthy consequences. The result is that I have had kind of an internal crisis going on – emotional, spiritual, mental, and creative. I have been very much affected by some circumstantial things, having nothing to do with being hacked or having to reformat my laptop (which were just the last straws) – and I was becoming much too focused on the provision instead of the Provider. So… discipline, starting with lots and lots of time with Father, and patience, and taking little bites instead of big ones, and one day at a time.

And grace.

Because in the end, that’s what He wants for us. Love and grace and redemption. Anything less is not His best.

So I’m rebooting more than just my computer this week. If you’re interested in joining me, I’ve started a new 30-day reading plan on the YouVersion app – accounts are free and completely private, though you’re welcome to “friend” me or drop me an email if you want to share anything along the way.

“Fun” posts will resume next week, God willing and the creek don’t rise. Enjoy the weekend!

Recalibrating

I stumbled across this video last night, and it stunned me.

I believe – deeply and passionately – that like these wolves, human beings have a purpose here on earth. Beyond that, I believe with equal passion that each individual human being was created by a loving Father God with a plan and an intention for every single one.

Every. One.

Including me.

When we turn aside from or deny the things that God created us to be and do, it has an impact – not only on us as individuals, but on the people and places and circumstances and culture God created us to engage. Often our choices and decisions are well-intentioned – like the removal of the wolves from Yellowstone in the first place – and it’s only when we recalibrate our perspectives that we understand the damage we’ve done. When the solution is as simple as reversing course – reintroducing the thing we removed or setting aside an indulgence – we breathe a sigh of relief. Sometimes, though – often – it takes more work and focus and discipline. And sometimes the damage cannot be undone.

I spent the entirety of my Sunday yesterday contemplating some challenging truths about myself, my choices, and what lies ahead for me. There are things I have – with good intentions – allowed into my life that have no business there. Important things have suffered from inattention and a lack of discipline. As difficult as it is to admit, the imbalance all of that creates is devastating to the internal landscape of my spirit. Everything around me suffers – relationships, creativity, environment. Me. And honestly? I walk through periods of intense self-loathing every time I stumble over one of those icky, unpleasant parts of myself I wish desperately would just go away.

And then… hope. Perspective. Grace. A God who forgives and empowers and and directs and casts vision. It is not an accident I found this video last night, or that my day was full of small moments of beauty. If you missed my story about the widow’s rosebushes, read my post from last week and then look at the beautiful rose I found yesterday afternoon when I stepped into the yard.

Helen's Rose

God loves me. I am – largely in spite of myself – where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to do. I have some recalibrating to do, but none of it is fatal, no essential part of me or my life is extinct or damaged beyond repair. Because… God. And grace. And Jesus. And I am so, so grateful for the reminder.

Happy Monday.

The Rest of the Story

Disappoint: To fail to satisfy hope, desire, or expectation.

We’ve all been there. We work hard for something and it doesn’t materialize. Or we make plans and a key element falls through. Sometimes “disappointment” is an understatement for the devastation or anguish that results from dashed hopes or unmet expectations.

Photo by Jason St. Peter. Used under Creative Commons License.

Almost every year at this time, I find myself trying to imagine the experience of Christ’s friends and family on the day of his crucifixion. Disappointment hardly seems sufficient to describe what they must have felt. Horror for those who watched him die. (Among those was his mother. The bravery of her story, from beginning to end, is humbling.) Disbelief. Fear. Grief. Shame for those who couldn’t bear to see things through to the end, who hid themselves away.

I imagine the first night, as his friends and family mourned. What on earth would they have said to one another? Was any among them hopeful? I think about the women, whose job it was to clean and prepare his body but who had not been able to begin their work before the Sabbath. Did they dread it? Or were they grateful for the opportunity to serve him one last time? I think about the universality of human loss, how it is the same regardless of time or culture or age. I can imagine eyes burning from the tears they shed and the sick thumping headache that accompanies them. I have known grief so deep that anything beyond it seems improbable, unfathomable.

Photo by John. Used under Creative Commons License.

It seems ghoulish to dwell on the torture and murder of a man who lived and walked the earth more than 2000 years ago. In fact, my father once told me that Christianity was a religion of death, which was why he was so adamantly against it. But he was missing the point – as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now, here’s the rest of the story.” Christ’s death wasn’t the last word. We don’t celebrate his death – we acknowledge it, with solemnity and awe and wonder. What we celebrate is his conquering of it, against all hope and against all that “reality” tells us we should expect.

Detail, The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. Photo by Lassi Kurkijärvi. Used under a Creative Commons License.

In the middle of the things that beset us, it’s easy to forget God is at work even when we can’t see how things might get better. In the dark of the night, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with grief and worry. When we suffer a grievous loss or the failure of a longed-for dream, it’s easy to believe God has abandoned us. And it can sometimes be easier to stay in that Good Friday place of sorrow and despair than to allow ourselves to trust and hope.

But Good Friday’s good because of what came after: Sunday’s coming. And he’s waiting there for us, arms outstretched, joyous. Death has lost, and love has won.

We celebrate that he did it for us.

But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of death.

Psalm 49:15

Voices

I have been playing the song “Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave over and over and over again the past couple of weeks. It’s a song I’ve listened to many times, and really enjoyed – I like their music generally. But we used a video in church recently as part of our worship set dealing with the idea of redemption and it featured this song – and on the platform that Sunday, I heard this line as if for the first time:

All my life I have been called unworthy

Named by the voice of my shame and regret

And, oh my heart was pierced. Because I have carried that hurt around for a long time.

In that moment, I heard the voice of my father, telling me – over and over – that I would never live up to my potential. I heard the voice of a much loved pastor telling me he’d done his best but he just couldn’t be a steward of my gifts any more because of my failures. I heard the voices of people through the years who have found my big personality and passionate approach to life in general just a little too much to deal with, who have found me too much… or not enough. Who have found me wanting.

I am deeply grateful to have walked through a season of fire in the last 18 months or so, when God literally burned out of me the desire for approval. It was a painful process – oh was it ever! – but on the other side of it has been complete freedom. For the first time in my life, I understand what it really means to be free in Christ, to embrace my frailty and failings and know that in Him they are met with grace and love and compassion (which is not the same as empathy, by the way). And, too, I am able to embrace my gifts and my abilities and unapologetically step out in them – not in arrogance or entitlement, but in gratitude and excitement. God made me, and He made me for a purpose, and the passion and big personality some people find fault with are part of how He has equipped me to do the things I’m called to. There is freedom in knowing – in really believing – that I will never be too much or not enough for God, and that He will never leave me where I am.

But that morning, listening to those words, I realized how deeply the wounds go and how tender the scars even after the passage of time. I was reminded that while I am free, I am not yet healed and whole, that those sore places in my spirit need tending so they don’t fester. And I heard God telling me it was time to let it go – to do the work and let it go.

So I’m working on forgiveness. I’m working on grace. I’m working on putting the past to rest and loving the ones whose voices have played on that endless, hurtful loop in my head, even as I firmly press the stop button and eject the tape.

Because I am redeemed. And God isn’t done with me yet, even if others are.

 

 

Not for a moment…

I’m sitting quietly in my dining room, sipping coffee and waiting for the HVAC guy to show up to do an annual service on our units. Mundane stuff – but I’m profoundly grateful that we have enough right now to take care of mundane stuff. And as I’m sitting here gearing up for the day, this song speaks to me.

 

You were singing in the dark
Whispering Your promise
Even when I could not hear
I was held in Your arms
Carried for a thousand miles to show
Not for a moment did You forsake me…

And every step, every breath, you are there
Every tear, every cry, every prayer,
In my heart, at my worst,
When my world falls down
Not for a moment will You forsake me
Even in the dark
Even when it’s hard
You will never leave me

After all

At the exact moment I was listening to this song, a friend tweeted this:

“Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways we may not understand at the time.”

– Oswald Chambers

Life is so hard sometimes, and I look around at the world and the suffering of some of its people, the tragedies that defy explanation, the way that men (and women) distort and twist and corrupt the idea of the church, of fellowship and community, of God’s very nature for their own ends and their own profit… it would be easy to look at all of that and assume it all says something about who God is. I get it, I do.

But really, it speaks volumes about us.

Those things – those things and so much more – point us ever more emphatically to our need for the One who is beyond us, beyond our understanding, even. I choose to believe in the character of God, I choose to believe God is beyond my limited, human understanding, I hold onto the belief that he has not forsaken us, not for one moment, even when it’s hard and painful and I don’t get it. Every single day, I do my very best to lay down my expectations and lift up to God my hopes and desires, my fears and apprehensions, my needs and not-needs, to trust that he is working and that he is good and that he loves us – and not just us, but me, personally.

Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise! So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:15-18 (The Message)

We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand – out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary – we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Romans 5:2-5 (The Message)

And so I am sitting here with my coffee waiting for the HVAC guy – the HVAC guy we couldn’t afford six months ago – listening to this song over and over, and feeling so grateful. May your day be filled with opportunities to encounter God’s grace and goodness in deeply personal ways.