Is Your Church a Safe Place? Mine’s Not

Is your church a safe place? Mine’s not. 

Photo by Peter Fenda | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photo by Peter Fenda | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Our doors are open wide. On any given Sunday, you might find yourself sitting next to an adulterer, a drug addict or a murderer.

At my church, people gossip, they get angry and hurt each other, and sometimes they harbor unforgiveness.

At my church, we have people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety disorder.

There are people who self-harm, cheat on taxes, swear, smoke and watch ‘R’ rated movies.

Continue reading “Is Your Church a Safe Place? Mine’s Not”

Winter’s Coming but Spring is Here II

Winter. A season of painful exchanges: flip-flops for bulky jackets, warm breezes for

Photo by Nomadic Lass | CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo by Nomadic Lass | CC BY-SA 2.0

cold floors, the sound of crickets for the hum of the furnace, which, let’s face it, is basically the sound of money burning.

But the exchange that weighs on my body like a wet, wool coat, is that of light for darkness. Each autumn day, the coming winter snatches another two or three minutes of sunlight, replacing it with night. We wake in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, eat dinner in the dark….

As of today, there are 53 more days of sliding headfirst into the abyss.

Continue reading “Winter’s Coming but Spring is Here II”

On Being a Girl | Late Night Ramblings

Tough. Sharp. Witty. Snarky. Capable. Independent. Powerful. Like super-powerful, machine gun, taser wielding, ninja powerful. In control. Emotionally guarded. Mysterious. Beautiful…in an average-girl-made-alluring-by-her-mystery-and-inaccessibility kind of way. Likes others, even loves others, but doesn’t need anyone.

That’s the girl I want to be: Ziva David, Sydney Bristow, Kate Austen, Veronica Mars.

By Euphronios (User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-02-10) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Euphronios (User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-02-10) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Today I read an article in Smithsonian magazine about Amazon women, in which the author, Amanda Foreman, suggests that girls don’t want to be girls unless we have powerful, warrior-like heroes and role models, like Wonder Woman. That ruffled my feathers a bit. Maybe some girls want to be girly girls…soft, submissive, sweet, meek. And that’s OK, right?

 

 

Then I sat down and devoured season three of Veronica Mars and realized – I am that article. I want, have always wanted, to be Sydney, Ziva, Kate, Veronica. I mean, I even dressed up as the Black Widow for our Christmas Card for crying out loud:

Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com
Photo by nicholeq.wordpress.com

So maybe there’s something to this Amazon woman deal after all. Because apparently I want to be Wonder Woman. (With more clothes on, thank you.)

So what’s that about? Power? Control?

Is it bad? Is it wrong to want to be strong and powerful? Maybe not.

But to want to be always in control? (Eve calling….)

To want to be independent? To need no one else?

There is this part of me that wants to shut out the whole world. To keep my heart all to myself. To keep my love for others wrapped up tightly inside, hidden away.

So that all my love is mine. And all my pain is mine. And all my fear is mine. And all my joy is mine. And all my grief is mine. And all my shame is mine. And all my everything….is mine.

And you can’t have it. You can’t see it or touch it or feel it or know it. You can’t have it. Because you can’t have me.

And there it is.

A cursed and wounded heart, frozen by freedom’s great imposter: independence.

But I want it so badly. Today, more than any other day, I feel it – how strong it is, this idol that rules my heart.

And so I ride fences and seek pleasures that harm me. Always wanting what I can’t get. Pawing, stamping the dusty earth along the rails…butting against walls that hold me in, chasing freedom. Freedom from pain and people and expectations and false hope.

But walking through this world alone is its own sort of prison…with transparent, icy walls that deceive me into believing that love is safer when it can’t touch me, that seeing is enough. Will I ever be able to let someone love me? Tell me, Don Henley, when will it be too late?

This idol…this me wanting me all to myself…it has to go. It has to go.

But how? How do I surrender who I am? The only thing I have…me?

But do I even have me or is it just an illusion, a lie? Because who am I anyway? How did I get here and how will I go?

I am not my own. I didn’t make me. I can’t keep me.

Or more astutely:

It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, then I first begin to have a real personality of my own…There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given yourself to Him you will not have a real self…Your real, new self will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. – CS Lewis

Oh the futility of my fight. On my own, I am nothing.

And I feel tired. And I don’t want Him to love me or comfort me BECAUSE I AM ANGRY. Angry like a 6 year old girl who just realized that someday she will die. That this life – this awesome, beautiful, terrible, wondrous life – will end. Will be snatched out, like a carpet, from under her feet, knocking her hard on the floor and stealing the breath from her lungs. No more blue sky and green trees and grass to tickle the feet and beaches to wander and dreams to dream and futures to plan.

And she lies there thinking, “Who is this God that gives and takes away?”

And the pain and betrayal run deep. So deep that even nail-scarred hands that gave everything burn. Because this place is raw. And the healing hurts.

And I wonder…who am I? Why did You make me? Why did you make me a girl? What does it even mean? Who should I want to be? How should I want to be? Is it safe to want to be anything? Or will you snatch that out from under me too?

Or will you take this broken, wounded, angry girl…and remake me into something beautiful? Something strong? Something good? Something free?

There are so many things I want to be, but Lord, can You make who I am?

 

When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

I hate being weak. I hate that I am not enough. I want to be more. To do more.

God, so much of what I want to do is for You. Why do You keep holding me down beneath Your mighty hand? You say You will lift me up in due time. When will that be? Can You point to a date on a calendar? Or give me a general idea? If it’s a long way off, my iPhone goes ahead like 20 years. And Due Time has got to be within the next 20 years. Right? God? Are you there?

In Jesus Calling, I’m instructed to rejoice in my weakness which, like a lodestone, draws me ever closer to God. Once upon a time those were encouraging words, but lately they sound a lot like this: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

What happens when I am aware of my desperate need for the Lord but I don’t feel any closer to Him?

What happens when He doesn’t answer my prayers? When I ask for strength and yet have so little? When I beg to feel Him, plead to hear from Him and yet…nothing?

I go to His word for nourishment but everything tastes like dry grass. Parched, I drag myself across burning sands only to find an empty creek bed. I wrap myself in the love of friends and family but my heart shivers through the sunless night.

Photo by bloody-girl77 | CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Photo by bloody-girl77 | CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

And I recollect a truth carved in the walls of my soul…but it’s like recalling the lyrics of a song without remembering the melody.

I know He is with me but I can’t feel Him.

And so I recite the words, even though I can’t remember the tune:

Fear not, for I am with you.
     Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
     I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

And I believe…even though I don’t feel. And I hope even though I can’t see. And I choose trust instead of fear – trust in the God who promises to uphold me with His right hand.

His right hand – a symbol of strength in the scriptures. Not His left, but His right hand. Because God only gives us His best.

And I keep reading:

For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

The Lord my God who takes hold of my right hand. Not my left, but my right hand – my strength. My best.

And I consider what life would be like with God holding my right hand. I imagine cooking without my right hand and typing without my right hand – and the imagining comes pretty easily because with chronic pain and tendonitis, I am sometimes forced to rest my hands, and wow…even in those brief hours, I hate it.

(Did I mention I hate being weak? Because I do. I hate it.)

Honestly, God taking hold of my right hand doesn’t sound particularly helpful. Surely, it would be easier if He held my left hand.

But then…would He even be helping me at all? Or would He just be something I hold onto to make me feel better – like a security blanket or the cross I wear around my neck?

Like an unsteady toddler who cries for help after falling down and then pushes her father away as soon as she’s back on her feet, I want Him to help me do it on my own.

But that’s not quite how it works, is it? God is not raising us to be independent. Rather, He’s calling us back from independence, into the freedom that comes in total dependence on Him.

And that means that sometimes He must take hold of us at our strongest places, limit us, slow us down.

Perhaps it’s the only way He can get me to stop trying to do it all on my own. In taking away the things I rely on – my endurance, my abilities, my intellect, my creativity, my spiritual insight, my energy, my confidence – He reminds me of the one thing that really matters: Him.

And I remember His strength that called light out of darkness, igniting the fire of countless suns and flinging them across space and time.

 Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) - Copyright Free
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) – Copyright Free

His strength that hurled the planets into motion with perfect precision, summoned beings out of the earth and rushed the wind of life into man. His strength that bore the crushing weight of humanity’s doom and under it, through it, forged a new way. His strength that ruptured the tight and binding prison of flesh, birthing new life in a dry and barren wasteland.

His strength. Which has always been….will always be…enough.

And so, confused and frustrated, weak and exhausted, I stop tugging and pulling and fighting and trying to wrench my hand away from His.

And in this moment, I surrender my best – which is never enough – so that He can give me His best. Which has always been….will always be…enough.

———————————————————-

The morning after I completed this post, Leroy Case preached about our God the “Star-breather.” His message was incredibly relevant to me, to this post, and at the end he shared a song with us. And now I am sharing it with you.

Already All I Need by Christy Nockels

 

 

Frozen | Thoughts on Biblical commUNITY

Photo by buttercupLF | CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Photo by buttercupLF | CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Here’s the thing: If I knew when I committed to writing this post that the blogosphere would be buried in Frozen commentary like Arendelle in deep, deep, deep, deep snow, I probably would have reconsidered. But alas, I’ve promised a post, so here it is. 

If you have kids, teenagers, college students or well, even a young-at-heart-sister-in-law, then you’ve most likely spent your winter as I have: listening to said family members belt out the entire Frozen soundtrack morning, noon and night. My girls have even taken to singing duets, complete with knocking on a door, any door, before crooning: Do you wanna build a snowman?

And then they built one. Look familiar?

Family Photo
Family Photo

Anyway, I have this quirky habit of perceiving spiritual truth in all sorts of pop-culture media. Give me a minute and I’ll preach you a sermon on Finding Nemo, Perfect, The Hunger Games. (In some case, I already have.)

Frozen is no exception. Besides, you didn’t seriously think I could watch a movie with the tag-line “only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart” and not write about it, did you?

But that’s not because I want to preach you a sermon. Rather, it’s because I know what it’s like to have a frozen heart. To live so heavy under a curse, that I feared being discovered, being known. “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know,” were lyrics to the soundtrack of my life long before Disney wrote Let it Go.

Some hearts, like Elsa’s, freeze because of fear, and some hearts, like Anna’s, freeze from wounds caused by others. For most of us, it’s a combination of both.

I know what it’s like to be mortally wounded – to be struck through the heart with icy shards of rejection and abandonment. To feel the cold spread across my chest, squeezing the air from my lungs, leaving me breathless, face down in the hard earth.

And I know what it’s like to do the wounding, the destroying – to be the ice queen. To detest the woman in the mirror. To distrust my darkened self, because “I can’t control the curse.” To live in terror of corrupting everything I touch, everyone who comes near me because there’s “no escape from the storm inside of me.”

I’ve fought in vain to be “the good girl [I] always had to be” – not just because I don’t want to be hurt – but because I don’t want to hurt others. And I have run away, isolating myself in an ice castle of my own design. A place where fear bars the doors to pain…and love.

Ice castles. We all build them. At first they seem beautiful, protective, even empowering, like Elsa’s. (OK, hers was pretty awesome.) But they’re also cold and confining.

Photo by AYKenny | CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Photo by AYKenny | CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Like Anna, people have come knocking on my door, offering me love with open hands: “You don’t have to keep your distance anymore. We can head down this mountain together. You don’t have to live in fear. I will be right here.”

And like Elsa I have cried out, “You mean well, but leave me be. Yes, I’m alone, but I’m alone and free!  Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me!”

But can a person be alone and free? Our ice castles – fortresses built to protect and isolate – are less like palaces and more like prisons than we care to admit. But even if the cold never bothered us anyway, loneliness and disconnection weary the heart. And weary hearts can’t fly free.

We can be alone, but we can’t be alone and free.

Yet sometimes, a weary, earth-bound heart seems bearable in exchange for a life safe from harming or being harmed. But a life without love inflicts its own sort of pain. Not only on us, but on those around us.

Elsa’s cry, “Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me!” sounds like a noble sacrifice and a reasonable demand when considering the stakes. But she failed to discern the thin, sharp edge that separates truth from reality…

To avoid others, to avoid love or vulnerability or pain, is not to be free, but to chain ourselves to freedom’s great imposter: independence.

Elsa believed that she could shut away her frozen heart and live independently without consequence. But the opposite happened. By isolating herself and giving in to her fear and curse, she set off an eternal winter, nearly destroying her entire kingdom. She wasn’t free at all. In fact, things were worse than ever.

And so it goes with us. How often do we succumb to our darkest fears, satisfy our guilty pleasures, indulge our most agonizing curses, and tell ourselves that as long as we do it alone, no one will get hurt? But someone’s always getting hurt.

Build an ice castle and no matter how much it sparkles, you will wound hearts and court the eternal winter…because relational independence is a lie. Our choices and our actions affect each other in ways far beyond what our eyes can see or our minds can know.

The truth is that we were created for community, connection, relationships – with God and with each other. Relationships aren’t a luxury; they are a necessity – living water for our thirsty souls.

Community, first with God in the holiest of communities: where the warm, glowing Breath of Life and Love made ours by the ultimate act of true love, thaws our frozen hearts and lifts the burden of our curse so our souls can take wing. Only in binding ourselves to Him, our True and Mighty Fortress, are we set free.

Free to love from the fortress of His perfect love, we are Not Alone, but Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters. Like Elsa and Anna, we can face this life together, hand in hand, even though someone might get hurt.

And therein lies the greatest freedom: to throw open the doors of your heart and love, really love…despite the risk, despite the loneliness, despite the pain, despite the failure, despite the brokenness. That is true freedom.  

No More How-to-live-a-good-Christian-life Books!

Last week a friend emailed me asking to borrow some books for her vacation. In her note she wrote something like this, “I want good, enjoyable fiction. I don’t want another book on how to live a good Christian life. I already have more of those than I can count.”

I thought, “Preach it, sister!”

Self-improvement books are burdensome. Because somewhere deep inside I know the truth: I can’t improve myself.

I have books stacked on my bay window, books lining the shelves in our basement, books piled on my nightstand, books overflowing onto the floor and books creeping under my bed…oh yeah, and books on my Kindle. And while some of them are fiction and poetry and science geeky kind of stuff, a whole lot of them are “how to live the good Christian life” books.

Which is interesting, because I’ve never liked how-to-be-a-better-kind-of-anything books. Actually, I may be the only parent in the history of modern parenting that hasn’t read a book on how to be a better parent. (“Ah, that explains it,” you remark to yourself. I can hear you!)

Despite my disdain for such books, they’ve still found their way into my home, like sugar ants crawling over the countertops in the springtime.

Photo by kshelton CC0 1.0 Universal
Photo by kshelton CC0 1.0 Universal

Sure, books like that can be helpful. Sometimes. But I can only think of two or three that have genuinely impacted my life. (Admittedly, my avoidance of such books may affect the odds.) Most of the time self-improvement books, even the Christian kind, wear me out. With every turn of the page, every latest idea, next step or new plan, I feel a heaviness descend upon me, and I am weighed down by could-haves and should-haves and have-tos and want-tos and before I know it I’m carrying 10 times the weight of the book on my back.

Books weigh a lot – just try moving a box of them – but self-improvement books are burdensome. Because somewhere deep inside I know the truth: I can’t improve myself.

None of us can. We can’t fix the brokenness we inherited nor mend the brokenness we cause. That’s why we need Jesus. Yesterday. Today. Every day.

I know there’s some verses out there on this topic…let’s see:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain…Psalm 127:1

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:27-28

Sadly, many self-improvement books are just instructions on how to whitewash ourselves. No wonder they’re burdensome! Any attempt at righteousness is more than we can bear.

I felt not only burdened but trapped, caught in the sticky web of do this and be that.

I can’t fix myself. I can’t improve myself. And I can’t even pretend very well. Because deep inside, I know…I know what’s deep inside. I know what I’ve done and I know how I think and I know what I fear and I know what I hate and I know that sooner or later, I’m going to screw up again. (And chances are it’ll be sooner.)

I’m not saying that every “how to have a good Christian life” book is worthless or that you should never read them. But if my friend feels this way and I feel this way, well, chances are that some of you feel this way too.

Last week, after reading my friend’s email, I realized just how much this self-improvement mentality was once again weighing me down. I felt not only burdened but trapped, caught in the sticky web of do this and be that. And I wasn’t even in the middle of a self-improvement book.

What does that tell you?

This self-improvement/life-improvement mentality pervades our atmosphere. It’s runs through the veins of our culture. There’s almost no escaping the madness. And yet there’s a way. There’s always a Way. Which leads me to my next point: self-improvement mentality keeps my focus on me and off of Jesus. And “me” is a small, murky, unpredictable place to be.

So while I’m not suggesting you throw out all those books, I do encourage you to throw off the weight of self-improvement, or life-improvement or whatever you call it. Just let it go. (Oh gosh, now I’ll be singing that song all night – by the way, a post on that movie is in the works.)

Now where were we…yes, let it go. No! Not the surrender to your curse and harm the whole kingdom kind of let it go! Let it go like surrender to God let it go. (Geez, I really need to finish that blog post.) Whoops! Went off the rails there a bit. But seriously….

Surrender to Him your feeble attempts at making yourself better, making your life better. Lay it all down. Again. But not because I say so. After all, this is NOT a self-improvement blog. In case the previous two paragraphs weren’t evidence enough of my questionable methods, let me just say it outright: I can’t make you better. I just happen to know Someone who can, Someone who will. Which is why I write a drive-my-readers-into-the-arms-of-God kind of blog, and hopefully make you smile while doing it. (Contrary to what you may think, my goal is not to drive you into His arms screaming and crying…but hey…if it works…)

So go to the Source. Surrender to Jesus because that’s what He says to do…over and over and over again. (Psalm 46:10Mat. 11:28-30, Prov. 3:5-6Ps. 37:7, Mark 14:35-36, Jer. 10:23)

And feel Him slip the burden off your back and free you from the tangled web of lies and wash you clean. Let Him hold you in his arms and quiet you with his love and rejoice over you with singing. (Zeph. 3:17) And let His song heal you. He’s the only one who can.

Unashamed Love

Family Photo of Kenny
Family Photo of Kenny

I believe that for most little girls, their first love is Daddy. I hardly remember my dad at all, much less loving the man. But my first stepfather, Kenny, I loved him. While it was a tentative and guarded love, made all the more so by his long illness, when he died my twelve year old heart broke in ways and places I didn’t know existed. Today, February 13, is Kenny’s birthday and, as always, that kind, gentle, funny man is loved and missed.

Love for me has never come easily and so I struggled with this week’s Writing Challenge, My Funny Valentine. Then I remembered a story and thought that maybe, maybe, this little window into the warping and twisting of love in the hearts of children, might somehow, some way, help set you free too.

As a little girl, I always had an older me inside – one who saw and understood things that my unripened vocabulary couldn’t express. Instead, I felt everything, like wordless impressions stamped deep into the soft clay of a sensitive heart. With no Living Water to keep my heart tender and pliable, to fill the valleys and smooth the mountain peaks, I formed my own truth, my own tilted view of life and love and people.

In today’s memory, I am about five years old: I tiptoed from my bedroom up the dark hallway and into the kitchen. Staying close to the wall and probably more conspicuous than I believed, I peeked around the corner and into the living room. He wasn’t there yet. Kenny. He and my mom were dating at the time and they’d recently broken up. I didn’t know what they’d fought about or why he’d left. But the murmured words of adults drifting back and forth above my head hinted of his return. An anxious hopefulness practically oozed from the walls. Everybody loved Kenny.

Anticipation wiggled its way throughout my small body, so I invented a game for the waiting. I’d walk from my bedroom up the short hall toward the living room, one slow, careful step at a time, wondering with each press of the foot: is he here? My hopes would rise with my heartbeat as I edged nearer the light of the living room archway. Once there, I’d quickly pop my head around the doorframe and….nope. Not yet. Deflated, I’d turn around, shuffle back to my room and do it all over again. And again. And again. Slower with each pass. Each time hoping that would be the time I’d find him coming through the front door.

Family Photo of Kenny and... maybe that's me in the picture and maybe it isn't. I confess to nothing.
Family Photo of Kenny and… maybe that’s me in the picture and maybe it isn’t. I confess to nothing.

I don’t know what I expected. A celebration? Handshakes and hugs all around? But for all my anticipation, when Kenny finally arrived, nothing exciting happened at all. No one rejoiced. No one gave him a hug or said, “Hey, welcome back!” He just came in silently, sat down on the couch and stared at the TV along with my mom and grandparents. Nothing but nods and awkward “hellos” and silence in front of the television.

So this is how we do it? I mused. Pretend nothing’s happened?

Obviously doing what I wanted most – to jump in his lap and throw my arms around his neck – would be scandalously out of place. And so I pretended. I played along. I became an Actress.

But, refusing to be ignored and refusing to ignore, I did what any self-respecting five year old would do: I picked up a throw pillow and…well…threw it at Kenny. He was, after all, my playmate and my friend. This was our ‘normal.’ We tossed the pillow back and forth. I laughed and he smiled. Kenny was a quiet, subtle guy and his smile told me we were good. Reconciliation by pillow fight.

Yet some part of me wanted more. An invitation to sit with him on the couch? A hug? Words of assurance? For the first time, I became conscious of the fact that I wanted his love and acceptance. Needed it, even. But needing is dangerous. No one likes a needy child. And what happens when what we need becomes something we can’t have?

My stomach filled with a strange, hollow-heavy, sick feeling. Embarrassment, rejection, nakedness of soul, fear of punishment, a desire to hide all wrapped in one little lead ball behind my belly button.

I was Needy and I was Ashamed. Ashamed of needing, of wanting, of loving. Afraid of being unlovable. Hadn’t my own father been unable to love me? Ashamed of being me.

…………………

30 some odd years later, I sit, head bowed, eyes closed, in a dimly lit church. I sing the words “Worthy….You are worthy…of a childlike faith and of my honest praise and of my unashamed love…of a holy life and of my sacrifice and of my unashamed love…”

And I think, as I always do when singing this song, of loving Jesus unashamedly – boldly, without worrying what others think, without hiding my Bible at the doctor’s office or avoiding talking about God outside of church.

But then God brings me a precious jewel…the memory of that day with Kenny…and as I sing the words that wash over me, He turns the glistening gem around in His hand to show me another facet of love…

of my unashamed love….love without fear, or embarrassment. Love that doesn’t act or pretend to be self-sufficient. There is no shame in needing love – there is no shame in needing God. That is who we are. Who I am. Needy for the Lord and his Love.

of my unashamed love…love that doesn’t fear punishment or rejection. Love that trusts in the Father who supplies all our needs. I am Safe.

of my unashamed love…love that runs into her Father’s embrace and throws her arms around His neck. Love that is free from falsehood. I am Real.

Full and light is the feeling that soars into my soul and lifts upon its wings the hollow-heaviness of shame and carries it away…eternally away. And my belly warms with acceptance and tender hands upon my face and eyes that see me fully and a smile of adoration…for me. And I am Loved.

UNASHAMED LOVE by Jason Morant

Escape Not Allowed At This Point

The other night my daughter showed me a social media meme of a computer screenshot with a dialogue box and the words “Escape is not allowed at this point.”

20140203-090953.jpg

I scoffed and then whined, “That’s exactly how I feel!”

Truth be told, I feel that way a lot. I mean, somedays I just want to claw my way out of my own skin…shed this body that holds me prisoner. But blinking in my mind’s eye is this annoying little neon reminder “Escape not allowed at this point.”

For the last six or seven weeks, I’ve been experiencing an as of yet unexplained bout of relentless heart palpitations…what the doc calls a “benign” (though, I say, hardly normal) irregular heartbeat. If you’re wondering what that feels like, imagine having the hiccups all day, every day, for a month and a half. Fun, right? So yeah, it’s driving me crazy! And while I’ve had a bunch of cardio tests, the only current recommendations are some heavy hitting drugs – you know the kind with television ads that show people running through fields of grass, smiling, while the soft spoken, monotone voiceover tells you of certain possible side effects such as dizziness, headache, rash, amnesia, hair loss, fingernail loss, tooth loss, the inability to sleep…or stay awake….and death. (Now tell me, since when is death a “side effect”? If you ask me, there’s nothing “side” about it.)

Anyway, I have a great primary care APRN who has recommended a specialist that can fit me in, oh, sometime next year…ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but after a direct call by my APRN to the specialist, they’ve worked me into their calendar in mid-February. Which, based on recent calculations, is about 138,240 palpitations from now.

“Escape not allowed at this point.”

Friday, I got to talk on the phone with my dear sister-in-law, Anne, (who is currently living the pioneer life in Vermont). At one point, I asked her how she’s doing spiritually. I won’t tell you what she said….that wouldn’t be very friend-like. But I will share what she shared with me and the world on her blog…in a sec…

First, here’s a timeline refresher:
I feel monumentally frustrated.
I talk to Anne and happen to ask her how she’s doing spiritually.
That night my daughter shows me the “escape not allowed” pic.

OK, got that? So then, the next morning I open Anne’s new blog post, which is an update on the pioneer life and her thoughts in response to my question “How are you doing spiritually?” After lots of fun updates she starts to talk spiritual and when I get to her main point, I nearly fall out of bed: she writes “You can’t escape God.”

You can’t escape God.

Now remember, she didn’t write this message specifically for me. It was simply a summation of her recent experiences with God, shared with her friends, family and blog readers. And yet, God spoke directly to me through her. (Love it when He does that.) As a result, I was reminded that while I can’t escape myself, my skin, my problems, I also can’t escape God. And isn’t that the better truth? The best truth?

I don’t so much need to get away from my problems as I need to get into God. In fact, running from my problems is akin to running from Him, because God doesn’t exist apart from reality. He is reality and any attempts on my part to escape reality put me, at least mentally, further away from God.

I believe, and my experience has been, that God manifests himself in my life most powerfully when I live in reality, accepting my circumstances and inviting God to work in and through them rather than looking for a way out. I guess I just needed a reminder. Thanks God…and Anne.

Immanuel, God With Us, doesn’t promise to take away all our earthly trials but he does promise to be with us in them, always, even to the end of the age.

Escape is not allowed at this point.

But peace is.

Hope is.

Love is.

Joy is.

God is.

Not Quite Lunch Poems 1 & 2

I WANT….

VINES AND ROSES
I want to write beauty
Words that wrap and wind around each other
Like vines and roses
Strong and rich
Living and breathing out air heavy with the fragrance of mystery
Yet light enough to ride along a breeze

STORYTELLERS
I want to tell a story
Not mine but Another’s
Already written yet still being told
This story lives
And I live inside its words – because of its words
They are written on my arms, across my face
Upon my beating heart, drifting on the wind that leaves my lungs
Words unrecognizable
Symbols and signs from another time, another place
Perhaps never spoken but by One
And yet they speak of me
Of you, of all
They are every story
And the only story
One that was and is and will be told
Wont you tell me?
And I will tell you…

Written in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge
Not exactly written at lunchtime but kept to a limited time without overthinking.

The Day I was Done with God

Some days – far more often than I would like to admit – I feel like God has pulled the rug out from under my feet. Or better yet, that I am Charlie Brown and God is Lucy, who’s just swiped the football away from me, again. I try and try and try and no matter what, I miss, I fail, I fall. And there I am, lying flat on my back, staring up at the sky shouting, “Really? Really?!!”

Oooohhh, can I get angry. I mean the breaking-things kind of angry. On my worst days, you can find me shaking my mental fist at God, silent screams reverberating in my gut, “I am doing my best here, God! I am trying! Why…do…you…keep…making…this…so…impossible?! Do you want me to fail?!”

But on the very worst day, I spat out something pretty much exactly like this: “You know what, God? That’s it. I’m done with You.”

Photo by J.Perreault. Used with permission.
Photo by J.Perreault. Used with permission.

Yes, I actually said that. (I shudder every time I tell this story.) And there’s more….

“You and me, God. We’re done. I’ve had it. I’m sick of you bailing on me, on my kids, on my family. So that’s it. No more. No more quiet times. No more prayer. No more me relying on you for anything. We. Are. Done.”

It’s awful, I know. Horrible, dreadful, treacherous. What was I thinking?! Well…I wasn’t.

In mother terminology, I was what we call OUTOFCONTROL. And I knew it. But that’s the thing with being OUTOFCONTROL, you can’t really help yourself.

I immediately braced for the death blow. Any second I would be struck by lightning…or hit by a bus, at least. I mean, you don’t say things like that and get away with it. In more mother terminology, I was cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and the cruise was over. Somebody get the wooden spoon, already!

Well, a few minutes later, still alive and breathing, I realized that my new plan actually had some practical implications. At the time, I was leading a women’s Bible study and co-directing a kids program at church. Oh yeah, kids! What about my kids?! I quickly determined that I would put up a good front; I would take the kids to church and perform all my nice, Christian duties. I would “pretend.” I would “play Christian.”

And so I did. I went on. I went on asking nothing from God. Giving nothing to God. Expecting nothing good because I deserved the worst. And surely the worst would come.

Several days passed without any catastrophic acts of divine retribution and I suddenly understood that such a fate could hardly be God’s worst. No. His worst wouldn’t be a bolt of lightning. His worst would be to just leave. And so I waited for Him to leave – for Him to leave me ALONE.

And so I waited for Him to leave – for Him to leave me ALONE.

What would it be like, I wondered? Would I know He was gone? Would my mind and soul, once awash in Light, suddenly go dark? Would my heart, once warmed by His ever-presence, turn cold and barren? Surely life without Him must be like life without air.

The days turned into weeks and still I waited.

Raging waters from angry clouds beat violently upon the earth, overflowing banks and uprooting trees. But after the storm squeezes dry the clouds and the wind runs out of breath, the waters begin to slow. Smoothing out and away, moving almost imperceptibly, they find their way home, around rocks and through mountains, over fields and through the rush, back into the lap of the ocean.

So too, riven lovers find themselves pulled again, as if by lodestone, into that familiar embrace.

And even the rebellious, petulant child, once again finds her little arms wrapped around her daddy’s neck, though his strong arms do the holding.

And so weeks later, to my own surprise, I found myself resting quietly in the lap of my heavenly Father. Perhaps because my own father left me so easily – and more than once, too – I wondered at the strangeness of this God who stayed even in the face of my betrayal.

Then He answered the question I dared not ask:

“You see, Nichole, you were done with Me, but I am not done with you.”

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust…but from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him…Praise the LORD, O my soul! Psalm 103

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