Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Watching Darkness Fall (Or How to Unwind and not Unravel)

We're standing in the parking lot, both tired at the end of a long day.  It's colder than it was when I left my jacket in the car, but that's not why I wrap my arms around myself so tightly.  I rub a knot in my shoulder.  I feel like I'm about to unravel, so I keep myself wound up tight.  I feel like I'm about to lose my grip, so everything in me clutches tighter.  And there is this battle raging inside.  I want to be sensitive.  I want to love lavishly and take risks and exude grace and See everything before me - God in the moments and the faces I'm facing.  But this is the third time in four months that a significant relationship has left me gasping for air.  My world blurs wet and wild, and I am just so tired of pain!

Our words wander from there, swirling on the breeze.  My weary heart is reaching, grasping, hoping to catch something, then comes the Knowing, the Whisper - grasping is never the answer.  We talk far longer than we intended and as we part ways, her words challenge me.  "What is it that fills and refreshes your soul?  And can you go and do that?"  She's asked that question before, but I've forgotten the answer.  I am determined to find it again.  A few minutes later I climb the stairs and pull out my keys.  I stop.  I can't go in.  Not yet.  Learning my head against the wall, I gaze west. The sky is fading to black, but not without one final blaze of glory.  I had forgotten how sunsets always remind me how to breathe.  I'll just stay here for a little bit.  I think it to myself, and exhale, the weight beginning to lift.  And I've found it right here.  Feeding the soul is like opening a door.

The words come in a rush.  I whisper thanks.  I plead forgiveness.  I confess my failure and my pride.  I bow my stiff neck. I hold nothing back.  I need to feel it again.  I need to feel loved.  This is my manna.  This is my daily bread.  His whisper that I am His Beloved.  Darkness falls, and I soak in beauty.  And I realize that in all my counting of gifts, in all my hunting for grace, I had forgotten what is most important.  I had forgotten how I need to translate this language, translate what all this grace and beauty is really saying - I.  Love.  You.  It's there.  He's writing it on the sky, singing it in the breeze, all that I need.  Will I feel it?

This Love, it to pulls me deeper.  Clarity coming with the falling darkness.  Sweet paradox of Grace.  And I have been shown such grace.  He offers me His hand, and He calls me out.  I can see it now.  How He has given me a place to put the pain.  How I don't need to brush it off, or shove it down.  He's given me a place to rest.  And the reflex reaction to pain is to clench the fists and hold the breath and fight back.  And the question is:  Do I trust God enough to exhale and open the hands and be still so He can fight for me, instead of me fighting the suffering?  Do I trust God enough to stop fighting the pain?  I will never understand why it is so much easier to clench the fists than to breathe grace, and release the pain, but I finally do it.  I breathe deep and open each wound and I give. it. over.  I take the weight of it all off my own prideful shoulders, and I place it on my wounded, crucified Savior.  And I plead forgiveness.  And I wait for resurrection.

The sky is all velvet black now.  I go inside.  In the darkness, I am covered, and I can rest.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

In the Very Center - A New Picture of Trust

I knew from the moment she said she had written a letter that nothing but pain would follow.  I purposely sit facing that wall as I read, the wall where I had nailed my one word: TRUST.  Words from the gospel of John surround it.  One catches my eye.  "The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."  Oh, but I do feel quite overcome.  The pixels cut so deep.  I try to breathe through the pain, through the questions, through the anger.  And as it all rises, like a storm, like waves, pick your metaphor, I reach for my Bible.  I need the Word in my hands, something to steady me, as her words strike blow after blow.  I'm not the only one who has ever felt this way.  Her words are not the only piercing, breaking, wounding in this world.

All of us, we need some miraculous healing, and it's not coming.  I feel helpless, and I carry it like a weight for a week or more.  I can feel it in my shoulders, the tight jaw, the clenched fists.  Mostly I feel it in the way the tears are always close to the surface.  How hard it is to smile, to think straight, to keep my own sharp words at bay.  There's the ranting, the wrestling, the trying to reason, and I'm getting nowhere.  

"There's so many things I say.  So many things I preach.  And I want to believe... I just can't!  And that's the hardest, most painful part... I have no hope."

I exhale after that admission, like I've finally found the release valve.  She looks at me, and I think how we all need friends like her, "You know, often..." She trails off, searching, making sure they are the right words, the truest words. "Yes.  Often your hope is in you and your ability to do something to fix things and to have the answers. Your hope is not actually in God.  Your trust is not actually in God."  

I feel like I have no hope because I have no answers, no idea what to do to fix things and my hope is usually dependent on that, rather than on God.  Sometimes the truth is hard to face, and that's why Jesus came in both Truth and Grace.  Because the Truth is I often fail miserably at walking by faith.  But the Grace is that God knows that, and that's why He's called me into this journey of TRUST.  It's not Him pointing out my failures.  It's Him inviting me to walk with Him on a journey that will transform and change and set me free.  I exhale.

The next day, I'm rehearsing the story, yet again to another one of those friends everyone should have, adding in this most recent revelation. I say it, more for myself than for her.  "Maybe I just need to stop, take a step back, and surrender.  Maybe I need to just lay it all down.  Maybe that's what trust actually is."  

She smiles gently, "Ah yes.  Rest.  That's all I would want for you, all He would want for you.  Just rest."        

And all that to say this... That's why when that author posts this picture on her blog, my breath catches and I want to reach out and grab it, like it's grabbed my heart.  This little girl takes the chalk and draws a picture of her mother, then removes the shoes and curls up right in the very center of her, ear against her heart.  And I know she's right and it's all I want.  This is how to live when life just hurts.  

When life hits you so hard you find yourself curled up in tears in the fetal position, you can also find yourself in the very center of Him.  I see the little girl surrounded by the lines she drew, and it's me drawing circles around what I really believe, around the Father's beating heart, and pressing into it, pain and tears and all.  And it's the Father's arms, encircling me, surrounding me, as the mountains surround Jerusalem.  And can I finally just allow myself, just for a moment, for as many moments, as many days as I need, to pull the knees into the chest and lay myself all down right in the very center of Him and let Him surround me?  

It's a new picture of trust.  Not the clinging to the rope and holding on for dear life, but Him holding me.  Him holding me as I curl up, whispering until I can uncurl, "Fear not.  Fear not.  I am here, and I will not let any of you go.  I see you.  I know your pain.  I will not leave you in it."  Trust.

Monday, January 13, 2014

He Knows and He Sees - The Secret to Standing When Your World is Shaking

I forget, and all too easily, the things I always tell my kids to remember.  Like "You are learning.  I don't expect you to know this or get it right.  That's why we're here!  All I ask is that you don't give up."  But then I look at my life and this first week of the new year, first steps of a journey with trust, and I already feel like a failure.

And I long for it deep - this continual coming of Christ in my life, this constant Light shining.  And I don't want to miss it! I don't want to walk with the clenched fists and tight jaw saying, "No, God."  And we sing it at church: "Let us become more aware of your presence.  Let us experience the glory of your goodness.  Holy Spirit you are welcome here..."  And after the way my year started, I know what a dangerous prayer that can actually be.  

As we talk over brunch, it is clear - I am experiencing the glory of His goodness, and it is beautiful.  But it is not without pain.  That confuses me in a way.  But then I read John's words - preparing a way for the Lord.  So I flip back to Isaiah with Handel's Messiah playing in my head and I think, "It's earth-shattering!"  Valleys raised up and mountains laid low and rough ground made level.  This will rock your entire world and leave you feeling shaken, at least.  And this is the making a way for Jesus!

And yes, the ground beneath me and around me shakes, but He is good and I can stand and it's there at the end of chapter 1.  Jesus says to Nathanael, "I saw you while you   were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." And I gawk at the thought of it.  Jesus saw him before he was called.  Jesus saw him.  He took notice of him.  And maybe that's the real miracle of it all.  And yeah, when the Son of God says He knows me because He sees me, it does lead me to believe, to stand firm while the world shakes and say, "Come Lord.  You are truly welcome here.  Have your way in me."  And Jesus said it to Nathanael, and He says it to me and to you as well, "You believe because I saw you when you were still sitting under the [fill in the blank.  Bondage of anxiety?  Depression? Fear? Idolatry of comfort? Self-doubt? Self-sufficiency?  Self-righteousness? Fig trees come in all shapes, like baggage.]  You shall see greater things than this."  Oh, how I love that!  I saw you when you were a mess and I called you... and as if that wasn't miracle enough, you'll see greater things than this.

It's like my voice teacher used to say... There's more!  More love.  More faithfulness.  More goodness.  More grace.  More than I could ask or imagine.  He sees and He knows and I can stand through it all.  No fear.  All trust.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Five Minute Friday - See


I whisper it out loud to myself, as I stand from the computer.  Why are you leaning in so close?  And then I laugh.  Yes, because I'm talking to myself in an empty classroom, but also because there is deep truth right there waiting for me.  I'm leaning in close because I'm bone weary and I need to see.

No, I can't seem to see straight these days, because the pain is all too real.  Her words cut deep and I know mine did too and well that just makes me feel like a failure.  And when God told me that 2014 would be the year to trust I didn't know the learning curve would be quite this steep.  Because when the ones you love are hurting, and hurting you, and there's nothing you can do, and you really just don't know, it's hard to tell which way is up.

And so it is that: I have to lean in close to see.  And God said it to me clear that day, "Press into me child.  I want you.  I love you.  Press into me."  And then it was clear that trust is the very pressing into God and the opening up to adventure.  The unclenching of the fists to receive grace and give grace.  And I have to lean in close to hear the beating of His heart because the war drums are about to right drown it out.  I have to lean close to hear the whispered words of love because my words aren't always love and neither are hers and neither are the ones in my head.  I have to lean in close.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

10 Things to do After a Break Up (or Any Other Heart Break)

There's this feeling you get when a relationship ends.  It's somewhere between being spun around in circles and being on one of those tower drop rides, except not quite as exhilarating. You feel completely disoriented and unstable and you can't really figure out what to do next.  At least that was my experience the night he looked at me and said, "I can't do this anymore."  It's true that hope deferred makes the heart sick, and loss is right painful.  And you know I'm not just talking about dating.  So I've been asking myself this question for the last few days: What do I do with my heart break?   Some humble ideas...

1. Let yourself cry
The biggest mistake I've ever made in dealing with heart break has been to hold back the tears.  I don't know who got us thinking that strong people don't cry.  What a lie!  Tears are not a sign of weakness; they are a sign of our humanity.  Last I checked, God intentionally created human beings, not robots or another host of angels, and we have a pretty special place in His heart.  He gave us emotions, and He gave us tears as an outlet for those emotions.  What's more, the Psalmist says He puts our tears in a bottle and writes all our angst and pain in His book.  So yeah, deal with powerful emotions the way God intended - go ahead and cry.

2. Give thanks
Eucharisteo - this trinity of grace, joy, and thanksgiving - always precedes the miracle.  So even as you are grieving your loss, take the time to write down all that you are thankful for about that relationship.  Thank God for the joy-filled moments, for the way that you shaped and encouraged each other.  Thank Him even for the pain, because these moments when you can't see how you'll get to the other side?  These are the bridge-building moments, the ones where you learn Who can be counted on.  We walk the planks step by weak step, bathe them in our tears and find, in the midst of it all, HE HOLDS.  Give thanks!  All is grace because all is being redeemed by a good God who is madly in love with you.

3. David lament, but don't Israelite complain
To give thanks does not mean to pretend it doesn't hurt, or that you are happy it happened.  I've made that mistake, too.  Don't lie to yourself about your pain.  It will only cause you more.  Instead, feel free to lament.  Express your sadness.  Declare what you feel is wrong.  But do so the way David did, with a heart rooted in the goodness of God.  Be sad, get angry, ask questions, but do so believing that Sovereign God loves you and can be trusted.  Don't join the Israelites in their distrust and ingratitude.  That's how you miss the Promised Land.

4. The best way out of the dark is to be the light for someone else
Pain can get us all wrapped up in ourselves, and that is a surefire way to get stuck in the pit.  Once you have taken the time to lament, begin looking for ways to step outside yourself. Ask God to open your eyes to how you can be an encouragement and support to those around you.  Take flowers to a neighbor.  Offer to babysit for a couple's date night.  Call an old friend or mentor and let them know how much they mean to you.  Cook dinner for some friends. Be the light for someone else and find your world getting a little brighter.

5.  Refuse to speak ill of the other person
It is always tempting after being hurt to call up the girlfriends and bash the other person.  Make the choice not to.  No one deserves grace, and everyone needs it.  Choose the path of grace and mercy, which leads to freedom in forgiveness.  To tear down the other person is to build yourself a prison of bitterness and resentment.  Be careful with the words you speak when you're in pain.

6. Cling to the cross
Loss can leave us feeling right spun around and unstable, but the Cross is always your true source of stability.  Cling to it.  Let it shout across time and history how deeply loved you are.  Let it remind you that God found you worth saving.  Let it show you that even the darkest instrument of death can be turned into a symbol of hope and victory.  Let it fix your eyes on Jesus, and in the midst of all your questions let it lead you to the one question that roots you down deep: "He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us ALL THINGS?"  (Rom. 8:32)

7. Write stuff down... then chuck it.
Inevitably, after two people part ways you will wrestle with unanswered questions, a sense of regret, or all those things you wish you would have said.  Write it down.  There is something in the flow of ink that gets the blood flowing again, something in getting the words out that really sets you free.  Write it all down, pray the redeeming blood of Jesus over it, lay it at the throne of grace, and then throw it away.

8. Take care of yourself
In all your sadness, don't forget to take care of yourself.  It can be so tempting to give up and stop caring when you are struggling with a sense of rejection.  In the midst of your pain, remember who you are.  You are the Beloved of God.  Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  You are blessed, accepted, adopted, chosen, favored, forgiven, and redeemed (Ephesians 1:3-14).  You are clothed in strength and dignity (Proverbs 31:25).  As you process through the heart ache, make sure you are making healthy choices physically, emotionally, and mentally.

9. Keep your heart open
When we have had our heart broken, the greatest temptation is to close it in to protect ourselves from getting hurt again.  We want to try to hold it together, but the truth is that Jesus runs to the broken.  As hard as it can be, keep your broken heart open and exposed before God so you might be healed.  Pray that, even though you got burned, you would continue to love brave and dream wild.  Don't let the pain make you hard of heart.

10. Sing out loud
Ann Voskamp said it... that when it is hardest, that is when we need to sing the loudest, because the devil flees at a hymn.  So that's what I'm doing these days - I'm singing this one loud.  

Because it's not so much about the end of us as it is about the fear crouching at my door that I will remain alone.  But really, that's satan-speak for "God isn't good enough to provide."  I refuse to partner with satan.  So yeah, when you're scared and you don't really know what to do next or when the pain will go away, find your song and sing it loud. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The One Word for the New Year - Trust 2014

So I'm sitting there just breathing the silence before those hundred voices and two hundred feet come trampling in and out again for the afternoon.  I'm thinking about stretching at Christmas, the end of comfort and the coming of Emmanuel, and the indwelling of Christ in me.  I'm thinking about him and about us and how our relationship is drawing it all to the surface... that crying out of never enough time.  Never enough space on the calendar.  Never enough room to breathe.  Never enough.  And how do we nurture and cultivate relationship when we're scraping the bottom?

There is this Promise on the horizon, this stirring in my heart for all that Life holds.  I don't know exactly what it looks like, but I can see it, sense it in the distance, this rich Beauty.  There are actual dreams of the future, yes, but it's more than that (and isn't it always?).  It is dreams of Redemption, Restoration, Healing, Abundant Life, Peace, Forgiveness, Mercy, and that ever so amazing Grace.  Yeah, it's dreams of all that a Savior brings and makes possible, and of walking in that consistently.  And it's really more than a dream... It's a need, entering into the broken places and making things right.  And I believe, but as I struggle to come up for air, I find myself asking with Mary, "How will this be?"  Because from where I am standing, from this current season in life, there are some things that just don't quite seem possible.  "The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it."  Whatever the "it" is, God will accomplish... but, in all of the expectancy and hope of all that is coming, can I just ask you how?

And it comes out in words.  A series of texts full of all I would never say out loud, or a conversation in the waiting room riding a cloud of sheer emotion like ashes on smoke.  The words are out and they can't be taken back and in the reflection I see my own heart and how I've started to -

Grip fear more than I grip Hope...
Grasp for answers to the how more than I grasp the Truth...
Cling to anger more than I cling to the Cross...
Get more wrapped up in fairy tales and ideals (idols!) than in His Everlasting Arms...
Bend the knees in a lunge for control instead of in Surrender...
Care more about the shadows of a vision than I do about being overshadowed by the power of His Presence.

And how have I so lost sight of the beauty of it all?  Of the joy and the gift?  How did I get swept away?  There are dreams.  There are desires.  There are even needs.  But there is also One who knows better and greater and more, who loves deeper and truer and stronger.  And it's like the eyes are opening again.

How appropriate it is that we usher in a new year so close after we celebrate the coming of our Lord!  To continue in the spirit of hope and expectancy into something new. We'll put the tree away today and the nativity back in the box and look to the future.  Some will make a list of resolutions, but me?  I'm choosing a single word for 2014.  One word to reflect on, a lens through which I can view life.

And the word is not how.  The word is not when.  The word is not what if.  The word is not move or forward.  The word is not even hope or peace.

The word is trust.  Trust.

Because trust points to the Word and the wonder of Him, of God come down.  Trust drives me to adoration and adoration is the answer to anxiety.  Trust says "give thanks."  Trust says "exhale."  Trust says "let go... give it over."  Trust releases me and all those around me from expectation and performance, from impatience and worry and the lunge for control.  Trust is the pressing into God, and the pressing into God opens the door wide to adventure, and opens the hands to receive all that a Savior brings. 

So it is - Trust 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Only an Ice Prison - Why the darkness is just not that strong.

It came gradually.  More gentle drizzle than downpour.  Beautiful to watch, really.  Problem was... it was so cold, and before we knew it, that gentle mist had coated our world in sheets of ice.  And suddenly, without us even noticing, those everyday roads we travel and paths we walk?  Danger zones.  Traffic slows to a crawl or goes spinning off into ditches (take your pick).  School is canceled.  We are stuck.  A full weekend stuck in our apartment.  And maybe if Texans knew about proper shoes and salting roads and chains on tires and not using the brakes this wouldn't ring true, but we don't, so the ice imprisons us.

And yeah, it really is like bondage, like pain and brokenness, like hopelessness.  It creeps in slow and coats cold and hard until you are stuck.  Just stuck.  And we find ways to cope.  Curl up on the couch under a blanket.  Crank up the heat.  But there is only so much Netflix you can watch before you really want out.  We long for freedom.  We can try to get comfortable, but at the end of the day it's freedom we want.  It's freedom we need.

And as I'm driving home from work today I can see only glimpses of the ice-bondage that was.  Just a few slippery patches left in the shadows, but for the most part life is back to normal.  And I'm finding the Truth of Advent.  Pain, bondage, danger, these are all too real.  There is an enemy whose aim is to destroy us all.  But it is only an ice prison.  Strong enough to hold and cold enough to sting, yes.  But Light comes down and breaks through and the cold cannot stand and the ice must melt and the darkness must flee before the One who came to save.  

And I know.  I know in the middle of it all it seems trite to say pain and bondage will just melt away.  But listen to the deeper heartbeat of Truth and find rest: the pain is real enough to bind you up and knock you down and wrap its cold hands hard around the throat of Hope leaving you gasping for air.  But God (those two miraculous words) sent the Son and the Light and He's real enough.  Real as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  Real enough for you to hold, and to hold you close and pick you up and melt the grip of pain to restore your Hope and heal your heart.  

It is a profound truth that, slowly but surely, pain melts into memory and the Son lives eternally.  The darkness is real, but it's really not that strong.  They are only ice prisons.  Lord, help our unbelief.