Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Is this really my life?

I've been quiet here for awhile, writing mostly in my private journal or just letting my thoughts turn over and over inside my mind before they come out in quiet conversation with my husband or closest friends... But I miss this space so much. Sometimes fear holds me back from sharing, from being vulnerable or honest on this type of more public platform. Fear of man... fear of being misunderstood, fear of being judged. Fear that people with no context for what I'm going through right now will make assumptions and judgments that only hurt me more. (Truly almost no one knows the scope of the multiple situations that all exist simultaneously in my life right now.) Or the biggest fear... that people will misread or misjudge my character. But when something really stirs on my heart I don't want fear to keep me back from what I'm called to. And I've seen over and over again that when I share (or when others share) from a place of vulnerability, it brings connection and hope. I see the beautiful souls of other people walking their own roads of heartbreak and pain and suffering, trauma or tragedy, but with the common thread of finding something good in the ashes. Coming together in brokenness to find healing. To find growth. To find community and freedom and to see the bigger picture that God is working in us all. Watching beauty slowly unfold itself in the midst of the mess, watching joy come in the morning. I see the souls of people who have walked these kinds of roads in the past and have come out on the other side already, standing up and cheering us on, or holding out their hands to offer hope even while we're still in the midst of the valley. And if I focus on that the fear slowly recedes, and the courage to share begins to surface. Because I don't write for my critics. I write for my comrades.

So with that said.... here I go.

Sometimes there's a wrestling match that takes place in the human heart. It's born out of a deep tenacity and pre-disposition to fight for control in a sometimes uncontrollable world. Sometimes situations and circumstances beyond anything within our power to change or predict or mold with our own two hands come into our lives, and our microscopic humanity becomes painfully visible to us. In these moments we wrestle. We ask questions. Why? What did I do to deserve this? What could I have done to prevent this? How do I move forward from here? Why can't this all just go away? It's natural to search for answers. It's natural to want to understand why something happened to you in the first place. The questions are normal. The push back to get some feeling of control over your own life is almost automatic. But it's also a place we can get stuck.

I have found myself here. Faced with decisions I'd rather not make. Faced with choices where none of them feel good. Faced with obligations I would never ever ask for. Situations that feel like lose-lose. Wrestling with God... asking Him why me? Asking Him what I did to deserve to be born into this situation. Asking Him why I can't just run away from it all, or why He can't just make it all go away. Feeling angry, broken, lost, confused... acting like my life is mine and feeling like this is all just so unfair. On my knees.... "Jesus, why have you given this to me???" Crying in the dark of night. Waves of panic attacks... Inability to control my breathing... fighting for my life to protect my heart and not let one more dagger pierce... feelings of rejection spiraling out of control... fighting not to let the walls come back up, forcing myself to stay open, to not become cynical... to just breath in, then breathe out... to calm down... to wait for the pain to subside... Can anyone relate?

It was at about this point in my desperate sad frustration and wrestling that God met me. And He asked me a question.....

"Why do you think your life is yours anyway?" 

Eyes open. Tears standing poised on the edge of my eyelids but not quite spilling over anymore. That wave of chills over taking my entire body. That fresh life breathed into my spirit. That voice. That beautiful voice of truth and clarity when all else is chaos. Why do I think my life is mine anyway? Really, why? ...... I might not be able to control the situations and circumstances that are taking place in my life. BUT I CAN CONTROL MY RESPONSES TO THEM. I might not get to choose all of the events that take place in my life. But I can walk them out in a way that builds my character, with integrity, that gives glory to Jesus. I might never have an answer for why I was born into something that I would have no choice but to face, but I can choose to become better for facing it.

Then the next question, I asked it to myself. What do I deserve anyway? ...... I am vapor, I am dust. Every single breath I take is a gift. If these situations are included in the life He gives me, so be it. I will bear them with honor. In Job's darkest days He was asking questions and wrestling too. Turns out God had some questions of His own. I can't even read this passage without the booming and thundering power of His holiness and majesty completely gripping my heart. He asks me these same questions:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone
 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?
 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?
 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,
 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?
 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment. The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken.
 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know all this.
 “What is the way to the abode of light?
    And where does darkness reside?
 Can you take them to their places?
    Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
 Surely you know, for you were already born!
    You have lived so many years!"

An eternal perspective will change your attitude in a heart beat. God doesn't condemn my wrestling, in fact, He invites it. He invites me to step in an grab hold of the impossible, the messy, the imperfect, the broken, and to embrace it and fight with it and to find the good in it. It's when I wrestle, ask the hard questions and cry out for the reasons and the answers that my humanity is met with His holiness. It's when my finite is met with His infinite. It's when He looks at me with His head slightly tilted and a gleam in His eye, and meets my tear stained, defiant gaze and says in that soft, loving, slightly teasing way, "Do you really think you know more than me?"

And that brings us full circle... Is this really my life? Maybe. And maybe not. My life is not my own. And yet the way I walk it out is fully my own. I believe the answer is this: Even though I don't have control, I still have choice. I can run from my situation, but that will not make it go away. Or I can embrace my situation, wrestle with it even, fully walk it out and make it a part of my story. And something beautiful might grow up in my heart because of it. That's what He promises us, after all.

It's ok to be the one who wrestles with my creator all through the night, til the dawn breaks and the sun begins to rise, and who shouts at the top of my lungs, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me!" Maybe I can walk away from that fight choosing not to focus on the limp, but choosing instead to focus on the fact that I have been marked by my maker, that I have wrestled with God and with humans, and have overcome. (Genesis 32:22-31)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

On finding hope when your heart is broken

I've spent a good part of my life praising Jesus from a field of sunshine. There were occasional storms that passed overhead, but most did not linger. I would have even told you during those storms that I thought I understood pain and heartbreak. But not nearly the way I do now.

My life and heart are broken wide open. The enormity of what I feel seems like it can't be contained inside my own body. It seems impossible that the human heart can handle this. There's so much jammed down inside exploding from within. Hence the brokenness. When your heart cannot handle the magnitude of the situation, it breaks. And all that is held within starts to pour through the cracks. It feels like living life outside my own capacity, outside my own body. It feels like I thought this would crush me into oblivion, but it broke me instead, and now my heart keeps beating and my body keeps functioning and the life flows out of me and I wonder how long it can go on for but there's just no end in sight to all that has been kept inside. Pain is an immeasurable substance. And the resilience of the human heart is a miracle. To be broken but not die? In the brokenness I have met Jesus again and He has proven Himself to me in ways I never knew Him before. His faithfulness, His love, His pursuit of me and His goodness. He is true. Always true. Always who He says He is. And in the midst of my brokenness I've found intimacy with my creator that I cannot describe. So much so that I wonder how I ever thought I was alive before this. The paradox. In the midst of something that feels like death, I've found life. Maybe true life doesn't come from whether my heart is beating or not, maybe it comes from relationship with the one who created my heart in the first place. Not just relationship, but the knowledge that He has held my beating heart from the beginning.

Things look and feel hopeless to me. But my hope does not come from the way things around me look. My hope is found in my miracle working God. And the fact that He promises to work all things for my good. And that He won't ever leave me or forsake me. Ever. My hope is not in man. Every single one of us has sinned and fallen short. We all have been hurt and caused hurt. My faith is not in man. My hope is in Jesus. He makes a way where there is no way. He has proven himself over and over again.

I am still standing in a field. And I am still praising Jesus. Only the torrential downpours are like none I've known, and the sunshine feels far, far away. What does it look like to sing in the sunshine? I remember it was sweet, it was beautiful, it was lovely and peaceful. But what does it look like to shout out the goodness of God at the top of your lungs in the midst of a hurricane, with your arms lifted high and the rain pounding your face and mixing with the tears pouring from your eyes?  What does it look like to proclaim with all your heart that God is good when your situation feels anything but good? What does it feel like to scream against the roar of the wind and the rain "I TRUST YOU GOD! YOU ARE FAITHFUL!" when your heart has been betrayed to the utmost by man?
Words fail to do justice to the power, the breathtaking juxtaposition of faith and hope in the face of pain and heartache, the strength found in surrender, the valiant battle cry that arises from within when you are broken wide open and the only place left to go is TRUST. The resilience and strength and fire and fight that is found inside when you are broken open and the life is spilling out with the rain. And while that fire and that fight is startling to those looking on at the miraculous spectacle taking place in that wide open field in the midst of the beating rain, the one most shocked of all is me. I stand with my arms up and my life flowing outside of me and my heart shattered in pieces and yet I feel the surge of hope and faith and strength rise within and it spreads fire through my veins and stirs fight in my soul and out of the corners of my eyes I see an army rising... I see wounded and broken and hurting people standing to their feet, fists in the air, screaming at the storm, shouting in the rain, proclaiming God's glory, His righteousness, His goodness, His holiness, His faithfulness.... An army of those wounded by the enemy... little did he know.... their wounds, their brokenness, the pain he inflicted... it would only make them stronger. And so I rise. I stand. I pour my heart out in the rain and I prophesy to the storm. I say "Storm you cannot win! You do not have the final say! You do not define me! Storm you will bow before the almighty name of Jesus!! The voice of the one living inside of me is louder than your wind! It is fiercer than your rain! It's roar will drown out your fury! The one who lives inside of me will outlast you and will conquer you, and I will praise Jesus even as you do your worst."

And someday.... a day I've not yet seen, but I know will come, as sure as the dawn... The storm clouds will spend themselves dry. The last of the pellets of rain will fade to a shower... their fury spent, their strength used up.... The clouds will begin to part. The sun, that foreign light, will break through. The warmth will creep back in as the gray covering peels back and recedes to the horizon.

And up from the ground.... new life will emerge. Things buried and dead will begin to grow. Fragile shoots of green will push their way slowly up, through the cracks in my heart.

Though it be buried deep, hope does not die.
Hope will never die.

The most beautiful song: Find Me

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Were we made to fight silent battles?

Once upon a time... There was a nice, tidy little grocery store. It had rows upon rows of neatly organized shelves, all items lined up with their own like kind, everything fastidiously labeled, everything in its place. Each morning the lights came on and the doors opened and the people came in and the day began. When items were taken off of shelves new ones were put in their place and the show went on... not a can was dented, not a box was torn, not a seal was broken... the uniformity was especially noteworthy in the soda bottle aisle. Rows upon rows of tall, shapely, proudly capped bottles of sweet drink lined the aisle from top to bottom. Many shoppers came in, selected their bottle or two, took them to the check out, and that evening when the doors were locked and the lights went out new bottles of soda were put in their place so the show could repeat itself the next day. The scene of perfection went on, day after day after day... But one night, when the doors were locked and the lights were out and no one was around to see... one lone bottle of soda that accidentally sat ever so precariously on the edge tipped just so and fell... crashing down, down, down to the floor below and rolling about, spinning in a dizzy circle that got slower and slower until finally the motion stopped. The next morning as the sun came up, the soda bottle was found on the floor, and before the lights came on and the doors opened, in an effort to maintain the status quo of tidiness and perfection, it was quickly picked up and placed back on the shelf with its comrades. A great sigh of relief... everything again looked as it should. If you happen to see the rows and rows of soda bottles sometime... you'd never ever notice that one had once fallen down. There's not a thing to give away it's downward crash. It still stands tall and proud, still has its label neatly in place. The bubbles that had risen crazily in it at first have now settled to a completely imperceptible state of calm. You'll never know what happened that time in the dark when no one was watching. There's nothing to betray the way it was wounded... Is there? As long as you leave it sitting there on the shelf... it's fine. The show can go on. But... what if you take it down and try to open it up? What will happen when it's time for it to be used for what it was made for? The second the lid cracks.... all that shaken up trauma comes rushing to the surface in a completely unexpected eruption.

That soda bottle..? It's me. It's how I feel inside. I've experienced trauma and a crash and devastation I've never imagined walking through, and it's all supposed to be kept private and silent, and now the lights are up and the show carries on... and I can do my best to look just like my normal self and get dressed and curl my hair sometimes and put on a smile and say I'm good. I can keep it all capped deep down inside me and try to go on looking and acting the part so no one has to be bothered by the messiness of what's inside, ready to explode. But the second something unexpected happens or my stress levels get out of control the lid cracks and all the pain and anger and frustration and confusion comes bubbling up and spilling out. It feels like now that the initial crash to the floor is over, the world would want to pick me up, put me back on the shelf, and tell me to just shove the pressure building inside and get over it... to carry on with the parade of perfect happiness that everyone expects and to stay silent. What am I supposed to do with this? Do I pretend to be fine and post about my tulips and the dolls I'm making and the cute things my kids did and carry on with the show like nothing is wrong and everything's perfect and keep my fake plastic label neatly in place? Or do I start to wonder how many other people are out there who have taken hard hits and falls in the dark of night and are barely keeping their lid on too? Are there more of us? Are there a lot of us? Are most of us in pain? Are all of us in pain? Are we supposed to keep it quiet and pretend to be fine? Are we supposed to go on and keep smiling and posting only the happy? Doesn't that just further the illusion that if you're in pain or not ok, then you are clearly alone? And does it feel better to process pain silently, feeling alone? To pretend you're always happy when you're actually heartbroken? It doesn't for me. It feels fake. It feels wrong.

But then there's this fine line... Because not all of us can share exactly WHAT is causing us pain... But does that mean that we have to deny the pain altogether, just because we can't say what it's source is? What if we were gentle with each other? Maybe some people can share the source of their pain. Maybe some people can't. What if we gave each other the protection to admit we're broken and try to heal, but stopped pretending that we are all whole? What if I could just say, "hey, I'm not ok, could you pray for healing and guidance and peace and redemption?" But didn't have to probe down deep into the wounds and open them back up for the world to see that, yes, indeed, I am bleeding and hurting. Can we care for each other like that? Can we put ointment and bandages on each other instead of trying to perform surgery on something we know nothing about? Could we just extend love and kindness and gentleness to people even when we aren't sure if they're in the midst of a battle?

I think we can. This is different, what I'm doing here... This is strange and uncharted for me. To say I'm hurting when there aren't really answers yet? When people might try to pick me apart? When people might not really care about me at all? It doesn't feel safe. It feels crazily vulnerable. I don't like being vulnerable, especially in an already broken place when people can be mean and hurt you even more. But I believe I'm being called to share my brokenness, to say, to whoever else is in pain too... "YOU ARE NOT ALONE. WE CAN FIND JESUS HERE. LET'S LOOK FOR HIM TOGETHER." So I write about my brokenness and my search for Jesus in the midst of this for healing, both for me and for you. For the broken. For the hurting. For anyone else who is also in pain and feels alone. You're not. And Jesus is so good. And He is here. And He promises to never leave us. And He helps us find joy in our tulips, our children, the dolls we sew, or dinner on the table even when the world feels like it's crashing. And He is the strength inside of us when we are falling apart.

I am so, so thankful for my husband, for our marriage, for the safety and security and unity in my relationship with Shaun as we weather this storm together. I am beyond grateful for my four healthy babies who overflow my heart with their preciousness. And I am thankful for those of you who have messaged me... people who are going through their own storms and their own trials and who are also broken... People I can find healing in sharing with... or people who have said they aren't sure what's wrong but they're praying anyway... It means SO much. And I am thankful for the outlet of writing, to process and to share and to be real in the midst of a very vulnerable place.

So to answer the question at the title of this post... I don't know. Were we made to fight silent battles? What do you think? I don't think I am supposed to be silent right now, but maybe you feel differently about the way you're fighting your battle and that's ok. I think I could stay silent, but I don't think that my brokenness could be used to help heal anyone else if I kept it private. That doesn't mean everyone needs to shout their vulnerable places from the rooftops. There's no judgment here. I'm just done with any show in my life that claims perfection. You'll find none of that here. But if you're not looking for perfection, you're looking for connection? For healing? For the way that Jesus takes broken things and puts them back together? I hope you find that in this place.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

On Finding Strength When Your Heart is Broken

When you're surrounded by blazing fire on all sides, and there's no way to go but through it, and you feel like you're about to be consumed, like you're suffocating, like you're not possibly strong enough to take another step, and you can feel yourself about to fall apart... that it's only the weakest thread left that you're using to hold the pieces of you together, and that last tiny thread is smoking and smoldering and about to snap too... where do you go for the strength that you need to just keep going? When you feel like you've already dropped to your knees, searching desperately for that next gasp of oxygen to get to your lungs and propel you to keep moving, but you start to see the cracks taking shape, the pieces falling, and your own two hands just aren't enough to hold all of you in place anymore... is there anything left inside of you that's strong? Some hidden reserve that's just not tapped into yet? What if there's not? But what if there is?

In my brokenness, when the pieces are falling, as I feel myself unable to hold it together... when the tears are avalanching and my soul is crushed and the pain feels more intense than I can bare... as I find myself in the midst of a fire that I never thought I'd survive... when my last thread of strength has snapped clean through and it's all crashing, each piece wilting away like the petals of a dying flower, falling like shards of smashed pottery... I'm finding that there's something left inside of me that's not even part of me, and yet is the very essence of me, and it's stronger than anything I'd ever hoped to be, and it's pulling the breath in and out of my lungs even when I feel incapable, and it's unable to be stopped, unable to be silenced, unable to be broken. It is Christ in me, the hope of glory.

And He is light and He is goodness and He is strength and He is hope and He is almighty and He is faithful and He is true... And He is the FIRE that created fire and no earthly flame can touch him, no earthly flame can shake Him, no earthly flame can hold Him back or keep Him down. And when every piece of me is broken and falling and shattered, He remains at my core, and He will not let one part of me go unaccounted for, and He will hold each sacred piece as we move through the fire together... and it is the very fire we go through together that will forge me back into something whole again, something stronger than I was before. Because He works all things together for my good. 

I am more than flesh and bone. I am more than just a body. I am the temple of the Almighty Creator of the Universe. HE LIVES INSIDE OF ME, and in Him I live and move and have my being, and when the strength of my flesh fails, when my heart is broken beyond recognition, and when the last reserves of my human strength have been poured into the dust, He is the fire that still roars inside of me, the Heavenly fire that overpowers and repels the earthly fires of this world. It is because of Him and Him alone that when I stand in the blazing infernos I thought would overtake me, I do not die. It is because of Him and Him alone that, though the enemy keeps turning up the heat, billowing the fires to five, six, seven times hotter, that instead of death, resurrection takes place. 

Where I'm at right now... I don't see the resurrection yet. I'm still in pieces. But though I am broken I am held together by Him. And the resurrection is coming. I know it. I can feel it in my bones. When all that is left on my lips is a whisper, I will speak the name of Jesus, and all the forces of Hell will bow before the power of the one who makes His home inside of me.

In my weakness, HE IS STRONG. It is in Him I find strength when my heart is broken.

If the last of your strength feels poured into the dust, this song and this song are speaking strength and truth to my spirit. Maybe they will speak it to yours too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On Finding Joy When Your Heart is Broken

Sometimes when I think, it becomes lyrical, almost like a musical undertone, the emotion of the words playing along and carrying it all together in the symphony of my thoughts, my life... I'm not a musician, I'm a writer... But if these words and thoughts of mine were to music right now, it would be soft piano, strains of violin, soft and so quiet that at times it's barely heard and then swelling into the faithfulness of God with notes of heartbreak and redemption coming together into the kind of music that shakes your soul and brings you to tears... I don't know if you can hear it too. But that's what I hear as I write this...

And as my heart continues to beat in it's very broken and devastated place right now, I feel the pieces held together by my loving and faithful God. The refiner's fire doesn't destroy, it strengthens. And I know my God to be who He says He is, even when things don't feel right or happy... When the pain is so deep it feels hard to breathe... He is joy, He is love, He is good, He is truth, He is hope. He is faithful. He is the light. The only light sometimes. And when I feel like I don't know if I'll be ok again, when a smile feels fake, when people casually ask how I am and I'm not sure how to answer.... I know that He is still the author of joy. And actually, it's ok to smile in the midst of heartbreak. To laugh even. That amidst the deep pain there are still pieces of joy, of happiness, of life still going on. Of the innocence of my children. Of the love of my husband. Of the goodness of God. And I can grab hold of those. They are tiny pearls of beauty, of light, of joy... and as each tiny pearl sits softly in my hand, it's up to me what to do with it. I don't need to rush it. I can let it roll gently back and forth there in my palm... I can sit there a little while and soak it in. And I can softly string those tiny pearls of joy together into a strand.... a string of God's faithfulness. A necklace of God's goodness in the midst of pain. Reminders that joy surely does come in the morning. And I can clasp that beautiful reminder gently around my neck, and press it to my heart even as the tears fall... And I can hold fast to God's promises and His steadfast character. That He brings beauty from ashes. And even though it doesn't feel like it, someday I'll be okay again. And I can find joy even when my heart is broken.

If you're not sure if you'll be ok either, go listen to this:
You're Gonna Be Okay

Friday, February 17, 2017

Looking in a Mirror

James 1: 23-24 

"Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at His face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what He looks like." 

As always there are about a million things I want to write about. But after logging onto my blog for the first time in awhile and re-reading my last post I thought it was appropriate to start with this. In my last post I was in a place of searching... I wanted to know how to help others and still take care of the people God has given me in my family without letting myself fall by the wayside either. I was looking into God's Word, begging to hear His voice, and looking into a mirror at myself, if you will.. Searching through my fears and motivations and what healthy boundaries looked like and asking Him to show me who He has called me to be. Well God answered me, and it was crystal clear and revolutionary to the way I think. And as usual, His answer was so, so simple. 

Basically, Shaun had pneumonia from mid October through November and then the post-pneumonia  recovery was very difficult as well. I felt run-down and exhausted (although that season compared to where I'm at now was actually mild looking back). But in the midst of trying to parent alone and take care of Shaun and keep up on all our responsibilities by myself I was asking God if I was still supposed to try to take care of other people too. At the time our neighbors had their electricity shut off for not paying the bill. They were into some rough stuff, but there were two little girls living there as well and it was freezing cold outside and I felt like God asked me to take them a hot meal. I was mad at first. I thought, "God! I could use some help here myself!! I feel like I'm drowning and can hardly keep up with my own life, let alone help take care of them right now... " But I knew what He was asking me to do and I knew I would ultimately miss out if I didn't respond to it. So I went and rang the neighbors doorbell and asked if I could bring them dinner the next night. He was so appreciative and said that would be great. So I went to bed that night planning to make a big pot of chicken and dumplings to take them some hot food the next day. When I woke up the next morning I had a text from a friend I wasn't expecting at all. She said "Hey don't make dinner today! I'll be dropping some off by 5:30!" I literally felt the tears come into my eyes immediately. That evening I was ringing the doorbell and taking a container of hot soup to our neighbors just as my friend pulled into our driveway with a dinner of roasted chicken and veggies and salad and dessert for us. I cried as she carried it into our kitchen and put it on my counter. It was far more than I had even given to our neighbors.
And this is what God said to me: 
"You take care of the people I ask you to take care of, and I will take care of you. 

So simple. So pure. So uncomplicated. I don't need to take care of the whole world. I don't need to feel guilt or shame because I can't rescue every hurting person. But what I can do is help the person who God places right in front of me and asks me to care for. Because He won't overload me. His burden is light and His yoke is easy. He calls us to rest, afterall... So when I am faithful to what He has called me to do, He will not leave me spent and exhausted and without care for myself. He will send someone to care for me when I need it, too. And I can trust Him with that, even when I don't see how it will work out right away. 
What would this world look like if we all just helped the one person in front of us we knew we were supposed to help?