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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Story of Loss (and Hope and Faith and Joy)

I recently attended a conference on loss and it was a.maz.ing.  I walked away feeling encouraged, hopeful and joyful even though every single session had me in tears at one point or another.  I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what I learned and I wanted to record some of it here.  So this is what I've been thinking about lately....

Loss is a part of the common human experience after the fall - whether it's something you once had that you no longer have, something you currently have that feels threatened or fragile, or something you longed for that never happened, we all experience loss to one degree or another.  As D.A. Carson has said, "All you have to do is live long enough and you will suffer."  

Although my life has been blessed and privileged in SO many ways, there have still been losses. The loss of the dream of what I thought my life would be as a young bride raising my family.  As my friends get married and start their families, I face the loss of the opportunity to raise my kids with theirs, rejoicing with them as I simultaneously mourn my own functional infertility.  Years and years of longing after another, believing time/familiarity would be my friend, only to be told that everything about me was great but I simply wasn't pretty enough (followed by the shame and embarrassment of ever having admitted my desires in the first place).  The near-annual loss of friendship in Rochester, as if I am standing on a train platform and as each year's train passes, someone I love doing life with gets on and leaves me alone on the platform to start over. Death took two grandmas in 6 months' time and my dear, beloved grandpa 3 years later (I still miss him every. single. Sunday.).  And now, as I prepare for shoulder surgery next week, I look forward to more change and loss in the next quickly-approaching season of life....loss of my independence for a period of time, loss of my position at work and of my job as I know it and loss of a work schedule that has worked for my life for over half a decade.  This season also marks my first real experience of the loss of part of my health and functionality - I am 30 years old and I may never again fully raise my arm above my head, not to mention there is no guarantee that surgery will actually provide complete pain relief (although I am very hopeful that it will!!!).

Loss.  Grief.  Sorrow.  Shattered dreams.  Rejection.  Death.  Chronic pain.  The uncertainty that comes with change.  This has been my experience of our common plight.

And how have I responded??

Despair.  Loneliness.  Anger.  Bitterness.  Hatred.  Self-pity.  Isolation.  Anxiety.  Depression.  Distraction and escape.  Patterns of sin that bring false comfort.

As I have spent time thinking about what it would look like to respond to losses in my life in a more biblical manner, there are a few thoughts that have been constantly bouncing around in my head.  Thoughts such as:

- Figuring out which I love more: the gifts or the Giver.  How do I know that I love God and not just His gifts when the gifts are so closely tied to the Giver?  It seems that the "testing of our faith" in James 1 has at least a little something to do with testing whether we still love God when the gifts are taken away during "trials of various kinds."  As I search my heart, I am finding that I really, really love His gifts....

- Every time Scripture talks about being united to Christ in glory, it mentions first being united to Him in His suffering.  How do I know I will be united to Christ in glory?  By being united to Him in His sufferings (Romans 8:16-17).  My losses unite me with the life of Jesus in a way that allows me to participate in His story instead of just observing it.

-Because I am united to Christ through suffering, my fate is not to merely survive loss or try to get around it as quickly as possible.  Rather, I must remember that I am being caught up into something bigger than meets the eye, bigger than myself - I am being caught up into the very life of Christ.  Therefore, my focus is on being faithful and glorifying God in suffering, not merely getting past it or pretending it's not there.

- It's okay to lament.  Crying out in pain or sorrow is not a failure of faith, as it can often feel like, but rather an act of faith as it demonstrates a belief that someone is listening.  Use the Psalms as a guide.  Let yourself feel weak.  Remember that even the weakest faith connects you to the strongest Savior.  Keep speaking to God.  Always more toward, never away, even when you don't feel like you have anything "nice" to say.

- Listen.  It's okay to speak (see above) but don't forget to listen, too.  Listen to the story of history, to the stories around me and to my own story so far.  Be constantly reminded of God's compassion and faithfulness to His people.  He is not holding out on me.  He truly gave me everything when He gave me Himself.

-Obey.  Obey as an expression of hope; an expression of belief that a future with God is worth having; that the best is not behind me.

- Allow loss to build up within me a desperate yearning for eternity.

- I must constantly assess my graven image of God as the god I think He should be instead of the God He is.

So, that's where I'm at right now...realizing that my story, like everyone's story, is a story of loss because it is a story after the fall when the grave says "Never enough."  But, even more than a story of loss, it is a story of hope and joy because the losses that Satan uses to tempt me to despair are the very thing that bind me firmly to the One who saves me from despair and, ultimately, from the very grave that seeks to destroy me.  Because Christ has suffered and defeated death on my behalf, my story can be retold - from being the story of an isolated person who feels the hand death and loss upon her to someone who tells her story in light of her unification and communion with Christ.  He holds me with a grasp that can never, ever be lost and for that I am so very, very thankful. 


Monday, May 19, 2014

The Day That Should Have Sucked




I know some great people.  Here is a story about three of them.


Wednesday should have sucked.

I got a short night of sleep. I wasn't in the mood to work. I had what the professional people at Mayo call an "exceptional" patient (i.e. draining and difficult to work with) and when I took my car into the shop that morning, what I thought was going to be a one hour, $150 tire change turned into a $1500 bill and a 24 hour period without my car (during which I needed to get to and from work somehow).

Wednesday was my favorite day last week.

My dear friend Gretta did NOTHING but serve me all day.  First, she woke up earlier than she normally does just so we could go out for breakfast before my shift started at work.  Sweet.  My plan was to drop off my car, let them change my tire while we were at breakfast and then pick up my car before my shift started.  But when I dropped my car off for said tire change, it became clear very quickly that my car was going nowhere fast.  I made a last minute call to Gretta who happily drove out of her way to pick me up and take me to breakfast.

Lovely.

We sat at breakfast for close to two hours laughing, eating and talking about weddings and communication and friendship and how hard it is to change our behaviors even when we know they are destructive.  An altogether delightful and invigorating conversation with this gracious, funny friend.

I mentioned my unfortunate car situation and she immediately offered to pick me up after my shift (at 11:30pm).  So we said "see ya later" and I headed to work.

A few hours later, as I tried to take care of car issues over email in the midst of a busy day with an "exceptional" patient, I realized that due to my earlier-than-usual morning, little miss Penny was going to have a VERY long day in her kennel.  I texted my helpful neighbors and neither one was available to help.

Enter Gretta.

Ten minutes later she is headed to my house last-minute to rescue my poor pup from her full bladder.

I rode the high of our breakfast convo all day and got through my potentially crummy patient situation with more energy than I normally would have.  And then, when my shift was done, 15 hours after she answered my first cry for help that morning, here came Gretta and her fiancĂ© John to give me a ride home.

Great, right?

So there I am in their car telling John about all of the ways Gretta had served me that day, trying to express how blessed I felt, and THIS happens:





The other half of the backseat flies open and there is an arm reaching out of the trunk.

An ARM.

So I scream.

Not gasp.

S.c.r.e.a.m.

And then I realize it's Erin.  In the trunk.

Laughter ensues.  Obviously.  And we ride the rest of the way home talking about our days, acting as if it is totally normal that I have to look behind me into the trunk any time I want to address Erin.

We arrived at my house much too soon.  I can't exactly explain why, but sitting there in that car with those dear people was one of those moments in life where my joy felt so palpable and intense I was almost afraid to feel the full extent of it.  I was tempted to let the sadness start creeping in - Gretta leaves Rochester in two weeks when she gets married and Erin's future in Rochester is unclear - but I'm done with missing out on what I have now because I'm too busy thinking about what I've lost or what I never had in the first place.  So I just let the intensity of that happiness creep in and I sat there absorbing it.  In fact, I told them I wasn't ready to get out of the car - that I wanted to sit just a few more minutes - and these three lovely, tired people served me once again by sitting there (well, Erin wasn't sitting so much as laying) in my driveway for just a few extra minutes letting me feel happy.

"Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are."  -Marianne Williamson






Yup, I like these ones.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I May Not Be David, But Victory is Still Mine

One of the most staggering revelations I faced while studying at seminary came when I was reading the parable of the prodigal son.

As a "church kid," the roles represented by each character in the story were always made very clear to me: I was the wayward, rebellious son and God was the loving, forgiving father who was so happy to see me when I came home with a humble, broken heart.  Super straight forward analogy.  I sin, He forgives.  End of story.

Fast forward 20 years.  I am in seminary, reading Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, and I am shocked to realize that all this time, I have been relating to the wrong character.

I am not the prodigal.

I am the bitter, self-righteous elder brother.

I am the one whose feet have never strayed far from home but whose heart is still far from the father.  I am the one who has done all of the right things for all of the wrong reasons.  I am the one who wants justice for others as long as I remain in favorable standing based on my good behavior.  I am the one fulfilling my duties while my pride, resentment and anger run rampant under the surface.  I, too, must "return" from my internal pig sty.

And I, too, am still loved by my father.

That revelation occurred several years ago but I thought about it again today as I read this passage from The Mockingbird Devotional regarding the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:

"Goliath proposes a one-on-one, winner-take-all battle between himself and anyone of Israel's choosing.  No one steps forward initially, and when David finally accepts the challenge from Goliath, he is met with mocking from his brothers.  At David's defeat of Goliath, all of Israel - his brothers included - charge up in victory."  -Drake Richey

Again, ever since I was a child, I have always been David in this story.  (I mean, what good, 21st century American church would teach their children to relate to anyone in a story besides the hero?).  It was startling today to realize that I am not the boy of faith in this story.  I am not the one courageously facing the battle before me in the strength of the Lord.

I am not David.

I am Eliab.

I am the fearful bystander who questions whether or not my God will come through for me.  I am the one cynically questioning the hero's motives ("Eliab's anger was kindled against David and he said, 'Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?  I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.'" - 1 Samuel 17:28).  I am the one who is comfortable as long as nobody around me is taking any action and who becomes angry when someone challenges my complacency.  I am the mocking voice who doesn't want to have to explain myself if we lose the battle, doesn't want to risk having too much faith, too much trust, too much hope.

But here's the crazy thing:

I still get to celebrate the victory.

I am not David but somehow, in this story, I still win.  I didn't earn it, but victory is still mine.  My mocking voice now shouts in celebration.  My lazy feet which clung so firmly to safe ground charge forward in triumph.

That's crazy.

It's grace.  All grace and only grace.

The faith that God bestowed upon David is truly remarkable, but I almost find it crazier that the rest of faithless Israel gets to take part in David's victory.

I am not David.  I am Eliab, Christ is David, and the fact that his actions could secure my victory is a truth that blows my mind every time I see it anew.

"In the same way, Christ's death at Calvary brings victory to all, even the mockers.  Our victory does not consist of running up the mountain after the Philistines, but rather a righteousness that has been bestowed upon us that we did not earn.  The message of the Gospel is that victory has been won.  The battle was one-on-one, winner-take-all and the outcome has been decided.  It is with this confidence that St. Paul writes, 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.  The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor 15:54, 56).'" -Drake Richey

Thanks be to God, indeed.

Friday, February 28, 2014

C.S. Lewis on Love And Vulnerability

Read this quote today and I like it:

"To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, unredeemable."  -C.S. Lewis

For further reflection on this quote, check out this blog post by Jonathan Rogers.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Insufferable. Redeemed.

(I have received two recent requests to readdress my blogging habits.  So here is what I have been thinking about.  Which is largely why I have not been blogging.)

I am insufferable.

This is the word that has been dominating my thoughts as of late.  This is the word that constantly resonates.  Unbearable.  Intolerable.  Not to be endured.

Insufferable.

"Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
"Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.""
-Zephaniah 3:14-17

He rejoices over me with gladness.  

He rejoices over me with gladness.  

Me.  

The insufferable one.


Those who love me and think they know me well may not find me entirely insufferable, but that's only because I make a fairly valiant effort to hide the darkness within me from the people I like or want to impress.  (Don't we all?)  They don't see my heart, don't know my motives, and they don't (often) serve as the recipients of my bitterness and anger.  But the man I honked at last week for annoyingly driving just under the speed limit, the Wells Fargo bank teller whom I harshly told to stop asking me personal questions because the answers didn't matter to her life anyway, the acquaintances whom I hold at arm's length because I've deemed them not worthy of my time - I think they would all agree.  They get unadulterated glimpses of my heart and it is not pretty.  I should also include the couple standing beside me in line at a Christian conference I attended this weekend whom I yelled at because they misunderstood the system and by inadvertently budging in front of me, they inconvenienced me for at least 30 seconds.

I was angry for hours

HOURS

because the system was broken, because it was hard to understand what to do, because the staff were giving the registering attendees mixed messages and because I love competence more than I love Jesus.

I believe that God forgives me but it is much harder to believe that he likes me.  

Right now.  

Not the future me 10 years from now that finally has my act together.  

The right now me that feels like my act falls apart a little more every day.  

He rejoices over me with gladness.  

Right now.  

He exults over me with loud singing.  

Today.

Something deep inside of me is very broken.  And it makes me difficult to be around.  I feel bitchy, irritable, rude and constantly inconvenienced.  But even more, I feel bad about feeling bitchy, irritable, rude and inconvenienced.

My pursuit of sin has destroyed much of what was once tender and beautiful inside me.  I see such little progress in sanctification in my life that it causes me to question the presence of the Holy Spirit within me, for how could His presence bear such little fruit?  My sin is ever before me.  My tormenters never let me forget.

The failure.  The sin.  The shame.

Unworthy.  Unclean.  Useless.  Hopeless.

Broken.

"What though the vile accuser roar
Of sins that I have done;
I know them well, and thousands more;
My God he knoweth none.

My sin is cast into the sea
Of God's forgotten memory
No more to haunt accusingly
For Christ has lived and died for me."
-His Be the Victor's Name

"I often wish I wasn't such a disappointment to myself but the only reason I wish I was better is so I could validate myself and not have to trust Christ's righteousness on my behalf." - Elyse Fitzgerald

"God is not disappointed in you because 
that would mean He has unmet expectations.
He has no unmet expectations because all
of the law has already been fulfilled on 
your behalf." - Elyse Fitzgerald

"The temptation is always to believe that further, better, more aggressive living produces life....Our exhaustion is not because we are working, maintaining relationships, etc., but because we are trying to save ourselves through these things."
-Tullian Tchividjian


Free from the law, O happy condition!
Jesus has bled, and there is remission;
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Grace has redeemed us once for all.

Now we are free, there's no condemnation!
Jesus provides a perfect salvation;
"Come unto me," O hear His sweet call!
Come and He saves us once for all.

Once for all, O sinner, receive it!
Once for all, O doubter, believe it!
Cling to the cross, the burden will fall
Christ has redeemed us once for all.
-Once For All

I love to laugh and this is God's greatest joke: 
that of all people, He chose to redeem me.  The insufferable one.

Good one.


"When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I have asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple."
-Psalm 27: 2-4

What would you pray for if you were surrounded by your enemies?  Weapons? That the enemy would be destroyed?  That you would be rescued?  I would pray that I would be delivered from the situation.  That the unfavorable circumstances would simply go away.  Poof.  Gone.  I pray a lot of those prayers.  I pray to be delivered from many circumstances, some external, but I most consistently pray to be rescued from myself.

But David doesn't pray for deliverance from his circumstances.
His one request is that he would be allowed to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.
Grace connects him personally to this beauty and it redefines who he is.  
His identity is firmly rooted in his Savior who justifies and redeems.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?"
-Psalm 27:1

David's enemies can attack him.  They can take his family.
They can take his kingdom.  But they can never take his identity
because it was never in his enemies' hands in the first place.  
His identity is rooted in the Lord who is his light, his salvation,
his stronghold.

I often pray to be rescued from the torment I feel.  I want the accusations to just go away.  But this is not what David prays for.  His hope is not rooted in his deliverance.

His hope is rooted in his Redeemer.

My hope ought not to be that my demons may ever stop tormenting me (although that sure would be nice!).  

My hope is rooted in the truth that, 
even if their voices should get louder with every passing year, 
they will never, ever, say one true thing about who I am.

Grace connects me to the beauty of my Lord
and my identity is firmly rooted there.

My light.

My salvation.

My stronghold.

I may be insufferable,

but I am redeemed 

and I am clinging to that truth

as if my life depends on it.


because my life depends on it.