August 29, 2013

Holey, Wholly, Holy

 I imagine that Joseph threw a fit when his brothers threw him into a hole. He must have stomped around with an entitled air that demanded that he be freed and given back his robe. It wasn’t fair after all. His dreams were God-given. 

The most-loved son found he was stuck. I wonder how long he hollered from that dark hole? Was it until his voice was shot and he slid down the dirt wall, slumped into the question we all ask when we are in a hole, “Why me?”

I wrote about my time in the hole, in the darkness of depression earlier this week. Some who slipped in to read may not have known that part of my story, and some may have wondered why I would share that part of my life after so many years. Why don’t I just let that part of my story slip into my past?

The reason I wrote about it is because the world is wrought with holes. Some are deeper than others. Many fall into their holes. Others are thrown in. Regardless, God wants to help those in their holes to move on in their lives. He will use the hole in ways we can never see when the walls seem to be closing in around us.

Your hole may be different than mine. It might be betrayal, loss, even disappointment. If you're angry and you aren’t sure why, look around. Are you in a hole?

I remember being alone in my big white house feeling the increasing anxiety of my hole closing in on me. The phone rang and a well-meaning friend on the other end of the line told me that I was in sin and under the discipline of the Lord. Repent and turn from my sin. Have a good day.

I was a sinner. I am a sinner. I am a sinner saved by grace. I no longer live under the power of sin. She was right and she was wrong. I wasn’t living under the power of sin then and I don’t now. I was living in difficult circumstances some precipitated by others and some of my own making.

She had no idea why I was in my hole and how I got there. She also didn’t know that God would bring me out and how He would do it.

Like Joseph, I was on a journey. I jumped on the caravan that would lead to places I never dreamed I’d be. I was confronted with choices that would make the difference between brokenness or redemption.

By the grace of God, I grabbed hold of redemption. 

As I imagine Joseph’s predicament, I doubt he fought much over getting on the caravan. Submitting to the journey was a better option than staying in a hole with no water. The journey to Egypt would be his way to life and it would prove to be the way to life for many others as well.

When the opportunity to take the journey out of the stuck places comes, we need to take it---even if we don’t understand exactly where we are going.

God wants us to be whole. Along the journey, we will meet obstacles. But when we remember God is writing a bigger story and we are a part of it, the pieces of our lives come together to form the greater picture of what we were made to be. We may not become the prince or princess over a nation like Joseph, but we can be the person that can say with Joseph, 

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)
Joseph got over being angry about his life in the holes (in the pit his brothers put him and in the prison where he was punished for something he didn’t do and forgotten by those he helped). Joseph persevered. His dreams came true. He held to the promises and God was faithful.

"Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm,“I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.
Love the Lord, all you his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!" (Psalm 31:21-24, ESV)

The first step out of my hole was letting go of my pride. (That was the sin my friend on the phone was right about.) I thought I could get myself out of my hole on my own. Every time I tried to climb the slippery walls of my pit, I felt more despair.

It takes courage to let God be the one who lifts you up; faith to wait for him to do his work of redemption in your life, to receive with full assurance the truth that Jesus alone makes us right before the Holy God:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 
And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” (Hebrews 10:14-16, ESV)

To live is Christ---from holes, to whole, eternally holy---heart, mind, and spirit. This is life, the one we long for---the one that is ours in Christ Jesus.

You don't have to be suffering with depression to be in a hole. Sometimes it can be cynicism or fear that is the hole that keeps us stuck in a pit. From what pit has God lifted you?

Linking with Kristen, Jennifer, and Emily.

August 26, 2013

Hope, Heaven, and the Unclouded Day

I think about heaven sometimes. I want to think I have some sense of how it might go when the Day comes, when in the twinkling of an eye, everything changes.

We sang about heaven a lot when I was a child in the country church where I teethed on the Bible. The reality of eternity was one of the first great doctrines of my faith--- eternal life, life just beyond my knowing. Even as a child, I had a sense there was a greater reality beyond what I could see.

You probably have heard the old saying about some people “being so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good.”

Well, I am not that person. (If you who know me just threw your head back and laughed! I know! I am in my head a lot...thank you for loving me anyway.)

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:11-12, ESV)

When I turn my imagination to the place called heaven, try to picture what heaven is like, my understanding becomes cloudy. There is a longing for heaven within me that I find comforting. In fact, I live with a deep sense of heaven as my home, the place where I will be whole. There I will know the fullness of redemption, be in the Presence of my Savior. Is that not heaven’s greatest reward?

Most of us don’t think about heaven much because we can’t wrap our mind around it, can’t fill in all the details, don’t have the itinerary.

Almost thirteen years ago I walked into a mental health facility. The door locked behind me. I had lost hope and my eyes saw no reflections of heaven.

Those suffering from many forms of mental illness live with little to no hope. Darkness has fallen over their lives. The mirror they are peering into is giving them a distorted view of the here and now. Life is cloudy with a hundred percent chance of rain. Their eyes see no glimpses of heaven in their downcast gaze.

Most of us don’t think much about mental illness because, like heaven, we don’t understand it. 

We live in a world that is broken. God loves the broken, those who are sick, including the mentally ill---and so should we.

I know. It is hard. It is messy. And we can feel ill-equipped and get frustrated when we can’t understand how someone with mental illness sees their distorted world.

If you take time to notice the people around you, there's a good chance that someone will cross your path that is suffering in the darkness. It will probably be someone you know. You can’t fix them but you can help them along the path of life. There's a fine line between helping and enabling. You need to know there are boundaries (there must be). Ask God to help you put them in the appropriate places---know you can only walk with them only so far...

Would it you help you to know that the person you wish could get on with life is thinking along these lines?

  • If I could find my bootstraps, I would pull them up.
  • I live in the now, but I am very near-sighted. I draw a tight circle around my world. I need control. When I can’t control, I get angry. I need someone or something to place the blame---someone other than myself.
  • I am a victim. I am broken, but I am ashamed to tell you or anyone else.
  • The secrets I keep make me anxious. I am living under tremendous stress.
  • I say I can’t do things you ask me. I don’t have the will or strength to do what you think is good for me. When I say I can't, what I mean is I won’t. I am being selfish because I don’t think I deserve the help you are offering me. 
  • I am going to resist medicine because I want to think I will find the strength do the things I have told myself I would do. I will have to be convinced I am sick--- not crazy--- if I am ever to become compliant and take medicine that could help me.
  • I am sorry that I blow things up so that they are bigger than they should be. The numbness I feel triggers my great effort at maximizing my emotions. Affirm my feelings and I will might bring it down a notch.
  • I know I need help, and somewhere deep inside, I know you are NOT the one who can help me. I will never ask you, but will you get me to the help I need, or at least, help me find the resources and keep me accountable to my promises to take advantage of them?
  • I will try to make you angry so I can justify my actions, live in my victimization, and feel justified in my self-pity.

The hardest part of caring for someone who is sick is they must take ownership of their healing process. The willing participation of those suffering is key to finding a way through the darkness to live in the light. 

Life is hard without entering another's pain. But that's what Jesus did for us. He bore our pain and became our hope. 

There is joy coming in the morning, the rain is going to end, and someday all who are in Christ will rejoice on a unclouded day.

(Living with a mental illness is complicated and can’t be easily understood in bullet points. I was suffering from major clinical depression when I was hospitalized. What I have written on behalf of the hurting is to help you to consider how they may be processing their life. My thoughts are not based in science or medicine. I wrote this from experience, my own and my interactions over the years with others who are hurting. I am not a professional and my counsel should be taken with that in mind.

Those suffering in the darkness need someone to hold up a mirror for them to see life more clearly. Just a little reflection of hope can make a huge difference in how their day goes. You can hold up a mirror. Be brave and be the one who reflects the graciousness of heaven here on the earth.)

Thank you for taking time to read this today. Your comments are always a blessing to me.

August 19, 2013

The Last First Day

I probably should be minimizing this, not making it such a big deal. My youngest had his last first day of school today. He humored me this morning when I got out the camera, scolded me when he saw a tear slip down from behind it.

I didn’t follow him to the truck or walk behind it as he took off down the dip in the driveway, turned his truck east onto the asphalt road and out of sight.

Instead I took a bite out of a half-eaten stack of pancakes, poured myself a cup of coffee and perched my elbows on the granite countertop. 

He’s my baby. He came five years after his brother, eight after his sister.

It’s time for another pivot.

Although I am a mom at home, no one would accuse me of being a helicopter parent. I feel twinges of guilt at times, worried that I don’t hover enough, wonder where the balance is between being a momma bear or a momma bird.

I want my babies to fly but I want them to land easy and know they made it there on their own. When they fall, I want them to reach for the hand of God, because I won’t always be here to be the hands that pull them up.

I raised them to fly and that is what they did... are doing... will do.

Sitting on the stool this morning, as the boy walked out the door for his last first day, I cut a string. There are more strings to cut in this first of the lasts that are coming this year.

On Saturday morning, I was running downtown to the farmer’s market, sitting at the stoplight waiting for arrow for the left turn. The signal turned and the truck in front of me lunged forward. I eased up from the gas realizing the truck was being towed through the intersection. 

As they made their way through and over into the lot of the gas station, it struck me that the truck being towed was familiar, as was the four-wheeler in the bed, and the fishing poles with rubber lures reeled up to the eyelets waving at me in the summer air.

It was my son being towed up to the gas pumps. He had seen me trailing behind, saluted as I pulled in at the station and parked. 

I pulled my bankcard from my purse and filled his tank.

We didn’t talk about it a lot. He went to work and I went to the farmer’s market a little perturbed, but not all that surprised. Maybe I was more amused at the serendipitous moment.

On Saturday, I landed my chopper at the opportune moment, swooped in and enabled him just a bit.

No young mother reading this wants to hear it, but the hardest part of mothering begins when your kids begin their journey out of your house and into the world. And it is not because they are teenagers who are driving you crazy. It’s because you love them more than ever. They have grown with you and on you. You love them as big people and they have become amazing friends.

Just like you didn’t know what to do with a baby when you brought it home because you have never parented a child, you don’t know how to send that same child into this world that scares the heck of you. At least it will if you listen to the talk from the heads on television, if you let the shadow of scarcity fall over your life. 

You (and I) want to hover, and know where they are and whom they are with and what they ate for dinner. 

What they want us to know is that they are being who we raised them to be, that we believe they can live a day of their life without having to give us a run down on their every move. They want to be the one to call us and say, “What you doing?” And they will, even though we cut all the strings, and let them fly free into their destinies.

Life jerked me a little this morning. I turned through another of life’s intersections. It was like false labor---a little pain, but nothing like the real thing. 

Are you in the middle of an intersection? Are you  driving through or being towed?

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose.

August 15, 2013

Would you keep Elijah in your Newsfeed?

Darren Baldwin/Flickr

The program agenda called it an altar call. Really it was a call for those who needed prayer to step out in a crowded room, admit their need and come forward.

I stepped up to receive whomever might come, not expecting that many of the great needs that stood singing before me, would be brave enough to expose their neediness among the women gathered.

The truth was that I was as needy as anyone in there. It might not have been apparent because I stood at the front as a leader, a minister of encouragement, someone who had it all together.

Every day I am needy-- every day I need the Bread of Life. I don’t get enough on Sunday morning. I need to lay down my life daily, pick up my cross and live by faith. I need Jesus and I want to be mindful of that each morning I wake up in this world.

She came from somewhere in the back. Head down, she watched her feet step their way past the rows of chairs and along the cinder block wall. The room was dim. Candles flicked behind me. Near the front, she lifted her head, caught my eyes, held out her hands. I leaned forward to ask her name and her need.

She smelled of cigarette smoke and greasy hair, her shirt hung off her shoulders and her pants puddled around her shoes. I looked into her eyes and I saw desperate---desperate for God, desperate for hope, desperate for acceptance.

She confided her need and it was great. I could not relate, no experience from my life could I draw deep from a well of empathy. I had never walked in her shoes. We prayed but the words were mine. My prayer for her reached beyond to the only One who knew the depths of her need and the only One who could give her the comfort, the hope, she had stepped forward to find.

I was grateful she was small like me. She may have been a tad shorter. I reached around her and held her tight, a prayer embrace that we both needed, these strangers desperate before God clutched to hope at a place in a room that, for a moment, became an altar.

We live in desperate days. 

We can live in denial and say we don’t. We can put up our perfect on Facebook or Instagram. We can tweet cleverness out into the cyber-world, seek a following, a tribe of our own.

In the din of noisy idol worship that is the world we live in, God is looking for voices, voices of courage that will speak into the desperate nature of a world that has lost it moorings, adrift and swept to and fro at the whim of expedience and instant gratification, of comfort and control.

Suppose He is looking for, not only voices, but for people who are willing to wrap their arms around the hurting.

I saw a friend recently at a gathering of people. I had not seen him in a good while, even wondered if he had moved away. I knew of the deep personal suffering he was going through. I had prayed for him but it wasn’t a situation in which I could assert myself and be of any help.

My friend was standing some distance from me when I spotted him. I walked a straight line to where he was standing alone, apart from the crowd. I reached to hug and he hugged back---the kind of hug that says I know you understand how much I am hurting. 

There is something about the human touch, something powerful. Like so many things in the sin-suffering world, touch has taken some hits. Personal space is a right many claim. In an over-sexualized culture, touch can be dangerous and perceived as something it wasn’t intended to be.

A widow blamed Elijah for the death of her child. She held the boy before him angry and accusing:

And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” (1 Kings 17:19-24, ESV)

Elijah calmly took the boy into his hands. He stretched himself over the boy three times, crying out to God for the boy’s life. God raised the boy from the dead. 

The prophet didn't walk up the stairs thinking that he would ask God to do what he’d done before--- for Abraham, or Moses, or Joshua. He was asking the impossible. There were no precedents for God raising the dead until the day Elijah prayed over the lifeless boy.

I don’t know why Elijah “stretched himself on the child three times.” I am thinking that he wanted to wrap him up in his arms when God answered his prayer of faith, his God-directed prayer. He would be holding him in his arms when he gasped and caught earth’s air in his lungs once more.

Elijah lived in incredible days where God had been pushed to the sidelines. Judgment was upon the land. There was hunger and death and the need for God to show up big. The prophet's desperate situation led him to pray for the impossible. God answered. The miracle convinced the woman that the words from the prophet's mouth were truth.

God put Elijah in a desperate situation to prepare him for the days to come, days when he would need the “word of the Lord in his mouth.” A huge battle loomed on the horizon and God was preparing Elijah for it. (1 Kings 18:20-40)

Elijah’s timeline would not have been pretty--at least not most of the time. Maybe he would be the guy we would unfriend because we couldn’t look at his stuff in the newsfeed? We might wonder what God would require of him next, but we aren’t sure we want to know.

If we have received Jesus, we believed the “impossible.” We have received Christ’s resurrection as our own--his resurrection is our resurrection. We live the miracle.

All around us, people are living in seemingly impossible situations, facing battles too great for them. But no battle is too big for God. This is our testimony and the hope we share to a world that is dying and in need of that very miracle. 

Let’s meet them at God’s altar, pray with them and embrace them in arms of love believing for them that “nothing will be impossible with God.”

Now that's something for the newsfeed.

I would love to pray for you. If you can leave your request in the comment box maybe others will join me in lifting up your need, or you can message me on Facebook, or send me an email. And consider yourself hugged.


August 7, 2013

Emily Wierenga, Kate Middleton, and Me

Emily T. Wierenga is an accomplished writer and author of four books. She is also a talented artist. Emily lives in Canada. I stumbled onto her blog through the Thursday link-up she hosts for bloggers called "Imperfect Prose."

Emily writes passionately on her blog about her family, her role as a wife and mother, and with compassion and empathy for those suffering from issues related to body image (and those that love them.) She also writes about issues that are relevant to the culture at large. I never read Emily’s words without having to stop and consider what she has spilled onto the page (or onto the screen.) She always challenges me to stand in truth or to at least consider where I stand. She is a gifted writer who uses the power of story and God-given insight to inspire her readers.

Her recent blog,  “A Letter to Kate Middleton on the Postpartum Body” addressed the negative comments directed toward beautiful Kate’s “mummy tummy” when she introduced the new little prince to the world a couple of weeks ago. In that blog, she quoted from her book, Mom in the Mirror. Thousands of people read that post, and I am hoping that by some wonder, Kate did too.

I am inspired by Emily’s passion about what moms see when they look into their mirrors, even those of us whose babies have grown out from under us. I wrote my own post about the mom I see in the mirror, one considerably further down the road as a mother than Emily and Kate.

Emily is graciously featuring me as guest writer on her blog today. You may have read the post on this blog, but in case you haven’t, will you join me at Emily’s place?

It will bless me so much to see you in the comments over there…

Just hit the link here to find out how I looked in the mirror one morning saw a woman whose calling in life has often found her bearing down with others in the midst of pain, a person I call a Mid-wife to Hope. It's a calling I share with many...

August 5, 2013

I've Lost her Voice

I’ve lost her voice.

The lights had been pulled down, light tossed words onto screens blue as a winter sky. The congregation stood as the musicians played the first notes of the final song. I started to sing but the words caught in my throat. I swallowed the sudden emotion and bowed my head. No longer present in the moment, I lost myself in the past. Sifting through my memories, I found myself standing in a distant world, watching a slide show of a thousand images. Silent.

I hear the Savior say, 
“Thy strength indeed is small; 
Child of weakness watch and pray,
Find in me your all in all.

My eyes were closed in the dim room but I could see. I pause before a picture etched, seared by a holy moment captured so long ago. I see her head lifted, hands clasped at her breast, her lips moving.  The old hymn reels back time, and I see a silent movie of my grandmother worshiping in another place—in the yellow brick church sitting in the shade of mighty oaks, singing one of her favorite songs. But as much I search the recesses of my mind, I cannot find her voice. 

Jesus paid it all,

All to Him I owe;

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

I’ve pondered the bittersweet reality of that experience on Sunday. And though I wish I could hear her voice, I am absolutely sure she gave me something more important than words I can no longer hear. I have the example of the life of faith that she lived before me---on Sundays when she worshiped, and on the days she lived in and around the clapboard house in the shade of the sycamores. She walked with Jesus all the days I knew her until the day cancer took her body and God took her spirit.

It’s cliché but true:  Actions speak louder than words.

I owned my struggle with my tongue later in the day in conversation, “my weapon is my tongue and am I am afraid I will use it to say things I will regret and burn bridges behind me… you know I could hurt things rather than help them. I don’t want to be like that but old habits are hard to break.” 

It's not my voice that will be remembered but how I lived.

Lord, now indeed I find 
Thy pow’r and Thine alone
Can change the leper’s spots 
And melt a heart of stone.

I have said it hundreds of times, a mantra of mine, “Words are powerful.” I am learning to use them with caution even as I have dipped my toe into the writing world, publicly placing them on this platform to a mostly unseen audience.

Even so, I recognize that as important as words are, as powerful as they can be to heal or to hurt, to bless or to berate, my actions speak loudest.

Jesus is the Word. His words are all-powerful. The Word upholds the world He spoke into being. Not only did He speak of the salvation that was ours if we believed in Him, He acted on the righteous requirements of a Holy God. What He did changed everything. Jesus loved the whole world and He proved it when He surrendered to death on a cross, taking the full weight of the wrath of God, conquering death in resurrection.

Twenty years may have taken my Grandma’s voice from me, but I find strength in the life she lived, her faith in action, a simple woman with a 8th grade education and a driving passion for the Lover of her Soul.

I want a life that speaks even when I don’t use words. 

When words are necessary---as they often are---I want to speak the truth in love.

I open wide for the bridle. I know my heart’s desire can only happen by the power of God. 

“Let the words of my mouth 
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” 
(Ps. 19:14 ESV)

Do you know this struggle? We know the power of the tongue but silence speaks as well. Which is more important, keeping silent or speaking up? How do we find the balance?

(“Jesus Paid it All,” Elvina M. Hall, 1865)