Thursday, May 29, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

When I want to give up, I think of my tub drain.

Our tub has been slowly clogging up for about a month. One day I got in to take a shower and realized I was standing in several inches of water. I got out and tried to unscrew the drain plug. I tried everything to get it out. I pulled, twisted, unscrewed the overflow plate, and even looked on the Internet for hints on removal. The plug didn't budge. However, I did have a light bulb moment when I read that Nair hair remover can sometimes dissolve a hair clog. This, I thought, was worth a shot!

The Nair was really thick. I'm talking thick. Trying to coax it through the tiny space between the plug and the tub was a combination of gymnastics and engineering. Boiling water and plastic dinnerware were involved. I finally had the idea after another shower-in-a-small-lake that if I squirted the Nair foam directly proximal to the drain while the water was leaking out, the small current of water would drag the Nair with it into the pipe! I tried placing my little dollops every so often, and gradually, after a few treatments, the drain got better!

I had reduced the lake to a small puddle. However, several days later, it was back to being worse than ever. We drained 100's of leg's worth of Nair down the drain, and still, I was taking a foot & ankle bath each time I was in the shower. Well, I got mad and made the mistake of giving up.

Sometimes when you're in the middle of a serious trial, the little everyday annoyances like clogged drains can seem like huge walls in your way. There is just not enough energy and strength to cope with the small stuff. Already tired and sick of being opposed, it's so easy to lie down and give up at the slightest hint of resistance.

Another week or two went by. I almost slipped and fell a couple times. The water color was getting gross.

I finally broke down and cried. I wasn't crying over the drain exactly. I had just watched "A Good Year," where Russell Crow returns to his uncle's estate and remembers his past and finds love with a childhood sweetheart in a beautiful countryside. I remember lying there fighting off a migraine, with the light of the day slipping out of the room like an acquaintance edging away from my pain. Nothing on TV could soothe me. I was completely overwhelmed with grief at that moment-- for what I'd lost, the past I wanted back so badly, the future that felt like that tub drain-- unbudgeable and plugging up the flow of my simple dreams. I wallowed around in that dirty thought water, and I could not stop the waves of depression. Alone in the dark, without the ability to utter a sound, I felt as though I bled tears.

To make a long story even longer, I went online again that night and found that I'd been using the wrong term to Google the drain plug. My drain was a "lift-and-turn," not a "plunger." And trust me, that made all the difference in the world. Why? Because on my drain plug, there is a hidden screw! Yep, sure enough, the next day I put my head deep in the tub, looked sideways, and there was a small black answer to my huge Berlin wall. A few twists of the screwdriver, and the plug came out, the hair came out, the soap scum came out, and all that was left was some residue. We used a little baking soda and vinegar, and after a few impressive tub volcanoes, the drain was completely clean.

Although not a perfect analogy, hopefully this story helps you with at least one problem. If you want to unclog a "lift-and-turn" drain, you now know how. Also, if you feel your life obstacles will never budge, keep searching for God to turn that hidden screw. Don't ever, ever, ever give up on God. Part of waiting on the Lord is waiting expectantly and persistently. It's not always easy to keep those emotions hoping all the time, especially when you see so many other people receiving their breakthroughs. It can feel like God has forgotten your case and passed you by. I must confess I feel that way and constantly exercise my will to continue moving toward God.

It's kind of presumptive of me to start a blog called "qavah" (waiting) and then to expect for God to solve my problems right away. I know in my heart that I'm on a journey. My health problems are chronic, and have been, off and on, for the last 10 years. My family's problems have changed, but have also been serious and life-altering for the last 10 years. Though I've asked, believed, and actually begged for it, this hasn't been a time period where God waves his magic wand and says: "Miracle for you!"

I was struck by Joyce Meyer once saying that it often takes more faith *not* to receive a miracle than to receive one, meaning the moment-by-moment decision to continue trusting when all looks hopeless takes more faith than to pray and receive instantly. I think the emotional battle to hang on to hope in the darkness is the meat of faith. Faith is repeatedly resisting the temptation to walk away and quit trying. It's making the choice to go on with Christ rather than give up because what Christ has called you to seems too hard, or because your circumstances seem as good as dead. It's knowing God keeps his word.

"Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." --Hebrews 11:1

One of the best biblical examples of this is Abraham:

"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed..." Romans 4:18

Abraham faced an impossible situation. He was supposed to be the father of a nation, but he was about 85 years old, and his wife was about 75 at the time. They tried fixing this problem their own way, but many years later, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, Isaac was born to them. And Isaac was the father of Jacob, and Jacob's twelve sons were the twelve tribes of the nation Israel. Abraham's faith shines so much brighter because of the apparent hopelessness of its fulfillment. He trusted God in the *years* of darkness-- in spite of all sound earthly reason saying, "No. This won't happen for you." How many times must he have asked himself if he had misunderstood what God really meant? ...maybe he meant a spiritual nation from my example to neighbor kids.... Was Abraham stupid to keep believing for his miracle? Uneducated? Illogical? None of these. He wasn't believing for his life to change, but for God to change his life.

"Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-- since he was about a hundred years old-- and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised."
-- Romans 4:19-20

***Update: Our drain clogged again badly in early April 2010. The clog was deeper in the drain this time, so we resorted to using the "Zip-It" (Cobra Products, Inc.) which was very cheap, removed the clog completely, and was simple to use. I highly recommend picking one up at your local hardware store if you want to remove a hair clog in a hurry!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Smiley Face Killers

The story about the "Smiley Face Killers" ran on CNN yesterday. Basically, 2 detectives from New York have been connecting murders of college men in multiple states and 25 cities. All appear to be the work of an organized group of criminals, who first target their victims, stalk them, and then ultimately kill them by making their deaths appear to be accidental drownings.

When I heard the interview with the detective, he was talking about local cells of criminals operating within this nationally networked group. I was flooded with emotion. I feel deep sorrow for the victims' families and also an intense desire for this evil to be publicly exposed for what it is. The fact that these criminals can operate in secret and essentially "above the law" makes me sick.

We should all be aware that crimes like these are not only possible in this age of high-tech global communication, but are actually happening.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How do I help? What should I do?

Tonight I ate dinner with a friend whose dad is dying of cancer. When he shared this with me, I was shocked, and we spent some time talking about it. Like anyone else, I started feeling helpless, wanting to fix the situation for him and his family. My heart ached for them, knowing the painful, ultimately devastating, road they had begun traveling.

Something else also struck me about our conversation, and that was how comfortable I felt with the subject matter. I wasn't uneasy, like I would have been many years ago when my life had not had so many challenges. My experiences with sickness, pain, loss, and death had prepared me for a moment like this, to know what to say and what not to say.

Each case is different, and each person is different in what they need when they are hurting. But when someone you love or care for has their world shaken to the core, what should you say? What should you do? It's easy to just pull away and disassociate yourself from the situation so you don't do or say anything wrong. But rejection is the worst thing you can do to a person in pain.

Here is a short list of do's and don'ts when someone in your life is hurting deeply:

1. Listen. You may feel like you aren't doing anything, but the best thing you can do is listen because someone who is hurting needs to talk about it. Don't force them to talk about it, but make sure they know you are available, and make yourself available to listen when they seem down.

2. Ask questions. This isn't like "interrogate until they yield" or "be as nosy as possible for your own gossip." This is thoughtful questioning like, "how does that make you feel?" or "what do the doctors want to do next?"

3. Affirm. This is SO important. Make sure that you make them feel their feelings are valid. You can cause someone twice as much pain as they already feel by denying, minimizing, or putting down their feelings. Keep in mind that if you have never been in their situation that you might feel and do the same things they are doing if put in their place. None of us knows how we will react to something until we are tested. Say things like, "wow, that must have made you so angry!" or even something as simple as "your feelings are natural and valid for anyone in your circumstances." The person in pain may try to "put a bright face on things" in order to make you feel less burdened. Keep this in mind and draw out their true feelings so they don't feel like they have to pretend around you.

4. Actively look for practical ways to help. If they work all day and are really tired, see if you can bring them a meal so they don't have to cook. If you know they need something at the store, offer to go get it for them. If they have to go for medical tests, offer to drive and sit with them. This active listening and looking is an art more than a science. Have your radar going when talking to them. Pray that God will show you how to help this person. If you don't know what to do, send cards, write notes, call. Let them know you are thinking of them on a regular basis. Ask for updates. Be available.

5. Focus on the little stuff. The smallest things mean the most to a person in pain. A note, a kind word, a funny joke, a card, an invite for coffee, a visit, an email, a donut, a conversation, a dinner, a movie watching party, a phone call, a mix CD, a tiny gift, a foot-rub, a small favor-- all these inexpensive things are of infinite value when a person feels lonely and in pain. The key is: you can't solve their problem, but you can make it easier for them to cope by just being a little extra thoughtful.

6. Be forgiving. The person in pain is usually in new territory. They do not know how to handle these strong emotions they are feeling. Let them vent, rant, rave, act uncharacteristically abrupt. Be forgiving if they don't get back to you-- even when you want to do something nice for them. Sometimes it's just too much effort to pick up the phone or to get back to someone. Be understanding of that. Don't take it personally. The person in pain is dealing with serious and important things and shouldn't have to worry about you getting annoyed or angry with them over petty stuff.

1. Compare trivial "pain" in your life to their great pain. If you talk about being upset over missing work due to the flu, or being tired from a late night out and the person you are talking to can't work, or can't go out socializing, your comments will come off more as rubbing salt into an already painful wound. More often than not, these comparisons trivialize their experience and also make them feel like you aren't listening and really hearing their unique situation for what it is.

2. Suddenly act weird. They will notice. Just don't do it. Treat them as normally as possible within the bounds of their circumstances. They are the same human being they were before the pain.

3. Pull away. It's not fair to the person who is hurting to be rejected and to lose friends on top of what they are already going through. If you don't know what to do or say, just tell them, "boy, I don't know what to do or say." Chances are your honesty and transparency will mean more than any "line" you could deliver.

4. Tell the person, "Let me know if I can help." Of course you can help. They have enough problems already without having to think up ways for you to feel like you are helping. This is your test to really listen to them and figure out what will really mean the most to that person. Even if you can't do anything to help fix the "big problem(s)" you can do something to put a smile on their face so they feel less alone.

5. Do one nice thing and then stop. You are never done being a friend or family member, so your caring for them should never stop with one act of kindness. This isn't something to cross off your list. People in pain are people in need, period. If you know someone with a chronic condition, continue to be there for them 5 months, 10 months, 2 years down the line. When all the cards and flowers fade from an initial diagnosis or tragic event, the grief and isolation can grow painfully worse while one-time helpers just move on with their day to day lives. Acute problems get a lot of attention. Things that are chronic and invisible like grief or progressive conditions often do not get much help after that initial first swell of compassion.

6. Tell them how to cope. How would a dragging major league baseball player feel if a little leaguer kept running up to him after every failed at-bat just to tell him how to correct his swing? Annoyed at best. Don't tell people how to feel or what you think they MUST do or try. Maybe your aunt was cured from cancer by eating nothing but mashed carrots. Great! Do not tell them that they have to do that too or risk offending you. You can share your story with them, but be very clear that this is your personal story/idea, and not something you are pressuring them to do. Do not tell them they are in pain because they don't have enough faith, or enough prayer, or enough.... anything. It's not your job to explain to them how to fix a big league situation. Just be content to sit on the sidelines and cheer them on. Let the person decide what advice they will follow on their own. If they want your advice, they will ask for it. Seriously.

I'd like to point out that all these suggestions do not require much from the friend/relative other than overcoming fear, self-involvement, and a feeling of uneasiness that's due to the unpleasant nature of pain.

It's technically very easy to be supportive to people in pain. If you are honest, concerned, and compassionate, you can be a great asset to a person fighting a tremendously difficult battle. If your friend is crying, cry with them. If they need to laugh, laugh with them. In doing so, you will be a warrior fighting along side them in their personal battle.

The bottom line is, don't get scared because you are in unfamiliar territory. You will constantly be meeting people who are fighting battles, going through grief, and bearing burdens of suffering. These tips can be applied again and again. Start practicing now, and it will become second nature.

Proverbs 25:20
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Pit

Not much new has happened that is worth posting. I've been trying to distract myself again as a way to get through the days. I spent several hours reading the blog of a woman who talked very openly about the realities of child bearing. I watched (and voted for) my favorite couple on Dancing with the Stars (go Kristi and Mark!). The London Calling Bachelor chose Shayne. Jon and Kate Plus 8 have gone through several outings, picture day, and Christmas. I've played countless moves in my online Scrabulous games. I looked through old pictures, ate chocolate, and tossed everything paper (and/or in an envelope) that requires my attention into a pile on the side of my bed. Unfortunately, in that pile is also my prayer journal and my Bible.

When I get away from God like this, it doesn't happen suddenly. I slide into the spiritual numbness gradually. My intensity and fervor for seeking God's face declines after a missed morning meeting with him. If I don't respond later in the day to make up the time, I've suddenly gone 24 hours without scripture or much prayer. In those 24 hours, I absorb so many messages from the world, from people, from the Internet, that are all contaminated by distortion, twisted truth, humanity, and blatant lies. David described it as a muddied spring or polluted well in Proverbs 25.

That image of a polluted well has powerful implications for my life. When I'm finished pursuing my distractions for a day, having pushed God out in frustration and hurt and anger, I've lost some of his perspective. My ear starts to listen to, and pause to consider, the other messages of the world which bombard me in this digital age of constant stimulation and information. The "well-cover" of my soul is left ajar, and all kinds of dirt, rain, and bugs can find their way in to my clean water supply. When I go to take a drink, I feel dingy, dirty, and heavy. There is a leanness to the soul that comes when we don't read God's word daily, and I can feel it right now as I type. I feel lonely. I feel discouraged beyond belief. I miss my abiding peace. I feel like I am deep in a pit with no arm long enough to reach in and pull me out.

But God's word tells me:
Isaiah 59:1
Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.

It's very easy for me to feel God's abandonment right now. My family's circumstances appear hopeless, and I have searched and prayed and pursued help without any apparent results. I have begged and pleaded and bargained with God. He allows pain and terror to continue for those I love, and for me to be powerless to stop their pain makes me angry at the One powerful enough to stop it. I ask sometimes, "God, how is this love?"

But when I see tragedies on the news like the earthquake in China or the cyclone in Myanmar, I'm reminded once again of Jesus's promise-- "In this world, you will have trouble..." He never promised us to be free from suffering while we're here on earth. It's just that when our suffering portion is a little bigger than we'd imagined it should be, it's easy to get offended at God.

Philip Yancey said in his book "Where is God When it Hurts?" that suffering doesn't happen in generalities, though we speak of it as if it does. Suffering is specific and personal, and though we can casually mention it in sweeping words like "death tolls," "wounded," or "casualties," the very nature of each single event was personal and deeply tragic to the family of the one affected.

So the question naturally follows: Why should I be spared? Why is my family above suffering? What right do any of us have to say we should always live in ease, safety, comfort and health? Jesus himself suffered more than any individual. He put his "money where his mouth is," and paid the highest price, showing that our suffering is not in vain when we hope in Him.

Yet I still cry out to God in this pit tonight-- Where is my help, Lord Jesus?! Forgive me for my distractions, for my desperate attempts to get relief anywhere I can find it, for my schemes to try to solve my problems on my own because you aren't moving quickly. I am weak and worn out from worry and fear. I've come to the end of my understanding. I beg for your mercy and compassion and grace. You promised me, "In this world you will have trouble..." and you finished, "But take heart! I have overcome the world."

It's in that last part of your promise, with such boldness, you have stated your authority, who you are, and how you will stand for me. I know you are the great I AM. You testified, and God the Father testified, and the Holy Spirit continues to testify that you are the Son of God. Your claims and miraculous works are not those of just a good man, or a profound teacher, or even a prophet. You made clear that you are one with God, and that you came here as Messiah. Your final proof was your resurrection, showing that you could conquer even death. "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD." -Proverbs 21:30 I place my hope and trust in you. And I cry out with Jeremiah who found himself in a pit:

Lamentations 3:17-26
I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, "My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD." I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.