Sunday, November 29, 2009


In my dream last night, I was climbing.

It took all the strength I had just to hang on. I was sweating. Trying to catch my breath, my fingers curled, knuckles white. I panted as I reached higher, as my legs pushed frantically on falling footholds.

I wasn't just climbing any old rock. I was climbing an almost vertical mountain of sand.

It's funny to me how the brain works sometimes, especially in dreams. We work so hard in real life to organize our reality, to analyze our thoughts, to put everything in neat, labeled baskets. But dreams defy our attempts to categorize. They often reflect the chaos lurking on the inside - all the loose ends that refuse to be tied up. The insecurities, the fears, the desires, the frustrations all lurk in the deep recesses of our brains, like elusive animals only willing to emerge in the darkness of the night.

The funny part about this dream I had was how other people on the sand mountain had somehow climbed right past me. There were those who had reached the summit with ease, while I struggled to keep hanging on. Each time I reached up, my hand slid right back down, and every inch of progress made was an inch lost as the sliding sands gave way. In the dream, every muscle fiber strained to make progress, to move forward, and every ounce of strength was returned null and void as I seemingly went nowhere.

But I just kept trying anyway.

Watching others reach dreams and goals that I treasure in my own heart has been hard for me. I often cry out to God for relief - for the opportunity to have what other people have - people who defy God and don't care to follow him but are blessed anyway. In fact, just this past week I found out that an especially ungodly man I know was blessed with a second child. He has it all - career, family, health, house, hobbies, friends, education, even a dog. And I wonder why it's been so easy for him to scale the obstacles of life in direct defiance of God.

Last night at church, Pastor Rick challenged us with whether we are like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son - you know, the guy who gets ticked that his rebellious brother gets blessed? He's not usually the focus of the story, but his dissatisfaction hit home for me. Am I the one who faithfully tries to serve God hoping I'll get what I want out of him, rather than delighting in being with him? Do I resent it when God blesses other people with things that I long for? Is my goal to please God only so that he'll make my path easier? Obviously, life does not work like that, and I have to reconsider whether this monumental struggle I'm facing might just be a tool to humble me, to test my heart, and to find out why I am really following God after all.

Is God just a means to get MY dreams? Is he just a way to get strength to fulfill MY desires? Do I trust that he wants what is best for me? These are questions I must answer.

This month I plan to read a book called "Shattered Dreams" by Larry Crabb.

On the back, it says:
"Shattered drams," writes Dr. Larry Crabb, "are never random. They are always a piece in a larger puzzle, a chapter in a larger story. The Holy Spirit uses the pain of shattered dreams to help us discover our desire for God, to help us begin dreaming the highest dream."

As I keep climbing and sliding back down, I hope to learn more about why God has me here and the best way to respond to this mountain of sand that he's placed in my path.

Out Of My Hands
The Turning

All my restless heart could do is cry
I stepped on out into the night
The tides turned again and nothing felt right
I searched for truth I sought your light
and all my restless heart could do is cry

Everything I held is out of my hands
Everything you bless is not what I’d planned
Not what I’d seen, not what I’d dreamed

My heart's hope will rise and fall with the wind
A gentle breeze will blow me over again
I’m walking unstable

And all the things I held
Were dragging my heart so far down
And the things I’d dreamed were nothing,
Nothing as they’d seemed
And then I question you
And doubt you as the God I know
But all over again, you saved me from myself

Thursday, November 19, 2009

If You Want Me To

This song slipped into my mind today. When we are walking through the valley with God, there is always the choice to trust him or to draw back in fear. A pastor was on TV late last night, and I was busy on my computer. My attention quickly shifted to the TV when I suddenly heard the pastor say: There is one thing that God is waiting to see from you when you are walking through trial, and it is this: "Will you trust me?"

God, I am humbled as I struggle daily to follow you one step at a time. Please help me to continue to trust you and not draw back in fear when the fire is hot.

"But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved."
Hebrews 10:39

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stented or Stunted?

Along this journey of chronic illness and family sorrows, I've had plenty of chances to feel angry. People whom I thought would be there for me have deeply disappointed me. People I trusted have broken trust. Relationships I relied on have failed. And I've been left confused, broken, bruised.

A bruise is a great way to describe the pain of loss because it just aches mildly all the time, until someone touches it with a comment or a reminder, causing the old pain to flare up again.

It's been a challenge for me especially to forgive my father. This past week, even deeper sin and deceit were uncovered, pouring fresh pain into our lives again. His actions not only hurt me, but I have repeatedly had to see him hurt my mom, someone I love so much. It's a re-opening of old wounds that can never seem to heal.

Pastor Charles Stanley did a series on handling anger earlier in the summer, and his shows were repeated on TV recently. I watched them again, trying to soak in the secret of forgiveness - that elusive yet all-important action that is the foundation of following Christ (along with faith and love).

There were a lot of important points he made in the teaching series, but the one that stuck with me the most was that forgiveness is for my own benefit, not for the person who hurt me.

Because really, when I think about whom my anger affects the most, that person is me. I'm the one who meditates on the wrong done. I'm the one who desires justice and things to be made right. I'm the one who feels the pain and lets it ruin my joy and happiness. Anger can even affect my attitude toward people who have nothing to do with the offense. Basically, unchecked anger and unforgiveness can make me bitter. Slowly, surreptitiously, creeping like deadly plaque building up in coronary arteries, anger builds up in my soul, restricting my ability to love. God can't flow through me if my heart is clogged up with hatred. Instead, I'm imprisoned by my desire to make the other person pay.

It can happen to anyone. I read a Bible verse yesterday that reminded me even Moses fell for the trap of anger -

They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account,
for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke rashly with his lips.
Psalm 106:32-33

That bitterness of spirit cost Moses the privilege of entering the Promised Land. He's the one who suffered because he let anger get the best of him. Because his heart was clogged with unforgiveness, God couldn't use him in that important moment.

Bitterness in my spirit will cost me dearly too.

This verse reminds me how easy it is to fall - how easy it is to let the sin of others influence me and cause me to lose my peace. I can miss God's best for my life if I don't reach out to Jesus and ask him to teach me how to forgive as he forgave - being nailed to the cross and yet forgiving his murderers as they were crucifying him. That is amazing love.

I'm not capable of forgiving on my own - especially deep and chronic wounds caused by repeated offense. I need the help of Christ daily to walk in forgiveness. But when I ask Jesus, he is faithful and will help me with the emotions of anger and pain that seem to rear up again and again.

Just like blocked arteries can be carefully reopened and stented by a skilled physician, God is the Great Physician for my spirit, and he can reopen my diseased, unforgiving heart in order for his love and life to flow.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Earning Love

When I was in junior high, my friend Dana and I would always laugh about a song by Billy Joel called "The Entertainer." Our favorite line was "I learned to dance with a hand in my pants." It never failed to send us into fits of giggles. Because we listened to it more than a few times, I picked up some of the other lyrics too. It was about a performer who had to keep producing in order to stay on top of the charts and be successful in his career. Part of the song went like this:

Ah, you've seen me in the papers,
I've been in the magazines.
But if I go cold,
I won't get sold.
I'll get put in the back
In the discount rack,
Like another can of beans.

I thought of the "can of beans" song this week as I recovered from the grueling experience of getting my H1N1 shot. I was very sick from the experience of waiting for 4 hours, and the shot probably didn't help me recover any faster. I was just a blob in bed for several days. Muscle aches, overwhelming, extraordinary fatigue, dizziness, and "brain fog" kept me from doing all I wanted to do. This posed a problem for my part-time job. I typically spend a few hours each day on the computer doing work for my company. This past week, I couldn't accomplish anything substantial. It was extremely frustrating, and because of my lack of production, I wasn't feeling very good about myself. As I worried about falling behind and losing my job, I thought, "I'm going to be put on the discount rack!"

This isn't just a work-related issue. In relationships, I desire to earn people's approval as well. I often find myself feeling like "damaged goods" when I can't be at an important event or meet a perceived expectation because of my illness. I feel like I disappoint people in my life when I have to repeatedly cancel plans. Occasionally I have even wondered, "why are they still friends with me?" Looking at the situation objectively, I realize this is ridiculous. I know that I don't judge my friends based on what they can or can't do for me. But still, the emotional toll of chronic illness is not always logical. It's very easy for chronic illness to make me feel like I'm less valuable than when I was healthy - like a dented can of beans on the "discount rack."

It's a sad fact that the world often does base our worth on our performance, appearance, and abilities. Stars and celebrities are valued for what they can do, how well they sing or act compared to others. All this comparison can seep into our own souls, causing us to look around and place ourselves on a sliding scale of "better than her" but "not as good as her." This constant see-saw of inferiority to sometimes superiority can be agonizing. It's a good thing that God's constant, unconditional love is not about what WE do or who WE are, it's about who HE is and what HE did!

It's a tremendous blessing in life when a person truly loves us without any strings attached. We could yell, scream, or cry. We could smell. We could complain. We could just lie in 1 position without moving, but that person's love for us never wavers or changes.

God's love goes even farther than that. We can sin against him repeatedly, and God loves us no less than the day he gave us life. His love endures forever. He loved us so much that he gave us the life of his only Son, so that he would bear our just punishment, in order that we may be spared.

The message of this world is that we can somehow earn God's love or earn our way into heaven, but that couldn't be further from the truth. After all, how may "good works" are enough? When we do something wrong, how many "points" does that take off our account? To whom will we be compared when we first stand at the pearly gates? Who is the standard? Will it be enough to be "better" than the woman next door? These questions don't have any satisfactory answers. The fact is, there is no need to earn God's love because we already have it. All we have to do is accept it by believing in the One he sent to save us.

If you are struggling with feeling inferior or like less of a person because of illness, because of failures, or for any reason, remember that God's love does not operate on a performance-based system like the world does. We can (and will) screw up royally, but God has no "discount rack." You are valued and deeply loved in his sight. Trust in his son Jesus. He did all the work for you so that you can rest in his grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9