Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Year of Questions

This year I've obviously written much less. As the cursor blinks, I wonder why I have so few answers. I wonder where the analogies are, why I can't boil down what I'm learning or sum up the moments of these days and months.

The fact is that this has been a year of questions more than answers. Last year at this time, I was being broken again. Events happened that were beyond my power, and that feeling of being out-of-control, of being so frustrated and (dare I say) angry with God sent me into a dark time. I wrestled with who God was all over again. I even stopped wrestling at times and tried to numb myself with TV, knitting projects, puzzles, anything to forget the pain. As the series of crises eased off, the lingering sense of helplessness and isolation remained. I looked at God and church through raw experiences that didn't match the neat little packages of "pray and receive" or "come for fellowship and be accepted and helped."

No. My problems ran too deep to share over casual "How was your vacation?" conversation. My questions and searching weren't socially acceptable. So I hid them. I went underground and withdrew from sharing. It was easier, and I didn't know what else to do. It became normal for me to skip a week (or more) of Bible reading, only to catch up in binge reading so that I wouldn't lose my anchor altogether.

My prayers were sparse and I stopped condemning myself for it. I wondered where God was. People asked me to pray for trivial things, and I wanted to scream that I could barely pray for my family and myself. I knew things could get even worse, so I'd try to remain thankful almost in fear of suffering more loss if I became ungrateful. A flicker of hope was found in reading about people who struggled with the same disillusionment. Those who had lived in the bubble of suburban "life-works-out" and suddenly found themselves falling from that protective bulb, tumbling into a hole they couldn't pray themselves out of. It happened to me.

So for those of you who have circumstances that God hasn't changed; for those who have prayed and cried out to God for relief only to wake up to stumble over a fresh obstacle the next day; for those who wonder when this will end, when the Savior will reveal his deliverance - this year is a year I sat with you and said, I am here too. I have no answers, but I am here with you, and my faith still remains. God is who he says he is. The evening sunset declares it. His intricate design of every cell in our bodies magnifies his brilliance. He is mysterious and incomprehensible. All I know is that the more I desire to know him and the closer I want to draw, the harder life seems to get, and the more pain I feel. And yet, that place in my heart that should be hardened, bitter, and resentful is still a wide open wound, throbbing with even greater hunger for his love.

I realize more than ever how real and subversive and subtle evil is. And along with that knowledge is my need for someone powerful enough, loving enough, wise enough to help me. The temptation to turn to a counterfeit is crushing at times. Just feed that immediate need with a person or show or celebrity who can make you feel better, but they are shadows and disappointments in the end.

I can't explain it, but Jesus is somehow with me, especially in the lonely nights. He's not fixing the situation but is slowly changing my heart. He's the only one who overcame death, and he invites me with all my questions, with my secret doubts, with my shameful angry outbursts and confusion to have breakfast with him just like Peter who failed. Without judgment, he receives me, understands, and encourages me to keep going, to keep feeding lambs and tending sheep.

In a year of questions, I need to cling to the One who is the answer.

"The pupil dilates in the darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God."
-Victor Hugo (Les Miserables)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fighting Discouragement: "I'm Not Making Any Progress."

This summer I tuned in on the Discovery Channel to witness Nik Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. He was 1500 feet above the Colorado River, and as he walked the quarter mile distance, his view looking down rarely altered. Watching his own journey across that wire shortly after the event, Nik commented repeatedly on his discouragement over the remarkable lack of progress he felt he was making.

Stepping out over the canyon at 48 seconds into the walk, Nik saw the river and rocks below him.

After 3 minutes, he said of this view, "It shows how slow my progress was. It looks like I haven't even moved. We keep showing the camera that goes straight down to the bottom of the canyon, and it doesn't look like I'm going anywhere."

He repeated after 4 minutes, "There it is again. I haven't gone anywhere. Looks like we're going back to the same clip over and over again. Maybe it was a treadmill wire. Doesn't look like I'm moving."

Finally, at almost 10 minutes, he confessed, "The whole time I was out there, I just felt like I wasn't making any progress. I felt like the camera that was looking down. I felt like I was walking in one place for about three-quarters of the walk. I was trying to count the pendulums, but I couldn't concentrate enough to count them. I wasn't sure - I lost count - I wasn't sure where I was at. I knew that I had 20 of them to cross, and I was hoping - to get - once I got to the middle, I wanted my dad to tell me, and he never did. And I was going to ask him, but then I was scared to ask him because I was scared I wasn't halfway across."

As I listened to Nik describe the difficulties of the wire whipping back and forth, the utter dryness of this mouth, and the sudden gusts of strong winds that seemed to come out of nowhere, it reminded me of how discouraged I have felt at times in my own journey. When I have a bad health day or become overwhelmed by the lack of change in my circumstances, it's easy to feel how Nik did up on that "treadmill wire." I want to know from God if I've made it halfway through specific trials or if I'm in for even more trouble, but I'm almost too scared to ask.

As Nik continued to watch his walk, he began to describe how things improved when he was able to refocus his eyes from the canyon bottom to his destination.

About four minutes before the end he said, "I was able to relax here because rather than looking down at the wire and looking at those rocks crossing back and forth in front of me, I actually was able to look up to the land. I had something more solid to focus on that I could work off of."

This refocusing of his eyes made me think of four ways I could apply his experience to my own perspective.

1) If I keep my eyes down, looking at my problems, gauging progress by all the days of struggle that seem to blend together, I will be disoriented and discouraged. But if I fix my eyes (2 Cor 4:17-18) on the finish line of heaven, I will have a solid, unchanging goal which makes all the world's happiness pale in comparison. In order to hold on to sure hope and maintain proper perspective, I must mentally focus on my eternal destination, not my earthly obstacles.

2) When the wind of adversity surges ups suddenly and slows my progress to a standstill, it can remind me of my own powerlessness. However, Jesus used his sovereign power to calm the wind (Mark 6:48-52) for his disciples who had been straining to row against it all night long. When I can't change a situation, I must trust that the winds which disrupt my plans and progress are under his total authority. He uses the adversity for my ultimate good and then calms it at the proper time.

3) And when the cable of stability whips out from under me, threatening to topple my confidence, I must listen for the voice of my Father who is guiding me from the other side. Just like Nik's dad who spoke direction in his ear during tense times, God can see and know things I can't possibly understand from my position. He is my supplier of wisdom (James 1:5) when my steps feel uncertain and shaky.

4) Finally, I learned that my progress in trial depends on whether I choose to keep taking those small, sometimes painfully hard steps of obedience in the right direction. Choosing to love when it hurts, choosing to forgive when I've been wronged, choosing to continue on after a setback rather than giving up - in all ways I must press on (Phil 3:12-14).

Though the pace seems painfully slow and the winds and upsets unrelenting at times, the struggle will be well worth it if we focus our minds on heaven, trust with our soul in the authority of Christ, listen with our hearts to God's wisdom, and choose with our will to press on in faith. In this way, we will share in the victory Jesus died to give us.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:2-3

Thursday, August 15, 2013

For those who have cried in church

It was Saturday evening, and I had just had it. Up the night before till 6 AM with sleep disrupted, feeling frustrated, sick, trapped, irritable, and angry. I lost my patience. I yelled and exited with a punctuated slap of the garage door opener. It was another meltdown under the stress of the past 8 years of intense trial (15 years of losses, hardship, and illness). I haven't had a normal life for so long; I was physically and emotionally depleted, and it was too much that day. The pot boiled over.

Usually manageable at home, this presented a new challenge. I was on my way to church. Smiling strangers, social greetings, joyful songs - I was slightly nauseated at the thought of being in public with the knowledge that I couldn't contort my face to cover this heartache.

I had to make the choice to take that next step. And so I decided to just show up. Eyes down, sitting, closed off, but there nonetheless.

In the past, I've frequently encountered obstacles to going to church. Unless the issue was insurmountable, I knew it was worth pushing through. There was often reward on the other side. This time was no different. It's so strange how there can be a battle to get to a building 15 minutes away, but when that building can be a source of healing, can draw me closer to Jesus, and can help others, the struggle takes on a new, higher meaning.

So for those who have felt the sting of sorrowful tears in public, who couldn't put on a happy face, who have felt so alone in a pew while everyone else seemed to have it all together, this was part of my prayer two days later.

And just when I hit the bottom of myself, when tears are rolling down my cheeks in church and I hunch like I'm praying because I can't bear to sing - you surround me with your Spirit, and you know. You know I can't smile or sing because my world is in pieces and I have no mask left to play the church game. So it's you who steps in and covers me.

Everyone stands, and I am acutely aware their worlds aren't caving in, but they are singing for me, surrounding me with your Spirit when my own heart can't sing. I question if I'm just making that up to feel better, but the thought passes as I hear, "it's all about you; yes, it's all about you." And somewhere in between, "from my heart to the heavens" and "Jesus be the center," my soul chose to mouth the words "It's all about you," as if my jaw and tongue were rusted, old machinery, lurching and grinding without oil, but moving in the quietest praise, the most wrenching praise I can give.

I clutched the damp Kleenex tightly and thought of the victory of praising you in the pain, of the fact I could have turned around twice, of how I'd won just by getting there. I thought of how the Enemy must hate my giving and perseverance.

Then the pastor read in James 5 about patience in suffering. And you reminded me gently again that it's all about you (not me). He reminded us that Job had the chance to love you for you - and that we may only get one chance in this life to do the same - to love you for you, not just your gifts.

And although this test is evil and fierce, in your hands it is goodness for me - in my heart, for others, for my future, for eternity. In your hands, you can (and do) redeem evil. And you have made me capable of faith, of knowing you.

You've given me love and have helped me through illness to a better place. I have so much because you gave the gracious gift of your Son, and you forgive my complaining and self-pity. You love me, and though I struggle, by your strength I will rise, and my faith will be proven as gold through the fire.

Don't give up in the face of isolation, fear, worry, and pain - even pain that goes on for years or for decades - because God is in the business of redeeming pain when we trust him with it. He is worthy of our love even when we can't feel anything good. In those weak moments, remember that it's all about him.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.
My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
    This I know: God is on my side!

Psalm 56:8-9 (NLT)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

YouTube Worship Part II

Several years ago, I posted this song because it was so uplifting and helpful for me when I wanted to redirect my thoughts from my problems back onto God.

This new worship song is one I heard about a year ago on TV, but at the time, I couldn't find it on youtube. I've been listening to it repeatedly this weekend. When I'm struggling with doubt and discouragement, these lyrics inspire me to remember and worship the true character of the great I AM.

"I AM" - By Daniel Crews and choir at First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

I am the LORD
I'm the Almighty God
I am the one for whom nothing is too hard
I am the Shepherd
I am the Door
I am the good news to the bound and the poor


I am the righteous one
I am the Lamb
I am the ram in the bush for Abraham
I am the ultimate sacrifice for sin
I am your Redeemer, Beginning and the End


I am Jehovah
I am the King
I am Messiah, David's offspring
I am your High Priest
I am the Christ
I am your Resurrection
I am the Life

I AM, I AM, Jesus said: "I AM," (I AM)

I am the bread
I am the wine
I am your future, so leave your past behind
I am the one in the midst of two and three
I am your tabernacle
I am your jubilee

I AM, I AM, Jesus said: "I AM," (I AM)

I am the bread
I am the wine
I am your future, so leave your past behind
I am the one in the midst of two and three
I am your tabernacle
I am your jubilee

(I AM), I AM, He is the great (I AM), (I AM)

I am hope
I am peace
I am joy
I am rest
I am your comfort and relief from your stress

I am strength
I am faith
I am love
I am power
And today I am your freedom,
This very hour!

I AM, Jesus said: "I AM," (I AM), (I AM)

[I am hope
I am peace
I am joy
I am rest
I am your comfort and relief from your stress

I am strength
I am faith
I am love
I am power
And today I am your freedom,
This very hour!] x2

I AM, I AM, Jesus is (I AM), I AM

He is the great I AM!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Unwelcome Detour

When I was 18, I went on a summer trip with my parents before leaving for college. The trip was part vacation and part doctor visit. We had just lost our home and possessions to toxic mold, which made us quite ill. I discovered that summer that I was chemically sensitive. I needed to see a specialist to measure the damage done to my immune system.

Afterward, we toured Cape Cod and were headed home through Mystic, CT. I remember being relieved that we were finally on the way back. My expectations were to relax on the long car ride and enjoy resting while I let my thoughts drift. However, while we were driving along, my parents had the "great idea" to visit Mystic Seaport (a historical village) and see the replica of the Amistad.

This was not on my agenda. I wanted to go home. I didn't feel well. I had had it with learning/walking and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade them from this detour. Helpless to stop the hijacking of my plans, I had two choices. I could respond by being sour and unpleasant, or I could embrace this opportunity to learn something new and enjoy the last few moments of vacation with my parents before going back to my summer job.

I chose option A: sour and unpleasant. My vague logic was to demonstrate how truly miserable I was in the hopes that they would see the error of their ways, wrap up early, and get back into the car. I had a Bad Attitude. Additionally, I insisted on wearing stiff new leather sandals that looked cool but hurt my feet. We actually had to leave the museum, go to an outlet store, and come back with new sneakers so I could walk.

This memory encapsulates what has been going on in my relationship with God lately.

Several months ago, I thought that my circumstances were starting to change. Because I'd been waiting so long for God to improve my family's situation, I set my hopes on this road to relief. But instead, I received tremendous disappointment in multiple ways. Walking through the series of setbacks really hurt; it felt like even though I couldn't take more pain, there was no escape from its eroding episodes. My heart was blistered by repeated crises like my tortured feet that day in Mystic.

Instead of looking at this time as an opportunity to learn more from God, to apply lessons from the past, to endure in faith, I had a bad attitude. I'm not scolding myself. I think that it was healthy for me to express my honest pain, disappointment, hurt, and sorrow over what had happened. Genuine emotion expressed to God with reverence is nothing short of Jacob-like wrestling or Job-like protesting, without which our faith would be hollow at best, or insincere and distant at worst.

I pulled back from God. I didn't want to pray just to be denied again, I didn't feel like reading the Bible. In fact, reading the Bible seemed to exacerbate my doubts even more. Through the eyes of a child being disciplined, everything a good parent says feels cruel.

I was alone a lot - up all night every night and sleeping all day every day. When I looked around me, all I saw were unanswered prayers, increased suffering. Instead of the relief I'd thought was coming, I felt like I was waiting for the next bad thing to happen. It was a dark time. Increasing the isolation was the feeling of no one understanding. Sharing a hint of my struggle with others just made me feel alienated, like I was wrong to feel these things.

A few months before, I had stated confidently that although my circumstances were difficult, my faith was strong. I had been so sure that I had dealt with my doubts years ago and that my trust in God was unshakable. It was humbling to realize that another series of storms could rattle me so deeply.

Now that I've had some time to reflect, I realize that in spite of my bad attitude, God taught me in a different way. Instead of encouraging lessons learned through study, listening, and observation, He drove home how fragile I am, how utterly weak my faith can be, how vulnerable I am to being tempted to doubt. He taught me how all the knowledge in the world can't heal a hurting soul. Sometimes we need someone to come along and just listen, just nod and validate us when we talk, just cry with us. We need someone who has felt deep pain to sit down without judgment and hear our messy, tearful, angry thoughts without a hint of correction. We need them to come closer instead of pull away.

In my distress, I read Job. I read blogs of those who had been hurt, who had honestly doubted, who had questioned and come back in one piece. Instead of trying to wrap my mind around God's love through pain, I focused on God's holiness. I wrote a poem. I drew Jesus' hands. With awe, I observed his powerful and brilliant creation in a nature TV series on Africa. When I couldn't understand how his way with me was love, I focused on his evidenced character and found I could keep going until my feelings caught up.

And recently I was encouraged to reread Psalm 77. "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago." and so I remembered his past faithfulness. When pain comes rushing in to blind us, we must turn to the only place we can see - the memories of God's presence in our past and in the ancient past. As I've read back over the years on this blog, over the thoughts I wrote down at age 18 on that trip, and over the dates written in my Bible beside that psalm, I see God's loving hand consistently at work in my life. He has been with me all along. Now, I am realizing, as absent as he felt, even this detour was his hand too.

"Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen."
Psalm 77:19

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


There are days when I can't put into words how worn I feel by the years of struggle. My prayers feel stagnant, ineffective, and repetitious. Discouragement washes over me in waves as I wait for relief.

Today, I heard a song on the radio that can sing for me in those times when it feels like my head is being held underwater. If you feel this kind of weariness, let this song be your cry too. Redemption will win. The struggle will end.
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." -Hebrews 12:2

Worn - by Tenth Avenue North

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gutting the House

Have you ever seen "Property Brothers" on HGTV? Two twin brothers (a realtor, Drew, and a contractor, Jonathan) help their clients buy an old house and turn it into a dream home on a budget. I like it because it's a makeover show. They just use tools and paint instead of clothes and lipstick.

Rotten subfloor. Demolition condition.
(HGTV - Property Brothers: High End Home/Rob & Jessica)
With each old home they remodel, a few major "issues" get uncovered during the process. On one episode, a master bathroom was torn out and looked like a complete mess. The toilet was hauled out; the shower stall was knocked down. As usual, the house, which was an extraordinary investment of money, looked like it was worse off than when they began their work.  In fact, a serious problem had even been uncovered that could threaten the very structure of the house.

Jonathan said: "It's true that it's darkest before the dawn because in a demolition, we make these rooms look really bad before we build them up to be beautiful."

When he said that, it helped me to gain perspective on some of the extra "demolition" God has been doing in my life lately. Over the past six weeks, I've been reeling from a series of crises that happened over the holidays. The end result was a major setback for my family, as well as my health and quality of life. My sleep schedule was torn up. My mom was ill, and my grandma was in worse condition than ever. I received some bad news, even though I'd prayed and tried to do everything right. I was powerless to stop any of these things from happening.

Tense, frustrated, and feeling like I needed to get off this roller coaster ride, I did what I instinctively do when I feel upset with God. I pulled back. I justified it by the fact I wasn't awake for my morning devotions anymore. But this didn't address the underlying reason that I pulled back because I did not like what I was feeling or experiencing. God wanted me to trust him, but he was asking me to trust him when everything was going wrong - still - after years and years of injustice and problems and many urgent prayers pleading for Him to change things. I pulled back, even though I knew it was wrong and dangerous because I've been down this road before. I confess I've let my feelings lead me instead of my faith.

Plagued by an excess of bad dreams, doubts, questions, and ups and downs in my health during this time, I have continued to struggle. So it's fitting that this TV show reminded me that there is more to God's plan than just the gutting of my life. It's for a purpose. There are reasons I don't understand. There are also problems to repair that can only be uncovered by decimating the excuses I use like fig leaves. There are rotten areas of sin that need to be ripped out and replaced so they don't spread and fester beneath a socially acceptable facade.

And yet there is even more to anticipate. When the renovation is complete, when God has had his way, when I trust him to pick the right accessories and frame the new features, the big reveal will show the miraculous result of what he has done painstakingly in me through years of trial. Pain is part of the demolition process, and God knows that though our previous way of life looked serviceable enough from the outside, there is so much to fix. Only he can see what is underneath the floor. Only he can visualize the finished project. Right now, I am in the room stripped bare, with insulation hanging out in tufts. The floor is rotten with holes. I am in repair mode, under construction.

Before is tolerable, unstable, and limited.  After is beautiful, stable, and useful.
(HGTV - Property Brothers: High End Home/Rob & Jessica)
But I must trust the contractor (which is what I want to yell at the TV every time I watch shows like these). And this reminder is what I need now to help me keep going.

If you are in a state of demolition with God, do you trust him to finish the job? Will you stick with him though the pain feels unbearable and you look around to see only ugliness and senseless suffering? Remember that Jesus is our master carpenter. When we invite him into our hearts as Lord, he starts a home improvement project and will spare nothing to make it perfect. We become his dwelling on earth when we believe Jesus died for our sins. His Spirit lives in us, so be strong and courageous. The process is painful and confusing, but he's working to stabilize, improve, and beautify your soul as you await your eternal home.

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Philippians 1:6