Friday, October 30, 2015

A Dystopian Tango

A few weeks ago, I was watching Dancing with the Stars for switch-up week. A contestant named Alexa had blanked on part of her performance the week before, suffering a dip in scores, and she felt discouraged when her partner Mark kept telling her she might be eliminated. But she got a new partner (Derek) for the switch-up, who told her she could overcome her fears. She believed him, and with his help, scored the first perfect straight 10s of the season.

This kind of thing happens often over the seasons of the show. Some troubling event will spark a contestant to fight back and perform beyond what they dreamed possible. What made this particular dance so meaningful to me? Why did I watch it at breakfast the next day with tears in my eyes?

I asked myself those questions as I kept replaying the song in my head. The lyrics of Pompeii by Bastille go like this:

I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show
And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above
But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this? 

Even from the first 2 lines of the song, I felt it echo words I've used for years to describe chronic illness - the long days on the couch or in bed, the helplessness and the powerlessness, the failed attempts to soothe my aching soul with things of this world. And the walls of my family that kept tumbling down as my grandma slowly deteriorated, as my dad fell away, as the process of waiting for God to miraculously fix our trauma caused my hope to grow dim.

But this is where the lyrics and the dance came together to move me to to tears. As I watched Derek move Alexa around the dance floor, I thought of all the times I "closed my eyes" - either in despair, or exhaustion, or prayer - and it was another step in my complex dance with Jesus. As I'm watching Alexa hanging on, Derek calling out where to go, guiding her as she's thrown down, lifted back up,  I'm thinking, through all of this pain, God has never changed. He's the same gracious, merciful God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. And although I have not yet received that "miracle moment" I hoped for, we have moved far beyond the "baby-faith" I had when this began. He moves; I hang on. He moves; we separate and return. We move together.

As the dance ends and a few other dancers embrace and circle around them, it mirrored the very thing that had happened to me. A handful of understanding and compassionate people came around to walk with me as I stepped forward.

So I smiled through the tears of knowing an aching joy, that Jesus has been leading me through a broken city that I loved, great clouds rolling over, and me thinking, "how am I going to be an optimist about this?" in so many terrible circumstances. And I realized how far I have come to be married, to be healing, to be coming out of a long, dark, and lonely place with my love for Christ having been battered and thrown and tested at every stage.

Just like Alexa heard the message that she might be eliminated, I too battle the fear that I don't measure up, that I should freeze and not try to move forward because I might fail or it might hurt too much. But when I recently read in the Bible about Nehemiah's struggle to rebuild (coincidentally) the "walls of the city that he loved," I recognized how intricately the work of evil is tied up in fear. Fear is the tool of evil, like a hot poker, trying to imobilize me, trying to make me back down from what I'm building for God.

But fear has no ultimate power over someone who loves Jesus. Can things we fear happen? Yes. The walls can come down. People can block our progress. We can get sick and even die. But with Jesus leading us through, we will finish well. Don't give up whatever justice you are fighting for. Don't give in and sit down and give up because of fear.

As Vaneetha Rendall says in The Loneliness of Suffering:
Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall.

Continue to dance with Jesus, even if you need to just collapse into his strong grip and let him carry you forward.

"Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world."
1 John 4:4

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Wound

Years ago, while pet sitting for a friend, I received a nasty dog bite. I still have a faint scar in between my middle and ring finger where the tooth sunk in, deep. I ran water over it right away to rinse the area, and at the ER, they had me soak it and bandaged me up, sending me home with an antibiotic.

However, when I followed up with my doctor, she unwrapped the gauze to reveal an ominously swollen, pink hand, knuckles lost in the rapidly advancing infection.

In spite of the fact that the sides of the skin had come together, there was still bacteria deep down inside, causing pain, pressure and growing rapidly. The surface appeared to heal, but I still had to address the deep wound.

As I've progressed in my physical healing journey through slow, deliberate diet and lifestyle changes over several years, I have gained new ground. Now I can go out to do multiple errands. I can plan a wedding. I can attend special events. Rejoining society in this way is complicated. I have been through deep, lingering darkness that made me rethink where I derive my worth, purpose, and identity, suffering that exposed my utter inadequacies and left me completely, excruciatingly dependent. I've also experienced rejection and isolation, loss of relationships so dear that I felt the grief of gradual death, though the people I mourned lived on.

So last Thursday, as I drove along the highway to the salon, the sunshine streaming in, the radio cheerily celebrating my new level of functioning and stamina, I felt in that moment as if I'd suddenly resurfaced where my head went underwater 10 years ago. It's as if nothing has changed on that same route I used to drive to college, and yet, everything has changed.

Though I appear no different, I'm not the same person I was before the fainting and the chronic dizziness, before the caregiving and the loss of my job, home, safety, grandparents, and father. But all that life experience is now trapped like an infection in a wound I don't know how to heal. The two sides of skin look the same and have come together on the surface, but the puncture of this last decade has profoundly altered who I am.

I write not with any answers or insight, not with any scripture or prayer. I write simply as an expression of how I'm processing these changes taking place, and the ambiguous path of living with one foot in the sick world and one foot back in shopping malls, restaurants, social chit-chat, and grocery stores.

Who am I now that I've been out of the workforce for so long? Where is my place? What is my purpose with some new energy? When I marry, what will this new life look like? How will I continue to help my mom as she struggles with ongoing problems?

I don't have the answers, so I keep looking to God with a dim, fragile hope that he will restore and redeem what I still cannot fix.

In Daniel 11, a detailed vision about the future presents many kings that rise and fall, leading to the end of days. Reading it is like reading a soap opera of characters that all try to exert their will and power to obtain something of meaning in this life. I scanned it with lazy eyes and reluctantly studied the scholarly notes attached.

In the small print, I found a kernel of encouragement for this time of confusion:
"Pious Jews would readily fall into bewilderment: how do these circumstances display God's concern for his people, and how will God ever use his now-insignificant people to bring blessing to the whole world? The vision is therefore reassurance for the faithful."

There is a way forward with the promises of God. Elsewhere in Daniel, I see that it's possible to get thrown into a fiery trial and come out not smelling of smoke. It's also possible to get thrown into a fiery trial and pass away. Regardless of what comes to pass here on earth, we have a God who knows the end from the beginning, and he, more than anyone, knows both the pain and the redemptive nature of deep wounds and scars.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Friday that didn't seem "Good."

During the month of April, I'm reading Rachel Lundy's new 30-day devotional called "Hope for the Hard Days." (Click on the link and download it for free!)

Today is day 3, and the topic is about hope. Rachel is familiar with chronic illness and expressed the difference between "hope" that is a wish for better physical days and biblical hope in God that is certain to provide both spiritual growth on earth and an eternity of health and joy.

I thought about how it's my everyday circumstances that really challenge my faith. I see and experience injustice that goes on and on. Even when I feel like God could or should intervene, he just doesn't, and I don't know why. I wish for my situation to change, and in some ways, it has improved greatly. But there is still the root of betrayal and persecution that has left a gaping, painful void of grief in my life. This pain reverberates and affects everything I plan and do. How do I maintain my hope when God doesn't act in the way and in the timing I wish?

To be honest, it has been brutally hard. I have struggled with limited energy and motivation to study God's word, and I have days when my Bible remains closed. I have pushed forward with bursts of prayer but then slacken when I feel as if nothing I say matters or is getting through. Today, I had some quiet time to read through Habakkuk. It's only 3 chapters, but it contains some of the most powerful questions and answers in scripture when it comes to why God appears silent.

Habakkuk questions where God is, why he permits arrogant, evil people to destroy his own people, and why God allows this injustice to keep going.

By the end of the book, God has promised that if Habakkuk will wait, he will see the incredible plan of justice and mercy God is going to unfold. Habakkuk says: "I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us." God will indeed act.

Habakkuk looked back and saw God's pattern in history - of vindicating those who trust in him. "The righteous shall live by his faith," God encouraged him. If we maintain our sure hope in who God is, if we look at what he created, if we look back at his character and the cords of his plan woven through history, we can trust he is at work in our own lives in the same way.

Good Friday is the best time to remember that our hope is in a living God, not circumstantial highs or lows. Jesus, perfect in all respects, was falsely accused, condemned, beaten, and hung on a cross as a completely innocent man. When he died, circumstances told his followers and friends that there was no hope. Death was the final word in human thinking. But God's plan required waiting until Sunday.

Often I feel the weight of living in that Friday state of grief - watching injustice happen, seeing wrong judgments made, being powerless, wondering where God is. But the knowledge that God resurrected Christ from the dead gives me the boldness to hope in something more than what I see or experience. It gives me certain hope in God himself.

If you are living in Friday grief, remember that Sunday is coming and don't lose hope. He is the God of all comfort. We can trust in him.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he enables me to go on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:17-19

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Glory of God

Sometimes I get so caught up in my own little world, my own pain, my own questions and doubts and fears that I lose sight that God is ruler over all the earth. When he stretches beauty like a canvas across the cold January sky, I look up and remember who created me, who stretched out the heavens, who is really in charge, and my heart can rest for that moment in wonder.

     Holy is the LORD of hosts.

The whole earth is full of his glory!"
Isaiah 6:3