Enough

I thought I was trying to start a healthy habit, but it turns out I am really struggling to grow more faith.

After struggling for months of being sick and worn down, I decided I should really get serious about getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night. I didn’t really think through where the hardest part of this plan would be. If I had pick one word to describe it, I think I would have to use the word, “enough.” Not “enough sleep,” because despite being able to suddenly cut my caffeine consumption by 2/3s, I still feel tired. No. Admitting there had been enough in the day. Admitting I was done. Admitting what God had done was enough, and I could rest.

What was supposed to be an exercise in rest and restoration turned instead into an ugly power play. I wasn’t done yet. My things were important. I don’t want my life to just be work and sleep. This is not enough.

It made me stop and think about resting as an act of worship. First there is aspect in which we are to stop and look at what God has done. I think that’s how the original 7th day of rest came around – not that God was wearied, but as a observation of all that He has accomplished. But that’s not enough, either.

It’s also a sacrifice, in more than one sense of the word. In one sense, we have to give up the things that we want to do in order to do the rest God calls for. We want to think that we have to do things, or that OUR things are important, but what we’re called to do is agree with God that He is right: He provides all things, and this world is ultimately very insignificant. It’s humbling. Surely the bare necessities of food and clothing demand our attention. Surely Martha is right. But didn’t He say something about finding His sustenance in the work of God? About manna being provided double-fold the day before the rest, so you’ll still have food even when you don’t work? About clothes not wearing out for 40 years, because He said so?

It is very humbling. Because the other sense in which it is a sacrifice is in recognizing that our own striving, our own attempts at righteousness is not enough, nor even desirable by God. We have to be covered by something else – to rest and be covered in His provision. What we do is simply not good enough.

I resent it. I resent my human limitations; I want to be a god. I don’t want to have to rest. I resent that the world doesn’t actually fall apart when I rest; striving is so hard, it seems like all sorts of things should fall apart when I stop striving and rest. But they don’t. Because it isn’t really about us at all. My human nature is that I don’t want to agree with God. But isn’t that what worship is? Agreeing with God. Agreeing with what He says about Himself, about us, about this age, about what matters. The humility of bending the knee and admitting He has the final say in anything, that He is the arbitrator, that what He declares is true.

Who gets to decide what is enough? I find myself muttering to myself, “this isn’t enough.” Who decides? I have so much more than so many. So much less than so many. Who draws the line and says, this is enough? In truth, God. In truth, going to bed at the end of the day and saying, “it is enough,” is not a declaration that we are enough–we’re not. We never will be. It is agreeing with God that what He gives is enough. It is not fighting with God to be more powerful than we are, and agreeing with Him that the nature He gave us is one that needs to rest — and only can rest, if we truly believe God will provide whatever is truly needed. That it’s enough to rest in Him and the things He does, and to not do things myself. That it’s enough, what my lot in life is right now.

It’s hard to make ourselves small. It’s painful to make ourselves small, or rather, to recognize the truth of our smallness. But it’s also the only way we see the greatness of God. We so easily lose sight of what “holiness” means, or “authority” means. We’re far too inclined to put ourselves on level with God, and in doing so, rather than make ourselves large, we make God small.

The feeling that things are never enough is part of how God made us. . .He has placed eternity in the hearts of men. We subvert that to say, this day was not enough, so I’m going to stay up later, try to squeeze more in. What it should really drive us to do is to recognize the smallness of our to-do lists in view of eternity. It really doesn’t matter, it really isn’t important, because it really won’t last. Only the things that God is doing will last.

I am still incredibly frustrated by how little time I have. Week two of “getting sleep” is not shaping up to be any easier. The only thing I have now is the recognition that this is actually a spiritual battle. That the resentment I feel at having to rest needs to be turned into the humble acceptance — and gratitude — that it is enough. Because God said so, and He is fearful and wonderful, and I recognize my place beneath Him. He is enough.

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You and your soul

Do you think I’m a good judge of character?

I do.

I don’t know really how we can know such things about ourselves. But especially since I’ve gotten into a career where I see so very many different kinds of people, from all different walks of life, I feel like I can get a pretty good measure of a person by a first impression. Not a complete dossier, of course. But I’ve had the hair on the back of my neck rise up in wordless warning, with no tangible reason for it. I’ve pried recalcitrant people out of their shells. And I’ve been perfectly at ease around people that society would have you to believe ought to be scorned.

But you really do have to trust me as a judge of character, at least to a certain point. Because sometimes there are just random things that happen to me, where if you trust my sense of character, are just are just a really good story. And if you don’t, the whole story goes from novel-worthy to really kind of skeevy and a little unsettling.

So I went for a walk. I didn’t even really want to, but when I have too many emotions, I need to walk. Preferably over lots of hills. It’s sort of like getting mad and hitting things, except without the violence. And of course there’s no hills here, but still I’m charging down the sidewalk, storming around the park. And some random dude is like, “Hi!”

Seriously? He looks like a college aged guy, out walking himself.

“Do you like to talk while you walk or think to yourself?”

Well, I inform him apologetically, I like to think to myself. Walking is how I sort through the day and get my emotions out.

It turns out it wasn’t really a question, because he tags along anyhow. So earnest about being encouraging and trying to ask me what’s on my mind and cheer me on through it. And if I am a terrible judge of character, then he is just rude and annoying and won’t get a hint. But in my judge of character, he is just pretty crazy, and I kind of just want to laugh at him. He is strange in his own way, but not ill-intentioned.

So I tell him about missing home, about being far from anyone who knows me. And he admits he feels the same way, even though he grew up here. He asks me how many siblings I have, and then he asks me how many have died. And the whole conversation is this strange mix of serious and surreal. He insists on walking on the the side closer to the road, so he’d be hit first. He complains his friends have become cops and he can’t talk to them anymore. He confesses several of his siblings have died and his uncle committed suicide. He chivalrously steps between me and annoying barking dog. He tries to slow me down from walking too fast, talking too fast–he’s the one with the energy drink. He complains that people are suspicious of everyone now, even people walking you home.

And I just want to laugh. It’s broad daylight on a busy street. We’re almost to my residence. There is nothing he can take from me. If I am any judge of character, dude has had a rough, sad life and is tired of people pretending they can’t see each other. Tired of people not even trying to be kind. Maybe–maybe–he would like tears from me and the chance to comfort me like a hero. But I already know he won’t get that, and I think he can tell that’s not who I am. But still he will walk me home, so I won’t get run over by a car. And we continue our random and bizarre conversation, about chickens and goats, and brothers who have too much money and won’t talk to you anymore and would you just slow down and chill out.

And then I say, I’m sorry to end our conversation, but this is the house I’m staying at. So he gives me a casual hug good-bye, and I hug him back. Because this is all so silly. And we both know it. And so he stops and turns,–no, wait–and puts the crowning finish on it all by kissing my hand goodbye. And I would really laugh at him, if he didn’t already know he was being silly, but he already knows. So we wave good-bye as random friends, and I go into the house and he keeps walking off toward the college.

We are still sad. But we can still smile.

There is no reason for it, for any of it. For the heartache of this world and it’s loneliness and it’s brokenness. For the walking and talking with strangers. For walking on the left. But we don’t have to hurt each other, either. We can still be polite. We can still be kind. And sometimes the kindest thing we can do is not pull back. To not be offended by the broken offerings of kindness, to not refuse that a person could have any worth to offer you anything.

You see me walking with a burden, and I–I see you walking with a burden. And we are both already broken enough, and don’t need any more breaking. So kiss my hand; I’ll not pull away. Go in peace, you and your soul.

What do you say?

You know what they say: Love Wins.

And if you are anything like me, “they” make you very frustrated and sad, because that’s jut a feel-good cop out that refuses to look at what love is. First of all, love is verb. People want to think it’s a noun, and I’ll dig around at that thought a bit more later, but the consideration of love as a noun is usually an attempt to avoid the difficult questions.

Love Wins. Love of what? Love of others? Love of nature? Love of self? Don’t try to squirm out of this – if you don’t confront that love is a verb, you are trying to pretend that those above choices will never be in conflict and that is demonstrably false. One of the most painful examples I have seen of Love Wins is people trying to use it to justify infidelity. It’s okay that I left the person I promised to love forever, because I love this other person, and Love Wins. Yes, that is “love winning” but that’s love of self winning. By dropping the direct object of “love,” it makes it sound very pious but is actually deeply deceiving.

The idea is, any action goes, as long as it’s in the name of love, because love wins. There’s no condemnation with love. But that’s still avoiding. Love of what? Love of whom? Because the object of your love is the object of your worship. There is One who claims the noun of Love — God. And that’s exactly what it means: the love of God, the love through God, the love toward God: the worship of God.

That’s the love that made the only innocent and holy man take on the full wrath and judgment of God. Love of God. I’ve seen a lot of people say Jesus did that because He loved us, but I don’t believe that to be it at all. He did it because He loved God, more than He loved us or Himself. Love is so very often what leads to self-denial, the exact opposite of how most people are attempting to use the slogan Love Wins.

Love Wins. Do you not understand what hard things this means in the real life? If there is one who wrongs, and one who has been wronged, who do you love? And is it really for you to judge about wrongs and wronged? And this question requires that one be worthy of love. Is that love? How do you love awful things? People like to use Hitler as an example of all that is wrong in this world — so do we love Hitler? Have we judged that Hitler is not worthy of love? If we get to decide who is worthy of love, is that Love Winning?

The only way I can see for Love Wins to make any sense at all is to appeal to authority: what you love. If what you are really saying is Love for Self Wins, you justify your actions by yourself and what benefits or harms you. If what you are really saying is Love for Dogs Win, well, heaven help you, you are appealing to the authority of dogs for your actions. And if what you are trying to say is the Love of God Wins, then you have do this other thing: submit to the authority of God, even when it means self-denial.

That is what Jesus was called to do. And I think that is what we are called to do. I don’t think it’s easy, nor is it always pleasant or feel good. And in all honesty, I don’t think it is often easy to understand. But when you are caught in the struggles of understanding what the loving thing to do is in this messed up situation, the only way to make any sense out of anything is to admit that you do not have the authority to decide what love is. Only God does. Or whatever you have decided to worship as your god.

If love was easy to understand, or love was easy to do, there would be a whole lot more “love” in the world. Let us not do ourselves the disservice of pretending that the struggles of loving in this broken word can be distilled down to a catchy, dismissive slogan that requires not heartache or difficulty self reflection, or brutal examination of all that you believe and worship.

I was listening to someone tell me the other day of her raw heart ache and her feelings of not being worthy of love, and how she felt badly betrayed and mistreated by her most recent lover, who had rapidly moved on to someone else to love — better and more gently than he’d ever loved her.

And sitting there listening to her pain and her grief, I kept wondering what love was. Love, in that moment, it seemed to me, was just hearing her, and recognizing her hurt. So that was what I endeavored to do. But all the while, my mind churned. You keep going from lover to lover and you think you will ever feel “worthy of love”? You think love is both something we must be worthy of and something that is still worth it, as conditional as you seem to understand it to be? In light of eternity, is true love rebuking you — painful in the moment, but so life giving in the long run? What would the apostle Paul say? Probably something starting with “brethren and countrymen–” and I’m just not feeling the brethren and countrymen thing right now. What would Jesus say? How the heck can I know? Sometimes He rebuked and sometimes He said, “do not rebuke her.”

Love Wins? Love Wins what? No, truly, what is love winning? You can’t even remotely pretend that love makes this world okay. This world is coming apart at its seams, has been, will be, and cannot be patched back together with love. Love can be a balm in this world, a comfort, a refuge sometimes, but what does it win? And I say this in all seriousness, because if you are going to die for love, you had sure better know what it is you are winning. And if you don’t think love is something you’ll ever be called on to die for, what makes you so sure it’s winning? How do you expect to actually make a difference against darkness and hurt and hate if you aren’t going to have to sacrifice for it? Plenty of people have died in the name of love. (Jesus, for example, comes to mind.) You can’t love and be safe and not do hard things.

Love Wins. It’s called, “sticking two verbs together and pretending it makes a sentence.” It doesn’t. It’s a slogan to hide behind, but doesn’t actually do anything in the way of guidance or illumination of how to deal with the hardness and the brokenness of life, and the confusion we all face when we come face to face with the command to love and the ugliness of the fallen world.

I don’t have an answer back, and that makes some people angry. Don’t just criticize. Keep your mouth shut unless you have a solution to offer. But people, you’re missing a step. Don’t you open your mouth and pretend to offer a solution when it’s a solution you haven’t vetted. If you won’t do the work of vetting your own offering, don’t be surprised or offended when other people are testing it and trying it. Love Wins is a feel-good farce designed to belay guilt, accountability or authority. It’s the childhood chant of “I’m right, you’re wrong, ha, ha, ha” without actually having meaning or depth behind it.

Love is supposed to be sacred, so playing “love” is supposed to be the trump card. If you don’t agree with me, you’re just a hater. No, I’m not. I’m someone who’s desperately trying to love, who finds that all sorts of different definitions and objects of love are completely contradictory or antithetical to each other. Love Wins is not a solution to someone struggling to understand how to love guilty, condemned people who have done horrible things. Love Wins is not a solution to understanding how people can say they love you, and love someone who has wronged you, hurt you, torn you apart, and ripped your life to shreds. Love Wins doesn’t help you understand when you are loving someone, and when you are enabling them more and more into their own self destruction and destruction of others. Love Wins doesn’t bring people back from the dead or end suffering. Love Wins has never helped me figure out Love or Winning, and in all honesty, I’ve never seen it used as more than sickening expression of “I’ve Got Mine!”

Do I believe in Love? Yes, but it’s not pretty and neat. I believe in the love and the authority of God. I don’t believe I’m worthy of love. I believe it is only the judicial act carried out against the innocent Son of God that satisfies a holy and just God to love, but as such, I don’t need to be afraid of losing that love. Because I never claimed it by my own action or merit anyhow; I was declared worthy by One in authority, and His declaration and intent stands. I can’t accept that love without also accepting that authority, and that means my measuring stick for love is not my own: sometimes, I’m called to love when I don’t want to, when I want to wash my hands of the whole situation. Sometimes, I’m called to not love when I want to, like when I want to love myself more than any kind of self-sacrificing love. I don’t get to say, “well, I don’t think that aspect of God is very loving,” because I don’t get to define love, because I don’t have the power to love. Not even as I think I should love.

I’m twisted, I’m broken, I’m weak. My love is tainted and fragile and without power. That means the only love I really have to offer is the love that God gives me, and that must therefore be defined by His authority. That really is all I have to offer you. Do I believe love will win? Yes, but winning is defined by God’s terms, not ours. And God was pretty blunt about saying that won’t be how we expected it or valued or how would have done it ourselves. So, no, I don’t really know what that means. I don’t know if I’ll be seeing my great-grandmother again. I don’t know what happens to people who seem to have broken other people by their inability to even understand what love is. I don’t know what the fullness of God’s love looks like; I only know I don’t have the authority to define God or His attributes. It is He that has created me, not I that have created Him. Love wins, in that love remains after this world has passed away. Love wins, in that it is Love that has sought to redeem us. Love wins, in that it is God who wields the love. Love wins, in that we can’t really commandeer it, and it will always be beyond our definition and power, as we echo faintly of what we’ve heard.

If I have to pare it down to a scant sentence, I cannot say Love Wins. I can only say, the Love of God will Win.

“God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

First

I am a child of God first.

This became my mantra this week. It began to grow out of a conversation I had with a friend.

I have just been thinking that a lot of my stress comes from feeling insufficient, and if I just work harder, I’ll be more sufficient. I’m trying instead to look to God, who alone is sufficient, and declares us sufficient by His blood But I lose sight of that every other minute.

Lord, let us find our satisfaction in You, instead of in ourselves, and let us receive Your grace, a grace unknown and unoffered by this world.

Do you see the outgrowth? I feel insufficient. . .as a student, a friend, a practitioner, an adult. But! I am a child of God first. So when there is a person or situation that is standing there, making me feel insufficient and incapable, I remind myself that I am a child of God first, before any other thing or occupation, and that it is Him only I am living to please. Not others. And not myself.

But it has been a very sobering mantra. I am a child of God first. It seems almost like a feel-good cliché. Instead, it has been revealing to me how very little I have thought about what it really means to be a child of God first. What does it mean, really? In some aspects, I think it means we have to pay attention even more to what God says about Himself, because, as His children, He is also saying it about us. A complex thought which I am afraid of being misunderstood, but bear with me.

To paraphrase Rich Mullins, “Jesus didn’t come and die so you could live a comfortable life.” Okay, yes. But you cannot always define things by what they are not. Why did Jesus come and die? The most succinct answer I can give is, “To be about His Father’s will.” Jesus prayed a multitude of times for the cup of suffering and judgment to be taken from Him, yet, “not as I will, but as You will.” What He did, He did not out of self-fulfilling joy, but out of deliberate obedience to the Father, and the work the Father meant to accomplish.

I think that puts us, though perhaps not to the same degree, in the same place. It matters what God is doing, if we’re His children. Not children in the sense of spoiled royalty who get whatever we want. His children that are about the work of their Father.

What that has revealed to me this week is how very much I am not interested in being about the work of the Father, but rather how much I’m drinking the wine of this world. Its cares, its values, its priorities, its reason, its logic, and a pervasive desire to figure out how to get along with its people, its systems and its social rules. It has shown me how very much I have been trying to figure out how to get comfortable, and how to paint my favorite fairytales–how so very much I have been trying to create my life and lead my life, two things which are very acceptable by this world and contrary to a life of obedience to something much, much higher than you are. The first step to acknowledging the greatness of God is a deep humility in regards to yourself.

The more I try to define what a child of God is, the more I find I have been running the other direction. Not deliberately putting myself up against God, but fearing created thing (humankind) more than it’s creator. Avoiding speaking the the truth to avoid conflict, because sure, judgment is coming sometime, but. . .I mean, that’s between them and God. Well, the judgment is, sure, but how about the truth that we are supposed to bear witness too? I don’t want any type of conflict, but. . .isn’t light and dark supposed to be in conflict? If it were a novel, we would all be desperately hoping that the powers of light wouldn’t be giving way to the powers of dark, wouldn’t be accommodating, wouldn’t be trying to fade into the background and fit in. We’d be hoping they were putting up a strong resistance, because they would be the only hope of a happy ending. This would be horrifying, and isolating, and offending so many people. . .and possible only if you really acted as child of God first, knowing that this world and it’s forms are passing away and God’s word is enduring forever.

I don’t mean that we should go around deliberately trying to offend people. But Jesus was an offense, and warned us that if they were offended by the master, how much more so by the servants? He testified to the truth; He was the truth. He was perfect in every way, and utterly and completely rejected by this world. And if I am honest with myself, I very much would like to avoid that rejection.

I will try one more time to say it, to clarify what I am trying to get at: we can’t serve two masters. We will either please the one and anger the other, or anger the one and please the other. Yet at a certain level, I’ve been trying to please both. It doesn’t work. But committing to one most certainly means rejecting the other.  “Fleeing” to the place of affirming my identity as a child of God de facto means that I have to take a position of enmity toward the ideals of this world, which are resolutely set against God. Their god is their pleasure. Not so for the Child of God, who prayed with blood and sweat. Not so for us, if we truly go to join Him. There is a joy and a peace in following God, but it is not the comfort of this world. We cannot honestly pursue both.

And I am a child of God first. And still trying to learn to understand what that means.

Trust and obey

So often I only seem to manage to write here when I am stuck in an ugly place, and that makes it all the more refreshing to be able to write, occasionally, from places of noteworthy peace. Not, mind you, noteworthy energy or noteworthy answers, or noteworthy understanding. Just peace.

This is not a peace that comes from knowledge. I mean, my peace is “God has a plan.” But I’ve heard that and “known” the unceasingly. Sometimes, what we know becomes in a more full sense for us Truth: in the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Since there is no new knowledge, it seems at times hard to describe to anyone else the kind of change that takes place. There was no sudden revelation or clear words from heaven. If I could partially attribute it to anything, I would attribute it in part to finally having a chance to digest some of the most difficult and unpredictable things I’ve ever gone through. Note that I did not say “going through those things”; I said digesting having gone through those things. There was very little peace in the midst of them, or even right after them.

In the space of one night, I went from my body functioning, to my body and my mind not functioning at all. When you cannot even depend on the body that houses you, so many kinds of uncertainty open up. This lasted months upon unending months. In one year, my health dipped drastically lower than it ever has, improved to higher heights than I can remember in decades, and finished the roller coaster by dropping once again. I am in the process of spending the better part of a year being essentially homeless, and driving north and south and east and west across this country, big enough to span many countries. In this rotation alone, there’s been more nights than I can count where I literally did not know where I was going to be sleeping that night.

I have said it before, but one seems to have to continuously re-learn: Sometimes having utterly all control stripped away from you leads to a greater peace when you finally have no choice, no option, no power or ability or determination to do anything other than trust.

And sometimes you don’t or can’t, and you just slog through weeks and months of misery. There’s that, too.

That’s why I feel like digesting all the hardness and uncertainty is only part of it. The other part — again, we are not discussing new knowledge, so my apologies if you were hoping for a revelation to change your life — is the growing conviction that God loves me. That God likes me. That He’s not arbitrary and distant. That He has plans for me — GOOD plans, not cold, calculating, take-your-medicine-and-stop-whining plans.

I can’t for the life of me tell you how or when that happened. Except, obviously, sometime between now and the last time I wrote. Again, no grand revelations. Just a quiet coming along side, you and Me — we’re in this together. He goes ahead to prepare. And it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be more than okay; it’s going to be good. I don’t know how or what or why or when. I just know it has to be good. Because He is good, and He is in control, and I have heard that all a million times before and sometimes it just turns into Real. My Lord and my God.

 

If I was a good writer, I would stop right there. Many a good work has been painfully burdened with an uncalled for epilogue that doesn’t display any trust in the reader. Even knowing that, I feel compelled to point out that “my Lord and My God” is what Thomas said after God rubbed his face in the fact that that he was not believing the things he needed to be believing. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much Job in a nutshell, too.

It continues to fascinate me how it is so much easier for us to believe the things that terrify us rather than the things that will comfort and encourage and strengthen us. Perhaps, for some select few, hope comes easy; but for most of us, it seems, it takes a good deal of audacity to hope. (This concept did not, incidentally, begin with a certain senators book; I dare say it’s been around a good long time, but you might enjoy reading this: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2008/03/for-the-record/218866/ ) I think that everyone can interpret the use of that word – audacity – a little differently. For me, it is the idea of, “Who am I, that I should expect any good?”

Again, maybe not everyone struggles with that particular aspect. But while it is more frequent a topic to discuss “hidden sins,” most people don’t even seem to acknowledge another fault: hidden dreams. On first scan, it seems unnecessary to call it a fault. Wanting good things, verifiability good things, and not making a fuss out of it, hardly seems like something to complain about. But the problem, I have discovered (and to me, this part is new knowledge) is the “hidden” part. Because hiding implies that it isn’t safe or can’t be trusted. To “hide good things” is to in a way act as though one cannot be trusted with good things, or with us, or with our delicate hearts. Rather than dare to tell Him, “God, this is really what I want from the future,” I stash it in the corners and peek at when I pretend He isn’t looking. That’s not trust.

Upon reflection, maybe this piece has more to do with it all than I first realized. The last month or so has really been a time of me confessing my hopes and dreams and desires to God. I don’t think I ever before really understood how hopes and dreams could be involved in the same sentence as “confessing,” but I have been becoming increasingly convicted that this was an area that I tried to keep from God. That He could have His plans, and I’d make my little doll house plans, and if they didn’t happen, I understood, but I would have my own little doll house plans, that I would mostly try to hide from Him so He wouldn’t mock him. That’s not trust.

I do repeat myself. It’s important. Sitting there and saying, “You know, God, this is what I want,” is something that I actually continue to find to be incredibly difficult to do. But as with confessing sin, also strangely freeing. There’s a quiet resentment to hiding your dreams. And there is no guarantee that by confessing your dreams, you get them miraculously fulfilled. There is freedom in clearing the air and admitting freely that you do have hopes and dreams. But there is also that audacity of hope.

And that is when I discovered, when I bring the desires of my heart before Him — as is His explicit injunction — He doesn’t mock me. He doesn’t crush me. He doesn’t promise blank-check I’ll get everything I want, but (curiously!) there seems to be no offense in me saying, “these are my dreams.” I might not get what I want, but if I don’t, it’s only because He has something better planned.

I still wonder. I still want to know. But I am so much less afraid.

Comprehendeth Not

After the last series of complaining  was tried, wondering if I was sick and wondering if I was depressed– well, I was sick. After the antibiotics, I went back to wondering if I was just tired, or maybe some depressed, or maybe the antibiotics weren’t enough.

Well, maybe. Maybe any of those things. Maybe none of those things. Maybe all of those things together. But I was suddenly struck with an epiphany that regardless of ANY of those things, problem numero uno was: I was believing lies.

Believing lies doesn’t make them true, any more than “knowing” the truth means you are always believing it.

More often than not, I find that looking to actual children helps me to understand my own situation. A child may “know” that there aren’t monsters in the corner of the room. But in the darkness, the child may see what looks scary. . .and it feels scary. . .and believes it to be scary. And maybe the adult tells the child not to be afraid, and the child knows the adult is telling the truth, but maybe it’s still hard to believe. Maybe it takes the light coming on in the room to see the monster is just a sweater over a chair for the child to believe the truth, but the truth was always the truth, no matter what the child was believing. And maybe, once the light is off again–even though the child has seen the truth–it’s hard for the child to keep believing the truth. Because, there it is, looking scary, feeling scary, and seeming to lead to nothing but scary conclusions.

And looking at my future, short-, medium-, or long-term, has looked pretty scary. It’s felt pretty scary. I’ve believed it to be scary. But that doesn’t actually mean that it is scary.

I grew up with the Bible. I grew up hearing the very word of God. I know those words, and not only do I know them–I’ve never known not knowing it. And it’s very easy to take for granted the things you’ve always known, like that the earth is round or like when you jump up you’ll always land on the ground. It’s very easy to take for granted the people who have always been there, like an annoying older brother. And sometimes, I wonder if the fact that I have always had a Bible at easy reach, always heard the promises of God read aloud, has lulled me into taking them lightly.

Yes, yes, I know everything will be okay–but right now I feel frightened, I feel hopeless, I feel. . . and then I stop, suddenly struck but the realization that a lot of people can’t say, with true certainty, “everything will be okay.” A lot of people can’t say “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed within us.”

Having the promises of God are, truly, a precious thing. Because that means we have something to cling to. We have an adult, even if at the moment in another room, speaking the truth. We’re not left alone in our terror, and the truth of the situation has been revealed to us for us to believe it. Although we see, or hear, or feel, or reason, or logic out scary things – we don’t have to believe those terrifying things, because we’ve already been given the truth by the One who actually understands what is going on, and the truth that He speaks is: Fear Not.

And just because we’re screaming in the darkness, seeing and feeling frightening things. . .does not negate the truth.

What it means is that we’re being lied to. And, for the moment, believing it.

And oh, there is such freedom in that, do you know? When you suddenly realize the horrible things you think you are seeing aren’t the truth, and you don’t have to believe them? It is a bit like waking up from a bad dream. You might still feel jittery, and in some ways  it might still feel real — but you know it’s not really the truth. Not really.

And there’s another way that it’s freeing. You have to respect the truth, no matter how painful or uncomfortable it might be. But you don’t have to respect lies. There’s no need for “well, maybe. . .” or, “I guess I should see how it goes. . .”No. Wholesale, out-right, complete rejection. That’s a lie. That. Is. A. Lie. And the truth, the certain, unchanging, unrelenting truth is: Fear Not.

Hallelujah.

Even So

“I don’t really know where I live anymore.”

I just blurted it out, and then felt the weight of that unexpected truth.

Someone asked me if I still lived at home. I was preoccupied with what I was doing, so I guess the truth was closer to the surface without my mind being available to keep it in check. The person wanted to know if I still lived “at home” but I haven’t been living “at home” for over two years. And I’m not even living in the same state I was in for the last two years any more, and although I know where I park my car every night, in a few months I’ll be in a different state. . . and then a few months later, another state altogether.

I miss my family and friends, but it’s hard to feel like that’s “home” when I feel like I don’t have much autonomy there. I made good friends while at school, but I never felt at home in that city or under those mountains. I’m staying with relatives now, and I like the place where I’m working, but it doesn’t ring as home.

It was such a succinct statement of the real crux of the matter that when I was thinking about it later, I wished I had time to sit down and have a good cry. I’m not homeless in the sense of sleeping under an overpass. But I feel very homeless in the sense of feeling like I don’t really belong anywhere, that “my place remembers me know more,” that I don’t know where I’m trying to get to anymore, and that I don’t ever know when “this” will be “over.”

And aren’t the homeless to be pitied? I pity me.

But Jesus said, “Birds have nests, foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Which leads me to my perennial question: why? Why does God have this thing for homelessness?

Abraham? Leave your home. Go wandering aimlessly for the rest of your life. Joseph? You’ll never belong, no matter how long you’re there. Moses? Take a whole lot of you people and go get lost in the wilderness. David? Just ’cause I said you would be king doesn’t mean I won’t have you driven out of your own country. And He didn’t spare His only Son, either, who grew so famished in the wastelands that He had to be fed by angels.

I want to stamp my foot and demand that God gives me a home. But I can almost hear Him laughingly say, “Why would I do that?”

I know home is not home is not home until we are finally Home. I know it would only be a shadow, a foretaste of what is to come. But in the meantime, while we’re waiting, why don’t we get that taste? Yet the theme of having no place to rest is quite strong, and I don’t think it can be easily dismissed. But why? Why is it so much to ask, to know that kind of goodness in this world? Why does He say, “blessed are those who give up home and family for my sake”?

It’s so easy to say trite things about “making us depend on Him more” or “showing us how trustworthy He is” or “nothing of this world is really of value, anyhow; we have to keep our eyes fixed on the the things above.” But you know what? When you really get right down in the midst of it, when you really feel this millstone of it around your neck? You still ask “why.” You still ask why there can’t be a better way to know Him or trust Him or understand about what things have value. You still cry out, “how long, O Lord?” Because it’s still the pits, and quaint sayings don’t change that.

And I have no answer. And I have no comfort.

But if I were to respond to one blurting of the truth with another unexpected expression of the truth, then it would have to be with. . .

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

Amen.

Oh, you.

I put on my 1950s style little black dress and a pair of sassy red heels, and I went to that wedding.

Not because I hardly even knew my cousin and her soon-to-be husband. Not because I like crowded spaces and loud music.

Because people are important, and important things take work. People take time, and showing up when you don’t feel like it, and making an effort to to be available, and patience to grow relationships and even extending olive branches when you really don’t know someone.

I was so pleased with myself that I know this now. I was so pleased with myself that I am consciously trying to build and strengthen family ties, even when I feel like I don’t really know the other person and that they might not even want to really know me. I was proud that I had put my money where my mouth was, and that I had whole-heartedly shown up, not half-heartedly gone through the motions.

Then I went home and found a sobering blow: my childhood best friend was married on the same day.

Or at least, I always thought we were best friends. I think I always had suspicions that maybe she didn’t think we were best friends. But I thought we were, and I thought we always would be. Because, of course.

You could say our families grew apart. That might be an understatement. You could say we grew apart. That would be trite. Looking back, I think we were pursuing (consciously or otherwise) totally different things for our relationship together. I think we had different ideas of what life was supposed to be like, what friendship was supposed to be like, and how we were supposed to relate to each other. The older we got, the harder I tried – and the harder it seemed to be able to connect with her in any meaningful way. The suspicion that I might not be her best friend grew into the suspicion that she really couldn’t care less, but that she was a nice person and would be nice to me.

That, in turn, grew into shame. Shame of what, I couldn’t quite say. Shame that I was a “needy person” perhaps. Shame that wanted a relationship the other person didn’t want. Shame that the other person seemed to have their life all together and mine was all a part, and that person was in a different class than me. Shame that I kept trying to pursue a friend who didn’t need another friend.

I think it was shame that finally did us in. I quit trying to hang on to the friendship, ashamed I’d tried to keep it going for so long. And I was the only one that was trying to keep it, so away it went. That only intensified my shame.  I should have let the friendship die a long time ago. Clearly, I was the desperate one. Clearly, I was the pathetic one. Clearly, never showing my face again was the best option.

Years later, she “friended” me on Facebook. I was startled. An olive branch? Perhaps I’d over-reacted; maybe I was too emotional — took too personally what was only a busy time in her life. Along with the request was a brief note, trying to catch up. An interest in my life? No; she friended me, but totally hid her wall from me, never followed any of my posts, and never followed up again. A nice person, who holds me no ill will, but no desire for friendship, either.

It made me sad. Actually, it made me more ashamed. Getting my hopes up over a superficial “friend request.” Entertaining the fantasy of returning to childhood friendship. Delusion and desperate as ever. She was the one who friended me, but kept me at arms length. Still, I felt a little guilty seeing pictures of her “tagged” on her wedding day. It felt as though perhaps I shouldn’t know this was happening — that I shouldn’t really be privy to this part of her life. She sent me no invitation; why should she? We hadn’t seen each other in countless years. I’m sure I couldn’t have been further from her mind on her wedding day.

But it took my breath away. I remember us as kids, occasionally mentioning hypothetically some-days when we’d be married, speculating about the future. If you told me that on her wedding day, we wouldn’t even know each other any more, I think you would have broken my heart. Maybe my heart did break, just a little.

I can extend grace to my nearly-unknown cousin from a position of superiority. I don’t know you; I don’t need to know you. But I will grace you with my presence, just so that you know that I am willing to be your family, should you ever want one.

But I find I don’t know how to extend grace to my once-friend, who at one point allowed me nearly the same grace-from-superiority: I don’t need you, but I will pity you, and extend to you some shallow friendship. I’ll friend you on Facebook – a token gesture – but not actually invest in you.

It took the wind out of my sails. Partly, I think I am still mourning a lost friendship — a loss I tried to cram down and ignore, in an attempt to escape the shame, rather than face the loss. Although I must say, it’s only been in the last several years I’ve really learned about loss and grief and mourning. But partly because I realize that while there is a sacrifice to Showing Up when you don’t really feel like it, “grace from a position of superiority” really bites.

This is where I run into my current conundrum. There seems to be no use in pursuing people who are simply not in a place or position or a desire to have a relationship. Yet at the same time, it seems devaluing of human beings not to extend the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship. But is it really an opportunity for a meaningful relationship if it is an offer from a position of superiority — of not needing, but allowing that if the weaker one wants it, to grant it? I think myself so beneficent to have attended my barely-known cousin’s wedding, but how can that really be meaningful to her? So, I showed up. Big whoop. Sure, you have to start someplace. But a real relationship is about a lot more than gestures.

I’m not hurt that my once-friend didn’t invite me to her wedding. I hurt that not all friendships are forever. I don’t hurt that I wasn’t her maid of honor. I hurt that relationships with other human beings are so fleeting and fragile that you can think you’re best friends one year and another year be lifetimes apart. I don’t hurt that I didn’t find out from her about her wedding. I hurt that we aren’t in each others lives at all any more and have no grounds for commonality or friendship. Even if  I saw her today, what what I say? What could we say? There doesn’t seem to be any scant reason for a conversation, except the distant memory that, once, we were friends. And we won’t dishonor that memory. But we can’t resurrect it, either.

It’s hard to reach out to people and to be genuine and honest. But if it’s not genuine and honest, it really stinks. Forced, shallow and polite relationships really stink. Yet real, true, honest relationships needs a lot of work. Period. Good things require time and patience and mindfulness about tending. So how do you know when to let go, and when to keep patiently hoeing out the weeds? How do you know when “showing up” is part of the patient work, and when it is almost a condescension? And why do many chasms, originally there or grown over the years, never come to redemption?

 

Blessedness

Today is a gift for me to receive, not a burden for me to bear.

I kept telling myself this as I got ready to leave the house, because, naturally, the whole day feels like a burden. I thought maybe I had convinced myself of the truth of the statement, but nearly feel into tears twice during casual conversation while talking about the things I needed to accomplish in the next two weeks.

I know I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I know that’s a big part of it. And I know I’m primed now to catastrophsize at the slightest provocation. But I also know that part of the problem is that I truly have not learned the truth of what I’m repeating to myself.

Today is a gift. For me to receive. NOT a burden for me to bear.

I don’t like it when I start getting frustrated or worried about the future or counting off the things to do, and people tell me, “But you’re here right now, and it’s a gorgeous day, and. . .” Don’t minimize to me what I’m going through, people! It feels patronizing. This new “mantra” feels different to me, because it doesn’t argue with any of the things I’m saying. It says, “regardless of how uncomfortable or unpleasant this may feel, it really is a gift. And you would do well to consider why the One who loves you saw fit to give it to you. And if the only thing that is unpleasant right now is all that you have to do, you should remember you’re trying to lift a load that someone else is already carrying.”

There are a lot of things of nearly every moment of the day that are privileges. Some people like to list them, but I don’t. Count your blessings, they say. But that makes it seem like they’re finite, and CAN be counted. Express your gratitude! they say. But that makes it sound like we really have any idea what is good for us, what we should be grateful for. We’re like two-year-old children throwing fits because we can’t drink windshield-washer fluid. We grateful for being able to eat the unripe fruit that will only make our stomach hurt, and would have been so much better if we’d just waited, just a little. We resent rebuke, chastisement, and the challenge and correction that makes us grow. How can any “counting” make things better? Sometimes, you look and you look and you look, and it all just looks like CRAP.

I don’t think looking or counting or saying the right words is what it really takes. I think what it really takes is faith. That EVEN THOUGH everything looks like crap, it isn’t. That EVEN THOUGH it might look like dreams are crushed or hopes are dashed, God is good. That EVEN THOUGH grief and suffering at times become suffocating, God does love our own particular self. That EVEN THOUGH the blessings just don’t seem to be there, they are, because God never stops giving good gifts, even when we can’t recognize them..

We’re not fit to weigh our existence in the balance. Our balance is exceedingly far out of collaboration and has “NOT FOR LEGAL TRADE!!!” all over it in red letters. Only God actually has the capability, the “equipment,” to take the real weight of anything, the real sum of any whole.

Sometimes, we think about our own self worth. We know we aren’t to overvalue ourselves. But we forgot that we’re just as wrong to under-value ourselves. Sometimes it feels like every accusation is true and that we’re right to blame ourselves, and that we do only make every thing worse, and we deserve nothing better. And it’s hard to stop these lines of thoughts, because we know that we aren’t like God.

Only, in a way, we are. Because on God’s scale, on God’s balance, on the sum of our whole, is the blood of Jesus, the holy and righteous and sufficient sacrifice. And to do away with ourselves is drastically undervalue the redeeming work of the only Son of God. And to stop to consider what Christ accomplished is to realize that He is on those scales with us. So how can we not be loved?

In the darkness and the suffering and the grief and the complete pointlessness of it all, Jesus our Lord is with us. Are we not filling up His sufferings and grief until the times are full? It is a cursed world. But He is with us.

In our frustration and our hurt and our fears — things we can’t find any way to count as blessings — He is with us. And for that reason, and that reason alone, we are blessed.

I am NOT losing my freaking mind

I’ve decided I’m not very good at describing my emotions or my situation. I think I am tired, yes (for good reasons, like: pushing myself in my physical rehabilitation). And I haven’t been creative in far too long, which is a bad thing, and shows up in strange ways, like feeling inhuman.

But I’m not actually losing my mind. And a casual reader might think, “Yeah, whatever. I knew that. Hyperbole.” But it does matter, because it matters to me. “Losing a freaking mind” is an actual state that actually can occur. Is that or is that not what is going on? Actually, it is not what is going on. Despite the sometimes rocky road, the truth is, I am a little better every day.

There’s a sign I read that says, “Be careful what you say, because you are listening.” We tend to think we’ll feel better if we vent, and maybe for a brief moment, we do. It’s a little visceral to yell, even if just in a metaphorical sense. But we are kind of listening. I’m losing my freaking mind becomes the title of the chapter we’re living.

Now, I’m not going to suggest that we change the chapter of the title and, voila!, life gets better. But I think we are responsible for being honest, even to ourselves. I’m not losing my freaking mind. I made it through the last three weeks. I will likely make it through the next three weeks. I’m not in acute danger. My mind is actually relatively at ease, which is why I can worry about the future 365 days in advance instead of the next 5 minutes of “how am I going to wash dishes/take a shower/remain upright?”

Being honest with yourself is hard, but that’s no reason to let yourself off the hook.

Someone told me over the weekend that I had anxiety. Not as in “the emotion that humans have” but as in a title, like “ADHD.” My first response was to get mad inside, just like the LAST time several years ago someone told me that. Because just because I’m anxious most of the time doesn’t mean I “have” anxiety, it means I’m in circumstances that would make anyone anxious, that’s all!

It didn’t help that the person who was suggesting I had a condition had just absolutely lost her bananas in anxious-land on account of getting a puppy she’s been wanting for years. Whereas I had been in a clearly more valid state of anxiety over unknown rehabilitating illness, uncertain future, uprooted vagrant with no clear path to even the next step.

See the self-justification, the defense, the condemnation of others? Maybe I do “have Anxiety,” I don’t know. What would that change, really? I just don’t want (pride) the stigma (and vanity) associated with being A Person With Anxiety. I’m not an anxious person. I got my stuff together. It’s just sometimes life gets hard, that’s all.

Well, maybe you don’t have your stuff together. How about that, hm? I wonder why it is so hard for me to accept that. I suppose, if you were one who believed we were shaped by our upbringing, it would be because I’m so often bailing everyone else out that some part of me feels like I have to be able to count on me, because who else can I count on?

But if you don’t like theories like that — I don’t; they make me feel uncomfortably lot like I am trying to blame anything but myself for my character short-comings — there’s the plain fact that, as usual, there’s a lack of trust in God and a defiance of being dependent on Him. Period.

I don’t like that answer either, because it seems to leave very little room for encouragement or grace. Your fault. Did it wrong again. Still not enough faith.FAIL. I guess the only thing I can really come up with is that the focus is still me, me, me; I, I, I. Maybe the point is, stop thinking about you. Your anxiety. And start thinking more about God, who, quite frankly, you ignore on a regular basis.

Paul says, “It is not troublesome for me to remind you again. . .” Maybe the point isn’t in learning new things, but in remembering the steady, constant things. God is good. God is near. God is faithful. God is in control. Maybe I need to just stop fixating on me, and consciously practice fixating on Him.