Good day, dear readers. I’m going to try to blog about this experience with Hurricane Florence a little each day. Maybe someone else will be able to relate to my fear, faith, and feelings…maybe it will just prove good therapy for me to get them all OUT! Be safe out there, friends.
I was thinking about “hurricane preparedness” this morning, and what a misnomer that phrase is. We feel we are prepared. We did all the cursory prep as most of my neighbors – bringing in every porch / yard item that could become a missile in Cat 4 winds…shutting all of the interior doors before we left…evacuating two states away. Hurricane Florence, you see, is taking dead aim at our lovely little beach town.
You know that feeling you get when – first thing in the morning – you open your eyes and realize there is something very wrong? That sinking feeling? A giant monster storm coming straight for your city and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. “Preparedness” is important, but how do you prepare yourself for coming home to utter devastation? What if we lose everything we own? It’s a very real possibility. I’ve had several mini panic attacks over the past few days, like many of you, I’m sure.
OMG, this is happening.
This is the “big one.”
I might lose the things of my heart, like my kids’ baby books. The unity candle from our wedding.
The outfits my babies came home from the hospital so many years ago.
The more I think about all the things, the more I remember we could lose, and the more I have trouble breathing.
Then I remember I have lost nearly everything before, during the course of my 2004 divorce. I just left, took the kids and left with little more than we had on our backs. It was a horribly difficult time, but we survived it, and my daughters actually thrived.
Eventually, the sad sting of losing so many pictures and yearbooks lessened. But that was high school yearbooks and pressed homecoming mums; furniture and trinkets. Not a whole house.
Today, one of my kids is here in Atlanta with us, another is in Charlotte safely with her boyfriend (who is an absolute super hero…) and one on the way to VA.
Even our kitties are stuffed into this tiny hotel room – all three. It’s cozy.
So what we are going through is unbelievably stressful. I just consumed an entire bag of “extreme” sour gummy worms. Yes, I’m’ praying to Jesus but candy helps, too.
This hurricane is not an “act of God.” God is responsible for all that is good and lovely, pure and true. He is in our laughter and in our joy. He is not punishing anyone. He is always either blessing us with all the beauty around us, or he is hunkered down with us in the storms. He hasn’t left us.
File natural disasters under “sh*t happens,” and look around you. You will find some of the kindest, most loving people manifesting right now. I’ve lost count of how many friends I’ve seen post, “I have an extra bedroom; whoever needs a place, you are welcome here!” And “What do you need?” on public FB feeds. “I can run errands. I can help you pack. I can give you a ride.”
That’s where I’m seeing God at work – not in a swirling vortex of doom. I don’t know why bad things happen and I’m not going to yank your chain with useless platitudes.
It sucks. I’m scared.
This whole shebang is super stressful.
Can faith and fear occupy the same space? I used to think not. But anymore, I’m convinced that our Creator is grace-full about the overlap. He isn’t mad at our anxiety. We’re his kids, for crying out loud.
Right now, those same girls who went through the valley of having a single mom in the early 2000’s (and my Bonus Daughter, too) are out of North Carolina. Nobody knows what this thing will do, but stuff be darned, my family is safe.
We are just one family of the literal million who has left for higher ground. There’s nothing special or particularly unique about us. We are all going through this together.
For your family – whether you are riding it out or stuck in your car right now in a long, seemingly stationary line of traffic, I pray for you. I worry for you. I’m hopeful for you.
And I’m super glad to be a part of a community of people whose hearts are so loving and giving. You guys are – in the worst of circumstances – being the hands and feet of God. Thank you.
“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ” – C.S. Lewis
By: Jana Greene
Oh, C.S. Lewis. How I would love to go back (or forward) in time and pick you brain. Your thoughts so messy, yet austere. I just want to smoke a pipe (vanilla tobacco, please) beside a lit fireplace at a table for two – the kind of table that’s too small to eat a meal on, but too big to be a nightstand. And I want to say, “THANK YOU!” Thank you, that you did not regard anxiety as SIN (which seems to be, unfortunately, a consideration of the modern church proper.)
Dear readers, if you don’t already know, I suffer from anxiety, depression, ADD and OCD, and it’s been a life long issue.
I think I was born anxious.
When I was a five-year old frozen in fear just walking into the kindergarten class, I wasn’t sinning.
When I display compulsive behaviors, I have no evil intent. (Oh, and being diagnosed OCD was SUCH a shock – not because I knew it was true, but because I thought I hid it from the world so WELL.)
When my heart will simply not beating 125 beats per minute, it’s not a demon makin’ it tick.
When I cannot focus on one thing for 10 seconds, God is not disappointed in me.
When my brain confuses being chased by a T-Rex with emailing a resume, it’s not sin – it’s out of my control – fight or flight.
Anxiety is what led to my alcoholism. It took the edge off, eventually it took me past the edge.
I thought it was a wonderful thing because all of my mom friends drank wine – I just drank mine out of a Big Gulp cup. With a lid. And a straw. I do not suggest this method of anxiety quelling, it’s highly non-sustainable. I didn’t know when to stop, and that’s why I don’t do that anymore. Haven’t for 15 years, hallelujah!
But I still contend with depression/anxiety/ADD/OCD. I just do it sober now. And it can be very difficult. I really don’t care who knows it because it is what it is and I try to write authentically.
What does anxiety feel like to me?
It feels involuntary. SO involuntary.
It feels like asking Jesus to take the wheel, but being sure the steering fluid is low.
It feels like you are the only kid in class who forgot to get her permission slip signed, and now you can’t go to the museum.
My body reacts to a crowded aisle in Walmart as if I were a wolf willing to chew my own leg off to escape the trap. (For some reason, Walmart just does me in.)
It feels like I am too awkward to inhabit a planet with normal people who don’t have panic attacks on the regular. Plus, I forget what to do with my face a lot.
It feels like a stutter in your soul.
It feels like abandonment. Remember a time when someone walked away from you for good? That feeling. The first five minutes after it occurred to you that the person was never coming back. Now replay those 5 minutes in an endless loop.
It feels like I’m sorry for being this way!
It feels overwhelming. Worry, doubt, pray. Or is it pray, doubt, worry? See? I just can’t get it straight.
It feels like DOOM. Not just regular doom, but DOOOOOOOOOOM.
It’s being certain nobody likes you, because you are, well, weird.
I have been prayed over, prayed for, where two or more are gathered or two dozen are gathered. I have felt like a sub-par Christian because my healing didn’t ‘stick’ – and that’s a really crappy feeling, ya’ll. It is pouring gasoline on a fire.
So now, I’m anxiety-ridden AND my faith is too puny to do any good?
Nobody judges the diabetic whose insulin will not bow at the feet of the cross, but people will drown you in holy water trying to get depression to go. (By the way, I do believe depression can be a spirit, but I also believe early childhood trauma, genetics, or just plain chemistry can rile up a good baseline anxiety.)
I really fail to see how mental illness is any different.
I would rather not battle mental illness, but if I must, I will try to consider it from your point of view, Mr. Lewis (‘May I call you C.S.?”)
My Abba circuited my brain just as He pleased, and did so for a reason. There were environmental events that tightened the screws. He allowed things to shape me, just as He is shaping YOU. I believe that all of it – the janky humanity in us – I believe Jesus walks with us and in us, and that’s what His heart really longs for. It isn’t the ‘alphabet soup’ disorder that defines me, it’s that I’m His.
So sometimes I freak out, and its scary because I don’t even totally understand it, but always, always I feel God’s presence, even when I can’t calm down. My anxiety doesn’t scare Him away.
He is less concerned in having a vast army of perfect people – a master race of Christians who pray away anxiety, and never say a potty word. Followers who have gotten it ‘all together.’
I believe He loves all His misfits right where they are.
How much more passionate might we be with the mentally ill if we considered their affliction as sharing in the Passion of the Christ?
A long time ago, when I had retrospectively minimalist problems, I used to read the Psalms out loud in my morning devotion time. Until recently, I’d forgotten how much power is invoked in reading them aloud.
It’s 4 a.m. right now. And it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, Oh Lord…..standing in the need of prayer. I’ve been up all night with gargantuan aches, pains, and the like – that seem hellbent of keeping me awake.
The Bible says that biblical David was a man after God’s own heart, but if you read the scripture, it seems that David was a bit of a whiner at best, and a real drama queen at worst. I mucked up a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and STILL God knew his deep and abiding love for him. I absolutely love Kind David. He GETS me.
Yesterday, I got some medical news that I suspected was coming. I’d warned my mind and body about it (as the symptoms had already revealed themselves to said mind and body), but my Spirit put up quite a fit upon learning what’s going on. Renal issues. Enlarged Liver issues. Chronic pain and more migraines to expect. Fatigue as the order of the day forthcoming. And leg and foot cramps that make you want to cry uncle at the top of your lungs at 2 a.m. (My poor, poor husband, I KNOW he is losing sleep…..)
Oh, and did I mention mental health issues arising from dealing with the stress of all of the above PLUS childhood trauma that has never been dealt with, and a whole lifetime of untreated depression? As I lurch forward in treatment for mental health issues, I’m feeling black-and-blue, my heart beat up badly, and bones and soul, too.
Which brings me back to the biblical David, bitcher of circumstance, beloved man after God’s own heart (is it possible to be both? I’m kind of counting on it….) Like David, I am on the cusp of digging deeper in my faith. Like David, I’m getting ready to clean out my closet and make room for fresh hope.
The Psalms are best read aloud because you can better capture biblical David’s desperation aloud. He is one of my favorite biblical characters because he can slay giants, become a mighty king, loves God with all of his heart, and seemingly and impulsively throw it away for a hot chick in a bathtub. Hey, who am I to judge?
Here is a man who knows frustration. Here is a man who gave us authentic prayer of the highest order.
Pray it aloud when you are at the end of your proverbial rope:
1-2 Please, God, no more yelling, no more trips to the woodshed. Treat me nice for a change; I’m so starved for affection.
2-3 Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue, beat up badly in bones and soul? God, how long will it take for you to let up?
4-5 Break in, God, and break up this fight; if you love me at all, get me out of here. I’m no good to you dead, am I? I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!
6-7 I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed has been floating forty days and nights On the flood of my tears. My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears. The sockets of my eyes are black holes; nearly blind, I squint and grope.
8-9 Get out of here, you Devil’s crew: at last God has heard my sobs. My requests have all been granted, my prayers are answered.10 Cowards, my enemies disappear. Disgraced, they turn tail and run. Pslam 6:1-10 (MSG
Read this aloud when imploring the Lord, perhaps in times you feel forgotten:
13-14 Be kind to me, God; I’ve been kicked around long enough. Once you’ve pulled me back from the gates of death, I’ll write the book on Hallelujahs; on the corner of Main and First I’ll hold a street meeting; I’ll be the song leader; we’ll fill the air with salvation songs.” Psalm 9:1-10 (MSG)
And then this. Pray it out loud. Pray it so that the devil can hear you. Pray it so that the cells wrapped in pain in your body can know it’s true. If we don’t get healing this side of the kingdom, we get it eventually and in full, and forever! In the meantime, pray it LOUD:
And this after-God’s-own-heart, keeping it 100, plea from an authentic David to God:
“Oh, God, my Lord, step in; work a miracle for me—you can do it! Get me out of here—your love is so great!— I’m at the end of my rope, my life in ruins. I’m fading away to nothing, passing away, my youth gone, old before my time. I’m weak from hunger and can hardly stand up, my body a rack of skin and bones. I’m a joke in poor taste to those who see me; they take one look and shake their heads.
26-29 Help me, oh help me, God, my God, save me through your wonderful love; Then they’ll know that your hand is in this, that you, God, have been at work. Let them curse all they want; you do the blessing. Let them be jeered by the crowd when they stand up, followed by cheers for me, your servant. Dress my accusers in clothes dirty with shame, discarded and humiliating old ragbag clothes.
30-31 My mouth’s full of great praise for God, I’m singing his hallelujahs surrounded by crowds, For he’s always at hand to take the side of the needy, to rescue a life from the unjust judge.(Psalm 109:25-31)
And here, finally, we see the AHA moment in which David sees the light, so to speak. He is at that pivotal place we all need to find ourselves in, in order to keep running that most challenging race set before us:
“Don’t put your life in the hands of experts who know nothing of life, of salvation life. Mere humans don’t have what it takes; when they die, their projects die with them. Instead, get help from the God of Jacob, put your hope in God and know real blessing! God made sky and soil, sea and all the fish in it. He always does what he says— he defends the wronged, he feeds the hungry. God frees prisoners— he gives sight to the blind, he lifts up the fallen. God loves good people, protects strangers, takes the side of orphans and widows, but makes short work of the wicked.
10 God’s in charge—always. Zion’s God is God for good! Hallelujah!” Psalm 146:3-10
Lift up us fallen ones, Abba. We are so tired.
But even in our sickness and sadness and end-of-our-rope-ness, we are are a people after your own Heart!
“What’s going to happen further along down the road?”
“I’m sorry, that’s on a need-to-know basis. Just trust me.”
“Trust me, love. Whatever comes further, I’m already there with you.”
I’m always badgering God about what’s next, even though I know that I couldn’t even handle it if I knew. Seriously, I COULD NOT EVEN. But in some convoluted way, I ask God to reveal to me the outcome of certain things, but the gift of prophesy is not my strong suit.
I am considering this today as I’m struggling with my health issues. I have a rare-ish condition that causes chronic fatigue, migraines, intermittent system pain, and recurrent infections. It’s not going to kill me, but some days I feel like it would kill me if it were more merciful.
Here’s the thing, though: If God had revealed to me that I would do battle with this for the rest of my life, I don’t know that I would have stayed sober. I don’t know if I’d handle it well at all, so I’m grateful for the not knowing.
While I was busy NOT knowing, He went further down the road with me when I wasn’t even looking. The manifestations of His mighty hand over this struggle were being constructed long before I was even symptomatic.
If God had revealed that I would carry this thorn, maybe it would have gone down like this:
“Child, enough badgering! Come sit with me, and I will indulge your curiosity….
“As you grow older, you will feel like your mind and body are falling apart, because they will be – sort of – and you will be scared and tired and frustrated. But I’m working on an infrastructure for your life so that you will be able to carry this yoke…..
“I will bring you a spouse who adores you, and believes you when you are telling the truth about your pain. He will never give up on you, even when you are really sick….
“I will drop friends into your life with EXACTLY this same disease that you suffer from, and they will seemingly drop from the clear blue sky. You will marvel that I took such care to place those perfect people in your life at just the right moments. Lean on them and let them lean into you. They are sent directly from me….
“When you are having a bad day and hurting inside and out, I will scootch right up next to you so close that you can feel my love for you, even through the pain. My Holy Spirit will be IN you, giving you fresh hope, even through the tears…..
“I will give you the gift to write about your experience, so that you can pay this Love forward to others….the ones who are gravely sick but look well, the ones whose labs and tests all come back normal and they feel like they are losing their minds, and that nobody believes them. YOU will comfort and believe them, just as you have been comforted….
“I will give you humor in copious quantities, so that you can not just survive, but THRIVE….
“Whatever comes further, I am already there with you.”
Life is crazy, and blogging about it such a crazy process. Yesterday, I spent hours writing a fanciful and spiritual fairy tale. Today, I’m writing about death and chaos and the ever-widening chasm between us as members of society.
I hardly slept at all last night. I know many of you probably didn’t either. The happenings in Dallas did a number on my already-over active ‘fight or flight’ response. Anxiety was the order of the night, all night. I pulled out every anxiety-quelling practice I’ve ever learned (it’s a very big toolbox.)
The word “Anathema” kept popping up in my head.
Here’s how the dictionary defines it: “An abomination, an outrage, an abhorrence, a disgrace, an evil, a bane. Abhorrent, hateful, repugnant, odious, repellant, and offensive. And what example did the good people of Google use in the definition? “Racial hatred was anathema to her.”
After a fitful three hour sleep full of nightmares, I woke up and posted this to my personal Facebook wall, and I meant every word:
If you are trying to somehow justify what happened in Dallas, go ahead and unfriend me now. Do us both a favor. Hate begets hate. Those officers were picked off by sniper fire as they are protecting citizenry. No, I cannot justify what happened to the innocent black men killed, but here’s the rub:
Not ONE of the Dallas cops was responsible for what happened in MN or LA. Not a single one. An officer is killed every 58 hours, on average in this country.
If we are going to be outraged about murder, let’s be outraged about murder. Period.
The sad state of affairs we find ourselves in as a nation is making my heart so heavy.
I am sad that “All Lives Matter” even has to be a thing. It should be a given.
I am sad for the slaughter of peoples everywhere, including the unborn. Violent acts against another human being can never inherently bring PEACE.
I am sad that portions of our citizenry consider justice and vengeance interchangeable terms.
I am sad that we are a nation more divided today than ever. (And I’m mad that the current administration seems to have perpetuated a lot of that division among Americans instead of uniting them.)
I am sad that my young adult children are already bitter about the state of the world, instead of hopeful.
I am sad that my granddaughter has to grow up in such a time as this.
I am sad because the undercurrent of hatred is rising to the mainstream, and people are dying as a result.
And I’m just just sad, but scared. I talked to God at length in the wee hours of the morning about being scared. And wouldn’t you know, He comforted me quite a bit – and didn’t even chastise me for my ‘lack of faith.’
You see, to my mind, the chaos and injustice in the world is indeed socioeconomic and racial and political , but it is fundamentally a SPIRITUAL problem at the root. The skin is only, well…skin deep.
But the spirit? We are all connected.
I’m going to go out in a limb here, but I’ve got to say it, perhaps at the risk of over-simplifying. I mean no harm in what I’m saying. I have friends of all races and creeds, and I love them all so dearly.
It’s a spiritual problem, and ain’t no way to fix that except Jesus. What we are seeing is the human race operating as its own Higher Power. If you’re not already, please pray for our nation.
It’s the devil’s game to divide us all. He is the author of confusion and the father of lies. It seems obvious that he is gaining a foothold.
Division is NOT the way of the Father. My Jesus is your Jesus. We NEED the intervention of a good and inclusive God, and we need it desperately.
I hated to pull the ‘unfriend’ card on my Facebook account, as it seems on the surface as a divisive action itself. But for the sake of my adrenals and blood pressure, I can’t. I just cannot even, ya’ll.
I see a sick pattern emerging on social media: Are you “Team Black Lives Matter?” or “Team Thin Blue Line?”
I don’t know how this will all pan out. But I am imploring those in my itty bitty blog sphere of influence to consider that what we are doing is clearly not working, and to call on the Almighty to hook us up with some supernatural Shalom here. STAT.
In my flesh, I am not optimistic. There is so much strife and pain and rage.
But in my Spirit? I know ALL things are possible through Christ Jesus.
It’s going to take a miracle. Hearts have to change, not just minds or views or laws. HEARTS.
I’m going to close this out with one of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
“One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.”– Matthew 19:14 (MSG)
By: Jana Greene
In her book “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith,” Anne Lamott wrote a chapter entitled “A Man who was Mean to His Dog.” She wrote about witnessing a guy being mean to his Golden Retriever at her local beach, and her incredulousness that anyone could be unkind to a dog of that breed. Goldens are the most people-pleasing dogs in the world, just so full of goofy and abundant love. They just want to win your approval.
I witnessed something this morning at the grocery store that may have been the human equivalent, which is even worse.
I live in a coastal town, and here’s one of the Rules of Living at the Beach on any 4th of July weekend: DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE. And if you must leave the house, do it at 7 a.m. in the morning before the tourist craziness reaches fever pitch, usually around 9:30 a.m on a holiday.
But I had to leave the house, because I needed some things from the grocery store, so I trekked out early and thankfully there were few people out and about yet. Unfortunately, one of those people was a really upsetting presence. A harried-looking mom (or grandmother? Could have been either) with a darling little tow-headed 3 or 4 year-old girl.
The first time she opened a tirade on the wee one was in Bakery.
“Put that down!” the mom shouted, when the girl reached for a free cookie. “Can’t you just ever do anything right?”
To which the tiny, blonde adorable human being who has the inalienable right to enjoy a free grocery store cookie (it’s in the Constitution) responded with a muted “Sorry.”
I blew it off as a frustrated albeit really cranky mom, and made a note to try to avoid her for the rest of my shopping, which of course resulted in her passing me in almost EVERY AISLE.
In Bread, the girl skipped around the cart while her mother scanned the shelves.
“STOP IT!” the mom commanded.
“I’m just being silly….”
“Well, knock it off. You’re always silly. Its getting really old.”
Ok, now I’m getting angry. Who the hell reprimands a child for silliness? I catch the mother’s eye and give her a mid-grade stink-eye in return. She looks mean. MEAN, I tell you. But I thought she might think twice about berating her daughter if someone gave her the stink-eye.
In Pasta / Rice / Soup, I met them again. This time, the girl was trying to put a tiny stuffed animal she had brought into her mom’s purse.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She snapped loudly. “Carry it! If you didn’t want to hold on to it, you shouldn’t of brought it. If you put it in my bag, I’m throwing it away.”
Let me stop right here and assure you that my mothering skills are completely imperfect and always have been. I try really hard and always have, but I make mistakes. I snapped at my daughters plenty as they were growing up, I know I did. We all have bad mommy days. Snapping at your child occasionally isn’t what I’m talking about. I don’t mean to judge this woman harshly, but as she systematically tore down her child in such a nasty way, I started judging aplenty. Every word she directed at her daughter was full of scorn. I can only describe it as venomous. (The sad thing is that if this is mom at 7 a.m., I cannot imagine how she might treat the kid at 5 p.m. when exhaustion really kicks in, or at 8 p.m. when putting her child to bed.)
I started praying for the girl, who wasn’t even misbehaving in the least – just being a kid. Even on the aisles we didn’t mutually cross, I could hear the mom yelling at her.
When we met up in Frozen Foods, the little girl told her mom “You look pretty.” Anyone could see that this child was trying to win approval, and it was freaking heartbreaking, because her mother responded with “Yeah, whatever.”
Finally, at the checkout, who should queue up behind me but this woman and her daughter. The girl touched a candy bar and her mother loudly said in a seething tone: “You got a hundred dollars? No, you got nothing. Don’t even touch that.”
She didn’t get physical with the girl, but I wanted to scoop the child up and get her away for a while. I wanted to offer to babysit, and invite the girl to come skip around my dining room table and eat candy. I would take her to feed the ducks at the pond near our house, and I would put flowers in her hair and assure her that she IS doing everything RIGHT, and that silliness is a character attribute of the very highest order.
Instead, I smiled and winked at her. She was just precious beyond all description and she smiled back at me – as sweet and happy as a Golden Retriever whose owner had mistreated it. What I’d witnessed wasn’t cruel enough to be reported to the authorities, but it was definitely cruel enough to chip away at the spirit of a beautiful little girl.
Four year-olds are full of glee and “why?” and skipping around. Quite frankly, that age is often the most lovable of the childhood years, the most people-pleasing age, just so full of goofy and abundant love. I continued praying for the girl as I checked out my groceries and put them in the cart. By this point, I’m beyond angry. I am rolling away to my car, imploring God to protect and comfort that child’s wounded little spirit.
And then I had a thought invade my pleadings: Pray for the mother.
Hurumph! I shut that thought down quick, dismissing it on the grounds of righteous anger.
I’m loading my groceries, and again – like an annoying internet pop-up ad, it comes again: Pray for the mother.
What do you want me to pray, God? Forgive her, for she knows not what she does? She knows damn well what she’s doing! But still, as I started the car, God really just wouldn’t get off my back about it, so I prayed an honest prayer:
God, I’m just so mad. I’m mad but I’m asking you to somehow work in the heart and mind of that mother. I don’t know what she is going through, but you do. That meanie is your little girl. Forgive me for praying for her very last, and with trepidation. You were pretty clear about praying for our enemies, and I ask for you to pour your supernatural, unconditional love on her. Show her grace, Lord. And show me grace and mercy too, please. I need it just as much.
Praying for thine enemies is very, very difficult. That’s why Jesus was the only person ever to do it perfectly. It’s especially hard when the aggressor is mean to a child or a dog. I’m working on learning to petition God on the behalf of the jerks in the world, because I’ve been a jerk before too in other ways, so maybe someone was praying for me.
God bless us, every one. Please, God. We need it so.
“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”
– 1 Corinthians 13:12 (MSG)
Greetings, Readers. I’ve been away a while due to several obligations and one horrible migraine that lasted – roughly – for as long as it took Jesus to rise from the tomb. Three days.
Here’s what my migraines feel like – An army of tiny, pix-axed elves are carving Mount Rushmore on the surface of my brain. They are groovy little elves because they provide lots of auras for my visual displeasure as they are unloading their tools. After a prelude of giving me auras and scary face numbness, they start chipping with their elfly chisels, but several hours in, they break out the jackhammers.
I must lie in absolute stillness in a dark and silent room for however long they ascribe to completing their dastardly and painful masterpiece. Sometimes that’s a couple of hours. Sometimes it’s days. DAYS.
I woke this morning gloriously pain-free, as if the stone had been rolled away. I wanted to get out of bed and dance the jaunty jig of the grandfather in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” when he finds out that Charlie has the Golden Ticket.
Come to think of it, maybe biblical King David was a migraine sufferer and danced post-headache:
“David, ceremonially dressed in priest’s linen, danced with great abandon before God.” – 2 Samuel 6:14 (MSG)
You never know.
But I digress…
This is where I’d like to give you some platitude about how all things work to the glory of those who love the Lord. I’m not about to praise God for horrible migraines. Every time I crawl out from under one, my spirit feels a little bruised. “Hey, Lord. I thought you had my back? FIX ME.”
It hearkens back to my primal and paradoxical predicament of thought: Is God an angry and vengeful, spiteful being who is punishing me for my infractions? Or is he a good, good Father who protects me from He-knows-what regularly and walks through every single circumstance with me.
I choose to believe that God is only good. He is love and He is lovely.
He shows UP.
Even as the jackhammers rat-a-tat-tat in my head. Even as we near a nightmare election. Even as I use ice cream as a coping mechanism. Even as I’m angry at him for allowing pain to invade.
Migraines necessitate that I must lie in absolute stillness in a dark and silent room, sometimes for a couple of hours. Sometimes for DAYS. I have some really amazing prayer times while squinting in the fog.
I’m not grateful for brain-invading jackhammers. But I AM grateful that the God of the Universe hunkers down with me, escorting me through the pain. Clearly there are a LOT of things on His plate in the world right now, but He takes the time to crawl into that dark and painful space with me. Sometimes that is Kingdom Work enough.
I’m convinced that presence is the real Golden Ticket.
God bless us, every one.
*I don’t know about you, but whatever beef I’m having with The Almighty has a applicable Coldplay song. Don’t ask why or how, it’s just a cosmic thing. Music is HEALING. As I was writing this piece, I decided that the following might apply:
I once sat in on a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class under a Super Zen Therapist, and let me just say out of the gate, it was FASCINATING. I cannot even begin to touch on all the things I learned (and have on occasion, even practiced) but seriously, folks. If you ever have the opportunity to explore this therapy, I highly recommend it.
The term “dialectical” means a synthesis or integration of opposites. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change.
I love the premise, and the belief that OK, I feel this way, but I don’t have to. I can feel THAT way. Life is nothing if not a big, fat paradox on so many levels. I will take all the help I can get! I’m still about 95% emotion-driven, but hey – that’s a 5% improvement (and ‘progress, not perfection,’ right?)
About halfway through the course, though, we came to this one sentence in the teaching, and my spiritual breaks screeched to so such a sudden halt that it could have propelled me right out of the classroom and back into my AllTheFeels way of coping with everything.
That sentence was this:
Assume that everyone is doing the best they can at any given time.
Ok, hold up. HOLD UP!
I KNOW that’s not true in certain instances. For instance, when I visit my children in their homes and they are not super nice and tidy, I KNOW for a fact that they are not doing the best they can. I taught them, so obviously I’m calling BULLSH*T on this.
And what about other people, who have – and are actively – hurting me by making stupid decisions? You are telling me that the person/people who have (to my mind) driven me to require therapy are doing the best they can? I have to ACCEPT that?
“No, you can accept it or not. Is not accepting it working for you?” Says Super Zen Therapist.
Here’s what I’m still learning, and what is helping me oil those spiritual breaks and get them rolling in a forward-moving direction again….
You cannot keep a handle on another person’s issue. You simply cannot.
I came up with a dorky little rhyme to help me remember this, and I’ve probably said it to myself several thousand times (especially when the girls were teens):
It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.
You can die trying. You can contortionist yourself into all kinds of positions that only end up making you sore and tired. The stress will kill you, I’m not even kidding.
But that’s what happens when you assume that another person is not even TRYING, and you take it personal.
It’s not personal. That person is learning and morphing and all of your hand-wringing and brow-beating will not another minute add to your relationship life, but may well shorten it.
I don’t have to go back that far in my own history to recognize the power of this principal.
When I was an active alcoholic, I wanted to be better for my children. Even as intimate as the mother/child connection was, I didn’t always get it right! I had to learn and do, stop and lurch forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.
My process spilled over to them, but it was never meant to be personal.
I was doing the best I could at the moment, I swear to you. I did the best I could until I could do better. I did better when I surrounded myself with people who were doing better and whose love for me was not contingent on my doing better.
It will behoove YOUR state of mind to believe that the person most getting on your nerves is doing their best in this moment, with their particular life experience.
(And when I really stop to consider it, even the example of my kids and their tendencies NOT to be neat freaks, It was I who cleaned their rooms for ALL of their lives when they lived at home, because in some twisted way, I was making up for lost ‘drunk’ time as a mommy. They may well BE doing the best they know how in this moment. Because something is important to me, doesn’t mean its the only ‘right’ way (But that’s a subject for another therapy session….)
What about the big things?
If someone else’s life choices are spilling over on you and your heart is broken? Consider that they are doing their best. Go one further, even. Pray for them and believe for resolution to their situation. Petition God and plead your case, and then release.
It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.
You cannot grasp it because you aren’t SUPPOSED to grasp it.
You think holding on to it is helping, but it won’t be under your control.
You cannot drop it until you drop your Very Slippery Assumption and use both arms instead to embrace the person driving you completely crazy.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and because it was Mother’s Day, I cried a lot. I cried because it is my first totally empty nest Mother’s Day. I cried because my own relationship with my mother is fractured into a bazillion pieces. I cried because someone I love didn’t acknowledge me at all. I did have a few tear-free segments of the day, but menopause was around to keep the good times rolling.
I may or may not have fed my feelings heaping spoonfuls of Haagen Dazs Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Ice Cream.
I’m still kind of mopey, honestly. But I’m getting a grip today. I must get a grip today.
You see, I love my daughters. Oh my God, how I love my daughters. But they took different paths than I’d expected.
I think that every mother has a certain set of dreams and assumptions for her child. Those assumptions are that your child will grow up to be successful and kind and happy, and stop wiping boogers on the wall. Happily, this is usually the case.
I assumed mine would grow up and get scholarships to universities because they are super smart, they would naturally stay away from all drugs and alcohol (from, you know, learning from MY mistakes, like THAT ever worked,) graduate college and get jobs they are passionate about. That they would be in straight, monogamous relationships – not living together before marriage – then get married to Godly men, and have a couple of kids that they devote their entire lives to, just like mom. (But that was MY own dream, and I couldn’t even do it right!)
Then there are is The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams – that they will follow God – really know Him on a personal, intimate level. That they will pray regularly, and allow Him to guide their lives.
The reality is that kids are not appliances – there are no warranties. They are on a crazy merry-g0-round. You can try to hop on if you dare, but it won’t slow down for you and in the end, there is a lot of nausea involved. It’s best just to stay out of the way. There is no control.
There is, however, a loving God we can trust them to.
Perhaps your child grew up and stopped wiping boogers on the wall (remember when that seemed like such a BIG DEAL? Sigh) but instead ran away from home and you don’t know where she is.
Or is gay / transgendered.
Or is a drug addict.
Or is in prison.
Or drinks to much.
Or is mean to people who don’t think the way she does.
Or has turned her back on everything you taught her.
Or hates you.
Or hates God.
…Any deviation from the loving plans you made for that child when she was first born and they lay her on your belly. (Remember how EASY it was to TRUST GOD with that child when they were brand new? Piece of cake!) New babies don’t stay new, though. They grow up and do wonderful, glorious, horrible, confused, amazing, and confounding things. Things for which YOU HAVE ZERO CONTROL.
Yet, in the midst of whatever your child engages in that breaks your heart, you still – always – love that child. If YOU love her so much, can you imagine how much ABBA loves your child? He isn’t surprised at your kid’s lifestyle choices, and He isn’t limited by our ways of imagining our children ‘fixed.’
There is no grace deficit for your child that you have to worry will run out. God is merciful and FULL of grace! Because they are not the droids we were looking for – happy little predictable robots – does not mean God is not working out HIS PURPOSE IN OUR KIDS, even as they experience stuff.
I still pray every day that my wild and loving and confounding children will make good choices. I pray that The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams that I harbor in my heart for them comes to fruition. I will pray that until my dying breath.
I want to trust the Lord with my daughters JUST AS MUCH as when they lay on my belly as little newborns, squinting up at their mama. I want to trust Him that easily with them still, and I’m asking Him to help me do it.
I lay my children down at the altar and TRUST YOU with their lives. Ultimately I know that my children must know YOU intimately. Lord, help me get out of the way.
Hello, dear readers. I will soon resume completion of The Seismic Seven Series, but an unforeseen distraction took place over the past few days, and I’m sharing it with you so that you also might be encouraged. I had an opportunity to run away with My Beloved to a little cabin in the woods, and here is what my spirit pondered there:
During the days of my steeped-in-nature trip, my spirit experienced such peace that my busy mind became willingly submissive to it.
Worries fell off before they had a chance to stick, like Teflon coated the surface of my soul. Anxiety tried to get in, of course. It’s ruthless that way. But my spirit would not allow it. “Sorry'” I felt it say. “There is no room for you thieves of joy.”
The cacophony of rushing waters, birdsong, and buzzing bees drowned out all else. I felt Holy Ghost in every breeze and rustle, and in me – manifested as Peace.
It occurred to me that this is the way God intended us to feel back in the garden. We’ve lost it through the falling, and through trying to convince The Father that we know a better way.
If only I can find a way to replicate this Great Shalom, back in the ‘real’ world where the cacophony seems only to be struggles and bills and drama.
Lord Jesus, please keep my spirit coated with the Teflon coating of trusting you. Help me reign in the ruthless anxiety. Holy Spirit, manifest in and around me even in the Land of the Lost. And hey, thank you for this glorious respite of rushing water, birdsong, and buzzing bees. Block the thieves of joy so that I might find this shalom even in the mundane.
Amen and amen.
In Part 2 of The Seismic Seven Series, I want to talk about how much you matter – how important and integral you are to the entire Cosmos.
We are all born with a primal need to MATTER. We have a longing to be a Really Big Deal to someone else, set apart and appreciated for who we are in our deepest hiding places.
I’ve always kind of hated the platitudes like “If God has a refrigerator, your picture is on it.” Or, “God carries your picture in his wallet.”
To my mind, that only means He has a enormous Frigidaire to keep Kingdom feasts fresh, and a billion pictures plastered with holy magnets on it, with no one face standing out more than another. Or carrying around a fat, honking wallet full of Benjamins and millions of plastic photo sleeves to whip out and show the saints when He brags about his kids.
But five little words spoken to me by a pastor I respect very much changed my whole perception:
You are God’s very favorite.
What!? Um, no, I’m pretty sure I’m not.
God loves the saintly, the selfless. The cool. Mother Teresa may be His favorite. Or maybe even Lenny Kravitz. He is super cool. Oh, and people who win the lottery. Not me. That was my understanding in my deepest hiding places where fear-based unworthiness tried to get the last word.
“Do you know how janky my life is?” I asked him. “I’m selfish and have a salty tongue. I lose my patience with people who cut me off in traffic, and soothe my feelings with food binges, and I just cannot seem to GET IT TOGETHER.”
“Yes, and you are His favorite,” he insisted.
But I could not forget that sentiment. In the following weeks and months, I let it rattle around in my mind until it found refuge in my spirit. And I found out that it’s true.
I know what you’re thinking: How arrogant to assume I’m His favorite! But here’s the rub:
YOU are his favorite too. In our puny, fallen capacity to understand love, there can only be one “favorite.” One chosen over all the others. We want so badly to be someone’s favorite, to be a Really Big Deal to someone. Each one of us being Abba’s favorite isn’t possible in our human understanding, but it’s 100% true.
“We are dealing with two dimensions here – the one coming from above presides over all – while the reasoning from a mere earthly perspective is confined to communicate from an earthly point of view. The conversation realized as originating in Heaven has the final say.” – John 3:31 (Mirror Bible)
He is pursuing you…can you feel it? If you’re reading this, I know you feel the pursuit. He brings us to people and places that speak life over us. He is whispering to you, “It’s TRUE! No one else will do for the relationship I want to have with you!”
Not restrained by time or space or a limited capacity to love, God favors YOU. Like a favorite son or daughter, He adores you and longs for relationship with you, no matter how janky your life may be.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask Jesus if it’s true. He wants you to ask. Never hesitate to bring honest dialogue to the Father.
Your life and your words and deeds carry enough weight to affect the very Cosmos, and I’m not even exaggerating.
“If anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will be the same again.” — Wm. Paul Young (The Shack)
C. Baxter Kruger puts it like this: “What does the understanding that we are accepted into the mutual indwelling and communion with God remove from our hearts? Fear and hiding. So because of Jesus’ knowledge of the Father’s acceptance, which he shares with us, we now are free to let go of our racial and personal prejudices, and to love and accept one another, which leads to the freedom to know and be known, which leads to fellowship and mutual indwelling.”
The freedom to know and be known, and mutual indwelling with the Creator of the Universe, who poured just as much love and favor into you as He poured stars into the sky, galaxies into the vast universe. You are set apart and appreciated for who you are in your deepest hiding places.
Abba doesn’t carry your picture in His wallet or keep it on His refrigerator.
Over the weekend, one of my very dear girlfriends contacted me. Our friendship is a God Thing to the inth degree. A years ago, we became Facebook friends somehow, and then NAMASTE! – my spirit recognized her spirit the instant we talked. We have much in common health-wise, many of the same struggles. It was as if Abba said, “Hmmm….these two could really bounce things off each other.” And he was right.
She is going through a prolonged episode of ‘brain fog’ due to chronic health issues. If you are healthy (or your brain is young) the fog might be a foreign concept to you. It’s more than forgetting what you went in to the kitchen for. It’s like your thoughts are trying to gain footing on a very slippery rock. It’s a dulling and jumbling of your mind, which can really do a number on your spirit.
“How does one keep a solid prayer/reading life with chronic illness?” She asked me. “When you either oversleep (because you are sick and need the sleep, not because you’re lazy), or you truly can’t muster up a prayer, or read. Or your mind is all over the place, not stable like it used to be? Maybe a good blog topic?”
A very good blog topic.
I am worlds WORST with carving out quiet time/devotions. There, I said it. It’s OUT THERE now. And It isn’t because prayer isn’t important to me.
Between chronic pain, ADD (and OCD, which can be kind of severe at times) and anxiety…there are times that the best thing I can offer is conversational prayer with God throughout the day. For a short while, I took medication for my ADD and the BIGGEST change I noticed was that I could pray like a regular Saint Augustine! HOURS. When I had to go off of it because it raised my blood pressure, I felt like somebody yanked the prayer rug from under me.
I still pray, of course. It’s a constant conversation, but often not terribly structured.
After I saw the movie “War Room,” I was so stoked to make deliberate time in my bedroom closet. I covered one wall with cork-boards on which to pin my heartfelt prayers every day as soon as I woke up. FIRST THING. Maybe I’ll be so fervent I’ll go into the Prayer Closet several times in the middle of the night! Wow, I’ll bet I will REALLY hear from God then! My boards will resemble the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, it will be so jam-packed with my sacraments and epiphanies!
The next morning I did, in fact, enter it like the Holy of Holies. But the day after that I had a migraine and another day, my anxiety was too full-on to sit still, and other days I just forgot.
Mostly my self-crafted Prayer Closet just caused me to feel guilty EVERY single time I’d walk in to get a pair of shoes. Eventually it went like this: Enter closet for shirt, avoid eye contact with The Wall, feel massively guilty, avoid God because I can’t even hack this focus thing, emotionally self-flagellate. Vow to spend two hours solid in it the next day. Fail to do so and feel terrible. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But then I realized that I talk to God conversationally all day long. He knows my heart, he knows my pain, and my janky brain fog. In trying, trying, trying to be better, I set myself up for failure (it’s kind of a specialty of mine.)
But God, who created my brain and all the other miraculous workings of my body, is not going to withhold from me because of my limitations. That would be pretty freaking cruel. Instead, he caulks in the cracks and loves me like MAD.
My dear friend is also frustrated with hearing from God the way she used to when she was brain fog-free. I get that, too. That’s the worst thing. But I think he – knowing our plight – compensates by speaking to us in our constant conversation with him. He is never more than a dozen thoughts from my heart, and he knows it.
When someone comes to mind, I pray for her. When I’m worried, I pray. When I see a pretty flower, praise the Creator and thank him for it. Thank him for my friends and blessings and hot coffee.
Especially, I tell him I trust that he is working on issues I don’t see evidence of yet, and ask him to help me trust when I don’t.
I ask for focus fifty times a day, at least.
But when I can’t get through the fog, here’s the cool thing: Grace!
GRACE is the caulk in the space between our best intentions and highest enlightenment. It fills in the cracks and expands in the crevices where I’m foggy or anxious, or even just lazy. We are not perfect but he holds us close to us still! No guilt required.
My sacraments and epiphanies don’t always come down from Heaven like a bolt of lightning when I’m having an Instagram-worthy moment of devotion with the perfect cup of coffee.
Sometimes they trickle in increments of A-Ha! moments that Holy Spirit doles out and pours into me. When I’m too pained or foggy to tune into his frequency, he reminds me that it’s okay.
I told my dear friend that perhaps we can meet this week and brain-dazed and janky together. Pray awkward, foggy prayers together, and trust grace to caulk in our rough spots. Listen for the bolt of lightning, but be okay with the A-Ha moments and roll with it as the Sisters in Christ that we are. Raise a War Room right where we are, where two or more are gathered.
God isn’t angry that we have unfocused seasons. He just desires that we keep the conversation going, and listen for his voice.
As I approach the 15th anniversary of my continuous sobriety from alcohol, new opportunities are rising up. To tell you the truth, I’m a little scared and intimidated. And excited. Of course, I’m excited too.
God is always working on the good for those who call Him savior. He’s always brewing up, stirring up, putting things in motion.
The whole analogy as a New Year being like a re-birth is so cliche I hesitate to use it. But Abba gave me a little vision earlier this week, so as cliche as the Baby New Year thing is, I think it applies. Maybe it will encourage you to keep pushing toward what our Father is calling you into in 2016.
Hurricane Andrew made landfall on the Floridian coast the exact hour I gave birth to my Firstborn. I know this because while I was laboring to bring her into the world with no drugs whatsoever, my “focal point” was a tiny television set propped on a TV stand high on the hospital wall (this was way before flat-screen sets.)
Everyone was watching the news on August 24, 1992. Andrew came ashore as a Category 5 hurricane when it struck Dade County, Florida. We lived far from the danger in North Carolina, but the country was riveted to the powerful landfall.
I’d been ushered into the delivery room in a big rush and the nurses who had prepped the room had been watching the news had not had time enough to even turn the volume down.
My baby was coming, and she was coming fast.
Here’s what I remember, in a flurry of surreal-ness…an audio-soup of words from the doctor, encouragement from my husband, instructions from nurses, the voice of The Weather Guy, and – most importantly – what I would come to recognize as that intuition of Mother Instinct:
OhmyGod, there is NO WAY this being is going to exit my body in the manner expected, THISISIMPOSSIBLE, I cannot believe this is how babies are born and we haven’t gone extinct as a species! **Screaming, blinding, severing pain**
You’re further along than we thought! Eight centimeters already! Almost there!
FOCUS ON THE TV. In childbirth class, they told us to KEEP A FOCAL POINT. Pant, pant, pant.
…”Ladies and Gentleman, here we see the eye wall nearly making landfall. Take precautions. This is a dangerous storm…”
You can DO this! Breathe!
I can’t I can’t I CAN’T! You don’t understand I CANNOT.
You CAN! You ARE!
I cannot blink, transfixed on my Focal Point. The Weatherman cuts to live feed of Homestead, but the storm is at such a chaotic frenzy, I cannot tell what I’m looking at. The driving winds and rain make everything blurry.
Not long now!
Focal point, PANT, PANT, PUSH. Focal point, PANT, PANT. PUSHHHHH.
…”It’s official. The storm has made landfall. Here we see the eye intensifying as the storm….”
Here she comes!
Searing excruciating pain, pressure.
Good job, Mama!
…“We urge you to stay indoors, many buildings have lost their roofing…”
JESUS, HELP ME!
One more push! She is coming!
AUUGGHHHHRRRRRR! **I give it EVERYTHING!**
A RUSH. In the physical realm, in the spiritual realm! She was immediately the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I remember being amazed that a human being just exited my BODY.
THERE SHE IS. MY DAUGHTER!
Then silence. She didn’t cry, she didn’t move. In that moment, I summoned what would become MANY a “mom prayer.” It was simply, please Jesus…please. My Spirit made utterances that my mind couldn’t comprehend, and where there were gaps in-between, Holy Spirit intervened.
There is nearly no sound in the room. The Weather Man is silent. I only hear the wind and rain from the television set.
And then her tiny cry. Music to my ears! And her wriggling little body placed on my belly. Angels are present in the room now, I swear to you. I feel their presence welcoming my daughter.
It was as if God whispered in my ear, “You can take your eyes off the storm now. LOOK! Look at her. Nothing else matters!”
My Focal Point has changed entirely, and for life.
The entire labor was three hours long, start to finish. It seemed MUCH longer, I can assure you. And there were some complications for my daughter and I. I nearly stroked out during the birth, the toxemia was not immediately relieved upon delivery as expected. She was three weeks early and had to have a little extra attention from the pediatricians.
Life is always more complicated than you hope.
But, ya’ll. The new life that came into the world as a result of the pain and pushing and impossibility…
Pain. WHAT pain? Have you seen my baby? She is a MIRACLE!
I wanted to tell everyone, “Hey, I know you THINK you know what love is, but let me tell you…..to have a baby is to REALLY know.”
Bringing it back around to the current day – 2015 has kind of a gestation year for me. I’ve kind of had my eye on the storm. It didn’t start – nor is it exiting – in quite the way I expected.
But the impossible is going to come into being. I’m claiming it. Because God is always working on the good for those who call Him savior. He’s always brewing up, stirring up, putting things in motion.
We are living in crazy, radical, extreme times. The storm is intensifying…can you feel it? Spiritually, our world is spinning in what amounts to far beyond a Category 5 storm.
Take precautions. This is a dangerous world. Yet, even in the chaotic frenzy, God is unchanged. People need to know that He is a worthy Focal Point.
Jesus is coming back, and He’s coming back fast.
My prayer for the new year is “HOLY SPIRIT, MAKE LANDFALL!”
Yep, I’m a little scared and intimidated by new opportunities. Things like public speaking and possibly giving my testimony to a national TV audience. Out of my comfort zone, just a tad. I’m giving it EVERYTHING.
I want to say to the world, “Hey, I know you think you know what love is, but to be redeemed in Christ is to REALLY know. Your Creator LOVES YOU just exactly where you are, even in the eye of the storm.”
Please pray with me that God’s voice will rise above the audio-soup of chaos in 2016, and that the hurting ones will receive it.
One of my favorite places in the whole world are the mountains of North Carolina. They aren’t sharp and pointy like the Rockies, demanding awe of their majesty. Rather, they are vast and rolling and a thousand shades of blue and purple – those Blue Ridge Mountains. And some of our favorite places to visit are not at the tops of mountains, but in the valleys or ‘gaps.’ Surrounded on all sides by massive, ancient mountains, it always gives me pause.
Little towns named for the gaps they settled in always have the most dramatic names: Deep Gap. Windy Gap. Air Billows Gap. Smoky Gap. And my favorite, Roaring Gap.
It’s called “Roaring Gap” and not “Whispering Gap” because when the winds pick up between the mountains around it, it roars.
Today I was privileged to pray for a dear friend whom I love very much. She is in a difficult situation in which there will be no easy resolution. She is scared, of course. Her anxiety is palpable, and I don’t know what magic words to tell her that will make things instantly better.
She is encountering a ‘gap’ in her life, and she just needs someone to stand in it with her, to bridge her reality with the answered prayer on the other side.
I don’t know why so much scripture describes “peace in the valley” because in between mountains can be an anxious place. Unless, I suppose, you can rest in the gap with full faith that those mountains will move.
Many of my friends right now have fallen from ‘mountaintop’ experiences and are just hurting. They cannot see a way out of the roaring, all-encompassing gaps. I pray for them, but it doesn’t seem like enough to do.
I was raised Baptist and often heard people refer to intercessory prayer as “standing in the gap” for someone. This morning, as I prayed what I felt were insufficient prayers, God reminded me of what it means to “stand in the gap” in prayer for others by giving me a visual.
(He does that for me sometimes. It is literally as if the Almighty is saying, “Dang, girl. Do I have to DRAW YOU A PICTURE!?”
Yes, Papa. Sometimes you do.)
I saw myself in a mountainous gap, worried for a friend. But I wasn’t standing.
In the vision, I am sitting cross-legged in a beautiful mountain valley and imploring God to please help my sister in need. And then I look around me and try to find routes through the foliage. I wring my hands and close my eyes, and ask the Father again for resolution. Then I start wondering what the dimensions of this gap are. Hmmm. I wonder where God IS already?
Then I look behind me and there stands my sister-in-need. She is standing upright, but just barely. She is crying into her hands and trying to keep her balance, wavering on her feet.
She just needs me to stand with her. She needs me to stop trying to figure out how to fix her problem, and just to stand with her, help hold her up, and implore God on her behalf. She is too tired and weak to do it on her own.
I like to ‘fix’ people and situations, you see. Maybe you do too. Or maybe you feel your prayers are insufficient.
If you have a prayer language, use it. Think of your friend and her needs and her heart, and let the words flow, echo off the mountains they are facing.
(If you don’t have a prayer language, ask God to give you one. It’s not as spooky as it sounds and is incredibly intimate. He wants to fill you with those words you cannot even understand!)
If your sister is sad, hunker down and be sad with her. But prayerful always. God can fix what she is going through.
God doesn’t expect us to survey the gap…or question WHY is this gap here? Who left the gate open?
He just expects us to stand in it. He expects us to stand firm on the promise that He is still at the helm. However much we love our suffering friends, He loves them infinitely more.
Fill that gap with prayerful petition to Christ on behalf of your sister. One day, her struggle will be behind her like one of those endless and beautiful ancient ridges of blue mountains.
And just stand there, even in the roaring.
Lord God Almighty,
So many of my friends are hurting. Their spirits are wounded, and they are standing, but just barely. Help me to stand with them. Give me the words in this otherworldly language to plead their cases before you. Waste not ONE BIT of their struggle, but lend them comfort in the midst of it. Hold them, Abba. Douse them in your Love. Remind them that you are faithful.
You have value to God and to the world He made. There is no question about it. You may not feel very valuable (I don’t either sometimes) but your worth cannot even be measured.
I get lazy with prayer, and there are times (honesty alert!) I don’t pray for a thing like I should because I am secretly afraid of being disappointed in the outcome. In my own wisdom, which is exceedingly limited, I just don’t see a way for the thing to work out, so I don’t even bother asking.
But God says ask anyway, and keep asking.
Why would He encourage that? Clearly everyone’s prayers don’t always get answered or else we’d have a populace of lottery winners and a complete deficit of sickness and suffering in the world.
Sounds wonderful on the surface, but you’ve got to wonder how our spirits would fare; what our character would look like.
This morning, I heard from Him about it. While I am already in bed trying to figure out how to fix the whole damn world (or at least my little corner of it) and then asking God for help in fixing it.
But it’s not mine to fix, He reminded me.
We live in a world that rewards our expectations. It is a vending machine, instant gratification society and we get upset when even the smallest things don’t go our way.
But we’ve got to stop asking God to jump, and expecting Him to ask us “how high?” We do that, or at least I do.
I want to orchestrate the outcome of my prayer petitions to Abba in order to see something or someone I care about ‘turn out’ a certain way.
That expectation – that He somehow needs our direction in the matter we bring to Him – takes His sovereignty out of the equation. And His sovereignty is everything.
God doesn’t get our orders wrong.
He says to pray unceasingly, but I don’t think His command to do so is to get everything we want. I think maybe we are to pray unceasingly until God changes our hearts about what we want.
Maybe the thing that is haunting your spirit and demanding Holy resolution has value.
Maybe the experience – and your victory over it – will be used to help someone desperate in the future. I’ve seen that play out thousands of times in my own life. In looking back, God wasn’t ignoring my plea, but had a purpose in that struggle to benefit someone else.
‘Cause it’s not all about me.
Maybe your acceptance of a heavy situation has finally caused you to lay it down and God is working with your spirit on the skill of NOT picking it back up.
Maybe an answer to prayer looks NOTHING like you imagined, but it’s an answer nonetheless.
Have faith that the Father who loves and values you is trustworthy in every area, seen and unseen. Have faith that He is still listening and is working all things to the good for those who love Him. Even when all rational thought and preconceived notion tells you otherwise.
(I’m preaching to myself here, too.)
Our battles are fought and won in the Heavenly realms and we don’t always get to take home the tangible souvenirs.
Ask Him for a faith big enough to believe He knows how high to jump. Be honest in telling him you are afraid to be disappointed.
Bother to ask. And keep asking.
But consider the value in the prayers that FEEL unanswered. We see through a glass darkly here, this side of the Kingdom.
God wastes no hurt. And always answers prayers. In His time, and to His perfect and pleasing will.
He’s got this. He’s got YOU.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
If I had a self-help book for every time I didn’t feel I was enough, I’d have a library of self-help books.
Wait, I do.
I buy the books (and occasionally even read them) to convince myself that I am enough. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of actualizing self; it’s just that sometimes my ‘self’ is a bullshit artist. I know this because she constantly tells me that I’m not now – nor will I ever be – enough.
Not pretty enough.
Not healthy enough.
Not thin enough.
Not pious and thoughtful enough.
Just not good enough. And although the arguments in favor of all of these things being true are pretty concrete, it isn’t what my Creator says about me.
When you become a Christ-follower and “walk with him,” it doesn’t mean that the people-pleasing, self-flagellating, hurting person inside of you pipes down all the days of your life. I am a new creation in Christ, but the devil is still a liar and I’m still working through some pains.
I continually have to give up my frustrations, but sometimes they roll downhill at a pretty high clip and make me feel bulldozed. God knows I am not trying to minimize his awesome power, but I’m just being honest about how I feel (which all the self-help books say is important, and also my recovery experience has taught me.) Denial ain’t just a river, but it can drown you all the same.
I am so blessed, yes. I long for the day that I can blithely respond to people who ask me “How are you?” that I am “too blessed to be stressed” or “blessed and highly favored!” But then again nevermind. Christians who spout off things like that when it is clear they are hurting have always secretly made me want to throw up. On them.
Because, you see, sometimes I still struggle with feeling enough.
My inner critic is a heartless wench, a dominatrix, really. She combines lording my inadequacies over me with equal parts humiliation.
“Roll up your sleeves, and do! You must do more to be more. … Well, you really fell short there. You did it again. Get it together, already!”
She cracks that whip with enough force to split me in two, and she has.
I really just want to know that I am enough already.
I don’t have to prove my worth or disprove my frailties.
That people will run their mouths about things they know nothing about, and that’s okay. I’ve run my mouth plenty. It’s what people do. (What is that old AA adage? “What you think of me is none of my business.”)
That having spent a lifetime on one pursuit and have the season end, doesn’t mean that I’m spent altogether.
That I cannot control my own flesh and it’s propensities, but I can rest in that flesh instead of fight against it. That bodies wear down against our wills. Somehow I’d like to learn how to keep my will from breaking down with it.
God knows that it’s hard to roll up your sleeve when you wear your heart on it!
And therein lies the answer, I think.
I know in the deepest pools of my spirit that what God believes about me is absolute truth, that everything else is either bullshit or outright lies. Everything else is having my spirit ‘taken behind the woodshed’ and beaten to a bloody pulp. People will try to take you back there, you know…behind the proverbial woodshed. Don’t follow them – or your inner critic – there.
God says I am already enough. He said, “It is finished.” That’s a really good thing, because I’m tired, Lord.
“It is finished already.” That’s what Abba tells my soul. “Stop making idols of people whose opinions of you don’t matter.”
(Why do I DO that? When will I learn? What’s my DEAL? See? Self-flagellation engage.)
Today, I am asking God to do what I cannot seem to do for myself (for the millionth time) – remind me that I am enough, more than a conqueror, in flighty emotions and failing flesh.
I’m praying he will convince me of it – not in some flashy way – but with an installation in my spirit too deep for my inner critic to deny. Because knowing that I am enough will never truly come from any other source – not an entire library of books, not from the opinions of others – only from God.
ONLY from God.
But his is the only opinion that matters. He has no use at all for pious. He needs present. He doesn’t care about ‘thin,’ he just wants to know I’m IN.
It is finished, it is finished, it is finished.
So, pipe down inner-critic, and naysayers, devil and other purveyors of bullshit.
I’ve been feeling so discouraged,
Two steps forward, one step back,
Feeling like my soul is tired,
Over extended, under attack.
Oh to have my joy back!
I know it is mine for the asking.
To gain it I must first surrender to you
The pain that my sadness is masking.
The tiredness, the sickness,
The constant striving,
On my own human power
It keeps me from thriving.
Oh, God, please be infused in me.
They way Holy Spirit desires to be.
I want to have my joy back –
That birthright you left in the empty tomb.
I want the peace – the good shalom –
You left me in that Upper Room.
The weary dark replaced instead with
Your open, welcoming arms,
The chronic illness bested by
Your protection from all harm.
Oh God, please inhabit me, my
Source of peace so close to me
That Holy Spirit breathes in me, Breathe joy into me.
Remind me that two steps forward –
In spite of the one step back –
Still means that I am traveling
On the forward-moving track.
Oh to have my joy back!
I know it is mine for the asking.
Oh, God, please be infused in me.
The way Holy Spirit desires to be.
This piece originally ran as a guest blog for my friend and fellow writer, Chris Canuel. I felt like maybe someone needs to read it today…someone who might be currently praying in the desert.
Maybe that someone who needs to (re)read it is ME.
How do you get out of the spiritual desert? You build a huge, blinking distraction to it.
Or, you can just walk through it, and fully expect God to bring you to the other side.
About eight years ago, I went to Las Vegas on a business trip. The long and short of it was that I had a mini-nervous breakdown.
My colleagues and I stayed in the Luxor – a magnificent pyramid structure on the Vegas strip, smack dab (as we say in the South) in the heart of Sin City. Although there were seminars by day, there were too many hours of free time after the nine-to-five activities.
I don’t always do that well with too much free time.
Vegas is not so much fun for a person in alcohol – or any other, so far as I can tell – recovery. Moment after moment, fleshly appetizers are placed before you. In-your-face, 24/7 sex, drugs, drink, gambling, smoking. Even things that had never tempted me before – such as the gambling – became this enormous tease.
I knew that Vegas was not for me before the plane even touched down. If you’ve ever flown over Las Vegas, you will know what I mean. Here is a visual synopsis of the view from the plane.
Hours of flight over sandy canyons, gorges, and deserts. Everything is some shade of brown– nothing, nothing, nothing, hours of nothing– barren brown, tan and beige. Nothing.
BAM! Super incredibly bright neon, see-it-from-outer space, larger-than life and twice as gaudy, Technicolor VEGAS, Baby! The strip is, quite literally, just a strip that – from the air – looks as though the heavens barfed forth a city-sized strip of neon, glitter, and a strange, Disney-like conglomeration of architectural/cultural mess. Pastel medieval castles, next door to Greco-Roman-columned casinos, next door to the great pyramids, next door to a shrunken New York City entwined by a roller coaster, punctuated by liquor and nudie bars.
It is the anti-nature, if you will.
Before even the first rah-rah corporate event, I was burned out. Too much to see. Everything in sight vying for my attention – and so, none of it really getting my attention. The first night, I stayed in the hotel room and cried while everyone else went out and had Vegas adventures. And I couldn’t stop crying.
Every morning, for privacy, I wandered down to a café in the Luxor, and call my (then) fiancé, a grown woman crying in an enormous, cartoonish pyramid, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and utterly alone.
“I can’t be here,” I told him. “It’s too noisy. Too much temptation. Too many drunk and high people…so much gambling, porn everywhere…. too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. I have to come home.”
It didn’t upset me because I believed I would never do such things, but because I know good and damn well that I could – given the right circumstances and a weak moment – and, in fact, have. I try to respect the parameters – the slippery slopes. And Vegas is a very slippery slope.
Each day, I became more and more depressed, the thin veneer of sanity cracking under the weight of trying to appear all the things I was not: Professional, immune to the temptations, and able to cope.
Where I live at home, the Ocean is a scant 10 minutes away, and the Cape Fear River 10 minutes in the other direction. Water, water everywhere. And people I love.
Of course, I survived it – and as a bonus, with my sobriety intact. When I finally, got home, it didn’t seem like such an ordeal. But during the experience, I was miserable.
For the last month or so, I have really been struggling with prayer. Not just having a desert-like prayer life, but a Vegas-like prayer life. Unwittingly, I’ve filled up a dry-spell with diversions to distract my spirit. Sensory overload is not the same as spirit satiation. What happens in my prayer life lately…..it goes nowhere. Or so it seems.
Praying…. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
But anything but Holy Spirit in a hurting soul is not an oasis….only a mirage.
Sometimes, my spiritual walk becomes about too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. A grown woman crying in church, surrounded by dozens of happy worshippers. Everyone else seemingly bloated with happiness. Don’t they see the barren dryness?
Aridness…brown, tan and beige. So I build great, giant cities – big, awkward pastel and neon structures of distraction, instead of just walking through the desert – exhausted from trying to pretend to be what I am not: A “professional Christian.” Immune to the temptations. Able to cope.
I don’t always do that well when I have too much time, but I know the God of the Universe always makes time for me. I have to come home, and the only route is through the desert.
It’s hard to encounter God, what with the gaudy, neon monuments to my worries and anxieties blinking. Why don’t I remember that in the “uninhabitable” – He inhabits? He dwells in me always, vying for my attention.
And if I am simply willing to just walk through the desert?
BAM! God. Living water, water everywhere. Deserts can’t go on forever.