a swift current of sorrow

I am exhausted from swimming in and out of the current. I long for a boat of bliss, to float above grief, to get out of the river.

I hold the world in the palm of my hand.

Controversy, babies, weddings, travels, lyrics, rants, politics, cupcakes, frustration,  outrage, joy, relief, accomplishment . . . an endless stream of emotion.

Sometimes, the world in my hand becomes too much — scrolling, spinning out of control. Every day a new grief.

Two weeks . . . an airplane full of 239 living souls disappears in a remote sea, an apartment building explodes in Harlem, a mountainside slips and buries a hundred people 60 miles away . . .

Two weeks of nonstop mourning, punctuated by loss after loss. Of longed for babies . . . of cherished mothers . . . of beloved grandparents, including my own.

In my hand, I enter the heartaches of friends, of family, of me.

How do we process life so quickly? Can we possibly feel so fast?

Caught in a swift current, barely keeping head above, I fight my way to the shore.

Can we stop here even an hour? To rest? To grieve? To pray?

How? How do we do this knowing? How do we feel the floods of sadness without drowning?

* * * * *

I am a feeler. I know this. Sometimes, I can barely stay afloat. If you cling to me too hard, we’ll both go down.

I want to hide in bed, pull covers over and stay . . . to submerge sorrow in television, in laughter, in nothingness. To give my eyes a rest, my head, my heart. Tomorrow morning, I will wake up and the world will be different. (Ah, but tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.) 

I am exhausted from swimming in and out of the current. I long for a boat of bliss, to float above grief, to get out of the river. Lord, help me back into the boat before I drown.

“We can’t absorb it all. We know too much, too quickly, and one of the worst effects of this avalanche of technology is the loss of compassion.” — Madeleine L’Engle, 1970

The only solace I know, the only way to keep my body in and my head above is a promise. And I cling to it for life.

Surely he has borne our sorrows, surely he has carried our grief . . . *

* * * * *

Some evenings, when I’ve used all the compassionate words I have to plead donations to help heal the hurts of a broken world, I have nothing left. I am hollow. And the most I can do for the ache of the world in my hand, is to turn it off and attend to what’s in front of me. To let the work of my hands, not my troubled mind, minister to my heart.

It’s an unusual afternoon . . . I walk in the door and the house is napping. So, I set to work, and I don’t mind doing the neglected chores. I tidy in silence, picking up scattered clothes and thanking God there is someone here to scatter them. I sip a glass quietly. I pray as I empty last night’s dishes and load the day’s mess. I cook a meal and set a table without a word, and I remember my grandmother’s voice announcing it was “time to take up the food” which meant to put it in serving dishes.

For a few minutes, a counter top is clean, a floor swept, laundry folded. Time and tide have stopped. And I have solitude and order.

I let tears fall again.

Here, in this quiet place, can we sit? Can we be still? Hush the words, the images, the world?

I cry out that my heart is full, is overwhelmed, is drowning. I cry for my family. For the losses of dear friends, of acquaintances, of strangers. For families whose loves are not buried in a cemetery in graves covered with flowers, but in the ocean, under a mountain.

And I feel Jesus’ mercy for this world, for all of us. For all the grief of all time carried on His back in one moment. I feel the gentleness of the One who knew my days before there was one of them, who gathers my tears in a bottle, who wept over the grief of His friends.

And in the cloister of my kitchen, He whispers that He understands. Because He feels it, too. And He holds out His hands to show me.

See? I have engraved you on the palms of my hands . . . **

* * * * *

His thoughts said, Before me continually is the grief of wounds, confusion, suspense, distress.

His Father said, Behold there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock.

Then, as a frightened child on a storm-swept mountain-side would gratefully take his father’s hand, and stand on a rock in a place by him, fearing no evil – so it was with the son. For he knew that though the earth be removed and the waters be carried into the midst of the sea, that rock by his Father would never be moved. And he remembered words about things that can be shaken and things that will remain. And though no small tempest lay on him, he said to the multitude of thoughts whose voices sought to disturb him, Sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me. For as His majesty is, so also is His mercy.

His Thoughts Said…His Father Said…, Amy Carmichael

* * * * *

*Isaiah 53:4

** Isaiah 49:16

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Jack Delano, photographer, 1941. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-DIG-fsa-8a3564]

 

repost: a light between here and there

the Grandma I wrote about in this post passed away today. she was an example to me of a love that endures at a time when I needed it most.

My Grandma I wrote about in this post last summer passed away today.
She was, and will always be, an example and encouragement to me of a love that endures at a time when I needed it most.

Someday, I will write about that, but tonight, before I tuck myself into bed, I just want to go back to my earliest memories of her and smell those cotton sheets.

* * * * *

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. — Matthew 5:14

When I was a little girl, my parents packed us into their old, red Datsun mini station wagon and traveled north from Denver to Casper.

I don’t know how many times we made that trip to my grandparents’ house, or how many times we drove those hours at night. At eight years old, squished with my brothers in the back seat , the drive (which might be just four hours) seemed an eternity. Even with my dad singing cowboy songs.

Somewhere behind us, the lights of the city disappeared, leaving only black nothing ahead.

Miles and miles of darkness. No highway lights. No inside car lights. No light-up games. We floated through space.

Lone beacons in midnight fields, like bright stars, reached out with comfort  — and questions.

Who would live so far out in the nothing? Wouldn’t they be lonely? Where would they go to school?

Someone chose this solitary place. A rancher, maybe, with a thousand head of cattle. An oilman with a hundred wells. A lineman, quiet and content with the company of tumbleweeds . . .

Finally, we’d reach a rise and see, off in the distance, the white-blue glow of Casper. Almost there. Always, it seems, it was then I would fall asleep.Midland Pennsylvania at night

More than an hour from the first sight of city lights, through town and out again, into the dark countryside once more, was a country school in the middle of nowhere where my grandparents were caretakers.

Noisy vibration of wheels hitting cattle guards jostled me awake. A floodlight on a lonely road marked our destination.

Into the driveway, around the school, we coasted toward light pouring through the windows of my grandparents’ house, inviting us out of the cramped car onto the lawn and into the glow.

I can still smell the cotton sheets of the bed grandma had made up and waiting. Stretching my legs under the covers, I drifted into darkness again — the feel of the road in my limbs as the journey replayed behind closed eyelids.

This quiet home — a light, far from town, a shining dot on a dark landscape — was Grandma and Grandpa’s house. A place of wide open spaces and adventure and cousins and giant sprinklers and stories and jeep rides on scary back roads and arrowhead hunts and a refrigerator full of name-brand soda in cans.

There is a place for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

I wonder how long we will live along this dark highway. . . in the daily-ness of nurturing, guiding, growing, of learning to be faithful in small things.

Because sometimes, I wrestle with the limits of my little light.

Sometimes, I am reduced to flickering – a candle wick bent, weary, drowning in wax. And I begin to envy the power of the luminous city, of the brightness that cannot be hidden. And I become a lamp, out of oil, puffing stinky smoke . . .

Sometimes, I want to pack up and leave the quiet place. To find significance as part of a big thing . . . cars drive past in a hurry from here to there . . . 

But somewhere, in the middle of the night, someone is searching. And a small light will illuminate his steps, even if just one step at a time.

On the journey through darkness, a solitary light marks the way: Keep going, you are almost there.

A solitary light gives comfort:  Traveler, you are not alone.

A solitary light gives courage — It’s possible to live in the middle of nowhere for a very long time.  

Even a solitary light holds back the night. Even a glowing ember can be revived. And a dimly burning wick He will not quench. 

This is the light God gave me.

 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:15-16

Sometimes a city, set on a hill. Sometimes a lamp, on a stand. Sometimes a flickering candle. But always light. Always and ever dependent on the Father of Lights for filling to fight against consuming darkness.

. . .  there is a purpose for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

Since through God’s mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart . . . .But we have this treasure, this light, in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:1,6-8) 

* * * * *

Thank you, Grandma Barrick.

letting go of leaves

Stick figure silhouettes cling to dangling color that remains . . . dropping one by one . . . leaving them exposed, leafless . . . .
The woods betray us. We are vulnerable.

Hiding is instinct.

Because we feel wrong, because we we’ve done wrong, because we’re afraid.

Because the world is full of devils. And temptation. And deception. And hurt.

Because our eyes have been opened to our flaws. Our tragic flaws . . . hamartia.* His. Hers.

And we cannot close them again.

Our own skin is suddenly not enough. We are not enough. Exposure stabs, air stings. Branches scratch arms, stones gash bare feet, thorns stick, send shivers through us and stay.

We hide, attempt to make covers for ourselves with beautiful things, with leaves hastily sewn together to mask our acutely aware, raw selves. Alive and yet aching, free and yet cut off.

* * * * *

November 14th is an anniversary.

October, 2007    I dared to hope, as we approached the six month mark this time. Dave was in a 12 Step program. We both attended weekly meetings. With support and encouragement, I was slowly letting go of his recovery.

For months, I had been exposed to what dropping masks really looks like, and I began to long for real freedom myself. Not just in weekly meetings, but in all of my life.

I copied this quote into my journal from a book I’d been reading:

PicsArt_1384458095829“Hiding is a curse. It came into being after the fall. Hiding is motivated by shame. It involves pretending and deceiving. Hiding is the place of fear and anxiety. . . . Imagine what your life would be like if all pretense were to vanish from it. Imagine the freedom and relief of not trying to convince anyone that you were smarter or better than you are.”– John Ortberg

I spent October digging deep, pulling out hurts, wrongs, pain — writing them down, discerning what hurts were of my own making and needed confession and which were not my fault in any way but for which I felt responsible. It was a slow, painful bleed. But saying them aloud, calling each one by name, letting go of crushing sense of responsibility for sins that were not mine, admitting and confessing aloud the ones that were . . . it was so very freeing. Secrets, dragged into the light, were relieved of their power. That was November 5th.

Nine days later, Dave came to me to confess. He had been using again, made terrible choices, lost his job and our home.

Every page of that journal and the next is filled with mourning, with letting go and letting fall — a season of stripping away, sorting through shame, wrestling with bitterness. Until Dave told his story of addiction and healing to our church — eight months later — and I began to finally feel free.

Each month then and each year now is a milestone to celebrate.

He’s made it well past six months to six years.

* * * * *

Eastward of Eden, the world glows shades of amber.

Windblown chaff of evergreens sprinkles pavement gold. Yellow-brown pathways lead home.

Wind plucks, swirls golden leaves . . . suspends, whisks in dry needles . . . lets all fall, flickering in sunlight.

Stick figure silhouettes cling to dangling color that remains . . . dropping one by one . . . leaving them exposed, leafless.

Behind the house, autumn transforms woods, uncovers mountains beyond sea. Beside the house, neighbors, once voices hid by forest wall, take on form and face.

The woods betray us. We are vulnerable.

* * * * *

PicsArt_1384460381061 (1)A friend comes to visit. We laugh about this world — neither of us natives — you never know what the trees hide.  Til winter, forests conceal beautiful views . . . and rusted cars, and rotting couches, and old toilets . . .

Woods are good for hiding all sorts of unwanted . . . until naked trees reveal brokenness.

Sometimes you don’t see the mess until the leaves die.

Ah, but the stripping of leaves is only for a season.

And better coverings are being made.

* * * * *

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:1-3

______________________________________________________________

* In literature, hamartia is a tragic flaw. In Scripture, sin.

** Step 4 We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  Step 5 We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

a light between here and there

I wonder how long we will live along this dark highway. . . in the dailyness of nurturing, guiding, growing, of learning to be faithful in small things.

Because sometimes, I wrestle with the limits of my little light.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. — Matthew 5:14

When I was a little girl, my parents packed us into their old, red Datsun mini station wagon and traveled north from Denver to Casper.

I don’t know how many times we made that trip to my grandparents’ house, or how many times we drove those hours at night. At eight years old, squished with my brothers in the back seat , the drive (which might be just four hours) seemed an eternity. Even with my dad singing cowboy songs.

Somewhere behind us, the lights of the city disappeared, leaving only black nothing ahead.

Miles and miles of darkness. No highway lights. No inside car lights. No light-up games. We floated through space.

Lone beacons in midnight fields, like bright stars, reached out with comfort  — and questions.

Who would live so far out in the nothing? Wouldn’t they be lonely? Where would they go to school?

Someone chose this solitary place. A rancher, maybe, with a thousand head of cattle. An oilman with a hundred wells. A lineman, quiet and content with the company of tumbleweeds . . .

Finally, we’d reach a rise and see, off in the distance, the white-blue glow of Casper. Almost there. Always, it seems, it was then I would fall asleep.Midland Pennsylvania at night

More than an hour from the first sight of city lights, through town and out again, into the dark countryside once more, was a country school in the middle of nowhere where my grandparents were caretakers.

Noisy vibration of wheels hitting cattle guards jostled me awake. A floodlight on a lonely road marked our destination.

Into the driveway, around the school, we coasted toward light pouring through the windows of my grandparents’ house, inviting us out of the cramped car onto the lawn and into the glow.

I can still smell the cotton sheets of the bed grandma had made up and waiting. Stretching my legs under the covers, I drifted into darkness again — the feel of the road in my limbs as the journey replayed behind closed eyelids.

This quiet home — a light, far from town, a shining dot on a dark landscape — was Grandma and Grandpa’s house. A place of wide open spaces and adventure and cousins and giant sprinklers and stories and jeep rides on scary back roads and arrowhead hunts and a refrigerator full of name-brand soda in cans.

There is a place for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

I wonder how long we will live along this dark highway. . . in the daily-ness of nurturing, guiding, growing, of learning to be faithful in small things.

Because sometimes, I wrestle with the limits of my little light.

Sometimes, I am reduced to flickering – a candle wick bent, weary, drowning in wax. And I begin to envy the power of the luminous city, of the brightness that cannot be hidden. And I become a lamp, out of oil, puffing stinky smoke . . .

Sometimes, I want to pack up and leave the quiet place. To find significance as part of a big thing . . . cars drive past in a hurry from here to there . . . 

But somewhere, in the middle of the night, someone is searching. And a small light will illuminate his steps, even if just one step at a time.

On the journey through darkness, a solitary light marks the way: Keep going, you are almost there.

A solitary light gives comfort:  Traveler, you are not alone.

A solitary light gives courage — It’s possible to live in the middle of nowhere for a very long time.  

Even a solitary light holds back the night. Even a glowing ember can be revived. And a dimly burning wick He will not quench. 

This is the light God gave me.

 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:15-16

Sometimes a city, set on a hill. Sometimes a lamp, on a stand. Sometimes a flickering candle. But always light. Always and ever dependent on the Father of Lights for filling to fight against consuming darkness.

. . .  there is a purpose for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

Since through God’s mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart . . . .But we have this treasure, this light, in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:1,6-8) 

In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.
― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging

a dimly burning wick He will not quench. (Isaiah 42:3)

* * * * *

blessings for healing: suffering

We have to be gentle with the hard words of Jesus.
Hating the messenger, though, is kind of part of the deal.

I woke up early, remembering a promise.

Even though all fall away, I will never . . . 

I look out at the darkness. If I open the backdoor soon, I will hear the neighbor’s rooster announce the sunrise.

. . . even if I have to die with You. And all the disciples said the same thing, too.

My eyes itch from sleepiness. My daughter’s Snuggie wrapped around me to keep me warm. And I am full of sympathy for the first followers of Jesus. The ones who were right there. He had warned them it was time, He told them He was in agony, and He asked them to be on the look out while He prayed. But they were tired.

So you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?
Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation;
the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Matthew 26:40-41

* * * * *

I am convicted about effort. And how this week has become just like any other. How my excited dinner plans of two days ago went out the window last night with everyone scattered to activity. All it would have taken on my part was a little effort. A little self denial. A trip to the store. And maybe turning off the tv.

Ugh. Willing, but weak. So, so weak.

Jesus went alone to trial. To beatings. The disciples fled.

By morning, the crowds that had praised on Sunday were screaming crucifixion.

Peter grieved. He had made a promise to Jesus — a vow — and he couldn’t even last the night.

But all eleven disciples who fell asleep in the garden that night, who were afraid and fled, who denied they knew Jesus, who hid among the crowds, would suffer in time. Trials, beatings, stonings, imprisonment, exile, extremes of torture to death.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  — Matthew 5:10-12

I wonder how many of the disciples clung to these words in their own hours of agony.

* * * * *

My life has been ease. 

I’ve never been beaten, thrown in prison, or condemned to death for what I believe — and  I am not likely to.

But people are, still, today suffering for their commitment to follow Christ. They are fulfilling the promise to go with Jesus all the way — even if they have to die, they will not deny Him.

I think of Pastor Saeed, an American citizen who has been imprisoned and tortured and is awaiting a trial in Iran. And the thousands of others like him today, persecuted for their faith. (A news website, persecutionreport.org just launched this week to alert us of Christians who are suffering worldwide.)

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:3

I have suffered nothing.

Because I have had the good fortune of growing up, not just in a country that has the freedom of religion built right in to its Constitution. Because I was born into a family that embraced Christianity as truth.

In his book St. Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton wrote:

“Through all his plunging and restless days ran the refrain: I have not suffered enough; I have not sacrificed enough; I am not yet worthy of the shadow of the crown of thorns.”

And since I finished reading the book last week, I’ve had a song flowing through my mind:

Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,
while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas? — Isaac Watts

I have lived a comfortable life of ease when it comes to being a Christian. It’s easy to take it for granted.

* * * * *

But, the Beatitudes are just a preface. Jesus is about to open up a can of worms, and I get a little nauseous just thinking about it. Because as much as people love blessed are the merciful, they hate the hard words of Jesus.

I take a look at the words past this point of the Sermon on the Mount, and I want to hold up a white flag and shout, “Don’t shoot the messenger!”

Hating the messenger, though, is kind of part of the deal. (There’s a caution here, though. Because some people like to claim being hated as a badge of honor. The fact people don’t like you doesn’t always mean you’re in the right.)

We have to be gentle with these hard words of Jesus.

Jumping onto political bandwagons, identifying publicly with a controversial cause just to provoke argument, re-posting memes with witty retorts . . .  only in the free West can we afford such wanton displays of wearing Christianity without costly discipleship. In the West, Christians have the luxury of fighting amongst ourselves over Jesus’ words, of writing multitudes of books on them . . .

If it began to cost me something to follow Christ, to do and speak His words, would I follow? If the government and the will of the majority stripped away every last vestige of morality and sanctity of human life, and my beliefs are shouted down as bigotry and hate-speech?

The truth is, following Jesus will cost something. Even in America.

* * * * *

As the sun rises this morning, I am praying for my brothers and sisters in Christ, like Pastor Saeed, who are suffering more than I will ever know.

And I am thinking of Peter, who watched from the shadows that long morning while Jesus, beaten and bleeding, carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. Peter, who had no idea at that moment what he was going to suffer for teaching Jesus’ hard words.

And I see hope for all who cower, ashamed of themselves, in the shadow of the crown of thorns.

Peter wrote a letter about suffering, very likely from Rome, where Nero was using Christians as torches to light his parties and feeding them to lions to amuse the jaded and bloodthirsty masses.

Here are some of Saint Peter’s words for this Good Friday:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;
and while being reviled, He did not revile in return;
while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,
so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. I Peter 2:21-24

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  I Peter 3:14

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing,
as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ,
keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed. I Peter 4:12-14

blessings for the broken part four

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .
When did we buy the lie that happiness is the means to happiness?
That what feels good is right and what is painful is wrong?
Hungry is not comfort. Thirsty is not pleasure.

We are at a crossroads.

Poor and powerless. Grief-stricken. Broken.

In any direction, as far as we can see, the landscape is exactly the same. Dry, dusty, barren, flat.

Nothing distinguishes one path from another.

Turning around seems like the smartest decision.

Going back by a way we know.

Going back to what? We’ve come too far.

It doesn’t matter which path we choose now.

They are all marked suffering.

* * * * *

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .

When did we buy the lie that happiness is the means to happiness?

That what feels good is right and what is painful is wrong?

Hungry is not comfort.

Thirsty is not pleasure.

It’s true in our physical being. And true in our spiritual being as well.

If we fill ourselves with real food, we’ll crave more good and be filled. If we fill ourselves with junk food, we only want more — more junk, more anything — just more.

The bad takes away our appetite for good. The bad takes us on a high and abandons us to crash. Snickers does not satisfy.

But we try.

And we keep trying. Over and over.

The cake when we’re stressed. The gossip when we’re hurt. The computer when we’re lonely. The money when we’re rejected. The applause when we’re insecure. The rage when we have no voice. The drugs when we can’t face the day. The busy so we don’t have time to notice . . .

The goal of all this stuffing life full is to be unconscious of our thirst. Hunger hurts, so we have numbed it. We numb it until we don’t feel longing anymore.

* * * * *

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.

Jesus at the well. A woman, draws water for herself. Jesus asks for some. She recognizes him as a Jew. She is a Samaritan. Jews do not associate with Samaritans. She objects.

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4)

She wants this. Never to thirst again. Never to take a weary walk to a well in the heat. Never to carry heavy jars home and watch them empty fast.

Go, call your husband and come back.

Wait. What? I don’t have a husband, she says.

You are right. He says. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.

Uh. Wow. We were just talking about water.

No. We were talking about what you crave. You thirst for fulfillment. And you haven’t found it. Given up yet?

* * * * *

We have come to this crossroads.

The cake has made us fat. The gossip has gone too far. The busy has given us an ulcer. The virtual relationship led us to unfaithfulness. The money is gone. The applause has faded. In rage we have beaten others, ourselves. The drugs have destroyed our life.

Now it’s no longer possible to numb. To deny. To excuse.

We can go back to numbing.

Or we can choose to feel the pain and hurt and ache and longing and let it be what it is.

We can choose to accept our hunger and thirst.

* * * * *

So what is this righteousness?

What is this thing that I seek first instead of clothes, comfort, food, money, success?

The people gathered around Jesus on the mountain want to know, too.

They are hungry. They are thirsty.

And Jesus tells them their hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.

They don’t get it either — unless they are the poor in spirit, unless they mourn, unless they are meek.

Righteousness isn’t about not doing or doing. It’s about Jesus Himself.

We will not know how He satisfies until we admit we are not satisfied by anything else.Until we drag our poor, powerless, broken selves through the desert of suffering to the Well instead of going back.

My soul yearns, even faints for the court of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:2

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after thee. Psalm 42:1

In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Blaise Pascal

“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” St. Augustine

blessings for the broken, part two

We used to wear our grief.
Black for a day, a month, a season, a year . . .
To show loss.
To let the world around us know we carried sorrow.
Appearance had meaning.

We used to wear our grief. 

Black for a day, a month, a season, a year . . .

To show loss.

To let the world around us know we carried sorrow.

Appearance had meaning.

We treated mourners with respect. Spoke differently around them. Guarded our conversation to avoid heaping sorrow on complete strangers.

I wonder why we stopped. Why long, visible mourning has gone out of fashion. . .

* * * * *

Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus said.

In every version of the Bible, the English word, translated from Greek, is mourn. 

Grief manifested; too deep for concealment. Often . . . to weep audibly.

(Now we cover. Allow ourselves acceptable sorrow, but keep calm and carry on. Mourning is for poets. Wailing is for pagans.)

But Jesus spoke the Beatitudes to people who bore grief visibly. No makeup or drops to hide weary eyes. Faces revealed hearts. Clothes told stories.

I think, even then, mourning had lost something.

Because they used to show real grief over sin by putting on sackcloth and ashes.

In ancient times, recorded in the Old Testament, garments were torn by the grieving. Rough, dark, shapeless clothes replaced them. Ashes on heads. Ashes in which to sit.

Ashes, the remnants of sacrifice. A symbol of sorrow. A sign of humility. Of desperation. Ashes to cleanse. Israel, David, Nineveh . . .

Public displays of repentance had become a show for Pharisees. See how religious I am?

* * * * *

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation.” 2 Corinthians 7:10a

God knows when mourning of wrongs is just for show.

Sometimes we know, too. Or sense it.

Because addicts repent a million times. This is the last time. I’ll never do it again. And yet they do . . . and we cannot make them be sorry to the point of change. Preaching at and pleading with cannot induce real repentance.

And we are the same. We who believe we are free from destructive vices.

We repent when we are caught. In gossip. In aggression. In spending money we don’t have.  . . and at once we are consumed with self. With how can I get out of this and still save face. . .

. . . Books of mourning sit beside me on a shelf. Spiral bound pages, words poured out in tears. Sleepless nights, hollow-eyed days. Bitterness and belief intertwined. Pride shredded until I thought I had none left, but I was wrong.

Mourning isn’t pretty. Mourning feels like dying.

* * * * *

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus says.

It seems He is speaking of comforting those who have suffered tragic loss. Of wiping away every tear from our eyes.

Comfort — this one word in English means so many things in Greek. Parakaleō: to call to one’s side, to summon, to console, to admonish, to encourage, to teach. I recognize it from Bible school. The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit . . .

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever. John 14:16

* * * * *

Mourning and comfort. Both are process. Neither can be rushed. Sowing tears and reaping joy takes time.

Comfort ye my people, God told Isaiah. And it was more than 400 years before the Comforter came . . .

Blessed are those who are broken. Who grieve deeply over their wrongs. Who feel trapped and helpless in their chemically dependent body and throw themselves at the feet of Jesus, begging for healing.

Blessed are those who are broken. Who are exhausted from trying to fix the broken people they love. Who are afraid if they stop, no one will pick up the pieces. Who grieve over the pride that keeps joy hostage.

Blessed because they receive power greater than themselves.

* * * * *

There are hidden places where grief is still worn. 

Where masks of I am fine are set aside, confessions are made, and encouragement is given. Where tears of sorrow flow freely, waiting for the Comforter to wipe them away. Some stay months, others stay years.

We confess aloud that there is a Power greater than ourselves.* 

That God exists,

that I matter to Him, and

that He has the power to help me give up addiction, pride, control . . . whatever has broken me.  * 

* * * * *

A little more about mourning and comfort: Psalm 30, Isaiah 61, Lamentations, Shattered Dreams, A Tale of Three Kings, A Grief Observed

* * * * *

homesick

My mind replays tapes of failure when I lie in bed too long awake.
Things neglected. Things forgotten. People neglected. People forgotten.
Failure that I’m not really sure is always failure.

 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection,  LC-USF33-011536-M3
Lee, Russell, 1938, photographer

I was awakened by strange and sad dreams hours ago.

Or aching jaw, clenched undetected in sleep. Or gnawing gut, making me regret roast beef. Or a cat.

And now I need tea. (Horrible stuff, chamomile. But good for healing.)

Because now there are thoughts, tugging at my mind. If I write them, maybe they’ll go away and let me rest.

* * * * *

My mind replays tapes of failure when I lie in bed too long awake.

Things neglected. Things forgotten. People neglected. People forgotten.

Failure that I’m not really sure is always failure.

. . . I’ve begun filtering. Taking thoughts captive and filtering them through truth. Sometimes there are lessons mixed in among the mid-night lies.

But so much of what keeps me awake did not keep mankind awake until modern times.

I’m sure 90% of what I feel guilt about never crossed Ma Ingalls’s mind. She would never have beat herself up for having bins of photos instead of completed photo albums gracing her shelves. Or fretted about not getting the oil changed in her car.  Or of posting too much on Facebook. Or of being shy of the phone. Or just being social enough in general . . .

Now and then, when I am overwhelmed by the expectations of this life and its measures of worth, I look back. Far.

To a time when hospitality was giving water to a weary traveler or inviting the circuit riding preacher to Sunday dinner. When life and work were one in the same, blended together. When everyone worked with their hands, busy doing, busy surviving. When relationships were built over building barns. And I wish so much that we still did that. That we still built barns together.

Community is so vast now. So broad, far and forced that it isn’t community.

My town tries.

I see the same people at soccer, at school, at the store.

But not at church because there are so, so many. And I wish there was just one.

So many churches. Rarely a barn.

* * * * *

 . . . I feel so much like I don’t belong.

This is the thought that gets me out of bed tonight.

I reason with myself that that is as it should be.

Because I don’t.

This is a new filter. Old, well-known, but newly, deeply, accepted. A neighbor reminded me recently at a moment I was ready to hear it. She feels it, too.

This emptiness we feel . . . We were created for perfect. The world isn’t and is getting worse. We aren’t and will not be on this earth.

It’s okay. The emptiness is longing for heaven.

Every generation, from Adam, no matter what has kept them awake at night has felt the same ache.

We see through a glass, darkly. We long to see clear. 

They will be his people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:3-4

all I ever have to be

Library of Congress, Dorthea Lange, 1939

I really am deeply grateful for my life. But there are moments, seasons when discouragement gets the upper hand.

Frankly, I’m amazed at how quickly and easily I am discouraged.

I’m more fragile than I would like to think.

I started out the morning feeling sorry for myself. Sorry about myself.

A look in the mirror, a step on the scale, a careless word remembered, the pile of books and laundry and things I should do that fills the chair I love but haven’t sat in for weeks,  failure to meet a registration deadline . . .

I am learning to do battle against discouragement with gratitude . . .

Thank You God that my husband loves You so much. That he works hard to provide for our family. That he fought hard against addiction and defeated it with Your help.

Thank You for four healthy, beautiful children who have blessed our life.

Thank You for a loving extended family. For precious friends.

Thank You for my cottage near the sea, in spite of the tiny living room, mossy roof, musty carpet and sulphery water.

Thank You for the sun burning through the marine layer, reminding me of the hour and that it’s time to go to work. Thank You that I have a job to help supplement during these stressful economic times.

Thank you that we have food to eat, gas in the cars, a roof over our heads and clothes to wear.

Thank you for fresh strawberries, and homemade ice cream . . .

So much to be grateful for.  

But I’m hardly ever — maybe never — grateful for me.

For who I am. For where I am.

I am impatient with my own imperfection.

I want to clean myself up before people see me.

I beat myself up for being socially awkward. For not sharing more of my life with others. For being a self-absorbed parent. For the thirty pounds I’ve put on in the past four years. For not calling. Not inviting. Not going. Not being.

This morning, it’s that.

There are days when the years creep back in.

The days, the months, the years I should have been . . . patient with a child, encouraging to my husband, reaching out to a friend or loved one, inviting people to come over, writing a book, exercising, eating right, keeping up photo albums, paying off debt, saving for a house of our own . . .

I’m pretty sure discouragement is what keeps an addict in addiction.

Shouting down the internal voices that call you out on every mistake . . .

The past weighs heavy.

It’s easier to not try to change at all.

Bend down, O Lord, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need Your help . . .
Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to You . . .
Teach me Your ways . ..
Grant me purity of heart . . .
. . . for Your love for me is very great . . .
Give Your servant strength . . .
Send me a sign of Your favor . . .
Psalm 86

Today, after I read the Psalms and pray, it’s an old song that lifts my spirits . . .

. . . a song I’ve known since I was a teenager trying to figure out who I was and where I was going.

Like Sue Heck on The Middle, I was the girl who enthusiastically tried everything and failed — cheerleading,volleyball, the hurdles, choir, piano — you name it.

I lost that courage somewhere along the road of life.

At some point along the way I realized I was totally uncoordinated. That I had no sense of rhythm. That my heart felt like it would explode and I would pass out if I had to play the piano in public. That I couldn’t carry the harmony unless my friend Angie was standing next to me . . .

And then I grew up. Got married. Had children. And settled into a habit of comparison: If only I was . . .

Today, I woke up doubting. And it’s taken two hours to pray, read, and write out my feelings. To greet the day with joy.

I will make a new list of gratitudes. Not of what is on the outside, but on the inside. What God is doing in my heart.

I know I’m growing. I can’t give up just because I haven’t arrived.

So the song. The one I’m singing this morning:

All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.
Any more or less would be a step
Out of your plan.
As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do
What I can find.
And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.

— Amy Grant

Everyone, no matter how old or how accomplished, battles seasons of discouragement. How about you?