dear mom who feels the darkness

It has not been a quiet week in our town.

Poulsbo, Washington sits on Liberty Bay 18 miles across the Puget Sound from Seattle. Our “Little Norway”is full of Scandinavian charm and actual Scandinavians.

On a clear day from various hills around town you can see the Olympic Mountains to the west and Mt. Ranier to the southeast. Woods hide flaws here. And tides mark time.

But this week, our hearts are raw from shock, fear, alarm, and now grief over yet another young person in our little town overcome by darkness.

As parents, we are shaken, and moved to pray deeply, from broken hearts, for our kids. To love them more clearly, more vocally. To give them hope that darkness passes.

Honestly, sometimes, it feels like it never will. The world outside is war, and disease, and death. And school is fear. And tragedy hits home.

Sometimes, it feels foolish to hope. Every day the headlines are worse.

They see it, too. They know. They can count. One every year, my son said.

* * * * *

Dear mom who feels the darkness,

I feel it, too. So heavy. A darkness consuming days, raining sorrow.

Inescapable dread, eclipsing joy.

It’s so hard to see in the dark. My eyes are old. And tired of seeing pain. I bet yours are, too.

But night does not last forever.

This is a promise we can trust. We have evidence every day as night passes into dawn.

Tell your children you love them and pray they will hear and embrace the truth that God loves them and has a purpose for their lives.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord . . . Jeremiah 29:11-14

And tell stories of when you were nearly overcome by darkness, but you reached out to God for help and he helped you even when the situation looked impossible.

“Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful . . . . the only kind of hope that is of any use in a battle is a hope that denies arithmetic.” G.K. Chesterton

And pray always, dear mom who feels the darkness, because you are fighting a spiritual battle for your children’s lives.

* * * * *

The silver rectangle in my hand with the cut out flower was a gift from a teacher for working in my youngest son’s kindergarten classroom. She gave it to me for Christmas just weeks after my husband lost his job and we lost our home. It was the darkest time of my life.

Hope was the thing I needed most desperately. I needed to believe God had a future for me, for Dave, and for our family.

And He did.

But I could not see any of it for a very long time. Not just days, but weeks and months.

The walk through darkness does not have to end in despair. Cling to hope and pray through til the light dawns again.

May Your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in You. Psalm 33:22

* * * * *

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hope from a season of despair

I’ve been a writer at a marketing agency raising money for nonprofit organizations for the past six years. I’ve written for prison ministries, for family ministries for humanitarian aid, justice ministries, rescue missions. The stories entrusted to me help spread the word about what our clients do and raise money so they can keep doing what they’re doing.

Several years ago, on my first interview trip, it struck me that even though my life had been Sunday school, Church, mission field, Christian family, and I had had zero exposure to illegal drugs, when these men and women talked about coming to the end of themselves, I got it. Though our lives couldn’t be more opposite, the end result was the same.

The devastation that drugs and addiction bring to a person and a home are universal. Neither Dave nor I went to prison, we didn’t get a divorce, our kids weren’t taken away, and yet we came to the same breaking point as an addict on the street: God, I need help now.

As wonderfully fitting as my work is, I confess that I get discouraged. I feel like I’m writing everyone’s words but my own. My name doesn’t go on anything I pour myself into. The fruits of my creative labors are for somebody else’s benefit.

But on Thursday night I sat at a round table with co-workers and friends in an enormous room, dining on filet mignon and jumbo prawns, and witnessed contagious, hilarious generosity.  Just the sort of evening to breathe new life into a tired writer.

Items up for bid at this included float plane excursions, U.S. Open tickets, and time doing various things with people like the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor, the Sounders soccer team, and Macklemore.

And they didn’t go cheap. The minimum bid for anything in the live auction, hosted and called by local television personalities was $1,000. A night on the Mission’s Search & Rescue Van with Macklemore sold for $25,000. A donor called in from his hospital bed to pledge $100,000.

I don’t know who these people are, but I know they believe strongly enough that broken people can be renewed to open up their wallets and give $1.5 Million to help heal them.

A man named Richard told his story. He’d been homeless and a meth addict for years, and he laid on a park bench for five days and asked God to take his life. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s Search and Rescue Van found him there and when they asked if he’d like to spend the night in the mission instead of on the streets, he said yes.

A year later he’s standing up on stage at this event telling 500 people that God did take away his life. He took away the life of addiction and drugs and hopelessness and gave him a new life in Christ.

I also witnessed the very thing I wrote about two days ago. That thing about monks and how we defeat discouragement and depression and acedia with serving and working with our hands.

The keynote speaker, with a net worth of $100 Million, famous for his role on a successful TV series surprises us, “Tonight, I’m going to tell you my story.”

And his voice breaks and he says, “I’m not afraid of anything, I’m known for being a shark, I don’t have weaknesses. Except . . .” And he weeps out words of devastation, of losing his kids in a divorce.

And he says all the money and fame and prestige could not heal the most painful hurt in his life. He was in such deep despair he went to the balcony and contemplated ending his life.

Afraid of himself, he called a friend and said, “I need to help someone else right now, or I’m going to die.”

That friend sent him to Seattle where he labored at the Men’s Shelter, alongside men like Richard. Through choking tears, he tells about going out on the Search and Rescue Van with Richard and how they found a man who was crying in a park and the two of them prayed over him and served him, millionaire on one side, homeless meth addict on the other.

And in the end of his story, this broken mega millionaire says: simple acts of service fixed me.

Stories of hope and revival lead to other stories of hope and revival.

No way in my life did I ever dream that our worst season of despair would turn into a season of philanthropy. Impossible that I would heal while writing words that help raise millions of dollars to help hurting people. I suppose about as impossible as a grateful meth addict reviving a billionaire.

* * * * *

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letting go of leaves

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

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* 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.

homesick

 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