Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Shattered Whole

I stopped writing my blog for a while.
And, I don’t really know why, at least not exactly. 

My daughter’s best friend lost her dad, suddenly, unexpectedly.
My good friend lost her mother, and I lost a friend - too quickly - with so much still to see and say.
Friends and friends that had been friends in another life, lost a parent, a husband, a brother, an unborn child. A teenage girl took too many pills and another wanted to. 

It was too much for me. 
I saw my words through their eyes, and although, there is truth for someday, I wondered if maybe my words were not truth for that day. And my mouth and my heart couldn’t find a way to say to one what is true for always.  I wondered - is encouragement cruel, too hard to process, too heavy to bear?

Death has always been far away from me, but then suddenly, here it was - and it was real. And it wasn’t the kind of death I could celebrate - lives lived long and happy, filled with friends and family and legacy - it was the ugly kind, the kind that makes you think maybe the darkness in the world is winning. 

There was no space in my heart to deal with that.  It was a new possibility being created and I had to work through life all over again - its meaning - my place in it….God’s place in it, and everything took a different hue.  I didn’t have any picture that I could draw, no art I could see that was worthy of that hue; a new mysterious color, rich because of what it cost to make. 

My soul wrestled.
Father, I know You are Real, and I know in my heart, even against the worst pain, the deepest cuts, the most horrible outcome, You are still it.  The reason.  The hope. The life that still beats here, while we wait for there.

I see the unlikely union of grief and hope and they are in a tangled dance where one cannot live without the other.  And Creator God, I see the hue - the richness of this new color and somewhere inside, where I don't yet have words, I know it makes Your love deeper and more personal than I could have imagined before. Showing me more of You.  And Lord, will You use it to cover my own confusion and make it into something more beautiful, more redeemed, more alive?  

Spirit, will You let us see?  I so desperately want You for us - to know that Your love will reach the darkest places, the worst hurts - in a tangible way that matters for right now.  Jesus, I know You saw this color and You lived the hurt that comes from the hard and cruel in this world.  Shower us with your grace God - in ways we don't even know to ask; heal us, hold us, bring relief to our broken hearts. Catch our tears, because Savior, they cost us everything. Please don't let them spill like they are meaningless. Oh Good, Good Father, hear our cries and make a new tomorrow with this new color - this one that cost so much to make.

And Father, I do not believe You bring sickness, or accident, or death - I believe this failing world, our prideful hearts, I think those bring death. But, You - Father, King - You bring redemption. You bring life. You bring freedom. You bring tomorrow and You hold it and You walk us back to a new kind of whole - a whole that is broken and shattered into a thousand pieces. A whole that can retract and reflect Your light in a blinding, dazzling display. Hope that doesn’t replace grief, but joins it.  
I don’t know what living has cost you, but I know if you are reading this, that it has indeed, cost you. And friend, God knows its cost - and He treasures it like He treasures You. He will not leave you, no matter how long it takes your tears to slow.  No matter how many times you ask Him why. No matter how many prayers you utter where the only words you have are: “Please God make it not true.” He will not leave. He will wait, and every time you reach for Him, you will know that He has been there all along - and He has been taking every piece of pain you have had the courage to give to Him and He has been writing your story with its ink.  And your story is not over.  And your story is beautiful. 

And friend, even if we don’t know it is true - our story is so wrapped up in His own story, His reflection bouncing right off of its pages.  It is covered in love and truth and hope and freedom, and He has not stopped seeing - even if the tears have clouded your vision, or the scars have hardened your ability to feel. 

He can handle your anger, your doubt, your deep, deep grief, your fear - and the deeper you let Him travel into those deep wounds - the deeper your healing will be. 

You are His child.  You are precious to Him.  He chose you.  I don’t know why He didn’t stop it from happening.  Life is all tangled up in the weeds of a broken garden.  But, He never stops being the point. And even in His glory, His justified demand to be worshiped, He has never stopped holding you - and will never stop reaching for you.  

Run to the grief with Him.  Brace yourself to feel, to engage the pain.  Show Him how badly it hurts.  Cry to Him and with Him.  Friend - there is a future.  And you are His beloved.
I am so sorry for your hurt.  I am so sorry for your pain.  I am so sorry for the loss and the confusion. And I am so confident that God knows, God cares, God sees and God loves. I stand in the gap and pray for you today and I trust Him to meet you right where you are, and to love you like a Father, a Husband, a Teacher, a Friend, a Counselor and the Almighty God He will forever be. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Wine, Whine, and the Sober Life

This week I responded to a group message where I was challenged to come up with a life application for whine and wine.
I did, because if I will climb a stupid telephone pole 10,000 feet in the air for a challenge, there is clearly not much that I won't do if dared.
Unbeknownst to me however, was that in doing it, I was going to stumble on a thought that would almost immediately change the course of my day.
Here's what I said:
" 'Whine', when indulged in too much, will distort your perspective and stain anything it spills onto."
Cute, right?
But, after I wrote it, I couldn't stop thinking about it, which looking back is probably not the ideal order of events, but....
but, I couldn't stop wondering if the analogy held true.
And, because I am whining a lot lately,
I felt like knowing, how far does this analogy go?
So, I started to overthink it and break it apart, because that is what I do.
And, I considered wine.  It comes from tended grapes that are grown until they are ready to be pressed into a sweet inspiring drink.
A drink that is good for your stomach when taken in small doses.
A drink that makes for good conversation and brings out an atmosphere of openness.
And I wondered, could 'whining' actually be the same?
It grows slowly in our hearts, out of fear or disappointment.  And we tend to those places.
Eventually, those things are "ready" in our hearts and, as we are pressed down upon, they break open to bear the drink.
A complex drink with many notes and many layers.
And, the whining, - the "this is hard", "this is sad", "I feel exhausted" -  brings about an atmosphere of openness and good conversation.
It is healing for our souls.

And, just like with wine,
that is only true in small doses.
But, for many of us, it becomes our drink of choice.
And then we are in trouble.
Consider wine - meant as a gift - if indulged in too much.
It distorts, it makes one sick and it stains relationships.
And, isn't whining the same thing?
Meant as a gift.
An opportunity.
When indulged in, bears a high cost.
It distorts our perspective, making everything around us seem wrong.
We start to need it too.
It becomes hard for us to wander through even the good things in life without it.
We start to believe our safety is found in its ability to prepare us for the bad thing that is around the corner.
We start to feel like it is the only way we can handle conversations with the people that we love.
But that is our alcoholic talking.
That doesn't make sense.
Everyone around us can see, it is not keeping us safe - it is keeping us prisoner - keeping us lonely.
It is not creating an atmosphere of openness - of good conversation.
It is shutting us down.  Protecting the broken pieces that were trying to tell us they were ready for healing.
And, like an alcoholic, once we have reached that addictive point, the cure is to stop using it altogether.
But consider that.
We break out in a cold sweat even contemplating life without it.
We need it.
Just one more, "Yeah but"  Just one little "I can't do this" "They should have noticed" "They never will"  "I'll never be" "It's all their fault"
And the alternative that I will have to replace my drink with, brings me to my knees.
And I suppose that is the right starting point for it.
Because from there, I can bring it to Him.
Expose my fear and my hurt,
and beg Him to take it from me.
Ask Him to be the strength that I walk through "it" with - whatever "it" is - knowing that underneath whatever "it" is this time is all of the fear and the insecurity that made the "whine" taste so sweet and feel so necessary.
And, here is the incomprehensible beauty of the whole thing.
I can go to Him.
He wants me to.
And instead of whining, I can weep.
I can struggle.
I can break.
And because I am an addict to my "whining" - I have to go to Him, before I go to the other. I don't get to "have just one" - it will take me over. It will win.
So, I have to go to Him often.
And I can.
He wants me to.
And, He says I can go with confidence.
That He knows.
He came.
He walked.
He struggled.
Consider His tears when His friend died.
Consider His sweat when He begged God to take it away.  He also struggled to submit to God. It brought Him to His knees.
But He showed me how to not turn away from the struggle.
He demonstrated a different way.
Back to the Father, back to the throne, and ask again.
"Father, I don't want to do this - take this from me"
And He found resolve to obey; to do His Father's will.
they were sleeping
and the loneliness and the weight was again too much.
And He showed me what to do -
"Father, please."
He didn't live this earth - it's pain, and it's disappointment, and it's distraction - to hold over my head a perfect way, and beat me down with His sinlessness.
He lived it to woo me.
To pave a path to His throne.
Because He knows choosing the Father's way is hard.
Engaging in what is happening around us can be overwhelming.
And, the whining, the giving up, the distortion of reality -
They don't pause life.
They prolong pain.
They rob of us the ability to truly live.
They steal us away from our calling, away from wholeness,
away from relationships and away from healing.

I was reminded in a sermon by Andy Stanley this week, why we are told to approach the throne of our King with boldness:
"Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrew 4:16
Because the mercy and grace we need for right now is at His feet and He will give it.
Every time.
We don't need to grasp it from those around us.
He offers it freely.
And why can He?
Because our high priest sympathizes with our weakness.  He was tempted in every way - without sin.
And sin is to deny God by trying to be Him or by worshiping something that is not Him.
And Jesus had every opportunity.
But He didn't.
He bowed.
He begged.
He sweat blood.
And, He received mercy and grace in His time of need.
He was strengthened to submit.
And able to walk the road He was called to walk.

I wanted to whine so badly today.
I could taste the sweet temptation.
But to give in would not have given me the mercy I needed for my struggle.
And so, I showed Him my weakness.
I engaged.
And, I didn't have to limp to Jesus and explain what a failure I was. I didn't have to brace for His disappointment.
I was given a different way.
I bowed in front of this King who knew.
Who cared.
Who walked it ahead of me -
and died to give it to me.
And the mercy I needed didn't remove the cup from me.
The grace I received didn't change my circumstance.
But the drink of His mercy filled me with hope.
With courage.
With peace.
With His drink I could see - without distortion - the truth of this life.
His will.
His way.
The courage to hope. To want. To cry - all found at His feet.
The good and the hard - all kept in His hands.
His open hands.
And when I turned away from Him and the loneliness and the weight threatened the freedom I had found in His will - I followed His example and I turned back. And I cried out again.
And, I will keep going back.
Because there is no alternative that is as rich and full as His mercy and grace.

This God friend.
If we live a thousand years,
we will still not fully comprehend His love.
If you are like I am,
Weaker than you feel you should be.
And you are drowning your sorrows in anything that will numb - know that your heart is trying to tell you something.
Your hurt is ready.
It wants to be dealt with.
And numbing the pain of it by indulging is not His will.
And friend, whatever the hurt, you are safe to go to Him,
He is calling you.
He wants you.
And, when you are ready to put down your whine of choice - He is ready too.
Ready with the mercy and the grace that you need.
That you crave.
That will satisfy your thirst in the most powerful and freeing way.
Keep fighting friends.
Your sober life is calling.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Another Blank Page

A blank page.
It's terribly intimidating isn't it?

The cursor blinking loudly....  
over and over again. 

Every speech I've ever given a student about "it's easier to edit something than nothing" taunts me - incidentally to the rhythm of the blinking cursor - 
It might be easier. 
Unless you are the one that has to write the something. 
Cause then it's harder.

I have something to say, I'm sure.  
I am hurting and lonely and broken
and hopeful and loved and wanted
and sad and confused
and clear and purposeful
and trapped inside of my own head
and freed inside of my own heart

I am contradictions battling nearly constantly.
I always have something to say - something to work out - something to remember. 

But, I don't always know how to say it and I don't always know what is next.
The other day I asked God - please show me - please tell me - what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to say?  What is next? What do I do?

It's like that blank page - something is just around the corner. There is a next, another something coming, another "I should be handling this better."  More characters to meet, more plot twists to endure, more scenery to consider - more change. Just waiting on the next page. 

Maybe the mystery of life is captured in the essence of a story -  
It can feel intimidating like the white screen. 
The blankness of it. 
Full of potential -  
or pain - both equally unknown. 
Both to be found somewhere in the next lines. 

But, I don't get to choose my own ending.
I suppose however, that I do get to draft my own version - and, maybe I can write it how I want it to be - hope for something amazing and then offer it up and see if the great Editor throws in a plot twist or two.

And, as I live His changes and process what is unfolding, I can grieve over the lost pages from the story that I thought we would write. And, as I grieve, I can remember that I offered Him my pages because I trust Him. I know Him. And He is good. And He loves me. 

And then, I get to keep engaging, keep writing - keep hoping - keep dreaming.
Keep asking.
What is next?
What do I do?  What is Your will?

And I get to keep remembering that He will show me.
One step. One sentence. One great adjective at a time. I will know.
And, He will be working His glory onto every page.

I suppose at times it will take me several chapters before I understand where we are going.
I suppose sometimes, even though He shares His will with me, I will be arrogant, and believe that because I get to sit at the keyboard, I know better what should go there - and I won't throw away the pages He is asking me to.
And I suppose He will use them, in His way, as part of the greater story He refuses to give up on.

I suppose sometimes I will have writer's block and there will be stages where nothing goes on the page - just the blinking cursor mocking me, daring me to write something - anything. And, I suppose one slow, hard word at a time I will try to get back in the game - back in the groove. And I suppose He will be waiting for me, patiently letting me sort it out.

I suppose sometimes I will write courageous and hopeful and colorful chapters into my story and sometimes I will dance in the inspiration of it all.
And I suppose other times, I will write out the pain that I can't deal with any other way.

And, when the Editor changes a chapter that I thought was unfolding into something awful - and He turns it into a glorious ending that I could not have even dreamed up - I suppose I will sit with those pages clung tight to my chest in awe of the One who has more words than I could even conjure. And I suppose with everything inside of me, I will thank Him, though my words will never feel quite enough.  

Maybe my pages will mean something to someone that is staring at their own blank page.
Afraid to put the wrong thing down, or too stubborn to understand that with the loving craft of the Editor - their story could be so much more.
Maybe someday, someone will recognize that I could have never written that story by myself, 
never thought up that change or found a way to make all of these cracks and bruises work together into something so beautiful and honest.  Maybe they will know that any story like that, must have been touched and crafted and held - by Him. 

Him.  The ultimate storyteller.
His. An inspiration unlike anything else. 

Every page is a white blank space full of unwritten hope. Unwritten hope that points to His grace, His love, His reality - Love and Truth that is evident on all of our pages; the pages that acknowledge Him and the pages that don't.

Your today is probably not the way you would have written it - but don't stop writing it. Write from where you are and offer Him your messy rough draft - full of scribbles, and run-ons, and half sentences - full of hope and dreams. Because as you breathe, your story is not yet complete. And dear friend, as you live, your best is still to be written.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

That Stupid Telephone Pole

Isn't it supposed to feel different than this?
Life, I mean.

Isn't it supposed to feel different?
I imagined once that God had great plans for my life.  That He would use me to in a great way.  That I would feel powerful as His child - known and loved and chosen.
A positive pregnancy test.
A failed job interview.
A hard marriage.
More positive pregnancy tests.
Bills I couldn't pay.
Bosses I couldn't please.
Friends I couldn't make stay.
Friends I couldn't heal.

Don't hear me say that this is all there has been in my life - that list can be a little deceptive, because there has been so much more.  Friends that I get to laugh with and cry with and dance with - a husband that decided to engage and lead us to a marriage that is - better, honest. Wonderful positive pregnancy tests that have grown into a house full of inventive, intelligent, compassionate children - I have had good moments, great moments - success - meaningful ministry - sweet discussions.  So much beauty in the mess.
And those things are good gifts from a good Father.
But, I wonder.
Am I only taking?
Will I never give back?
Is He getting tired of giving?
Will I never be the someone He hoped I would pan out to be?
Is He disappointed?

A few years ago, I went with the ladies of my church to a retreat - at one point in the retreat, there was the opportunity to climb and jump from a telephone pole. This horrific activity was designed to be a challenge, an opportunity to do something physically that you could ponder spiritually. I, being a good leader, went to support all of the girls in my group who needed something like this to do - I, of course, was smarter than that. I would not go 30 feet up an old telephone pole for any reason. However, to support them I would stand there and cheer - and pretend that what they were doing was not stupid.

A sweet little lady that had come along with our group, decided to ask me about my "stand on the ground support" - "Why won't you try?"
Well, obviously, because it's dumb.  But, unfortunately, before I could answer, another lady from our group said, "I am afraid to do it, but if you will do it Jodi, then I will go too."
Sure?!!?  My mouth had just betrayed me. I did not mean sure.  I meant - NO! This is a dumb, over-spiritualized activity of no consequence to me and I would rather leave my feet firmly planted on the ground, doing what God called me to do - encourage....You can all go do this, have a good time, who am I to judge, but I will not participate by doing, I'll participate by cheering.
But I knew she needed to do this.  It was important to her, and if I told her how I really felt, I might rob her of some of that - so my mouth said "Sure."

I made a pact with myself to just climb the first 4 rungs.  The facilitator had assured us that doing one more thing than we thought we could do was success, and since putting on the gear was one step further than I thought I could go, I felt like climbing 4 rungs would put me in superhero status.
However, my legs betrayed me - and I went 6 - right to no man's land.  High enough that going down was as scary as going up.  So I panicked and kept climbing.
And every step was awful.
By the time I got to the top - I was horrified. I couldn't climb down.  My legs were shaking so badly that I couldn't get close enough to the edge to jump off, I was trapped.  And everyone was watching.  Encouraging me. Pulling for me. Watching me.
Their cheers felt like pressure and I was failing.
I decided to grab hold of my mind and embrace the activity, to make it about believing God in every situation. I told Him, "I believe You are real. I can do this through You.  I believe. You make me brave. You are everything."
But it didn't help.
I couldn't even open my eyes.
Time was ticking, I was up there much longer than I should have been.
God - I believe You - but I can't do this.
Oh no.
That's bad.
That's what all of this is about - my life, my marriage, my parenting, my ministry - God, where are you?

Eventually I took one small step toward what I thought must be the edge of the very small, unstable, unsafe, stupid platform - sitting on top of an old pole, that was far too high in the air. I had to call down to my friends, "Please tell me when I am far enough to the edge that I can jump."  I needed them to tell me because my eyes were shut and they, like the rest of my body - refused to do what I needed.
My legs felt like cement.  I am not sure how I shuffled through anymore steps, but eventually I heard them - "You are there - You can do this".
I counted to three- five or six times - and then, realizing I had no other option, I did it.
I jumped in a sort of 'stumble off the edge and ungracefully flail yourself to the bottom' sort of way; held securely by the rope and the kind gentlemen paid to give me this glorious experience.
When my friends surrounded me to help me out of the equipment - one very dear friend grabbed me and asked, "Aren't you so proud of yourself?"
My arms were too weak to punch her - so I just glared.
Of what?
I had just made a fool of myself.
Proved to everyone how weak I really was.
It was awful.
I felt awful.
And angry.
Not at the sweet girl who had first prodded me on to the pole - but at God.
Was all of this a lie I told myself so I would keep playing life.
Life application challenge course activities are dangerous for types like me - I don't have the life skills or maturity to keep it in isolation.

The next day Jesus and I had some time to talk.  I just wanted to know what all that was about. I told Him how weak and scared and useless I felt.
He waited for more.
So, I told Him -I felt like He had let me down.  I told Him that I thought I was supposed to believe in Him and feel His glorious courage course through my veins - that He was supposed to make me strong and brave.

"Oh child."  I could almost hear His compassionate voice, almost see His soft eyes seeking my heart.
"Oh child.  You might never feel brave.  But because you believe in me, you will do brave things.  I will lead you there and I will never leave you."

See, I keep forgetting.
This isn't about me getting strong enough to not need Him.
It's about the desperate way He loves me, holds me, pushes me, knows me.
Because you believe in me, you will do brave things.

But I might never feel like a leader, I might never be ready to jump.  I am likely going to go to the edge with my eyes sealed tight shut - begging someone below to tell me what to do next.
I wish that life was easier.
in the very next breath,
I don't want to miss out on God.
none of Him.
none of His plan.
none of His love.
and Father - I am weak.
I am a fraud.
I am scared - of almost everything.
I want to stay on the ground, not really because the activity seems stupid - but because deep down, I don't think I can do it.
And I am probably right.
But You can.
You do.
You know.
I've gone too far to go back Father.  I see You in everything and I don't want to go back from that - but going on....
it's hard.
it's unstable.
it's too high.
I can't do it.
I don't feel brave.

So, my sweet Savior, thank you for never asking me to do it alone.
Let's keep climbing friends, this adventure is only just getting started.