Winter’s Coming but Spring is Here | Reprise

This is one of my favorite, dearest, most precious blog posts ever  –  for no other reason that the power of the revelation God gave to me that day. I try to share this every year and today, with the snow and rain and bitter cold, seems like the perfect day to remind us all that Winter is Coming but Spring is Here. 

Winter. A season of painful exchanges: flip-flops for bulky jackets, warm breezes for

cold floors, the sound of crickets for the hum of the furnace, which, let’s face it, is basically the sound of money burning.

But the exchange that weighs on my body like a wet, wool coat, is that of light for darkness. Each autumn day, the coming winter snatches another two or three minutes of sunlight, replacing it with night. We wake in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, eat dinner in the dark….

As of today, there are 53 more days of sliding headfirst into the abyss.

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When Church Hurts Like Hell

To the weary one, who has gone to church hoping to feel encouraged, accepted, inspired, but instead came away wounded, beaten and bruised…you are not alone. And I am so sorry.

I wish that never happened to you. I wish that never happened to me. I wish that never happened to anyone. Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

Why? Because people. That’s why.

People hurt. And the church is people. And so, church hurts.

No, that’s not how it’s supposed to be. But nothing in this fallen world is how it’s supposed to be. Not even the church. Not even God’s people. Which is probably why the Bible teems with reminders, instructions and commands about how to get along, how to do this thing we call community, how to live broken and love the broken.

Have you ever seen someone create mosaic art by hand? They begin the long process by mixing earth and water to mold the tiles, which are then dried, cut and fired. The artist then breaks those tiles into smaller pieces – cutting and chipping, sanding edges or sharpening a point, pressing the pieces into a muddy sort of clay before washing them clean. Hundreds, thousands of broken pieces fit together to reveal one, complete, stunning master-piece.

When the sun is shining and I believe God is good and my spirit overflows with gratitude, that’s how I envision community: broken lives on broken lives – with all our imperfect shapes and sharp edges and rough surfaces – being fit together and made to shine. In the hands of the Master, we become a Master-piece.

That’s on a good day. And with spiritual eyes that see through the veil of a fallen world.

But on a bad day…oh, on the bad days, I am fractured glass sinking in mud. Like quicksand, it pulls me under. On every side I am pressed and scratched and pulled and scraped. I want nothing more than to escape. What beauty, I wonder, could ever come of this? Hopeless. On bad days, I am hopeless.

Because sometimes church hurts like hell.

Sometimes going to church feels like stepping onto a battlefied. You come armed and armored, like you’re bringing your fists to a pistol war. And if, like me, your church is not only your spiritual home and family, but your place of work, there’s no escape. Which has been both a challenge and a gift. When church hurts, it’s complicated.

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Thoughts from Inside the Storm

The pain burns, stings, like a thousand cuts carved into my skin, on my hands, my feet, across my chest, my stomach, my back. I can almost feel the blood oozing out like tears – my whole body weeps. My whole body weeps, shudders, shakes. I need to vomit. To expel this wretched wrong. This thing I can’t undo. This end. Which is an ending I never would have written but was written for me instead – for us all – but most of all, for him.

I am raw and broken. And sick. So sick. Only I can’t throw it up. There’s always more – more pain, more sorrow, more regret churning and burning its way through my soul.

Oh God. How can you ask me? How can you ask me to do this?

You color me in and then erase me. Drain me. To the dregs. And dregs are all I have left.

But You can’t blame me. I can blame me. I can be angry and live with regrets and could haves and should haves and would haves. But not You. Because You let this happen. You did. There’s no denying it.

So when I am nothing, when I am just sludge and scar tissue, You won’t ask why. You won’t dare look at me with surprise. You can’t possibly be surprised. You know the end from the beginning. You knew this. You knew this day. You knew this pain, too.

What if I can’t forgive You? What then? What if You and me are never the same? What have You done? Could You destroy “us”? Would You?

I think somewhere deep inside I know the answers, but today the pain is louder. Like the roaring winds of a hurricane. I hear nothing else. I feel nothing else. I am deaf to all but the screaming of my soul as I am peeled apart, layer by layer, flesh torn open and packed with salt.

Here, truth and comfort are merely words, tiny letters which, rearranged, can mean anything…or nothing at all. Meaningless. Meaningless. I spin around the eye of the storm. There is nothing but the pain.

And all I can do is wait.

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For all our brothers, near, far and farthest. And to the One Brother who I need now more than ever: be my shelter from the storm.

Desperate

Have you ever been desperate for God? To feel Him holding you, to know He sees you, to hear Him speak to you?

So desperate that if He were standing before you, you would climb into His lap, bury your trembling body between His shoulders and will Him to wrap you tightly in His arms?

But He’s not, is He? Standing before you, that is.

He’s not standing before me – not in a reach-out-and-touch-Him-with-my-hands kind of way. And some days, that’s the way I need Him.

Today. That’s the way I need Him today.

Sometimes we experience God’s embrace through the arms of another person, a hug, a squeeze of the hand. Or we see Him looking out at us through the eyes of a friend. Or we hear Him speaking to us on the lilt of their words.

Only I’m alone.

And even God’s word feels foreign to me. No. Rather, I feel foreign to God’s word. Impenetrable.

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Crucify Me

Memories have been pecking away at me...creeping in, as real as yesterday. Not the good memories, but the bad – the foolish, humiliating memories, the devastating moments that I long to erase.

Without warning, they rush in like a tidal wave, mocking me, insulting me, threatening to dash me against the rocks, because there’s nowhere to run, no way to escape myself.

Suddenly, I hear my own sharp-edged voice:

I hate myself.

Sometimes it’s merely a thought. Other times, a whisper. Today, I spit the words out loud, just to make it stop. To halt the rising wave, to make the accusing voices Just. Shut. Up. To stop the harassment, the shame, the regret, the pain.

I hate myself. A truth that rises from the churning depths of me, like a bubble of air in thick molten lava…ugly, menacing, then empty…a hollow, shameful ache.

I hate myself. I hold fast to those three little words, with white knuckles and nails digging into flesh. 

I used to think it strange how others cut their flesh with razors or glass, but I…I cut with an invisible blade, carving, slicing, maiming this heart already thick with scars.

And I love the hating, the punishing.

Because if I can’t escape myself, I will hate myself. Consume myself. Destroy myself.

I will crucify myself.

I will take myself to the cross and begin the hammering, the nailing, the piercing. Dismissing His sacrifice and mercy, I try, in my own strength, to crush, to crucify, to bleed out my blood in payment for my failures and yet in this, too, I fail. This one arm is always free – and I can’t complete the job.

The crucified cannot be the crucifier.

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Winter’s Coming but Spring is Here II

Winter. A season of painful exchanges: flip-flops for bulky jackets, warm breezes for

cold floors, the sound of crickets for the hum of the furnace, which, let’s face it, is basically the sound of money burning.

But the exchange that weighs on my body like a wet, wool coat, is that of light for darkness. Each autumn day, the coming winter snatches another two or three minutes of sunlight, replacing it with night. We wake in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, eat dinner in the dark….

As of today, there are 53 more days of sliding headfirst into the abyss.

Continue reading

When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

I hate being weak. I hate that I am not enough. I want to be more. To do more.

God, so much of what I want to do is for You. Why do You keep holding me down beneath Your mighty hand? You say You will lift me up in due time. When will that be? Can You point to a date on a calendar? Or give me a general idea? If it’s a long way off, my iPhone goes ahead like 20 years. And Due Time has got to be within the next 20 years. Right? God? Are you there?

In Jesus Calling, I’m instructed to rejoice in my weakness which, like a lodestone, draws me ever closer to God. Once upon a time those were encouraging words, but lately they sound a lot like this: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

What happens when I am aware of my desperate need for the Lord but I don’t feel any closer to Him?

What happens when He doesn’t answer my prayers? When I ask for strength and yet have so little? When I beg to feel Him, plead to hear from Him and yet…nothing?

I go to His word for nourishment but everything tastes like dry grass. Parched, I drag myself across burning sands only to find an empty creek bed. I wrap myself in the love of friends and family but my heart shivers through the sunless night.

And I recollect a truth carved in the walls of my soul…but it’s like recalling the lyrics of a song without remembering the melody.

I know He is with me but I can’t feel Him.

And so I recite the words, even though I can’t remember the tune:

Fear not, for I am with you.
     Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
     I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

And I believe…even though I don’t feel. And I hope even though I can’t see. And I choose trust instead of fear – trust in the God who promises to uphold me with His right hand.

His right hand – a symbol of strength in the scriptures. Not His left, but His right hand. Because God only gives us His best.

And I keep reading:

For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

The Lord my God who takes hold of my right hand. Not my left, but my right hand – my strength. My best.

And I consider what life would be like with God holding my right hand. I imagine cooking without my right hand and typing without my right hand – and the imagining comes pretty easily because with chronic pain and tendonitis, I am sometimes forced to rest my hands, and wow…even in those brief hours, I hate it.

(Did I mention I hate being weak? Because I do. I hate it.)

Honestly, God taking hold of my right hand doesn’t sound particularly helpful. Surely, it would be easier if He held my left hand.

But then…would He even be helping me at all? Or would He just be something I hold onto to make me feel better – like a security blanket or the cross I wear around my neck?

Like an unsteady toddler who cries for help after falling down and then pushes her father away as soon as she’s back on her feet, I want Him to help me do it on my own.

But that’s not quite how it works, is it? God is not raising us to be independent. Rather, He’s calling us back from independence, into the freedom that comes in total dependence on Him.

And that means that sometimes He must take hold of us at our strongest places, limit us, slow us down.

Perhaps it’s the only way He can get me to stop trying to do it all on my own. In taking away the things I rely on – my endurance, my abilities, my intellect, my creativity, my spiritual insight, my energy, my confidence – He reminds me of the one thing that really matters: Him.

And I remember His strength that called light out of darkness, igniting the fire of countless suns and flinging them across space and time.

His strength that hurled the planets into motion with perfect precision, summoned beings out of the earth and rushed the wind of life into man. His strength that bore the crushing weight of humanity’s doom and under it, through it, forged a new way. His strength that ruptured the tight and binding prison of flesh, birthing new life in a dry and barren wasteland.

His strength. Which has always been….will always be…enough.

And so, confused and frustrated, weak and exhausted, I stop tugging and pulling and fighting and trying to wrench my hand away from His.

And in this moment, I surrender my best – which is never enough – so that He can give me His best. Which has always been….will always be…enough.

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The morning after I completed this post, Leroy Case preached about our God the “Star-breather.” His message was incredibly relevant to me, to this post, and at the end he shared a song with us. And now I am sharing it with you.

Already All I Need by Christy Nockels

 

 

Frozen | Thoughts on Biblical commUNITY

Here’s the thing: If I knew when I committed to writing this post that the blogosphere would be buried in Frozen commentary like Arendelle in deep, deep, deep, deep snow, I probably would have reconsidered. But alas, I’ve promised a post, so here it is. 

If you have kids, teenagers, college students or well, even a young-at-heart-sister-in-law, then you’ve most likely spent your winter as I have: listening to said family members belt out the entire Frozen soundtrack morning, noon and night. My girls have even taken to singing duets, complete with knocking on a door, any door, before crooning: Do you wanna build a snowman?

And then they built one. Look familiar?

Family Photo

Family Photo

Anyway, I have this quirky habit of perceiving spiritual truth in all sorts of pop-culture media. Give me a minute and I’ll preach you a sermon on Finding Nemo, Perfect, The Hunger Games. (In some case, I already have.)

Frozen is no exception. Besides, you didn’t seriously think I could watch a movie with the tag-line “only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart” and not write about it, did you?

But that’s not because I want to preach you a sermon. Rather, it’s because I know what it’s like to have a frozen heart. To live so heavy under a curse, that I feared being discovered, being known. “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know,” were lyrics to the soundtrack of my life long before Disney wrote Let it Go.

Some hearts, like Elsa’s, freeze because of fear, and some hearts, like Anna’s, freeze from wounds caused by others. For most of us, it’s a combination of both.

I know what it’s like to be mortally wounded – to be struck through the heart with icy shards of rejection and abandonment. To feel the cold spread across my chest, squeezing the air from my lungs, leaving me breathless, face down in the hard earth.

And I know what it’s like to do the wounding, the destroying – to be the ice queen. To detest the woman in the mirror. To distrust my darkened self, because “I can’t control the curse.” To live in terror of corrupting everything I touch, everyone who comes near me because there’s “no escape from the storm inside of me.”

I’ve fought in vain to be “the good girl [I] always had to be” – not just because I don’t want to be hurt – but because I don’t want to hurt others. And I have run away, isolating myself in an ice castle of my own design. A place where fear bars the doors to pain…and love.

Ice castles. We all build them. At first they seem beautiful, protective, even empowering, like Elsa’s. (OK, hers was pretty awesome.) But they’re also cold and confining.

Like Anna, people have come knocking on my door, offering me love with open hands: “You don’t have to keep your distance anymore. We can head down this mountain together. You don’t have to live in fear. I will be right here.”

And like Elsa I have cried out, “You mean well, but leave me be. Yes, I’m alone, but I’m alone and free!  Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me!”

But can a person be alone and free? Our ice castles – fortresses built to protect and isolate – are less like palaces and more like prisons than we care to admit. But even if the cold never bothered us anyway, loneliness and disconnection weary the heart. And weary hearts can’t fly free.

We can be alone, but we can’t be alone and free.

Yet sometimes, a weary, earth-bound heart seems bearable in exchange for a life safe from harming or being harmed. But a life without love inflicts its own sort of pain. Not only on us, but on those around us.

Elsa’s cry, “Just stay away and you’ll be safe from me!” sounds like a noble sacrifice and a reasonable demand when considering the stakes. But she failed to discern the thin, sharp edge that separates truth from reality…

To avoid others, to avoid love or vulnerability or pain, is not to be free, but to chain ourselves to freedom’s great imposter: independence.

Elsa believed that she could shut away her frozen heart and live independently without consequence. But the opposite happened. By isolating herself and giving in to her fear and curse, she set off an eternal winter, nearly destroying her entire kingdom. She wasn’t free at all. In fact, things were worse than ever.

And so it goes with us. How often do we succumb to our darkest fears, satisfy our guilty pleasures, indulge our most agonizing curses, and tell ourselves that as long as we do it alone, no one will get hurt? But someone’s always getting hurt.

Build an ice castle and no matter how much it sparkles, you will wound hearts and court the eternal winter…because relational independence is a lie. Our choices and our actions affect each other in ways far beyond what our eyes can see or our minds can know.

The truth is that we were created for community, connection, relationships – with God and with each other. Relationships aren’t a luxury; they are a necessity – living water for our thirsty souls.

Community, first with God in the holiest of communities: where the warm, glowing Breath of Life and Love made ours by the ultimate act of true love, thaws our frozen hearts and lifts the burden of our curse so our souls can take wing. Only in binding ourselves to Him, our True and Mighty Fortress, are we set free.

Free to love from the fortress of His perfect love, we are Not Alone, but Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters. Like Elsa and Anna, we can face this life together, hand in hand, even though someone might get hurt.

And therein lies the greatest freedom: to throw open the doors of your heart and love, really love…despite the risk, despite the loneliness, despite the pain, despite the failure, despite the brokenness. That is true freedom.  

Escape Not Allowed At This Point

The other night my daughter showed me a social media meme of a computer screenshot with a dialogue box and the words “Escape is not allowed at this point.”

20140203-090953.jpg

I scoffed and then whined, “That’s exactly how I feel!”

Truth be told, I feel that way a lot. I mean, somedays I just want to claw my way out of my own skin…shed this body that holds me prisoner. But blinking in my mind’s eye is this annoying little neon reminder “Escape not allowed at this point.”

For the last six or seven weeks, I’ve been experiencing an as of yet unexplained bout of relentless heart palpitations…what the doc calls a “benign” (though, I say, hardly normal) irregular heartbeat. If you’re wondering what that feels like, imagine having the hiccups all day, every day, for a month and a half. Fun, right? So yeah, it’s driving me crazy! And while I’ve had a bunch of cardio tests, the only current recommendations are some heavy hitting drugs – you know the kind with television ads that show people running through fields of grass, smiling, while the soft spoken, monotone voiceover tells you of certain possible side effects such as dizziness, headache, rash, amnesia, hair loss, fingernail loss, tooth loss, the inability to sleep…or stay awake….and death. (Now tell me, since when is death a “side effect”? If you ask me, there’s nothing “side” about it.)

Anyway, I have a great primary care APRN who has recommended a specialist that can fit me in, oh, sometime next year…ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but after a direct call by my APRN to the specialist, they’ve worked me into their calendar in mid-February. Which, based on recent calculations, is about 138,240 palpitations from now.

“Escape not allowed at this point.”

Friday, I got to talk on the phone with my dear sister-in-law, Anne, (who is currently living the pioneer life in Vermont). At one point, I asked her how she’s doing spiritually. I won’t tell you what she said….that wouldn’t be very friend-like. But I will share what she shared with me and the world on her blog…in a sec…

First, here’s a timeline refresher:
I feel monumentally frustrated.
I talk to Anne and happen to ask her how she’s doing spiritually.
That night my daughter shows me the “escape not allowed” pic.

OK, got that? So then, the next morning I open Anne’s new blog post, which is an update on the pioneer life and her thoughts in response to my question “How are you doing spiritually?” After lots of fun updates she starts to talk spiritual and when I get to her main point, I nearly fall out of bed: she writes “You can’t escape God.”

You can’t escape God.

Now remember, she didn’t write this message specifically for me. It was simply a summation of her recent experiences with God, shared with her friends, family and blog readers. And yet, God spoke directly to me through her. (Love it when He does that.) As a result, I was reminded that while I can’t escape myself, my skin, my problems, I also can’t escape God. And isn’t that the better truth? The best truth?

I don’t so much need to get away from my problems as I need to get into God. In fact, running from my problems is akin to running from Him, because God doesn’t exist apart from reality. He is reality and any attempts on my part to escape reality put me, at least mentally, further away from God.

I believe, and my experience has been, that God manifests himself in my life most powerfully when I live in reality, accepting my circumstances and inviting God to work in and through them rather than looking for a way out. I guess I just needed a reminder. Thanks God…and Anne.

Immanuel, God With Us, doesn’t promise to take away all our earthly trials but he does promise to be with us in them, always, even to the end of the age.

Escape is not allowed at this point.

But peace is.

Hope is.

Love is.

Joy is.

God is.