Praise & Forget Not

This is post 7 in the Suffering Well series. See all of the previous posts here.

I’ve been absent from this space and this series for a bit. And it’s because I’ve been a plain old hot mess (with a capital H and M, if you’re wondering – just ask my people). The suffering I’m experiencing – poor health – is a nearly every day, all day reality in my current life. Not to say that all is bad or hard, because that’s not the case! Here’s my place for pretty life and garden pictures to prove it.

It’s more like I’m just currently walking through it all, and suffering isn’t easy or straightforward or without its share of messiness. Sometimes I feel ankle deep in it, and sometimes up to my neck (or eyes, or honestly, even over my head). My health effects nearly all aspects of my present life and days – how I feel, what I can do, my capacity for clear thinking, the energy I have to parent, be a wife, be a friend. I’m not writing this series in the past tense, and certainly not because I’ve got how to suffer well (or anything in life) fully figured out. I offer these writings up not with a neat bow tied on top, but from a place of vulnerability as I work it all out. Some level of suffering is my current reality, and that’s just the way it is.

So, no need to worry, but truth is it’s just been a harder twist in this journey. I’ve been in my health margin and unable to get out, and that generally results in stuckness in other areas of life, like my emotions and ability to see the forest through the trees. I’m starting to come out of this overall stuck place, for which I am most grateful. I thought I came out of it last week, but isn’t progress often more like a one step forward, two steps back kind of thing? And that’s okay, because I’m moving forward again!

One thing that’s helping me this week is Psalm 103’s reminder to praise & forget not. It starts:

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like eagle’s.

Nothing helps me in harder seasons more than stopping to praise, because praise helps me find and keep my bearings! Praise is my anchor, my lifeline, to the God who loves, the God who is present, the God who cares, the God who comforts me and you.

And this reminder to forget not – oh how I love it & need it. Every day! But especially when I’m stuck. God is all of those things – forgiver, healer, redeemer, lover and satisfier – when all is well, and when all feels not well. It helps me immensely to think on that & to run through a list of the ways that God has been there for me in the past, to specifically remember how he’s been present for me throughout this season of hardship, and to look for him, God with me, today. Because he doesn’t and hasn’t stopped being with me, even when I’m feeling stuck. Looking back and looking deeper helps me know it to be true.

Being stuck for me is more like a loss of perspective, a place of needing to find my footing again and to remember the solid ground on which I stand. A place of needing to think bigger than myself and the circumstances I find myself in. Praise and forget not, praise and remember – I’m going to be doing a lot more of both, and invite you to join me. Because it makes a difference, when all is good, all is hard, and all the in-between. It roots me, and I pray that it roots you just the same!

Richness from clinging

This is post 6 in the Suffering Well series. See all of the previous posts here.

My suffering experience has taught me (and still is) that there is great richness born from clinging to Christ for my very real, daily, even second-by-second needs.

The chorus in the Matt Maher song Lord I Need You captures this sentiment of clinging, of dependence, so simply and well. Here are it’s words:

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

In his song, he’s talking about needing Christ’s daily guidance against temptation and for righteous living, but I think this chorus captures something much more universal. Growing up, I used to think that dependence on anyone or anything was bunk; I was better off just trusting myself or making my own way. I’ve changed a lot since then. And mostly because of another sentiment captured well in Philippians 4:7. But I’ll include verses 6 and 7 here, because man is verse 6 instructive for how to approach God with our need. Here’s what it says:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I bolded that last verse, because it captures so importantly one thing I’ve learned: God’s peace is better than any other kind of peace there is, any other kind of peace that I’ve ever experienced or known. It transcends circumstances and the reality of our grief. It can be found in the deepest, hardest, darkest places, and come at times when we think peace can’t be found, or can’t find us.

In John chapter 14, Christ is talking to his 12 disciples, preparing them for when he leaves. He talks to them about the Holy Spirit, who he will leave with them to be their Counselor. In verses 26-27 he says,

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Other translations use Comforter instead of Counselor.

This peace, the Holy Spirit’s peace, it is better than any kind of peace the world can give. Who better to give comfort than the Comforter, the Counselor, himself? What better place to find that peace that surpasses understanding, peace that overcomes very real fear? He alone offers peace that guards our hearts and our minds. And I don’t know about you, but when I need peace, it is because my heart and my mind are going craaaaazy. They feel untethered, and God’s peace, his person, has become my tethering place.

There have been times when I’ve been in my worse pain and can’t find comfort from any source. Maybe you’ve been there too, physically, or even emotionally. You’ve tried medication, meditation, distraction, etc. And I still have those things in my toolkit. But the only thing that has helped me in those moments is to literally picture myself wrapped in Christ’s embrace. I lay down on my pillow and picture it being his arms of peace, holding me as I sink into him. It feels silly to share out loud, but honestly, I cannot explain the deep and real comfort it has provided me.

I was reading Emily Freeman’s blog this morning, and this was said in a guest post:

It hurts to be sifted by sorrow, and I can glimpse no end to the hurt, and yet I find myself grateful. To be sifted by suffering is to find that all your usual worries have settled down into their proper places.

I have found this to be so true too. Having to be in a place of utter dependence on God, that place where you’re saying “Lord, I need You, oh, I need You, every hour I need You” (or minute, or second), it’s a good place in it’s own way. I’ve found a lot of meatiness here, things that have put more teeth to my faith. Because God does come through. More than in any other season or way, I’ve learned through my suffering that he is who he says he is and does what he says he’s going to do. He brings that peace, He is that Comforter. In this season I have learned that I need not fear the things I have let take root and grow like weeds in my life’s garden, those little and sometimes big-feeling worries of daily life. I do not need to try to be in control, because God is in control, and even in the most out of control place I’ve ever found myself in life, I’ve found this crazy, hard-to-put-into-words peace and comfort and rest. Those usual worries, they have found their proper place. And I have found my proper awe of God, my proper dependence on him, one that I hope I will take with me into my healthy and good days too. It’s okay to need and be needy, and I’ve found the one who can handle it all, the one who is dependable, the firmest of all foundations.

I know I’ve already referenced Psalm 46 once, but man if it isn’t ever relevant to this conversation too:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…The Lord Almighty is with us…The Lord Almighty is with us…

He is with us. In the worst, in the best, in the every day normal, and all in between. He is our ever-present help, and don’t we all need help? I have learned through my suffering, through needing him and his comfort in a way that I’ve never needed him before, that he is faithful. And because he’s faithful, I need not fear. And because I’ve tasted so much of his goodness, I find that I need him all the more, not just for such a time as this, but for all my time, all my days. I want to carry his goodness with me always. I’m seeing and feeling that a new kind of neediness has been birthed within me, and I’m becoming okay with being needy and dependent.

Friends, may he be your comfort in the midst of your days – your peace that is so deep and wide and strong – for whatever season you find yourself in right now, and for all seasons of your life. May you too find him to be unfailing, there, always present, with you in all your places of need. And may your need for him grow ever stronger as you drink of his goodness, goodness that can be found even when the mountains quake and the waters roar.

Identifying what really is enough

This is post 5 in the Suffering Well series. See all of the previous posts here.

I ended the last post with the words, “But really, he is all I need. He is enough for me.” And I wanted to revisit that. Because maybe you’re like me, and for a long while you sang words like those in church, but you didn’t feel it or mean it or get it deep inside of you. I’ve had someone ask me: Your faith seems really real to you – when did that change happen for you? How did you get there? Maybe you’re like this person, wanting that change to happen, but wondering when it will and how to get there, because you want it, you do. I can share what happened with me. It wasn’t anything big or instant or miraculous, and I think that is how it is for a lot of folks too. Basically, I decided to be intentional about my faith, to try to have eyes to see what God was doing in me and around me, to not let my faith be on autopilot on my end. My grandparents have been a huge influence on my faith journey. They wrote in the front of a high school Bible for me: “We love you and always pray for God’s best for you. Here is God’s best: ‘Jesus says, I am the vine, Melody is a branch. If Melody remains in me and I in her, she will bear much fruit; apart from me, Melody can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)”

Identifying what really is enough | Colibri Homestead

Just like the words of my mentor about love and loss stuck with me, these words from my grandparents written in 1999 did too; I knew they were important even though I hadn’t worked out what they meant yet. But when I decided to get serious about my faith, there they were, telling me what I was to do: to remain in Christ, to abide some translations say. I knew that my job was to abide in Christ – to follow him, to hold to him, to defer to him. And I found his voice in the Bible telling me what to do. I dug deep into reading the Bible, and truly God did the rest of the work. I’ve learned that when you spend time with Christ, really truly spend time with him, he will bear his fruit in your heart, and then in your life. My job is to remain in him and when I really do, I always feel him in me, working in me, guiding me, loving me, suffering with me, transforming me. God was renewing my mind as I spent time with him, and it was transforming my faith and my life and still is. Now I sing that he is enough, he is all I need, and I feel it so deep and true, because over time I have come to know and experience his goodness and faithfulness and how I really can’t and don’t want to live without him. I could say a million more things, so if you want to talk more about this, or about anything I’ve written here on suffering well, you can email me at colibri_mel@outlook.com.

What is truly enough? What is it that makes for a life? These were questions that I found myself asking when my health took away what I thought I needed for a good life. A good life wasn’t one spent in bed. A good life wasn’t an isolated one. A good life wasn’t one where I felt like everyone had to do things for me and I couldn’t do anything for them, or for myself. I didn’t stay in that rough starting place – where I really couldn’t do anything – for long. But I was there long enough to wrestle through what truly is enough. And it has given me helpful perspective, both when I grieve my old way of life that is lost, and when I think about what is important for me to spend my limited energy on as I recover and am able to do little bits of more and more.

All of us will come up with different things. But when I compare my list of things lost with what is truly enough, my list of enough is really one of fundamentals, and my list of things lost are more ancillary things. I still had breathe in my lungs and life itself, my loving husband and son, my basic needs were met, I had my faith and Christ as my anchor to weather this new and unknown storm. I lost backpacking with my boys, an easy life, being able to do what I wanted when I wanted, being able to see my friends in person. You get the idea. Both of my lists are longer. But one list I can’t live without, while the other, while it hurts to lose them, I can survive their loss. And slowly I’ve added color back into my days – those fun things that add extra vibrancy to life. I traded backpacking for knitting, friends in person with a community of friends online, and while I can’t do what I want when I want still, I can certainly read when I want about what I want. I just finished reading about a person’s experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail – something on my bucket list that I’ll still leave there – deciding to go along on the journey with her even though my legs can’t take me there now, or maybe ever. Life didn’t stop, I just lost sight of how to live it in a different, still vibrant way. And it’s even richer now, because a not-easy life makes you appreciate what you do have, something that you don’t really have to do otherwise. And no matter what abilities and freedom I get back, I want to stay grounded in this place of gratitude and appreciation. That perspective is something on my new list of can’t live without fundamentals.

As I gain more strength and physical ability, even if just for stretches of good that come and go, it is so important to me to not lose sight of the enough, of the important stuff in life, and not to trade them back in for the ancillary. Don’t get me wrong – the ancillary can be fun and good – but I don’t want it to step on my fundamentals anymore, and I’m in a place where I must be choosy. I want and need to be intentional about guarding my time for the most important. So here’s my list of most important enoughs, cut and pasted exactly how I have it from a Goals document on my computer:

Learn my yeses & say no to the other things. What I know & think my yeses are:

– spiritual growth/following Jesus

– personal health/well-being

– family (marriage & parenting first)

– foster care support

– garden

These are the bigger picture things that give order to my days. My enough. First is following Jesus, because I truly can’t live without him. Christ is my biggest enough. And when I lose sight of that, all of my life gets out of whack. Then I focus on my personal health, because it is so easily knocked off course, and if I don’t care for my health, I can’t be there for my family. My family is my biggest non-me yes. I save my energy for them. If I chose activities to do during the day because I feel up to them, I question whether they will take away from what I can do with my family later in the day (if you have health problems that require you to really pace your days, you’ll feel me here), and I chose the ones that won’t. As a foster/adoptive family, we volunteer together to support other foster and adoptive families because we know how much it’s needed, it is a joy, and because we feel God asked us to do it. This family yes all started up after my health challenges, but we were like, “Ok, God – we feel this is what you want us to do, and so we trust that you’ll make it happen.” And he has. In surprising ways. But that’s a whole nother story! And then there’s our garden. It feeds us, it feeds a few other families, it brings us great joy, it’s something we do together, and it’s a way that I feel like I can help provide and contribute, even if it is just a little here and a little there. That’s my list. This is my living enough for right now. It might change, but those first three things won’t, and it won’t without thought or intention.

Together – recognizing the fundamentals that remain after my loss and seeing those as enough, and then deciding on the most important things that I can do and being committed to them as my enough – these things have been a help to me on my journey. Because our loss doesn’t take away everything until we are gone with it. Our story isn’t finished yet!

What is on your list of enough? Your list of yeses?