Surrendering over and over

Things are so, so good. And things are so, so hard. Maybe you feel that way too? Our hards are all different, yet they can feel in us and do in us the same.

Right now, my hards have been giving me a spirit of fear. Do you ever feel it too? Sometimes starting in your toe and creeping up your leg; a little pest? Sometimes sitting hard on your chest, or filling you to the top of your head, filling you to overwhelming?

Yet I am reminded – by myself, the Spirit of God in me, those in my life (thank you!), by Scripture –  that I need not have a spirit of fear, because instead I have one of sonship/daughtership. Scripture reminds me that the Spirit helps me – helps us – in our weaknesses, that if God is for me – for us – who can be against us?, and that nothing can separate me – separate us – from the love of Christ (Read Romans 8; it’s powerful stuff.)

So what do I do when the unwelcome companionship of fear hits? I recognize it in me, and I ask my people to pray for me. They listen to my fears, and they remind me that I am a beloved child of God and he is FOR me. One speaks a word over me; a powerful reminder to surrender to what my body is doing and to find God there. The Holy Spirit reminds me of Mary’s willing prayer: Let it be to me according to your word. And I’m reminded of what I read about St. Francis in The Road to Assisi:

Joy had returned to Francis. During a night of sleeplessness he heard a voice saying to him, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you would say to this mountain, ‘Be removed from here,’ and it would move away.” Was not the mountain his sufferings, the temptation to murmur and despair? “Be it, Lord, according to your word,” Francis replied with all his heart, and immediately he felt that he was delivered.

Francis might have perceived that the mountain had not greatly changed its place, but for several days he turned his eyes away from it and had been able to forget its existence.

And after a day’s break from fear, it rolled over me again. And someone again prays for me. And these words roll around in my heart and in my head until they roll bigger and louder than the fear: I surrender. I surrender. I want to know you more. I want to know you more.

So I will repeat those words. I will turn them into my anthem. I will keep calling on the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of my community. I will trust what Romans 8 says: that the Spirit helps me in my weakness, that the Spirit intercedes for me through wordless groans. And I will turn my eyes from my mountain – my suffering, and turn my eyes to Jesus instead. And I will do it as often as I need to put the mountain of my suffering’s existence in its proper shadow – that of Joy and Love and Peace himself.

Do any of you suffering want to share this anthem from Hillsong with me?

Here I am
Down on my knees again
Surrendering all
Surrendering all

Find me here
Lord as You draw me near
I’m desperate for You
I’m desperate for You

I surrender

Drench my soul
As mercy and grace unfold
I hunger and thirst
I hunger and thirst

With arms stretched wide
I know you hear my cry
Speak to me now
Speak to me now

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

I surrender
I surrender
I want to know you more
I want to know you more

(YouTube video here)

So here I am. Surrending. Over and over. As many times as needed. Saying Lord have your way. I don’t know why. I don’t understand. I don’t know how long this will last. I don’t know what the next moment holds. But I can see beauty here, even in this. I maybe even see you here, most in my suffering and in the suffering of those I walk with. Lord have your way. I surrender and I want to know you more. I surrender. I want to know you more right here where I find myself.

Sing with me?

I picture us – the broken, the suffering – holding hands and singing and surrendering together, and it is a beautiful picture. May God hold you tenderly in your fear and may the Holy Spirit be your comfort. May you be able to yet praise, and if not, the Holy Spirit groan praise within you.

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(Gems from the Internet on illness and withstanding suffering here and here. Art from one of my favorite and local artists Nikki McClure, currently on my wall, reminding me to praise and keep praising.)

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On embracing suffering as gift

Hi, friends!

I have a few thoughts bumbling around in my head about suffering that I’ve been talking with friends around the table and over text with lately, and I wanted to open the conversation wider – to all of you. I invite discussion in the comments!

Many of us weren’t taught/raised with a robust theology of suffering. 

Western civilization as a whole does not know how to hold darkness. Rather than teach a path of descent, Christianity in the West preached a system of winners and losers, a “prosperity Gospel.” … We are hardwired to avoid the human mystery—that we are all a mixture of darkness and light—instead of learning how to carry it patiently through to resurrection. – Daily Meditations

We see suffering, or most kinds of darkness within and without and impacting others as something to be avoided, or a sign that we or others are surely living wrongly, or worse yet, that the quality and strength of our/their faith is broken. We’re extolled we’re not praying hard enough, or trusting in or claiming God’s healing enough, or picking ourselves up by our bootstraps enough, or thinking positively enough (or any number of things you’ve told yourself or thought about yourself or someone else – and oh those cultural messages…!).

In this extended season of health challenges, I’ve learned a lot from sitting in my suffering and with others who are walking in their own long or short season of suffering. And it’s not a passive act. Rather:

I’ve learned to bravely embrace my suffering and the people in my life’s suffering for what it can teach me – for what God wants to teach me. And it’s a lot. In fact, I think it’s the depth and breadth of the gospel.

Darkness is a good and necessary teacher. It is not to be avoided, denied, run from, or explained away. First, like Ezekiel the prophet, we must eat the scroll that is “lamentation, wailing, and moaning” in our belly, and only eventually becomes sweet as honey (see Ezekiel 2:9-10; 3:1-3).

Darkness is sacred ground. The God who calls us into darkness will also sustain us and lead us through it. “God . . . brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17). Resurrection is the one and only pattern.

Daily Meditations

“Resurrection is the one and only pattern.”; I could park myself with that thought for a good long while and learn and learn and learn and not learn it all still. And I appreciate most the focus on God – HE who calls us into darkness will sustain us through it. It’s about the work that God’s doing, not what I’m doing or not doing or she or he is doing or not doing; Suffering is about the work the Holy Spirit can only do in me through suffering or walking in suffering with someone else. I need to be a participating actor, but God is bearing good-hard fruit through the very suffering culture challenges me to pick myself up from in my own strength or to sweep under the rug.

The way through is always much more difficult than the way around. Cheap religion gives us the way around, avoiding darkness. True religion gives us the way through, stepping right into the mystery.

Darkness is sacred ground. The God who calls us into darkness will also sustain us and lead us through it. “God . . . brings the dead to life and calls into being what does not yet exist” (Romans 4:17). Resurrection is the one and only pattern. – Daily Meditations

I have definitely felt a “calling into being” of what has not yet existed in me/my faith and life through sitting in and with my own and others’ suffering. These are precious somethings that didn’t grow in me when I was “highly successful” and independent/self-dependent, and can’t grow in us if we have “been able to avoid all suffering”, “move from success to success”, or “have never lived in solidarity with the suffering of others” (source).

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s not about the suffering itself, but keeping my eyes on God in the suffering that is the key to making it through suffering and soaking in all God wants to teach me through it, and then living changed in the midst of it and after differently than my life was without the suffering. I have felt stuck in my suffering, sat with others stuck in theirs, and see a system I’m complicit in that helps and elevates some and keeps others in suffering. And for me, lament & praise is what keeps me learning and connected to God through the suffering (I’ve written about that here and here), going through and not around, walking with instead of around, moving through instead of getting stuck and buried. And it ultimately leads me to a participatory faith-work with the Holy Spirit that builds Christ-following muscle and calls me into a different way of living, being and seeing. It helps me to live more fully and comfortably inside of God’s deep love, which is there for me and others no matter our suffering – other or self-imposed, or fact of life suffering from living in a broken world where free will is allowed to take its course.

I’ll never forget these words from The Road to Assisi and a prayer I read shortly thereafter:

“Joy had returned to Francis. During a night of sleeplessness he heard a voice saying to him, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you would say to this mountain, Be removed from here, and it would move away.’ Was not the mountain his sufferings, the temptation to murmur and despair? “Be it, Lord, according to your word’ Francis replied with all his heart, and immediately he felt that he was delivered.

Francis might have perceived that the mountain had not greatly changed its place, but for several days he turned his eyes away from it and had been able to forget its existence.”

“But for several days (Mel/you/we) turned (our/her) eyes away from (her/our suffering) and had been able to forget its existence” and be able to let the Holy Spirit work in her/us instead. For God to be bigger to her/me; the biggest; the only thing she/I need(s).

From Common Prayer:

Lord, you are a God who heals and calls forth life. Keep us from the pitfalls of self-pity and despair, lest we ridicule your grace and power, and forsake our own healing. Amen.

Suffering has been my greatest invitation to be still and know that He is God and that I am not. To watch for what He is doing and will do through my suffering. To know my suffering is not in vain. And maybe even, that our suffering is something so much more. And I believe it:

Our suffering, my suffering, is important and necessary. 

It seems all God wants are useable instruments who will carry the mystery, the weight of glory and the burden of sin simultaneously, who can bear the darkness and the light, who can hold the paradox of incarnation – flesh and Spirit, human and divine, joy and suffering – at the same time, just as Jesus did.” – Father Richard Rohr

I am not a useable instrument if all I want is to live and move and breath and work in the weight of glory, the light, Spirit, the divine and joy without the rest of it.

Further:

James Finley, one of CAC’s core faculty members, describes God as “the infinity of the unforeseeable; so we know that [the unforeseeable] is trustworthy, because in everything, God is trying to move us into Christ consciousness. If we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things, then we can face all things with courage and tenderness and touch the hurting places in others and in ourselves with love.” Perhaps this explains the mysterious coexistence of deep suffering and intense joy in mystics. (source)

I just texted two of my friends, saying the above “gives words to what I was trying to say at the table about surrendering (to our suffering) and questioning our definition of what God’s love and working in our suffering looks like. ‘If we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains all things, then we can face all things…” That’s what I’ve experienced. My circumstances don’t change; (despite my efforts) my suffering exists. Yet God sustains me and that’s the only promise I have. He alone can make heavy yokes easy feel easy and burdens light (versus promising to take the yokes and burdens away.)” Even now, from cane and shower chair, to walker, to sometimes wheelchair, to more diagnosis, to no clear end in sight He is present and good; I am learning deeper each day to live abundantly and love God with wide open arms and embrace His love with wide open arms right where I’m at and even if nothing changes.

Feeling the same? Wanting to move in this direction of admitting your suffering and walking through it with your eyes on God, seeing his full and unchanged love for you and others? Then pray these prayers with me:

From the Common Prayer:

Broken, we kneel; humbled, we cry: help, – Jesus! Raise us gently on high.”

And from The Divine Hours, the Greeting (based on Psalm 71:14):

“I shall always wait in patience, and shall praise your more and more.”

I’m here, clinging to God and finding joy and meaning and growth and greater solidarity with those who suffer as I sit and look to God in my and their and our suffering. When I least feel like it, you will find me sometimes throwing a tantrum or at my best praising God more and more. Because you truly need Him when you’re suffering and/or walking alongside the suffering!! Oh Jesus, how sweet it is to be loved by you! How sweet it is to know that you use suffering to teach us resurrection truth and to see ourselves in kinship with all who suffer.

Feeling different or the same or have more insights to share for the benefit of us all? Please engage in the comments! May this be a safe place to wrestle together in our diverse sufferings. And bear with me for any typos and oh the run on sentences, my new fave (as a good friend says, I’m loquacious – ha!). My particular suffering comes with extreme exhaustion and brain fog. And if I wait until I’m sure I can make complete sense, I’ll be sitting on my words all day. So here they are, imperfectly imperfect and out there, just like me.

Peace to you, friends! ~ Mel

Writing on

Hi, friends! It’s been a while since I’ve been in this space – since most of Advent, then Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and how is it already Pentecost?! For now, I’m back. I’m not sure for how long, how frequent I’ll write, or the things I’ll write about (like if I’ll finish the Suffering Well Series). What I do know is that I’m here today, and I am in a deeper practice of taking each day, each moment, at a time. I want to soak all of life in deep. And writing helps me with the noticing, the appreciating, the learning.

Since January, I’ve had some new neurological symptoms. We’re still in the thick (but hopefully latter part) of figuring them out. So far, it seems like some kind of movement disorder is at play. I thought that my diagnoses/limitations so far had made me so grateful and less likely to take even the littlest of things for granted. But now that I’m rocking a cane and walker more than not and shaking my way through large parts of the day, I realize I haven’t hit the depth of what I have to learn about gratitude and joy in all circumstances. Can you ever lean too deeply into Christ? I haven’t hit the end of his goodness. It feels bottomless yet, even and especially when I hit the end of myself.

I feel like I lived well in this blog writing absence, and also lost some of myself in the hard. Isn’t life always a bit of this and that? I process a lot by writing, by getting my thoughts out in the middle of the messy and beautiful and looking for Jesus there. So here I am…writing on…in public again and not just in many full little notebooks and on scraps of paper and 3×5 cards. And today, I just have encouragement to share that touched my heart; encouragement that I’m going to hang onto tightly myself as I proverbially look at my list of things I’d like to do, and do, hopefully with joy, what I can (Pleeeeeease yes to going to a school event with my boy…!! Begging now over).

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my love here before of Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours and fixed-hour prayer (you can access The Divine Hours here free)? Here’s why I love it so (from Phyllis’ introduction):

“The Divine Hours are prayers of praise offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and faith to God and as a sweet-smelling incense of the human soul before the throne of God. To offer them is to serve before that throne as part of the priesthood of all believers. It is to assume the ‘office’ of attendant upon the Divine…Other prayers may be petitionary or intercessory or…, but the Liturgy of the Hours remains an act of offering…offering by the creature to the Creator. The fact that the creature grows strong and his or her faith more sinewy and efficacious as a result of keeping the hours is a by-product (albeit a desirable one) of that practice and not its purpose.”

When you’re happy: praise and give thanks. When you’re hurting: praise and give thanks. When you just…are: praise and give thanks. I can find no better practice for my own heart and life than to regularly practice praise and thanksgiving as an offering; to just be attendant upon the Divine. It is how I abide in Christ; how I hitch my vine to his branches. How I get my focus off of me and onto him. And you know what? My faith does grow more sinewy as a result; I end up not only more in love, but also more encouraged. More ready for life. So, here’s my encouragement about who God is for us (how great is our God?!) from today’s Midday Divine Hours, and then I’ll end with the lyrics to a hymn. And I can’t promise I won’t ramble, because verbose is kind of my thing, for better or worse. Wherever and however you find yourself today, may you be encouraged dear ones!

O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; in your great compassion, turn to me. (The Greeting from Psalm 69:6)

How have you experienced the kindness of his love? His great compassion? I have a long list to be grateful for here. The biggest being that he is so tender with me in my weakness (so not the judging, perfection-seeking God I “knew” in my youth).

What god can compare with you for pardoning guilt and for overlooking crime? He does not harbor anger forever since he delights in showing faithful love. Once more have pity on us, tread down our faults; throw all our sins to the bottom of the sea. (A Reading from Micah 7)

Do you feel him delighting in you? How have you experienced him showing you his faithful love? Can you feel him? You are not alone, even in messes of your own doing. He’s treading down our faults and throwing ALL our sins to the bottom of the sea. Hot dang! ALL. I ask again: Do you feel him delighting in you? I’m trusting that He delights in me even when I am struggling this week to delight in myself (particularly my body and what it can and can’t do). I see my inability, but I remember He sees something He made and declared good. He delights in us. He delights in you, and in me.

For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken. In God is my safety and my honor; God is my rock and my refuge. Put your trust in him always, O people, pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge. (The Midday Psalm from Psalm 62)

I am a big fan of letting it all out – feeling it all, because it all ain’t good or pretty – BUT THEN praising God nonetheless because God IS. And he’s got us, oh how he’s got us. Whatever you’re going through or see coming down the pike that feels unstoppable and like it’s going to hit you like a ton of bricks and you’re just waiting for it…he is your stronghold. Put your trust in him always (baby steps totally cool; or as I like to think of it, always is an act we don’t make once but over and over again). Pour out your heart, the good, the bad, the ugly, the reverent and irreverent, to him. He will be your refuge. I told a couple of my closest people, one of them a pastor friend, that this last week I wanted to go the ocean – the place I feel closest to God. And I wanted to wrap up in a blanket and let the salty wind hit me in the face. Then I wanted to swim in deep water while simultaneously eating pizza, chocolate and a peanut buster parfait and screaming FUCK YOU as loud as I could. I didn’t know to who or about what, but I just wanted to yell it. Loud. And more than once. And forget that I can’t drive or eat pizza or chocolate, or do all of those things at once (how many arms and mouths did I think I have?!). Or that F-you isn’t really a thing polite folks, especially religious ones, are supposed to say (I have a lot I could say about that too). And you know what? This pastor friend met me with love, and God met me with love. We feel shaken, we do. I was shaken up big time this week (think: ER visit and hospital stay and that peek into the craziness of me losing my ever loving mind). But God, in all of my brokenness, wanting to eat the world and swear, fear for my future and exhaustion – he was unshakeable for me. And he steadied me and still is. Also: I ate pizza and chocolate AND a peanut buster parfait this week. The hospital gluten free chocolate chip cookies were the bomb and I ordered them with every meal and as a snack because it was listed as a snack and I’m good at obeying. I’m sure my doctor won’t mind… And my sister gave me grocery store turquoise hair because sometimes you just need to shake things up in a good way.

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A song:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

Refrain:

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Love to you, dear ones! If you’re sinking, I’m likely right there with you. And he’s strong friend. He’s solid for us, and he loves us even in our sinking and no less for our sinking or the way we sink. May we cling to him together as our hope and stay. May we remember his goodness and see it even in the hard places.

(Also, I tagged this “real life is hard”. I make myself laugh. And I really have no idea how to do this tagging thing. Feel free to help a girl out.)