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.)

On grieving and feeling all of the big feelings, but not getting stuck

This is post 1 in the Suffering Well series. See all of the previous posts here.

I remember one sentence of a conversation from my young adult years vividly, like I knew in that moment it was a piece of sustenance meant to be chewed on and tucked away for later. It came from the heart of an honest and wise man I deeply admire and respect, who spoke into my life and was a mentor for several years. He has an adult daughter who is severely disabled. In all the time I knew him, he clearly loved her deeply, always speaking of her fondly, sometimes with joyful tears in his eyes. I don’t remember what preceded what he said, or his exact words, but he shared vulnerably of his grief. Of how he sometimes still experienced times of loss thinking about what his life could have been had he not needed to devote so much time and effort to the rigorous care and raising of his beloved daughter. I found it to be striking in its honesty. I had seen a lot of life by those years, and knew that roses came with thorns, that love and loss, to some degree, almost always go together, but I wasn’t always sure what to do with that. I found what he said to be beautiful; he acknowledged both his great love and his great loss, without diminishing either and without shame or guilt or malice. He was an example to me many years ago about how to grieve well.

The holding of good and hard together is something that I’ve found in Scripture too. One person in particular has taught me that you can have both strong, messy feelings and strong faith together. No matter what I’m reading in the Bible, I always read one or two Psalms a day with it. They are like my daily bread, rich food for my soul. I just love King David! When you read the words attributed him, you truly get the full range of human emotion; he doesn’t hold back. Bits of his prayers have become my own. I mean, I think this is an anthem prayer for chronic pain sufferers if I ever heard one!:

“O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:2-3)

My Bible has a big old “Yes!” written in next to that! And says that I prayed that prayer a lot in 2015.

The last two times I’ve been reading through the Psalms, I’ve been particularly struck by the ones with a whole host of crying-out, grieving kinds of words, because they meet me where I’m at in life. But surprisingly and commonly, they end with, “But ___” in an even so/and yet kind of way. David follows his crying out by what he knows to be true about God’s goodness and faithfulness. It’s like he puts a book end on his grief; he gives voice to his feelings, then puts them in perspective, namely in the context of a God who sees him and a God who cares. I believe it’s intentional and oh how it’s helped me both give voice to but not to get stuck in my grief when I’ve put it into practice! Psalm 13 is a short and a powerful example, and in Psalm 22 David repeats the pattern of giving voice to his feelings, then going back to a “But ___” throughout. Psalm 55 is another example too, this time of David expressing that he’s troubled and distraught over the actions of a close friend. He’s quite angry! Maybe your suffering is betrayal, and you can relate. And yet, there’s still that, “But ___”. In David, I see at times a grieving a man, at times a joyful or angry man, but overall a man who gave full voice to his thoughts and feelings, knowing God could handle it, and then reminding himself of the truth, grounding truth that is constant and firm about the character and nature of God no matter how he feels on any given day or season in his life, no matter his present circumstances. David knew real suffering. He had privilege – he was a King! – but he also had real suffering, like you and like me. I trust his voice and it strikes me of the stuff of grieving real and grieving well. Psalm 66:17 sums up his approach to life to me: “I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.” Cry out, then praise. Cry out, then remember. Cry out, but don’t let the crying out be the last word. Cry out, then remind yourself of your grounding truths.

Ann Voskamp has a saying that you’ve probably heard if you’ve read her writing: “God is always good, and you are always loved.” At times on my suffering journey, that’s been my “But ___”. A former student even made it into a poster for me as part of an art assignment where I was her client. I posted it on the wall above my desk in my last year of struggling through work, where it served as a ready and constant reminder. I’ve realized that having a “But ___” is so important. For one, sometimes we need something to cue us to remember and never lose sight of what we know to be true for all seasons of our life. In this way, your “But ___” is your rope out of the pit of your grief. I’ve felt in a pit, and if I were in a physical pit and there was a rope, I sure would not let that thing go for the life of me, even if I wasn’t at a place to climb out yet. But when I was ready to climb, because of that rope, I would know the direction to go; I would have my way out. Second, our “But ___” helps us, even in our grief, to honor God. I feel and see that honor so strongly when I read David’s words of grief. He cried out, he told God he felt forsaken, unheard. And then he yet praised him with that “But ___”, because it wasn’t just a lifeline, it was a recognition about God’s character no matter David’s feelings or circumstances. Just like our messy and hard feelings don’t negate our joys, they also don’t define alone our faithfulness or challenge the character of God.

I’ll have a related thought next post. But for now, this feels like enough to digest!

If you try out using a “But ___”, I’d love to hear if it helps you. And if you feel comfortable sharing, it would be cool to hear what you use or plan to use for your “But ___”.  Maybe it’s one that would help me or another person reading along!

If you feel without a rope and stuck in a pit today, I pray that you find a glimmer of a lifeline start to appear for you, and that it grows day by day.