What Makes You Weep?

This morning I have had everything from moist eyes to full-out sobs.

The first tears came as I was reading material for my message on Sunday. I am continuing my series on “Continuing the Work of Jesus, Simply” by focusing on Jesus’ compassionate invitation to learn from him the “unforced rhythms of grace (Peterson’s translation Matthew 11:29 in the Message). During my study this morning, I came across this quote: “But they had limited evidence. They did not see the end from the beginning. They drew their conclusion only from what they saw, not from the infinite wisdom of God. And, even so, they looked at the evidence through prejudiced eyes. The Christ must behave according to their own pattern, or else He was not the Christ. It is no wonder that they came out with the wrong answer.” (An Exposition of the Four Gospels Matthew, Herschel H. Hobbs, p. 141)

How like today? We still don’t get it. Tears.

Then I read a Facebook post from a high school friend. Yesterday was her birthday. Two weeks ago one of her dogs died right in the middle of playing out in the yard. This morning they had to put their other dog down because they discovered bladder cancer. My heart broke. I sobbed. (Typing this now even a couple hours later, I wept all over again.)

How like today? Sorrow, disappointment, aching. Tears.

I had just gone back to reading when Mom tapped on my door. She brought me a section of the paper. The USA Today published an insert, “Women of the Century, 100 Women Who Changed the World.” In January they invited nominations of notable women. Then a committee put the list and bios together. As a woman who felt a calling from a very young age to a predominately male occupation, christian minister, I have experienced prejudice, nastiness, and discrimination for forty years. I shed many tears and sometimes begged God to remove this calling from my life. But I have also been supported by other women clergy who understand in multiple denominations. I have been encouraged remain faithful. Reading over the names and bios, seeing their pictures, reminded me that I am not alone in this battle, and there’s still much work to do. Work I have been and will be given to do.

How like today. We are still fighting: to be heard, to be recognized, to make a difference. But we do not fight alone. Tears.

Tears. Why do I cry this day?

I cry because some days I still don’t understand the “whys” of my life. Why I’m here and my husband there. Why I had to quit the one job in my life I loved like no other. I don’t want to come out with the wrong answer. But I will lament…release…and keep seeking to serve even when I don’t get it.

I cry because loss is a part of living. I cry because sorrow can blindside us. I cry because losing the things I treasure, value…love hurts. And to say that it doesn’t is a lie. To hurt indicates that we had something special and now it’s gone. How fortunate we were to have those things. But that doesn’t mean something else, possibly more perfect or valuable won’t come along. Grieving, acknowledging what was lost, enables me to keep living—treasuring the memory and making room for whatever is next.

I cry because others have to struggle. Being gifted, intelligent, and motivated doesn’t guarantee an easy road. The prejudice of others, the insecurity of others, the selfishness of others can throw painful blocks, detours, and frustrations in our path to fulfilling our callings. But clearly, we do not walk this road alone. Others have gone before us. Others walk alongside us. Others are placing their trust in our faithfulness.

This morning I wept. And oddly, I feel a clarity and strength, a desire to keep on. I’ve laid that burden down. And look ahead.

Soggy Pages

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“They” tell us to bleed on the page. That somehow if we will let our pain ooze out onto the pages we write that we will draw readers in—because everyone is bleeding and looking for healing. If we bleed, our words will release a relatedness that will draw others in.

I have no blood today…but I have lots of tears.

This morning my husband video called me. He was on his way to a friend’s house with our little dog. Our lives are in such a state of upheaval with me here and him there emptying our home of years of collecting, that the pup wasn’t getting the attention he needed or deserved. We came to the painful decision that he would be better off in a more attentive home. So Nelson called so I could say good-bye.

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I haven’t been able to stop crying.

The lesson I continue to learn: what’s best is not always easy. (The second lesson is to keep a tissue/hanky close by because tears aren’t the only thing that leaks.)

I came out to the patio to read and write after I ended the call with Nelson. I could barely see the iPad screen through my tears. My heart was aching and I just wanted pick up the stones in the yard and just start throwing them.

But I knew I couldn’t. Mom would have a cow. My mother cannot tolerate or handle intense emotions. I guess I know where I honed my skill at encouraging people to move beyond pain to healing. Like ticking items off an emotional checklist. Can’t let them get stuck in the anger…or the grief. Move along. Keep moving.

But today no amount of self-taught and practiced platitudes is unsticking me. I’m tired of rushing myself through hurt to healing.

I read a bunch of scripture. Nice as it was to know I wasn’t alone, that I could trust God’s presence and his promise, it just didn’t bring me the comfort I hoped for. The ache didn’t go away.

I feel the need to apologize here. I’m not meaning to be a Debby-downer (and sorry to all the Debbys in the world—you don’t deserve that moniker). I guess I’ve just realized that I had been pushing down all the hurt. Ignoring all the grief. Doing other stuff to keep from acknowledging how mad I am that I have to be the one making sacrifices…again.

Everything inside me wants to delete that last paragraph…at least the last line. It sounds icky. It feels selfish. I don’t want to be a petulant child, pouting about not getting my way. I realize being a servant comes with sacrifice. Today just brought it all to the surface as I saw that scruffy little face being driven out of my life.

I bristle when I hear people say, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I don’t believe it. I don’t agree. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite. There are two passages I need to be reminded of when life gets painfully soggy for me.

First, Paul writes to the Corinthian believers a very clear lament. You will find it in 2 Corinthians 1. He tells them that life was so bad, that he was “crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it (2 Cor. 1:8b-9).”

Of course the main reason Paul was writing this was to share the lesson learned: that we are not to rely upon ourselves but God who will continue to rescue us…again and again and again.

In our pain, loss, and overwhelming times God is with us, he is reliable, he will rescue us.

But even if he doesn’t…that leads me to the second text. It’s tucked away at the end of Habakkuk’s prophecy. In Chapter 3 we find God getting good and mad. The prophecy scared even the prophet. But in the end his faith enables him to go to difficult place. He says: “For even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom and no fruit is on the vines, even if the olive tree fails to produce, and the fields yield no food at all, even if the sheep vanish from the sheep pen, and there are no cows in the stalls; still, I will rejoice in AdonaiI will take joy in the God of my salvation. Elohim Adonai is my strength (Hab. 3:18-19)!”

Even if everything I hope for is gone, or doesn’t happen, I will rejoice int the Lord. Several translations insert a “yet.” It’s the same concept as nevertheless. That’s what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said when they faced the fiery furnace. They fully believed God would save them, but even if he didn’t they still believed, and wouldn’t change anything. It’s the same way Jesus prayed in the garden: “Is there not another plan? Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

These are overwhelming days. Loss comes in waves. We will have our soggy days. We don’t have to ignore or deny our hurt. Jesus felt the pain in the garden so intently that Luke says he sweat drops of blood. Jesus never faked “fine.” When he was sad, he wept. When he saw injustice, he got angry.

Feel the anguish…but keep your “nevertheless” (and a box of tissues) close. That’s how we find healing. That’s how we keep from being stuck.

Second Glance, Second Chance

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I read a post this morning by my friend Tammy Whitehurst (look her up on Facebook, she’s an awesome communicator). It made me cry. Happy tears. Finally, I found someone who’s Easter experience resembled mine.

Most of what I’ve been reading since yesterday is more lament. Sadness over what we missed: big choirs, lots of celebration, surrounded by a warm sense of community, family feasts—all the good stuff Easter evokes and offers.

I had very little of that. But what I did had touched my heart deeply. Please don’t miss the blessings that came while you pine for what wasn’t.

The message that was laid on my heart to share from the Easter story was the word of the angel to Peter…including Peter. The Easter message is a message of hope and restoration. Peter’s story is our story. Peter, after his pathetic personal performance (aka betrayal) was being offered a second chance.

Don’t miss the second chance you’re being offered.

It seems to me that when the people of God have gotten too comfortable, God shakes up the pot. Ask Job. Check with David. Look at Paul. And don’t forget those wandering former slaves who just couldn’t get it right…take another lap around Mt. Sinai.

Before this current pandemic went down. Before you were ordered to stay home. Do you remember wishing you had more time to read your Bible? Do you remember wishing you could have more time to dig deeper, move deeper spiritually?

How’s that working for you? How much TV/movies etc have you binge watched? I’m not saying it’s bad but I wonder how good it is for your spirit?

Confession. I found I was reading “news” articles on line far more than I was reading things that would encourage my faith and spirit. I felt myself sliding down a slippery slope into cynicism and despair.

Fortunately, after a long conversation with a friend (face to face and safely distanced, thank you Louise Waller) I was able to pull myself out of the nose dive. But I’m going to tell you, it was like what you see in the movies when the pilot is pulling back on the control with all their strength—not sure if they’re going to make it.

I made it.

You can too.

But second chances, like what Peter got, like what God has for each of us, are a gift we have to receive. Intentionality is involved. Want to is mandatory. We may not be able to choose your circumstances or situation, but we choose our response.

Peter could have heard the message and not believed it could be true. “Yeah, right. Maybe for someone else—not me.” Or like the rich young ruler in Jesus’ story (see Mark 10:17-31) walk away empty handed, empty hearted.

If all we see is what we didn’t have this Easter…then we walk away empty handed.

What did I learn? You take away all the trappings. All that is familiar and comforting. All that I count on. And I can still find so much to be thank-full for. So much room for praise. And a joy this world cannot take away.

What blessing did you receive in this unusual, but very special holy season?

Thinking Devotionally

(In an attempt to increase my online presence and my writing in general, I have assigned a writing topic to each day of the workweek. On Thursdays I will share a thought that has beeen meaningful or challenging from my devotional reading. I pray it will bless you as much as it does me.)

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A friend loaned me this book for my devotions this year. She felt it had enriched her life. So far, I’m agreeing with her. From the back of the book:

Take My Heart, Oh God will do more than motivate you to make intimacy with him a part of your daily discipline. Its rich reminders will help you offer yourself to the one who understands you best and loves you most.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used that phrase, but with a slight twist. God has always been the one “who knows me best and loves me most.” A God wink? It was for me.

Yesterday I read: Our soul thirsts; he alone can satisfy. We hunger to know the depths of God’s love; he fills us to overflowing with nourishment from his Word.

And I wondered, “How hungry am I, how thirsty?”

Then last evening I was reading a book recommended by a blogger/writer I follow, No More Faking Fine. In the introduction she describes her desperate hunger for God. She wrote about how she would go to sleep on the Bible in hopes of absorbing truth for her aching heart.

Odd? Perhaps. But being desperately hungry can bring us to unnatural places and actions.

A dear friend of mine, many years ago, was going through emotional warfare that rocked her soul, threatened the foundations of her faith. She kept a small Bible in her car, and would read it at stop lights: gulping down the promises and soaking up the grace.

It would have been easier to sit at the light and ruminate on her crumbling marriage and the potential disasters waiting around the corner. She could have focused on the problems and pain, and easily shut God out. Where was he when all this started falling apart?

But instead, she chose to fill her mind and her heart with his promises: to never leave her, to make all things work for good, to do exceedingly above and beyond all she could ask or imagine.

One Sunday, right in the middle of all this chaos, she was scheduled to bring the special music during worship. I still don’t know how she did it. She stood in front of the congregation and sang, “And whatever it takes to draw closer to you Lord, that’s what I’ll be willing to do.” 

We can’t get to that place running on empty.

How hungry, how thirsty, are you?

I invite you like the Psalmist, “Taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).”

Fill up on him and his Word.