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.

Lessons To Learn

(I wrote this in 2009 when my precious nephew died. I’m still learning the lessons I describe…probably will for the rest of my days.)

Recently a pop star/icon/music legend died. Perhaps you may have heard about it. Over and over I heard people expressing their grief and insisting that he “died too soon.” I think I understand what they were thinking. Twenty years ago my father died. He was only fifty-three. I knew then that was young-ish. Now that I am fifty-two I know just how young that really was.

Yesterday my nephew died from injuries sustained from a fifty foot fall. He was fifteen. That, my friends, is too young. There are some things about this I am not able to wrap my brain around, but here’s what I have pulled out of this mess.

Most importantly, life is brief. Live it. Don’t wait for something to come along to begin to do what you love. Growing up I heard this from my mom. She would tell us, “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” Her use of this phrase typically referred to some unpleasant job, like cleaning our room, that we didn’t want to do. It’s equally good advice for the things we want to do or feel passionate about. Isn’t that how Jake was? At fifteen, he had crammed a lot of living in.

Laugh often. Jake was an imp. I can’t count the many times Julie told me how he made her laugh. There is enough sorrow and pain in this world, but not near enough laughter. It is natural for us to be sad at times, but we don’t have to trade in our laughter and carry around sorrow for forever. Who would be the first person to try and make us laugh at a time like this? Take his cue.

Love Jesus. Julie shared how Jake was feeling that God was calling him to something. At fifteen he was open to do whatever God asked. He didn’t know what it was, but he was going to be ready when the call came. I was told during this week at camp he even had opportunity to lead someone to a personal relationship with the Savior he loved and served. There’s a Christian cliché that says, “Your life may be the only Bible some may ever read.” For me, the page that has Jake on it says, “You can love Jesus. You can trust Him, even when you don’t have all the answers.”

Jake’s life ended while he was doing something he enjoyed, with people he liked, in a setting that was beautiful, aware of the God who created and loved him. Some will ask where God was and is in all of this. God’s voice was in the voice of the counselor who told Jake to be careful and stay on the path. Perhaps he wasn’t listening as closely as he should have. Perhaps he was traveling too close to the edge. We can all relate to that. We’ve all strayed off the path and paid consequences we didn’t count on. I guess that’s the next point. Listen. We need to make sure that we’re tuned in and listening. There’s so much that God wants to say to us if we’ll just quit talking long enough and listen.

Learn. Jake was learning about this magical world of photography. Someone close to Jake felt bad for “teaching” him what he knew. That needs to stop; because if hadn’t been photography, it would have been something else. I remember when Jake was little and into soccer, he had this thing he put around his waist that had a soccer ball attached so he could practice soccer. He always wanted to be better. Learning opens us up to living. So whether we’re fifty or fifteen, or somewhere in between, we need to keep learning—to keep growing, to keep living.

Lean. Sometimes when tragedy hits we have the tendency to pull away and lick our wounds and ask our questions alone. This is not the time for that. It is the time to lean in on each other. When my dad died, he died at home with hospice. Those of us at the house were remembering things about Dad and amid our tears there were funny stories that brought laughter. I noticed that the hospice worker had written in her notes: “Family remembering appropriately.” That night my brother, sister, and I sang together. It was a good time of leaning. As family and friends we have to get better at leaning on one another. I know life can be hectic and full—but let’s not let it crowd out the opportunities to come tighter and draw strength and encouragement from one another.

Yes, he was gone too soon, but he will never really ever be gone, if we learn the lessons from his life. In that way we will keep him alive and let his life make an even greater impact.

Advent 16: Blessed are they that mourn.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5, NIV)

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you? (Job 15:11, NIV)

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. (Luke 2:25)

Excuse me. Could you lift your head up out of your celebration for a moment? Please. I won’t take long. I just want to remind you that not everyone is having a jolly old time during this season of merriment.

Look, I’m not trying to be Debby Downer…but I think it’s important to remember that there are people experiencing all kinds of levels of grief and loss. They look at the dinner table and there’s an empty chair. Perhaps it’s not a person but a job and income that they have lost. Maybe they have lost their dream.

And try as they might they can’t muster up an ounce of Christmas joy. It just hurts too much.

Here’s the good news: God gets that.

Honestly that’s the whole reason God gave. God came.

As with Job, he comes to speak words of comfort to you.

Like all of Israel, waiting and looking for a Messiah. Suffering under foreign and oppressive rule. That’s why in the midst of the Story there’s the story of Simeon. This righteous man was desperately seeking God’s promised redemption.

And because he was looking, when Jesus was brought to the temple–Simeon recognized him as God’s consolation. He’s arrived!

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians the passage I quoted above, he was at the bottom of the bottom. He was so low he was ready to die. (Go ahead and read the rest of chapter one and you’ll get the picture.)

But as low as he was, he recognized that God was still there to be the God of all comfort and consolation. And he also knew that he had received this balm for his heart to share it with others.

Way back in the Old Testament, God told Abraham that he was blessed to be a blessing (see Genesis 12:2). If you are mourning, grieving, feeling the pain of some loss this Christmas season, look up. God has come where you are. He gave his son a gift to you. Hear his words of comfort. Sense his heart’s ache for you.

Then share the blessing. You have been comforted to be able to share the comfort with other.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled celebration…and hopefully it will include many more people and blessings.