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.

Hopefully Devoted: Hard Pressed

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Every Sunday morning during worship, we do a kids’ focus time called, Sermon in the Sack. Well, that’s what I call it. I’ve heard rumors others refer to it as “Stump the Pastor.”

Each week someone provides me with an item carefully hidden in a paper bag that I am given a few minutes to ponder before I present a spiritual/biblical lesson about to the children.

Yesterday I opened the bag as I was calling the children to the front.

Now let me preface what comes next by saying I’m not a cook. I love cooking shows. Dream of being able to make meals that amaze my family and friends. But they all know better: I’m a kitchen dunce and disaster.

So I opened the bag and found a garlic press. I’m not going to lie: I was impressed I even knew what it was. I knew immediately what direction I was going to go.

The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4, seeks to encourage the people who are going through persecution. He uses his own series of trials and times in prison as an example for them. He tells them:

8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (NIV).

And it occurred to me that I’m a little like garlic. I’m not useful if I remain in the bulb. I only make a difference when my outer shell is peeled away and I’m pulverized. The lessons I learn through life’s crushing experiences become the moments when grace and mercy shine through.

It’s not difficult to follow God and trust in his provision when things are sunny and going well—what about the times of shadow and storm? What about the times when pain is great and confusing, and the future is terrifying with its uncertainty?

Hold on weary one. No matter what happens, no matter how dark the night, no matter how crushing the thing is you’re going through: you are not abandoned, nor will you be destroyed.

Pra

Puzzle Pieces

Sometimes it feels like God dumps a thousand-piece puzzle in the floor of your heart. ~Susan Stillwell

I read this quote this morning and it resonated deep in my heart.

I have ADD. Literally and spiritually.

Here’s what I know about ADD and me. If I am presented with a very large task, I have to break it into small, manageable pieces or it won’t get done. For example, when I know I have to “clean the house,” instead of feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the task, I consider each room individually, or even parts of each room (making the bed, cleaning the closet, dusting, vacuuming, etc.). I do the same thing when it comes to writing anything over a thousand words.

I’ve always done the same thing with puzzles. I’ve never been a big fan of jig-saw puzzles, even though I used them often as a counselor. In that setting they were a tool. I could learn a lot about a child by the way they went about putting a puzzle together. They were also useful with adults for group activities.

But to sit an work a puzzle was not enjoyable for me.

So when I read Susan’s quote…I felt a heaviness in my heart. My life looks a lot like a 5000 piece puzzle, spread out before me. And I don’t want to put it together…but I don’t want to leave it undone, either.

As I got quiet before the image of the pile, I remembered a verse in Psalm 139: You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me (verse 5).

The best way for me to begin to tackle a large puzzle is to find the edge pieces and assemble the frame. God wants to be my spiritual frame.

The next thing is to find blocks of portions that go together: a house, a tree, flowers, or a quilt. In my spiritual life this looks like finding the identifiable parts like fellowship, worship, study, prayer and making sure those parts are put together and active in my life.

Finally, I have to trust that the rest of the pieces will fit together. It works the same with God in my life. It often takes time and even trial and error to put all the pieces together–but nothing happens until I try.

Then, what seemed overwhelming at first, becomes something beautiful and amazing.

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I wrote all that but somehow I just couldn’t push the publish button.

I was so in my head…so Madame Counselor…so preachy…I nearly made myself sick. (Maybe that’s why I was throwing up in my dreams last night…and my house was overrun by cats…or maybe I should have taken my omeprazole.)

It was truth for me. It is how I do puzzles. When I do puzzles. But I don’t like to do puzzles.

And I don’t like when God dumps a puzzle in front of me. Especially not a 1000 piecer.

And the ones I really don’t like are the ones that are all one color, or designed on both the front and back so you can’t hardly tell where anything goes. And I can’t ever imagine tackling a 3-D one.

I want the 25 piecer, or better yet the wooden frame or cardboard kind that have the pieces outlined. You know, the no-brainer type.

That way I can’t mess it up…and I might get it done. God knows to do that, doesn’t he? He knows I get bored and tend to give up easy. He wouldn’t call me to something bigger than myself…would he?

To be continued…