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.

A Saturday Thought: Tattoos

This is a note I posted on Facebook on this date in 2009. It still holds my hope and heart today.

Lent Day 28: Tattoo
March 24, 2009 at 7:40am
Lent Day 28:

My older daughter is visiting us. It is good to have her close and it will be hard to let her go when it’s time, but our connection is good. While she was here, she got another tattoo. This bothers her father. I try to remain neutral. I have to admit that of all the ones she’s gotten, I like this one the best. It’s the Celtic symbol for motherhood—or at least I hope it is!

Over the years both my daughters have tried to talk me into going with them and getting a tattoo. There’s something “special” about doing that, so I’m told. I know that there are biblical comments prohibiting tattooing, but that’s not why I haven’t gone. I am a wuss about pain, but that hasn’t been my deterrent, either. I can’t imagine anything that I want engraved on me for forever. The image of a wilted rose on an 86 year old woman’s body just doesn’t get me all jazzed up.

And yet, somehow, I want my life to be tattooed with Jesus. I want my laughter, my conversation, my touch, my service, my work, my prayers, everything that I am to immediately point to Jesus. As much as I want that, I know that my life is so far from consistent. My heart desperately seeks to live in a way that is pleasing to my Father, but my choices betray my lack of trust and my selfishness. I truly understand the struggle that Paul speaks about in Romans 7.

In my life I have known the absolute bowels of wretchedness. I know what it’s like to screw up so royally that you lose all respect, wallow in shame, and try to rebuild integrity. I’m thankful for grace that makes climbing out of that dark pit possible. I’m thankful that Paul moves from chapter 7 into chapter 8: There is therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

So, if I ever got a tattoo it would be a grapevine bracelet (symbolizing that I am just a branch needing to stay connected to the vine). In the vine would be a turtle (a rich symbol and spiritual totem) and a daisy (for me a symbol of hope and faithfulness). All three would serve as reminders to me to keep living, to keep being fruitful, to truly make every effort. The only place they may ever be is in my heart, but hopefully they will be seen by those Jesus sends my way each day.

The Message in the Silence

This morning my daughter posted this on Facebook: Why is it that your kids don’t seem to hear you unless your yelling at them, but then they give you that pouty face that makes you feel sick for having yelled at them so they’d finally listen?! Being a parent sucks!

I will admit that my first thought was to smile, thinking of all the yelling I did when she was my strong willed always right closed minded child. We raise them to be independent and have opinions. We just don’t realize that they’re going to develop those so early and with such strength.

Reading her post got me thinking about my own childhood. My mother wasn’t a yeller. That’s not to say she couldn’t—I received my share of loud scoldings. My mother had three other weapons in her arsenal that often left me wishing she was a yeller. First, she was the master (perhaps even the inventor) of “the look.” No word needed to be spoken; message received loud and clear: cease or die. What was most amazing to me was when she used it on other kids at stores or other public places and they got the message too!

The second tool that my mother relied on was action. We knew that mom would not hesitate to use whatever was at hand or just her hand to make her point. This resulted in my brother getting konked on the head the telephone receiver when was making too much noise while she was on the phone (phone calls were typically fewer and much more important back in the day). Hair brushes, yardsticks, and those stupid paddle ball paddles—looking back I now see why she was always willing to give into that childish indulgence as we checked out at the store. You think we might have put that together better.

But the most effective tool in my mother’s parental arsenal was silence. Silence typically conveyed one of two messages, both extreme. She was either extremely disappointed or so angry that if she said anything she would have exploded. This final weapon was so powerful that it always got our attention and resulted in our praying for the silence to end.

As I am writing this, I am on the mend from a very weird and pain-filled three weeks. I progressed from swollen feet to extremely swollen feet and ankles and pain while walking to nodules all over my legs and arms and in my joints (elbows, wrists, fingers, knees, ankles toes), to fevers and shakes. I’ve had so many blood tests, I feel like a pin cushion—the very nice woman in the outpatient check-in knows me by name. I had a punch biopsy. Standing was so painful. At times I admit I just melted into tears. And I just couldn’t shake the thought: what if this is as good as it gets? I believe in healing, but I know that God doesn’t remove every infirmity.

Now, I realize that my suffering was probably very light compared to others. But it was mine and for a relatively active and healthy person this was intense and scary. Perhaps the was the worst: not knowing what was going on and not knowing how long it would continue.

Getting quiet with God this morning, thinking about my daughter’s post and my pain, I found myself thinking about the times I cried out to God these past few weeks. I began to feel like Malachai: how long, God? Silence. I wanted to be angry, to decry what seemed so unfair. But I couldn’t. Because somewhere in the silence there was a drawing…a calling…a voice…trust me.

At first I thought my pain was God “screaming” at me, me the errant, disobedient child. Punishing. Then it seemed more like a “smack” of sorts to get my attention. But each of those fell short. All my experiences with the silent messages from my mother were good for one thing for sure: they taught me to listen, listen hard, and listen long—for the answer is always there in the silence. At least it has been for me.

But like I said, I appear to be on the upswing. Maybe that’s why Job didn’t curse God when his wife suggested it. She wasn’t evil, she just ached to watch him suffer, and was suffering herself. Hope dies hard. Even if the pain I was suffering was going to be my friend for the rest of the journey, I would have adapted…somehow. And I know that God would have been with me. That was the kind of answer that Malachi got. God let the prophet know that he wasn’t going to like the answer to his question because God was going to use his enemy to bring about His purpose. It was the same message for Jeremiah (read ALL of Jeremiah 29).

I don’t know how it goes for you, but I tend to struggle with trying to fix and control. Trust doesn’t always come easy, but I usually get there. Just like when I was a child. Just like when I dealt with my own children. Sometimes learning is hard, as my daughter is finding. Parenting, too. Just ask God.

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