Hopefully Devoted: Melancholy 1-Tina 0

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It’s been a rough morning. A wrestling with God morning. An unhappy with my life morning.

I’m not sure I can convey how difficult it is for me to own that.

But I’m trying to read this book—I desperately need to—and I’m finding it hard to get past the title: No More Faking Fine.

My parents were alcoholics—faking fine is one of the inner-workings of a child growing up in that environment. You can’t reveal the family secret…to anyone! Every thing is fine.

My husband is chronically depressed. Most of the time he functions acceptably, but there are seasons when the melancholy threatens to pull him under and me along with it. I don’t want to draw attention to it—so I pretend, with my own smiling mask..every thing is fine.

I could go on, but there isn’t any need. Suffice it to say: today the melancholy is rocking my little boat and I’m not finding the energy for every thing to be fine.

So this morning, contemplating what in the world I could write about, I reach for my devotional, A Guide To Prayer For All Who Walk With God (The Upper Room), and start reading in the week of the Second Sunday of Lent.

First thing I read, “I’m weak and needy. Let my Lord think of me. You are my help and my rescuer (Psalm 40:17).”

And then, “Amidst the tumult of thoughts the world jars loose in us, does not the season of Lent quietly invite us to pause and take stock of ourselves? (John S. Mogabgab, Weavings, May/June 1995)

Perhaps that is what I am to surrender for Lent. Yay! I can still have chocolate. But I cannot fake being fine. Chocolate might have been easier to give up.

Prayer Thought: Fan the flames of your love in our hearts, O God. Breathe life into the dry bones of our faith. Buoy our sagging spirts. Restore the joy of our salvation. All glory is yours. Amen.

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Tough to Swallow

In John 6 we find the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. When lunch is over he identifies himself as the Bread of Life. Then in a way that shocked the crowd, he goes on to tell them they must eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Their response: Many among his disciples heard this and said, “This is tough teaching, too tough to swallow.” (John 6:60, The Message)

Too tough to swallow.

What do you find tough to swallow?

Has life handed you some bitter pills?

I always had a terrible time swallowing pills when I was a kid. All the way up through college, I would ask for a shot rather than have to swallow pills.

Penicillin was the worst. I couldn’t make those pills slide down no matter how much I drank. Nothing tasted worse. I would cry, beg, to not have to take the pills. My mom wasn’t very sympathetic. I know now she was “hard-nosed” about the whole thing because her ultimate concern wasn’t my immediate comfort but my eventual health.

Have you begged and cried out for God to remove some difficulty, an illness, financial challenges, physical limitations, or loss? But he lets it remain.

And that’s just pretty tough to swallow.

Doesn’t God care that you are suffering? Doesn’t he want you to be happy? Doesn’t he hear your pleas for relief?

Yes. But just like my mom, he loves you too much to leave you in your sin-sick condition.

There are so many stories in the Bible that are just heart-breaking. Widows who lose their only children. Poor Naomi and Ruth. And who can forget Job? But let’s consider Paul for just a moment.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church (See 2 Corinthians 12) he writes about his “thorn in the flesh.” Whatever it was, the apostle prayed on three occasions for God to remove it. And God said no.

He also said: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).”

As a result Paul declared: “I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weakness, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (1 Corinthians 12:10).”

Talk about a bitter pill. Paul endured much that we would find tough to swallow. But he also knew a strength and grace that enabled him to come through all the difficulty and in a way that brought honor and glory to the One who provided the strength and grace in the first place.

On the day when some of Jesus’ disciples found his message to be a bitter pill many left. Jesus turned to those who remained and asked if they were thinking of bailing, too. Peter spoke up for the remaining twelve: Where else can we go? You alone have the words of life.

Peter didn’t try to sugar coat it. Sometimes bitter pills lead to life.

Job, that persecuted and often misunderstood man from the Old Testament, grasped this one thing like nothing else in his ordeal. He summed up his ability to hang onto God in the midst of all his suffering this way: shall we take the good and not the bad? (See Job 2:10)

Paul went a step further and told the Roman believers that no matter how bitter the pill God was able to cause all the bad, the negative, the difficult to work for good. He never says that the bad is good, just that God can take all the negative and difficult and make them work for our good and his glory (See Romans 8:28).

Tough to swallow…perhaps. But remember, God knows what is absolutely best for you. You can trust him. It may be tough, but don’t walk away now. In him there is fullness of life, your life and mine, now and forever.

He Uses Everything

The other day my husband brought me home a surprise. In the past, surprises included apple fritters, chocolate bars, DVD’s, and one time a diamond ring…but that’s a story unto itself.

This day he brought me home a sprinbrush toothbrush. He had bought one for himself and really liked it. Since he had a coupon and they were on sale, he thought I would like to have one, too.

And like it I do!

But this morning, I realized anew just what a creature of habit I am.

I squirted the toothpaste on my new brush. Put the brush in my mouth. And proceeded to manually brush my teeth.

The bristles aren’t designed for this. The brush moved sluggishly across me teeth…then it dawned on me…I forgot to turn it on. And the Spirit niggled my heart…I ended up giggling out loud.

God decided to use my toothbrush to remind me to do more than go through the motions and rely on habit.

This little reminder came as I was getting ready to head out to the funeral service for the woman I had cared for the past five and half years.
Relying on habit would mean that I put on my pastoral mask and face the folks with a demeanor of peace and confidence. Behaving this way has carried me through some really tough services in the past. But it seemed clear that I was to leave my mask at home.

The power I was to draw on was not the usual thing. The power source available to me would work much better. It was up me to access it.

I heard the words of Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My habit or standard mode of operation would have been stiff upper lip, show no emotion, tough it out…hang strong. God was inviting me to leave that habit behind and “come clean.” I meekly said I’d try.

I sat at the funeral and wept. I sang the songs, prayed the prayers, remembered…and wept. That may not sound like much to you–doesn’t everyone weep at funerals? Not people who are in control. Not me. I didn’t anticipate weeping. But there I sat soggy and snotty and totally sans tissues. I had to get up and go retrieve some from the narthex.

I can’t remember a service that touched my heart as much as that one. Living into the multiple layers of loss, feeling the pain, I came heart to heart with the Great Comforter. I would miss this lady, but I was able to focus on the many gifts I had received from her. I would miss having a job, but I had an indescribable peace that God would lead where I needed to be.

God used a toothbrush to remind me to rely upon Him. What is He using in your life?

Surrender

We started our study of Conrad Gempf’s book, Mealtime Habits of the Messiah in our Sunday school class last Sunday. And as I suspected, we didn’t get very far, very fast. In fact, we only got through half of the introduction. Lest you wonder…this is a good thing. There was much discussion and participation. Our class has grown so much that we have to find a better way to squeeze us in–such a glorious problem!

So while I was studying and preparing for the upcoming class the topic of surrender was mentioned…but the way my mind stuck on it you would have thought that it was the main theme. Rumination at its best.

Surrender. Not a popular word. Somehow it has become the definition of weakness, of defeat. We don’t want to surrender to our enemies, our spouse, our boss, our grandchildren. And yet we daily surrender to our passions, our obsessions, our addictions. Go figure.

For a bit, I want to focus on what surrender means in the spiritual sense…at least for me.

Here’s the problem as I see it: we think surrender means giving away everything and getting nothing. And somehow in that process I get lost…the me that I am, is gone. If I surrender to my spouse I cease to exist and it’s only them. If I surrender to God…then there’s no me. And we can’t fathom not being. That’s why we fight death so fiercely.

Until we begin to understand God, this surrender thing makes him seem like some cosmic terrorist: why surrender? He’s just going to kill us anyway.

Our thinking is really twisted…thanks to the great deceiver and the work he’s been at since the garden. See, he started his number on the first folks, Adam and Eve–and primarily Eve. His job has been to distort God’s purposes and He’s really quite good at it and we’re really quite sucked into it. His opening remarks were to twist the words and purpose of God’s reasoning. “Did God really say that?” “I’m sure that’s not what he meant.” And then she bit and bought the apple.

What does this have to do with surrender? Everything. We think everything is ours and to get a piece of God we have to give it all up. As if to hold God in my hands I have to lay my stuff down. And there in, or in there, lies the problem.

Nothing I have is mine. It may be in my possession, but it doesn’t belong to me. Having trouble with that? I understand. I was dealing with my grandson on the concept just the other day. He was playing with a neighbor boy, who happens to remind me of Eddie Haskill (if you don’t remember Leave it to Beaver, go look it up on youtube). He’s older than my grandson and constantly tries to take advantage of his naivety. Especially when it comes to trading. (This is a boy concept which I don’t get very well.) Eddie-boy tries to grandson to give him something or things and in return gives him junk that he tries to pawn off as really great stuff. Grandson wants to be friends with Eddie-boy so he goes along with it.

This trading isn’t too big a problem until grandson starts to trade off the stuff that we have paid for (aka: of high value to us as it should be to him). That’s when I step in as the enforcer and put the kibosh to the whole thing. The last incident left grandson in tears and confused and me trying to explain. I wanted grandson to know that we provide these things for him so that he will have things to do and play with while he is at our house (daily). He is allowed to play with them and in some sense they are his things, but they don’t belong to him. He is also charged with the care of these things.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is how God sees things, too. He provides it all–but it’s still his. All he asks is that we acknowledge that and take care of it.

I think that was why the Rich Young Ruler (see Mark 10:17-27) had such a hard time when Jesus told him to sell all that he “possessed” and give it to the poor. He didn’t really understand who the true owner, possessor, was. He really bought the lie (of the evil one), and thought he owned it. He thought to give it, to surrender, meant that he would lose it all. As if to think that God really needed his possessions? I don’t need to own all my grandson’s toys. In fact, when he’s grown and gone, so will the toys. It would just be nice if he recognized the provision occasionally, but that might be a lot to expect from a seven year old.

But we’re adults and it seems to be what God is asking of us.

Could this be what Paul was saying to the Romans (Romans 12:1-2) when he describes our reasonable service/sacrifice as one that is living? He says God wants a living sacrifice. That is what is holy and pleasing to him. Too often we think we quit living if we surrender.

(I just had a moment…a thought…I was thinking about Abraham offering Isaac. There seems to be some parallels. Would God have allowed Abraham to kill Isaac? Or was he wanting to see if Abe would give, surrender his son–give back to God what ultimately was his anyway? Going to have to think on this some more.)

If you’re still reading along with me, then you have exceeded blogdom’s suggested word count and I thank you. Let me hasten to close…

Surrender is not to be feared or avoided. In many ways it reminds me of how I define confession: agreeing and owning what God already knows about me. Surrender is recognizing who truly owns everything and receiving it back as a trust–whether it’s my life, my money, my toys…you fill in the blank. I’m not, you’re not, the owner, but the steward.

And here’s a thought: God trusts you with his very best and treasured possessions. How will that impact your living?

Thinking About Pain…because it’s easier than feeling it

I have lived a relatively pain-free life. Until recently. I can remember about a year ago when I was sitting at a meal with friends and the person next to me asked what was wrong with my neck. She went on to say that I seemed to be moving stiffly. I was surprised because I hadn’t even noticed.

Fast forward about three months and I did start to notice some pain in my shoulder. I pretty much tried to ignore the aching because I feared that perhaps I had injured my rotator cuff and my mind was full of horror stories of painful surgeries and even more painful therapeutic recoveries.

Then about six weeks ago at a routine checkup I mentioned to my doc how the pain seemed to traveling down my arm, seizing the bicep and causing tingly itchiness all the way down to my hand. I was having trouble typing on the computer, which all but put a halt to my writing.

My doc sent me for an x-ray of my neck and the findings supported her suspicion and diagnosis of degenerative osteoarthritis of the C5 and C6. Welcome to the perpetual pain club that goes along with getting older. Take your ticket directly to physical therapy and make friends with your nsaid.


Then I got sick, so-much-pain-I-couldn’t-move sick. Seems I had a wicked strep infection that my body responded to with an interesting, but non-life-threatening, condition called ermythia nodosum. I ended seeing a dermatologist and having a biopsy and a rheumatologist and gaining a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, along with several other multi-syllabic scary medical words.

Yesterday I wore tennis shoes to work. I was a little nervous about it. I work ten hours and the longest I had shoes on for almost a month was about a three hour stretch. Other than soreness in my shoulder, I’m feeling pretty normal. I’m quite happy to report that I wore the shoes all through the day, right up to bedtime!


Normal. Just what is that? And what will it look like in the future? How does one learn to live with pain? I have watched my husband be in chronic pain for thirty years. I have seen him cycle in and out of major depression because of it. I have made excuses upon excuses for his moodiness and the dark cloud of pain that has hounded him for so long. I don’t want to let my pain control my moods. I have seen it try…I didn’t like the way I responded.


As I pondered this, my thoughts seemed to automatically go to Paul’s prayer for the thorn in his flesh to be removed. Paul: God, take this away. I can’t do everything you want me to do with this. Others will see this problem and focus on how you seem unable to remove it. That can’t be good PR for an al- powerful and lavishly gracious God.

And God says: No. Nope. Not going to do it. See, the more dependent upon me that you are, the more you will find that I am all you need and that I will give you just what you need, right when you need it. Not one minute before. And it will feel like I’m late, like I’m not paying attention. Do not give into that lie. See, here’s the thing when you come to the end of yourself, your answers, your strategies, your strength, I AM there. When you’ve come to the end yourself I AM. And I will be. I will be your strength. And I will be your joy.

On the first Sunday back to church in a month, I had the blessed opportunity to sing a duet with my pastor, a godly man with a wonderful tenor voice. We sang the old hymn, “Day by Day.” Words that went straight to my heart. Psalm 84:7 describes how the followers of God go from “strength to strength.” There is no gap, no space where His strength is not available to us. No space whatsoever. None. Day by day, every hour, moment by moment, the Lord himself is near me, with a special mercy for each hour. For you too.

My prayer is that when the pain is bad, and the heart is weary, that God will make His strength known, both in my head and my heart, my feelings…because that’s the place where the gap sometimes forms for me. When what I’m feeling hurts and screams louder than what I know to be true from God’s Word, I need to lean hard on the One bridges the gap.

Have pain? Need strength? Leaning hard?