I JUST DON’T KNOW!

You know that feeling you get when you you open the refrigerator door, hoping to find something…anything…that might taste good? And nothing sounds good.

How about this: Nothing sounds good, so you go to the grocery store. After walking aimlessly around for about 15 minutes, you stop in the middle of an aisle and have a total melt-down because you’re surrounded on every side by plenty of things to consume, but none of it appeals to you at all.

Or how about this: Back home is one husband and three or four kids. (Who knows? They start to look like tiny gang members at some point. And you’re beginning to suspect what’s-his-name is not one of your tax deductions, but his actual parents aren’t looking for him – and you understand why.) Regardless of the body count, everyone wants to know what’s for dinner.

And you don’t know!!

There’s just this overwhelming sense of too much and not enough at the same time. You know that there should be an answer, there usually is an answer, but you couldn’t even pick one out from a multiple choice question right now.

It’s a little like the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb:

Relax
I’ll need some information first
Just the basic facts
Can you show me where it hurts?

And the answer is NO. No, you can’t show where it hurts. You don’t know where it hurts.

All you know for certain is that you don’t know how you got here. It’s dark and cold. You hear soft but unfamiliar sounds. You sob silently because you want someone to hear you, to come help you find your way out, but you don’t want to feel the vulnerability of needing help. In fact, you’re not even sure of what ‘help’ would look like.

That’s when the God of suddenlies reaches down to touch his child and you’re flooded with assurance, peace and hope. Your Father heard your quiet cry and found you. He knows you. He sees you. He loves you.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

Psalm 40:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

 

We don’t always wait patiently. OK…we seldom wait patiently, do we? But we should wait patiently, shouldn’t we? We make a list of all the ways God can help us, even though experience tells us the he’s been there for us before.  He’s never left us in the slimy pit, the mud or the mire, has he?

6884915f0952ef38160ee791a080dd18He’s even there in the grocery store, where you’re standing, virtually paralyzed in Aisle 3 and you’re holding back the tears. He’s there every time we cry, “I don’t know…I just don’t know.” In fact, it’s in those moments that we give up that you can almost hear a relieved sigh right before you hear God say, “Finally! Now we can get to work. Follow me. I know a way out.”

No matter where you are or what you’ve done, never forget that you are so loved by the very God who created you!

 

 

REALLY, GOD? REALLY?!

In 1989, Tom Hanks was still 5 years away from playing Forrest Gump. He was still in his early comedic element what he starred in The Burbs, in which “an over-stressed suburbanite and his fellow neighbors are convinced that the new family on the block are part of a murderous Satanic cult.” (Stay with me here!)

It was a scene from the end of this movie that came to mind as I listened to 1 Kings 19:1-19 (NIV). (You’re about to learn a lot about how my brain works!)

Long story, short, Ahab told Jezabel about all the trouble Elijah had been stirring up. Jezabel sends a scathing message to Elijah, informing him that he’s as good as dead. So Elijah runs to Beersheba in Judah, where he drops off his servant and sets out for the wilderness another day’s distance away.

It’s here in the wilderness that Elijah plops himself under a broom bush and begs God to take his life. He’s tired! He’s fed up! He’s had enough!

So had Tom Hanks’ character, Ray Peterson. All Ray wanted was a few days of quiet, relaxing restoration at home. In no time at all, his neighbors have pulled him into an unbelievable story. In just under 1 hour and 40 minutes, Ray – like Elijah – has been pushed to the edge of reasonable limits and was fast approaching his breaking point.

No, Elijah is not an over-stressed suburbanite living next to some satanists, but I know a tired man when I see one. I also know a hissy fit when I see one. Elijah had been faithful to God. He squared off against 450 prophets of Baal, demonstrating that there were no other gods than Yahweh. And what does he get for his faithfulness? A death threat from an unstable woman.

What about him?!

Now we get to the source of his troubles. His victory has been rooted in the strength and power of God. His fear is rooted in his focus on himself. To be fair, Elijah needs a break. He needs some care and encouragement. He doesn’t really want to give up or die; he just wants some time for restoration. He is human, after all. His body needs sleep and food. His spirit needs encouragement. And God is gracious enough to meet him where he is. He even sends warm bread for Elijah.

After Elijah had fallen asleep, an angel touched him saying, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank.” (Personally, I would have been tempted to ask God if he hadn’t heard me – I’m done!) But not Elijah. “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.” (1 Kings 19:6-9 NIV)

And now God has Elijah truly alone. Elijah has had 40 days and 40 nights in which to contemplate God’s question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

There’s so much more to Elijah’s story, but that’s for another post. Today, just be encouraged that even the mightiest of God’s chosen can grow weary. And even when we beg for it to all come to an end, our gracious Father will meet us where we are and give us what we need to keep going.

 

WELCOME TO THE PITY PARTY!

hello my name isCome on in! Sign the list with your name and your particular angst. The comfort food is over there. You’ll be hearing songs like “Sad Songs” by Elton John, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle”,  Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, and R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”. Dolly Parton will sing about Joleen while Kenny Rogers cries about Lucille leaving him – with four hungry children and a crop in the field no less! Don’t hear your favorite? The DJ is taking requests. Sinead O’Conner’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”? Sorry, no. Just…no. So grab a box of tissues and we’ll get this party started!

I’ve never liked the phrase, “Get over it.” I think it’s dismissive and, quite frankly, insensitive. OK, I suppose there are some things you can “get over” – like your McDonald’s fries not being hot enough or having someone take the last doughnut in the break room. Although those can be really disheartening.

But cold fries and an empty doughnut box aren’t the same as losing your job, losing your home, or having a spouse ask for a divorce. Of course, everyone knows that you don’t tell someone who’s suffered losses like that to “get over it,” do they? No.

No, they say kinder things like, “It was God’s will” or “Something better will come along.” Which I believe may seem a smidge more sensitive (especially if you squeeze God into it), but they’re no less dismissive.

silent cryingI think there’s a pretty long list of things we shouldn’t be expected to get over because we need to get through it. The psalm doesn’t say, “Though I take the bridge over the valley of the shadow of death….” It tells us that we can trust in God is as we walk through it.

I have never been much of a hostess because, frankly, it terrifies me to have people in my home. I used to think it was because I thought my housekeeping wasn’t good enough (which it’s not) or that I wouldn’t know what to do with them once they’re actually in my house. I’m beginning to suspect that it was too intimate for me.

For the most part, I’ve kept my home life separate from my life at work or church. Not that people at work or church never knew about my home life. (They wish!) I think I’ve used my home as a sort of dressing room in which I prepare before a performance and in which I can remove the makeup and costume after a performance.

I can tell those of you who don’t know me that I had a painful childhood. I can tell those of you who think you know me that I cried myself to sleep most nights as my mother laughed with my younger brother in her room down the hall, without me. (Yes, I suspect it was unhealthy.) There were nights I laid very still in my bed as I listened to her go down the stairs because her hatred was so palpable that I was prepared for her to return with a knife. I learned to watch for the slightest change in her voice or face to alert me to a change in her mood.

I lived with my own particular brand of unhealthy until the day before my 21st birthday. Now, I’d like to say that I moved in with a friend or another student at college or even a boyfriend, but I didn’t. Until today, the closest I could come to explaining what I did was to say I ran away from home. I took absolutely nothing with me except my purse, my car and the clothes I was wearing; and I didn’t have a plan.

tiredToday, I realize that what I truly did was escape. That was the only way I could have left. Running away would suggest some degree of rebellion or emotion. I was simply tired. Those of you who have been in a similar relationship know what I mean.

The whole thing didn’t turn out as well as I’d have liked, and within a year I spent a couple of weeks in the local state hospital. (Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, really. Looking back on it as a mother and a woman who’s worked full-time for a few decades, I’ve often thought it has the trappings of a nice vacation. Your meals are prepared for you, the dishes are washed by someone else, you get to choose who your visitors are, you get your own room, make crafts, watch TV, get pretty good meds, have a captive audience with whom to share what’s on your mind, and meet the most interesting people. Not altogether bad – with the proper perspective.)

But I digress!

I’ve had an unpleasant life that left its mark, but not all marks are bad. For example, five years ago, I had an emergency open-heart surgery. Against most odds, I survived. The scar down the middle of my chest is a reminder to me of all the things I still get to enjoy – my husband, my daughters, warm showers in the morning and a comfortable bed at night and wonderful, compassionate friends.

Our scars show that we survived something. What I survived may not be anything like what you survived. But we all have scars, if not on our body then in our spirit.

strengthI don’t necessarily believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s far too simplistic. In fact, I think there’s much more to it than that, because honestly, what doesn’t kill you can really beat the hell out of you and leave you for dead sometimes.

But this much I know. I’m a damn sight stronger than I think I am. I’ve had the air knocked out of me often enough, and have wanted to quit often enough. I’ve wanted to stay down for the count plenty of times, but I’ve always gotten back up again…eventually. And I didn’t get back up because of any clever motivational sayings like “Fall seven times, get up eight” either. If it were that easy, any one of my therapists would have just handed me a book full of quotes.

No, I’ve gotten back up – slowly, confused, disoriented and exhausted – because that’s what people do when they choose to not take their own life. They get back up, take a shower, brush their hair, put on some clean clothes and  leave the house again to go to work or get groceries.

I’ve been angry, confused and frustrated a lot lately. There’s plenty to be angry, confused and frustrated about – money, health, a roof that leaks, a car that’s so badly bashed that it probably shouldn’t be driven, yet still takes up room in our driveway. And what I can’t figure out is why? And when does my family get a break?

weakness to godIf what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, my family – and yours – would be a bad-ass team.

You know what I think? I think God uses these trials to bring us closer to him. Do I think He gives us these trials? Sometimes, and I’ll make a case for that another day. But for the most part, I don’t think He has to. There are enough trials as a result of our own poor judgment, from the natural progression of time, from the acts of others or from Satan, that God doesn’t need help.

That doesn’t mean he he’s not interested in taking advantage of the opportunity those trials create. I think God uses those times in our lives for two primary purposes: to invite us to let him tend to our wounds, heal us, comfort us. He wants to be the one to restore us to the person he intended for us to be when he knit us together in our albeit mentally unhealthy, broken mother’s womb. In doing so, he demonstrates his sovereign power to the world.

God doesn’t give us trials because he knows how strong we are. There is no carnival game in Heaven in which we sling a huge hammer and try to ring a bell to test our strength just so God can determine how much crap we get in life. You’re not like the teacher my oldest daughter had who was so good with challenging children that he ended up with six in his class one year.

I am not that strong! I just don’t have anything better to do but to keep getting up every morning and doing my thing. But I’ve wallowed long enough, I think. You know what they say about sitting in a dirty diaper. It might stink, but it’s warm and it’s yours.

surrenderSitting in a dirty diaper is not fitting behavior for anyone, much less a child of God. His word says that it’s in our weakness that his strength is demonstrated. I’m not entirely clear about how that happens, but I think it’s time try to give God my weakness and quit carrying it around like a worn out, tear-stained teddy bear that’s served its purpose.

Your trials  – whatever the source – should serve to allow God to show the world how strong he is. If he allows more than we can carry, it’s so we can ask him to carry it for us, because his yoke is light.

So feel free to linger at the pity party a bit longer if you like. The food is really good and the DJ gets paid no matter how long he’s here! But when you leave, put your nametag in the trash – you know, the one that says “Hello, my name is defeat” and be sure to take one that says “I am a child of the one true King!”

C’mon! It’s time to get moving along!

 

Did the Grinch Steal Your Christmas?

I usually start out the holiday season (the no-I’m-not trying-to-be-politically-correct – from-Thanksgiving-to-New Year “holiday season”) like this:

elfI want the house to look festive. I want to bake cookies and make candy. I want to watch all the classic Christmas movies from A Christmas Story to Die Hard while I’m curled up on the couch with my family, a warm blanket and a big bowl of popcorn. I want to play Christmas music from Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter to the Muppet’s’ unique take on The Twelve Days of Christmas or (my personal favorite) Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey. I want to write the coolest Christmas letter to our family and friends, and get it mailed early!

But my Christmas letter turns into a New Year letter. If I hear Harry Belafonte sing Twelve Days of Christmas one more time, I’ll scream. (Actually, If I have to hear anyone stretch out “five go-old rings” through seven verses, I’ll scream!) My husband and I are too tired to stay up for a movie, and I’ve barely seen my daughter since the beginning of school break. The cookies and candy? Well…I’ve got the ingredients but got lost on Pinterest looking for the right recipe. And the house? Not bad, but the spare room is full of boxes – at least the ones that got into the room. One of the cats is using a partially-emptied tote for a bed and an unfinished wreath rests against the table by my chair. The cats seem to enjoy the way the fake needles massage their coats as they walk through the middle of it.

I am not Martha Stewart.

I think I love the idea of Christmas; but to be completely honest, Christmas really, really stresses me out! My husband and I have yet to go into the season with any money set aside for gifts, and John and I have gone through 21 Christmases with very different ideas on how much we should spend. And gift-giving of any sort gives me anxiety because I could never buy the right thing for my mother. (It’s okay – I’ve talked to my therapist about it.) I’m confident that most people probably have someone like that in their family; and if they don’t think they do, then they’re probably that person.

One year, I thought I had it nailed! My mother told me she would like one of two books – Roseanne Barr’s Roseanne: My Life as a Woman or the newest book from Robert Schuller. I chose Robert Schuller’s book because I thought it would be inspirational. When she opened it, she was quiet for a bit, then she set it aside without a word.

“Did I get the right one?” I asked.

“It’s fine.”

“You said you wanted that one or the one by Roseanne Barr, right? Is there something wrong with it?”

“Well, I wanted Roseanne’s book.”

No “thank you” at all. I’d failed again. That sort of track record leaves you a little anxious about getting anyone the “perfect” gift.

I am not Santa, either!

grinch and maxAll of the “forced festivity” is enough to turn a girl into a Grinch! You’re buying things for people you wouldn’t ordinarily buy something for – Secret Santa’s, the mail carrier, the paper carrier, the woman who does your hair! How much is enough? How much is too much? If you get it on sale, does the original price count or does the sale price count? Are you re-gifting something  to the person who gave it to you last year? Does it count if it’s handmade? Do the bag and card count as part of the price or not? What happens when you get a “surprise” gift and (naturally) have to find a gift of equal value to reciprocate? What on Earth made anyone actually think you liked ceramic turtles?! (Well, you’re a bona fide collector now, Sweetie! You’re welcome.) Your kids – bless their little hearts – understand that you can’t afford the latest electronic doo-hickey. They’ll just ask Santa for it. Fine! Maybe Santa can pay for the new tires we need for the car, too!

There are three groups of people my shriveled Grinch heart really goes out to:

  • The introverts who are expected to spend all their free time in the foreseeable future in the company of extroverts.
  • The hostesses who end up stuck in the kitchen cleaning up after a big family feast that took two days to prepare and 20 minutes to consume!
  • Those who are trying to work their way through the holidays while bearing true substantial loss of a family member. (This is a special group that has a place in my heart like no other and deserves the dignity of being mentioned but not included in an honestly superficial rant like this.)

Is this really what Christmas is all about?

first christmasNo. No, it’s not. We know this going into Christmas, don’t we? Cognitively, we know it’s about the fulfilled promise of God and the baby in the manger. Even the folks who only go to church for Easter, Christmas and the occasional baptism or wedding know what Christmas is really about!

But we fall for the guilt, pressure and commercialism every year, don’t we? No one wants to be left out during a gift exchange, even if we don’t need another thing and probably won’t score anything all that special anyway. Is it any wonder we end up at least a little disappointed when we go into Christmas feeling like Elf and finish feeling like the Grinch. The version of the holidays that we buy into has the potential to rob us of our joy.

For me, the worst part is that I let it happen. I could set a monetary limit and stick to it. I could tell my friends and coworkers that I prefer to not participate in group gift exchanges because I don’t want to take on more debt. I could budget my time the same way by carefully choosing which get-togethers I prefer to attend, then balance them with the time I need to be alone with my family at home. At least my generation is beginning to appreciate the freedom of slow cookers and ready-made dishes that allow us time to spend with the ones we love – or are at least related to. Stressful food preparation no longer defines our womanhood. Much.

Christmas is about God offering “tidings of comfort and joy”, and here I am worn out and bitter. It’s about hope, but I’m freaking out about how much debt we’re accumulating. It’s about peace, and I’m cranky. It’s about liberation, and I feel trapped by social constructs. It’s about pardon, and I feel indebted. It’s about inclusion, and I hear story after story of family strife.

wreath crownChristmas is about eternal matters that cannot be measured or limited, and my focus is on resources that are finite and exhaustible – time, money and energy. I allow these things to take priority in my life while I struggle to keep alive a now, very small corner of my faith.

Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll find some balance that will allow me to enjoy the best of the holidays. Bless all of you who come alive and are in your element during the holidays! Personally, I’m relieved that Christmas only comes once a year. It comes and it goes. But the Kingdom on which the birth of Christ is built is with me all year long.  Now, that is a gift worth keeping!