OK…FALSE ALARM!

OK. You know what? I think I just needed a nap, a hug, and some good friends!

norman rockwellOnce again, God gave me a crash course in assurance. Most of my lessons are like this because I think God has this tiny window of opportunity before I change my mind. Seriously, I’m like that kid – you know the one – who gets to the edge of the diving board and is too scared to jump but they can’t really go back to the stairs either so they just stand there hoping the world will open up and swallow them whole but it doesn’t so they go ahead and jump with the conviction that they’re about to drown to death but when they don’t die they figure death would have been better than being embarrassed. Yeah, I’m like that kid.

Shortly after I called the wahh-mbulance the other day, I opened an email from Morgan Harper Nichols. Unlike most of the subscriptions I get emails from, she’s gone to the trouble of personalizing her emails with the recipient’s first name. And that means I saw this as the subject line before I even opened the email: You’re not alone LaRonda.

I know. Right?

Of course, as nice as it was, all I could think was, ‘Maybe you’re not alone, but I’m pretty sure I am.’

I was wrong. So very wrong. Because I’m lazy, I’ve cut  and pasted the rest of Morgan’s message:

When you find yourself in a new place, and you are trying find your footing, may you never feel that you have to navigate it alone. Consider it a blessing that there are other people in this world that you can learn from, even if you are not able to speak to them directly.

You may not be able to be as open to your boss or a colleague as you would like to, or you may not be able to seek wise counsel from family members like you wish you could, but that does not mean you have reached the limit on who you can look to or reach out to.

And it’s okay if “reaching out” takes you out of comfort zone. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. The moment you take the step to ask a question or express a need that you have is a bold rejection of the lie that you were meant to do this alone. It does not make you needy. It does not make you weak.

So don’t be so hard on yourself. If you feel that reaching out makes you vulnerable, it does…and it has also made you strong. You were never meant to be in this alone. And the more you begin taking steps to live out this truth, the more you will begin to see just how much it makes a difference in you.

May this be the week you begin to practice stepping out of your comfort zone just a little bit more. May you begin to open your heart to possibility that vulnerability takes courage and the willingness to accept that you have no idea what is going to happen. Be honest about what you are thinking and feeling this week. Be honest with yourself. Be mindful of the moments where you feel tempted to shut down or withdraw or give up. And it’s okay to have these moments and being able to acknowledge them is a huge step in working through them.

Sincerely,
Morgan Harper Nichols

Yesterday, I went to church and was surrounded by amazing people who had not only had their faith tested and strengthened, but are in the midst of a trial right now. It’s foolishness to think your problems are more insurmountable than someone else’s. I don’t think I’m struggling with how bad I think things are. I know there are painful things that I can’t imagine having to go through, and my heart breaks for anyone carrying such a load.

Lately I’ve thought a lot about painful things that can never change until we’re Home. Two people in our church family have lost their spouse this year. Another woman had her leg amputated. A young woman I once worked with lost her five-month old boy to SIDS. People don’t return to life. A limb isn’t going to grow back. I can eventually pay off debt or purchase another car. I can even arrange things to compensate for the changes in me since my open-heart surgery. And I’ll eventually learn how to work with one good arm and one permanently dislocated arm. It won’t always be easy, but it can be done.

However, some things do not change. There are some things that I can’t fix, and that makes me feel powerless and vulnerable. (That was harder to say than you might think.)

I’ve spent most of my life garnering as much control as I could because I was the only person I could count on to not hurt me. (And, honestly, I’ve probably been crueler to myself than anyone else has ever been.)

So right now, I need help to carry things, to cook, to do my job. I have to ask for help when I need it. Here’s what can happen:

  • Someone will gladly help me.
  • Someone will help me but not exactly the way I would have done it – which, of course, is the right way.
  • Someone will help me and then hold it over me when they need to leverage it for guilt.
  • Someone will say ‘No.’

That gives me a 50% chance be being hurt. And a 100% chance that I won’t ask for help until I’m desperate.

Fortunately, God has put people in my life who are as persistent as they are kind. Fortunately, God has infinite patience with me as he teaches me that it’s okay to ask for and accept help. And that I can be secure that if I reach out my hand, there will be someone there to hold it.

ec5383b9db4af15f6f4fd41c22f70b80

Sometimes, I just have to be brave enough to jump and trust that there are lifeguards who won’t let me drown. Yeah…pretty sure.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

I had intended this post to follow another one I’d posted, but I couldn’t choose between But Wait! There’s More (since I’d neglected to tell you what my Crap of the Month for April was and it’s now May) or Maybe He’s Just Moving the Pieces (since I’m pretty sure God’s quite done with me yet).

I think challenges can run a continuum from an eye-rolling UGH! to an agonizing, life-or-death matter for which there are no words, only tears. So whey say things like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “Fall seven times, get up eight”, it’s important to remember that challenges are relative, and you are allowed to rise on your own schedule, at your own pace. You can cover yourself in bubble wrap, with mascara running down your face, or you can put on a suit and tie looking like nothing ever happened. You can share your story with anyone you know (or even not know!) on social media or you can choose to never share it. However you do it, it may be awhile before you’re able to get up again, and even longer before you are as strong as you were, much less stronger. And “new normal” is baloney! (Just sayin’.)

The bottom line is this:

  • It’s your challenge, and no one has the right to say when you should be “over it”.
  • It’s your challenge, and no one as the right to tell you how much it should hurt.
  • It’s your challenge, and you are not required to minimize it because someone “has it worse” than you.

So April’s Crap of the Month: on the last Wednesday of March I fell, fractured the glenoid fossa – pretty much the cupped socket into which the the top of the shoulder rests. (And the irony is that I fell just as I was calculating the odds of falling a second time at this very convenience store! Yes. I had fallen here about two years earlier.)

At first, it was so painful that the kind men who had come to help me may have wondered if my vocabulary was limited to only four-letter words that began with the letter F – one was “fine”, the other was not. By Friday, it felt better. It hurt, but it wasn’t horrible. At least not until 4:00 am on the following Monday. That’s when I got out of bed to pick up something I’d knocked off my night stand and dislocated my shoulder. Now it hurt!

A follow-up x-ray was enough to warrant a referral to a specialist. I really didn’t understand why no one in town could handle a painful shoulder. Even if it required surgery, I thought surely it should have been managed locally.

Nine days later, the specialist explained the problem. The fracture I had wasn’t very common and surgery wouldn’t guarantee that my shoulder wouldn’t dislocate again. Furthermore, based on my medical history, I wouldn’t survive the operation. The treatment plan, then? We do nothing.

Seriously? Nothing?

Apparently so. Of all the glenoid fractures I could have had, there was only a 0.1% chance that it would be the type I had. Which explained the referral to the specialist. It also meant that my shoulder will remain dislocated while it wears away a new area in which to settle. The pain should lessen, but it will continue to be limited in its mobility, reach and strength.

OK. That explained why surgery wouldn’t help, but I didn’t understand how it could be dangerous. So bear with me as I tell you a bit about my “medical history” that eliminated that option.

On July 26, 2013, I was flown to Abbott Northwestern for an emergency open-heart surgery, during which my body temperature was significantly lowered and I was on heart-lung bypass for nearly 9 hours. I’d had an ascending aortic dissection, which is what actor John Ritter died of during the filming of the TV show “8 Simple Rules”. The simplest way I can explain it is this: the aorta is how blood gets where it needs to go in your heart. It has three layers. When you have an aneurysm (which I apparently had), the wall of the aorta is weakened. On the particular evening, my aorta was weakened and I blew a hole through all three walls. That’s when the blood that should have been going into my heart went wherever it wanted to go.

The incidence of any aortic dissection occurs once per 10,000 patients admitted to the hospital; approximately 2,000 new cases are reported each year in the United States. Now, there are different types of aortic dissection. Approximately 65% are in the ascending aorta, like mine was. Of those, patients who undergo surgical treatment – like I was fortunate to receive – have a 30% mortality rate.  Of those 70% who survive, the quality of life differs greatly, ranging from getting back to the gym to dealing with chronic issues.

I’m one of those left with chronic issues, including slurred speech, short-term memory retention, labored handwriting that was no longer “mine”, an awkward gait, poor dexterity, poor balance, and compromised driving skills – none of which can be explained by neurologists, most of which have not been bad enough to make working a 40-hour work week impossible, all of which have really pissed me off for over five years because it’s frustrating and I look and sound like I’m drunk. There hasn’t been one single day since July 26, 2013, that I haven’t experienced pain of some sort.

So…I have a tendency to fall backward. And although I’ve had a few bumps and bruises, none of those falls had been a real issue until the one I had in March.

497e9528820d0a5a025c2c83fc8d4a82My medical history reminds me of the theme song from the Laverne and Shirley show:

Give us any chance, we’ll take it
Read us any rule, we’ll break it

But not always in a good way. I have a fair record of experiencing the statistically unlikely. So while most people listen to the first half of the warnings in a medication commercial, I listen through to the very end – because that is where I’ll be.

I blame my mother. She’s the one who gave me a name that wouldn’t be found on anything you could buy in a store. Even today, no one can have a Coke with LaRonda!

Here’s the thing, though: God’s specialty is in limited probabilities and impossibilities. The aortic dissection I survived is normally discovered during an autopsy. The fracture?There is apparently no protocol for treatment because there haven’t been enough to gather information from.

I’m not enjoying any of this. I miss doing community theater. I miss spending the day shopping. I miss driving over 20 miles an hour and leaving the city limits behind the wheel. And right now, I really, really miss being able to type with two hands. But as they say here in Minnesota, it could be worse!

I haven’t shared this for pity. I’ve shared it as a sort of introduction to me. I’ve shared it so there’s some context when you read my posts. I’ve shared it so you can understand the ashes God leaves behind when He makes something beautiful from the things that happened against the odds. I have to believe God will use this.

When I began blogging a year ago, my initial plan was to help people who struggled with the idea that they were loved always and anyway by a God who was nothing like any of the people in their life who’d made them believe they were unlovable. If I choose to believe that the universe is out to screw me, then I have no hope.

What I am choosing to believe is that a very loving God is showing me that there is nothing so statistically unlikely that He cannot manage, and that whatever happens, I can be 100% certain that He’s absolutely got this. He knows He will never leave me nor forsake me.  I’m the one who needs no know it.

 

ARE WE THERE YET?

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I think that’s possible…eventually. But they don’t talk about the ass-whippin’ that “doesn’t kill you” in the first place, do they? They don’t talk about what it cost you or what it took to recover. They don’t talk about how it changed you or the scars or the collateral damage it left behind. They don’t talk about the humiliation you felt when it kicked you one last time and left you lying there, exhausted.

Right now, I’m angry and confused. For the first time in my life, I’ve taken a few hits and not given up on my faith in a loving God whom I still believe has a good plan for my life. And I think that’s a big part of my anger and confusion. I don’t understand why I seem to keep getting knocked down.

Let me explain myself first. I know that other people have problems.  I know that it could be worse. I don’t ask why me because I know the answer is why not me. What I want you to understand is that what I survived almost six years ago was statistically unlikely to survive. But I did. And recently, I suffered an injury that is statistically unlikely to happen. Both began simply. Both have changed me significantly. And I have no doubt that I’ve been firmly in God’s hands through it all.

cs-lewis-quote-were-not-necessarily-doubting-that-god-will-do-theI guess what I really want to know is, “Are we there yet?”

I’m tired of healing, recovering, being told there are no explanations.

I feel like God’s has been very persistent in making sure the only answer to any of my questions is him and him alone. But what scares me is this: If what I’ve gone through hasn’t gotten me where God wants me to be, how bad does it to be to get me there?

 

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE.

In Disney’s Aladdin, just before jumping off the side of the building in the marketplace, Aladdin reaches out to Jasmine and asks her, “Do you trust me?”

In National Treasure, Nicolas Cage’s character asks Diane Kruger’s character, “Do you trust me?”

Good question. And it seems that God has been asking me that a lot lately. I thought last year was a “challenge.” (A word here which means it stinks and I do not want to go through it, but I don’t want to sound like a whiney Christian who thinks she’s the only one who has problems.)  I was optimistic that this year had to be better. It was time for God to give me and my family a break.

Instead of a break, it seems more likely that I’m about to get a breakthrough. I know that sounds like a clever line from a televangelist, but I’m actually hoping that this year’s challenges will produce something really good – not like getting a star next to my name for getting an A on my spelling test in the second grade kind of good. A glory to glory kind of good. Let me explain.

We started 2019 waiting for our car guy to get back to us with an estimate to replace the driver’s side mirror I’d managed to destroy. The morning of January 4th, I caught a patch of ice and completely lost control of the car, which was obviously a total loss. I called my repairman to let him know that the mirror was the least of our concerns now. That second car had made things so much easier for us, and now it isn’t worth more than $200 – even with front tires that are less than a month old.

In February, in the middle of a cold, cold Minnesota winter, John woke me before he went to work to tell me the furnace wasn’t working. He’d left a message with a local plumbing and heating company to call me so i could be home when they were available. We had the choice to repair the furnace for “a lottle” (that’s a little, but more), but there was no guarantee it would last long. Or we could replace it for about $4,000. Note that if we had $4,000, we probably would have already spent it on a used car.

Early in March, a friend teased that I must have made someone mad and they’d signed me up for the Problem of the Month Club – kinda like the oh-so-popular Fruit of the Month Club, only more expensive and a lot crappier. And now it seems as though there’s a new sort of bonus round called “But wait! There’s more.”

So…new furnace…no problem! We’d just refinance our mortgage and pay that bad boy off. Now, I’m all for finding the humor in any situation, so I granted that for March, the stress of refinancing our home so we could pay off the new furnace would count as our “Problem of the Month”.

I was wrong. So very wrong.

Now, March isn’t over yet, and today I am typing with only my right hand. Last week, I stopped by a convenience store to get a fountain drink for $1.07 before work. I stepped outside and was seriously calculating the risk of stepping off the curb because, fun fact, I’d fallen at this store about three years earlier. And just that easily, I lost my balance, failed to find anything to hold onto and the full weight of my body pinned my shoulder against the door. I appreciated the very nice men who came to help me up and make sure I was OK. I also apologize to them for using the only four-letter “F” word that came to mind – and word of the hour was not “Fine”. The good news is that nothing was broken, I didn’t need surgery and as of March 1st we’ve had medical insurance.

But wait! There’s more.

I’d already made an appointment with our new orthopedic doctor to examine my right shoulder, which was convenient because it meant I wouldn’t have to wait so long to see her. This was especially fortuitous when that morning, around 4 am, I bent over to pick up something and felt pain that took my breath away. That’s when my shoulder dislocated. So we’ll start April with a visit to a specialist.

But here’s what excites me the most: Over the past couple of weeks, my prayer has changed. I had started out with the usual plea for God to help ease my pain and give me a good report from the doctors. Give me the strength and encouragement i needed to get through this.Then I thought, Wait. Why am I asking for the things God has already promised? Unlike me, He already knows how this is going to play out. I and the medical staff were the only ones who didn’t know.

That’s when my prayer became a prayer of genuine gratitude as I recognized God for who He is. He’s loving, compassionate, faithful and absolutely sovereign.And for the past few days, I’ve had only the lyrics of Mercy Me’s “Even If” on a perpetual loop in my head, my spirit taking constant encouragement from The Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

85a3bbd960542bc7687561576708b29eMy trust in God precedes an infilling of joy and peace that, in turn, allows me to overflow with hope. And the best part is that it’s not dependent on my power, which is usually somewhere between Go Team God! and a poor imitation of Lucy crying because Ricky won’t let her be in the show. Again!

No, it’s the power of the Holy Spirit that will give me hope. All I have to do is trust.

However, trusting isn’t easy for me. In fact, I have a really hard time trusting, and God is fully aware of every reason why. He’s been incredibly gentle and patient with me. He may lead me to conviction, but never to shame.

ba81239008fe119c47efbadd069e220aRight now, it’s been a day since I wrote the paragraphs before this. I’m not as gung-ho and positive as I was yesterday. I’m frustrated and discouraged about a few things. But my prayer is still that I would have the eyes to see my circumstances as my Lord sees them; a heart to love those who currently are getting on my last nerve; and the grace to to understand that all the things that I see as trials are actually opportunities to strengthen my faith and help me move from glory to glory instead of laying down in aisle nine and having a hissy fit – if for no other reason than the fact that it gets harder every day to get back up!

I’m quite tired of feeling sorry for myself and being disappointed with other people. I’m tired of feeling hopeless and defeated. And I’m tired of shying away from God’s hand when he asks, “Do you trust me?”

I truly sense that God is “relieving” us of the things that we’ve had blind confidence in. In three short months, He’s “relieved” us of a car, a working furnace and the little physical comfort I did have. None of these things have been anywhere near affordable for us. In fact, it’s all so much like the Minnesota winter we had this year. It seemed that the snow never melted in between snowfalls. The mounds of snow just seemed to get higher and higher, and we knew it couldn’t last forever – but it certainly seemed possible some days,

After the loss of our car, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you trust me?”

I suppose so.

After we got the bill for the new furnace came, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you still trust me?”

Yeah, but you’re starting to push your luck now.

After I fell and ended up in the ER, I felt the Holy Spirit asking me, “Do you still trust me?”

Yeah, but can we be done now? I’m kinda tired and broke!

It was then that I began praying to have the eyes and heart of Christ. If I could have that, I know it would be so much easier to trust Him.

So do I trust him?

In John 6:66-69, Christ’s disciples had a choice to make: “…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 

I trusted Him today. I suppose I can trust him tomorrow. Even if!

WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT

watercolor snowmanAh, winter! Mugs of hot cocoa, long walks along snow-kissed streets. And snowflakes! Winter’s butterflies. Did you know that we are like snowflakes? Yes, each one of us unique. And, like snowflakes, alone we can do little but together we can do so much.

Like create avalanches.

When I wrote about the value, nay beauty, of seasons, I was apparently only really appreciating Fall. A close second would be spring, with Summer and Winter coming in last in a close tie.

Fall is the season I enjoy most. But right now there’s winter. Still.

Sure the first snowfall is beautiful, but eventually the pure, untouched blanket of snow get scarred with the soles of boots, tire tracks, and shovels. Snowmen melt, but not until they look like dirty vagrants stalking our neighborhoods. Sometimes the snow doesn’t have a chance to melt before another snow comes along and then you just have a lot of snow. Ice and freezing temperatures become hazards. There is no color and everything looks dead. The streets narrow, you have a hard time fitting you and your winter coat behind the steering wheel, the cold forces you indoors, and it never seems to end.

winter bucket listAt times like this, it’s hard to remember that nature has a way of using winter. Nature has a plan for winter. So do merchants.

I don’t.

And lists like this one? They eventually give way to more practical things like paying the bills and buying a car to replace the one I wrecked when I spun out on ICE!

Don’t get me wrong! I hate summer as much as I do winter, so I’m a equal opportunity season bigot. I just prefer seasons that have color and allow for some movement. I like seasons that appear to be doing something, and winter doesn’t appear to be doing anything.

And I wonder when this season will end. Where I live, the snow is actually melting away without being replenished on a steady basis. You’d think that would warm my stone-cold heart, right? Not so much, because what is there when the snow melts but layers of dead leaves that we weren’t able to get raked up before the snow came to stay this year; the same leaves that will be there to deal with in the spring.

When I wonder when the frustrations in my life will end, I see the unfinished work that’s still there to do and see the constancy of things in my life that seem to accumulate exponentially – the bills, the aches and pains, the debt, the house repairs – and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Like my yard, I could remove a layer of snow, but there’s still a blanket of leaves beneath it. And beneath that blanket is an uneven yard that will grow crabgrass because it hasn’t been properly cared for.

joy in the morningBut God has a promise.

But I feel as though I’ve been waiting a lifetime to see the incomparable joy that He promises. And it seems like just when I think things are going to improve, something else sets me back.

I know that God has a purpose in our pain and that He never promised that we’d see His joy during the time we inhabit our bodies on Earth. I even realize that when the next blessing comes along, I will sheepishly admit that God is faithful – always.

Still, it would be nice to have more than one thing be counted joy at the same time. Too often, I feel like I’m in a perpetual state of negotiation and compromise, getting one thing only to have something taken away – everything kept in balance so that I can be neither “ahead” or “behind.”

347d9a1bbc9d1d09543b4f8d1a5cd490I’m also aware that if I measure my joy by how many operable cars I have or how many bills I can pay off, then I’m using the wrong measuring stick and assuming that God doesn’t care for me when He really does.

Still, it would be nice to just relax in a soft over-sized chair with some warm socks, a fire, a hot cup of cocoa and a good book as it sit by a window and watch the snow gently fall.

For a while, anyway.

Perhaps it will be in that quiet that I will hear whispered, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

I Can’t Do This!

My daughter brought home a doll that would be her “daughter” for the next three nights and two days. Her name was August. Things didn’t go well for either Maggie or August. Or for Maggie’s cat, Mickey. The poor guy was beside himself with worry whenever baby August cried, which was often enough.

Around two hours into her Child Development assignment, Maggie had lost some of the tenacity that makes her so amazing. She didn’t know what to do with the crying doll. She couldn’t figure it out and she couldn’t fix it. (To her credit, I should disclose right now that the baby hadn’t been programmed correctly.)

“I can’t do this!” she cried.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried those same words or something that sounds like them. I’m a grown woman who’s gone through a whole lot more than three hours of intermittent crying from a baby. I don’t say that to minimize Maggie’s anxiety but to say that – like most of us – I can completely empathize with her.

I remembered the fearless little toddler who had once wobbled and fallen her way to successful walking. This was the same girl who tested a single stair step one day and conquered the other 12 within two days like a boss. My heart broke for her, and I was a bit surprised. This girl is pretty fierce, yet she was buckling under the pressure to “fix” her baby.

My first instinct was to take the baby from her to make it better. That’s what a parent does, right?

ce0b26eb3b3971ff9ee63aa296fc3780Our Heavenly Father feels the same way towards His children as we feel toward our children. He wants so badly for us to let Him make things better for ourselves.

That’s why He invites us to cast all our cares on Him.

That’s why He sent His one and only Son to pay for our sins and secure a permanent home with Him.

That’s why there are so many verses in the Bible telling us to not be afraid.

That’s why He reminds us again and again that He will go before us to make a way where there seems to be no way. He knows the number of hairs on our head and every desire of our heart.

That’s why he keeps pouring out grace and forgiveness every single time we need it.

God doesn’t expect us to handle everything alone. Max Lucado illustrated puts it this way:

“When a father leads his four-year-old son down a crowded street, he takes him by the hand and says, ‘Hold on to me.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Memorize the map’ or ‘Take your chances dodging the traffic’ or ‘Let’s see if you can find your way home.’ The good father gives the child one responsibility: ‘Hold on to my hand.’God does the same with us.”

I3ec4b43543db428aef9763cbff0c0ecbn fact our weakness serves at least three valuable purposes:

God is a loving father, but we must recognize that the gospel is about His kingdom, His plans, His glory. God holds our hand and doesn’t abandon us; but He does so because He has a divine and perfect plan that has already been spoken into existence. It can not and will not fail – even if we might.

Does that mean that we’re merely simple-minded sheep? No. We’re valuable, beloved sheep. We’re the kind of sheep who are cared for, searched for, comforted and guided by the most loving Shepherd we could ever hope for. He knows each and every one of our needs and is never surprised by circumstances. But if we managed everything ourselves, having no need of Him, the glory would be ours, gained through our own strength and wisdom.

In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom drew this powerful portrait of a caring father:

“Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam-when do I give you your ticket?”
I sniffed a few times, considering this.
“Why, just before we get on the train.”
“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie.”

So the next time you find yourself crying, “I can’t do this!” remember that you are not alone. Our Father already has the map and the ticket for our journey! Just trust Him to get you there safely. And try to relax and enjoy the trip!

father and child hand

AND STILL I RISE

Getting up can be a much bigger deal than we think, really. Essentially, the physical act of getting up is a matter of defying gravity, isn’t it? When I think of it that way, it seems like a really big deal! We seldom think of it, though, because we do it all day long – we rise from bed, from a chair, from the floor. Toddlers are forever getting back up!

So when do we become conscious of the mechanics of getting up, of rising?

When it gets hard and takes more strength than we think we have – in the way Andra Day sings about in “I’ll Rise Up.”

Age, long hours and illness can make it a physical challenge to get back up. Anxiety, depression, high expectations, loss, and disappointment can make it an emotional challenge.img_4464

But sometimes there is something especially inspirational and profound in getting back up again. Our lives aren’t always as dramatic as a boxer’s, where a win is dependent upon getting up after being knocked down for the count while “Eye of the Tiger” plays in the background, but rising can be just as challenging and every bit as vital. And equally powerful

Our story may not be as beautifully worded as Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, but it’s inspiritational just the same. After all, it’s our story!

As I’ve mentioned before, I belong to two different Facebook groups – one for survivors of aortic dissections, which I joined after surviving my own ascending aortic dissection, and one for survivors of CPTSD/PTSD. I’ve been fascinated by how much they overlap. Those in the group dealing with health issues are also dealing with some serious emotional challenges,  and those in the group dealing with emotional issues are also dealing with their share of health issues. What they seem to share most is a sense being alone and feeling quite weary.

So many members of these two groups feel like no one really “gets” their struggle, and they are aware that their recovery, their moving forward, is in fact an individual effort. Others can sympathize, empathize, encourage and support, but the journey of getting back up is ultimately their own.

Still, I know those feelings aren’t unique to these groups. I don’t think any of us have gotten through life without getting knocked down a time or two. Some of us come from a long line of people who have been knocked down and have fought hard to rise up. Some of us have gone through seasons of challenge in spite of every privilege and benefit the world has afforded us. Difficulty is no respecter of wealth, beauty, education, age, gender or ethnicity.

The apostle Peter knew a bit about difficulties, and yet he passed on this promise:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  1 Peter 5:10-11

How could he be so certain of God’s grace? Because he’d experienced it. Jesus still loved him and called him after Peter denied knowing him. Jesus pulled him from the roaring waves the moment Peter cried out for help.

Peter is telling us that, yes, we will suffer. But! By the grace of God, we can rise up…again and again and again.LBG2015Thrill-of-hope-01.jpg

But even before that, Jesus had been born Emmanuel, God with us. That was God’s descent. And how glorious His rising was! In His descent, the weary – like you and me – were given hope. In his rising, we were redeemed. It is by His grace and the strength it affords us that we can always rise again. God has plans for you, fighter. You may be down, but don’t you dare stay down!

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I Don’t Get It!

If you’ve never seen it before, here’s your chance. It’s called “performance painting” and it’s been around for quite a few years now. David Garibaldi is probably one of the better known performance painters around today. I remember the first time I saw anything like this was at least 10 years ago. I’ve seen it used as motivation at schools, leadership conferences, and even churches – like in this video.

I first saw artists create portraits of a musician as the audience listened to one of their songs. For example, someone would paint a portrait of John Lennon while the audience listened to “Imagine.” It truly can be beautiful and stirring. Then some artists got more clever and began to paint a portrait upside down or even on a canvas that could be turned 360 degrees during the performance.

Being gifted enough to paint is one thing. Being able to create a portrait from any direction with splashes here and swipes there is downright awesome! The really cool thing that I enjoy about performance painting is that most paintings start out looking chaotic, almost a mess of smears and lines that don’t look like anything. And, quite frankly, the artist looks a little fruity bouncing around on the stage throwing paint on a canvas haphazardly. But when he’s done…something beautiful has been created right in front of you and you probably didn’t even see it coming together!

Segue to yesterday: My daughter was deeply disappointed. She’s prayed for something. Her father and I prayed about it. Her friends offered her petition to God. And she didn’t get what she’d hoped for. We’ve all felt that disappointment.

There are times I’ve been completely confounded. I don’t understand why. I wonder if the hard times will ever let up. I just don’t get it!

I can only imagine how hard it is for my teen-aged daughter and her friends. Everything is so new to them. The pain, joy, rejection, confusion, hopelessness. It’s the first time they deal with the things I’ve dealt with some many times already…and I still don’t always have the optimism of hope or a steadfast faith that God has a good plan for it all.

We just see pieces. We see the splatters of paint on the canvas, a random swatch here, a flick of paint there. Quite frankly it looks like a mess! Kind of makes you wonder what sort of joke this is.  Isn’t this supposed to be something?

In “Stronger“, Mandisa sings:

Hey, heard you were up all night
Thinking about how your world ain’t right
And you wonder if things will ever get better
And you’re asking, why is it always raining on you
When all you want is just a little good news
Instead of standing there stuck out in the weather

Isn’t that how we feel so often when we don’t understand what God is up to?

Is He there?

Does He see me, hear me?

Is He punishing me?

Am I not a good enough Christian?

Maybe – probably – that’s not it at all. Because God has a plan for your life, a good plan. You just can’t see the whole picture yet.

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Maybe it will be a very long time before we see the whole picture. Perhaps we’ll be gone long before God’s purpose for something is revealed. It’s even possible that we may never know the purpose because it’s something that doesn’t happen, rather than something that does happen.

The question is, can we trust the Master Artist, the ultimate Creator Himself, to create something beautiful in the end?

Jesus made no sense to the world – from his birth to his resurrection. His people expected a military leader, and yet he talked about turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile for those in military power over them. He went to his own execution without defending himself. He said the strangest things about temples being destroyed and rebuilt again in three days. Then he just died.

And the apostles and other disciples had no idea what to do with themselves. So they decided to just go back to the lives they’d had a mere three years earlier. No one understood that the Creator, the Artist, wasn’t done with the whole picture yet.

The kingdom of God is upside-down! When Christ rose from death, the portrait was righted, and then – and then – it started to make sense. Only  in God’s world could we be made white as snow with the blood of Jesus.

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Life gets messy. It can be chaotic. A lot of the time, it just doesn’t make sense to us. But nothing comes as a surprise to our Father. He knows what He’s doing, and the really amazing thing is that He’s doing a new thing – which means there is no way we can anticipate what it will be. He is able to make a way where there seems to be no way.

So my daughter is disappointed right now, and she doesn’t understand why. I don’t have an answer for her except to remind her that she is firmly in the hands of the One who has a good plan for her. He will never leave her or forsake her. He knows how many hairs are on her head – no matter what color she decides to dye it! And when He is finished with her, her life will be a beautiful portrait of His love, His glory, His grace and His power! Even this disappointment will be a part of her life’s testimony. And, oh, how surprised so many people will be when they see it.

YOU ARE….

I’ve seen this before and it showed up in my Facebook news-feed again today. It was worth a second watch!

And men, this isn’t just for the women. The season is upon us to celebrate the birth of our Savior, the liberation from sin His death guaranteed and the reconciliation with our Father that He has always wanted.

And yet, this very season has the potential to wear us down. The demands on our time, money and energy can make us forget all about peace on Earth and goodwill to man. You may catch yourself whispering, “I can’t do it all.” You don’t have to. You are enough. What you do will be good enough.

Above all, remember who and Whose you are. You are loved!

“And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:8)

LET’S BE HONEST

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I’m beginning to think that whoever came up with the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was never required to put that confidence to the test. In fact, I’d be willing to bet they knew the guy who first said, “Buck up, little camper!”

Don’t get me wrong. I know adversity can lead to great strength. The Bible is full of examples of that – Paul, Job, Joseph. Tough lives created tough guys. And historically, some of our greatest entrepreneurs, leaders and athletes have risen from the ashes of adversity. I’m confident that each of us have that same potential. I know we each have that opportunity.

However, I also believe that life can really kick you in the butt and wear you down to nothing first. But the nice thing about being that low is that there’s nowhere to go but up, right? Very few successful people are transparent about the times they were down for the count; the moments right before they started to get back up.

One of my favorite quotes about being knocked down is from J. K. Rowling:

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

As I’ve mentioned before here and there, I belong to two wonderful Facebook groups. One is for survivors of C/PTSD and the other is for survivors of Aortic Dissections. More and more, the line between the two – one emotional and psychological, the other primarily physical – is beginning to blur for me.

I have one friend who survived necrotizing faciitis (flesh-eating disease) and another who survived a staph infection that was so rare his doctor told the intern to not even bother taking notes on it because they’d probably never see it again. When I gave birth to my first daughter at 28 weeks gestation, weighing one-and-a-half pounds, measuring 13 inches, I stayed at a Ronald McDonald House, where families were staying to be close to their very sick children. Some knew their child was going to die. Others were hoping their child would live. Watch the news and you’ll witness people losing everything they have to natural disasters.

And…?

And I’ve come to the conclusion that there are whole lot of us out here who have been through “stuff”!

And I’m noticing some common denominators:

We’re dealing with something that happened to us. Most fiction is about man vs. man or man vs. nature. Sometimes, what happens is a result of our own sequence of choices, although for the sake of this post I’m not going to address that.

We didn’t ask for it to happen to us. So whether you’ve faced the possibility that you’ll lose your life to cancer or had a fender bender with a rotten driver; whether you’ve lost a child or lost your job; spent most of your life under the dehumanizing  abuse of a  parent or been treated as “less than” because of your size, your gender or the amount of pigmentation in your skin, no one asked if you’d be OK with it. And yet, like the family whose home and all their belongings have been destroyed by a tornado, it’s left to you to clear the debris.

We think we’re alone. Either shame or misinformation has isolated us into thinking no one would understand. And you’d be partially right. If you’ve been raped, not even another rape victim can understand how you translated and processed your own violation. If your spouse tells you they think you’re unlovable, no one else has the same life as you to enable them to truly empathize with your sense of unlovability. (It’s a word now.)

And, finally, we aren’t handed manuals or PowerPoint presentations to tell us what to do next. You, my friend, are on your own. Your friends, family and therapists can support you, but ultimately the true work is up to you.

Now there are plenty of scriptures to address everything I just said, and a few sermons that could be preached about challenges. And, yes, I will insist that God loves us and will never leave us or forsake us. I know that I can cast all my care on Him because He loves me. I believe He will make a way when there seems to be no way. And I am confident that he is able “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) However, since this post is already around 1,000 words long, I’ll save these for other posts.

Today, the thing I want you to understand is this: None of us are the only ones and we are not c553a748a7656e370d73d8dab054b6f0alone! I may not have gone through what my friend Jeff endured, but I’ve had my own “stuff”. You may not have had a mother who punished you by not acknowledging your existence for 2-3 days like I did, but I know you’ve had your own “stuff”. Can we agree on that much? Can we be compassionate and patient with each other without judging who’s had the worst “stuff”?

So if someone tells you that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or “You were given this life because you were strong enough to live it.” don’t feel bad if you think it’s hot air. Don’t let those words shame you into thinking you should be doing better than you are doing. We may become strong from our trials, but I don’t believe that God is sitting on a heavenly throne passing out painful things and saying, “Yeah, give it to him. He can take it.” I think those statements, while being well meaning, actually invalidate your pain.

When I started this blog, I wanted to share things that would give others a sort of permission to embrace their own challenges and pain, as well as to provide some encouragement and validation. I’ve come to believe that one of the things people need to move on or move through their struggle is to have someone look at you and say, “I see you! What you went through was rough. You didn’t do anything to deserve it. But it can be better than this.”

It’s time we shared our stories.5734bd36c0aa8d7f59f5d6e7cc395e25