Archive for ‘hope’

2014/01/31

Deep waters

photo 2

New life can be found in deep water


“Drowning must be a terrible way to die, breath snatched as dark waters cover you, panic rising as you’re claimed by murky coldness.”–
From Confessions of a Big Girl  

When I think of murky cold water, I’m taken back to my childhood and images of the muddy Ohio River. I recall strains of “Shall we gather at the river…” sung loudly and fervently, a thick Kentucky accent wrapped around each note and phrase, as a group of earnest believers made their way to the banks of the river for the sacrament of baptism.

I remember the minister slowly entering the water up to above his waist, finding his footing before those who wanted to be baptized made their way to him. I don’t recall the liturgy in full. But I do remember the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” being said for each person. Then I watched how each one trusted the arms of the pastor, leaning back into that brown seemingly dirty water to profess their faith in Christ.

Water can be a very beautiful and safe thing.

Water sitting in a clear glass is a nourishing beverage. Healthy. Harmless.

An inch or two of standing water outside after a warm summer rain: that’s a puddle perfect for splashing in, running through. Fun. Whimsical.

A crystal blue pool with a deep end, or a community pool with a lifeguard; a pond on a farm or a lake with rippling water ready for water skiing: these places are where the water can get over your head if you don’t know how to swim.

And what about an ocean? You can’t drink the water there. That can be a problem. Especially if you need it, if you are lost at sea that deep water will not help you. In the ocean, the stakes are higher. It takes the proper equipment to survive the waves and the mysteries that swim there.

A few years ago I saw first hand the devastation that water can do when a flood damaged much of the bottom floor of our church and claimed the lives of two of our members. I wrote about that incident, and I learned to respect the power of water like never before.

Sin is like water. We think we can control it. When it is just sitting there in a glass, we know we’ve got it covered. We can swallow it whole, and it won’t be trouble. But what happens when the water gets too deep and murky?

I’m currently reading Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush’s book Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity. Even though I grew up a world away from the one Naima did, and we have very different stories of how we came to faith, the book is filled with connection points for any woman. There are few of us who haven’t struggled with body image, self-worth, and believing that God can really love and fulfill us so much.

In her chapter entitled “It Led to My Death,” Naima tells of a time in her life when even with caution signs, she decided to go her own way and before she knew it, it was too late to turn back.

Naima’s deep and dangerous water was the all-too-common destructive relationship with a man who said all of the right things and showed love and respect for a time, but who actually represented a dark and powerful undertow. As the relationship continued, she recognized he was robbing her true beauty and self respect, but it seemed there was no way out.

Fear and desperation led Naima to her dusty Bible for answers. And as her faith slowly strengthened, she began to fight the current. Bravely, she acknowledged the part she played in the real-life drama—how she willingly “held [her] breath and sank.”

Naima’s story could be my own. I have taken part in destructive and confusing relationships covered in sticky sweet layers of deception. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that I often did not have the discernment skills nor spiritual depth and wisdom to handle those relationships properly.

Looking back results in the classic phrase, “If I had known then, what I know now.” But I believe that sin has an ongoing purpose in our faith journeys. I’m honestly grateful that though forgiven and free, I can still feel a tinge of pain when I think of the times I succumbed to the deep waters of sin.

But as Naima reminds me, and all of us really, it is precisely those times that lead to a death that can save us. As she so skillfully states, “…dying to sin and self-loathing, I drowned and was buried only to rise again because the Lord called me from the depths of the waters to walk upon them and not drown beneath them.”

Sin can be like water. But as He does with so many things, God takes the water meant for our destruction, and He redeems it to give us new life in Him. Thanks be to God.

If you would like to read Confessions of a Big Girl: Reflections on Fat, Faith and Femininity by Dr. Naima Johnston-Bush, it is available now at www.amazon.com. As I am sharing a piece of her story with you, Naima has graciously offered that the first two people to leave a comment on my blog will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of the book. For more information about Naima and her ministry, visit www.facebook.com/ministryofnaima.

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2013/10/30

Recovery in Question

Recovery in question...

Recovery in question…

Emma turns 14 this weekend. I can’t really believe that 14 years have passed. I can’t believe that in 4 or 5 years my nest might be empty. To celebrate this momentous birthday, an age marking awkwardness but also independence, we are having a party. Not just a party, but a Masquerade Ball.

It is sooooo Emma. There’s a dress code for boys and girls. There’s a fabulous menu, beautiful masks, a long song list for DJ Doug. And I’m hoping the songs I don’t know won’t embarrass me or the other adult guests coming or that my dance moves don’t embarrass my daughter. Who am I kidding?

In the vein of throwing a classy party, I mean Ball, we are trying to stay away from the usual party fare of chex mix and BBQ wienies. But since our budget won’t allow for a caterer, I’m the chef at hand. That sounded like a great plan when we were leisurely driving over fall break, planning the menu and decor.

Now in a week that has turned stupid by all of the things that have hard and fast deadlines, including the Ball, I’m feeling quite overwhelmed. I’ve had delicious moments of energy and productivity, but the pile is so very large and daunting on both professional and home fronts. So the other side is me barking and grumbling and nagging for someone in the universe to please help! Like someone who is 13.95 years old who I live with…“Hey you there, offspring, help me!”

The result is sorry-filled teenager staring blankly. “What can I do?” her eyes and voice say.

Indeed, what can she do for this always-setting-the-bar-too-high mess of me? I like to think I am a recovering perfectionist, but am I really recovering? Am I putting all of this pressure on myself? Have the “shoulds” taken over?

I think my perfectionism was dampened in Emma’s younger years due to the perfect storm of going through the trauma of divorce, transitioning to single parenthood, and scrambling for income at every turn. It was a period in my life that basically showed me that failure is a launching point. It was the first time I really started seeing and understanding grace at work so that I could accept it and begin to extend it to others.

But I tell you, there are times now since Emma has entered into this age of pushing back and stretching her wings, that I feel like that old person again. It’s like I’m grasping for more control by boxing her in with too high standards and my way of doing things. How can she learn to be her own person, to be her own capable adult, with this kind of perfectionist bullying?

She can’t.

On our chalkboard where we write the dinner possibilities for the week, where there is now a pumpkin face, I sometimes write, “Harp less, encourage more.”

This statement is totally 100% for me and no one else in the house. Not for Emma, not for our cat Mo, not for anyone else who comes to visit. It’s just for me. It’s where I want to live but sometimes find it so hard to live out.

In my mind the week where this important milestone of 14 happened for the one and only time in Emma’s life, looked so different. I was going to be a little more Martha Stewart + Jesus, calm, organized, brilliantly creative and loving. I feel more like Jeff Lewis from Flipping Out, obsessive, frantic, and demanding (minus the psychics and “scream therapy,” though maybe that would help at this point).

And I’m realizing that I need that statement from our chalkboard now more than ever. But this time I need to say it to myself.

“Harp less, encourage more.”

Stop trying to do too much. Stop worrying so much. Stop striving so much. Stop beating yourself up. Hug more. Pause more. Love more. Celebrate.

And maybe, just maybe if I can resolve to put less pressure on myself to be more than I really can be anyway, I can let go and enjoy the process and the time with Emma between here and this celebration and even, God willing, beyond.

Lord, thank you for loving recovering perfectionists like me. Help me, in the moments where I stop to listen to you, and feel your love, to then live out of that reservoir and not return to my silly way of striving and pushing. Amen.

2013/08/31

Good Form

running-symbolA couple of weeks ago, I went to a running clinic on Good Form. I’ve been running for almost a decade, so why would I need a Good Form class? After my car accident earlier this year, it took me a while to get back into my normal workout schedule. And unfortunately by the time I was done with physical therapy, much of my endurance that I built up last year was lost.

This hasn’t been discouraging for me. In fact, I’ve focused on more cross training with dance, shorter running routes, and strength work as I gear up for a Warrior Dash in October. But even as my focus has been other types of exercise, I have this longing to train for another longer race. And with that longing has come a desire to improve my running both in form and speed, which I know will increase my overall benefit from it. It made sense then to start with my form as a precursor to speed training.

At the class, our experienced instructor Tammy Sanders took a video of each of us running past her. Then she played our videos back one by one in slow motion, pointing out how our feet were striking the pavement, what our posture looked like, and if our arms were in the right position. We learned that cadence, or the number of steps per minute, is important too.

It was very enlightening to find out that I’m a heel striker, my arms are coming across my body too much, and that I have good posture and head position. I left the class focused on the simple truths that would help me correct my poor form: bend my knees, center my posture, look down the road and not down at the pavement, lean slightly forward, run with light steps to stay balanced.

My first solo run to practice the good form tips I had learned went well for the first mile or so. But I noticed after that, my body wanted to return to old habits. I struggled at times to keep the new, better form even though I knew that it was more efficient and would help me avoid injuries common to runners. I measured my cadence that day, and found out that mine is about 170 versus the optimum 180 strikes per minute. I have work to do there too.

For a decade, I’ve been running—with success—as far as I would define it. I’ve never been fast; I’ve had very few injuries, but with good form now added to the mix, what more might I discover I can achieve?

What if I practiced good form in my spiritual life as well?

I’m not asking this question to lead into a discussion on “works” here. I’m talking about what if I consciously started to address the bad spiritual habits or baggage I picked up along the way that is throwing my form off.

For those of us raised on church, sometimes bad spiritual form is linked to our families and how they relate to church or other believers. If we’ve been hurt at church, sometimes it is linked to forgiveness we refuse to extend to other Christians or a church as a whole. For those of us who were or are preacher’s kids there’s a reason that there is a negative stereotype equated with many of us. And we see many pastors and wives of pastors (I was also one of these) wound up in burdens that while related to ministry also have to do with poor spiritual form due to burn out, unresolved conflicts, and living hidden lives outside of their parish.

But like the formation of any bad habit, poor spiritual form doesn’t happen overnight. I know for me, I can think of several very distinct instances or situations even in the last five years of being a Christian where certain seeds planted bad form. And frankly, I let those seeds take root.

This bad form has made me more cautious about being “too involved” at church sometimes. It has made me distrust certain Christians without real cause. Basically bad spiritual form has given me excuses to hang some of my decisions on, a place to justify a distance and a separation that I sometimes have practiced in order to protect myself.

I know there is a different way. I can practice good spiritual form. It isn’t easy. Bad habits are hard to break.

But I can start with some simple truths:

bend my knees in prayer

center my posture on God

look down the road and see who is in need not down at the pavement absorbed in my own problems

lean slightly forward into hope

run with light steps giving my burdens to God to stay balanced

Father, help us to practice good form in our spiritual lives that we may be strengthened in you and that we might discover anew what you can do through us to the glory of your Kingdom. Amen.

2013/04/30

Clear title

My free and clear but totaled Jeep

My free and clear but totaled Jeep

My car was totaled in February. I was on my way to work, and a young driver lost control of his vehicle and hit me right at my driver’s side window. A few days later  (as pictured) I was saying goodbye to my Jeep Grand Cherokee as it sat at the wrecker’s lot waiting to be dragged off to a junkyard. From this shot the extensive damage isn’t evident; only the buckled door frame gives a hint that something’s wrong.

I have to say it was a tearful goodbye. At almost 11 years old, so much had happened in and around that car.

I bought the car by timing out the first payment with the arrival of the first real paycheck my former husband earned after becoming a priest. Emma grew up in that car. She’s the reason I bought the car. Rear-facing baby seats and VW Golfs don’t mix, so I traded German engineering for a car manufacturer with military roots.

I moved from Kansas City to Baltimore to Nashville in that car. A lot of life changes are represented in those moves. There’s even a great picture of my two best friends from Baltimore—Lauren and Greg—sitting on my tailgate with me the day I packed up to leave Maryland.

I know it was just a car, but it represented so much more. In that car was a mix of memories and conversations and accidents and victories.

I have a different car now—a dream car really. I always wanted a Jeep Wrangler. When I ended up with a totaled car, I figured why not shop for what I want. With only two Wranglers in 100 miles of Nashville that fit the bill, I would say I was pretty blessed to find the one I have.

My new used car didn’t come without a price. Weeks of Physical Therapy due to the accident cost me time and money. My Jeep Grand Cherokee was paid off, free and clear of any title. The Wrangler is partially owned by Huntington Bank, thank you very much. I don’t have a clear title anymore.

My car is part of a silver linings playbook in a sense. It’s what I always wanted, but I wouldn’t have it if it weren’t for that unexpected accident, and in the end I’m working to pay for the dream—to pay for a clear title.

I have friends in similar situations. My best friend, George who is still in cardiac rehab from his surgery in December, is very grateful to be alive. There are just a few medical bills he has to tend to. He has another chance at life, but he doesn’t have a clear title.

Another dear friend is finding a new, thriving life for her and her kids after a tough divorce, yet she still has to work on the sometimes-strained relationship she has with her ex. She is blessed that things are better for her and her kids, but she doesn’t have a clear title.

At church recently, I was gratefully reminded that there is an ultimate hope and joy in the fact that there will be a day when all of our titles will be clear. From John in Revelation 21 (bold face mine):

I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

NIV, Verses 2-7

No more tears. No more death. No cost.

This song really says it all with rich vivid imagery:

When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies,

I’ll bid farewell to every fear and wipe my weeping eyes.

Should earth against my soul engage, and hellish darts be hurled,

Then I can smile at Satan’s rage and face a frowning world.

 

Let cares like a deluge come, and storms of sorrow fall,

May I but safely reach my home, my God, my Heav’n, my All.

There shall I bathe my weary soul in seas of heav’nly rest,

And not a wave of trouble roll across my peaceful breast.  

–“When I can read my title clear” by Isaac Watts

So take heart. There will come a day when your title will be clear, when you won’t even have to count on a silver linings playbook, because of the hope in the life to come. Amen.

2013/01/31

Take the shot

Take the shot

Take the shot

“Goal of the century.”

“Best goal of all time.”

That’s what the London AP said last fall about soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal in a Sweden versus England match.

What made the shot so incredible? Zlatan was shooting blind. The goal was made with a 25-yard overhead kick that sank right into the net.

The odds were clearly against him, but it didn’t prevent him from taking the shot. When you watch the replay of the goal, you see that Zlatan didn’t even hesitate to take what looks like a completely impossible shot. The commentator mentions Zlatan’s “improvisation and skill.” I love the juxtaposition of these two words.

Cynics and naysayers would probably say this was a lucky shot. I look at it a bit differently. His physique, his coaching, his hours of practice all prepared him for this moment.

Sometimes even though we are prepared for a moment like this, we fail to take the shot.

Zlatan’s shot reminds me of faith. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV) This chapter in Hebrews goes on to trace the history of a team of faithful followers who did extraordinary things in the name of God, taking blind shots, as they trusted Him to lead the way.

  • Abraham faithfully raises a knife over Isaac
  • Moses faithfully leaves the privileged house of Pharoah to eventually lead the Israelites to freedom
  • Rahab faithfully helps the spies who come to Jericho

These stories just scratch the surface of a myriad of believers who have taken the shot with a promise unseen or a blessing yet unfulfilled, and often the promise or blessing is somewhere far off in the distance. This particular passage of scripture doesn’t tell the whole story—how many of our forefathers and mothers doubted God’s words to them, tried to manipulate events to quicken God’s promise, or even wallowed in their own insecurities. And yet, they all stepped up to take the shot, however unclear the future was.

Sometimes we can’t see what is ahead. Sometimes the path is so foggy the brightest flashlight doesn’t help. Sometimes though we study scripture and learn from sermons and seek counsel from fellow Christians, we still aren’t sure of what to do next.

I have a pretty extreme need for knowing the course ahead, ever the planner, I want to take the safest path. But frankly the lack of trust at times has stopped me in my progress. Sometimes I’m too afraid to take a calculated risk because I’m trusting in myself versus trusting God and His sure and lasting promises to me.

As 2012 came to a close, I felt God pushing me out of my comfort zone in some surprising, life-giving ways. When my humanity takes over, I get scared and start talking myself out of moving forward. But as 2013 is now a full month underway, I’m praying for courage and strength, even if my back is to the goal, to trust the training, the coaching, and the practice, to step up and take the shot.

May you find the courage to do the to take the shots God is leading you to take in 2013.

2012/08/22

This is where life is now

Life starts from the reality of where we are now

My neighbor turned 40 a few weeks ago. This vibrant, beautiful woman that shares a wall with me is celebrating four decades of life. Though we have lived beside each other for about three years, we only recently became good friends. Two single moms passing like ships day and night are now sharing Zumba and laughter and more conversations about life, love and God.

Because our friendship is relatively new, I was really honored when she asked me to come to her birthday party. It was great for a number of reasons but perhaps most of all because she was inviting me into her close circle, and that was a wonderful gift.

At one point in the party, we talked about the “big 4-0” and she confessed to being a bit sad and unexpectedly emotional about it. Most of her feelings centered on her expectations of “where she would be” at this age. Birthdays, especially the mile-marker ones, have a knack for making you evaluate your life.

But even though she has faced a lot of tough stuff through the years, my neighbor doesn’t just sit around waiting for life to happen. She is actively shaping her life around the things she knows are valuable.

Years ago, this is not where my neighbor would have envisioned herself at 40, but this is where her life is now.

I have two friends both who have lost their moms in the last few years. They each have small children some of whom will not remember much about their grandmothers. Their moms have left this life too early, and life just isn’t the same without them.

I know these friends think from time to time about the big things their moms will miss like birthdays, and weddings, and great-grandchildren. And they think about the ways they miss their moms right now in the day-to-day stuff of life.

Losing their moms so early in life is not what they planned on, but this is where their life is now.

I have another friend who spent 10 years writing a book. Ten years is a long time to work on anything. At times, she was very discouraged in the process, and she thought about giving up. Sometimes she beat herself up for taking so long, and yet as the celebration of the release of the book grows nearer, I think she knows now that the timing is just right.

She would not have planned to take this long to write her book, but this is where she finds herself now.

So many of us have similar stories. We have unexpected break ups, a move across the country to find a job, a miscarriage, a betrayal that forever changed the course of life. I certainly am not living the life I once imagined. I’m not married, I only have one kid, and I continually bounce between laughter and tears at my bank account.

But this is where my life is now.

And I know I need to embrace it.

It’s scary to let go and move on. Forgiving ourselves and others; taking another risk; rising to a new challenge; believing that God’s timing is perfect timing…these are tough things to make peace with. Sometimes though, we willfully choose to stay shackled to the past and to the pain, to the failure and the loss.

God knows how to use our pasts to help us live in the present and wants us to have confidence that our futures are redeemed in him. When we pray, trust, and keep ourselves open to him, we can see glimpses of this truth.

So whatever you are facing, look it in the eye and come to grips with, “This is where life is now.” And choose to see that statement as a fact that is your friend. From that reality, you move forward.

Just like the beautiful women I’ve mentioned here. They remind me in inspiring ways that life goes on with realigned expectations, new dreams, and unexpected hope.

This is where life is now.

But with a hope rooted in the God of all, it’s just the beginning.

2012/04/24

Just (fill in the blank)

So I’m no Michael Hyatt, and I don’t blog every hour on the hour.  If you don’t know who Michael Hyatt is, he’s like a crazy, mad daily blogger telling people that they need to be blogging several times a week to gain an audience and building a following and all that.  He even has a ton of guest bloggers that blog for him.  He is very good.  And he has nice advice.  I just can’t keep up with him!

Yes, yes, I know.  I’m lucky you are even reading this blog, aren’t I?  You thought I stopped blogging altogether didn’t you?  Well, I did. But I didn’t stop writing in the meantime.

Last year was a wonderfully creative year spent on projects that helped boost my confidence as an artist.  I started a fan page on Facebook.  I wrote an optional script for a musical that was a bestseller for a publisher.  I started a second book on an end-of-the-year, happy birthday to me writing retreat.  I got to collaborate, edit and advise on scripts and books penned by fellow writers.  I even took the leap and applied to a Creative Writing Masters program.

I know more today that pursuing art and specifically writing is to become an increasing part of my life.  I know this despite not being accepted into the Masters program (found out a few weeks ago).  I know this even though I haven’t made a ton of progress on that second book I started in December (when I recently described the premise to a friend though, he got chills). I know that I need to write simply because of how it makes me feel.

Tonight as I sit and work on this simple blog for instance, I feel so blessed and so much like myself.  My body is so telling me to go bed, but I’ve discovered how valuable the process of writing is to my inner being, so I am writing in bed.  Close enough.

Anne Lamott says it like this in her book Bird by Bird, “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises…the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part…the act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

I couldn’t agree more.

So what about this blog?  Because the premise behind it has been about my time as a choir member, it has been difficult to write and post here on Notes from the Other Side of the Altar over the last few months.  Much has changed at my church.  Our music director is gone for complicated reasons; we have a new more modern worship service; and I’ve found myself more often than not having to let go of being in the choir on a regular basis.

This season I’ve had to use many of the rehearsal hours I wanted to spend at choir for other things like making ends meet, keeping my house semi-clean, and being a mom.  So, I am in the process of changing the focus of this particular blog.  I appreciate your patience as I do so; insert “pardon my dust” sign here.

As I struggle to work through life’s usual challenges and try to live up to my responsibilities, I sometimes feel the guilt of not really going for what I want.  I know what to do, now if only I would do it, and on a more regular basis.

It makes me wonder, what is keeping you from moving forward on the thing that you know you need to do?  Is it the chatter from people, maybe even people who love you but don’t know how to encourage you?  Is it a lack of knowledge?  Is it a lack of resources?  Is it really?  Is it time, or not being disciplined enough to make time (my problem), to do what it is you need to do?

Do you struggle with doubt?  Do you let doubt win?  If like me, you feel most like yourself whenever you do, even for a short while, the thing you know you need to do, then just do it! Start. Make the effort. Don’t think about results; live in the process of doing it.

My mantra these days is, “just write.”  And with that, I hope.  I hope that by doing what I’m supposed to do, good will come of it.  If nothing else, I will feel more “alive,” as a friend would say, when I am living out my calling.  I encourage you to do the same.

I have to quote Anne again…

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work:  you don’t give up.”

And from my favorite book, from the source, a word that I need reminder of in these days:

But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. –Romans 8:24-25

Don’t give up.  Fill in your blank and just _______________.

2010/09/08

Long and winding road

The last six weeks I have felt the pressure of a silent blog.  In July, after a wonderful time with family over the 4th and some insights from being in the small country church that my uncle pastors, I had a pretty solid piece to post.  Even though I was away from my regular choir, that Sunday I enjoyed singing songs with the congregation that took me back to my childhood days of familiar Bible songs and old hymns that hadn’t passed through my vocal chords in a long time.

But I just wasn’t able to post what I wrote.  It was fine.  It would have been okay, but the problem was that it wasn’t coming from where I really was at the time.

Weeks later, it feels like not much has changed.  It has nothing to do with writer’s block.  I’ve had plenty to say.  I just haven’t known how to say it.

Back at my home church a couple of weeks ago as I sat with my choir again, the priest outlined some spiritual dichotomies in her sermon:

Hope vs. Fear

Faith vs. Doubt

Truth vs. Deception

Fear, doubt and deception have been rattling around in my head and heart a lot lately. It’s hard to write about that because these dichotomies also relate to the fact that I’ve been grappling with a familiar friend again:  Grief.  Grief it seems is not done with me.

You know grief.  Grief comes from all those broken places—the things our fallen world gives evidence to.  It’s the too-soon death of someone, the shattered marriage, the senseless crime against the innocent, an unhealed disease in a helpless child, and numerous other painful realities in life.

But our world does not stop for these things.

I’ve come to understand that I have greatly underestimated grief.  There have been numerous times when I think it’s over, and that grief will come to visit no more.  I’m not talking about guilt or feeling unforgiven, though sometimes that is a natural side dish to grief. No, I’m talking about the long arch that grief seemingly requires us to follow and the process that it takes to go through it.

This last year as I’ve been focused on starting over again, I’ve been especially ready to be done with grief.  I have times when I feel like my old hopeful self, and then out of the blue like a crushing boulder that un-welcomed friend returns.

It’s hard when you are striving for a bright new future to give grief enough room or time to work itself out.  We tell ourselves, and others, well-meaning things like, “Life must go on.”  True enough.  But grief demands attention, and we can’t ignore it.  We can call it other things; we can make excuses, but grief will still have its way through us.

In a strange way though, grief really is a friend.  I’m convinced that I would not be as dependent on God as I am today if it weren’t for the pain that I’ve journeyed through.  A few years ago, I was leading a conference while dealing with a lot of tough stuff in my personal life.  Though I didn’t share my story, as it would have been unprofessional in that setting, I was often moved during the times we all came together to worship and pray.

At one of the worship times, I led prayer from the platform and cried a bit.  Weeks later someone who had attended the conference was critical of my emotion during that prayer.  I know that God was working in me and through me at that event. Unfortunately, the raw and tender places we find ourselves in during hard times can be unsettling to others, especially if they have never been broken.

To this day I distinctly remember that in my private prayers after the conference that I thanked God for the raw place I was in, and I asked to never be so comfortable and distant in my approach to Him that I lose touch with His awesome love and power. That is what I prayed earnestly and yet, lately I find myself really longing for the feeling of something new—I yearn to feel like I did before the brokenness.

When grief keeps calling in it’s relentless way, I sometimes can’t tell if God is breaking me down even further so that I will trust Him more or if because I’m trusting Him more, I’m under enemy attack. As Paul related:

“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…” (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

My prayer on good days is very focused on God being in control of all of my concerns.  On the bad days I pick the burdens back up.  I hold on to them fiercely and stupidly. I go back to analyze the bad choices, the painful things that seem like harsh realities, and I circle high above the bones of issues that are picked dry still looking for better insight as I obsess over “whys.”  Sometimes I grieve because I know exactly why, and those are perhaps the hardest moments of all.

I’ve been told this dance is normal.  It’s tiresome though.  Many times I feel like I’m clawing my way back to myself. I passionately want to learn from my missteps and heartache.  I know that the learning won’t help me necessarily avoid future pain, but I want to grow stronger in ways that make me love more deeply, share faith more confidently, and live a content life while striving for Christ to be at the exact center of my life.

For me to get real about this means doing these things without the hope of a husband, without the security of a good job, and without the promise of many old dreams somehow coming true. Somewhere in all the things I’m getting right and wrong in life, I’m glad that I can say that just living for Christ is my ultimate dream.

But submission looks great on paper and is much harder to live out.  Some days are a test, a tug of war, over my tired dreams that He is painfully reshaping into His exact purpose.  As I pick up the verse from where it left off:

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such peril, and he will deliver us, on him we have set our hope…” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10)

After the sermon we sang All My Hope on God is Founded, and this simple verse spoke to me (emphasis mine):

All my hope on God is founded; He doth still my trust renew,
Me through change and chance He guideth, only good and only true.
God unknown, He alone calls my heart to be His own.

If you haven’t been broken, you may not relate at all to what I’ve shared here.  And that’s okay.  Someday you may.  If you do, be sure to give grief it’s due.  Fighting grief will get you nowhere.  Instead, try to look at your time of working through grief as a long and winding road back to hope.  That’s where I am…on that road somewhere. I’m finally chasing after a hope that is real, and with God’s help I’ll see it through. Amen.