The Sufferings of Christ

It’s been a long, painful week. Stuff happened. As it seems want to do. 

I live in my imagination a lot, and what I imagined at the beginning of the week was myself, a gunshot wound to my chest, bleeding all over, entering into the throne room of God and just collapsing on the floor in front of him. No words to say. Just, here I am. Here’s what shape I’m in.  And while I was laying there imagining this, the phrase that came to my mind was, “Enter into the sufferings of Christ”. 

I’ve been thinking about that phrase all week. My imaginary hole in my chest has been bound, wrapped up in bandages. Healing medicine poured over it. I’m still walking slowly and carefully, feeling very fragile, but I’m whole. And I keep circling back. What does that mean? Why do I have to enter into the sufferings of Christ? What is the point? 

My prayer over the years has been, make me more like you Jesus. More of you, less of me. I admit, when I say that, what I mean is, I want to be more loving, more patient, more kind, more selfless, etc. I was not thinking of these verses from Isaiah 53, verse 3 and 4:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

Familiar with pain. Took up our pain. Bore our suffering. 

No, I was definitely not thinking about that when I said I wanted to be more like Jesus. 

My husband and I have done some soul searching this week. Questioning some of our choices. If a choice leads to pain and suffering then it has to be wrong, right? But I keep coming back to the fact that we made these choices because we felt it was an obedience to God and what the Bible teaches. And it still led to suffering. And that kind of hurts the brain.  

Enter into the sufferings of Christ. In doing this, does this mean that I am becoming more like Jesus? Not only sharing in his joy and love but in his pain and suffering?

When I hit my crisis it wasn’t long before I turned to one of my friends for help and comfort. And yes, she’s a close friend so I would have turned to her first anyway, but it was so much more meaningful because I knew she had been in a similar situation to mine. She could empathize and give good counsel. She had already suffered through this and could meet me exactly where I was at. And she was kind of a physical Jesus to me in my sufferings. Only possible because she had suffered herself. Does suffering make us more able to be the hands and feet of Jesus? 

Through all of this, I can testify. God is faithful. He heals the brokenhearted. He breathes hope on my soul. When I am at my lowest, I find his presence the strongest. The Holy Spirit has been faithful to whisper scripture in my ear that has kept me from falling into anger or judgement. 

Funnily enough, God was gracious enough to allow me to get Covid this week. Yeah, who needs covid? But, because of that I have been able to cancel a multitude of appointments, completely clear my schedule and just have time to rest and process. I’m still getting better, but my husband only had to take one day off to take care of the kids and household before I had enough energy to cover the basics again. 

Enter into the sufferings of Christ. I’m still figuring out what this means, but what I do know is that it is a journey that makes me more like Him. And that is what I want. 

Morning Glories

My daughter wrote a story about someone who sinks into deep depression and then slowly, slowly, pulls out of it. And the story uses the Morning Glory flower as a symbol of hope. When I read the story I found myself sobbing, recognizing myself in the main character. Finally acknowledging the numbness that had taken over my life, which I had grimly tried to ignore as I pushed through each day, determined to not let my family down. And I was filled with a tiny spark of hope. Yes, you can pull yourself through. Depression does go away. Life returns. 

Since I’ve read that story I have been seeing Morning Glories everywhere. As I was driving down the road to take my kids to school, there, look, Morning Glories covering a fence. Hope. As I took a walk, there, look, Morning Glories in the neighbor’s yard. Hope. And yesterday when I found myself actually having the motivation to get out into my yard with my kids, play with them, plant some things, I found Morning Glories in the very back corner of the yard, a place I usually don’t go. And I laughed and took a picture and I knew that it was no longer a spark, but a full blown flame. Hope. 

I went on a retreat several weeks ago. During the retreat I dealt with some old wounds. Or at least, started dealing. And I found myself feeling emotions again. Sure, it was anger and pain, but I was feeling again. I read somewhere that in order to feel joy and happiness we have to allow ourselves to feel anger and pain. When we stuff the bad emotions we end up in a place where all our emotions are flat. We can’t have the good without letting ourselves feel the bad too. As I have allowed myself to process the hard emotions, I have found the lighter ones returning. 

After the retreat I felt myself going silent. I needed a break from words, from thoughts, from interacting with people. I needed to just sit and feel and mourn and heal. And that’s why there haven’t been any new blogs in a while. I didn’t let it bother me. I knew the words would come back when I was ready. And this morning I felt the familiar itch to put my thoughts down where I could see them. And it’s good to be writing again. 

We’ve had a lot going on in the family the last couple months. Made some big decisions about our kids’ schooling. My third child graduated high school. We got to have a mini family reunion as I had all my kids in one place for the graduation. And now summer is going full force as I try to keep track of everyone’s summer plans with kids going in all directions. I am living one day at a time. Welcoming joy back into my life. Keeping an eye out for Morning Glories. And, as always, resting in the fact that God is good. 

Giving Testimony in the Messiness

A friend recently exhorted in his writing that we should give our testimony often. And it’s funny, because I had something good happen, and I thought, I should give testimony about that! But, then that something good twisted and ended up not being so great. And my desire to share kind of faded away. Because it didn’t turn out all smooth and neat the way I was hoping. It’s still messy. Still incomplete. Still a work in progress. But there is so much to give testimony about, especially in the messiness! 

Once again, it’s been a rough week. At one point in time, I felt like I had walked to the very edge of the abyss and was looking down at the sure promise of great sorrow and anguish. And I had no words to pray. I found my mind just repeating over and over again, Mercy Lord. Have Mercy. And the analytical side of my brain chimed in, “Why are you saying that over and over again?” and the parable that Jesus told about the widow who nagged the Judge for justice came to mind. I will nag and nag and nag until I get justice simply because the judge is tired of my nagging. Except it wasn’t justice I wanted. Just mercy. 

And God was merciful. In small measures. 

The situation is not resolved. I don’t have a tidy neat package where I can point and say, Look, a miracle! Isn’t God good! 

Instead I have the testimony that I am alive and moving. My children are alive and moving. Hope still reigns. I am still determinedly putting one foot in front of the other. The world is still turning. Night and Day are still happening. There is beauty in each day, along with sorrow. God’s word is still true. His promises still stand. 

And so I stand in the Assembly and give my testimony of God’s goodness to me today. My eternity is secure. I am not alone. And each day I move an inch or two closer to knowing more about God and his goodness. 

Urgent Prayer Need

My parents have covid. My dad has the covid pneumonia and has been put into a Covid Unit. My mom is not as sick and is recuperating at home. 

I need to write. My emotions are hitting all four points of the compass and I think several parts of my brain have just shut down temporarily. 

Please pray for our family. 

Right now I need to be in three different places at once and the levels of priority are slight and nuanced and so there is no clear path to figure out where I should be. At this very minute in time, my oldest son is staying with his grandmother to take care of her. My father is holding steady. And so I am doing what is in front of me. Unpacking after vacation. Getting kids ready for school which starts in a week. Buying groceries, school supplies, school clothes. One foot in front of the other. Texting a million people. Talking to nurses. Checking in with everybody often. 

I’m clinging hard to Jesus. Clinging to his promises. I know my father is saved and whenever his life ends here on earth, he will be with Jesus in eternity. I know that God knows we’re not ready for that to happen yet. I know that my Mom is in God’s hands. But I hate seeing her suffer. I know that sickness is not a punishment, just part of living in this fallen world. But I also know God can heal. I know that God is good. I know that I am loved and not alone. But my adrenaline is pumping hard and I feel like it’s me versus Covid as I try to make everything better for my parents. Long to make everything better. 

I need wisdom. The doctors need wisdom. My whole family needs wisdom. And Peace. Please pray that we can keep our eyes focused on Jesus as we navigate this horrible time. 

Is God Safe?

I saw the question the other day, Is God safe? And it’s really got me thinking. Probably because the word “safe” had already been on my mind. The google dictionary defines safe as:

Safe: adjective; protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.

If this is the definition we are using, then I would say emphatically that God is NOT safe. No, I don’t think he will harm me or lose me, but danger and risk seem to be a big part of following God. 

Think of the phrase Safety Zone and you see what I mean. My experience in following God is continually being forced out of my safety zone. Pushed into new relationships, new situations, new ways of doing life. And my life is richer, fuller, more exciting, more fulfilling, healthier. But not safer. 

A bible verse has been running through my head this week.

The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe. Proverbs 18:10

When I think about this verse I think about medieval peasants running to their overlord’s fortress because their village is under attack. The fortress is safety. The overlord offers safety, but in a fierce Warrior kind of way. The “I will ride out and defeat our enemies” kind of way. The overlord is dangerous, strong, to be respected and obeyed. He offers safety. But I wouldn’t describe him as “safe”. 

C.S. Lewis wrote a children’s series called Narnia. In the series Jesus is allegorically portrayed as a Lion named Aslan. In the book “The Horse and His Boy” one of the characters (a talking horse) sees Aslan for the first time.

“Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh and trotted across to the Lion. “Please,” she said, “you‘re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”

I feel like this quote really sums up the question, Is God safe? God is Creator. Almighty, Powerful. He is Good. He is King. He is Sovereign. He is Fierce and Strong. But he’s also Gentle and Meek. Kind. Compassionate. Slow to Anger. Abounding in Love. Merciful. 

In the end my posture is “God, you are good. You are beautiful. I worship you. I trust you with my life. But I also give up all rights to self-governance. I’m not in control anymore. You are. And I have no guarantees that you will make things turn out the way I want them. But I would rather die a martyr serving you than sit safe in my home without you.” 

God is not safe. But he is good. And he offers us the life that we were created to live. 

Story Work

This past weekend I went on a Story Retreat with the Look Inside ministry (Look Inside). Five women came together at a beautiful retreat center and we explored our childhood stories that have had a big impact on whom we’ve become as adults. 

Today I was listening to Psalm 103, put to music. And it feels like that Psalm sums up my weekend.  It’s a long Psalm so I won’t put the whole thing here. Here’s a link, you can go read it real quick: Psalm 103 

As a father has compassion on his children,

    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed,

    he remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14

I would say Compassion is what I have been feeling. God’s compassion on me, first of all just to open the door for me to attend the retreat. I hadn’t made any plans to go, but at the last moment, was offered a free, already paid spot. And my schedule was open. And my husband was willing to hold down the fort. 

I felt God’s compassion to put me in a safe place with women who listened, showed compassion and respect, and spoke healing words. 

I felt his Compassion as I soaked in the beautiful surroundings: the everchanging sky, majestic trees, green fields and hills. 

I felt his Compassion as I ate delicious food prepared by someone else, planned by someone else, a much-appreciated break for a mom of a large family. 

I felt his Compassion in the kind words spoken to me by the other women. 

And maybe one of the most wonderful ways he showed his Compassion was at the end of a long day as we had all dug into hard places and done some hard work as we waded through the mess…at the end of that day we were planning to do something fun to decompress and out on our balcony we saw the most amazing beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. From our viewpoint, we were right in the center of the rainbow and it perfectly arched over our view of the lake and the hills. And then, a double rainbow appeared, And THEN, the rainbow just kept getting brighter and brighter and brighter and it lasted a LONG time. And it felt like a blessing being spoken over us as we stood and watched the colors shimmering in the air. 

But from everlasting to everlasting

    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

    and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

    and remember to obey his precepts.

Psalm 103: 17-18

I feel renewed. Refreshed. (Though I will qualify that, some of it is the refreshing you get after going to the dentist. It was painful, but necessary, and things feel a lot better afterwards!) 

I also kind of feel off-kilter, like the day after a funeral, but also, like the day after giving birth. Because really, that is what story work is about. Naming and mourning what was taken from you. And then walking into new hope as you learn how to step out of those dangerous mindsets that entrapped you so early, and step into a more truthful and healthier way of doing life. It was hard work and it was wholesome work and I feel the goodness of God for allowing me to do it. 

“Bless the LORD O my soul: and all that is within me bless his holy name.” Psalm 103:1 (KJV)

Trustworthy

To say that I’ve had a hard week would kind of be like saying the ocean has a lot of water. Perhaps just a little bit of an understatement. 

I was thinking about it last night, and I was thinking, none of these things stressing me out are actually my problems. This is just me, trying to help other people through their problems. Their junk. Not mine. But then I had this niggling thought of, is that really true? Because actually, when we help other people deal with their junk, it inevitably stirs up some of our own. 

I am realizing that this week, I’ve had some serious doubts and worries about the Goodness of God and being able to trust him. I think, when I say that I “trust” God, what I’m actually saying is, “I’m really confident that God is going to work out everything the way that I want it.” And this week I’ve had to face the stark fear that Maybe, God is not going to work things out the way I want in my loved ones’ lives. Maybe the happy ending that I’ve been praying for, isn’t going to actually happen. Maybe God isn’t going to answer my prayer and keep all harm far, far away. 

That has been hard for me to accept. Again, an understatement. 

I feel helpless. And the power of prayer doesn’t feel as strong when there are no guarantees that we will get the answer we want. 

Yesterday I had to walk away from someone I loved, leaving their problems in someone else’s hands. I started walking back to my car. Tears running down my cheeks. I sat in my car and sobbed for a minute. My brain numb. And I felt the Holy Spirit whisper into my soul the word, Trustworthy. 

And as I sit and think about that word, I realize that I have been guilty of creating God in my own image. I know how I want things to work out, I know how I want God to move in these situations, and so I create a God in my mind that does everything that I want him to do. And then, when crisis comes, it feels like God is not being God. Except that he is being God. Just not my little image of him that I’ve created. He is being God: Omnipotent, Sovereign. And, as he reminded me yesterday, Trustworthy. 

I think what the word Trustworthy means is, God is who he says He is. He can do what he says He can do. (To quote an old Beth Moore Bible Study). My knowledge of who He is and what He can do comes from the Bible, not from my imagination. And when my ideas get shaken up, I’ve got to return to that firm foundation. 

And so I find myself on new ground. Perhaps it’s Holy ground. It feels really unstable, but I think that’s just because my legs are weak, not because the ground is shaky. It’s a place of saying, Your will be done, not mine. I’m sacrificing my preconceived ideas, and instead am going to walk into the unknown, clinging to the truth that you are good. Your love is wider and deeper than mine. You are Trustworthy. 

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Delight yourself in the Lord. 

Last night in our church’s prayer meeting, this was the admonition of our pastor. 

I’ve been pondering on this since yesterday. How do I delight myself in the Lord?  How do I take pleasure in him? What does this look like in everyday living?

This past week I have been pretty numb. Trauma does that to me. I just kind of shut down for a while. My emotions get overloaded and they just turn off. For some reason, yesterday was my hardest day. I was fighting depression and hopelessness and it was a major feat to just put one foot in front of the other. Last night’s online prayer meeting was a breath of life that I needed. (By the way, this is just another example of why we need to be plugged into the body of Christ.)

This morning I woke up early. It is my husband’s birthday and I wanted to make him a special breakfast. I was up and so I was able to pause for a moment, look out the window, and see the beginning of a soft orange and purple sunrise. At the same time, I also noticed some of our bushes had flowered pink and white in our yard. Later on in the morning, I went outside on our deck and just sat in the sunshine. My little boys joined me and while I closed my eyes, soaking in the warmth, they chattered on about little boy things. Animals they could see in our yard. What if our cat was actually a WILD cat? What if our white cat was actually an ARCTIC FOX! I said uh huh, and yeah, in all the appropriate places, smiling at their antics, taking in the light. This evening we went for a walk after supper, and I noticed how the setting sunlight lingered on the green tree on the corner. The breeze rustled through the branches, the leaves shook and twisted, reflecting light as if they were glass pendants hanging from a chandelier. And through all of this there was a murmur in my head. Thank you Lord. This is beautiful. I love your creation. 

And I felt delight. 

Today was also a day for focusing on my children. Trying to give them some concentrated attention. We made trips to the library, read books out loud. Sat and cuddled on the couch. I made an effort to reach out whenever I could, tussle their hair, give a quick hug, listen with my eyes on their face. And through all of this there was a murmur in my head. Thank you Lord for these children. They are so beautiful. I am so blessed to be their mother. 

And I felt delight. 

Today I wrestled through some thoughts and ideas that have been wandering around my head. What is my response when my children’s schools go through such turmoil? And I felt peace. Maybe a change will be needed in the future, but for now, I feel that we proceed on the path that we are on. Walking in faith that all things work for good to them who love God. Trusting that if or when a change is needed in how we do school, God will make it clear. And there was a release of tension and a murmuring in my head. Thank you Lord. Thank you for your peace. 

And I felt delight. 

And you know, I almost missed it. Because all these moments were tangled up with messy life. Accidents, temper tantrums, impatience. Chores not done right. Kids fighting. It was not a day of meditation and calm. It was a normal day with kids and a large crazy house. But, tucked all throughout the day was beauty and thankfulness and peace. And I feel a murmur in my head saying Thank you Lord for this day. Thank you for your presence. Thank you for the meaning you infuse in my life. Lord you are Good. 

And I feel delight. 

Kite Flying

Last Sunday, Easter, we took the kids to the park in the afternoon, and for a special treat, we got all the little kids a plastic kite. The kind they sell cheap at Walmart. We spent the afternoon trying to help six kids get a kite going at the same time, and chaos erupted. I suddenly remembered why we hadn’t flown kites in a long time. Group kite flying is not very fun. Only one child successfully got her kite up and kept it up. Everyone else was frustrated. 

This Sunday, a week later, I decided to return to the park and try this kite thing again. I only took a couple kids with me this time and we only tried to get one kite up in the air at a time. It was also very windy, so I was sure that we would have much better luck. 

Nope. 

I have come to the conclusion that our kites are too cheap. We just don’t have the right kind of kites. This theory was brought home when a guy appeared on the scene later with his two kids. They brought out a beautiful, obviously well-made, professional grade kite. And it flew so high. So beautifully! The kids and I admired from a distance. 

Of course, it also takes some skill. The dad flying the kite passed the string to one of his children and after a while it crashed to the ground. Which makes me think that what our family needs is just one, really nice kite. The older kids can take turns using it and the little kids can watch. 

Quick subject change. I’ve been thinking about control. Lack of control. The need for control. And how that runs contrary to being a Christian. Even to just being human. There is so little that we have control over. We can’t control the weather or any natural disasters that might pop up. We can’t control the spread of viruses. We can’t control cancer. We have very limited control of the actions of people around us. 

Me trying to control my life kind of reminds me of standing out in a field with a cheap kite that has serious design issues, a tangled string that won’t come off the reel in a timely manner, wind that gusts and swirls haphazardly, and the end product is my kite wrapped up in a nearby tree branch.

The Christian walk requires trust and faith, the opposite of control. I have to somehow believe that, first, God loves me. His end goal for me is for me to be with him in Paradise. This time here on earth is a time of refining and growth. Second, God knows what he is doing. The things that happen here are not a surprise to him nor do they hinder God’s will from happening. Third, I am not going to understand everything during this lifetime. Bad things are going to happen that knock me down. I’m not going to be happy with everything that comes my way. Maybe, I’ll be able to look back and see how everything worked out for good, and maybe I will never see how any good came out of it. But, the fourth, and last point is God is good and I can trust him. 

And when I trust him, it’s kind of like handing control of the kite string over to a master. Someone who knows what they are doing. Someone who has the ability to transform my broken kite into a beautiful masterpiece. And that’s the life I want. Me in control is not a pretty thing. Me trusting God makes my life a beautiful thing to see.

Resting in the Favor of God

Lately I feel like my life has been reading like a soap opera. What happened this week? Oh, you know, death, violence, tragedy, mental health emergencies, major appliances broken…

Yesterday my 2nd grader was playing on the playground at school. Two cars drove past the school, shooting guns at each other. The kids heard the gunshots and ran inside, school went on a soft lockdown, lots of police were present as the kids were dismissed from school. You know. Just another day. 

On the same day, we had a child with a mental health crisis, and it came home to me again, that our health system is letting the kids down. Our school has a program where a therapist comes to the school from one of the big providers in our area, and meets with the kids at school and does home visits during the summer. Awesome program. Except the therapist quit her job in November, and they still haven’t replaced her. And my child is falling through the cracks. Our own doctor’s office only does mental health visits over the phone or zoom, which doesn’t work well for small children. After a flurry of phone calls, we have found a new place we are going to try that does in person visits. Thank goodness. 

And this just seems to be our everyday life now. 

This year I have felt an urgency and conviction to actively work at keeping myself in a good place mentally. I am prone to depression and anxiety and have learned that these are things I have to constantly be working on to keep them at bay. With a lot of pushing and shoving from the Holy Spirit, I started a new exercise and diet program in January that is giving me good results. I started taking high school Algebra 1 online, just for the challenge, and I have enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, every time I pass another exercise or another quiz. God has been convicting me of my choices in entertainment, and I have been working on a big shift in what I read, which is a whole story in itself, but I have been working on filling my mind with more wholesome things. (Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8)

This is my testimony, despite all the craziness, I have not been shaken. I know when I was younger, things would happen, and I would wonder if I was being punished for some wrongdoing. I would wonder if all these troubles were a sign that I was not walking in the right direction. I believed that if I was a Christian, then my life should be mostly blessed, simple. And if it wasn’t, then I must be doing something wrong. 

I don’t believe that anymore. God is good but his goodness doesn’t always look like the Perfect American Dream. The bible is pretty clear that we are going to have trials and hardship and persecution. 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Right now I feel like I am in a place of faith building. Each day I feel almost bewildered at how normal I feel. Things happen, and I step back and shake my head, when is all the crazy going to stop? But, then I keep moving and keep tackling whatever is in front of me. And I marvel that God is still keeping me in a place of peace. Yes, I am worried about what is happening in our nieghborhood with gun violence. Yes, I am concerned over many things, but my head is still above water and I’m still swimming.  And that is all God. 

My daughter has been playing a song recently and the refrain is stuck in my head. It’s from the Psalm 30:5, the first half of the verse:

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;

Funny as it sounds, I feel very much like I am resting in the favor of God. Despite the soap opera thing going on.