Awaiting Meaning

We have an instinctual need to make meaning out of difficult circumstances. So what happens when we find ourselves in a whirlwind and lose our sense of direction?

The last 6 months have been a sort of unraveling for me. I’ve craved a simplistic narrative about this season to make sense of it all. I want a clearly defined purpose to console myself or rattle off, but I know now is not time for analysis. It’s time to wait, to abide in Hope, to rest, to trust. 

Margaret Atwood shared a similar idea in Alias Grace:

When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling, to yourself or to someone else.

I’m not out of the whirlwind yet, haven’t reached the other shore. I am, thankfully, becoming more steady and rediscovering unburdened joy. The meaning of this season will sometime emerge and become be a crux in my life narrative. Someday, I’ll have a story to tell of heartbreak, change, and His grace through this all. Still, amid the unknown, I will hope continually and praise my Savior yet more and more, because my Father is generous, kind, and faithful.

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How Being Around The Elderly Helps My Depression

When when struggling with depression, it can be nice to be around people who are vibrant. On the other hand, though, caring for people who are elderly and suffering chronic maladies has actually helped me in my fight against depression.

I can relate to the chronic pain and discouragement that those who are older often feel. I don’t have to hide the fact that I don’t have it all together. When Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder makes it difficult for me to formulate words or remember usually obvious things, I can resonate with the exasperation of Dementia.

From their seasoned years of experience and wisdom, I am like one of their grandchildren (or great-grandchildren!). It’s ok if I’m having an off day. “My People” tend to be more patient, gracious, and understanding than the average person I might encounter elsewhere. If I can’t think of the word I want, I am having a bad joint day, or had a a horrible night’s rest, they get it. My people are quick to lavish grace and kindness on others which is often born out of their experience of suffering in a way only grandparents are able.

I love helping them find delight in little things. I am struck by how vital it is to exercise one’s sense of humor in order to be well, especially in old age. Being able to get a smile or laugh out of someone surrounded by suffering makes my day. Sometimes when I’m too full of nothingness to fight mental illness for myself, a small spark of life remains in me to help someone else fight depression. In fighting for someone else, I may gain the momentum I need to look the darkness in the eye that I’m facing. And that step can be just enough to keep me going.

Alright, it’s true. Some people that I work with can definitely be grumpy, self-centered, and rude. Isn’t that the case with any group of people, though, no matter the culture or generation? People want to be loved. Often persisting in kindness will break down some of the person’s barriers. If nothing else, it humbles me to be honest about my attitude toward them.

Being around My People puts my life in perspective. I don’t need to have my life all planned out by my mid twenties. Worrying is really no help at all. Relationships and loving people well is of utmost importance. Busyness is overrated and actual rest undervalued. Probably the most significant way that being around those who are elderly helps my depression is that it makes me see just much I do have. I can usually walk unhindered, breathe easily, maintain my balance, take care of my basic needs and activities of daily living on my own. What a gift. How humbling it is to take care of those who are no longer independent. It makes me thankful for the time I have left to live, grow, love, serve, and adventure. Serving gets my focus off of myself, even if just for a moment.

God is Alive Enough

I tend to think of myself having a meter or bank account for amount of life (I mean this in a physical/mental/etc energy sense) I have. I weigh each activity or task and think of its input/output effect on my meter. When dealing with mental health, chronic pain, etc., activities “cost” more. Have you ever heard of The Spoon Theory? It’s a similar idea.

On my drive to work a few weeks ago, I misheard a line of a song I was listening to. I thought the line was “[God is] alive enough.” Upon hearing it, I burst into tears–a pretty unusual reaction for me. Isn’t it cool that even though those weren’t really the lyrics, God still used it to encourage and teach me?

You see, I’ve been struggling with a lot lately–mental health, job transitions, death of loved ones, coming out, and walking through tragedy with friends. There have been a lot of times when my “alive meter” has run pretty low, when I wasn’t sure how I could possibly make it through the next hour, let alone day.

But God is alive enough. The line hit me so hard because I was not alive enough. He is alive enough to give me strength and listen to my laments without growing weary of compassion. He is alive enough to mourn with me in grief over death and injustice without growing faint. Jesus is the God who suffers and understands, and He is also the One who offers water of life and satisfaction (for free!) without ever running dry.

You guys. We can’t afford to be fake with each other. We can’t. There is too much hurt going on for us to lose the urgency of loving people. I desperately need God’s grace, and being honest about my weakness allows me to point to His aliveness in my life. He has more than enough to share with everyone around us. He has more than enough peace, strength, kindness to give to anyone who will seek Him.

I end with a chorus from Helen Lemmel’s:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Does “happy” = “good”?

This post is about why I think they’re different (I’ve written about something related here too):

Talking with a couple of close friends last summer helped me articulate a question that has been a theme in my life for the last year: is doing well the same thing as being happy?

Honestly, I’m in a tough season. I’ve had mental illness flare ups that I thought were gone. I’ve Come Out to close friends (what a consistent adrenaline rush that is!). I’ve started establishing healthy rhythms and spaces to be in close community. As I have started to accept my vocation in celibacy, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to thrive as someone who is single in a culture where most intimate friendships are connected with marriage or romantic relationships. I still feel the need to be a part families where I can just do life with other people honestly. Because this way of life is pretty uncommon, I have been feeling the weight of cultural neglect of practical space and provision for people like me.

Day to day tasks have required a level of determination (I’m living with chronic depression, depersonalization/derealization, anxiety) that feels impossible with my seeming absence of vitality.

Oh Lord, how I desperately need Your mercy. If I am able to get through this next hour it will be because of strength You provide.

You know what? Somehow I’m still able to work; somehow I have resisted to the temptation to hermit myself from the rest of the world. Time after time I have felt the Lord somehow give me the strength to get through each day, each minute. The few times when I just couldn’t go on, He held me through whatever happened. I’ve made it to this point so far, and I count that as the grace of God.

So haven’t been happy, per se, but I do see some good that is growing out of difficulty. Seeing the Father do everyday miracles, growing in endurance, taking steps toward health–these are all good even if I’m fighting to just get up each morning. Sometimes whole-hearted devotion and life-worship looks like choosing to brush your teeth in the morning when you just. feel. like. you. can’t. go. on. It’s saying “God, I don’t feel like I can do this. But out of my love for You, I’m willing to try.”

While I may not be as blissfully carefree right now as I might prefer, I am well because I’m growing in tremendous ways, moving toward something greater. And I am thankful. This season has been difficult and painful, but it has been good. Life is more than a pursuit of happiness and pleasure. In the thick of life, I cling all the more to the Hope of the Gospel, because following Jesus is worth it.

“The Last Word” – A reflection of hope from Cheree Hayes

I encourage you all to check out Cheree Hayes’s most recent article called “The Last Word.” Cheree is a thoughtful, humorous, and wise teacher, mom, writer, mentor, friend.

From local school shootings to ISIS, she offers an honest reflection on seeing hope amidst such sickening injustice.

I Too Was Burned By The Church

I know I am not the only one who has scars from those who call themselves Christians. This. Should. Not. Be.

I had given up on the Church*, on Christians. I had almost given up on God, my faith, my life’s value. But somehow, for some reason I can only attribute to the mercy of God, Grace Himself gave me the strength to try again. The Lord alleviated my skepticism long enough for me to open my heart one last time to give the Church another try.

Note: I am open to discussing my experience growing up in that church, but I always hesitate elaborating on the details unless they would be beneficial to the listener. So for now, please bear with my vagueness. My point here is what has happened since I left that local congregation.

What I saw in a new local church (I have since become a part of this family) shocked me. People actually loved one another. These Christians really believed what they said. They really sought the truth, fought hypocrisy, and sacrificed their lives for others. It is in the context of a church family that I have begun to feel the soothing waters of restoration. Yes, I still have panic attacks in church when we sing certain songs as they trigger my past experience in church. But I also know that I am slowly healing. My anxiety is less severe and my episodes less frequent than even a year ago. In order to begin this kind of forgiveness and healing, I have had to face my pain head on. It has meant allowing myself to grieve, counseling, and actually becoming an active member in the Church again.

I. love. The Church. And believe me–that really is a miracle.

Of course the Church still makes mistakes right and left–it’s made up or people, after all! But the Church is what Jesus chose to represent Him until He comes back. God is at work in His people! I have seen it, and I have been encouraged.

Something that grieves and angers me is that not everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian really follows Jesus. That devastates me… for their sake, our sake, your sake. People have done some horrible things in the name of Christianity, some of these crimes horrendous. Since I stand as a part of the Church, I must therefore stand with the Church in its failings as well. I confess that in different areas we haven’t loved well in the past, in the present, and likely will make grievous mistakes in the future. These wrongs are without excuse. We have claimed to represent God Almighty, yet have acted totally contrary to what He would have done. And I Am Sorry. I am sorry that we have neglected you when we should have acted. I am sorry that we acted harmfully–intentionally or not–when we should have extended grace. How I wish I could reverse your pain! All I can offer is a listening ear and a heart eager to extend grace to the broken. I ask your forgiveness for the ways that my people have acted wrongly in the last 2000 years. Please consider forgiveness.

I have experienced so. much. grace. in my local fellowship. I deeply respect the leadership there, and I willingly serve them with joy. They have responded to me with such affection, care, and acceptance. When I was desperate, they offered me patience and support. Even when I “came out” to leaders as questioning both my gender and sexual identity, they responded with nothing but love. They really listened and desired to understand my needs, concerns, hurts.

I testify that though I too was wounded by those in the church, I have witnessed God’s presence, freedom, truth, and grace in His global community of followers since then. My local church community has, by their devotion to God and genuine love for others, helped restore my faith that God really is at work on earth.

If you too have been burned by the church–perhaps deeper than you can express or understand–please hear this: On behalf of the Church, I’m sorry for the pain we have caused. You are not alone in your pain. I want nothing more than for you to experience healing, grace, belonging. Please, consider my story. Through the Gospel–the good news of Jesus Christ–I have found hope and am being restored. Please, consider trusting in the great Restorer, for He is good.

Blessings to you all!

*When I use capital C “Church,” I refer to followers of Jesus across the globe who together comprise Christ’s metaphoric bride, His body on earth

7 Thoughts on Tasting-the-Cost of Following Jesus

1. Choosing to follow Jesus is not just a one-time deal I’m in a season of life which has put significant forks in my path more frequently than usual. In this process I have uncovered many deep wounds which have been festering beneath the surface for quite some time. Every day–every hour, even–I am faced with an underlying choice: for what or whom will I live? If I do not think about it consciously, auto-pilot makes the decision for me. Choosing to follow Jesus means constantly surrendering and re-orienting my whole existence to His ways. Will I choose to follow Jesus Christ or satisfy my own desires? In the past, my response to this question has been to shove away any possibility other than strict obedience to what I believe God teaches in His Word–the Bible (I openly confess my history with and tendency toward strict rule-following and hypocrisy). Lately, though, I have allowed myself to feel the gravity of what I am giving up by following Jesus. Over-dwelling on it is unhealthy, but I think this process can also be done in a way that increases our intimacy with God. That leads to the next point…

2. Tasting the cost may involve grief A part of our relationship with Jesus is dying to ourselves. I don’t know how you feel about it, but in my experience, dying can hurt! Sacrifices looks different practically for each person, but it always involves the submission of our desires and decisions to the will of God. The Lord is good and desires to bless us, but His goodness to us might look different than we expect because our scope is so limited and His so broad. Sacrificing may mean moving to the other side of the world for the rest of your life, leaving behind all your family and friends for the sake of sharing the Good News. It may mean selling all your possessions and living among the marginalized. It may mean being killed for not renouncing your faith in Jesus. Whatever the cost entails, I don’t think we should not try to hide the cost. We need to be realistic about the grief it may involve so that we may be better prepared and that our commitment to Christ might be that much stronger.

3. Following Jesus may require suffering, but the cost is worth the hope 2 Corinthians has been a constant challenge and encouragement to me in my daily life since having the opportunity of studying it in depth. It’s one of my favorite books in the Bible. Let me highlight a couple of points Paul makes that are especially relevant to this topic of tasting the cost.

2 Cor 4:16-18 (ESV) “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

This blows me away. The heaviest weight, the most bitter grief that I bear now cannot even be compared to when I will be fully in the presence of Jesus. When weighing the pros and cons of how “worth it” the cost of discipleship is, my current suffering does not even register on a pendulum scale when compared to the future glory of being with Jesus. Compared to the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” my pain only registers as “light momentary affliction.” Honestly, this is hard to grasp much of the time simply because of a distinction that Paul raises: we see our suffering, but our hope is largely unseen now. This is where faith comes in.

2 Cor 12:9-10 (ESV) “But he [God] said to me [Paul], “My grace is sufficient for you, of my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Trusting God does not mean ignoring pain. The pain can still feel excruciating. But I still have hope. That is why I do not lose heart; that is why I dare taste the cost of following Jesus. I share stories of my weakness because these are the stories from which God’s power and grace can shine brightest.

4. Honesty in suffering can reveal self-centeredness Sometimes the ugliness that comes out of my heart makes me scream. I absolutely hate it. I am learning, though, that while the Holy Spirit convicts, He does not condemn. While my tendency is to withdraw into self-hatred and despair, the Holy Spirit is gracious. He wants to be gentle. He wants to hold my hand as we face my brokenness. He does not make me face my sin alone.

5. It requires that we fix our eyes on Jesus A. W. Tozer writes that “faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” I really like that definition. It communicates that faith isn’t simply a one time decision to “ask Jesus into my heart,” but a continued relationship with God, for whom I lay down my life and from whom I find new life. I fix my eyes on Jesus. It is honestly a fight. Rather than an easy (metaphorical) glance upon His face, there are times like last night when it required intense focus in order to keep my attention on the Lord and His character. It took every ounce of my strength to have faith, because the weight of the cost felt so heavy.

6. Hard questions may surface. And that’s ok. I think it’s ok to look temptation in the face, just as long as we return our gaze back to Jesus, trusting that He knows what is best. A man I greatly respect once told me, “There can be no faith in the absence of doubt.” We call obvious, objective answers “facts.” Why would you need to trust in something that is plainly before you? There would be no room for faith. Instead, faith pushes through the doubt—incorporating both our mind and heart—and trusts that God’s motives are good, pure, and just. I love Mark 9:24 when a man cries out to Jesus: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” This should be our attitude, trusting God while we wrestle through life with Him.

7. Jesus is worth the cost Let’s be realistic about the cost of discipleship. Even more than that, let’s not forget that God is sweeter still. He is kind, as my friend recently reminded me. God is not just a distant, detached good deity. God is kind. I won’t fully understand the depth of His kindness until I see Him face to face, but I do trust that He is kind, gentle, compassionate. He sees my pain, and He understands. I cannot leave behind my faith. It is so much a part of who I am that it would be like cutting off an arm and a leg. I cannot forsake Jesus Christ or my relationship to Him. I value it more than my physical existence. All of my hope is anchored in the Good News of Jesus.  Having faith isn’t for the faint of heart. Being a follower of Jesus is costly. We don’t typically understand that the United States of America. In other parts of the world choosing to follow Jesus can literally mean you are forfeiting the rest of your life to being imprisoned, tortured, or brutally killed. My cost is not nearly as extreme as it is for my other Brothers and Sisters around the world, but we must take our faith just as seriously, because Jesus is worth everything I end this rather lengthy post with a song that articulates the cry of a desperate Jesus-lover who trusts that God’s “love is better than all the world can give.” I encourage you to still your mind and heart, and let this song resonate through your bones. I’ve attached the chord chart for you fellow musicians. 🙂

The disorientation of change

Some people claim to enjoy change. I am not one of those people. I am thankful for the good that often results from change, but the process is not one that I desire or seek.

I remember one of my professors describing the two different ways people respond to new information: assimilation and accommodation.

Assimilation: incorporating new knowledge into the pre-existing system of viewing life. We respond in this way all the time. When we ask a friend what is new in their life or visit a new restaurant, we process the new information without much problem. This is the kind of type of change that response and catalog it into our worldview.

Accommodation: adjusting a schema to new information. This means adjusting your whole system of viewing life into a new system. THESE are the kinds of changes that are often difficult for everyone: when we learn that we have a chronic disease, when we move into a new culture and need to learn a whole new way of life, when we are betrayed by a long-trusted friend, when something happens to fundamentally change our beliefs and values. Not all of changes are necessarily bad, but they can certainly shake our foundation.

 

I recently graduated from a university, moved to a new house, and am about to start a new job. I have found that this transition has been a change of the “accommodation” magnitude. It feels like my whole world is a little unsteady. Especially in the first week of the transition my mentor gave words to how I was feeling–disoriented. It is as if everything that was familiar has been moved and is out-of-place. One morning I found myself overcome with thankfulness for being able to have moved my clothes dresser to my new place. This seemingly insignificant detail helped me that morning feel familiarity and stability when everything else seemed to be different. Silly as it is, it gave me relief from the disorientation for a minute because I knew exactly in which drawer my socks reside; at least something was still in-place. 🙂

I think being disoriented for now is ok. It’s not fun, but it points me back to the only Unchangeable One. God is my rock who does not change. In times like these, I find myself connecting especially with the book of Psalms. It is full of prayers that cry out to God in times of uncertainty and distress. In “lament psalms,” the writer calls to God in their pain, asking for relief and comfort while still praising the LORD because of the good things God has done and for who He is. Here is a few verses one of these lament psalms:

Psalm 18:1-2, 6 (ESV)

“I love you, O LORD, my strength.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,

my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,

my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold….

In my distress I called upon the LORD;

to my God I cried for help.

From his temple he heard my voice,

and my cry to him reached his ears.

I find such comfort in viewing God as my stronghold who actually listens to my cries.  I could tell stories upon stories of God’s mercy to me.

Transitions can be messy (both literally and metaphorically), and I’m learning that it’s ok… just as long as the transition period is just that–a temporary period that doesn’t last forever. Soon I will adjust to the new way of life and it too will become familiar. For now, I seek the LORD for strength. He has never failed me, and I trust that He will continue to be a faithful provider.

Have you ever felt disorientation with change? How have you found that you cope with it?

If I must weep

“If I must weep with You, My Lord, Your will be done.”

I like to arrange–or rearrange, rather–hymns and put them to new music. I love to connect people today with great hymn writers’ deep theological expressions. “My Jesus, as Thou Wilt” is one that I worked on last week. I usually only end up liking a small fraction of works that I compose and arrange, and this was one of the few. Perhaps I’ll post a recording of it on here eventually.

As I was writing and doing initial recordings of the song, I became impressed with the lyrics. The prayer is emotive, theologically sound, and full of wisdom. It only impacted me, however, to the extent that I was feeling pain.

Have you ever learned a life lesson that doesn’t seem to apply to you at the time? And so you gladly display it as a lesson you are learning, but without actually having to personally invest in it much? God has a funny way of circumventing my pride and showing me that the lesson is indeed applicable for me.

I am learning that often it is only through suffering that l can holistically learn the lessons about which I have cognitively processed.

When life is going smoothly it is easy to praise the God who gives. In seasons of blessing it is also fairly easy to say that you will bless the name of the LORD when He takes away. But what about when He actually does? When life hits, when trials come, my plan to persevere in joy often slips my memory. I know that trials can develop perseverance; suffering can grow faith, mature character, and increase faithfulness to the LORD. So if I don’t have an intrinsically negative view of trials, then why do I tend to view each individual trial as an unacceptable hindrance to my well-being that needs to be immediately reversed? I suppose growing less spiritually nearsighted is an element of maturity which will come as I grow more like Christ.

Why do I bring that up? Suffering’s heaviness overwhelmed my perspective tonight. After much weeping and prayer, God allowed relief from my anguish for the night. He reminded me of the hymn I had just arranged and gave me the strength it pray with sincerity. As much as I protest the process of suffering, I am thankful that God is using my pain to shape me.

I am once again learning (isn’t it funny how lessons seemingly need to be learned several times, in cycles?) that even though God is the Healer and that His healing is something I should seek, pain is not guaranteed to ever go away on this earth. Suffering reminds me to recognize my dependence on the Father; it is a reminder to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Son. It makes me long for my eternal Home for which I am sealed by the Holy Spirit. I trust that God can use evil for good, even if I will not be able to see or fathom it in this lifetime.

Remember. Always remember to remember that God is good. He understands suffering. He sees my pain–both hidden and apparent–and it all grieves Him. I weep not alone, for I have an advocate before God’s great throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). Praise be to the God of mercy.

 


 

Here are the lyrics (modified slightly to fit a modern audience):

My Jesus, oh may Your will be mine

Into Your hand of love I would my all resign

Through sorrow or joy, conduct me as Your own

And help me still to say, “My Lord, Your will be done.”

My Jesus, though seen through many tears

Let not my star of hope grow dim or disappear

Since You on earth have wept and sorrowed oft alone

If I must weep with You, my Lord, Your will be done.

My Jesus as You will all shall be well for me

Each changing future scene I gladly trust with Thee

Straight to my home above I travel calmly on

And sing, in life or death, “My Lord, Thy will be done.”