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.

“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.

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. 🙂

I once was paralyzed… and now I’m free (well, getting there)

Have you ever felt the weight of a burden so heavy, that the pressure from it leaked out in various expressions? For me, it often takes the form of desperate, unheard cries, or detaching myself from the pain until I becoming totally emotionally numb. Have you ever experienced the unrelenting despair of carrying a hidden burden in shame for extended time? It can be devastating, crushing, unbearable.

I have spent most of my life hiding the shame I felt. Actually, hiding the shame of my shame is more accurate. At first this way of coping was fairly inconsequential, but I eventually did this to the extent of shutting off almost all feeling. My shame was finally hidden, and I was safe from others, but left me with only remnants of life inside. Not even the people closest to me knew the turmoil eating away at my life.

A few days ago I had a very significant day. I had the blessing of spending time with a dear friend catching up on life. And those festering, shame-covered wounds? I led her to them. Yes, it felt risky, but I have known her long enough to be confident of her character. I trust her. I cannot describe the respect with which she responded. Her face showed not the disgust I feared but compassion and a desire to understand.

What has changed that made you be able to talk about this now?” my friend asked me, knowing how difficult that was for me to share.

I’m not really sure. All I know is that layers of shame have slowly loosened from my burdens. My failures, my fears, my past–they are all becoming untethered from the grip of shame that held me so closely.

This snippet of our conversation reminded me of John 9 right after Jesus had healed a man born blind. Jewish leaders questioned the previously-blind man as to whether or not Jesus was a sinner. The man replied:

Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. (ESV, John 9:25)

I don’t know why Jesus has allowed me the healing from shame to be able to be transparent with my closest community. I don’t know why He has allowed me to experience such grace, such acceptance in my dearest friendships.  I don’t know why the LORD has chosen to give me freedom now and not years ago, nor do I understand why He has offered it to me and not yet others. The depth of my God’s mercy I do not understand, but like the blind man I testify to all who will listen: one thing I do know is that I once was paralyzed with shame, and now I’m free.

Let me be clear: I’m still dealing with some consequences of being driven by shame, but they are gradually fading. It is a process which has contributed to my growth in maturity and in sanctification–a fancy word which means becoming more like Jesus Christ. I have found freedom in allowing the chains of shame to be loosened from my burdens. The Holy Spirit really does bring liberty. He has been good to me. Finding freedom has not meant abandoning values or convictions. My morality remains the same, even though it can seem easier to follow whatever my heart desires in the moment.

~

To my surprise, my friend expressed that my example of vulnerability had encouraged her; it gave her courage to continue processing through personal struggles, trusting that God will use it to bring redemption. “I? Inspired you?!?” I thought. God really can use anyone or any circumstance.

Life still hurts–it still can be almost unbearable at times. God doesn’t promise that pain will go away (in this lifetime). I also still have a long ways to go before I would say I’m truly living in freedom. The new path that I’m on promises to be difficult and it could perhaps bring even more pain than the shut-down and shame-protected (how ironic is that pair of adjectives?) version of myself. Nonetheless, the freedom from being fully known and loved is worth the pain of mistakes and failure. 

I pray that your journey will parallel mine in the quest of liberty from shame. I ask my Father that you will experience the depths of freedom which I am beginning to see. Do you have experiences of freedom? What’s your story?

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.”