Thursday, November 1, 2012

Preparing for Pain, Plus

Yesterday it was confirmed by a second opinion -- from the orthopedist of the Oakland Raiders, no less -- that I need to have rotator cuff repair surgery. I have one large tear and a smaller one, plus there is some arthritis in the joint (no surprise there) that he wants to work on a little while he's "in there."

By all accounts -- meaning both docs I saw and everything I've read online -- the recovery is long and often very painful. Just like life, yes?

But on this upward/outward/inward journey, I know there is always more than meets the eye. While I am preparing for perhaps the worst physical pain of my life (and that's after two total knee replacements!) I am also preparing for a rich and deep experience with many lessons learned...of gratitude for the love and support around me...and of the deep, deep love of God which becomes more and more tangible to me the older I get. Just when I think I have been through the darkest valley, another one comes along and I have to hold on even tighter to Him.

My closest friends have marveled at how many stressors I've endured in the past five years; hmm...let me count the ways:

Diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis
Both knees replaced within 6 months of each other
Diagnosis of fibromyalgia
New job
Moving out
Moving back in
Stepping down from ministry
Quitting job
Moving to a different state
Near-divorce again
Moving out
Moving back in
Suicide of a friend
Car accident
Shoulder surgery (soon to come)

Not to mention various other family issues!

Each item on that list represents many weeks/months/years of pain. But as I said above, that's not the whole story. I look at the list and remember how God met me in each of those experiences, strengthening my faith and deepening my relationship with him. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

That being said, physical pain is much harder for me to endure than emotional pain. It's very hard for me to "count it all joy" when I can hardly breathe because my body hurts so much. So I will need you, my readers and friends, to remind me to trust that God is going to show up and meet me in the pain and walk with me through this new valley.

If a painful surgery is what's needed to bring me even closer to Him, then bring it on. Though I wouldn't mind a miraculous healing, either!

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I haven't written in a long time and am not sure when the next post will come, but I'm hoping it will be soon. I've been "on pause" as the past few months have been intense (an understatement) and I've needed time to ponder things in my heart à la Mary.

If there's one thing I can say now it is that the goodness of God knows no bounds.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Merci, Henri

Just read this quote from Henri Nouwen:
"When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, if only for a moment. When you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your heart wants only one thing–to be with the person who once was able to dispel these frightful emotions. But it is the absence itself, the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away. When you can acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for God’s healing."

We all have to get to this place...when we can bring this kind of pain to Jesus and allow His love to fill the empty places. It's sometimes far easier said than done. I just know He desires me to come as I am, even if that means empty and numb and scared and lonely.

I'm grateful He finds me beautiful, even in that condition.

"A broken and contrite heart you will not despise." -- Psalm 51:17

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Hurt and the Healer

Sometimes a song comes along that says it all.

Thanks to my friend, Linda Lehmann, who posted it on her Facebook page, as I'd not heard the song before today. So grateful for the ministry of Bart Millard and MercyMe and their willingness to be so vulnerable.

Give it a listen.

And know you're not alone.

The Hurt and the Healer
The question that is never far away
The healing doesn't come from the explained
Jesus, please don't let this go in vain
You're all I have, all that remains

So here I am
What's left of me
Where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ve fallen into Your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do
Pain so deep that I can hardly move
Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You
Lord take hold and pull me through

It’s the moment when humanity
Is overcome by majesty
When grace is ushered in for good
And all our scars are understood
When mercy takes its rightful place
And all these questions fade away
When out of the weakness we must bow
And hear You say “It’s over now”

I’m alive
Even though a part of me has died
You take my heart and breathe it back to life
I’ve fallen into your arms open wide
When the hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear
Awake my heart and take my tears
Find Your glory even here
When the hurt and the healer collide

Sunday, May 27, 2012

True Confessions

"Above all else, guard your heart, 
 for everything you do flows from it." 
Proverbs 4:23

"What have you learned about yourself?" my therapist asked me after I'd spewed for half an hour about the insanity that has been my life of late.

The answer came easily -- "I now know I'm capable of anything." 

That's no positive affirmation; it's my confession that given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances, I am capable of doing things I never thought I'd setting aside my moral compass for some moments of deep emotional connection with the wrong person at the wrong allowing my pain to rule me to the point of overriding the deep love of Jesus which I *thought* had saturated my soul. But I have to ask myself if my soul had been truly saturated with His love, how could I fall so fast, so hard, and so deep? 

Before imaginations start swirling, let me be clear -- this wasn't physical. (But if I'm truly capable of anything, then I'm grateful we didn't live anywhere near each other. *shudder*)

What I did -- which is at least as bad, if not worse --  was give my heart away. I'm not proud of it; I'm also not going to hide in a shroud of shame. I'm sharing this story because ALL of us can be vulnerable to this kind of thing, hence the admonition in Proverbs to guard our hearts. If your response is, "That would never happen to me," then be forewarned because I would have said the same thing. The prophet Jeremiah wasn't wrong when he said, "The human heart is deceitful." Self-deception can be quite stealthy and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person to have been found in its grip. 

"WTF were you thinking?" I hear (some of) you ask.

Thinking? I wasn't. Tender words of deep emotion felt like warm oil to my raw, parched soul and completely uncorked my heart, and I began to take steps down a road upon which I never should have set foot...saying things that never should have been said...fanning flames that never should have been lit. And while it takes two to tango, it only takes one to stop the dance, and I chose not to so I only have myself to blame. 

I think most of my readers know that my marriage has been going through a rough time for a long's been a four-year roller coaster ride of ups and downs and backs and forths. We separated three years ago and came within two weeks of officially divorcing but then we reconciled. The past two years have been a crazy time of trying to find our footing in this new-but-not-entirely-new marriage. We both made a lot of mistakes along the way. We both guarded our hearts in the WRONG way -- from each other -- and the walls were getting thicker and harder to permeate. We were both trying to express love, and neither one of us was able to really receive it. We both experienced times of extreme doubt about whether or not we could make this marriage work. There was a lot of unresolved pain on both sides, and some things came to a head for me a few months ago where I felt the need to move out for a short while, but that turned into a longer while of some serious soul-searching. I wrote about that HERE.

Unfortunately after I wrote that piece, reality hit me between the eyes and I had a literal panic attack (my first one) as I was packing up to move back home. All of my doubts were swirling around me, and I wound up going through the motions, scared to verbalize even to myself how I was really feeling. This set me up to be completely "unarmed" for what was about to occur.

But here is the really cool thing: in this mess -- in the face of a wife who was turning away from him -- my husband rose up and took a stand...for himself, for me, and for our marriage. He confronted the other man, he confronted me, he confronted himself. "And the walls came a-tumbling down." I saw, maybe for the first time, just how much he loves me, and just how much he does want to fight for us, and it gave me renewed strength to want to try again. While I know theologically that I didn't have to sin, I also know that sometimes it takes something awful to make something good happen, like when a town finally puts up a traffic light in an intersection after a fatal accident. Bob Bennett wrote about this HERE in his new blog. (I have always loved the honesty and transparency in his songs; now I am loving the same qualities in his writing.)

I have had to come face to face with my frailty and weakness, the deep longings I hadn't allowed Jesus to fill, and my complete failure to stop all of this from happening because deep down I didn't actually want it to stop. We all know that sin feels good in the moment and this felt really, really good. But at what cost? Broken hearts and shattered relationships and pain all the way around. And even with all the beauty that is rising from the ashes as we move forward in forgiveness, I do know the ends never justify the means. If any good is coming out of this mess it's because of the incredible mercy of God, who is all about redemption and reconciliation. Romans 8:28 is alive and well, but surely I do not deserve this grace.

So I write this with a bowed heart at the feet of Jesus, much like the woman who broke open her alabaster jar of perfume to anoint Jesus' feet and then washed them with her tears. All I can offer right now is tears and snot and raised hands of surrender, trusting in this amazing God who loves me so much that He gave His Son to die for my sins. Jesus said of that woman, “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love" (Luke 7:47).

It is my fervent prayer that because of all of this my life will show more love, and that my worship will become even more extravagant because of the Lord's lavish mercy and forgiveness.

More than 20 years ago my hero, Amy Grant, was bold enough to write and record "Faithless Heart" which speaks to me now more than ever. I encourage all of us to listen to it as a prayer that we will continually guard our hearts and stay faithful.

I want to end with a song of hope. We sang it last Sunday in church, and all I could do was weep; God is truly making Beautiful Things out of the dust. You might not be dealing with an emotional affair in your marriage, but most likely you're dealing with *something* that feels like rubble. We all have disappointments, hurt and pain in our lives. God is in the business of healing broken hearts, this I know. So as I post these final lyrics, I am praying for all of you to know in a deeper way that He is in the process of making beautiful things come forth in your lives. And as you read and/or listen to these lyrics, please offer up a prayer for us, too.

Beautiful Things (by Michael Gungor)
All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new
You are making me new
You make me new
You are making me new

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

It's been an interesting season on this upward/outward/inward road. I have been living with a friend for the past seven weeks, trying to sort through some important issues -- what do I really believe about life, and marriage, and God, and what is He asking of me? Where is my life going? When should I start pursuing my studies to fulfill the call of inner healing prayer therapy (aka "Formational Counseling") that I believe I am to do? That means grad school with a possible Ph.D. program after whatever Masters degree I earn; it means years of study and lots of money spent with no guarantee of any financial return.

Aye, there's the rub --  no guarantee. That's been a constant theme in my thoughts these past weeks. The ONLY guarantee in life is that God loves me and will always be with me. It's not that I didn't know this before...but there are different levels of "knowing" and it seems I needed this truth to sink deeper into the marrow of my soul.  

A friend once said to me, "The universe doesn't owe us anything." While I bristle at the New Age-y language there, I agree with the sentiment. The CREATOR of the universe -- the triune God of the Scriptures to whom I have devoted my life -- doesn't owe me a thing. Not one blessed thing. I'm not owed happiness. I'm not owed satisfaction in a meaningful job or ministry, or good health, or a close circle of friends, or a healed marriage.  If I learned anything from immersing myself in the Cross of Christ during Lent it is that *I * owe ***GOD*** EVERYTHING!   As Matt Redman so beautifully wrote, "You deserve my every breath for You paid the great cost, giving up Your life to death, even death on a cross."

My main focus/question has been, "How do I offer up my life in this season?" I've been slowly getting answers through silence and solitude, through the counsel of wise pastors and friends, through therapy, through prayer, through worship, through the Word.

The main answer I've received is to be open-handed. I've begun to see how I have been clutching onto things for a long time while not even realizing it. Sometimes I need a whack upside the head for me to see what's going on in my own soul. I've experienced a lot of loss over the past couple of years, and I thought I'd been pretty faithful in surrendering, but I have been realizing afresh how surrender has layers, too. I can think/feel that I've "surrendered all" but it turns out maybe it was only the top few layers of "all." Humbling and sobering to realize how much I still don't much I still need to learn about what it means to follow Jesus with my whole being. And I don't ever want to stop learning!

So I come to prayer and worship with open hands...I come to my LIFE with open hands. The only thing I'm clinging to is Christ Himself. Everything else is up for grabs. My favorite prayer, "Have Your way, Lord," has taken on a richer and deeper meaning as I let go of ideals, dreams, notions of "the way things should be" and just allow life to unfold, knowing the Lord is beside me every step of the way. Actually, the picture He gave me was of Him strapped in beside me on the roller coaster of life. I was asking Him to let me off the ride, and instead He showed me that we're buckled in together. Alrighty then. Bring it on.

The amazing thing is that I have so much peace and more hope than I've felt in a long time. Very grateful for those gifts!

So this weekend I'm moving back home. Other steps are researching grad schools and grants and scholarships; working with a life coach; continuing the search for a part-time job; individual and couples' therapy; and of course continuing to be plugged into my amazing church community and staying connected with my wise and wonderful friends.

Open-handed, of course...with no guarantees.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

From Friday Comes Sunday

It's taken me awhile to face the blank screen, to try to put into words what last week meant to me, and what the past 40+ days imparted to my soul. I'm not sure I have the words, certainly not ones to do any of it any justice.

I can only say that this year's Good Friday was the "best" Good Friday rich with remembrance, and sharing it all with one of my sons made it all the more meaningful -- serving Communion to each other, breaking the matzo and hearing the "snap" pierce the air and our hearts, knowing that our sins pierced His heart so long ago. Hammering those sins onto a cross (and watching them burn the next night)...and then holding each other close while watching "The Passion of the Christ"...weeping together as we watched Mary pour her love out to her son in his final moments while she remembered playing with him as a young boy...Caleb whispering to me, "I always remember He had a mother, but forget He also had a Mama" as I clung to my now-man of a son, as both his mother and his Mama always.

Plumbing the depths of Good Friday only makes the joys of Easter more glorious, more rich, more majestic. We ushered in the day at midnight, holding candles and listening to Mahler's 2nd Symphony ("Resurrection") at a volume so loud I could practically feel the power of the Spirit rolling that stone away from the tomb all those years ago. Absolutely enthralling. Morning came quickly and we praised at the top of our lungs (with me banging at the piano in the dreaded key of E...ugh) and listened to a most beautiful sermon on brokenness and how we always have a choice --  to either walk down the pathway of despair (à la Judas) or humility (à la Peter). De-spair...without the Spirit...may it never be.

Then during lunch I had the wonderful experience of receiving someone's risk of vulnerability and what I thought was to be a quick meal turned into a lengthy and lovely and deep conversation, and I was changed for the good in hearing this person's story of loss, pain, and redemption.

We all have an Easter story to tell...things in our lives that need to be killed in order to rise again. God breathes life into lost dreams, restores broken relationships, brings new friends to us when old ones pass away or move on. He brings healing to our wounds, applying the warm oil of His comfort to the scars that often burn or itch along the way. He brings beauty out of ashes, praise out of mourning, good out of evil, light out of darkness, life out of death.

I pray I remember this down the road when the fire of last week's experiences  dwindles to faint embers:

Out of Good Friday always comes Easter.