the cure for the common optimist

True confession:  I love kids' movies.  And my sons, bless their hearts, will still go with me, scrunching down in their seats so their six-foot-plus frames don't block the whole screen from all the grade schoolers surrounding us.  

On spring break (at my college son's determined urging, in fact) we went and saw the Lego movie, which was incredibly clever and hilarious, with scenes from all the classic Lego sets.  Superheroes, pirates, movie characters, oceans, deserts, cities, giant machines, space ships--you name it, the Lego movie has it.  

My favorite part, though, was Cloud Cuckoo Land, presided over by Princess Unikitty, whose world consists of "no negativity whatsoever."  Inevitably, the course of life does not run smoothly for Princess Unikitty.  As her world implodes, she starts to feel emotions which are not happiness.  

Princess Unikitty is hilarious to me because I have been Princess Unikitty.  

I have been the super-awesome, super-positive, super-functioning queen of my own perfectly constructed life.  

Then I have been the volcanically exploding nightmare whose emotions erupt and wreak havoc everywhere.  

And I suspect that I am not the only person who's ever lived on the swing of that pendulum. 

First we're optimists, focused on seeing the results we want.  We can keep control--or the illusion of control--for quite a while, as long as we're confronted with no negativity whatsoever.

But then the explosion comes, and afterwards we're left wondering what to do.  A certain number of us will pick ourselves up, and put the pieces of Cloud Cuckoo Land back together.  

Others will find ourselves inundated with grief and sorrow, unable to find a way out.  Painful pessimism becomes the answer, as we're cynically convinced that happy endings never happen, and it's better to keep our expectations low.

I know that when you've been in pessimism land for a while, it seems like optimism is the way to go.  

Optimism looks happy!  It looks positive!  It has purple and pink with rainbows!  It even has a theme song!

Here's the problem. Optimism and pessimism are just two sides to an old, tired coin.  Both are about circumstances.  Optimism is about believing in awesome circumstances, and pessimism is about disappointed circumstances.

This spring, I've been slowly reading through Tim Keller's book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.  

In the book, Keller quotes David Bentley Hart, a veteran relief worker, who speaks about the difficulty of constantly living among the worst disaster zones of the world.  Hart speaks of a sustaining faith in God, and he says this:

"It is a faith that has set us free from optimism, and taught us to hope instead."  David Bentley Hart  (Quoted in Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering, by Tim Keller.)

That statement rang in my heart like a bell.

When my own life fell apart 10 years ago, I knew I couldn't be an optimist any more.  

Slowly, I learned to live with reality, and all my painful emotions.  

I think that to outsiders it looked like I was going to become a life-long pessimist.

But inside, I was learning to hope in the real world.  To be be deeply honest, deeply hurt, deeply sorrowful, and deeply okay anyway.  

Optimism wants to define and separate, to reject the bad, and accept only the perfect. 

Hope, on the other hand, lives in mystery, and receives all of life, trusting in redemption every step of the way down the road toward home.

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the illusion of control

I just read a really interesting article at psychologytoday.com. It addresses how human beings tend to respond to crisis and uncertainty.  

Essentially, we take control any way we can.  

And if we can't actually be in control, we'll give ourselves the illusion of control.

The research shows that in deeply troubled times--during world wars, for example--we'll join more authoritarian churches, invent more comic-book super heroes, and choose a German Shepherd for the family dog, over a Chihuahua.

It's fascinating to me that we human beings have such a need for control that we collectively do these things, pretty much automatically, to the extent that attack dogs become statistically significant.  

 My dog Petey.  He'll chew your leg right off, if he can bother to get out of the shopping bag.

My dog Petey.  He'll chew your leg right off, if he can bother to get out of the shopping bag.

That article made me think about all the other things that keep our illusion of control alive and well, whether it's

  • money in the bank
  • modern medicine
  • meteorologists and storm-tracking software on duty, 24/7/36
  • martyrdom to our ministry or career

But here is what we all know, in the dark of the night:  sometimes, no matter what, the bad stuff comes.

And at that point, you might need something more than Superman or an attack dog.  

Yeah, I know the Christian answer here.  You need a Savior.  And that's true.  But what I've found is that He's not a vending machine.  He doesn't save us the way we want.  There is very little pixie dust shaken over the problems I see in the world.

For every miracle I know about, there are 10,000 injustices still waiting For That Day.

Down the road, redemption.  Yes.  I know it's coming.  I believe it, I do.

Right now, it's a federal disaster zone, and that's what we have to deal with.

Honestly.  Painfully.

Here's one of my all-time favorite quotes on dealing with the aftermath of disaster:

"Don't get me wrong:  grief sucks; it really does.  Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit.  Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible.  You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession.  Martyrdom can't be beat.  While too much exercise works for some people, it doesn't for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering.  But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you.  A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart.  But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won't hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion.  You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things:  softness and illumination."  Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

The best thing is not protection or control or denial.  

The best thing is softness and illumination.

I think about the Prodigal Son a lot, running away with his life firmly in his hands.  I bet that even when he climbed into that pig sty, that kid still thought he could be in charge.  He still thought he was going to make it on his own.  It took him a while, like it does most of us.  But he finally figured out that the best thing was not more control or more denial.  

The best thing was softness and illumination.  The softness to remember love and the illumination to turn toward it.

When we run through all our other options, we may finally realize, like Larry Crabb says, that sometimes we need to look bad in the presence of Love.  Just open our real, true selves up to Love.

Love doesn't care how we look or what we've done.  

That's all taken care of.

Love just welcomes us home, every time, no matter what.

And that, in my book, is way better than any illusion of control.

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the 6 gifts of failure

Ten years ago, our marriage failed.  The way we had designed it was a disaster, and it collapsed.   In the aftermath, we were able to build something completely new together, and that's been amazing and wonderful.  I love the relationship we have now. The happy ending is great, but lately I've been thinking about what God did in the mess itself.   He didn't just wave a magic wand and make it go away.  He used the mess to teach me, and He gave me these gifts through failure.

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one thing i know for sure about parenting

I felt pretty confident as a parent when I was younger.  This I attribute to a number of factors.

  • I was 23 years old and I didn't have a clue.  Ignorance was, as they say, bliss.
  • I was the eldest of 7 children.  There was always a baby in the house.  I knew what to do with little kids.  Feed, change, sleep, repeat.  Snuggle, read books, play, repeat.
  • I thought that if you did everything right, then your kids would turn out right.  (Having failed, apparently, to check out the first few chapters of Genesis where God parents the first two humans and they go completely off the rails.)

Now I'm 47, and in the process of all this parenting, I have become a whole lot less confident of my capacity to make things work out right, because:

  • I don't have as much control as I wish I did.
  • My kids all came standard with free will.  Part of the factory installation package.
  • The whole big, broken world full of pain and sorrow is out there, and I can't keep it from hurting my babies.

Don't get me wrong, there's a bunch of stuff I think is important, when it comes to parenting.

Do justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly.

Apologize.  Laugh.  Rest.

Balance that freedom and responsibility thing with your kids, one developmental stage at a time.

And, while you're spinning all those plates:  deal with your own junk.

(Maybe you're not sure if you have junk that needs to be dealt with, but this is your lucky day.  I have created a handy-dandy assessment tool that will let you know, for sure, if you have junk or not.  Here it is:  Are you a human being?  If the answer is yes, then you have junk.  If the answer is no, welcome to our planet and enjoy your stay.)

But at the end of the day, my perfect parenting (which exists only the realm of pure fantasy) guarantees pretty much zippola.

My kids get to choose.

And other people get to choose.

And all those things collide out there in the real world.

Which leaves me in a place that sometimes feels pretty scary.

But, in the process of learning that my parenting capacity is woefully limited, I have experienced this other one whole beautiful thing, for sure.

Here it is.

1.  God is at work, and His love never fails.

When I have failed as a parent.

When my kids have made bad choices.

When other people have made bad choices.

No matter what.

God is at work, and His love never fails.

This is one of those things that we know to be true in our heads, because the Bible tells us so.

But I've also found it to be true in my heart these past few years.  I've lived through it now, and I know that I know that I know.

The best and most amazing transformations, both in my own life and the lives of my children?  Those have come when I could not.  

When I could not do one more thing.

I had tried and tried and tried and fixed and fixed and fixed and I just could not.

And then God.

(This probably surprises one whole person.  Me.)

I'm thinking about this now, because tomorrow is college move-in day.

And I just need to remind myself of what I know for sure.

God has been at work.  He will be at work.  

His love never fails.

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i'm not helping

Every once in a while, a client will tell me that therapy hasn't done them one 8@!#&** bit of good. And when this happens, often the circumstances are a mess, and it feels good to zero people in the room.

And this is a sticky point in therapy for yours truly.

Before I became a therapist, I'd heard that the most successful therapy happens when the client and the therapist have a good, supportive relationship.  And I thought that meant that if the client trusted me, then I would be able to give my fabulous advice and she'd listen, and it would work and we'd all go home happy.

Then I went to grad school.  And what I got out of it ($30,00 later) was this.

The relationship IS the therapy.  

For me, anyway.  That's how it works.  We get hurt in relationships, we get healed in relationships.  All our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our disappointments.  Our questions about whether we are enough, whether we can be loved and accepted, whether there is meaning in our lives.  All those deep, existential questions of life.  They are held in relationship.

And what I personally have to offer you, as a therapist, is a relationship that (I hope) can grow strong enough to contain those things.

So when I have a client who says I'm not helping, that is not a good moment for me.  I start to question whether the relationship is working the way it should.  And it's really, really hard for me not to flip into fixing.   I'm an eldest child, such a good girl, emotional over functioner, blahblahblah, pick one.  Fixing is a nasty old habit of mine.

Usually the client desperately wants to have a to-do list, instead of having to trail tears and snot all over the room.

And I would like to do more than  take up space and emit carbon dioxide.

But I have learned that fixing is an emotional disconnect waiting to happen.  

No matter how much both of us want the fix, it's badbadbadbadbad for the relationship.

Fixing is all on the surface.  It depends on perfection and performance and approval.  (And you know all those things are on my icky list.)

Fixing believes that good circumstances make a good life.  And while good circumstances are nice (nobody likes comfort better than moi), "when I get x, y, z in place, I'll be happy" is a big fat lie.   And we all know it.  We need to dig deeper than good circumstances, to find the emotional connection that's going to get us through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Fixing all goes along well for a while, especially when everybody is in try-hard mode.  But the day will come when it doesn't work any more.

She (gasp) stops following my fixing plan.  At that point, she will feel guilty and ashamed.  And disconnected from me.

And then I can blame her in my head, for ignoring all my fine suggestions.  And I will feel disconnected from her.

Now we're separated by shame and blame and we can't have the kind of relationship that supports and heals.  

The connecting (and scary and difficult) thing is to offer myself and a relationship, without fixing.

That's vulnerable for me, and I think it's vulnerable for my clients, too, because they're being asked to hurt for however long the hurting lasts.

When I say to somebody, "I think we just need to grieve through this," it is not a happy moment.  This is generally not what they wanted when they came to therapy.

And I get that.  I hate pain.  I want to feel better as soon as possible.

But I've learned the hard way that what I really need is to BE better in deep, healing ways that will lead to deeper connection, and greater capacity in preparation for the day when life takes the next whack at me.

I really want to pass that experience of deep healing on to my clients.

So.  When it comes to fixing, I'm sorry, but I'm not helping.

I would still love to be with you, even though I can't fix it.

Would that be enough?

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banana bread brings life lesson

A couple of months ago, I reorganized my recipe notebook.  It was nothing fancy, just a little spiral-bound notebook that a friend had decorated for me, back in 1995. The thing had survived years on a tropical island and multiple moves around the world and it was a mess.  The batter splatters were deep enough in some spots to bury a mastodon.

I had tried at different times to type the recipes into the computer, but what a pain!  It took forever!

And lately I realized how much I like having my recipes in my handwriting.  I have a few recipes from each of my grandmothers.  Their handwriting.  Their batter splatters.  I love those.

Plus, my recipes are the record of my life.  I have lived a life in which daily cooking is required.  I remember the people and places that inspired me to copy them down and keep them and use them over and over.

I remember having the Chocolate Chip Nut Bars at Mary Lou Walker's house, right after our orientation in Papua New Guinea.  We had just spent 4 weeks in a leaf house on the back side of a tropical swamp, fearing for our lives from the malaria mosquitoes and the giant pig in the village that ate kittens.  Chocolate Chip Nut Bars reminded me that good things could still happen in this world.

And there's the Hunan Beef recipe that always reminds me of the Yacht Club restaurant in Madang, PNG where the menu--for years--listed their version as Beef Human.  We always ordered it, enjoyed it, and hoped it was a typo.

There are the Christmas recipes I made every year in the Solomon Islands.  One year I even made egg nog from scratch.  (Brief bout of insanity.  I'm better now, I swear.)

There are the Fudgy Oatmeal Bars that Beth served us the night I was in labor with Michael.  We were playing Scrabble and Andy laid a seven-letter word on a triple word score.  I have never played Scrabble with my husband again.  But I have made the Fudgy Oatmeal Bars many, many times.

The Coconut Cookies I made all the time.  Once we were having local friends over for dinner in the Solomons, and I forgot the sugar in these cookies.  I thought they were awful, but our friends loved them.  I made hundreds of them for Libby's wedding reception, and I must have remembered the sugar, because Americans ate them, and they all disappeared.

Jenny's PulKoKi recipe, with soy sauce all over the page.

Karen's bagel recipe, which is fabulous and healthful and which I have never made while standing on American soil.  Tortillas, yogurt, donuts, ditto.

So, even though the pages were shredding off the spirals, I couldn't throw the notebook away.  But finally, a  couple months ago, I found a half-size binder.  I cut the pages off the spirals and put them into sheet protectors.

All the archaeological evidence of my life and my handwriting, preserved.  And I can wipe the pages down if I splatter.  Perfect.

Except I edited just a tad.  I threw away a few pages of recipes I had never used.

And one of those pages, apparently, had my banana bread recipe on the back of it.  Which I didn't realize until this morning when I had three bananas in the brown-spotted state of banana bread perfection.  So I'm flipping through my perfect new binder and I can't find my recipe.  I can't find it anywhere.

And I am seriously, not kidding you, starting to experience some anxiety.  Some tension in my shoulders.  The stomach clenching, the breathing a little shallow.

Searching in cupboards, in old recipe boxes.

Nothing.  Nothing.  Not good.  Not good.

Bananas degrading as we speak.  Houston, we have a problem.

I managed to pull out of the death spiral just enough to get out the old red-plaid Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, and attempt a new recipe.  Even though I could tell it wasn't quite right.  It wasn't really normal.  But I did what it said.  (Mostly.  I added chocolate chips.  Because, clearly.)

And the new recipe turned out even better than the old one.  (Except it needs a little salt, IMHO.  And the chocolate chips are staying, for sure.)

Andy and I were watching a movie last night.  An old one (1994) called Before Sunrise.  It's a first-love kind of movie, both main characters in their early 20's.  And all they do, in the whole movie, is talk.  About life and love and growing up.

And at some point, the girl, Celine, says that her parents are wonderful.  But that it's been hard for her to be her own person, to make changes, because they are so nice.  It would be easier, she said, if they were bad.  I could be myself more easily that way.

She's feeling the tension of something comfortable that holds you down, keeps you from moving forward and finding something better.

And the banana bread was kind of the same way this morning.

I have this life that's nice.  It's comfortable.  It works.  It's my normal.  There's no huge reason to change it.  If it were terrible, I might be motivated to make it better.  But, it's pretty good.  It freaks me out if I think I will be forced to change it.

And then the new thing, that I resisted and dreaded and had no reason to embrace, turns out to be better.

So.  Life lesson brought to you this morning by banana bread.  Who knew.

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lightning rods

Sometimes I have just felt like a lightning rod.  Getting hit by one crazy thing after another.  There was a five-year period of my life when it was off the chain, out of control, and there was nothing I could do but pray for it to stop.  And it felt like it wasn't going to stop.  Ever. This morning I was sitting with a friend who's in a lightning rod season.  And we were talking about our mutual need to fix, control, and do it right so that God will understand that we have learned our lessons well, we are back on the straight and narrow, and the storm can stop any time now, thank you very much.

And I said that sometimes I think there's nothing we can do, but go through it.

We haven't done anything wrong.  It's just life.

And there's nothing more we can fix.  We don't have that much control.

And there may be a lesson, somewhere.  But we probably won't figure it out for another five or ten years.

We just have to hang tight and go through it.  The only way through it is through it.

And she said I had to write this down on the blog.  So there you go.  I hear and obey.

Here's something else I think goes with this.  It's a commentary on these verses:

O Israel, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?  How can you say God refuses to hear your case?  Have you never heard or understood?  Don't you know that the Lord is the Everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth?  He never grows faint or weary.  No one can measure the depths of his understanding.  He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak.  Even youths become exhausted, and young men will give up.  But those who wait for the Lord will find new strength.  They will fly high on wings like eagles.  They will run and got grow weary.  They will walk and not faint.  (Isaiah 40:27-31, New Living Translation)

And here's what John Claypool has to say about this, after losing his young daughter to leukemia:

"Who wants to be slowed to a walk, to creep along inch by inch, just barely above the threshold of consciousness and not fainting?  That may not sound like much of a religious experience, but believe me, in the kind of darkness where I have been, it is the only form of the promise that fits the situation.  When there is no occasion to soar and no place to run, and all you can do is trudge along step by step, to hear of a Help that will enable you 'to walk and not faint' is good news indeed."

I don't think I'm going too far out on a theological limb if I take this just a little bit further.

Because I think that when we can't get there on our own two feet, he carries us.

My support for this is in the same chapter of Isaiah.  Chapter 40, verse 11:  He will feed his flock like a shepherd.  He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart.

And for me, one of the greatest acts of faith in my life was to stop trying to do things so well, to stop trying to be so strong all the time, to stop worrying about what kind of example it would be if I didn't get through all this with a big smile on my face singing glory hallelujah.

It was a huge, enormous, gigantic act of faith to stop and say, this sucks.  It's so bad, and there's no way out that I can see.  Nothing works to make it better.  God, you better carry me, cuz I have fallen and I can't get up.

And you know, that wasn't a magic wand.  It was all still broken and painful and terrible.  It did not look like much of a religious experience to me or anybody else.

But now, five or ten years later, I can look back and say--oh.  Redemption.

The Everlasting God.  The Shepherd of my soul.

Who never faints.  Never grows weary.

Works all things together.

Loves me with an everlasting love.

And gives me the gift of friends, who will sit with me.  And who will let me sit with them.

And we pass this word around the circle, to whoever needs it most at the time:  we're going to get through it, together.

Love will carry us through.

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tornado alley

We live on the back end of tornado alley.  Every spring, severe thunderstorms come through with damaging winds, golf-ball-sized hail, and the possibility of tornadoes. And at least once each spring, we have a severe thunderstorm that prompts me to pull all the luggage out of the closet under the stairs, spread the egg crate foam, open the windows, and wait for the tornado siren closest to our house.  If that siren goes off, we get in the closet with the dogs and wait.

One night last week, I got the closet ready and we sat by the windows and listened to all the sirens from the towns around us.  While we were listening, 16 tornadoes touched down, south of us in Granbury, Texas.  And some people lost everything, including their lives.  And then a couple of nights later, it happened again, to the north of us, in Moore, Oklahoma.  And some people lost everything, including their lives.

The next morning, Andy woke up and said, "Well, if we reinforced the closet under the stairs..."  And we talked about reinforced steel and lengths of u-bolts and things like that for a few minutes and then we kind of looked at each other sheepishly.  Because, yeah.  The first thing we want to do is guarantee that this won't happen to us.

Because we live on the back end of tornado alley.  And it gets scary out here sometimes.  And we want to push away the fear by taking control of something.  Anything.

And because I'm a writer and a counselor, I like to think and write.  And thinking and writing can turn into spiritualization and being all up in my head.  Because, yeah.  I don't want to really feel what happened to those kids.  And to their parents, who were just having a normal spring day.

Because I live on the back end of tornado alley.  It's scary.  And I want to push the fear away with my supposedly ginormous brain instead of feeling it down in my broken heart.

And then the internet blows up with some theologian who says something and then a bunch of people say something else.  And I just look at that and I say, yeah.  We all want to guarantee that this won't happen to us.  And we want to control it, by our theological correctness.

Because we all live on the back end of tornado alley.  And if we can't control it, at least we can be really really really mad at the idiot who doesn't have a clue what God really thinks about all this.

It's very distracting, being busy with fixing things so the bad things won't happen.  It's very distracting, being all brainy and spiritual so I don't have to feel the bad things.  It's very distracting, being mad at the idiots of this world who clearly have gotten it wrong.  Again.

All that stuff keeps us from feeling sad.  It keeps us from feeling scared.  

It keeps us from being connected with our own emotions, which seems like a good idea at the time.  

But then it keeps us from being connected with the emotions of others, too.  And, over time, that turns into a big problem.

When we get disconnected from our own emotions, and from the emotions of other people, we find ourselves thinking and doing all kinds of crazy things, instead of the really important things.

My friend Lisa teaches first grade, and this is part of her Facebook status from that night when the tornado struck Moore.

I can't help but think of the children in Moore, who woke up this morning thinking about starting a new week, finishing the end of the school year, and probably making plans for summer, yet their plans were cut short. Selfishly, I hope nobody in class wants to talk about it tomorrow, but I am sure that will not be the case. Honestly, if they ask about the tragedy, it would be easier to lie to them and tell them it would never happen here, that we all will be just fine. However, since they seem to be able to see through my sugarcoating of situations, I will repeat the same truths I have said all year during the school shooting, the Boston bombing, the fertilizer explosion, and even parts of it after the death of a student's parent: 1) Safety and preparedness are the reason we practice all our drills.  2) I love them and will do whatever is in my power to keep them safe.  3) God is our rock and our strength and we need not fear anything.  4) Should a tragedy happen, I know someday we will dance and sing together in heaven again.  And strangely enough, in His perfect wisdom (at least so far) that has given us all peace to carry on.  

And that is one of the best things I've ever read, about what it means when we wake up the morning after, needing to keep walking.  She cuts right through all the crap of things I'm tempted to do in the face of tragedy, and reminds me of what's really important.

We make ourselves willing to move beyond the world of control and easy answers and angry disconnection.

We make ourselves willing to live with tragedy and the fragile uncertainty of life.

We admit that we don't know and we can't stop it.  And we resolve to love with all our hearts, anyway.

We do what we can, because that's what we're told to do.

We prepare.  We love.  We trust.  We hope.

We weep with those who weep, we mourn with those who mourn.  We bear burdens with those who have too much to bear.

We make whatever little bit of peace on earth we can, while we wait for the Prince of Peace to come.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRjDBd6tBBY]

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what i got instead

So after I wrote about floating a couple of weeks ago, I kept thinking about floating. The fact that it works.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  TIME.

If I stretch myself out on the water, I will float.

Water can't change the rules.

And it seems like such a great picture of the character and promises of God.

I AM.

Faithful.  True.  The Resurrection.  The Way.  The Beginning.  The End.

Nothing can separate.

And I believe these things are true.

But here's the thing that happens to me.  I get out on the water, eyes on the prize, and I sink.

And I think I'm trusting God and following His Will and then I'm sucking salt water.

So it makes me wonder.

What is faith, anyway?  This substance of things hoped for, this evidence of things unseen.

Isn't it supposed to DO something?  Solve problems?  Shut the mouths of lions?  Put armies to flight?  Heal people?  Protect my kids?  Get my friend a job?

Why am I not just floating through life with the greatest of ease?

It's so easy to listen to the insidious voice of the accuser:  you're not doing it right.  Pray harder.  Read your Bible better.  Trust more.

But there are things that are just so big, so painful, so inexplicable.  Times when we know we didn't do anything wrong--in fact, we were doing everything right.  But here we are, in the pit.

Facing a Diagnosis.

Dealing with the consequences of somebody else's sin.

Living with life problems that just won't go away.

Just trying to get up out of bed and make it through the day.

The other day, somebody said to me, "Don't give me that answer about God being bigger than we know, and having answers we don't understand."

And he's right.  It's such a bad answer, from any human perspective.

But it's also the only answer I know.

That God is infinitely bigger than I am.

And that His love is infinitely bigger than I can understand.

And that His redemption is at hand, always.

Even when things are terrible, and I am sinking like a rock.

And so, I circle back to this again:  it's not about me.

When I am doing nothing wrong, and when I am doing everything wrong, His love encompasses me, always and forever.

That's what never fails, never goes wrong:  His Love.

I won't always float well.  I will thrash, I will flail, I will sink.

And, for me, the only way to get past this is to live through everything being exactly how I didn't want it, and then being able to look back and say, "Oh.  Redemption."

Whether I float well or not, God redeems.

And that experience builds the kind of faith I want to have.  The kind of faith that lets go and lets God.  No matter what.

I love this song by Sarah Groves.  It reminds that God has better things for me than I can ever dare to think, hope, or dream.

Even--and maybe even especially--when it's not what I wanted.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPWWyoD5dvI]

Tuxedo in the closet, gold band in a box Two days from the altar she went and called the whole thing off What he thought he wanted, what he got instead Leaves him broken and grateful

I passed understanding a long, long time ago And the simple home of systems and answers we all know What I thought I wanted, what I got instead Leaves me broken and somehow peaceful

I keep wanting you to be fair But that's not what you said I want certain answers to these prayers But that's not what you said

When I get to heaven I'm gonna go find Job I want to ask a few hard questions, I want to know what he knows About what it is he wanted and what he got instead How to be broken and faithful

What I thought I wanted What I thought I wanted What I thought I wanted What I thought I wanted

Staring in the water like Esop's foolish dog I can't help but reflect on what it was I almost lost What it was I wanted, what I got instead Leaves me broken and grateful

I'm broken and grateful I want to be broken and grateful I want to be broken, peaceful, faithful, grateful, grateful I want to be broken, peaceful, faithful, grateful, grateful

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float

I am a visual learner.  And I almost always have a mental image that represents my current emotional state. I've talked before about seeing myself in a dugout canoe, alone, paddling hopelessly for shore.

And the panic and thrashing that ensued when the canoe went down, ten years ago now.

In fact, that was one of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog a couple of years ago.

I shared this poem by Philip Booth, and it remains one of my favorite things.

First Lesson

Lie back, daughter, let your head

be tipped back in the cup of my hand.

Gently, and I will hold you.  Spread

your arms wide, lie out on the stream

and look high at the gulls.  A dead-

man's-float is face down.  You will dive

and swim soon enough where this tidewater

ebbs to the sea.  Daughter, believe

me, when you tire on the long thrash

to your island, lie up, and survive.

As you float now, where I held you

and let go, remember when fear

cramps your heart what I told you:

lie gently and wide to the light-year

stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

It just seems to be that time of year, when a lot of us are on the long thrash.

It's like that for me, anyway.

I get distracted, I start to panic, and then I remember.

You've been here before.

You know how it works.

Lie back.

Float.

The sea will hold you.

 

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