no man's land

This year has been tough for me so far.  

I'm not ready to tell all the stories yet.  I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to tell all these stories.

But I can tell you how I feel.  

Tired.

Sad.

Scared.

I wonder.  

I grieve.

I pray to see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

That's just kind of how it is right now.

Probably not by accident, at this same time, I've been working on final revisions of The Book.  

You know The Book.  

The memoir of my breakdown and healing and all the grace found in strange places along the way.

The memoir where I talk about how God takes the stinkiest, smelliest, worst manure piles of life and redeems.

That book.

 photo:  Andy Bruner

photo:  Andy Bruner

If there was anybody who needed to read that book through 157 times this spring, it was me, I guess.

Because in that book I've written about all the times when I was just at The End, and how God met me in every one of those places, and how his love carried me through.

There are many days right now when I feel like I am at the end of myself again.  

I just don't know what to do.  I can't make things better.  I just have to wait.

And somehow, God continues to meet me in those places and carry me through this strange and scary no man's land.

The other night, I heard this song on the radio, and I fell in love with these words:  

Life can be hard, and hard can be good.

Because that is a truth that I know in my heart.  Hard can be amazing.

Some of the hardest things in my life have been redeemed into the best things in my life.

And the Owner of that process loves me and mine and you and yours with an Everlasting Love.

I cling to that. 

And I wait, like we wait for the roadside wildflowers in Texas every spring, for beautiful things to happen in no man's land.

He took his chances and he ran 
Out from the hills to no mans land 
Oh my lord life was hard, back then 

Oklahoma sky was his roof. 
Tore into the earth it brought him food 
Oh my lord, life was hard back then 

He said oh, 
Life can be hard 
But oh, 
Hard can be good 
So he built his home where no one else would 

I follow in his footsteps in my dreams 
Memories of my old bedtime stories. 
Oh my lord, life seemed good back then 

He said oh, 
Life can be hard but 
Oh, 
Hard can be good 
And he built his home where no one else would 

I felt my heart beat! 
I filled my lungs deep 
In no mans land 
And then like my forefathers I took a chance

credits

No Man's Land, from Darkest Hours, released 14 January 2014 

Songwriter: Wheeler Sparks

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transition sucks (forever and always, i'm afraid)

With love to all my friends finding themselves in a season of transition:  here's a post from two years ago.  

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

Transition sucks.

I have been thinking about this for several days now, and I'm not sure there is much more to say about transition than this:  it sucks.

I know people have written big long books about it.  And they're probably good books.  Of course information is a helpful thing--knowing what to expect, if there are different stages, if there are certain things you can do to manage it.

But essentially, transition is a grief process.  There's a lot of loss on the way to the new normal.  Loss, by definition, is going to be painful.  And you just can't completely control that.  Anybody who says otherwise is selling something.  Probably their book.

It's OK to be sad.  Even really, really sad. 

It's OK to be weak.  Even really, really weak.

I know sadness and weakness are horrible feelings.  I hate them myself.  But when God says, "My power shows up best in weak people"--well, I think there's something to that.

I remember having that experience, living overseas, when I was so DONE that I couldn't even get out of bed.  I was in a profoundly difficult transition between the way life used to be, and the way life would need to be afterward.  I just lay there in my grief and pain, and somehow knew that God was there, loving me.

I had no framework for the idea that I could be completely useless and completely loved.  But it happened anyway.  I had that experience that Ephesians 3 talks about--experiencing the love of God, even though it is so great I can't understand it.

And then...well, it still took a while for me to change the way I lived.  I think I have a tendency to be a human bop-bag.  Knock me down with the truth, and I will bounce right back up to be stupid with lies again.  I can look back over a 10-year period of my life and see that same pattern over and over and over again.

It finally, finally got through to me a year or so later.  I was at this retreat at a church in Austin, bawling my eyes out in front of this pastor and saying, "When will it ever be enough?"  And this man looked at me and said, "It is enough already."  Words straight from God to me.

I think I had been in a process--probably my whole adult life--leading up to that moment to finally be ready to hear that I don't have to do one thing more.  God loves me.  And I can just be who I am, where I am, and He loves me.

Even if I have been in this place before.  Even if I should be able to look ahead and know that it's going to be worth it in the end.  Even if I feel like I should have this figured out so it won't bother me so much.  Even if other people think I should be managing it better, more gracefully, more spiritually.

Today, in my pain and in my confusion and in the constant transition that is my life, Jesus loves me, this I know.   I am weak, but He is strong.

Transition sucks. 

And God is good.  All the time.

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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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blood on the floor

"If forgiveness is easy, there's not enough blood on the floor."  Brene Brown Wow.

I heard that this morning, and it just resonated with me.

I have always said that the way out of our marriage hell was a long, slow crawl over broken glass.

Before the crawl over broken glass, I was mostly trying to hold things together.

I forgave quick and I forgave easy and I tried to forget about it.

I never admitted how much I hurt, or how bad my marriage made me feel.  That wouldn't be nice.  It wouldn't be sweet.  It wouldn't make any difference anyway.  And maybe if I just submitted more, that would take care of the whole thing.

Looking back, I realize.  Before the crawl over broken glass, there was just never enough blood on the floor.

And a lot of the blood was going to need to be mine.

We lived, at the time, on a little island in the South Pacific.  And since we had medical supplies at our house, I became the de facto clinic in the village, and I dealt with a lot of tropical ulcers.

I found this picture on Wikipedia, and they say it's from 1952, but I think the color is too good, and I swear I could have taken this myself.  I can name the patient.

Tropical_ulcer

OK.  That's nasty.  I know.  I feel a little faint myself right now.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Scroll down.  There's a reason I'm showing you this, so hang with me a minute.

When somebody came with one of these sores, I couldn't put antibiotics on top and hope for the best.  Much as I wanted to, believe me.  I would have to clean it out, down to the bleeding flesh, where the medicine could actually work.   This was absolutely no fun at all.  There would be a lot of blood on the floor.

And here's the thing.

A lot of us have emotional stuff that is just this ugly, just this putrefied, just this life-threatening.

We're taught as little kids to say "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you" as a rote exercise.

And there's nothing wrong with that.  It's a good first step.  It works pretty well when you're dealing with sharing a truck in the sandbox.  It's like learning your ABC's so you can read Plato someday.  You've got to start somewhere.

But as adults, forgiveness becomes complex, difficult, and confusing.

  • What is my responsibility?
  • What is the responsibility of the other person?
  • What about difficult or addicted or abusive people, who never seem to get it?
  • What about all this pain I still have, even when I thought I'd forgiven?

I've written about all this before.  And we can think about it properly, and get all our theological ducks in a row, and go to therapy and whatever.

But eventually, all the gunk has to come out of there.

And the gunk is not just in our heads, in how we think.  It's in our hearts, with all the pain and disappointment and loss and grief that we just don't want to feel.

Everything we use to block the pain.  The work and the ministry and the food and the exercise and the shopping and the admiration and the drama.   It has to go.

God can only work with our living flesh.

Brennan Manning said that we can go into the dark places of our lives with Jesus, knowing that we're safe there with Him.

No matter how dark and ugly our gunk, His love never fails.  He always knows how to heal and redeem.

It's not easy.  It hurts like crazy, down in there where the light don't shine.

The stuff that's down there, down deep, that's the real stuff.  That's where I need to bleed, much as I hate to.

But I want to be healed.  I want to be whole.  I want to walk free.

And this is the way.

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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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