The Nobility of Crickets

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Aloneness. A bench. Sunrise. Winter. Beauty. So many metaphors for a heart that longs to hear from Him.

I was sitting with a friend over some amazing enchiladas and creamy jalapeño dip, and doing what we do when we get together – eating Mexican food and catching each other up on our lives and hearts. And inevitably we began talking about our pain. Because, if you are having an honest conversation with someone you love and trust, how can this not come up? Whatever we walk through becomes part of who we are – and if we show up authentically in relationship with another, our pain tags along. Every time.  And it was one of those moments when, as soon as I spoke the words meant for her, I realized that they for me also.

We were talking about the experience of God disappearing on us. Of feeling like He is nowhere near. Of feeling abandoned by Him.

First off, let us not dismiss the holiness of this conversation by feeling like we need to defend God or a particular theology. He is a big boy who isn’t threatened by our honest exploration of His identity and His ways – or our experience of His identity and His ways. Not to fear, accurate theology has a way of surfacing among open and seeking hearts. However, when we are uncomfortable with what we don’t understand, many of us have tendencies to offer pat, dismissive answers. (God is good, all the time…The Bible says so…It’s not about what you feel…If you just had more faith…You should…read more, pray more, work more, etc.) In other words, we sometimes attempt to ease our own surfacing anxiety with people who ask challenging questions, or questions we haven’t wrestled with just yet by shutting them down. The time to break open the Bible and discuss the theology that underlies our experiences will eventually come around – but only if we are open to this part of the process. When someone shares their heart (especially if it is messy), the first response should be compassion. Grace. Maybe a few questions to get the full meaning of what they are saying. The people of God, who are His hands, feet, ears to listen to, and shoulders to cry on here, should be safe places for people to bring their broken hearts… in all their messy glory because…

God cares deeply when our hearts are broken. And He wants us to bring our broken hearts fully to Him. If we hide the places that actually hurt (usually because of shame or fear of rejection – see paragraph above)… the experience can be sort of like having a very painful sore throat, yet when the doctor asks you what the problem is, you tell her it is your knee instead. The complication is that, a sore throat will often, eventually resolve itself. A broken heart…well, those don’t heal nearly as neatly or predictably. Why would we go to a doctor, and yet not seek help for the part of us that is actually wounded? 

We do this with God all the time.

In this evening of being together with my friend, how we were, where we were… letting it be ok to not be ok, to not have all the answers, to have questions and emotions that didn’t fit neatly in a box or that made us sound more put-together than we were… she said,

“When I pray, all I hear is crickets.”

Silence. Aloneness. Doubts about His love. Worries about being in His will or pleasing to Him. Wondering ‘what am I doing wrong’…or ‘what is wrong with me’? What follower of Jesus hasn’t had this heartbreaking, disorienting, at times terrifying experience? And somewhere in the conversation, after relating and empathizing, I said, in words I realize now were not entirely my own,

“What if some of the noblest work of God is found in the crickets?”

I’ve been sitting with this question for a while now.

What if learning to wait on Him, and trust Him in uncertainty is THE work He has called us to? Not a peripheral lesson of the faith, but a central one?

What if learning to be still and silent before Him is the royal road to deep satisfaction in Him? 

What if some seasons of silence actually contain amazing amounts of God-communication to us, but our skills with silence are so underdeveloped, that we have no idea how to understand or process it properly?

What if our incomplete knowledge of Him severely limits our experience of Him? 

What if the most loving thing He can do is to break our destructive theological paradigms by defying them? And what if silence is one way to do that? 

What if the crickets we may hear in certain seasons of our relationship with Him are not a sign of His distance from or displeasure in us, but instead a sign of His nearness, of His desire for us to have More, and of His transforming power at work in the deepest, most tender places in our heart? 

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.

Eccl. 3:7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; A time to be silent and a time to speak.

 

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Goodbyes

It was late spring of 1992 and I was driving away from North Georgia College, as a recent graduate. It was the longest time this military kid had ever lived in one place. (This one was at least move number 15. I had so many, they are difficult to count.) It was the first time I

A few years ago, I took a stroll down memory lane. I love this place.

A few years ago, I took a stroll down memory lane in Dahlonega, at North Georgia College. I love this place.

had friends I knew that I would be connected to for the rest of my life. It was where Jesus and I began the conversation we continue to this day, where I discovered something of who I am and what I am on earth to do, and where my life’s trajectory shifted so profoundly, I am still in its wake today. It was the first time I had the opportunity to, and let myself love and connect to anyone or any place.

And I got about a mile away, on the other side of Crown Mountain, and began to ugly-cry so hard that I had to pull over and let the chest-heaving sobs works their way through my heart and body. Just for the record, at that time in my life, I almost never cried. In fact, I was such an accomplished emotional stuffer, that in the car that day,  I was actually having two experiences simultaneously: grief over leaving people, a place, and a season of life that I loved…and more than a little concern that there was so much emotion exploding out of what I thought was a rather neutral and numb heart.

Looking back, with the life story and professional knowledge I have now, there was quite a bit of profound information about how I am wired and my core brokenness in that one moment. The bruising in my heart around goodbyes is very, very deep and very, very tender. 

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While this photo shows my head at RGU, my heart got quite an education also.

Fast forward to this weekend, and another beloved season of life is coming to a close. I am receiving my masters degree in marriage and family therapy from Richmont Graduate University. It’s taken 3 long, busy, and stressful years to complete. My classmates and I have shared a beautiful and transformative part of our life’s journey. As our studies and experiences have surfaced our own junk and darkness, we created a safe place for us to explore our own hearts, share it with each other, and invite Jesus to heal it – so that we can be a part of the same healing process in the lives of others.  I am about to begin a whole new chapter of my life as a therapist and trauma clinician.

A lot of life has passed between these two graduations and life transitions. Marriage. Kids. Missions and life overseas. One more kid. Broken dreams. Settling into our permanent, yet unexpected home. Cancer. Heart breaking tragedy. Two teenagers in the house. Three years of graduate school and training. Re-found joy and hope and purpose in life.

And yet, with all of the change, growth, personal healing, and experience encompassed in the passing years, this graduation has surfaced and banged the same tender bruise from the last one so long ago – the one that is linked to goodbyes. I’ve had to say so many over the years. They hurt. In a way that brings up ugly-cries and chest-heaving sobs.

In my experience, I’ve found that if we commit to searching our hearts and seeking healing there,  we rarely unearth a lot of new themes – instead we circle around familiar core ones over and over… but at newer, deeper levels. Which is why my time with my cohort at Richmont has been so special. Because with them, as I’ve re-circled around this painful theme of mine, I’ve discovered that goodbyes, as awful as they are, aren’t all bad. In order to embrace new things, we have to let go of old ones. Grief allows us to release what we can’t hold, and would hurt us if we tried. The past can’t become the past without working through loss. Cooperating with our goodbyes, while painful, actually creates space for whatever is next.

And next can be awesome.

With my North Georgia friends, I learned to relate. With my Richmont friends I’ve learned to grow and become. And ironically, I can’t walk most fully into either of those gifts without leaving the ones who gave them to me. Without saying goodbye.

So this weekend, I’m doing this complicated, conflictive emotional dance of grieving, and celebrating. Of letting go, and looking forward. Of being sad and glad…all at the same time. It’s a good thing the years have grown my heart so…because this is an awful lot to hold.

Richmont Graduates

RGU’s Atlanta Campus class of 2016. There are some wonderful friends, amazing human beings, and gifted counselors in this photo.

When “Doing” And “Being” Converge

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For one of the sessions, I got to speak in the main worship center of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church.

In my relationship with God, my heart’s default position is to be a “do-er” for Him. Historically, I prefer task to love. Which, of course, is completely unsatisfactory to Him and destructive to me. Which, of course, is why much of my adult spiritual life has been about unwinding this soul-killing, task-oriented twisted-ness of mine. Which, of course, is why, His calling on my life is to learn to do the long, hard, painful and at times crushingly lonely work of learning to become a better and more complete “be-er” in Him. Which, of course, both breaks and re-makes my heart, all at the same time.

Recently, I was invited to speak at Confluence – the fall conference for the Georgia Baptist Campus Ministries. (If you go to the website, under Conference Details, you can see my photo and bio:)  It actually was quite a convergence of meaningful events for me…the chance to share with hundreds of university students some of what God has been teaching me along the way, an opportunity to reconnect with special friends who do student ministry across the state, and a time for me to be reminded of something of who I am and who God has made me to be. Because there have been moments in this last season of life, as God has been sowing the deep “being” lessons in my heart, when I’ve pretty much lost sight of how I might ever “do” for Him again. deanna teaching

Humorously enough, the topic I was asked to speak to was A Heart For Christ: longing to know Him more. The very same thing God has been talking with me about for the last season of life. And further adding to the chuckles, the only concrete instruction from the conference organizers about what to address was, “We don’t want to add to the students’ to-do lists, by piling on suggestions of disciplines for them to do.” Hmmm. They wanted me to speak on the dynamic of “being” with God, not just “doing” for Him. The very thing I’ve exhausted so much time and energy on gaining for myself. Confluence, indeed.

I am including a link to the talk, for those who might want to hear how it went.

A Heart For Christ – longing to know Him more, Deanna Davis, 9.26.15.

Same Spot…Different Day

It was one of those moments when, the only appropriate response was for my heart to squeak out an exhausted, “Really God? Really?”
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Context…

I am prone to bursts and gusts of despair and darkness. They blow up, sometimes unexpectedly, and sometimes very expectedly, with a ferocity that at times is crippling. Fortunately, with years of experience, with wise counsel, with some gentle and profound healing in the areas of my heart that generate the pain… for the most part… I am learning how to ride out the storms. I know they won’t last (even if they feel like they will never end), and I am often able to realize that there is an alternate perspective on my situation… that if I can just hang on for a while…I will eventually find the safe harbor of clarity. I am able to speak to my heart with words like, “This will pass. It isn’t the end of the world. There is hope. There is much to be grateful for in the middle of it all. Darkness precedes dawn. Jesus can be trusted with this.” I can usually find a storm cellar to climb in, just as the dust kicks up, the atmospheric pressure drops dramatically, and the funnel cloud appears on the horizon.

And…

Sometimes my life’s experience hasn’t felt like a day-long ferocious blizzard, but more like a prolonged winter that goes on and on. We’ve all experienced seasons of life that, if they were a color, would fall into the muted, bland shades of gray and brown and weak yellow…those seasons when stuff just happens…and keeps happening. And just when you think you will get a moment to catch your breath…along comes another punch to the gut. The result is that some days (some weeks, some months), it can be a titanic struggle to get my body and heart to muster enough energy and momentum, to engage, to initiate, to smile, to care. Of course, I am describing depression. In the past few years, I’ve wrestled with both emotional/spiritual weather systems – seasons of depression, sprinkled in with bursts of despair, for variety.

Into all of this…

I was walking in Chattanooga recently, and enjoying a beautiful evening. I was praying, being present to my heart, eating some amazing ice cream, and resting in the quiet and joy of exploring a fantastic city, all of which I love to do. It was golden and I was happy. And then, out of nowhere, on a relatively smooth section of pavement, I stepped into the one dip, and twisted my ankle. One moment, I was enjoying a needed respite from my turmoil, and the next, I was on the ground, one knee bleeding, the other ankle swelling like a grapefruit, far from home, wondering what in the world had just happened.

And while sitting on my backside, experiencing the rush of sudden bodily pain, my heart uttered the words, “Really God? Really? With all I’ve been through, You couldn’t smooth my paths and protect my ankles from turning for one night?” Without going into the details, I spent the rest of my evening…trying to figure out where in the world I was in my relationship with Him.

The next day, I got up early to take another walk. Because I wanted to see a sunrise, because I wanted to exercise before sitting in class all day, because my time in Chattanooga was limited and I wanted to make the most of it, because walking is good for a swollen ankle, and because God and I had some unfinished business between us. I am a kinesthetic pray-er – He and I often talk while I’m moving.  So I went for a walk. Again.

And, without thinking too much about it, I inadvertently ended up in the exact same spot where, the night before, I had been hurt. This time however, the Chattanooga track club was there, handing out water.IMG_5612

One day, this place caused me pain. Twelve hours later, it was where I received a cup of cool water.

Same spot, different day.

It was a powerful picture for me of some of the ways that God works in my life:

…He takes the same things that hurt me, and eventually uses them to bless me, teaching me to not fear the dips, but to learn to reframe and eventually welcome them.

…Sometimes pain stops me in my tracks because I need stopping in my tracks…because it starts different and more meaningful conversations with God than I would often choose on my own… because He wants me to pay attention to Him or my heart in a way I can’t when I’m busy with my own agenda…because what He wants to give me is infinitely more valuable than what He takes away from me while I hurt.

…There are times when God mercifully repeats experiences for me. The first time, things may not go so well. Something gets squeezed out from the inside of me that I need to see, or need to own. But the second or third time… there can be a different outcome. I learn or grow or change. By repeating an experience, He allows me to see the progress I’ve made. It allows me to see more of Him, parts of Him that may be hidden the first time around, but revealed with repeated laps around the same places. And it blesses me with what we call in the counseling world “an emotionally corrective experience”. The first night, my pain revealed something of my go-to impressions of God. I experienced God as One who callously hurts me. The next morning, I saw and experienced Him as One who lovingly provides for me. The second experience was a healing one, correcting a bit of something that was broken deep inside of me, that was actually causing me much more soul-level pain than a sprained ankle.

…And when I keep showing up for our walks, even when I’m limping…when I keep engaging, even when everything in me wants to isolate and quit, He accepts my walk with Him as an offering. He takes it and does something with it. Something for my good. Something that I would have missed out on had I slept in, or decided that my ankle was too swollen to walk on. The conversations with Him about how He uses the “same spot, different day” dynamic to bless me continues to be a powerful shaping dynamic in my relationship with Him.

 

 

Finally Getting My Heart And My Body In The Same Place

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And here I am, speaking at my home church. It was a special moment for me.

It was kind of funny…and one of those ironic-God-is-chuckling-at-me moments. At the close of last year’s ladies luncheon at my home church of Kennesaw First Baptist, a friend asked me an interesting question. She was curious how it felt for me, sitting in the audience, knowing that I could be up there speaking. While I was honored that she thought me capable of it, without thinking very long at all, I said, “They’ll never ask.”

First of all, I didn’t think anyone at church really knew who I was, my gifting, or what I do.  I didn’t feel very “seen” or “known”. While I am blessed to occasionally travel to teach to college ministries, to other women’s groups, and in Europe, and while I love, love, love the college students I get to work with every week in Sunday school, I sometimes feel like I haven’t really found my place at my home church just yet. It’s that weird loneliness-in-a-crowd feeling we all have experienced at some point. In fact, my last few years have involved a lot of soul-searching about my identity (Who exactly am I?), about God’s calling on my life (What exactly am I doing here?), and about how to get my heart and my body in the same place…because, while I live in Kennesaw…to be honest, most of the time, my heart has been somewhere else.

And second, while I am not exactly sure what a “ladies luncheon” speaker is, I am pretty sure I am not that. I’m a Bible teacher. A messy one too. I talk about matters of the heart, and our inner world – the complicated, deeply broken places inside each of us that only we and God see – and how God wants to meet us there. I focus on those seasons of life when things get really dark, of what it looks like to walk with Jesus in pain, and how it can cause the ground to disappear underneath us. I wrestle with deep existential questions of the faith that defy black and white answers. And while the goal is to let the struggle lead us to intimacy with Jesus and the joy available to us as we let Him do His work in our hearts…such joy is often seasoned with a lot of tears along the way. Hardly the stuff of polite conversation over chicken salad and fruit.

P1010530So, imagine my shock when the leaders in our church’s women’s ministry asked me to be the speaker at this year’s event. I was incredibly honored. And humbled. And more than a little terrified. Because getting in front of people and vulnerably pouring your heart out, opening yourself up to criticism and risking epic fails in public…it is one thing to do it in another city or on another continent…it is very different to do it in front of people you see every week and who teach your kids’ Sunday school class.

But I gave it a go. Because deep down, even with the fear of failure, even with my concern over whether or not I would be what the ladies expected or wanted…I really do want to be known. I really do want to be at home where I am. I really do want to learn to be fully present where I live, and to also be fully who I am among those I do life with on a regular basis. And somehow I knew that offering my story and gifting to the women in my church and community would be an important step on my journey to all of those things.

And a funny thing happened that day. As I walked onto the platform…at the same time… it felt like I finally arrived home. It has been a long time coming, with many other “homecoming” events along the way, but this was a big one. Somehow, my heart and my body…long in a bit of an adversarial relationship, finally made peace with each other. The experience wasn’t as much about what I do, as being who I am, where I am. I wish I could explain it more fully than that, but…I’m pretty sure I got much more out of that day than anyone sitting in the audience.

Click here to link to the talk I gave , if you would like to hear it. It is titled The Wise Woman. It is in 3 parts. I love how it came out. 

The Thing About Marriage Is…

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This is one of Jeff’s favorite pictures of us – on our 15 year wedding anniversary. The adventure continues…

Today is my 19th wedding anniversary. Not hardly long enough to understand very much of what it means to join my life and heart with another, and just long enough to get a glimpse of both how beautiful and heartbreaking the attempt can be.

The thing about marriage is…no one comes into it with any idea of what they are doing. I realize now it is better that way for all involved. Nineteen years ago I thought marriage was about love. About companionship. About sex. About beginning a new family together. And it most certainly is all of that.

But…for some…those brave enough to make the attempt for something greater…who are hopefully surrounded by marriage mentors able to explain and model the process…or those who God pulls along kicking and screaming… (My category, by the way.)

Marriage can also about two broken people, being courageous enough to undress their broken souls in front of the other… in all its raw vulnerability, almost never at convenient times, usually in shockingly unpredictable ways… and asking to be loved…offering unconditional love to the other…the very things that broken souls struggle to do.

And along the way, if both husband and wife face their fear of rejection, of abandonment, of failure…if they decide to do the hard and at times terrifying heart work needed to repair the damage sin has done in their lives…if they decide to stay present both physically and emotionally, even when everything in them is leading them to retreat…they have a unique opportunity.

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And this is one of my favorite pictures of us two…taken before a flight I made to Oslo…so much symbolism here…

To experience healing. Growth. To develop hearts with greater capacity to love and receive love. To do this amazing thing where their lives become more intertwined and interdependent…yet at the same time they become more fully the individual God created them to be…cheering each other on in their journey, both from the sideline as a fan, and in the race as partner all at the same time.

And if they keep at it…one day…what began as two broken people uniting in their brokenness, has the potential to become two more-whole people, enjoying the delightful and tender experience of loving and being loved by the more complete, more mature version of their spouse.  Because years into a marriage, one’s husband or wife is both the same person they married, and also, the different person that their time together has helped craft. And as their bodies decline with age and the mileage of life, their hearts can come alive, enabling a togetherness and love that is unavailable… and honestly, unimaginable in their youthful brokenness.

This is how two become one. It is a longer, messier, and more gloriously wonderful journey than anyone could ever explain to another. Instead, it must be personally experienced through the years.

The thing about marriage is…it isn’t what most people think it is. It can be more. Way more.

 

Embracing The Bright Sadness

“Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness…” Richard Rohr.

It is an interesting tension that older followers of Jesus are asked to hold. In one hand there should be hope and joy. It is the positive sunny perspective on life that gets us out of bed in the morning, looking forward to tomorrow.  It reflects our trust in and belief that Jesus is indeed more powerful

Clouds and sun, all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

Clouds and sun at the same time… all a part of the journey. A beautiful journey.

than this world and that He is indeed making all things new, restoring, rebuilding and blessing. Our tomorrows can be better than our todays – this is part of the birthright of children of the King, of those who have been saved and now have the Savior living inside of them. Our faith should allow us to smile.

Yet,  in the other hand we hold a sadness and a darkness that comes with living in a broken world where sin has had its way. It means we don’t pretend all is ok. Because, sometimes, things most definitely are not all ok. This awakening to the presence of pain can be a weight that at times threatens to topple us over in its direction.  As we age, most of us bump into a most sobering, and at times, depressing reality – that this life can really, really hurt. That sometimes things don’t always work out well or even good. Sometimes evil wins and we lose. Sometimes we can’t stop the suffering, especially of those we love. Sometimes life descends into a nosedive of despair that can be difficult to pull out of without medication, unhealthy coping mechanisms of some kind, or a very, very deep and complicated work of the heart and faith. (Phil. 2:2) And not everyone has the time, inclination or stomach for the heart work or faith that surviving such a nosedive into pain requires.

People who have walked with Jesus for a while are able to embrace both sides of this. Joy, while at the same time, sad. Light and dark co-existing side by side in our hearts. Grabbing hold of the two truths at the same time, “It will all be ok. It won’t all be ok.”  As Richard Rohr puts it, “…a kind of bright sadness…”. I suspect you’ve met people like this. They have a weight to them. A gravity. An internal spaciousness about them that allows them to hold two such full and complex experiences at the same time, negating neither, and embracing both. A bright sadness. St John of the Cross, author of the term, “dark night of the soul”,  called this mystery a “luminous darkness”.

And because of the internal and theological stretching required to hold all this, these people are able to hold more of Jesus in the created space.

As a younger believer, I never would have guessed this. Maturity in Christ means being familiar with sadness. Sadness is not a bad friend to have either. It can open doors – to heart things, to spiritual truth, to intimacy with Jesus, to great depth and wisdom. It can be a companion who knows things and shares them with us.

Willingly walking through the doors of sadness holds the potential to lead us to the doors of joy we are looking for, are wired for. But it is not a happy clappy, Hallmark card blurb, easy Sunday School kind of joy. Instead, it leads to the deeper kind that gets us out of bed in the morning when just that takes all we’ve got… knowing that even in the midst of pain, it is still worth it all. The kind of joy that says to despair, “I’m not afraid of you because you have something to teach me about Jesus, about truth, about me…and I’m willing to sit with you, walk with you for a while, in order to learn your precious secrets.” (Eccl. 7:4) Walking through deep sadness leads to the kind of joy that doesn’t blot out darkness, but overcomes it. A greater joy. The joy Jesus promises us.

The path to joy may meander first on the path of sadness. Sometimes for a long time. Being able to hold joy most fully requires that we first learn to hold sadness. And this is a most stretching thing to do. Which is why it is almost always older people who are able do it. It takes a long time and a lot of life to learn to do it properly.

Over the years, I’ve found that Jesus loves the simplicity of a child’s faith, the primary colors, the basic foundational vocabulary, the straight lines, the innocent faith and reckless trust. And I’ve also found that Jesus loves the deep and multilayered complexity of an adult’s faith that involves a lot of blurred edges, uncomfortable uncertainty, endless shades of gray and more questions than answers.

Jesus invites us to know Him from both places if we want.

But we have to be willing to go there with Him. The journey isn’t a short or easy one.

Jn. 17:13 …but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

Phil. 2:12…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,

Phil 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Eccl. 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

(originally published 10/12/13)