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.

 

 

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And My Answer Is…Yes.

Jesus, my answer to you is yes.

To whatever it is you ask, to whatever it is You want. To wherever You lead, even and especially when I don’t know where we are going. Yes to following You through pain and things I would never choose for myself or my most beloved ones. Yes to the loss of choice and how that terrifies me. Yes to a season of darkness if it means I learn to find Your hand in that very darkness.

Yes to following You into places in my heart that cause me to grimace and wince because of their raw power. Yes to opening up my most private, shameful and personal memories, allowing you to speak to them and change my perception of them. Yes to Your changing my habits and patterns that are so ingrained and hidden, only a serious disruption of “normal” brings them into view. Yes to my paying attention to and cooperating with whatever disruption it takes for you to save me from myself. Yes to letting you pry my hands off of my beloved status quo.

Yes to You loving me enough that sometimes You tell me “no.” Yes to letting You break my heart if it will save me from the damage that some of the things I love do to me. Yes to letting go of things that are less so you can give me more.  Yes to releasing that which has been holding me tighter than I have been holding it.

Yes to walking in to the unknown and to following You down paths where no one can go with me. Yes to a heart sickening loneliness if it teaches me to learn to love and relate to You more authentically and healthily. Yes to Your plans for me, even as it means the death of my dreams for me. Yes to not running from fear of You when You choose to flex Your muscles, to exercise Your sovereignty, to call attention to the fact that I am helpless before You. Yes to laying down my desires and my control tendencies, to opening my hands and being willing for them to stay empty for as long as You want. Because yes, I believe You want to eventually fill them with more than I had before. And Yes to You taking as long as You want to accomplish Your purposes in my life, even as I think I’ll die waiting for You.

Yes to You stripping away my illusions of how I think the world works in exchange for You teaching me the truth of how it actually works. Yes to the grief that comes along with seeing truth for the first time and realizing how long I’ve lived with lies. Yes to following You to places of repentance and an accurate self-view that can be so devastating.

Yes to Your request to physically occupy more space in my heart that I have given away to idols and taken for myself. Yes to not just allowing You to take up space, but to my inviting You in, willingly and wholeheartedly. Yes to learning and re-learning how to love you in a way that actually honors You, rather than in a way that is convenient for me.

Yes to resting in You and to letting You lead. Yes to slowing down even as my heart pushes me to speed up. Yes to letting You be You, even when it is so bewildering, confusing and doubt-inducing. Yes to Your heart for me and yes to trusting You with my heart. Yes to the lifelong process of acknowledging, with my head, mouth and life that You are indeed God and that you are indeed good.

My answer to you is yes. May it always be yes.

(originally published 5/18/13)

Letting God Lead, Reading Thematically and Being Brave (Reading Well – pt. 2)

Reading for me is a deeply spiritual thing. How could it not be? The ideas and topics I choose to allow into my heart and brain stay with and shape me long after I put the book down. So, as a follower of Jesus, I sometimes pray about what I should read. Not all the time. I sometimes read things for no other reason than I am interested in a topic -and I often read just for pleasure. (Rachel Ray’s magazine is my guilty pleasure)

But I have also learned to listen for a bump in my heart when I come across certain titles and topics. I recognize that during different seasons of life, I am more tender and open towards certain topics. Therefore, I let Jesus have some say in what I choose to read, as it becomes a very important place of spiritual interaction for me. As I interact with powerful ideas and new vocabulary, of course they work their way into my prayer life. I don’t want to be the person who goes to the nutritionist for help and then tells them what I am going to eat, regardless of their advice. I want Jesus to have a place to speak into those things that speak into my life. How could the books I read not be included in this?

In light of this,

4. I tend to read thematically. I get interested in a topic that captures my imagination and will often read several related books in a row. In fact, my bookshelves are arranged thematically, because that is how I tend to read.  Sometimes the author is the theme and I’ll read several by a particular writer. When this happens, I am learning to recognize it as God’s way of getting my attention and asking me to focus for a while. Maybe the topic is prayer, or a biography, or missions, or marriage or a particular spiritual theme related to something in my life. Maybe it is a topic way way outside of my comfort zone or knowledge base – and I need to be aware of it. Either way, sometimes, though not all the time, I will spend a few months (or longer) exploring a particular topic. It is like my intellect itches – and I read till the itch is scratched.

This does a few things for me. One, it allows me to interact with a topic for a while, and some topics need time to be properly absorbed. Second, I don’t read books that just say the same thing. I read different authors on a topic, different sides of a discussion, different views and perspectives. This means that…

5. I am willing to read authors I don’t completely agree with. A while back, I hosted a party where a guy I didn’t know (he came with a friend) walked over to my (beloved) bookshelves and said, and I quote, “I wonder what sort of heresy you have over here.” I sort of hope he got his undies all in a bundle over some of the titles I own because he was a jerk. How is one expected to have any intellectual heft if one only reads one side of an argument? How can one come to their own deep-set theological convictions if they never have to defend them or think deeply about them? Just because one reads authors from the metaphorical other side of the fence doesn’t mean I agree with them. It just means I want to know what they know, to be open to discussion, because it helps me figure out truth in a deeper way, owning it in my heart in a deeper place. And who knows – I am open to the fact that I may be wrong. One thing I know is that I don’t know everything. Heck, I am willing to admit that I don’t know much. So while I definitely weight my reading within the stream of Christianity in which I comfortably swim, I don’t live in an intellectual ghetto because I am afraid of what others may think of me . Or alter my reading because I am afraid I am not smart enough to recognize truth when I read it. Or live in fear that God won’t speak to me about the truth of a topic if I explore alternate explanations. If iron sharpens iron, I think reading across the spectrum, carefully and with wisdom, can do the same thing. But it requires a willingness to be brave. As I discuss books with others, unfortunately, I often find folks who read from fear rather than courage.