Making Things Round

I was leading a women’s retreat in Germany this past weekend.  It was a wonderful time to say a joyful “hello” to beloved friends whom I had to say a tearful”goodbye” to years ago.  And during this time, I learned a beautiful German phrase and concept that has deeply blessed me.  About halfway through, I asked a friend how she felt it was going, and she answered, “It isn’t round yet.”  What she meant was, the circle wasn’t closed. The start was good, and she could see the intended trajectory.  But the story of open circleour time together, of the material we were talking about, of what it might mean to her personally, was still open and not quite finished.  It needed some closure to be able to hold it properly.

As I walk with Jesus through the life He has planned for me, I’m learning that He isn’t nearly as uncomfortable with un-roundness as I am. In fact, the discomfort of unfinished things seems to be a primary shaping tool He uses to lovingly heal and grow His children.

Of course, sometimes prayers get answered in the way we want. Lives move forward. Decisions get made and get made well.  People grow and transition to whatever is next.  Progress can be seen.  Joy in the past, in the now and in the potential future is experienced.  Things become round all the time, and will become ultimately so upon His return…all this is cause for great celebration.

But then…there are the dreams that are birthed with the best of intentions, and then get shattered just within grasp.  Disappointment with God’s plans, unanswered questions, the unknown ‘why’ behind a painful ‘what’.  Loss.  Grief.  Shame.  Seasons of life, difficult relationships, wounded people…sometimes they can be like rocks in the middle of a river…instead of moving downstream with the rest of us, life just flows on around them. They are awkwardly stuck in an unfinished place for all to see…and people pass on by, wondering why they can’t move on like everyone else. At least that is how some un-roundness in my life has felt to me.

My experience with life in Europe has been an un-round thing for me for a while now.  Coming to grips with the reality that we will not be able to return in the near future, watching that dream die and seeing that God’s plans for us are different than we thought…I’ve been wrestling with the almost universal mid-life experience of realizing that important external elements of my life are not what I would choose for myself.  At the same time, I’ve been attempting to walk in the very individual experience of realizing that the most important, internal elements of my life are very much within my control. My character.  My responses. My spiritual orientation – towards Him or away from Him. In the face of disappointment, will I become better or bitter? Will I create with what I’m given, or consume?  Will I take responsibility for my own personal/heart growth, and choose a life that is spiritually and emotionally healthy for myself and others…or will I choose to continue the destructive patterns and life strategies that have hurt me and those I love for so long?

Even when we think we don’t have choice, we always have choice.

These are some of the tensions that have been stretching me for a few years now: opening my hands and letting go of good things, so that Jesus can fill them with better things.   Learning how painful a chisel must be to marble, yet what a joy the resulting beauty must be. Embracing the truth that pain can be a fertilizer that grows the most beautiful things in my heart.

When we are stretched…we never go back to our original size.  And now, after walking through a prolonged season of stretching that has lasted years… my trip back to Germany, where so much of my stretching began, has allowed me to see that I am bigger.  My heart is bigger. The Jesus I know is bigger. How He works in my life is bigger. God has allowed me to come full circle, and I am grateful for the relief and release that comes from the closure of it.

At the end of our weekend retreat, my friend let me know that the themes of our weekend did eventually become round.  (As a Bible teacher, that was so great to hear!)  What a gift to me to realize that I did too.



The Role Of Despair In The Life Of A Believer (Jesus pt. 68)

Despair – 1. (n) The complete loss or absence of hope. 2, To be overcome with a sense of futility or defeat. 3 (v) To lose or be without hope.

What powerful words in the definition. “Complete” “Loss” “Absence” “Overcome” “Futility” “Defeat” “Without hope”.

Let’s get honest here for a moment…followers of Jesus experience despair. I have struggled with it. I know many others who have. Life doesn’t go the way we planned, hoped, thought it should. We extrapolate from our circumstances something of how we think God must feel about us. And if we think He isn’t trustworthy, isn’t loving, isn’t good – if we think we aren’t loved – despair rises. It, life, feels hopeless.

In addition to the crushing weight of the feeling of “This will never change. This will never work out. This is evidence of His lack of love for me. This is making me wish He would take me home now.”,  I have also struggled with “Christians shouldn’t feel this way. Jesus must be so disappointed in me. I can’t tell anyone else how I really feel because it is so deeply unspiritual.”

But it exists. And followers of Jesus experience it. Therefore I must conclude that despair has a work to do in the life of a believer. Here are some thoughts on it.

Despair isn’t the enemy. Instead, it can function like a light on the dashboard, warning that there is trouble under the hood. It provides information – that all is not well and I must give my heart and soul some attention. Maybe even actively seek help from others who can ‘see’ reality more clearly, from a place where vision isn’t blurred by despair.

Despair can act like an emotional winter, stopping my outer world for while and slowing me down both physically and spiritually. It can look very discouraging on the outside, but inside, like the roots of a tree during the cold dark months, it can prompt some very deep, very long-lasting growth. Dealing with some of the issues that stir despair – fear, insecurity, doubt, worry, theological issues, woundedness – when I invite Jesus to speak to them and He does, I am not the same afterwards. When spring rolls back around, as it always does, the platform on which new growth emerges is wider, stronger and more solid.

Despair can demand expression, a chance to speak into my life. Pretending it isn’t there or ignoring it only prolongs the pain. It is sort of like when my husband and I have a disagreement. (It happens.) And we postpone our conversation to reconcile it. Those are some long, cold nights. It feels the same with my heart when I ignore something that it wants to talk with me about.

Despair can force an honesty and willingness to engage Jesus out of me. Because it hurts so much, it has the capacity to remove the filter I often put over my words, that leads me to say the things I think are acceptable and “right” in church circles. This is a fancy way of saying that I will often try to lie about the condition of my heart if I can get away with it. The pain of despair can lead me to stop playing games and bring my darkness into the light so Jesus can speak to it and heal it.

And despair creates in me a longing for His coming, for Him to re-create this world where there is no more pain, tears or hopelessness. Despair can drive me to realize that my only hope doesn’t come from this world. It can drive me, wounded and weeping into the arms of my Savior, who makes all things right with His presence. I am learning that whatever brings me into His presence can be a blessing to me.

Where Jesus is, there is always hope. He holds the power in His hands to change things. Heal things. Raise them from the dead. External things and life’s circumstances – sometimes. When we encounter Him, He doesn’t always fix what is broken on the outside, but He always changes our hearts. And when that happens, when our hearts are renewed and strengthened and we see the world for how it really is, we have the strength to withstand the pain that comes our way. We have the ability to find Him and His joy in the midst of terrible darkness. We may fall, but in the falling, we find there is ground beneath us. Solid ground that holds. Despair can lead us to discover that He is truly enough. That He is love. That He is capable of redeeming even the worst of our fears and pain. These are truths that are only theoretical till proven true in our lives through the crucible of despair.

The Text Message That Saved Me (Let My Blog-Processing of Jeff’s Surgery Begin…)

Tuesday night I was sitting in the waiting room of Kennestone Hospital, well…waiting…to hear how my husband was, how his surgery went, what the verdict was and what was next for him and our family. I was doing what I do in moments like this – writing, thinking, praying. And not necessarily in that order. The three intricately weave together in the working out of my faith in ways even I don’t fully understand. It was into this complicated moment, where my faith was intersecting my fear that I got a text message.

“Are you alone?”

I stopped what I was doing as I suddenly realized that “yes”, I was alone. Of course, the Sunday School answer is that Jesus was with me and I am never really alone…but please…we all know what the question was asking. “Is there someone with skin on them, who knows and loves you, sharing the same physical and emotional space with you right now? Is there someone there who can hug you and listen to you and go get a coke for you if you need it?”

And the answer was no. There wasn’t anyone with me. I was all by myself.

I wasn’t really surprised that I was alone. Since we are relatively new in our area, our ‘old’ friends were far away and our ‘new friends’ were still a bit too new to feel comfortable in calling. Family members were taking care of the kids so I could be where I was. I didn’t think there was anyone to call.

In my defense, I am a natural introvert who easily disappears into my inner world, often for long periods of time before coming up for daylight. I am fully capable of being alone without being lonely. Much of my last year was spent holed up in solitary and I guess it has become something of my “normal”. Historically, in difficult circumstances, my family of origin would also circle the wagons, so I was just following my internal programming. And in a moment like this, not being sure of how I was going to react or what exactly the news was going to be, I sort of wanted to be by myself.

What startled me wasn’t that I was sitting alone in a hospital waiting room. It was that I hadn’t even noticed.  The room was half full while I was there and as I looked around, I saw that everyone else was rather noisily sitting in their groups. Couples. Families. Crazy cousins. Grandkids. Friends. Church folk. And me in the corner. Alone.

What does this say about me? In a moment where most people reach out to others, I shut down. I found an emotional cave and was setting up camp. Once I was aware, even I realized that what I was in the process of doing wasn’t healthy.

And as I probed a little deeper, I realized that several dangerous lies had begun covertly swirling around the edges, whispering to me just under my consciousness. “Asking for help will only confirm to you how little you matter and how little they care.” “Surely others are too busy for me.” And, “I can do this on my own.”

Pressure on the outside has a profound way of surfacing what is on the inside.

And not being aware…not slowing down long enough to realize what is happening around and inside of me…I could have gone to a very dangerous place very quickly. That text message saved me.

It was a wake-up call to awareness. Of where I was. Of how I was. Of where I was heading.

I was vividly reminded of why I need friends who know and love me, who can draw my attention to what I cannot see on my own. Especially in the midst of a season where my attention is occupied.

As soon as I named those lies however, I started feeling profoundly lonely…and sad…and a host of other things that began making their way up out of my inner places, asking for some of my time. Naming and becoming aware of those emotions prompted me to do a few things. The next morning, I made some phone calls. I asked my friend to come and be with me. I connected via email with some important-to-me-but-not-nearby people. And I took note of where a few land mines are located in my heart. Because I’m not exactly looking down at my feet right now while I’m walking this particular path.