Are You Hurting? Pray.

I have a deep love for the Bible. I always have. Not like my favorite books, of which there are many, the Bible frequently comes to me fresh and new. Not new, as in new versions, or a newly purchased copy – no, as in the message therin.

Because I was a church worker for twenty-two years, one might think I have most of the Bible memorized. One might be wrong. I have read it all the way through a few times, and there are more than a few verses stored in my memory bank, but I am no Bible scholar or expert. Actually, as long as we are speaking on assumptions, I should let you know that most church workers aren’t.

I just love the way I can pick up my Bible (or my phone with the Bible app) and find God’s actual words speaking to me today. Not just words written by some man thousands of years ago, but words that are alive, rich, and ready for me to ingest.

I have been dealing with a frustrating health issue for a few months, which has been only getting worse. It’s not life threatening – only exhausting. A few months back, I noticed I was sleeping more and more, longer and longer. I have always been a champion sleeper, able to sleep long hours and through just about any noise, but this was different. Seven to eight hours was no longer enough sleep. I was now needing nine to ten, sometimes twelve hours, and could still take a nap in between. And I have become increasingly forgetful. My brain is foggy on a good day, and murky on a bad one.

I went to the doctor and had a physical with all the blood work. We talked about the usual culprits – I am over weight, have low thyroid function, and I am a Type 2 diabetic. But all my tests came back, showing improved health over the last time. In fact, I’ve been making slow but steady improvements over the last couple of years. It didn’t make much sense to me or my doctor.

I left feeling frustrated, and he vowed to keep thinking on it. Then, this morning, as I read my Bible, these verses came across my page, from the book of James:

“Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to reckon with.”

James 5: 13-16; The Message

I stopped immediately and prayed. And then I texted a friend and asked her to pray. It’s not that I haven’t prayed about this before – I have many times. But in my frustration this morning of feeling so, so tired, I found myself whining a bit. I started thinking about all the good things I have going on in my life that I am not enjoying to the fullest. I started thinking about the things I could be doing, but have been missing out on. And I whined some more. But while praying over these verses, I asked God to bring healing. I asked God to bring joy.

I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in my 30’s. My doctor, at the time, gave me this diagnosis after I had a bad round of mono. It was my fourth time since age 15 to have it. I was exhausted for over a year, but eventually found my stride again. And truth be told, I hadn’t given it another thought since.

This morning, I got a message from the doctor: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I had messaged him about it last week, wondering if that is still a thing, or could be a thing, and it turns out yes, it’s a thing. And it’s my thing. Since he was not the doctor who had diagnosed me many years ago, it wasn’t on his radar. And since I hadn’t thought about it or struggled with it in almost fifteen years, it had fallen off mine.

Now that I think about it, it makes sense. A flare up of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can be caused by a virus or physical ailment, but also by emotional strain. In the last twelve months, my daughter and oldest child graduated high school. We traveled most of the summer. Then we had a major electrical fire at our house the week before moving her to college. I spent the next six months dealing with repairs and insurance frustrations. I left my job of 22 years to take on a new role. My husband’s grandmother died. My husband’s car engine blew on his cross country trek to the funeral, leaving him with no choice but to buy a new car. And now my son (and my baby) is about to start his senior year of high school.

I’ve had a couple emotional strains this year.

You may look at the list and think, “She’s such a whiner! That’s nothing compared to what I’ve been through!” And if that were truly your response, I would reply, “I am so sorry you have been through so much worse.” And I would mean it, because that’s the funny thing about life… I have been through worse, too. But for whatever reason, my body has decided, at this point in time, to say, “Let’s sleep this one off.”

So this is what I’ve decided to do:

I’m going to rest when I need to rest. I’m going to sleep when I need to sleep. I’m going to drink lots of water. I will take my vitamins and go for walks. I will swim in my pool when I want to move, and I will float when I want to relax. I will praise God for all the blessings in my life, and I will cry out to him when my heart is heavy. I will call friends and make dates to see each other, because laughter really is the best medicine. And when I am too weary to do anything else, I will ask those same friends to pray for me.

And I will believe, as James reminded me this morning, that Jesus will heal me and put me back on my feet.

In the Light of God’s Mercy and Grace

I was a very good student in elementary school. I was smart and I made good grades. I was afraid of breaking the rules and disappointing my teachers so I was very careful to always listen to instructions. I was kind to most of the kids, although I’m sure someone somewhere has a story of a time when I wasn’t. I imagine, if I thought really hard about it, I could come up with a story of my own. But for the most part, I was a good kid and I was well liked.

However, one year, in my elementary years, when I was still sweet and kind and studious and a rule follower, I had a teacher who did not particularly like me. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t the favorite; she was often annoyed with me. She would snap at my questions, rarely smiled at me, and was very harsh in her judgement of my art projects (I was excellent at coloring!). I know I didn’t imagine this behavior and she didn’t treat everyone in the class the same way. It was very obvious who she liked and who she didn’t.

I never figured out why she didn’t like me. It was hard for me back then but I really have let it go. I have come to accept that I am an acquirred taste and not everyone wants to take the time or energy to learn to love me. I get it and I’m fine with it.

When I was in high school, there was a man who volunteered with our church youth group who didn’t like me. He liked the kids who came to all the events and lived their lives the same at church as they did at school and in the community. I was not very authentic as a teenager. I didn’t always make the right choices and this man knew it. He liked to call me out on some of those choices and, since the only time I ever saw him was at Sunday School, he would do the calling out in front of all the other kids.

As an adult I find this sort of behavior appalling. Shaming a teenager in front of their peers is not the ideal way to help them grow a vibrant relationship with Jesus. But I’ve forgiven him because I like to imagine he didn’t know better. And frankly, I only have so much energy to get me through each day and I don’t want to waste an ounce on holding anger at someone like that.

When I was a young married woman I took a job as a receptionist and book keeper for a small business. My job was to answer the phones, take messages, and record receipts in a big ledger book. The owner of the business was always looking at me in a creepy way and then, after only two weeks there, he ran his hand up my leg. I punched him and walked out. He was an old fool and I refused to be disrespected or abused in that way.

These three people all have something in common in my life. All three were terrible at their job. All three showed disrespect. All three could have caused emotional damage. But none of them had the power to change my view of all the other people in their position. I don’t think all teachers are mean. I don’t think all church workers are shaming. And I don’t think all old men are perverts.

In my lifetime I have had bad doctors, bad waiters, bad contractors, bad dentists, bad hairdressers, bad… You name it. But I’ve also had good ones. I could make a list of hundreds of teachers and professors I have had or my children have had who are kind and loving and genuinely care about their students. I have known youth pastors and senior pastors and music leaders and Sunday School teachers who offer grace and show love and point people to Jesus. And I have had bosses who are respectful and kind and have taught me much about leadership.

As a rule, I try to assume that other people are doing the very best they can with the resources they have at hand in that moment. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Are there people who should be fired from their position because they’ve done such a terrible job or caused harm to others? Of course. Are there people who, despite being told of an unacceptable behavior many times, refuse to stop that behavior? Yes. Do I need to keep those people in my life? No.

Our country is going through some crazy times. Actually, the entire world feels sort of mad this year. When I heard of the police officer who murdered a man in Minnesota a few weeks back while other police officers stood and watched, I was completely heart broken. No human being should be treated that way-criminal or free person -no one deserves the treatmant that man received. I have to wonder what those officers have gone through and seen in their lives and careers that calloused their hearts. I am curious where they went off the rails of empathy and compassion for their fellow man and landed in the ditch of hate. I hope those officers are never allowed to work in any position of authority ever again. I hope they are put away. And I hope they find remorse in their hearts and repent.

I also hope that police officers everywhere are taught the proper procedures to handle criminals. I hope they are given resources to manage the stress of their job – counseling and therapy – so they can learn how to process some of the horrors they see in their daily grind without causing horrors for others. I hope there are systems put into place to decipher ones mental capacity to handle the taxing job of being a police officer. But all of these things take funding and will never happen if we defund police.

Last week we watched a dear friend, who is a police officer, work to form teams who would work at local protests of all that is happening in our country. He spent hours on the phone and on his computer, carefully placing structure around what everyone hoped would be a peaceful situation. His desire was to keep the peace but he knew he had to be prepared for the worst.

As he put on his uniform with his bullet-proof vest and his gun in holster and prepared to leave the house, his wife kissed him good-bye. I felt my heart cracking wide open but couldn’t show emotion or fear for him because his teenage children and mine were watching wide-eyed. As he pulled out of the driveway they asked lots of questions about the protests and we all did the best we could to answer those questions. The reality though was that we all knew he was going into a situation where there could be people who see him as the enemy; people who carry so much hate for the police officers in Minnesota, and for other police officers who have been bad at their job, that their hate spills over to all police. We knew that there could be people there who are not capable of seeing past the badge on his chest because, in their minds, all badges are the same and all badges are evil. The irony of the situation was lost on none of us.

I don’t have answers for the system. I don’t claim to be an expert in anything other than Friends and The Office. I know a little bit about a lot of things but not a lot about many things. What I do know is that I pray every day for Jesus to come back and take us all home. I also know Jesus rarely does things according to my time frame or my plan. So in the meantime, I have to guard my heart. I have to guard against fear and anger. I have to guard against judgement and hatred. I have to guard against idolatry and pride. And I have to remind myself over and over and over that God created each of us in His image. I am an image bearer of God. My husband and children bear the image of God. My neighbors bear His image. My boss, my doctor, my dentist, my exterminator…all image bearers. My teacher from elementary school who didn’t like me? Yep. God created her in His image as well. And the youth guy and the perve boss? Also, created in God’s image.

The problem is that this world is full of sin. So the image we were designed to reflect can get smudged and distorted and messed up. But God knew that! So He sent His only child, His Son, to take the punishment for all that sin. When we are baptised in Christ, we take on the pure and holy image we were meant to reflect. We don’t reflect it here on Earth but when God looks at us, all He sees is His own reflection. God sees Jesus in us.

I have hurt people and I have helped people. I have made poor choices and I have shown wisdom. I have judged people and I have trusted people. I have been the target of hate and disrespect and I have been the benefactor of undeserved privilege. I pray no one ever looks at me and sees all or nothing; one or the other. And I pray I never look at others in any light but the light of God’s mercy and grace.

An Invitation for the Weary

Weary has taken on a new meaning for our world. The level of weariness is unprecedented and unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight. We know it will end…we just don’t know when. And that is part of what makes this particular weariness so hard.

This morning, as I opened my Bible, praying for a message that would be relevant to my current state of heart, which frankly can change by the hour, God gave me what I needed. He’s got a habit of that.

Matthew 11: 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I don’t know when the fear of Coronavirus will end. I don’t know when we will leave our houses again and be allowed to stand next to each other. I don’t know when I’ll be able to hug my friends or go to the grocery store and find toilet paper with ease. I don’t know how many more lives will be lost.

But God knows.

God knows when it will end and He sees us now in our weariness. He says we don’t have to carry the burden because he will carry it for us. And some of us have been carrying some burden for quite some time.

It occurred to me a few days ago that in my town, there has been an extended time of burden; there have been several years of loads to bear. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in August of 2017, our town was flooded in a devastating way. It wasn’t simply from the storm but from a late-night release of water from a lake north of us. People made poor judgment calls in a moment of panic and thousands of lives were sent into chaos. Homes were flooded, lives were lost, businesses shut down, and the way of life in our town was forever changed.

Then in 2019, another decision made by an unscrupulous builder teamed up with never before seen flash flooding and several neighborhoods in our town were flooded. Once again, stress and chaos came to us as schools and businesses were shut down. Families were displaced. It was heartbreaking.

And the only thing that could make the Spring flooding of 2019 any more heartbreaking is that the builder, who had promised to fix his mistakes, did not do so in time for another flash flood that came in the Fall. The same families in the same houses who had flooded in the Spring were now flooding again. Plus some extras; some of which had flooded during Harvey.

So just as these families were all getting their repairs wrapped up and moving back into their newly refurbished homes, COVID-19 hits. And we all know what it has brought thus far.

I want to cry out to God and scream, “Enough!!!!!” And yet I know that things could be so much worse. I can look at areas of the world who are war-ravaged and poverty-stricken and politically oppressed and easily remind myself that we really don’t have it that bad in our town; that we can’t complain. But I also know that there are enough feelings for all of us and that I don’t have to save all my empathy for one place. If I neglect to acknowledge my sadness for my friends because they don’t have it as bad as someone in say, Iraq, it doesn’t make the situation in Iraq better. I could say that I shouldn’t pray for the mom of three toddlers who feels like she’s losing her mind right now because she has it so much better than the mom who is struggling to feed her children in Africa. But saving that empathy and prayer doesn’t bring a miracle to Africa any faster.

No, God reminds me to bring my burdens to him because He is big enough for all of it. God can love and care for my town at the same time He cares for Africa. He can see the mom who rebuilt her kitchen twice after flooding twice and also see the mom without a roof over her head. He can provide for the nurse in the hospital in Houston who is short on supplies at the exact time He is providing for the nurse in the refugee camp.

Weariness is relative. There is no comparison to our fellow man. What makes me weary today may seem like a cake-walk to you. And what makes you weary tomorrow may be a dream day for me. Weariness is weariness is weariness. And God can handle all of it. He sees us, He knows us, and He wants to carry the load for us. His heart is humble and gentle and He will not rebuke us for coming to his arms to curl up for a rest. In fact, He has given us an open invitation.

Spoiler Alerts, Triggers, and Hearing from God

Does God speak to his children? I believe he does. I know a lot of people out there think the idea of hearing God speak is just crazy talk; that the thought of sitting down and knowing what God is saying makes one certifiable. And yet I believe.

I’ve never walked a trail and encountered a burning bush that called my name. I’ve never seen the sky open and heard a voice call down to me.  And I’ve never woken to an angel giving me a word of hope or encouragement. But I have felt my heart tremble at a song, and I’ve felt my skin jump up at the end of a prayer. And I’ve cried out to God from the depths of my sorrow when my heart was cracking in two, and I felt his answer seep into the crevice.

So for the last six months or so, you can imagine my despair, when I felt nothing. My prayers were met with stillness. My cries were followed by silence. I was frustrated and felt alone; abandoned. But in the days leading up to my recent trip to New York to teach at a women’s retreat, stories fell together, scriptures made sense, and holes in my work filled in miraculously. I knew that even though I wasn’t hearing God or feeling his comforting presence, he was there. He was there, and he was speaking and working in spite of me. I was praying over and over for him to speak through me; to use my words for good. I begged him to work miracles in the lives of the women I was flying to see because I wanted them to know his love and grace genuinely. So in spite of my inability to understand what he was doing, he did great things anyway.

I had made a terrible habit of avoiding God when I was sad or in pain. My head could tell you that he’s always there and that he would never abandon. My head would quote scripture to remind you of his faithfulness. My head would retell stories from my life when God carried me through the storms. But my heart, as of late, has been falling back into old habits of numbing my emotional pain. As I have battled depression, I have slipped back into a handful of chips here, a bowl of rice there, an extra glass of wine after dinner. I have bought things I didn’t need for myself or things my family didn’t need, but I knew they would love…all for the high of a smile, a thank you, a compliment.

In numbing my pain, I have been avoiding my Jesus, who is the healer of pain. I  cut myself off from he who is capable of cuddling me in my sorrow. And somewhere, in my recovery schooled brain, I knew what I was doing. So I started pushing back the people in my life who are most likely to cause me the most profound pain. Who are the people who can hurt us the worst? Why, the people we love the most, of course. So, I have put certain people at arm’s length, making sure not to feel their intense love, thinking it would protect me from inevitable pain.

Until this weekend, I let my guard down, and I allowed myself feel. And I felt all the feels. I laughed so hard and so loud, and I felt melt-your-heart joy. I felt butterflies in my stomach and sappy love. And then I went to a movie with my husband. We went to see one I’ve been waiting for months to see. One that everyone under the sun is talking about because it stars one of Hollywood’s most handsome and talented men and one of the music industries brightest and most intriguing talents. The movie was about addiction and codependency, and I knew that going in. I had prepared my heart. What I hadn’t steeled myself for was a suicide. A suicide in a garage.

Listen, this movie is very well-written. And it’s a remake…well-written remakes don’t happen every day! The foreshadowing was there and in place, and I knew something awful was going to happen but I didn’t know suicide and I didn’t know in a garage. So as I sat in the movie theater, the tears starting flowing down my face hard and fast. The immediate flashbacks of finding my mom in the garage, even though her suicide method differed from the character in the move, were flashing across my mind in technicolor. Heat rose in my face, and I was terrified to breathe because I didn’t want to blubber out a sob in the theater full of viewers who were managing their tears with dignity and quietness. I could feel the collar of my t-shirt soaking the tears, and I knew I would be a total mess when the lights came on, which they did. And I did. My husband looked at me and said, “How did you not know it would be like that?” I was dumbstruck.

I had read so many reviews. I had read people talking about this movie on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. And yet not one previous viewer share a spoiler. I didn’t know. I was slapped in the face with grief that was so misplaced. The sadness of the movie directly triggered the pain from my past and ripped it from the deepest places of my heart and smeared it all over my face and neck.

And then I got angry. I was so mad at myself for allowing my walls to come down this weekend. I had let myself feel other feelings and taken down so many blocks in my fortress of protection. And when I allowed myself to feel all of the feelings, sadness waltzed in like it was welcome. So I placed an order from my favorite local Mexican restaurant and opened a bottle of wine. Let the numbing commence and the bricks go back up!

But this morning, I had to show up for an online class I’m taking. I had to read about detachment styles, and I had to discuss (openly with a group) how to effectively listen for God’s voice. After the discussion, we took a break for journaling and prayer. I shut off my laptop camera to shut out my group, and I took a deep, cleansing breath. And then he spoke.

“My sweet girl, you live your whole life in fear of abandonment anymore. You carry around assumptions that the people you love the most will hurt you, or worse, leave you. You tell children God is always with them and loves them forever. You tell women that they have no secrets from God, no places he can’t love. Your head knows it to be true for you, but your heart is struggling to trust me. Won’t you make a habit of sitting quietly with me? Won’t you let me fill your aches with my love so you won’t feel the need to numb yourself? Please don’t distract yourself from your pain. Let me stroke your pain with my hand of gentleness until you know my healing in the deepest part of your soul. I long for our relationship to be filled with your trust.”

So, I guess the journey continues. I continue down the path of learning and listening. This life of following God isn’t easy. I wish I could bring you along with me with such a promise, but I can’t do that to you. I can’t lie. Turning over my hurts and habits have never been easy. Allowing God in to heal my places is not as simple as it sounds. But he will never force me back; he will never coerce me. He doesn’t want to put a leash on me and train me. No, my God loves me so much, and he has given me the free will to love him back. He wants me to want him. Sometimes I drift away, and he lets me. And when I drift, I feel the longing to be comforted and healed but I have spent so much of my life trying to fill that longing with other people and other things. They never satisfy. Never.

I hope that the spoilers and triggers of this weekend, the voice I heard from him this morning will draw me back into his arms. I want to lay in his lap and feel his arms around me. And I want you to know that he doesn’t just want this from me. He has placed the same holes and same desires in you. He calls for us both; us all.

Psalm 138:8

“The Lord will fulfill (his purpose) for me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever – You do not abandon the works of Your hands.”