“Therefore, Jesus Said…”

I was trying to look at Amazon’s website tonight, but I hit a wrong button and ended up at my next (alphabetically) bookmarked site: Bible Gateway.

And suddenly, where I was expecting to find my search results for Dishwasher Detergent, instead I was looking at Bible Gateway’s Verse of the Day.

“Therefore, Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.'” -John 10:7, 9-10 NIV

He won’t let me fall.

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The Holder Of Every Second

I was crying in the car after dinner. I tried not to cry. I tried to focus on the raindrops running down my windshield and the way my headlights were bouncing off the license plate in front of me. I focused on the porch light that seemed to be flickering because of the tree branches waving back and forth in front of it. I scanned the bushes for deer.

My head was empty of thoughts, but the tears still came, flowing from some place in the center of me where all my pain is built up as pressure and poison.

*

People ask how I am and it’s always the same thing: I still can’t feel any connection to this life that I know is a gift.

I look at my therapist and say, “I have nothing to say.” Because it’s all been said already. I just keep saying the same thing. And what’s the point? Speaking my pain, my gratitude, my hopes and fears, joys, needs, and the overriding goodness of the God who loves me, none of it changes anything. It all still just hurts.

Sometimes when I’m not with her, I imagine myself going into my therapy session, sitting on her couch, putting my face in my hands, and sobbing the entire hour. That I could do. I have no words, just pain. But when I am actually there, I never have the guts to just devote an entire hour to weeping. And I still have nothing to say. So instead, I spend the hour avoiding looking her in the eyes and I fidgeting uncomfortably.

I still showed up, though. I got in my car and I drove there. I’m a mess and I have nothing to offer, but I’m still alive to sit on a couch and blink back tears. I’m still showing up, the best way I know how, for this life that I can’t seem to make myself want.

But with His eyes full of promise and love, I can hear my Jesus say: “Don’t give up. Keep your eyes on Me. Just wait, child. Just wait and trust.”

And so I’m trying. I can’t make myself want to live, but I can trust that He is doing something, even when I can’t perceive it. He is working things together even when I hurt.

*

I’ve been watching a survival show lately. It’s the voice of God to me over and over again.

There’s the father who crawls across the ground, his back and legs broken, to reach his child who is calling for him. After the rescue, the doctor says it’s impossible that he could’ve done that with the injuries he sustained. And then they interview the father, his eyes moist with tears, who shrugs lightly and says: “Love is stronger than anything. It’s stronger than pain. It’s the strongest force on earth. My baby was calling for me. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to her.”
And the message to me: Love wins. Love is powerful. God is Love. I am His child. He fights for me. He comes when I call. Nothing will stop Him from running to me.

There’s the woman who is quoted as having worried, in the midst of her crisis: “What must they (onlookers) think of this person I am right now?” And then she paused a moment, thoughtfully, and said: “I don’t care what they think. I am SURVIVING here. They are just going to have to deal with it.”
The message? Sometimes it’s enough just to survive. The opinions of others, if harsh, are from a place of ignorance, a lack of understanding what it means to be looking death in the face and saying no.

There’s the woman whose son survived because she had told him his entire life that, no matter what situation he finds himself in, never to panic because “panic kills more people than whatever the incident is.”
The message? Truth. My experience, too, is that it’s the panic that tries to kill me even more than the pain.

There’s the man who pushed past his child to protect her from a bear. He couldn’t see the bear initially, he didn’t know what he was going to see when he stepped around the corner where she was, but he knew “[his] kid was in danger.” Nothing else mattered. He had to protect her.
The message? My God protects me. Life is full of pain, yes, but there’s the pain meant to grow us, and there’s the pain that will destroy us. The latter pain, the bear-like pain, He jumps in front of and tells it to go. He won’t let it touch me.

In every story of survival, the victims rarely did the “right” thing. Their rescue was never the result of their effort or wisdom or even their begging. They were completely powerless to save themselves. All they could do was wait and hope. And make mistakes. And keep breathing. And pray.

And the most incredible thing to me is how everything had to come together perfectly or their rescue never would’ve happened. And there was no way all those things should’ve been able to connect at the precise moments they did. It was impossible. But then again, nothing is impossible where God is at work.

There was no denying God’s hand in each of their stories. And that makes me feel so safe, so completely assured that nothing will happen to me that He doesn’t allow.

He holds every single second.

*

The people in that show who were rescued, they all said they wanted to give up at a point during their suffering, but then they thought of their families. They thought of their parents or spouses or children, the people whose lives were inseparably connected to their own, bound by fierce love, and sometimes blood. That was why they fought- for their families. For love.

“None of it matters unless you have your family by your side,” one survivor said.

And I agree.

And it hurts.

But then I remember the God who IS my family. The God who has blessed me with family, even though it doesn’t look or feel the way I wish it did. The God whose love heals. The God who is jealous for me.

And I remember the God whose ways are beyond our ability to understand. The God whose love is also beyond what we could comprehend.

And I know that somehow, even when it hurts, I’m held. Every single second.

*

God, where are You in this moment? Where are You when it hurts and I can’t script for myself an ending that makes this feel worth it?

Where are You when I can’t feed myself promises of the “better” to come or of a suffering that has an expiration date?

Where are You when there’s no air to breathe? When no one can make it better and the walls are closing in on me because: “Time keeps passing and how do I do this life that is causing me so much grief?!”

Where are You when my chest fills with panic and help cannot be found?

Where are You when I have no idea how to make anything – my life, my relationships, my heart – better?

Where are You when I’m powerless and desperate and screwing up constantly and terrified of things getting worse? Where are You?

And I don’t say that as an accusation, but as a prayer: “Teach me to see You.”

And He knows. He sees my heart. He hears words even when I have none to say. And in response, He offers a gentle smile. And then: “Trust Me, child.”

And it’s not an answer to all of my questions. It’s not a solution with steps that I can follow, outlined and numbered and clear. It’s not an instantaneous healing. Just a reminder to trust.

Trust- not in a plan or method or clearly marked path.
Trust- not in my ability to see how it’s going to be okay.
Trust- not in someone to swoop in with answers or love.
Trust- not in my efforts to fight this battle, or think all the right things, or pray without ceasing.
But trust in Him. In the character and power of the God of hope and promise.

There is nothing to trust in but Him. Everything else has been stripped away. I have nothing to offer and I can’t fix it.

I’ve tried taking my life in my hands and molding it in such a way that it doesn’t hurt. But that doesn’t work. My life just becomes this fragile, teetering thing. And I have moments of happiness, sure, but I’m also exhausting myself constantly, trying to keep what I’ve built from toppling.

I’ve tried to manipulate people and situations so that they’d fit into the broken, screaming places in my heart. But people aren’t meant to be manipulated. And love can’t be forced. And our hearts are much too reflective of Him to be made whole by being patched with only things of this world.

I’ve tried to make it be better. I’ve tried radical acceptance. I’ve tried not wanting anything but God. Nothing I try works. And maybe that’s the realization I’ve been supposed to come to all along: I can’t problem-solve or analyze my way out of this. I don’t have to have a solution. I don’t even have to have anything to offer. Because it isn’t my job to be the solution-seer. That job belongs to the One who whispers: “Trust Me.”

My job isn’t to take and mold and force and beg and decided how this story is going to go; my job is to let it be written. He writes, I trust. He writes, I stay alive.

And He smiles because I’m giving up trying to script and build and sustain and fix, which means that finally things are going to be built right- by capable, all-knowing, infinitely-loving hands.

No more teetering or wobbling. No more desperate pleading and scrambling to keep things from falling apart.

I don’t have a plan. All I have is the kind eyes and tender leading of my Father.

But isn’t that what I’ve been praying for? “I don’t know what I want anymore. I don’t know how to fix it. I just want You. Teach me to see You.” And so now here I am, where everything hurts and I am, every single second, needing to seek His face because it’s the only thing keeping me in this fight.

Oh, for His perspective. How much less would all this hurt if only I could see the beauty woven through all of the pain?

And so, I pray: “Lord, teach me not to base my truth on what I feel or see. Protect me from anything untrue. Help me to guard my heart and mind so that only Your voice, the voice of Truth, will resound within me.”

I pray.

And I go for walks.

I cry in cars.

I read books that stir hope within me.

I want to give up.

But most days, I don’t let myself.

And I watch night fade into day. Over and over and over again.

This Is How You Let Yourself Be Held

I know God is a good father.

But I wish He felt like a good father a little more often.

Certainly He can’t expect us to do this life without knowing His arms around us- without sensing ourselves held, beloved, in His warm embrace?

“I want to cry. I am so, so tired,” I told someone yesterday.

And I laughed. Yesterday, I laughed so hard I couldn’t talk.

And I got a migraine.

And I slept well.

And I held a child.

And cuddled a dog.

And I sobbed.

And I feared today coming.

And I wondered what the point of all this is.

And I asked God if I’ll ever feel okay again.

And I checked in with myself and was disheartened, but not surprised, to discover my outlook on being alive is still the same.

I’m so tired.

I am fighting so hard. I’m doing everything I know to do, and this life? It feels… Well, it feels like I’m carrying a cross. I’m doing something I don’t feel like doing, each second choosing to put one foot in front of the next. And not only don’t I want to do it, but it HURTS. Each second, each step, it’s so painful. And yet I’m choosing to walk. I’m choosing to live in the pain.

And I ask God big questions. And I tell Him bold things, like, “This is WRONG. This can’t be what You have for me. Something isn’t right. This can’t be all there is.”

And I sob. I get angry and I get scared and I can’t breathe and I want to jump ship. I want to be done with this life I never asked for in the first place, this life that I don’t see getting better any time soon.

And my head fills with heavy things and everything is spinning and I have no control.

And then I close my eyes.

And I whisper the only prayer that comforts my heart: “Just hold me.”

Because it’s all spinning and the cross is heavy and I’m in so much pain. And time just doesn’t freaking stop. It just keeps going and it doesn’t care if I’m tired.

But I’m still His.

He is still my Father.

And, even when I can’t feel it, I know He is holding me.

I know He is good.

*

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord. Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord!” -Ps. 27:13-14

 

Lessons from Dogs and Flowers

I didn’t want to go for a walk.

But I wanted to eat a bunch of Macaroni and Cheese, so the walk felt necessary.

Sometimes you have to act without asking yourself if you want to. Sometimes that practice is dangerous, like when you’re struggling to want to live, but sometimes it parents you right out of the house and into the fresh air against your will.

“Can you please stop smelling everything?” I asked Arlow at the start of the walk. I was grumpy and tired and I just wanted to be in my pajamas in bed. “I don’t actually want to be out here. I want to go home. Can we please hurry this process along?” I asked him.

But my dog, my forever-curious lover of life, refused to share my goal. Every plant, shadow, hole in the dirt, and bloom seemed to beckon him: “Notice me!” He is forever reminding me sometimes the journey really is the best part, whereas I am always so quick to rush to check things off my to-do list.

And so I tried to still my inner sense of hurry and impatience. I tried to see things through his eyes.

And something happened as I passed by the same twisted trees and stacked rocks I have passed by many times before- I stopped feeling bored.

I felt my legs working to propel me uphill. My heart beating. My body reminding me, “I am ALIVE.”

I noticed how, even in a few days’ time, plants had started growing over the trail. “How do you already look different, trail?” I asked, as I surveyed the ever-expanding green before me.

I counted the snails we passed and listened to the river rushing by on my left and I walked further on the trail than I had ever walked before because, right when I was considering turning around, I saw golden sunlight up ahead. “Look, Arlow!” I said, “Sunlight!” And so we climbed, seeking out the golden light of the fading sun.

*

At church on Sunday, I took home three flowers. Daisies? I don’t know. My plant knowledge is limited. I placed them in a vase on my kitchen windowsill when I got home. I adjusted them so that they were facing me, so that I could smile at them while I did dishes or waited for the tea kettle to whistle.

But they, like Arlow, also had a lesson for me. By day’s end yesterday, I noticed all three of them had turned to face the sun.

They were seeking the light.

Because they knew their life depended on it.

And they don’t panic as the sun goes down. They don’t wither or fade or droop. They just stay there, poised, staring heavenward.

Because they know, somehow, that this is just the way of things- daylight fades into darkness. Summer fades into winter. There is an ebb and flow. But in it all, through it all, we are held.

Darkness–winter–it isn’t how the story ends. The sun comes up.

The sun always comes back up.

As Sure As The Sun

Dear God,

Thank You for the comfort of falling asleep on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, while people you love remain awake around you. Thank You for the gift of drifting off to sleep knowing You’re not alone.

Thank You when you wake up and realize you were drooling, but know you don’t have to be embarrassed because You’re safe with these people who love and accept you. And we’re all human. It’s not a competition.

Thank You for legs intertwined and shoulders to rest your head on and arms to interlink and backs to scratch.

Thank You for the quiet of night, and late night drives when you look out the window and watch the bright lights of buildings pass in a blur. And thank You when, in the car, people you love are asleep. And so precious to you. And you’re all there together. And the quiet and the being together and the lights lull you into a sense of All Is Well.

Thank You for laughter. And good stories. And deep conversations.

Thank You for good food and eating without guilt or shame or self-loathing. Thank You for cashews and grapes and dark chocolate.

Thank You for growth and hope and promise.Thank You for being wanted and belonging. And thank You that when something doesn’t make sense, I can entrust that thing to You and just let myself be held.

Thank You when the things I fear happening don’t happen.

Thank You for Dramamine and that I didn’t throw up in the car. And thank You that even the most uncomfortable things, like nausea, eventually pass. And thank You that even had I thrown up, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. Because I’m loved and it isn’t a performance. I’m safe and Yours and it’s all going to be okay.

Thank You for energy drinks and also please don’t let them kill me. 😉

Thank You for the beauty of winter- warm houses and long showers and hot beverages and clothes that feel like a hug. And thank You for the promise of spring.

Thank You for the way the rising sun looks on slightly foggy mornings.

Thank You for headaches that dissipate and don’t turn into migraines.

Thank You for the opportunity to create and read good books and continually open myself up to breathe in the holy beauty of what this world has to offer.

Thank You for the times when I feel out-of-place and judged and I can hold my head high and not feel sad because I know I am not doing life unloved. People carry me in their hearts even when we’re apart. And Thank You that You don’t make mistakes. And You made me.

Thank You for permission to be my authentic self. And thank You for giving me authentic, flawed, beautiful, Jesus-reflecting people to do life with.

Thank You for opportunities to nurture and provide and be someone’s safe place.

Thank You for animals and cuddles and purrs and how pets look at you like you’re everything they need.

Thank You for Indian food, and that the Indian food restaurant isn’t closer to my house than it is, which safeguards me from going very often!

Thank You that nothing unresolved or unhealed or fragmented within me will be that way forever. Thank You for the way hope and patience go hand-in-hand, and that waiting or not understanding aren’t evidence of anything. Thank You that You are reliably, unfailingly trustworthy and good.

Thank You for home–found in places and people and moments–and that even while we await our true home, our home with You, this world doesn’t have to feel lonely or wrong or like anything less than a gift.

Thank You for bathrooms with toilets that flush normally and don’t require any special tricks or maneuvers. And doors that lock in a way that isn’t confusing, making you simultaneously fear that it’s not actually locked, and also that it’s so locked that you won’t be able to get it unlocked and will have to pound on the door for help. …Which is totally a thing that has happened to me before.

Thank You for second chances and fiftieth chances and for always welcoming me back to You with arms wide open.

Thank You that it’s impossible to believe You to be more good or loving or present than You actually are. Thank You that You’re all those things more than we can even fathom.

Thank You for invitations.

Thank You that I can fall on my knees before You and just be Your child- desperate and needy and in love with You. Thank You that even in my deepest pain, when I turn to You, it makes you smile. And thank You that, even in my deepest pain, that thought brings me comfort.

Thank You that my begging You to know and love You more is not a prayer I have to fear going unanswered.

Thank You that I’m still here to celebrate my 29th birthday later this month. Thank You that even when I gave up, You didn’t. Thank You for all that has remained even amidst all the loss and brokenness and mistakes. Oh Abba, thank You.

Thank You for how You love me. Thank You for how You provide. Thank You that I have so much to be thankful for.

Rest

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” -Isaiah 30:15

We can’t put our faith or hope in anything apart from Him. Oh, how I have to keep learning that lesson!

We cannot save ourselves, nor can we look to others to save us.

We must run to Him, broken as we may be, elusive as He may sometimes seem.

We have to submit ourselves to His divine will, trusting in His goodness and power and mercy.

And in that, in our quietness and trust (trust = confidence = “faith in practice”) we will find strength.

Quietness is the opposite of haste or fear. Quietness is sitting before Him as His child, clear that He is still on the throne, and choosing to trust in His timing. It is choosing to trust that He is working things together for good.

We let ourselves be held by Him. We come to know His heart more. We discover He CAN be trusted.

We breathe.

Quietness and trust.

2 a.m. A small child after a nightmare. In bed, her father’s hand rubbing her back. Her breathing slows, her eyelids grow heavy once again.

Quietness.

Trust.

Faith like a child.

Just breathe. Let His presence be our comfort and our strength.

God is love. He can be nothing else. He is unfailingly good and unchanging.

He keeps His promises.