Pink Counters and Cold Hands

It’s cold.

I don’t like being cold.

I’ll trade the rainy warmer days for blue-sky colder ones, but I want to be able to go home at the end of the day and close my front door and be warm. But instead, my hands are like ice and my tea cools, well, conveniently fast actually. But still. I’m buried beneath four blankets, and last night I turned the oven on just for the comfort that something else in my house was emitting heat.

I learned recently that some people’s brains are designed to handle cold better than others. Some people have brains that register cold as pain. And my first thought was, “What do you mean? Not everyone feels like being cold is painful?”

I remember going to Leavenworth with friends and waiting for the tree lighting. They were all cold too, but without the element of, “No, you don’t understand, I’m going to DIE if I stay out here another second,” that I was experiencing. So I slipped into a nearby store and said peace-out to the dark silhouette of a tree: “Catch ya on the flip side. Let me know when you’re all lit up and I’ll ooh and ahh through this here window.”

My friends thought I was being a baby, or being overly dramatic. But maybe there’s a lot we don’t know about pain. And maybe two people can live through similar events and have two really different emotional experiences. And maybe all that we don’t know or understand is another call NOT TO JUDGE. And maybe we can’t always draw from our own frame of understanding and experience to try to relate to another person. Because we’re not all the same.

*

I just wanted a night that felt festive. I brought home pizza and ingredients to make the most chocolate-y, peppermint-y hot cocoa ever. I got out my reindeer mug and bought another sippy cup for Olivia so she could drink it on the couch.

I wanted to watch a Christmas movie and sit, all cuddled up in our pajamas under a mountain of blankets.

They wanted to watch The Lorax.

And actually, they mostly wanted to play and ask for the iPad and wipe pizza grease on furniture.

But it was okay. Because we were together.

And after dinner, I went to shower. And I exhaled deeply all the stress of the day, and I exhaled relief that I survived another week. And I exhaled the loudness- Arlow barking because there was a dog on TV that he wanted to play with, and the kids being kids.

And just as I felt some tension melt away, my phone rang. And I peeked out of the shower curtain to catch a glimpse of it vibrating on the counter and saw the caller was work.

And I was on duty overnight.

So, barely showered, barely dried off, and more than barely freezing, I called work back, trying not to think: “I just wanted a few moments of peace…” And I dealt with that situation while Theo shoved his sippy cup at me, asking for more hot cocoa, and Arlow swiped pizza off the high chair.

And I went to the kitchen to write down some phone numbers the person on the other end of the phone was giving me, and then back to the bathroom where Olivia was standing outside the door, her mouth in the shape of an “o”, pointing inside. Theo was in there, drinking from my giant glass of red pop.

“NO,” I mouthed to him, pushing the pop back further on the counter and ushering him back into the living room.

Then I went back to the kitchen to read off a phone number and call my boss to ask a question about medication delivery for a client.

Then back to the bathroom, where I saw Theo reach for the pop again, hit it with his fingertips, and spill the entire thing onto the counter and the floor, effectively staining everything pink.

So I grabbed his arm and pulled him from the bathroom while he wailed, and grabbed my bath towel, trying to soak up the mess, all the while talking to work.

And in the distance, the Christmas tree lights flickered, and The Lorax sang some song about hope, and Madison cuddled a crying Theo, and I thought: “NO. You don’t get to be the one crying.”

Eventually, we put on The Grinch, and the kids sat still for approximately fifteen seconds. Long enough to stroke their baby soft cheeks and kiss the tops of their heads and tell them I love them. Long enough to hear them giggle and feel them wrap their little arms around me, their bodies squirmy and full of energy beside me.

And then Olivia burped in my face, and Theo ran off to climb the cat tree.

And isn’t that life? I’ve used this analogy before, but I feel like I’m dying from thirst and someone’s given me a damp washcloth to suck water from. And that’s all I have. And I’m so grateful for it. But it doesn’t feel like enough.

Life is hard. It’s really, really hard.

And I keep trying to create moments of magic, moments that feel not hard and worth it and beautiful.

But all of my best efforts and intentions usually aren’t enough. Things rarely ever end up looking or feeling the way I’d hoped, and instead I’m just left feeling exhausted and sorry for myself.

But where does that leave me? Do I stop trying? Do I stop believing in and fighting for magic and beauty?

I don’t know.

All I know to do is keep my eyes heavenward and wait on my God.

And God? I’ve asked Him to be straight with me, to tell it like it is, and still He hasn’t told me to stop hoping that magic and beauty exist in this crazy world.

So I’ll keep making hot cocoa to warm the hands and put a smile on the faces of people I love. And when the house falls quiet at night, I’ll think about the people currently asleep under my roof, and how fiercely I love them. And I’ll watch the tree twinkle and I’ll listen to Arlow snore and I’ll thank  God for every single moment where the fight for life doesn’t feel quite so hard.

And my hands, they’re cold.

And my head is frazzled with activity and worry and all the “I don’t know’s!” filling me up inside.

But my heart feels held. The God who made my heart, promises to hold it.

And He is.

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It’s All Wrapped Up In Him

You know what insomnia does? It makes your brain even more unreliable than usual.

And when your brain is already a lying-liar-face because you’re stinkin’ depressed, adding insomnia to that is just… well, a recipe for success, folks.

Lately, falling asleep is the hardest thing I do all day. Which is doubly unfortunate because being alive is pretty hard too.

“Forget everything,” I was instructing myself last night. I heard Arlow snoring, and Madison and the kids breathing deeply in the next room, and the clock ticking. “Forget everything about yourself- your job (or lack thereof), your family (or lack thereof), all of the things that you think make you who you are. Forget your responsibilities and fears and hopes and dreams. Just for now, strip it all away. Forget everything but this: You are His.”

And then I focused on breathing. “Breathe, don’t think. Breathe, don’t think. You are His, you are His, you are His.”

I could hear my breathing, feel my heartbeat, the sensation of the air on my exposed feet, and I noticed that my eyelids felt hot from lack of sleep. And I breathed deep, to the core of me, somewhere in my abdomen, where spirit and soul and the Holy Spirit all seem to collide.

I am His. I am His. I am His. Nothing else matters. At least for this moment, nothing else matters.

And still, I couldn’t sleep. But at least my head, my lying brain, had been silenced for the moment. There were no words, just my own steady inhale and exhale. And my heart, on its knees, looking and listening and waiting.

*

The irony of insomnia is that the harder you try to fall asleep, the less likely it is that you’re going to be able to.

And that made me think- how often in my life do I lament, despair and exasperation written on my face: “I’m trying SO HARD!”

And how often is that the opposite of what I should be doing?

Hear me out.

While I am a fan of naps, and while I’m probably not gonna be the spokesperson for A Hard Day’s Work, I’m not advocating laziness.

I’m advocating surrender.

Rest.

Waiting on the only One who has the power to bring about what it is you’re trying to do on your own.

The harder I try, the less likely it is that I will be able to fall asleep.

Similarly, the harder I try to “have more faith!” or “have more hope!”, the less I’m able to focus on what really matters- my relationship with Him, the God who promises to finish the good work He (HE! Not me!) has begun in me.

I mean, sure, it’s a blow to evil if we testify that God is the author of ALL good things, that we are nothing without Him, and that He has a good plan for us… but if we forget to live like that’s true? If we start trying to measure up or be “better”? If we forget that it’s not about us (even in regards to how much faith or hope or love we have!) but about Him? If we forget the best use of our time is spent at His feet? If we forget that it is He who is making us like Jesus, and that it is not something we can accomplish on our own (or take any credit for!)? Well, if we do that, if we get caught in that trap, our religion becomes more about us than about Him, doesn’t it?

I can’t do it. I can’t make myself have more faith or hope. I can’t make myself want to live. I can’t make myself sleep.

But He can.

In every situation, if anxiety is replacing peace, you’re on the wrong track.

And how incredible is that?! That our God would structure life that way, that He loves us so much that He’d say: “If the voice you hear makes you feel anxious, IT’S NOT MINE.”

*

This life isn’t going to cut it.

I look around me at all of this–houses and people and stores and nature and traffic and all the things that make up this life–and IT ISN’T JESUS.

It’s like I’m dying of thirst and someone gave me a damp rag. And I’m trying to somehow not be thirsty anymore by sucking the water out of the rag, but it’s a joke. I’m still dying of thirst.

My thirst for Jesus is not being met in this life I’m living.

There must be more.

I have to believe that.

I have to believe I’m here in this place, not because I’m screwed up (although I am), but because He is using my thirst and discomfort to draw me deeper.

I felt Him saying to me today, as my heart twisted and ached within me and my head spun with lies and truths and variations of both, “This isn’t a mistake. YOU are not a mistake. You are tenderhearted in a way that is rare. And some might call it wrong, but it isn’t wrong. It isn’t a flaw. It is My design. YOU are MY design.”

Oh, but this heart of mine has me so aching for heaven. There just isn’t enough Jesus here.

But I’m here for a reason. I’m alive for a reason.

I’m thirsty for a reason.

And if I stop believing that, if I chalk it up to “heaven is my real home”, I’ll shut down the part of my heart that is screaming for more of Him. I’ll stop waiting on Him and begging Him to be more real to me. I’ll tell myself this is all there is.

I think well-meaning, God-loving people tell themselves that all the time. They seek and it seems futile and they’re thirsty and they get tired of living with the thirst. So they tell themselves what I’ve been tempted to tell myself- the lie that there is no more of God to be found this side of heaven. And so they start working on themselves rather than seeking the face of God.

They trade in passion and romance (this is, after all, a love story) and WILD HOPE, and instead talk about their relationship with God in terms of their faith- learning to be okay with less than they’d hoped for, practicing peace in the midst of suffering. “This life is a war, but God is GOOD!” they say. And that is true. It is. But it’s not the face of God. It’s theology and a desperate grasping and clinging at some way to make this life bearable. It’s a love for our Savior and a reverence and an awe, yes. But it isn’t letting ourselves be held. It isn’t knowing and loving Him more.

What does the Bible mean when it says we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts? What does it REALLY mean?

Does it mean we’ll be able to walk through our lives with scripture in our heads so fully that the lies of the enemy cannot penetrate? Does it mean we will be able to talk our hearts off the ledge with Truth when life gets hard? Does it mean we weep with hope and rejoice in the midst of sorrow?

I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I just can’t believe that’s what Jesus was promising when He said we’d find Him. HIM.

And I refuse to fabricate my God. I refuse to sit here and say it’s okay if all there is of Him this side of heaven is trees and mountains and baby smiles and the promise that He is using my pain to make me more like Jesus. Those things are GOOD. But they aren’t Him.

Sunsets and stars and hugs? GOOD. But they aren’t the Jesus my heart is screaming for.

They are a damp rag when I’m dying of thirst.

Lord, I’m grateful. I’m grateful. But it’s not enough.

Is “I am Yours and You are mine” just something we say? Or does it truly mean something? Because that would suggest a relationship. A relationship that goes beyond theology and sunsets and even hard-earned faith.

All of that is good and important, but THERE HAS TO BE MORE.

We are called to walk by faith, yes. But we are also called to seek His face.

And you know what the most infuriating thing is? I can’t”try harder” to know and love Him more.

It’s a process, something He is doing in me.

All I can do is refuse to stop seeking. I will knock until the door opens. I will continue to live eyes open, in holy anticipation of the God who IS HERE.

And I will refuse to let my lying brain tell me scripture didn’t really mean we’d find Him when we seek Him.

And sure, I could convince myself scripture meant we’d learn to see Him in the good of this life- warm blankets and shared laughs and good books and people who speak life and hope and love. I can tell myself that. And it might even be the partial truth.

But either the promises of God are even better than we can ever hope or dream or imagine, or they are nothing at all.

It’s dangerous when we try to decide scripture means less than what it reads.

It’s dangerous when we take the God who is more loving and powerful and present and real and near and good than we can fathom, and decide He is capable of less than amazing, miraculous things.

*

“You can’t force these things. They only come about through my Spirit…” (Zech. 4:6-7)

 

 

The Beauty Of Thirst

It’s beautiful, the stories I read, of people triumphing through pain. It’s beautiful how they talk of their tears and their angry prayers and their eventual surrender. And then their hope. Their hope with roots reaching down deeper than before, sturdy and unwavering.

And I ask God questions about that, about the beauty thread through life and about how he sees my life. And then I tell Him how I see my life. And He says, “Do you think their stories felt beautiful to them in the midst of their desert season?”

And I ask Him why He doesn’t meet with me when I put Him first, when I fall to my knees and scream at heaven for something to fill me up on the inside. And He says, “What if I did? What if every single time you prayed, you felt Me as near as a hug? What would you learn about letting your emotions define your truth? What would you learn about which of us is in control? What would you learn about trusting even when you don’t understand?”

“The sorrow? The grief? It’s too much,” I told my therapist. It felt hard to breathe. I thought I might throw up. And she listened. And she nodded that it makes sense that it’s painful. And she reminded me that we don’t yet know how my story will end, that I can grieve what I’ve lost and what I don’t have, but I can’t know that I’ll NEVER have those things.

And I left my therapy appointment with something like an eye roll because even if she’s right, I also don’t know that it’s ever going to be okay. And that thought? It feels like getting punched in the stomach, the wind knocked out of me. And so I ran, terrified and full of need, to God. “The sorrow? The grief? It’s too much,” I told Him. And He bent down low and looked into my wide-eyes and spoke words to my soul, words of strength and comfort and peace in the midst of the panic: “It’s not too much for Me.”

And how do I let that change me inside? How do I let the bigness and trustworthiness of my God be truer to me than the pain? How do I contain more of Him within me than I contain sorrow? How do I breathe when there’s so much loss and so much screaming ache and so much “what if” and “never” swirling about within me furiously?

I can’t think of one not-desperate time in my life since Mom got sick.

I can’t think of a season of my life where I wasn’t trying to swallow Scripture like a pill, guarding my thoughts with a fierceness bordering on panic, trying to hold my entire world and myself together.

I can’t think of a single season where I wasn’t screaming to heaven for help and having to press on alone. I can’t think of a season where I didn’t make excuses for God, speak trust and faith into the air like an exhale- necessary for my existence.

I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t trying to do everything right. To sustain myself. To be okay. To chase after a life worth living.

And I’m so tired. I am so tired of pressing on and fighting so hard and endlessly collecting sorrow and loss and grief within me. I am so tired of containing so much pain and trying to be okay with hurting like I am. I’m so tired.

I am tired of hoping.

And I’m frustrated because, even as I say that, I can hear the Lord whisper: “Where is your hope?”

It is in feeling okay? In having x, y, or z? Or is it in Him?

“It’s in You!” I scream at the sky. “How could You even ask me that when I’ve told You over and over again how I NEED YOU?!” I ask, desperate ache for Him radiating like fire in my heart.

And He’s calm. Listening. “That hope, does it have an expiration date? Is it dependent on what you see Me doing? Or will you cling to it, regardless of the circumstances around you, simply because of who I am?”

And I weep. Because I am in so much pain. But there’s a surrender in the weeping too. A grieving. And I pray over myself: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.” And I ask for a miracle- the miracle of enoughness found in Him. The miracle of joy in the sorrow. The miracle of knowing there’s nothing but the best in store for me because I am precious and held.

And if it’s hope that is really rooted in Him, then I will cling even when the waiting feels like forever.

When I’m in the desert and the God who created rain seems to be letting me die of dehydration, I will cling to hope. Because He is good. Even if I’m thirsty, He is good.

And maybe that’s how the roots of hope grow deeper. We come thirsty. We come thirsty and there’s no water to be found, and we are desperate. But maybe the water the Lord is providing is coming from within. And so the roots of hope reach deeper and deeper for a water with a source that isn’t coming from outside, but within- flowing like Spirit instead of liquid.

I will cling to what is true. I will let hope grow roots. And I will allow those roots to grow down deep.

And when I can’t, when I can’t even keep my promise to the Lord to trust and hope and believe, I will press my hands over my heart and I will pray: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.”

Because I bring nothing to the table.

For every single thing, I’m dependent on Him.

Thirsty

1

When I keep my eyes open, I know that there is no place God isn’t. When I look for Him, I realize He is all around. He is the air I breathe.

I am desperate for Him all of the time. Every single moment, I need Him. And no matter how much I pray or read my Bible or worship Him, no matter how near He is, IT’S NOT ENOUGH. I always, always, always feel thirsty and desperate for MORE.

More of Him.

More of something.

More love and comfort and peace and joy and acceptance and hope and family.

Less of this world with its confusions and routines and sorrows.

More of Him. More of heaven. More hugs and “I love you’s” and belonging.

2

Often I pray that the Lord will give me eyes to see.

I pray simultaneously for more and I pray for His perspective.

I’m sure thirst is good because its motivating, it pushes an individual to find water, but I don’t want to live my whole life thirsty.

I feel like a toddler who is in an unfamiliar place and is scared and tired, and she is looking up at her father (or Father) and raising her arms to him and begging him to lift her up. She’ll be okay as long as she’s in his arms. But right now? Right now she’s not okay.

And she can grab her father’s leg, maybe even trying to claw her way up it with futile effort, but it’s still not enough. She needs his embrace. She needs to be held. She needs to be fully wrapped up in his arms.

That is how I feel.

But God cannot lift me up. He cannot embrace me. And so I thirst.

3

But my thirst propels me to keep my eyes open. To look for signs of Father everywhere. To see His kindness in the eyes of someone I love, to feel His gentle smile when I tilt my face heavenward, to hear His voice in scripture and song and nature.

All of this that we get so bold as to call our own–this planet and our knowledge about how it works and our homes and cars and the people we love–they are all His. I couldn’t get away from Him if I tried. He is the air I breathe. He is everything. Everywhere I look, I see signs of Him. In every moment and every thing, He Is.

4

I see pink sunset clouds breathed across the sky, and I hear, “I am here.”

When Theodore looks at me with sleepy, love-filled eyes? “I am here.”

Conversations with loved ones that make my heart feel hugged? “I am here.”

5

Breathing in the foggy air of morning? Dew on the grass? “I am here.”

The feeling of stepping into a hot shower when you’re cold and in need of comfort? “I am here.”

That blissful moment before you fall asleep at night, when you feel safe and relaxed and small and whole in a way you don’t feel during your fully awake hours? “I am here.”

The warmth of a dog curled up at your side? A favorite blanket? A scent that reminds you of childhood? “I am here.”

6

I am thirsty. I am desperate. But I am not alone.

I am somehow both held and not held, hugged and not hugged, secure and fragile.

7

Lord, You know my heart. You know what I need when I cry for “more”. You know my desperation and my sorrows. You know how to make me be okay.

You know what makes me smile and laugh. You know what makes me feel relaxed and at peace and free to breathe in the goodness of You.

I will never stop crying for more, and You will never stop giving me reasons to love this awful, beautiful, painful, amazing life.

8

You have a plan. You have a plan. You have a plan.

This day and the next day, they are Yours. You tell the sun to rise and the stars to come out. Everything screams that You Are and that You have a plan. Don’t let me get so familiar with life that I stop hearing You in all of it.

This is the day that You have made.

And You are in control of every single aspect of it, from the rising sun to the state of my heart.

Hallelujah.

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My First Love

Jesus, help me seek You with my whole heart.

There is so much in the world vying for my attention. There is so much that promises to fulfill. But it’s all lies- fulfillment, true fullness of life, is found in Christ alone.

Lately I’ve been finding it is requiring a little more discipline to make the time to spend with God, but when I do, when I sit down with my Bible, instantly there is nowhere else I’d rather be and nothing I’d rather be doing. It’s like until I sat there before the Lord, ready to hear from Him, I didn’t realize how thirsty I was. The thirst is always there, so much so that I hardly even notice it, but when I make time for Him I suddenly realize. Oh, how He satisfies. And oh, how quick I am to forget that!

I feel like I am programmed with little “warning signs”. When I start to think certain things or feel certain ways, I know I am not getting enough of Jesus. And yet, because I am so quick to forget that it’s Jesus I need, I keep plowing forward, looking for something else to fulfill. And that never goes well.

It’s like I’m driving a car and the needle is on empty, but I completely ignore that and find myself stranded on the side of the road a few miles later, shaking my fist and asking the universe, “Why does this always happen to me!?” It’s illogical that I’d somehow feel justified in protesting my plight when I was given ample warning that I needed to fill up.

Lord, help me remember that YOU are life. Help me continue to fall deeper in love with You.

Time spent with you is invaluable. Nothing is worth trading that time for something else.

I am Yours and You are mine,
forever and ever.
Amen.