Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘heartache

Yesterday, I attended a moving prayer service at Saddleback for Matthew Warren, Rick’s 27 year-old-son who committed suicide on Friday. I didn’t know Matthew, but I am on one of Rick’s teams and one of Kay’s. I’ve come to know both of them and I know their hearts are breaking. Could you say a prayer for them, but also for anyone who has been devastated because of suicide?

Myra+Rick2Richard and I had a very close friend who committed suicide. This happened in 2010 and I still often think of her often. We have always operated with an open door policy on our home; we feel it is God’s, not ours. As we processed our friend’s death, we wondered why she never shared her troubles with us, never picked up the phone to call us or come to stay with us. With all the questions we asked ourselves in our grief, I can’t imagine how a family member recovers from this shock.

Tom Holiday, Rick’s brother-in-law and Matthew’s uncle, gave a profound message this weekend. He issued a call to action: to attack evil with good. So, please take an extra moment to be kind to those around you. Hug your family and friends. Let people know how much you love them. Ask Jesus into whatever grief you are carrying because we all have grief in this life. Only He can completely transform a situation. Nothing, absolutely nothing is hopeless if you invite Christ into it. His very presence covers us with an all-encompassing love and a radiant hope to fill our lives with energy and purpose. So go out of your way this week to become a living, breathing, walking display of His glory.

Let me start: thank you for all the kindness you have shown me through the years. All of you, my readers, have gone out of your way to encourage me and make me into a better writer. I appreciate your acute intellects and wonderful suggestions on how to improve. You are awesome and amazing. My writing has vastly improved because of you.

Thanks for all you do! Now, please say a kind word today, tell someone that you love them or bring a smile to someone’s face with a word of encouragement. Let the world be brighter today because of you.

The saying goes: “Silence is golden.” And yet, to me, silence is confounding. In one sense, it is beautifully laden with potential and possibility. But is also a void – mysterious and empty – waiting hauntingly to be filled.  ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Lately, I’ve been thinking how my silence on this page has been perplexing. To be sure, a lot happened since my last blog entry months ago. I spent most of the time freezing in Illinois, had deep, moving conversations with a great group of friends, worked diligently on a house project and after too many wintry, sunless days, learned that I honestly can’t live without that magnificent, warming orb.

Quite frankly, the days were rich with inspiration for writing. But I never felt compelled to sit down at my laptop and pound out a blog entry. I’d like to say I was just too busy, but somewhere between the bitterness of my confusion and the sweetness of God’s redemptive tenderness, I became afraid of the cursor.

Most writers have it: the fear they’ll finally make time to sit down to write, open a document, but then stare, maybe for hours, at a blinking cursor deeply frustrated that the words won’t come. But for me, starting a new entry has always been exciting. It felt freeing to fill that page with juicy words, ripe with meaning. There was always a hidden joy of tapping into my internal creativity. And even though God’s fingerprints were all over my life these past months, opening myself up was impossible. I was empty and fragmented from the intense dilemma I created for myself.

You see, being a writer requires you become more skilled with each work: richer imagery, better phrasing, more precise word usage. It demands your creativity become rounder, deeper and open-hearted. That’s part of the hard task of writing: to hone your voice to one worth listening to in increasing measure with every page. Writing requires both the very methodical skill of grammar and syntax and a burning passion about the story.

And all that means every time you sit down to write, you grapple with your own sense of worthiness. And in the deep silence of a northern Illinois winter, I just didn’t feel worthy.

That’s when God, more than me, said “Enough!” He reminded me of something fundamental I had forgotten: You can’t get better if you don’t write!

And so I finally am sitting down to write with renewed passion hoping to find the words to say that will bring hope and joy to someone else. That will make them feel like they are one tiny bit less alone, to erase their unworthiness and scream what I learned during this confounding spell of silence, “You are not wrong for being who you are!”

Pizzazz.  That’s what I was looking for.  An attention getter.  Most importantly, I wanted the photograph to capture the special bond between me and my dog, Rascal – a picture illustrating the tight connection between us.  And in the process bring me comfort and healing since Rascal had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

It was a tall order, I admit, so I went searching for backdrops. Something to make us stand out, yet was in keeping with our personalities. When I found something that might work, I’d pester my husband to take a few pictures. Summoning every creative molecule in his body, he’d snap away, but the results would be less than spectacular.  Oh, I don’t blame him.  I was asking him to use a lens to capture a feeling, an insight into my soul all the while I was yelling at him, “Don’t get my butt in the picture.”

It seemed I’d never find the perfect backdrop to make Rascal’s black and white fur stand out and my blue eyes sparkle. Looking back it was an exercise in futility because although Richard managed to snap some great pictures, there was never one that truly stirred my soul. That’s because no picture could ever give me what the deep recesses of my heart longed for – more time with my canine companion.

When my life’s hurts become overwhelming, I don’t have to go searching for backdrops. Soothing comfort can be found in the backdrops God provides.  Luke wrote, “He will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice because of His birth.” (Luke 1:14)  In a lowly manger, God came to this world and other than the angels singing that night to the shepherds, his birth went widely unnoticed by the inhabitants of Israel.

Yet it was the beginning of many more backdrops – a merciless cross – an empty tomb and with that, eternity itself. His backdrops change everything about life. There are times when what He has asked me to do simply doesn’t make sense to me. But against that backdrop I found that faith is a matter of blind obedience, not human logic.

Life doesn’t lack the rough spots. But it takes storms to teach us that God is faithful and will provide the strength to stand firm.

Only when we sit at the feet of Jesus, surrendering our plans and dreams, do we discover that Christ came not to eliminate the storms of life. No, he came to fill those storms with His presence. We can always count on His joy in us when we face the storms of life – a truth that makes our hearts sing and our souls dance.

And with each storm comes the victory waiting to be claimed – the awesome privilege of clinging tightly to the hand of God.

In the middle of a routine phone conversation, I suddenly stopped and asked my husband, “What are you afraid of?” His answer surprised me! “I’m afraid of life.” I’m not sure if his answer was serious or tongue in cheek. Probably will never know since I quickly replied, “I’m afraid of dying.”

I don’t have to convince myself I’m afraid of dying. One night last week, my dog started barking at 2AM, then again at 4AM, finally waking me up for good prior to 6AM. Every time Lily woke me from a sound sleep, I was convinced some axe-murderer was breaking into the house to do bodily harm to all its inhabitants. With my heart pounding out of my chest, my thoughts immediately turned to tomorrow’s headlines because that’s when our bodies would be discovered by some innocent neighbor who just happened to see the blood dripping from our balcony. (Okay, maybe I do watch a bit too much TV, but it could happen, right?)

On Monday, I’m having surgery. It’s pretty routine, but it is also scary…especially since it is happening to me. This is ironic coming from someone who not only has had surgery before – and came through with flying colors – but generally doesn’t let much scare her. But I must be honest and tell you I’m not happy about this road God has me on right now.

My friend who is driving me to and from the hospital sent me a lovely email. In it she said, “I hope you aren’t worried about this. God’s got a plan to use this somehow for His glory, even if we don’t understand how or why.”

And that got me to thinking – has my fear kept me from doing things that glorify God? I know it has. There are times I haven’t shared the gospel because I was afraid, times I haven’t tithed the full amount because I was nervous about bills, times I’ve turned down ministry opportunities because I let my worries get the best of me. While I was wearing myself out in the process, all the while God was saying, “Dear daughter, I’m here, right here. Won’t you let me guide you?”

My pre-surgical fretting was making me sick, literally ill – until one night while watching the evening news, I heard a snippet from a commencement speech. The speaker said, “Be the heroine of your own story, not the victim.” And I thanked God in that moment because those courageous words struck a chord in my heart.

In Isaiah 43:1, God boldly proclaims, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

Peace promptly invaded my soul because the times I’ve acted on that verse, really lived it, said “yes” to God even though I was literally quaking in my boots, I was blessed more than I could have ever imagined.

My friend is correct – God is using my medical condition for His glory. My fear is reinforcing my dependence on Him, my desire to get through surgery is comforted by His strength and the next time I’m asked to say “Yes” when I’m afraid, because I’ve experienced His comfort amidst my fear, answering in the affirmative will be so much easier.

What are you afraid of? Where can you rely on God’s strength to take you down the road He’s carved out for you? Where can you follow God just a bit more closely so you become the heroine of God’s story for your life?

The email’s subject line read simply, “Lecktor.” Still that one word had an ominous tone to it. It was the name of my girlfriend’s beloved pet – a champion German Shepherd, a hero in the Search and Rescue community.

I read the email and immediately felt the need to flee the house. I could hardly breathe, the walls started crashing in and I had to run away. Lecktor, who had once covered miles and miles in search of lost humans, was slowly losing his battle to stand. My friend faces the horrific decision to put him down. Age is one foe he couldn’t conquer; the email listed details of her decision.

Sitting in the parking lot of the local grocery store, I called my husband in tears. I tried to explain why  I was crying – why I was sitting in my car sobbing. Losing a pet is so gut-wrenching and as I blubbered, I tried to explain my deep emotional reaction to my husband.  “I know,” I whimpered, “how hard it is to lose a dog you love.”

Worried that something had happened to our dog, he tenderly asked, “Where’s Lily?” Assuring him that our own canine was safe at home in her kennel relieved him, but did little to calm me.

My heart broke for my friend. I cried because I did not know how to comfort her. I cried because I couldn’t wipe away her pain. I cried because I knew her family was saying goodbye under crushing sorrow. And I cried because there is loss in this world and sometimes it grabs me, shakes me and refuses to release its grip.

To escape the hold this news had on me, I had the uncontrollable urge to one-by-one hug everyone in the parking lot. Because we have all been there. We have all suffered loss. We are together in grief. But I figured that action would only result in a panicked call to the police and a trip to the psych ward for me.

So instead, my loneliness drained me sitting deep in the crevice of my sadness.  Heartbroken, unfixed, I was powerless to erase my friend’s grief. There is no earthly fix, no person can repair a loss like this. I often tell people we heal in community but those words seemed pathetic. Yet it was all I could offer. I pray my friend is comforted by my desire to sit with her in her pain.

I sat in my car facing this lonely place comforted knowing God is my Search and Rescue team. In the unique solitude of the parking lot, all I could do was pray. My prayers to heal Lektor won’t be answered. Yet because of Jesus, we don’t need to hide from loss. We can ask Jesus into it with us. He won’t always remove the cause of our anguish, but with Him, we are never truly alone.

The other day, I was assigned to “control the dog” so my husband could paint our dining room. My trusty canine and I banished ourselves to the upstairs bedroom, where I watched two episodes of one of my guilty pleasures on television. Because it was the long holiday weekend, the channel showed episode back to back to back. Normally funny, the two episodes I watched drove me to tears.

In both, two young brides faced heart-wrenching decisions. One’s fiancé was recently diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) while the other was just one day out of the hospital recovering from a random act of violence that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Both planned to go ahead with their weddings and when they cried on television, I cried right along with them. 

I cried, I kept telling myself, because I felt their pain. But stripped down to its smallest part, I had no idea the deep torment they were facing. I’ve never been in those situations, though I have felt the pain of knowing life isn’t going to work out the way I planned it to be.

The experience left me wishing  I understood pain more than I do. Not to experience it more, but to understand it. Pain doesn’t make sense to me. Oh, I’ve heard the story that pain is a product of The Fall; it came from Adam and Eve’s failure to stay away from the apple. But when you are in the midst of it – when life is defined by the pain as it is for those two young brides – those aren’t the words you want to hear.

In my previous blog posting, Clouds, I mentioned that God reveals Himself more to us in our pain than in the pleasurable moments in our lives. This is a mystery that unfolds throughout our lives.

I thought about how many times I’ve walked beside a friend in the throes of terrible grief while I yearned to make them feel better.

How different that is from God! He uses pain to make us better; stronger in character, joyful in our dependence on Him, mature in our faith. Psalm 58:6 states that God collects every tear we shed in His bottle. Our pain grieves Him so much He records our tears, each and every one of them.  He does not take pain and our resulting tears lightly.

Life is about the hard work of overcoming pain, getting stuck, being confused, but holding on dearly to our Creator’s hand so that we finish well. There are spiritual implications to pain – using it as opportunities for transformation to overcome fear, self-sabotage and failure.

I don’t want more pain in my life, nor do I wish it for anyone else. Yet when it strikes, I know in the loneliness, the craziness and the heartache, my God holds my hand through it. Yours, also. For He understands your pain because He experienced pain Himself. He sees the hard work you do in the midst of pain. He values it and He values you!

Pain is messy, but when we cling to God to overcome it, His goodness and love permeates it. He never leaves us alone holding the pain.

I don’t have much to offer. There isn’t a lot of money in my bank account. My talents and abilities aren’t going to change the world. I’ve often let my friends down and my husband will say I nag him. I always have laundry to do and my house is never clean. I let being an extrovert prevent me from finishing my writing projects. I’m lonely some days – especially without Richard. I constantly give into the voice that says, “You are not good enough to do this.” The nights are numerous when I lay in bed unable to sleep because self-deprecating thoughts swirl inside my head and I can’t shut them off.

Many times I have felt unworthy writing on the subject of joy because my life lacks joy. Honestly, I’d hardly be the poster girl for it. And I admit there are times when I write encouraging words to you simply because I need to speak encouragement into my life.

Today I need to know that I’m making a difference – that my life counts for something and means something. I’d like to say that God is adequate in me, but don’t you find there are some days when that promise seems to fall flat? When you need more than words because, well, “Everyone else seems to have it all together – what’s wrong with me?”

So the only thing left for me to do is open God’s love letter to me and find a verse that speaks into my inadequacies. When I delve into His words, I feel Him so close. When I desperately need Jesus, only His message breaks through.

One of my favorites is Philippians 1:8, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God is still working on me!  How amazing is that? Even when I feel like I’ve lost my purpose, I know I possess the creativity and potential to do amazing things for Him. I have to wipe away the “I can’t” and “I’m not” thoughts because I know deep inside of me God has given me all I need to fulfill what He calls me to do. He isn’t always looking for a person who has their act together.

Because I suspect that you’re just like me. We think everyone else can do it all. That thought only immobilizes us from doing what we can do – what God calls us to do.

The truth is no one can do it all.  But we can remember God loves us so deeply that He is constantly working on us. And our job becomes being patient and loving with ourselves as we cooperate with the process.

So today, I’m praying that God will show me how to stay fixed on His love. To let go of the lie that everyone’s life is better than mine. And with my prayers come the request that He will show me how I can be happier.

For I find my joy only when I whisper my thank you to God and choose to see the blessings intertwined throughout my day.