Friday, November 26, 2010

There are still blessings in barren regions

For the last few weeks, I have been preparing for Thanksgiving. I picked a recipe put of Real Simple. I discussed the logistics with my mother-in-law. All the while, my head swam in images of past Thanksgiving meals. The yams swimming in marshmallows, the herbed stuffing, can-shaped cranberry sauce, and flavorful ham. The dicy political conversation, the competition between the guys voices and the football annoucer, and the serious discussion about food line clogs at the buffet in the kitchen.

The day before this Thanksgiving, I was in a funk. I couldn't put my finger on it. I thought maybe it was the distance between me and my relatives. My parents are in Florida and New Mexico. My grandparents live in northern frozen regions on this state and in New Mexico. But that wasn't it. Most Thanksgivings, my parents and I had dinner at our house with just us when I was little.

This year I was spending it with my inlaws. The food would be the same. In fact, I have spent almost every Thanksgiving with them since I got married. That's when it occured to me. Something happened six years ago around this time of year.

Six years ago, I was in love with my best friend. He had told me several times that he wasn't interested in me in that way. I figured that God would work things out whether I was supposed to be with him or not. His mother, my mother-in-law, invited me to Thanksgiving since I didn't have anywhere else to go. I later found out that Thanksgiving was not only her birthday, but their family's bigger holiday. Within the next couple of weeks, my best friend and I started dating. We got married ten months later. It was a dream realized.

Now, six years into the future, I was looking at dinner with him and his family but still apart from him. It felt like I had returned to the place I was before. Only, now, there seemed to be less hope for us to be together. I tried to focus on helping my mother-in-law. I went down the night before and we made pies and cookies. The next day, we made dinner and played with my daughter. She showed me tricks to Thanksgiving dinner. We talked about my job, school, and my daughter. It was a wonderful morning.

When the crowd arrived, I tried to put on a brave face. I made small talk. We prayed and ate dinner. I listened to the chatter of my husband, his friends, and his family. I held back tears several times. It was and wasn't as it should be. After desert and some visiting, my husband left with my daughter. In their absence, a wave crashed down on me.

Once again on the verge of tears, I looked at my sister-in-law. "It's been a long day," I tried to explain. "It's okay. You're with family." I nodded and got myself some pie. We filled the rest of the evening with Farkle and conversation. Later, I walked into the kitchen. I needed something to do. I rinsed the dishes and put away clean ones. My mother-in-law came in and said, "You really have changed in the last year." I thanked her. Pretty soon there wasn't anything left to do. I put on my hat and looked at all the pictures on the mantle. The one from our wedding was gone.

The hole in my heart ached. My father-in-law gave me a reassuring look. I said goodbye. In the car, I was alone again. I called my dad. But eventually, we had to say goodbye as well. I sat in my apartment alone. The next morning, the funk had yet to leave. When my husband brought my daughter back, I tried to dry my tears. She came in and we picked out a movie for her to watch. Then, she climbed onto the loveseat. She grabbed her blanket and mine. As she situated herself, she sweetly looked up at me and said, "Okay, mommy here's your spot next to me."

We watched the movie and snuggled. And I moved on to the tasks of the day with little bouts of crying. It wasn't until supper time that something foggy on the edge of my brain came into focus. I was making up plates of Thanksgiving leftovers for the two of us. As I microwaved the food, I thought about Thanksgiving and about giving thanks.

It has been a rough year. I spent some of it depressed. I spent some of it discovering the ins and outs of divorce decrees. I found out that my grandfather passed on my birthday. I lost a lot of dreams and plans. I have lost some friends. I have been separated from my best friend and husband. It has been a year of loss.

Yet, that isn't all that has happened this year. I have rediscovered myself. I have grown and changed. I have learned (and will continue to learn) to trust God. I have watched my daughter grow into an exciting, intelligent, and considerate little girl. I have come to know my inlaws. I have discovered a second family. I have found new and old friends. I have found part of God's will for my life. I have witnessed a miracle in the life of one of my friends. I have heard the whisper of an exciting Lord and am experiecing His healing in my heart. I am back on the biggest adventure of my life that I started as a little girl in the woods. I have found a new direction for the book I have been working on. I have taken a step out there and started this blog.

Somewhere in the turbulent emotions and bustle of Thanksgiving Day, I lost sight of the actual attitude behind the day: giving thanks. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, with surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Phillipians 4: 4-7 NASB

These verses extol us to give thanks in the good and the bad. Even when bringing something before him, we should give thanks. I have a lot to give thanks for. Like my sister-in-law said, I was with family. I recieved many compliments on my contributions to the meal. I spent quaility time with my mother-in-law. It was a good day, even with the pain.

It reminds me of the little ditty that Bing Crosby sings in White Christmas.

"When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In God We Should Trust

I was thinking about that saying that our money has donned for so long. "In God We Trust." Recent events in my life has shed light on the fact that I don't always trust God. Before anybody gets too excited, allow me to explain.

With the arrival in my life of the detestable 'D' word, I have lost a great deal. I have had to scramble to secure some sort of life for me and for my daughter. I don't think I knew the meaning of the stress until now. As I watched my dreams, hopes, and plans for my future float away like a balloon, I panicked. The fabric of everything I hoped would be my life unraveled, revealing in its place a tapestry of all my fears.

After the dust settled in those first few days of what I have come to call 'This', I was pulled out of the quagmire of my fight or flight instincts. Who was this hero? God. He showed me that I had been trying to fix everything myself for so long that I hadn't seen him standing right there, aching to take over. So, with this revelation, I thrust myself into His arms. I laid my marriage and my husband at the alter several times. I was trusting Him to take care of me no matter what happened. I went on like that for a long time.

What could possibly disrupt this state of trusting bliss? Things, little things. Incidents that shook me. I began to wonder what if things don't work out. I had a couple of near panic attacks. For those who have never experienced a panic attack, allow me to describe it to you. The room you are in suddenly seems very small. The heart beat that is usually a comfort, becomes a threatening thumping in your ears. You breath comes fast. That is when you realize that you are breathing, not only too fast, but not nearly deep enough. Your brain looks for any exit. You can't get oxygen and you think about how important oxygen is to your survival. This only deepens the panic, never the breathing.

Why should I panic? Even if my marriage is never repaired or the world were to crash around my ears, the creator of the whole universe loves me. I have long and hard about why this trust thing is such a sticky issue for Christians. I believe in God. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. I believe I can enter the throne of Grace and be welcomed and comforted by my Creator. whay can't I trust always that He has the best for me?

One thing about trust that I have learned from my own experience is that it is tied to those around me. There are free agents that move all around me. God gave them the free will to chose good or evil just as he gave it to me. If someone does something to me, I will be angry at them. But the other thing about trust, it seems, is that there is this sneaky force working against it. It is so sneaky that you don't even realize that it is God you are angry at and by extension you are not trusting.

The serpent used it in the garden of Eden. He laid the ground work with Eve to question whether or not God really has our best interest in mind. Then, later Abraham and Sarah had the direct promise for a son. But, when it didn't happen in their time, they decided God needed a helping hand. Over and over again people of God try to fix things themselves because deep down they are wondering if they can really trust God.

The other day I was beginning to worry over this whole situation again. I got a text message from mother-in-law. Proverbs 3:5-6 was all the message said. I looked it up and it goes a little something like this: "Trust in the LORD with all of your heart/ And do not lean on your own understanding./In all your ways acknowledge Him,/And He will make your paths straight."

There was a good reason this made into the Bible. We need to be reminded. These verses answer all the issues to this sticky issue. Doesn't make it easy. I think it is interesting that it says "He will make your paths straight." Not easy. Not short. Straight. I believe this means righteous. The good news to me is that all of those people who have run this race before me and struggled with the same trust issue were not thrown out on those grounds. He gives us grace. We can get up and try again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Its Just Coverup

This morning I looked in the mirror. I was horrified to find that, despite my best efforts, to find two more blemishes on my face. To make it even worse, the two on my upper lip were bigger than yesterday. Right out there for the world to see. I thought about make up. But I didn't leave myself enough time for that this morning. So, I tried to find the best way to angle my face. That way I could lessen their effect when I talked to people for the rest of the day.

As I did this, I thought about what these ridiculous blemishes said about me. I wanted to tell people that I really do wash my face twice a day. I wanted to tell them that I had gotten all the way through high school with hardly a blemish to speak of. I wanted to wear a sign that said, "I do everything I am suppose to where the cleansing of my face is concerned. I don't understand why these things are happening to me."

I finally walked away from the mirror dissatisfied with my attempts to cover up these intruders. I know they have something to do with the stress of my impeding divorce and all that comes with it. I just wished that the evidence didn't have to be so out there for everyone to see. And then, I wondered why. Other people have blemishes. Other people have stresses. I am not the center of everyone elses' thoughts.

As the day progressed, I did forget about them. I talked with the mechanic about my car. I talked with my counselor. I talked to my friends when I picked up my daughter. I didn't think about them. Amazingly no one stared at them or spoke word one about them. It occurs to me that we, if I may so humbly speak for others who have shared similar thoughts with me, don't want others to see blemishes because of what they might think or do in response to them. Will they be repulsed if we turn out not to be Atlas or Aphrodite? What if they find out that I fail at things sometimes? Surely they will just walk away. Some have had this confirmed in their life more than others. Still, does this justify cover up?

There is a Jennifer Knapp song that has resonated with me since I heard it at Northwestern in 2002 called "Martyrs and Thieves." In the lyrics, Knapp ponders this. "There's a place in the darkness that I used to cling to/ It presses harsh hope against time/... Though I'm a king I'm king on my knees/...There are ghosts from my past who've owned more of my soul/Then I thought I had given away/They linger in closets and under my bed/And in pictures less proudly displayed" So many things haunt us. And we give them the power to do so. We may think that we are in control, but they have us.

And what do we do with this? "Well I've never been much for the baring of soul/In the presence of any man./I'd rather keep to myself all safe and secure/ In the arms of the sinner I am." Now when I say we, I want to step out on the limb and say that I chiefly am talking about myself. Though I believe, from conversations and the existence of this song, that I am not alone in this. How often I have done this I cannot say, but I have. Fear used to have such a hold on me. I preferred to give people what they wanted. I tried like everything to have friends while carefully covering up anything they might find lacking. At the same time, I excused other things they did see. I couldn't bring myself to trust that they could love me even in my errors. I lost some people that way.

"Could it be that my worth should depend/ By the crimson stained grace on a hand?" Here is the key, at last. No matter how many times I hear a speaker, pastor, or writer give an exposition on this very topic, I forget eventually. That is the crux of it though. Our worth has been set at the very life blood of the Son of God. Everything else is a poor, sad measure for any man. So, in that glorious revelation we should go forth open to our Savior as He knows it all already. "So turn on the light and reveal all the glory/I am not afraid/ To bare all my weakness knowing in meekness/ I have a kingdom to gain." What do we have to lose? The chains of fear. What do we have to gain? The love of God and all that he promises to us.

Yet this still is a struggle. On my walkabout, I have found that God is eager to give the kind of unconditional love I have hungered for my entire life. If I could just get out of the way and give up these chains, then I could begin the biggest romantic adventure of my life. I am beginning to. Fortunately for me, God is patient.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lessons From Little Ducks

My friend and I were talking about community this morning. A lack of community was the chief topic of our discussion.We longed for the days where a community gathered and did things for each other without a thought. The kind of community that only seems to exist on television shows. This is a sad state of affairs considering the repeated call to love one another Jesus gives us in the New Testament.

This may shock some, but I have a tattoo. Inked into my right bicep is a little lamb and the words John 21 : 15 - 17. In this passage, Jesus questions Simon Peter about his love for Jesus. Simon responds that he loves him. Jesus impresses on him that the manifestation of that love is in the care of His lambs. If we love God, then we are to tend to each other.

Since I moved around a lot growing up, I had a hard time connecting to my peers. It seemed pointless. Just when I would get my bearings in one place, I would come home to my parents sitting on the couch together with that look. So, I found ways to entertain myself. I got very close to my younger brother. Still, I needed other relationships beyond my family.

I had a few friends over the years, but I guarded myself. If I didn't move, they often ended the relationship. I decided that it was just the way it was for some people. I also decided that meant not trusting just everyone. I felt fairly self-sufficient upon moving to Cambridge. I met some people and hung out. I thought that was enough. I did things for people but I only let them into my bubble so far. Until I met my husband, I felt this surface relating was enough, not satisfying but enough to keep that hunger at bay.

That hunger was there for a reason. It needed to be filled. There is a great deal that we get from our relationship with God. However, Adam was lonely even in his complete intimacy with God. After my husband moved out, there was an empty feeling in my apartment, in my soul. I prayed and read my bible I read book after book. Yet, I needed something else.

One evening, I was writing in my journal and swatting mosquitoes. The reality wasn't meeting up with what I had pictured in my head. The incessant buzzing and ensuing swatting was at its pitch when I decided that it was time to go. Then, I saw them. Four little ducklings stood on the shore of the river across from my mosquito infested spot. I watched as the fuzzy, yellow figures inched their way into the river. They huddled in a sort of awkward four square dance. I laughed. Then, as they made it totally in the water, the current began to pull on the lead one. It was a strong current for such a little duckling. I watched as the others quickly caught up and completed the square formation again. In this manner, the four of them made it all the way to my side of the river.

That was when it struck me. If they had tried to go one at a time or even in a line, they would have been swept away. But together, they were able to keep from drifting too far down the river. They could fight the current with a lot less effort put forth by each one. I learned a lesson from those little ducklings that evening. I began to open up to these friends I had kept at the fence of my inner property for years. And an amazing thing happened. My load was lightened. Even in the sharing of their burdens with me, the load seemed to get lighter still.

I am not saying there hasn't been pain along the way, but it is good to know that when something happens I have people to call on. I almost got pulled under once before and I never want to go there again.