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Trusting the Potter

I’ve preached it well.

There is beauty in the broken. And I kneel and motion with my hands as I recite the passage where the woman breaks her jar of nard and pours it over Jesus’ feet. And I mime the story of the cracked water jar that watered a pathway of flowers. And I take the hammer and the people flinch as it loudly crashes into the large terra cotta pot. And I hold up the tea bowl and I speak of Okakura Kakuzō and tea and beauty and the profound art of kintsukuroi. And all this time I weave in my own story of brokenness and the pathways and connections and beauty that God had hitherto brought forth from it…

And I believe it.
I do.

I believe there is beauty in the broken. I believe that God can use cracked pots. I believe that God can reform and repair and use our brokenness—no matter the cause of that brokenness—and bring beauty and encourage others and use it to ultimately draw all of us back to Him.

I believe it.
I find it beautiful.
I see the grace.
It encourages me.

But…

(You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)

So here’s the thing… I have this bad habit of taking what is beautiful and grace and meant for freedom and using it to bind and shackle myself again. Or I try to control it.

(And I’m pretty sure those two are connected.)

I came to the realization last April that I wanted to control my brokenness. I wanted to choose how my brokenness worked and looked to others. To be able to control what cracks and chips remain open as outlets of God’s grace and strength within, points where they can seep out and water and encourage others. To be able to choose which breaks get repaired in such a way that the scar is not noticeable. Even to have the say in what broken places are creatively and artistically repaired with golden lacquer kintsukuroi style so that others can see my beauty… er, uh, the hand of the One who did the beautiful work…

I hit that wall again last evening.

It was a dark weekend after a moody week in the midst of another round of difficult treatment after a rough (to put it mildly) year.

I’m tired and I’m worn.

“I suddenly had this realization: I actually don’t have any hope for healing,” I confided to a few friends. Not complete healing. Not on this side of heaven.

Oh, sure, I’m hoping for and doing what I can towards healing for the Lyme and for the Fibromyalgia and for the ear/dizzy issues (if they’re not related to one of those)… but I haven’t really thought towards or thought to hope for healing from allergies (respiratory or food) and sensitivities (scents, chemicals, other foods)…

And in my very-worn-down-ness and black-cloud-of-despairing, I realized that not only did I have no hope for those to change, but I don’t really want to have to live the rest of my life having to deal with them. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of there always being something.

One offered gentle counsel, trying to shift my eyes from myself to others who live real, full lives even with restrictions and limitations like allergies, diabetes, asthma and more, “it is possible to have a ‘normal life’ even with some difficulties.”

But inwardly I was like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Arms crossed. Pouting lips. Drowning out truthful voices with my loud complaints. Pushing away helpful hands that try to guide or comfort. Screaming my self-centered will: If I can’t have it the way I want it, what’s the point? 

Maybe it’s not so much that I want a “normal” life (even though that was the phrase I used initially), but I want an “ideal” life. My ideal. Life the way I picture it. With freedom and breathing room and not this minute-by-minute dealing with pain and fatigue and fog and dizziness and constantly needing to monitor my body, my energy, my time, my medicines, my environment.

And where there are challenges—seamless, effortless victory.
And where there is brokenness—beautiful, radiant healing.
And where there is tiredness—breathable, restorative rest.

And all of it immediate.
Or at least more immediate than taking weeks, months and years…

And preferably with an inspirational score in the background, with uplifting notes from percussion and brass and strings and reeds to keep me keeping on like a movie montage where all the tediousness of the trials is shortened into a few minutes of beautifully shot lighting and angles.

… So in this morning’s new light, with new mercies unfolding, I reflected back on my dark moods this weekend and remembered again that it is not up to me to control either my brokenness nor the when, how or way of my healing.

It is up to the Potter.

And Jesus asked of me this morning, “Do you trust Me? Will you trust Me? Will you relinquish control to Me? Will you allow Me to craft where the light and life seeps through and where the cracks are completely healed and where it is best to highlight what was broken? Do you trust Me?

And my response is both immediate and hesitant.
Full of faith and full of doubt.
Similar to the father in Mark 9, “I trust! Help my distrust!”
And the hymn-found words of Louisa M. R. Stead, “O for grace to trust him more!”

… a little relief.

But allow me to back up a bit, to the night before Christmas.

3:30 PM my phone alarm goes off to tell me to take my first pill.
19 minutes later I head to the kitchen for my second medicine…
…which gets held in my mouth for 1 minute before swallowing.
20 minutes later is my third medicine.
10 minutes later my fourth.
and 15 minutes later I need to start eating.

I’d been feeling decent that day so managed to do a quick cleaning of my room and finally set about my Christmas decorations. Between time, energy and emotionally needing to just do a little something different and meaningful this year, I didn’t do my full, normal decorations.

No moving my salt lamp and setting up my little tea-themed tree with lighted tea house and all its surrounding decor. Just the window garland on top of my desk instead with my little black stocking hung and one little white teapot and one little white teacup and saucer (both ornaments, neither actually hanging) all framing and beckoning the eye to the focal point—a Christmas plate emblazoned with the word “Hope”.

Then after my salt cave session I was feeling better again so I managed to get Mom’s gifts from Dad boxed and wrapped—in between pausing to take medicines. I got changed for church in-between bites of soup. And then took my final medicine 3 minutes after I finished eating and drinking and 3 minutes before I could drink again (or, actually, pop in a mint on the way to church)…

I had to eat early because we went to the 5:30 Christmas Eve service.

I put my nose filters in and wore my face mask and had a spare with me as well. Just in case. (Though it’s really hard to breathe when I double up like that…)

We had barely entered the sanctuary doors when the scents hit and overwhelmed. After all, folks dress up on Christmas Eve and, apparently, they all want to smell nice as well. Trouble is, when you get 350 people “smelling nice” together, it’s not so nice.

At first I was going to attempt sitting in the front pew with Mom and we went in and she immediately began chatting with someone she hadn’t seen for awhile and I immediately realized I wouldn’t be able to stay. But the pastor approached and so I smiled and shook his hand and tried to speak a bit… but I was quickly losing my ability to breathe and the dizziness was starting and so I told Mom I had to go and tried to make my way quickly back through the sanctuary to the Welcome Center where more breathable space and nice chairs awaited.

Except the further I got into the sanctuary the more overwhelming the scents became and the wooziness kicked up and I tried holding my breath and moving faster but with all the crowds I couldn’t. I found myself avoiding eye contact and my lungs burning but I still didn’t want to breath in the fumes that I knew would make me worse… I prayed and tried not to panic and finally broke through the crowd and the line of folks entering (through the main doors at the back of the church) and collapsed into a chair in the Welcome Center breathing deep and calm.

I sat there, watching all the folks pour in and knowing I’d be there alone for worship on Christmas Eve.

How would I light my candle? Who would I pass it on to?

I pulled out my bulletin and glanced through the order of service, curious and eager to see what our story would be this year…

Max Lucado’s The Crippled Lamb.

My eyes filled with tears.

I sat there with nose filters in and face mask on staring through the windows and glass that separate the Welcome Center from the sanctuary. And I pondered the separation. How my body prevents me from being in among them, present in there, worshipping with them, sharing the light as it’s passed… I can see it, but there must be all this stuff between them and me (and between them and my mouth/nose).

And that’s when it occurred to me. That there Christmas Eve we were celebrating the birth of the Christ-child. Immanuel. God with us. The One who was foretold. The One who touched the untouchable and loved the unlovable. The One who came to save and would tear the veil.

The veil that separates.

No more separation between us and God.
And, because of that, no more impenetrable walls between each other, as well.

And I took encouragement in the fact that there will be a day when the rest of the veils will tear, the rest of the walls will fall and I will again be able to worship with and among the people of God with no filters, no masks, no curtains or glass window panes between us.

And then I saw Mom walking into the Welcome Center.
She came to sit with me through the service. So I wasn’t alone.

And our ushering friend didn’t neglect us back there when it was time to pass out the bread, or the grape juice, or light the candles.

And there was beauty and grace.


After service Mom and Dad dropped me off at home and then they headed down for the annual Christmas Eve gathering with family on Mom’s side. I opted out this year for a few reasons.

First of all, being a highly sensitive introvert, I am easily overwhelmed and exhausted by commotion (lights, sounds, smells, movement) and people. This is true even if the commotion source and people are dearly loved. This is exacerbated by my fibromyalgia which also adds in pain and achy-ness when I’m overloaded. This is even further exacerbated by my newfound and still increasing scent/chemical sensitivities which also add dizziness, nausea and headaches (likely a vestibular migraine) to the mix. And if that’s not enough, my current struggles with Lyme and how the treatment demands so much of my body and has me worn just exacerbate all these problems further.

So after a rough week, a full energy-expending day and the scent and sensory overload of Christmas Eve service, going to an allergen-filled home with crowded small rooms with multiple conversations where I’d have to have at least one face mask on and the majority of the (older) folks there wouldn’t be able to hear me speak anyhow, well, this year it wasn’t worth it.

Some years it is.
Some years it is worth facing all that to spend time with family.

But this year with everything going on with my body, it just made sense to stay home.

Choices.
We all have them.

Big and small.
Less consequential and weighty.
If this, then this…
If this, then not this…
Risk and results…

I am more keenly aware of choices these days and how the littlest ones have more consequences for me in this state.


The bonus was that staying home allowed me to decompress.

Unwind.
Alone.
Control of lights.
Control of sounds.

And prepare a little more for Christmas Day.

Stockings were stuffed.

My “mess” in the spare room that my body hadn’t allowed me to get to hitherto was finally cleaned up and the room was cleared to use for our family photos the next night.

Of course, that took longer than I’d hoped and I still got to bed later than I’d wanted.

But having the room for family photos was important to me.

Choices.
Consequences.


Because Christmas fell on a Sunday this year and there was no desire to miss worship, I rose early on Christmas morning.

The medicine schedule is the same at breakfast as it is at dinner.
Except in the morning it’s somehow easier.
It’s been woven into my routine.

Even when my schedule needs adjusted for off-routine days like Christmas where I put my pjs back on after my shower and save the getting dressed part until after gift opening.

Because my morning routine is…. well, routine enough and timed enough to slot parts of it in amongst my medicines. Stretching. Sinus rinse. Teeth brushing. Preparing breakfast.

The plan was to start around 7 AM with gift opening and we did. Mom and Dad with their coffee. Me with my cup of tea and a full belly. Instrumental Christmas music playing softly in the background. Snapping photos. Laughter and surprise.

It was pleasant.
Un-rushed.

And definitely a little sadder (and less complicated) without Cali here to get into the paper and bows and no stopping to introduce her to her new Christmas toys or pausing to play with her with our ribbons…

Then it was dressed and ready and off to our 9:30 worship service.

I didn’t notice at the time my unusual lack of pain…


I was a bit surprised walking into the sanctuary on Christmas morning that it was just as scented and overwhelming as the evening before. Perhaps some of the scent had lingered from the previous night (it does that, you know, even though very few ever notice)… or perhaps folks were just still fragrantly celebrating the holiday.

So I sat back in the Welcome Center again.

This time Dad wasn’t up with the choir, so Mom stayed with him in the sanctuary.
But at this point I’m fairly used to regular Sunday morning worship back there alone.

Well, alone after the sometimes-scented ushers leave.

And that’s okay.

But the scents and commotion and people encountered in that just-over-an-hour had made a steep withdraw from my reserves for the day…


I wanted to rest when I got home.
I knew my body needed it.

But there was tea to make for Christmas dinner.

And Mom and I still had much to do to prep the dining room and the “photo booth room” for our Gossert family gathering that evening.

So 90-some too-full minutes after getting home from church, we were off to my aunt and uncle’s for Christmas dinner and gift exchange.

I did wear my nose filters to help with any allergens from their cat or any stray smells that lingered. But no mask was needed. It was the most calm, least overwhelming part of the day.

Plus my aunt had lovingly left out any black pepper from the food she made so I could choose from any dish on the beautiful spread.

Grace.

But I was still quickly draining and after a few hours I was more than ready to head back home.

The car ride was nice.


Once home we all kept moving. Final preparations for when my siblings and their families would arrive that evening. Final touches to the photo booth (plus a test run), added leaf to the table, random “gifts” bagged for our White Elephant exchange, foods prepped to set out…

And since we never know exactly when everyone will get there, I had to figure out when to take my meds.

I started early.
And it was a good thing.

Because it was time to eat before anyone arrived and so I just made a plate for myself and sat down in the living room (where Mom was also finally relaxing—Stage 4 lung cancer, even when doing well on trial meds, can also leave you exhausted) and ate.

And you can’t eat in a face mask…

I’m not even sure when folks started arriving.
Or when I noticed it.

But somewhere along the way someone had not gotten the message or had forgotten or simply hadn’t realized what they were doing and… well, let’s just say some folks were scented.

Aside from one I noticed who flagrantly exuded fragrance, I never did pinpoint all the culprits. You know, it’s sorta awkward to go around sniffing people. And besides, I didn’t want to make anyone stand out or feel bad.

I managed to take most of the family photos in the “photo booth” and at least greet most of the family who was able to be here this year.

But it wasn’t too long until the nose filters, personal air purifier and even double face masks just weren’t enough.

I was getting woozy and nauseous and my head was starting to thump and I could even feel my ears closing up.

So I retreated to my room where I had stashed some peppermint seltzer, extra water and trail mix (the latter of which was never needed).

One thing you learn in a body like mine is to always have back-ups.
(Makes packing or going places ridiculously complicated, but…)

So I wedged my tripod against the top part of my door to keep it firmly closed and turned on the new humidifier/diffuser my aunt and uncle had just given me for Christmas and added the wonderfully not-just-tolerated-but-helpful pure essential oils of lavender and frankincense. And I put on soft instrumental Christmas music. And I leaned back in the bentwood rocker that had replaced my “desk chair” (which is actually a spare dining room chair then in use for our large Christmas gathering) and I breathed deep.

And I meandered through Facebook.
And I did my devotions.
And I watched the Doctor Who Christmas special.

And Mom came in to see how I was doing.
And I did exit my room (double-masked) to take photo-booth photos of some late arrivals.

And I did try twice to go back out among the family (or remaining family at the second point)—hoping that my time away had calmed my body enough. Nope. Every time I exited the room the symptoms began to worsen again within minutes.

But I didn’t cry.

I told Mom that.

I thought leading up to that night that if I “got stuck” in my room that I’d cry.
(It’s happened before with company. *shudder*)
Hence my messages and reminders to family about my scent issues.

But Christmas night I was okay.

And that was a grace.
Huge, beautiful grace.

I was a little disappointed, of course. And felt bad for my siblings who did make huge efforts to not be scented (even to the point of not wearing deodorant which made them uncomfortable)! After all, they had done what was right and still didn’t get to see me much because of others.

I’m discovering life is like that.
A lot.

But I didn’t get upset or depressed.

And I realized amongst all the crazy scent-symptoms and exhaustion that my day—and even then in the evening hours when my special pain meds usually wear off—that I wasn’t really having pain.

For the first in days.

Grace again.


I didn’t think I’d still be up when everyone left, but I was. And even exhausted and woozy, I donned my face mask (because, again, scents linger for hours even after folks leave) and tried to help a little with clean up but also made sure I did important things for my body like washing my face, brushing my teeth and—most essential in such circumstances—doing my sinus rinse.

So it was midnight again until we were in bed.

And all alarms were turned off for Monday.

I woke around 9.
I turned on the “clean air” EO diffuser at the family room/dining room split right away.

I was thankful I didn’t need my mask in the main part of the house.

Medicine. Essentials. Breakfast.

Then I crashed for a nap from around 11 until just after 2.

Up for lunch meds (way less complicated!) and a light late lunch/snack of leftovers.

Then watched my new Muppet Christmas Carol DVD.
And sorted my meds for the week (usually a Sunday task).
And just chilled on the couch with Mom and the TV.

(Well, plus dinner medicine routine and some comforting soup!)

I was exhausted.
My pain was back up… and even more so.
My stomach was off.
My head was woozy and a bit achy.
My sinuses were congested.
I was sneezy.
My ears were full and painful.

It was a reaction to all the scents, allergens and commotion of the previous day and a half.

My body had gone well past the limit.
And now it was crashing.

I was grateful to recognize what was happening.
So I didn’t get alarmed.
So I could monitor my moodiness (and not push and lash out).
So I could simply rest and do good things for my body.

Like humidifier and essential oils and sleep and sinus rinse and soup.
And get an emu rub from Mom before bed.
And not neglect some bedtime pain pills.


I did set my alarm for today.

And I woke up and my body was functioning again.
At least at the average level it has been.

And as soon as Mom got up I had her help me put my shielding lotion on my back (the one place I couldn’t reach myself) so that I was fully covered and able to try on the new clothes I’d been given for Christmas.

Because, yeah, I get itchy-burny and rash-y if unwashed new clothes—laden with all sorts of chemicals!—touch my skin.

The shielding lotion helps.
Mostly.
At least for the amount of time to try something on quickly.

And the struggle is real.
And the days are long and hard and I am worn.
And the choices are complicated.
And it’s easy to feel like there’s no winning.

But this is my life.
For now.

And still there is grace.

Habits and Choices

Back in July when I felt so threadbare, a beautiful thought occurred to me that perhaps hope is a habit.

In some ways that connection has helped to sustain me these hard, dark weeks and months as treatments fail and work and don’t hold and the process begins again…

And still every night I set my exercise clothes out for the next morning.
More often than not knowing very well they won’t get used.

But if hope is a habit, then I haven’t given up all hope…

Just a few nights ago, as I lifted the “DANCE”-banded capris, Tigger tank and black ballet slippers from their bin and placed them habitually on the third shelf of my tall bookcase—the one that houses books such as Ordering Your Private World, Six Hours One Friday, Finding God Where You Least Expect Him and our old United Brethren Hymnal—knowing beyond a doubt in my dizziness that it would be unlikely at best that I’d actually put them on the next morning, I managed a weak smile at my habitual while unfelt hope.

And then a snarky, cynical little voice in my head chided, It’s not a habit of hope! You only set them out because they’re on top and you need your pjs from underneath.

The voice, espousing fairly solid logic, was correct.

The outfit I use on good mornings to do my stretches and dance-like-movement lives on top of my pjs in a bin-of-sorts on a shelf in my closet. For both are items that get used several times before washing and, therefore, spend their days apart from the clean clothes in drawers and on other shelves. To access my pajamas I have to remove my exercise clothes from the bin first.

But, another equally logical yet kinder inner voice piped up, you wouldn’t have to…

This voice wasn’t just more optimistic, it was—somehow—truer. Bypassing the surface logic, it saw further and responded with another correct statement that, because it was rooted deeper, held more truth, more power, more sway.

After all, other possibilities did exist. It wouldn’t be hard to yank my pjs out from under the exercise clothes at night and toss them in on top the next morning… though with my preference for neatness and order it would be more likely that one frustrated morning I’d put my exercise clothes out-of-sight, out-of-mind before adding my pjs on top… or perhaps one night I’d lift up my exercise clothes and groan in despair and put them back in—on the bottom—after retrieving my pjs and then collapse dolefully into bed…

Regardless of which of these plentiful possibilities it would be, the result would be the same—my exercise clothes would forever be relegated to a new position.

On the bottom.

Only seeing the light of day when I actually needed them—or thought I really might.

Which is to say, almost never.

But I don’t do that.

I choose not to do that.

Somewhere along the way in my being-me-ness and organizing my nights and days, I chose to order my clothes and retrieve them and put them away in this way.

And habits don’t stick if we don’t somehow make little choices—consciously or subconsciously—along the way to continue doing so.

You’ve made conscious choices to continue doing this over the years.

The kinder, truer voice was right again.

Because there have been times when I did stop to think about what I was doing.
Why I kept putting out my exercise clothes.

And maybe in all those “almost” moments I didn’t actually realize the full depths of the hope-habit I had created, but I still chose to keep up the habit.

I chose to keep doing it.
I am choosing to keep doing it.
I will continue to choose to keep doing it.

I think that often hope is a habit.
Yet a habit is built on choices.
And choices aren’t just once-for-all.

They are renewed, remade again and again.

Sometimes daily.
Sometimes hourly.

And the more I think on it, the more I realize it applies to more than just hope found in habitually setting out exercise clothes…

Maybe Hope is a Habit

Last evening I posted probably one of the most difficult posts I’ve ever written. It was a lament. Fairly raw. Honest. Not overly filtered.

The entire time there was a part of me that wanted to cheer it up with some white-washed scripture. Something positive and reassuring and… ultimately, in the circumstances, pithy.

But I couldn’t.

And not because I was trying to hold on to good theology.

It was, rather, because I was too worn. Too broken. Scriptural truths (in context or not) were simply slipping like water from my grasp.

And yet, as we almost always find with laments in the Bible, I could not close without a reaffirmation of trust and truths that are so engrained within me that their presence is known even when all else falls apart.

Those four sentences were a struggle.

And yet they were just as raw and honest as the rest.

So I hit the publish button and I brushed my teeth and turned down my bed. And before I put my computer to sleep I opened up iTunes to my morning exercise playlist. And when I got my pjs out to put on, I placed my exercise clothes on the bookcase.

Just like every night.

I also had my tea pot warmer and cup ready on my desk along with the BIC lighter that I use to light my candles when I get up on time to write in the mornings.

And then I realized what I was doing.

I said it aloud. To myself. To God. I didn’t believe the morning would bring the ability to move about and stretch and exercise and I didn’t believe I’d be able to get up and around early enough to have some book time. There was no hope for a better morning.

But I still prepared for it.

Because it is habit to do those things.

And that’s when a new thought struck me: Maybe hope is a habit.

And I crawled into bed, with heat on my pressure-filled, aching ears. And I carefully placed my head on the pillow so as to not incite dizziness. And my weary body sunk into the warmth and comfort of my bed.

And I struggled to focus on my memorized evening daily office prayers.

And that’s when God’s Spirit  offered flashback images, reminders and new thoughts.

Because yesterday I just wanted to stay in bed and sleep off symptoms and cry. All day. But I went to work. (Well, Dad drove me.) And though I may not have gotten much actual work done (for more reasons than just my health – it was an unusually busy-with-people day), I was there.

And when I came home I crashed for a 2 hour nap, waking at 5 to my parents wondering what was going on for dinner. They could see I was not in a good place. They even offered to take me out to one of my favorite places. Mom asked me what I wanted to do. What I felt like doing for dinner.

“I feel like eating ice cream and going to bed,” was my honest response from my ever-sore throat and ever-weary body. “But instead I’m going to help you (help me) make dinner as best I can. And I’m going to enjoy the strawberry-chicken-spinach salad more once it’s in my mouth than I can currently imagine I will. And then I’m going to enjoy a half cup of strawberry ice cream. And then I’m going to make that Norwex call. And get that e-vite for another hostess out. And maybe write a blog post. And then I’m going to bed.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

Right down to enjoying the brilliantly combined flavors of the strawberry-chicken-spinach salad once they were in my mouth.

And so as I was in bed a few hours later, I was reminded of these things.

That perhaps I still have hope even when I don’t feel hopeful.

That perhaps God is still building character in me even when I feel I am lacking, slipping.

That perhaps I am still persevering even when I feel lethargic, apathetic and threadbare and like I’m slo-mo falling backwards rather than pressing forwards.

And maybe this is what it means to be held.

To be sustained by God.

To be formed by His Spirit.

To let go of my ideals, my pride and my striving.

Maybe this is what C.S. Lewis was referring to in The Screwtape Letters when he mentions obedience in the face of nothingness-of-desire.

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

I had always pictured living out that philosophy—that encouragement—victoriously. Defiantly.

A strong warrior’s cry deep within. I will do what is right! I will do what is asked! I will not let the enemy win! I will battle on! I will persevere! 

Like a movie montage highlighting the strenuous striving, sweaty effort and dogged determination of a warrior or fighter or athlete or overcomer, set in snippets and run together in moments what in reality takes months or years, all set to inspiring music like Eye of the Tiger or Chariots of Fire.

But maybe it’s not always like that.

Maybe it’s most often not like that.

There was no defiant cry last night. No striving. No battle cry.

Just a weary resignation to do what I had no desire to do.

And so I think of Bonhoeffer’s words and I wonder if I am “like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved.”

When I set to choreograph that poem as a mime piece, one of the first and easiest parts, and the image that sticks with me the most even now, was that line.

Fleeing in disorder. 

I slow-mo’ed into a running statue.

From victory already achieved. 

With each beat I transformed the running statue into a cross.

The cross is the victory achieved.

God’s incarnation. God’s sacrifice. God’s work.

Not ours.

Not mine.

Maybe there are no movie montages for me.

Maybe there are no valiant battle cries or enemy-defiant shouts.

Maybe there is no earthly healing.

Maybe there is little to no seeing on my part of perseverance, of character, of hope.

Maybe there is only Jesus.

And maybe that’s okay.

Maybe then, in my failures and in my frailty… in my weariness and in my weakness… in my apathy and in my honesty… in my shameful brokenness… maybe then Jesus shines through.

Maybe then others can see what God is doing in and for me.

Because I am often blind to it.

And maybe that’s okay.

And maybe that’s what it means to be held.

And maybe hope is a habit not of my doing, but worked and sustained by the one in Whom I abide and Who abides in me, keeping me connected by grace to the vine that sustains and causes me to bear fruit.

Even when I can neither see nor feel it.

Threadbare

I am worn.

There’s that Bible verse. The one about endurance. The one that lists all the good things that suffering produces.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I’m having trouble believing it.

I echo the father in Mark 9, trying to put on the appropriate faith—”I believe!”— but then honestly crying out, “help my disbelief!”

Because from where I stand or, rather, sit dizzily and wearily, there is no perseverance.

I’m ready to throw in the towel.

My resolve is weakening.

My endurance is nonexistent.

I noticed in my symptom journal that out of the 207 days so far this year, only 15 were not noted as experiencing these ear and throat issues. I didn’t even bother looking at the fatigue and dizzy stats…

I no longer have good days. Sometimes I have a good half-a-day. Or a good string of hours.

But no good days.

And certainly no good weeks.

The longer this goes. The day in and day out of illness. The pain. The fog. The fatigue. The constant sore throat. The incessant aching pressure in my ears. The near-continuous state of dizzy. The unrelenting symptoms. The unanswered questions. The dashed hopes of thinking we have it figured out and a way to help heal or treat but it never working out. The frustration of doctors who won’t or can’t help. The pulling back in all areas of life. The isolation.

It’s getting harder and harder to hang on to hope for anything to change… for anything to do anything other than slowly, continually get worse.

I feel I have less character now. If the symptoms themselves don’t give me blinders, making it hard to see anything beyond their screaming for constant attention, then the depression that comes along with the constancy of such symptoms surely does. I do less for others. I put myself first more often. I give in more easily to sour attitudes, to grumpiness, to moodiness, to anger and frustration, to inaction… (and let’s not even mention how much church I’ve missed and how far behind I am in my daily audio Bible).

And I’m losing both the energy and the resolve to fight it.

I am not persevering. I am not persisting. I am not continuing steadfastly.

I’m at a standstill. Crumpled in exhaustion while the world goes on.

Maybe I’m just filled with the cynicism of Dilbert.

But I’m having a hard time believing that scripture verse out of Romans.

Because I don’t feel that anything of value is building in me through all of this. No perseverance. No character. No hope.

I simply feel worn.

Like an over-used shirt or a child’s poorly cared-for teddy bear. Days and years of use, of dragging, of friction have thinned the fabric, frayed the edges, worn some spots clear through.

I am threadbare.

And maybe, despite the fact that the verse keeps coming to mind, maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe it wasn’t meant to apply to my type of situation. I don’t know.

I’m frankly too tired to find out.

I just know that I’m not seeing it happen that way.

I am wearing. Not building.

I go back and read the verse.

Read that section.

Part of my brain acknowledges the truth in it.

That there is beauty there.

But it is fleeting.

And I look around about me. And I try to think if anything is still solid. Still steadfast. Still resolved.

And there is this:

God is real. God is good. There is grace. Heaven holds healing for me even if earth does not.

You will never convince me to disbelieve those things.

But right now? Right now I’m done.

I’m ready for Jesus to return or call me home.

I am worn.

I am threadbare.

My mind went again – only somewhat unwillingly – to all that I’ve lost (in full or in part) over recent years and things that I miss since my health has been on this continual, gradual decline of a roller coaster. How long has it been since I’ve mimed? Or danced? Or even signed? How long since my last tea attended? Even longer since my last tea hosted… I can’t remember the last time I worked on my book. My weeks to teach have been more miss than hit. I rarely go out, rarely socialize and have missed too many Sundays at church to count…

But a new train of thought stopped me in my tracks:

“What a minute. What about all those times you read scripture, sang songs or prayed prayers of sacrifice and surrendering? How many times have you told God He could have it all? Did you mean those?”

“Of course I meant those! Every time I spoke or sang those words. I’ve been paying attention for years now to what I sing and pray. I didn’t do it blindly. I meant it.”

“But?”

“But I thought the mime thing… and then the tea thing… and some of these other things were things God gave to me. Things God wanted me to do! Directions God wanted me to go! Why would He put a passion or a dream or a goal or a direction into my heart and mind and then take it away? Or ask me to sacrifice or surrender it?

“You mean like God fulfilled a promise [and really the seed of a future promise] to Abraham by giving him Isaac and then asked him to give Isaac up?” 

“Um…. yeah.”

That hit me. Hard.

And the thing is, I don’t think I should count on a ram in the bush. I don’t think I should surrender or sacrifice these things expecting to get them back. For that would only be a nominal surrender, not a true sacrifice.

I don’t think the scripture story is meant to satiate us that if we sacrifice to God what He gave to us, then we’ll always get it back or get it back just as it was. Though I’ve heard folks talk that way.

It’s also really popular to bring up how Abraham tells his servants that he and Isaac will go up the mountain and sacrifice and then “we” will come back to you.

We point to that to show his faith in God.

And Abraham really did have faith in God. His words and actions show his trust and obedience to the One who was his God and Lord.

The problem is that we know the story. It’s easy for us to read into it that Abraham trusted God to somehow save or bring back Isaac – his exact 12-year-old Isaac.

But Abraham didn’t know the story.

And he didn’t know about the plagues on Egypt that displayed God’s mighty power. He didn’t know about the parting of the waters, food in the wilderness, water from rocks, cloud by day, fire by night, sun standing still, crashing Jericho walls, axeheads floating, oil and fishes and loaves multiplying, blind seeing, deaf hearing, lame walking, lepers being cleansed and the dead being raised…

That would all happen generations and centuries after this faith-father was long gone.

As far as I can tell, the only thing Abraham knew and had experienced was God’s faithfulness thus far.

In keeping him safe.
In bringing him to a land that wasn’t even his yet.
In fulfilling the promise of a son.

He had tasted God’s faithfulness.
Even when he was faulty.

And now he was asked to obey.

He had a choice.

He could choose to sacrifice or to refuse and hold tightly.

His display of faith shows us that he chose obedience.
And that he fully trusted God.

Abraham trusted that God was faithful and would somehow keep and fulfill His promise even if Abraham’s obedience to God ended the life of his promised son.

Abraham didn’t know the end of his story.

I don’t know the end of my story.

It would be presumptuous of me to assume that my stated willingness to surrender what God has given to me is somehow a magical key to unlock the door, removing all obstacles and bringing that idea, dream or passion to completion.

And it would be half-hearted, half-faced of me to say I will sacrifice what has been asked of me while actually believing I don’t actually need to relinquish it because I’m fully expecting to get it back.

I have seen the faithfulness of God.

In the history of Israel.
In the life and death of Jesus.
In the lives of countless believers who’ve come before me.
In the lives of those around me.
In my own life.

I can trust the Faithful One.

And I want to obey.

Whole-heartedly.

Even when asked to “Let it go.”

Dear Pastor

I stopped by the church the other day. It was a Thursday morning and I figured if you weren’t out golfing, I would be able to catch a minute or two with you. I wanted to give you a piece of my mind concerning how you failed to visit my mother when she was in the hospital last week.

But you were not at your desk. Though the light was on, as I peered in your office window I was miffed to find you not there. I continued down the hallway, ready to demand your whereabouts from anyone I came across. But the hallway was empty so I turned back around intending to head home. That’s when I saw it.

The door to your office was ajar slightly. And from this new angle I caught just a glimpse of you there, in the corner of your office, on your knees. Praying. Praying fervently. I could see the beads of sweat. Or was that a tear?

Pastor, I caught a glimpse of your heart that day. You were praying for us, weren’t you? Praying for the church you lead, praying for the people whom God has entrusted you with, praying for vision and wisdom and direction. Do you do that often? I now have an inkling that you do.

That’s why I had to write this letter. Because I don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.

Thank you.

Thank you for the sweat, tears and prayers. Thank you for being a godly pastor, with a deep love for God and His people. Thank you for taking your responsibility to our church seriously. Thank you for seeking vision from God and then working tirelessly to try and get us to also catch the vision, equipping us as the Bible says to make that vision a reality. Thank you for taking the brunt of any attacks that come upon our church and of any problems that arise within our church. Thank you for dealing with paperwork and red tape and interruptions all week long in the midst of studying, sermon preparation, counseling, calling, mentoring and working to equip your people.

You wear many hats, don’t you? Many that most of us never see…

So I want to tell you this: I respect you and I honor you as our leader and I will follow your lead as you teach us and equip us, spurring us on to know, love and serve God better, helping us to live lives of faith and make a difference in our community. I will support your leadership as pastor of our church. You have been faithful to God and to our church for years now.

I will not assume the grass is greener on the other side. In fact, I’m working to cut back my assumptions all together. I will refrain from church gossip or hearsay. If I have a question for you or a problem with you, I will come directly to you rather than discussing it with everyone else. Moreover, I will encourage others to do the same. I will not church hop with every new fad or when difficulties in our church family arise. I won’t drum up excuses to stay home when another pastor or guest speaker comes for a Sunday or two. I will make it a priority to join in corporate worship weekly and to get involved in the life of the church. And I will pray. I will pray, too, pastor. I will pray for you and your family and the other leaders in our church.

Thank you, pastor. Thank you.


 

This was originally conceived nearly a half dozen years ago now. My initial idea was to voice it over a video to share one October for Pastor Appreciation month. That never happened. In the summer of 2012, I finally sat and wrote this out and I gave it to my pastor. I am thankful now that I did…

The opening part is fictional. It is simply a story framework (albeit based on conversations heard during my many years of church attendance and service) that is utilized to convey the important content. And though it did not happen as described in the opening story, I have indeed caught glimpses of the hearts of my pastors. Glimpses that inspired this writing, this stated gratitude, this affirmed support. We most of us too often miss what is behind the words spoken and interactions had on Sunday mornings.