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Archive for the ‘Life Pondering’ Category

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.

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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.

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chaos and waiting

And still, the waiting is the hardest.

Over and over as a child, when I was working on beading or untangling Christmas lights or other such tedious tasks, my mother would remark incredulously, “you’ve got a lot of patience!”

But I still don’t have nearly enough. One of the quirks of my OCD tendencies is this revulsion of disorder, flux, chaos. And that is where I find myself as I await the final results of my Lyme test and next month’s allergy testing. So much depends on those results which will bring both answers to questions and change involving healing processes, solutions, more problem-solving and learning to adjust once again to my body’s quirks. And none of it instant.

Because of research, observation & connections and the words of various doctors, I am fairly certain of at least part of the outcome of my allergy testing. And being the type of person who would rather make environmental and lifestyle changes (especially that get at the root of the issue) than piling on more and more meds (especially when they mostly just cover up symptoms), I foresee a great many changes coming to my life and living space.

And though I know it makes sense to await the official results (because the anticipated change will take so much time, effort, energy and money), right now it is rather driving me batty.

I am in the midst of cleaning (yay for two weeks in a row!) and I have to restrain myself from diving into my anticipated purge while I clean. After all, it would take time I don’t have right now and I have no where yet to put stuff.

But even more so is the emotional toll. It was just this past winter that I finally got my small living space to a settled place after 2015’s purge and clean. And now I’m considering and even more drastic change and purge, the process of which will take a lot of letting go and a little bit of grieving. So there’s this part of me that simply wants to “get it over with” and get it to the next settled place with the few new things that are helping me deal with the loss of so many old ones…

I don’t like the chaos and the flux and the waiting.

Because it hurts.
And it’s hard.

But that’s okay.
Somehow in the grand scheme of things, hurt and difficulty have value.

They are not “for naught.”

So I will remind myself to slow down.
And wait.
And trust.
And be patient.

And you know what? Perhaps these weeks until the final results come in can be spent finishing up some of those other purge-like elephants I hadn’t gotten to yet that will help the anticipated new change in the long run?

And perhaps I can use the time to more fully appreciate the way things are here now.
Before learning to fully appreciate the way things will be later.

To be present in each moment.
Even in the chaos and the waiting.

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It’s a catchy tune.

And to be honest, I’ve always been a bit jealous of just how much she gets done before 7:15.

7 AM, the usual morning lineup:
Start on the chores and sweep ’til the floor’s all clean,
Polish and wax, do laundry, and mop and shine up
Sweep again,
And by then
It’s like 7:15.

Mandy Moore voices the young lady Rapunzel who sings this song when we first meet her in Disney’s 2010 movie Tangled. Through this song we are introduced to how Rapunzel spends her days and what is the deepest longing of her heart.

And so I’ll read a book or maybe two or three
I’ll add a few new paintings to my gallery
I’ll play guitar and knit, and cook and basically
Just wonder when will my life begin?

Then after lunch it’s puzzles and darts, and baking
Paper mache, a bit of ballet and chess
Pottery, ventriloquy, candle making
Then I’ll stretch, maybe sketch, take a climb, sew a dress!

And I’ll reread the books if I have time to spare
I’ll paint the walls some more, I’m sure there’s room somewhere.
And then I’ll brush and brush, and brush and brush my hair
Stuck in the same place I’ve always been.

And I’ll keep wonderin’ and wonderin’, and wonderin’, and wonderin’
When will my life begin?

The song came to mind yesterday as I was taking a brief get-up-out-of-this-chair-away-from-the-computer-screen-and-get-some-sun-and-fresh-air walk around the parking lot at work.

Because it came to mind that next year marks a decade since I graduated from seminary.

A decade.

And I’m not where I thought I would be. I moved back home after graduation. At the time it seemed to make sense. When I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia after my freshman year of college, there was only “try and manage symptoms” and “do what you can while you can”… so I did. I got through college and headed to seminary to study theology and arts. And while there I found a new doctor with a protocol that was supposed to help me reverse (though not “cure”) symptoms so that my future could actually be better, healthier, more vibrant and active than my past. But I wasn’t progressing very quickly on the protocol. And while Southern California may have been a better location for doing the mime and arts theology that was my goal, I was floundering financially, having been unable to get a decent job my last year of seminary (after losing the one I had). My health was a major reason for this. So I thought it made sense to move back across the states and move in with my parents until I was able to get on my feet.

I mean, my small town here in south-central PA isn’t ideal for starting a mime team or making a living doing “creative arts consulting.” But I had some ministry contacts on the East Coast and figured that would give me a start and I could expand from there. And once I got on my feet (and/or got married), I’d probably move to some place more appropriate/central to what I was doing. This was supposed to be temporary.

But here I am.

Ten years later.

Now don’t get me wrong, the issue isn’t that I’m still living at home. (Although my tendency to care too much what others think makes me feel awkward about it at times… well, too often.) My parents and I have a great relationship. We operate as a family unit of three adults, loving and taking care of one another. The original plan was that I would get “room and board” in exchange for doing the meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. Which worked well for all of us. And that’s still basically how it is… except when my health gets in the way…

The issue is the dissonance between where I expected to be and where I am.

After ten years.

I’m still at home, still single, still only working part-time and still struggling with my health…

And though I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, the contrast is sometimes so stark that it is hard to ignore and thoughts come unbidden and unwelcome.

Watching others live “real” life. Folks who are my age (and sometimes the “kids” I worked with in youth groups and ministries) are celebrating a decade’s worth (or more) of anniversaries, have children who are teenagers, own homes, have proper full-time jobs or run their own businesses, are involved in their communities, churches and more. Things we associate with real life.

Even more, I see friends and acquaintances who are “living their dreams” – dreams which were the same or similar to mine. They are doing mime and drama and arts… they are reaching and encouraging others through ministries… they are teaching… they are doing tea events… they are writing and publishing books… In short, they are blooming.

And I don’t begrudge them this. I am happy to see them getting to do these things. It makes my heart happy when such dreams work out for them.

And yet there’s a part of me that wonders if I’ll ever get the same.

When will my life begin?

Because from my viewpoint, my life is shrinking, not expanding. My dreams are dying, not being fulfilled.

True, there has been a series of shifts in my dreams and at the time of each shift (and even now for the most part) I see those as being God-directed. From performing mime to teaching mime and arts theology to teaching the Bible and arts (and less mime) to the tea room dream… and all along this story that pursues me that I’d like to finish and publish as a book…

But I couldn’t tell you the last time I performed or taught or even practiced mime. Or taught arts theology…

And though for a time I deliberately stopped saying ‘yes’ to new involvements at church, I then slowly backed out of other commitments at church except for teaching for one class once a month… but even then I found that my unpredictable health kept causing me to have to find last-minute replacements and so I’ve turned even that small task over…

I haven’t hosted or planned a tea party in ages, I go to few teas now and I’m drinking tea even less because of its effect on my medication (not to mention the effects of the carb-heavy “tea foods” on my blood-sugar and health)…

And though I had a decent streak for a few weeks, most days my allotted “writing time” is spent in bed or struggling through symptoms rather than working on my book…

One by one these things are fading.

As for social life and relationships, I’m really only in regular contact with my parents, my co-workers (3 of them) and the folks at church -when I’m able to make it there. And whatever relationship I can manage with other friends on social media…

Okay.

So despite the fact that my eyes sting a bit with salty wet tears as I write all this out, I’m not saying it in order to throw a pity party for myself and invite readers along for the misery.

I’m saying it because yesterday when Mandy-Moore-as-Rapunzel’s voice went through my head, I had a thought.

When will my life begin?

Who says it hasn’t?

Why must life always be something more?

“Real life” doesn’t start with a full-time job. Or marriage. Or having children. Or owning a home. Or being healthy. Or attaining titles or being published or getting promoted… or having dreams fulfilled.

Ideal life, maybe, but not real life.

Real life is simply living, breathing and walking day to day in the reality in which you find yourself.

The thought that struck me as I walked yesterday was simply that my life is now.

I am alive.

The circumstances of my life may not be what I was expecting. Or what I wanted. Or what my culture promotes as normal, accepted or celebrated.

But my life is now.

This is real life.

And that is not a battle cry to “seize the day” or “follow my heart” or “chase my dreams”…
It is simply a call to realign my perspective.

(And maybe another day I’ll get around to processing through my struggles on how our culture defines “full life” and what Jesus meant when he said that he came to give “life, and have it abundantly.)

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Just because a gift is not exactly what you want doesn’t mean it is not a gift and not worthy of gratitude.

For example, I would much prefer complete healing. For my symptoms to be non-existent. Or even for them to be negligible, where they may still be present, but only in the periphery, not intruding or requiring constant care and maintenance.

Today, however, my symptoms are manageable. With medications and limitations, thought and wisdom and care required. I do not feel as well as I would like, but I am quite functional and today can be a good day.

And this is a gift, too. It truly is. And I can (and will choose to) be grateful.

And not with some sighing resigned “I’ll take what I can get” attitude. I don’t want to see this gift as anything less than what it is. Without caveat or addendum or excuses.

I want to walk this day as it is. To breathe it in and walk in grace, acknowledging and experiencing the presence of the One who walks with me – no matter what kind of day it is.

And that is the choice I am making here and now this morning.

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The question

Do I love, desire, long for and seek Jesus more than I love, desire, long for and seek to drink tea freely, to be free of pain, to have good health and abundant energy, to sleep well at night and wake refreshed, to finish my book, to have ample resources, to have support and companionship, to jump back in with involvement at church, to mime and teach and share tea with others?

Is Jesus truly my All in All?
Will I allow Jesus to be enough even if I never get those other things?

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Ashes to Ashes

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

I wasn’t at an Ash Wednesday service this evening and yet it still seemed rather appropriate where I found myself…

Dimmed rooms and quieted voices and tears and grief and mourning. The rituals of how we mark the passing of life. Casket surrounded by flowers and loved ones and photos and tangible pieces of memories.

A shillelagh. Of all things. A shillelagh.

And I open the little memorial card, accented with Celtic design.
Inside is the Irish blessing, “May the road rise to meet you…”
Of course.
I smile and tears come to my eyes.
Of course. I would expect no less.

And I look up and there she is…
But the body is just a shell.
Emptied now of breath, of life.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

I trace my fingers over larger, italicized words of the blessing,
“And until we meet again…”

We will.
For the life that is no longer here is now elsewhere
fuller, truer.

It is my understanding that Ash Wednesday is set apart to acknowledge our frailty and our sinfulness and to begin a Lenten journey towards the cross. A time to remember the sufferings of Jesus, to somehow enter into that reality and to confess our need for a Savior.

She understood suffering.
She understood her need for a Savior.
She clung to the cross.
She clung to Jesus.

And now this journey we make she will make no longer.
She is on the other side.
With the One who suffered and died and prepared the way for her.
And for us.

And so I journey.
And I acknowledge.
And I cling.
To Jesus.

(This began with intentions of a short little poetic Facebook status, but as I processed and remembered it quickly grew into a longer reflection.)

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