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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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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.”

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My mind is a very active place.

There is almost always conversation going on there.
With myself and/or with God.

So it was that yesterday afternoon while I was busy unloading from my work day and errands—putting groceries here, emptying my lunchbox there, taking my needed-for-the-chilly-morning scarf back to my bedroom—I was thinking about the new tonic my parents retrieved for me from my D.O.’s office that afternoon while I handled the other errands.

And I was hopeful.

I often am in such cases.

After all, it was my doctor who inquired about unmentioned symptoms as I was relating to her what was most bothersome at the time of my last visit. I had been flabbergasted at her pinpoint accuracy. And I was excited as she mentioned this new supplement of sorts that would not interfere with my current protocols. And I became even more excited as she described how the symptoms and body functions were all so interconnected and how this new tonic could promote healing.

But I didn’t leave with a bottle of it that day.
Instead I left with reading and research to review.

She also knows me well enough to know that I like to look into thing before jumping in.
(Well, for the most part…)

But the problem was that the paperwork ended up on that pile where everything important goes even though I’m too overwhelmed by putting out other fires to actually get to the important, if not urgent things…

Dr. Rahn and Covey tried to warn me about that…

Still, a month later those “also” symptoms had increased and I was becoming more and more convinced of my doctor’s connections and after being very knocked-off-my-feet sick for near a week and a half, in my increasing desperation, I grabbed the paperwork and a few minutes to read through it.

Then I called my doctor’s office. Do I get it through you or where? When are you open?

The next day my parents made the next-town-over run while I picked up a different prescription and our groceries for the week.

I got home just in time for dinner which meant just in time for my first dose.

And as I was here and there handling those just-got-home tasks, I was hopeful.

I was imagining the healing that could come as this little tonic works to fix something deep within my body that would allow my body to function and heal as God designed it to do.

I was thinking of better days.
Relief from a myriad of symptoms.

And then I was thinking about brokenness.
And this ongoing conversation between me, myself and God regarding my frail body, brokenness and healing.

Brokenness can be good.
Necessary.
Beautiful.
A way in which God works wonders… for my benefit or to benefit others. Often both.

“I’m okay being broken,” the voice in my head declared.

I mean, what if this stuff doesn’t work?
But I still want it to…

“I’m okay being broken… But I’d like it to at least be manageable.”

 

Before the words had finished echoing through the chambers of my mind, I laughed out loud.

For I suddenly saw the absurdity.

“I’m okay being broken for you, God, so long as I can control how my brokenness looks and affects me.”

“I’ll surrender to you, God, so long as I can still have my way.”

That’s not how this works.

And again I am confronted by my own need to control.
To hold on tightly…
… even to what was never really meant to be mine.

And again I hear God’s whisper, “Let it go.”

Let it go.

Can I surrender my brokenness?
Can I trust the Faithful One even when I am at a loss, falling apart, and not anywhere near what I had wanted?

I still want the tonic to work, of course.

But even more so, I want to continue seeing and hearing these revelations as God works through some deep places in my life and continue responding and letting go and trusting Him.

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Save, O Lord

Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.
Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.
They have bowed down and fallen,
But we have risen and stood upright.
Save, O Lord;
May the King answer us in the day we call.
                                           ~ Psalm 20:6-9

I remember that one of Your shepherds, one of the guys who spoke Your words to us in relatable ways once commented that the way to recognize what idols we have in our lives is to pinpoint what we fear most and then notice to what we turn in order to save us from that which we fear. Profound, I thought.

Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.

Lord help me to recognize and relinquish my idols.

May they not hold sway over me.

I long for health and healing.
To be pain-free.
To sleep well.
To slay elephants.
To have energy to accomplish tasks.
To have a good attitude without constant struggle.
To be able to drink tea and enjoy a variety of foods without hurting my body.
To be able to mime and teach and write and encourage others with these and more.

May I not put undue weight,
inappropriate hope,
nor unsuitable importance upon false “saviors”.

May I not look to tea
or chocolate
or ice cream
or pain relievers
or doctors
or routines
or helpful advice articles
or bigger paychecks
or other people
to somehow save me and make me happy

—sinning by giving them ill-fitted and ill-fated responsibility they were never meant to bear.

For even the best of them—

and even those things which are good
and helpful
and healthy

—are not meant to be saviors.

May I not hold them as idols.

Help me to relinquish whatever gets in the way of You, Lord.

Even if it means letting go for a time of what is good in order to ensure that You are in your rightful place in my life.

Seeking You, Lord,
with my emotions and feelings
with my passions and treasures and what I hold dear
—holding You most dear—
with the very core and center of my being;

with my memories and experiences
with my personality and wiring
—seeking You, not excuses—
with my very lifeblood, my life breath
with every breath;

with my intelligence and imagination and will
with how I use my reasoning and creativity
with how I choose my attitude
—attitude is a choice—
with every choice and decision and thought
with my very focus;

with my skills and talents
—and the stewardship of them—
and the stewardship of my time and body
with my energy, even when lacking,
and my wherewithal…

Seeking, loving and obeying You
only and always.

May I not boast and trust in idols,
but in You, Lord.

Save, O Lord!

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15 years ago this past week I received my “temporary” handicap placard in the mail. It brought tears to my eyes. I thought I’d only need to use it to get me through that “rough patch” as I progressed and healed. But I still have it. Renewed twice. And I’m still struggling with figuring out what’s going on with my health and how to handle it. I’m not where I thought I’d be…

This morning’s plans of breakfast, writing, errands and Chamberfest have been dampened by severe thunderstorms that required the computer to be shut down, Cali to have special care and comfort and “running around town” to be postponed or canceled. It’s not like I thought it would be…

Yet this morning I spoke with the Great Physician, Creator of my body, of storm and sea, the One who calms the storm and is present with me in the midst and when plans fail. Statements of faith, of trust and of commitment were spoken and sung in prayer as I sought wisdom, provision and guidance, re-setting and re-affirming my very core, my every breath, my focus and my wherewithal was seeking, loving and obeying Jesus.

And those words shall not be in vain. Even in grieving losses. Even in failed plans. Even when I’m not quite sure what is next. Actually, I suppose that it is then they are most important. So I will hold on to the One who is my vision, my treasure, heart of my own heart – whatever befall – and stand still or go forward with His presence, one day, one step at a time.

So be it.

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I don’t know about where you’re from, but around here “it’s always something” is a frequent phrase with a rather negative connotation. It seems to inherently come with a sigh.

“Last month it was the brakes. Last week it was the fuel line. Now they say it’s the transmission…” Sigh. “It’s always something.”

“She forgot her gym clothes. She lost her retainer. She can’t find her library books and asked me for money to pay the fine because her wallet is missing.” Sigh. “It’s always something.”

“We dealt with the knee surgery. Then it was the appendicitis. There was a reaction to the antibiotics that he was on and now there’s a lump on his neck.” Sigh. “It’s always something.”

You get the picture.

Big or small, sometimes it just seems to add up more and more. And so the phrase with the negative connotation becomes familiar.

It’s always something.

And that phrase that tumbled into my head this morning.

Honestly, at this point I’m not even sure what the final impetus was. I mean, two days ago I’d woken “bright eyed and bushy-tailed” and had a fantastic morning where my body was moving decently and my mind was clear. Yesterday was a weary, foggy blur. And though this morning began a bit better – I was able to smile before even leaving my bed – the fatigue and brain fog quickly made itself known. I struggled through my shower to keep my mind focused on my morning song. But even as I sang my prayer for God to be my vision, my focus wandered. A hundred other things bombarded my mind and no sooner would I struggle to refocus on my prayer song then something new would pop into my head. Another symptom starting. Another task that needs done. Another something that shouldn’t be forgotten. Another physical command that fails to make it from brain to muscle.

And it was that sort of state that I was in this morning.

And at some point something happened or didn’t happen or came to mind which caused the sigh and the “It’s always something.”

Now you have to understand, that being raised on oldies and country music, when that phrase goes through my mind it is consistently in the tuneful voice of Joe Diffie.

And as I heard Joe Diffie’s voice sing the first three words of the chorus to his song of the same name, I immediately began to chastise myself.

After all, such a negative thought isn’t good. Or helpful.

But something stopped me from the chastisement.

A holy hand tenderly, yet firmly, grasped me on my shoulder and whispered into my spirit, “What’s the rest of the line?”

So I let Joe’s voice continue singing in my mind…

“It’s always something every day reminding me.”

I grinned.

Now, if I was from the third century and spoke Greek, I may have shouted, “Eureka!”

But instead I’m a twenty-first century American in her thirties and so instead looked heavenward and said, “God, you rock!”

And in case you didn’t make the connection like I did, it’s this: Grace.

There is always something that God is doing or showing or reminding me of. Something that calls me to gratitude. Something that reminds me of His character. Something that draws me back to His arms. Since I began the 1,000 gifts journey last February, I’ve become more aware of and noticed these things more. Little gifts. Little graces. All around.

And so while it seems that little and big things continue to pile up and cause us to roll our eyes or sigh and say, “It’s always something” it is also true – perhaps more true – that God’s grace is always everywhere, calling us to and reminding us of His love and mercy and justice and righteousness and holiness and faithfulness and…”

You get the picture.

There’s always something every day reminding me…

And so a new song came to mind and I spent the rest of my “getting ready” singing it.

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!“
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!“
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Yes. There’s always something!

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Not so silly

It was Sunday morning.

I was in the shower, chatting with God about how grateful I was to be up and about on a Sunday and how excited I was to be finally getting to church as well as bringing up concerns and prayers I have regarding friends and family. Again, it was one of those informal sort of chats often interrupted by the myriad of random thoughts that often flutter through my brain.

At one point I realized our conversation was at a lull. I suddenly felt silly, for I had been distracted by hanging my washcloth back upon its holder. The wash cloth, you see, has a design along one side and reverse coloring on the back. I found myself folding the wash cloth so that the design fell vertically to the side and was highlighted by the darker back color on an offset fold. Apparently, I had been so involved with this that I stopped in the middle of our conversation.

Which is why I felt so silly when I realized it.

“I like to make things beautiful,” I said to God, somewhat apologetically.

“I know,” came the simple reply. “I made you that way.”

I looked up to see God smiling at me.

Made me that way… a dozen new thoughts went through my head.

Knowing full well what those dozen thoughts were, my Maker continued, “I made you to see and call out beauty.”

“Like at the tea?” I asked, the image of the ladies’ tea where I had spoken on beauty in the broken filling my mind’s eye.

“Yes. And in many other ways.”

I couldn’t help but smile as more images passed through my mind. Seeking beauty, seeing beauty, naming beauty, encouraging others. In big ways and in little ways. Little ways like being mindful of how I hang my washcloth in a shower that no one else ever sees.

Perhaps it’s not so silly.

For that’s how my Maker has wired me.

To see and call out beauty.

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