Courage

I ate with a man this week who has spent his life writing on the behalf of others. Pulitzer honored him with the most prestigious award in his field, and yet he is honest in his self-hatred.

He can not forgive the man he used to be. That unforgiveness stops faith cold.

Typewriter

Genuinely, he asks, “What is faith? Really.”

Five years ago his daughter was born at 23 weeks gestation and spent six months in the NICU. Every day for weeks on end he did not know if he would ever hold her outside the walls of the hospital.

“Your faith isn’t like Hallmark is it?”

No. It’s not. There are no bows and no anesthesia. My faith is real, but so is the pain of life.

He talked of the book he got from a colleague while his daughter was fighting for life. The colleague had lost a child and determined there was no purpose. He wrote an entire book about the futility of human life.

The silver-haired writer in front of me couldn’t accept it.

“I don’t get it. In my mind, God isn’t an entity. It’s the place where meaning exists.”

The silver-haired man desperately wants answers that give purpose to his pain. It is the only way to hold his fragile world together.

My heart breaks. I want desperately for this man to know hope. I want him to know somehow this crazy spinning ball is not for naught. I want him to know the God of the Universe died so he could be forgiven. I want him to know there is One who cares infinitely about every second of the pain and anguish of watching his one-pound daughter fight for her life.

I have heard too much depravity in these few days. My heart can’t take one more picture. It needs rest. It needs to wake with the hope of the watchman waiting for the morning.

The silver-haired writer does have something I envy. His courage of heart calls me to a deep place. He does not step back from the pain of others. He enters in. He drinks deeply from our shared humanity. And yet he does not have the hope of eternity.

I don’t know how he does it.

I have that hope, the knowledge of the infinite love of God, and my heart still shrinks.

The depths of depravity feel too much for me on this night.

I pray for the silver-haired writer, and I pray for myself. I pray for belief and for courage.

 

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My Fit

I hear the silence even now.

I see the dark of my closet surrounding me and feel the tears burning as they pour down my face.

I am hoarse from yelling “I don’t want this!” over and over again.

My chest feels like it is going to explode from my heart racing so ferociously. I can’t breathe. Even my lungs are protesting.

The silence is deafening.

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I hear verses float through my head: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

I scream them too.

God, why aren’t you comforting me? Why aren’t you saving me? I’m mourning like I have never mourned before. You didn’t promise me ease, but you did promise me your presence. Where is your presence? Where are you?

Two years later, I still don’t know what to make of the silence. I don’t know why depression hinders the experience of God. I see countless ways God intervenes in my life, but I struggle even now to feel Him as before.

Months ago, I reached an end. I had no fight left.

Then a cloud pulled back. I caught a glimpse of my reality. Somewhere along the way, somewhere in the darkness, I had chosen to do life on my own. I had decided that since I wasn’t experiencing the presence of God, I couldn’t count on Him. I would need to take care of it.

The problem was I was making an outright mess. I was striving with everything I had, and all I could show for it was complete exhaustion.

I had traded in the truth that God is good all the time and the promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me for the lie that God can’t be trusted. It wore me out.

God, in His tender graciousness, allowed me to give it a go.

Now, I believe, He is right here helping me open my hands. He let me throw my fit, and now He’s helping me settle back down and rest in His goodness once again.

I still struggle to feel God’s presence, His comfort. I don’t know why. More days than not, however, I am able to rest in what I don’t know. I am able to trust even though I don’t understand.

Four Days

The silence I have felt from God in the midst of darkness is one of my hard places. I see His hand protecting me. I see Him bringing freedom, restoring and redeeming. But I don’t feel him.

I don’t feel His comfort, and I don’t feel His peace.

I have known a time when God was so present I could almost touch him. I could feel His arms around me and my heart knew His delight as surely as I knew the sun would rise. Why, when I need His presence most, when I ask and pray and cry and scream for His comfort, do I feel nothing but deadening silence?

This week, the littlest and I were talking about Lazarus. He knew the story vaguely, and I told it to him again.

Mary and Martha and Lazarus were really good friends with Jesus. He loved hanging out with them, and the Bible says Jesus loved them deeply. Well one time, Lazarus got sick. Mary and Martha knew Jesus could make him better and sent a message to Jesus begging Him to come to where they lived and heal Lazarus. Jesus got the message, but he didn’t come. He waited. A couple of days later, He went to where Lazarus lived, but Lazarus had died. . .”

Grief

I told him about how Jesus cried when He saw how sad Lazarus’ sisters and friends were. And of course, I told him how Jesus had called Lazarus out of his tomb. That was the part he wanted to hear. Isn’t that the part that redeems the story? Isn’t that where we cheer and think about Jesus’ as the hero?

There is much that pricked me as I remembered this story. But circled with a red pen and highlighted in yellow were the words, “He waited.” Mary and Martha were in agony. They knew things were bad, and they feared the outcome. They had begged Jesus to come, but He waited. In fact, John says Lazarus had been dead for four days before He came. For four days, Mary and Martha longed for Jesus presence and heard only silence.

In those four days, they did not know (nor could they have perceived) Jesus was going to raise their brother. They had only their grief.

Could my darkness be like those four days?

Twice in John 11, it says Jesus was deeply moved when He saw those around Lazarus grieving. His spirit was so moved, He wept.

When I weep, it is not pretty. It is ugly, loud and gut-wrenching. It physically hurts. When the Jews saw Jesus respond with such emotion, they could only say, “See how he loved him!”

Jesus loved Lazarus. And He loved Mary and Martha. He knew the pain they would walk thru, but he still decided to wait.

This is the clearest picture of hope I have had in two years. Just because Jesus waits to make His presence felt to me doesn’t mean He does not care deeply about my heart. As I recounted the story to my littlest, a picture grew of the Father weeping at my pain. I saw Him shaking, as tears poured from His eyes, as His heart hurt with mine.

We are the lucky ones in the story of Lazarus. We get to read the end before we have to wait. We see Jesus call Lazarus out and command his grave clothes removed.

Mary and Martha, the disciples, and the multitudes overcome in grief had to walk through every minute of their hearts breaking. They didn’t get to skip to the end.

But Jesus did come. And He wept.

“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

A House on the Rock

I have been thinking about Matthew 7 again. . . that little part about the wise and the foolish man.

I think about the rock. So strong. Unmovable. Where it stands is where its always been. Its history goes back for  perhaps thousands of years.

But the sand, not so much. It’s always shifting. Where it is undoubtedly is not where it began.

Ironically, it’s not the rock that captures me. Nor is it the sand, for that matter.

It is the storm.

This is what it says about the house built upon the rock:

The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

And this is what it says about the house built upon the sand:

The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

The results were drastically different. But the storm beat against both houses. Rains came down. The streams rose. Winds blew.

Every time I read these six verses, I keep hoping I’ve missed something. . . where is the part that says the storm never beat on the house built upon the rock? Where are the words that bring comfort in knowing I’ve built a house that protects me from the beating wind? If I’m striving to be the wise man, where is the reward of calm and gentle rains? I look and I look, but it just isn’t there. The storms come any way you look at it. I don’t get to make a choice that avoids them all together.

There are days that feel like there is a hurricane swirling around me. The winds are beating so hard I wonder if healing could ever be found from the battering. Streams rise and leave ugly water marks. My spirit feels like its drowning.

But every time a hurricane blows, it is eventually followed by another day where the sun shines.

And I’m still standing.

Though I wish Matthew 7 said something different, I’m experiencing its truth. My Rock is strong and unmovable. He has proven His steadfastness to me for years and years and years. He has never moved. We have history that gives comfort as the rains pound down.

There is no way to avoid the storms. But the longer I stand, the more I trust my foundation. It’s another paradox of the Upside Down Kingdom. It’s the storms that prove the foundation. There is no other way to know its firmness.