Friday, January 29, 2010

True Confessions

For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10b, NIV)

For months I have been struggling to keep my head above water in a sea of depression and to continue the metaphor, last week, I drowned. This is not an easy thing for me to admit to myself, let alone the world, and yet here I am exposing this truth to you. A great sadness has enveloped my heart and at times the pain is too much to bear. I am empty. Please don’t feel guilty if we’ve crossed paths recently and you didn’t see it – I hide it well. What I realized this week is that I’ve been so foolish these last four months. I have been trying to drag myself out of this by my own willpower. It is only now when I am completely empty and have nothing left to give, no choice but to turn my struggle over to the Lord, that I have found hope. In this chaos of unwanted feelings, the peace of the Lord has settled in me and become my anchor. His strength is rising in my weakness and will continue to see me through the work I need to do to leave this darkness behind. I know that in the days and months ahead, he will comfort me with a comfort that I will be able to pass on and he will heal my heart and mind. The joy of the Lord is in me because I know that he will bless me in this struggle with a stronger, deeper faith.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
(Psalm 40:1-3, NIV)

About the picture:
Atlantic City 2005

Friday, January 22, 2010

What My Son Taught Me About God

I’ve been thinking a lot about my son this past week. It’s almost twelve years since his death and yet that connection – that bond I had with him feels every bit as strong as when he was alive. I’m one-half of a mother/child relationship and sometimes the pain of that severing is still too much to bear. In the movie Men in Black, a younger man catches an older man in a moment of grief over a lost love. The younger man reminds him that “it is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all” and with a hint of nostalgic pain still in his eyes, the older man dares him to “try it sometime.” I admit that I sometimes identify with the older man’s feeling that maybe it would have been better never to have loved than to live with the empty pain. Then I remember some of the faith-shaping lessons I’ve learned through my relationship with my son and thank God for the time I did have with my child.

I floated between atheism and agnosticism when my son was alive. My understanding of the nature of God, when I allowed myself to believe “a god” existed, was that of an uninvolved, angry, wrath-seeking being who saw me as an insect to be impulsively crushed or ignored. A year and a half after my son’s death, I handed my life over to Christ and I began to understand my Heavenly Father in a new light.

He has shown me that, as I loved my child, so he loved me to an even greater degree. I remember those first months after my son’s birth. I was drawn to the side of his crib at night just to watch him sleep, often holding my breath until he took his next breath. Then he would stir and my arms would instantly reach out to pick him up and hold him. Though I wanted to cradle him in my arms, I stood there silent waiting until he cried out. I realize now that God was standing by in my dark times, waiting for me to cry out and when I did, his arms were already around me, picking me up and comforting me.

When my son did something wrong, even as I was correcting him, I loved him completely with all of my heart and God has shown me in those memories that he loves me completely, with a perfect love, no matter the circumstances. As much as I treasured spending time with my son, listening to him tell me about his day and his thoughts – God enjoys our conversations even more. And on days like today when my heart is raw, I have a glimpse of the anguish God must have felt when sin ripped us from his presence. In Revelation 21, God promises a day when he will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain and he will live with us and we will be his people. This is the desire of God’s heart – that the Father/child relationship be fully restored and he’s already done the work to fulfill the promise.

Knowing that my loving Heavenly Father is with me right now in this dark place, that he understands and shares my pain, and will continue to comfort and heal my heart, I am confident that this sadness will eventually pass and I will know a day when there are no more tears or death or mourning or pain.
About the pictures:
"I'm Going to be a Fireman" (18 months)
Cassette Catastrophe (2-1/2 years)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hidden in Plain Sight

Last weekend, I heard a very inspiring sermon about God being hidden in plain sight. The preacher told a story of a special card that he had put in a “safe place” where he would always be able to find it and then, as you would guess, promptly forgot where he put it. He knew he didn’t lose it and was sure it was in his home somewhere and yet after months of searching, he still had been unable to find it. Then one day, as he was sitting in his chair in his home office, he spied the card, which all those months before, he had tucked in the corner of a picture frame hanging on the wall. After all the searching, there it was, hiding in plain sight the whole time. He then went on to say that God is like that special card – right there in front of us the whole time, but we don’t see him. He said that God is in the ordinary moments of our lives, but we too often overlook him and credit coincidence or luck instead of recognizing the “God”incidences and blessings in each day. This week, I decided to ask God to help me see Him “hiding in plain sight.”

As is common for a single person, I often feel alone, and being an introvert, enjoy it most of the time. However, last week - “alone” morphed into loneliness. Imagine my surprise this week when the “God”incidences and blessings the Lord opened my eyes to were repetitive reminders that I am loved and that I matter. From friends who, without coaxing, stopped by to say hello and stayed awhile to the unexpected email from someone in my church family letting me know he was thinking about me. There was the lovely unexpected card I received from a family member that I will keep on my bulletin board in front of my computer always and the phone call from a woman from the church I work at who just wanted to thank me for doing what I do. There are the phone calls from my brother that let me know he’s thinking about me and the best friend who is planning her visit to town this weekend. Then there were the unexpected moments where God shared his love for others in my actions – in the squeezing of the hand of a woman I was praying for, in welcoming a shy newcomer, and in being supportive to the friend who needed a shoulder to cry on.

As God continued to reveal himself to me in those ordinary moments, his joy and peace overcame my loneliness. This week has truly been a blessing. As I reflect on it, I can’t help but think about the preacher’s story. He had searched high and low for that card, but it was not his efforts that led him to find it. I think that this week’s lesson was not that God is hidden in plain sight in the ordinary moments of my life, but that if I want to see God in those moments, I need to ask him, and rely on him alone, to reveal himself to me that I might know the love and peace that comes only from God.
About the picture:
Pittsburgh, PA (November 2009)
(Second photo is a cropped version of the first)

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Year. Same God!

As I drove to work on Monday, I saw a sign outside a church I pass that read: New Year. Same God! I’ve been thinking about it all week. This week’s blog is what came of it.

Well, we are eight days into the New Year. How are those New Year’s resolutions holding up? Some people are saying that this is not going to be a good year. Fear, instead of confidence, is inspired when they look at the economy, the actions of our elected officials and the greed of corporate America. Many others are dreaming and hoping that this is going to be “the year.” They hope that this year will be different, better. “This is the year I get that new car …go on vacation …get that new cell phone.” These are not necessarily New Year’s resolutions, but a declaration of our determination to have or do that new thing that has been unachievable in the past. We are always looking for that something new to improve our lives. New, better, faster machines. And, oh, by the way, let’s make them as green as possible. Some people have admirable hopes and desires for the New Year – “This is the year I start that retirement fund and spend more time with my family. This is the year they find a cure.” The truth is that no one knows what the next 357 days will hold. It only the hope or fear we cling to that determines our outlook on and approach to the future.

The days ahead may be unpredictable and filled with the anguish and delight of the human condition but our God remains the same. He’s proven himself repeatedly not only in the pages and the books of the Bible but in the days and years of my life. He is the same God who created the universe in the first chapter of Genesis and the same God who caused David to lie down in green pastures in Psalm 23. He is the same God who sent his Son to be born of Mary and who died on a cross and rose again for man’s salvation. He is the same God who gave me life, who placed in me the determination to overcome abuse, and who held the pieces of my heart together when my son died. He is the God who resides in my heart now, guiding me through this river of time we call 2010. When it comes to God, there is no new improvement. There’s no better package. There’s no new formula that can enhance the perfection, the majesty, the power and the love that is the unchanging God we serve. I don’t know what will happen over the next year, but I do know that the same God who saw me through the last will see me through the next. That’s where my hope for 2010 comes from. So I know it’s going to be a good year, no matter what happens, because it will be a year with God at the heart of it.
About the picture:
Pittsburgh, PA (January 2010)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Give Up or Give In

Happy New Year!

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Did you promise yourself to exercise more? Eat less? Save more and spend less? I make only one New Year’s resolution every year and break it as I make it. I resolve to not make any New Year’s resolutions this year. Why are we compelled on this day to make promises to ourselves? What makes us think that the next 365 days will bring a happiness and success that the last 365 days lacked? In the past, I also did the New Year’s resolution thing. I’d promised myself that I would lose weight, be happier or at least less depressed, or more financially secure and every year, I failed miserably. I believe I failed for two reasons: 1) Because changing the number on the end of the date just isn’t a good enough reason to base major life changes on and 2) I was relying on my own will and its insufficient power to overcome my present nature.

I did eventually lose weight, became much happier and a little more financially secure and all those things began on obscure dates in my past that I couldn’t recall if I tried. How did I do it? I stopped trying. Don’t get me wrong. I put in a lot of effort and fought to overcome in each of those areas, but I didn’t rely on myself for success and the ability to overcome. Life changes must begin on the inside and only God can truly change what’s in my heart. I may want to be a better person, but I don’t have the power to do it. When I’m tempted to turn back to my old ways or sin against God, I have a tendency to gather my resolve and fight harder to not give in until I have nothing left to fight with. I don’t want to give in, but I can’t and don’t want to stop myself either. That’s when I must choose. Whether it’s a resolution I’m trying to keep or sin I’m trying to avoid, I must choose if I am going to give up or give in to God. A friend told me a story last week about his three-year-old daughter. She was struggling to the point of tears in her effort to zipper up her winter coat. There he stood patiently watching and waiting as his headstrong little girl became more frustrated at her inability to zipper her own coat. Then she just stopped, dropped her hands at her side, and looked up at her Daddy and asked him to zipper the coat for her. In the same way, I must surrender to God and admit that it’s not in me to overcome this temptation and that there’s part of me that doesn’t even want to. I hand the situation over to him and wait for him to overcome the temptation for me. I lean on his willpower, not mine.

I pray that 2010 be a very good year for you. May you be filled with God’s presence and your relationship with him deepen over the next 365 days and may you gain every good thing you desire in your surrender to the Lord.
About the picture:
Pittsburgh, PA (December 2009)