The Art of Everything: Come to Your Senses

 

The Art of Everything:

Come to Your Senses

IMG_2684Back in the early days of my stint as a home schooling mom, someone recommended to me the series written by Charlotte Mason for home educators. I dutifully began reading the first volume and got about a third of the way through before an ill fated encounter with a bumble bee hive took all the wind out of my sails. I had great visions of nature walks in which my three “students” would draw beautiful pictures and write memorable accounts of the various specimens of creation we would encounter. (AND, I could also count it as PE, could I not?) After that day I herded them home while brushing the bees off their backs and yelling, “Run! Run!” none of us were all that eager to leave the house. It didn’t help that it was summer in Texas and it was hot. As has often been my experience, life got in the way, and the books sat on my shelf for many years before I passed them on to someone else. All I can say for sure about my homeschooling efforts is that my children are functioning members of society, and none of them (as yet) has expressed resentment towards me for what I see as being a minimally successful effort at educating them. 

There is one portion of what little Charlotte Mason I read that has stuck with me through the years. While I didn’t really emphasize it as a teacher, it has lately been resurrected in my own life. This is the practice of observation. Ms. Mason encourages an exercise in which you are given a limited amount of time to look at your surroundings, and then you must turn your back and list everything you can remember seeing. I haven’t done this exercise, although I have toyed with the idea of trying it. However, I have begun to develop in myself a habit of noticing my surroundings. 

Right now I can look out the window and see the breeze blowing through the leaves of the various plants. I have just noticed how differently the wind affects the large elephant ear leaf as opposed to the leaves on the oak tree. And the weeds that need to be pulled from my garden blow in a different way altogether. I’ve also noticed that my peace lily across the room from me has flowers on it that have stayed green, instead of being white, like they were before I moved it away from the widow, where direct sunlight was making it wilt (or was it the air from the vent in the ceiling blowing too directly on it?). 

I have a friend who always posts pictures of the sky on his facebook page. My mom and sister always notice the clouds. Because of these people expressing their observations, I notice the sky. And when I do, I see how it is different from the last time I saw it. 

I spent a week on the beach in January, and was struck by the changes in color of the water and the sky from one day to the next. In fact, we were on a peninsula that was narrow enough that if you stood in the middle, you could see the bay on one side, and the ocean on the other. On more than one day there was a marked difference in the level of cloud coverage and wind from one side of the land to the other. Along with the pleasing effect observing the changing landscape has on one’s mood, there is the added effect of showing us just how amazing is our Creator. IMG_2248

My beach companion mentioned to me that nature is full of beautiful gifts from God. He did not have to make it so varied and beautiful, but He did – at least in part for the benefit of His children. I actually think He couldn’t have done any differently. Creation is a reflection of His nature. It takes everything from the vast sky and ocean and mountain to the intricate detail of DNA and atoms and things unseen by naked eyes to encompass who He is. What I think is remarkable is that He, then, created us with multiple senses that allow us to appreciate this world in a variety of ways. 

I believe there is much to be learned about God through observation of the things He has created. Psalm 19:1 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God. Romans 1 tells us that God’s invisible attributes are understood by the things that are made. Psalm 8 describes the humbling effect of looking at the night sky and the works of God’s creation. “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” 

There is another home schooling experience that has managed to stay at the forefront of my mind. (I actually think I learned more from teaching my kids that they did). In a science book, there was a one page blurb about Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Apparently he was one who made a habit of being out in nature with the eyes of an observer. He believed that much could be learned about God through observation of His creation, and he regularly used examples from his time outdoors in his sermons. I mentioned this to a pastor friend who mentors pastoral interns. He told me he requires the interns under his tutelage to work in his garden. His goal is to help them develop the discipline of seeing the spiritual implications of nature (and also perhaps to get rid of some weeds). 

Sometimes being artistic is as simple as appreciating the art. Creating art is good, but wouldn’t it be somewhat less good if there was no one around to notice its beauty? I want to be mindful to notice the beauty that has been gifted to me by my Father. I want to notice more about the grass than whether it needs to be cut. I want to smell the flowers and the ocean air and the sweetness of baby skin. I want to see the yellowness of the yolk in my breakfast egg, the way a raindrop makes its way down the window pain, and the skittering of a sand piper skirting the flow of water on the beach as he searches for food. I want to hear the deep tones of the bass cello, the tinkling of a wind chime, the wind through the trees, the giggles of a child. I want to feel the roughness of a carpenter’s calloused hand, the heat of the sun coming through my window, the softness of my pillow as I lay me down to sleep. There is a lot said about using our gifts of talents to the glory of God. But I wonder, shouldn’t we use our gifts of senses to His glory as well?

What sense do you have today?

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Not My Will

I have loved the book of Psalms since my first year in boarding school. It was then I discovered what a treasure trove of emotion is found in its pages. I’ve heard from more than one source that the Psalms encompass all human emotions, and I am inclined to believe it. It certainly gave expression to the anguish of a thirteen-year-old who found herself homesick, lonely, and in need of much comfort. Today is no different. As an old lady I still find myself endeared to a book in which so much heart revealing is done before the Creator. If David can speak so frankly about the many struggles he is experiencing, then I can too. I have always been one to feel things very deeply. I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person. I joke about keeping a running list of public places in which I have cried, but I laugh as readily. I love fiercely and I can hang onto bitterness like a champ. This aspect of my personality exasperated my earthly father. I often felt his disapproval in my youth when I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. So to have the example of the Psalms – this laying open the heart before God, without fearing disapproval – it’s a concept I have grown to love.

Lately I have been camped in Psalm 39. A friend referred me to verse 13 a few months ago: “Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.” It kind of made my head spin a bit. Did David really just ask God to back off so he could smile one more time before he died? I think I might have prayed that a time or two myself. 

Most of the time, the Psalms petition for God to shine his face upon us. This is the symbol of God’s blessing. It reflects the look of tender mercy that a loving father bestows on his beloved child. But it also means that God is paying attention to us. I am reminded of a quote from Hind’s Feet on High Places, “Love is beautiful, but it is also terrible – terrible in its determination to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved.”  

And Hebrews 12:7 “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful: nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” 

So God’s blessing, having His face shine upon us, means that we are being sanctified. We are being conformed to the image of His Son. It is a good thing. 

But I have been there in that place that David speaks of in Psalm 39. I’ve been in verses 1-3  trying to hold my peace and keep a muzzle on my mouth while the wicked prosper around me. I have felt the fire burning in my heart until I have to speak (and generally regret it). I have considered the frailty of life, and taken comfort in the brevity of it as in verses 4-6. I have reminded myself as in verses 7-9 that my only hope is in the Lord and that I need him to deliver me from my own transgressions and those of the fools with which I share the world. And I know what it is to hold my tongue and accept the difficulties of this world as being from the kind hand of my great Redeemer. And I know, how I know! the weariness that makes David say in verse 10, “Remove your plague from me: I am consumed by the blow of your hand.” I have existed in the last few verses of this Psalm so many times that it feels as comfortable as an old sweater. 

Oh how weary I get of this life sometimes. I want to be found faithful. I want to be sanctified. I want to hold nothing so dear as to be like my Savior. But please, dear Lord, understand me when I say I need a moment’s peace to catch my breath. Please understand that I can’t take the brightness of Your perfection on my sinful heart any more today. Just look away for a minute and let me breathe!

Does He understand? Can He possibly fathom what it feels like? Truth be known, as long as I have been a Christian, I still resemble David more than Christ. David was terribly flawed. And so am I. Can an incarnate God, who knew no sin, truly understand the weight of this life on my shoulders?

Yes.

Yes! The Christ who spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan understands weariness and hunger and temptation more than I have known. The Christ who was betrayed by one who was in his inner circle understands. The Christ who was never without someone wanting something from him understands. The Christ who was constantly challenged and accused and plotted against understands. The Christ whose closest friends couldn’t even stay awake and pray with him as the hour of his crucifixion drew near understands. The sinless Christ who bore the punishment for my sins understands. He who saw the face of God turn away from him on the cross understands loss in ways I never will.

Hebrews 4:14-16: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

Jesus did the same thing as David, you know. He went to his Father and poured his heart out. In Matthew 26 starting at verse 46, the scene is laid out for us. Jesus takes his disciples to a place called Gethsemane and he tells them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. Stay here and watch with me.” (which we know they didn’t – they fell asleep). And then he went off by himself, fell on his face, and prayed. He prayed that God would not make him go through this terrible ordeal. Let that sink in a minute. He was so sad he thought he would die, and he asked God to think of some other way to accomplish His will. He did not want to face the wrath of God. 

And then Jesus said, “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 

These words are not at the end of Psalm 39. David, like me, could not get past his own sorrow at the moment to see the big picture. We just want it to stop, at any cost. But Jesus, our Great Shepherd, saw beyond his present sorrows to the glory yet to come. He laid down his life for his sheep. Let me not lose sight of this. Let me remember whose image it is that I am being brought to bear. My Great High Priest. He knows my every sorrow. He knows, to depths I cannot fathom, the difficulties and temptations of this world. And He bore up under them for my sake. If I never accomplish any other part of his image, let me learn this one thing: not as I will, but as You will, my great Creator and King.

I am thankful for David. I am thankful for the transparency we see in the Psalms. I am thankful for the example of pouring out my heart to God. I am thankful for Psalm 39 that ends with this pitiful prayer that God would look away so that I might smile again before I die. Because, my life on this earth has not been easy, and I like to know it’s alright to tell God about it. But praise be to the Father who provided for us One who was willing to say, “not as I will, but as you will”. Praise be to my gentle Shepherd, who laid down his life for me. Praise be to the Holy Spirit, who when I am weak in my resolve, and beg him to back off on the whole Sanctification thing, loves me enough to not heed my request. 

 

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The Art of Living

In case you hadn’t heard, my sister died. I was standing there holding her hands and singing to her as she slept and breathed labored breaths. She didn’t respond to my touch or my song. They say that the hearing is the last to go, but I don’t know how they could possibly know that. At any rate, I had no indication from her that she heard me, just as I had no sensory indication that God heard the prayer that I sang over her.

Pass me not O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry!
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

And then it happened. There at the last word, it appears that God did hear my humble cry on her behalf, and my sister ceased the labor of taking in air. She just stopped. And in the silence that ensued I stared at her in disbelief. Was this really it? Was she finally gone to her rest? And suddenly my heart cried out, “Not yet! Not yet! I don’t know how to live without her!”

There was a memorial service in which I both sang sweet harmony with my surviving siblings, and spoke words of sorrow and hope. There was another memorial service in which I spoke memories. There were days in the home that my mother and my sister shared with my sister’s husband and son. Days where I carried around the piece of paper in which the tragedy of our loss was coldly proclaimed in legal terms. I worked on getting my sister’s name removed and mine put in its place on all my mother’s important documents and accounts.

It’s no wonder then, that my words at the art show where my sister was honored were scattered and gangly. Words are my thing, but the overwhelming flood of emotions that came with me to that venue were turned into a raging torrent when I saw her picture staring back at me from the center of her art display. And then I saw her husband across the room and the tears flowed for us both. So I walked away feeling ashamed that I wasn’t able to express myself with the grace and beauty my sister deserved at that moment.IMG_0986

This is what I wanted to say. This is what I meant to convey on that occasion:

For Cindy, art wasn’t something she did, it was something she was. It was a way of living. She read various books that taught how to foster a creative mindset in all areas of life. She saw it as a means of worship. It influenced every aspect of her day.imagejpeg_0

You could see this in the way she drank her tea in the morning. On her tray was a china cup and saucer, a small silver creamer and sugar bowl and a pot with a cheerful cozy she had knitted herself. She would take this tray to her bedroom where she had created a tiny retreat that was just for her. She had a green snuggle chair with ottoman. On one side was a wicker basket shelf that held her variety of obscure books, her journals, pens, tissues, and fingernail files. On her left were containers of art projects and knitting supplies. It was here she started her day writing her pages (The Artist Way), and drinking her Yorkshire Red.

You could see her creativity in the way she worked with her succulents and planned her flower gardens. You could see it in the way she cooked, in the things she knitted, in the gifts she gave, in the letters she wrote, in the clothes she wore.

The beauty of seeing art in this way, is that it makes it accessible to people like me who will never be able to create a painting that anyone would want to hang in their house (I recently found out my son hates it when I say that – but my goal isn’t really to have a painting hanging in someone’s house). I want to learn to incorporate beauty and art in my life the way she did. It has become something I think about as I go through my day. I hope to share with you some of the ways I have accomplished this, and perhaps discuss the way we bear the image of our Creator when we are creative. More about that later.

Towards the end of her life when she was forced to depend on the rest of us for so much, she was incredibly patient with our lack of imagination and with the way we forgot the details that were so important to her. But there were days when her patience ran out, and she would let it be known that we had not put enough ice in her water, or had put too much sugar in her tea (also, I was banned from making her toast). One such day she was particularly irritated at the way people would put their dishes in the sink, or by the sink, when the dishwasher was right there. There were a lot of us in the house that week, and, well, we weren’t keeping her space clutter free. She made the statement to me with strong conviction, although her voice was not particularly strong any more, “I don’t believe in procrastination destinations!” I remember thinking to myself as I envisioned my suitcase that was full of dirty clothes and my house with various projects that had to be left undone to make another trip to New Braunfels, “My whole life is a procrastination destination.”

I had put my husband in the nursing home on a Tuesday, and had made my first trip to New Braunfels on the following Thursday. The year and a half since had been a series of trips back and forth between my husband and my first family. Every time I left one for the other, I felt the guilt of leaving someone without adequate help. And then my father died, and then my sister died, and my mom moved into assisted living, and I looked at myself in the mirror and saw the proverbial dishes by the sink and I didn’t have any idea who I am or what my life is supposed to be.

I have the convenience of time and freedom to determine what are my priorities. I have the inconvenience of time and freedom that can thoughtlessly be filled up with whatever presents itself first. I have floundered. I have frittered away time. I have contemplated my life ad nauseam.

After way too long, (considering the amount of good teaching I have had) I realized that I have been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking who I am, I need to be reminding myself who He is. I need to be asking what can I do this day to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  I can’t really answer the question of who I am and what I am supposed to accomplish in this world apart from who God is. Because, as a Christian, my identity is intimately and intricately wrapped up in His Kingdom work. If I am to accomplish any large and significant things, it will be because of many seemingly mundane moments of just being obedient in the here and now. And if I never accomplish anything of worldly significance, what is that to me? I’m here to do my Father’s bidding. So for the moment, I am laying to rest the question of what I am supposed to do with the rest of my life. I’m back to the basics: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”

I have hopes. I have goals. I have things that I would like to accomplish. I want to be useful. But I affirm with Paul that whatever things are gain to me are nothing compared to the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord (Phil 3:7-10).

So for today, this is my goal: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)

That is all. That is all.

 

 

 

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Cancer Like a Silence Grows

Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t know my sister is dying? It seems that even those who don’t know her must have felt the paradigm shift that happened when her body cried, “uncle” just last week after having fought and lost a three way battle for the past year and a half. The cancer so cruel and unrelenting ever pressing pain here and there, being beaten back on one front, but rounding the flank on another. And the chemotherapy fighting back, but with so much disregard for the massive collateral damage it leaves in its path. Her poor body trying desperately to hang on while the battle rages – like an inmate in a prison camp who can only hope to survive until the war is over – hoping agains all odds to still be standing when the last enemy falls. But the wrong side is winning and she can’t hold out any longer for an ally that is losing ground on every front.
And I must stand by and watch the cancer troupes come pouring in by the droves. Piling on the pain while confiscating those things that would make her last days on this earth bearable. All I can do is watch as the buildings crumble and the tanks roll in.
The fact that she can’t digest food hasn’t caused her taste for tea to wane, so we lift our cups to share and old ritual and then we pump it out through a tube.
Precious and few are the moments of lucid conversation before the next dose of pain control is absorbed through her cheek and she drifts away to a place of oblivion where she has temporary respite and I am locked outside alone, wishing I could enter her dreams so I could just be near her once again.
Loved ones brought together in tighter bond by the ropes of shared grief and loss. Tears mingle with anger and laughter and things that dull the senses for a moment. We connect in the, “I know,” and “It hurts,” and “why her?” We hold hands and cry on shoulders. We worry about each other in turns. We make room for each other by the prison bed.
In spite of the pain and tubes and the incomprehensible seeping away of life, she pats hands, comforts grieving children, offers sympathy and prayers to strangers who prattle on about their woes as if she didn’t have enough worries of her own at the moment (I want to scream at them, “Get your own sister!”). She extends her hand and whispers gratitude to those strangers who come to tend her.
And I want to be just like her. It’s the thing that doesn’t change.

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Remembering Dad

This is my first father’s day since my dad died. I miss him, but I am not devastated. I was blessed to see my dad live to a ‘reasonable’ age. The end was hard enough on him that I had begun to pray that God would take him home. I honor him today by posting the remarks I spoke at his memorial service in January:

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I know this will come as a great shock to those of you who worked with my dad in any capacity, because he hid it so well, but he was somewhat of a perfectionist. He had a tendency to look at any situation in terms of what needed to be fixed, and he wasn’t too shy about telling you what you could do to improve. As his children, we knew that he loved us, and that he was proud of us, but we also got the message that whatever we were doing needed to be tweaked a bit one way or another.

This perfectionism is what caused him to become quite the wood worker. The first coffee table he made fell apart after a few months. He figured out what had gone wrong, and the next one didn’t fall apart. He would do his research, he would learn from his mistakes, and he would improve his results.

This perfectionism contributed to his high school quartet being good enough to gain him a scholarship to Hardin Simmons University, and it helped him graduate from high school early so that he could take advantage of that scholarship.

This perfectionism is what made him adept at foreign languages. When he graduated from seminary, he thought that the whole point of learning Greek was so that he could use his Greek New Testament to prepare his sermons. Not just as a reference to clarify a word or two. He used it as his text. He became known for his Swahili proficiency in East Africa; to the point that he spent his last years, there, teaching other people the language. Later on, he learned Spanish for the purpose of being able to communicate with my brother’s family.

Dad’s perfectionism meant that for whatever job he was assigned at any given time, he would be the first to arrive, the last to leave, and he would give the task his full attention. It made him dependable. You knew that if Eucled Moore was on the job, it would get done. And he would find ways to get it done more efficiently and with better results than it was done yesterday. He pursued the ideal.

My dad’s pursuit of excellence is what made his sermons well thought out, well planned, and polished so that he got the message across in understandable, applicable detail, that was exactly the right length. He had little patience for preachers who ran over their allotted preaching time, no matter how good their message.

Dad was not an adventurer. We as his children joke about the number of places we have been in the world – without seeing anything. We spent hours in airports all over Europe. This is something I understood a bit more clearly when I had five children of my own. It was just too overwhelming to think about navigating a foreign country with five littles in tow. And feeding all those mouths in a restaurant could break you. But his lack of adventurous spirit did not keep him from doing what he believed was his calling. He did leave his home in Crosby, Texas, and travel to the other side of Texas to be the first in his family to go to college. He did leave Texas to follow his call to the ministry, traveling further and further away from home and family until finally he was on the other side of the world. This made him a sort of reluctant pioneer, or trailblazer for his family. But I don’t know that he was really cognitive of that at the time. He was just putting one foot in front of the other as he followed the path God had laid out for him. The result of this has been that we as his children have come to be adventurers. (Well, most of us have.)

My dad was a man who looked for ways to serve wherever he was. And he did what he thought was right no matter what the personal price. I never saw him waver in his faith.

He was a man who valued family. We sat around the table for every meal at his house. We have many fond memories from our youth of meals where tears of laughter rolled down both cheeks as we competed to come up with one more pun. This bent for corny humor that you see in us originated with him. He was known for saying things like, “That makes my happy pooch out all over” Or on a hot day, “I wish I had a tall glass of ice tea, a neck a foot long, with a taster ever half inch!” This love of family extended to his parents and sisters. He did what he could to help care for his elderly parents in their last days, even though he was already struggling with Parkinson’s during that time. And there was never a doubt in our minds that my parents loved each other.

My dad loved music. He loved to sing, he love to hear us sing. He exposed us to all sorts of music: Sons of the Pioneers, Jim Reeves, Mozart, John Denver, Folk music, pop music, easy listening. Every furlough he would upgrade his equipment, from turntable, to cassette, to reel to reel. He was going to have music. No matter how large the crowd on a Sunday morning, I could pick his tenor voice out over the rest of the congregation.  In the past 5 or so years, he became enamored with the Polka shows on TV, watching them over and over (and over, and over). I am sad to say I was not around the day he talked mom into trying to learn a few polka steps from one of those shows. But alas, the Parkinson’s was too advanced at that stage to give him much success.

The last few years were very hard for dad. He lived to see his disease take away his ability to speak or sing, his ability to work in his shop, his ability to drive, his ability to read or write, his ability to think clearly. He fought hard to hang on to the things that defined him, and was grieved with each new limitation. But in a moment of clarity a few weeks before his passing, he looked me in the eye and said, “I know I am coming to the end of my life, and that’s ok. I am not afraid.” In the last few moments of consciousness, he raised his arms and looked beyond this world to the next as if to say, “I am ready to come home.” So we grieve our loss, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We know that dad has finally achieved the ideal. He has found the perfection. He can finally rest from his life long pursuit of the excellent, because he has found it. And I think I can hear his voice singing above the heavenly congregation.

 

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Let Me Explain

I am always intrigued by the different responses I receive from my blog posts. It’s usually a mixture of people who are just finding my blog for the first time, people who have read it from the very beginning, and people who pop in from time to time. Some know my story, some don’t. The responses range from words of encouragement to words of thanks to words of advice. The comments are quite supportive and loving. But lately I have noticed that there seems to be a variety of views as to why I share my story in the raw-ugly-truth sort of way that I do. I explain it a little in The Very Beginning, but I don’t think most people go back to read an entire blog, so I thought I might take a minute to once again explain my purpose.

When I was early on in this journey, I started buying up books by the dozen about how to help someone get their life back after a massive stroke. The books I bought were primarily written by people who had rehabilitated successfully, and their books were filled with all sorts of motivational speeches and “simple” steps that just weren’t all that simple in my present situation. My husband wasn’t motivated, and I wasn’t making much headway, and the books seemed glib and glossy. I began to think I would like to read something from someone who was telling the whole ugly truth, instead of just hitting the high points. So I began writing the story I wanted to read. I began sharing the hard stuff and the embarrassing stuff and admitting I wasn’t being successful. It was my way to reach out to others who were just finding life so hard and uncooperative.

But I didn’t just want to commiserate with people. I wanted to give them something to hold onto in the midst of the storm. I try to express the spiritual lessons I have learned along the way, to express the humor (dark as it may be at times), to find the joy. I try to point out the silver lining, no matter how dim. I hope that I never sound hopeless, because I am not.

For those of you who have read my writing and found yourself saying, “Yes! that’s exactly how I feel, but could never say it out loud!” You are my target audience. I hope that my openness about my own struggle will help you realize that you are not alone, that you are not the only one. I hope that you can hold on the the Truth and be encouraged by the fact that there is meaning to the madness in this world. I hope that my words will give you the courage to reach out to other believers and be willing to express to them your struggles so that you don’t have to carry this burden alone. One thing I have found through my transparency is that there are people struggling with big issues all around me who haven’t had the nerve to say it out loud. Admitting my own weakness gave them courage to admit theirs and together is easier than alone.

For those of you who have read my blog and learned how to be more compassionate to people who struggle – have learned how to ask better questions and say fewer glib platitudes, you are my target audience. I want to help those who are not struggling learn how to more effectively serve those who are. I want to make you aware of how small things can sometimes be more appreciated than big things. I want to encourage you in the power of prayer. And I want you to store away Biblical truth. My pastor is prone to remind us that at any given time in our lives we are either just recovering from a difficult season, in a difficult season, or about to have a difficult season. “In the world you shall have tribulation.” It’s a fact of life. So if your life is pretty good right now, do yourself a favor and make good use of the time. Learn to think properly about the world.

It is not my goal to garner sympathy, make you worry about me, or make you feel guilty about your life being better than mine. I met a new friend this week who introduced me to the concepts of internal processing versus external processing. My understanding is that people who process life internally generally talk about things they have already worked out in their thinking. People who process externally talk about things they are trying to work out, because talking about them helps them think it through. My blog is a result of internal processing. I think about a blog post for days, weeks, even months before I write it. At that point, it flows out onto the paper in a practically completed form. I check it over several times to find the errors in structure, but I rarely change the content more that a few words here or there. What that means is that I am rarely in the thick of the battle when I post. I’ve already worked through it and gone on to the next thing. I write it raw, because that is the way I want to make my point, but it is rarely something I am sobbing through at the time.

My last post spoke honestly about my struggle with depression. This seemed to raise a lot of red flags for people. Let me assure you: While I deeply appreciate the struggles of William Cowper and the many times God prevented him from taking his own life, I am far from suicidal. I don’t allow myself to stay home and wallow. I do my best to find the balance between getting out and embracing life, and staying home to rest and replenish my spirit. For those of you who are into the Myers Brigs test, I walk the line between introvert and extrovert. I need equal parts of each. I am mindful of this, and do my best to be healthy. I have so many close friends who support me in their varying gifted ways, it’s kind of embarrassing. I have a church family that really is family in the truest and most beautiful ways. My siblings, my in-laws, my mom, my children, my grandchildren all surround me with far more love than I could ever earn. I could call a different person every day for months without running out of someone who will listen to my whining and pining. And then I have a professional counsellor who has to listen to me because I pay her. If you have read my post and offered yourself as someone I can talk to, can you please consider if there might be someone closer to home who could use your compassion? I am so humbled by the many offers from people literally all over the world. But I have a veritable wealth of resources, and I know for a fact that others do not. It would be terribly selfish if I kept you all to myself.

Having said that, I will say that I never turn down an offer for prayer. Yes, please continue to pray for me and my husband, and my children, and my recently widowed mom, and my sister who is fighting cancer. All these things weigh heavily, and I will gladly share the burden with those who will help me take it to the Lord.

So my dear readers, I say thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for caring. Thank you for expressing your love for me. Be at peace. I am going to be just fine.

Posted in A Little Help From My Friends | 2 Comments

Mysterious Ways

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A visit with my husband these days generally involves a litany of complaints about the mean charge nurse that comes on the weekends, the poor quality of the food, and the belief that some of the med aids are signing out his pain meds and then not giving them to him. It’s hard to listen to, because the charge nurse on the weekend doesn’t seem to love her job, so it’s believable that she is unpleasant. The food is pretty gross. And, well, while I am fairly confident they are giving him his pain meds, he believes they aren’t because he is still in pain. It wearies me on many levels. It isn’t the life I would have chosen for him. It saddens me that it has come to this.

Beyond that, it saddens me that he seems so incapable of applying himself to blooming where he is planted. I come in to the nursing home to visit him and see the man sitting in the lobby with his walker and his guitar, playing and singing (in spite of the bitter old woman on the other side of the room who finds “that kind” of music to be totally inexcusable). I see the group gathered around the table in the recreation room playing a game of dominoes or cards. I see the ones sitting outside soaking up the sunshine who greet me cheerfully as I walk in. Granted, they aren’t all that way. There are more than a few that choose to be like my husband – or worse. But there is proof that it is possible to be a resident at this very nursing home, and find a way to be happy, or at least to make the best of it.

If I ask if the nurse lectured him about calling them all the time because he is, actually, calling them all the time, he becomes irritable and defensive. If I suggest maybe she needs someone to pray for her, that maybe her life is hard, he becomes unresponsive. In the afterglow of our church family camp I waxed eloquent about how God was not unaware of his circumstances, and that we had to continue to have faith that there was a purpose to how things have developed in his life. I suggested that God was continuing the work He had begun in Strokeman many years ago and for some reason He has chosen to accomplish that through his present circumstances. He played possum. He closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep until I shut up.

So I come home and I am toast. I find myself unable to muster the energy to do much of anything. I will have a week, here or there, where I get up early, read my Bible, do a little writing and plan my day; all before running off to yoga. And then it unravels. I find myself sitting a lot. The dishes pile up, the clothes are laying on the floor, and I am watching Netflix. No follow through. No sense of urgency, no motivation. My whole demeanor shouts, “why try?”

A while back I had a really bad week. Full blown depression. It reminded me of a woman I had met in February who has struggled with severe depression for decades. I prayed for her. How hard it is to be the one who is depressed. The one who feels unsuccessful with life. The one who perpetually struggles to do the things that “normal” people do with seeming effortless consistency. I was reminded that having these struggles has made me more compassionate. I am far less likely to wonder why someone can’t get their act together, because – well, I know what that feels like from the inside. I wrote the following to a friend:

I have thought a lot about whether I am willing to “be” in depression if it will make me more useful to others. Can I be content to have hard times that seem to have no earthly solution if they can be used of God – even if only to bring fellow strugglers to mind so that I pray for them? I am so quick to want an escape, an ease of the burden, but maybe I need to have the tension of an uneasy life. “Lord make me willing to rest in the darkness until I see the light of You”. 

This has made me think about the kind of people who have been an encouragement to me in the midst of my difficulties.

There are the many examples of scripture: Job, who lost everything dear to him, and was left with a nagging wife, judgmental friends, and boils; Joseph who was sold as a slave by his brothers, and spent a good deal of time in jail for a crime he didn’t commit; David, who threw his whole life away on somebody else’s wife; John the Baptist who declared the coming of the Messiah, was thrown in prison, and Jesus never even came to visit him; Paul who wrote most of his epistles in a jail cell and sometimes mentioned those who had forsaken him. All of these stories with layer upon layer of helpfulness and application to my present life. But God…

Then there is William Cowper. Maybe you know some of the hymns he wrote. But you may not know he struggled his whole life with depression. He tried repeatedly to commit suicide. He was haunted by doubts that the grace of God extended to him. I would imagine that he would have assessed his own life to be anything but successful. Could he have ever foreseen the thousands of people who would benefit from his gifted writing? Could he have imagined for a moment that God would use weak, doubting, mentally ill William Cowper so mightily for His glory and the furtherance of His kingdom? Cowper couldn’t even muster the faith that some day he would be made whole. He saw the grace of God. He expressed it beautifully in his poetry and lyrics. His dear friend and teacher, John Newton, faithfully taught him all the good theology. But there was something that held on to him and filled him with despair.

It makes me think about 1 Corinthians 1. God uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting we all begin to flail ourselves and attempt to end our lives. I still believe it is better to find a way to be cheerful in whatever situation we find ourselves. I believe we are responsible to give thanks in all circumstances and endure hardship with patience. We need to take the battle seriously, and get up the next day ready to take up the fight all over again.

What I am suggesting is that God’s economy is not the same as ours. We don’t see things clearly, and we won’t until we see Him face to face. We can’t possibly measure the value of a spiritual life with our earthly measuring tools. I don’t have any idea what God is doing in my husband’s spirit at the moment. To me, his life seems mostly pointless, pretty tragic, and very depressing. All I can do is trust that there is more to this spiritual journey than is visible to the earthly eye. I don’t know if I will ever shake this cycle of depression, or if I will ever find the self discipline to make my life successful and meaningful by earthly standards. All I know is I have to get up every day and try.

I think for every William Cowper there are probably thousands of Christians who struggle in similar fashion and die in obscurity. No one sings their hymns. No one but God even remembers them a generation after they pass from this world. From our perspective, this would indicate failure. We want to be one of those “not many” mentioned in 1 Corinthians who are the wise, the powerful, the noble. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” vs 27

This is God’s economy. He uses the weak, the low and despised, the nothings of this world so that we will not boast of our own success. All we have that is worth anything in the spiritual realm is Christ: His wisdom, His righteousness, His sanctification, and His redemption. He gives some of us the ability to rise above our circumstances, to reflect Christ in a way that brings courage and hope to fellow believers. But there are some who are not able to do this. Is it because they aren’t really Christians? Maybe, but who can know for sure? Is it because they haven’t applied the right formula to their daily quiet time? Maybe, but who can know for sure? What about those whose brains are damaged – maybe from birth – who can’t control impulses or comprehend great spiritual truths? Who can know for sure the condition of their spirit? Only God has the tools to measure these things.

Here is what I can glean from the life of our friend William Cowper: He availed himself to the means of grace. He read helpful books. He spent time with friends who encouraged him in the Truth. He studied the Word of God and applied it. He found ways to serve others. It didn’t keep him from being depressed. It didn’t keep him from making countless efforts to end his life. He probably never had a sense of accomplishment in anything he did, but he kept trying. And God used his sorry life to benefit me, long after he died, and long before I even knew his history.

So. I am learning to rest in the darkness – the unknown. God knows. I don’t have to comprehend what He is doing. I just have to keep living out my faith one step at a time. I have to fight against the urge to measure my life (or Strokeman’s) by the measuring sticks provided by this world. Because at the end of my life, all the things that would make me successful in earthly terms won’t be worth the dirt I will be buried in. (For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? Luke 9:25) I am like a three-year-old. I want to know why. And sometimes all I get from my heavenly Father seems to be, “Because I said so.” I am learning to trust that like that proverbial three-year-old, I am not capable of comprehending all the whys. I just have to trust the goodness and wisdom of my Father.

I am developing a sense of wonderment about the spiritual realm, and the things that go on there. What is there in that dim mirror that I can’t comprehend? What transformations will take place in the seemingly foolish things of this world when I see my Savior face to face? Well, I must wait and see. For now the mirror is still quite dim. And I must be content to not know. I learned a long time ago that love is more an action than a feeling. I am learning the same about faith and hope. Faith is something I live, even when I don’t feel it. And hope is an anchor – not on things that might happen, but on the promises of God, who cannot lie, of things that will happen. And I am learning to be content that these are the three that remain when all else seems to be melting away.

Posted in The Story | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments