When You Cannot Believe or Feel or Care

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Suffering is not always great pain.
Sometimes suffering is a great numbness.
A deep loneliness or a fog of discontent.
A feeling that you are not doing much with your life or a lack of emotion in general.
Suffering is sometimes an absence of the felt presence of God.
My God
My God, my God!
A cry of despair toward a seemingly empty heaven.
An emotion of not-caring which you feel should be frightening but is not.
Sometimes this is the cross we are asked to bear.
It is not as flashy or book-worthy, yet is just as real.
Just as difficult.
If this is you, may I believe for you until you can believe again?
God is here.
He is with you, even in the cloud.
Presence in the Cloud
He is with you, even in the dark.
Presence in the Dark
Even when you cannot feel Him, when you cannot believe,
even when you cannot care,
just do the next right thing.
Behave as though you feel, believe, care.
I believe, I know.
He is here.
Even in the dark.
He is with you
Perhaps especially in the dark.
He is with you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
No matter how long you must continue to live this suffering that is your cross.
So He has promised.
So it shall be.
So take courage and keep walking.
He is with you.
Always.

Art credits: Moses in the cloud from a Bible primer by Hult, Adolf, 1869-1943; Augustana synod.; all other photographs copyright by Made Sacred, 2017.

The Danger of Obedience

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I am a lover of rules.
I have a deep belief that most rules were created to keep me safe. I cling to safety and I enjoy comfort, thus I comply with the rules.
Moses Tissot
There is an expectation when we follow rules that our obedience will bring about a desired result. When we obey the rules, we feel entitled to a certain outcome.
We have often, I fear, misunderstood the promised outcome of submitting to Jesus.
As did His disciples.
They had just seen Jesus feed the five thousand when He made them get into a boat and cross the lake while He stole some much needed alone time with His Father.
Storm Clouds
While they were crossing the lake, a storm came up. One of those storms that tends to sweep across the Sea of Galilee, swamping and overturning all boats in its path.
And the disciples were caught right in the middle of it. They clung to their boat for dear life, crying out with fear in a danger that was the direct result of their obedience to Jesus.
Storms
Has this happened to you? If not yet, as you continue to obey Jesus it is bound to happen sometime.
Whether it is physical danger or a danger of a different sort, submission to Jesus does not guarantee safety.
Quite the opposite, actually. Obedience to Jesus often brings trouble down on our heads.
Yet it also brings peace beyond understanding and joy that is made complete.
Most precious of all, surrender brings us the presence of Jesus Himself.
Jesus walks on the sea
Jesus came down from the mountaintop, walked out on the water, strode into the storm,
Christ Walking on the Waters Von Klever
and stepped into the boat with the disciples.
And immediately there was calm.
Obedience does not bring safety and it does not bring comfort.
Obedience does, however, bring the presence of God Almighty Himself.
It is worth every dangerous moment.

Art Credits: Moses and the Ten Commandments by James Tissot; storm photos by Kirk SewellJesus Walks on the Sea by Gustave Dore; Christ Walking on the Water by Julius Sergius Von Klever

The Girl Whom Jesus Loved

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Who are you?
How do you see yourself?
Are you parent, child, sibling, aunt? Are you friend, lover, loner, partier? What about artist, engineer, plumber, teacher?
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There once was a man. A pastor and author, one of the main leaders of the Church as it existed then, an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. He had a lot going for him.
How did he see himself? What was his self-given identity?
Damiane._Jesus_Christ_and_St._John_the_Apostle.
The disciple whom Jesus loved.
That’s it.
No leaning on his accolades, no referencing his great accomplishments (and he had quite the list of them!), no resting on whom he knew, only falling upon what Jesus thought of him.
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The other day, one of my daughters came into my bedroom while I was getting dressed for the day. She looked at me for a bit, then asked me why my stomach hung down all funny and whether I wished it wouldn’t.
I don’t always handle these sorts of things this well, and it took every ounce of self control not to cover up, hide, start mumbling excuses about how I know I need to eat fewer pieces of dark chocolate but YOU KIDS drive me to it…
Instead, I knelt down, looked her in the eye and told her that no, I didn’t wish my body was different. I told her that I knew my body was beautiful because God made it. I told her that my body had grown four human beings inside of it and that made it a little stretchy but that I wouldn’t change it if I could because if my stomach wasn’t stretchy, I wouldn’t have four beautiful girls in my life now.
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I told her that I was beautiful because God loves me.
She’s only six, so she may not understand just yet, but I want desperately for her and her sisters to only see themselves as one whom Jesus loves. Whether she is looking at her body or her intelligence or her talents, I want her to only see one whom Jesus loves.
I want desperately to be like John.
Every time John refers to himself in his gospel, he calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. Nothing else. He does not identify himself by his name or what he did. Only by how Jesus saw him.
When I get to the end of my life, when I look back on all I have seen, all I have done, and all I am, all I want to see is Jesus.
All I want to be is the girl whom Jesus loved.

Art credit: photo of statue of St. John the Evangelist by John Stephen Dwyer; detail from fresco of Jesus Christ and St. John the Apostle from Ubisi, Georgia

Who Am I?

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I recently stopped nursing our last little one, and it was harder on my emotions than I expected.
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I expected that I would be grateful to have a little extra freedom. I expected that I would be glad to hand over some of the nighttime routine to my husband. I expected that I would be happy to have my body belong only to me again.
I did feel all of those, but only a little.
Overwhelmingly, rather, was a sense of loss. A loss of part of myself, of who I am.
It took me by surprise until I realized that for over nine years I have been either pregnant or nursing. No breaks at all.
Of course that would become a major part of my identity! Nine years is a long time. Almost a decade of being identified as a pregnant or nursing mommy is certainly enough to cement that into who I am as a person.
All of those big emotions (and I am normally not an overly emotional sort of person) made me pause and think hard about who I think I am compared to who I want to be.
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As a mom of four children, eight years and younger, it is so easy for that one piece of me to become my entire identity. I’m a mom. It’s what I do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even when I am away from my babies, my thoughts are still full of them.
Yet I recognize that I must be careful. Of course being a mom is and always will be a large part of who I am, but I need to guard carefully against it becoming all that I am.
Someday, after all, these babies will not be babies anymore, and being a mom will not fill up quite so much of my time. Or my house.
I must be careful to keep my heart close to God, to make sure that my primary identity is as His child. He is, ultimately, the most important piece of me, the One who is with me always.
I must take care to remain close to my husband. He will, Lord willing, be my dearest companion still when the children have homes of their own.
I must be mindful of my own self. I need to continue reading, continue learning, continue making my art, continue cultivating deep friendships.
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I believe wholeheartedly that if I lose myself in my children, I and they will be the poorer for it.
Yet that piece of who I am is so consuming that I cannot just drift along and expect to hold on to the rest of my self.
I must be deliberate about caring for the other pieces of me. The more I cultivate all of the fragments of me, the richer and deeper the whole of them will become.
Those of you with children, what do you do, or for those whose children are older, what have you done to keep yourself from getting lost in your identity as a parent? I am still a mother of little ones, and I need your ideas.
I don’t often write about parenting issues, but I supposed that this particular struggle was one that was common to many. I pray that my written thoughts will spark your own heart-searching.
Peace.

My Confession and Repentance

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I am prejudiced.
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Perhaps not overtly. I am not prejudiced in a way that anyone outside of my head would notice. I don’t consciously try to think poorly about those who are different than me or treat them badly.
The judgments, the assumptions, are there, though.
My own prejudice is not related to race. I am grateful to have had many friendships with people of other races. These friendships allow me to see similar people I do not know through the eyes of those friendships.
My particular prejudice is related to economic and educational status.
What is yours?
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When I see someone who speaks or writes as though they have not even made it through high school, I don’t treat them poorly, but I make assumptions. I make assumptions about their character, about the way they think, and therefore assumptions about what their future actions might be.
Some of the time I catch myself. I give myself a mental shake and try to see the person for who they really are.
I don’t always catch myself.
For this I repent.
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I will take responsibility for my own failings and take the first step towards making the Church a safer place for those who are not like me.
Repentance involves change. It is not simply apologizing and then continuing on. One must go in a different direction.
And so I repent.
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I repent for making assumptions about people based on their appearance.
I repent for judging people’s character based on the way they speak.
I repent for thinking myself better than someone who has not had as much education.
For truly? Truly, I am ashamed for valuing knowledge more than kindness. I sorrow over my valuing learning more than gentleness. I lament over my valuing schooling more than servanthood.
I confess and I repent.
Will you join me?
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May God have mercy and heal me of such things.
May Christ have mercy and heal the Church.
May the Spirit have mercy and heal our world.

This One Is for the Ugly Days

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There are some days when it is easy to love.
Loving each other
Happy Baby
I am able to surrender to the Spirit which causes peace to fill me up and overflow into the hearts of my daughters, my husband. I have the supernatural strength to stay calm in the midst of tantrums, kind in the midst of misunderstandings, and joyful in the midst of hurt.
Then there are days like today.
Yelled at by Mommy
Days when something ugly wells up inside of me. Days when I want to be mean. Days when I feel resentful towards those I love best.
I hate these days.
What is this darkness, this nastiness that overwhelms me and threatens to spill out into the hearts of those I love?
Sadness
Tantrums
Anger
Defiance
My daughters cry to be held, fuss about wearing clothes, throw tantrums because school is hard, and my desire is not to comfort them but to scream like a crazed woman with fire in my eyes.
My husband makes an innocent comment and my desire is not to hear his loving intentions but to deliberately misunderstand and hiss a disparaging remark.
I intentionally fight against the changing of my mood. I want to savor, to wallow in my blackness.
I hate these days.
I get so tired of fighting this battle within me. I get so weary of fighting my very self. I long for the day when I finally look like Jesus, when my desire is to love rather than hate, when my heart is all light with no shadow at all.
As ugly as my heart can be, I am grateful that God refuses to give up on me. I am thankful that He does not save me and then leave me as I am. I am astounded that He is filling me up with Himself, crowding out the ugliness until there is nothing left but Beauty.
I try not to feel impatient.
Yet I know. I know. I know that I belong to Jesus. He gave Himself for me and therefore sin has lost its hold on me. I can hold on to that knowing even when I cannot feel it. Little by little, sin’s grasp is slipping away because Love has taken hold and nothing dark can hold on in the light of this fiercest Love.
As the recent hymn, In Christ Alone, says, “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand; ‘till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
No scheme of man. Not even my own schemes. Nothing can separate me from Love Himself.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Amen.

edited from the archives

Stop Slicing Off Ears

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It is early October.
An election is fast approaching, along with all of its requisite vitriol.
Flag with light
As emotions become more volatile, as words become our weapon of choice, I offer a word of warning. A plea, to myself as well as to you.
I’ve already spoken of how important it is for us, the Church, to be unified.
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Not for us to agree on everything, but to love each other. To love each other no matter what.
This is so important that it was one of the last things Jesus asked of God before He was crucified.
Why is this particularly important right now, in this month, in this country?
Flag on brick
As this election looms closer and larger before our wide open eyes, we are afraid.
And fear causes us to do crazy things, both to each other and to those around us who are outside of the Church.
You and I, we who claim to follow Christ, we are falling out of power.
The America of the past – the America of white, Protestant government, is becoming just that. A thing of the past.
Abortion.
Gay marriage.
Transgenders in the military.
Whatever you personally believe about these and other similar issues, most would admit that they are not generally promoted as God-sanctioned by the Evangelical church as a whole.
Just a look at these issues in our country today strips away the illusion that we are in control.
Many are fighting back against this. “Make America great again!” “Take back America!”
We as a Church are good at fighting.
crusades
Throughout our history, we have fought wars, both collectively and personally, against anyone who tries to take away our power.
Our earthly power, that is.
You can look as far back as the first twelve leaders of our church, as far back as Peter, to see our blind tendency to misinterpret what Jesus actually seems to teach.
When Jesus speaks of His kingdom, we assume that He means a kingdom here on earth.
A kingdom that forces everyone to live under God’s rule.
The sort of kingdom we seem to want America to be.
This is what Peter believed. Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God and how close it was, and Peter decided to help it along by using his sword to start slicing off ears.
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Jesus, however, picked up that ear, placed it back onto it’s owner’s head, and walked quietly off to meet His death.
We are losing power in this country, and perhaps this is a good thing.
The kingdom of God has never increased by force; rather, the kingdom seems to expand most quickly when those who are in power are against it.
Jesus speaks over and over again about His kingdom coming through the humble, the weak, the foolish. He is adamant that the kingdom of God is not about force or any kind of earthly power.
Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew that all of the kings and rulers exercise their authority in one way but you, you who call yourself My disciples, are to do things another way.
He tells them that you are to bring forth My kingdom by becoming a servant, by giving up your life for all.
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Everything we do to live out God’s kingdom here on earth must be done under the shadow of the cross.
Perhaps we should stop fighting to regain political power and start figuring out how to further God’s kingdom in this new America. Perhaps we should remember that God’s kingdom grows best one soul at a time through lives lived in quiet love and service.
Perhaps we should stop slicing off ears and instead begin the work of healing by dying to ourselves as we live as Jesus did. We can start by loving each other.

Art credit: Photograph of cathedral by Kirk SewellImage of the Croisés from 1922; St. Peter Cuts the Slave’s Ear by Duccio di Buoninsegna

When You Are Desperate to Understand

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There is much that I don’t understand about this life we live.
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I don’t understand why good prayers often go unanswered. Prayers that even an indifferent parent would grant.
I don’t understand why young mothers die horrible deaths or why four year old little girls suffer abuse.
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I don’t understand why God often seems so distant, especially in our darkest moments.
I simply don’t understand.
Yet this thing I know to be true, even if I don’t understand why:
Sometimes God asks us to choose between understanding and Him.
This is the story of Job. Horrific things happened; God was silent.
Job’s friends offered their limited understanding; God offered the fullness of Himself.
And that’s the thing about understanding, you see. When we demand it, we usually don’t get it and in the demanding we lose the grace that God offers to us.
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If you choose God, however, you gain what you need most of all.
We will all receive understanding someday, whether on this or that side of death, but we need God now. Always.
If you have to choose, choose God.
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That was Job’s choice. He admitted his incomprehension and bowed before the God he had seen. And he was satisfied, ending his life full of days.
When we choose God, we receive the gift of His presence and that will satisfy us more than any understanding ever could.
We need God desperately. More than we need anything else.
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If you choose God, you will eventually gain understanding. If you demand understanding, you may lose the presence of God and yet never receive the understanding you gave up everything to gain.
If you have to choose, choose God. It is this grace that will get you through the hard thing you do not understand.
This grace that is the presence of God Himself.

Art credit: Photo of space by NASA

There Are Times

I took a short break from blogging after experiencing some very difficult times related to my writing, and I’m glad to be back in my writing space. As I searched for the way to be obedient in what happened, I discovered that I don’t believe God has released me from writing here in this space, so I published a couple of essays from my archives while I prayed and thought and wrote. Here is what I wrote in the aftermath of my troubles. I pray that it will give a small bit of help to you.
 To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

There are times when I feel desperate for God.
Times when my path forward seems dark
as the hour before dawn.
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Times when the darkness seems to creep into my soul and
times when it wants to burst out of my heart and
threaten to hurt those around me.
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I always know in a cerebral sense that my very being depends on God, but
there are times when I know it in a deep, carnal way.
These are the times I see clearly into my own heart and
tremble with fear for the rage I see there.
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These are the times I am asked to forgive, to
turn the other cheek in a real and painful way.
These are the times I find I must return something
to God that is precious to me and find that my deepest self
wants to turn away from Him instead.
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It is in these times that I fall on my face and
beg Him to surround me with Himself.
It is in these times that I lift up my eyes and
plead for Him to heal me from the inside.
It is in these times that I know with a gut-wrenching certainty that
I am, indeed, desperate for God
in all times.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee.
Oh, bless me now my Savior,
I come to Thee.

Surprised by my Ugliness

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I am always surprised when ugliness shows up in my heart.
Ugliness
Did I just think that?!
How could that have just flashed through my mind?!
I am shocked and horrified when my frustration makes the thought of running away from my family seem momentarily desirable.
I shouldn’t be surprised. There is something inside of me capable of deserting those I love.
It is inside of you too.
There is something inside of me capable of murder, adultery, theft.
It is inside of you too.
When I am shocked at the kinds of thoughts that can fly through my head, it is a kind of pride. It is a pride that thinks I am better. Better than those who fill our jails.
I am not.
Darkness
This kind of shock is not a sorrow which leads to change. This is only a sorrow that I was not as good as I and others thought. It is a shock and sorrow that I am as weak as other humans.
True sorrow involves no surprise. It is not surprised at the depths of darkness in my soul. True sorrow is impossible to find on my own. It can only come from God.
Only when God looks at me can I know my own weakness and brokenness.
In the end, it is God looking into the sinner’s face that matters. ~ Henry Drummond (British revivalist and preacher, 1851-1897)
Only when God looks at me as He looked at Peter at the crow of the rooster, can I turn around and be changed.
Only when we come to our Father in response to His waiting look can we be freed and forgiven. ~ Henry Drummond
So stop being surprised and be sorrowful instead. Stay where you are and let God teach you.
Look into the heart of God and be broken.
Only then can we be truly changed.

Art Credits: Let Him Be Crucified by James Tissot; Jesus Scourged, a Bowyer Bible print