Friday, September 22, 2023

Enduring the Burden and Gift of Living

What's the bravest thing you ever did?

Getting up this morning.

Cormac McCarthy,  The Road

Be honest now, have you ever felt like this? I have...for many, many years. As a matter of fact, it's hard for me to remember a time when I haven't felt like this...

You see for years I have dealt with anxiety and depression, stealthy enemies that crept in and smothered my emotions and thoughts with fear and doubt. Too ashamed to talk about it, I did all I could to ignore and overcome them. My heart cry during that time was, I can’t find my way home so I labeled this season, The Dark Night of My Soul, though really it should’ve been, The Dark Days and Nights of My Soul.

During those years I carried guilt. What was wrong with me? I had so much to be thankful for! A beautiful home, a loving husband, kids and grandkids that brought joy, gardens, books, you name it, they were all a part of my life. But in the midst of all of the blessings there was always a knife, poised and ready to puncture a hole in any happiness or joy that dared to creep in. So I learned to dance very quickly, attempting to keep one step ahead of the despair and darkness. But at some point every dance becomes exhausting and you have to stop and rest. And that’s when I decided it was time to find my way home or I couldn’t go on.

There was a mantra that I would repeat to myself over and over again every day, Just do the next thing. Whether it was getting out of bed, walking through the bedroom door, taking the dog out, throwing in the laundry, there were many options of next things...things that made me feel I was alive and that there was a reason to go on living. But the journey looked long and hard and wearying. How long, Oh Lord...please, please meet me in the pain.

Why am I sharing this? Definitely not because I like to be vulnerable. But because I think there are others out there who are in the same situation and could use a word of hope. Like an infant starving for its bottle, arms flailing, frantic to find nourishment, we all want to be at rest and at home, not only in our own selves, but in the arms of the one Who loves us and is greater than anything we are experiencing.

So now is where I tell you about a book I recently discovered...a book that I wish I had years ago, though God knows it wasn't even written until this year: On Getting Out of Bed, The Burden and Gift of Living’ by Allen Noble. When I first saw it at Barnes and Noble I admit I thought, "How can any book so small be valuable? The answers I need would be contained in a tome of at least a thousand pages." So I walked away and left it there. When I got home it haunted me, so I looked it up online and read the reviews.  And parts of the book. And I knew...I knew it was the answer to my heart's cries all these years. It couldn't come in fast enough!

The book begins with two facts: First, that life IS hard. It can be so painful and monotonous and empty that we cannot begin to comprehend it until we are right in the middle of it and even then it doesn’t make sense. Human existence inescapably involves suffering. This suffering is the normal experience of being in this world. Beauty and love and joy are normal too, but so is suffering.  In a strange sort of way that brought me comfort, knowing that what I was feeling was normal!

Secondly, our being in the world counts for something…our choosing to get out of bed day after day after day says something…to ourselves and those watching us. It says that we are valuable, that our lives are valuable, that we are good because God declared it, even when it’s hard to go on, even when life doesn't feel good, even when goodness seems unimaginable. The bottom line is, life is valuable because God created it. You are valuable because God created you. And all He does is Good. We are not mistakes! Through our suffering and perseverance, through our rising and falling, choosing to trust Him one choice, one day, one action at a time, we testify to others there is value to living. No matter what.

Is life easy? I wish. At times it can be unbearably hard. The older I get the more I realize that I don’t have answers. I used to think I did…for everything. Once I knocked up against the truth that I can’t live my life on my own, that I desperately need not only a Savior but a Helper to guide me, it became normal and okay to be needy. And accepting that truth, along with my imperfections and weaknesses gives me the courage every day to wake up and turn to Him as my only Hope. This may seem weak, but really it’s empowering. Empowering enough to give me the courage to get out of bed one day at a time, acknowledging that He, and His Word and His Power have never failed. Never have. Never will.

I wish I could give you all the wisdom and truth of this book in my measly blog. But I can’t because it’s a story God needs to write on each of our hearts as He teaches us more about Himself and who we are in Him. I’m not sure we ever truly live until we know those things, and even then we will spend a lifetime coming to understand them.

I need to finish...before I thought of putting all of these ramblings down in this blog I sat in my rocker, caressing two heavy round rocks that I had found when we were up in Maine recently. I brought them home for the reason that they meant something to me, though at the time I’m not sure I understood what that was. One is a large wishing rock, dark on both ends with a wide, perfect, white line running around the middle. The other is a rock speckled with mica that glints in the sun. As I sat there rocking, I ran my hands running over them, feeling at peace. It was then that I realized that one of the reasons I chose those rocks was because of how well rounded and unique they were. I have always been fascinated by rounded rocks, softened sea glass, and polished shells and what it took to make them that way.

In that moment I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me, ‘Your life is like these rocks. Your sufferings and trials and tribulations are rounding you out also, softening you, removing your rough edges. These rocks appeal to you because of what I have done in them. You can trust me to make something beautiful of your life, a work that will testify of my goodness, faithfulness, and love.’

So that is the gift I leave you with, my friends. The truth that no matter what we are going through, what our lives look like, He will work through it all and perfect that which concerns us. Because He is good. And He loves us. Forever and ever. Amen.

PS~ Get the book. You'll thank me for it. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Neither life nor death nor boat trips…

My husband and I are among the strange breed of people known as Birders. We like to watch birds, study birds, learn from them and especially feed them using all our hard earned money.

Most of our vacations/trips are based on birds. Where they are at that time and what’s there determine where we will go. It’s not everybody’s idea of fun but we love the camaraderie of birders and it gives us opportunities to bond, travel, and most times to have fun.

That’s why several months ago, with our 45th wedding anniversary coming up, I decided to purchase two tickets on a pelagic—a deep sea boating trip to spot birds…birds that often live, breed, and die out on the deep open ocean waters and can only be seen there—out of Hatteras on the Outer Banks of NC. I knew it would make my husband happy and it did. And I was glad it made him happy as it gave me a mite bit of trepidation. I swear he was born in the ocean, boat in one hand and fishing pole in the other. Me? Give me land or give me death.

So for months we planned, figuring that the better prepared we were, the easier things would go. This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and by gosh, it was going to be perfect!

We pictured ourselves on the bow of the ship—think Titanic movie, which, btw, we have never seen—wind in our hair, arms outstretched embracing the wonder of it all, eyes lifted up to behold the rare birds hovering over our heads. We were laughing and life was good. 

The reality? Hanging over the railing as we hurled whatever was in us into the deep blue sea. All day. ‘Keep your eyes on the horizon and you’ll be fine’ was a lie. When we watched The Big Year with Steve Martin and he found himself in the exact same nightmare, his arch-rival standing next to him saying, “Pitching and tossing, pitching and tossing” I thought it was hilarious. It’s not. Not in the least. 

Sea-sickness = the desire for death. I went down for the count first…my sweet husband strong and well, fetching wet wipes and holding my hand as a lifeline….reminding me I needed to live for the sake of the kids and grandkids and the dogs. 

For a brief, glorious moment, early in the trip, not yet at peak sickness, we sat together on the deck listening to calls going out for one rare bird after another- a White-tailed Tropicbird, Shearwaters and Jaegers, and Petrels, all life-birds for us. When not vomiting, I cheered and applauded along with everyone else. I may not have been at my best but I could still embrace the wonder.

At least until I turned to my pale, sweaty husband and realized he was going to faint, which he did, onto the deck floor. The rest of the trip he had a great relationship with the bottom rung of the railing.

At that point I realized that this was not going to end well. Whereas before he could be strong for me, now I needed to not only be strong for myself, but for him also. I could feel my blood sugar tanking (bad news for a diabetic who couldn’t hold anything down-water and meds included) and my prayers become urgent and passionate. All I had was Christ and at that point I sure hoped He would be enough.

By the time we were told, 8 hours into our trip, that we were finally returning to land…2.5 hours away…I wasn’t sure if I wanted to shout Hallelujah or throw myself over the railing. I took comfort from others who had been through the same thing and yet were alive to tell about it. I did not take comfort from those who for the entire trip stood at the railing, expensive cameras pointed to the sky, joking and laughing like it was the greatest day of their lives. Bless them.

Anyway, we survived. Once the boat docked, I wanted to bend down and kiss terra firma but my legs wouldn’t let me. I think I threw her a kiss instead. As we staggered back to the car and tried not to gag as we drove past the church fish fry we had hoped to attend, we went back to our cottage, wrapped ourselves up in blankets and went straight to bed. Different beds because my husband collapsed horizontally across the big one. Happy 45th Anniversary to us.

The next day found us sitting in the screened-in-porch, still unsteady, slowly sipping coffee, hoping the worst was over. By then I had had time to process what had happened and believe it or not I was happy. Definitely not for the way our anniversary went…I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. No, that I was alive. And my husband was alive. We were survivors, we had survived! Together! While my husband kept apologizing for the disaster, which I assured him was not his fault, I blew his mind by saying I’m glad it happened!

This trip made me realize…

1- What doesn’t kill you can make you stronger. When my husband sat next to me, holding me upright, wiping the vomit from my mouth, anchoring me with his hand and words of encouragement, I couldn’t have loved him more…not even if he took me to a 5 star Michelin restaurant. That my friends is love.

2- Marriage will never be a smooth ride. It can’t be. It’s made up of two sinners walking through a broken world together. There will be ups and downs, risings and fallings, tossings to and fro. But once you’ve made the commitment to board the boat and you’re in waters over your head, there’s no option to get off. 

3- Marriage is also full of wonder and take-your-breath-away moments…children, pets, family parties and vacations, homes, gardens, things that you have heard and seen and done that have drawn you closer to one another and the heart of God. All freely given and gifts of greater value than anything you will ever buy…the deep purple color of the Gulf Stream, the intake of breath when seeing a rare bird, Flying Fish sparkling as they jumped over wave after wave. Priceless.

4- You can’t do marriage alone…you not only need others to cheer you on, you need God to give you grace and strength. Every. Single. Day. It’s His way or the highway. And trust me, it’s a rough road without Him. There was one man, Liam, on this trip who, on a previous trip, had spent his entire day at the railing. And he was supposed to be one of the guides! He took one look at us and chose to come alongside us…encourage us, make himself available to us…all because he wanted us to have a good trip in spite of the circumstances. Every marriage needs a Liam. And we need to be Liam to other marriages.

5- A circle of three is strong. Somewhere along the journey you realize that the hard times bond you together and the good times make that bond stronger. There is nothing that can take you down for the count because with God for us, who or what can come against us? I can’t tell you how many times when one of us has been weak, the other has been strong. And when both of us are weak? God will be our strength…a perfect picture of that boat trip. 

6- After 45 years of marriage I would do it all again. And I don’t say this lightly as I now know what that means. Marriage costs. Dearly. It’s not for the faint of heart…the honeymoon is on a limited time basis and after that there is a long, long stretch of life…the beautiful and ugly…the heartbreaking and joyous…laughter, tears, anger, disappointment, boredom, and moments that take your breath away. But somewhere on the journey, you realize there’s nobody you would rather live life with. That be you, Ted.

I confess as I disembarked, I swore that I would never, ever be caught dead on another pelagic. 

But then again, as I was leaving the boat, I heard someone say, ‘Go to Montego Bay in California. There are no waves… it’s smooth sailing and you’ll see all sorts of amazing birds and whales and marine life that you won’t see anywhere else.’

Hmmm…we’ve never been birding in California…

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

What to do, what to do?

Yesterday somebody asked what I thought about a situation. I know what I felt. But that doesn’t always end well.

I struggled all night thinking about it and praying about it and woke up this morning and realized the answer is, ‘It’s not about what I think, it’s about what God says about it.’ And that allowed me to let go and rest that I could trust God‘s Word to speak into the situation.

It’s been a while since I’ve read through Proverbs. It’s been a while since I have loved the Word. Struggling through Covid and depression for the last several years has made me feel as though I’ve been living in a bubble…one that has been hard to pop and get out of. But one day in church the questions were asked, ‘What do I love the most? Where do I invest my time and money and energy?’ And in that moment, the bubble burst and everything came into focus. With great sadness I realized that what I should love the most I do not love the most. And it grieved me. From that moment on, I set my mind to choose Christ, His Word, and time with Him as my priority. Was it easy? No, not at all. I hadn’t realized until then how a spirit of compromise and laziness and lukewarmness had entrapped me. Making any change for God is a battle against the world, the flesh and the devil.

Now it’s not like I haven’t read the Bible or didn’t know how to pray. The truth is, I had just stopped loving those things and desiring them. I had allowed other loves to take their place. But God, in His great mercy, knew that apart from these things I would not be set free to walk in light and life and joy again. Of all the choices I made, spending time in Proverbs has given me the greatest blessing.  It’s provided me with all the tools I need to rise above this world…a veritable smorgasbord on how to think and live for God. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought, ‘If I can just apply this to my life, I can walk in faith and hope and victory.’

It’s hard to make Godly choices, isn’t it? It’s hard to deny the flesh and do what God says. It costs us something. But sin cost Him everything. And He knows the destruction sin inflicts on us, our families, and others. And He loves us too much to leave us steeped in it. 

I had a second revelation this morning that goes hand in hand with the first one: We are only asked to speak His Truth in love. What someone chooses to do with it is their choice. And if it’s rejected, they are not rejecting us, but God. Much as we wish we could, we can’t make people desire truth or walk in it.  Some of us are called to plant seeds, some to water them, and some to harvest them. But each of us must do our part.

I need to confess that sometimes I am tempted to say, ‘Heck, everyone else is doing it. Why even bother?  God doesn’t seem to care.’ We look around us and we see so much that doesn’t line up with what God asks of us…people doing what is right in their own eyes and seeming to get away with it. But just like the wheat and the tares, God allows the bad to grow with the good for a season. But do not be deceived, there will be a sorting someday. Like it or not, agree with it or not, we cannot ignore the truth:  that in spite of what we feel, or see around us, or are tempted to do, we, as His children, are called to be a Holy people…bought at a great price… to live lives that honor God and testify of His amazing work in our lives. This is the hope we can offer to a lost and dying world. Otherwise we are no different than the world.

I haven’t written a blog in a long time. But I felt burdened to write this one. We all need each other desperately whether we realize it or not. We’re called to walk alongside one another, encourage one another, and challenge one another on in holiness. One day at a time.

One choice at a time.

One word at a time.

But under it all, is the mandate that we must love. We must love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and we must love others. Love takes different forms and appears in different ways, but if we do it His way, it will be always be known as Love.