Prince of Peace:  The Third Week of Advent

Prince of Peace: The Third Week of Advent

Emmanuel…God with us….

Are you? Where?

The sweet baby across the street….the one with the dark wisps of hair that curl at the ends; the one who can light up the entire room with one enthusiastic grin; the one who just took his first steps a couple months ago; the one with whom our whole church has fallen head-over-heels in love….he’s flown in a life-support airplane to a hospital three hours away.  The specialists talk of his weak heart, the layers of scar tissue, that his pace maker is just pacing way too frequently for anyone’s comfort.  His poor momma buried her first baby five years ago in October.  She sits in his pediatric hospital room, the same hospital where she painfully survived the dying breaths of her first child, holding his hand, reeling from blow after blow, holding her shattered heart in her other hand.

Emmanuel…God with us….

Where…..are you?

We ache.  We scream. We write lists of questions for you, and we have excruciatingly few answers.

We come back, as the calendar reminds us, to the Holy time, the sacred time, and we expect a vision, a touch, or maybe just a brush from you.  We would settle for an inkling of your presence.  Just a slight nod from the Creator of the universe to know that we aren’t abandoned on the careening ball of grief, chaos, and disaster.

The lights twinkle in the windows of their house, as if they are awaiting the sounds of a toddler’s squeals.  Our lights twinkle back in salute to the pain and emptiness of the fallow emblem of Christmas celebration.

The wind whistles through the unused fireplace as we all camp out on the couch watching our favorite Christmas movies. Our family hunkers down for another sick Saturday at Christmastime.  The stomach flu has entered our house, and we brace ourselves for a wave of illness to sweep us off our feet for the week leading into Christmas.  I scour over an almost-complete knitting project and unravel an entire skein of yarn to find a mistake that I made 24 rows ago, and I shudder with defeat.  My life feels like the unraveling blanket in my lap, as I search desperately, trying to locate the source of my malfunction.  Where in the world did I go wrong?  How in heaven’s name can we fix it?

The kid with the stomach bug perks up enough to slap her brother on the head, and our cozy movie-watching morning turns into germ-infested wrestling match on the living room floor.  I helplessly watch the violence, raise my voice to a pitch that matches the chaos of the moment, and throw up my hands at a loss for how to remedy any of these broken situations….

I glance out the window, and my brain keeps bumping into the reminder of that fragile life that hangs in the balance. That sweet baby should be cuddling on his couch with his mommy but instead is trying to keep his little heart in rhythm in a hospital room three hours away.   Turns out he is throwing up today too.

I glance in my lap at this blanket that I have been working on for months that seems to manifest all of my brokenness and inadequacies in the pattern of knits and purls that feels entirely out of rhythm with my ultimate goal of a seersucker pattern made of perfect diamonds of royal blue, cranberry red and charcoal grey. This is not turning out like I had hoped it would. 

I glance over at my children smacking each other on the couch next to me. They just can’t seem to be friends no matter how many strategies I use to bring peace to our home. 

My poor brain, trying to balance life and illness, working endlessly to cope with chronic pain and lack of blood flow, trying to bounce back from the destructive rhythm of anaphylaxis and epinephrine shock, mixed with the constant passing out as my heart rate doubles when I stand up. Doubles.  I just can’t stay conscious, no matter how many pills I choke down morning, noon, and night.  My doctor says that I am the sickest, most treatment-resistant patient she has ever treated. 

And peace teases us, like a distant concept on the horizon, maybe present in the houses down the road,  but not in our two little houses, blinking SOS signals out for someone to decipher, for anyone to give us answers, solutions, peace.  We need it now.

Our desperate situations feel like painful juxtapositions to the week of peace that presents itself before us.  Peace?  As we try to balance life and death, malfunctioning brains, dislocated joints, broken hearts, faulty lungs, heaving stomachs, and faltering knitting projects, we shudder at the foreign concept of peace.

If only we were residing in ordinary time, one that doesn’t tease us so painfully as we hang in the balance, dangling willy-nilly between life and death, hope and despair.  If only the lights didn’t twinkle so brightly, offending us with what feels like machine-gun fire of tiny slaps in the face as we cling to sanity in the midst of critically insane situations.

Emmanuel….God with us….Prince of peace?

Where

are

you?

We try to create a Neiman Marcuesque Christmas, with a perfectly vertical tree, the star at the top twinkling with pristine clarity and color coordinated ornaments. We decorate the piano, the mantle, and the ridges of our roof, and we convey to the rest of the world that we “have it all together.”  Full disclosure?  We are missing Joseph in our nativity.  Joseph–the adopted father of Jesus; the one who also spoke with the angel Gabriel; who sacrificially allowed his name and identity to be slandered for the sake of obedience to the call of God. He’s GONE. Our Christmas tree has crashed to the floor three times in the past week, assaulted by disorderly, brawling preschoolers.  My head feels like it is going to explode with all of the pressure of Christmas activities and the over-stimulation of seizure-inducting blinking lights.  Peace?  Where?

Maybe we are looking in the wrong places.  This Spirit of the Lord whispers, look inside.

Then I see a peace that doesn’t depend on what is happening to me.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.    John 14:26

The world is broken and shattered, and some lives manifest the dissonance more convincingly than others.  We see the chaos more clearly in mental illness, physical illness, senseless tragedy, financial hardship, abuse, and broken families.  Here we are, in this world of chaos, uncertainty, unraveling lives, infant and child death, debilitation chronic illness, divorce, sex slavery, injustice, and poverty.  And yet there is this truth imprinted on our hearts:  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you:  and it is true.  John’s not just trying to appeal to our warm, fuzzy emotions at Christmas.  He is telling us a vital fact regarding the presence of the Spirit, which is the direct result of Christ’s Advent, sacrifice on the cross, and defeat of death.

There is peace.  There is this deposit given to us:  The deposit of the Spirit.  This Spirit of God wraps us in indestructible peace as we go through the most brutal, deepest, darkest valleys of the shadow of death.  This is the peace that rules our hearts as we navigate a world that aches, yearns, and screams for the second coming of Jesus.  This is the peace that keeps our hearts pumping as they feel like they are being ripped out of our chests by betrayal, loss, abuse, or confusion.  This is the peace that allows us to laugh after a night of weeping.

I glance out the window again, and my heart resonates with the longing and pain as our lights twinkle with our neighbor’s, boldly shining in defiance against chaos.  I imagine a twinkle of the secret that is housed in the hearts of those in whom the Spirit of peace resides.  Whatever happens, however chaotic our lives, we will rest in the peace that rules our hearts and long for total restored order where there is no death, no pain, no suffering, and complete world peace.

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Becoming a Master of Disguise

Becoming a Master of Disguise

Lately,  I have been working on developing my make-up skills.  I am learning the secrets of bronzer, lip color, and the art of eye make-up.  I think that this is because I have been desperately trying harder and harder to not appear as sick as I feel. I know people who feel frustrated when they hear “But you don’t look sick.”  When I hear people say this statement to me, I think to myself smugly, “Good,  I’ve been working hard to achieve this goal. I better not look sick.”

I have been putting entirely too much effort into disguising my illness.  In fact, the irony of it all is that I have been pouring almost all of my sorely limited energy into disguising my illness.  I work so diligently on hair, fashion, and make-up that I end up collapsing in bed because I used up all of my POTSie, Masty, and Zebra spoons for the entire day in the 30 minutes that it took me to get ready.  Pointless, right?

Here’s the other kicker–I get so wrapped up in trying to convince people that I am able to be well and self-sufficient that I end up sicker, and I actually have the nerve to get mad at people for believing me.

 

I actually get mad at people for believing me! That’s crazy, right?  I want to look normal, be treated normally, and fit in with the general population, but I also expect people to read my mind when I feel like I’m dying.  I’m learning something revolutionary: People don’t read minds.  Well, generally they don’t.  There are those empaths that are so intuitive that they can see past my BS in a nano-second.  I have about three of them in my life, and thank the Lord, my husband is one of them.  Other than the psychic-seeming empaths, however, 98 percent of the population do not read minds.

I see two reasons for my dysfunctional behavior of covering up my pain:

The first reason for my need to pretend is that I feel the need to prove myself, perform, and not inconvenience anyone.  I have an ingrained sense of responsibility to protect people from my “needy” self, so I desperately try to convince everyone that they don’t need to be concerned about me.  This is probably because I have never felt worthy of nurture or care, and nurture and care make me squirm like a worm-digging, mud-pie building kid forced to don a stiff, unyielding fancy suit at a formal wedding.  Receiving care just doesn’t feel right nor does it feel natural.

My second reason that I can see is that we live in a culture of rugged individualism and fierce independence.  Western society struggles to see the need for interdependence, believing that the stronger we are individually, the more we are able to stand on our own two feet without any support from others.  This is one of the reasons why we as a society are so sick.  We have grown to isolate ourselves more and more, creating a bunch of little one-person-islands trying to pretend that we are content to “go it on our own” yet secretly hoping that someone will see our pain.  I have trended toward giving in to the pervasive message that our society is sending out:  Be strong; do it yourself.  This is not the truth of being created in the image of God.  We were created for relationship, to do life together, to be interdependent, and to grow and learn in community.

What I have attempted to do in creating this facade of independence is insanity.  Here’s the truth:  I am sick, and I need care.  I do not feel well, ever.  I actually feel like I have been hit by a truck, and then again by a city bus, and once again by a freight train.  Ninety-five percent of the time,  I have a fever.  If I stand up for more than two minutes, my brain stops working, my legs give out, and I will fall.  On a good day, I get hives when I am exposed to any kind of fragrance, chemical, or food.  On a bad day,  I will have difficulty breathing and will experience anaphylaxis.  I am on hard-core pain killers to manage the pain caused by my constantly over-extending and dislocating joints, and I frequently have breakthrough pain.  Every task, including walking ten steps down the hall, requires the energy that I used to expend on a 10 to 20 mile run.  I give myself pep-talks to brush my teeth or help my children brush their teeth.  I am better physically if I am lying in bed all day, but I am better emotionally if I am able to be out and engage in the world.  There is no cure for my illnesses, and despite what I try to to communicate,  I am not feeling any better this Holiday season than I was last year.

It’s not a pretty picture.  My illness, like my trauma, does not make people feel good.  That’s why I try not to let it show.  I want to make people feel good.  But here’s the deal:  In trying to make others “feel good”,  I am preventing myself from being known, making myself even sicker, and staving off actual relationships.  And then everyone feels even worse.

There is beauty in our messy, broken lives.  There is no real beauty in a facade.  Our false selves are hollow and ultimately push others away.  Our false independence creates in us attitudes of either arrogance or self-hate.  Our rugged individualism creates walls that end up being prisons.

So here I am, make-up-free, flat on my back, declaring that I am not okay.  I need people, and I need nurture, and sometimes I need people to sit with me in my suffering.  Within my Spirit, a voice whispers that we were all created for this kind of fellowship.

This blog post in obviously only a first step in my “coming out” process.  I stand in this liminal space, here in the blogosphere, declaring my need for interdependence, vulnerability, and truth, and I will carry it into the real world.  I will reach out to one person, and then another, and then another.

It might require baby steps.  I don’t plan on stopping the application of make-up, but I do plan on re-prioritizing.  Looking like I am well does not need to be my first priority.  Being daily transformed to the character of Christ, being authentic, loving my children, just connecting with others moment-by-moment, and taking care of myself spiritually, physically, and emotionally: These need to be my priorities.  If I am living into these priorities, then I am moving in the right direction.

We are not doing anyone anyone any favors by pretending that we are “okay” when we truly are not okay.  We are not protecting others, we are not protecting ourselves, and we are not protecting God.  We are stunting our growth and killing our relationships.  So, friends, as we step into reality and truth, let’s start trusting one another a little bit more, let’s lay down our self-sufficient pride enough to risk “looking sick” and making ourselves and others a little bit uncomfortable.

I am learning that I am falsely assuming that others want to hear that I am well when I am not.  I am learning that more often than not in my relationships, people ask because they care.  I am learning that as a body of Christ, we meet each other’s compassion with truth, not false images of wellness.  Our healing comes in our vulnerability, and our deceptions worsen our sicknesses. An old AA adage goes as follows:  “You are only as sick as your secrets.”  What if we lived in the open?  What if we laid down the masks? What if we met compassion with honesty and actually lived in community?  I know that my own life would look radically different, and I know that my load would feel undoubtably lighter.   We cannot bear one another’s burdens if we are not willing to disclose to others our own burdens.

Love has two sides:  Grace and truth.  Let’s meet others with both compassion and honesty as we live authentic, vulnerable, facade-free lives.

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When prayer doesn’t produce physical healing

When prayer doesn’t produce physical healing

This past week, Jordan and I traveled to Franklin Tennessee for an ecumenical conference that was centered on prayer, the Holy Spirit, and re-imagining church.  The conference describes itself as being an “effort to gather pastors together under one roof to convene conversations, curate content, call to prayer, and inspire a new generation of men and women who long to be a part of a great awakening.”  It was a gathering of clergy and lay-leaders who are passionate about a fresh spiritual awakening and revival in the church universal.  Speakers came from around the globe to share their experiences and theological insights on awakening, prayer, gifts of the Spirit, and the empowered Church.

We were encouraged that pockets of spiritual wildfire are breaking out across the globe as God’s people are stepping up and remembering the greatness of the all-powerful God that we love and serve.  God’s body is not sizzling out or dying off.  We are coming alive as we re-connect to the Vine and experience fresh expressions of church in an ever-changing culture.  This is great news!

Anyone who thinks that scholarly theological discussion is dry or boring has never experienced training under the brilliant theologians who taught at the New Room Conference hosted by Asbury Seminary’s Seedbed publishing company.  There was nothing “dry” or “boring” about the teaching that took place during this three-day conference.  In fact, as someone who has massive adrenaline dumps into my bloodstream due to my HyperPOTS,  I struggled to keep my heart rate under control as my passion and zeal were ignited throughout this dynamic three-day gathering.

I discovered something interesting this past week in Franklin:  When you attend a gathering with a focus on the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer, and you are in a wheel chair, you will have many people who want to pray over you.  This is not a bad thing.  It’s a wonderful thing.  I need as much prayer as I can get, and I certainly long for healing.  When it is 11 PM, and you are trying to get out the doors so that you can get to your air b&b to sleep, however, you might have a tendency to “duck and run.”  I may or may not have whispered to Jordan, “Quick! Run now! Don’t make eye contact, just push me to the car as fast as you can.”  I was exhausted.  There was not a single prayer that was prayed over me that didn’t deeply minister to my heart, mind, and body.  I loved it all.  And I needed rest.

One might think that if you go to a conference like this with physical ailments, you are likely to make it home completely healed.  If you get home, and you are still wheelchair dependent, maybe you didn’t have enough faith.  Maybe the right people didn’t pray for you.  Maybe God forgot to listen.  Surely something went wrong, right?  I mean,  GIANTS in the faith prayed over me.  I was prayed over in song, in English, in tongues, given words of prophecy, wept over, had countless people lay hands over me, and yet……I still came home in a wheelchair, still needing the same routine of medications, still passing out,  still needing a feeding tube, still completely drained of energy and physical strength….still waiting. 

And guess what?  I couldn’t have asked for more effective prayer.  My hope is restored, my joy is restored, my spiritual and emotional strength are restored, and I recieved a better and deeper healing than I could have ever dreamed possible.

Sometimes God heals our phyiscal bodies.  Sometimes He takes away our diseases.  Sometimes He raises people from the actual dead.  Sometimes He says,  “Little girl, arise!”, and people physically, miraculously stand up.

Other times, when He says, “Little girl, arise,”  the child inside of us who has been beaten down and cast aside rises up and is healed.  And He tells our broken hearts just the things that they have always been longing to hear:

“You are loved.”

“You are not, and never have been, the problem,”

“I am proud of you.”

“My light pours through you, and shines out of you.”

“Will you trust me while you wait?” 

Let me be your Father.”

Guys, there are things more important than physical healing, and I think that I figured out what some of those things are this past week.  God wants to restore the years that were stolen from me through trauma and abuse.  God wants to fill my heart to overflowing with hope, joy, and all good things that come from Him.  God wants to pour out His light and life through me in the midst of my suffering in ways that show that in my weakness, He is sufficient.  God wants to restore my identity and help me find myself in relation to Him.

My physical illnesses are surface issues.  Yes, they suck.  Yes, they can be heavy and painful.  Yes, I desire to be healed from them.  But I want God more than I want physical healing. In the midst of my pain, suffering, and illness,  God is enough.  If physical healing never comes, God is still enough.  No, He is more than enough.  He is the Giver of every good and perfect gift because He is every good and perfect gift.

After a compassionate, Spirit-led, wonderful group of individuals prayed, sang, and prophesied over me on Thursday, one of them asked,  “How do you feel now?”  I knew that He was referring to how I felt physically.  Was I healed?  I took a deep breath, and I said, “Quite honestly,  I feel quite a bit worse now physically.  Praying takes a lot of energy. But my heart and my mind are renewed, and emotionally and spiritually, I feel like a new woman.”  I am not sure how he felt after that prayer, if those precious people who deeply interceeded for me felt like they had failed, or that I had failed, or that God had not come through.  I hope not.  Their prayer changed me.  It strengthed my hope.  God flooded me with joy, heart-rest, and spiritual strength as they sang and prayed over me.  I have never felt more loved by Jehovah Rapha, my healer-God.

I’m still waiting for physical healing.  I have a sense that it is not yet time. And I am okay with that.  I will keep asking, and I will keep readily welcoming prayers for physical healing.  But of this I am sure: God provides special blessings in the waiting times of our lives.

As I wait,  I embrace this promise from Isaiah 40:31: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.  They will walk and not grow weary.  They will run and not be faint.


 

Puzzles and Surrender

Puzzles and Surrender

This summer, our family had the privilege of spending a week at a friend’s house on the lake.  I was excited to find a 1000-piece puzzle of a cottage lake scene in their collection of games in the living room.  I hadn’t pieced together a puzzle larger than 24 pieces since my little ones were born. Upon opening the box filled with a broken picture, my brain lit up like a Christmas tree. The challenge of 1000 pieces of chaos seemed intoxicating as the pieces summoned me to transform them into a coherent whole.  I quickly fell into the puzzle trance (come on, puzzlers, you know what I’m talking about), and within a day or two, the chaos resolved into a beautiful portrait of peace and calm.


Thus began my puzzle addiction.  Since that vacation,  I have set up a card table in our living room, having a complicated puzzle in the works at all times.  And for me, the more complicated, the better.  I tried a 2000-piece puzzle, but I couldn’t find a surface in the house large enough to accommodate its expansive dimensions. I really love the picture-mosaic puzzles, where the larger images are composed of thousands of tiny pictures.  This complexity adds an extra layer of challenge and adds about a day or two to the course of completion.

Now, aside from keeping my brain agile and engaged, I think that for me puzzle-doing holds something more symbolic than just a time-consuming activity.

My life seems like chaos.  My brain feels like scrambled eggs.  My medical situation feels like that 2000 piece-puzzle that I can’t seem to find a surface large enough to complete.  Not only does it feel like that 2000-piece-puzzle, but it feels like 2000 pieces from 2000 separate puzzles that will never fit together.

And it’s not just my medical situation.  It is my scrambled, jumbled, broken history that seems like it will never make sense in the present.  It is my chaotic regimen of medications that alleviate a few symptoms but create their own awful set of side-effects that sometimes seem infinitely worse than the symptoms that they treat: Side-effects that alter my personality, my mental state, my ability to remain sane and stable.  It is enough to make my brain feel like it is going to ooze out of my ears in a pharmaceutical-enduced alphabet soup.   It is the endless questions about my future and the future of my family, as we navigate life in its insecure complexity.

The puzzle of my life seems like it will never in a million years create any kind of cohesive whole, let alone a beautiful portrait.  So, I work on puzzles that make sense. The puzzles that have edge pieces, corners, patterns, and colors that fit together.  No matter how chaotic it seems when you open the box, you can trust that in a day or so, you will be gazing at an orderly, well-formed, complete masterpiece.

But here’s the thing about life:  It may not make sense on this side of heaven.  We may not have a complete picture while we are still breathing air here on this broken ball of earth.

And here’s the thing about God:  We also will not be able to put together the puzzle of the Master-Creator on this side of heaven.  God refuses to fit in our “box,” and so will not fit together like one of my clear-cut puzzles.

My intellectual human brain likes concepts that fit neatly in a cohesive whole.  I like questions that have complete and clear-cut answers.  I like to feel larger than ideas and questions, and in order to feel larger than ideas,  I have to be able to fully wrap my mind around them. I am larger than the puzzles that I create.  I can be “creator” and “master” of the puzzle.

No matter how popular Henley’s “Invictus” poem might be, I am not “creator” and “master” of my life.  I am also not “creator” and “master” of God.  In surrender,  I release the need to fully understand.  I let go of the drive to put every piece together in order to fully wrap my mind around my past and present.  I release the need to be able to predict and control my future.  This process of surrender is counter-intuitive.  It goes against my desperate drive for control and mastery.  It tramples on my self-sufficient pride.  And I am confident that it is the only way to peace and wholeness.

Ironically, the only path toward growth and wholeness is surrender.  What if I took the pieces of my chaotic puzzles in my hands and lifted them, handing them over in sweet abandon to the Creator who actually knows what He is doing?  What if I stopped asking “why” and started seeking the face of the One who intimately knows me, past, present, and future?  What if I left my puzzle-master pursuit to the cardboard cut-out pieces on my card table in my living room? What if in doing so,  I could sincerely sing “Whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul‘”?

The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

The Upside-Down Reality of Weakness

Paul’s life was a constant reminder that his own strength could accomplish very little.  That dang thorn in his flesh never gave him much wiggle room.  I imagine Paul trying to take a few steps in his own power, in some self-reliant deviance, only to fall face-down, back into dependence on his Maker. 

Paul, I feel you, brother. I keep forgetting this God-dependence thing, and I keep trying to walk in this soul-amnesia.  I foolishly think that I can stand on my own two feet and white-knuckle through this life in my own feeble strength.  As soon as I start to act a little cocky, wobbling along in my own power, I receive a sucker-punch to the gut, and find myself trembling on my face, totally helpless in the presence of my own thorns in the flesh. 

And there you are, saying, “I will boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  And here I am, asking, “what in the world is this upside-down kingdom about, where we praise God for our weaknesses, and glory when we reach the end of ourselves?” 


What counter-intuitive calculations lead us to the conclusion that the meek shall inherit the earth; that those who weep will rise in joy; that when I am weak, then I am strong; that the poor inherit the kingdom of heaven; that the King of the universe came into the world in a cattle stall? 

And yet, here-in lies our hope: Paul asked three times for healing, and God said, “MY grace is sufficient for you, MY strength is perfected in your weakness.”  So Paul, head bowed and hands raised in submission, said, ” I surrender.” 

So here I am, flat on my back, at the end of myself, reminded for the 134,582nd time that I am, indeed, weak.  And, Paul, you say this: 

Most gladly, therefore, I will boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. I am well content in weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

I will celebrate in my weaknesses for this reason: They create space in my life for the power of the Almighty God.  And I will be content in my suffering for this reason: it opens me up to deep communion with my suffering Savior. 

And yes, Paul, we can laugh together along with rest of beat-up, face-to-the-floor humanity, because in Christ, all of this mess is simply grace. 

The cloud of cynicism eclipsed by the light of love 

The cloud of cynicism eclipsed by the light of love 

Over the last few weeks, my mood has gotten increasingly dark. Hope has proven itself to be scarce, and deep despair has sprung up like unwelcome weeds in my mind and heart. I’ve grown bitter, grumpy, antagonistic, and jaded.  

Part of the cause of my dark season has been pure exhaustion. No one in our house is sleeping well. Part of the cause of my soul-darkness is medication mishaps. Prednisone, psychologically speaking, is clearly not my friend. In addition, my treatment team has been having conversations about their own fear of the potential fatality of my conditions and what long-term prognosis looks like. With all of these factors at play, my typical resilient ability to reframe my daily suffering has been less than stellar. 

I find myself tired of fighting what feels like a losing battle for my body, I feel tired of desperately trying to maintain my tenuous grip on hope in a situation that appears hopeless, and I am tired of living this life of passing out, unexpected and unexplained reactivity,  chronic pain, and total dependency.  I am tired of playing wack-a-mole with 15 symptoms at once, wielding faulty mallets. I am bone-exhausted. 

I wrestle with God over healing, and I read of the “severe mercies” of God: when God withholds something good because He possibly knows something that we don’t (St. Augustine, Confessions XI, 25). 

But really, God? I’m too tired to see good in this. I’m too sick to feel hope.  And, if I’m really honest, I’m almost offended by this “severe mercy” concept right now. It seems a little bit like mockery.  And yet I know that God is good, that He is for me, not against me, that He loves me. 

I know that I will continue to pray for healing, and I know that for reasons that can’t always be grasped by my measly human brain, He doesn’t always heal. And I have my toddler-style tantrums when the medical tests yeild no clear-cut answers, when treatment is a continual crap-shoot because no one seems to know what to do with me. I sit and pout, looking longingly at the sky for that one rain cloud that will bring the much-needed refreshment for my body and soul. And I have snarky, angry comments for God when not even a single measly cloud floats in to give me a sign of possible rain.  

My humble honesty of the past when I approached God in grief on my knees is precariously teetering on the edge of a cliff called cynicism. I am entering into the danger-zone of hostile, accusing, finger-pointing.  The result of humble, grief-stricken, heart-wide-open brokenness is communion with God in suffering. When we come to God with  fist-throwing, accusation-hurling fury, we run the risk of walking away in entitled bitterness, estranged from our life-source. 

In this season, I am tempted to choose to be offended by God and interpret lack of healing as abandonment.  I am inclined to curl in a ball and believe that it is God who continues to hit me when I am down. Worse yet, I start to believe that He has walked away, apathetic to my agony.

But this is my opportunity to employ some sound DBT strategies. I can choose to engage in the opposite-to-emotion tool that I know has carried me through difficult times. God has a host of promises that are unchanging. These are the promises that I can count on:

Never will He leave me or forsake me. ( Hebrews 13:5)

Because of His great love we are not consumed. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. ( Lamentations 3:22)

Neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor demons, nor anything else in all creation is able to separate me from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. ( 2 Corinthians 4:8)

My heart has grown uncomfortably hard, and I am ready for some softening. God’s promises knead my heart and soften it just enough for the fog of disillusionment to lift and for me to rememember the Father’s deep, deep love for me.  

Don’t get me wrong, God can handle our anger and accusations. He will not turn from us when we bring whatever broken mess we carry to Him, even when we are furious with Him.  He also wants to show us how deeply and unbelievably loved we are. And when we cling to the anger, resentment, and offense like they are our best friends, we tend to build walls up against the loving God of the universe (from our side). 

It is time for me to lay down my God-thrashing weapons and come to Him on my knees once again,  open to whatever healing may look like.  It’s time to drop the cold, bitter cynicism.  God wants to wash my offense away with His love.  

What if I’m not physically healed? I will not fear, because I will still have Jesus, and He is more than enough. 

Freedom Within Borders

Freedom Within Borders

As a child,  I was ultra-submissive.  I never rocked the boat.  I was terrified of breaking the rules.  I was rigid and well-behaved, trembling at the thought of doing anything rebellious.  As an adolescent and teenager,  I was the same meek, timid, rule-following legalist.  I craved structure, rules, and boundaries.  I even made my own arbitrary world of boundaries and structure because the set rules were not rigid enough.  They diagnosed my world of rules as “anorexia.”  I lived and breathed rules.  They defined me.  Without my system of  restriction,  I had no sense of self.  How sad is it when your identity is shaped by what you refuse to do?  I built this prison for myself, and I got way too comfortable in it.

Somewhere along the line, however, I broke.  After a lifetime of worshipping the rules,  I could no longer walk the tightrope that I had strung for myself.   I didn’t turn wild-child or anything, but I did let loose a bit.  I ate desserts.  I had real, legitimate conversations with God and asked Him what seemed like “off-limits” questions.  I allowed myself to get angry and express my anger.  I allowed myself to voice the truth of my suffering.  I risked relationships: real, meaningful relationships.  I watched tough movies.  I said words like “crap” without flinching.  I stopped trying to be absolutely perfect in every way.  And I embraced a new kind of freedom.  I also uncovered this inner rebel whom I had never before encountered.  I stepped out of my box.

Many people around me encouraged this new slightly rebellious side.  In anorexia recovery, it is difficult to really make strides toward freedom without stepping outside of one’s own rigidly structured habits.  I became more spontaneous, which allowed me to experience a new side of my own humanity and made space for joy and excitement.  As restrictive living lessened, my world expanded, and as my world expanded, I realized that I had been hiding from a bunch of phantoms that I had dreamed up.  Many of my fears were nothing but smoke and mirrors.

This rebel was helpful in recovery from an eating disorder, and I am extremely thankful to have tasted the fresh life of freedom.

In an unfortunate turn of events, however,  I find myself trying to navigate a new world of restrictions.  These restrictions are  imposed by doctors and my treatment team as we try to manage my chronic illnesses.  The Megan of my youth would have clung to restrictions and been the most compliant patient on the planet.  She would follow doctors orders at all times and never imagine pushing the envelope.  Unfortunately, this Megan is quite different from the Megan of my youth.

I have this need to push the limits.  Some providers on my treatment team call this going “rogue.”  With the unpredictability of POTS and MCAD, I am supposed to be in a wheelchair when I leave the house.  With the temperature in the 90’s most afternoons,  I need to stay inside because my body cannot regulate its own thermostat.  With my complex set of allergies and motility issues, I am on a strict diet, involving no processed food, refined sugar, artificial colors, animal protein, dairy, gluten, and fiber. Basically, I can eat about five to ten percent of food options out there.

I find myself bucking up against these medical boundaries that have been compassionately placed upon me.  The rebel in me says,  “No one can tell me what I can’t do,” so I sneak in a handful of teddy grahams.  I take the kids out in the backyard on a hot afternoon.  I “forget” to remind my husband to put my wheelchair in back of the car.  I scoff at the rigidity of the rules and try to do my own thing.  The rules seem oppressive.  It seems like people are trying to rob me of life and freedom and fun.  And since my rebellious years are a bit delayed, I act a bit like a typical rebellious teenager, turning on her heels away from those who love her as they summon her to a life that they know is more life-giving. She is convinced, however, that they are trying to rob her of “real life.”

So as I do my own thing, I reap the consequences.  I eat what I feel like eating, and I suffer tremendous pain and sometimes near-anaphalaxis as a result.  I take my children outside to play, and I collapse in the grass when my legs give out due to heat exhaustion.  I “conveniently” forget my wheelchair and end up in bed for a couple days after a simple doctor’s appointment.  I wail that it is not fair, and I all but beat my chest with my fists at the injustice of my life.  I pout, and if I had the energy, I would stomp my stubborn feet all the way to my bed.

I didn’t ask for these restrictions, and I resent them.  But I am reminded that they are there so that I can actually have a chance at life.  These restrictions are not like my self-imposed prison that I created so many years ago.  They are life-giving boundaries, placed around me so that I can move safely and freely in this life that is mine to live.

I have to avoid many foods so that I can be pain-free and empowered to pursue important goals in my life.  I cannot be the mother, friend, and wife that I was created to be if I am in the midst of allergic reaction after allergic reaction.  I have a wheelchair so that I can go out and enjoy the events and activities that other people get to enjoy.  What if I could see my wheelchair as a vehicle that could transport me further into abundance and hope?  I cannot go outside often, but I can be inside in a stable environment, reading stories to my little ones, singing songs, playing my keyboard, and writing so that my life can bring meaning and life to others.

These boundaries that surround my life look different than what I had expected my borders to look like.  That does not mean, however, that they are meant to be disregarded and cast aside.  In my rebellion,  I will suffer.  The rules are not created to chastise me or smother me.  They are created to free me to live more fully.

I still feel like a rebel, and I kind of like the rebel part of me.  I still want to eat chocolate cake, french fries, and maybe a really delicious salad.  But I want to live a meaningful, abundant life, and for me, that means learning to settle into a particular set of boundaries.

In the perfect world, where there is no suffering, pain, or sickness, this lifestyle would be unnecessary.  One day, when I know as I am fully known, I will be unfettered by a failing body.  But that is not today, and this is not the perfect world.  The Kingdom is not fully here on earth, so I will submit and trust that I can still taste the glories of the Kingdom as I navigate life within these new borders.

I am slowly learning to find freedom within these boundaries, and it is beautiful.