Brother Come Close, Sister Draw Near

Gentle Reader,

You would not know it upon a glance
But there’s buzzing in my head

A tingle, shiver, crawls up my spine
And I’m filled with darkest dread

Strive to keep my face serene
Arranged along calmest lines

But know when I respond to you
That I’m really not always “fine”

There’s walking wounded all around
And me, I know that crowd

Not too proud to tell you this
Tho ’tis done with head that’s bowed

Yes, I believe in the healing touch
Of God who reigns on high

But His work in us, it is not done,
Without a struggle or a sigh

Groping about on this earth,
Half-blinded, struggling to see

What to do in the midst of fear
That’s wailing like a banshee

His voice is quiet, speaking peace
I must lean close and listen

That I might choose the better path
And in holiness be christen

There are many other roads
To the right and to the left

Roads I’d frankly rather walk
Than this, with all its theft

But they lead not to God above
As Christian learned in olden tale

And so step on, is what I must
Tho the Devil does assail

Do it afraid, that is my choice
None other can I make

Do it despite, that is the call
Even when my heart does ache

Christ promised trouble in this world
And He spoke not single lie

But He also promised, sure and true
To be near when all does go awry

And so tho I may not be fine
Engaged in unseen war each day

From my God I will not turn
From my Savior ne’er will stray

Thus all that I ask of you
Who read these simple lines

Is that you might come to notice
The strain and struggle’s signs

For I need you, as you need me
We journey through together

Not just on sunny mountaintops
But in the stormy weather

So take my hand, and I’ll take yours
We’ll press along, holding fast

I’ll see you, and you’ll see me
The masks we wear, off cast

Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters.

– Romans 12:10a (CSB)

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The Words Don’t Reach

Gentle Reader,

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name

The moments when you’re in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down

If you see [her] in the street, walking by
[Her]self…have pity

You knock me out, I fall apart

We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable

– “It’s Quiet Uptown,” Lin-Manuel Miranda

Someone died.

I’ve been staring at the blinking cursor for a good few minutes, unsure how to go on. Or if to go on. But, blast it all, this is how it works. How I work. Something happens and I am compelled to put words to it. The words that I can’t speak, the ones that get caught somewhere between my mind and my throat, the ones that are released only through my often ink-stained fingers. The psalmist tells us that his bones grew old when he kept silent. I feel that.

A weekend of euphoria. Flying high.

Practically perfectly paced for a crash-landing as the reality of brokenness rears its ugly head once more.

And it’s a moment that the words don’t reach, even as I strain for them. Even as I grapple to make sense of what I logically, rationally know I will never understand.

What do you do with that? When you know you’ll never understand, when the opportunity for restoration has passed? When you’ll never have the important conversation or hear the acknowledgement? When you’re still dealing with the destruction, the ripples of which have spread far and wide?

I sit at Jesus’ feet and I tell Him that I don’t know. I don’t have the answers to these questions. I’m not even sure that I want Him to answer them right now. I just want to lean against Him, wrapped in holy silence and a love that requires no speech in its expression. He doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, He welcomes women like me to just this place, just this position, for it is here that we best learn.

Triggered. It’s a word I despise. It’s been abused and misused. People use it to silence constructive, valid opposition.

But here I am, the switch flipped, flashing back in my mind to every scene. Every interaction. Wondering what I should have done, could have done, differently. A deep, gnawing anguish in the pit of my stomach. The fear that every woman has, no matter how much healing she has experienced, that maybe, just maybe, she really did bring it on herself. Ask for it. By being too beautiful or too smart or too different.

Too…womanly, with the curves and the softness and the hair and the smile.

Frightened by what God designed and delights in.

Because you have been treated wrongly.

I suppose I should just get over it.

I wish it was so easy. I long for it to be so easy.

God, You were there. You saw it all. You know what’s true and what’s false. Please, reveal that to me. Help me, Father. I feel stupid and selfish for asking. I don’t even know why I’ve written this vague thing on this public platform. But maybe somebody else feels the same way. Maybe somebody else had the wind knocked clean out of her lungs in the space of a few seconds. Maybe he knows what I mean here. I know You do. Help me. Help them. Help us.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.

– Matthew 5:4, 7 & 9 (CSB)

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New Perspectives on Old Hates

See

Gentle Reader,

January.

How I hate this month.

Two seasons have depressed me ever since I was a child: the long, intense days of high summer and the first weeks after Christmas. In this part of the world, January is always gray, mushy and slow. When I was in school, there was always the stress of the semester’s final exams. As an adult, tax documents start trickling in, reminding me just how much I still owe on my student loans. (Seriously. Do they even count the payments I send in every month)? Usually I can’t wait to flip the calendar page.

Rolling into 2018, I resolved to attempt to see these drab days from a new perspective. I asked God to grant me the eyes to see all the little beauties, the delicate blessings, scattered throughout the hours. Instead of staring at the disgusting, muddy slush that lines the street in front of my house, I gaze at the deep teal afghan draped across the back of the couch, a gift from my husband. Instead of wishing time would move faster and I could start playing in the dirt, I remember that the soil needs rest in order to produce the flowers and food I love. Instead of allowing cold temperatures to lure me into total hibernation, I keep struggling to get up at a stupid hour to exercise. (Some mornings are more successful than others).

Many look at January as a magical time, filled with the wonder and possibility of moments yet lived.

Me? I’m just working at not being a complete curmudgeon.

The other day, my eyes fell upon these words:

Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead.

– Proverbs 4:25 (CSB)

As if I was being introduced to the concept of looking forward for the first time, my mind whirled. I fired up my new (and very exciting!) Logos software (a free download!) and plugged in the verse reference. Jamison, Fausset and Brown comment that this chunk of a larger proverb (vs. 20-27 are to be taken together) directs the reader to:

…pursue a sincere and direct purpose, avoiding temptations.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (via Logos; volumes available online here)

John Wesley adds:

Direct all thine actions to a right end, and keep thy mind fixed upon that way which leads to it…

Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

Pursue. Direct. Fix. In my mind’s eye I watch these words tumble around, as if tucked inside a clothes dryer next to the sock that’s always missing its mate.

To shift to a new perspective is no simple task. We are creatures of habit, even the most Type B, laid back, go-with-the-flow folks. Our minds get stuck in loops. Because a thing was a way at one time, the thing, and similar things, will always be that way every time. Breaking out of those thought patterns requires real effort.

The key to victory?

I asked God…

This January is really no different from any other January that has come before in my nearly-34 years of living. The snow is dirty, the skies are heavy, the glamour of winter has worn off. But instead of hanging my head, pressed down by the weight of cabin fever (even those of us who prefer the indoors are susceptible), I am learning to lift it. Instead of looking to the left, wondering why she has it so much better, or to the right, longing for what he has, I am learning to look forward. There, right in front of me, drawing and empowering me in every step, is Christ.

The sincere and direct purpose, the right end, is the Savior Himself. Not what we think He should give us. Not the temporary things we think will make us happy. Not name, fame or acclaim. God, Lord of All. Him. Just Him.

This January may, in the essentials, be no different from the others, but my experience of it is. The world is a slush-ball, but I don’t mind it so much. A cloak of depression still flits around my shoulders, but it doesn’t consume me. I’m looking at Jesus. He is beautiful. Radiance and mystery.

I sit quietly, waiting for Him to point out the things I so often miss by looking down or off to the side. And I begin to see, to really see, that, no matter what, no matter how bad the day, He is always there.

That is enough.

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The Beast, the Tiger

Tiger

Gentle Reader,

Thunk.

Thunk.

Thunk.

Tears leak from my eyes. I’m not fully awake yet. Beads of sweat stand on my brow. Palms clutch the blanket. Ribs feel as though they will break. Not enough air in my lungs. Feet tingle. Goosebumps everywhere.

I can’t do this. I can’t do this. It’s too much. It’s too much.

Panic attacks are not logical. They can’t be rationalized away. The brain decides to flip the “fight or flight” switch and it’s off to the races. The neurons and chemicals and whatever else hangs out in the gray matter fly around, making faulty connections, ones that must sound like a car backfiring. The result: Me, on the couch, stiff, waiting for the terror to pass.

It does.

It always does.

The rest of the day, the anxiety is high. By “high,” I mean “would send a person who doesn’t live with an anxiety disorder to the emergency room, convinced she’s dying.” My hands shake. The bottoms of my feet tingle. My lips go numb. I talk to myself.

“Okay, you have to get up and shower now.”

“Okay, time to make some lunch.”

“How about you vacuum? You can do that.”

When completed, these simple tasks become victories. I celebrate them. I ask God if He notices that I braided my hair. Of course He does; He misses nothing. But I like to invite Him to the party. I take comfort in knowing that He paces around the house with me, laughing at sitcoms I’ve seen a thousand times, working to burn off the excess energy that leaves me both restless and drained. He knows that it’s not my fault. He knows that I didn’t wake up and think, “You know what would be fun today? An episode of the crazies.”

We’re not supposed to use the word “crazy” when discussing mental illness, but I feel crazy when the panic hits. I was 19 the first time the terror tiger sank its claws into my brain. I’d always been anxious, but this…it was new. Strange. Surreal. I’d been hanging out with friends. Nothing unusual. Went home, put on my blue plaid flannel pajamas and crawled into bed.

Sometime before sunrise, I don’t remember the hour, I sat in a room at the hospital, feet encased in purple Volkswagon Beetle slippers, adrenaline pumping. The doctor asked my parents if I was on drugs.

Anything I do, I do afraid. I do it with the thought that it won’t be good enough. That I’m not good enough. That failure is inevitable. The times I’ve seriously considered no longer writing, I can’t count. Any Bible study group I’ve led, I’ve been sure that someone else could do it better. Going to a party or get-together, even with people I’ve known for years, requires pumping myself up as if I am about to step into a boxing ring.

And most people are never able to tell, because I have a poker face to rival the best of card sharks.

God knows, though. As I said, He sees it all.

We misunderstand passages like:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

– Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)

And forget:

Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.

– Psalm 56:3 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

Trusting God isn’t a one-and-done deal. Conquering fear isn’t an easy win.

The Hebrew yôm used in the psalm is a word that is used to denote any length of time. It can be a day. It can be yesterday. It can be tomorrow. It can be a lifetime.

Yesterday, I was afraid. I trusted God.

Today, I am afraid. I trust God.

Tomorrow, I will be afraid. I will trust God.

My lifetime is marked by an anxiety rooted in faulty biology, the result of the Fall and Curse of Genesis 3. I will keep on trusting God. And when I forget, when I fail to act in wisdom and cry out for His help, I believe that He holds me in the palm of His hand. I believe that He does not and will not cast me aside for being frail. He knows the dust from where I came and the dust to which I shall return.

I plant my feet on the Rock.

Whatever winds roar.

Be encouraged today, dear reader. The fact that you have not destroyed the beast that weighs upon your back doesn’t mean that you don’t belong to God. It doesn’t mean that you don’t believe. It doesn’t mean that He hates you. Keep fighting, one moment at a time. This is the working out of your salvation, the wrestling that is part and parcel of sanctification. The beast may always be there, pulling at you until you reach Eternity. This is no sign of failure. Instead, take its presence as a reminder of the great grace you need each moment, as a prompting to raise your hands to the Lord who knows.

He is with you.

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