A Pirate’s Life for Me

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Long have I been fascinated by pirates, specifically the 17th and 18th century variety. Many were coarse, foul, murderous thieves. Others, usually British or French, operated under the authority of the government as “privateers.” Most really did abide, at least loosely, by the dictates of a pirate code, which varied from ship to ship. These codes were at times strikingly democratic; crew members, no matter how lowly, each had a vote in “the affairs of the moment,” as Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts put it. There were female pirates – Cheng I Sao, Grace O’Malley, Anne Bonny, Mary Read – who could and did go toe-to-toe with any man.

This “golden age of piracy” has been romanticized in novels and on the big screen for decades, but the reasons for deciding on the brutal, short life of a pirate were anything but glamorous. European governments had no problem with impressing lower-class men into naval service (i.e., slavery on a ship), leaving their families behind to fend for themselves – a situation that rarely ended well. In a sense, the choice was between the harshness of respectability or a life of criminal activity. Rock and hard place, no doubt.

This is, of course, hugely generalized. Go read some history books to learn more.

You’re probably wondering if I’m cool with murder, rape and pillaging. Of course not. The above is meant to provide context for the rest of this piece.

I searched through the archives in an attempt to find words written during what was, to this point, the darkest period of my adult life. There are only two entries, neither of which goes into great detail about the struggle. No, less of a struggle, more of an onslaught. Either I didn’t post much then or whatever other entries that once existed were purged. I’m guessing the latter, for I know that I worked hard to put on a brave face. Very little in the way of authenticity during those months.

For, you see, tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of my almost-death.

Some have asked if I share these things in order to gain sympathy or as a way of increasing blog traffic. The answer is: neither. I’m not entirely comfortable writing (and speaking) with such honesty about my experiences with anxiety and depression. I don’t like being so vulnerable. My way of dealing with the world involves sarcasm and pop culture quips. I prefer to be the funny one. If I can’t be the funny one, then I’d like to be the smart one and teach you theology or Tudor history.

Anything but talking about “the feels.”

But I’ve also got this rebellious streak in me. If I can’t make sense of a rule, if it doesn’t fit neatly into a well thought out system of ethics and morality, then I see no reason to abide by the rule. (Yes, this has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Mom). We, generally as a society but specifically as a church culture, have this unspoken rule that mental illness isn’t something we talk about. It’s weird and scary and shameful.

Yeah, well, that’s stupid.

So, here you go: I have Clinical Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Panic Disorder. I take medication – Zoloft – every night before I go to sleep. I’m in my second round of therapy. Chances are good that I’m far more scared of you than you are of me (and I’d be willing to bet that that goes for most people with mental illnesses). I’m not going to hurt you. You don’t have to fix me. I’m not a drain on society. God doesn’t hate me. I can’t “pray it away.”

Clinical Depression is more than feeling sad and it lasts longer than a couple of weeks. It’s being so sad that you don’t even feel sad. You’re numb. It’s a battle to take a shower. You have no interest in anything or anyone. Sometimes all you want to do is stare at the wall. You become furious when you run out of milk. You’re lonely but you don’t want to see anyone. Your body hurts. You’re too tired to sleep.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is more than worry. It’s feeling scared, all the time, in a low-key way that can be turned up to terror at any second. You’re scared of everything and nothing all at once. You hyper-analyze every situation and interaction. You have to have a plan of escape. You avoid certain places and people.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is more than just “liking things to be neat.” It’s the same unwanted thought, over and over. It’s having to check the alarm three times before you go to sleep. It’s believing, in the back of your mind, if something bad will happen to someone you love if you don’t follow this routine. It’s germophobia. For those of us who lean more obsessive than compulsive, it’s becoming fixated on things.

Panic Disorder is more than a moment of surprise. It’s lips tingling, hands going numb, hyperventilating, chest pains, passing out and shaking violently. It’s being convinced that you’re having a heart attack. It’s your brain randomly and nonsensically flooding itself with chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine.

I have a funky brain. It doesn’t function properly. Why should this surprise anyone who’s read the third chapter of Genesis? We live in a fallen, broken world, people. There is no atom, no neuron, no electron, not one single part or piece that has escaped the effects of the Curse.

My advice?

Accept it, get over it and stop telling hurting people, in word or action, that they suck.

Because here’s the thing: Satan is already telling us that we suck. His mission is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He loves to capitalize on the brokenness that we’re born with. My brain doesn’t work the way it should, which means my mind doesn’t always interpret or respond to the world the way it should, which means that Satan slides right in there with his lies. Already disposed to think that you’re not safe? Well, you definitely aren’t. Already lean toward fear of abandonment? Nobody likes you and you’re going to end up all alone.

Feeling lost, sad and trapped in the dark? You useless pile of crap. Just kill yourself.

See? We need no help in that department.

Instead of fearing and disdaining and judging us, come be part of our pirate crew.

Satan wants to steal our very lives. He is a murderer. He gets his jollies off by ruining and ending all that he can.

But God.

Holy words, you know. Words of hope.

God is bigger. Mightier. Better. Stronger. In no way is Satan his opposite or equal. That’s what the Father of Lies would like us to think. That’s what he’d like to think about himself. Nobody is equal to God. Nobody is more powerful than He is. He speaks these kinds of words to His children:

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,

The crawling locust,

The consuming locust,

And the chewing locust,

My great army which I sent among you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,

And praise the name of the LORD your God,

Who has dealt wondrously with you;

And My people shall never be put to shame.

Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel:

I am the LORD your God

And there is no other.

My people shall never be put to shame.”

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper,

And every tongue which rises against you in judgment

You shall condemn.

This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD,

And their righteousness is from Me,”

Says the LORD.

The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed,

A refuge in times of trouble.

– Joel 2:25-27; Isaiah 54:17; Psalm 9:9 (NKJV)

These words were originally written to Israel and are tied to the covenant of Genesis 12. Nevertheless, there is an overarching principle that Gentile (non-Jewish) believers may cling to: God sees our trouble and knows our pain. He will, in His good way and in His good time, fix what has been broken and restore what has been taken.

The Devil tried to steal my life.

I, as a daughter of the King, washed in the blood of Christ, standing on His promises, am empowered to steal it back. Bit by bit, day by day, looking onwards and upwards in hope. Nothing about me belongs to that nasty, fallen angel. My whole person, every part of me, everything I am and all that I have, belongs to God.

If I have to choose between the facade of churchy respectability and a life lived out on the edge of faith, then it’s a pirate’s life for me. Whatever Satan tries to take, I will, by the grace and power of God, take it back – and then some.

Join me, won’t you?

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Review: Where I End

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (3)

Gentle Reader,

Jesus…teaches us to put our question in a way which is meaningful. He tells us that we should not ask ‘Why?’ but ‘To what end?’ … Jesus is a true Pastor. For when we understand the change, we are no longer cloaked with terror. We can breathe again. We can cry and not be weary. We can live by the profound peace in our hearts.

Everything changes under our hands if with our hand in the hand of our Lord we are ready to march forward to the great ends of God. Our conscience is stained and we are guilty. But being in the hand of Jesus,we may ask with fear and trembling, ‘To what end?’ and we may receive the answer of Paul: In order that grace may be mightier, the cross greater, and the Lord dearer to us.

Where I End, p. 194-195, 196; quoting Helmut Thielicke’s Out of the Depths

I am tempted to end this review here, for this quote tells you all that you need to know about Where I End: a Story of Tragedy, Truth and Rebellious Hope, written by Katherine Elizabeth Clark. However, if I did this, perhaps you might be tempted to believe that Clark is somehow above it all, a perpetually-smiling, saintly figure who has nothing at all in common with you. Such a belief would drive you away from this book – a book every one of us needs to read.

In our modern, Western, sleek-and-shiny context, we don’t know how to suffer well. Unlike our brothers and sisters in hostile and war-torn countries, we are not daily confronted with dark moments of terror. Thanks to advances in medical science, we don’t have to watch loved ones die of preventable diseases like measles or scarlet fever. We are insulated. Cushioned.

Only two things can shake us out of our rose-colored haze: If we consciously choose to seek out suffering by ministering among the poor and the marginalized (which, no bones about it, we should do) or if tragedy suddenly and inexplicably strikes.

Clark and her family experienced the latter. In the briefest of moments, their entire world was transformed. A game of tag. A child who jumped. Broken vertebrae. Pain. Paralysis.

A young, healthy, active mother could no longer hold her children.

The children had to grapple with looking upon their mother lying in a hospital bed.

A husband and father forced to bear the load.

For better, for worse, we say in our marriage vows, in the covenant we make with each other and with God.

Except we never really expect the worse.

Clark details the journey in a non-linear format, which would normally drive order-bound me up the wall, but this narrative choice worked well, because this book is so much more than a story of sorrow. It is about choices. It is about figuring out how to suffer well. Not denying the pain, not ignoring the anger, but turning again and again to the Lord. Seeking the hope that is found in His presence. Releasing a sigh and resting in His arms, even when nothing makes sense, even when the world screams that He can’t be trusted.

It is a story not of praising God for pain, but praising God in the pain. Learning to sing loudly when the storm rages, the song of worship rising above the howling wind, moving the heart of the Father. Determining to be grateful for little blessings and small progress. Seeing things with new eyes.

Above all, Where I End is a very human story nestled within the awesome story of the God who sees, the God who knows. It is about accepting the very human limitations of physicality and of understanding, then choosing to love the God beyond the limits instead of allowing the limits to turn to bitterness. This is the only way that we can survive the shattering of the cocoons that we make for ourselves without bank accounts and education and white picket fences.

Where I End releases January 2018. Do head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy today.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Revelation 21 People in a Genesis 3 World

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might,
He increases strength.

– Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV)

Life rarely, if ever, makes sense or goes as planned. So much is out of our hands. Beyond our control. We can do all the right things, follow God as closely as we know how, and yet find ourselves smack in the middle of a great storm. The waters rise and the winds rage. We bow our heads in confusion, sorrow, even anger.

It is difficult to read the promises of Scripture during these times. We know we should feel comforted. Encouraged. Strengthened. We know our faith should grow and words of praise should fall from our lips. After all, we know that joy is not dependent upon circumstances. We know that God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

But when the diagnosis comes or the relationship ends or the job changes or we suffer for no apparent reason at all – how can the promises of God be true?

Isaiah recorded these words, spoken to him by the Lord, within the context of warnings about oncoming destruction. God’s people had turned away from Him and they would suffer the consequences of so doing. They could not claim surprise. Deuteronomy 28 outlines exactly what would happen if they chose to follow Him and what would happen if they didn’t.

Still, He did not abandon them.

Seven decades of exile would pass, but they would come home. The city and Temple would be rebuilt. God would even be with them during that exile, as shown in the book of Ezekiel, though not in the way they were accustomed. Not in the way they expected.

Though God was faithful to His people, He removed His glory, the tangible manifestation of His presence, from the Temple. There would be four centuries of silence. Not until a young woman pushed one last time and the cry of a baby pierced the air would the voice of God be heard again.

Not at all what they expected.

That’s all well and good, we think. People get punished when they do something wrong. But what about when they don’t do anything wrong? How come they suffer? How can God be good and true when bad things happen?

These are questions that humanity has wrestled with for so long. We forget that, right now, today, in this moment, we live in a Genesis 3 world. So while it is true that,

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

– Colossians 1:13-14 (NKJV)

It is also true that,

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”

– Genesis 3:17b-19 (NKJV)

Or, as Jesus put it,

In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.

– John 16:33 (MSG)

Submitting to the Lord does not guarantee health, wealth or a trouble-free life. Anyone who teaches thus is nothing more than a snake-oil salesman, a deceiver. The death and resurrection of Christ destroyed the power of sin and darkness, so that anyone who receives the awesome gift of salvation through Him can be restored to right relationship with God. We are released from the terrible yoke of slavery that was pulling us toward death and Hell.

But we continue live in a world that is not fully set to rights.

In John 9, the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned and therefore caused a man to be born blind. This is one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, and I always wonder if Jesus shook His head a little when He answered, “Nobody did.” Just as a life of bliss is not the result of obedience, so a life of suffering is not automatically the result of disobedience.

In this Genesis 3 world, every atom, and all the crazy little pieces tucked inside those atoms, is distorted. Warped. Not functioning properly. Nothing that we can see, feel, hear, taste or touch, including our own bodies, escaped the Curse. There is no horizon upon which you can cast your gaze and think, “Yes, that place is perfect and I shall go there to be free.”

Suffering happens because, despite life-jackets being securely in place and every nerve ready to jump, we remain on a sinking ship. We can see the shore, safe and pleasant. We know we’ll end up on the shore. But we’re not there just yet.

How do we live in that tension? How can we cling to the promises of God, even when unspeakable agony strikes?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

Just consider and meditate on Him who endured from sinners such bitter hostility against Himself [consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

– Hebrews 12:2-3 (AMP)

Brothers and sisters, Jesus knows our pain. He knows exactly what it is to be struck down, abandoned, wrecked – for no reason at all. He never sinned. He never put a foot wrong. Yet He took that beating and hung on that cross.

The anguish you feel – He felt it.

Ours is not an aloof God, removed from humanity, judging us with coldness. He entered in. He continues to enter in through the loving activity of the Holy Spirit, drawing the lost and comforting the found. When you face difficulties, He will give you power. We you must endure, He will give you strength. These things may not come in the way you expect or desire, but they are sure promises, straight from the heart of the Lord who never fails.

In the mystery, the questioning, of being among the rescued who nevertheless find themselves going down with the ship – hold tight to the hand of the One who slipped that life-jacket over your head.

He will see you safe to shore.

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Photo credit: Nikko Macaspac

Linking up with God-Sized Dreams and Barbie Swihart today.

Five Minute Friday: Collect

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Oh, my.

What a headache.

An evening stroll a some forbidden ibuprofen later, I feel close to being a human again. Not quite. I probably need to sleep for about fourteen hours for that to happen.

Kate wants to know what we: collect.

Go.

Usually when people ask me what it is that I collect, I respond with, “Nothing.” On the surface, that’s true. I do have six abdominal scars, but it’s not like I chose to have those. Aside from my beloved books, I feel passion for no material objects. Albums filled with stamps make no sense to me. Tchotchkes just gather dust. I tried collecting antique gloves at one point because I think they’re cool; I got as far as three pairs, but I had no idea how to display them, so into the giveaway bag they went. I even joke with my husband on a regular basis that we can probably throw away our marriage licence, since we never look at it.

Maybe it’s the OCD.

Maybe it’s that I can’t think in a cluttered space.

If I stop and really consider this question, though, there is something that I do indeed collect: regret.

The past haunts me. Past sin, past mistakes, past hurts, past left turns instead of right. It doesn’t help that I’m a history nut. Looking back is fun for me. But all too often, I get stuck there. On comes the self-condemnation. I need no one to stone me, for I stone myself.

Of this habit, Jen Wilkin writes:

Regret…causes us to dwell on past mistakes or hurts, robbing us of joy in our present circumstance and often dragging us back into old sin patterns. As a child I learned to sing the words of Charles Wesley: “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free.” How often have I needed those words as a reminder that the power of my past sins (or the past sins of others against me) is broken in Jesus’ name. He replaces my historical liturgy of sin with one of holiness. When I become discouraged about giving in once again to a past sin, the “lifter of my head” remind me that though I am not yet who I will be, I am not who I was. He draws me from the past back to the present with an assurance that sanctification is slowly doing its work today. He keeps me from rehearsing my past hurts by reminding me to forgive as I have been forgiven. We can combat the “bad news” of the past by remembering and trusting the good news of the gospel.

None Like Him, p. 75

There’s always something new to be find in the Good News.

This kind of collection weighs us down in a way that Christ never intended. The “sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1) doesn’t have to be today’s sin. It can be the sin of the past, the stuff that makes us feel bad and heavy and stupid and so very worm-like. Dwelling in regret can keep us from running the race with perseverance – because our eyes are on the starting blocks instead of the finish line.

If we’re going to look back, then let’s see the red. The beautiful, amazing, life-giving, soul-saving blood of Jesus, splashed across every bad deed, every unkind word, every nasty thought, every pain-filled moment. The red that replaces the collection of regret and sorrow with a collection of grace and hope.

From that renewed viewpoint, let’s go forward and collect the joy that is ours by right of redemption.

Stop.

Yeah, this was longer than five minutes. Now enjoy this hymn.

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Photo credit: Ryan Moreno

Also linking up with (for the first time): Suzanne Eller and Holley Gerth.