Not Your Motivational Writer

Fight

Gentle Reader,

I like to kick-box.

Yes. A Muay Thai elbow-throwing pacifist.

It’s not pretty. Nobody who kick-boxes looks good after a bout. She is drenched from head to toe. Her muscles ache. Her voice is hoarse from grunting and even shouting. Her hair clings to her neck, her face. She stinks. She needs a long shower and a good massage.

Two weeks ago, I wrote this.

Last week, this.

These kinds of posts have, apparently, become a hallmark of mine. If my picture wasn’t displayed just to the right of what you’re now reading, you might think I was some no-nonsense, cigar-chomping, former football coach. “Get out there and quit whining” type stuff. Please know: I don’t want anyone to think that I desire to minimize or make light of suffering. That is, in no way, my goal. We have to talk about the things that hurt.

But I am seeing a “stuckness.”

A glorification of pain.

An entitlement.

Unwillingness to let go of the victim identity.

The therapist that I see has told me, more than once, that healing only comes when we are willing to get “un-stuck.” That, of course, doesn’t mean we will never hurt again, and it doesn’t guarantee the disappearance of illness, mental or physical, but it does mean that we are continually looking to Jesus. Continually going forward, no matter if it’s a crawl.

This way that we travel, this road that we walk? It’s a foot-wide ribbon, winding in and out of mountains and valleys.

Fingernails tear off. Keep going.

Rocks scrape. Keep going.

Dust coats. Keep going.

Sweat mingles with tears. Keep going.

When it’s all about us, all about the constant navel-gazing and self-actualization, we aren’t going. We’re staying. Further, when we decide to ditch the concept of “sin,” we end up throwing out endurance, holiness and love, too. When it’s all fluffy and gushy and about the feels and getting mad at anyone and everyone because how dare they not be as perfect and attuned as we want them to be at all times, we lose an essential element of the Gospel: Jesus loves you, yes He does, and that means He doesn’t want you to stay where you are.

See, we don’t know this, because we don’t know the Bible. We either don’t read it at all or we blithely shrug off words like race, discipline, war and battle. We start and end with “come just as you are,” content with a surface-level doctrine that’s little more than spiritual-sounding self-help. It’s bubblegum. Cotton candy. Fluff.

Useless.

The world spent the last month tuned into the Winter Olympics. We marveled over feats of strength and daring-do. We gasped when an athlete fell and cheered when they got back up. We clapped. We cheered. We became invested in the stories of these people who set their sights on the prize and never wavered in their focus.

A theological lesson disguised as human drama if there ever was one.

When we think of encouragement, we think of gentleness. Whispered words and tender hugs. Sometimes, it is that. Other times, maybe even a lot of the time, it is Joses – a man known for being so encouraging that he came to be known by the name Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement” – squaring off with the Apostle Paul, letting him know in no uncertain terms that he would not be giving up on John Mark (Acts 15:36-41). It is grit and guts and cutting through all the bull.

Real talk: We don’t need more motivational speakers or self-help books. We don’t need listicles that tell us the “10 best ways…” to anything. What we need is to get serious. We need to actually struggle, actually engage in the battle, rather than sit and believe that the world owes us something when it very clearly doesn’t.

Again, I plead with you, dear reader, to not read into this piece an intent or motivation that isn’t here. I am an advocate of therapy and medication and doing what you need to do to work through pain and suffering. But there’s the key word – through. You get to make that choice. You are never without agency in how you respond to and handle whatever it is you’re dealing with.

Be a pusher. Be a fighter.

Because you can. You can. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then His very Spirit lives within you. His empowerment is available to you every single step of the way. Ask Him to help you, to push you, even if you have to do it a million times in a day. And when you fall – we all do – ask Him to assist you in brushing off the dust. He will.

Every time.

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In the Middle of the Bitter

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Day 3,956 of thrush.

Okay, okay. It just feels like it’s been that long.

I’m trying to put into practice the things I’ve learned over the last year. When I feel weary physically, it’s not long before I feel weary mentally and emotionally. If I let that go on, it’s a short trip down a very dark hole. I can’t pull myself out of it. No amount of positive talk or self-love or whatever other pop psychology phrase you want to apply works. I have to turn to the Lord.

Let me tell you something: It works. Every time.

Oh, the illness doesn’t magically disappear. The sadness doesn’t evaporate forever. At this point, God has allowed the struggle. I don’t know why. I’d rather not be engaged with this. I would love a body that functions correctly. I would love to have an unclouded mind and heart. But – honestly – if it takes pain to keep me close to the Lord, then so be it.

I’m sure that sounds insane, especially if you happen to be reading this and you don’t have faith in Christ. I don’t know if I can rightly explain it. I know myself. I know how independent and self-reliant I try to be. I know how arrogant I can get. I also know that God brings the proud low. I know that He works to reveal our need for Him.

While I believe that my illnesses, physical and otherwise, are the consequences of the Curse, I also believe that God uses these things as tools to bring about a change in me. His plan is that His children grow into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18). Jesus modeled a love for spending time with the Father during His ministry. He gave us a deep example of depending upon Him.

So if I’m too much of a spiritual idiot to figure out how to do this on my own (and trust me, I am)…then, by all means. Use this sickness and frustration and isolation and exhaustion for Your glory and my good, Lord God.

Again, I know that sounds insane. It might also sound like I’m some sort of falsely pious, fakey McFakerstein. But this is no platitude I mouth. This is no slick piece of propaganda, no bait-and-switch. I really don’t think I would have a growing relationship with God without this undeniable weakness.

There have been many, many moments when I’ve raised my figurative fist to the heavens and ranted at God. I’ve thrown fits and occasionally thrown things. Bad blood tests hit me like a brick wall, needles leave me bruised, finances are tight when I can’t make it to work, there’s always the “what next?” question looming on the horizon. I am not perfect and I do not have this faith thing down.

But as I learn to turn to God, there is a real sweetness in the middle of the bitter.

Keith Green says it better than I can. (Just started listening to his music today. I don’t know where this has been my whole life):

Let God do His work in you, my friend. Look for the light in the dark, the peace in the storm, the sigh in the scream.

Watch for it.

Hope for it.

Cling to Him.

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday: Tomorrow

When I stand before Your throneDressed

Gentle Reader,

I really look forward to Thursday evenings. Face-to-face connection is vital, of course, but God does something cool on the internet. He draws all kinds of people together on the Twitters for some real sharing and lots of laughter. On days like today, when I’ve been confined to my house because my body hates me and is falling apart, I am so grateful for the #FMFParty. If I sit just so, the dizziness settles a little and I can enjoy the chat.

Kate. My people.

We contemplate: tomorrow.

Go.

My mom has suffered with chronic migraines for as long as I’ve known her (almost 31 years). My brother has had 4 foot surgeries, back surgery and a hernia repair. My dad has pain in his hands. My hubby’s got high blood pressure. I have Chronic Fatigue…scratch that, Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (whatever that grand re-name means). And the possibility of growing another tumor.

A coworker suffers with Fibromyalgia. I’m part of a Facebook group just for women with chronic illness. A friend at church has an eye problem. Another friend lives with MS. Another with constant stomach trouble.

That’s just the physical stuff.

Suffering is everywhere. Personally, I think that illness will only become more widespread as the clock winds down and we move toward the end. (No, I don’t know when that will be. Nobody does. But I do know that we are one day closer today than we were yesterday). The earth and all its inhabitants groan under the curse. Our bodies cannot hold up under the weight of it.

So I look forward to tomorrow. I look forward to this, a passage I turn to time and time again:

I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. – Revelation 21:3-7 (NKJV)

No more pounding heads, aching feet, swollen hands. No more strain on the heart. No more loss of sight, nerves on fire. No more crushing fatigue. No more tumors, no more fevers, no more stomach trouble. No more stress, no more worry, no more bottles of pills, no more chemotherapy, no more surgeries.

No more sickness.

Tomorrow.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Stop Embracing the Darkness

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Gentle Reader,

It wasn’t my plan to spend this day curled up in bed begging God to make the stomach pains stop. And spending intimate time with the porcelain throne. Third time in four months this has happened. Probably more doctor’s visits and tests in my not-so-distant future.

Which has me thinking.

Life is really hard. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something. Illness. Financial stress or outright collapse. Homes burn down in freak electrical fires. Friends move away. Jobs change. Divorce happens. Loved ones die.

It sucks.

Sucks more to stay in that place, the place you go to when the initial shock hits.

I’m just going to be blunt: We have to stop wallowing.

We have to stop embracing the darkness.

Not for nothing did I decide to kill myself three-and-a-half years ago. I get what it is to be so far down the rabbit hole of grief that you can’t even begin to imagine light or warmth. I don’t at all think that we should avoid mourning or working through our issues and feelings. I don’t believe that sorrow is tidy or linear.

I do believe that it passes. No, we don’t always “get over” something. Life will never be the same after a death in the family, the sting of betrayal or a loss of security. These kinds of things are forever-type changes that ripple through the years.

But if we’re still indulging in anger over an event years after it happened…. Still caught up in crying jags years after the death…. Still looking for someone to blame…. Searching for statuses or photos on social media from the time surrounding that hard moment and thus keep reliving it…. Still picking at the scabs, rubbing the scars raw, refusing to move forward….

That’s wrong.

It disturbs me when I read a post or an article airing grief or an offense written in such a way as to make that grief or offense sound fresh when it isn’t. It bothers me to see people stuck in mourning mode. I know what that feels like. I know the rage, the bitterness, the crippling nature of the tears. I also know that it can reach a point when the sorrow feels comfortable and even righteous. “How can anyone really expect me to move on? They don’t understand!”

Meanwhile, friendships fade and families suffer. Children are confused at best, neglected or abused at worst because Mom or Dad won’t come out of the fog. The boss wonders how to handle this newly-volatile employee. God becomes seemingly distant because we make an idol out of that which has been lost. We worship at altars of death and decay.

My friend, this should not be so.

A gentleman in my Sunday school class said something very interesting yesterday: “Every day is a holiday. You can choose to be happy.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement. In the immediacy of sorrow, there’s nothing to smile about. That is for certain. But as the days pass and the heart bleeds a little less with each pump, we are faced with a choice. Do we let God do the work of healing and comfort, or do we spit in His eye and rip open the wound time and again?

I am the last person on earth who will tell you that depression or anxiety put you in the “Too Far Gone” column. I won’t tell you how to mourn. I don’t believe that feelings are sinful – but what we do with them can be. The pain should be diminishing, however slowly, as the days pass. This is a great gift from the One who overcame the world, a store of fresh mercy from the One who never promised there would be no trouble.

Embrace Him, dear one.

Let the darkness go.

My journey to faith. (15)