Lonelier to Leave

It started in the hair salon.

Tears pricked my eyelids so I tilted my nose the ceiling, hoping they’d go back where they came from. Instead they leaked out and down my hair line. A few deep breaths and I felt better.

But the feeling swamped me again the next day as I sat in church. The associate pastor announced an upcoming marriage retreat in November. Couples were going to take a short cruise together while studying Scripture and listening to good speakers.

At first I thought, I’d love to do that. Then it hit me—I won’t be here anymore.

My husband is in the Army. We have packed up and moved away from every church I’ve begun to love, left every set of couple friends we’ve made and terminated every job I’ve ever held—usually just as I begin to sink in.

What’s worse—to be the leaver or the left? Which is more lonely?

That’s been a topic of frequent consideration when my husband deployed in years past. Did I have the greater challenge still sleeping the bed he had suddenly abandoned? Was it harder to face the daily routine of “together” things by myself? Or, was it more painful for him to walk away from home, from routine, from comfort, familiar and family?

For the rest of that Sunday afternoon, I allowed the pending loneliness to marinate my heart. Perhaps I should just pull up stakes now, abandon my volunteer projects, stop going to church, begin to shut off my heart so that it hurts a little less when I walk away.

We often say that Jesus knows our weaknesses. He knows how we feel. He experienced our pain and has compassion for our wounded hearts. But I had never before considered how it must have broken Jesus’ heart to leave earth.

The disciples stood around Him as he ascended into Heaven. I’m sure He was excited to stand again at the Father’s right hand surrounded by the glory and splendor that was His before the foundation of the world.

But I wonder…

Was it hard for Him to say goodbye to his disciples? He had walked with them, eaten with them, debated with them. He knew their families, their occupations, their hangups and their habits. And when He left earth, He told them that He didn’t know when He would return. Only the Father knew. It was an indefinite goodbye.

Not only was Jesus leaving these men, but the very creation—would He miss this earth in someway? He was the God who sculpted trees and rivers and mountains with His words. Before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, it was His great delight to walk with them daily in the beauty of nature. Then, for a brief 33 years, He had touched that soil again. He had left His footprints next to man’s.

None of this contemplation is deny or bring into questions Christ’s complete deity. However, in the mysteriousness of prayer, and the difficult act of abiding in Him, I think we often lose sight of our Savior’s complete humanity.

Jesus tried to prepare the disciples for the day He would leave. Even as He did, He promised them, “I will come back for you!” I wonder if He took comfort in those words too, reminding His flesh and blood heart that this sacrifice He was about to make for the redemption of man would reinstate garden walks and side-by-side foot prints, shared meals and laughter.

There’s something about sinking my heart into the truth of Christ’s brief vulnerability, the truth that His human heart comprehends my loss and loneliness and the ache of leaving. Yes, He does go with me. He never leaves me and I cannot leave Him, as I am held in the palm of His hand. But He does not deny or try to dismiss my earth-hurt.

Oh for the day when I can bury my face in His chest, look up into His eyes, hold His hand and walk in the garden.

*This piece was first published in the print issue of “WHOA Women“.

A Welcome Guest, Amy Dardis

I hate feeling disconnected from God.  And yet, there are seasons in my life, where I just allow myself to get distracted. Sometimes it’s because of sickness, sometimes it’s that I get so busy and burnt out, other times its exhaustion, and sometimes it’s just hormones. It’s something that happens gradually. I will be walking closely with God, seeking Him in everything, and then slowly after a few weeks or months, I notice the change. I become more irritable, easily frustrated, distracted, and feel lost. I get that feeling like my life isn’t moving forward and I just don’t know how to get out of my rut.

To read more from Amy, visit Haven Journal, here.

 

Strength in solitude

We all know the Bible verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” And most of us are honest enough to admit that stillness doesn’t describe our daily lives. And most of us will also willingly admit that we crave a little more peace in our lives, in our homes, in our jobs, in our world. And lastly, we’ll admit that we’re kind of afraid of stillness and peace. Won’t that be lonely?

I’m not here to chide you, or to offer a solution. But I want you to think about something with me.

Remember David and Goliath? The tiny, boy shepherd challenged a seasoned warrior. With a mere sling, he hurled a stone which sank deep and deadly into the giant’s forehead.

Where did David get that courage? Where did David find the inner peace with potential death and failure? What made David so sure that he heard God right?

I mean seriously, if I thought God told me to charge into battle against a giant twice my height, who had already intimidated my country’s entire army, I might think I was crazy.

But David was a shepherd. His life, to that date, had been spent in solitude. On quiet hillsides, with only curly headed lambs to talk to, David lead a simple, introverted life.

I wonder, is that where David got his strength?

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.

David’s courage didn’t come from memories of valiant battles or brilliant strategy. His gumption didn’t come from the witness of others, telling him, “You can do it!” David’s determination came from personal memories of God’s faithfulness and a settled relationship with a good, gracious God.

I believe David soaked up God’s company while he sat, perhaps a little lonely on those Judaean hills. It was also the sweet psalmist of Israel who said, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Sink your teeth into those quite, lonely moments. They will furnish you with peace and confidence.

Here is a wonderful exhortation to experience peace: Haven Journal

Pain’s Proudest Moments

Pain is worst when it shouldn’t be here

When it arrives on days decked with garland

When faces around glow with cheer and

Carols, well wishes all you hear.

 

Pain is most debilitating

When it’s a foreign thing

When it invades off limits relationships

My imagined world on its axis tips.

 

Wide swings pain with a blackened swath

Bathes home, and dreams and past.

When it colors over prisms of love

Reflections of joy, dreams of comfort.

 

Pain stings most when it has been lurking in shadows

When it strikes at everything that should be its antibody.

When hurt overcomes last bastions of resolve

And slings my soul upon the floor.

 

Pain hurts most when it’s slow.

A seeping chill from inside out

Damaging tender tissue, so touch’s sensation

Is blunted for the rest of time.

 

And sometimes there is nowhere to turn.

Sometimes, it leaks under walls and doors of protection.

Sometimes it invades safe haven and sanctuary.

Sometimes pain is unavoidable, healing a mirage,

And hope disguised.

 

And sometimes, courage musters its strength only

Through sharing pain

With a two-dimensional page

Drinking in the ink, swallowing, memorializing pain.

 

A Me-So-Happy-List

I learn so much every time I read She Loves Magazine. Yesterday, the author recalled All Saints’ Day and challenged me to consider the women who were the saints in my own life. Particularly, those who have passed and left a lingering legacy for the cause of Christ permanently inked on my life. Then, today, Tina asked us to write a “Me So Happy List.” A list to be applied as a direct antiseptic to festering wounds of loneliness, brutal days, sadness, sore knees, ceiling-bound prayers, loveless relationships, finding out you’re doing life all wrong.

Ever felt that way?

I think I can tie these two challenges together. Perhaps I’ll begin my happiness list with warm recollections of those who have loved me into the shape I am now.

Vanessa: I met her in church months after I got married and moved to North Carolina. That same season, my new husband deployed to Iraq for a year. At first sight, Vanessa was as vivacious, peppy and assertive as anyone I’ve ever known. Only in bits and pieces did I discover that she had just tipped over the brink of remission from melanoma. Months before I met her, she had nearly died from chemo. By the time I came along, she was trying alternative treatments successfully, her hair had grown back and she was charging full steam ahead.

I had never attempted door-to-door evangelism before, and I doubt I’ll summon the courage to do it again. But I did it with Vanessa. It seemed as if living in a thin place incensed her to talk about Jesus.

But then I watched her die.

Cancer is unpredictable. It came back so viscously that it seemed from one day to the next it sank into her bones, bound her to a bed and stole her voice. I watched her 10 year old son as she traveled far and wide searching for a miracle. None came.

But Vanessa never panicked. Her bulldog way of staring down each new day, daring the sun not to rise, buoyed the hearts of those around her until she was gone. But even the shattering pain, a wholeness filled each room of her house. That’s the way she remains to me – whole, full, complete, content, satisfied, too much, too big to contain. How does one manage that in diminishing death?

I am thankful for her.

I am thankful for a dog named, Brave. His furry body wedged between my knees at 2 a.m.  – challenging to me to sleep another wink.

That my husband loves, loves, loves his job and thrives in all its challenges.

My family loves me, and I can miss them when we’re miles apart. That longing fuels the warmth of reunion.

That God is not silent.

That I can write and that yesterday’s journal informs my heart more now than it did then.

For the difference between acquaintances and life-long friends.

For funny people who don’t know they’re funny, dressed in a blue Santa hat sitting at the table next to me.

 

Privilege in Making the Same Painful Mistakes?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Read more at Brainy Quote

There’s also the expression about beating your head against a wall – trying over and over again, bloodying yourself with meager results.

Most humans know what it feels like to be your own worst enemy. To wish that you could quit making the same mistakes over and over, and over, and over and over…

It hurts, it’s embarrassing. I speak from experience – most notably with my eating disorder. I went over and over again to counselors and heard the same things. I swore over and over that I’d eat “tomorrow” and then failed. I was inpatient three different times and then fell flat on my face within a couple years of discharge.

Failure is painful.

In a more modern day example, I have tried over and over for years to say yes to every invitation, every need; to never alienate anyone. I have tried to please so many people that, as the saying goes, I please no one. Then, I’m hurt, I’ve angered others and I’m embarrassed and lonely. And I do it again.

And it hurts.

Not only do I make the same mistakes, but I have often noticed that God has to repeat himself to me. He is practically hammering me over the head or writing words in the sky before I finally pay attention and respond, “Oh, you mean ME?”

I was comforted in my foibles recently during a character study on the life of the apostle Peter. Not excused, certainly, but comforted that Jesus still wanted to hang out with Peter. Comforted that on the other side of painful, embarrassing mistakes, Jesus still valued Peter’s friendship and found him useful for the advancement of his kingdom. Jesus loved Peter even though he had to tell him and teach him the same things multiple times. In fact, after being loved through so many screw ups, I wager that a privilege of his pain was that Peter understood and trusted Jesus’ love more than ever before.

1. Jesus trumped Peter as a fisherman more than once. The first is mentioned in Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus first called his disciples. Peter and his companions had fished all night without a single catch. Suddenly, this stranger showed up, stepped into Peter’s boat and started preaching to the crowd on the shore. Finally, he turned to Peter and said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Reluctantly, Peter did and to his surprise hauled in such a large number of fish that the nets began to break.

This scenario repeated itself almost perfectly at the end of Jesus’ time on earth. In John 21, Jesus stood on the shore, looking out toward his weary, fish-less disciples. When they recognized him, he told them again to put down their nets one more time. Again, their Lord filled their nets to the point of breaking.

2. Peter was emphatically in love with Jesus and just a little impulsive. Matthew 14:22-23 is the story of Jesus walking on the water, approaching the boat where his weary disciples were battling against a rising storm. When Peter recognized Jesus, he tossed all caution to the wind, stepped out on the water and began walking toward Jesus. (There was that little matter of fear that had him drowning a few seconds later, but Jesus scooped him up just in time.)

The second time was again in John 21, one of the final times that the disciples saw bodily Jesus. Bold, audacious Peter saw Jesus standing on the sand and abandoned his fellow fishermen. This time he didn’t even consider walking and he had no time to entertain fear. He swam madly for shore, to Jesus (and a hot breakfast).

3. The third occasion I’m considering here, wasn’t beside the sea, but next to the flames of a warm, cooking fire. Jesus was bound and surrounded by a crowd of condemning, self-righteous Jewish leaders. At a distance, Peter warmed himself by a fire as he watched the terrible proceedings. Fear got the best of Peter again. Three times that night, in the flickering shadows, he swore that he had never met Jesus, let alone been a follower.

Jesus redeemed that night, once again beside a cook fire. He was serving his disciples a breakfast of roasted fish and toast. As they rested, full and in good company, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Emphatic, boisterous, indomitable Peter took the invitation to declare three times that he loved the Lord.

Making the same mistakes twice hurts. Often it hurts us physically, and it always hurts our pride. But since there’s no way to completely evade the pain of mistakes and the consequences of sins – isn’t it worth looking for the eventual beauty? Isn’t it wonderful to look at the redeeming love of Jesus over each failure? Would we ever know how good God is, if we didn’t make, repeat, live through and grow from painful mistakes?

Privilege of Loss

I’ve been blessed to go home to the mid-west multiple times in the last 12 months. My checkbook might not be feeling very blessed, but it did survive!

First Kylie was born!

Then, a couple months later, poor Kelsey got sick. Then Chelle got married! Each time I am swept off my feet by how much I love my sisters… and their husbands… and their daughters… and my parents. I am in love with steamy-hot Kansas and Oklahoma. I am in love with what will always be home.

Quite literally, I live a nomadic life. Patrick and I unpack as little as possible with each move, just to avoid re-packing it later. I am of the mind that if we don’t open in the two years that we live somewhere, everything in the box is disposable. He doesn’t agree. Anyway, that’s beside the point.

When I flew home after Kylie’s birth, I felt buoyant. I had enjoyed every moment, hugged at every opportunity, stayed up late, and soaked all the life out of every flicker of the second hand. But suddenly, as Kelsey drove away, and I stood on the curb outside DFW my heart lunged toward my feet.

Oh how it hurt.

To leave.

To leave Kylie.

To leave my sisters.

Say goodbye for longer than a restful night.

The pain was all-consuming. I wandered into the airport feeling lost and listless, panicked and angry. What time would pass, what days would lengthen Kylie’s little body? What progress would be made toward Rachelle’s wedding day? What tears would drip without my knowledge? What happy moments would I never experience?

Never mind that I would have my own happy moments, tears, friends, joys, growth… my own life. I would miss them. The pain wedged itself in my windpipe and fought each inhale for my whole flight home. Slowly, it loosened…

When Brave ran into my arms at my own front door,

When Patrick came home and we sat down to watch our favorite TV show together.

That’s another privilege of pain I realized. Do you see it? What if there was nothing wonderful about my sisters? Nothing compelling about home? Nothing to long for, look forward to? Isn’t it far better to have someone to cry for than to shed no tears at all?

Recently, my Bible study girls shared prayer requests. One of the girls asked for prayer for her grandmother. Another one mused out loud, “How blessed you are to have had grandparents for over 30 years!” In my self-pity moments after a sad goodbye, I don’t stop to be grateful for the fact that I have someone to miss.

My grandfather died last year and it hurt deeply. But I had loved him and been loved by him for 30 years.

I am certain that I would rather feel the pain of longing, the ache of loneliness and the tears of goodbye than to have no one to love, no one to miss, no one to hug goodbye.

“I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.” Tennyson

Hereditary, Painful Privilege

My friend knelt beside her 10-year-old son. She was torn between shaking him and crying right along with him. He didn’t want her to know he was crying; she wished she didn’t know.

It’s my fault, she moaned silently.

Wednesday, after our workout, Delaney relayed this story to me. She hadn’t told her husband, and didn’t plan to tell him. He had just returned from a year-long deployment, during which the depression that had been mounting in her since her own childhood collided with the anxiety of being a single parent while he was gone, the fear of losing her husband in battle, the loneliness of establishing “temporary” homes every two years.

“My fears, anxiety and depression must have bubbled over to Tim,” she told me through reserved tears. “I don’t want him to suffer with this the same way I have.” Delaney had bravely shared with me her brief suicidal impulses during the last year. “Selfishly though, I don’t want to deal with him dealing with depression. I scared myself when I registered the thought, I wish I had another son.”

Delaney drudged through the pain in her heart, piling big shovelfuls of muck to the side her pit of despair. It helped to air out the anxiety, before it sucked her down into its tomb. Watching Tim, she feared that she could spiral back into her old depression.

A Bible verse came to me.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. 2 Cor. 1:3-7

I am no stranger to depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness, despair. In fact, if you’ve read this blog with any regularity, or if you’ve even just selected a random post, you probably understand that most of what I write are the shovelfuls of my own muck, thrown up on the side of my pit to air out my own anxiety.

“Delaney,” I said. “God has specifically prepared you to be Tim’s mom, more perfectly than anyone else. You can empathize with his weakness, comfort him as you have been comforted. You will know the right things to say. You can rest in the fact that God has delivered you from this pit and He will just as assuredly deliver Tim.

“It is absolutely not your fault that he feels this way. It can’t be. Tim is Tim and is in charge of his own decisions and feelings. Besides, if he observed your pain, he will observe your deliverance.”

Actually, I wish I had thought to say all that. I did say most of it, but as usual, when I write, I gain greater understanding of my own thoughts. At the time, I didn’t even know the whole passage, but I looked it up to share with you. Amazingly, in Great-Godness, the whole passage is more relevant than part of it.

“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,b about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.” 2 Cor. 1:8-11

There is a privilege in pain – it is preparedness. If our prodigy is a blessing, then so is the pain that fills us with the wisdom and understanding to love them fully.