Loved, Wrested, Lost…By the Giver

I’ve watched a lot of heartbreak in the last few weeks. It makes me feel almost guilty to say that, because it hasn’t been my loss. No, I’ve felt pain as a ricochet, a blow bounced back, only slightly less forceful. I have watched loss strike violently at the hearts of my friends and I wonder if my comfort is sufficient or cheap.

Two have lost babies before birth. One knows her husband likely won’t be there to kiss her on January 1, 2015. Another lost her best buddy, a pup she’d loved from before she found her own husband. One buried a treasured aunt.

What do you say to loss when you cannot literally sidle up alongside and bear the brunt of it with the loved one pained?

You pray.

Unfortunately, even in Christian society, maybe especially in Christian society, that assurance has lost its power. It comes across as weak, timid, cursory and half-hearted. It’s the same feeling of resignation that births the statement, “I’ve done all I can. All that’s left is to pray.”

But this post isn’t intended to resurrect your passion for prayer, your conviction that it is the single most important, effective thing you can do for loved ones in pain, in the throes or on the precipice of loss. (Though it is.) If a renewed respect for prayer is a side effect of my words, may God receive glory.

No, this post is my own reflection on loss. It’s what I hope I recall the next time a beloved is wrenched from my hands.

Job 1:21 says, “…“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I wonder about God taking away. In truth, there’s a vast difference between something being lost or stolen, and something being gently tugged from clutching fingers by a loving Father.

When I was little, I recall my sister getting into the medicine cabinet. After watching Mom dole out vitamin C tablets to her older siblings, she wondered about the orange-colored “candy”. Why couldn’t she have some?

So, this little one climbed up on the counter, popped the child-proof cap and downed the rest of the bottle. When Mom found her, she was mauling the final “candies”. Hastily, Mom snatched the poison from little fingers. My sister cried.

The pain a child feels when a parent takes something away (even a bottle of vitamins–innately good but harmful for a child at that age) is when tiny fists grip it tightly and sting when the object is finally wrested away.

Though my experience of these recent pains is only an echo, I marvel at the strength bearing up my friends. I pause and take notice of their valor and humble submission to the God of “every good and perfect gift”.

It is vastly different to lose something, have it stolen or to understand, even welcome, the loving hands of a Father who takes it away.

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.

What the Hatmaker Said When She Interrupted Me

God keeps interrupting me.

It started with this appetizer last week. On top of that, having just moved to a new place and flexing my “get acquainted” muscles, I’m looking for the places to plug into my community where I can have an impact for Christ. Then, I was chosen to be one of 250 bloggers to receive an advanced review copy of Jen Hatmaker’s updated book, Interrupted. I was primed for Jen’s book, pondering and praying about God’s next move in my life.

For the next few weeks here on Predatory Lies, I’m going to plow through Jen’s book with you. By the time we’re done, you’re going to have to read it just to see if you agree with my revelations from it. (But that’s okay because through July 31, you can get a 20% discount on the book here. Oh, and I’ll be giving away a copy on Predatory Lies, too!)

I’m only a few chapters in right now, but let me tell you, Jen Hatmaker kept me up last night. No, not reading. I’m pretty good about turning the lights out at a reasonable hour even when I’m reading a great book. But she got under my skin; she kept me awake pondering whether or not I’ve totally missed God, if all my attempts to follow Him, to work out my salvation, to hone my vocation and use my little life for His glory—whether I’d gotten it all wrong.

Here’s Jen’s first epiphany: “And from the heights of heaven, this is what I heard: ‘You do feed souls, but twenty-four thousand of my sheep will die to day because no one fed their bellies; eighteen thousand of them are my youngest lambs, starving today in a world with plenty of food to go around.’”

Gut punch.

Jen follows that excerpt from her conversation with Christ with dozens of statistics. It’s heart-rending. Honestly, the statistics have always been available, but most of us have learned to scan over them when we see them in print, or change the channel when the Compassion International commercial comes on, or squirm in our seats when they take a special collection for missionaries in Uganda.

Before you squirm now and bail on me, take heart, I’m going to take a different spin on Jen’s message. Yes, she kept me awake, but it wasn’t God leaning into my heart saying, “You’re not doing enough.”

I wrestled all night, “God what do you want from me? Where am I supposed to go, what am I supposed to do? Is all my Christianity filthy to you because I’m not on my knees cleaning a leper’s sores in India?”

No.

(I know I’m kind of all over the board right now, but bear with me.)

Jen’s right and I’m not wrong. I’m not averting my gaze from her statistics and I’m not going to quit reading the book because it makes me uncomfortable. In fact, I’m going to change my prayer life, increase my financial giving and take brutal inventory of my excess. I’m making a commitment today not to buy anything else this year that is not consumable—no new clothes, dishes or decorations. I am committing before God not to live in blissful ignorance of the needs of God’s global, precious image-bearers.

But God hasn’t called everyone to take up Jen Hatmaker’s mission. God hasn’t called every Christian to march under her banner.

A couple years ago, God wouldn’t let me out from under James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

About that time, He opened doors from Brave and I to become a certified pet therapy team and we’ve been visiting the sick, elderly and lonely. I am passionate about this. It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s boring or frustrating trying to carry on an encouraging conversation with someone on the brink of senility or trying to appear interested when a lonely child won’t stop talking, or pretending I don’t notice a disfigurement, an ugly wound or the dirty hand gripping mine. But I know that I know this is what God has given me to do—and He’s given me a passion for it as well.

Additionally, God has opened doors wider than I ever thought imaginable to speak hope and healing into the lives of several girls pinned down under the weighty lies of an eating disorder. This is brings me joy, challenges me and affects my heart. This too keeps me on my knees asking God for wisdom, words and grace.

Summation? Jen’s book is going to cost me some sleep. She’s awaking my heart to a deeper level of need that I’ve either been unaware of or not wanted to acknowledge. However, her clarion call will press me deeper into my own calling to serve the least of these, dig my hands deeper into the soil of my own mission field and follow the Servant-Savior wherever He leads.

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A Reason for Lost

This morning, I sat wordless before the Father. Don’t you hate it sunset-harbour-2-1016736-mwhen that happens? You’re supposed to be praying and all of sudden (or maybe not so suddenly, maybe it feels chronic) there’s just nothing to say? That was today.

But recently, I read @BlumLee on her fabulous site http://www.leewolfeblum.com and one little phrase lodged in my memory. She said something about writing from her subconscious. So, even though I was praying, I tried to let my mind go to what I was not thinking. I mean, after all, God knows all that anyway…right?

###

There’s a weakening in me.

Like a rope washed and weathered by sun and salt.

Its life work about to pitch mercilessly on high seas, the familiar dock and droppings, fragrant with fish and stagnant air–

All safety far behind.

I wonder, how long it will hold together at all?

I wonder at those boats I’ve seen loose from tether in the distance.
What do they do–Wild and loose?
Is it frightening everyday?
What currents and rough winds await?
Will I ever return?

I feel about and nearly.
I float on almost and possibly.

There can be no assurance, wild upon those waves!

What of all I’ve so long feared?
Lost, a drifter, no purpose or destination,
No identifying flag.
Or pirates and mercenaries to scavenge me for waste?

Primitive, small, sunk low.
But here I find at once I’m loose, and at loss, and quite lost.
But I’ve been drifting slowly now,
‘Neath rise and sunset for a time.
A bit more weathered, not worse for wear.

But maybe stronger.
Certainly braver.
No storm has torn assunder.
I’ve no sail to rip.

And out here, the droppings miss me, a scent of salt and singular freedom.
The air awash with wind and wild blue.
I’ve even begun to see the others,
I’m not alone out here.

So many must have lost their lines.
Wayward a few, crosswise against the tide.
Fighting for float.

I would have kept away,
Far safe from their troubled wakes,
Dodging waves in a cove.
But the cries became so loud!

Fear a wretched sound,
A boat near sinking, a life near death,
Facing the one thing that would make it all it’s not–
Not a boat, not afloat, not alive.

I found a coil.
Neglected since I left the dock.
Warily, I wafted toward the distressed, and threw the line.

Not much, this little rope.
And I feared it would break.

Who am I? And what are my good intentions?
Lost, fueled by an invisible tide.

When my line reached her,
The wind began to blow.
And ushered with solemnity and solidarity
Our two hearts toward harbor.

When I read this poem later, I saw my purpose in those lines, my passion. God is using my once-lostness, my once-fearful, my once-dying to rescue others.

I pray especially, that anyone who reads my book finds hope and  healing. #ThePredatoryLiesofAnorexia

Buy the book here…

Prove It, God

dried-flower-721462-mI wouldn’t have even seen her, she was so frail, but for the blood curdling scream that rent the air.

My dog and I had just arrived at the pediatrics floor of the local hospital for therapy visits. Ashana, (I don’t know her real name for confidentiality purposes) was just leaving and stood at the elevator with her mother around the corner from me. The doors yawned, they stepped inside and she was gone. I found out later from the nurses that four-year-old Ashana is terrified of dogs, butt as our conversation progressed I learned a little bit more.

Ashana has cancer. They found it when she was two. For the last two years, she has spent ten days a month in the hospital receiving treatments.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard her cry like that,” one of the nurses said. “It happens almost every time she leaves. She loves it here. But if you think about it, this hospital will probably be most of what she remembers of her early years. It’s like a second home to her.”

I pictured that tiny little girl and her mother. Talk about a trial, a refiner’s fire.

When someone is in the middle of those flames, the worst thing you can say is something like, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or, “God is working in you. You’ll come out of this much stronger on the other side.”

But that’s what we think isn’t it? We imagine that God crafts our personal struggles to test our faith. But maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe, God allows struggles and pain in our lives to prove HIS faithfulness, not to test ours.

Remember the story of Elijah running for his life in 1 Kings 19? The wicked Queen Jezebel was massacring the Lord’s prophets and was gunning for Elijah. The prophet ran and hid in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. He was so miserable and lonely that he told God he would rather die.  But God sent birds to feed Elijah; He even came personally and allowed Elijah to glimpse His glory.

Elijah’s experience in the wilderness did not prove his faithfulness. In fact, it proved his weakness—He felt hopeless and wanted to die. The experience didn’t make him stronger, Elijah was not suddenly a mightier man of God than he had been before. Instead, those moments in the wilderness proved that God was faithful; in the middle of that trial, God proved that He was strong enough, able enough to care for Elijah when all else seemed lost.

Romans 5:3-5, urges us to find joy even in the middle of our pain: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Did you notice that Paul doesn’t say, “suffering makes you stronger”? Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance means, “determination for a course of action, purpose”. (dictionary.com)

In our pain and suffering God proves His faithfulness; He proves His strength in the midst of our weakness. It is there, we see His faithfulness and understand that He is able to care for us no matter the situation.

You Can See Jesus Better Because You’re Broken

Sandwiched between stories of resurrections, supernatural healings and a man who walked on water and turned water to wine is a little, not-so-miraculous story. But for those of us with deformities, handicaps, broken hearts, addictions and sundry shortcomings, the story of Zacchaeus has a more miraculous message than perhaps we give it credit for.Zacchaeus was a wee little man; you remember the Sunday school song. A man despised by his Hebrew community for his greedy allegiance to the Romans as a tax collector. One afternoon, Jesus came into his town. As always, Jesus was surrounded by a mob of the curious, suspicious and incredulous. Perhaps simply out of his own curiosity, Zacchaeus longed to see Jesus, too. But his measly stature afforded him only the view of other men’s backsides.So Zacchaeus lay aside his pride and climbed a sycamore tree that extended its branches over the path Jesus was traveling. There, he beheld Jesus from a distance. Zacchaeus’s disadvantage became the very thing that drove him up a tree to seek Jesus. His weakness compelled him to go to great lengths to see the man some had begun to call Messiah.But Zacchaeus could only see Jesus from a distance. Branches loomed and swayed through his vision and he had a hard time keeping track of Jesus for the crowd. Suddenly, Jesus looked up and caught sight of the tiny man in a tree and called out, “Zacchaeus, come down! For today I must stay at your house.”

Zacchaeus carefully descended the tree, the crowd parted and before he knew it, he found himself close enough to touch the miracle man.

Do you sometimes believe that your shortcomings, addictions, sins, failures, handicaps and deformities keep you from seeing, let alone being seen by God? Like Zacchaeus’s height, they have that potential. But also like Zacchaeus’s height, the awareness of your brokenness can drive you to seek Jesus. The beauty of the story is that God did not settle for giving Zacchaeus a glimpse of his Savior, but turned His sovereign eyes upon this little man and called him to Himself.

Lest you think that it was mere accident that Zacchaeus was short and that he took it upon himself to seek Jesus, remember that Jesus is also the Creator. He was the one who selected Zacchaeus’s exact measurements and planned to use them for His glory and Zacchaeus’s salvation.

Do not despise your weaknesses. Do not resign yourself to a distant view of your Savior. But let your brokenness be the catalyst that drives you to great lengths and tremendous heights to find Him. The Bible says that when we seek Him, we will find Him, and that He is not far from any of us. So gather all your infirmities and scramble up the nearest tree. He will call you to Himself and come in and stay with you.

References for additional study: John 14:23, Luke 19, Jeremiah 29:13

Thanks for Aching

nail-993864-mFriends, a couple days ago I shared with you some of the frustrations and discouragement I’ve been facing in the course of my walk with Abba. It seems that when we’re smack in the center of His will we’re still not immune to setbacks. But this is the promise:

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thess. 5:16-24

There’s a process required if we would profit from pain,

From rejection and loss and more of the same.

When we’ve sought for God’s will and pleaded for answers,

When we’ve plumbed the depths and scaled the rafters.

When no answer comes and day waxes cold,

When we’re waiting, still waiting, our dreams growing old.

There’s a process required if we would profit from pain,

Against all our nature, against human grain.

To bow the knee and thank the King,

The Providence who could,

Revive our dreams, rebirth the old.

To bow the knee, sing thankful refrain

Grateful in the shadow and rain.

This the process to profit from pain.

This is His will, this precedes peace.

He is faithful, He will do it.

~Abby Kelly

Letter to a Friend

Recently, a new friend admitted to me that she has struggled with an eating disorder for many years. As we shared pieces of our stories, she asked a question that launched a mini-sermon in me. Don’t worry, I’m preaching to myself really! But as I clicked “send”, I realized just how much of my response encapsulated all that I’m learning about my eating disorder and recovery in the process of prayer and writing.

I want to share my letter with you.

Dear Friend, 

You asked about the “why”. Funny, I have thought about that a lot lately as I penned my book and prayed and relived all those years of my own eating disorder. And yes, I’ve come to a conclusion. 

 
The treatment community spends an exorbitant amount of time trying to unearth our issues, figure out what made this happen. We say that we aren’t “blaming” anyone, but that family dynamics, abuse and a plethora of other things must have all combined to make this happen. Exactly as you said though, “Why not everyone?”
 
My sisters grew up in the same household and under the same parents that I did, in the same communities. Personally, I don’t have a history of abuse to blame my issues on. I have a fairly perfectionistic father (toward himself more than toward anyone else) and at time I believed he loved my sister, Jennifer, more than me. And, Jennifer was incredibly talented and smart so I was jealous of her for years. But really? I don’t have a good reason. 
 
The more that I’ve prayed about it, I think the common treatment modality, “figure out the root and fix the underlying issues”, does us a huge disservice. I have really, really come to believe that my anorexia was nothing more than addiction and idolatry on my part. No, I’m not blaming myself either. I don’t believe there’s a “why” to be found or blame to be placed, at least not in all situations. 
 
It’s really no different than any other sin. It’s the way you and I chose to react to the circumstances and catalysts within a fallen world. Because we believe in Jesus as our Savior, our sin does not banish us from God or cause Him to hate us. So, I’m not saying that as we struggle with an eating disorder God is upset with us. Quite the contrary – and this where I get so excited!! – The pain of living in my sin, the pain of struggling with body image constantly, or starving myself or brutal workouts, the mental anguish of an eating disorder DROVE me to Jesus. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. It’s because as I was falling apart, He didn’t turn away, but reached out to me and loved me anyway (while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me).
 
Anorexia was what drove me to my knees before a loving Father. I can honestly say that I would not know Him like I do if I had not struggled. He might have used another issue, but He chose this one for me that I might seek the only one who could save me – not just from anorexia but from sin altogether. Does that make any sense?
 
We are stubborn creatures as humans. We will not naturally admit our need for a savior, so in order to open our eyes, humble our hearts and cause us to seek Him, sometimes God allows us to intimately feel the savagery of a sinful world. It is then that we know how much we need Him.
 
I hope that helps. Kinda got on a soapbox there, but I get so excited! 🙂
 
I’m just figuring all this out.

Irrelevant

If I fit nowhere
If I have no home or beloved
If I have no posterity
If I have no purpose or calling

If I fit nowhere
If like a missing puzzle piece
I lie lost and trampled on the floor
If I’m shuffled under shadow
forgotten and discarded
If I am wedged into painful places
or tossed useless in the box

If all my life seems forfeit
If I am irrelevant to a box-lid world
That sees beauty only by definition
This one thing will I recall
This one truth hold dear
Then this will secure the joy of all my life

That HE has claimed me.
That HE has done it.
And it is marvelous in my eyes.
Ps. 118:23

 

A Beautiful Wilderness

Most of us can be persuaded that there is some purpose in our pain. Trite, but well-meaning people quote Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good, for those that love God and are called according to His purpose.”

However, as I spiraled through loneliness, anorexia and depressions, I often wondered if I loved God enough for Him to plan good things for me. Perhaps, nothing could work out for me until I learned to express a more pure love for God.

In my pain, I kept making the same mistakes over and over and over. I chose other gods, gods of thinness, popularity, attention, perfection, admiration, fear and selfishness. My intentions became black and blue from abuse. Best laid plans of eating well tomorrow or moderating exercise were dashed with feeble strength. Every single day, I lied again, starved again.

Surely, God had banished me to this wilderness. I could see no avenues of hope, no yellow brick road leading out of my valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps it was simply time to follow the winding, ugly trail into faithless abyss and resignation.

However, I clung to a mirage that if I could by some strange means, clean myself up and present to God a hopeful situation, then He might help me.

“He withdrew to desolate places.”

Wait, you mean Jesus is here? Jesus is in a desolate place too? At least I’m in good company. So I sat down beside Jesus to recount my grievances. Maybe, just maybe, I could convince Him, with His good behavior, to plead my case before God. But, why was He here?

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:14

Wait, Jesus, you mean you led me here?

Jesus began to show me how many of His loved ones He had escorted into the wilderness so that it in the silence of a desolate place, they could hear His voice and see Him, unblinded by the chaos, glitter and glare of a seductive world. He spoke of Abraham and Joseph, Moses running from Pharaoh and becoming a shepherd, the nation of Israel, John the Baptist growing up in the wilderness, David fleeing from Saul, Elijah hiding from Jezebel, the disciples in Luke 9:12, Hagar as she prepared to watch Ishmael die and Jesus in His temptation. Jesus even taught in desolate places. (Mark 1:45)

“Do you see, Beloved? I brought you to the wilderness. Just like I was tempted in the wilderness, you have been too. And many, many times you have failed. But I did not. I redeemed every single one of  your failures in anorexia and faithlessness. And now, now you call me ‘My Husband.’ No longer do you call me ‘My Baal’ for all those old idols have been smashed. You no longer even remember their names. In the wilderness, I wed you to me. I betrothed you to me in righteousness and in justice and in steadfast love and in mercy and faithfulness. Now you know me!”

It’s true! In no other place could I have been stripped of all distractions. In no other place could I have so clearly heard His voice. In no other place but the wilderness would I have sat still enough to inhale His grandeur. In no other place could I have committed to Him with such abandon.

Oh my Lord! Other gods besides you have ruled over me, but your name alone I bring to remembrance. Is. 26:13

In the wilderness, I have heard you speak tenderly to me. And you have won my heart.