Inciting Incidents: Best book for long days, tough years, hard seasons

“Inciting” comes from the Latin word incitare which means “to put into rapid motion, urge, encourage, and stimulate.”

In the 21st century, most of us already feel like our lives are on a crash course with reality. We slip through our days almost in a catatonic state, doing all the things we must do, need to do, are expected to do and keep pace with the world’s mandate to produce. Someday, inevitably, the wind beneath our sails will cease and stimulate our rapid fall into “real life.”

Inciting Incidents, is a collection of those moments in the lives of six people. It’s a thin, un-intimidating book. Each author’s story is only a blip on the timeline of their lives, but it is that blip gives us common ground. If there is anything that every human shares it is the eye opening experience of pain. Sometimes that pain is our own, sometimes it is the observation of pain with such intensity that it becomes our own.

Each of the six stories is written in first person. Jeff Goins, tells of being Wrecked , by an unscheduled introduction to poverty and homelessness.

Mandy Thompson, is honest when she describes depression as a gift. Through it, she discovered God’s imprint of creativity on her life. “[And] I am determined to make something beautiful out of my messy life. It’s the best way I know to say thank you to the One who gave me these inner wars and gives me the strength to keep fighting and creating through them.” (pg. 49)51xcIh9OEtL._SL110_

Blain Hogan, leads the reader into the terrifying experience of a panic attack. Pastor David Hickman gives voice to everyone who knows the strangling grip of the pressure to perform. Tracee Persiko admits that even as she offers biblical counsel to others, she still feels the pain of her own family trauma. And David Wenzel manages to sprinkle humor throughout his story of the discovery of and living with an inoperable brain tumor.

There is hardly a human emotion that is not addressed with gentle empathy in this small book. It left me feeling as if I had just shared an intimate cup of coffee with the author, held their hand and cried a while. I want to know more about their now tangible lives.

It is impossible to be critical of Inciting Incidents. There are no under-developed characters, because no one tells a story like his own. There are no weak plots, for truth is more engaging than fiction. The pages turn only to offer comfort, the silence of a good friend and the assurance that we are not alone.

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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.

 

Missing Beauty

Like a child at Christmas

New to a world of unbridled joy

Toys and gifts unshelved and labeled just for me

Scantily wrapped in bows to entice

And to celebrate the more beautiful giver

With an eye to Glory and Grace.

 

But I ran through the piles,

Stepped on a few.

Past love and peace and a new set of eyes.

Past my new heart and a clean mind.

I reached for the lowest branch,

And plucked an eye catching bauble.

As I turned the plastic charm around in my palm

Narcissus, I boasted in my glossy reflection.

Oh the prize of this cheap decor.

 

But a hook skewered my finger

Biting my pink, immature flesh

It held and my blood dripped upon

The beautiful gifts meant for me.

From Cheers to Tears

Funny how quickly we can go from cheers to tears.

This afternoon, some girl friends and I embarked on a teaching series by Mark Gungor, called Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage. I’ve written on that here before, but if you missed it, just click on the tags related to this post.

We picked this teaching series because there’s no homework and life is crazy at the start of the school year; and because no matter what we’re discussing, we always gravitate back to marriage issues. I don’t suppose that’s surprising. Our husbands are the single most influential persons in each of our lives – for better or worse. Right?

Mark Gungor is hilarious. His accurate and exaggerated portrayals of his and her’s brains kept all of us in stitches. However, within 15 minutes of ending the video, one of my closest friends was nearing tears. The beauty of it, is that she’s one of those super-women who leads and coaches and strengthens and mentors, but never needs.

She whispered, “I haven’t been able to cry for weeks.”

I think it’s easier to hurt than to watch a loved one hurt. When I see someone I cherish whimper in pain, I see no privilege in it. There’s rarely beauty in the creases of their eyes or the way their chin tugs when they cry. But then she said something else.

“I have never had someone else to reach out to in order to get my needs met. I’ve always been the coach, the mentor.”

She’s also been the mom, the wife, the professional coach, the teacher. And it’s here where I think our roads cross. I think this loved one is walking a similar path to my own. (Hmmm, we’ve done that before.) 🙂

You see, I’m the oldest. I’ve also been the FRG leader, the team captain, the manager, the Bible study leader, the financial manager, “household six” in Army lingo. For most of my life, someone has looked up to me. For most of my life, I’ve been praised for my leadership skills and my charisma. Believe me, I’m not tooting my own horn. These generous accolades have not always benefited me.

I only recently discovered what I believe lay at the root of my eating disorder. Needlessness. Does that sound crazy? Is anyone really needless? Anyway, what do the privilege of pain and needlessness have to do with each other?

Ruth Graham wrote a book called In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart. I recently read an interview with her.

This is a long excerpt from the interview, but worth the read:

RUTH GRAHAM: Sometimes I think we miss the most obvious example of suffering – the crucifixion. I believe that suffering strips us of self-sufficiency and we learn that we can’t go it alone. And it makes us rely on God. Of course, the more we rely on God, the more we find that He is trustworthy. And the more we find that He is trustworthy, the more we trust Him. And I know that God doesn’t delight in pain, but I know that pain is where growth takes place. And if we are to know the deep things of God, I think very often it is taught in suffering.

ELLIOTT: This idea of self-sufficiency that you mention is interesting. It is often our tendency as humans to try to cover up our problems because we don’t want people to know what we are dealing with. Why is that the wrong thing to do?

GRAHAM: Well covering up our pains, our faults, and our mistakes only isolates us more. I have found that as I have shared my faults and failures it’s as if I’m giving permission to others to share theirs with me. And I believe that’s where real ministry takes place, when there’s a real communication on the deeper level. And I think when we take our masks off, we enable each other to communicate on a deeper level.

I can’t speak for my friend, but I surmise we’re learning the same thing. I’m not needless. And the beauty of being needy is that it makes me more aware of my Jesus’ nearness.

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.

 

Ultimate Pain

Privileged Pain.

Privileged pain might mean that no matter how well-off one is, how wealthy or comfortable or perfect the family – pain plays no favorites. Or, Privileged Pain might explain the ultimate, beautiful outcome that suffering has the potential to produce.

Just mulling these thoughts over, I considered the polishing of a pearl, the rain before a rainbow, the pressing of a grape and the squeezing of citrus. Most of those are not new metaphors but true nonetheless and sometimes we forget the most common affirmations of difficult truths.

I think one thing that suffering accomplishes is to kill any remnants of dead religion that sometimes cling to Christ followers. I heard of a book that I’m dying to read, Jesus Hates Dead Religion, by Eric Metaxas. This book follows on the heals of his New York Times bestseller, Bonhoeffer. Both books have been added to my Kindle’s to-do list.

No one can testify to the privilege of pain as can a martyr. Bonhoeffer died for his faith – he was certain that the weight of glory prepared for him was greater than any momentary suffering. I want to endure like that!

As to the other book, James says that faith without works is dead. If Jesus truly hates dead religion, then the effectual proof of my faith must be a consistent growth in Christ-likeness. And if pain slays nothing else, it will slay dead religion. It will destroy the trappings of false charity, disguised pride and shallow empathy.

Faith and religion are not the same thing. Sometimes they are bitter enemies. Think of Jesus, and then think of the Pharisees. Think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and then the German religious establishment enslaved to Hitler and the Führer principle. Think of William Wilberforce, and then his complacent countrymen, piously permitting the traffic of people whose skin was darker than their own. Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce stood against the evil of their times, evil so easily peddled as religious. Will we do the same?

This is a Bonhoeffer moment, as Eric Metaxas says. Modern culture offers us comfort, distraction, even piety to keep us from a living faith in the God of the universe. But Metaxas’s rousing message calls readers to follow in the steps of men like Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, godly men who lived the gospel instead of following the path of dead religion to the approval of their respective societies.

Real prayer is only possible with living faith. And living faith is the only kind that can be used by God for transformative change in our world. But dead religion is a deceptive substitute. Jesus came to deliver people from dead religion. Let’s not be its defenders. – Amazon book description of Jesus Hates Dead Religion

Whether or not the day ever comes that I will be asked to suffer the ultimate pain for Jesus, I want to have such a living, vital, ready-to-die faith, that I can stand next to Bonhoeffer and James in heaven.

Problem or Privilege?

“The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.”

“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself”      C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

But let’s forget the Problem of Pain, because I have been impressed upon to consider the Privilege of Pain. God began to bring this to my attention as I began studying Chazown.  Then, He deepened my curiosity toward this subject when He chose Beth Moore’s study on James for my focus this summer.

“Count it all JOY my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be PERFECT, COMPLETE, LACKING IN NOTHING.” James 1:2-4

This morning, I was listening, as I often do, to In the Market With Janet Parshall and stumbled upon yet another conversation with Shannon Royce, the founder of ChosenFamilies.org. Shannon is herself the mother of a child with autism. She founded Chosen Families to support and encourage those with family members who have some kind of disability that isn’t immediately obvious to the watching world, such as autism and certain autoimmune deficiencies.

I almost switched to a different program, believing that I’d heard most of what Shannon had to share before. But then she said something that fits so perfectly with our Wednesday conversations this month, that I had to share with you:

“I believe that pain is a vote of God’s confidence.”

What of that? What if one of the privileges of pain is that our Father trusts us to make a startling, Christ-worthy impact on the watching world? What if God knows that as He perfects and completes you, just the right people will take notice and when it’s their turn to deal with pain, they will suddenly recognize that Jesus is the resource and sustenance that makes life possible and eternity real.

That would truly be a privilege.

Give It to God?

How many times has some well-meaning Christian friend or advisor told you that?

You can’t control it, so just let it go. Trust God. He’ll handle it.

Does that rankle your nerves as it does mine? I hate being told that, and I hate hearing that seeming cliche come out of my mouth to another believer.

It’s a common response to a painful situation that we don’t know what to do with. When someone we know is forging through the aftermath of a senseless loss, trying to survive a betrayal or struggling to overcome a recurring sin, we often don’t know what to suggest. That’s because we are as fallible as they are. We are as fragile as they are. Even if we have crossed that particular bridge before, replaying our story and offering our solution often comes out with an air of superiority or false empathy.

Recently, I sat across the table from a gentle mentor who said no such thing. In fact, I am amazed that she sat with me for nearly two hours, listened intently  to my pain, watched my public display of agony and never once said, “Oh, I’ve been there too. I know exactly how you feel.” It was after those soothing hours of verbally releasing my hurt that I told my journal, “I think I finally know what it feels like to ‘give it to God.'”

 It’s like flipping the latch on my own cage. I had been chained to stare at my pain. Like a canary in a tiny cage, able only to watch the cat threaten and mock him. All along, the vulnerable little bird had the power to flip the latch and not only avoid the anguish of mediating upon his impending doom, but to fly away to safety. When he discovered that latch and flipped the lever, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, the pain could now leap with even greater possibility at his feet. But also, he now had the indisputable power to fly higher and farther away than the pain could ever reach.