Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I almost cried at Staples today...

Truly it was a "first world problem" kind of moment. I had the whole thing planned. I was going to get paper for our two home printers and I wanted to pick up another pack of my new favorite pens. I had a printer ink refund card and a Staples reward for $10. I figured that if I got two packs of paper and one pack of pens, I would end up only having to pay $5 or $7 out of pocket. I got to the cash register and after the kind woman rang it all up, I handed her the refund card and she scanned it. Then I showed her my refund email coupon - and she said that she couldn't scan it because those coupons have to scanned first. They cannot accept coupons after gift cards. She called the manager over and I heard the same lame story. The manager said she could void the entire transaction and start again - but with the line growing behind me and the tears building up in my eyes, I said, "Never mind. I will use the coupon some other time." Crap!

As I walked to my car, with tears brimming, I asked myself, "Why are you so emotional about something so simple? What's really bothering you? It's certainly not two packs of paper and a pack of pens. So what is it?"

I've been feeling a deep feeling of loneliness lately. Of sadness. Of sorrow. As much as I like to focus on gratitude and joy and happiness and peace, there are times when my tears just need to flow. The reasons that I cry vary. The times when I cry vary. The triggers for my crying vary. Some days I need a good cry. Today is one of those days.

I saw a little boy riding a scooter yesterday and on the back of his tee shirt was an oval with a fish in it. The message had something to do with swimming for a cure for kanswer. It said, "Keep swimming, Mia." Crap - another kid fighting for her life against this dreadful disease. When will this kanswer madness end?

Listening to NPR stories about the ebola outbreak in Africa, unrest and violence in Ukraine, elections in Egypt, and in Europe, the account of the man who shot and killed people because he couldn't understand why women didn't want to sleep with him, the man who did exactly the same thing a few hours later, the fact that thousands of people will say that guns aren't the problem and there shouldn't be any laws restricting the purchase or carrying of guns, the men who showed up at a Chipotle restaurant carry AK 47 rifles, another mudslide with loss of life, wildfires out west, those schoolgirls who are still missing, still under the control of their kidnappers, hundreds of thousands of lives lost in wars over the years - and not only American lives, one of my neighbors lost her job, a dear friend isn't sure if her child will be able to graduate from high school... the list of sorrows and heartbreaks is long and getting longer every day.

Two old hymns come to mind.

I must tell Jesus all of my trials. I cannot bear these burdens alone.
In my distress, he kindly will help me. He ever loves and cares for his own.
I must tell Jesus all of my troubles. He is a kind and compassionate friend.
If I but ask him, he will deliver and make of my troubles quickly an end.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.
Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear
all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

I used to think that if I prayed then everything would be okay. All my problems would be solved. I would be healed. Everything that bothered me would disappear. And all I had to do was pray. Of course, I had to find the right words, pick the right Bible verses to quote back to God - because God always responds to the quoting of His Word. If I asked in the right way with the right tone of voice the right number of times, then I would get what I wanted. The bad news is that I never figured out the right pattern in order to get God to answer "yes" to all my prayers. The good news is that I never figured out the right pattern in order to get God to answer "yes" to all my prayers. The best news is that I have learned that prayer is about opening myself to God, to God's will, to God's direction and wisdom. Prayer is about talking to God and listening to God. It's not about getting God to give me whatever I want whenever I ask. I can testify that there are things I have prayed for and received that I wish I hadn't gotten... but that's a-whole-nother discussion for a different time.

Two days ago, I listened to both of the hymns I quoted here, songs I have sung since I was a young child, songs I memorized before I was ten years old. But this time, I heard them differently. It's not that all my troubles will go away when I tell Jesus. What will happen is that Jesus will help me. Jesus will love me and care for me. I will no longer bear these burdens alone. So much needless grief and sadness, so much heavy lifting that I try to do on my own, so much forfeited peace and rest and joy. Truly Jesus is the kindest and most compassionate friend, the most loyal and ever-present friend I've ever had. But I must admit that I wish Jesus would bring more of my troubles, first world though they often are, quickly to an end.

After leaving Staples, I got into my car and drove towards the supermarket, which was my next stop. I spent those seven or eight minutes telling God how pissed off I was about the coupon fiasco, natural disasters, kidnapping, gun violence, mental illness, overpriced medical procedures, loneliness, and unfulfilling relationships. I told God that I wanted a break from the usual disappointments and a glimpse of something brighter and happier and more fulfilling. (I also realized that I should have told that cashier to take the pack of pens off my total and then had her ring it up on a separate order and paid with the coupon. Truthfully, I shouldn't have bought the pens at all.)

God's amazing grace showed up in how much better I felt after that heart-opening eight minute car ride. God's grace showed up in the bounty of fresh corn and watermelon and salad greens and bananas and other colorful, healthful goodies I picked up at Harris Teeter. God's grace showed up in the simple joy of seeing that someone else had emptied the dishwasher this morning while I was out running errands. God's grace showed up in the chapters I read from Furious Pursuit - Why God Will Never Let You Go. Boy, oh boy, have I needed this book in my life over the past week or so. No one can be reminded too often that they are loved and being furiously, relentlessly pursued - certainly I don't hear it enough.

God's grace shows up in the midst of my tears too, in my anger, in my loneliness, and in my sorrow too. God's grace shows up in the reminders that I am loved, that I am chosen, that I am being faithfully and fiercely pursued, that even when I feel most neglected and lonely, I am never alone. The same is true for you and for everyone everywhere.

I almost cried at Staples today. I have been crying as I've typed this post. And I'm sure I will cry several more times today and this week. There is so much sorrow in the world, in my family, and in me. Crying often makes sense in this wounded and broken world.

But there is beauty as well, and justice and peace and joy and love and grace and mercy and compassion. I'm sure I will weep over that is well.

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