Friday, April 22, 2016

Waiting in hope

Isaiah 40:29-31 has been on my mind a lot this week.
"God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord (they that wait upon the Lord)
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."

I am weary. I am weak.
I am tired. I am exhausted.
Did I mention that I'm feel a little worn out?
With one exception, I haven't gotten more than four hours of sleep in a single night in two weeks. 
I love my bed. I love to sleep.
But one of life's uninvited challenges has kept me out of my bed these past two weeks.
(I know all of this has been a little cryptic of late, but I must respect the privacy of someone dear to me, someone who will get to tell their version of the story their way.)


Late nights. Sleepless nights. Early rising in the morning. 
On duty, vigilant, all day long. All night long.

But somehow, Somehow, my strength has been renewed every day.
I haven't fallen asleep while driving.
I haven't fallen asleep while writing in my journal.
Or while cooking or even while watching mindless television to pass the hours.

I have had the strength to love my loved ones.
To listen to them. To look into their eyes with prayer rolling through my mind.
I have had the strength to cook and clean - when I am not gratefully serving the meals that dear friends have provided for us.
I have had the strength and energy to walk and jog and do some yoga - more than I could have imagined considering the extent of my ongoing sleep deprivation.
I have been able to talk to beloved ones on the phone, 
to respond to emails and texts and WhatsApp messages from places far and near.
I have felt the prayers and good thoughts of friends and family sustaining me.
Sustaining us. 
I feel it.
In my weary bones, in my wounded spirit, in my deepening faith.

I am tired.
But also renewed. 
Lifted up.

In Spanish, the word for "wait" is the same as the word for "hope" - esperar. 
Waiting to see how God is going to work all this out.
Hoping for resolution, relief, and a reprieve soon.
Waiting and hoping.
Hoping and waiting.

I wait for healing.
I hope for healing.
I wait for peace.
I hope for peace.
I wait for tenderness.
I hope for tenderness.
If I don't yet have it, I hope for it.
When I hope for it, I wait for it.
When I lose hope, I wait.
When I lose the patience to wait, I hope.

Hope and wait. 
Weak and strong.
Confident and confused.
Exhausted and energized.
At the same time.

Waiting in hope.
Hoping as I wait.
Finding reasons to be grateful even in the waiting.
Thanks be to God.

I Have a Hope
by Tommy Walker

This song has sustained me in dark times, in difficult times, since November 2008.

PS. Thank you for your notes and emails of encouragement. 
Thank you for your prayers and candle lightings. 
Thank you for your texts and emails and cards in the mail.
Thank you for the meals and the invitations.
Thank you for being so honest with me about the burdens that you too are carrying.
After all, everybody has got something. Everybody. Without exception.

This life thing - it is no joke. 
Sometimes life is fun and sometimes it is funny.
More than sometimes, actually. 
But it is no joke.
Together, let us keep the faith, bear one another's burdens, and laugh whenever we can. 

Know that I am waiting and praying with increasingly strong hope here in Charlotte.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Really, Lord? Really?

Not long ago, I reread one of my favorite Bible verses. Then I flipped a few books back and read two more of my favorite verses. Here they are:

In John 16:33, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples not long before he was arrested and executed -
"I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Paul wrote this to other followers of Christ in Philippians 4:6-7 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Really, Lord? Really?

In you, I can have peace? I need some peace right now. Deep peace. The kind of peace Paul wrote about in Philippians, the kind of peace that transcends all understanding.

Cuz right now, I don't understand a whole lot. I don't understand why the suffering continues. I don't understand why the pain continues. I don't understand.

And I'm almost all out of peace. Any kind of peace. The deep kind and the shallow kind.

I am reminded of the scene in the movie, "The Apostle," where Robert Duvall's character is up late one night praying, praying so loudly that the neighbors call to complain about the noise. One line he repeats is one that I've been repeating a lot lately: "Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace. Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace."

Lord, right now, I beg of you, please: "Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace."

You were certainly right when you said that in this world, we would have trouble.
So much trouble. War. Violence. Abuse.
Addiction. Disease. Mental illness.
Loss. Grief.
Crime. Injustice.
Sleepless nights worrying about any and all of the above and so much more.
Trouble that begets more trouble.

I know there are a lot of people who say, "Trouble don't last for always,"
but sometimes it feels like always, like forever.
These past eight weeks have felt like forever.
Can you please grant us peace, a break from the trouble, from the pain, from the suffering?

I know, I know. Some people, a whole lot of people have it worse than we do.
I know that's true - but this still sucks. This is still deep trouble for us.

One of my pastors recently told me about a seminary professor who talked to the class about
Psalm 13.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," 
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love,
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.

My pastor said that the professor said - that space in between verses 4 and 5, that space that you see between the words "fall" and "But" - we don't know how long it took the psalmist to get from verse 4 to verse 5. We don't know how long it took to go from almost wishing for death to trusting in God's unfailing love again.

Two weeks ago today, I preached a sermon at church called, "A Yet Praise." I based it on a passage from the third chapter of the book written by the prophet Habbakuk.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen 
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Though trouble seems to be lasting far too long,
though she struggles with opposition to her leadership,
though he struggles with temptation to be unfaithful,
though they are on the brink of divorce,
though their child was shot and killed by a madman,
though my heart breaks every day and every night watching her suffer,
even in the face of all of that,
the prophet says, "I will yet praise God."
I will find ways and reasons and means to offer "a yet praise."

I am not gonna lie - this praise thing isn't easy right now.
This "being anxious for nothing" thing is the hardest thing I've tried to do in years.
Literally in years.
This is harder than when I was dealing with kanswer.
And kanswer is hard. Kanswer sucks.

I find myself asking over and over: "Really, Lord? Really? Again? Again???"

I go back to the beginning and reread those verses and I am reminded:
"Take heart! I have overcome the world."

Really, Lord? Really?
You have overcome it all???
Violence and fear and hatred and prejudice and death and mental illness too?
You have overcome it all?

I go back and reread them again - offer thanksgiving in everything?
be anxious for nothing?

Really, Lord? Really?

Somewhere in there I get the impression that the promised peace isn't tied to the answers to my requests. In fact, there is no mention in that Philippians passage about answers. It simply tells me to present my requests - with thanksgiving. Then the transcendent peace will guard my heart and mind in you, Lord God Jesus.

Bring it on - please.
You know I have presented my requests.
I've left out the thanksgiving part a lot these days.
Gotta go back to being thankful - even in the midst of this.
Even in the darkest valley with all the shadows of death.
The death of dreams. The death of quietness and calm. The death of ease and simplicity.
The death of so much of what I had hoped for.
Even now, even here, in this terrible place - I can, I must find reasons to be thankful.

(Thank you for health insurance and doctors who listen.
Thank you for friends who talk and text and pray.
Thank you for food and water and heat and air conditioning.
Thank you for gas stations and post offices and public libraries.
Thank you for pens, colored pencils, and journals.
Thank you for eye glasses and hearing aids.
Thank you for music and movies.
Thank you for Law and Order marathons.
Thank you for seminary - the classes, my classmates, and professors.
Thank you for my bed and my pillow and my comforter.
Thank you for wine and port and pineapple martinis.
Thank you thank you thank you.)

And now I'm gonna hold you to your promise, Sweet Jesus.
Cuz you promised peace. To give peace. To be peace.
Please. Please. Please. Please.

"Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace."

And not just to me alone.
To the one in the difficult meeting right now.
To the one in the difficult relationship.
To the one in the refugee camp.
To the one in jail.
To the one in the hospital.
To the one in the welfare hotel.
We all need your peace, Lord.
Every single one of us.
We beg. We plead. We beseech you.

Give it to us, give it to us, give it to us, give us peace.

Half an hour later - I was advised to take a few deep breaths.
To not take it all so seriously.
There is humor and joy available.
So I'm gonna avail myself of some of both of the above.
Please don't worry about me - I'm okay.
Truly I am.
All is well. All shall be well.
Breathing deeply.
Feeling better already.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Thankful Monday

Sometimes I have to give thanks on Mondays too.
Today I am thankful for -

* the sunshine on this gorgeous spring day
* flowers and trees in bloom
* a long walk and jog before the heat of the day
* seeing light stream into places that used to be dark
* a delicious and decadent dinner provided for our family tonight
* all the dear ones who have walked with us, prayed with us, and brought us dinner
* the simple pleasure of watching television with my dearly beloved daughter
* rotisserie chicken, cresecent rolls, cream cheese, butter - and the promise of learning how to mix them all together to create "chicken squares" with my neighbor - who is a gourmet cook
* clementines
* UNC Chapel Hill men's basketball team playing in the NCAA final game tonight (Go HEELS!!!)
* finishing my second semester of seminary
* completing the papers and projects required
* connecting with both professors and feeling heard deeply and seen thoughtfully by both of them
* being able to share my stories and photos from my kanswer journey with someone else who is on a similar journey (praying for you, M)
* being about to share our stories and experiences with someone else on a challenging journey with her child (praying for you, A)
* having the chance to preach at my church
* the friends who came to listen and support me and give me big hugs when the service ended
* traveling to Israel with friends from my church - vicariously
* beginning to plan an escape or two of my own - that won't be vicarious!
* yerba mate tea in my favorite mug
* a double batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies to dip into my tea
* watching a resurrection miracle over Easter weekend - a loved one raised from her sick bed
* returning to the best barber I've ever had - after months of trying to find a replacement
* a family therapy session this evening - so much to talk about, so much to reflect on, so much to be thankful for
* eating through my secret stash of my favorite Kind Bars - and then learning that they are on sale again at a nearby health food store (time to restock!)
* green juice made at home - romaine, apples, mint leaves, lemons, clementines, and carrots
* a new journal with a sheaf of empty pages that I get to fill
* being able to refer to old journals for recipes and ticket stubs and sermon notes and detailed accounts of both sorrows and joys gone by
* swedish fish and Starburst jelly beans at Easter time
* prayer, with friends, with family, alone, silent, out loud, written, read
* Pinterest
* marathons of silly television shows, especially after weeks and weeks of reading and writing for seminary
* piles of books and magazines to plow through during my brief break from school... before starting Biblical Greek (alpha, beta, lambda, rho, omega - and everything in between)
* a really old cell phone that still works, keeping me in touch with friends and family across miles and oceans
* reminders everywhere I look of how blessed I am to be alive and well at this time in the world - a home, cars that run, clothes in the closet, food in the fridge, electricity, running water, medical insurance, friends, family, a community of faith, cell phones, a computer. But more than the stuff, apart from the stuff, I have been filled with and surrounded by love, friendship, grace, mercy, healing, joy, laughter, and hope my whole life, even in the darkest valleys.