Monday, 29 April 2013

For When You Feel Like You've Lost Control

The weather has broken open lately and now, finally, the days are warmer and the smell of spring rises from the ground. Lately I've been finding myself in parking lots in the early mornings, or as dusk falls, and I'll cut my engine so I can listen to the silence as the sun climbs higher or the moon illuminates. I'm not always sure why I do this; sometimes it is an unconscious reminder that there is a grander story than the small details of my own mundane. It is a fallback on natural rhythms; I can run as fast as I want to in a day, but a miracle edges it open and a miracle pins it closed again. Every time. Ultimately, I don't have control.

I need to remember that sometimes because so often I fight for control. I might not look like the average control freak, though. My life usually looks more like a collage or mosaic than a linear progression of events. I don't line up anything in neat rows; I prefer stacks. I like some chaos and unpredictability in my daily life and I only use an organized calendar so other people know where I am. My preferred method of schedule organization consist of scattered, random lists ranging from remembering to send an email to "don't forget pens" to reminding myself to lighten up a little. I have friends who organize their closets and desks at home with special containers and jars with labels because it clears their mind and allows space into their lives. I maintain basic levels of organization because if I organize things too well, I just lose them. A little while ago, a portion of my wardrobe mysteriously migrated into my car (always be prepared for impromptu sleepovers, that's my theory). I like the "lived in" feel of a space. Not like a tornado just ripped through, but "lived in." Also, if I ever wear socks, they probably won't be matching. Some things are just a little more important in life.

I still like to feel like I am in control of the bigger issues in life, but I think that this is a natural and universal human desire. At my last doctor's appointment for my back and digestion issues (or Ankylosing Spondylitis, if you'd rather be fancy about it), we determined that my current treatment was making the inflammation and pain worse rather than controlling it. She advised that I do a four week trial in which I would not eat any gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, sugar or peanuts to rule out allergies and Celiac disease because, apparently, where there is one auto-immune disease, there are often two. I seem to be a prime candidate.

A stone overturned and suddenly my road stretched longer and I felt impossibly old and out of control. Two diseases in one body and I'm only eighteen? What will I feel like when I'm seventy? Will I even be able to move? What will I eat for four weeks? Why did this happen on the day I decided to stop drinking coffee? God, why is there so much pain and brokenness twisted into our bodies? The questions burn and I'm standing in the middle of the flurry, attempting to regain balance and bearings and ward off the anger that sits in the wings, waiting to press in.

How do I navigate this one? The truth is that I could stay perpetually trapped in my "why" questions and shake my fist at God or dissolve in self-pity. I could fall apart because I can't see the future and there's nothing that I can do to prevent it from coming. My other choice is to trust that God holds my future and do my best to effectively, even creatively, overcome this hurdle by His grace. Worrying too much about the future stunts the present and I can only live moment by moment, day by day. I think that this is why I intentionally pause for the sunrise and the moon's debut. Rise and fall. This day is a gift, this day is past. Breathe in and breathe out. I am still here...

Where are you now? Where are your feet? It's so easy to become overwhelmed by the tangle and pull of life, but we live through a string of small moments. Start here, where your feet are planted. You can choose to walk on holy ground and pay attention to how God may be working, moving, through your life. He's in the details, he's in the life-altering events. He's intricately woven through every moment. He's above it all, in it all, and through it all. Sometimes it may seem like he is distant; I've known this too. He may not always feel close. In times like these, I try to think of Job who did not say, "I feel that my Redeemer lives," but rather "I know that my Redeemer lives." (Job 19:25) Pursue God with your questions, release the doubts and rest in him. He sees and knows more than you can even conceive.

If nothing else, my physical pain keeps me humble and dependant on God. I see his strength working often through my weakness. I am thankful that my health isn't any worse. In the grand scale of life, my health problems are comparatively minor. I've seen suffering to the death, and that keeps my perspective healthy. I have prayed for personal healing, though, and I've been given small answers to prayer in the form of temporary pain relief. Small gifts of grace are signposts of His faithfulness to me; new mercy unfolds with every sunrise.

Friday, 19 April 2013

What you should know about my story

 Two years ago, when I was sixteen, my family and I uprooted our lives and moved from a rural country town to the city. I've been thinking back to that lately because it was a tipping point in my life. It broke all of the shaky foundations I had been leaning on and shattered me. I don't talk about it often and I think it's because I learned too many things the hard way. I'm still emerging from, growing from, the wreck that used to be me.

Recently, I found a short-term "bucket list" of sorts that I wrote in youth group when I was fifteen, standing on the brink of that life-altering change:

1. Push yourself to do things you think you can't do
2. Blaze some new trails
3. Read the Bible more intentionally
4. Don't be afraid to be genuinely, authentically yourself
5. Stand up for yourself
6. Be artistic in different ways
7. Invest in relationships that count
8. Rest your brain! (aka- quit overanalyzing everything)
9. Invest in prayer
10. Keep laughing-keep telling stories

I couldn't have known what was ahead, yet I've grown in every one of those areas over the pat two years (and I'll expand on these in future posts). It was a process of relinquishing old ideas and misconceptions about myself, life, God and rebuilding again around my identity in Christ. It hurt. It still hurts at times.

A buildup of callous will numb feeling; moving ripped away all of what I thought were the most important pieces of myself, my identity, and constantly threw me in the face of all of my pent-up fears. I needed it. My security had been wrapped up in my friendships, my grades, my church, affirmation from others and so many other things that were not God. I knew my Bible and my theology well, but I had a  shallow relationship with God. When all of my "security" disintegrated, I became an open target and fear pounced; I became incredibly insecure because I had no identity left. I became afraid of rejection, failure, honesty, close relationships; things that had been laying hidden and dormant in my life until my support system collapsed.

Fear is a strangle that steals joy and the sense of a deeper meaning in the experiences of our lives. It keeps us riding a hard edge and we could reach out and into all we have been called to experience and to be, but fear draws up a barrier. It has the ability to keep us safe in a fundamentally destructive way. What you've missed, in the end, will cheat you out of  what you could have been. Change, surrender, is an avenue of faith.

It isn't easy. It's a long journey and the tearing away may leave some scars. Surrender is painful, but necessary in order to experience God fully in your life. I'm still walking my own journey and sometimes old fears creep up to confront me, but I'm more grounded now, rooted in faith. I can't stress enough the impact and importance of prayer and surrender during that time, and always. Praying through the fire, keeping eyes locked on Christ, builds trust and deepens relationship. God can handle anything you have to say, anything you are struggling with. That said, don't wait until the fire to pray. Build a strong relationship with God now so your foundation will be firm. Don't allow open, unguarded loopholes for fear to crawl through.

And so, I'll end with these words, which speak better than my own:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God so when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, them, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people."

Ephesians 6:10-18, NLT

Saturday, 13 April 2013

On Signposts and Trusting in God

So often when I read, I stumble across an idea that snaps open and breathes; like scraping away a bit of frost from a window, looking outside, and realizing that there is a vast expanse of world beyond the glass. The other day I was filling in a gap of time with Annie Dillard and came across a paragraph that melted a bit of frost from my own window:

"The books I read are like the stone men built by the [Inuit] of the great desolate tundras west of Hudson's Bay. They still build them today, according to Farley Mowat. An [Inuit] traveling alone in the flat barrens will heap round stones to the height of a man, travel till he can no longer see the beacon, and build another."
-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

At first I didn't know what was so significant about this quote to me. I kept nudging back to it, rereading the words, allowing the fogginess to settle.

It's really the idea of signposts, or markers, along the journey. Significant events in our lives rise up to mark where we've been and direct where we may be going. As we press foreword, these events may recede from sight into memory and suddenly we find ourselves in a new season, building new pillars to mark our path. Endings slide into beginnings and sometimes we need to make an altar to remind ourselves of where we've been; to acknowledge the place and allow it to be a point of reference.

A friend and I were talking recently about trusting in God and how we sometimes fall into the trap of tunnel vision. We trust God as long as life is relatively normal and we can see the clear path from point A to point B. Often, though, clinging to this mindset will cause us to run aground when difficult events or tests in our lives press in because if God and His goodness are defined as the ease of your life, who is God in the hard times?

Often the journey from point A to point B looks less like a straight line and more like a zig zag. God could have led the Israelites straight from Egypt to the Promised Land but instead he took them on a 40 year detour through the wilderness. I don't believe that grief and brokenness always origionate from God, but I do believe that He can always use these "detours" to form us and shape us and lead us into a fuller, richer dependance on Him. He can and will redeem the dark wildernesses we walk through if we are open to it. Muscle is never built without resistance, and we grow through challenge. God's vision for you is not to remain stagnant, but to pull you higher, deeper into relationship with Him.

To trust anything implies that there is an acknowledged ambiguity involved. If we, as humans, understood everything about God and his plans for our entire life, we would reduce Him to something less than ourselves. Because our world is fallen and sinful, it is inevitable that you will encounter suffering in your life. The question is, will you allow God to walk with you through it and redeem it? Even to wrestle with God in the darkness is healthier than resenting him and standing still. As long as you wrestle, you are engaged, moving, building muscle and relationship. Wrestle, but don't forget Who you are wrestling with.

How does this connect to signposts? During these times of wrestling and darkness, I've marked my own path with pillars as reminders of God's faithfulness and grace amidst the mess and the brokenness. Some have been physical altars, most have been an intentional recognition of Him in times when He seems particularly close. They are points of reference; reminders of where I've been and where I'm going. It's a rising history of God's faithfulness and promises to me. Sometimes walking through suffering strips you of old, ugly pieces of yourself and the signposts mark the places they were shed. To look back on these pillars is to see your story marked and transforming as it expands. It's a testimony of faithfulness of which you are a blessed witness.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Why I Write

If I'm honest, there is a long list of reasons why I write, but the top two are as follows:

1. I love it
2. It scares me

 Writing does make me nervous sometimes. I don't know if I've ever sat down with a definite outline of what I'm going to write about. It's always an idea that can tumble and spin into so many directions. Really, for me, writing is a balance of control and giving up control.

Usually I run around life with my arms open wide, gathering up experiences and conversation and images. When I write, I throw them down at my feet, a wild pile of ideas and inspiration and I pick through that pile in my writing. My brain normally flies in ten directions at once, constantly humming and circling thoughts, processing them and kneading them and writing funnels it all into organized thought. It clears some space and quiet in my head, because when the jumbled pieces fit and the dust is blown off, I gain some clarity of vision. I understand more as I channel the chaos and spin it all into a string of written word.

 I write to unscramble my own thoughts, invite others to engage in my own experience, and to probe deeper themes of life and faith. I always think of my mind as a junk drawer and writing is sifting through it all, examining it, and maybe finding a gem or two in the process. I write for myself, but I also write for others because words, especially honest, grounded words, are powerful.