Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Immanuel

Dear Jesus,
I think your name Immanuel, God with us, is one of the most tender aspects of the whole Bible. It is the name we remember you by at Christmas. It is the whole purpose of Christmas.

When I was feeling so separate from you a while back, you gave me a vision of Jesus weeping at Lazarus' tomb. I felt the grief of Jesus in the dream.

But what surprised me was that you weren't weeping about Lazarus dying. I may have read this or heard it another time, but you knew you'd raise Lazarus from the dead. You intentionally waited days before going. You talked plainly that Lazarus was dead and that you were going to "wake him up." His death wasn't a surprise to you, and knowing you were going to raise him back to life, it doesn't make as much sense that you would grieve his death.

And maybe I'm reading too much into this, but Jesus what I felt in the vision, you wept as you entered into the full understanding of humanity's hopelessness.

We are so fragile God, so prone to death. But that was not your original design for us. You created humans for community. Death rips families and people apart. I think that's apparent in the all-encompassing grief of when a parent loses a child. Our souls know what is true, even if our minds refuse to believe, that death is unnatural. Perhaps if there is a "universal truth," that is it. Innocent children suffering and dying seems to go against every fiber in our being, regardless of time or culture or beliefs.

A child's birth brings the overwhelming joy of a miracle, and a feeling of communion with our creator. Giant redwoods and singing birds, towering mountains and gentle streams, these have inspired songs of your praise. The stars and vast space put wonder in our hearts. The spring after winter, full of new life, makes our souls feel new. All of these are from your hand, meant to testify of your goodness and love for mankind.

But death? Grief? Death is as unnatural as being taken from a safe and comfortable home and being thrown into an icy lake.

Death and grief separate us from you God. Sometimes we put on a good face and praise you for the resurrection to come, but that is a choice. It is not the natural feeling of humans towards death. Unless a person is completely and utterly despised, death always brings pain to the human who grieves them. And that pain does not testify of your goodness God, it speaks only to this life's brokenness. You understand this more than us.

Jesus, because you became a human, you came into the grief of humanity. With human eyes you saw our completely powerlessness against death. You heard the wails of parents who had lost their children. You felt the agony of the two sisters who lost their brother.

I believe that at Lazarus' tomb you were weeping because you felt death from a human perspective, the grief of our naked souls when someone we love dies.

Like a child in the womb, we only see an infinite chasm and muted vision of what the "real" life will be like. We were stripped of the ability to connect with that truth in the garden of Eden. It's no longer part of our natural makeup, we have been made inane to even imagining life past the mists. We can't see past the impenetrable veil, that nameless space that separates this broken life from wholeness of life in eternity.

But not for you Jesus.

You saw both sides. You knew the fullness and goodness of God, and the restorative life that heaven holds for us. You wept because you saw how trapped we were by our limited understanding here on Earth. You felt our despair. You knew our hopelessness and helplessness. And you wept.

That's why Immanuel brings me to my knees every Christmas, no matter how rushed or distracted I may be. Jesus, you had so much tender love for the messy humans you created that you couldn't abandon us. You came.

Your birth, death, and resurrection permanently tore the veil between this life and heaven. We remain unable to see it with human eyes, but you restored hope to humanity. By your Holy Spirit, you comfort the depths of our soul by grieving with us. Holding us. Breathing hope into our lifeless souls because of you death has lost its power to seperate us.

Thank you Jesus. Even when I can't understand you, when I can't seem to find you, your name comforts me.

Immanuel. God with us. God as one of us. God to rescue us.



Friday, December 20, 2019

Dear Jesus,
This seems to be a safe medium for me to be honest. I feel much less burdened today, knowing that I can come to you imperfect, and rushed, and as myself. I do imperfect very well.

Yesterday I had a hard time buying things for Chris. I'm honored to be able to decorate his room, but Jesus it really hurt knowing that it could behis last Christmas. And it reminded me of a lot of BMT details I had forgotten. I felt very lonely thinking of them, and I had a hard time not being able to really share that with Chad. I know he's stressed about the finances. Maybe I need to try again, because I'm really heart broken about it.

And Jesus it always takes me back to the "how could you let this happen?" Even though you were threre with us. For a while I said so confidently that all I needed to know was that you'd never leave me nor forsake me. Maybe it's because life is so nice again, the fear of ever returning to cancer is more terrifying. She's been two years cancer free. It's the longest break we've had from cancer in five years God. And I know that every time a kid relapses, their survival rate tanks. And children dying is so hard to bear.

Last week I had a dream that someone asked where Grace was. There was Luke, and a baby sister, and somehow I had forgotten that Grace had died. And in my dream I collapsed to the ground, totally paralyzed. It's the worst dream I've ever had in my life. I know it's because I got Bailey and Charlie mixed up at Karate, they look/ed so similar. But that dream really hurt, and I didn't find the comfort I need.

It's hard because I refuse to feel the depth of my fear and horror, thinking abut cancer. And I don't know if that's good or bad. I don't know if you need me to go there to heal, or if it's ok to have that defense mechanism. And sometimes i wonder how long I'll have to feel this way.

I can go weeks without remembering and life feels so light again. But with Nicholas and Navy, it's at my doorstep again. And the weight of it is hard during such a busy season.

I know today's saving grace will be the understanding that I can come to you broken, which I am. I can be the black sheep. I can come to you with nothing and know you can accept me, and love me. It's what i've been all along, it's just that I had forgotten. And the concept of "healing" hurts again, I just need to be myself and rest in your comfort instead of always trying to get better. That thought wears me out. But resting in your arms, that brings me peace. And that's what I need to survive today- it's going to be a busy day too.

Please give me the energy I need, the patience I need, and the motivation to get things done today. Thank you most of all for bringing me back to you.
Amen

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Spiritual Hot Mess

God,
I wish I were one of those Christians who bounce right back. I seem to be one who is skilled at stumbling. Sometimes I guess I'm like the person tossed by waves- but that's not entirely true. I know who you are. That doesn't change. I think that the trauma is so deep, and is resurrected so easily, that I am still a spiritual hot mess, two years later.

When I have a mountain-high and feel so close, it feels like the doubts and fears were just dreams. I feel so confident and bold. I feel proud of myself for being better.

When I hit the bottom of the pit, I feel so abandoned, like the sun itself was just a dream. I feel ashamed and paralyzed. And right now, I feel apathetic. Like maybe it's too much work to find you again and again and I should just live my life like so many do.

I feel empty. I don't want to leave you God, and I know you won't let me. We have an understanding- should I get lost, you will come find me and bring me back. I don't ever want to lose you, but I have not felt refreshed by your spirit for a long time. I think it's because I haven't been seeking you daily. So I'm very parched and have almost forgot what living water tastes like.

It's just that I have associated guilt with seeking you, so that I feel like it's harder than swimming against the current.  And about as much fun.

Chad is having great morning time with you and I feel a little jealous. I feel like I often do about exercising. He does it so well, commits himself to plans and then follows through like it was no big deal. I feel like everytime I start an exercise plan, I get injured or sick or too busy and then I feel like a failure. And feeling like a failure is rather exhausting. Really exhausting.

But the mornings are hard Lord. They're so busy and lately have been full of issues with Luke not obeying. I'm often very tired and groggy, or I just sleep through the time I was supposed to use in devotion. I feel rushed because I have to get the kids out the door, and me to the gym. Mornings aren't my favorite time to seek you.

But after the gym, or taking the kids to school, I start work.  And .I work until the kids come home and then I'm centered on them and house duties. God- you said women have salvation by having kids, which I've taken to mean that there's less structure to our relationship with you, compared to the OT Jewish men who had to go to temple. Women were often burdened with kids and couldn't. But you said they still had salvation. Maybe I just need to have less structure.

I guess I wanted to be better than that. When Grace was sick and recovering, I gave myself full leave to find you when I was able. In my girls group, they often said they only had 15 minutes for devotion time. I guess I thought I could do better than that. Maybe I just can't.

Maybe if I accept my limitations, I'd feel more freedom around you God. I just was worried that I wasn't making you a priority. And worried that you would be disappointed in me. But there's a lot on my plate, and from what I can tell, it's meant to be there. God, feel free to weed through my life. I even feel guilty about creative time, because it's not "productive" and could be time spent with you or doing chores., etc. I feel like I have to squeeze the most out of every second I'm awake. It's not fun.

Now that I step back, living in fear is never how you work. You are the God of freedom. You are the God who takes us as we are and not as we "should" be. You see my flaws and immaturity and weaknesses and you have loved me. And I think I was very wrong to assume I had to change myself for your approval. I'm not capable of making the bed most days, so I'm pretty sure my ideas of improving my spiritual life was doomed from the start.

And it was a ball and chain to think I had to become better. Just seeing the weight would cause me to despair. I wasn't coming to you to be healed, or even just to rest in your presence. And God, I'm still wounded- you know this better than me. I assumed I should have been better by now and again, that you would be disappointed in me for it. Father, my heart still breaks. From the memories of Grace's cancer, and from friends whose children are still suffering. And I feel very empty inside.

There's nothing I can do, I admit it. I can't better my schedule without your help. I can't find freedom to be myself around you, without your help. I can't rid myself of my shame without your help. And forgive me for my pride, thinking that any of the things I used to be able to do were because of me.

Maybe that's why I'm so dry. Maybe you needed to remind me that on my own, I will wear myself down to nothing. That the fountain of life is you, and all that is good, is from you.

So here I am. Totally dry. My heart is hesitant to ask for you, even now, I'm still afraid of more work when I have so little of me left. Please find me. Please help me to sit at your feet to listen. I can't do that without you, when I try on my own I mess it up, even with my good intentions. Help me to trust in you and to be dependent on you.

Thank you that you love me even when I feel nothing.
Amen

Monday, December 16, 2019

Waiting for the call

Jesus,
I'm heartbroken for Chris and for his family. It's so painful that his cancer came back and that his survival rate is so low. I didn't know what to say when Lynn told me. Father she said she'd call me later because she would need to talk...and I have no idea what I could say to bring comfort. I didn't know what to say with Lauren either, but you got involved and helped, so I pray for that again with Lynn. If it's in your will, and out of your great mercy, I pray Chris would survive.

I can hardly feel because I've been trying to forget cancer so much. The red door is showing itself and I can't bear to look, even though it's not even my child. It's so strange how when inpatient, it feels surreal and yet it's total reality, without many memories of "regular" life. Now that her cancer is gone, it's my total reality and I won't allow many memories of inpatient surface.

I think because when it does, it is another reminder that her cancer could still possibly come back. And I can't bear the thought. And I hate remembering all her pain, the loneliness- even writing the words is hard for me to get out. I can't even finish the sentence because I don't want to remember, why would I? But without those memories life feels surreal because part of my life is missing from the foundation of who I am.

I feel detached from other cancer parents and I don't know where I belong. I can't live in the cancer life mentality when Grace is fine. It would be ridiculous to stay in the trenches when we're not. I don't know how to solve this Jesus. It's beyond my knowledge. But you do. And I'm concerned about when I have to speak in front of the camera again- will I be stoic? If I cry, will it be forced? And I'm worried that it will come off wrong. And I'm worried not only how to help Lynn, but I wondered even if I had the capacity.

I've delved deep into projects so that I don't have to look out of my hole often. I feel al little shell shocked. And caught between two worlds. And I've been hiding even from you God. You know that.  I didn't.

Everytime I see you, I see Grace's cancer too. How can that wound heal? I still struggle that Grace's cancer returned, and I am still afraid that it could come again. On the outside I'm not afraid. I think I even fooled myself. But inside, where the deepest wounds are, you are there. Do you want to meet me there? Can we meet somewhere else?

I think I'm worn out from trying to "heal." I know I'm a survivor, and will never fully heal on this Earth, but I'm stuck in the middle there too. I don't want to thank you that Grace's cancer is gone- how absurd is that? I don't' want to say you've healed her in case we go through this again.

And I've healed a lot- but I think I would have to be like Much Afraid- you would have to tie me to the altar for me to say "Your will be done," if Grace's cancer returned. I almost lost you God, and I'm afraid I will again. Feeling makes me physically tired. And I sometimes wonder if I'll have enough energy to get through the day.

And how do I go through a journey that has no markers? How is progress determined? Because I'm angry at you again God. I can't find another cause of why I'm avoiding you. Also I'm being a perfectionist, and since I'm not perfect I don't want to show up, because I want to be in control. Not you.

Jesus you saved me before by giving me visions of your love. Still, I ran away and I'm afraid I don't have the energy to find you again. I have nothing. And sometimes, I prefer that. Your love hurts me sometimes Jesus. Your love means I have to trust you again, and I don't know if I can.

Some days it seems easy. I don't even know how, but I'm stuck again and can't find you. Please help me, not just to read the Bible so I can check it off the list and be "good enough" but please help me to see you Jesus. Knowing your heart is the only thing that brings me back. And if it's dependent on me, that's a problem. And maybe that's part of why I'm in hiding. I have so little left, and I have so much guilt, that it's keeping me from wanting to spend time with you.

Have mercy on me, help me to know how much you love me. I need you and I want you, even when my emotions say otherwise. Please come and rescue me from my unbelief.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

And they say God doesn't have a sense of humor...

"I raise a hallelujah, in the presence of my enemies. I raise a hallelujah, louder than the unbelief... I’m gonna sing, in the middle of the storm; Louder and louder, you’re gonna hear my praises roar....I raise a hallelujah, I will watch the darkness flee. I raise a hallelujah, in the middle of the mystery. I raise a hallelujah, fear you lost your hold on me." by Hillsong Worship

Isn't it ironic that the first song we sang at church today started with the word, "hallelujah!" That wasn't an accident and God's sense of humor made me smile because I've been mad at hallelujah Christians for two years. When they sang "you're going to hear my praises roar," I sat down and started journaling instead of singing.

By the end of Grace's first fight with cancer my faith was stretched past breaking. When Grace relapsed a year and a half later, it was a million times worse than before. That day was truly the worst day of my life. And God was totally silent. He sent friends and family and strangers to care for us and show us the love of God instead. Which was beautiful, but not the healing balm of God's holy presence like the first time Grace had cancer.

I felt completely abandoned by God. Completely alone.

I didn't hear my praises roar. I heard the storm roar. My only faith was to weakly call to God for rescue, and even that drained the reserves of my faith. Some days I've felt so much shame for not being a "hallelujah" Christian through the storms of life.

But God showed me something today at church. He reminded me that if a person was walking through an old graveyard at midnight, they would hear fearful sounds of swaying trees and moaning winds. Long shadows and gravestones hidden in the mists would consume them with fear. They would be chilled to the heart in the cold, wet bleakness. There, devoid of all light and hope, death's silence would overpower them.

But...

If the smallest voice was also there in the graveyard, weakly singing songs of trust and praise, the power of it would shatter fear's dominion.

It might not look like a victory to the singer, if all she can see is the darkness outside the small, weak realm of light she stands in. But even the smallest light in pitch black is brilliant and shows the shadows to be powerless. God showed me that any song of praise, any whisper of desperate hope in a graveyard, is a courageous roar against the evil one, and helps others lost in the fog to find the way home.

It made me think that God isn't measuring the volume of our hallelujahs. He sees our hearts laid bare, whether in the light or in the darkness. He looks to see who is willing to survive off the breath he breathes into them for that day, regardless if the day will end in victory or defeat.

I felt God remind me that Satan wants to deceive us by making us believe that our faith is weak and unacceptable to God. Because it's what Satan despises the most- weak creatures exposing his charades. He knows that when we are the weakest, God's love and light and power are made most visible.

I grew up afraid that Jesus would rebuke any unbelief, such as the time he rebuked his disciples, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?" But I don't think Jesus was rebuking the disciples at all when the storm in Galilee almost sank their boat saying, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?"

I might say something similar to my children if they cried out in the night for me, "Why are you so afraid? Don't you know I'll protect you?" I know that their understanding is limited. I wouldn't shame them for their weakness but I'd wearily delight that they came to me when they were afraid. They trusted me. Some of my most tender memories are snuggling next to my kids in bed until they felt safe enough to fall asleep again. I know God loves us even more tenderly. He knows how little we are. He wants us to trust his bigness, cuddled up until our fears are gone.

So I refuse to let Satan make me feel as I should hide in shame from God just because my faith is struggling. Because my heart is still broken. Because I still cry in confusion when I can't understand God's sovereignty.

Wandering through the lonely hospital hallways, late at night, my heart desolate and my faith depleted, still it was enough. In crowded church pews, feeling insufficient, it was enough for Jesus, Though my hands were empty, I know Jesus is my rescuer.

My tiny flame of faith terrifies the evil one. And Jesus counts it as a truly courageous roar.


**** Personal thoughts on Mark 9:14 and Matthew 17:14 ****

At this point in Jesus' ministry he was only months from crucifiction- hence, "how long am I to be here with you?" It may have been a warning that they needed to take their discipleship more seriously since time was running out. 

I believe that the boy's body was so twisted and frail, foaming and writhing, and had been that way for so long, that the disciples assumed there wasn't anything that could be done for him. Maybe they assumed this one was past God's power. Perhaps the disciples were afraid of the crowd judging them on how much faith and power they displayed through miracles. Perhaps they'd rather not try unless they knew they'd come out looking good. They had an image of "faith" to keep up.

Maybe the disciples blew off the father and son like they did so many of those they saw as "beneath them," such as the Samaritan woman at the well, all children in general, the loud leper, the crying woman with perfume. The disciples had a notorious reputation for not seeing people the way God does, even when God himself was physically there, teaching them.

 Jesus rebuked the disciples out of their false beliefs about themselves so they could see who Jesus was, and what faith actually looked like. 

The boy's father refuses the disciples apathy and goes straight to Jesus himself. The father's faith is weak, but it was enough to find Jesus. Jesus challenges the father about his unbelief. (Again, I know this can't have been a shaming moment because Jesus doesn't work that way. I believe it was a question asked directly but also gently). As soon as the father declares he wants more faith, Jesus fills in the gaps. He heals the son. The father's weak, shaky faith was enough for Jesus. The disciples' version of faith wasn't.

Clearly God's view on faith is different than what I assumed it to be.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Footnotes

I have been angry at Christians for five years now. 

And by angry I mean I have been judgemental, cynical, jaded and envious. If you've read any other posts you'll remember that I've deemed most Christians "hallelujah" singers, and I can't be one anymore. I didn't want to be one. 

I no longer have that sweet, blissful innocence to praise God for the forgiveness of my sins, as if sin was the only thing separating my heart from God. I judged Christians (unfairly) that they were praising God because they could feel better about themselves, since they could no longer be called sinners. 

I hated worshiping at church when Grace was in treatment. I still struggle with it so much that I think it's become a form of PTSD for me. Instead of singing, I often sit with my journal and pen and praise God in a way that makes sense to me. I can't sing songs when I don't agree with them. The lyrics aren't just words to me, but declarations about my beliefs of who God is. 

But many of our modern worship songs are about victory and success. One song goes so far to say, "[God] you're never going to let me down." 

I can't sing that unless there is a footnote under it saying, "We don't mean God won't let you down on your dreams or goals. He may let your heart be torn in half with trauma, tragedy and failure. What we mean is that God will always forgive you, always love you, and always keep his promises of heaven. He will never forsake you. So you might feel completely let down, completely abandoned at times, breathing your last, but according to his definitions of "never let down," this song is true."

But there is no footnote. And I can't sing it.

To sing those lyrics, I would be slipping back into denial or flat out lying about my painful journey with God. And it's too emotionally tiring for me to sift through the trauma and go through my own footnotes of context for every line of a song. So I sit quietly, feeling isolated from the hallelujah Christians around me. I journal my fears and my mental and emotional anguish and my longing to feel God's comfort again.

I try not to be jealous of the other uplifted faces around me whose only burden in life is sin, and who can sing these songs without their faith being challenged through every verse. They have been freed from sin and are now completely in union with God. But Jesus forgiving my sin isn't enough for me. I am not in bondage to any sin right now, as far as I can tell, though I still sin daily. But sin alone is not what is separating my heart from God.  

My confusion about how God could allow such suffering is separating me. Confusion about his promises. My doubts about heaven. My fears that God could allow Grace's cancer to return since his promises do not guarantee long life or health. My emotional PTSD and depression, they also keep my heart numb and seperate. 

Forgiveness of sin is critical for a relationship with God, but when we praise God as if that's the only solution he has for mankind, it doesn't address the grief separating me from God right now.  

It feels like this spiritual desert has been infinite and has left my soul parched and clinging to life. Still, I know who Jesus is- historically, if nothing else. The resurrection of Jesus can't be explained away. When I feel there is nothing left to my faith I come to the cross. I lay beneath it, when I no longer have the strength to stand. If my tears are spent, I just lay there in silence.

And there, when my prayers are only whispers, God has heard them, and counts them as precious. 

***

There are some Christians who reading this will quickly point out that my doubts could be considered sin for not trusting God. That my pride and arrogance is sinful. My self righteousness for judging other Christians so harshly is sin and therefore my sin is separating me from God. You're right and I do ask for forgiveness, and yet the chasm between me and God is still there.

I beg you, instead of judging me and trying to solve my problems, have compassion for me instead. I am human and have suffered greatly. God has shown so much mercy to me during this period when my heart is daily ripped open from the memories of nearly five years of trauma. 

And please don't be offended by my brutal honesty. It has been the gentle love of many Christian friends and family who have saved me from drowning in my doubt and pain. I am not against Christians, but I do feel lost. Thank you for understanding. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Cancer Everywhere

Since the two year anniversary of Grace's relapse on August 7th, cancer has been haunting me.

I see it everywhere. I've had more PTSD moments and more memories than ever before.

On the 7th I kept feeling panic and fear and couldn't understand why, because Grace is doing amazing. Then I remembered what my subconscious couldn't forget. All the feelings from that day came back to life and there was nowhere for me to hide from them.

I haven't worried about Grace relapsing since she went swimming at a friend's house and got petechiae (bruising) from her swim goggles. I had a full blown panic attack, but that's been the only time this year that I considered that Grace could relapse.

Maybe that's why these memories are here. When she was first finished treatment, three years ago, I was so consumed with the fear that Grace would relapse, that I didn't have any room left to feel with. Then she relapsed. Then one year in isolation at home. This is the first year that has felt safe since 2014 when she was first diagnosed.

I now feel confident Grace is going to be ok from her bone marrow transplant, she's active and strong... maybe that's why my guard is down enough to remember again.

I'm thankful that I'm crying more, thankful that I'm hurting more. It's better than the hollowness of denial and depression. And I've been trying to accept each memory, name it as horrible, but allow it to exist. I thought maybe there was a way to heal it, a way to make it stop hurting, but there's not. There's no good way to kill it either.

Sometimes it feels like, why bother to remember and relive all the pain when it doesn't change anything, it just hurts? It does change something, the memories keep me from being a shell of a human. I'm hoping that each time I allow a memory or a feeling or a fear to exist that God can help it hurt a little less. And maybe it won't.

But these memories did happen, they exist as part of me. It still makes me feel completely helpless to remember, but that's the truth of life. We are helpless to control life or death. That in itself is a painful memory.

And I still have so much regret for not being able to do the impossible, as if it was somehow it was within my power to change what happened. I feel so much regret for the time stolen from my family.

I hate to admit this was my past, that these were my kids' childhoods. I hate it. I hate it!

I still wish I could have taken Grace's pain, I feel it so strong some days that I'd rather lay down and die than remember her in pain. I still have the feeling that maybe, just maybe, I could have done something different, and somehow, miraculously, I could have protected her from cancer.

I think today has been hard because it was the day Bailey was diagnosed four years ago and Julia posted about it. I just remembered how much pain Bailey was in before she died. They couldn't stop it, though she was on so much pain medicine. And when she died it was such a relief to know she wasn't suffering anymore. And I feel like less of a human for having ever thought that. But it's true. Death was God's answer to prayer to stop her pain, though my prayer had been for healing and life.

The memories make me feel so helpless. For a person who loves to solve problems, it's the deepest grief to watch my children suffer- Grace from cancer, Luke from loneliness- and not be able to do a damn thing to help them except to help them bear it.

It's 11pm...I have to go to sleep so I can make the kids lunch for school in the morning. Tonight's grief was a startling burst.

So with that, I must go to sleep. I put my hope in God's hands, and my head on his shoulder so he can hold me. I need it tonight. In the morning I'll wake refreshed and get to see my kids smiling again, ready to start life new everyday.

And that's why these memories are good, they remind me each day to be thankful, to readjust my priorities, to laugh more and to not take anything for granted.