Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Hidden Somewhere



As you'll see from the video, Grace has made a huge step by re-hairing her doll Serena, and by re-naming her Claire. Serena is the bald, American Girl doll given to her on the day Grace shaved her hair off, after chemo had claimed most of it. Apparently Claire has all the memory Serena does, of having been with Grace through her relapse, and being inpatient for months, and all the lonely days spent at home healing.

But Claire is cancer-free and healthy.

Claire is ready to play actively, not just cuddle in the hospital bed. Claire can go to school, marry a prince, ride a horse. Claire is also ready to celebrate Grace's one year anniversary of her bone marrow transplant tomorrow.

I've heard from many fellow cancer mamas that the days leading up to an anniversary is the hardest, sometimes it's even harder than the day itself. I think that's true for me, but I don't feel it. The pain, the fear, the memories...it's all there, but it's hidden so deep inside me that I can't find it. I feel a lot like I did a year ago when we were living inpatient, like I was reading someone else's story but not living it. 

I think it's been really affecting my relationship with God. He's been pretty silent lately, but the last few weeks it's not just the quiet. It's the feeling of a barrier between us and I haven't been able to get past it. I've been praying for God remove it, and yesterday I finally realized what's causing it.

It's me. 

I have hidden my pain deep inside my heart and I don't want God to touch it. And I'm pretty sure if I were to let him, it's the first place he'd go, because that's where I'm drowning and most in need of rescue. But the thought of dealing with that pain is so frightening that I've been casually keeping God at an arm's length, without even realizing it.

I can see it today.  And I do/don't want to change.

I know if I can't open that part of me, God can't be part of my life, not really. He wants the real me, as ugly as I can be. He won't settle for my facades. He isn't able to reach my heart if I've locked it up.

I had a bit of insight yesterday when I helped at a car crash. Whe trauma hits, I calm down. I'm a fixer, a helper. I don't know to grieve. I don't know how to admit I'm broken. I'm better at turning off cars leaking gas and standing ready to pull the man out should the car ignite. I can do crazy, busy, daring, with total clarity.

But intimacy is more than big moments. Intimacy happens in the quiet nothings. And I haven't allowed any of them because they hurt. My numbing drug of choice lately has been "busy."

And a lot of that busy has been part of what God has called me to...it's just that I've taken things too seriously and made my prayer life about requests and reports, not intimate friendship. I've been referring to God as "boss" and "coach" and not as "Abba," which is the term Jesus used in the Bible,  (Aramaic for "daddy.") I've found reasons to not go to church, reasons to not have devotional time, reasons to keep my spiritual life as shallow as possible, without even realizing it. 

I think it's because I'm still mad at God for allowing Grace to get cancer twice. Some days I'm at peace with it, but especially near anniversaries, all I can remember is the pain. The helplessness. The long, fearful nights and the slow, morphine-filled days.

I've been having flashbacks again. Moments when I'm back in the hospital room. I can see everything, as if I got sucked into a movie. I've been hit with moments when I suddenly understand the enormity of what Grace went through. Moments when I remember the dangers that delayed side effects could bring.

As soon as I feel it, I'm denying it.

I get so tired. Physically. I think it's my body's way of trying to protect me. Writing this I've had to stop and lay my head on my keyboard five or six times to rest. I feel my heart constricting, my eyelids getting heavy. My whole body seems to slow down like I'm about to hibernate from the cold of my reality.

Or I flip channels in my brain. I remember Grace being in so much pain that she refused to eat even ice cream...what was that show I watched last night? It's my mind trying to push the pain into the corners of my mind so I can function. But it keeps seeping out.

Today I finally had the courage to whisper a prayer that invited God back into all my pain. I acknowledged that the pain is too great for me to bear, I can't do it without his help and I'll drown in it if I don't let my support team know what's boiling inside me.

I think that's what Paul was talking about when he said in Philippians, "I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me." It's a verse often misquoted to claim victory over trivial things but when Paul wrote it he was waiting to be executed. I think it should be translated, "I can suffer all things because Jesus strengthens me."

And today I felt the barrier come down. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Grief and Trust



If you get the chance, be sure to click the link from BBC above and watch the part especially where she draws grief. I had always assumed someone had to die to feel grief, but I am grieving what Grace (and Luke, Chad and myself) have been through with her cancer. And my grief isn't limited to her suffering from cancer, but also my own learning that life is messy, dangerous, and out of my control.

Accepting this is what grief can look like was one part of my struggle, but how to deal with it was even harder. I didn't want to "move past it," as had been suggested to me many times in many ways. It was a major part of Grace and Luke's childhood. It was saturated with meaningful friendships. It was the crucible for my marriage that nearly destroyed us, but by the grace of God, purified our love for each other. It was where I learned to trust God. If I move on, I leave that behind.

Even if I wanted to "move past" or forget, it would mean going back into denial. I tried that the first time Grace had cancer. I tried to drown out the memories and feelings with compulsive cleaning, too much wine, and controlling every detail of life until my children and husband wanted to escape me. Until I wanted to escape me. 

I've spent the last two years learning how to live out of denial, and I knew I couldn't go back into it. The tradeoff is when you're not living in denial you feel the pain. All of it. On the days when the grief nearly strangled me I wondered if denial really was the only option to survive.

The grief on Grace's relapse anniversary was devastating. I couldn't function, even on depression medicine. I was numb one moment and hysterically crying the next. The memories were vivid. I could even smell the antiseptic. I remembered moments that I had forgotten and they were as real and frightening as when they had happened. I didn't know if this is how grief worked.

The BBC video, when she was sketching grief, really helped me. It's very true that the grief doesn't go away. Even with denial, even with intentionally burying it, grief really never leaves. I learned I won't have to worry about losing the good parts of it, if I let outside life grow up around it. It's still there and strangely, that comforts me. I also realized that grief can flare up, and that's ok too. I found that after Grace's relapse anniversary, it did calm itself and looking back, I'm thankful for the flare up. I grieved...but it was worth grieving over. To ignore the pain and the hardship seems like I'm minimizing the suffering and pain Grace endured. It was bad. It deserves grieving. 

I've also been really focusing on trusting God lately. The flare up of grief around Grace's relapse anniversary was as painful as the day she relapsed. The first time Grace had cancer, we felt God's presence so strongly in the hospital room that Chad and I never doubted for a second that He was, and would be, with us. 

The second time...nothing. Not even holy crickets. That was very painful. It didn't last, but the wound is still fresh. I think He was silent so that we'd rely more on the relationships we had been working so hard to make. And to trust His word and His promises, even when He is silent. But it was painful all the same. Writing it now brings a knot to my stomach. Even if God had a good reason, it felt like abandonment.

Her relapse itself felt like abandonment. Grace's relapse was probably caused by 1 or 2 cancer cells out of 37.2 trillion healthy cells. And I just didn't understand why God didn't solve the problem himself. Wiping out two cells really isn't that hard if you're God. It just seemed avoidable. It seemed like if he cared, He could have intervened and saved her from suffering again. But he didn't. And even if I know the reason theologically, it didn't heal the wounds in my trust with God.

What hurt again was that the whole anniversary of the relapse, God was silent. Normally when I hear God's voice, its a voice that isn't heard with my ears, but it is powerful. I almost always know that it is GOD and not me, and it always thrills me. He did speak a few times during these last few weeks, but it was such a quiet whisper. I know it was Him because it matched up perfectly with the Bible, it was true, and it was outside my own thoughts...but so painfully, painfully quiet. It was guidance, but without the reassurance of his powerful presence and love. It felt the same as when she relapsed. And that brought up the abandonment feelings twice as hard. 

The thing I have learned over some twenty years walking with God is that he's very intentional. I trust him enough to know that if he is silent...then it's for a reason. It wasn't because of my sin, I'm pretty sure it's because he wanted me to focus on other lessons he's teaching me. Like trust and forgiveness.

I've been so critical of other Christians. Really. Badly. I feel resentful that so few of them can relate to my pain, let alone guide me in it. I've been hurt by many who have misquoted the Bible at me, who've encouraged me to believe promises that God never made, who've looked down on me in their self-righteousness because I am so clearly human. And in my unforgiveness I've judged them for what I felt was their "petty" trust in God. 

Because God forgiving all our sins feels great, once you've finally accepted it as true. Knowing that you're now a child of God, loved, and free from sin and shame makes you feel pretty awesome about yourself. There are many victories. God breaking spiritual chains and addictions is a life full of new freedom. In some ways we do trust him less at this phase, as there are visible results that prove Him faithful and true.

But lately it's been hard for me to accept that God always heals our souls but doesn't always heal our bodies. (Some would misquote the Bible to argue...but His priority is to heal our soul's sickness.) And....I struggle with that. Trusting God for forgiveness seems easier. When God forgives your sins but lets your body suffer...it's hard. Even harder when he lets your child suffer. There's less to see, less to hold onto, less to be part of. Less hallelujahs, more questioning, more trusting in the invisible God.

And I pray that I will never have to learn this trust-- the trust that must be learned when the one you love most dies. There's even less to see, less to hold on to. Heaven is a promise but we really don't have any evidence of it except to trust that Jesus is trustworthy and true. Instead of victories and freedom, there's pain and grief, and praying that if you should fall, then to only fall on Jesus's mercy. 

But I think that's the lesson God is trying to teach me. I think trust can only be learned in the silence. When my naked soul is left quivering and weak, then I find out if I ever really trusted him- not only for the freedom from sin and shame, but trust that He is good even when He doesn't answer my prayers. To trust him that heaven is where all will be made right, and trusting Him to be good enough to keep that promise. 

The most beautiful part of these last few painful weeks is finding that it only takes a grain of faith, a mustard seed, for God to pull me to himself and let me bury myself in his arms. And together we grieve. I think wholly trusting God means an acceptance of grief. Because I think God is grieving. Grieving that this world breaks us, grieving that his victories are sowed in suffering.

"But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." 1 Peter 4:13

I'll add-- I think God definitely has a benefit over me, to exist outside the constraints of time. Though he grieves, he sees the victory even clearer. And though we grieve in an embrace, He is still whispering. I miss His voice, like missing a dear friend. 

I have partnered in at least some of his grief and in some of the trust. I am learning that both grief and trust are a journey and both will have flare ups and both have life grown around, and through them. I am still broken. But Jesus knew I'd reach this point long before he sang the world into creation. Back when I was singing hallelujahs, he knew how weak I was. He knows me better than I know myself, and in the quietness, He loves me still.

He knows us inside and out, He remembers that we’re made of mud. Psalm 103

Tuesday, August 7, 2018



It’s the anniversary of Gracie’s cancer relapse but it hasn’t seemed to have any effect on her. She’s only looking forward. It’s hard for me though. One year ago today almost destroyed me and I’m struggling to breathe through the pain of the memories.
We were going to run away. Our offer on a home in Indiana had just been accepted and we were preparing to pack. We were going to outrun cancer, flee the Santa Susana Field Lab, and start over, pain-free and safe. But Grace woke up with arm pain as severe as if she had broken her arm. We rushed her to the hospital.
I knew before the doctor said anything. My mommy instincts were confirmed by the sorrow in her nurse’s eyes. Gracie had relapsed with PH+ Leukemia. It was her second time fighting an incredibly rare and aggressive cancer. We called our realtor and canceled our new home from the hospital hallway. We knew her best chance at survival would be at our local children's hospital and we knew our finances would go towards medical bills instead of moving.
Her doctors intentionally didn’t tell us her survival rate. I think it’s because it would have stolen all our hope and hope was already scarce as it was. This time  was so much harder than the first time she had cancer. We lived at the hospital for over 4 months while she received and recovered from a bone marrow transplant to save her life.
She had intense chemotherapy and full-body radiation meant to destroy the cancer and her bone marrow. Her mouth was covered with ulcers. It became too painful for her to eat, drink or talk. She refused even ice cream. She had fevers and nightmares. She had 11 blood transfusions. She couldn’t walk, bathe, or dress herself. The nausea was constant and she vomited often. She was addicted to morphine but there were days when she still felt the pain. She was isolated to her hospital room and couldn’t be visited by her brother, extended family, or friends.
She was old enough to ask, Will I die? Did I do something bad to make this happen? Those questions nearly tore me apart.
I became really afraid when she didn’t cry or complain when receiving shots. I was afraid she’d lost the will to live. She didn’t give up, and by the grace of God, she survived. 
But as long as the Santa Susana Field Lab remains contaminated with radioactive and chemical waste, more children here will continue to get cancer. Some will survive. Some, like our friends Bailey and Hazel, will not. And the truth of that leaves me broken. The thought of more children needlessly suffering is unbearable. My heart is raw and bleeding. The pain in our community is unbearable. Everytime I see another child with cancer, I only see Gracie. And I grieve.
I grieve that my daughter lost her childhood and that she has suffered more than most adults- physically, mentally and spiritually. It's not fair that she has suffered so much. I grieve her friends who died. I grieve that there can be no promise of safety for my daughter, because cancer is a savage monster who does not consider the prayers of parents and can return without reason. I grieve that NASA, Boeing, and the Dept. of Energy, chose money over my daughter and our community’s kids. I feel I’ll lose my mind from the grief. Some days I cry until I can’t breathe, I feel like I can't breathe as I write this.
I just want to scream, Why didn’t they protect her from cancer? She's just a kid! Why won’t they save our kids? They’re kids! For heaven’s sake, they’re just kids!
I've been trying to trust God again. I am leaning heavily on my husband, and our friends and family, but today the memories of pain and fear terrorize me. I’ve been attending a recovery group, seeing my therapist, and began treatment for depression, but I still feel like my heart weighs ten thousand pounds. My heart aches. I physically feel it right now. It feels like my heart will bleed through my chest.
Still, I will choose to hope. I choose to find the joy in my children’s smiles today, in their love, in my love for them. I will choose to live one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace...even if it means staying here, in West Hills, and fighting for the Santa Susana Field Lab cleanup, even if it daily resurfaces my pain and fear.
Because if there’s anything I can do to prevent another child suffering like Gracie did, then today on her anniversary I memorialize it… I will have courage. I will do what I can.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
~Reinhold Niebuhr

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Triggers, Trauma, and Mary Magdalene

I got triggered today.

While reading a new devotional book this morning I panicked. The "read between the lines" message was that if God really matters to you, you'll do what it takes to squeeze God time into your schedule and take practical steps to experience his presence. I quickly realized that my life has been a series of well-intentioned-spiritual-goal-failures, and that I am unlikely to benefit from more sheer willpower solutions.

I'm not good at reading the Bible. I can't sit still for five minutes, let alone pray for five minutes. I used to get up at 5am to have devotion time before work, most mornings I fell asleep in my Bible. I tried evenings and didn't feel anything "spiritual," so I figured I was doing it wrong and eventually gave up. (I used to go to a church where emphasis was put on “feeling” God’s presence and it's hard for me to turn that doctrine off).

Much of my relationship with God has involved me working to deserve His love. This also compounds the guilt I feel around God, and why prayer time feels like work to me, not like rest. "Sorry God," is how I end most of my attempts at devotion.

I don't have a lot of time to make either, even if I wanted to. I haven't had extra time for years. I had Gracie in 2010 and Luke in 2011 while Chad often commuted three hours a day and worked nine more. At the time I didn't have a lot of outside help, plus I had postpartum depression and severe fatigue, both times. Then Gracie was diagnosed with cancer and treated for two years. Next year I had walking pneumonia for eight weeks, continual sinus infections, and sinus surgery. Luke had severe asthma and nonstop nightmares. Then Grace’s cancer came back last fall. Needless to say, I haven’t had amazing “devotional time” in these last eight years...if ever.

And so when I read that if I really love God, I'd find a way to make it work...it triggered all my fears I am weak, I am a failure, that God is disappointed in me, that He's a slave driver who just wants more and more. That I am unlovable and unable to show love unless I work harder. 

It triggered my fear that pastors and clergy know God better than me and that everything I've learned about God must be untrue if a pastor or "spiritual authority" says so. Or hints so. I still don't understand why I so desperately need a pastor's validation of my faith. It's as if I take their words about me to be God's own approval, and I am devastated when their spiritual formulas don't work for me. I always feel that I am the hot-mess-black-sheep who can't get her act together when everyone else can.

I didn't realize that all this was triggered this morning. All I knew was that I felt the effects as if I had been shot. I bled out anger and fear and self condemnation all over the place today. It wasn't until I was doing the dishes tonight that God revealed to me that this morning's reading triggered my spiritual trauma that isn't fully healed. It was such a huge relief to at least know why I had gone off the deep end. I felt overwhelming peace and acceptance again. And it reminded me of a story I've been wanting to share. 

Mary Magdalene 

Several years ago I attended a spiritual retreat at my church. Unfortunately the guest speaker not only triggered all my fears, I think he was aiming to kill. He spoke against Christians needing medicine. He thought real Christians prayed, and real Christians had their prayers answered by miracles, because of their prodigious faith in God. Obviously Grace's life had been saved by God giving us access to medicine, but the man said it with such authority that I felt like everything I knew about God was now revealed to be a lie. 

He was a spiritual authority. He knew everything. I knew nothing. 

I actually had to get up and leave the church in a panic. I went for a walk in the neighborhood, trying to staunch my spiritual wounds without success. I was terrified that somehow I hadn't any faith after all, that I had fooled myself into believing that God could love me. Looking back, I think it was a spiritual attack, because on paper it doesn't make sense. It wasn't a logical conclusion, it was a spiritual overwhelming of darkness and fear. My spirit was being held underwater and I was about to drown. 

And then I heard, or rather had a vision, from Jesus.

He reminded me of the scene from Luke 7 and/or Mark 14, when he and his disciples were having dinner with their friend Simon. A woman, possibly Mary Magdalene, pushes her way through the male dominated dinner party to get to Jesus. She breaks open the jar of exceptionally expensive perfume, and anoints him with it. 

The men are appalled. A woman and a sinner has touched God. She's a hot mess, crying on his feet and wiping them clean with her hair. Judas says it was a waste, she could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor. The men reject her act of worship, reject her faith, reject her.

And this is where I saw the vision. I saw the woman rise to her feet, trembling at their judgement. She's violated cultural and spiritual boundaries to get to Jesus. Those men are the spiritual authorities. They are right. She is wrong. They know everything about God. She is nothing.

I saw Jesus also stand up, reach his arm out and bring the woman to stand behind him, so that he could take on their criticism and protect her from it. He became her shield. 

"Leave her alone," he says in the Bible. And in the vision I heard him add, "She belongs to me." 

He showed her mercy, though she was a sinner. He validated her simple faith. He chose her, and her faith, over their self righteousness. He saved her from their condemnation and took it on himself. And he did take it on himself. Judas then decided then to betray Jesus because of this scene. He refused to serve a God who couldn't tell the difference between the outcasts and the elite. 

Jesus knew that saving her meant losing his own life. But he did. She belonged to him. That's what love does, and he loved her more than he loved his own life. He refused to let any of the spiritually elite take her away from him. 

He reminded me of this vision today, and therefore, I am incredibly grateful for my terrible devotion time. I don't have any theological training, no fancy titles or gold stars.  I have a lot to learn. I don't do my faith "right." I am a hot mess. A black sheep. 


But I belong to Jesus. 


Monday, March 26, 2018

Emi

Gracie is having her endoscopy tomorrow and prayers would be appreciated- not only for the procedure but also for the doctors to have wisdom. Getting Gracie to eat and drink, even her favorite foods, is an all-day challenge. Food hurts her. Even though her incredibly painful stomach spasms have stopped, she is self regulating to protect herself and it has me worried. The endoscopy should hopefully help us understand the underlying problem. 

Otherwise she's doing a lot better. She's been working very hard to get along with her brother and it's been music to my ears to hear them playing and laughing again. She's been worried about her friend Emi and it's been hard to try to make sure she doesn't feel lied to...and also make sure she doesn't take on a burden of understanding that she's not old enough for. I feel very unqualified for the job of knowing how much to share and how to help her deal with her grief. 

And also her fear. She understands that if Emi can die, than so can she. And that's very hard to help an eight year-old navigate through.

Because honestly, it's been very hard for me to cope for those very same reasons. These last few weeks I've been pretending cancer away. I've been remodeling the front yard, organizing like crazy, hiding from social media, avoiding text messages...anything to make me feel safe from thinking about cancer. I was doing my best to be in denial of that hated "red cancer door."

But with Grace needing this endoscopy, and her being in some really intense pain these last few weeks, the door has stayed open. Waiting to see if Emi will be taken off life support threw it open. And my illusions of security and stability are again shattered. 

And I don't know what to do. Emotions are hard for me. When I weep I feel I should "trust" God more. When I'm calm I feel I must be in denial. And how do you pray for a child that is dying? I mean - really? I obviously have been praying for a miracle but I also am praising God for the miracle of eternal life. My fear is that she will die, because we've known six other children that have died. Children we knew personally who were being treated with Gracie, man of them Christians. And I've come to realize the obvious...God allows children to die. How do you pray knowing that?

That's an extremely painful truth, to trust God and know he allows the death of innocents. And I've been angry at him for it. I believe in heaven as the "more real" life, but at the same time I'm angry that this life is so ruined. I'm angry that he doesn't often rescue us from the pain of it. He often allows it. His intervention of breaking through time-space-laws-of-science-personal-responsibilities is the exception. The miraculous circumvention of death didn't come for any of his apostles. Most of them were martyred and all of them stayed dead. Instead they were granted the miracle of eternal life. And often that's not the miracle we want or pray for. To be honest, most of us Christians see death as God not answering our prayers. 

Yesterday as I was grieving/praising I felt Jesus say, trust him. He knows what is happening, he knows the injustice, he knows the pain of our suffering. He reminded me that faith isn't always knowing- it's faith. Blind faith. And that's hard for me, but it's true. 

But even if I believe in heaven, even if I trust in Jesus with my heart...my head is still throbbing in pain and confusion with so many children suffering. Children dying. Children that we know and have loved. There's no pretending the pain of that away. 

Then I remember who he is. He is the God who left heaven to hold our hand while we stumble. He is the God who climbed into the muddy pit of life and let us climb out by standing on his shoulders. He is the God who wept. He is the God who will never leave us or forsake us.

I have come to a point in my faith that is no longer dependant on the outcomes in this life. With his help and my hobbling, I will follow him in faith. I am not immune to the suffering and grief in this life, in fact I think my sense of it is heightened because of knowing Jesus, but it's not this life's outcome that directs me. If it goes well for me, or if life is a tragedy for me, I am swayed...I am hurting...I am broken...but I know who Jesus is and I know that I belong to him. 

And my peace comes from knowing that Emi belongs to him. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Out of the Ashes

Grace Update:


We've been home for over a week and I think I'm much less shell-shocked this time, but Grace is still thawing out. She's been feeling significantly better this week, though that still includes lots of aches, pains, tummy issues, fatigue and weakness. She's afraid to be touched. I'm going to talk to the doctor about it tomorrow- to see if it's a medicine side effect or nerve damage that's causing the pain.

She's also been having lots and lots of nightmares, including one last night of getting a shot in her neck and another in her fingertip. She also keeps having dreams that I came into her room to give her medicine or wake her up for an appointment, so she'll wake up and try to get ready, but I'm not there. The confusion really upsets her, and the sleep deprivation only adds to it.

But overall she's talking again, laughing again, and playing with toys for the first time in three months. And playing on her swing set every day.

It makes me so content to see her and her brother outside, playing, and laughing together every evening. It's the most normal part of my day. It makes me feel secure, even if for only that half an hour. It's been one of the healing oils God has been carefully rubbing into my raw soul. He's been slowly healing my soul and my relationship with him.

Me update:

I've always been like this: if I can't have some resolution with my relationship with God, then I act like a scorned lover who can't move on. He's the center gear in which all my other gears revolve around, and in the times when my relationship with him is not functioning, everything else grinds to a stop. If he doesn't make sense to me, then nothing in life makes sense to me.

I think that's why it's been so critically important to me to figure Him out (as much as a mortal might dare to try to figure God out) during Grace's-cancer-crisis. For me it's been a spiritual-crisis. An identity-crisis. An every-aspect-of-life-crisis.

A big issue I've been struggling with is trying to imagine myself reintegrating into "normal" life with "normal" people. If you've read any of my past blogs you've probably sensed the anger and bitterness I've been struggling with. I'm so afraid of rejection for being broken. I'm so judgemental of those who've never suffered, especially Christians. I fear happiness as much as I fear pain.

It's been ugly. And frightening. And lonely.

Last week I was able to go to Celebrate Recovery for the first time in ages. We sang the worship song Holy Ground and I bristled at, "let every burning heart be holy ground."

I felt more like my heart had only burnt to the ground, and I think that's not really what the song implied. I can't fake passion, pretending my heart is burning on fire for God- what does that really mean anyhow? Passion isn't a "Fruit of the Spirit," or a beatitude listed in the Sermon on the Mount and yet Christians are so focused on passion right now. It reminds me that our society idolizes star-crossed lovers over marriages that have endured decades.

My faith is totally dependant on him right now. My heart is broken and burned out. The amazing thing was, God didn't refute that feeling. I felt his presence affirm it. And that sort of surprised me.

I used to imagine that God and I would take walks, hand in hand, in the garden of my heart. He showed me that it wasn't my garden, it's always been His garden that I had imagined, and that I had a corner patch in it. And I saw in this vision that my garden plot really had burned to the ground.

But he reminded me that forest fires are often seen as terrible calamities with nothing but devastation and pain...but in actuality forest fires are a huge benefit for the forest in the broader sense. They clear the ground for new growth. Many plants are dependant on the heat and chemical changes for germination. Fires kill the mold and bacteria that had festered in the dark underbrush, and the new growth will have plenty of oxygen and sunlight to prevent future blight. Forests will languish without an occasional fire.

In a forest fire there is loss of life, but also there is also new life.

So it was true, my garden plot had burned to the ground while others burned with poetic passion. And some of those burning, passionate Christians in God's garden are represented by beautiful, ornamental garden plots. They have topiaries and long stemmed roses, bubbly fountains and marble statues. But I have a feeling there are more Christians who feel they should be this type of garden than God might actually need, and/or they think that it's the only type of garden God approves of.

But I don't think God's large garden is just to create beauty. In some plots God is also growing vegetables. Some plots are fruit orchards. He is tending herbs for medicine in others. Some gardens are for shade, some drought tolerant, some are full sun. Some hold the manure until it breaks down into rich fertilizer to enrich the rest of the garden. Some are full of tall trees planted at the perimeter to take the brunt of the weather, to protect the more delicate plants further inside the garden.

Each has a purpose and I think God values each of them for the unique job He created them to do.

That resonated with me so much that I sang the rest of the song with my own improvised lyrics. I am burned to the ground.

But now I look forward to see what type of garden God will grow in me once the ash has settled. I know it's not necessarily one that will be valued by those looking for prize winning roses, but as long as my heart is a garden that God is satisfied with,  I will try to grow to be true to His vision for my purpose.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Red Door


Days like today, after four weeks inpatient, I have a harder time with the door.

There is a bright, red cancer door that exists at the back of my psyche. I didn't know it existed before Grace was diagnosed. When the door was opened and we had to walk her through it, my biggest fear was that she would not come out again.

After she finished treatment the first time, it shut behind us, but I couldn't lock it. I thought if I did enough good things, maybe I could somehow convince God to lock it for us. Even seeing that door made me tremble, simply because it existed. It was a bright red reminder that it could open again one day and pull Grace in. And it did.

I was even more afraid to enter it the second time.

And though Gracie isn't in any "active" danger at the moment, she's not out yet- the cancer is gone but the danger isn't. Once she's out, it will still be slightly ajar for the next year with the possibility of being flung open at any moment.

And even once it's closed I still won't be able to lock it. That door will always be there. The possibility of cancer, suffering, death will never go away. I can paint the door, I can hide it, I can ignore it, but I do not get to decide if it will be there. The door is totally out of my control. I feel paralyzed in fear of it.

I thought if I did enough good things that I could control God, make him take it away, as if life were an equation that was  as simple as:

I do good + God is good = Good life for me.

I feel safe with rules. I like equations. I work myself to death to do the "right" things, and I have tried to have "lots of faith" in part because I love to see God at work...but part of it is that I'm afraid of pain. I am somehow trying to control life by being "good" in order to protect myself. As if God were obligated to do what I wanted because I paid my dues. As if I understood more about life than God.

I think that's where a lot of my bitterness and fear are rooted. Being in control is an illusion. That illusion is now broken and I feel vulnerable and powerless. I feel so mortal. I know I am supposed to trust God and thus feel safe...but I don't. I don't feel safe. My faith is destitute.

On top of that, I have been judging myself harshly because what I thought was faith in God, was tainted. It wasn't pure faith. It was laced with selfish, self-preserving clauses as I tried control life so it wouldn't hurt me. I just didn't know it then.

I see it now. I can't stop seeing it just like I can't stop seeing that damn door.

I'm having a hard time forgiving myself for being naïve. I'm disappointed in realizing that my faith wasn't as pure as I had imagined. That I'm not as strong as I thought.

I need to stop trying to be God.

Forgive me God, 

I repent. Forgive me for trying to control my life. Pain frightens me Lord. Life is so hard and on days when I feel as weak as I do now, it seems unbearable. Still, help me to trust you. Help me as I rely on you instead of on myself. Please give me faith to trust you. My well is dry but you are the living water, and you love to generously pour out your spirit on us.

Forgive me for judging myself so harshly. I was naïve, that's true. But I would have to be God to know the difference back then, and I'm not God. Therefore I need to stop judging myself as a failed god, and instead give myself grace for being human

When I don't forgive myself it's really me trying to be God, trying to control at least one aspect of my life, and it's about as useful as tearing down my own house with my own hands. It doesn't help. So I accept your mercy and grace. I accept that I am a human and nothing more.

I will try to rely on your wisdom God and not my own. I will try to trust you to control life instead of me. I will allow myself to be weak and let you be strong. And thank you for the grace you have for me as I have failed, and will fail a thousand times a day. Still you smile on me.

Amen.

God, grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is;
Not as I would have it;

Trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

And even as I was writing this, a friend sent this verse. I know that today's writing was my way of praying for help, and this is no coincidence:

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you;
he will never leave you or forsake you.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

– Deuteronomy 31:8