Wednesday, August 31, 2011


So last Monday (sorry it's been a while!) I arrived home to find someone's pet bird perched on my doorstep.  Literally.  A bird.  Perched.  On the little sliver of step right in front of my door.  I mean, I know what to do with a stray dog, but a stray bird?  So being the genius I am, I got a handful of birdseed (yes, the comments are now open for mocking) and tried to get near it.  Needless to say, that idea was a complete bust.  So after chasing it around the yard for a few minutes, I finally threw my scarf over it so it couldn't flutter away, and gently picked it up and returned it to the owners.

As I held the little bird, though, I couldn't help noticing that I could see its tiny little heart pounding away in its chest as if the heart were about to explode.  I felt a little sorry for the bird because being lost with your wings clipped has to be a terrifying ordeal.  Then he started trying to peck me through the scarf and I didn't feel so sorry for him anymore.

Lately, though, I have felt so much like that bird.  Except that instead of exploding out of my chest, my entire ribcage seems to constrict until I feel like I can't breathe, and I want to have a panic attack because I have papers to grade or laundry to fold.  Add to that a layer of guilt for all the phone calls I haven't made or the notes I haven't written or the nice things I haven't done for people, and some days I can hardly get out of bed.  It is very not rational.  So don't try to explain it away.  I'm nuts.

And so I find myself praying for help to grade papers and for five minutes to make a phone call or just for the motivation to get out of bed.  So while I would happily live without the anxiety, I am learning the meaning of dependency and strength.  I'm learning that being strong is not about riding an emotional high from good things going on in your life, but slowly and graciously doing whatever is in front of you at the moment.  I'm learning that dependency, when wrongly placed, leads to all kinds of grief, but when rightly placed leads to joy.  I'm learning that sometimes the hardest thing we can do is to walk through life with eyes wide open to God's truth about ourselves and this world.

And the Lord pours out his mercy in unexpected ways.  I find that when I wake up and pray because I can't make myself get out of bed, I soon hear the footsteps of a sweet boy who woke up an hour early and brings me a book on dinosaurs to read.  The simple obedient faith that makes me get in the car to go to work is rewarded with new mercies and a sense of peace to replace my dread.  And by sitting down to write when I'd rather hide in a corner or play games on my phone, I find healing and understanding.

The way the Lord has answered me, not by making things easier or relieving me of responsibilities or even by taking away my anxiety, but just by being present in the midst of my struggle.  That presence makes me cherish my savior in ways I never thought possible.  If I had stayed in bed or quit, how much of Christ would I have missed?  It makes me wonder about the mercies I have already missed because I have been too weary or afraid to take the next step, and that thought encourages me to keep going.

I've been working on memorizing Hebrews 12.  Don't be too impressed, in a month, I've done maybe five verses, so this is going to take me a couple years.  But one prayer I have been praying over and over for myself is from Hebrews 12:1, to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles so that I may run with perseverance the race marked out for me.  Right now I feel like I'm wading through sludge, or maybe quicksand, but maybe one day it will feel like running.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Every once in a while, I really love me some cheesy Christian music.  I was listening to an old mix the other day in the car, and the Rich Mullins song, "Hold Me, Jesus" came on.  There's a line in there that says, "It's so hot inside my soul, I swear there must be blisters on my heart."  Man is that ever a good summary of where I am.

I forget sometimes how much the Lord guards your heart in grief, protecting you from even your own harmful patterns of sin.  Unfortunately, re-entry into reality is always too soon and incredibly painful.  I have cried myself to sleep the past couple nights like a pressure valve having to let off steam so I don't explode.  And I'm not saying that so you'll write me nice things to make me feel better about myself (please don't), but more that you'll know the intensity of spiritual warfare going on in my heart. 

The blessing in suffering is that it brings with it an overwhelming desire for heaven, but the curse is that suffering constantly reminds us that we are not there yet.  Old thought patterns and sinful tendencies are clamoring for my attention again, and my soul is wearied by the desire to just mentally check out.  Sometimes just showing up for my own life is an act of faith greater than moving a mountain. 

So I keep repeating Romans 8:1-2 and Hebrews 12:1 to myself:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 
 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Because right now it feels like I'm running a race with feet covered in blisters, and a healthy dose of perseverance, or perhaps just flat out stubbornness is what I need.  But maybe it isn't really blisters that I'm feeling.  When I run during the week, I start off my run listening to Phil Wickham's song, "Desire."  The opening lines are:
I’m running through the gates of love, as fast as I can
I can’t wait to see You cause I’m a desperate man
You made the light and sent it down
to show us who You are
Now It’s bursting out my heart

My desire is burning like a million stars
And I’ll keep reaching out, reaching out for You.
I really like that song, and now the words make me wonder if it's really blisters on my heart or if that's just how it feels when your heart is about to burst with longing for something you don't yet have.  Probably a bit of both.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I am a psychoanalyst's ideal patient.  With a four-year-old boy who insists on wearing his Batman costume almost everywhere, it isn't really surprising that I've been having superhero dreams.  I had this gut wrenching dream Sunday night about Emmett and I being superheroes together in some kind of X-men type of school where we couldn't talk, but he kept giving me the Vulcan live ling and prosper symbol which actually meant "I love you."  Talk about romantic.  Wow.  Apparently, not only do I have undiscovered superpowers, but I am a closet trekky.  Sweet.  My subconscious is awesome!

I have been having trouble dwelling richly in the word lately.  During the break, it was easier to quiet my spirit and settle into the rhythm of scripture.  With the start of school and Quinn having a cold, my time is more disjointed.  This morning, he woke early with a coughing fit, so I held him in bed and read Isaiah 5 out loud to him.  Not exactly kid material, but oh well.

After reading the letters of Paul, I've gone back to the prophets.  I wasn't really sure why, but I have found in these books a beautiful heart of brokenness for the nation of Israel that seems to reflect my own feelings.  Passages that used to make my eyes glaze over now seem to shimmer with brokenness and compassion.  I read Lamentations first, for no really good reason, and in it Jeremiah refers to himself as a man who has seen affliction.  I continue to marvel at how suffering of any sort, when accepted as the grace of God, opens my heart to truth.  As I read Isaiah's rebukes in chapter 5 to those who "run after their drinks," and "draw sin along with cords of deceit," and to "those who call evil good," I reacll Paul's reminders that I once dwelled in that life, and, but for the grace of God, would dwell there still.

I find myself as the school year begins, being constantly caught off guard by how the Lord opens my eyes to be compassionate by drawing me into the ugliness of sin.  At a very basic level I begin to understand how truly offensive even my smallest sins are, but then I find that awareness leaves my heart more gracious.  It is a strange irony to know how deeply sin offends my savior and yet to find that knowledge stirring in me a deeper love for sinners.  At the same time, the Lord is using the awareness of my own ugly heart to remind me that I am his beloved.  Just like Quinn's need to be held is most desperate after he has done wrong, so I also need the arms of my savior to hold me closest when I have most offended him.  I continue to wonder what kind of person I would be if I could see other people this way, as most in need of my love when they least deserve it.

The words of this song have been on my heart as a fitting summary of my thoughts and emotions.  I think I've shared them before on the Team Emmett blog, but they are worth repeating.  I'm praying this week for the weight of God's love to melt my pride.
"Hymn" by Jars of Clay
 Oh refuge of my hardened heart   
Oh fast pursuing lover come 
As angels dance 'round Your throne 
My life by captured fare You own 
Not silhouette of trodden faith 
Nor death shall not my steps be guide 
I'll pirouette upon mine grave 
For in Your path I'll run and hide
Oh gaze of love so melt my pride 
That I may in Your house but kneel 
And in my brokenness to cry 
Spring worship unto Thee
When beauty breaks the spell of pain 
The bludgeoned heart shall burst in vain 
But not when love be pointed king 
And truth shall Thee forever reign
Sweet Jesus carry me away 
From cold of night, and dust of day 
In ragged hour or salt worn eye 
Be my desire, my well sprung lye
[Chorus x 2] 
Spring worship unto Thee 
Spring worship unto Thee 

Thursday, August 11, 2011


One thing I remember from all my German in college is that there are a lot of philosophers whose names start with the letter S: Schiller, Schopenhauer, Shleisselhopper (okay, I made that one up).  One of them, maybe Schiller, wrote a sentence that I can remember so distinctly that I even still remember what the page looks like and can flip right to it when I open the textbook that lies buried under Quinn's bed.  He wrote (in german of couse, this is a loose translation) that we keep ourselves so busy because if we were ever to stop and look down, we might realize that we are standing on nothing.  It was one of those moments when something you read changes your life, and then you go into class the next day and somehow it feels like everyone else read a different text altogether.  Of course, the assignment was in German, so I may have read the wrong text or perhaps he was talking about bunnies.  Nevertheless, that sentence changed the way I think about so many things in my life.

In many ways this summer has been a good time away for me, a time for resting and grieving, but I find myself back to work this week, jarred to reality by the cacophony of voices all clamoring for my immediate attention.  The transition, though good, has been hard.  The difficulty lies in returning as a completely different person to a very familiar task, only now I am accompanied by the fear of slipping into a my usual patterns of sin.

I sat on my back porch this morning drinking tea, enjoying the coolness of a late summer morning despite being overwhelmed by this week.  This prayer by Thomas Merton was perfect:
     The way You have laid before me is an easy way, compared with the hard way of my own will which leads back to Egypt and to bricks without straw.
     If You allow people to praise me, I shall not worry.  If you let them blame me, I shall worry even less.  If you send me work, I shall embrace it with joy.  It shall be rest to me because it is your will.  If you send me rest, I will rest in You.  Only save me from myself.  Save me from my own, private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movement's sake, to unsettle everything that you have ordained.
     Let me rest in Your will and be silent.  Then the light of your joy will warm my life.  Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for your glory.  This is what I live for.  Amen, amen.
I am praying this year to be saved from myself, from my poisonous urge for change just for the sake of change.  I am praying for the grace to dwell richly where I am, to find holiness in the ritual of the mundane, and to find rest regardless of my circumstances.  Amen and amen.

Friday, August 5, 2011


I think it was in her book Walking on Water that Madeline L'Engle wrote that she loved writing young adult as opposed to adult fiction because the audience was still interested in questions of meaning and purpose.  I suppose that is why I have always gravitated towards young adult fiction, but then again that reason also sounds better than admitting you still feel like your twelve sometimes.  Either way, I took a break recently from reading The Ascent of Mount Carmel  by St. John of the Cross to indulge in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Emmett always used to laugh at the range of my book choices, so for a while, just for the irony, I had Twilight next to Systematic Theology on our bookshelf.

My love of fiction is deeply rooted in the same reason that Jesus spoke in parables, because pictures often capture truth better than doctrine.  Jesus can tell us to love our neighbors, but when he tells the story of the Good Samaratin loving the Jew when they were supposed to be mortal enemies, you understand that his command is revolutionary, calling us to a whole new life.  So I read The Hunger Games (and the two that followed in the series), and although I enjoyed them, I'm not here to give a glowing endorsement.  Read them if you want, or not, I don't care.  But for where I am at right now, it was the perfect book to follow The Ascent of Mount Carmel.  In The Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross details why we need to purge the soul of misplaced desires for worldly things so that the soul can be fully occupied by the love of God.  And so I meditated on these grand ideas without really getting anywhere.

When I picked up The Hunger Games, I was struck by how much of the book is about identity and grief.  In the book there is a viciously autocratic government whose capitol city makes each district send two children every year to compete to the death as a form of punishment for a previous rebellion.  The two main characters are chosen, of course, and hence follows three books of trying to survive and then later on leading a revolution.  Early on the boy says to the girl something to the effect of wanting to get through as himself, not to let the capitol take the only thing he has, his identity.  That thought sounded way less cheesy when he said it.  The idea of identity keeps coming up as all sorts of bad things happen, and towards the end of the books, the girl finally understands what he means.  As she grieves the effects that war and loss have had on her life, who she is becomes a kind of mantra that she repeats to herself over and over.

I so often fail to open my eyes to the evil of this world.  The power of our enemy, the devil, to make us forget who we are is staggering.  Whether through over-indulgence or deprivation of material things, through falling in love or losing my love to cancer, or even through self-righteousness or self-deprication, there are a thousand temptations each moment to be someone less than I am.  And that is exactly what St. John was getting at, that even the good things of this world, when considered more precious than Christ, become the chains of our slavery.  Loss of any sort can reveal how deeply we are chained by our desires,  and how little we know of who we truly are.

But I find that even though the grief is deep, I know who I am.  I am a daughter of the king, an heir to the inheritance of Jesus Christ, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  And just like the girl in the story, I have been repeating this truth to myself over and over again because it is my identity that defines my grief, not my grief that defines my identity.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Like snowflakes each little chance memory, familiar object, or conversation settles into the overwhelming drifts of emotion in my soul, waiting for the dissonant chord that will send them crashing over me.  At some point, I can sense the mounting tension, and my heart starts to flutter like a butterfly afraid to come to rest and trigger the release of emotion.  I can live for days, maybe even weeks, in this state, though I'm not sure how long I've been here currently.  For some days now, a good portion of my prayer time has been consumed by an image of myself being held in the arms of Christ.  No words really, just a tearless gnawing grief.

This Wednesday would have been nine years, fourteen really if you consider how long we knew we wanted to get married.  I'm at the Stallings' family farm, near where Emmett is laid to rest.   I went to see the sod they laid on his gravesite that is carefully watered by the loving hands of his grandmother almost every day, and I continue to be surprised at the new layers of grief that open with no apparent end in sight.

I am learning that grief is unique in its power to completely unhinge your sanity.  I remember accounts I have read of child soldiers in Africa, sexual assault victims, children in poverty, and they begin to make more sense as I explore my own grief.  But then I think of so many other sources of grief, closer to home perhaps, divorce, depression, unfulfilled desires, and I know that these are just as powerful to wreak havoc on the soul, just as vast in their ability to overwhelm us with grief, just as capable of driving us completely mad.  

And so I find the image of being held in the arms of Christ quite appropriate for my prayer life right now, both as personal and intercessory prayer.  I was reminded of a song by Phil Wickham, "Safe" that seems entirely appropriate for my life right now.  As I listen to it on repeat, I am beginning to discover two blessings of the Lord.  First, a persistent, gnawing hunger for heaven that I can see driving out the desire for sin and the fleeting pleasures it brings.  Never have I felt the hollowness of sin like I have these past weeks and understood what it means to throw off that which ensnares us.  Second, a growing knowledge of what it means to be loved by Christ, realizing how little I know of his love, and how much I long to know him more.  These are the blessings in the pain, the tiny threads that keeps me tethered to my sanity, the arms that keep me safe.