July 24, 2012

when your heart is ripped in two

It surprises me sometimes. The Word opens up, and I inhale life, but two-edged sword, it cuts me open. These unexpected wounds, they sting against summer air, and I wonder, how long will it take before they’re closed again, stitched together in a new way? When stitches fall out, scars remain, and years from now, will I be able to run fingers across the jagged lines where seams tied me together again, remember what was said as the Physician went to work on my heart?
Yesterday, I drove into the world with the New Testament in the background, but when this section of Scripture started playing, the world around me stilled, and at the red light, my eyes closed tight and a lump grew large in my throat.

Many. He healed many.

Tears burned. He could have healed them all.

Last night, as a new cluster headache cycle started, the tears fell harder. Jesus, why didn’t you take away all of their pain?

--

Life in a small town means word travels fast. I stop by HEB to pick up food for dinner, but it’s thirty minutes later and someone I’ve never seen before has been telling me all that I’ve been up to and I walk away a little amused, very confused, and leave without the chicken.

Jesus begins His public ministry, and His fame spreads throughout the region, but that’s not surprising: when women have a man on their mind, discussions about who he is and where he’s from and what he’s up to wrap the world several times before he gets a chance to say hello.  

News of Jesus’ coming arrives in the city long before he does, and gossip runs giddy and spins everyone right ‘round: and that evening, that night when Jesus enters the scene, the sun falls in the sky and hangs a spotlight on all who meet Him on the welcome mat.  

The book of Mark takes a quick look at the scene and winks, and I laugh too because I know it’s true: in a small town, everyone knows everything, and everyone shows up, “The whole city was gathered together at the door.”

In the back, someone shoves forward, and the shushes spin circles, and nods and notes ripple as people wonder and wait - to be seen, to be healed, to be known - and maybe the longings to be found by this man emerge from the thick of the crowd, but then the group thins out and the noise is absorbed by the night and Jesus moves away from the crowd and the people go back to their homes.

Perhaps, mixed in among the rest, is a woman who follows, a woman who walks behind those who have been healed, who steps in the dust of their dancing and the echoes of their praise. Perhaps, the moon illuminates her face, a smile for those who have been cured, a smile until all of the others have disappeared into the night, but when all are gone, the stars above see her turn without a word into her home and flood the dark shadows with her tears.

She had seen this man, seen his power, seen his abilities, seen how He left to accomplish other tasks. She doesn’t understand what He is doing. She doesn't understand why He didn’t heal her then and there, why He didn’t take her pain away forever. If He wanted, He could have healed her, too.

Centuries before the woman would have been born, an old man felt around in the darkness for tangible hope, but his fingers grasped only the wind. God came to the old man in a vision and reminded him that he would be given a great reward; the old man had received the unique promise that his wife would give birth to a child, but the promise had not yet been wrapped in flesh, and the old man didn’t hear cries from the nursery, and his soul sobbed deep. He spun around to look at what he had, and his voice broke as he took inventory of what was missing: “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?" 

God saw the old man enveloped in shadows and questions and led him outside and spoke to him, “Look up.” The old man lifted his chin to the sky, and God pointed to the stars and began to reveal to him the Light, to begin to turn his focus to the bigger picture.

God had the old man bring live animals and cut them in half. The old man tore the bodies of a heifer and a goat and a ram, and he breathed the smell of death deep into his lungs and separated the halves so that there was a space between them. And that night, "a deep sleep fell on [the old man]. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him….When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.” 

That night, God passed through the aisle between the carcasses to say in effect, "If I do not fulfill my promise to you, may it be done to me as it has been done to the animals slain here." 

When the old man woke the next morning, the promise to him was not fulfilled before his eyes, but one day it would come to pass, and he would rejoice in the God who had kept His word. In the meantime, God came to the old man again and introduced Himself with a new name: El Shaddai. 'El' referred to God's power; 'shaddai' referred to the way in which God supplies strength to His people and satisfies them completely. 

God could have fulfilled His promise on the earth in that moment, but as the old man waited, the suffocating longings for God to bring what He said to pass required the old man to cry out daily for the one he grew to know as El Shaddai. 

And the woman, well, she could have been healed instantly, but she wasn't, and she didn't understand why. But she had missed the reason Jesus had come. If she had caught up with Him after He departed from her city, chased Him until she saw His back pressed against a tree, she would have seen His arms stretched wide until His hands were nailed in separate pieces, flesh ripping, pain piercing through the shadows, Light shining in the darkness, Son of the Most High slain in the fulfillment of a promise. 

She would have seen Him suffering, she would have heard Him crying out, and when He returned to her city after rising from the dead, she would have felt His scars. And she wouldn't have rubbed those marks with her fingers and asked why He didn't make her pain go away. No. She would have fallen on her knees and praised Him for wounds that spilled mercy, for blood that meant grace. She would have worshiped Him because He had healed her spiritually, she would have thanked Him for the promise that when she died she would be healed physically. 

Later on, when pain rained heavy, His peace would flood deep. When she felt as though her heart was ripping apart, she would glory in the broken flesh of the One who had healed her, and she would draw ever-nearer to a God with a name so precious: strength-giving and soul-satisfying, El Shaddai. 

...He has torn us, and He will heal us; He has wounded us, and He will bind up our wounds. He will revive us …and on the third day He will raise us up so we can live in His presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn.
~ Hosea 6:1-3

July 4, 2012

how are you?

Good.


It’s the answer people want to hear, the answer I want to tell them. It’s the answer to that question people ask to be polite or to begin a conversation or to fill those big empty spaces.









So, how are you?

Maybe that social expectation, that gentle interrogation is a Southern thing. Or a Texas thing. Like sweet tea and guns. Like not waiting in silence on the elevator but turning to the person next to you and talking their ear off in a conversation fragranced with that gently noticeable drawl that doesn’t so much exist when you’re actually home (you’re from the city, a big city) but seems to sneak out in boots dripping with state pride when you’re away. “How are y’all this morning?” 

You can pick out the people not used to the lone star culture, poor dears, looking like critters caught in car headlights in the middle of hunting season. “What? Me? Oh. Yeah. I’m good.”

Bless their hearts.

Now, what's the option if you don't say that you're doing okay? Tell the truth? Are you kidding me? To admit to another human being that you don't have it all together? To stand in absolute vulnerability before them awaiting their disapproval at the fact that you can't handle everything, to look at them and say, “Actually, I’m struggling".... Wait, do people do that?


To answer that way is to point to the dirt before it’s been swept up. It’s opening up the doors to a room you haven’t cleaned in weeks and you want to jump over a couch and shove your body between the door and the person but they turn the knob and they walk in and they look around and they see the disaster area for what it is and they see who you are and they look back at you... and they know.

Those moments, they're not pretty. You want people to only see you at your most attractive moment, and that one? It's not so great. 

This season I'm in is a little like that. It's more than a little messy. I’m a patient undergoing medical treatment, but I’m mostly not patient, and if I thought about this a little longer, I would probably talk myself into waiting to tell my story until after all the junk has been cleared away and I could come before you and just tell you the parts that make me look really good. Like, really good. 

But it’s here, in the desperation and the weariness and the pain, it’s here that grace finds me. How do you survive the bad days? You cling to what is good.

Growing up, I never thought directly about whether or not I was good. But, mostly, you'd think I was. I learned the Bible in school and won awards at church and danced to Christian boy bands and never cussed and never saw an R-rated movie and gained wisdom from John Avery Whittaker and sang "El Shaddai" like Amy Grant. 

Then I got sick. Starting in 5th grade, I started to miss school more and more frequently. Following my 12th birthday, I was hospitalized for the first time. From that point on, my health began to gradually decrease until I was diagnosed with "multisystem organ dysfunction" at age 16. I began to have severe, frequent cycles of cluster headaches, a rare, excruciatingly painful type of headache for which there is technically no cure. 

For the past 11 years, I’ve traveled from doctor to doctor, seeing some of the best doctors in the nation, each one taking hours to talk over my case only to either refer me on or try something that would prove ineffective. I withdrew from my high school, and my family moved to a new city. My identity, wrapped up in my accomplishments at school, was shattered; my friends seemed far, my future uncertain.

But it was then - when it seemed like I had nothing - that Jesus became everything. Through the grace of God alone, my eyes slowly began to open to the beauty of a faithful Father who sent His son to be "stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted." In the darkness of my circumstances, I found light in a perfect God, whose glory illuminated my self-centered heart and showed that I wasn’t the good girl I thought I was. Or anywhere close.

And yet, this perfect God allowed His Son to suffer greater pain than anything I could even imagine. He walked through this horrible affliction, and because He did, I received His goodness. He wrapped me up in His nature and let me fall in love with His character.

This Son, Jesus, He knows suffering intimately. "Acquainted with grief," He's the only one who understands what this journey has been like.  

Christ's wounds have brought me healing. When cluster headaches came back, when I gave up the dream of going away to college, when all seemed hopeless, Christ Himself became my hope. On sleepless nights, He taught me how to rest in the stability of who He is. He revealed Himself as faithful, loving, gentle, wonderful. Jesus became my peace, my joy. I could trust that He was sovereign over everything, even this physical hurt that didn't make sense. He was in control, and He could be trusted. 

A year ago, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, and the prayer is that God will use the treatment I'm currently undergoing to keep my cluster headaches from coming back.

If this treatment fails, it doesn't change a thing: God is still good, He is still all-powerful, and He is still worthy of all praise and worship. I will always long for health, but if it is sickness that brings me closer to Jesus, then it is a gift; daily, I must kneel before Him and receive grace to be able to serve Him with this perspective and to thank Him for these circumstances and to praise Him for providing the strength to endure.

Today, in this messy moment, I want to set aside this little space: a corner to sit down and listen to God speak through His Word, a place to record what He’s done and what He’s doing and to wrestle with truth and whisper it back to Him in breathless gratitude. 

My hope is that these simple blog posts can be a picture of God's grace and perfect faithfulness in chronic pain, to show that – even now, even in suffering - "God’s presence is my good."

I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, so I can tell about all You do.
~ Psalm 73:28