“I’m just not used to not running…”

when it hurts run to god

“I’m just not used to not running…”

This is what I said to my spiritual director/counselor the last time we met.  Unfortunately, through many tears and the last vestiges of an anxiety attack.

Because I fell.  Hard.  I am dealing with addictions in my life that seem stronger and more potent and immobilizing now that I am actually dealing them and recognizing God’s will to eradicate them from my life.  What irony.

“Totally expected.  I’m not surprised,” my counselor said.

I told my counselor the whole story.  About The memory of pain from earlier in my life.  The thought of it reoccurring.  The fear that pain was once again just around the corner.  The need for escape.  The escape into things that just lead me into numbness and forgetfulness.  Then the memory again…  The thought of it reoccurring…

And here we go again.  The addict’s vicious cycle.

I think I live in perpetual fear of pain inflicted on me out of nowhere.  Sudden and unforeseen.  It has happened before.  The shock and surprise of it all is sometimes the most debilitating.  It has come in many forms: physical, mental, and emotional.  And the fear of that pain and the anxiety that comes with it leads to a perpetual exploration and seeking after pleasure, which in essence is nothing but a quick distraction which brings with a whole bag full of shame and guilt.

But I still run.

As fast as I can.

To more hurt and pain and numbness.

I grow sullen and withdrawn, anxious and uncommunicative.  I don’t write (hence the silence on this blog for a while).

So I’m relating this story to my counselor, and as I relate it, the memory of pain is there, and I stand up, my heart racing, sudden panic constricting my chest.

Full fledged panic attack.

“What’s going through your head right now?”

“I n-n-n-need to g-g-g-go.  Got. To get.  Out.

“Where are you going to go?”

I realized, through the panic, I had nowhere to go.  I couldn’t escape anymore.  And the umpteenth time, I realized I needed to rest in the arms of my Savior.  That is the only place for me, to face the things I need to face.  Not as a pat-on-the-shoulder, everything-gonna-be-alright comfort fix, but as a real placement of anguish at the foot of the cross, where my Savior Jesus cups my face in his nail-scarred hands and rides through the pain with me and brings me once again out of the depths and darkness into newness and light.

Just to stay in His presence, at that moment, was what was needed.

That realization brought a wave of exhaustion, tears, and more realization.  Because I still struggled.  In between gasps of breath and coughs, I admitted this is in the small room, as my counselor tenderly prayed over me…

“I-I-I’m just not used to it.  To not running.”

But I was there, in that chair, at least, facing things.  I am beginning that long process of running only to God, and to recognizing that only He is there with the consistency of unconditional Love.  For even though Peter said “Go away from me Lord; I am sinful man” (Luke 5:8), Jesus still said “Come, follow me.”

At this point of my healing, this means to lie down in green pastures.

Beside quiet waters.

For the restoration of my soul.

A restoration that will stay.  Forever and ever, amen.

The Lamed Vavnik

“For the sake of ten righteous people, God does not destroy the world.  These are the Lamed Vavnik.  They live scattered, in any nation under heaven, are members of any class, of a, ny profession which may be imagined; and they are invisible to the world. Lo, not even they know the significance of their lives.  Such ignorance is their righteousness.  They merely live, so they suppose, as other people live.  But Heaven knows the difference.

And this is the mercy of God: that when one of the Lamed Vavnik dies, God raises up another.

I heard this from my friend. He said it was an old Hasidic legend.

I believe it.”

from Ragman and other cries of faith by Walt Wangerin Jr.

Time to worry?

When is the last time I posted on this blog…hmmm let’s see…oh, man a couple weeks it seems!

Now that could mean a couple things to you.

One: I’m lazy.

Two:  I’ve been incredibly busy and haven’t had time to write.

I deny both and answer the question with something much much worse.  And it is something that is just coming to light tonight.

I’ve been worrying.

About what?  you might asked.  Well, a bit of everything, of course:  upcoming graduate school classes, my own classes I teach, future family additions (here come those twins!), projected work loads, past injuries which might recur (got a bad bum knee), worries about direction and focus.

And like Charlie Brown would say “My anxieties have anxieties.”  ‘Cause I’m worried ’bout my worryin’!

Now of course, Matthew 7:25-34 comes to mind, that wonderfully read but ignored passage by people like me, where Jesus directly states “Do not worry.”  He further states that God knows all we need and will take care of us.  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

I’m not just taking on worries about tomorrow, I’m covering weeks and months and years in my tormented spirit.

And I suddenly realize how much time that has been taking up lately.

Because worriers are often the world’s best procrastinators as well.  Easier to worry about something than do something about it and let the matter rest.

Or trust God and let the matter rest in Him.

Oh, boy.

Because I’ve realized the amount I’ve been worrying is directly proportional to how little time I’ve spent in prayer, and here prayer meaning that stillness and reliance in the face of God.

And worrying is also directly proportional to the amount of time I’ve spent in distractions of every kind.

Writing, by the way, is not a distraction for me.  It helps me focus.

How long since that last blog post?  At least it wasn’t months this time.

Worrying takes so much time and energy out of me.

So much time.

When that could be time taking my worries to God, and while the problem or situation might still be “out there,” it is book-ended with a trust in a God who loves, cares, heals, redeems, and feeds birds and clothes lilacs.

Who is not a small God, so made by our neglect and lack of trust.

But a large God, whose infinite unconditional love and care for us says emphatically, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Beautiful Home, Pesky Ants

 

ephesians-2-22

Quite a  busy week last week.  In addition to finding out that I am going to be a future father to twins (see my last post and the freak out contained within), I headed up to Eustis, FL to see a good friend I haven’t seen in 20 years, Amy.  For the past five years, Amy has been a missionary in Ghana, Africa, as headmistress of a Rafiki Foundation school.  As we walked the streets of nearby Mt. Dora, we caught up on the past twenty years and I learned a great deal of her new life in Africa.  Of how different it is, but how “kids will still be kids.”  Of electricity going out on a regular basis.  On how being a missionary isn’t being a “super Christian” but just following the particular call that God has for all of us.

Amy and I performed together in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I was happy to hear that it was one of the first plays she introduced her new students to.

How wonderful to see her again.  And hey!  She could always use support in her work!  She is an amazing person.  Learn more about her here.

Then a week a teaching at my first VBS (Vacation Bible School).  It has been my desire over the summer to express my faith more, not to merely consent mentally to a creed, but allow the Holy Spirit to touch my heart, hands, and feet.

I wanted to use my gifts for teaching and presenting to specifically teach and show the love of Christ.

To mentally acknowledge my brokenness, yes, but to let the joy of God settle in my heart.

By doing cool little science experiments dealing with air and water pressure, and using them as metaphors for God’s Love.

By acting really goofy during our Praise and Worship times, jumping around, laughing, high-fiving, being altogether out of my element and enjoying every minute.

Seeing the light in those little kids’ faces was pretty amazing.

We wrapped up the week at a celebration held by two members of our church.  They live in downtown Orlando in a beautiful neighborhood, in a beautiful house.

A really beautiful house.

A might-as-well-be-a-bed-and-breakfast house.

Antiques everywhere, ornate furniture.  Perfectly paneled wood.

A veranda, a bricked courtyard with a tall, twisting avocado tree.

Wow.

Nice place.

(I said as I valiantly tried to stop my two year old son from crashing into anything).

A little envy?  Oh yeah, sure,a touch.  Especially as I though about the new challenges of fitting two more family members into an already cramped house.

Then this:

My wife is pregnant and now has to avoid alcohol and caffeine (oh the humanity!).  Seeing only Coke and wine out, I asked if there was any Sprite.

Sure, follow me, our hostess said.

The courtyard had a small storage area, enclosed by a wooden door with a latch. At the top of the door, on frame, tiny little dots moved about industriously.

Our hostess sighed.  “White footed ants,” she explained.  “They are everywhere, unfortunately.  Nearly impossible to get rid of.”

She found some Sprite and we rejoined the party and had a wonderful time in fellowship.

In my prayers later that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about those ants.

The Lord wanted to teach me something.

“Even in a house you thought was pretty much perfect, my son, there was a flaw.  A slight flaw, but a flaw nonetheless.

Theirs is a beautiful home , full of hospitality and goodwill.  They are not moving out any time soon because of some pesky ants.”

And then this realization.  This assurance.  This love.  This promise:

“I want my make my dwelling in you.  I want you to rest in my Spirit, and my Spirit to rest in you.”

Ephesians 2:22.

“And trust me, your pesky sins, acknowledged and repented of, are no match for the beautiful Grace and Love which I want to furnish you with.”

Awesome.

Yes, our sins are those pesky ants, and sometimes they can swarm, but we are being built up for something so much greater.

So why despair, my fellow palace?

“Just Say Okay.”

The week has been full of a ridiculous amount of blessings, and in true warped yellow lego fashion, God has to do a bit of prodding in order to provide assurance.

Because to receive a gift is in itself an act of trust.

Just as Zechariah questioned the angel about John the Baptist, and Mary marveled and wondered about Jesus, these great gifts from God often have a “Who, me?” aspect about them.

Especially if this gift might have some large amount of responsibility attached to it.

I envision this conversation between myself and God:

God: Just say okay.

Me: To what?

God: You’ll find out.

Me: What is it?

God: A blessing.

Me: Really?

God: Really.

Me: So what is it?

God: Just say okay.

Me: I don’t know…

God: Trust me.

Me: That’s hard for me.  You know that.

God:  I do know that.  But I love you.  I want to shower you with blessings.  I’m here for you.  All the time.  And I believe you can do this.

Me: Do what?

God:  Just say okay.

Me:  Well, urrrr,hhmmmm, uhhh..okay.

God:  Awesome.  Here are the results of your wife’s ultrasound.

Yes, my wife and I went in for her first (7 week) ultrasound to get the first glimpse of the baby developing.

And it turns out, everything is fine.

Both babies are doing well.

Yep.

Both.

Twins.

Me: AHHHHHHHH.

God: Like I said, I’m always here with you.

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True love offered, even in brokenness

[Note:  apologies to those who have already seen this post, or at least a version of it.  My Kindle WordPress app was publishing this every time I edited it, which was many times over the past 12 hours.  So I am posting a cleaned up version for your enjoyment.  As with all my posts, I hope it touches your heart, mind, and Spirit.]

This is going to be a difficult post to write.  I’m just “in the middle of it” right now.

In the midst of my own brokenness and frustration, temptation, and struggle.

So I need reminding of who Jesus who really is.  What He does.  How He accepts.

Let it be known that English teachers sometimes teach what they need most to learn.  I’ve taught this movie over the past 5 out of 7 years.  There is so much going on in it that speaks to me.

The themes we bring to our students to analyze through the literature we teach, say “love” or “trust” or “loyalty” or “the hero’s journey” – before we dilute the work down to literary period, genre, and use of syntax- often have hit us at our core in some way, have revealed to us a truth about the world or ourselves that moved the deepest part of our being. And through repeated viewing or study, by ourselves or with a class, under the academic hubbub and rhetoric, we get chance to be reminded.

Because I recognize myself as both Parry and Lydia in the movie The Fisher King.

Quick disclaimer: the movie is at times graphic, for both language and violence, so I only show this with my oldest students (seniors). It’s not Fight Club hyper violence by any means, but it can be gritty. Robin Williams plays Parry, a homeless man who thinks he is a knight out to find the Holy Grail in early ’90s New York City. His “princess” from a distance is Lydia, a bit of a nobody and a lost soul. They are set up on a first date, and somehow, they click. Here is the scene as Parry walks her home. Watch and then read on. And don’t mind the part about Florida…

Did you see what Lydia did at first?  She set up this whole narrative where she would be ultimately reduced to “a piece of dirt.”  Imagining that this connection with Parry couldn’t possibly be real, that this was too-good-to-be-true, she concocts a contrarian story in which Parry uses her for sex, and leaves the next morning with nary a word.  A classic one night stand scenario.

Why does she do this?

She doesn’t trust.

She doesn’t believe.

She is worrying about the unknown.  She has never been here before, where a man has truly cared for her.

Or maybe she has been here before, and the one night stand scenario is how it worked out.  A few hours at work, and eventually she felt like dirt.

Used.

Tossed aside.

Left broken.

And hurt.

If you’ve never seen the movie (and I won’t ruin it for you), it’s okay to know that Parry is actually quite a broken human being as well.  His homelessness comes from tragedy.  Nevertheless, he doesn’t shy away from others or set up walls.  He has observed Lydia- this pale little nobody in the great labyrinth of New York City, has declared her his princess, and is intent on acting that way.  As her knight.

Lydia runs.  Parry chases.  He needs to set the story straight.

His confession is that he loves, and though he is quite attracted to her physically, it’s not really about that.  For Parry it’s about the first kiss goodnight.  And telling her that he loves her.

And out of his mouth comes, I think, one of the best and truest declarations of love I’ve heard.

I ask my students:  what did he say about her hair and eyes?  What about her stunning figure?  Her skin, her legs?

And the answer, of course:  nothing.

This is no trite Top 40 love song.  It’s not Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18.”  It doesn’t stay on the surface.

In fact, he doesn’t really “compliment” her at all.  Instead,

He mentions her awkwardness.

That she hates her job.

That she doesn’t have many friends.

That she doesn’t feel as wonderful or coordinated as everyone else.

That she feels separate and lonely.

He recognizes all of her brokenness.

But…

I love you.

I love you, he says.

You’re the greatest thing since spice racks, he says.

I’d be knocked out several times if I could just get that one kiss.

I’ll call.  I’ll come back, if you let me.

Lydia’s eyes are tearing up through this whole speech as she listens.  Her walls about breaking down, she is seeing new possibilities.  And in the miracle of miracles she actually has to admit that

He is Real.

Love has come to her in spite of (because of?) her brokenness.

And she dares to believe.

What a lesson in love.

Brennan Manning once said, in true ragamuffin style, that “God loves you as you are, not as you should be, because you’re never going to be as you should be.”

In his own unique human way, Parry made known to Lydia, without specifically saying it, about the love of Christ.

And how many times a day do I need that reminder?  How many times have I felt broken, used, lonely, awkward, unlovable?  How many times have I set up walls, concocted a different story which would allow me to hide in solitude?

Roman 5:8 begins to make much more sense to me- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Still sinners- in other words, broken.

As Psalms 103: 15-17 declare, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.  But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.”

“Fear” in its proper context was closer to “being in awe” than being “scared.”  Do you remember the look of marveling that came over Lydia as she whispered “You’re real, aren’t you?”  Her inflection still had the remnants of a question, as if she still couldn’t quite grasp what this was, though she was taking the courageous steps toward it.

Like I said, I’m in the “middle of it.”

So I need to take a prayerful step right now toward my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who accepts me and knows me in my brokenness.

Awkwardness.

Loneliness.

Separation.

Frustration.

Temptation.

Struggle.

“I love you,” he says.

Amen.