Sunday, May 31, 2009

Comfortable Versus Comforted

I have a very special journal. I got it about a year ago at a women's retreat. On the cover, among pictures of lots of my favorite things like tea pots and pretty bowls of ice cream and strawberries, are the words, "Creating a feeling of comfort."

I have not been comfortable for so long, I can't remember what it feels like. In fact, maybe being comfortable is not even what my soul longs for. Maybe there's a difference between being comfortable and being comforted.

Over the past few years, I've come to the conclusion that life on earth is not meant to be comfortable. If we get too comfortable, we'll never change or grow. I admit, there are times when all I want is a little comfort. Sometimes, I'm just weary. I'm weary of making this 4,000 mile round trip every 6 weeks or so, even though the purpose of those trips is to bond with my 2-yr-old granddaughter. I'm on one of those trips now. One of the problems is that every time I make these trips, I have to come face to face with the reality of the losses and disappointments that have so hugely impacted my life.

There's a part of me that misses the oblivion of my previous life... running my kids to school, band concerts and ballgames. Life was so busy back then. But it was controllable... Or at least I thought it was.

Since then, I've realized just how little control I really have. Things like ice cream and strawberries bring a very brief moment of comfort, but that's really not what my soul yearns for. My soul yearns for someone much bigger and stronger than I to love me enough to take care of the things I cannot control. That's the kind of comfort I get when I submit to God and trust His way of controlling things instead of demanding that He make me comfortable. I am comforted even in the midst of grief and loss even though I am not comfortable. Maybe being comfortable is really a myth. Maybe there is no such thing in this life as being comfortable. Maybe there was never supposed to be any such thing. Every one of us was born with a longing for a higher power. Something in us knows that we long for life to be meaningful much more than we long to be comfortable.

So, as I enjoy my granddaughter this weekend, and as I face the demons of my past, I will seek God's comfort in midst of all of it, the good and the bad. I will view being comfortable for what it is, a myth, a momentary pleasure in eating ice cream out of a pretty bowl. Oh, I will not deprive myself of an occasional bowl of ice cream, but I will remember that being comfortable is not what I was created for. Knowing God and enjoying His blessings while also allowing Him to refine me and make me into His image (even when there is pain involved) is what I was created for.

Thank You, Father, for Your amazing comfort that comes just in the nick of time. Just when I begin to feel like life is not worth living, Your comfort overwhelms me and I have the strength and courage to take the next step. May my life be full of meaning and purpose which are much more valuable than my comfort.

Friday, May 22, 2009

We All Need A Little Help Now and Then

I have an ongoing love affair with food. Food brings me comfort when I'm hurting, distraction when I don't want to deal with an issue, something to do when I'm bored, a way to celebrate when I've reached a goal and a way to connect with friends and family. It has also brought me an extra 30 pounds I don't need, high cholesterol and painful hip and knee joints. I guess you could say I have a love/hate relationship with food. And I know I'm not alone.

In my latest quest to conquer my distorted view of food and what it can and can't do for me, I joined Weight Watchers Online (again.) I decided to do a little more research this time than just the practices of tracking food and exercise points. I took their little quiz that's supposed to help you get to the bottom of your food addiction. I learned something that I have always known to be true, but try to ignore: I am not good at asking for help.

WW Online tells me that I need to learn to ask for help in managing my weight. It also tells me that I need to ask for help in other areas of my life. And if I do that, it will benefit me in this emotional battle I'm engaged in with my refrigerator and its contents!

Wow, I know I have trouble asking for help, but who knew that could be one of the causes for my struggle with food! It's really more about what's going on in my head and my heart than what I choose to put on my plate. In fact, maybe if I learn how to get beyond my pride and ask for help from my coworkers, family members and friends, I'll be able to have a healthier relationship with food. And who knows, maybe if I learn to really open myself up to God and ask for His help in dealing with my sins, my conflicts, my past, present and future, my hurts, my successes and my failures, maybe I won't need my comfort food at all!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Joy and Pain of Motherhood

Motherhood. I became a mother for the first time 24 years ago today. I don't know of any one thing in life that could have such potential both for immense joy and devastating pain. When we become mothers, we open ourselves up to the most wondrous joy possible in this life. Giving birth and seeing that miracle of new life occur right before our eyes is amazing. There is nothing like it. Watching our children grow and learn and discover is a truly wonderful experience.

But when we become mothers, we also open ourselves up to the potential for the most heart crushing pain I've ever imagined. Nothing hurts more than seeing your child hurt--helplessly standing by as they struggle to navigate life's twists and turns. Nothing hurts more--except maybe seeing them die.

Today I'm going to the funeral of a 24-year-old boy who could not bear life's twists and turns any longer. His mother and father will stand bravely greeting an almost endless line of well-wishers. Then they will go home to figure out this "new normal" that will be their daily lives. The well-wishers will go back to their lives and routines as usual, but this family's lives will never be the same.

This mother's life will never be the same. She will be asking God all the most difficult questions. Not just "Why," but also, "Why couldn't You have intervened?" "How could this possibly be Your will?" "How could anything positive ever come from such a tragedy?" "Where did I do wrong?" And most of all, "Are you really in control? Do You really care?"

And God will answer. There is no answer that will completely heal this mother's pain. She will have to do the hard work of feeling every excruciating ounce of the pain while allowing God to do major surgery on her heart. Only then will she be able to experience the healing that God's holy scalpel can bring. It is not a quick-fix, pain-free process. But it is a healing process. She will never "get over" her grief, but she will come out a changed person if she allows God to do His refining work.

Father, I pray for this family that is experiencing the deepest pain I have ever known. Thank You for Your faithfulness to comfort them. Thank You for Your people who will be there to comfort them--to help them remember their son--and to assure them that he will never be forgotten--that his life was not in vain--that You will bring something beautiful from this terrible tragedy. Amen.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Grieving Community

My tiny community is grieving. In the past several weeks, this rural area has experienced some tremendous losses. The first was a school board member and little league coach, then his elderly mother. Shortly after that, a young father, head of maintenance at our local YMCA. And now the the 20-something year old son of one of our most respected and devoted teachers. Why, Lord? We don't get it. We don't understand.

Some people believe God "takes" our loved ones away when they die. Others stand firm in their belief that illness, disease, accidents and death are all the work of Satan. In my mind, if God is really God, if He is really all-powerful, if He is really in control then He could intervene. How many times have we narrowly averted an accident and thanked God for His protection? How many times do people survive and recover from deadly accidents and diseases and thank God for it? (And rightly so.) But if God is capable of blocking catastrophic events, He must also be the one who allows them.

There have been a handful of times where I've discussed this issue with God, and decided that He was either not capable or didn't really care enough about me to protect me and my loved ones from the dangers of this world. Actually, there was only one time when I really felt that way. I threatened God that if He couldn't do a better job of controlling my life that I was just going to have to take control of it myself. Oh, that is a dark, dark place to be. That I even thought for a moment I could take control of my life is ludicrous. But I was so angry with God. I was so weary of the grief, I didn't feel I could take it any longer.

This is why I love my Lord so much. Even as I angrily shake my fist in His face and threaten to leave this Christian walk, God's love does not fail me. I feel His face tenderly shining on me as He says, "I know, my precious daughter. I understand why you're angry with me. But just hold on. Hold on to Me. If you could only see what I see... If you only knew what I know... I have something in store for you and your loved ones that you can't even imagine" At the same time my words of anger are coming out of my mouth, I'm begging God for His forgiveness and grace! And you know what? He grants it! Oh, my God is so good.

I heard someone say the other day that the church today expects God to serve us--and we really do. But we've got it all backwards. God is not here to serve us, we are here to serve Him. Life is not always fair. Life is not always good, but God is. Even in the midst of grief and pain so deep you think there's no way survive, God is good. God knows your pain. He understands why you're angry with Him. But He is not willing to cater to your every whim. He wants something much deeper, much bigger for you than to meet your every desire--and even some of your perceived needs.

So just keep hanging on. Keep holding on to Him. One day we will stand in that great cloud of witnesses and say with them, "Oh, I get it! Now I understand!" And we will fall on our faces before God and thank Him for His providence, for His strength to allow the things in our lives that we were just sure could not be His will. We'll see how it all fit together to bring about His perfect will. A perfect will is better than anything we could ever have planned--deeper and more complex than we could ever have thought through. And we will praise Him for eternity.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pressure and Worry - Are They the Same Thing?

I've never considered myself much of a worrier--at least not in a long time. I have survived some pretty huge life or death issues. Some of those issues continue and are truly life or death. But they are also out of my control, and I can usually (after doing the hard work of wrestling with God) lay them at His feet. Ironically, it's not as hard for me to lay those huge issues at His feet as it is for me to give Him my day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.

I am still laboriously working my way through this tiny book of Chuck Swindol's, "Releasing Worry and Finding Worth as a Woman." Who knew this little booklet could hit me so hard. Well, obviously God knew, that's why he brought me to it at this particular time! I'm on chapter 3, Overcoming Anxiety. In the opening paragraph, Chuck says that anxiety "is running rampant in the lives of Christian women, causing untold destruction and burnout." Hello! Then he begins to analyze anxiety and compare it to worry. That's where I wrote in the margin, "Is the pressure I feel actually worry?" (See last week's post.)

Chuck goes on to quote Philippians 4:4-7, a foundational scripture for me. I've written it on so many index cards. Once, during a particularly difficult time, I moved one of those index cards close to a picture of my son. I kept moving it closer and closer so that every time I would look at his picture and begin to fret, I would also read that scripture. I finally cut out around it so I could tape it directly on the picture! I know what it means to stand on that scripture and claim its promise of peace.

But then Chuck starts talking about how tasks, expectations and pressures cause us to lose perspective and begin to feel anxiety. I'm pretty sure I used at least two of those three words in my last post. Now Chuck really has my attention! Then he has the nerve to say that truly "fruitful people are usually people at peace." Hm. I would not describe my week last week as me being at peace. At least not until Wednesday when I really began to try to figure out why I had no peace!

As I read on in this little book, I began putting words like, oof! pow! and bam! in the margins. Kind of like the old batman show. Chuck just kept hitting me with word pictures that described exactly who I DON'T want to be, but how I have seen myself acting in the past week or two. He wrote things like, "Anxiety siphons joy and moves us from thinking critically to becoming critics." bam! "When worry wins the battle, we take our anxiety out on others." pow! "Eventually, as thorns and thistles (Mark 4:7, 18 & 19) intensify, we become negative, bitter and narrow." whack! That is NOT the person I want to be!

And yet I am not able to make myself conform externally to what I know is right. I try so hard, but when I do, I become syrupy toward people and I know they can see through my conterfeit compassion. That is still NOT the person I want to be! I want to be saturated from the inside out with God's compassion. I want to be authentic in my encouragement of others. I want to be real and allow God's light to shine from deep inside me.

Oh, but there's work to be done! If there were no Marthas and we were all Marys, would anything ever get done? (See Luke 10.) That's the second half of chapter 3. Chuck, you're killing me here!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pressure From Without or Within?

I am feeling pressure today. Actually, I've been feeling pressure for a couple of weeks. I hate feeling this way, because when I'm under pressure, I snap at my friends and ignore my husband. I don't like myself very well when I'm like this, and I'm trying to get to the bottom of it. Journaling helps me organize my feelings, so maybe it will help me find some peace today.

Where is the pressure coming from? Is it coming from other people, situations or is it coming from myself? Maybe it's a combination. Here's where I feel pressure:
  • From my church, who asks me to give sacrificially of my time and money. And that is scriptural. Yet this week, I'm being asked to choose between church activity and a family event. What I really want to do is spend time with my extended family--something I don't get to do very often, even though we moved 2,000 miles to be closer to them. But I feel guilty for not being able to give of my time and energy to a very worthy cause that happens to fall on a day when I've been asked to attend a Mother's Day Lunch. Pressure.
  • From my employer, who is also my church, who asks me to put my all into everything I do. Don't give God a half-hearted product! We have a huge event coming up and there are tons of communication details that need to be done. If they don't get done, people won't know what's going on and God's work may be hindered. Pressure.
  • From my husband who would like for me to be available when he's home. Sometimes he'd even like a home-cooked meal and clean clothes to wear to work! On top of that he likes to spend time with me--for me to be attentive and fully engaged with him. He's not feeling well this week and needs some extra TLC. I need to be 100% present with my husband. Pressure.
  • From my friends at work and outside work, who want me to have time to share warm fuzzies. I want so much to do that, I want so much to kick back with a cup of coffee and just share about what's going on in our lives. (I even dreamed about just sitting next to a friend and laughing last night!) Pressure.
  • From the children in my life, including my granddaughter, who lives 2,000 miles away. Her birthday is this weekend and I can't be there. Pressure.
  • From my son, who is struggling with so many issues. I can't fix things for him, but how do I not feel his pain to a certain extent. It's what mothers do, right? His birthday is next weekend, and I can't be with him either. Pressure.
  • From my dusty furniture and dirty floors. From my unmade bed and dirty laundry--even from my clean, unfolded laundry and my bathrooms that are crying out for a good cleaning. Pressure.
  • Even from my dog, who whines for my attention and keeps dropping her toy in my lap because she wants to play. Pressure.

Chuck Swindoll, in his book, Releasing Worry and Finding Worth As a Woman, says, "People with healthy self-esteem know who they are, feel little need to defend or justify themselves, feel little pressure to perform for the sake of others, and have the ability to feel and express the full range of human emotions. What they are on the outside reflects who they are on the inside. As a result, their thinking is not 'all about me' but 'all about glorifying God.'"

Well, if what I am on the outside reflects who I am on the inside this week, I am in bad shape. How do I get to that place where I don't feel pressure to perform for the sake of others? Isn't it my job to perform to the satisfaction of my employer? Isn't it my job to be a good wife to my husband, a good church member who is not just a pew warmer, a good friend to my girlfriends, a good mother to my children, a good grandmother to my grandchild, a good housekeeper and responsible pet owner?

But I have all these details swirling around in my head, and if I miss one, I'll be disappointing my pastors and my church, and maybe even God! I am not capable of being all these things to all these people at the same time, but how do I pick and choose?

I think I need to be on a constant boundary watch, making sure that work does not completely infiltrate my personal life. Sometimes the floors are just not going to get mopped. And maybe my husband just needs to take me out for dinner if he wants something other than frozen pizza. Or maybe he's more content with left-overs from last week than I realize. All I know is, something's got to give and I'm the only one who can make that decision.

God, I'm giving all these pressures to you. Today I will do my best to fulfill my commitments and leave the rest up to you. Will I do any of my tasks perfectly, probably not. So God, please fill in the blanks. Make up for the details that I miss. Let me put first things first and leave the rest to you. Let me not be afraid to ask for help (NICELY!) Help me to give others the grace that I am asking them (and You) to give me. Thank You, Lord, for peace. Help me to carry it with me everywhere I go today. Amen.