Surrender

I like to think
I’m able to do
Most of the things
I want
I need
I ought
But in a moment
I realize
I can’t

Helpless
Hopeless
They sound all too similar
The feelings
I feel
When I am unable
Frighten me

Reaching out
In the dark
For an unseen hand
Wishing
Praying
Hoping
Not hopeless

Still feeling
Small
Uncertain
Lonely
I’ve stumbled upon
This invisible dragon
Whose fiery breath
Burned
Before I even
Sensed his blast

Yet not alone
I remind myself
No matter
How desolate
How barren
How charred
The land
I do not walk
On my own
But instead in the
Presence
A great cloud

Hold me close
Lift me up
Carry me
For I cannot
Carry on
Any longer

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Questions of Value

(Potential trigger warning: please be aware I briefly describe and discuss an extreme incident of child abuse in the following post.)

Several weeks ago, I read a tragic story about a 10-year-old girl, Candace Newmaker, whose adoptive mom was struggling with her radical attachment disorder (RAD) and brought her to a two-week intensive therapy series. The plan for the final session was to wrap Candace up in blankets, cover her with pillows, and have her fight her way free as a method of revisiting the birthing process.

Instead, the therapist wrapped her up,  held her down too tightly, and she wasn’t able to get free. In the course of this inappropriate therapy, Candace died. During the process, she was begging, literally for her life, asking to be let out, while the therapist called her weak and told her she’d just have to die if she wasn’t willing to fight with enough strength to get out.

I keep returning to Candace’s story in my mind and as I revisited again today, I found myself asking just what it is about this tragedy that catches me.

Criminal neglect, abuse, whatever trauma she’d previously experienced that resulted in RAD, Candace had already lived through hell before she was ever brought to the therapist who ended her life.

And God didn’t step in to save her.

That’s where I’m stuck this morning.

God could have granted her strength to tear apart the sheets and claw her way out. He could have supernaturally given her breath, despite the tightly wrapped blankets and the adults pushing their combined weight against her. Yet He chose not to do anything of the sort. Instead, Candace begged for her life while the therapist heaped verbal abuse on top of the physical abuse that was literally killing her.

And while I’m incredibly sad for this poor child and her mother, and maybe even can spare a feeling or two for the therapist – who, I sincerely hope, meant well, even if her methods were dangerously unorthodox – I realize what really captures me about Candace’d story is this: I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen to me. I’m afraid that all the words I think I’ve heard, all the feelings I’ve felt about God loving me, in the end, will just be empty promises because natural laws bring ever more fear and sadness and death.

I’d like to tell myself that I don’t know the whole story. I don’t know Candace’s own experience, other than what I’ve read online. I’m not aware that she experienced God’s loving presence as she died in this terrible way. Maybe she did. Maybe, if I could talk to her now, she’d tell me she doesn’t blame her mother or the therapist, that even before she died, she experienced Love like she’d never had before and now, of course, she spends eternity wrapped in His embrace.

Those are comforting thoughts, but I don’t know that they’re accurate. Maybe she’d never felt loved in her life and in death only felt completely beaten down. The mom who’d chosen to adopt her was sent out of the room and the therapist just reinforced every terrible, shameful, lie she’d ever been told: she didn’t deserve to live, nobody cared enough to help her, she was abandoned, alone, unworthy.

I’m afraid that’s what I will find. I will live with the belief that Love truly does love me, but find, in the end, it’s just me, all alone, abandoned by the One I thought would save me, realizing that I truly am not worth it.

Even as I write that out, something (Something?) inside myself is arguing that I am, in fact, worthy. Even if God doesn’t exist and Love doesn’t love me, I am worthy, simply because I am me. I am worthy merely by the fact that I exist.

And if that’s true, which I so often doubt, then perhaps the rest of it is true as well. Perhaps God does exist, perhaps He created the universe and everything in it, perhaps He loves me more than I can even comprehend.

Maybe, possibly, I don’t truly understand the experience of suffering, whether it’s acute, as in Candace’s death, or long and drawn out, as it surely was in her life. And because I don’t really know the power of redemption, I can’t see the value in pain.

These thoughts keep turning over in my mind’s eye. The glimmering possibilities sparkle in the light and warm my heart with hope.

Maybe my pain, my suffering, is more valuable than I recognize. Could it be that my story means more than I see? Is it possible that, even in these moments when I doubt that God is really good, I am able to keep my faith in Love that never ends?

Might it be, even though I’ll probably never be convinced by a detailed theology of God’s great goodness, I can know Truth because I have experienced Love?

I hope so.

Into the Jungle

Lately, the path I’ve been walking seems to lie between two rather distinct regions, both with their own landscape and climate.

On the left side, I find the desert of fear. The desert, as one might expect, is characterized by its lack of water and extreme temperatures. There is very little in the way of vegetation and no shelter from the winds blowing every which way.

To my right, I see the jungle of faith. Lush with plant and animal life, the jungle seems to be everything the desert is not: humid, temperate, sheltered. Yet, all the foliage makes it hard to see what might be around the next bend.

Looking back, my tracks veer sometimes into the desert, other times through the jungle, but primarily in the narrow space between them. As I shade my eyes to consider the way before me, it seems to divide.

I realize now, I’ve encountered these forks in the road before. One branch leads deep into the jungle, the other winds through the desert. I don’t want to have to choose. I want to hold on to my fears, like a lifeline, as I step into the unknown depths of the jungle.

Except, I don’t think that’s how this works.

What if, rather than a lifeline keeping me safe, these worries form a leash attached to a choke collar, reining me in and holding me back? What if what it takes to live life in the jungle of faith is to recognize my anxiety, to know it, to feel it, and to choose not to listen to it, not to let it keep my from following the path I would like to choose?

I am more, I am certain, than the sum of my fears. My heart and soul were made of greater things than these.

And so I take a deep breath, inhaling the scent of fresh rain that permeates the jungle. I step in, placing one foot in front of the other. Verdant leaves brush against my face and close in on the trail behind me. I still feel worry nipping at my heels, but I am making my way, however tentatively, deep into the heart of the jungle.

I understand there is a beautiful temple here.

A New Credo

About a year ago, I sat on my bed one night and started writing out things I believed about myself and about God and about life. It was a big leap of faith for me to let out some deeply held ideologies, to explore them and examine what might be worth keeping and what might not. Here is what I wrote.

I love Adam and the kids. I want what is best for them, even when that’s not the thing I’d prefer.

I’m scared that I’m not good enough. That I don’t have enough in me to accomplish all the things that I’m supposed to do.

I’m afraid I’m unlovable. Because no one can love me merely for who I am, I must constantly prove myself valuable by my usefulness. If I am not useful, I can be discarded.

God might love me, but He’s not very happy with me. He gave me all this responsibility and I keep letting Him down.

I’m a fraud. I have all these really good ideas about how life should be and how love ought to cover all and yet, I don’t actually believe any of them to make my life happen. They don’t have any real meaning in my day-to-day existence.

I hurt people all the time and they’re tired of forgiving me. The ways I used to be useful to them aren’t as important to them anymore and they are only waiting to see if I can find some new utility before they discard me. I don’t think I can so I’m about to be abandoned.

I can do life on my own, I guess, but I’ll have failed. Even if, on my own, I do really well, I’ll never be successful because I have already proven myself to be a failure in the most important roles and relationships of my life. I have failed as a wife and failed as a mother. I am a failure at the two things God and Nature most basically designed me to be.

I don’t deserve to be happy. I have failed and I have hurt the people closest to me. I deserve misery as my eternal penance for my sins.

Pain is bad. It means I’m doing something wrong. If I were doing it right, it wouldn’t hurt. If I’m hurting, it proves I’m failing. I must be a bad person to be hurting all the time.

It’s my fault if people are angry with me and my responsibility to change so they aren’t angry any more. I should always do everything I can to make people happy.

I am being selfish if I take care of my own needs before the needs of everyone around me are met. I am a very selfish person.

Despite my best efforts to look good, everyone I let close to me sees what I’m really like and they are disgusted by me. They only continue to interact with me because I am useful or amusing.

I really, really want to believe that God loves me and all these bad thoughts about myself are lies. But what if they aren’t? What if I trust God and trust other people and then it all turns out to be true?

Ouch. Even that night, as I reread what I had written, I recognized that this terrible credo was not good for me. I offered my response to myself as truthfully as I could.

Looking logically at all the statements I wrote out, the only one that seems worth holding on to is the first one.

It’s pretty scary to think about letting go of the rest of them, though. Will I be able to just loosen my grip and let them go? I think I’ll try to hold on to some, or grab them back in some warped sense of comfort. Or just out of habit.

The idea, though, that I can simply choose not to believe these any more sparkles at me like a precious gemstone, half-buried in debris along a path through the woods, catching a shaft of afternoon sunlight as it dances between the trees. And that reflection of Hope warms my heart and bubbles with joy in my soul.

A few days after I’d written this, I met with my therapist and shared my words with her. She suggested I rewrite the statements, cutting out the lies and replacing them with truth. I thought that was a good idea, but I was still caught up simply trying to wrap my brain and my heart around the idea that I didn’t have to believe these things anymore.

In the intervening year, a lot of life has happened. This morning, I was reminded of these statements and I felt ready for some major editing. I have a new credo now that better reflects what I really believe to be true. It is a lot more hopeful and full of grace.

I love Adam and the kids. I want what is best for them, even when that’s not the thing I’d prefer.

I know I am good enough. I have everything I need to accomplish all the things that I’m supposed to do.

I am lovable. Because I am loved merely for who I am, I never need to prove myself valuable by my usefulness. Whether or not I am useful, I am still loved.

God deeply loves me, and He’s very happy with me. He gave me all this responsibility and I keep doing my best, which is all He ever asks of me.

I have not completely got it yet. I have all these really good ideas about how life should be and how love ought to cover all and I am still learning how to inhabit them to make my life happen. They are beginning to have real meaning in my day-to-day existence.

I hurt people all the time and they continue to forgive me. The ways I used to be useful to them aren’t as important anymore because they love me for myself, rather than for anything I can do for them. I will not be abandoned.

I can’t do life on my own, because I was never meant to. I do really well and I will be successful because I have already proven myself to be loved and loving in the most important roles and relationships of my life. I have failed as a wife and failed as a mother, but these failures don’t define me. I am the beautiful being God and Nature designed me to be.

I can choose to be happy. Although I have failed and I have hurt the people closest to me, I am forgiven. I am invited to live a life of great love and bountiful grace.

Pain is instructive. It means something is wrong. If everything were right, it wouldn’t hurt. If I’m hurting, something in my life is failing. When I am hurting all the time, I can sit with my pain, learn from it, and allow myself to be open to joy in the midst of sorrow.

It’s not my fault if people are angry with me and it’s not my responsibility to change so they aren’t angry any more. I should always do everything I can to be at peace with others, but I am not responsible for anyone’s emotions but my own.

I am being loving when I take care of my own needs before I seek to help meet the needs of everyone around me. I am a very loving person.

Despite my best efforts to look good, everyone I let close to me sees what I’m really like and they love me for who I really am. They continue to interact with me because they delight in me.

I really, really believe that God loves me and shame-filled thoughts about myself are lies. Even when I question the truth, I am still loved.

Even when . . . fill in the blank with whatever you or I have thought or said or done or not done or whatever ways we have repeatedly failed . . . even then, we are still loved!

That is so amazing, isn’t it? This is truth worth holding and weighing and pondering. I keep coming back to this, the foundation of true love, trying to open up space deep inside my heart to accept just how huge, how monumentally life altering it really is.

Love is living and active and seeking communion with you and me. Now. Today. Always.

Wow.

May you find your day filled with hope and grace as you walk in the light of Love.

 

Keep Shining

I do not shine as I imagine
A successful Christian does
Spreading the light of Christ
Hither and yon wherever she walks
My light looks more like a candle
Flickering on a windswept night
Offering only the merest glimmer
Of the Glory beyond myself

Yet, in the darkness of the storm
After the sun has set
Isn’t even the flame
Of a single candle
A beacon across the night?

What if I were never meant
To offer more than this lonely flame?
What if I’m meant to glow
In such a place as this
Where night and clouds and forest
Team up against the light
And my little candle’s worth
Of the brightest glory
Is all I need to shine?

Like a Child

I grew up in Sunday School. There I learned that Jesus said some pretty cool things about children. In Mark 10:15, He says, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (NIV).

And I remember learning the term “childlike faith,” by which was meant we were to trust God unquestioningly.

Fourteen years ago this month, I became a parent for the first time. Do you have children? Do you know children? Have you ever spoken to a child? Do you know what they do ALL DAY LONG?

From nearly the moment they can speak, children ask questions. Every day I hear from the mouths of my no-longer-so-little children, “Why?” And, “Would it be weird?” And “How about?” And “Can I?”

I’m beginning to think I misunderstood. I don’t think Jesus was talking about blind obedience or unwavering trust.

Instead, I think He was inviting us to ask questions. A lot of questions.

Maybe, like me, you were raised in a faith tradition that didn’t encourage questioning. Perhaps, as I did, you grew up believing that the most important thing in being a person of faith was to believe wholeheartedly, without questioning the authority of your parents, teachers, and leaders.

As a mother, that idea certainly holds its appeal. If my kids would simply believe everything I told them and obey every instruction I issued without hesitation, life would be a lot more peaceful . . . for me.

But, for my kids, who live moment to moment with questions bubbling up inside their little hearts? Not so much.

One song I love is called “Big Enough” by Chris Rice. In the chorus, he sings:

God if You’re there I wish You’d show me
And God if You care then I need You to know me
I hope You don’t mind me askin’ the questions
But I figure You’re big enough

This is the image I now have of God: big enough to handle every one of my doubts, my fears, my questions and loving enough to hear me out, no matter what I ask or feel or believe.