NOTE: I realize that the following post is likely to be a bit disjointed. I’m going to write it, then publish it without much editing save for a quick run-through of the spellchecker. I’m writing in the moment today, rather than waiting for the storms in my heart to pass and for the seas to become calm again. Time and again, but particularly in I and II Corinthians, we are told that God is glorified in weakness–often much more than in man’s strength. Accordingly, I’m writing this while all the broken pieces are still on the ground in hopes that you will be able to see a mosaic pattern in those multi-colored chips and shards. I will sweep up later, and we will all be back to polished writing–guides for how to cope with times of grief, brief reviews and words sketches, treatises on the Holy Spirit… But for now, look at the pieces and imagine–oh, imagine!–how the only Healer will be able to glue them all back together as though they were never shattered.
For the moment, though, shattered is the only way to describe the condition of my heart. The past several months have been exceedingly difficult–not internally, as in that valley following my guide-dog training, but externally. Just as there is a difference between a stomachache with no discernible cause and one brought about because some bully punched you in the stomach, so I believe that there is a difference between internally- and externally-initiated heartache. Many of the reasons for the past few months of suffering are too personal and involve people who may not want their own challenges shared, but suffice it to say that, considering only the difficulties without their implications, they are really rather mundane. Not very difficult at all, in the scope of eternity. However, there were, in fact, other implications–emotional ones. And so, I and many others around me have been deeply, deeply stressed. I’ve been taking the physical trials in stride, but have found it difficult to cope with the pain I see around me and have, by the same token, felt it my responsibility to do something about it. I’ve always said facetiously that I felt responsible for world hunger–now, those comments seem less light-hearted. I feel responsible for feeding others spiritually when I am allowing myself to go without the Bread of Life.
Then, there have been the medical challenges in my own life. I haven’t been ill–just… quirky. Little things like slight climbs or drops in INR levels, unexplained headaches, explainable but no-less-inconvenient muscle aches, a slight allergic reaction to some chemical or other, deep emotional and physical weariness… To you, even if you were on Coumadin, these would probably all be relatively insignificant. However, you must keep in mind that my life was once filled with such medical trauma that nothing, from a paper cut onward, is trivial or insignificant–irrelevant to my body, perhaps, but not to my heart. And so, I have spent many sleepless nights monitoring health crises that never really existed, but that filled me with fear and dread nevertheless.
Where was my love for God in all of this? You ask. Ever and always present, but I had long since closed the door on the possibility of prayer. Not from doubt or anger, but from pain. You see, I had taken it upon myself to stand strong and unwavering in the midst of all of this. I understand that a broken heart and a crushed spirit are not sins, but I felt that those around me needed me to be emotionless, stronger than I really was and without reaction no matter what. My great fear: If I talked to God, I might begin crying and not be able to stop. If I didn’t lock my heart, mind, and spirit up in a heavy, carved wooden box and allow everyone else to see only the engravings on the box’s top, the very fragile person I had become might break altogether, and I would be displeasing those who needed me to be strong. And, this slippery-slope thinking maintained, if I displeased other believers, I would also be displeasing God. So, a brief worship song here and there, a quick prayer of thanks, but no real supplication and no pure trust or reliance on the Lord for help. Just a temporary dormancy.
Fellow Christians, my brothers and sisters, this is never, never a good idea. My advice, and all I have for you this evening, is that you must rely on God, no matter what. You are not strong without Him and never will be. I’m certainly not.
I learned this the hard way today and yesterday. Last night, I did ask the Lord for help–but mostly for others, and mostly without hope or heart behind that request. Oh, I had faith that the Lord would restore the entire messy situation in which we had found ourselves eventually, but I refused to dwell even on that hope extended to me, and I’m afraid that my reading last night of I Peter was with my intellect more than with the love, joy, and wisdom God has given me in understanding His Word. The consequence: Today was just as difficult as the past few months have been. The same things I’ve mentioned earlier, only now much heavier upon my heart because–learn a lesson from me!–burdens not brought to the foot of the cross only become heavier the longer you bear them.
Then, this afternoon, something happened that did threaten to shatter the fragile vessel named Ready-Writer. And all those broken pieces were unexpectedly, mercifully, gathered into the healing hands of Jesus. Up until now, I had endured everything thrown at me–not perfectly, but with as much grace as the Lord gave me from moment to moment. This afternoon, one of the enemy’s fiery darts grazed my spiritual life in and of itself. Detail-oriented though I am, I’m not sure it would be edifying to describe what happened except to say that I felt that I was being rebuked and for something I didn’t feel I had done wrong. The situation has been thoroughly discussed, and understandings have been reached on both sides–forgiveness, joy, peace, love, a deep sense of Agape in this dyad that comprises part of the Body of Christ.
Even following that discussion, though, I was in agonizing turmoil–not because I had failed to forgive the party I had wronged, but because I was finding it so difficult to forgive myself. If God wasn’t displeased with me before, I thought, surely He was displeased with me now. For a solid three hours, I could not fathom grace deep enough to salve this wound, heal the pain, or retrieve this cast sheep–this creation of the Good Shepherd who had nevertheless rolled over in a hollow place and now found herself on her back, terrified and with no way of helping herself upright again. (See Phillip W. Keller’s excellent book, A SHEPHERD LOOKS AT PSALM 23, for more on this analogy–particularly Ch. 4).
What educed me to seek the Lord anyway, I cannot explain save to say that it must have been the Holy Spirit. Even then, it was not to the book of James that I turned but to a series of fourteen ballad-like songs by Nichole Nordeman, a beautiful Christian songwriter whose words about the holiness of our Creator and giving thanks even during difficult circumstances have always helped me in the past. The Spiritual Hot Bath, I call it, because those songs are warm, soothing balm. And, as I assumed might be the case, the tears and anguish I had so feared even before the Lord came pouring down. But–don’t you know?–there was a comfort there, too. A knowledge that, despite the driving rain and hurricane winds, my house would stand firm because it was built upon the Rock. The Spiritual Hot Bath concluded with Andrew Peterson’s song, “There Is Love”. Readers of my other posts, you had no idea I ever listened to Nichole Nordeman or Andrew Peterson–did you? Now, you know! But only when my heart is too torn for Don Moen or Marty Nystrom, which goes to show you the state in which I found myself. Anyway, “There Is Love” catalogues all the suffering that we sometimes go through, always concluding that the Lord loves us and always will and that we will eventually–in a few years? in heaven? it is up to interpretation–look back on these tears we’ve shed as nothing compared with His goodness.
Many of my readers will ask whether I feel that God caused that difficulty–that proverbial last straw–today. No, no, and no! However, I know that the Lord does use ALL things for His good and His glory. Today, He used my absolute desperation to emphatically show me my need for Him in day-to-day life, my utter helplessness without His constant guidance, love, and comfort. We see this, to some extent, in John 11. When Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill, He could have gone to Bethany immediately; in fact, being the Son of God and knowing all things, He could have come before Mary and Martha even sent for Him. He didn’t, though. He did not visit Mary and Martha until Lazarus had already been dead for four days. This was to show His glory, and to show His glory in a way that left no doubt in the minds of many that He is the Messiah. Would He have been glorified in the same way if Lazarus’ illness or death had been prevented? Was not His miracle of raising Lazarus to life again far greater? So, too, God will use this–all of it. Every tear and every moment of standing in spite of sorrow will e used to glorify Him in ways that a month filled with sunshine might not. As I’ve said, I’m not intimating that the past months were God’ will–only that He, in His sovereignty, USED today for His glory, to teach me lessons I had hitherto failed to learn–lessons of prayer and love, of trust and mercy and faith.
Am I now filled with joy? Did the trials disappear? Is everything restored, back to the way it was in 2004? Not quite. But I now know this–that Jesus loves me, and that that is enough for the moment. Enough always, but especially in this moment. When I would not unlock that antique wooden box for the One Who owns it, He Himself used the key–for He had it all along–to lift that lid, push aside all the superficial strength with which I had tried to insulate my battered heart, and carefully remove all the brokenness, shard by shard and splinter by splinter. And if I know the One Who sculpted this clay vessel in the first place, I know what He will do–though I don’t know when. Since I’m not a fired and glazed vessel and won’t be until I get to heaven, He will take this bone-dry clay and water it until it becomes leather-hard; then, He will water it some more until it becomes pliable. He will put it on the potter’s wheel and make something new and beautiful of what I thought just three hours ago couldn’t be restored. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, and I don’t know what the actual end result will look like, but I do know now with absolute clarity that He will make all things beautiful in His time. Now again, the faith and hope that I thought had faded are mine. And, ever and always, “There Is Love”.