Lost & Found

Sometimes you have to lose something to really understand just how valuable it is. It’s so easy to take things for granted, so easy to complain and grow dissatisfied with what we have. And then, when it’s taken away, we realize just how much we actually had to be thankful for.

Twice recently I’ve had something that was very important to me taken away. One of those things was later restored but not before I learned through heartache and tears to be thankful for what I had in the first place. The other thing has not been restored and I don’t know if it ever will be. What I do know is that losing these things taught me more than having them ever could.

Heartache is a terrible and brilliant teacher. I have learned much from the good things in my life, much more from the hard things. Perhaps it’s the desire to never go through such things again that moves us and makes us grow and change amid trouble.

In those moments when the things I loved and wanted were lost (and I’m not talking about material things, by the way) all I wanted was for life to go back to the way it was before that moment. I saw how good I had it, how much I had to be thankful for, and would have given anything to put it all back together as it was.

But even though I can’t change the way things are, I can learn and grow from the trouble—and really, it would be a waste not to.

This loss has humbled me; it has made me more thankful for what I had and what I still have. I hope these lessons stick. I hope I don’t have to learn the same hard lesson the same hard way.

I have much to be thankful for, a big beautiful life to live. God, help me never to forget.

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you
learn.” C.S. Lewis

Using Prayer as an Excuse for Inaction

It’s easy when we hear about needs and problems in each other’s lives to promise we’ll pray for one another. Prayer is of course a very powerful and important resource in our lives. But sometimes prayer can be misused as an easy way out of taking action in the lives of those who are hurting. We misuse prayer when:

1) We fail to see how we can help each other by taking action: We mean well when we promise to pray but it’s easy to overlook the practical ways we can help on a physical level too. In addition to our prayers we could:

  • Take a meal to a new mother, someone who is sick or injured, someone who is grieving, or to a family struggling financially.
  • Listen to someone who just needs to talk through feelings and be heard.
  • Volunteer time to help around the house or yard or to run errands.
  • Babysit for a busy mom or someone who is sick or grieving.
  • Write a letter to encourage and let someone know they’re being thought of and aren’t alone.
  • Say yes as much as possible when asked for help or a listening ear.

“I learned that faith isn’t about knowing all of the right stuff or obeying a list of rules. It’s something more, something more costly because it involves being present and making a sacrifice. Perhaps that’s why Jesus is sometimes called Immanuel—‘God with us.’ I think that’s what God had in mind, for Jesus to be present, to just be with us. It’s also what He has in mind for us when it comes to other people.” Bob Goff (p. 8 Love Does)

2) We use prayer to turn a blind eye: Sometimes we don’t want to get involved in other people’s lives or in problems that seem too big for us. We hear about kids being run through the foster care system needing loving homes and families but we’re afraid or overwhelmed by the idea of bringing a child into our own home—so we say we’ll pray instead and never really stop and consider if there’s more we should be doing. We notice the mom who always snaps at her children in public and never stop to consider if she needs rest, help, or encouragement. We don’t want to get our hands dirty. We’re too busy and too tired to get involved in the messy lives of others so we say we’ll pray (and perhaps we even do) all the while turning a blind eye to the physical needs all around us.

“Jesus told the people he was with that it’s not enough to just look like you love God. He said we’d know the extent of our love for God by how well we loved people.” Bob Goff (p. 15 Love Does)

3) We use prayer to guard ourselves from heartache: Getting involved in people’s lives can get messy. When you open your heart up to love and action, you open yourself up to the possibility of getting hurt. It’s so much easier to say, “I’ll be praying for you” than it is to get in the trenches and ask, “What can I do to help?” But the love of God is a love deep enough to take action—to take risks and offer love in spite of the potential for heartache. God did not guard his heart from us; we should not guard ourselves from others. God’s heart was broken for us—will we let our heart be broken for him?

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves

4) We use prayer to cover wrongs rather than dealing with them: Sometimes when we say we’ll pray, all we really need to say is, “I’m sorry.” I know of a situation where someone has been wronged and hurt by someone else. The wrongdoer tells the wronged that they’re praying for them but those prayers (however sincere) are falling on deaf ears. Until the wrong has been made right, prayers will only add insult to injury. The person hurt does not want to be prayed for; he wants only to be apologized to. And until an apology is made, prayer comes off as arrogant and insincere. If you have wronged someone, make it right with them—not just in your prayers to God but in your actions toward the one you have hurt.

“We don’t like to put hands and feet on love. When love is a theory, it’s safe, it’s free of risk. But love in the brain changes nothing.” Donald Miller

God’s love is played out in verbs as should be the love we have for each other. So, the next time you tell someone you’ll pray for them—do so—and then ask what else you can do to demonstrate your love in action.

Not Without Light

On Sunday, Darren and I drove home from Maine with our two little nephews in tow. One of the boys was chattering from the backseat about the moon and about how dark it would be at night if we had no moon. The other nephew confidently informed us that earth has two suns and there was no convincing him otherwise–but that has nothing to do with this conversation :] My nephew’s chatter about the moon lighting up the night made me think of Genesis 1:16

“And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also” (KJV).

It is interesting that in nature, as in life, God does not leave us without light. In the dark of night, God gives us light–even if just enough to find our way through the surrounding blackness.

I believe nature gives us a glimpse of God–of his nature and character. Like the words of a writer or the strokes of an artist tell something of their creator, so the restless ocean, the bird in flight, the sweeping prairie grass each tell something of their creator–of the Divine Artist who painted and wrote them into existence. God didn’t have to paint light into the darkness; he could have left us to wonder through the blackness until the sun’s return–but he didn’t. He gave us the moon and the stars with just enough light to give hope of the sun’s return.

The same is true in the blackness of our lives. There are dark days, sometimes dark months and years. But even in the darkness, there is light and hope. Sometimes the light is dim, veiled, hidden behind the clouds and difficult to find–but it’s there, it’s always there. God, the painter of light, creator of sun and moon, gives us his light–his hope and peace in the darkness.

If you are prodding in the darkness, feeling lost and unsure, know the light is there–behind the clouds, behind the heartache or uncertainty–the light is there, it’s always there.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis

Beautiful Sadness

So often, I find within myself a deep sense of sadness. I have no reason for sadness, but it’s there none the less. I can step back and look at the facts of my life–the fact that I have a happy marriage, a good job, a cozy home, loving friends and family, the hope of God–so much to be thankful for and to look forward to. And yet, even among the facts of my happy life, I find sadness. Unreasonable, inexplicable sadness. I have always felt this sadness something I need to change, to overcome; I have viewed it as a weakness and a flaw…until recently. I have lately started to wonder if this sadness actually has anything good to offer–if it is perhaps a good and important part of my nature rather than a part that need be weeded out.
In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis says, “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” I’ve been thinking a lot about these words and have started to wonder what lessons I can learn from sadness that I might not learn any other way. I see the following:

  • So much of what I write grows out of sadness, out of the dark times that give me reason to pause, to reflect, and to think harder and deeper. Perhaps if I had a lighter nature and didn’t struggle with sadness so much, I would never be able to think, feel, and write as I do. I feel deeply, which sometimes leads me down a dark road. But if I didn’t feel so deeply, perhaps I would never stop to think deeply, and in turn never write or create beauty out of that darkness. I’m reading Mood Tides by Dr. Ron Horton, a teacher I became acquainted with at the university I attended. Dr. Horton says, “Scripture does not require us to suppress these emotional states but asks us rather to make good use of them. I suspect that apart from emotional lows some would never entertain serious thoughts. Certainly apart from emotional highs it is difficult for the spirit to rise in praise. ‘Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing,’ commands James (James 5:13). Notice that this injunction does not propose correctives to these emotional states. James is not saying jerk yourself out of these moods. He is telling us what to be doing while we are in them.”
  • Sadness helps me look inward and see myself and all that lies within me, good or bad, in a sharper light. How would I ever grow or change if I never stopped to take a sober look at myself? I don’t always like what I see within, but looking away and ignoring the problems doesn’t help me change.
  • Sadness gives me a contrast to happiness that helps me develop a deeper appreciation for all the good in my life. When everything in life is perfect and I’m perfectly happy, I tend to take for granted all I’ve been given. But after a time of sadness and reflection, all the good in my life seems that much brighter and I am that much more thankful for the beauty I’m surrounded by.
  • Sadness helps me better relate to and value the suffering of others. I can say, “I know how you feel,” but I won’t really know unless I’ve been there myself. Sadness and depression are common infirmities and taking my part in them helps me know how to help others in their own darkest hour.

Even with the good I’m starting to see in sadness, I realize too it must not go unbridled. I cannot use sadness as an excuse. I cannot mistreat people around me because I’m upset or down. I can’t live a life of doom and gloom marked only by complaining. If sadness is to be used for good in my life, then I must learn from it and be always moving forward, not wallowing in self-pity. C.S. Lewis says, “Crying is all right in its own way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.” Sadness is only good so far as it helps me reflect and change; anything beyond that is very likely self-indulgence.

Again in Mood Tides, Dr. Horton says of the emotional ups and downs we face, “But if emotional variation is inevitable, spiritual variation is not. Satan delights to attack us at the extremes of our emotional cycles as well as at seasons of life that push us up or down. He need not succeed. We can resist him better if we understand that it is not the extremes themselves but what we do with them that brings about spiritual victory or defeat. We can condemn their indulgent states, pride, and despair, without condemning the fluctuations themselves. For elation and depression are normal moods intended for good. They are moods, it is true, which some must endure as acute and chronic infirmities. Yet they may be endured like other infirmities with the assurance that God can turn suffering to positive gain. There is divine purpose in the rhythms of life.”

I love the poem Desert Places by Robert Frost. Frost’s words about the empty, desert places we find inside ourselves remind me that I’m not alone in this experience:

“Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast

In a field I looked into going past,

And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,

But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it–it is theirs.

All animals are smothered in their lairs.

I am too absent-spirited to count;

The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less–

A blanker whiteness of benighted snow

With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars–on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.”

Desert Places by Robert Frost

What Blogging Has Taught Me

I was kind of cynical about starting a blog back in the day but I’m glad I did—here’s why:

  • Blogging makes me see my life differently: Ever since I started blogging, I’ve seen my life as a story I’m telling other people. Because I want to tell a good story I’m always on the lookout for the funny, the silly, the beautiful, the meaningful—the moments that help me connect with others and share my story in a way that interest them. Before I started blogging, taking a bike ride or spending the day at the ocean would have been simple, quickly forgotten events. Now a day at the ocean is the opportunity to share a story, to take pictures, and to come back with something to share that connects me with the people I love and people I’ve never met. Blogging helps me see the simple beauty in my life—the beauty and excitement in my own quiet story.
  • Blogging helps me work through and hash out my thoughts and feelings: Blogging has forced me to think longer and harder about all the thoughts that race through my brain. If I want to clearly communicate something to other people then I have to clarify it for myself first.
  • Blogging gives me a sense of accomplishment and perseverance: Every time something I’ve written is “liked” or commented on or even just clicked on and the little stats bar goes up and up, I get a sense of having achieved something, however small. I also get a sense of perseverance because there are days (like today) where I stare at the screen and don’t know what to write and just have to start typing anyway. Or there are days when I think I’ve written something earth shattering that will be Freshly Pressed the second I grace the world by pressing “Publish” and instead it sits there stagnate getting almost no hits and no feedback. So much for being the next great American writer and it’s back to another blank screen for another try at a better post.
  • Blogging brings me closer to people: I live across the country from my most of my family and friends and blogging helps me share my life with them from a distance. Blogging also helps me connect with new people and connect on a deeper level with people I have known for years. Blogging has even allowed me to mend and restore broken friendships.
  • Blogging helps me better communicate: I’m kind of quiet and insecure when I’m talking to people in person so writing really helps me communicate the thoughts and feelings I have a hard time getting across otherwise.
  • Blogging makes me a better writer: Blogging helps me understand who my audience is and what they are interested in. The stats provided by WordPress are an extraordinary help in knowing what topics are reaching people and what is falling flat.
  • Blogging connects me with people and stories that I never would have encountered otherwise: I read so much interesting stuff and meet so many interesting people on WordPress! There are so many great blogs to follow—I could sit in front of the computer reading all day. Sometimes I just have to shut the computer and make myself go do something else or I’ll peruse blogs all day :]

That is a list of 7 things not 10. I never promised 10 you know and I don’t know why 10 is supposed to be the perfect number anyway; I’ve always preferred 7 :]

So, why do you blog? What have you learned from putting your thought out there for the whole world to read? If you don’t blog, why not?

“We read to know that we are not alone.” C.S. Lewis

I Won’t Forgive

I don’t think I normally have a lot of trouble forgiving people and moving on with life. I know people make mistakes and I make mistakes and you just have to deal with it and let go. Lately though, something that happened years ago has kept coming to the forefront of my mind. Every time I think about it, I think I will never forgive that person, I will never love them, I will never let go. I know bitterness destroys people. I know refusing to forgive hurts me more than it will ever hurt the other person because it will eat away at me without them ever knowing. Still I felt what this person did was unforgivable and I also felt very strongly that forgiving meant letting what they did be okay. It meant letting them off the hook and acting like nothing ever happened. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t pretend everything was okay and just go on with life like nothing ever happened.

Then earlier this week I read a blog post by Don Miller that got me thinking. Miller talked about playing the victim and using unforgiveness to control and hurt people. Miller’s words made me realize I was telling myself that if I just keep this anger hot and fresh inside of me then that person will never be able to get close enough to hurt me again. If I keep this wound open then I will always remember why this person is unforgivable and so deserving of my anger. Miller’s post bothered me but it didn’t bother me enough to make me change anything; it just got me thinking in the right direction.

Then today I was reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and the chapter I opened up to was called “Forgiveness.” Great. The chapter after that was called “The Great Sin” (referring to pride). Fantastic. And finally the next chapter was called “Charity” (referring to love of course). Super. There I was snuggled up on the couch with a big mug of hot tea ready for an afternoon of encouraging words from one of my favorite authors–that is not what I got. What I got was a heart and soul on fire with conviction. What a got were hard answers to the hard questions I have been asking God (How can I forgive this person? Followed by I will not forgive this person. How can I love this person? Followed by I will not love this person). I have noticed lately when I ask God a question that I think doesn’t have an answer, he answers me anyway whether I like or not.

In the chapter about forgiveness, Lewis says the following: “‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven (Mere Christianity, p.116). These words shook me up a little bit. It bothered me to think that if I can’t get past this anger inside of me then God is by no means obligated to forgive my sins either.

Lewis goes on to say: “We might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself? Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’. …So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. … For a long time I used to think this was a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life–namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. … In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said need be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again. …Now a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment–even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed. I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it any more. That is not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head. It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible. … That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not” (Mere Christianity, pp. 116-118 & 120, italics mine).

As I said before, my big hang-up with forgiving this particular person was the idea of pretending what they did was okay and acting like I’m just going to forget about it. What they did will never be okay, and unfortunately, I’ll never be able to forget about it either. But Lewis made me realize forgetting and pretending everything is perfectly fine is not what God is asking me to do; that is not forgiveness. When I realized forgiveness is wanting good for the other person, well, that is still hard to do, but it doesn’t feel like a lie–it doesn’t feel impossible. When I was telling God I wouldn’t forgive this person, I kept telling him I wanted to but it just wasn’t possible. I told God he would have to forgive this person for me because I couldn’t do it or he would just have to forgive me for my own unforgiveness–I genuinely felt there was no other answer, no other way to solve the problem. I realize now there is a way but it required I first understand what forgiveness really is and what I must do to offer this forgiveness. I am so relieved to know that this anger, even though it will rear its head again, does not have to hang over and control me forever.

I am so thankful God not only forgives me but patiently teaches me how to offer that same forgiveness to others in the darkest hour.

The Chasm Within

When Darren and I bought our home, we bought it knowing (or hoping at least) that we would only live here for three years. Two of those three years have come and gone in a blink and now we are trying to determine where to go next. We would love to buy land in the country and build a house or maybe remodel an old farmhouse in need of some love. Darren spends the evenings perusing real estate websites looking for land and houses and then we spend the weekends driving around looking at what he’s found.

Since we’ve always planned on moving out of this house, I’ve never really put my roots down. I’ve been too busy counting the days until we move on to the next thing and then, I tell myself, I’ll really relax and settle in.

I say all this about buying houses and moving and always looking for the next best thing because I’ve started noticing a pattern in my life. I’m not just always ready to move into a better house on a prettier hillside, I’m always looking for something bigger and better in every part of my life. As soon as I get one thing that I thought I just had to have and knew would make me happy, there are five more things on the list of stuff I must have. I must have that outfit, that bag, that car, that job, that friend, that attention, that haircut, that vacation, and on and on it goes. It’s like I’m using all my life energy to dump water into a bucket riddled with holes; I fill and fill and fill and yet the bucket is always empty and I’m always thirsty for more.

I see too that way leads onto way, that is, when I finally get the bigger nicer house I wanted I must now fill it with bigger nicer possessions because the old stuff just won’t do. When I get a new dress, well I need new boots and a scarf and a bag to go with it because I just don’t have anything to wear otherwise. The more I get the more I want. Nothing satisfies. Nothing fulfills. I know this is true because I basically got everything I thought I could ever want for Christmas last year–and yet I already have a whole new list of stuff I want for Christmas this year–stuff I hadn’t even thought of needing until I got all that other stuff that now needs this and that to make it perfect. My heart is a greedy little monster and I will never give so much that it says, “Enough, there is nothing more I want. I am satisfied and content.” No, my heart will always say “give me more, give me now.”

C.S. Lewis said, “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” There is a reason why all this stuff, however coveted, can never fully satisfy me; there is within me a void only God can fill.

There is nothing wrong with having nice things but nothing (not even everything) can ever fill me up and leave me happy–Hollywood is proof enough of that.

Someday Darren and I are going to find the right house or the right piece of land–but it isn’t going to make me happy. If I’m not happy right now today with God himself then I’ll never be happy tomorrow with God plus the perfect house. There is no room for God plus whatever–there is only room for God because God is the only “thing” that can fill the void within. I can be happy today or I can grasp for tomorrow–and tomorrow will come as empty and void as today.

The Day Is Not Your Own

Yesterday was not exactly an ideal day for me. Nothing really bad happened but nothing went quite right either. By the end of the day I was tired and frustrated and a complete savage to be around. I was griping and grumbling to myself and thought “this is just not my day.” That’s when I felt a prick in my conscience like a splinter being removed from my soul and the thought occurred to me “no, it’s not your day; this is the day the Lord made and you’re supposed to rejoice and be glad in it.” Ouch. The verse I’m referring to (Ps. 118:24) does not say “if your day is going well then be sure to rejoice.” No, it just says rejoice and be glad–no matter what. This is God’s day; he made it—it’s his. So no matter what happens today, God help me to rejoice and be glad in your day.

“I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to “rejoice” as much as by anything else” C.S. Lewis

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24, ESV)