The Remedy

Courtesy longwood.edu

Courtesy longwood.edu

I read an article in a Worship Leader magazine today that really impacted me. It was a story about a woman in her late 60s who was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure after several months of shortness of breath, weakness, and feeling shaky. Her doctor explained to her the function of the heart: that the ventricles which are responsible for pumping blood throughout the body must also relax in order to be refilled after each pump. For her, disease had hardened her ventricles and her heart was no longer able to relax and receive the quantity of blood she needed to pump out. So fluid was getting backed up in her body and her life was in jeopardy even though her heart was technically pumping with strength. The magazine used her story to illustrate the need for rest and silence in our spiritual life, and it hit home with me.

I am a wife, mom of three, a student finishing my degree, and a very part-time producer. I have been proud of myself for my ability to juggle all of these balls and get it all done. I have started cooking more, and am breastfeeding my baby girl – both things I had longed to do. Tasks and projects keep getting added to my agenda and I am getting a good portion of them done (and doing a decent job at squashing the guilt from the things I just can’t get to).  It’s not pretty – but I’m working hard and accomplishing quite a bit more than I ever thought I could. So I should feel really accomplished. But I feel tired, out of breath, weak, and shaky. My eyes fill with tears at the strangest times.

I keep looking to my husband to help make me feel better. Maybe he can take me on more dates, or bring me flowers, or write me a sweet note. But he’s busy (his task-list each week rivals or surpasses mine), and I still need more. So I go to church, thinking that just one more worship service, a chance to raise my hands in praise, a sermon that will inspire and convict will get me back on track. But so often I leave church in tears. I still feel crummy. It was exhausting getting our kids up and getting them there, the baby was restless in service so I heard about a fourth of it, and it just didn’t do the trick.

Today when I read the article it hit me. I am a girl in congestive heart failure. I am pumping out as fast and furious as I can, but I’m not filling up. I can’t get a deep breath. I am shaky.

When you are diagnosed with CHF, the goal is to get the blood efficiently moving through the heart again. This means, if possible, reversing the damage to the ventricle so that it can relax and fill normally.  You need to get the blood pressure down, the heart rate stabilized, and the fluid balance of the body back to a healthy set point.

But for people like us, in spiritual congestive heart failure? What is the remedy?

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself…  Psalm 37:7

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. Exodus 14:14

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. Isaiah 32:17

There are good reasons why Justin and I do all of the things we do. We think each one is necessary for our family’s survival and right now I can’t think of one thing that I can drop without serious consequences. But I think we need to look to Jesus as our example. There was nobody in history with a more vital purpose on earth. He literally came to seek and save that which was lost. His mission was to redeem humanity yet the Bible is clear He took time away to pray and sit in silence. He slept. He rested. He is never portrayed in Scripture as panicked or frantic. In fact, He was almost always infuriatingly calm.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Mark 6:30 (When Jesus said this people were literally chasing after them – this wasn’t a down time or a break in the schedule.)

How can I think that the things on my list are so important that I don’t have time to rest when I have a Savior with tasks infinitely more important who modeled rest for me? And how have I forgotten the truth that Jesus is all I need so much that I am relying on my husband and church to fill me up when I feel empty? I’ve clearly lost my way here.

Somehow, I have to start receiving from the Lord the rest I need to do the important stuff in my life with health and not just efficiency. I’m not sure exactly what that will look like. I’m not sure what things we need to extricate ourselves from. I’m not sure what balls I need to just let fall to the ground despite the consequences. But I’m planning to sit here for a bit in silence until the Lord reveals it. Because I feel like I can’t take a deep breath, and I know living in spiritual CHF is not God’s best for me, my husband, or my kids.

The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:24-25

Leaders and Servants

Lately I’ve seen an interesting phenomenon in church and culture. A leader is working with a team, surrounded by people eager to help and serve joyfully to carry out a God-sized task. The helpers work hard and are faithful to the leader and to the task. But they are human – so things happen and the enemy intervenes, and the project stalls or the vision is attacked or it simply takes longer than the leader expected.

And the leader has a choice: shift his/her perception to see that the task is not really his but is bigger than him and see the heart of the people serving, maintaining a heart of gratitude despite the hiccup; or let their feelings take over, going in to panic mode, assuming the absolute worst of the people helping carry out this task and acting like the helpers are hindrances to the goal instead of partners deserving gratitude and respect.

I keep seeing leaders choose the second course. I’ve seen it probably four different times in the past year. The leader was tired and overwhelmed in every case. They were all good people. They were trying to do big God-sized things. I don’t think they realized they were barreling through life and through friendships as they tunneled toward this goal. I don’t think they realized they were dishonoring the people helping them in the process. But they forged on and they left a path of damage behind them.

Their choice revealed them, and hurt the people around them. They weren’t leading, they were using. It wasn’t about the people and teamwork and doing things as unto the Lord. It was about the leader’s agenda and needs and when times got hard, they revealed their true lack of faith. They thought their panic was because of their helper’s incompetence, but their panic was really because they weren’t trusting God to begin with. Not only that, but they showed the task was more important than the hearts and health of the people helping. Now, that is not the heart of any of these leaders all the time, but in this case, at least for a little while, the leader believed that the battle was between them and what they could carry out, and not Believers working together in a common battle against the true enemy of our soul.

I saw a powerful interview with Jason Russell, the founder of Invisible Children, the guy who had a very public nervous breakdown earlier this year. He literally lost his mind when the task God had given him proved too much for him. He has few memories of the day he was pacing and beating the ground naked in front of his home, or the two weeks he was incoherent, rambling and raging, hospitalized in a mental institution. His wife, who was there with his children when his fragile mind snapped, wasn’t sure if the man she married would ever return to her. But after weeks of intensive therapy and medications, Jason Russell did return to his sanity and his family, and his story is really powerful.

He took a God-sized vision, to rescue children in Africa from Joseph Kony and the LRA, and he made it his personal mission. He had highlighted himself and his son in a campaign to make Kony famous, and when it went viral and the media descended, he took it on himself to answer the questions and defend his vision. For over a week he did not sleep and rarely ate as he fought to defend against the forces opposing him and the movement he saw as his. The people around him saw the signs and tried to warn him. Meetings were held telling him to step back and let someone else take over, but he pushed back and ignored those around him. And one morning, in his kitchen, he snapped.

Photo: TMZ.com

Most of the world saw the video of him raging and beating the ground with his hands (until his wedding ring bent and his hands were bruised and broken). His breakdown did massive damage to the ministry he helped create. Rumors that he was gay or on drugs circulated widely. And he now says, with humility, that it was his ego that snapped, taking his mind with it. That what kept him awake those many nights was his role in the movement, the Nobel prize talk and the requests for interviews and the high-profile people who wanted to partner with him.

He believed he must carry this vision, and the vision he was never intended to carry crushed him under its overwhelming weight.  He blew through the people serving Invisible Children and when he fell apart, he left them to pick up the pieces. Jason told Oprah that God broke him to take Invisible Children away from him and return it where it belonged, in the hands of the God who hears the cries of the children and who calls us to partner with Him in His work. Even now, months after the breakdown, Jason has a very limited role in Invisible Children and in the mission to rescue children from Joseph Kony, because he has learned his limits and he is working to stay within them. And slowly the reputation of Invisible Children and Jason Russell is being restored because he is doing the hard work of confessing his weakness. I know that the Lord will bless that, and seeing him be faithful has given me hope in the restoring work of the Lord after a great failure.

So what do we learn from Jason’s powerful confession, his story, and the situations I have seen this year? What do we do if we are this leader and we have barreled through people in pursuit of our goal, even unknowingly? What do we do if we are making ourselves physically sick trying to shoulder responsibilities never given to us to carry? What do we do if we have been hurt by the dishonoring actions of someone we respected?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Phil 2:3-8

I think we realize first that we are human, weak, flawed, sinful, selfish and that we can all develop tunnel-vision about the things that are important to us. (I am not speaking as one who judges, by the way. I am speaking as one who for years has struggled with ulcers and depression and losing sleep over things that are not mine to control. I get it – I live in this place. That’s why I related to Jason. I could see myself in his story.)  We search our minds for times when we have treated others as servants instead of serving. We spend a few minutes confessing these things to the God who created us and who understands our fragile minds and our limitless egos. We lay these burdens we are not capable of carrying at his cross. We curl up on our beds and we confess our absolute need of Him and dependence on Him, and we give back to Him the things that have always been His.

“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.” Matthew 11:28-30

Then we confess to each other. If we have done things out of selfish ambition, we make the hard phone call. We mend fences and get back on the same team. We embrace each other in grace and respond to each other in humility. We see it is never to late to express gratitude and respect to those who partner with us for the Gospel.

If we were a helper, and have walked away feeling dishonored and used, we confess that hurt and bitterness and we seek to forgive so we can lay that burden down as well. God will never waste the times we have served others – our sacrifice was for good and the God who sees all will bless those who served him (Luke 12:37). The leader you loved and served is still loved by a God who has a great plan for him. Trust the Lord to mend the broken and restore the stolen. Try to see this as an opportunity to “consider others better than yourselves.” Realize how easy this sin is to commit, and release the person from the prison in your mind.

And together, as we go forward, we realize that according to Christ, to lead is to serve. Our leader washed feet and died on a cross in the pursuit of the goal God had given Him. When we position ourselves with humility, giving of ourselves, we will get far more done than we would sitting at the head of the table, delegating and organizing. We give the people around us the benefit of the doubt, and we treat them with grace. We make ourselves their servants. It is not human to make ourselves less – but it is righteous. So we seek ways to serve, and trust the Lord with the results. The task is always His, after all.

Jesus help us to see big tasks as being Yours, and not ours. Protect us from ourselves. Give us eyes to see others as You see them and keep us from using people for our personal gain. Thank you for Jason Russell’s confession – please use him powerfully to show your grace, forgiveness, and resurrection of all that is lost. Bless each person who confesses today, and who lays down their hurt. We love You Lord and trust You that someday all that is invisible will be made visible, an all of our hurts will have meaning. 

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:19-26

The Long Hot Summer

Anytime I post about the challenges of being a mom, I worry. Because our culture wants to oversimplify things and make everything one-dimensional. So when I post about challenges or concerns, I often worry that people will think (wrongly) that I am not grateful for my children, that I am not cherishing my time with them, that I see them as an inconvenience. In fact, I adore my children and am very aware of the fleeting nature of my time with them. But that doesn’t negate the fact that motherhood is the hardest task I’ve ever undertaken. I just isn’t simple. I am a mess of contradictions when it comes to my emotions about being a mom.

Take summer.

The fantastic foursome eating ice cream in Estes Park last summer

There are so many things I adore about summer: Sno-cones, little tan children, watermelon, the smell of sunblock, swimming at my mom’s house, sandwiches and fresh fruit at lunchtime, trips to see family in Colorado. I realize I am blessed with a flexible schedule that lets me be home with my children when I am not traveling. I do love the time with them. I often marvel over how long their little limbs have grown and I snuggle them close and kiss their face before they get old enough to tell me to stop it. But summer is also daunting to me. Hours upon hours and days upon days and weeks upon weeks with the kids looking to me for almost everything. The comfortable workable routine of our school year is gone, along with the support system it affords, replaced by the need for me to come up with activities to occupy, engage, and challenge my children all day long every single day. My freelance work, housework, and schoolwork suffers, because of the lack of time where I am alone.

I saw this e-card the other day and loved it. For me, it sometimes feels like I just get the kitchen cleaned up from one meal when they are ready to eat again!

Courtesy of someecards.com

It is a little overwhelming.

So if you are new to motherhood, or don’t have girlfriends who are honest with you, and you feel these feelings but are afraid to say them out loud, can I just say I get it and I’ll be your friend even if you are so sick of laundry and the dishwasher and the high-pitched voices that you could cry?

I read once that the kindest thing in the world you can say to somebody is “me too” and I’ll just say if summer and motherhood in general sometimes overwhelms you, me too. If you fall on the sofa worn out after saying the last goodnight, praying the last prayer, fetching the last water, and exhausting the last stall tactic and you think “finally”, me too. If your house is never completely clean and your laundry hasn’t been completely done and put away since sometime in the 90′s, me too. If you pray and desperately ask the Lord to somehow redeem all the mistakes you made with your kids that day, cataloging the litany of ways you screwed up, me too. If you need grace for each moment and have never needed the Lord more than now, me too.

We can do this, moms. We can make this a great summer of joy and connection with our kids. There may be days we put on a movie three times because our laundry has reached code red status (meaning our husband is to the point of re-wearing underwear), and that is okay. There may be days our kids eat the same pizza and applesauce for lunch and dinner, and that is okay. There will hopefully be days we nap while they nap, and that’s okay. Let’s give each other, and ourselves, grace.

And let’s meet up at the splash park as many days as possible, watching them run themselves exhausted, so we can talk to another adult and enjoy moments of sanity. Because we deserve it, and this is hard, and we need each other. Let’s spur each other on in righteousness, encouraging each other and loving each other, pointing each other to Christ when we are worn out. Because He is enough and He will help us when we are at the end of ourselves.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Have a happy summer, friends!

Streamlining

I have read that when the body has endured trauma, it automatically shuts down organ systems that are unnecessary to survival to conserve energy for the ones that are. Because of the way the Creator formed us – the body instinctively knows that it can’t do it all when it isn’t in optimal condition, so it streamlines – cutting the excess and focusing on the essential until it knows it will survive and can heal.

In small measure, this is the lesson the Lord has taught me the past couple of months. Despite our challenging circumstances, for many months I still tried to do it all. And I was unsuccessful. I became exhausted and depressed. I kept expecting our circumstances to get better overnight and so I was just trying to hold it all together until that happened. But as the months turned into a year, holding it all together became an impossible task.

During this time, the Lord began to teach me that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Freedom to say no. Freedom to get help. Freedom to shut down the things in our life that caused unnecessary stress so that we could function better for our kids, for each other, and for the things that Jesus said were truly necessary. Freedom to fail. Freedom to fall apart for a while and then allow the Lord to put me back together while my husband guarded over our family.

It was a tough time – but highly necessary. The Lord was teaching me the lesson of how He created our body. He was teaching me to streamline.

So one day, not so long ago, I let go of trying. I fell apart. I went to a doctor and got some help for depression and for the ulcers that have made me sick for the past 18 months. I turned down a few events and work opportunities that were causing me stress. I made some decisions to streamline our finances. I even streamlined my Facebook friends and Twitter connections, eliminating people or causes that were sources of anxiety.

I wrote down what was vital: Justin, my girls, loving the Lord my God with all my heart, feeding the hungry and caring for the orphan and widow, my friends and family who love us, the work relationships that enhance our lives.

Six things. That’s it.

And everything else I shut down.

I battled with guilt (especially over walking away from relationships), but the Lord confirmed my decision with His Word. My Baptist upbringing conditioned me to see everyone, even the difficult, as a mission field. So to walk away seemed like choosing my good over their eternal destiny. But in this season time and time again the Lord confirmed this idea with His Word. Even Jesus took time to walk away and commune with His father or with the 12 who He loved when facing difficult challenges. So I asked the Lord to take care of those who I couldn’t – and I walked away.

I am living a streamlined life  - hiding in the shadow of my Father’s (and my husband’s) entirely capable wing until I can recover. And frankly, I like this so much, I may hang out under here for far longer than is necessary.

Because the streamlined life is the passionate life. This streamlining has brought me a new boldness for the things that do matter. I now have energy to fight for my six things that are truly important. I believe, for the first time in a while, that the Lord will use me to accomplish the work He has given me to do.

Streamlining. I’m grateful for it. I hope some of you will join me in it. I truly believe it has saved my life.

Speaking of Substitution…

It’s ironic that the very post after the one I wrote about being a substitute, I’m writing this post.

But it’s also entirely appropriate.

I am weary, friends. I’m feeling overwhelmed and a little hopeless, and I could really use a sub.

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty in our world, but there is one area that is really stressing me out. Our house.

Our beautiful house, which we love, where we brought Bekah home when the pear trees were in full bloom, where we’ve seen God bless us in immeasurable ways. But which we really need to sell (and have a sweet peace and even excitement about leaving). Selling would take a tremendous amount of pressure off our family. So our lovely house has been for sale for 8 months, and been shown dozens of times. And with each showing, I’ve prayed as I cleaned and wondered, “Is this the one?”  And over time, as time has passed and the showings haven’t led to offers, my hope has gotten a little tattered.

This week, a friend on Facebook sold their house in a week (which is amazing). Someone posted on the note announcing the sale, “That’s the favor of the Lord right there!” I don’t know why – but it took the wind out of me. In writing – my secret fear.

What if we are out of favor? What if this trial isn’t for our good, as we’ve prayed, but instead is because we’re missing something or we’ve done something to deserve punishment? Shouldn’t it be over by now?

Now I know that’s crazy talk – and I don’t live with those thoughts the loudest in my head very often, but this week they’ve been pretty deafening.

So I need a sub. Would someone hope for me this week? Pray for me? Pray that our house would sell? Love me even though I’m a doubter and feel ugly inside? I want to be able to shift my focus wholeheartedly to the amazing provision of the Lord this past year, to the friends who have sacrificed and who have given us support beyond what we imagined, to how far we have come and how much we have survived thus far. All of this is true beyond what I can express. But this week I’m ashamed to confess that all sounds hollow to my ears. I seem to be blinded to anything but this big need. Even though I KNOW He is faithful, I am struggling to believe and hope.

So I’m waving my arms, signaling that I need a break. Anybody want to sub-in for me?