Friday, August 29, 2014

Suffering well: my prayer for the Christians in Mosul

I saw someone post something on facebook about seeing a really graphic ISIS video that they couldn't unsee, and I realized that I have been really lax on keeping up with that. Sometimes I find that we as a people in general are all gung-ho about a topic while it is en vogue, and then sorta forget and go about our lives. Because of that (and as per my reasons in the previous post) I set about looking for the video. I needed to mourn. I needed to have my heart burning with compassion that would move me to prayer. Along the way I came across an article that reminded me of a prayer I had recently regarding the torture and beheadings going on.

When all this was blowing up, my first instinct was to pray for protection for the Christians in Mosul, but for some reason I heard that still, small voice saying "No. That's not what I want you to pray for." I was like "Say whaaa?!" So I started trying to think of what I would want to be prayed for if I were in that situation. My first thought was for there to be no pain. Anyone who knows me knows that I am terrified of physical pain. (Ironic, I know.) In the reports, I've heard that the beheadings aren't just a quick chop. They are a slow saw. So I prayed "God, please let all pain be gone while they are being tortured". The second prayer is one that I really hope we can all pray as well, and that is that he would give the Christians in Mosul the ability to die well. When I say "die well" I mean this: That they would see the glory of the risen Lord while they are still here on this earth, while they are in the midst of being killed. When being taken and having God knows what done to them, my prayer is that the pain would be non-existent, and that their faces would light up with the radiance of Christ, that they would smile in his presence and experience an inexpressible joy as they see the hope of their salvation standing before them, beckoning them into eternity. I pray that they would go, knowing that they have finally arrived in the place of peace and rest. I pray that the soldiers who are perpetrating these acts would see this and be confused, maddened, enraged wondering why doing their worst is causing sighs of relief, singing, and smiling? I cannot think of anything that would put a larger pebble into the shoe of those who think they are acting on behalf of God.

One of the things I've been told on numerous occasions is that people see Christ in us most when we suffer well. So, knowing this, what else should we be praying for?!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The allure of suicide

For those of you who haven't heard already, Robin Williams is dead. He has died from taking his own life. Social media is abuzz with polarized camps of calloused "suicide is selfish" and glorified "suicide is a tragedy". The answer is "yes". Suicide is a completely selfish tragedy.

It is important to acknowledge the struggle facing those who deal with depression. The pain and anguish they feel are very real, and very misunderstood by those who have never experienced it. It is a very luxurious place indeed to treat mental illness as some sort of choice, and if the individual only had enough [fill in the blank – faith, love, etc.] then they wouldn’t struggle as badly. If you don’t understand how it feels, consider yourself blessed, and don’t attribute it as some achievement of your own.  I am one of the not so lucky ones that gets to speak on the issue from the happy mountain of ignorance. So newsflash: you don’t have more faith than I do. You are not immune to this struggle because you read the Bible more, you pray more, or you have “let go and let God” better than I have.
I have glamorized death in my head since high school. I am not scared to die. I have always referred to it as an “upgrade”. Stay here and be sick all the time, feeling like a burden to my family, or go stand before my God and King, praising him in a land with no more pain and suffering? Ummm… yes please. And the way people talk about people who are gone, who wouldn’t want that?  You get your slate wiped clean, and all people do is talk about your good qualities and none of your bad, (because it is disrespectful to talk about the failings of the dead).  Suicide becomes a very attractive lie, and this is never more obvious than when a high profile someone commits suicide. It is all people to talk about. We hear about the person’s achievements, the ways they have contributed to society, the happiness they brought people, and how much they will be missed. What a beautiful, enticing, attractive lie indeed.
However, the truth of suicide is much uglier. People don’t want to talk about it because it seems disrespectful or they feel it heaps guilt on those who are struggling. Others are all too willing to talk about it because they have no idea what the yearning for death feels like.  I lie somewhere in the middle because I don’t speak out of my strength. I speak from my weakness, and with the knowledge that the truth has set me free on multiple occasions. The truth is this: Suicide is a selfish act. I’d never heard it described this way until an elder at our church’s father committed suicide and Matt Chandler called it what it was: selfish. It is substituting your pain, for the bottomless pain of the family and loved ones who are left behind to pick up the pieces, asking questions, and internalizing blame.  Despite what the media makes it look like, you are not a hero. You are not a martyr. You are not a poetic tragedy. You are someone who has decided that your own misery is more important than the misery of the countless people around you that you claim to love.  Suicide seems poetic until you consider that your main legacy might be people talking about how selfish you were. Wait… I thought they were supposed to talk about how awesome I was? The lie was exposed.
My friends and family are all too aware of my struggle, and the best thing they do is remind me on a regular basis the effects that my death would have on them. Some people say that it a form of guilt trip. Yeah, but It is the best kind of guilt trip possible. Would I be free of this crappy body? Yup. Could John have a wife that could give him a family? Tears well up in my eyes knowing the answer. Would he and my family be free of having to take care of me? They sure would. Would they be devastated beyond recovery? That’s what they tell me. Knowing the anguish I would put them through makes any heartache I am currently experience take a back seat. I choose to value their happiness above anything I am going through because I don’t want my legacy to them to be pain and anger. Because of this, I have no problem preaching the selfishness of suicide.
It is a complete understatement to say that suicide is a touchy subject. It is as much a “touchy subject” as a severed leg is a “flesh wound”.  I have been told that emphasizing the selfishness of suicide just heaps judgment on those already struggling, so I’m not sure how to go about it. I wish that we as a society magically knew how to speak about this issue in all it’s ugliness without ostracizing those who struggle. All I know is that I don’t want to contribute to the glorification of Robin Williams so that others who are in similar pain are encouraged to follow in his footsteps. Suicide becomes contagious. While you should not condemn his actions without acknowledging his pain, neither should you talk about his amazing contributions to the world without acknowledging the horrific legacy he has left behind. Who knows whose life your "guilt trip" is saving in the process? Love without truth is worthless. Truth without love is death. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Moved to prayer: part 2

I wrote about the Mosul situation in the previous post for a reason: context. I needed context for this post, and it was too unnatural to try to cram it all into one. My first line on my previous post was about how we as Christians (or everyone in general) need to be prepared right now. I wasn’t just talking about events overseas. I was talking about right here, in the states.

I have a beautiful friend who posted in desperation on Facebook today, needing a marriage counselor. Some might think that this is inappropriate, but I’m not one of those people. I have seen people post complaints about their spouse, and that is always uncomfortable. But a cry for help? I’ve got no problems there. I wish we in the Christian community were more willing to ask each other for help. We’d all post like mad if our child were critically ill. How much more important are our marriages? While this might seem like an isolated incident, it got me thinking about the big picture.

What does this have to do with Mosul you might ask? Everything. Think about the people around you. Think about the sicknesses, the marriage problems, the family feuds, the Christian feuds. We may not live in a society plagued with physical beheadings, but we are being destroyed nonetheless. And the same enemy is behind it.  Yup. The very same.

We are all under attack right now, and we need to be prepared. The enemy isn’t just “coming to steal, kill, and destroy”. He is here, and he is actively stealing our peace, killing our relationships and destroying our bodies. We are under attack, and it will only increase. Everything we see going on the Middle East is going on here, just cleverly disguised.

1 Peter 5 tells us to “be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”

There are times when we are called to fight, and there are times we are called to resist. The picture I get here is from the movie “Twister” from back in the 90’s. There is a scene where the two lead characters are unable to escape a tornado and have to strap themselves onto a pipe that goes deep in the ground and hang on for dear life. The entire landscape is being destroyed around them, and their bodies are being flung this way and that by the winds, but they hold on. Their clothes are torn, their hair disheveled, their faces making all sorts of weird contortions. They do not look pretty. But they are holding on, and that’s all you can expect given the situation.

We are entering that storm church. We are in that storm. It will wreck and ravage our bodies, throw our entire landscape into upheaval, and it can make us slam into one another forcefully. I pray that we resist the temptation to attribute fault to one another, and instead shake our fists rightfully at the storm.  The enemy is a hurricane of destruction, and it feels like he has just unleashed his hoard on the earth.

Expect major hardships like bombs and beheadings, and stand firm, placing your hope in the Lord. Expect disguised hardships, like marital, car, and work problems, but stand firm, placing your hope in the Lord. Expect irritating hardships like picking the slow line at the supermarket or being reminded as you take out your contacts that you just squeezed a lemon. (Personal experience…) Expect all these things knowing that the entire world around you, both physical and spiritual, is seeking to distract you from looking to the author and perfector of your faith. Be prepared for petty disagreements, but don’t give in. Be prepared for major disagreements, but don’t give in. Be prepared to be confused on a daily basis as to who the real enemy is, because the enemy knows that we are less effective as broken fragments than as a unified body.  (However, neither be ignorant that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.)

We can be sure that those believers in Mosul had strife and drama amongst themselves. They were human. That’s what we humans do. We can also be sure that all of that is forgotten when they are standing side by side watching their children being beheaded. Cling to one another church. Be prepared for hardship. Cling to the Lord. Cling to the others who are clinging to the Lord.  Be moved only to prayer.

Moved to prayer: part 1

For all the God fearing men and women in my life (and really for everyone regardless…) be prepared. As my small group leader said last week, "Your Bible is a newspaper right now.", meaning we are seeing scripture being fulfilled right before our eyes. I’ve been reading so much about what is going on in Israel right now, and now I’m reading about Mosul. For those of you who do not know what is going on in Mosul, Christians are being beheaded. And I don’t mean the poetic guillotine type beheading. I’m talking the dull-blade, slow, sawing off beheading.  And the children’s heads displayed on stakes at the local park. And then the bodies arranged in cutesy creative photographs. Apparently instagram isn’t just for that amazing steak you are about to eat. It’s like a Jihad Pinterest. It’s barbaric. It’s evil. It’s real. It’s happening.

There are some people who don’t want to see graphic content. I for one can’t handle really gory movies because I know that it is stuff that I can’t unsee. When it comes to real stuff though, stuff that I need to pray for, stuff that I need to grieve for in my heart, I prefer to look. I want to see reality in all its gore for the same reason I don’t watch it in movies: I can’t unsee it. I want it burned into my mind because it forces me to pray. Because of that, I post this link here. Look and see the reality of what is going on.

If the people in Nazi Germany had forced themselves to actually walk through the camps, hear the cries, see the piles of emaciated dead bodies, do you think they would have been more likely or less likely to act? My vote is that it would have spurred them to action.  That is why I choose to look. It moves me to prayer.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Living and Active

So, some people know about my kidneys and others don't. It's not as sexy as cancer, but yeah... I've got bum kidneys. It's a dual disease of Barters syndrome and Gitelman's syndrome. (I'm all about them syndromes!). Basically what it means is that I've got about 30%-40% function in my kidneys, and it's been decreasing more rapidly this past year than it has in the previous 4 combined. That means the degeneration is speeding up. A lot. When I was at the Mayo Clinic last Thanksgiving, I saw another specialist. She looked at my history, and the rate of decline of my kidney function. I asked her "How long till you think I'll need a new kidney?" She paused and looked at my chart and said "Ummm... probably 4 or 5 years."

Boom. FOUR or FIVE years?!?!?! I had thought I was at least 10 years out. That one sentence hovers in my mind like a gargoyle waiting to pounce. I've heard about transplants. They are not fun. Things never quite go back to normal afterwards. Shoot, I'm scared to even get to the dialysis stage!

I have a vivid memory of before I was diagnosed with cancer, when my body was going even wonkier than usual. (Yes, that's a real word. I checked!) I was with a group of girls from my church. I can't remember what we were doing there. I think it was a class of some sort? At the end, we ladies were all in a circle praying. More like a cluster really, laying hands on each other or something like that. I was sitting on the floor with my head against a friend's leg. Randomly (or not so randomly) someone started praying about Psalm 139 and how "fearfully and wonderfully made" we were. At that point the levy broke, and although I was silent, the tears flowed in a stream down my face so fiercely that all I could do was watch them drip onto my jeans, creating a dark puddle on the denim. Gina (who's leg I was resting on), was the only one who saw me. Although we didn't know each other very well, she just stroked my hair. It was the best thing anyone could have done for me in that moment.

M tears weren't flowing freely because I was comforted. They flowed because I was frustrated. Possibly angry. I can't remember exactly. I just remember thinking "If that girl knew what my body was doing to me right now, there's no way she would pray that. At least not to my face. There's no way that I am "fearfully and wonderfully made". I feel like a consequence of the fall which marred the perfect world with genetic mutants like me."  It felt like an old wives tale, like "You shouldn't go swimming for 45 minutes after you eat." There's some truth to it, but nobody really believes it to the fullest extent. Is it true for some people? Probably. Is it true for everybody? Not really. We've all broken that rule and come out just fine. We just say it to kids to get a general principle across. Fearfully and wonderfully made feels like that: one of those phrases that healthy people throw around to comfort sick people. Is it true for some? Sure. For me? Probably not, or at least not completely. Maybe generally.

Fast forward to last Sunday. A woman who is a spiritual mentor of mine challenged me to read and meditate on Psalm 139 this week. Although I doubted that I'd learn something "new", I did it. The word is living and active right? It can speak to us in new ways each time. I read through it 3 days ago and tried to garner new meanings and new insight, but I got nothing. It was the same Psalm 139 that I've read a thousand times before. But I kept hearing her voice in my head, so I did it again today. I study the word like I do everything else: like a nerd. I like to go to the Greek or Hebrew and read it line for line, studying the translation of each word. I didn't do that last time so I decided to do a legit study today. Nothing jumped out at me until I got to verse 13.

"For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb."

I've seen "inmost being" also translated as "inner parts". However, the way it was translated on the site that I was on was odd, so I clicked on it to see what the literal Hebrew translation was. Would you like to know what the literal translation is? Kidneys. Psalm 139:13 literally says "For You have created my kidneys..."

(Go see for yourself: here and here)

Living and active my friends. Living. And. Active.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Of comfort and joy

One of my favorite (if not my absolute favorite) verses is 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."

That is such a beautiful picture: we comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received. I consider this my life verse in a lot of ways. When I am called to have joy in suffering, it is this verse that I return to. 

I think back to when I was in college. I'd had a really difficult time with the program I was in. (I'll say that it was an abusive environment and just leave it at that.) In my time there, I because so beat down that I fell into a full blown depression, one that I've never been able to fully rid myself of. Depression runs in my family. It was just a matter of time before something triggered it. Anyways, I was a camp counselor during my summers for 4 years and there was a group of really cool girls that I had in my cabin every year. I had the awesome privilege of having them for all 4 years. I'd gotten to see them go from Freshman to Seniors and gotten to spend a whole week with them each year in intimate talks and pillow fights.  

And when I say they were cool, I meant they were "cool". They were the "cool" kids. They were the ones that all the boys liked. Ours was always the cabin that had the pranks pulled on. And one of these particular girls wasn't just "cool". She was mean. She was everything you saw in the movie "Mean girls" and more. She was bitingly sarcastic. She could pick out the slightest weakness or insecurity in someone else and jump all over it. She never did it with me, but she never opened up to me either.  I still loved her. I loved all of them. They were my girls. 

Each summer, I was so blessed to be able to open up the word of God and teach them, probe their little brains, learn their thoughts, answer their questions. However, my fourth and final year (the camp got sold after that) was different. I had a speech all planned out for them. Since there were more girls than just them in the cabin, I had to be frank. I said to them all "I know you have all gone to camps before, and you have had counselors who have told you all about the troubles they had in the past, and how God came through, and their lives were changed from then on. Unfortunately, I can't say that. My troubles aren't in the past. They are right now. I am struggling with depression right now, and I want you girls to know that that is OK. God is still good whether I'm going through it now, or I went through it in the past. You'll probably see me cry. I may occasionally need to step away. But I want you to know that God is still good, and that He is good even in the sad times." It was something along those lines. I can't remember exactly what it was. 

My group that week was all in the junior/senior range. They were old enough to be mature, and to have sympathy, and to give me hugs and love me during my weakness. Afterwards, when I went back to my room, I heard a knock on the door and there entered my "mean girl". She sat on my bed with tears in her eyes and said "I feel like that all. the. time. I hate myself. . I don't know what to do. I just want to cry all the time."

I was shocked. Four years in my cabin, and this was the first time she ever approached me about anything personal. This girl, this exquisitely beautiful girl, who had made so many others miserable...was miserable. She wasn't mean out of pride. She was mean because she was in pain. It reminded me of an animal, caught in a snare. An animal is never as dangerous as when they are in pain. We are really not that different in that sense. At that moment, God allowed me to love her in a way that she never would have allowed in the past. My pain was the door. It is this moment that I will hold onto forever.

The realization that God could use something as sucky as depression changed my life. From that day on, I have given thanks to God for it, even on my dark days. My "joy in suffering" comes from the knowledge that God does not let anything we experience go to waste. We will always have the chance to "comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received." Being able to do so is such a joy to me, that that is what I focus on whenever I am experiencing suffering. It may not always pan out in such an obvious way as it did that night in August, but I know it will someday. And not only that, I was able to see a faithfulness in God that I hadn't understood before. A God that has been faithful in the past is a God that I can trust to be faithful in the future. That is something that I need to remind myself of on a regular basis. 

My heart, behind closed doors

I've become quite aware lately how inconsistent I am. I'm A.D.H.D. I'm wildly inconsistent in a thousand ways! Haha! But this is a different kind of inconsistency. I am inconsistent with how I praise God. I have been convicted lately of how negative I am. I keep spewing negativity about how I feel, about all the things I feel like I am missing because of my chronic illness, and I keep leaving the conversation at that. I started thinking back tonight about this blog (which is what started me writing again here.)

Here's something I wrote in my journal tonight: "When I was blogging during cancer, I spoke with hope, because I knew I'd be publicly judged by my words. I think about David's Psalms and how they often start out so negative, and then turn to praise. That is an area that would be so easy to do on a regular basis, if I could remember. Every sorrow just needs to be followed by two words: "But God...". But God is my hope. But God will be my strength. But God is whom I should be delighting. Though outwardly I waste away, but God I will praise."

It's such an easy thing to do, but I forget to do it so often and I let the negativity of my own hurts and longings generate more negativity and hurt and longing. I long for a different body. I long to be able to do what I see everyone else being able to do: work, kids, family, taking care of a home, being a good wife. In my mourning for what I consider to be a "normal life", I leave off the hope that I have so long spoken of here on this blog. And that is a problem. It isn't just a problem because God has called us be thankful in all things (not just the good things.) Rather, the real problem is that it poisons me in the process.

What a beautiful and healing thing it is to have joy in suffering. How much lighter is a thankful heart? When I want to be heard, when I want to vent, when I want to be understood, when I want people to know my struggle, am I bringing it back around to "But God!" Publicly, yes. Privately, no. And that must stop. So here is my confession to all 5-10 of you who actually read this. But even more, it is my confession to God, in this semi-public forum. I confess this sin my God, and I repent. But God, being rich in love will forgive me of my sins. I am so frustrated with this body... but God will make all things new. Lord, I pray that You would help me with having a spirit of joy and thankfulness. I have so much to be thankful for.

Weakness, to the praise of His glory.

So, this blog was originally meant to keep people updated on what was going on with my cancer.  I was supposed to come out of it better. Stronger. Hillary 2.0. Unfortunately, this is not what has happened. They always say whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I've always thought that was a load of crap. What doesn't kill you can make you decidedly weaker. But this post isn't just about weakness.

There is a lot of weakness though. One of the best parts about cancer (how often have you heard THAT...) was that it had a name. People know what cancer is. They are familiar with what it does. It's a physical entity. You can see it on a machine. You can empirically measure it. It was like people finally understood: Hillary is sick. What many people, outside my close friends and family, is that I have always been sick. I started out sick. I pushed through life and did my best, but somehow everything always came back to the hospital in one way or another. Chronic kidney disease. Few people really understand that one, or what it can do to you. I've watched myself slowly become less of the person I wanted to be. I watched career options slip away, because I was not physically able to handle the demands. And during cancer, I watched the whole world carry on, while I sat behind my computer and communicated the only way I knew how. And now, 3 years out, I find myself going backwards again. And it sucks. I'm tired of being tired. I'm tired of feeling like I'm always on the brink of really getting sick. Because when I get sick, I stay sick for a good month, and then it's like I'm on probation for another couple. I have to say no to going out. I can't fully explain to people why 3 days of work a week is really difficult. I have no name that I can use that will help people understand that I'm not as healthy as I look. It's really frustrating.

I've begun feeling sorry for myself again. I've been praying and calling out to God, asking Him for the healing that I know Jehovah Rapha can bring. I asked my small group to pray for me last week as I just sat in the middle with everyone's hands on me, crying. Afterwards, I got into a conversation with a good friend and my small group leader. I kept lamenting how frustrated I was. I couldn't understand why God was allowing my body to wither like it is. I kept speculating this way and that way as to the why of the matter. Do I have too much pride? Is He trying to humble me? Maybe God has some amazing ministry for me one day and He's hamstringing me until then so that I will know that it is indeed He that is doing the good work. I was honest about how frustrated I was because there was so much I wanted to "do" for Him. But she stopped me there and asked me "What if all He wants you to do is to be for the praise of His glory?" That has kept me thinking all week.

Just be for the praise of His glory? What does that look like? My home group leader does pottery. She explained how some pieces she creates for no particular purpose other than they are beautiful and asked me if I was willing to possibly accept myself as that. She rightfully pointed out how much like Martha I have become, constantly trying to do instead of just BE. So while I would love to be useful, maybe I'm that little sheep who's legs need to be broken so that the shepherd can just carry it around. All I have is speculation. Speculation as to why I have to live like this. But it is a lesson that I am trying to learn. Am I content to just be for the praise of His glory? If I am homebound and I am unable to minister to a single person, am I content to be beautiful before my God and bring him glory, even if it's just the two of us? (Three actually. John gets to see me in all my awesomeness.) I want the answer to be a resounding yes, but I'll be honest... My heart says no. And that tells me that my heart has forgotten it's purpose.

Is that the lesson I am supposed to be learning? Who knows. There could be a hundred reasons. Or, my body is just a product of a fallen world. But even if it is, I know that God has not forgotten me, and He promises to work ALL things for good. But in the meantime, if y'all could pray for me, that would be awesome. As always, when I whine, I must end with what I know to be true: The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.