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.