Fighting the Undertow

un·der·tow [uhn-der-toh] noun
1. the seaward, subsurface flow or draft of water from waves breaking on a beach.
2. any strong current below the surface of a body of water, moving in a direction different from that of the surface current.
[from dictionary.com]

One of the things I’ve been struck with the most lately is something I wrote in my last entry:
Life continues on. It doesn’t seem like it will when we see the charred remains and ash is still resting on your car in the morning. But, one day, you drive home and realize the smoke isn’t pluming into the sky any longer. One day, it does begin to rain. You celebrate another birthday, another homecoming.

But today, I’m still a little overwhelmed. I am, however, praising God for the rain, for the fact that He protects, and for the blessed assurance that He both sees and knows each and every one of us. 

And it’s true. Life continues on. It has after several horrible and tragic events occurred, as it has for millenia. Fires destroyed houses and lives. Cancer has walked people we love into incredible places of faith. A gunman took lives in a movie theater, of all places.

It is nothing new to me that life is hard, but I too easily stuff it away and let it simmer under the surface, which is what I’ve had to fight for the past few years as I’ve moved my way out of depression – because if I don’t fight the undertow of this world’s trajectory, it is too easy to be pulled under.

So I’ve been in hiding, to a large degree.

As an introvert, I expend incredible amounts of emotional energy to be around people. It’s not that I don’t love people – because I really do – it’s just that it takes me longer to recharge after being social. The fact that I now work most days in a given week means I’m now social more days every week.

It’s good, and it stretches me, but it’s been hard to recharge in ways that are effective, and so this blog has taken a back seat, and I want to apologize for that.

Christopher and I were talking the other day about how freestyle isn’t really the most efficient use of your energy (because we went swimming, so we were talking about it), and how if we were in the middle of the ocean (I’m assuming there would be no sharks to eat us, but maybe he thought differently), we would want to do something that was more efficient to get us through the waves and back to land (eventually, because the ocean is BIG).

And I think that’s kind of where I’ve been. I don’t splash around a lot on the surface, making it look like I’m trying to make my way through the water – I’d rather slip underwater and glide with the current rather than try to fight the waves (like with a nice breaststroke). But I’ve definitely been processing under the surface – lives being changed by fire and cancer, a former classmate’s death in a movie theater, and even the stupid stuff that really doesn’t matter so much like our cars both getting hit in the church parking lot in a freakish accident that I’ll get into later this week.

It’s not that I’m completely processed, but I’m working on getting there, and I’m now at the stage in my processing where I really should be writing a lot more than I am, so maybe you’ll hear a little bit more from me.

But what it all boils down to is that Jesus is the only way for me to fight the undertow. The grace that rescues me in this life and allows me to stand in His presence in the next is the only force that isn’t degrading from this world’s entropy – His grace won’t get shot down in the middle of the night by a crazy man; it won’t burn with the hottest of blazes; and it will always be in mint condition (unlike our car).

And I have to cling to that, even when it seems like there’s nothing to do but to keep swimming and make it to land somehow. It’s the only thing that can keep this world from pulling me under.

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He will not abandon my soul

Psalm 16: You Will Not Abandon My Soul

A Miktam of David.

1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.

5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

How beautiful the thought that the same God who made us and sent His Son to die for us will not abandon our souls! There is rest in that thought.

And at the end of our lives, when we are on the cusp of entering the Kingdom and finally seeing His glorious face and beholding the pure joy of an unfettered, eternal life, we will fully understand what it means that He does not abandon our souls to Sheol. He has rescued us and kept us close to His very heart.

To cast in our lots with Him to the end is the path of life. After 91 years, my dear grandmother just walked out of this world and into the presence of her King, into the fullness of joy, and will only behold His pleasures forevermore.

One day, I’m going to join her.

Thoughts on Grief and Joy

It has been twelve years since I last found myself in the throes of deep grief. Twelve years of grief, depression, and, finally, redemption. As its recurrence begins to circle once more, I keep pushing it off to the edges of my mind – hoping that in doing so, enough time might pass where either it will be found that the truth of what is now reality is not actually true (and that everything is as it should be) or that it might not hurt as much when I finally do turn toward its face.


I am quickly discovering that I do not know how to move on from here. It’s not as though I’ve been through an exact replica of this process before. Before, I was lost in and of myself long before grief overcame me. Before, I felt that there was no one left, that no one truly cared at all for what I was experiencing.


But now, my life is so drastically different. At age 12, I was just beginning to discover what corners life so deftly hides away until one comes of age. Here, now 24, I am firstly redeemed, secondly married, and third, no stranger to mourning.


The hardest part is perhaps that there are now twelve more years of memories with this beautiful woman. Twelve more years of being welcomed, loved, fed, and entertained by her hospitality and antics. Twelve years where she lived even though what she had so dearly loved – her husband – had been snatched out of her beautiful, slender hands. Twelve more years of Scrabble and sweet tea and game shows and pictures of all the grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) on the fridge.


The second hardest part is I didn’t think the last time I saw her would be my good-bye. I saw her fighting her aging body, recovering her speech and movement and sharpness of both mind and wit. I saw her in all her stubbornness, desiring to return home and return to living.


And now, she’s gone. Nothing remains but memories and the haunting scenes of my last pieces of time with her, ending with her telling me she loved me.


That was her greatest gift to me – that she loved me.


My grandmother, Eula Frances, was a strong woman. She didn’t have to maintain power or have people think of her as more than a homemaker. She was just strong. She knew who she was and who she loved, and that was more than enough.


She married one man, my grandfather, and remained his wife until the day he died. She raised four children, who from her inherited wit, wisdom, and a love of words. Her home was always open, the candy dish full, and her hands always ready to slip into someone else’s. Following my grandfather’s death, she knew the blessing of another companion. Many women can’t seem to find one good man, but my grandmother was wife to two. They lived, and continued to love and welcome all into their home.


I can still remember reading books in my grandparents’ living room, in that small yellow house in Camby, Indiana, and listening to the family gathered around the eat-in kitchen that didn’t have the space to be an eat-in. They would talk, play Scrabble, and argue about whether or not words were valid. As a child, it might have been the happiest place I knew. It had all the sounds of happy. I’d pause, smile to myself and keep reading.


I have to keep telling myself that I will once more experience that ‘happy’ – that, one day, sitting in a room of people and hearing their murmurs and exclamations will bring joy and not overwhelming sadness. I know that one day, I’ll hold children of my own and I will tell them stories of their great-grandmother, who was a beautiful woman, and it will be healing to share her with them, instead of pain-filled.


I know that joy will return. Happy will return. The problem is surely how to get there. The battle for joy is not won by laying in bed all day, weeping and praying that what is now true is not. And it is certainly not won by going into hiding, as I am so apt to do when life brings its ‘little’ changes. It is won by being obedient to what God has called me to, even when I don’t feel like doing so. It’s not a horrible thing to cry, and I know that I probably will in spurts for years to come because this wonderful, strong woman will not be known by further generations in this world, but I am not to waste my life in a fog of depression.


Joy will return in the steady understanding that she is in the presence of her King, Jesus Christ. The only way I can come to know that joy again is to once more understand what it is to live and breathe for an audience of One – the One who was there before this grief, the One who is there now in its midst, and the One who will usher me into His presence at the end of my life here.


You make known to me the path of life;

in Your presence there is fullness of joy;

at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

[[Psalm 16:11]]

I so often allow my gaze to drop. I so often forget for what I am striving. If I have fifty more years on this earth, I don’t want them to look like the last ten, as amazing as they were. I want to be strong. I want to seek joy. I want to stop looking to this planet for what makes my life worthwhile. I want to keep moving forward.

Heaven is home. May I fix my gaze there, and find joy here in the time between.

That’s what Grandma would have wanted.

On Understanding the Spirit’s Grief

There is no possible reason that I should still be awake. I’m here, in the middle of Montana (Belgrade, to be exact, which is just outside of Bozeman), in the middle of the night, when we will be getting up and packing up in about six hours, and I’m wide awake.

Maybe it’s the five episodes of Scrubs… maybe not.

So I’m listening to my dear husband snore as he sleeps soundly after a day of skiing and tension, and I can’t even begin to describe how blessed I am to be here, as difficult as it at times.

It’s my first “time off” since we got married. Granted, that may not mean a lot to most people. Many people have nights and weekends to kick back and relax and process.

I feel like I haven’t processed in months.

Every time I “get” to sit down, there is something else to think about, something else that grabs my attention or fuels my worries. The thank you notes from our wedding are still not done and, due to our packing mess, have gone MIA. We’re moving the day after we get back from this trip to Montana (a day that I still have to work). We’re never home on the weekends. I have band practice. I desire to meet more with the women on our team, but fail to have the time to show them how much they are loved.

Plus, there’s the whole “being married” thing, which takes work and time – and is perhaps God’s biggest blessing for my human existence outside of His grace covering my sin and His giving me life in the first place.

There is never enough time. I feel like a horrid wife, daughter, sister, friend, employee. I hate short conversations on the phone that really should last hours but end up being awkward because there are only a few minutes to spare, so I avoid them whenever possible. The people I love deserve so much more than that.

But instead, they get nothing.

I don’t exercise. We rarely eat at home anymore. I haven’t played guitar or piano (excluding band stuff) for months.

I am finally processing what God has been teaching me through this whole semester: the Spirit grieves.

Perhaps this seems most random to you – it would seem so to me if it came from any other source. But in the midst of learning that there is truth and there are lies, something has changed deep within me.

In the midst of my unfaithfulness in everyday life, God is still gracious, but the Spirit is grieved. I fail to image forth Christ in this. Even the very purpose for which I was created I cannot do as I ought.

But I am so very grateful that there is a God who is, who always has been, and who always will be completely and fully sovereign.

I am so very grateful that I do not have free will. I am overjoyed that I am under authority, that I am under a standard, that I am not my own – for all that I am has been crucified with Christ, that I might live anew in Him!

We saw “The Golden Compass” today. On movie criteria alone, it wasn’t really good. It was a little convoluted and I had difficulty understanding how one scene went to the next (it went so fast!), and some things were never really made clear.

I wouldn’t recommend it, and our children will never see it. If someone gives us a copy, I will burn it. Seriously.

But that isn’t really the point. And I’m going to try to not rant as much as I really want to.

The point is that, as the Truth Project points out, we are in the midst of a battle of worldviews, and what the world tells us will be diametrically opposed to what Christ tells us.

The film, sadly, is not rooted in truth, but rather in what the world tells us. It begins on the premise that before anything known ever existed, there was “dust” – which also causes chaos and instability in people as they grow.

In the dimension of our world that we are shown in the story, people walk around with their souls, named “daemons” outside of their bodies. One of the main plots is that the institutional Majesterium is trying to find a way to separate people from their souls. And a battle of free will versus sovereignty begins.

There are several things that added up for me as I sat and viewed this “fantastical masterpiece”: One underlying message is that “from dust we came” and “to dust we return.” Another is that there is no sovereign being who should be able to control us – we should let our wild “daemons” run free in defiance of the institution. And yet a third is that we cannot know truth in and of ourselves – we need an outside force to tell us what is “true.”

And the Spirit inside of me grieved.

We are made in the image of God. We are not dust, and men do not merely become dust when they die. They face judgement. Real judgement with a real authority who set a holy standard that we have failed to keep because we fell.

God is not responsible for our sin. And we deserve nothing. Absolutely nothing. He is not a tyrant who chooses some to go to hell and others to join Him in heaven. His desire is that none would perish – not a single one.

We violated His standard and yet, out of love, He has let us live and has provided a way of reconciliation to Him by the cross borne by Jesus Christ. This isn’t a monarchy where peasants pay tribute in exchange for just treatment – we have nothing to even offer, and yet He has given us everything in Jesus Christ. Everything!

Without God, there exists no purpose – there is no reason for living! If it is dust that we come from, then we truly have no free will. All we are doing is simply the bidding of the universe – we are just part of a clockwork. (I’d explain this more, but it is one o’clock in the morning, after all). Why do we run from the thought that there is a sovereign Lord who keeps watch over us? Why do we fear not having our “independence”?

I am so grateful that I do not need to worry over myself. And there is no such thing as “free will” as we think we understand it. I don’t think any of us would really like it that much if we really saw what that looked like.

For in possessing “freedom of the will” we suspect we will know true “freedom”. I have known what it is like to live by “my own rules” and it’s awful. I have known what it is to live by legalism and it’s awful.

And I know what it is to live under grace, to live in responsibility over my own sin and understand the mercy that covers me in any good thing that comes forth from my being – and it is only there, in God’s hands, that I have known true “liberty.”

How sad it is that the third thing I realized is actually true, though strangely warped in this particular film.

We cannot know truth in and of ourselves. But neither can the “dust” be an honest agent of truth.

But the Spirit of Truth dwells in us. He testifies to the truth. When the truth is not spoken, He grieves.

Which is why I am not offended by the movie. Surprising, no?

But that’s where the semester-long lesson comes in. I am not offended for the cross of Christ, but I am grieved at its slander.

Several times in the last few months, I have been afraid of sharing truth with women on my team and with others. Choosing to speak truth instead of trying to brush over things with “easy” answers has been a long and painful process that has resulted in many tears, but never offense. After the first few encounters, I began asking why I was not personally offended when fellow believers would get angry at me or rail on for an hour about their opinion on something or about how they were being treated.

And the answer came simply: it was not me that was offending. It was truth.

I can always stand on truth. Always.

It makes me bolder, something I have struggled with for years, and I can barely explain it except that there is a God, He is fully sovereign, and He came that the “truth might set us free.”

How many times I have seen chains lifted this semester! How many times I have sung praise to God for what He is doing in so many lives by exposing them to truth!

We buy so many lies as a culture, myself included. It is easy to “just try to fit in” and go with the flow.

But we are called to so much more than that! We are called to stand firm on the truth and fight for it – not for ourselves or because God “needs” our help (never!), but because we are bearing the image of God and for that reason, we must reflect His truthful nature.

I am not ashamed to serve a sovereign God. He is good, and I would have it no other way.

There were certainly more thoughts about the film that I won’t share. I’ve ranted enough for one evening (or morning).

If I haven’t spoken to you recently, know that I love you and wish you a “Merry Christmas!” with the greatest enthusiasm. Perhaps I’ll write more about the politics of Christmas (especially in Fort Collins) some other time. Until then, think on the depths of what it means that we celebrate Christmas-

God has given us a Savior! Oh, let us praise the Lord of Hosts! He is ever faithful and good.

I do suppose the time has come for me to now go to bed. And, so, I bid you ‘Good night!’

Completion

I finished my prayer journal tonight, which I have been working through for more than two years. I felt compelled to post what I wrote as my finishing words.

***

In the quiet, in the stillness
I know that You are God.
In the secret of Your presence
I know there I am restored.

When You call I won’t refuse
Each new day again I’ll choose.

In the chaos, in confusion
I know You’re sovereign still.
In the moment of my weakness
You give me grace to do Your will.

When You call I won’t delay
This my song for all my days.

There is no one else for me,
None but Jesus.
Crucified to set me free,
Now I live to bring Him praise.

All my delight is in You, Lord –
All of my hope, all of my strength.
All my delight is in You, Lord –
Forevermore.

[[Hillsong, “None But Jesus”]]

My Precious Savior,

As I have sought to wrap my mind around the events of the past few days, I can’t help but have this song run through my mind.

In chaos of circumstance, You are so supremely sovereign. I find that the attribute I fell in love with when I began college continues to deepen as I tread further into it.

In my moments of weakness, You provide such wonderful graces for me. I find I am ever less deserving of the mercy with which You cover me.

All of my delight is to be in You, the all-sovereign, merciful God of all – who took our punishment in order to justly fulfill His own law.

There should be no greater joy and no greater light in my eyes than when it is of You I am speaking.

How fitting that this volume should both begin and end with a death. It is amazing to me that I mark life with deaths around me.

Lord, I praise You for the life and legacy of Grandpa Harry. I praise You for His daily faith that defined His life and was so contagious.

And, Lord, I praise You for the life and faith of Grandpa Fred. Although he wasted many years in irritation, I praise You for the changes made in him that helped show me how powerfully You transform lives.

Most of all, Lord, I praise You for where they are both at this moment – in Your presence and finally understanding each other as the brothers they were created to be.

Soli Deo Gloria.

***

There is no greater loss, my friends. Nothing even comes close.