Monday, July 7, 2014

the rubble of my days: a personal post

For months, I have debated sharing this post as I have walked through the deep waters of grief. I do not write this to divulge my issues for the sake of divulging. Nor do I write to give away any specific details. That would be disrespectful to my family. I write to share because everyone is in the midst of their own story, joyous or sad.

I have spent a lot of time on blogs and Instagram (my favorite social media avenues). These have connected me to some very beautiful individuals who have been brave in their vulnerability and revealed pieces of their heart and lives - not to seek attention or dump their mess on others. Quite simply, they share because how could they not? They share because they know this is what we as humans were designed to do - to connect ourselves with others - community. They share because they know someone is out there, someone experiencing the same doubts and pain, struggling to grasp how valuable and significant they are through the suffering. This kind of vulnerability sparks a deep passion and encouragement in me. The world needs more people like this. They don't sugarcoat their pain and loss. They don't hide their raw emotions and thoughts. More importantly, they don't believe their pain has the final say, but imperfectly trust, then fail, and then surrender in trust again to Jesus Christ, believing that He will not ever waste their grief, their tears, the moans that go up into the night.

I don't like hiding behind social media etiquette or posting only life's highlights on Facebook or any social medium. If I am going to remain connected to friends from different seasons of my life, I need to be genuine about it or just not do it at all. I am untrue to myself and to others when I am only sharing life's happier edits. Two of my best friends, who shall not remain nameless - Elena and Elizabeth - have taught me (probably unaware that they were doing so, hehe!) this kind of honesty. Their transparency and truthfulness is beautiful. I've desired those qualities my entire life and it is pain that is finally giving me the strength to become that. 

As in all things, there is discernment. There is no need to drag every little mess out for all eyes to see. That isn't required. It's the attitude of our heart through our pain that counts for something. It is in our nature to want to hide and to feel shame. But here I am, claiming to believe in Christ as my Savior and, yet, am I willing to trust that He has declared me cleansed, righteous, holy, set apart? There is no shame in our stories, though they overflow with the sin of our humanity. When the life of Christ becomes your identity, your life, suddenly your story is no longer shameful. It is a story to be told, a story of redemption, of purpose, and significance although it is paralleled with great suffering and loss. It's a raw, true-to-life story and, yet, there emerges a sacred theme in it because suddenly it's not just merely about your life, but His Life merging with you and making all things new. He's not here to fix us or give us a happily-ever-after. He's here to give something more fulfilling - an abiding hope and life that will never allow us to walk alone again, and declares us as ones who are loved, cleansed, and without shame. In this life, He is making all things work for only good.

To quote author Shauna Niequiest, "Celebration when your plan is working? Anyone can do that. But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that's when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that's celebration."

Thus, I am compelled to share the current chapter of my life.

So, this is where I am.

I have been grieving.

My parents of 27 married years divorced this past year.

My grieving has been long and it has been hard. There is no end of it in sight. I have no assurance that things will be better any time soon, nor do I want any human reassurances that things will be okay. If this was not burdensome enough, I must watch (from afar, now that I reside in NM) as each member of my family grieves this in their own way. Stress, loss, and emotional trauma have taken their toll on me. Monthly, weekly, even daily emotional breakdowns are my new "normal." My physical health has been significantly effected. Obsessive, anxiety-filled, unhealthy, almost irrational urges to clean, organize, and to purge overtakes me. I frequently feel confused, lost, and uncertain about everything pertaining to life, both in daily matters and in life goals. I experience emotional triggers whenever I see, hear, or read specific things that align with or relate to specific memories. I wrestle with bitterness. I doubt God. I don't consistently trust His heart for me through this loss. My faith fails in the ebb and flow of my breaking heart. In my head, I live in the past and I fear the future. And (this is most difficult for me to confess) I do not want to talk or see some of the people I knew during my life in Arizona. This has nothing personal to do against them. It is my struggle. It is part of my ongoing battle with wanting to rebuild my life and remake my self - something very unlike the life I knew and the me that was before. This is unrealistic and, yet, it is the result of a very real "identity crisis" occurring within me right now.
To be honest, I am unable to invest in the friendships of many who I have known. I deeply love each person who has made up my life in the past 4 years and more, but I am unable to be present for them. Along with the difficulty of living in different states, I am now faced with the weakness of my emotional state and it startles me every day. I love people. I love community. I want to hear from my friends. I think of them all very often. But I am tired. Even a simple phone call is a huge task for me. In my grief, I've learned about the need to simplify my life. Because my loss is still so fresh, I hardly know how to practically apply this, but I am learning ever so slowly. I long for the day when I can be part of community again, in a physical sense. I long for the day when I can do life without this heaviness, this stress that accumulates in my body. But this is not the season for those things; now, I must learn to rest.

I don't blame my parents. I thank them for their efforts in being honest with me and my siblings through this season. Although it doesn't mend anything, just knowing the state of my parents' hearts and being fully aware of where they stand on every matter helps me to be patient and to understand. Most often, in situations like this, it is too easy to judge and to lay blame. I would be lying if I said I didn't judge or blame them at certain points along the way. But the peace has come and now, I know, every person is fighting their own battles and we cannot make conclusions about their heart and intentions when we have yet to take the time to know them and to listen with much, much patience.There are always two sides to the same story. Just because one side or the other may look more "sinful" or "disagreeable" doesn't make either person less "deserving" of love. Both individuals need patience, gentleness, and compassion.

 I love my father and mother deeply, more than I've ever known that I could love two people. Yet, I fail in exhibiting perfect, long-suffering love that both their hearts need so often. The Christian cliches, the genuine but false hopes of reconciliation, spiritual tips and advice, prophetic words or visions, or the myriad of things often found in Christian communities haven't brought comfort or aid.  Just as fresh flowers, diet advice, and promises of recovery do not take away the pain of a cancer patient, nor make him/her well again, so also nothing has proven to be of particular comfort or help to "fix us." Overly positive, victorious Christian statements and attitudes have, in certain situations, been more damaging. Not because they are untrue, but because it does not lift us who suffer from our present reality. It holds little power to capture trust, but most often will ignite bitterness and a sense of doubt towards God's heart. The ones who truly bring healing balm are the gentle ones, the patient listeners, the individuals who will "weep with those who weep" and allow the sufferer to express any emotion or thought that they are processing through. I know this now. Suffering taught this to me. Sometimes, there is no other way this humility and learning can be acquired except through your own fire.

Experiencing your parents' divorce at any age is traumatic. But, I speak only from what I know. There seems to be a certain devastation that comes from being an adult and watching your parents' marriage crumble away, even after praying the hardest and longest you've ever prayed in your life for God to restore it. In 20+ years of marriage, a life history was established. Beliefs, values, and traditions were laid down at the center of the family structure. Memories are attached to both parents being together. A large investment was made from all members of the family into the permanent vision of their togetherness. A security was well-founded in the unit of husband and wife, something that was expected to always remain. No family is ever perfect, but the permanence of mom and dad as a unit is a comfort and security that my siblings and I have always known and rested in. They shaped us, taught us, loved us, supported us...always together. They, as a unit, were part of my identity. They were my childhood. Being an adult and having the foundation of your child taken away is a loss not too unlike the physical loss of a loved one. Except, in this case, there is no burial, no ceremony, no sense of closure. It doesn't  make that previous life a lie or a false reality. But it certainly can strip the meaning, purpose, and core identity of an individual. An adult cannot be expected to handle it any better than a child. A loss is a loss and it always delivers some level of trauma. And I've just loss something very dear.

Now, that was just another life. I cannot return to it and I will never know it again on this earth.

 Some days, I do not recognize myself. I, honestly, fear myself changing because I think the loss will be too great, too fatal, just as I lost a certain aspect of my childhood in the unexpected life change of my parents' divorce. In this very insecure state, I have required daily affirmation and daily remembrance. Daily affirmation of who I am in Christ - the identity piece - the new name He calls me by. Daily remembrance of what He has done to give me Life and who God the Father is through Christ His Son. Very fundamental, extremely basic, and yet these are the only truths that I am able to entrust myself to in this season.

My life has been one of consistent solitude since moving to New Mexico with my husband. I prefer it this way for now because it is opening up new eyes for me to see, to understand, to feel, and to be receptive to the Holy Spirit's work in my heart. In the midst of this, there are three tangible things that comfort me in my affliction: music, essential oils, and my husband at my side, holding my hand. Never have I known a more undeserved and sweeter blessing than this - an enduring husband who imperfectly expresses the heart of the Lord towards me. Amazing grace. In this, I am learning something similar to what John Lynch, elder/author at Open Door Fellowship, recently wrote:

"God, if He is whom He claims to be, does not stop all pain or loss-but instead, wonderfully discloses channels of receptivity we did not previously know existed. Like new capillaries formed in training at high altitude, the capacity to receive love increases. And that, just that, somehow becomes more than enough...Or at least so I'm told. I'm still new to this chapter."

Some days, I am comforted that this is just a season of life. Changes come and go. There is time for everything under the sun. Other days, most days, I want nothing to do with this chapter of life. That's okay. Christ will see me through to the other side of this, not because it's dependent on me having perfect faith or maintaining perfect growth or maturity, but because it has, is, and always will be about Him doing the impossible, the unthinkable: Christ in me, on my worst day, cherishing me, present with me, being my ever abiding and Living Hope imparted into the very fabric of my being.

"The best life, the greatest life is not the pristine life, the fully satiated life, the fixed life, the neatly ordered life. The best life is the real one - with God receiving glory as you trust Him, enjoy Him and others, amidst the beauty and the rubble."
[John Lynch]

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

prayer minstrel: Gungor

Onward to another Prayer Minstrel post (find my ongoing series here)! This month, I'm excited to feature a band I happened upon (through a fellow blogger) in 2011. Gungor is like the hipster-indie band of modern Christian music. Michael Gungor, being a multi-instrumentalist and having studied jazz guitar, brings an eclectic blend of sounds and styles with each new album. As a blend of indie rock, post rock, progressive, soft rock, folk, and more, one cannot really nail down Gungor as one genre. And although there lyrics are spiritual and Christian in nature, Michael and his wife, Lisa, choose not to be label their band as  "Christian" because of the stereotypical definition that is usually brought to mind. Michael, Lisa, and the multiple and varied members that make up Gungor are definitely what we call outside the box. It is precisely their undefined nature that draws me to them. They certainly remind me of European gypsy minstrels. I love their wild nature that is not afraid to take risks with their instrument arrangements and lyrics. In their song, You Are The Beauty, not only are they afraid of taking a long instrumental interlude that takes the song into a whole new avenue, but they are also not afraid to list sex as they sing of the gifts given to us from our Creator. It's this type of fearless songwriting that really drew me into their music and who they are as a band. I appreciate that they don't "play it safe" in their musicianship, but are perfectly content in being themselves through the expression of song.
 Perhaps one the most powerful album-openers I have ever heard in my life is the ethereal, choral, and almost score-like track titled Let There Be. I think it speaks for itself; take a listen if you have not heard this one before.

Darkness hovering
Grasping everything it sees
void empty
Absent life and absent dream
Let there be
Angels toil and crack open scrolls of ancient dreams
Countless worlds of his
Brilliant stars and breath and stream
Let there be (light)
Where there is darkness
Let there be light
Where there is nothing
Let there be light 

One can almost see our God creating celestial light with the build of the drums and the crash of the cymbals and the vocals swirling in a colorful dance. Everything about this track is divine! 

While I mostly enjoyed their latest album, I Am Mountain, for brevity's sake I want to focus on the themes of their previous albums, Ghosts Upon the Earth and Beautiful Things. Also, I think they experienced a change of direction for I Am Mountain that deters from those two earlier album. While I appreciated their new work, I, personally, find it lacks the intimacy and tenderness found in the other two albums. The themes found in Ghosts Upon the Earth and Beautiful Things carry the life-from-death, light-from-dark message that I find myself identifying to deeply. I think this is why I prefer those two albums. In both those collections, you find them encompassing the heart of God who would allow Himself to enter into mess of humanity and join with the struggles of our flesh. They're known most well for their rising anthem of "You make beautiful things out of the dust/you make beautiful things out of us," but this cry continues on the track, Please Be My Strength, when Michael sings, "I pray your glory shines through this doubting heart of mine so my world would know that You - You are my strength - You and You alone," and again on the track, You Have Me, "I thought I had seen the end/Everything broken/But you were there/I've wandered heaven's gates/I've made my bed in hell/But you were there still/Always faithful/Always good/You still have me/You still have my heart."

I get a sense that Michael and Lisa have experienced troubling, confusing, and dark times. I also get the sense that they're completely turned off by the "band-aid" approach of the modern Christian church, and well, most of modern Christianity in general - the labels, the cookie-cutter lifestyles, the lists, the rules, etc. From their music, one can immediately see they want you to know God for who He truly is. They want their listeners to become familiar with His heart that entered into our frail and shocking humanity and wasn't afraid of what He was going to encounter when He did so. They want their listeners to really grasp our God who so loves. Not in a shallow, giddy, youthful-type of love. No, a love that deepens with time, quiet, soft, tender, and pursuing. A love that doesn't demand, but a love that truly suffers long. Their track, Ezekiel, epitomizes this theme. The lyrics are posted in the video below.

 I love the opening with the mournful strings and the way Michael repeats certain words and phrases to emphasize the pain and grief of our Lord enduring with his wayward Bride. Most interesting of all is the way the song ends. It does not finish off with restoration, but rather an image of the Bride living as an adulterer and the Lord gently calling to her, His words echoing in a sad refrain. "You sold your body/Exposed to all, My love/You slept with Strangers/You gave them everything we had/Come back, My love/My love, come back/Come back, My love/My love, come back."
 I must confess, I cannot listen to this song without shedding some tears. This reality is so close to home for me and I think Gungor perfectly and absolutely showed that gap between when the Lord's Bride (us) forsakes Him for other loves and when she is restored in humility to her Husband. To be frank, I don't think anyone ever really discusses this gap. It's the space of time when the Lord's enduring love is really put on display. We are quick to rush through to the resolution, the ending, that moment when the Bride repents and remembers her first Love and returns to Him. But, so often, there is a long and almost torturous space of time in which the grief and loss and brokenness is more real than any sought-after restoration. Gungor captures this in their songs, but especially this track, and this is why I think they are geniuses!

 So, this is what makes Gungor true prayer minstrels: The way they deliver the heart of God to their listeners is through unique and fearless lyrics, personal themes, and a gorgeous assortment of instruments and arrangements. I imagine them in a gypsy caravan, traveling along country roads, and stopping every now and then to sing a song for the poor and needy. If I ever met Michael and Lisa, I would genuinely thank them for taking the risk in becoming vulnerable and intimate through their music, as well as giving listeners a pure reflection of a God who delights in being their Father, Lover, and Friend.

 If I could, I would post every song from those two albums on here. But that might make this post ridiculously long when, instead, I could just encourage others to go listen to them all on Youtube. ;)    

 Last, but not least, I had to post their track, Every Breath, because my husband and I danced a waltz to it on our wedding day over a year and a half ago, underneath towering trees at sunset. I adore this piece because it's a song of devotion to God, pure and unhindered devotion to love Him with all that I am. I chose it for my and my husband's first dance because it truly captured our hearts towards each other and toward our Maker. A funny part about our first dance was that, due to my being impatient and not putting the bustle up on my wedding gown, my husband and I stumbled a bit through the first half of the song as we tried to navigate the steps that we spent months learning but somehow became a mess when the train of my gown got in the way. Our imperfect dance fit to this song. We are devoted to God, but not perfectly devoted. We fail and doubt Him. We don't always reflect Him. Yet, this is what the road to Glory looks like: imperfectly becoming perfect because He has already perfected us. And, that is very good news. So, no, my first dance was not perfect like I originally envisioned. There was lots of stumbling, but somehow we caught on and, by the end, we were gliding in pure joy together! Also, I also cannot express the awesomeness of the build-up that happens toward the end of that song! You just have to listen to it! It's the last one posted below.

my soul cries out
my soul cries out for you

these bones cry out
these dry bones cry for you
to live and move
only You
can raise the dead
lift my head up

Jesus, You’re the one who saves us
Constantly creates us into something new
Jesus You’re the one who finds us
Surely our Messiah will make all things new 

Love, love, love of mine
You have caused the sun to shine on us
Music fills our ears
Flavors kiss our lips with love divine

You are the beauty
You are the light
You are the love, love of mine

Breath and sex and sight
All things made for good in love divine

Every breath
Every moment life beats in my chest
Springs up from your hand
Creation resounds
With every color and every sound
Your love is calling

I will love you with all of my heart
I will love you with all of my mind
I’ll love you with all of my strength
Love you with everything

Every breath every moment life beats in my chest
Let my life praise you

I will love you with all of my heart
I will love you with all of my mind
I’ll love you with all of my strength
Love you with everything

Here I am Lord
All I am Lord
Here I am Lord
I am yours

Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Our Responses Fail: Finding Hope When We Blame God [Part 2]

  This is quite late in the posting! As it turns out, my original draft got accidentally deleted and I nearly went insane from losing all that I had written! So, I am recreating my original post from memory, but it may turn out much shorter.

  In my first post, I wanted to emphasize God's heart for us when we fail to trust Him. While many might think He is disgusted with our human reactions and has little time to deal with us in our anger and disappointment, I truly believe the God shown in Scripture actually reveals the opposite.  He desires an honest heart, not feigned submission or lip-service. We know from Scripture that the Lord takes no pleasure in outward service or obedience. He is in pursuit of our hearts and He greatly desires us to bring everything to Him, even the most raw and ugly parts of ourselves that are questioning Him. The "silence" of our Lord to our prayers is an invitation for us to trust in Him, who He is, not merely for what He can do. Perhaps the most remarkable and incomprehensible attribute of God is His patience. After all, if God is love (1 John 4:8) and if love is first defined as patient (1 Cor 13:4), then is not this how He responds to us in our relationship with Him? It is all too common that we have come to think of God has a grouchy schoolmaster, holding his pocket-watch near, watching his students carefully to make sure they are following the list of rules and instructions he has outlined to them on the blackboard. Somehow, this view of God as having a time-table and putting demands on us to be at a certain level of maturity and growth has taken a hold of us and stunted us. Even in the Old Testament, God was never shown to be this way. Although the Israelites suffered much (and often for long periods of time) from the consequences from their idolatrous and rebellious choices, He never withdrew His promises and gifts from them. At the end of every dark tunnel, His light was shining, always bringing them restoration. In Exodus 34:6, it is written, "And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth..." The Hebrew word for long suffering there means patient and slow to anger. This is who our Father is. It's not just a part of Him, it is inherently Him. And it was manifested through His Son when Christ revealed himself as "gentle and humble" (Matt 11:29) and then was "led like a lamb to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7). His heart is docile and tender towards us in all faithfulness.

 In the words of author and preacher, John Lynch, "the motivation of grace will always bear greater fruit than the coercion of demand." Shockingly, the Lord has created us to only function and grow when grace is given with patience. Oddly enough, time-tables, rules, and lists do not bring about true maturity and trust in a relationship. Only slow and enduring love will bring about a great harvest in our hearts. The Lord, knowing this and having designed us this way, did something potentially "risky" to bring this about. He imparted His Spirit to us through the work of His Son on the Cross. Instead of completely eradicating our fleshly human ways, He instead births us anew, granting us a new identity, a new heart. Then, He entrusts us to trust Him with everything concerning our eternal salvation and our earthly lives. He doesn't remove any hindrances, distractions, or temptations. He merely gives us the gift of Himself and then patiently walks with us through every valley and mountain-top. In human terms, this is the wrong way to deal with the human race. The usual thought is that one must employ control and manipulation, as well as weigh the rewards and punishments. Instead, the Lord offers freedom to each one of us and is patient to see us perfected in our freedom - the choices we make, the thoughts we think, etc. Even as we make choices that hurt Him or that bring harm to ourselves or others, He continues to stand with us when we refuse to acknowledge or trust Him. The Spirit speaks gently to our hearts, reminding us of our identity and how the Father particularly values and treasures us. This is His patience seen in action, spoken and poured out into our hearts. Solutions will not bring our allegiance to Him. Only the quiet presence of a friend who will never leave our side, ever.

 One of the most profound things that I have learned about our Lord is that He "is not afraid to risk the consequences of what we do with His grace" (On My Worst Day, John Lynch). The very same is true for His long-suffering love. When I spurn Him and His Word, He waits. When I scream at and blame Him, He receives it all with open arms. On your darkest of days, when you have failed to trust Christ with all of your life, when you want to turn your heart from Him, when you feel more hurt by Him than loved by Him, He doesn't flinch. His unwavering devotion stands in the fiercest storms and declares to us, "I am with you."

 When our responses fail, when we blame God, He does not reject us for He is utterly and completely given to our sanctification and is perfectly patient to see the timing of our growth fulfilled. He is so sure, so confident that He, having begun a good work in you, will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Looking at Tears

A friend of mine shared this fascinating link on Facebook of a microscopic study done on different types of tears. In the words of the author, "Like a drop of ocean water each tiny tear drop carries a microcosm of human experience." I love the explanation in this post about the scientific "why" behind the types of tears we produce. There is a divine work of art behind all creative things and it helps me to find that sacred purpose again, that the Ruler of all things is truly in control.

These photos moved me as I am a lover of beautiful and sad things. I am drawn to the tears of grief, which look empty, filled with cracks and confused patterns. There are no distinct shapes in that one. I also like the tears of release, which looks like two continents disconnecting, floating away from each other. The tears of change and tears of ending and beginning are remarkable because they look like the landscape of a countryside, which is so representative of the changing seasons.

 From all the ones presented in the link above, which ones most struck you? And, why?

Tears of Grief

Tears of Release

Tears of Change

Tears of Ending and Beginning