Is It Real?

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I was but a tiny girl.
I peered around the corner at my mother, sitting in the kitchen.
The ashtray overflowed with ashes as a pillar of smoke rose from the center.
Beer cans were scattered across the surface of the table.
Her eyes met mine for five seconds – long enough to pierce my soul with fear.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

She sat in the rocking chair, tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Mommy?”
I placed my hand on her hand and turned my empathetic face up to hers.
She shoved me, knocking me to the floor.
I knew I must have done something wrong.
It was my job to keep her happy, and she was not happy.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Nineteen. An adult.
No job. No college. Just obedient toe kissing.
Baking. Cooking. Cleaning. Teaching. Parenting the young siblings.
Twenty-three.
No job. No college. No dating. No parties. No hanging out with friends.
Just more obedient toe kissing.
Wearing homemade dresses. Dedicating my young years to domestic “ministry”.
“It’s for your protection,” she said. “It’s God’s design for girls.”
And she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

“Giving the world a new approach to life!”
Follow these ten steps.
Drink these seven basic principles and drown in them.
They look like Biblical righteousness from where you sit in the stadium, but really they are chains of slavery.
Beat yourself over the head with these 49 character qualities.
And remember that grace is you doing what you’re supposed to be doing… perfectly.
Dating is fornication. Once attracted, you must marry.
Hook, line, and sinker… I swallowed it all.
But God said “I love you” in John 3:16.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Long eyelashes. Hazel eyes. Best friend turned something deeper.
Engaged just 2 weeks after realizing it’s more than friends.
Married 4 months later.
We did it right. We were righteous.
Courtship trumped worldliness.
We waited to say “I love you” until we were promised to each other.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Eleven and a half years of total dedication.
I made myself everything I thought he wanted.
Always quick to forgive. Very slow to judge.
Everyday I strove to trust and give the benefit of the doubt.
Shove the paranoia to the back burner.
Smile.
Hug.
Kiss.
Believe the best.
Ignore the warnings.
Say “I love you” every day and every night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Go to work.
Leave work.
Walk in the door.
Hang up the jacket.
Kiss the wife.
Whisper, “I like us.”
Chat over dinner.
Sit in the living room with the computer, ipad, or phone.
Tuck kids into bed.
Watch TV.
Get intimate in bed.
Fall asleep.
Repeat.
He said “I love you” tonight.

Is this love?
Is it real?

I thought it was all love.
I thought it was all real.

“You mother suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder.”
Reality shattered. There is no fixing it. There is no healthy, loving relationship.

“Your over sheltered life has your thinking and belief system in complete turmoil and bondage.”
Reality shattered. Protection from life is psychologically harmful.

“There is no new approach to life. The greatest approach was given 2,000 years ago through the life and death of Christ.”
Reality shattered. There is no man who has “new revelations” from God.

“All your striving to be perfect has made you resistant to His amazing grace.”
Reality shattered. There is no doing what’s right, because it’s right… perfectly.

“I’ve spent our entire marriage trying to escape you. I don’t think we should have ever married.”
Reality shattered. There was no best friend. There was no “us”.

“Working late again.” Coming home smelling like perfume. Texting pictures back and forth. The list goes on.
Reality shattered. The words “I love you,” “I like your body,” “You’re beautiful”… they mean nothing. Just empty words to hide a lie.

There is no love.
Nothing is real.

But then He whispers.
He shows me that grace is not a list of rules to keep. Grace is Him looking down, loving me just where I am, and wrapping me in Christ’s righteousness.
He shows me that He is a good, good Father. Always providing. Giving good things. Holding. Hugging. Listening. Always patiently listening.
He shows me that His heart knows brokenness. Betrayal, deceit, abuse, devaluation… He’s felt it all.
He shows me that being human means always questioning. It means blood and tears. And He’s ok with that.
He shows me that He is the God who sees me… ME… in the midst of crap I never asked for.

This is love.
This is real. This is the only reality. It will never shatter.

I’m All Inside Out

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October eleventh. A tiny crumble trickled down into the abyss of memory loss. Just a tiny crumb. The islands of my personality went from full color animation to unsaturated stillness. Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Anger went into full panic, fighting over the control board.

“Find the happiness. Find the silver lining,” Joy instructed.

“What will happen now? How can we even live? Quick! Build up walls!” Fear paniced.

“Life is meaningless. Just pull the plug on it all,” moaned Sadness.

“The very thought of him with them. Bleh. Just puke. Right now,” spat Disgust.

“What the BLEEPEDITY BLEEP!?!? How dare he! He’s goin’ DOWN!” yelled Anger.

Over and over and back and forth. Fear pushed Sadness away from the controls. Anger shoved Fear aside. Disgust slinked in front of Anger. Joy tried desperately to calm everyone down.

After several days of this, Joy realized she had to take action. She began to bring up core memories… the important and joy filled memories that shaped the last 12 years of my life. She played them across the screen of my mind. But as they played, Sadness crept up to them and placed her cold blue fingers on each.

I began to see the memories through the hindsight eyes of reality and, one by one, the islands of personality have crumbled completely into the abyss of memory loss. Family Island… crash. Trust Island… crash. Friendship Island… crash. Goof-ball Island… crash. Introvert Island… crash. Parenting Island… Trickle, trickle, crumble, crash. Even Music and Writing Islands’ grayed edges began to collapse a little. Faith Island, while staying full color, quakes from time to time.

I’ve been left to look at the world void of much personality. I have no human reality on which to base my interactions in this world. I’m left empty and vulnerable and confused.

But a beautiful thing is happening. Bright orange construction signs are dotting the landscape of my mind. Islands are being built. Slowly, new personality islands are taking the place of the old. It’s a tedious process that has only just begun, but it’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Sadness has sidled up next to me, wrapped her arms around my heart and offered genuine empathy. She is teaching me the value of sadness… the depth that it brings to life… the lessons that it teaches… the growth that comes from it.

I noticed an “Opening Soon” sign on one of the new islands a couple days ago. Bold letters across the top read, EMPATHY ISLAND. As I look at the world around me, I see walking hurts. I want to reach out and hug them. I want to say, “I don’t know you, and I may not know the exact pain you’re feeling right now, but I know pain and I just want you to know you are loved.”

I’m not sure yet what’s coming soon to the other islands under construction, but I look forward to finding out. I look forward to getting to know this new defined me. There’s been a shift in the universe, and I am the epicenter.

“You Carry My Bag?”

file0002140147781“Tall mocha,” the barista called. I reached for my coffee, hoping it would wake me, even just a little. I had been awake since midnight and now it was 5:30 a.m. My flight would leave in just thirty minutes.

As I turned from the Starbucks counter, I spotted the cutest, most pathetic thing I have ever seen. A very sleepy toddler boy stumbled behind his mom, all cozy in his fuzzy, fire truck footie jammies, a very full child sized backpack slung over his shoulders.

“Just a liiiiitle bit further,” his mom encouraged, but the poor guy just could not go on any longer. He collapsed to his knees and planted his face on the carpet.

“No more walk, Mom.” he moaned.

His mother knelt down beside him. “Ah, sweetie. You’re tired, aren’t you?”

“You carry my bag?” was his muffled reply.

“I’ll do more than that,” she answered, as she slipped off his backpack. “I’ll take your backpack, and I’ll carry you.” She swung the backpack onto her already weighted down shoulder and scooped up her son. He promptly snuggled his sleepy little head into the crook of her neck and lay limp in her arms.

And I smiled. A smile that felt warm in my chest. And suddenly, I felt just like that little boy. Relaxed. Cared for. Loved. Held.

I have a Father. A strong and gentle Father. He lets me carry my load when I think I’m big enough and strong enough, but He knows that I am not as strong as I think. And when I fall to my knees and press my nose into the carpet, begging Him to carry my load, He takes more than my burden. He scoops me up, holds me close, and carries me to the end.

Then I can relax and just let go, because I am cared for. Loved. Held. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Bring on the Carmel (Hold the Chocolate)

Megadim_Cliff_Mount_Carmel_-1Ok, so the title is probably a bit misleading. This post has nothing to do with candy. Is it about Carmel though… Mount Carmel. You probably know the story… how Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a god competition. (If you don’t know the story, you can read it here.) I’ve always read/heard the story with the idea that those stupid people who worshipped Baal needed to be put into their place. But when the story teller at our children’s Sunday night Pioneer Club retold the story, I heard something else.

Think about this… The prophets of Baal set up a proper sacrifice. They had a nice pile of wood, plenty of burnable material. They chose a bull, cut it into pieces and laid it on the wood. That right there is barbeque waiting to happen. They just needed Baal to bring the matches.

Elijah, on the other hand,  built an altar of stone. He dug a ditch around it, placed wood on top, and laid the pieces of bull on top of that. The ditch is a little weird, but ok. We can cook on stone. Then he turns to some people and says, pour water over it all. They did. Then he said, “Do it again.” And then “Do it again.” Everything was soaked. There was so much water, it filled the ditch around the altar. If you remember, Smokey Bear teaches us that water puts out a good campfire, so I’m thinking it would be pretty darn hard to start a fire when everything is that wet.

So we have barbeque waiting to happen and an impossibly soggy pile of meat. Those prophets of Baal spent all.day.long crying to their God. “Please, just light the darn thing on fire. We’ve even set it all up for you. Just one tiny spark should do just fine.” They cut themselves and danced. I cannot imagine the amount of physical pain and weakness they went through to try to convince their god to just show up for the picnic.

When it was Elijah’s turn, he prayed a simple prayer. “You are God. Answer me, Lord, so these people will know that you are the one and only God, and that you are turning their hearts back to you.” Immediately, the entire soggy mess burst into flames. The fire burnt up the meat, the wood, the stones, the soil, and dried up all the water in the ditch. Now I was under the impression that stone and dirt don’t burn, but this time, it did. If that’s not proof that He is real, then I don’t know what is.

How many times, though, do I prepare my sacrifice, and line up my dominoes perfectly, then pray to my “gods” to make things happen? I set it all up, and then I look to my husband or to my kids or to my friends or my ego or my “set your goals and achieve your dreams”ness… or whatever to make it all happen. I get so worked up, trying everything to get the attention of these gods. I mean, come on!!! It’s a barbeque waiting to happen; just bring the darn matches already! And all I get is crickets.

And God is there the whole time, waiting for me to just stop.

I don’t have to set anything up for God. I can bring Him the absolute most impossible, and it doesn’t phase Him one single bit. He simply reaches down from heaven and proves that He is real and that He can be trusted.

God is real.

He can be trusted.

He is a master of the impossible.

 

*photo credit

When Dream Houses Implode

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Sometimes, it feels like God thinks my life is one big joke, as if I am but a doll in his drama filled dollhouse. I can see Him sitting up there with his two buddies, Jesus and H.G…. “Hey guys, watch this!” He snickers. Then he knocks me down the dollhouse stairs or pulls a wad of hair from my head or yanks my arm off. The threesome all laugh wickedly, then rush out of the room to play something else, leaving me lying there in a battered heap at the foot of my dream house stairway.

I thought this pink dream house was going to be everything I wanted. It was perfect. My Ken doll was perfect. Our little kid dolls were perfect. Our pink convertible was perfect. My walk in closet full of flashy outfits was perfect.

But now, the shutters are hanging loose. The front door is stuck in a half open position. We’ve lost the potted flowers that sit on the front steps. Someone has scribbled on every single floor of the house with green crayon. The beautiful portrait stickers have been peeled from the walls, leaving only ragged white scum. My perfect Ken doll now wears a permanent Sharpied frown. My little girl dolls are sporting that ugly plastic-doll-hair-stuck-straight-up look. My little boy dolls hang their faces, decorated with Sharpie freckles, out the broken window pane of the upstairs bedroom. The rows and rows of sparkling outfits hanging in the closet just collect dust, because they were made for a skinnier, sexier version of me… a version I will never be again. And me… I lay battered at the bottom of my dream house stairway, wondering how I got there.

How does everything you’ve ever wanted in life suddenly blow up in your face? Doesn’t the dream house please God? Doesn’t He want us to be content… to love the home He’s given… to love the family He’s given… to throw ourselves into that dream house with all our hearts? Doesn’t He like it when we embrace the role of wife, mother, and homemaker? I thought that’s what pleased Him.

But now, as I lay at the bottom of my dream house stairway, I hear Him say…

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

“What does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

“Brenda, Brenda, ‘you are anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary.’ To sit at my feet.”

And the truth sinks in slowly, but warmly. I have worshipped my dream house. I have made Ken my god. I have made the kid dolls my joy. I have made my sparkling outfits my security. I lay battered at the bottom of the stairs because this dream house has let me down. I lay here because Ken is not my god, these kid dolls are not my joy, and these outfits… these skinny, little outfits… they are not my security. They have all let me down. They have not been to me what I’ve needed when I’ve needed it most.

I poured my love and my trust into them, but they could not bear it. My love and my trust is God-shaped, not doll shaped or house shaped or skinny shaped. Nothing else can receive my love and my trust except my God, because only He can be trusted, and only He can return that love in pure and steadfast volumes.

He does not demand love, because He is a selfish love hog. He commands my love, because He knows my heart, my needs, the very depths of my being, and He longs to be…

my shield

my fortress

my hope

my joy

my strength

my rock

my refuge

my deliverer

my light

my salvation

my song

my security

my helper

my resting place

my steadfast love

the upholder of my life

…my God.

Because nothing else and no one else can be all that for me.

 

Of Tests and Wrestlings

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“He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’… So Abraham rose early in the morning…. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar…. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven…. ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’.” (Gen. 22)

I shoved my Bible away in disgust. What sort of cruel loyalty test is this? Is God some sort of fraternity bully, demanding insane proofs of loyalty before He allows peons to join His exclusive club?

Abraham’s stomach probably dropped to the ground when he heard the words “burnt offering”. He probably did not sleep at all that night as he weighed his options… kill my son to appease the God of the universe or anger the God of the universe to save my son. Perhaps it was with shaky legs and a nauseous stomach that he rolled out of bed that morning, skipping breakfast because he couldn’t keep it down anyway.

For three long days, the war raged inside him. He pushed forward, while everything inside him desperately screamed to turn and run the other way. How it must have broken his heart when Isaac asked why they did not have a sacrifice. Did he stumble and choke over the words “God will provide”? It doesn’t say whether he told Isaac at all what God had asked of him. Only that he bound up his son and laid him on the altar. It probably took every ounce of adrenaline in his body to raise that knife above his son’s body.

And then God said, “That’s enough.”

Are you freaking kidding me?? You demand his son, but then when he’s fighting against every bit of humanness inside of himself to simply please You, You tell him to stop? Were You just playing with him the whole time? What kind of maniac God are You?

I shoved back my chair and began to gather up my things. I can’t do this. Why would God ask that of Abraham? Why was He asking that of me? What sort of weakling did He think I was? Was He trying to prove something to me? That I was but an ant to Him, and He could squash me and every one I love with a slight pressing of His thumb?

As I stepped between the towering walls of forest, following the trail into its depths, I listened to the crunch of my footsteps. “I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone,” they whispered over and over again. I stopped, thinking that maybe if I didn’t hear my footsteps, I wouldn’t hear the desperate whispers.

I jumped as a bird called from somewhere in the heart of the forest. “Alone!” it squawked. A silent tear trickled down my cheek. “I don’t want to be alone.” The sound of my words barely made it past my lips, but my heart was yelling so loudly my ears were ringing. I could feel that yell bubbling its way up my throat. It would be stupid to scream into an empty forest, so I just shoved my body forward. First, a slow step. Then a few more, faster this time. Soon I was jogging my way down the trail, paying no heed to anything around me.

I must have worked off the pent up energy, because I slowed to a stop and looked around. I knew I passed many forks along the trail, but I couldn’t remember if I stayed on trail 3 or got off on another one. I had no idea where I was. The nice thing about hiking trails at state parks is that if you keeping following them, eventually you’ll find some sort of trail marker or another human being.

I gathered up my wits, found a trail map, and set off in what I thought was the right direction. But the more I walked and the more trail markers I came to, the more confused I became. The more confused I became, the more angry I felt. I did not want to be alone! I wanted someone here right now to help me figure out these stupid trails. I wanted someone right now to laugh with me over my uncanny ability to get lost. I wanted someone right now to share this adventure with. “I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE!”

It took nearly three hours to find my way back to the inn, but I did find it. There was no feeling of relief, though… only intense resistance. How dare God bring me to this place! How dare He ask such sacrifice!

I tried to calm my body and my soul. I soaked in the hot tub. I painted. I watched TV. I tried to sleep. But the war inside me would not stop. My chest burned. My nerves vibrated. My thoughts were like a speeding train constantly jumping tracks. All I wanted to do was run as fast as I could away from this place. And so I did, first thing the next morning.

It wasn’t until that afternoon, that I finally got the word, “Stop! That’s enough!” I melted into a pile of exhausted goo, just resting in that warm, safe place.

I don’t know if I passed the test. I never really reached a point where I calmly accepted and resolved to sacrifice what He was asking of me. And maybe Abraham never did either.

Maybe God is not so much concerned about the final grade, as He is in the wrestling it takes to make our way through the test. Maybe it’s in that intense struggle that our weak human resolve is put through the fire to make us more Christ like. Maybe it’s not about passing. Maybe it’s about wrestling.