Sunday, October 29, 2017

I Am a Beggar Who Boasts

Many people commented on my vulnerability in writing Clinging to the Crutch.  And yes, I admit it is a little humiliating to know that thousands of people now know about my struggle with Anxiety.

But really, it wasn't that hard to blog about it.  Rather, the most difficult moment came a few weeks prior to writing that post, when I had to admit to my teachers that I was not coping well.  

If I had to pinpoint the main source of my anxiety before that moment, it would be the fear of letting my teachers down.  I had been hired as their principal, as the very person they were supposed to depend on--and I couldn't do it.  It was my greatest fear, and the anxiety of that fear became self-fulfilling.  I was so afraid of failing that then I failed.

Admitting to them that I wasn't coping well--that Anxiety and insomnia had made me literally physically ill--was one of the most humbling things I've had to do.  But it also was one of the most freeing things I've ever done.  And as I look back on the last several months--now after a few weeks of feeling almost completely normal again--I see that moment as the turning point for me.

Why is that?  Why was I so desperately afraid of vulnerability, of imperfection, of failure?  

Pride, I guess, if I have to be honest.  I never realized how much of my fear was really about me until I came to the end of myself.  But I did come to the end, and suddenly something flipped in my soul.  I stopped worrying about my own failure and what that meant for myself and my reputation, and instead started focusing on how I could serve.  Anxiety still made me totally and completely overwhelmed for a while, but I started thinking about what I could do.  How can I serve today, even in my weakness?  How can God show himself through me today?  What small things can I thank God for today?  And slowly but surely, joy started breaking through.

"[God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I will boast in my weakness.  

I will boast in my weakness!  

Shouldn't that be the mark of me as a Christian?  Aren't I one who already realized, long ago, that I can't ever be good enough, that I can't ever be enough of anything on my own?  Wasn't it Jesus himself who said, "Apart from me you can do nothing?"  

So why then am I so afraid of failure, of weakness, of humiliation?  No indeed, Amy!  It should be my boast!  

Protestants everywhere are celebrating Martin Luther this week.  He looms large in our history but was certainly far from perfect.  This morning, I heard that his last words were, "We are beggars.  This is true."

Yes, my friends.  I am a beggar.  A beggar who has found the Bread of Life and the Living Water that will never run dry.  And the more I taste it, the more I want to share it with others.

I boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Wounds of a Friend

Several weeks ago, Alyssa came over on my darkest day.  I was physically, emotionally, and mentally at my lowest point.  I had stayed home from work.  I felt like a failure--helpless and hopeless.  I was completely overwhelmed to the point where even picking up a sock on the floor felt beyond my capability.

She cried with me.  She listened.  And listened.  And listened some more.  She asked lots of questions. 

Over the next couple of days, Alyssa continued to come over for several hours a time.  Sometimes she just sat with me.  Sometimes she made me laugh.  Sometimes she nagged me to eat. 

Towards the end of that particularly low week, we were in my kitchen, and I was fretting about the various ways I was trying to fix myself.  Should I try [this particular method]?  I asked her. 

She paused for a moment.  Then she looked me straight in the eye and said, Amy, before you try anything else, I think you need to stop believing lies.  About yourself.  About God.  Then she listed them for me.  You know what is true, and you need to start believing it. 

She was direct.  And firm.  And it was exactly what I needed to hear. 

Two years ago, I wrote a blog called When I Am Not Sane.  At the end I wrote, If I ever get to Ground Zero again, I will get help a lot sooner than I did the first time.  But my first line of offense would be to get others in my life to help me fight the battle for what is True.

Emotions can be untamed horses.  They can define our universe.  They can overwhelm us with lies and conquer rational thought.  And sometimes, it's not a battle we can fight on our own.  We need those friends who will battle it with us, and pound the Truth into our heads.  Even if it hurts.

This goes against our instincts in friendship.  We want to make each other feel good.  Oh, of course that dress doesn't make you look fat!  Of course you're not a terrible mother.  Of course you had every right to say that to your husband.  We fish for compliments and vindication and our friends happily oblige.  That's what makes a good friend....right?

Except, sometimes what we want to hear is not what we need to hear.  If I had a brain tumor, I wouldn't want the surgeon to tell me, Oh don't worry, you look great!  Just ignore those pesky headaches.  I'm sure you will be just fine! 

No, no!  I would want him to shave my head and cut me open and remove the alien mass from my head.  I wouldn't care if it left a scar, or if it made me feel miserable, or if I was in pain for days.  I would want it out

Proverbs says, Faithful are the wounds of a friend.  Sometimes, we need friends who will be that surgeon.  Not just someone to hold our hand or whisper soothing words, but someone who will confront the tumor and battle with us to destroy it.

I say this carefully.  Many have been unnecessarily wounded by well-meaning people who make the problem worse, not better.  Quoting Bible verses glibly to a person in pain or grief is certainly not helpful.  There is a time for prayers, physical presence, and silence.  But Alyssa did it right:  She already knew me very well, she gave me her time, her compassion, her help, and when the time was right, she told me the Truth. 

She wasn't the only one.  Gil has been a faithful speaker of Truth into my life (and incredibly patient with me) these past few months.  There are many others--I started to list them, then was afraid I would miss someone--but they know who they are. 

It's hard to know for sure, but I think I'm on the upward slope of this season in the desert.  And I owe so much to the friends who were willing to walk with me, encourage me...and wound me.  I want to keep friends like that in my life.  I want to be that kind of friend. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Clinging to the Crutch

Some people say, derisively, that Christianity is a crutch.

And to that I say Amen.  Glory Hallelujah.  Give me that crutch.  Because I am crippled.  More like paralyzed, actually.

William Ernest Henley wrote, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.  Yet he was a man who grew up in poverty and had a leg amputated as a result of tuberculosis.  Ironically, the poem was also chosen as the last words of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, before he was executed.

I would love to know:  Did they really believe it?  Or just want to?  Did Stephen Paddock believe it as well?  Or any of those he killed?  Or those who died--or lived--in the fury of the hurricane?

Should we believe it?  Is it really a statement of courage?  That those of us who came from dust and will inevitably return to dust actually are masters of anything?

I haven't written in this space for three weeks.  In my ten years of blogging, that's a record for me.  And that's because in these last weeks--months really, but mainly these last weeks--have been spent coming to grips with my dust-likeness.  That I am not the master of my fate.  That I am most certainly not the captain of my soul.

Sixteen years ago, I went through a season of Anxiety.  And I say it with a capital A, because there's no other good word to describe it.  You can say, I'm anxious about that interview.  I'm anxious about the bills.  But that's nothing compared to Anxiety.  It's like equating "feeling down" with Depression.  You just can't compare the two.  Anxiety is all-encompassing, life-consuming, soul-sucking.

That was sixteen years ago, and after two years I had victory.  Then it entered my life again a few months ago, and has sought to control me these last weeks.  My life circumstances, ironically, are going great.  My kids are all thriving.  My husband is incredibly supportive.  I'm doing my dream job.  I'm not over-stressed.  But as anyone who has experienced it knows, it doesn't matter what's really real, Anxiety becomes the center of the universe.

I'm fighting hard, from many different fronts, and I have tremendous support.  I'm also managing to stay functional most of the time, even if "functional" sometimes feels agonizing.

But if there is one thing--one gigantic Truth that has ground me to the dust--it is that I am not in control.  Any sense of being master or captain of myself has dissolved into a blubbering mess on the bed.  I am nothing but a few molecules surrounding a soul.  That flesh has no real power, and that soul has no control over what happens to me.

And when I'm there--here--I have three choices.

1.  Live in denial; convince myself that I am in control even though I never will be.
2.  Live in anger and frustration that there is a God, but he doesn't care.
3.  Trust that there is a God who is there and is not silent.

The last time I went through this, sixteen years ago, led to a Crisis of Faith.  I had been raised to know Christ--and I had personally tasted of his goodness--but my foundation was not strong enough to endure the bottom falling out of my world.  It led to an intensely personal quest for Truth.  True Truth.  Like, historical, scientific, philosophical Truth.  Not just something that made me feel better.

It was excruciating, but I found it.  I found it in the Jesus of the gospels and the words he left behind for us.  The foundation was solid underneath me and my fear slipped away.

So this time around, that foundation has remained secure.  I am not questioning the existence of God and his Truth, as that is settled for me.  But this time, my question has been, Does he care?  I am weak, desperate, helpless.  Will he show up?

Yes.  That is what he has been doing.  Quietly, gently, slowly.  He is asking me to be patient.  But I am tasting the promise of manna.  His daily provision of what I need.  How what I think I need is not necessarily what he knows I need.  How the knowledge of his presence is more important to him than my productivity.

If you had asked me before Anxiety if I believed all of that, I would have assured you that I did.  But really, I've been living my life as my own Captain, a lot of the time.  It feels good to live that way--secure, confident, comfortable.  Sure, God is there, but it's nice to have a contingency plan.

So I've got to tell you--this is scary.  Really, really scary to thrust my trust and my hope and my life into the belief of an invisible God.  Because do I really, really know that he will come through?  That he will deliver me?  That he will never leave me?

I think that's exactly why he has brought me to this place.  Because I have no other place to go.  I have no other options.  I have no other hope.  That's exactly where he plans to show up.  And he is.  Oh, my friends, He is!

I don't like writing this way, from the middle of the hurricane.  It's a lot easier to write from the end and wrap up all the details and praise God for how he brought me through.  But here I am, holding on for dear life, not knowing the ending.  He was there yesterday, so I'm going to cling to that crutch--that blessed, sturdy, life-giving crutch--that he will be there tomorrow.

We attend an all-African church, and the preacher this morning was a friend of ours from Cameroon, who is also the French teacher at HOPAC.  He read aloud these words from Deuteronomy in his rich French accent, and they filled my soul.

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart....And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna....that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you....For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good which you will lack nothing.