The Pit

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Some disclaimers:

  1. This is a hard read. I’m sorry about that. I don’t mean to come across like an anvil or a monotonous endless gray-blue. As difficult as it is to read, I will not resort to pitiful platitudes or paint over “the hard” with rainbows to make it more comfortable. Pretending is a lie, and sometimes it’s okay to not be okay.
  1. It’s hard to share. I am an encourager and also don’t like to burden others with my “stuff”; it honestly feels rather self indulgent to talk about myself and the inner workings of my mind so much.
  1. A few weeks ago, the Lord told me to write. It has been a long time since I’ve written. Mostly because I didn’t feel like I had anything of clarity or worthwhile to say. I don’t know why God wants me to write. I don’t know if putting this part of my story to pen will help anyone but myself (there is something cathartic about writing it all down). I just… don’t know why He asked. I’m a little bit done trying to figure God out. But I do trust Him, so I will obey…

Four years ago exactly, I entered into a season of suffering. I had no idea when the suffering would end, nor did I know how far I would have to fall before reaching the bottom of the deepest darkest pit I had ever experienced. Every time I thought things couldn’t get worse, the landscape of my life just got blacker and more insidious.

About midway through this season (18 months in), I had a dream. I stood on a mountain. Everything around me was blown away or blown to bits by a strong wind. When the wind stopped, I surveyed the damage from my mountain peek. Although the wind had caused great destruction, I thought I had survived the onslaught with at least my footing intact. But then another even stronger wind blew, and it tore apart the very mountain I stood upon. I fell, down down down, with nothing to cling to. I was rudderless, anchorless, and grasping at empty air. Suddenly, Jesus, looking like a mountain Himself, caught me and held tight.

The dream became reality. Even though I had survived up to that point with steely resolve and steadfast faith, more suffering came. And more. More. Always more. I was punished. Pruned. Pulverized. Eventually, I had nothing left outwardly- all had been stripped away. Family, home, and any sense of normalcy were all gone like vapor. For all my bravado throughout the years of teaching others about Jesus and trusting Him in all circumstances, I had nothing left on the inside to give me the strength to fight another day. I was done. Cooked. Normally a positive person who had never experienced bouts of depression or despair, I wanted to die. Several times in the wee a.m. hours when sleep eluded me and insomnia left me hollow and haunted, I willed my stubborn heart to stop beating in my pounding ears. It didn’t feel selfish to think this way. I just wanted the pain to stop, and yet there was no sedative to numb the horror.

One Sunday morning a few months after my dream, my eyes were almost swollen shut- partially from lack of sleep but mostly from crying all night. Somehow, I still managed to will myself out of bed and make it to church to teach Sunday school. I wore sunglasses to hide my puffy eyes from the children and felt condemned and pathetic because my more-or-less impromptu lesson was subpar by even the most gracious of standards. While I tried to teach the kids about God and His people, I felt like an exhausted phony. It was a long hour. After Sunday school was finally over, I bolted and skipped actual church service. I knew I couldn’t wear sunglasses in the sanctuary without being thought of as a weirdo, and I didn’t want to face people or answer their questions when they saw me looking like I had been in a boxing match. I felt isolated and even ostracised because of my inability to live up to my other people’s standards, my own standards, and because of my inability to cope with the pain. (I mean, other people hurt too, and they still managed to keep going, right? Why was I such a wimp!?) I couldn’t suck it up and be the bubbly bright person everyone had always known. I had grown weary in doing good- and I felt judged because of my exhaustion.

I quit teaching Sunday school soon after that awful morning. When I quit, I felt like a total failure because I knew God’s truth: In order to gain my life, I needed to lose mine in the service of Him and others. But… I just couldn’t. I didn’t have it in me. It was too hard to continue to care about serving when it took all I had to… well… will myself out of bed each day. On top of feeling like a failure, I felt like a hypocrite too. I had taught and believed so much truth for many years. I had encouraged others to stand firm and hold fast, and in my pride I thought I had this faith walk “all worked out”. But now in the moment of truth, when I was in the flames, I couldn’t stand and do the right thing with joy. I was humiliated and ashamed.

Isolated. Ostracised. Failure. Judged. Hypocrite. Humiliated. Ashamed. But mostly sad and unbearably broken. That’s quite a list. It felt like hell had paid me a personal visit.

I knew what I was experiencing wasn’t just a physical fight. I was facing a spiritual attack, and my enemy’s endgame was the total deconstruction of my faith. Though I knew what was happening to my soul and spirit logically, it still didn’t help me to cope. The only thing I can compare this to is childbirth. Let me explain.

Just before a mother has achieved full dilation and is able to push her baby out, she goes through a short but incredibly painful portion of labor called transition. As her body contracts to open that last 2-3 cm of dilation, she usually feels her worst. She is sometimes sick to her stomach. She wants it to be over. She cries and complains that she “just can’t do it anymore!” As close as she is to seeing her baby, she doesn’t want to continue enduring the terrible pain.

I knowingly experienced this phenomenon in my second labor with Noah. That is to say, I mentally recognized when I was in transition even as my body instinctively took over and behaved apart from my conscious directives. I puked into a small dark pink hospital container. I not so graciously commanded my mother to “pray for me!” when my body was suddenly wracked with tremors. Though I knew my symptoms signaled I was nearing the final pushing stage, this understanding did nothing to ease the pain. I thought and prayed the very sentences labor books predicted I would in transition. “I want to be done!” I told God. “Help me!” I cried out in silent pleas to Jesus. If there had been a tap out button, I would have pushed it. Anything to escape or hide.

That’s how the second wave of suffering was for me. I knew what was happening mentally. I knew there would be an end. I knew that I was being attacked physically and spiritually. I knew that Jesus was in control. But knowing all of these truths didn’t ease my pain. I still wanted a tap out button. To escape. To hide.

Perhaps the hardest part of all was that I knew God had allowed it. No, Jesus wasn’t responsible for my sin and the sins of others. But He is King, and He has the final say in the affairs of men. So yeah… He allowed it all. Jesus- the same God Who died for me and poured out His grace on me day after day. The same God who had always shown up for me. Answered my prayers. Provided for me. Talked to me. Bailed me out. Done the miraculous (hello blog title!). This same gracious God was also now fierce and unexplainable. Father said no and meant it no matter how much I pleaded or protested, prayed, or fasted. He was holy. He was just. He was powerful. Any laughable illusion of control I had was gone in a sudden and terrifying display of uncontrollable stark reality.

But.

As promised, God didn’t let me go. Just as it was in my dream, Jesus was faithful to catch me when I had nothing. He came and sat with me in the dark and showed compassion for my despair. God still talked to me when I was covered in dirt and soot- the only thing left after watching my home and life burn. Father loved me even in His discipline and purifying fire- because He is a perfect Parent.

It’s how I survived.

It would be easy to jump to the joys of  my current season to neatly give hope to those in the middle of their own wind storm. But I am not going to do that. Not today at least. The reason? I am fully aware that it’s not easy to “just get over it”. The pit is deep- and it takes more than a minute to climb out. I weep with those who weep and do not belittle your pain.

I will say that I’ve learned a couple of really important things.

#1. I am far less critical and self-righteous. I am ashamed of myself for how I used to judge people. Man, I was so friggin’ prideful. I assumed and drew conclusions based on what I saw when I truly had no clue what the story was. Though I’m still not perfect, I am much less critical.

#2. I used to have a marked lack of compassion for people who battled depression, grief, and anxiety. “Buck up!” I’d think. Worse, when people complained of depression, I stupidly wanted to recommend my own prescription to make it all better- as if “three easy steps” or a positive attitude were enough to snap fingers and fix all woes. This short-sided stupidity ended abruptly during this season. I was in such deep depression and grief that I didn’t know how to process or handle it. Now I have zero (and I mean zero) judgement for those who battle with all-consuming sadness. Though I thankfully have never battled anxiety- that is not something that plagued me then, now, or ever- I have been humbled enough to recognize that even though I don’t struggle with something, I can still sympathize and have compassion for those who do.

#3. God is undefinable and unexplainable, but He is good.

Because He is good, I trust Him even when I cannot see.

Bitter into Sweet

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In my previous post, I wrote about happiness and joy. I concluded that one must pursue holiness, not happiness, to find purpose and meaning in this life.

Today I want to explore the topic of pain and suffering. Fun, huh? Yeah… right.

Yet I’m choosing to swim in these dark turbulent waters because it is… necessary. I need to remind myself that there is purpose in pain. That God doesn’t waste anything. That He is working even when it hurts like literal hell.

Let me cut to the chase. These last few months have been some of the most difficult in my life. The daily responsibilities of life, the stresses of a new job, but most especially an unexpected splinter in my marriage- all these things have pulled me taunt like a cracked rubber band. To be honest, some days just getting out of bed has been a Herculean task. But when it would be so easy to succumb to the grief of a broken heart, I press on.

I press on because the Lord warned me hard days would come when He called me to Himself. Because He loves me, He taught me that He would use suffering to develop me into the daughter He has always knew I would become.

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” 1 Peter 4: 12-12

In this verse, we learn that trials will come. And when they come, Christ’s glory is revealed. In other words, when the world watches God’s people respond to hardships with love, grace, and faith, Jesus is revealed to them. As we overcome, Christ is glorified in our suffering.

The things is, so many of us bail out of the trial before the glory comes. We don’t want to wait on the Lord to do His work in us and through us. Instead, we seek retribution or vindication using our own clouded judgement. We get mad or become embittered instead of trusting God. We cut people off and sever relationships instead of waiting on the Lord to restore and heal. Believe me, I am talking to myself when I give these examples. I fail often. So many days over the past few months I have wanted to tap out and cry, “Uncle!” It would be so easy to run from the fire.

But I know through the truth of Scripture that the pressure of trials is vital to my spiritual growth.

James says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Count it all joy? I’m not sure I’m there yet. But I trust with all my heart that I will one day be thankful to Jesus for this season. Why? God’s Word says so. I also have personal experience. God has used suffering to teach me and perfect me before. I know He can do it again.

Between the years of 2005-2008, the Lord sent white hot fire to strip me of many things. I lost a teaching job due to district budget cuts. I foreclosed on a house and had a car repossessed in the middle of the night. I declared bankruptcy. I gained a bunch of weight despite my best efforts and lost my vanity. A close Christian friend and mentor moved away. In the midst of all this, I had an unbelieving husband and two children at my feet who needed to learn about and know Jesus too- proving absolutely that the world did not revolve around me.

In short, much of my pride was pulverized to dust.

I vividly remember one afternoon during these crazy three years when I was totally overwhelmed with the weight of it all. I literally crawled underneath the kitchen table like a toddler seeking shelter and cried soul wracking cries. I knew Jesus was responsible for what I was going through but also in total control of it all. I also knew He loved me more than I could comprehend. I could not escape His hand on my life. There was no where to run. No where to hide. Where else could I run to but to Christ- the Author and Finisher of my faith? My only choice was to look up to my King with anguished tears streaming down my face and hang on to His wooden cross for dear life.

I’m so glad I did hang on. Once the storm died down and I had the chance to let go of the splintered wood, I looked around and could not believe what God had done for me. I learned that God is my provider. I learned His Word and how to pray. I learned how to war in the spirit and gain victory. I learned that stuff and acquired things are meaningless and can blow away with the wind. I learned to hold on to the people I love loosely, even my own children. God taught me that we all ultimately belong to Him. In short, I learned that God is in control, and I am not. The trust I gained in Jesus to reign in my life during this season set me free of fear and foolish worldly thinking.

Remembering what God has already done helps me to once again crawl to the foot of the cross and wait for Jesus to move in another season of fire. Like I said, if He can use pain and suffering once to mold me and make me like Himself, He can do it again.

But you know what? I confess that on really really bad days, all the Bible knowledge in the world isn’t enough to keep me. Only His presence and the power of the Holy Spirit can do that. This Holy Spirit is the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead.

Jesus is my anchor on days when I don’t have the oomph to open up the Bible and think logically and rationally. In those moments when the rushing high tide of suffering threatens to take me out to open sea, I cry out with short yet fervent prayers that go something like:

“Help!”

“What are You doing, Lord?”

“I can’t do this anymore… I’m so tired.”

And again…

“HELP!”

Mostly, though, I have prayed these words over and over again: “Jesus, I love You.” I sing them with my eyes closed at stop lights. I doodle “I love You, Jesus” on scrap paper during meetings. I write “I love You, Jesus” in the condensation on the door during a steamy shower. I pledge my love to Christ over and over because I am just. so. grateful. that I’m not alone.

My precious Jesus is a man well acquainted with grief and suffering. He is not a High Priest that cannot understand what we go through down here in the dust. The Lord willingly walked down the road called Suffering because He wanted to be there for me when I was in pain. King Jesus wanted to carry me on the days I couldn’t walk in my own strength.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

I need Him, every day. I so desperately need Him when my flesh rises up to want to take my life back into my hands- when I want to usurp His throne. I need Him when my foolish worldly thinking clouds the wisdom found in God’s Word. I need Him when I want it my way after I’ve already pledged myself to my Lord. I need Him to enable me to extend His grace to others, especially grace for those who have the power to hurt me the most.

I just need Him. I need my Jesus so desperately in seasons of trial and pain.

The Apostle Paul was a man also familiar with suffering. He was beaten. Starved. Shipwrecked. Imprisoned. Yet through all this he was able to say,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-19)

There is a coming day, dear one, when this world and its troubles will pass away. Until then, the Lord promises that the troubles we endure now will not be worth even comparing to the future blessing and wonder that awaits us beyond the veil where God’s presence lies. And I can’t wait.

But until then, I close my eyes, breathe a deep cleansing breath, and vow to stay under the weight of His loving hand when He brings the rain. I choose to stay in the fire. Let the fire burn burn burn away all that is not Him. Because one day, through God’s master workmanship and relentless patience, I am going to look like a gleaming beautiful diamond. I am going to look like Jesus.