Diary of a Pregnant Woman: Week 24

This is my first post in a few weeks. Work continues to kick my butt and suck away the majority of my free-time. But, finally here I am able to sit and write…for me, a form of processing, decompression, and preparation for what is about to come. Some people prepare by shopping for baby clothes/items, spending an exuberant amount of time (and money!) on decorating the nursery, putting together a baby registry (I still need to do that!), making a list of what needs to be accomplished before baby arrives, etc…I, myself, eat and write.

So, in the three weeks that I have been absent in writing here is my attempt to catch you up to speed on happenings, noticing, and developments.

  1. Pregnancy glow. First of all, my boobs are amazing these days! Amazing for me anyway. When you’re as small as I am (pre-pregnancy as flat-chested as a 12 year old boy) any growth in that area is a welcome development! Hahaha…see what I did there..development….anyway. Occasionally, I like to chase Aj around the house with them yelling ridiculous things like, “Touch ’em!! They’re Aaammaaaazzing!!!” He puts up with me. Sweet man. Likewise, my hair is my all time favorite! It’s long and thick and amazing. From the boobs up I feel like an Herbal Essence porn star model. Just don’t shoot me below the boobs!
  2. The belly staring. It’s amazing how many people stare at your belly when you’re pregnant. Family, friends, strangers, anyone really. It’s almost like no one has ever seen a pregnant woman before. And then I think to myself…did I stare this much before at other pregnant women?? I can only assume I must have and not realized. It is such a strange feeling to constantly be the subject of others’ stares. Previously, I could walk the building at work or enter a convenience store and go virtually unnoticed. Not anymore. And the worst place of all is the gym! Recently, I noticed a young woman staring at me every time I walked past her. If I had to guess her age I’d say she was some where in her late 20s. Although, with all that makeup on it was truly hard to tell. Lo and behold, at the end of our workouts we crossed paths in the locker room. She literally looked at me, and said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but you are like the cutest thing ever! And when I grow up, I hope I am just like you, seriously! ….When she grows up?? What the…??!
  3. Crazy dreams. I’ve heard pregnancy can cause crazy dreams and I have now begun to experience the weirdness. I have had gruesome dreams from a bear attacking my dog and leaving him nearly dead and shredded to bloody pieces in my arms, to having our newborn baby and crating her in her crib, leaving her alone for 8 hours at a time without being fed or changed as we go about our day. These are just a couple of the truly weird and sometimes disturbing dreams I have had.
  4. Baby gender and names. For those of you who don’t know we are having a baby girl. Although Aj says this means I will just need to keep having babies until we have a boy the reality is we could care less about the gender as long as the baby is healthy. What I surprisingly discovered was how many people advise against sharing the name of the baby with anyone until after the baby is born. The consensus among most people for not sharing the baby’s name is “There will be people who will give you their opinion and discourage you away from your name choice. But all I can think is, So what? We feel abundantly confident in the name that we have chosen for our baby. So much so, in fact, that we spent more time picking out a name for our dog than we did for this little eggplant. Her name is Sofia Nicoletta…if you decide that you don’t like the name that’s okay with us, because chances are, we don’t like your name either.
  5. Pregnancy brain. Aj insists that I am making this one up regardless of how many articles I send him on the validity of it. Truth be told, I too would have thought it to be a reason for an excuse by a woman, had I not experienced it myself. I have never been so forgetful in my life. The worse case came a few weeks ago as I was getting ready to leave for work and I couldn’t find my car keys. We had a lot of activity at our house that weekend and Aj spent a lot of time moving our cars around. So at that point it seemed as though my car keys could be anywhere. In a panic as the clock ticked closer to me being late to work I called Aj. Together we tried to retrace his steps from the weekend in locating my keys. Together over the phone we searched outside, inside, in the basement, upstairs, on the work bench, washing machine, I even looked on the tractor but every time I came up empty handed. And the clock kept ticking closer and closer to first bell. I had no choice, without a way to work, all I could do was call in my absence. Aj felt terrible for having misplaced my keys. About four hours later I put my coat on to take Dexter outside and as I placed my hand in the left pocket of my coat…there were my keys, in MY coat, which means I was the last person to use them. And then I remembered, Sunday morning I drove my car down the road to play ball with Dexter and when I got home instead of putting my keys back in my purse I put them in my coat pocket. So, not only did I forget where I put my car keys, but I also forgot about an entire event of the previous day that had I remembered would have led me to my keys.

I frequently remind Aj that we are closer to delivery than further from it. And he continues to prepare in his own way by working on the house. Although I really have had an absolutely wonderful pregnancy so far and I feel absolutely great on most days, I also recognize that I am quickly entering the homestretch where things can become a bit uncomfortable. But, until then I thank God for this baby that is growing strong and healthy inside me and marvel at His handiwork as my body transforms to produce and sustain life. The miracle of life truly is amazing. And to think that God allows our participation in it by the way that he has created our bodies to undertake such a dramatic event is mind blowing and humbling.

Diary of a Pregnant Woman: Week 18

I absolutely love my dog! I mean like, I. LOVE. HIM. I have become one of those dog people that other people roll their eyes at, it’s true. The funny thing is, I use to be the eye-roller in the face of (more like peripheral vision) all the other dog lovers. I just couldn’t wrap my head around people who talked to their dogs like children, or dressed them in ‘dog-clothes’ (to be honest, I still don’t understand that), or spent any time considering their ‘comfort’ and ‘feelings’ when it came to sleeping, lounging, car rides, or anything.

I remember as a teenager my parents had a dog, Casey. She was sweet and loving, but nonetheless, a dog. Casey got cancer and I’ll never forget my stepmother driving to and from Cortland a multitude of times for treatment, spending literally, thousand of dollars on a dog! All I could think at the time was, this woman is cuckoo-bananas, it’s a friggin’ dog! Get a grip lady! Never would I have believed in a thousand years that one day I would love the crap out of a 75 pound 8 month old German Shepherd terrorist.

I often think to myself, if I love my dog this much, I can’t even imagine how much I will love this baby growing inside of me when it arrives.

Like all mothers, I desperately want to be the absolute best mom I can be. And I have felt guilty at times over these past several months that I haven’t been able to do more to prepare for the arrival of this little sweet potato inside of me. Work is absolutely kicking my butt with time spent working in the evenings and on the weekends. On top of, we’re still in the process of renovating our what was once a run-down foreclosure in the woods. Day after day I think about all the things I should be doing to prepare: creating a baby registry, researching items for a baby registry, birthing classes, finding a pediatrician, finding childcare, creating a birth plan, exercising, maternity leave paperwork, reading baby pregnancy books, etc. The list is endless, and day after day it leaves me feeling like I am not doing enough to prepare for the arrival of our baby.

But, I had a thought this week that has changed some of my perspective. What if preparing for the arrival of our baby actually has very little to do with all the things I just listed? What if preparing for the arrival of our baby has nothing to do with nursery preparations, gender reveals, or finding the right breast pump for working moms. What if instead, preparing for the birth of my baby means orienting my heart, mind, and affections towards my Creator firstly, and secondly investing my time and energy on nurturing my marriage?

What if preparing for the birth of my baby means acknowledging God, who He is, and what he has done for me in the person and work of Jesus. Allowing my heart and mind to meditate on that daily, and out of that seeing my heart’s affections be changed and transformed. Reminding myself that any success to be gained in motherhood has everything to do with where my strength, patience, and wisdom come from today and every day. Because the truth is, any success to be had, in any of my horizontal relationships (marriage, motherhood, family, friendships, etc.) first needs to start with my vertical relationship with God. So what if one of the best ways for me to prepare for the arrival of this little orange ‘tater is by not forgetting who God is and what that actually means for me and my life on a daily basis.

Secondly, what if preparing for motherhood means focusing my mind and attention on being a good wife. It’s easy in the hub-bub of life to become too busy for our spouses, too busy to put the time and attention into nurturing a marriage. It becomes easy in the midst of conflict to only see one side, your own. To assume you’re right and your spouse is wrong. To make the excuse that you don’t need to be kind with your words, or gentle with your reaction to things, they just need to ‘toughen up buttercup.’ How easy it is to give our spouse only half of our attention, scrolling our phones while also ‘listening’ to them. What if preparing for the arrival of my little one means pushing back on myself in my marriage? Asking myself how am I best loving, encouraging, and honoring my husband this week, this day, this moment. And not just when I am getting what I want out of the relationship, but doing it without conditions, even when I am not getting what I want out of the relationship. What if preparing for my little one’s arrival means speaking to their father with words that build him up instead of tear him down? What if means realizing my own sin and selfishness that gets in the way of the relationship instead of being quick to point out his? What if it means praying regularly for my spouse.

The reality is, my love and affection for God, or lack there of, ultimately drives my beliefs and actions in every area of my life. And I will spend the rest of my life modeling that reality to my child in a multitude of ways. For example, I will either forgive others when they hurt me because I realize that I too am selfish and yet God forgives me over and over again. Or I won’t forgive people when they hurt me because I will have come to believe that I am better than them and they don’t deserve my forgiveness. My beliefs and actions will teach that to my child. Likewise, I will either model for my child what a loving and honoring marriage looks like even when life is hard. Or I will model to them dysfunction and selfishness. Those will become the beliefs and values that I will inadvertently teach my child through my modeling. And because of that, there is no registry item, no baby book, no pediatrician, no birthing plan that can ultimately prepare me for what it really means to be a mother to my child.

My thoughts and prayers this week have revolved around the simple truth that the seeds I plant today will be the harvest that I reap tomorrow. In my preparation and pursuit to be the best mother I can, I must plant good seeds today in both my spiritual life and my marriage. And then pray and ask God that those seeds grown into an abundant harvest for my little one to benefit from.

What Do You Do When Jesus Isn’t Enough?

My mind is at odds with my heart. Ever have that experience? I call it ‘The Great Disconnect.’  It’s where you have an intellectual understanding of a truth, yet, your heart perceives it to be a lie, a forgery, a falsity. Intellectually you get it. In fact, if asked to, you could explain the in’s and out’s of it seven ways to Sunday.  In such a way, even, that the Skeptic becomes Believer. But feeling the truth of it for yourself, is incomprehensible. Instead, your heart is like a limb that got lost in the snow, numb and without feeling to Truth’s certainty.

This is the season of Advent. A time of hopeful expectation. An expectant waiting for the one who has come, the one who will come again: Jesus. Jesus, the great rescuer of mankind, the one who was foretold by the prophets:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned—every one—to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

Almost 700 years past between the time of Isaiah’s prophecy and the birth of Jesus. Imagine. Seven centuries of silence fell across the face of the Earth like an oppressive blanket for those who were waiting, year in and year out, for the Messiah. And then one day, a child was born who came to take away the sins of the world. A Rescuer, known as the God-man, Jesus, whose death would freely exchange our sin and enslavement for his righteous and freedom. And with that, the gift of eternal hope.

But, what happens when the reality of this world, at this present time, snuffs out the joy and peace that Jesus offers?  What happens when this season that is meant to remind us of the hope we have, instead presents itself as a bitter token of the hope we’ve lost?  What do we do when the tapestry of our life is torn apart by suffering—whatever the form be (death, divorce, illness, broken relationships, barrenness, etc.)? What do we do when the weight of life’s crash is so heavy and the brokenness so profound that we feel ourselves suffocating underneath the weight of it all, and we’re left feeling without hope?

What do we do when we feel like our suffering has ‘out done’ what Jesus has done on the cross and that he isn’t enough?

What a lonely and frightening place to be.

Preach truth to ourselves

We remind ourselves that sometimes what we feel isn’t always true. Just because you feel something or don’t feel something, it doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on its truth. Sometimes I feel I’m hungry when really I’m just bored. Other times I don’t feel tired when I really am. And most the time, I feel like I’m being funny when really I’m just being obnoxious. If I was married I could use a slew of analogies here. My point is, our feelings have a limitation when it comes to trust and we have to remember that. It’s okay to feel, but we have to remind ourselves that reality through the lens of grief is oftentimes distorted. Even if  we don’t feel it we have to preach ourselves truth, allowing our mind to be filled with it until our heart catches up.

Pray…

We pray like hell. We offer up cries of prayer to the one who can save us. I’m often trying to remind myself that “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, his ear attentive to their cry” (Psalm 34:15).  God can take anything I cry out at him. He knows my heart anyway, whether I speak it or not. So why hold back? Why censor? We need to pray that Jesus keep us from distorted thinking and self-pity.  Two things that lead us toward a downward spiral that is hard to come back from. We must ask him to save us from the disbelief that runs rampant in our hearts when grief gets a hold of it. Primarily, I find myself praying that God save me from myself. That he save me from my own sense of what I think is ‘fair’ and ‘best’. I pray that he keep me from becoming like the Pharisees who tried defining who Jesus was on their own terms, telling him who he should and shouldn’t be, how he should and shouldn’t act and therefore missed out on who he was altogether. 

Remember that Jesus is our Suffering Savior

Yes, Jesus bore my sins on the cross, but he did more than that. He took my sorrows as his own. The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is the perfect High Priest, and not just because he is the pure and spotless lamb that absorbed the wrath of his Father for my sin, on my behalf. But, because he empathises with me in my weakness. Jesus was spouseless, childless, betrayed, abandoned, chastised, beaten, ridiculed, imprisoned, and put to death. He is not some God who sits far off and aloof. He knows your pain and mine. He is our most comforting suffering savior. He has felt everything that you and I will ever feel.

He is a Good Father

He is a good father. In his giving and his taking, no matter how painful it is, no matter how many tears you’ve shed. No matter how many times you’ve screamed at Him at night lying alone in bed, strangling your sheets in clenched fists, while his silence is deafening and your tears are inconsolable–I promise you, and myself, he is a good father. It may not feel like it at the time, but it is true.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead

of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give

him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give

good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly

Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

So, what do we do then,  when it seems Jesus isn’t enough? We preach, pray, remember, and believe even when our hearts don’t feel it.

Santa has Nothin’ on Jesus

This morning I wake to a darkness that fills my tiny bedroom. I don’t get up right away, but lay here, silently, eyes closed, ears open to nature’s commotion outside my window, which assures me that the light of morning is on the horizon. And then it strikes me, as a metaphor of sorts, for the meaning of this weekend…

As a little girl, I remember my mother stating that Easter was her favorite holiday. At the time, I could hardly understand why. Why would anyone choose an early morning spent in stuffy dress clothes, sitting in a hard seat, listening to some man drone on and on for the better part of an hour? When all the while you could choose the holiday with the fat jolly man who brings presents directly to your living room, where you can spend all day in your pajamas. It’s like choosing vanilla when you can have chocolate. Sure, it’s an option, but it doesn’t make it a good one!

At the time, I just figured that’s what happens when you get old, you forget what fun is.

The implication of this weekend, for those of us who consider ourselves Christ-followers, is momentous. But, where does one choose to focus their attention in reflecting on this weekend? Clearly, it would seem Christ’s resurrection is the pivotal moment of importance. No? I mean, without his resurrection, the Christian faith becomes…futile. Without the resurrection of Christ, Jesus becomes nothing more than a man. Conversely, with his resurrection, everything changes. And, I mean, everything! Hope is restored, brokenness is mended, ashes turn to beauty, and mankind is connected with his glorious Creator.

It’s ‘Resurrection Sunday’ that permits the ‘Good’ in Good Friday. Without the resurrection, Friday becomes a tragic day in Roman history, where a really nice man, who spent time with the sick, poor, and outcasts of society was mercilessly beaten and left for dead. For no reason.

Good Friday. The day that signifies that Jesus stood in for me, absorbing the wrath and abandonment of his Father, on my behalf, so I would never have to. How do we not stop in reflection and genuine exploration of what that event means? The picture of Jesus, nailed to a cross shows us two things. One, who we truly are when left to our own nature: depraved, wicked, violent, self-absorbed, prideful, vengeful, jealous, out-for-our-own-good. Two, it shows us who this God-man Jesus is: completely loving, unbelievably merciful, abundantly gracious, Rescuer of mankind.

As a kid Santa brought me some amazing gifts throughout the years: my first leather basketball, my first pair of Skids, my first suede coat… never once did that fat jolly old man offer to stand in, as a ransom, paying my debt. Never once did he offer me the gift of life. And I don’t just mean life after death, I mean real life, in the here and now. The kind of life that when the storms of circumstance, disappointment, failed dreams, disease, addiction, abuse, abandonment, betrayal, and death come crashing in, so hard that you feel like you don’t have it in you to face another day—The God-man Jesus steps in. He kneels down, eye level, and reminds us that he has known sorrow and pain, too. And, the good news is, he has conquered it all.

Holy Thursday is the day that puts it all into proper perspective, for me—the passage of scripture, where Jesus is with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. You know the scene. The disciples have fallen asleep, even though Jesus pleaded with them not to.

Night has fallen. He’s alone, knelt over by a half dead tree. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” Jesus exclaims into the darkness, as tears sting the back of his eyes. He knows his hour has come. He can feel it, deep inside. As he sits there, alone, he prays through grinding teeth: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” This is exactly what he and his Father have been discussing for centuries. This very moment in history. The moment where he exchanges garments with his creation, taking on our depravity, experiencing the wrath and abandonment of his Father, while giving us his righteousness.

I’m reminded this morning, as I lay here in my dark tiny bedroom with morning light on the horizon that the cup of suffering he swallowed wasn’t his—it was mine. And he swallowed it fully, absorbing it all on my behalf. It’s in reflecting on this great exchange that my perspective is set right. A perspective in which I assume my rightful place, one of humble gratitude at the cross, in recognition of the greatest gift I have ever received: Jesus, my great Rescuer.

He-brews: Morning Reflection

Have you ever experienced a morning where you feel the heartache before you’ve even had the chance to open your eyes? It’s like Life had nothing better to do than hover above your head, mischievously anticipating your waking, in order to smack you square in the chest with a smug, “‘Mornin’!” And then slink back into the morning fog.

You desperately try to woo yourself back to sleep. Rationalizing, that if you can sleep a little longer then it lessens the amount of time in the day that you have to contend with the reality of life. But it’s too late, your senses have regained their consciousness. You’re officially awake.

This morning, before even opening my eyes, I caught myself repeating a familiar prayer that I learned five and a half years ago. It’s a prayer that I prayed, every single morning for three years straight. I remember in those days repeating it over and over and over again, until I felt I had the strength to get out of bed. At the time, the interesting thing about this prayer was that it wasn’t a conscious choice to pray it; instead, it was an involuntary reaction to life’s circumstance. In recent years, I find myself resorting to it when life presses in so hard that I feel like I might collapse under the weight of it. This is one of those mornings…

“God protect me. Keep me safe. Hide me deep inside the shadow of your wing. Please God! Protect me. Keep me safe. Please hide me deep, deep inside the shadow of your wing.”

As I laid here this morning repeating this familiar prayer over and over again, desperately wanting to feel safe and secure, and needing the emotional peace and comfort that I know from experience can only truly come from my Abba, Father–my mind wandered to one of those most comforting books of scripture, for me. Hebrews.

Reluctantly opening my eyes, I reached down to the floor beside my bed, grabbed my bible and pen, flicked on the light and pleaded with God to meet me.

The whole of scripture comes together for me in the book of Hebrews. I’m not saying that it has to for you, but for me, it’s the book of Hebrews that brings together my pain and his glory. And it’s  the book of Hebrews that reminds me that it’s in this collision of our pain and his glory that exists a revelation of a cavern of his love that is so deep and so wide, not even the unfathomable sorrows of life can snatch us from it.

It’s the book of Hebrews that reminds me of who Jesus is.  “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature,” (Hebrews 1:3). In other words, if I want to know who God is, look to Jesus!  Look at his life here on earth, what he did: fed the poor, loved outcast, healed the sick, raised the dead to life, mourned with those whose hearts were breaking, and gave hope and joy to those without, extended compassion, grace and mercy. Look to what he said, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life…I have come that you may have life abundantly…If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father…Whoever would come after me must deny himself…I will be with you to the end of the age.” It’s in the humanness of Jesus that I find his deity.

He upholds the universe (v.3b), Hebrews tells us, and everything is subject to him, nothing is outside his control (v.8). That means, even the bad in life. Yes. Even in his taking, he is good. Even when he snatches from us the things we love most in life, he IS good. Chances are, it’s in his taking from us that he’s actually trying to give us the greatest gift of all…Himself.

Hebrews reminds me that I have a God who is not far off and aloof. Instead, he came to me. He sent himself, in the form of a man. The God-Man, Jesus. He left the glory of Heaven to join me in my pain and brokenness.  “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest…For because he himself has suffered when tempted (tested), he is able to help those who are being tempted (tested)” (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Don’t you see?!  Don’t you see the implications of what this means? Its astounding beauty? What it means is that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). This God-Man Jesus, although he is God was fully human. Meaning, Jesus suffered, in every way like you and me. He knows the pain of rejection, abuse, abandonment, betrayal. The temptation of wealth, fame and selfishness. The lies that are whispered to us in our darkest hours. The temptation to live life for oneself. To worship something or someone over God. He has experienced it all…even death.

Hebrews reminds me that while Jesus subjected himself to the suffering, temptations, and trials of this world he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears to him who was able to save him from death. And he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:7-8). My suffering teaches me obedience. It teaches me to submit myself, my will, and my desires to the King of Kings, the Great Creator, the Grand Author of Life, the Lord Most High.

We can go to him in our suffering, in our times of testing and trials and cry out to him, “Abba, Father, have mercy on me!” And the beautiful thing is, we can rest assured that he not only hears our cries and prayers, but empathizes with our heartache because he too has felt it. Because of Jesus, with confidence we can draw near to the throne of grace knowing that we will receive mercy and in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Our pain and His glory collide in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus is our Suffering Savior.  There is great joy and comfort to be found in that. This morning Hebrews reminds me that not only did Jesus come to rescue me from sin, death and destruction (as if that isn’t enough!), he also came to rescue me IN my suffering. When I wake in the morning and the griefs of life hit me so hard that I feel like I can’t get out of bed, I can find peace in knowing that Jesus knows my suffering, because he too has felt it.  And when I pray that familiar prayer, “God protect me. Keep me safe. Hide me deep inside the shadow of your wing.” I can feel secure that he is with me IN my pain and suffering because he too has experienced it. This morning I can feel confident that although my heart may hurt, I have nothing to fear because he has me wrapped up in his big strong arms, and is tucking me tightly into the shadow of his wing where nothing in all this world can snatch me from it.

The good news is that Jesus conquered it all. All the temptation. All the testing. All the suffering and pain. Even death. He overcame it.  And his conquering does not negate or eliminate his experience with temptation and suffering; instead, it’s a sweet beacon of hope that when I place my trust in him the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, lives in me.

There’s no place like ‘the hood’

I’ve been instructed on more than one occasion not to take to the streets of my neighborhood alone, especially at night. This reminder has been bellowed at me by friends, neighbors and police officers. Aside from violence, poverty, prostitution and drugs, we apparently have a rather high robbery rate (different from burglary…but we have that too). I often tell myself to stop going out for runs at night, while lacing up my sneakers, sticking in my earbuds and making my way towards the front door.

I go through the same internal dialogue every time.

Conscience: ‘You’re doing it again.’

Me: ‘I know. This is the last time though. I promise. Don’t worry about it.’

Conscience: ‘You realize, this is how every 11’ O’Clock Evening News story starts, right?’

Me: ‘Yeah, yeah. But I’ll be running. And I’m fast. Like Flash. So, they’d have to catch me. Besides, everyone knows the only people who run in the hood are people being chased by cops. It’s all good.’

Conscience: (Shaking her head in disapproval)You’re a stupid, stubborn girl. And I have zero sympathy for what may happen.

Me: ‘Stupid…stubborn…zero sympathy. Got it! Chat when I get back. Gotta go.’

And then I’m off, out the door…Not before I set the house alarm though, of course.

I just can’t help it. As much as I’m told and as often as I tell myself, there’s just something that happens to me when the sun reaches down, pulling the Earth over top of her like a blanket–giving way to darkness. Like a moth, my feet are drawn to the street-lit pavement and beat up sidewalks.

Here’s the thing. I know that my neighborhood is ‘bad’. I don’t need to be told. I know it because of the parade of cop cars that come in and out as if some sort of invisible revolving door exists, giving them direct access, at all times. I know it because of the gun shots, cat-calls, and verbal threats I’ve heard on my street alone. Or because of the stories of this person or that person having been jumped, held up; or because of the amount of times my car has been keyed (AND hit and run), a friend’s has been broken into, or tires of neighbors’ have been slashed.

And if all that wasn’t enough (as if one needed more ‘evidence’), perhaps then it’s because my next door neighbor was shot a few weeks ago. Thankfully he survived but apparently some ‘unidentified’ person thought it profitable to ‘bust a cap in his knee’ as a warning, of sorts…

There’s something that has always fascinated me though. The evening hours, especially when the weather is warm, transforms my neighborhood. As I run along streets, dodging trash, broken up concrete that go by name of ‘sidewalk’, and glancing every so often over my shoulder to keep my wits about me, with my music loud enough to be heard but soft enough to notice an approaching intruder–the ‘darkness’ of my neighborhood ‘lights up’ at night. Exposing things that go unnoticed during the day.

Weary, tattered men and women can be seen setting up ‘homes’ against buildings and underpasses.

A young couple can be found shamelessly ‘duking’ it out under a bridge where their screams and threats echo back violence.

Multi-colored lights on storefront windows open their eyes for the first time, revealing a sort of Red Light District–where advertisements serenade passerby’s with choruses of hypnotizing lullabies made up of liquor warehouses, topless dancers, and Adult entertainment.

Sirens, in close proximity, scream out forewarning cries at lonely-evening wanderers. Their message: “Be warned all you who enter here.”

A wasteland of abandoned houses transformed into modern-day sanctuaries, holding the shrines of sex, drugs, and violence for nightly pilgrimages.

A woman in cut off shorts, with naked legs held up high by black stilettos can be spotted leaning against the brick siding of local ‘club’, while breathing in deep a cigaret that loosely hangs from her mouth as not to disturb the red lipstick that fills it in. Waiting there as a ‘secret’ invitation to knowledgeable men…

A man, in dingy jeans and disheveled hair is found under the overhang of a building nervously pacing. Incomprehensible mumbles flow from his mouth to the Voices who ceaselessly intrude his thoughts. Uninvited, they are now his only friends. His vacant eyes look through me as I pass by, as if the reality of my presence is nonexistent. His only reality are the Voices.

I’ve had moments in my late-night runs where these pictures overwhelmed me to the point of slowing down my pace and not for the need to catch my breath. Instead, for the need to fully absorb the condition around me. It’s in these moments that I am reminded of the condition in which I live, in which we all live: Brokenness.

I think we often spend our lives trying to ignore the existence of brokenness, in either our own lives or the lives of others, mostly because we don’t know how to deal with it. It makes us feel uncomfortable, awkward, out of control. We don’t know what to say to someone who’s been broken by life’s circumstance. We don’t know how to act in the midst of our own brokenness due to life’s circumstance.
So, we pretend it isn’t there by never addressing it, in our selves or others. We cover up our own brokenness with temporary life-Novocain’s like busyness, alcohol, television, surfacey relationships, good works, religiosity, contrived ‘hallelujahs’. And we cover up the brokenness of the hurting people around us by labeling their brokenness as ‘sin’ or ‘weakness’, downplaying its severity but mostly by ignoring its existence and pain.

Someone once said to me, “We’re all broken. We often just don’t get close enough to one another to see it.” I agree. And yet, sadly, there are those who can’t seem to identify their own brokenness, nor possess the ability to engage in the brokenness of others. I would proclaim that these are the first signs of their own fragmentation.

Brokenness hits some of us earlier in life than others. I don’t know why this is the case. God is the grand-weaver of all things, only he knows. Take me for an example, and those who share a similar story. I was born into brokenness (I’m not referring to our sinful nature, although that is the first contact every human has with brokenness and should not be overlooked). I was born into a family that was already broken apart by separation and divorce when I came into being. I entered life, fresh out of a ‘broken gate’. Then there were other manifestations of brokenness to follow in my family growing up. And just when things in my adult life seemed to be being ‘made new’, a new wave of brokenness swept over me that has left its scar.

In the past several years my eyes have been reawakened to the brokenness of life. I’m reminded of it because of its existence in my own life and in the lives of those most dear to me. It has come in many forms: death, disease, violence, divorce, betrayal, abandonment, poverty, mental illness, etc.

It’s been said that you’re in one of three stages in life at all times: just coming out of suffering, just about to enter suffering, or within the throes of suffering.

Those of you, whom God has spared, up to this point with minimal suffering and circumstantial brokenness–whose families are intact, sober and filled with safety and love–thank Him, and thank Him regularly. But also, hold on to those blessings with a loose grip. Remember the words of Job, “He gives and takes away…The words of King Solomon, “He who makes the straight paths makes the crooked paths.” And the words of Jesus himself, “In this life you will have many troubles.” Brokenness is a promise in life.

I don’t say any of this to promote disillusionment or to propagate pessimism and cynicism. I say it to keep us sober, and fearless. To give us a healthy and realistic worldview. And to challenge us to stop running from it. Its existence is inevitable my friend. Embrace it. Engage with it. Not just within yourself but within others.

Living here, in my neighborhood, forces me on a daily basis to come in contact with life’s brokenness. There isn’t a day that goes by here that you can’t help but notice it, in its many forms: poverty, violence, homelessness, racism, abuse, prostitution, etc. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion why I live here, why I don’t just move already?! Honestly, there’s something about being face to face with brokenness that makes me feel safe. I know that sounds counterintuitive. Crazy even.

But here’s the thing; the reality of my environment keeps me desperately clinging to my Rescuer, Jesus. It reminds me of what I have been and am currently being saved from. It reminds me of the beasts and brokenness that live within me, and that left to my own self-rule what utter destruction awaits me.

When I look into the eyes of Latoya, a homeless woman, or the couple at ‘war’ under the bridge, the man who argues violently with the voices in his head, or the beautiful prostitute who uses her body as a source of income, instead of a source of beauty to be revered, the only thing the separates me from them is grace. And it’s not that I have a grace that is not available to them, because it is. They just have yet to hear of it. And it’s not that I am no longer broken and they are. I am broken, very much so, but not alone and most of all, not without hope.

Keeping ourselves in the pathways of brokenness reminds us of our true condition and our absolute need of rescue. It keeps us clinging to the God-man Jesus. It keeps us desperately praying like the Psalmist,

“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Psalm 57:1).

We must remember, the protective covering of his shadow doesn’t keep us from life’s storms and brokenness; instead, it gives us a safe shelter in the midst of it.

There are times where I have literally stopped my late-night run in mid-stride, closed my eyes, and breathed in deep the brokenness of my environment. I do it as reminder to myself that brokenness is reality, and the appearance of things any other way is an illusion. And to ignore my own brokenness or the brokenness of others is to lie. And there’s nothing to be feared because there is a hope that exists far beyond our circumstantial shatterings. It is the promise that one day, perhaps not in this life, but one day He will make all things new.

What do Jesus and a Pub Have in Common?

Ever try to hear God speak to you?

It’s like sitting across the table from your best friend at a pub, while the local garage-band behind you plays so violently that you can feel the base reverberate in your chest. In a desperate move to hear what she’s saying, you position yourself in such a way that your upper body leans forward as much as possible, while your lower body wraps itself around the legs of the stool so tightly that you’ve suddenly become the human version of one of those scientific balance tools.

In a last ditch effort to hear what she’s saying, you earnestly thrust your head forward as far as it will go.  The speed at which her mouth moves and the crease down the center of her forehead tells you that what she’s saying is of significance, chief importance even, critical in fact.

If only you could hear her though.

Finally, after straining with everything in you to discern what she’s saying, you resign yourself to the idea that at this point, you’d be happy just to catch a few words. Forget the whole story; in fact, you’re not even asking to hear half the story anymore. Just…one…measly….simple…word…

If only.

Ever try to feel God’s presence?

It’s like coming into the house from a snow storm. Every thing about the house tells you that warmth is all around you–the raging fire, steamy cups of cocoa, the oversized fleece blanket that you have engulfed yourself in. Yet, nothing seems to make a difference. So you take it upon yourself because you’ll do anything to feel warmth.

You rub your hands together fiercely…nothing.
You place them close to your mouth, hoping the heat of your breath does the trick…nothing. You run them under hot water because you’ve seen the effect it has on ice.  Instead, you find yourself feeling betrayed as the hot water gives the sensation of a thousand pins poking at your hands. Contrary to being wrapped in warmth from all sides, your frozen limbs object to this fact because they only feel one thing.

Numbness.

Why is God so difficult to hear? His presence at times so hard to feel? Have you ever noticed that about him? You desire nothing more than to hear his voice, to feel that his presence is with you. You’ve even told Him so; in fact, you’ve screamed it at him at night lying alone in bed, strangling your sheets in clenched fists, while his silence is deafening and your tears are inconsolable.

Through grinding teeth you find yourself praying like the Psalmist,

“O Lord, hear me as I pray; 

pay attention to my groaning” (Psalm 5:1).

“All night I flood my bed with weeping, 

drenching it with my tears” (Psalm 6:6).

“To you O LORD, I call;

…do not be deaf to me, 

For if You are silent to me, 

I will become like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 28:1).

It’s at this very moment that you find yourself feeling spiritually weary. And not because you’ve strayed from God but because your Spirit-man is exhausted from searching for him, tiresome of straining to hear His voice.

Here’s the thing, dear friend. In life, like C.S. Lewis says, “We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.” The reason? Because the anxieties and cares of this world can so easily strangle the truth, disfiguring it so much until we no longer recognize it as such, and inadvertently exchange the truth of the Good News for the lies our human reason tells us when God goes silent.

Allow me to remind your lies (and mine) of the truth in the face of God’s silence.

God has abandoned me.–“He will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

God doesn’t love me.–“Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ…” (Romans 8:35).

God’s not listening to me.–“The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ear towards their cry” (Psalm 34:15).

This situation requires only my reasoning not faith.–“Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

He’s taking too long to answer me.–”Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).

He doesn’t care about this situation.–”Cast all your cares on him for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

God’s not good, he can’t be trusted.–“Those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10).

He’ll never answer me.–“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

It may feel like he’s not listening…keep praying.

It may feel like he’s slow in answering…keep praying.

It may feel like he doesn’t care…keep praying.

It may feel like you’ll never hear his voice…keep praying.

James tells us that if anyone lacks wisdom he should ask for it from the One who gives it generously. We have to believe that he WILL give it and see his “delay” in speaking back to us as an opportunity. James says, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” Even his ‘delay’ is producing something in you. Of course you can’t see it because it’s eternal. An eternal glory that far outweighs anything.

I implore you, wait patiently for Him. No matter what it feels like, no matter how silent he seems, and no matter for how long. You must remind yourself that in his silence He has not left you, He has not turned a deaf ear to your prayer.

And here’s how we can stand in absolute assurance of this fact. It’s found in the picture of Jesus on the cross and in his last words: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  You see, Jesus actually did experience the loss of his Father’s presence. But, he experienced it so that you and I would never have to. The glorious message of the Good News is that Christ’s death on the cross does more than just save our souls from eternal separation from our Creator-God; it ensures that in this life He will never leave us or forsake us. His Spirit is always with us and that nothing can separate us from his Love.

If you find yourself today, like me, in a place where you’re fervently praying, asking God for his wisdom in a particular season of your life–Do not lose heart. He hears you. Wait patiently for him.

Let me end by saying this. If you’ve gotten to the end of this and feel that this post isn’t for you. If you feel that hearing God’s voice and feeling His presence really isn’t an issue or concern of yours. If you find yourself completely disconnected to what I’m saying then I want to challenge you with one of two things.

One: You’re being disingenuous. And, perhaps you’re committed more to the appearance of looking religious than living genuine faith.

Or.

Two: You don’t struggle with hearing God’s voice in your life because you’ve never asked Him for his opinion on a matter.

In either case, I challenge you to dismount yourself from the high-horse of Self-worship and get down face level with the God-man Jesus, who while awaiting his death in the garden of Gethsemane “…prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood “ (Luke 22:44). 

This God-man wants to speak to us, to tell us something, to direct our steps. What a marvelous thought…In the meantime, let our prayer be, God grant us the mercy to remain steadfast in waiting.