Thursday, July 29, 2010

For the Love of Colleagues

This past week I spent four days at a beautiful lake house with 10 of my staff colleagues. One particularly neat thing about this meeting is that it is the first time this particular group of people are working together on a team. We get to be a part of developing a new team culture and part of what we did all week was just spend hours getting to know each other. We did crazy things like "speed dating" and vulnerable things like sharing our stories and lots of hours of Settlers and Smash Brothers. And you know what? It was just plain fun. Just good, relaxing, enjoyable fun.

One of the things I love about staff is how much I laugh when I'm around them. They are a group of witty, honest, vulnerable people who are passionate about what they do and humble enough to come together in order to try to do it better. And in that doing, in that learning, there is a lot of opportunity for laughter. To enjoy one another and to be ourselves. I think I've realized in the last few years that I can be myself around staff like in no other place in my life. Not that there aren't places I can relax and people I enjoy being around, but there's this expectation in the staff world that you will just come as you are and that the people around you will love you well, accept you and help point you towards God in a way that'll help you work out the stuff that, well, still needs working out. And I went into this week really needing to work some things out, needing to be reminded of the Lord's deep love and pursuit of me as well as his ability to redeem all things, especially some of my more recent personal failures.

So today, after four days with this new team I come home deeply grateful for the colleagues that I have, who were a part of turning some of my tears to joy in ways they didn't even realize this week. If ever there is a time that I am called away from this ministry I will certainly and rightfully mourn the loss of being a part of such a movement, of being a part of a team that loves well, laughs often, works diligently and plays hard, all in the name of the Lord. Thanks, Central Carolinas. And thank you, Lord, for bringing us together.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Five Little Words

"How far along were you?" You get this question a lot when you have a miscarriage. It's usually the first thing someone will ask and I don't think it's asked with any hurtful intentions. But last January, when I was going through a long and drawn out miscarriage, with ups and downs, positive days where hope prevailed interspersed with blood tests and ultrasounds, mood swings and private pain that ultimately ended in the death of our unborn child, those five little words ended up changing the course of my life. You see, for some reason, I interpreted that question to mean that if I wasn't "far enough along" in someone's eyes, then my pain shouldn't be as real. That the shorter the pregnancy, the less I should have felt its loss. In the grand scheme of how long a pregnancy is, we weren't very far along. We hadn't really told anyone. But here was this little life inside me, with a potential birthday looming and all the preparations and joys of expecting and waiting for him or her were already very prevalent in my mind. And that life was cut short. I never got to meet my second child. And for some reason, I felt like I wasn't allowed to dwell on it, that I needed to just put my chin up and keep going. So that's what I tried to do.

18 months have gone by since that final blood test that confirmed that everything was finished. Every day I think about those words that different people spoke to me, I know, out of care for me, just wanting to know my story. But even now, I still feel angry with myself when I experience pain over this. Even now, I still don't feel like I ever let myself grieve, like I never had the right to really be upset about it. I'm still waiting to experience a whole day where thoughts about that child don't enter my mind. And each month that goes by where there's not that promise of another child is just one more painful reminder of that loss and the fact that I never really dealt with it.

I've never been the most open person, never particularly great at letting people love me. This blog has been one big lesson for me in openness, in taking risks relationally, albeit through the written word. Since the first day I started blogging, I've wondered if I'd ever feel freed up enough to post a blog on this topic. It's felt way too risky, felt like something I wasn't allowed to share, something I should be "over." But the bottom line is, I'm not. I didn't grieve well when I should have and so all these months later, I'm still unsure how I feel about the whole thing. I still don't have closure. I barely even shared the experience with people I knew loved me and probably would've let me cry had I let them love me.

The bigger question that I've been pondering, though, is why I interpreted that one question so destructively. Why I took gentle questioning for accusatory denial. "Get over this quick, you weren't far along! It's not a big deal!" No one actually said those things to me and yet that was what my mind heard. It heard not love and care for me but scarcity, disdain and impatience. Maybe that's what I feel for myself when I experience something I'd put in the category of "drama." I've always been vastly impatient with the dramatic, which is one reason I can't watch even 30 seconds of reality tv before becoming either overwhelmingly angry or having the almost irresistible urge to live somewhere where television doesn't exist. I disdain it, I get frustrated with it, I revere rationality and even-headedness. I don't want to get worked up about much, to dwell on pain or anger, to really feel much of anything if you really get down to it.

So what do I do? Where do you go when you were supposed to talk through something almost two years ago but that still feels like fresh pain? And how do you do it when the last thing you want to do is actually do it? When you still feel like you shouldn't be feeling what you're feeling.

I have no answers tonight, just questions. Five little words that have left me with gaping holes in how I understand healing. One question that has come back to me each and every day for months on end. The only thing that has been sure as I've continually returned to this is that I am not alone. There were times in this last year where I wondered where God really was, why things like this happen and why I was so unprepared to deal with it. The only answer I've really gotten in the midst of it all is that He is with me. No deeply theological and profoundly comforting statements on suffering, no answers to the why. Just a very gentle reminder that I am loved deeply by Him.

For now, I will have to let that be enough.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Fight

I've finally had some time this spring to sit down and enjoy watching "The Pacific" with my neighbors. For those who know me and have read my first blog and understand my blog's name, you know that I am almost obsessed with World War II history. I've read lots of books, watched a ton of movies, been to many museums, monuments and historically significant sites. I love talking about strategy, the European theatre, the homefront, the Holocaust. However, my knowledge has always been lacking on the Pacific theatre. Perhaps this is because my own grandpa fought at Normandy and I lost relatives in the holocaust so I've just been drawn more to that arena. Whatever the reason, I was really excited when my good friend Joe sent news that HBO was putting out another WWII era miniseries.

The thing that has been most striking to me about what I've learned is the relentless nature of the war in the Pacific. If you watch the series, you see night raids, men losing their minds from the constant pressure, malarial and starvation conditions and an enemy who fought to the death and never considered surrender. You don't hear a lot of grandiose boasting about how quickly and powerfully the Americans will win the war. You mostly see a lot of desperation, pervasive fear and a terror that follows you long after the ending credits roll. It's a long, slow fight against an ever-present and completely mysterious enemy.

I've been thinking lately about the fight for joy and its similarities to war. The idea that there are times in every person's life that he or she will hit that low point. Whether through a set of tragic circumstances, a crisis of faith, a personal failure, there's that moment when most of us will really have to face what it is we believe, what we've let define us and from where we get our strength. I've been on the upswing of one of these low points for the last few months. There are still days when I wake and feel just weighted with sadness. Most of the time I cannot identify the root cause, but I know it's something I have to fight. Satan would like nothing better than for me to mire in self-pity, to embrace my sad face and to treat others cruelly and selfishly as a result of my own despair.

On those days when joy feels elusive, I have to be reminded of the bigger picture, that the war has already been won, even if my present battle feels relentless. That's the difference between fighting for joy and the wars we see on earth. The outcome is already known- we've already been given that greatest victory in what Christ has done and who he has redeemed us to be and so when faced with the enemies of despair, disappointment, sin and self-focus we have to fix our eyes on the Victor.

John Piper says this: "Despair of finding any answer in yourself. I pray that you will cease from all efforts to look inside yourself for the rescue you need. I pray that you will do what only desperate people can do, namely, cast yourself on Christ. He has promised not to turn you away." This past year I couldn't rescue myself. My own crisis of faith precipitated by a personal loss created a situation of desperation and I spent many months just trying to survive, trying to plan or organize myself out of my own chaos and sadness. Couldn't be done.

Today, in the midst of that slow but steady upswing, I am thankful for God who alone can rescue. Who has won the battle against despair and offered joy that we can claim, even on those days when our feelings don't match it and whatever we're hoping for and dreaming of remains elusive. I am also thankful for those people in my life who have jumped into my foxhole with me, unabashedly loving me and pointing me towards that truth when I've had trouble reminding myself, those comrades-in-arms who have loved Christ enough not to give up on me, to ask the hard questions and unwaveringly point me towards the Author and Perfector of my faith.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Midnight Perspectives on Fatherhood

About a month ago, my husband and I hosted some young men in our home for about a week. Until they arrived on our doorstep we had never met nor spoken to these men. Through a convoluted set of "he knows her, she knows him, etc." these two guys drove all the way from Chicago to attend a week long conference at Duke and our bonus room and guest room played happy host to their tired bodies.

The first night they arrived, at about 10:00, we spent a few minutes just getting to know them and I made the colossal mistake of uttering the following words. "Our son never wakes up at night, so you should be able to get a great night's sleep before your crazy week starts!" You would think that after 3 1/2 years of parenting I would not tempt the sleep-radar in my son's head by uttering such a silly sentence. Of course, barely two hours after that, we awoke to a screaming child, feverish and complaining of pain in his ears. Great. Much comfort (and lots of shushing "because the guys are asleep in the next room") and a good dose of motrin later, he was back to sleep. A few hours later, same scenario all over again.

Of course, I woke up the next morning feeling sheepish and apologetic but our guests had already headed out for the day so my apologies had to wait. I spent the whole day feeling terrible that they had gotten a poor night's sleep on our watch and wondering how they were holding up at their marathon conference.

So, I was greatly humbled and flat-out floored by the following conversation that happened just minutes after their arrival home at the end of that long day.

Me:"Hey guys, I'm really sorry Josh was such a wreck last night. What a way to start your week."
Guy #1: "Actually, I didn't hear too much and, really, it's totally fine. Is he ok?"
Me: "Ear infection. And he's on drugs now so you should be fine tonight to sleep!"
Guy #2: "Actually, I was going to tell you it was really helpful to me. I was praying before bed and was pretty upset with God and then just a few hours later I heard your son upset and you patiently comforting him and I was like, wow, God, thanks for that beautiful picture of how you care for me! It really just blew me away!"
Me: "Huh?"

Seriously, I have never heard someone, particularly not someone who was sleep deprived and is not a parent, describe a sleepless and chaotic moment in the middle of the night with a child as a glimpse into the loving and fatherly character of God. Talk about a humbling moment. All day I had worried and felt guilty about putting those guys through a long day on little rest and the whole day one of them was thanking God for my son's sleeplessness and for how it had reminded him in a moment of frustration just how deeply his heavenly father cares for him.

I'm trying to learn from that guy. To see each parental moment, whether frustrating or joyful, as a chance to understand better the way that this earthly parent-child relationship can reflect and point to a far more effective, patient and loving Parent and how much I am loved and cared for by Him.