This month marks a year since I found myself in the most desperate of places, so I have been doing a lot of reflecting. In a way, it seems like that season is so far from where I find myself these days, and in another, it still feels fresh and close. This post is part celebration, part memorial, and part hopeful solace.
Desperate: reckless or dangerous because of despair, hopelessness, or urgency; having an urgent need or desire; leaving little or no hope; extreme or excessive; making a final ultimate effort; giving all.
We all know what desperate looks like. Maybe it's a mother that has a child with cancer and is desperate for a cure. Maybe it's a son that is an addict desperately wishing to be free from the drugs that have destroyed him and crushed the ones that love him most. Perhaps it's a desperate woman that just longs to feel the love of a man so that she can finally feel like she has value. Or it's a family that has run out of money again, and things have become so desperate that they find themselves without food or without a home. Desperate is an ugly animal.
It is even hard for us to look at desperate people sometimes. What do you say? It's as if sometimes there's not much you can do except hurt with them or look away.
That's not how God feels about desperation though. He looks at our cavern of hopelessness as a huge space to fill with his love and grace. If you have ever found yourself in a desperate place, you know that it removes a lot of the inhibitions that you usually have. You hurl yourself completely into the direction where there is the tiniest speck of hope without reservation. When your situation drives you recklessly into the arms of Jesus, there is nothing more beautiful. The kind of longing that is fueled by desperation is God's love language, when we excessively desire him. I woke up in the middle of the night the other night with this thought: desperation aimed in God's direction is simply an acknowledgement of our purpose.
Ephesians 1:11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
I'm not saying that God loves to see us struggle or in pain. He is for us! He wants good things for us, but I do believe he allows things to happen that push us to rely on and acknowledge him. Nothing does that quite like a desperate heart.
It was a year ago that I found myself in such a situation, looking divorce in the face with two babies. I was heartbroken, terrified, and completely confused. The experience left a gaping hole in my soul, the kind that nothing or no one could fill. The truth is that the hole had been there for quite some time, but before this happened, it was a "manageable" void. One that I covered and numbed with plenty of distractions. Then this happened, and this little hole became a giant crater right in the middle of my being, crumbling more every time I tried to fix it myself. When I tried to point this desperation towards others, all I got was pity or the averting of the eyes. That wasn't going to help me. That's when I took this fractured, crumpled desperate heart and handed it to the Creator. He showed me love so much deeper than my pain. He gave peace that my situation couldn't even fathom. The more I needed, the more he gave. The more I looked for him, the more I goodness, mercy, and grace I found!
In this way, I think that desperation can be beautiful. It can be the avenue that leads us to our destiny. If God's presence is relational to our need, and that need is great, then how much more awesome is that presence! My abysmal, desperate times have brought me to some of the profound places I could imagine in God, where it was as if his loving arms were literally wrapped around me calming all of my fears. The things that I have gained have covered my losses many times over. The people I share my life with these days bring such fullness and vitality! There are still struggles, hard days, and mental battles, but I no longer face them alone. Everyday, God is healing my heart a little more than the day before, covering my anxieties with a little more peace, and filling my life with a whole lot of joy! I wouldn't be here without that desperation!
So, if you are in a desperate place, I want to tell you a few things: I urge to to point all of your desperation to him, the only one that won't look away. Let him cover your brokenness, your suffering, and your despair with his wholeness, his blessings, and his hope. He does it so effortlessly and skillfully! Know that in a year, with with a little hard work and a whole lot of Jesus, you can completely change the projection of your life. Know that the pain will lessen, even though you don't think so now, and you will laugh again. And though the actual situation may not change, you will, and that it will be a beautiful transformation!
Always keep your heart desperate,
Wild Child: part 1
Little boys are wild and woolly little creatures. They are loud and rough, some more than others. Mine are as rowdy and rugged as they come. They love to climb and wrestle and run and rumble. And they love to be outside! Cruze is one and a half, and he's already learned to say, "I go outside". It's their happy place. We can be having a completely terrible day indoors, and when we walk into the backyard or to the park, it's like the worries wash away with the sunshine.
I love seeing them out there too. I love how their little cheeks get flushed and rosy on a warm day and how their sweaty blonde hair frames their smiley faces. I love how the trademark of a good time is that puppy dog smell, dirty fingernails, and muddy shoes. Their energy, excitement, and joy are so intoxicating to watch as they climb into the tree house or sway back and forth on the swing. They play wholeheartedly with all of their strength. It's like I can actually see them getting bigger and stronger with each trek in the great outdoors.
But there comes a time, one that every mother knows, that fun turns to exhaustion. That is when it is time to leave the wilderness and go indoors.
Speaking of kids and wilderness, I've been reading about the Children of Israel lately in the Old Testament. You remember them from Sunday School: Moses and the Red Sea. They escaped the mean, egotistical Pharaoh and were on the way to the Promise Land, but first they had to go through the wilderness. They weren't as excited as my boys to be "outside". In fact, they were complete brats, constantly complaining and giving Moses and God grief. Although he had delivered them out of slavery in Egypt and promised them this awesome land that flowed with milk and honey, they couldn't see past the end of their noses. They had no vision. Stupid kids.
It reminds me of the novel, Lord of the Flies, that I taught last year. This story is about a group of school-aged boys from a private school in England that were put on a plane to evacuate the country during WW2. Their plane crashes over the ocean, and the boys find themselves stranded on an island without adult supervision. The boys eagerly select a leader, and jobs are delegated to ensure their survival and enable their rescue. Only a few of the boys are REALLY trying to get off of the island, while the rest of them become obsessed with unnecessary things like hunting (even though there are plenty of berries to sustain them). As their time on the island lengthens, their humanity decreases. They lose their ability to reason, becoming very savage and ruthless.
Both groups, the Israelites and the boys, behaved badly in the wilderness. They lost track of their purpose.
And there is a purpose for wilderness.
I'm not very outdoorsy. Shocker, huh? So, when I found myself in my "wilderness", it was kind of a culture shock. With the restrictions of my past gone, my first reaction was a sense of total freedom: no one could tell me what to do here. I could run wild and do whatever I wanted. It was liberating...for a while. It didn't take long for the wide open spaces to start closing in on me, and the fresh air that seemed to fill my lungs with life began to choke the air right out of me. Then the longing set in. Sometimes I longed for the past, all the while knowing I couldn't go back and, deep down, not really wanting to. The future was no longer perceivable. I couldn't navigate this jungle that I found myself in, so I just felt stuck. I spent years here, and my surroundings became familiar. The emptiness became normal. Then, something happened that jolted me into awareness, consciousness. In this state, the question can be raised: what is the intended purpose for wilderness?
Wilderness: the place between where you've been and where you're going. It's the area between salvation and promise. It's a training ground. It's a place to iron out the kinks. It's a place to bury dead things and to birth new things. It's a waiting room. It's a growing place.
The Bible says that the Lord led the Children in the wilderness for 40 years to:
1. humble them
2. test them
3. see what was in their hearts
Humble. From what I can tell, God likes this characteristic...A LOT! He is not a fan of arrogance and pride. Moses was described as the most humble man on the face of the earth, and he was pretty tight with God, so I think there is a correlation here. The vastness of the wilderness can make you feel small. At some point you need to realize that you can't weather it alone. This doesn't mean you quit trying. It means you quit trying to do it alone. You humble yourself by recognizing your inadequacies and start relying on something bigger than yourself.
Test. When I give my students a hard test, they always ask me why I hate them. Each time, I explain that because I love them, I want them to master the concept. That is the essential purpose of a test: the mastery. Comparatively, we often feel victimized when we are tested, like it is a personal attack. But maybe, just maybe, it is to drive out a weakness in us and help us conquer something that may currently be controlling us. Remember that Jesus himself went into the wilderness for 40 days and was tested in every way imaginable. In the wilderness, Jesus defeated the devil. When my kids fail the aforementioned hard test, we reteach and retest. How many times have we failed a test we were given? I have. Many times. So, you learn from the failure, and you better believe that a retest is on its way.
To see what is in the heart. Nothing will bring out what you're made of like the wilderness. When you are in survival mode, when there is pressure and testing, when you're somewhere you really don't want to be, and there is no one else around is when your true self will emerge. What are your instincts? To doubt, to complain, to distract yourself? If you're like me: yes, yes, and yes. It goes against our nature to respond gracefully in faith, but it can be done...with help.
We must have help. We mustn't stay there too long. Spend too long in the wilderness, and things will start to go south. With the Israelites, we see a forgotten gratefulness sour into reckless abandonment. With the boys, we see basic human kindness convert to sheer savagery. Spend too long in the wilderness, and you will end up like Tom Hanks in Castaway, a little crazy, talking to a volleyball named Wilson. Spend too long in the wilderness and you may end up like Chris McCandless, a wilderness aficionado that made the fatal mistake of eating the wrong seeds that contributed to his starvation in Into the Wild (based on a true story).
What the wilderness is not: it's not a place to die. It's not the destination or a place to make a home. It's the means, not the ends.
Everyone spends time in the wilderness, some just stay longer than others. Just remember why you're there and WHO is with you, even when you can't see or feel him. And don't get so distracted that you stop looking for rescue vessel. We have a promise and a purpose, and that doesn't include dying in the wilderness!
Deuteronomy 8:2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
There are two types of people: those who cry and those who don't. I'm definitely a crier...always have been. My mom has said (on more than one occasion) that I was the whiniest child she had ever encountered. She says you could look at me wrong, and I would burst into tears. I don't know where I came from because I can count the times I have seen either of my parents cry on one hand. It must have been so utterly frustrating for two non-criers to raise such a hypersensitive child. Kudos Mom and Dad!
It's a natural response to me. I cry when I'm sad, scared, tired, mad, confused, embarrassed, hurt, overcome with joy, extremely amused, or supremely grateful. I just feel things very strongly, and those feelings shoot right out of my eyeballs. Some criers can just wipe the tears, all evidence of the act completely erased. Not me. It's not pretty! And that's an understatement. You would think that after 31 years of practice and literally probably gallons of tears, my body would have built up a resistance to ugliness that these salty little drops create on my face: blotchy red spots, a snotty nose, and eyes that swell shut. I do, however, feel that my face muscles are in top condition because they receive quite the workout once the waterworks commence. I saw this picture the other day, and it nailed it!
I've recently walked, well walked is a bit of an overstatement, crawled through a season of many, many tears. The kind of tears that blur your vision and leave you gasping for breath. The kind of tears that puddle on the bathroom floor or on the church pew or on your best friend's shoulder. They are the kind where you look in the mirror afterwards and the person staring back is barely recognizable. And they just wouldn't seem to quit. Some call this suffering. I don't like this word, but let's go with it.
My dad has this way of saying these really wise things in such a practical way that it just seems like the kind of common sense you shrug off. It isn't usually until I've got my hands all over the concept and grappled it like a grizzly bear that I really get what he's talking about. I'm tactile like that...and a tiny bit stubborn about figuring out my own stuff. Example: when I was at the beginning of my situation, Dad said, "Andrea, no one likes to suffer, but if you let it, it can change you like nothing else can." Pretty smart guy, that dad of mine, although I didn't think it right then.
Here's the deal. Suffering is profoundly painful and usually leaves us with a big, gaping hole of loss. We don't like it! You show me a person who enjoys suffering, and I'll show you a mental disorder in the DSM-IV (the psychology book of craziness). Most of us can only think of one thing once pain has its claws in us: make it STOP! Then come the questions.
Why is this happening to me?
What have I done to deserve this?
How could God let this happen?
I can't emphatically answer these questions for you or myself, for that matter. All I know is that life brings pain to all of us, kind of like a human right of passage. As much as we try, there is no way to avoid it. It sometimes happens to people who bring it upon themselves, but it equally happens to good people that absolutely did not see it coming. I don't know why it happens, but I know that the only way out of it is through it. Once you're in the mess, you have to go forward. Back is not an option. And I know that there is nothing quite like suffering that can define you.
I think of my dear friends often. They have a little girl, 3 years-old like my son Jett, that was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, AML-M7 to be exact, and she has been fighting for her little life for almost a year. After 5 rounds a chemo, there was still a tiny bit of cancer, cancer that needs to be gone in order for her bone marrow transplant to have a good chance of success. My heart has broken with this family with each setback and has rejoiced at each small victory as they post constant updates for the thousands of followers that are rooting for baby girl. I stand in awe of their resolve. While this isn't a path that any parent would choose to walk, my friends have chosen to walk it in faith. They have chosen to keep their eyes on Jesus while this raging storm threatens to destroy what they hold most dear. They have chosen not to be defined by the fear and doubt that must creep in during the nights in those hospital halls. Each day they make the decision to drink up each precious moment and believe that a cure is just around the corner. And most impressively, they have chosen to lift up and support others that are going through the same thing. They have personally been a shining example of faith to me in times when I have wanted to doubt. They are so strong, and they inspire me.
Maybe that is a silver lining of suffering: to help someone else through something that you survived/are surviving, to give them hope of making it through. The Bible says suffering produces endurance and character and hope. Then James takes it over the top, and says that we should be happy (no wait, his words: consider it pure joy). when we face trials. The reason for this is to build perseverance which leads to us being whole and mature. What?!
I think this would be a good time to insert how much I loathe the gym....well just exercise in general. This is something else that makes me want to ugly cry my face off. I roll my eyes at those people that post workout selfies, and look like they are really loving it. Please! I've never left a (successful) workout not in pain. I think we have already established that only crazy people enjoy pain, so I'm kind of putting James in this category. My mind goes to strange places sometimes, and as I read that, I picture him in Richard Simmons spandex saying, "Feel the burn! Pure joy!" Oh, you didn't get that visual? Just me then. Anyway, it's the same concept. Suffering is like exercise for our spirit. It's not the painful process we enjoy, it is the beauty that can emerge from the breaking and the strength from the weakness.
Pain = Growth
Seriously though, Dad is right about letting pain change you. It definitely will. Brokenness strips us thin. It makes the layers of the heart delicate and permeable. That makes it easy for fear and bitterness and cynicism to seep in through the very visible cracks. But you can also choose to let light fill the dark holes, the places that the pain has broken open and exposed. It is when we are completely divested that we can be filled. It is when we are in the most need that God's presence can be almost palpable with his love and grace. Let me just say, that makes it worth it.
When you're in the midst of heartbreak, it's harsh, exhausting, excruciatingly painful. You can't see it's end, or usually anything for that matter. It's like falling into the water during rafting and being sucked into an undertow, often unexpectedly and violently. This happened to Dad when he was young. He fought and fought unable to reach the surface. He actually gave in and thought he was about to die. As he let the current pull him under, it released him and shot him out on the other side. If you want to survive, don't fight the current. Go through it. Lean on your people (that's what they're there for), seek counseling from someone you really respect, find comfort in a song, search for wisdom in books, ugly cry like crazy, and pray til you're hoarse. Contrary to how you feel, it won't last forever.
After you've caught your breath and coughed the water from your lungs, open yourself to the idea that "what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times it's been lost" (Shauna Neiquist, bittersweet). As Christians, we get this promise, the promise that those who endure get a crown of life, and I don't know about you, but I <3 jewelry. ;)
We got this!
Romans 5 : 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
James 1: 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1: 12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Hurry. Rush. Hustle. Do. Go. Be.
Now...faster. More. Better. Repeat.
I've never been very good at being still. Even as a small child, I remember crawling in bed with my mom on early Saturday mornings and her reprimanding, "Be still...Stop wiggling.". I blame it on my personality. I am a natural doer, a go-getter, some might say. I blame it on my culture where there is nonstop action: always something to do, always something to see. I blame in on my own previously mentioned Super Mom. That woman never stops. She works harder than most men and has a skill set that astounds! Needless to say some of that had to rub off on me, right?
Last week, as I was busily rushing my kiddos around in the early hours of the morning, I heard on my favorite morning talk show that the most important thing you can do for your body is to get an adequate amount of sleep. In fact, sleep trumps a healthy diet and exercise in the impact that it has on our body, and without it, the other things we do aren't very effective. I feel like I know this to be true because if I go too many nights in a row without enough sleep, I get that familiar tickle in my throat and its downhill from there. My immune system betrays me. I see it like this (for my visual learners):
The Absolute Best Thing You Can Do for Your Body
(then way down here)
2. healthy diet
The Benefit: While you sleep, your brain is actually creating new pathways that support better memory, increased attention span, more productive decision making, and creativity.
The Deficit: Not getting the proper sleep can affect problem solving abilities, can cause problems controlling emotions or behaviors, create difficulty coping with change, and can also be linked to depression, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Science also tells us that small children need way more sleep than adults do. Think of a newborn and how many hours they spend sleeping (often not during the hours we would like them to do it, but what you gonna do). Why is this? It's because sleep perpetuates the human growth hormone and is necessary for sufficient development.
SLEEP = GROWTH
We need rest to grow, replenish, and renew our physical bodies, so is this not true in our spirits and our minds? What do I mean by rest?
the refreshing quiet or repose of sleep:
refreshing ease or inactivity after exertion or labor:
relief or freedom, especially from anything that wearies, troubles, or disturbs.
a period or interval of inactivity, repose, solitude, or tranquility:
mental or spiritual calm; tranquility.
The complications of life will inevitably come. Some of them will beat you down...hard. They will toss you around like a little rag doll. They will leave you with gashes and bruises and sometimes scars. If you're a doer like me, you're also a fighter. You will spend every last ounce of our energy fighting against the raging sea of uncertainty, suffering, and pain when what you really need to do is learn to float. You weren't made to fight the ocean alone.
Some fights are necessary, and those aren't the types of battles I'm talking about. These fights that I am referring to are about fear and insecurity, and their purpose is just to prove to ourselves that we have some control of the situation (when will we realize that we really don't?).
These types of fights remind me of my sweet toddler Jett that had to be restrained by me and a man of 6'2 to remove a tiny splinter in his hand that was causing him pain. He did not like this idea, the idea of trusting me to make it better. He would have much rather held it firmly against his chest and pretend it didn't exist, all the while fighting the pain that it was causing him. When he didn't willingly comply, we had to use force. He kicked and screamed like we were killing him, but the second I got it out, his face softened to relief. Now, he proudly talks about how I removed his splinter so it wouldn't get "infectable".
I'm good at that, too, What can I do to ease my own discomfort? What can I read to help me fix it? If I can only work a little harder, if I can only do a little more, if I only change this about myself, if I can only stop doing this and add a little more of that, THEN it will be ok.
I'm not discounting hard work. Hard work has helped me get to the places that I've needed to be. But sometimes we use all of energy and resources fighting for the wrong things when what we really need is not to fix it all but just stop. Here is my list of priorities for what I feel like I need in my spirit to make me healthy (again, fellow visual learners, you're welcome).
The Absolute Best Thing You Can Do for Your Spirit/Mind
1. REST in God
2. Consume a healthy diet of the Word
3. Exercise in acts of faith
The Benefit: When we stop trying to solve our own problems, and more importantly, realize that WE DON'T HAVE TO, we will see a vast improvement in our spirits and our minds. We will recall the many promises that we have been given as Christians and as individuals. We will solve problems in new ways, higher ways. We will pay attention to things that we never noticed before, and we will create like never before because we will be connected to THE Creator.
The Deficit: When we don't get proper rest, we make poor decisions and act in ways that we never thought we would act. Stress eventually becomes insurmountable, and we don't see things clearly which could contribute to depression and/or physical health problems.
When I'm not resting in God, I'm kind of like my exhausted 3 year-old that desperately needs a nap. I'm irrational and inconsolable. I throw myself on the floor in violent tantrum when I don't get what I want. I scream and cry and moan when all I need to do is consider who my Father is. I need to "be still and know" that he is God instead of making hasty decisions that eventually just bring more pain. I need to stop trying to wrestle my giants alone and fall into the sweet repose that he holds the world in his hands and surely he's got this. I need to relax and know that he cares for me so much he wants me to cast ALL of my anxieties on him, even my really irrational, illogical ones. I need to settle into the reality that he knows what I NEED even when I think I know what I want. And probably the most difficult (for me), I need to TRUST him through the waiting, through the uncertainty, through this period of growth.
REST = GROWTH
Much like a child's body releases growth hormone while he sleeps, we can experience the same growth when we settle into rest. There is something about the stillness that makes us stop doing and start thinking. There is something about the quietness that makes us stop screaming and start listening. And just like the physical principle that our body requires rest to heal, the same is true with our emotions. There is nothing more healing to the soul than rest.
And here's my favorite thing about rest: when you finally give in to the "sleep" that you so desperately needed, there is the possibility of dreaming. It may be the revival of a dream that you had long ago and forgotten amidst all the "doing". It may be a new exciting dream that you would have never considered. It may be a dream that died in the gritty battle of life but has been resurrected and breathes in life again. But you can rest assured that it will be AWESOME! It usually is if God has something to do with it.
Psalms 116:7 "Return to your rest, my soul, the Lord has been good to you. "
Philippians 4: 6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Isaiah 40:28- 31 “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Hey! My name is Andrea. I'm a teacher by day in a small Texas town, but in every other aspect of my life, I consider myself a learner. This blog is about life: learning through experiences, sharing through stories, and growing through faith.