Thursday, September 28, 2006

my therapist is a mountain bike

There is something about exhausting the body that is good for the frustrated soul. When life gets a little too big to handle on the inside, I just need to get dirty and worn out. Mud, sweat, dust, blood...whatever reeks of adventure and challenge.

Ergo, my bike ride today (the pic is actually from a different ride). I did not go out there for a little mundane exercise, a lap around the park. I wanted to be sucking wind like a hoover on some impossible incline, dodging branches and sliding in the dirt. This is a frustration ride, folks. It has nothing to do with fitness and everything to do with exertion.

I immediately chose a trail I had never tried before (those I have sampled have not been worthy of a frustration ride), and it turned out to be a gem. Up and up and up and up...the sucking wind part was taken care of pretty quickly. As it turned out, the trail also provided a wonderful opportunity to employ the This-Is-Nuts-O-Meter. With the sucking of the wind came the "What am I Doing?" reading, followed by a "This Might Not be a Good Idea" when the ruts got really big. When the rocks began, the meter eased into "Nope, Definitely not a Good Idea." Finally, when the rocks got bigger, were situated on a steep slope, and the trail was a bit loose, things topped out at a reading of, "Maybe I Should Have Written a Will Before Leaving the House." That was where frustration encountered reason, and I finally turned back.

On the way back down that glorious trail, I stopped and sat on one of the huge rock formations surrounding me. Perched high on a sandstone ridge, looking out at a snow-capped Pike's Peak, I read my Bible in the fall sun. The exhaustion had done the trick. For the first time in a while, I was tired enough to rest, worn out enough to just sit and listen. And that's what the Father wants from me: "In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength."

Right now, I need to sit before him in restful repentance, and in quiet trust. I need to make that the posture of my heart and life. Sometimes it just a takes a mountain bike and little wind-sucking to get me there.

Monday, September 25, 2006

how sweet, the song of suffering

"How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts,
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome [her],"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.
(Psalm 13)

We often speak of the Bible as an instruction manual for life, which it is in many ways. God offers us all kinds of wisdom on how to navigate the world we are walking through. He also offers us promises, like the one I was reading in Hebrews today about how Jesus' sacrifice not only cleanses our sins outwardly, but cleanses our consciences as well. And we all know that the guilty conscience is the worst part of sin struggles anyway. Thank God for telling us he'll give us peace, for saying he'll help us overcome. Thank God for all those incredible promises.

But we are not always ready for instructions, and promises sometimes feel almost trite when life is pressing in around us and it is all we can do to breathe. It is in those times when I am thankful for the part in the Word where he is gracious enough to give us words for the times when we can't muster them on our own. Not only does he promise a Holy Spirit that interecedes for with groans that words cannot express when we just don't know how to pray (Romans 8:26). Sometimes he just gives us the prayers themselves.

God knew that sometimes we would feel praise that our own words can't quite capture, and he gave us songs of praise. He also knew that life would knock the wind out of us once in a while, rendering us speechless when we most need to ask for help. And so he gave us songs of suffering as well. Songs that say "Who will rise up for me? My foot is slipping." In a time when Psalm 13 says all that I find myself unable to put into words, I consider that gift- the song of suffering- to be one of the most gracious gifts of all.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

love stains

I've faced a lot of sadness lately. It's the kind that is natural after big losses and will pass with time, but you know how that can flavor everything for a while. On days like this, you just don't need to spill something on your only clean pair of pants.

But it always seems to happen anyway. My own pants are currently slathered in spicy garlic sauce from Buffalo Wild Wings. The truth is, though, that the stain was sustained during a late night outing with great friends, one of whom shared the over-sauced chicken legs with a hungry but budgeted me. We all laughed when I dropped the thing...and I really needed to laugh. And I needed to know, even if it was in a silly way, that my friends love me even in my clumsy messes.

God promises to get us through sad times like these. In the meantime, he shows us his goodness in so many ways. Some are conventional, some a little strange. But they are all signs of his love, from the unexpected note from a friend to the scent of spicy garlic on my once-clean corduroy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

playing through the pain

My day of shivering against frigid winds on Pike’s Peak wasn’t planned as such (for full story, see previous post). We didn’t drive up there to get cold and windblown, and I didn’t start joyfully out on that trail through the trees already knowing about the miserable conditions that awaited us above timberline. It’s just what the day handed us, and we were far enough up when we encountered it that we didn’t want to turn back. So we pressed on, sure that the other end of the trail would bring relief and a ride back out. But none of that was to be found at the summit, only the sobering realization that we would have to go back out the same way that we came in.

Up there at the top, my face was wind-chapped, and I was cold and tired. But much to my already intense discouragement, the way down only brought new pain. Now, anyone knows that leg joints get a little weary on the way back down a mountain. But COLD leg joints get downright painful. Mine soon became so painful that I was stumbling and wincing with every step. So, needing to just focus my way through it, I hiked on ahead of the others, and I started repeating, over and over, something that I have heard from many a coach in my lifetime: “play through the pain”. I was saying it, singing it, whatever it took to keep me focused as I kept moving, aiming first for the shelter of timberline and then for the warmth of the car.

I was in the middle of my descent when I heard him say it, heard God say, so clearly, “Yes. Play through the pain.” It stopped me in my tracks for a moment. I was pretty sure he wasn’t just giving me a pep talk for my aching knees, and he wasn’t. He was offering me a clear picture where only confusion has reigned for the last few months.

Thing is, we were already in a pretty bad situation up there. And it irked me that, in order to get out of it all, I had to face even more pain, pain that wasn’t there until we started back down. “You could end at least some of this pain right now,” I heard him say. “You could just sit down and stop hiking. Your knees wouldn’t hurt anymore. Then again, you’d never get off this mountain, and there’s a decent chance that you’d freeze to death tonight. But if you press through it, if you play through the pain, I will get you down and back home. And even if it takes some time, your legs will heal and the pain will end.”

I knew right there that his point was this: nasty hike aren’t the only messes we find ourselves in. We may not even go into them knowingly, but we are deep enough in when the weather hits that we just keep going, even if others say it’s wise to turn back. We are convinced that there is relief and an easier way out at the other end. But most of the time there isn’t, and we are suddenly faced with the sobering realization that, in order to obey the God we love, the only way out is the hard way.

The worst part is that the journey out often adds pain, rather than easing it. The choice of obedience, of walking away from our messes, can hurt even more than just sitting there in the freezing wind. So we often decide we want to lessen the hurt, and we plop ourselves down and refuse to go the rest of the way out. Sometimes it does the trick for a while. But in the end, the choice to alleviate the pain of obedience is a choice to remain in a place of suffering and death. It’s choosing immediate and partial relief over real safety and full healing.

As I pick my way through the rocks and down the mountains in my life right now, trying to make my way out of the freezing wilderness I wandered into, I have that choice before me. The enemy wants me to plop down for that quick relief, because he knows what it will bring in time. But my loving Father, the ultimate coach, just asks me to play through the pain. He asks me to keep walking, trusting him to bring me out of harm’s way and back to a place where my legs can heal.

I’m so grateful for a God who is willing to speak to me in the pain of my physical journey. And I am grateful for a God who wants me to hear and believe that he loves me, and that he’ll hold me up as long as it takes if I’ll just let him lead me home.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

well, at least the air was fresh

After just a little over a year here in Colorado Springs, I finally summited Pike’s Peak today. Relationally (which is the factor that can redeem just about anything), it was a great day. I loved hanging out with Carrie and Ruth. On a practical level, however, it was perhaps the most miserable hiking experience I’ve ever had. And this from a girl who, just last year, was chased off of a summit by a lightning storm.

There was certainly a chill in the air when we hit the trail today. But it’s September in Colorado, so it wasn’t really a shocker. On the way up, a man coming back down told us (rather emphatically) that we would encounter high winds on the ridge. Ok mister, thanks for the nice warning. Later, we were told by another hiker that he had yet to encounter anyone who had not turned back early. These people, we are thinking, must just be wimps.

So, as you can clearly see, it wasn’t like we could have seen it coming or anything.

Holy friggin’ crap! We spent almost the entire hike (most of it is above timberline) shivering against below-freezing wind-chills, compliments of a 50+ mph wind (can we say up to 70 mph gusts?). It literally took me off my feet at several points. Perhaps those turner-backers were not wimps, after all. Perhaps they were wise, and we were stubborn…err…stupid? (No…I’m going to stick with wimps- it makes our stupidity sound nobler somehow.) Either way, we spent at least five of our eight hours freezing our little (insert favorite plural term for anterior region) off. To make it worse, the hoped-for warming lodge at the top is closed for the season, as is the road, crushing any hope we had of getting out of the wind or calling for a ride down. I was shivering uncontrollably as I ate my semi-frozen sandwich, and I wanted to cry.

As we turned back toward the bottom and back into the wind, and as the joints in my legs transitioned (courtesy of the cold) from painful to excruciating (post coming about incredible lesson learned through leg pain), I was reminded of the choices we have in those situations. I could not choose to be out of the wind. I could not choose to be warm, or to call a ride. Being ticked off about those things is pretty futile. So I began to sing, to joke with my comrades, and to give myself the pep talks I often use- little mantras that keep me focused through challenges.

When singing a song about a Savior who is “firm through the fiercest…storm”, and when laughing about how high winds make stinky farts much less conspicuous, things start looking up. No less cold. Still being blown over by winds. Knees still screaming at me. Snot still pouring out of my frozen nose. But really, looking up.

Thing is, life is going to stick us on frigid mountains once in a while. Might as well see how far we can lean into the wind without falling, and laugh when it clears the smells away.

Friday, September 15, 2006

delayed development

Delayed development of film, I mean. Yes folks, it's true. It took me over a month to develop the shots from our Crested Butte adventure.Better late than never!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

grieving the good half

I'm not sure why, but something in me expects sacrifice to be a lot more black and white than it really is. Giving things up should make for pretty predictable emotional reponses, right? You give up something good, you earn the right to claim it as at least a little unfair, and you are grieve it like any normal person would. But what about when you have to leave behind a situation that is hurtful or generally bad for you? The response should be a sigh of relief and a joyous moving on, of course. So why does the abused child still cry for his mother when he is taken away from her? Why does the battered woman still grieve the loss of a seriously dysfunctional marriage? Because it's just not that black and white.

It has been said that most of the lies the enemy feeds us are really half truths. I mean, humans are stupid and all, but (with some exceptions) we are not generally stupid enough to embrace something that is blaringly, unquestionably going to do nothing but hurt us. If someone tells me to give up a nest of rattlesnakes under my porch, I'll be happy to. Don't expect much grieving there. But most of the time there's a little good in what we're seduced into and later asked to give up, a little hint of what is true and right in the midst of it. But we don't always consider this when we evaluate sacrifice. We look at that battered woman and say, "You're SAD? What's wrong with you? The guy was a jerk! You're being weak and ridiculous." But we weren't there when he first wooed her, when he brought her flowers, when he danced with her and told her she was beautiful. And we weren't with that kid when his mom took him to the park, or read him a story, or made his favorite cookies. Essentially, we weren't there for the truth half of the situation, for the few shining moments in between the storms.

I just had to give up something which contained a lot of harm and nasty lies. And even though it's probably my own perception, I feel like people expect me to be doing the sigh of relief and joyful acceptance deal. But the truth is that, though I am glad to be out of harm's way, I am so sad for the little truths that had to be sacrificed along with the lie. I'm sad for the many good moments in between storms. I guess I am understanding why it seems that people grieve even the ugly things in life. And I am definitely being shown that I need to show a little more grace to those who have had to give them up.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Honesty is difficult and humbling. We think of this mainly in regards to the fact that we have to actually share the facts as they are, no matter how nasty they seem to us. The humbling part is admitting the struggle, in choosing to tell it like it is, right?

Yep, that's humbling stuff. It takes a lot of intentional practice for it to seem less daunting, and even then it is never quite easy. Still, passing on the dirty details, though it still leaves me trembling for a little while, doesn't faze me the way it once did. What I am finding to be the difficult and hugely humbling part of honesty right now is not admitting the facts- it's admitting how incredibly long the struggle and grief can take sometimes. It is having someone ask how I am doing and choosing to say, "I'm having a hard time" for what feels like the bazillionth time. It is choosing to admit that I am STILL struggling, STILL hurting, even though I feel like I sound like a broken record. It's a lot like how I felt during my almost three years of being intensely sick on seizure medications- there is a point where you are feeling ill for like the 500th day in row, and you are pretty sure no one wants to hear it anymore. It seems that your options have been narrowed to either being lonely or feeling annoying, and it's tough to decide which is the lesser evil.

I took a class last spring called "grief and loss, death and dying". One of the things we talked about is how our culture has placed a kind of unspoken quota on grief; we set up a timetable of sorts, and at the end we draw the line of "shouldn't you be over that by now?" Unfortunately, this is like many cultural norms for me; no matter how much I tell myself that it's not true, I still feel it- I still feel that unspoken quota breathing down my neck and whispering in my ear, "Sorry, time's up.".

I guess there will always be new strides to take in learning to live an authentic life. Step one: talking about the hard stuff with complete, naked honesty. Step two: choosing to stay in that place of nakedness, even when there is a chill in the air, and even when the enemy tells me that he's pretty sure people are wishing I'd put my clothes back on. Can't you see him there, offering us some knock-off attire, some counterfeit garments (humanity's hand-me-downs) to clothe ourselves with?

Thanks but no thanks, Satan. It's true that I'm sick of this. But I heard something about a white robe of righteousness made by a kingly tailor, and I'm gonna hold out for that one no matter how long it takes.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

life in the tension

Desire is a scary thing. I don't mean those little desires- the ones for cheese sticks or a new shirt or season tickets. I'm talking about the deep desires, the ones that have the potential to rend your heart and knock the wind out of you. The kind that dominate your thoughts and direct your actions. To really feel that kind of desire opens us to a deep vulnerability, which is the scary part. A lot of people, and especially Christians, figure that makes it a bad thing and basically try to pretend it doesn't exist. That tactic never works, of course, because desire is just a part of how we were created.

When it comes to dealing with this inevitable desire, it seems to me that we have three options. The first is to try and shove it, which seems to be the most popular Christian approach. But as I mentioned above, this never works. It will fester inside us, and eventually it will rise to the surface and demand attention. Our second option is to try and fix it on our own. This is the situation where we grasp at any counterfeit we can find (whether a lesser desire or an easy solution) in the hopes that it will ease the ache. This approach is equally futile, because counterfeits never really fill the void.

The third option is the scary one, but the approach that I believe we were created for; it is, as a mentor used to tell me, to "live in the tension". There is a great inner tension when we allow ourselves to really feel desire- the deep and aching kind- even when there is no immediate guarantee that it will ever be satiated. So why tough it out, why live in the tension? Because there is life in it. When I am deeply desiring something, be it love or the fulfillment of a life-long dream, a part of my heart is open that is not open at any other time. That means that there is an opportunity for God to reveal himself to a part of me that is only accessible in that place of longing. The most life-giving intimacy we will ever experience with Jesus is found in the midst of deep and vulnerable desire.

I think of the Old Testament characters Hannah and Moses. Both went to God with deep and aching desires, one for a child and the other for a chance to see the long-awaited promised land. One recieved what she hungered for, the other was not granted what he asked. But both Hannah and Moses found a deep intimacy with and knowledge of the Father in the process, as evidenced by two of the most powerful passages of praise to be found in the Bible (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Deuteronomy 31:30-32:43).

All the good that we desire in this life is just a shadow of the greater reality that is our God. If we never allow ourselves to desire the shadow- to mourn its absence and learn to hope for its fulfillment- then we shut off any chance me might have had to glimpse the great reality of God's love. Our desires and longings are meant to be placed in the hands of the one who created us to feel them. There is life in that tension, if only we will make the difficult and courageous choice to live there.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

it's really not about perfection at all...

One of the character traits I desire most is integrity. I want to succeed with integrity, fail with integrity, struggle with integrity, learn with integrity... I just want my whole life to scream it.

Dictionary listings for the word integrity include such definitions as "adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty" and "the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished". It seems to me that the church had used a sort of selective defining process on this one. To a good deal of Christians, being a person integrity involves only the "moral and ethical principles" part, with the unwritten addition that such principles must be adhered to with perfection. But I think that the other words here -soundness and wholeness, and especially honesty- are vitally important. In my life, I hunger for an integrity that is defined as consistently being who I say I am, having my words and actions agree. I want to be someone who is whole and sound- no hidden seams or cracks. The opposite of this kind of integrity is hypocrisy, which is the essence of a divided life. There is no wholeness when words and actions contradict and all of life is pretense.

So why do we find ourselves having so much trouble getting from hypocrisy to integrity? I think it has everything to do with that limited definition of integrity, with clinging to the idea that the leap is from a life of pretense to one of moral perfection; we continue to present ourselves as perfect, and put everything we've got into making our actions line up. That's a recipe for failure if I've ever heard one. If having integrity means perfection, we might as well just throw in the towel right now and keep on being hypocrites! So what needs to happen? There still needs to be a change, but we've got it backwards. Instead of making our actions more perfect, we need to make our presentation- our words- more authentic and honest. Being who you say you are becomes a lot easier when what you are saying becomes a little more realistic.

My last couple months have been a mess. I have battled and struggled and spent a serious amount of time walking the razor's edge of moral disaster. Thankfully, I have managed to fall on the right side, but I sure have cut my feet and bled all over the place in the process. My victories have been peppered with mistakes. Some might call it a season where I lacked integrity. And if it's all about moral perfection, then I'd have to agree. But of all the things I have compromised (and there have been many), I do not think my integrity is among them.

How can I say that? Because through the whole mess, I have still tried to be who I say I am. Not because my actions have been perfect- no, I've just been trying to stay afloat. But even in those times of imperfection, we have the choice to make our words authentic, to present ourselves as the fallible humans we are. Then, even if there are cracks, at least they aren't hidden ones, and no one can accuse us of pretending they aren't there.

What would happen if the church stopped putting all its effort into attaining moral perfection (disclaimer: I am NOT saying that we should entirely give up striving for strong moral character- that is a huge part of discipleship)? What if, instead, we decided to offer a more authentic presentation of who we are? What if we said: "We are followers of Jesus, and we really do love him and want to be like him. But we are also people that struggle with addictions and lust, with dishonesty and greed,with insecurity and homosexuality and hatred. And we're not afraid or ashamed to admit it, because we really do believe in a God who loved us right in the midst of it. We're striving for holiness with everything we've got, but we aren't going to get it right every time, because living like the Bible tells us to is downright hard sometimes. It's an imperfect journey, but it's more worth it than any words could adaquately explain." And what if, as individuals, we were willing to go ahead and say, "I love Jesus, but I sure am having a rough go of it right now." ?

It would be in that place of honest weakness that hypocrisy would die and integrity would thrive. The world would see a body of Christ whose words and actions agree, whose members can say, "We are who we say we are, warts and all." Weakness ceases being hypocrisy when we're willing to go ahead and admit being weak.

Integrity does involve remembering to line our actions up with what we've spoken. But a huge part of it means painting an honest picture of ourselves. That's the kind of integrity I want, the kind where I am seeking holiness with everything I've got, but even when I'm knee deep in muck, least I'm willing to walk into the church with muddy feet and ask for a towel to clean off with.

Monday, September 04, 2006

wanted: lessons in how to change locks

Insecurity is a thief.

It steals trust from relationships, nabs sweet encouragement before we ever get to taste it, and cheats us out of enjoying the talents and personalities God has given us. It robs us of the courage to embrace risky opportunities and to love with abandon. God offers us an abundant inner life; Somehow we allow insecurity to pick the lock, and we suddenly find that the home that is our heart has been stripped bare. We work hard, begin to fill the rooms again, feel like we're getting somewhere...but before we know it, treasures are taken from us, whether in the darkness or in broad daylight.

Over the last year or so (and especially the last couple weeks), I have become painfully aware of one particular element of insecurity's thievery in my own life: it robs me of my memories. I have been rendered almost completely unable to enjoy my memories. Why? Because all I can ever see are the things that I may have done wrong (the majority of which are totally ridiculous, and which probably no one but me remembers). Nonetheless, those imperfections are all I see, tainting everything else with shame. So when I remember missions in Vietnam and Mexico? I must have failed as a leader or teammate. Outings with friends? I must have said something wrong, failed to percieve some need. Achievements? Well, you know, I did make that one mistake when I was learning.

This is insane, but I can't seem to kick it. I am being cheated out of my own life story! So I am thinking- it is good to work on the struggle, to try and fill the rooms again, but at some point we have to do more than recover from losses- we have to keep the thief from getting in again. We have to change the locks, bar the door, hire a security guard, build a fence...something.

This is not how I was meant to live- not how any of us were meant to live. We are followers of a Good Shepherd, one who came to overcome the thief who steals, kills, and destroys. Yet I am being robbed. I'm working away at the rooms, but what I really need is to secure my home. That picture is clear. And I know that it has something to do with trading lie for truth. Beyond that, I am feeling pretty helpless. From where I stand right now, the journey seems a little less than well-marked, and the landscape looks a lot like sheer frustration.

"Who has bewitched you?...It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 3:1, 5:1). What does it look like to stand firm, to secure the homes of our hearts against break-ins and devastation, rather than just trying to recover from the losses? What does it look like to prevent the sweet freedom of life with Jesus from being robbed by the slavery of insecurity?

Not too many answers here... so I welcome your thoughts.