Lifting the Hands that Hang Down

I'm an internal processor and, I suspect like most internal processors, prefer stillness and the ministry of presence when I'm suffering or confused or in pain. I don't run to a multitude of counselors or need to process my feelings with seven to ten friends or even more than one. I don't like hearing platitudes or trite cliches. Getting preached at or rebuked in the midst of pain only shuts me down further. What I desire is the gift of presence. 

This can be a hard gift to give though because we're a fix it quick culture, even within the church. We want to answer, minister, heal, advise, counsel, and find the fastest way through the searing loss. 

A story I've gone back to again and again and again in the past two years is the man who saw men as trees walking. I find such comfort in the half-way healing of a blind man. Jesus completed the healing and it wasn't his intention to leave the man with incomplete sight, but for some reason, he did not heal him completely immediately. I am fascinated with this Jesus. What is Jesus trying to say about himself in that moment? What aspect of his character did he want the man and those standing around to see? The thing I keep coming back to is this: Jesus completes the work, but the timing isn't always what we expect. I've quoted this before, but Zack Eswine says, "It's not our job to finish what Jesus has left unfinished." So much of our Christianese platitudes are just that: trying to wrap up, seal, heal, and solidify what Jesus is still in the process of working in. 

We all know someone today who is suffering in some way. Perhaps a physical ailment, or walking through a confusing situation, or who just lost someone special. I know, for me, the past two years have been rote with suffering and a lot of it was the sort people don't look at as the Real Suffering. Moving cross-country three times, miscarrying, my husband's job loss, confusion about church situations, losing 100k on our house sale, witnessing the shooting of a police-officer and then living in a city where we heard gunshots weekly for a year, it felt like everywhere I looked I saw dimly, mere shapes of what was real, but not anything solid or real or hope-inducing. There was no one thing that I could point to and say, "This is what hurts." Everything hurt. Everything was tender. Everything was painful to touch or even talk about. 

In those spaces, a few friends gave me the gift of presence and it made such a difference for me. I knew the truth of the gospel and the Word of God. What I didn't need was to be pounded over the head with things I knew were true, but which didn't feel true. There were plenty of counselors and advisers and good-idea-givers, lots of times I said things rote with confusion and was met with less than empathy, many moments of sadness and awkward silence. But what meant the most, looking back, was: 

The gift of flowers or a plant.

A note in the mail or under my office door.

An offer to drop a meal off at my house.

A drive out of the cities and into the mountains or country together.

Someone who simply listened, who wept when I did. 

A good, long hug

An envelope full of cards, gift-cards, and money. 

These might have seemed a small thing to the givers, but they meant paramount things to us in the moment. They were the ministry of presence to us in a time when nothing could fix all that felt broken except Jesus—who for our good and his glory had left those things unfixed for that moment. 

Here's my encouragement to you today (and some I gave to myself this morning regarding a few friends): think of a few friends who are suffering, maybe (especially?) suffering silently, and give them the gift of presence. It's really easy to lavish gifts on people who have success, lots of notice, are surrounded by hordes of people, where you know your gift will be Instagrammed and given shout-out about on social media. Something in our flesh loves to give more to those people for some reason. I'm not sure why. But those quiet sufferers might need it more today. That bouquet of flowers showing up anonymously or with a card simply stated they're loved and seen, or that tight hug in a hallway or coffee shop, or the offer to just drive an hour or two away from it all for a bit—these things mean more than most of us can know from our relative place of peace and joy.

Sometimes we can't lift our own drooping hands or strengthen our weak knees, and we need the Church to come alongside us and help. I'm praying if you need that today, someone sees, and if you can be that today, you are. 

Blessed are the Homesick

It is midwinter, or nearly so, and we got a small dusting of snow last week as if God was saying, "It is winter and I'll prove it to you." The windows have been open the last two days though and the air has that damp, mossy scent of midwinter or, in the colder climate of my home, early spring when all the snow has melted. It has been hard to be content here this year and yesterday the day began folding in on itself before it had really begun. It was still dark outside and I was late for an appointment, my keys locked in the car and my husband nearly to work with his set. He met me last night with profuse apologies for locking them in there and I'd forgiven him before it happened. It wasn't him I was so mad at, it was all of the other things that are out of my control and how helpless I feel to change any of it. I read a checklist of sorts the other day, questions to ask when you feel, as the article termed it, dead inside. I don't feel dead inside, not in the least, but I do feel numb and cold and sad and really, really tired in a way I've never felt before. One of the questions was, "How much new are you facing?" I said to Nate later that night, reading that question felt the same as when I queried on social media about good mattresses to buy because we have struggled to sleep deeply this year, and my mother-in-law quipped, "It could have something to do with the fact that in the space of one year, you've had to learn to sleep in three different time zones." It was a moment of clarity for me, and the empathy I've longed for from someone else. "Oh. Three different time zones. I am tired, and it's not a tired a good night sleep will fix."

This isn't meant to be an excuse, though I know it sounds of one. It's more just a reminder to me that I don't receive the grace God gives in the form of common things like sleep or good coffee or a good cry on the back porch or a long bath. I don't receive them without their sniggling sidekick shame.

Last night after Nate's apologies about the keys and after I told him, again, it was an honest mistake (And by honest, I don't just mean not intentional, I mean, they were locked in there because he had tried to serve me by starting the car early with one set on that one snowy day and locking the front door with the other set.), we had a fight. We don't do shouting matches and stomped feet and slamming doors, but last night was the first time in our marriage I wanted to. I felt so misunderstood and unheard and unable to explain how deeply sad and tired I am about some things—things I'd beg you to not assume, because either they're not that complex and the joke's on me, or they are, and the joke's on you. The base of our fight rested on the premise of every fight known to man since those two feuding brothers in Genesis four: unmet expectations.

It is hard to learn the difference between good hopes and bad ones, godly ones and ungodly ones, righteous longings and selfish ones. Even the most righteous hope can be tinged with self-gain and even the nastiest longing finds its roots in the hope for something good and right. We love, Saint Augustine said, in a disordered way. We either want the right thing in a wrong way or the wrong thing in the right way and we press the longing for God farther and further down, until someone asks what we want, and we can't even answer straight because we're so confused.

Nate asked me last night what would happen if I didn't get what I want (in this case, a good and right God-ordained desire) and I couldn't answer. And when I finally did, I sputtered out words about knowing the theological answer but not being able to shake the unshakeable longing in my heart for what I know is right.

I woke this morning with the words from Psalm 68:6 in my head, "He sets the lonely in families," and then I read this from Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), author of Out of Africa, or, if you prefer—as I do—Babette's Feast and more.

Nobody has seen the trekking birds take their way towards such warmer spheres as do not exist, or rivers break their course through rocks and plains to run into an ocean which is not to be found. For God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.

I know there is a home out there, a place where we will eventually settle and be settled, and as much as I long for it to be somewhere on earth, it may not come until the earth is new and the kingdom of God is established on it. This morning, though, I am comforted by Blixen's blessing, "Blessed are the homesick," because there is a promise of God following it: one day, we shall go home.

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