Sunday, March 17, 2019

Phenomenal non-coincidences

If you’ll indulge me for a bit, I’d like to spend some time marveling... in a good way.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve had to completely change my diet around the time that I’ve been learning how to cook. I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve had to learn to live with dietary restrictions around the time that society has been embracing people’s dietary restrictions. (I’m not vegan or glucose-free. I just need to avoid fat, sugar, and salt especially.) Even though I’ve been slowly grieving the loss of my favorite salty, greasy foods -- even though I haven’t really been able to afford to eat them in the past year and a half -- I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve had to learn to discipline myself to eat better... around the time that God has been disciplining me to eat only certain foods when I fast.

I don’t think it’s an accident that God put it on the hearts of four of my friends to give me free food around the time that I would possibly be too broke to buy food. And now I have more food than I know what to do with. (No worries. My creative juices have been coming up with ideas.)


I don’t think it’s an accident that I happen to live in an area that is teeming with parks and walking trails at a time in my life when I need to exercise more.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve been maneuvering through my current health drama during a season in my life in which I’m not working full-time. I don’t have to worry about calling in sick, taking off work to go to doctor’s appointments, fighting traffic to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, or even being so stressed on the job that it could possibly kill me.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve been living in a day and age when technology is sophisticated enough to facilitate the flow of my life. Although I much prefer learning in an actual classroom, I don’t think it’s an accident that online classes are available at a time when I need to take them for my degree and when I have the means to do so. Although it’s possible to call a doctor’s office and play phone tag with a healthcare professional, I don’t think it’s an accident that I live in a day and age when I’m able to communicate with medical professionals through a phone app... especially when I’m learning that I’m allergic to the medications that they were prescribing me. And they’re able to instantly call in a prescription for a replacement medication to my pharmacy... who can text me when it’s ready for pickup.

I don’t think it’s an accident that my physical health has been unraveling around the same time that my emotional health has been unraveling, analyzed, and slowly repaired at the roots. I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m surrounded by community everywhere I look, everywhere I go, everywhere I am... during this time when I really need covering.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the lady who prayed for me at the altar (in the balcony) at church yesterday -- when I asked for prayer for the tingly numbness that I’d been experiencing on one side of my body -- had also been dealing with numbness in one of her limbs and, therefore, had extra insight on how to pray for me.


And I certainly don’t think it’s an accident that I only own one cat now, who insists on extended times of affection... even if it means biting my shoulder while purr-mauling my arm. I don’t think it’s an accident that she doesn’t seem to mind that I don’t really have a routine right now... or that she’s flexible enough to give me some alone time when I need it and heal me with her love when I need it. I don’t think it’s an accident that we met each other when we did, and I don’t think it’s an accident that we need each other.



“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Psalm 50:15)

I’ve heard it said that “coincidences are when God chooses to remain anonymous.” I’m sorry, but that’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. If God wanted to be anonymous, why would He go through the trouble of letting people know when He was working in their lives? Why would He go through the trouble of sending Jesus -- who spelled out exactly who He was, is, and will be -- to tell us that we needed Him and to die on the cross for our sins? Why would He spell out in the Bible that He wants us to glorify Him? Why would He want to be glorified at all?

Well, it certainly isn’t because He wants to remain anonymous. It’s because He wants the credit for what He’s done. It’s because He’s God, and He’s the only One who will always be qualified to help us whenever we need help. That’s how He’s designed life to be, that’s the way He likes it, and I hope that that’s how I’ve been living my life.

I hope that I’ve glorified Him in this post, because I see that He’s orchestrated the tiny little details of my life. There’s no way that any of the things that I listed on this post are coincidences, and there’s no way that my God -- who loves me, wants me, and takes impeccably good care of me -- didn’t have a hand in any of them. I’m convinced that He’s made sure that every little detail has intersected in a way that has preserved my life... in a way that has gotten me back on track after I’ve veered off course.

I’ve heard it said that His timing is perfect, and I agree.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Healing... again

When I worked a seasonal job in retail a couple of months ago, the skin on my fingers started cracking due to the harsh winter temperatures and due to the callous physical nature of the work. Winter has been unkind to my skin in the past, but this time I needed to put band-aids on my wounds so that I could function (and so that I wouldn’t bleed on the merchandise).

 
Now that I’m back in school, I’ve discovered that it isn’t always feasible to wear band-aids. During the past several weeks, my fingers started cracking even more, and after they would heal they would end up cracking and bleeding in the same places all over again, and the wounds were particularly deep, and the healing process was particularly painful.

If I wear cheap band-aids from Dollar Tree, I have to replace them frequently because they won’t last through all of my handwashing. And, not to mention, band-aids aren’t very practical. They’re clunky, so they get in the way when I’m typing (even though it’s painful to type on an open wound), and when I play my guitar I need to just take them off altogether, pain or no pain. So, my fingers have been rather uncomfortable for the past few weeks.

But thankfully, they’ve gotten better. The wounds have been healing, and I’m able to type this right now band-aid free, without any pain.

You realize that I’m not just writing about winter-cracked fingers, don’t you?

“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalm 85:10-11)

Perhaps I should have warned you at the beginning of this post, but I’m going to write about my emotional healing... again. I’m currently doing what is basically a Bible study for survivors of abuse, in addition to psychotherapy, so I’ve been thinking a lot about my past, the type of home that I grew up in, and the way it’s affected how I think and act today. Please understand that my intention in writing about it is 1) NOT to dishonor or disrespect anybody 2) to process my stuff 3) to encourage people to process their own stuff 4) to wave a giant red flag to anyone who grew up with me, who might be reading this right now, and let them know that what we experienced was NOT OK 5) to gush about how God is meeting me while I’m processing my stuff... cuz I’m like that. If you’re uncomfortable reading about this type of thing, and if you’d rather skip the rest of this post (or any other posts where I talk about this type of thing), I understand. I may end up parking on this subject for a few months. Regardless, thank you for reading.

Healing is a fascinating subject, and it is even more fascinating when you work through it yourself. I’ve heard people compare emotional healing to physical healing, and I heard somebody say once that you can’t compare emotional healing to physical healing. I think maybe both thoughts are correct. Physical healing can sometimes be easier to work through because all you have to do is get a diagnosis, take some medicine, maybe have some surgery, maybe get some rehab, and you’re on your way to wholeness. With emotional healing, you can take metaphorical medicine (e.g., a Bible study, a book, a retreat, a class, etc.), get some metaphorical surgery (e.g., psychotherapy), some rehab (e.g., a small group, journaling, opening yourself up to other people, etc.), and you get whole... until something happens. Then you need to make some adjustments. Or start all over again.

Regardless, people told me many years ago that your physical body and your emotions are interconnected, and one affects the other. Since I’ve been working extremely hard to get physically healthy (taking blood pressure medicines, exercising, being very strict with my diet), why wouldn’t I also work extremely hard to get emotionally healthy? I daresay my physical health depends on it. My emotions almost killed me once, but they’re not going to do that again. Not if I can help it.

My therapist shared an interesting observation with me the other day. She said that when I talk about myself and my life, sometimes my mind goes blank, and then I start tapping (my hand will tap on my face, my head, my knee, a chair, etc.), and I lose track of what I was talking about. This is gross, but one morning after she told me that, I was eating breakfast and had a gas cramp; then I started tapping on my coffeetable. And I realized: Pain. I tap when I feel pain. I was using the tapping to cover up the pain.

It was like my band-aid. So, lately I’ve been making an extra effort to not cover up emotional pain but to feel it and express it... hopefully in a healthy way.

Another thing that my therapist has observed is that a little girl lives inside me. She comes out at inopportune times and yells at people. So, my therapist has encouraged me to let her out more so that we can work through my issues together. The little girl is a scared, troubled little thing. As I’ve gotten to know her, I’ve discovered that she’s very angry, and she’s an orphan. In other words, she doesn’t trust anybody except herself (IF she trusts herself). She pretty much hates everybody because she feels rejected, unloved, and stifled.

But I’ve been trying to speak kindly to her. I ended up writing her a song to encourage her to come out and play. She’s a part of me. I need her. I especially need her to cooperate with me and stop raging against the people who keep trying to help her.

It’s gonna be OK. I think I know how to talk to her now. And if she knows that she won’t get kicked away for being honest, she’ll feel welcome and accepted, and she’ll be more likely to grow up.

 

This morning, I was instructed to draw a picture about my healing -- something that would inspire me during this process. So, I drew a quick sketch of myself on a mountaintop (I’m usually a cartoon with crazy hair and a dress whenever I draw myself), after a rough climb, enjoying a triumphant moment with God. What God put on my heart was basically, “People have judged you for taking so long to heal, but I say you can take as long as you need.”

I mean, come on. I’m a deep person. It can take a while to dig stuff up, and it can take even longer to properly process through it. You can’t just add water and expect instant healing. These things can take a long time, and there’s no shame in that.

In this particular leg of my journey, I’m learning that healing sometimes needs to involve other people.

I had a hard time with this concept, but this morning I realized something important: I grew up in a house where we didn’t trust anybody. We didn’t trust each other, we didn’t trust ourselves, we didn’t trust other family members, we definitely didn’t trust outsiders, and we certainly didn’t trust church people... which is ironic, considering that I grew up in a pastor’s house. Throughout the years, as I’ve opened myself up to other people and have probably trusted them a little bit too much, I ended up getting hurt... and I wonder if maybe I just defaulted to what I was taught indirectly while I was growing up: You can’t trust anybody.

This is bad, because you can’t build any kind of relationship without trust.

Come on, Tirzah. You’re tough, but you can be soft, too. You can do it. You can learn how to trust people. Not everybody is a jerk. Not everybody is going to hurt you. It’s OK. (See? I have to talk to myself now.)

One thing that has bothered me lately is that I’ve noticed that I stopped crying. I used to be able to cry at the drop of a hat: I would raise my hands in worship and cry. I would think about my relationship with God and cry. I would watch a movie and cry. I would hear somebody give a testimony and cry. You name it, I would cry. Then I noticed that I wasn’t crying anymore. When did I stop crying? I asked God about it, and He told me it was when I started working that seasonal retail job a couple of months ago.

Of course. When you’re working in harsh physical conditions and somebody is yelling at you to move faster without giving you a break, and you can’t do anything right for them, and they shame you in front of everybody when you make a mistake, but you can’t quit because you need the money, and the best way you can think of to endure it is to just expect to get yelled at... no, you don’t cry. You set your face like flint, you forgive, and you survive.

But you can’t live your whole life like that. It could kill you.

I noticed that I finally started crying again about a week or so ago. Maybe I was exhausted. Maybe I had finally ripped off my emotional band-aids. Maybe I was just fed up with everything and leaned on the One who knows everything. At any rate, I hope that’s progress.

So, I’m in a season of healing... again. And I daresay my life depends on it.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Phenomenal protection

Since I use this blog to process the things that are happening in my life, and since I’ve currently been dealing with some health issues, that’s what I’m going to write about today. Thanks in advance for reading. (And maybe this post could also be titled “Things that make you go Hmmmmm.”)

The other day during one of my quiet times -- maybe about a month ago? -- I don’t remember His exact words, but God basically told me, “I’ve been preserving your life.” I also don’t remember the exact passage of scripture that I was reading or thinking about at the time, but it may have been this one...

“The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8)

Perhaps you remember me mentioning in a previous post about how I’ve lost a ton of weight ever since I lost my last full-time job. In that same post, I also mentioned how I had a weird health scare in which my right arm and leg felt tingly and numb for a few days (not quite as intense as the scare that I had two Thursdays ago that sent me to the ER). Now that I FINALLY have some health insurance, I’ve finally begun to get some answers.

In addition to having high blood pressure, I’ve been diagnosed with a heart murmur. I’ve been making some lifestyle changes that I had been trying to do before all this stuff hit the fan (trying to exercise, trying to watch my salt intake, trying to eat foods that can lower a person’s blood pressure). And it’s interesting that I’ve been dealing with all of this shortly after going back to school full-time, not working full-time. I actually HAVE some time to devote to myself.

Which reminds me of something that God told me a few months ago: “You’re more important than finding a job.”

Did the stress of going back to school, the stress of finding part-time work, or the stress of my financial situation in general contribute to my current health crisis? Maybe. But at the doctor’s office earlier this week, I was told that this has been brewing for quite some time.

I’ve known that I’ve had high blood pressure for at least a decade or so, but it’s never been officially diagnosed or treated (until now). And I’ve known that my genetics could put me at risk for blood pressure and heart issues. And I’ve done what I can do to take care of myself -- although now I understand that I need to up the ante.

But I can only do so much to help myself. I think Somebody else has been taking care of the rest.

 

In the past month or so, I’ve felt myself lose even more weight. It’s been confirmed at the healthcare facilities in which I’ve weighed in around 143 -- while I was wearing jeans and shoes. (I don’t think my dinky little scale at home works very well, unless I suddenly gained 7 pounds in the past few days. I mean, I’ve had a hard time keeping my pajama pants up, even though I’ve been keeping the drawstrings pretty tight.)

So, I’ve lost about 40 pounds in the past year and a half. That weight loss has been mostly involuntary (with some intentional exercise and a short spurt of physically demanding work) due to a loss of income. And, not to mention, due to the loss of that huge pantry of free food and soda that was available to me at my previous full-time workplace. I wasn’t able to find a way to earn the same amount of income that I had been earning a year and a half ago, which forced me to spend less money on food and to eat less. Consequently, I had seen my weight loss as a problem.

But what if it was actually a blessing? What if it was actually a HUGE way of God protecting me?

With my current health issues, I think I would have been ordered to lose weight. But what if I had ended up getting a cushy, well-paying job that wouldn’t have forced me to lose weight? What if I had stayed heavier and THEN had stroke symptoms or developed heart issues? Would I still be alive?

While I was thinking about that this morning, God basically had a knowing smirk on His face and was like, “Now do you believe Me?” Yes, Lord, now I believe You. I trust You. Usually when He and I have this type of conversation, He’ll say something like, “Not bad, huh?” Nope. Not bad at all.

A little while ago, I was doing some research about my new blood pressure medicine, and I learned that it was recalled a few months ago -- but only when coupled with a certain heart medicine -- I believe due to a cancer-causing carcinogen. What if I had received medical attention and begun treatment for my blood pressure and heart murmur several months ago? Would I have been prescribed the drug combination that was recalled? Would I have been exposed to something that could have given me cancer -- on top of everything else?

I like seeing God work. And now it looks like my life is depending on it.

“Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:12-14)

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Psalm 50:15)

“He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

I’ve heard that when you restore something, like an antique car, you take it apart and put it back together again. God has been in the process of restoring me. From what I understand, He’s been taking apart the different components that make up my life -- my emotional component, my spiritual component, etc., and now my physical component. I’ve been told that all of these components are connected, and now I understand more than ever how one or more can affect the others.

So, my word for 2019 is “phenomenon/phenomenal.” Just as 2018 was “the year of the ‘suddenly,’ ” 2019 is “the year of the close call.” At least, that’s how it is for me.

And it’s not all about me. God wants to preserve your life, too. It’s OK. You can trust Him.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Thursday

Thursday is pretty much my favorite day of the week. I’m not exactly sure why, but it seems like anything can happen on a Thursday. I got saved on a Thursday. Jesus ate the Last Supper, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and was arrested on a Thursday. My choir usually practices on a Thursday, and awesome things usually happen when we all hang out together. Thursday is just a magical day.

As I was saying, anything can happen on a Thursday... and it did.

 

In case you haven’t heard, I went to the ER on Thursday. I woke up that morning after I had barely slept; I had been fighting some kind of cold, and the medicine I took didn’t knock me out like a good generic version of NyQuil should. But I prepared for a busy day. While I was taking a shower, my right hand and arm felt like they were on pins and needles, and my right leg felt the same way. I saw spots (which I usually do because I’m nearsighted) that were more pronounced than usual, and my vision felt like it was caving in, as if I were about to faint.

It seemed like something was very wrong. I felt like I wanted to lie down and sleep, but I knew if I did, it would be a bad thing. I prayed and asked God to not let me die, and I asked Him to make sure that MeepMeep would be OK. What the heck was happening? Did I have some weird kind of infection like meningitis? Was I having a heart attack?

I finished my shower as best I could, and when I got out of the bathroom, I was panting for breath. I ate breakfast and felt a little better. I called around to see what kind of medical attention I could get with my health insurance, and I decided to go to an urgent care center. (I also figured that if I was well enough to do some research, maybe I wasn’t that sick.)

At the urgent care center, the nurse took my blood pressure a couple of times, I explained the weird symptoms I had had earlier, and she said they needed to do an EKG. As soon as I had stripped down for the procedure, the nurse practitioner burst into the room and told me that I needed to go to the ER because my blood pressure was strokeworthy. She explained that they would give me an IV and send me to a hospital in an ambulance.

The paramedics arrived as soon as the urgent care team performed the EKG. (I heard the siren blaring in the distance and was like, “Wow. Is that for me?”) It was freezing outside, so they put a blanket over me as I was escorted to the emergency vehicle. The paramedics performed a second EKG. I looked at the monitor and, if I remember correctly, my blood pressure was around 236/126. During the ambulance ride, I looked out the window and saw cars on the highway driving toward me. (I’ve lived in the Metroplex for a significant portion of my life, and it was cool to not see the backs of cars for once.)

At one point, I looked over at the empty seat next to me in the ambulance. Either in my mind’s eye or in my spirit, I saw Somebody sitting next to me. I was like, Oh, it’s an angel! And God was like, “No, it’s Me.” Then He kind of hovered in front of my face like He often does and smiled like a proud Papa who was just checking on me. (Or maybe just hanging out with me.)

After we arrived at the ER, the entire emergency team gave me immediate attention. They hooked me up to an EKG machine yet again and performed the test a third time. They administered two doses of medication until my blood pressure was brought down to 184/93, and then they discharged me. The diagnosis was malignant hypertension, which I’ve now been in the process of taking care of.

I’ll use this paragraph for comic relief. You know you’re alive in 2019 when... your first order of business in the ER is to get your phone out of your purse and start snapping selfies for social media. You know the healthcare industry is out of touch with America when... their idea of de-stressing you for high blood pressure is to inform you that your ER visit will cost $4,000. You know you’re wet behind the ears when... you ask the nurse if he needs his EKG stickers back after he discharges you.

Actually, he kindly informed me that they come off with hot water in the shower. I shared a photo earlier in this post of all three types of stickers that were adhered to me. (I was still scraping off the adhesive from my skin this morning. That stuff is strong.) I haven’t heard anything yet regarding my test results, so I’m hoping that means I didn’t have a heart attack, a weird infection, or any other medical abnormality.

But I think I did almost have a stroke.

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” (Psalm 125:2)

After I settled back home and started to process everything, I felt like God showed me that He allowed all of this to happen so that I could see that I was surrounded. Friends all over social media prayed for me and offered to help. Friends dropped by my apartment and showered me with generous gifts. Friends checked on me to see how I was doing.

I love that.

As I type this, I am not 100%. I’ve been recovering from my Thursday scare, and I’ve been trying to make some lifestyle adjustments that will help me in the long run. (My grandmother died after a massive heart attack, my other grandmother died after a series of strokes, and although they were both wonderful women, I don’t want to follow in their footsteps.) And I’m still fighting whatever cold or infection that I was fighting before I had my blood pressure incident. I’m exhausted. But interestingly, God doesn’t seem worried.

Earlier today while I was lying down and talking to God -- maybe in the same way that King Hezekiah had a heart-to-heart with Him, except that I wasn’t on my deathbed -- He and I had an interesting conversation. He showed me a picture of a road marker, like the kind you would see on a highway; it said “Been there, done that.” He also reminded me of the word “chazaq,” which is Hebrew for “strong.” And He reminded me that He had told me earlier to power through this season like a champ. So, I think I know what I need to do.

I’m not going to curl up in a fetal position and give up. And I’m not going to be some irresponsible kid and neglect my body. I know who I am. I know that God has good plans for me. I know that He still wants me here.

And I know that the devil hates me. (Just like he hates you.) This morning, I did my street-fight style of spiritual warfare in my living room and informed the dark forces that I’m not quitting.

So, I’m going to take care of myself as best I can. I’m a survivor, I’m surrounded with help, and I’m going to do everything I can to make this crazy life work. God is here, He’s helping me, and He’s available to lean on.

“ ‘What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it declare Your truth? Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me; Lord, be my helper!’ You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Psalm 30:9-12)

The dark forces can put that in their pipe and smoke it. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The menudo fast

My church recently finished a 21-day corporate fast. No, I didn’t fast from menudo. But it sure made for some great clickbait, didn’t it?

So, when I prayed about how I was going to fast this time, I felt like God wanted me to fast for only 15 days. (I broke this past Tuesday.) God said I could eat “soup or whatever is put in front of you.” That was fun because one morning, doughnuts were in front of me. And God was OK with that. (And I was also instructed to drink my morning coffee black during the 15 days. No dunking.)

In case you’re reading this and wondering why I’m writing about fasting, well, God and I have kind of developed fasting as a sort of family tradition over the years. In June, I observe a two-week salad fast; in January, I observe a soup fast. Both fasts usually end up kicking my butt, but I’m glad that I get to eat something. And I like to write here about what I learn.

 
This time around, since I’ve been extremely tight on funds, I mainly used whatever was in my kitchen. So, I made a lot of my own soups. I also felt like God kept nudging me to make “dessert soup,” so on a couple of occasions I crumbled up some cookies into a bowl, added milk, and microwaved it. (Whoever thinks God is boring doesn’t know Him very well.)

Whenever I’ve fasted in recent years, it’s been more about God talking to me through the symbolism than about whatever it is I’m giving up. 

 

One day, since I didn’t have any chicken or vegetable stock handy, I decided to make my own stock out of red sauce (I think the kind you would use to make enchiladas). I didn’t realize how spicy that would be... especially after I added even more spices to it. The result was something almost inedible, but as the days went by I would add extra things to the soup like rice or oyster crackers to make it more palatable. Then it would taste like menudo. I felt like I was on a menudo fast.

But when the soup was still almost inedible, I was like, “WHOO! That’s spicy.” God was like “So are you.” Ha, ha.

Yes, if you’ve known me in recent years (or if you’ve just been curious enough to stick around and see what would happen to me), you’ve probably seen me fly off the handle a time or two. So, I got to wondering what kind of things God adds to ME to make ME more palatable. Then I remembered...

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Hmm. Yes, that would do it.

I also wondered why God wanted me to fast for only 15 days. So, I started looking into the number 15, and according to a website that I found, the number 15 in the Bible symbolizes rest. Hmm. I’ve been through some stuff and could definitely use some rest.

I also got to thinking about the type of fasting I was doing. What’s so special about soup? Well, if it was floating around in a bowl, cup, mug, etc., I could eat it. That was the boundary. Or if I were attending a special event where a specific type of food was served (not soup), I could eat that.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I went back to school while I was fasting. My life has made a sudden shift in direction, as I am now a full-time college student again. During the first week of school, I found myself missing my old college roommate (from the 1990s). I didn’t have anyone interrupting my studies to chitchat, and I didn’t have anyone planning to eat dinner with me every night, so I was able to stay intensely focused on my studies... which I didn’t really do the first time I was in college. But I felt my old workaholic tendencies click on again (the ones that drove me to volunteer for overtime and not have any kind of life while I was working). So, it’s not an accident that I was thinking about boundaries and about how I need to set some new boundaries for myself during this new season.

One thing that will help is that I will start a new part-time job on Monday. I haven’t worked in the past two weeks, and I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent next week -- other than the fact that God will continue to provide. But I think one reason why I have peace about it -- besides the fact that God will continue to provide -- is that He’s been training me to simply eat what’s in front of me. Rent isn’t due today; it’s not in front of me. Today was my Sabbath; rest was in front of me. I got to gobble that all up. And have I mentioned the fact that God will continue to provide?

The next time I hit the books, there won’t be any reason to obsess over everything that will be due between now and May, and there won’t be any reason to freak out about something that I won’t be able to start working on right away. What I’ll need to focus on is simply what’s in front of me.

Hmm. Now I want menudo.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Phenomenon

I recently began working on jigsaw puzzles in my spare time. I got the idea while I was listening to a church message in which the teacher compared the process of putting a puzzle together to living in the Kingdom of God. So, of course, my mind has stolen that metaphor and run with it.

 
Many years ago, I think I bought this puzzle for my family so that we could put it together, and I think we did once or twice. The other day, I fished it out of my closet and thought I’d work on it... but I soon discovered that a 1,000-piece puzzle was a very ambitious project for just one person. No wonder it takes an entire family to put a puzzle together. I did it myself, but it took me several days (over two weekends). I spent hours on it. As an introvert, it was nice to kind of lose all track of time during the project. I had several seasons of The Office playing in the background while I worked on it, and that is how MeepMeep and I spent our holidays.

But watching the individual pieces come together wasn’t an instant fix. It was a process.


The church teacher explained that when you put a jigsaw puzzle together, you usually start with the corners and the borders. I tried to do that with this particular puzzle, but it didn’t seem to work that well due to puzzle size and color schemes. Instead, since this particular puzzle featured different buildings and quaint scenes, I tried to work on one building and one scene at a time. Since I didn’t have enough space to lay out every piece, I kept most of them in the box and combed through them several times. Each time I went through them, I found several pieces that I needed. (And MeepMeep “helped” me, too.) Gradually, the puzzle came together.

There were several places in the puzzle that really didn’t have any reference point, so the only way to fit them together was by trial and error. There were also several times when I thought a piece would fit... but it actually didn’t, and I had to move it. But if it really fit, it was immediately obvious... and it gave me an immensely satisfying sense of accomplishment. (OK, so I’m easily entertained.)

Since this particular puzzle was so time-consuming, I felt like giving up on it a few times. There were other things I could be doing. There were other ways I could be enjoying my time off. But I decided to stick with it until I was done.

If you’re staring at a puzzle piece and wondering where the heck it’s supposed to fit into the grand scheme of things, you’re frustrated because it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere, and you’re wondering why in the world it ended up in your hands in the first place...

The Master of the puzzle knows where it goes. And He isn’t usually in a hurry to finish the puzzle.

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)

The other day during my quiet time, I sang some worship songs and then placed my guitar on my living-room carpet when I was done. I looked down at my guitar and flashed back in my mind to all those other carpets that my guitar had rested on for the past 20 years. I thought about all those living rooms where I had completely lost track of time while I had worshiped, sung songs, written songs...

That’s me. That’s my home. I belong there.

About 21 years ago, as I was riding home after my college graduation, I had a revelation: “I’m right-brained!” I know. It was random. (We right-brained people are like that.) I remember kind of wishing I had known that important piece of information while I was in college. I guess it might have come in handy.

Ironically, I learned how to lead worship (and I learned what “worship music” is for the first time) while I was away at college. I graduated with a degree in something else, and yet while I was earning that degree, I found my calling without realizing it.

God showed me a long time ago that He hid my calling from my parents, and I believe He hid it from pretty much everybody else, too, including myself. Recently He reminded me about that right-brain revelation that I had 21 years ago. I believe that’s when He showed me what my calling was, in a vague, right-brained sort of way... even though I had no idea.

Perhaps He handed me a puzzle piece for safe keeping.

Then as the years went by, I eventually received more pieces of the puzzle. People in choirs would try to sit or stand next to me so that they could hear me sing their part, which kind of annoyed me until I embraced what was happening. I took a spiritual gifts test one time in which “shepherding” was my highest score, which shocked me until God showed me that I had been shepherding people pretty much my whole life. 

And then one day about six and a half years ago while I was driving home, I heard myself say, “I want to be a worship pastor so bad, it’s not even funny.” Whaaaaat? That wasn’t anywhere in my plans, goals, or dreams.

And the Master of the puzzle gradually talked me through the dream that He put inside me... the dream and the design that have been there all along.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

The other day when I explained to a coworker that my schedule would probably change because I’m going back to school, she asked me what I was going to study. When I replied that I’m going to study church music, she laughed. “You have to go to school for that?” she asked. “You can’t just volunteer?” (It’s OK; that’s not the first time anyone has ever pooped on a dream of mine.)

“If you want to be on staff, you need to get training,” I explained.

I didn’t even realize that what I had been doing over the years as a church volunteer would be considered “ministry” -- being a lifegroup leader, leading worship, following up with visitors, writing discussions, praying for people, answering people’s questions, listening to people who needed somebody to talk to, writing a song, singing in a choir, etc., etc., etc.

I thought that’s what everybody did.

But maybe my cat thinks everybody knows how to purr, groom themselves with their specialized tongue, stalk prey, climb on furniture, beg for table scraps, etc., etc., etc. But they don’t. Maybe she wonders why I don’t do any of that. All of that stuff comes naturally to HER because she’s designed to be a cat.

The Master of the puzzle knows what He’s doing when He designs the pieces. And when they all begin to fit together, their design will make sense.

Over the years, He’s shown me that I’ve already been preparing for the ministry... long before I enrolled in school.

Perhaps some of my pastoral design is genetic or generational, considering that I grew up in a pastor’s house. Oh, I saw some crazy things while I was growing up. I saw people who needed to talk through some tough things with somebody. I saw people show up at the house during a pregnancy crisis or during a church-split crisis. I heard people openly criticize Dad during a meeting right before he resigned. One time, I heard about a visitor who invited Dad to her house because she had questions about a sermon that he preached about Adam and Eve. (In hindsight, I’m pretty sure she was flirting.)

That’s what shepherds do. We shovel sheep dung.

I saw my share of crazy things, too, while I was leading lifegroups. Right after college, I heard that many of the girls in my group were crushing on my co-leader, nearly fighting over him, and my section leader had to step in to take care of it because it was distracting. Years after college, when I explained that my group was a safe place to worship God freely and biblically, a visitor asked something to the effect of, “So we can take our clothes off and dance naked before the Lord like David did?” (I believe he was arrested some time after that.) Another time, after another visitor had sexually harassed somebody in our group, and was kicked out of the group as a result, he accosted me in the church foyer, grabbed my arm, and said creepily, “I forgive you.” (I’m glad my church has buff security guards.)

So, over the years, I’ve seen that I’m no stranger to the ministry.

I’ve seen my share of crazy stuff, but I’ve also seen some pretty awesome stuff. After all, we shepherds point people to the Master Shepherd.

I’ve spent time with people, poured into their lives, and seen them become happier with God than they’d ever been before. I’ve listened, I’ve shared what I’ve heard, and I’ve been told later that I ended up relaying messages that turned out to be important. And I’ve experienced how beautiful and breathtaking it is from a worship platform to see thousands of sheep expressing love to the Master Shepherd... to me, that makes it all worth it.

Because people can be silly. When they need prayer, they can sometimes treat you like a vending machine. When they’re frustrated, they can take it out on you. When they’re needy, they can forget that you’re just another human and wonder why you’re not meeting all their needs in the same way that God would. When you make a mistake, they can nail you to a cross and crucify you.

And I’ve done the same thing, too, because I’M people.

So, this is the journey that I’m on. This is the training that I’ll be formally receiving very soon. It’s an exhilarating place, but can also be kind of a scary ride. What if I feel like quitting? (God has already shown me that He’s paying for school; if I were to pay for it myself, it would be easier for me to quit.) What if it’s too hard? (I think considering everything that God has put me through so far, my soul is basically strong enough to bench-press a Buick.) What if I suck at it? (Um, I hope if I sucked at ministry-related things, somebody would have told me by now.) Why would I want to make myself a target for the enemy? (Um, I’ve kind of already BEEN a target for a long time now.) What if people hate me? (Take a number; get in line; join the club.) What if I hate being in vocational ministry? (I’ll have to ask my cat if she hates being a cat.)

What if I fall in love with the ministry? (Then I’ll live happily ever after.)

The word that God gave me for 2019 is “phenomenon,” so I know this will be a phenomenal, incredible, unique year for me.

In this post, I’ve talked about myself... but reader, I know you have your own puzzle, too. I’ll repeat what I said earlier: The Master of the puzzle knows what He’s doing when He designs the pieces. And when they all begin to fit together, their design will make sense.

No matter who joins you on your journey.

 

Friday, December 21, 2018

It’s a Wonderful Life in Review

When I was a kid, Dad was unemployed for a year and a half. During that time, Mom was the breadwinner, and I remember she paid our allowance with the tips she earned from her hairdressing job. Dad, who wasn’t using the education and experience he’d worked so hard to earn, became depressed. He used to sit on our couch and watch our VHS of It’s a Wonderful Life frequently, no matter what time of year it was.

I think I understand why. During the course of the movie, George Bailey experiences a sudden financial crisis and contemplates suicide. He’s cured of this urge when he sees what the world would have been like without him. At the end of the movie, he no longer wants to end his life, and his entire community surrounds him, celebrates his life, and supports him quite richly. People dig deeply into their pockets and make sure he has what he needs to move on.

I think it’s a bummer that Dad didn’t really experience this phenomenon for himself -- at least, not while I knew him. But I’ve experienced it. In the past 16 months especially, people have surrounded me, celebrated me, and supported me during my crises -- financially, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s amazing to see what happens when God puts you on His people’s hearts and they very generously make sure you have what you need. (Thank you!!!!!)

Sometimes you need a little time to just get your bearings so that you can move on to the next step.

 
For me, one unique thing about 2018 has been getting to see my life pass before my eyes. (Perhaps you read my thoughts about this phenomenon in a previous post.) This year, I got a chance to relive many situations, big and small, that I had already experienced in my life. It was kind of like living out a Greatest Hits album or one of those flashback episodes of a sitcom.

For example, the other day, I dusted off my old Atari and played for the first time in many years. (When I was a kid in the 80s and 90s, my sister and I were gamers before gaming was a thing.) Some of the game cartridges don’t work anymore, and I haven’t figured out how to eliminate the static from my TV screen, but the antique game console still serves its purpose. Using it made me feel like I was 12 years old again, in a good way. I would like for this to be a regular form of entertainment for me.

I experienced a ton of déjà vu this year, and I know God designed it that way for me. Pretty much whenever a situation would come along that I felt like I was experiencing all over again, I would see Him flash me an excited look in His eyes, and He’d say, “Your life before your eyes.” Heh.

Just to name a few: I enrolled in college classes, I lost a job, I started hating a job, I worked unconventional hours, I became depressed, I fought suicidal thoughts, I signed up for psychotherapy, I regrew guitar calluses on my fingertips, I fixed some issues with my car, I received free food and other cool stuff from friends, God made sure my rent was paid, and I enjoyed having a lap cat.

Sometimes when I was re-experiencing things, God would remind me that I was reliving the highlights of my life. Sometimes it felt strange at first. I was like, “Depression is a highlight?” And God was like, “OVERCOMING depression is a highlight.” Cool.

 

That part about enjoying a lap cat is pretty special. When Macho died, I lost my lap cat. (Choochie was more of a shoulder cat, like a pirate’s parrot.) But lately, MeepMeep has discovered that my lap is a good place to hang out. (Especially when I’m eating a meal and I drop some food.) If nothing else, one of the best things about this current season of my life is being at home often enough for MeepMeep to develop a closer bond with me and learn how to trust me even more.

Isn’t that how it is with God? We go through difficult things that end up pushing us closer to Him, and He sustains us through those times; and in the process, we realize that we can’t live without Him. And after the trial is over, we still cling to Him because...

As I type this, I’m having a hard time finding the words to complete that last sentence. We still cling to Him, even when things are going smoothly, because... we need Him? we realize how much we need Him? we ache when He’s not around? we love Him? the thought of Him not being close to us makes us panic? His friendship has become the most important thing in our lives? we realize more than ever that we belong to Him, so all we really want to do is just hang out with Him and His family? we realize that we’re toast without Him? we just like Him, and we don’t want to be anywhere that He’s not? we don’t ever want to break our connection with Him? we know that we would break His heart if we would ever consider leaving Him? we know we would be stupid to try? we know that we don’t belong to anybody else? we just want Him, because He wanted us first? have I mentioned that we need Him?

Yes. I think all of the above, plus whatever your heart would add to my heart-gush.

“Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.” (Psalm 32:10)

This year hasn’t just been one long episode of déjà vu. I relearned a few things, too: how to pour out my heart to God, how to submit to authority, how to be assertive, and yet how to keep my mouth shut when I REALLY want to open it.

And I’ve learned some completely new things as well. For instance, I’m pretty much working the first job I’ve ever had that didn’t require me to sit at a desk. The schedule isn’t flexible. We have very little freedom while we’re on the clock. We can only take our break times when they tell us we can take them. And if we show up late for work, we’ll have to wait outside until somebody unlocks the door for us. (I bought a wristwatch to help me keep better track of my time.)

But one part of my life flashing before my eyes has been something that God spoke to me during a church service several years ago. He told me to “embrace awkwardness,” and He explained why: I used to be a Pharisee. Pharisees insist on everything going as perfectly as possible. That way of life doesn’t leave any room for grace. But when you’re in an awkward situation, you have to walk in grace: receiving grace for yourself and extending grace to other people. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable.

But embracing awkwardness -- embracing the fact that people will mess up, YOU’LL mess up, situations will arise that will be out of your control, and it’s OK, because that’s a natural part of life here on earth, and there won’t always be a right or wrong answer to every situation, and you won’t always have to fix everything -- leaves room for God to move. Because people will always be people; they will never be controllable robots. Awkwardness, as painful and embarrassing as it can be, leaves plenty of room for grace.

So, awkwardness is one thing that cures Pharisee-ism.

I think I’m living in the most awkward season of my life, at least schedule-wise. Since I have to be at work extremely early in the mornings, and I get off in the mornings, I sleep during prime time. Yesterday, my body wanted to go to bed at 2 p.m. (as it had the day before), but since that seemed absurd to me, especially since I don’t have to work today, I started writing this post just to keep myself awake. (I was able to make it until about 4 p.m.) I woke up naturally sometime after midnight, and now I’ll be able to finish writing this and post it waaaaay before the crack of dawn.

God has told me that this season of temp jobs is almost over and that I should enjoy it while I can. But I confess -- I’ve had trouble enjoying it. When I get off work (after only a 5- or 6-hour shift), I sit on my couch and think of all the millions of things that I should probably be doing... but am too tired to do... but then I wonder if all those millions of things are really that important. Resting is important. Sleeping is important. Enjoying my cat is important. Just being myself and enjoying the life that God has given me is important. Hmm. Maybe that’s one thing God was talking about: I need to just “be” and not sweat the small stuff. Not to mention -- when I start school again next month, I might not get many opportunities to put my feet up and just enjoy “being.”

So, I’ll enjoy. And I’ll keep trusting. And I’ll keep dreaming... because I think God is waaaaay more interested in my dreams than I am. Heh. You know, they really weren’t my ideas in the first place. They were His.

That most certainly is a wonderful life.