Welcome to the Blueberry Days Bible Study! We have tea and crumpets here in the living room
or you could split this bottle of wine with me. Just wanted to give you a fair heads-up that this post is bloated and long and probably redundant about my feels and God and love and guilt and fear and the salvation of mankind…you know, light stuff! There is a lot of good meaty Bible talk here. So if that is not your jam I get it but hope you do stay for some beverages with me :)
Last month Jonathan and I went up to Vermont to visit with his family and on the way back he dropped me off at my parents house in State College where I got to camp out and pretend it was 2014 again. It was a great sip of home and conversations with long-time friends and wise friend-family. To complete the experience I rode the Megabus from SC to Pittsburgh Wednesday night and re-lived the magic of gazing at each fellow passenger within eyesight and making up their deal in my head (this might be what some call judgmental but I prefer to call it “guessing with imagination”). I’m pretty sure people could easily have guessed with not so much imagination towards me because not 15 min into the trip I had tears pouring down my face and became the bus fountain of emotion.
*Cue the sad/sappy iPod–>aka gasoline over the flame of my tears….as a courtesy to my fellow passengers I should’ve passed around a bag of marshmallows at this point so they could get some use out of the Emotional Bonfire Girl.
So Much Wine, Merry Christmas–Andrew Bird (at least listen to this one! This is the title inspiration)
Million Dollar Bill–Middle Brother
I Will Sing You Songs–My Morning Jacket
Tear Down the House–The Avett Brothers
Ruby–Dave Rawlings Machine
Miss Ohio–Gillian Welch (I’m sorry but this song is definitely on almost every other music list post on this blog.)
Clean–Ryan Adams (eating this album up like poptarts in the closet, I don’t know if I really like it but I’m going on my 6th pack…so the jury’s out till I decide or just get sick, barf, and never listen to it again)
Fake Plastic Trees–Radiohead
REBECCA! Why were you an emotional car wreck?!
Well sugar, if you’ve ever met me I’m either at the bottom of the ocean or at the top of the mountain with very little time on the mainland of stability. Ever since hearing the term Hot Mess Express I can’t think of a better title for my autobiography. I also recently came to terms with the fact that I am an ENFP–>not the INFP of yesteryear. I am not cool, introverted and mysterious. This is not actually what introverted means (as I have been reminded several times by my sweet introverted man) but it’s what I wanted to be and what pop culture paints the introvert as. In contrast, the extrovert is painted as this logic-less party beast who imposes on the introvert. So yeah, who wants to be that?? Buttons. Anyways, that following Friday afternoon Jonathan came home from work to find me typing on this computer and sniffling next to an empty Jameson glass. Good thing he missed me sobbing face down on my yoga mat just about an hour prior….whaaat is my problem…….?!? So. Many. Feels.
Rebecca you are a Feeling Beast.
So the deal is that I went home (state college home) and for the first time in many months I was just hanging out on my lonesome, very deja vue to the 2012-2014 era when I was a wannabe hipster who worked at the coolest coffee shop ever, borderline decent fiddle-player, and frustrated nursing student/graduate. Now I don’t live there anymore, I’m this frustrated baby wrangler nurse in Pittsburgh, fresh wifelette, and playing the violin makes me cry…. At least one thing is constant! These past 16 months have been as close as you can get to God throwing your life in a washing machine and then giving you double-time in the dryer only to hang you up on the clothesline for some extra air and you don’t even know if you are O.K. anymore let alone if your perception of reality is actually real or not.
So. Much. Change.
–>What I mean, is that while I climbed the stairs to the roof of the Fraser Street parking garage late that Tuesday night, I could truly believe that I had just awoken from a dream where I moved to Pittsburgh, was a nurse, met a guy and married him all in under a year. As I stood on the rooftop it felt almost exactly like every other time I’d stood there and gazed down into the Happiest Valley. It felt so surreal to be standing in that place and tell myself that I wasn’t there anymore–that my life was somewhere else, and it wasn’t just my life anymore.
If I could just take a dramatic moment I’d say I felt very ghost-like.
Reference: I used to visit the top of the Fraser Street Parking garage and peer down into the buildings below and listen to the music drifting up from bars and street performers. One of the first songs I heard from there was ‘Ruby’.
Tonight I am at home. My home with my now-family. There is pumpkin bread in the oven, dirty clothes tumbling in the washing machine, too much garbage from 2 people on the sidewalk waiting to be gone, wedding pictures, belated thank-yous strewn about the living room; more dried tears on my face. It’s been a season of easy tears from what I’m assuming is the emotional settling after the year of constant major life-altering changes. Much of the feeling turmoil has been brought on by feelings of loss and unexpected change—which I too often interpret as God not caring or being apathetic about my life. Not that I don’t believe that God cares and loves for humanity as a whole and that he sent Himself to earth to restore relationship between Himself and His people, I just never really think that He puts much weight into my individual everyday life and simple struggles as an American woman who has a stable job, loving spouse and family, roof over my head, food and numerous other blessings of which many others are praying for. Why would my everyday unreasonable sadness matter to God? And if He does care about it, wouldn’t He just be frustrated at my failure to appreciate that He hasn’t asked me to walk through different trials? Does He wish He’d given the blessings to someone else who would use them better and give greater thanks without finding another reason to not trust Him and live in sadness?? I’ve had several people (including a therapist and my husband) tell me that I do not believe that God wants to give me good things and that is why I am easily anxious. The observation surprised me at first but I knew that this was the thorn pushing living fear into my heart. I live in the belief that God may let good things happen but actively creates the suffering in order to glorify Himself. In writing this I imagine God might be very sad to see the child so distrusting that she cannot accept gifts He lays at her feet.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11 NIV
Changes can be sometimes be your choice but also many are totally out of your control. Sometimes change you decide on comes with unexpected events too. When I experience change I often look for a reason to expect something difficult to happen because God surely wants to use whatever change is happening to refine me and make me lean on Him–so in my fearful heart I ask: why would He give me good things when it seems like the bad things are what He uses for our growth and to bring us to Himself? When change is at my doorstep I cringe and anticipate being stripped bare to unknown shame and difficulty when God looks at me from afar and tells me to walk towards Him in my weak naked body, and if I fail to do so I am stuck where I am, with cold wind on bare skin. So when He brings about a happy event into my life I poke at it in disbelief and suspicion that it signals some awful thing is going to happen after I accept it–This is really sad and twisted and I truly tear up at the vision of a father trying to give his daughter a gift that she won’t even touch.
You see, the difficult thing about this is that God does indeed ask us to trust Him in trials and he does destroy that which comes between Himself and His beloved, you and I. As in the creatures he made into His own image, creatures with souls capable of great evil and magnificent windows to the Holy. So when I say I fear God’s refinement it is true that He does take away, he does bring us to “nakedness”.
…”Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” excerpt of Job 1:21 NIV
God does allow us to walk through times of great suffering and blindness in the midst of life changes even when we beg Him to take it away, or give us clarity. He does ask us to trust Him and ask Him for wisdom in those trials, not only to endure and trust but to have joy in such times and to praise His name!
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…when tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all he created. James 1:2-4, 13-18 NIV (bold and italic text added)
Tonight I read another chapter in the book I’ve been spottily reading for about 2 years, Ann Voskamp’s ‘One Thousand Gifts’. Most of the book chronicles her learning joy through gratitude and how to learn joy when you can’t see anything beyond bitterness, fear and depression. It’s something I should actually just read on repeat.
Sometimes I don’t want joy. In my blindness I cling to depression and doubt as substitutes because I think that they hold less disappointment; less opportunity to feel embarrassment and shame. I can recall times when I’d thought I’d placed my hope in God but was left in disappointment. However, this was because the hope wasn’t in Christ alone, it was in the things I wanted him to do for me rather than who He is. I have used times when I’ve been given something I strongly desired and had it taken away as proof of God’s apathy or conditional approval towards me. When I was allowed to get so close to whatever thing I wanted and suddenly it was torn away, I recoiled from God and glared at Him from my cave. So, if I live expecting God’s way of refining me is to immerse me into suffering through tearing hopes/desires out of my hands while pouring shame and abandonment over my nakedness, then I could only “safely” live in fear of what is to befall me next. To constantly be waiting for God to frown on my heart, to await the humiliation of exposure and subsequent withdraw of blessings. But as the verse above mentions, it is not God who changes. He is constant and His love for us is unchanging based on our doing, and it is not He who brings temptation to rely on fear as protection from the unknown.
In her book, Voskamp covers this way of thinking and brings to light that it is subconsciously deciding that the powers of Hell are greater and offer more life than those of Heaven. The choice to shut out joy becomes a habit to protect myself from dashed hope. Hope can only be as strong as that which it rests on, and if that is on a person, event, government, one’s own ability and self esteem… then it can’t be strong enough to withstand the weight of God’s glory being bled through your life. If you are familiar with the story of God revealing himself to Moses you may recall the nature of that taste of glory being so powerful that God had to shield Moses from His passing by (Exodus 33:12-23). Moses stood in a tight dark place, yet was as physically close to God as could be withstood by a human. Voskamp speculates that it may be in those dark places when we are given the opportunity to experience God’s closeness and protection unlike any other time. That perhaps the darkness is his hand covering us, protecting us from what we cannot yet understand.
I’ve always had a hard time understanding God calling us to joy in trial–it’s so hard! I can’t wrap my brain around how to feel joyful in the midst of depression and fear. It can feel impossible, or like one more thing on the spiritual ‘to-do’ list. “Trust God, endure struggle, pray for wisdom…oh yeah and have joy in all of this!” I want to throw up my hands and say this is HARD! Does God ask the impossible? Does He intend our entire earthly existence to be a constant trial and refinement through struggle but for us to be happy all time time that He is doing it? In the midst of fear and trying to trust the Lord, what is does it mean to have joy? My first strike is that I said the word ‘happy’. Let’s get this oldie-but-goodie on the table and remember that happiness is not joy. Joy is not a fleeting feeling (!) as I am learning. It is the marriage of Peace and Hope. This is why it is not only possible to have joy in struggle, but necessary. Hope in the solid ground of God’s sovereignty over all things, that He does have the power to change all things and that what He does choose to do or not do is good because He is good and all good things come from Him. This is hard to accept because “good” must then mean it is ‘God-glorifying’. “Good” doesn’t necessarily mean it works out to make us more comfortable.
“Safe?” Said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis)
God is glorified in how we trust him in all circumstances to bring us to himself, to make us holy as he is holy….sanctification. (There is much more to this subject that I am not entirely educated enough to explain, but one tidbit I want to remind us of is that our salvation and sanctification is not something dependent on how much we do/the strength of our trust to make ourselves holy and Christ-like–that is impossible in our human sin-weakened bodies. Christ is the bridge to our being made holy because we have gained his holiness through the cross where he took our sin and deserved abandonment from God. Therefore we cannot sanctify ourselves, God made the way for us to be with him again and in response to this great act of mercy and grace (receiving an undeserved gift) we are called to love God and trust Him…lean not on our own understanding in all things…(Proverbs 3:5-6).
Peace is our soul recognizing the presence of God in all times. Peace is the rest and wonder laid on our souls through glimpses of the Holy everyday. Peace feeds our hope through assurance of God’s caring and providing for us throughout all things, which enables us to hope in Christ without fear of what God will do. The ways of God do not make sense to the minds of man, the idea that a holy God would reach into the grime of the world to rescue his adulterous love and die to make her clean and bring her to Himself is foreign to our hard hearts. God actually gives us a “Day In My Life” story in the book of Hosea where he tells Hosea to go and marry a prostitute and not only that but to go and buy her back when she gets into even more trouble. Constant pursuit! That is God’s way with us. It is strange and amazing.
He is good and cares for us even in small things as well as big ( Matthew 6:25-34). So to have joy we must have glimpses of God’s presence in our day-to-day. How does this happen? When we practice looking for Him, we will find Him when we focus on who we are looking for. In other words, thanks rather than despair.
…..Whatever my God Ordains Is Right…. (‘Sweet Comfort’ by Sandra McCracken)
In Chapter 7 of One Thousand Gifts, Voskamp describes that the presence of God is sensed through your focus on what is there rather than what isn’t there, to open our eyes to the graces and gifts He gives in the moment rather than frustration and resentment about our circumstances. And that is the daily practice of choosing life over death–or I love how she puts it, the “joy-wrestle”.
“Hard. Yes. So hard.”…I am trying , really trying: Practice. The discipline of thanks only comes with practice.”…I want to give up too. But give up the joy-wrestle…and I die. “The practice of giving thanks…eucharisteo…this is the way we practice the presence of God, stay present to His presence, and it is always a practice of the eyes. We don’t have to change what we see. Only the way we see.” (p. 135)
One of the other pieces of work she references in her book is this quote from Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough’s piece ‘The Psychology of Gratitude’):
“People generally do not make efforts to actively infuse their daily experiences with greater emotional quality,” posits scientific researcher and professor Rollin McCraty. “Although most people definitively claim that they love, care, appreciate it might shock many to realize the large degree to which these feelings are merely assumed or acknowledged cognitively in their feeling world. In the absence of conscious efforts to engage, build, and sustain positive perceptions and emotions, we all to automatically fall prey to feelings such as irritation, anxiety, worry, frustration, self-doubt and blame” (Rollin McCraty, “The Grateful Heart,” The Psychology of Gratitude, ed. Robert A. Emmons (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 241.)
If we understand that peace is only found in our personal communion with God and our hope is in His goodness then our joy is not a feeling. Our joy is the daily intentional seeking God in that moment (not to get too ahead of our seasons but we are coming up on the Thanksgiving season appropriately followed by Christmas….aka the time we remember and give thanks for Immanuel… “God with us”!! Matthew 1:23) through thanks for his care for us in ways we don’t see at first glance. Joy is to go to God and ask for blessing, the blessing our soul craves. The presence of God with us, which only He can give. To go to God and knowing that only He can bless us and fill us. We will, like Jacob, ask God to bless us–in the way He delights to do, with His presence in our hearts. It is this joy that cannot be taken by the world because it is not of the world.
Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time as come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever yo ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete….I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:19-24, 33
So it is true that God does indeed bring us good things, and He wants to! This is still shocking to me and I am learning to accept that each day without fear. Here’s a story: In my mopey pre-saturday-nightshift sulking last weekend I laid in bed unable to sleep and jokingly asked Jonathan to pray I got called off work (honestly thinking there is no way in any world that I would get called off on a weekend). I laid there and thought about writing this post and how I was trying to see the blessing of the moment rather than the frustration of what I don’t have, which led to more sulking then feeling shameful and guilty but then I started thinking about exactly what I just wrote and how God was going to take care of me that night no matter what I was going to walk into. And that my going into work that coming night meant that God ordained me to be there then and care for the patients I would meet and to spend time with my wonderful co-workers. This train of thought actually did bring me to a more peaceful place and though I didn’t sleep, I did know that God was at work and therefore I could have joy in this despite my childish whining.
Wouldn’t you know I got a golden call-off phone call at 5pm. I actually did feel a little amazed and tremble-y. It felt like God was saying “I told you I could do anything and I do care about you in every way no matter how you are behaving or what you feel. I love you and delight in giving you good things, right now I’m giving you a night of rest to enjoy with Jonathan.” It was humbling actually, just like the small child feeling ashamed for sulking and then being given an undeserved treat. Anyways, the point here is
that if you pray and ask God to get you called-off for the night He might do it! (that is absolutely not the point…there is nothing you do that gets you called off work. It is purely a gift from God that you can enjoy and not feel guilty about! Jonathan had to tell me this when my guilt sunk in around 10pm that I wasn’t using my night off properly. I’m crazy. Please help.)—that God does delight to give us blessings and he does this even when we feel that our life is upside-down and/or dark.
“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at you right hand.” Psalms 16:5-11 (italics added)