Sunday, April 29, 2007

babylike faith

I want to be in control of my life. Barring that, I like to know what is going to happen next. Usually, however, I neither choose nor know in advance most of what happens to me. This is the place to trust God, who both controls and knows what I do not. Of course, easier said than done. I can learn from my son about trusting the one who takes care of us.

John never seems anxious or uncomfortable with not controlling or knowing what will happen next. As long as his basic needs are met, he is usually happy to do whatever I decide is best for us to do -- take a walk, have a bath, sing a song. As I'm getting to know him better, I'm more able to take his likes and dislikes into account, but I still can't even tell him what is coming next -- and he's fine with that.

I would like to trust God the way that John trusts me.

I also would like for more people to post comments! Just to let me know that you're out there. Thanks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Joni Eareckson Tada says that when she was a teenager, she prayed for God to help her know his presence and grace more. She says she knew she was a hypocrite. A month or two later, she had a diving accident that left her a quadraplegic, and even then she saw the accident as the answer to her prayer. She was angry at God at first, but then came to believe that God could not have gotten her attention any other way.

A friend also went through PPD and says that she is grateful for having it because it drew her closer to God. I can't say yet that I am grateful for having PPD, but it has taught me things I needed to learn: my own fallibility, how to receive help, and more compassion for others' suffering. If I had to have PPD to learn these things, then perhaps it is worth it. I am not sure I have drawn closer to God yet, but I think I will because through PPD God has shown me truth about myself: He is worshipped in spirit and truth, and so I can worship him more the less I live under illusions.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

perfectly average

I was reading something about perfectionism, and it said that perfectionists have too high standards for themselves and others. It suggested purposefully setting your standard to average instead. I love this idea and in celebration of it, I am writing this post without any editing whatsoever (except to fix typos) -- this is straight from the top of my head, friends. This way, when you shoot for "average," you may very well exceed your expectations.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Through the Wilderness

I've heard two things on the radio lately that encourage me:

1. The wilderness is not a destination, but only a place through which to travel on the way to our destination, the promised land.

2. Our Shepherd leads us "through" the valley of the shadow of death. I'd never noticed the word "through" before -- now it comforts me to think that the valley is, like the wilderness, just a place to get through, not to stay.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sing to the Messiah

On Sunday a soloist sang from The Messiah. It was beautiful and reminded me of an Easter almost 10 years ago.

I was at the time attending a church about an hour from home; my job also was about an hour away, in the other direction. One Sunday I felt tired of driving and went to a small Methodist church in my neighborhood. I was struck during the service by how terrible the choir was -- the worst I've ever heard. The individual voices stood out, and they were off-key. During the announcements, the choir director said that the choir would be singing parts of the Messiah in celebration of Easter, and that anyone was welcome to join them. He said that he had scouts listening to people during the service to recruit people.

I do not have a very good voice, but I can read music passably and enjoy singing in choirs. When two choir members came to me after the service to issue me a personal invitation to join the choir in singing the Messiah, I was humbled to realize that THIS was the kind of choir that would want me. They really could use my voice! I said yes because I thought it would be fun.

And it was fun -- I enjoyed the practices, to be singing again, and the choir director was, surprisingly, very good at directing us. Nevertheless, we still sounded awful. I invited several friends to come to the performance on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, and I warned them that we were really bad. They came anyway.

Afterwards, they accused me of misleading them: "What do you mean that this choir isn't any good?! It was spectacular!" And it truly was. During the whole performance, we sounded like a different choir, one with power and glory, praising our exalted God. All I can guess is that the heavenly choir joined us that afternoon, because we did not have it in us. It seems to me an apt metaphor for the Christian life -- we bring our small, off-key voices, and Jesus transforms them into a sound that glorifies God. The credit is all his.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

No Pain, Gain

When faced with choices, I usually assume God's will is the choice that is the most difficult, unpleasant, or sugar-free. Sometimes this is the case -- it's easier to grow weeds than desirable plants, and building character and morals takes hard work. But I also find myself choosing or enduring suffering that is truly optional simply because I assume it's where God wants me.

I realized this recently when I was shown a chart that rates pain from 0 (no pain) to 10 (intense pain that prevents you from doing anything except suffer). The comments on the chart suggest that it is good to get help for pain when it's about a 3 or 4, i.e. while pain is bearable and doesn't affect you that much. What a revelation. I tend to think that I "should" soldier on through pain -- physical or emotional -- until I can't bear it any longer, and then get help.

I decided that this approach wasn't working well for me when I was in the midst of the PPD pit and a friend said, "You're so strong! If I'd been through what you have, I'd be in a mental institution." It occurred to me that whatever was making it possible for me to endure what I was enduring wasn't strength. I don't know what it was -- stubbornness? fatigue (I couldn't imagine what more to do)? fear (what if there really wasn't help for me)? Maybe just ignorance -- thinking that God wants me to patiently endure suffering, so I'd better patiently endure.

But we have a God who gives us an easy yoke and light burden. If Jesus died for me, then I don't have to do anything, not even suffer, to be ok with God. I used to think that taking antidepressants wasn't God's will for me (even if it was ok for other people!). Now I think that taking them helps me to know and do God's will, which is sometimes painful, and sometimes not.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Day of the Living Dead . . .

. . . is the name of a movie -- I think it's about dead people being raised to a zombie-like existence -- but I think it also could be an alternative title to the Bible: we are dead in our trespasses, but through Jesus we are brought back to life, not as zombies of course but to a better life in which we'll never die again. Yesterday my mother-in-law, Stephanie, called to share with me an Easter story:

She and my father-in-law, Michael, had been away on a retreat for a few days, where they received a call saying that his mother (91, suffering from diabetes and Alzheimer's), Grandma Martha, had been sick and unable to keep down any food or drink since Wednesday. They went to see her upon their return home on Sunday. They expected that she would be near death, and she looked it -- "like Lazarus in the tomb," Stephanie said. Stephanie made a little liquid meal for Grandma Martha of peppermint tea and pureed spinach in chicken broth, with some natural supplements. Grandma Martha was able to eat these and by the end of the evening she had dramatically improved. Not only was she keeping down these fluids, she was making jokes and blowing kisses! Stephanie and Michael are elated.

It seems to be no accident that Grandma Martha's recovery happened on Easter Sunday.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Knowing God's will / Good Friday

I had never planned to have children. Then I met Michael. When we discussed children, he said, "God loves life." We talked about God telling his creatures to be fruitful and multiply. Suddenly it seemed so clear: God wanted me to have children -- I wanted to be fruitful, not barren -- and God would give me what I needed to be a good mother. The God who gives life to the dead, who gave babies to barren women (Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth) certainly could change my heart.

Then John came along, and then I felt angry at God for not keeping up his end of the bargain. (I know that this isn't theologically correct, but it's where I am still.) Arguably, he's done what I expected: John is a beautiful, happy child, so apparently I'm able to give him enough, with the help of God and other people. But it's been torturous! Not because of John -- I think it's God's grace that he is as easy as he is -- but because of my own brokenness. If I'm following God's will then why is it so excruciating?

I was discussing this with one of my sisters, who said it bothers her that I blame God for my own responsibility in choosing to have a child. She's got a good point: God didn't force me to do anything. And I am responsible for my false ideas about what motherhood would be like. We talked about how to know God's will. It's a hard question for me. I wonder how much following God's will means being the person he created me to be, and how much of that is who I am today vs. who I can become if I let him stretch me. Honestly, I think that having a baby was/is God's will for me, and that I need to accept how difficult it is as part of God's gift.

I didn't know it when I chose to have a child, but John is, in addition to a beautiful, sweet baby, God's little instrument of sanctification in my life. Nothing has humbled me like this experience. Nothing else has shown me how selfish I am. And I have no right to complain that this is excruciating. Not only is all discipline painful, but my true desire is to follow Jesus, wherever that takes me. Today, Good Friday, we remember how in his death on the cross, Jesus bore the excruciating pain of the weight of the sin of the world on his broken body. (Doesn't excruciating come from the word for cross, perhaps in Latin?) My own suffering pales in comparison but also shows me my need for a Savior more than ever. If following Jesus leads me through a few months of hell, so what? Eternal Easter awaits.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Why am I doing this?

I've told only a few people that I'm writing a blog. They've all asked, "Why?" I put off starting a blog because there is obviously no need for another one. But then I realized that I need to do it.

As John is getting slightly less dependent on me, I'm discovering a little time for myself. I find journaling helps me understand myself better, and some thoughts seem worth sharing because they are probably applicable to other people too. Someday I hope to write something to publish. That idea still triggers anxiety in me, though, so a blog is a low-pressure way to write publicly without fear. It's taking a baby step (a What About Bob?-ism . . . perhaps my favorite movie), and I am enjoying it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

We love because . . .

We love because He first loved us. For a while -- oh, years -- I've worried about how little love I have to give others -- apparently I haven't taken in huge amounts of God's love yet. Having PPD has been a wonderful opportunity to receive God's love through other people. I'm blown away by how family and friends have supported me through this dark time, weeks and months of having nothing of my own to give in return.

Why do people love me? My pastor says it's because they are loving me with Christ's love that they have received. I heard Marva Dawn (Christian writer) at a conference say that she asked her husband why he loves her, expecting him to point to her intelligence or other fine traits. Instead, he said, "Because you need it." It's humbling and freeing to be loved because I need it rather than because of what I do or have to offer.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Loving God, loving others

My son, John, slept through the night last night -- still a rare enough event to celebrate. This morning he woke up around six, and my husband (already awake) got him up. I lay in bed for a few minutes praying and listening to John cry. It hit me -- how could I pray while my husband was handling our crying son alone? It felt hypocritical -- and that if I really want to love God, then I'll love those who are close to me as well as I can. (Isn't this a 1 John thought?) To be really loving, I thought, I can at least see if there's anything I can do. So of course I got up -- couldn't lounge in bed any longer with that idea in my head!

Everything was fine. And now I'm aware of how I sometimes use "quiet time" as an escape from dealing with the people or situations God has put into my life. Prayer as a way of avoiding responsibility -- yikes.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Gently Led

Isaiah 40 says that the Lord leads his flock like a shepherd and gently leads those that are with young. After giving birth to my son and having such a difficult time with post-partum depression (PPD), I read these verses -- and was directed to them by friends. They meant it to comfort me, but I just felt angry at God. He calls this "gentle" leading?!

I don't know, though, what the harsh leading would be like -- I can choose to take it on faith that he IS leading me gently.

The URL for the blog is "He Gently Leads" b/c "gently led" was taken already.