Disappointments and Dead Ends

I recently had a friend tell me that he knows he is making bad decisions. He knows but he doesn’t want to stop because the other option is to be in pain. What he meant, of course, was that he is making decisions to avoid the pain in which he is living.

I get it. Do I ever get it.

Who among us wouldn’t want to NOT feel the pain? There are all manner of ways to numb and avoid. Of course, we are all familiar with the most famous: drugs, alcohol, food, sex. Maybe we feel confident that we wouldn’t use any of those vices to numb, and yet…

I’ve been mulling this over since the conversation. I’m sad for my friend because I believe he is missing out on some incredibly valuable treasures that are only found by walking intentionally through the pain. But, I’m also sad for myself because I am in a season of pain and I want to not be here.

Not to change the subject, but I have noticed that when working out, I often cry. I’ve been pondering this habit lately because it honestly feels involuntary. Hot yoga-tears. Spin-tears. Dance-tears. Y’all, how ridiculous is that?!  Turns out it isn’t so ridiculous after all. I googled.

I think part of this phenomenon of tears mingling with my sweat is because it is freaking hard work. It is uncomfortable. It hurts. And I’d rather not. But, I believe, on the other side of the pain, is life, as in “healthier, joyful, confident, better, more whole, abundant life”. And I want that. I want the breakthrough. I want to feel stronger, more energetic, more confident, but to get there, I have to intentionally face the pain that could so easily keep me from the life I want. I could let the fear of temporary discomfort keep me from long-lasting benefits.

And the pain of life is the same. Disappointments, wounds, dead ends. They hurt. Like hell. We want to keep ourselves from having to feel the weight of those hurts. I want to insulate myself so I don’t ever have to FEEL the pain of a brokenhearted or the strain of having to figure out obstacles that I didn’t ever think I’d have to figure out. I could numb the pain; I could avoid the reality of my circumstances. But the truth is, I believe there is life on the other side. If I want to find that life, that more whole version of myself, I have to actually walk THROUGH the pain to get to the other side of it.

And here’s the kicker, for me. Our numbing devices never affect only us. In our vices, there are always others involved, even if we want to believe we are only hurting ourselves. The truth is, if we are avoiding our pain, all we are doing is dragging other people into it with us. Drunkenness, getting high, sleeping around, spending uncontrollably, cutting ourselves off from community. There are always other casualties. Why would we want to do that to our kids, our friends, even a random stranger?

I’m not immune from the temptation to numb. I get it. I find myself fighting that temptation constantly and often failing. But I believe there is life on the other side of that pain. I want the treasures to be yours. I want the treasures to be mine. But, we have to dig in. We can’t run from the darkness if we want to find the diamonds. They are there. Buried deep in the caverns of disappointments and dead ends.

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—
    secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,
    the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.

Isaiah 45:3 (NLT)

Framework:2019

Believe it or not, I chose a word and verse for 2019 back in November of 2018. Never mind that I am just now writing it down here. As you may have picked up, 2018 was a skydiving kind of experience. Well, at least, as I imagine a skydiving kind of experience gone wrong. I have not ever jumped out of a plane, nor do I plan to.

Here’s how I imagine it to be: excitement, anticipation as you make your plans, go through the training, board the plane and climb into the skies. Complete fear courses through your veins as you find it is your turn to jump. You make your way to the door cautiously and then, because you can’t bring yourself to throw yourself out of a perfectly good plane, you tell the instructor to push. Exhilaration. Overwhelming joy consumes you as you soar through the air. It is better than you ever imagined. But then, your chute won’t open. Panic sets in just long enough to be the worst thing you have ever experienced. Then, thud. It’s over. You are over.

Super dramatic, huh? I know. It’s overkill. Still, 2018 felt much like that. Somehow I survived and was taken into the ICU of my community. Friends kept breathing life back into me. Praise God.

If you remember, my word for 2018 was “cultivate”. A funny choice for a perpetual plant-killer. Nonetheless, cultivate I did. And kill all the things, I did. Or so I thought.

You can imagine how well receive it was when the Lord started whispering my 2019 word to me.

Suddenly.

My initial reaction was, “Excuse me? You think I’m going to believe you for “suddenly” when the slow work of cultivate yielded nothing but heartache? You are out of your sovereign mind.”

He stopped whispering and instead went with he billboard route. Suddenly was literally popping up everywhere. Ev.Er.Y.WHERE.

And about that time, the literal plants in my home, the ones I was certain were goners, started springing to life. I hadn’t killed them. I’d done everything I knew to do and when I thought my efforts were in vain, they SUDDENLY yielded results. So, suddenly it is. I don’t know what will happen with the rest of this year, but I do know that places of my soul that I was certain had died in 2018 have been springing back to life.

And my verse? Well this one came much more quietly that my verses of the past. It is Psalm 112:7.

She is not afraid of bad news;
her heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.

So there you have it. A very tardy post about the framework set for 2019. My eyes are open, watching for the suddenlies and my heart is firm, knowing that even when life hurts, the Lord is trustworthy.

Watermarks: 2018

It is May 2019 and I have just sat down to write my reflection of 2018. Though we are not quite halfway through this year, the last year feels like a completely different era. One which, I quite frankly, would be happy to not remember aside from the very unavoidable reality that it has shaped who I am becoming. This is true of every memory, of course, but it lays particularly heavy on the memory of 2018.

It would be easy to just skip over this post and my 2019 Framework post since it is so late in coming. However, if only for the sake of tracing the work of God for myself, it seems valuable. Better late than never. I’m tempted to tell more of the story since we are months removed from the events of 2018, but I won’t. I will reserve this post for reflection on the past. The present and future are reserved for another time.

As in past years, 2018 was given a framework:  a word and verse to shape my perspective throughout the year.  My word was “CULTIVATE” and my verse, Psalm 37:23-24.

I entered the year with a hopeful bewilderment over the word CULTIVATE. I am known to some (mostly the unkindly realistic voices in my head) as the Botanical Butcher, mass murderer of all plant-life. Still, I knew this was the framework through which I would observe and engage in 2018.  And Psalm 37!  He delights in every detail! He directs my steps! What a promise!

I would surely see life emerge from the dust in 2018. I was sure of it. And I was so very right and so very wrong.

The first half of 2018 was delightful. I was settled into my new teaching job and experiencing such joy and inspiration in the classroom. I was settled into community and watching the boundaries of that community expand. Cultivation was happening intentionally. It did not come without struggle, but was so rooted in joy that the struggle felt more than worth it. Opportunity to invest in others and myself abounded. People spoke life over me. Doors opened for me to write and lead and teach.

Yes.

I had told the Lord that I would say yes to every opportunity to grow in my writing and teaching. I was doing the work, cultivating the seeds.

Then a man entered the picture. He seemed to be the fulfillment of long-awaited promises and recently refreshed hope. He felt like a best friend. And I continued to cultivate. I did my best to invest in that relationship with the same intention as the other opportunities of life. And he supported me in my other pursuits. He wanted to know what I know, to learn from and with me. And I wanted to learn from him, from his story, his life, his faith. There were struggles that concerned me but I was listening to The Lord and hearing Him more clearly than ever. Plus, He delights in every detail. He directs our steps. I believed. I trusted. I invested.

Much of the cultivation of 2018 led to visible fruit. Journeying with the women of my church through The Exodus Gospel was by far the highlight of 2018. It was hard work. There was dirt under my nails and blisters on my hands from the tilling and planting and patiently tending. And it bore the sweetest fruit of new friendships, communal growth, and Kingdom impact.

Then there was the cultivation that did not produce, despite the promising beginnings. The man left. From words of devotion to complete disregard in a matter of moments. I was heartbroken. This is the first romantic heartbreak for me, and it is debilitating. Without going into too much detail, the likes of which are reserved for those who walked with me through it, the second half of 2018 was marked by pain. Every glimpse of healing was bowled over by storms grief, which came barreling through without notice, destroying again and again the garden I’d so carefully cultivated.

Long story short, cultivation did not yield the fruit I’d expected. The life I was so sure I’d see rising from the dust instead seemed to wither away. The Botanical Butcher at her finest. Of course, things are not always as they seem. There may be a seed sleeping beneath the surface waiting to spring forth in new life in the right season. We shall see.

Oh, and it turns out that the promise of Psalm 37:23-24 I would be resting in was not the delight or direction, but rather the determined grip of a God who holds onto our hands when we stumble.

(Stay tuned for Framework:2019. Surely it shall be posted before the year is halfway gone.)