Monday, August 3, 2009
Ah the ups and downs... I know we're meant to love the downs as much as the ups, but seriously, I don't think I've ever met anyone who does. Can I get a witness?!
One of the hardest things about going through a valley is that it obstructs your vision; maybe you can see the peak off in the distance, but the sun might be in your eyes, or the shadows might drape over it so it's partially hidden, you can't see what it looks like up there, or what lies beyond it... you certainly can't see how to get there.
When you cry, you literally can't see.
Pain forces you inside yourself. That can be helpful in some situations (especially if you're trying to escape something that you simply must face), but if it's not one of those situations... it just exacerbates our ingrained self-centeredness. "Whyyyyyyy meeeeeeeee?" we wail. Incessantly.
Or maybe that's just me. :)
I dragged my butt through a bit of a downer in the past couple of weeks, as you may have guessed. Things were uber-tight money-wise, and I was flummoxed about the whole thing. How could this be happening to us? Didn't Jesus promise that we only needed to ask, and that we would receive? Doesn't God constantly promise to provide for us, when we surrender to being His children? Weren't we good, obedient servants? Weren't we having conversations about God with those around us? Weren't we surrendering ourselves to Him as He asks us to? So... what's all this about? How come other people who don't do any of this stuff get the nice house, and enough money and and and...?
I spent a lot of time in prayer, begging Him for just a little bit of His presence, for a little answer, for a just a little sense that I wasn't talking to myself. My brain waved her naggy little finger at me, reminding me of some Scripture about how God hears all our prayers, and because He hears them, He answers them... but my heart cried out: "but, but... well then, why won't He say anything to me?"
God's (apparent) silence is one of the hardest things for me to cope with. He's told me to do some pretty difficult things in the past but, whenever I did them, I never felt like I was walking through the fire on my own. This time, the fire was drawing toward me, so close that I could feel my eyebrows singeing, but I couldn't feel God's cool breath on my shoulder. I was petrified.
Bren kept telling me that God loved me, and that He hadn't abandoned me. Huh, I thought. Easy for YOU to say. He keeps talking to YOU. Lucky &$@%#&)(!
No, Bren said. He's blessing you all over the place, but you're so busy whining to Him, talking at Him on your own terms, that you can't see it.
Then he pointed out how just that week, I had finally had tea with two cool ladies at church who I'd been eyeing for years at our church gathering. I had envied their connection on both a spiritual and a "normal" real world level. "Wow!" I had whispered to myself. "I wish I could have that."
Cut to Tuesday of that week: having tea with the two of them, cutting through the bullhonky small talk, and getting to the stuff that you can only get to that quickly with people who understand your spiritual underpinnings; I mean, I would normally never share the intricacies of my pain with people I had just met!
Organically, we talked about our struggles and our pain, shedding a tear, wiping it away with a piece of pumpkin bread (heehee!), and ending in the most precious gift: we grabbed each other's hands, bowed our heads, and started praying for each other. Every now and then, one of them would stroke the knuckles of my hand with her thumb, and I would choke up. I choke up even now at the memory. Sometimes it's the smallest things that get you through. I'll never forget that little thumb stroke.
"Oh, alright," I said. "But Bren, that's not what I was asking for!" As I said that, a little voice said, yes, but perhaps that's what I needed.
Then, that week, I got a precious email from a friend who has been examining her relationship with God in small part because (gasp!) of things I write on here. I cried. This was so much more rewarding than a paycheck. Then, wait for it, the next week, ANOTHER friend wrote me a similar email (she has no relation to the other friend) saying the same thing, how reading what I go through makes her wonder how she can get a piece of that peace. How humbling! How rewarding! How my heart still sings over it!
(And yes, of COURSE I wrote them back!)
And yet, STILL, every morning, I'd wake up thinking, "Yes, well, those things are irrelevant to the problem at hand. We need that check!"
I'd wake up and walk to the mailbox wondering why that check hadn't arrived yet.
Now, during these weeks, what I think was a phoebe, or maybe a mockingbird, had taken up residence outside our windows, singing the most drop-dead gorgeous song I've ever heard a bird sing.
A chirp here, and I would drop my spoon into my cereal bowl and look outside and listen.
A trill there, and I would tear myself away from Facebook (WHAT?!) to catch to his song.
He sang so loud, so proudly, never ceasing. His song would lift my spirits a tad, and I wondered, did He send me that little phoebe? To remind me that He hasn't left me? It comforted me for about a second before I told myself that I was mad and I needed to get back to work.
Then, then... oh, this is the longest build-up ever, but it's so worth it. What happened the next morning made me cry in my driveway! I wish I'd had my camera with me!
It was early. I had resolved NOT to check the mailbox on the way out to the gym. I walked around to the driver's side of the Jeep, and just as I was about to get in the car, I heard that sweet bird sing again. I looked up, and there he was, singing at me from the arm of the telephone arm. He was jumping up and down, almost frantically, up and down, spreading his wings as he did so, his little legs akimbo, singing at the top of his little lungs. I was so sure that he was looking directly at me. The sun was shining from behind the telephone pole, shooting solar flares at my eyes, and that's when I gasped... then cried. Because all these 6 years I've lived here, I had never noticed this:
It's a cross, people. A huge fiddlestickin' cross. Sure, maybe a Greek orthodox version. But there's no mistaking it. And it's right over our house. And, it stands facing our bedroom (to the left of the cross, right side of the house). The little bird was sitting on that arm closest to the camera, jumping nearly 3 feet into the air, and then falling back down. That cross has been there the whole time: every night I went to sleep, and every morning I woke up over the past 6 years. And I'd never even noticed. I'd never looked up.
I stood there in my driveway, in my ugly workout clothes, doing the ugly cry, gasping for air in between, licking the delicious, salty tears as they ran into the corners of my mouth.
You might scoff, might think it's a coincidence, might think I'm reading too much into things... but in that moment, and even now, I know with the same certainty that I know that I'm alive, that little message was meant for me. That was my Father reaching down and gently tugging at my shoulder, saying, Hey! I haven't forgotten you. In fact, I've been watching over you for so long, and you hadn't even noticed. Don't worry. I've got your back.
A few days later, we got the check. And then, we got another one. And then, yet another (unexpected but highly appreciated!) one.
(We also had wonderful friends who took care of us in the meantime, who bought us burgers and offered to write us checks and hugged us. We love you guys. You know who you are, and that meant a LOT.)
I think God wanted to really shake my attachment to money, and instead show me the kinds of things He's really interested in, the things He values -- relationship with fellow Christians (aka my new favourite, "Jesus freaks". I can just imagine the tshirts: I'm a freak for Jesus! I freak out for Jesus! hahahahaahaha), relationship with friends who are wondering, relationship with Him. Money is important, yes, but not to the point where it eclipses the real value of those person-to-person or person-to-Creator bonds. Getting those paychecks was not nearly as satisfying as cool-christian-chica tea time or getting those awesome emails or seeing that bird jumping up and down to get my attention.
I'm not saying that God will always answer your prayers exactly the way you want Him to. And I'm not saying that the next time I'm in a valley I won't be whining to Him about what we need (as if He doesn't know already!). What I *think* I'm trying to say is that the next time you're in pain, look up. Look outside of your valley. I'm pretty sure He'll be blessing you in ways you didn't think you wanted, but they might just be what you need.
p.s. and just in case you think I'm getting too serious, here's some phun with photobooth for ya:
at 1:07 PM