TRUSTING, EVEN IN THE DARK

The last few months have been a confusing, confuzzled configuration of one mess puddle after another. There are times when it feels like I walk out of one valley and fall into another that is deeper than the last.

So much of my life is unrecognizable compared to even six months ago. Everything has been turned upside down and I have been forced to branch out and learn things I never thought I would have to learn – and some I hoped to continue to avoid.

I have found myself in situations where a rather destructive behavior was planned, but the Lord intervened and I ended up with other plans/commitments during the time in question. There have been other times when I was so determined to go through with the destructive plans that I made sure I went through with it. I did not leave myself or my heart open to any other options or possibilities. However, these times ended up doing nothing more than making me look like a fool and feeling so much worse in the end.

I have:
raged at the heavens desperate for relief…
yelled at a friend in a desperate search for clearing of my confusion…
hardened my heart to the Spirit of God in defiance of His Sovereignty…
denied myself the release of the feelings through the tears I have not allowed to flow…
isolated myself from those who would speak the ugly truth to me in the moments when I needed it the most…

But most of all, through all of this, my stubbornness and hardheadedness have cost me the peace I could have been enjoying all along if I had only allowed God to be God rather than blocking Him at every turn because life was not going how I felt it should go.

Despite all of the jumble of junk and mess that have been trudged through, there have been moments of elation, moments of surprise, and moments of freedom. The truth is not as frightening as it once was and I have found a strength within I did not know I had. I have also been blessed with a friend who is not afraid to speak the truth to me in bold living color when it is needed – and whether I feel it is needed or not.

When the storm rages and the darkness envelops my heart, I must remember to fight against the darkness, but not fight against the One who anchors my soul throughout the storm. Even though I cannot see His hand and I do not have a clue where He is going with my life, He is still there, He knows every pain in my heart, and He understands every tear I cry. He knows the beginning from the end and He will carry me when I lack the strength to even stand. He can be trusted for He is faithful.

Even in the darkest of times, the deepest depressions, and the most difficult circumstances, He continues to be faithful. He can be trusted, even in the darkness of the heart.

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The Heart of the Problem

A little over two months ago, my PC was attacked by a very nasty virus that inflicted irreparable damage to every document that was saved and not open at the time of the infection. Many years’ worth of writing was just gone. I could see the file name, but not open them. Countless ideas that had been jotted down and saved for future expansion and elaboration were gone. Hundreds of poems (many of which were not very good at all, but they had a line or two that could be used in another work) were gone. In one brief moment, all of my words seemed to just disappear, stolen away. Unfortunately, this was just beginning of many more trying times and various losses that were to ensue over the months that followed, however, I never realized how profound of an effect the loss of my writing would have on my heart.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, I attributed the heaviness and emptiness of my heart to being just a side-effect of all the other stuff that was unfolding in my life. No matter what I did or how hard I prayed, I just couldn’t seem to shake a rather specific feeling of emptiness that I just could not explain.

The other day, I was reading a wonderful novel my cousin wrote (Steal The North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom) and happened to read the acknowledgment in the back. In this, she references a tragic event in her life when a fire had taken place and she thanked the fireman who ran back to save her laptop. In this statement, she referred to herself as a “frantic” writer and it was at that moment that the light came on. The emptiness I had been trying to pray through, or pray away, was a subconscious mourning of the loss of my heart, the loss of my writing. A poetic heart with no poetry is like a heart with no purpose or peace.

I have often felt that my heart was more poetic in nature, but I never realized the depths of that truth and how tied to those words my heart really is. It is almost as if I can barely breathe without them. This thought, however, is rather astonishing considering how long it has been since I have written anything, even a sentence – and even longer since I have written any poetry (over a year…).

In an ironic turn of events, I was cleaning my desk the other day. Now, before you think I just left the sentence hanging around and unfinished, I must admit that cleaning my desk can be a challenge (If I am not careful, my desk gets as cluttered as my mind!). However, I was cleaning my desk on an act of faith that situations would be restored or renewed and that my desk would be needed again (the story in the Bible of the two farmers who prayed for rain, but only one prepared his fields in faith that God would send the rain). During this wonderful cleaning moment (not really….), I noticed a manila envelope in the corner with a stack of paper beside it. It is not like me to have a stack of paper standing up without it being in a clip or envelope or something.

I carefully remove both the stack and the envelope and I could not believe what I had found.

I had found my heart!

I found the manuscript (both the edited version and unedited version) of a book of poetry I had assembled for a completion a couple of years ago. All of my “best” works were there – in their finished form! In the envelope, I found the rough drafts, pieces in progress, thoughts/ideas for new works, and my notes regarding the format/setup of the “book” as well as the pieces I had elected to not include. While it was not everything, it was the most important parts – the pieces that I worked the hardest on, invested much of my heart into, and the ones that spoke the loudest to the depths of my being.

Up until this point, I had no idea that just the thought of losing my poetry (let alone the reality of its loss) would have such a devastating effect on me, that the words had that profound an impact on my heart and mind – almost as if they were a part of my very soul.

During these past few trying months, my heart has leaned heavily on Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God…”) and I had remained in Psalms on a basically daily basis searching for answers or something to fill the emptiness inside. The night after I found the manuscript, I just opened my Bible randomly and found myself in Jeremiah…29:11-13, to be specific. I was totally floored – again! The thought that there could be a plan through all of this, a reason, some purpose – some hope– was rather shocking. Hope had been in rather short supply in my heart despite the knowledge in my head that there is always hope so long as we have Jesus.

In re-reading this passage, I found that I love both the way the KJV is written as well as the NIV. Both give such a unique perspective and, in my opinion, complement each other very well. With your indulgence, this is how my heart reads it.

I know the thoughts I think toward you, the plans I have for you, what I have in mind for you.
Thoughts of peace, not of evil.
Thoughts to prosper you, no to harm you.
Thoughts for well-being, not for bad things.
Plans to give you a future and a hope,
An end and an expectation,
A hope and a future.
You will call upon me, come to me, pray to me –and I will hear you,
I will heed you,
I will listen to you.
When you search with all your heart, you will find me.

During this experience, I found that all the searching, seeking, crying out, and pleading don’t always end in His miraculous majestic arrival at the foot of the bed to announce to the universe He is here, but rather, when we are trying, searching desperately to find Him, He finds us.

He comes to us in ways that can be so subtle, so still, so quiet that if we are not looking for Him in that way, we will miss it altogether, but, thankfully, this does not negate or minimize His arrival! While we would all love the majestic fanfare announcing His intervention in a situation, sometimes He arrives in a manila envelope and a random stack of uncontained paper that He had been saving for just the right time – a time when I was broken, I had stopped fighting the emptiness, and given up all the hope I dared to.

It was in the moment that He quietly stood beside me and returned to me what I had given up as lost – He returned my heart and my hope.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

I received a message from a friend this morning and something she said in it really started my brain whirling, starting some serious soul searching. The summation I have come to is this: What if the true meaning/reason behind my actions is to paint an exterior portrait of what it is expected from a certain group so that the ugliness of the reality within is covered up? What if all the trappings and sayings and posts and actions are directed in a certain fashion as to detract from what the truth really is on the inside? And what if the answer to that question is an affirmative answer? What then??? (Ok, I know that is actually FOUR questions, but that is just how my mind works sometimes.)

If the answer is indeed affirmative, so many more questions arise – and the heart gets a little heavier. Do I then become branded a hypocrite? Obviously, there is a heart issue that needs to be addressed, but what if the reality is too much for the heart to take? What if the truth is ugly enough that a mask is worn to cover it up, even from oneself? Perhaps, the mask has been worn for so long that it has been forgotten and the heart thinks that this is the reality…

Even more disturbing is this thought…. What if that which we are trying to hide WITH (or within) is the very thing we are trying to hide FROM?

As with many areas of life, I must sit and be still for a moment. I must evaluate my heart and determine if my actions, posts, words, and behaviors are for real or for show? Are a few extra thrown in to make it look like I am a “stronger” Christian than what I really am? Do I write about Him because it is something my soul must do or because it is expected? Are my words and actions regarding Him really for Him? (Please do not misunderstand. I know fully where my faith lies. I know who is God (and it’s not me). My faith in Jesus remains the same (the way, the truth, and the life).)

If we can find the courage to face the reality, to pull back the mask, to truly look into the mirror which reflects our own souls, we must. What we are to do with that reality is an individual journey, but it is one that begins at the foot of the cross.

Be kind to each other.
Be accepting of each other.
Love each other unconditionally.

How many hurting hearts could we touch with our words if we would season them with grace? May we not be the cause of someone wearing a mask to hide from condemnation or be bitter in our words so that hearts are turned away.

SWEET MEDITATION – a good way to battle depression

As I was reading my Bible the other night, I landed in Psalms (which is normal for me).  I was reading along and found a familiar passage I had read many times before, but, this time, I saw something in it that I don’t believe I noticed before.  I found the word “sweet” written in a group of verses talking about singing and praising.

Most of the time in my writing, I use the NIV for Scripture as it is easy to read and understand.  However, there are some passages in which the beauty of the King James Version cannot be matched.  This is one of those passages – a passage where the word choice paints a richer picture that the heart seem to connect with just a bit more.

Psalm 104:33-34  (KJV)

33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.

34 My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.

“I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live…”
There is no disclaimer here. There is no mention of situation in which we are not to praise Him.  It does not say that I will sing to the Lord on days when I feel great.  Nothing is mentioned of only singing when the weather is great or things are going well.  It simply states that “I WILL sing unto the Lord as long as I live…”

“…I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.”
As long as there is breath in my lungs and my heart continues to beat, I am to praise Him. So long as my sanity remains (which is questionable some days), I am to praise Him.  Regardless of whether or not my “being” is what I want it to be, how I want it to be, or how I think I should feel in my “being,” I am still to sing praises to my God.

“My meditation of him shall be sweet…”
MY meditation of Him shall be sweet.  Oh how I love that line!  While I certainly want the Lord to be pleased with my thoughts toward Him (which is how the NIV translates that line) and the way in which I praise Him, my meditations of Him don’t just affect Him, they affect me as well.  They should be pleasing to my soul.  They should be beneficial to my mind.  They should be healing to my heart.  MY meditation of Him WILL be sweet – and it is because of Him.

“…I will be glad in the Lord.”
Such a simple statement with such wide reaching effect – and it is a choice.  We must make the choice every day to be glad in the Lord regardless of what life throws our way.  We must be determined.  We must make up our minds to be glad in Him.

We must choose to sing to Him.

We must choose to sing praises to Him as long as we possess the physical/mental ability to do so.

We must choose to be glad in the Lord.

With the choice made, the issue decided, and determination set, our meditation of Him truly will be sweet.  It is at that point that we can begin to understand more fully just how deeply the river of His heart flows, a river that flows with love beyond description, joy beyond belief, and peace beyond comprehension.

10 LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE DARKNESS

While going through several recent bouts with depression, I attempted to try to not only put into words the stuff going through my head, especially as the darkness begins to subside and light begins to creep back in, but I also wanted to see if there was anything I could learn from this time…find some purpose in it…find something that can be carried into the next dark time…find something to cling to. I know that there is a purpose for everything under Heaven, so surely He has a reason for these. Perhaps He will use these experiences in the future, but perhaps there is a more personal lesson that can be learned.

1. It is dark….some days are darker than dark – but even in the darkest of moments, He still sees. The darkness within does not block out the view of the Almighty.
(“Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:12)

2. It hurts… some days the pains is almost unbearable, although there is often no explanation for it, but the Father knows. Every tear we have ever cried has been seen, understood, and known.
(“Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” Psalm 56:8)

3. Everything appears to be upside down and the top cannot be found. At times, it is as if you are being pulled down a spiral and there is no way to know which way is up or which way is down. It is a swirling sea of pain and darkness. But, despite all of this, He is still there, He is still holding on, and He will not let us go.
(“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b)

4. It seems to last FOREVER — and F…O…R…E…V…E…R… is no joke when you are drowning in darkness.

5. God doesn’t let the darkness remain all-consuming. He sends a ray of help at the darkest point. BUT, it is in His time and not ours, which is a tough one to swallow. Perhaps this is why I always felt drawn to lighthouses. They symbolize hope in the midst of raging storms and help to guide sailors away from the unseen ragged rocks that would dash them to pieces. He truly is our Lighthouse as He is the One who gives light in the dark, that protects us from what would crush us, and that guides us safely home.
(“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33:27a)

6. You are NEVER alone or unloved in the darkness, even though it may totally feel that way.
(“The LORD appeared to us in the past,[a] saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness…’” Jeremiah 31:3)
(“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2)

7. Nothing seems to matter, even though everything really does – and even more so.

8. Feelings, while very frightening, are allowed and need to be released/expressed during this time. Freedom comes from expressing some of the feelings. It is almost as if that, by putting words to the feelings, they are disarmed and lose some of power.
(“The tongue has the power of life and death…” Proverbs 18:21a)
(“My tears have been my food day and night… 4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. 5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:3 – 5)

9. It will end – the light will break through. Just be patient and remember to keep your head up despite the drowning sensation.
(“14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains.”
“20 He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.”,
“29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea[b] were hushed. 30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.” Psalm 107:14a, 20, 29-30)

10. You will be stronger for having survived the storm.
(“2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:2-3a)

The biggest challenge for me, but one of the most crucial one, is to remember to just be still and to hold on. Even though I cannot see what is around me or where I am reaching, I must trust that when I reach out to Him, He will find me. When I grasp hold of even just the hem of His garment, He will hold onto me and will not let me go.

All that is expected of me during these times is to trust His heart and, most importantly, be STILL and KNOW that He is God.

He is in control even when the darkness surrounds and obscures all vision.
He is in control when everything around me seems to be crumbing to pieces.
He is in control in the mist of the chaos.
He is in present,
He understands, and
He will have mercy.

They dawn will break, morning will come, and He will exchange our tears for His healing, our pain for His peace, and our darkness for His light.

*All Scripture quoted is from the NIV.

My Shepherd

I know that I have posted this once before, but I hope you will indulge a brief reflection on a cherished passage. Given events in my life and heart, my soul needed a reminder of this simple truth – a reminder that He IS my Shepherd.

While all that is within me is longing for those still, quiet waters and the lush green pastures of rest, I trust my Shepherd and know that this path is for a reason, that there is always a purpose, and that He is eternally faithful. He has not forgotten me, forsaken me, or abandoned me.

I know that, even when the darkness seems to hide me, the night will shine like the day around me for the darkness is as light to Him. There is no where I can go where He cannot find me and no where I can run that He is not already there. He is My Shepherd.

***
My Shepherd

I – He WILL for He IS
Yahweh Ro’I, the Lord my Shepherd.
He supplies all that I need for He is Yahweh Jireh.

I will lie down and rest where
the meadows are sweet.
He will bring me to the still and restful waters,
beside peaceful streams of quiet waters,
so that my soul can rest.
He is Yahweh Mekaddesh.

He will restore my soul,
refresh my life,
and renew my strength.
He is Yahweh Rafae.

He will lead me in the paths that are right –
He is Yahweh Tsidkenu.

***
II – You ARE and You WILL

During the apprehensive journeys of life,
through the deep, sunless, darkest valley,
yes, even when I come to the valley of death,
I do not have to fear evil,
nor have I cause to dread it,
for You are always with me
and remain close beside me.
You are Yahweh Shammah.

Your will protect me and guide
as a father to His children.
You are such a comfort to me
and the rock on which I depend for strength.
You are my Abba.

***
III – You WILL, You DO, You ARE

You will care for me
and provide for me,
oh Yahweh Sabaoth,
Even when my enemies are near
Or are standing righting before me.
You pour Your love and joy over my life so that
my cup of blessing overflows
with the abundance and fullness of You.
You are Yahweh Shalom.

Your mercy, Your unfailing love
will follow me and pursue me
so long as I live.
You will be always be
the place my heart will call home.
You are my Adonai.

Baruch HaShem Adonai, Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

The Hidden Places

While in the process of moving lately, I came across a devotional I read a few years ago that had some interesting ideas. It was about finding God in different placed, hidden places, and not just in finding Him as the source of our creation, salvation, or being. It was about really, truly, finding HIM. I walked out of my office the other day and saw that this book was just sitting on a box. I don’t even remember putting it there, but it was there all the same.

With my house in disarray due to the move and the fact that unpacking has to take a backseat so many other things that are of higher priority and more importance, I found the book even more ironic. One of the first images that popped into my head was all the places in this house we have been so blessed with that the Lord could “hide.” But then the poet within began to think of all the places within me that He could “hide” and that really caught my attention.

How often do we go through our day-to-day lives and overlook so many of the miracles that are not only around us but within us as well? I know that I am personally guilty of this more often than I can say I am not. Yes, I do so appreciate a beautiful sunrise and am enjoying watching spring finally arrive. However, do I appreciate the beauty He has created within me and the blessings He has poured over my heart, my mind, my soul, and my life just as much?

After having come through such a long season of uncertainty, a season of dependence on others, and a season of waiting for the Lord to move in my life, I now am blessed with the peace, the space, and the opportunity to take the time to ponder on these things. I am sitting here in the peace and space of my new office and the words, which felt to be so far away for so long, finally seem to flow.

While the season of waiting seem to go on for so long and the answers never seemed to come, now that it is over, I can look back and see His hand in it. I can see how He was breaking down the things that did not serve to honor Him, allowing me time to come to the point where I would yield to His timing and not force my own, to come to the point that I acknowledged the fact that His plans for me where infinitely higher than the dreams I had for myself. Even when the Lord seemed to be so very far away, He was still there – waiting for me to find Him in the midst of my waiting, in that hidden place.

Regardless of what season in life you are going through right now, God can be found in the middle of it all. Even when depression seems to reign and you can’t seem to find the light of day, He is there. When chaos seems to have control and screaming into the darkness comes to no avail, He is there. Through the darkest night, the deepest sadness, the wildest storm, He is there.

The challenge is to not only look for God within His creation and to appreciate the beauty with which He surrounds us, but to also look for Him within, to find His hidden places within us. As I search for Him there, I know that I will continue to grow in the knowledge that He is my hiding place. As we hide our hearts within Him, He hides His within us – and He waits ever so patiently for us to find Him there.