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.

RUNNING IN THE LIGHT

In the quiet, before what is really occurring is truly known, the veil of darkness is lifted. Ever so slowly and gently, the warmth of the sun begins to creep into the cracks and crevices, into the corners and closets, driving away shadows along its way. The dark has left behind a weariness that is felt within the depths of the soul and cuts to the very center of the heart, the pain so overwhelming that the beginnings of the dawn are not even noticed. But the Father knows.

Ever gentle, ever faithful, and ever kind, the Father reaches down and begins to bandage the wounds left behind. He lovingly wipes away each tear and cherishes what each individual tear represents. As the intensity of the pain eases, He gently turns the face that is cradled in His hands toward the sun. The warmth shining in is so comforting, so soothing. The warmth brings with it a sense of calm and a peace that runs deep into the wounded places. Although wounded and weary, restoration is coming, peace is returning, and healing has begun.

Easing out of the corner and beginning to struggle to stand, a steady hand is offered, but this hand is unlike any other. This hand radiates power. This hand carries within it a boundless unfathomable love. This hand bears scars and written with in the scars, I find my name. I find my name carved into His hand! Within His hands, I find my healing, but it is a healing that is only found within scars left behind by nails.

Holding onto His hand, I rise. Holding onto Him, I find solid ground beneath my feet and the strength in which to stand. Focusing on Him, I find the assurance that all which remains broken will be healed, that strength will be renewed.

With one glance at the smile on His face, my soul begins to take flight. With wings like eagles, my heart begins to soar. Caught up in the strength of His hands, I find the courage to run once again. In His light alone does that which once was weary and broken become renewed and restored. Carried on by His everlasting arms, I run once again, for I am running in His light.

YET AGAIN

Well, here I am – again. A blank page before me (again), thousands of thoughts and feelings flying through my head (again), and the cursor sits there blinking at me (again) as if impatiently beckoning me to do something, anything (again).

As I sit here and watch the blinking, I have to question just how long it has been since I have sat here like this? Better yet, I must also question myself:

• Why I am here, yet AGAIN?

• How long have I kept what was supposed to be spoken in black and white muzzled in silence, stifled as if time would collapse if I let it go?

• Why have I allowed so much to interfere, to come between, to cause me to close the blank page and file it away?

Once AGAIN, I find my focus re-directed by the mere blink of a cursor on a blank page… I should not have allowed this, yet AGAIN. I have missed out on the opportunity to listen to my Father’s heart. It should not be so. I know to do better than this…

I must be mindful, ever conscious, of my need to pause beside the River of His Heart at some point each day, to take the time to spend a moment with Him, to allow Him to speak and not just listen to my rambling. I must stop being too focused to be “distracted” or “interrupted” by taking time to just sit with Him.

After all, a loss of joy, a loss of peace, and deteriorating health are not worth the results achieved by squeezing one more thing into an already full day in the hope of accomplishing one more task rather than to just pause for a moment and have a cup of coffee with my Lord.

Too much Martha and not enough Mary will find us lying broken in His green pastures, too weak to reach His still waters, and too empty to even find the table that He has prepared before us. Thankfully, our Father’s love and mercy is far more stubborn than we – and He loves us far too much to leave us in the condition we are in when we finally throw ourselves at His feet.

Grace upon grace is ours, free for the taking – yet again.

This Too Shall Pass

Once again, the blank, white screen is glaring off the monitor. It is just waiting for thoughts and inspiration to flow and land upon it in some cohesive structure and meaning. How long does it have to wait before this will actually happen…? This has happened many times over during the past week or so – the blank page screaming to be worked with, written upon, given meaning rather than deletion.

When fatigue, weariness, dryness, and disappointment loom larger than life, where do the words come from then? How can they find their way from the depths of the heart and out into open light to be given life and purpose? Does the river still flow even then?

In these moments, thoughts from Ecclesiastes come to mind reminding the heart that there is nothing new under the sun. These feelings and these circumstances have all taken place before in other times and other locations – and they will occur again in the future. The reminder of the eternal presence of the Almighty God is brought to the front as well.

The answer to the painful questions of a soul seeking water, peace, and green pastures is a resounding YES!!! The river will always flow – for it originates within the very heart of God Himself. The words will always be there for they too are His alone. Fatigue and weariness? While difficult to push through, these are just temporary and will pass. Dryness and disappointment as well are just stages in life that will soon be gone and replaced by refreshing streams and joy.

When understanding does not envelope the mind and more questions remain then answers, God is still there. When the soul longs for the living springs of water, but yet seems to be stuck in the valley, God is still there. Regardless of the feelings of the heart, moods of the mind, or stirrings in the soul, the Almighty God, the Everlasting One, The Eternal God is still there – and always will be. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He will uphold us with His everlasting arms and will carry us through until we have the strength to stand on our own once again.

Take heart weary mind, take comfort weary soul, find joy disappointed heart. Remember always that “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms….” Deuteronomy 33:27

Choose Joy

I will be honest with you, this past week has not been one that I am proud of, that I want to cherish in my memory, or that I care to ever repeat. It has been a long, dark week full of trials, choices, decisions, mistakes, and mess. It has been a week where my focus has been on the circumstances and not my Creator, where my heart has fallen into my hands and, rather than place it into His, I think I stuffed it in my pocket thinking I could do something about it myself.

So, as I sit before this blank page that is slowly filling with letters that will become words, I must ask myself what comes next. Where do I go from here? I have been here so many times before…just sitting in the crumbled ruins of plans I made for myself, of dreams I allowed to flourish without consulting His will for my life. One would think I would learn eventually how to avoid coming here. However, one thing I do know is this – even when I find myself here once again, I find my Lord here as well. His light envelopes my darkness, His love pierces through to my heart, His peace rains down on my spirit. He finds me in this place, takes me by the hand, and gently leads me out once more. My Shepherd – my Yahweh Roi – leads me back to His side, carries me when I am injured, and loves me through my pain.

Take courage, fellow travelers on the River. Even when no one else is aware of your pain, when no one else sees the tears, when you lack the courage to even ask for prayer, the Father knows – He sees the tears and He will lift you up again. I know this to be true for He has done this for me countless times. Sometimes, He even uses this once blank page to minister to my heart.

Here is my offering, my “solution” for the dark times. While this may be a little repetitive-appearing in its form, it emphasizes the need to continuously make the choice for joy regardless of all else. It is, after all, a choice…

Choose joy

When darkness surrounds
-Choose joy
When condemnation abounds
-Choose joy
When told you’ll never make it
-Choose joy
When told to just forsake it
-Choose joy

When the sun shines brighter than before
-Choose joy
When your heart sings like never before
-Choose joy
When all appears to be going right
-Choose joy
When you hear His song in the night
-Choose joy

Regardless of circumstance
-Choose joy
Regardless of whether or not you dance
-Choose joy
It matters not how you truly feel
-Choose joy
At times we must decide to choose what is real
-Choose joy

Just remember that, as the saying goes, just because the door is shut doesn’t mean we shouldn’t praise Him in the hallway!

His grace is sufficient,
His love is boundless,
His mercy is timeless,
His peace is beyond understanding,
His joy is our strength!

I challenge you to choose joy!!

Dare to Express

I was taught from a young age to never let anyone see you cry, never wear your heart on your sleeve, always keep up a good front, and don’t ever let the heart open too far. While most of these were verbal instructions I received (some of them repeatedly), some were driven home by example. I was always the shortest in the class and some of the boys thought they could pick on me. As far as I remember, I kept a good face on. I did as I was instructed to do and never let them know it bothered me – even though it did. I have continued to use this philosophy in life and consequently have kept most people away at least at arm’s length, if not further.

There are very few people I have ever let in far enough to know how I truly feel – if I even allowed myself to know. What a hollow and lonely existence it has been at times – and it is all of my own doing. But I must ask myself this one hard question: is living my life in this way useful to God? This question, of course, grows into more pointed questions (I happen to love questions…). Does this glorify Him in anyway? How can I be able to reach out to anyone with His love when I can’t even reach out myself?

Once answered, all of these questions then end in one ultimate question. In light of this thought, how then shall I live?

That is, of course, a question that will have different answers for all of us as we all have a different purpose and different challenges.

One of the biggest – and most recent – things I have learned in attempting to answer this question is that living a life that is closed off and inexpressive leads to friendships and relationships that are the same way. If you don’t share how you feel about someone, why should they be inclined to? Yes, it would always be wonderful for someone else to take the initiative, but there are times when we must take that leap of faith, take that step to come out of the protective surroundings of the mask, and say simply, “I appreciate you” or “I am glad you’re my friend” or “I am grateful that God brought you into my life.” One might even be so brave to risk saying, “I love you.”

Friends are a gift from the Father. They were placed here to enrich our lives, strengthen our hearts, walk through life with us – at least pieces of it as His plan would have it – and help us to know Him more.

Tomorrow is never promised. Accidents happen and lives change in an instant. Who is to know what may happen next…. I know for me, I never want to attend another funeral with the regret in my heart that I never told that person how much they meant to me, that I never told them I loved them, that I appreciated them, that they were special to me. Trusting the Father to pass on that message to them is not good enough – and it is not His job. We must tell them while they are here. Honestly, though, is there such a thing as being told you are appreciated or loved too often?

The Word says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and I completely agree. However, we should dare to show it more, speak it more, live it more. If you love someone, you should know their heart – and allow them to know yours.

Dare to be bold, dare to express, dare to live with no regrets – and dare to never go to another funeral with a list of things you wish you had said. Say them now while you still have the gift of today!!!

An Adventure On The River

It is a beautiful day. The sun is shining, the sky is clear, the water is fantastic, and you are in a canoe floating down the river. Bends in the river are successfully navigated and the peaceful journey continues on. For hours, all is well, calm, and beautiful – until you hear the crashing water… Dead-man’s curve is up ahead, but the river appears to be too low to be able to go around it. No other options appear to be available, and off you go – and then out you go…. The canoe is tipped over when the curve is missed because the current is too strong. Head first you fall in – the current within the river is so strong. However, a funny thing happens on the way into the water… You fall in head first, but it is your knee that hits the river bottom (and very hard, too). The surface finally re-appears, but the current is overpowering. Several more times you go under and are pulled along where you did not want to go. Fighting this current it is not something that can be easily done. When you finally stop and find a rock you can hold onto to stop yourself from going further downstream, the current is still too strong to let you stand up. Thankfully, a friend is nearby who risks his own safety (and dryness) by walking into the river to give you a hand up. Once you make it to shore, you assess your injuries (knee is not pretty and rather large by this time) and try to remember to just breathe.

That was my one and only experience in a canoe. The funny thing is it has taken me six years to actually stop and think about how I entered the water versus how I hit the river bottom. How did I get flipped over? Better yet, how did my glasses stay on my face throughout this entire ordeal? The later I definitely do not know, but I am very glad they did.

Our lives are a lot like my adventure on the river – and the daily trip we all travel through the River of His Heart. Dead-man’s curves are there. Sometimes they can be avoided, but sometimes we can’t seem to see a way around them. Our view is obscured and limited by our own perspectives. (After our adventure was over that day, we were informed that there was a way around the curve, but it was on the complete opposite side of the river – were we never bothered to look. Limited perspective…) There are so many pitfalls, challenges, and obstacles in our lives that can be avoided if we would just look up to Jesus, trust His perspective, and let Him lead the way.

Falling into the river of life can be avoided at times, but sometimes we can learn a great deal from our encounter with the river bottom if we will allow ourselves to see past the fear and the pain to find God’s hand in it and His heart through it. The river does not have to overtake us. We do not have to get swept away in the tempestuous current. If we have fallen in, He can pull us out. If the waters are sweeping over you, we can reach up for help. When we are hanging onto a rock just to keep from being swept further downstream, He will walk out into that river, stretch out His hand, and help us back to our feet.

Don’t let the twists and turns of life get the best of your or wash your heart away. Trust His heart, let Him guide the way, and know that even though we cannot see what lies ahead, He knows every inch of that river and what is around each and every bend. There is nothing that will come your way that He cannot use for our good – and for His glory.