Sometimes silence is golden…

Another day, another tragedy. Last night I watched a horrific scene unfold in Dallas. This morning I am equal parts hopeful and appalled at the varied response to that scene.

A peaceful, lawful protest took place in Dallas last night, similar to others across the country. As the crowd was dispersing, someone suddenly began opening fire, raining down bullets from above, directed at police officers. Utter chaos ensued.

This morning we know that 12 officers were shot, 5 are dead, and 2 civilians were caught in the crossfire. A large section of downtown Dallas is considered a crime scene and is closed off. One shooting suspect was killed after an hours long negotiation broke down. His statements to police were that he was upset with Black Lives Matter, he wanted to kill White people, specifically White police officers, that he was not affiliated with any group and that he acted alone. This remains to be seen, as the investigation is far from over.

Today, my heart is heavy. Yesterday was tough enough as I sought to absorb the loss of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul. But the utter terror I watched unfold in Dallas last night was just too much. My heart is undone today. I am grieving.

I have so many thoughts running through my head right now; I don’t even know where to start. Words seem trite and useless, but words are all I have. I am a writer. I have fought the urge to use my writing to speak on social issues, wanting to live in the relative safety of motivational stuff, encouraging stuff. But part of this journey to wholeness is facing the brokenness head-on and calling it what it is. So I will use this platform to do what I can to contribute meaningful, thoughtful dialogue in the face of pain and suffering.

I am still processing all that has happened and how I feel about all that is happening in our world and in our country right now. My only thought right now is this: Social media can be a double edged sword when these things happen.

On the one hand, social media may have actually kept Castile’s girlfriend alive in the aftermath of his shooting. There have been instances where social media has helped law enforcement as they pursue criminals or deal with an emergency situation. Social media is invaluable during disasters and emergencies of any kind, providing a readily accessible outlet for people to let loved ones know they are okay, or to reach out for help if they are not.

But there is another side to social media. The side that polarizes people and reduces complicated realities into memes. And even if the meme is spreading a false narrative, it spreads like wildfire among those who agree with it. Judgement is passed, motives are questioned, slander abounds, and misinformation is treated as gospel truth. Reading the comment section of some of the posts has led me to the decision that it’s time to take a nice, long break from this madness.

Sometimes silence is golden. As with the Orlando shooting and its aftermath, time should be taken to grieve, to process, to let ourselves be human. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the police officers in Dallas were human beings, made in the image of God. Slandering the character of any of these victims while their families and communities mourn is deplorable. Turning this into a political talking point is ridiculous. Using one event to justify the other is just plain wrong. To grieve one is to grieve all. It is all senseless.

I have a right to remain silent. And so I shall. Only speaking when necessary, when I’ve had the chance to think and process and grieve. I think we all need time…

At a loss…

Please give me grace to express my lament. I am beyond frustrated, sad, confused, angry…sitting here at work in tears. For families in Orlando…Turkey….Bangladesh….Iraq….Saudi Arabia…Baton Rouge….St. Paul. How long, O Lord? How long? My heart breaks anew each day. Our leaders sit on their hands and do nothing; our media focus on the insanity of presidential candidates and their self-indulgence. And people die; children lose their mothers or fathers; spouses lose their life partners; families and friends grieve the empty space that person can no longer fill in their lives.

The lack of compassion and complete disregard for human life is amazing, even among we who call on Your name. Perhaps we have become calloused and desensitized. It seems everyday something new happens. Lord, give Your people hearts of compassion, hearts that break with the brokenhearted, hearts that cry out for justice, hearts that are moved to act on behalf of our neighbors. Begin with me, Father, begin with me…

Shattered glass, smoke and ash…

It’s déjà vu all over again.

My mind is now occupied with thoughts reminiscent of last fall, as I watched Ferguson, MO dissolve into chaos, pain, anger and frustration. The images that flashed across my TV screen, Facebook and Twitter feeds left me heartbroken, frustrated, and at times enraged. 
My frustrations are a mixture of pain and sadness, anger and annoyance. I am annoyed with the element that uses the moment as an excuse to riot and loot, which takes the attention away from the thousands (yes, thousands) of people peacefully protesting and demanding answers and justice for Mr. Gray. I am saddened and hurt for the community organizers and citizens who led these protests, not wishing to destroy, but to build up, to bring light to a situation still shrouded in mystery so that the family can know why their loved one died in police custody. This family deserves answers. Regardless of why Mr. Gray was apprehended, he did not deserve to be injured in custody to the point of losing his life. And the family wants to know why. They deserve to know why. 
But now…now their voices are lost in a sea of shattered glass, smoke and ash. The only images you see on any media outlet you turn to are buildings burning, people stomping on cars or throwing rocks at police. Nothing of the actual protest that began the day, a peaceful, lawful demonstration of every citizen’s right to air their grievances and be heard. 
The history behind protest and rioting is long and complicated. A quote I’ve seen a lot since yesterday is a statement Martin Luther King made about rioting being “the language of the unheard”. Here are his words in context:

Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

That his words could still ring true today only deepens the sadness in my heart. That we still see this simmering pain, anger, history of distrust and loss of hope that even makes such an event possible is cause for long reflection, not finger pointing, justifying or condemnation. 
This is all I will say on this subject…my heart is weary, my soul tired. The polarization of our culture, both in and out of the church is draining. Nothing that I would say right now would have any measure of theological nuance or penetrating analysis; right now, I’m speaking from a broken heart, raw with emotion, desperate for the Lord to intervene. My heart simply needs to pray. I don’t have a solution; I don’t know what to do to bring about the change needed, and I’m not going to attempt to give answers to a problem that is as old as this country. All I know is what I said on my Facebook page yesterday: our country needs prayer. Oh, Lord, heal our land…

Enough…

There comes a point when you are just done. You hit a wall and can go no further. For me, it was this weekend – I came to a place where I was just over myself. I think my flesh has been having a field day with me, and the bitterness, cynicism and doubts that I have allowed to fester have been contributing to its takeover of my heart and life. I have been trying to fit the world into my theology, wanting things to be different than they actually are. I was fighting what I knew at the outset was a losing battle: wrestling with God about things I didn’t like or didn’t want. Or that I was angry about or thought were oh so unfair.

I felt the walls closing in, and I wanted out. But “out” felt even more oppressive than being “in”, and I hit rock bottom on Friday night. None of my outrage was creating anything positive, and it certainly was not leading toward anything resembling a solution. As hot tears ran down my face, I cried out to God, and asked what shall I do? The answer was so simple, I almost laugh at the absurdity of it all.
As the untwisting of the pretzel that had become my soul began, I realized that all I needed to do was return.
Return to the Lord. Return to His Word. Return to grace.
I wonder if you can relate to my story. I share it so that, if by chance you can, you may find hope and a reminder that God has not forgotten you.
To speak (or write) about it now, seems so abrupt, so clean. Like it all happened in a span of two weeks and now all is well. But nothing could be further from the truth. This has been a long time coming – years in the making. I simply could not name it, could not put words to it. Hence, the silence that haunted my blog. The desert in which I resided saw no relief – or so it seemed – and my most cherished outlet was cut off completely. There were no words to write, no prayers to utter that could touch it. I was swallowed up by my doubt, my anger, my frustration and cynicism. And it shut up my heart, my mind and my mouth, leaving me literally speechless.
Outwardly, I looked absolutely normal. I have this whole Christian thing down – I know the language, the moves, the right moments in worship to raise my hands. There were moments where I could sense it, where a small glimpse of light would invade and the inward matched my outward expression. But it was few and far between. Partly because of pride – I have to save face after all – and partly because I didn’t know what else to do, I pressed forward. Each brick wall would harden me further, but to what end? I didn’t understand it.
My prayers would either bounce back to me or rise up into the air, seemingly going nowhere, received by no one, achieving nothing. All the normal Christian answers felt fake, lifeless; I became completely disaffected by any of them. But that fake plastic smile never left my lips. Who could know of what I was really going through? No one; I had to keep it to myself.
I can’t point to one particular thing that has brought me here. Wallowing in the mud seems to have brought me to a place of epiphany, or more bluntly, a “duh” moment. If I had a Nerf bat, I’d knock myself in the head with it…it was all seemed so completely and absurdly unnecessary.
Every December I write out a prayer for the new year, usually consisting of goals I’d like to achieve or prayers I’d like answered. This year was very different. Instead of goals and specific prayers, a phrase keep turning over in my mind as I thought about 2015: No more pretending. It occurred to me this weekend that God might actually be taking that seriously. Shocking, huh? You know that cliché, “be careful what you wish for…”? I’m living that right now…in spades! When the masks come off, and you see what’s really underneath, it is not pretty. I wanted to run, but there was no escape from it. To use a familiar phrase, you come to the end of yourself and recognize that all the things that you used to prop yourself up were worthless, fleeting, and useless to help you find the meaning and purpose you were looking for.
But as the masks fall off and I come face to face with what resides in my heart, I feel a sense of relief. Keeping so many balls in the air at once is exhausting. But beyond that, I found the one thing that I had taken for granted all these years is actually breathing life into me afresh.
Grace. How utterly simple. 
My previous post was a list of all the things that I have been using to try to define myself, to give worth and purpose to my life. All of them have left me empty and parched, desperate for even a drop of cool water on my tongue. But only grace – grace poured out from a loving Father who knows all that is hidden deep within but still loves me – can give worth and purpose to me, can define and shape me to truly live as I was meant to live. And although I will spend the rest of my life working out the beautiful reality of this salvation I have found in love of my Father poured out in the blood of His Son and my Lord, I can rest in today this really is enough.
He is enough for me…always…

The good thing about a bad day…

Foggy beginnings…by M. Lewis

Yesterday was not a good day. The non-stop activity of the last week caught up with me and my Fibromyalgia flared. So I stayed home from work and slept most of the day. Sounds like heaven, you say? Not so much…

One of the side effects of this condition is depression. It stinks to lay around and feel useless. And that’s what happened yesterday. I struggle with this regularly, and sometimes feel that all the progress I make is negated by one bad Fibro day. In a word – I hate it.

But feeling sorry for myself does not help. It only adds to the depression I already feel, which makes it more difficult to bounce back after a day like yesterday. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. I have lived with this for at least 11 years, probably more since it took a while to officially diagnose. But I still struggle. Most days I think: I am too young to feel this bad all the time. It shouldn’t be this way.

But that doesn’t change a thing.

So, I ask myself this: how then shall I live? The blessing about Fibromyalgia is that it is not degenerative. I won’t die from it, and it does not destroy the body. It just makes it flipping uncomfortable to live in my body! I am always in pain; my skin is super sensitive and will itch for no reason; I tire easily and can’t do as much as I’d like; I have to “pace myself” as they say, and if I don’t I pay for it with days like yesterday. Sometimes it mimics arthritis, and will flare when the weather changes, or a front moves through, with joint stiffness and widespread muscle pain. I am tired all the time, and when I am overly tired my cognitive function is impaired; it becomes difficult to concentrate, my short-term memory gets fuzzy, and my speech becomes disjointed.

Sometimes it feels like my body hates me.

And it is frustrating and annoying.

And what is the point? To learn patience? So far I’ve just learned how to be 20 shades of cranky. To grow in compassion? Sometimes it feels like all I’ve grown is a chip on my shoulder. And you’d think 11 years would be enough time to accept the reality and learn to work around it. But then I have one of those days, and all bets are off.

You may be wondering what this has to do with anything. I’m supposed to be writing about discipleship and pursuit. Where does this fit into that discussion?

Everywhere.

I am not sharing these things for sympathy or pep talks. Although I will admit: the pity party was in full swing last night! I realize that does not do me a bit of good. And I’m pretty much over those pithy (but true most of the time, darn it!) sayings about treasures in trials and so forth and so on. I’m kind of in the midst of the grit and grime of what Black folks call “real talk”. Because the truth of the matter is passion and pursuit are not on my mind a lot. It takes work for me to get there. And sometimes I just don’t.

And that’s okay. No, really – it is. And I’m repeating that for myself, because most of the time I don’t believe that. I feel like I should be able to do more, be more consistent, more focused…etc., etc., etc…and I tell God all about it – all the time – and ask why. And I don’t have an answer. So I keep asking.

And God keeps comforting. And reminding me of truth. And pushing and pulling at me, reminding me to stop being so hard on myself. And to trust Him. And in the midst of this, I realize: the lament, the crying out to Him in my frustration is my pursuit. Or at least a part of it.

One of the meanings of the word trust is “to confide in”. That I automatically run to God with my questions is a sign of that trust. That I do this even when answers do not come is a sign of passionate pursuit. Because I know – I know He can be trusted with it all. And even when I question Him or His ways, I still know in an indescribable way that it is okay. That there is a purpose, a plan, and that much of it is not about doing but being, and allowing Him to shape me through those things I don’t understand. In fact, I think the most important change and transformation happens in such places…

More later.
Until then…grace and peace…

New year thoughts…

I long ago dispensed with New Year’s resolutions. My success rate was downright depressing, and it seemed that the resolutions were the same each year, and of the most cliché variety – I’m going to lose weight, or workout three times a week and so on. You know the drill. By February even the memory of the resolution was gone. It seemed to be such a meaningless exercise for me.

My current annual tradition is to write out a prayer that reviews the year that was and sets forth my prayers for the year to come. This practice has proven to be fruitful and encouraging; I can look back on my prayer throughout the year or at the end and see how the Lord has answered or transformed it. Ending one year and opening the other with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for His goodness cannot be beat! However, with all that happened in the last few months, I haven’t taken the time to really focus myself and think through my prayer for 2013. So, I shall spend the last few hours of 2012 doing just that.

One thing I know for sure: This year’s prayer is going to be a bit different from years past. It seems each year I do this, it transforms itself into something different. When I first started I would make lists of specific things I wanted to do or accomplish before the end of the year. And while there will be some of that in this year’s prayer as well, the focus of the prayer will be less on what I’m and doing and more on who I am becoming.

The Word tells us we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; cf. Colossians 3:10). As we walk with Christ, our desire is to become more and more like Him. As I think about writing this prayer, I am more desirous of moving closer to the Lord and letting Him shape my heart, for as my heart is renewed and refocused, so will my goals, desires, ambitions and motivations. I must start with who I am and move from there to what I do.

There is one thing I would like to “do” more of in 2013 – write! Prayerfully, I will explore this idea (among other things) on this blog as the year progresses.

I wish you all a very happy and blessed New Year!

Grace and peace…