A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

On Wednesday, I put one of my closest friends on a plane and sent her back to Germany. We got to the airport early, so we procrastinated on the goodbye of course, and we sat together reminiscing and talking about the last couple of months which had been the most tumultuous in our friendship yet. It turns out that if you put two people together, any people, going through culture shock at the same time, 24/7, you get some serious tension. We had never really fought before, but we sure made up for lost time these past few months as we tiptoed around each other and everything changed. I can’t explain how it happened, but after only the first couple weeks, I got so sick and tired of the tension that while she was lying on her bed I just crawled in next to her and said I’m sorry, that I didn’t know why things were so weird between us now, and she was relieved that I’d said something. We laid next to each other, wondering out loud what was going on. We shed tears of frustration, not just at each other, but at what was going on. We didn’t understand it nor did we know what to do. Even with the conversation acknowledging how hard it was, it didn’t get any easier. But even with both of our sinfulness, in the end, this friend was gracious enough to ask me out to breakfast to tell me that she still loved me. That despite the hard times, she was choosing instead to remember the great times, and assured me that even after this speedbump, however huge it felt, we were going to be okay. I cried over my pancakes, knowing I didn’t deserve it.

A good friend of mine likes to ask her friends a peculiar question when she wants to know how they’re really doing: “When was the last time you cried?” If the person couldn’t remember, or it had been a long time since their last cry, she knew she had reason to be concerned about them.

There really is no way to explain in words what it feels like to walk away from someone who is walking into the security line in the airport. To leave them there, knowing the next time you see each other will not be soon, and they may even have children and a husband next time, or maybe you won’t see them again at all. The same applies to getting on a plane. Goodbyes have been so much a part of my life in the last few years but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel acutely the pain of each and every one of them as if it were the first goodbye I’ve ever said. You never get used to it. When I left her at the airport and walked back to my car, I knew it was okay to cry because that’s what people do at the departures terminal of the airport. No one will think I’m weird. But unfortunately I couldn’t stop. I got into my car and BURST into tears. And I mean tears. Sobs, actually. Heart-wrenching ones that I immediately realized I had held in for the last 3 months because they came from deep inside and nothing could stop them. If you’ve ever seen that episode of Grey’s Anatomy when Christina, the “strong, emotionless” character, loses her baby and shows no emotion for days until something happens and suddenly the dam bursts and she can’t stop crying, she’s hyperventilating and yelling “make it stop!” in between sobs…well, that was me, in the airport parking lot. In these last few months I’ve lost my “baby.” My whole world. All my friends. My job. My everyday life routine. My surroundings. My expectations. Even my expectations of myself. Friendships that once were so good were damaged because I was more selfish than I thought. I even lost Jesus in all of that. And I didn’t let myself feel the intense loss until then. I pretended to be strong. I love my new life. Transition was going to be easy, I thought. I’ve got this. I don’t need help. I don’t even need God’s help.

I suddenly noticed a security camera and didn’t want people coming after me thinking I was losing my mind, even though I kind of was, so I got things somewhat together, put my sunglasses on, and drove away.

It felt good to let it all out, but more than that, ever since that day, I have been having encounters with Jesus that I can’t explain. In some deep and mysterious way, I let him in that day in the parking garage more than I have in a long time. I yelled at him in the car. As long as we’re getting personal, I might as well tell you that I told him, out loud, in between sobs, it wasn’t “make it stop,” but instead, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this again, please, don’t make me do this”. The fear was overwhelming. I felt so scared in that moment. C.S. Lewis once said that grief feels so much like fear. Yeah, I chickened out about life. Me, the “strong one,” “laid-back Laura,” and all I could think of was how much I was losing.

I have lost so much in pursuit of what He wanted me to do, yet…somehow… he is becoming more than enough. That moment in the car was my garden of Gethsemane. That realization, knowing that Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, understanding what’s happening to me, gives me strength to endure, to grieve, to trust him with the place in my heart that hurts, admitting that I am not okay, that some days I am, but some days I’m just sad and confused and lonely and it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under me. But the gospel has captured me again suddenly. I’ve had this picture in my mind of him all week of him carrying his cross, stopping suddenly to look at me in the crowd of mockers, with eyes looking deep into my heart knowing my brokenness, yet looking at me with more love than I’ve ever felt, and even turning to continue the walk of the will of God for me. I can’t get that picture out of my head and it is driving grace and love and peace into me every day. Is this what it means to suffer with Christ? Is this what it means to build your house on Christ the solid rock and not on everything I’ve lost?

Grief has surrounded the community I’m in right now, and death has come to this area many times. I feel sick of it. Sick of death, loss, sin, pain, brokenness. I’ve been reading the Psalms this week, perfect pictures of joy and pain, hope and sorrow, begging God to show up in the midst of everything that is up and down right now. I don’t understand it, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that He is with me and He has proven that He loves me. I don’t know how to fully trust Him right now in all of it but I am trying. I think that’s what we are all trying to do.

Ellie Holcomb wrote this song based on several Psalms, for a depressed friend. And for me. May He be near and real in all of our pain.

I don’t want to face this valley
I don’t want to walk alone
You say that you’ll leave to find me
Well I am begging you now to come

Don’t think I can face the morning
The heaviness is on my chest
You say that you’ll lift this burden
Well I am begging you to bring me rest

Chorus:
So come and find me
In the darkest night of my soul
In the shadow of the valley
I am dying for you to make me whole
For you to make me whole

I can’t keep myself from sinkin’
From drowning down in all this shame
My throat is worn out from calling for help
And I am praying you’ll remember my name

I know I can’t fight this battle
Been surrounded on every side
You say that you will deliver me
Well I am praying that you’ll restore my life

Chorus

Answer me out of the goodness of your love
In your mercy turn to me
I know it’s you that I’ve been running from
But I’m seeing it’s you I need, need
You’re all I need

“‘In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,’ says the Lord.”
-Isaiah 66:9

guilt v. remorse and other real talk

I can’t sleep, but I refuse to believe it’s because of the coffee I consumed after 6pm. I’m not that old, right?

Instead it’s probably because something is rattling around in my soul and needs to come out.

Recently God has been convicting me to be a little bit more vulnerable. I wouldn’t say I’m a closed off person, but I’m not exactly an open book either, especially after having so many people go in and out of my life while I was in Germany. It just gets exhausting opening yourself up after awhile. (You military families can relate.) While I was at Southwind Wyldlife camp a couple weeks ago, I started feeling sorry for myself as I was surrounded by so many people yet I felt lonely, and God kept pestering me to be more open so that He could become an even bigger Savior, and I could have some actual real friends who knew me. I ignored Him, naturally, but unfortunately He got me again- I just read Henri Nouwen’s words in In the Name of Jesus about how Christian leadership is not about pretending to have it all together (if we are honest, NONE of us fit in that category so really all of us are just pretending) but about showing others how Jesus is walking with you in the midst of your brokenness.

Something I tend to fall into a lot- the biggest “thorn in my side” that I carry- the lie that I am constantly tempted to believe- is that I’m not good enough. I could go into all manner of reasons why, but I’ve already done that in counseling and you don’t need to hear the gory details. The point is that guilt eats at me like you wouldn’t believe, it even caused me to spiral into a deep depression in college, where Jesus thankfully and mercifully met me, but even now I forget. Even now I am constantly in a battle in my mind where I have to preach the gospel to myself every day, otherwise I fall into the trap again, into an endless cycle of guilt and shame, and it takes a long time for Jesus to dig me out of it, and usually some relationships are ruined in the process and habitual sins creep back in.

Recently since being back from Germany I’ve been in a couple of situations where I just messed up. I was tested, and I messed up big time, and I hurt some people. I could easily blame it on readjusting, or being tired, or sick, or whatever…I was truly so busy when I arrived that I wasn’t listening to God, practicing solitude, or paying attention to how I was doing, or treating others. But in all honesty (we’re being vulnerable here) I know it’s really the sin deep inside me, just revealed now on the surface because of all the stress I’ve been under. I’ve been selfish and unloving and distant and a complete jerkwad, basically, because I wanted to. Because I wanted what I wanted and was willing to run over people to get it. I was on the throne. Serve me. Love me. Give this to me. This is what I am expecting. Blah blah blah.

As I was getting real with some people in my prayer group tonight at church, one of them put it like this: I was “clotheslined” by my own self-centeredness. You know that opening scene in the movie Ghost Ship where this line snaps and cuts all the people dancing on board in half instantly (you’re welcome for that mental image)? That’s what I feel like happened to me. Here is where the battle gets bloody…right in between guilt and remorse.

When I screw up, because of that inner struggle with not feeling good enough, if I don’t immediately give it to Jesus, I tend to beat myself up big time. I call myself all sorts of names, and I get really down on myself. If I’m not careful, depression rears its ugly head again and I become even more distant from people. Guilt is good only if it leads to true remorse.

I’ve been doing a little reading, and a lot of praying, and a lot of listening to God in the quiet in the last few days (finally) and realized there is actually a huge difference between guilt and remorse. Huh. If you’re feeling guilty, you’re essentially just feeling bad because you were bad. “I should’ve _______ but I ________, I’m such a bad person.” But if you feel remorse, you are more focused on how your actions hurt the other person. Guilt brings about zero change. Guilt is selfish. It’s me-focused. All about how I feel, I-I-I-I. It’s surfacy and behavior-focused. Remorse is focused on the other person and never wanting to hurt them again. It’s about changing. It’s about letting Jesus change your HEART, not just your behavior. Where you become a servant, because you are no longer looking for identity and affirmation in another person, you are free to love. You forgive yourself, because Jesus died for your forgiveness. That’s remorse.

They say that returning missionaries struggle with wanting others to serve them. They want to be noticed, appreciated, listened to, but usually the opposite of what they’re expecting happens, and so they get angry. You attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who did not come to be served but to serve. EVEN WHEN YOU’RE COMING BACK FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY. People aren’t going to call you to hang out, you have to call them. People are going to forget you live here, you need to forgive them and get over it. It’s not about you, it’s about serving others and it always is, but you can’t do that without a focus on Christ and by being filled with His love first. My focus has definitely veered off of Jesus and onto myself, onto my desire for affirmation from others to tell me I’m good enough. In the topsy-turvy transition and exhaustion and grief of the last several months, I’ve forgotten the cross, I’ve forgotten the work is already done for me, I’ve forgotten the freedom that comes with knowing that Jesus has covered for me and it’s finished. Period. I’ve forgotten that it’s not all about me, that the world does not exist for my benefit, and I’ve forgotten that it’s okay to not be okay. I often thank God for my experience of depression in college because if I hadn’t gotten real with God, we wouldn’t have had a real relationship. So I’m getting real, with Him and with the people that matter the most to me, remembering that, as another good friend reminded me in a recent “getting real” conversation, the two most important things when it comes down to it are really Love and Truth.

“I believe you and I are in far greater spiritual danger than any of our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in Iran, and in other parts of the world where the cost of following Jesus might end in your physical death or in the torture of your own life or those you know and love. There is no great angst coming in to worship this morning. There is no, “Please, God, encourage my spirit. Please, God, protect us. Please, God, move.” No, it’s just comfort and a cushy chair and, “Give me a good coffee. Man, it’s a little cold in here.” It’s dangerous. It can just be an add-on. My point is this. Whether or not Christianity sits at the center of a culture, has been pushed to the margins, or is illegal, the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be stopped.”

-Matt Chandler

R-e-s-p-e-c-t

Donald Miller said it best: “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.”

In the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about what it means to respect others. Somebody recently accused me to being disrespectful. First of all, this made me super defensive because generally I don’t go around trying to disrespect people, so I did what every disrespectful person does- I made some excuses and started throwing darts, as if I was trying to prove that I was still a good person. Hello, news flash, I am not good (read: Mark 10:18). Secondly, my entire life I’ve struggled with boundaries- saying no to others, letting them say no to me, etc. Respect is a sore subject because I’m so, so tired of not being good at it. Do you ever have one thing that you struggle with that you try SO hard to be better at that when people criticize it you want to scream “Do you even KNOW how much blood, sweat, prayers, and tears have gone into getting better at that?!” I want to give myself credit and say, well, at least I’m not like I used to be. Unfortunately that only works if you want to stay where you are and continue to hurt other people.

I’m a firm believer in the fact that conflict with others is God’s way of trying to get us out of where we are. If you have a conflict even if you are convinced you are right, you better pay attention because God is probably trying to point out something in you that makes it hard for you to be who he wants you to be. Regardless of whether the conflict is even ever solved, you have got to look at the log in your own eye and quit worrying so much about the speck in the other person’s. Take criticism seriously.

I started thinking of people that I respect, or people I feel show me a lot of respect and what they do that makes me think of them that way. Here are some:

They listen well.
They give me space when I need it.
They pray for me.
They don’t offer advice unless I ask for it.
They encourage me in areas they know I struggle in.
They pay attention to what I say is not okay for them to do and they stop doing it.
They follow through with what they said they’d do.
They let me do what I want even if they disagree.
They express gratitude for me whether I do things for them or not.
They put themselves in my shoes and try to see things from my perspective.
They put my needs before their own, time and time again.
They consider me worth a lot just because I’m me.

Then I thought about what the Bible says about respect, and it turns out the best verse ever on this topic is a verse that my friend Dale who does ministry in England would talk about all the time…Genesis 1:27:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

When people talk about earning respect, I think of this verse, and how it doesn’t say you earn respect it says that we should automatically respect people because they’re made in the image of God. I read an awesome book called Love Without Agenda once, and it focused a lot on this verse and what it means to be made in the image of God. And how that in and of itself makes us valuable. Not what we do and whether or not it’s wrong or stupid, whether we agree with someone, or are nice to them, or thank them for what they did.

I’ve deeply wounded people because I’ve disrespected them. I want to believe I’m getting better, but I also want to believe that God isn’t leaving me at a place of mediocrity and though it wounds me and humbles me to admit, I need help. I need help seeing people through his eyes and treating every person as if they were Jesus’ favorite, because, guess what, they are. Can you imagine how the world would change if we really saw each other that way every time we talked to them? Better yet, every time we looked at them or even thought about them? It’s actually really hard to do that, but that’s why Jesus doesn’t leave us the way we are and intervenes when he needs to.

have 45 minutes? watch this.

“That activity that you participate in that you feel ashamed of, that’s not what’s made you unclean, you are unclean because you did that activity. You don’t do sinful acts to make yourself a sinner, you are a sinner so you do sinful acts…Here’s why ‘I’m going to make myself a better person’ is never going to work…(according to Matthew 15:16-20) You’re the problem, so YOU can’t solve it.”

“I found that lust almost always has much more to do with control and anger than it does lust. See, for whatever reason, wanting to control, having some wounds, you will take a human being with a soul, with emotions, with a mind, and a heart and we will dehumanize them and use and abuse them for our own pleasure. THAT is pornography, for men and women. It is the dehumanization of another human being for our enjoyment with no consideration of their heart, their soul, their mind, any sort of damage occurred in them, they are simply there to be used by us. Lust isn’t the problem, anger and control are the problems.”

Matt Chandler – The Remedy: The Gospel of Jesus Christ

jesus in disguise (brandon heath)

Jesus in Disguise

Ever get something in your head
It’s nothing you’ve heard, or something you’ve read
Ever had a cut, but you never saw a blade
Brought to your knees, but you never prayed

(Chorus)
Jesus in disguise
Jehovah passing by
The burden of a tear
Hanging in your eye
Jesus in disguise
A scar across the sky
You were looking for a king
You would never recognize
Jesus in disguise

Ever feel like you’ve been somewhere before
You hold the key, you know which door
Speak the word your lips have never known
Because your heart told you so

Chorus

So open my eyes, wide as I can
Blind as I am, blind as I am
So open my eyes as wide as I can
Blind as I am, blind as I am

Jesus in disguise
Jesus in disguise