Why are you silent?

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with the recent Facebook post some of you have texted me about. At all. I have had this crafted for a while and just didn’t know how to finish it…and at the end you will know why I chose to post this finally.

The silence of God is something that is hard to navigate. I remember early in my walk with the Lord I had gone to a conference with a friend, and they talked about God’s silence in one of the sessions. It was a new concept for me, one that I had never heard of – that sometimes the God of the universe would be silent for a season, and he would seem to be far off, but that we should never be afraid of it because it is for our growth. He never leaves, but he might not answer us, and he might feel distant.

I had been taught that God always wants to speak to us, that he is just waiting for us to start listening… so I spent every waking moment as a young 20-something trying to hear God so I didn’t miss him. Needless to say, I didn’t quite know what to do with that teaching.

That was before I ever experienced a season where I felt he was silent.

For two whole years.

It was crushing. My kids were young, my husband at the time was dealing with some deep depression, and we had just moved far from all family and friends.

And this was before social media (2002) – so staying in touch required writing or calling. Yes people, it was lonely of a different kind.

I started using my runs to vent my anger, my frustration at God. Until that time, I had only ever run maybe three miles. Then 3 became 5, and 5 became 7. (And then my neighbor said if I could do 7 I could do 13 and that’s how I started distance running… )

I digress.

My runs typically were full of anger the first three miles. Then I pushed myself through miles 4 and 5, wrestling with and facing what I was really feeling. By then I was usually exhausted – but for me, it was the only way to come to the end of myself where I could find a center, and remind myself of what Hebrews 11 tells us, that faith is evidence of what we do not see. For me in that season, it meant I had to cling tightly to truth in the midst of not having community to reinforce it:

That nothing could separate me from His love

That His silence didn’t mean I had disappointed him

That I was not under his judgement

That I had the wisdom I needed as a young mom

That somehow, my struggle to continue to pursue God mattered to him, and it didn’t go unnoticed.

For someone who really cared what people though of them (because I hadn’t started even unpacking that yet) – and God seemed distant? It messed with my faith in ways you can’t even imagine.

Yet I am pretty sure some of you have been here too, wondering where God is?

• If he is there, why won’t He answer.

• I have prayed. Why won’t He change my circumstances?

• “Your will be done”, we say, is the Godly response, it is the right heart attitude to have.

But what if what is going on is something we are pretty sure is NOT the will of God? Goodness knows we see this every day on the news. Injustice is all around, and all I can think is …. there is no way that injustice is the will of God.

What if what is going on can only bring pain? Sometimes hard things in life happen and there is only the option to GO THROUGH IT. You don’t have a choice.

What if not hearing from God makes it seem like you are being ignored and that He doesn’t care? We reason, because if God really cared about me, He wouldn’t [insert whatever is bothering you] — let this happen, let me suffer, make it this hard…do I need to go on with how we complete this sentence?

My friend… this is when faith can feel like a jungle, one that demands you fight to see your way through. Sometimes its just .. hard. I’d encourage you to take a step back a moment though, and think about the big picture.

You are not the only one who has walked in these steps.

You are not the only one who has had to struggle and fight to keep your faith and belief in a God that is there, let alone good.

Sometimes the answer that we live in a world that is fallen just doesn’t seem to answer our deep sense of injustice, that things are not right.

BUT GOD IS THERE

Be like Jacob, and wrestle with him. Be like the writers of many of the Psalms and cry out. Then walk in ruthless trust in what he promises, that he says he will never abandon you. Hold onto that even when you aren’t sure you believe it. Proclaim you TRUST him. That can be hard, but when you have known him, HE is your lifeline.

HE HOLDS YOU… even when you cannot hold onto him yourself.

At the top of this blog there is a picture of a Torah scroll. I know it doesn’t seem to match this post… but let me try and explain. I was a bit undone when I saw that in the Denver Seminary library last week. I had to just stand and stare at it a bit, speechless.

What came alive for me was the passage in Luke 4:17-21, where Jesus unrolls the scroll and reads from Isaiah 61, then promptly says “I’m here, fulfilling what I just read”.

… and here is why I can finally finish this blog. You see, the faith I have, the faith you have…. really is timeless. It comes from a long tradition of people who have trusted God, people who have failed him, people and nations who have struggled to wonder where He was in the course of history — all of it. But God still came to them and loved them and said… I’m here.

You, my friend, have an irreplaceable role to play in the larger story of God and His movement on this earth. Don’t settle for the paltry “everything happens for a reason”. Believe that your God is strong, He will redeem and restore whatever it is you are going through. History testifies to this, in the midst of all the hell our world has been through. God is using you and me to bring his truth, his justice, if we will just step out and let him use us.

Lemonade doesn’t cut it

I have a love/hate relationship with the phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I know the intention is good, and I know it’s a way to remind people that there is always a way to take something that might leave a sour taste in your mouth and look at it a different way, or change your attitude so that you learn from it, and it becomes sweeter. Most of my life, I try to live that way, so I get it.

That being said, with loss of any kind – a job, a relationship, a child/friend/parent, a dream, your health – when you are in the throws of grief – there is NO making of lemonade. Or lemon martinis. Or lemon bars. Or lemon anything. It might make you want to THROW lemons at someone, or something though….. (never thought of that. Hmmmmm.)

Let’s be honest: making lemonade when life gives you lemons might work when its inconvenient stuff, but it sure as heck doesn’t work when you feel like life is falling down around you through no fault of your own.

You see – we might all know the verse where Jesus says “In this world, you will have trouble (in Greek the word also is used to mean affliction and anguish). But take heart! I have overcome the world”

If I’m honest, that verse wasn’t helpful to me at all when Jon and I starting talking about dissolving our marriage.. and I felt like I couldn’t even say that because what would that say about me? It’s hard to admit, but sometimes, even when you love God, it’s hard to take comfort in His word. It can feel like work, pressing in and striving to get your brain to follow the words on the page.

In some ways, it felt like trying to make lemonade out of lemons. And just in case you are wondering: I have experienced my share of trouble in life. I knew that following Jesus never meant life would be free of problems. I had told others this countless times. I had prayed and fasted. I knew how to hold onto the Lord and his promises. I knew how to deal with hard stuff. Yet somehow divorce was one thing I was sure that I would escape, because with God, all things are possible. With God, marriage can get through anything. I think I kept hoping I would somehow wake up and it would all just be a bad dream, that the conversation never happened, or that Jon would change his mind. It never happened. Reality just kept staring me in the face. Suddenly it was as if the part of me that knew all I had already learned about hiding in God and believing for things was on hold. I didn’t recognize myself any more.

I had to find something to hold onto.

That verse for me became Hebrews 6:19, a verse that I have worn on my wrist ever since then:

“For we have this hope as an anchor for our souls, firm and secure….”

The truth of this verse became my banner. Nearly 9 months later, it still is.

As much as we might think we are strong, or that “we got this” – our souls need to have something to hold onto when life feels like its falling apart. Sometimes it can be hard to find that one thing – but I believe the One that knows us best knows we need truth to hold onto. Don’t give up. God doesn’t change in his faithfulness or love for you, even when people do. Cry out. Ask for what you need, ask for something to hold onto.

What would surprise me every now and then is just how much the Lord knew what I needed. You see, panic attacks (which I had never before) became a way of life for me for a while. I dealt with them the way I had always dealt with hard stuff in the past: I went running. Partly to think, partly to pray, partly to give my body a more natural reason for breathing heavy.

I’ll never forget the night I had gone on a run, feeling lonely in my pain and needing to just…..well, I guess you might say I was having a pity party, attendance: one.

I plugged in my headphones, tied up my shoes, and went for a run. I had a mix of some worship music that I had been listening to at the time, songs to remind me of God’s promises, songs that I could get lost in when I just needed to know His presence. I had just finished one of the hills in the neighborhood and decided to lay on the park bench at the top and finish listening to the song (and cry).

I am smiling just thinking about it. Why?

Because right as the song finished, the sprinklers kicked on and I got soaked. I have never jumped out of a bench and sprinted to the sidewalk so fast in my life! All I could do was laugh. It was as if the Lord said, “ok, you got your cry out – now stop being so full of yourself! Time to get your eyes back on me and WHO I AM TO YOU!”

I think I laughed all the way home after that 🙂

You see, it can be easy to get stuck in the mire of pain and grief, but it’s up to you to determine if you will stay there. You may not be able to determine the timeline or intensity of the grief process, but when you can hold onto Truth that is bigger than what you are going through, it makes a difference.

If sometimes, you are dragged out with unexpected laughter, let yourself enjoy it! It doesn’t mean you are “all better”, and it doesn’t mean things still aren’t hard. But it can be life-giving if you let it.

Oh, one last thing. A great book I would recommend for you or anyone that you know who is just starting to go through loss and grief is the book “How to Survive a Shipwreck” by Jonathan Martin. He does an amazing job helping his readers face loss, assess how to move forward, and take care of their souls in the midst of it all.

Guess that’s all for now. Blessings!!

Tama

Fair Warning

When the girls were little, we spent two years in Ohio – two years that seem like a blur from where I stand now, to be honest. We made some friends while we were there, but the one couple we have stayed in touch with and absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE their family, we weren’t always close with. In fact, it wasn’t until we drove back through Ohio about five years after we moved that we reconnected. I cannot be more grateful that we did.

In our years living in the Chicago suburbs, everyone in this family (except for their oldest) came to stay with us, either with one of their parents or by themselves. Sometimes it was for vacation, sometimes it was to audition for The Voice *yes their kids are that crazy talented*. Those weekends were some of the best, because we got to catch up amidst raising our families in two different states and two different worlds.

Why do I mention them? Well, because I have come to love one of the things that my friend says whenever she has to have difficult conversations with people. I probably am quoting this slightly wrong, but with great love, she always looks them in the eye and says:

“I know you might not want to hear this, but we have to talk about some hard stuff”

I admire her for that, because she is not afraid to have the hard conversations – and she does it with great love and a heart for restoring relationships between both God and people.

So that is what I need to say to you all now:

I know you might not want to hear this (or read this), but we have to talk about some hard stuff.

For some of you, this may make you stop following my blog. Please know that if you choose to do that, its ok. Be free to go – no judgement here. For some of you, this is going to be hard to read because you know me. All I can say is that I understand, and I’m sorry for the sadness it might bring, but I hope you can hang with me. Because I can promise it gets better. I can promise that with what I am going to be sharing in the coming weeks, you will see the goodness of God in the midst of everything.

I have been hesitant to write about this for a while, mainly because I was very much still in process and it was just too raw. Not that I’m through it all, but I do feel like at this point, the Lord has brought me to a new place, a place where I can write with honesty and hope.

Where do I start? To be honest, I am not quite sure. I’m not sure there ever is a good place to start a conversation like this, because you see, I do not like conflict. I do not like to rock the boat or unsettle the waters, or do anything that will cause people to think less of me. Yet here goes, for the sake of living in honestly and truth, for the sake of showing how God is in the hard places, and hopefully for the eventual healing of someone else who is going through similar things.

You see….. last October, just a few months after moving to Colorado, Jon and I started having some very honest and tearful conversations that essentially unsettled just about every piece of me that could be unsettled. My marriage of nearly 25 years was suddenly shifting in a way that I NEVER saw coming. Nothing was right, tension and internal conflict began to rule my life, and fear took hold in a way that it never had before. Jon had reached a point in dealing with some things in his past that brought him to truth he could not admit to in the previous 25 years: he was gay, and he wanted to live as a gay man, which meant he wasn’t sure he could stay married.

[Bomb dropped].

Those are words no one ever wants to hear: I love you, but I have to leave. It didn’t make sense. All of a sudden, my world came crashing down. Everything I had looked forward to at this stage in our lives suddenly slipped away in that moment, and I was left with questions like I’m sure some of you, or some one you know, has asked at one time or another, whether due to divorce or loss of someone close:

Why, God?

Isn’t there any other way?

Nothing about this seems right.

What am I supposed to do?

How am I ever going to recover from this?

What am I supposed to give my life to now, if the love of my life is gone?

I had prayed over, fought for, and delighted in our marriage for nearly 25 years. So had Jon. We loved each other, we were best friends, and we thoroughly enjoyed the family we had built together.

I was faced with two choices:

Fight. Refuse to give in, hold him to the vow he made. This is what I wanted to do so badly, yet I knew to do that would be controlling, and he would resent me for it. On top of that, I would most likely add to the damage he had already experienced (that is a whole other part of the story).

Or, I could willingly let him go to be who he needed to be, living openly and honestly as a gay man.

I can still remember the exact place in our neighborhood where, on a run, I realized the only choice I could make was to let him go, and agree to dissolve our marriage. I cannot tell you how much that decision hurt. There are no words to describe the pain. I think I spent another half hour crying, having a panic attack for the first time in my life, and calming down before returning home.

Needless to say, we had many tearful conversations in the months between October and December, about what this meant and how we would tell family and friends. Some of those things I will be sharing, some I will not be. It was difficult for both of us, really. Jon was painfully aware of how his request, his decision, was hurting his best friend in the entire world. I felt lost and numb. Jon was hurting too, in his own way, over past abuse and shame, and having to hide this part of himself all these years. The hardest part was probably that we had always been there for each other, and I desperately wanted to be there for him in his pain, but how could I, when it only brought more to my own life? So we started the dance of finding the boundaries. We found our own support groups to talk about what we were processing. Hard doesn’t even touch it.

This is where, as a person of faith, I knew had a choice. I could turn inward and not let people around me know what was going on, or I could risk telling people close to me, and face the fear and shame that was growing in my head every day. This is where I knew, even with all our family had already gone through due to mental health issues, I had to choose whether or not I could still believe that God was still good, that His promise to sustain me and never leave me was still true when life hurt like hell. That hope still had a place, when all the hopes I had moved out to Colorado with seemed to just have come up empty.

If you have ever known loss, you know what I’m talking about.

And you also know, there are really no words.

Let me just say… if you have been there before, if you are there right now, or you know someone else who is – my heart goes out to you in ways it never could before. I get it now. I’m sorry I never did before.

I’m sorry for being overly cheery, for what might have seemed to you like a shallow sense of hope. I am sorry for not knowing what to say, or saying too much and not just sitting with you in your pain. Believe me, I thought I had gone through the fire a few times already, but compared to this? yeah… compared to this, everything before was a walk in the park.

As I continued to cry out to the Lord, he began to put people around me to support me in ways that I never expected. It was more than humbling to go from the one that always helped others, to being the one who needed to ask for others to pray for me. I had to let them be “my people” – because I desperately needed the support.

But that’s what we are to be for each other, isn’t it? That’s where we have to walk knowing that sometimes God may seems silent to our cries, but He always shows up. Sometimes, it is in the face of a dinner invite from a new friend, or in the rustling of trees on a walk in the neighborhood. Sometimes it is a song that reminds you that joy may not be present for you now, but that the promise of joy is still there.

Times like these are where trust in the Lord, and who He is to you, are forged in the fire.

And what I can tell you, what I can promise you, is that you are NEVER, EVER alone.

Tama

Who does your thinking?

I have this little post-it note sitting on my standing desk beneath my monitor, mainly so that I can see it front and center. Right now, it’s about as close as I am going to get to God hand-writing a note to me… but lately it’s something I have needed to remind myself of more than I’d like to admit.

In case you can’t read it, it says “Who does your thinking for you?”

Have you ever had a season in life where maybe you were in a rough spot, you were working through things, and eventually you get to a place where you are feeling ok, and then something happens and your mind gets thrown out of whack?

Yeah.. I just caught myself in that place this past weekend. You see, I would like to think I am a pretty positive person, always looking on the bright side of things. Even when life gets hard. I dig in, trust God will get me through, and keep plugging. I guess you could say my default thinking kind of runs like this:

  • Default: I’m doing well!
  • Default + hard stuff = I’m doing ok, keeping my head up and believing for the best
  • Default + hard stuff + outside voices = well maybe I shouldn’t be ok? Am I missing something here?

It’s this last part that I want to talk about today. Somehow I have this weird guilt feeling that I shouldn’t be doing so well when things get hard because everyone expects certain types of reactions from us when we hit hard things in life. Sure, sometimes we DO feel the “expected reaction” – like if you lose someone you love, you are going to go through some serious loss and grief that only others who have been there get the depth of. Or if you are betrayed by a friend, or you lose a job or house, or you are diagnosed with an illness of some kind. Anger, denial, numbness, hopelessness, disillusionment…. you name it, any of those would be considered “normal” in cases like this, right? So you work through them. You process with people, with counselors, with God.

Eventually you start to see rays of hope, pieces of joy that seemed just a bit too far at the start. Then maybe you start to feel better – like really better!

At some point, voices will surfaces that will lend their thoughts, wanted or unwanted: people who didn’t know what was going on, social media rants or blog posts, books or articles or songs that speak to whatever hard thing you are dealing with. Now, sometimes voices can sometimes be good and help you along – challenging you with hope, kindness, patience, forgiveness….. or they might give you permission to feel something you were afraid to feel.

Then there are the times that these voices might make you question how well you are doing. You sure you are ok? You’re not just hiding/avoiding/ignoring? (Which sometimes is totally ok, don’t get me wrong!)

The reality is that when you serve a living God, whose very breath fills your lungs and spirit lives inside of you… there is something that is net different as you walk through difficult seasons.

A few weeks ago I was reading again in Isaiah and ran across this verse, which I had not read in a while:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….”. (Isa 41:10)

And I sat and thought about that for a minute. This doesn’t have a qualifier on it like “I’m with you only in the big stuff”, or “ I’m with you when you don’t know what to do”.

Iam with you, so do not fear, God says. Period.

What about God being with us should make us not afraid? The easy answer is that, well, he’s big and he’s God so … there. But the reality is that we have to dig pretty deep to be aware of that presence and let it change our experience, don’t we?

Just knowing this in our heads doesn’t necessarily crowd out the voices that tell us we should be afraid, or make us recall the past, or that what others think makes more sense, or even a zillion other things that our mind might concoct to instill fear….. because to just tell ourselves “don’t listen to that voice” is like saying don’t look at the elephant in the room. Sometimes it makes us think about it more!

We have to move beyond head knowledge alone to more of a deep knowledge in our soul, one that is born of His Spirit, reminding us of God’s actual presence and power with us to get us through.

As I have been studying the Old Testament, the very presence of God is one thing that we keep coming back to. Every battle, every hard thing – God always reminded them “I’ve got this”. It didn’t mean they didn’t have to fight or chase the enemy to keep or capture land. But God being with them was huge. His presence was the deciding factor on whether they won or lost the battle. For us today, our battles are different. Often we don’t know the outcome, and what we want isn’t always what happens – but God’s presence with us SHOULD change how we experience whatever we’re going through. It’s time to stop thinking just “yep, I know God’s with me BUT…. “

No. “God IS with ME”. Not just the world, not just everyone when they are together in church. Me. You. Personally. Right there as you walk through whatever you walk through.

Are we still going to go through seasons and have hard times? Of course. Jesus says we will have trouble, but that his peace is real for us in the midst (John 14:27) of whatever we face.

Dear ones, this active knowledge of God with us takes practice. We don’t always get it right, but we have to start somewhere. I challenge you today, to ask the Holy Spirit to make you more aware of the truth that God is with you, so that His presence changes how you experience what you are going through.

After all, if he can hold the world together, don’t you think he can hold you together too?

An early Easter observation

(Quilt photo taken from the Houston Quilt show 2016)

Ok, I’ll admit it: I have never really been one for walking through the church calendar years and observing all the days. I get why they are there. I understand the point of Ash Wednesday and Lent, and there have been years where I have really tried to enter into the season more than others. In a world that seems so void of hope and so very broken, for someone who always tries to look on the bright side of things, it’s difficult to let myself”enter in” to the depth of the my sin and the sin of the world, and lament. It’s much easier to focus on the breakthrough of Resurrection Sunday and the hope it brings – not in a happy-clappy sort of way though. I’d like to think I have learned (and am still learning) how to experience the full depth of life it brings.

That being said, I still make a point to read through the stories of Jesus being arrested, interrogated, flogged, and crucified. Why? Certainly not because I forget. I think each year I search for some new aspect that brings insight into what He experienced, how He walked it out, and what I can learn. This year is no different.

All my life I have heard stories of people who have been hurt by “the church”. The reasons are many: They didn’t feel cared for enough, they were shunned or judged for not being “holy enough”, they asked questions and doubted, they challenged church teachings that didn’t seem right, they were gossipped about or made decisions that others didn’t agree with. Some are stories of the church bringing shame or fear where it should bring freedom. There are worse things too, stories of spiritual abuse and calling evil good that I can’t even write about here. You know, because some of you have lived through them, or know people who have.

They are people who have been hurt who stop feeling that God, or his people are safe at all. People who have fled to take hold of the hope of Jesus, only to have Him get lost in the church machine to the point where it seems like business – not the life Jesus came to bring. People that have been hurt by ones they trusted.

My heart breaks every time I hear another story of someone giving up. Not because they can’t find God outside of church, but because too often they walk away from the richness that is theirs by right. Yes, we are imperfect at carrying the very life Jesus came to bring … but sometimes that imperfection is more hurtful than we realize.

This year, what I notice in the Easter story is that Jesus too, was the victim of “spiritual abuse”. Lies were told about him. No one wanted to hear his side of the story (not that he put up a fight, but his life said it all). All He ever wanted to do was show people what God was really like. Some got him. Most didn’t, and he paid for it. Every one of you reading has probably heard that Jesus’ death was in part, to show solidarity with the suffering. I don’t disagree. But this year my heart goes out to those who have been shunned, let down, deeply hurt, and even abandoned by the church.

I am so, so sorry. And because I, too, have gone through two very hurtful, spiritual abuse scenarios in my past, times when I was about to give up on church, I know in part where you have been. Sometimes it’s hell trying to recover, and you wonder if you can claw your way back to faith, or even if you want to. I get it.

This Easter, I hope in some quiet way you can see that Jesus gets it too. He knows. He feels your pain and knows the heartbreak of being misunderstood and treated wrongly. Somehow, in the mystery of God, my hope is that this Easter brings you to a place of resurrection in your own life. Not to the church (because for some of you it may feel like an abuser), but to the God who loves you, the Jesus who authors life and brings soul-healing in ways words cannot describe. My prayer is that you can step aside and take a moment to create some space where you can be whoever and however you need to be with Jesus, and let him help you carry that pain and disappointment, and exchange it for hope and something new.

Let him come find you, because you’re worth it! If I were with you right now, I’d sit and listen and cry with you, and then we’d somehow find our way back to life together.

Standing on the mountain

Don’t you just love it when you read a story in the bible that you have read over and over and you know by heart, yet when you look at it again, there is something you missed? I love when that happens. It always seems to bring new insight, and, most likely, speaks to where you are in life at that very moment, doesn’t it?

There is a story in Exodus I re-read recently, the one where the Israelites have crossed into the promise land, and they are about to go into battle against the Amalekites (Ex 17). Moses tells Joshua to gather his fighting men and then the next day, he would stand on the mountain holding up his staff. So, Moses does just that, and the story tells us that whenever his hands were up, the Israelites were successful, and when they were down, they started losing.

If you have ever heard this story – you know that at some point, Aaron and Hur come up and sit Moses on a rock and hold his hands up, thereby securing the victory for Israel. I have always heard this preached about how important it is to have people that can hold up your hands in a battle, or stand with you when you go through difficult times. I belive that to be true. We can all probably look back on times in our lives when we are walking through something that we never could have without people by our side.

Yet this time — this time I saw something I have never seen before.

It occurred to me that God didn’t tell Moses to go stand on the mountain. Countless other times, God tells people go here or there and I will speak, or do this and that and you will win the battle. That is NOT what we see here. God did not tell Moses that night that his battle plan was for Moses to go up on the mountain and hold the staff . Granted, yes back in Exodus 4 God gave Moses the staff and told him he would use it to perform signs – but there wasn’t any particular guideline that told Moses the Israelites would succeed just because he held up the staff.

In the face of impending battle, with their livelihood and their future at stake, Moses did something we can all learn from:

He stood on the mountain, arms raised….and waited to see what God would do. He trusted in God’s power and in His promise to them.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But we fret and worry, we spin our wheels trying to figure things out or try and understand all the possible outcomes or choices, because we know that to sit still feels like doing nothing. Sometimes its not even a battle we are fighting, it’s just life circumstances that are too overwhelming or we can’t see a way out.

God might not give a battle plan. He might not lay out the next steps.

Our act of faith is to go stand on the mountain and know our God is there… and then watch and see how He moves.

You might be surprised at what you find.