Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Strength in Weakness



Yesterday, I ran into another person at the grocery store who gave me a bear hug and told me how “strong” I am.

Throughout our family’s life-and-death health crises, loving people have encouraged me by telling me this. Those votes of confidence are helpful and healing… they actually do imbue me with a little more perceived strength for a time. 

But the truth of the matter is that I not strong at all…. 

just an average quivering mess of doubts, fears, and insecurities.

Surely not physically strong.
Nor emotionally.
Many times, not spiritually, mentally, or morally.

This is very important for me to acknowledge, and for you to understand.

When I was a young mother, I’d occasionally hear horror stories about family tragedies. At that time, I could not have imagined surviving similar circumstances. I thought that those people who ‘carried on’ must be super-heroes of fortitude, faith, and virtue. Or just naturally wired to be brave and stoic.

Not me.  I knew I could never handle it if something awful happened to one of my loved ones. Especially my children.  Just let me jump on the funeral pyre and call it a day.

No, I am not wired to be brave and stoic. I am not a paragon of faith or fortitude. There’s not much super-hero strength to be found around here.

But I know where to get some.


In case you haven’t already heard this, I want to let you in on a little secret:

God does not “help those who help themselves.” He helps those who cannot help themselves.

He helps those who have no strength left.
He helps those who are at the end of their ropes.
He helps those whose faith is weak.
He helps spineless, sobbing messes like me…

when we ask for it.

That takes a bit of humility.

You have to admit that your best isn’t good enough.

You realize, at last, that you can’t go it alone. You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You can’t mindfully ascend to a higher plateau. You can’t just “close your eyes, and think of England!”

You are stuck in the pit, with no way out. Way too weak to climb up.

So you must humble yourself enough to ask for help.

And it always, always comes to those who ask in simple trust.


******

I have to confess that not a single one of my pregnancies was planned. They were all great surprises. Two out of the three were actively being prevented. The other was kinda/sorta being prevented. (I am a poster child for abstinence before marriage.)

My first two girls were 23 months apart, and as opposite as two humans can be. (Kids are like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re going to get.) They loved (love) each other fiercely, but fought in equal measure. Everyone in our family has a big personality… some have been labeled ‘larger than life.’ Passionate. Loud. Sensitive. Extrovert. Funny. Into everything. And those children were. They were into playing creatively and dramatically and dressing up and hiding in the woods. They were into ballet and gymnastics and theater and choir and a gazillion other after-school activities. They were into fierce fighting and dramatic making up. They were intense. 

I was tired.

When they were 5 and 7, we found out that a surprise was on the way. My husband and I had pretty much decided that we had our hands full with the two large, but diametrically different, personalities God had already given us, so the thought of a number 3 was daunting. It turned out to be the roughest pregnancy yet. I was horribly nauseated for all 9 months. In spite of that, I gained more than twice as much as the previous pregnancy, and developed toxemia.  

I associated every inch of our house with extreme nausea, so my loving husband booked us all reservations at a resort in Highlands, N.C. for a change of venue. 

By Sunday I was vertical, so we decided to go to a local church.

As we were walking in, an older man stopped me at the door, and spoke a ‘word’ over me and our family that unsettled me.

I got away from him as soon as I could, and sat down and prayed: “Okay. I’m a little freaked outWhat does any of that mean, if it means anything at all? Does it mean anything at all?? I'm barely coping as it is.

At that moment, a totally unrelated scripture came into my mind as distinctly as if I’d heard an audible voice:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It was like a thunderclap. A warm chill emanated from deep within, flowing up into my heart. I knew immediately and definitively that the baby was going to be another girl, contrary to everyone’s predictions, and that her name would be Grace. 

(And she has been. Grace upon grace.)


That scripture has been the key to everything.

When you have nothing left, Christ comes to fill.
When you are powerless, the Holy Spirit sends power.

All you have to do is ask… and believe you will receive. 

(Sometimes, it comes as a gift even when you don’t believe.)


There is much more strength in our weakness than there is in our strength.

For when we are weak, then He is strong for us.


No, I am not "strong" at all.


******

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, 
so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. 
For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10)


He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:29-31)


 For I can do everything through Christ, 
who gives me strength.” 
(Phil 4:13)


******


*For those of you who are new here and wondering who the heck Margery is, I apologize. It’s too long to go into today. This is an old blog of mine that was ransomed by Photobucket, along with thousands of other blogs and websites. Evidently, there must have been a class action lawsuit, because they have removed the huge banner that covered everyone’s heading. In doing so, they have also wiped out all the introductory material concerning crazy old Margery. In a perfect world, I’d hire an expert and create a whole new blog. In the meantime (the name of another old blog I used to have), I hope to occasionally publish some random thoughts on life and faith on this broken little vessel. Which is appropriate in many ways… because we talk a lot about brokenness here!

Thanks for understanding,
Kim

Monday, October 9, 2017

Holy Ground


They enter singly and in groups, laughing and chatting. Hugging me and each other. We
grab something to drink and start settling down. We look like any average group of (oldish) girlfriends getting together, some fixed up for work, some in our workout clothes. It is a relief to be finally be together.

My house is a war zone, but they don’t care.  There was a time when that kind of thing mattered. Not so much anymore. They ignore the peeling 1980’s wallpaper, boxes of Mother’s stuff we’ve never dealt with, stacks of books everywhere. We head into the family room and sit on furniture with shredded upholstery, thanks to Ziggy, The Demon Cat.

Whatever.

This is Holy Ground.

We have found each other... mothers whose hearts have been broken for our children.  If you ran into any of us at the grocery store, you might not guess what lay behind our lipsticked smiles and sunglassed faces. We’ve experienced more pain than we could have imagined possible in our former lives. Sleepless dark nights of the soul. Life has not turned out as we expected. Our dreams for our precious children have been derailed, if not destroyed.

But we’re still here.

And we still laugh.

Most of us have known each other for years. We’ve drifted in and out of each other’s lives with changing seasons. Some of us were in Bible Studies together in our 30’s, mothers of happy little children, full of life and infinite potential. We prayed countless promises of protection and provision over those little ones. Naively, we imagined (or at least hoped) that a good God wouldn’t allow our ‘sweet Christian families’ to be touched by tragedy. We read all the books. We played by all the rules.  We followed all the recipes.

In spite of that, each of us has been dragged kicking and screaming into the sorority no one wants to join… the Sisterhood of Suffering. Every situation is unique. Each sister has a different story to tell.  But we are drawn together like lone shipwreck survivors on a forgotten island, brought together by an unseen hand.

Each of us has grieved in isolation: waterfalls of flowing tears, anguished sobs echoing in empty rooms.

But when we come together, something holy happens.

Alone, we are cracked clay jars, brimming with liquid pain. Together, the heartache spills out,  runs together like unstaunched blood, and is lifted up as a communion cup.  Holy wine, poured out in a sacrifice of praise and surrender and hope.

There is no condemnation or judgment here in this shabby, holy place.

We are free indeed.


Recently, I was asked to name a female role-model.

I couldn’t think of just one.


These are my heroes:

The Beautiful Brave Brokenhearted,

who won’t give up, no matter what.






xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Monday, August 28, 2017

Eight Twenty Eight



I woke up too early this morning. I tried to think of happy, pretty things to get myself back to sleep, but worries kept buzzing like bees around the flowers in my head. So, I decided to do something I haven’t done in far too long: mentally recite my favorite passage from the Bible.

It begins with Romans 8:28: For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him… and ends with Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I finally gave up on sleep and dragged myself out of bed for coffee. With the consciousness of day, it suddenly dawned on me: Today is 8/28. One year ago on this day, my second child almost died.

I’ve been having some PTSD-ish symptoms for a couple of weeks now. Anxiety, depression, a sense of impending doom. Amie has been struggling, too. Although the majority of her physical injuries have healed miraculously well, pain remains. The physical part often heals more rapidly than the emotional, spiritual, and biochemical. But she’s a fighter. Always has been.

When Amie was in 8th grade, we decided to home-school her. I’m not sure how much she learned that year, but we managed to have some fun ‘field trips.’ The highlight for me was Scripture Class. (Mwaahaahaa! Mama’s got you now!) Yes, that fidgety little thing was forced to memorize scripture for homework. Of course, it meant I had to memorize it as well. Our longest passage was Romans 8:28-39. We made colorful flash cards and funny mnemonics to help us remember. For example, “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” in v. 35 became “the happy people found new dance shoes.” At that time, I could not have imagined what trouble and hardship lay ahead. I’m grateful for that blissful ignorance now. But I’m even more grateful that those life-giving words were implanted deep within our brains and hearts.  No matter what has happened, we know that we are “more than conquerors through him that loves us!” (v.37) I may feel more like a cowering coward, but I believe this deep spiritual truth. Faith is a choice.

As I mentioned long ago somewhere on Katherine’s Mom’s Blog, Katherine got a little jealous of her younger sister’s academic accomplishment, so she memorized the passage, too. We all clung to it like a lifebuoy in the days following her AVM rupture.

At her greatest point of suffering, Katherine questioned God. “Have You made a mistake? Wouldn’t it have better for everyone if I’d died?”

As she writes in Hope Heals,

“And then suddenly, before those thoughts had even fully landed in my head and heart, I felt a deep awakening of the Word of God, which I had known since I was a little girl. I could almost hear this rapid-fire succession of the truths of Scripture, like a dispatch from God Himself.

Katherine, you are not a mistake. I DON’T MAKE MISTAKES.

…Trust Me. I am working EVERYTHING for your good. Don’t doubt the truth just because you are in this darkness now. What’s true in the light is true in the dark.”  (Hope Heals, p. 164)

This past year has been one of the hardest of my life. It’s been hard for everyone in our family. For Amie, it’s been kind of like Hell, with occasional day passes out. She’s experienced major victories and serious setbacks. There have been legions of dragons and demons to slay, and the struggle is not yet over.

I’m not really sure why Amie and I have both been secretly dreading this day. Throughout the past month, its eminent arrival has brought some flashbacks of horror and excruciating pain. But the GOOD that God has worked from the brokenness is evident over all. From the wreckage has come restoration. From near-death, new life. Blessing upon blessing for every pain. Help in every battle. Love poured out in showers from angels on earth.

One year ago today, God honored His word. He did work great good even when “all things” includes a mother’s worst nightmare.

His goodness and mercy pursue us relentlessly all the days of our lives.

***

Shortly after the realization of the date this morning, I talked to a friend of Amie’s. She told me that they had spoken last night and Amie seemed anxious. The friend said she shared a scripture with her: Romans 8:28. She had no idea that 8/28 was the date of Amie’s accident, nor of it’s significance for our family.



Sometime after that, the card above fell out of a book.
Katherine was the one that originally noticed the symbolism of the date.

Friday, April 28, 2017

How to Stop a Pity Party in Mid-Whine




I have to admit that I've been known to throw myself some world-class Pity Parties.

Gatsby-esque affairs.

Hired a band and dancing girls. Champagne. Hors d’oeuvres. Banners. Balloons. Fireworks.

Whooooo-Hooooo!!!

“Of course you feel misunderstood. Of course your life is harder than anyone else’s. Of course your friends are oblivious to your pain…”

(Of course you’re being really stupid and selfish and narcissistic.)

Yuck.

So, I’ve had to learn how to stop it in Mid-Whine in 10 easy steps. (Mysteriously, it does work.)


So if you are ever tempted to throw yourself a party, please print this part out, and tape it to your morning mirror:

1.) Think of someone who is worse off than you in some way.
2.) Pray for that person.
3.) Think of something for which you are grateful.
4.) Think of another one.
5.) Think of another one.
6.) Think of another one.
7.) Think of another one.
8.) Think of another one.
9.) Think of another one.
10.) Give thanks.

(Steps 1 and 2 may be repeated indefinitely, as there are  a myriad of people who are suffering more than you are.)

Now get out there and spread some joy around!

***

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances…”

(1 Thess. 5:16-18)

 




Thursday, April 6, 2017

What Lies Beneath






My case of shingles has disappeared surprisingly quickly.

On the surface.

The red rash and blisters are almost gone. I can go out in public without terrifying people. A little pink calamine lotion, covered with a couple of dots of concealer… a good bangs comb-over plus sunglasses… and I’m good to go.

But the pain remains.

It waxes and wanes during the day. Sometimes it wakes me up at night. Hair-brushing is excruciating.

The pain varies from soreness to a dull hammering to a sharp stab, as if someone is sticking a thin knitting needle into my scalp or nose or the bone beside my eye. It’s a sneaky thing, appearing all of a sudden out of nowhere.

But I look fairly normal.

Similarly, Amie looks much better than she feels. The surface is shiny again, but the inner workings are still mending. A little makeup to cover scars, a couple of fake teeth snapped into place, and she is photo-ready. But every health care practitioner has told us it will take at least a year for “recovery.”

And they are referring only to the physical part.

At the end of February, we flew home to Georgia for a brief period so that my husband and I could attend a family wedding in Florida. Amie was to be “looked after” by my sister and other friends. After the intense pain and suffering of the previous 5 months, Amie was ready to “get well soon!” and get back to ‘normal’ life. Still on serious pain meds from recent jaw and oral surgeries (i.e., not-in-her-right-mind), she over-planned her time at home, trying to pack in as many get-togethers with old friends as possible. It was pretty much a disaster. She worked herself up into a manic state, wore herself completely out, and fell apart physically, emotionally and biochemically.

You cannot rush the process of healing.

More than ten years ago, I experienced a complete physical and mental health breakdown. It began with a severely bulging disc in my neck that virtually paralyzed my right arm for over a year. I was flat on my back for weeks. My husband had to sign checks for me and wash and dry my hair. (Not his gift.) Before that was resolved, I developed “sudden onset” fibromyalgia and arthritis. Then I was diagnosed with an unusual auto-immune disease that resulted in soft-tissue blisters that turned into MRSA that was resistant to antibiotics. (At that point, I was sent to Mayo.) 

The healing process from all of that was so slow that I despaired of ever being a functional human being again. For a while, the only happy thought I could come up with was, “One day I won’t have to wake up anymore.”

But here’s a funny thing. At my sickest point, when I could barely get out of bed, much less leave the house, people who saw me would say, “But you don’t look sick,” as if they suspected hypochrondria to be my only ailment.

With all of us, there is pain beneath the surface.

If you are human, you hurt.

And it takes time to heal. It is an evolution.

We may put on our shiny faces and nice clothes to enhance the exterior, but inside lie wounds and scars, buried deep in the darkest corners of our souls.

Rejections, abuse, rape, divorce, family dysfunction, failed friendships. Middle School. High School. Things we’ve done that haunt us; things that have been done to us that have harmed us  we like to keep the wounds of painful things hidden in the dark where we can’t see them. But in the damp darkness, they grow like mold, and spread: contaminating our relationships and sickening our souls, without us even realizing it.

Recently, people I know have experienced tragedies that seem totally senseless. (If you watch the news, there’s a whole roster of them every single day.)

I often wonder…

What lay beneath the thin veneer of sanity until it bubbled up into a froth of madness?

And, more importantly, how does healing happen?

Where does it begin?

I own a t-shirt with these words printed on the front: “What you reveal you heal.”  It reminds me of the 12-step saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”

Dr. Alex Lickerman* writes, “in maintaining a healthy and happy life, concealing some truths is like swallowing slow-acting poison: one’s insides gradually rot.” (*author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self)

As is so often the case, effective secular principles are reflections of biblical truth:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

By confessing… sharing…. with a trusted fellow-sin-sufferer, the scary beasts are pulled out of their dark lairs, and into the light.

And light heals.

On every level.

Light therapy is now being used for everything from wound healing to pain relief to depression. Mayo Clinic states that light therapy is a proven first-line treatment for seasonal affective disorder, among other things. But if light is beneficial for physical healing, it is even more powerful for spiritual healing.

Sometimes, healing can be instantaneous. (Don’t we wish it could always be that way?) But that is the exception rather than the rule. Patience is a critical virtue in every type of healing... physical, spiritual, emotional. The mending most often occurs “little by little,” as we continue to expose our wounds to the life-restoring light. 


Jesus is the Light.

***


“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)


***


More about light therapy: http://photobiology.info/Hamblin.html

More about suppressing emotions:



***


Healing can be messy. It usually involves blood and guts. Scabs and scars. It’s not always pretty to witness.

So how do you deal with people in process?

Here is where I start:

I attempt to look upon every human being I encounter as a wounded child in need of help.

It doesn’t always work, but it’s a start.

The most evil person you know was once a helpless baby. Yes, even Hitler.  Even ….. (enter whomever you hate most in a field of current candidates… of whom there are legion.)

If you are still here on earth, then God isn’t finished with you yet.

He’s not finished with them, either.




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Entertaining Angels (Unaware)




Neighbor's door in Los Angeles. (Anything goes!) Whatever the season, let us live with hearts and doors opened wide.

There are many Big Stories to be told, but I am not quite up to it yet. (Let’s let them marinate for now.)

Instead, I may shoot out a few vignettes every now and then.

Like this one, written a while back…


It was a complicated day, as they often are in a big city.

Several adults camping out in a small (kinda "ghetto-y," by Southern sensibilities) one-bedroom apartment in LA is not a pretty picture. Stuff piled everywhere. Hard to clean, even if you had the energy to attempt it.

Things are not exactly cookie-cutter cute in my relatively affordable (for LA) accommodations. When friends from Georgia came out in January, one said, “Oh, this reminds me of Seinfeld!” while walking down the stained blue-carpeted hallway to my door. (Actually, Seinfeld’s hallway looked like the Ritz compared to this one.)

Still, I’d hoped to have (at least the bathroom!) professionally cleaned before my husband returned to LA that night for Amie’s most recent jaw surgery.

As they say, it’s hard to find good help. Over the years, I’ve tried several different individuals and cleaning companies in LA, but nothing’s ever been a perfect fit. So I signed up for a new and popular service, hoping for the best.

(Now switching to present tense, for some reason…)

The morning of the appointment, I receive an email from the company. (“Your service provider can’t come. We will try to find a replacement.”) Back and forth, back and forth. Finally I am informed that they have found a replacement.

An hour and a half after the promised Cleaning Genius is to supposed to arrive… just as I’ve given up and started writing a negative review on Yelp… I’m startled by a loud buzz on the intercom.

A young, very tall, very dark, very serious young man is getting off the elevator as I run to meet whomever the company has sent. He is without a single cleaning implement. No vacuum cleaner, no mop, no broom. Nothing. He introduces himself as M.

I ask if he has anything to clean with. He tells me that he is sharing a vacuum cleaner with a friend, but the friend will bring it by to him after he gets started. He goes back out to his car to get the other supplies.

I send him out on the tiny patio to sweep, as Amie is not feeling well and moving slowly. After her shower and meds, she says hello to M. and gives him too much information about her accident in explanation as to why she is missing teeth, limping, etc. (Although, of course, he did not ask.)

At this point, Amie’s friend Mark arrives and immediately gets to work on his computer, trying to finish a project before their day trip to Orange County.

Secretly giddy about the prospect of a little alone time away from my favorite adult-child roommate, I discourage Amie’s idea of going out to eat for lunch. Mark wants to keep working until the last minute. He asks if I have anything they can eat at the apartment to save time.

Although the cupboard's pretty bare, I dig out whatever I can find in the frig. A little sandwich stuff and some leftover 4-day-old Shepherd’s Pie I wanted to get rid of. Not even real Shepherd’s Pie, the healthier fake version with cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.

While we eat, M. is in the bathroom, on hands and knees, cleaning the floor. When he comes back into the living-cooking-dining room, we’re just finishing up. I feel a little rude.

“Would you like something to eat?” my mother’s daughter asks, expecting him to decline because of his tight schedule and late start for the day.

“Yes, please.

“Sandwich or shepherd’s pie?”

“Shepherd’s pie, please.”

I dish out the left-overs and start to rush around again, but feel bad about him sitting alone at the folding bamboo table that serves as our dining table in exile.

I sit down across from him, and make perfunctory conversation.

“Where are you from?”

“Uganda”.

I make a few pleasantries about Africa in general.

The serious expression turns into a full-blown smile.

“Have you been to Africa?”

“No, but my husband has been to South Africa. He’s always said that I would love it.  Maybe one day.”

He tells me Uganda is fairly safe for tourists.

I ask a little about his life… how long has he been here… how does he like America…

He cleans his plate. I ask if he would like some more, and he smiles, “Yes, please.”

At the end, as he stands up, he says, “This is the best meal I have ever had in America.”

I am taken aback. Almost wounded by his words.

He starts back to work, but the vacuum cleaner never arrives.

When he has done all he can do, he tells me, “I must go to my next job, but I will be back. Please don’t report this to the company. This will be on my own time.”

At 5 or 6 that night, he shows up and starts vacuuming quickly.

I am ready to put on my nightie and get off my tired feet, but I sit on the sofa and mess around on my computer until he’s done.

As he’s leaving, I slip him a ten.

“Thank you, missus. This is the most beautiful home I have ever seen in America. You are the most kind person I have met here. Thank you for your kindness.”

I just stare at him with my mouth slightly open until he concludes with, “I will be praying for your daughter.”


I am a woman whose life is wracked by sin and failure.

But at that moment, I realized that I was the hands of Jesus to that young man.


And he was Jesus to me.


                                                   *****


Perspective is everything.

Katherine and Jay have taught this with their lives.

There is always someone better off than you are.

There is always someone much worse off than you are.

I ran across these words on Ann Voskamp’s blog:


Perspective is a giver. Comparison takes.

Perspective is generous. Comparison pares down the loveliness of your life until it appears a thin shred of its former glory.

Perspective carries us through life laughing. Comparison evokes cursing and frowns and grumbling.

(Kate Merrick)


My encounter with M. reminded me:

Our little is someone else’s much.


Let us remember to share the little we have until it multiplies blessing like loaves and fishes.

In the end, it always come back...

with interest.


"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Hebrews 13:2


*Was it a coincidence that the left-overs just happened to be Shepherd's Pie?