A plane shot out of the sky, stopping the heartbeats of 298 souls.
A four-year-old boy tossed from a car to his death.
New death toll from the latest action in Gaza: +500.
A famous couple in the middle of a divorce, locked in a fierce, ugly battle over their $2 billion estate.
Someone, somewhere is always fighting. And they’re fighting for things that they truly believe in. They’re defending their truth which can seem almost noble – indeed, it can even be noble. But the longer I live, the more reluctant I am to accept that we were meant to live like this. This scratching and clawing and making them pay and getting even is not the us we were born to be. We can win fights by flexing our muscles and firing our missiles, but we will never win satisfaction that way. And I wonder: If we were willing to stop pummeling each other, how much time, energy, intelligence and money could be rerouted to the fight against cancer and ALS and child poverty and clean water and homelessness and purposelessness. What if we could divert this frantic need-to-win and funnel it instead toward a fervent need-to-build? Maybe then the restless creative energy we use for retribution could be focused on developing actual solutions to the atrocities that have plagued humanity for far too long.
I love this quote by Thomas Merton. It’s filling some broken places in my war-weary soul:
Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience. -Thomas Merton
Fidelity to the truth. I want to live lashed to the altar of that sentence; stuck-like-glue to the truth that those who view peace as something worth fighting for are the happiest heroes of all.
Years ago, the book Prayer of Jabeztook the world by storm. It was built on an obscure scripture from I Chronicles – a beautiful prayer spoken to the heavens by a man with a strange name and a difficult life. The book got people praying again and one line from that small bit of biblical text quickly took center stage in the Christian lexicon: enlarge my territory.
I was thinking about that line this morning, as I’ve run to my Bible and my coffee for refuge after a string of long, hard ALS nights. (One thing I’ll say for living at extreme levels of exhaustion: it pretty much eliminates pretense. There’s no posing in my prayer life anymore.I don’t have the time or energy for it.) I mostly mumbled gibberish through my murky mental fog until one line rose to the surface and became something of an inhale/exhale:
“Strengthen my resolve, increase my reserves, fill my storehouse.”
I breathed that prayer in and out, in and out, in and out, and it reminded me of a therapy Steve does called breath-stacking. Because the muscles in his chest are beginning to atrophy, he uses a weird device to force air into his lungs, causing them to expand and fill. So in spite of his muscles’ inability to do that work on their own, his lungs are still being enlarged and maintaining more of their functional capacity.
Here’s how I think all this comes together: External pressure exhausts internal capacity. I could ask God to lessen the external pressure, or I can ask Him to step in and sovereignly fill my lungs with life. Maybe this is what “expand my territory” is all (or partially) about. Maybe it’s not so much that God is here to give me new and exciting adventures or increased authority or notoriety or whatever it is we think of when we think “expansion”. Instead, I think it might mean that He is here to grow my internal ability to draw the strength I need from Him, to endure hardship with hope, to run a long race without losing joy, to care for Steve well, to do tasks I’ve never imagined I could do before (medical stuff freaks me out a little – but I’m learning.) Maybe the territory that He is longing to enlarge for me is actually the ground inside of me – where the threat of atrophy is always lurking. Because it seems that any long term external expansion will hinge on our internal capacity to maintain it.
So today, this is my prayer over myself and the ALS wives that are so dear to me and over everyone who feels at the end of their rope and last of their resources:
Strengthen our resolve (to do Your will when it’s hard), increase our reserves (to endure this “expansion” with joy), and fill our storehouses (with all the resources we need to become the bigger, stronger people You have designed us to be.) Amen.
With hope for strength, increase and abundance,
P.S. Please know this post in no way reflects criticism of the book Prayer of Jabez. Great book, fantastic author, beautiful message.
Yesterday, Steve and I had a romantic date to St. Charles emergency room. Believe it or not, it’s the first time he’s ever been in one. Like most of our ALS misadventures so far, this one ended better than it started and we’re glad for that. Our kids are amazing. That fact stands alone. But yesterday they each dropped what they were doing to care for us in a million little ways, and when it was all done, we hunkered down at home around Chinese food and…donuts. I know. I can’t live this way, you guys. I have to find a healthier comfort food.
We had another long night last night and as I was laying in bed, I remembered a verse a friend had sent me yesterday. I read it first thing in the morning and immediately melted into a sleep-deprived puddle of tears and worship. I’ve never seen this verse from this angle before. Last night I quoted it to myself a lot of times and the deeper meaning started to take root in my heart.
Here’s the verse:
“Behold, bless the Lord, all servants of the Lord, who serve by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the sanctuary, and bless the Lord,
May the Lord bless you from Zion, He who made heaven and earth.” Ps. 134
And here’s my paraphrase, written for all new moms and ALS wives and exhausted caregivers and parents of teenagers and everyone who has ever worked the night shift
Look at them! Do you see the ones who serve the Lord when everything is dark?
They rock babies to the sound of the stars.
They tend to broken hearts and bodies by the light of the moon.
They answer their phones at 2 a.m., knowing the fact that its ringing means their sleeping is probably done.
They pray on their beds for the children they used to hold through the night and can no longer reach.
Giving up comfort, their sacrifice becomes a sanctuary – the place where God shows up.
Now, weary one, turn your affection toward the Lord. Lift your too-full hands to Him and He will bless you back. He will pick you up and hold you as you hold the pieces of your world together. The God who made heaven and earth sees your offering and He will surely bless you.
Hey there, Guy in the Yellow Jeep in Front of Me at Starbucks,
You don’t know me. You don’t know the night I just lived through. You weren’t there through the dark parts, the scary parts, the frustration and the one hour of sleep.
You don’t know this season I’m in, where everything seems so fragile and I don’t feel like the smart girl, just the desperate girl who’s trying to negotiate some steep slopes in the Shadowlands.
You couldn’t possibly know that the longest night of my life ended in a morning of…no coffee. I’m never out of coffee. Except today. The one day I felt it really might be my only hope.
You had no way of knowing these things. And yet you chose this day to buy a stranger’s coffee in the car behind you. Maybe it’s the first time you ever paid it forward (backward?) Maybe you do random acts of kindness every day and you wonder if they ever really matter. I just want you to know that today, it mattered. On this very murky morning, it was like Jesus Himself bought my coffee .
So, thank you. You made a difference in someone’s life today and it’s not even noon. I hope I remember to do the same.
I’ve wandered to my keyboard today, wanting to write out some sort of something. Emotions, memories-in-the-making, fears, failures, frustrations, wins, wounds. Maybe I feel a little behind in my processing or maybe there is no such thing. Maybe we’re on a new stretch of road in the journey and my head is spinning with all the ways I feel inadequate to shepherd my little flock through this unmarked place. I don’t know, exactly, all the things happening in my head, but I do know I am loaded up with thoughts and just a little nervous about what might flow out of my fingertips.
And yet, I’ve committed to authenticity – as much as I can muster and as much as I feel the world outside our window can handle. So, here I am, landing hard on the grace of Jesus today and using my words to share some random thoughts that really may be only for me. Feel free to jump off the train right here if you’d like.
Steve has been dealing with a strange ALS phenomenon that I won’t describe here because it’s complicated and involves the word “mucous” which is never going to draw readers to a blog. Suffice to say, he feels like he’s drowning a lot of the time, especially at night. We use meds to try to combat it right now, but meds-through-a-feeding-tube-at-night involves so much more time and energy than one would imagine. We’ll be getting a cough assist machine this week and I hope that’s a better solution. All that to say: we’re pretty tired. This is a weary, sometimes scary, season.
I’ve been trail running for several months now and I love it. I’ve realized recently that one of the reasons I love it is because it’s a microcosm of life. A trail has pretty and ugly and sunny and shady and downhill and uphill. It has parts that are exhilarating and parts that are exhausting and parts where you think you can’t go on, but you have to because you’re not going to spend the night on a trail, three miles from home. That feels like life right now.
Our grandson, Greyson, has what I believe might be a supernaturally-fueled love for his grandpa (Papa). It. Is. Beautiful. And sort of heartbreaking. It’s like a lot of things right now (and a lot of things today, because I’m tired and tears just roll so easily.)
Sometimes, when I talk about the beauty we’re finding in our battle, I feel like people suspect I’m in some sort of denial. Please understand: finding the upside in this thing is not some clever marketing ploy for my book or a “good Christian girl” response. It is, simply, my only survival. It is my anchor in a tsunami. Remember Tom Hanks’ attachment to Wilson, the volleyball, in the movie “Castaway”? That volleyball was his only hope, his only friend, his only reason to keep moving. It’s not a great analogy, but that’s how I feel about our hold on the reality of eternal life right now. Those who feel it’s a shabby consolation prize are certainly welcome to their opinion, but we won’t have much to talk about. Because, again: it is our only lasting hope. It’s all we have and it is enough. Some day I might have the energy to defend that position to the naysayers, but for today, I’m just holding to my anchor.
Even as I sit here writing these swirling thoughts, friends showed up my door with a care package which includes orange flowers. Orange flowers are my love language. Jesus knows. And cares. And sends people to remind me
In conclusion, this song, these words on repeat in my life:
Far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can’t see
And this mountain that’s in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea
So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name
It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
It is well with my soul
If you’re facing a mountain (and most of us are, right?) you can find the whole glorious song right here.