Together Is Better

heal  

verb   [heel]

1. to make healthy, whole, or sound; restore to health

2.to bring to an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups,usually with the strong implication of restoring

 3.to free from evil; cleanse; purify: to heal the soul.
 Working in health care for almost thirty years now, the idea of physical healing is nothing img_9058-3abstract or new. There are some who search and commit to healing at any cost: the best specialists, the most rigorous testing, intentional planning, and conscientious living. Others ignore warning signs, isolate, deny their needs and symptoms, and continue to experience a slow steady decline and loss of vitality. But there is so much more to balanced health and wellness than stable vital signs, a good report on an annual exam, and routine scheduled procedures. Obtaining and maintaining good physical health involves a day by day, one foot in front of the other journey. What about good emotional, mental, and spiritual health? Are they any less important or demand less intentional thought and attention? Are there short cuts, quick fixes, and magic elixirs and oils to soothe a troubled mind, bind a broken heart, or set a spirit free?

So…what do the title Together Is Better and the term heal have in common?

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“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matt 18:20

I recently found myself in the midst of a small circle of women exploring and recounting stories, struggles, truths, and lies learned in the murky depths of life, loss, hurt, and healing. Anytime a tightly woven circle of believing women gather to go deeper into matters of the heart, not only is there coffee; invariably there are tears, prayer, hugs, words of encouragement, and usually snacks. 🙂 Where two or more are gathered, there is great potential for depth, accountability, searching, support, confrontation, and sometimes conflict. But there is also life and love and lessons that are not learned in text books, television, or self-help videos. Somewhere in the midst of the searching and sharing, words and images from a book I had read years earlier found their way into the conversation.

That’s why you’re here…I want to heal the wound that has grown inside of you, and between us…there’s no easy answer that will take your pain away…life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship.

img_9068The Shack, by William Paul Young, was released to both raving accolades and scalding controversy. Different, edgy, imaginative.Yes, it’s fiction, but as God, yes God, met with and spoke those tender words to the struggling, hurting soul in the story, I was reminded of a phrase that my pastors frequently quote: Together is better. I attend a contemporary church that emphasizes the importance of small group ministry. I suppose it’s a phrase that I’ve heard at least a thousand times: a catch phrase, a cliche, a buzzword, good advice? More than that, it’s a direction, a building block, and a ministry. People matter. Words matter.They have meaning and consequence. Sometimes a few black and white words on a page can breathe the hope, healing, and breath of God to a hungry, hurting, searching people.

I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing…
Penned in the introduction to the book, those simple words explain much of life, love, loss, and restoration. They also foreshadow and frame the impending story: not only the fictional story in The Shack, but parts of our own stories as well. Too often people are wounded and subsequently withdraw into solitary shells and lonely retreats; or they build protective barriers that may quickly become fortresses with thick impenetrable walls… more like prisons, that eventually harden their paths, their choices, and ultimately their hearts.
img_9084People are imperfect. They fail. They’re messy, inconvenient, and burdensome. Sometimes they unintentionally neglect, wound, scar. Other times it’s not so unintentional. Sometimes it’s deliberate, calculated, evil, and unrepentant. There is no sorry, forgive me, or I was wrong.  In the book, Mack experiences a Great Sadness that is totally out of his control. He did nothing to put himself in the position of helplessness and wounding. Someone else’s hurtful thoughts, ruthless actions, and destructive sin choices thrust him into the depths of unrelenting pain and anguish. Loss and life change. In the pain, he recoiled reflexively, as if scorched by a searing flame and, in time, his scars grew thicker and colder. They created a solid exterior, tough and protective . At the same time forming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle dividing him from God and, in some ways, others. Then he had a choice. We have a choice.
Getting head issues out of the way makes the heart stuff easier to work on later…when you’re ready…I can set you free, but freedom can never be forced…you don’t even understand that freedom is an incremental process.
Freedom is an incremental process? Gradual? Progressive? Little by little? There is freedom in that alone! It’s permission to relax: to stop the striving, comparison, judgment, and the whys: Why can’t I get over it?  Why can’t I be like __?  Why can’t I just __?  In an era of quick fixes, easy answers, and temporary solutions, it’s easy to walk in discouragement and self- condemnation when easy or sudden healing and transformation don’t happen. Guilty. I’m guilty of great, speedy expectations: A drive thru breakthrough rather than three steps forward and two steps back. Cliches, but real struggles when discouragement threatens to separate us from God or others, when we feel like we will never get over it, we’re all alone,  or  just not good or strong enough. Maybe “since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing.” Maybe together really is better.
That’s just a tiny glimpse into the story. Just enough to raise questions and start conversations, but maybe that’s enough. Some may want to dig out their old copies of the book and re-explore; others still claim it’s heresy. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. (1 Cor 1:27)
img_9090Together is better. Yes, people can be messy; but people can also be the hands, feet, eyes, and words of Jesus to extend hope and healing in the valley of our Great Sadness, our daily struggles, or just our steady trodden paths.  The term, the Great Sadness resonates to something deep within me. That’s a whole separate post, or ten. It doesn’t have to matter what The Great Sadness is in someone’s life: an event, a loss, a lack. The goal is healing: recognition, reconciliation, and restoration. As I’m finishing up here, I realize that this post isn’t deeply theological, philosophical, or even anything new. It also seems rather incomplete… Like I could write for days and there would still be many corners, avenues, and deep wells to explore. Some people write to entertain or to influence. I write to process. Still processing.
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Friendship is born at the moment 
when one person says to another:
“What? You too?
                 I thought I was the only one.”                     C.S.  Lewis

When It’s Cold Outside…

 

How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose if there were no winter in our year.       

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The world is white today. Beautiful, really. The same brush strokes that painted the world white also hit the pause button on the repetitive tapes of routineimg_8361 daily life and created a thousand still shots: mixtures of laughter, fun, relaxation, warm cups, warmer hearts, cozy mittens, scarves, and snowballs. Through filtered computer light I’ve seen pictures of snowsuits, snow boots, snowmen, snow forts, snow angels, sleds, and at least a hundred cold, smiling faces.

Our home is quiet. No one trekking in and out of the snow. No nudges or pleas to go outside and play. No sledding or snow forts. It’s a quiet sanctuary with no schedule apart from hot coffee, warm soup, and wide eyes watching the snow fall. The backyard bird feeders are frozen, the birdbath a mound of snow. So much to think about when the world is on pause…or at least moving in slow motion.

Measuring up. What a strange thought to entertain on a snowy day. Was it the varied predictions of how much snow, how low the temperatures, various cancellations, and other life disruptions that prompted the thought? Maybe it was images and thoughts far less img_8358tangible than measured inches or levels of mercury: laughter outside, pictures on phones and computer screens: rounded red faces flushed by winter wind, puffy balls of children swaddled in warm coats and hats, brave snowmen standing proudly in the midst of their cold, humble beginnings. They all seemed to project carefree laughter and unbridled joy from a three inch still shot photo on the computer screen. What did any of those images have to do with measuring up? It didn’t take long for a barrage of questions to assault my accusing thought processes. Was I a bad mom for basking in the warmth of  fuzzy blankets, inviting books, and warm, soothing coffee? Should I bundle up the kids and rush outside to make cold noses and warm memories? But wait… The kids are grown and making snowballs or enjoying quiet moments on their own. Then more questions…had I done it well, did they have good memories, why didn’t we get this much snow when they were younger and eager to play in the snow? Such simple, seemingly unimportant questions. How insidiously the comparison trap begins…

It isn’t really about the snow. It’s about the questions, the feelings, and the accusations. I see it everyday in a hundred different ways: comparison, competition, struggling, striving, never quite feeling good enough. I see it in people who have worked themselves into sickness and depression. I see it in the tired eyes of theimg_8301 lonely woman, the defeated man, the bullied teenager, the insecure child, the dropout, the addict, the weary. I see how it tries to sneak in, unseen, into simple everyday thoughts, plans, and observations. I should have… I could have… Why didn’t I… I wish… Like cold hard snowballs thrown mercilessly by the enemy, they always seem to find a weak spot or an unguarded target.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

Albert Camus

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

Where do the thoughts, the lies, the accusations, and the comparisons come from? When did they start? Why are the voices so familiar? Could it be that the struggle isn’t new at all? Could it all be a picture of the ancient struggle that began in  Genesis 3 with two simple yet opposing questions?

Did God really say..?

Who told you that..?     apple-273839_1280

Who told you that you weren’t good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not a good mom, not a good wife, not a good friend, not loved…just not enough?

What did God really say?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  I Peter 2:9

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:37-39

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.  Zeph 3:17

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..  Psalm 139:14

Why snowflakes and snowmen made me think of measuring up..I’m not quite sure. Snowmen are created in various shapes, sizes, and circumstances. Their lives are intentional but fleeting. They are masterfully crafted and shaped and each is unique.

And us? Masterfully crafted and unique? Fearfully and wonderfully made? What will it take to believe that? How can we be intentional? snowmenWhat would it look like to find others willing to step into the cold, messy storm with us to lend a hand, to support, and to strengthen? What does it mean to take every thought captive? Frequently set aside time for a thought check and belief inventory: What do you believe? Who or what do you concede the power to define you?  And a support inventory: who do you love, trust, and believe? Who will walk with you and give honest reflection of your strengths, your weaknesses, and your worth? All the voices, images, memories, and ideas we are exposed to have power to create beliefs and self-imposed definitions. Some realistic and accurate, others false, unrealistic, or even unattainable. So we compare. Or we condemn. We measure. Others and ourselves. How will you measure your worth today?

 Those were my thoughts on this cold snowy day.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.   Micah 6:8

Books and Bombs

I like to read. And I like to write. IMG_7565So when I was offered an opportunity to read and review Elisa Pulliam’s soon to be released book, Meet the New You, I jumped on board expectantly and wholeheartedly.

But this is not a review. I actually haven’t started it yet…at least not on a page one, left to right continuum like a compliant, conformist reader. I did, however, skim the chapter titles, speed read the planner, and glance over pertinent quotes.

By ” pertinent quotes” I actually mean words that pierced the heart, stung the conscience, opened the eyes, and fell in my face like a cold, drenching rain. Why did I read those particular words on that specific day at the precise hard place I had just found myself sitting in anger and frustration? I don’t believe in coincidence, happenstance, or luck. I choose to see “coincidences” as divine appointments, purposeful encounters, connecting crossroads, or meaningful words and events in due season.

“Forgiveness Frees Us from the Chains of Pain”   -Elisa Pulliam

That was the first quotation from the book that jumped off the page and into my conscience. A few months ago I wrote a blog post about forgiveness…about turning the other cheek and going the extra mile. Back then it was merely a little obstacle, a tiny bump in the road, but the struggle this week had been chain2very different: deeper, more hurtful, less easily released. Okay…not released at all, but held firmly between fingers clinched so tightly, for so long, that I couldn’t remember how to open them. Just as old friends, old songs, and old photos often bring back the warmest feelings and happiest memories, old hurts and offenses are often embedded in the deepest, darkest places and forge the most pain, anger, and confusion. They inflict invisible wounds to the heart and soul.

This isn’t about confession. Or scandal. Or grungy details of sin or hurt or loss or betrayal. It’s just about humanity. About feeling. About living, loving, hating, and believing. It’s about guilt and regret and confusion and trying and succeeding and failing. About falling down and getting back up. It’s about emotion and expression and repression…and sometimes even a little regression. At its core, it’s about struggle and chains and wires and bombs…and freedom.

“Unforgiveness wires our soul to the past yet causes explosions in the present.”    -Elisa Pulliam

That was it! That one sentence explained the pressure that had been building in my mind and body until I thought I might explode. It was linked and wired and crisscrossed like a complex circuit board. Or maybe it was more like a pile of dynamite. I’ve heard that one potential sign of harboring unhealed hurts or unforgiveness is having an unusally tender spot that we hide and cover and push people away from. I’ve also heard it compared to a thorn that we adapt to, wrap scar tissue around, and sometimes forget it’s there…until someone or something touches it and then we recoil in pain, confusion, or shame. So…unforgiveness may manifest as a tender, unhealed wound? Makes sense. But a bomb?

This really isn’t all about me. I talk to lots of people. It’s what I do and I love it. But I frequently witness the consequences of unhealed hurts, repressed feelings, and unforgiveness. I counsel people who are confused about seemingly unexplainable anger, frustration, depression, anxiety, tension, and lashing out: “I just snap.” “I can’t control it.” “Something just comes over me.” Sometimes there really is no obvious present-day trigger. Sometimes it’s not situational or chemical or hormonal. Sometimes it seems as if a hidden remote control or detonator button is pushed and they have very little control.

But what is about me is this: I had a bad day. I snapped IMG_7563at someone for no legitimate reason. Snapped? Okay…I exploded all over someone. Not just any someone, but someone I have a long, deep, hard history with. I said very hurtful things…words and expressions and tones that I didn’t like and don’t typically use. It was hurtful. It was hateful. There was no love, no grace, no mercy. Truthfully, the worst was not even said to the person directly, but to the four walls of the room I retreated to as a private sanctuary…an asylum. But I heard my tone, my words, my intent, my heart. Who walked away with the greatest pain and regret? I have no doubt that I did. I was the bomb. Unresolved conflict was the detonator. Unforgiveness was the catalyst. Explosion was inevitable.

“It is only through forgiving others that we become unchained and able to really move on.”    -Elisa Pulliam

Does knowing that there’s a distant, remote trigger for what we say, do, or feel today make all the hurt, struggle, and guilt disappear? Probably not, but it does give IMG_7561more focus, direction and new weapons to engage in the battle. It’s difficult to fight an unknown, unnamed enemy. What will you call it? Anger? Hurt? Bitterness? Unforgiveness? By naming it, we see the potential battle lines, mine fields, and obstacles and will be better equipped to grab hold of a live wire and trace it back its point of origin and unplug it. Diffuse it. Disconnect it. Purposefully. Prayerfully. Vigilantly. Is it easy? No, but we walk it out one step, one breath at a time. Pray for wisdom, patience, guidance, discernment, and willingness. Pray, cry, talk to someone, learn and speak truth. Fall and then get back up. And be willing. Willing to love, willing to share, willing to forgive or at least willing to be willing to forgive. And then forgive. And forgive. And forgive. Forgive those who hurt you and forgive yourself. In doing these things, we snuff out one fuse, one fire at a time; and we snip one link in the chain….and then another, and another, until the chain snaps and falls and we are finally loosed.

                                          chains

“Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. Forgiving is about remembering and releasing.”   -Elisa Pulliam

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  -Jesus, John 8:36

For more information and encouragement, please visit  http://www.thenewyou.elisapulliam.com  #theNEWyou

Rescue

rescue

  • [res-kyoo]   verb  
  • to free or deliver from confinement, violence, danger, or evil.

“All I want for my birthday is a cat.”  That’s how it all started. So simple, yet so complicated.

We spent the weeks leading up to his birthday visiting pet stores, animal shelters and various rescue sites. He wanted them all. He loved them all.IMG_6368 He explored aisle after aisle, inspecting cage after cage with mixed emotions: excitement to find the perfect companion, mixed with the weighty sadness of looking into the eyes of caged, abandoned animals. Some knew no other life. They had been born into bondage. Others had been helpless victims of life situations they didn’t understand: health crisis, death, family move, divorce, new relationship, tiredness, or simply inconvenience and lack of commitment.

Then he saw her.

 She was a skinny, sad looking ball of uneven, not-sure-what-color fur. The hand-scribbled tag attached to her cage listed her color as “diluted” but I thought she just looked tired and faded..worn and sad, maybe even hopeless; but he reached down and chose her, lifting her out of her caged despair, abandonment, and neglect and into a new world of light and love and life. She leaned into his chest and enfolded herself in his arms and held on. Very close. Very still. She could hear his heartbeat and he could hear the revving of her hope and contentment as she purred like the sound of a thousand well-tuned engines. That’s all it took: leaning in, hearing his heartbeat, trusting his hold and his love for her.

Why did he choose her? Nothing special, she did nothing to earn his love. There were more attractive, well-groomed cats. Cats who jumped, played, made noise, and vied for attention. She was sick, imperfect: fleas, watery eyes, and a little off balance…not very pretty or desired by most standards, but he loved her. He reached in and pulled her close. He wiped her eyes, held her tight, and took her home. She was perfect.

I won’t suggest that animal neglect or abandonment should be weighed on the same scale as human suffering.  There are greater, more urgent crises: orphans, slavery, addiction, oppression, starvation, victimization.  I won’t offer suggestions or supposed remedies. I will just simply reflect on how one small act can make a difference in a very small corner of a great big world. One choice, one rescue at a time.

IMG_6370 I will also remember what it means to be chosen: to be set free, to be held, nurtured, and loved. To be fed, provided for, trained. I will remember that regardless of the situation, the bondage, or the cage,  I can lean in, be still, and be rescued.   And for that, I am thankful.

The Other Cheek and an Extra Mile

But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.   Matt 5:39-41

A paradox really… Those don’t seem to be especially cheerful, Marsha's Musingsencouraging words, and it’s definitely an awkward introduction to a Thankful Thursday post; but with the right word in due season comes peace and burdens are lifted. For that I am thankful.

In many ways this feels like an extension of the “Friends in Low Places” piece I wrote a few weeks ago. Like so many others, I recently walked through a shadowed valley, a weary season, a time of struggle; and just as “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,”  out of the pen, or keyboard, the soul speaks, crafting words of hurt and offense or of hope and reconciliation.

“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”  Corrie Ten Boom

I recently found myself rehearsing offenses, IMG_6190playing back hurtful tapes, and blatantly vowing to disconnect or to payback hurt for hurt. Is it human nature to respond defensively when we’ve been hurt, rejected, misunderstood, or subtly “victimized”?  Is it a natural reflex to lash out or, conversely, to withdraw? Who then do we really hurt? Is it a shallow, veiled attempt at self-protection or is it actually a catalyst for isolation and self-condemnation? Who feels the heaviest, constraining weight of the chains? The claustrophobic, choking effects as the feelings of anger and injustice close in like a vice? In my futile attempt to protect my own feelings or perceived “rights”, I found myself feeling imprisoned behind iron bars and dark clouds.

That’s when I finally heard the words, roaring like a drenching rain from a darkened sky blowing against my face.  Should I lean into it turn away? It has been said in so many different ways: Forgive, let it go, turn the other cheek. That’s what I heard: turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Consider the consequences: a chainssore cheek, no coat, sore feet, humility, and quiet strength. Or…binding chains, clinched fists, heavy heart, frown lines, dark thoughts, sleepless nights, and slow steady poison coursing through every cell, every vein, every tissue, every thought, every plan.

Well…maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but it still wasn’t very pleasant, life-giving, or peace-making. Simply put: I chose forgiveness. I let it go. I turned the other cheek and vowed to walk the extra mile. And then…the sun shone brighter, the fog lifted, and my heart was no longer heavy. So I am thankful for ancient words of advice, for freedom, and also thankful that at some point someone turned the other cheek and walked the extra mile for me.

Independence Days

This week’s Thankful Thursday is brought to you from somewhere amidst the thankfulrubble of burnt out sparklers and spent Roman candles, from the last echoes of the thunder claps of exploding fireworks, and from the shadows of the painted reds, whites, and blues showering the sky. Today I am thankful for freedom!

I spent the week preceding Independence Day strolling IMG_5322the streets of one of the nation’s oldest, most historical cities. I toured forts where both Revolutionary and Civil War battles had been fought. I admired authentic flags, relics, and bits of history that were hundreds of years old. It was beautiful.

It was informative. It was encouraging, humbling, and inspirational. Walking the cobblestone streets, touching the fortified walls, and hearing the historical struggles and facts caused me to reflect on war and peace, life and death, freedom and slavery. It made me thankful for battles fought, wars won, lives offered, and freedoms obtained.

We also experienced a more personal “Independence Day” at our home this week. My daughter officially moved out into her own apartment. How did twenty years go by so fast? She has found independence…a taste of well-earned, nobly obtained freedom. IMG_5312I’m not rejoicing in my half-empty nest or my newly found freedom…but hers. I am thankful for the reward that years of sowing and building and praying and teaching have brought.  I am thankful that we have been gifted and chosen to watch her stand, then walk, then fly on her own…into a new stage of life, freedom, and independence.

Freedom presents itself in many forms. Last night I sat high on the bleachers in a stuffy old gym, watching a group of teenagers swim. Specifically..my teenager. Two thoughts were evident in my mind:  “Wow, he sure has gotten good” and “wow, he looks so graceful and free.”  Like so many other teenagers, he has had his struggles with peer pressure, bullying, and fitting in, but in the pool… He is free. Smoothly and purposefully, he seems to defy physics and gravity and the weight of the world seems to roll off him like the drops of water he emerges from.

His form is fluent, artistic, poetic… and absolutely free. I especially like to watch his backstroke and his butterfly. He has found his path to shut out the voices and pressures and walk, or swim, his own trail. It has brought me such joy and thankfulness to watch his transformation, his battles being fought and won, and him raising his personal flag of freedom against the embittered war that rages around him daily. He is free.

IMG_5320So many freedoms, opportunities, and blessings. Free country: I have freedom to speak and eat and read and go and do most anything I feel led to. Free will: I have the capacity and the gift to choose whom to be with, to love, and to serve. Free to _______ and free from _________. You fill in the blanks. I am thankful for the freedom to be, the freedom to do, the freedom to want and work and gain. I am also thankful to be free from condemnation, guilt, shame, and sin. No longer a prisoner. Be thankful for another Independence Day.