Unleashed

“Pick your battles.”

I’ve heard the phrase hundreds of times. It’s a wise one, especially as a mother deciding whether or not to argue about hair length, clothing choices, and chores.

Until recent years, fear and pain made me feel powerless to fight any battle–even ones I should. Conflict and confrontation always seemed like evil twins, pointing pitchforks of trepidation at me as I cowered in corners trying to escape them.

On my journey toward healing, I’ve been able to gather bits of confidence, ripe for picking along the roadside. With aplomb in my pockets, I can’t keep quiet about injustice anymore. I can’t tolerate the bitter aftertaste of apathy that comes from biting my tongue.

More whole than ever , I feel unleashed.

Do you know that feeling?

CountryClubBlueLeashMy dog does. We don’t have a fence, so we always take Zoe potty on her leash. Occasionally, someone forgets to close a door. One whiff of fresh air and Zoe’s out. On the run. Leaping through backyard-after-backyard. Immersing  her nose deep in the smells and scents that had been tantalizing her for so long on the brim of a breeze.

Unleashed.

Sometimes the number of battles and injustices in the world–alas, in my own backyard–overwhelm me. I drop to my knees, panting with the exhaustion of running after it all, and I am reminded of my Master. Oh, how I want to please and follow Him with my efforts to fight injustice. I want to choose the right ones to fight, and I want to fight them in a way that pleases Him.

Often, fear and dread make me want to slink back home with my tail between my legs and stop fighting anything at all.

I was feeling that way recently, until yesterday. A wise friend asked if I would read Esther and pray with her for the next few days. Cracking open that little book of my Bible, the words from Esther 4:12-16 (The Message version) washed over my heart:

When Hathach told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai sent her this message: “Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” Esther sent back her answer to Mordecai: “Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I’ll go to the king, even though it’s forbidden. If I die, I die.”

 If I die, I die?

Wow.

My friend sleeping (probably even as I type) in the slums of Nairobi lives like this. (See what he’s doing at worldnextdoor.org.) My friend Carmen lives like this. Martin Luther King, Jr., lived like that. Paul and Peter lived like that.

My friend Mary DeMuth lives like this. Here’s a beautiful book trailer for her memoir which will be released in January, 2010.  My favorite phrase from it:

‘I’m going to shame the wise for the foolishness of choosing her.’–Mary DeMuth

Indeed.

As we make the choice to heal–and if we allow Him to–God will do that for all who have been broken. Then we can be unleashed . . . free to unclasp the collars and chains of others who desperately need us to speak and act on their behalf.

My battles might not be the same as yours, but there are battles that lie before you.

Which will you choose to fight?

And for whom?

Transplant shock

002Three baby maple trees were growing in the sandbox beneath the boys’ swing set. Knee-high, I couldn’t bear to just dig them up and dispose of them. So the boys helped me dig a new spot for them in the sun. After adding nutrients and sand and fresh mulch to the hard Indiana clay, we placed the trees in their new holes, patted them down snug, and gave them a good drink of water.

A few days later, this is how they look. The boys are concerned the trees will die, and a couple of them may. And yet, the bright green that remains gives me hope they will grow through the shock of their new environment and thrive.

Often I feel just like these trees. God has been so gracious to heal me and place me in the warmth of His Son in so many areas of my life. Yet my moods get in the way. (The fact that I’m a thirty-something woman doesn’t help. Sorry guys, but the closer I get to peri-menopause, the more pronounced my mood swings become.)

Sometimes my moods don’t have a thing to do with hormones. The shifts can come from an accidental bounced check, a missed deadline, or a complete stranger who looks at me cross-eyed.

Most of the time, my moods have to do with fear. The pain of the  past paralyzes my determination, so even though I’m in a healthier place, my roots can’t–won’t– branch out into the healthier soil. I keep relying on my old root system that was broken and shredded in the transplant process–despite the fact that God has given me the ability to grow new roots.

005Do you ever feel like that?

Oswald Chambers’ devotional from My Utmost for His Highest is a perfect parallel for this scenario:

“We will never get rid of our moodiness by praying, but we will by kicking it out of our lives. Moods nearly always are rooted in some physical circumstance, not in our true inner self. It is a continual struggle not to listen to the moods which arise as a result of our physical condition, but we must never submit to them for a second. We have to pick ourselves up by the back of the neck and shake ourselves; then we will find that we can do what we believed we were unable to do. The problem that most of us are cursed with is simply that we won’t. The Christian life is one of spiritual courage and determination lived out in our flesh.”

Dear Lord, believing we can be whole and live better lives is so hard. Please help us as survivors, and as friends of survivors, to have the courage and determination to grow the new roots that can reach the nutrients and fresh water You have provided. Help us to get over the transplant shock that consists of the circumstances of our lives we cannot control. Help us give those to You, so that we can be free to grow tall and thrive. Amen.

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(By the way, the first of my peonies burst open this morning. Isn’t she spectacular? And she smells every bit as delicious as she looks!)

Rend

1d56dbda-5c6f-4fd1-ab52-0cb7a68c1e28Maybe it’s because of Resurrection week. Maybe it’s because of the intensity of my past week. Maybe it’s because someone visiting here needs to find some hope from it: the word rend.

Whatever the reason, rend is on my heart today. Of course I had to look it up, because I love looking up words. The dictionary lists several meanings, but my favorites are: to split or tear apart or in pieces by violence; to tear (the hair or clothing) as a sign of anger, grief, or despair; to lacerate mentally or emotionally; to pierce with sound.

Kinda strange to say I have an affinity for such a word, until perhaps you consider where it occurs in Joel 2:12-13: Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Folks often ask me if I question God for allowing me to suffer through abuse and PMDs, and even my current battles with anxiety and depression. I’m sure I have, but currently I am in a place where I couldn’t be more grateful for them. The pain shapes me and molds me and makes me who I am. The pain rends my heart, and then I make the choice to allow God to use the contents that hemorrhage out of it. And no doubt, I have a lot more rending left to do.

Don’t you love the imagery God chooses in the words of Joel: Rend your heart and not your garments.” The Israelites were big on ripping up their clothes when they were in mourning. I wouldn’t mind tearing up my Target duds in His name, but God’s not interested in that.

I believe God wants us to tear up, lacerate, dig out and splay open our hearts. He wants us to rend our hearts and run to Him with them, hemorrhaging grief spilling over the tops of our cupped, weakened and trembling hands.  When we do that, God gets past the grubby, scratchy layers of wool, denim and down-filled pouf jackets and into the deepest parts of us . . .

. . . the parts of our hearts that long to feel His compassion . . .

. . . the parts of our hearts that thirst for His abounding love . . .

. . . the parts of our hearts that ache to feel Him wrap us in grace and mercy.

The last part of Joel 2:13 is really cool: “he relents from sending calamity.” God doesn’t bring calamity on us on purpose. In it’s pitiful depravity, humanity does that to itself. But sometimes I wonder–I just wonder and I may be completely theologically off–if we don’t rend our hearts and bring them to Him on our own, He chooses not to prevent calamity, and He uses it to rend our hearts instead. Then the choice becomes ours: to run to Him breathlessly and allow Him to sew us back up with His grace and compassion; or, to run the opposite direction and crouch on the steet corners and in the back alleyways of life, licking our gaping lacerations.

Similarly, I love the last meaning of rend from the dictionary: to pierce with sound. Oh how God uses music to pierce my weary heart, the notes penned by musicians following hard after Him. Chords of praise march with forte into the back closets of my heart . . . closets full of generations of moth-ball covered and moth-tattered garments that need to be pitched.

What are the moth-ball-covered clothes in the back of your heart’s closet? And, how deeply are you willing to tear those closets apart?

Here’s a song that talks about joy that comes when we rend our hearts and hand them to Him. It’s a good one for Resurrection week, too: