Just One More

cream casket pink flowers

Such a hard, sad day.

The man stood at the lectern and read the letters the daughters had written. Then he read the husband’s and there was one central theme…

Her husband wanted just one more. One more hug. One more kiss. One more squeeze of the hand, one more fond gaze, one more time to hear her deep belly laugh. He wanted her. He wanted to be with his best friend again, even for just one more moment.

But she slipped away from him early that Sunday morning, unexpected, one moment saying she wasn’t feeling well… then gone before the paramedics could even open their bags.

Just one more.

And as I sat there in the funeral home, a dozen rows back, behind family and so many friends, I felt a surge growing in me. For as with any and every funeral I’ve ever attended — and much more as I grow older — I realize it’s just as the ones who loved them best say: You never know when you’ll be called to leave your body behind and enter eternity. And eternity is forever, whether in Heaven or in Hell.

butterfly on flower

So again it fills me to make sure those around me know, at least as far as I can show and tell them…

Tell them
Love them,
Set self ever aside, tending to
Them, loving – knowing I am
Cared for but they —
They need to know what I know:
Life never ends
Love doesn’t die;
There is one path, a
Single door, a
Narrow way.

But the Door stands wide open, the
Path bright lit, the
Way a Truth, a Life, a
Man, the one and only
Son of Man, the God-Man, and you
Know His name, His name, you know
You’ve known all your life really, that
One name that changes everything:
Jesus.

Fierce kind, not safe, no, but comforting
Life spark, blaze flame, everlasting
Love.

And when we take Him into our deepest
Place, death dies and we can’t help
But live, for death then is only
A shaking off, a dropping off
Soul springing free into forever
Spirit sunshine.

For He, this Jesus, embodies it, thin skin covers
Blaze unquenchable and I couldn’t even
Raise my eyes but He tilts my
Chin and I smile through wet eyes into bearably
Dimmed but never diminished gentle
Blaze tempered, burgeoning because love
Escapes, gushes, knocks me down to
Rise again and I gulp in the
Light, quivering as death’s
Ice fingers curl away, slip slide
Off, can’t find purchase on deathless
Life and I jump
Alive! Laugh with my bright
Big bearded Brother.

small and larger butterfly in clouds

How can I tell them? Is there a way I can impart my freedom to those who sit there with me, wiping tears, knowing she’s everywhere here but nowhere close? How can I tell those boys I rarely see except for times like these, their Mimi’s one desire is to see them laugh into her arms up there? I bow, gaze at empty helpless hands and know I don’t have to do anything for them — she already sowed in them seeds watered by her absence and their own tears today. I see strangers all around, my own mother seated next to me, all of us somewhere in death’s queue, waiting our turn to be the one in the beautiful box, the one the man at the lectern is talking about.

And I realize as I stand and gather my things at the end, what I can do is love well those left behind. I can look into their anguished eyes and give them the hug they need. I can write the letter later telling them how much their mother, his wife, meant to me. I can lift them to the Father when their teary faces shimmer in my mind.

I can look past my own busy pod life to the concentric circles around me: neighbors, acquaintances, friends, closest friends, inner circle, best best friend… and ask Father, What about them? Am I doing your work for me on their behalf? I bow my head and for the sake of the sweet lady whose laugh I’ll not hear till Heaven, I ask, again, Father who can I love today with your love? Who can I tell of your goodness? Who can I draw closer to you today?

So while I stand empty handed at death’s crushing blow, wishing for one more visit, one more deep talk, one more hand-crafted meal and just to sit and do nothing with her… I can love just one more person today. In her honor and in honor of those who have gone before, all for the glory of God and for filling His house with countless redeemed souls. And on the day I enter the gates she and so many I love joyfully entered before me, I will look for her. I will hear her laugh and follow the sound till I get another big, loving Gail hug. Oh, happy day!

little girl releasing butterfly

A Changing Voice

close up of wire against blurred background

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“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
~ C.S. Lewis

I’m not who I was five years ago.

Five years ago. The downward spiral was at breakneck speed. I refused to take communion that day, the first Sunday in February 2014 because I thought I wasn’t a Christian anymore. The biggest lie had settled and rooted in me, rotting my understanding: I had become unsaved. A month later I would do the bidding of the voices in my head and attack my husband. I would sit stunned in a cell in Chester County Prison.

Five years ago I clutched out desperately in what was left… confusion, terror, constant visions of carnage, my own guilt. Mental illness, breakdown. Down, down, down. Yet held in strong, invisible arms. It wouldn’t get to the point of no return. But I didn’t know that yet.

In the process of finally accepting my bi-polar diagnosis and taking medication I began to see I was still in my Daddy God’s arms. I was accepted into the Mental Health Program at Chester County Prison. Moment by moment I began to breathe life in again. I was emerging from death thinking and living, and after five and a half months behind bars, walked out into the sunshine again.

Over the last four years or so since, I was protected like a little baby, snuggled close and rocked, fed, cared for. When the shame of what I’d done knocked me sobbing to the floor, I quickly recovered. I wrote and gave my testimony several times. I felt vibrant and free.

But in these past few months a new paradigm is pushing in. I am being set down on my feet, learning to walk. I’m beginning to feel the pain of growth, the emotionally excruciating process of enduring flash-backs. Instead of trying to push them away and shove in happy thoughts and feelings, I’m being asked to experience the torture. Press in and let it sink down deep. Feel it in a safe place (usually on the floor of my room, crying, worship music playing, a friend — or several friends — praying while I sit alone but not alone). I write and write in my journal, crying till I’m spent.

woman crying, pain

I see that like getting an abscess sliced open so it can drain, submitting to God’s work in this makes sense. I don’t like the sting of it, but if that’s part of the process I’ll grit my teeth and say Do it. Even when He tells me I won’t have anaesthesia this time that I’ll experience every stab, pang and spasm as it’s draining out — so be it. I choose to trust You. Do it.

I say Yes to God because as a Christian this is what I signed up for, not to stay in  dysfunction till it kills me from the inside-out. You see, much as I don’t want it to hurt, way down deep I really want to grow. To see what is actually going on inside. Then to move forward from right here as I am. To face what I did five years ago and to finally heal. To build on what has been happening all my life, accelerated these last few years, especially these last few months. The upheaval of what I had inherited in my family line – all this perfectionism, this inferiority/superiority, this I need correction, who are you to correct me?

And I realize I am so new at all of this and I feel so small, so incapable. I want to get better, though. So with shaking hands I hold the flashlight to see into the darkness of my heart. What is there, what is really there?

I’m waiting for revelation. Because as I begin seeing shapes gelling and forming images, how do I interpret them? And I’m so tired, I just want to sleep, to escape but somehow still move forward. Instead I press in. Feel it. Feel it some more. Yield, give in to the work that is where I am right now, the reality of the pain I carry. I can acknowledge there is a cause even as I have no idea the shape of it.

All my life my  modus operandi has been some form of Flail, Flight, Flee. I am learning now how to fight, to stand for myself. To know myself and accept what I see there. I am learning I am a created wonder, also hand-crafted (it’s not just others who are “special and God loves you very much”). I have inherent value and am worthy because I am born of God. This mind I was given (bi-polar and all), this body, this set of life happenings… my years of skillset-making — all have value.

I reach out to Ka’en, my best friend. A part of me resents that she is farther along, but what is that? She is farther along, this is such a treasure. She is showing me where she has been and it looks a bit like where I need to go. So I choose to humble myself. For foolish pride is like banging my own head with the shovel in my hand instead of using it to dig to the deeper life. To find the hidden path and to follow it, I need the light of one who has walked it before me. She shows me and I learn. We need each other, for where I have been is a new path to her, too. This intertwining of lives is what we were made for. Not in a co-dependent way but a divine integration of lives that builds up, strengthens, reaches out and loves as alone we could never do.

couples sitting in while facing mountain

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And I see that divine intertwining in my marriage. For this oneness is what we have in Christ, a dim representation but the best there is on this earth. So I choose to press in deeper, to see what can be learned here. In this world of marital disintegration, ours will shine as a beacon. There is hope. But where I am right now I don’t see the how of it. But I choose to submit to the path that will take us there. Whatever it takes.  I am willing.  Lord, I trust You for the next steps. That even now You are working in my husband’s heart, too. That he is feeling the pressure to change, too. That when the time comes he will be ready. That we will both be ready.

I am scared, honestly. I don’t see the way and all of this is so new. This generational junk busting, this icebreaking ship that is me, that is pushing forward for there is hard (good) work to do.

This I know:
The self-protection has to go.
The fear of exposure has to go.
The clinging to what is familiar at the expense of going forward into the unknown has to go.
The inferiority I mask with judgmentalism, with I’m better than you when inside I’m self-doubting – has to go.
Unteachableness has to go.

arms up surrender

What will fill its place? For we were made to be full of good things. We were made to embody all the Fruit of the Spirit…
Love:
sweet acceptance, openness, desire to draw out the godly in others, in me; gentle guiding, chiding, encouraging to grow, encouraging the God-seed in them.
Joy:
deep-down bubble in the midst of pain, a steady undercurrent of insight – for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  The settled calm of a weaned child with her mother. Smiling up at her Father, open and free.
Peace:
the all-is-well of understanding, placid sister of joy, the undergirding steadiness. Fruit of trust, I know my Dad is over all and in all. I can rest.
Patience:
I can wait, I can stay here as long as needed, for it will all come to fruition. I am settled in who I am so I can be tolerant, accepting of others. A sweet sister fruit of love, for love compels me to come alongside you and walk with you – however long it takes. Love is patient, love is kind.
Kindness:
sweet flow of patience, I see from others’ perspective and love them as they need in the moment. I give, I speak the very deeds and words of Christ, seeing Him in others, overflowing with hope of glory.
Goodness:
gentle purification, this Holy Spirit work scrubs my inner being till I shine with God-glory. A oneness between motive and action for the good I do pours from the good I have become.
Faithfulness:
Godlikeness looks like this. I don’t give up, never give up on others, never give in to the darkness but cling to my Jesus no matter what. I choose to honor Him and others regardless. I am in it forever. Perseverance is its little sister, its partner here. Unshaken.
Gentleness:
Selflessness breeds gentleness. I can treat others with tenderness in         speech and action. Honor treats with a soft hand, whether from a higher or lower station. A way of preferring them above myself, a stepping aside, a way to express love.
Self-control:
Gentleness flows from self-control. My impulses and urges surrendered, my controlling controlled by Holy Spirit, I can release the one in front of me from my desire to emote. It shows me the way I am to go in harnessed power. Meekness looks like this.

sliced fruits on tray

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A bellyful of sweet fruit, more and more as I am filled again and again – abundance, enough to share. A treasure trove of sweet water, pure and holy, straight from God’s throne, bubbling in my belly up to eternal life. Bucketsful for me and for the thirsty in my way.

Trials are to be embraced and rejoiced in. Counterintuitive, but isn’t that how this paradox works? So I embrace the pain and I decide, here and now, to let it do its work – all of it – in me.

Never done, there’s always a next level, a higher becoming. For becoming like Christ is becoming like God incarnate, and I am not anywhere near there yet. But where I am now is where I’m supposed to be. No condemnation, no shaming. Jesus took my shame on the cross. How horrible, how beautiful. How loving in excruciating illogical agony. You are love and this is what love looks like.

I seek truth, not to be cocooned in any self-deception, in seeing with human eyes only. Dazzle my eyes with what really is, and I will reel in freedom. Living in divinely-revealed reality is what I need. This is what true Christianity looks like and I want the Voice of Jesus to radiate out of my very being.

So I lay down on the surgeon’s table and close my eyes. I know however much it hurts I’ll emerge more like my Savior. It’s so, so worth it.

lioness lying on grey dirt near grey rock

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Friendship in the Trenches

heart shaped red neon signage

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“What does love look like?… Arms wide open, a heart exposed.”~ Misty Edwards

I was tempted to do it again the other day.

I sat next to Ka’en in church, minding my own business, when my mouth decided to make a cutting remark. I had a cold but thought she was overly concerned about my being contagious, so I said something like, “I don’t care about people being contagious, I just strengthen my immune system.”

Just like that her face fell and I didn’t even realize at first what I had done.

I should have been home, actually. I was sick with some sort of cold virus-y thing, but wanted to be in church to give her a little gift I’d bought.  I pushed myself to be there and at first so far, so good.

Then out came the zinger. Now it wasn’t a big thing but enough to hurt her, the last thing I wanted to do to my best friend. But I basically told her she was wrong and that I was better than her. As I realized what I had done, my first reaction wasn’t to apologize.

It was to retreat. To hide. To self-condemn. I slid a little away from her and folded myself into a little self-protected box, mere inches from her but pulling away more and more.

Immediately after the service she confronted me about what I had said. As I acknowledged what she said was true, I was wrong, I suddenly just wanted to leave.

What the heck?

At home I immediately lay down, exhausted from overdoing it, from going out while still sick. But mostly hiding. I thought, What would happen if we stopped being friends? I began playing the scenarios in my mind, killing the best friendship a person could want by neglect. By hardening my heart toward her I could simply pull away…

I felt sick inside suddenly, more than from any virus, so much more.

Why would I want to throw away this gift? Why would I go back to the way things used to be where as soon as a friend got too close, it got too hard, I’d run away? I never had to change, to grow that way. As soon as things got beyond surface level and she saw who I really was under the facade, I’d withdraw. I’d be too busy to get together, making excuses till she stopped trying and the so-called friendship starved. Died.

Oh, I’d gotten quite good at it and I though I was okay. But one day I heard someone ask, “Who, besides a family member, could you call in the middle of the night if you were in trouble or just needed to talk?” I reviewed my puddle-deep friendship list and found — no one.

Why did it matter? I could call family, right? I had a best friend growing up, the best friend a person could ever want. But life pulled us apart and I hadn’t had that kind of friend since. I did have a few sort of close friends. Wasn’t that enough?

No, not if you want to be like Jesus. Jesus opened his heart to those who opened their hearts to Him. He made himself available to those who wanted to be close and let them in. All the way in. Even Judas. When Judas approached him to kiss him as a close friend, signaling to the mob that this was the man they wanted, Jesus said, “Do what you came for, friend.” Friend? He had just predicted Judas’ betrayal around the supper table with the disciples a few hours before, with Judas sitting right there. Jesus wasn’t fooled. But He kept His heart open even then.

Jesus gave the ultimate definition of friendship when He said, “the greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” (John 15:13). And then He proved it by dying for them and for His enemies alike. My mind can’t take it in, it’s so powerful. But I want that kind of love

Being like Jesus means I am willing to set my own life aside and be there for my friends. To see them as the treasures they are. And even to die for them if necessary.

Being like Jesus means I love wide open, from the heart. And when I do, I experience the love of God Himself. I become a channel of that love, His love ignited by my openness into a depth of compassion I’d never have otherwise. God is love, so to give myself completely to His love and to loving others, I become love. Like Him.

I asked the Lord, Please help me to be a friend like You, to go deep and stay when I want to flee. Be that friend through me and teach me Your way of friendship. One by one friends came in and when my mask fell I gritted my teeth and hung in there. While some friendships were only for a season anyway, most got deeper,  better and better. Closer and closer. Without fear of exposure, for all was known. To know and be known is the most freeing thing I’ve ever experienced.

friends girl blonde portrait

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To be in a friendship is to choose to love another person. Seems simple, doesn’t it? But what does that look like?  I believe all loving relationships have a friendship component.  I Corinthians 13, the famous Love Chapter, could be rendered using the word Friendship in place of Love…

Friendship is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; 
Friendship is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable;
Friendship does not keep a record of wrongs;
Friendship is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth.
Friendship never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.
Friendship is eternal.

This is the kind of friend I want to be.

And I know it’s not going to be easy. Any time I open to Jesus His work always goes deeper than what I think I need. He wants to uproot old patterns and behaviors by getting at the what and why of them. What has plagued me all my life — a feeling of superiority to cover my deep inferiority around people has created walls between me and them. I can’t be the friend Jesus is to others till He takes me through the process of healing in this area, layer by layer.  He’s so kind to take it step by step, one area at a time. And to continually build from there.

This new area of work began couple of months ago, when I asked God to help me with my mouth. At times I  want to correct those around me (usually friends and family), to set them straight (“help” them) if I think what they’re saying or doing is wrong. It’s like a compulsion, and if I don’t say anything I’m inwardly judging them. They’re not as good as me or they wouldn’t do or say ______________.  I had done this basically all my life, but in the last month or so I’ve started to actually see it for the ugly habit it is. Ugh. I see at last how my words cut, dagger slashes to the heart. It hurts the ones closest to me most of all.

I’m finally sick of it. I want to be free.  For years I’ve wanted to accept everyone as the God-created beings they are. That I’m no better — or worse — than anyone else. I want to live in settled confidence coupled with realistic humility. Now, placing a trembling hand in Dad’s warm, strong hand, I’m willing to do whatever it takes. With sudden clarity I realize I only want one thing:

To love as Jesus does.

And I realized lying on my bed that Sunday afternoon — it was too late. The work I’ve longed for had already begun. I’d never be that person anymore, the one who made and threw friends away like they were disposable. I’ve got a treasure trove of close friends now and am finally becoming the friend I’d want to have. Open. Honest. Loyal. Brave.

Because it takes bravery to stay in it when it gets hard, to seek and find forgiveness. It takes courage to face what is under that cutting remark,  to submit to the training our Heavenly Dad has for us, whatever the cost.  To press past the guilt and get free of the shame. To see as He sees, and to learn how to be an overcomer here, too. Whatever it takes.

When we had some facetime that Sunday afternoon Ka’en encouraged me to go deeper with Dad, to see the how and why and the what of the  superiority/inferiority I struggle with. And to bravely follow the path to healing. She will be there for me.

I will be there for her, too. No matter what. For this war zone we were born into isn’t getting any better, and there are fierce battles ahead. Linking arms with her, with ever-deepening friendships, with others determined to call each other out of darkness into light…

With our Commanding Officer blazing the trail ahead, sword raised — we will persevere. Shouting into battle, his light within us  — together we will overcome the deepest darkness. And laugh, victorious, with our comrades-in-arms afterwards, gazing together at the face of the One who made it all possible. Our great Friend. For true friendship gives us our best life — it’s designed to last into eternity. And it’s worth laying down our lives to gain the kind of love only God can forge in our hearts. Then we truly love like Him — arms wide open, hearts exposed.

israeli women soldiers

Dear friends, what can you do today to make openness and depth in friendship a priority? What is keeping you from being completely open to God’s work in this area? Where is He challenging you to change so you can be the friend He wants you to be? Are you willing?