Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I press on...

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds 
of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the 
gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 
                    - 2 Corinthians 4: 3-4

I have had a myriad of injuries in my life, including but not limited to: a broken arm, broken elbow, broken wrist, broken foot. two C-sections, and a dislocated left kneecap.  Of all of those, I would do any of them ten times over to never experience the dislocated knee again. It's the kind of pain that still gives me a cold shiver and a small adrenaline dump just thinking about it. 

If you've never experienced this kind of special injury, let me describe it for you:

To begin with, it's pretty obvious when you dislocate your knee. It's not like a fracture where you may or may not have actually cracked the bone.  If you pop your knee out of place, you know it.

The best way that I can describe it is to have you imagine what it would feel like if an invisible mobster attacked your leg with a 25 lb. baseball bat. It takes your breathe away.  First, you hit the floor with absolutely no hope of catching your fall, and if you're really in for the double-whammy, your kneecap will stay dislocated. Next, besides the pain of the displaced knee, you also feel immense pressure both above and below the cap where the tendons and ligaments are straining to remain attached to your surrounding muscles. Then swelling begins to set in, as does shock, and the excruciating pain takes a backseat to the lightheaded, goofy feeling of trying not to pass out.  

Of course, that is immediately remedied by having someone reset your knee, which basically consists of them straightening your leg while firmly scooping the cap back into its placement. It's a completely necessary procedure, and there's absolutely no good way to do it - no matter what, you are about to feel like someone just snapped your leg in half like chopstick.  From there, the docs may take a few X-rays, and if it really seems like you've torn something, you may warrant an MRI, but for the most part, the intense, immediate events are over.

The recovery isn't nearly as simple as casting a broken arm.  A thick, uncomfortable brace has to be worn 24/7 for weeks, in addition to using crutches to move anywhere. Sleeping, taking a shower, and getting into and out of the car are all acts of acrobatics and require ten pillows and a pulley system to execute.  As an added bonus, every time you even think of using your quadricep, a lightening bolt shoots through your joint.  There will be little to no weight bearing for months, and once PT starts, it's several months of just trying to convince your brain that it is, in fact, OK to bend your knee.  

In all likelihood, this will be your "bad knee" from now on.

A few months ago, I re-injured my "bad knee," twisting it as I was walking down the hallway at work. Nothing in particular caused it - I wasn't moving quickly or wearing poor shoes or trying to negotiate a slippery floor. Nevertheless, I took a step, and while my lower leg stayed straight, my upper leg twisted sharply to the right and a very sharp, painful crunch occurred.  It wasn't as bad as when I dislocated it, but I knew that I injured it. After a month of babying it, the knee seemed to be back to normal, and then it did it again. This time, babying it didn't help, and within a few weeks, my left leg was so stiff that I couldn't bend it at all. 

Off to physical therapy, I went. The PT has been amazingly helpful. I'm recovering slowly, but steadily, and my range of motion is almost up to 90 degrees with little pain.

So, yesterday, my physical therapist, Amber (who is amazing, BTW), had me try walking quickly across the room to check on how some taping she had done to my knee felt. So, I did, and it was fine - no pain. But I was still limping, which was weird because I didn't know why. 
"Why am I still limping? Is that weird?" I asked.
"Try this," she replied, "Take a regular length left step and a long right step."
I obliged, and took a normal gait step on the left and a longer stride with my right - down the room and back. 

No limp.
"That's weird! This feels really weird. Do I look weird? Cause I feel like this looks really, really weird," I exclaimed.
"Nope. It's just that now your steps are the same size," she answered.

Wait, what??? 

Now my steps are the same size? Weren't they always the same size? 

Apparently not.  Apparently, I had managed to go 35 years walking "wrong" and never knowing it.  

Thirty-five YEARS, and I never knew that I was walking all wrong. How could I NOT know this?

Still stunned with this revelation, I left PT yesterday, making a conscious effort to take long right steps and normal lefts.  

"Step...Sttteeeepppp....Step....Sttteeeepppp....Step....Sttteeeeppp...." [this is what I'm saying in my head as I walk down the sidewalk to my car.]

"Short...Looong....Short...Looong...Short...Loooong..." [as I walk around my house, through the grocery store, down the street...]

I asked my husband about it last night, and he confirmed it too.
"I just thought that was how you walked!" he tried to explain.
"Seriously? You noticed this? I have been walking weird in front of you for eleven years and you never thought to mention it???"
I started making dinner after that, and as I was cooking, I let my mind wander over other things. What else have I been oblivious to my entire life? Have I been absent-mindedly writing with the wrong hand? Am I unknowingly making little noises or holding my head at a tilt every time I have a conversation?  


And then it hit me. 

I never knew I was walking wrong because I had never walked right to begin with.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
                                                       - 2 Corinthians 4:6

Most of my life, I was completely oblivious to my broken relationship with God. I lived how I lived, without ever questioning if this was how I was supposed to live. This was how I was raised. This was what I knew. This was how everyone I was related to or friends with lived. And no one told me any differently.

To be sure, I had some moments when I was broken - moments when I was completely at the mercy of God - but in my every day, mundane, walking-through-the-grocery-store-life, I was generally oblivious to the fact that I was limping. 

I just thought this was how people walked.

And then, I was saved. For whatever reason, and definitely not because of any merit of my own, God pointed out to me that I was limping, and He showed me how to walk, and He surrounded me by people who are also re-learning to walk, to walk without limping.  Some are farther along than others, but all of us are no longer blinded to the fact that up until then, we had been limping through life, completely content to be crippled by sin until our dying day.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 
Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 
It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.
                                            -Proverbs 3: 5 - 8

So, what have I learned in these last two days of walking and last three years of walking

Walking is hard.

It takes a lot of concentration, a lot of effort, and a lot of balance and support. It is tiring at times - there are moments when you want to just walk how you have always walked. It's easier. 

But I also know that walking wrong isn't right. 

So...I will keep trying to walk right, 

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, 
but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. 
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind 
and straining forward to what lies ahead, 
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 
Let those of us who are mature think this way, 
and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 
Only let us hold true to what we have attained."
                                - Philippians 3:12-16

Friday, May 15, 2015

Get Out Of The Boat

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

In life, if you're lucky, God will pursue you as a child. He'll place you in a family of believers. He'll give you a teachable spirit, a humble heart, a happy home, and a sound church. That was not my road. I grew up as a Christian, but it was a social identity, not faith, and the older I got, the further and further away I fell. A lot of that stemmed from my parents' divorce. Those were dark times in our house, and everything that we knew was suddenly sinking sand.

But I wasn't going to sink. Because you can't make me do what I don't want to do. That's what I thought the secret to life was.

By middle school, I was often praised for my stubbornness, and therefore, I came to believe that impertinence was a virtue. That prideful bossiness made me valuable because I wasn't weak.

By high school, I had a series of boyfriends, some good and some less than such. And I never stopped for a break from relationships because if I didn't have a boy interested in me it meant that I wasn't valuable.

I drank and smoked and drove fast and played rough and worked hard and basically did everything I could think of to prove to anyone I met that I. Was. Valuable. I was a tough girl who didn't care what others thought of me, or said of me, or heard of me.

Now, despite this behavior, I believed in God...kind of. I believed in "a God," as in the way that people do when they say it apologetically or defensively, with the "I mean, I'm sure that there is a creative "force" out there that guides us and sets karma into action, etc...but as for which god is the right god, I mean, does that even really matter? Cause we all basically believe the same stuff anyway - don't lie, don't steal, don't murder people. Geez, it's not like I'm Hitler!" attitude.

And this went on and on, through college, and through meeting and dating my future husband, and through our engagement.  

And through the death of my grandmother that nearly broke me in every way a person can be broken.

And through a year and a half of unbelievably painful, full-body joint inflammation that pulled me into the deepest pit of depression I have ever known.

And through drug treatments that left me suicidal.

And through a pregnancy that should have ended a hundred times over, and by the grace of God, did not.

And through a second pregnancy, so soon after the first that it seemed as if the first never stopped.

And through two solid years without a single full night of sleep.

And through a young marriage so overwhelmed with babies and medical bills and mortgages that divorce was on the table. 

Through all that, I refused to be humbled. "Because you can't make me do what I don't want to do. And I don't care if you are God. I am the master of my own destiny. I will take my life up by its scruff and tame it into submission. I. Am. IN. CONTROL."

Except I felt totally out of control. And I knew that I was out of control, that my life was out of control.  So I searched. I spent about five months trying to figure out how to fix my life. More adventure. Less responsibility. A change in diet. A new haircut. A new plan for managing household chores and expenses. Nightly alone time, away from each other. More wine. A lot more wine.

For a while, I really thought it was working. It was working. But it wasn't changing anything. I didn't get any happier; I just got my way. I didn't get any closer to my husband; we just didn't fight every day. I didn't love my children or my life any better. It was a tourniquet of sorts. The bleeding stopped, but the wound was still there.

And then, out of the blue, I began to team plan with another teacher in my department. It was a strange relationship to begin with because I don't "team" anything. And we had basically nothing in common...except that she also has a husband named Adam, a young daughter, and a younger son. We became friends, and really for absolutely no reason at all, I asked her one day where she went to church. So, she invited us.

I went. And it was a completely foreign experience the first time. It was a Wednesday night, and part of the time was spent in corporate prayer before the sermon. I had no idea what to do or say, so I just listened and hoped that I wouldn't have to say anything out loud.

But, despite my awkward discomfort, there was this feeling of honest worship that radiated from this body of believers that really appealed to me. It's strange to try and explain, but I could feel that no one was there out of family obligation or social ladder climbing. They were there to learn, to sing, and to pray. It was the most honest display of Christianity I had ever seen. 

So, we went back. And on my first Sunday, the pastor preached from Matthew 14 - the recounting of Christ walking on water. I was familiar with the storyline, so I was somewhat surprised when the pastor didn't focus on Jesus's ability to walk on water. I mean, I thought that was the point?

But it wasn't the point. The point was that Peter, despite seeing Jesus standing there in front of him, didn't want to get out of the boat because he was afraid of drowning. Afraid of making the wrong choice. He had all the rational reason in the world to trust Christ. Jesus was standing in front of him, holding out his hand and asking Peter to get out of the boat, but still, Peter was afraid.

And I realized that my whole life, God had been asking me to get out of the boat. To just trust Him, to take His hand, and walk with Him. But I was afraid. I was afraid that if I made the wrong choice - if I chose the Christian God and that turned out to be wrong, I was afraid that I would sink. 

But then again, I thought, I'm already drowning.

So we stayed on, and about 10 months later, I heard something that would radically change the way I saw my life and all my trials. 

This time we were in Matthew 26 at the last supper, and Jesus was telling Peter that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny him three times. Well, of course, Peter refused to accept that, and he told Jesus, quite insistently, that he would never deny him. Peter, of course, was wrong.

But that wasn't the point. The frailty and fallibility of man isn't something that needs to be demonstrated to be understood. The point was that, despite Peter outright denying that he was a follower of Christ, Christ still pursued him. In the moments after Peter denied Jesus for a third time, Luke wrote in 22:61 that the Lord turned and looked at him. He didn't turn away from Peter. He didn't shut him out or cut him off.  He pursued him in his shame, and Peter was broken.

I was broken by that. It never occurred to me that all of the trials in my life were actually blessings. God pursued me in all my sin and shame and active rebellion and denial of Him. In all of those moments when I felt as if I was choking on the dark water of my life, on death and sickness and fear and hate and guilt, God had been leading me to this single thought: 

I can't do anything in my own power. You are my God. You love and value me more than I love and value myself.  I am not the master of my own destiny.

I am not in control. 

"And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat  and walked on the water and came to Jesus."

(Matthew 14:28-29 ESV)

If you are in a dark place right now, a place where everything keeps getting darker, and where everything that you imagined your life to be is crumbling, and hopelessness is settling in, and you feel like you are drowning, know this: 

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

I've been there.

God's power is made perfect in your weakness.  

His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. 

And you will find rest for your soul.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Give Me Faith

“Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water, for the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.”  - Job 3:20-26

I am not suffering as Job. Let me just put that out there to begin with. However, I am going through a rough patch, and the last few weeks have been pretty bad. 

But yesterday....yesterday, something happened:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. - 1 Corinthians 10:13

OK, so I need to preamble this with what has been going on with me for the last month because otherwise, it won't make sense.

Over Christmas Break, I started showing signs of my anxiety-depression creeping back in, but I chalked it up to PMS and having a household of plague. However, after Christmas, it didn't get better. I was angry all the time and short tempered with the kids. I felt exceedingly tired, and mostly just wanted to be alone. So, I decided to start a half-dose of a mild anti-depressant. I coupled that with some lifestyle changes - I stopped coffee, stopped sugary snacks, increased vegetables and fish in our diet, stopped watching TV at night, went to bed earlier, got up early and started a morning Bible study.

It worked for about a week and a half, but the symptoms started to creep back in the Friday before last. So, I started back to the gym a week ago, hoping that the endorphin rush would help. And it does, for about an hour.

So, Wednesday night, I was sunken way down in a pit of depression. I went to church anyway because Adam thought that prayer and music might lift my spirit, but all it did was focus my mind on just how bad I felt. I broke down during service because I just felt exceedingly alone and sad...I left the sanctuary and went to hide in an unused nursury room, and I wept and I prayed and I wept some more.

And then I went home, and decided to try upping my meds to a full dose the next day, hoping that the depression that I'm feeling in the afternoon is because my morning dose was wearing off. And I'm hopeful that this will work, but I am also realistic that it will eventually not be enough. My history with this particular drug is that it is really effective, but only for a short while.

Thursday wasn't much better, but Friday was, and I could feel the weight of my depression start to lift a bit.

I went to the gym yesterday - trying to make a habit of it, you know. And, I did my normal workout to my normal workout playlist - a bunch of pop/alternative pop/R&B stuff: Lauren Hill, Pink, Adele, etc... but at the beginning and end, I always stretch to a slow song. So, I got the end of my workout, and I'm feeling pretty tired and pretty weak and I go to stretch, and my playlist runs out. Before I can exit out and go find a song, this song starts to play: "Give Me Faith" -

And I thought, just for a moment, that my iTunes had just gone on autopilot and pulled song out of my library, but I looked and on the top right corner was the song price...and I was really confused at that point. I don't own this song...but it's playing the whole thing. This isn't a preview....

I hit the back button, but it just backed out to my playlists, not to the radio or anything, and then, I heard the lyrics:

And, I literally started crying in the middle of Planet Fitness. I mean, I have been struck by praise and worship music before, but there are only a handful of times that I have been completely humbled by how God is trying to reach out to me - to me of all people - and let me know that He hears me.

So, that's what happened yesterday...I'm still amazed at it.

Praise God for His faithfulness because I would not seek Him if He did not seek me first.