Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Resolution

With holiday season and the coming of the New Year, my spirit has been plagued with unrest. Several times my husband and I have tried to pin point the source of this unrest and the only thing I truly understood was that I am angry. This may not be a problem for many people but as a Christian I feel compelled to put this feeling to rest. Christ calls me to forgive as I have been forgiven. There is even a debate that unforgiveness can cause us to lose our eternal salvation… well I don’t know about all that but this is what I have discovered over the past few weeks of stress, tears, fits, sadness, and ultimately seeking God’s face.

I was confused and unnerved by the fact that the ones who I harbored unforgiveness against, truly had harmed me. Their offenses were damaging not only to me but to others. In my head I know that I have to forgive them but in my heart there is the lump of hurt that screams for something, some kind of resolution. Over and over I used the word “unresolved.” I can say: ‘I forgive them,’ with my mouth, but in my heart I feel… unresolved. So I deduced: if it looks like unforgiveness well then it probably unforgiveness. So how can I forgive and obtain that ever elusive resolution.

Hashing out the source of my angst last night with my husband, I told him yet again that I am struggling with the hurts he has brought on our family for, well, the past few years. Seeing as I have no plans to rid myself of him or make him pay, I needed so badly to find some resolution on the topic. “I’m just angry,” I said, “and I don’t know what to do with it.” I also poured out a list of others that I find myself hopelessly angry with. My husband wisely asked me to tell him just how angry I was. So he allowed me to pour out my anger and grief and despair. It must have been difficult to listen to that, but I think he was able to listen and rest in his own confidence of who he is in Christ.

This pouring out or confession was so helpful in revealing the true word I had been looking for. Somewhere inside of me, I needed there to be payment for the wrong that had been done to me and my children. There was this unspoken need for retribution. Some would call it propitiation or satisfaction of a debt. Although it was not a conscious thought in my head that my husband or the others who had wronged me should “pay” it was there in my spirit. So when I was using the word “unresolved” the word crying out in my spirit was “retribution.”

The comfort in having sought the scriptures for, well, my whole life, is that I have a lot of knowledge in my head, even if it is not really absorbed into my heart. So when the strategy of the enemy was to keep him plan of unforgiveness in my heart was brought into the light, the light of the truth of God’s word was easily able to shine on it.

Here is the truth:

When someone sins against you, they are ultimately sinning against God. The pain I feel is a result of me or someone else stepping out of God’s plan. So truly that person’s debt is not to the person they harmed but to God. And God treats all sin the same. Usually when I experience unforgiveness toward others it is because I have a hard time accepting my own forgiveness.
Robert McGee said in his book “The Search for Peace”: “if we hold on to unforgiveness, we cannot accept our “own” forgiveness. In fact, the only way we escape the torment of having unforgiveness is to begin to contemplate our own forgiveness until it has so impacted our lives that we are able to forgive from our heart.”

For years I viewed the forgiveness God gave me as him giving me a pardon or “wiping the slate clean.” But that is truly and unscriptural view of God and frankly “the” reason why I have been able to accept a true and complete forgiveness from God. It just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t follow the idea that God is a righteous. How can he just “overlook” my sins? Well the truth is that he doesn’t just “overlook” our sins. God is righteous and justice and for him to exist in that holiness there MUST be payment for sin. It is what we FEEL when we describe a “righteous” anger. We feel that this has been a true offense against out soul and God. The effects of which, destroy and deplete for generations. It is what I was feeling: the need for the payment.

The essential truth that is blocked by this partial truth in our spirit is that Christ has already made the payment for ALL sins: past, present, and future. This is a truth that needs to be put on ALL unforgiveness. Christ has paid for their sins, even if they are “not saved” and essentially “not walking in that forgiveness.” The payment was made for EVERYONE. The bible says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us;” which means that he died for us BEFORE we came to him.

So what was the thing that helped so much to burry my unforgiveness: First, I confessed my anger and unforgiveness. It didn’t look like: “Dear Lord, I am harboring unforgiveness in my heart...” No it looked like: “I am angry! I’m hurt and confused… You not only hurt me but you hurt our kids and you hurt yourself!” I think people have the wrong view of confession. Confession should be cleansing, not holding back anything in our heart. Now, beware, this is not something that you can do with “everyone.” In fact most people cannot handle this kind of confession. Do it before God or with a Godly friend or counselor.

Second the truth was able to wash away my “sin” of unforgiveness which not only hurts the one I am holding it against, it hurts my friends and family, because I am NOT a nice person when I have this anger in my heart. But mostly I hurt myself. I sin against myself. I cannot “accept my own forgiveness” in this state and it truly does torment me… The truth is that God did not just “wipe away” my sins, he looked at me and said: “You’re guilty and the punishment that is fitting for your crime is death.” And then he turned and took my punishment and placed it on Christ’s body and Christ was tortured and suffered death for me. For me and for everyone even those who do not yet (or may never) walk in that forgiveness. No one’s sin is greater than mine, because God looks at all sin the same way. So that person who harmed me deserves forgiveness just as much as I do.

I find it fitting that as I was looking for the thing that was plaguing me I could only describe it as feeling “unresolved.” Here at the new year when everyone is throwing around their New Years “Resolutions” I am struck that it is simply used synonymously with “decision.” We are making decisions as to what we are going to do the next year.

Resolve is defined as: decide: bring to an end; settle conclusively; conclude: reach a conclusion after a discussion or deliberation. It actually means that we have “decided” or “concluded” after careful thought and examination. It implies the end of something as opposed to the beginning of something. To settle, resolve, at the end of the year is actually a rather fitting thing for me to do. So while you all are resolving to be a better person in the future, I am taking the time to resolve conclusively an issue I have deliberated on in my heart for this whole year and many years before that.

So go ahead and make your promises. Set your jaw for the future. But as for me I sit here with an awesome gift to enter the New Year with forgiveness in my heart and peace in my mind. I have truly resolved.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Consumed with Grief

This year ends with loved ones lost. I have struggled and fought through the Christmas season because there are empty places at the table. Those loved ones did not die of natural causes. They died by their own hand. This is not the kind of death that leaves a sense of peace. It only leaves an empty hole. Two of these women were women I worked with in recovery. I spilled my story to them and they shared theirs with me. I trusted them and we worked through tough stuff together. We were not family but we held each other’s hands. LIFE is hard and many times our families are not there for us. In recovery we made new family. My family was not there for me because they were broken. They had so many obstacles to overcome, it is difficult to raise a family when you cannot get yourself out of the pit. I can relate. I struggle each day to be the best mother I can while I find myself a broken little girl. A broken little girl who cared for a sick mother and watch her father break down over and over, to the point that he wanted to die.

Suicide forms a backdrop in my life. Most kids remember their life based on what grade of school they were in. I remember my life by periods when my parents were stable and when they were not. I praise God that he sent people to help me and my brother along the way. When my Dad attempted suicide he would get treatment and then come home and kind of start over again. My Mom had very little coping skills and I think the many years of this atmosphere only drew her further down. Blame is not my goal here but only to tell a story.

As an adult I tried to help my Mom see her need for help. It was only in her last few years that she tried to get help. Even then she was unable to be consistent. She bounced from place to place claiming they couldn’t help her. I think when you’re 50 and your family is trying tough love, it is difficult to change. I had spent years letting her drag me into the drama and finally I wanted to let someone else be the listening ear.

Last year in the summer time my mother called me and told me she had taken enough pills to kill herself and wanted to say goodbye to me. I remember the conversation vividly because months later, in April of this year, she did the same thing to take her life and succeeded. She drove away from home, got a hotel room, and killed herself.

There is a song by Superchic that says:

”Please tell me you'll fight this fight.
I can't see without your light
I need you to breathe into my life
Don't tell me this is goodbye
I won't grieve - it's not yet time
Each breath breathed is keeping hope alive

So keep breathing
Go on breathe in
Keep on breathing
Go on breathe in
Just breathe”

I feel like I fought and fought to keep Mom alive. That day I fought to save her and I said these words to her over and over. And yet what I fought to keep breathing died.

I feel consumed with grief over the loss this year. I am angered at those who would say I am better off without my Mom. Yes, she created chaos in my life many times but now there is a hole there. I am thankful for people who have come back into my life since she died but I still miss her. I am angered at people who would say that I will always wonder what I could have done. I don’t wonder! I did it all. I spent hours on the phone calling the police or neighbors to help. I spent hours talking her down off the edge. I spoke to her doctors. I spoke to the hospitals. I went to family counseling. Year after year I did this! I drove to take her to the hospital. I drove to pick her up when they let her out! I refused to pick her up when they let her out. I talked to her for hours on end. I refused to talk to her for hours on end. I rode the roller coaster with her, for her, and for me. So I would have the peace of mind when some careless person wants to say, “You’ll always wonder what you could have done….”

One of my best friends, who had helped me through a difficult month of my Dad’s life hanging in the balance after his suicide attempt, was one of the first people on my scene when I got the news that Mom was dead. And the first thing she said to me after I was handed the phone was: “You did everything you possibly could to save her life.”

And ultimately she took her life. God had written love on her arm and she wiped it away and believed a lie, despite my efforts, despite my love and heart-wrenching conversations.

So what am I left with in my grief? What is the legacy that I can walk away with? What do I do now?
Because I am broken, I see the broken. Because I have fought and others have fought for me, I want to fight for others. I cannot do anything about the past. I cannot go back and say the things I wished I could say. I said it all! What I grieve for is the now. I want to be able to tell her that I love her now. I want to see her eyes light up with the season, but I cannot.

So what I have resolved to do is the thing that I can. I could not make my Mom love herself, but I can choose to love myself. I cannot change my Mom’s future but I might be able to change others with my story, with her story. I have some beautiful women and young women in my life who are broken. I see they are broken, because I have been broken. I want to pour words of life into their life. When your brokenness is all consuming, it is difficult to see even one ray of hope. I want to give them that hope.
Life has ended for my Mom but life has not ended for me, so in a sense life continues. I am a part of her story and I am a part of her. God has designed this miracle so life will continue, but it is so much more than just simply breathing… surviving… existing. It is about breathing in the life and refusing death that pound on the door of your heart. It is about thriving in the midst of trial and pain. It is about standing alone with God in the rain and that being enough! It is about setting a mile marker on the road, turning a rock on end, cleansing and marking a moment, yes; erecting an Ebenezer and saying: THUS FAR THE LORD HAS HELPED ME!

I will write love on other’s arms so that in some way it may penetrate their hearts. I will go toward the hard things. I will press toward the mark. I will say the things that are hard to say and open doors we would rather not open. I will wrestle with the angel and rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the paths to dwell in. I will put my faith in no one or nothing but the ONE with the nail scared hands. The one who I pray to at my mother’s leading so many years ago, that lay in the manger at Christmas time. A tiny tot who didn’t really understand prayed that the baby Jesus would save me because that is why he came to earth.

I will tell my story so that others can believe that redemption is possible.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mom's Jewelry Box

This weekend I spent a long time picking through my mother’s jewelry and it grieved me that it was piles upon piles of cheap costume jewelry. Not much of it is things I like, but I smiled remembering how much she loved to buy and wear big, shiney earrings and necklaces. Amongst all the glitter and glam, I found only one piece of “real” jewelry: her wedding band. She was not even wearing it when she died.

While going through the physical process, I meditated (as I usually do) on the spiritual side of what it represents. This is what I believe: Mom had so much junk in her life; like the cheap costume jewelry. She would see something she just “had to have” and without thinking about it, she would buy it. Mom was always struggling for money because she loved stuff and she loved to shop. In many ways she created money problems because she could not resist buying the things she saw and it all added up. And in the end she had a dusty pile of worthless junk. What is the lesson to be learned here? I think there are two:

The first lesson is: If you can be patient and save your money, you can have the opportunity to buy something more valuable that will hold its worth like gold and diamonds. The spiritual lesson is that the things we have to wait for are worth more than the things that come to us easily. When you’re young it seems very important to have a hand to hold: a person to “love” us and make us feel like we re the most important person on this planet. But when we are young we don’t know what is best for us. We want to have the marriage bed and all the things we imagine it will be immediately, but if we are wise and wait for God to choose our spouse we can avoid so much heartache and pain. Those of us who are married need to remember that God is transforming us and our spouse and will mold us into who he needs us to be. It is a process to that makes coal a diamond. Don't be distracted by others. Believe that God will be faithful to transform our spouse into the person we need, not just the person we want. Don’t settle for the costume jewelry you can have now, hold out for the diamond!

But you know, there is a positive side to Mom’s jewelry box, and the lesson is this: Our parents hand down a lot of emotional garbage to us. You could call it costume junk jewelry. So many times, in our bitterness and anger we take the lessons our parents taught us and throw the whole lot in the garbage and call it an example of what not to do. But if in your anger you fail to take the time to dig through the junk, you may miss the opportunity to find a gem amongst the junk. What is needful is to take the time to carefully consider each item and its worth and choose to keep it or throw it away. The size of the pile may be huge and the task overwhelming. The time may be “wrong” or the place uncomfortable. But we press toward the things that hurt so that we may gain understanding and then we remove the thorns so we may keep the blossoms.

So what gem did I take away from Mom’s jewelry box? Was it her wedding band? Well that is truly a gem, a symbol of perseverance in adversity. Mom stayed in a marriage that was plagued with mental illness and the resulting financial hardship. But the more precious gem to me in Mom’s box is the colors. Mom didn’t have much jewelry that I really like because I am simple, plain person. I have silver and gold and black in my own box. The only colors I really have are ones that people chose and bought for me. I probably would not have bought them if I had done the choosing. I usually want to blend in the background in this world, not be on display. The truth of the matter is that God created me and he created you too. God did not plant any weeds. Perspective is the only thing that makes a weed a weed. He had us all to go through seasons. Sometimes the flower is only a bulb underground or a dormant seed. Sometimes it is a tiny sprout or a luscious green plant. But there is a season in which the plant blossoms and beautiful colors appear. Mom wanted to always be in blossom. She loved bright, beautiful, bold colors. If it was flashy or bold she loved it. If it was silly, she bought it!

Joy in your season of blossom! A skilled gardener can force a plant to bloom in the time of his choosing. Let the gardener bring you into season. Though the world seeks to keep you underground, you must stand against it and shine. Show your reds and purples. Let it out for the world to see.