I’m Pretty Sure Thirsty Deer Aren’t Serene

“as the deep pants for the water,
so my soul longs after you.
You alone are my heart’s desire,
and I long to worship you.”

I grew up singing these words and always pictured an idyllic setting, like a picture through a slightly foggy lens, of a deer drinking water from a stream.  It was peaceful and serene.

Today I read Psalm 42, where these words come from and my picture changed drastically.

“I thirst for God, the living God.  When can I come and stand before him?”
“Day and night I have only tears for food.”
“My heart is breaking”
“Why am I so discouraged? Why am I so sad?”
“Why I am deeply discouraged?”
“O God, my rock,” I cry, “Why have you forsaken me?”
“Why must I wander in the darkness?”

These are not the cries of a serene worshipper so happy to rest in the presence of her God, longing for more of him.  These are the cries of a depressed, broken, dry and desperately thirsty person who feels abandoned, not loved, who is filled with anxiety, not peace.  This person is desperate, alone, sobbing.  This person is lying on the floor, crying out to God but feels as though her prayers are hitting the ceiling and bouncing back.  She knows she is not enough but she does not see the hand of God in her life currently and is afraid that she is on her own.

This picture is much less pretty.

This picture is painful and it makes me uncomfortable.

This picture reminds me of the times when I have been there.  Desperate not because I have had a taste of a good thing and want more, but because I was so, so hungry and there doesn’t seem to be anything that will satisfy.  Afraid that the pain won’t end.  Loosing hope, afraid of what I will do if I lose the last bit of hope that I am barely holding on to.

The Psalmist, however desperate and alone he feels, expresses his feelings but chooses to live by faith rather than those feelings:

“I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again — my Savior and my God!”

“Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember your kindness”

“Through each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me [even if I can’t feel it and I’m unaware]

and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.”

“Why am I discouraged? Why so sad?

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again — my Savior and my God!”

He still hurt, but he choose to look past it, just barely past it to the God who is bigger than the hurt. Life is sometimes hard, really hard.  And sometimes are feelings of awfulness don’t make sense, they just are and they hurt.  And the pain can paralyze us.  But in the midst of our gut-wrenching fear and feelings of abandonment we can acknowledge that the Lord that has been faithful so far will continue to be [even if we can’t see evidence of this yet] we can choose to remember his kindness [even if we don’t feel like we’re experiencing it now] we can choose to sing his songs and pray to him [even when we don’t think he’s listening  or acting on our behalf] because he is still God, he is still good and his word is still true even when our experience tells us otherwise.

Did thinking true, positive things make everything better for the Psalmist?  I doubt it.  Did it make him feel better?  Probably not very quickly, but probably eventually.   Focusing on truth is certainly better than focusing on lies.  And, eventually, our Savior and our God will come through for us; he will deliver us…even when it is almost too hard to believe.

Freshman Fail

We arrived in Sussex, NB Canada after a long trek from western Michigan. My parents moved me into the dorm.  I unpacked myself and got everything set up. My parents left for the night and I didn’t know what to do with all of my time.  I didn’t quite have the guts to go up and talk with random people so I stayed in my room hoping they would come to me.  And, while I waited, I tried to think of something to do other than stare at the wall (this was before cell phones and before everyone had Internet and we weren’t allowed to have TVs in our rooms).

So, my brilliant idea?  Iron my clothes.

My poor clothes had just survived a 20 hour drive to eastern Canada and were wrinkled.  And, if I ironed them all now then I wouldn’t have to iron them before I needed them.   This, in itself, wasn’t a bad plan.  What made it a bad plan was carrying to the extreme.  After all my shirts and dresses were ironed I looked around for something to do…might as well iron my t-shirts…and my jeans…and…wait, my jeans?  Really?  I’m not sure if there was anything in my wardrobe that I didn’t iron.

Later, I learned that there were rumors swirling about a freshman who ironed all of her clothes.  Thankfully, since there were so many new students no one really remembered my name so there was no name to connect to the crazy-ironer.  But I was embarrassed.  And I’m still embarrassed to this day.

The good news is that we can recover from our awkward moments.  I made friends pretty quickly as the new student activities began.  I started dating my now husband before the end of the semester and, by my junior year, I was an RA and Student Body President.

So, Internet world, you may not feel the awkwardness as you read this that I do as a write it, but remember the beginnings are often tough, but they can get better.  We can move past our mistakes and weird impressions!

Learn the Lesson of the Fallen Tree, but Focus on the Trees Still Standing

I just saw a 40ft tree fall.

A tree that had been growing for many decades.  A beautiful tree that had survived drought, storms, hot summer days and cold winter nights was cut down today in a matter of minutes by three skillful cuts into the base of its trunk.

I’ve been reading recently about the small choices that lead to affairs and adultery.  The little choices we make to sin that end up destroying us. May this tree serve as a reminder.  A reminder not to let the life that’s been created and the time we’ve spent growing, changing, persevering and serving be destroyed in a matter of minutes by a few simple choices.

We should not hide or be afraid, but we must guard our hearts and not get too comfortable or too confident in our ability to stand.  The enemy is waiting for his opportunity to make a few skillful cuts and, with them, to bring our lives and our ministries crashing down.

And, after we’ve reminded ourselves to be cautious, rather than thinking too long about the one tree that fell, we should focus on the hundreds of other trees that are still standing. The other trees that are still living, growing, thriving, providing shade.  May every tree we see that is still standing be a reminder of the beauty and life that comes with persevering.

When I’m Too Ashamed to Approach God

Looking through my journals today I came across an unedited version of this gem below.  While I’m not feeling the desperate brokenness and weariness that I was in this season of life, much of it still relates.  I want to share it with you.

Psalm 1:2 Blessed is he who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night.

Do I delight in it?  Do I meditate on it?

No.

Why?

Because I’m so far behind.  I’m spiritually out of shape {shame}.  I am like the wilting flowers in my garden. The sun is hot on them, but I’m sure the sun is even harder to bare because they don’t have the water they need because I haven’t watered them today, like I haven’t watered my soul.  I am afraid to start. {fear}  Not being perfect tomorrow means I’m a failure. {lie}

I am an idiot when I feel ashamed to seek God in response to my need and my pain. I feel bad when I seek him for relief because that means I’m making things about me not God.  But read the Psalms.  They are not all about God and his glory directly.  They are often about the psalmist crying out to a God who will help, heal, teach, guide, protect when the psalmist needs God to do this things for him.

It is about crying out to God for the things I cannot do myself.

And then, as God responds to me, he is glorified.  By admitting my weakness I am acknowledging reality and acknowledging who I am and who God is. He desires to love and support me, to be for me what I cannot before myself.  That’s not weakness in a “I could be stronger but I’m not”  kind of what, it’s reality and it brings him joy.

Why is he like this? I don’t know.  He just is.  Why is it hard for me to accept this?  I don’t know that either. But it is.

Still, I have a choice today.  I can choose to believe that I am a burden to him or that he delights in me.  I can bring my shame to him.  I can approach him despite my fear.  I can confront the lies with truth.  I can choose, as hard as it is, to act on the belief that he cares or I can turn away, weak and weary, and try to do it on my own.

Loving my Toddler

Love = putting a footstool in the middle of the living room and clearing a path around it for you and your toddler to run around because it is one of her favorite things to do.

Disappointment= her not excited about the activity at all and being upset that you put one of her toys under the footstool when you were clearing the path.

Love= remembering that you were doing this for her, not you, so if she’s not excited about it choosing to own the disappointment, letting it go and not holding her toddler responsible for not responding how you hoped she would.

Eating at the Table with Dirty People

Israel hadn’t been celebrating the Passover as prescribed in the law.  When Hezekiah was enlightened to the fact that they weren’t and that they should be he began to plan the celebration.  But because of the spiritual neglect of his country they weren’t able to get everything ready on time so they deviated from the law and postponed the celebration until the next month.

So invites when out, priests got purified and the party started.

As the celebration began, it quickly became apparent that many of the common people weren’t ceremonially cleansed so they couldn’t legally take part in the feast, which was a problem.  Hezekiah was concerned and prayed.

After praying, he encouraged those who hadn’t been able to get properly cleansed to join the feast anyway, deviating again from the law saying,

“…May the Lord, who is good, pardon those who decide to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors, even though they are not properly cleansed for the ceremony.” 2 Chronicles 30:18-19

The Lord listens and the people celebrate the Passover, remembering what God had done to redeem his people from slavery, bringing them into the land and calling them his own treasured possession.

Hezekiah declared the good news that God takes us as we are.

When we decide to follow him it can take a lot of time to clean some of the filth out of our lives.  In the meantime, we are still welcome at the table.  It is at the table that we celebrate redemption; this is both the literal and figurative meaning of the Passover.

The Passover correlates to Communion.  Another table where we celebrate redemption.  It’s at the table that we are reminded that he is the one cleansing us.  This cleansing is both complete (from a legal standpoint) and in process (from a practical standpoint). We celebrate with those around us who are in various degrees of brokenness and filth. At the table we celebrate with others who have decided to follow the Lord, the Lord who is good. And his goodness welcomes us to the table when we are not good enough to come on our own.

As I anticipate communion tomorrow I am excited to eat with my brothers and sisters who, like me, are in the process of becoming clean and whole.

Let us eat together at the table and rejoice in our Redeemer.

What I was Thinking When I Walked by the Man Who Was Lying on the Street Who I Thought May Have Been Dying

A study released in 1973 revealed that most people who are in a hurry will not stop to help a person who is obviously in distress.  This study was specifically looking at religious people. I have seen other real life stories that are similar. I found it hard to believe that people either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care enough to do something about it.  What were they thinking?

Likewise, when hearing the Parable of the Good Samaritan I thought it strange that so many religious leaders would walk by an injured person and it was only an outcast of society that stopped.  What were they thinking?

Here’s what I was thinking two weeks ago when I was the person who walked by a man lying on the sidewalk during the middle of the day.

“Is he sleeping?  No, even homeless people don’t sleep on the sidewalk in the sun during the middle of the day…they sleep on grass, in parks in the shade. Should I do something?  What should I do? I could offer him water.   I don’t have water.  Should I ask the guys who are talking on the corner if they know what’s going on with the man?  No, they might think I was crazy.  I have to get to the bus.  If I miss this bus it’s an hour until the next one and I need to get my two-year old home for her nap.   She’ll be a terror if she doesn’t get her nap.  How can I not do something?  What if he’s dying?  What if he’s already dead?  What if he’s dying and he would have lived if I had stopped to help?  Will it really matter if he dies now or in a couple of weeks?  He’s a human.  Human dignity requires that I do something.  The bus…we’re going to be late.  What would I do? Do I kneel down and ask if he’s ok?  What if he doesn’t respond?  Do I shake him? Should I touch him? Check his pulse? On his wrist? His neck? What would I do with my daughter?  There’s that family that I just saw praying with a homeless man a half a block down.  They’ll walk by here in a minute…I bet they’ll do something.”

I thought all of those things and kept on walking. 

There is no way to minimize that fact that I walked by a potentially dead or dying man and did nothing.  There is nothing that differentiates what I did or from what the Priest and the Levite did in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

I was not the neighbor, the Samaritan, that Jesus affirmed.

I was not the hero in the story.

I was the jerk.  The person you look at and say, “Really?  How could you do that?!” And the disgust you feel is every  bit justified.

I am disgusted with myself.

The irony?  I was walking to the bus stop from a work day at our church.  We are moving to a bigger location just down the street from our current location.  Our church is a mixture of all kinds of people, mostly from the neighborhood.  It’s a place where that man could have walked in and felt comfortable and if he had, I probably would have talked to him.  But when I saw him lying on the street I walked right on by.

As I got to the bus stop, just a few blocks later, I called my husband, Cory, with the intention of asking him if I was a Pharisee and what I should do.  But just after I had given him a brief explanation of what happened he asked, “So you want me to go check on him?  Where was he again?”  I told him and he hopped on his bike and was there in just a few minutes.  My husband was all ready to be the neighbor and that wasn’t even why I had called him.

By the time Cory had gotten to him, the ambulance was arriving which meant that someone else had already begun addressing the situation and called for help before I walked by.  This was a very good thing for the man.  And it was probably those guys hanging out on the corner just talking that I thought about asking if they knew what was going on.  Cory said the man who had been lying down was awake and talking but seemed a little incoherent.  He wasn’t doing well but he was alive and medical help was there.

This week I was reading Martin Luther King Jr’s sermon on the Good Samaritan. One of the points he made was that we tend to be less concerned with others when they are different than us.  I grew up in a multicultural low socio-economic neighborhood and played with kids of different cultures and I’ve never really thought of myself as prejudice in any significant way.  But as I was reading his sermon I became quite certain that if it were a woman in her 30’s (someone who was like me) I would have stopped but because it was an older man who looked like he lived on the streets (someone different than me), I didn’t .

I’m a jerk.  Or at least I acted very much like a jerk in that moment and it revealed some things about me that I really don’t like.  The only mild comfort I find is that I know I’m the kind of person that doesn’t always do well the first time I’m faced with a situation.  After I’ve been taken off guard I need time to regroup and come up with a plan, what I should have done, then the next time I encounter that situation I handle it pretty well.  So, I know next time I encounter someone on the street who may be dead or dying I’ll handle it a little better.  But that doesn’t change what I did in this situation.  And it doesn’t change the fact that my belief in his value and his dignity as a human being wasn’t big enough to overcome my confusion, uncertainty and fear.

It’s understandable why I didn’t act.  I was with a toddler.  I was in a rush.  I was caught off guard.

But it’s not okay. 

I lucked out that someone had already called the ambulance.  I lucked out that my husband was close enough that he could do something.  I lucked out.

But that doesn’t make it okay.

As I post this I am afraid of two responses.  First, I’m afraid that people will try to console me by telling me that it wasn’t so bad.  After all, someone had already called the ambulance.  And, for the man, in that moment, that’s true in regards to his physical well-being.  But I missed an opportunity to engage him, to touch him.  He didn’t appear to be aware that I had walked by.  If he had been aware, just knowing that someone had walked by without stopping would have communicated to him that he wasn’t worth stopping for. Thankfully, he was taken care of, but that doesn’t address the issue of the ugliness within my soul. I’m not going to beat myself up forever, but I believe I need to fully accept and mourn my own ugliness and sinfulness so that I can fully repent.

Second, I’m afraid that people will be horrified and that they won’t like me anymore.  Because I think they should be horrified.  And I think they should like me a little less.  But that doesn’t feel good.

But I am sharing because I feel compelled to.  I need to process by writing.  I want you to learn from my mistake.  I want you to be more prepared than I was.

So, what would I do if I could do it over again?  I would say to the men on the corner, “Excuse me, do you guys know anything about that man?  He looks like he’s in trouble.”  If they said, “Yes, we’ve already called 911.” I’d go on my way.  If they said, “No.”  I’d access my first aid training, and say, “Sir, are you okay?  Are you okay?”  And if he didn’t answer I’d shake him gently.  I’d ask the men if one of them would call 911.  Then I would see if he was breathing and check his pulse.  And I’d wait there with him until the ambulance arrived.   Then I would call my husband because I was all shaken up from the experience and I’d wait another hour with a cranky toddler because I had missed my bus.  But I’d catch the next bus and my toddler would eventually get a nap. And I would go home knowing that when I saw Jesus lying on the street I gave him the help he needed.

Nothing heroic.

Nothing amazing.

Just do what any neighbor would do if they saw their neighbor lying on the street.