Thursday, April 11, 2013

the overwhelming fear that keeps me up at night, and rips at my faith

There is something that terrifies me. It alternates between keeping me up at night or waking me with a cold sweat. It haunts me when days are good equally as much as when days are bad, and for those of you that know me, it’s not zombies, although they scare me a lot too. It’s suicide. Just when I think I have gotten over it a bit, and it’s not at the forefront of my mind, I see the news. This week it was the news of Pastor Rick Warren’s son, and then today two more suicide stories came on the radar.  In Warren’s letter to his congregation he talked about his son having the best medical care and support and a great day together with the family, and yet his son still succumbed to his depression.  Depression can be fatal, just like many other diseases. It can be terminal, and suicide can seemingly come out of nowhere, when the depression sufferer is doing “well”. This is what haunts me, because my husband battles depression everyday. He has been fighting for years to overcome the overwhelming sadness that plagues him, and I know what one of the possible outcomes of that battle can be. That fear plagues me and it makes me feel like a failure as a wife, and a mom, and a leader in a church.  Shouldn’t I be able to relax and trust in God, I guess I should, but lately I can’t. And at the risk of sounding like a drama queen, I don’t want too. Let me explain…

A few years ago I was asked to be at the house of one of the family’s of our congregation when they broke the news to their son, that his father had committed suicide. It is a privilege and an honor to be allowed in people’s most intimate of moments, and be trusted to be a support, and I am happy to do it. This though, was traumatic in ways I never expected. I saw so much of myself and my family in theirs. The widow was so strong in that moment, just hours after a sheriff knocked on her door to inform her that the fears she carried for years were now true. The kids were devastated but they too had an idea that this day could come. Their dad had been battling severe depression for years. I grieved for them and I watched in horror this scenario that could apply to our own family, play out.  He had been in such a good place recently, it seemed things were looking up, but there we all were in tears, broken and mourning.  There’s this weird thing though that many terminally ill people go through, when they know the end is near. They get this sense of relief as they know they are letting go, and a euphoria sets in.  They do better for a bit, better than they have been for a while, because they sense they are almost done battling. Their families though interpret it as them getting stronger. I had heard of this before, seen it in people that were fighting cancer, witnessed it in situations that were almost alien to me, but this was real and in my face and close to home.

Since that day, I have a lot of trouble setting my fears aside on bad days but also when things are good.  There are the really bad days, when he is not himself, or when he talks about feeling like a burden, and I wonder if he is making plans Worst though is a paranoia in the back of my mind when my husband is doing really well, that maybe it’s because he has a plan, and a false sense of relief. I feel guilty that I feel so paranoid. Valentine works very hard to cope with his depression, and be present for our family. I hate second guessing what is going on in his head, or being suspicious of his hard work in managing his symptoms. I don’t want to watch over him like he is a child, or read into every little thing he does.

I try to “let go and let God”, to trust God that he is taking care and helping Val through. I try to trust that He is holding onto our little family and giving us strength. Then the son of the pastor of one of the largest churches in the world commits suicide. The father of two of our church kids commits suicide. Bad things happen to very good people, to people of faith, and to the completely innocent children all the time.  God allows us as broken human beings to make decisions, to do things, even though they are destructive and hurtful.  He doesn’t force us to be good or healthy. He heals some, but not others.  He allows sickness.  He doesn’t promise that those things won’t happen.  He promises that he will be with us, that he will mourn with us, and that he will help us to be stronger as we endure suffering. He turns tragedies into triumphs, as they say. Our stories end up touching other people, our testimonies furthering God’s work. Yeah, I get it.  I have been touched by the stories of people who have overcome tragedy. My faith has been strengthened by their example of faith. I understand that God can work through this. I understand but I can’t process through it right now, it’s not computing in my brain.

I don’t want to be stronger, I just want my husband. I don’t want to endure this so I can have stronger faith, preach better sermons, have lots of blog followers, and write a book about surviving. I just want my kids to have their dad. I want my husband to be at peace now, not in heaven. I do believe that God can heal any kind of illness, but I know that sometimes he doesn’t. I do believe that he helps us through tragedy and suffers alongside us, and those things can make us stronger. I have experienced it, but I don’t want to anymore, and not with this. I want Valentine, here now and until we are really, really old.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, my life is better everyday because Valentine is in it. He is an amazing husband and dad, and if this is what we have to deal with to get the complete package that is him, well, we got a great deal.

So I will keep working at having faith, and understanding a loving God who restores and redeems, and a broken world where people die at their own hand because they feel so miserable and alone. I will tuck my fear away as best I can, and try not to bring it up with others. I will focus on the good, the love of God and the love of my husband. I will do my best to not be drama and let this fear define my day. Jesus said don’t worry about tomorrow…

Monday, April 1, 2013

Stains- message from the Good Friday Service

Stains have a way of ruining something, of making the bearer of the stain seem worthless or shameful. In our western society if something is stained and all of our tricks of detergent, bleach, stain sticks etc, don’t work, that item of clothing is relegated to rag status. It’s only good for that which is filthy already. If the carpet or the furniture is stained, we try and hide it or disguise it, and eventually get rid of it altogether.

We do the same thing with our own stains, our own mistakes or the mistakes others make that effect us. We carry the shame, the pain, the guilt, the mistrust around as a stain on us. We hurt, we get angry, we feel worthless, we are stained. We don’t feel good enough, or we feel that others aren’t good enough. We try and get rid our own stains with denial and distraction of all kinds. We try and make up for them, or we embrace them and make them part of our identity. It’s not just our own stains we get caught up in either; we carry the stains of others. We harbor resentment, we point fingers, we blame. We let fear of their stains cloud the reality of our own. We are a mess. We aren’t good enough.

In Jesus’ time, that stained feeling, that feeling of being not good enough, was built into the temple system itself. The temple, that place where people could go and offer sacrifices to God for atonement, for cleansing, where they could learn about him, was limited to those who were deemed good enough. As a woman, a child or a non-Jew there were only certain parts of the outer temple you could go in. You weren’t good enough for the rest of the temple. If you were a Jew, you were deemed worthy to go into another part. If you were a priest, still another. All though, were cut off from the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s presence was supposed to dwell. Only certain times of year could someone enter, and only a priest who had been cleansed. He had to have a rope tied around his ankle, because even he might not be worthy, and if he were not, he would fall down dead when he entered. The rope would be used to drag him out.

There was a system of rules and sacrifices to make you clean, to make you worthy, to keep you from stains, from sin and to cleanse you from sin. Even then though, not all were good enough. It was a terrible system, and caused people to be even more terrible to each other than they already were. People were declared unclean because of their stains, because of their issues. Some people thought they were clean, thought they were better than others. God knew though, that all of them, that all of us are broken. He knew he would have to do something to make us clean, and to help us see each other differently.

Jesus changed all of that though. He invited the unclean and the left out to his table. He touched the lepers. He healed the sick and the cursed. He showed people that the laws weren’t working, and that they needed to love each other first. He surrounded himself not with the seemingly perfect, and pure, but with the dirty, the misfits, the stained.

We saw the account of his own disciples, who made mistake after mistake, and they were the closest people to him. He didn’t cast them aside, he built his ministry with them. He built his church on them.

In this passage in Romans, we see Paul talking to a church that has struggled with keeping the laws. They are fighting about which ones should be upheld. They are making some feel left out and out of place in the church again and Paul reminds them. It’s not in the keeping of these laws that we are made right. It’s through Jesus.

Jesus made this at once beautiful, and horrible sacrifice, of his life. His blood was shed and stained the ground around him, so our stains could be made clean. So that we could be made right, made new. That is an amazing gift as Paul points out. We can’t earn that. He gives it freely, because he loves us, and though we might see ourselves as unworthy, we are worthy in his sight. He loves us with an amazing love, like no other. When he died, the Gospels tell us the curtain in the temple tore in half. No one was kept from the presence of God anymore. All who could accept it, were made worthy through Jesus sacrifice

All we have to do is have faith in his sacrifice, and believe that he shed his blood for us. He doesn’t even require an unyielding faith. Just that we step forward and try to trust him. We see doubt in his followers, we see doubt in the early church. The new testament is filled with the disciples trying to answer questions and sort out problems. The scriptures are filled with doubters. That’s okay. Doubt can inform our faith and help it grow. As long as we are asking, as long as we are seeking Jesus, we are okay. Jesus took the stain of our sins, all of our sins, the ones we haven’t even done yet.

Stains can make us feel so ugly and unworthy. They can make us feel beyond hope. They can bind us in anger and shame. They don’t have too. We can give those stains over to the one who gave his life for us. We can accept that grace, that mercy and love, and we can also extend that to the people around us. Jesus showed us a new way on that cross. We may point fingers and condemn, we may try and say that we are better than others, but Jesus took the punishment of a criminal. He took the ultimate humiliation and pain. He did it for all sinners, for the liars, for the adulterers, for the murderers, the cheats, the complainer, the gossips, the thieves, nothing was too big, nothing too shameful. Jesus died for all of it, and all of us.

So tonight, let’s give him our stains. Let’s work through our shame, our guilt, our anger, our mistrust, let’s give it all to him. Those things we have done and those things others have done to us, those walls we have put up to hide our stains, let’s give those to him. Let’s take all the trying to work so hard to be okay or to keep up appearances, to get out those stains on our own, and let’s give them to Jesus. Let’s accept this sacrifice as gruesome and as horrible as it might seem. Let us accept it, and our brokenness, and let us receive the mercy and the grace and love of Jesus Christ.