It’s About Showing Up

city street with quote

My friend Bitsie celebrated her 30th anniversary recently. In an online conversation, she said this to me:

“The other day, when a young wife asked me; ‘what is your secret to making it to 30 years?’ I said ‘There’s God, there’s love, there’s commitment. But, often it’s a matter of just showing up every day….'”

I’ve been thinking about those words “Just showing up every day” since she said them. There is so much truth in them.

Want to make a marriage work? Just show up. Want to help the homeless? Just show up. Want to make a friend? Just show up.

I know the eye-roll simplicity of this. I know the sigh of “really? that’s all you’re going to give me?” But it’s still truth.

Because sometimes I forget to show up. I get lost in my stuff, my busyness, my hurt, my pain. I think someone else will do it; someone with more time and energy, someone with more worth.

I remember a time many years ago when I was in a place of deep pain. I couldn’t tell people what was going on, I couldn’t articulate the pain. I sat, shivering and alone, in an office building. My friend Carol showed up. She didn’t ask questions, she didn’t ask me what she could do to help, she just showed up. Soon others followed. They just showed up. There was nothing in it for them and they had no expectations that I would respond. But they continued to show up in the bright flourescent lights of an office building.

Today I want to show up. I want to be fully present. It’s in showing up that I learn more of the faithfulness of the God who shows up. 

So to all of you who “just show up,” thank you! To you who show up in your marriages and to you who show up at your workplaces; to you who show up with your tiny babies, who need you for everything, and for you who show up with your teenagers, who think they don’t need you for anything; to you who show up to care for aging parents and to you who show up to care for children who will never grow to live on their own; to you who show up in the hard, the mundane, the beautiful, the unexpected – Thank you for showing up today.

The world is not changed through one momentous event, it is changed through the often boring, simple acts of obedience that I am daily called to. it is changed by showing up.”

For the Women in Mexico

Mexico

For the Women in Mexico

 by Robynn

“I was born and raised in the US midwest, but am now raising my two kiddos on the west coast of Mexico. I am blessed to serve alongside several other mamas, as we live in community and do life together. All 5 of us read your blog here, as well as ALO (A Life Overseas), and so many posts have felt like a lifeline over the to. I doubt any of us have ever commented before- just wanted to give a shout-out and say thank you, sincerely, thank you for the effort and time and honesty. We are deeply appreciative. Many posts have been discussed in our staff meetings or over a breakfast table, and exchanged in emails as encouragement, comment on a situation or challenge. Take a breather, and rest well, we’ll look forward to your return.” –Dana

 I can’t imagine forgetting the moment I read the above comment that a reader, Dana, wrote on the blog. On May 22, 2015, Marilyn concluded, after looking at my life from afar, and living through her own life’s lovely chaos, that was it was time for the two of us to take a break. Both of us had had family celebrations, we were both up against some difficult circumstances, both of us were spread too thin, we had been tempted to ‘repost’ something from the past one too many times that week. It was clearly time to take a break.

 We received several loving comments that day. Many of you affirmed our need for rest but it was Dana’s remarks that really registered. How could it be possible that we had befriended complete strangers, hidden half a world away?  How could it be that our words had been part of their conversations? We were humbled and honoured.

I have found myself often praying for you, Dana, and for your circle of friends. This post on endurance is for you.

I think that in light of the expectations we live under, from ourselves or from others, whether real or perceived, it’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to get bogged down. It’s easy to feel undervalued, unappreciated and unknown or unloved. It’s easy to give up! I know. I’ve been there.

But God highly values perseverance. He places so much stake in it that he puts all of his power behind it, to support it, to endorse it. Paul writes to the Colossians in chapter 1 verse 11, “We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you have all the endurance and patience you need.”

I wish I would have discovered that tiny nugget of a verse tucked away in Colossians years ago. I wish I had happened upon it while we still lived in North India. But I didn’t– I missed it. It wasn’t until years later, living here in Kansas, that a friend showed it to me.

All of the Power of God….all of His glorious power will strengthen you. For what? What would God dedicate all of His glorious power to? To what cause would He give all of this glorious power? He gives it so that you will be strengthened. Not strengthened to work harder, to entertain more guests, to lead more people to Christ. Not strengthened to lead more team meetings, to fill out more forms from your sending agencies. Strengthened so that you will have all the endurance and patience you need.

God so values endurance and patience, He’s willing to donate all of his glorious power toward it!

But why to endurance? What does endurance accomplish? I think the answer maybe is in James 1:2-4,

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

Endurance results in our completion, our perfection. God is so completely committed to that! He wants to see us grow up. He longs for it. So much so that he has staked all of his glorious power behind it.

Years ago while reading these verses I told God how annoyed I was that it was endurance that brings about my perfection, my completion. I am still baffled by that, if I’m honest. Why couldn’t it be another virtue? Why not compassion? Or service? Endurance implies something to endure. The very words assume sorrows to go through, suffering to embrace, tears to cry, disappointments to lament. To endure means to go through that and more. It hurts. There will be pain and often true agony. Endurance means accepting from God that which will make us perfect and complete.

How odd and amazing that He provides all of this glorious power to strengthen us for such a high calling –He strengthens us to endure!

Dana, my new friend yet unmet, and others who read from far away places, this is my prayer for you. I pray that you and your precious circle of friends will experience God’s glorious power today. My hope is that you will be strengthened from the inside out, that you will have patience and the uncanny ability to endure….and that you will be filled with joy.

(Most of this is loosely quoted, tweaked and adapted from Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission by Sue Eenigenberg and Robynn Bliss, 2009)

Picture Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/town-mexico-rural-village-469252/

A Life Overseas – A Note from an Impostor

impostor

Readers – will you join me this Monday at A Life Overseas? Here is an excerpt from my brutally honest past history with missions.

On Wednesday of last week, Laura Parker announced changes and new leadership at A Life Overseas. Later that day I received a lovely note on Twitter from Denise James, co-author of the amazing blog Taking Route. Two days later, I received another encouraging note from Jillian Rogers, another woman from this community.

And with that encouragement and love from afar, I write this honest response to this community.

As a missionary kid/TCK I never wanted to be a missionary. When good folk at the Baptist churches that gave sacrificially of their time and money, not to mention a good part of their prayer lives, asked me if I wanted to be a missionary when I “grew up,” I would look at them and pray they didn’t see the panic under my response. No. No. NO. I did not want that. My best friend and I — we were heading off to Emory University to wear mini skirts and smoke cigarettes. Oh yes we were. Nancy was from Macon, Georgia, and I had fallen in love with Macon through her, though I had never been there.

And yet, a few years later I did not go to Emory. Instead, I headed to Chicago and chose nursing as a career — largely because I knew I could use this skill overseas. I knew just one thing: there was no way I was raising my family in my passport country. I couldn’t fathom living in the Western Hemisphere, more specifically the United States. So as soon as I became a nurse, I began making plans to go back to Pakistan and work.

The year following my graduation into the real adult world of patients, supervisors, night shifts, and more was one of the most difficult of my life. While God’s voice was whispering into my heart, I wanted no part of it. Though on the surface I taught Sunday School to junior high students, and sang “special music” during services, I was dead inside. My days were spent with patients, my evenings at punk rock bars in Chicago. And so I decided I needed to go home. The easiest way for me to go home was to get other people (you know, the ones who give sacrificially) to pay for it.

So I joined a short-term mission. The impostor act was in full swing at this point.

Read the rest at A Life Overseas.

Have you ever felt like an impostor? How did that go for you? 

Burning Bright and Burning Out

tea light

It was probably a  year ago that I reached out to Robynn and said “I think I’m burned out.”

Now what I love about our friendship is that she didn’t dismiss it or make a funny quip, she asked serious and hard questions. And as I read them I started to cry. I just nodded and cried and nodded and cried. And then I curled into a little ball and cried some more.

It was so clear that I had all the symptoms of burn out. I was empty – from inside to outside. I was apathetic – it didn’t matter if I had a major deadline looming, I just didn’t care. I was cynical – it didn’t matter how bright the bulb, how great the cause, to me it was dim and unworthy. I was tired – so tired, all the time; I just couldn’t get enough sleep. And worst of all – I felt complete despair. Nothing would ever get better. Nothing would change.

I was so determined to burn bright that I had burned out. I was so bent on making sure my family, my job, my friends both close and distant, and my writing were all functioning and doing well that without realizing it the candle had melted down and burned out.

All that was left was the wax in a fetal position.

There are times when you are allowed to withdraw from life, there are times when you are forced to withdraw from life, and then there are times when you can’t. When you have to keep going even as a ball of wax. Just ask refugee moms in Syria – they are not allowed to give up, and so they won’t.

And such was the case for me. It wasn’t a time when I could withdraw from life, I had to figure out how to continue going without collapsing; how to withdraw without completely disengaging; how to rest without stopping completely.

C.S. Lewis, that modern-day Church Father, says “It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.” It’s an odd quote coming from this scholar/apologist. It’s more like a “mom” quote. And there is much truth to it.

Because sometimes you can’t quit even though the candle has gone out. Sometimes you can’t worry about the flame, you just have to continue to be a candle.  Sometimes the goal is not to burn bright, or even burn at all, instead it is just to ‘be’ one day at a time.

Some days you feel like the tiniest tea light that will be gone in a couple of hours, and somedays you feel like one of those gigantic, decorative candles that never stop burning.

So these months I’ve tried to figure out what it means for me to be a candle that doesn’t burn bright, that doesn’t really burn at all. But by God’s grace I am still here. I am still standing. I am still seeking to be faithful. Just flickering along.

There are some beautiful verses in the Bible that speak to these feelings, that recognize life can be difficult. I read them continually, because they express what this candle can’t:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed.We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”*

How about you?  

*2 Corinthians 4: 7-10

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/candle-tea-light-burn-light-hand-711339/

An Invitation to Return – Part 2

An Invitation to Return – Part 2 by Robynn. If you missed yesterday’s post you can read it here. 

As I think about these big questions – the ‘where is God when I hurt’ sort of questions I keep on going back to this idea of return. 

I humbly offer to you that suffering today might also serve as a reminder to turn back to your Divine Dad, to your heavenly Father. I know he feels distant and forever away. But I also know from experience that he’s right there. With you. Present.

It was the refrain of all the old stories. It was repeated in different ways, with different emphasizes to Jacob, to Isaac, Abraham, Joseph, Moses….I am with you. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.

Some of Jesus’ last words to his friends were a charge to go to all nations and tell people the good news of grace and a generous hospitable God. He ended that great commission with these powerful words: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end….” Whatever happens, wherever it happens be confident of this one thing: I am with you always!

In the middle of St Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome, he reassured them of the same message. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?…No, despite all these things…I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

He is with us. Always.

On that dark night, eons ago, when Christ was born, he was called, Immanuel, which meant God is with us. Omnipresent. Present in all places and at all times. Always and forever. He is with us.

And He invites us warmly to turn to him in times of trouble. He’s there. Ready and eager to walk us through whatever the suffering is, whatever the pain might be. It doesn’t mean it’s fixed or finished or finalized. But it does mean you don’t have to walk through cancer alone. He is with you.You don’t have to face unemployment on your own. He is with you. You don’t have to struggle with depleted bank balances, or angry teenagers, or critical employers, or single parenting challenges, or moving across the state, or the death of a parent, or a disappointing marriage, or conflict in an extended family, or abandonment or the persuasive pull of an addiction, or an undiagnosed disease alone. He is with you in it, through it, until it’s over, embracing you with pure grace. 

But even there, if you seek God, your God, you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul. When troubles come and all these awful things happen to you, in future days you will come back to God, your God, and listen obediently to what he says. God, your God, is above all a compassionate God. In the end he will not abandon you, he won’t bring you to ruin. (Deut.4:30 The Message)

Series on Suffering #6 – Trouble Shooting

suffering 6

Series on Suffering #6: Trouble shooting by Robynn

This summer when we moved into the new house we had to get new kitchen appliances. The house’s previous owners had taken the appliances that were there. We had to get machines that helped cook and store food and clean. Along with each new appliance came a small stack of reading material. An installation guide, an instruction manual, and guarantee cards. I flipped through them, skimming the important highlights and then filed them away. However, the day the dishwasher started making interesting beeping sounds, and we couldn’t figure out how to stop the annoyance and start the appliance, I quickly resumed my reading. Each instruction manual had an invaluable chapter entitled, Trouble Shooting. It’s a ‘what to do if…” section, a to-do list of sorts if ever the appliance is causing trouble. If the dishwasher makes this sound, try this. If the wash cycle won’t start, try that.

There is no trouble shooting guide to the problem of pain. There is no chapter anywhere that will tell you how to get out of the suffering. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of self-help books that will suggest ways to lose weight, get out of debt, break addictions, endure irregular people, manage your disease, find victory over your circumstances—I’ve read several and with great optimism! But none of those books provide a checklist to make the suffering stop.

I have happened upon a small book that points people in persistent pain to a list of meaningful things to do in the midst of the suffering. Admittedly when you’re lying on your back with dengue fever and the electricity is off making it impossible for the fan above your aching fevering body to circulate any air but the thick air of self-pity, it’s really hard to imagine ever doing anything again. When the phone call is over and the horrendous news settles in around your soul it’s really very difficult to think about anything but curling up into a small place and crying. After visiting a friend who is dying in the hospital it feels impossible to return to the outside world where people are still alive. Suffering sucks the air out of our lungs. It weakens us. It exhausts us. It feels like the whole world comes crashing to a standstill, paralyzed, immobilized. That’s the power of suffering and in some ways, that’s also the point of suffering. As I’ve been able to work my way through the suggested list from this book I have found hope and some relief and revelatory mystery that serves to distract me from my problems in helpful ways.

This small book I refer to is actually a letter that the apostle Peter wrote to a community of people that were scattered and suffering. (Part of their suffering, I’m sure, was as a result of that scattering. They were foreigners. We at Communicating Across Boundaries understand that type of displacement and the pain and angst that accompanies that type of living very well.) Peter writes them to encourage them in their troubles but also to commission them to live intentionally in spite of those same trials. Here is some of the list he gave them to do:

  1. Live with your focus on the hope of a better future. There is joy ahead. Things will not always be this way. We can live with great expectation and a holy optimism. Jesus will change things up. Remember that. Keep your eyes glued to that unfathomable hope.
  2. Think clearly and exercise self-control. Don’t give into old habits and former vices. It’s tempting, I know. It’s easy to eat the whole tub of ice cream, or all the chips in the packet, or the entire pan of cookies. It feels like it should help somehow, it should bring comfort of some kind. But it doesn’t really. I’ve tried. Step back and choose holy living. Control yourself. Don’t abandon all discipline and restraint.
  3. Remember who you are! You belong to God. Your identity is deeply entrenched in that. Bring that to mind. Dwell in it. Live from it. You are a chosen people…royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession….God’s people.
  4. Love each other deeply, sincerely. In the heart of crisis and sadness it’s easy to become obsessed with myself. Self-pity, sadness, hopelessness all follow me like a pack of loyal dogs. Peter recommends looking outside ourselves to those around us and then loving them sincerely and generously. Phone a friend, see how they are doing. Make a batch of cookies, deliver them to a neighbour. Make eye contact with a stranger at the grocery store. Greet them. Strike up a conversation. Reach outside of yourself. Show others the goodness of God.
  5. Keep on doing what is right. Don’t let the suffering stop you. Resist the urge to curse those who frustrate, to be angry at those who don’t understand, to be unkind to those who’ve been cruel. There is nothing to be gained in that. Keep on doing what is right and good. Be kind. Be generous. Speak gently. Share a meal with someone who’s also hurting. Trust your story to the God who created you. He will never fail you.
  6. Don’t stop praying. Earnestly pour out your heart to God. Give him your troubles, your cares, your worries, your concerns. This praying thing humbles us. It’s a powerful way of admitting our weakness and our vulnerability. We are not in charge. Heaven knows if we were, this isn’t how we would have planned it. Praying helps us acknowledge that. Praying forces us to recognize our humanity, our mortality, our dependence. As we cast our cares on God, as we fling our flounderings, our messes, our pains on God, we grow to see how very much he cares for us. We give him the opportunity to minister deep grace and comfort to our souls. Prayer invites God into it all.

This is some of what Peter wrote to those who were struggling ever so long ago. I’m convinced that lots of it still applies to us. Peter’s list can school us in how to better endure and what to do while we are enduring. It doesn’t trouble shoot and bring us to solutions nor does it unfortunately shoot our troubles way…but somehow, mysteriously, it helps to know that others have suffered over the years and many of them took solace in this little letter. Like us, they found meaningful work to do in the midst of their suffering. They found distractions that pointed them to hope. They found instructions on how to lay their souls out bare before their kind and gracious God. They found little scatterings of comfort as they endeavoured to live a little separately from their scarred and scared selves.

And I think we can too.

When my dishwasher’s beeping was beyond aggravating, I turned to the trouble shooting section of the manual. Eventually I pushed the right sequence of buttons and to everyone’s great relief the blaring noises ceased and the quiet workings of a machine in motion started up. This letter from Peter won’t do all that. The blasting rhythms of suffering won’t necessarily stop. But in the clamour of it all, I do believe, it’s possible for the crazy cacophony of our own personal suffering to be pushed into a dull background noise, over which hope and comfort suddenly sing louder.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/drummer-music-set-drum-kit-band-171120/ word art Marilyn R. Gardner

Click here to read the Series on Suffering.

Series on Suffering #5 – Power Aid

hallway with suffering quote

Suffering #5: Power Aid

Who are we kidding? We can be as intellectual and objective about suffering as we want. We can read journal articles about it and its effects on the body and brain. We can sit in climate controlled coffee shops and talk about our suffering as if it’s somehow separate from us. We can listen in on sermons or lectures or speeches on suffering in the world. But at the end of the idea, the article, the cup of coffee, the sermon we come home to it. At the end of the day we put our heads on our pillows and the sorrow rises like heart burn. There’s no escaping our suffering. There’s no objectifying it away. Suffering stays.

And suffering hurts. It hurts badly. As cruel as this sounds, suffering even seems tailor-made to our personality and our circumstances. A terrible diagnosis might devastate one person who doesn’t really feel the devastations of unemployment like another might. But another person unemployed agonizes with it: the indignities, the shame, the financial stretching and scrimping, the hopelessness. You might be able to shake off conflict at work but for me that same conflict simmers inside and makes me physically nauseated. Suffering hurts each person uniquely. And each person uniquely suffers.

Whatever else we might say about suffering we also need to say this. As horrifying as suffering is, in the midst of it, we are not left without resources.

Years ago I discovered a powerful little nugget of a verse hidden in St Paul’s letter captured in the short little book of Colossians (chapter one, verse eleven).

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.

Read it again.

Slowly.

God has dedicated all his glorious power to our ability to endure and our capacity to be patient while we persevere.

I have argued with God over this point. I have protested with tears. I have pounded my fists on his chest over the fact that he’s committed all his power to us being able to endure. Why couldn’t he have put his power behind my happiness? Or my ability to serve guests sweetly? Or my performance at my job? Or my energy levels with my children? Why does he put so much stake in my endurance?

The fact of the matter is that the very word, endurance, implies something that needs to be endured. We are up against circumstances that need to be outrun. We are up against pain that needs to be outlasted.  According to the dictionary, endurance is the ability to deal with pain or suffering that continues for a long time; it’s the quality of continuing for a long time; the ability to be able to do something difficult for a very long time. It’s a long word with even longer implications. Why does endurance matter so much?

Another little New Testament letter, this one from James, answers that question. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

A fully developed ‘endurance’ makes us perfect and complete. Or said another way, our completion comes from a vibrantly mature ‘endurance’. (It’s spiritual math. If y=x then x=y!)While our faith might be tested in the hallways of suffering, it is also true that we learn to endure in those same corridors. And endurance grows us up. It matures us. It strengthens us. It perfects us.

That explains God the Almighty, the All-Powerful one’s commitment to my endurance. He is my Holy Father and he longs for me to grow and develop; to mature in healthy ways. The Father takes me for my annual spiritual wellness check up to the Great Physician, who also happens to be His Son. The Divine Doctor measures my height and weight. The Father waits with bated breath until the Great Physician declares over me, “She’s growing well…..developmentally she’s right on track!” And the Father smiles and sighs with pleasure. He already knew that. All his glorious power was strengthening me, giving me all the endurance I needed, all the patience I required. My endurance and patience levels have grown as a result.

All God’s glorious power strengthens to endure, to be patient, to persevere, to stick it out. At the end of the well-intended sermon, the on-line article, the meaningful blog post, the cup of coffee with a well-meaning friend, we still carry our suffering with us. At the end of the day, when we lay our heads down on our pillows, our own devastatingly painful and present suffering lays down next to us. There is no escaping it. But know this: We aren’t left to our own devices. Bolstering up that pillow is all the glorious power of God! We rest in the assurance, the confidence, the very real reality that he is behind us, supporting us, strengthening us.

While it’s true that suffering stays….so does God and with him, all of his glorious power!

We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable…

Picture Credit – http://pixabay.com/en/hallway-alley-corridor-hall-house-21154/ Word Art by Marilyn R. Gardner