One Fall Away

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I slipped and fell on my way to work today. It was early morning and I was walking from the subway to my office. Unnoticed black ice was the culprit, and in a blink, I was down and struggling to find my footing.

It’s not a big deal – except that it felt like a big deal. It felt like a massive, defeating event and I suddenly realize how fragile I am and how fragile I feel.

Security and safety cannot be guaranteed. We don’t live foolishly, we recognize the laws of the land and the laws of gravity, but we can still fall and hurt ourselves. We can still get in car accidents and end up in hospitals. We can still be victims to unscrupulous people who wish us harm.

We are all just one fall away – one fall away from tragedy; one fall away from illness; one fall away from a life changing event. No one goes to work on a Monday morning expecting to fall, or to die, or to hear that someone else died. Yet, every single day people go through events that change their lives.

Last week I went to a service of interment for my Uncle Jim. He died in February, but was buried at a the same veteran’s cemetery as my father, just an hour and a half away from Boston. My cousin Jayna is my youngest cousin in that family and had flown from Texas to carry out the arrangements.

My cousin knows what it is to wake up one day and have your life change. Her husband died unexpectedly in late summer, leaving her a young widow with two small daughters. When she woke up on the day of her husband’s death, she could never have dreamt of what she would go through.

God gives us grace for our falls, not our imagined falls. God gives us grace for reality, not grace for what we imagine. And he has given her grace, so much grace. She walks steady and takes care of her girls. With the support of friends and a church community, she is dealing with the unimaginable.

The Psalms offer up a model for responding to suffering, surprise, and tragedy. We are never told in the Psalms to pull up our bootstraps. We are never told to minimize suffering. Instead, we are offered up a blueprint for offering our suffering to God, for openly acknowledging pain, for openly asking God why our souls are disturbed and why our enemies are winning.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God*

I feel undone by a fall on slippery ice, and I know why – because it represents those much bigger falls that could be around the corner, those falls that are irreversible and cause more damage than a few bruises.

Today as I struggled to get up from the ground, a man came out of nowhere, helping me to my feet and asking me if I was okay. I gratefully accepted his help, acknowledged my own frailty.

It reminds me that even as we are only one fall away from disaster, we are also only one person away from help.


 “The Psalm begins in pain: Help God – the bottom has fallen out of my life!….By setting the anguish out into the open and voicing it as a prayer, the psalm gives dignity to our suffering. It does not look on suffering as something slightly embarrassing that must be hushed up and locked in a closet (where it finally becomes a skeleton) because this sort of thing shouldn’t happen to a real person of faith. And it doesn’t treat it as a puzzle that must be explained, and therefore turn it over to theologians or philosophers to work out an answer. Suffering is set squarely, openly, passionately before God. It is acknowledged and expressed. It is described and lived” – p. 138 of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Velvet Ashes – Burnout: A Retrospect

Join Robynn at Velvet Ashes today as she talks about burnout. We have included an excerpt below.

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My husband Lowell and I served for thirteen years as a couple in South Asia. We labored hard and long. We poured out our lives. We took up our cross. We put our hands to the plow. None of the New Testament metaphors were lost on us. We did them all—whole-heartedly, without abandon. And somewhere in all of that laboring, pouring, taking up, laying down, putting to, somewhere in all of that, we came to our end. We burned out. We were hard pressed, crushed, perplexed and in despair. We felt abandoned and struck down. We felt destroyed.

To this day, when I look back on it, I’m not entirely sure where we went wrong. Lowell is a visionary and an activist. He changes the world. Deliberately. Passionately. I want everyone in the world to be okay—the world Lowell’s changing-and in my own little world too. I take responsibility for people. I want them to be happy. I do whatever that takes. We were aware, even then, how disastrous that combination might be so we planned and executed regular days off. We took vacations seriously. Lowell and I both counseled many to be rigorous in their self and soul care and we took it to heart ourselves.

Somewhere in all of that cross-culturaling I think it was actually our theology that killed us. We had role confusion. We took on jobs that are God’s. Lowell was committed to building Christ’s church and the gates of Hell would not prevail against him. Not if Lowell had anything to say about it. And I, bless my heart, I was inviting people to come to me if they were burdened and heavy laden and I would do my darndest to give them rest. I would look after them. I would make it all better.

It’s a recipe for burnout for sure. It’s also heresy. Read the rest here at Velvet Ashes.

Have you experienced burnout? If so, what have you learned in the recovery process? 

Photo Credit: Velvet Ashes

Also – take a look at Every Mom

Honour the Struggle

I’m sitting with a younger friend in my home. It’s warm and we are talking over hot drinks. She and I share so much in terms of our background. Both raised in Pakistan. Both went to Murree, our beloved  boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountain Range. Both have parents who live out their faith in extraordinary joy and grace. And both of us struggled on leaving the country, the school, the people behind, embarking on a journey in our passport countries.

We talk about faith and doubt and life. And I relay to her what my priest said to me while I was working through the process of becoming Orthodox. “We Orthodox honour the struggle.” he said. “We believe that the struggle is worth going through, the battle is worth fighting.”

Honour the struggle.

The video of 21 Coptic Christians being martyred on the beach in Tripoli, Libya showed men in orange proclaiming the name of Jesus even as they knew this breath would be their last.

Honour the struggle.

A brother of two of the men killed that day thanks ISIS for allowing that part of the film to be shown. Thanks ISIS for not cutting that part, but allowing him to see his brothers proclaim the name of Jesus.

Honour the struggle.

A news report verifying that 150 Christians from an Assyrian village in northeast Syria have been abducted, taken away in early morning raids by ISIS. Men, women, and children — all kidnapped by people who hate what they stand for.

Honour the struggle. 

It all seems too much. How can we honour this? Is it really worth it? Is faith worth dying for? Or maybe the bigger question for many of us — is faith worth living for? A colleague I saw yesterday who is Jewish by ethnicity, but self describes as one without a formal faith, challenges my skepticism when she says “I wish I could believe! Then maybe it would make it better.”

In my desperation at working this through, I turn to the Psalms. The Psalmist sees people with no scruples getting rich and powerful off the backs of the faithful, he sees oppression and injustice with no consequences and he cries out in frustration and anger:

For I was envious of the arrogant
         As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For there are no pains in their death,
         And their body is fat.

They are not in trouble as other men,
         Nor are they plagued like mankind.

Therefore pride is their necklace;
         The garment of violence covers them.

Their eye bulges from fatness;
         The imaginations of their heart run riot.

They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
         They speak from on high.

They have set their mouth against the heavens,
         And their tongue parades through the earth.

Therefore his people return to this place,
         And waters of abundance are drunk by them.

They say, “How does God know?
         And is there knowledge with the Most High?”

Behold, these are the wicked;
         And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
         And washed my hands in innocence;

For I have been stricken all day long
         And chastened every morning.

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
         Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.

When I pondered to understand this,
         It was troublesome in my sight

He is thinking exactly what I’m thinking – is it worth it? Is this life of faith worth pursuing? As I watch ISIS continue to take over territory, to kill and kidnap? As I watch unscrupulous people thrive in money and fame. But the writer doesn’t end with the pondering. He ends in the sanctuary of God.

Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
         Then I perceived their end.

Until he comes back to God, until he comes into the sanctuary of God – only then can he rest, only then is he comforted, only then does he see the big picture. Only then can he really honour the struggle. 

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A month later my friend comes to visit again. As we drink tea she shows me the words she had tattooed on her forearm since our last conversation: “Honour the struggle.” Engraved as a constant reminder that it is indeed worth it.

honour the struggle

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Insomnia—Advent’s Distant Cousin

Insomnia—Advent’s Distant Cousin by Robynn. Follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss and read her posts here.

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I had a rough night last night. I fell into a hard sleep but a short hour later, woke to Lowell’s moving and tossing, and then I couldn’t fall back to sleep. Using quiet whisper thoughts, I tiptoed around my brain, so as not to wake it…but to no avail. My brain is a light sleeper it would seem and it woke with a vengeance. It was demanding and incessant and loud. I couldn’t silence it and calm it back down for a long time.

I hate insomnia. I abhor those midnight hours when sleep avoids eye contact and we all just lay there awkward and fuming.

Last night my brain was a hodge podge of distractions, a collage of worries and niggling little anxieties. Earlier in the week Lowell and I had attended a meeting up at the high school on financial aid for our soon-to-be-college student. As gracious as the moderator was, my midnight mind kept imagining that he called us out for being so dim-witted all those years ago when Connor was first born. We should have started saving then! I could nearly see him rolling his eyes at us. I imagined him shrugging his shoulders, and dismissing any chances Connor has at a future, glaring at us, blaming us—Connor’s poor excuse for parents.

My brain also brought up Christmas—not the wonder and holiness of Jesus’ birth—but the frenetic pace of preparations. Gifts. Stockings. What to get Neil? Where to get Colleen’s gift? Who has Adelaide’s name? Baking. Food. Weight gain dread. Making up beds. Where would we sleep my parents? Where would we put my brother and his family? I stressed over and over on how to love my family well, how to be hospitable in the midst of the season’s crazy zone. I entertained booking everyone into hotels. I entertained booking only myself into a hotel.

I spent some time lamenting over Grand Jury decisions that no longer make any sense. Puzzling over the pain of it, the drama, the messy mixed messages of the media, the masked racism that continues–I wondered where healing would come from. I wondered what I can do to make a difference. I worried for my children growing up in this environment. I prayed pleading prayers for change and peace.

In the middle of it my brain thoughtfully reminded me where we were a year ago….in our beloved India, eating our favourite foods, seeing our favourite people. I found myself nearly choking on longing for that trip, that time, that experience. I wanted, desperately, to be there again. Tears rolled down my dark face in the dark night.

The insomniac brain suffers from attention deficit disorder. I bounced from anxious thought to despairing thought and back again.

This morning as I think about it, I’m struck with the similarities between insomnia and the advent season. Insomnia is the prolonged inability to sleep. On nights when I’m struck with sleeplessness I long for the morning to come. I want the night to be over! Advent too is a yearning— for justice, for hope, for mercy, for morning, for Jesus! I find myself responding to insomnia in different ways as I grow older. I used to do what many recommend. I’d get out of bed, go to a different room, read a book, drink a cup of chamomile tea. Now I usually just lie quietly and let my body rest. The same is true about my experience of Advent. I used to busy myself more to create meaning in the midst of the Advent longings and silences. I’d distract myself with activity. Now I’m trying to resist the rushing. I’ve found that busy air blows out the candles; worry winds tend to snuff out feeble flames of hope. I’m trying to sit still through the agonies and heart aches, to lie there and rest, waiting, breathing, holding steady.

The advent wreath still contains four candles encircling the white and glorious Christ Candle. But this year the wreath is surrounded by protests and angry crowds and Grand Juries and heart ache. Ebola deaths are rising in Western Africa. Refugees are still fleeing from Syria and Northern Iraq. It seems that this year the longings are deeper, the confusion and disillusionment are thicker. We toss and turn. We kick and squirm. When will the morning come? When will the long night of waiting be over?

The first candle in the wreath is lit. It’s the candle of hope and expectation. Some celebrate it as the candle of prophecy and promise. Either way, we’re holding on to what we know with hope and expectation. We’re keeping our hearts focused on what we’ve been told. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide us to the path of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard—God’s glory, God’s voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You’ll do well to keep focusing on it. It’s the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts. The promises… are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19-20)

Please Jesus come….quickly. We’re ready for the night to be over. The darkness is growing wearisome. We’re eager for morning. We’re hungry for breakfast. We long for the day!

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/advent-advent-wreath-christmas-551970/

Endurance….A long walk in a dark tunnel

Endurance….A long walk in a dark tunnel by Robynn. Follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss

Tunnel of trees

2014 has been a long year.

We returned from an extended trip to India on January 4th. It took me two weeks to regain my equilibrium (meaning—to remember how to do laundry, make lunches and cook supper!) Toward the end of January I came down sick with a twenty-four hour violent flu bug. I had never experienced that before. It was intriguing and it took its toll. That led to a cough that settled and simmered in my soul as well as in my chest. Seven weeks later, one round of antibiotics and another of steroids, I was finally well.

In the midst of that we learned that the landlords at the retreat center we used to run in Varanasi had evicted the current leader. That was devastating and painful. Our whole family grieved it. It was our spot. It was a tethering point in our beloved Asia suddenly severed.

Soon after that dear friends in Pakistan were involved in a tragic road accident. My Auntie was killed as a result. Her daughter sustained serious head injuries. Her granddaughter broke both her legs. Meanwhile my Pakistani Uncle was still battling cancer.

No sooner had the shock of that worn off a little then my father in law was killed in a farming accident.
We remembered him at a memorial service on Tuesday evening. Thursday morning both my parents, visiting from out-of-town for the funeral, took ill. They left on Friday. By Friday evening I had a fever. Our youngest started on Saturday. Two others came down with it on Sunday.

Sunday evening Lowell’s brother’s father in law also died. More sadness. More grief. Another funeral.

This morning I broke down and cried. It’s been a long, dark tunnel. I’m worn thin.

And Lowell prayed that we would endure.

Honestly endurance is our only option. I see no light at the end of this particular tunnel. There are glimmers of hope but nothing substantive. All we can do is put one foot in front of the other. We keep walking. We are hard pressed. We are squeezed. It’s dark and damp where we are just now. I can’t see where I’m going.

This morning at the doctor’s office I thought about faith and truth and hope. What would it look like to wall paper the inside of the tunnel. I’m not talking about settling in permanently….but since we’re going to be here for a time it might help to make the place a little more cheery. What images would I stick on the walls? What verses would I write out in thick black marker? What photographs would I frame?

It’s in a tunnel that faith becomes oh-so-practical! There’s no faking it now. That’s not an option. Truth and hope have to hold strong. They have to work now or I’m done. I’ll throw in the towel. What I stick on the walls of the tunnel has to be life-giving and sustaining. It’s the reminders I need if I’m going to endure.

I looked up the word, endurance, in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It’s “the ability to do something difficult for a long time; the ability to deal with pain or suffering that continues for a long time; the quality of continuing for a long time.” Lowell and I have done long-time stuff before. We have some experience at enduring. Perhaps we’ve grown to possess the “quality of continuing for a long time”. The thing with enduring is it’s hard. Enduring implies something needs to be endured. It’s the difficult, the pain or suffering, the continuing from the definitions that are the kickers. Enduring a picnic or a party aren’t as difficult! Enduring hard things, dark seasons, long tunnels —that’s the painful part.

When I look up the word endurance in scripture I’m astounded. We are called to endure suffering, temptation, persecution, hostility, testing, trials, unfair treatment. We aren’t left to our own devices. We’ve been equipped to endure: “We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.” (Col 1:11).

But what is the most astounding thing I’ve discovered in my hunt is what endures even beyond our own calling to endure….. God’s love endures forever! His faithful love endures forever. His name, his kingdom, his throne—those all endure too. But over and over, a refrain in the perpetual rhythms of each story, the line is the same, His faithful love endures forever.

Are you stuck in a long dark tunnel too? I’m not naïve enough to think it’s just Lowell and I. Our darkest days probably seem grey to others. Cancer, unemployment, broken-hearted children. Tragedy, betrayal, divorce, loneliness, financial despair. These things come along at a merciless pace. They take our breath away. Our spirits lose vitality. Our bodies break down. Whatever we’ve been asked to endure there is a force that endures longer, stronger, past whatever limited capacities we have. His faithful love endures forever!

I’ve poured myself a cup of tea. My Christ candle is lit and I’ve pulled out the glue. I’m sticking that truth up inside the tunnel. I’m writing it out in large cursive letters. It’s the one thing I can hold on to right now. His faithful love endures longer than I have to. His love endures. Forever.

What about you? Where are you learning about endurance? What can you hold to during this time?

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