November 27, 2017

Touching Eternity

I have never wanted to be the source of a faith dilemma for the people around me.  I have wanted to be the one that empowers my boys in their faith journey – standing on the shoulders of giants - that kind of thing. 

But, given that my physical condition has become a source of faith dilemma, I can easily imagine how Satan might use my chronic pain against my family.  That is precisely why I have made it my mission for the last six years to hide the pain, forcing myself to walk “normally” when walking normally hurts; forcing myself to sit through church like a lady when I feel like I have to shift my weight every few seconds in order to reduce the effect of gravity on my body.

 I can easily call up mental images of people who for me represented an issue I wanted to avoid.  I wanted to avoid the lady in our church that was chronically in pain and in her wheelchair.  And if I felt that way about her, what on earth was it like to be her child?  Did they pray for her on a regular basis to get up and out of her wheelchair the way that my boys regularly beg Jesus for my comfort?  “Are you in pain Mao?” (they call me Mao – “cat” in Chinese) “ Dear Jesus I ask that you will take Mao’s pain away forever”.  But they don’t see an answer.  Am I nursing a growing doubt in their minds that God doesn’t care?  How desperately I want them to believe that God is good and that he cares.  I fear that I might become the origin of a real gripe against God.  In my mind I would fail everything that matters to me.  From a fallen perspective, I might as well be an abusive parent.
I know that every parent has great impact on their child.  I have friends who are permanently scarred by their parents; abuse, guilt tripping control and whatnot.  I myself am permanently affected by my parents, but in my case I do stand on the shoulders of giants. 

But in the face of my concerns, I am told in Romans 8:28 that God works everything to the good of those the love him and who are called according to his purposes.  If I were not me – if I were someone else looking at me (perhaps if I were you) – I could easily imagine how God would use my disability in my boys lives to nurture wonderful caring, intuitive men who can look deeply into issues like pain that other people brush over.  Maybe it is a kind of prophecy to be able to imagine that.  But when I look at me… well then everything seems crazily bent out of shape, doomed to bring yet more pain.

And yet, thinking about me, I can see God simultaneously shifting my perspective.

 My life, in the space of eternity barely represents a dot.  And if that is that case, then the way God sees me is not “me in this moment”.  He sees me outside of time, in an eternal place where he is somehow still eternally creating me.  Sometimes I can almost grasp how this is true because I have some memories that are so vivid to me that I have to wonder if I am not able to relive them.  Its almost like the fact that I am almost 34 doesn’t actually matter – time doesn’t exist when I remember being  5, 10, 15,20, 25, 30 etc.  Smells and sounds evoke very strong memories for me.

I have a distinct memory of being about 7 or 8 and playing in my rubber boots by the ditch.  It was summer.  The knowledge that Dad was mowing the grass (I can smell it) and Mom was in the garden made me feel very secure.  It was twilight and I was fishing for treasure in the ditch (garbage) in order to survive the “stranded on a desert island” story that was playing out in my mind.  The smells of late summer.   The sound of crickets.  Bikers passing by on our dirt road.  The feel of the water pressing in around my boots.  I’m there again in a moment when I think about it.  Where is time when I think that way?

I have a distinct memory of being 12.  I loved going for long walks by myself.  There was a new street going up on the edge of town and I loved walking it and talking to God and praising him as the sun sunk below the horizon, shooting colors across the horizon.  Sometimes I would hunker down in the long grass and soak in the joy and peace and beauty that was all around me.  I decided to name it Jesus Street, because I loved the communion I felt with the Lord there.

Those are only two examples.  But if I can smell the smells, feel the feels, hear the sounds, and enter in that same communion with God just by thinking of it, am I somehow not in eternity there?  What has really changed?  The main players are still there.  I am I.  God is God.  We still commune.  I still feel the joy.  Is that not somehow a glimpse of knowing God in eternity?  Outside of time despite the fact that I feel messed up in this moment at 34?  Perhaps it is a glimpse of how he sees things.  I think when I am 80 years old I will still be able to call up those memories and more.

When we first moved to the place where we now live I was somewhat overwhelmed by how isolated it felt.  I would almost say that we live in a ghost community.  The evidence of a thriving farming community from the early 20th century is all around us.  Collapsing farmyards.  A cemetery.  A monument where the school and church stood.  Castleavery.  That’s where we live.  But there is no one there now. 

 In a strange way I can touch eternity there too because the evidence of caring human investment and interaction is everywhere.  The fact that those people are no longer there doesn’t matter because the fingerprint they left behind is as much there now as it was when they walked where I walk.  The physical landscape hasn't changed.  The sky hasn't changed.  God hasn't changed.  If you go further back you see herds of bison and tribes of Native Americans and the same thing is true.  Where is time?

When we moved there we moved into a little one room cabin where the four of us all slept, lived and cooked for eight months while we gutted and renovated the little farmhouse.  James worked while the boys and I stayed home.  We would do school work and clean up the yard.  It is a gorgeous farm yard and the evidence that its founders cared about beauty is everywhere.  Three layers of shelter belt that I love to walk.  We have a giant slough that looks like a little lake on one side and giant pond on the other.  I love water.  I have always loved water (as evidenced by my grasping for it as a kid playing in the ditch).

But the isolation and the ghost community feel of it rather creeped me out when we first arrived.  Coyotes, bears, skunks, badgers, snakes, moose, deer and vegetation have been busily reclaiming this settled land for the wild as the “civilized” world has retreated.  What was I doing there?

Every morning when James would drive off to work I would leave the cabin to see him off.  As I watched the car retreat I would feel overwhelmed by the vastness of the “human less “space that surrounded me.  It was so beautiful, but so empty.  It felt like me.  I would walk by the slough soaking in the scent of the grass and the water, and the rush of beauty as the sun rose and as the wild ducks and chorus of birds sang their praises to God.  I felt as nothing in that place and yet I returned every morning to have my nothing filled again.  There were echoes of Jesus Street in that place, but also echoes of some future where I am 80 years old, still myself and still soaking in the Nothing and the Everything of me and of God.  I’m not messed up in that place.

A song ran through my head constantly that I hadn’t thought of for years.  A song from another vivid period of life, when I was a teenager and attending Youth Group.  Another contact with eternity.

I cry a silent prayer
That comes out of me
It’s a mystery
Come wash over me
Wash over me
‘Til I can’t take any more
And I dream that my voice is heard
In a secret place
Where I bare my face
Come wash over me
Wash over me
‘Til I can’t take any more

Where am I going with all of this rambling?  I am realizing that I stand before God, not as a 34 year who feels bound by pain and doesn’t know how to deal with it, but as an entire timeline of Jessica rolled up into one dot in eternity.  The 12 year old, the Youth, the Missionary, the 34 year old, the 80 year old.  All those times and those moments touch the common denominators of Me, of God, of Nothing, of Everything, of being saved from myself by a God who does not desire to crush me.  It’s me and God in Eternity.  It’s Corinthians 4:17-18
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Me and God in Eternity.  Maybe my boys will see that and learn to see themselves in Eternity.

October 25, 2017

In Summary

A number of times during the course of this writing I’ve stopped to ask myself once again what it is I hope to accomplish by writing any of this down and posting it so publicly.  There is no personal gain from pulling back the veil of my dignity.  But then I ask myself what cost is of not putting it up… and its too heavy.

I started all of this by talking about how if I refuse to lift my voice in giving God glory for the great things he has done and for who he is and his wonderful presence, then I have allowed a rock to cry out in my place.  If I will not give glory then creation still will.  If I don’t take my place in this celebration, then the celebration will continue without me.  That is too heavy a price to pay for not speaking up.  I want to speak up to be a part of giving God glory whether I am heard by others or not.  I already missed out once when I clammed up in 2011. 

I was not made to store up praise for God.  I was made to let it spill over and overflow, so that you too might benefit and so that your faith too may receive a boost with the knowledge that God has been faithful, yet again, to someone you know.

I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty about their own depression and misery and inability to pull themselves out – they have enough of that already.  I don’t want to minimize anyone’s life hurts or make it seem like their mental state is trivial and easily cast off.  Jesus himself took it so seriously that he gave his own life in order to save ours.

What I do want, is to brag about my Savior, who can be yours too.  I’m not talking strictly about Salvation here because I believe Christians suffer from depression as much as non Christians do.  Believing Jesus is an ongoing process of trusting him and letting the Holy Spirit transform our minds away from the destructive ways in which we pattern ourselves.  We do this is so many different ways. 

One way recently in which Jesus brought new freedom into my life had absolutely nothing at all to do with brain tumours and depression.  Rather it had to do with certain habits I took on after getting married. 

Like any husband/wife relationship, James had behaviours that hurt me (small brush offs, sarcasm, impatience etc)  I will readily admit I am not innocent of those kinds of offences either.  But on the receiving end of it I began early on to habitually excuse him in my mind for the things he did which hurt me and I have continued on these 13 years doing just that.  But I began noticing recently that these things (even very little things) began to spark an explosive reaction inside of me – usually quite uncalled for given the mundanity of the offenses – and especially odd given he has generally stopped doing a lot of the things that initially caused the hurt so many years ago.

All of a sudden, one day as I was about to explode, I felt the Holy Spirit gently speak to me and show me that my habit of excusing him in my mind had allowed me to live in a growing mountain of unforgiveness towards my husband.  Small thing by small thing this mountain had become I burden that I needed to throw off.  Without intervention it is a mountain that I would naturally throw back at James.  It is truly odd, given than by “excusing” him I had tricked myself into thinking that I was actually forgiving.  But excusing is not the same as forgiving.  Excusing is sweeping it into the corner, un-dealt with.

God didn’t give me the power to excuse sin.  I can’t make the offense disappear, no matter how small.  What he did give me was the power to forgive and that is a gift beyond value.  When I forgive, I extend to my situation Jesus’ power to remove sin as far as the east is from the west.  Both my sin and his.  And instead of accumulating offenses in the dark corners of my mind, I can enjoy freshly swept, well lit corners.

It sounds small but I can’t even begin to describe the weight that is lifted from me in learning to forgive James for these small but predictable types of offenses that occur in a marriage.  I had no inkling that I was even carrying that weight, but now that it is gone I feel so much lighter in my relationship with him because I am free of the need to excuse him.  There is a release that only the Holy Spirit can bring.  Our conversations are so much more interesting and productive now than they were when I was trying to manoeuver around with my broom.  James is not perfect and it is not my job to clear him of wrong.  I don’t have to love him despite the mountain.  God is the one who moves mountains, so I am free to just love.

Once again, I readily admit that I guilty of those kinds of marriage offences too.

This is just another example of the kind of freedom that Jesus has worked in my life and is continuing to work.  I’ve spent many blog posts talking about the big ways he has worked.  But the pattern is the same whether big or small.  Freedom from the devastating consequences of my sinful reactions to the disappointing painful things that happen to me in my life.  I have left-sided phantom pain and James is sometimes short with me.  In both cases I can be free from posturing, from accumulation of overwhelming emotion, and from the impulse to isolate myself.  In both cases I can allow myself to be opened, if I will only release my pride and my rights.

As I explore this freedom I find a new me arising from the destruction.  Jesus said, “Behold I am creating all things new.”

So let me raise a glass in full view of whoever is reading.  Let me become undignified order to bring glory to our Creator.  To my Counselor.  To the friend that knows everything in me that even I am not aware of.  I can trust him to guide me and I hope my words have stirred something in you.


Let him create anew in you today too, whatever your current standing with God.

October 17, 2017

An Appeal to You

There are a couple reasons why I would put myself out so far as to use my own words in some of my hardest moments to speak to you as I did in the last post.  One is that I want to wake up the sleepers – those people who know they are depressed and have known for a long time, decades even, but who have come to accept it as their perpetual state of being.

There is danger in awakening sleepers, I am aware.  As I described my depression and pain in the last entry there were probably individuals who still felt disconnected or even a little indignant, as if my 6 years of depression lent any credence to speak to their 40 years of depression.  Well let me step on your toes, because I am not trying to claim the prize for the most depressed, disillusioned, cynical person, and I sincerely hope that you don’t covet that prize either. 

I can’t count the number of times that someone who is experiencing legitimate physical pain because of common things like knee injuries, neck pain, or viral illnesses, has said to me, “Of course, I know its nothing compared to what you must experience everyday, but…”

I hate that. I don’t want to win the prize for the person in the most pain.  If I did I would have advertised it long before now.  Pain is pain is pain, and I respectfully turn down anyone’s nomination that I be awarded the “Worse Pain Than Mine” award.  I know that human beings have this tendency toward wanting to win the “Worst Competition”, but how often do we sit and down and think about what it ACTUALLY means to win the prize of the most depressed, the most misunderstood, in the worst pain, most irredeemable, etc.?

The only “prize” you might possibly gain through the winning is sitting uncomfortably in the knowledge you will be never understood by anyone, or that you are the most alone person on the planet.  This must be the most NON prize ever!  Do you truly want to believe that Jesus’ work on the cross accomplished nothing when it comes to you? 

So Sleepers, if I step on your toes, I’m sorry, but I don’t want you to sit alone holding this ghost of a trophy.  Please listen.  I’m not trying to out-compete you.  I just know that it is terrible to be where you are.

Another reason that I use my own words rather than relating specific experiences is that some of you (like me), would never identify yourselves as depressed. Just maybe… stuck… or, also like me, disillusioned with the big goals of life.  If I relate only through my specific experience you may not see yourself because my specific situation doesn’t look like your specific situation.  But my words of being in the thick of it may be VERY familiar to you.

Most of us have devastating moments when we realize we are a complete mess and where we can recognize that if other people saw us like this they would question our mental stability.

I’ve been talking about myself all this time, but I think I’ve been pretty clear from the start that the reason I would talk about  myself at all is because I realize that I am learning something here that is applicable to many, many other people, brain tumour or no brain tumour.

The danger here is that when we are left in this state (or like positions) for long enough, we start to develop a perception of identity which revolves around being a depressed, cynical or disillusioned person.  Pre brain tumor, I was not a person that struggled with low self esteem or shrunk away from people.  But over the past seven years I increasingly found myself sweating in conversation with people. I avoided introductions and conversations because I became so self conscious about my word choice or attempted jokes that it just became awkward.  I began to wrap my identity around being a disillusion hopeless person in pain.

The funny thing with identity is that we feel identity should be fought for at any cost.  I would fight for my right to be a disillusioned hopeless person because I was “justified” in being that way.  And I was justified.  I didn’t make up any of the things that happened.  They really did happen.  But is “justified” really the point if all I gain is the prize that is actually not a prize?  Is “justified” the point when I end up fighting for my right to destroy the rest of my life?

I reached a point in this journey where conviction fell on me like the gonging of a bell.  All I did was pray that God would pull me out.  But through this simple request he showed me things about myself that gave me an opportunity for repentance and for turning away from my way to his way. 

The most long lasting effect that I have experienced in my life from the brain tumor, from losing my career, from left sided body pain and from depression, have not been from the events themselves, but from the sinful reactions I had to them and from the sinful messages I took into my own heart and head after they happened.

I have been the victim of a victim mentality of the worst kind.  The reason it is the “worst” kind (this right on the heels of the “Worst Competition) is because everything that happened and that I have lived with really did happen – there is no mental construct of the events themselves.  And because of that I have been unable to identify the ways in which actual events slowly transitioned away from the sheer events into being a mental recasting of my whole life.

There is not much point in stringing out all the lines of thought that I have been ruled by.  Each one led to a various succession of jumbled thoughts and confusing mental pathways, but they all ended up at the same at the same crushing destination.

“There is no point to anything.  Why would I want anything.  Why would I waste myself on anything.  Why would I hope.  I’m just empty.  God must want me to be empty, so I will embrace my emptiness.”

The events of my life aside, THAT sentence I just wrote has wrecked much more havoc in my life than ANY one event or even the entire sequence of events all added together.

Until I realized the fullness of the destruction that one sentence has meted upon me I couldn’t recognize it for what it was – SIN. 

I know we hate that word and I know that most people would rather try to take me off the hook than let that word ring in their heads or suggest that I didn’t have every right in the world to sit around feeling sorry for myself.  I’m in pain for heavens’ sake, visited upon me by a medical condition that I never asked for.

SIN.  

If you don’t believe me then look at Jesus’ words when he said that Satan prowls the earth like a lion looking for whom he may destroy.   The message I have believed has destroyed far more than anything that has happened to me.  And if it has been that destructive, then we need look no farther than the Destroyer to see its source.  The reason it is sin, is because I have chosen his destructive words about my life rather than My Creator’s words.

So yes, I DO challenge your status, whoever you are, wherever you are, however deep it goes, however LONG you have struggled with it.  Not based on MY great qualifications (or maybe the lack of them in your eyes), but because the redemption and new creation that is being offered to you by Jesus Christ is too big to be turned aside. 

Jesus didn’t offer intimate relationship and the Breath of Life to everyone except you.  Who are you that you are so exceptional?  Yes your story is absolutely exceptional, but don't worship your own pain!  Don’t sacrifice the rest of your life on the Great Altar of your cynicism, your depression, your anxiety, your disillusionment, your nothingness.  It will never reward you for your service and your sacrifice.

Your road to that place was different, by all means, and yes, very unique.  I will never take that away from you.  I don’t want to devalue anyone’s experiences.  However I DO challenge the messages that you may have taken on in the aftermath of those experiences.  Your road out will also be very different and unique and it won’t look like mine.  It won’t be immediate.  But Jesus will be your guide.  There IS a way out and he wants to show you.

I know I sound harsh right now, but its because I’m hoping to shake a few people out of their slumber.  It sucks to be shaken awake and I’m sure that many people think that I’m delusional and that I should have gone to therapy or yoga or something else to maintain a better balance.  Discount me if you will, but I hope at least one or two people will listen.  (I’m not discounting therapy for the record, and I don’t have any disdain for either therapists or for people who go to them.)

I do not know the specific way in which you are misunderstood as the highly specialized individual that you are, but I do know that the most valuable feedback you could get on yourself is from the one who created you and who has seen the whole time what you don’t see or admit yourself. 

He is so gentle!  I can’t describe the freedom as he slices through one knot at a time.  I am so much lighter than I was.  I don't have to by tied down by an identity that was never meant to be mine.  I don't have to fight for the right to preserve that identity.  Jesus has saved me from such a dark place.

Last Christmas I shared my testimony at church.  After I was done a song was played that I had never heard before and I was stunned by how applicable the words were. 


October 12, 2017

Phantom Pain and the Dark Places


It may seem a little strange to move on from speaking strongly about truth, healing and heaven one moment to one of speaking about depression and pain in the next, as though I am taking glory away from God.  But it’s the path I took.

I started out trying to write about this from two different mindsets.  One was to tone down the depression and the pain so that people who are of a scientific or psychological bent would not see me as a crazed person whose words should be taken with a generous amount of salt.  The other was to really press in so that people who are truly suffering with depression and/or pain would know that I’m the real deal and you can know that I speak from experience. 

I’ve since realized that you just need to see realness.  If I seem crazed and conflicted with God because of these things then it is all the better that you might know that I didn’t just pull myself out by strength of will.  It didn’t happen that way.  On now to the real writing.

If you read what I wrote about healing right after it happened (Shell Shocked and Very Emotional and What Happened After the Fire Swamp) and  then you’d see that I compared myself to a) the blind man that Jesus healed, b) a veteran coming home from the war.  I could see that I didn’t know what to make of it.  Earlier even than that, when I was in the thick of it, and contemplating what healing would mean in my life (in the crazy event that it happened On Wives, Servants and Miserable Health) I knew even then that I couldn’t imagine what I would do with a story like that.

A couple of years ago in Beijing, someone at our church said to me, “I’ve been thinking a lot about you this week.”  I surprised myself and everyone else in the conversation by saying, “So have I!”  It was funny at the time but it was also very true.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about myself, and being swept up by the dark undercurrents of thought that travel below the surface of my personality and my mind.  This was something I actually talked about on this blog when I was going through treatment (Deep Currents). 

During the long years of self analysis since this all happened, I identified a lot of different words and phrases to describe the depression I walked through, but depression itself was not one.  A big one was “disillusionment”: with my university education; with my humanitarian/missionary work; with living abroad in general; with having any kind of goals and ambitions or even investing myself in anything at all, etc.  It became an increasingly intricate web of tangled string with everything connected to everything else.

I felt like everything I had ever identified as “me” had been stripped from me through the process of the brain tumor and I didn’t know how to put them on again.  I did try to “go and live my life” as the doctor said, but nothing fit in my mind the way it had before and I couldn’t make them fit either.  Combine that with a few failed attempts to do what I had been doing and it made for a bitter cocktail.

I continued to love people as I had, make them a priority in my life etc, but I began to withhold my depths from them, and let the depths bubble and boil deep inside instead.  I can say it this way now - this bluntly – but I wasn’t able to at the time.  I used all the kinds of words that I wrote up above about disillusionment etc.  Or, I even began to spiritualize it.  God meant for me to be this way. 

I began to feel cut off from people.  My Myers/Briggs test result went from extreme extrovert to extreme introvert.  I started to become a highly individualized person.  My experiences with God became just MY experiences.  MY health became a closed book.  MY mesh of reading, processing, philosophizing, stayed mine.

A highly individualized person stops talking when they begin to feel that what they have is too sacred, too raw or just too close to them to really let others see or touch it.  Others may not value it as much as you do.  But a highly individualized sacred person who stops talking is a highly misunderstood person.  How can they be understood without the use of words?  Or when words are used they are used as brief,  intense laser beam that leaves the listener feeling guilty but not knowing why.

 A highly misunderstood person, is a lonely and confused person.  A lonely and confused person becomes either depressed or defensive.  In my mind it became everyone else’s fault for not understanding me.

Was it the fault of others for misunderstanding?  Maybe.  There are some people who make a lot of assumptions.  But even then, more likely than not, they were looking at me through their own highly individualized world view, and they were not trying to misunderstand me. 

But the longer I had gone without talking, the more talking was required to bring someone else up to speed.  The more catch-up was required, the more confusing and convoluted the paths become in my own mind so that even if I had wanted to catch someone up I really couldn’t and the more unbalanced I seemed.  “Are there words for the feelings I have?”  No words.  Only feelings that become stronger and more overpowering with time.  The more feelings there were, the more strongly I felt the misunderstanding of others.  Even if they misunderstood me only a little, it felt like a galaxy of distance.  It was easier to put up a wall and not give them the chance to misunderstand me.

That was my path to depression.  And this of course was accompanied by the phantom pain I have referred to, caused by scar tissue from the radiation.

Fully one half of my body, right down the middle of my face, my torso, my insides, my arm, my leg and more is affected.  The pain is aching, is burning, is stinging, is stabbing, is swelling, is white hot searing sheets that split my bones, is so many different pains that I can’t even put words to.  The precision halfness of it all makes me wonder at the intricacy of the brain.  One half of my teeth but not the other half down to the dividing line between the two front teeth.  It is also a mimicking pain, so that if there is any real source of pain somewhere on my body, it will pick that up and recreate it all over on the left side.  Waking up with a stiff neck.  Menstrual cramps.

Ari asked me the other day if I had ever been to a psychologist (he’d discovered Sigmond Freud a la Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure).  I thought for a minute and, totally forgetting the two day neuropsychological evaluation I’d undergone after treatment, I remembered that I had been part of a Psychology experiment in my first year of University in order to fulfil the requirements for my Psychology class.  The test was pain tolerance.  I had to hold a heavy weight in a bucket of ice water up to my elbow for as long as I could.  I did the test and afterwards they told me that I had shown an unusually high pain tolerance threshold.  It was enlightening to remember that given this whole phantom pain business. 

I fought medicine for a long time.  For at least two to three years I was constantly trying to cut myself from two painkillers to one.  It never paid, except in severe pain. I fought to stay active the way I wanted to be for a long time.  When we were in China the second time I insisted on taking people on walking tours of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City on my one pain killer and only succeeded in making things awkward for the people I was with.  Finally about a year and a half ago I had a nine-fold increase of my medicine which brought the pain to a much more manageable level.  I can work now, but I still have to apply that high pain tolerance a lot of days and grit my teeth a lot of evenings and nights.

I don’t especially like talking about this subject.  I’m just going to say that right out.  I WANT to cover it up.  But I did that for six years and it got me a losing battle.

But back to depression - I’m going to take a gamble and dive right into the dark depths.  In order for God to receive glory then I have to tell this so you can see how weak I really was.   Nothing better than my own words at the time to describe what the black place was like.  I repeat again that I don't gain anything by opening this up to you.  I, in fact, cringe.  But I so pray that God will use it to catalyze a work in you.  I want you to know there is hope.

So here are two things.  One is a snippet of an email I wrote to James when we lived in Korea (2015) and he was away travelling for work.  The second is a journal entry that I wrote almost two years ago.  There is a lot more where this came from.  I’ve just chosen two.  

Dear James,

I hope that you are sleeping soundly right now wherever you are.  I am not.  I am tired yes - exhausted, certainly.  Its been a hard day.  My left side has begun a new pattern this week - bearable during the day, terrible when I'm trying to sleep.  Hence why I am now awake.  I'm hurting really badly and a black pit of despair wants to consume me as I lay in the darkness with waves of pain consuming me with no one to talk to about it.  The darkness feels hungry to eat me.

Today we had a staff meeting and some great ideas were presented.  

I didn't want to listen to another great idea.  All I wanted to do was scream that I am not okay.  All of my left hand fingers hurt, shoulder, wrist, arm, hip leg, ankle and toes.  I feel like the skin  on my arm and leg has been freshly burned on the surface while deep inside the tissue things twist and stab and contract.  My ribs and organs hurt.  I've increased my pain meds - apparently the last increase wore off pretty quick.


Journal entry Dec 31, 2015

Just now I was looking back at some of my old blog entries from the first six months after diagnosis five years ago.  It is still so hard for me to go back and look at what I wrote back then.  It was so raw and it captured what I felt so well that I can feel it again.

It occurred to me as I read that some of the things I wrote could still apply to me now.  I could see myself becoming a more introverted person, more easily caught up by deep currents within and it scared me because I didn’t know how deep I got.  What if I drowned or never resurfaced?

It just occurred to me that much of the devastation that I endured at that time has not actually been repaired.  I’ve continued to live in the rubble of my once beautiful but now devastated city despite the appearance of moving on.  Joy has eluded me all these years and I am plagued by a constant sense of guilt.

It is not unlike my left side.  It binds me as surely as any cords or chains.  It continues on, plaguing the housing of my body.  I look at it and any seed of joy evaporates.

Somehow I am utterly bound by the devastation of my once beautiful city and I am completely powerless to rise above it.  I still can’t see a horizon beyond my damaged streets.  I’ve tried walking out of the city but find myself trapped.

My left side is a very physical representation of these environs.  I can’t see joy in either my city or my body.  But the most incredible loss that I continue to feel and to mourn is that of my joy.  Jesus, you created me to be joyful and naturally hopeful.  This was part of the natural fabric that you wove into me.  My streets were thronging with joyful people and joyful vistas.  It is a source of pain for me, just as surely as my left side, to be cut off from it.

I am not the Creator.  I can’t create the parks, the birds and the songs, the murals, the laughing crowds.  I’ve tried Jesus.  I’ve really tried.

But you manifest yourself through creation Jesus!  You created and you said it was good!

Create in me again Jesus.  Say it is good!  Create joy.  Beauty instead of ashes.  The oil of joy instead of mourning.  Lay on me a garment of praise instead of this spirit of heaviness.   I read something today in Jeremiah 30 that really seemed to sum up the way I have felt about my situation.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing.  There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you.  Why do you cry out over your wound, your pain that has no cure?  Because of your great guilt and many sins, I have done these things to you.’”

Jesus where lies the next bit?  When comes the restoration?

“This is what the Lord says: ‘I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt on her ruins and the palace will stand on its proper place.  From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing.  I will add to their numbers and they will not be decreased, I will bring them honour and they will not be disdained.  Their children will be as in days of old and their community will be established before me’.”
            “In the days to come you will understand this”

Where is that for me Jesus?  I cling to the fact that you love me, but I feel the sting of the first section more than the glimmer of promise in the second section.

Where is healing for me?  Where is the rebuilding of my city and the restoration of joy to its streets?  Surely you can not will the bondage with which I live!

Where is your healing?  Where is your restoration?  I long for your touch Jesus!   I long for it! Correct my wrong thoughts!  Pull me from the rubble!  I confess that I’ve embraced it Jesus, for lack of any hope!

I just wept bitterly.  Over and over in my head the phrases “no cure for your wound” and “no healing for you” ricocheted over and over again in my head, louder and louder.  I’ve never before cried like that in my entire life.  Mourning, loud wailing, body wrenching with sobs, almost vomiting.
I don’t want to live in these ruins anymore.  PULL ME OUT!  PULL ME OUT!  PULL ME OUT!!!


If I look at this like an outside observer (or imagine that I am), I think that you in reading this could very easily begin to discount anything I have to say, because I might seem obviously maniacal.  I too can look at it and see how my web of disillusionments was increasingly messed up.  On the inside it sure felt like there was no hope of ever being able to pull myself out.  I can easily imagine that it would have taken years of therapy to untangle the Gordian Knot of my mind. 


But if I have learned anything through these years, it is that I am an onion.  The more layers I peel off the deeper I seem to get – and still I discover that I remain what I was on the surface – a mess without answers.  Therapy doesn’t change what I am inside.  Untying the knot often makes a bigger mess.

The reason I can say this now is that this last journal entry represented a turning point.  Jesus answered my cry and he has/is pulling me out.  He is Alexander the Great to my Gordian knot (slices right through it).  And despite the fact that there has been no grand restoration of the ruined city I described, there has been new creation – just as I asked.

But don’t deceive yourself.  I could not have done that myself.  I tried that again and again, but I failed.

October 03, 2017

Heaven

Now I face a dilemma.  What I want to ultimately do is to speak the kind of truth that might shine a light on the place that you may find yourself.  I don’t really want the focus to be on my process, but I hope that little bits and pieces of my process will convict you and begin to catalyze change for you.

As I’ve posted, a variety of people have commented on Facebook.  And it makes me happy to see your names… not because I want you to think about me but because I want to speak to YOU and challenge YOU.   Those who have commented have represented only a small portion of the people that I want to speak to. 

Your names pop into my head at all hours of the day or night and when I think about you I want so much for you, and I hope that I’ll hear from you.  Many of you were in a hard place when you were last following my blog and since then your situation has drastically changed.  Many of you were in a good place and now you’re not.  You will hear me differently now than you did before.  News travels, friends, and I don’t know if some of the things I hear are only rumor, but it seems to me that some of you really need to hear from a person who will be vulnerably real, whatever the good or bad situation is that you uniquely find yourself in.  And I hope that I can put questions into your mind and heart that you just can’t shrug off, so that you go to Jesus who holds answers.

I don’t want to venture into opinion.  The minute I do that I feel a check in my spirit.  When I write opinion, you can push me away into the rest of the blogosphere.  I don’t want you to do that, because I want you to hear Jesus to speak to you through what I say.  Your story will be just as unique and different as mine is, but we will have many things in common nonetheless. I want you to stop, be silent and let God speak.  I want you to read about my resurrection from the dead as a word of life for yourself. 

But I can’t make resurrection sound awesome unless I describe the depths and possibly even venture into opinion.  So I’ll get to that dark place in bits and pieces, but first I want to talk about Heaven.

Can you believe that it is possible to have a great, enviable life that you thoroughly enjoy and to still long for heaven?  And not just on a global scale.  In a very personal sense - me, in heaven.  Even if I have to leave behind people that I love dearly. 

It isn’t selfish.  I’m not talking suicide here.  I’m doing my utmost to love everyone around me unselfishly and serve them and I love being with them.  I won’t leave them alone as long as I have breath.  But when I’m done, I’m going to be DONE.  I will not be looking back and wishing I could have stayed a little longer.  Thank you Jesus, I finished my leg of the race!!  I pray I did or said things that help other people get here too.  But I can stop running now.

Part of my depression was that being healed meant that instead of being able to stop running (dying) - like enjoying a glass of cold water at the finish line, or of sinking into a soft bed at the end of the workday hearing that I’d done a good job - I learned that there was no end in sight and that I additionally had to run with constant pain and a mirage before my eyes of a finish line that never actually materializes.  Why keep running?    I wasn’t obsessed with death or leaving my loved ones.  I just wanted to stop running and know I had done well.  Instead I was running in pain – barely grabbing breath from one foot fall to the next.

I think many of you feel this way, whatever the experiences are the led you there.

I know it sounds odd for a happy, contented young wife/mother/friend etc to speak of the kind of exhaustion in life that we might feel justifiable in an old person.  But here’s the thing: until the prospect of death faced me I never even realized that I was tired of running.  I was proverbially running, staying fit, enjoying the scenery of my life (you can still see it now if you go back to the 2009/10 entries in China).  You could say that I had even forgotten I was running for a purpose because I was getting so much enjoyment out of it. 

Then all of a sudden I could see the finish line ahead of me, just across a dark patch.  And I wanted to be there.  Because running is still running and it takes a toll on the body.  Life is still life and we all need to know that there is eventually release.

How can I describe the way I feel about Heaven? 

Let me emphasize again, it is possible to be the most blessed person alive with no major complaints and to still long for heaven. 

Obviously you could point to my chronic pain, my spatial lapses and my lack of firm memory and say that I must have major complaints with life.  But I don’t.  Of the most important things, I am rich beyond compare.  I have wonderful family relationships.  My husband is my best friend in the whole world.  As my boys grow and develop I increasingly love their brains, their personalities and watching them form the way they are.  They match me brain for brain.  Iron sharpening iron.  Their humor sparks my laughter and laughter is the best medicine.

I have a slew of other amazing friends of whom I often think “I wish I could spend more time with that person” and know that they feel the same way about me.  I have hobbies.  I have a beautiful property where I can walk and work and relax and listen to birdsong and see deer and watch the sunset sparkle over the lake and listen to my garden grow.  I am not lying about these things friends.  This is not me creating my Pinterest Perfect life to evoke jealousy in others and to convince everyone that my life is a dream.  I really have all these things – and YET… I long for Heaven!

Before, I spoke of a longing for heaven in terms that were perhaps selfish - a desperation to be done with the race.  But really, that is what my feelings on Heaven became, as I sank into depression.  I carried my longing like a burden.  However that is not how they started out.  Interestingly now as I feel Life returning – again, not big dreams or personal ambitions, just LIFE – I feel the tingling anticipation of Heaven that I first felt returning to me.  I feel as time goes by, that the reality of this place is settling into every fibre of my being and I anticipate it.  I love my family, my friends, my husband, my sons – but man oh man, HEAVEN.

Let me pose a question.  If I anticipate dessert, does that mean I hate the meal?  Who of us has not left some of a delicious meal on a plate because we knew if we finished (despite the fact that we loved the meal) we wouldn’t have room for dessert?  Culturally we often treat dessert like the real prize of the meal.  Does a host take offense when a guest oggles the dessert more than the meal?  I don’t speak in definite terms here, because I know that in my analogy I have already lost someone because they are thinking that my theology seems a little off, because I’m comparing Heaven to the light fluffy thing at the end of the meal.  But please follow what I’m saying even if you don’t agree with the analogy.

In addition to the glass of cold water and sense of being really, truly, finished and of having done a good job, the other aspect of heaven that I have come to anticipate is resting in a sense of knowing.  God is so beyond our comprehension and the world around us is so governed by forces that are both hugely and microscopically beyond our comprehension that we are constantly having to try to bend our minds around these concepts. 

I don’t know about you, but when someone tries to blow my brain with things like “Did you know that the Earth is XXX,000,000,000,000, zeros-ad-infinitum light years away from fill-in-the-blank galaxy” and then they rattle off a series of more numbers and fantabulous things, my brain just goes into a sort of white noise setting.  I physically cannot conceive of that space, time or distance.  If someone grows a gigantic tomato they need to show it beside a softball or a basketball (or a beach ball!) for comparison.  That’s because we actually need things to be able to fit within a certain range of comprehension.  It’s like how we can only see light or hear sound within a certain wavelength.  Other sound and light waves are really there, but our humanity limits our ability to pick it up.  Dogs hear it.  Bats hear it.

Sometimes I get so frustrated by my humanity.  I KNOW there is more happening in the world around me, but I don’t have the capacity to understand it.  Its fine not to know something if you don’t know that you don’t know it.  But what if you DO know that you don’t know?  Isn’t it irritating to know that you are functioning on a mere portion of the understanding that is available?   Tack onto that that you could theoretically know, but just don’t have the ability to know.  It’s like having to “mark your X” for your name while other people write novels. 

Beyond the physical world, we as humans are constantly trying to bend our minds around God. 
Yes, I believe that the Holy Spirit has been given to those who put their faith in Jesus to empower us, to comfort us and to give us understanding.  BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN WE HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.  Because we are still humans.

If we did have all the answers, we would not have any questions.  What thinking Christian can say that questions never pop into their head?  What Christian could truthfully say that sometimes their questions scare them because the answers that are outside our realm of understanding or outside accepted Christian theology seem to bend our minds a little too much outside the realm of our comfort?

Now I’m not saying those mind bending answers are right… but I am saying that faith in God requires more than a little bending of the mind.  It is mind bending to ask questions of God.  And I have no doubt that if he answered me outright, my mind wouldn’t be able to handle the bend of his answer. 

Unfortunately, God does not take me out of the mental bending and give the answer, so not only do I have to deal with the way MY mind bends around God, I also have to deal with the way that OTHER people’s minds bend around God.  Oh Lord, take me now! 

Mental bending and mental sweating is tiring, friends.  And every one of us, no matter how sweet our lives may be, are constantly bending our minds around the questions of eternity and of God.  Even if we have insulated ourselves within perfect predictable lives, all we need is a little nudge into the world of death and disaster to put us there.  The daily newspaper will do it.  A neighbourhood gossip carrying local horror stories will do it.  You try can ignore those things, but then you enter a whole new realm of mental rigours, and risk being as self-delusional as people might accuse me of being for focusing on heaven.

What I long for is the safety of a place where I can eternally learn about and question God without the stakes being as high as they are (and yes, the stakes are high).  Or without others thinking that I’m crazy or heretical.  The truth is that God wants to be known by us.  In order to know him we actually need to ask questions.  But as long as we are bound and limited by our humanity, unable to perfectly tune our senses to the sound and light waves beyond our limited comprehension, we ask on a risk.  Because our understanding of our answers might be wrong.

As a Christian I accept without question that Jesus is Salvation, the Way, the Truth and the Life.  But when it comes to so many other questions of God that I like or don’t like to consider, I am probably not spot on in my answers.  In fact, I might very well be completely wrong.  Like the Thief crucified beside Jesus, by believing and trusting Jesus, I gain entrance to Heaven.  But also like the thief, I might have made a lot of wrong decisions in my life based on the incomplete understanding that I had.

I want to ask and question God without risk, and without having to preface everything I say with, “well in my opinion…”  Not because I want to be right, so I can crow about it, but because I want to understand, not only partly, but fully.

The other thing I long for is completeness of relationship with other people.  We face not only uncertainty with our questions of God, but also with the other people in our lives.  As a very simple example, the only memory I have of my paternal grandfather is, from a childish perspective, a bad one.  I was three years old and I was climbing on the chairs and he told me that I would fall and hurt myself.  I did, and he said, “I told you so.”  Does anyone want that to be the only memory their grandchild has of them?  No!  And yet, I carry this man’s genes – not that far removed either.  I have probably inherited wonderful things from him, and yet I carry just one negative memory of him (unless you are including the memory of him in his casket).  I really look forward to meeting him and seeing him as he was truly created to be.

What about other people in my life?  Does a day go by where I do not wonder if I accidently wronged someone, or try to understand if they meant to wrong me?  Simple things.  “Oh, I probably overreacted when James forgot to call and tell me that he’d be working late.”  Or “Oops, I didn’t get around to saying hi to that person on the other side of the room from me.  I hope they didn’t think I was ignoring them.”  Those are small things.  But there are also very big things where we just don’t have the wisdom to know what to do.

What about heart rending experiences within the church, where splits and misunderstandings and hurts have happened?  Those people that you have a hard time thinking about will (hopefully) be in heaven with you.  …And it will be wonderful… because the sinful incomplete perspectives we have on each other will be removed.  We will finally be able to worship in harmony, and guess what… even ENJOY each other.  You were meant to enjoy those people you can’t stand and to enjoy God together but we just can’t do that perfectly in our sinful states!  Even if we can do it, it’s still a real struggle.  Oh Jesus, we’ll be released from all of that CRAP!

I don’t think God will erase all of our memories of the things that happened.  But he will take away the sting so that we can talk with and understand each other and understand the ways in which we also were wrong without the accompanying shame.  I can look at my brother or sister and say “I wronged you” without my pride being hurt because pride will not be in heaven.

And we are told in the book of Revelation that God shall wipe every tear from our eyes.  There will be no death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.  Maybe that means that we will still remember the events of our lives but he will take away the intense HURT of them.  Can you imagine your hurts being so thoroughly dealt with that you could actually talk to the person that hurt you and have them perfectly understand you and be able to perfectly understand them? Not a nodding yes, but a PERFECT understanding. 

Imagine a divorced couple that finds themselves in heaven together.  They got on with life without each other by various coping mechanisms but even if they had “forgiven” each other, there still exists a hurt that is unresolved.  I’m not talking about  individual resolution because I know many people who get on fine with life after divorce.  I mean together resolved.  What is the alternative if they find themselves in heaven together?  Doesn’t it sound a bit too much like sin got dragged into heaven if you have people avoiding each other or making polite conversation at best?

Can you imagine spending eternity in a place where the most hurtful relationships in your life have had the HURT removed and real resolution happening?  Doesn’t that place sound like a place you want to go to?

Of course it is not God’s will that we wait until we get to Heaven until we pursue perfect relationships with each other, but as long as we are here we are always working around SIN both in us and other people and sin just complicates stuff.  Hurt is still there.  In the divorce scenario I just gave, perfect resolution is pretty hard when remarriage and second families have occurred or where forty years have gone by and you have no idea where they are or what their life looks like now.

I could go on awhile but really I want to ask you to dream about Heaven with me.  Christian and non-Christian alike.  I don’t want to bemoan the fact that our culture has shifted away from believing in Heaven.  We’ve had such a stupid cultural image of it in our minds anyway – clouds, wings and gold, etc.  You want to talk fluffy, then that’s it.  Throw that one away and feel free to ask what it is.  Jesus loves your questions, and he’s not afraid of your antagonism.


But imagine that there IS Heaven.  It’s easy if you try.