• Ebenezer

    When desperation blinds you…

    I want to say this, before I forget…before it slips into mist and memory…

    It wasn’t the job. It was me. And I would never call into question or judge a mother who pursues employment. That is not what is at issue for me here, at this way station in seasons.

    Beware desperation.

    I’ve whispered of it here and there, but we’ve faced a mighty battle with debt- particularly student loans. It was precipitated by two years of unemployment. All in all, our nightmare has lasted just about three and a half years. It began not four weeks after losing our fifth child to miscarriage. I have known the darkness, the inky black night, the shadowy whispers of pain that blind.

    But He promised us that He was mighty to save. And He has. And He will.  Yet- somewhere in the middle, I kept company with Sarai and Hagar, Abram and Ishmael. I lost confidence in my Lord’s will, and I thought I could fix things. And so, as Sarai sent Hagar to Abram, I sent ‘a promising email’ to my husband, a job, a work from home position. My beloved had reservations. Many. And I, in my desperation, shoved past the red flags of wisdom crying out for attention. This is not to say that some sort of employment was ahead for me, or that He had provisions waiting for us if we had trusted His timing…but I can tell you even then, we knew this job was not the wisest course of action for our family. I ignored it.

    I would spend the next year and a half trying to find a balance that could not be found. I lost perspective, lost purpose- I would care for our family from dawn until dusk, and then would work from dusk near to dawn again, each precious hour of sleep and clarity slipping into the darkness, never to be retrieved. Chronic exhaustion takes its toll; depression soon became my constant handmaiden and companion.

    I cannot emphasize this enough, dear friends. I don’t care what vocation you pursue, but if you sacrifice the rest our wise and gracious God has ordained for us, something is not as it should be. If it’s a constant, instead of an occasional, occurrence, check your heart-call. I have serious doubts that the Lord would call you to a task that includes such a thing. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. In Christ’s ministry, there was always a balance between rest and action. Always. If things are ridiculously hard, if you’re making decisions that are totally contrary to your heart, maybe the Lord is creating the friction to call you back to His purpose.

    I speak from my life. I should have heard Him clearly when I fell so ill last year. It’s almost laughably obvious. I fell so ill quite simply because my body could not run on fumes—and yet—I would go on to work for the company for another year. A year. And I could not understand why I could not heal, why I could not get well. But I wouldn’t stop. For another year. I have paid the price. I will probably never be as healthy as I was before I began this job, unless the Lord sees fit to restore what the locusts have eaten. I will spend the rest of my life caring for my body because I nearly destroyed it in desperation.

    Oh, that I were not so stubborn! The Lord needed a two by four to smack me across the back of the head, and so, late at night on a family outing to a local Christmas light show, I missed the (rather obvious) hitch point protruding from the back of my fifteen passenger van, tripped…and shattered my wrist. My right wrist, my dominant hand. I could no longer work in any capacity- I could not type. I could barely dress myself, comb my hair. And then—I finally heard Him. I submitted my resignation within days. I will always see my deformed wrist now, and think of Jacob and the angel of the Lord and Jacob’s thigh… I will bear the mark of stubbornness the rest of my days.

    I beg you, dear friends, to trust in the Lord and lean on His understanding, and acknowledge Him in all your ways. Don’t ever get to the point of desperation that you feel that you must trade your heart and body. Debt is awful, but it is never worth that. It’s never worth running ahead of God. But- if you have found yourself right-tangled, as I have, know that He is might to save, and He will not forsake you. Confess, repent, and trust. The storm will still rage, perhaps even for a long time- but He will be with you.

    Here I stack these stones, mark an Ebenezer. May the Lord in His grace lead me away from this place of sorrow.

  • Ebenezer

    An ordinary day…

    I had just finished breakfast upstairs in the cafeteria at King College, and had come downstairs to check my mail. The mail person always left the radio on in the office behind the boxes, so you could hear the news or music playing all the time. This morning, I opened my box to hear an echo ricocheting that a plane had hit the World Trade Center tower. I glanced towards my boyfriend (and now husband, James) as we both ran towards the lounge, a few steps away. We watched in horror as the second plane slammed into the second tower, gritty, grainy, super-zoomed, so far away, the camera panned at an odd angle.  James and I had been one of the first people in the room that day. It would eventually fill past capacity as the entire college pressed into the one little room on campus that had a tv. James and I kept getting pushed closer and closer to the big screen tv.

    I had been frantically calling my father (who was at the time serving in the Navy, at work, stationed at NAS Norfolk) and not getting through. The cell phones weren’t working.  When the plane slammed into the Pentagon, I ran out to the porch just off the lounge, literally gasping for air. I remember glancing across the Appalachians resplendent in their autumn finery off that porch and measuring the surreal nature of it. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing out on that porch, any more than what I was seeing on the screen.

    The attitude in the room grew more and more frantic as us young-adults suddenly turned daughters-and-sons again couldn’t get ahold of anyone on the Eastern Seaboard. There were two groups: the students from NY, and the military kids. We were terrified for the girl who had walked those very streets, for her brother who was a firefighter—it would take almost 36 hours before she would hear from her family and find out that he had made it out alive, but many of his company had not. She was only 19, but in those thirty six hours, she was 91, her face drawn and aged. I’ll never forget the look in her eyes.

    As a military child, I knew with the first plane we were at war. In my mind played out the procedures and steps the military was taking at that very moment, what the bases were doing, how they were shutting down to civilians…I could almost see it playing out like a slow motion movie in my head. The military kids had this immense level of both fear and conviction that could not be matched in the room. We knew everything was at risk. Once the Pentagon was hit, the question for us was whether or not this was a military attack or a civilian attack. A military attack meant that all the assets were fair game. That meant where my dad and thousands of others worked in the military/industrial complex of Hampton Roads….

    It was so weird to be in that position. Calm. Explaining to others what to do. For those few terrifying hours until all the planes were grounded, we had no idea what would happen next. But us military kids–we had been trained, we knew. It was strange to realize that others were looking to us to calm their fears, soldiers of a different sort.

    That whole day, all I could see, juxtaposed over all the other images that were burned into my consciousness that day—my dad, at attention, saluting. The only thing I understood on that terrible day was that we were at war- and that thousands of soldiers would answer the Piper, and walk to their deaths. For me, it wasn’t just the thousands that died that day. It was the thousands I knew would die because of it.

    Just two days earlier, on Sept 9th, I had celebrated my first birthday away from my parents. I had been slightly homesick, but mostly, I was happy to be growing up, stretching long towards life. I would end up driving home that weekend just to see my parents, to see the base, to see the military gearing up, as if to reassure myself that some things had not changed. The opposite was true. Everything had changed. September 11 forever marks the day of my adulthood for me. It was that day that the veil tore away and I realized evil was walking in the world. I had a choice before me that day. I had to lift my head up to the horror before me and decide how to live.

    Ten years later, I’m not sure I’ve made the right decisions. The life before me is not the life I promised to live on that fated day- but that is the horrible, weighted glory of it- I get to live. Breathe. Make mistakes.

    It is strange now, to be a mother of six. My eldest, at nine years old, has never known peace. He has always lived in a world where America isn’t so safe anymore and soldiers go overseas and don’t come back. We have been at war for ten years. We have lived whole lifetimes since then. But yet- there is a part of us that lives forever on that ordinary day, September 11, 2001, gazing up at the towers, across the field at the cratered Pentagon, at the plane scarred in the eastern meadow mere feet away from an elementary school–at the television screens, our ears tuned to the radio, gazing up at a clear blue sky, this beautiful, beautiful autumn morning, in total misbelief at the visions we’ve seen.

    We will never forget.

  • Ebenezer

    For life and love…

    After a very hairy night last night- tornadoes are exceedingly rare in East Tennessee- I can gratefully report that we are safe, as is our extended family- there is tremendous damage, and 16 reported dead so far- please pray for all those affected, particularly in Alabama (126 souls lost). My friend Sam, of The Homemade Dress, reported that much of her extended family, while alive and safe, have lost everything.

    —–

    Thank you for all of your lovely and kind words upon my return! I had no idea how many people actually read here in this place. What a joy to ‘see’ all of you. I’ve ‘peeked in’ at ya’ll’s places too- will try to get back to comment. I’ve truly missed our comraderie!

    There’s just one thing I want to speak to, and then no more ‘grumpies’ in this space, as I tell my kids…

    Emily gave me a right good kick in the pants. And then she delivered a roundhouse to all of my excuses. IF that weren’t enough, Kelly had to go get me ‘right in the kisser’, as my dad used to say. Here’s what she said:

    I have known for a while that I don’t want to live my life the victim, but having been surrounded by pain coming from every direction, I’ve felt as though I’ve been looking around rather wildly for something normal to hold so I can catch my breath and remember what it means to be alive. But being alive means that I feel pain, whether from a stubbed toe, a death, or a broken heart. Life, as we know it, does have a core sadness, and there are times that I deliberately shut my eyes to it and try to pretend it is not there.

    I read something last week, though, that stopped the ignoring that has become habitual. Someone was sharing a story from her life, and the similarity of this post to many of her other posts – and to so many of my own – suddenly made me feel so heavy, weighted down, burdened. I thought, “there must be so much more to her than this,” and then, “there is so much more to me than this.”

    There’s so much more to me than this.

    There it is, bald face, spelled out, just like that. That’s the feeling I’ve had for over six months now, and part of the reason I shut down the blog for a while. Somewhere along the way, I felt that an honest rendering of what I was going through (in an effort to encourage others that they were not alone) had ever so gently turned into a kind of Eeyore-ish place to be that just made me feel so heavy- and no doubt- perhaps burdened you, dear readers, as well.

    It is no small detail that the near-exact length of my time away was from the beginning of Advent to the end of Lent and the dawning of Easter. He was calling me to Himself, and for once, I listened. (I’m extra-stubborn- another curse of Type A-ish-ness.) Advent has always been a favorite season of mine, for as long as I can remember- some of my first Christmas memories center around the wreath and candles. Just thinking about it brings me whispers of peace and joy. Particularly since I had been so ill- I was disallowed from going to places like church where large amounts of people (and lovely germs) might be. I spent the entire season at home, recovering. Celebrating Advent was my only link to the outside world- to the church- to life. It called me to a peace that I hadn’t experienced- and taught me lessons I will carry with me from henceforth.

    When Lent began just a short month later, I faced the dichotomy of being to ill to participate in such things as fasting, but for the first time in my Christian journey, I actually had time to focus on Lent because all externals had been stripped away. There’s a certain measure of absurdity in that sentence. Time? Time? Really? As if I had not had time before? After much prayerful consideration and seeking council, I realized that my dedication for the duration was to pay attention. To learn. To not shove away the lessons I was learning, but to dwell in peace with them and seek to apply them as the Spirit ministered. I think the hardest part for Little Miss Type A this whole season was just to dwell. To be Mary, and sit at the Master’s feet, and let all the markers of (what I considered) being a ‘good girl’ fall away. And oh, how I failed! Therein lies the beauty of Lent, I think. It is in our failure to do something as simple as remembering not to drink coffee (or whatever the intention was) that we realize just how desperately we need salvation. If we can’t ‘accomplish’ something as small as that, which (in the larger scheme) has no bearing on our soul, how clearly we need the Master’s guidance upon the things which do affect our eternity!

    But God had seen to it that I had a governor on my little car’s engine- the minute I started to try to get ahead of myself and race forward during Lent- my body would take over, and I would fall ill yet again. I think after the second or third time (why hello St. Peter- it took you a couple of times round with the Master too? I love that. It makes me feel kinda normal if he struggled- and upon him Jesus built the church. What hope there is for little me in my little sphere!) of suddenly getting smacked back into bed again, I started to get it. Be still. Be still and know that I AM GOD. Not think you know. Know. Deep down to your tippy toes know. Deep down tippy toes trust. And if that happens, He will change your life.

    It’s not the rainbows and blue skys kind of change. I think that does us all a disservice. I think the the change is in the handling of it- we’re no longer bearing the burden if we truly know and trust. I will not deny for a second that life is kinda stinky right now. It feels a bit ridiculous, like something only a soap opera screen writer could conjure. But  it is my life, and there is so much more to me than this. That is the lesson- while I am going through suffering, it does not define me. It’s taken me six long months to understand that, to shake off victimhood and bitterness.

    I remember a conversation where I felt like I was being too ‘real’ for the listeners, and sort of kicked myself in the pants for letting it out. Perhaps it wasn’t the time for that particular conversation, but reading Elizabeth’s post regarding courage made me realize that there is ever so fine a line between whining and complaining and having the courage to share a struggle- I hope that I will find a happier medium here than I have in times past.

    So this is another Ebenezer, a marking on the journey- I am for life. And love. And dreaming again. To listening to the Master and what He has planned for me. Not cowering in the darkness of shame and guilt and bitterness over a past and mistakes that are in the past. I can’t help the medical issues, but I can help how I approach things. It’s time to really start living; to believe that there is more to me than this. To do anything less is to live on the borderlands of life and faith.

  • Ebenezer

    All things connected…

    IMG_2146

    You repair all that we have torn apart and
    You unveil a new beginning in our hearts and
    We stand grateful for all that has been left behind and
    All that goes before us

    -Watermark, "Mended"

    Broken toys are a common sight around here. A wheel missing here, an arm missing there. Shattered pieces of a play thing much loved and much abused often pepper the floor of the playroom. Woe to the unsuspecting parent that happens upon these land mines of play- feet cry out in pain as the Legos dig deep into flesh.
        It sounds familiar to this woman made of clay. Broken dreams, broken thoughts, broken pieces of life, much loved and much abused. Scattered like emotional land mines, upon which an unsuspecting loved one or friend happens upon, leaving scarred and wary of the path they walk with me.
        The broken moments happen in the midst of living life. A choice here, a choice there. A decision made. Then, unsuspecting, a shard catches, tears at the fabric of life, and I am left holding tatters and rags that barely semblance the life I led before. Gathered up with grief, I work at slowly stitching back together the fabric of my life. The stiches are odd, uneven, rough. Sometimes, there are gaping holes which I cannot repair. And eventually, I remember that I am not the tailor, and I take it to the One who is. The Master leans over His work, lovingly repairing the broken places with a deft hand, gentle and true.
        There is so much to be repaired. Prayers for restoration and forgiveness for years seem to go unanswered, a relationships falls into a black hole of disrepair that seems to have no resolution. And I despair. I despair of my foolishness, of my failings. The holes, rent and torn, seem to grow larger.
        Reconcilliation and forgiveness is an interesting process. At first, it is so painful, that the pain seems larger and fresher than it was during the first go-around. The gashes seem to grow till they nearly overcome. Like a seam ripper, it tears through the stitches of your life. The anger and hurt, the reasons for the gash in the first place surface, and it's all you can do to hold on through the pain. And then, the fabric starts to come together. The stitches fall, even and true, and grace abounds. Peace abounds. Memories of the good things fall like raindrops, salve upon the fresh stitches, healing, restoring.
        I don't know where it goes from here. This journey is fresh upon the path.  I am amazed that God could have restored something so broken and bereft. It is gift enough. 

  • Ebenezer

    The LORD Giveth and the LORD Taketh Away

    Hello everyone this is James, Joy’s husband. On Wednesday (8.20.08) our little one went to be with the LORD. Joy had to have surgery due to heavy internal bleeding, but she did well and is recovering. She was sent home this afternoon to recover. We are thankful to all of you who have been praying for us and ask for your continued prayers.

    the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. Job 1:21 (KJV)