CAN YOU STAND ONE MORE?

Can you stand one more post about the election?  I’m not certain I can!  And, yet, I do have something I want to say.  If you absolutely can’t bear another word, I completely understand.  Go on about your day.  I wish you well.

I don’t want to talk about parties or platforms or candidates.  More than enough has been said and will be said about those, and I’ve already said plenty.

What I do want to talk about is love.

This election has shown me that we’re not doing a very good job loving each other.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive enough to pine for the good ol’ days.  This isn’t a new problem.  It has just hit me in the face more  than any event in my own life to date.

We are all hurting.  Each of us.  For some of us, the hurt runs so close to the surface as to be palpable.  Others of us hide our hurt so deeply, it’s hardly something we are aware of in ourselves, much less something we think others can see.  For some, the hurt is cloaked in grief.  For others, in depression.  For some, anxiety and fear.  For some, it masquerades as anger.  For others, as bitterness.  For some, loneliness.  Let’s not forget that particular sort of despair that comes with feeling misunderstood.  It’s all out there, in some way, in every one of us.  We’re all broken, in some way or another.

My faith teaches me that Jesus has redeemed the broken, and that the evidence of redemption is in the fruit of the Spirit:

Love.

Joy.

Peace.

Patience.

Kindness.

Goodness.

Faithfulness.

Gentleness.

Self-control.

[Galatians 5:22-23]

Notice that we’re not given the fruits of the Spirit.  We’re given the fruit, fruit that is manifested in the list above.  These are not the same as spiritual gifts, of which each has some, but none has all.  On the contrary, if we are in Christ, we have the fruit.  All aspects of it.  We don’t get to say, that’s not my fruit.  Nor do we get to say, God hasn’t developed that fruit in me yet.  Nope.  The fruit is already in us, available to us, and given to us for His good purpose.

Then, why don’t we use it?  If so many of us claim to be disciples, why do our neighbors see us as fruitless?

It seems to me that Christians on both sides of the ballot box have misrepresented themselves in this election.  We have fought so much amongst ourselves to prove to one another that God is on our side that we have forgotten our bigger purpose, which is to love people in Jesus’ name.

I am not saying that, if all Christians were unified, they would all vote for the same party.  Please hear this clearly.  That is not what I am saying.

I have friends and loved ones whom I know to the depths of my soul to be good-hearted people who voted for a different candidate than I did.  I don’t understand their vote.  I know that I have friends and loved ones who know to the depths of their souls that I am a good-hearted person (I hope), yet don’t understand my vote.  Surely, there is a need for us to be able to discuss our differences.

The bigger question, though, is how do we love one another?  How do we love our neighbors?  How do we show the promise of the resurrection to a world full of hurting people in a way that speaks to them in love, rather than in platitudes or judgment?  That serves them in love, rather than ignoring their hurt?

I know I have not done enough.  To those whom I have ignored, those to whom I’ve not taken time to listen, to those whom I have assumed I’ve understood without bothering to find out, to all those whom I have not served as fellow creations of the Holy God, I am sorry.

I’ve got some more thinking to do, and some fruit to nurture while I’m at it.

In the meantime, these words, derived from the teachings of theologian John Wesley, give me a place to start:

Do all the good you can,

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

To all the people you can,

As long as you ever can.

Amen.

THE QUESTION

Well, we made it. We have moved to St. Louis. There have been a few bumps (primarily in the form of a slightly flooded basement), but nothing terrible. It’s a relief to finally be living in the same home as my sweet husband after several months apart.

Shortly before leaving Woodstock, two precious sisters in Christ and I were meeting together for fellowship and prayer. I don’t recall the exact manner in which we arrived at the topic, but at one point, I shared with my friends that one part of moving that I was dreading most was The Question, the one that has been asked of me every place I’ve lived as an adult woman, and nearly every time I meet someone for the first time.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s a seemingly innocuous question. I would wager you’ve probably asked it yourself, and have had it posed to you. I’ve even spoken it myself, but not for many, many years.

Turns out, I didn’t even make it to Missouri before The Question reared its ugly head. I had called a haul-away service to remove a few large items we didn’t want to take with us. The gentlemen sent to help me was named Ron. After I explained to him what I needed, he began to tackle the job, but not before turning to me. Bam, there it came.

“Where are your kids?”
Uhm, we don’t have any.
“Really? Why not?”
They never came to us.
“Oh, you didn’t want any.”
(Sigh). Oh, we did. We just never had any.
“Huh, but you look so much like a mom. I mean that as a compliment!”

Fast forward a few weeks, and I was sitting in an attorney’s office to sign the closing settlement on our house. The atmosphere was jovial. The buyers were excited to be purchasing our home. I was relieved that the last detail left on the Georgia end of the move was just about complete. The attorney was a personal friend of the buyers; at one point, the husband of the couple mentioned enjoying having seen one of the attorney’s children recently. The attorney chuckled, and then turned to me.

“Do you have kids?”
No, we don’t.
“Boy, are you lucky!”

He then went on to complain about his children’s sports schedules.

That’s it, in a nutshell: Do we have kids? It comes with slightly different wording options. It’s usually followed by a variety of follow-up questions. Beyond those already mentioned, we frequently hear:

“Why don’t you have kids?”
“Was it you or your husband?”
“Why didn’t you adopt?”
“Did you see a doctor?”
“Don’t you know how to make that happen?” (Usually followed by a snicker, if not an outright guffaw.)

You may be thinking, geez, what’s the big deal? You may be thinking that I am overly sensitive. Perhaps I am. I will tell you that The Question still feels like having a scab suddenly ripped off of an old wound. To you, it’s just making conversation, just being friendly. Please hear that I get that. I really, really do. I. Get. It. As I mentioned, I have innocently asked that question of others many times before.

Before IF.

IF? Why am I capitalizing “if”? Well, to a fairly substantial number of us (research suggests as much as one in ten couples), IF means infertility. It is an all-too familiar acronym, amongst all the others.

ARTS, FSH, AI, HSG, IVF, ICSI, PI, SI, PAI, SA, POAS, TTC…

There are probably a hundred more.

When I am asked The Question, my heart cries that the answer is more complicated than Yes or No. In the microseconds before you hear me answer, I am gripped with traumatic memories, both physical and spiritual. I don’t need to tell you the details. Just take my word for it. Please.

I know that I am not alone in the experience of walking through this life without children. I know many others who are on their own IF journeys. I also know lots of people who don’t have children because they don’t want to parent. Some of them have shared with me that they dread The Question, too. Nothing like having to defend one of the most personal decisions a person will ever have to make right off the bat when meeting someone new (and if you are confused by that statement, God bless you, but there are plenty of others who feel free to press their deeply held conviction that being childless by choice can’t possibly be an acceptable way to live). My heart hurts for these friends just as much as it does for those of us who are childless, but not by choice. Likewise, I hurt for the friends who have living children, but whose arms ache for the ones they won’t see this side of Heaven, and for all those whose family-building dreams have not come to fruition, for whatever reason.

Psychologists sometimes call it “complicated” or “chronic” grief. Unresolved. Without end. It’s common for people who have experienced infertility. For me, it’s a raw place in my psyche that never heals. Maybe I will share more about that sometime. Maybe not. In any case, my journey through it has convinced me that I never, ever want to ask another person The Question. If someone has children, he or she will probably tell me sooner rather than later, without my needing to ask.

I know I will likely hear The Question many times in the coming months. I’m expecting it. I have grown to be able to answer briefly, and to move on. I don’t hold anyone who asks The Question in low regard. I know the intention is not to hurt, but to make conversation. That being said, a few nights ago, Paul and I met an old friend and his girlfriend for dinner, along with three others whom we had never met before. Over time, it naturally became clear that the others are all parents, while we are not. The setting was beautiful, the food delicious, and the conversation stimulating and filled with laughter. A toast was made, “To friends, new and old.” The Question was never raised.

I could not have asked for a better gift.

THE HARDEST PART OF HOPE

We’re moving soon.  My husband, Paul, is already in St. Louis where he has started a new job.  I have remained behind to organize our relocation from Georgia and to sell our house.  So far, I’ve sorted through nearly all of our rooms, making decisions about what to take with us and what to donate to charity.  “All” that is left consists of a guest bedroom, my office, the garage, and the basement (oh, the basement…who knows what lies hidden in that glorious mess we call “storage”).  I’ve interviewed realtors and have hired one, and have gathered estimates from moving companies.  I have walked through the house with a handyman, listing all of the little things (and some big things) that we plan to repair and/or update before listing our house for sale.  I’ve priced ovens since we have decided to replace the current one, so that our kitchen will be more attractive to potential buyers.  There’s still a lot to do, but I’m making progress.

Six months ago, a move was not even on our radar screen.  We were actively pursuing becoming licensed to provide foster care in our home.  The story as to how that came to be will have to wait for another time, but suffice it to say, we were excited and filled with joy that after so many years, we were finally close to having children in our home.  In the blink of an eye, our plans changed.  Paul’s job was gone (eliminated without warning, following a company-wide reduction in force).  After several months of job searching, he was contacted by a recruiter asking if he was interested in being considered for a position in St. Louis.  In less than a month, he had interviewed, been hired, and had started his new job.

As I’ve been going room to room getting ready to move, I’ve had a lot of time to ponder.  This is not the first house we’ve purchased with the hope that it would be a home to children.  I am once again packing up rooms that I had long envisioned as filled with the evidence of young ones finding safety and security within their walls.  I’m not gonna lie.  I’m sad and disappointed about this.  In my head, I know that we can again pursue becoming foster parents when we are settled in St. Louis.  In my heart, though…whew.  The thought of having to wait again is, well, it’s just plain hard.  My arms feel emptier than ever, and my spirit is bruised.

Waiting is the hardest part of hope.

A friend posted this statement on Facebook a few weeks ago.  It struck a chord with me, and I’ve been thinking about it as I say the long goodbye to the dreams I had for our home here in Georgia.  A little Googling led me to its author, Lewis Smedes (1921-2002).  Smedes was a Christian theologian who penned a book called Standing on the Promises, published in 1998.  In it, he wrote:

Waiting is our destiny as creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for.  We wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light.  We wait in fear for a happy ending we cannot write.  We wait for a not yet that feels like a not ever.  Waiting is the hardest part of hope.

I read those words and my heart says, “Yes.”  I read them and my heart says, “I still have hope, but how do I survive the waiting?”  And there are times when my heart  says, “I can’t. I can’t continue to be hopeful because being hopeful means being vulnerable, and oh, I cannot even go there. I cannot continue to live in that raw place. It just hurts too much.”

But His Spirit whispers to my spirit, “Yes. Yes, you can. You can continue to live in hope.” And my spirit whispers back, “How?” And His Spirit answers me, not with empty promises of wish fulfillment, but with Truth:

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him.  Psalm 62:5

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him.  Lamentations 3:25

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope.  Psalm 130:5 

…and I begin to understand that my empty arms ache not only for children, but even more for the assurance that my life has meaning, and that I can only find the assurance that satisfies this deepest desire by remaining steadfast in the Truth found in God’s word…

 I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.  Jeremiah 31:3

I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born.  Isaiah 66:9a

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.  Jeremiah 1:5a

Our lives have meaning, have purpose, and represent divine appointments not only because of who we are, but because of whose we are.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.     Hebrews 12:1-2

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.     John 3:16-17 

Each of our lives was bought and paid for on the cross by Jesus, who endured shame, and pain, and scorn to remove the dross that tarnished our purpose in the story of Creation. In place of that dross, God has placed our freedom.

 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves by burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

This is what makes it possible for me to move past the hurt and disappointment and frustration of waiting. Those emotions are real, they are genuine, and I acknowledge them as such…but I refuse to allow them to dishonestly color the Truth…that I am known intimately and specifically by God, that He has given me a life of divine purpose and meaning, and that nothing I desire, even that which is good, compares with Him.

 Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Psalm 73:25-26

I will have moments when I falter, when it seems that I cannot continue to wait in hope, but God asks me to trust Him, to turn to the Truth for comfort, and to be assured by that Truth because I am His.

DO WHAT’S NEXT

About six years ago, I began a new job.  We had moved to Georgia from Ohio, and after some time to get settled, I returned to my career as a school-based speech-language pathologist.  I loved my new position, although there were two factors that made it extremely challenging.  The first was that I was not hired until one month after school had started for that academic year; students were halfway through the first grading period before I even walked in the door, so I felt behind before I even began.  The second factor was that the caseload I inherited was HUGE.  Thankfully, the position also provided the invaluable help of a talented speech-language pathology assistant, Lauren.  Without her, I don’t know how I would have made it through even the first week, much less the remainder of the year.  Even with her capable assistance, though, many (most?) days were just plain overwhelming.  I quickly adopted the mantra, “Do what’s next,” to help me avoid being paralyzed by even the thought of so much to do in so little time.  That huge stack of evaluation reports to be written?  Progress cards to complete?  Therapy plans and materials to develop?  Phone calls to make?  Emails to check and to send?  Meetings to prepare for and attend?  When I wanted to crawl under my desk and cry, I would whisper to myself, “Do what’s next.  Do what absolutely has to be done right now.”  Sometimes, that meant taking on a big task, but often it meant something really small–even something that might seem insignificant in light of everything that needed to be accomplished.  Something like opening my mail. Or making a photocopy.  Or printing a document I needed.  Sometimes it was as basic as taking time to eat my lunch or use the restroom (seriously…teachers and other school employees will know what I mean!).  Gradually, by “doing what’s next,” I gained momentum and eventually was able to tick tasks off the to-do list until just my day-to-day responsibilities could be addressed and successfully managed.

“Do what’s next” has become been an ongoing mantra for me.  It’s one of my tools (weapons?) in my battle against being bogged down by the perfectionist in me who doesn’t like to start tasks unless I feel confident I can do them well and completely.  Recently, I have begun to realize that reminding myself to figure out what the next step is, no matter how small, can also help me to grow in my faith.  In particular, I’ve been mulling over this scripture:

Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path.  Psalm 119:105 (NIV)

It is rare to find ourselves in literal darkness.  There’s usually such a high degree of both direct and ambient light around us that scientists sometimes use the term “light pollution” to describe it.  Perhaps, though, you’ve been camping with your family and needed to use a flash light to help you stay on the path.  Without a flash light, you would have to stumble around in the dark to find your way to your campsite.  You might direct your light far off in the distance, but it’s most useful when you use it to illuminate where you need to step next.  You won’t see everything, but you’ll see what is most important right then, at that very moment.

Right now, I’m in a season of a considerable amount of uncertainty in my life.  At least, I think it’s just a season; maybe it is a long season called “adulthood.”  Anyway, I need some light to show me where to step next.  I don’t have enough information to see all of the big picture, but I have God’s word.  Through it, He tells me that I am significant and that I am loved by the very one who created the whole universe.  He tells me that I can trust Him.  He reminds me that He holds my future, and that He is leading me. He reminds me that His son, Jesus, is the Light of the World, and that through Him, I need no longer walk in darkness.

So, I’m doing what’s next:  I’m holding on to these promises.  I’m resting in the confidence that God’s path is the one I want to take, and the assurance that He is going to provide what I need for the next step, and all of the steps to come.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

This blog almost never happened because I couldn’t think of a name for it. Actually, I thought of LOTS of names for it. They all stunk. Seriously. They were bad. So bad, I’m not even going to tell you what they were. In desperation, I asked my husband to help me. His ideas were even worse. Is it bad if I admit that I actually felt a little bit better after that?

In the end, I lifted the phrase sharing the sacred” from a Facebook comment I made back in October in response to an article posted by Dale Skram. Dale is a junior high and high school classmate of mine. She is a Christian speaker, author, and life coach. If you don’t know about her, you should. Check out her website at www.daleskram.com.  Anyway, Dale wrote an article for an online Christian magazine’s newsletter. You can read it here:

myemail.constantcontact.com/Hard-Assets.html?soid=1102624391863&aid=G2Wq8dq-I4o.

Tell me you did not just skip over that link.  March yourself right back there and click on it. Read the article. I’ll wait.

Aren’t you glad you went back and read Dale’s article? I love it. Very thought-provoking. When Dale posted the link to it from her Facebook page and asked for feedback about sharing hard experiences, I posted this comment:

Such truth, Dale. God’s Word is full of the stories of people who grew in the Lord as a result of surrendering to Him during (and sometimes, after) their own hard experiences. If we don’t share our own stories, we dishonor God’s work in our lives. Sharing the sacred can sometimes make us feel uncomfortably vulnerable, but we hide our light under a bushel when we keep our stories to ourselves. I sometimes wonder if others could possibly be interested in my stories of infertility, depression, and the loss of my mother–but I try to not shy away from telling them. God has used those experiences, more than any others, to show me who He is, and the depth of His love for me.

So, that’s where I’m coming from and why this blog is called Sharing the Sacred.

What’s in a name?  Well, now you know.