a meditation note for the dark night…no, not batman

So many prayers going up today. My brother-in-law was furloughed from his position due to the government shut down. (He has a PhD in microbiology–a brilliant man who is cancer free after a long, scary though inspiring bout with a lymphoma of the central nervous system.)

No politics here. Just praying that our leaders will start thinking about how their infighting is affecting the people they represent.

Praying for my baby sister (married to said brother-in-law mentioned earlier) who continues to take care of her extended family even after teaching a full day…with middle schoolers.

These two people inspire me. Despite the many many trials they encounter, they continue to trust God both in word and action.

My sis and I have lovely text conversations. I am not a phone talker and neither is she. We convey our lives and love for each other via extensive text conversations. And we lift each other up in prayer daily. Or almost daily. I love it and need it. Just a little note that says, “prayers going up” seals my day with promise.

I think my sister and I are both experiencing the “dark night of the soul.” I’ve heard this phrase periodically and it describes that valley we all experience at some point where God seems so distant and we feel so disconnected. It’s hard to see past the immediate pain to a place of peace and rest–particularly when the “night” continues over a period of years.

Despite the desolation during the “night,” my sis and I both crave the Word of God and turn to Him constantly for hope and promise. Our parents provide great examples. Their Bibles sit right beside them all the time.

We need some Bible-sitting time. I’m headed there now. To my “closet” where God meets me. I talk; He listens. He talks (through the Bible–not in some crazy Morgan Freeman voice);  I listen. And take notes so I won’t forget. And then still forget. Definitely need some closet time.

 But first, another incredible ditty (Meditation Note) from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers: 

“The true test of our spiritual life is in exhibiting the power to descend from the mountain. . .We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life–those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength.” (emphasis mine)

 The dark night of the soul. 

Have you experienced a “dark night”? Please share if you are comfortable doing so.

As Paul so eloquently writes, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

 *The “Dark Night of the Soul” is a poem by St. John of the Cross written in about 1578. It chronicles the soul’s journey from suffering on earth to its final resting place at home with God. Give it a Google. It’s interesting.

Father and Mother: The Duality of God’s Nature

Favorite Philosopher: “Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” –A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Favorite Theologian: “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The drugs that keep me from crying.
The drugs that keep me from crying.

If you’ve been following any of my blogs, you know that this has been a rough seven months. (Hey, fellow literary folks–get the symbolism? Seven–Old Testament number of completeness!)  My disease is infecting and affecting everything in my life–relationships with family and friends and the ability to be independent and do the things that are necessary for daily life. My family suffers with me–especially my husband and particularly, my parents. 

Example: My husband spent the last week in Colorado visiting his delightful daughters and getting in some quality time with his grandkids and granddog, Lily. (I was hoping the dog delight might rub off on him and I could broach the subject of adopting a cute, furry bundle of love–man, he’s tough.) Anyway, I was alone for a week which was fine because I’m part hermit. But at one point I needed a break from an empty house full of school work begging to be completed, so off I went to Broken Arrow (a growing town south of Tulsa) and my mom and dad’s house–or the Nave Family Spa. Yes, it is that powerful because God lives there.

Their house equals comfort and hospitality. Beautifully and elegantly decorated by my talented “momacita,” the house feels like a hug. Certain things are so familiar–the antique hall tree and little antique desk that snuggles up to a corner curve under the stairs. The grandfather clock in the dining room. The family pictures of my kids at every age. Pictures of nieces and nephews and brothers and sister with spouses. The Bibles scattered on the coffee table. The soft butter-colored sofas. The chaise lounge (my favorite) covered in soft animal print. Like I said–elegant.  My mom is elegant.

The chaise lounge--spent some delightful time here!
The chaise lounge–spent some delightful time here!

I had a moment. It was one of those bad pain moments that I’d hoped would stay hidden in a forest somewhere while I was with my parents. It didn’t and I’m thankful it didn’t because it acted as a catalyst and reminder of my parents’ love.

The pain monster bit about midnight. Pain started rolling down through my shoulder and arm. Nerve pain. It’s hard to describe–think dentist picking with that torturous pick thingy and hitting the edge of a nerve. Yep. That’s it, only it doesn’t stop.

I was in the middle of this pain and I was scared. It scared me because I couldn’t (and can’t)  control it. I stumbled down the stairs and barged into my parents’ bedroom. Dad immediately woke up–he sleeps lightly like me. He moved into action, providing pain pills while clad in his boxers. My 75-year-oid dad jumped into action to help his 55-year-old suffering daughter. I was a child again. Dad was going to fix me. He wasn’t thinking about anything but fixing my pain and making me safe.

Enter my mom. She guides me upstairs carrying toast and a Sprite so I don’t take medicine on an empty stomach. Tucks

Their love is inspiring.
Their love is inspiring.

me in and fusses a bit over the heating pad I have to basically wear on my arm. She leans over me, beautiful in her pj’s and well-cut white hair. She prays–holding my hands and crying. Her tears land on my arms. I cry. We both cry out to God. And then she does what moms do–she sits with me. I slowly wind down and assure her I’m going to be fine, but she refuses to leave. Instead she sits down on an antique chair covered in velvet and says, “I’m just going to sit here and pray until you go to sleep.”

And she did.

My beautiful and loving parents.
My beautiful and loving parents.

That night I saw two aspects of God: the “jump into action and fix things” Father who hates to see his children suffering and the “I will sit with you and never leave your side” Father who knows things will hurt, but I will hurt less with the assurance that He sits with me.

It was a night I’ll never forget. I hold onto their unconditional love as a perfect example of God’s grace, mercy and presence.

Isaiah: “He (God) tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11

Amen. Grace and peace to all.

 

A switch in direction: Here are some of the books I’m reading right now. The

Some books I'm reading. If you've read any of them, please share your thoughts!
Some books I’m reading. If you’ve read any of them, please share your thoughts!

Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is beautiful–small, non-fiction. The author, Elizabeth Tova Bailey, went through a period of dangerous illness that left her bedridden. During that time, she moved into a small cottage and tried to recover. A friend brought her some wild violets and then found a tiny snail to live in the potted violet. Bailey is able to create metaphor, reveal personal history and give us a bit of insight into the life of a snail. Example: “Each evening the snail awoke and, with an astonishing amount of poise, moved gracefully to the rim of the pot and peered over, surveying, once again, the strange country that lay ahead.”

*I apologize for not editing well. Hopefully I fixed things.

…IN WHICH I CONCLUDE THAT THERE IS NO SAFETY NET

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Forget the Disney image–E.H. Shepard’s capture A.A. Milne’s story so much better. Timeless.

To quote my philosopher of choice, Winnie the Pooh: “I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” 

 To quote my spiritual mentor of choice, C.S. Lewis: “Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?”

 To quote the source that guides my life, the Bible: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

 Another one from the Bible–this time from James (one of Jesus’ younger brothers…same mama; different papa): “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.” James 1:2 (The Message)

The writing…

Ahh, you say to yourself. She’s going to go all whiney-butt on us and then talk about how suffering is a good thing…and… you’d be wrong. Suffering is an ever-present part of life. Few of us escape it. Some have more than their share.

I live close to a hospital. There is a brand new children’s hospital connected to it and a Ronald McDonald House near by. They act as reminders to pray–reminders that there is suffering far greater than I can fathom.

A personal pet peeve that I believe Jesus would agree with me on: The brand of Christianity that denies suffering and instead insists that healing is available for the asking. The one that says, “Follow Jesus and life will be easy and you’ll get rich because he wants you to prosper and you’ll never be sick because he wants to heal you!” (Take my word for it: these are out of context!!)

Case in point…or cases in point: The disciples. None were rich and drove the most pimped out camel in Asia Minor. None wore a lot of bling or anything made by a Jewish Versace. They lived dependent on the kindness of strangers who were also believers. They made their way (like Paul) practicing a trade. They spent lots of time in prison under the oppressive and really nasty Roman Empire. And most were martyred–except for John who was exiled to the island of Patmos.

ImageConclusion: Why am I surprised by what I am going through? Even though there is no “safety net” of protection, there is this assurance: “Abide (remain) in me, and I will abide (remain) in you…as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now ABIDE in my love.” Jesus, John 15

For the third time this week, I’ve written the word “abide” on the inside of my left wrist as a reminder.

A MUCH NEEDED CHANGE OF SUBJECT:

Sounds I love:

  • The gentle creaking of 60-year-old hardwood floors when I prowl through the house at midnight.
  • The cooing of mourning doves.
  • Children’s voices playing outside.
  • Lawnmowers on Saturday afternoon
  • The scratch of a new pen hitting a new journal.
  • Typewriter keys (Apple should create a typewriter sound option for my Mac keyboard)
  • And my favorite…the deep, rolling belly laugh of my 9 month old grandson, Sawyer.

A BOOK I AM ENJOYING: 

Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren F. Skinner — I read her first one, Girl Meets God, and was Imagehooked. Skinner grew up “at a synagogue in a small college town in Virginia.” She goes to college in NYC and converts to Christianity. Her books are clever, witty, but loaded with mature observations about faith and its practices in the United States.

This is a tiny, precious book that I got from the library and have now ordered (used copy, of course!) for my personal library. My fingers are itching to annotate!

Grace and peace to you, Cindy

What are your favorite sounds? Books? Winnie-the-Pooh quotes? C.S. Lewis quotes? Verses to sustain you?

A PREVIEW: Red Letter Experiment:#4 Short and Sweet and Childlike: Matthew 18

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Renee’s flowers. My daughter-in-love took this picture at a Farmer’s Market in Bend, Oregon.

 I haven’t worked on this blog for awhile. I haven’t been looking at the red letters of Jesus and trying to see how I’m supposed to be living. I pick up my Bible and my journal and I listen to great teaching and I study and wait for God to inspire me to write. Nothing. 

 I read books on writing. I get periodic phone calls from a self-publishing group reminding me that when I finish my books, I should pay them a couple thousand bucks to see my work in print (so thoughtful of them). I feel this pressure to write and grow and develop, but I’m just so tired. Overwhelmed. Empty. There is nothing new or spontaneous happening in my creative brain cell. I used to think I had a veritable cornucopia of creative brain cells, but not any longer. I’m pretty sure I’m hanging on to my last one. And it’s a wimpy one. 

I’m a school teacher (in case you didn’t read the “About Me” tab information). I teach English to high school kids. This past year I used up five years worth of accumulated sick days. I feel like I let down my students. 

I headed into summer determined to lick several things within the first two weeks of June:

  • Lose another 20 pounds! 
  • Start riding my bike religiously again! (my favorite form of exercise ever)
  • Switch from Humira to Enbrel and start seeing my psoriatic arthritis improve.
  • Get really healthy, fit and energetic so I can make it through the teaching year without missing a day (and so I can wear some cute skirts with boots this year–Vanity, thy name is Cindy).
  • Write 2 books: one for first year teachers and one called Volkswagen Theology, which I  started as a blog.

REALITY: 

  • Can’t lose weight because the drugs I’m taking are messing with my metabolism.
  • Started riding my bike and loving it….when–DA DA DUM! I started feeling numbness in my left arm. 
  • Saw doctor. Numbness in left arm due to cervical disk pressure due to degenerative disks due to psoriatic arthritis (with rheumatoid pain patterns) and osteoarthritis. No more biking. WHAT??? What about the 20+ more pounds of fat and excess everything on my body? No weights. Walk (in 100 degree weather–I scoff and sob).
  • Started Enbrel. 
  • Started pain pills for arthritis. 
  • Numbness in hands becomes a full-blown conflagration of fiery nerve pain up and down my left arm and into my upper spine. Weeping in bed with pain and fear. 
  • I am now 3 weeks into June. No books finished. No writing. No weight loss. No bike. Just pain. Losing chunks of eyebrows. Pale. Constant pain and no sleeping. A visit to the Urgent Care Center. 
  • Doctor seen on emergency basis. Schedules MRI. Gives me two shots in neck and shoulder blade. No help. 
  • Another night of searing pain so intense I expect to see blisters on my skin. Steve and I cancel our Jackson Hole vacation for July. 
  • Percocet. 

 And that’s the lowdown. MRI will hopefully show what is blocking the nerves, and then we can sandblast the sucker out and be completely recovered by the first of August. (HA!)

Meantime, I exist. I can’t drive due to medicine. I can’t ride my bike (though hubby has sort of consented to getting me a cruiser bike that allows me set upright). Money. That’s all it takes. 

And God is staying very quiet. Whispery even. It’s like He doesn’t want to disturb me. WAKE UP GOD AND DISTURB ME!! I’M SINKING HERE!

 When all else fails, go back to what works. Red Letters. 

I’ve been examining Matthew 18 and will have some things to write about tomorrow. But not today. Today I re-posted my past Red Letter writings. Today I’m resting and learning to trust again. Today I’m eating an apricot and dreaming of a miniature poodle. Today is a day to remain hopeful.

Some thoughts before I write: What do you think Jesus means when he refers to the “kingdom of heaven”? How can adults change/convert/turn back to a child? What is Jesus warning us about regarding causing a child to stumble and sin? How do we do that? What does it look like? 

 Leave some thoughts if you have a hankering to…I’d love to hear from you.