Nailing the sin (and burden) of comparison to the cross

Of all the burdens we carry as women, I would say one of the greatest of these would be the affliction habit of comparison. 

We do it to ourselves, and at times it’s like we don’t even know we are doing it.

We snark at social media posts by other women working direct sales, “ignoring” their event invites and not responding to their messages. We sneer at the woman who is not ashamed to put herself out there with her talents or hobbies. We judge the mother who works and spends long hours away from her children, but we say we don’t understand the mother who still co-sleeps with her five year old. We hate the pulled-together mom waiting at school drop off, and yet we turn and wonder why the mother who is always late and disorganized can’t get herself together.

Worse than that. We discount ourselves before we have even reached the starting line. We say we could never be like the woman to the left or right of us. That God’s promise of redemption is not for us, it couldn’t possibly cover OUR sin. We say that we are too anxious, too weak-minded, too useless for His mighty kingdom.

We think we are failing in every facet of our lives. 

I have always thought the command to not compare our lot to another’s plays out in two ways.

First, do not compare what you seemingly don’t have to the person who does possess it.

Second, try not to stack the things you actually DO posses against the person who doesn’t in an effort to diminish or discount them. 

Both actions plant seeds of dissension, envy, greed and self-doubt in our hearts toward others. And boy, we can SO do both of those things at the same time, and not even bat an eye.

One of the most worthwhile tasks I have ever had to work toward was how to genuinely be supportive of the women around me. And to realize that the woman to the left or right of me was not my competition, but instead my comrade.

These women have ended up being the people who most inspire me as they serve their God, love their children, create and build and encourage, and confound expectations of what women of God – and in general – are supposed to be.

We are evolving in this post “Me- too” culture.

The last year has been both a reckoning and an eruption for women and men. And it was only when women stood shoulder to shoulder together and behind one another in solidarity that the tidal wave of truth finally swelled past the point of containment.

Women, do we not see how powerful we are when we are together? And how we are even more powerful when we give a leg up to the women around us??

When we lay down our arms and instead link arms and share burdens with each other and help one other to stand even when our knees quake. 

The truth is that the enemy of this world, who prowls like a lion but whispers lies as smooth as butter, is seeking to devour us all, knows that when we are together, we are unstoppable

Which is why he would rather see us fighting one another for scraps than standing arm in arm in the battle for our lives. 

I stand here today, guilty as any other of discounting, forgetting and stacking myself against sisters in Christ instead of welcoming them with open arms. 

 Nailing the sin (and burden

And I commit myself to these things from here on out:

 

1.) To go forth and make disciples

Women were paramount to Christ’s ministry, both before His death and after. He cherished the women around Him. And He did not bestow on them a calling different than their male counterparts.

He called us all into a life of evangelism and service to others. He beseeched us to love others as ourselves. As we have been loved.

I commit myself to making disciples of all women I meet. I will pray with you. I will cry with you. I will love you as a spiritual sister. I will wipe clean the mascara running down your cheeks as you spill tears of brokenness and frustration. I will welcome you into my messy home, and will listen to what ails your heart over a cup of hot coffee. 

I will affirm you. I will admonish you. And I will cherish you in the great work that we are striving toward.

2.) I will love you

My heart sometimes as full as my head is empty. But I will make room for you. 

My old, rugged heart will beat with yours as we try to figure this broken world out together. Sometimes, that means stopping over with a casserole for dinner because I know you just can’t worry about one more thing. Sometimes, that means praying for you in the early hours of the morning.

I will make myself a safe place for you where you are held in confidence. I will remember that there are women who are hurting and broken, and will treat them gently and with respect.

I will love you in the most Godly way I know.

Sometimes, that will mean affirming you even when you don’t feel worthwhile, and sometimes that will mean honest words from a friend as I remind you that you are a daughter of the most high king. Because sometimes, love is saying or doing the difficult or uncomfortable thing because it is the right thing.

3.) I will live gospel-consciously.

I will not forget the marginalized and overlooked women around me. Women who are walking a different path and through a different set of circumstances and trials than me.

I will remember that sometimes, the most jaded and cynical around me are often the ones who hurt the most. 

I promise to not assume that every person’s life looks exactly like mine. I promise to never presume that things that may have been easy for me have been easy for you.

I promise to remember all of my sisters of color, social standing and familial status, and to seek justice and acceptance for them.

I will do my best to love you as Christ has loved me, with a love that covers a multitude of sin and blemishes, and keeps on churning against the odds. 

I promise to remind you that you are seen, wanted and adored by the same Almighty God who churns the oceans and sets the stars in the heavens. And that we are heavenly patriots and sisters first, and above all else. I will remember that though we may be different, we are tied together by the scarlet thread of Christ which pierces through all flesh and manmade divides.

I will remember that you are my friend.

4.) I will have words of affirmation and support

I will be excited for you when you succeed. And I will encourage you even when you might not. 

I will believe you when you share your hurts with me. I will not make excuses for a miscarriage of justice, and the poor words or harmful actions of another.

I will nudge you toward Godly forgiveness when applicable, and accept you when you are grieving or angry.

I will remind you that it is God who counts and guides our steps. I will remind you that failure can be used to guide you. To edify you. That sometimes, failing is where we can gain knowledge of the truth more than the success. I promise, though, to still believe that the promises of God are for you even when things don’t work out the way we wanted them to. 

 

5.) I will learn from you

I know so very little, and I will remind myself of that fact constantly. 

I will learn from your struggles, and accept your wisdom and wise counsel. I will understand that you will see my sins and struggles in ways that I cannot, and will trust you when you offer correction and reproof. 

I will treat your kernels of wisdom and exhortation as nuggets of gold. I will always strive to remember that faithful are the words of a friend, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

And I will remember that you are my friend.

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When it’s time.

It was the day that the clouds ran across the sky like a river, and somehow my kids knew. 

You can’t hide things like that from children. Not even the quiet nuances enfolded into whispered conversations where words like “ventilator” and “not long,”  are tossed back and forth, crushing the people on both ends of the line. Both the ones that have to say it, and the ones who hear it for the first time.

The same people who look at the sky after they hang up the phone, and wonder why today is the day, when the sun is shining through the way it is, because it wasn’t supposed to be today.

Somehow, kids know that you are totally different when you hang up the phone. 

You’re just thankful that they can’t see your weary face up in the front seat from where they sit in the back, and you are just as thankful that they would rather look out the window at the passing scenery then at your sagging, heartbroken eyes. 

But then they ask you how God made everything that we see rolling past our car windows, and you know that somehow, they instinctively and unknowingly realized that today is the day that we needed to talk about such things. To say them out loud to each other and to ourselves.

Today we need segment our thoughts, talk about it how we each see it so that we can piece it all together to really understand. We needed to feel the pain that comes from wondering why the dried sunflowers rustling against the hot wind out in the fields had to die.

I had to tell them that everything fades, even us, because it’s what’s supposed to happen.

But God? He spoke and simply breathed everything into being with one word because He could because that’s just what He does. We are the creation, and we could only breathe life in to our newly dust-formed lungs, and sputter out that first aching breath when He told us that it was time to rise.

I told them how we are all only a few stunted breaths away from dying, but we were surely only ever a word spoken away from existing. How the breathing is what happens to us on a molecular level, but we really didn’t start living until the word was spoken, and the soul appeared. And the soul, clever, wonderful thing that it is, is what rises by the command of the word when the body fades away back to the dust.

And now, your face is in my mind as always, as thoughts turn over one right after the other, as the clouds in the sky run together like a celestial white river against a stark blue backdrop and pool somewhere just over the horizon.

Then I wonder where you go when you close your eyes forever.

I’ve always marveled at sepia toned photographs of loved ones who have passed hanging in wallpapered hallways. I run my fingers over them, smudge their glass corners, straighten them against the flowered wall. Ponder long and hard the smiling faces and the eyes that have closed forever, and I wonder where they went.

And if they knew.

I wonder if my photos, one day, will look old and worn like these do, or if mine will have the luxury of having an Instagram filter veneer, but does that really even matter?

We are the flowers, and the flowers fade. And then, they’re gone. But that’s what flowers are supposed to do. But what’s left of us is actually all of us, and all we need, and we breathe again on the other side of eternity, where the clouds pool just beyond the horizon. And our eyes open again for the first time for the last time, and we see with such clarity the way it’s supposed to be. Even better than all of those times that heartbreak caused us to wonder why and broke and scattered us into a million pieces as we tried to gather ourselves back up to keep going. It’s the things that cannot be shaken that remain, and when that is all that remains, we will have eyes to see, when we have finally been fully gathered.

Only now, you’re gathered one last time, for the rest of time. 

And now in my mind I hear the footsteps of a dozen grand children, the voices of four daughters who loved you. A wife who made your meals just the way you wanted them, who always held you together when you probably didn’t even realize it with the flick of her cane and a quick knowing glance from behind her glasses.

I hear all of the conversations in joyful spurts around the Thanksgiving table with the white lace table cloth, and the perfect dressing and gravy. I remember all of the goodbyes on Christmas nights from tired children with red cheeks, their innocent ‘thank you’s’ for their presents, completely high off of Christmas lights and the fudge that was always hidden in the secret cookie tin. 

And the sincere pledges shouted into the cold air before the car doors closed that we would all call when we had arrived home safely.

It’s burned into my mind forever, the both of you, standing in the drive way. Two of you as one, waving off the people who make up the negative space around you. And it’s just as much the negative space around someone that creates a life and lets people know that we were here to begin with, we really were. We were more than just the photographs and the eyes that are now closed. We are more than the pine box, the final breath. 

How lucky I was to have almost thirty Christmases like that. How sad I am that it will never, ever be the same again. That none of us will. How amazing it was that even when I was thirty, my grandpa would slip me a twenty on the way out the door, his gentle cologne wafting into my nose, and admonish me with a smile and a nod to take care of my mother.

I always said that I would.

And I promise that I always will. 

 

 

 

 

When you’re just not sure

As a blogger, if I would even dare officially consider myself one, I guess my job is to share some of the stuff that’s going on in my own life. 

I’m supposed to mine my own experiences, and turn them into something transcendent or relatable for someone else, in the hopes that maybe it will resonate with them. 

In the hopes that they can say, “me too.”

Then I read this. And I am still trying to remove the barbs that it thrust into me. 

Is what I do pointless? Is it stupid, or meaningless? It is useless?

I try to remind myself all of the time that I write for myself. And that hopefully, in doing so, some of what I say might reach someone. Someone who wants to laugh. Someone who wants to feel like they aren’t the only one. Or maybe, someone who just can’t even anymore. 

For nearly twelve years, my father has been sick. He has hepatitis c. His liver began to experience cirrhosis years ago, but the condition came to a head in 2005. Funny thing is, that word has fluttered out of my mouth at times in a high frequency over the last twelves years, but I still had to double check the spelling on it. For a long time, it was the unseen enemy, threatening everything.

He had a liver transplant in 2008. It was the weekend of my birthday. I was a new teller at a local community bank, working the second lane in the drive thru when I got the phone call from my mother.

I remember the swish of my khaki pants and how I started to cry when my mother told me that the hospital had a liver for my father as I hurriedly went and hid in the supply closet in an effort to contain myself. My joy. And my tears.

He wasn’t going to die. So many times, we thought he was going to, but now he definitely wasn’t. At least, if he could make it through the next few weeks.  

“It’s over,” I thought. 

Things are going to go back to normal. We celebrated all weekend, both my birthday and, seemingly, his day for rebirth. His second chance. I stole him a spoon from IHOP so that he would always have a trinket to remember such an occasion. 

I have no idea where that spoon is now. And the ghosts of a family broken who thought that it was over linger. 

That was eight years ago. Since then, addiction, continued and prolonged sickness, and anger have shattered my family into something unrecognizable. Something that seems unredeemable.

It’s all too much to write about for now. Maybe one day.

It’s hard enough to be someone’s caregiver, or to see someone you love struggle with sickness and poor health. But then when someone asks you how things are going and the truth is that not only is someone severely ill, but they’re also a broken person, you stop knowing how to answer the question. Because you don’t know where to start, and because they are also surrounded by broken people who have no idea how to handle all of this. 

I always thought that when your life was going to be shattered, it didn’t take years. And every time I have thought that this was it, this is rock bottom and it can’t possibly get any scarier or any worse, I have been so, so wrong.

I’m probably wrong now even. There is always a way for the bottom to drop out further.

We take our own autonomy for granted so easily. It’s without question that air will flow into our lungs without much effort when we take a breath. That our bones and skin can handle an innocuous stumble, or brushing against the corner of the counter top without injury. 

There are so many things that I take for granted, and yet I have watched someone lose pieces of themselves, year after year. 

Every time I can’t get over what it must be like to lose every part of your physical self, I feel the truth rush to me: we are more than these bodies. 

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

 

And every time you come to a portion of the bridge that has given way, and you think you cannot pass, is when you have to trust more than any other time. 

It becomes the oxygen you need, the strength to your bones, the binding on your wounds. 

It sounds like magic. It sounds so easy. It isn’t easy. 

Sometimes, when I think that things are the worst that they have ever been, and I start looking upward for some sort of sign that I am doing this whole “faith” thing right, I always am puzzled. Is this what it feels like to trust?

This emptiness? Because that is all that I feel. 

Or is it in the empty places that faith fills in? Are we supposed to trust the emptying and the wounds?  

Our bodies may be decaying or unsubstantial, but on the inside, when troubles assail the waters we are supposed to sail on, that we are supposed to walk on in faith, it is the condition of our hearts that the Lord is secretly working to His glory. 

In the emptying, when we realize that we cannot trust in the way that things are, we learn the way that they are supposed to be. When faith fills the darkest places of us that have been emptied of ourselves, we taste the way that it is supposed to be. 

We are more than these bodies. And so, our hope should be in something greater. 

It sounds so easy. So, so easy. But when you sit in the wooden pews at church, and you see the hands of the saints around you raised in worship, but you don’t really know what you’re doing there anywhere?

That’s right where God wants you. 

He wants you to know that you’ve been doing it wrong all this time. 

And even as life ticks by, and we think that we are learning, that we are growing, that we are different than the person we were a year ago, we come to yet another bedrock of truth. Where we find out just how much we really never knew to begin with. 

I’m not sure about any of this, really.

But the God in heaven is the one who scatters, and the one who draws near. 

And He will surely not allow us to be sown without allowing for us to collected.

Just sometimes, that takes time.