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.

Advertisements

Good grief – for when you are shaken.

Blackbird, singing in the dead of night,

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see,

All your life…

I remember writing about my grief in the immediate months after my dad passed away.

I sat tapping on a keyboard as I waited to turn a corner.

I was expecting to arrive with fresh introspection at some sort of crossroads where I would stop hurting, and start living again without feeling like every centimeter of me was being swallowed.

I sat waiting to learn something about the consuming hurt my life revolved around. I wanted to feel like I had stood the course so that I could tell my story of how I had held on all by myself.

Mostly, I hoped for the kind of grief I could control.

Eventually, I settled for feeling like it meant something. Anything.

Good grief

It was only recently I realized that the expectation life would only get worse had mostly ceased; the self-loathing I had aggregated over the last year seemed to subside.

It comes and goes on goes on certain days.

One moment I can talk openly about my father. About how much he loved the way that I added extra vowel sounds to words when I was a child, or crinkled my forehead when I pouted. How he taught me how to play gin rummy, and didn’t mind a bit when I eventually started winning more than him.

The next instance, I can barely choke out that he liked to play electric guitar way too loudly while he drank a beer in our family room. Or how on Sundays, he always took an afternoon nap…but it was okay to sneak into his room and try to pry his eye lids open. 

This is grief.

And there is no arrival in grief. 

There is, however, a realization that pain and joy can coexist.

At the end of the runway of grief is a launch pad of rebirth if we have the eyes to see it.

After the shaking and sifting, there are things to be found. 

Every silent prayer I have ever prayed to grow more holy, to have faith that withstands earthquakes and darkness came roaring back to me in the months after. Prayers whispered while in bed staring at the ceiling or from a church pew on a Sunday came to remind me the way the ocean bursts against the rocks. The same way the birds land in the trees. 

Jarring but then gently.

A hard reminder, and a patient one.

For a while, I couldn’t tell if He held me anchored in the harbor while the storm erupted, or if He saved me from its throes while I was lost on the darkest of oceans.

I was, for sure, in some remote place.

Alone, as grief can only be borne.

Was I held or was I rescued while He sifted my life like wheat?

Or was it both?

 

“For the mountains may be removed,
and the hills may shake,
But my lovingkindness will not be removed from you,
And My covenant of peace will not be shaken…”

 

He tells us of His shaking.

How He will turn every inch of darkness within us into light like we have never seen.

How our lives will be sifted in times of testing. 

He will remove things that have no place within us so that what is eternal and true will remain. And not just that they would remain with us – that they would stand tall within us when all else has been swallowed by the earth that gives way from beneath us.

For the mountains may be removed,and the hills may shake,But my lovingkindness will not be removed from you,And My covenant of peace will not be shaken...

He will shake the shame we carry and comfort ourselves with. The shame that tells us that we could never hope to be anything more than failure wrapped in flesh and bones that turn to dust.

He will shake the darkness that dots our own hearts like black ink dots paper.

The shame that tells us that we aren’t loved when the world is burning down around us.

The belief that we belong to no one. 

He will shake the false sense of superiority and security that we have with a walk down a cold hospital hallway where we see what end awaits us all if we are left to our own devices.

He will sober us with the reminder that we have no promise in tomorrow in our own strength.

He will remove the will in us to pursue our visions and desires.

He will help us see that the glory we had sought was actually our own version of self-aggrandization that fades like applause.

He will remove our ability to compartmentalize Him. 

He will allow us to see ourselves for what we really are.

He will let our face be pressed into the dust, and He will show us how to praise Him even there.

He will remind us that our savior is intimately acquainted with grief and sorrow and death. 

He will have His way with us.

This is good grief.

 

 

“For you have not come to what may be touched,
a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest..
But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God,
the heavenly Jerusalem…
and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,
and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,
and to God, the judge of all…
and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,
and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,
 for our God is a consuming fire.”

 

God does not afflict us for His own amusement or out of indifference. Our God uses pain and affliction to spin tales of redemption. Our joy and our failings and sorrow are all connected in a tapestry of sanctification.

Our God allows rebirth in places where the vine was severed. Our God is beside those who suffer, who are in the haze of grief. He is with those who grow faint. Our God says that the world around us may be consumed in fire but we will not be touched.

Singed, but not consumed.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,
that he might sift you like wheat,
but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.
And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Luke 21:31-32

And He says press on. Wait for Him to move. Like the watchmen wait for the dawn.

Expect Him. Turn back and look for him.

And ready yourselves for the resurrection.

 

And when you turn again, you will see. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief is not the end of you

I’ve been trapped in the same hospital room for a year.

I can still see the two rows of glass standing guard on either side of me, my fractured reflection in each pane as I walked past the silent sadness in each room. Doors and windows and off white curtains running into each other down a beige hallway. Dated floor tiles with brown specks become a river as the smell of antiseptic and thin cotton perfumed the air.

I can tell each hospital I have visited over the last ten years apart by the aesthetics Even though they all seem the same to me now. Even if it doesn’t matter anymore.

On my worst days, this is where I end up.

I replay this scene, and many others, over and over again in a devastating loop. And I hate myself for it. For being so weak.

A long road with nine years of hospital stays, visitor badges, and frantic phone calls that came late at night or early in the morning. How else would bad news travel save for 6 a.m. Sunday morning phone calls or 11 p.m. texts on a Tuesday? The faintly blue walls and fake flowers on side tables in hospital hallways were like lipstick on a pig.

Because no one could ever assure us that it would get any better.

It was a slow siphoning. A meandering descent.

Like a giant bucket full of water, with a minuscule hole drilled in the bottom, we didn’t notice the changes at first. We didn’t notice that the silver thread of my father’s life was nearly gone until one day it suddenly was. But we had silently been careening to that moment for nearly a decade.

And still, we weren’t ready for the impact.

On my worst days, I’m back by his side, swallowing a brick of tears and burning anguish as we all waited for the lines on his monitor to flatten and anger singed a bitter blister inside of me.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted him to stay or go, to keep holding on or to infinitely release, even though that had been his life for the last decade. Even though I had already asked that of him again and again. I couldn’t ask that from him even once more because he had done all of that, and more. What else can a father give?

On my best days, I remember that it won’t always be this way.

After his funeral, we made our way to a familiar small, sandy beach. The sky churned in a wild sea of gray, the clouds turning over like a river of lava, like they were hot and flowing until they piled on top of one another, building something unknown. The water was murky. The grainy sand bone white as it crunched beneath our feet.

Somehow, the fact that it was a less than ideal day that we had chosen to spread his ashes was actually comforting.

I’m new to this grief thing.

Before that day, I had thought that maybe, by the time we stood at the edge of the water he loved so much and let him go, eight months and a few mornings after he had left us, that it would begin to feel like true closure. When in truth, letting go of some of the last tangible pieces of him was a painful act more than it was transcendent.

The day was a confusing mess of gray, rain that spit from the sky, and winds that churned the waters below. The air stung our faces, and we let him go into something wild. We gave him over to the uncertainty, and that seemed to make a modicum of sense after eight months of being confused over how someone can truly be gone.

It didn’t mean that it was over. But it meant that we began to accept that truth of the matter. That we all fade, no matter what. That those around us will fade, and we might have to be here to watch. That life was still infinitely mysterious in its at times unforgiving nature. But in the tangled web of uncertainty and beauty, something beautiful still throbs even when we are broken. In darkness, something hopeful and light pulses even still.

We accepted the inevitable that we couldn’t escape. But by setting him free into the mist, right in the middle of it, we agreed that we were trying to figure it out. To discover our way through it. To make peace with everything.

I sat on that same beach, two months later. On Father’s Day.

Aviator shades on, shoulders out, freckled skin hot, the weather and the day could not have been any more different. This was my first time back to that same place, and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. Or in what state I would find myself.

Only on that day, in the place of my sorrow months before, I wasn’t alone on the beach. Families lounging on plastic chairs and beach blankets dotted the shore. People played in the warm and clear water. I found a spot beneath a tree and sat. Watching.

You would never have believed this was the same place.

I took my children swimming yesterday. Three busy bodied children in fluorescent swimsuits stood at the edge of the shore. The older two hesitantly let the water lap around their ankles, while my third child alligator crawled through the water, the soft sand pillowing under her knees.

My two oldest were afraid of the jelly fish. They were afraid of what they could not see. My youngest child hardly took notice of their worries, instead enjoying herself on a perfect day.

She hasn’t learned to be afraid yet. She just dives right in – to anything.

I assured my children that I was watching over them. That the waters were clearer than they thought. That they were safe. From jellyfish, from waves and all manner of scaled and clawed sea creatures.

They doubted me, while my youngest continued her fun, soaking up the moments and almost becoming too brave as she inched further out.

I marveled at how brave we are before we learn to be afraid.

I realized that I might never be like that again.

 

I remember being like them. Being stung by a jellyfish hidden in the gray waters. Rocked over by the waves until I swallowed mouthfuls of saltwater. Raw wounds on my shoulders and knees as the ocean flung me back and then began to pull me out again.

I remember feeling helpless. So many times in the last year, I have felt so helpless.

How weak we feel when life mercilessly knocks us to our knees. How it clutches  at us and shakes us until the air is ripped from our lungs. How it rubs us raw even while we still suffer. We feel small, like will never be brave again. Like we couldn’t ever be again even if we had the choice.

But really, it is after life has shaken us, has devastated us, has reminded us that its language was always uncertainty, that we should feel the most brave.

Grief is a torch that will only light our steps so much.

But it is peace the illuminates the way.

Grief is not the end of us.

Even as we make bedfellows with it for many days in the dark. Even as we begin to comfortably wear it. Even as we swallow it, hold it close to ourselves and count it only as ours.

I’ve marked my grief these last twelve months. I’ve made it my own, unwilling to share it. To talk about it. To expose it would leave me helpless. It has become a shield, something to wield. As I let myself cower behind it. As I try to forgive myself over and over again for feeling so weak that I can’t move forward. When I tell myself that I can’t. I can’t move on from when he left me. What if my life is unrecognizable without him? What might he think? 

How does one move on without a place for the ones they have lost?

Grief is a torch that shows us the path, but it is peace that illuminates the way ahead. It is peace that compels us to move and find our footing again. It is peace that wills us to be brave. It is peace that tells us that we must trust the uncertainty.

One day, I pray I will be far away from that room. Where our bodies were crowded close together. Where we held his hands and whispered to him as we silently prayed that maybe he heard us one last time. That he heard us tell him that it was okay, that we weren’t going to ask him to stay one more time.

Peace tells me that grief isn’t the end. My ashes become an adornment. The thin soot of my pain. It tells me that fire can be both devastating and cleansing, and that death can make the things left behind beautiful. It can be a catalyst. The fire that sparks. The end is only the beginning, for him in eternity and now for me, still on Earth.

Grief is the end of the chapter. But not the story.

Not of me.