July 21, 2014

Healing Hurts

It is a good Monday morning in sunny and very hot Phoenix. Today it is going to hit a record high or so the weather guy says. I am not looking forward to temperatures above 110, but that is what the forecast projects. In truth, there is little difference between 110 and 120. Hot is hot, when you get right down to it. Still, with the added humidity (still low by most parts of the country's standard), it feels like a hot, sticky oven. Our monsoon seems to have faded away, and there is little chance of thunderstorms. The good news, if there is any when it comes to desert summer weather, is that the super high temperatures can generate significant thunderstorms all by themselves. Perhaps just maybe, a stray thunderstorm will develop and make an effort to hit Phoenix with some much needed rain...Sigh. I digress...

Mondays are good days. The week is brand new, and the opportunity for good to happen is always present, always possible. I know that for many people, especially those that do not like their jobs, Monday is a major gripe day, a day to complain about starting the work week. I used to be like that, and often, I dreaded Mondays. If I was honest with myself, I dreaded every single work day. It wasn't that I didn't like my job (necessarily), it was more so that I didn't feel I was doing what I was meant to do. Let me explain...

For many years, I worked at jobs that seemed to just "happen" for me. I applied for them, I interviewed, and I was hired. I looked at the job as a means to an end. I needed the money. I needed benefits. I needed to work. The job served its purpose, it provided for a need, and I was thankful for it. Sometimes the job was good, was challenging or was stimulating. Sometimes the job was difficult, was boring, was not a good fit for my skills and my abilities. Sometimes the environment, the people, the company were good -- I liked going to work every day. Often, though, the environment, the people, and the company were not good -- and I struggled to get up and go into work every day. Sometimes I felt stuck. I felt like I was in a place where I didn't fit, I didn't belong, and where the outer desire (job, paycheck, benefits) did not match the inner desires of my heart (helping people, doing good work, making a difference).

I suffered a cultural and a spiritual clash between what I thought was needed (stable work), and what I wanted (to please God, to satisfy my desire for ministry). I tried to reconcile myself by saying that my job was my ministry field -- something I had heard Pastor's preach from the pulpit so many times. "Bloom where you are planted," they would say. Or they would encourage, "Let God use you right where you are," which never really helped much because it just made me feel inadequate and like a complainer (as if I wasn't already doing that).

How do you reconcile a deep inner need with the practical, logical, and rational cry for outer needs?

For many years, I simply "sucked" it up (my mother hates it when I use that word). You know, I just buried the desire down deep, and I "soldiered on." I was a good little trooper. I prayed and I asked the Lord to use me. I looked for opportunities to be used. I bloomed where I was planted (later only to find that I was wilting on the vine). I listened intently as well meaning friends and family would tell me that "everything happens in God's own timing." "Be patient, Carol," they would say. Then they would encourage me to find a ministry at church. "You know, children's needs more helpers on Sunday," as if filling an open need like the way you fill an empty pot was a good substitute for dealing with one's unfilled vocational calling. I did what I was encouraged to do. I volunteered, I served, I was the "go to girl" whenever the church (my church) needed an extra pair of hands. It got to be a regular thing -- to where anytime there was a need -- my name was on the top of the calling list. I didn't mind, a lot of the time it was nice to be needed. But I never felt that I was doing what God wanted me to do. I was filling time just like I was wiping up spills, picking up broken crayons, and taking kids to the bathroom. I was doing the "dirty work" of ministry -- the work that is not exciting, not challenging, not stimulating.

Then one day I realized that I had spent my entire life being a "Martha." I was a good Martha too. I worked very hard for the Kingdom. I worked very hard to help people. I did get recognition -- my name was always being called, I was always being thanked, I was always being noticed. It was good to be needed, to be noticed, and I should never have complained or felt as if my needs were being unmet. What's more - I believed that it was wrong of me -- wrong of me to want more -- to want something better than being a good helper.

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  

39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!

42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I have heard this story taught many times. I love the story of Mary and Martha, and I love how the Lord gently helps Martha understand the difference between "doing" and "being." Martha was a doer. She did what was culturally expected of her. She knew her place, and she understood what was expected of her. She dutifully worked, served, and lived her life well within the confines of her place as a Jewish woman.

Mary was different, of course. Mary sought Jesus directly. She wanted to "be" with Him more than she wanted to "do" what the world expected her to do. In fact, she threw her cultural expectations out the window the moment she met HIM. She sat at His feet. She worshiped Him with her whole attention, and in doing so, she listened as He taught her. Mary had found "the thing" that mattered most, and she discovered that "being" with the Lord far surpassed any worldly "doing" she could ever attempt.

I don't remember the exact moment when I came to understand "being" over "doing," but it was about 7 years ago. My life was not going as I expected, and I was struggling to understand my meaning and purpose. I was serving in ministry and working on staff at the large Bible church I attended. I was a Children's Ministry Director, and I was responsible for our evening Grade school program. I was also working in my own business, designing websites for clients. I had over 40 clients, many of whom, I provided monthly service (maintenance updates). I was also home schooling my then 14 year old. And, I was providing weekly day care for my ailing father-in-law (picking him up, taking him to doctors, to the gym, getting him lunch). To say I was "busy" would have been an understatement. I was in full-fledged "Martha Mode." I was working round the clock serving my church and my family.

My home life seemed perfect too -- on the outside. I had a good husband, a well-mannered child, happy parents and parents-in-law, and a thriving business and ministry. Yes, everything looked so very peachy-keen on the outside, yet on the inside, I was miserable, I was lonely, and I was so desperate to find meaning and purpose in my life. My marriage was not good. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't good. My husband worked in his share of the business. He was absent a lot (there in person, but not in person, not communicating, not active). I was burnt out at work, and I had huge unmet spiritual needs -- even though I was so active in church, in ministry, and in my own quiet time with the Lord. In truth, there was a huge hole in my life, and it seemed to be growing larger by the day. To compensate for the emptiness, I consumed masses of "busyness".

Trial in the Storm of Life

In July 1 of 2007, my husband suffered a heart attack. It was called a "Widow Maker," but fortunately for him, he made it to the ER in time. Most men who have heart attacks like this will die from them. My husband was spared death. I was thankful. I was thankful that I didn't become a widow that day.

The next two and half years of my life was an example of Psalm 23 -- walking through the valley of the shadow of death. My husband suffered continual health issues, was unable to work full-time, and as a result, I had to take on the burden of caring for him as well as providing more financial support for our family. Yes, he did try to work. Yes, he did try to help. It was just that what he was able to do and what we needed were so far apart, so impossible to cover. I struggled daily with the burden of overwork. I became exhausted from the stress, the struggle, the strain. Our marriage continued to disintegrate, and as I watched it crumble, I felt helpless to do anything at all to stop it.

One health crisis led to another, and then in February of 2009, the final blow came. My husband suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. I was told he would die or that he would be left in need of full-time nursing care. I was given the worst possible news -- and the reality of the situation dawned on me -- I would remain married to a man who would need me to nurse him full-time.

By this time, our marriage had suffered a number of other wounds -- infidelity, communication breakdown, and a lack of intimacy. I was living in a shell of a marriage, and the thought of what the next 40-50 years of my life would be like scared me to death. It wasn't that I didn't love my husband. I did. I was committed to our marriage, despite all the sorrow, the sadness, and the pain. It was just that in that moment I came to understand that I had spent all of my days since becoming a Christian serving others, serving God, and serving needs -- without ever considering whether what I was doing was what the Lord wanted me to be doing. Now, after 27 years of marriage, the reality of my life sunk in, and I knew what I had done, I knew how all the dots connected together.

Zoom backwards to 1979 -- I was 16, a newly born-again Christian. I had just come back from a amazing week at camp, and I had an epiphany. I had a spiritual moment whereby I thought I heard the Lord speaking to me. I don't know if what I heard was really Him speaking audibly or not, it was just that I remember hearing His voice. Yes, I had been praying -- standing at my window and looking out at the pine trees in my backyard. I was crying, I was so miserable, so alone. I don't remember what I asked or what I even said in my prayer. I just remember standing there and looking out the window so very intently when I heard this voice inside my head. It was the Lord telling me what I was to do, where I was to go, and why He wanted me to follow Him.

I accepted that call. I embraced it. I was ecstatic. I was on a spiritual high that had no limits, no boundaries. Sadly in time, the cares of the world, the weight of being a young girl, bound by cultural expectations pushed me to turn away from it. I said yes, and then I said no. I walked away from the call of the Lord, and I never forgave myself for doing it. I chose to be a Martha that day, and I gave myself 100% to "doing" what I believed a good Christian girl should do. I gave myself to good works because that was acceptable to do. I started "doing" and I gave up on "being" because what the Lord was asking of me seemed to be too great an impossibility to my very young, very naive, and very sheltered mind.

As I lay on my bathroom floor some 30 years later, I contemplated my life, what might have been, what was now, and what could be in the future. These very thoughts caused me to sink lower and lower into depression. I began to see my life as completely hopeless. What was worse (if there could be anything worse) was that I also began to complain bitterly about my life. I cried out to the Lord to release me from the life I had. I didn't want to live like this -- to live in an empty, loveless marriage -- caring for someone who was not interested in caring for me. Furthermore, I began to cry out to Him, to beg Him to forgive me for not following His call to me. I asked Him to help me understand all these feelings inside of me, to sort them out, to show me the way out.  I wanted out of the situation I was in and I wanted to know how I was to keep my vow to my husband, and reconcile all these mixed up feelings inside of me. I needed to find a way out, to find a way through the darkness. I need HIM to do this for me. I needed HIM so badly.

My life continued to spiral downward through the next 8-9 months, and finally culminated in the decision to separate (and later, to divorce). My husband miraculously recovered (with lingering effects), but through his experience, he made the decision to seek another person instead of me. He chose one way out of the darkness, and I chose another. We began walking on different paths, and in the end, we walked away from each other.

At this lowest of low points, I came to understand what it felt like to be ground up, chewed, and spat out. It was difficult, of course, and there was a lot more heartache to follow. A lot more heartache. There was unending pain, and then there was breakthrough. Through the incredible ache came a blessing, a miracle. As I lay dying, literally dying inside, a miracle began to transform me and I changed from a "Martha" into a "Mary." I sat at His feet, weeping from the sorrows, from the loss, from the ache and pain of deep lingering wounds. I wept and I looked up. I began to see that my life was not over. It wasn't wasted. It wasn't hopeless. God had a plan for me, a very good, a very mighty plan. I needed help, though, to realize what that plan was and to learn how to live so that I could experience that plan. Through my brokenness God healed my heart, bound up my wounds and began to create within me new desires, desires that enfolded all those feelings I had for so many years with the new feelings He was pouring into me (Isa. 61:1; Ps. 147:3; Ps. 37:4-5). I sought Him diligently. I devoured the Word. I pressed into experience Him, and I found Him, I found Him. I learned how to sit at His feet, just like Mary did, and I began to worship Him.

My life is different now. It is brand new. I am a new creature in Christ. I have been re-created for a specific purpose. He has a good plan for my life. I am now walking toward the fulfillment of His will, and I am experiencing a daily renewal that lifts me up and carries me forward. I am moving with Him, and together we are accomplishing great things in His Name.

Jeremiah 17:14 says,

O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed;
    if you save me, I will be truly saved.
    My praises are for you alone!

The Lord healed me, and through His healing, I have been saved. My praises are for Him alone, and my days, my weeks, and my months (and my years) are devoted to one thing -- His work (and not my work). I no longer seek any other work but His. There is no other work for me. I may teach at a Christian college or I may minister to children, to women, to old folks. My work is now fully consecrated, fully devoted, fully surrendered to Him. There is no "me" for there is only "Him." I am poured out as a drink offering (2 Tim. 4:6), and I live to be a blessing to others. I desire nothing else but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

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