Thursday, September 14, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadow, Part 2

But the fact that I felt almost nothing during this time alerted me to something being amiss.

Something amiss, yes. But this alarm, this wake-up call, pierced through the dusk settled on me like dust on a long-forgotten corner table.

During the episode of my burnt fingers, awareness spread like light moving across the morning sky, but the light was faint. I recognized this geography, this terrain—I dwelt here once before, and I knew the action I needed to take to return to myself.

I knew my first task. I needed to identify the triggers, the origins. Could I trace them? Could I follow the thread through my labyrinth mind?

I tried.

My fingers healed long before my soul did, but my index and middle fingers remained tender, sensitive to heat and cold. And a numbness stayed in the center of my fingers’ first digits.  One numb circle persisted as the rest of the flesh quickened.

During the late winter and early spring of 2016, my husband and I planned a bucket list trip. For twenty years or more I planned this itinerary in my head. My husband tells a story of one afternoon when we gathered around my computer and scrolled through images of Ireland. I rattled on and on about the places I wanted to visit: to set my feet down on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, to enter into the long path way of Newgrange, and to climb the stairs of Skellig Michael. Later, after we married, my husband shared with me that as he watched me in this virtual tour, he kept saying in his head, “Then let’s go. Let’s just get married now and go.” Little did I know, right?

But as we prepared for Ireland, a battle waged in me; the depression, the dusk, created a reluctance in me to go on this once-in-a-lifetime sojourn. I waffled. But I knew I needed to push through the hesitancy. We planned and planned and planned some more. Sadly, I struggled with my lack of desire and enthusiasm. I found or created every excuse I possibly could to cancel and not go. But my husband, the steady anchor, would not allow me to cancel. He deflated every problem I presented.

We came home with memories, three thousand photographs, and treasures.

With our return, more of the darkness lifted and thinned, but I remained weak, fatigued, and weary. Jesus’ words, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest,” applied now directly to me. The toll I paid depression was in emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Some people might call it burn-out, but I am not sure this is an accurate description. The flame still burned though faint and low. I was tired.

My Father knew I was tired. The good good Father knew what I needed. He knows his children.

For thirty-plus years, the Father had been hiding his word in my heart. His Spirit planted holy words deep in the soil of me, and those seeds, long-dormant, sprang to life. Pieces of Scripture long forgotten returned to my memory and leafed out in me. I grasped his words, and the stalks of them became my lifeline. Please understand this: my Bible remained closed most of the time. The books that littered every available surface of my home went unread.

But the Word of God in me opened. His word sustained me. Religious cliché? No, just the simple truth.

Please come back for Part 3.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadow--Part 1

Twenty-three months ago I entered into a land of shadow—like the brilliant day when the sun disappears because a cloud moves in front of it. Suddenly the bright life is dimmed. Eyes must adjust to the now faded light; you attempt to open them wide, to expand your pinprick pupils, but they are slow to respond.

I kept waiting for the cloud to move along, shift to the right or the left. I woke each morning, slowly. Hoping the bright blue sky would reappear. Many days I didn’t think about it at all—at least consciously. I just went about my business; I lived the daily-ness of living:  the routine, the rote, and the rut. There were moments the sun filtered through broken patches in the clouds. Glimmers of light dappled through the cloud cover, and I followed them like a child chasing fireflies at night.  

You see I know the truth: I am a child of the light. I belong to the Father of lights, and there is no darkness in him. But I saw and felt the darkness in me, and it frightened me. I don’t like darkness. I don’t like the sun obscured by the clouds—at least not for undetermined periods of time.

I did all the things everyone tells you to do. Or I tried.


Reading (the nourishment of my life) became a chore. I struggled through reading a paragraph.

Praying (the necessity of my life) became a battle. I fumbled through one sentence prayers.

Writing (the expression of my life) dwindled and dried like a well in the heat of the summer.

Teaching (the calling of my life) became a duty. I grappled through lesson plans and Bible studies.

Loving (the joy of my life) became a burden. I stumbled under the weight and responsibility of it.

And the cloud remained. Eventually, my eyes adjusted to the dimness. But there is a sharpness lost when the light is low. The keen edges are dulled, and the vivid colors are muted.

I wrote about this place, talked about it in a post. I thought to be vulnerable, transparent, and confessional (to speak the darkness out loud) might help, but I encountered responses and reactions I didn’t expect—others reading my confession didn’t seem to like my filleted-open emotions. And they spoke words and opinions that pierced (though unintentional I am sure). Their words tapped on my spirit, and like a turtle, I pulled back into my shell and just decided it was safer inside.

Sunlight did break through several times, and like a cold-blooded creature, I moved into that light as quickly as possible. I curled up in it—trying to give my body time to soak up the heat and the light. For a long while, that’s the only response I could muster.

Mustering a different response as a course of action did not last long. Mustering anything required feats of strength and stamina of which I had little. I conserved my energy, pulled in all my limbs and appendages tight.

I gathered books and notes and Bibles and journals, even coloring books, and hoarded them as if the very possession of them would aid me. Books littered the house, and with every one of them came the heaviness of obligation. These tools remained stacked on the ends of counters and tables and in towers on the floor beside my bed or chair—cairns of intention, silent stones of expectations. Perhaps, I thought, there will be something in the pages that will awaken my spirit. But the books remained closed, and more often than not my Bible remained on the table unopened.

The weight of depression pushed down on me. Heavy-handed oppression pressed in on my spirit.  The pressure weighted my grieving heart.  I held grief deep and tight, wrapped my arms around it as if it were a flailing, exhausted child. Instinctively I knew if I didn’t contain this sorrowful creature it would break loose and wail.

At first, my heart was just numb, sensory abilities depleted.

In January 2016 an accident occurred that broke through my numbness and revealed my mental and spiritual state. I reached into a very hot oven and pulled out a terra cotta Dutch oven. My potholder slipped, and so did the dome lid. Steam burned my right hand—all four fingers, but the first two were severely damaged. I went to the doctor (who had a great deal of experience treating burns), and he and his nurse explained the seriousness of these burns. A day later the blisters on those fingers covered the entirety of the first two digits, and they were over an inch high. I visited the doctor’s office every day for almost a week to change the dressings and for them to assess the damage. Eventually, both blisters burst and the raw skin of my fingers was exposed. They explained to me that each day my fingers would need to be debrided and this would be quite painful.

Day after day I went in and sat on the white papered examination table. Each day they unwrapped my fingers and winced when the last bandage unwound.  The first time they debrided my burn they watched me closely.  Apparently, I remained rather stoic, and this reaction (or lack of ) surprised them.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” they inquired.

I shook my head negatively.

One nurse (who knows me quite well) leaned down and looked into my face when she asked this question.  Her eyebrows drew together and her lips pressed into a thin line.  She proceeded to gently scrub all the white, dead tissue away, exposing new flesh, raw and red.

But the fact that I felt almost nothing during this time alerted me to something being amiss.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Weight of 5%

I held him close—his little tank body pressed close into mine, drowsy and warm and fighting the advance of sleep like a seasoned soldier. There’s a solidness to him, the weight of him is substantial. Oh, there’s such abundant energy and compressed power in this little boy of ours, the littlest one, the youngest one.

In my book Growing Room, I tell the story of Atlas, this grandson of mine. He’s fought hard since the beginning to take hold of life.  Doctors informed his parents that this smattering of hCG would not be a viable pregnancy and there was only a 5 % chance of carrying it through the weekend, let alone to carry the fetus (if there was one) to full term. Calls commenced and prayers ascended for this unnamed, unseen, undetected life. At this point, this baby’s existence was like an imaginary number in math. We prayed through the weekend, through a long Saturday and an even longer Sunday.

Monday morning came, and my daughter entered the doctor’s office with reluctance and hesitation and most likely a tinge of fear. 5% is a daunting number because on the other side is the weight of 95% stacked against a hopeful outcome. We waited, our breaths caught at the entrance of our lungs, holding in a stillness of both anxiousness and eagerness.

As I held my youngest grandson a few weeks ago and last night all these memories pushed right up to the top of me, and they gently exploded, burst right open. I was overwhelmed and overcome. I gazed down at his sweet face so slack and round in his sleep.

I held the weight of 5% in my arms. I could feel the substance of Atlas, not only did I feel the impressive pounds of him but in his drowsy state he turned his head over on my chest and mumbled “Noni”—my name garbled from his sweet cheek pressed against my breast and the push of sleep.

The weight of 5% slept on me.

This powerful little personality, a barrel of a boy, whirlwind of never-walk-only-run, mischievous and stubborn and charming son of my daughter broke my heart cleanly into—opened it right up, so all the softness inside was exposed. There I sat, my arms wrapped around the weight of 5%.

Many would say that the pregnancy just hadn’t taken hold or it was too early to detect. No, the pregnancy was tested and confirmed. But numbers began to drop, to not multiply.

But God (one of my favorite phrases in Scripture).

He takes the human (educated, trained, experienced) projections and statistics of a less than slim percentage (the imaginary numbers) and creates certainties. Our God works with the less-than-good odds, the probably-not-going-to-happens, the slim-chance-in-hells and in his hands they become realities.

We often ask why God is not doing or does not act as he did in the Bible. Why don't we see such miracles? In that moment of holding Atlas, my arms wrapped around him, I knew I held a work, an against-the-odds act of God. An act akin to the reduction of Gideon’s army, David with Goliath, and an unlikely group of apostle men. Our God is not daunted by the 95%. No, he takes the 5% and multiplies it, increases it and grows it exponentially.
He always does more with less.

I held the exponential in my arms. I pressed my lips against the roundness of Atlas’ head; my body curved around him, my middle bowed to accept and contain his weight. I could feel the pattern of his breathing, slowed and even—inhale and exhale. I paced my breathing to his.

I was holding the 5% of God.

The answered prayers of so many. Encompassed in my arms was not only an answer but a compressed body of life, an abundant life. As I held him, my eyes closed. In the silence and screen of my mind, I could see his full-face grin, broad gap-tooth smile. I could hear his voice, words spoken unexpectedly in one so young. I curved my hand around his sweet head. I pulled him even closer. In his sleep he did not resist;  I rejoiced. I lifted my other hand upward, lifted my arm toward Him. A silent praise. A wordless thanksgiving.

5% in the hands of God.

Give him your odds, give him your less-than-hopefuls. Give God that in which your faith falters. Give God the smallest of offerings. Give him the inviabilities, the unseens, and the unheards. Give him the impossibilities.

There’s a part of me that hesitates to write or suggest such—that God takes care of all the impossibilities and long-shots. Sometimes he doesn’t. For whatever reason, we do not see or experience the outcome we desire or expect. But those times do not negate the situations in which he does move and act. We cannot stop declaring HE DOES just because sometimes he doesn’t--or just because we are not aware of his movement or interventions.

In holding my Atlas-grandson, all the 5% chances become viable. And I understood through my grandson that God has the power to multiply by exponentials. And that power, according to his word through Paul to theEphesians, is at work in me.

Rarely do I embrace this power like Atlas. Atlas knows nothing yet of his questioned life. He knows nothing yet of the fight waged against and for him, and he knows nothing yet of the obstacles (a malformed kidney too) stacked against his little life. No, he just lives. This little boy grabs life with both hands—extracting from every link of DNA hope, laughter, and strong-will.

Atlas Jensen can mean either “strength of the grace of God” or “he carries the grace of God.” Either way, my Atlas-grandson is a testimony—a witness to the grace, the unfaltering and unfailing grace of God.

I held him in my arms, pulled him closer right into the depths of me. In my arms, I held a package of God’s grace. I breathed deeply.  And my breaths, the vapors of them, were wordless paragraphs of thanksgiving and praise.