Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When the Dust Settles and the Wind Changes

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”  -C.S. Lewis

"Jesus came to show us that the gospel explains success in terms of giving; self-sacrifice, not self-protection; going to the back, not getting to the front.  The gospel shows that we win by losing, we triumph through defeat, we achieve power through service, and we come rich by giving ourselves away." -Tullian Tchividjian, Surprised by Grace

I marvel at the beauty of gardens.  Flowers and vegetables and beautifully broken seeds of life rising from dust of old…dark muddy heavy clay…supply the perfect environment to nourish…where newness and splendor spring up out of darkness into light.

I wish I knew more about cultivating a garden.  I know how to kill a plant…that’s for sure.  But to keep even a single one alive…well…that requires a lot of work.  And tender loving touch…and then getting your hands dirty.

I don’t really like to get my hands dirty.  I cringe when I see my kids playing in the dirt.  My oldest son told me the other day he sampled the rain water in a muddy puddle on the ground…and he liked it.  Can’t really make a Clorox commercial for a bleach milkshake.

And then the weeds.   They come out of nowhere it seems.  Uninvited and unwanted.  With strong cavernous roots penetrating earth on a mission to take out life thriving all around.   And if not completely exhumed they’ll just keep coming back.

Rick is home.  He came home on the 6th.  I am so thankful to have him home…with us.  There have been many sweet beautiful moments of warm hugs and laughter and popcorn and long talks and bedtime snuggles with all kids in bed and family dinners and swimming in the heated pool when it is 20 degrees outside until ears and noses drip ice.  And lots of sword fights and wrestling and tea parties and pillow warfare and making the most of these moments.

He’s done all those man things I’m worthless in carrying out and even unloaded the dishwasher for me every time he has the opportunity, which is my very least favorite thing to do.  I’ve loved feeding him good food and laundering his clothes and holding his hand and just looking at his face.

I’d like to say that all is wonderful and blissful and we no longer have a care in the world.  I’d like to say that everything is back to normal and the burdens are lifted and we feel like a bird that has been let out of his cage.  But I want to be real…because a glossy picture of happily ever after only exists on the big screen and Facebook and I prefer living in the raw.

We get woken up by calls in the middle of the night with the halfway house making sure he is where he is suppose to be and random home visits when we’re in bed about to fall asleep and being called down for random drug tests right before we are leaving for church.  25% of his income goes out the door to pay for his restitution…really just goes right into the governments pocket so I think they should change the name.   

The kids wake up and immediately want to run in our bedroom and make sure their daddy is still here and want to know where he is and when he’s coming back and when he’s gonna be home and if he’s ever gonna leave them again.  There have been tears of loss from just the coming home of dad and realizing how much they were missing when he was gone.  And maybe even taking awhile to open up and let down their guard because they don’t want to have him ripped from his family one more time.

Rick says he feels out of sorts…like he’s in a bubble and we’re in another bubble and he doesn’t know how to come into our bubble.  He has been thru so much…

I would say all the changes have brought somewhat of a new jarring.  Like a post traumatic stress type feeling.  Like we’ve been living in survival mode and each dealing with our own difficult daily circumstances and just trying to get thru to the day he’d be home.  And the dust is settling and the wind is changing and there is an aftermath of what has been and an angst of what’s ahead and we just have to keep living in the moments…the Grace filled sweet beautiful moments.  Where gratitude for all that has been…and all that is…and all that will be is just part of His perfect and good plan in sanctifying our souls.

It has taken me a long time to even collect my thoughts and emotions to where I could write down what has been going on in my own heart.  

That cage that was so vivid and real is gone…but for me…I discovered that a fortress had resurrected around my own heart.  

There has been a lot of hurt this year.  You can only imagine when sinners rub up against each other in such close quarters that sparks are going to fly and hearts are going to be wounded.  

And for me…it took an empty house to realize that I had barricaded myself behind these thick walls.  But I wasn’t alone.  Wild weeds springing up.  Infecting the soil of my hearts sacred ground.  Bitter roots taking up residence where I had neglected to guard the intake of flaming thoughts and had rather entertained them with a royal feast.

And the feast feasted upon me.   

Those walls of self-protection are really walls of self-preservation.   Wreaking havoc on any peace or joy and fostering blinding pride.   And that bloody mess will just keep oozing all over.

“When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.” –Psalm 73:22-23

I did not like this state of my heart.  It grieved me deeply.  I kept standing guard rather than bending low and there was no victory.  So I started calling my people.  Those hands and feet of Christ that are there to love me, fight with me,  and help me see where I cannot see.  The ones who know me when I’m hurting and the ones who know me when I’m burning and the ones who have led me to the Living Water of healing to drink in Grace.  Love these women (and my man) deeply… 

I began praying.  PLEADING…for a heart change.  For healing.  For the Lord to give me clarity where my own efforts were blinding me to His will.  Because when you’re trying to protect yourself from hurt…you end up sealing your own coffin shut.  And the life of the heart will rot right there behind impenetrable hardened stone.  

“My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” –Psalm 73:26 …He answered in Grace…peeling back scales from my eyes…and meeting me right where I was.

There is a way out.  Of your own imprisonment.    LOVE.  The only medicine.  The only way to live wholly and Holy free.   Hiding is not the answer…sacrifice is.

Jesus took the pain…the hurt…the flesh ripping nail piercing insult hurling pain to the grave after he bled it brave on that Cross altar.   “For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." –Romans 15:3

All because of His great love for us.  

And when new life walked out of that garden tomb after three days of death…He had conquered all that was meant to destroy.

I’d been working so hard on my own line of defense that I hadn’t even noticed my internal garden suffocating.  I was walling up the anger…the hurt…the resentment right in there with me.  Those walls were built in a spirit of unwillingness…to get dirty…to sacrifice…to lay down what was pleasing to me.

And not only get dirty…but let the dirty spill out.  Because “no matter the jarring, a jar of fresh water can’t spill filthy water.  When you’re upset, you upset what’s really in you.” –Ann Voskamp.  Or as Elsa says it from Frozen…”the wind is howling like this swirling storm inside, couldn’t keep it in heaven knows I’ve tried.”  There was ugly already in there…it had just been stirred up…so He could heal it.

The Lord has begun tearing down those cold ramparts.  Because He won’t let His loved ones rot…hide…cage themselves away from the Greater Love that has already taken the pain. To hurt is to be near to Him…to lay down that pain is to walk closer to Him…in His sacrifice…in His grief…and in His victory.  

He offers the only line of defense that not only protects from prowling lions and raging storms and slithering snakes…but also from our own rebel hearts.  “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” –Psalm 18:2.  And His Love is the healing balm that bloodied wounds and broken hearts can rest in.

I let my feelings dictate my decisions WAY too often.  Sacrifice isn’t about a feeling.  It’s about humility.  It’s about Truth.  It’s about pointing to something greater than ourselves.  It’s about laying down all that our flesh screams for and walking in Love and taking refuge in The Fortress as we stand on The Rock and trust that God will deliver us from our pain and restore joy…and in that sacrifice…there is always blessing…always grace…and new Life rising from the dust of old. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Bear Went Over the Mountain...What Do You Think He Saw?

“Go back?" he thought. "No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!" So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”  ~C.S. Lewis

“Imagination projects unreal images out of the mind and seeks to attach reality to them.  Faith creates nothing; it simply reckons upon that which is already there.”  ~A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

It was dark and lovely and the early morning chill prickled excitement as I set out for the airport.  I arrived in Midland and went downstairs to the lobby and to wait.  The sand of time funneling its last grains through as I sat with anticipation.  

Time experienced in a new way this year.  Days stretched long like a winter storm commanding all to halt in the deep white freeze.  And then the melting begins.  

He walked through the doors in a bright yellow jacket over a collared shirt and stiff jeans that they gave him to wear out into the “real” world.  I had to snap pictures…and then more pictures as he went to change back into his own clothes.  Wanting to capture every sweet joy brimming grace of freedoms taken for granted.   He emerged smiling and joking walking brave out of an undignified vile system that breeds darkness.  But in the darkest of dark…the true Light of Life burns…

He carries a year and a half of contained emotions that he said made him numb.  Unable to express the sorrows and longings and desires and emptiness along with the rage and injustice and neglect and living with 220 men all on top of each other sharing 20 showers and 20 bathroom stalls and 8 phones.  And correctional officers who abuse power for their own enjoyment…and being unable to go to a doctor and be properly treated for a life threatening condition and to reside with people who are in an environment that fosters self preservation hence narcissism has been…a repeated… lashing…on the soul.

He sat quietly looking out the window at the planes taking flight to open skies and shared the hidden beauty of that place.  In all of his life he struggled to hear the still small voice of God speaking into his heart.  He used to get so frustrated with the Lord as to why he could not discern the Holy Spirit’s prompting and incredulous to those who proclaimed they could hear.  Lying on his bed with his eyes closed and worldly pleasures extinct…the eternal Living God of the universe made Himself known.  Right in the foul dark chaos of prison…His voice became crystal clear.  And my heart wept joy and gratitude for Grace coming into the desert and revealing Himself to Rick as he has so longed to hear His voice!  “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” –Deuteronomy 32:10

The Lord did not abandon him.  He was with him every moment of every long hour ticking away the days.

And Rick became a messenger proclaiming the Gospel which literally means “good news” to those who were weary.

Everyone told him how to be when he went “in”.  Don’t talk to anyone keep your head down and don’t make eye contact and don’t ask all those questions you like to ask and try and keep to yourself.  But that’s just not who Rick is.  He can’t help himself.  He loves people and he loves life and he wants to know what people are about and have relationships.  And because of it he made a difference in the lives of the souls who he came in contact with. 
His Bunkie who slept on the bottom of his 3 man bunk and had been in prison for almost 20 years for working for the drug cartel told him he was the best Bunkie he had ever had and he was sad to see him go.  He also apologized to him for spraying chemicals on his bed when Rick went thru the scabies episode, which Rick said during that time his sheets were hurting him and he didn’t know why.  This is the “gringo…you cry?” guy from my first post in Big Spring.

The other guys started distancing themselves the last few weeks before Rick left.  Rick said it’s what people do when others leave.  They become aloof and angry at the ones leaving because they’re sad to be losing someone they have let themselves become friends with and angry because they are left behind.  His counselor (the go to person for all the inmates in Rick’s camp) who had become a huge advocate for him while he was in there gave Rick his contact information so they could stay in touch…how…weird…is…that.

What a wonderful feeling it was to sit on comfortable chairs and hug and talk without an audience and a babysitter.  He shared stories of all the misery of being shackled and trying to eat and drink and sit in a tiny chair on a moving bus for 4 hours and being locked up in a tiny room from one transportation site to the next.  All the while laughing as he acted out the ridiculousness of it like a Saturday night live skit.  One of the many things I love about him.  That he can laugh in the face of adversity.  

We boarded the plane and held each other’s hands and the engines roared resolve.  The hardest part was over.  Lifting off that tarmac for the last time and this time not alone. 

When we landed in Dallas we had to hurry because our plane had been late and he had to be at the halfway house at a certain time.  It is south of Dallas in Hutchins and there really isn’t much around it.  Driving up the red brick building reminded me of an old nursing home.  I felt relieved that it wasn’t frightful looking. 
I remembered when I dropped him off September 28, 2012 at the Denton county jail and the sinking feeling almost made me throw up.  I had never even seen a jail and the sight of it was horrible and the long haul in front of us too much to bear. 

This was so much different.  The building looked harmless and there was no razor wire to be seen. 

I had packed a bag full of treasures that he was unable to use in Big Spring.  Like fragrant mint soap and shaving cream and a double edged raiser and good deodorant and soft pants and shirts and an electric toothbrush which he said was his favorite thing.  He brushed his teeth over and over and over.

Since then we have talked on the phone as much as we’ve wanted without the recording of a woman stating “this call is from a federal prison…”.  He has started working in Flower Mound and we get to see him more often. 

All of that has been amazing.  He has had many friends come by to see him and been able to call others he’s been out of touch with for over a year and there has been so much joy just having him close…especially with the kids.  My daughter gets excited when we kiss or hold hands…she grins and giggles and says, “ya’ll are married…”.  

Moving forward there are huge new mountains ahead of us (just like that darn bear) and the terrain of these next few months and years will come along new challenges.  The halfway house makes it incredibly complicated to integrate back into life and make money.  Rick is a go getter with an entrepreneurial spirit.  He needs to have a car and be mobile and a cell phone and normal things people need to get the ball rolling. 

He has to get all of these things approved yet they make it extremely difficult.  Like crazy difficult.  He can’t leave the store to get a cell phone but he has to have a cell phone and number before he can get it approved.  Same thing with a car.
He can’t go home until he has an archaic phone line hooked up with a bill and a letter from the phone company stating that the phone line has no calling features.  I have spent hours upon hours with Verizon trying to get this accomplished. 

He has to pay 25% restitution from his paycheck and that money goes not to the “injured parties” but to the government for interest…can someone explain to me why the government collects the interest from the parties that lost their money?  I don’t know about you…but that seems criminal to me.  The government is making money off of victim’s restitution and the victims get nothing.  And it’s 2% of 2.8 million dollars so the injured parties will likely never see a dime unless the Lord comes in and parts the red seas…which I know He can…I just hope that He’s willing. 

Not to mention it’s a huge pill to swallow writing that check when Rick never took any money from anyone.  He lost all that he had from doing business with a person he thought was his friend.  One bad decision ripples destruction…but not defeat.  The Lord orchestrated it all and it…is…good.

I’ll be honest…I don’t really want to climb anymore mountains.  I just want to sit back and coast for awhile.  I just want to have my husband at home with his family and reconnect and not have to think about any of these challenges ahead.  But the Lord's work is not done here.  

He's got something better up His sleeve.  The bigger the challenge...the more amazing the Glory...and if we get more of Him...than coasting would rob us of life's greatest Treasure.  "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ"-Philippians 3:8.

This is a new chapter of a story about Hope, redemption…and God’s saving Grace.  It’s His Story.  And Grace leads the way through every storm…every desert…and every impassible road that may present itself before us.  WE. CANNOT. SEE. AHEAD…but we can trust in THE WAY.  For He has brought us this far.

I love the Bible and how it is FULL Of these stories.  Injustice.  Unfairness.  Pain.  Suffering. Impossible circumstances.  And most of all broken messed up people.   And how through all of it you can see God’s hand.  Working in the lives of His people.  Displaying His goodness and His glory. 

One of my favorites is Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt (Genesis 37).  He was sold to a man who found favor in him but whose wife lusted after him and accused him of a crime he did not commit.  He was thrown into prison where he then found favor in the eyes of the prison keeper but where he sat for years…until the Lord used the gift He had given him…the one that had caused his brothers to sell him into slavery…to release him from prison and into the favor of Pharaoh…where he was put in charge of ruling the country…and then his brothers came down to Egypt.  And asked him for help during a horrible famine in the land.  And he says…”As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” –Genesis 50:20.  That act of evil saved a nation of people…God’s people. 

So I trust the Lord…and sometimes that trust comes with many tears and confessions and a large helping of humble pie...which I might add…is the kind of pie that takes weight off the heart and heals egocentrism.   I pray that He will allow us to pay off the whole restitution before Rick’s probation is up in 3 years.  And that all of this strenuous faith walking will bring about soul conditioning and heart reshaping that will prepare us for greater callings.  God is able…and I’m not afraid to pray for what seems impossible.  Because the Truth tells me “nothing is impossible with God” –Luke 1:37.  That’s where I plant my feet.  On that Rock. 

And when doubt and fear creep in…I will raise my Ebenezer.  “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us” -1 Samuel 7:13.  2012-2013 seemed like an impossible year to get thru in so many ways and here we are on the other side…He was faithful and will continue to be.  I love the movie After Earth.  A beautiful allegory of our walk with God (Hollywood can’t help but knit Truth into their stories…it’s what moves the hearts of men) of fear and faith and claiming truth in the face of fear. 

Here’s a quote from the movie…“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity Kitai. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story and that day mine changed.”

He has brought us this far…He will continue to carry us through life’s joys and sorrows and hardships.   For He is a God who saves.  And so we’ll move on…ahead…and forward.  Straight into the impassible roads ahead.  Just like the Israelites did so many years ago…and God made a way… 

14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 
16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” 
19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.  -Exodus 14:14-22