Monday, January 12, 2015

Wrist Pain is My Gain

Every morning, I try to take some time to sit and read from God's Word. I wipe the sleep from my eyes with a steaming cup of coffee, cream only please, and stare out the oversized, sliding glass doors to our stone porch, chicken coop and woodsy back yard. I love it. 

One morning recently, I turned to Matthew 28 and read, 

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.

My heart thrills when it sees the red words, imagining the women's stunned delight to see Jesus post resurrection.

He's ALIVE!


As I read, however, and try to fully engage emotionally with this remarkable passage, my wrist burns with pain. The pain has moved a few inches up my arm since the last time my husband asked me about it. And on this morning it is distracting me from fixing my mind's eye and heart's emotions on the glories and reality of Jesus's resurrection. Rather, I find myself imagining all the things that could possibly be wrong with my wrist.

My imagining persists and within less than a minute, I am meditating on how young I will be when I receive the cancer diagnosis. You see, anyone who has died in my family, died from cancer. I think it's only a matter of time for me to receive such a sentence. 


I start mentally playing out a scenario where none of the few medical specialists I have seen about my wrist catch the cancer. I end up fighting a short battle and am dead before I can leave notes for all my children's rites of passages and secure a spouse for Lawrence. These meditations come so quickly; I am far too familiar with them. Can you tell?

A second scenario pops in my head of finding cancer early enough to do something about it. But, what am I going to do? What medical facility will I choose? Doctor? Conventional or alternative medicines and treatment?  How much will we be willing to pay?  How much time will we give to my health and a cure?  Will we send the kids to school?

Yup...this all happens in a flash. These are the musings that start my day. It takes just minutes, if that.
The mind is amazing, isn't it?


The Holy Spirit is more amazing and kind.
He gently stops my runaway train of unhelpful ponderings and prompts me to turn to the Psalms. 


150 chapters to choose from, I make a simple, straightforward choice because, really, I have had enough of complicated for at least 30 seconds.  I pick today's date, the 6th. I read Psalm 6 and in reading, my attention and heart are fully captured. I become enraptured afresh with my God who loves to lavish good gifts on His children and is profoundly aware of the personal details of my life.  

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    heal me, O Lordfor my bones are troubled.

My soul also is greatly troubled.
     But you, O Lordhow long?
Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
   save me for the sake of your steadfast love
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who will give you praise?
The Lord has heard my plea;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.


That God would prompt me to THIS Psalm on THIS calendar day with the crazy thoughts swirling about in my mind is no coincidence. God is real, friends. And, He wants to speak to us in real ways, in ways that are practical and personal. 

This prayer of petition and praise reminds me that my Heavenly Father determines my path here on earth and I can trust Him. My mind flutters on faster than a hummingbird's wings trying to anticipate and plan for every possibility--but God comes and quiets me. 

His awareness of me quiets me. 

His love quiets me. 

The pain in my wrist is still present and persisting but I have turned to God. I look to Him for each next step.  I trust He will be gracious and gentle with me. He is in control, working all things together for my good.  I don't have to be smart enough or educate myself in order to be well taken care of.  I am in His arms, that are not only loving but all knowing!  

He knows exactly what is going on in my body.  He can heal me. He can show me the healers whom He may want to use. I believe that He will preserve me that I might praise Him, magnify His power and declare His reign over all things and His love that is like no other.

Perhaps, friend, you are in similar circumstances. Your body, mind, soul or all three are in some sort of turmoil or pain. Your mind races with what to do, where to go, who to talk to, how to find answers and peace.
Go to God who is gentle, wise, patient and loving toward His own. Open up His Word from which He longs to reveal Himself to you. Allow yourself to be quieted by a renewed revelation of His love for you.


______________________

Sometimes God leaves us to mysteries, medical or otherwise. We have to wait and trust. But sometimes we receive answers and solutions to problems. 
After seeing a hand specialist about my wrist, it seems I have what is called "de quervians" which should improve over time by wearing a custom made splint to immobilize my wrist. 


Friday, January 02, 2015

The Unexpected Gifts of Chronic Pain

I just ended treatment with my chiropractor of the last 3 1/2 years, and I started sobbing. 
Yes--sobbing. 

Chronic pain has a way of taking you to a place of desperation and humility like very few other things can.  So when you find someone who relieves that pain even in minute ways, you give sincere thanks to God above and you think long and hard about ever parting ways with said care provider.

But, it was time. 


I have had pains creeping, now constant, in other joints without relief or any guess as to the cause. After waiting, praying, talking with others and trying once to leave, it came time to confidently end treatment with my current chiropractor in order to try yet another specialist with the hopes that a new set of eyes on my scans, my history and me will perhaps gain me more ground in recovering a pain- free body. 

But, I wonder often if my quest is a worthwhile one. How much money should I spend?  How many different specialists should I see? tests should be done?  Self doubt enters in and I beat myself up, (figuratively because you know, I'm kind of already feeling beat up enough physically) with thoughts of others who have "real" chronic pain (the kind that has a diagnosis). I think, 
I must just be a wimp or overly sensitive or too attune to my body.  
I'm too high-strung, and my character flaws are actually the root cause of my physical ailments. 
I think too much about myself and my body. I should pour myself out more into the pains and problems others are facing. 
I need to toughen up and deal with it; I am just getting older and this is life. 

And, you know what? All these thoughts MIGHT actually be true. But, it is of little consequence really because whatever the source of my (or your) pain might be, it is for us a context from which to live desperate.

Desperation is likely not on anyone's list of New Year's resolutions. It's not something most people aim for, pray for or welcome into their lives. But, out of desperation comes the sweetest intimacy one can experience, the most genuine experience of Immanuel, God with us, the One whose birth we just finished remembering and celebrating. 

We so often want to do anything and everything we can to rid our lives of pain whether it be physical, emotional or otherwise. We want to dismiss it, deny it or mask it but not press into it, feel it fully and allow it to just be present without answers or remedy to take it away.

But, one thing I have learned over the last seven years of  living with pain is that this thing that I would swiftly kick to the curb if I could, is the very thing that keeps me ever so close to Jesus. It is one of the most pronounced tools God uses in my life to draw my heart closer to His, to experience His abiding love for me, His mercy sustaining me, His ear bent to listen to my cries for help, His hands extending to be that help I need.

The pain that I often wish I could numb is the thing that keeps me from being numb to others' pain. In its height, it heightens my awareness of others' suffering. It fills me with great empathy. It fuels passionate prayers on behalf of others. The thing that I think is stealing my life away is actually what is making me live it more fully, more deeply, more keenly aware of what is worthwhile and eternal.


Today I am seeing a new-to-me doctor with the hopes that he will help me discover the causes and cure for some of the chronic pain I experience.  While I still hold out hope to lose the pain, I pray I will never lose the unexpected gifts pain has given me. 

Are you living with chronic pain, physical, emotional or spiritual?
I would love to pray for you.
No need to write specifics if you are not comfortable doing so; you could simply leave a comment of, "Yes," and I would be honored to pray for you today. May you, too, see and relish the unexpected gifts of chronic pain. 


Thursday, January 01, 2015

A New Year's Call to Remember Who and Whose You Are

2015 is here--a new year. 
Many start each new year with fresh hope and vigor for changes they want to see occur in their lives or the lives of loved ones.  We step into this first day of January each year with hearts wide open and eyes expectant for good things, for prosperity, growth, forward movement. And, for many of us, this new year will hold some of that. For some of us, 2015 will be a banner year, a year worth celebrating, sharing and recalling for all of time. For some of us, we are going to come to the end of 2015 (it will happen), and we'll bid it "good riddance." It is most probable, however, that for all of us, 2015 will hold a mixture of both. Just like 2014, '13, '12 and all years past, life will bring circumstances that thrill us and fulfill us, but it could also bring us events that dash dreams and send sucker punches. 

For all of us, in whatever 2015 brings,
Whether it be suffering or success, 
Blessing upon blessing or 
Burden heaped upon burden, 
Whether you fall prey to the hands of injustice
Or gain ground in making peace in relationships.
Whether God answers your heart's cry with a solid, "Yes," "Wait a little longer," or even a, "No,"

Whether you greet each morning with cheer 
Or end each day in sorrow, 
Remember this:
Call to mind what God says is true of you and Him in Isaiah 43:

"You are my witnesses," declares the Lord, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He.  Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.  I, I am Lord, and besides me there is no Savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses," declares the Lord," and I am God.  Also henceforth I am He; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?"  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tired and Weary

We did not make it to noon before I had reached the end of my rope. 

It was the Friday of an unusual week for us with lots of time at home, in each other's space and mess of who we are. I had an especially long day with the kids the day prior as my husband had a longer than usual workday.  My mind was full of all the ways I would rather be spending my time and energies which did not include the futile feeling of re-directing my children multiple times a minute back to their school work. It did not include sweeping the kitchen floor countless times to pick up the breakfast mess and then the craft mess and then the lunch mess...
It did not include saying, "Be quiet. Be quiet. Be quiet," ad nauseam nor chasing children down to clean up after themselves because they are ten and seven years old after all and really should be trained by now in picking up after themselves. 


This context is somewhat typical these days in my home. I can say, however, that by the kindness of God manifested through the modern wonders of psychotropic medicines, my response was atypical.  

By mid-morning, I stood near the stove, preparing food for later that day and an event the next morning and had an all too familiar feeling wash over me that I had not felt in a notable amount of time: depression. Depression that is a mix of agitation, despair and a sense of futility. There is also the guilt that accompanies it because it is just so selfish of me to feel sad about the life with which I have been blessed. 


** (I believe depression is such a complex topic. It is experienced by so many people yet so individual at the same time. I know that what I have and do experience does not compare to the ways others suffer with it, rending them unable to even function. Nevertheless, I want to share vulnerably here as I know how much it has encouraged my own heart and even helped me to function better when I have read and listened to others share their experience.)

I have learned on these days to stay as quiet as I can, speak as little and as softly as I can muster to squelch the churning agitation that rages inside my heart and mind. I know I need to do the right thing when I don't feel the right thing. I can say that because I have experienced bouts of depression (if I am even allowed to call what I experience depression) frequently enough and long enough to be able to identify it quickly and know what game plan needs to be employed. I put one foot in front of the other, and I know it will eventually lead me to the end of the day when I will be granted the merciful gift of sleep from which I will wake up to new mercies the next morning. 

On this day, I reached out to my husband and asked for prayer. He called to suggest a solution by which I would be able to pull away from the kids for the rest of the day, and the kids would responsibly be "in charge." I was agreeable desperate, and the kids were thrilled at the prospect. Terms were established, and once lunch was undertaken, I retired to my room to write, read and rest, thanking Jesus for an unexpected break, praying the plan would miraculously work.

The first thing I did after cozying up under my blanket was to look up Isaiah 40, a long time favorite passage of scripture of mine and one that God gently brought to mind when that mid morning wave of sadness and despair washed over me.

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.


He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.


To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.


Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God”?


28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.


The weight of responsibility in raising and homeschooling three children, caring for chronic medical needs, managing our home, property, and other possessions let alone investing in and growing stronger all the rich relationships God has so blessed us with feels like it may crush me at times. a lot of times.

But, I have to say that my whirring thoughts and fast paced heart is first quieted; it is hushed and then stirred up again with fresh awe, wonder and worship when I think upon God. It really is not any more complicated than that. I think on God. I think about all HE is responsible for, all HE promises to sustain, all He not just manages but promises to work together for good (Romans 8:28). And, THEN, then, Isaiah tells me He does NOT grow tired or weary?! Whaaa?


I am of German/Irish descent. I was 'bred' to work hard and long and like it! I am surrounded by what I have heard is now being referred to as "try hards," what I always called, "over achievers." I once identified with these labels. Now? Not so much. Kids have leveled me. 

But, GOD is the ultimate over achiever. He finishes what He begins, and He does it with excellence. He has never experienced burn out or despair. All He does is with purpose and precision; nothing is futile or wasted. He never grows tired or weary. 

I pray these truths will surmount any waves of despair, sadness, or agitation you or I will face and carry us to a place of rest. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Full but Blessed Days

My days are ridiculously full. I come to the end of one and forget what I did at the beginning. My gas tank empties faster than it once did, and I am becoming an expert at meals on the go.  Dates with my hubby are scheduled because if it is not on the calendar, it simply will not happen.  I am surprised I haven't scheduled going to the bathroom each day.  (My husband would probably say I should given how much time I spend there ;) )

I miss my girlfriends--leisurely talks over coffee or walks with our toddlers. (YES, there is a perk to having toddlers--you can still strap them into a stroller and go. I know all you moms of toddlers are wondering if there are any perks to this phase of motherhood you're in. So, there you go. That's one. You're welcome.)

Relationship happens in the transition from one event to another while waiting for dance practice to end or Lego League to begin.  Sometiems that only amounts to making a cognitive note that my friend is still alive. And, just knowing that another overscheduled and underpaid mom has made it another day has to be enough to buoy me onto the next.

But I am living in the blessed days. I know that when I drop my kids off for speech club, enjoy a rare ten minutes ALONE in the car on my way home....and miss them. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

God's Story in My Story

My name is Briana.
It means "strong."
I am anything but.

This is my story which is really God's story where He shows His strength in my weakness, His faithfulness in my faithlessness, His love to an unlovely sinner.

I grew up in a home where my parents were believers in Jesus, took my three siblings and me to church and sent us to a private, Christian school where I received a solid education, both academically and of the Scriptures.  While not all that was taught lined up with what I "caught" growing up in these contexts, I am  inexpressibly grateful for the foundations that were laid in my heart and mind in that first decade of my life.

At five years old, it was clear that unless I prayed the sinner's prayer, I would go to hell, and hell was the worst place imaginable.  So, I prayed with my dad in our basement.

Three years later, around age eight, my "get-out-of-hell-free" card was not enough to quiet my conscience that was so easily bothered by any wrong doing.  God gave me the gift of a tender and impressionable heart--one that longed to please Him and others.

By the time I reached fifth grade, I was sure of my salvation and that I was a pretty good kid, too.  I was a good student, helpful at home and had lots of Christian friends.  I thought I understood God and how this Christian thing worked.

And then my world fell a part, piece by piece. The God I thought I knew brought about one devastating blow after another.

The church my parents helped begin experienced a split, from what I later learned was due in part to the pastor's infidelity.  My parents began to attend two different churches for a season, disagreeing on what was best for our family.

My dad eventually joined my mom at an Evangelical Free Church, and he was shortly thereafter diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Two years later, after experimental surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and a year of a relatively healthy life, my dad succumbed to the cancer and died just two months after his 40th birthday.
 I was twelve.

Within a year of my dad's death, my mom was remarried to a man, Galen, who lost his spouse to a hit-and-run while walking along a country road with a family friend.  Galen had three boys of his own who all became my step brothers.

By the time I turned fourteen, loss and heartache hung over me like a dark cloud.
I became verbally combative with my parents, and a fight for control manifested itself through an eating disorder by the time I turned fifteen. And though turmoil stormed within my heart and thoughts about what God had chosen for me and my family, outwardly I continued to profess a strong conviction in a God who loves and died and lives for any and all to know Him and be spared from His wrath, should they believe in Jesus and surrender to His Lordship. I see this now as God's strong grace at work in my life despite my weak faith.

After high school, God's Providence led me to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) where I studied Sociology and Religious Studies. The four years I spent as an undergraduate profoundly challenged my faith.  There were numerous moments I considered bagging Christianity altogether and declaring myself a spiritual agnostic but for the words written in John 6:68, spoken by Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Once again, God's faithfulness to keep me and cause me to remain His was displayed in my life.

Within a year of graduating from college, I moved forward into what I believed was God's call on my life to full-time Christian ministry through Campus Crusade for Christ, a ministry God used significantly in my life as a college student.

I was initially assigned to Towson University where God filled my heart with a great sense of mission and passion for the lost and the discipleship of believers.  Though I loved ministry, I continued to struggle with God's goodness to me.  Verses like Psalm 84, "No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly," seemed to mock me when I considered some of the events of my life. What I did not want, I received; what I wanted, I did not receive.  When alone in bed at night, I would cry myself to sleep.  At times I thought about ending my life.  Though I loved the Lord of Life and Father of Light, I entertained dark thoughts of death.

With my faith so dim, His faithfulness shone forth all the more brightly as I continued to wobbly entrust my circumstances to His wise and loving Hands.

Fast forward to 2002, Lawrence and I were married,  and two years later in 2004, had our first children (twin boys).  .Marriage was not as delightful as I had hoped and more difficult than I had imagined.  Motherhood was doubly so!

Though I love my boys to the moon and back now, it was not "love at first sight" when they were born. An emergency C-section, a sucker punch diagnosis of Sturge Weber Syndrome for Judah (our firstborn of the twins), and persistently painful and problematic nursing for five and a half months left me once again with fists in the air wondering where the goodness of God was to be found in my life's circumstances.

But, God had been at work in my life.  Just as the steady current of a stream washes over rough rocks smoothing out their surfaces, making its impact over a long period of time, so the steady washing of my mind with God's truth over several decades of my life led me to a place where I fully and finally believed in my heart that God is good to those He loves, and that most definitely included me.

I only became aware of this grace, however, in the midst of another trial God brought into our lives--the birth of our daughter, Bella.  After a natural labor and delivery of which I had wanted and asked God for, we learned that Bella was not breathing well on her own.  I could not nurse her or have her in my room. She was kept in the special care nursery and eventually transferred to Hopkins where she remained in the NICU, the only near 9 pound baby, for a week! 

 It was an exhausting week, making daily trips back and forth to Hopkins, meeting with doctors and nurses, pumping every three hours to ensure mommy's milk would be available for Bella when she was strong enough to eat, and caring for our 2.5 year old boys in the in-between time.   During that week, even in the midst of a mental fog, it occurred to me that I was not questioning God's goodness to me in light of my circumstances. In stark contrast to how I had always responded through previous trials, I was standing resolute in my heart that somehow God was being good to me, to my daughter, to my family. I believed, and as that belief was being tested, I saw that God had brought about a definitive change in my heart and mind.  

Since that time, I have floundered significantly in my performance as a mom, a wife, daughter, sister and friend. I have come up short time and time again.  Motherhood has not felt like a natural fit. Being a wife to Lawrence has proven to reveal a rather ugly side of me--an angry, bitter, controlling Briana. I have fought with The Lord many times about the roles I play most of my days as wife and mom because those roles have forced me to come face to face with my depravity, my inability to be godly and some days to just even be nice.

My failing performance, however, has best positioned me to see and fully hide myself in God's flawless performance and unfailing love. And, while there remains a bit of a constant wrestling match between me and God over what He asks of me, there is no longer the constant doubting Him about why He calls me to it; I know it is for my good. 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Perfect Master of Our Less Than Perfect Marriage

We are not your Hallmark couple
Though we both love the Hallowed One who made us a couple

We have not been a safe place for each other
But we know and love and run to the One who is an inpenetrable Refuge.

We are not each other's best friends
Yet we have a friend Who sticks closer than a brother.

We have wounded and wronged each other more times than we can count.
Even so, our souls have been bought by the One who was wounded for us and Who will one day make all wrongs, right.

We have grown tired and weary in our striving for peace
Yet our lives are sustained by the Prince of Peace whose understanding none can fathom!

We have scratched and clawed our way to 12+ years of wavering faithfulness and devotion to one another
But the strong arms of God's unfailing love have held us and carried us to today.

We have said so many hurtful, hateful things, condemned and criticized
Though we stand no longer condemned by the One whose judgment alone counts.
We are loved and accepted by Him who speaks only words of affirmation and love over us.

Our marriage is to be a reflection of Christ's love for His bride and the church's reciprocal love and yieldedness to Jesus
Instead we have reflected much lesser, base values of this world.
It has reflected our often wandering hearts that crave delights that cannot satisfy.

There is: who we are, what we see and have experienced in trying to love one another
Then there is: WHOSE we are and what we have not YET seen but will one day---

I have been an imperfect bride.
You have been a less than loving lover.
But the Lover of our souls is perfect.
His love has never failed us.

We are together His bride--cleansed, whole, healed, and eternally loved.

Together, we are still becoming all Jesus fought for us to be.

Today, again, I choose to stand with your hand in mine,
Your heart intertwined with mine
Our gaze on Him, our perfect Savior
                              our perfect Lord
                              our perfect God
Awaiting the day He makes us what He's claimed us to be:
His perfect bride.