Thursday, December 22, 2005

peace and nothing

At the beginning of December God showed me that I was not operating from a foundation of peace in my life. Yep, you’re right, God, let me readjust that. And so I became more aware of remaining calm instead of getting stressed out, not letting little situations bug me, giving people the benefit of the doubt, keeping a closer check on my emotions when they threatened to go all weird on me, and things were pretty good. We were at relative peace (meditative hum).

Ten days ago I developed a little fever. It was nothing, just get a little rest, take a few Advils, it will be gone in a few days. Six days later I was thrashing around on the bed wondering why someone didn’t invent something beyond beds; because if you are standing up and feel bad…you sit down; if you are sitting down and feel bad, you lie on the bed; if you are lying on the bed and feel bad…there is nowhere else to go to get relief. I was on my bed and had no relief. The prolonged fever was affecting my brain, my dreams, my ability to get a good night’s sleep, my ability to eat anything, and my ability to think of living. I was convinced this was how people died. In my mind I had already willed my plane ticket to Africa to my good friend so that she could go see her family. Things were not looking good.

On day seven (a Sunday) I rallied my strength enough for my husband to pack me into the car and we drove around for an hour before we found a walk-in clinic that was open. I sat in the waiting room (well, a loose resemblance to sitting) for just over an hour-and-a-half before a doctor saw me, told me I had pneumonia, gave me a prescription to knock the pants off that nasty bacteria, and sent me back home. I was ecstatic when my fever broke on Monday morning and felt things were getting much better, even made supper and changed the bedding because it smelled of sickness. On Tuesday I was back in the old bed with new sheets, feeling horrible again, convinced I had not cheated death after all - he had just gone out for a smoke. And then I began to realize that there is only one way to get over pneumonia: the drugs would do their work, but I had to rest totally. No cooking, no cleaning, no laundry, no Christmas preparations, no tidying, no getting out of bed unnecessarily, no exertion of any kind. If I wanted to beat this thing in the quickest way possible, I had to spend a week doing virtually nothing.

I am beginning to realize that I had very little idea of what living from a foundation of peace looks like. There can be peace even when there are tufts of cat fur all over the floor and the bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in almost 2 weeks. There can be peace even when you know your entire family is not going to get its Christmas gifts from you until way after the annual Christmas get-together this year. There can be peace when you miss all your exams for the French course you are taking. There can be peace when you have to miss the church Christmas celebration you helped put together and know that not everything went as smoothly as it could have. There can be peace when the world around you hardly skips a beat as it keeps hurrying by, and in fact, seems to ignore you and the fact that your life has come to a screeching halt. Don’t worry, your friends say, you’ll catch up soon. But I don’t want to catch up. I don’t want to go back to being a person who has to accomplish a certain number of tasks in a day just to feel viable as a human being. I will never become any more valuable and worthwhile as a person than I am right now in my mostly useless, fatigued and mucusy state. And I am at peace with that. Jesus came into this world to bring peace but so few of us actually take hold of it. It has been my greatest gift this year.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Breakthrough

Everyone has them…those disturbing selfish tendencies or annoying impatient attitudes or judgmental prejudices or gripping fears or glaring weaknesses that we just can’t seem to totally get rid of. We wrestle with them off and on, we could in fact have long spurts of freedom from the besetting vices, but when some event triggers that wound, that Achilles heal, that fragile and often unhealthy defence mechanism or mindset or emotional reaction – we realize we are not entirely free of it after all.

Discipline and self-control are good things; they go a long way in helping us lead more stable and consistent lives, and though they can assist us in not giving in to our baser and unhealthy urges and help us in dealing with unpleasant and painful situations, they will never remove the trigger point itself, the hook in the flesh, the agitating sliver, the shrapnel under the skin, the tender spot that just never seems to totally heal. Discipline cannot bring wholeness.

So are we doomed to just “live with” our weaknesses, our failures, our tendencies toward destruction, and hope that our ability to say no, our stamina, grit and determination will keep us from hurting ourselves and others? I don’t think so, yet I have no tried and true method, no 1-2-3 steps to personal freedom that I can share with you. I can only tell you what has happened in my life.

I have a bit of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) which exhibits itself in mostly harmless ways like counting stairs when I climb them, sniffing everything before I put it in my mouth, and remembering exactly how I left things so I can tell if anything has been moved in my absence (I thought at one point I might make a good detective). But when this tendency toward compulsion grabs onto your soul, your identity, your well-being and worth...then you’re in big trouble. This happened in four areas in my life: one related to food, one related to relationships, one related to intimacy, and the other to fear. I spent years praying for God to take these things away from me, worked really hard at developing healthy habits to replace the unhealthy ones, but always with limited success. I know through painful experience that humanity really is powerless to save itself.

I can’t explain how or why, but one by one, over time, these compulsions have disappeared out of my life. One day I woke up and another one just wasn’t there anymore. I did not do anything different that would explain the drastic change from being a slave to being free. I did not seek counselling, I did not ask someone to pray for me, I did not have a “Holy Spirit power encounter,” in fact I kept all these things hidden and private, ashamed of my weakness. All I did was cry out to God day after day after day to help me. And in his time, he did.

Part of the territory that goes with being obsessive is the tendency to seek control and peace of mind through the use of patterns, repetition, and methodology in a desire to bring consistent results and stability. We even tend to pursue our wholeness, our faith, and our relationships this way and that never works. And sadly, we expect God to operate in a certain predictable pattern as well, but the only predictable thing about God is his character. And only those things that originate in the character of God have the power to truly change things. I am learning this day by day and ever grateful for undeserved grace.


One of freedom…matte

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mad

I got mad this week. Unpleasantly mad, uncivilized mad. I could feel it coming and twisting my mind into a mess of unreasonableness and my soul into a heap of disgusting desires to do mean things to people who neglected to conform to my narrow and oh-so-right ways. It was almost like I was standing beside myself and as I stewed about a situation and let myself get more agitated about it, blowing the implications into massive proportions in my mind, I could see the black cloud approach behind me, waft slowly to my side, linger for a bit to see if it was welcome, and as I fed my self-pity for the mountainous wrongs others had so carelessly tossed across my path, I saw my body turn slightly towards the cloud and step into its hungry path. I wasn’t going to let it stay long, just long enough to take a sweet moment of justice, long enough to make someone pay for their mistake by feeling my displeasure, just enough to satisfy the disappointment I felt and to abate the floundering feeling of being out of control. But once engaged, anger is a terrible and difficult thing to disentangle yourself from. You can’t just drop it like a hot potato. It wraps its strong tentacles around the same heart that loves fiercely and claims that fierceness as its slave.

As a child, I had struggles with anger that I thought I had put far behind me, and in reality I have, but somewhere, somehow, through a combination of circumstances and choices, I opened the door marked vindication a crack again, just to see if it felt better than mercy. It did not. It was ugly. I felt horrible. I yelled, “I’m mad and I hate it!” But hating it did not chase it away. The anger was a bitter undigested lump that refused to move through my bowels. Forgiveness seemed a million miles away and a thousand pounds heavy. I knew if I didn’t get rid of it quickly, it would leave a mark that I would have to carry for days. “Help!” I cried out to God. “Get this thing out of me!” And I heard one word float towards me and surround my mind like a halo: Peace. It knocked at my soul. Resentment and forgiveness rushed over to the door and sparred for possession of the door handle. I didn’t want any part of the fight for control which is how this whole thing started in the first place, so I just walked to the centre of my soul, knelt on the floor, and pulled the plug. I let it all go. I took my hands off “I was wronged” and watched it swirl down the drain along with the other black filth. The internal tirade had left the walls around me raw and red and stinging, but the blackness was gone. I went to the door, now unattended, and let peace in – no – I grabbed Peace and gave him a big hug and didn’t let go for a long time.


And I never plan on letting go again.