Hope In the Pit

At one time or another, we’ve all been in the pit.

There are different ways we end up there, but the feelings are the same. Trapped. Helpless. Stuck.

Maybe you allowed your anger to run freely and the words flew out before you could stop them.  You know there is no way to take them back or to undo the wounds you’ve caused.

Maybe you are 15, pregnant and unsure about what the future holds. You were just having fun. You never planned on this happening and now you are scared, alone, and afraid.

Shame runs over, hot and scalding, as you close the website. You know, the one you promised to never go to again. You mean it every time you promise, and yet, in a moment of weakness, you run back to the site and the allure of the pictures. You know you’ll never forget the images you’ve seen there and, to be honest, sometimes you call them up in your mind and feel the excitement all over again. But after the rush of excitement, overwhelming shame takes its place.

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Is there a way out? Is there help for us, deep in the pit? Dare we even ask for help when, by our own choices and actions, we’ve dug the hole we are currently sitting in?

We know God is powerful and He can help us, but will He help us when we are the reason we are in the pit?

If He didn’t help, none of us would have hope. We would stay stuck and helpless forever.

He doesn’t just pick us out of the pit, dust us off, fluff our hair and tell us to get back to life, the way we might do to a child who has skinned their knee.  God loves us too much to ignore the darkness inside of us that led us to the pit in the first place. He pours His love on us as he deals with us though a painful process that involves these steps: Confrontation. Confession. Repentance. Forgiveness. Through this process, He opens our eyes to the darkness inside our hearts, shows us our deep need of Him, and lavishly forgives us.

The life of David offers us an example of how God deals with us in the pit in 1 Samuel 11:2-12:24.

David was described as being a man after God’s own heart, and yet he dug himself into a deep, dark pit during the whole Bathsheba scandal. If you haven’t read it, the short version is that David saw Bathsheba’s beauty, slept with her, and had her husband (one of his own soldiers) killed in battle when she became pregnant. Then he brought her over to the palace to be his wife. The secrecy, deception, betrayal, and abuse of power here is horrendous.

And God saw every move David made.

Did God stop loving David? No. He loved him too much to let him keep these horrible actions hidden. He loved David enough to bring these actions into the light where they could be dealt with, where forgiveness could be given, and David’s relationship with God could be restored. He sent Nathan to confront David. And once David admitted to his wrong, the process continued.

The Psalms that David wrote during this time describe this progression.

In Psalm 38, David writes about the physical effects of his sin.  He is overwhelmed by guilt and calls out to God for help.

Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
    there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
 My guilt has overwhelmed me
    like a burden too heavy to bear.

In Psalm 51, David calls out for God’s forgiveness. He asks to be cleansed and restored. He doesn’t make excuses for his actions. He owns up to them. This is repentance.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.

In Psalm 103, David feels God’s forgiveness, and feels restored to fellowship with God. The whole tone of this Psalm is praise. David knows he has been forgiven.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
 Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
 who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
 who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Just as God loved David too much to let his actions stay hidden, He will also bring our dark deeds into the light in order to get us out of the pit.

Confrontation. Confession. Repentance. Forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not erase the consequences of our actions. There is a sowing and reaping effect in our lives. If we do things that eat holes in our soul, then we will have a soul filled with holes and a distant relationship with God. Thankfully, our story does not end there. There is hope because there is grace. Beautiful, messy grace.

David received this messy grace. God named the consequences David would have to endure. “You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.” As a result of David’s actions, there was tragedy, humiliation, and shame in his family for years to come. Yet there were also blessings in David’s life. Messy grace.

We also have access to this messy grace.

God’s messy grace slides in and around the consequences and fills up the holes in our soul, breathing life in the midst of heartache.

Because of God’s messy grace we take steps to repair broken relationships.

Because of God’s messy grace we rejoice over a new life in spite of the circumstances.

Because of God’s messy grace we recognize our brokenness and seek help.

Because of God’s messy grace, there is hope, and a way out of the pit.

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For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption.” Psalm 130:7

Pearls of Wisdom: The Skinny on Small Talk

I love being from the South.

I love the pace of life here. I love the words people use, and the way our humor combines exaggeration and (a touch of) sarcasm.

Southerners love words. We tend to play around with words and phrases in order to get our point across.  With the right combination, we can sum up an entire story in one phrase.  Or if we need a word that doesn’t exist, we have no problem declaring a new one into existence.

Conversations with Southerners take up time, because we have a formula of sorts that most of us use. And that formula begins with small talk. Now, I know some people despise small talk and see it as a waste of time. But it plays a very important role.  Small talk is approaching a conversation like you would a creek on summer day.  The water seems inviting, but you don’t just go jumping in without checking it out first.

How cold is the water? How fast is the current? And most importantly, are there any snakes around? (Always remember to check for snakes!)

Similarly, small talk allows you to ease into a conversation. It allows you to stick a toe in the water, so to speak, and see if you even want to jump in.

Does the other person want to talk? Do we have time to talk? Is that person safe to talk to? (Always remember to check for snakes!)

If the answer to any of these question is no, we can stay on small talk until the cows come home.

However, if the conversation is moving alone fine and we don’t detect any snakes, we don’t mind going to a deeper subject. Sometimes it takes a while to get good and comfortable, but when we do go deep, treasures are found!

Personally, I am suspicious of people who don’t participate in small talk. They’re the ones who just jump into a conversation with a list of questions right after the hello. That’s like jumping into a freezing cold creek without wading in. It’s just too direct.

For example: You cannot jump in with “Why in the world was Tracie Sue wearing that skanky outfit at the Piggly Wiggly yesterday?” and get a real answer. It just won’t happen. It’s too direct.

However, if you ease into it, here’s what it might sound like:

“Hey!”

“How are you?”

“Tolerable. How are you?”

“Oh fine. How’s your momma and em?”

“They are doing fine. Bobby’s been fishing every morning since the time change.”

“Really? He catch anything?”

“Oh yeah. A good mess of fish! You know the time change has me all tired.”

“Me too. But I like it getting light later in the evening.”

“ Me too. Hey, how is Tracie Sue doing?”

A sympathetic shake of the head. “Bless her heart, she’s had such a hard time with that new baby. He cries all the time and she is just beside herself.”

“I saw her at the Piggly Wiggly yesterday.” One eyebrow is raised for effect.

“Oh my. She was wearing THAT outfit wasn’t she?”

“Yep.” The tone in which you say “Yep”  and breathe out implies the exact nature of said outfit.

“She’s just can’t seem to lose that baby weight. And you know that husband of hers…”

See? Wasn’t that much more fun than just jumping in and splashing around? Since you waded into the conversation all proper like, the information flows freely.

Small talk can also be extremely helpful in parenting. If you suspect your child has done something wrong but aren’t sure of the details, with a little creative small talk, you can get them to come clean. Never, ever give away that you were unclear on the details.

Every Southern Mama has a line to use after confessions to imply that she is omniscient and omnipresent. When I was a kid my Mama often said, “Honey, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, and you can never fool your Mama.”

I’d love to know your thoughts on small talk, or your favorite “Mama quote.”

Ya’ll have a great day!

 

The Writing Life: July Blume and the Sandwich Incident

I sat in the crowded school cafeteria, staring at my partially opened lunch box, trying to figure out my next move.

My face flushed as I remembered making my peanut butter sandwich that morning. My sandwich looked so delicious that I took a bite of it before putting it in my lunch box. It was a perfect bite, with the right balance of creamy peanut butter and homemade plum jelly.

Now I regretted taking that bite. Now I envisioned everyone in the cafeteria pointing and laughing at me when they saw my sandwich.

My mind raced as I quickly took my sandwich out of my lunch box and pretended to take a bite. I chewed air for a reasonable amount of time, and washed down my “bite” with  a drink of milk.

And with the second bite, the sandwich incident was officially over.

Sitting there with my sandwich, I knew with all my soul that no adult in my life would ever understand that five minutes of terror – terror of being pointed out and laughed at, terror of being different.  No adult, that is, except Judy Blume. I knew she hadn’t forgotten what it was like to be a kid.

I knew that because of the way she wrote. She captured my thoughts and feelings into words when I didn’t know how to describe them. Many times I would look up from one of her books and whisper, “How did she know?”

At that point in my life I was convinced that every adult I knew suffered from adult onset amnesia. They had completely forgotten what it was like to be a kid. The adults in my life were loving and supportive and I knew they wanted the best for me. But I felt the chasm between “kid life” and “adult life.”

Through her writing, July Blume convinced me to write about my childhood so that I wouldn’t forget.

So I wrote. I wrote from childhood into the teen years, from college into adulthood.

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I wrote until I’d filled up over 20 journals. I covered pages with whispered dreams, sorrowful mistakes, shouts of joy,  painful regrets, moments of redemption, and thankfully, forgiveness. I wrote about life. My life.

Judy Blume was a bridge from my childhood into my adulthood, connecting the chasm between the stages of my life and helping me to avoid adult onset amnesia as I raise my children.

My kids are fully aware that I was a kid, even though it was in the last century (they say with amazement, as if they are grouping me with dinosaurs). They know about my most embarrassing moment in Junior High when I burped out loud in Mr. Mathis’ Pre-algebra class. They know my childhood victory moments like reaching the top of the tall hill on my bike without stopping, then flying down without touching the brakes.

I want my kids to know that I used to be a shy, awkward kid and I remember how it feels.

And I want my writing to show that as well. Judy Blume’s writing reminds me of the importance of writing for children. I remember the impact her words had on me, and I would be honored to have a similar impact on the children reading my writing. I would love to be a bridge.

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Do you have a story bouncing around, asking to be put on paper? Children today need your story. You might have the words that convince a child to start writing, that lets them know that what they are feeling has meaning, and that writing it down might make a different in the world.

They might even look up from your book and say “How did she know?”

The Chapter I Didn’t Want In my Story

Has the story of your life ever taken an unexpected turn and left you sitting in the dark, wondering what happened?

There are chapters in the story of each of our lives that we didn’t ask for, and if given a choice we would have said “No thank you,” for who in their right mind would say yes to trauma, suffering or disaster?

The chapter I didn’t want in my story is my family’s journey with Epilepsy.

Our journey began on a Saturday afternoon in November, 2006. It had been an ordinary day, filled with caring for Anderson, who was 3, and Maggie who had just turned 1. The colorful leaves and the crisp breeze drifting through my open windows made the walls of our home seem stifling. I bundled everyone up to go outside. It was a slow process. I was very pregnant with Ellen, waddling around getting everyone’s socks and shoes together.  Then Maggie’s seizure hit and suddenly I was in ambulance, sirens blaring, wondering what happened to my normal day.

Maggie continued to have seizures every few months, and we had no idea what was causing them. When Ellen was 18 months old, she began having seizures as well. Another chapter I didn’t want in my story.

My sweet girls in the middle of this unexpected journey.
My sweet girls in the middle of this unexpected journey.

After a million questions, hours of research, and keeping a detailed journal, we figured out that heat, internal or external, was the trigger for their seizures. We also found a medication combination that worked well. Ellen has been seizure free for 4 years, and Maggie has been seizure free for 3 years. They don’t remember ever having seizures. It’s such a twist of irony that the biggest trauma I’ve experienced thus far as a parent is non-existent to my children.

But I’m so glad.I don’t want them controlled by fear. Fear eats away at hope. And at 8 and 9 years old, there is a lot to be hopeful about.

I did not feel hopeful in those early years, filled with uncertainty. The triplets of destruction – anger, fear, and despair – had a hold on me for a while.

Though things have settled, our journey hits me full force at the beginning of each school year when I meet with the girls’ teachers. I hope we never have an episode at school, but if it does happen, I want the adults caring for my girls to be as prepared as possible. And I realize that I may also be preparing them to help another child down the road.

I still have days when I wish we weren’t on this journey. I have days when my mind goes too far into the what ifs. The fight for hope keeps me balanced on those days. The fight for hope keeps my focus on what I CAN do.

My goal through this journey has been to allow my children to have as normal a childhood as possible and still be safe. We have learned to modify our activities. We go to the beach in October instead of the heat of summer. We play outside in spring and fall as much as possible. The girls are aware of their limitations, but I never want them to be defined by their limitations.

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I want to travel this road well. Although they may not remember having seizures, one day my children may be right where I am, raising children who have seizures. I want to be able to offer them hope for their journey.

I don’t understand exactly how, but God has worked through this unwanted chapter in my life. Over the years, He has woven beauty into the sorrow, reaching places in my heart that would have otherwise gone untouched and unchanged.  He has used this journey to build my “fighting for hope” muscles. And I need those muscles to experience joy in the unwanted chapters of my life.

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#thefightforhope

 

The Hope We Were Made For And the Hope We Settle For

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Hope seems abstract, but we use, or refuse to use it, every day.

We study for tests in hopes of making a good grade. We make plans, hopeful that they will take place. We give up on a goal, convinced that we are a hopeless failure.

We involve hope in our lives because we were created by the God of hope. We were wired for hope – His hope – before our world became broken. As a result, our hearts long for things to be whole, the way they were meant to be.

 “Hope is the quiet, sometimes incessant call to dream for the future. The present moment is not enough to satisfy our souls completely. No matter how good or bad, the now leaves us hungering for more. And our insatiable quest for more is the root system of biblical hope.” (The Healing Path)

And though this hope is filled with longing,  it is steady, because it is rooted in the person and character of God.

When we see injustice, when we feel let down in relationships, Biblical hope presents us with two simultaneous truths. It assures us that this is not the way things were meant to be, and reassures us that it is still worth the effort to get as close as possible to the ideal.

“This type of hope enables us to walk bravely into the future, confident things can be better than they are today.” (The Healing Path)

The Reformation Study Bible describes hope in these words: “Hope is certain; it is a ‘sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.’ Hope calls us to be patient. Hope gives us strength and confidence for running the race, fighting the good fight, and enduring the tribulations that continue in this life.”

Can you hear the battle cry resounding out of that definition? Words like strength, confidence, and endurance – tools that we need to fight for hope in this broken world.

If this type of hope gives us this, why would we settle for anything less?

But we do. We settle for a type of hope that fits this description: the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. (dictionary.com) We settle for a cross- your- fingers- and -hope-for-the -best scenario.

This hope hinges on circumstances, and when it fails it drops like lead, dragging us into emotional darkness. This hope is a counterfeit of the hope we were made for. It has similarities, but no lasting value.

“Hope cannot be killed, not ever, but it can be drugged numb and sleepy. Even then it will still function, but in a more material and simplistic manner akin to wishing to win the lottery or anticipating the purchase of a new car.” (The Healing Path)

There is no real, lasting hope without our real and lasting God. He created us to live this adventure called life using His definition of hope. His character is the basis of this hope, so to experience this hope we must know Him. We must know Him based on who He says He is, not based on what we’ve been told about Him or how we’ve defined Him.

We come face to face with Him in His Word. The pages of the Bible are filled with His messages, so that we can know who He is, and who we are in relation to Him.

I realize that the Bible is used by many to act either as a band aid (“Read this verse and get a better attitude”) or a truth stick to bash anyone who has an opposing view. If this has been your experience, dear friend, I am so sorry. God gave us the Bible to tenderly bring our hearts to Him. The Bible is not a weapon to use on each other. It is a weapon to use against darkness, but never to use against those searching to step out of the darkness into His light. In the pages of the Bible we discover that we are deeply loved by God.

In Zephaniah 3:17, God looks at us tenderly, singing songs of joy over us. This verse reminds me of the way we look at our children. When they are born we are overwhelmed with love for them. They have done nothing to deserve that love, and yet we lavish it on them. We look at them in wonder, we sing lullabies over them, and we want the very best for them. Our love for our children is a dim reflection of God’s lavish love for us.

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This is the hope we were made for. Hope that does not waver with circumstances but remains as steady as His love for us. This is hope worth fighting for.