dear friend,

You are in the darkest place your soul has ever known, and my heart hurts for you because I’ve been there too. It is beyond lonely. The voice of shame and accusation feels stronger than the voice of truth and love, because you feel more acutely aware than anyone around you, even your dearest loved ones, of how deep your sin and darkness have run, how far they have taken you from the person you thought you were, the person others thought you were. You wonder if your life was a lie, and it feels near impossible to even imagine yourself regaining any resemblance of that life again. You don’t know where to turn. You don’t feel you can fall any further and yet you feel you can never move forward again.

I want to say some magic words, pray some magic prayers, give a hug somehow strong enough to bring your heart back to freedom. I hurt because I cannot, but I hope because there is One who can. Oh my beloved Christ, He never gave up on me, though I ran, though I cursed, though I protested, though I shook my fist and said it was impossible for me to come back to life, I’d gone too far. I thought I understood grace until I didn’t understand grace. I had made such intentional choices against the One who gave up His life for me. Who forgives that? I deserved my emptiness. But He was stronger than the grave of my heart. He ran to me and wept over me and sang tenderly over my sick and broken spirit and loved me back to life. He will do the same for you. Maybe you have never fully understood the grace you preached, but maybe now, now you will, more than before, more than ever. Your life can still count for good, because of Him, because of the Gospel.

Friend, you may not believe me, but I still respect you as much as I ever did. Not because you are the hero you felt you had to be, but because you are my dear friend, because you are a child of God, that’s all, that’s enough. Please don’t walk away from the ones who love you. We won’t leave you, we won’t shame you in our words or our thoughts, we won’t. Please just let us love you.

I am not my pregnancy

I confess, I am 100% guilty of doing it myself. When I see other pregnant friends, my mouth says hi, but my eyes automatically drop to their belly. The first, and at times only, thing I usually ask about is related in some way to their pregnancy. Being now on the receiving end of this, I want to say sometimes, “I am really excited about this and think about this a whole lot. But I am not my pregnancy. There are other things going on in my life, heart and mind that I’d love to talk about too.” When I see moms with their very young children, I’m guilty again as charged. I say hi to the mom but my attention automatically goes to the little person in mom’s arms, and that’s what we talk about. I forget that the mom was her own person before this little critter took over her world.

I do this to my patients and their parents without realizing it. I see the patient, and see the vital signs. I see the tubes and the medication lines attached, and I form a list of tasks in my mind to define who this patient will be to me today. A busy patient. An easy patient. A high maintenance family. A helpful family. They are who they are in this hospital room until I see the photos and hear the stories that show me a fuller picture of who this patient and this family was before illness struck. A love for bicycles, art, and silly hand-painting projects. An honors student who got in some trouble here and there but was trying to work things out. And then I remember, this child is ill, but this child is not his or her illness.

This morning, I woke up to a busy day ahead at church. I was tired on many levels. I had just worked two busy 12-hour nursing shifts the previous two days. I said to the husband, “Sometimes it’s hard to be both a nurse and a pastor’s wife.” And then my Father in Heaven reminded me, “Well, good, because that’s not who you are today. Don’t be a nurse. Don’t be the pastor’s wife. You are a child of God. You are a friend to those in your church community, and they are friends to you. So just be who you are today because that’s what you need the freedom to be.”

Today, I kept conversations about my pregnancy to a minimum. I tried hard not to look at my church community through the lens of a concerned pastor’s wife, but just as one who was simply part of the community, just being me, being there. I know the roles are necessary sometimes. But today, it wasn’t about the roles, and that made today a really good day.

your secret is safe with me

I am all at once a wonderful and a terrible secret-keeper. If others tell me of their own deeply private and personal matters, I can carry those things with me to the grave. But of my own private matters, there are really quite few, for better or for worse. I suppose the public offering of this blog’s contents would suggest as much. People tell me at times that they appreciate my raw honesty expressed here. For me, I can’t really think of expressing myself any other way. I would feel too fake, on a much too public scale. And perhaps I’m looking for a certain kind of safety or acceptance; if I put myself out there and my friends are still my friends, then maybe I’ve got a safer place in this world than I sometimes realize.

Christmas has passed, and I thought a lot about Mary, when she learned she was going to bear a son, Jesus, in her very virginal state. She had a secret, and it was big, and it was eventually going to become very, very public. Very scandalous. Very controversial. The implications were huge. Surely her heart ached for support, advice, sympathy. Surely she feared the judgment, the misunderstandings, the unwelcome and unjustified criticism. Where was her safe place, and with whom? Scripture doesn’t actually tell us a lot about what went on in her internal processing of her unexpected pregnancy. All we know is that she “pondered all of these things in her heart,” she sang a song of worship, and she went forward with commitment and indescribable sacrifice in her relationships to her fiancé and her unborn son. God was all at once the Author of scandal in her life, and her very safe place. She rested in the assurance that He knew her, all of her, and she was safe in Him when her secret spilled out and the people around her decided what they wanted to make of it all.

Some secrets are better kept low-key. The media does not need, and dare I say, does not deserve, to uncover and distribute it all. Some secrets are meant to be secret for only a certain amount of time, a right amount of time, and then they are to be shared and celebrated by all. What I’m pondering these days is why secrets can be so hard to keep, and why a safe place can sometimes be so hard to find.

Life on the throne gets complicated

Every time I enter a public restroom, my eyes shoot to the same spot every time, without fail. I look for the number, size, and…well, freshness…of stains on the toilet seat. And then I answer the burning question, “Should I stay or should I go?” Go, as in, evacuate. I mean, go, as in, leave the room. Hmm. That was an awkward intro.

Anyhow, I’ve been in all kinds of, shall we say, unique toileting situations beyond just your classic port-a-potty at your local fair. I’ve been in remote villages in China where you enter a small bathroom stall and see little more than a deep pit available for the relieving of your needs. The pit is deep but not deep enough to not see movement. Oh yes. Movement.  (Externally. I mean… *sigh*  …never mind.) The shiny, subtle movement of hundreds of maggots, deep down in that not-deep-enough pit. And that’s when you just look up, whistle, and try to push your too-close-to-reality-imagination out of your head, and then bolt out of there before the tickling you feel on your legs becomes real.

Then there is the infamous squatty potty. What’s that, you ask? Oh you’re missing out! There is a humorous but rather educational blog post about the squatty potty, complete with bonus side tips about toileting in Asia. Suffice to say, I don’t think I ever really got the hang of this, but some international friends tell me that they find the squatty potty much easier to use and much more sanitary than Western toilets. Some, apparently, have found it so difficult to transition to the Western toilet that they would prefer to climb on top of a Western toilet, somehow manage to balance themselves precariously over the bowl, and take care of business, squatty-potty style. I only know this because I’ve seen footprints on the McDonald’s toilets in Taiwan. I can’t even imagine how that doesn’t eventually involve a very embarrassing call to 9-1-1.  I hope that McDonald’s is well-stocked with toilet seat covers, at the very least, for those with less-than-perfect aim…and all who follow afterwards. (I think squidoo’s advice about keeping your pants at your ankles probably gets thrown out the window here, but who knows… I’m no acrobat.)

And of course, the Japanese bidet. My first (surprise) encounter with this clever contraption was in a charming, traditional Japanese restaurant in Gardena, CA. You know, the type of restaurant that only has the menu handwritten in Japanese on the wall. I don’t know why I thought the instructions for flushing the bidet would be any different. For a relatively simple machine serving relatively simple purposes, there were a whole lot of buttons to choose from. I started to wonder if I was on one of those secret Japanese prank shows. I stood up, and after one tentative round of eeny-meeny-miny-mo, I pushed a button encircled in green and this happened. Oops. I bet that bathroom door needed cleaning anyhow. I left a generous tip that day.

All this to say, well, nothing, really. I intended this post to eventually be about how toilet etiquette is a funny reminder that we live in community, and the awkward quirks we encounter when we enter into shared spaces with one another.

But all those deep thoughts have apparently gone…  yes, I’ll say it.

Down the toilet.