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.

the strength that comes

I hear it and I say it a thousand times a week in one form or another. “I’m tired.” “I need a vacation.” “It’s been so busy.” We are tired people. It seems to be a given, just inevitable. It’s the pace of our society, and it comes with growing responsibilities coupled with the physical changes of getting older.  Gone are the carefree days of being a five year-old whose primary concern was which toy offered the most entertainment at any given time. What a life that was!

I think a lot these days about the weight of our lives. Heavy issues in my family, heavy issues in my patients’ lives, heavy issues in friends’ lives. Sometimes it’s easier not to think about it. And sometimes it’s important to give myself the freedom not to think about it all for awhile. But the reality is that it’s still there and can’t be ignored forever. Not if I want to live fully and discover the redemptive joys and lessons in character and faith that are to be gained from working through even the most painful situations.

After a particularly harrowing day at work, I commented to a coworker, “I choose to be here, right?” At the start of each day, it is still ultimately a desire and voluntary choice of mine to come into work, even when I know that it can be intense and beyond crazy-busy. The ability to choose our burdens, in that respect, is truly a gift. Because sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are outside of our choosing, from which we cannot escape. I watched the family member of one of my patients carry unbelievable burdens and responsibilities on her shoulders after a horrific accident. She was honest about her exhaustion and deep struggle, and yet she carried on with such fortitude, such commitment. She never would have chosen to be in this place, not for herself and not for her family member lying in that hospital bed. They were so tired. A vacation was not on the radar. But there was and there is a strength that comes.

According to Isaiah 30:15, “This is what the Sovereign Lord…says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’”

Some days I have to remind myself that for every legitimate complaint I am tempted to utter (and often do) about how tired I am or how hard things can get, I have ten things I can be thankful for. I really do. I’m not trying to be over-spiritual, unrealistic, or dishonest about what goes on in my heart. There just comes a point where I need to let my complaining grow quiet, and let renewed strength come from a grateful heart. To look less to the shadows and more towards what is lovely and good.

Sometimes, I try to escape burdens through busyness. Clean the house, fill my schedule with activities, watch movies. All good and helpful in the right time and right amount. But it is only in the quiet place of prayer before a loving Savior who Himself bore the burdens of a broken world on His shoulders where I can truly relinquish all the brokenness I feel for myself and others to Him once again. Let my anxious heart look upwards to trust that He is still Emmanuel, God with us.

I do not and should not expect Him to fix everything now, to free me of all trouble for the remainder of my days here on this earth. There are a lot of very uncomfortable uncertainties for my life, my loved ones, and for what I see in my patients, that I am learning to live with, and it is hard. But there is too much left for me to learn about resting in His presence, trusting Him more, longing for heaven, and responding to hard situations with better character, for Him to give me less than what I need to grow. Simon Rodia constructed a beautiful testament to what beauty can be brought out of brokenness when he built the Watts Towers, and I am thankful for his reminder.

So I am learning slowly that strength does not ultimately come from venting all my complaints, escaping all burdens, or having all the answers to all my questions.  Let strength come, rather, from the quietness of knowing His hand is over all things, and trusting that His hand is faithful, loving, and good. For my home is with Him now in the midst of a broken world, and my future home will be with Him when the brokenness is no more.