Untangle My Chest

I wake to a new day, sleep still lingering in my eyes. As my body stirs, so does my mind, doing a mental scan of my thoughts and emotions. I notice, again, the weight in my chest, gaining strength. It’s been the pattern for weeks, my constant companion in my waking hours. Frustration settles, as I prepare to battle through another day weighed down.

This invisible heavy hand has a hold of my heart, presses down, keeps joy from rising, from excitement growing.

I’m a tangled metal knot with no idea how to lift the oppression. It’s debilitating—how does it dissipate?

I share this with Eric as I brew the coffee, kettle boiling, beans ground into powder for my pour over. He takes me face in his hands and leans me in close, nuzzles my nose.

“It’s like a tangled fishing line,” he explains, the man familiar among open water. “There can be many knots—big ones that take a lot of line, small, tight ones that seem almost impossible to sort. But you work them out, massage the line. It takes time, and you have to be patient, but eventually the knots loosen and come undone, and you’ve got a full, clean line again. Sometimes you have to clip, sometimes you lose a hook, but eventually it works out, if you take the time and care.”

I stare into his blue eyes, still sleepy in their own right, but true and focused, soft. His next words are almost a whisper. “That’s what God’s doing with you. You are uniquely made and it’s beautiful. Something’s gotten tangled inside, and He’s sorting it out with His own hands, helping you untangle.”

I hold to his words, wondering. That’s a new picture I’ve never drawn before. The tender process of becoming undone to be pieced together. The strong and nimble fingers of my Lord, massaging out the clump of knots crimping my life flow. Bending close, breath on my face as He studies what has curled to choke me inside, maneuvers each strand to slip free.

It’s in this intimacy where I find my God Immanuel, the One who wants to be with me. If I lean in, allow Him His work, I find His presence, find healing strength in Him.

His Light, A Loosening

In obedience to the Lord, you may find yourself in the darkness, but do not panic, for He will bring you the light you need at just the right time.
-Warren Wiersbe, Be Comforted

I struggle with where I am, fight with a tightness in my chest, a veil over my heart. This dim light of a season of fatigue, head fog, and anxiety stretches on, longer than I ever would have imagined. This is not something of my choosing, but God knows this. He knows the inside of my heart, the private corners I don’t even like to share with myself. He sees my scared heart, my fears that force their way into my head, the patterns of thinking I can’t seem to stop.

But there is hope. He has guaranteed it. And I am an active participant in this stretching, this suffering. These growing pains result in my good, even in the middle of this process. Even when there’s no timeframe that shows the end. But it will not last forever. He is providing for me right here, right now. Holding on to me when I have no strength to cling on my own.

I lift my heart, my mind, to the sky that is a settling blue today. It’s been so gray for so long, low-hanging clouds dampening the view.

 

For with You is the fountain of life;
in Your light we see light.
-Psalm 36:9

Your light, the glow that brings illumination in the darkness. You have led me into this darkness, the bleak caverns that cover my sight, but You have also given me Yourself, a guiding light that leads me out into the life You have in store, one that results in my good and Your glory.

Every day, I have a choice. To curl up and feebly live through the day, or fight for the faith I know is there despite what I cannot see. Faith becomes sight, and the sliver of light He gives today will grow brighter tomorrow. It’s the mindset of more, more trust, more faith, more of Him making a way. With the God of the universe beside me, what can I truly fear?

Today I am choosing to hold to the light, to stay my eyes on a blue sky. God is faithful. The dark does not last. I open to that tightness in my chest, acknowledge my fear, my disappointment, and I give grace to myself that I have not allowed in a long time. Grace grows to acceptance, a release of burdens I was never meant to bear.

Believe His presence is the fountain of sustaining waters springing forth in my soul. Believe His light is strong enough to penetrate the blackest night.

When I don’t understand, I choose to obey anyway. At just the right time, His light breaks through and goodness will once again flood my soul. Joy will come in the morning. Sorrow gives way to singing. In my weakness, His strength becomes my lifeline. He brings His light, right on time. I take hold to this comfort and let my chest expand a little more, allow a loosening, release.

Heart on Display

I am still confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the LORD

in the land of the living.

-Psalm 27:13

 

Why can I not open up to God with the deep, close things of my heart? I know I want to, but I hold Him at arm’s length at times, keeping my fears and hurts well hidden. There is a link between hoping and waiting. Hope involves groaning, longing. And those longings are stretched and laid bare in the waiting; I am helpless to cover up and hide them. As I wait, I hold open my heart, into those deep places where I want to find comfort and healing and answered prayers.

How much longer can I keep my heart on display? How much longer can I believe that God will make a way, that He will respond and show me His goodness here in the land of the living?

What does His goodness look like?

I turn on a podcast my friend Molly suggested I listened to. Molly, in all her counselor wisdom, points me to the sharpness in my spirit and gives words to the pain.

Hope is letting yourself want.  -Adam Young “Why Your Story Makes It Hard To Hope” podcast episode

Does it make sense to hope? Do I let myself want? Do I use my guttural cries to make myself expectant? Believe? I don’t think so. But part of me desperately wants to, so I keep listening.

In Psalm 27:13–it is before I die, in this life, God will hear my cry and give me what I long for.  -Adam Young

Life within the life. But what about my desires for my life versus God’s? Could they ever match up?

Adam continues to present truths and my ears sharpen to the list.

Living in hope requires three things to happen at the same time:

  1. Bringing our specific longings and desires to God
  2. Expecting God to meet those desires
  3. Wrestling with how He can be a good Father when He hasn’t met the desire yet

 

When disappointments pile up, it creates questions about God, doubts, anger, and resentment. When repeated disappointments make longing for something painful, the tendency is to kill the desire. 

He’s speaking right to me. Yup. I’ve tried to deaden my desire. Over and over.

His next words shake me: But it’s also a deadening of hope in God to do the miraculous.

This hits me sharp, sudden reminder of what I’m inadvertently cutting off. Adam follows up with how when we repeatedly have disappointments, they automatically build to cynicism. Thinking it won’t happen, whatever “it” is.

What can I hope for from God in the here and now? I war against hope–I try to stuff it down or kill it, but somewhere deep down won’t let me. God has put a safety switch in my heart so when I am down at the bottom, my dear, broken heart can realign and grow again.

It begins with barrenness, then buds, and then the bloom.

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

Uninhibited

First, a finger. Grazing the water at the edge of the shore, a dainty swipe of hand beneath the cool, silky water of the lake.

The sun is hot, air heavy with humidity. Above, only blue with no covering of cloud.

Shoes come off, along with the socks, and the soles of my bare skin press into the burning sand. I make my way across the stones, step into the small waves lapping the shore. Submerge my feet, my ankles, wade to cover my shins.

This is not enough. I turn and trudge back up the sand to where my shoes lie next to washed driftwood, where my house key and phone perch on the wood. I strip off my tank top and shorts and place them over my phone, feel the air on my bare belly, my thighs, and walk slow back into the water. Lower myself in the cool currents bobbing through, take my time submerging. And then I freak out for a moment that I am in a lake with fish and they could swim up to me at any moment. My crazy phobia keeps me wary of wandering under the water, and I take a few moments in sun and water and the quiet of waves to coax me into giving in.

With a quick intake of breath, I plunge myself under the surface and am immediately swept up in the light, smooth hands of the water enveloping me into part of itself. I am weightless, rolling with the current, brush against the sand at the bottom.

I look at the wrinkles and ridges of sand under the water that current and wave have formed washing over again and again, untouched for days. But now I am here, ruffling the sand prints and smoothing them as grains dance upturned in the water.

With legs crossed, I let the waves lap against my shoulders, caress my skin. Stare above at the swirl of greenery along the shoreline, trees waving in the breeze, color pops against the clear blue.

I blink away the drops of water running down my face, feel the warmth of the sun begin to dry them. This is freedom, unabashed, joyous freedom at its most natural state. This, I believe, is how God intended us to live, uninhibited.

Bottle This Life

I have been around the world, seen the beauty of cultures and places I’ve never imagined I’d step through their soil. But there is nowhere that I love more than the home water of Lake Michigan seen from different places up the shoreline.

The billow of smoke swelling into clouds from the power company across the pier. Curve of cross atop the arch of steeple jutting into break of blue sky from the overcast Monday. Dance of white caps disappearing beneath swirl of cobalt and cerulean.

My dad sits across from me in our favorite harbor cafe in a wicker chair with a view of the water. Glass of Diet Coke fizzes in the buoy of ice cubes. He shares more of himself with me than he has in years, honesty flashing behind his humor, glimpse of his inner-wiring seldom shown.

I want to bottle this moment, this life.

Heading back to work for an appointment, he brushes my cheek with a kiss and thanks me for being his daughter. I switch to his seat so I can have the view of the harbor. He waves outside the window, walks across the street with his blue jacket straining in the wind. His life is nowhere near where he thought it would be, but still he steps on, courageous. Isn’t that the truth for all of us?

A cup of three quarters drunk cocoa stands open on the table, lid face up with remnants of whipped cream, milk, and chocolate. I sip through the cooled liquid.

Here comes a boat speeding from the open water, waves of white spray spread behind like the train of a wedding gown. I miss the rhythm of the lake, cadence of community. Familiar warmth of nipping cold that bites early spring.

I am fully myself here and I don’t even have to think about it. I just breathe. I just am.

Dad snaps a picture of me on his phone through the glass. I am sitting in his chair, cup outstretched in greeting, grin etched on my lips, while behind him is a layer of parked cars and a sliver of blue from the breakwater. He eyes his phone and smiles at the image, and I keep smiling, watching him capture this blink of time.

How Much The World Changed

**Rain falls soft, mist-like, over the moon, shrouding the deep navy sky. I sit on Eric’s couch, Cider Lane candle lit to fill the apartment with the light scent of caramel, crunched leaves, and harvest moonlight. He is in his office doing work, and I am in the living room working on a freelance blog post. It is enough to be under the same roof together. This begins to feel incredibly good, routines with him. Sunday nights at home. The subtle warmth of falling in love. I allow myself to imagine what it could be like, if this turns into an everyday occurrence.

                How much my world changed in such a short amount of time.**

**I knew, back in that September, that I wanted this everyday occurrence with you for the rest of my life. I wanted that more than anything I’ve ever wanted. You were gently teaching me the boundless outpouring of love, what it meant to give of myself for the sake of another.

Eight months later, I walked to you over the water and we stood face-to-face, promising to give ourselves to each other, in all the struggle and softness this world would offer. This past year has been full of adjustments, surprises, and growing pains that have stretched us both into new people, fused as one. My eyes are open to the world with you, and I find myself pausing in the middle of a moment, grateful to God at the great gift I have been given in loving you.

Thank you for being my husband for one year. It’s a chasm that keeps growing, the years of our love. Here’s to the ones to come that draw us deeper, tighter together. You’re my favorite.

 

Align My Hope

Birds are chirping out my window, somewhere in the split-wide blue sky.

Spring is coming. The light lingers, air holds hope of warmth in weeks to come.

I have learned to wait through the winter, watching for signs of more welcoming weather.

I have learned patience, and also how impatient I really am.

Life should be enough. Breath, beautiful enough.

I have learned to be content. But is it wrong to want more?

Life in full; overflowing, rich in experience.

Is it wrong to want?

He has promised life in abundance; what was given through a life lived true and perfect.

Is it wrong to hold out my hands and ask for more?

Wrong for my soul to speak and ask for revival?

Peace. All I want is peace to know there is goodness within my grasp.

People are strolling the street, ducking in and out of shops, stopping for homemade bread and chocolate.

This town has its charm, albeit reminiscent of the dark mystery of Stepford Wives.

Lord, I want to break free.

Come alive, dig deep beneath surface and find a way to align my hope with what’s in the world.

Piece together my passion, explore what makes me curious. Connect the dots.

Lord, I want to be obedient.

Follow where I am needed, walk the way woven together for me.

Spring is coming. But where are the buds that should shoot forth from my heart?

Is it wrong to ask for more? For my heart to come alive?

Come alive, heart. Please God, find a way.

Recoil

Why do I recoil against life here?

Why am I refusing to let go of my life plans and expectations? Why am I clinging so tightly? Why can I not just open to what is here and embrace what God may have for me? Why am I having such a problem releasing things to God? I stiff-arm.

It feels like my glass box of expectations has been taken out of my hands and cast to the ground and shattered. And I don’t know what to do with it.

Let it go.

Let go.

 

But what’s the point in having plans and hopes and expectations if they don’t come to pass? I feel if I let go of my expectations for my life, then I will be settling for a second-tier life, and I don’t want to settle.

 

“Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”   -Matthew 10:39

 

Why even have hopes and plans in the first place if I have to let them go? And what kind of life will I get in return?

Right now, I have more questions than acceptance.

 

I will not doubt, though all my ships
at sea
come drifting home with broken
masts and sails;
I will believe the Hand that never fails,
From seeming evil works to good for me.
And though I weep because
those sails are tattered,
still will I cry, while my best hopes
lie shattered:
“I trust in Thee.”

-Streams in the Desert

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

Stand Wherever I Am

Tired after just day three back to work and counseling this morning. I’m feeling the effects of the week, up again in the night, thinking and heaving through fears and emotions. But I had a good talk with one of the baristas this afternoon at the cafe, talk of hope and hurt and the will to keep going. This is a reminder to hold fast.

Good. You are good, Papa. In my tiredness, in my fears and suppressed emotions, in my doubts. And You allow rest for restoration.

I’ve been off pace. Show me the right cadence, I briefly pray. And soon enough, I find my response in the vein-like pages of a poetry book I’ve picked up and am combing through.

Sometimes I need
  only to stand
    wherever I am
          to be blessed,

-Mary Oliver, “It Was Early”

 

Poetry is a textbook God uses to teach me beauty and reverence. This alone could be my prayer that reminds me to see and worship where I am, see the small, see the beauty, see the good.

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

Elements of Silence

Today’s the kind of day where the damp goes straight to your bones.

Where the wind laughs wildly and slaps the waves of Lake Michigan and makes them jump ten feet in the air.

Where rain and snow merge amidst the clouds and storm to earth as slick and sharp sleet. Like your skin’s stitched with daggers.

The boards of this house creak and rock like a ship sloshing through the mass of water. Cold filters through the windows as if there are no panes at all.

I keep the lights off and let the muted gray move its way through the halls; pace the room and collect the silence, save the howl.

Howl.

Is that what this noise in me is doing?

Looking for you in all the wrong places and lashes out in frustration when you’re nowhere to be found? When the truth slips my feet from under me and turns me upside down?

Wind rolls sideways, upturning the tree branches. The sky is turning slate quicker than I would have thought. Can I light a candle not in remembrance, but to forget?

Let the elements roll in. Limbs become submerged in ice and face turns to the tide. At breakwater’s edge atop this hill that holds these howls for what has been, I drink the mist into my eyes, translucent fuse of fog and dusk, become a myth, the silence.