faith & hope & february

Most of you who read this blog (or at least the ones who do with any regularity) know that in September of my junior year of high school my mom had a seizure in my kitchen and was diagnosed with a tumor that, while benign, had to be surgically removed in November of that year. Nearly as many of you know that surgery wasn’t the immediate solution we’d all misunderstood it to be, and know that it wasn’t until February of my senior year that my mom had been seizure-free for long enough to resume things like driving and climbing ladders.

(If your mom is going to have seizures and not be allowed on ladders, get rid of vaulted ceilings, because cleaning those celing fans will become your job…)

The reason that I know that Mom was cleared to drive in February of 2014 is because that was when the two of us travelled to Texas so that I could tour colleges and audition for theatre programs.

It was a great trip, and it was great that I didn’t have to do all of the driving myself, because I was a nervous wreck. Like, I wouldn’t have a voice to order with when we’d stop to get food. I may have offended my grandparents, because I was much less like myself and much more like a mouse. I shut down when I’m overwhelmed.

We actually ended up at HSU (where I’ve ended up for the past two and a half years) twice: once to audition, and then once again because the theatre director invited us back to see the show that was opening the next weekend.

Both weekends that we stayed with my always-called-her-an-Aunt-even-though-she-isn’t who’s been friends with my mom since they roomed together in college a bamillion years ago. So I don’t know which weekend it was. But whenever it was, Jen arranged for a group/family/something to come pray healing over my mom, because although she was no longer having full-scale seizures, the surgery after-affects still often affected her vision and made her dizzy.

Let me just say that I didn’t grow up exposed to any kind of healing prayers ministry.

I’d read about it in books, with missionaries. That was cool. God does some pretty cool things for missionaries, even bigger than the God-sized works I’d seen over the past year and a half in my family’s life. But I’d never really experienced it in my life.

And we had two prayer quilts on the couch at home. Ones that people in my church had prayed over and held as they prayed specifically for my family. I liked those. I liked to wrap myself up in them on hard days.

Anyway, those people came over, and chatted for a bit, and then prayed over my mom, and she thanked them, and they talked a bit more, and then they left.

I’m 90% sure that everyone thought I was asleep in the back room the whole time, because I never showed my face, not the whole time, and no one ever called me out on my absence. After all, I generally had the decency to come and greet people when I was awake, and I definitely tended to be involved in prayer. Especially in prayer over someone so dear to me.

But I wasn’t asleep.

I was very much awake.

In hiding.

In tears.

Weary.

Scared.

And so achingly guilty from feeling like a failure for not wholeheartedly believing that God—the One who made the heavens and the earth and me and my mother—couldn’t (or wouldn’t, or something) heal that selfsame mother of mine that he created.

Guilt like that is consuming. You can’t fight it or flee it. It drives you to tears to that sting of salt in a wound that might never heal. It eats away at your chest and your stomach and your heart.

It consumes you and your world and your hope.

For that afternoon, I felt devoid of hope. And I felt isolated from the world, or at least from everyone else at the house, because they still had the hope I’d somehow lost.

I wish I could step into seventeen-year-old Melissa’s world. I wish I could wrap her in my arms in the hug she so needed and whisper fiercely to her that God wasn’t done yet and that someday the health problems really would be a thing of the past. I wish I could brush away the tears of shame and pain from her eyes and remind her that God’s a father who loves his little girl enough to hold her when she’s tired and afraid. I wish I could give her the words to ask for help, or even just lead her to the living room to lean on the faith of community in a moment when she was too worn out to pray.

Instead I’m here. And it’s been three years, and I’ve just a week ago accidentally discovered the scars that that afternoon left on my heart.

Lately God’s been teaching me the lesson on persistent prayer that I somehow didn’t quite learn the first time, and I think that’s why I’ve remembered what I’d forgotten. And as much as I initially didn’t want to deal with that long-buried pain, it’s amazing to now look back at all those days I spent praying and other people spent praying, and the days I joined them and the days I didn’t, and to see the outcome:

God’s long-time “not yet” was just that. It wasn’t a “no.”

There was never a point where God said, “Oh, yep, the statute of limitations has run out on this request. I didn’t get to it in time. Bummer. Guess it’s a definite no-go now.”

God did not heal Mom right away.

Instead He murmured, “I’m not done healing the rest of you yet.”

And then, not all at once but little by little, He healed her in his time.

He said, “Yes.”

I am currently staring down some things in my life that have been “not yets” for so long that I’ve given up hope of them ever changing. And let me just tell you, I did not want a reminder of a time when I felt like a complete failure in my prayer life to come up now as I’m daring to pray for God-sized results.

That afternoon, when a group of strangers took up the plea that I was weary from carrying, and the “yes” that eventually followed have become a tangible example for me of the power of persistent prayer and of the importance of being part of a praying community.

I’m not hiding in the guest room anymore.

– Melissa

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the mask comes off: i’m not strong enough

Recently, I’ve been pretty down in spirit.

During my free time.

During my quiet time.

During worship service at church.

Because I keep running up against an I-keep-failing-at-this wall.

I do not love people in the fearless, relentless way to which I know I am called. And that breaks my heart.

So I get quiet.

Or I cry.

I weep my repentance and swear to do better and deep down am filled with the premonition that I’m going to fail again.

Is this all life is: failure and heartbreak and failure again?

If I try harder, though.

If I really mean what I say, and if I grit my teeth, by golly I can love you with the love of God! This time I’ll do it!

If all it took to do what was right was the heartfelt desire to do so, I would be there. Trust me, I would so be there.

But it’s not just wanting. It’s not just saying something and really meaning it.

Because you know what?

I’m just human.

My human strength isn’t enough to even allow me to keep breathing.

Somebody else does that for me.

If life were up to me, try as I might, my heart would stop beating. The atoms that make up my body would cease to know how to have cohesion. I could not exist by mere force of will power.

I’m not cosmically powerful enough.

But there’s someone who is. Someone who literally spoke the universe into existence. Not coaxed it back into proper working condition, no, He spoke and it became.

I speak and things break.

God spoke and the universe became a thing.

That’s the kind of strength I need to make this ‘loving others’ thing a reality.

The exciting thing is, that strength is offered to me.

The Psalms are full of declarations that ‘The Lord is our strength!’

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1

“Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!” – Psalm 81:1

“My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26

These are awesome promises to claim. And trust me, I do.

But then comes a new day of inadequacy despite my best intentions and I begin to wonder if I’ve not only failed at loving others, but if I’ve also failed to access strength made available to me, and then I spiral down into guilt that leaves me feeling too ashamed to pray at all.

It’s been a tidy, predictable, awful cycle.

The other night at Midnight Worship we were singing a song (that I can’t remember the title to) wherein the chorus refrains, “I want to know Your heart,” and I suddenly lost my voice.

I am fully aware of God’s heart for me where I am.

I know exactly what I am called to.

But I’m not doing it, so am I in rebellion? Maybe sometimes. Am I a failure? I feel like that.

Pour in, pour out.

That’s what I was given as I cried out to my Abba in frustration and shame.

Pour in, pour out.

That might not make much sense to you, but I grew up in Remedy youth group at LBC, and “pour in, pour out” was one of our Core Values. It’s the idea that others have poured into us, we have been loved and taught about God, and from the overflow of that we can love others and pour into their lives.

And I realized as I stood there, surrounded by the voices of my peers earnestly seeking the heart of God, what I’ve forgotten:

I keep trying to pour out of a cup that’s not actually full.

As I have worked to keep my head above water this semester, time with God has fallen to the wayside, my contact with the people who keep me accountable and partner with me in chasing after God has drastically decreased, and I have neglected to get involved with any kind of small group. I attend church, sure, but it’s a megachurch where I can slip in and out without talking to anyone. Which I generally (aka, always) do.

If I’m honest, the reason I’ve made it to October 5, 2015 without totally losing it is running on overflow from summer.

That’s something I can fix. That’s something I will fix, starting this week.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to quit working to love people just because I don’t have me straightened out yet. That’s definitely not my goal or intention.

But I’ve learned that you’ve got to know the true cause of the problem before you can fix it, and I think maybe I’ve at least partially found mine. And that’s exciting! In an I’m-still-broken, healing-takes-time sort of way…

So I’m going to get back to the basics. Back to living life one breath at a time. Back to where God’s strength isn’t something I call on when I think something’s too hard for me, but where God’s strength is the lifeblood of everything I do.

All this to say, this post isn’t about how awful I am. It’s not about how great I am, either. It’s not actually even about my failures or about fixing my problems.

I share this because life is real.

Because I wear a mask, just like you, and I think I’m pretty good at it.

I share this because there is hope.

And I also share this because if you see me, I want you to be able to call me on this. I want you to be able to say, “Hey, Melissa. Whose strength are you operating on today?” and I want to have to honestly answer you even when the honest answer is, “…mine.”

I don’t have a tidy wrap-up for you.

But…let’s value honesty. Let’s value vulnerability, and let’s value absolute dependence on the God who loves us absolutely.

– Melissa
I Need You, I Love You, I Want You by Tenth Avenue North