When you find your voice again

Perhaps it is a silent presence, a type of mindfulness that can speak as loud as a mountaintop yodel in a life-changing moment.  Or maybe you must shout it out, screeching through a resistant case of laryngitis just what is on your mind.  Then there are those measured words spoken through gritted teeth; oooooh, I hated when my mother uttered those when I was a child!  A crazy person makes sense only to his or herself when the disemboweled utterance emerges from the trouble soul within.  And the most agregious is the spine-tingling barbs of an angry person that can cut to the heart every time.  Sure wish I had more of the first one and less of the others in my history!

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.  (Proverbs 15:1)

Yes indeed.

The seizure attacks came quickly this evening as soon as my face hit the head of the bed, elevated with folded blankets to promote sinus drainage and ease the chest compression of a recent infection.  My left arm was tucked along my left side with my head turned to the right as I lain partially face-down.  This position causes less neck and shoulder pain so it is often my go-to position when I sense the episode ramping up.  The head-banging and shoulder trauma are minimized but the wrenching of my neck is nasty.  Oh well, that’s what the chiropractor is for, right?  Sigh.

Eventually I screeched out some “help me Lord” utterances with what was left of my voice box today.  That came whilst straining to cry out to my Jesus with an acute illness on top of the mysterious seizure-like tics that plague me every morning, evening, and after exposure to noxious stimuli.  I can’t even cry right!  Then things got incredibly darker.  In defense of my sanity I won’t go into details here so let’s just say that frightful images passed through my mind.  Then in my mind’s eye I could see the images on my arms.  Just then I noticed that Steve was stooping over the side of the bed beside me in the dark.  Holy crap!  His sudden appearance in the dark scared me further.  My body writhed with seizures, now lying on my right side with Steve behind me.  My arms flailed in the air, my legs flapped together then apart, and the screeching sound of my hoarse voice screaming holy terror would exceed any scene I’ve viewed from a psycho thriller for sure.  But this was not a movie.  This was ME!

A few decades ago some really bad things happened to me when I was a kid.  I spent about 12 years as a young adult in many kinds of therapy, therapy groups, 12-step recovery groups (Al Anon Adult Children of Alcoholics), faith-based and 12-step weekend retreats, and reading tons of self-help books.  True healing came when I got saved and the person of Jesus Christ showed me his love, care for me, and plan for my life if I would follow His lead.  He was restoring the years the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:25) when I met my intended beloved and married Steve.  I felt happy and free at last.  Four years later I got very sick with viral hepatitis, Lyme disease, and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (related to mold).  I haven’t been able to work in two years largely due to the seizure attack episodes multiple times per day.  They are heartbreaking for both of us in addition to many other folks who have witnessed them too.

Over and over again I have searched for meaning, a purpose for this extended illness.  The incredible expenses of remediating our home for mold in early 2013 surely tested our marriage for sure.  We were living in a hotel while navigating a myriad of details and tough decisions as Steve travelled between work, home, and the hotel; his daughter chose to continue living in the house and help us out during the entire process.  Eventually our dog joined us in the hotel.  Eventually we completed the remediation, opted not to sell our house, and moved back home.  However, the seizure attacks never stopped!  By summer of 2013 they increased to up to 4 hours per day!  No medical professional or online research has found an answer yet.  Somehow Steve and I grew closer through it all as our hearts were breaking; the pain and suffering has been great.

Recently the Lord did show me a few tasks that needed to be completed in our marriage.  The love between Steve and I over these past 2 1/2 years has become strengthened, deepened because of this difficult journey.  We have now turned our residence into a “safe home” which restricts visitors or the conditions under which others may enter our home.  This helps prevent exposures for me that could cause a negative reaction (aka seizures!).  I love that my beloved is helping to protect me in this way so that I can get well.  I love that he has been faithful to the Lord and to me through this entire journey.  Others are watching us and I understand that we are doing some things right!  My own restoration and healing from the past may have provided a foundation for the important growth in me that has happened of late.  I am grateful to be able to recognize the good that is here along with the challenges.  There is always good along with the challenges if we look closely enough . . .

Back to the scene in the bedroom.  I asked Steve to move from where he was stooped behind me to the other side of the bed where he would be in front of me.  The uncontrollable hell that was ravaging my weakened frame was frightening enough not to have a sense that someone, even someone I dearly loved, was lingering over me from behind.  Steve knows all too well that if he touches me during an episode it can magnify the symptoms significantly.  I just couldn’t risk a casual brush of a hand; my distress was already unbearable.  Then the breakthrough began to happen.  Speaking up despite the hoarseness of my voice rose up some inner strength I had never sensed before.  I had to ride out the frightening images and thrashing about, my estimation of what weeping and gnashing of teeth might be like in a Biblical description of hell.  Tears came.  Silence followed.  I was able to ask for what I really needed when scared.

Soon my gracious and godly husband was gently sitting beside me.  I’m not sure if he was more horrified or moved to compassion!  We processed the scene.  His eyes held mind for a long time in the darkness before I was able to reach out and touch his arm.  Soon he was able to reach out with comforting touch for me as well.  Somehow we knew that my intolerance to intimate touch for the past 6 weeks was finally broken.  I was able to lie in the arms of my beloved once again.

My writing this story includes a great deal of literary and intellectual license.  I mean that I think I might know what is going on, the purpose and meaning in some of this suffering, but there is only one person who actually knows the truth:  my Heavenly Father.  I am glad that I found my voice in the darkness this evening.  I am glad that I survived a wretched scene without too much damage or lingering baggage.  I am grateful to have reconnected with Steve and that he could look beyond the ugliness to the beauty imbedded in this crazy journey together.  I trust that the Lord will go before us in the next scene and lead us in His way everlasting for His purpose and glory.  Lord willing it won’t be so bad next time.

Thank you, Jesus, for your redeeming grace.  You make all the difference in the world for me, tonight and always.  Thank you for your enduring mercy, giving me have the strength to do that to which you have called me (Philippians 4:13).  Be my voice in the darkness and in the light.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

A Bridge Still has Value

Recently a friend challenged me on my reading of a popular devotional by Sarah Young, Jesus Calling (2004, Thomas Nelson Inc.)  Since I have referenced at least two of her daily devotions in this blog, I thought I should discuss the book here.  Here is my reply:

Jesus Calling

I re-read the Introduction to Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling plus a few devotionals, listened to Warren Smith’s presentation last year on You Tube about the book (July 24, 2013), and checked out Hank Haanagraf’s remarks from one of his Bible Answer Man broadcasts (November 16, 2012).  I see valid criticisms.  Sarah Young fails to put a clear focus on the sovereignty of God separate from us; by speaking in the first person she blurs the line.  Missing is mention of a clear path to salvation (and the gifts of eternal life in addition to true peace, love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control) that comes only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  She tends to bring God along with her instead of placing God as head of the body of Christ; this is often the sign of a carnal Christian or new believer.  The book also uses metaphors and popular analogies that are not necessarily Biblical to bring the reader into the perspective of how God might view our daily lives.  Her focus on these types of experiences can be problematic for many reasons including misleading a person who tends to be led by emotion instead of the immutable truth of the Word of God.  And lastly, the book does nothing to point a seeker to the Bible, a healthy well-balanced Christian church, fellowship with other believers, or educate him or her on the basic tenants of Christian faith.
If Jesus Calling were a Bible commentary, it would fail.  If Jesus Calling was intended as a tool for evangelism, it would fail.  If Jesus Calling was designed to be used by apologists to defend the faith, they would lose the debate.  While she quotes relevant verses with each devotional, her applications might not be universal to everyone (and Warren Smith knocks down many of them).  Perhaps she could be more accurate.  Perhaps she was taking a little extra literary license to illustrate the softer themes of life represented with verses that are more easily understood?
I am sad that a warm and friendly book that greases the seeker’s heart with a beginning understanding of the nature of God cannot also be more direct about essentials of the Christian faith too.  Perhaps a Max Lucado book would do better?  He uses poetry and prose with loving imagery to reach the broken hearted as well.  Maybe at some level both authors are similar?  You could say that their feel-good books distract a person from delving into the Bible yet they could also give another person a place to go when the Bible is just too intimidating.  A scholarly book (i.e. the Bible or a commentary) and a scathing review by a New Age fear-monger such as Warren Smith, will not comfort the heart of a person in crisis!
Sarah Young’s book could use some other improvements.  I don’t know why her testimony in the beginning does not include a salvation story per se.  Does this mean that she is not saved?  We just don’t know.  Again it is often literary license that an author uses more general terms of faith so as not to scare off wounded seekers that really need Him!  Jesus Calling may still be useful as an introduction to a more personal God for a lost soul who may have been hurt by religion or a skewed view of who He really is.  Seeing how God really does understand, cares about the details of one’s daily life, and is ever near is clear on these pages.  Reading this could help old wounds to heal.  Women often need this most.  Their minds will still need truth so the seeker should not end his or her search with Jesus Calling, however.  The book should have ended with an invitation to a closer relationship with God through His son, Jesus Christ and encourage the reader in his or her next steps as noted in my first paragraph.  It does not.
Is it New Agey?  The fact that Sarah does not go deeper into essential matters of Christian doctrine could make it look like just another feel good book about a generic God.  One might begin to pick apart themes in the devotionals and say that the God in Jesus Calling is not the God of the Bible.  And if the God in the book is not the God of the Bible then it must be about Satan or some New Age alternative that is neither one.  So the next step could be to claim that Jesus Calling is a New Age book because of this and because of its use of terms reflective of popular culture, the New Age movement.  Yes all of this could be true and indirectly move a seeker away from the One true God that he or she had hoped to find in an empty book.  Or maybe not.  I have more faith in the Lord’s plan for those who earnestly seek after Him.  He calls His own.  Her or she will find Him in a babbling brook if that is His will!
Many would criticize my own bridge to faith in Christ that was built through the 12 steps of Al Anon Adult Children of Alcoholics.  The daily devotional, One Day at a Time, is quite vanilla.  The God of the 12 Steps is generic albeit consistent with the basic tenants of a Christian faith from the Bible.  Tis sad that many stop at “recovery” and faith in a Higher Power in these meetings and never find the God of the Bible.  But the Lord had a plan for me from that feel-good experience and used those 9 years for His glory.  I would have never approached the throne of grace had I not healed from so much while sitting around the tables, held in the basement of many churches and not in the sanctuary.
I make two references to Jesus Calling in my eBook, Hope Beyond Lyme:  The First Year.  In the first I quote a nice encouragement Sarah Young gives about:  1) many of us seeing only a part or the “tip of the iceberg” when faced with confusing situations and 2) our needing to trust God for that which we cannot see or comprehend:  mysteries.  The second time I quote the book I name both Mrs. Young’s devotional along with a secular book of comedy as books with some wisdom but that both are second to the Bible.  I wonder if my friend misunderstood me:  Jesus Calling is not my second favorite book!   I read Jesus Calling over these past 2 years when I was in crisis every day and struggled to hold a heavy Bible let alone concentrate on it.  Because it comforted me I included it when writing the eBook.  I read my Bible most days anyways, of course!  The centrality of the Bible for me and for the eBook should be clear by the over twenty passages of scripture quoted and referenced.
No book is a replacement for the truth, hope, and eternal significance of the Holy Bible.  Today I am grateful to have a Bible App on my smart phone that I can easily hold in the palm of my hand in bed during trying times.  The Lord has opened my mind to more of His Word and the ability to concentrate on it too.  I am grateful for a temporary tool, a small devotional book, that the Lord used to comfort my heart until I could read His Word again.  I pray for spiritual armor to protect me and wisdom to discern any unsound doctrine that would harm my relationship to my King, my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I also pray that the millions of readers of Jesus Calling would continue to seek the Lord and find Him in the person of Jesus Christ alone.  Thank you Lord for my friend’s willingness to dialogue on this important topic.  May it all be for Your glory, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.