Two steep ditches I dig for myself

“If you don’t take your sorrows to God, they turn into bitterness. And if you don’t take your joys to God with thanksgiving and praise, they turn into idolatry.”

My brother learned this in one of his classes at Bible school.

But how one is supposed to balance on the narrow path between the ditches of bitterness and idolatry?

Late one night in the thick of my visa process, I was angry with life’s injustices. I curled up in my bed and started thanking God for His blessings. Thanking God seemed to be the spiritual thing to do.

But I didn’t feel thankful. I felt worried and scared and alone.

God saw through my flimsy façade. “Tell me about it,” He said.

“But, God, You have brought me so far already. I should be thanking You. I don’t want to be ungrateful!” Couldn’t He just accept my hollow thanks and be done with it?

Instead, He beckoned me to approach Him with my sorrow, no matter how frivolous or temporary it was. So I did. Would my silly little sorrow have turned to bitterness had I not given it to God?

See, I’m not sure that the path between these two ditches is so narrow after all. I don’t have to balance on a fine line between bitterness and idolatry. It’s not about balancing; it’s about surrendering.

God wants to be the One to hold our joys and our sorrows. The only two ditches are the ones I dig for myself when I don’t allow my Creator into my confidence and determine to face life alone.

What leaving feels like

I leave tomorrow. I’m excited and almost ready. But right now, Spain seems far away. Maybe life as it is now will go on forever: me almost leaving, a surgery here, a new job there, a new baby a state or two or three away.

To not be part of this ever-changing cycle at home is unfathomable. And when I do fathom, I burst into tears. My nostalgia remembers the days, weeks, and maybe even months that used to pass dry-eyed.

The other evening, I stretched out on the carpet with my head next to Clark’s. I stared into his bright face and could not cherish the moment. Neither could I reject the moment to protect my heart. The moment just was and I watched it pass.

Later as my nephews were leaving, Albert got zipped up in his too-big, puffy coat. Soon he will fill up that coat and I will not be here to see him do it.

I made gingerbread cookies. My sister made coffee. We hung out with Christmas music. And at night when I crawled into my own little bed, all I could do was cling to the ghosts of those memories and cry my tears of regret that I hadn’t experienced them more fully. Or sealed off my heart from loving.

And I cried out, “Oh God, why do I have to follow You?” There was no answer. I knew, and He knew that I knew. There was no warm, fuzzy peace either. Just a calm that felt more like resignation as I braced myself for more goodbyes.

I hope tomorrow things will look different. But this is what leaving looks like today.

Tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet

There is shrieking laughter as my nephew shakes bugs off of Grandma’s laundry and watches them vanish in the warm autumn sunlight above his head. Oh, that boy.

And to think that soon I’m going to be packing up my things and leaving. I cringe to think of those moments of transition when you’re sitting on a cold airport seat with little sleep and lots of memories of the world you’re leaving behind. Those are the worst moments.

The moments when you have completely left something but haven’t embraced the new something yet. And there you are, in the middle, caught in a swamp of your internal sorrow.

I know, because I’ve been there.

That’s why hearing my nephew’s laughter today makes me glad to be where there is grace enough, in today and not in the tomorrows that haven’t arrived.

Transitioning with olives

All I wanted to do was buy olives. It was the perfect idea to reward myself with a short walk to the store between secretarial tasks. The weather was full of gentle Mediterranean breezes and I loved walking. Then why was I suddenly anxious?

What should I wear? Some of my clothes were stored in boxes. Others were stashed in suitcases, ready to make the final leg of the journey to the States. Somehow the outfit I had on no longer matched. The shades of blue were all wrong.

“Trish,” I reasoned with myself. “This outfit was perfectly fine before.” But not now. Not in Europe. Not in public. I changed and then changed back when the second option felt even worse.

How do I say olive in Spanish? Olive? No, that’s French. Zitun? That’s Arabic. Why can’t I remember my Spanish anymore? Should I take my own bag or do stores give out plastic bags? I can’t remember. What were they doing the last time I was here? Where did I even put my shopping bags?

Why is this so hard?

I didn’t want to take that short walk anymore. Every decision looked big. Nothing was familiar. I battled my anxiety all the way to the store. I felt everyone’s eyes on me. Am I even walking down the right street? Why is that car stopping for me? Thank you, sir! No, don’t wave at him; you’ll look even more like a stupid foreigner. You’re in Europe now.

Transition. Have I exaggerated my trip to the store? Yes. But the exaggeration was in reality, not in what I just wrote. It sounds ridiculous to say that I almost panicked at the thought of buying olives. But transition is hard because nothing is familiar. Everything requires extra thought and effort. No matter how insignificant, every decision feels big.

I am not the only one who feels the pressure of transition. Maybe everyone else I know can confidently buy olives, but there are different responses to transition. And there are different types of transition. Do you know of someone whose spouse has passed away? Someone who has lost a dear friendship? Someone who has moved to a different community?

Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re feeling a bit like me right now, or worse. Whether it is you or someone else, give that person time to grieve and transition. Remember that we are not alone. There are others who understand… especially the “man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3).

WhatamIdoinghere

WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To expose myself to rejection
And the stinging unknown.
WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To make myself vulnerable
To a broken world,
Tasting its pain and distress
Hearing the cry of the oppressed.
WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To let my soul experience
The piercing emotion that comes
From living a full life,
Allowing my will to battle strife,
Petitioning for souls at heaven’s door,
And understanding love more than before
WhatamIdoinghere?

Tricked by hope

As North Africa heats up, people are disappearing from the streets to hide in their houses with drawn shades and fans.

But there are some who cannot hide.

Like the homeless sub-Saharan African man reclining in the shadow of a doorway. The despair in his eyes tore my heart.

Even worse is seeing that same despair in the face of a child. Like today, when I passed a family: a disabled father and a young mother with a toddler strapped to her back. The boy’s face was stricken with hopelessness.

I have so much. And I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about hope. Even in the valley, I can still see the mountain.

But what about them? What do they see beyond the next moment? What would cause them to lift their heads?

Tricked by hope

The child is weeping
because there is nothing,
not even a horizon.

His mother's heart will not hear
because it won't
be tricked by hope.

And every man's disrobed dream
sinks
in the mire of the present.

Life is nothing
and beyond nothing is the dark
that dogs every moment.

Do we hear them?
They're clawing at the gates of hell,
believing there's nothing better.

The quiet road

It’s been a quiet road. Not a lot of mountains, valleys, or even speed bumps. But sometimes the quiet is the hardest part of the journey. I feel alone sometimes. Well, a lot of times. The world at home continues without me… like it should and like I knew it would. But it hurts when I can’t be a part of it.

This week at the international church, the speaker brought a very real struggle into the open: it doesn’t seem fair that we have to be the ones leaving behind what we know.

But His call is personal. He instructs Peter to “Feed my sheep” and “Follow me” (John 21). When Peter questions him about another disciple, He pulls Peter’s focus back to the personal calling: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

See, it’s not a matter of what we have or what we leave behind; it’s a matter of following.

So, although the quiet road is lonely, I don’t have to feel something supernatural and emotional to be able to claim God’s promise that He is with me.

I’m a failure

Recently, a friend prayed for me: “God, let her learn what you’re teaching her through what she considers failure.”

“Failure” is a word I bump up against often. Too often for my poor, wounded pride. Although I’ve learned this lesson dozens of times, it still hasn’t traversed the head-to-heart channel.

I want to be the best. The best foreign Arabic speaker in North Africa. The English teacher that inspires others to change the world. In short, I want people to reflect on my life and call me accomplished.

That’s one of the reasons I’m here. Not because I’m excelling but because I’m not excelling. God set me up for what I consider failure. He sees that deep down in the dank crevices of my heart, I believe the lie that it’s about me and what I accomplish. So when I’m struggling to survive instead of excelling, I label it “failure” and try to soothe my pride in other ways.

But at the end of the day:

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”

Ps. 119:71

Maybe this time the lesson will reach my heart.

Goodbyes

  • Goodbyes make you wish you could go without leaving
  • Goodbyes are dark clouds that overcast the blue sky of the future and cry raindrops on the path of the present.
  • Goodbyes wear like a nagging pebble in your shoe, making it difficult to think of anything else on your journey.
  • Goodbyes are the question mark that punctuate a calling.
  • Goodbyes welcome a corresponding door of opportunity.

Bittersweet release

Here I am at the coffee shop, thinking that there’s just something melancholy about today.

Dark clouds sprinkle the sky, peppering brick storefronts with moving shadows. Somehow watching the sun and rain play tag makes me not want to go.

I got my ticket today; I’m excited! ecstatic! but also nostalgic. Am I ready to introduce another home to my heart? Can I really say goodbye to life as it is?

These aren’t doubts exactly because I already know the answer to these questions is “yes.” But must feeling fulfilled in a calling always be preceded by a bittersweet release? Perhaps I just want to have my cake and eat it too…