Crab Juice and Rain Storms

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So much life has happened in the last four and a half months that I think I’m still trying to emotionally catch up with it. Major life events like weddings, babies, graduations and funerals of people I have loved deeply have all been crammed into a small amount of time, and it seems like every weekend I’m either celebrating or mourning or just processing a major change.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all the craziness, if I’m completely honest with myself, this has easily been one of the most refining seasons I’ve ever been in. I realized in the last couple of weeks that I think I had felt cheated out of springtime this year. I’ve always felt like God pushed the reset button when spring hit, and new beginnings in my spirit mirrored the budding of new life, springing up in creation after a barren winter.

But this year, I still felt barren.

Wildflowers taunted me on the side of Texas highways, blooming for no good reason, while my heart felt like a graveyard of dreams. I took a risk on a job that had been kind of in turmoil, and I was fearful that things wouldn’t turn out the way I had hoped. Things I had been believing for and fighting for in my spirit for a long time felt like they were fading away into the night.

One of my oldest friends is walking through one of the darkest seasons I’ve ever watched anyone I love walk through, and carrying that feels heavy and, in all honesty, pretty hopeless at times.

What do we do when we feel like we’ve failed, or like life has failed us? How do we respond when we took a risk and stepped out in faith, and it feels like we’ve crashed and burned? What’s my attitude toward God when I felt like He invited me into this place, and now I feel like I’m being fed to the wolves? Where do I place my faith and my hope when hopeless circumstances tempt me to place it anywhere but with God?

These are the questions that have kept me awake at night in this season of my life.

Five years ago, I was flying from Houston to Nashville, where I would then meet a friend from high school and drive with her to North Carolina, where we were spending the next month working at Young Life camp together. 

I was waiting at baggage claim for my bag, and one by one I watched everyone from my plane grab their luggage and leave. Finally, I saw my bag come out of the “oversized luggage” door, which, if you know me, had to have been a mistake, because I pride myself on traveling very lightly. So I walk over to get my bag, and here’s the conversation that follows:

“Ma’am, is this your bag?”

“Yes…”

“I’m so sorry, but crab juice spilled on it. Follow me to the Southwest Airlines baggage claim office and we will get it sorted out.”

Um… excuse me? Crab juice? That’s a thing? You’re telling me that’s a thing that actually happens? Apparently, yes, sometimes when you fly from a coastal city to an inland city, there might be sea creatures traveling with your luggage. And sometimes those sea creatures do a little too much wiggling and their box spills over onto your bag.

Luckily, Southwest Airlines being as great as they are, gave me a new bag that was nicer than the one I had in the first place, and gave me a one-way flight voucher for the inconvenience. But I still had to clean up the mess that was all over my clothes.

It was as disgusting as you can imagine. AND, I had to wait until I got to my sister’s house in Knoxville that evening to wash anything that got spilled on, so keep in mind that by the time I get to my crabby clothes, they’ve been sitting in all of their crabbiness all day.

In the last few weeks, I’ve kind of felt like I’ve been cleaning out that bag again in my spirit. Life has spilled all sorts of messes that I didn’t necessarily do anything to provoke, and certainly didn’t ask for, but here I am nonetheless, trying to figure out how to clean it all up.

A few weeks ago, I’d had a really hard week. Things were hard at work, things were bad with my friend who’s been walking through a dark time, it happened to be the anniversary of another friend’s death, and grief is just a journey that never seems to end on this side of heaven. 

I went to the doctor that Friday to figure out some hormonal imbalance I’d been dealing with (hormonal imbalance in already shaky circumstances is also not fun, by the way). He ended up going in to this long spiel about the likelihood (or lack thereof) of me being able to have babies if we didn’t get things regulated.

I guess that was just the straw that broke this camel’s back, because I came home from that appointment and absolutely lost it. I sat on my couch and buried my face in my great, great grandmother’s quilt to mask my sobs. I couldn’t even tell what I was so upset about, but I knew it was all coming up, out of the deepest, darkest corners of my heart, and I couldn’t stop it.

Was it just all the things I’d been carrying piling up and finally being too much to hold? Was I grieving the babies I didn’t even know I longed for so deeply until the doctor told me they may not come? Was this just those imbalanced hormones making me feel a little crazy?

Sometimes when it rains, it pours. For whatever reason hard things pile up and we try to carry it until it becomes too much, and then we just cave. I do, anyway. And that afternoon, as I wept uncontrollably in my living room, I heard the voice of Jesus whisper those three words he said as he hung on the cross, “It. Is. Finished.”

There was a sudden sense of peace in the room. There was a reminder that He already paid the price to win every fight I’ll ever fight, to grieve everything I’ll ever grieve, to carry every burden I’ll ever hold. 

There was a whisper from the Father’s heart that said, “I know. I feel it, too. Don’t worry, we’re going to get through this. You were worth the price of my only Son. You’re worth fighting for.”

There was a reminder that resurrection only comes if death precedes it. A reminder that it’s goodbye that makes way for hello. There was a reminder that Adam and Eve’s goodbye from Eden is what will allow all the rest of us to say hello to the heavens one day. A reminder that the Israelite’s goodbye to Egypt made way for a hello, Canaan. 

There was a sense that Mary’s tearful goodbye to her best friend who hung on the cross on Friday made way for that glorious, hopeful hello to the King of the Universe on Sunday. 

Sometimes life spills messes on us that we have to clean up as best we can. Sometimes when it rains, it pours, and in seasons like that I have to believe that the old saying “April showers bring May flowers” is true. 

And this week, how gracious is the timing of God, to remind all of us that He already won. That we can toss out the baggage we’ve been carrying altogether, crab juice and all, and travel lighter with Him, knowing that He already cleaned that mess up anyway. Jesus wore that mess so that we don’t have to.

I’m not sure what kinds of “hellos” are on the other side of the goodbyes I feel like life is forcing on me in this season, but I know my life was paid for in full on that cross, and I know that there is nothing that God can’t resurrect.

That’s the thing about death in the Kingdom of God. Death isn’t final. It’s just a portal to whatever’s next.

So bring on the rain. May flowers are coming next. It’s a promise.

“See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.

Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.

The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.”

(Song of Solomon 2:11-13)

My sensor is broken.

Transition is a pesky thing. I think I mentioned this approaching season in a post from a couple of months back. It’s the “night” time, so to speak, between the sun setting on one season and rising on another. I’m there right now, and it feels a little bit dark at times.

Life is kind of crazy for us right now. It feels like when you’re first learning to drive and you aren’t used to the sensitivity of your brakes yet. So you accelerate, and then you come to an abrupt stop. (Over and over until you finally start to feel natural) Meanwhile mom is in the passenger seat about to lose her lunch.

We’re in town on the weekdays, working full time and trying to adjust to a different pace of life from the craziness of our training school year. But on the weekends, we’re going to weddings and visiting family and celebrating our anniversary somewhere in there. We aren’t home on a weekend until mid July. So we have these two different speeds that we keep going back and forth from. Fast paced weekend, then slam the brakes and try to slow down during the week. I feel emotionally car sick.

Finally last week I reached a breaking point, and I was about ready to lose the little bit of sanity that still remained. (OK, or maybe I did lose it a little bit) Misfiring with spousal  communication led to frustration that finally made me go for a drive to get some space. I cried the ugly kind of cry that makes you thankful you’re driving at night and not in the daylight, and I cried out to God wondering how I got to this place of complete chaos. 

And then I realized, this is what the enemy does. Here I am in the night time season of transition, isolated. He comes to steal, kill and destroy. Righteous anger began to bubble inside of me. “Oh, hell no,” I said out loud, driving around Waco and fighting evil in a more real way than any Marvel movie character ever has. And I finished that verse that had come to mind, “…but Jesus came that I may have life abundantly.”

And I don’t always understand what that’s supposed to mean, this idea of life abundant, but I know that when my thoughts are taken captive by evil and not by grace, I feel cheated. But when my thoughts are taken captive by the Grace Giver, well, I feel complete. And there’s always grace.

All is grace.

Ann Voskamp says there’s always a well. All is well.

I came home and the deep well of grace that is my husband was waiting to reconcile our frustration with one another. “I think we started fighting each other instead of fighting the one attacking us, and we just needed to go back to our respective corners to figure that out,” he said as those pretty blue eyes stared into my soul, saying without words that no dark place will ever be able to separate us.

There was an intruder in the boxing ring. But wait, what the heck are we doing in a boxing ring and why are we in opposite corners?

I guess life with Jesus is a fight. And somehow marriage ups the ante and makes Satan fight harder. 

Well, since we seem to be doing everything on the run these days, we didn’t have much time to recover from that night. We drove straight to Little Rock the next day for my best friend’s wedding. And my emotions are feeling like when you pull a muscle but the team still needs you, so you just wrap it up, lather it with Biofreeze and keep playing. Still sensitive to the challenging season I’m in, the enemy kept throwing punches.

I kept wondering how to find God in all this, if He was on this roller coaster too. I resolved that I suppose He is, and I suppose He knows where we’re going, and all I’m supposed to do is keep walking and talking with him. After all, Abram didn’t really know where he was going, but it says that he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:6)

He believed God, and God declared him set right. 

That’s all I have to do? It’s so… simple. Just believe that what He says is true, and be obedient.

And as we were driving back from Little Rock the car started shaking, and we had to pull in to Walmart and have it looked at. Something about a sensor going out and spark plugs misfiring, and I thought, “Well this is ironic.”

God always seems to speak in parallels to me, connecting what’s going on in the spiritual to what’s happening in the natural so I can finally get it. Maybe I need to start catching on sooner. Nonetheless, my sensor had been broken. And when I stop paying attention and sensing his presence in all circumstances, I get shaky. Just like my car.

Maybe the mechanic can fix both of us?

Or maybe I’ll just cling to the verse that’s gotten me through so many of these kinds of seasons, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)

I don’t get it.

Last week Noland and I traveled to Little Rock to be with is family and go to his grandfather’s funeral. It was a strange interruption to the blissful feeling of the beginning of spring — an interruption of all things being made new to feel the sting and reality of death. At the same time, it was oddly timely for it to happen during the week of Easter. It got me reminiscing and re-living a lot of things, because this wasn’t the first time I was experiencing a convergence of death and resurrection in my life.

In fact, exactly six years ago today I experienced a tragedy I’ll never forget. It was the loss of a close family friend, he was my best friend’s dad and my dad’s best friend. I’ll never forget my mom telling me what had happened that Monday afternoon after school. I’ll never forget the somber drive from Nashville to San Antonio two days later, and I’ll never forget sitting through his funeral on Good Friday that year, trying to hold on to the truth that He’s good no matter what, all the while asking that same one-word question over and over in my head.

Why?

I was seventeen years old and for the first time I was feeling the unparalleled pain of the death of a loved one — a pain that, in the beginning, it was never intended by God for us to feel.

And somehow the kindness of God showed up in the timing of it all. Because on Easter Sunday two days later, we celebrated the resurrected one who died so that we could live forever. It didn’t take away any of the pain. If I’m honest, I still ask that same one word question sometimes when I think about it to this day. But it reminded me that Jesus already defeated death so that we don’t have to be defeated by it. We can’t escape it, but it isn’t our end either.

But I still don’t get it. And I never will.

Two months ago, a guy I went to high school with committed suicide. That’s the kind of death that will make you question all sorts of things about eternity you never questioned before. I had so many friends that were hurting so badly, and my heart broke for them. It still breaks for them. And that same night, as all of this was weighing so heavily on me, Noland and I went to the college worship service at our church. It happened to be a night of worship and baptism.

As the service went on, people who hadn’t been saved started giving their lives to Jesus left and right, and spontaneous baptism broke out and all of a sudden there were 25 people standing on stage who had just been baptized. Buried with Him in death. Raised to walk in newness of life.

And I stood there on the second row, not knowing a single person on that stage yet weeping at the beauty of what was happening. In that moment God spoke, “You came here mourning the loss of one. You’re leaving celebrating the resurrection of twenty-five.”

And just like on Easter Sunday in 2007, the pain didn’t go away. But I felt the presence of God draw so near, and the only thing I can resolve from this mystery is this: I can not escape the sting of death on this side of Heaven. But the goodness of God will always outweigh it — and not just a little bit, but 25 and 50 and 100 fold.

Sometimes God’s mysteries are fun, like a treasure hunt. And sometimes they hurt. But no matter which side of the spectrum, they are always humbling. The mysteries of God always remind me of how small I am. They always remind me of how much I need him. I was reminded of that this weekend as I felt so small standing with Noland over his grandfather’s coffin. 

“I just don’t get it. I don’t get death,” he said.

“That’s because you were never meant to,” I told him.

And we stood there silently in the mystery. There are so many things we don’t get. I don’t get why I still watch a family I love grieve a lost father, six years after he’s been gone. I don’t get why people take their own lives, and I wonder how God handles it.

I don’t get how God will make all things work together for my good, but it says in his word that he will. I don’t get how every promise he’s spoken will be fulfilled, but I know he’s not a liar. I don’t get how Noland’s dreams and mine will be woven together into something more beautiful than we could have imagined, but I know God said he would show us things we wouldn’t believe, even if we were told.

And the trade off is that even though I don’t understand the hurt, I also don’t understand the love. It’s endless. We’ll never reach the end of it. There’s always more. It’s unfathomable, and it reminds me that living in the unfathomable is worth it.

When I don’t know anything else, I always know He’s good.