Neither Could The Psalmist

In a moment of wild abandon last night I called my mom and asked her if Isla could join Gabe at her house so I could run out for about an hour. I had grand plans of a trip to the grocery store for yogurt and peanut butter cups, but as soon as my hands hit the wheel I knew I’d be diverting to the bookstore for a little mental health hiatus.  Truthfully, I almost cried when I realized that a) I was free for a little bit and b) it was quiet, both exceedingly beautiful things.

It’s my favorite kind of evening, a fun drink and a stack of crisp reading material whose bindings crinkle and groan when I open them to explore their ideas.  I could go to a bookstore nightly and come home with a newly discovered gem after every single trip.  Granted, I’d never have time to finish reading them all once I got them home, but I love books and I love reading other people’s opinions and conclusions and don’t think I’ll ever tire of these treasure hunting excursions.

I almost didn’t pick up the top book, Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, until I referenced my Pinterest book list and realized I’d pinned it a while ago.  I’m glad I went back for it, though.

“Wednesdays were pretty normal,” writes Michael Kelley, looking for a bright spot amidst the chemotherapy routine brought on by his two-year-old son Joshua’s cancer diagnosis. His book of the same name offers much to anyone who’s tired of prescriptive spirituality and would rather acknowledge and work through the difficulties of faith with some transparency.

About the time I got pregnant with Mara I decided to start reading through the Bible. And then we lost her and I stopped, only to pick it up again about the same time I got pregnant with Isla. I plodded through as much of the Pentateuch as I could, getting more and more anxious about my pregnancy while I got more and more overwhelmed with a God who, in those first books of the Bible, looked so angry, cruel and unfair.

And arbitrary.

And confusing.

And violent.

And I got stuck – partly because I couldn’t reconcile the picture of the Old Testament God with the New Testament God and partly because my anxiety was so deep and I begged Him for help and relief and never found any.  I had so many questions bubbling just beneath the surface but couldn’t find a way to ask them without toppling head-first into a sea of nebulous, inky doubt.

I’m better now – not “Better,” but getting better – and I’m still hung up on some of those questions.

Why did He order the destruction of entire nations? Surely there were individuals in those nations who would have longed for a relationship with the One True God!

Why did Mara have to die?

Why was He consumingly angry at other nations for behavior that He forgave in the Israelites?

Why was He not forthcoming with the peace He promises to bring?

What sense did it make for Him to make the Israelites his favorite?  Why did anyone have to be the favorite?

Does the little picture really matter to Him as much as we think it matters?

I’ve rolled these questions up and down through my mind so much that I’ve grown guilty at my insistence over them.  There are lots of pat answers out there; churches are rife with them.  I’m sick of them.  They’re annoying – sometimes true, but thoroughly annoying.  Somewhere along the way I bought into the idea that God must be sick of my insistence, must be frustrated with my lack of “getting it.”  I “should” have been thinking…

He is God. I’m not.

He knows what He’s doing.

This suffering is for a reason.

He’s fair even when I don’t understand it.

I just need to trust.

But I wasn’t.  I was just desperate to make it through another day intact and not crazy, hoping to stumble onto the magical ability to trust without anxiety since that’s what good Christians do.

As Mr. Kelley describes his experience in the early days of his son’s cancer diagnosis, he writes about longing to embrace the truth of Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God. It’s a verse that feels like part-command, part-promise, and I fully related when he said, “Now that’s a great verse.  In the chaos of blood tests and diagnoses, we would have loved nothing more than just to be quiet.  Not just verbally, but in our minds and hearts, too – to calm down and just trust.

I related so much I took a picture of it, not just because I liked his description, but because of how he ends the paragraph.  “Unfortunately, we couldn’t.  But then again, neither could the psalmist.”

Neither could the psalmist.

When I read that my mind jumped to David.  Upon further investigation I learned that the psalmist in question was probably Isaiah, not David, but I don’t think it really matters because David lamented in the same style throughout much of the remainder of the book of Psalms, full of repeated anxieties and heartaches.  How many times did He call out to God in pain? How many times did his cry out in fear while his enemies chased him and sought his destruction?  How many times did he angrily ask God why he’d been forgotten or abandoned?

The other thing I know about David is that God Himself calls David “a man after my own heart” (Acts 16:22).  David, with his anxious/angry/bitter/fearful self, was not rejected by God for his internal struggles.  David wasn’t the picture of calm stillness.  He wasn’t glibly humming “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” while he ran for his life to hide from Saul.

David was anxious. David was scared.  AND David was a man after God’s own heart.

Occasionally I hear really clear things from God – or at least I think I do 😉 – and I’m pretty sure this has been one of those times.  “You are not bad because you’re anxious,” He tells me.  “I can deal with anxious.”

And on the issue of the Old Testament, He tells me to keep going.  Don’t judge a book by the first installment.

I get frustrated when I realize how perverted my heart’s understanding of Christianity has become.  Partly it’s me and things get muddled up while they rattle around inside my brain.  But partly it’s the teachings of church and the way Christians put emphasis on right words rather than real hearts.  When did being a Christian become so complex and polished? I think it’s really pretty simple, gritty and raw.

I’m stalled out again somewhere around the beginning on Deuteronomy, and a good friend suggested I jump ahead and do a little bit of New Testament stuff to break things up.  I might do that.  I might pick up Wednesday Were Pretty Normal so I can see how the story ends, too.  I’m glad I found it, and I’m glad I was reminded that the Bible’s full of anxious, crazy-imperfect people who were deeply loved and thoroughly delighted in by God.

Grace and The “Innocents”

It was almost over before I knew it had even happened, my little friend running toward me in tears and the other’s mother huffing and puffing angrily where he’d been standing.  “I didn’t do it!” he cried, and I believed him, deducing that the crying preschooler being fussed over by the angry woman must have fallen when my little friend stood on the fence.

“You don’t DO that!” she snarled, and then, “You are a very naughty boy!”  My little friend cried harder and protested louder and swore he didn’t do it.

Oh, I burned!  But I turned my attention to my friend and consoled, “I know it was an accident.  It will be okay.  Why don’t we apologize to the little boy?”

The mother, still muttering, had stomped off behind me and I immediately thought better of my suggestion.  She – this competent, grown woman – had used her words, tone and expression to harm my little friend, and although an apology was appropriate she was pitifully volatile and hateful.  I wished I could take my words back so my little friend wouldn’t have to interact with her a moment longer.  My little friend was eager to apologize, though, and unlike some children didn’t require even a moment’s coaxing.

Thankfully, once her own child had stopped crying, she was able to tersely thank my little friend for his apology, and then she disappeared into the crowd of people.  Which may have been all the better because I had things to say to her.  I had the courage to say them, too.  The only thing missing was the opportunity, a chance where I could have told her…

|| You don’t hate on a child with your words.

|| You don’t ever call someone else’s child naughty, especially publicly.

|| You give children the benefit of the doubt and treat them the way you’d want your own child treated.

Here’s the thing.  My little friend?  Has an exquisitely sensitive heart.  I’ve seen him dissolve over a performance that was perfectly good – age appropriate and on par with his peers.  But it wasn’t what he wanted it to be and he cried hot tears of self-inflicted shame over what he thought he should have been able to do.  He struggles sometimes.  He’s a little different.  And the last thing he needs in his life is rejection, failure and hate.  Especially over an accident.

She didn’t know what she did, but the mama bear in her got it all wrong.  I bet she won’t remember her careless words after a night’s sleep.  My little friend might not, either, but they made an impression, and that won’t fade easily.

Here’s the other thing.  My reaction?  Graceless.  Everything I wanted to say to her I need to say to myself.

|| Heidi…you don’t hate on another human being with your words.

|| Heidi…you don’t ever publicly call someone out for naughty behavior. Talk openly?  Yes.  Not rudely confront.

|| Heidi…you give others around you the benefit of the doubt and treat them the way you’d want to be treated.

As I’ve been purging myself of pessimism and replacing it with a more hopeful, sunny disposition I’ve gotten better at grace.  Not just showing it, but really feeling it.  The person who cut me off in traffic?  I don’t know him, don’t know his story.  Maybe he had a horrible morning.  Maybe he’s going through a divorce.  Maybe he’s on his way to the hospital.  Maybe he’s just an angry person because of years of pain.  I don’t know and I don’t have to know, but I don’t automatically label him a bad person anymore.

The stranger who screamed, “Bitch” at me while I ran? Could have been a lot of things.  Maybe I looked like his ex-girlfriend.  Maybe he hated his stepmother.  Maybe he just feels better about life when he curses at people.  I can forgive and extend concern and hope toward him in my heart because I know that I don’t know.

I don’t have that same grace, however, when I see people act contemptibly toward children.  Anger festers in my heart and I just can’t let it go.  And on one hand, some good comes out of that anger because children aren’t supposed to protect themselves; we have to do it for them.  On the other hand, it’s never good to hold onto anger – even justifiable anger.  If I am to fully embody grace, hope and optimism I must learn to do so even when it’s challenging…

even when I have to speak difficult truths…

even when a situation requires firm boundaries…

Gabe used to attend a little preschool program once a week, and in all of his quirkiness he kept the teachers on his toes.  One of his favorite things to do?  Go by different names, usually names of beloved book or television characters.  For a while he was Wilbur (a la Charlotte’s Web), then Mickey (as in Mouse), and the longest running one was Jerry, courtesy of Tom & Jerry.  He loved that little mouse so much he wanted to be that little mouse and play glorious pranks on Tom and finally triumph over the cat.  Therefore, across the top of all of his papers, and in red – always red – crayon, he predictably scrawled “Jerry” each and every time.

Usually his teachers let it go, even calling him Jerry at his request (insistence?); in fact, one substitute teacher eventually told me how strange she’d thought it that someone named their child “Jerry” until she realized what was happening.

One fateful day when I knew he’d been using his stubbornness to give his teachers a run for their money I decided to pop in and check on him.  As I turned the door handle and observed the teacher standing over his spot at the table while he scribbled “Jerry” across the top of the coloring paper I heard her say, and loudly enough to be heard from across the room, “Gabe!  You are being a very! bad! boy! today!

And I sort of lost it.

But only on the inside.

My child – and other children – were watching.

“No, he’s not,” I said, and she looked up dumbfounded, unaware I had entered the room.

“I…just…” she sputtered.

I don’t remember how she ended her sentence because in that time I had covered the distance from the door to his side and I leaned close and pored over his coloring and whispered in his ear that he was such a good, sweet boy and realized that my entrance into the room had disrupted him enough that I don’t think he had heard what the teacher said.


Because that kind of thing hurts a child as though the adult had taken a big, red permanent marker and drew “Xs” all over the story of his life and written “Poorly done!” or “Bad work!” or “You have some kind of gall handing in this sort of crap for me to grade!”  And it hurts the parent, too; her words hurt me, and I cried the same hot tears my little friend cried earlier today, because it hurts when adults mishandle children.

For the record, she was angry at him because he wouldn’t write “Gabe” at the top of the paper and insisted on writing “Jerry.”  That was it, his great transgression.

But still, I had to forgive her.  It didn’t happen right away and it helped when I had a conversation with her about her words and it helped knowing Gabe wouldn’t be under her care again.  But…grace.  It was as necessary for me to extend as it was for her to receive.

I know this – I want to leave the world a softer, more hopeful, more loving place for my children.

I want the world to be better for my having been here.

If…when…I give into my first instinct to lash out at people who’ve hurt an “innocent” I accomplish nothing.  I counter inappropriateness with anger and volatility with hate. I add negativity to the world in which my children are growing up, and I own my adversary’s victory.

What if I counter those things with grace?  What if I let my budding optimism and hope make my eyes smile even when I’m speaking a difficult or challenging truth?  What if I give the benefit of the doubt even when I’d rather attack – even when that attack is deserved?  What if I own the hurt, fear and frustration behind my anger rather than letting my anger speak for itself?

I’m not sure I’ll ever rewire my first instincts to embody only measured, graceful thoughts.  I’m not sure optimism will ever be entirely second nature.  Perhaps that’s okay, though.  Maybe I can learn to extract from that energy the courage it requires to take a gracious stand while leaving behind the initial blustery anger.

I think that’s what people like Gabe and my little friend really need in the world.


“Blessings” by Laura Story

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
But long that we’d have the faith to believe

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

If anyone…

I caught a glimpse of myself tonight in the church window as we exited the Christmas Eve service, and what I saw grabbed me by surprise.  I was smiling – a fact of which I was aware. But it was a big smile.  A genuine smile.  A smile from my heart.

Had you asked me seven months ago if I’d be smiling at Christmas, my answer would have been an unequivocal no.  How can one lose a baby and still smile?  How can one’s hopes and dreams be shattered in the course of several hours and go on to pick up the pieces in a few short months?  How can life move on again in hope?  I certainly could not – not by Christmas, and possibly not ever.

But I was wrong.  And I saw it tonight – all that spontaneous and authentic joy beaming from my face.

As I was running around today, one shade less than frantic with last minute Christmas preparations, I couldn’t shake these words…

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. (James 5:13)

So I grabbed my nearby computer and looked it up.  That phrase is followed by this one…

Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

I didn’t understand until I saw my reflection in the glass this evening.  That is me.  I am anyone.  From suffering to praise.  From sorrow to cheer.  From the absolute depths of despair – a place where life seemed awful and death didn’t seem any better – to a place of healing and peace.  What an amazing journey!  I don’t say this with any sense of pride or thought that I’ve accomplished it on my own; I haven’t.  On my own, I’m certain I’d continue to be in my situationally-imposed pit, suffering daily with a heartache that would be too big to bear.  But I’m not, and the only reason I’m not is contained in those words above – the prayers of others offered in faith and grown in comfort through my faith in God and His love for me.

I try not to be too preachy, but as God brought today together for me in this tender way, I couldn’t help but share how I’ve been healed and where I find hope.  I know there are others hurting.  I know.  I may not know the precise pains; there have been broken marriages, unpaid bills, affairs, and lost jobs.  There are mothers without children, dreamers with failed dreams and people whose situations only get worse no matter how hard they persist.  There are a host of problems and heartaches being faced this Christmas;  these are just some of the ones with which I’m personally familiar.  People are hurting.  Some of you are hurting.  And I’m sorry.


I’ve been there.

I’m still there sometimes.

I may not know your situation, but I do know grief and how long and deep it stings.

What I want you to know is this.  It won’t always be this way.  It won’t.  As much as we’d like to be able to control the outcomes, we can’t.  No amount of manifesting our destinies can control the minutiae of our lives; no amount of planning can guarantee an easy pass; no amount of forethought can control all accidents and mistakes.


You will see beauty from this.  It will start little and it might grow slowly, but it will be there, as certainly as the ocean’s waves keep coming.  It might not be the beauty you expect to see; the pictures in your mind might have to adjust to include a different – but equally beautiful (once you’re used to it) – reality.  As certainly as the earth revolves around the sun, a smile will cross your face one day and it will come from your heart.  This, too, shall pass.  It’s not just a cliche.  It’s a promise – from God, from the universe, from me.

This Christmas, I would love to make everyone’s dreams come true, my own included.  I would heal your struggling marriage.  I would bring back your child.  I would find you a job.  I would pay your bills.  I would solve your child’s health problems, physical and emotional.  I would heal the broken-hearted and bind up your wounds (Psalm 147:3).  But I’m not God and life isn’t a fairy tale – and I know it’s not yours, either.  So on this special holiday, I offer for you the only thing I can – prayers of faith, from a person who has endured suffering to become a person of gratitude and joy.  The pain isn’t gone, but I found it to be matched by a richness I’d only ever coveted from afar in the past.  I pray the same for you.

From an “if anyone” who suffered to an “if anyone” of cheer.

There is hope, at Christmas and always.

I wish you the merriest of Christmases, and I hope your day is filled with a hint of the richness that is to come in 2010.

With love,


On Trite-isms

I’ve always heard people say that when God says no to one thing, it’s because He’s saying yes to something better for you.

Normally, I write those conversations off.  It’s not that I don’t agree with what the people are saying; it’s that I hate the simple platitudes, rich with words while full of nothing.


I got “The” negative pregnancy test today – the one that assures me that it’s safe to quit the progesterone because I do not, in fact, have a baby nestling in for a 9 month stay.  I started feeling less hopeful at the end of last week, but today’s certainty brought with it a little bit of sadness.  You see, I had asked people to pray that I’d be pregnant again before Mara’s due date.  And I’m not.  And I won’t be.  The answer was no.

A blogger I read (and I’m sorry – I don’t know which one) recommended a devotional book called “Jesus Calling.”  She raved about it so much that I decided to look it up last time I visited the bookstore.  It surprised me.  It wasn’t deep.  It wasn’t meaty.  It wasn’t wordy.  It wasn’t heavy and theological.  It was simple.  Just simple.  And short.  And I thought it probably wasn’t even worth the $10 on sale.  But because she had spoken so highly of it, I bought it anyway.  Today made it worth it.

Today’s reading started with this:

“Do not be discouraged by the difficulty of keeping your focus on me…  Don’t let feelings of failure weigh you down… I notice the progress you have made… Rejoice in these tiny triumphs.”

Air, I thought.  It’s like a breath of fresh air! I don’t think anyone has ever said this to me.  I don’t think anyone has ever told me this without telling me to try harder next time.  This was lovely – just an open invitation to come to God in whatever way I can and to keep coming over and over again.  Without strings attached.

It was the corresponding Bible passage, though, that really struck me.

“With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us… is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?”

Immediately, I thought, Well, there’s one thing He won’t gladly and freely do.  He won’t give me a baby. And then I stopped and thought.  I want a baby because I think it would be best.  I really, truly do.  And if I’m to think of this verse as true, I have to recognize that God will gladly and freely do the best for me.  Without hesitation.  So… that must mean a baby isn’t best.

A baby isn’t best.


I didn’t like the thought at first, but eventually some comfort grew out of those words.  Maybe a baby will be best in a month or three or twelve.  Or maybe a baby will never be best.  But by refusing to live with gratitude for this moment, I close my eyes and heart to the “best” he is offering to me.

I stumbled onto a photographer’s flickr stream.  Although her pictures interested me, it was her captions that captivated me most.  For each of her many photos, she had labeled it with a provoking and sometimes well-known (but other times lesser-known) quote.  I couldn’t help myself – I immediately started pouring over her stream, copying and pasting my favorite quotes into a Word document.  There was something about these nuggets of wisdom that excited me.  Life looked more simple through the guise of a specific framework, and happiness seemed more attainable.  Especially when I read this one:

“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.”  ~ Dale Carnegie

Later, I realized how trite this sentiment really sounds, but at the time it struck me between the eyes.  I’ve been unhappy; the limits of my patience and endurance have been tested and then some, and I vascillate between obsessive desire and heartbroken denial.  But the constant – the one thing that is true of each and every moment – is that the void I feel from the lack of a baby is never far from my heart.  And it hurts.

I don’t expect to experience some kind of voodoo magic, but something is changing in me and I think it will be good.  I’m need to focus on changing what I think about – not denying my desires or pretending to be someone I’m not, but by appreciating and fully experiencing what I have.  I have to be cautious here, because the temptation to make Gabe my everything can be high in these moments.  It’s not that he’s not pretty special, it’s just that no one little person is designed to bear the weight of attention of that variety and intensity.  No, I need to be broad and well-rounded in my thinking, and I need to force myself to open my heart to the goods and bests I’ve been given.

Embracing the better – I think that’s a good (albeit trite) way to start November, the month of Thanksgiving.

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