Life Analogies

It's All How You Look at It

Category: God’s Care

Perplexed but not Despairing

#@$! There’s that tree. Again!

I sigh and sit down on a nearby log and look up at the sky, as if the angle of the sun could somehow magically point the way. No stars. No compass. Just this same stupid place that I keep circling back to somehow. Over and over and over again…

I used to face a chasm of unknown, every year. Every time I moved to a new town I would still be here. Yay. Job hunting. My favorite sport. When I stopped moving, I thought my troubles would be over. Something permanent, stable. The economy had a fun surprise for that one. Then it was first hired, first fired—well, pink slipped, anyway. I would stand yet again at the edge of scariness and look down, wondering how long I would have to wait until I could spot some hint of a bridge that would take me across. God always came through—eventually. It was usually long past what I thought my endurance could bear. I used to joke that I felt like I was in Remedial Life 091. This chasm was my final exam, and trusting God completely was the only correct answer. I had to keep retaking this exam because I never seemed to pass. I wondered when I would get to Real Life 101.

 

But now I wish I could go back to Remedial Life. The chasm exam was a snap compared to this. Now I am lost in this forest—trapped. I know enough about survival to know that the key is to stay calm. I take a deep breath and try to get through the next few steps, but then I realize that all the trees look the same and the only definable landmark is that same #%& tree telling me that I am still here. Stuck. No escape. Then I feel my chest tighten with panic and I can barely breathe. I have to grab onto a nearby tree to steady myself as the floor of pine needles goes all blurry.
I cannot cry again.
Not here.
Get it together.
Think!

 

But I can’t think anymore. My thoughts have gone round and round in circles in my brain, (Yes, I have an analogy for that part too.) I can’t see a way out. There is no way out! My throat starts to close and I feel the adrenaline kick in.
No! NO! There must be a way out!
I don’t want to live in this forest! God, please!

I can hear the voices of my friends telling me that nobody should have to be stuck in the forest. God doesn’t want us to be miserable. He wants us to be filled with joy.

I can hear the voices of my family and pastors and authors of Christian books—God wants us to honor our commitments. He never said life would be easy. Marriage is a covenant—an analogy to the world of God’s commitment to us. And a contract should not be broken. My boss relies on me and those under my care rely on me. Sometimes that is all that keeps me going and sometimes it feels like that’s what’s killing me. The needs and demands so far surpass my abilities…A file clerk might not change lives, but neither does he/she spend 98% of the day feeling grossly inadequate. 2% isn’t much for my self-esteem to subsist on.

 

I don’t know. All I know is I am sick to death of that same stupid tree with dead branches and this stupid squishy muskeg. I’m exhausted, my shoes are wet, and I’ve been bitten by thirteen thousand mosquitoes. I think they’ve taken more blood than they’ve left. Stupid mosquitoes. It’s bad enough you steal my blood, did you have to make me itch on top of it?

My fault. If I had been properly prepared—made the right life decisions—I would have remembered to apply Cutter and lace on hiking boots. Scratch that. (No pun intended) If I’d made decent life decisions I wouldn’t be in this stupid forest in the first place.

Huh. Would you look at that? Low bush cranberries and bear berries. Well, that’s something, anyway. Of course they’re super sour, but…I guess it’s not a total loss.

Thanks God. A GPS would have been better, but…thanks just the same.

I sigh again.

If I had a nickel for every time I sighed, I’d make Bill Gates look lower middle class.

I sit, trying not to scratch the mosquito bites or think about my cold, squishy socks and how lonely and scary it feels to be so far away from basecamp. If there was somebody nice sitting on the log next to me, joking about how attractive the swamp spruce are and what a lovely place this would be for building a summer home…it wouldn’t be so unbearable. But again…life choices.

So I take out my Bible and it falls open to the bookmark, which is in the same place as always. My Bible would probably fall open to that page anyway, or to James 1, because I’ve read them so very many times…over and over and over…

2 Corinthians 4
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…”

 

Perplexed but not despairing. That is the part I relate to the most, although the “not despairing” part fluctuates now and then—by which I mean to say every five minutes or so. Perplexed but not despairing. That reminds me of a quote from Daniel Boone:

 

“I can’t say I was ever lost, but I was once bewildered for about three days.”

 

Yes, that’s it, except that my bewilderment seems to last a lot more than three days. I sigh again, (that’s $.15 and counting. Actually it would be more like $1.15 because I didn’t type it every time I sighed. That would get tiresome. Perhaps it’s better that my English accountant isn’t here listening to it. He probably would keep a running total and charge me a whopping fee for making him endure it. Still…I miss him.)

Better keep reading.

 

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

 

Temporal. Yes, this is temporary. How temporary remains to be seen, but…if you think about it, everything is temporary, even life. I can’t say I’m super torn up about that one. Most days I wish I could fast forward past this life on Planet Earth crap and get to the good part, the part that isn’t temporary. Heaven will be nice. Way better than base camp. Focus on that. In the meantime, if I could just find the correct trail…

I guess I’ll try hopping the creek and following that line of birch trees.

Well, Mr. Stupid Tree, here I go. If you see me again, you’ll know it was the wrong way.

God’s Love Made Tangible

*Note: I wrote this years ago when I was in another country, (I might tell you which one someday, suffice to say, it’s not one that people go to for pleasure.) It is still true, although there have been days when I’m not too sure about the last two lines. Yet, even now God is sure to place someone I can talk to when things seem particularly bleak. He doesn’t always give a lot—or it doesn’t seem like it—but He always gives just enough to see through to another day.

 

When I go walking in the woods, and smell all those familiar smells of damp earth and sticky sweet leaves of willow and birch…I remember all the other times I’ve walked in woods…in all the different places…and how God’s presence has been the same…like a protective canopy arching over me, and over all creation. And as I walk, I remember all the other times I walked in the woods, thinking, wondering, self-sufficient…or hurting and alone. Thinking about the people who had gleamed a promise of something precious…and then disappointed me. Or I disappointed them. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who turned away first. I have a pretty knee-jerk reflex—self-protection—to be the first to leave. But it isn’t always the case.

I squint up at the leaves, transparent green against the brilliant sky, and remember all the people that have passed through my life. Sometimes it seems like life is just a bunch of broken bits of love fallen and scattered about…But then, when time telescopes the events…I see the times when I needed someone and God placed a person there, a friend, albeit temporary. Someone to be the tangible arms to wrap a hug around me, and listen to me and understand, at least a little. And then I see…it isn’t something broken, it’s like separate beads of caring, and the thread linking them in an unending chain of love, is, God.

And I realize, I will be ok. Whatever happens, I will be ok.

God’s Presence

*Note: I wrote this years ago to a hurting friend, a penpal from another country. It was a very special letter, so I hope he wouldn’t mind. I put it in here with the thought that it might help someone else out there, who doesn’t have someone to confide in. The language was simpler than my usual style so I spiffed it up a little bit. You can still hear the faith and security in the voice of that very young woman/girl. I believe it’s an important message for any hurting person to hear.

 

Dear Friend,

 
I will tell you two things that happened to me and I hope you will understand. I have tried to tell a couple of people about them, but they didn’t really understand.

 

The first is difficult to explain. Perhaps it would even sound ridiculous to most people. Maybe only God understood what it would mean to me, but that is the important thing—He understood. It will be easier for you to understand if you feel the way I do about God’s creation. Looking at the green of the trees against the sky and the delicate, fleeting beauty of wildflowers means so much to me. When I’m in nature I feel so much closer to God and so much more at peace. This often makes it very hard to live where I do. The desert can be very harsh and the imprisonment of our cinderblock wall suburbia can be incredibly bleak. It’s especially discouraging for someone who loves gardening the way I do. Working in the garden with my hands in the earth, helping things grow, is like feeding my soul. Yet it often seems pointless to try and garden in this harsh climate with dirt like cement and a brutal sun. Even my best efforts often had disappointing results. (I’m telling you this because it’s important for understanding my story.)
I was going through a difficult time during my first years in college—the dark valley, really. I can’t quite explain why. I only know that I was drained and hopeless every day. Back then I never suffered from insomnia, so at least I could sleep. But when I woke up it was like everything hit me again. For a few blessed hours I could forget…and then I had to face another day. Most of the time I just wanted to give up and die. Sometimes I would come home from school so exhausted and desperate that I would take all my clothes off and lay deathly still in bed, wishing I had the guts to swallow a bottle of pills. That’s how bad it was. I couldn’t trust God at all. I didn’t believe His goodness was for me anymore. I was very bitter and tried to shut Him away.
One day life seemed so utterly bleak—such a dark pit without even a pinpoint of light—that when I came home I just fell to my knees and cried. I begged God, “Let me go.” It seemed impossible to believe anymore and I was too tired to even try. I begged, “Let me go.” I didn’t just mean I wanted Him to let me die, do you understand? I wanted Him to let me go—completely—and drop away into the pit of hell, because I just could not believe anymore. And then the phone rang. I couldn’t answer it. I couldn’t care less who it was; I just stayed on the floor. But after a little while I got up and, I’m not sure why, listened to the message. It was from my mom.
Now this is the part that no one can truly understand. Yet even now I can hardly speak or write about it without getting choked up. I wish I could make people understand! It was such a stupid little thing, but it meant everything. Only God knew what it meant to me. I listened to my mom’s excited voice telling me, “I was talking with a lady at work and she has all these violets. They’re growing into her lawn and she has too many. She invited us over to dig them up, and put them in our garden.”
It sounds rather silly, doesn’t it? But it was violets! I love these tiny little forest flowers with their little purple faces that smell so soft and sweet. Only God knew how much I loved them. It sounds so insignificant, but it meant everything to me. When I heard that, I just fell to my knees and wept because I knew it was from God. It had happened right then, when I told Him to go away forever. It was like He said, “No! I will not let you go! Not ever!” It was a message sent that only I could understand—nobody else.
The other time God made His love so vivid to me was after He had pulled me out of the pit of depression (and E.D.) again a few years later. I was walking along in the forest talking to God in my head and thanking Him for all the times He had rescued me. I was thinking of how far I had fallen, down into that pit of despair. I thought I had hit the bottom down there in that dark mire. I was thinking of this and I heard His voice. I swear it’s true. It is the only time I ever heard it—just once. It wasn’t loud, but I knew it was Him. I was thinking of how far I had fallen and this soft voice in my head said so clearly:
“I never let you fall that far.”
And I realized it was true. I had thought it was completely unbearable, but…in a flash, my mind’s eye could see my hand as I was falling and then a great hand caught it and held it tight, to keep me from falling all the way down. I have seen people fall all the way down and some of them never came back up, but God didn’t let that happen to me. I had told Him I hated Him even, when I was in that much pain, but still He wouldn’t let go. I think of these verses for that:

 

“The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24)
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:1-4)
“For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, but the wicked stumble in time of calamity.” (Proverbs 24:16)

 

I hope you understand why I wanted to tell you that. Lots of people say idiotic things to you when you’re hurting. They can’t seem to speak to you in plain human. They lapse into sickening Christianese and say things like, “Well, you just need to have more faith. You need to pray more. If you were reading your Bible everyday like you are supposed to, I’m sure you would experience more joy.” Scarcely anyone has the honesty to say, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I am so sorry you’re hurting. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any answers, but just please believe that God is still there. Because He is.”
Very rarely do people have the courage to be authentic enough to say, “I don’t know.” I would have given anything to have heard that when I needed it. But no one ever said it to me. So now, more than anything, I would like to be able to say that to someone else when they need it. I would like to be that friend that I never had because then the pain would have been worth it, to help somebody else. It wouldn’t have been a waste at all.

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