The Shit of Life

I have had a lot of candid conversations recently, profanity included. Those who know me know cursing is not a habit of mine. But sometimes, there are no other words to describe the stuff of life. Consider Aleppo. The slaughter that is happening there deserves the worst profanities known to man. Consider the deepest pains in your own heart. That pain does not deserve censoring. I was so angry at my own personal situation yesterday that I started hitting things . . . and bruised my hand in the process. Yep, at twenty-four years old, I threw a temper tantrum.

And ended it icing my hand with a bag of frozen fruit.

I don’t trust God. He does not seem like a good Father to me, as He chooses suffering to be the primary tool to bring people to Himself and to bring glory to His name. I resent the evils that He allows. I despise the things that don’t make sense.

Why must anyone suffer? Why are there no limits to the intensity of pain people can experience in this life?

My dad recently sent me this profound excerpt from a Phillip Yancey book entitled The Bible Jesus Read (208 – 9):

Job reluctantly concluded that, no, God could not care about him or about other suffering people. “How faint the whisper we hear of him,” sighed Job. The psalmists cried out for some sign that God heard their prayers, some evidence that God had not forsaken them. I know of only one way to answer the question, “does God care?” and for me it has proved decisive: Jesus is the answer.

Jesus never attempted a philosophical answer to the problem of pain, yet he did give an existential answer. Although I cannot learn from him why a particular bad thing occurs, I can learn how God feels about it. Jesus gives God a face, and that face is streaked with tears. Whenever I read straight through the Bible, a huge difference between the Old and New Testaments comes to light. In the Old Testament I can find many expressions of doubt and disappointment. Whole books—Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Job—center on the theme. Almost half of the psalms have a dark, brooding tone about them.

In striking contrast, the New Testament Epistles contain little of this type of anguish. The problem of pain has surely not gone away: James 1, Romans 5 and 8, the entire book of 1 Peter, and much of Revelation deal with the subject in detail. Nevertheless, nowhere do I find the piercing question Does God care? I see nothing resembling the accusation of Psalm 77: “Has God forgotten to be merciful?”

The reason for the change, I believe, is that Jesus answered that question for the witnesses who wrote the Epistles. In Jesus, God presents a face. Anyone who wonders how God feels about the suffering on this groaning planet need only look at that face. James, Peter, and John had followed Jesus long enough for his facial expressions to be permanently etched on their minds. By watching Jesus respond to a hemorrhaging woman, a grieving centurion, a widow’s dead son, an epileptic boy, an old blind man, they learned how God felt about suffering.

How do I want God to respond to my situation? I want Him to give me what I want, because it seems good and right. But all He ever guarantees to give me in my deepest pain . . . is Himself. I find myself asking, again and again . . . is that enough?

My counselor reminded me of the story of the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 . . .

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

God did not prevent Stephen from suffering a terrible death.
But God did show up. The result? Inexplicably, Stephen’s mind and heart were transformed into the will of Christ even as he lay bloodied and bruised, the life quickly draining out of him.

I’m not there yet. I honestly don’t see how I would ever get there. But that’s not the point.

The point is . . . God gives Himself as an answer to my suffering not to change my situation, but to suffer with me.

I complain of my own suffering, but God chooses to enter every person’s suffering that asks Him for help. The greatest intensity of pain pierced his body on the cross, and pierces his heart even now. And He chooses it, so we don’t have to suffer alone.

And isn’t that really what I want? What has ever given me the greatest comfort? It has never been well-meaning advice. And while changing the situation certainly seems the most ideal, the sweetest expression of love to me, the one that brings tears to my eyes, is when a person willingly comes down into my valley of grief and sits with me there, holds me there, cries with me there . . . for as long as it takes for me to move forward.

And that is the heart of God.

 

An Advent Wrestling Match

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'”

C.S. Lewis

I have a hard enough time following God when I agree that His ways are best for me. My pride is at war with humility; my love is at odds with my fear. Though I agree love and humility are good things, I am human and I struggle. But it is an entirely different sort of “hard” when I feel that God is being unfair towards me, when I feel He is withholding or doesn’t truly have my best interests at heart. It is different when I don’t understand in any particular instance why my will and His cannot coincide. The confusion stirs up anger and bitterness. Why do I have such strong desires for more if He is all that I need? I’m discovering that . . .

it is much easier to follow God when we suppress the parts of ourselves that disagree with Him.

But God calls us to the hard task of bringing Him our hurting hearts with real God-given human longings and surrendering our past, present, and future to His goodness. Can I just say that I hate that? Well, I just did.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was smack dab in the middle of the garden. God certainly didn’t make it easy for Adam and Eve to ignore! He said, “Nope. Your choice to follow me must be deliberate. The tantalizing alternative must be in full view.” You know what? I bet the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil tasted damn good. I bet it was the best-tasting fruit they had ever eaten (a mango, perhaps). And that’s where the feeling of unfairness hits, isn’t it? It seems as if God sets us up for failure.

The truth is, God does withhold good things from us, but only so that we can taste the best things, with full appreciation.

I am very angry at the sentence I just wrote. I don’t want the so-called “best” things. Best by whose standard? I know what I want and I want to be able to want the things that I want! So there!

None of us have always waited for the best. In our own unique, personal ways, we have eaten the fruit that God commanded us not to eat. But God doesn’t give up on us. Though we ruined our ability to fully appreciate His best, He redeemed it, and redeems it again and again, every day, every minute if necessary, imparting to us the righteous sacrifice of His Son.

Maybe God knew that only by tasting the forbidden lesser good and allowing His redemptive purposes to work could we truly appreciate the best good. Maybe He knew that wrestling was the only way to find rest. Maybe He knew that sacrificing Himself would be the only way to give abundant, eternal life.

Man . . . advent sucks.

Advent is humanity forced to stare at the good, and choosing to wait for the best. Advent is humanity biting into mangos, wanting so desperately to taste our will being done on earth (as it may or may not be done in heaven) because we know it will taste so good and right. Advent is humanity naked and ashamed. Advent is Christ, the eternal paradox.

On that note, here is a song I wrote.

“The Ones Who Wrestle”
Lindsey Snyder

You say you are enough

But I want more than you

I’ve wrestled for your blessing and

Been given bitter tears of truth

You show me glimpses of the end

But the road is so daunting and hard

What is the point of this winding path

That I keep stumbling on?

Will I have this limp

the rest of my days?

Why is suffering so long?

If you are the one that satisfies

Than why am I

still empty inside?

The name you gave me from the start:

“Hope” feels a cruel joke on this earth

I do what I don’t want

I want what I can’t have

Have what I need and yet I feel

All the lack

And maybe I’m a spoiled child

But please tell me that my pain is real

Who can save me from me

digging my own grave?

Only the one who suffered the whole world, to heal

Will I have this limp

the rest of my days?

Why is suffering so sure?

If you are the one that satisfies

Than why am I

still empty inside?

What good am I to you

If I cannot love the way you want me to

What good am I to you

If I cannot, I cannot love you?

What good am I to you

If I cannot love the way you want me to

What good am I to you

If I cannot, I cannot love you?

But that’s who you choose

The ones who wrestle you

Room at the Table for the Ungrateful

We finally had too many ornaments to put on the tree this year. The family tradition is to decorate the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. Since 1998, my dad has given my sister and I each a blown-glass ornament that usually represents something significant from the past year. Mom, not one to be left out in the fun, joined in the tradition a year or two later, and we have been lavished with beautiful ornaments for the past 18 years.

This year, for the first time, we took some of our sparkling glass memories with us to decorate a tree in Nashville. A few random puzzle pieces of my life glitter on display. There’s the piñata that represents my love of all things Mexico. A tiger cub balances on a high branch, indicating my love of animals (especially cute baby ones). A s’more snowman wearing a cabbie hat and sporting an Irish flag hearkens to my study abroad trip in Ireland. Snoopy and Woodstock rock out with electric guitars (they
would actually play music, if I changed the batteries).

Typically, I get pretty excited about Christmas. This year, my attitude towards it has been borderline Scrooge. I never listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, but I found myself wanting to skip the music entirely for a year (an impossible goal). My excuse was that I wanted to be able to appreciate the holiday classics more when I finally heard them again the next year. But really, though I’ve already been swept into the Christmas cheer by default, I am not ready for Christmas. My heart is not ready for all of the joy.

I wonder, is there room at the table for me?

My list of things to be thankful for are countless. Just glancing at the three-foot Christmas tree reminds me of some of my blessings. Not to mention the greatest gift of all: God become man to provide a way for an eternal place at His table.

But this year, though there have been poignant, undeniable moments of joy and awe of God’s goodness, has ultimately been one of wrestling, struggle, and doubt. And here I find myself in the midst of the season of expected gratitude.

At church last night, I felt surrounded by people who seemed full of inexplicable joy and peace. I felt a lot of emotions, but joy and peace were not either of them. I sang “Good, Good Father” half-heartedly. I listened to the special solo piece, “He Wants it All”, in bitterness and exasperation that I would never be able to give everything to God, no matter how much effort I put forth. I found myself lamenting that I cannot love Him with my whole heart. If He wants it all, He is going to have to take it by force and how can I praise Him for being a good, good Father if it comes to that? I prayed multiple times last night for my heart to be turned from ungratefulness to worship.

It didn’t happen.

The service continued.

Worry and faith in God cannot abide together, was a main point of the sermon. My frustration increased as a chorus of amen’s followed this statement, because my life has been one permeated with worry. I felt further thrust into an isolated experience. In my reality, worry and faith must abide together. My life has been one of near-constant anxieties. However, my faith has been right there with me through the darkest moments, too. I longed for someone to say from the pulpit: “I worry so often. In fact, I’m worried right now. I’m glad God is with me, but I’m in a lot of pain right now.” That is something to which I could honestly have said “amen“.

Again I wondered, is there a space for me at this table of Christ-followers?

Someone wise once said that comparison is the thief of joy. Yesterday, I unfairly measured myself up to everyone in that sanctuary. I saw all their gratitude and their joy-amidst-pain and metaphorically flung up my hands in despair and had a pity party. By comparing, I not only did a disservice to myself and my own heart. When I unfairly project judgments on people I love and who I know love me, I am sure that my attitude reveals itself in subtle but hurtful ways.

Still, I wonder.

Is there room for the thankless at the table of thanksgiving?
Is there room for the hurting at the table of healing?
Is there room for the worried at the table of trust?

I sure hope so. Because I am thankless, hurting and worried. I am wrestling with God. I am bitter and angry. I am full of sorrow. I don’t want to sing His praises. I don’t want to celebrate His birth. I’m sick of all the the Kingdom of God is bigger than your problems talk. I’m fed up with church-as-school. I need church-as-hospital.

Still, I will come, though I am far from being neatly tied up in a bow of hope and peace. I come to the table because deep down I know what is good for me. I know that I will not find sustenance anywhere else. I decorate the Christmas tree, I sing carols, I sit at church in my judgmental, fearful, angry, bitter, sorrowful and prideful inclinations, because Jesus tells me that yes, there is room for me. Whatever season you find yourself in, Jesus says there is room here for you too.

Be Kind to Yourself

Humanity, individually and collectively, has countless sorrows in this life. A few particular griefs that stand out for me are the waste of loss, the weight of loneliness, and the intensity of pain. These things live side by side with our joy, love, and connectedness. Do you feel the tension? Our hope peers down into our cavernous longings and shudders. Our love does not know how to live with loss. We are in the midst of a lifelong tug-of-war between joy and despair. If either dropped their end of the rope, we would be living a lie.

To fight against being overcome with despair, we shout into the ravenous discourse of social media to feel some kind of connection. We fall into the arms of friends to feel known. We look for affection and romantic love-even sacrificial love-to throw themselves into our voids. We sedate ourselves binge-watching sitcoms or scrolling through pornography. We bury ourselves in work to feel some semblance of purpose. We starve ourselves to feel beautiful and drown ourselves in alcohol to escape the hurt. We look for sub-par saviors to supplement the Savior of our souls.

This is not a guilt trip.

This is an acknowledgment: life is hard.

I want you to know, because I am right in the thick of it myself: your own unique, personal methods of self-medicating deserve compassion. Your deepest desires for love, connection, intimacy, peace, affirmation, etc. echo of heavenly realities and a fulfillment yet to come. You’re not alone. You are loved. Don’t give up.

Stare into your sorrow for a while and you’ll find the terrified shell of a human being that is you at your most vulnerable, your most honest state. Eight months ago in coming face-to-face with the most hidden parts of me, this is the journey I began . . . it was the worst and best decision of my life so far.

We must learn to be kind to the parts of ourselves we do not like. It is time to take our darkness gently by the hand and walk with it into the light. I’ve seen glimpses of the goodness to be found. Will you press on with me, in courage and kindness?

Holy Collages

 

IMG_3621.JPGToday, a few friends of mine hosted an event called “Vision Quest”. Transport yourself back to middle school, arm yourself with dozens of magazines, scissors, cardboard and glue, add a delightful assortment of breakfast food (and a random serving of magical sweet potato fries), and surround yourself with godly young women who have beautiful hopes and dreams. That was the real-life collage happening as we all cut and pasted, spoke and were silent. Some of us wept and rejoiced in our individual hearts as we saw our longings piecing together into something that echoed of deeper realities.

I have the great sense that today, for four (or more) hours, we were all on holy ground.

These eternal beings that I have come to love as my sisters in Christ, who I am honored to share life with at least for a time in this life and also on the other side of eternity, expressed their hearts imperfectly and IMG_3622.JPGhonestly. We were all wrapped up in visually expressing our own individual stories, but the physical togetherness provided a palpable sense of each of us contributing hope to each others’ lives in meaningful ways.

Though I felt as if I was in soul-therapy heaven, I found myself unable to verbalize even a little of what my own collage meant to me. Ironically, I have the words “a story worth telling” quite prominent on the cardboard representation of my hopes.

Do you believe your story is worth telling?

Do you believe your hopes and longings and pain and joy are all worth pasting into the collage of an insane but beautiful world? I pray you’ll believe it, because:

I want to be touched by your present story and your future dreams, by your brokenness, your strength, and your honesty.

Lately, I’ve made important steps in telling a part of my own story to myself and to a few friends. For a long time, I hid an entire underlying story theme from my own heart because it was far too scary. Bringing it into light is I believe, in some mysterious way, is breaking my heart in order to re-make it into something more whole.

A heart crushed and made whole in a life full of tension and danger. . . what a (painful, exciting, frustrating) adventure! And so, my collage is largely a representation of what I long for my chaotic internal world and slightly less crazy external journey to reflect. They are the things I preach to myself when no one else is around to preach them to me. They are the truths with which I want to embrace God and humanity.

There is much more I could say about the images I chose, but I will leave that for times and places which are more appropriate and helpful and good. For now, I rest in the reality of the shared experience of a humanity who longs for meaning in the madness, and who creates beauty in the midst of an uncertain future.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Four (out of approximately one million) things I have wondered lately:

1. Why am I in the situation I am in?
2. Why do I feel alone?
3. Why am I still awake?
4. Why are there no more Cheez-its? (answer: my sister ate them)

I’m about to tell you a story, without telling you the whole story. The past six months or so, I’ve been going to counseling (I cannot recommend this enough) and have been on an agonizing, confusing, frustrating, eye-opening journey through something I had done my very best to avoid my entire life up to now.

I cannot begin to list off all the resources that have been at my disposal during this ongoing struggle. Books, articles, interviews, podcasts, good friends, counseling, writing songs, writing stories . . . oops, I guess I did try to list them all. Seriously, my mind has been consumed by this journey for months on end.

In sifting through all of these words and trying to piece things together to reach a livable conclusion, I’ve noticed something . . . these resources and people are wonderful and clearly God-given and absolutely imperative to my journey, but I’ve been looking at them the wrong way.

I’ve selfishly been trying to save myself from pain by living vicariously through other peoples’ stories. Instead of accepting all these things primarily as encouragement that I am loved and not alone, I subconsciously count each conversation, songwriting session, testimony, etc. as another piece of armor to shield me from personal pain, as another weapon that I am supposed to use to win the war. What I’m finding is that all this armor and all these weapons I thought would keep me away from experiencing brokenness in my own story has in fact stockpiled into a storage center as large as Yankee stadium (or should I say Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs fans?) that has nearly driven me crazy.cloud-of-witnesses

I take great solace in my cloud of witnesses, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

I’ve been trying to turn my cloud of witnesses into an army of warriors. But what else are “witnesses” but people who watch you and cheer you on and who testify to the reality of your experience? The most avid fan at a baseball game is not going to suddenly run out into the field during the bottom of the 9th to take their turn at bat. However, witnesses do make a difference! Imagine the World Series without any witnesses…I would think that the players would feel a little discouraged that no one cared to show up. There is SO much more motivation to play well and play hard with so many people cheering you on! My cloud of witnesses encourage me tremendously, but they cannot prevent me from making mistakes and messing up and falling flat on my face. I should not expect myself to do everything perfectly just because I “know better,” just because I am aware of others’ failures and victories.

I must live my own story.

I must accept my own brokenness. I must persevere by looking to Jesus and to the joy set before me that comes from choosing to walk through suffering in order to follow Him.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-3

Somebody to Love?

Today, I suddenly remembered a song I wrote a couple years ago. I added and changed a few things to the lyrics today. Those who have known me for a long time and have heard many of my songs know that primarily my songs are about the collision of God and the circumstances life has brought to me or to people in my life.

Rarely have I written songs primarily about human love, even more rarely about any sort of romantic love, but this is what I’m singing about here. Parts of it are meant to be humorous, because sometimes I can laugh at marriage, sex, etc. that our culture is so wrapped up in. But underneath all that is a deep longing to love and be loved–and this is a common human experience. Not everyone wants to be married, but nearly everyone I know wants to love and be intimately loved by another human being.

Feel free to comment, but first two things to keep in mind:

  1. This is a song primarily for people who are single, to empathize with your (my) struggles and longings and to remind you that you (I) are (am) loved, not alone, and singleness has purpose.
  2. I am not asking for pity, so please do not tell me that “I will find someone to marry some day” or “Just keep waiting, God has someone great in mind for you.” That may or may not be true, but the fact is that God is still there regardless. Just listen and, hopefully, be encouraged.

Lyrics:
Love is pulling in the harbor
Eyes are filled with endless wonder
Am I invisible, pulled under the forgotten undertow?
Guess I’ll always be a watcher
As the line of loves grow longer
Could this get any harder?
I’m like lichen on a boat

But loneliness is not my own
There’s no earthly fix for a broken soul
So I won’t wait to live my life with someone else in tow
I’ve got my yes’s and my be there’s and my go

Here I’m sitting in the aisle
As the flower girl she smiles
And I’ll count the falling petals
Will it be love me, love me not?
I don’t know if I’ll say I do
But here’s another bride who will do
And oh what am I supposed to do
What have I possibly got?

But loneliness is not my own
There’s no earthly fix for a broken soul
So I won’t wait to live my life with someone else in tow
I’ve got my yes’s and my be there’s and my go

I will climb to the highest places
I will reach for the things above
And though I may feel grounded
May I always be pointing up
Yes, I will climb to the highest places
I will reach for the things above
Though my heart is seeking somebody to hold
There will be no greater love
Yes, there will be no greater love

And loneliness is not my home
though pain may be long and longing may grow
and there are barriers so tall it seems alone I will grow old
I’ve got my yes’s and my be there’s and my go

Loved

In this 24th year of my life, I’ve decided to go on a journey. Long have I taken up the banner of loving God and others well. Long have I been overwhelmed by a pharisaical burden of doing the right thing, always. Long have I felt (and enjoyed!) my self-worth being bolstered by spending every part of me to give others just a little bit of hope. Long have I lived in agony at the breaking of my self-inflicted impossibly high standards for my own character and actions.

This year, I’m setting the “love God, love others” banner down and exchanging it for one that says, simply, “loved”. Daily, I will try to choose to shift my focus. It’s going to be difficult. I will fall into patterns of legalism. I will fall into traps of temptation. I will forget why I’ve shifted my focus. I will allow myself to fail. I will fall into God’s grace.

Quotefancy-319505-3840x2160You see, I have skipped a very important step in trying so hard to love God and others well. I’ve forgotten (have I ever really known?) how much God adores and delights in me. If my pride knew no bounds and every single thing I did was purely for selfish gain, God’s love for me would be unending. If I was paralyzed and unable to communicate or take care of myself let alone others, God’s love for me would not diminish. If I threw all caution to the winds and indulged in self-destructive desires, God’s love for me would not change. If I cursed Him and made it my mission in life to destroy all belief in Him and I became a tyrannical dictator and killed everyone who stood against me, His love for me would remain unequivocally strong.

This kind of love is CRAZY. I can’t imagine it!

I’ve always known that God has loved me. But, that has never been the focus of my study, my emotions, my life. Imagine everything you do, everything you think about yourself and others, flowing out of the unshakeable trust that you are unconditionally loved by God as you are, were, and will be.

Jesus said that the equally important commandment to loving God is to love others as you love yourself. In an especially honest conversation, a friend reminded me that if I can’t love myself, if I can’t internalize how deeply loved I am by God, there’s no way I can love others well. How do I love myself? By delving deep into the riches of the love that chose me before the universe was born, the love who sticks with me in all my wandering and denying and destroying, the love who gives His life for me and will one day bring me into everlasting joy.

Sidenote: If you’re interested in going on this journey of discovering (or re-discovering) God’s love for you, here’s a great place to start: Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging.

Lullaby (God With Us)

Here’s a song I wrote.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

A lullaby to a crying world
to help it sleep at night
was sent in form of a tiny babe
to pierce the dark with light

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
God with us

A lullaby to a war-torn world
to help it think of peace
a man upending the status quo
prayed for his enemies

A lullaby to a dying world
to birth eternal life
entered oppression, sorrow, and death
to vanquish all our strife

A lullaby to a hopeless world
Where guns and injustice reign
you showed us how to cheat death’s sting
by rising again

God with us in the cancer
with us in the fear
with us in our doubting
with us in the clear
God with us in the minefields
with us in the hate
with us in the shootings
God’s love does not discriminate

Hallelujah
You’re always with us