From Eden's Dirt

Hope through despair. Faith through fear.

Category: Faith

“In Any and All Circumstances: Beth March, Bungee Jumping, and Finding Contentment”

I haven’t written any posts in quite a while, and it wasn’t a planned break. It wasn’t anything traumatic that stopped me, or perhaps, depending on the perspective I take, it was a whole season of trauma. I am always full of contradiction.

Sometimes I tell people it’s all physical. I tell them that my emotions are currently unbalanced because my hormones are currently unbalanced. Other times I say that that my hormones are unbalanced and I experience varying types of chronic pain because of my emotions; I have a genetic predisposition to depression and anxiety, that, when coupled with many traumatic experiences interspersed across my lifespan, created a recipe for a body and mind that are more decrepit than the number of my years would normally determine.

But in my own private thoughts, I am dying.

Before I get concerned comments and emails, I am not revealing a cancer diagnosis or a death sentence or a desire to commit suicide. There is still no medical diagnosis, root cause, or overarching explanation for the pain I experience, mentally and physically. That’s what offers me the opportunity to alter my description of my physical and mental insufficiency. There is no name for this, and that seems to lend itself to a certain amount of poetic license.

A few months ago I found an old, tattered copy of Little Women. It was a relic I’d saved from childhood that came from a thick plastic zipper-bag one year for Christmas, ordered by my mother from my Scholastic Book Order. I received it along with many other childhood treasures, most of which were more precious to me than Little Women. Heidi and The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables are all still around somewhere too, and these three each experienced multiple readings over only a few years’ time. But Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy sat on my bookshelf for a number of years before I had the courage to pick it up, and even then I’m not sure that I finished it. Coming-of-age stories were always a favorite, but I had a hard time relating to any of the four sisters, and the length of the book itself was daunting. Yet I understood its value enough to keep it.

When I found it again a few months ago I was eager to read it, and I did. I stayed up late to find out if Meg’s marriage would survive, despite realizing that Alcott’s perspective was way too optimistic for it not to. I grew frustrated with Amy’s selfishness and materialism, rolling my eyes at her as if she were my own sister. And of course I skipped ahead to see whether Jo and Laurie would end up together. What surprised me most, however, was that, at 37 years old, I did feel a connection with one of these young girls, even though she was perhaps the youngest at heart. I began to feel like Beth.

While the other sisters grow and change, Beth seems frozen in time, growing in knowledge and character, but not in ambition or striving. She’s happy to learn the womanly arts designated to her sex and rarely complains, but also shows great talent at various artistic endeavors, especially music. She never seems childish, yet plays with dolls well into her upper teenaged years, when her sisters are “coming out.” What I related to, however, was her illness. I couldn’t put a finger on why I felt such affection for her until late in the story, when she finally confesses to Jo that, even without an obvious medical condition, she knows that she will soon die. In her own words, she tells her sister that she has never had the desire or the willingness to look toward the future that the other three were now welcoming, that she felt no need to seek a husband or even to venture much beyond the house, because in some way, whether she chose to acknowledge it or not, she has always known that she would die while she was young. And soon after this talk with Jo, she does so, with no regrets, and with contentment of knowing that she is on her way to meet her Savior.

I’m 37, so I’m almost 20 years older than sweet Beth is at the time of her death, but I admire her contentment. I relate to Beth because I feel older than my years, and because I often find myself living under the assumption that my life will be shorter than average. There is a real logical explanation for this. Members of my father’s family carry (and carried) a genetic mutation that causes Early Onset Alzheimers. Like the more commonly known form of Alzheimers Disease, EOAD involves a gradual deterioration of the brain over time which results in the gradual loss of memory and ability, eventually disabling the immune system in a way that generally leads to death. Like the common form of Alzheimers, EOAD shortens the patient’s lifespan. Unlike the common form of Alzheimers, however, EOAD isn’t something that affects the elderly only. “Early Onset” means exactly what it says. People can get it in their 30s, and it’s aggressive, and fast.

Most of the members of my father’s family had symptoms beginning in their late 40s and were diagnosed around age 50. All of them were dead before they turned 60.

I’m not great at math, but that means that if I am a carrier of this gene mutation, I am now well past halfway through my life, and I may only have about one decade left before I begin my decline. Or I could even have Alzheimers Disease now.

I’ve had MRIs of my brain, and the various doctors that I see are aware of my propensity to develop AD. I am involved in a widespread scientific study of the disease that includes genetic counseling. I have not yet chosen to find out whether or not I have the problematic gene mutation. I want to know, but I’m scared. It’s been almost a year since I first met with a genetic counselor, and at that time I told her that I would probably follow through with the test as soon as I was ready. But every time I think I’m ready, I’m not. When I think about having this blood test done, I imagine myself like a bungee jumper standing on the edge of a platform, ready to jump. The platform is small, and there’s a lot of falling to do. But it isn’t the fall itself that’s risky for me.

The difference between me and the bungee jumper is that, until I jump, I don’t know whether or not I’ll come back up.

Saying goodbye to 2018 this week was a relief for me, because this has been a year of weariness. Weary was the word of the year for me. I am weary of my health problems, weary of worrying about them and about how much worse they may be. I am weary of my children’s struggles with autism, ADHD, anger, and depression. I am weary of listening to them argue. I am weary of feeling chronically and interminably tired. And I’m really weary of Fortnite dances.

I’m aware that turning the page on the calendar doesn’t mean any of this will go away. Fortnite dances, it seems, are a way of life now, and it certainly doesn’t do anything about my genetic status. But what it can change, if I act on it, is my perspective on my life. I am weary, yes, and that’s OK, it’s even understandable. But my complaint about my kids’ obsession with Fortnite applies to me too. My attention is in the wrong place. I am focused on my end game, on my misfortune, on counting the years I have left. I am focused on my tiredness and my inability to fix my kids’ problems or make them easier to handle.

Instead I need to focus on today, on January, on 2019. I need to see what I have and want it, and realize that what I don’t have I don’t want. I need to stop counting what I have left and start counting the days I’ve had, the blessings my Heavenly Father has rained down upon me. I need to stop allowing my exhaustion to frustrate me and start being thankful and proud of all that I’ve accomplished today.

I need to realize that I am satisfied. There is no need that I have that my God has not already fulfilled. If I believe that there is, then I am only dooming myself to feel that my life and I are totally, incurably inadequate. And if I’m going to die (and I am, whether it be at 37, 57, or 107), that’s not the way I want to feel in the end.

I want to greet God on my knees in praise and thankfulness, not weariness. So this year I’ve chosen Philippians 4:12 as my focus for 2019:

No matter what age I am when my time comes to meet my Savior, I want to know in my mind and my heart that my life was as full as He ordained it to be. I want to learn the secret of being content so that, no matter what the Lord requires of me, I am ready to give it. I want to walk in contentment. Beth March didn’t do that perfectly, and neither will I, but I will at least know that I’m going the right direction.

Photos by Thu Anh, Evan Kirby, Eugenia Maximova, and Eye for Ebony via Unsplash.

Faith is a Verb.

I’m a control freak. I’m 37 years old, and I should know better by now, but in my heart I still believe that if I work hard enough everything will work out exactly the way I want it to. If I scold the kids the right way, take away the video games one more time, spend the right amount of quality time instilling in them my infinite wisdom, and pray really hard, they’ll start to show more respect, do all their homework, and go to bed on time all on their own. And if I see the right doctors, get the right tests, take the right pills, and do the right self care , I’ll be healthy and vibrant and happy, right? Yeah, I know.

I am way too old to believe this crap, but I’m out here hustling like it’s true anyway. Maybe that’s because what I really believe, and what I really fear, is that the opposite is true too. If I don’t use the right kind of discipline, don’t take the right pills, and don’t have the right kind of faith, my life, and I, will fall apart. And that’s when the really scary shit will happen.

Faith in Christ is about believing, not doing. But faith is this nebulous thing I can’t pin down. Telling me to “have faith” when I’m struggling is worse than telling me to just love my kids while they are literally trying to kill each other. What does it even mean?

I can show love, I can feel love, but how do I show or feel faith in a way that actually changes anything? It’s so easy to tell someone to pray, to take one day at a time, and to trust that God will work it all out when you’re not the one taking a suicidal child to the ER. When you are, one day at a time isn’t fast enough.

I’ve been an avid reader of She Reads Truth for about seven years now, almost from the beginning of the ministry. I follow along with their series of Bible passages and daily devotional readings as a matter of course now; they are the key component of my private devotions and quiet time each day. Right now they are featuring a study of Hebrews, and yesterday we arrived at Hebrews 11, the famous “hall of faith” passage. If you’re not familiar with this passage, in it the writer calls faith “the assurance of what is hoped for, the conviction or what is not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Pretty strong words, and a pretty high calling. But the writer then goes on to offer us proof —

By faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did, and he was approved” (11:4).

“By faith, Noah built an ark,” saving his family, and mankind (11:7).

“By faith, Abraham set out for a place that was his inheritance,” without actually knowing where that place was (11:8).

And it goes on. Fourteen men and two women make it into God’s list of legends. They’re impressive and awe-inspiring. But yesterday writer Claire Gibson drew my attention beyond the list of names to the verbs:

Abel offered.

Noah built.

Sarah received.

Moses refused.

Rahab welcomed.

I’m a huge fan of verbs. They’re often little words, but they pack a lot of meaning and information. As a writing tutor I often find myself encouraging students to choose active and specific verbs that concisely express the action they’re describing. “Instead of saying, ‘It was a sunny day,'” I tell them, “try saying, ‘The sunshine warmed my skin.'” After all, anyone can say how something was, but when I tell you that the sun warmed my skin, you can feel it too.

Verbs are action. These people in Hebrews, in the “hall of faith,” were people, and they’re not on this list because they have something I don’t. I have faith. But what am I doing with it?

I’m saved by faith (Luke 7:50), but what am I doing about that?

Actually, I’m doing a lot about it.

I’m getting my kids up and taking them to school, because I want them to have wisdom (Proverbs 3:13). I’m teaching them about Jesus, because He’s the light of the world (John 8:12). I’m loving my imperfect husband , because we are one flesh (Mark 10:6-9). I’m studying the Bible, because it’s God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), and sharing my faith, because Christ called me to (Matthew 28:19-20). I’m caring for my mind and body, because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). I’m worshipping, because He is worthy of my praise (1 Chronicles 6:23-25).

Don’t make the same mistake I did when I read Hebrews 11. I looked at that list, all those people and what they did because they had faith, and I assumed I just wasn’t among them. They had so much faith, and they risked so much, because they trusted God.

But I do too, and chances are, so do you. I know that I’m doing my best to do the things He calls me to do. I know He calls me to these things because He says so in His Word, and because He encourages me when I pray. And I know I’m doing my best because I’m asking Him to work through me, and it’s His work, not mine, that performs miracles. I don’t need to be intimidated by the “hall of faith” because I’ve been inducted into it too.

By faith, Melanie lives her life as an act of worship. 

If you do too, smile. Relax. Be thankful. You’re doing life God’s way.

What are you doing “by faith”? Comment on this post by filling in the blank below.

By faith, _________________.

Life is Pain, Princess

Optimism is great and all, but let’s face it, it’s not going to stop bad things from happening. As a perspective on life, optimism encourages hope, gratitude, and positivity. But as a method for preventing or surviving bad stuff, it sucks.

              As a writer I definitely want to give my readers hope for the future, but you’re not going to get happy sunshine unicorns from me. That would do you a disservice because it’s not realistic, since denying that we have bad feelings that come from bad experiences doesn’t promote growth and healing, it promotes naivety. And it’s not who I am either. I don’t think I’m rude or even blunt, at least not all the time, but I am honest, and I encourage others to be so as well.

I love Inigo Montoya’s character in The Princess Bride. The handsome face and cute accent are part of it, but his loyalty and honesty are uplifting and bring a piece of reality into the fairy tale. But Inigo also makes me sad, in an uncomfortable way. His character’s back story is a side-plot in the movie, told only through his own words as he describes his quest to find the six-fingered man who killed his father. He is an intense and lovable figure, but he goes through life seeking only revenge for a painful loss in his past.

I like Inigo Montoya because I once felt like he does. I wasn’t a total pessimist, and I was often a fun and loving person to be around. But beyond fighting my demons, there wasn’t much more to life. I’m not even talking about my life before I met Jesus, or not just about my life before I met Jesus. Up until about three years ago, my main motivation for my decision-making and my actions and my goals was fear, and there are days now where it still is.

It would be easier for me to blame mental illness. Or childhood trauma. Or traumatic experiences in adulthood. Or bad genetics. Or the struggles of family and work and technology and creativity. I could describe myself here as a tragic artist, and it wouldn’t be totally inaccurate. I did lay in bed and cry over Don McLean’s song “Vincent” before I even reached puberty, and I did go to graduate school for a masters degree in a field that like only like 200 people on earth have even heard of. But I’m not a tragic artist, and I’m not a poor housewife, deprived of her creative outlet and opportunities to follow her dreams by demanding children who disrespect her. I’m not a genius locked away from a world that confuses my intelligence with insanity. I’m not a victim of abuse.

I’ve been all of these things, and I’ve treasured each of these roles in my heart. Just as Mary treasured the promises delivered by the angel Gabriel, I have cuddled and nurtured the bad things in my life, like ugly dollar store stuffed animals to a child who has never had one. But I didn’t have to. I had lots of great things in my life, and I always have. Yet I clung to my tragedy because my trauma and my pain was what I used to define myself. It was how I found meaning.

My meaning and purpose in life now is to follow God’s will for me in what I do and who I am. Three years ago, and maybe even ten years ago, I may have said the same thing, but it wasn’t true. It was an ideal, but it didn’t play out in reality, because I couldn’t take my eyes off of my fears long enough for me to experience any of the comfort or redemption that God was offering me. I knew Jesus was standing there, I knew He wanted me to come to Him, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the waves and the dark water.

              Depression and anxiety are nasty little beasts, and this is what they do to me. Even when I have the knowledge that my fears aren’t reality and that the circumstances that created them are long gone, and even when I know that my brain and my feelings can, in fact, lie to me, that knowledge only goes so far. It doesn’t stop the fear from being stronger. The fear that maybe I’m dying or this or that. The fear that I’m gradually going insane, and that it’s happening so slowly that no one but me will believe it’s true until it’s too late. The fear that my life really hasn’t been very worthwhile, and anyone else who could have been put in my place would have done just as well, or better, than I have. The fear that my kids are damaged, that my fears and my genetics have doomed them somehow. The fear that my husband is unhappy, that my worthlessness has spread to him, a sexually transmitted malaise. When I think about it, how could a 2000 year old Jewish man overcome all that?

              Of course, He did, and that’s the whole point. His whole point. That’s the Bible. But here’s my whole point. Just because He’s Jesus, and He’s mine, and I’m redeemed by His blood, doesn’t mean that I’m immune to fear. Nor does it mean that I should be, or that my faith is somehow less-than because I experience fear as a huge factor in my life. Mental illness isn’t faith illness, guys. Faith is about what I believe, what I know to be true without having to see it. Mental illness is about my brain. I know it’s there. I’ve had an MRI. I have a brain, among other internal organs. It looks normal because I don’t have the kind of mental illness that’s detectable through imaging (yet). But I know my brain is the cause of my mental illness, and while I’d love for you to pray for me to be free of it one day, I’m not mentally ill because my faith isn’t strong enough. Let’s just get that whole idea out of the way.

On the contrary, actually. My faith is strong because it has to be. Because I have demons. Because I am Legion, for they are many. Some call faith a crutch for the weak. Yep. I didn’t choose to be weak. There were periods of life when I didn’t know I could be stronger than I was, but I’ve always been weak in some ways. But the faith-is-a-crutch people have it backwards. I don’t have faith because I’m weak and need a crutch. I have a crutch because I choose to have faith. And without that crutch, without my faith, I’d be flat on my face. A lot of people have had similar problems to the ones I have, and I’m sure some of them have gotten through them without the crutch of faith. But why would I want to?

              Here’s the point that I’m finally getting to: my faith is strong because I need it to be. Like a muscle, I exercise my faith when I’m strong so that it can support me when I’m weak. I cultivate my relationship with my God everyday because knowing God more means that I’m more confident in who He is in my life, and how much He loves me and supports me, and that I can have faith in that when my brain is telling me that I’m worthless. I have faith because God teaches me to practice it, to invest in my relationship with my Love. I need to trust God, because I need a power greater than myself to get through life. I need faith because optimism, without God, is a fairy tale.

From Eden’s Dirt

kyle-ellefson-196125-unsplash

My dear followers,

I’m sure you may have noticed the change in the header for the blog, and if you follow me on Facebook you may have noticed that my page there is called Organic Compost. I’ve been praying about a title for my blog for several months now, bouncing around ideas in my mind and questioning if this site needs a title beyond my own name. The truth is, though, that I’m a big fan of names, even for inanimate things. Names give meaning and help me associate a concept with the concrete.

The journey I’m on is one of self discovery and God-discovery. I find life difficult; in fact, lately I am weary. I’m not just tired, and I’m not just busy. When someone asks, “How are you?” weary is the word that comes to mind. I have led and am leading a full life, and that fullness has included the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I’ve made enough trips around the sun now that I’ve noticed something — God doesn’t just let bad things happen to me. God uses those things to show me more of Himself, more of who I am in Christ, and to grow me closer to the unique person He designed me to be.

God uses the bad things to grow me. 

Besides names, I’m also a fan of analogy. Yes, those things we studied to boost our SAT scores. Similes, metaphors. By comparing the unknown to the known, or the conceptual to the concrete, I’m able to understand ideas more clearly and associate those ideas with something I can see and touch. That’s what happens for me in nature. By helping me see my worst moments as opportunities to grow in faith, God reminds me that He grows faith from pain just as He grows apples, zucchinis, and lilies from dirt. He shows me that even as organic matter disintegrates into the ground to provide nutrients that help new plants to grow and flourish, He can take my hurts, my mistakes, my pain, and my sin, and make it new again in a way that blesses me and others.

God can take the dust of Eden and use it to make dry bones rise, deserts bloom, and lions lay down with lambs. He can lead my dirty feet beside still waters, through the valley death, and onto streets of gold. 

I hope you’ll forgive my experimentation with not just the blog title, but with it’s content and with my voice as a writer. If you have any feedback please know that I welcome it wholeheartedly.

I pray that your Sabbath Sunday will bring you a grateful heart and dusty feet.

juja-han-149998-unsplash

Photos by Kyle Ellefson and Juja Han.

If the mountains bow in reverence

Last summer my husband and I traveled alone to this place, Ouray, Colorado, to celebrate our 15th anniversary and for him to run an incredibly challenging 100 mile race. But while we were here we did something unexpected- we fell in love with the mountains. I’ve loved mountains and trees and the little towns that get nestled within them since I was a girl, but being an east coast resident until two years ago, I had never seen mountains like this. And it wasn’t just the mountains. On our last night in town my husband, who isn’t always in touch with his more mystical emotions, looked at me and said, “Do you feel at home here?” I did, and I do. This year the kids came with us and were spellbound even on the first day.

One thing I’m reading and learning from this journey of becoming a writer is that our experiences with our Creator don’t always come to us through words. I’m a big fan of words, but God communicates in an infinite variety of ways if I’m listening. He communicates in mountain air, the sound of water rushing over rocks and cliffs, the voice of my husband, my child, my friend, or a stranger. Listening isn’t easy in our culture, and interpreting can be even harder. But honing my communication skills and sharpening my ears to hear the language of my Lord is worth it. I encourage you today to open your ears, your heart, your mind, your pores, and your soul to the Holy Spirit’s calling.

Photo by author.

Pushing or Following?

15078593_10209543488455480_7285230499716754328_n[1]

 

My husband, Eric, runs ultra trail marathons. For those who aren’t part of the running world, a marathon is 26.2 miles, so “ultra marathon” is a term for any race that’s even longer, and the “trail” part means that he’s running on what others would consider a hiking trail, usually involving elevation gains. Often when I tell people this they ask me why he does it, and that’s a hard question to answer, even though I think I do understand his reasons. It’s about pushing.

I definitely don’t run ultra marathons, but pushing is something that Eric and I have in common. I’m not only talking about physical strength and endurance; I’m talking about a constant drive to get more from life and more from ourselves. For some people pushing looks like keeping up with the Joneses — get a good job, make more money, buy the big house and the nice car. Eric and I were on that track for a while, but we found that it quickly came back to bite us. Now we’re more focused on achievements. We want to reach more personal goals, do more things, grow more spiritually, do more to serve others, maybe make a name for ourselves. Harder, better, faster, stronger. Eric made a career change several years ago and is currently finishing a masters degree. I got my masters as well, and now I’m focused on fulfilling my lengthy bucket list.

Our sermon this morning centered around Hebrews 12:1-2:

Hebrews12corrected

In years past when I’d go along to watch Eric’s road races there were usually at least a couple of runners with a portion of this verse printed on their shirts, and it’s certainly encouraging, as if the writer of Hebrews was giving believers a pep talk. But what about “the race that lies before us?” Does this mean that, as Christians, we all run the same race, regardless of our individual differences? Or has God ordained that each of us run on our very own trail, achieving only what He has destined us to achieve?

What if I get to the finish line only to realize I ran the wrong race?

I’m not going to claim to know the answer to any of that because I don’t. I’m just another runner like the rest. The truth is that when I run a race I’m just following the person in front of me. All those goals on my bucket list are just things I want to do someday. I’d like to think that I want to do them because God has called me to, but I don’t know that for sure.

During one long trail race Eric found himself facing a dark overnight run with trail markers that weren’t easy to find. The only way he could stay on course was to search for and follow a series of small orange flags, set roughly a quarter mile apart, and barely visible on a high dark mountain. But I don’t think God calls me into a lifelong game of hide and seek where I must constantly wonder whether what I’m working on is really a part of His will for me or not. I worry about that a lot, but I also know that God has given us the Way (John 14:6), so maybe this is a worry I need to loosen my grip on.

What God does say in Hebrews 12 is that I really just need to do what I do during a race –follow the Guy in front of me. “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus…”

Jesus, being full man and fully God, guides us on our own course, because He has run it before and He knows the way. I’m not called to die on a cross (I hope), but I’m called to pick up my cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), being willing to carry it for the joy that lies before me.

So perhaps whether I run 100 miles or 2, whether I write books or grocery lists, whether I tend a mission field in a foreign country or just the one inside my home, I just have to keep following the Guy in front of me. Maybe God cares less about what goals I achieve because what’s important is whose name I achieve them in.

Ericjumpingrace

© 2019 From Eden's Dirt

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑