Thursday, March 22, 2018

Matthew 26- Not What I Want But What You Want

Eugene Masonic Cemetery 
If I had to break down one of the hardest principles of faith to a handful of words it’s this: “Not what I want but what you want (verse 39)” or in other contemporary translations, “Not my will but your will be done”.

It’s so hard, isn’t it? The ability to go, “okay, Lord. I don’t want to do it, I’m not going to enjoy doing it, but I know it’s what you want so I’m going to do it”. I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of person who only feels comfortable and relaxed if I’m the one holding the reins in my own life and situations. The idea of handing over the control to someone else, including God, is among the hardest things for me to do.

Yet, this is exactly what our Savior did. It is no accident that he went to the Garden of Gethsemane which translates as “olive press”. When pressing olives for their oil, the olives would be put in an olive press, where the olive would be crushed into a paste and spread across discs before reentering the press to be crushed again, thus surrendering its oil. In this case, Jesus was the olive.

Matthew 26 began with Jesus’ memorial service- he was anointed with an expensive ointment that was usually reserved for anointing a body before it is buried. He broke bread with his closest friends in Passover while using the bread and wine to illustrate a new covenant between God and mankind. “Take, eat” was His command as he broke the unleavened bread, “This is my body”. He then gave thanks and took the cup of wine. “Drink from it” was his second command, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for man for the forgiveness for sins”. It might interest you to know that the Greek word for thanks is εὐχαριστία or Eucharist. That is why some churches, including my own, refer to Communion as the Eucharist. When we take the bread and the wine, we are doing this in remembrance, in memorial of what would soon be the broken and bloody sacrifice of Christ for our sins.

Jesus knew that He was going to die and that it wasn’t going to be a pretty or peaceful death. As He walked with his disciples to the edge of the garden, He became agitated and filled with deep sorrow. He threw himself to the ground as He reached for His father in an abyss of deep emotional, spiritual, and even physical agony. God was putting Him into a press to begin the process of yielding our salvation. In fervent prayer, Jesus asked to be spared what would have been a terrifying process. The first time He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” and the second time He prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done”. We are not talking about a whimsical prayer where we ask for deliverance from an exam or even a snow day so we can sleep in, but a prayer for mercy and reprieve from a future of excruciating pain and a terrible death. And this wasn’t just anyone praying, it was God’s own son, who God anointed in the River Jordan and God didn’t answer His prayer.

In his essay, The Efficiency of Prayer, C.S. Lewis pointed out that” There are, no doubt, passages in the New Testament which may seem at first sight to promise an invariable granting of our prayers. But that cannot be what they really mean. For in the very heart of the story we meet a glaring instance to the contrary. In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not. After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed.”

While God’s refusal to Jesus’ prayer is extraordinary, Jesus’ acceptance and submission was even more so. When He said, “yet not what I want, but what you want”, He was telling His Father that He would fulfill God’s will in absolute obedience. How many of us could pull off that kind of submission? How many of us could raise our hand and say, “Okay Lord, I will do exactly as you say and exactly how you want it!”?

Following this perfect act of submission, Jesus roused his sleeping friends because it was time to meet what awaited Him. Then a second profound and uncanny coincidence occurred. John 18:1 tells us that when Jesus walked to the second part of the garden where Judas and the soldiers were waiting for him, that Jesus went through the Valley of Kidron.

This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, according to the Talmud, the blood of the animals slaughtered in the Temple, and other refuse (probably the impurities from the city), were to be carried through a sewer into the lower Kidron and thence sold as manure to gardeners (2 Chronicles 29-31). Secondly, it was a place of death, a cemetery. Many tombs were located along the walls and paths of Kidron. As He walked, Jesus would have seen those graves. He would have been thinking of the role He was about to play. The Passover lamb, whose blood would be shed and sacrificed for the sinful excrement of man. He was walking over the last efficacious blood of sacrifices and seeing the filth of humanity on his way to become the final blood sacrifice and to remove the filth of humanity.

This Sunday begins Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday which commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem which leads to Maundy Thursday which commemorates Jesus’ agony and total submission in Gethsemane before He experienced the agony of Good Friday when He took the sins of the past, present, and future and died for them; and finally, the glory and joy of Easter Sunday when He defeated death and rose again. David Guzik said, “Jesus did not die as a martyr. Jesus went to his death knowing that it was his Father’s will that he face death completely alone as the sacrificial, wrath-averting Passover Lamb. As his death was unique, so also his anguish; and our best response to it is hushed worship.”

Some of you might be wondering how one would go about celebrating these sacred events. Do it with thanks, with reverent and joyful praise. Acknowledge the sacrifice of the sacrificial Lamb of God. Eat the bread and drink the wine of God and remember He who took on the sins of the world with love and gratitude in your hearts. Blessed Easter to you all.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Matthew 11- Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk

When I was growing up, my mother was my teacher of Christian ethics. She would quote the same proverb over and over: “If you’re going to talk the talk, you had better walk the walk”. She usually reserved it for the occasions when I wasn’t acting in a Christ-like manner. It goes in fellowship with “practice what you preach” or “talk is cheap” or even “actions speak louder than words”. They all come with the same message: check your hypocrisy. My mother was telling me that if I’m going to wear a cross around my neck, carry a Bible, and proclaim myself as a Christian, I had better act like it.

If we’re going to talk the talk of a Christian, we need to walk with Christ and we better be acting like Him because actions do indeed come in louder and clearer than any WWJD bracelet (or the prayer beads I carry in my pocket) or passive word that flows from our mouths. “How do we do that?”, you may ask. Well, thankfully in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gave us an unmistakably clear answer.
Verse 28 begins with an invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (NRSV)”. Chuck Smith called this a “wonderful invitation”.  Jesus is pulling up a chair, so we can sit down with Him and have a chat. He wants to hear from us, He wants us to unload all our baggage, not for our own sake or to pet our bruised and damaged egos, because once we are able to let go of our baggage, we will be open to His assistance.

This baggage can be so many things in our lives. We struggle with all sorts of things. Some of us lie, some of us steal, some of us struggle with sexual sins, many of us struggle with bitterness, and I struggle with doubt and self-loathing on a daily basis. Yes, I’m preaching to myself as well as you. Additionally, Christ wasn’t just talking to the followers of John the Baptist or other Hellenistic people. His messages are still applicable and are the “same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8 NRSV)”. Which means, you, me, and we need to lend an ear to what He’s trying to say to us. He’s trying to tell us that what we struggle with is not so different from what John, His disciples, and countless other people mentioned in the Gospels dealt with in their lives? Don’t believe me? Thumb through the stories and count how many of those people who share something in common with you.
First comes the invitation. Jesus just welcomed us to His table and listened to us pour out our hearts. He might have even nodded in understanding, hummed in sympathy, or placed a hand on our shoulder while we unloaded. Now, as we take a deep breath to steady ourselves, He’s getting ready to give a prescription to help us overcome the things we struggle with.

In Verse 29, He gives us a direct order: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle, and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (NRSV)”. Wait…what? We just went from an offer of rest and repose to a command of action from which we will find rest? This may sound paradoxical, but it really does make sense. If we are going to proclaim Jesus Christ as our King, we must submit ourselves to Him completely. We must submit ourselves to God’s service and learn what His Son will teach us. This isn’t an idle path to walk as much as we might want it to be. C. H. Spurgeon pointed out to his congregation that “Every active Christian will tell you he is never happier than when he has much to do; and, on the whole, if he communes with Jesus, never more at rest than when he has least leisure. Look not for your rest in the mere enjoyments and excitements of religion but find your rest in wearing a yoke which you love, and which, for that reason, is easy to your neck.” The rest Christ is promising us is the release from all that baggage we just unloaded at Jesus’ doorstep.

By submitting ourselves to the yoke of Christ, we are allowing ourselves to be open to His teachings and He just said that He will be a gentle and humble teacher. Spurgeon also said, “The rest before us is rest through learning. Does a friend say, "I do not see how I am ever to get rest in working, and rest in suffering?" My dear brother, you never will except you go to school, and you must go to school to Christ.” This means that we must lay aside all the things that prevent our finding that rest, including our past prejudices, self-pity, and preconceived notions of what our lives should be. Because our ways really are not God’s ways or Christ’s ways. Our timing may be good or bad timing, but God’s timing is always perfect. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather rely on God’s perfection that my own imperfection.

This is the promise that Jesus closes out with, He said in verse 30, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (NRSV)”. Coming from the Savior who would later hang on a cross for the sins of the world, this may seem like a rather extraordinary statement for Him to make. However, His burden wasn’t light because He was taking the easy path and living for Himself. No. Jesus’ burden was light because He wanted to please His Father. He lived to please His Father. When we live to please our eternal Father, when we live like the Savior of whom we proclaim, it is an easier burden. We see it time and time again from the Word and in our own lives that when we live to please ourselves, the burden of the carnal desires is much heavier and spoiler alert, it makes us miserable.

We live in a time and place where we are encouraged to please ourselves and mocked or in some parts of the world persecuted when we choose to follow Christ. In our lives, in our current day and age, we are beset by division, dissent, difficulty. In all these the many movements by which we are surrounded, the many efforts we make in our lives, we make in the attempt to rest. Christ comes to us offering us this rest. He promises that he can provide rest from the things that make us heavy laden. On the one hand, if we want the rest, we must actually come to him, we cannot delude ourselves by thinking we can provide our own rest with our own power. We must not believe that our own resources be factors that we see at work currently in the exterior world or our interior world has the power to grant our rest. Only in coming unto Christ and trusting in him, can this rest be gained. He, himself, is our promised rest. And yet, when he offers us his rest, he describes likewise, as a yoke, as a burden, as a learning. We cannot merely speak or think ourselves into this rest. Restful abiding in Christ is the same as walking with Christ. It cannot merely be “talking the talk” and not “walking the walk”

So. Wear the bracelet, by all means. Carry the prayer beads. Wear your “I love Jesus” t-shirts. Post those Bible verses on Facebook and talk about how much you love God. It won’t hurt anyone, and I pray that it brings those you interact with to Christ. All I ask that you remember is this: if you do all those things but you don’t act out the beliefs you claim to hold dear. It will drown out all the messages that you hope to send because it will be accurately interpreted as mere lip service. It will drive people from Christ when they need Him the most. Talk the talk, but if you do, please for the love of God, walk the walk.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Matthew 9- the Prescription for Healing

Imagine with me a man. Now, this man would look weird, even in Eugene. Not only because of his appearance but also the vibes that radiate from him. Imagine that he was so weird that the Eugenians kicked him out and forced him to float across the Willamette to Springfield. Hard to believe, right? But it did happen once to a man only it happened many centuries ago in Capernaum-the Eugene of Judea. After healing a Gadarene of demons by sending those demons into a herd of pigs who drowned themselves in the nearby river, he was told to pack his bags and leave. Hardly a sadist who would force himself to be where he wasn’t wanted, the man got into a boat and sailed home to Galilee. Sound familiar yet? Not only did the Springtuckian come home, he left something amazing in his wake.

This man was none other than Jesus Christ, himself. He walked where He walked in His boyhood days and hung out in His own neighborhood. People followed him wherever he went and under the disapproving eye of the local ministers who thought Jesus was way too weird to be one of the faithful sons of Israel. That didn’t stop others from wanting to meet Jesus and bring with them their struggles to lay at his feet.

There were two people who did this literally. The first was a group of men who picked up a friend of theirs who was a paralytic, bed and all and carried him kicking and screaming to the one man who could possibly heal him. Jesus looked at the paralytic who radiated doubt, anger, and even humiliation at his crippled state with pity and compassion. He told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven, that he was loved and then told him to pick up his bed and walk home. Imagine the bewilderment of the man who received this order and the amount of risk he put into obeying knowing that there was a chance it wouldn’t even work. Imagine his wonder and joy when he took his first steps to realize that the impossible became possible with each step as he walked, perhaps even ran or skipped home.

Another such case came in the form of a lonely woman who was shunned because she had an unknown disease that caused her to bleed incessantly making her unclean through no fault of her own. Imagine the desperation that woman must have felt because she had no insurance to help her and she put her last denarius into seeing many doctors who all told her that she couldn’t be cured. Desperate enough to have the crazy thought “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well (verse 21)”. Prostrated on the ground, she reached out so her fingertips could brush his hem. A touch so soft and as gentle as the flick of a butterfly’s wing that no one would have known. But Jesus felt it to His core and as the power left His body, her own body renewed, and a hopeless situation dawned into a situation of joy.

Not only did Jesus perform this miraculous healing, he explained why. To the woman, He said, “ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε”, “your faith has made you whole (verse 22)”. With the friends of the paralytic, the text says “καὶ ἰδὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν πίστιν”, “and when Jesus saw their faith”. Faith. Faith. Their faith, your faith, his faith, her faith. If Matthew 9 is about healing the underlined prescription is faith.

Now, some of you may be wondering why the heck I of all people would be talking about healing. If you are, I have to say that you’re not alone in that wondering. I have to say, in the spirit of confession and in repentance, that I did not approach this topic correctly. When I opened to Matthew 9 and the first story I read was the paralytic, I laughed hard. A cripple preaching on Christ healing infirmity? I trust that you can appreciate the irony of such a thing and I felt completely unqualified to preach on healing. I sought out the advice of a friend who had preached for many decades and he told me to go read some Paul-particularly 2 Corinthians 12:1-9.

Three times, Paul asked God to relieve him of his pain and torment. God refused and said it was for Paul’s benefit- “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness (verse 9)”. Instead of getting ticked, these words changed Paul’s outlook on his trials and instead of despair, he boasted all the louder in God’s praise because for Christ Paul was willing to endure any calamity for when he is weak, he is made strong.

So, what do we do when we beg God for deliverance from trial or illness and He doesn’t remove the bitter cup? Calvary Chapel Pastor Chuck Smith said, “many times, it takes a greater faith to not be healed than it does to be healed.” I’m not going to put God in a box, but I understand that there’s a good chance that my healing won’t take place until after my Master calls me home and I’ll be honest and say I don’t know why. But healing comes in many forms. Jesus didn’t just heal physical ailments, He also the skillful physician of both body and soul. Healing starts with faith, whether it is our faith like the woman who dared to reach her hand out to Christ, or the faith of others like the friends of the paralyzed man who carried him despite his protestations. Both stories had this in common: their faith was strong, humble and active. Through this faith, we see the remarkable instances of the power and pity of the Great Physician whose miracles were not primarily calculated for the crowd effect. Instead they were primarily done to minister to the humble needs of humble people.

When we reach out to Christ, we need to be humble. We need to have faith that He can heal us, but we also need to have faith if it is God’s will that we endure.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Awaken, Heal, Mend, Focus, Renew, and Believe in 2018

"The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
~Philippians 4:7 NRSV

One of the reasons Advent is one of my favorite parts of the Liturgical calendar isn't just because it's a time of preparation for the birth of the Prince of Peace. It's also a time for reflection on the nearly finished year and what to hope for in the future. 

This has been a tremendously hard year for me. I've dealt with a car accident, struggles in school, shaken faith, damaged mental health, and worsening physical health. I've lost friends, I've had my heart shattered and re-shattered. However, in these difficult times, I've also been incredibly blessed with good friends, supportive mentors, and little reminders here and there that God has put people and situations in my life to help me through the trials in my path. 

2017 has been hard for so many and many are praying for a better year in 2018 as am I. We living in a divided country where brother has turned on brother over politics, social awareness, worldviews, and other important issues. We live in a broken world that has been tested with natural disasters, wars and the rumors of wars, and human suffering in so many ways. We live in uncertain times and sometimes the future feels bleak. There are so much anger and hatred that fills our streets, Facebook, conversation in the classroom, and over our dinner tables. There are times where I look up to the dark sky and ask God why the world is the way it is and why we act the way we do. During that prayer, I felt His impression on my heart that said: "What do you think needs to happen for those things to change?"

This took in late November and Advent was just around the corner. My church released an image of a list of words for Advent with every day being assigned one word to reflect on all day. The more I looked at the list and read each word, the more I noticed that certain words were jumping out at me. Words that I needed to spend more time reflecting and seeing that those words were lacking in myself and that I think is lacking in the world today. My hope for 2018 is that believers and non-believers alike may reflect on, embrace and apply such words as we work to improve not only our own circumstances and the global circumstances. All of the words on the list are wonderful but the words that convicted and edified me: Awaken, Heal, Mend, Focus, Renew, and Believe. This is my hope for 2018...

My hope is that we will awaken. We will awaken to our purposes, we will awaken to the plight of others beyond this time when we think of each other as "fellow travelers to the grave and not creatures bound for other journeys (A Christmas Carol)". My hope is that our love for each other will awaken even during these troubling times. If we awaken for others and a desire to serve others regardless of sectarian differences, the world may be all the better for it. To quote the Psalmist David, "Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn  (Psalm 108:2)". 

In a time of pain, fear, and heartbreak, my hope is that we will find a way to heal. So many of us have been wounded physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally by our lives' circumstances and by others, often people we thought we could trust. Even though some of the wounds become scars or callouses, we often haven't healed from them but have become numbed. This is one of my weaknesses. I've allowed callouses to develop but I never took the time to face my traumas, to deal with the pain. I only ever tried to take it on the chin and soldier on. One of the hardest lessons I learned this year is that I can't keep burying the pain, one day I must have the courage to face it and trust God to heal me. My hope is that I will trust God's promise to His children: "I am going to bring it recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them an abundance of prosperity and security (Jeremiah 33:6)".

 As we heal from all the wounds we have gained from a variety of circumstances, my hope is that we will reach out to those who we have hurt and help mend their broken hearts. I know I have a few people that I have hurt and need to make amends. In the past two years we as a nation have ripped each other apart over differences in political platforms: Trump Supporters vs Hillary Supporters, Conservatives vs Liberals, Religious vs Atheists, Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice, etc. Facebook has become a war zone where we tap a few keys and submit hateful and hurtful comments towards people we disagree with, often using words that we wouldn't dream of saying to the individual in person. I've had it happen to me and to my deep shame, I have done it to others. Friendships have ended over such disagreements and words have been used that can never be taken back. My hope is that we may remember even during heated moments that we are brothers and sisters that love each other and would do anything for each other. At the end of the day, all we have is each other and I for one will do my best to never let a difference of opinion or belief make me forget that. After all, we were created by a God who has forgiven us for a multitude of sins: "He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14)". 

Whether it is relationships, friendships, self, health, academic goals, faith, or New Year resolutions, my hope is that we focus. Focus on ourselves to stay healthy, self-aware so we can grow, feel the glow of achieving a goal. Focus on our friends and family so that we can support them, love them, help them through life's sorrows and celebrate their joys. I hope that instead of dwelling on the past, I might find the energy to focus on the future. In May, I'll be achieving a goal I've been working towards for nearly 10 years- a Bachelor of Arts in History and Christian Ministry. I hope that I'll make an extra effort to focus on keeping myself healthy instead of constantly pushing and punishing myself. I hope to focus on God so that I might have a better relationship with my Master and loving Creator. Paul advised us in Philippians: "Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but I focus on this one thing: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14)". 

Many of us are familiar with the metaphor of the phoenix rising from the ashes. Transcendence, resurrection, and complete recovery from the ashes of adversity. To rise from the ashes is to renew after a blow whether it is physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. As we heal from any of our wounds, make amends, focus on what is important, my hope is that we will renew ourselves in the achievement. My hope is that we will renew ourselves, our relationship with each other and with God. As the ashes of 2017 fall around us, may 2018 see us rising from those ashes for a renewal of life. As I enter 2018 I pray: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10)". 

In a world full of anger, doubt, and despair it is so easy to lose faith to lose hope. My hope is that we will overcome the darkness and simply believe. Believe that even in these dark times, there is a power that knows what will happen and is in control. I hope that we can learn to believe in ourselves, our neighbors, even those whom we don't agree with. By believing that things can and will get better, we aren't sticking our heads in the sand and living in denial. One thing that the history of our species proves time and time again is even during dark and dangerous times, there is a new dawn full of hope and light. We are a species of endurance and sometimes I think we let life and world events deprive us of our "grit". If so, we can regain our courage and our ability to endure but we must first believe that it can be done and that those who support us have our backs. I believe in God. I believe in His only begotten son Jesus Christ and that Christ has saved me from eternal death by dying on the cross for all of us and taking our sins upon Him when he had no sin. I honestly don't know if I'd even be alive today without that knowledge. In times of trouble, I take solace from Paul's words to the Romans: "For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame (Romans 10:10-11)”. 

I've never been one for resolutions, but one thing Advent taught me was that there are worthwhile resolutions that have nothing to do with my weight, my income, or my worldly goods. As I hope for all of us to awaken, heal, mend, focus, renew, and believe... I also want to make these words my resolution for 2018 so that a year from now not only will I be able to reflect and say that I have not only improved my lot and perspective but that I was able to help others in their journey. To all of my friends and family-please take with you my love and prayers for a blessed year. To all of my fellow travelers to the grave, please take my good wishes and hopes as you enter this new year. Happy New Year 2018 and as my favorite Irish song concludes:

 "Good night and joy be to you all!"



Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Dark Night of the Soul

"Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord."
~Psalm 130:1 NRSV

Ash Wednesday 2017

 When St. John of the Cross spoke of the dark night of the soul, I wonder if he had any idea of just how true the concept would ring for believers of future generations. A Christian's spiritual desolation full of melancholia, doubt, and a feeling of separation from God. It is a soul-rending time, a dark time, and a moment where one's faith is put to the ultimate test. I know this because I've experienced it and have so the past few months.

In all honesty, I had never planned to talk about this. I'm a very private person and as an aspirant in the Episcopal Church (meaning, someone who plans to be a deacon or in my case- a priest); the idea of putting a voice to it seemed like a risk that could cost me in the taking. When I started getting the inkling that I should do so, I thought I had lost my mind. However, the more I resisted, the more the hints grew stronger and constant until I'm sitting here with a cup of tea to fortify my nerves and my fingers on the keyboard. If I really want to be honest: I'm terrified.

I would like to apologize in advance for the rawness that will show up in this post. I'll be talking about some hard things and while my language may be a bit harsher, I won't be completely offensive in my word choice.

I'm not going to lie: 2017 has been a very bad year for me. It has been a never-ending, relentless shit storm that has delivered one punishing blow after the other. In fact, during my last week of the semester, my Trauma professor referenced such occasions by what the French refer to as coup sur coup or blow-by-blow. On the second day of the new year, I was in a minor car accident that had me in severe pain for several days. I suppose I should have taken that as an omen, but I have never been very superstitious.

Between that and a lost battle with the Winter Queen, I ended missing the first week of classes which could be disastrous as I was taking all upper-division courses. And it did indeed have consequences. I was terribly behind in my work plus with the additional pain, my concentration was virtually nil. Eventually, things got so bad that I had to entertain the notion of a medical withdrawal or even just dropping out. I started missing a ton of class and when I could go to class or work, I often had to leave early or step out because my body was in too much pain. It got to the point where even a couple of professors wondered if they were being negligent and unethical in letting me try to continue. Unfortunately, I didn't have a choice but to continue because if I don't graduate in May 2018, I will be without financial aid and have no way of paying 40k+ for another year. Translation: I'll be several thousand in debt with no degrees. I had to take Incompletes in all of my classes, withdraw from one which put a second 'W' on my transcript and had to request at least one extension on all of my Incompletes thus far.

This was compounded by the fact that I was getting even sicker and under constant stress from my classes and a series of untreated trauma that chose the worst time to raise its ugly head. Combining all of that, plus some issues in my private life and I was brought first to my knees and then to my face.

One thing I've been praised for many times has been my ability to pick myself off the floor, dust off my knees and continue down my path. A portrait of strength and courage, I suppose. I have survived the continual loss of my health- three devastating diagnoses, constant pain, and my continual reliance on mobility aids. I have endured humiliation, the occasional depression, and personal failures. All of these things I survived by taking the Stoic approach to taking things on the chin and moving forward. But this time was different, it was so different. I had been thrown prostrate to the ground and no longer had the strength to get on my feet again. I began to withdraw from people and sequestering myself. I stopped interacting beyond what was necessary for classes and work. My sleep patterns became worse and my appetite was gone. Some of those cheery Facebook posts? Yeah, that was to keep people from being concerned and to leave me alone. I fell into deep despair and it finally came to a head in April.

On the night of April 8th around 10 o'clock, I was a wreck. I paced around my apartment in tears. I was unable to think straight, in high amounts of pain, and I couldn't endure another minute. At the moment, I knew what I wanted more than anything was for the suffering to end and to me, there was only one avenue for it and it involved my death. I didn't know at the time but there are two stages of suicide: Ideation (the imagining or planning) and Crisis (the attempt or successful death). I can't remember everything I was thinking that night- only that my head was foggy and that I felt a relative calm as I reached for my planned method. 5 tablets of Vicodin, 5 tablets of Flexiril, 3 tablets of Amitriptyline, and 3 tablets of Valium. Essentially, enough medication, at least in my mind, to put me to sleep and with any luck stop my heart. Now, I am aware that planned overdoses are far from foolproof and could lead to worse consequences including a slow and painful death. As I held the pills in my hand, I looked out my window and considered how I wanted to do it. Because of my isolating myself for several weeks, I knew it could be days before my absence would be noticed and probably not before the smell hit. I considered taking the pills in my apartment and walking the short distance to the river so no one from NCU would find my body. And then for some reason, I can't explain, I had the sensation like I had been jerked out of sleep. My mind instantly cleared and I stared at my pill filled hand in horror. I threw them onto my desk and sobbed uncontrollably as I realized fully what I had nearly done. I sent a message to a trusted mentor to let her know that I was in crisis and would be turning myself into the hospital. Because my energy was instantly drained, I decided to rest and go in the morning if I still felt it necessary. Throughout the night I could hear a voice in my head repeating the same words over and over; "ugly...pathetic...weak...unloved...forgotten... abandoned...forsaken...damned." The next morning, instead of going to my church's Palm Sunday Mass, I checked myself into the suicide ward at the E.R. where they nearly institutionalized me but chose not to because they were worried it would make things worse. I went home and rested.

While, I took steps to put safety precautions in place (handed over my medications to a trusted friend, created a safety plan and such), I had to deal with the aftermath of my choice. Growing up, I was taught that suicide is a stupid, selfish, chicken-shit long-term solution to a usually short-term problem. Not to mention, that it is an unforgivable sin in eyes of God.  I felt deep shame for my weakness along with anger and self-loathing. This intensified a couple of days after my hospitalization when I opened the local newspaper and read a heart-rending article. That very same night, there had been another woman in my situation who was 18-a full ten years my junior who was attending her Freshman year at the University of Oregon with her sister. Both of us had stood at the edge of the abyss. I woke up and she didn't. I felt sick when I read about her suicide and seeing how young she was. This was a girl whose life had barely started, she had her life ahead of her and who knows what potential she could have had. A few weeks ago, I was discussing this with a friend and he asked me how it had made me feel. In all honesty, I felt guilty because I survived and she didn't. I also felt anger towards God because I can't understand why He pulled me back instead of her.

Maundy Thursday 2017
After everything that happened, I reached out to my rector at St. Mary's and told him everything. After briefly discussing the theology surrounding suicide and my being spiritually dead, he asked to meet with me after Holy Week but encouraged me to participate in the events of the week including the meditation of the Stations of the Cross that took place later that day and taking an hour prayer shift at the Vigil at the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday. I took the 1-2 A.M. shift and sat on the floor in front of the first pew in the chapel. One thing that stood out to me was that to my left was the sanctuary which was pitch black. It was so dark that I couldn't see the main altar. But directly in front of me was the chapel altar bright in white and candlelight. I had a slight epiphany that while spiritually I was as dark as the sanctuary the hope was I would eventually find myself back in the light. I went home and had my own personal practice for Good Friday, Holy Saturday and went to Easter Mass on Sunday. While I had a good day with a friend after Mass, I felt dismayed by the fact that while I threw myself into Holy Week like I've always done, perhaps even with a bit more fervor, I felt spiritually hollow and numb.

I went to my first meeting with my rector, we discussed Holy Week and my feelings on the matter. He helped me see two important things: a) by trying to be selfless and not burden people with my problems, I was actually being selfish and b) I was afraid of being angry at God. I felt convicted on both counts because he was right. I chose to harm myself by isolating myself and suppressing some very raw feelings I had for my Creator. I did feel angry and dare say I have for quite some time because for the past few years especially, I have experienced setback after setback, crisis after crisis, and all of this with little or no let up. I might as well have stood by an open door saying "Next disaster, this way please."

But I chose to swallow my anger because it felt self-important and selfish because there are people out there that have it worse than I ever will. That anger finally came out about four weeks ago. One of the things I struggled with the most was the fact that I had all of these chronic illnesses but couldn't get access to proper medications, therapies, and treatments. I finally changed Primary Care Physicians and got a list of Pain Specialists that were listed by my insurance. I made call after call only to find out that only one accepted my insurance and he had filled his quota. I begged to be put on a waiting list at the very least only to find out that he was actually planning to remove himself from the list and let go his OHP patients. This meant that because of the nature of my insurance, I had no hope of getting any sort of treatment for my illnesses when a couple of them have the potential of being fatal. I felt my phone slip out of my hand and softly land on my desk. The book I held in other my hand wasn't so lucky. In a burst of rage I threw that book across the room so hard it made a loud noise as it bounced off the wall and hit the floor. I spun to the wall behind and slammed my hand against it bruising my hand before I sank to my knees. Then I started to scream at God. While I didn't follow the advice Job's wife gave him, I screamed and shook my fist nonetheless. I told him I was tired of living, tired of suffering with no reprieve and no mercy and enduring under His indifference. I told Him if all He was going to do is torture me that He should just kill me and be done with it. I then sobbed uncontrollably for the better part of three hours.

Fr. Bingham lit a votive candle for me.
A few months ago, a good friend told me that he found that emotional pain is infinitely far worse than physical pain. This incredibly difficult and dark season of my life has proven just that. It has been said that it's when we've been broken that we're closer to God and it just didn't feel so for me. If anything it gave me a glimpse of Jesus hanging on the cross and feeling the absence of God which made him cry out in Hebrew "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 NRSV)". It made me feel like I was in Hell, after all that is the literal definition of Hell- the separation between God and His creation. I feel like there is a thick wall of glass between Him and myself. I try to break through but only hurt myself further. I have spent countless hours on my knees in supplication for forgiveness, mercy, and relief... only to feel bereavement. There have been times in my life especially this year where I have wondered if I have been damned-both in this life and the next. I have and do feel like I've been forsaken and it's not an easy feeling to dislodge.

This summer, I've really tried to focus on allowing myself the option of having these feelings. It got to the point where I could no longer pray, read scripture, and going to church to take the Eucharist was hard because between my feelings and my being suicidal I felt wholly unclean. My rector lent me a prayer book and some prayer beads which I use every day. I've been reading the Psalms, Lamentations, and Job to remind myself that it is actually okay to be angry and to ask why. While, I've been mostly focusing on finishing those previously mentioned Incompletes, I've also been trying to take time for self-care by doing things I used to enjoy and trying to not spend as much time in isolation. Still working on both but I really do make an effort.

I'm very sorry for such a dark post. As I've said, I have no idea why I'm putting all of this out there for public scrutiny. Perhaps as Anne Lammot said; the lesson of Easter is that "even if you bury the truth it will always come up again". I have buried the truth in the past and donned a mask but the time has come for the mask to fall and the truth to come up. I wish I could say this has a happy ending that I'm feeling much better and that my walk with God is even closer. Alas, I'm still in the thick of it. I still struggle to get through one more day and sometimes even one more minute. While I'm not feeling particularly suicidal and haven't for quite some time, I'm still in darkness. I'm still heavily depressed and occasionally I still shake my little fist at God. Despite the pain and anguish, I still hold onto my faith. I haven't lost my faith but it has been through the ringer for sure. I try to find a few happy moments every day, little ways that I'm blessed on that day which has helped. I believe in time that I will find relief from my anguish and that I'll find myself back in the pure light, but until then all I can do is try to endure my suffering and wait. It truly has been a long and dark night.



Thursday, March 23, 2017

Enough With the Alternative Healing Articles!

I need to be honest, very few things drive me crazier than receiving yet another article, link, ad, or dissertation claiming that if I do this activity or drink this tonic, my ailments will be healed. Rarely does a week go by when I don't have some well meaning friend trying to make suggestions on how to improve my living conditions. Now, I do want to make it clear to my friends and family members that have sent me suggestions that this post isn't going after you. That being said, there are a few reasons why many of those who deal with chronic conditions, myself included, have a really hard time with articles such as I have mentioned.

1) Any drug, tea, food, or supplement that claims to heal or cure any chronic ailment whether it's Fibro, Colitis, MS, Autism or other such conditions are scams. While such tools can treat the symptoms of these conditions, that is a far cry from healing the patient. There is a reason the Mayo Clinic defines chronic pain as "Chronic pain is persistent, lasting for months or even longer. Chronic pain is considered a health condition in itself." The other side of the coin is frankly the really sucky part of dealing with chronic pain: it is permanent. We're going to be dealing with it for the rest of our earthly lives.

Now, as a devout Christian, I do believe in miracles. The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus and the apostles healing chronic conditions such as the woman with a mysterious blood illness, the ten lepers, the man at the pool of Bethesda, and the blind man at the temple gate. These stories tell us that miracles are possible, it is possible that tomorrow God in His omnipotence will heal me of all my pain and suffering. However, the likelihood is that I'll wake up tomorrow morning and that first stabbing pain will still be there as it was yesterday and yesteryear. I and people like me will most likely be dealing with our pain until our Master calls us home.

You might be wondering what the harm is. I mean, there are plenty of things out there that can be tried and some things that should be tried, I give you that. But, when chronic pain patients receive those well-meaning healing claiming suggestions, it can give many a sense of false hope. It can also really hit home at a deep and damaging level just how hopeless our situation is when those suggestions don't work.

2) These kinds of articles take personal Hells (and make no mistake that chronic pain is the patient's personal living Hell) and make them look completely trivial. Believe me when I say that if chronic pain could be cured with something as facile as a tea, many of us would have been back on our feet last week. It can be just as humiliating as someone telling us that our pain wouldn't be as bad if we were to do x,y, and z. Trust me, if we could, we would.

While I can't speak for every disabled or chronically ill person reading this blog, I can say that we can get pretty creative and proactive when it comes to dealing with our ailments. We also tend to talk to each other about what works for us. I have a very good friend that I discuss these things with. We compare notes on what works for him and what works for me. Not only is it helpful for ideas, it is wonderfully therapeutic. I tend to drink a lot of herbal teas and limit the amount of coffee I consume. I try to start and end my days with Tai Chi and Qigong to keep myself limber and lessen the stiffness of my tired muscles. I also do yoga via Youtube videos with sessions geared towards Fibromyalgia patients. Each of us has our different needs and different levels of discomfort to deal with so there is no blanket solution.

There is something I do want to make clear because I have just typed a lot of hard things. I understand that you care about your friend or loved one who suffers these ailments every day, You want them to feel better and have an improved quality of life. I have a lot of wonderful friends and family that want those things for me. Because I know this and understand this, I can see why these articles seem so wonderful and helpful. The heartbreaking problem is the fact that they rarely are helpful. They can even cause tremendous pain for those of us who struggle with coping with the burden of such pain. Worse of all, they trivialize that pain.

So that being said... PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP WITH THE ARTICLES! They're not helpful to me and other patients. The writers of such articles are snake oil salesmen in my estimation for the reason I have previously stated.

Please, by all means, continue to care about us, love us, support us and make yourself available. We love you for those gifts and we will let you know (as far as we are comfortable) what we need if we need something. All I ask for myself is that you leave treatment options and therapies in the hands of my physicians. That being said, if I find something that works for my pain management, I will share it in case it would work for someone else. But I add the disclaimer that the treatment will be different for each person.

I believe in the tender mercies of my God and Creator. I believe in the healing powers of my Savior, Jesus Christ. I believe through them anything is possible. But I've also learned that my pain has been a powerful tool that has made me more empathetic, loving and has brought me closer to my God. Even if I am never healed, I am reminded that this is for my good. I don't want it to be trivialized or seen as a simple issue. The complexities of chronic pain will never be simple therefore the cure will never be simple.



Monday, December 28, 2015

I Was A Mormon

There were prisoners living in a cave. They have lived there since the days they were born. Each prisoner was tied to a rock so that they could only see the wall in front of them. Behind them were roaring fires and torches where their captors would pass by carrying different objects, statues of animals and so on. Some spoke, most were silent while their shadows were seen by the prisoners. One day, one prisoner was able to untie himself. Once he was free, he looked behind himself and was blinded by the fires. When his eyes adjusted, he could see the captors still carrying their objects, still passing by. He looked to his left and to his right to see that there were other men like him, tied up and their eyes glued to the wall showing the shadows. He then noticed there was an opening on the other side of the den of the cave that too held a light. He carefully made his way to that light until he was blinded by the world above. The sun’s rays were painful to his eyes that had only seen dim light and darkness. Once his eyes adjusted he could see everything. Water, grass, trees, animals, and the sky. When the day turned to night, the beauty of the moon and stores took his breath away. As he stood there transfixed by what he saw, he thought of his life in the cave. No, after all, that he has seen and learned, he cannot go back to that existence. He then thought of his other prisoners and pitied them. He decides that he needs to go back and free them. When the captors see him return and attempt to free the other prisoners, they kill him to prevent him from educating them and letting them escape the cave[1]

I am that prisoner. I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for 8 years and 10 months. I first heard of Mormonism when I was 14 years old and two young men wearing nametags knocked on my door and gave me my first discussion on my front porch. They invited me to church, left their card and a Book of Mormon with me and moved on to the next house. My mother took the book from me and called the missionaries to tell them to never contact me again. A few weeks later I started High School and after school, I ran into those missionaries and apologized for what had happened. One put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Someday you will know the truth for yourself”.

A few months later, I met a man named Andrew when I co-founded a Venturing Crew in Prineville.  Andrew had just turned 18 and was preparing to apply to be a missionary for the church as well as applying for his Eagle Scout rank. At first, we didn’t get along one bit. Then we were able to see that we had a few things in common. We made a truce and eventually, we even became friends. In August 2005, I proposed a relationship on the same day he received his mission call to the Peru Lima South mission. After a long discussion of what the mission would entail and what kind of relationship he felt I would be signing up for, we began dating. Before he left, he gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon that looked just like the one the missionaries gave me and he had me promise him two things: that I would consider reading the book and that I’ll be prayerful in all things. While he was in Peru, I read the book and took the missionary discussions. I was baptized as a member on February 26, 2006. Eventually, my relationship with Andrew ended, but I had gained my own testimony so it didn’t have an effect on my newly-founded faith.

I threw myself completely into the world of Mormonism. I went to early morning seminary on a daily basis, went on Temple trips, watched General Conference, and served part-time as a missionary. I tried to proselytize my friends and family. I was in love with Mormonism and everything about it. I planned to live and even die if necessary for the church and its good name.

In 2010, I met JB, an Evangelical studying in seminary in hopes of becoming a pastor. He was interested in Mormonism and wanted to speak to Mormons to get a better idea on what we believe. He introduced me to the world of Apologetics where I had fun defending my faith and speaking to Born Again Christians about theirs. From time to time, I was asked about certain doctrines of the church that I wasn’t familiar with. I started writing them down so that I could look into them. I began rereading the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price to find answers to my growing questions. I also read old Ensign Articles and sermons given by Prophets and Apostles. The more I read on subjects such as the nature of God, the Godhead, and the Plan of Salvation the more questions I had. It got to the point that I became troubled by what I had learned. Eventually, I decided to go to trusted friends within my ward with these questions. Some were willing to work me but most rebuked me. I was accused of reading anti-Mormon literature, being influenced by Satan and betraying my baptismal covenants.I was also accused of not wanting the church to be true and of being an Apostate. I was taken aback by the vitriol that I received from people I esteemed as close friends and people I looked up to. My Facebook page became  a war zone as my Evangelical friends collided with the Mormon ones. I was accused of seeking attention and intentionally hurting people in order to achieve it. I eventually with the help of JB, placed my questions on my blog. These questions came from several months of study, discussion and church sermons from the Journal of Discourse.

I eventually sat down with my Bishop and my Stake President with these questions. But I received little answers and, even more questions as well as frustration. When I continued my pursuit, friends began writing me off. My inbox filled with more messages of condemnation. Eventually, my depression worsened until I tried to end my life October 2013. My best friends saved me and were kind enough to start reading my inbox and getting rid of the hurtful messages. They also took the liberty of removing those friends.

During this very dark time in my life, God was working me into something for His use. My aunt had me go to Women’s Bible Study with her and my cousin. She set up an appointment with the church’s Care Pastor so that I could talk to him. He listened to my concerns that had developed from my years in Mormonism and used biblical passages to assure me that my concerns were unfounded. When I told him about the covenants I made, he helped me to see that I made promises that I had no business making. He helped me to repent and I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior that day. I continued going to Bible Study and made friends with some very lovely and kind ladies who were aware of my situation. Both in the group and out they made it clear that they were thinking about me, praying for me and loved me. When I was baptized on the 6th of November, some of them were able to attend to support me.

As the months went on, I studied the Bible more and more. The Gospels gave me new hope in the relationship with God and my Savior. I began forming relationships with other Mormons who were just like me. With mentorship, I was able to find the support I needed which helped me to get through the pain of my experience and inspired me to become a mentor. A few months later, I was awarded acceptance into Northwest Christian University, a Bible College in Eugene. I entered campus August 23, 2014 and enrolled in the Christian Ministry program. Due to a promise I made, I tried going to the Young Single Adult ward a few blocks away from campus. It ended in heartbreak and even ended for a time a friendship I treasured. On November 24, 2014 I resigned my membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. On December 04, 2014, I received a letter from the Bishop of the YSA Ward telling me that my resignation not only ended my membership, it also ended my salvation. More to the point he said, “We are directed by the handbook of instructions to inform you that by having your name removed from the records of the church that your records are also being removed from the Book of Life.”

I took this to mean that I am now considered a Daughter of Perdition, that Salvation is now closed to me. My friends at NCU gave me love, reassurance that I am not damned and even got me to laugh about it. As Romans 8:1 reminds us, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, the etching of my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life was filled with the ink of His blood and will never be erased. With this confirmation, I turned my back on my former faith.

Since then, I have been spending a great deal of time in prayer with God and diving into His word. I have added History to my dual major and try to take as many Bible classes as I can. Reading the Church Fathers and other theologians has given me a greater understanding of theology and the Bible. I joined the Episcopal Church in May and am training to be a pastor in hopes that I will run a church in the future. I also minister to Mormons who question church doctrine or wants to leave. I listen to them, pray with them, cry with them and teach them. I also help them find other churches to attend with a church family that will help them with their walk with the Lord.

While the LDS church has caused me a great amount of pain, I am grateful for my years there. Because of my experiences, I have a greater love for the true God because the pain brought me closer to Him. I am also grateful for my remaining friends in the church that continually show me kindness. Their support has meant a lot and I truly hope that this story doesn’t make them feel attacked. They have no need to be ashamed. I would also like to thank Bishop Todd Sheldon of the Centennial Park Ward of the Redmond Oregon Stake for always being available for my questions and trying his best at helping me find answers. I value his friendship and would feel remiss in not mentioning that he has always been supportive of me. For those who are faithful members that read this, I want to make it clear that this isn’t an attack on them or their faith. It is my story and mine alone. I want to share it so others know that they are not alone and to explain why I made the decisions I have made.

It took pain and self-doubt for me to leave my cave. Once I got outside, I felt the sun of the Good News, I marveled at the stars of the friends I have made. All of these experiences were assigned to me for a reason. I believe that reason is so I can help others in their pain. There are some who are still in their caves and if I can help them, then I want to. I was a Mormon who found Jesus Christ in a way I hadn’t expected. I found God in His words that are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I am not ashamed to be the Christian I am today because Jesus isn’t ashamed of me.  

[1] The Allegory of the Cave, Plato’s Republic, Book VII