I’ve always been an expert at foreboding joy. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Seeing the glass as half empty. Cynicism. When you live from a place of fear it makes it hard to trust people. Makes it hard to trust God too.
Thankfully God is patient and has gently pursued my heart year after year with big and small reminders that He always has been, and always will be, faithful.
"You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours," was a phrase I heard often growing up. It set the tone for how I would approach life; if you help me, I'll help you. It was meant to encourage us to do things for others that they couldn't do for themselves, but there were strings attached. An expectation of reciprocation. And a way out of future help if the favor wasn't returned.
I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. I never have been, but working in a flower shop solidified my lack of love for the day. I tend to push back against things that are cheesy or contrived, and Valentine’s Day has always felt that way to me.
We sat sipping our coffees and checking our smart phones, a sprinkling of conversation here and there. I was afraid I was going to be late, as I snuck into the back row right as Sunday school got started. For the next hour a few dozen of us ranging in age from late teens to well past retirement talked about the attributes of God’s goodness. We celebrated the God of love and mercy and grace and wrestled openly with the idea of God’s justice and righteousness and holiness.
We asked questions. How do you help your child understand that God is still good when they go to school with kids that don’t have enough to eat? How to you reconcile that God is love with the Old Testament stories of hardened hearts and decimated armies. How do you trust in God’s mercy when He allows good people to die early deaths?
I used to be terrified of my heart. My head and I were great friends. I could research and learn and file facts away and lean on them when I didn’t know what to do or think or say. But my heart… my heart was deep water that I was scared to dive into.
The question “what do you think” was one I welcomed. I could tell you what I thought about a million things. But “what do you feel?” that was a completely different story. I didn’t know what I felt, and even if I figured out what I felt I didn’t understand why I felt what I was feeling, much less what do to with those feelings.
Over Spring Break we dog sat for some friends of ours. They have a black lab that is less than a year old and adorable. The last day they were with us my son put him in his kennel but didn’t close the door. The silly dog laid in that cage for a good 10 minutes whining because he wanted out so bad. We kept telling him, and showing him, the door was open, but for some reason he just couldn’t see his way to freedom.
Sounds like me sometimes. Feeling trapped. Asking God for rescue. Completely missing the way of escape He’s provide. I lived like that for years. I’ll even confess, sometimes I was perfectly aware of the open door, but the comfort of my cage overruled the intrigue of the unknown on the other side of the door.
It happened more than a year ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
We were standing in the hallway. It was Sunday, right before church. I had paused to say hi to a group of ladies when she walked by. The minute she was out of ear shot it started...
"Did you hear? Her husband left her."
"With all those kids? How on earth is she going to pay her bills?"
"I heard he..."
"Well, I heard she..."
In my Bible between the Old and New Testament is one single sheet of tissue-thin blank paper. One page. I can flip past it in the blink of an eye, which is deceptive, because that single sheet of empty paper represents 400 years of silence. 400 years of wondering. 400 years of questions.
Will rescue come?
Will love come down?
Will God ever speak again?
Three years ago I found myself sitting in my car in a parking lot on a Friday night. I knew I needed to get out of the car and go in but I was afraid. I was also desperate, and that night I let desperation win.
I got out, walked across the parking lot and pulled the doors open. I was greeted by the distant sound of people singing. I made my way across the lobby, and into the sanctuary where I quietly slid into the back row. Before the first song ended I was fishing tissues out of my purse to try to stop the flow of tears. For the first time in a long time I felt safe.