Tag Archives: Stress

Weeping and Joy in the Valley of Infertility

No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Ezra 3:13 (NIV)

For the past month, our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been in a series entitled “Summer Stories.” Each week an individual has shared experiences from their own personal stories and the spiritual lessons they have learned from them.

Last Sunday, it was Wendy who chose to stand and share a piece of her personal story. When she and I married almost fourteen years ago, she was 33. She not only gained a husband but two teenage daughters. Nevertheless, having children together was something we wanted to do. We tried for many years.

Trekking together through the valley of infertility may be the most difficult stretch of life’s journey that I have experienced to date. I’ve heard experts say that tremendous stress either brings married couples closer together or it tears them apart. Looking back, I can certainly appreciate why many marriages don’t make it through the valley of infertility. It is a long, lonely and trying slog on multiple levels. We plumbed depths of grief and relational stress I didn’t think was possible during those years. Wendy’s message, however, was not about the pain as much as it was about her discovery of joy at the end of that journey.

I couldn’t help but think of her message as I read the chapter this morning. The exiles return home to Jerusalem and begin the arduous task of rebuilding God’s temple which lay in ruins after it had been destroyed decades before by the Babylonians. After laying the foundation for a new Temple, the people gathered to worship and praise God. Those who were old enough to remember the original temple wept while the others shouted their praise until “No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping.” 

Yeah. I get that. That description captures our journey through the valley of infertility pretty well.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking of one of the points that Wendy made in her message: “One can’t simply ‘choose joy’ any more than you can simply choose to get up off the couch and run a marathon.” As Jeremiah observed in his lamentation (over the destruction of the same Temple the exiles are rebuilding in today’s chapter): “Weeping lasts through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” In the valley of infertility Wendy and I learned that you can’t always distinguish the sounds of weeping and the sounds of joy, because they are often the same thing.

For any interested, here is the audio and video of Wendy’s message, posted with her permission:

Broken Down and Built Up Again

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Jeremiah 18:1-4 (NIV)

Life is a series of screw ups. Let’s face it. I like to project an image of having it all together. I’ve spent most of my life thinking that there’s some acceptable level of life perfection out there (that everyone else seemingly has) while I quietly haplessly flail my appendages behind a series  of nicely painted stage flats. I’ve come to the conclusion along the journey that the real illusion is thinking that any one is any different than me. God’s Message is perfectly clear (in several different places) on this count:

  • No temptation has seized you except what is common to all
  • There’s no one righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.”
  • All have sinned and fall short.”
  • Whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

I’ve always loved the word picture God gave Jeremiah in today’s chapter. He tells Jeremiah to throw on his sandals because he was going on field trip. They end up at the house of the local potter who was working at his wheel. If you’ve ever tried your hand at a potter’s wheel you know how tricky it is. It looks so deceptively easy, but one slight miscue and the whole pot falls apart in your hands and you’re starting again from scratch.

I had a friend one time who was walking with me through a terribly difficult stretch of my life journey. I went through a litany of all the things that had gone wrong in my life, the mistakes I’d made, the consequences I was facing, and the stresses that felt as if they were tearing me apart. My friend smiled at me warmly and quietly observed that my life was breaking down, being “deconstructed” so that God could remake it like a Potter reworking the marred mess of clay in His hands.

It’s a good thing to have wise companions walking alongside you on your journey.

I find myself so drawn to this notion of the “one-and-done” transformation, the miraculous touch leading to a perfect ending, or God suddenly drawing my number in the Life lottery and suddenly everything is as it should be.

I’ve come to observe that the truth is a lot earthier, more substantive and repetitive. The word picture of the Potter and the clay is not a “once in a lifetime” deal. Rather, I find that life is a constant process of being broken down and rebuilt. My job is to allow Living Water to make me more pliable in the Potter’s hand, to release myself to the steady flow of the wheel spinning, to allow myself to be molded at the Potter’s touch; To stop resisting, even when life breaks me down again and the process starts all over.

Have a good week, friends. Here’s to being pliable.

A Million Choices

“…all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God….”
Deuteronomy 28:2 (NRSV)

When I was a young man I made an observation as I hung out with my friends. I watched as my friends made snarky retorts to their parents and the argumentative escalation that inevitably occurred and usually ended with some sort of punishment. I would see the willful choices others would make to do what they knew was wrong, and the trouble that it eventually afforded them. I was not a perfect kid, and I did my share of stupid things, but more often than not I realized that there was a peace in life that came with simply doing the right thing.

As I read the chapter this morning I was struck by the list of blessings that were promised to God’s people if they would obey His commands. While some of these blessings are divine in nature, there are many blessings on that list which are simply the natural consequences of consistently choosing to do what you know is right in life and relationship.

Life is both crazy and stressful. The journey is hard. I can make it more difficult with poor choices in the way I live, act, think, speak, and relate to others. I can also assure myself a certain level of peace by choosing daily to live, act, think, speak, and relate to others in a way that is good and right.

The day lies before me with a million choices to be made of thought, word, and action. How I choose in each moment will make a huge difference in how this day ends, in stress or peace.

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Managing Life’s Little Storms

All your fortresses are like fig trees 
with their first ripe fruit; 
when they are shaken, 
the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.
Nahum 3:12 (NIV)
Wendy and I got to the lake late Tuesday. A storm blew in and the worst of it came right over us. Lightning, thunder, heavy rain and straight line winds that wreaked havoc in the area. This included a blackout that had Wendy and me scrambling in the dark for candles as well as where we put the flashlights. An equally blustery storm of circumstance followed me yesterday as I attempted to fly to Texas for work and ended up stranded all day in Minneapolis. I had to scuttle my trip and pray myself on a flight back to KC so I could get back to the lake.
Life sometimes shakes us. Storms rage, whether it is of the natural or metaphorical variety. The real question is how we build our faith and lives to handle the maelstrom. In today’s chapter, the prophet Nahum describes the Assyrian’s preparedness as metaphorical fig trees. When shaken, they lose all their fruit.
Today, I am still admittedly tired from the storms of the past couple of days. I need another good night’s sleep and the travel stress has me still feeling a bit frazzled on the emotional end. But, I’m no worse for wear. Shaken, but feeling no less fruitful in the larger sense. In the grand scheme of things, these little life storms are blips on the radar that will come and go. A healthy perspective with an eye to the larger story, and a wee bit of faith are strong walls against life’s little tempests.

He Went On

source: Keith Chastain via Flickr
source: Keith Chastain via Flickr

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (NRSV)

I had breakfast with a friend the other day. He is one of my inner circle of friends with whom I share the most intimate parts of my life journey. In the midst of our conversation he asked some very direct questions about life. He is keenly aware of some difficulties I have been facing over the past year and he was doing a spiritual check in. I needed it, and I left our time together re-freshed.

Life gets difficult. Our path sometimes leads through dark places. We face obstacles of many kinds. This shouldn’t surprise us, though I’ve observed that our natural human reaction is almost always to react with incredulity and shake our fists at God while asking, “Why me?”

The truth is that Jesus told His followers to expect difficulties. Time and time again God’s message tells us that the path of spiritual progress leads directly through painful places. It’s how it works. We are called to find joy in the midst, bring good companions for the sojourn, and to persevere.

I was amazed at Paul’s example in today’s chapter. He was stoned until incapacitated, his seemingly lifeless body drug outside the city, and he was left for dead. Talk about a bad day. Then his friends surrounded him, he picked himself up, and he went on.

Today, I’m reminded of this simple fact: He went on. Paul faced obstacles and difficulties that make my momentary stresses pale in comparison. And, he went on. So shall I.

Have a great day.

Simple Pleasures

Eat, Drink, Enjoy.
Eat, Drink, Enjoy.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God…. Ecclesiastes 2:24 (NIV)

Wendy and I are decluttering our house in preparation to sell. With it we are going through a decade of stuff. I’ve found it fascinating to go through my drawers and discover the old cell phone covers, web cams, computer software and other sundry technology do-dads that have accumulated over a decade of living here. Things that were cutting edge technology necessities just a few years ago are woefully obsolete and seem almost silly today.

I’m struck by the pace with which technology amps up the world around us. Always connected to our network, we have things pushed, tweeted, shared, linked, texted, e-mailed, and messaged to us non-stop. Personally, I love all the good things that technology affords us. Last night we had a 42 minute video chat with Taylor from her dorm room at the University of Edinburg. She’s in SCOTLAND and we got to see her sweet face, read her expressions, and take a tour of her dorm room. How cool is that?

At the same time, I wonder what effect this is all having on us as humans. In a world that is always pushing the envelope for greater highs, faster speeds, the latest, the greatest, the newest, the coolest, I increasingly believe that there is something to be said for finding contentment in simple pleasures. I think wise King Solomon’s ancient words may be more relevant today than ever.

Simple pleasures I enjoy:

  • A good food, good wine, and dinner conversation that goes on for hours.
  • Sitting on the deck at the lake with Wendy (and family/friends!) as the sun goes down (even better if sipping a cold pint and smoking a Davidoff cigar).
  • Scoring a baseball game as I listen to it on the radio.
  • Playing a guitar and terrorizing the neighbors with my singing on the back porch.
  • Reading a good spy novel in bed before I turn out the lights.
  • Hot coffee, pondering a chapter, and quiet heart conversation with God in the early morning.
  • Watching a sunrise, a sunset, or a big harvest moon rise.
  • Reading an actual newspaper in the morning with Wendy, and solving the world’s problems together (If the world leaders would only stop by and listen to our wisdom, what a better world we’d live in!) 🙂
  • Discussions with Wendy like the one we had in the car the other day in which we considered traitors as an archetype. If a seemingly good character betrays a good cause he or she is a traitor/villain and is guilty of treason. If an evil character betrays evil, is it always an act of redemption? What a great conversation.

What simple pleasures motivate you to unplug and enjoy?

What Really Matters

Crazy Family LR

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.
Philippians 1:10 (NLT)

This Fourth of July holiday weekend was spent with a good number of our family members at the lake. As children grow and spread out on their own path, it becomes more and more rare for many of us to gather together. Even during high holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas our gatherings become more and more limited. We share a meal. We have an hour or two together before various members begin to scatter to their own personal schedules and priorities. Such is life.

So, Wendy and I headed to the lake last Wednesday recognizing the rare opportunity for family members to have three full days and four nights cloistered together. My parents, my sister, her husband and two of her three kids, our two daughters, our son-in-law, along with Wendy’s youngest sister enjoyed eating, playing, talking, resting, and laughing together. We celebrated Taylor’s 23rd birthday on the Fourth. We celebrated Scott and Jody’s 25th wedding anniversary. We celebrated life together.

On Saturday night the entire crew gathered around the dining room table to play a game of Quelf. It’s a little known game with no real objective other than to inspire and motivate corporate silliness. I have a great photograph of Wendy with tears of laughter streaking down her face as she attempted to quell her laughter long enough to read one of the game cards. Someone at the table remarked that what we were experiencing together that night would become family legend. Twenty years from now when we gather together for a meal with children and grandchildren out will come the stories of the Fourth of July weekend at the lake when Taylor and Clayton made masks out of paper plates, when Grandpa acted like a woman, and when Grandma introduced us to Wendy the sock puppet. Long forgotten will be the work deadlines that stressed me out so much over the past few weeks.

The further I progress in my life journey, the more capably I believe that I am able to discern and refine my understanding of what really matters. So much of that with which we concern our daily time and energy does not really matter in any significant, eternal sense. We rather become entangled and distracted. We pour time, energy and resources into those things which drain our lives without providing any worthwhile return on the investment.

Today, I am thinking about what matters, and what does not. God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference between the two and the grace to concern myself with the former as I increasingly divest myself of the latter.