Tag Archives: encouragement

A Teardrop Year

Holy crap, this year was hard!

Funny thing – Last December, I did one of those things where you ask God for a word for the coming year. I heard FUN. Well, clearly that was a mistake, because the word that best defines 2018 for us is CARNAGE.

So much blew up or collapsed, I can’t even write about it in an ordered way yet. It will come out bit by bit in the coming year as I make sense of what all this means in the larger story. But for now, just envision me standing very, very still, not wanting to step on any more landmines, waiting for 2019 to arrive and declare 2018 well and truly over.

However…in the midst of all this loss and disappointment, small encouragements popped up with surprisingly good timing, as if there is a God who loves me and cares about getting me through. These weren’t big solutions that saved the day. But small life rafts that saved the hour. Or sometimes the next ten minutes. Anne Lamott has written extensively about how God’s answers to prayer are often like pool floaties that keep your head just barely above the water, and DAMN, I wanted her to be wrong. I wanted more than that. But when you’re drowning, floatation in any form is a miracle. So I’m here to admit it: Anne is right.

It felt weird to find enjoyment in the midst of intense frustration, loss, and anger, but I think that’s life. Rather than lament the hard things endlessly (or buy into the lie that if I just analyze them from every single direction I can fix things or prevent them from happening again), I worked on my capacity to accept the small breaks from the tension whenever God handed one to me.  And that, as they say, made all the difference.

Borrowing an idea from one of the new blogs I discovered, Modern Mrs. Darcy, here is a list of some things I learned during this very strange, very hard year:

 1. NOVELS DOUBLE AS FLOATATION DEVICES – After almost two years of reading endless piles of (mostly mediocre) Christian non-fiction, I rediscovered novels on our vacation this summer, and it was like the clouds broke open and the sun shone through. Since then, I have read multi-volume thrillers, middle grade action-adventure, a book that reminded me that I hated being a lawyer (periodically I wonder if I should revisit that career, and there is ALWAYS something like this that brings me back), five books by Elizabeth Strout that helped me understand the family/social dynamics of my Maine heritage (the first two aren’t officially set in Maine, but they are the most Maine books I’ve ever read), and one-half of a book that made me VERY glad I don’t live in Florida.

Here’s what I learned: Novels are a means of escape, a way to learn without lectures, and endless opportunities to ponder life in new ways…without the stress of having all those dilemmas & plot twists under my roof. Now, I grab at least three novels every time I go to the library so I’ll always have a new world to escape into when this world gets to be a bit much.

2. KENNY ROGERS WAS RIGHTYou gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run…  Spot-on the best inter-personal advice ever set to music.

People are a gamble. You might think you know what they have in their hand, but you don’t really until they lay their cards on the table. Then it’s important to have a framework for whether you’ll stay for another round or cut your losses.

We folded on our church this year, and walked away from the denomination where Steve & I both came to faith. I ran from a friend who admitted that she’d repeatedly lied to me and didn’t think that was a problem.  We’re holding on to Jesus, our marriage, and the Cherubs. We’re counting our relational losses, and saving up to take a gamble again.  It’s not fun, necessarily. But it sure beats the alternative of just giving up and never taking a chance again. I’ve learned through a pretty crazy life that if I’m still alive, God still has new people, experiences, and surprises for me if I’m willing to receive them.

3. THE HIGHLIGHT REEL OF INSTAGRAM REALLY HELPS – In a year filled with things too heavy to wrestle into a blog or fling out on Facebook, it was nice to just compile a little scrapbook of moments that were funny or sweet. It’s absolutely a highlight reel – it’s not real life at all. (That my highlight reel includes a photo of half-price holiday llamas at Barnes & Noble shows how low my bar dipped.) But it is super-important to remember that there are highlights. Instagram helped me with that this year. (I’m @Trishryanonline if you want to follow)

For example, this:

The weeks leading up to Christmas were stunningly awful, mostly in ways that had nothing to do with the coming holiday. There were days I could hardly breathe, so I just careened from thing to thing to thing, wondering, What the fu*k?

But on Christmas morning, against all odds, we had these moments, and they were every bit as real as all the crappy ones:

Christmas 2018

 

You can’t see it in these pictures, but Steve gave me a necklace with a teardrop shaped stone. My immediate thought was, This is perfect…  There were so many tears this year (and so many that were never shed because at a certain point, you’re just dehydrated). This necklace is an acknowledgement of this…and a reminder of God’s promise that he He collects every one of our tears and makes them into something beautiful and strong.

If your holidays (or your year) were more like a horror show than a highlight reel…take heart, it’s almost over. I’ll take almost any excuse to be encouraged, and a new year seems like a particularly good one. You’re welcome to join me in mentally/emotionally/spiritually fleeing the year behind us…and holding very still and waiting for the New to come.  Here’s to good things ahead.

Sermon: Do I Believe What I Just Said?

imagesWe tried something new with our Sunday time this week. It was just Steve & me (and THAT DOG, of course) so we had some freedom to tiptoe into this sense I keep getting from God, that I should trust Him to provide inspiration on the fly.  I tend to go off-script when I give talks, anyway,  but I do this with the safety net of a VERY prepared talk (with a clear beginning, middle and end) to catch me if I get lost out on a tangent. My freedom comes (or so I thought) from good preparation.  (imagine an arrow pointing to Puritan work ethic here!)

This week, I prepared a talk as usual. It was…meh. I wasn’t excited about it, but I persevered under the, “Well maybe someone else needs to hear/read this, and so this will be a blessing to them!” theory.

Yesterday I woke up, got some coffee, and sensed God say, “Psalm 34.” So I read it. It’s a good one, written by David right after a strange episode where he faked insanity to get away from a King he feared might kill him.  It’s full of praise and celebration for everything God does for us–particularly delivering us from trouble.

I was caught up in the inspiring words–I love a good pep talk. But then at the end, it felt like I crash landed into the reality of what we’ve seen over the past few years, where God’s powerful salvation from evil people and circumstances seemed hard to come by; like we were frantically dialing spiritual 911, but maybe we lived in one of those difficult places police avoid and where it takes emergency help forever to arrive.

So I looked up at my ceiling (you know, where God lives) and said, “What do you want me to do with this?”  I didn’t want to just put some pretty frosting over the messy cake of my doubts.  I sensed God asking me questions. I wrote them down.  Then I scraped my meh talk that might maybe bless some random people, and we spent our Sunday service time answering these questions, praying about what they unearthed, and watching God reassemble our cake, so to speak, as He helped us us perceive what He’s doing, and encouraged us to believe that this hope David writes of is real.

Here is Psalm 34 along with the questions, if you want to give it a try. As you read, ask, Do I really believe this?

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.  Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.

The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.  Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.

Questions: 

1. When have you sought the Lord and seen him answer?

2. Would you describe your everyday countenance (facial expression) as radiant?

3. What to you make of this declaration that the angel of the Lord “encamps” around those who fear him? What does this mean for you?

4. Do you fear God?

5. How do you go about taking refuge in the Lord?

6. What would it mean for you to lack nothing?

7. What would it look like in your life to turn from evil and do good?

8. What would it look like to seek peace and pursue it?

9. Do you sense that the Lord’s eyes are on you and his ears are attentive to your cry? Or that he has turned away?

10. Is there a way you can move back towards righteousness (right relationship with God)?

11. What do you make of these bold promises of redemption, salvation, comfort, and deliverance from ALL troubles?

12. How do you tell people when God comes through for you?

***

It was so helpful to talk through these questions, rather than just letting them run amok in my head. It made me think of the reminder in the letter in the New Testament written to the Hebrews, where the author says, essentially, “Don’t stop meeting to spend time with God and encourage each other!”  There are things that get sorted out much better/quicker/faster/more completely when you’re with other people who add their faith to yours. It’s an exponential kind of thing, and it amazes me.

Dear God, thank you that when we ask, you sort us out. Bless our questions and help us receive your answers. Make our faces radiant. In Jesus’ name, Amen.