Ash Wednesday and Illness

It’s Ash Wednesday, and just this morning I was complaining on Facebook.

I’ve been sick for seven-and-a-half weeks with a nasty bug. Yesterday I actually took a sick day, hoping a lot of sleeping would help me shake it off, but this morning, I had a lot of chest pain. The pain itself was fairly mild, but was happening over an extended period of time. (Though after I got to work, I didn’t have very much chest pain the rest of the day.)

I’ve seen doctors at various times over the seven-and-a-half weeks. They’ve told me it’s viral bronchitis and it takes a long time to heal. There’s no sign of a bacterial infection to go with it.

Now the first week was awful — the main symptom being ear congestion and extreme room-spinning dizziness, but I was in California for my mother’s funeral, and my family took care of me. Even when I got home, I didn’t have to go to work right away, and I took it easy. Since then, I haven’t been all that sick — but I’ve been sick for a long time.

But today I felt convicted for complaining.

There’s a balance between acknowledging that I’m going through tough things and complaining — Why should this happen to me? There’s a distinction between facing difficulty and self-pity.

Just a few days ago, I was reading quotes on my Sonderquotes blog and found this one from Fred Luskin’s book Forgive for Good.

Follow the link to read the entire (long) quote, but it’s about telling a story about what happened to you where you’re the hero, not the victim. Talking about what you’ve overcome rather than how you’re being defeated by these big, bad problems.

So instead of feeling sorry for myself about this illness that’s hanging on and on, how can I look at it differently?

And the first thing that comes to mind is this: Maybe I’ll go easy on myself.

The fact is, this illness seems like a physical manifestation of emotional things I’m going through. And those aren’t “cured” in less than seven weeks, either.

I came down with the bug a few hours after my mother’s memorial service. My mother passed away after a very long bout with Alzheimer’s, but my father passed away unexpectedly two months before that. There’s a part of me that thinks I should be “over” my grief after seven weeks, just as I think I should be over that virus. I’m not.

I won’t say much about it, but a couple weeks after that, I became estranged from my oldest child. That is great grief, too. I am not over it.

And a couple weeks after that, my little 3-year-old niece Meredith was diagnosed with leukemia. That’s not exactly grief — but it’s worry and deep sadness that a sweet little girl would go through that. And she’ll be dealing with that for a few years, even if all goes well.

And so, yes, being sick physically almost feels like a reminder to take care of myself. Maybe if I can see and feel that I am not healthy — I will remember to be kind to my emotional self as well.

I’ve been reading and memorizing Isaiah 43 ever since our pastor preached a sermon on it a few weeks ago. The beginning is inspiring —

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned,
the flames will not set you ablaze.

No, I’m not burned. Yes, being physically ill as well as emotionally wounded helps me stop and quiet down and notice that the Lord is with me.

And another verse in Isaiah 43 seems perfect for Ash Wednesday:

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.

Yes, I’ve been complaining. And I’ve sunk into that periodically throughout these two months.

But the Lord doesn’t ask us to wallow. He blots out our transgressions because that’s the kind of God He is.

This illness reminds me of my weaknesses. That there are things I’m not able to handle. God doesn’t reproach me for that. But He reminds me that He is with me. And I need the Lord.

When I sing and pray, Lord, have mercy! I pray it from my heart.

And indeed, even the illness itself is touched with His mercy.

Forgiveness, Stage Two

Today Matthew West’s song “Forgiveness” came on the radio.

I got to thinking that there’s more than one stage to forgiveness. You can try to clear away the anger, and you can do that — you can choose not to be angry.

But with a traumatic wrong, such as being betrayed, there’s an extent to which you have to learn all the ways you were hurt. You can’t just bury it away, or you won’t be healed. You have to uncover the lies told about you — because if you don’t, even if you try to cover them over and forgive them being told, you’re going to believe them.

I’m thinking about things that maybe never even registered in your brain — but hit you in the heart.

What made me think of all this? Listening to the song didn’t make me cry. I think it’s one of the first times I’ve heard the song and I *feel* lovable. I am no longer hurt by the lies that my husband left because I didn’t deserve to be loved.

And feeling lovable again also makes it easier to forgive.

Mind you, what I’m trying to say is that it takes time and work at healing. (Ten years in my case. And the work is never finished.)

I do believe forgiveness helps the healing. But healing also helps the forgiveness.

And today, for at least the length of the song, I felt happy and lovable and forgiving and loving toward my ex-husband and thankful for the family we had and our years together — as well as excited about the future and simply knowing there’s lots about me to love. And finding someone who does will not be impossible or incredible. And I’m going to live an exciting, vibrant life, whether single or with someone who loves me.

And I am, in fact, worthy of love. And, yes, forgiveness is freeing.

Sunday Songs – Forgiveness, by Matthew West, with Jonah 4

This song, Forgiveness, by Matthew West, has reached out and grabbed me when it plays on the radio lately. I do believe that Forgiveness is the key to living a joyful life. It’s the opposite of bitterness, which eats away your life. I believe that forgiveness is for the person doing the forgiving more than anything. As he says in this song, “The prisoner that it really frees is you.”

Here’s the song:

Today’s sermon was on Jonah 4, and it struck me that Jonah 4 is a story of unforgiveness.

When Jonah tried to run from God, God went after him. Jonah repented and did what God told him to do — but his heart was still bitter.

Jonah preached to the Ninevites, and they repented. He should be happy, right? Instead, he tells God, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

What do you suppose Jonah had against the Ninevites to hate them so much? We know they were barbaric conquerors, and we also know that they conquered Israel’s northern kingdom. We know they fully deserved total destruction from God.

No mention is made of Jonah’s family. What if Assyrian soldiers killed his children? What if they raped and murdered his wife? That would certainly explain his bitterness, hatred, and anger.

My first reaction to those “what ifs” is to think, God would never send Jonah to the Ninevites if that had happened.

Wouldn’t He?

Jonah was so angry with the Ninevites, when God forgave them, he wanted to die. He sat outside the city, hoping God would change His mind and blast them after all.

What if, besides wanting the Ninevites to repent, what if God wanted to free Jonah from his bitterness?

You know, it’s easier to be forgiving when the person in question is suffering for their sin. If everything you hear from them sounds like complete misery, what’s to be angry about? They’re suffering as they deserve. But what if they repent and God forgives them? What if things start going well for them? Why do we feel like it’s up to us to remember how awful they are and all the punishment they deserve? Why do we feel we have to carry the torch for their wrong-ness, to make sure it’s never forgotten?

God put Jonah into the belly of a whale. Jonah had to beg for God’s mercy and face his own need for forgiveness. In chapter 4, with the vine, God tries to make Jonah see those he hates as people, too.

God asks Jonah, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

I love this quotation from George MacDonald about why God cannot forgive those who don’t forgive:

“When we forgive our neighbor, in flows the forgiveness of God’s forgiveness to us. For God to withhold his forgiveness from the one who will not forgive his neighbor is love as well as necessity. If God said, ‘I forgive you,’ to a man who hated his brother, what would it mean to him? How would the man interpret it? Would it not mean to him, ‘You may go on hating. I do not mind it. You have had great provocation, and are justified in your hate.’ No, the hater must be delivered from the hell of his hate, that God’s child should be made the loving child that he meant him to be.” (Wisdom to Live By, p. 162)

What if this is why God specifically sent Jonah to the Ninevites?

I’d like to think Jonah indeed learned from this, that the message of God got through in the end. And I do have reason to hope that: After all, how else did that chapter get into Scripture? Jonah and God were the only ones who were there. I’d like to think Jonah was the one who told people about the aftermath of his preaching. He had some time to think about it, and he added to the story, “Here’s what God taught me in the end.”

And in the process, I’d like to think Jonah stepped out of his prison of bitterness.

And maybe that’s a greater miracle even than God sending the great fish.

Sunday Songs – I’m Not Who I Was

I know, it’s a few hours early for Sunday Songs. But today I got back from leaving my son at his dorm as he starts college. I came back to an empty home. And then the radio (WGTS 91.9 FM) played this song, which I’ve long felt expresses what I’d like to say to my ex-husband.

“I’m Not Who I Was,” by Brandon Heath

I’m super happy for my son. William and Mary is a great school, and they presented us with a weekend celebration, and I’m convinced it’s a great place for Tim.

But I was sad my husband couldn’t share it with me. William and Mary was his idea — He took Tim to visit years ago. We are both tremendously proud Tim is going there. And I wish we could come together on that common ground.

So coming home to an empty house was hard.

However, at the same time, the day before I left, I learned that I’d gotten the promotion I’d wanted so much — I’ll be Youth Services Manager at City of Fairfax Regional Library. I feel this job is right for me in so many ways, and it’s a calling other than a job.

And that’s one more way I’m not who I was.

After grad school, I got married and had kids right away. I happily moved wherever my husband’s job took us and worked part time so I could be the primary caregiver for our sons.

Now I’m a librarian, and I feel called to be a librarian. I’m excited about life. Like he says in the song, I found out I could sing — sing about all that’s happened and all that’s happening.

I am so glad Steve was part of my life for so long. I am so thankful for my two sons, and I love them so much and am so proud of them. But for this next phase of life, I have the privilege of focusing on my job, my calling, and also on the things that interest me.

But it’s a bittersweet weekend. So hearing this song in particular today struck a chord. I’m definitely not who I was, but I like who God has made me to be. And I’m excited about this next stage beginning.

A New Day

Well, today I had some things cast up to me.  Some things I have apologized for about a dozen times, with tears, but the person wronged has not been willing to forgive me, and indeed has cast the worst possible interpretation on the things I said.

But you know what?  God forgives me!  And I honestly can say that, though it hurts to have someone I love so angry with me, God is giving me forgiveness — and freedom — about it.

Then tonight, I was listening to The Best of Avalon, and their song, “A New Day,” so beautifully sums up how I feel.

Forgiveness feels GOOD — both receiving it from God for yourself and for others.

Here’s a link to “A New Day” with lyrics: