Confession: Separation of Experiences

I confess that separation is hard.
There are two experiences. Two things that have nothing to do with each other, and my mind keeps putting them in the same category.
This is confusing for me. One experience was new and exciting. The other, dark and devastating. Unfortunately they happened at the same time. I’m working on rewiring my brain to separate these two experiences.
At the beginning of 2015, after a year of preparation and fundraising, my family moved to Northern Ireland. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know all about this lovely experience. A new ministry assignment, a new church family, a new culture… all of it was refreshing and humbling and we learned so much! We met some of the most generous and hospitable people we’d ever encountered, willing to walk through life’s journey with us knowing the year would be over before we could say “What about ye?” We experienced so much joy, so much growth, so much love. That’s the first experience; the happy one.
At the beginning of 2015, I had just had my second baby. I felt like a different mom this time around, but not in a good way. I realized almost a year later that I had been suffering from postpartum depression. A chemical imbalance in my brain gave me extreme anxiety about social gatherings, made me cry on the couch for hours at a time, took away my desire to get out of bed in the mornings, gave me an overwhelming shyness, changed my relationship with food, stole my confidence, and forced me to believe lies about myself. I blamed much of this on culture stress and the difficult task of leaving behind our whole support system in Kansas City. I blamed it on the dreary Northern Irish weather (which was actually quite lovely), and the exhausting task of being the parent of a toddler and a newborn. I didn’t want to admit to struggling with a mental illness and I didn’t even realize that’s what I had at the time. I felt like a terrible mother and I even resented my sweet second-born at times, wondering “…if I hadn’t just given birth, would I still be feeling this way??” There were a lot of factors that caused me stress during this time but, now that I’m on the other side, I’m finding healing in “confessing” that I had a mental illness. Some people ask what it felt like and, besides feeling like I was in a muddy pit that I just COULD NOT climb out of, I tell them that I felt like a totally different person. That’s the second experience, the sad one.
In high school and college, I was always the happy one with the positive outlook. I could turn any situation into a good one, showing others how the glass really was half-full, not half-empty. What people wrote in my yearbooks was that they loved how I was so joyful, how nothing seemed to get me down. What mentors have remarked on in the past was how flexible and adaptable I was, and how I always had a smile on my face. Well, in 2015 that wasn’t me. Either I was really good at pretending, or my new friends didn’t know the type of person I was before. It’s not their fault, but it’s not mine either. I’m allowing myself the grace to own that experience because as awful as it was, it’s part of my journey now. I still can’t talk about it without crying or just cutting the conversation short, but I’m okay with that too. It’s good to feel emotions. God gave us emotions to experience life more fully.
So, I’m working on separating these two experiences. Northern Ireland didn’t make me depressed, I just happened to suffer from postpartum depression while there. I write this to share with you, my dearest friends and family because some of you may not know. If you’re experiencing these feelings, you’re not alone. Sometimes (a lot of times) life isn’t all sunshine and roses, and that’s okay. Even when God calls us to something, that doesn’t mean everything will be easy and fantastic and happy all the time.
im1-shutterflyI’m a different person now. A better one. I’m thankful for my current mental state and how I’m rising up. Even though I wouldn’t want to go back to that dark time, I’m grateful for where it’s brought me. I couldn’t rise up, until I had something to rise up from… this seems to be my mantra these days. And it sounds cliche, but it’s true: The trees are greener, the sun is warmer, the flowers smell better, and God’s presence is more evident than ever.
Thank you for carrying my story in your heart. May you also rise up.
Grace and Peace.

Part of His plan?

Do you think God takes sides? I’ve heard people say about this election that “It’s all part of God’s plan.” I can’t help but wonder if those people would say the same thing if the other side had won, or if the president-elect had been a black man, a Muslim, or a member of the LGBTQ community instead of being a straight rich white guy. Most of us would probably say it wouldn’t be any different and most of us would claim to believe in a God who is Love.

This notion of a God who is exercising a non-discriminating love towards all people should stand as a healthy protection against racists who do not believe God really loves dark-skinned people. It also should stand as a healthy protection against white evangelicals who instinctively feel (even when we deny it) that God is more concerned about us than about the unemployed workers who flock to Mexico City every day. Or at least surely we must be more blessed than them… right?

There is something false and unbiblical about this view of God’s relationship to the world’s peoples when we pit groups against each other and ask whether God is equally the God of the military dictator and those who are murdered by that dictator. Does God have the same disposition toward the victim of a plant closedown in Akron, Ohio as toward the members of the Board of Directors who shut down the plant (with no concern for what would happen to the workers)?

Maybe your God is aloof from such things; any other God would be a God who chooses sides. And surely a god who loves everyone wouldn’t choose sides would he? It might not be so hard for the biblical writers to imagine though. Let’s take a look at Exodus 1:8-14; 2:23-25; 3:7-10.

the people of Israel became so numerous that the whole region of Goshen was full of them. Many years later a new king came to power. He did not know what Joseph had done for Egypt, and he told the Egyptians: There are too many of those Israelites in our country, and they are becoming more powerful than we are. 10 If we don’t outsmart them, their families will keep growing larger. And if our country goes to war, they could easily fight on the side of our enemies and escape from Egypt. 11 The Egyptians put slave bosses in charge of the people of Israel and tried to wear them down with hard work. Those bosses forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses,[a] where the king[b] could store his supplies. 12 But even though the Israelites were mistreated, their families grew larger, and they took over more land. Because of this, the Egyptians hated them worse than before 13 and made them work so hard14 that their lives were miserable. The Egyptians were cruel to the people of Israel and forced them to make bricks and to mix mortar and to work in the fields.

23 After the death of the king of Egypt, the Israelites still complained because they were forced to be slaves. They cried out for help, 24 and God heard their loud cries. He did not forget the promise he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, 25 and because he knew what was happening to his people, he felt sorry for them.

I am the God who was worshiped by your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Moses was afraid to look at God, and so he hid his face. The Lord said: I have seen how my people are suffering as slaves in Egypt, and I have heard them beg for my help because of the way they are being mistreated. I feel sorry for them, and I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians. I will bring my people out of Egypt into a country where there is good land, rich with milk and honey. I will give them the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live. My people have begged for my help, and I have seen how cruel the Egyptians are to them. 10 Now go to the king! I am sending you to lead my people out of his country.

We have a class struggle happening here. Two sides pitted against each other. Can we claim that this is God’s will? That one class would trample on the other classes? One side is forcing the other into slavery, but then God steps onto the scene. He clearly takes the side of the oppressed people. And we see in scripture that he always takes that side.

So is this “all part of God’s plan”? The whole earth is under the dominion of God and this is affirmed by Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper who wrote,

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

We have no reason to doubt that God is in control. The real question on my mind is this: “If God is in control, does that mean he approves of everything that happens?”

Part of the life of the Christian is to be in the center of the will of God. So if the answer to the above question is “Yes”, then God has chosen every single national leader, and has appointed them with approval. In this scenario, the military dictator who kills hundreds of thousands is appointed by God. The problem with this answer is that it runs counter to the character of God. It should then be noted that while God’s authority is absolute, his approval is not.

Drew Griffin once wrote “Everything that we do in our lives, every vote that is cast, every leader that ascends, all of it happens under the providence of God. However, God’s sovereignty does not give us license for sinful choices.” We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. We are called to defend the oppressed. We are called to stand up for the voiceless.

So God firmly remains in control amidst the chaos. Are we off the hook because “It’s all part of God’s plan”? Is it enough to rest securely in that control?