What if we’re all bullfrogs?

Some days are deep-pond days. When the afternoon sunlight is clear and warm and stretches lazily across the deck where you sit eating cake, truffles and braided raisin cake; when your head feels swampy from the springy perks in temperature and the richness of your coffee; on those days the smallest things will reveal the deepest meanings.

Friday was a deep-pond day.

I had been meaning to visit the ‘P’ family for weeks but holidays and school schedules kept getting in the way. It was all for the best. Friday turned into one of those days which required an escape from my usual routine of going home, cleaning up, and putting in a few more hours of work till sundown. I needed a break.

So off the train to the small village, one stop outside Prague, and into the ever-open arms of Mrs. P, I literally ran. She’s been my mom-away-from-mom for two years now (one of several that I’m blessed to have here in Prague, actually. Life Tip: endear yourself to loving adults – they will scoop you out of messes you don’t even realize you’re in).

The moment I walked through the door, I was given a second lunch (mucher better than the first, served in the school cafeteria) and a tall glass of Kofola. For those who don’t know, Kofola is the Czech version of Coca-Cola. It’s decent enough, though not as sweet as American Coke, and I have quite adapted to its gingery taste. I’ve known the P’s since 2010 and they’ve never failed to feed me into oblivion.

After I finished eating the dumplings and sun-dried tomato-stuffed chicken, my water glass was topped off and Karel brought me a caffe latte.

I met Karel when he was just sixteen. He has turned into a sharp, smart, driven young man studying at the most prestigious University in Prague, but I still see the sweet boy with mispronounced English showing us Americans all of the city’s oldest sights.

His younger sister, Jana, is a darling. I gave her English lessons last year and she’s improved immensely, although I doubt I can take much credit.

The four of us – Karel, Jana, Mrs. P and myself – lounged on the shaded deck around a wooden table covered with a colorful spread of desserts and coffee trimmings. The sunshine washed over us like cool waves on a tired beach.

It’s hard to admit, especially for young people, I think, that we get tired. That we’re at the end of our rope. That we need a break. We are not the endless stores of energy that we thought we were in college (and now that I’ve given up the energy drinks and napping through Astronomy class, I’m beginning to feel it). It’s not just a physical thing. It’s emotional too.

I feel old even saying this, but I’m learning how important it is to take care of yourself – of your whole self. This Friday afternoon with this lovely family was part of my treatment.

Eventually, we left our chairs and moved over to the pond.

“We have maybe twenty frogs in here right now,” said Karel. I didn’t make it all the way to the fish pond at the end of the garden. About a foot from the water’s edge I collapsed into the soft grass, barely able to see the water glistening in front of me. It was silky smooth and I much preferred lying on it to looking for bitty, web-footed jumpers.

“There’s one,” said Jana, her sweet, school-girl face dancing with a smile. “Do you see him?”

I looked at the glassy surface. All I could see was a pool of green, blue and brown rippling beneath golden fingers of sunlight. No frogs.

Karel reached his hand into the pond and pulled it out.

Let me first say that frogs are not a creature I have a lot of experience with.

Let me add that this was no petite, little tree frog.

This was a bullfrog. It was massive. And as soon as I saw it, suddenly the whole pond came into better view. These green mammoths were swimming, darting and pawing at each other all around the basin. For a split second, I contemplated running away or bursting into tears, both of which are totally normal reactions and I judge no one for thinking the same way.

I think at some point in my life I would I have been okay simply standing around the pool, counting them (we got to about 28 before deciding that we’d never find them all hidden beneath the scum and algae). But I’m realizing that I’m a different person than I thought I was. Time changes us and we don’t notice it happening till it’s done. I’m realizing I’m now a kind of person who doesn’t mind frogs so much.

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Some of the frogs were dark green, others were nearly white with muddy brown speckles. None of them turned into princes, though Jana and I tried to convince them it was in their best interest to do so.

Into the clear, cold water, my hand dove and reached for a chum. It was about half the size of my hand and slimy to boot. Pushing aside the wives’ tales about warts (isn’t that toads, anyway?), I pulled out my very own croaker. He was gorgeous.

He stayed still for about two seconds before diving back into the pond. Again and again, Jana, Karel and I coaxed and prodded frogs into our hands, sloshing them gently about before letting them return to their underwater homes. Some of them had surprisingly strong grips, and several sang sweetly for us before hopping away.

“They come from the forest,” Karel told us, pointing to the trees just beyond the field outside their garden. “They’ll just be here long enough to have babies and then they’ll go back to the woods.”

I watched a dark green bullfrog soar through the water, a lighter, smaller frog clinging to its back, like Superman and Lois Lane.

“They’re gonna have cute kids,” I said.

“They’re gonna have 300 cute kids,” said Jana.

“Three hundred? Really?”

She looked at me and smiled, not understanding that my question was sincere.

“Why so many?” I asked.

“Well, some will get eaten by snakes and birds,” she said. “They won’t all make it back to the pond.”

I looked at the bullfrogs below us. These were the lucky ones then. The ones who made it back just long enough to love somebody and produce heirs to their froggy world before heading back out into the great beyond to do whatever frogs do.

Is this all there is? I wondered as we left the pond and retreated to another round of coffee, chocolate and fruit inside the house. Is it just this? Finding someone to hold on to? Is this what we live for?

For a moment, the thought was comforting. How nice to be a bullfrog. Bad days, mess ups, failures can all be pushed aside because they don’t matter. All that matters is that we love and are loved by others.

WRONG.

Please excuse my bluntness, but that mode of thinking is exactly what screwed up my Friday in the first place.

Frankly, it’d be pretty depressing if love was all there was to this life, because I haven’t found another bullfrog yet (and I’m totally willing to settle for one that doesn’t turn into a prince). And, anyway, being loved by humans is a broken, fleeting blessing that comes and goes with the tide of human emotions and the ebb and flow of life’s unstoppable current. Just like the spring ends and the frogs return to their woods (to be eaten, most likely), so our relationships – fragile, imperfect, finite – will not be lasting, will not have an eternal significance in their own right.

But the thing is, we’re not frogs. We’re people. We are made in the image of God and God has a plan for each of us that extends beyond living and loving and dying. We were made for a purpose. Our relationships – with spouses, family and friends – have significance because they are woven into the purpose that God has for each of us. We are tools to build one another up and help each other down the God-given road.

So even if we don’t all make it back to the pond; even if we get a little lost in the woods; even if we swim in that pond alone; even if we have really, really awful Fridays that turn into awful years, we are more than just lost, lonely frogs.

We are children of the Living God, caretakers of His world. We are His hands to the poor and His voice to the lost. We are His ambassadors and His soldiers. We are His people.

And that means the mess ups and the failures and the bad days do matter, but only inasmuch as they draw us closer to Him, showing us our need for His grace, and reminding us that His love and his power to heal and make us whole does not come and go with the seasons.

It is eternal.

Funny men die

robinwilliamsI wasn’t sure how to write this, or even if I should. But in the last year my life has been touched in a number of ways by death, and more specifically by suicide. My awareness of suicide in the church is growing and it saddens my heart.

The death of Robin Williams has taken the world by surprise and brought about a wave of opinions on suicide and the church, to which my little blog post will be less than a ripple.

Let me begin by saying that I have never personally struggled with depression and do not claim to fully understand the reasons why someone may ‘despair unto death.’ Loneliness? Apathy? Self-hate? Overwhelming sorrow? Unquenchable pain?

I have no idea.

So I don’t plan on making this post a “how to prevent suicide” rant, a judgment on those who struggle with depression or have committed suicide, an assessment of whether Robin Williams will go to heaven or hell or even an analysis of the loss of a brilliant, funny and brilliantly funny man. Robin William’s death and the response by the Christian community – the country as a whole – has made me think more about a topic that has been weighing on my mind.

I want to tell you my story.

I’ll keep it short because it’s not super interesting. But I hope in some way it is relatable, encouraging or edifying.

My story is a common one. I grew up in the church. I was taught that life is a gift from God, a precious blessing. I was taught that human life has value because we are image-bearers of our Almighty Creater, our Maker. And I was taught, among so many other things, that God will never give us a burden larger than we can hold up under (1 Corinthians 10:13 – NIV – “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”) So if suicide is a sin, if despair is a sin, if self-hate is a sin, God will provide a way out.

As we get older we lose faith, or understanding or both. The answers given to us as children on a purple felt board in Sunday school or beaded into bracelets during VBS seem so simplistic that they cannot be real when pitted against the very tangible, very heavy problems of the world. Some days I miss Sunday school.

People who know my family or have known me for a long time sometimes ask me why I still believe in God. “You’re a smart girl,” they say. “You really should think about this issue for yourself. You need to make sure you’re not believing a lie just because it’s what you were raised with.”

And sometimes those words have hurt me and sometimes they’ve scared. But they’ve never made me doubt my faith because I have thought about it. In college I spent an entire semester sitting beneath a tree for hours every day between classes. You don’t make friends easily at a community college so there would be times when I would come home and say ‘hello’ to my Mom in the kitchen. I’d be surprised by the sound of my own voice before realizing it was the first thing I had said all day. And anyone who knows me will also know that, for me, going a whole day without speaking is almost scientifically impossible.

The loneliness messed me up inside and drove me into what have since begun referring to as “the year-long bad mood.” But during all those lonely afternoons I thought about God and sin and life. And death. I couldn’t have known it then but God was planting seeds of growth in my very shallow heart of faith.

I remember sitting there in that corner of campus, tallying up all my sins for the week to see if I’d improved from the week before and feeling overwhelmed because, by my count, I’d actually gotten worse. And I sat in fear beneath a tree I knew was made by an All-Righteous Judge. How could I hope to stand before him?

I also remember weeping (in public, because nothing much has changed for me since college) when I realized one afternoon that God was not just a judge but a savior and that my sins are forgiven, and that, in his time, he will sanctify me and conform me into the image of Christ.

Self-reliance is one of my greatest weaknesses.

I think many young Christians change in college. Some of us find our faith, some of us lose it (or realize we never had it). Some of us draw near to God and some of us walk away for a time. I did a little of everything.

Drifting, is the word I would use. It was never a choice to turn from God. My heart just does that sometimes. When I leave it alone long enough it will turn its back so that it can no longer feel the glory that shines from God’s loving face; coldly it ignores its savior. I don’t know why I do this when He proves Himself to me so often and so loudly.

Life has brought changes I didn’t expect, struggles I couldn’t have prepared myself for – but nothing too different from challenges my friends and family have faced. When it’s your own problem, though, it seems different. Bigger somehow. Like how the spider in your room is always bigger than the spider in your garden and always harder to deal with.

I can see how something I would consider a garden spider may, to you, be a much greater, more terrifying beast.

I have felt loneliness, intensely.

Apathy, in very small amounts.

Self-hate? Sure. Or more accurately, ‘self-confusion’ like, “God, why did you make me this way? Why can’t I do anything right?”

Sorrow, I have felt also, in many forms.

Unquenchable pain? At times.

But the loneliness. The lostness. I know how that feels.

In this last year, loneliness has been my battle and purpose has been my salvation. I will occasionally sit in the top corner of the garden and look out over the brick-red rooftops of Zbraslav and feel like the only bird who didn’t fly South for the winter. I’ll wonder what my friends are doing and how my family is getting along without me. I think the scariest part is thinking I might never go back – I might just stay here in Prague, or in some other mission field, for the rest of my life. God may never bring me home.

And therein also lies my deepest peace – that God is the mover. He is the maker. He is our creater-friend. And he made us with a purpose. Our wants and desires are shallow and fleeting. Our greatest hopes and dreams are flickering shadows compared to the plans God has for us. (Romans 8:18-19 – NIV – “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”)

God made us with purpose.

I made my Czech kids learn that phrase in English at VBS this summer. GOD MADE US WITH PURPOSE. The world longs for hope, and here in the Czech Republic, just like in America and around the world, we look for hope in ourselves or in our heroes. Like a world who worshiped a man who couldn’t save himself, we stumble blindly, looking for our Pagliacci.

But what we need is God.

Not saying that being a Christian or having a strong faith is the cure for depression or suicide. In fact, I’m not totally sure I’m even talking about depression and suicide anymore. I’m talking about our souls, immortal, bound to eternity. I’m talking about our lives on earth, gifts meant to serve the God who gave them to us.

Our confidence, our hope and our strength should be that he created us, gave us souls and life, and he didn’t do it randomly. You have a point. You exist for a reason. We just need the faith to trust that God will reveal that reason to us in His time. I do not underestimate the pain of this struggle, but I cannot overstate the peace, the peace that comes with the victory.

I received a precious book from a friend this summer. Amazon doesn’t ship to the Czech Republic so I’ve been downloading everything onto a kindle (which I’m SO grateful for!) but it’s lovely to be able to hold something in my hands again and flip pages.

The book is called The Valley of Vision and it’s a collection of Puritan Prayers and the first prayer is a request to God for perspective, that we may understand that His ways are not our ways and that His strength is magnified by our weakness.

The last part goes like this:

“Let me find Thy light in my darkness

       Thy life in my death

       Thy joy in my sorrow

       Thy grace in my sin

       Thy riches in my poverty

       Thy glory in my valley.”

I meant to keep this short and I obviously didn’t. Here’s what all of this has been to say: we all have valleys – they are graces given to us by God so that we may better understand Him, better see His strength, better feel His mercy and better know His love.

Strong men die. Righteous men die. Funny men die.

The promises of God do not.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

No one has the same cross

Ready Set Go 2013I feel like I have spent most of this last week on a variety of buses – some of which are lovely, comfortable and don’t smell, others of which resemble steel-framed bacteria labs. But the point is that all this time on public transit has afforded me a lot of leisure to think.

I hate to say it, but this week my thinking took a path towards the discouraging, to the point where Friday night – on my way home from a Czech language/baking lesson – I ended up asking God, “Really, what’s the point? Why am I here? Why are any of us here?”

In order to explain how a good girl, brought up in the church and spoon-fed catechism and theology from a wee little age, could possibly question why we even exist, doubt God or doubt his eternally divine goodness, I need to take you back to Tuesday.

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