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

Squashing Fireflies

Some of my kids at English Camp. We're trying to make a record selfie but it was a little too dark and the camera was a little too unsteady.

Some of my kids at English Camp. We’re trying to make a record selfie but it was a little too dark and the camera was a little too unsteady.

I remember the first time I saw a firefly. Time stopped – literally – like someone had frozen life in its frame and all that moved were the small, glowing lights drifting through the darkness.

Birmingham, AL – 2008. My family was unloading the car and dragging suitcases into the house we’d be staying at for the week. We were in town for the National High School Speech and Debate tournament. My mind was filled with things that tend to preoccupy sixteen-ish year old girls: friends, boys, clothes, foreign policy and international treaty reform… But the hours of riding in a muggy, cramped car and the apprehensions of the coming week vanished when those fireflies appeared.

The rest of the week I could count on sitting on the hood of our car for a few minutes and letting all my worries melt away – it didn’t matter that my braces hadn’t come off in time for the tournament or that I was the only one of my friends not to advance in my category. It didn’t matter that so-and-so hadn’t talked to me or that next year seemed confusing and far away. It was just me and the fireflies.

But we don’t have fireflies in San Diego, so when life gets overwhelming I have to close my eyes and picture them there instead. Usually that takes too much effort and I just find myself standing in a VONS line with four boxes of fudgesicles.

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No apple left behind

IMG_2504Miluška is 87 years old. She has the lightest blue eyes I have ever seen and little red boots that she wears when she works in the garden. She walks to our church every Sunday even though it must be at least half a mile for her. She also owns an apple orchard and today we got up at the crack of dawn to help her harvest.

I feel like I start every blog with something along the lines of, “So, I had a tough week.” Comparatively, my life is not tough at all. I love my job, I love the town I live in, I love that Jerry keeps buying pear flavored yogurt. God has put me in a great place.

However, I am struggling with stuff too boring to post about (and I am sick again), so instead of doing the mature thing and getting plenty of rest last night to prepare for our long day, I stayed up till 1:30 a.m. talking to my sister via facebook chat. She’s good at listening to me when I have boring emotional stuff to vent and she has pretty decent advice which I don’t listen to nearly as much as I should. And it reminded me that I don’t live across the hall from her anymore and so instead of feeling better, I went to bed at 1:35 feeling lonely and confused.

Like many Czechs, Miluška owns a cottage in the country. The 45 minute drive out of Prague is a scenic one. Honestly, there were so many cute, postcard-perfect homes and hills and rivers with little red bridges that I thought we might be driving through a huge Hallmark factory and not a corner of Eastern Europe.

The purpose of the trip was to pick the apples in the orchard and get the garden ready for winter (this is something most Czechs do, I’ve discovered. Getting their gardens ready for winter is a huge deal). Last year Jerry and Marilyn brought in 2,000 apples from the handful of trees in Miluška’s overgrown, under-cared for orchard.

We pulled up next to her gated property and I followed Miluška through the calf-high grass to the back door of her cabin. She slowed her steady hobble occasionally to look up at the trees and I could tell that something was troubling her. A look of concern dressed her soft blue eyes and I heard her mutter, “žádné jablka tady…” – roughly translated, “no apples here…”

I too was expecting to see more apples than the sparse fruit clinging to bare limbs. When Jerry and Marilyn showed up behind us they were upset as well.

“Mary,” Jerry told me, “Someone’s stolen the apples.”

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