For When You’re Sick and Weary

What do you do when you’re sick? Of yourself? Your circumstances?

All of these feelings, these words, these thoughts, these repetitious tendencies and cycles of events?

What happens when it feels really old and stale and oppressively recycled? Like a moldy shower curtain that won’t seem to come clean no matter how much bleach you scrub it with. Like a taste you can’t get out of your mouth. Like a bad penny that just keeps showing up.

What then? How do you move forward? How do you keep from throwing your hands up?

The past two years, I’ve heard a similar sermon on rest this time of year, preached by local St. Louis pastor Zak Eswine. This year, I wasn’t afforded the privilege. This year, I just have to remember. And what I remember is that he says that there are different kinds of pains and different kinds of rest. Often times, we try to treat one kind of pain and weariness with the same kind of rest that we would another. For example, you are behind on sleep, physically exhausted. So you sleep. You are emotionally exhausted. So you sleep. You are mentally or spiritually tired. So you sleep. However, not every kind of weariness will be solved with sleep. Not every kind of weariness will be solved by time. Or reflecting. Or working harder. Or resting with our eyes open. Or escaping.

Some kinds of weariness require other solutions.

What is your go-to salve, your way of dealing? Music? Eating? Running? Hiding? Perhaps you need to vent, to clean, to purchase. None of these things, inherently, are bad, but perhaps your go-to fix just isn’t cutting it anymore. Perhaps the problem persists, the hurt still bruises, the fog won’t clear. Because diagnosing an emotional problem with a physical treatment is like slathering Bactine on a broken heart. Sure, it might help if there are some accompanying scrapes and cuts, but what’s really going to heal that break? Resetting and a cast just won’t do.

Are you physically exhausted? Sick? Perhaps you need sleep, or medicine, or other rest.

Are you emotionally exhausted? Perhaps you need time, or a friend, an outlet, or a [brief] escape.

Are you spiritually exhausted? Perhaps you need prayer, truth, a reminder.

Perhaps you need all of it.

Tonight, I’m wishing that it wasn’t just hindsight that was 20/20. I’m praying for new eyes, for insight into the heart and mind, for clarity and sight into what will heal and renew, for what kind of “funk” causes this sickness-  the stem, the root, the system that planted it. I don’t just want to slap a Band-aid on my exhaustion; I’d rather get a second opinion. I’m all in for full healing, for homeopathic remedies that really reach home. Into the depths. Inside, out. I’m all in for rewriting the story, for making the sad things untrue.

Perhaps you’re looking for that too. What’s the diagnosis, the issue? Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose, right?

It just might be time for another check-up. And after that, well, not just any treatment will do.

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St. Louis: A City on a Hill? I Pray.

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I should be working. Grading papers. Or walking my dog. Or making dinner, hydrating myself, making a watering plan for my church’s new fall landscaping, or… a lot of other things.

Instead, I’m preparing myself for tomorrow.

I’ve been largely absent from media this week, especially mainstream media. I had decided to delete Facebook from my phone, post either seldom or more carefully on Instagram, and turn off the TV, for really no other reason than I had little to no time for it, and I seemed not to be using my time efficiently when I had very obviously too much to do.

Then, yesterday, the head of my school made mention of an impending verdict in his address to the student body, all 1,100 of them and the faculty surrounding them. Then my friends started talking about whisperings and questions. And, this morning, Ferguson was mentioned in a letter read to us from the Director of Diversity, a letter that he has prepared to send when the verdict is announced – the grand jury verdict that decides the fate of Darren Wilson and has the power to ignite the passions of millions of people all over our country.

So, afterward, as a small group of four who were processing those ideas, we listened, and we discussed, and we prayed.

We prayed for awareness and sensitivity to others, for deep understanding, for calming of fears, for peace… Most importantly, we prayed for the Lord to be with us. Be WITH us, God… Be before us and behind us and among us. Be at work, and in our midst, and allow us to SEE you and FEEL you with us as we open our eyes to a new day… a new day in which everything and nothing may change all at one time.

Tomorrow, we will open our eyes to a new day, and the verdict may be announced. Maybe. Some reports say 7pm. At that time, I will be home or possibly at a friend’s house enjoying fall drinks and spending time with wonderful women. I will have just finished teaching all day, oddly discussing To Kill a Mockingbird with my students on the heels of a really hard lesson about the Jim Crow Era and the systematic, racial caste system that our country experienced (and to some degree, still experiences) for so long… We will have talked about white guilt, about racial stereotypes, about the sad and incredibly wrong things that have been going on in our country for a long time, about the way the media is such a powerful force to be used for great good or great pain, about the power of our words and our actions and our very loud silence, about our responsibility to stand up and be advocates and leaders for change, about the beauty and fragility of the human heart. And I will send those intricate, wonderful souls out into the streets, to their homes, to their friend’s houses, to their Instagram accounts and Snapchats and Twitter feeds and coffee houses and theaters and living rooms and beds, and these ideas will be swimming in their heads while they receive the news in the coming hours or days… the news that may divide an already divided city.

I am full of fear and hope for this city, for these students, for myself…

I fear what we will do to one another, how we will wound one another in the wake of this verdict. I fear the words and actions and silences that will speak so loudly about the state of our hearts and our understanding and also lack of understanding. I fear for physical pain and vandalism and destruction that may occur to people in this city and in others, all of whom were made in the image of a peaceful and ultimately just God. I fear for friends in my city who are nervous – White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic alike – about how people will respond, about who or what is about to descend on this city, and when we will hear and see with our own ears and eyes.  I fear for the future… and yet I have so much hope. I see my city filled with so much beauty, so much grace, so much peace. I see adults and students everywhere who are peacemakers, who long to see our city united, who are pining for the day when we embrace each other even more than we already do, who are making real and concrete preparations for that. I see students who have wide eyes and open ears and soft words who speak confidently about what confuses them, angers them, fills them with sadness, as well as what brings them needed laughter and joy. I see teachers who love their students well and provide space for those conversations. I see adults who have deliberately placed themselves in situations and conversations and environments that would open their eyes and extend hands across deep lines and divides. I am so encouraged by these things, these stories, these lives, these words and hearts.

I am full of fear, and I am full of hope for my city.

So instead of working, or walking my dog, or making dinner or any of those very important things I could be doing, I am writing. And I am asking.

Will you be aware? Will you be sensitive?

When the verdict is released, will you process in whatever healthy way you can in a safe environment? Will you be aware that others will process this news very differently than you will? Will you be aware that some won’t care as deeply as you? Will you be aware that some will be hurt or sad or angry or confused or all of the above? Will you be sensitive to those reactions, and will you listen, truly listen, with the intent to understand? Will you protect each other? Love each other well? Be a body of people who supports and defends and unites, a city on a hill?

I pray that you will, and I pray that I will…

I will make every effort to do so, and I am already preparing myself to ask for forgiveness when I fall short. Because I’m a woman of good intentions, but boy, do I learn every single day, over and over, what a flawed person I am and how much I have yet to figure out. I will need to process, to listen, to discuss, to pray.

Bear with me. Bear with each other, and love one another well. Today, tomorrow, and every day.

Our city is crying out for it. The structures and surroundings, both manmade and Godmade are ready for it. The city is being prepped and prayed over. The verdict is descending. Will we be ready? Will we be aware? Will we be sensitive? Will we seek peace?

St. Louis, may it be so, I pray.

On the Pain of Growing Up and Glimpsing the Story in Your Struggle

There are moments in life when the proverbial crap hits the fan, when all the world seems out of control, and if you could just pause your life for an instant, slow it down, and watch from the outside, you might actually laugh… at least to keep from crying.

I picture an old college apartment, you know, that dirty “boy” (or girl) who seemed to never clean and just live in the filth. You step into their place with a rather clear mind of perspective and see the chaos swirling, junk splayed out before you in the form of a drab, crowded room: dirty dishes and uncleaned mountains of laundry amidst stacks of files and work that somehow must be done. Brown, stained carpet (didn’t it used to be a lighter shade?). Overturned tray tables. Sad furniture, grey and bleak filing cabinets, cheap shelves sagging in the corners of the room, the oppressive weight of unread papers and unchecked to-do lists, all that was meant to be completed. Such good intentions; disaster in motion. You have a remote in your hand as if in a dream, so you step back a moment and reduce the scene’s speed from real-time to a type of distant slow motion: white paper swirling majestically, floating like so many torn leaves, the fan turning in a dull, fluid whir, caked dust drifting from the tips of the fan blades. You lift the remote gently and punch a button, reducing the room from a pause to a stop. Bewildered, you freeze, furrow your brows, turn on your heel, and walk hastily from the room. You can’t bear to look it this mess any longer.

When was that last moment for you? That day, week, month, year? What was a turning point in your life? When did you have to open your eyes a little (or perhaps very much) when an experience forever changed you? And, when did you find the clarity to look back at that room, that chaos in your life, and see it for what it was – a chasm in your heart and an awful wide-eyed glimpse at your reality?

I posed these questions to my students in response to a short story that we read about losing a piece of our innocence and in turn gaining compassion. This was in October.

Soon after, at the advent of second quarter, we began reading To Kill a Mockingbird and the theme continued: Scout’s childlike, playful demeanor slowly chipped away into a hard look at the world and the evil therein. The stories kept connecting.

Two days ago, a mother and beloved fellow teacher shared a sliver of her own story in a safe space. She explained that recently, there was a day when she was home with her sons, and something terrible had happened. It was something challenging to process and something that could not change. It was out of their control, she and her husband’s. It affected their family in a deep way. And though they had protected and shielded their children from birth, helping each child carefully and age-appropriately deal with the world in a brave way when the time was right…on this day, they couldn’t do much. On this day, she watched her eldest son grow up, and in ways difficult to explain, it broke her heart. Because in certain ways, it had shattered his too.

Within the last few weeks, people I deeply love have shared stories with me on the phone, on restaurant benches, in my classroom, on my couch, and in face-to-face moments of unflinching truth. Words and tears have spilled forth. Prayers have been prayed. Hearts have been splayed out. The aching realization that “I’ve grown up a lot this year,” has been spoken. And for a while, for these last few weeks, I felt deeply. I over-felt. I was at a loss. I couldn’t get a grip. I was stuck in the pain and the horror of it all, of these people who I loved so fiercely and felt connected to who were hurting. It was a type of vicarious bleeding, a slow overdrawn pull that eventually left me dizzy and disoriented. It was glimpsing that torrid room and not having the remote to stop it. Instead, I spun out. Last Saturday was the worst.

But a few days this week have allowed me perspective and a “stepping back.” I’ve been able to slow down my mind and press pause on my remote. I’ve let the days drift past me and just been “in” them but not affected too deeply by them. I’ve been able to see clearly some of the chaos and the ensuing pain. Some of the brokenness. And, I’ve discovered that whether it is criticism or cancer, anxiety or exhaustion, loneliness or longing, there is some relief to be had, some hope to be gained, some truth to be held.

In a separate post (perhaps a part two), I will share some poetry from my students from that October prompt, some eloquent words of wisdom (with their names and stories protected, of course). For now, though, I’m thinking of a different story – the novel in which we just read the final page. Because, sometimes, we really need to bypass our present and fast forward to an ending we know so that we can hang on to what’s in store for our future. And here’s an ending that I know.

By the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout has lost much of her innocence. That can’t change. It still feels awful.

She has wrestled through a difficult trial (literally), attempting to grapple with the idea that a man, though having seemingly done nothing wrong, would have to suffer so much for the sins of others. She has seen ugly parts of the world filled with pain and violence and loss, and yet she also has seen beauty in which shadows stepped out of the darkness to reveal truth behind them, and heroism and protection emerges where she least expects it. The world still feels confusing. She still is filled with questions. The understanding is incomplete and too lofty for her to reach. The pain is still real, and it won’t be rationalized away or sugar-coated. It would be unfair and perhaps even cruel to try to paint it any differently than what it is. It must be dealt with. But perhaps, she can take a break from it.

So, her father reads her a story.

The final scene that we read is a tender one. Scout is in her father’s arms, nestled up, warm and safe. Despite all of the wonderings still on her mind, he quiets her with love. No matter what she has gone through, she or her loved ones have endured to this point. No matter what was broken, it will mend some. No matter how much was lost, more might still be gained. We end on hope. She is still a child, held tightly in the arms of another, and her father will be there with her and with her brother, Jem, when they wake up. Tomorrow will be a new day. And I find great hope in that ending.

Though, some people hate it. Some people want to know the end of the story. What happened to Boo? To Dill? To Jem? How does Scout grow up? What is the final page of the final book of a larger series? Shouldn’t there be a sequel? Why can’t I know what happens, now?

At times, I feel like that too. But, for now, I’m content with that ending. Because when a chapter or a book ends in uncertainty, there’s a real moment of ownership and opportunity that can be bred out of it. There is a sense in which we decide the ending. We decide the fate. We have the choice, as Rafiki shares in Lion King, “to either run from it… or learn from it.” And, that wild, blue-butted baboon is right when he smacks Simba over the head with his wisdom stick and helps Simba realize that it’s not true that “it doesn’t matter” because “it’s in the past” and “yes, the past can hurt…” but what we get to do is pull ourselves out of the past and into the present with a hopeful glimpse into the future. We get to turn what was an awful wide-eyed glimpse into our circumstances into an awe-filled, “awe-ful” (if you will) picture of our reality. That hurt sucks. That growing up is hard. That to peer unflinchingly into the truth of a situation is more than we can bear at times. We’re at a loss for words or feelings or actions to surmount that. But, we do get to decide our future. We do get to keep fighting the battle, one day at a time, and we can emerge as conquerors on the other side of it. That is possible.

So, what was it, your last moment when you felt you hit a turning point? When did you know that you had to grow up and that you had lost some of your innocence? And what will you do about it? That is really the question at this point. What is your choice?

For, in a real, true, empowering way, the rest of the story is quite literally up to you.

You get to decide. Where will you go from here?

And, please, let me know, if you choose.

Context is King, and when Life is Bad to the Bone

So, you might think I’m crazy.

That’s fine.

I’ve been posting up a storm lately on Instagram and Facebook and my blog, proclaiming God’s power in my life and the fact that I’m going to stomp all over that coward, Satan, with the gift of words that Christ gave me. You can think I’m crazy if you want to, but if you do, you’re blind.

Satan loves shame. He loves darkness. He loves to hide, and one of his favorite tricks is for us to turn on each other because we can’t see what others can.

Satan is REAL. God is REAL, and we have power and access and weapons at our disposal in the Word and in the Holy Spirit and the body of believers. Yes? Can I get an amen?

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Yesterday, the sky on Delmar at night.

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Yesterday, my story played in chapel at Westminster Christian Academy, to about 1,000 kids and staff. I was nervous, and yet I saw how God put that together and how holy hands had formed that video from 40 minutes of my verbose speech wittled down to 5 minutes of clear, concise good words. He is faithful.

The mantra, the drumbeat, the anthem of that video was this: What Satan means for evil, God works for good. ALWAYS. Genesis 50:20. (See my video here.)

While that video played, my husband was T-boned on Delmar Street. [side note – what is going on on Delmar lately? Injured deer running the streets? Crazy?!]

My husband is perfectly great. He is safe. The other car smashed in his passenger side (praise the LORD!), and he is safe. My husband even used his gift of wisdom and words to encourage me on the phone when he called me during my planning period, and for ONCE, I had my phone with me all day… I answered right away. Praise the LORD! Brian encouraged me and then continued to care for me all day with his words and actions. Wait… weren’t you the one that was hit today, hard? It’s like the one time when we were dating, and I smacked him in the face with the Wii remote because I wanted SO badly to get that backhand tennis shot, and even though I gave him a black eye, when I started crying because I felt so badly, he ended up comforting me! What the heck?!? Life is crazy.

You might think I’m crazy, and again, that’s FINE. Think all you want. But while you’re thinking over there, I’m going to be face down praying, y’all. Because Satan is REAL, and God is REAL, and we have power and access and weapons to wield against a cowardly fallen angel who continues to strike out at me and my family.

Would you pray for a hedge of protection over the Rieckman and Simpson family today? Would you cover us in prayer?

I had the image today as I was praying, face down in couch, of a forcefield around my family. I prayed for each individual person, one by one, adults and babies alike. Pets alike! I prayed for protection to cover them. I prayed for Satan to FLEE, and I commanded it in the Lord’s name. I prayed for God to help me because I feel so bold and yet I am so, so scared. Because when you fight for God’s promises and you speak words of truth that the God of the universe gave you, crazy things happen. And Satan loves to fight back.

But here’s the thing. I have weapons. I have YOU. I have prayer warriors, and the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James 5:17-18

Prayer is powerful. Let’s harness it.

Pray for:

– a hedge of protection
– eyes to see the very clear spiritual battle going on
– binding us together
– staying alert
– getting in the WORD and being in constant prayer
– telling Satan to FLEE
Here’s the other thing: I know I’m not the only one. I’m hearing so many stories right now of other people’s storms. I mean, geez, just look out the window this morning in St. Louis. Today woke us up with a crack of lightning and deep rumbling in the earth. Big things are happening. And God is sovereign over every bit of it. Praise the King!
Life might be striking out at you, bad to the bone, but Our King is good through and through. He might not be safe, but LORD, He is GOOD! Can I get an amen?
PREACH. PRAISE. PRAY. What Satan meant for evil, God works for good. ALWAYS.
May that be our anthem, our drumbeat, our place of praise, always.
Time to kick start this day and kick Satan in the [err… pants.].

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Always

Guns are blazing, but my aim is true.
You strike down, but HE builds up.
You try to fight,
You claw,
Lash out.
Coward.

Don’t you know? Haven’t you learned?
The fight may wage on, but the battle is won.
You can strike at me,
Keep the hits coming,
But the power that loads these guns,
The pistol shots I can fire,
The perfect aim I can wield –
It’s sharper
And has more power;
He comes in like a wrecking ball.

Satan, sit down.
BACK. DOWN.
I command it,
And you flee.

Don’t you believe?

God has more grace.

So let go. Jump in.
What are you waiting for?
It’s alright,
Because there’s beauty in the breakdown.

What [you] meant for evil, God works for good.

Always.

Genesis 50:20