God is Gracious

I met a man named John about ten days ago at Lowe’s. My school day had been one of ups and downs, mentally. I had self-metered my brain’s state of clarity at a 75% in the morning, a 50% in the middle of the day, and by the end, I had reached what I thought was 90%. So, I thought, “‘You know what? I’m going to run some errands! I’m feeling pretty good…”

…and about 45 minutes later, I was still wandering around in the same sections of Lowe’s trying to make just three simple decisions. I stood, staring at the trellises (for supporting winding sweet potato vines), and I just kept pacing back and forth, back and forth, looking, puzzling, fighting for my thoughts to be clear, pacing, checking my list again… and I shook my head at myself as my thoughts were interrupted by a man next to me, muttering to himself as he looked for just the right trellis, too.

“I know how you feel!” I found myself saying.

I chuckled and looked his way. “I do that all of the time…”

“Yeah…” he said, “I just need to find a good trellis for my wife. She described it to me, but I’m not sure if I’m getting the right one…”

And the conversation began.

I found out that John, a 5’10″ish black man with graying stubble on his chin, wearing cargo khaki shorts and a grey T-shirt that hugged his somewhat round belly, was a gardening helper. His wife was the gardener, and he was learning from her, giving her all of the credit for a green thumb, and he was just trying to do something to help her out. He laughed as he explained that gardening was relaxing for them. It got them out of their normal routine and “crabbing at each other.” They felt good there, together, in the garden, and though he mentioned multiple times that she was the one who really knew what she was doing, this man John knew quite a lot.

So, we wandered through the section again, back and forth, like ebbing tides, going in and out of this Lowe’s aisle, passing each other and turning to chat every few minutes again, and he began to inquire about my garden. What did I need the trellis for? What else did I grow? How about tomatoes? (Their tomatoes were doing REALLY well! Hence the need for more trellises to support their growing stalks and fruit.)

And that’s where he came of great assistance.

See, my tomato plants have been struggling… and it’s odd, because last year, at least with my Sun Gold tomatoes, I felt like I couldn’t pick them fast enough. The plant grew, the tomatoes burst at the seams, fell ripe on the ground, spoiled on the ground sometimes, twisted vine-y stems over and around and under and through the fenced areas, and I had to hold the thing back; it was that prosperous! We had Sun Golds for days… months… in plenty.

But, this summer, though I thought I really prepared them well, they’ve been struggling. I put them in pots for more protection, I watered them every morning, I had tomato cages in their soil ready to go before they even got big (which they never really did), I put spikes of organic vegetable fertilizer in them, I….

“You what?”

John interrupted me.

“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” he said. “That’s too much for them, in those pots. The fertilizer just sits in there, releasing continuously, and it’s too much. You probably over-watered them too. Were the leaves yellow?” (Yeah… I’d figured that out halfway through the summer and started changing my watering methods.)

“Well, here’s the thing,” he said. “You want to drop in fertilizer as needed. It’s best to just add it little by little. Those fertilizer spikes that just stay in the soil are too powerful. It’s like they make the plant work too hard for too long, and it can’t just do its normal thing.”

I sat, amazed, at this man who said he didn’t know much about gardening.

“You also want to put the pots on soil. Mine are in pots too, but I set the pots on top of the dirt so they’re close to the ground. I don’t know what it is, but they perform better that way. The like to be close to real earth.”

“Okay, so not planted in the ground, but potted and just set on the ground?” (I’m always looking for things to be re-explained to me in different ways.)

“Yeah, actually on the ground in the pots. They just like to be close to the source, you know? They need that. And then they do really well. And, I water mine every day. Every day they can’t get enough water and sun, and they do great. I mean, look, I’m here buying trellises because they’re getting so big! […] I mean, I just learn all this from the gardener herself, right? She teaches me! But, it works every year.”

I stood, puzzled. It’s that easy? That’s all I had to do? Put the pots on the soil… Geez, I’m thankful for the advice, but I was feeling a little dense! 🙂

So, John and I finished our conversations as I had savored those moments of seemingly clear communication, and he called his wife for clarification on that trellis, and then I wandered down the aisles again, unable to make my choices. Finally, I checked out, having passed John again in the aisles once or twice, and then I went to my car and ran into John one more time in the parking lot. We shook hands, and I very genuinely told him that it was a pleasure to meet him and that I hoped to see him again around the area.

And, I drove home, only to realize in despair once I had unpacked and started to look around for my other items, that I had left two things at the checkout line. It took me a few minutes, and as ridiculous as it sounds, I called Brian to see if he’d pick them up. I was overwhelmed. Despite my life-giving chat with John, all the sudden things felt so heavy. I couldn’t believe that I’d exhausted myself all day at school only to do what should have been a 15 minute errand that turned into an hour and a half after which I left items at the store. Was $10 really that important? We decided yes, and I mustered up the feigned energy to go back, grab the items from the checkout girl who had them ready and waiting, and drove back home.  The funny thing was that that errand and its success made me feel like a prize-fighting champion. I did one thing with focus and success that day, it seemed. One thing.

It wasn’t until the next day that my mind started to clear even further, and I realized a few things. And then I realized a few things a few days later. The clarity kept coming.

1) I was still dealing with the symptoms of whatever was happening in my brain. Utter exhaustion + pushing myself to work more + lack of nutrients/water (?) + spiritually battling + trying to do everything and care for everyone = a foggy, indecisive, crippled brain. That topsy-turvy day was absolutely a day in the midst of the most difficult two weeks mentally that I’ve ever had. Though I thought that I had weathered the storm and it was all sunny from there, I had jumped the gun. I wasn’t healed yet.

2) I finally sort of understood what women had described to me before: being so exhausted or consumed with anxiety or even depression that it was a success just to be able to make their kids’ lunches in the morning before school. Life felt that hard that even doing one small thing, like getting their leftover items from the Lowe’s checkout, felt like something to praise God over.

3) John’s name means “God is gracious.” And John, though black, reminded me a lot in stature and demeanor, of my father, whose name is also John.

So, I’ve been taking John’s advice, because God is gracious, indeed. I quickly put my pots on soil that day, and I’ve been watering them every morning. They’re not flourishing yet, but they’re getting stronger and greener each day, and the tomatoes are ripening more quickly than they have been this past summer.

And, I’ve been watering myself each morning, close to the source. I’ve been getting up early to read my Bible and pray, to walk around the grassy yard a little with my dog, Brooklyn, to sit and stare up into the sky, close my eyes, breathe in, breathe out, and prepare myself for the oncoming day.

I’m not flourishing yet, but I’m getting stronger and clearer each day. My legs are able to carry me farther. My mind is able to accomplish more, more efficiently. My days are long and feel like big mountains ahead of me sometimes, but I’m being carried through them. Over them.

And I’m wondering where the rest will be. That’s something I keep asking God. Where will the rest be? Is this just a season, or this what I should get used to? Is this what you’re training me to endure? Am I to find you every morning in quiet moments, and then the rest of my day is going to be like an arduous leg of a marathon, every day, over and over? When will I feel that soul-quenching, body-relaxing, full washing-over-me REST that I so long for? When, God?

And he’s not answering me, yet.

But, I’m staying close to the source… and oh my, my dear friends and family… God is gracious. So, incredibly gracious. Each morning. Each day. Each hour. He is gracious. I’m living in that grace, today and every day, and I’m looking for the glimpse over these mountains.

I’m not healed fully yet, but I’m really looking forward to that day. And I hope that I can meet John again one day, Lord willing, and tell him what his tomato advice meant to me. I wonder if he has any idea…

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Delivery

I took a break the other day, and it was very, very needed. Suffice to say that I brought myself to a new low, one that I did not realize I was capable of spiraling into, a new level of exhaustion that I had previously left untapped… It makes me wonder about even lower levels, but that would be another exploration into anxiety, and I need no more of that.

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So I took a day… I was given a day. And, it was so, so needed.

And, I suppose that I should clarify and say that it wasn’t a whole day. It was really just a morning because after that I worked eight hours on my schoolwork to prepare for the following day because I felt that that might also help me to calm my brain, if I finished a few tasks.

So I took the morning. And I ran. (I HATE running…) I slept in, I cuddled up to my husband a little, and then I laced up my tennis shoes, and I RAN, and I breathed, and I RAN… And before I had left on this run, my head was feeling still pretty cloudy, but I had learned that it was my dear friend’s induction day, and she was in a lot of pain too, of a very different sort.

So, I took my phone with me, and I RAN.

And what I felt almost immediately was relief. Warmth on my skin, energy in my legs, calm in my head, and focus because all that I had to do was let the music flow into my ears, keep my eyes mostly open, and just keep running forward. That was it. Keep pressing on toward the goal… and that day my only goal was to GET OUT of my mind and RUN.

I didn’t run the whole time. Let’s not pretend that I’m some sort of athletic prodigy (that’s almost laughable!). But it felt good, and at times, I closed my eyes, and I sang out loud, and I pressed on and challenged myself to keep going. And I prayed for myself and for my friend.

“God, help us in this. Help us to get through this. Help me to get through this. Lord, I’m so tired and so confused, and I just want to be able to focus, to get through this day with clarity. I just want peace, Lord. Help me, help me, help me.” And I cried out in my mind to Him as the music pounded in my ears and my tennis shoes pounded on the asphalt. “We look to Yahweh, Yahweh! […] And He will reign forever, He will reign forever, HE WILL REIGN for-EVER and EVER!”

God spoke through my headphones via his people in Hillsong. Keep going. He’s with you. He’s yours. You are HIS. Your brokenness does not define you. You can emerge from this darkness. He is with you. He is WITH YOU! He is WITH you!

My feet kept going and my heart kept pounding and my ears kept singing and soon my mouth was singing his praises, out loud in my neighborhood, past the tennis courts and around the bends and up the hills and on the sidewalks past the streets and into a field. I watched the leaves fall, yellow and dying, onto the ground, and I prayed in my head, “Not yet, Lord. No, not yet. While I still have breath, I will praise you.” And I thought of Erika and Justin and baby Shepherd Alexander, and I prayed for them too. “She is yours, God. He is yours. That baby is yours, God. Help her through it. Bring life. While we still have breath, let us praise you. All of our energy and our might and and our breath is for you, God.”

And soon I came to a field, and I felt I should slow. Or dance.

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So, I jogged in a few funny circles, and I tried to decide whether to keep singing aloud or twirl in circles, to make myself even more undignified than this… to revel in this freedom.

I looked around to see if anyone was around, but the trees were high and shielding this place, so I just sat down. And Hillsong sang on, “My hiding place, my safe refuge, my treasure, Lord, you are. My friend and King, Anointed One, Most Holy.”

The words subsided and the music lingered in my ears, lulling me… so I texted Erika some words from the Lord that I was receiving too, and I lied down on the asphalt with my eyes turned up toward the blue sky, and I closed them too. I let the heat and exhaustion of my body fade as my chest rose and fell, and I let the sweat pour down my face and the world swirl around me, and I allowed the words to sink in. “I will exalt you… I will exalt you… I will exalt you. You are my God.” And after a few minutes, my eyes opened and adjusted again to the day I was given, and I stood up stronger. I breathed in, I breathed out. I breathed in, I breathed out. I looked around. And someone else was coming, now, after my respite. So, I turned and walked up a VERY steep hill (that didn’t feel quite as difficult as it usually does), and I walked home.

I showered, got some grub, and I got to work. And I wasn’t perfectly healed, but I was IMMENSELY better than I had been. And each day since has been a little better as I have learned to rest and to start my days with grace and a good Word.

Each day has been a struggle lately. Some worse than others. Fear and anxiety and confusion has overtaken me. It almost felt like it took my under. But, I’m emerging, delivered, just like beautiful Shepherd Alexander did that day, at 1:50pm (just shortly after I finished nourishing my body with a good meal), and he was 7 lbs, 13 oz, and 20.5 inches long.

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He is gentle as a shepherd and strong through his King, just like me. He has weaknesses and fears and need of care, just like me. But he has a Redeemer like me, a God who does not hear his people cry out continually, over and over in anguish and despair, and not answer. Our God is a restorer, a hiding place, a safe refuge, and we will exalt Him, Shep and I. And his parents and their families too. We will cry out into the world and find the Lord drawing near, and we will find peace and deliverance, again and again. We will emerge into the world stronger and braver because of our strong, strong God. We will fight, and He will redeem us. We will be brought to places of peace of respite. We will carry on. I’m trusting that today.

971791_10103708366006674_616554872_n“I will exalt you. I will exalt you. I will exalt you. You are my God.” It’s been ringing in my ears for days.

I will exalt you, God. You are my God, indeed. I will try to get my mind out of the stubborn place where it lies and the overworked, perfection-laden spiral it shatters into, and I will try to trust you, to exercise my faith in you, to believe you when you say, REST, before I am brought low. To believe your commands and follow them. I’m trying God. I know you’ll stay with me. You are near, God. You are mine. I am yours. I am your joy and your crown, whom you love and long for. And I will try not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present my requests before you, and your peace, which transcends all understanding will guard my heart and my MIND in Christ Jesus.

Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Amen.

Thank you.

Now, I’m ready to take on this day.