Following Hard (tiny way #5)
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.
Antoine de Saint Exupery
We are halfway through our series called "POUR: tiny (practical) ways to water your soul".
I have been telling you that my last post was just an interruption in this POUR series, but maybe not. Like most interruptions, there is something to it, something hidden there.
What I mean is, I really think that somewhere in Taking Your Kid to College: 5 Secrets to Letting Go with Grace there is a glimpse into a way our soul is watered. By doing hard things alongside Jesus.
Our hard things may be right in front of us and yet hidden or secret even, eluding us while we stay outside of the circle of hard. If your heart is like mine, we avoid or fight or run from anything painful, uncomfortable, or where we cannot be in control, but inherent in how God designed us to grow and reflect His image is refinement and surrender. I call this Following Hard. It means everything might not work out, but we are trusting Him with the results.
Following Hard is doing hard things when you don't think you can do them or that you even want to. It might be as big as facing the death of someone beloved, dealing with any sort of grief, a season of bittersweet letting go, a big forgive, or a tiny one (those can be the hardest!), or so many things in between. It almost doesn't matter what the hard thing is (of course, it does to us doing it), only that we do not avoid it, fight it or run from it for one more second. Whatever it is, my guess is it is likely right in front of you staring you down or popping up all over your life because you have held it down for so long.
It can seem like the worst possible thing you could do, the scariest thing, to turn around and face the hard thing head on falling back into Jesus waiting arms. But that is what it is most afraid of, especially if you do it Following Hard - after Jesus, in concert with the Holy Spirit.
When we were in the thick of figuring out Kyle's autism, most days I just wanted to crawl back in bed and sleep. I was in fact, exhausted, but it was more than that. It was a hard and sad and lonely mamahood and I wanted regular, happy and connected. I could tackle hard work head on, it was my southern raisin' and my personality as a firstborn child. I knew parenting to be in need of consistency, perseverance and follow-through, but nothing I knew to work so far in parenting our other three kids was working now.
I got tougher with myself. Maybe if I tried harder, dug in deeper, covered all my bases, pulled out of every other commitment, never looked away for a split second. Maybe if I was not so flawed as a parent. If only I could remember how I had done it before. Maybe I had amnesia.
Mike went to work everyday, but honestly thought of quitting his job to be able to give more to Kyle. I was already at home full-time, but desperation made us reconsider just about everything.
It was upending. We were emptied out of ourselves and that felt shaky to two hard-working, put your mind to it, get 'er done kind of people. We had unexpectedly had our first child while Mike was in medical school and in crazy, wild-eyed faith had three more during his Surgery Residency. We could do this.
That was the biggest problem though, that kind of working hard thinking. I lived under the misconception that my hard work and prayer = grand results, my doing this parenting thing fully and "correctly" (whatever that means) would make happy, healthy, stable children and family. It seemed to be working until Kyle - beautiful, sad, terrified Kyle.
He had nightmares, he wouldn't eat. When he got scared, he ran away, he threw whatever was at hand. He broke things that got in his way, usually me. I left most places early and in tears. The days were long and the years longer.
He wasn't yet five.
In those raw days I would get out of bed, I had to with the three Whippersnappers and Kyle who hit the floor like a tornado most days, and try to do one thing, just one, that moved his care forward - one phone call, one prayer, one Psalm, one spark of a connection with Jesus and with Kyle.
I had no idea exactly what he needed or what resource might be beneficial. Where to start? It all seemed like a shot in the dark. We could change his diet, try natural medicines, add medications, see yet another therapist, get yet another opinion or try an untried school. Google was not at our fingertips back then, treatments were controversial and largely unproven.
I suddenly was smack dab in the middle of a life I did not sign up for. I was seeing my joy for motherhood drain out of my heart and soul right before my eyes.
I am not a crier, but I cried my little heart out all over the place, to Mike, to my mama, to dearest friends and I cried to myself. It was an all out pity party. And all along, I cried to God above.
All I knew was our God has a tender heart for all of His children, reaching out for us in real and gritty life, wanting close-up and personal connection (making eye contact!), always seeing us and never looking away, though I did feel unseen sometimes. And I knew I wasn't the only one hurting, our whole family life was disrupted and most of all, Kyle was a hurting little boy. It broke my mama heart. It broke me, and that may have been its best work.
Autism would wrench so much of what I loved away, out of my white-knuckled grip, toss it into the sea or burn it down. And then, as I lay defeated in my dirty tears, finally teach me a hidden truth in my mama heart, my hard work does not save me or any one else.
You probably knew this. I had it to learn.
I am not saying throw out your hard work ethic. You will need it to Follow Hard. You will need everything. What I am saying is don't do it in your own strength and whatever you do, don't let it be your measure of good things. My hard work, when I thought that was what worked, may have actually crowded out the good work of Jesus, the very thing we really need when we Follow Hard, to know the One we follow, as my Mama would say, come hell or high water.
This was a volcanic revelation. Yes, it blew the top of my head clean off, scales fell from my eyes and my heart. It burned. It actually burned me to the bone, like a house on fire, to the ground.
I once drew house plans for a family of seven whose home burned down. When I walked through the wet ashes and saw unending loss wide open to the sky, that smell you can't get out of what little is left and how that smoldering fear stays with you, I felt fear, fear of the fire.
Being Kyle's mama made my inner landscape feel like that, all damp ashes, grimy soot, tears and fears.
But then, after many rusty metal dumpsters filled with debris were hauled away, an amazing thing happened. The foundation was scraped clean and only the fireplace chimney stood tall. We stood with a new set of plans and a better flow for her big family life. Slowly the sound of saws and the smell of new lumber filled the neighborhood.
A new beginning.
Out of the fire, out of the smoke and ash, a new home slowly took shape, board by board against the rainy skies. Hope.
Something like fireweed.
Fireweed is a flower of the primrose family. It is a hot pink bloom dotting the blackened landscape after rapid, devastating fire has swept through. Fireweed cropped up in London after the bombing and burning of WWII and closer to home for me, after Mount St. Helen's erupted in Washington.
I didn't live in the Pacific Northwest when Mount St. Helens blew her top, but I have heard all about it from my friends, that blast that ripped the snow-capped dome off the Pinchot peak sending it as a full slice, trees and all, into Spirit Lake. Like other catastrophic events, people remember where they were and what they were doing when Mount ST. Helens blew. They remember the ash for it drifted over 230 square miles across Washington and Oregon. It was a blast so devastating it silenced the birdsong.
I have known that silence in my soul.
But in the eerie quiet and charred landscape, traveling on the wind and scattering on the barren land, tall sprays of pink pushed through the hardened lava, the first signs of life dotting the blackened earth.
Fireweed brings beauty to ashes and opens the ground for other life to follow. It is a starter seed, a pioneer for new growth. It literally fixes the soil by bringing nitrogen in its roots.
I guess what I am trying to say is that God calls us to Follow Hard, and we can run or fight or sweep it under the rug, but if we avoid facing hard things, going into what feels like the dark volcanic night, we will miss one of the chosen ways that God waters our soul and all those around us, by calling us to do hard things with Jesus. If we resist, we will never get the gift meant for us on the other side of hard following, nor will we have it to bring to our friends and that would be the biggest miss of all.
How will we ever be close to Jesus if we never follow Him through the hard things of life? How will we ever experience the resurrected life, deeper relationships, rebuilt faith on stronger footings, without first going through the fire and the blast?
I would tell you that I most certainly want the resurrected life, but all of my avoidance of doing hard stuff says otherwise. I don't like messy. I don't like uncomfortable. I don't like hard work that does not equal good. I don't mind hard work, but I like results like strength and answers rather than brokenness and unanswers.
Friends, it is our God's best to love us in our brokenness and shine in our darkness. To know this, we must Follow Hard, His heart and His way, into dark places. I wish the way were different, but I didn't come up with it.
I knew from Sunday School that we can come through the fire because Jesus, the fourth free man in the fiery furnace, meets us there. Well, that is all fine and good for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, but I am afraid of the fire!
What I did not realize yet is that after the fire when all is burned and lost, blooms a fireweed. Jesus. He knows we are afraid of the fire. That is why He is always telling us to take courage. He has been through that fire. He went first through Calvary to the Resurrection, opening a path so we are able to follow, and Follow Hard.
Right before His death, when Peter asked Jesus where He was going, Jesus answered,
"Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward."
After he was betrayed by his closest friends with a kiss and a denial. After he faced a dirty, grueling criminal death. After he spent three days in the darkest grave. After all his closest friends felt lost, defeated and scattered to the mean wind.
After everything burned to the ground.
After he was resurrected. After he had a fish fry on the beach with his friends and after returning to the Father. And only after sending the Spirit of truth and adoption and remembering. After a whole lots of things that are hard to understand.
After he paved the way back to God. I'm pretty sure that was through a fire.
I don't pretend to understand just how He did this crazy thing called Salvation, but in the mystery here's what I want to say,
Whatever the hard stuff is, Jesus lives in your skin to do it together.
Whatever fear is keeping you from doing hard stuff, Jesus has knocked it back so you can do it together.
Whatever has burned to the ground in your life by living in an imperfect world, by the meanness of others or by your own matches, Jesus is your fireweed. You are not your own fireweed.
Jesus made a way for us through the fire and the blast and the grave. He was Following Hard after His Father and trusting the end result to Him.
"The cross is the point where God and sinful man merge with a crash and the way to life is opened – but the crash is on the heart of God.”
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Let's give each other courage, the courage we get from Him going first and with us, to take one baby step in our hard stuff together. Let's Follow Hard after Jesus who went first and and now says, "Come".
By the way, it is not lost on me that I am calling this a tiny way, when it is nothing but. (Thank you Phyllis.)
It is only me that is tiny, and God certainly knows that by now. I have proven it enough times. But He has proven Himself to be BIG and GOOD and know a thing or two more than me. Now, I am trying to let Him be big and good, too big and too good for me to handle, big enough to hold onto come hell or high water, good enough to take me through fire or with no results for all of my hard work. Just Him.
And He is enough.
Photo of Mount St. Helens from Country Magazine.