Friday, August 16, 2013

Duct Tape and Bailing Twine…

Or, on not holding it all together...

There are some days when somebody asks me how I’m doing and I just reply, “I’m holding it together with duct tape and bailing twine.” It is my shorthand way of saying that there is good news and bad news. The good news is that I am holding it together. The bad news is that at any moment it could explode. I had these types of days before I was sick. Days when I felt that everything could fall apart at any moment, but I always had the confidence that I’d have the
energy and creativity to put it all back together. That is just it; I was self-confident instead of God-confident. I was self-reliant instead of God-reliant. If DC (damn cancer…sorry friends who don’t like swear words, but its what I call it) is teaching me anything it is that “I am weak but He is strong.” I prayed those words as a child so many times before bed, but now I am having to live them every day. What does it mean? It means I am learning new lessons about living and dying every day. Here is what I am learning this week. I am learning to focus on what I can do, and not be frustrated at my limitations. I am learning that it is okay to let other people cry for you and with you. I am learning to give God praise in the middle of the storm.

A few years back one of my favorite leadership gurus, Andy Stanley, was speaking at the Catalsyt Conference and he said, “Only do what only you can do.” I thought, “yeah right, Mr. Huge-church-staff-of- hundreds-pastor, come down to the real world where I preach the sermons, lock the doors, and fix the toilets just to keep the place running” (cynicism is a sin I confess often). That message has come back to me again and again in recent weeks. On those afternoons when I just run out of steam and I have to step back and critically look at all the tasks in front of me and decide which ones I have to do, and where can I ask for help. I hate asking for help. I am a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” kind of guy. I grew up in a single parent home and my mother never made over minimum wage. I worked my way through college, grad school, and post-grad work, usually working full time, and trying to be a fully engaged parent. I have spent years racking up sixty and seventy hour workweeks like badges of honor. I bragged at how seldom I took a real vacation. I was proud at how much I could get done and still have energy to burn. Now at 4:00 pm I need a nap and it frustrates me to no end. I am learning, however, to focus on what I can get done. I am learning, after years of rolling my eyes at the idea, to “only do what only I can do.” Yes, things go undone, but it is better to do a few things well, than several things badly. Thanks, Andy, it took DC for me to finally understand that lesson.

I have said over and over again that the only thing worse than being told you have cancer is telling other people you have cancer. This week I was stopped by somebody who “used to go to St. Paul” (there are lots of those in this town) who had heard about my diagnosis and wanted to express concern and care. As one who had seen a loved one die of cancer, she was truly empathetic. As tears welled up in her eyes I realized that this happens a lot lately. That just sharing my story, in my sarcastic and somewhat irreverent way, allows people to laugh and to cry for me and with me, and I’m slowly getting okay with that. Don’t get me wrong, I hate to make people cry, because every time somebody starts to cry, I cry with them. There I am, standing in the frozen food section of Food Lion with tears running down my face and we are talking about how important community is in taking care of those who are left behind. I think for the first forty-eight years of my life I didn’t cry enough. I viewed it as a weakness to express my emotions. I am coming to believe that it takes a lot more courage to let the emotions come, wash over you for a few moments, fully live in them, and let them pass than to stuff them down and keep them pressed into a closed container in your soul. I have to do it because I don’t have any more room in my soul for stored emotions; I have to let them out. My willingness to do this also gives permission to those around me, even those who I didn’t think really cared, to let their emotions out for a few moments too, and that is healthy. I still don’t like to make people cry, but I'm learning to let them, and to cry with them because they aren’t just crying for me, they are crying for the hurt places in their lives that they have left unattended to as well.

In the middle of all this mess I am learning to trust God even in the middle of the storm. I had somebody ask me why I hadn’t abandoned my faith? Why this disease hadn’t caused me, in the words of Job’s friends, to just, “curse God and die?” I thought for a while and told them that nowhere in scripture are we promised cozy comfort, and security; that's a postmodern heresy. There is sin in the world that humanity chose when we decided we would be our own gods, and that unleashed a set of unintended consequences we can’t even imagine. In the middle of all of this, in the center of the storm is where God is always waiting for us. Over and over in the
scripture we are promised that God would never leave us or abandon us, even though we have left and abandoned Him over and over again. I don’t think I did anything to deserve the DC, I know God did not give me the DC, it is a product of sin in the world. What God did was send a solution to the sin, when God became flesh and lived among us, died for us, and kicked the hell out of death by conquering the grave in the person of Jesus Christ. In the middle of my storm, when I have insomnia in the middle of the night, I am learning to just lie in the presence of God and know that God can be trusted even in the middle of the storm. Oh, I have my doubts, but thanks be to God that I am surrounded by a community that when my doubts overcome me, they believe for me, until I can believe again.
So what if it all falls apart? God is with me and he promised that He’d put it all back together, eventually. In the meantime I’m buying extra duct tape and keeping spools of twine handy.

God who loves us, who will never leave us, and who is with us in the middle of the storm, help me to lean on you most when I feel you least. Help me to do what only I can do, love others enough to let them cry and to cry with them, and to dance in the rain in the middle of the storm. In the name of the one far greater than duct tape and bailing twine, Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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