Thursday, October 30, 2014

Breaking Down

Much of this year has been focused on training for my half marathon and mission trip to Guatemala. I cannot do many things well at one time so I tend to pile all of my efforts into just a few. It became a lot harder for me to save images on my computer, and my husband inadvertently switched my blogging password. All of a sudden it just became a real hassle to even think about getting a blog post together. I tried a few times, but could not give it the time and energy that it requires. It took me the better part of a week to get the password reset and this picture placed at the top of the page, but I'm finally good to go. Lord willing, hopefully it'll be easier for the next post.

We are two-thirds of the way into the Fall Hiking Spree. The air is turning crisp and leaves are changing, falling, and crunching underfoot. The trails invite me to rediscover them in their more simplistic, stripped down form. The leaf canopies have been replaced by bare limbs and unobstructed views of the sky. There are no splashes of color from wildflowers to grab my attention, which affords me the opportunity to enjoy that which is sometimes overlooked. Things like moss, dirt, bark, rocks, and mushrooms.

Mushrooms. I came upon these toward the end of our hike and knew they were a blog post in the making. I stopped, absorbing the thoughts that began flying at me. I walked over to them, bending low for a closer look. My fingers stretched out to feel their smooth, springy flesh. My family moved on without me, but I continued my examination, piecing together all that I was hearing from my Father. Finally, I snapped a few pictures and walked away... unburdened.

I had been wrestling with some things all week about the Guatemala mission trip. Mainly, I was beating myself up because I had experienced what had felt like a relapse while there. I had gone into the trip feeling strong. I had labored an entire year to rid myself of emotionally destructive tendencies. I had felt confident and sure as I boarded my plane. Unbeknownst to me, I had more ground to cover.

I've recently shared about that first little incident that the enemy had a field day with, but I will recount the story here for those who may not be familiar with it. I had been working the "Bucket Brigade" as our team helped build the villagers a church. I had worked so hard passing those unbelievably heavy buckets of dirt. I had joyed in the physicality of our task since I was in the best shape of my life. I had completed my first half marathon two weeks prior and had risen early that very morning to run up and down a mountain in heat and humidity that I was unaccustomed to. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

Then I overheard a team member worriedly speaking to our pastor about the likelihood of our work continuing at the same level the next day. We had a huge task ahead of us and he just could not see it happening with the bodies we had to accomplish it. He had specifically mentioned my name with a few others, proclaiming, "There's no way they are going to be able to keep doing this stuff." To say that I wilted is an understatement! I let him know that I was fine and would do the work, but that turned out to be untrue. I wasn't fine. Just that one little sentence had caused me to believe so much less in my ability to contribute anything of worth. It was not the same from that point on. When I passed buckets I imagined that the guys were expecting me to be weak. If it was a particularly hefty bucket I felt pressure to not let on how heavy it felt to me. If I lost my footing in the loose soil I imagined that they were thinking I couldn't handle the work. It seemed like the guys were holding on to the buckets just a little longer than necessary when they passed them to me to make sure I could handle it and wasn't going to drop it. If, in fact, that was the case it seems like a kind thing to me now - but then it made me feel like a loser.

But even this experience was not the end of me. I fought against the lies that the enemy was throwing at me. I continued to work hard, squashing down the negative self talk. Making the best of it, I publicly made light of it and joked about our team member thinking I was such a wimp. It helped. I was overcoming. And then I got sick.

And then I got sick. Just writing it in italics cannot convey everything that that one little sentence means. I worked all of my third day ill. They needed some of us to come to the school to paint and I jumped at the chance for some easy work. Our team mate had viewed me as weak and now I truly was weak. The enemy pounced on his opportunity to drive that point home to me. I was weak. I was. And that physical weakness wore away at me until I began experiencing emotional weakness. Upon arriving at the school, we were surprised to see a huge pile of dirt in the middle of the surface that we were supposed to paint. Construction was in progress and there was no way for us to paint that day. The respite that I thought would soon be mine was not to be - so back to the Bucket Brigade I went. I did not want to do it, didn't think I could with how I was feeling, but there were too many empty spots. I was needed.

We use clocks and minutes to measure our time, but that all stopped for me as I took my place in line. I could think of nothing else but the next bucketful. I passed bucket after bucket and it became the way I calculated time. No longer was it 10:00 or 12:00. Now it was "one bucket closer to being done". I prayed. Oh, did I pray! I reminded myself over and over that God was my strength. And I did the work. Even in such a weakened state I had seen the day's task through to completion. I fell into my seat in the van and promptly burst into thankful tears. I had never in my life so truly experienced God being my strength. We read that in the Word and believe it to be true, but going through something like that makes it so real.

It was a victory for me, and I was overcoming. But the enemy wasn't gonna give up that easy. My sickness continued to progress to the point where I knew I needed nothing but water and sleep. Retiring to bed at 5:15, I skipped dinner and devotions that night. Fever had set in and I could not get warm. I took the hottest shower I could stand and put warm clothes on. I pulled my jacket's hood over my head, put socks on my hands and a thick folded up towel over my head, and settled in to sleep with three blankets. I felt defeated. I had successfully fought against the urge to withdraw when I felt hurt two days earlier, but now I had no choice but to physically separate myself. I did not want to be alone. I desperately wanted to be with the others - to be one of them even though I always feel so different. Instead I lay in my bed isolated from them and feeling every bit as tainted as the enemy wanted me to feel. I was sad. I missed my family.

Thankfully I awoke in the night in a pool of sweat. Praise God, my fever had broken. I got up and showered again to rid myself of the evidence of my weakness. I was back in business! Or at least I thought I was. Just because I felt so much better did not mean that the others would understand that. A few team members were very sensitive about germs and made it very plain to me. Here I thought that my time of being alone would be over. I can't explain the depth of my disappointment when I realized that I would still have to keep my distance in order to make others feel more at ease. It seemed like a cruel joke to finally be able to join them only to continue being alone. Loneliness is a very powerful emotion and it really broke me down. Lacking the community I craved effectively shut me down. I was away from everything normal in my life and that which would have afforded comfort was just beyond the reach of my fingertips. I felt like I had lost in so many ways.

Having said all of that, I don't want to make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water. I have no doubt that I was supposed to go to Guatemala and that the Lord accomplished things through me being there. We helped those people. God enlarged our hearts toward one another and toward our Guatemalan friends. He marched us right up to the edge of a cliff and asked us to fling ourselves into His arms, surrendering all control to Him. We did that and He showed us over and over again that it wasn't about us. That it was about Him in every way.

When I came upon these mushrooms during our hike, I could distinctly sense that He was telling me something. I began searching my mind for all of the fungi facts that I had filed away over the years. I recalled that they often attach themselves to things that are dying. They feed on their hosts and break them down. My trip to Guatemala popped into my head. What of it, Lord? Hmmm... I had been surprised that I wasn't as strong as I had believed I was. I realized that I still had plenty of work to do. I had become down on myself and impatient with my journey. Why couldn't I just shake this stuff off and move on? I desire to be whole, and had actively worked towards it, so why was the enemy able to shake me as he had on the trip?

The Lord spoke to me about those unwanted things that had attached themselves to me while there. I thought of those mushrooms sucking the life force out of the tree stump they were affixed to. I could relate. I remembered how I had experienced that same draining of things that brought life to me. I had once again come face to face with my fears and had come out feeling like they had been the winners. But the Lord persisted. Don't you realize that I knew you would get sick? Don't you believe that it was part of My plan for you? Can you see no way that I can use that experience for good? Did you really think that it was all about you and what you wanted? What of what I want? Oh, my. Well, of course it could be used! I had sort of lost sight of that. I had lost focus. It wasn't about me and everything that is wrong with me. It was about Him and what He wanted to do in me and through me. And, obviously, that included me being sick and feeling alone. It had shown me that I was still susceptible to believing the worst about myself. It had shown me that I need to keep filling my head with His Truth and not give an inch to the enemy's lies.

I was fixated on the fact that the fears about my worth still had some power over me. Why couldn't I just win the victory already? But God, in His goodness, encouraged me. Those mushrooms have attached themselves to something that is dying. Yes, you had things fastened to you on your trip. You may not have wanted them to be there, but you were a perfect host because so many things are dying in you. WHAT?!!! You are making progress. Don't you forget what role those mushrooms play. Yes, they are often parasitic in nature. You know what that feels like. But don't forget that they are decomposers, breaking down the wood of that stump. The wood will not be the same in the end. Instead, it will have transformed into rich, life-giving soil. Tamra, you are being broken down in the same way. You will be changed! No, you are not there yet. That's okay. You will get there. I am making you into something that I can use to nourish and promote life in others. You keep telling others about what I am doing in you. You will get there. Just make sure you're honest about the journey. 

And so I try to do that. I think of the friend with sensory issues who was grossed out by the bumpy texture in this picture. She said that she would have wanted to scrape them all off to make it smooth. Don't we often do the same thing in life? Don't we instinctively try to avoid those things that make us uncomfortable? Speaking for myself, I can say that I have been tempted to long for less bumps along the way. But if I truly believe that He is in control I can rejoice even in those parts that are not as I would have preferred. He is going somewhere with every bit of it. I am so grateful for that.

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