This I Believe

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
I am ashamed to claim faith in Jesus Christ, unworthy as I am
to bear that name and call myself a Christian. For my sake he was
crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried.

I love the order and witness of the Christian faith;
the unassuming birth, disarming life, unjustifiable death,
and the deserted tomb that answer prophecy of Scripture.

A burning stick snatched from the fire, I believe I am more sinful
than I could imagine and more loved than I dare hope.*

Yet I worship at the altar of Self, and often insist and want and
worry as though there were no God. As though I were not loved.

I believe in right and wrong, and that I need saving from myself.
I need a God who is wiser than my purposes, deeper than my
hopelessness, higher than my dreams – a God who owes me nothing.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, Resurrection power
in this flesh and in the heart that fails me.

But how easily would I make my professions on a bed of nails,
not the carpet of ease and cultural civility of my times? On my deathbed
I will call myself Christian because grace will have won out in the end.

This I believe.

 

*This line a summation of the gospel by author and pastor Dr. Timothy Keller

I Will Sing: Faith

branches

Unless you’re helplessly tone-deaf, you’ll hear the unvarnished attempt of a songwriter
whose gift wasn’t singing. I can’t help wince at my voice but if the Scriptures sung in crude,
bare worship should bless anyone, the embarrassment will have been worth it. I thought
the song of hope would take us nicely from the last post Beauty From Ashes to the
one that’s coming up. You can zoom for the lyrics. Thanks for listening. Love, Me.

 

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Faith04

Twilight

It still hurts to swallow and I can feel I’m not quite drug-free. I managed to contain my thoughts this morning, not ramble into the thicket of fear or worry about bleeding and complications. Though it was cold – of course it was cold – I focused on the moment. Milked how nice the nurses were and asked for three more blankets after discovering the throws were fresh out of a warmer.

I abhor hospitals and all their close cousins. The forms to sign, the smell, those ugly scrubs the color of flat twilight. Why couldn’t the staff sport something more cheerful? The process, the incompetence that lurks and has no place where people are fearful and suffering. Yet there I was, dependent on the system and its machines to tell me if I can go on in hope, can count on a semblance of normalcy to my days. Or if I’ve been harboring anything unwelcome along my G.I. Like cancer.

It was my first time on the oxygen tube. I’d seen it only in movies and on old people. Between the nasal cannula and the faithful monitor, I felt like a fully certified sick person. I hated it.

They didn’t tell me it was going to be so awful. At least the surgeon listened to me; saw that at 85 lbs I didn’t need as much sedative as the others and gave me half the normal dose. They lay me on my left side and I soon realized I would not have been able to hang in beyond those ten minutes. It was rough, even violent, though that was no one’s intention. The bite block kept my mouth open, and prevented me from biting and damaging the tube. I learned exactly why I hadn’t been allowed to eat or drink all morning. I gagged and gagged, and the tears ran. When I continued to wipe my eyes outside the room, the nurse explained the Versed does that to a lot of people.

The good look down my esophagus and stomach showed all was clear. Still sore from one of the biopsies, I realize that one had been unnecessary. Why the hec didn’t the doctor see the stomach test I’d passed already? Important thing is my innards looked healthy and at least I left with cool photos for Tennyson. He just learned the parts of the digestive system last week.

I didn’t tell many friends, didn’t want to burden anyone. I don’t bother trying to explain to people the trouble I’ve had eating the last several years. One wonderful doctor of mine once said my life is difficult to describe. But pray, I did. Not so much for fear of dying but for the brute powerlessness of it all. You look in, you look out. And you see nothing but the unknown dark, hear nothing but the echo of your questions. For all your dreams and aspirations, you come up short face-to-face with your humanity.

You look up.

The Question of Human Suffering

MoonlightMore times than I can name, the wayfaring has been a desperate crawl. This is no metaphor, not when there were days I could not drag my broken body downstairs for the mail.

Jan 2003, Meningitis. The virus had taken itself up in my spine and lining of the brain. Journal:

At every turn of the neck, the world exploded inside my head. I could do nothing but weep driving home. Never had I known such blinding pain. I simply did not want to live like this anymore.

That night, I plumbed depths of rock bottom I didn’t know were there. The pain was so great nothing mattered anymore. Not finding a job, making ends meet. I just wanted to drop everything and die.

An email from a cancer survivor:
Been processing resentment in my life. God is showing me how I’ve been building that up in my life and it affects my immune system making me susceptible to disease.

February 2003
There have been mornings I would wake and realize with wonder my eyes had opened. That I was given another day. The awe came with…disappointment.

Midmonth – exactly ten years before I would start blogging – I opened the mailbox to find an unexpected check for $500 on my 30th birthday. The bills would be paid that month.

There is no word for what God has done tonight other than that He “disarmed” me. For the first time, I was enabled to pray blessings upon those who have hurt me or whose blessings I have begrudged.

How slow I have been to learn the weightiest, simplest truths these 13 years in Christ: we are meant to grow, not on wings of ease but in suffering, and this thing called faith is meant to be lived out with the support of others. The ABCs…..perhaps they are also the XYZ. I marvel that I have marveled at suffering.

March 2003, God wasn’t done breaking me. So this time, He sent me $1000. Through an anonymous donor.

While I have harbored suspicious reserve of my God and His heart for me in these maddening trials, the one I should remain suspicious of is myself and my resolve to change. Even my most genuine, sweetest moments of repentance often are but moments; I know my heart. I know I am as helpless to sanctify myself as I am to justify myself.

Something breaks. In order to restore it, you have to know the intent of its maker in the original design. What is the object of our living? The two-car garage white-picket watchdog two cute kids?

Across the spectrum of distinct faiths, we find that those who’ve struck the purest of gold in joy and freedom are those who renounced themselves most simply and profoundly. Heaven’s for later.

We come to the most famous historical narrative on suffering. Job had lost everything we define our life by and legitimately treasure: children, home, possessions, wealth, livelihood, health. Oh, Job wept. He literally lay in the dust. Dr. Timothy Keller offers a deeply thoughtful treatment on the question of human suffering. He says the Christian perspective is entirely realistic. We don’t minimize the impact of tragedy and loss. When it sucks (my paraphrase), we acknowledge it does. We don’t try to zone out of it. We weep, enter its fullness – I would add, like Jesus. He didn’t meditate himself out of the agony on the Cross. He refused the wine offered him in his thirst, wouldn’t dull himself away. It was in His surrender to the torment that He redeemed both Himself and His bride, the Church. In the book of Job, our Maker does not apologize. Contrary to what many imagine in times that strain, God does not lament here either – at least, not in flummoxed helplessness. He even seems to go off topic when He finally presents Himself to answer Job. God’s own query points to the limits on our knowledge and strength.

The book of Job, Chapter 38, as I examined those early months in 2003:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off…Surely you know!
Who stretched…
Who shut up the sea……
Have you ever given orders….
Have you journeyed…

Have you seen…
Have you comprehended the vast…
Tell me, if you know all this.
Can you…
Do you know
Surely you know….
Can you bind….
Can you loose…..

Can you bring forth….lead out…
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up……
Can you raise…
Do you send…..

Can you hold him…
Can your voice…..?”

Chapter 42, Job’s reply:
“I know that YOU can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted…
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

Why do we suffer? I, for one, realized I ate nonfoods my whole life and then petitioned friends for prayer when Natural Law kicked in. Whether in the way we mistreat ourselves or others, we bring on more of our troubles than we care to admit. Of course affliction visits lives that contributed nothing to it. And when fists shake at God, the Church offers a range of well-meaning answers that justify Him or us. But theology does not satisfy the cries of the heart. Job 42. Where were we when He rolled out the universe and furnished it in spectacle? Indeed we are but vapor. Theologian J.I. Packer has said we must acknowledge the mystery of God. I don’t see that He would remain God were we able to unlock the secrets of His glory. In my book, a God who hangs his head in attrition or fits inside my fabrications and understanding is not worthy of my worship.

Preacher Wife

My husband wondered the other day what kind of style I’d sport as a preacher. I shot up an eyebrow when without thinking it through, he cast his vote for fire-and-brimstone prophet. He had forgotten how much I’ve changed over the years – at least those few days out of the month between cycles. I reminded him how shockingly diplomatic I’ve become with those who test me. And he quickly ran through my writing in his head and realized I am generally very nice on this blog and will pose no threat to dissenting perspectives. Ah yes, he could see his wife the congenial, cerebral teacher and preacher delicately offering what may be unpalatable in a chalice honeyed with reason.

Holistic Husband jumped and burst out, “A stinking lie!!”

It was unfair that I’d get away with it when he doesn’t get away with much at home.

Single at Sixty

Most of the time, my relationship with my God and His grace are sufficient for me. I know I am loved eternally by Him. He hears my prayers and has opened my ears to hear His voice. Yet because I am human, there are times I feel like an outsider because I am a single woman in a culture that values couples and family. I suppose I have felt like an outsider my whole life.

Upon completing fourth grade, I was advanced two years. The unwanted achievement placed me two years younger than my classmates through the remainder of elementary, junior high and high school. I graduated high school at sixteen. I was also short (4’7”) and timid, which made the experience difficult at best, horrific at worst. Social awkwardness, teasing, bullying, puberty, an abusive father, and coming of age in the 1960s all contributed to my never knowing who I was or was meant to be. They placed me teetering precariously on the edge of friendships, social and emotional maturity, political awareness and sometimes, sanity.

The discovery of the vast hole in my heart at some point in my 30s led to over a decade of exploring ways to fill that hole in the attempt not to feel like an outsider. I experimented with Eastern religions, self-help seminars, drugs, clothes, men (lots of men) and only found temporary relief. The feeling that I belonged somewhere, to somebody, faded as soon as the fog on the mirror cleared.

Years later, when I found the One Man who filled me – who loves me unconditionally, whose vocabulary doesn’t include the words abandon or unworthy or unforgivable – the mirror cleared for good. Most of the time, I feel His arms around me, and I know I am an adopted daughter, friend, bride.

Then there are those other times.

My social circle is centered within my church. I’m part of a weekly women’s Bible study group. Eight of us have been meeting together for nearly three years. These women are married with children. I love that we are an intergenerational group. We are close – we pray for each other. We get together outside of study. As the conversation naturally turns toward marriage or motherhood, I feel on the periphery.

Church functions are organized around families, so I often retreat. When I attend Sunday service, I sit alone, aching for those I know to ask me to sit with them. I suppose if I were bolder or more outgoing, I might ask if I could join them, but Sundays seem sacrosanct. It is the Sabbath; it is time for families.

There is a singles group that caters to those 20-50. The object is to encourage and help them to form families. I am sixty-three. While I occasionally miss the nighttime snuggling of a marital companion, for the most part I enjoy the solitude of my own space. I am comfortable in my own skin and content with my own company.

So I pray to remember that I am not of this world, I am of it only for a time. Someday, I will not be an outsider. I will be face to face with my Redeemer. His very own. An insider for eternity.

Susan Irene Fox at www.susanirenefox.com

Calling

old-door-handleWriter Elisabeth Elliot has said God’s NO is His mercy.  In this posture of trust I have tasted the goodness of God. Hindsight faithfully reveals that the doors that had shut on me were pointing to portals that would swing wide with blessing.

I had always felt barred from overseas missionary work. The door to service abroad that I tried and tried wouldn’t budge. In 1996, I set foot in California for the first time on a working vacation as a guest contributor to a Wycliffe Bible Translators magazine called The Sower. Through the research and writing, I was in part scouting the missionary landscape and tapping possibilities for my place in it.

Fast-forward about ten years to the night a church leader came over for dinner. I had felt judged by this man who was passionate for overseas missions. I got the sense that he, knowing nothing of the many challenges I’d faced until then, thought me complacent in my little world. He never cared to probe, to discover anything of the work abroad I had pursued but that had never panned out for me. That night, he picked up the copy of The Sower that happened to lie on the coffee table, and flipping through, caught my byline. Taken aback, he seemed to see me in a new light.

A deep, sweet realization emerged in a talk with a friend last week. When she expressed pleasure over my writing, I pointed out that my hands don’t have the creative touch of hers and that I lack the verve and strength to serve people in the way she does.

I suddenly got chills.

I saw, after all these years, that anything I arguably could have accomplished as a missionary would have remained limited in scope. But the words I have put down, here and in global publications, reach more people than I would teaching English or laboring to build a hut somewhere. I heard God’s answer to the misperceptions of the man who had wanted more…activity out of me. I don’t always have to be talking faith. My writing is my art and the art, my worship.

My worship, my calling.

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. Revelations 3:7

Confessions: Mismatching Socks and My Deepest Longing

She doesn’t look for her keys before leaving the house. When you meet her as planned, she’s on time. Out of the car bounds an active kid, shirt ironed, as his mother materializes with a rock of a baby in an easy arm. Of course Mom’s groomed. When did she have time to paint those nails? She greets you with eyes and a smile that say she pulled off a restful night and she’s good to go.

And then there’s me.

Last month on the way out to the park, I realized my socks didn’t match. I had grabbed the white one and the checkered brown from separate piles off the tired path out of bed. I didn’t want to go back upstairs so I shrugged and drove off. The disinterest in the impression I make in public is an offshoot of my young, willful self. I was known for the different-colored socks in junior high – usually one red, the other purple. didn’t see why they had to match. So the asymmetry this time wasn’t so crazy of me, only I am thirty years older. I plainly looked more off than like a trendsetter. The women I know match – even purse to outfit.

And here I am, one of those days. My plans, my body, my emotions don’t seem to…work. I’m a Hyundai from the 70s. Dang ignition’s sluggish and the car gets temperamental when she’s finally on the road. Why the overcast view of the week ahead, the brooding storm clouds in my spirit? My son’s laughter makes its way to me through a thick wall of emotional static. I want to really see him but need to clear my circuits. I pry loose the helpless confession. Discontent and fear. Not sure which wins out but there they are, wreaking havoc. I wish this were different, wish that came easier – and I fear they won’t. I redesign my life in my head.

The nerve. How many people wouldn’t jump for this life? But hold on. Can we say this? Can we compare lives like we do houses? We don’t know all the stuff that goes on in a home, in human hearts. We all have closets we keep shut, some locked. Apparently Superman wasn’t so special – some of us have x-ray vision too. Last week someone who had been very kind and friendly to my family decided I was too imperfect for her and her circle. The ax fell from nowhere. I’d had no inkling I had been under scrutiny, especially because I had not seen her at all this year until a week before she wielded her hatchet. I had never uttered a bad word about her or anyone we knew. In any case, I somehow wasn’t good enough for her. Well Super Woman, here’s some more ammunition for you. Days like this, I in fact do remember my textbook Christian answers. I’ve taught the Bible. I know who I am and Whose I am. And I still feel like a failure, precisely because I know better. It’s not low self-esteem. I believe we are all full of ego. Why is compassion something we have to work on? “Love your neighbor as yourself” is one commandment, not two. We are told to love others as seriously as we take our own needs. If only I were more grateful, really grateful for all I have and for those who love and need me. I could disable the discontent. I am responsible for the perspective I take and how I respond when life seems to move against the grain of my hopes. I ache in my fallenness.

I’ve thought hard, blogging the past year, about what keeps us shuffling forward on the journey. Hope. Without it, tomorrow is nothing and closes in on today. I disagree that love is man’s greatest longing. Unless you’re Daddy Warbucks, all your love for me won’t keep food on my table and put my son through college. Hope is the picture you paint in your head of yourself and those you cherish in a better place. Ironically, hope is what drives you in your plans to kill yourself. Yes, I dare say because I was there as a teen. Bottomed out, you are so miserable you trust that anything will be better than where you are. What gets us through our daily fears is the hope of a good living, a happy family, improved health. You keep on through another round of chemo, holding on to the brighter picture ahead. But it’s a deeper kind of hope we nurse. Assurance of redemption, that our sighs and disappointments will not merely lead out to fresh air that makes the vault of our past feel like a bad dream. But that we will one day see – whether in this life or the next – the storyline to our suffering. We want to see the writing on the walls of our despair, know that we haven’t lived senseless years. We pray God or whatever we trust in will make right the wrongs, show mercy for our transgressions and vindicate us where we suffer. I hate waste, of time especially, and remind myself of the truth that’s found its way as a popular aphorism. I don’t want to waste my sufferings. I listen for the lessons they have for me. Onward and upward? My God makes this possible because He wastes nothing.

How You Fit Into My Prophetic Dream

I flew a lot in my dreams when I was a kid. It would start a bit slowly, and sometimes I rowed the air with my arms while swinging forward on a pillow to build momentum. Even now I could feel the exhilaration of taking off, sailing above land. This one particular dream was different, though. Vivid with a heaviness of meaning.

Up in the air stood a booth with wide oblong belts for sale, each with 666 stitched on. Everyone was required to buy and wear one. To refuse could mean death.

I refused.

In the dream I said it was because Jesus enabled me to fly that I wouldn’t dishonor Him. In the next moment, I found myself soaring higher than I thought possible. I perched atop a fence that scraped the sky and beheld the city below.

Fast-forward about a decade. I wished the fight between Mom and Dad were something I could wake from. It got so bad my mother and I ended up spending a surreal night in a motel. In the morning I found myself in a church van on the way to a retreat I had agreed to go to for some unaccountable reason. Broken, angry, I was one unapproachable 17-year-old who scared the counselors away. But the speaker shared something out of the book of Exodus that caught my attention. “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” The eagle pushes her young out of the nest not to abandon them but to teach them to fly. And eagles are the only birds to chase the eye of the approaching storm. Using the pressure of the fury for wings, these regal birds go right through it only to come out higher.

Into my darkness came this beacon of understanding about God’s loving dealings with His own and called to sudden memory the dream where I had flown, spurning the mark of the devil. I sensed the specialness of my dream all over again. I felt its promise of good. The reminder of the ways of eagles was meant to prepare me for the many storms I would face into adulthood. God started putting back together the shards of hopelessness in my spirit and I left the weekend retreat one radically transformed convert.

Two years later I was thrilled to settle into a large apartment-like college dorm unit. But I slowly came to feel something was off. One day while brushing my teeth, I leaned forward to study some engraving on the wall. My eyes grew wide. 666. It was carved in invisible ink but get this – one that glowed in the dark. And I discovered the number all over the walls and in the bathroom, with splotchy marks on the ceiling and an eerie stick figure of an angel on the inner door of my room. I learned from others that Christians have felt freaked out in that building, and friends urged me to request relocation.

I stayed.

I would live my old dream, meet the trial head-on. I couldn’t in good conscience flee the force of darkness with the power of light at my disposal. But it was really difficult and I actually look back in wonder at the determination of the girl twenty years my junior. I’ve grown softer since, for better and worse. Let’s just say I prayed a lot that year.

So you see that my dream has resurfaced at certain mileposts on my journey, a harbinger of the challenges and joys. Thinking about the blogging that has been so transformative for me, I made the connection once again. It’s felt like I’ve been flying. Not for my numbers, with bloggers out here who have done far better, but because writing with you has given me another life. I feel direction. I have a blueprint for my blogging. I’m not posting primarily for the likes or to raise my stats though I’m glad they help mark my blog. I don’t try to come up with the next post simply because it’s time. I don’t want to just take up space on WordPress. I hate inefficiency in all things. If I’m going to think and stomp and sing and ask why and why not and eat my words and be filled I want to do these things with you. You’ve received so well the collaborations I have tried out that you gave me a taste for what is possible in community. When I toss my list of daily to-dos and silence the noise of talk and cars, I don’t want to find at the end of the day I’d been running in a hamster’s wheel. Which I do, in many areas of my life. But on A Holistic Journey, I have drunk air that’s revived me. I go places, I daresay, on wings.

And the best part is not flying solo. Today’s sermon at church happened to cast fresh light on my ruminations on this post. The Bible does not talk about my potential, my personality, my gifts. Our personal fulfillment comes naturally when we pursue our calling. And our calling is for others. Not just in the Race Around the World but in our interaction and discussions, my purpose has been to encourage you out of your nest of fears, setbacks, uncertainties and to test those wings. Your steps echo off this blog as you hurry away to write something for your own readers. Your heart reached your mind, which they say is the longest distance between, longer than how far we are across the world. And fingering the ball and chain of my disappointments and burdens, I cheer you on to gain your ground and lift off. Because dreams do come true.