There are some topics about which I don't write here simply because they cut too close to the heart, and I don't want to sound as if I'm complaining or being negative. Yet there are things through which we are living now, circumstances which seem to dominate our lives, through which God will ultimately be glorified. But if I've said nothing, how will anyone know? What follows is not a complaint, nor is it a masked plea for money- really. I've waited until I'm in a good mood to write this in an attempt to keep the negativity at bay.
As the months of Jim's unemployment have unrolled across the calendar pages there has been more to the struggle than mere financial issues. If money were the only problem that would, in the grander scheme of things, be a small hurdle to cross. And yet there is something that is happening in my heart which presents a greater challenge, and which only the Lord of my soul can answer. Lately there have been moments where what is happening in my heart has begun to crystallize for me, yet I've felt that it was still outside of my grasp; just beyond my fingertips. I can only speak for myself here.
There have been so very many times in the past year and a half when the love and comfort of the Lord have been clearly shown to us by our fellow believers. Prayers offered on our behalf, gifts of money, hugs of understanding, all have been gratefully received. I honestly don't know where we'd be without this community of Christ riding the rapids with us. There have been blessings arriving on our doorstep and in the mailbox, some of which are sent anonymously, others not, and all have been timed perfectly to our needs. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lord has met our deepest and most desperate needs in His Son, Jesus Christ, and He can never be taken from us.
And yet there are a thousand daily humiliations which eat away at me. I've developed patterns of defense against the habitual hurts. For instance, we no longer answer the phone, but screen all of our calls with the answering machine. Some of our friends think it's hilarious that we don't even blink when the phone rings, but I can't talk to one more bill collector when I would give anything to pay them in full, but I haven't the means to do so. It has gone on for so long that I wonder if the ring of the phone will ever move us to action again. The phone rings many times a day with just these sorts of calls, and now some of them have my cell phone number as well. We had a reprieve on Christmas day, but now the torment continues.
Another example would be the things that we used to take for granted which now must be carefully considered, and either discarded or postponed. Several months ago I was able to take the girls to have their eyes checked and their prescriptions updated. Everyone in our family with the exception of Isaac needs glasses, and they need to be renewed every so often. Erin opted for glasses, but Bekah chose contacts. We had hoped to go back after a month or so and get her a pair of glasses as well, but our budget tightened up severely shortly thereafter, so we didn't. My own glasses are several years old now and I can't wear them anymore while I'm on the computer or reading a book, but getting an eye exam and new glasses is rather out of the question for me, so I'll just postpone that for later. I'm still fine to drive, so new glasses are firmly in the "want" category instead of "need". (Jim never mentions his own eyesight, but I know it's been a while since his glasses were updated.)
Speaking of things medical, I am so very, very grateful that the Lord is preserving us from illness and injury. Some friends of ours were in a minor car accident the other day, and one young lady hit her head, requiring a trip to the ER in an Ambulance. (She's fine, by the way.) Had one of my daughters been in the car and hit her head, the decision to put her into the Ambulance for the trip to the ER would not have been automatic. We'd have had to agonize over the cost of it relative to the risk of not seeking medical attention. As it is, our kids don't go for regular check-ups to any Doctor or Dentist, much less Jim or me. I last saw my General Practitioner a couple of years ago when we began a new treatment for my high cholesterol, and haven't had any lab work since then to find out whether or not it was working. (I'm still here- so I must be alright.) I know that if an emergency arises and we have a genuine need we will seek proper medical care- I won't be trying to set any broken bones in the bathroom. I also trust that someone will gladly step in to help with the medical bills. But that is yet a further burden on others who are already sacrificing to help us with normal things. So routine medical check-ups move to the "want" category, as a luxury item, and potential emergency care remains in the "needs", but with a "guilt tag" attached. (We remain firmly morally opposed to government health-care, but for how much longer will the luxury of moral conviction be allowed us?)
We were given many generous gifts of money over the holiday season, most of which went to bills, and some of which we did use to buy gifts for the children for Christmas. Certainly not extravagant, but then, we've always tried to keep Christmas simple and avoid the materialistic consumerism of our age. The majority of the gifts were simply practical, but one was an entertaining toy for Isaac. When he showed it to some friends from church I felt a momentary stab of guilt, "This isn't what they've been giving to us for." In fact, looking at wrapped presents under the tree at all gave me that same feeling. There shouldn't have been anything under there- they were all looking a lot like "wants" and not "needs", wrapped in the pretty paper- another "want" in itself…
On Sunday morning the shower in our bathroom broke and requires a plumbing fix, and while Jim has some knowledge of plumbing, the materials that we needed to make the repair were more costly than we could at the moment afford. I have a Sears card which we paid off a year ago and haven't used since, so we thought that might be a way to quickly get a new fixture and the other things needed to make the repair. When it came time to pay I swiped that pristine card, and the message came up to the sales associate that there was a problem and she needed to make a call about the card. The heat of embarrassment rose as she told us that our card wasn't being accepted and we needed to call a certain 800 number from home to find out why. We left our purchases at the counter and exited the store. I felt at least like a naughty child having received a reprimand, at most like a caught thief. In better times I'd have felt righteously annoyed and made a terse phone call upon reaching home. But now, I simply don't have the confidence; I just can't face another voice on the end of the phone telling me how worthless I am. No call was made.
What little money we do have is not our own, it is a gift to be used with the utmost discretion. Many days I lack confidence in the decisions that I make about spending anything; second-guessing most purchases. There is still Unemployment compensation coming in, (for now) which covers some bills, though not in a timely or sufficient enough fashion- hence, the phone calls. Our church has been helping as they can, but there are other hurting people too, and the well is not bottomless. We are so very grateful for every gift- and the gifts are so very needed right now. But what we want more than anything is a job for Jim, where he can use his gifts and talents to earn an honest wage, and we can then be giving to others as well.
There is a place deep inside of me which, more and more often, feels like a deflated balloon. I have moments when I can almost see the shadows closing in around my mind; feel the coldness of despair creeping up to entrap me. This helplessness which is highlighted in our circumstances has me feeling like a child in many ways. Though it is true that ultimately nobody really has control over their life or circumstances, when we have been riding the ragged edge for so long and must allow a broken pipe to remain unrepaired because we can't afford to buy the parts to replace it, it's just one more stab in an already perforated heart. Many days I am tempted to turn inward in self-defense, draw a curtain across my heart, and sit in the darkness which I find there. I understand that others face circumstances more dire than ours. I know of a family whose entire home burnt down two days ago- the family thankfully escaping alive- but all that they owned is gone. A friend at church is facing cancer; others mourn for children who've turned their backs to the faith in which they were raised. Certainly our trial would seem light to others, but again, I'm just being honest here about the effect it is having on me.
Last week our Pastor made a comment in Sunday school class which caught my attention. He said, in an entirely different context, "By God's grace others don't often see our inadequacies, but only the little that we do manage to accomplish." This must be why so many people comment on what they perceive to be my strength in this trial. Perhaps I am enough of an actress some Sundays to dress up and plaster a smile on my face for church. Yet I have no strength whatsoever. I can't stand on my own, much less support my dear husband, who feels far more keenly the burden of our situation.
My only hope is the grace of my Lord. I have no doubt that much of what I have described of my heart and feelings has grown from my own sin. I must, as a child of God, retreat to Him day by day, minute by minute, for His peace and comfort. The trial which He has decreed for us comes from His own wisdom and love and is serving a purpose. When I, small and weak as I am, lose sight of this, darkness is ready and waiting to carry me away. The enemy of my soul whispers in my ear to remind me of all of the hurts and difficulties I have endured. I could quote great theological truths and doctrinal positions all day that pertain to our needs, and they are crucial to know in order to understand who God is and that all things happen for His glory and our good. But in that dark place, where the temptation to despair is so very alluring, I can only muster the strength to crawl toward Him in exhaustion.
"Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."
-Mark 6:31, (NIV)
There is much comfort to be found in Scripture, but I often begin here in Mark, where Jesus calls his disciples aside from the chaos of the crowds and busy-ness to find rest with Him alone. And I know that in my weakness I can trust the Lord, because I find in Isaiah that:
"…a bruised reed He will not break,
and a faintly burning wick He will not quench;
He will faithfully bring forth justice."
and a faintly burning wick He will not quench;
He will faithfully bring forth justice."
I am that bruised reed; I am a faintly burning wick. Yet, He sustains me. And I find elsewhere in the Word that He not only sustains me, He understands my weaknesses. The very Creator of the universe knows what I am going through because He too walked the earth in human flesh.
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
- Hebrews 4:14-16
And so here I find my only confidence. Not in money, or a paycheck, or health, or possessions. My confidence rests firmly in the Savior who atoned fully for my sins and calls me to Himself in my time of need, which is constant, that I may approach His throne and receive mercy and grace. My deepest needs are met completely, amazingly, and unalterably in Jesus Christ.