Why ‘God will give you more than you can handle’ changed my life: And how it fixed Christmastime

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote God will give you more than you can handle.

A whole year.

I can hardly believe it. It still surfaces as one of my most-read blogs of all time and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s because out of everything we could ever go through as human beings, that is the one thing that connects us all. The struggle–and the triumph over it.

I read it again this morning, throwing myself back to the time when the Christmas lights were strung, the tree decorated, the little manger on the dresser paused in time with Mary’s eyes on the baby Savior’s face. Nothing had changed from just an hour before and I’m certain that even our cat was undisturbed from his sleep. Nothing had changed except our hearts. Because my dad, laying within the glow of Christmas lights, had breathed his last. This morning as I read it again it was so hard to wrap my mind around how time had continued to propel us forward, not even taking a moment to help us stand on our own. The night turned into day and the snow came and went and the needles on the tree began to dry and fall in a heap on the carpet. We were stuck in time, unable to breathe without pain, but time didn’t care.

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It brought me to here. Another Christmas. Another tree. And time to sit and reflect on that Christmas that changed everything.

I’ve been astonished–more so this year than any other year–how broken Christmas is for so many. And no, I’m not saying that because I lost my Dad at Christmastime.

This year more than ever I’ve noticed how superficial the holiday has become to so many. It’s the most stressful time of year for holiday shoppers who scurry around with holiday lists and rack up credit card debt. People compete to have the prettiest lights on the block and stores fight to have the best sales. The gifts, the traveling, the way we get so entangled in things.

And somehow we forget the things that were illuminated to me just one Christmas ago.

mary and jesus

The gift of breathing. The amazing, indescribable gift of having family by your side, even next to an empty tree. The wonderful warmth of hot chocolate and candles and twinkle lights as you simply share the company of a friend. The carols that remind us of the sleeping baby who came to save us all. The wonderment of a child waiting anxiously for Santa to come.

None of these experiences are things. And we know it. Deep inside, we all know it. But we forget over the years and become calloused to what is expected and to the status quo.

Time didn’t pause at the stable over 2,000 years ago. It kept going, and the child grew and he ministered and suffered and died and made his way in and out of our hearts through the years. We turned away from the cross and faced in all the other directions that promised fulfillment and peace and just left voids. And we continue to struggle to face the right way. Through the generations we’ve struggled to remember, we’ve struggled to fill the voids with material things and importance, and all along we’ve been breaking Christmas apart. We’ve been breaking our lives apart.

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I still believe that God will give you more than you can handle. This year–starting at last Christmas time–has been the hardest year of my life. Even now, as I write these words, I find tears streaming down my face. It’s not that it’s gotten easier, because it hasn’t. But I’ve learned something that takes me through.

God will empower you to fight the impossible.

God will send something to make you smile when all you want to do is melt into tears.

God will send friends–so many friends–who paint your life with sunshine and share the shadows.

God will remind you of the laughter and not just the pain within your memories.

God will fight for you to be okay and carry you when you’re weak.

God is for you.

This Christmas I choose to step away from the brokenness and the rubble of forgetfulness. I choose to remember the way my Dad’s face lit up when I hung the lights near his bed and the way he fought to stay with us. I choose to remember the way he didn’t grab for things when he got ready to step into Heaven–but he grabbed for our hands. Christmas is our reminder of the things that keep our feet on solid ground and the One who handles what we simply cannot. Christmas is our time to remember the way the Savior came to a broken world full of grief and pain and impossibility all in order to bring life, and relief and hope.

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Because of Him, you make it through the days you otherwise could not. And I believe more than ever, a year later, that we can’t handle everything–not a single day. But He can.

And that’s the reason to celebrate.

Not only Christmas–but every single breath.

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When the “wings of eagles” aren’t yours: Dealing with mental and physical illness

I write this while flat on my back on the couch.

The World Cup buzzes in the background and I catch myself just staring at it every now and then, almost too weak to type. I’ve been laid up in bed sick for three (maybe four?) days now and it’s close to the sickest I’ve ever been…aside from getting salmonella that one time. *Not fun, by the way.*

It’s been downright depressing. Being held hostage by your body–being completely vulnerable to a stomach that won’t hold anything down, crippling headaches, and a fever that keeps you huddled under a Mt. Everest of blankets is just enough to make the average person’s heart completely weak.

And I’ve wondered–what about the wings of eagles that the scriptures talk about? Aside from my battle with hypothyroidism I’m relatively healthy with little complaints. This illness in particular is temporary. Within a few days probably I’ll be able to continue a normal routine, picking up work right where I left off, writing that book review I’ve had to hold off, and mingling with family and friends who I’ve been quarantined away from this week.

For me, it’s a temporary state of “disability”. But what about the others? The others who write to me about their struggles with mental illness, their battle with autism, their fights with cancer, or Crohn’s disease, or their lives strapped down to wheelchairs or crutches? What about those who have weekly dialysis treatments or have to watch the world go on past them outside hospital windows?

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It’s been a question that’s been hard to shake. I’ve always heard this scripture repeated:

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.”

But from a young age it was hard to swallow.

At the age of 7 I watched my mom deal with clinical depression–watching as she heaved into paper bags, wrestled demons, contemplated suicide, and spent nights crying out loud for it to stop. Later in life I watched my Dad–a healthy man with a healthy lifestyle–dwindle away little by little every day by cancer. I’ve watched friends drag heavy chains of manic depression or bipolar disease, whispering over the phone that it NEEDS to stop. And I’ve always wondered why these people–people I love–aren’t granted those wings of eagles. Now as I lie here sick in bed, I repeated these questions to myself.

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But the truth of it is clear. None of us, upon coming to earth, were promised to be untouched. On the contrary, actually. We were aware that we were coming to a fallen world with sickness, sadness, brains that could malfunction and chemicals that could go out of whack. We knew we signed up for limbs that could fail us, hearts that would stop beating, and eyes that would grow blurry over the years. We willingly said “Yes, Lord” before coming to a world that promised we would need to “wait” upon our strength and trust and hope in the Almighty before every gaining the strength to get through it and eventually get home.

I’ve begun to unravel–bit by bit–why we would do that. The world often preaches that when you have your health you have everything, but this makes more sense to me: “None of us will escape tragedy and suffering. Each of us will probably react differently. However, if we can recall the Lord’s promise, ‘For I the Lord am with you,’ we will be able to face our problems with dignity and courage. We will find the strength to be of good cheer instead of becoming resentful, critical, or defeated.” That was said by a leader in my church, Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1986.

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It’s comforting to me that although we don’t have a choice what we face physically–or even mentally–in this life, we do have a choice in who we place our trust in and who we choose to help heal us or hold our hand through the often grueling and painful journey. It’s comforting to me that we don’t ever stand comfortless– and that there is always someone there who has taken it all upon himself, hundreds and thousands of years before we ever took a breath.

Your strength will be renewed within the grand scheme of eternity promised to you.

It might be in this life. It might be in the next. But the promise is clear.

We’ll all mount up with wings as eagles–simply because He is our wings.

And for now, that is enough.

Bald Eagle in mid-air flight over Homer Spit Kenai Peninsula Alaska Winter

“Blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. …For this cause I have sent you—that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come.” (D&C 58:2, 6.)

He is not here: A reminder during a rescue mission

I had the strangest dream last night.

Now, I have some pretty off the wall dreams at times so for me to say it was the strangest is kind of a big deal for me.

In my dream I joined the search of the hundreds of people right now trudging through debris and mud and toppled cars and fences in the Oso area here in Washington, lifting piles of unrecognizable filth to find the victims of the horrific mudslide. This area is close to where I grew up in Arlington, barely a fifteen minute drive, so I had spent time in this place. I had spent summers along these now flooded riversides and jogs against the backdrop of these now crumbled hills. In my dream I vividly saw the stillness of the pastures and the emptiness of the flattened landscape–a grave now to all of those who walked here or drove or worked nearby when the mountains gave way just nine days ago. Oddly enough, even though in reality it’s not this close, I saw my old backyard in my dream as well–flattened. Overturning branches and muck and fighting through tears, I frantically searched and searched. Then suddenly, I heard someone calmly say to me, “He is not here.”

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I woke up from the dream this morning knowing fully well why that voice in my dream had to tell me that. It was about my Dad. And that voice will soon be whispering it to the hearts of all of those still trudging through the remains of the landslide, clutching shoes and wallets and remnants of children and parents.

On the news last night a firefighter, with his hat drawn off his head and dirt surrounding his eyes, said mournfully, “We know this isn’t a rescue mission anymore–it’s a recovery mission. But in our hearts, for a long time, it’ll be a rescue mission.”

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Tears raced to my eyes when I heard the man say that–and the reality of what a rescue mission is followed me into last night’s dream. No matter who you’ve lost–or how you’ve lost them–your spirit goes through a period of time where you’re on a rescue mission. Not usually literally. You’re looking for ways to feel them or sense them close by to bring them into your “present”. You’re hunting through memories and retracing their face over and over as to not forget. You’re half-expecting them to come through the door again, only to be devastatingly disappointed when there are moments that you realize they won’t. Of course, they won’t, you’ll cry. And it’ll hurt all the same. You’ll also relive memories of the moment they died or the place they died or the last time you held their hand–and that moment seems to be where they forever lay.

But it’s not.

To minimize the devastating effects of the Oso and Arlington area landslide is not my intent. My heart breaks for the people who lived a stone’s throw away from me–people who lost children and parents and siblings and neighbors and pets. People who now sit and rest against what used to be a rooftop, looking out at a dismal landscape made up of mud and tears. The loss is indescribable.

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But at the same time I can draw a simple parallel to the words of that one firefighter. Maybe you can too. Maybe those words rang true for all of us who have gone through the sting of loss in one way or another.

The moment where you know for a fact your loved one is truly gone doesn’t always occur at the same time that your heart figures it out. And for a while it just remains a rescue mission. For a while you trudge through the debris of the unrecognizable world around you. For a while you’re looking for the dead in all the wrong places.

As for me, I know I have been. I’ve been angry at times for not feeling Dad as much as I’d like–and have been praying for him to be part of my life again in any way I can muster. I’ve been vividly remembering the day he left us, reliving the night painfully, stuck in that pocket of time as if Dad were stuck there too. But just as the angel told Mary as she leaned against a rolled-away stone and peered into any empty grave for the Savior, “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)

empty tomb

I pray for peace for all of those who still search and wander the debris near my hometown. I pray that their rescue mission can come to an end and that they too will remember that their loved ones aren’t there–but in a place that has risen far above shallow graves. I pray for your own rescue mission to end too. I pray that the angels will find us all at empty tombs, reminding us gently of where we should look instead.

The voice reminds me of it when I look for my Dad in painful memories of his last day in hospice. He is not buried or stuck in folds of memory or fenced into the past. He is not laying idle on a hospital bed. He is not sick. That echoed voice of an angel from the scriptures gently reminds me to leave the debris and remember the promise of eternal life.

That gentle voice reminds me to look up.

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