Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This Beautiful Mess

Messiah, I know You are there; within, without me, holding me. Messiah, I know You are there; catching and carrying this beautiful mess. (Sixpence None the Richer)

I remember many things about my old life. Those of us who are chronically ill, or care for someone who is, understand what I mean by that statement. Our “old lives” were filled with days that seemed more carefree and manageable. It was a time when life centered on our families, jobs, and living. It’s when we made plans on the spur of the minute and strived for the weekend. It was a time when feeling good was the common occurrence. A time when we could work a full day and run errands with plenty of energy left to expend; a time we knew no limitations and gave no other way of being a second thought. It is a time we now long for; moments we wish we could pull back and relive. But that isn't possible. We’re living in this mess, or as I've come to call it - this beautiful mess.

"Weeping Woman" by Picasso

It’s definitely a mess, you might be thinking, but beautiful is probably far from how you view illness and suffering. Honestly, I've felt the very same. It sounds like an oxymoron. How can you have a mess and it be beautiful? That’s like saying I’m depressed and happy about it. Mess and beauty seem a far stone’s-throw-away from complimenting each other. They don’t belong together, do they?

What happens if we factor God into our mess? What if we even ponder the possibility that He allowed our mess in the first place?

Looking back through the Bible, you’ll find the early Believers dealt with scores of problems and hardships. They had plenty of messes to deal with. I think Job comes to mind right away but consider Joseph, Moses, David, Nehemiah, Daniel or Hosea. What about Esther, Elijah or Jonah? How about John the Baptist, Peter or Thomas? Paul or Timothy? There must have been times when they, just like us, were rather frustrated by their circumstances.

Of course, there are times when the messes in our lives are a direct result of our own choices but oftentimes; messes happen regardless. Bad things do happen to good people and it’s messy.

So how could beauty possibly co-exist with a mess?

In a sense, beauty and mess could be compared to hope and despair and to good and evil. One is the flip side of the other; the complete opposite. Yet one can also drive a person to the other. Despair can drive someone straight into the arms of hope while evil sends a person running to find good. And as for the mess...well, it can reveal true beauty. So the question then becomes, how is that possible?

We could never rummage through our messes and find lasting beauty on our own; it’s too hard. Doubt pesters us. Discontentment nags at us. Discouragement can gain a tight grip and make it difficult to contemplate hope much less hold onto it (I’ve experienced that more times than I care to tell). My brain tells me it just seems so ridiculous to think of our suffering as anything but awful and tragic. IT’S JUST A MESS!!

Once when my oldest nephew, Isaac, was a bit younger, he took me into his room after a long, hard day of playing and said to me ever so sweetly, “Just wook at this mess!” Boy was he right. There were John Deere tractors, Lincoln logs, books, matchbox cars, and a whole myriad of other toys strewn across the floor everywhere. Being in a wheelchair, it was impossible for me to roll my way through. Even my nephew, who was 3 years old at the time, recognized a mess when he saw one!

It’s a good analogy of living life with a chronic illness. Our lives are strewn with all kinds of difficult struggles - physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational - they’re slung throughout every aspect of living. We stumble. We fall all over them. We try and crawl our way through. We get back up only to trip over another obstacle and fall again. It is a complete mess!

ENTER. GOD.

He sees our messes and all of the pain, suffering, and disappointment that go along with it. He feels our anguish. He knows our heart-wrenching questions. There’s no doubt He can clean it all up. Usually, though, He leaves it right where it is and instead, gives us His grace to endure it (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). And He does it in order to accomplish something greater than what we are going through; something that is a part of His divine plan. Something that will draw us closer to Him, benefit other people and bring Him glory.

However, if you’re like me, it can sometimes feel as if God is nowhere to be found; like He’s on an extended hiatus and didn't leave a number where we could reach Him. But thank goodness FAITH IS NOT AN EMOTION. We know that Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “He will never leave us or abandon us.” In other words, we are never alone. God is ever-present. He’s on call 24/7. He didn't say I was or I might be; He said, “I Am.” I just have to remind myself of that at times. But the point is, God is more than able to help us deal with our messes; regardless of how we might feel.

"Beautiful Pathway"

With God, a mess can take us to a beautiful place. It can open us up to new possibilities we never dreamt of before. It can present opportunities only made possible by our suffering. I've seen it in my own life. It’s been through my illness that the Lord has shown me and taught me things I never would have otherwise known. I've met so many wonderful people because of this illness. I've learned a lot about myself in this struggle. I’m more knowledgeable about good nutrition and live a much healthier lifestyle. And I have come to know Him in a much deeper way. I've grown closer to my Savior through this mess. As difficult as living life with a debilitating chronic illness and disability is, as challenging as this major adjustment in living has been, as hard as the days often are, there truly are some good things that have happened as a result of it. I've learned a mess can be a wonderful teacher and can lead you to the doorway of true beauty.

There are still times that I miss the way my life used to be. I miss having, what seems to me now, boundless amounts of energy. I simply miss feeling good and having the ability to balance and walk. I miss my independence. I miss the work I did. I miss the people that were a part of my old life but not my new one.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The first wealth in life is health.” You can’t know how very true that statement is unless your health or the health of someone you love has been in jeopardy. However, as a follower of Christ, I feel I must clarify that a bit and say that the first wealth in life for me is knowing Jesus and having a personal relationship with Him. And then health follows thereafter.

There have certainly been many times that I wished none of this had ever happened. There have been so many losses and so much has changed through the years. My old life seems like a faded memory and I've often wondered what my life might have been like had this not occurred.

Yet I am grateful for all that I have gone through. I can only say that in retrospect. Having lived with an illness that has taken so much from me, I now see the one thing that it absolutely cannot take is my identity in Christ. In fact, it has only strengthened it and revealed it more to me. And that is priceless!

Suffering comes in many forms but it doesn't have to equal a terrible existence; not with God. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, we wonder why it happened to us. Yes, we don’t always understand. But as I've grown closer to Him, I see suffering is often the gateway God uses to shape us and build our character and faith. It really is what binds us more deeply to Christ (1 Peter 4). And through Christ is how we can discover the true beauty within our messes.

As I think back on the past sixteen years of my life, I realize how much suffering can be a catalyst for change. I realize there really is something to be discovered within the beautiful messes of our lives. And I realize if we’re willing, God will use it to bring transformation not only to us, but through us. He really does cause everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

~ Michelle

Michelle Holderman
Copyright © 2010 

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