Unraveled (Friend Post Friday #3)

I’m beyond thrilled for you to meet my friend Sharon Butler who is this month’s “Friend Poster”.  I’d introduce her myself, but I can’t beat her own beautifully spoken bio…so the rest is Sharon:
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These days, I am the wife of a crazy redheaded lumberjack, the mother of seven amazing kids, a homeschool mom, a blogger at www.PureReligionIs.com, an anti-human trafficking activist, and a compassionate entrepreneur. 

I’ve been a writer as long as I could write. The downstairs bathroom was my childhood office and the toilet lid was my desk. I found quiet and solitude there, perfect for my childhood writing. As a teen, I processed fears, beliefs, joy, and all my strange ideas in my beanbag chair writing-lab. 

By college, I was a misfit journalism and ministry student who wanted to change the world, but I started to doubt myself and God’s plan for me. I stumbled, doing things my way for the next several years. Then one day, God took it all. He wrecked the life I had built, and led me through years of wilderness while He shaped me, carved me, humbled me, and began to prepare me to do it all His way. 

I wear a lot of hats, but of this I am sure: that no matter how much or how little I know, God chooses the weak, so He can use even me. Whatever I do, I do for His glory. May that be always evident in all I do.

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UNRAVELED– by Sharon Butler

No Strings Attached

If life is like a tapestry, you can imagine how it might unravel. A loose thread here, a tug, a yank, a pull. Before you know it, you’re just a mess of string, unattached.

The unraveling comes in those hard times that shake us to our core, circumstances that seem to wreck our lives. I presume we all have them, but we don’t always know what to do with them, do we? In the midst of a crisis, we may not see the whole tapestry—only the pull that’s causing the destruction.

My unraveling season was the spring and summer of 2008. It almost seems surreal as I think back to this time of my life. It lives in my mind in mere flashes of scenes – disconnected from each other, but yet, held together by the tiny thread that unraveled me with each tug.

It was the family vacation when I first suspected my husband’s affair. He was on the phone with work way too much, and missing our time at the beach house. When we returned home, I asked him to cut back on his time with her, because something didn’t seem right; but instead, he said, no and walked out the door. That’s how I found out that there was an actual problem, and it was not just paranoia.

It was the day my boss, friend and mentor told me she had cancer, and I felt that knot tighten in my throat. I didn’t dare burden her with my troubles. Then later, she asked for my help crafting a ‘positive’ message about her illness to the staff, while she was losing her hair and growing thin and frail.

It was the day my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, right before she and I should have been leaving for our first vacation alone. I knew our lives would never be the same again.

It was the day I secretly hoped her Diabetes would bring him back to us, but it didn’t. It was the day he asked for a divorce. It was the day my boss died and my world was wrecked.

That was it. My life unraveled. I was undone—a mere pile of thread tangled up on the floor.

Before that, my life had been a string of people, places and events that connected me to the world, a tapestry of experiences, hopes and dreams; but after, my life was punctuated by nightmares, tears, and far too many unknowns. It was a mess, with no meaning, no pattern left.

My marriage was over, my job was in question, my daughter was chronically ill. And I was alone, with no strings to anything, except my sick baby girl. I had lost my framework — my goals, my dreams, my career, and my partner. I stood there like a blind man in the middle of a room trying to feel for a reference point.

For weeks, I cried as I walked to work. I would pull myself together long enough to look reasonably professional, and cry again on my way home. Occasionally, I’d turn off my office lights, sit under the desk and cry. She, my former boss, would have understood. I would always clean myself up outside the front door of my house, and be sure to walk in with a smile to see my daughter at the end of each day. I’d lie on the floor and let her crawl on me because that’s all I had energy for.

I grieved. I mourned. And then one day, I knew I had to make a decision. I could continue grieving, or I could make a new life, put some of those threads back together, no matter how messy. The tears may not have stopped just because I said so. I still cry nine years later as I recall that time, all the loss. But I began carefully crafting a life for myself–something different to set my eyes on for the future.

First goal: Find me.

After years of marriage to a man I began dating in college, I had given up so many of my own personal dreams and desires, and even elements of my personality, that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I’d moved for him twice, helped put him through medical school, and lived as a single parent, effectively. So the first goal was to uncover who I was. Do I like to dance? I have no idea! Let’s take a Salsa class! What kind of music do I like? Who knows anymore! Let’s go hear some bands.

Second goal: Be brave.

All those things that scared me? I now had a drive to overcome those fears, to try new things, to stretch myself. I had to become brave. I made my list of fears and determined to overcome them with personal challenges. Afraid of swimming with creatures? Snorkeling in the ocean will cure that! Scared of guns? Well, that means its time to learn to shoot.

Third goal: Dream.

For all those years of marriage, I had put my own dreams on hold. I pushed them back into the dark corners of the closets. Now, as I struggled to untangle that thread, I didn’t know what to use it for. What was it I wanted? What was it I loved? What was it I felt called to do?

Dreaming is scary. It’s dangerous and risky. What if I dream it and can’t achieve it? At the time, I was so scared, I manufactured false dreams—dreams I was willing to walk away from easily. And I did. But years later, God restored my true dreams of old—the dreams I had dreamed my whole life—the dreams of helping hurting people, dreams of writing, dreams of family and faith and ministry.

Even though I forgot who I was, forgot how to be brave and forgot my dreams, God never did. He held the plans for the tapestry of my life all along. I had made some poor design choices and ended up with a tangled up life, so as it unraveled around me, God saw opportunity—a chance to re-weave my life into what He intended all along.

Inside Chronic

Chronic.  If you’ve ever been diagnosed with something “chronic”…ongoing, possibly worsening over time…it changes you.  The simple fact of living with something that will not go away UNTIL death- that’s hard to embrace.  Puts a different spin on life.  Though oddly, in embracing my chronic I’ve embraced my mortality and that demands I live a bit more focused, more grounded in seeking something that will outlast this broken body.

It leaves me dreaming a bit more about heaven- about a time when there won’t be tubes or equipment tethered to me- freedom.

Chronic is just so daily though.  And as a result, if you have something chronic, chances are you get tired of telling people that you’re overwhelmed.  You might tell people you’re having a “bad day”, an “off season”…but sometimes it has just been a bad long many years.  Not all bad.  But a stress and a strain that wears you thin and you don’t know how to tell people because it underscores all of life, not just bits and pieces.  And you’d like to be able to tell people that everything you complained about last week “got better”….but unlike a cold or a teething kid, chronic doesn’t hold hope of going away.

And then there’s the fear- fear when things get worse, fear when you feel out of control of things in your body that others take for granted.

And guilt…because whatever is affecting you most affects those closest to you.  My all too frequent high numbers make it difficult to parent well at times- it adds to irritability, to stress, like a static chaos frequency running constantly in the back of your head.  And as much as I own that I have plenty of faults as a wife and parent as it is, sometimes I give in to the overwhelmed feeling and my family absorbs that.  And I hate feeling like “Mom’s chronic” is all going to come out in a therapy session when they’re older.  (Along with some vague memory of me yelling directions from inside the bathroom.  But for the love, can your question wait 3 minutes?)

And God…well…chronic will put Him to the test too.  Because there’s an awful lot of verses that sound pretty rosy until God isn’t changing your circumstances.  Chronic has brought me to wrestle with God more than anything else and it forces me to confront whether my God IS good, whether He is big enough, whether He loves me.  Whether He really has a plan for my good.  Maybe we don’t get to the bottom of those questions without some pain and suffering.  Somedays I know, even in the rain, that God is beyond good, beyond any love I know…and other days…like today…I just want to give up and ask why He seems to have left me alone.  Those days I find myself feeling too drained to trust, and I give God a bit of a defiant “Your move” look.

And I like to be strong; I want to be someone that others can go to for support. Yet I assume we all hit those moments where we just want to hide and hope someone will find us and pull us out.  And I’m so grateful for those friends in my life, even if it doesn’t fix it for good.

So where to land- maybe you’re in chronic land too… maybe you have type 1 diabetes like me…or maybe it’s depression or PTSD, Crohn’s, MS, Celiac or so many others.  I just want to let you know I’m here, and I’m not always OK and if you ever need to swap some venting, I’m game.

 

 

(Hope in) Wearing my Disease

 

I don’t usually ask for jewelry.  My mother-in-law seems to know exactly what necklaces to buy me, and my mom lends me jewelry indefinitely forever, so I have a cute little collection going.  But it’s not something I want to spend a lot of money on.

But this Christmas, I asked my husband for a bracelet.  It’s beautiful- a perfect dose of classy with a hint of sparkle to pop.  (Fun fact: I do not shave my arms.)

But I don’t want this bracelet that I asked for.  Not really.  I should have bought a bracelet like this years ago- 7 years ago, to be exact.  But like I said…it’s not a bracelet I wanted.

The truth is, it’s really just a glorified medical ID tag.

And underneath all the pretty- the class and sparkle- is an inscription that labels me: “Carrye…type-1 diabetic”.  No, I never wanted the bracelet, because I never wanted the disease.  And if there are stages of acceptance, of grief over something, I’m not there yet.  I don’t like feeling

vulnerable.

medicine-dependent.

afraid of exercise.

isolated as a medical minority.

anxious.

like a financial liability.

left with no cure.

There are so many worse diseases, so many worse problems, and trust me I’m grateful for every last medical achievement that makes my life so that you wouldn’t know to look at me that my life is anything but normal.  In many ways, my life is thriving and so absolutely beautiful.

But I have this bracelet, see.  And without a miracle or a cure it’s one I’ll wear for life.

And yet…I can let this disease own me or maybe I can own my disease.  Maybe in wearing my disease out loud, I can choose to see the power in even this broken part of me.  This isn’t who I am, but it is shaping who I am…and as a good friend told me once, God is using this disease to strip me of even the fear that seems like a side-effect of diabetes.

Maybe there’s something being forged stronger in us through our trials than we’d ever know without them.

The storm demands my God be bigger.

I’m letting go of my pretend control.

I’m fighting to know His peace verses the world’s.

I’m weighing the fleetingness of my life.

I’m slowly feeling bolder, braver.  Baby steps.

I’m being pushed into a journey to test and know if Jesus really is enough.

So maybe this is Hope.

And wouldn’t you know.  That came with the bracelet too.  It’s not what I wanted to wear.  But maybe it’s producing in me what I wanted to be all along.

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P.S. I’m thankful to my cousin for sharing this medical I.D. bracelet site with me.  If you have a chronic condition, check out the beautiful designs at  Lauren’s Hope. If you have to wear something every day, it may as well be something you like.  

 

 

Suffering: The Weight of Hope and Praise

Lately I’ve been wrestling with a body not yet thirty years old that may never work the way most people’s do.  My diabetic levels remain high, the numbers are all wrong, and I look back and has it really been this way for months on end? Why do I try so hard, pray so much…yet here I am with this invisible weight?

And then…I’ve been watching friends around me wrestle too.  Wrestle with worse.  Grapple with emotional and physical and family issues that I’m quite sure would warp and bend me till I broke.  And I’ve seen these same people pray, cry out to God, and sometimes…so it seems…their situations have only gotten worse.  And my soul aches for their ache.

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And yet I’ve been sensing, over and over, that I’m meant to be “unshaken”.  That I’m meant to trust God, and trust Him, and trust Him.  I believe He keeps asking me when I get frustrated and weary, “Do you trust me? Do you trust me if you numbers never get better?  If it’s like this forever?  If it only gets worse?

And why would I?  Why would I trust a God who asks me that?  Why would I trust Him for my friends?  I can only trust because He’s a God who gave up everything for me…bled for me, was bent and broken for me, and in humility defeated death for me.  I’ve found that when everything else is moving, shaking, that God is the same yesterday. today. tomorrow.  And how incredibly thankful I am that He doesn’t change because that means He is always Love.  He is always Life.  He is always Hope…always a Good Father.

Is it possible that true trust in God must come only through suffering?  Is it possible that suffering actually produces in me a stronger hope than ease could produce?  I’m slowly…oh so slowly… coming to understand what Paul says in Romans 5:3-5

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I desperately crave that Hope that suffering produces.

FURTHER, is it possible that suffering produces a different kind of praise?  God wants my praise at all times, yes, but there’s a praise that follows blessing and there’s a different kind of praise that follows pain.  Both are good, but maybe there’s a weight to our praise through pain that we simply can’t replicate at other times.

There’s a story (Mark 12:41-44) where Jesus points out a widow who gave a very small amount of money to God.  Yet Jesus marvels at her faith because she put in “everything…she had to live on”.  And though others gave more, they gave out of their abundance…out of their extra…though they gave more, it didn’t COST them as much.  Perhaps the same is true of the cost of our praise.

When we feel that we have nothing left to give- when our circumstances are screaming lies like “what if God isn’t really  good?  What if He doesn’t love you or isn’t strong enough to save you?  Why would you trust Him?”  Maybe then our praise costs a bit more… When we feel that the answer isn’t coming and we have no blessing to stand on, the weight of our praise is powerful.  The sound of that praise is deafening.

As my mom said today, the enemy simply can’t stand in praise like that.  If we can praise God in the MIDDLE of the worst, when it costs us everything to hope, the Kingdom of God is more alive than ever.  It’s advancing, growing deeper roots, spreading like beautiful vines that are taking over the death and destruction and the darkness of this world.

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When God can produce praise from our suffering through His own love, through His own sacrifice and presence… the enemy. simply. can’t. stand.

His lies must stop.  His end has been sealed. The victory is ours.

Yet we wait for now in the storm.  To my friends and to those I may never meet… I pray you find strength for where you hurt right now.  I pray God gives you a place to stand in the storm.  I pray that when you’re hard pressed, you’re not crushed; when you’re perplexed, you’re not in despair; when you’re struck down, you’re not destroyed.  I pray you’d KNOW in the core of your being that though you are persecuted you’re NEVER abandoned.   (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Don’t get me wrong: Praise is not faking happiness.  It isn’t hiding our pain or disappointment from God.  Praise is still looking at God when your world is falling apart.  Praise can be the whisper to “help me in my unbelief” when it would be easier to not talk to God at all.  Praise is hands lifted through tears when no words will come.  Praise is giving God even the tiniest piece of your broken heart, with faltering hands, because deep down you are learning to trust, allowing Him to grow something in you EVEN THOUGH it hurts.  That praise is costly, a sacrifice, yet I believe it’s one of the most beautiful and precious gifts you can give God.

I leave you with this from this song I LOVE by Casting Crowns: Praise You in the Storm

And with this Bible passage from the Message version: (2 Corinthians 4:13-18)

13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.