4:00 am or so this morning: Wide awake.
Wide awake, crushed by the very stale, old hauntings of defeat that occasionally visit me in the middle of the night. Too familiar strains of “I can’t do this” bounced around in my brain. No reason in particular. Nothing I can put a finger on. I think that’s why I refer to them as old and stale. Familiar, but not in a cozy sweater familiar-ness. No, much more of a “Panic and Fear” familiar-ness. My arch-enemy.
Difficult-to-read letters from a prison cell 3 hours from here. No heat in our house–heater won’t come on. A stressful and dreaded business trip to the west coast this week. A 2-page long to-do list before leaving for LA. Bills. Decisions. Parenting. Health issues. A son with a broken car and no way to get to work. And, an awakening at 4:00 am.
I didn’t want to get out of bed. And I didn’t.
I didn’t get up, I didn’t study or pray. I didn’t start my day or prepare my heart for worship. In fact, I wasn’t going to go. No, for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t seem to get my mind and soul to a place where I could walk out the door and be with my church family.
I was defeated. Life-1 (or, Enemy-1) Shelly-0
Things have been going well. So much so. God is faithful, faithful, faithful. Steadfast. And, I am standing fast. In Him. But, there are still difficult days. Hard days. Not often, at all–not always, but sometimes. Rarely. Occasionally. And, this morning was one of those mornings.
I lay in that bed trying to still the pounding of my heart and the shaking of my hands. No tears. No praying. Just a swirl of panic and fear and racing thoughts. For nearly 5 hours straight.
It was not pretty.
Until, at 9:55, when there was a knock on my door. Worship service starts at 10:00.
Now, normally on a Sunday morning, I am the one urging everyone to get moving. To wake up. To get to church. They go, but, not without some prodding. They are teenagers. And, if I don’t prod, chances are they will sleep right through.
This morning, I decided we weren’t going. I wasn’t going to prod anyone, not even myself to go. I had a thousand reasons not to. The to-do list. I had no “official responsibilities” this morning. The panic. The fear. The pull to hide. But then there was a knock on my door. It was my sophomore. He asked me, “Mom, are we going to church? Everyone’s ready. Can I ride with you?
In those moments, my first instinct was to tell him “I’m not going.” Everything within me pounded those words in my head. But what I heard come out of my mouth was this: “Ok, I’ll be out in a second.” And I dragged my weary body out of bed, proceeding to hurriedly get ready.
I threw on a skirt, ran a brush through my hair, brushed my teeth, pulled on my boots and we were out the door before I could think about what I was doing. We parked a ways from the building–that’s what happens when you are late–and walked quickly to the side entrance. You know the one–the “band entrance” that conveniently avoids any interaction. Worship had started. The band was playing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”. We climbed to our “spot” in the balcony; our little bubble of isolation.
And, finally, my heart began to settle. The panic began to ease.
It didn’t happen spontaneously or quickly. No, it wasn’t until about 1/2 way through the sermon that I became aware that I was actually listening to the sermon and not to the voices inside of my head reciting my to-do list, or relieving past horrors, or looking for solutions to the heating issue, or replaying words in a letter from prison. All of that slowly faded, as my mind centered on the scripture that was being spoken of from the pulpit. The passage was this:
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
What does this look like, in this hard life? What was Paul getting at in this letter?
I know Him and the power of His resurrection, when I share in His sufferings.
I must press on. I must. Because Christ Jesus has made me His own. His own–through adoption. His own. Known, seen, loved, died for.
Things haunt me. They haunt me, relentlessly. How in the world do I forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead? I don’t know how to do that, apart from God. I can’t do that, without God’s help. I can’t do that, on my own. I’ve tried. I’ve failed.
However, when I put verse 16 into play–holding true to what I have attained–it is then that I see that God has not abandoned. Others have. Others have, a very few, and it hurts so badly. But God has not. And what is it that I have attained? God’s grace. His boundless, endless grace. And mercy–His forgiveness of my grievous sins. And salvation. And justification. And, sanctification. And, it is not so much that I have done anything to attain these things, but that God has attained them for me. I simply must hold true to the truth.
And press on.
At the end of service, I was unable to slip out quietly, as had been my plan, because a dear friend joined me at the end of service, wanting to speak to me. She spoke huge, huge words of encouragement. Huge words. Her words were a gift to me. She doesn’t know that her words have urged me to press on. To keep going. The words of Philippians 3 were a gift to me this morning. The stillness of our church sanctuary was a gift to me. And, my kid’s unexpected push to attend church this morning was a gift to me.
So this afternoon I have worked diligently. I have prepared for the work week and packed for my trip. I have cleaned house and have contacted someone to look at our heater. I have called AAA to pick up my son, who is currently stuck on the side of the road with a broken-down vehicle. I have paid bills and re-adjusted our budget. I have practiced music with my girl, and laughed with my crew. I have written words.
And God, once again, has settled my soul.
A day redeemed, because, thank be to God, He has redeemed me.