Lent began on March 5th. I made the decision to do something that God had been calling me to do for quite some time and I've just been blatantly telling Him no. I quit smoking cigarettes. The plan is to never go back.
The first three days were amazing. No cravings. I felt great. I thought, Wow, this is so easy! Why in the world was this so hard before?!
Yeah. And then on the fourth day, I got some weird personal news that scratched open a wound that had just started healing, and suddenly I never wanted anything more than I wanted a cigarette in that moment. Instead I "vented" to Dad, who just sat there and listened and nodded as I spewed all kinds of nasty in his direction. Poor guy. He suggested I go pray a while.
The whole point of this thing was to begin to binge on Jesus instead of running to these fake and temporary securities I had set up for myself. He saw me through that moment.
But a lump had taken up residence in my throat and it hurt and I started to wonder if I could actually see this thing through.
Later that night my phone rang. It was 9:30 and Grandma Melanie was calling. I knew something was wrong before I answered it. My Pap (your great-grandpa) had been rushed to the hospital and was not expected to make it through the night.
The lump grew bigger and more painful and I wasn't sure if I wanted to cry or scream or throw things or all three. One thing was for sure...I was coming out of my skin.
I promised her I would pray, and called on fellow prayer warriors to go before God and beg for a miracle. And I'll be honest with you and say that half of my prayers were for my Pap and the other half were for me. They weren't sure he was going to make it, and I wasn't sure I was either.
We both got our miracle that night, and Sunday morning found us both alive. But his fight was just beginning and I started to understand that mine was, too.
It became less about me not smoking cigarettes and more about me being angry and mournful over the fact that I've allowed myself to be overtaken by so many addictions in my life. Their grasp is tight and hard and I'm not strong enough to break free on my own. But I hate them. And at times I hate myself for being such an easy victim. I hate that I've spent so much precious time numbing myself and so little time running to my Savior's arms.
The ravages of alcohol and drug addiction have robbed me of so much. They've been conquered, but seem to be constantly present, waiting to claw at me and wrestle me back into submission. So my measly attempt to break free from the last of these white-knuckled monsters is so much more than that. It's a reminder that I am so totally incapable of doing this thing on my own. And that's a big deal for a girl who loves to feel like she has control over her own life.
Monday brought sickness. I got ahold of some intestinal virus thing, which caused me to become pretty well acquainted with both the couch and the toilet. Ew, I know. Three days of this brought lots of time to think and pray...things I needed to do anyway. I emerged from this feeling cleansed, almost--both physically and mentally.
But Thursday brought death.
My Pap finally went home to be with his Lord. Relief came before sadness, because he had fought for a long time to live and it was about time he had some rest. But the sadness was inevitable. The pain of being separated from him is very strong and very real even though we know it's only for a little while. He brought so much joy to all who knew him. And in these moments? Thinking of him being in Paradise is comforting but it doesn't take away the blow of reality. He's there and we're here. That's the thing that's so hard.
My lump became bigger and my prayers became more desperate. And suddenly there's a trip to be planned because Nan and Pap lived in Tennessee. Organizing a trip like that was stressful, at best.
The trip was a blur. Eighteen plus hours round trip in the car, a funeral, and watching Nan sort through a lifetime of memories was agonizing, at best. (Though you ladies were awesome through it all. Thank you.) All of this in a three-day period.
Returning home left me exhausted again, both mentally and physically. And I swear, it has been enough to almost break me.
Two-and-a-half-weeks of a storm such as this has me reaching for a truth I learned at the beginning of this year. Our friend Brian was filling in for our pastor one Sunday when he delivered a message titled, "Ten Things God Won't Do in 2014" The list had things on it like God won't abandon you, He won't tempt you to sin, and He won't break a promise. But the biggest for me was #2, because it completely shattered a paradigm I'd carried around for a while:
God won't give you more than you can handle?
Notice the question mark. It's there because Brian challenged us to question that notion. It seems like every time we turn around, someone's trying to comfort us with the promise that God never gives us more than we can handle. Yet, did you know there's not a single place in scripture where we are promised that? Not once does it say that the burden we're given will be heavy...but not too heavy. That we'll have to bend a little...but not so much that we'll break. In fact it says the opposite.
It's only in a state of brokenness that I have found healing. And the bigger and heavier the burden on my back? The faster and more likely it is that it will bring me to my knees. Right where I belong.
I have never found comfort in the bottom of a bottle. Ever. Nor have I found truth when I'm high. And eighteen days without cigarettes have taught me that they've never done a single thing to relieve my stress. But when I demand that Jesus sit with me right here, right now? He does. Suddenly I know comfort and truth and a strength that I would never have achieved on my own with the things of this world.
And suddenly I realize that the lump in my throat is Satan's nasty stronghold on me and my life.
And he will not win.
Please understand, this is about so much more than battling addictions and mourning a loss. It's about surrendering it all. Leaning on the one who is never turned off by your neediness, never shocked by your honest confessions, never tossed around by the messy chaos you create. This is about Jesus stripping me of my own empty words and promises and challenging me to just simply hang on to Him. Just hang on.
Do me a favor? Any time you're tempted to tell someone not to worry because God never gives you more than you can handle? Reconsider. Odds are they are struggling with something so much bigger than losing a grandpa or quitting smoking. Odds are they're dealing with a burden meant to bring them to their knees. Tell them to let it. Tell them you know it feels like they won't make it through. It'll be a chance to tell them about a God who never designed them to do that on their own in the first place.
I certainly wish someone had told me that a long time ago instead of a flattering me with lies about how "strong" I am. Because I don't have to be. And that's pretty good news.
"I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go." -Abraham Lincoln
What has God given you that was more than you could handle? How has it changed you?