Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It's Okay to Cry (Out)

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Isaiah 43:2-3

I have a stellar dad. Funny, smart, energetic, loud -- my dad was meant to be a dad. Throughout my childhood, he served roles as the Tickle Monster, homework-helper, shuttle bus, driving instructor, therapist, newscaster, encourager, heckler, scapegoat, travel agent, and more. Even now, as I near my thirties and have two kids of my own, he is a constant pulse of support in my life and in the lives of his grandkids. He visited my sweet daughter every day for the 52 days she spent in the hospital, most of the time coming to see her at 5 am when his health problems were least constricting. He is no longer my "go-to guy" now that I am married, but his place in my life set me up to expect a lot from my husband, and I know that if ever I need him -- no matter the reason or time of day or what I need from him -- he will be there before I can bat an eyelash.

One of the greatest things my dad taught me is that it's okay to cry. On the surface, my dad can seem intimidating and like rather a tough guy. Sit down with him to watch a John Wayne movie and you will see through the veneer. This man tears up at every emotional moment. Sometimes it made me feel weird as a kid. Dads aren't supposed to cry! My dad didn't care. He expressed what he felt (and still does!) and by doing so, he demonstrated to me and my brother that having feelings and showing them is good, to not be ashamed of how life (or even just a commercial) could affect us. As the complications of my daughter's life unfolded, my dad stood by me and my daughter, continually offering support and a comforting presence. I knew he was by my side (along with my mom and aunts and my husband's family and hoards of family and friends).

I also knew at every step of the way that the Lord was walking with us. He was with me when I would wake up crying in the middle of the night, staring at her empty crib. He was with my daughter when she had IVs placed in her head and went into surgery. He was with my husband as he shuttled our toddler from one home to the next and attempted to figure out a sleeping arrangement that had all three of us in one room. God was with the nurses who kept vigilant watch over my tiny, sick baby and He was with the doctors who attempted to navigate her unusual condition. He was with our church family and friends who walked our dogs and checked our mail and mowed our grass and begged for more ways to help us. Like my own, physical, in-the-flesh father, my Heavenly Father was a constant presence when I needed Him most.

Here's the amazing thing about God: he, too, tells us that it's okay to cry. If you have ever taken a spin through the Psalms, you will notice after just a short time that many of the Psalms start out with an appeal to God. "Help!" "Look at me!" "Where are you, God?" They go on to detail terrible situations of impending armies and illness and emotional anguish and distress. Take this for example: "O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long? (Psalm 6:1-3)" Languishing, troubled bones and a troubled soul and where are you, God? Shouldn't we have faith in God? Are we allowed to question Him? To ask Him where He is when we need Him most? I mean, He is God after all and who are we? Certainly not the author of the universe. Shouldn't we accept what comes our way and never question God's plan?

The words of Scripture teach us that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (Psalm 46:1-3)" But what about our feelings? What about when we get scared at the trembling mountains and we can't see how the earth falling into the sea is going to turn out? Does God care how we feel about that?

The Psalms show us that He does. In these Psalms, we see God's people cry out to Him and explain all the woes and every time -- Every. Single. Time. -- the author follows up all his concerns with praise to God and an expression of faith in God's plan and goodness. "O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me... But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. (Psalm 3:1, 3-4)" Probably most convincing is the action of Christ himself. While Jesus was on the cross, obviously a time of distress, he quoted from this Psalm: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1)" He's appealing to His Father, where ARE you? Rescue me! Later on, the Psalm says this,  "You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him,but has heard, when he cried to him. (Psalm 22:23-24)" The Father hears and welcomes our cries.

I have done my share of crying these past few months about my daughter. "Lord, her platelets are low. Why haven't you fixed this?" "Lord, she just won't eat. Why won't you give her an appetite?" "Lord, she just seems in such pain. Please, please heal her body." "Lord, she can't hear. Why can't you just give her ears?" "Lord, I am not cut out to be her mother. Why did you give her to me? This is too hard." Every time I let the weight sink in and feel my heavy heart, I turn my eyes to these Psalms, to the cries of the faithful who have come before me, and I remind myself that God is my help and He is walking with me and even when I can't see where we are going, I know I am on His path.

If you have lived a perfect life up until now and nothing has ever gone wrong, congratulations. But even if that is you, there will come a day when you encounter trial and feel broken and confused. And on that day, you might turn to your friends and family for support, and they will do their very best and you will appreciate their love and attempts to heal the wound, but you will still feel empty and unsure. In those times, there is only one who knows your heart and who can heal it and that is God. He is the present help -- right here, right now, all the time -- and He cares for His children. He desires for you to cry out to Him and say, "God, where are you? Do you see what is happening right now? Do you see this? How can you let this be? Why won't you fix this?" Your tears and your appeals are not an affront to His power, not a questioning of His plan or path for you. They are an acknowledgment of His power, of the fact that He is the one who can walk you through fire and keep you from being burned. When you cry out, just like the amazing Father He is, God will say, "My child, I am right here. I am standing with you in this storm. You can trust me. Now -- watch this."

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