Tuesday, April 30, 2013

God, pain, healing

Is God Enough when We are Hurting?
Why do people cut themselves? Why do they drink themselves to oblivion? Why are they workaholics? Why do they avoid life, run and hide. Why do they build a small empire of stuff?  Why do they give up?

     Why do good Christian people hide their deepest heartaches?

Why do word curses hurt and destroy our belief about ourselves? Picture yourself in the midst of your pain. The needle you hold in your hand has become your best friend and your worst enemy, the hopelessness of it all, losing everything and everyone who is important to you. As in the song “Hurt,” everyone goes away in the end.

     Have you ever felt that aloneness?

Do Christian people sometimes feel this way? Is it where many people operate in their quietest moments? The song ends with the lyric, “I will find a way.” What way? That way can only be found in Jesus.  And it isn’t trite, it isn’t temporary or illusive.  It is true, God can be found, and He also can heal the hurt.

     For twenty-one years my life was imprisoned in pain, a pain others could not see.

My pain was invisible to others. I was a good person, a godly person. I loved God. I served God.  I was obedient to God in my desires. I didn’t run or avoid.  I tried to not blame. Yet, I cried alone, sitting against a tree in the orchard where I farm, a place away from my children where no-one could see me in my pain, my mask removed, the place where raw-emotions came to the surface, after I felt demeaned, made to feel like a nothing, an unwanted person. I felt as if I was dying inside, despite my constant vigilance to do the right thing and be a good person. I didn't understand "why?"

The pain, a constant companion I could not shake, a cloak that draped my soul in sadness.

I became accustomed to keeping a stiff upper lip.  I did my best.  I worked hard. I was sincere, thoughtful, kind, not given to anger or self-centeredness. But, it was there and I suffered. Only God knew the ache in my heart, the wound that would bleed time and time again. We are all different, our negative experiences vary from moderate to severe. Some people get stuck for years by a curse put on them by someone who was thoughtless. There are many of them: “I don’t love you.  No one could ever love you.”  “You’re stupid.”  “Don’t you ever do anything right.”  “I’m leaving you,”  translated in heart language, you really don’t matter to me, in-fact, you never did all that much
And the list goes on.

      So we do whatever we can do to deal with the pain, to re-mediate its hold on us.

There are the endless ways we pursue happiness, the fun things that make life bearable, to find our small pint of happiness though often illusive and temporary. The emptiness, the despair, the quiet desperation, the disappointment with life. We bury the pain where it is hidden, we will find a substitute to medicate the pain especially if it is one of those over-the-top on the emotional Richter scale.

And worse yet, there can be another problem that stymies us in this personal Christian journey of ours. Sometimes, even when we love and serve God, it is as if He is silent, deaf to our pleas—failing to deliver that which we desire  and long for so desperately, the longing deep in our hearts, a residual element that betrays us as we live out our Christian walk by doing and doing, doing all the right things. But the emptiness is present as we do our many good and righteous deeds. Why is this?  This is the hardest of questions to answer but I will attempt to give my insight into the situation.

This one’s personal.

I will use a passage of scripture to illustrate the concept of closeness to God that is meaningful and helps us where we’re at, making us real as followers of Christ.

Matthew 11:28-30
“Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart and ye shall find rest, for my yoke is easy and  my burden is light.”  KJV

“COME unto ME”
The first thing to note in this scripture is that “Come unto me,” denotes a requiring of action on our part, which is common to change if we want help. It takes effort on our part, from our self, a seeking of Him. Personal initiative is the beginning, the first step. It is what He wants from us. God is the object, it is unto “Me.” This is key, to find God in it all, in every circumstance of life.

The question is, how do we “come”?

The coming is in openness, in surrender, in willingness. Or do we dictate to God?  How much do we let “self,” even hurt, dictate its agenda?  “Come” requires trust, not “reason.” Where are we to come?  And what will we find?

“ all ye that LABOR and are HEAVY LADEN”
Labor is common to all humanity. When giving birth, the labor is intense, painful, absorbing, but with a purpose, the end result makes it worth the struggle. Most types of labor are difficult, hard, sometimes punishing, sometimes lonely, sometimes more that we think we can bear, often demanding of us everything.

      Labor is the daily struggle of life on this planet.

The first thing I think of is tired, tired of striving, weary of life, the endless circumstances of life. At times, the labor defines its burden, its hopelessness, discouragement. It can be the result of pain and injustice; the unfairness, the lack of acknowledgement of our worth by those in our lives—family, co-workers, even people in our own church families who are abrupt, critical, or angry with us. There is a weariness, a sense of loss. These are the threads that weave throughout our lives.

     The losses grow in number the longer we live.

We are weary of the disappointment in life, when we have tried so hard, given so much even unconditional love, when we have gone above and beyond and have been faithful to God. We wonder where He’s been, why He didn’t answer, the harshness of it all wars within our heads. Is life supposed to be this way?

“ and I WILL give you REST”
“Rest” in the context seems to indicate a giving up, a laying down of self and wants, a form of peace. Do you ever watch someone at rest, sleeping, snoozing—a baby, a child, a mate?

     Your heart is moved as you watch, you identify with your caring for that person.

God wants us to find our “rest” in Him, not in circumstances, not in temporary fixes, not in things. We get on a treadmill of busyness rather than resting in Him. Often we get involved in cycles of addiction to re-mediate the pain rather than finding the solution in God. It is not found in friendships, no matter how fulfilling and strong they may be.

    True nurturing “rest” is found in God alone for He is a God of peace.

This type of “rest” is an answer to the weariness of our souls, our burdens, and our hearts.

“Take my yoke,” upon you is the whole man active. Active again?  We ‘take’ it upon us. Why would we want to do this? Why do we do this?  Why the word yoke?  It suggest a joining, a binding together. We are also bound in this yoke to our heavenly God, the Father, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit—the Three-in-One Triune Being (Trinitarian).

“.and LEARN of ME”
When we rest, give it all up to Him, let it go—our hopes, our dreams, our plans, our desires, our wants, our right to vengeance—our rights to happiness and self-fulfillment; then and only then will we truly learn of Him.

It’s not just listening,  believing, or knowing all the right scriptures, correct theology,                                               and pat answers.

No. It is not about all of these for it is not just about knowing the right things. They really are about knowledge about God not about learning of Him. We can’t learn of Him until we surrender our “us”, our “me” that is occupying the throne of our life, surrender ourselves to Him until it is God is occupying the throne of our life, often requiring a daily submitting to Him.

It opens a capacity within us to hear God and His desires for us.

We will learn His daily purposes not just the long-term plans. God removes the dross, the many, many foreign particles that don’t belong from our lives which deflect from His Life in us. The ‘learning’ is really a consecration process. not something we seek (an adding on), no,  it is an allowing of God to meet us where we are at, an internal changing whereby He is a well-spring inside of us releasing His cleansing fountain to make us pure vessels, objects that have Christ’s stamp, His identifying mark for all to see. In our surrendered life we have a greater capacity to learn from Him and of Him because God is more fully active in our minds and heart. In submitting to God and to His yoke we allow a transformation to take place. The ‘learning’ becomes our modus operandus. We won’t be able to stop changing into Christ’s likeness unless we quit yielding to Him.

for I am MEEK and LOWLY of  HEART”

GOD is gentle. He is kind. He is humble. People who have found God, really found Him in this way, are different. They have a quality about them, a softness, a softness that includes quiet strength. It shows outwardly—they are gentle and humble in heart. In truth, it is a presence-a Divine Presence, a beauty that comes from within that lights the eyes with life and peace, an inner radiance that spills forth in splashes of joy and inner delight, never drawing attention to itself.

In God’s gentleness, He cleanses our pain and then goes about the business of mending our broken hearts.

God touches us where we have been wounded by thoughtless words and unkind actions. Only God can fully do this. A therapist will guide us down the right path toward our healing and wholeness in a good way, but only God can meet us in the inner recesses of our hearts—if we will be brave enough and honest enough to let Him. It is a process, one that may be painful, especially when the painful experiences have piled up into a formidable fortress blocking emotions inside that have been outworking in us in harmful destructive ways.

It was extremely painful for me.

But one by one I gave my hurts to God as He helped me see them, showing me how they were in there beyond my ability to expose or remediate. He gently released the inner hurts’ hold on me.  My gentle Father-God met me there as I re-visited the ache in my heart, holding me in His tight embrace as He wiped my endless tears from swollen eyelids, His love, warm and comforting, gentle.

and ye SHALL find REST for your SOULS”
This is an active thought.  We will find.  We will! What is it that we will find?  The answer? Rest, rest unto your souls. This is a spiritual rest, retreat, resuscitation, renewing, reviving. It is joy. The object of the rest is unto our souls, our inner self, the part that is the center of our being—our real self. Not to be confused with God’s spirit in us.

Our great need to be loved and wanted can be found in human love, but not fully.

We see people around us, trying to capture this great desire and inner need, by finding the one person, the boyfriend, the mate, the child, the parent, the friend, to satisfy their need, be their all-in-all.

But no-one can completely deliver—NO ONE!

There are great “loves” in this world but they too will fall short in the end. They are temporary, just in this life but not in the life to come. Boy, don’t we want it! Me included! Yet, I know as sure as I am writing this that only God can meet this deepest longing in our hearts. It is not easy to find Him, especially as our all-in-all.  Why is this? Possibly because we are too busy living our lives the way we think is right and good, and haven’t stopped to be still— to open the fractures in our  hearts, to release our tight hold on our own hearts, to let Him in to possess our neediness, to help cleanse and restore us to new life.

It is as if we have planted a vine in our heart that has grown over the years, that has wrapped its creeping tendrils, growing tighter and more dense.

Even our good acts of kindness and our self-righteous piety has put crevasses where the pain resides, those things we don’t talk about. Then we say, “It’s good enough, I’m what God wants me to be.” We think we are secure—not noticing that the vine has covered our hearts, hiding the fissures that are imperfectly remediated, a spiritual fa├žade, a front, hiding the truth, our real self from view. It is just that, “good enough.” It will never be real and vibrant until we release our hearts by asking God to reveal our thoughts and hurts to Him.

Is it time to question our motives, to let go of all that we love and grab tightly as our security?

It is in the seeking, the coming—the surrender. Here’s the key—come to Him on His terms, not our terms. He cuts the vines, cleanses the fracture lines, restores the heart  to health. It won’t be a temporary fix, the mountain top experience.

Instead it will be permanent, life changing—REAL.

“for my YOKE is EASY and MY BURDEN is LIGHT.”
God’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, an oxymoron it seems. How can a yoke be easy and a burden light? It doesn’t make sense.  Aren’t they opposites?  Is this a confusion of terms? Don’t we hate the burden, the pain of life—the struggle of living a victorious life?

Or not so victorious Christian life?

Of course, it’s true. They are in opposition in the natural realm. Look closely, it’s not our burden-it is His burden. It’s not our yoke, it is His yoke—we are in this together. We can’t live this life without Him, at least not successfully. We are a team-God is in us—through His redemptive work.

And we are in Him-as adopted sons and daughters.

When we try to get independent of Him-we strain and pull for our own way. God prevents us-for we are Bound to Him—but it’s rough for awhile and the strain is there. We pull harder but He is steady—the calm director of our destiny. Conversely, when we give up and are weary, discouraged, unhappy, or we fall and stumble, He is there as well, lifting us up, pulling us through the trying circumstance, even when He is the unseen force working behind the scenes like in the Footprints Poem.

There are times we want to quit-want to lie down (It’s too hard!). It’s too much (I don’t want to do this anymore). And times we want to rebel (I don’t like this.  I’m going to do it MY way). But God is with us in these moments too. The truth is, we are not in it alone and He has bound Himself to us. He is the lead person in the relationship and we are the follower, He is the needle and we are the thread.

God is our friend.  He seeks intimacy with us.

He wants us to yield our cares, our desires, our needs—all of them, to Him. God wants to be our “Main Squeeze,”  the one we love the most, more than any of our human relationships, more than our own desires and wants, more than even our own right to self. God loves us, we are dear to His heart.

Why?  Why is this?  We’re only human.

It is because God’s love for us is so strong, so passionate that He desires to have it returned which is one of the reasons why He created us in the first place. God longs for us to know Him and find our joy in Him.

It is similar to when we want to be with a person we love all the time but we find we can only see them for a limited amount of time. We alter our schedule and responsibilities in order to make time to see that person, even at the expense of other things dear to us. God wants our love, our friendship, our time, our desire for Him to be returned. I believe God is this way. We are dependent on Him, but it need not be a contest of God’s will versus our will. We pull together. He in me and me in Him. Our lives pivot with Him, at His command. Even our bolting and erratic behaviors are not apart from His yoke. No matter how independent or self-motivated we are. That is true ‘rest.’

The key to rest is found in God.  It can not and it will not happen until we let go of ourselves.
Come to Him,  look deeply inward, ask to take His yoke, His Life as part of yours.  Seek to learn not just know! Allow Him to manifest Himself in you by actually surrendering your right to yourself.  And the ‘rest’ will come and with it there will be peace, joy, and genuine Christ-likeness.  We stop being phonies and we become real.  And the ‘pain’?…it also is a process of giving it to God and seeking Him for healing.  The healing is a part of the process of finding Him in openness without self-sufficiency.
Norma L. Brumbaugh
Author: The Meeting Place

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Abandonment and Compassion

Abandonment and Compassion
Knowing what to do in my situation was difficult. Naive to a fault, I did not know which end was up. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the predicament in which I now found myself. A muddy vortex was pulling at me as I fought to find a way out, if only to survive with my wits about me. My husband had disappeared just days before and I did not know what to do. Abandonment, an ugly thing, harder than anything I had yet experienced. It was as if time stood still with me adrift not going anywhere but needing to deal with the problems now confronting me. My husband was the one who did the banking, earned the paycheck, was the family provider. I was a full-time mom, taking care of our two little ones at ages fourteen months and three years. The emotional pain was horrendous, there was nothing quite like this, a total devastation with a strange sense of unreality. Never in my wildest dreams had I dreamed of this scenario nor believed this was possible. 

The unknowns were as bad as the knowns. Financial matters were of major concern. Protecting what few assets I had seemed a priority. Who would I turn to? The blanket of grief covering my being made it a slog to even think through my needs or what to do next. The thought of being around people was unnerving. It was too easy to cry and too hard to stop, immobilizing action, inhibiting a rebound response to the difficulty. The worries and fears began to mount, I didn't know what was going on with my husband, what he was doing. I decided to make an appointment with an attorney who attended my church, the only attorney I knew. I hoped he would give me some direction for my predicament..

This is embarrassing, I was thinking as the attorney listened intently while my story spilled out—a moment in time that stands out in my memory. I remember the dress I was wearing, a simple cotton summer dress with ties on the shoulders, a Hawaiian print I had sewn in recent weeks. I told him that my husband had left us, I didn’t know where he was or what was going to happen. I didn’t know how he was surviving or what money he was using. What if he was running up bills?  I told him my concern, “What should I be doing to protect myself for the “what-ifs” that the future might hold?” I asked him about a legal separation, how it works and that type of thing. 

 We talked about my financial situation, some monies from a legacy that I had fiercely protected during the hard times of my marriage. I didn’t want to lose this money since it was my only financial security and source of income. I trusted him to be straight with me. I needed guidance from an impartial person who knew the law and its implications. He and I had never conversed beyond a momentary greeting until that consultation visit.  It was hard for me to tell him what was going on. I felt exposed, naked, uncertain, and shaken, vulnerable. My dignity and calmness felt assaulted by my current situation, my composure was easily dismantling. Being a shy person made the thing extra difficult. I brought my Kleenex but made it through okay, there was a measure of quiet strength within me that seemed to kick in during our meeting. I am sure as he listened he sensed my inner anguish and uncertainty.

The attorney did not react to my statements nor make any comments that were judgmental in content. He knew my husband but he refrained from speaking ill of him. His eyes were kind, like that of a good father. He assured me that I would be fine, I would get through this. Then he began giving me some advice on ways I could protect myself. I sensed his compassion behind his professional demeanor. After asking a few questions to clarify, I thanked him and left. Later on I would implement his suggestions. They proved to be wise, protecting me from greater losses in the financial realm many years down the road. I was grateful for his kindness to me.

For days I waited for the attorney's bill to arrive, but it never came. A couple of months later, I realized that he had given me of his time and there would be no charge, no bill in the mail, his simple act of charity toward me causing me to weep, his thoughtfulness deeply appreciated. I had not asked for any special circumstances but he had given me a gift which showed me that he cared. His act of kindness, by not charging me for his professional advice, meant so much during those dark days that seemed so bleak. In time I heard from my husband, flew across the country to see him, and then returned to my home without him. The future still uncertain and gut-wrenching difficult. I checked the stack of mail that had compiled during my absence. Still no bill. It was then that I decided to write a note to the attorney thanking him for his help and generosity, his kindness to me.

As I write this, twenty-seven years have come and gone. This past week in a conversation with a friend, she happened to mention this attorney. My memory of that visit to his office returned. I remembered his kindness toward me so long ago. My tears came to the surface while I told her about this man’s helpfulness and compassion he had shown to me when I needed it so desperately when my world unraveled before me. In his own way, this man had shown his concern those many years before. One never forgets such things especially during those hard times in life when we are in a world of hurt and not able to function well or think clearly. A thank you is still upon my lips.
Norma Brumbaugh Wieland
-an excerpt, A Quiet Grace
Author:  The Meeting Place

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Promise Fulfilled

A Promise Fulfilled

A dream:

What seems simple to some, impossible to others, expected to many, is a dream come true for me. For years I have wished for a home to call my own, a house where I could hang my hat and call my own. This wish evaded me time and time again. Around four years ago, after thirty years of wishing, I was determined to bring resolution to this desire. The time seemed right and ripe. Economics were in my favor. I committed my wish to God for the hundredth time and started actively searching for a home.  Time seemed of the essence with home selling prices in the affordable range and interest rates at record lows.  I can do this! Knowing I was closing in on the end of my teaching career made this desire for home acquisition all the more timely.  I began my pursuit by looking at websites and in real estate publications.

The home-buying pursuit:

The first house that caught my eye as I looked in a local real estate publication, was quick to grab my heart and dreams. Taking my son and daughter with me, I went for a thirty minute country drive to see it for a drive-by. Big, spacious, 70s era, large front windows, everything about it said, “Welcome stranger!” I absolutely loved it.  A country home on 2.5 acres not far from Black Butte Lake, views to the east and west, a place for a fire pit, a yard for entertaining with an array of wild plants framing the yard, I even saw a few deer in the field next to it. I called a real estate agent, a woman who had helped me look for a house twenty-something years before; would she look into it for me?  She agreed to do this.  Her findings? The house was no longer on the market after only being shown a couple of days. The seller had changed her mind. It was a family home, her husband had passed away, she had thought she could move on but found that she really wasn't ready. Rats! It would not be for sale after all. It had seemed so right! Over the course of the next three years, from time after time I would drive by the house to see if it re-listed, I even went through the house next door to it when it was shown in an Open House. All to no avail. Oh well!

Soon to follow, I found a house on a short-sale in a neighboring berg not far from the orchard I farm. It sat on a lovely piece of property with four acres, the house had a great view and spacious rooms upstairs. It even had an upstairs back porch off the master bedroom, a perfect place to start the day with a cup of coffee in hand. And to top it off, it boasted a floor tile with a picture of a cross and a few other religious icons on various tiles in the dining area. My daughter was already planning her room decor and arranging a music room for her musical interests. After submitting a reasonable offer, I started doing some background research on the property. My father wondered if it might be subject to flooding, a common occurrence in some parts of that area. A Red flag appeared. The end result, I found out the property was located in a flood zone, undisclosed information.  Nope, that wouldn’t do.  Not only would it be more expensive to insure, but I’d already had my turn living where it floods and know it’s not for me.  I withdrew my offer.

Next, came a nice-sized two-story house on one acre in a neighboring county across the river.  This one in a town not far from my parents; living closer to them a big consideration in my planning since they are in their aging years. The upstairs provided a perfect set-up for a writer. I loved its yard and upstairs, its numerous rooms. I could picture my grandchildren coming for long visits and having a great time playing in the house and out in the yard. But as my real estate agent and I walked through the house, I found it awkward viewing the closets and bedrooms. The owners seemed suspicious, following our every step in close proximity at all times as we walked room to room.  This was true for the first and follow-up visits. I noticed a shrine in the garage. I'd not seen that before. It was a nice home, one I could picture enjoying and living in. I asked God to lead me to do the right thing. One major difficulty presented itself, the house value was over-priced, not realistic considering the current market. A lower offer was submitted by me.  The owner's reply showed that the negotiating price was too high for my taste. I would not meet their price. It was disappointing but not devastating. I always look for a sense of peace within myself. I was at peace that I should let it go. Too rich for my blood.

Next one. It was beautiful; 4.5 acres of country living; cute house, fruit trees, a large well-groomed yard, a water fountain that sparkled with freshness, and an open field with a ditch dividing the property to bring water to the pasture land. The property was getting a lot of attention. A full-asking price offer was accepted and the deal seemed good.  The euphoria lasted about one week.  I was curious about the pasture land and the manner of water being delivered to the pasture land and wondered how it worked. My real estate agent tenaciously went after it.  The information was difficult to ferret out but she persisted. The findings? Not only was there no water outlet from the ditch to the property---water would have to come from a neighboring property outlet, she also uncovered another unsettling fact, there was no legal access to the back section on the other side of the ditch, the existing bridge of planks being used for access was technically an illegal structure (though neighbors were using it). This crude bridge could be removed at any time which would mean that access to the property would not be possible from the house side. Another bridge could not be built. I hadn’t bargained on this piece of bad news.  It appeared that the land was land-locked although one could pass on neighbor's property from another road. What good is property that has limited access?  Essentially, the acreage was useless, no wonder the price was on the low side! I knew it could be an albatross for me in the future. What to do?  I’d put three thousand down with my offer.  Yet, once again, it didn’t seem right. I had continual unsettled thoughts about it. No, the problems were not going to go away. It wasn't long before I knew I must withdraw my offer.  This could cost me the three grand and I kicked myself for my hasty offer without knowing all the facts. It had seemed too good to be true and it was all that.  My kids were disappointed, they had gotten their hopes up. I was in Colorado when the answer came. The powers-that-be returned my deposit. I was only out three hundred for the house inspection.  Talk about being thankful! Thank you, Jesus.

Three offers and three no-deals. It seemed as if God wasn’t in it. I had looked at many houses, gone out with my agent several times, pursued a course of action, but had run into problems with every step. The cycle of anticipation and then let-down was not fun, it seemed to not be working. I decided to stop looking.  I didn’t want to waste my real estate agent’s time and good faith anymore even though she was upbeat and enthusiastic. I made a vow, no more offers unless I am sure God is in it, but the wishing continued on. I even wrote about it in my Meeting Place journal, what I wanted my future home to be like. You see, for me it wasn’t just about having a place to live, it was about having a place that people can come to find peace and the love of God, a place where I can minister to others and has an ease of use that lends itself for ministry (which is my heart’s desire).

A quote from my book, The Meeting Place~

"I wrote out my dreams for my future home that I hope to purchase in the near future. I tried to put the words together to show exactly what I want in a home that can be used for God’s purposes. This is what I wrote.

My Future Home  (April 2010)

May this home know

Love and peace,

Joy and happiness,

Forgiveness and caring.

May this home be a haven for weary people,

Where laughter is in the walls,

Where problems are brought to Jesus,

Where solutions meet us where we’re at.

May this place be a sanctuary,

A place of healing,

A place of surrender,

A place of renewal and refreshment.

May all who come here find

The peace of God,

The joy of God,

And the love of God."

.  .  .

I gave up and quit looking for a home to buy. I didn’t want to act outside of God’s determined will for me. Then life jumped up and threw me a curve ball. My professional employment as a reading specialist was curtailed and I found myself teaching general education in a fourth grade classroom.  New programs were challenging and many pressures and health stressors were taking a toll on me.  I found myself toying with the idea of working part time, an idea which I pursued with diligence.  The District, in the end, responded with an emphatic, “No!”  During this time I read a book on God’s calling of us, a calling to fulfill a destiny specific to His divine intentional will. It had been coming to a head for a few years, I often wrestled with a sense that God had another something He wanted me to pursue and embrace, to accomplish with my life. After much deliberation, I said, “Yes,” to God, feeling it was time to take the next step of faith.  I gave my notice stating my intentions, to quit my job as a teacher---coming as a shock to my colleagues, there-by receiving a modest retirement pension since I lacked longevity in employment. I had planned to teach at least six more years. The decision was a hard one to make for I felt it would cost me my dream of home ownership. I had never owned my own home. Since my early twenties it had been my dream. Plunk! My heart sank. I decided I would not look back. Throughout the course of the teaching year, I had been in process of self-publishing my first book, a time consuming task.  My book published in the fall. At the same time, I started looking for a duplex to rent instead of a house to buy. Plunk! It was disappointing. My kids expressed their sadness.  More than anything, it was their wish for me to have my own home, they knew my dream since the days when they were youngsters. Due to my living situation, I needed to move. It was long over-due. I found a duplex I liked a lot. But I didn't get it! Why? It had seemed a slam dunk.

Around the same time my book was going to press, I received a letter from the mortgage company I had submitted paperwork to prequalify for a home years before, they wanted to know my intentions, if I was still in the market, and whether to shred my loan documents. Taking my time to respond, I asked them to keep my paperwork until January. I explained that my situation had changed. I was no longer teaching and my income was much less. In a “by-the-way,” I asked if I would still qualify to buy a home, expecting an answer to the negative. The answer was a resounding “Yes,” because I have a part-time job in farming and excellent credit. This was pleasantly surprising! Again, my first response was to pray. I would need God's direction. I didn’t know which direction to pursue. Where does God want me to buy? Nearer my parents or elsewhere? How big of house? What price? My affordability? These questions continuously bothered me. They ran in circles in my brain. I had no peace. One morning during my quiet time with my Lord, I became specific. "Dear Father, please put the house you have for me directly in my path. Make it clear to me that it is the house, the one you have for me, a house I can use for you and will meet my needs. I need your help in this so I don't head a wrong direction. May my next offer on a house be the last one. Thank you, dear Father, I trust you in this." I sensed His presence. The thought came, I have a house for you.

The Answer Comes

It was in the evening a few days later, I was doing my usual walking on the gravel driveway by the old farmhouse where I farm walnuts, when a dominant persistent thought entered into my thinking.  [I want you to] “Buy in C____.  Buy a house that is solid and well-built. It needs to be a place you can rent to a family should you need to rent it in the future. A place where it is safe, in a safe area of town.” These thoughts were quiet and strong. As soon as I thought them a tranquil peace centered in me. I sensed it was from God. I knew the answer. Where and what to look for, the clamoring of my endless questions subsided as the thoughts settled in. Finally, peace and assurance entered in. I knew where I should buy and the price as well.

In a conversation later that same week, I told my mother about my decision to return to the home-buying mode, she knew I had been actively looking for a place to rent. I told her where and what I was looking for now, which was in a different town and county than my original preference. She was surprised. The following Sunday while at lunch with some of her church friends, one lady mentioned to my mother that she would be moving in a couple of months and selling her home.  Mom excitedly called me up.  I asked the when and where questions, later that day I drove through the neighborhood of this woman’s home.  The houses on the quiet street looked like 60s era, which meant I possibly could afford it.  I asked Mother if she could call her friend and see if we could take a look at her house and if my real estate agent could join us.  I already had made plans with my real estate agent to look at some other houses that same day and I wanted to know if I would like the inside of the house or not. It was a go! She said to my mother, "Come on over, even today if you want to!" That very same day, I entered what is now my new home, from where I am writing this blog. The house was immaculate, it was as if she had been expecting us, everything in place and spotless, the woman gracious and charming. The house—well-maintained, nice cabinetry, solidly built, and welcoming. As we chatted, this charming Christian woman told me that her husband and she had raised four children in this lovely home. They were its original owners. This elderly woman had a sense of wit and cheer with a great positive spirit. I liked her, I liked the house. I knew I would look no further if it we could agree on a price and there were no road-blocks to its purchase. A sense of peace and calm made its presence known within me.

We walked out the door to stand by our cars while we talked it over, my agent, my mother, and me. My mother said that she could see me living in the house. She was enthused, saying things like she sensed God was in it. I was thinking to myself, I like this house, a very nice home which will lend itself nicely for entertaining, has ease of maintenance, nice arrangement and style I like, is in a safe and quiet neighborhood, a plus for sure. I hope this one is it! My real estate agent asked me what I thought about the house. I responded, “I like it for many reasons, its lay-out, its birch cabinets, how well it’s been taken care of.  But what I like the most—is that the people who have lived in it love the Lord. It is a house that has known love. That’s like icing on the cake!”  She smiled at me and then said a curious statement.

Look up, Norma,” and she indicated the sky above us. In radiance, a full rainbow arced across the sky just to the east of us. We could see the rainbow’s complete arch.  The Promise. God would be with me. She smiled again, “Do you think it’s a sign?” she said to me. I smiled back. 

Easter Sunday was my first day living in my new home. I love it more each day and can't wait to use it to bless others. I'm not there yet, for most of my furnishings were tired and worn out, but slowly I'm filling the house as I hunt for the right items to make this a home where everyone will feel welcome as they enter its door. My family and friends who have come to stop by and check it out have all said the same thing, "What a perfect house for you and such a lovely yard."  God gave it to me is what I think or say as they express their enthusiasm for my new digs. In June, my kids and grand-children will be coming from Washington, Los Angelos, and Colorado to join me in a house warming and family celebration of the promise that God has fulfilled to me, my new home. I am grateful.

Norma L. Brumbaugh
Author: The Meeting Place: Moments with God at Lookout Point

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Loneliness is Profound

Yesterday I was at a restaurant with a group of ladies for the Birthday Club, a once-a-month gathering where ladies bring a card each for the birthday "girls" for the month, and pay for their lunch as well. It was my second time. I happen to have a birthday in April so I was treated to lunch.  Now that I live in semi-retired state I can do these things, and it is sweet!  Most of the women are elderly so this is a real treat, a time to get out and visit and eat good food.  The lady to my left talked about her late husband's career in banking.  We talked and talked.  Later mention was made of moving closer to family by one of the other women.  My new friend said, "Loneliness, let me tell you about loneliness!  My husband's been gone for sixteen years now,"she exclaimed.  I understand loneliness.  I've been on my own for over a decade, raised kids, supported myself, and worked hard.  It's never been easy.  And there have been some hard bouts with loneliness.  Her comment made me want to share my writing about Loneliness, written on Valentine's Day after having lost someone who had been close to me.  From my book and for your enjoyment and understanding.

The following excerpt is from my book, The Meeting Place:  Moments with God at Lookout Point.

Loneliness Is Profound

It seems to me that there is a debilitating grain in the fiber of loneliness—a weakening section that follows the grain, a deadwood streak that affects the strength of the heartwood, making it harder to be well and healthy, harder to return to health. I also perceive through personal experience that not all loneliness is the same. Some is generalized. To be lonely on its own merits, not involving loss of someone, is the feeling of being by oneself, alone—not that of pain associated with losing. The other type of loneliness, the loss of someone that makes a hole and a vacuum created by the loss is another matter it seems to me, although related by its empty, alone feeling.
These come in varied increments of tragedy, some after a long history of conflict, the type that leads to divorce. Some after a short duration, such as an infant’s death, though not to be discounted because of the much-loved time attached to the shortness of life. And then the experience of losing someone who loved you and you have loved in return, who has loved you in tenderness and deep affection in a shared meeting of hearts, a soul mate, a defender, and even protector. The loss of this person adds a loneliness that freezes action and recovery. They simply aren’t there to pick you up when the day is hard, to smile with you at a pretty rainbow, to help you create your future, or help you put the dishes away after a big fancy dinner with the family. Missing like this is profound in its ability to make us stop, possibly cry, feel an enveloping sadness that grows to a dark blanket covering our souls as we succumb to its numbness; a retreat of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical proportions. We hate it, yet we can easily get lost in it—almost like a comforting retreat from the world and our own reality. We want help—but we also don’t want help. It would mean giving up that attachment, that person, that memory—that has grown to mean so much to us. Self-pity seems to be a wrong definition to me. Yet it could be seen that way at times. Denial? I suppose it’s there, too. Self-absorption, I’m positive, has its part.

To face loneliness is hard. It may require something of us—a letting go, a giving up, a moving forward, a looking to the better good, an action, a formula, and a purpose, and more; the list is endless. But we get stuck in the loneliness so often, especially on days fraught with association of memories. Loneliness is feeling like you can’t breathe—a grief of sorts: a gray heart on a sunny day, no lover on Valentine’s Day, an absent child on Mother’s Day, no gift on your birthday, a missing plate on the table, an empty room with its bed made, a pet leash hanging unused on the wall, an empty pillow next to you on the other side of the bed, photos in an album, no hugs, no kisses, no touches, no fingerprints, no paw prints, no car door slamming—or happy sounds of walking feet. You are alone. You have to face it—and you don’t want to.

What are the colors of loneliness? I picture dim to gray to blue to black in muted colors, now brown, greenish-gray, and checkered black and white.

Loneliness has a way of bringing back memories—memories we want to keep of better days, of cherished moments, interactions in word and deed, kindness interplay, intercourse, co-habitating special days, all those things we took for granted that now become bigger than life—more than they were at the time, a grand deception of the mind but a welcome intrusion on life as it is. Such is loneliness.

I think loneliness often involves an awareness that a part of our self is not where it should be and is functioning in a subpar way; a sense of being detached from real living—the “alone,” by-yourself sort of feeling.


“Loneliness is Profound” was written on a particularly lonely Valentine’s Day. I had loved and lost, cared and caused pain, tasted of that which is sweet and in the end to taste of its bitter dregs. My joys ultimately became the meat for my sorrows. I finally understood how it feels for people who lose a precious, much-loved partner and find it difficult to recover from their loss and struggle to find the inner desire to live again. This association of pain was different than in divorce; the pain factor not of the same emotion. The grief was like losing part of my own self and not being able to recover it. I felt so alone, and my mind was full of memories from the Valentine’s Day of the year before, when everything had seemed good, fresh, and happy. I decided to write a record of my feelings, knowing that while my thoughts were in process, my words would capture how it seems when loneliness or grief keeps you from being all that you want to be. I found that the light of the soul became dim and muted, it was almost like being in a fog, going through the motions, living but not living. I hoped the insight would be of benefit to read in the future, to help me remember its debilitating effect in productivity and spirituality. I offered a copy to my minister with this in mind, since he counsels many people in varying stages of grief.

N. L. Brumbaugh

Friday, April 12, 2013

Holy Masquerade, The Masks Revealed

“There is an area where pain and blessedness meet. A little contraction in the muscles around the mouth and the smile becomes weeping.”

                                                                                    Holy Masquerade,  by Olov Hartman

Recently I recovered a book thought lost forever for I did not remember its title nor the author’s name. There it was— in a box of books ready to be put on a shelf in my new home. I do not remember packing it just days before. As I unpacked it a sigh escaped and a smile lit my eyes.  I’d been wanting to read it for a couple of years but didn’t know how to find it. Holy Masquerade, a book that has stayed in my thinking since my freshman year in 1973 at a Bible college in Salem, Oregon.  What I remembered was its first person narrative by an un-faithed woman married to a man of the church, a priest. The scene that stayed in my memory was one in which the speaker of the narrative witnesses the spilling of the Eucharistic wine on the white blouse of her husband’s paramour (symbolically) on Palm Sunday. Her husband refrains from participating in the elements. Her suspicions are aroused. In the next day or two the significance of this strikes her heart and she formulates the truth. The lie exposed.

She, as a woman of unknown undeveloped un-belief in God, is deeply aware of the contradiction resident in her husband’s faith as he leads his parishioners in a faith that is not fully his own. A faith (religion) that does not move him, that is a remote thing that one talks about but one doesn’t live, at least not in the way it should be lived, yet in truth, is more like that of a form that alters and bends according to the desire at hand.  In his actions, to please his flock or himself, is a whole underlying deception, a religious manipulation, he never fully acknowledges. 

I am moved by Klara-the story narrator. She, at least, is honest with herself. She is being brought to faith by an attraction to the mother of God and then to her child, to the Christ. He is appealing but she bars Him from entry. But He bids entry. The mask of religion is a masquerade that she comes to experience in vivid mirror images until she becomes free of its projection. The split is relevant, the person without religious "faith" that being herself, is more concerned about the holiness and holy treatment of those things holy, than the man of the cloth to whom she is married. The beginning quote is one she makes as she considers a broken down wooden statue of the Madonna with her Child.  “There is an area where pain and blessedness meet. A little contraction in the muscles around the mouth and the smile becomes weeping.”

This week I re-read Holy Masquerade, its meaning readily came back to me. The words speaking much more plainly in my understanding for I now have grown in my depth as a lover of God and have more understanding of the liturgical form of worship.  The story’s setting is the church and its manse.  The time is the season of Lent.   How apropos.

A year ago I read Vipers’ Tangle by Francois Mauriac, another book of the same type and from the same college class, skillfully written to expose the hypocrisy that hides the truth of the real.  In an insidious way it is profound, showing and exposing both the human and the human’s contradictory ways and especially the duplicity found it some of the human’s most important of relationships, the lie that generates a falseness. This novel presents a first person narrative fiction, a story that makes me grapple with religiosity and catholicity and the ugliness of hatred. I can’t say I like the main character, Louis, an evil vindictive old man, who makes vengeance an art form. He begins to see truth in the end, love softens when least expected.

Two other well-known novels were read for that class so long ago, a college class I no longer remember its name but I do remember its professor, Mr. Gaylord Johnson.  We read, Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, a story I find myself unwilling to read again although it sits on my shelf, about an evangelist who is gifted with star quality but knows debauchery in his personal life.  The thing isn’t real, its a personification of “real” but makes one think of many such people, ones who have failed the test in the end, fallen from grace with the faithful, not able to deliver the goods as a preacher of God, although the attempt is made. Some have been a great embarrassment to the Church and fodder for jest on late night TV.  At least, most started with faith but lost their way. It isn’t that hard to do when one is in the fore-front.  I remind myself, those in the front lines often get hurt. I did try to read Elmer Gantry  awhile back, but found it an unpleasant read.  Yet, Sinclair Lewis makes his point.  It can be taken as a warning or a condemnation. If we are truthful with ourselves, we all have the capacity to be frauds and will go that route if we let our gaze fall to our own wit and devices.  For some crazy reason, Elmer Gantry makes me think of one or two entertainment personas, who could not rule their own passions and talents, lives shaped by others and what others wanted of them--caught in the unreality of fame, much like a person who wants the most out of life but finds that in the end, they are the enemy--for the enemy is within.  The enemy is our own self.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was the fourth book we read for that class.  Its story line is famous, and Hollywood movies document its offering. The Salem witch trials are the perfect setting for such a book.  It is a careful exposure of the hidden truth about sin and freedom. The hidden is what haunts and defiles, the religious as the condemning, and the condemned as the free, the free-spirit who does good and gives generously.  It is a story line that can trouble a receptive mind, a mind set on pleasing the God of love, justice, and righteousness.  Which one is the God we serve?  It makes our religious conventions less comfortable.  Hester, the one with the scarlet “A” embroidered on a label affixed to her dress across the chest, is not bound by the constraints of the religious-bound but her silence and protection of the one who compromised his faith, speaks in volumes.  The contrast is notable.

These four books seem written for current times.  They seem to glide from the past to the present.  The Church is grappling, trying to make sense of the reality of the fallen state of these times. What is genuine? Where is the power? Who is real?  The lines are dividing the Church. What do we do about the homosexual (hgbt), the user, the hater, the post-abortive, the molester, the needy, the families living on government assistance, the illegal aliens, the ex-felon, the hurting? Do truth and love go together? Is holy living for these times? Those of us who claim Christ in our names as Christ-following Christians are challenged by reading such books as are addressed in this writing.  It is so easy to speak the truth, but it can be so hard to love.  It can be so easy to love, but it can be so hard to speak the truth.  Do you see the contradiction, the struggle?  It rattles our cages. Everyone is telling us how to think! Opposite voices are clamoring for our attention. What to believe? Blogs and Tweets wage war with the religious community of readers. There is an endless group of “versus” that I can bring forth—another contradiction of religion exposed, affirming vs. condemning, positive vs. negative, truthful vs. deceitful, kind vs. mean-spirited, liberality vs. selfishness, and so forth ad nausea. I think I understand this, why it is to some degree.  It is the "Real" that frees and it is the "Real" that reveals the attachments of the heart.  It is the "Real" that makes someone real. Real is real attractive in a space or time in history throughout the ages.  And, the "Real" is what sets apart the genuine from the mediocre or false. Christ is both what is true (truth) and what is love.

I have wondered to myself, just where would Jesus Christ hang out if he walked into my town or went on a visit to San Francisco?  Who would he associate with and talk to as he went town to town.  Would he go downtown to the college section, maybe even step into a bar? I used to think, "Never!" but now I'm not so sure. In His walk on earth, Jesus went to the places where the sinners would congregate, spoke with an immoral Samaritan woman, ate with a dishonest tax collector, stopped the stoning of an adulterous woman. It was the religious hypocrites of the day that He took issue with.I wonder, would Jesus visit my church, our churches?  Which churches would He be welcome as a friend or accepted for His simple ways?  Would some of us be seen--stroking our whiteness, our cherished way of outward living of our spiritual lives? Would we be the Pharisaical whited sepulchers, so quick to condemn the societal pariahs?  And what about those who have lost their desire for God, would they find His holy genuine way something that compels and draws them to His presence?  This one, I think is true.  What about the ones of the Way? Those of the faith, who have the true spirit of God alive in their lives, those who have a inner sense of this same Presence. If Jesus came to their town, they would kneel at His feet in humble adoration with tears of gratefulness and joy streaming in rivulets down their faces, and they would be next to the town drunk or prostitute. It would not matter. The holy masquerade would be obliterated and The Real would be real.

Norma L. Brumbaugh

Author: The Meeting Place