I like words.
I like researching them, and learning about their origins, their synonyms, the Greek or Latin words that they are derived from, etc.
I like the different ways that certain words have a specific color in my mind. Like the word “Happy” shines yellow and “perfect” glistens like platinum, while “giggle” is bubblegum pink.
Some of the words that often color my life are “grief” which burns red and black, “depression“, which is empty grey and has tinges of a painful green. Other words are “joy” which is peachy-orange, and “peace” which is lilac purple. Interestingly, the word “victory” glows purple like the last moments of a sunset in my mind. I’m not sure if this psychologically means that I associate peace and victory as being similar or not, but there it is.
A recent word that has been floating through the rafters of my mind is “glory“. Glory is golden yellow, streaming white light and glistens like glass. It doesn’t need light to shine upon it because it radiates it’s own light like neon. Glory is a fascinating word to me. In a cultural context, we hear the word “glory” and we often think of a level of fame or celebrity that a person achieves after great success. The word comes from the Latin “Gloria” which means, just as you’d imagine, “fame, honor, great renown or praise”. It wasn’t until the French used it as “gloire” in the 13th century to mean “the splendor of God or Christ; praise offered to God, worship” that we began to associate “Glory” with worshiping God.
Glory itself screams of “goodness”. But today, I want to talk about a peculiar type of glory.
Rewind about fourteen months ago. Maybe less, maybe it’s only been a year now.
I was almost completely overcome with anxiety attacks, insomnia stealing my sleep, nightmares stealing my peace when I did happen to sleep, suicidal thoughts creeping through my mind, leaving claw marks like demons had been dancing there – every day I felt like I was losing another strand of the “proverbial rope” that I was quickly coming to the end of. I sent an email to my longtime mentor, prayer warrior, family friend and pastor, James Elliot, telling him the situation I was dealing with and asking for him and his wife Catie to pray for me during this time.
I wasn’t asking for advice, because I didn’t think that there was any way of coping with the depth of my exhaustion and frustration. All I could do was bite down and ride out the never-ending storm – hoping that the waves crashing over me would subside before my hope did. He responded with an email in return, and, just as always since I was fourteen-years-old, he included pearls of wisdom for me, seasoned with Bible verses and “big brother” compassion and love. I wish I still had that email saved so I could refer back to it, but there is one specific portion that has stuck with me, and I want to share with you now;
He said, “Grace, don’t waste your grief.”
He went on to explain what he meant, but my mind had already taken that gem and started running with it.
He was saying, don’t waste your loneliness. Don’t waste your stress. Don’t waste your anger. Don’t waste your confusion. Don’t waste your disappointment. Don’t waste your sadness. Don’t waste your exhaustion. Don’t waste this time of incredible brokenness. Don’t waste your suffering.
What my pastor was inviting me to do is not just survive this turmoil, he was encouraging me to conquer it. Don’t just wait for it to end, actively work through the end. Don’t just sit back and say “Someday, I hope it will be easier” and instead use the moments right now, to pursue God in the midst of my pain.
This was great advice, not just for me in the midst of grieving over my loss, but also for my entire life. Life is hard – there will be countless things that shatter my heart in my life ahead. Which is why I’m adding my own bit of advice to share with you now:
Don’t waste your grief. If you do, you are missing out on a very peculiar kind of glory.
I don’t mean for yourself – that was something I got very wrong right at the beginning. I thought that pushing my way through the grief and the pain would reveal some greater maturity or depth within me. I clambered through my pain hoping for my great moment of enlightenment with a courageous finish. I was searching and coming up empty in pursuit of my own glory in life. No, don’t waste your grieving heart, because otherwise you’ll be missing out on a very peculiar look at God’s glory.
Here’s your insider’s chance to learn about a very intimate time that I spent with God last summer, when I first learned/really applied myself, to seeking this peculiar glimpse of God’s spellbinding glory:
God showed me His glory in the midst of my panic attacks. Those who know me know all too well that panic attacks are an event that practically took over my life for the first eight months after my sister’s death. They still do plague me from time to time. For the first time in my life, I knew what real despair felt like. It turns out that King David knew a lot about despair too. Read through the book of Psalms and you get the idea that he may have actually suffered from clinical anxiety and depression (either that or the stress of leading an entire nation kind of gets a man down sometimes, but who’s to say.) One of my favorite verses that I found was Psalm 55:18 “He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me, for there were many against me.” While I didn’t have any people against me at that time (as opposed to David who always seemed to have someone wanting to assassinate him) it certainly felt like something in the spiritual realms was using me for target practice. But through that time, as I started looking to God during the midst of my despair, I found that He really could and really would give me peace, once I turned it all over to Him.
God showed me His glory through my insomnia and nightmares. Another common theme in the year following my sister’s death: either not sleeping at all, or having indescribably dark and beastly nightmares. It was a lose-lose situation, in my mind. This is where some more of James’s advice came in: his list of ideas for how I could actively not waste my grief included not wasting my sleepless nights. He recommended that instead of clicking on some Netflix and staring miserably at a flickering screen for hours, to use that as “bonus time” with the Lord. I took this idea and, boy, did I run with it. I went so far as to make a “battle plan” in my journal at that time, full of tactics and methods for bringing peace during my insomnia – or waking up from a nightmare. The first thing I would do as soon as my brain received consciousness would be to pray “Okay God. Looks like it’s You-and-me-time. Wanna hang out?” The second thing that I would do is send a quick text to my mentor Catie (James’s beautiful and amazing wife) who happened to have a new baby boy she was nursing during that season. I’d simply text her “Okay, I’m awake. Please be praying.” and I knew that within the next hour to hour-and-a-half she would see it and respond with “Absolutely!” Sometimes she also would send specific verses that God had given her with me in mind. (I want to take this moment to say that this right here is a perfect example of iron sharpening iron, and just why the church needs wise and compassionate members to show Jesus to each other) Third, I’d turn on my bedroom lamp, kneel on my bed and start praying. It always was a little different, but also always along the lines of “God, this time is about You. Thank You for always being You. Thank You for being here with me now. Thank You for going to such drastic ends to grab my heart and pull me closer to You. Thank You for the way that You love me. My time is Yours. I don’t want my time to be my own.” Sometimes I’d read my Bible, sometimes I’d journal my prayers, sometimes my prayers were so intimate I didn’t want to stop to write them down. Sometimes I’d turn on some worship music to play softly from my phone, making the room into my own private sanctuary with God. God used this incredibly peculiar circumstance to show me what it really meant to step into the “Holy of Holies” and spend in-depth time with Him that I had never experienced before.
God showed me His glory through my stress. As many of you also know, six weeks after my sister’s death, I was back in school. I remember sitting at a desk in a lecture hall on the two-month anniversary of Sommer dying and thinking “Why am I even here? Who cares anymore?” Needless to say, that was not a great semester for me – academically and otherwise. I have no idea how I didn’t fail any of my classes, but I will admit that my GPA took some hard-hitting C’s that semester. The perfectionist in me was throwing an absolute temper-tantrum. I verbally beat up on myself as every grade came in. I’d check a grade, see that I’d made a “less than adequate” score, and chastise myself for my failures. By the end of the semester in May, I was barely crawling over the finish line. Saying I was “stressed out” is a huge understatement. I cried when I left the lecture hall after my last final, not because the test was particularly hard, but from the sheer relief of not having to think about that semester anymore. The stress didn’t magically melt away though. Instead I started worrying about the next semester. Worrying about graduate school (I was a sophomore – grad school was a long way away) Worrying about finding a job someday. Worrying about how old I would be before I could finally retire. Because yes, I was that person. Even though the things that I was stressing about weren’t really problems I needed to be worried about at that time, I discovered (or should I say, rediscovered) a very important truth: we aren’t supposed to be stressed. And yet, we live in almost constant states of some form of stress. Understandably, life is stressful. But I don’t think that means we are supposed to be stressed out because of it. I am in no position to tell someone how to handle their stress, I can only tell you what happens in my heart when I find myself overwhelmed with stress – I become completely focused on myself. My stress leads me to say “leave me alone. I have big problems to deal with.” My stress leads me to say “God, why haven’t you made everything perfect? I want things my way.” When I get wrapped up in my stress, I almost completely forget how to show my love toward others. In the midst of me focusing on myself God whispered over my heart, saying “I love you. I am more concerned with your well-being than you are. You don’t need to worry about you because I’ve got you. Focus on me. I’ll take care of you. Always.”
God found me in the midst of my suicidal thoughts. I’m really big on trigger warnings and because I want this blog to be a safe place where people can read without being caused any kind of mental stress, I’m not going to go into too much detail about the thoughts in my mind at that point. All I can say is that I did end up in a pretty dark place, and while I had the support of a huge family (blood and “brotherhood”) It was only God that could really, really heal me from that terrible place. I came across 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul was describing a thorn in his flesh that had continued to torment him. Biblical scholars with knowledge far beyond mine have many theories about what this thorn may have been (most theories lean towards an eye infection that possibly was causing him to go blind) but in that moment when I was reading the passage, my mind read “thorn” as “suicide”. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9) Paul then goes on to say that he found that he could be grateful for his weaknesses, because that was when God’s power would rest on him. Bingo. It felt like a personal promise that God was giving just to me. I have never felt more broken and weak than when I wrestled with suicide, and in turn, I never felt more covered by God’s peace and grace than when I wrestled with suicide. It was indeed, a very peculiar view of God’s glory.
Glory is three-dimensional. You can look at it from an infinite number of angles and perspectives. Sometimes we see it in ways that make sense, like the beauty of a sunrise, the victorious shout of a new believer emerging from the water in baptism, the miracle of a baby being born, the majesty of a mountain range. But sometimes it emerges amid the darkest points of our lives. It’s a peculiar, beautiful, spellbinding, confounding, heart shattering, soul building thing.
And God has an unending supply of it.
“Lift up your heads, O gates, And be lifted up, O ancient doors, That the King of glory may come in! Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle.” – Psalm 24:7-8