The Shack

Not far from my home, in the center of an open field, sits a dilapidated shack. The roof is caving in. The doors have fallen off. Each passing prairie storm beats it down a little more.

I drive by it often. It always reminds me of the best-selling book “The Shack” and its gripping story of a bereaved father. The “shack” is both literal: the scene of his beloved young daughter’s murder; and figurative: the metaphor of a wounded human soul. God meets him in that place of devastation, then leads him on a soul-searching journey through the heartache to the healing.

Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been in the shack with God. My job as a Client Advocate at our local pregnancy center has been tough this past year. The cumulative effects of stressors in my personal life, changes at the center, and clients in crisis eventually took their toll. My roof began to leak and my doors became unhinged. Each pounding storm beat me down a bit more, until I found myself broken down.

Emotionally exhausted. Weary of the work. Numb.

“I’m tired,” I heard myself say on more than one occasion on the job. I was getting plenty of sleep. This was a different kind of weary. A bone-weariness.*

There’s a name for this condition: Compassion Fatigue. I’m familiar with this term. I even taught our new staff about it. But I missed its warning signs in my own life.

Compassion Fatigue is a threat to first responders, medical personnel and caregivers alike. Anyone in close contact with suffering is vulnerable. Even cold-hearted attorneys can fall victim to it! (Sorry, Chris.)

The point is, the Helpers are now in need of Help.

“Self care = Client care,” I taught our trainees. It’s not selfish to take care of one’s self. “Put your oxygen mask on first,” flight attendants instruct their passengers. Then you can assist others.

Because what aid can we render if our own roofs are sagging and in need of repair? Not much. How can we nurture others if our own cells are depleted and oxygen-deprived? Not well.

I now have a new mantra. I prefer this one to “self care.”

Soul care.

The shack is a symbol of our soul. If we’re not careful, the stresses and storms of life can take a toll on our soul. Weighed down, beaten down, we can no longer echo the hymn writer’s refrain: “It is well with my soul.”

But into the ruins, the Triune God comes. He pulls us out of the rubble, soothes our damaged emotions and bandages our wounds. He helps us confront our fears and confess our failures. He teaches us valuable lessons.

It’s not always pleasant, this soul-revealing, soul-healing journey. But it is necessary. And it is good.

He is a Good Shepherd.

He is restoring my soul.

He will restore yours too.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul… Psalm 23:2-3a, NASB

 

*I recently learned that “bones” in the Bible are symbols of our inner being. Cool, huh? (Source: The Passion Translation note on Psalm 31:10.)

Note:  I hope to share more of my story of restoration in future posts. So stay tuned…

 

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Guarded

Antelope are a sight I see every day.  Hundreds of these agile creatures call the Wyoming community where we live home.  They are beautiful animals; their dark horns and eyes a striking contrast to the tan and white stripes on their necks.  The pronghorns, as they are also known, form larger herds in the winter, frequenting our residential areas in search of a blade of grass or a pile of leaves poking up through the snow.  In the spring and summer, when food is more plentiful elsewhere, they spread out.  From what I understand, they are rarely solitary.

So I thought it was peculiar when I first spied the lone buck that May.  I’d notice him in the field adjacent to our house, sunning himself or munching on some foliage.  He was a majestic figure.   His horns towered above his head like a crown, and, judging by their size, he was not young.  I was inspired by his nobility and quiet strength.  He seemed unrushed, content.

I, on the other hand, was anything but a picture of calm.  An unanticipated personal storm had recently descended upon me, and my stress levels were high.  It was an emotional time, and my anxiety manifested itself in physical symptoms ranging from eye twitches to chest pain.  I had never been through anything quite this intense before.

I began to notice that the antelope was often nearby.  He seemed to appear just when I most needed a reminder that I was not alone.  I felt strangely comforted, protected, and guarded.  (With the exception of the night my daughter called to inform me that the antelope was eating my newly-budded daisies!  I told myself that a few flowers were a small price to pay for the pleasure of his company.)  His presence became to me a symbol of the nearness of God.

Spring stretched into summer, and my trial persisted.  But so did the daily antelope sightings.  I found myself watching expectantly for him, peering through the windows to see what side of the house he might be on.  The rest of the family even got into the action and shared in the fun of spotting him.  We affectionately dubbed him “The Lone Antie.”

One night in late July, feeling especially stressed, I opened my Bible and turned to Philippians 4:6, a familiar passage:  “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything.”  I could recite it from memory.   But it was the following verse that really struck me:  “…then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

I had never paid much attention to the word “guard” before, but that night it seemed to flash like a neon sign.  The study note in my Bible below the verse read:  guard…a military concept depicting a sentry standing guard.” I could picture God’s peace, standing like a military security guard at the gate of my heart, denying access to worry and fear.

The very next morning I noticed my antelope friend, bedded down across the street.  Wanting to savor the moment, I poured a cup of tea and settled into a chair on the porch.  Just then I observed something about the buck that I had previously overlooked.  He was lying in the shade of a pine tree directly in front of our house, but I hadn’t paid much attention to his position.  He actually had his back towards me, facing out, as if he were guarding our house!  I was moved to tears by yet another reminder of the Lord’s vigilant presence.

I pondered this vivid picture God had given me that summer of His protective care. I felt surrounded by His peace and enveloped in His love, overwhelmed that He would go to such lengths to provide tangible evidence of His nearness during a trying time in my life.

God never promised to insulate us from heartache and storms.  But He did promise to be with us, and to guard our hearts and minds with His peace.  “The Lord Himself watches over you!” declared the writer of Psalm 121, “The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.”  If you find yourself in the middle of a difficult season, know that God is always close at hand, and then be on guard yourself!  He may “show up” in the most unexpected places.

“The Lone Antie”

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