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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Intensive Care Prayer

What do you pray in an ICU room?

I had no idea.

But I was about to find out.

I had driven to the Intensive Care Unit at a Denver hospital to be with some of our dearest friends. Marc, their beloved husband, father, brother, uncle, and son, had been in a terrible car accident less than three days earlier. He had been hit by a drunk driver and was in critical condition, in an induced coma, and on a ventilator. The strain of the past few days was evident on the faces of this large, loving family as we hugged and visited in the ICU waiting area.

When it was my turn, my sweet friend Cathy led me through the door and into the ICU. Marc is her husband of almost 25 years. She had hardly left his side since the accident, snatching sleep in the uncomfortable vinyl chair next to his hospital bed.

At that moment, however, the chair was occupied by Emily, the youngest of their four adult children. She and her dad have always had an affectionate and close relationship. Her pain was palpable.

Cathy and I flanked the chair, hugging Emily and rubbing her back and shoulders. We stood there mostly in silence, the three of us holding onto each other, the regular rhythm of Marc’s breathing the only sound in the room.

Then I sensed the nudging of the Holy Spirit to pray.

Pray? Here? Now? How?

Doubting my ability to utter an intelligible prayer in this place, I ignored the prompting. It persisted.

I finally managed to squeak out a feeble offer of prayer. Emily whipped her head around and nodded with a hopeful, pleading expression, as if to say, “What took you so long?” Emily loves to pray for people, and has graciously prayed for me on more than one occasion. How could I let fear hold me back from interceding for her family in their desperate time of need?

So, grasping hands, we bowed our heads and came before the throne of Grace.

My prayer went something like this:

Oh Lord, You feel the pain. You see the suffering. You, Jesus, are the “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”* You understand. You’re here. You see. You know. You care. You are Good, even though this is not good. We know you will bring good out of it. We ask You to work a miracle. You are the Healer. You are able. You are worthy of our trust. Please come and do what only You can do. In Jesus’ name, and for Your glory. Amen.

That was it. That’s what came out. At the time it felt painfully inadequate. Later, I realized I had simply affirmed truths about our God. It hit me that in moments of crisis, what comes out is what we’ve put in.

Cathy, Emily, and I, along with Marc’s mom and sister, are in a weekly Bible study together. We’ve spent a lot of time in God’s Word over the years, learning about His character and His promises. We didn’t know it then, but we were training for such a time as this. A time when we’d need to stand on these truths.

God Sees.

God Understands.

God Cares.

God is Good.

God Is Able.

God Heals.

God Can Be Trusted.

When life changes, HE does not. Our faith is built on a Solid Rock, the unwavering character of a Faithful God.

Marc shares our faith. He knows and loves the One who extends mercy and offers eternal life to all who ask. Because of this assurance, we know his outcome will be Good, whatever happens.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, ESV)

All things. Even this. As lovers of God, we have this confidence.

Knowing who God is and what He has promised is what anchors the believer in Christ. It’s what we hold onto. It’s what holds onto us.

…for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. (2 Timothy 1:12b, NASB)

We have a Hope that prevails, even in ICU rooms. That wraps its arms around us in our devastation and comforts us. That steadies us in the fiercest storm. And helps us when we don’t know how or what to pray.

His name is Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.

Do you know Him?

 


Notes:

*This description of the coming Messiah is found in Isaiah 53.

Here is a link to Marc’s CaringBridge site, where his family is posting regular updates and prayer requests:

https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/marcwoods?fbclid=IwAR2okSHBVVod_Brk0UyHqz0QA4doPTaDc7fbruKq2uIvIJ68C12Nt2T7TXY

If you feel led to help meet the family’s financial needs during this difficult time, here is his GoFundMe page:

https://www.gofundme.com/marc-woods039-recovery?fbclid=IwAR0cF4XI64DAfsuCSOkMZSZHjfYEKnsiXqPCRxDJsY5ps6Ek0F9FGJY224k

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Blue Light Special

I have fair skin. In my teens and twenties, I tried in vain to tan. As my fair-skinned (and funny) husband is fond of saying, “I have two colors:  White and Red.”

I decided I’d rather be red than white. So I’d foolishly smear baby oil on my translucent skin and proceed to roast like a rotisserie chicken beside our backyard pool. A few times I even held one of those foil reflector shields under my upturned face, as if the almighty Arizona sun needed magnifying. I cringe now at the thought.

Pass the aloe vera.

Fast forward a few decades and there is now a price to be paid for my youthful tanning indiscretions: wrinkles, sun damage, and skin cancer. I’m a frequent flyer at my dermatologist’s office. When I walk through that door it feels more like I’m entering a war zone than a waiting room, with all those aging faces sporting bandages.

We reap what we sow. Even if it takes years to appear.

While we are free to choose, we are not free from the consequences of our choices. This is a time-tested principle, a spiritual “law” if you will, straight out of the Bible:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7, ESV) 

Sow sun, reap skin damage.

Today I returned to the dreaded “war zone.” Only this visit was for a treatment called “Photodynamic Therapy,” or PDT. Levulanic acid is carefully applied to the face and allowed to soak into the skin for one hour. It is then activated by a special blue light, which causes the chemicals to attack and kill any pre-cancerous cells.

But wait, it gets even better. This incredible treatment not only prevents skin cancer from developing, it also reverses past sun damage! I find this absolutely amazing.

It’s what I’d call a true “Blue Light Special.”

It’s also an illuminating illustration of our God.

…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10, NIV)

God is not mocked. But He is also merciful.

He enters those war-torn places in our lives and soothes them with His gentle, but penetrating light. Neutralizing the cancerous spread of sin. Repairing, even reversing the damage inflicted upon us by others and, yes, even ourselves. Restoring us to spiritual health and emotional wholeness.

No, we don’t deserve it.

We can merely receive it, with an upturned face and a heart bowed down.

Come. Shine on me, Lord.

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays… (Micah 4:2a, NIV)

Wonderful, merciful Savior.

Beautiful, healing Light.

blue light 

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