Still Here

This is going to be a vulnerable post for me to write— perhaps the most vulnerable one I have ever written. I have struggled with a spirit of rejection for my entire life. It started early in childhood—the fruit of a transient lifestyle that living in ministry necessitates. We moved houses once every two years or so. It is difficult to maintain lifelong friendships with sand in your shoes, and was especially difficult when technology was not what it is today.  We moved overseas when you still had to schedule a long-distance telephone call in advance with an operator.  Texting, Skyping, and the like were not even a thought. 

Beyond the instability of my childhood, I was often the third wheel in my friendships. I tended to play counselor, helping other girls patch up their squabbles with their best friends, and then would consign myself to a book when the two inevitably ran off to play together without me. I often felt like I did not measure up and could not relate to people my own age. The “being the third wheel” feeling was a pattern that continued into my adulthood. I longed for relational stability, but it felt like my life was a series of upheavals.

The enemy likes to take the natural inclinations of our personalities and exacerbate them. Rejection often manifests in fear and in a tendency to try to hurt before you can be hurt. To this day, I am acutely sensitive to perceived unfairness, and I am prone to taking it personally when individuals get busy and fall out of contact. Rejection often will spiral into fear of being rejected, which then manifests as the conviction that everyone hates me. 
A few weeks ago, my feelings began to escalate due to a perfect storm of unrelated events. The final straw hit when I realized I was allowing myself to feel neglected when Facebook friends interacted on others’ posts but never mine. You know it is bad when you get caught up in the Facebook drama. 🙂 Believing that the Lord was allowing some things to come together in order to bring change in my life, I removed myself from Facebook in order to accept His invitation into some serious self-reflection and growth. He did not leave me waiting long. 

The Sunday of my break offline, my pastor spoke a powerful message on growing pains that seemed to confirm the fact that the Lord is wanting to bring me out of victimhood and into empowered freedom from rejection. Doing so requires a change in perspective on a lot of events in my life. The following Saturday, I was honored to be able to lead worship for an incredible group of ladies who had come together to listen to some teachings by Christine Caine on getting past your past. I have found a portion of this teaching on YouTube, and I am sharing the link below. I highly recommend anyone who follows my writings to listen to the truth of her message. This is not a blanket personal endorsement of her ministry. I have not yet heard any of her other teachings. However, “Moving Past Your Past” is powerful, and a good weapon to have to be able to pull out and hear again regularly. 

Soon after, I took my husband to the TobyMac Hits Deep concert in our city for an early anniversary present (this man has shepherded my heart for six years already—can you believe it?) and heard Mandisa tell a crowded arena of strangers that she had relapsed into food addiction. She shared how the devil began to whisper how much of a hypocrite she was for getting up in front of people and singing about being an overcomer when she herself was failing. Our stories are rarely pretty, but there is beauty in the journey. Then she threw back her head and belted out a single from her newest upcoming album as a challenge to the enemy who wants to silence her message—”I’m still here.” I am looking forward to that album. There is power in the vulnerable places. 

Where does that leave me now? I will be the first to admit I am a work in progress. My knee-jerk reaction in the face of perceived neglect is most often to withdraw and analyze all the reasons the other party must not like me. When individuals have conversations or choose to spend time without me, my immediate thought is still to believe they are purposefully excluding me, that I am a bother, and that I am too much for them to handle. I am still too caught up in what other people think of me. The fear of man is a nasty stronghold to try to escape.

Why am I sharing this? 

One of the most powerful truths that came from the Christine Caine teaching was this: you measure your degree of freedom by your ability to turn around and set others free. I know I am not the only one who has struggled with a spirit of rejection. I know I am not the only one who has had thoughts of self hatred. I know I am not the only one who has reacted in fear and feeling left out of things. I am so thankful that I have some godly friends in my life who do not struggle in this area and who have been able to pour into me over the last few weeks. So I share where I am now to invite you into my process. I feel my Jesus standing beside me and asking the question He asked of the man at the pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to be healed?” 

I do. I long to be healed. I do not want to be in this place of focusing on my lack of self-esteem rather than on how I can continue to bless those the Lord has entrusted to me. I do not want to live my life magnifying my self-worth rather than His glory. And I want to have the privilege of looking at other young woman trapped in the pain of past rejection and saying, “If God did it for me, there is no way He is not able to do it for you too.”

It is a twisty journey. It isn’t pretty. But I’m still here. 

Posted in Jesus | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

“You Don’t Question the Teacher During the Test”

God has abundantly blessed our family this February.  About two weeks ago (on February 1), we received the news that a hole in her heart that had been there since birth, closed.  The very next day, sitting cross-legged on my bed with her older brother bouncing on the floor nearby, Tirzah offered that same heart as a home for Jesus.  I have marveled over how He filled a physical/literal hole in her heart one day, and then filled the spiritual hole in her heart the next.  When He comes into a situation, He always improves it.

February 13 marks a significant anniversary in our family.  I posted about it this morning on my author Facebook page, but I will share the text of what it says below as well.

Today is a special day for our family. On this day, three years ago, our two-week-old baby girl’s heart would not start beating again after a heart cath procedure. Three years ago today, the head of pediatric cardiology–who had maneuvered scheduling so that he performed her heart cath personally–worked to save her life. And three years ago today, God gave her back to us.

In her honor, here’s a brief snippet from the chapter of “But, Who is Jesus?” that shares her story:

“I was not prepared for how Tirzah would look when the recovery nurse arranged her in my arms. Her head slumped against me, and her unfocused eyes twitched across my face, like those of a dizzy child who had been spinning in a chair for too long. I studied her unnatural grin and tried without success to get her to nurse for the first time in twelve hours. The memory of her screaming into the anesthesia mask gnawed at me; and I could not help wondering if I would ever get my baby back from the dream-place she now inhabited. I could not help wondering if I would ever be able to explain to her why we allowed her to scream for us without intervening.”

I have almost forgotten the terror of those early days–a testimony to our Father’s redemptive faithfulness.  When I look at Tirzah, I find myself picturing her as a mother with her own home to run one day without pausing; I was not always that confident, however.  It is so easy in the dark places to wonder if life will always be a struggle.  Walking from a miscarriage to an unexpected, potentially fatal diagnosis in immediately successive pregnancies made me wonder if I was broken.  When I was sent in for a Level 2 ultrasound with my most recent baby (our fourth pregnancy, and first after Tirzah) and the doctors began speaking of a ventricular septal defect in his heart (a hole between the lower chambers) and a choroid plexus cyst on his brain, I almost made peace with the conviction that there is something wrong with me.  Panic welled in my heart.  Then, I heard Him.

“She laughs at the days to come.”

I wrote the following after I left that appointment:

I heard You there today,
When my heart careened,
And adrenaline twisted through;
There, where breathing shallowed and
Each muscle balled,
Bracing for bad news.
It was a whisper—
A mere fragment out of a thousand things
You could have said.
—”She laughs at the days to come.”—
Funny how proverbial observation can
Become command
In the voice of the Master.
The disaster of
The scheme of a man,
Unfulfilled before His higher plan.

Be still, my soul. Rejoice, my heart.

Be glad, my emotions.
He is good, and He delights in being good to His beloved.

It is so easy for me to look at my healthy, happy babies (my youngest is fine, by the way), and offer a complacent smile.  When God is visible, when you press into victory, when faith proves reliable, and when you find some meaning to attach to your struggle, that frantic place inside settles and you find yourself forgetting how fiercely the battle raged.

My pastor made a powerful point in his message yesterday, stating, “You don’t question the teacher in the middle of a test.”  When children take an exam at school, whining about a test/disrupting the class when the test is ongoing brings disciplinary reactions from school staff.  Most of us learn that it is counterproductive to complain to a teacher about how hard a test is or the purpose of the test when the test is on the desk in front of us.  However, we do not extend the same respect when God leads us through tests that build character and sharpen our faith.  We cry and complain.  We wail about how much harder things are for us than for anyone else.  We demand to know the purpose for our struggle rightnow.  And He remains patient, kind, loving, and unmoving, because He is trying to grow us up into spiritual maturity.

I am learning that God very often answers our “why” questions, but very rarely will He do so when we are in the middle of the trial.  More often than I would like, His test is to see if we will remain steady even when we do not hear His answer.  If you have not found at least a partial purpose in response to–“God, why?”–then chances are your test is ongoing.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

Instead of pressing for the answer to “why,” invest your energy into the Answer–Jesus–to how to make it through.  Cling to His faithful love, and know that in His timing you will receive (at least in part) an answer to “why” as well.

Posted in Jesus | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

But, Who is Jesus?

I’ve been largely silent on my blog of late.  It has not been because I have stopped writing.  Quite the contrary, actually.  I have just moved into the publication stage of a short work on non-fiction.  My 30-day devotional, “But, Who is Jesus?” is on track to go to print in late-spring/early summer.

I think the best adjective for my current state of mind is “overwhelmed,” along with a dose of “cynical” (if I am honest).

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve looked at my sweet husband and argued, “No one wants to read what I have to say.”  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve shaken my head when family and friends have clamored for me to write a book.  There are so many nagging thoughts on how this endeavor will fail–my platform is small, my credentials are few.  To turn and apply the words of the psalmist, “what am I?”

Perhaps the message of my book is speaking louder to me now than it did when I was first writing it.  My main theme in the book is an exhortation to exalt Jesus over circumstances.  What a testimony to me now.  Turn your eyes to Jesus, Chrystal.

I am updating on my facebook page with news on the publication journey (and I will be launching some contests to win free autographed copies of the book when we get closer to the release date, so if you’re interested in that at all, make sure you “like” and “follow” the page), but I wanted to share a quick preview here for those of you who have met me through word-pictures on “Thoughts in the Watchtower” over the last seven years (a fun fact–I signed my publishing contract on the seven-year anniversary of this blog).

Below is the afterword I have written for the book.  As an added bonus for my faithful blog followers, I have hyperlinked to blog posts I wrote during the events I have referenced in the afterword.  So much of what I have written over the last year has stemmed from the events you all walked through with me here.  Thank you for reading. 🙂

*********

     The game began one afternoon when my then-fiancé, Jim, and I were speeding 80-miles-an-hour down the interstate to a hospital in a town a little less than a hundred miles away.  It was four days before our wedding day, and I had just received a phone call that my mother had collapsed with bleeding in her brain.  Just the night before, I had returned from the “parents meet the parents” trip to my future in-laws’ home in Texas where my father had been hospitalized with pulmonary emboli.  I now felt a little like a drowning man who had been given a brief gulp of air before being shoved back below the surface. 

            I am convinced that Jim is the greatest gift the Lord has ever given to me, second only to my salvation.  During our return trip from Texas the night before, he had joined me in piercing the cool, spring night with shouted singing for almost the entire journey; relief that my dad had been discharged and was heading home had exploded into exuberant, thankful praise.  The next afternoon, when he slid behind the wheel of my silver Taurus and turned the car toward my mother, he offered, “I want to do things differently this time.  Yesterday we worshiped after the victory; today we need to praise in the middle of the battle.”

            For the next hour, I answered text messages, fielded phone calls, and sang through tears.  Finally, I looked at him and whispered, “I can’t do this anymore.  Please, just tell me who Jesus is.  The only way I’m going to make it through this is by looking at Him, but I can’t see Him right now.  Who is Jesus?”

            Name after name, attribute after attribute, my precious Jim began listing off from memory every name and characteristic of our Lord and Savior.  Sometimes he and I would take turns affirming to one another His nature.  Sometimes I would fall silent, swiping away hot tears and willing myself to stop crying; Jim kept going.

            My brother and extended family met us at the hospital that afternoon along with several dear friends and pastors.  That night, after the rest of the family retired to bed at my parents’ home, Jim knelt beside the couch where I was and, again, began to list off the character of Jesus until grief had subsided enough for me to sleep. 

            My mother eventually left the hospital and is walking in vibrant health today, but the game is still a mainstay in our marriage.  Together we’ve navigated unemployment and empty cupboards, the miscarriage of our second child, the hospitalization of our third child with a congenital heart defect, and a plethora of the “little foxes” that attack marriages in our day; and in times of turmoil one of us will turn to the other and ask, “But, who is Jesus?”  Without fail we’ve watched Him turn our crises to our good when we’ve turned our focus from the problem to His glory.  It is our prayer that you will use the resources of this book to ask yourself the same question and to exalt His lordship over every aspect of your life.

In Christ,

Chrystal Peery

Posted in Jesus | 4 Comments

Glass House Reflections

“Mama said there’d be days like this.” It’s a good moment to stop and reflect on just how fragile is my glass house, just in case you might think I have this mom-thing all together.
 
Today, toddler-girl decided to decorate the coffee table with stickers (all the stickers) and that her older brother needed a new set of eyebrows (drawn on in fluorescent red marker, of course). Older brother in turn decided this would be a good day to smack her in the face with a pool light (don’t ask why we have a random pool light hanging around here). Both of them have the sniffly/sneezing/coughing ick; and of course, both of them want to kiss all over bitty-baby with their runny noses.
 
Bitty-baby, meanwhile, chose this afternoon to nurse for a solid hour, and in the forty-five minutes that have ensued since then, has protested quite vigorously every time I’ve put him down. In the middle of the marathon nursing session, toddler-girl woke up in a foul mood from a mid-afternoon nap and I had to figure out how to rock a covered nursing baby and a crying toddler at the same time (thankful for a long nap).
 
We abated toddler-girl’s tears with an offer for older brother to get gloriously muddy in the back yard. I took advantage of the quiet moment to try to fold some of the clean laundry (piled so high that it’s falling off of the couch) and banish the tension headache I’ve nursed for two days (present solely because I haven’t slept a night through in three months). Thinking back on my recent exchanges with my children, I decided to pull out a couple of popsicles and remind them that Mommy loves them, even when her head hurts and she’s cranky. I walked outside just in time to see older brother in the act of hoisting toddler-girl into the water-filled fire pit in the back yard, and I’m caught in the dilemma of what to handle first–a screaming bitty-baby in the bouncer or the older two determined to have a swimming pool one way or another.
 
I confess my voice may have elevated past orange rhino status at this point.  I also confess to walking away from handling this moment to the kitchen and eating my weight in non-THM approved ice cream and strawberry sauce.  I’ll worry about regretting that tomorrow.
After my ice cream interlude, I picked up the still-moderately-fussy bitty-baby, who promptly spit up in my hair.  He also proceeded to sneeze, an occurrence I’ve been trying to capture on video since his birth three weeks ago (trust me, it’s adorable). The camera was still rolling to capture the back door flying open and older brother tramping across the floor in his dripping rain boots, a fist full of white-flowered weeds in his grubby fist, proudly pointing out that he pulled them up by the roots and that they wouldn’t die.  Toddler girl shadowed him in the door with her own bouquet, and promptly wiped-out over the remains of an enormous box fort their daddy brought home Sunday (it collapsed during the week and we’ve been tracing ourselves and drawing stick figures on it for three days.
I share all of this to give context to the Instagram-filtered moment I could have posted.  It would have been easy to share the bright-eyed boy holding flowers without bringing in the cacophony of bad attitudes, sickness, and cranky baby that has been my afternoon.  As of this moment, I still have five hours of computer work to do for the part-time job I work with a solid deadline of tomorrow morning.  The laundry that was falling off the couch is at least partly folded but has spread to cover the couch, end table, and coffee table.  One child is bathed and another is still wearing his scribbled, red eyebrows.  I’m still nursing a headache behind the bridge of my nose, and now I’m adding muddy footprints tracked across the floors I mopped two days ago to the list of things I need to do tonight.
But, there is a vase of tall, white flowers on my kitchen table.
Around the time all of this was happening, my Bible app alerted me with the delivery of the 3:45 pm verse-of-the-day to my phone.  It read: “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28, ESV).  Now I know that “understanding” here means intelligence/wisdom, but the word was exactly what I needed to “hear” this afternoon.  I was weary.  I was overwhelmed.  The truth be told, I still am to a degree.  But He understands.  He doesn’t get weary when I get weary.  He doesn’t stop working the fruit of the Spirit in my heart when I’m overwhelmed.  In the bone-tired tedium of day-by-day, when I’m drowning in yet another “pointless” conversation with a child who doesn’t understand I don’t particularly care about Batman; when I have to stop running back and forth putting laundry away because the same child poses the fortieth question (about something he already knows) that hour; when the nagging voice in my head points out that only a tiny fraction of the folded laundry on the table is mine; when I have to stop typing my blog to kiss yet another imagined boo-boo and explain yet again that we don’t need band-aids when we’re not bleeding and oh by the way band-aids aren’t stickers; He’s still faithful, still strong, still alert, and still upholding me by His right hand.
Are you weary?  Overwhelmed?  Struggling (like me) to ignore the muddy floors and focus on the white flowers?  He loves you, and His understanding is unsearchable.
Posted in Jesus | 1 Comment

When I let you go

When I let you go tomorrow, it is knowing they may never bring you back. I keep trying to remind myself that I represent “the system” and they are your home.  I keep reminding my preschooler that this is best for you, hoping my own emotions will catch up.  I keep trying to forget that I won’t be able come to you if you cry for me, and I keep asking God to insulate your heart from a rejection you’re too little to understand. 

When I let you go tomorrow, it is knowing that a year from now you won’t remember me. If we pass on the street you’ll only see yet another white woman. You won’t remember the nights I stumbled from my bed at your little whimpers to change, feed, and cuddle you close. You won’t remember wrapping your fist in my hair or nuzzling into my neck. You won’t remember giving me your first smile, you whose tiny eyebrows wrinkled in permanent furrows those first few days you were in my arms. 

You won’t remember the toddler who is going to search the house for you asking, “Baby??” in the coming weeks. You won’t remember the preschooler who asked daily to hold you, took great pride in holding your bottle, and will ask through broken-hearted tears why had you to leave us.  You won’t remember peaking—bright-eyed—over the strong shoulders of a gentle father who held you against his warmth when the tummy aches hit.  You won’t remember the furry, four-pawed pony-dog who guarded you in silent watchfulness while you slept. 

When I let you go tomorrow, it is knowing I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again. You won’t remember—but I will. You will rest in my heart and live in my prayers. 

I love you,

“Amma”

Posted in life | Tagged , , | 1 Comment