If I’m perfectly honest, I’ve always been somewhat mystified by Easter.
While I understand the Scriptural truths behind it, I haven’t been able to put a finger easily on why it is such a big deal for my own life . . . and this wasn’t easy to talk about or admit, because after all, I was married to someone in full-time ministry and probably should have this figured out. I like to understand theology in a way that is daily, personal, real, and gritty.
Several years ago, during the couple weeks that preceded Easter, I began to ask the Spirit to speak to me about exactly what the meaning of Easter was for me in that particular season of my life, with its specific joys and struggles. This has been such a healthy practice for my heart, as I have asked that question and listened for answers. A couple weeks ago I asked that question again. But this time there was no waiting; I immediately thought of an evening this last November and knew my answer for this Easter.
We had just moved our family of seven from Tacoma, Washington, to San Diego. The entire year leading up to it had been stressful and emotional. I was overwhelmed and fatigued but knew I just needed to land somewhere and rest. I would be fine. I had always been fine. We had been in our new home for only a week when I had the first panic attack of my life. I called my husband who was leading a retreat for church leaders more than an hour away and said these words for the first time in fifteen years of marriage, “You need to come home right now. I have never felt this way in my entire life. Something is very, very wrong with me.”
The ten weeks that followed were confusing and terrifying. Extreme nausea twenty-four hours a day, complete loss of appetite, unwanted weight loss, stomach pain, debilitating fatigue, disturbed sleep, vomiting, panic attacks at 5 a.m. every day and more throughout the day, doctor appointments, a stomach scope, and way too much medicine. Sadly my capacity was about 25% of normal, which meant my husband had to take over most everything . . . and worst of all, fear was my constant companion, breathing down my neck.
The first few weeks were especially dark because my mind was plagued with so many awful thoughts. “You should have never married Todd and entered this life of ministry. You have nothing to offer. What were you thinking having all these kids? You won’t be able to parent them to adulthood as you hoped, and what in the world were you thinking adopting a child who has needed extra care and therapy? You will not be able to do this. Your children and husband will suffer because of you. Your life as you knew it is over. You are a failure. You are weak.” And it went on and on—fear overtook me.
I had walked through many hard and grievous seasons in my life, but never had I been out of control of my mind and body. It seemed as though they had been hijacked, and it certainly did not feel like God was now the one in control. I would like to be able to say that even though I was suffering, I had an incredible, comforting, and intimate experience of God’s presence during this time. That would be nice. But that isn’t true. At an emotional level, I mostly felt abandoned, lonely, ashamed, and scared.
I remember one day stumbling on a children’s picture book about change and fear that I had bought for our kids as we anticipated the transition of moving. It was called It Will Be Okay. With trembling fingers, I got some three-by-five cards out of my desk and began writing down the Scripture verses that were woven into the book—simple verses, such as, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. Do not be anxious about anything. Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you.” Each night after getting into bed, nervous about what the coming hours might hold, I would read through these cards in a very rational and ritualistic type way. It was like numbly and methodically putting on armor. I would beg God to deliver me from this mess and to give me faith to believe that all I just read was really true.
During panic attacks, sleepless nights, or just not being able to get out of bed during the day, I would curl up in a fetal position and try to breathe slowly. With each inhale and exhale, I would repeat a few phrases over and over and over, while I worked hard to imagine a picture of myself being tenderly cradled in the cupped hands of my Father. “I am Yours. I am not alone. I belong to You.” This went on for weeks. This is truly what got me through this time: the repeating of Scripture and setting my mind on what remained true, regardless of my emotional, physical, and mental state.
It occurred to me when I asked the Spirit my yearly question last week that none of this would have been possible without Easter. Because Jesus suffered and died, because He defeated the power of sin, and because He rose again, His very Spirit lives forever in me. He is, in fact, closer to me than any human on earth I can touch with my hands or see with my eyes. Because of Easter, I can say I know who I belong to, and that will never change. He has called me by name and I am His. I will never be alone, and that does not depend on how I feel. I thought I was drowning, but He was actually holding my head above the water. I was sure I was being burnt up, but He was shielding me from the hottest part of the flame. I am uniquely precious to the God of the Universe and do not need to be afraid because He will never, ever leave me.
These last months have been so painful, and I am still trying to process it all today. I am thankful that the meaning of Easter is not cloudy for me this year; it is real, and gritty, and daily, and personal. Truly, He is so very good. To God be the glory!
MAKE IT REAL. Questions for individuals and groups:
- In Brad Watson’s post from earlier this week, he looked at the story of Easter. Do you struggle to believe any aspect of Easter’s good news?
- How have you seen Jesus meet you in the midst of your own personal suffering? What happened?
- Think about what Easter means for you personally and share it with your group, or commit to tell someone this week.
- Does your community of believers practice James 5: 13-20?
- If so, what fruit have you seen?
- If not, what are the barriers your group might face in living out James’ vision of mutual dependance.
How can you make the meaning of Easter real to you this year?
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