Back in early April I was sitting at Lakeview Park. It had been a particularly hard day. The weather matched the day; grey and dreary. At that point it seemed like spring was never coming. As I sat there I was reminded of an incident from my childhood that I would remember again on Mother’s Day.
I was about seven or eight years old. I really wanted a Three Musketeer Bar. Those were my favorite. And there is a particular way you eat them…you eat all the chocolate off of it, then roll the fluffy, whipped nougat into a ball. It is heaven! Well, my mom, being the terrible mom she was, would not let me have one before dinner. So I ran away (don’t mess with a girl and her chocolate). I packed my suitcase with underwear, toothpaste, and a toothbrush (the irony is not lost on me on what I packed).
My mom let me go.
I stormed out of the house and began marching down Exchange Street. I was going to Youngstown to live with my great Aunt Betty. When I visited her, she had Santa Claus come in July and I got a Baby Alive. Who wouldn’t want to live in a place in which Santa comes in the summer?
I got to the end of the street…the corner of South and Exchange and I sat on my suitcase. I was in a pickle. I knew I was not allowed to cross the street by myself yet. Even in my running away, I was responsible. For the most part, I have always been responsible. In the past I took on the responsibility of taking care of my dad in his last years (and would do it again). I have taken on the self-imposed responsibility of making sure our family stays close and the nieces know what it means to be a Strickler.
Even in my wildness and thirst for adventure, I am responsible.
(And sometimes I get tired of the responsibility).
The Sunday before this time at the beach, I was in my office at the church. Friends had given me this really cool gift…a pink flamingo umbrella that doubled as a cane. It. is. awesome. I set the pink flamingo on my chair. It came down like a hammer on my ceramic Jesus and broke His cross. This ceramic Jesus was given to me by Evelyn Thornton, a dear lady from when I served at a church in Virginia. She made it and painted it for me. Her hands were arthritic and I knew the cost it took for her to do this for me. Her husband gave me another one of my prized possessions that I will blog about at another time. They have since gone to be with Jesus.
When I saw that the cross had been broken by the flamingo and it just looming over ceramic Jesus, the irony was not lost on me. And God used it to speak to me. I actually dropped to my knees and just stared wtih tears streaming down my face (and took a picure of course). It so summed up the spiritual battle I feel like I am in.
I have been tired of being responsible. And sacrificing.
It’s like I am at a fork in the road…choose fun, wild, and myself (the pink flamingo) or choose the Cross. I know they are not mutually exclusive but sometimes the seriousness of life is overwhelming. I think I am a good balance of serious and fun. I have dubbed myself the pastor of fun at the church I serve at. Life is meant to be fun, but it can also be incredibly hard.
A good friend of mine had a dream last fall. In the dream, he was on the platform of our church. I was there with him. In the back of the church he saw a darkness. And in the dream I was attacked and knocked down. He couldn’t help me because someone had jumped on the stage and was physically holding him back. Around the same time, my boss had a dream as well. I believe in God and the supernatural. I believe what my friend saw was a warning from God that we were in a battle, our staff was in a battle. And I was under attack.
There is a battle raging. I do not want to choose the Cross because of fear but because of love. Sometimes there is an incredible loneliness that overwhelms me. This is new for me. I have put to death a toxic friendship of 20 years. All part of a deep work God is doing. No baggage into the next season. It still hurts my heart.
But I know life comes from death.
After all, the Cross, an instrument of death, brought me new life.
This difficult season is bringing new life.
A month ago, I went to scout out Cherry Street Mission for our summer internship program. It is an amazing homeless shelter (it is so much more than that). The executive director’s wife is a very good friend of mine. I talked with him about the season I am in and the loss I feel. He said something that has resonated with me. In the church world, when we say that God adds to us we think addition. One good thing added on top of the other. But he believes that God moves more in a linear fashion. When He is going to add something to us or give us something, God has to take something away to make room. And sometimes what He takes away is a good thing. And there is pain.
Loss comes with addition.
In the end, when this battle is all said and done, I will choose Jesus. I am thankful that I have friends who will pray for me in the midst of it. Who want to fight for me. And I am thankful that I get to pray for others as they are in the midst of the battle. The dream my friend had didn’t scare me. It gave me peace that God knows where I am and that He is fighting for me and with me. And He has put people in my life to do the same.
I eventually got up off my suitcase and walked back home. I eventually got my Three Musketeer Bar. After dinner.