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When the Lights are Low, Patti Wade Zint

When the Lights are Low

As I was messing with the dimmer switch to get the lights at just the right level I wanted – not too bright and yet not as if they are almost off – I noticed the intensity of light through the globes revealed more or less of the actual bulb.  Okay, I’m not an electrician or scientist so I’m probably not putting it properly, but the brighter the light thrown from the bulbs, the less I could actually see the bulbs.  And that made me think of something in the crazy way things like that make me think…when the lights are low, I can better see them. 


Bright is a word we use when we’re happy, when things seem to be going our way, when we’re expecting something wonderful or when we’ve done something pretty clever.  I think most of us associate brightness with positive and uplifting moments in our life.  Its spotlight time and it highlights those things that make us laugh and grin and sing and do the happy dance.  We praise God for these bright times!

Low is a word we think of relating to when we are sad, blue, depressed, broke, lonely, etc.  We say we are feeling low and the message it carries tells the listener that something is bothering us, something is wrong, something hurts.  Many times we cry, or choke back the tears when we’re low, try to hide that feeling from others.  People want happy people around them…not frowny, sad faces.  But low denotes sadness, sorrow, hurt, pain. And when I’m lowest, my heart hungers for and actively seeks God. 

We all have raw feelings.  We all hurt and cry whether we admit it or not.  We all have prayers that aren’t answered in the way we want them to be answered, and we have dreams that have been shattered.  We’ve all felt the brokenness, the despondency, and the ache that takes up residence when something happens that takes everything we’ve known and loved and turned it ugly.  We know pain.  We know sorrow.   We know what its like to cry ourselves to sleep at night.  

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 

I’ve tried to imagine those bottles; I think mine is the size of Texas.  I wonder sometimes why God wants to keep those tears.  Is it because when I’m low he’s with me, because I’m broken and he works through me then?  Is it because he cares so much that every tear matters?  I can’t stand when someone cries; it hurts me seeing someone’s pain.  I want their tears to go away; I certainly don’t want to keep them.  But God does and because of that, they must be precious to him in a way I can’t yet understand.   

There’s another promise I hold onto, and that is that the dimness won’t last. I know I’m not the only person feeling low right now; I know so many who are hurting, and the holidays are especially hard.  I remind myself that I won’t stay here…that what I feel now will change later.  Today a friend shared her own story and how she couldn’t see “later” during her lowest time, but she did seek God and found something more amazing than she’d ever dreamed. It’s her “later” now and she glows with happiness. 

Though the lights are low, if I look for Him, God will provide the healing and in time I’ll shine.   

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Isaiah 58:8


I’ve recently been connecting with people I haven’t visited in a while.  One friend from grade school, we’ll call her Pam, has been reading my blog and wanted to share her story.

She just returned from her brother’s funeral, made more painful by an estrangement  following their mother’s death.  Days after her mother’s funeral, their family was transferred by her husband’s work to Mesa.  In the stress of moving her own family so quickly, the task of sorting through her mother’s personal effects was delegated to her brother, Pete, and his wife, Sherry, who lived near her mother’s home.  Of importance was a letter and life book that their mother had created for each of them over the years but when her health had become such that she required constant care, the personal items had been moved aside for medical equipment and these precious things were now hidden somewhere in the house. Pete promised to mail them.  In the ensuing weeks as the tasks of getting into a new home, getting the kids in new schools, looking for a new job, unpacking and all the other chaos that goes with a move, Pam was too busy to ask if the items were found.  When she did recall that she hadn’t received them and contacted her brother, he told her he had given them to her the day she left.

“I was furious,” Pam recalls, “how dare he not send them and tell me such a story.”

As the months passed and Pete continued to insist  he had given her the items, her grief was overshadowed by the feeling her brother was deliberately hiding something from her.  Until then they had a fairly healthy brother and sister relationship but now it felt tainted by deceit.  

“It became harder for me to talk to him, and though he swore to me again and again that he had put these things directly into my hand when he and Sherry had come to say goodbye, I couldn’t recall anything like that.”

Sherry shared how hurt  Pete was by Pam’s rejection of him and how the once close-knit family continued to grow apart.  And, as when her mother had died not a year earlier, Pete’s heart attack happened as Pam and her family were in the process of moving .  

“I didn’t even want to go to the funeral.  I was curt with Sherry because this was such an inconvenient time.  I had taken a week off work to go through the boxes from storage, the things I hadn’t seen in months since we stayed in a small apartment while the house was being built.  As I was opening boxes I came to one that had the TV remote, something we’d been missing since leaving South Carolina.  I found the bills I had set aside to take care of that I could never find and the kids report cards that we had to call and have faxed to the new school since I couldn’t find them.  As I dug deeper into the box I found a manila envelope with my mother’s writing on it.  It said ‘For Pam’.  And my heart stopped.  How in the world did that get there?”

Inside the package she found both the missing letter and life book.  Pete had given it to her and she had put it in the box and forgotten about it. 

“I had an instant recall of when I had taken the package from Pete and stuffed it in the box with the remote and the current bills and such things that were to be the first box we opened when we got to Arizona.  Somehow, though, that box was sealed and put away with the storage boxes.  If I had only opened the box I would never have put us  through this pain.”

It was 2 a.m. in South Carolina but she phoned Sherry.

“I sobbed for my brother, for my mother, for Sherry and my nephews that I had pushed away.  Guilt washed over me in waves until I thought I could barely breathe.  And Sherry, gentle soul that she is, cried with me and told me Pete never stopped loving me, never stopped hoping that someday I would find the package.  It was too late for me to say I was wrong, to say I was sorry.   I can’t explain .  Somehow through the grief of losing mom and then the move that took us far from everyone, I couldn’t admit I was wrong to Pete.  If he was right and I had lost these treasures, well, then it would be my own fault, and I couldn’t admit that.  I was too stubborn about always being right.  Finding the package no longer held pleasure of getting these things from my mother.  Instead, it created tremendous pain for the way I had treated Pete.  God forgive me.”

How often in our lives we do this – put things in boxes and forget them only to have them resurface at some point and cause us more pain.  And why?  Sometimes it’s like what Pam said, she didn’t want to consider the possibility that she could be wrong.  Sometimes it’s because what we put in that box is too painful to look at, think about, because someone else caused us more hurt and suffering than we could handle.  Sometimes its the things we’ve done that we can’t face. 

Unresolved issues don’t belong in boxes. 

“After making my peace with Sherry and the boys, I had to make peace with myself.  I realized I had to stop my habit of blaming others.  I still can’t believe I couldn’t accept I had goofed up.  The clues, the missing remote and report cards, were there, but I didn’t want to see them. I could have gone to the storage unit and looked, and found these things while Pete was alive, but I didn’t.  God really worked on my heart though.  Nothing will ever be the same as it was, but I know I’m getting better and I’m not as quick cast blame.  And I value my family more than ever, especially my friendship with Sherry.  It’s closer than ever.”   

Do you have boxes?  Are you ready to be done with them?

Some are labeled guilt.  Some are labeled hurt. Some are labeled fear.  Some are labeled wrongs.  Some are labeled what if or what else.  Some are labeled I didn’t or I did.  Some are labeled I gave up or I gave in.  Some are labeled I won’t, or I can’t, or not now.  Some have multiple labels and the box contents are so jumbled that it seems impossible to sort through what’s there, what’s hidden, what’s buried. 

Start somewhere.  Go through one thing at a time, but really look at it.   Closed boxes can pile up, and become hazards, creating unstable walls that hinder and suffocate and collapse and even destroy.

For our own sakes, and the ones we love, we must examine things carefully and closely, even if that means getting professional help for them, so that we don’t make those choices again or the power they have to hurt us again is no longer viable.  By facing the stuff we are inclined to shove into boxes, we move toward change, a new perspective, even a new heart.  We see not just what we’d rather put in the box and put away, but we understand its roots and the impact it caused for ourselves and others, and this knowledge can be painful but freeing.  By rifling through the things we’d rather bury, we open the door to possibilities, the renewal that comes with making new, different, better, and right choices and changes so that those things never have to be repeated, never have to resurface to continue the repetitive cycle of hurt, pain, guilt, and suffering.   And when the boxes are emptied of the things that hurt us, there’s room for good, for joy, for healing,  for happiness.

Don’t have a box cutter?  I know a great one – Jesus.  He’ll not only open that box but will hold you up as you go through it and then shred every last thing that doesn’t belong as a part of your new life, so that it is gone, forever.  He’ll even guide you to find the things to replace that which you think you’ve lost.  Those boxes can then be burned; and Jesus promises to bring beauty from ashes.

          He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

A friend was recently telling me how hard it is to talk to her dad.  Like me, she’s 50 ish and she relates that her father was always…not there.  She recalls when chosen to be on the cheer squad in high school rushing home to tell her parents and her dad said, “You think that makes you special or something?”   She relates that when she married and they had their first fight, she made the mistake of crying to her parents and her dad said, “I don’t know why he married you in the first place.”  She remembers when her mother passed that her heart was broken and she turned to her dad for solace, he said, “Crying won’t change a thing”, and to this day remains distant toward her.  She says, “I never felt like he really claimed me as his daughter.”

My heart bleeds for her pain.

My Daddy is a retired military man so there was always travel, always moving, always distance.  Some of my earliest memories are of the smell of his aftershave, the crispness of his uniform, and driving him to the edge of town where he’d hitch a ride to his duty station (think 60’s).  He always had silly stories to tell, would sing crazy songs, and tease us every which way he could to get a belly laugh from us.  When home, he cooked and the smell of pot roast or scrambled eggs and sausage sent us in dizzy delights.  My parents divorced, and though I didn’t have the day to day time with him, I have two boxes full of letters as testament to his love for us.  A younger me didn’t understand what was written between the lines.  The older me reads those letters and aches with pain for the younger dad.  There was never a doubt that we were loved.  Never a doubt that he was there…and that I was, indeed, loved.

In 1982 as a married young woman, Mike and I lived near the same city as my dad, his wife and two children.  At that time, I had not lived near my dad or had much contact with him in over ten years.  It was a terrible time financially for Mike and I, but I wanted to be near my dad so we moved to Huntsville.  We were so very poor and lived in a roach-infested apartment.  We had a an outdoor picnic table for furniture.  Life was hard.  On Valentine’s day he dropped by on his way home from work and walked in with a vase of three roses and sat them on my counter.  We talked a few minutes and as he left I reminded him that he’d left his wife’s flowers on the counter.  He looked at me, smiled and said, “Those are for my darling daughter.” 

I cherish those words to this day.  I still have the vase!  Those words were claiming words!  Just as God claims us, my Daddy claimed me with those words!   With those words, the past was the past, and a fresh day had begun. 

My dad had a triple bypass this  year.  It was harrowing to get an emergency call while at a conference in California, work my way back to Phoenix on stand-by, and then fly back praying he would be alive for me to see him.  He’s there…we’re here…but love knows no distance.  How blessed I am that he  not only got through that rough spot, but has recovered wonderfully. 

Our relationship is email after email of updates, jokes and tidbits of information.  I treasure each one.  I have come to rely on my Daddy’s wisdom, wit, and easy-going, laid-back approach to whatever is happening more and more through the years.  I love that he doesn’t judge, but he does support, encourage, give advice when asked, and turns my thoughts to the Lord.  Every email proclaims that I am his daughter.  Every email says I love you.  I never thought I would have what I have with my Daddy, but I am thankful that I do and I can’t imagine being without it.  

I am doubly blessed in that with both my Daddy and my Bob I have experienced two incredible father-daughter relationships.  Because of this, I believe, I have tremendous faith that continues to grow as I continue to grow my relationship with my Lord.  

Fathers, Dads, love your children and accept them for who they are.  Don’t let the circumstances of life keep you from letting your little boys and girls, and big boys and girls, know that you claim them as dear, that you cherish them for who they are, yours.  So many things don’t matter but somehow we have a way of making them a matter of contention, hurt and pain.  We use them as walls that stand between what the relationship should be and could be if we’d just reach over and pull the other one close.  Love heals.  Love shouts “YOU ARE MINE!” and there’s nothing that can change that. 

Thank you, my Daddy, for who you are and what you are in my life.   Thank you for your unconditional love.  Thank you for our most precious relationship that I value more than I could ever say.   Thank you for your love of butterbeans and cornbread that can turn a sour day into something mighty sweet after all!

Merry Christmas.  I love you.

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