A Word About Vulnerability

love

A word about vulnerability.  This word has been popping up in my comment threads recently as I have written about the hard place we are currently walking. (Thanks for the comments, btw.  It is nice to know people are reading and my words are not floating into a black hole somewhere. 🙂  )  Because of the frequency of the word showing itself, I decided to study its origins. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin root vulnerare which means “to wound.” Ability is simply defined as the “means to do something.”

Vulnerability = giving someone the means to wound you.

 Yikes, is it any wonder we avoid being vulnerable? It doesn’t sound too fun, and I can tell you from personal experience it isn’t, but it is necessary. Being seen, truly seen, is scary.  It is opening up the places inside yourself that even you avoid.  So much of what we do as humans is avoidance of letting others in.  There is fear we will not be loved or accepted.  There is shame that somehow, we don’t meet up.  Fear and shame partner together and feed our fears of rejection.  Our deepest need is to belong and be loved despite our shortcomings, and it seems life conspires against us in sharing that need. We keep hidden.  Our deepest fears thrive in the shadows.  Darkness conceals our shame, even to ourselves.  We self-protect in so many ways, using defenses to reduce the dissonance between who we are on the outside to the world and who we perceive ourselves to be on the inside. Hiding from ourselves and others reduces anxiety from the possibility of being wounded, but it does not assist us in meeting the deepest need for acceptance.  So, we wander around in life longing for acceptance, but at the same time pushing away the very thing that will bring us that connection.

Vulnerability.

Instead we opt for defense mechanisms like projection (blaming others), repression (denying our pain), regression (acting childlike), compartmentalization (pushing negative parts away), rationalization (defending our behavior), intellectualization (hiding behind logic), or any other number of defenses.  We are unaware that we are doing these things because they are deeply embedded in our subconscious, but they are the basis for much of our behavior and reactions to stressful situations. I have used all of these and more, and not in healthy ways either.

The one I use most is spiritualization (using spiritual things to deny reality).  I’m not sure that one is recognized in books or not, but I know how it works.  I hide behind the truth.  When something bad happens I say, ‘God is good all the time,’ even when I don’t think it’s true. Or I say ‘God always finishes what he starts,’ when I don’t see the end in sight.  Or ‘God is faithful,’ when it seems he is anything but.  My life verse says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I hide behind it every time something harmful happens to me.

I can feel you squirming as you read, but bear with me.  There is a difference between hiding behind the truth and holding onto it.  One is a defense mechanism, the other is being authentic.  One is a cover up, the other is simple faith.  Holding onto truth trusts that if I am honest and admit my doubts and fears, God is big enough to handle it. Here’s the thing, If I am not vulnerable with God, who can I be vulnerable with?  I have realized that I am using the shield of faith to protect myself from God.  I don’t let him past my scriptures and clichés, and if I don’t, he will not have the opportunity to heal my broken heart. I have to put down my shield, because in the intimate spaces with him I don’t need armor.  Armor is for battle against my enemy, not for the secret place with the lover of my soul.

I have to be vulnerable. I have to say, ‘I don’t get it. I don’t feel it.  I don’t believe you are for me right now.  Help my unbelief.’  I have to be real with my tears, and my confusion.  Sometimes I am not even sure he is safe and that’s about as honest as it gets.  However, I am willing to hold onto what I know in my head is true, even as I whisper to him what is in my heart. I have to be willing to let him show me himself, instead of projecting what I want him to be. Sharing deep things with God is risky, but here’s the rub, what if don’t share?  What if sharing the deep things, being my authentic real self, is the way to healing?

If that is true, then vulnerability is the path with God and with others.  Opening myself up and saying ‘I am not okay’ instead of ‘I am fine,’ is a huge step, but it makes people uncomfortable.  Sharing the dark places is not smiled upon in our culture.  We are expected to stand strong, push through, trust God, and have faith during our trials.  Vulnerability requires me to let go of those façades and be real.  Real is scary because of the possibility that rejection will follow.  The probability is high it will.  It is the risk of opening up and honestly saying what you feel when you are confused.  It is something that cannot be fixed with a few words from the Bible or an inspirational meme.  It requires time to find the courage to put down my armor in the presence of God and let him see me…the real me, unprotected and scared.

As I put these things down, and refuse to pretend all is well, I am finding some freedom.  A burden is lifted. I am not quite to hopeful yet, but there might be a spark beginning to glow.  As we revisit brain injury and look at how it affects us now, we are feeling relief of being known.  Each tiny step we take is beginning to crack the armor we have been carrying for years.  We are not hiding anymore.  Not from God.  Not from people.  We are finding the path of vulnerability to be narrow and overgrown, like walking through the jungle with a machete. Some days it is too thick to make much progress.  Others it seems to open up in front of us and invites us forward.  There is quicksand that bogs us down, and there are clear paths which seem straight, until they’re not.  We are walking through a journey and a process which, we are sharing as we go, in hopes of finding connection and belonging in the deep places… of vulnerability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Normal

humility“You will find a new normal.”  I have heard the phrase many times, and in fact, I have said it to others in trying circumstances. The new normal seems like a goal, a hidden place where all things line up once again.  However, what no one talks about is the strong longing for the old normal…before.  Before my arms ached for a baby who was alive.  Before my husband changed to a different person.  Before the scars from cancer marred my body. We all have our befores. Before death. Before disease. Before dysfunction. They are right, you do adapt to the new normal and learn to cope with losses.  With each loss, I learn to deal with a different reality than I previously had to consider.  But that doesn’t stop me from grieving the old normal.  I know people who have endured unimaginable losses.  Many of them have sent me notes as my last two raw blogs were published.  Some are dealing with diseases and the limitations they bring.  Some have lost children and have gaping holes in their hearts the size of the Grand Canyon.  Some have walked through divorce and are facing single parenthood, alone and scared.  Some have lost friendships that have ruptured their souls.  Others have loved ones who have died, or children who have turned their backs. Dysfunction has claimed families to the point there is no reconciliation.  Abusive behavior of a spouse, a sibling, or a parent has caused self-doubt and condemnation to rise up. And still, people say, “You will get used to the new normal.”

I want to spit on that phrase because it denies the truth of the loss.  It says, ‘just get used to it’ or the other common phrase ‘just get over it,’ as if it is ME who is the problem, not the circumstance.  The root of the finding the new normal is acceptance of whatever the loss is.  I have never been one to blindly accept things until have understanding, until I work through what a monumental loss means to me.  I used to ask why, but I long ago realized that is the wrong question, because it leads nowhere and has no answer.  It leads me around in circles, taunting me in my attempts to sleep and it puts all the reasons for calamity firmly in my court.  I didn’t DO something right.  If I had been better this horrible thing wouldn’t have happened to me.

Instead of why, a better question is what now?  What do I do now that my life is no longer normal?   I am an optimist…or I try to be.  I look for the silver lining because there always is one.  But sometimes I wonder in trying to look on the bright side all the time if I sweep too much under the rug.  In my effort to avoid being a victim of my circumstances, have I pushed the perceived pain away, or I have I simply denied it exists? The problem with burying the hard stuff is that it doesn’t really go away.  You end up, in a place like I am in now, where the rug is mountainous thus preventing movement. It is time to pull it back and examine the pieces I have swept under there so I can be truly rid of them rather than just pretending they aren’t there.

It is times like these where I can relate to the Children of Israel in the desert.  Going in circles is tiring.  It brings out the worst attitudes.  We look at the provision of God for them and think, ‘How could they not see God’s hand protecting and providing for them?  How could they complain against him in the midst of the miracle of manna? What whiners they were!’  Now I am the one in the desert who cannot see the promised land.  Now, I get it.  How long will I wander?  How long will the promises be withheld from me?  I gather manna daily.  I have for nearly 30 years.  I watch the cloud, the hand of God, cover me and I see the pillar of fire light my steps. I depend on him for everything because I have no other choice.  I worship him in the desert, but I also do not understand why I must stay here.  If I were Moses I would have beat the rock to death out of frustration.  I can so relate to why he didn’t do what God told him to do. I am sure it felt good to hit that stone, and once he got started he just couldn’t help himself.  Meanwhile, the cynicism of the people grew to the point that once they got to the land, the giants loomed larger than God. The daily hardships overshadowed the promise.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, it also clouds the eyes.  Hope becomes an enemy who never keeps a promise. The other shoe always drops, and the light just goes out internally as a means of self-protection. It hurts too badly to hope for a different normal.  The longing for milk and honey is overwhelming.  The loss of dreams never to be fulfilled is painful.  The dichotomy of those two is unbearable.  Instead, I find a “new normal” which denies my hurting heart expression.  I adapt.  I cope.  All while the mess under the rug gets bigger and bigger, until one day I am trapped in a room with a mountain that blocks my way out.  A day like today.  A day when life has to take a backseat to healing and where wholeness becomes a priority above all else.  A day when I decide to go retrieve hope from the old normal and bring it into the new.

In the Dirt

solitudeWhen I was a little girl, my dad used to take me on walks in the woods.  We would traipse around our property, sometimes not even on trails, just walking and seeing.  It wasn’t far, but to my little legs it seemed like miles and miles.  I learned a lot on these walks, not because he taught me exactly, but because I watched him.  I learned you can chew sourwood leaves in the fall, like gum.  I found out if you put your watermelon in a mountain spring it would be ice cold in time for the picnic the next day.  I realized to follow a stream provides water, as you walk through and underneath trees, which provide shade on hot summer days.  He taught me to be aware of snakes when I stepped over rocks and logs, and that not all snakes are poisonous.  He let me slide on a slick rock overhang into his arms over and over again.  Those lessons were learned through time together and shared experiences.

On the way back up the mountain, however, I was less likely to be enamored by the stroll through nature, because it had become a climb.  My little legs screamed to stop and my lungs agreed.  Dad used to carry me, but once I got too big for carrying, I had to stop and rest along the way.  I remember begging him to carry me, and I did not have the best of attitudes about it. I was tired and weary which translated into irritable, tearful, and cranky.

Fast forward to walks with my own children.  Going down the trail to a waterfall was all skipping and laughter.  Wading in the ice cold stream brought giggles.  Bill taught them about skipping rocks, and we picked wildflowers along the way.  Once we were at the bottom in the waterfall mist, their faces lit up at the magnificence and power of the water spilling down into the valley.  Then it was time for the climb back up. The trail was a switchback so there was steep incline followed by some more gradual slope, giving the illusion that it wasn’t exactly straight up.  However, little legs are not fooled by illusions.

Going into the second steep section the whining began, but there were four of them and only two of us.  They had all outgrown the baby backpack we had when they were little.  Carrying was not an option.  We encouraged, held their hands, and tried distraction techniques to get their minds off of the pain, “Was that a woodpecker over there on that tree?” or “Look at that beautiful orange flower.” To no avail.  By the next steep section, meltdown mode commenced for one of them.  No amount of, “we’re almost there” helped.  There was no consoling.  It was a sit-down-in-the-trail-refuse-to-go-any-further moment. Tears rolled down the face like the waterfall ran down the mountain and the frustration spilled out like a thunderstorm in the summer.

Desperate to keep the other three moving forward without incident (these types of outbursts can be extremely contagious in a family with four little ones), I moved on with the other three, while Bill waited for the first to cry himself out.  It was all that could be done.  He could not see the end of the hike was near.  He could not make his legs go any further.  He was weary and angry we wouldn’t carry him.  He was not climbing another inch.  Bill sat down in the trail next to him, while he flailed around in a full blown tantrum.  A father, just waiting, trying to soothe his child. In the midst of his tantrum, my son was not even aware that his father was sitting next to him in the dirt.  Once he became aware of it, he wanted nothing to do with him.  Every effort Bill made towards him was rejected out of anger.  It wasn’t until the patience of the father, sitting next to him, was evident that he finally relented and allowed a gentle calming hug.  Holding him, wiping the tears, quenching his thirst…not just for water, but for acceptance and understanding which only unconditional love can bring within the hard places.

Sometimes life is overwhelming.  Just like a child on an uphill climb, sometimes it feels impossible to continue.  It feels like God is not for me…and might even be against me…if he exists at all.  These dark nights of the soul are places where nothing is for sure.  All the neat and tidy spiritual explanations fall flat.  The heavens are brass, and my prayers blow silently away on the wind.  I am not the only one to ever experience this seemingly never ending dark place where brokenness is a companion.  I know others who walk here, who wonder and wait, and shake their fists at God at the same time they cry out to him.  I am a little girl who doesn’t want to walk one step further up this mountain I feel forced to climb. I want to yell and cry and kick and scream, “NO MORE!!” until I am carried, consoled, and soothed.  I realize that in order for peace to come, I have to allow my feelings to work themselves out. The volcano, which has been dormant for years, has erupted and it will release the built up pressure…once the explosion is over.

The complexities of emotions layered one on top of the over make it tricky to get to the root, which is the feeling that God has abandoned me.  What feels like a forever climb has left me in the dirt, wallowing around like a 2-year-old, unable to see my Father sitting next to me waiting.  Brokenness is a messy, ugly, dark place…but it is a real place.  People live here, not by their own choice, but by circumstances outside of their control.  That’s the rub with this place…there is no control here. Death, abuse, disease, rape, injury, loss, divorce, heartache…no one is immune from the pain of life. Life=loss. When my legs will no longer hold me up, I fall and cry out to God for rescue.

I am double minded, believing I am abandoned by him, while still receiving provision from his hand. I feel alone, despite his presence right next to me. I try to block him out since I no longer believe in him, only to find myself praying with desperate cries that he really exists.  I feel I cannot function, all while continuing to put one foot in front of the other. The dark night is a pretty mixed up place.  It is not depression, nor is it despair. It is more like losing the core of who I am, and questioning everything I have ever known…all while still knowing it.  Kinda.  I am rambling, in search of words and talking in circles.  Sorry about that.  One thing I know (maybe) is that when I am in one of these dark broken places I find out things…truths, that I might never grasp had I not sat down in the first place. So while I am groping around now, there will come a time (I hope) when my tears will be dried and my thirst will be quenched by the Father who sits next to me…in the dirt.

I Wish

 

shafts of lightI wish I could tell you I am always strong, but that would be a lie.  I wish I could say that I never have doubts, or tears, or fear, but that would be untrue.  I wish I could say my heart is whole and healthy, but it’s not.  It has been pummeled more times than I can count.  Crushed beyond what I can bear and it has left me a pile of shattered pieces.  Shards that are painfully deep, like splinters which, if not removed, turn into a festering mess of bitterness and resentment.  My attempts to glue it all back together are woefully inadequate.  Instead of creating art, I cut myself and bleed.  Instead of molding wholeness, I simply keep rearranging the same old pieces into forms which highlight just how broken I am.  Until now my faith has held me together through the unending traumas of life, but this time I am not even sure there is a mustard seed left.  Brokenness is exhausting.  Trying to muster up belief that overshadows the depth of my pain is not possible.

So here is the truth, I am NOT a strong woman.  I am NOT full of faith.  Sometimes I don’t want to pray because it doesn’t seem to do any good.  Sometimes I just want to quit. This is a raw place I am in, but it is also a real place.  A place in which my weaknesses are front and center.  A place where God is silent and I am so very tired.  I know the clichés.  I can quote the scripture, but sometimes sackcloth and ashes is more appropriate.  Sometimes grief and loss are companions that will not let me go.  They sing me to sleep, only to wake me in the night.  They whisper to me what could have been, and abandonment chimes in to remind me that whatever I do, I do it alone.  The weight of such thoughts banishes sleep and pumps my heart in crazy rhythms.  My palms sweat and my breathing becomes shallow.  I find myself back where I have always been, holding on for dear life.  It is not pretty.  I am not holding it together very well.  I am searching for my secret place to no avail.  I am lost to it, groping in the dark, trying to find peace that eludes me.  Dare I pen such a place?  Dare I speak it aloud? Should I put it on paper? It is easier to pretend all is well and all will be well.  It is easier to say what I want to hear, that everything will be fine.  It will all somehow work out like it always does.  But underneath those pretentious thoughts I wonder if it is true.  Will it ever be true?

Hard places.  Deep waters.  Struggling to breathe.  Just to breathe.  Sinking beneath the waves.  I cannot even cry out.  I am silent with my tears…which are the only prayers I have at the moment.  No words.  Pressure that has been my companion for years rises in my throat and sits on my shoulders. This is my lament.  It is my burden.  I know the sun will come up eventually.   I have lived long enough to know it is true. Light always follows darkness.  I simply have to hold on until it does, but this time I am not holding on…I am letting go.

The Land of Opportunity

This is a repost of a blog I wrote four years ago…right after I returned from Thailand to visit Hannah while she was on her mission trip around the world.  It is still accurate.

IMG_9772 I have spent the last year learning about the world. Through the eyes of my daughter, I have seen amazing and sometimes heart wrenching stories of poverty, slavery, and abandonment. I have gone half way around the world to see them for myself. Looking into hopeless eyes causes you to see things differently. They are like mirrors which show you your own reflection. What I saw there was disheartening to me. My ungratefulness for my blessings, my assumptions, the opportunities I have squandered away, all of it became crystal clear in the midst of the futility that blankets the red light district in Thailand. The traps, cycles, and living conditions are beyond anything I have ever seen.   To the people who live along this street it is how life is. There is no striving to make a different way. There is only life as they have known it, life as it is.

The ‘Land of Opportunity’ took on a whole new meaning for me this year. I guess I never thought about what the lack of opportunity would look like. It is built into our culture that you can be whatever you want to be if you work hard enough. You are only limited here if you lack vision. In other countries, you are born into your life. There is no question as to what you will do. To break away and do something different is rare. I have seen some beautiful stories of resilience among the poverty, but they are the exception not the rule. It is hard to describe how much appreciation this gave me for my own country. Don’t get me wrong, I know we have our problems…our divisions, and poverty, and social issues. I get that, but the choices we have are unending. We argue with one another because we are allowed to think for ourselves. We are a part of the process of deciding how we live our own lives. We have a say. Poor people here have TVs, bathrooms, and refrigerators for the most part. Our children are not usually sold into slavery. We do not have their kidneys harvested for money. We do not abandon them to the streets. Little girls are not forced to have sex night and day while being held captive. There is a chance that if you are born into poverty here you can get out of it. Hope lives here.

ImageI see why America seems like a beacon of light for so many who long to move here. They love our country without even knowing it. In America, we are free. In America, you can be anything. America is powerful. America is the Land of Opportunity to anyone who dares to dream of such a thing. People flock to see the “Americans” when you walk down the street in other countries. You have superstar status just because of where you are from. They ask questions about our clothes, our homes…our lives. They dream of having what we have…not necessarily in a material sense, they know well how to live without…they long for the freedoms we have. To speak freely. To pursue happiness. To gather. To worship. To be whatever they choose.

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All of this made me wonder what have I done with the opportunity I was born with. It also made me so very grateful for those men and women who have fought to keep us free. Have their sacrifices been wasted on me? Has the blood they spilled been in vain? It is Memorial Day…a day to honor those who died in battle, or as a result of their service. This year I get it. I have always attempted to pay my respects, but this year I see the true cost…and the benefits I have reaped my entire life from the price that was paid. My eyes are open in a new way. I cannot tell you how blessed we are. I cannot tell you how different life could be if I had been born in a different place on the globe. I cannot tell you how petty many of my complaints are, and how childish I am for not fully grasping how amazing our country is. Today I thank God for my country…and for those who knew this long before I did…and gave their lives in hopes that one day I would SEE it.

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God, bless those men and women…bless their families. Strengthen them. Show them the fruits of their sacrifices. Thank you for this land of opportunity. Thank you for hope, and choices, and freedom. Thank you for the men and women who died to give them to me…even when I didn’t get it. Amen.

Shafts of Light

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The light spills through my window.  It pours across the room illuminating the tops of candles as if they are lit.  It falls on the wall creating a secret golden window that leads to another world.  A world where light surrounds and permeates.  Where uncertainty is banished and heaviness is lifted.  A place I long for.

Outside my window shafts of light tumble through the trees.  The mist filters graceful beams through shades of green, which glow.  The arms of the trees reach for me, and beckon me to breathe in the light, only I don’t know how.

My chest is constricted.  Stomach in knots.  Sleep flees.  Exhaustion, my companion.  My only companion.  The one who understands, but does not relent.  Shafts of light beg me to pay attention.  Invite me into the secret world through the golden window.  Walls and doors all close.  The window is open.  Breathe the light.  If only I could ride shafts of light…

Repurposed

This is a continuation of a story I posted yesterday entitled Repurposed. To follow this post you first need to read part 1.   

A Story (Part 2) 

At dawn, The Father rushed to the workshop to see the completed work. He stopped in his tracks.  Never had he been so glad to see his son, who was carefully polishing the wood.  The Man embraced The Father in a bear hug.  The two stood there, until The Wind blew them apart with a gentle breeze.  They circled the finished work, admiring the sheen.

“I can see your reflection,” said The Father.

“That was the plan,” replied The Man.

Looking at the scars of The Man, The Father asked, “Was it worth it?”

“Absolutely.  Just look at the result! A masterpiece. It takes my breath away,” beamed The Man.

“Shall we send the invitations then?” asked The Father.

“Yes, Father.  Let’s prepare The Table!”

garden table

With that, they carried The Table out into the garden among the trees and flowers. It stood within an open-air glass gazebo in the center of the garden. When the sunlight hit The Table, it nearly glowed.  The warm crimson color was rich and full and deep. It was ablaze with a luminous radiance that made The Man burst into laughter with great joyfulness.  The garden erupted in song as the birds danced on The Wind which encircled The Table. As a centerpiece, The Man set a loaf of bread torn into bite sized pieces, and a cup of wine.

“Where is the rest?  If there is to be a wedding, we need a feast!” proclaimed The Father.

The Man smiled and said, “Consider this the appetizer.  The main course is yet to come!”

bread and wine

Oh my Beloved,  Do not think you are worthless, set aside, and abandoned in the dark corners of your life. You cannot be hidden from me under a tarp in darkness.  On the contrary.  You are seen.  You are loved.  You have great purpose.  You do not belong in the barn, do not let The Owner convince you otherwise. (He is not really The Owner…his real name is The Deceiver, and he does not truly own anything! ) You are bought and paid for.  I bathe you in my word to remove the ilk that has covered you.  I disassemble you in order to see you better, sothe healing will be complete.  I scrub down through the layers peeling away each one, removing the old colors that were so unbecoming.  Beloved, there is no need to hide them with another layer, when I can remove them altogether.

The sanding of your life takes time. The roughness of the grit smooths out the gouges and scrapes, and it hurts.  Each successive rubbing feels less intense though, and the resulting dust is evidence of your progress in the process. What remains is a life which is raw and real, and covered in dust. I wash you in my word to remove the vestiges of the old wounds and scars. It feels refreshing to be clean, unencumbered and beautiful, but I am not finished.  You will be a masterpiece when I am done, because I always finish what I start.

I will cover you with a protective coating before I begin to reassemble your life.  The pounding seems harsh, I know.  It seems as if it will never end, and as the nails go in you feel as if you are being crucified…because you are. But without the nails you will fall apart.  Without the nails, you remain in pieces.  The nails are the key to holding you together.  I do not take this step lightly. Brokenness is never easy, but it is necessary. It causes me pain to think you might not understand the necessity of such work.  I sweat more with each nail inserted, but I want you to know each one is important to your purpose.  I do not add them frivolously or needlessly.

Once you are reassembled, The Father stains you with my blood.  I was happy to give it up for you, my love, so that all the richness of your life could be displayed.  You are worth every drop. The Father covers each piece one by one, saturating your life. The result is depth and fullness.  Restoration and renewal.  Hope and healing.  The Wind of the Spirit seals the work by breathing on you.  As The Wind blows, the sheen on your life increases.  Soon my reflection is clear in the finish, and it serves as an invitation to others around you.

Do you not believe I can repurpose your mess into beauty?  Give you beauty for ashes?  It is my specialty to locate messes and create masterpieces out of them.  Masterpieces which draw others to come and enter into communion, as well. Then communion gives birth to community and my bride grows in beauty.  Right now, you may doubt I can do this for you, or that I will.  You do not think yourself worthy of such artistry, but I disagree.  I know your worth, Beloved, even if you do not.  I say you are worth every drop of my blood, sweat, and tears.  You are worth the cross and the tomb.  You are worth resurrecting!

Resurrection is simply death… repurposed.      

Repurposed

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A Story (Part 1)

A Man arrived at an old barn in his faded jeans and flannel shirt.  His kind eyes were piercing.  His smile, quick to surface.  He had a purposeful gait, but was not in a hurry.  As he stepped into the barn, he waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light.  The Owner caught up to him, as he perused the junk within.

“May I help you find something, sir?” asked The Owner.

“No, thanks. I will know it when I see it,” replied The Man.

He continued his quest, stopping to look at each piece as if it were the only one.  He slid his hands across desks to feel the grain of the wood.  He pulled the drawers of dressers out to see if they were stuck.  Wardrobes were opened and closed and opened again.  His eyes scoured the wood for imperfections, but also for character.  He made mental note of scratches and chips as well as the richness of the grain.

The Owner of the barn grew uncomfortable with The Man’s attention to detail.  It was obvious he knew furniture, and even more so that he was familiar with each type of wood. The Man rubbed an old trunk with a cloth he had in his pocket, as if to polish it, when The Owner spoke up with a sneer.

“Sir, I must insist that you not do that.  It makes the old furniture look new and folks come here for antiques.  Now, what can I help you find?”

“I am merely looking at the potential of each piece by removing the grime and dirt,” answered The Man.

“Ah, so you refinish furniture then?  I have just the piece for you, sir.  What about this old dresser here? Isn’t she a beaut? Of course, being in a barn with the humidity the drawers are stuck closed, but they would do better if it were inside,” said The Owner.

The Man gazed at the piece.  He noted the wood and the sticky drawers.  The hardware was missing, so there was no way to get into them. He smiled at the smooth talking Owner.

“Not refinishing exactly, I prefer to think of it as repurposing…taking an old beat up piece and giving it a new purpose,” then he continued, “It would take more than moving this inside to get the drawers to open.  This is quite a project.”

“Is it beyond your ability, sir?  I am sorry.  I have some easier items to deal with which do not require such work.  I pegged you as a carpenter with great skill by the way you were looking at each piece.” Moving deeper into the barn, The Owner pointed out a bookshelf against the back wall.  Brushing the cobwebs from it, he told The Man, “This requires a simple sanding and a coat of paint.”

“How would you know?  You do not repurpose furniture; you merely sit it in here to decay.  And why would I paint that beautiful wood?” asked The Man.

“Well, sir that just shows what you know,” The irritated Owner said.  “This shelf has scrapes and scratches in it which need to be covered over.  Paint is the way to make it look like new. You can see I am right by the layers already on it. Obviously, I am not the only one who paints to improve a piece.”

The Man just shook his head, refusing to argue with The Owner. Instead he replied, “No. This is not the piece I am looking for today.”

His eyes caught a glimpse of a shadow in the corner of the barn, but as he moved towards it, The Owner jumped in front of him and said, “Sir, allow me to show you another piece.”

Undeterred, The Man continued to move towards the shadow, his piercing eyes fixed upon it.  The Owner chattered incessantly, trying every technique to dissuade him from his path.  Once standing in the shadow, The Man saw the item was covered with a tarp.

“What is under this tarp?” he asked.

“Nothing sir.  I have many more items for you to look at.  A man such as yourself cannot be bothered with a project such as that.  It is too much for you,” The Owner stated.

“I beg to differ, there is no project that is too much for me,” said The Man. As he pulled back the tarp, dust flew in a million directions.  “This is the piece I have been seeking.  It is perfect for what I need.”

Incredulous, The Owner replied, “Sir, how can that be?  It is just a pile of wood. It is completely undone. Nothing much to look at, and even less useful.”

old wood.jpg

“In its present condition it is true.  But I see beyond the mess.  This is exactly what I am looking for.  I’ll take it!” proclaimed The Man.

“But wouldn’t you like something better suited for you?  This is so much work.  It will take all of your efforts to repurpose this one,” whined The Owner.

“I determine what I am willing to give, not you!  I will do whatever is necessary to complete this project.”  The Man picked up the shabby pieces of wood.  He headed towards the door, but The Owner blocked his way.

“Sir, I cannot let you have that piece.”

“Step aside.  This piece belongs to me.  I do not care the condition, or the amount of work required.  I will be taking it with me.  It is already paid for, as is every piece in this barn.  Do not stand in my way, or you will regret it,” The Man said, with fire in his eyes.

Swallowing hard, The Owner stepped aside as The Man carried the wood into the blinding light of the day.  He dared not step out into the light, instead he stepped back into the dim barn, sliding the door closed with a bang.

When The Man got the piece to his workshop he opened the doors and windows to let in the fresh air and sunshine.  He began to look over each section of wood.  It was true that the piece was a mess.  The dust alone was enough to make the shafts of light dance, as it floated down to the floor.  Pulling each plank of lumber into his hands, the man carefully examined it for blemishes. He was not intimidated by what he found. He took a washcloth with warm water and began rubbing.  When the water in the bucket got too dirty, he simply refilled it with fresh and continued bathing.  Once he finished, he stood back to determine just how to proceed.  The wood had layers and layers of paint that was chipped and scratched.  It was in rough shape.

“It’s going to have to come off,” he said to no one in particular.  He knew to pull out the true beauty of the wood he would have to strip it all the way down until it was completely unfinished.  He began the work of stripping all the old layers off.  It was an arduous process which took days to complete, but he was not once discouraged.  He even hummed as he worked, because he knew what it would look like in the end. The scraping created a bigger mess than it was the beginning.  Each layer seemed to cling to the wood, refusing to let go.  Each time, he used force to scrape away the dross.  His hands blistered, but he continued in his pursuit.

Once the layers were gone, he smiled and whispered, “That’s much better.  Now you can breathe again.”

“Talking to your wood, again?” asked a voice.

“Ha ha, yes, Father, you caught me talking to the wood, again,” said The Man.

“This piece has kept you busy, but I think it is going to be worth the effort, don’t you agree?” asked The Father.

“Yes, I do believe it will be worth it, in the end,” smiled The Man.

The father gazed at his son and looked deeply into his eyes.  “You’re sure you want to finish it?”

“I have never been more sure, Father,” stated The Man.

“Good.  Let’s get on with it then.  Let the sanding begin!”

The two of them began, The Man using everything The Father had taught him. The Father was happy to be working together on this project. The rough paper created dust as it scratched and ground the wood into powder. The two worked together side by side, for hours on this piece. The Man ignored the splinters which found their way into his hands. He continued to work into the night, refusing sleep.  The Father smiled gently as he left The Man to finish his work.

Each board was handled separately three or more times, from rough to fine, until it was smooth as silk.   Another bath to wash off the dust, and it was ready for the next step.  The first coat of stain was wiped on with great care. Lovingly even.  Each piece was checked and rechecked for complete coverage. Even though The Man was exhausted from his work, he still paid very close attention to details, while humming a slow haunting tune to himself.

As he reassembled the piece carefully, his hands were bleeding.  Each plank was like the piece of a puzzle and had to be put in a particular place.  Each nail was pounded in a specific way. Drops of sweat covered his face while he worked.  It was a grueling process, and a stranger might have wondered if the pounding was ruining the work.  However, there was no stranger watching; The Man was all alone. He knew, without the nails the whole thing would fall apart.  No, the pounding of the nails was essential to the finished work. Finally, when it was ready for the final coat of stain he stood back, smiled, and cut off the light.

In the morning, The Father came into the workshop.  Alone.  He carried a bucket of stain with him.  He opened the workshop door with a solemn look upon his face.  He gently rubbed his hand over the work of his son and a soft smile curled his lips slightly.

“That boy.  He sure knew what he was doing.  This is going to be spectacular.  His best work yet.” he said to no one in particular.

The Father dipped a cloth into the stain, and allowed it to become saturated.  He placed it on the piece, and the crimson tint soaked into the wood like a sponge.  Each dip into the bucket brought a deeper red color which he rubbed into each board.  As he worked, The Father grew more and more sorrowful.  Before long, his tears were mixing with the stain as he cried.  The circular rubbing motion spread the tear-filled red tinge to every grain in the wood, it covered every pound mark and every nick.  Everyplace he put his hand was filled with crimson, and he continued to work until the entire piece was completely covered and the bucket was empty.  Poured out.  The Father stood back and wept.  The beauty was unsurpassed.  The Man was a master craftsman who had created a masterpiece.  The Father was in awe.  At dusk, he opened the doors and windows wide so The Wind could come in and seal the stain.

When darkness fell, it was finished.

I Am in Remission!

michelle-in-front-of-yonahRemission.  In Cancerland, it is a wonderful word.  A word which is coveted by every person in the chemo room, doctor’s office, hospital, or lab. It is every patient’s goal to hear that word, and every doctor’s desire to say it.  It means the diminution of the disease…the cancellation of cancer.  The origin of the word comes from the Latin remit; to send back or restore. Pardon me, but I like to imagine sending cancer back to hell from whence it came. For me, seeing life restored, after this dreaded disease tries to steal it, is a beautiful thing. Skin begins to glow again. The blood counts rise, resulting in energy and effortless breathing.  Hair returns in baby-like softness creating fluffy wavy curls.  The eyes lose their hollowed out appearance and regain sparkle. Bruises from the abuse of this disease, fade away.

Bigger than the physical changes are the mental/emotional ones.  The survival-mode-mentality fades, as the hope in the future is restored.  Gratefulness is the emotion of choice, and it bubbles up through tears and laughter at the same time. Every small detail of life is noticed and appreciated.  Colors are brighter, faces more detailed, trees more beautiful, family more loved, the sun shines brighter, and every single thing seems to be pulsing with life.  It is a fabulous feeling to be a part of the heartbeat again, instead of feeling life ebb away daily.  Healing, health, wholeness all collude together to bring hope and happiness.  All this because of one word.  Remission. What a glorious term.  To say ‘I am in remission’ is to say ‘death did not take me, I am alive!’  It is a defiant word which is said with heartfelt conviction and all the hope of the future behind it, while standing tall and breathing deeply of life. It is a proclamation that requires an exclamation point!

I am sure my understanding and experience of that word and the emotion intertwined within it are the reasons it jumped off the page at me this week as I was reading in Matthew 26.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sin.  But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:28

Wait.  What?  Remission of sin?  The diminution of the death-causing disease, the cancelation of the cancer of sin. When Jesus remitted sin, he sent it back to hell from whence it came.  He restored life.  This passage is about his last meal with his friends and he knew it.  He knew the bread he broke and the cup he poured, represented his body and blood which were about to be riddled with sin-disease.  He knew the pain that would come just hours after this meal.  He knew the life would drain from him, because sin-disease would ruthlessly steal it, pull out his hair, drain his blood, zap his energy, rip his skin apart, bruise his body, and ultimately stop the life flow.  He would no longer feel the pulse, and life would ebb out of him until it stopped his heart. (He also knew it would not stop his resurrection or ours, but that is next week’s blog.)

JESUS-EYES-Ed-Unitsky

He painted the picture for them, even though they were unaware.  Bread made from crushed wheat, wine made from crushed grapes. Ingested, or I should say, infused. To fill or pervade; to soak in healing properties. Jesus became the chemo.  His body and blood the medicine, to rid us of the sin-disease that was killing us. He submitted himself to sin in order to bring us the antidote.  He is the cure that brings our glorious remission.  When we submit to this infusion of his life, everything is brighter.  Hope is fanned into full flame.  Life pulses into us through gratefulness…to be free from disease, to be whole, to be healed.  Tears fill our eyes even as we laugh with joy at our great fortune.  What was killing us, riddling our lives with death and stealing from us, has been reversed and sent back.  We are restored to health because the disease has been cancelled. Forgiveness is ours and so too, freedom from death.  We stand, breathe deeply of life and proclaim “Because of Jesus, death did not take me and I am alive.”  We are infused with his crushed body and blood which results in our healing. Our heart cries out for all the world to hear, “I am in remission!!”

Lessons in the Storm

michelle-in-front-of-yonahThe storm rages.  The thunder rolls, bounces off the mountains, and returns like a boomerang.  The ground is moving. My usual porch writing spot does not feel safe, so I withdraw into the house.  The walls tremble and shake at the vibrations. Pictures rattle. Even as a lover of thunderstorms, I am on edge with the intimacy of this storm.  When they get this close, my stomach ties itself into knots with the memory of the destruction one lightning strike can do. In minutes, life as I know it can be undone.  Burned up.  Flooded.  Damaged beyond repair.

I push those thoughts away.  They lead nowhere.

Instead, I settle in by the window to watch the storm.  The trees blow and appear to be dancing to some unheard beat.  The rain is steadily creating puddles in the grass so that after the storm, the birds can more easily retrieve the worms. The thunder rolls away after a few anxious moments and the wind dies down momentarily.  The rain is steadfast as it slides off the trees which creates the hissing and pattering sounds I dearly love.  The trees are partially dressed, just changing into their green gowns for spring.  The leaves unfurl and turn their faces up to receive the gift of water from the heavens. They open themselves up fully as they drink.  I can almost see them expanding as I watch.  The newborn leaves, which appear to be so fragile, are in actuality quite strong.  They play in the storm as if it were a gentle shower.  I would never know from watching them there was any danger at all.  I want to be like the baby leaves; open to receive gifts from heaven provided to me in the midst of the tempest and trusting the storm will not destroy me.

The next round of thunder arrives to taunt me and laugh at my silly notion that there can be peace in the storm. It rumbles and shakes.  It knows the power all its loudness has over my heart. The rain picks up into a downpour and with the deluge comes the wind, back to display its power with the swirling and bending of trees.  The lights flicker as if to bow to the pressure of apprehension which is rising once again.  The storm is forcing itself on the mountains, creating a battle-like volley of sound.  What I realize is the back and forth noise isn’t back and forth at all, it is all coming from one source.  The echo is what makes it feel as if there is a battle.  In reality, there is no war, only thunder puffing itself up to be heard. The infant leaves know this.  They are not afraid of the bully.  The birds know it too, and they wait for the thunder to blow itself out.  It seems to me that all of nature knows and patiently waits for a new day.  Am I the only creature who does not know the truth, which is that storms come and go in cycles?  Or do I simply forget that after the destruction comes resurrection?  Always.

Lessons in the storm.