Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Self Inflicted

She speaks too quickly, before she has time to remember my story, and the words that come out, they catch me off guard and I reel.  I mumble a soft reminder of who I am and I think she almost understands.  But it doesn't matter because the damage is already done and I'm just holding my heart together until I can find my way home again.

It's later when I'm trying to forget and I can't shake the hurt.  I tell myself she doesn't know me very well and there are a hundred reasons why she might've said those words.  Maybe it all makes perfect sense, but I can't let it go.  There's a sick feeling in my stomach, or maybe just my heart, and I don't understand why small words have lodged this deep.

I'm thinking it over while tears make silent tracks and it's not long before I start to see what's going on.  And I breathe a little faster when I realize why I'm struggling to let go.  Because it isn't her I need to forgive.  It's me.

Harsh words cut deepest when they echo what we already believe about ourselves.

She spoke without thinking and she forgot who I really am and maybe she'd have found a different way to answer the hard questions if she'd only taken a moment to remember.  But me?  I know my own story like I know my own skin.  This story, it's in every fiber of my being and I can't forget even when I try.  Yet still I've hurled accusations at this body of mine and I've whispered the things I fear the most.

Because I might finally carry a diagnosis and I might finally be on the long road to healing, but this one year of slow and painful progress, it hasn't erased the eight that came before.  And I might've spent those years fighting against everyone who didn't believe, but underneath all my brave resistance, I suspected they were right and I was just this foolish girl trying to believe the impossible.

Yes, harsh words cut deepest when they echo what we already believe about ourselves.

Maybe I've dropped the biggest rock into the ocean, buried soul-wounding words in the Grace Waters of my Healer, and maybe I finally believe that this woman I am is worth something after all.  But maybe it takes a lifetime to undo all the lies we've spent our years believing and it's a long, slow climb to discover all the ways we've done the wounding to ourselves.

It's not hard to forgive careless words when we realize it isn't they who've done the wounding.  No, they've only uncovered the places we're already broken and isn't it really a gift to find a place in need of healing?  Because God, He binds up the broken and He comforts those in mourning, but He'll leave our wounded places alone until we realize it's Him we need to heal them.

Yes, I'll count her words a gift.  Because I see it now, how I'll never be strong again if I spend my days believing the worst about myself.  Forgiving myself might be the hardest thing of all, but it's time to stop inflicting wounds and start believing the One Who only speaks the truth.

I might live my story in a body laced with illness and I might wonder if what I've got is enough to make a life.  But He's the One Who's doing the writing and He says it's enough.

Now I have a choice.  And I choose Him.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Window to God

It was just an ordinary day when I carved out a little corner of the world, gave it a name, and started filling it with words.  And I think it's fair to say I didn't know what I had done.

There were plenty of fears that day and the ones that followed.  Fears that I'd find no words to write, or that any words I found wouldn't mean a thing to anyone at all.  But it's two and a half years later, and I might still wonder sometimes if the words are running out, but I finally understand that God's the One writing this story of a life.  And me?  I'm just this sheet of glass, letting all His handiwork show through to a world aching for His revealing.

I might've had this notion when I first began, but it was long months before I fully understood--it wasn't a corner of the world I carved out that day but a window frame I hammered in, a place to hang my glass life, a stage for His revealing.

And this is the piece I never would've guessed--this transparency of a life has been at the heart of my becoming.  Because God's always at work shaping and refining, tearing down and building up, but I never feel it full and deep when I hold it close in hands clenched tight, hide it from the rest who walk this road.  No, it's in the revealing of Him that truth settles in, healing reaches farthest depths, and I am most truly the woman He created me to be.

But I'd be holding hands over glass, drawing curtains against the world if I declared this to be easy.  I'm just a shy girl with a whole lot of fears, a woman with a million damaged places she can't even name.  And I might be brave enough to tell the broken story of a life, but there are days when I'm too scared to walk down the street with everyone watching and me trying not to fall.

It might not make any sense at all for God to give this trembling woman the vision of a life lived open, but I'm not surprised by the way He does the unexpected, asks for the impossible, turns me into something I never thought I could be.  That's just the way He is, this God Who heals and loves and leads.

But even still, I didn't expected to draw much attention here in this corner of the world.  Until that day when a woman named Ann read my humble offering and called it beautiful, profound, a reflection of Christ Himself.  And now I'm here, still holding up the glass, knowing there are all these people gazing in, looking for God among words and pictures and pieces of a life.

And it's not hard to imagine why I might be afraid of falling.

Because some days I feel the weight of all the world in need of healing and I know I'm too small to make any difference at all.  But didn't I already say it here, that God's only revealed when I'm broken and He's beautiful and it's Him and not me the world needs anyway?  And if I'm just this sheet of glass and He's the One with all the healing in His Hands, why can't I just keep clearing away the dust, pulling back the curtains, and letting the world see what He's been doing all along?

I might be small and broken and scared of my own shadow, but God?  He's chosen me to be a window to His workings.  And maybe I don't understand the why and the how of all this living, but I know I can't be the woman He's created if I won't leave my heart open on the table, let the world watch while He turns these ashes into beauty. 

Oh, I'll fumble and I'll fall on my face and there'll be days when I can't keep from pulling curtains across the glass.  But He'll still be here working and I won't be able to keep Him hidden for long.  Because who really wants to hide the only Light there is?

And I'm here to tell you that it's okay to press your face up close, peer in to see what He's up to in the midst of a broken life.  It might scare me deep to expose these wounds of a soul, but it's you seeing Him here that makes all the fear worth facing.

Because God, He's beautiful and glorious and our only hope of healing.

And I never want to hide Him from the world.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What If Today Is All We Have?

It's a day in late summer when I'm standing in the middle of rows and rows of plants.  I'm choosing pots of beauty, bringing them home to a garden beside the little green house with a purple door.  It's well past bloom time for most of what I'm buying, and I'm hunting around, reading tags, trying to imagine the kind of beauty these plants are hiding.

I'm buried in the "Full Sun Perennials" when I read these words on a tag:  Fragrant cream flowers with purple centers.  And of course I'm sold because purple's been the color I've loved since I was just an awkward girl trying to find a way to grow up.  I put it in my cart and I don't know it yet, but I'm whisking it away to a life that's just weeks away from falling to pieces.

It's much later when I take note of this beauty's name.  Hemerocallis 'Pandora's Box.'  And it's later still when I understand what it means.

Because I might've thought I knew what it meant to be a daylily, but how could I have understood that each bloom would open full and stunning, only to fade away after a single day of beauty?  Who really wants to accept that today is the only day we have to live?

It's three years later and I've uprooted, fallen apart, tried to rebuild a life.  Not everything's still alive after all the heartache we've seen, but this one plant, she's become the symbol of our hope.

She might die back into the darkness of the ground when Winter's here and it's hard to breathe, but she's still fully alive, waiting for redemption.  And she might spend long months growing leaves and buds in the spring, only to open up her blooms for just a single day a piece.  But isn't that what we're all made for anyway?  To live here, in this moment He's given, knowing it may be the only one we have?

Oh, we're made for a future we can't see, a purpose we can't fully know, a life beyond all the here and now.  But each moment on this earth?  It's a gift.  And we're meant to live it fully open, all His beauty shining forth from our broken jars of clay.

Most of us have been given much more than a single day to live, love, leave His mark in the world.  But how many days have we wasted--how many have I wasted--afraid of what's to come, afraid of how this ends, afraid to be who we are?  Maybe I haven't thrown away every last one, but oh, too many have slipped through my hands.

And I watch 'Pandora's Box' open her blooms wide, let all the beauty come out of hiding.  She doesn't save anything for tomorrow because today is all she has.  I might wish I had more time, more strength, more ability to bring Him Glory.  But what if I truly believed that what I have right now--this day, this strength, this ability--is all I have to give Him?

Then I might finally understand what's been true since I was born.  Every day, every moment, every bit of strength and courage and hope--it's a gift.  A drop of pure Grace, falling down from the God Who Loves.

And it's then that I might finally start to live.  The way He's always wanted.  Heart and hands open wide, Him spilling out, me breathing in everything He's given.  Not afraid of tomorrows, or unhappy endings, or people who won't love me back.  Not afraid to be who I am.

Because it's true.  This moment, this strength, this ability--this woman I am--it's what He's given me and it's all I have to give Him in return.

And the most beautiful miracle of all?

This moment, right here and now, it's enough to build a life.  A life that pleases, glorifies, gives everything to the One Who's already given us His All.

1074.  Warm days and nights, summer really here

1075.  Strength to accomplish a task, even if it's small

1076.  Courage to overcome a fear, even if it's a little one

1077.  Clouds and wind and rain...reminder of Fall's coming

1078.  Friend who waits when words are hard to find

1079.  Shared tears, hugs, life

1080.  This moment, this day

1081.  Who I am right now

1082.  Being enough

1083.  Every drop of Grace falling down, reaching even me

Monday, August 15, 2011

Colors of Grace

I sit on the floor, an ocean of photographs scattered all around.  Piles of color are taking shape and there's a familiar elation surging through my chest.

I don't know how it is that the same place that tightens with all my fears is also the one that beats wild with joy when there's beauty all around and I'm lost in the Glory of Him.  But I feel it now, just like I always do when I'm perched on the edge of something new, about to create a piece of who I am.

I've got this vision of beauty in mind and I don't know if I can take what's in my head and make it into something real.  But sitting here, this wild hope coursing through, I know I've got to try.

It's days of pondering methods and materials before I find a way to bring my vision into being.  I've gathered all the pieces, carried them out to a sunny spot in the yard, and I'm starting out without knowing where I'll end up.

Because I might think I know what this is all about and I might try my hardest to make something beautiful out of what I have.  But I'm not the One Who spoke the world into being and I'm not the One Who takes the pieces of a life, breathes hope and light into all the broken places.  I might call myself an artist, but who can really say that when the Artist behind all this beauty is standing right here, whispering His love?

It's a few hours of work, laying photographs one beside the other.  I'm bent right over, kneeling on the ground, and I'm too close to see what's really happening.  I see the vision in my head and it's slipping out of reach, the disappointment rushing in to take its place.  My heart's weighed down because I just want to reflect the One Who's opened my eyes to all this beauty in the world.

But how will anyone see Him here when my hands are too clumsy and I haven't any skill to fashion this reflection?

I just keep pressing down the photographs, hoping He'll find a way to fill in all the emptiness.  Because I've been at this too long not to know He's more than enough to make up for everything I lack.  And isn't that the only way for the world to see Him here anyway?  Me too small and broken, Him too beautiful and glorious not to be noticed, holding all the pieces of a life together in the most unexpected of ways?

It's later that night when I'm finally finished and I set up the boards, one beside the other.  This piece of art, it's turned into ten feet of color and I sink to the floor in disbelieve.  Because there it is, stretched across the couch, the vision in my head now flesh and blood.  And I don't understand how He's come and held the pieces together but, oh, He has and I'm trembling at the sight.

(Click photo to enlarge)

His beauty, it's far too great for any of us to see or know, but there's a piece of it here because all of this--it's His.  He's the One Who dreamed up all these colors, carved petal shapes out of nothing.  It's all His handiwork and it's all a gift.

And this is the moment I realize I've had my face buried in every one of these blooms.  There are a hundred photographs right here in front of me, but these--they're only a fraction of the beauty I've captured with the click of a shutter.  Thousands upon thousands.  Blooms and buds and leaves.  Light and beauty and God--everywhere I look.

Maybe it's only been eight months since I started counting the gifts and the graces and the moments, but I know it now that He's been pouring down on me all the years before.  And maybe I didn't understand what was happening and maybe I didn't put any words to all those moments of a life, but I felt the pull of His beauty and I kept seeking it out, pressing in close, trying to memorize the joy way down deep.

Now I see that long before I ever counted a thousand ways He loves,  I'd brushed against His creator heart over and over again.  And I didn't know what I'd gotten myself into when I first held the camera to my face, but He knew and He opened me up and poured Himself right in--into the place where all the fear lives.

Perfect Love, it casts out fear--but maybe it's not once for all.  Maybe we keep letting in Love and He keeps casting out the fear.  And in the end we realize He's not going to leave us and we're never going to have to face the fear alone.

Because there's always a bigger picture than the one we can see right now.  And most times we're just too close to understand what's really going on.  We might see the vision of a life slipping away and we might feel weighed down by the loss of all the dreams and the plans and the hopes.  But I'm certain now that if we just keep pressing on, laying down the days one beside the other, we'll discover something we didn't expect.

Him standing there, holding our pieces together, the days all joined in the most beautiful reflection of grace and glory and God.

1062.  Straining to see the almost-full moon, rising behind the neighbor's tree

1063.  Fingers stained with cherry juice

1064.  Long, hard conversations full of pain and tears and connection

1065.  Understanding a loved one's suffering

1066.  Amaryllis blooms open and tall, a gift in the middle of summer

1067.  Afternoon naps when days are hard

1068.  Sharing a burger and fried mushrooms with a brother

1069.  Movie night at home with all the right snacks

1070.  Banana bread baking in the oven

1071.  Summer evenings on the porch, garden wet from all the watering

1072.  Face pressed into beauty a thousand times over

1073.  God holding all the pieces, making this life into something beautiful

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When You Don't Know How to Heal

I met Shame when I was very young, but I didn't know his name.  I didn't even know he was separate from me.

Until that day in the middle of my 25th year when unexpected words lodged deep.
A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human being.   ~ Merle Fossum ~
And I couldn't recall a single day in two decades of life when I hadn't felt exactly that way.   

not fully valid as a human being...

In that one moment of unveiling, I realized what I believed about myself, who I thought I was--it was all a lie.  A lie I had believed without question, a reality I had accepted before I even learned to write my own name.

The discovery of my Shame didn't come at the beginning of my journey to heal, grow, become.  Yet there I stood in the middle of my 20s, a million miles from where I'd begun and somehow still broken in ways that seemed un-mendable.  Because maybe I'd left behind the darkness that'd nearly stolen my life, but all the while I'd carried with me this one thing rooted deep.

I believed I was worthless.

And it would be long years still before I'd believe anything else.

I didn't know how to heal from wounds this deep.  I didn't even know it was possible.  But my Shame had been brought into the light after 20 years of secrets and there was no more hiding from the One Who'd created me with infinite worth.  It'd be three and a half more years before I'd go looking for my Shame again and that's the moment I knew the most startling thing of all.

His Grace seeps into the cracks, reaches way down deep, past broken years and jagged memories.  And Shame's no match for the Giver of Grace, no matter how long and tight the hold.  It doesn't matter if you know how to heal.  It doesn't even matter if you believe it's possible.  Because He knows how to heal all the wounds of a soul and He knows nothing is impossible.

It was August 4, 2009.

Shame had lost the war.

And I no longer believed I was worthless.

It's been two more years and I still bear the scars from all those years of bondage.  Shame still comes in the dark moments of a life and whispers familiar lies to a heart trembling under the weight of too much hurt.  And there are days when I'm tempted to believe that who I am is not enough, that there's no grace for a girl who's been broken too long.

But those are the days when I remember a story I heard once upon a time.  A story about letting go of all the intangibles we hang on to.  The wrongs we can't forgive.  The hurts we can't forget.  The losses we keep coming back to.  We write them down on heavy rocks, emblazon them in stone.  And we lug them to the water's edge to remind us how they've weighed our hearts down all this time.

But this--this is the most important piece of all.

We heave them into the water, down deep where they can't be retrieved.  And every time we're tempted to bring up the wrongs and the hurts and the losses, we remember.  There's no bringing them back.  They've been buried in the Grace Waters and it's time to forgive, let go, heal.

It's time to live.

Maybe I've never written words on rocks, but I've written it here how the biggest rock of all's been thrown into the ocean.  It's the one engraved with words that still sting:  I Am Worthless.  But there's this thrill of sweet joy here, too, when I remember there's no bringing that rock back from where it's been buried.  Because God's delivered me in ways I didn't even dare to hope for.

And Shame will keep on whispering his lies but I'll keep on writing them on the rocks and tossing them into the only Water Who Lives.  Because there's no denying it now that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I am God's workmanship, His masterpiece, His poiema.

I'm still being refined into the image of my Maker, but He's already died for me once and there's nothing He won't do reach me with His Love.  And that Love?  It's the light that lays bare all of Shame's lies, exposes the one thing we've never quite believed.

We are loved.  Beyond measure.  And without possibility of rejection.

Because that's the God Who created us, poured infinite worth into the place where it can't be stolen.  That's the God Who'll stop at nothing to set us free.

And it's the Psalmist's words that have become my refrain.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

After all the years of not knowing it at all, I know it now full well.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hamburger Chow Mein: A Family Recipe

Whenever I mention this recipe to friends, I always get the strangest looks.

And it's true.  Hamburger isn't something you'd normally find in chow mein.  In fact, it sounds down right weird.

But before you turn your nose up at this unconventional paring of ingredients, let me just say that this is one of my favorite meals.  My mom's been making it since I was a kid and I still cook it regularly.  While many things I loved in the '80s and '90s have lost their charm on me, this recipe tastes just as good now as it did growing up.

It's a very American recipe, having little resemblance to Asian cooking other than the fact that it uses a bit of soy sauce and a can of chow mein vegetables.  Oh, and we usually serve it over rice.  But seriously, with condensed soup, stewed tomatoes, and a pound of ground beef, how can you not call this American cooking?

My mom found this recipe about 30 years ago on the label of a can of chow mein vegetables, but after a few modifications and all these years, I'm calling it a family recipe.  And it's simple and fast to make--two things I love when it comes to cooking.

Here is the hamburger chow mein simmering on the stove:

And here it is over a bed of rice with a sprinkle of chow mein noodles and a side of oven-roasted broccoli:

I hope you'll give this recipe a try in spite of it's oddness because I really do love it.  This is straight-up comfort food in my household.


Hamburger Chow Mein
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon soy sauce {I use the lower sodium version}
1 can (10.5 ounces) condensed tomato soup
1 cup beef broth {again, I use low sodium} or water
1 can (14.5 ounces) stewed tomatoes, diced

1 can (14 ounces) chow mein or chop suey vegetables {such as La Choy brand}

Cooked rice
Chow mein noodles

Directions:  In a large skillet, cook ground beef and onions.  Once meat is browned, stir in flour.  Then add salt, pepper, soy sauce, soup, broth (or water), and tomatoes.  Heat to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until desired thickness.  If mixture becomes too thick, add a little more water.  At the end, stir in chow mein vegetables and cook until heated through.  Serve over rice and sprinkle with chow mein noodles, or just serve over chow mein noodles instead.  Serves 4-6.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rock Bottom

Rock Bottom
Dropping rocks
Into the water
Feels like a
Futile attempt
At letting go,
But I’ll try anything
To rid myself
Of the poison I’ve drunk.
Enough damage
Has been done--
It’s time to
Make a stand.
Hand over the pen,
I’ll write it loud and clear:
The “I Am Worthless” rock
Is going in the ocean
And I am never
Bringing it back.

In celebration of a very special anniversary--the day Grace rescued a girl who'd spent a lifetime believing she was worthless. That girl is me.  And there aren't enough words to say thank you to the God of All Grace for a deliverance I never saw coming.  More of this story to come...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In the Mourning

He's broken into a thousand little pieces and there's no way we can hold them all together.

The pain's cut deep, ripped him wide open, and we're all just standing here grasping about for words and comfort and courage.  Not just for him but us, too--the ones who watched while the fatal blow landed heavy, cold, unflinching.

The moments of silence, late at night--they're the hardest of all to bear when he's not here and we wonder if he'll come home safe, wonder if the nightmare's just waiting to begin.  It's then that I beg for mercy from the One Who holds us all and the broken ones nearer still.  It isn't just a broken heart that's in need of mending but a whole life, a spirit crushed hard into the ground. 

There's nothing I can do to stop all this bleeding.  No, this kind of healing only comes from the One Who heals us all.  And I try to stay here in the moment, stop bracing for what's to come.  Because there's no preparing for that kind of breaking anyway and God's the only One Who'll carry us through when it comes.

And we're in this together whether we want to be or not, and there are plenty of people all around who want to reach in and comfort with their words.  But they can't seem to find their way to the grieving place and there's no healing balm in the words that slip out, only salt in fresh wounds, hurt heaped on the head of the broken.

I've got a sister who's walking the grief road, too, and maybe her loss isn't the same as ours but we're fellow travelers nonetheless.  And she asks me the one question I've already been pondering for days.

Why can't the ones who watch the grieving just say "I'm sorry" and let that be enough?

I have no answers for her or me, but there's solace here in the company of those who grieve.  And I tell this sister of mine what I've learned through all these losses of a life.

It's a hard, hard thing to fight for our right to grieve.  But it's a fight worth having because this grieving--it's our only path to healing.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted {Matthew 5:4}

And I know this now in ways I couldn't have before:  There's no comfort for all these losses if we never choose to mourn them.

We're choosing to mourn but there's no shame in that.  And we haven't lost our Hope at all because we're counting on Him to heal what's been broken beyond repair.  My sister starts a list in the middle of her grief, counting on Him a thousand times over to hold her pieces together.  And she says it's me who's inspired her to move forward like this, but she's the one who reminds me there's only one way to mourn these losses and let the Comforter find us where we've fallen.

It's with the heart bowed low and the hands opened wide to catch everything He gives, breathing thanks through all the pain, waiting expectantly for His healing to come.

We're breathing and we're waiting.  And God?  He's coming to bind us up and fill the empty spaces with the only thing we need to be healed--Himself.

1049.  Loved one coming home safe one more time

1050.  God who's near when the fear presses in

1051.  Knowing He'll carry us through even the worst kind of loss

1052.  Sister-friend who begins her thanks in the middle of the grieving

1053.  Promise of comfort for those who mourn--for me, for us, for everyone who has lost

1054.  New-found friend who speaks of the Christ Hope blooming in me

1055.  Day after day of sunshine, summer finally here to stay for awhile

1056.  Steaks on the grill, green beans roasting in the oven

1057.  Ice cream on the porch after dinner

1058.  Windows open, cooler air trickling in

1059.  Iced chai on a friend's sunny deck

1060.  Dog rolling happy in the grass below us

1061.  Amaryllis getting ready to bloom in August, a sign of hope for a weary heart