Broken Hallelujah: SheLovesMagazine

Broken Hallelujah. For a while now, I’ve been whole, or healing. Sure, I have a long list of cracks, dents and crevices. I fought with anorexia for a good 14 years. That left my body broken. Even after I had recovered mostly once, some of the weak spots began to leak again, letting in fear and old habits. The ache of brokenness came back. Many, many days I found myself dissolving on the floor in tears. The agony was fissures of helplessness, starting rivulets in downward spiral. I was sliding down the mouth of death’s cavern. My soul hurt even more than my body.

And I cried out in brokenness.

Hallelujah means “Praise Yahweh.” And I recently learned that “praise” actually means “to project” which is one way that it differs from worship. Worship can be silent, internal song, wonder and fellowship with God. But praise is vocal. It declares the glories and sufficiencies of God for others to hear.

Goodness knows, I cried out. Sometimes I screamed at God. Sometimes, on a lonely walk I sang an off-tune song of prayer. My praise came in waves of despair, but that despair was matched and surpassed by knowing Yahweh Rophe, the God who Heals. When my voice broke and my heart broke and my will broke, my praise might not have passed the litmus test for a church chorus, but it was my broken hallelujah.

Thankfully, those days are slipping farther and farther behind me. Their shadows finally don’t stretch long enough to darken today. But then, I break in other places. For sure, I know that I am not independent.

Ragged relationships have cut and scarred me. My husband’s own brokenness and sharp edges have wounded me, much as I have wounded him sometimes. Love is like that, you share your wounds and bleed on each other – and bear their burdens and salve their scars. But mostly, I’m healing from those wounds. He and I are closer than we’ve been before. A bone heals stronger where it was broken, that’s us: stronger now.

So, when the put the question: Broken Hallelujah, I thought – not now. Oh but it only takes a moment for a storm to strike and wreak havoc on a well-ordered heart. The lightening strikes fast and touches flame to old hurts. Dark clouds press down, nearly suffocating the tender ground. In one afternoon, my heart succumbed to storm surge and I found myself dissolving on the floor again, in tears.

We’re moving. My husband is an Army officer, so after 10 years of this, you’d think I’d be used to it. I thought I was. I thought I had puttied the cracks from past moves. All the severed relationships, the quick goodbyes. All the special places, kissed so-long and overnight, they’ll never be seen again.

I didn’t really want to bring God in on this hurt. This was something normal, just a circumstance, a career path. Moving with the military is simply my life, not a problem to be solved or anything that requires a solution. It shouldn’t break me, in fact, it’s a good sign that my husband is progressing in his job. We only crack under bad things, right?

Last night, a very broken me sprawled face first on the floor beside my bed. And a broken hallelujah, a broken declaration, an agonized announcement of my need for my very Good God, came out in a whisper.

God, it hurts to start the goodbyes. Weeks and months out, I start minimizing my impact on my community. I convince myself that I’m not needed here in this city, this church, this small group of friends will all go on without me. And soon, I’ll be in a new place with no one, so I might as well begin adjusting now to loneliness.

And I fear the moments I am alone, that they mean I’m getting too comfortable by myself and will lose connection with… And God I know you’re enough, but you didn’t intend man to be alone. But…

And there my hallelujah stops. It breaks off without closure or final seem. Instead, the hallelujah still leaks from my brokenness onto the floor. And I’m still murmuring this broken hallelujah.

‘Cause all that I can sing is a broken Hallelujah

And my only offering is shattered praise

Still a song of adoration will rise up from these ruins

And I will worship You and give you thanks

Even when my only praise is a broken Hallelujah

Book Review: Church Behind the Wire

There’s something about the Christian life that is so contrary to the human disposition; there is something so completely backward about this life with Jesus. Barnabas Mam in his book, Church Behind the Wire, captures the discrepancy between the ways of God and the expectations of His creation, perfectly.

Born in Cambodia, Mam converted to Christianity in 1970, just as Communism sunk its teeth into his country. At the end of Pol Pot’s maniacal campaign, Mam was one of only 200 Christians remaining. His story is of the sheer grace of God.

During his arrest and subsequent displacement, Mam tells impossible stories of God’s goodness. He tells of food miraculously appearing in the form of fish that seemed to jump from a bush in front of him. He tells of Communist officers who befriended him and “took good care,” of him. He tells of God miraculously providing musical equipment for his worship ministry.

Church Behind the Wire, is a constant ebb and flow of tension. Each of these wonderful accounts is punctuated by long periods of starvation, isolation, loss of family, betrayal and despair. Mam learns to trust God’s favor, justice and mercy. He gains strength for the struggle as God proves His faithfulness through little graces and big miracles.

Mam’s book is a beacon on reality. We love books because they beckon us into another world. Church Behind the Wire, invites the reader to vicariously experience the world of Christians suffering for their faith. The result is a deeper sense of gratitude, compassion and activism.

The church in America has a general expectation of ease. Often times, ease blinds us the uncomfortable truth of people suffering in other countries. As I read, I felt convicted of my ignorance. I realized how little I knew of the Killing Fields. Mam’s book incensed me to learn more of the history of the church and its broader experience and impact.

On a technical note, my only disappointment in this book is that it is very disjointed. The author jumps from place to place, back and forth in time. This made it difficult for me to place certain events and people within the story. However, this gives the reader an empathy for the author. Mam conveys a feeling of wandering, lack of control and displacement.

book reviewed for Moody Publishers, complimentary copy provided

If God is Good…

For about a week now, I’ve been fumbling with thoughts about pain. Sounds morbid, right? Except that I’ve been thinking about the Privileges of Pain.

Truthfully,  most of the world is hung up on, “if God is good, why Pain, Suffering, Death?” Authors have gone so far as to declare loudly, God Is Not Good, (Christopher Hitchens.) But before we turn away from this topic, which we have covered for two months, I want to suggest to you that pain proves that God is decidedly good. 

Let’s start at the very beginning, according to Fraulein Maria, in Sound of Music, a very good place to start. What is the very first recording of pain in the Bible? I imagine the animal that God slew in order to fashion clothes for Adam and Eve was the first creature to experience pain. (Genesis 3:21)

If you recall, Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first indication of their sin was that they realized they were naked, they became ashamed and they hid. Therefore, God made clothes for them of animal skins.

The animal whose life was forfeit in order to clothe Adam and Eve was the first picture of a blood sacrifice to cover the sins of man. Then, throughout the Old Testament, under the Mosaic covenant, death was required to pay for sin so that man might remain in relationship with God. (Hebrews 9:22)

Fast forward to the first four books of the New Testament. These Gospels tell us the story of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus endured pain’s grand finale in his death on the cross. His pain was the payment for our sin. Isaiah 53:5

But why pain at all?  Pain came with man’s sin. Man invited death, pain and struggle into God’s perfect world. (Genesis 3:14-20) But why does pain remain? And if God loves me why must I suffer? 

Think of a little child who brazenly ignores his mother, climbs up on his step stool and promptly places his tiny palm flat on a hot burner. What if there was no pain? Not only would the child not remove his hand from the burner where it would continue to destroy his flesh, but also his pride and embarrassment would keep him from running to his mother. If the child was not forced by his pain to seek out his mother – who would soothe his wound, apply ointment and offer comfort?

God knows that if we don’t experience pain in this broken world, we will ignorantly continue to invite sin and death into our lives, essentially playing Russian roulette until one day, unaware of our self destruction, we will die – forever. If pain and death were not the result of rebellion against God, what would drive us into His arms and restore relationship?

I do not mean to imply that pain and suffering are a direct result of sin in an individual’s life. Even those who love Jesus with all their hearts and have trusted him for salvation, experience pain and eventual death. Now look with me into the heart of Christ’s ministry, right in the middle of the Gospels’ stories.

In John 9, we meet a blind man. Because he had been born blind, the snickers and questions circled as Jesus healed the man. “Who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man or his parents sinned, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)

God’s glory arrives in the midst of our pain. When HE saves us. When HE comforts us. When HE is enough. When HIS strength is proved perfect.

God’s glory arrived in the midst of Christ’s anguish. When God showed that HE was willing to go to the farthest length to restore man. When God showed that HE loved us enough to walk among us. When God showed that HE was stronger than death.

So maybe we should quit saying that God allows pain to teach us something. Often that causes us to look inward and try to change what surely must be wrong with us. What if pain is simply so that He can show to us and in us the change He has already made: that He conquered death, that He reversed the power of sin from the very first painful experience in the Bible.

Privilege in Making the Same Painful Mistakes?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Read more at Brainy Quote

There’s also the expression about beating your head against a wall – trying over and over again, bloodying yourself with meager results.

Most humans know what it feels like to be your own worst enemy. To wish that you could quit making the same mistakes over and over, and over, and over and over…

It hurts, it’s embarrassing. I speak from experience – most notably with my eating disorder. I went over and over again to counselors and heard the same things. I swore over and over that I’d eat “tomorrow” and then failed. I was inpatient three different times and then fell flat on my face within a couple years of discharge.

Failure is painful.

In a more modern day example, I have tried over and over for years to say yes to every invitation, every need; to never alienate anyone. I have tried to please so many people that, as the saying goes, I please no one. Then, I’m hurt, I’ve angered others and I’m embarrassed and lonely. And I do it again.

And it hurts.

Not only do I make the same mistakes, but I have often noticed that God has to repeat himself to me. He is practically hammering me over the head or writing words in the sky before I finally pay attention and respond, “Oh, you mean ME?”

I was comforted in my foibles recently during a character study on the life of the apostle Peter. Not excused, certainly, but comforted that Jesus still wanted to hang out with Peter. Comforted that on the other side of painful, embarrassing mistakes, Jesus still valued Peter’s friendship and found him useful for the advancement of his kingdom. Jesus loved Peter even though he had to tell him and teach him the same things multiple times. In fact, after being loved through so many screw ups, I wager that a privilege of his pain was that Peter understood and trusted Jesus’ love more than ever before.

1. Jesus trumped Peter as a fisherman more than once. The first is mentioned in Luke 5:1-11, when Jesus first called his disciples. Peter and his companions had fished all night without a single catch. Suddenly, this stranger showed up, stepped into Peter’s boat and started preaching to the crowd on the shore. Finally, he turned to Peter and said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Reluctantly, Peter did and to his surprise hauled in such a large number of fish that the nets began to break.

This scenario repeated itself almost perfectly at the end of Jesus’ time on earth. In John 21, Jesus stood on the shore, looking out toward his weary, fish-less disciples. When they recognized him, he told them again to put down their nets one more time. Again, their Lord filled their nets to the point of breaking.

2. Peter was emphatically in love with Jesus and just a little impulsive. Matthew 14:22-23 is the story of Jesus walking on the water, approaching the boat where his weary disciples were battling against a rising storm. When Peter recognized Jesus, he tossed all caution to the wind, stepped out on the water and began walking toward Jesus. (There was that little matter of fear that had him drowning a few seconds later, but Jesus scooped him up just in time.)

The second time was again in John 21, one of the final times that the disciples saw bodily Jesus. Bold, audacious Peter saw Jesus standing on the sand and abandoned his fellow fishermen. This time he didn’t even consider walking and he had no time to entertain fear. He swam madly for shore, to Jesus (and a hot breakfast).

3. The third occasion I’m considering here, wasn’t beside the sea, but next to the flames of a warm, cooking fire. Jesus was bound and surrounded by a crowd of condemning, self-righteous Jewish leaders. At a distance, Peter warmed himself by a fire as he watched the terrible proceedings. Fear got the best of Peter again. Three times that night, in the flickering shadows, he swore that he had never met Jesus, let alone been a follower.

Jesus redeemed that night, once again beside a cook fire. He was serving his disciples a breakfast of roasted fish and toast. As they rested, full and in good company, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Emphatic, boisterous, indomitable Peter took the invitation to declare three times that he loved the Lord.

Making the same mistakes twice hurts. Often it hurts us physically, and it always hurts our pride. But since there’s no way to completely evade the pain of mistakes and the consequences of sins – isn’t it worth looking for the eventual beauty? Isn’t it wonderful to look at the redeeming love of Jesus over each failure? Would we ever know how good God is, if we didn’t make, repeat, live through and grow from painful mistakes?

Law of the Harvest

Think fast, word association: Rain?

Sunshine?

Patience?

Let me take a gander at your first reaction. Rain: dull gray skies, cold wet feet, messy floors, mud, potholes, dreary people, painful seasons of life

Sunshine: beaches, smiles, suntans, newness, brilliance, light and hope

Patience: grit your teeth and bear it, a virtue, waiting and waiting and waiting, a tough place – your kids? your spouse? (-:

Four girl friends and I are wrapping up Beth Moore’s study on James called Mercy Triumphs. We recently came to a verse that I have scanned over in previous readings.

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.” (James 5:7)

What do you make of that? Does it mean we have to wade though the rainy season to hopefully reap the precious produce of the soil? We’ve been talking about the privilege of pain. Beth calls it the “Law of the Harvest.” Ancient farmers (and modern ones as well) anticipated the early and late rains. However stormy those seasons might be, the rains are vital for the growth of the precious produce of the soil.

In James 1, he reminds his readers of what they already know, the testing of their faith will produce endurance. Pounding rains strengthen thirsty, fledgling leaves. There may be hail and lightening. Perhaps flash flooding. Perhaps the farmers have to plow and tend their fields in the midst of mud. Would they ask to be relieved of the rains? In life sometimes, pounding circumstances strengthen young faith. Eventually flooding sorrows seep into the soil of our hearts and press the precious produce of our souls through the surface.

It’s the law of the harvest.

A few other writers have thoughts on this passage too:

http://shannonsauer.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/between-the-rains/

http://www.heatherlilly.com/?p=5952

http://keeplifefresh.blogspot.com/2012/03/be-encouraged-between-rains.html

Permission of Pain

The Olympics came to a close yesterday. Both in preparation and during the competition, there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and yes, pain. Pain is unavoidable for those committed to training for most sports. To increase endurance, an athlete has to push past the breaking point. Blisters form, pop and tear on a gymnast’s hands. Every mountain biker tumbles through the rock garden once or twice. The hurdler sprawls face first, injuring pride and ankle.

These are expected pains. Growing pains. They gain glory through survival and triumph over the pain.

Pain is weakness leaving the body.

No pain no gain – athletic mantras

I want to twist this truth just a little bit. I want to look at the permission of pain. 

I am not saying that an Olympian or any athlete looks forward to the tearing, telling pain of a pulled muscle or broken bone or any other debilitating injury. No one does. But sometimes it brings relief. What if one of the reasons God gave us pain was so that our overly-zealous, compulsive minds would receive the permission to rest.

I have been studying rest with a wonderful website: www.shelovesmagazine.com . That’s their theme for August and it has proved to be a nagging growing pain in my own heart. You see, I hate to rest. I was raised and programed to perform and produce. Product is posterity. When God informed me through His word that He rested and he designed me, a mortal, to require and to take rest, I nodded, “What a good idea, God. When I’m done here.”

What if God is allowing us to be taught something. What if He is waiting for us to trip over a hurdle or slip from the bars because of our stubborn blisters. What if He is standing right there to pick us up, walk to the sidelines and say, “Rest. Just sit down with me. I will hold you, comfort you, encourage you. When you do go back to the race, you will run stronger, jump higher, flip faster than ever before.”

It’s actually true in athletics too. Following a day or a week of rest, or an entire off season, an athlete often comes back stronger. They have been refreshed.

Sometimes it takes pain for us to hear the already God-given permission to rest.

 

Protection of Pain

Another tendril in the ever-reaching privilege of pain. It started with one sore and bloody spot on your heart.

A wound, untended, glaring, raw.

Your beauty marred, a fatal flaw.

What good can come, this spreading ailment

As blood seeps out and down to deeper strands,

Threads of life, woven tight,

Till pain has stained it all.

I bet you hadn’t ever considered all the benefits of bleeding. In the physical realm, medically, we know there is a benefit to the rush of blood through a wound. Cleaning, scabbing over, protection, eventual, slow healing.

What if pain had a way of protecting your heart? I read a story recently in my Bible study by Beth Moore. She mentioned a friend of her daughter who heard that another friend had committed adultery and decided to abandon her marriage in favor of her lover. When the friend heard this story, she broke into uncontrollable sobbing. Vicariously, she experienced the pain of that family, the loneliness of the children and the betrayal of the spouse. It rent her heart.

“‘She cried over the thought that all of us have the potential of doing something that destructive. It scared her half to death.’ If that fear became a liquid shield against a wave of temptation, could it be appropriate?”

In my own life, I have shared here on many occasions that I battled anorexia for about 15 years. Once and while to this day, there is a gleam of temptation to go back: an excuse to begin distance running again and the appeal of being the thinnest of my peers, the awe or mis-guided admiration of friends when I express amazing self-control in my diet, the power trip of denying my need of anything and anyone.

But, then there’s the memory of pain, a liquid shield. My journals bear the wrinkles of dried tears when I was in the hospital. I easily remember the loneliness of refusing invitations to go out with friends. I remember the strangled protests in my mother’s eyes. I remember the painful agony of unrelenting thoughts about calories, exercise, weight, work and laziness. It was hell.

And therein lies my protection. Pain often keeps us from making the same mistake twice or from making the same mistake our friends and family make. Think of the adult child of an alcoholic. Not always, but often, they are more determined than ever to never become what they observed and bring that kind of pain into their new family.

What about you? What lesson have you learned while bent over the knees of pain? When you stood again, wobbly and tearful, were you resolute to never do anything that would put you in that position again?

Privilege of Loss

I’ve been blessed to go home to the mid-west multiple times in the last 12 months. My checkbook might not be feeling very blessed, but it did survive!

First Kylie was born!

Then, a couple months later, poor Kelsey got sick. Then Chelle got married! Each time I am swept off my feet by how much I love my sisters… and their husbands… and their daughters… and my parents. I am in love with steamy-hot Kansas and Oklahoma. I am in love with what will always be home.

Quite literally, I live a nomadic life. Patrick and I unpack as little as possible with each move, just to avoid re-packing it later. I am of the mind that if we don’t open in the two years that we live somewhere, everything in the box is disposable. He doesn’t agree. Anyway, that’s beside the point.

When I flew home after Kylie’s birth, I felt buoyant. I had enjoyed every moment, hugged at every opportunity, stayed up late, and soaked all the life out of every flicker of the second hand. But suddenly, as Kelsey drove away, and I stood on the curb outside DFW my heart lunged toward my feet.

Oh how it hurt.

To leave.

To leave Kylie.

To leave my sisters.

Say goodbye for longer than a restful night.

The pain was all-consuming. I wandered into the airport feeling lost and listless, panicked and angry. What time would pass, what days would lengthen Kylie’s little body? What progress would be made toward Rachelle’s wedding day? What tears would drip without my knowledge? What happy moments would I never experience?

Never mind that I would have my own happy moments, tears, friends, joys, growth… my own life. I would miss them. The pain wedged itself in my windpipe and fought each inhale for my whole flight home. Slowly, it loosened…

When Brave ran into my arms at my own front door,

When Patrick came home and we sat down to watch our favorite TV show together.

That’s another privilege of pain I realized. Do you see it? What if there was nothing wonderful about my sisters? Nothing compelling about home? Nothing to long for, look forward to? Isn’t it far better to have someone to cry for than to shed no tears at all?

Recently, my Bible study girls shared prayer requests. One of the girls asked for prayer for her grandmother. Another one mused out loud, “How blessed you are to have had grandparents for over 30 years!” In my self-pity moments after a sad goodbye, I don’t stop to be grateful for the fact that I have someone to miss.

My grandfather died last year and it hurt deeply. But I had loved him and been loved by him for 30 years.

I am certain that I would rather feel the pain of longing, the ache of loneliness and the tears of goodbye than to have no one to love, no one to miss, no one to hug goodbye.

“I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.” Tennyson

August

It’s time to plot another month of lies. Oh that sounds bad!

Honestly, in real-life, I’m a wanna-be organized individual. The queen of sticky notes, legal pad lists, spiral notebooks, white boards and owner of multiple calendars – and I’m still confused. Thanks for keeping me accountable here.

I like the variety of posts that pepper the week when the topic changes each day. To that end, I’m going to do another month of one topic each for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Also, I’m stepping up my goals again of writing more purposefully. I love writing here. I love sharing the truth of Jesus Christ. I love proclaiming the truth that counters body image issues and eating disorders. I love writing my way through the ponderings of my spirit as I wrestle with a new question. And I love the feedback, wisdom and advice you all share with me.

Blog writing, however, is really sheltered writing. No gremlin is going to pop up on my screen and write “rejected” across the page in blood red ink. Blog writing involves very little leg work. I don’t have to meet a deadline, apply a topic, or follow writer’s guidelines. As I amp up my publication efforts, may I share some of my articles, contest entries and short stories here with you for feedback?

OK, on to the schedule:

Mondays we’re going to continue to counter the lies about pain. Is privilege afforded to those who avoid pain most of their lives? Or does the privilege belong to the ones who suffer, learn, stretch, grow and share from their pain?

Wednesdays we will look at the very pith of a lie: words. We use words to weave our lies and words to unravel deception with truth. Jesus was called the Word in the first chapter of John. How valuable are our words – are they dispensable and insignificant? Do we want them to be that way?

From a wise mind comes wise speech;
the words of the wise are persuasive.
Kind words are like honey—
sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:23-24

Fridays I will share poetry with you. No promises on the content, but poetry is the native language of my journal and prayers. So these poems will share the truths that I am learning through prayer and quiet time with my Father.

Thank you so much for following and reading Predatory Lies. I treasure your friendship.