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Broken made Beautiful

I’m damaged goods.

I hate to admit it but it’s true. After ten years of illness, three years of which were spent fighting for my life, my stomach lining is still touchy and my back is still less than perfect. My heart still tends to beat off rhythm and my eyes still go wonky.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface of my physical brokenness is a mountain of emotional baggage acquired while traversing this long and grueling path.

The emotional side of physical sickness is oftentimes shied away from.

For those of us with a physical malady the last thing we want is to be labeled as a “mental case” on top of it. But, at the very same time, there is no separating the physical from the mental/emotional. Each one of us is a complete and complex being that cannot be compartmentalized. What happens to the body affects the soul and what happens to the soul affects the body. That’s a rule and it doesn’t come with exceptions.

And yet I’ve tried to pretend that I am an exception. Without even realizing it, I’ve tried to downplay and even deny the depth and scope of the emotional toll ten years of chronic illness takes on a person. Subconsciously, I assumed that what happens in the body stays in the body. It has taken years for me to even tip toe near the first step of the emotional/mental healing process: admitting that I have a problem.

Any recovery program starts with this age-old wisdom, “The first step to overcoming a problem is admitting you have one.” This is not only true in terms of addiction recovery but with any and every kind of problem, emotional/mental damage included. No one seeks healing until they recognize their need for healing. No one undertakes to fix what they don’t know is broken.

Recognizing damage and brokenness is uncomfortable. No one wants to look at the ugly truth just like no one wants to stare at an open wound. Confronted with such a troubling reality, our natural response is to flinch, cringe, shut our eyes and avoid it entirely.

But avoidance is a dead-end road.

Refusing to acknowledge brokenness is like trying to avoid weakness. It doesn’t make us strong, it makes us stuck. Shutting our eyes to the truth about our soul’s condition doesn’t make us better, it binds us to our brokenness. Ultimately, it keeps us from having a unified relationship with Jesus in which He has full dominion and supremacy in our lives.

It took someone shining this light of truth on me to see that what I was doing was shutting my eyes to the glaring damage and brokenness still festering like an open would in my heart. Their brutal honesty about what they saw so clearly caused me to peak out from behind my blinders. And when I did, what I saw shocked me.

I saw great big gashes in the shape of rejection and hurts in the form of loneliness. It’s as if a file had been opened and inside was all the evidence of my heart’s trauma experienced over the past ten years of illness and isolation. I saw how I haven’t truly been connecting with anyone on a deep level out of fear that they’ll leave me, like so many have before. I saw the walls I’ve built to keep anyone from getting too close, lest they see all the ugliness of my brokenness and complexity of my past.

As I stood in my kitchen, staring off into the distance while contemplating this troubling revelation, my mind began to wander and wonder, “why?” Why was I still broken? Why weren’t these wounds healed yet? And then my mind shifted to, “how?” How will I ever get put back together again? How do I move past my past and embrace a future free of all these painful memories that are causing my present so much agony?

And that’s when God compelled me to pick up a pen and write these words:

“You must accept that your healing is a process. It won’t happen overnight. Timing isn’t what’s important, that it happens fast isn’t the point. What matters is that you begin.
Recognize your brokenness. Acknowledge the cracks in your foundation. Then ask me to come in and get to fixing it. Request my holy intervention. I’ll answer you. I will respond to your sincere and upright request.
But beware that I will not act in one fowl swoop. I will take my time so that you can be made right. I’ll show you what you need to see. I’ll reveal what you didn’t even know existed.
This will be a process – a discovery phase, if you will. Don’t get frustrated. Get curious! Don’t be angry. Be thankful! I’m making all things in you new. I’m making your broken beautiful.” – Father God (January 10, 2021)

By the time I put down my pen a new truth had dawned on me: healing is about searching out the hidden parts of us. Healing is a journey where we face that which we hope no one ever sees, the stains and blemishes we try so hard to keep a secret.

But, praise God, that’s not where our healing stories end.

After we see how terribly damaged we are then we are shown, and can fully appreciate, how perfect and spotless our Savior, Jesus, truly is. Face to face with our brokenness, we are humbled anew by the blood of the Lamb that covers our sin and washes every stain away. We are dazzled by God’s most brilliant and amazing grace that takes all of our shattered pieces and puts them back together again in a way that is indescribably beautiful, entirely unique and never to be duplicated.

This is God’s specialty – making broken people whole and better than before. But in order to receive the redemptive and restorative touch of God we must be willing to confront our brokenness and come to the foot of the cross with it. We must acknowledge the fact that we are damaged goods before we can sincerely lay them down before the throne of Almighty God.

Then we can ask our Heavenly Father to do what He does best – make us whole again. We can get on our knees, surrender fully before the cross of Christ and entrust our lives into the hands of the Potter who can turn a mess into a masterpiece and make the broken absolutely beautiful.

 

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Psalm 147:3

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Is singleness a good thing?

Alright. I’m just going to come right out and say it: there are some scriptures in the Bible that I’m not too fond of.

Case in point: 1 Corinthians 7:8

1 Corinthians 7:8 is the last a verse you’d find in a Christian wedding ceremony and not one we singles like to hear either. In this particular passage, God’s Word reads, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I [Paul} say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.”

I’ll be totally honest with you. As someone who has been single for ten years and prayed for a husband for just as long, this scripture is far from a balm to my soul. It is, rather, a knife through my heart. I don’t like the idea of God deeming lifelong singleness as a good thing because that means He might leave me in this status indefinitely. And that’s not my heart’s desire. The desire of my heart today is what it was ten and twenty years ago: get married, have a family and live at least somewhat happily ever after.

I’m not a Pollyana about marriage. I know it’s tough and rarely, if ever, lives up to the fairytale expectations of newlyweds. But that doesn’t change my desire to be married. Even though I know it would bring its own unique set of challenges, I want those challenges. After living for ten years with a chronic illness, I’m used to challenges. They are a part of life and I’ve accepted that. What I have a hard time accepting is that I might never get the opportunity to face the challenges of marriage because God has deemed it “good” for me to be unmarried.

At times, I have a hard time believing that singleness is in fact a good thing because it so often doesn’t feel like a good thing. When your social media is covered with friend’s wedding photos, it doesn’t feel good. When all of your church small groups are for “married couples,” it doesn’t feel good. When you’re setting the table for one (again), it doesn’t feel good.

In this wedded world, it doesn’t feel good to be on the single sidelines. It doesn’t feel good to be alone while everyone else in your world is finding their second half. In fact, it feels downright bad, lonesome and unfair to be a Miss when all your life you dreamed of being a Mrs.

And here in lies the danger of listening to and basing our contentment on our feelings.

You see, feelings are not rooted in truth. Feelings are rooted in circumstances, comparison and the flesh’s persistent desire for comfort. When we are listening to and trusting our feelings, we cannot listen to and trust God’s Word because our own emotional dialogue drowns out the flawless and timeless truths of God.

And this is precisely what the enemy wants, isn’t it? Satan wants us to be so fixated on our own feelings that we forsake the truths of God. The enemy wants us to be so consumed with what the rest of the world is up to that we fail to recognize what God is up to in our own hearts and lives. Ideally, satan would like those of us who are reluctant singles to read 1 Corinthians 7:8 and be so angry with God over the idea that this status is a good thing that we close up our Bibles and refuse to read another Word.

But that’s not what I’m going to do and, if you’re single, I hope that’s not what you’re going to do either. What I am going to do – and what I hope you do – is keep reading to understand why this status can indeed be a good thing and, perhaps, even the better thing in some cases.

Towards the end of 1 Corinthians 7, God’s Word sums up the advantage of singleness this way: “An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.  I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (v. 34-35)

Notice those words “undivided devotion.” To my fellow singles, this is the benefit and blessing of our status. We have the opportunity to be undivided, unbroken and uninterrupted in our devotion to Jesus Christ because our attentions are not torn between the obligations and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. We are given this unique and special status so that we can use the time, whether it be a season or an entire lifetime, to seek Christ completely with our whole heart, mind and soul.

When I take a step back and read 1 Corinthians 7:8 in conjunction with verses 34-35, all my negative, poor me feelings fade away in the light and revelation of what singleness actually is: a gift; an invitation; a sacred status.

Yes, it’s true. Singleness is good. Singleness is a gift and a divine invitation to experience and enjoy a closer walk with Jesus. When surrendered before the throne of Almighty God, singleness is transformed into a sacred status where the solitary sojourner can live consumed by the goodness, love and presence of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, if you’re struggling to accept God’s will for Your life, whether it be singleness or some other set of circumstances, I urge you to keep seeking God in His Word. If a scripture stirs up feelings of frustration or discontent, don’t close up the whole good Book. Instead, press on and read more in pursuit of the character and truths of God. Regardless of marital status, pray for an open heart and ask for eyes to see and receive the Lord’s blessings. And come to Jesus – always come to Jesus-  and He will cover you with His love and saving grace.

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By Faith

She did it! My little puppy, Faith, finally did it! After months of coaxing and coaching, at last, Faith conquered her fear of cement steps and ascended all three flights of apartment complex stairs!

As I watched Faith bound up those steps for the very first time my heart welled up with parental pride. I felt the joy of victory as my pup, who used to be petrified by the very sight of those steps, leapt up each one with ease. In the blink of an eye, Faith became a stair climbing pro. She even made it to the top before I did. Once safely on the third-floor landing, she turned around and smiled at me as if to say, “look what I did mom! I’m a big pup now!” 

I celebrated Faith’s milestone with many “good dog” affirmations, petting and, of course, a treat. But while I was praising her, my mind began to wander and wonder, “If watching your fur baby conquer steps is this exciting, how amazing must it be to watch your own flesh and blood baby take his or her first steps?” A second after that thought crossed my mind, grief slammed into me like a tsunami as I heard myself utter the words, “you might never get to find out.”

This month (January 2020) marks ten years since my menstrual cycle abruptly left my body, taking my ability to carry a child with it.

While working through the loss of my fertility I’ve experienced every stage of grief multiple times and cried a river’s worth of tears. After a decade of mourning and processing, I really thought I had come to a place of peace and acceptance. But, as I watched Faith conquer her fear of the stairs, my own old infertility fears and sadness came back with vengeance. 

Sadness came first.

I know that being a Mom isn’t all rainbows, butterflies and roses. Parenting (and pregnancy) has plenty of thrones. But with immense challenges come immense blessings, such as experiencing, firsthand, the miracle of new life. To give birth to a child is a wonderful gift and one that, growing up, I always assumed I would receive someday. Up until ten years ago, it never occurred to me that I would be unable to conceive and carry a child. I never imagined I wouldn’t give birth to a baby. To me, that was a given.

But I’ve had to learn the hard way that nothing in life is a guarantee. Not health. Not fertility. Not marriage. Not motherhood.

With the loss of my fertility I’ve had to grieve the fact that I might never hold my own baby in my arms. I might never see my own baby on a sonogram image or prepare to welcome a new life into the world. I might never get to capture a first smile, first word or first step. I might never get to rejoice in those little, monumental victorious and it’s the reality of all those nevers that has caused me incredible sadness.

But it’s not just sadness that plagues me. It’s fear, too.

As a single, infertile woman, my inability to carry a child has caused me to wonder (and worry) what man will ever want to marry me. It seems to me that most men (especially Christian men) want kids and a family. Given that I can’t provide in that way (barring a miracle of God), I fear that no man will ever want to make me his wife, making me not only indefinitely infertilite but indefinitely single, too.

In the days that have passed since Faith made her stair climbing conquest, I’ve done a lot of praying and asking God to help me overcome my infertility fears and sadness.

Ohm how I wish I could say that God answered my pleas with a clear word like He gave to Abraham and Sarah. My hope was to hear His booming voice from heaven say, “you will one day give birth to a child and call him John” – or some great prophesy along those lines.

But, the truth is, this story doesn’t go that way. Instead of a voice, I heard nothing. Absolute silence. God was as quiet as a church mouse. But, even in the silence, I still trusted that He had a word of comfort to share with me so I sought Him by opening, reading and soaking in His Word. Then I waited.

It took a few days of intentional stillness and silence but, finally, I heard the voice of God whispering two little words that changed everything: “By faith.”

Those two words led me back to Hebrews chapter eleven where Paul catalogues the “hall of faith.” The list includes Noah who, “by faith,” built an ark even though there hadn’t been a drop of rain in ages. Abraham who, “by faith,” left his homeland and journeyed into an unknown future. And, of course, Sarah, who, “by faith” believed in the faithfulness of God even when she was old and barren.

Although the details differ, two common themes run through every name Paul listed in Hebrews chapter eleven: extreme difficulty and incredible faith. The men and women who are commended by Paul are men and women who walked by faith and not by sight. They journeyed through this earthly life with their eyes fixed on heaven, knowing that, no matter what fate awaited them in this world, God was preparing a holy city for them in glory.

Because every person listed in Hebrews eleven was “confident in what they hoped for and assured about what they did not yet see,” God was supremely glorified in their life story. They relied on the Lord to be their strength and, in doing so, their lives testified to the resurrection power of Christ. By faithfully surrendering to God, their histories became a beautiful part of His grand story of salvation, redemption and restoration.

And the same is true for me.

As I walk “by faith” through infertility and singleness, God will use those struggles to magnify Jesus and tell His story. “By faith,” He will transform my life into a testimony of His great majesty and grace.

And the same is true for you.

Whatever fear or sadness you are facing today, God knows your deepest pain, understands your heart and wants to guide you down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He is not asking you to look at tomorrow or worry about what the future will or will not hold. All He asks is that you walk, live and trust Him “by faith,” not sight. His one and only request is that you surrender unconditionally at the foot of Christ’s cross and seek the Lord with your whole heart, mind and soul.

Dear friend, I pray that on this very night you will give God your sadness and release every fear into the hands of Jesus. He can and will heal your brokenness and fill you with the joy of new life as you walk with Him “by faith.” 

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Enjoy the Ride (and the view)

“NO SINGLE RIDERS.”

The rules were printed in big, bold red letters and displayed so prominently they couldn’t be missed. Solo rides were not allowed on the amusement park Ferris wheel…under any conditions.

A ride on the Ferris wheel was the sole reason I had entered the amusement park in the first place. It was a perfect summer evening to take in the view of the sun setting over the lake and I planned to enjoy it riding in a solo Ferris wheel car. In hand I had the four tickets needed for one person to enter the ride. I was all set for a single’s adventure until I saw the sign.

Despite the crystal clear no non-sense warning, I paused at the ride’s entrance and considered my options. I wondered if maybe, after waiting in line and putting on my sweetest (most pathetic) face, I could persuade the ride operator to make an exception. If that didn’t work out, maybe I could join a small group that had room to spare in their car. If I asked nicely, I might be able to snag the extra seat.

For a few minutes I stood by the ride’s entrance as groups of teens, families with small kids and couples on dates went dashing up the walkway prepared to enjoy a ride on the Ferris wheel. I couldn’t bring myself to encroach on anyone’s evening nor was it proper to ask for a solo rider exception. So, with four unused tickets in hand, I turned and walked away from the Ferris wheel.

Dejected but not defeated, I decided I would use my tickets and find a different ride that welcomes singles. I heard the roller coaster off in the distance and, for a moment, thought that might be a fun adventure. But the roller coaster ride is over so quickly there would be no time to enjoy a view of the sunset.

To my right I could see single passenger swings flying high up in the air and decided that would be the right ride for me. I was about to walk in that direction until I heard yelling above my head. I looked up and was filled with joy when I saw the perfect attraction for a solo rider.

The Sky Ride.

Fifteen minutes and three tickets later, I was up in the air traveling slowly above the amusement park. The Sky ride didn’t ban singles from riding. In fact, the bench seats were filled with solo travelers enjoying a peaceful ride above the park while taking in a breathtaking sunset view.

On my solo amusement park adventure I was reminded that while traveling through life there are rides that aren’t suited for singles. There are particular adventures, events and occasions that only welcome couples and groups. Certain life experiences cannot be enjoyed alone. But that doesn’t mean that singles should leave the park of life dejected with perfectly good, unused tickets in hand. Attached isn’t the only way to ride through life while enjoying a beautiful view.

The park of life is full of rides that welcome single riders. If one ride in particular can’t be enjoyed alone you need not walk away dejected or throw away your opportunity to experience a full life. All you need to do is look up and out to discover that there are countless opportunities to use the ticket God has given you. In the park of life God has filled it with rides and attractions perfectly suited for singles to enjoy. And they boast beautiful views, too.

Whether single or attached, enter the park, buy the ticket, and live life to the fullest by enjoying the ride that’s just right for you.