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Places Where Grace Is

26 Jan

Last night I was scrolling through Facebook as I’m apt to do before bed, when I came across an inspiring story of a woman who cares for hospice babies – infants who are terminal and whose biological family won’t or can’t bear to care for them. You can read the story here.

http://www.today.com/parents/how-one-mom-s-extraordinary-love-transforms-short-lives-hospice-t67096

I was drawn to the story for a couple of reasons. First, because I’ve wanted to be a foster parent since I was 12; second, because I discovered about ten years ago that I want to foster newborns who are in the adoption process; and third, because a few years ago a nun spoke at my church about her order’s dedication to care for the elderly poor and being the last face someone sees before they meet Jesus. The woman in this story is doing all of that and more, and she inspires me.
In the story she quotes a verse from a song she loved. “It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored, but anything that’s shattered that’s laid before the Lord will not be unredeemed.” I googled it and listened to the full song and sobbed, as I knew I would. I sobbed for my own private grief. I sobbed for my friends who live good, Godly lives and also harbor deep grief and loss.

The song is Unredeemed by Selah.

One of the first real lessons on my spiritual journey into maturity was accepting that I’m powerless over the past. There is nothing I can do today that will change what I did 15 years ago or said five minutes ago. There’s no undoing what has been done, no matter how many amends I or others make. There are some opportunities that are simply lost to us, and these facts when fully accepted can feel like a huge, gaping hole that seems beyond even hope’s reach.

Most of the time when I reach that hole and stare into its dark abyss, and I accept it’s real and can’t be filled with even my best attempts, I resign myself to living with it. Someone I love once described that hole as something that would swallow him whole, and he didn’t know how to live with it. His therapist told him to envision putting a manhole cover on it.

That’s what resignation looks like. A manhole cover on a collapsed star.

But the song tells me that my black holes are places where grace is.

The grace of God is the only thing infinite enough to fill a hole from which even light cannot escape.

Anything that’s shattered that’s laid before the Lord will not be unredeemed. That’s not resignation. That’s surrender.

The word “redeemed” is a loaded one, worthy of more meditation. For now, I am reminded that surrender is and always will be my only solution ever. The bigger my black holes, the more space for God’s grace in my holey heart.

Come and See What God Has Done

4 Jan

One of my favorite aspects of the pre-Christmas season is listening to holiday music on the radio. My car radio is tuned almost exclusively to a local Christian music station, so my Christmas tunes are not your typical over-played melodies by today’s pop stars. 80% of it is spiritually inspired, and much of it is original, not just remakes of classic church carols. Every year an artist will introduce a song that really moves me, and this year, that song was Noel, written by Chris Tomlin and performed by Lauren Daigle.

What I love most about this song, beyond the haunting echo of the piano, smooth enveloping of the cello line, and raw power of Daigle’s vocals (my musical goal is to be able to sing like that) is the understanding that Christmas is not all joy and candy canes. We Christians just love to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but how often do we stop to consider the reason for Jesus?

“Born to suffer, born to save, born to save us from the grave.”

Christ came to show us how to live, but he also came to die, and to show us how to die. Whether living or dying, it’s all about setting aside my ego (my Edging God Out). Without understanding at heart level my desperate need to be saved, Christmas is just the celebration of another baby being born. It makes about as much sense as needing a commercial holiday in order to give gifts to the people I love.

The “Noel” invites us to see what God has done. He was born into human likeness, and sacrificed himself as a perpetual and lasting sin offering. Our culture may not have a deep appreciation for this concept, as it’s been thousands of years since we routinely made blood sacrifices to any kind of god. But we certainly know a thing or two about punishing ourselves. New Years is often the season of self-imposed fasting in the name of health, to atone for our holiday binging. Young people cut themselves in an attempt to relieve their anxiety over not achieving perfection. Many of us endure abusive behavior from destructive people in our lives because some part of us believes we deserve it. Guilt and shame, whether rational or distorted out of proportion, is a heavy weight to bear, and many of us turn to prescriptions, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, excessive and obsessive behaviors to help us manage the burden. The Noel is that we don’t have to turn to those things, which will always fall short and ultimately bring death to us and our relationships. We can turn to the one who was born to carry our burden for us.

See what God has done. It is a story of amazing love.

Lessons Learned

10 Sep

A few weeks ago a friend posted a sad picture on his Facebook wall. It seems his Jewish neighbor was the victim of a hateful, racist act. Someone had broken their beautiful ceramic mezuzah and had stolen the scroll it housed. I’m not Jewish, nor do I fully understand what the traditions mean, but I was moved by my friend’s desire to repair it, and also by the responses of some of his other friends. One of them cited a tradition in Japan called “kintsugi” which is when a cracked piece of pottery is repaired with gold to highlight the cracks. Another talked about the Japanese concept of “wabi sabi” which celebrates the beauty of imperfection and use.

In the wake of some recent heartbreaks (and let’s face it, the world is full of stories that will break our hearts), my thoughts have returned again and again to that mezuzah and the idea of repairing the cracks in our hearts with gold leaf. That’s the essence of what my blog, Holey Heart, is about (https://holeyheart.com/about/). I had no idea the Japanese actually have a cool word for it!

(If I ever get a tattoo, maybe it will be the Japanese characters for “wabi sabi,” just below my belly button, where the skin that was stretched out by three human beings will never again be taut.)

There’s a song I came across a few years ago called “Lessons Learned,” originally recorded by Kristen Chenoweth. There’s a line in the refrain that goes, “I’m thankful for every break in my heart/I’m grateful for every scar.” I think that’s perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned in the past decade – gratitude, not for the easy stuff, but the hard stuff.

I’ve written before about my bouts of depression, and I’ve discovered only two tactics to get me out of that mire – making a gratitude list, and praising God. That is the gold that binds the cracks back together to make me a useful vessel for God’s will once again. Every time I’m hurt, or hurt myself, I crack again. And in some ways, the older I get and the more God uses me, the more fragile I become. There’s a lot more gold binding the pieces together these days. I like to imagine that by the time my trip on earth is done, I’ll be more gold than pottery; a jar of clay that is made more of heaven than earth because I’ve allowed myself to be useful.

There’s another line from that song I especially like: “All the things that break you are all the things that make you strong.” How often have I mistook that word “strong” to mean “invincible?” Strong is about enduring in spite of the difficulties. Every hole in my heart has offered an opportunity for my God to fill it with something even better.

Today I’m grateful for the lows that have shattered me, because they have allowed God to piece me back together. I’m grateful for the loves that I’ve lost, because they have stretched my heart to a greater capacity to hold even more of God’s love. I’m grateful for every mistake that wasn’t really a mistake because I learned something.

Try

23 Jul

“Try and pick up those keys,” she said to me, pointing to my car keys sitting on the table between us, right next to her extra sweet sweet tea. Though we had only just become friends, I knew her well enough that I could see from her expression she was about to make a point. I picked them up.

“No, I said try.”

I’d like to say I “got it” the first time. But I picked up those keys again. It wasn’t until she quoted Yoda that I figured it out.

“There is no try, there is only do or do not.”

Duh.

That was when I learned to cut the word “try” out of my vocabulary. I replaced it with doing (or not doing) things well, or poorly. If someone asked me to do something that was outside my comfort zone or ability, no longer would I respond, “I’ll try.” Instead, I say, “I’ll do my best.” It’s a subtle difference.

Changing words is one thing. And important thing, yes. But banning the word “try” is only a surface change. Have I banned “try” from my attitude toward life? Have I really changed my actions? Or am I still attempting to change something I know I would do better to accept?

This morning I came across this video by Colbie Caillat called Try. The video is a powerful testament to true beauty.

When I look at my girls, I think they are beautiful. They have features about which they will probably be self-conscious when they get a year or two older. Tori has teeth that will need braces, and I’m so glad she doesn’t restrain herself from smiling like I did with my teeth. Olivia has a dark brown birthmark on her cheek. It has been my favorite feature since the day she was born.

I’ve definitely gone through stages where I’ve been more than self-conscious about my appearance. It’s an area of my life where I experienced abuse – from my peers, but also from myself. Yes, abuse. Let’s not sugar coat it and call it teasing. Just because the perps were my peers doesn’t make it any less painful or the damage any less lasting. They abused me, and when they no longer abused me, I picked where they left off, physically and emotionally.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look my best. I get laser hair removal, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s a fine line between changing the things I can, and obsessing over perceived imperfections. My world no longer revolves around pimples, thank God. Today I can focus on my beautiful features and accept the parts of my appearance that I don’t like. My hair, my eyebrows, my nose. I don’t have to like them to love them.

My friend who told me to try and pick up my keys has undergone a massive physical transformation since that day at the diner. She surrendered some of her fears, not to mention an addiction to sugar and cigarettes, and on the outside she looks nothing like that woman who taught me about the dangers of “trying.” But she was just as beautiful then as she is today. I am grateful beyond words that I was able to see her true beauty before the physical had caught up with the spiritual. Because I could see it in her, I can see it in me, even when my face breaks out and I’m overdue for a touch up on the chin hair.

Stop This Train

16 Jun

This weekend, my church – the one I’ve attended for the better part of 22 years – introduced us to a newly hired youth minister. He spoke to the congregation about his excitement for the kids at our parish, and it was hard not to be enthusiastic with him, especially since I have a middle school aged son.

What? Did I just write that?

While I was sitting in the pew listening to this guy, I was not thinking about my eleven year old. I was 16 years old again, wearing a short jean skirt, old T-shirt and a pair of leather flip flops, and feeling every bit the excitement of finally, FINALLY having a church leader who cared about someone “my age.”

He talked about the life of a teenager being pretty crazy, with all of the school pressures and sports activities and friendship issues being like a fast moving train, and his desire for Church to be a train station where they could come every week for an hour or two of peace.

And then I wasn’t a teenager anymore. I was 38 again, thinking of a song to which me at both ages can relate. Stop This Train by John Mayer.

I wanna go home again sometimes. Not to my big cookie cutter house in the suburbs. Not to my parents’ house that I grew up in. Not back to my childhood room with the pink gingham curtains and the 70s flower power wallpaper, although I’m nostalgic for it. Home is the old back yard. The sandbox. Michael Austin Perry next door wanting to make pirate ships out of egg cartons. Bike rides through the woods to the railroad tracks where there is now a 25 year old subdivision. Cabbage Patch dolls. Writing at my old black desk.

Except that home isn’t any of those things. Not really. 25 years from now home will be a big empty bed typing on an iphone. It will be River City Diner on a Friday Night. It will be kids running from the back yard to the front with Nerf guns through doors they don’t close and a dog who sits in the middle of the floor keeping his eye on everything. It will be the smell of magnolias in June. 25 years from now, I’ll be nostalgic for “Let It Go” and pee-stained toilet seats.

Yeah, I’m scared of getting older. I didn’t think I was all that good at being young, at least not at the time. Looking back, it looks a lot easier in hindsight than it felt at the time.

I wish our new youth minister luck. I hope he can turn our church into that train station. I need it just as much as the kids do.

Always

2 Jun

I subscribe to a faith tradition that has doctrine enough to fill books upon books, and in my times of seeking and questioning, I find some great guidance there. But even the most faithful of Catholics cannot possibly know every little paradoxical nuance of the theology in which we believe. I certainly don’t pretend to.

I have a very simple personal theology. I was created. The creator loves me forever. I’ve got a few congenital flaws and more than a few self-inflicted wounds, and scars from harm done to me. Nothing I can do will change that, but the creator still loves me forever. No matter how broken, I get a chance to do something different with every sunrise, and that alone is reason for gratitude.

That’s the “theology of Christy.” It’s also the theology behind one of my favorite Switchfoot songs, “Always.”

When you believe that the creator will never forsake you, there is no place for condemnation, and every reason for hope. Always.

The Best of Friends

22 May

When I was Olivia’s age, my favorite movie was The Fox and the Hound. Maybe it’s because I had a best friend like that.

At any rate, I was thinking about that movie tonight and thought I’d post the featured song.

As it turns out, that friendship was only for a season – he was a boy, and middle school ruined it for us. I’ve had other best friends (“boys” and “girls” both) which have come and gone, and mourning those losses never really stops. It just softens and deepens as I realize the friendship is not really “lost” so much as it’s just served its purpose.

Oh how I hate that movie. Maybe I should watch it with my kids this weekend and sob until I run out of tears.

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