brokenness . . thanks

Out of true brokenness truly healed by God comes true thanks.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3, NIV)

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Published in: on January 6, 2014 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Brokenness . . and Christianity

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

Photograph by oatsy40Do you have a few cracks?

Have you taken inventory of your chips lately?

Ever worry that if there’s even one more faintest touch of trouble, you’ll crumble?

. . Have you ever shattered?

When you think about human frailty, who comes to mind?

Yourself?

A close family member who disintegrated after a final blow of ‘bad luck’?

Maybe a coworker who landed in prison?

A successful friend who had to take disability after an unexpected turn in life?

Or perhaps some stranger who just had too heavy a load, now wasting away in an insane asylum?

I would guess hardly any of us first thought of the most fragile human being of all.

If you’re now putting on your theological cap and guessing again, you might think of Samson or Saul or Adam–all ruined by their lack of self control.   But you’re still not right.

Who is the most fragile human being?  Who has the weakest vessel of all?

Absolutely, unequivocally, Jesus Christ.

If you’re astonished, think only of this: Who has been the most crushed by sin?

He [Jesus] took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” (Luke 22:19, NLT)

There has to be comfort, overwhelming comfort for the believer who realizes that Jesus has experienced their own sin, shame, and suffering more intensely than they have themselves.  When I stop to picture it, I’m awestruck: the picture Jesus gives us is one of Himself being divided into pieces and ground to bits to nourish His followers–the very ones who wound Him.

There is no one on the entire earth, no matter how much trouble they have been through, who has ever gone through such an experience.  Jesus chose to be spent, utterly, for us.  His spirit was crumbled to powder under the weight of our sin (though He kept His purity throughout), and His body was destroyed beyond anything we can imagine by the agony of our guilt(see Isaiah 52:14).

What does this mean for the believer?

First, that the awe of who Christ is cannot ever be overstated.

Second, that we shouldn’t pout or despair when our fragility is revealed.

Whether our cracks come by our own sin, or by things we didn’t have any say in (like  sickness, unforeseen circumstances, or the sins of others) we can always hold onto what Christ did when He faced the burden of brokenness.  He didn’t brace Himself with supernatural power.  He could have.  But He didn’t.

He chose to shatter.  For you.  For me.

So many times, when I’m confronted with breaking, I try to guard myself, defend myself, flee in fear, or search for a hide-away.  But really, I don’t have to be afraid or angry or bitter.  I can instead peer through the cracks to the

all surpassing power  . . from God

that is inside of me.  As a believer, I no longer have to be consumed by my brokenness.  I don’t have to be terrified or worshipful of it.  I can simply give it to God, and follow the example of Christ in opening my hands to receive wounds that will allow Christ to be seen more clearly through me.

Through . . me.

What treasure to be a vessel who belongs to Jesus.

And what an honor to be broken so that He can be revealed more stunningly in my life day by day.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

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Photograph by oatsy40, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/oatsy40/

Photograph under Creative Commons License.

Have you ever been broken by God?

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

I don’t know for sure about you, but I resist being broken.

I’ve never broken a bone that I know of except for maybe a rib, but one of the most painful experiences I had as a child was a time when astonishingly I did not break a bone.

I was in a park on a playground, and I’d guess I was about 8 or so.  I was fascinated by the teeter-totter, and I wondered how the mechanism worked that tilted it up and down.

I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but I went over to the teeter-totter to check out the axis.  While I was sticking my hand in to see how the mechanism worked, two kids got on either side of the teeter-totter and started using it.

It was one of the most extreme pains I’ve had.  The weight of the teeter-totter bearing down on my arm was so agonizing I could not even find my voice to tell the children to stop.  I’m sure it all took place in a matter of a few seconds, but I found my voice and in what seemed to me to be a dazed murmur asked them to get off the ride.

They got off, in surprise, and I pulled my arm out.  I was in shock about what had happened as I held my throbbing arm out.

Since then, I’ve rarely put my hand in any kind of mechanism again without seriously thinking about it first (I’m reluctant to get something out of the garbage disposal).

The idea of God breaking us is not one I think any of us can honestly say we are comfortable with.  For one thing, many believers still don’t fully trust that God is love, and so when they (and most of the time I am included here) think of Him breaking them in their lives, they think secretly of some ill-purpose or ill-will.

I would assert that we try very hard not to be broken by God.  Have you ever been listening to a sermon that was convicting, and found a way to distract yourself?  Have you ever been reading a book that was too uncomfortable about radical devotion to God, and found something else to do?  Have you ever felt God convicting you of a sin and been too fearful to face the consequences?

We are masters at resisting God’s breaking.  At 3:00 in the morning, if God is working on your heart, you can not only read a book, but you can turn on the TV, surf the internet, play a video game, or chat on Facebook.  Some people are even able to work from home and answer emails or write new proposals during the uncomfortable time.

The goal for us seems in whatever way possible to resist God’s breaking of us.

And for reasons that seem very valid to us.  God’s breaking of our hearts can be far more painful than the time my arm was caught in a seesaw.

But why would God want us to break?  If He doesn’t desire to be mean to us–He doesn’t enjoy kicking us around the way a criminal might kick a dog around–and He doesn’t seek as an end result for our sorrow, then why would He cause something so terrible to happen to us such as breaking?

Here are a few reasons I can think of.  You might add your own.

  • Salvation.  The most obvious reason is salvation.  Many people feel broken before salvation, though some (because they were a small child or because they had already gone through a breaking time previously, or for another reason) may not experience this breaking pre-salvation, but post.  After months of feeling broken, God in His grace brought me to His salvation in a time of healing.  God knows how each of us work.  Many come to Him in broken-hearted repentance.  (For me, much of this repentance came after inviting Christ into my life.  I was on a journey to confessing [and admitting] all of my sin before God, a journey I’m still working on, fearful that He wouldn’t forgive me if He really knew me.  But I did come with the mindset of already knowing I was a sinner, and having known that for years.)
  • Confession to evaporate guilt.  There are two ways to look at this: God is cruel or God wants you to be free of entanglements and burdens.  The entanglement and burden of unconfessed sin is huge.  If you are too afraid to give God a sin because you think if you “acknowledge” it He’ll stop loving you (personal experience here), then you carry a weight that God doesn’t intend you to carry as His child.  And He will increase the pressure and pain of that weight until you give it to Him, so you can walk free.
  • Confession to evaporate denial.  Sometimes, it’s easy to not give certain sins to God, mainly if we want to keep doing them (again, spoken from experience).  Rather than looking at God as someone who is all to overjoyed to punish you for your sin, realize that He wants you to walk a life that is a witness to others, and that He is working to bring about your sanctification (the purity of your walk before Him).
  • Eternal perspective.  It is so, so easy to hear the message of Christ drowned out by the so-called ‘goodies’ of this world.  I find myself struggling to resist looking at magazine covers as I walk through the grocery store aisles; distracted by bulletin boards that idolatrize materialism and physical beauty; and overwhelmed at times by the plethora of possessions one can own in their lifetime–each with the personal, very intimate, and totally deceitful promise of a and then I lived happily ever after claim.  Other times we feel inundated by work or relationship demands, sexual cravings, physical needs, retirement concerns, etc.  The list is nearly endless.  And in all this, the eternal perspective we should have is forgotten or put on a back burner.  When God breaks us from these things, what happens?  We are able to focus on the delight of Him, and to truly draw others into His Presence.
  • Passion.  Becoming dull for God can begin to happen in a single moment.  One choice can cause us to stumble and fall out of fellowship with Him.  In this time, we are not only on a self-destructive path for ourselves, but we do warfare against the precious testimony we have toward the world.  God wants to create in us a zealous, earnest passion for the lost, for His Truth, and for His everlasting love.
  • HumilityWe can get to where we think we are the coolest Christians on the block.  God breaking us reminds us to have an eye out for the broken.  When we are standing proud with our chest puffed out, showcasing the ‘metals’ we think we’ve earned in our Christian walk, we nearly always ignore the needs of the lost around us.  God wants us to remember the lost, including the ‘undesirable’ lost.  And not just to throw money at them or pity them, but to reach out and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them!
  • Dependence on God.  It’s hard to believe, but sometimes in our Christian walk, we can think we are soo special that God could scarcely do without us, rather than that we cannot do without Him!  Ever been there?  I have.  When God breaks us, it isn’t an act of trying to force us to see Him as boss, but a gracious kindness to remind us that He is our Life.  When we stray from dependence on God, we become dependent on things that serve as ‘mini-idols’ in our lives, like our relationships, our career, our plans, etc.
  • Bravery.  When we have an area in our life that we feel we can’t achieve victory over, God can give us the courage to have victory by breaking us of our love for that wrong thing or or the fear holding us back from doing the right thing.  God can break us of our fear of sharing our testimony, witnessing to people on the street, etc., or our love of materialism, forgiving those who have hurt us most, etc.–by destroying the false hope we have in doing something wrong and destroying the false fear we have in doing something right.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

I am so afraid of being broken.  I am so afraid of suffering.  If you’re like me, you probably are, too.  But there are times in my Christian walk when I’ve prayed for God to break me.  In fact, one Christian song we sing, Hosanna (Hillsong United), invites God to do just this with the line,

Break my heart for what breaks Yours.

We may artificially request for God to break us and be shocked by the very real answer He gives us.  True brokenness is terribly painful and we struggle to accept it, even from the hand of our Rescuer.  But think about the verse from the Psalm, and these other Scriptures, and you and I will see a bright torch of Hope in our brokenness.

“Son of man, groan before the people! Groan before them with bitter anguish and a broken heart.” (God, Ezekiel 21:6, NLT)

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (David, Psalm 34:18, NLT)

My days are over. My hopes have disappeared. My heart’s desires are broken. (Job, Job 17:11, NLT)

“I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the LORD.” (Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:15b, HCSB)

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. (David, Psalm 147:3, NLT)

I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. (David, Psalm 38:8, NIV)

Ezekiel (whom God commanded to groan), David, Job, and Hannah all followed God.  They had hearts that sought Him.  Job is a man whom God said about him,

“There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8b, NIV)

Surely Job had a life that we should look carefully at to learn what a follower of Jesus might expect to experience in this world.  (By the way, “blameless” does not mean “sinless” but that he followed God exceptionally and was forgiven of his sin.  In Job, he refers to sin he has had in the past, and indeed he sins against God in his anger/doubt towards Him.)

What do we find?  Job had a time of intense grief, questioning, doubt, struggling, and terror.  God broke him.  And in this, Job discovered the wonder of God.

What about Hannah?  She wanted children, probably more than just about anything.  Maybe even more than she wanted a relationship with God.  But she came to God in great brokenness, laying her grief at His feet, and she rested in whatever answer He would give her.  Then, when God did give her a child, she did something that seems almost unthinkably hard–she gave her first child to Him, to live in the temple.  She got to see her child, the boy she’d so longed for, once a year.  And how did God honor her for giving over what she most wanted to Him?  He gave her sons and daughters to raise, and the baby she dedicated became perhaps the greatest Old Testament judge during the time before the kings.

And David?  David lived a life of soaring highs and terrible lows before God.  After he became trapped in sexual sin, he killed men, including the husband of the woman he had violated.  He became terribly broken (see Psalm 51).  God forgave him, and in his beautiful, broken Psalm about his sin (Psalm 51), we find these words:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

so that sinners will turn back to you.

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,

you who are God my Savior,

and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Open my lips, Lord,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart

you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:12-18, NIV)

David knew something that many kings who came after him didn’t: only the Messiah could truly take away sin.  No matter how wealthy David was, or however mighty a warrior he was, or however talented with musical instruments, nothing and no one but God could take away his sin.

In summary, there are many reasons why God might break a person.  For a lost person, the reason is always for the purpose of salvation.  For the saved person, God sanctifies us through times of brokenness.  Resisting His brokenness as a lost person is to resist Eternal Life.  And resisting His brokenness as a believer is to resist His work to purify your life and testimony here on earth.

In a time of brokenness, however deep and fearful and even hopeless it may seem, remember that God’s ultimate desire is not for you to remain in this brokenness, but for you to be saved by it (if you are lost) or for you to experience His delight more deeply and draw the lost to Him (if you are already saved).

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Solomon, Proverbs 17:22)

A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. (Solomon, Proverbs 15:13, ESV)

Although this blog might seem like a detached commentary on the pain of brokenness, it is far from it.  I write this during a time of very personal and painful brokenness in my life.  I am not fully out of the feeling of having my arm caught in a seesaw yet.  I still feel the new wound of brokenness and I still have an unsettling, restless angst of, What if it does not go away?  I don’t know who said this first, nor is that really important, but I hold to the line, God does not waste our pain.  Whether you are a believer or not, God isn’t bringing suffering on you because He enjoys tormenting you.  Rather, He longs for you to be saved, or, if you are saved, to know Him better.

Although much of my heart still wants to resist the experience of breaking in my life, and though I still at times feel like a wild animal struggling to be tamed, I believe in, I hold to, and I desire to cling with white-knuckled grasp to the love of Christ.  I know that times of breaking are not senseless, needless, or for the purpose of my destruction, but rather to bring my heart closer to God, to bring my will in dearer alignment to His, and so that I may “rest on His unchanging grace” (Edward Mote, hymn On Christ the Solid Rock).

And one more Scripture each for unbelievers and for believers going through a time of brokenness.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9, NIV)

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB)

The jeweled Path

This past week has been like all weeks since my new life in Christ.  When I look back on the Path I’ve walked, the debris of my sin litters what was, only 7 days before, a clean street.

Here and there, I see the glimmers of a jewel, sometimes plainly seen on the path, sometimes hidden almost entirely underneath my sin.  I see the moments where God got ahold of my heart, where I prayed out of love, where I sought His heart, where I did something that imitated my Savior and my God.  But when I look at my basket of righteousness to see what I have collected from those moments, I see only the wicker at the bottom.

Empty.

Empty!

On the path behind, I see not only the gemstones I missed, but even more so the trash I left behind.  I think about how, in honesty, I could not reconcile and set everything right I trashed even this past seven days, much less for the some 8,000 days I have been an influencer in the world, a journeyer responsible for what I carry and what I leave behind.

This week, as I look back over the street, I see the very tip of a large gemstone just visible on the path I walked, but–before my heart can soar in this moment of discovering the gem or faint in grief that I didn’t spend time uncovering it–I see the mounds of trash piled high beside that stone, desecrating the goodness God was showing me.

It’s especially wounding to realize that God was working with me on something, that I saw it, that I even began to experience in it . . and then that other trash of my life spilled over and I sinned so greatly I obscured even the sweetest moment of the week.

Lately, I have had an obsession with the year 30.  I will be 30 August 28, 2013.  I dream that, when I turn 30, I will hold my life all together, that there will be only a few sprinkles of trash here and there, and that the path will be paved with breathtaking gemstones, one after the other, turned over by God as He reveals His work to my closely following heart.

I’ve thought, I’ve hoped I will begin following Jesus nearly perfectly.  Jesus started His public ministry at 30, and–though I know the first 29 years of my life do not mirror Jesus’ whatsoever save for the dazzling intervention of His grace–I hope that the rest of the years of my life will be a symphony of imitating my Redeemer, without His help.  I want to show Him that I love Him, that I can live out what He’s taught me  That I, in some tiny way, understand what He’s done for me.

But do I really believe this will happen?  Do I think that, in a few short months, simply because I hear the song of another birthday, my life will be filled with holiness?

That when I look back as an old woman (should I by God’s grace live so long!) I will see from the year 30 onward, the Path behind me jeweled and radiant with gemstones God has overturned for my pure heart to see, gemstones I have no longer missed because I am no longer too busy throwing the trash of my chaos, my selfishness, and my foolishness down the glory street, gemstones I finally placed in my basket to bring to Him at the moment my soul meets eternity?

Do I really think I will gather sapphires of peace, mali garnets of integrity, almandine garnets of charity, amazonites of purpose, moonstones of reflection, ambers of passion, amethysts of hope, morganites of gentleness, ammolites of creativity, andalusites of generosity, aventurines of adventure, beryls of a noble heart, peridots of faith, carnelians of trust, rhodolite garnets of beauty, charorites of compassion, rubies of wisdom, chrysoprases of worship, citrines of holiness, seraphinites of purity, danburites of determination, smoky quartz of persistence, diamonds of truth, spessarite garnets of fear of the Lord, emeralds of thoughtfulness, fire agates of resolution, sphalerites of zeal, emeralds of patience, spodumenes of exalting Christ, star diopsides of mystery, gaspeites of wonder, ametrines of mercy, agate geodes of victory, star garnets of announcing the Kingdom of Christ, star diopsides of proclaiming Christ as the only resolution for sin, goshenites of following Him, star sunshines of devotion, hackmanites of surrender, tanzanites of battling on God’s side, moss opals of growth, obsidians of strength, axinites of warmth, cassiterites of understanding, hiddenites of listening to the whispers of God, imperial topazes of His atonement for me, topazes of the war against sin, jaspers of the hidden plan of God, tiger’s eyes of refusing defeat, kunzites of the romance of God for His people, turquoises of astonishment for His grace, kyanites of a clear conscience, lapis lazulis of a servant’s heart, zircons of strength for the battles ahead, tourmalines of endurance, sunstones of redemption, pyrope garnets of forgiveness, and rubellite tourmalines of His love . . simply because I have gotten a year older?

Even now, I know it won’t be so.  I already imagine the litter of my sin in the future.  Even the most precious moments of God in my life are piled over high with the smelly filth of unimaginable sins I have committed.

How do I go on?  How do I keep hoping I will live a perfect life?  How do I keep from missing the gemstones in my path like a child staring at her shoes during an Easter egg hunt?  How do I have any assurance I will live a holy life from this day forward?  How do I rely on myself when, to date, the basket of my self-righteousness is empty?  I am happy simply to look back and see gems that have not been totally buried in my trash; I never once have been able to touch one with my fingertips and place it in my basket.  And so my basket is hauntingly empty; the path of holiness is hauntingly fearful; I wonder how I can, with any sort of integrity, keep going down the path of Christianity and not resign in shame?

And then, suddenly, instantly, a hand slips into mind.  I recognize the scar in the middle of the palm; I look up and see a head that has borne the crown of thorns I deserve as my reward for how I have journeyed on this path.

My eyes fill with tears, because I look on His majesty and see I have nothing to give Him.  I am like a servant walking in a kingdom to find that it is the king’s birthday and I have no present.  This is far more than a birthday; this is Resurrection Day–and what do I have to give Him?

I look down at my empty basket and the shame of how I’ve walked the Path brings me to my knees.  I cover my face in my hands and hope He does not see me, that He walks on by to receive jewels from others who have earned them for Him.

He still holds my hand, and He moves my hand in His to reach for something I cannot see with my head bent down.  He withdraws His hand from my trembling one, and my hand rests on the hard warmth of the inside of a basket filled with jewels, loaded down so that not another can fit.

I raise my hand, stand in surprise, look in the basket held out before me.  Inside is everything I have ever tried to give Jesus; everything jewel God has ever shown me on the path that I either missed or failed to pick up; and ones I have never seen or imagined even existed that await on my future path–I see clearly that I will fail to pick up them, too.

The jewels of righteousness are too beautiful for my unholy eyes, and I jerk my gaze away.  I try to pull my hand from His basket, but He grasps my wrist and lays my hand back over the gemstones.

“I cannot . .” I weep.  “I cannot take your gemstones.  You’ve worked so hard for them.  It’s not fair!  I’m the one who should be giving to you!”

I should have collected jewels to give to Him! He is the one who carried me from the path of destruction!  I owe Him everything!  should be the one bringing the gifts!

He is the One who undug my grave while nails were in His palms.  He is the One who kissed my dead heart to life while He was kissed with my betrayal of HimHe is the One who lifted me out of the grave while the consequences of my actions shredded His skin. He is the One who crowned my head with life while He wore the crown of my curse.  He is the one who carried me on His back while I lifted a cross to His.

I was His cross.

As He tasted the vinegar of my death, He cupped His hands full of the Living Water to quench my thirst.  As He took His last breath, He breathed into me my first breath.  And when He woke from the tomb, it was me who He carried out with Him.

How can I possibly take His jewels?

I start to refuse.  I start to flee, but He holds my hand once more.  I hear a tearing, like a Great Curtain ripping a path from earth to Heaven, and I see in front of the path a still stone cave.

The world is utterly quiet.  I look at the stone beside the mouth of the cave.  It would have been impossible for me to move; but Someone has already moved it.  I know what this place is; I wonder if it is really okay to go inside.

But He leads me in.  I look around in what would have been the darkness of the place, but He is standing beside me.

I see the inside is not the small space of a tomb, but the infinite trove of a sea of jewels.  As far as I can look, I can see gemstones flooding the cavern.  My eyes would go blind from looking at them, were it not that He shields me with His hand.  I cannot in my falleness withstand seeing the infinite holiness of this vault.  He leads me out and I stumble in a daze.

Once again, He lays my hand on His basket.  I look again, and I see the gemstones of everything I have ever wanted to give Him, all the jewels I have seen along the way, and many more I missed seeing altogether, and even more that have not yet been unturned on the Path ahead.

And now I see.

My life is fulfilled in Christ.

It is He who holds everything together.

If you know Him, you do not go through life with an empty basket, but a full one.

My life is not to be spent trying to collect gemstones.

He has already picked them up for me.

My life is to be spent marveling Him, holding His jewels in my basket, sharing His jewels with the jewel-less world.

I come to the Jesus of Easter, and I throw my empty basket of self-righteousness aside.  It tumbles away somewhere in the wastelands adjacent to the Path.  I hold out my hands and Jesus gives me a gemstone to hold.

And then we keep walking.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 2:21, NIV)

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Gemstone ideas and pictures found at http://www.gemselect.com/other-info/gemstone-list.php

Girls, sticks, stones, and beauty

To the girls who feel like they’re just about the ugliest thing on planet earth: I understand.  Herein is a bit of my story on the journey from the very ugly to the very beautiful.  In the land of ugly, nothing starts with once upon a time.

I think I can speak for most girls when I say we like to hear the back story of who somebody is.  We like the why.  And we like to know secrets.  Well, here’s the skinny on me, girl-to-girl, but without the triple-cinnamon lattes.  I’m sorry about that.

.                               .                               .                               .

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

People say this is junk, but I don’t think it was ever supposed to be true.  I think it was supposed to be a rescue device.

I first heard that term in a lecture on logic–wait!  Don’t go away yet, girls.  We haven’t even paid for our imaginary lattes yet!  We’ve got to find a corner table before I can tell you the story.

Anyway, a rescue device is something someone thinks up to try to rescue them out of a bad situation.

This table okay?

.                               .                               .                               .

Girls’ camp.  Twelve years old.

I didn’t know any of the girls I would be ‘cabined’ with.  I could have chosen to be with a couple friends from church, but I wanted the surprise of making new friends.  Lots new friends.  I was real little social butterfly, and I couldn’t wait to see how many friends I’d flap under my wings in the week to come.

If I’d known the answer was in the zeroish category, I wouldn’t have had any trouble waiting.  And if I’d have known I was about to be de-winged the way a car is de-iced, I would have stayed home and spent the church camp money eating turtle fudge sundaes instead.

But I didn’t know, and so I fluttered into the girls’ cabin and had barely set my bag down when a thin girl with crimpy brown hair suddenly started shrieking.

“OH MY GOSH!” she shrieked.  “SHE’S ANOREXIC!  OH MY GOSH!  SHE’S ANOREXIC!”

I stared at her.  I was actually not the person she was talking to.  Obviously.  After all, I wasn’t anorexic.  But I seemed to be the only one in the whole cabin who knew I wasn’t the one she was talking to.  Everyone else, including her, I am afraid, thought she was talking to me.  And so just about every girl in the cabin clustered in on me, staring like gawking grapes.

Our counselor’s accomplice–her daughter, about sixteen or so–strolled over casually.  She looked at me, looked all the way down my body to my feet, and said just about tonelessly, “She’s not anorexic.  She’s just very thin.”

It was the first time I’d ever felt it, but, in that moment, I wanted to kill myself.

Everything, but everything, about camp that I’d looked forward to was smushed in that second.  I wasn’t just de-winged.  I felt like that girl had taken her fist down on me, only I was still a bug.

We went swimming.  The very same girl with the crimpy hair went into theatrics when she saw me in my swimsuit.  She was dead sure I was anorexic.  This time, there wasn’t such a crowd.  I brushed her off, saying something like,

“I’m not anorexic.  I’m really skinny.  I’ve been skinny all my life.”

I wanted to get away from her before anybody else heard, before anybody else looked at my body and saw me as ugly as she did.

But I couldn’t get away.  Even though she never said it again, I couldn’t get away.  I couldn’t get away, because it was trapped inside my head, like a mouse in a basket.

At chapel, I was asked by every girl on my row who sat in between me and the aisle seat to move down one until I was on the last seat and none of them had to look at ugly ol’ me, except the one unfortunate one who couldn’t ask me to move down any further.  I guess she could have, actually.  I could have sat on the carpet.  At that point, there really wasn’t much difference.

I remember the youth leader called for missionaries that night.  He asked us to come down if we wanted to be a missionary.  I came down.  I would have been very happy to be a missionary at that point.  Anywhere far, far away.

Every day was like sour cheese, more spoiled and stinking than the day before.  The last night, and we sat around a fire kumbaya style and I was supposed to wrap my arms around the girls who had shredded me all week long.  Supposed to, but uh uh.

So I was accused by my counselor and her daughter of being nonparticipational.

In between were little things.  It’s so stupid, but I remember the girls talking about how they shaved their legs in the shower.  I was so proud because I had begun shaving mine, too.  I thought it was my golden ticket to fit in.

A girl said she thought it was easiest to shave her leg with her knee bent.  I shaved my legs with my knees straight.  Another girl chimed in that it sure was easier to shave your legs with your knees bent.  (I think there was actually one girl who was nice to me, who agreed with me.  I liked her, too, but she wasn’t popular and so I didn’t care.)

I must have shaved my leg with my knee straight for . . ten years after that, at least.  Just to prove ’em wrong.

That was a rescue device, of course.  I had others, too.  I grinned all the time.  I acted like I was an airhead, so they would think I was too dumb to be crushed by their words.

I think I fooled them, all right, but I didn’t fool me.

I saved the biggest rescue device of the trip for our float trip.  I premeditated it.

Fact: I could not face getting into my bathing suit again.  Fact: It was not an option.  Fact: No matter what, it was not an option.

I would not give that crimpy-haired thin girl ammunition to unload on me again.  There would be teenage guys helping us with our canoes. There was no way, no way, I was being accused of anorexia in front of teenage guys.

I probably could have done something smarter, like pretend to be sick.  But then I would have missed out on the teenage guys.  What I did was, really, stupid.

I wore my clothes.

I wore my cut-off jeans and t-shirt.  All the girls in my cabin tried to persuade me not to.  I was rigid.  My camp counselor would have had to yank the clothes from the hideous body I had just learned I had.  It wasn’t happening.  She saw it; I knew it; everybody left me alone, with murmurs of dissent.  Amazingly, no one seemed to know why I wanted to wear my clothes.

Everybody wondered about my clothes–the other girls we met, the teenage boys who were our guides.  I cared not.  I felt victorious.  My rescue device had worked.  I even flirted with the cute boy steering our canoe.  (Now I really needed a boy to like me.  I needed to prove those girls wrong.  I wasn’t ugly.  I wasn’t . . . .?)

I got back home and got a giant turtle fudge sundae.  That was another rescue device.  It worked.  For about 20 minutes.  Then I was miserable again.

So I got another rescue device, and boy, was it a doozy.  Everywhere I went, everyone I saw, I talked about how skinny I was and how it looked like I had anorexia, but I really didn’t.  You know what everybody (who didn’t already know me) thought, right?  Of course you do.

I really was not anorexic, but I did a pretty good job of convincing everybody I was.  I saw anorexia as the worst insult I could ever be given.  I felt helpless to ever control the lie.  Looking back, I actually think I struggled to gain weight because I was so nervous about gaining weight!

In my book, nearly everything hinged on me gaining weight.  I dipped my fries in mayonnaise, ate junk food, whatever I wanted . . nothing worked.  I couldn’t add a pound.

I thought, If only I could weight more, my problems would be over.  And so it went.  I’d have a great social life.  My hair wouldn’t be frizzy anymore.  Girls would flock to me.  Maybe I’d even be able to get them back for what they’d done to me.

I heard in church about how we are special to God.  Each one of us.

I thought, Yeah, well, I went to Christian camp and learned I was valueless, ugly, and stupid, so I think I’ll pass on jumping up and down in excitement.

My rescue device now?  Cynicism.  And hatred.  And a craving for vengeance.

You know, I have spent years of my life thinking about how I was sure people were thinking about how skinny I was.  I talked a lot about food to try to prove I wasn’t anorexic; I stayed away from people; I was afraid to step on a scale.  I hated girls who were anorexic.  They’d given me a bad wrap because I happened to be skinny.  It’s all their fault, I thought, and I sure wasn’t feeling like a butterfly anymore.

One rescue device after another.  All failed.

And then there was the day I realized someone had stood in front of me, and all the sticks and stones that had hit me had hit Him first.

I realized He was my rescue.  And I didn’t need a device.

I used to have a big problem with people like those kids at that Christian camp calling themselves Christians.  Now I realize most people like that who call themselves Christians don’t even know what they’re talking about, and I don’t hate them.  I have moments of hating them, but I always return to forgiveness.  Everybody needs Christ, and the ones who act like they don’t, or they already have Him when they really don’t, are the worst off.

. . . . and I realize I have done my part in throwing sticks and stones, too.  I’m not pure of heart, even if the mean words for girls like that have usually stayed in my brain.  They still count.  Jesus says.

They shape who we are.  Jesus knows that.  We think that when we don’t let them out, we’re getting away with them, but it was those very thoughts that chained me to the shrieking memory, the very thoughts that disabled me from pursuing God.

The year before I met the shrieking crimpy-haired girl, at the same camp, as we were waiting to leave, there was a giant, beautiful, and broken butterfly.

Wounded butterfly.

I still remember the girl who kept trying to cradle it against the wind until it would flap its wings again.

But it would never flap its wing again.

It could not flap its wings again.

It was broken.

With wings like stained glass windows, we knew how beautiful and one-of-a-kind the creature we’d found.  But we could not make whatever had happened to it unhappen.  We could not sing any song of butterfly beauty that would be sweet enough for it to fly away.

It could not fly.

It was broken.

And at last we had to leave it, all alone, to die on sidewalk pavement and grass, blown helplessly around by the wind.

And me, now?  Am I that butterfly?  (Are you that butterfly?)

I’m still a lightweight.  I still take a nervous breath when I step on the scale.  I’m still afraid I’ll find out I don’t weigh enough to be satisfactory.

But there isn’t any wind that’s going to blow me along the ground anymore.

Because I can fly.

I’m not anymore the girl in the swimsuit, crippled by words, reliving that moment over and over, waiting to be stoned with more.

I realize, really realize: Jesus is here with me.

He always has been, every stone, every stick.  Not one word has struck me that didn’t strike Him first.  That’s Jesus.  That’s who He is.  For me.  For you.  Not one word strikes us that didn’t strike Him first.  That’s Jesus.

I realize, really realize: Jesus is here with me.

And He’s released me into the skies.

And you know, as we take our last sips of coffee, I have to tell you–

I’m really actually beautiful.

I know because God says so.

It’s not the kind of so-called beautiful that makes me think I have some kind of right to pick on you.  That’s really Satan’s kind of beautiful.  That’s what God sees as uggggully.

God gives beauty as a never-ending gift.  So there’s no reason to try to keep beauty to yourself.  There’s no scarcity, unless we close our fists.  Closed fists bring ugly words.

You and I know what closed fists can do.  It’s worse than any stick or stone.

Closed fists keep closing and closing.  And they always will . . unless we forgive.

But we must have forgiveness to be able to give it.

There is only One who has forgiveness that has actually been paid for, and that is God alone, through Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

We can hold our hands out to God to receive His beauty and forgiveness.  We can hold our hands out to Him even if they are fists.  God can unfold even fists.

Beauty and forgiveness are free gifts that Jesus pours into open hands, pours in overflowing.  Pours into my hands, pours in overflowing, until I’m able to look at the thin girl with the crimpy brown hair and pray, Give her forgiveness and beauty, too.

Jesus, on the cross, forgives a crowd of spitting, mocking, tormenting, torturing sinners.  And we see in this the unparalleled, breathtaking beauty that causes outcast women to fall down in worship at His feet in total awe . . and rise as jewels of God.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18, NIV)

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.

(Psalm 147:3, NIV)

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. (1 Peter 3:3-4, NLT)

Why it isn’t such a good idea for me to feel “super” all the time

For all these things my hand has made, and they are mine, says the Lord; but to this man only will I give attention, to him who is poor and broken in spirit, fearing my word. (Isaiah 66:2, BBE)

Published in: on February 25, 2012 at 9:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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