I remember after my accident the first faint whisper God spoke. I sat every day in the ashes of my burned-down-life, not sure if I even wanted to recover from all the devastation I saw.
A weariness had enveloped me that was beyond anything I had ever experienced before.
That place, right in the middle of all my MESS—God showed up.
I wish I could tell you I was in this super-spiritual place but the truth is I was trying to contemplate a life without God. My disappointment went far beyond my rage at my circumstances. I was just “finished” and God and I both knew it!
That had been our deal.
I had returned to my faith from “the world” as beat-up prodigal who didn’t believe “a God of love” even existed. So, before I was even willing to try out this “Christian” thing again, I wanted a new deal between God and myself.
I wanted total transparency with no head-faking-bull.
I wanted no part of the phony church stuff I had seen growing up.
Actually, things worked out well for the first few years. I jumped into the discipleship thing for all I was worth. I studied my Bible each morning. I regularly attended church. I devoured every Christian book I could get my hands on. I began serving in church in all kinds of different ways. Life was good. I was growing. You might even say I was thriving.
Then life fell apart. An undetected illness and the resulting visit to the Emergency Room brought everything crashing down.
Each day I sat in the ruins trying to decide if my “return to God” had just been another colossal mistake in a long line of mistakes.
Was this Christian-thing just one big con job? I felt betrayed. I was recoiling from all the stuff I had believed.
If you tust God is THIS what you get?
So I stopped reading my Bible.
I couldn’t pray.
I wanted nothing to do with a God like this!
How did I get here?
My doubts that had begun as whispers were now shouting at me, “Is this what obedience brings?”
Everywhere I looked I saw only devastation and chaos!
I wondered, “What kind of a loving God loves like this?”
God hears even the faintest whisper in our hearts.
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is hidden from God. He was “listening in” on all my doubt and inner rage. I didn’t know it then, but He was counting each broken-hearted tear. He was letting me grope my way along in the dark for awhile—just waiting. Waiting for me to finish venting all my frustrations, and for the silence to descend.
Now in the inner quiet He began to whisper.
I grabbed a pen and began to write.
Yes YOU sitting in the ashes.
These ruins you see all about you? They are not who you are.
They are not your final destination or your destiny.
You are in Me and I AM in you.
Our two lives are as inseparable as a brook that flows into a river. Where does the brook end and the river begin? Hah, you can’t tell Me! That’s how it is with us. My life flowing in you. Your life flowing in Me.
You look at these ashes and think, “It’s all over now.”
You see ruins where once stood bright hopes and shining dreams, and you think, “What’s the use of dreaming?”
But Sweet Heart look up.
Turn those tear-filled eyes toward Me. I AM still here. You are still here. We are not going to dwell forever in—this place. This is only for a moment in your eternity. A wink! I AM your true Vine not your dreams. Your life flows from Me, not from people, possessions, or calling. Come, dry those eyes. Life is not over. Only changed. But remember what I told you? “I do not change!” I AM the One you can always count on. I AM the Foundation that does not move.
We will be leaving here soon. As we step out of these ashes to begin again? You will see Me transform these ashes of yours into radiant beauty.
I think it might be difficult for some of us to connect to those we consider BROKEN if we have experienced “breaking” in only minor or irritating ways.
For instance, if you are pitching a fit because you just broke another nail? Trust me. You and I are on opposite sides of the Looking Glass.
When I say “broken” I see smoking rubble and bombed out buildings in my soul. Yet, even I don’t “see” smoking rubble the same way a woman fleeing Syria or Iraq would, right?
Does that help?
We, meaning we in The Church, can often trivialize people’s pain by our own casual approach to what we do not understand. My “brokenness” may be very different from what you have experienced. You can think you are “aware” when perhaps you are actually clueless. I have often heard well-meant heartfelt messages from those who I believe really did mean well, but there was a kind of authenticity or depth that was missing, simply due to a shallower understanding or experience of the subject.
Unfortunately, what people who haven’t survived gross abuse don’t know can add new wounds to the souls who have.
If you haven’t been through deep and dark water or been on intimate terms with Evil, the deeply wounded and broken will know it, because a crushed heart covered in the scars of an intimate acquaintance with Evil is not something you can head-fake.
I also believe there is a kind of inborn intolerance, an unknowing or condescending heart will reveal. Not to intentionally be unkind perhaps, but simply because of profound ignorance.
I don’t say this to be mean, but I believe it is necessary to know, Hearts that have bled from deep wounds have an internal radar that will register any FEAR or SHAME tactics immediately. You may not mean it to sound that way… (Or you might, depending on your motives?) either way, I just want you to understand where I’m coming from when I ask,
“When have you looked into the eyes of your Abuser and seen the pure pleasure that they derive from inflicting new pain? New horror? New terror? New shame? When have you heard pure hatred screaming at you; seen its face contorted in ugly rage inches from your face? When have you seen them smile as they slice and shred your soul again, intentionally carving new wounds?”
There is Real-Evil in this world and some of us have looked helplessly many times into its cold dead eyes. That is a “knowledge” you can’t fake or forget. And, that experience changes HOW you view BROKEN—and how you respond.
Yes, Christ and the sheer power of His love and grace poured out on His cross, can overcome Evil’s power to make one cringe in terror or run and hide. And yes, forgiveness poured from old wounds will lift the broken and crushed heart, and bring it back to resurrected Life. Absolutely!
But, that miracle of love and forgiveness in itself is no guarantee that Evil will surrender its hold on the Abuser, or that the Abuser will magically choose to change their ways.
The Abuser is also free to choose and many choose to continue their abusive ways. (Perhaps due to their own self-loathing?) I don’t know. I have never understood my Abusers. What I do know is that I have been on the receiving end of my Abuser’s resistant intolerance for love and their entitlement to their own cruelty.
I have loved my Abusers, believing that my love would change them; cause them to make changes in their behavior. It did not. Love for Christ and our devotion to Him does not mean we will be able to reconcile ourselves to those who steadfastly refuse to surrender their hatred and destructive behaviors.
Yes, we must forgive them for their past abuse. Yes, we must pray for our enemies and those who willfully choose to continue to abuse our love and trust. But I do not believe we have to be reconciled to continue in a close relationship or in proximity with those who embrace Evil and refuse to surrender their deep desire to destroy us.
I also believe there are sincere Hearts that have not bled at the hands of that kind of Evil, who don’t understand this. They haven’t seen this for themselves—felt it or heard it—and so they just don’t KNOW.
I used to succumb to critics who would loudly proclaim “broken” as “incapable.”
All those in The Church who are so intolerant, unable, or unknowing, because I thought they were right.
I figured that they knew their stuff!
When those dear souls would criticize my tears; my fragility; my brokenness, I would listen to them.
When they would criticize the broken saying, “You can’t speak, or teach, or reach, unless you toughen up, put on your wax lips, and smile… your gratitude will fix it all.” I would inwardly wince! As if doing all those things hadn’t ever been tried by the abused who also love God and their abusers!
I think those who advocate such simplistic answers have no clue the damage their naivete inflicts.
The abused and broken don’t want band-aids. They don’t work! And I don’t believe the broken want another slick-song-n-dance-schtick of:
“I got it ALL TOGETHER and ain’t it great BEING ME?”
How many times have I heard a speaker “speak to me” just like that, and I would think, “That will NEVER be me.” because I felt too, broken; too much of a mess, and saw no way out of my terror-ridden situation!
Not today. Now I believe hurting people just want real with all its awkward and messy flaws.
In ancient days if a guy was making and selling pottery, and it came out of the fire with cracks, they would rub a little wax into those cracks so they wouldn’t show.
(I mean, who deliberately buys a defective pot, right?)
I guess people got wise to the practice, though. (People eventually do.) So among the potters, the term “sincere” was born, meaning: Without wax.
Without wax, yeah. I’ll take my books and sermons and songs without all the shiny wax, please. Just give me real.
Remember what Jesus compared the “religious professionals” of His day too? Vipers. White-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones! When He confronted “the money-changers” in His temple, He made a whip and drove them out! It doesn’t sound like nine bars of “smile, smile, smile” does it? No wonder they hated Him. He chose to hang with the nobodies. Sinners. Prostitutes. Tax collectors and smelly fishermen—He sought them out! The Broken. The failures. The outcasts. (Yeah.) The Son of God said to all of us messy-misfits,
“Make Mine Broken!”
The professing-professionals I once knew used to “help me” feel real-unqualified. Told me, “I had to get my act together.” if I wanted to be the real-thing—before I opened my mouth.
What I believe they just didn’t get? Nine miles of bad road is supposed to change you. Rearrange you. Jesus uses UNDONE as a big part His transformation process.
The wilderness-furnace is meant to remove the wax and reveal the cracks—’cause we’ve all got ’em!
I hope anyone who reads my stuff can see ALL my flaws. (They’re there.) Every bump on that bad road I’ve been down has done its worst.
But, when you see my faults and failures, I hope you see one thing more…
I hope you see the glorious Light of Jesus shining through those broken places, because He is The One that makes all the difference, in my faults, and in yours; His Love shining through ALL our brokenness.
So let’s let His word to us, be our last Word:
But God chose the foolishthings of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV
Please remember when someone asks to hear your story:
Tell them your story—your way.
Keep it simple. Keep it real.
People are starving out there for real!
And that BIG noise? The one you hear from the sidelines selling “the best wax” that money can buy?
Pray for them.
Ask God to give them understanding hearts.
Then go out there and let His Light and amazing grace shine, baby.
Simply put God has called me to the Prodigal-Church.
Yeah, you know.
The ones referred to as:
The Wrecked and Wounded.
The ones who have heard it all before and just ain’t listenin’ anymore!
These are the “ones” who are severely bruised, deeply disappointed and pissed off at God, The Church, or all of the above.
(Nope. Not an easy crowd.)
But, you know what else?
God passionately LOVES these that many folks just privately hope will “Go away.” leaving us in ‘The Good Church’ to our sleepy tranquility.
I know because I was one of these prodigals, and truth be known? Sometimes I still am.
Ticked-off that is—not prodigal.
I still get angry because many of these folks have been brutally beat-up good-n’-proper.
Perhaps they “once upon a time” believed. But, now?
Now they ain’t havin’ anything to do with it!
They have hit the dusty trail, and now have turtle-shells thick-n’-crusty around once trusting hearts.
Yet they are STILL HIS. And are perhaps MORE WANTED than they were in the beginning.
(Before it all went wrong in their lives.)
Make no mistake about it—He still calls them BELOVED, and He longs for them to come home to Him.
These the Saints consider rabble-rousers, and futile-flotsam, He calls with infinite tenderness, “My Beloved.
I believe this because—I was one of them when He came after me.
(And I do understand how “The Church” feels.)
I fondly remember the days of easy crowds and occupying easy chairs. (Yeah, I confess.) All gone now, and it’s okay because I believe someone needs to reach Wounded Sheep! All those Prickly-Prodigals with crusty shells around hearts that have stopped believing in anyone calling themselves Christian—walking away from our churches—taking the back door out.
Yep, they’re my assignment. My mission. My project.
I rarely got any sort of an answer so I stopped asking.
(But I confess, I never stopped wondering.)
I’ve heard good Christians tell me that “THE Answer” was that I had to learn to live with all my unanswered questions.
(That didn’t help much either.)
I don’t believe a broken heart is about getting answers anyway.
I believe mostly it’s about what Ann Voskamp said in her book, The Broken Way—it’s about communion. It’s about wanting someone to come close in our pain. Feel close. It is the aloneness we feel in our brokenness that magnifies all our other stuff.
For Prodigals this is especially acute, for the communion, they most desperately need—is also the thing they most fear.
Where do they go then?
What do you do with your wounded heart, when your once “safe place” has become to you the image of Habakkuk’s Vineyard?
Where do you begin to look for a PLACE of healing and hope and strength to believe again?
Is there such a place?
There are many prodigals who would not hesitate to answer a loud and resounding, “No!” Especially if you are presenting today’s Church as your answer to that Safe Place!
They’ve been there—bought the tee shirt.
They’ll gladly show you the blood-stains, pointing out all the bullet holes!
(What do you say to that one then?)
That Outcast who looks at The Church and sees a carefully camouflaged Enemy lurking there?
Do you say, “Just trust us? We’re different. We’re the REAL thing!”
(And if they’ve heard all that before?)
If they know The Church in their past is guilty of shooting it’s wounded?
Do not fear the unbelieving. They are chaff before My Spirit Winds—as helpless as newborn babes.
I told you in the Last Days mockers will increase.
Is it not so?
The world seeks its own greatness and honors self above all else.
My greatness shines most from broken things.
This is something the world will never understand.
To them, it is rubbish—pure foolishness.
I have set the example for you.
The higher you go, the lower you must be willing to stoop.
Beware of the one who refuses to be faithful in the small things.
Before honor comes humility.
Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron. When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?”
“Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.”
— The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller
Okay, I have my list. I’ve got my plan and I’m headed to the import store for, table cloth, check. Napkins and utensils, check.
In my head, I see it—this table of mine in a sea of china, silver, and crystal.
Only my table is the exact opposite.
Instead of china, wooden plates with plain glass plates on top. Wooden spoons with wooden forks. A tablecloth, not of fine linen, but rough woven cloth, like something Moses would have worn. Plain brown napkins tied with leather thongs. In the center of the table, a basin and towel, with the book. (Yeah.) Maybe I could even write a poem?
And then it hits me—an idea!
What if I take a bunch of clay bowls, line them with broken bits of pottery, so the “broken” is on the inside. Put a bar of homemade soap wrapped in brown paper and tied with leather thongs. Add a rolled up towel, and a copy of the poem for each woman. Something they can take home and keep long after the event is over!
Isn’t that the theme I’m really looking for?
Okay, now I’m getting excited. So I take all my stuff up to the counter eager to check out and get on my way.
That’s when I see it. Something totally unexpected. This plain brown box, on the floor behind the counter, with a huge clay jar in a dozen broken pieces. My centerpiece!
It speaks so loudly no one could possibly miss it!
The clerk assures me, “It’s only junk, and once logged in on the breakage list, destined for the trash.”
Yes, I can have it.
I set the box on the floor of my car, and start for home when God shows up. Not like last time but I did feel just like Moses staring at that burning bush. It wasn’t an audible Voice but I know God spoke.
From this plain brown box, through a broken jar, He spoke straight into my heart.
He showed up again, in an unexpected place, in an unexpected way, and I knew.
I live in this weird parallel universe of making myself do what I need to do, while at the same time feeling totally incapable of doing it.
(I think it’s a holdover from my childhood.)
I remember the first time dad stood me on a kitchen chair in front of the washing machine. I was seven years old. He began explaining what all the dials meant and how to use them. Terrified of letting him down, I struggled to comprehend all that he was telling me. How would I remember all these directions?
Most of my life has held moments and experiences that felt just like that day standing on that chair.
My first time sitting behind the wheel of a car.
My first apartment in a large city where I knew almost no one.
My first job interview in that city interviewing for a job I had zero experience doing.
Does life do that to each of us? Thrust us into situations we have zero talent, or ability, or training for? Then, we have to “step up” and somehow, or some way, pull the rabbit from the hat?
Yeah—I think so. And that is definitely me, and the assignment to Hostess—anything.
I have no natural gift of feeling at ease in social functions. ZERO. I ask you then, “Whatever possessed me to sign up to Hostess at my church’s premier women’s social event: Hats Off To Hospitality?” And, at the last possible minute?
I’m standing there in front of the sign-up sheet, looking at all the “taken tables.” Only the least desirable spots in the room are still available.
“Just choose one.” I think.
So I take number eleven, way off to the right, next to the wall and the doors to the kitchen.
Talk about the worst possible spot!
(I mentally picture bending to fill someone’s glass, just as a busboy boots me in my you-know-what, with one of those swinging doors!)
Well, I’m supposed to come up with a table theme. So I think of the book I’m currently reading, Jim McGuiggan’s, “The God of the Towel” and I think, “Yeah, maybe I could do something with that?”
I make lists for everything, so of course, I started making my list.
I thought I knew just what to buy; just what I was going to create. I smile remembering because God was about to tweak my plan with a few ideas of His own. He was about to take my moment of temporary insanity and pull off something, well let’s just say, I was about to learn that being a social doofus is a REAL KINGDOM ASSET to God’s way of doing things.