He makes every little broken thing beautiful

He makes every little broken thing beautiful

I shoved my rear-end closer to the window as the plane prepared for take-off.  The passenger beside me stretched out to get comfortable. I tried to make myself smaller so that I would not be an inconvenience for the person wedged next to me in these impossibly small airplane seats.  Never mind that I had the right to occupy my entire seat.  In my mind, I had no rights.  The space that I occupied was space that I shouldn’t take up.  As I tried to become smaller so that the person beside of me could expand,  I realized that I held a core belief that was horribly faulty.  I could not change my system of thinking on my own.  It was too deeply embedded.  That plane ride was four years ago, before I became sick.

My belief that I was not allowed to take up space was birthed out of a great deal of trauma and abuse.  When a child is taught that she is evil and at fault for the evils that are committed against her,  she learns that she must try desperately to disappear in order to make the world a better place.  Before I learned the truth of my identity in Christ,  I held white-knuckled to this belief.  I held so closely to it that I tried to rid the world of my very existence.  When this type of reality is drilled into your head early in life, it seems nearly impossible to unlearn.

God has a masterful way of using horrible situations to help us grow in ways that we never thought possible. When I got sick, I started to take up more space.  I’m not talking actual physical space necessarily, but a wheelchair certainly takes up more space in a vehicle.  It is harder to hide when you are ill.  You have many more needs than a healthy person.  Those around you are more aware of you and the risks that come with your presence.  With food restrictions, you make a challenging dinner guest.  Often, your dietary limitations dictate the menu for the evening.  When you are a house guest, you quickly become aware of how high-maintenance you are.  Your special diet, need for rest, wheelchair requirements, and medications are front and center.

As my illness gets more severe, I seem to be ever-expanding.  I can’t disappear into the background like I once did.  In a recent church meeting, at each break,  many individuals turned to check on me: to see how I was feeling, if I needed anything to drink, if I needed to lie down.

I am so appreciative of the care that I receive.  I need it.  And I resist it.  God is using my illness, however, to show me that it is okay to take up space.  He is showing me how wonderfully loved that I am, and that He created me to take up a certain amount of space.  He designed me in such a way to make an impact on people, to leave footprints, to change lives.  I can’t do that without taking up space and owning my space.

So here’s the thing:  In God’s gracious, generous way of making every little broken thing beautiful,  He is transforming my illnesses and disabilities into powerful teachers.  He is using them to show me how incredibly valuable that I am.  He is teaching me that I am worth every square-inch of space that I take up.  He is showing me that I am worth the care that people give me.   Why am I worth it?  Because I am His child.  As a child of God,  I have a right to take up space.  Not only do I have a right to take up space, but my existence is important and cherished.

I do not need to try to shrink myself into a half of a plane seat in order to make someone else more comfortable.  I can lean over and start a conversation with my fellow passenger, and we can enjoy the gift of one another.  I don’t have to dismiss my dietary restrictions in order to make my hostess’s job easier.  I can graciously accept generosity and allow others to love and care for me.

Graciously receiving is a gift to the giver and the receiver.

I have lived a life dominated by the lie that I don’t deserve to take up space, and my illnesses have given me the opportunity to take a step back and realize the value of my existence and the space that I occupy.   God created me.  I wasn’t a mistake.  I am still not a mistake.  I don’t have to apologize for my existence.  I also don’t have to apologize for being ill.  I have always been and will be valuable because I am a daughter of God.

There may be those out there who are reading this and thinking, “Well, no duh, Sherlock. Of course you can take up space.  We all can.”  I am so thankful that you have never had to experience the torture of having to live apologetically, desperately trying to pay penance for your very existence.

For those of you who can relate,  please hear me:  You are valuable.  You are made in the image of God.  You can take up the space that you take up.  You’re worth it because God calls you worthy.

And He is making every little broken thing beautiful.

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The Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect

In late November of 2016, we bought our first house.  It was, in my eyes, idyllic.  Murals were painted on the walls of each of the children’s rooms, a blue ocean with a tiny boat sailing on the horizon for Elijah, and a willow tree with a picket fence covered with flowering vines for Lily.  Our walk-in closet and spacious bedroom had me pinching myself twice a day.  The sunrise cascaded over our kitchen table through the bay kitchen window.  We could peer out Elijah’s window to say goodnight to the moon each night.  The carpets were lush, the walls were painted rich, welcoming colors, and we even had our own fire place.  The basement, though unfinished, could house the play room where the kids could play freely whenever they felt so inclined.

The most attractive feature of our new haven, however, was its sprawling yard.  The previous owners clearly had green thumbs in addition to their artistic flair, and they took better care of this yard than any other yard in the entire neighborhood.  In Kansas, the land of sparse trees, we have eight trees around our house.  One is a massive willow, whimsical in every sense of the word.  One is a luscious bradford pear, another an apple tree.  The grass is the richest shade of green that I could imagine, with a built-in sprinkler system, to keep it velvety-soft and fresh.

When we moved in late November, as fall was descending into winter, and colors were fading into grey, white, and black, we had no idea what the garden would look like: if any flowers were perennials, returning in the spring, or if we would have to start from scratch.  All we had were dead stalks, skeletons of flowers, and I am no expert on gardening.  Thus,  I couldn’t even guess what the landscape would look like in the spring. I had no idea the beauty that could rise out of this garden, now my own, that I never planted.

Spring is blossoming into summer, and this garden that I inherited has been a highlight of my year.  As the months of April and May have passed,  I have inhaled the glory of tiger lilies, dark red lilies, marigolds, roses, and hostas.  Each plant blooms on its own time table, and each day is like unwrapping a gift from someone I never knew.  When we toured the house initially before we made our offer,  I whispered to my husband, “I could be friends with these people.  I love them already.”  Amazing how you can feel a kindred spirit in a home, even when those who made it the home are not even present.  It is also amazing the impact a person can have on the life of another person whom they may never meet.  I met the husband briefly.  He brought the extra garage door opener over the day that we first moved in.  I greeted him at our door (his door), our eyes locked, and I gave him the biggest, most appreciative smile that I could muster, and he left, to drive about five hours, to his new house.  This one encounter was the extent of the overlap of our lives.

I am too sick to garden.  Even being outside is a strain.  I could never do to our yard what the previous owners of our house did.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of a crop that I did not sow.  They planted a little vegetable garden in the back yard. My in-laws are keeping it bursting with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.  My life is grace upon grace, blessing upon blessing.  I get to tuck my babies in at night and admire another person’s artwork on their walls.  In God’s special way, He met our needs before we even knew that we had needs through someone that we would never really know.

The lives of those who went before us sing from the walls of this house and burst forth from the soil surrounding it.  Their love, their innovation, their unique giftings and personalities paint shades of color that extend into the life of my little family.  They will never know their impact.  They were just doing what they loved, and it colored the world.

We have a ripple effect that can heal and bring hope.  God has used our home as a picture of His provision and hope.  He knows that I love flowers, murals, and beauty, and He knows that I cannot produce these elements of life that I love at this point in my life.  He used someone else to plant the seeds that would blossom in my life as symbols of providence, hope, and His own Shekinah glory.

Our God is great enough to show up in the little things, like orange crimson carnations and a wistful sail boat painted on a toddler’s wall.   Our Father God gives good, sweet, thoughtful gifts to His children, even, or maybe even especially, in their suffering.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.   James 1:17

Broken to be Free

Broken to be Free

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. What if I have packed away unsavory parts of my life in such airtight containers that I have not allowed the Spirit of the Lord to breathe freedom into the complete story of my life? My life hosts many hideous, unsavory, incredibly broken moments. In my pursuit of freedom from those atrocious moments, I erroneously decided that packing them away into oblivion would release me from their power.

I have lived a compartmentalized life. My childhood has been neatly packed away in an attic, stacked in locked trunks. According to my previously existing belief system, I have seen myself as an adult living an adult life, and my childhood has been of no value to my current existence.

This approach to life has been limited at best, and complete fragmentation at worst. I want to walk in truth regarding my entire existence. I desire integration and light, in all areas of my past, present and future.

I don’t want some chapters of my life hidden away in locked boxes, with the keys long destroyed. This is not real life. As a whole, integrated being, I want to carry a life narrative that is valuable and beneficial, as it informs my present and can benefit the narratives of those surrounding me. I want to allow the Spirit of freedom to breathe truth and light into my airtight boxes that house my unsavory past. In order for that to happen, I need to open them up to the Spirit.

I allowed the fog to obscure my past for a reason. I locked fragments of my life away in trunks in order to protect others and myself.

At least, I thought that protection would be found in hiding. I have discovered, however, that I can’t really hide from the truth. It comes rushing in like a tidal wave when my defenses are down: in the depths of the night, in my deepest REM dreams, in the moments when I am most vulnerable, in glimpses of my child-self in the faces of my beloved children. The fingers of the fog that obscure my past reach into my present to rob me of the life that God has designed for me to live. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I have been so afraid that in the process of breaking open the trunks of my fragmented past, I will break myself forever, beyond repair. I didn’t trust truth to set me free. I thought it would unleash a monster, instead.

I was wrong.

I am starting to tie a rope around my waist, securely fastened in the present, and with the guidance of God and his word, alongside the help of trusted friends, navigate the dense fog of my obscured past.

It has been vital for me to allow God to illuminate the hidden, secret places in the safety of a counselor’s office, or over coffee in my living room with a trusted mentor or friend. This is a delicate process, and there is no obvious time frame. It takes as long as it takes, and sometimes the heart can only handle a tiny step at a time.

I am learning, however, that shining the light bit by bit is not unleashing a monster, but knitting my fragments together. It is allowing me to see my story as a whole, and setting me free to enter into a more abundant, meaningful, comprehensive life.

We don’t need to be afraid of being broken open, because when we finally break open, our spirits can break free. Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

She’s carrying a million heavy burdens silently, wearing a brave mask. Knowing her well, I see past her mask and into her fear. I tell her about my struggle with resistance, brokenness, tears and healing, and I encourage her not to be afraid of breaking open.

She says, “But Megan, what if I break open and can’t be put back together?” And I wonder, what if breaking open and not being able to be put back together is what we all need in order to really be free?

What if in breaking open, we allow the Spirit of the Lord to bring freedom? In being unwilling to break open, we often avoid truth in our lives.

Truth and freedom are intimately connected. Have we built our walls high in order to protect others and ourselves from certain truths that seem to be too much to carry? Sometimes it is intentional, sometimes unintentional, but avoidance of truth places us in bondage.

The truth can be painful. Sometimes, we can only take it in tiny little bites, like with a toddler-sized spoon. Sometimes, we can only handle one bite a week, but we need to be pursuing the truth in our lives.

It can get messy. There are weeks when I let little bits of truth in, and it can feel overwhelming at times. I step into the unknown of the truth and hope that God can handle my shattering heart and broken-open life.

He has yet to show himself to be unreliable with my intimate places.

Yes, being shattered and broken is terrifying. It can look ugly and messy and sometimes interrupts my day, week, month, or year. Sometimes it seems inconvenient and nauseating. I am convinced, however, that this path of brokenness is the path to healing and freedom. In breaking open, I make space for the Spirit of the Lord to invade, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

I believe what the Bible says: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17, ESV

Sacred Beauty

Sacred Beauty

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns.”   Isaiah 52:7

Sweet Sylvia stands in my life as the grandmother that I never had. In her upper 70’s, or maybe early 80’s, she represents unquestionable beauty. We spend Friday mornings together, as she picks me up at eight AM for my weekly doctor’s appointment and subsequent infusion at the local hospital. She has “adopted” me and loved me through a season of uncertainty and suffering. She tells me of God’s work in her life, and mirrors back where she sees God working in my life. She is the most beautiful woman I know.

Before I really knew what beauty was, long before I met Sylvia, I was brainwashed regarding beauty. At 11 years old, I was recovering from having my tonsils removed. I hadn’t been able to eat solid food for a little over a week, and I had just returned to school as a newly tonsil-free sixth grader. I walked into my math class, and my teacher greeted me with a smile. “Wow, Megan! You lost a lot of weight. You look just like a princess.” I beamed. My false narrative of beauty was confirmed. With the lies of my childhood further validated, I marched forward into adolescence with a commitment to “beauty” that would involve relentless weight-loss leading to a severe eating disorder. As a result, I would be hospitalized so many times that I lost count of treatment stays. I would break five bones before the age of 30, and spend about 5,250 hours at the gym or pounding the pavement in a span of seven years. I thought that this was the road to beauty.

For the vast majority of my early life, I believed whole-heartedly that beauty was rooted in thinness. I knelt at the altar of “skinny” for 20 solid years, sacrificing my entire life for the number on the scale. Please understand, eating disorders are much more complex than simply worshipping thinness.   My eating disorder encompassed many levels of brokenness, from chemical imbalances, reenactment of childhood abuse and trauma, to deep self-hatred. In the midst of the broken terrain of my life, beauty did, however, become synonymous with thinness.

The echoes of those deeply ingrained stories still bounce off the walls of my soul at times, and I search the mirror for signs of thinness that the ghost-voices still whisper to be beauty.   A new concept of beauty is slowly emerging, however, and the Holy Spirit is whispering a new story into my heart as I engage in relationship with God and with others. This beauty has nothing to do with a number sewn onto my pants or bouncing around on a scale. It is irrelevant to prominent cheek-bones or thigh gaps.

This beauty is etched in laugh-lines, gray hairs, sparkling eyes, and stretch marks. This is the beauty where the image of Christ radiates through the cracks in surrendered, broken veneers. This is the beauty that evokes the statement, “When I am with you, I feel the presence of God.” This is the beauty that draws others into a warm embrace when they feel isolated and lonely. This is the beauty of self-giving, pouring out the overflow of the abundance of Christ. This beauty is the opposite of exclusivity; it is a welcoming, warm, comforting beauty that makes those around it feel profoundly valuable. This beauty is found in unlikely places, in the eyes of the weathered and elderly, in the hands of the sick and feeble, in the words of the vulnerable and unmasked.

Just as it has done with so many sacred, God-authored elements of life, culture through the power of the enemy has obscured, perverted, and reversed beauty. We almost cannot even remember what beauty truly means. C.S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory (1965), says:

We do not merely want to see beauty, thought, even God knows, that is beauty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

This beauty is true beauty, as we are formed into “little Christs,” as Lewis frequently calls Christians through the process of sanctification.

I am 34. I have found a few grey hairs over the past year. Childbirth and illness have weathered my visage. It has also formed me more into the image of my true love, Christ. According to my understanding of beauty, this has only made me more beautiful. I am not excellent at make-up application. I don’t always have the energy to fix my hair or the resources to maintain freshly shaped eyebrows, but God has assured me of this truth:

“You are altogether beautiful my darling. There is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7).

No matter how I manipulate my appearance, there is no assurance that the mirror will reflect cultural standards of beauty. What I do know without a doubt, however, is that when I enter into communion with my Lord, He shows me His beauty. I am able to enter into that beauty, to embody it, and as Lewis so elegantly states, to bathe in it, and to carry it into the world. In the presence of the Beautiful One, I can become part of the beauty of Christ, and I can draw others into true beauty.

And here is the sacred secret of beauty: The more the beauty of Christ shines upon us, the more we can see Christ’s beauty in others. As we incarnate Christ and we see His incarnation in others, we do what Lewis alludes to. We allow others to see the beauty of Christ and see themselves as truly beautiful. We become beautiful and spread beauty to the rest of the world, just as my precious friend Sylvia does. As I see Jesus in her face, I see beauty, am set free from the lies of what I once believed beauty to be, and I realize how truly beautiful I am.

My friends, we are beautiful because we represent the image of Christ. We draw others into that beauty when they see Christ in us. There is no greater beauty than the Imago Dei, and praise the Lord, we can all stand in the truth that we bear this beauty.