If you told me in 2012 that my five-year plan would include graduating from a Christian college, joining a church, singing on a worship team, teaching at a Christian school, and staying in Wisconsin, I would’ve laughed and told you, “*bleep* off.”
Well, not quite; I’ve always been too introverted for that, but my mind would’ve retorted that answer even if my face put on a fake smile.
If you told me in 2012 that my five-year plan would lead me into a horrible job situation, a busted relationship, a lawsuit, and debt, that I’d miss the opportunity to say good-bye to my loving, beautiful, favorite grandmother, that I’d spend sleepless nights wrestling with real nightmares and surfacing family issues, I would’ve neatly executed the suicide plans which had stewed in my mind since I was 13 – only this time my attempt would’ve been successful.
If you told me in 2012 that I would someday be gifted with the undercurrent of joy that connects all of life, I would’ve stuck a pin in your hopeful optimism. I’m a vehement pessimist.
I remember looking in a mirror when I was 17 and strangely seeing myself for real. This exhausted, wounded half-woman believing she bravely carried her assorted sin collection, feeling obligated to hide all the sin collections others branded on her.
Those who know me closely know I attended a Christian college as a last resort, a sort of final chance for God to do something with me since I was so cast away.
Few people know that the weeks before meeting God with my older sister in the college cafeteria were rough. Our family dynamics were wildly changing as ancient skeletons fell out of closets. I wasn’t even supposed to return to college for the spring semester, but my dad, who’d been laid off, insisted on our college educations, tossing our offers of family sacrifice aside. The clan of edgy kids I ran with fall semester hadn’t returned. I was taking 21 credits and working a lot. My sister and I fought … in public. The campus library, no less. Quietest place ever, stupidest location for a fight.
It was over quick; I pushed her down the stairs, I think. I was so blind with rage I remember little beyond running and running. Not very fast, but very far. It wouldn’t be the first or last time I ran off campus. Bless my poor dorm sup…
Few people know that my sister cried out to God that evening, frustrated with trying to draw me to herself and God for comfort and life. I didn’t know this part of the story until later. She was exhausted because we were supposed to be knit together wrestling through all the issues side-by-side, and instead we were each alone.
“I give up honestly.” She confessed to God. “I’m just done with her.”
And yet, the tired, done woman who’d given up sat with the angry, running sinner in the dining hall two nights later saying words that pleased the God who hovered over us and between us and in us.
And that God opened my mind and came in, blowing me, my sin collections, and my small, trampled picture of life away with grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, and a supernatural, arresting presence.
I applaud the kitchen staff who valued my soul more than their bedtimes. They let us stay in the dining hall well beyond closing hours. I remember my brother-in-law-to-be getting in his car and speeding to campus to be the first to know and give me a big hug, welcoming me into another, better family. I can hear the voices of all my dorm sisters when I walked in late to devotions, interrupting the conversation with,
“Dude, I just met God tonight!”
They were thrilled, hugging me like a sister.
I can see the first professor my sister and I told lighting up and setting aside time to have lunch with us so he could hear the details.
Dear God, bless all the sanctified individuals who lined up to stay in my life – who still are in my life – despite my fumbling, half-formed theology, fatal dedication to logic, countless struggles, and lists of questions … they are priceless.
I’m five. It takes a village to raise a child, and today I’d like to thank my village.
As a child, I played with GI-Joes. One brand of GI-Joe that I especially favored was Hasbro, the flexible, high-quality, and close-to-authentic replicas of military soldiers.
Genuine Hasbros were distinctive for many reasons, one of which was a cheekbone scar cast into each model. When my younger siblings and I searched for models at garage sales, we scanned each carefully;
“Does it have the Hasbro scar?” we asked.
If the GI-Joe had the scar, we knew that it was a Hasbro and eagerly added it to our collection.
Scars are identity marks.
Every person has scars, internal and external. Scars are from car accidents, broken hearts, fights, traumatic falls, sports games, wars, beatings, lost hopes, and destroyed relationships. They tell stories that most people don’t readily share.
But like it or not, scars form who we are.
Jesus has scars. His scars identify Him to us as our crucified Savior and Conqueror of death.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus was beaten to an unrecognizable pulp. During his crucifixion, Jesus was nailed to the cross, and following his crucifixion, Jesus was stabbed in the side to prove his complete death. This horrible, grotesque death left Jesus with scars post-resurrection for a reason.
One of the greatest individual confessions in the Bible comes from Thomas, who personalizes his shaking faith when he identifies the risen Christ and declares;
“My Lord and my God!”
How did Thomas recognize Jesus? By putting his fingers in the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and by touching the spear wound in Jesus’ side. Jesus’ scars were meant to be purposefully shared with the world.
“Well, I’d rather wear my scars than cover them.”
I used to tutor a man who was open about his past. He praised God’s grace in his life, emotionally recounting various stories. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the way parts of his past reminded me of mine. When he asked me about my past and God’s changes in my life, I mumbled something about not being ready to share or about how we should discuss his upcoming papers.
He sighed in frustration at my closure;
“Well, I’d rather wear my scars than cover them.”
That phrase stayed in my mind for so long that I eventually added it to my quote book. At first, I assumed he was cocky because nobody actuallywants to display their scars.
Except Jesus did. Jesus invites Thomas to see and feel his scars, a very intimate experience. Thomas’ response is an incredible increase of trust and assertion of truth. Jesus let his scars be instrumental in Thomas’ whole-hearted confession and surrender. He didn’t hide them.
I know about hiding scars; I struggled with cutting.
I’m not writing to explain why I cut – I’m not sure I understand why – but I knew that I should be ashamed of the struggle, so I wore an armful of bracelets.
I thank God for ending that struggle. But even after meeting Him, I wasn’t very open about the experience. In college, I normally wore an armload of bracelets to hide the couple lingering scars I had.
I only have two scars I can still see now, but to me, they remain embarrassing signs of weakness, of things that went wrong without my understanding, of my struggle with depression. One man’s bold encouragement and honesty didn’t change my perception.
But Thomas said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails … I will never believe.”
And Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand and touch my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:25 & 27). He recognized Thomas for seeing and believing, but blessed those who believe without seeing.
We want everyone to be in that “those-who-believe-without-seeing” group. It’s comfortable to us if we don’t have to share raw, painful wounds or embarrassing scars within our faith conversations. It’s easier if I don’t have to show people, “Look who I was. Look what God changed. I was as good as dead, but He picked me for love.”
“Look who I was. Look what God changed. I was as good as dead, but He picked me for love.”
Many Thomas’ are in the world. People won’t trust us and our God unless we are honest about what we’ve experienced, inviting them to see our injuries and believe. Our scars mean that God’s grace brought us to the other side of whoever or whatever wounded us – even if it was ourselves.
Now, I’m not putting the scars I gave myself as the result of my depression on the same level as the scars Jesus received to purchase the salvation of the world; that’s blasphemously degrading to what he suffered as my innocent, perfect Savior. However, I think there is a point to sharing the stories behind scars, no matter how they are received, in order to open a conversation about God.
We live in a society where experience is one of the ultimate authorities. If we haven’t suffered and we can’t share our experiences, people assume that our faith, that our God, doesn’t work in the real world.
No scar is coincidental; scars are gifts that contribute to the testimony of God’s grace, help, strength, saving power, and protection in our lives. If we don’t share our scars, fresh or ancient, we’ve lost a part of the beautiful story God entrusted us to tell a world of aching sufferers.
I chose Kahlo’s “Wounded Deer” (above) because of how much I admire her artistic self-portraits of personal reality. The Las Vegas Informer magazine states that “her pain and suffering is shown through her paintings which have bold and rich colors and outstanding symbols and animals.”
This past week, I attended T4G, an amazing, challenging Christian conference about the gospel, leadership, Christian heritage, the fundamentals of the faith, current issues, and so much more. Any godly immersion is always a positive, but still overwhelming experience for me because there is so much I still have to know! And yet, I already have all the answers to all of the world’s most pressing questions.
I’m not sure if all of the allusions of this poem, written two or so years ago when I was very young, confused, and excited, work within my biblical theological framework currently, and I suppose at some point all analogies crumble, but when this mostly forgotten, slightly rough draft, modern piece composed on a train trip back to Detroit popped up on my Facebook feed today, I felt extremely grateful.
Going back to the moment that God filled my mind makes everything I perceive within or outside of my understanding pale, causing me to change my focus and creating a larger room in my excitement and questions for the greater glory; God chose me, and I am God’s forever and forever.
It wasn’t the first time I was on the train at 5am today –
and, like every day, I had a ticket for the early trip
and left in the morning, going backward.
I didn’t intend to be traveling backward – I never do –
but I asked one passenger which way the train was facing
– he pointed –
then, I noticed his glasses slipping off his nose,
his upside-down newspaper.
His shirt was inside-out.
I didn’t follow his finger.
Dare I trust an idiot’s directions?
Not many people talk on the early morning train, going backward.
The wrong corners of buildings appear first.
I never see the warning signs.
The trees run away.
It’s dizzying – so dizzying
but it mesmerizes me into complacency –
I just stay there.
Moving is admitting a mistake.
Switching seats screams for stares.
And, in the awkward train jolts of the uneven aisle, I might
I might drop my baggage.
My precious things might break; my neatly-foldeds might scatter.
No, I have to stay there, whizzing backward, ashamed to turn around.
She has moved into my space. Very gracefully, it seems.
Baggage all intact, she sits across from me, facing forward.
I put one on, too.
Eye to eye to eye to eye.
Our knees knock.
She smiles again.
I take mine off.
It’s awkward to be face-to-face with a forward, smiling passenger
when I’m going backward.
I try not to look up and meet her eyes.
She obviously asked intelligent questions.
I was the idiot.
She says, cheerily, “I’ll be going to the dining car. You?”
And then, she’s gone, baggage still intact.
Another woman gets on and sits next to me.
She obviously doesn’t mind the early morning train,
She doesn’t speak, but I’m satisfied. She is like me.
Our minds have married into the dizziness
mesmerizing our synopses, clipping and reattaching the grey brain matter.
“What do you take the train for?” she asks.
I was happy with quiet, but now I say, confidently,
“I always take this train.”
She is happy with quiet now.
By and by, she says,
“I get mental treatments at the hospital that way a ways.
I have to take this train.”
I am suddenly startled with the quiet.
Our minds have not married.
She hasto be here? Don’t we all choose to board?
I tug the conductor’s sleeve.
“Do I have a ticket for tomorrow’s train, too?” Do I have to stay here?
“You have the ticket. I just run the train.”
He turns around and continues running the train.
I’m sick of seeing the trees avoid me.
The odd corners are wrong.
I don’t understand the signs.
Dizzy, I get up and walk toward the bathroom.
With my hands, I turn the faucet on.
I splash water on my face.
When I look in the mirror, I see
water droplets sparkling down my cheeks,
catching on my bangs, plinking into the sink like diamonds in a wishing well,
slipping down the drain.
The mirror tells me that my glasses are sliding off my nose.
My hat is backward.
I’m only wearing one earring.
The train stops.
I hold tight to my baggage because I feel I’m getting off.
“Watcha doing?” the conductor shouts, angrily.
He tries to grab my arm.
“We’ll take-off again!”
Suddenly, I have switched. Very ungracefully, it seems.
I’m on another train now, trembling.
I’ve dropped a suitcase – it just fell from my watery hands.
My clothes unfolded.
Stumbling around, I hear,
“You may not want to stand there.”
Pushing my glasses up my nose, I see
a Man lay down his LIFE magazine.
“You’d be standing backward.” He says.
I can’t speak.
“Are these your things?” He bends down to pick up
He doesn’t flinch at the weight, the missing,
He says, “Sit close to Me.
I’ll take your baggage.”
It’s been a while. A long while. A year.
I’d love to say that ceasing to blog was a positive, intentional choice that gave me some personal, no-pressure space, but the truth is, though I began blogging intentionally, I never intended to stop.
In 2014, I spent 6 amazing, fun months blogging for a bunch of other people, writing articles and posts for a spattering of small businesses with interests from organic food to political law. Constantly writing for other people pushed me to create more time to develop my own writing, but it also snatched the time I had to write for myself.
And part of writing is for myself. All writers will admit that, on some level, they write for themselves. They’re compelled and coerced to write – they can’t help it. It’s an identity thing.
To be honest, it’s a little annoying to be forever writing in your head, re-working what you’re going to say, editing discussions and circumstances, seeing personal situations like a comedy script or a human interest novel, thinking you’ll get things right the next scene around, rehearsing potential conversations in front of a mirror or on paper, believing that if you simply change a few elements, tweak a few characters, your story will fall into place.
But that’s the write-life.
At the end of 2014, much of the content from my 6 months of writing was left unpublished. A great portion of what was published was removed from websites post-publication. From the small portion remaining on websites, my name was removed.
Then, a financial crisis sent me packing back to where my story began in Detroit, MI to do what I’d sworn never to do post-graduation: move in with my parents for a month.
I’m not going to bore anyone with too many details, but the beginning of 2015 fell on an uprooted, unhinged, and discontent 22 year old, who did not believe that “everything’s gonna be alright.” Perhaps that shaky sentiment came across in my last blog post.
The new year always find me evaluating goals and priorities, assembling a reading list, pulling items off my bucket list that I want to do, setting new challenges for myself, seeing what I need to work on.
But at the beginning of 2015, I was watching pieces of myself shatter like champagne glasses on a collision course and fall to the ground like confetti to sad strains of “Au Laud Sang.” My past, present, and what I believed to be my future blended and broke in ways that made reading lists and bucket lists seem stupid. Forget about goal evaluation and areas of improvement; I needed a complete re-haul.
I came to hate my character, who I was as a person.
As a result, I came to God with my specialty: another list. Something like a “Honey-To-Do” list, fix-this-in-that-order.
Seeing my sin and ugly roots from God’s perspective was truly a gift. I had a lot of sin problems and ugly roots, many of which I’d planted myself – I still do. Pride had me thinking that I was put together and in control, something I’d asked God to remove from me.
A lot can happen in a year.
God is full of grace. He’s never showed me problems He doesn’t plan to carry me through; He’s never showed me something broken that He doesn’t plan to fix – on His time, His way, without my “To Do” list for spiritual character transformation.
He ripped my list up.
He ripped my heart open.
He ripped a lot of things out of my life.
Those sentences may sound rough to people who cling to the gentleness of God; I cling to God’s gentleness, too. The push that throws the child out of the way of the oncoming car, making her land in tears with scrapped elbows and knees is gentle compared to hospitalization, broken bones, death. A broken heart is better than a dead heart. God loves a broken heart. Psalm 34:18 says that God is near to the broken-hearted and He rescues those with crushed spirits. Psalm 51:17 says that God never hates nor refuses a broken heart.
But a broken heart still hurts. Pretending it doesn’t won’t make the pain go away. I can’t be macho with God.
God didn’t ask for my permission to break my heart – He doesn’t need to, but He did give me some time to adjust to the idea. He gave me some time to grow into the knowledge that His heart was broken and soft and tender, and He wants to give me another thing to have in common with Him.
What if you looked at your story and hated your favorite character? What if your favorite character was also your main character? What if that character was simultaneously your protagonist and antagonist? What if that character was you? That’s what it’s like to see pride and a hard heart.
But God offers a much better, humbling, real healing.
This healing is like looking at your story and realizing it’s not yours. It’s loving your favorite character, finding He’s your main character and the Author, and being saved by Him every day. It’s realizing you’re simultaneously an ant in the big picture story and the apple of the Author’s eye. It’s celebrating every new chapter – and all the previous chapters, no matter how ugly.
I’ve come to understand a little better how I’m new in God. Being new doesn’t mean burying and hiding the old; it means uncovering, uprooting, breaking, and burning the old; it means only building on the brand-new foundation, the Ancient Cornerstone.
A part of me didn’t survive 2015, but now I’m thrilled. In fact, I hope another part of me doesn’t survive 2016.
“He must increase; I must decrease.” John 3:30.