beauty in the ruins

beauty in the ruins

I love what this picture represents.  I love that it’s honest, broken, and beautiful.  It’s a powerful image because it tells the story of Vedran Smailovic, who, in response to a bombing that killed 22 people waiting in line for bread in the war-ravaged Sarajevo in 1992, played his cello for 22 days in the ruins of buildings that had been bombed.   He called attention to the broken, the injustice, the hard, and the pain.  He asked people to look upon it. He did this under the threat of evil and snippers. We don’t see him asking it to be fixed in this photo.  We see him fighting that battle with beauty instead.  He fights the battle by calling attention to the ruin and creating something glorious in the midst of it.  He called attention to the rubble, asking people to see and hear – to use their whole body and senses to experience the depth of both pain and beauty.  

Can you relate? Does this strike at some emotion or desire within you?  It does me. It reminds me of what I’ve been called to and how Jesus came to the ruins and still comes to the ruins of our lives and asks us to be where we are so that He can create something beautiful – even better than the cellist of Sarajevo. This is only possible because of Jesus.  I don’t know if Vedran is a follower of Jesus or not, but I do know that the story of creation, fall, redemption, and ultimately restoration is the story that God has authored.  

Anytime we stay in the brokenness and fight for beauty – not ignoring the pain or the sin, but letting it be more exposed, we have the possibility of creating magnificence in the rubble.  Evil will not go quietly into the night, so we must claim the good, the true, the beautiful and claim it louder than Satan claims the opposite.  It is a fight to be sure.  It is true – we are wretched sinners; we are hopeless and lost; we seek our agenda and good, claiming we need no one else; we were far from Christ.  

And if we don’t think that, we will never know the power and depth of God’s grace and rescue.  If you are not broken, you will not be healed.  If you do not need a Savior, you will not be saved.  But thanks be to God!   Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  He came and still comes, to find us in the rubble, to bring light into darkness.  

To say there is no rubble or darkness or broken things would be a lie and an attempt to hide from God like Adam and Eve in the garden.  In particular, I think of women in the scripture who didn’t hide where they were or cover up their brokenness and shame, like the woman at the well and Mary Magdelene.  In their brokenness, Jesus meets them and heals them, not apart from their story or without it.  There’s nothing to be made beautiful if there’s nothing shameful or ugly; there’s nothing to be made whole and glorious if there’s no wound or pain.  

I’m putting this photo on a massive canvas in our home because it reminds me of what Jesus came to do and what he calls us to do.  It reminds me of our marriage, parenting, ministry, and church planting.  It summons me to call out the beauty in the rubble in all those things – to proclaim it’s okay to be broken because there’s beauty in ruins, and we have a healer who rebuilds better than we could hope for or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

As believers in Christ, who have the ultimate hope, we should be naming the beauty amid the brokenness.  We have permission to take risks and enter the complex and scary places because we’ve been supplied with hope, peace, love, and joy, much like the cellist with his cello.  We have been equipped to fight the good fight and stay, remaining and abiding in Jesus and sometimes the hard stuff.  We have been knit together specifically for this time and this place with a purpose (Acts 17:26-27, Esther 4:14, Psalm 139:13).  

You are not random.  The brokenness around you is not final.  The trauma doesn’t hold the verdict over your life.  You were created for good works – to seek and to savor beauty in the brokenness; to gaze in wonder at the glory of the incarnation of Jesus – God made man – Jesus going into the ultimate places of trauma, shame, and pain and all to make you and I beautiful and make us His.  

Call it out over your life and those around you. 

Say it louder than the evil that seeks to keep us in bondage. 

He has come to set the captives free.  

*I first heard of Vedran Smailovic and found this photo because of the work of Curt Thompson, specifcially in his book, The Soul of Desire. I highly recommend his books: Anatomy of the Soul, The Soul of Shame, The Soul of Desire, and his podcast, Being Known. I have been profoundly impacted by his work.

I was blind, but now I see

I was blind, but now I see

“Get your husband on the phone.  I need to talk to him.”  

This isn’t the type of news you like to hear when the doctor walks in the room after numerous tests have been run and you’ve been sitting alone, and half-blind.

“This is either a brain tumor or multiple sclerosis.  You need to go to Emory now and you can’t leave until your husband assures me that he’s taking you there.”  

Okay.  Got it.  So….I don’t need some sort of eye surgery?  

The truth is I knew.  I knew more than Ryan.  He was shaken to the core while I calmly packed a bag at home because I knew it would be a few days’ stay.  

As this week marks the 5-year anniversary of my diagnosis and I’ve got some writing goals,  I decided to write 3 MS-specific posts in a row.  I shared last time about walking, resting, and recovery, and next time will share about a community being formed by suffering.  

Rewind a couple of weeks

I  began memorizing Ephesians 1 and prayer journaling about it, asking the Lord to  “enlighten the eyes of my heart that I may know the hope to which He has called me, the riches of His glorious inheritance and His immeasurable power toward me.”  

The next day I started going blind in one eye.  I kid you not.  There are no coincidences, only the hand of God in all things, gently leading, prompting, and keeping His beloved children.  What a precious gift He gave me in the knowledge that whatever was happening was in His control. 

It was IN my physical blindness that He gave me the gift of seeing.  

Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 1 that God put all things under Jesus’ feet.  All things in subjection to him. Jesus led me to meditate on those verses before I started to go blind so that my confidence in His power, authority, and love would grow. Because Jesus’ perfect life, death, and then resurrection was Plan A – from before time began – not plan Z – I can trust that blindness, pseudo-seizures, pain, my leg not working, whatever, is not a surprise to Him. It is not plan C or Z. It’s plan A.  

Over the next few days…

*Neuro – Opthamalogists studied my eyes 

*I laid silently and alone in the loud MRI machine, 

*friends showed up with food and to pray (multiple times) 

*I was put on 1,000 mg of solumedrol for 3 days (read: major steroids – like the prednisone that you take 10 mg pills when you have a bad sinus infection and it makes you think you should go jump off a cliff… I digress).

*I was stabbed in the back with a huge needle for a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) and I don’t heal from those so I received a reverse lumbar puncture the next day (this is a long story)

*Doctors came in with words that made no sense 

*God gave us the gift of a sweet nurse who prayed over me, answered every question I had, and brought me flowers.

*Ryan read the bible aloud to me since I couldn’t see well enough.

*Then, suddenly, I started to be able to see shapes, and then colors, and then words and I cried so much I couldn’t see anymore.  

*I listened to and proclaimed “far be it from me to not believe, even when my eyes can’t see…it is well, it is well, with my soul.” (Bethel Music, Kristen DiMarco) 

A new way to see has started…

There’s something about suffering and living in the mystery that makes us see Jesus more clearly and know Him more deeply – only pain can bring this, right? I couldn’t develop a spiritual sight like that and in my trusting that there aren’t interruptions to His plan, I knew He dimed my physical sight so that my spiritual sight would be more clear so that I could realize the hope to which I had been called.

The resurrection – God raising Jesus and as the author of Hebrews says, putting everything in subjection to Him and left nothing outside of His control – this means the He is in charge of my story, my pain, my suffering, and what has happened to my body, and what will continue to happen to my body… And I’ll be honest, I can’t always see that everything is in subjection to Him, in fact, I often see dimly and have more questions than I want to have.  And yet, I get to see more of Him and can literally say – both physically and spiritually – I was blind but now I see – along with Bartimaeus who said it first (Luke 18, Mark 10).  

We drove home from Emory a few days later – still pretty fragile and not knowing exactly what this meant for us – and as we drove I had this strange feeling of everyone else’s lives moving on and mine had stopped for a few days.  Everything looked different – like looking through a foggy window.  Yet, I was coming to know with a greater depth the One who could see all things clearly and wouldn’t let anything touch me that hadn’t first passed through His hands.  

hard things, recovery, and the pace of grace

hard things, recovery, and the pace of grace

“Mommy, why do we hike if it’s so hard for you?” (Maggie, age 6, on a hike in Montana this summer)

September 1st marks my fifth anniversary of being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  Today’s post is about MS, but it’s about life too because many themes on this journey for me apply wholistically.  Themes on this journey over the years include fighting back, embracing limits, learning how to see again, and moving at the pace of grace. Today, I hope that this will resonate with you as I invite you to consider what the pace of grace looks like within the boundaries and responsibilities that have been given to you. 

This summer, we were on an 11 week Sabbatical (because my church is incredible!), and we got to choose where to travel, so my loving husband asked me about a year in advance where I’d like to go.  My answer is always a resounding “out West” for multiple reasons, from “that’s where we met” to the scenery and the intense mountains to be in awe of and climb.  

A little known fact for many is that I had NO desire to climb a mountain until my MS diagnosis.  The diagnosis spurred a fighting back mentality and a grabbing at everything I can do sort of desire within me.  And it’s been good – doing hard things with my body has made me braver about doing other hard things.  Bravery and grit grow through practice.    

And yet….while it’s been good, it’s also gotten harder and has exposed my weaknesses more and more with each year.  It makes my husband and I more and more “one flesh”…there is something about oneness that only comes through suffering or hardship…and I think that’s intentional on the Lord’s part…  {I digress and will hit this another time}.   

Fighting back is good and needed.  

Embracing limits for my good and God’s glory is also good – and desperately needed.  

So, it shouldn’t have been surprising that going at the “pace of grace” became a theme as the summer began – a theme that we learned through imperfect practice.  I learned a lot about what that meant and about believing what I often say, “limits are a grace to be received.”

On one particular hike, we made the kiddos slow down. They would often end up an hour or so ahead of us with our friends who were with us, and Ryan would hang back with me as I went at a snail’s pace focusing on making my leg lift.   (*side note:  you’re thinking, “but we see you wear heels at church?!  You look fine!”  Yes, but one true thing doesn’t negate another true thing. The reasons are a story for another time).  

So, this one day, on this 8-mile hike, we told the kids, “you have to remain with us.”  That meant they had to take breaks often and for longer than they needed.  We’ve discovered that it takes around 20 minutes of resting and cooling off to get to a recovery point where I can walk decently enough (especially when it’s hot outside).  And, if it’s a long hike, we’re stopping about every 20 minutes for a 5-25 minute recovery period for me.  Yep, you read that right.  Sometimes the breaks are longer than the amount of time we just spent hiking.

Here’s the thing.  I can’t rush recovery. I’ve tried.  There’s literally nothing that can make my recovery faster than just waiting – and waiting with a calmed and quieted heart, not a fretting heart.  My foot and leg start to drag, and it gets to the point where I can’t make them lift anymore.  No amount of willpower works, and believe me, I’ve got the willpower to crawl hand and knees on rocks and gravel when I can’t walk (so sometimes Ryan carries me, but that’s not a manageable long-term solution).  

If I don’t stop to recover sufficiently, I simply won’t make it.  Even my crawling will fail.  

Isn’t this the journey of life?  Charles Spurgeon said, “Rest time is not waste time…in the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.”  I’ve read another author who talked about how there’s a tribe who physically stops everything to sit still so that their souls can catch up with their bodies.  

Whew. The soul is catching up with the body. We are complicated and interconnected beings – you and I – disease or no disease.  Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves are all intricately connected.  No wonder keeping a peaceful heart while waiting helps my physical body relax and recover better.

What a gift to our kids!  At least, after I got over my guilt of making them slow down and they realized that we weren’t withholding something good from them. 

They got to stop and see.  

Stop and listen.  

Stop and put someone else’s needs first.  

We were united in the waiting, in the wonder of the life booming around us, and in the little things.  Ryan and I invited their souls into the pace of grace, into waiting and watching, into eliminating hurry, and into the opportunity to see someone else’s needs.  

It was on this hike that Maggie asked why we hike if it’s hard for me.  I never got to fully answer her because the heat and the hike had worn out my mind and body in the moment of her thoughtful inquiry…but I think she got to see and savor the answer as we waited.  As she watched mom choose to do something that was clearly difficult; she watched dad stay beside and support mom every single moment; she watched what it looked like and felt like to rest and recover with me, and she watched creation shout the glories of God in all his creativity and power and beauty.  

Often the best answers to our questions aren’t something that can be articulated with mere words.  

Can I ask you a question or two?  Because this isn’t just for me…

Where do you need to recover?  

How can you create and guard space for your mind, heart, and body?  

What limits is God inviting you to receive?  

What could it look like to work from rest and not work for rest?  

deliverance from the tyranny of emotions

deliverance from the tyranny of emotions

I talk to myself a lot, or rather, preach to myself as the ever-helpful Martin Lloyd-Jones reminds us to do. Recently the preacher in my head has been clearly and loudly reminding me: You don’t have to bow to your feelings.

I tend towards being a sponge – soaking in and filling up with the emotions of others and owning them – even though they are not mine to own. I’ve begun to see that as I fill up on anxieties or frustration, all I can do as a sponge is wring it back out all over whomever squeezes me at the wrong moment.

Thankfully, God is not like this with us – taking on our emotions, being changed by them, and dripping all over us in kind. Yes, He weeps with those who weep and clearly and vividly displays emotion! Yet, He is not controlled by emotions. His response to the sin and brokenness of this world is always perfect, right, and true.

My emotions have a place, and rightly so, as God made us to be feeling creatures, but my emotions shouldn’t have the final say about what is true in a situation. God, in his severe mercy, has given me a number of opportunities to practice this lately. As the waves keep crashing, I keep grabbing the opportunities, though sometimes not very well, to sink into the truth.

1 Peter 5:7 reminds us to cast all our anxieties on Jesus because he cares for us. I imagine wringing out my emotion onto Jesus, knowing He can handle it, and then asking Him to fill me with the truth, bowing in submission to that truth, not bowing to my ever-changing emotion. 

I’ve gotten to know Naomi lately, reading through the book of Ruth. She displays this steadfastness of emotion as we see her at the beginning of Ruth talking to her daughters-in-law, following the loss of her husband and sons. She puts herself aside for a moment and tells them they should return to their homes in Moab, and not come to Bethlehem with her. If they come with her, they have no prospect of a husband or a future. She displays unconditional love to them in the midst of her own anguish and pain! In his book, A Loving Life, Paul Miller says this about Naomi as we see her in the opening scene of Ruth:

“Naomi neither suppresses her feelings nor is trapped by them. She didn’t have to act on her feelings. She felt anguish, yet she was free from the tyranny of her feelings…if we follow (our feelings) we become trapped by them.”[1]

There is something liberating about not being trapped in our feelings; being able to feel, lament and love deeply – yes! – but not having to act on every emotion that rears its head up. Naomi wants to change her name to “bitter” because of all she has endured. As we listen to her through the story, we hear that her trust in God is deep. She knows that He is sovereign; in fact, her pain, just like Job’s, is all the deeper because of her trust and hope in the sovereignty of God. In Naomi’s bitterness, and probably sinful accusation against God, Miller goes on to say, that although “her feelings were all over the place…she put one foot in front of the other as she returned.” [2]

God continues His steadfast love to Naomi (and Ruth and Boaz!) as He brings beautiful and lasting redemption by the end of the book of Ruth. His power and goodness are threaded throughout the entire story. While the book begins with Naomi empty and bitter, it ends with her full.

In a recent car drive alone, the barbarians of my emotions were roaming the streets of my mind as I dealt with feelings of anger and fear because of a painful and gut-wrenching conversation with a friend, being spoken to harshly by a leader in my church, and attempting to deal with the ever changing emotions of my tween daughter – while lovingly leading them all. Satan was baiting me to bow to my emotions stirred up with the circumstances of the week and I was struggling to soak in the promises of God and sing the truth louder than the lies when I was gently reminded by the Spirit, via the song Living Hope by Phil Wickim, that Jesus HAS broken every chain – even the chains are emotions and lies!

The King has delivered me from the tyranny of myself! I am not held hostage by emotions, my past, or my sin. The Lord has delivered me from myself and the Lord IS delivering me from myself and the tyranny of my emotions and false narratives they can create. As I submit my emotions to Him, I am led into sweet moments of worship. I lift my eyes up, as the psalmist in Psalm 121 reminds me, to Him from whom my help comes. 

As I soak in the Word of God and the character of God, I am a sponge filled by Him to then be squeezed out with patience, joy, hope, and love. The Word of God comes dripping out of my mouth instead of unchecked tyranical emotions from my deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:10). 

And the drumbeat of the preacher in my mind continues on, reminding me: you can lament without having to bow in submission to your emotions because your King has delivered you from their grip. Hallelujah!

[1] Miller, Paul. A Loving Life, p.33.

[2] Miller, p. 51.

40 days: a devotional

40 days: a devotional

If you’re looking for something a little different this Lenten season, or just this season in general, I’m reposting this devotional I wrote last year. It has weekly themes in it that were based on Ryan’s sermon series at the time that you’ll notice. You could dig into the life of the person mentioned each week to dig deeper if you’d like. I realize Lent is about fasting, but I think it’s also about feasting – feasting on God’s abundant provision in Jesus towards us and feasting on His Word and prayer every day.

So, here’s an invitation for you to come and delight yourself in scripture, a question, and a prayer each day for 40 days.

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