Lost and Found Girl…

I first met God when I was nine years old. My friend Lauren was swinging with me on the swing-set, and she asked me how to get to heaven. I knew the answer because I’d learned it in church. When she was done asking for eternal life I figured I’d better do it too because, well, I didn’t exactly want to burn in hell.

I didn’t really know him – “know Him” – for another twenty years, but that was how we first got acquainted.

For many years, I saw him as my wish granter and maybe my good luck charm. I’d pray silly things like asking for a good hair day or that I’d get a letter in the mail from my cousins in South Dakota. Or when things were really bad, I’d pray that He’d make it end and send someone to rescue us.

When I was in my twenties, I’d learned enough about life to know that God isn’t quite who I thought He was back then and that sometimes He doesn’t answer in the way we want Him to. I’d learned that life has happy moments, but the main story is long and forgettable and mundane and sometimes quite shocking and painful.

I found God – the Real God – in the pages of a book in my twenty-ninth year. The book told me about a God who seeks the lost ones. About a God who can totally handle my level of brokenness. About a God who never leaves and always chases. About a God who does not make silly promises about happily ever after. Instead, His promises are about peace and presence and closeness in my worst moments.

He and I stayed on that mountain together for many years, growing more deeply attached to one another the whole time. There were many storms ahead for me and while the rain raged and the winds howled, I buried my face deep in His chest and I wrapped my little fingers tightly around Him and hung on for dear life. And He showed me then that He was who He’d said He’d be. That He was trustworthy and reliable.

No matter where you go, I will find you. I will search for you until you come home. When others leave, I will stay. When the rest forsake, I will take you up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

I suppose I’m not the only one who could write a book about the sad stories in their life. In fact, I’m guessing that, like me, some of us could fill libraries. I think sometimes part of being a mere mortal is that we narrow in so closely on our own stories that we forget the human rhythm of it all. We get lost in a bunch of “me” and “I” based story lines that we get to feeling alone and like these things only happen to us.

And the more we listen to those little whispers about how bad it is for us and how good it is for everyone else, little tiny bricks start to accumulate around us, walling us in and quarantining us from being part of a collective body of humanity. It exaggerates our loneliness and the voices in our heads tell us half-truths and deceptions that, if we were in open community with other broken people who have felt similar hurts or were facing similar battles, they would have been able to tell us that they are lies.

When separated from the herd, even the strongest eventually dies.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

My earliest experiences and memories were ones filled with the church life. Churchy people with churchy clothes and churchy talk and churchy walk.

When I’m honest, most of the largely traumatic events in my life have centered around churchiness.

And while a small bit of credence can be given to the idea that Christians are “just people too”, another whole series of books needs to be written about the value of being a truly changed person who no longer participates in the random slaughter of others based on which preacher you like and which one you don’t, which church you go to and which one you left, which author is right and which one is apostate, and all of the such nonsense that the dedicated church goer has likely seen take place in a million painful scenarios.

The trouble with bad Christians is that they tell a bad story about a good God. Even someone who has known God himself for a very long time can get off on the wrong path after enough exposure to that sort of thing. Even someone who has buried her face in the very chest of God to endure the harsh beatings of life can lose sight and think that the term Christian and Christ are somehow synonymous of one another and that when one is filled with remembrances of pain and hurt and betrayal and wrongdoing, the other is likely to be also.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

When I was young, my aunt had cancer. Back then, cancer was still something that almost no one had. And when they had it, they normally died.

I hate even trying to recall what I remember of her death as I know I remember the details the way a young child would… upside down, backwards, and probably out of order.

Her cancer started out as breast cancer and then metastasized through her body. She was so totally going to die. There was just like no way that she was going to be able to get well.

For a while, I had the chance to stay with her in a clinic. I remember her lying on the mattress on the living room floor and brushing her hair. I remember blowing up an inflatable boat in that living room to help her have a bath because she couldn’t get to the tub. I remember the tears she hid when her babies would come visit and oh how they would run when she was finally alone and could let it out.

And one day, she left to go have an alternative treatment done in Mexico. She came back healthy. “Cancer free” is what the doctors said. I still remember thinking that it was such a miracle how she kicked cancer’s butt like that. I mean, she really was a tiny little thing. Cancer had eaten her alive, and I’d watched her shrink with my own eyes. But inside her little bitty self was the heart of a warrior that just didn’t quit. And she so totally lived.

A while later, she went in for a routine procedure of some sort. Again, I was too young to really understand. All I know is that she died on that operating table because the strain of it all had become too much. Yes, I know there was something about a fat lipid acting like a blood clot, but what I remember most was realizing she’d just been through too much. She’d come as far as she could come. And she finally couldn’t go any further. At least this is how my heart took the news of her passing.

And in a very similar way, this is how things went for me too.

I was like a little ship that spent the first thirty-five+ years of her life being tossed around in a dark ocean being beaten senseless by waves and sea monsters. And when I finally made it to harbor, instead of surviving, I just fell apart.

The strain of it all had just become too much.

The stories of churchy people with churchy words who threw spears right through me “in the name of Jesus” got mixed up inside of me with the story of the God I knew before I really knew Him and somehow in the tangle and mess, I just got lost.

Super lost.

It was like my bones were so full of holes that they couldn’t bear weight anymore. Like if I put the full pressure of all my questions on any part of me, those parts would give way and my bones would splinter and crumble.

In an angry protest, I machine-gunned those questions directly at the softest spot of my soul for many months, all the while, telling myself that anything worth believing could hold up to my rapid fire. I poked every hole I could think of and watched thirty-seven years of belief fall flat right in front of my face.

Advisors from hell came to me to tell me more bad stories and to whisper things to me about the nonsense of the Bible and how ridiculous the whole thing really was. Whispers about how God was just this made up thing that these horrendous people came up with because they’re too weak to handle the really tough shit that life can dish out.

In between my drops of tears and blood, I would raise a defiant fist at it all. “If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s weak,” I would tell myself. I would weep tears of lostness, but the voices told me that I’d finally been found and was crying the tears of my redemption.

The sound of God’s voice faded away from me.

All went black.
All went silent.

I tried to read books, but with every intention on my part to help myself be found and not be so lost, it was as though the surge of violent counsel from the voices in my head would redouble their efforts.

One day about twelve months in, I stopped myself in the middle of another self-annihilation session and had the fleeting thought of my aunt dying there in that operating room all those years ago. Thinking of how ironic it was. Of how sad and seemingly meaningless it was that she lived through so much, and yet died over something that wasn’t even life threatening. And yet, here I was, doing that exact thing.

The real beatings in my life had ceased, but the irony was that the war that finally pulled me all the way under was something that raged entirely in the space between my own two ears. Inside of my memory. Inside of my anger and my hurt and my sadness and my fear. Inside broken feelings and terrible aloneness.

The tiniest pinprick of desire was all I had left, but it was enough to convince me to set down my tools of self-destruction. To shut off the voices and fire those advisors for their bad advice.

Inside my mental battleground, I finally surrendered and laid my bloodied face in the wet earth and rested. Not quite dead, but very far from resurrection.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

I think sometimes we think we can pull people back from their cliffs. You know what I mean. It’s when your friend tells you she’s getting divorced, and you somehow think that now is the time to start trying to convince them otherwise. I think that when people are already to that point, it’s a bit too late. The efforts needed to happen years ago for them to have the desired effect.

By the time they tell you they have stage-4 cancer, you can almost start counting the minutes before the credits roll.

And by the time I knew the true state of the darkness inside of me, it was well past the time that good talks with good friends or helpful insights from helpful books would be able to be of service to me.

All the lines that worked before stopped working.

Churchy words twisted inside of me like old worms, making me feel physically ill just to hear them.

I was too far gone to be reached by something as simple as the cut and dry answers of my childhood.

This time, what I needed was so much more than that.

I’d always prided myself on not needing proofs from God. I remember reading somewhere in a very meaningful book that the child who no longer needs the constant reassurance of such proofs is near to the heart of God. And I think that might still be true, but my point is that that’s just not where I was anymore.

I had been there at one point. At many points actually. But now I had entered a place that was void and silent and harsh. I called it the dark night of my soul. My Great Sadness. It was a place I’d never been. And as many times as I’ve tried to figure out if there was a way I could’ve avoided going there, I don’t really think there is. It’s just a place I needed to walk.

For another six long months, I spoke to no one about it. I was simply silent. The only intention in me was an intention to not be intentional. I can’t say I recommend this course of action, but I think that the God who knew me before was still knowing me then and was able to hear the groanings from my deepest places that my mouth simply refused to form words around.

I think He saw me there and had great pity.

I don’t think He was angry.

And I think He missed me.

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Pieces of red and pieces of blue. Green too. And brown. Lots of gray. With a splash of yellow here and there.

These are the colors of me.

I once was a different picture, but that picture is gone now. About nine years ago, someone that I loved very much took a sledgehammer to that picture and sent pieces of me flying in all directions.

I carry a little bucket in my heart where I collect those broken pieces of me when I happen to find them along my way.

After recently adding immense piles of black pieces to my broken lot, I finally dumped it out one day to assess these pieces as a group.

What could be made of this? I wondered.
What good could come from this much brokenness?
Broken glass serves only one purpose, doesn’t it? To cause pain and to be a reminder of what broke it in the first place.

Is there anything anyone can do with this bucket of broken glass?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

God came and found me again. Just like He did when I was nine and like He did when I was twenty-nine. There were no gonging cymbals or bursts of fireworks. There was still water and unseen movement and gentle breath and many words.

Words whispered to me in the mundane places of my life. Whispers sent to me under the hum of normal speech and above the deafening quiet that a heart can make when it’s chosen to give up.

Relentless words.

Words that demanded to be heard but insisted on being delivered via soft breath; forcing me to listen if I truly wanted to hear.

I would ride in my car and hear His voice in the wind rushing around in the backseat.

Do you remember Me?

In my bed late at night when sleep would not come, in between awake and not, I would feel memories rise up in me. Memories that were my own and therefore, not something I could argue against. Times when life had pressed me so hard against the wall that I felt as thought I could feel my spine separating… and then He would come through for me. Times that were solid and concrete and immoveable and not subject to my existential questions and theology hole-poking.

For a time, forget the rest. Stay here in this place.
Remember Me.

A Sunday morning in a little living room on the east side, surrounded by new people. Fighting to breathe out and keep the tears in. Not really sure how I ended up here, but I can feel the unmistakable Presence. The Presence I’ve been running from. The Presence I’ve been longing to find again.

I told you that no matter where you go, I would find you. That I would search for you until you come home.

A morning hilltop just before sunrise. My daily ritual for most of spring. Watching the small town awaken and begin to move around. The perspective gained from even a minor altitude change. Experiencing that almost imperceptible shift from darkness to daybreak. Time and again, hearing whispers of invitation. But not necessarily an invitation to do, this time, to simple sit still and be.

Be still, Heather. Stop fighting. The war is over. Be at peace. And remember Me.

Sometimes the Voice came in a trickle. Sometimes in a downpour. Words from my childhood would flood over me and wash me. Words that had brought me comfort decades ago.

Heather, I have searched you and known you. I know your downsitting and your uprising. I know your thoughts afar off. There is not a word in your mouth that I do not know. Before a word is on your tongue, behold, I know it altogether. Where can you go from my Spirit, and where can you flee from my presence? If you go up to heaven, I am there. If you make your bed in hell, behold, I am with you even there. If you fly on the wings of the dawn and go to the uttermost parts of the sea, even there my hand will guide me and my right hand will hold you fast. How precious are my thoughts of you. How vast is the sum of them. If I were to number them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.

Word by word, whisper by whisper, brick by brick, my Great Wall began to become dismantled.

I love the Webster’s definition of dismantled. “To take to pieces.”

How apropos.
I have a whole bucket of pieces.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

It’s always been a wonder to me that the affecting of love into a person’s life can produce it’s own abundance of the same material. Someone can be empty and have nothing to share and no ability to even meet their own basic needs. But an infusion of love into them can turn on some sort of invisible pump in them that not only enables them to fill themselves, it gives them enough to share. Enough to go around pouring out their water into the empty wells around them.

My anger began to dissipate around the time that winter ended its reign of terror. Spring came and brought with it fresh perspective and an intense longing to put the final period on this thirty-nine-year-long chapter and close this book.

Fresh pages and fresh titles. Forward-looking words and not ones that always looked over my shoulder at what has been. New stories of happy and not always the reflections of sad.

I wrote the letters. You know the ones. The ones you write but never send. The ones where you say what you truly need to say because doing so is like letting out the stoppered-up poison that would otherwise remain in you forever.

I even drove the twelve hundred miles to see those places and those faces. A lot of love can be rebuilt when there is enough desire and intention, but nothing slain stays dead in a vacuum. And where anger and unforgiveness has been eradicated, a wise person doesn’t leave it empty for long.

Still, I saw that the phantom sorts of feelings just wouldn’t leave me alone.

The things I wish I could say to them. The things I wish they’d figure out themselves. Yes, even after all these years, I still wished that they could understand how much excruciation their actions have caused me.

I felt like I was on a fence. One day, doing just fine. The next, threatening to return headlong into that dark night that I’d just come out of.

It was as though I’d done all the work of forgiveness, but I’d put all of my favorite wounds in a little balloon that went with me wherever I went. It wasn’t in me anymore, and it wasn’t even on me. It was just by me. Close enough to be pulled down and fixated on again. The string always keeping my fingers busy.

I read somewhere that the remembering of injuries is spiritual darkness and that the fostering of resentment is spiritual suicide. But when someone really has hurt you in a very legitimate way, letting it go is just dreadfully hard. I think there’s actually some pleasure we get in wallowing in the self-pity of it all. And then a person has to decide which they want more: the pleasure of the wallowing or the freedom that comes in the denying of it.

One day, I laid in the grass imagining my pretend balloon filled with all my saddest sads. It was floating up just above me, looking terribly benign and even a little sparkly, but I knew exactly what sort of poison was inside of it. I thought about pulling it back down to look at and hold maybe for a little while, but as the hardwired memories of painful experiences with the balloon made its way across a synapse in my brain, another thought came along.

Just let go.

I laid there for a while with the imaginary string coiled through my fingers. I didn’t really like the idea of letting go of all my most precious pains. As much as I hate them, I mean, I do sorta like them. And it is really really hard work to just let something like that go. It means that I’m done. Done carrying them. And while that seems a silly thing to even have to ponder, anyone who has carried their own poison balloon can attest to the struggle.

One by one, my fingers released.

I felt the wind tugging at the balloon speeding up the string’s departure from my grasp.

Oh how I want to hang on.
Oh how I want to let go.

The string passed through my little fingers first and then through my pointer and thumb.

Deep breath.

Here it comes.
And there it goes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

I think there truly is a thing inside of us that can will ourselves to live. Can choose life over death.

And I willed myself to live.

There was a certain moment when it happened to me, but I can’t exactly remember when it was. I chose to pull my head out of the water. I chose to allow myself to be found again. I chose to listen. To strain to hear if necessary.

And while the great work of it was done by Someone other than myself, it would never have been enough to simply lay there in my apathy in a permanent dark night.

I do not say that to contest or make light of those who have reached the same dark night as mine and not resurfaced in the same way. But my story is the one I have to share. The only one I have to share.

Mine is the story of a girl who was lost and was then found. Again. A girl who was once something and then became something else. A girl whose life was filled with shattered glass pieces of many colors. Glass that was repurposed to make something that only an Artist could have pulled together. Shards of this and pieces of that all woven together to tell a new story. To paint a different picture.

You are my lost and found girl.
You have been found again, and you are mine.

 You are my resurrection girl.
Back from the dead, over and over.

You are my stained glass window girl.
Give me your bucket of broken glass and see what I create.

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good friday eve…

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Of all the times I’ve read the story of Good Friday and Easter, somehow this line has always managed to escape me, “Then all the disciples left him and fled.” Beyond the physical torture story that we all know so well is one of emotional agony. To be abandoned by his friends in his most dire moment. Which of us has not felt the sting of having the ones closest to us turn their back and run when we needed them most. And here it is again in 8 small words… there is no depth of sadness or hurt or hardship that I have or will face where You’ve not already stood. #itsalmostfriday #butsundayiscoming #thankyouforthecross

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for the early good-bye…

On a warm sunny day in early October, she left for the last time. How could I have known that I would never see her again? That afternoon, she lay on my chest enjoying the warm sun that bathed us both, purring in her sleep.

When she first went missing, I looked for her everywhere I went. White plastic bags along the highway or small mounds of snow would catch my eye, making me think I’d finally spotted her tiny white body.

Posters and signs and search parties later, reality began to set in, and one gray day in late November, I laid my face down on the hardwood floor and watered the ground with my sadness for her early good-bye.

From time to time, nearly eighteen months later, I still catch my breath when I think of her. Tears have wet my face even in recent months. I told myself that she would come back like she always did, but that time, she did not.

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A new year is a cycle wherein we go through the same rise and fall that we did during the last rotation. That loss and grief is cyclical is nothing new. And as was the year that my little Ella went away, winter continues to be my quiet, reflective turn around the sun.

I still feel the pain of her loss as I do the pains of other winter losses. Even nature seems to join in my sad song, shedding her glory for a bare, stark landscape of grays and browns. The sun hides away and clouds are ever present, seeming to turn an entire season into a place of empathy for a heavy heart.

The hardest thing about losing Ella was that I never saw it coming. I was not prepared. One day, all was well; the next, it was over. For months, I felt sure that if I simply persisted enough in my search, one day, I’d turn that corner in that neighborhood or on that block and I’d finally see her. But that day never came.

The thing about early good-byes is that though they are often final, life offers many stages wherein we relive them. A year after Ella disappeared, I found myself searching for her again and re-awoken to the pain of her absence.

In a world where loss and early good byes are commonplace, to pause for a cat seems trivial. But to not would seem to imply that grief and loss move on a varying scale of weight and gravity making one less or more than the other. And while it is obviously true that losing a child or spouse or friend or family member is indeed harder and greater than losing even a beloved pet – it is also true that grief, whether big or small, demands that we take time to pause and reflect and heal.

A piece of my heart left me with the disappearance of that small white bit of fur, but greater good-byes have gnawed away at my wintered soul. Memories of ill-timed good-byes spin around me like loose floating particles in a shaken snow globe.

The loss of friendships once dear to me.
The loss of a state I had called my home.
The loss of connections and places of belonging.
The loss of loves and loyalties and an entire identity.
My easy smile.
My light heart.
My carefree spirit.

Like the corners of my leaf-littered yard, I conceal withered pieces of happiness whose times have worn out and altogether expired. What once was is no longer and what remains are the handprints and impressions left behind in my now-hardened cement.

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Winter has done her work on me once again, and I find myself fighting the cold that has crept in. Fighting the apathy that wants to take over. Fighting the tiredness that comes after a season of long nights and short days, after a season of dark and gray and brown.

Welcoming a new hello after an ill-timed good-bye is trickier than it might seem. Loosening a tight fist and clenched jaw happens only with hard work. And when the long waited-for melt finally comes, it does so with a bittersweet mix of releasing what was in order to, with free and empty hands, take hold of what is to come.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Every gray November brings a shifting landscape, but after she has had her time, she gives way to the thaw.

And when it comes; when the icicles hanging around our deliquesced hearts begin to release their watery captives, the drops fall down to hydrate the very places within us that have been brown and gray. They wash away the dark and rain on us with soft promises of new life.

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Moving on, letting go…

Self is the only prison that can ever bind the soul
Truth is the only angel that can bid the gates unroll:
And when he comes to call thee, arise and follow fast:
His way may lie through darkness, but it leads to light at last.

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“The woe of the world is of its own making. Sorrow purifies and deepens the soul, and the extremity of sorrow is the prelude to Truth.

“Have you suffered much? Have you sorrowed deeply? Have you pondered seriously upon the problem of life? If so, you are prepared to wage war against self, and to become a disciple of Truth.

“The intellectuals, who do not see the necessity for giving up self, frame endless theories about the universe and call them Truth; but do thou pursue that direct line of conduct which is the practice of righteousness, and thou wilt realize the Truth which has no place in theory, and which never changes. Cultivate your heart. Water it continually with unselfish love and deep-felt pity, and strive to shut out from it all thoughts and feelings which are not in accordance with Love. Return good for evil, love for hatred, gentleness for ill treatment, and remain silent when attacked. So shall you transmute all your selfish desires into the pure gold of Love, and self will disappear in Truth. So will you walk blamelessly amongst men, yoked with the easy yoke of lowliness and clothed with the divine garment of beauty.

“O come, weary brother! Thy struggling and striving
End thou in the heart of the Master of Truth.
Across self’s drear desert why wilt thou be driving,
Athirst for the quickening waters of Truth.

“When here, by the path of thy searching and sinning,
Flows Life’s gladsome stream, lies Love’s oasis green?
Come, turn thou and rest; know the end and beginning,
The sought and the searcher, the seer and seen.

“Thy Master sits not in the unapproached mountains,
Nor dwells in the mirage which floats on the air,
Not shalt though discover his magical fountains
In pathways of sand that encircle despair.

“In selfhood’s dark desert cease wearily seeking
The odorous tracks of the feet of thy King;
And if thou wouldst hear the sweet sound of His speaking,
Be deaf to all voices that emptily sing.

“Flee the vanishing places; renounce all thou hast;
Leave all that thou lovest, and naked and bare,
Thyself at the shrine of the Innermost cast;
The Highest, the Holiest, the Changeless is there.

“Within, in the heart of the Silence He dwelleth;
Leave sorrow and sin, leave thy wanderings sore;
Come bathe in His Joy, whilst He, whispering, telleth
Thy soul what it seeketh, and wander no more.

“Then cease, weary brother, thy struggling and striving;
Find peace in the heart of the Master of Truth;
Across self’s dark desert cease wearily driving;
Come; drink at the beautiful Waters of Truth.”

— James Allen in The Two Masters: Self and Truth

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My soul is weary of this war. Carrying the torch of what is my right. Working ceaselessly to vindicate myself. Working tirelessly to create an existence wherein, what I feel I deserve is cared for by others with as much intention as I care myself.

The wounds of yesterday surround me.

The times you left me when I needed you.
The times you could not see.
The times you betrayed me.
The times you left and chose never to return.
The time you refused to try to understand.
The wars we fought over boundary lines.
The games you played.
The love you simply could not give.
The words spoken against me that have caused damage unspeakable.

Within me rages a war to set these things straight.
To finally see my offenders receive their own.

My thoughts continually consumed in a replay of incidents that have left deep knife marks on my heart.

Lost in the pain of yesterday, I have abandoned today. With the scenes of then ever before me, the love of now is lost and hidden. All I can see is what I’ve chosen to fixate on.

Hurt.
Anger.
Rage.
Disgust.
Fear.
Offenses never set right.
Offenders never brought to justice.

I try and try to forgive, but it always returns. My throat is tight from its stranglehold.

The past decade of my life has brought with it massive pendulum swings. Swings that are and were necessary in order to get from there to here, but they are not very congruous of each other nor can you participate in both at the same time. And so I find myself here today, trying to retain the lessons gained from the time my pendulum swung greatly that direction while allowing this direction to take place as well.

Earlier lessons of boundaries and learning to say “no” to ill treatment are all muddled up in this new truth that is desperately trying to push through.

The death of self.
The release of anger.

Forgiveness.
Freedom.

Letting. It. Go.

I want so badly to be free now, but these wounds sit on me like chains. I cast them off from time to time and live momentarily in health of mind and heart. But just so quickly, I slap the fetters back on and return to my unrest.

The truths of pop psychology do not line up with the truths of the Shepherd King.

One tells me not to cry over people who won’t cry over me, and the other says to lay my life down unreservedly… even for those who cannot and will not see, even for those who will use and lie and betray, even for those who hate me.

One tells me to remember with vigilance; the other tells me to forget… seventy times seven.

— h.c.

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If men only understood
All the emptiness and aching
Of the sleeping and the waking
Of the souls they judge so blindly,
Of the hearts they pierce so unkindly,
They, with gentler words and feeling,
Would apply the balm of healing —
If they only understood.

Kindness, nobler ever than revenge.

— Shakespeare

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“The remembering of injuries is spiritual darkness; the fostering of resentment is spiritual suicide. To resort to the spirit and practice of forgiveness is the beginning of peace and happiness. There is no rest for him who feels that he has been unjustly treated, and who schemes how best to act for the discomfiture of his enemy.

“How can happiness dwell in a heart that is so disturbed by ill-will? Do birds resort to a burning bush wherein to build and sing? Neither can happiness inhabit a breast that is aflame with burning thoughts of resentment. Nor can wisdom come and dwell where such folly resides.

“Revenge seems only sweet to the mind that is unacquainted with the spirit of forgiveness; but when the sweetness of forgiveness is tasted then the extreme bitterness of revenge is known. Revenge seems to lead to happiness to those who are involved in the darkness of passion; but when the violence of passion is abandoned, and the mildness of forgiveness is resorted to, then it is seen that revenge leads to suffering.”

— James Allen in Forgiveness

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My hands are open.
My heart is ready.
Show me the way.

~*

For the harsh words you spoke, I forgive you.
For the time you stood against me, I forgive you.
For the love you could not give my children, I forgive you.
For the times you took from me without permission, I forgive you.
For the lies you spread, I forgive you.
For the unrealistic expectations pressed upon me, I forgive you.
For the perfection demanded me of me, I forgive you.
For your lack of support, I forgive you.
For leaving me to need to survive on my own, I forgive you.
For not even trying to find the truth, I forgive you.
For those you’ve turned against me, I forgive you.
For your utter abandonment, I forgive you.
For not loving me as much as my brothers, I forgive you.
For letting me go and never coming after me, I forgive you.
For using me, I forgive you.
For taking my husband, I forgive you.
For breaking our vows, I forgive you.
For believing lies spoken against me, I forgive you.

For all the wounds buried deep down in my burning heart, you are forgiven.

Help me hold onto this peace. Oh tender forgiveness, do not slip again from my fingers. Give me the courage to remain here. To make this place my home. Soften my clenched fists and release my tight jaw. Breathe on me with warm, soft air and bring stillness and peace where a terribly bloody war has been fought. Wash away my anger and help me heart beat kindly again.

— h.c.

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“’The Kingdom of Heaven cometh not by observation’, and the silent sacrifice of self for the good of others, the daily giving up of one’s egotistic tendencies, is not seen and rewarded of men, and brings no loud blazon of popularity and praise. It is hidden away from the eyes of all the world, nay, even from the gaze of those who are nearest to you, for no eyes of flesh can perceive its spiritual beauty. But think not that because it is unperceived it is therefore futile. Its blissful radiance is enjoyed by you, and its power for good over others is great and far-reaching, for though they cannot see it, nor, perhaps, understand it, yet they are unconsciously influenced by it. They will not know what silent battles you are fighting, what eternal victories over self you are achieving, but they will feel your altered attitude, your new mind wrought of the fabric of love and loving thoughts, and will share somewhat in its happiness and bliss. They will know nothing of the frequent fierceness of the fight you are waging, of the wounds you receive and the healing balm you apply, of the anguish and the after-peace; but they will know that you have grown sweeter and gentler, stronger and more silently self-reliant, more patient and pure, and that they are rested and helped by your presence. What rewards can compare with this? Beside the fragrant offices of love, the praises of men are gross and fulsome, and in the pure flame of a selfless heart the flatteries of the world are turned to ashes. Love is its own reward, its own joy, its own satisfaction; it is the final refuge and resting place of passion-tortured souls.

“The sacrifice of self, and the acquisition of the supreme knowledge and bliss which it confers, is not accomplished by one great and glorious act but by a series of lesser and successive sacrifices in the ordinary life of the world, by a succession of steps in the daily conquest of Truth over selfishness. He who each day accomplishes some victory over himself, who subdues and puts behind him some unkind thought, some impure desire, some tendency to sin, is every day growing stronger, purer, and wiser, and every dawn finds him nearer to that final glory of Truth which each self-sacrificing act reveals in part.

“Look not outside thee nor beyond thee for the light and blessedness of Truth, but look within; thou wilt find it within the narrow sphere of thy duty, even in the humble and hidden sacrifices of thine own heart.”

— James Allen in Hidden Sacrifices

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We were young, we were brave
With our eyes wide shut in the choices we made
Well you lit the match and I got caught with the flames
And your voice still rings out through my mind
And the thorn still twists down in my side
All the promises said that we left for dead in the night

Because I’m moving on, letting go,
Forget the past and giving up the ghost

All we are is fading stars; life’s too short to stay where we are.

Forgive and let live and move on, tell me that you’re gonna make me stronger, forgive and let live and move on…
Forgive and let live and move on, tell me that you’re gonna make me stronger, forgive and let live and move on…

— Mat Kearny in Moving On

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a cup of cold water…

I walked by the river of my soul today.

Life is so busy.

These walks don’t happen as often as they should.
And when they do, it’s more of a jog.

Coffee in one hand, keys in another, and a mile-long to-do list pushing my pace.

Even when I am being intentional to slow down.
Even when I am trying to find time to reflect and search.

I walked by the river of my soul today.

My water isn’t moving very well.

I just haven’t had time to keep the debris out of the way from my inlets.
I just haven’t sat down and fed my soul.
I just haven’t connected to the Source.

I sat by the river of my soul today.

I am stagnant today.

True, it is the dead and dark of winter right now, so that might have something to do with it. But even now, I know better. I know that collections of scum and dead things have been allowed to accumulate within me. Collections that I just don’t have time to work on scooping out. Or frankly, I have tried to scoop them out, but they just keep coming back.

I sat by the river of my soul today.

Long enough to look. Long enough to ask. Long enough to realize.

For the scum to flow out, living water must flow in.
For hate and anger and resentment to be washed away, love must be allowed to flow in.
For doubt to be dispelled, faith must make a heroic reappearance.

I lay by the river of my soul today.

Longing to hear the sounds of life. Longing to feel the warmth of the sun.
Knowing that there is work to be done. Again. Knowing that I am due.
And for the first time in a long while, truly desiring. Desiring enough.

The work of restoration is always harder than the ease of hate.
The art of love always requires more than the rooting of resentment.
The ability to see through another person’s lens is always more painful than staunchly demanding that my needs are primal.

I lay by the river of my soul today.

Wanting is never enough. And yet, action is sometimes too much.
Intention is needed, but my insufficiency must be accepted too.

And there inside that frustrating dichotomy, I find myself today.

Feeling spent and tired.
Feeling clogged and sluggish.
Feeling self absorbed and forgetful of others. Even the others who have hurt me.
Feeling disconnected. Feeling faithless.
Feeling that my brain is tired of knowing the answers because my heart operates on a different language now.

And yet, knowing that all my work to fix myself won’t be enough.
Knowing that my lists and intentions and disciplines won’t heal me.
Knowing that, if you don’t come and flow, I am merely a stagnant pond.

No amount of intellectualism can heal a diseased heart.

I walked away from the river of my soul today.

A cry for help escapes my depths.

Please return to me. Or me to you.
Please wash me clean. Again.
Please flush out my sickness and sadness and anger.

Let love find its way to my angry heart.
Let love do its work on me.
Let love help me finally let it go. Let it go and send it downstream.

Living water, come. Flow again.
Wash away the pain of yesterday.
Bring in new life.
Feed me. Because I am hungry.
Water me. Because I am thirsty.

Help me Jesus, because I need a cup of cold water.

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Let Go Or Be Dragged. AKA: A Welcoming Cry to 2015

train

The train was big and beautiful, and it carried in it the promise of a new approach to life.

Hurting young souls, my parents boarded it with abandon bringing a pile of children along with them. They read the manuals and obeyed the rules with fervor, always believing that this train was taking them to a land where life was easy and their hard work of the rule-life would pay off in great measures of success.

Life in the boxcar wasn’t so bad. We did odd things that made us “different”, but once you get the knack of it, being “different” can easily make you feel superior.

We had secrets in our boxcar that we did not tell anyone. We had secrets that we did share, but the ones that stayed concealed were far more poisonous.

Still, we wore our train clothes and lived out our train manual and sang the song of the train life without complaint, fooling those around us with exceptional ability.

One day, big sister was called up to the Big Engine. Later, little sister also received her call. The rest of the family lived in the boxcar only, but seemed to want the Big Engine life so badly that they feigned boxcar life for the Big Engine experience.

For little sister, much sadness happened in the Big Engine life.

She got off the train somewhere around age twenty, but it took another decade and a half to eradicate and undo much of the life she was forced to live while on board. After all, when a person lives in a way they were not meant to live for long enough, their walk becomes altered, and they have a bit of a permanent limp.

Having only been boxcar people, the family did not understand. Marked as ungrateful and rebellious, much of her life in the Big Engine was put away and laid to rest in the deepest parts of her soul as best as possible in hopes that leaving it behind was what was needed to finally heal.

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“Odd” is probably the way I’d describe the person I have always been.

Different.

Alone in the crowd.

I recall being told when I was young and living on the train that I was “odd for God”, but somehow I always had this sneaking suspicion that the separateness that God wanted from me and for me was something altogether different.

My limp took me down bad roads of heartache and sadness. Living surrounded mostly by others whose sole existence has been the train life kept me walled in from any real progress and departure from those ways of living.

I never visited the train even though many of my family members still lived on it, and those who’d deboarded still stunk of the manual. For many years, I simply held my nose when mentions of the manual came around. It seemed to be the only way.

In my desperateness to leave that train life behind, I built deep, hardened scabs over my infected wounds and never allowed much cleaning to take place.

I dressed my wounds and applied bandages often, but the telltale signs of gangrene were abundant.

The infection became so great and so deep that it had spread to all parts of my body. I even saw indications that my children were becoming infected as well. They’d never been exposed to the train life or the manual, but because it had so infected me, they seemed to be becoming recipients of a sort of generational type of thing.

One day, my sickness had become so that the only means to survival was a radical amputation. The Great Surgeon cut off infected arms and legs and huge chunks of heart and cast them aside.

And when sacrifices that great are made for survival, suddenly the ability to hold one’s nose begins to fade. I developed a true intolerance for mentions and implications of the good of train life.

For a second time, I left my entire life in an effort to start a new one so that the train sickness that still infected those I was in close proximity with would not continue to leach onto me and re-infect the little bit of me that was still intact.

Bandaged, bloodied, and broken, I made my escape.

I sought out the care I’d never known how to find when I was younger.

I allowed surgery after surgery to be performed on my heart so that scar tissue could be removed and feeling and movement be restored.

In a very painful process where I traded my physical health for emotional and spiritual health and lost most of my relationships, I finally began to feel a real and true freedom from the train disease that once throbbed through every pulse of my blood.

Forgiveness found its way to my heart in a strange set of circumstances that only the Surgeon Himself could have ordained for me. It seemed that the longer I was able to Be Still there on His operating table, the deeper He was willing to operate on me.

Health began to return.

New relationships sprung up where old ones had died.

The deadness of my limbs was replaced by the beginnings of new mobility.

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In the first year of my rehabilitation, word came to me that the atrocities of the train life were still happening in full swing.   Nothing had really changed. In fact, the abuses not only continued, now they were fully unchecked as those who were left to guard such behaviors had all but fallen asleep.

A brand new generation of little sisters and were being harvested and slaughtered all in the name of the Big Engine. With no one to stand in the gap for them. With no one to speak up for them.

At first, requests for my participation were few and subdued. But within months, it was as though my door was being pounded down by a myriad of my fellow rehabilitated train amputees.

I looked down at my scars and scabs and wondered what good might come of them if I kept them all to myself. How could these ugly permanent features of mine be used for good if not to give me courage to speak out against the Big Engine?

And so, ever so tenderly, one day, I took a carving knife to my flesh and began digging deep, baring what only the Surgeon had seen during His many surgeries on me.

In fully uncovered nakedness, I climbed back aboard that train one day to share the true pictures of my gangrene-damage so that those asleep on board might see and take heed and wake themselves. I sat anxiously and patiently as the world-gone-mad around me began taking their first looks at my newly revealed image.

My nakedness was viewed ten thousand times in the first couple of days.

After that, I stopped counting.

The response was mixed.

Mostly, my wounds and ugliness were covered with words of tenderness and healing. But every now and then, there were those who thought it ok to reach their hands right into my wounds and manipulate them painfully just to see if maybe I’d lied about where I got them or if they were real at all.

Wounds that had been operated on and healed were torn open anew.
For the first time in years, blood flowed from those old wounds.
And as time passed, I saw that the bleed did not stop.

They tore at the scabs, demanding more blood than I’d originally been willing to give. Others mocked what they saw and spoke my worst fears back to the privacy and pain of my own heart. Some belittled the experience that caused my wounds, and still others said that it was fabricated.

In the end, the mob – made up of mostly family and old friends – pulled me to the back of the train and let me drag off of the back. I suppose this was either because they did not really know how to handle the sudden nakedness of their kin or because they were appalled that I, their own, would stand so flagrantly against the Big Engine. To them, it must’ve seemed blasphemy. To them, they must’ve seemed to need to show their allegiance. Not to me, but to the Big Engine.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After months of being dragged, I find myself asking why.

Why hang on?
Why keep trying?

I tell myself that this is my duty.
My job.
The only way to make good of the bad things that happened.
To absolve so much evil into the ultimate greater good.

I think somehow that there is more to be accomplished than what was done that day when I carved myself and stood naked on the train. That if I just keep standing up or if I just keep speaking out or if I just keep bleeding, others will take notice and hide themselves and their little sisters.

But this dragging has become too much.

The beauty worked on me in those surgical rooms is becoming undone.
Heavy scabs of unforgiveness threaten to return.
Scars are beginning to re-form.

One day it occurs to me that perhaps I ought to let go.
I ought to get back to the business of life and here and now.
That maybe I already did the thing I was called to do that day when I carved myself and showed it to everyone.
That maybe those who were going to hear already did.
And those who aren’t going to, never will.

One day it occurs to me that I am only being dragged because I feel such tenacity to hold on.
To not quit.
To try harder and think of new ways of presenting the truth of what happened in my train life so that more and more people can be aware and hide themselves and their little sisters.

But maybe it’s time for this to end for me.
And maybe it’s time for me to return to the operating table for some minor surgical repairs.

One day, it occurs to me that the dragging will stop when I finally let go.
When I finally detach.
When I finally let that train – filled with those I longed to wake – leave my sight and move away without me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s funny how the prison we most long for freedom from can become itself a den of familiarity, so that, when given the freedom we ache for, sometimes, we hold on to those prison bars for dear life. Not because we want to stay, but because the pain of leaving the others behind who simply will not see that they have been fooled and are truly imprisoned is often most painful.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

With all my might, I choose to cut myself free.

And as I walk away from the train for the second time in eighteen years, I am filled with a yearning to not allow my experiences to stay and die with me.
To make them count.
To milk them for every drop they are worth.

I must turn this page.
I must let go, or I will continue to be dragged.

The train will head wherever it will now.
My mission has been accomplished, and it will have no more of me.

And now I will busy myself with the work of taking the evil that was and letting its pain and blood-loss account for something good and something whole and something right.

There is a time for everything.

And this is the time for closure from the train life.
A time that all its sins and evils be laid to rest.

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‪#‎icouldhavewritteneveryword

“This is the black sheep gospel. Unto you a child is born, a liberator, a prince of peace. Even unto you, with your revolution and your thirst for justice and your love for a Jesus of the people, who would see the mighty brought low and the slaves of empire freed. We have cut this lock, and set the gospel free. This house is ours.”
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