Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Thing of Beauty

What comes to mind when you think of a spring wildflower? Perhaps something pastel in color and delicately shaped? When I look at the Skunk Cabbage pictured above, a different sort of description comes to mind. I think of words like hardy, stout, unconventional, or prickly. Believe it or not, sitting here looking at this picture reminds me of a worker I encountered at Walmart recently.

I came upon her as I made my way to the housewares aisle. She was hoisting an over-sized box up near her head like it was nothing. I took a few seconds to notice a few things about her. She had a harshness about her. She was burly. Not very feminine in appearance. She seemed preoccupied by more than her work. Underlying her gruff exterior I sensed a certain vulnerability. My heart went out to her.

I was in a hurry, but I paused for just a second before her and said, "Watch it, now! You be careful lifting stuff up like that." The hardness crumbled just a bit and I smiled at her. It wasn't much, but a change came over her. Was it because someone cared about her? She visibly softened, returned my smile, and offered a thank you. And that was that.

I continued to think about her on the drive home. Not being much of a beauty myself in a worldly way, I wondered what she might believe about herself. Did she buy into the whole erroneous idea of what it means to be beautiful in our society? Did she realize her value? That she was lovingly made with a purpose?

As I've aged, my concept of beauty has broadened. It's been my experience that it is a rare occasion when youth has eyes to see beauty in all of its different forms. The flower at the top of this page is beautiful in its own way. Certainly not dainty, I'd describe it more along the lines of "earthy". Among the first flowers to burst forth in the spring, to me, it is always a glorious sight for sore eyes. The confining days of winter are drawing to an end and I know that the dying season is over - at least for a time. I appreciate the skunk cabbage's bold splashes of color. And that spiky ball at its center reminds me that some people guard their hearts with prickly exteriors in an effort to keep others at arm's length where they can't hurt them as easily.

Father, I lift up this beautiful young woman to You. I don't know much about her, not even her name, but You do. I wonder if she knows You? If not, would You please draw her lovingly to Yourself by Your Spirit? If she does know You, I pray that You would draw her even nearer to Your heart. Chase away any darkness in her - anything and everything that is not of You. Lord, would You help her to realize Your love for her? Cause that knowledge to permeate her thought processes and take root deep down in her heart, transforming her. Let Your unshakable love overcome her to Your glory. In the beautiful name of Jesus I pray, Amen. 

Bind Us Together

Aren't our bodies remarkable things? I look at this picture and marvel at how they have been created to heal themselves. Taken three months ago, the break that begins at the third screw and extends down through the fourth screw is no longer visible. It has totally regrown. I read once that bone, once it's healed, is actually stronger than it was to begin with. That's what I'm counting on in more ways than one. You see, I look at this image and it really isn't my husband's ankle post surgery. It's my marriage.

Today is our 22nd wedding anniversary. Beyond that, we began dating on this day the year before. Twenty-three years. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into! He had baggage, I had baggage. I think I remember Beth Moore saying, "Baggage attracts baggage." Well, I guess so. Really, we were such broken individuals. And God, in His wisdom, thought it'd be a good idea for us to be together. I smile as I write that, but it has been so very hard.

With brokenness comes a lot of unhealthy behaviors. It hasn't been pretty, but God Himself has fought for us over the years. And here we are. Soon after my husband's accident, it became apparent to me that the Lord was doing something in us. It seemed that He was not content to have us continue on with a survival mindset. Our thoughts are not like His thoughts, but I really do think that He wanted to move us beyond that to a place of thriving. In order to do that, though, He needed to perform surgery on us.

Sure, we had made attempts over the years to heal. Despite our best efforts, the progress was minimal at best. Something a bit more drastic must be done. And so our Physician orchestrated events in such a way that we would undergo the knife. With scalpel in hand, He got to work. It was His good pleasure to open us up... go in and clean out the junk and debris... skillfully join the separated parts back together... add reinforcement... and stitch us together. Sounds wonderful, but in reality the healing process hurts. That kind of pain can make you desperate... and He does some of His best work with us when we are in that sort of place.

I look at this picture and notice that ten screws were used to fasten the plate in place. I've been pondering those ten screws the last month or so. What things has God been using to bind us securely together during this time of healing? Hmmm...

1. Prayer. So many prayers. We prayed alone, together, with others. Once, during an excruciating bout with withdrawal, John asked me to e-mail a prayer plea to some friends NOW. He needed back up for what he was going through. We got uncomfortably honest with a handful of people about how hard it was. What we were really going through. Believe me when I say that it got very bad.

2. Time. There are usually not too many quick fixes. We had to give it time despite our many frustrations and wishes that we could just be healed already. Just like bone takes time to regrow after a break, so does marital healing.

3. Courage. Wow, did I have to be courageous. If we had any hope of ever getting better, some things needed to be said and done. I came to learn that our codependency was off the charts. How had I never known what codependency was up to that point? I needed to learn to love in healthy ways. It was a whole new world for us. Definitely not a walk in the park, it was enough to make me want to give up several times. But love, real love, does what is best for the other. Not what is most convenient and not what will stir up the waters the least.

4. Forgive. I don't think this needs much explanation. Forgiveness is that thing that we all know we need to do, but do we really do it? I had to examine my heart and remember that forgiveness is a choice.

5. Draw close in physical intimacy rather than push one another away. Yes, I said it.

6. Follow doctor's orders. My stubborn husband was not icing his ankle like he was supposed to and it was not helping. In the same way, God gives us instructions in His Word that will promote healing... if we'd just listen.

7. Thankfulness. One of the first things I did after the accident was begin a list of things that I was thankful for. It helped to keep me positive and was my way of living out Philippians 4:8 - "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."

8. Affirmations. The ground seemed so uneven beneath our weary feet in the early phases. I noticed that it seemed that we didn't much believe one another when we said, "I love you." We needed to affirm our level of love and commitment to one another. One small thing we began implementing to combat this tendency was to answer one another's "I love you's" with, "Yes, you do." It might seem silly, but we needed all the help we could get. And I do think that it helped.

9. Persevere in communicating. I never thought that communication was our strong suit, but it became painfully obvious to me that it was even worse than I had imagined. We couldn't get it right even when we made very concentrated efforts. Oh, was it discouraging! We began reading The Love Dare together, which helped to break things down into very detailed and manageable pieces. It was a great opportunity for us to educate ourselves in what the other might be thinking, fearing, or needing. And it urged us to act on it in meaningful ways.

10. Trust the heart of God. In the darkest times when things seemed most futile, I needed to remind myself that He was doing something. It wasn't for nothing! He had a plan. He would redeem and restore. Most importantly, He would be glorified.

Father, on this 22nd wedding anniversary, I just want to give You praise. You are the God of the universe, full of power and might, and You still care enough to perform surgery on us. You are so wise and know the perfect timing for everything. You knew just when we would be most vulnerable and when You'd be able to work most effectively. You are our Great Physician, God. You have made us fearfully and wonderfully - You know us! Having made us, You also know what we need. More than anything, we need You. Cause us to love You above all other things. Draw us close to Yourself in a greater intimacy than we've ever known. And, please, continue Your healing work in our lives that You would receive much glory. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.