Shielding Ourselves From Hurt

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The bad news is that we’re not going to be able to protect ourselves from getting hurt in this life (but you already know that). But boy, do we try! 

We dislike pain and avoid it at all costs. We don’t care to repeat it—ever. Though we may not articulate it, in order to protect ourselves from getting hurt again, we often manufacture a protective piece of armor. We use these shields in an attempt to keep others out, or at least keep them from getting too close.

Our shields take different forms. We might assume an arms-length shield where we keep people at a safe distance. There’s the tough-guy shield nothing can penetrate, or its close model, the overconfident shield that exudes control. Some hide behind a porcupine shield, ready to expel missives at the slightest hint of hurt. While others hide inside a box shield becoming disengaged, closed-off forms of a former self. Others assume the surface shield emitting an everything’s-perfect false facade.

Each shield is a fearful and futile attempt to protect ourselves from facing the uncertainty and vulnerability needed for authentic relationships. No matter which model of shield we assume, it blocks us from the exact thing we most need. Love and intimacy. 

The hurts we experience rip us wide open. Like a sucker punch in the gut, they rock us to our core and bring us to our knees. We think we won’t manage the next breath, let alone the next step. But our shields don’t help us. They hinder and hurt us even more. Not only do they steal from the fulness of relationships they also keep us from finding healing.

A shield is a lie that prevents us from the freedom to be found on the other side of our pain.

When we are torn open, light can pour in. And though perhaps not the reason you ended up on your knees, it is a pretty decent posture for prayer. The tears washing over your cheeks could be the start of a soul-cleansing you would have never thought possible.

But not if you refuse comfort. Not if you shield yourself from love.

Because no matter what has happened. No matter how horribly you’ve been hurt. Despite how used or abused or rejected you’ve been, or how much you’ve inflicted harm on others as a result of your own hurt, there’s a place for all of that pain.

It’s found at the foot of the cross.

It’s found at the feet of the one who loved you so entirely that he died for you. The one who loves you more than anyone ever could. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

All the pain you’ve ever experienced as a result of the thoughtless or intentional actions of others can be brought to Jesus. He won’t undermine the pain or treat it carelessly. He understands it intimately because he died for all of it—all the sins of humankind—past, present, and future. 

In dying for this sin, he defeated it and offers each of us freedom from not only the harmful sins of others but from our own sin. God’s love is pure and trustworthy. When you give him your heart he will not damage it, he will renew it. He is both able and faithful to heal the broken bits of our lives. His miraculous love soaks into the deepest places and reaches our deepest needs. Nothing to compare to the limitless love of Jesus.

Deuteronomy 31:6 also tells us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them.” It seems we have a part to play. And so we take courage. We set down our shields. We turn our backs on our fearful hiding.

Ironically, the lowering of our shields ushers in the kind of love we desperately long for—complete, unconditional, unearned love—the kind of love only God provides. When we drop our protective measures, admit defeat and our desperate need for this soul-saving love, God meets us in our pain, he joins us in our wrecked and ruined circumstances. We no longer have to suffer or survive alone.

Since God has promised to go with us and never leave us, we can take his outstretched hand and move forward into the hope, healing, and wholeness Jesus died for. We only look back to see how far we’ve come. Instead of our fearful shields, we’re engulfed and secured in God’s healing love and protective peace.

Now, when we’re mistreated and rush to raise our shields, the balm of his heavenly love soothes us and reminds us to be courageous and keep our guard down. We feel the hurt, but we also understand how it feels to be forgiven, and so we forgive others just as he forgave us. God’s remarkable love gives us the courage and strength to love others more fully and unconditionally, and to be loved more fully ourselves. 

Little by little, and sometimes all at once, our pain dissipates. And somehow, God miraculously takes all that was broken and makes beauty.

In the end, we don’t need the shield. We need the Saviour.

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  1. What sort of shield are you using to protect yourself from getting hurt? Is it working?

 

 

 

 

Open Arms

66117572_586387961768378_2838857366999400448_nKonnor came home for a visit today. Any mom will tell you that when your kids no longer live under your roof, any visit home is a precious event. This was demonstrated in the way Keira bolted down the stairs, threw her arms around her brother and clung to him, starved for his presence. I too adore seeing my son, catching up with him, admiring the man he has become.

The whole thing reminded me of how God must feel when we come to spend time with him, or when we return after a lengthy absence.

Since God’s love for us is even greater than a mother or father’s love for their child—or a little sister’s love for her brother—I can only imagine how happy God is to see us. His welcome is a door-flung-wide, arms-stretched-open sort. He is always thrilled to receive us.

But for some, their image of God is more of a looming, angry, and unyielding figure with arms-crossed in a posture ready instead to point out all the ways he’s been disappointed. For them, God is unapproachable, distant, and cross.

Sometimes our children’s actions or choices upset us or ignite an angry response. Our kids make mistakes—as do we—but because we love them we forgive them and continue to champion them on their journey. God behaves likewise to us, multiplied many times. Take a moment to read below what the Bible has to say about God’s nature:

Psalm 30:5: “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.”

Psalm 116:5: “The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.”

1 John 1:5: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

Micah 7:18-19: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

I John 4:9: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

Like earthly parents, God is capable of being angry at his children. When our behaviour defies his holy standard—and it will—it not only hurts us and potentially others, but also hurts him. But here’s the thing: God is not only slow to get angry, he doesn’t remain angry. And maybe that’s where we get stuck.

In our guilt and shame, we further belittle ourselves believing God has rejected us, that he could never forgive us, that he wants nothing to do with us. But the verses above show that nothing could be further from the truth. He loves us so much that he sent his son as the remedy for all our junk: past, present, and future. The moment we repent, he forgives us and no longer holds those actions against us. Nor does he remind us of our failings. In Christ, every moment is a fresh start.

Just as we celebrate when our children arrive home, excited to get all caught up with them, our God is delighted when we share our lives with him, tell him all of our news, and rest in his presence. He doesn’t force us to come home, but anticipates the moment we do. His love is endless, his forgiveness knows no limits, his compassion is for all. No matter where you’ve been—or for how long—his arms are always open.

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  1. When was the last time you had a visit with God? It’s never too late to start or begin again.
  2. If you’ve never received the free gift of salvation and forgiveness of sins through God’s son Jesus, it’s only a prayer away.

 

A Broken Togetherness

19059562_10155076822815091_6085062570885595610_nTwenty-seven years of together. That’s a decent amount of time—a length I could hardly grasp when I said “I do.” Even now I can barely believe that span of time, even with the years stacked behind us, a beautiful bundle of children—all of it a blur of too fast.

It’s not for the faint of heart this thing called marriage. The years are uncertain, difficult, tumultuous, breaking. They are framed with laughter, stained from tears, and cushioned with faith, hope, and love—without which they’d crumble to certain death. But all of it is the making of a marriage and the making of us, together and individually.

It goes without saying that marriage is the choosing of a life lived alongside another. That recession up the aisle represents side-by-side living, saying no to selfishness, and no more going it alone—physically, emotionally, and even spiritually.

It’s a door flung open into your interior life, and the wider it remains, the better off you’ll be. Shutting the door in unforgiveness, complete self-reliance, or self-preservation isn’t an option. You signed on for a double passage.

It’s not a give and take mentality either. It’s a give and give again. Forgive and forgive again. And love—inside of imperfection—again and again.

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It’s not just proclaiming love in word but in being. In doing loving acts, speaking love out, responding in love, listening in love, sitting quietly in love when you’d rather tell him or her a thing or two. It’s staying when you’d sooner leave. It’s working to fix broken.

And to be honest, you’ll probably get wounded. Love fiercely and there’s a decent possibility. But it’s far better to love than to close yourself off in protection and precaution. That only serves to stifle vibrant love in all its various forms.

I’m no poster child for marriage done right. Ralph and my kids will tell you. Even so, I like to joke that because of him my crown in heaven will be too heavy to carry, and I’ll be assigned a full-time Seraphim flying overhead to hold it up. But he’s the realist and will tell you I’m no angel either.

But marriage isn’t I love you because you’re lovable. It’s closer to I love you in spite of the fact that you often aren’t. To know one’s faults and failings thoroughly and still love brings us closer to the heart of Jesus who loves us this way. To be wounded by that same person, forgive, and continue to love grows us to be like Jesus.

In this imperfect world full of imperfect people, love and marriage will likewise never be perfect. We are two broken people becoming less broken only now we do it together. Yet we often arrive in our marriage in this semi-broken state expecting perfect. So when life gets messy and our expectations of perfect go unmet or completely unravel, we think we made a bad choice. Instead of digging in and shoveling out of the chaos we concur the job is too hard and throw the shovel down.

But what if we agree that marriage isn’t perfection, nor is it the place where all our needs and desires will be met, but instead a broken togetherness.

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It’s not I love you because you’re beautiful, you complete me, you say and do the right things, and show up with chocolate and flowers (though that’s never a bad idea). It more closely resembles, if we are blessed with years I’ll love you until your skin sags. I’ll hang on to your hand over the hospital bed rail until your breath runs out. I’ll stay until the us becomes one again, and all that remains is the beautiful memories and the slightly less broken me once again.

So, here’s to another year of us—of we—amid our imperfections. May we love longer and larger than expected, and leave each other better than we found us.

 

 

 

Making a Marriage Work

shutterstock_589431530Yesterday, I attended a wedding shower. The bride-to-be asked the guests to write words of wisdom on cards that she would collect and keep. It was a wonderful idea and each of us scrawled our advice across the card. I wish I had read a few besides the ones the ladies on either side of me wrote. Next month it will be twenty-seven years for Ralph and I, and it’s never too late to learn.

Being a fairly verbose person, I surprised myself by writing only one word: Forgive. 

I realize I could have filled the card, not because I’m so wise or wordy, but because there are so many things that a couple needs to learn to make a marriage work. Things such as communication, prioritizing time together, respectfulness, faithfulness, and selflessness. But for me, if I don’t forgive, the others fall apart too.

If I suffer from a bitter heart—as I’ve been known to at times—it chokes out my ability to fully tend to my marriage. The anger that comes from withholding forgiveness disables communication. The bitterness can cause distance, inhibit respect, ignite selfish behaviour, and, if I’m not careful, can dissolve faithfulness or faith in my marriage.

Anything you want to thrive takes hard work, and a healthy marriage is no exception. There are a host of things that conspire to dismantle a marriage. The lack of the things previously mentioned can be factors, but other tensions beat at the door too. Things such as sickness, financial trouble, long work hours, and constant travel. The relationship may be may strained by putting the children first, extended family issues, living for self, or passing blame. A refusal to take responsibility for their part in the marriage issues, differing interests or ideas, unrealistic expectations, or infidelity can tear a marriage apart.

Marriage is hard work; extending forgiveness makes it easier.

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I would be amiss to fail to mention love with regard to marriage. If love is the glue, I imagine forgiveness is a strong element of this cementing factor. And just like love, forgiveness is a deliberate action. It’s easy to say you love a person. It’s easy to love when the relationship is new and exciting and you feel loving, but as the years press on and the hardships press in, that feeling may wane. And so there are times when you make a choice to love even if you don’t feel loving, just as you forgive even if you don’t feel like it. Both are a deliberate act of the will. Both do wonders to keep your marriage alive and thriving.

Feelings come and go and aren’t always a reliable reality. You have a choice as to how you will behave within your marriage and toward your spouse. You can choose unloving actions or loving ones, you can choose to remain bitter or forgive. And all these deliberate choices can either dismantle or build up your marriage. Your “I do” was an agreement to work hard at something nearly impossible without forgiveness, and fairly impossible without love. But if you learn to persevere and work through each struggle, there’s a greater chance your marriage will grow stronger having overcome them.

This summer many couples will find themselves proclaiming their love at the altar. Since neither one is perfect, I hope their vows include a promise to forgive the offenses of the one they profess to love—as many times as needed. And if they find themselves at a loss, I hope that they seek help from others when needed, and learn how to craft a strong marriage graciously padded with forgiveness and love.

I’ll leave you with this song: Fight For You – by Grayson Reed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lY0cdhDbmt0

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

~ Colossians 3:13

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

~Ephesians 4:31-32

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  1. What is one thing you can think of that needs work in your marriage?
  2. Is there anything you need to forgive?

 

 

A Eulogy for My Best Friend

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This Easter weekend, I’d like to introduce you to someone I’m most fond of. He may be the most misunderstood man who ever lived. But I love him for it, because he’s probably the only man who didn’t care one bit about any of that. And because he didn’t care about what others thought of him, he was unswerving in his life’s purpose.

He didn’t get in the way, like some religious people of his time, and block others from seeing God. He showed up in unlikely places—often with the unpopular—and pointed people to his father. Instead of harsh judgement and criticism, he honoured everyone: men, women, and children, and reached out to those on the outskirts of society who would have appeared unholy, unworthy, and labelled sinners by the “religious”. He showed great compassion and said they were the ones he came to call (see Luke 5:32). He offered healing, grace, love, hope, and peace to anyone who would listen and even offered his very life. He gave all, for all, until his last breath.

He was the most unselfish person the world has ever known. His life was lived for his father’s purposes for the sake of others. Every place he stepped, every action he took, every word he spoke was for another’s benefit. His mission was clear: to show God’s love in a myriad of ways so all could see, hear, and understand his father’s great mercy and love.

The beauty of his unfathomable life is that none of it was typical—nothing you’d expect of a king. That was part of the problem. People found his humanness and humility unfitting. It was difficult to take him seriously and hard to accept that he wouldn’t fit their preconceived idea of God. Those who had spent their whole lives waiting for him, missed him. Those who should have known better, crucified him.

This is how one man explained him:

“He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.”  ~ Isaiah 53:3

In the end, even his closest friends scattered. He died utterly alone, and it appeared his thirty-three years on the earth had amounted to nothing. But I adore the way looks are deceiving, and more than that, how his heart-wrenching obedience changed everything. Because he suffered the most horrific death known to humankind, I was offered a second crack at life—a chance to surrender the life I deemed so dear for a new one with him.

He once said: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” ~ Matthew 11:28-30

And there it is, with him I live freely and lightly; the heaviness of all the things I wasn’t meant to carry handed over. My burdens lifted, my sins wiped out, and my mind renewed. All the former things fade in importance for the friendship found in him. And as the load is lifted, love fills the deadened creases of my life. This same love brings with it a breath of freedom and joy, and peace that ignites hope. You can’t describe his beauty. It’s something to behold.

He moves into our tired lives when we let go. But it’s not easy—the letting go. You see it at the cross, this refusal to release. Some hanging on tightly to their position or praise, others hanging on to disbelief, and others to the material things of this world, grasping at anything that seems too precious to leave behind. Because what is known feels safer than launching into the unknown, even if the known is mediocre at best. But all the praise, position, money, best behaviour, or good deeds count for nothing if I reject him.

His radical, life-altering offer is extended to all. No one left behind. No matter where you come from or what you’ve done, you aren’t excluded. His forgiveness is a free, unearned gift, and when you receive it—believe in and trust him—you’re renewed for today and preserved for eternity.

You’re beautifully and unconditionally accepted and adored by the creator of the universe, all because one Easter, over two thousand years ago, Jesus died for you.

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God loves you. There isn’t a thing you can do, or not do, to earn his love. With a simple prayer, you can receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and step into tomorrow with him.

About My Dad

As a young girl, I spent time watching my dad putter around cars. From his youth, he was fascinated with vehicles of every kind, so it’s not surprising that he became a mechanic. Over the years he spent hours fixing, cleaning, and maintaining our cars. Sometimes I merely watched his efforts, and other times I helped; the two of us cleaning side by side.

Due to his fastidious ways, our cars never broke down and always looked shiny and new. Most Sunday mornings, he would be up early hand washing the car in preparation for an outing later that day. He’d drive for ice-cream, a hike, or just the pleasure of enjoying the vehicles he cherished.

I wish I could say I adopted my dad’s car care methods, that I learned from him how to change a tire, do an oil change, or at least keep my own car clean. But most days my car looks more like it recently competed in the mud bowl. Yet my dad has never given up helping me. To this day, he’ll come over with his car vacuum, wash bucket, sponges and scrubbers, and a myriad of sprays and polishes, and proceed to detail my vehicle. No matter how disastrous its condition, my dad goes about the tidy up with the same scrupulous care as if it were his own. When he’s finished, it looks brand new.

It’s not just his love of cars that motivates my dad to help make my car look new again—it’s that he loves me.

Just as my dad helps clean up my messy car time and time again, so my heavenly father helps clean up the messes of my life over and over. I can bring any number of messes to him—both the ones I’ve created and the ones others dump on me—and he’ll help me clean them up.

He never leaves me to struggle alone in this clean up effort. No matter how disastrous the condition I find myself in, or whether he’s already helped me untold times before, God goes about the tidy up with patient, meticulous care. I don’t have to struggle to clean up the rotten bits that hide in the dark crevices of my life, or try to polish myself up before he arrives. Like my dad, he’s fully equipped to handle any kind—or amount—of mess.

And he does it because he loves me.

With God’s help, the clean up isn’t nearly as daunting or unwieldy. He willingly arrives and begins a cleansing work that renders me changed, inside and out. His loving-kindness and tender touch on every facet of my life, clean off all the dirt and soul soils making me like new. He never discontinues the clean up effort because I’m too messy, or because I can’t seem to remain clean. He shows up time and time again because I’m precious to him. And when he’s finished, I’m like new.

Nothing is beyond his reach, no clean up effort too great.

May you be blessed to feel God’s loving touch on your life, gently cleansing and restoring you to full beauty. 

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  1. What mess are you dealing with that seems too big for you to handle alone?
  2. Bring it to God and ask him to help you with the clean up effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Works & Masterpieces

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A couple of weeks ago, I nearly finished a painting. I had challenged myself to begin an abstract piece without a sketch. I’ve never done that before, and it took giving up control and allowing it to go where it would. The only structure I put in place was a straight line drawn horizontally across the oversized canvas.

Like most art, it’s nearly impossible to say when it’s complete. The incomplete canvas leaned lonely against our kitchen table for several days while I reviewed the edits for my novel. Then we left for a week away. Upon returning, my husband promptly hung my almost finished piece on the living room wall to await its final touches. He and the kids said it looked complete already. All I could see stretched out before me were the other areas and hours I planned on tweaking it.

Aren’t we a bit like that painting?

We exist as unfinished masterpieces.

When others look at us, we look pretty good, maybe even complete. But our creator knows there’s more to be done. He’s the only one who can truly see when the work is finished. Because he loves us, he won’t lean us against a table, forget about us, or let go, until we are fully a masterpiece.

During the painting process, we look for a sketch to follow, but must instead keep striking out in faith. This takes trust and courage, especially when we feel unsure of our direction, completely lost, lonely, or are hurting. In such times, we think if we only had a sketch—some step-by-step plan—to guide us, then the canvas of our lives would turn out just right. But we aren’t the artist.

As I painted, I experimented with solid body paint, applying it thick to create texture. I waited for it to begin to dry and harden, then smeared it when it was just the right consistency creating a flattened texture. I loved the result and began to do likewise with the bottom half of the painting. Before it reached the perfect stage, I had to rush out. No worries, I told myself, it will give the paint time to dry, and when I return I’ll do the technique. Alas, I came home later than expected, and it was too dry to manipulate. Though I pressed and scraped, the paint would barely move. The rough texture looked completely different.

Interestingly enough, without my saying a word, everyone who looks at the painting likes those parts the best—the mistake. They think it’s bold and has the most character.

The same is true with our lives; beauty is forged from accidents and mistakes. Character is hewn out of hardship. When it seems circumstances can’t be budged or smoothed, and there’s no sketch to follow, the creator is fashioning our lives—and us—into a work of great beauty despite our mistakes and meddling.

Sometimes, we think our lives might be impossibly messed up, but God’s grace and love creates beauty from ashes. Our blunders and flaws, and various rough patches inflicted upon us, aren’t a surprise to him. If we let him, God even fashions them to form within us strength, boldness, and remarkable beauty. When he looks at us, he can already picture the finished piece.

Until then, we are unfinished works in progress awaiting the day we become masterpieces.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

~ Isaiah 61:1-3