The Heart of the Problem

A little over two months ago, my PC was attacked by a very nasty virus that inflicted irreparable damage to every document that was saved and not open at the time of the infection. Many years’ worth of writing was just gone. I could see the file name, but not open them. Countless ideas that had been jotted down and saved for future expansion and elaboration were gone. Hundreds of poems (many of which were not very good at all, but they had a line or two that could be used in another work) were gone. In one brief moment, all of my words seemed to just disappear, stolen away. Unfortunately, this was just beginning of many more trying times and various losses that were to ensue over the months that followed, however, I never realized how profound of an effect the loss of my writing would have on my heart.

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, I attributed the heaviness and emptiness of my heart to being just a side-effect of all the other stuff that was unfolding in my life. No matter what I did or how hard I prayed, I just couldn’t seem to shake a rather specific feeling of emptiness that I just could not explain.

The other day, I was reading a wonderful novel my cousin wrote (Steal The North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom) and happened to read the acknowledgment in the back. In this, she references a tragic event in her life when a fire had taken place and she thanked the fireman who ran back to save her laptop. In this statement, she referred to herself as a “frantic” writer and it was at that moment that the light came on. The emptiness I had been trying to pray through, or pray away, was a subconscious mourning of the loss of my heart, the loss of my writing. A poetic heart with no poetry is like a heart with no purpose or peace.

I have often felt that my heart was more poetic in nature, but I never realized the depths of that truth and how tied to those words my heart really is. It is almost as if I can barely breathe without them. This thought, however, is rather astonishing considering how long it has been since I have written anything, even a sentence – and even longer since I have written any poetry (over a year…).

In an ironic turn of events, I was cleaning my desk the other day. Now, before you think I just left the sentence hanging around and unfinished, I must admit that cleaning my desk can be a challenge (If I am not careful, my desk gets as cluttered as my mind!). However, I was cleaning my desk on an act of faith that situations would be restored or renewed and that my desk would be needed again (the story in the Bible of the two farmers who prayed for rain, but only one prepared his fields in faith that God would send the rain). During this wonderful cleaning moment (not really….), I noticed a manila envelope in the corner with a stack of paper beside it. It is not like me to have a stack of paper standing up without it being in a clip or envelope or something.

I carefully remove both the stack and the envelope and I could not believe what I had found.

I had found my heart!

I found the manuscript (both the edited version and unedited version) of a book of poetry I had assembled for a completion a couple of years ago. All of my “best” works were there – in their finished form! In the envelope, I found the rough drafts, pieces in progress, thoughts/ideas for new works, and my notes regarding the format/setup of the “book” as well as the pieces I had elected to not include. While it was not everything, it was the most important parts – the pieces that I worked the hardest on, invested much of my heart into, and the ones that spoke the loudest to the depths of my being.

Up until this point, I had no idea that just the thought of losing my poetry (let alone the reality of its loss) would have such a devastating effect on me, that the words had that profound an impact on my heart and mind – almost as if they were a part of my very soul.

During these past few trying months, my heart has leaned heavily on Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God…”) and I had remained in Psalms on a basically daily basis searching for answers or something to fill the emptiness inside. The night after I found the manuscript, I just opened my Bible randomly and found myself in Jeremiah…29:11-13, to be specific. I was totally floored – again! The thought that there could be a plan through all of this, a reason, some purpose – some hope– was rather shocking. Hope had been in rather short supply in my heart despite the knowledge in my head that there is always hope so long as we have Jesus.

In re-reading this passage, I found that I love both the way the KJV is written as well as the NIV. Both give such a unique perspective and, in my opinion, complement each other very well. With your indulgence, this is how my heart reads it.

I know the thoughts I think toward you, the plans I have for you, what I have in mind for you.
Thoughts of peace, not of evil.
Thoughts to prosper you, no to harm you.
Thoughts for well-being, not for bad things.
Plans to give you a future and a hope,
An end and an expectation,
A hope and a future.
You will call upon me, come to me, pray to me –and I will hear you,
I will heed you,
I will listen to you.
When you search with all your heart, you will find me.

During this experience, I found that all the searching, seeking, crying out, and pleading don’t always end in His miraculous majestic arrival at the foot of the bed to announce to the universe He is here, but rather, when we are trying, searching desperately to find Him, He finds us.

He comes to us in ways that can be so subtle, so still, so quiet that if we are not looking for Him in that way, we will miss it altogether, but, thankfully, this does not negate or minimize His arrival! While we would all love the majestic fanfare announcing His intervention in a situation, sometimes He arrives in a manila envelope and a random stack of uncontained paper that He had been saving for just the right time – a time when I was broken, I had stopped fighting the emptiness, and given up all the hope I dared to.

It was in the moment that He quietly stood beside me and returned to me what I had given up as lost – He returned my heart and my hope.

Wounds and Scars? Yeah, but what now?

As I am sure everyone has experienced, there has been people in our lives that have caused us emotional harm. Whether it was intentionally or not doesn’t matter. Passed over, over looked, disregarded, tossed out with the trash, taken for granted… Words have been said – or not said – that reached a quiet, tender portion of the heart and created an oozing wound. It is not a deep or desperate wound, but it is just enough to break the integrity of that space and leave a weeping cut. As the years go by, these wounds slowly scab over and stop weeping, but a scar has been left behind. Time after time, wound upon wound, these scars build up to the point where they take over the space. All of this happens so gradually that it is not even noticed. Defense mechanisms begin to be used to protect this hall of scars and become such a part of normal everyday life that they are not noticed as well. Life can continue on as if all is well and no one is the wiser to the well hidden, darkness covered depth of pain residing just under the surface. But what happens if the surface gets cracked?

In the quiet and stillness of the hall of scars residing within a wounded heart, how does one react when light is brought in? While it is very painful, that is where I find myself today. The Lord is steadily cracking open this shell I built around my heart to keep out the hurt, to shelter from the disregard, a place built to escape to when the world forgot I existed. Two unbelievable people have been sent into my life and have blasted the doors away. They have forced me to take a look at my reactions, my standard response lines, and the reality of the emotions behind the things I sarcastically say. Some of this has not been pretty at all, but it has been a huge wake-up call to my heart to start beating again.

For too many years, I allowed others and their words to determine my value or self-worth. Too many years were wasted wondering what other people thought, how I should fit in, and wondering why. But, in the midst of all of this, the Lord spoke to my heart last night: “And God chose what the world looks down on as common or regards as nothing in order to bring to nothing what the world considers important; so that no one should boast before God.” I Corinthians 1:28-29 (CJB)

Listen well to the words of life, my heart! There is hope! What it means, at least to me, is that even God has a plan for me and He finds value in me – especially because the world of my past did not. He saw me even then – and He still sees me now.

My prayer for you, my friend, is that you carefully choose your words. Cherish the heart of the person to whom you are speaking and guard it well. Some scars take a long time to heal, but the ones that were unnecessary and preventable can be the most painful.

Cherish the Body of Christ. Care for your fellow members. Do not overlook the ones who are not exactly like yourself. We were all created with great diversity so that we can each fulfill our role in His church. And it is HIS church, after all… Step out of your comfort zone, guard your tongue, think before your shoot darts out of your mouth, and learn to cherish that which is not like you. You just might be surprised at what you find – if you will dare to look beyond the veil, the mirror, and the walls.

One for Five!

Provision from the Lord can come in many forms that, if we are not watching, it can be missed more often than I care to acknowledge. Often times, at least in my life, it tends to be so subtle that I don’t realize He has taken care of it until after the moment has past.

Having spent so much of my life withdrawn from the world, when I moved to a different state and transitioned from being a traditional employee to a self-employed/independent contractor, the solitude seemed to envelope me some days. Not that I had a lot of friends left behind in the move, but I did at least know people. In the new location, while it is more beautiful that I could have hoped for, was more solitude. During this time, I found great comfort in writing and continued to add to my files of poetry which appeared to have no purpose or destination whatsoever beyond an intimate moment with my Lord.

During this time, I joined some poetry and Christian writing groups on FaceBook, but wasn’t really “involved.” Yes, I would scan through to see if anything caught my eye, but I did not share any work or really comment on much. One day the Lord placed it on my heart to share a little poetry – and a “little” is what I posted. I think it was one of the shortest ones I had written, but I went out on a limb and hit the “post” button. I was surprised to see that people had actually read it – and even more surprised when I received some positive feedback. I was “brave” and shared another – and with a similar response. Then I stopped.

The “what’s the point?” argument came up…which was followed by the “they are just saying nice things about the poem to be kind” lie. I am ashamed to say that I listened to both of them – but only for a while. The Lord then reminded me that nothing done for Him, for His glory, for His honor, out of obedience to Him is ever wasted, worthless, or pointless. Even if I did not see immediate results or have people knocking on my door (or inbox…) wanting to publish my poetry, if even one person was blessed by an inspiration He provided, then it was worth it and its purpose fulfilled for that moment.

Being one so accustomed to solitude and remaining in the background, it can be a struggle some days to share the words He has laid in my heart. There are some pieces that contain so much of my heart I don’t know that I will ever share them with anyone for fear of exposing some of the deeper parts of me. I have struggled to overcome the fear of exposure, trusting the Lord to show me what pieces to share and when to share them. I have also struggled to expose the lies the enemy speaks to me against the kind words given regarding the work, to not search for the hidden meaning behind them, but rather to take them to the Father as what they really are – His! (My lack of ability to accept a compliment for the longest time was brought to my attention in a very pointed manner by a friend – and she nailed me with it. I had listened to the lies for so long that I didn’t even realize it was happening.)

Along this rather interesting – and rather exposing – leg of the journey, the Lord has provided some very encouraging, uplifting, God-centered friends whom I have never met. These five people have impacted my life more in the last few months than any of them will ever realize. I have been challenged to think beyond the box and “churchy” responses/statements, to open up and let some of this poetry out into the world, to express my heart without fear, to share words I had not shared before, to banish lies from my mind that had been long rooted and entrenched, and to enjoy poetry more than I ever have.

This wonderful provision of the Lord was slowly being brought together and I never saw it coming! I was a little sad the other day thinking about friends who seem to have forgotten me and wishing there was a way to “fix” things when He gently reminded me that He had provided above and beyond what I thought I was missing out on. It may not be the way in which I would like things to be or more convenient for me, but He provided the way in which He did for a reason – and the blessings are more than I could have imagined! Besides, that is some awesome math when you lose one and He replaces it with five!

Look beyond the obvious to see what resides underneath – often times that is where the Lord is working the most in our lives. Don’t miss out on what He is REALLY doing just because you are looking for what you WANT Him to be doing in your life. Keep your heart open, your eyes focused on Jesus, and hold on – you never know what is around the next bend!

A Legacy? How Will You Be Remembered?

The recent passing of a friend has caused me to stop and think about perspectives and priorities. More importantly, though, it has brought back to mind the concept of our legacy. When we are finally called home and the pain and trials of this earthly life are over, what will those left behind have to say about the life we have lived? Will they be able to say that their lives have been better for having known us or that – even more importantly – they know Jesus just a little better, see Him just a little clearer because of His working in our lives? Is this something we can leave behind us while we still walk the earth or something that is only realized after we are gone?

To those of you blessed enough to have children, do you tend to overlook or take them for granted? Children are a blank canvas given to us by the Artist of Time Himself. He provides the colors and brushes but leaves the art of putting brush to canvas to us. The work of art they become depends on how we allow the Master Artist to guide our brushes and color selection. When the masterpiece is finished, it is our legacy. It is the evidence of His faithfulness in our lives and how we lived out our faith – laid out in living, breathing color.

To those of you with friendships that are cherished, when was the last time you told that person how you felt about them? Do you just assume that they “know” how awesome you think they are and why they are such a valued and treasured part of your life? Friendships are the Lord’s way of touching our hearts in a special way. They are a gift directly from the Father’s heart to help us along the journey. Let us never take for granted the colors they add to our lives, the ways in which the Father will use them to shape us in His image, or miss the realization that a true friend from the Father gives us a glimpse into His heart for us if we will take the time to look. The friendships we leave behind once we are gone are another part of our legacy. May we love enough, be honest enough, and faithful enough to be of use to the Master Artist in adding color and shape to another’s life as their canvas becomes a part of ours and His legacy becomes the dominant feature of the work.

In much the same way, we are Jesus’ legacy. When we accept Him as Lord and Savior, we take the brush that is in our hands and place it in His. We allow Him to color our lives with His love and to contour and sculpt us with His grace. When we think we know what color should come next, it is usually then that the work of art takes a turn for the less-than-admirable. What He does with our hues once we hand the brush back to Him is beyond expectation. He takes our mistakes and stubbornness and uses them to His glory – and our growth. It becomes a beautiful segment on the portrait of grace painted over our lives.

Through the Word, we are able to know Jesus’ legacy and all He has touched, but what about you? What legacy are you leaving behind? If you were on trial for living a life washed in the blood of Jesus, guided by grace, and painted by the hand of the Master, would there be enough evidence to convict you?