I originally shared this as a spoken word piece at my church’s Storyteller event. I came across it today and thought it might speak to someone in this form, here. Soon I hope to record a few of these pieces so you can hear the way these words sound in my head 😉 In the meantime, know that even in this broken world, redemption is coming.
…Once upon a time, there was a tiny little bird. He was young and hopeful, but oh so tiny! The tiny bird often looked out to the big, strong birds and wished he could soar like them. The expanse of sky beyond his tiny nest made him feel far too small to conquer flying. One day, watching the other birds, he convinced himself he needed to soar to feel big and strong like them. The tiny bird made a giant leap, and soon felt himself falling, falling, falling. He landed hard on a branch below and looked down at his wounded wing. “Now I will never conquer the sky,” he cried. “And I will never soar like the other birds.”
…Once upon a time a widowed woman, lonely and tired, sat in a quiet blue chair missing her husband. She often sat there looking at the beautiful urn on the mantle that held his ash and longed to pick it up and hold it, to sift through death’s dust, just to be closer to her love. She left it there but stared each day. She ached in loneliness, aware of the giant hole left by his life. The silence was deafening and the pain made her heart often feel that it would stop altogether. During the afternoons, she turned off the lights to dull the brightness of day, waiting for night and sleep to come so her heart could get some rest from the aching. But during the days, blue chair, staring at the mantle, heart aching.
…Once upon a time, there was a man who had it all. The perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect car, the perfect family. He wondered what he did to deserve such bountiful blessings. But one day, the man received news that he would be let go from his perfect job, and his purpose as a provider seemed to break beneath him. Soon, they had to sell the perfect house and the perfect car, and his perfect marriage was shaken. He felt that nothing was certain anymore, the castle was crumbling, and he was grasping at straws to feel secure—but nothing seemed to work. Years went by and the man felt as though he lost it all as he became the shell of the man he once was.
– – –
Wings wounded. Hearts hurting. Identities shaken. The “once upon a time” is a war-stricken country, with children covered in ash and no longer able to cry. The “once upon a time” is the illness fallen upon an innocent child. The “once upon a time” is a wildfire that destroys whole homes and whole cities. It’s divorce and a family broken apart. It’s the woman with scars she dares not speak of, in shame of what’s been done to her. It’s the son who turns away and chooses to live life on his own terms, far away from the family and faith he once knew.
The pain is too much to bear. We realize we can’t conquer the sky, or see light and joy, or imagine how life will be made right again.
But listen. Beat… beat… beat. The heart still pumps on. Life flows through the veins. In the winter cold where death seems to reside over the trees and earth, a tiny bud pushes through the hard ground and begins to show that spring will come again.
You see, this is the story of a mighty king who takes our broken things, and makes something magnificent out of the meek.
This is a story of brilliant light piercing through darkness and death.
This is a story of rebuilding the ruins that were shattered around and beneath us.
This is a once upon a time, that WILL end in redemption. Even if earth shows us hurt, and sin overtakes us, and paradise is lost, He will restore the years the locusts have eaten. Listen…
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Beat… beat… beat.
– – –
After days of struggling to fly again, that tiny little bird hears the whisper: “My child, come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” The tiny bird rests and day by day, his strength grows and when it is time, he finally soars. Restoration for what was once broken.
One evening, the widow finally decides to lift the urn from the mantle to move it closer to her blue chair. Her hands shake and she drops the vase, and the ashes scatter everywhere. She weeps as she kneels in the dark next to the urn’s broken pieces. She is struck with the idea to glue them back together, shattered piece by shattered piece. Though there are cracks and holes, she places a candle inside, where her husband’s ashes once lay. The light breaks through her darkness and she feels some relief in her aching. Beauty where there were once ashes.
The man who lost it all finally gets it. His wholeness cannot possibly come from cars and homes and jobs and material things, or even from those around him. He is humbled and looks upward, and even though the pieces aren’t back together, the ground beneath him is sturdy. He is planted like an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His glory. Rebuilding where there was once ruin.
In our pain, in our sorrow, in our grief, in our times of waiting, His wounds will walk us through our brokenness. Healing is coming. He washes over our wounds in grace upon grace upon restorative, brilliant, mighty, precious, amazing grace.
– – –
Friend, if you are in a season of hurting, waiting or brokenness, can I pray for you?
I am here and am praying for you this week. Send me a message here if I can pray something specific for you.
P.S. Thank you so much to Kari Shea, Hide Obara, and Megha Ajith (all of the Unsplash community) for the images to accompany this piece.
In this identity series, I will tell you a story of my own struggle with a particular lie/old identity, and then the Scriptures and prayers I’ve used to re-claim a new identity in Christ. Read the intro here.
I thought I was…. (here are the lies I wrestled with):
Unclean, dirty, impure, shameful, destined to repeat the past, defined by my sin/mistakes
Over the course of my 30 years of life, I have oscillated between different identities related to my status of clean, unclean, pure, impure. There have been seasons where I wore my purity like a badge of honor, an outward symbol of how pure I could make myself. Looking back I can see it was just that–a badge that could easily fall off, a self-proclaimed purity. My heart wasn’t necessarily as clean as my outward actions.
And there have been times when the actions of others or my own choices have left me in a pit of shame, chained down by darkness, covered in the grime of sin. Times when others called me “unclean” and I said, yep, that’s the truth. I took the words, actions, and fallen human choices that happened on this earth (either by myself or others) and let them define me as ultimate truth. No matter how much I prayed to feel clean I would not accept that God could really wash me and make me new again.
This past April, I helped lead worship at a women’s retreat for my church. The theme of the retreat was “Clean.” In preparation for the retreat, I prayed deeply and listened dozens of times to Natalie Grant’s song “Clean” (which would be our theme song for the weekend). That gorgeous weekend at a retreat center in a wooded area of West Virginia, our speaker poured Truth over us about our status as clean in Christ. We sang the words, “there’s nothing too dirty that you can’t make worthy,” and I spent a lot of time journaling and praying. I knew something deep and rich was stirring in me– memories were rising to the surface from childhood and adolescence and even recent months and I was seeing for the first time that what God had already CALLED clean I was still wrapping around myself like a cloak of shame. Although He had already released me from the chains of the past, I was dragging them around and wallowing in my own shame and self-condemnation.
I went for a run in the woods during the Saturday afternoon free time on the retreat. As I ran on the path down a big hill, I had this incredible feeling of innocence and childhood. With sunlight bursting through the trees and pouring over my head, I imagined a little girl running down a grassy hill into a field of wildflowers with her arms wide open to scoop up color. I laughed and felt like I could fly, I was so light and happy. And suddenly, I realized. Breakthrough. I let go of the chains I’d been set free from long ago– as I ran, I felt heavy weights falling off of my ankles and hands and my heart. I found myself running, wide open and free into pure JOY. Since that weekend, I have felt a sense of freedom I’ve never before experienced in my life– relishing in the fact that GOD has made me clean. There is nothing too dirty or shameful I could do that He would choose not to forgive if I asked in earnest for His forgiveness. Once He has washed me clean, I no longer have to sit and wallow in shame that I am dirty, unclean, or defined by my past. And there is nothing I can do to make myself worthy enough. I need Him to make me holy and pure.
I am learning more and more this important truth about my identity:
EVERYTHING I am flows out of the Truth of who He is.
As I was on that retreat weekend, I remembered a strange phrase from the psalms… and I couldn’t get it off my mind for days. “Cleanse me with hyssop.” This was David’s cry in Psalm 51 to be cleansed not just physically, but spiritually after he was found out in his affair with Bathsheba. I know that feeling–wanting to feel like your insides are clean and pure and no longer charred by sin and darkness. I read that hyssop is an herb from the Middle East similar to mint, used for cleansing, medicinal and flavoring purposes (it resembles lavender in photos I’ve found). It was used throughout the old testament related to sacrifices, used as a paint brush to place blood over the door frames in Exodus 12, and in David’s heart-wrenching cry of wanting to be purified. The good news is that Christ became our sacrifice so that we COULD be called pure, worthy, and clean– so much better than any outer cleaning we could try to give ourselves. Our hearts are able to be new each day, and through Him we are called a NEW CREATION. I am praying that by remembering who God is, what He is able to do, and the new identities we can have in Him, you will be able to join me in walking in this status of being redeemed and set free from the past. I used Psalm 51, Psalm 103, 2 Corinthians 5, and Galatians 5 to walk through this exercise:
Because God is… (fill in adjectives that describe the character of God):
- Steadfast in mercy
- Abundantly loving (unfailing in His love)
- Slow to anger
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” -Psalm 51:1
HE has the power to… (verbs listed with God’s actions for us/over us):
- Deliver me from bloodguiltiness
- Wash me thoroughly
- Cleanse me/create in me a clean heart
- Forgive all of my sins
- Heal all my diseases
- Redeem my life from the pit
- Crown me with steadfast love and mercy
- Satisfy me with good
- Renew my life
- Work righteousness and justice for the oppressed
- Remove our transgressions (sins) from us, as far as the east is from the west
- Reconcile us to Himself, through Christ
“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow….Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” -Psalm 51:7, 10
So, He calls us… (new identities we can claim for ourselves):
- Whiter than snow
- Ambassadors for Christ
- The righteousness of God
- A new creation
- Set free
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” -Psalm 103:11-12
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” -2 Corinthians 5:17, 21
To dig in further: read Psalm 25, Isaiah 43, Isaiah 44, Colossians 2:13-14, 1 John 1:9
Friend, no matter what you struggle with that makes you feel dirty or unclean (whether it is in your past or a present wrestling), my prayer for you today is that you could KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that in Him, you are a new creation. He is abounding in love and is able to cleanse you thoroughly. He calls you pure, redeemed, reconciled, and has set you free. Now, let’s spend some time scooping up those wildflowers of color and life, knowing that we are free indeed. Here is a prayer you can come back to when you are wrestling with shame:
Lord, I praise You– that You are steadfast in mercy, unfailing in your love, and that you are Truth. You have the power to carry me out of the darkness and shame and into Your light. Wash me, and let me hear YOU when you call me clean. I humbly ask you to help me to release the lies and chains I’ve carried around that say otherwise. Please help me to see myself the way You see me. I boldly ask for you to free me from the bondage of my past that has still been gripping me– the chains that I’ve heavily dragged around with me for all this time. As I step deeper into the purity of Your heart, I pray that I would not just define myself by outward actions, but that I would be cleansed at the very depths of my heart and mind. If there are wounds from my past that still linger, I pray for your healing touch that I could reach the fullness of the restoration that you have for me. I want to run freely into Your arms with joy, knowing that I am free indeed. I love you Lord.
“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” -Psalm 147:11
The past couple of years I’ve spent the weeks leading into January 1st asking God for a word to guide my next year. A word that I can press into-whether it becomes the umbrella for my goals, the anchor on the hard days, or something to set my eyes on that’s bigger than momentary trials.
️I loved how in 2016, I heard the word FREEDOM so clearly, and He was faithful in helping me find that in so many ways. I paid off a large amount of debt through an incredible side job. I let go of some unhealthy relationships, and found some pretty incredible new relationships that brought a sense of authentic community. I took control of my health, ate a more plant based diet, and even ran a half marathon! There was great freedom and joy in all of this. But God especially gave me freedom as I pressed into counseling and a recovery group for my people-pleasing codependence, and for the first time ever, I found my identity completely in Christ. That year was life-changing for me in stepping into that true sense of freedom.
️This past year, I claimed the word REDEMPTION. I learned that these words for my year are not necessarily a road map, they are a stepping into of trust. After divorce and single-motherhood, I think I imagined that “redemption” would mean God saving me from some of the burdens of my situation. I thought 2017 might bring greater financial redemption, a new home, a relationship that could fill the holes left by past wounds, and a greater sense of a traditional family for me and my son. The redemption God had in mind was different than what I imagined. He revealed to me how much work He is still doing to fill up my empty places. His healing touch has covered so many of my relationships and circumstances. I’m learning to step back and trust God to lead me on HIS own path of redemption for me. And that means releasing my control on my best-laid plans, laying them at the altar, and for once, not picking them back up again.
️Over the past two weeks, looking to 2018, I asked for a word again. Can I be honest? I almost felt frustrated by the word that continued to show up- HOPE. My hopes have been at times dashed and defeated, and I hate to say that hope hasn’t been coming super naturally for me lately. But maybe that’s why God is whispering it to me, nudging me to a place that feels a bit cliche and uncomfortable. He maybe knows I could use a year focused on hope and the goodness He has for me. This year, I will work on finding my hope for the future in the Lord- not in my striving, my expectations, my goals (whether I achieve them or not), the people around me, my financial situation, my relationship status. God is the source of hope I want to cling to.
This verse was one I used to focus during my half marathon training, and it’s been coming to mind a lot today again:
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40: 30-31