Faith

Healing Feels Like

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Healing feels like suffering at first. It feels like pain that comes in pulsing waves that sometimes lap over, sometimes crash into the shore.

It looks like wide-open eyes at night when you should have fallen asleep hours ago.

It looks like friends who know the pain is too great to talk or hug away, and so they simply sit and breathe with you.

It sounds like angry questions you ask God even if you don't believe in him.

It sounds like the same song repeating, repeating, repeating as it sings and sews the sutures that barely hold you together.

It feels like sliding down an icy hill which takes you toward something, somewhere new against your will.

It tastes like the tears that swell in your eyes, roll down over your cheekbones, and cascade over your lips.

Healing feels like awkward transitions.

It feels like the itch of scabs that form over your wound that you want to scratch.

It feels like the fear that chains itself to your ankle and makes you wonder if you'll ever be right again.

It looks like the squinting of your eyes when you first leave a dark room and meet the bright, burning embrace of the sun again.

It looks like the mess of pebbles, rocks, and dirt all over the road and sidewalks after the snow melts.

It looks like the indecision on your face when you wonder how you feel when you see or hear or run into him or her or it for the first time in a long time.

It sounds like the wobble of the chuckle that marks the first time you're able to laugh about the situation.

It sounds like the tapping of your fingers on the table, your feet on the linoleum, your heart on your ribcage, because you're antsy and ready to be over this.

It tastes like the tears that still come, though less frequently, as you ask yourself that nagging question...What if?

Healing looks like time.

It looks like days, weeks, months, and maybe years.

It feels at first like the days have stretched into the shoes of centuries and walk ever so slowly toward specks in the horizon.

It feels at some point like the days have shrunk themselves to the size of a hummingbird's wings and beat several times a second.

It sounds like the swell of songbirds signaling the sunrise of a spring you were afraid might never arrive.

It sounds like Amazing Grace but in a language you comprehend for the first time in your life.

It tastes like tears that slide down your face and around the corners of your smiling mouth when you realize how far you've come.

Healing is a mess.

Healing is a fight.

Healing is time, and time, and time.

Healing is coming. Healing we'll find.

***

Feature photo ©2013 Duncan Rawlinson | Flickr

Prayer Works Sometimes

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I don't know how much you believe in prayer. Some of you may not at all. A lot of you probably believe in it at least a little bit. Definitely when your team's down by at least a field goal. It's okay if you don't, but I really do.

Exactly one year ago, the staff at Epic Church, where I work, decided to start praying this prayer: God, stretch me. God, heal me. God, ruin me.

It was based on a message with a lot more context, but the gist is this: we wanted to pray that God would stretch us in the areas we needed to be stretched, to heal us in the areas that were holding us back, and to ruin us and break our hearts for what broke His, all so we could live life to the fullest extent we were made to live.

So we started praying that prayer.

Holy rip.

We got we asked for. Since we began that prayer a year ago, many of us have been stretched beyond our limit, forced to our knees in sorrow, buried to the eyes in worries. We've had our hearts broken and our faith tested.

Prayer really does work, though sometimes not in the way we envisioned it would.

This year, I propose we pray to win the lottery.

I'm kidding. (Well...)

The cool thing is that I've seen God heal us, too. I've seen Him take us through some of the most painful stuff you can imagine. We made it through, and I believe we're better and stronger for it.

I'm about to join the rest of our staff to kick off our winter retreat. While I've already asked Kent to cool it with the challenging prayers, I'm ready for whatever is coming this year.

If God has to stretch and ruin me all over again, so be it.

I want to live life to its fullest, and I know He can get us there.

Knowing the Taste of Failure

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(This piece is also featured in Converge Magazine.)

On the day I got married five and a half years ago, my wife-to-be slipped my wedding ring over the fourth finger of my left hand. It was loose--we hadn't sized it properly before the wedding, and so it jostled back and forth between my other fingers. Even after we resized it later, it always seemed a little big, a little heavy. I was always trying to keep it from sliding off my finger, especially when it was wet. Conversely, when I put the ring on her finger that day, I remember having to push. It fought me the whole way. There's even a picture of me as I jokingly went to my knees to try to work it past her knuckle.

***

It was the pre-dawn of a cold, winter morning last year when I placed my ring down on the dresser. I tried my best to lay the ring down gently without a sound, but it seemed so heavy. It felt like it had grown so much heavier since the first day I put it on. My fingers parted with the cold metal--it had been off my finger for hours--and I left it sitting there on top of a folded piece of paper, a note I had spent most of the night wrestling with and writing. The letter underneath the ring was part anger and part sadness. Part indignation and part heartbreak. Part resignation and part hope.

That was the beginning of the end of my marriage.

***

If I could rewind six years and allow a twenty-two-year-old me to read what I just wrote, I know what the reaction would be:

"That's never going to happen. Never."

If I were to ask myself a follow-up question--Why not?--the younger me would look at the older me with an unblinking stare, with fire in his eyes and say:

"I won't let it."

He would mean it with all of his heart, all of his mind, all of his strength, and all of his soul. He would bet his life on those words. He would run into the flames with little regard for his safety.

It's hard to believe that was six years ago. It feels like a lifetime. The last twelve months alone have completely reconstructed my life and my trajectory. There's no way around it--2013 was the year I was thrown into the den, with failure licking its lips and sharpening its claws, ready to feast. Nothing feels more like failure than a failed marriage.

***

To be honest, my marriage had always been difficult. We never had a honeymoon phase. Never a period of time at which I could point and say, “I wish we could go back to that. It was nice.” We had moments, yes — to paint it all as “bad” would be completely unfair. But we had been dancing dangerously close to the edge of the cliff almost right away and spent most of our marriage trying to avoid the fall. I always felt the fear of a potential “end,” its breath always on my neck.

Nothing prepares you for the end, though. Nothing softens the blow or prevents the air from being knocked out of your lungs when you realize it’s over. Falling in love, being married, having this partner and best friend to run through life together…that was my ultimate dream. More than any other dream, this one is what my heart and soul chased after. The death of this dream left me “in a barren field frozen with snow,” confused and numb.

Failure would especially make its presence known at night, in the form of insomnia. It would pull the covers up and let the cold air scratch and gnaw at my feet. The hard, sober reality of my situation became my pillow. In my many bouts of sleeplessness, I’d crank my music, marathon a show on Netflix, write furiously, read every self-help resource. Whatever it took to avoid the thought that always seemed to knock on the door:

This can’t be my story.

***

My marriage, and the ending of it, became the most unacceptable failure I could imagine. It tested every fiber of my being, every ounce of my faith, everything I believed about love and hope.

Somehow, I’m still here, standing on the other side as the dust settles. The pain has given way to some moments of clarity, though, that have bubbled their way to the surface in the last twelve months. These are the thorny, jagged truths that I’ve been forced to embrace: That I can’t make someone love me or want to be married to me. That I can’t fix every situation with my determination, skills, strength, or charisma. That I’m not strong enough to endure everything.

Each one stung and bled me out, but that last one became the most difficult to accept. At the very least, if I can’t fix this, if I can’t push this rock, if I can’t scream or cry or laugh or love or hug or hurt this into something better, I can endure. Surely it’s the least I can do.

It’s a very telling thing to have your father grieve with you on the phone and tell you that you’ve become physically and emotionally sick, that he’s concerned you can’t make it much longer like this.

It’s a very humbling thing to sit across the table from your father-in-law, whom you love and admire and respect, who gave you the responsibility of loving and taking care of his precious daughter, and look at him through your blurred, wet, weary eyes, and whisper, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m not strong enough.”

***

When I finally accepted defeat, I also had to accept the fact that life often doesn’t fit into the neat boxes we’ve prepared for it. I never grew up wanting to be divorced. In fact, I went most of my life despising divorce, looking down on it and anyone who would do such a thing. How weak, I thought. How convenient of them to take the easy way outDon’t they care about their vows?  Yet here I am, shaking my head at my own sheltered, sterile ignorance and afraid that the same thoughts I used to think, the same knives I used to sharpen, are being aimed in my direction by the people who know me. How messy life can be. How tricky. How easily we can find ourselves in the midst of a detour we never intended to take.

Life is supposed to be this linear equation, isn’t it? Go to school + meet someone + fall in love + get a job + get married + buy a house + have kids + read the Bible + be a good person = happily ever after.

I suspect I’m not the only one who has found himself on the outside of that equation looking in, lacking one or more of the necessary variables. So many of us have either lost an x, broken a y, or waited on a z that never bothered to show up in the first place.

I’ve found that life isn’t all about the polished, framed family photo on the mantel, the perfectly paved road, the slow-melt hugs and the puzzle-piece kisses. Life is also fracture and fighting, wilderness and wandering, bruises and scars left behind by different people in our lives or even our own selfish actions.

That combination doesn’t fit into a clean equation. But what if life is less formula and more poetry: full of surprise, of colour, of meaning, of complexity? It has the ability to weave together beauty and ugliness, pleasure and pain. It doesn’t discount you when you deviate from the plotted course. It often makes something even more beautiful out of your detour. Life isn’t a clean-cut, straight line. That much is obvious when you look back at anyone’s life, successful or not. I know this now. I think.

***

Still, how do you truly recover when you’ve launched toward the highest expectations and loftiest dreams, when you’ve reached for them but you never came close, when you’ve hurtled back toward the ground and found yourself in a smoldering heap of scraps? How do you come back from that?

Little by little. By deciding to live life. By eating outrageous amounts of ice cream. By watching When Harry Met Sally at 2 a.m. By allowing friends into your brokenness. By wrestling with what it means to forgive and be forgiven. By continuing to believe that dreams are worth chasing. By nurturing the tiniest seed of faith that God can grow a bigger, stronger, more vibrant tree out of your ashes.

I am OK, most of the time. I’m healing. I’m moving forward. Slowly, the fog begins to thin out a bit more. I can feel the glow of tomorrow on my face, and I’m drinking in today.

Instead of failure, all I taste is hope.