Broken

Burning pain seized my entire body.

Heat radiated from my hands like a gas stove boiling eggs. For three weeks, I had used my arms and hands transfer my body from chair to toilet, to wheelchair, to bed, and they just weren’t havin’ it anymore. This morning I couldn’t even lift a small plastic cup. The pain, oh the pain! And I can’t use my feet because my heels feel like they are pierced with corkscrews. So, to the ER we go!

Dr. Leather did my intake report then stepped out of the room to cry the tears she held back while I answered her questions. I wanted to go to the nurse’s station to console her, but I couldn’t move. She saw my brokenness. I could use neither my hands nor my feet.

Every moment, by moment, by moment, was excruciating. Every second was a second too long to endure. I sat in a chair by my bedroom window for two long months and wept. My husband Mark sat beside me drying my tears. He fed me, read to me, cried with me, sang with me, emptied my commode, and held all my pieces together. He hardly left my side.

All of us are broken. We come from broken families with broken hearts, and we grieve broken dreams. We are broken-up with, and have breakdowns. We barely break even or are flat broke. Our bones and our spirits break. Our houses get broken into, and our skin breaks out. We are broken vessels, with a broken compass, and no clear direction. We wonder when we will have a break-through so we can apply the brakes to our brokenness. My brake system warning light has been on for years. I need some new brake pads, I reason. But nothing completely fixes my brokenness.

However…

True story: One day, long, long ago, in a faraway land called Nazareth, clouds broke apart to make way for the angel Gabriel to deliver a message to an unsuspecting humble soul, who was told she would carry in her womb, a child who would one day heal our wounds (Luke 1:26-38). If I were Mary, I probably would have had a major breakdown from the pressure. But thankfully, she chose to look up, endure the scorn of the people, and raise the boy who would eventually became the Savior of our broken world.

Jesus BROKE down cultural barriers between the Jews and Gentiles. He BROKE stereotypes about who Kings are and the way they should live their lives, and lead their people. Jesus BROKE Pharisaical rules and their ridiculous meticulous laws. He BROKE down barriers with the Pharisees by inviting himself over for dinner. Jesus BROKE the ranks and did things in a less regimented, more loving way. Jesus walked the BROKEN terrain, BREAKING in his sandals to show his followers a new way. He hung out with “sinners” and with those whose BROKENNESS was apparent. Jesus BROKE walls down between people, speaking of mercy, forgiveness, and love. He BROKE the chains that bound us to sin. Jesus miraculously healed BROKEN bodies and minds. He BROKE down and wept in grief over the death of his dear friend Lazarus. Jesus BROKE out the wine and BROKE bread with his disciples. He was HEARTBROKEN by the betrayal of his friend and disciple Judas. Jesus BROKE down in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking his Father if there was another way. Jesus was BROKEN down publicly – mocked, beaten, spit upon, flogged, stripped naked, struck on the head repeatedly with a crown of thorns on his head, and his naked body was hammered with spikes to logs of wood, then he was put on public display for all to see. There he died, temporarily. The curtain of the temple tore in two, the earth quaked, tombs BROKE open, and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life! (Mt. 27:51-53) The hard hearts of the centurion and those guarding Jesus BROKE in despair when they realized, “Surely, he was the Son of God!” (Mt. 27:54) Jesus was buried, BREAKING the hearts of his family, friends, and followers.

BUT THEN…

JESUS BROKE OUT OF THE TOMB, overcoming death to heal our wounds!

Jesus knows brokenness. He knows our brokenness. He knows our brokenness does not have to be the end of our stories. Life does not end during seasons of brokenness, but we are changed. We can find refuge in The One who broke himself so we could be healed. We can use our pain to draw closer to him and others. There are gifts in our suffering – gifts of compassion, humility, understanding, patience, endurance, character, and hope (Ro. 5:3-5). These gifts can be used to help heal others. We tap into these gifts when we look beyond doubt and see beyond ourselves and to the needs of others.

Jesus had the power to, but did not stop the Roman soldiers and others from physically breaking him down. He didn’t stop them because he knew the victory was in the breaking; the victory was beyond what was physically seen. Reason lies beyond the pain, beyond this life. We cannot see what God sees – but one day we will if we entrust our broken lives to him. You are not alone. Look to him for healing. Pain draws us closer to him if we let it.  There is an ‘unseen to the human eye’ reason for our suffering. We will understand one day – that endless joyful day of eternity, beyond our final day on earth. There is nothing broken in heaven. We will be fully healed. There will be no more tears… and thank you, God, there will be no more pain! (Rev. 21:4)

Carry the Torch

Last week I spoke at my father’s funeral.

My dad was an elementary art teacher for 29 years. That means there were many art supplies in our home. As a child, I spent much of my time around the ping-pong table designing, drafting, sawing, drawing, painting, cutting, building, sculpting, stitching, and, gluing. My canvas was hardly large enough. The canvas of my dad’s life was brilliantly colored and he left this world with pieces of it in the hands of many thousands of people. He left a large imprint. An imprint of love.

Dad went to a very small private high school in North Dakota. He attended community college for one year before being called to serve in the Army during the Korean War. After his honorable discharge in 1955, he moved to Colorado to finish his Art Education degree, married mom in a small Colorado town, and made a small teacher’s salary.

Then dad went large. He and mom had five kids, and he taught hundreds of elementary-aged kids every weekday. During the summers, he worked for the school district teaching sports to many of these same children. He was a surrogate father for fatherless boys, taking them to ballgames, fishing, and mentoring them. He held art labs before and after school for anyone who wanted more “art time”. His labs overflowed with children wanting to finish their pottery for firing or to work on their marionettes. Dad’s canvas was radiant!

Supporting a large family wasn’t easy. Dad worked additional jobs after teaching hours to support us. After he retired from teaching, he worked security for ten years at the media gate for the Colorado Rockies. Everywhere he worked, he worked with integrity and kindness, enriching lives and adding new hues and fine details to his beautifully colored canvas.

After his kids grew into their 30’s and 40’s, he lost his wife – tragically – in a one-car accident. Mom had been diagnosed with aplastic anemia a year before she fell asleep at the wheel. She was only 72. Since her dad lived to 105, we projected she would too. But we were 33 years so painfully wrong.

Dad’s vibrant canvas suddenly faded to a simple drawing etched faintly with a black charcoal pencil. For ten years he stayed in his home, hardly exiting and barely existing. He slept during the day, and at night ran his errands. And he drew pictures. For years, we ‘kids’ contemplated how to get dad to live during the day, and sleep at night. We wanted to see him. We wanted him to be happy. But he chose to stay in the shadows.

Times were few when we went into his home – our childhood home. When we got a sneak peek, we saw his art tables and supplies in a corner, and file boxes and papers everywhere. Dad’s attention to detail and neatness were evidently buried with mom.

Then dad got sick and we almost lost him in the ICU. It was time to have the assisted living talk; my sister was successful. Moving him into a small room from his home was pretty much a nightmare. What was healing was being in our childhood home and seeing memories of our mom, and our past. We relished in the memories. For the first time, we got to hold and cherish the remembrances of mom. My favorite, her baby blue scarf.

Not many things could go with dad to his new living space, but necessities were his art table, supplies, and file boxes. What were in those boxes anyway?

We worried about dad. He hadn’t been very social for a decade, even with his children, or grandchildren, and now he was surrounded by people. If he wanted to eat, he had to do it with others. We tried to ease his transition by visiting him frequently to eat with him in the dining room. On one occasion, I witnessed a resident shouting loudly at a caregiver. I learned Peter was often pugnacious and angry. But dad had a wise solution. Saint Peter. In dad’s file box, he searched for a colored pencil drawing of Saint Peter he created during the past decade. He framed and delivered it to Peter, a few doors down, who softened at dad’s gesture of kindness. A new friend. Next, dad met Mary. He searched in his file box for one of many renditions of Mary, the mother of Jesus, he drew during the past decade. Then he met Joan. For Joan, he had no picture in his file box, so he drew Joan of Arc. She cried in delight. More friends.

Dad became the welcoming and healing committee through his gifts of love. During holidays, he made cards and stood at the front desk handing them out to each resident as they entered or exited the dining room. Paul received Saint Paul; Stephen received Stephen, the first biblical martyr; and Tom received Thomas, the apostle. Each resident, each doctor, each nurse, the chef, the caregivers, the volunteers, one by one, received a drawing from dad. Jesus was the most popular choice.

For ten years, God was preparing dad for his new ministry. For ten years, he was in the wilderness being prepped for a great work of service. For ten years, dad drew, and he was not alone. Dad was grieving his beloved, but in his grief, unbeknownst to him or his kids, God was orchestrating the healing of many hurts and pains of residents, doctors, and caregivers at his assisted living facility.

Framed drawings popped up everywhere – Minnie Mouse in the facility director’s office, Jesus in the accountant’s office, an owl at the nurse’s station, every kind of saint you have never heard of facing out from various resident’s windows. One day, dad received a knock on his door from a doctor who wanted to meet the artist who brought so much joy to his patients. He left with a smile and a drawing of Saint Luke, the doctor.

During the three years dad was there, he repainted his dim black charcoal canvas into a color-filled love-filled spectrum far-reaching canvas. He healed hurts of loneliness and forgottenness. He brightened days of slumber and boredom, he delivered messages of hope and faith, and he filled drab rooms with vibrant colors.

We wore colors to his funeral. Bright ones like his hundreds of shades of colored pencils. His five kids spoke, and when it was my turn, I told the story of a man who colored the lives of other people with his gift. A gift he gave prolifically. A gift the Lord gave him. I spoke of wanting to be like my dad and to find my gift to give during my suffering of grieving the loss of my ability to walk, and now also through my grieving the loss of my dad.

This is my attempt. To write. To write a canvas of stories that help comfort the lonely, nurture the brokenhearted, and uplift hopeless and defeated souls. I want to paint a beautiful canvas through my brokenness that radiates hope for others. I want to carry the torch for dad.

Welcome to Radiantly Broken.