Toilet Paper on Our Shoes (and other thoughts on brokenness and healing)

I keep running into these moments, like a giant rock that I continually trip over. Maybe you know those moments. When it’s just you, alone somewhere with your thoughts. Perhaps it’s nighttime and you’re driving back home and it’s just you, the car, a bumpy road, and God. And the light that was once green has now transcended from yellow to red. So you’re sitting there stuck at the red light, going nowhere, and it’s just you, these thoughts, the feel of the steering wheel, and this ominous presence in your car with you, speaking through the windshield, or next to you, or through a crack in the window, oh, I don’t know. And you can’t run, you can’t hide anywhere; you’re exposed. Your running and distracting and avoiding and fearing are called out. You can’t resort back to your usual mechanisms of escape because it’s just you, stopped at the red light of sameness or change.
It’s as if you have no other choice but to face the music of your life soundtrack. And it’s a CD mix you’ve never heard before, so you don’t know which songs are the fast tracks, and which ones are melancholy. And as the next track begins playing, you realize the music is a sad and somber tune and all you wish is for the next song to be of joy and merriment because life is short, damn it, and shouldn’t we be living in carpe diem every moment? So you try and focus on the things that make you happy and get you thinking “it’s all good,” “it won’t be so bad,” and you minimize that it’s about to get hard. But then this snowball from the past comes flying in your face and all you can feel is its wet sting as it slides down your face and into your coat, slowly melting frozen snowflakes onto your chest like butter on toast. Trying to tell you that spring will never come until you deal with whatever it is you have to deal with. Oh sure. Things change. The next day you’ll wake up and you won’t be alone again and you can go back to distracting yourself with friends and people and tasks and to-do lists. Spring will come anyway, because seasons change and evolve. But the degree to which we fully enjoy each of these things, unfettered, comes from our willingness to throw away the toilet paper dragging from our shoes. Maybe you’re in such a hurry that you don’t even notice the paper trail from your soles, which the whole world can see bright as day. And maybe, just maybe, there might be one tender-hearted person who pulls you aside, alone, privately, safely, waking you up to the toilet paper on your shoe, without embarrassing you or belittling you either. Because we all have had toilet paper on our shoes before and we all have monsters in our closets that sometimes like to reappear. I mean, it’s not about the toilet paper. It’s those conversation that say, “Hey, I’ve noticed something about you.” And someone asks you if you’re really happy and you just let out a confused cry. And that’s ok. That’s enough for that moment.

Inside each of us lies an innate longing for everything to be ok. And anything we can latch onto to show us that things are going to look up, get better, be ok… we cling to, perhaps for comfort, perhaps as futile attempts to block out change. To hold on when we should really let go. Sometimes I just want more than a verse that states, “but I’ve given you a future and hope.” I need more than that. I need to see, oh how I want to see. Oh how I want more assurance. Because everything inside of me screams, begs, demands for everything to be ok. And the longer I can’t see how it’s all going to be ok if I make this decision, or if that happpens, or if this occurs, the more I pine for assurance, signs, and control. Because everything seems so out of my control sometimes and quite frankly God,  sometimes it seems like you’re up there doing nothing.

And so some days, we find ourselves in Churches or other places of worship. I wonder sometimes, for every service I went to at that megachurch back in college, or at that Bible study event filled with a bunch of people smiling, talking about praying, and Evangelizing, and all that joy-in-the-Lord-is-our-strength stuff… was just a show. A bunch of BS. A bunch of people, but certainly not all, who were too afraid to speak of the monsters in their closets, the toilet paper on their shoes. A bunch of people who walk around “happy,” but deep down feel far from the abundant life to which we’re invited. A secretly empty population walking around just hoping to emulate a veneer of “the good Christian.” No. That would be a tragedy. My, my I don’t think we were ever created for the pretending and the “everything’s fine,” and the pity-filled, “Oh I’ll pray for you-s.” We were never meant to, perhaps, smile at every single worship service. What we were made for is community, authentic community. We were invited in, promised with, the opportunity to be a part of a community that says we’ll share our bread and our cup and your tears and my tears and together, we’ll taste something so rich and beautiful, we won’t understand why we ever used to settle for less– the excessive smiling and covering up of pain and doubt.

I know I can be a cynic, but I do know that not everyone of these circles are pretentious. And maybe all those people I saw were joyful and happy in the Lord. Maybe every single one of them was. Maybe.

I just wish I had more influences in my life then like I do now where we sit down at lunch and cry in front of each other. And talk about what depression meds we’ve been on. Where we admit that we too aren’t so sure about the messages we’ve been reiterated about hell or gender or any of those things that Jesus doesn’t really talk a whole lot about. And then where we get really excited and creative about all the ways in which we can find new ways to love, which Jesus talks a whole lot about. More people who go to counseling too and we laugh about how crazy we can be. More one on one conversations in which the two of us admit that we actually have no idea where we’re going with life right now or where this journey is taking us. More people who knew that Jesus could be worshipped on top of a hay bale as you and a friend live out his words to “learn from the birds” as they migrate Southbound, in strength and beauty, letting out a few drops of poo too. Lucky them; they don’t have to worry about the toilet paper-shoe part.

I’m grateful for all of the people in my life who’ve shed away their false layers, remaining open and transparent, as if secretly giving me permission to drop by guard and do the same. I’m grateful for these moments of brokenness in which God stops me, has my complete attention because I’m now shivering and crying alone in my room. “Why do you cause such tears to fall from my eyes and why this pain in my heart!?” I implore You. Though hard to recognize in the moment, I know it’s possible to choose to perceive these tears as a gift. I know Your words to be true when you hold my hand and whisper back, “Because I love you. And there is something good to come from this mess, but you won’t be able to see it yet.”  Some pains are just a part of this world; events that God never intended, but will warmly hold your hand and cry with you, yes, that’s His/Her hands embracing you. There are those other pains that grow- the consequences of our own actions or in-actions- and God looks you in the eye, puts a hand on your shoulder and says, “My child. Is this the only way you’ll slow down? Is this the only way I can gain your full attention before you hurt yourself even more?” And S/He swoops and breathes hope into our breaking hearts that things won’t always be this way. I just can’t expect to see these moments disappear if I don’t start dealing with the broken pieces I’ve tried to hide under my bed, or under my seat, or in my private thought life that no one but God can access. It’s as if S/he enters in, and takes you by the hand, and says, “Well go on now!” Cry. Mourn. Confess. Forgive. Heal. But refuse to sucumb to the notion that you’ll never get through this,” whatever the “this” happens to be at that moment.

Brokenness is a powerful tool for change. Even though as a kid in middle school youth group, I would sing, “Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for,” I would never ask for it to happen to me, willingly. But every time it does, I am always amazed at how God uses it to reveal something new about who S/He is, who I am, and where I still harbor my insecurities. God uses it to show us we’re stronger than we think we are if we would just face whatever it is that won’t stop pestering and festering.

And so tonight my candlelight is still burning. And I’m still feeling a bit of that brokenness and confusion about where and when this mess will intersect with beauty, but I do know this: I am not as alone as I initially felt I was. We have a God that will keep us from the lie we’re alone in those times of brokenness and healing. There is a God who can create something good out of something so hard, or ugly, or untimely, or even as trivial and embarrassing as toilet paper on our shoes.

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God is Not a Genie ((And Other Thoughts on Healing))

“There isn’t anything God can’t do!” “God the mighty healer!” “God renews, transforms!” “We are made into a new creation- behold!- the old has gone and the new has come.”

Sound familiar?
These are awesome truths about our God.

But they can’t be taught in a vacuum.

Knowing these truths alone won’t change you. Neither will praying them.

Because God is not a Genie.

No. Leave that for the blue guy in Aladdin, who sings “I’m here to answer all your midday prayers. You got me bona fide, certified. You got a genie for your chare d’affaires. I got a powerful urge to help you out.” (Feel free to sing along to the rest of “Friend Like Me,” all you Disney kids of the 90s out there.)

Instead of a Genie, we have the maker of the universe who calls us into maturity, who heals, restores, renews, refreshes our souls.

But how?

How, exactly, does God heal us? Grow us? Change us?

Because maybe you’ve been praying for God to “change you,” to “heal you,” or, perhaps in your most desperate moments, shouted out a dire, “Fix me! [Now!].” And you might still be sitting there. Waiting to “get healed,” “get fixed,” “be whole.”  And you’ve realized that either God’s not who he says he is, and he really isn’t in the business of healing, or he is and you just never got the message that there’s something for God to do…. and there’s something for you to do, too.

You see, we can wish and pray away our desires for healing, for change, for wholeness, while the rest of the world, so it seems, is getting healed, experiencing the hallelujah, walking in Shalom, while you’re off in your room feeling jipped, wondering where your burning bush is, only to realize you’ve been wondering around in the Sahara and there’s no shrubbery in sight. Just you. And God. ((And plenty of sand)).

Why doesn’t God just wave a magic God wand over us and fix us?
That might be nice, and a heck of a lot easier. But it wouldn’t allow us to experience faith.

Not the “if you just believe hard enough, sincerely enough, and pray long enough, you’ll get healed” faith.

But the kind of faith that has to go through something; go through a journey. Because if all we had to do was pray some prayer and our problems would absolve, that wouldn’t really be faith, right? It would be magic.

Why hasn’t God healed you yet?
Because he has a journey to take you through.
Yes, He wants to go on a journey with you.

Will you go?
Will you sign yourself up?

It’s not an easy one, but it’s worth the risk; it’s worth the pain; it’s worth the discomfort.

Perhaps it might look something like this:

First, you might come out from under the covers and ask the God of Light to come walk you through this darkness.

Then it might look like digging back into your past and uncovering the broken pieces that look really scary. I know the edges look sharp, but go on, see what’s really there. You might discover too that, “the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

Because somewhere on your journey, you might uncover all the parts of yourself that you don’t want to see: the part of you that stuffs your emotions, that doesn’t voice your questions, that’s looked the other way for so long because the second you stare at reality face-to-face, your eyes well up with tears of shame. Hang in there. Ask for forgiveness. Not just from God. But from others. Not just from others, but from yourself. And give yourself some grace.

Somewhere on your journey, you might find yourself outstretched on the floor, pen in hand, journaling, and feel a sense of depravity come over you as you are reminded once again that we can’t do life alone. We need humans. And human relationships are messy and vulnerable. Again. Throw on some grace, (wo)man.

Somewhere on your journey, you might cry. Not just those couple of stray tears that sometimes leak when you yawn real wide, but the kind that are guttural, coming from the soul, not holding anything back as you lament into the comfort of Christ’s arms. You might cry in front of people, too. Or in a counseling office. Or in public, on a day when some slight thing brings back a memory, and suddenly you realize you’re in a long line at some store or in some office and people are staring at you and that’s ok; they don’t understand yet because they haven’t tried to explore the deep seas of their insides yet. And when they do, they’ll wish that the people around them weren’t staring, but instead, respected your moment, perhaps showing just a little extra kindness, like holding the door open for you on your way out.

Somewhere on your journey, you might laugh. Seriously. You might be on the phone with that awesome friend, spilling your guts to him or her, and it might occur to you in hindsight how ridiculous something you did actually was, or laugh at the dumb things that used to upset you, or make some joke at your serious circumstance, somehow capable of finding laughter in an otherwise stir-crazy, disheartening, painful situation.

You might sing. Whether it’s something worship-y, like singing “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” at Church one Sunday, grateful for the dimmed lights because the whole time your soul is unfettered in the hands of Christ, moved, free, tears collecting in the corners of your eyes, confident that no matter how rough it gets, you’ll still be there, standing, and so will your Maker. Or maybe you’ll sing “(Wo)Man In The Mirror,” rolling the car windows down, looking at the guy on your left while idled at a red light, and sing out with a hearty key change, “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make the change. You gotta get it right, while you got the time ’cause when you close your heart then you close your mind!”

So there’s some looking back to move forward, there’s divulging all the secret parts that you’d rather leave in their caverns, unexplored. There’s some two steps backwards. There’s some trying again. There’s some rewinding. There’s some tears. There’s some prayers. There’s facing some fears.

But without a doubt, if we take the necessary steps to stare at our hurts, our pains, all without running away… if we poke around at what it was really like growing up in our families of origin, to confess a burning secret to someone you’ve never told, to reach out to that distant person you love so much but don’t even know where to start because it’s been such a broken journey… if we do this dirty work instead of hiding behind our paltry prayers, we will, indeed, experience the great healing of our God and echo along with Joel, that we also know God will be true to his word when he says,

“I will restore the years the locusts have taken.”

Amen.
Allelujah.
We’ve made out better than a Genie.
We’ve experienced Shalom.

Credit: Sarah Bessey, pinterest

Credit: Sarah Bessey, pinterest