Alibaster Jar

For six weeks I had struggled out of The Dark. Mercifully, I had emerged, battered, exhausted, on the shores of grief. Though waves of despair still licked at my feet, I was no longer immersed in the cold, dark, pain of my loss. My mind, body, and heart, bore the effects of the experience but I had started to sleep, keep food down, and my brain had started to function past survival, past my next breath.

While in The Dark, I had experienced whispers of thoughts that had drug me back under. But, my fatigued, desperate, mind could only focus on my next breath. Now that I had a little breathing room, literally, occasionally these whispers became thoughts and I became aware of a new battle. One being waged within my soul.

I was after putting the kids to bed. Still struggling somewhat with focus and getting to a new “normal”, I was standing once again in the kitchen. When, in a panic, I couldn’t remember if I’d given our daughter her new medication more than once! I knew this meant I would be sleeping once again on the trundle bed in her room awake and worrying all night. I was overwhelmed. This is what it’s going to be like. Medications, appointments, specialists, and worry. I backed up to the refrigerator and slid to the ground. Down to the beautiful hard wood floors Hubby had reclaimed off of an old job site, hauled home, installed, sanded and refinished for me. I sat there in a daze, looking at all of the perfect imperfections in that floor, and I saw it. My heart, shattered into a million, razor sharp pieces scattered throughout my kitchen. The same heart He had so gently and faithfully removed the barriers to, until it was soft, trusting, pliable, and vulnerable. And then He broke it! Silently sobbing on that floor, feeling betrayed, alone, and bone soul weary, I felt as if there should be crime scene tape and maybe a chalk outline of where my heart had been.

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Why?!

He doesn’t love you.

No, He has been with me through it all, helping me through! I’ve seen Him in this! He died for me!

He’s punishing you. For those sins. Punishing her for your sins. It’s your fault.

No! I have been redeemed! He set me free!

You don’t look like you’ve been set free. You look broken. And your daughter looks sick.

He doesn’t love you.

I grabbed my cell phone to take comfort from my “light” photos. I had quite a collection by now. And I had an event reminder. Come, Abide, Beloved.

Months prior I had been blessed with the opportunity to attend a Retreat through the Women’s Ministry at our church. At the time, worn down in both body and mind, I rejoiced at the thought of time to remove myself from the distractions of home and focus wholly on His word. However, at just six weeks “post diagnosis” I was literally surviving my days moment by moment, hour by hour. And at this particular moment I was sure I couldn’t manage to go. That I just didn’t have it in me. I was so incredibly raw and now keenly aware that I had some major things to work through.

And then He met me where I was. With encouraging texts from friends privy to my private struggle. With a ride from another sister in Christ. With a Hubby that reminded me that they would all be okay without me. And I put one foot in front of the other and decided to go as I was, where I was. I slept fitfully that night after scattered prayers for guidance and energy and courage to do something that even at my best was so very out of my comfort zone.

He met me in the car on the way up, with the generosity of the beautiful woman who came bearing coffee and a necklace inscribed with the word “courage”. I can’t even make this up!

He met me in the conference center with one of my favorite fragrances in the diffuser. Where these women had worked tirelessly to create an atmosphere so womb like and comforting that I couldn’t even be upset that they made me do 30 minutes of “speed dating” to meet the other attendees.

He met me with the most amazing cabin mates who filled my night with genuine laughter (some of my first in a while) until I forgot my discomfort with all the new faces and names, with an unfamiliar bed, with worries about home, medications and the struggle deep inside.

So I rested. In fact, I slept all night. One of only a handful of nights I’d gotten more than a four hour stretch. And I know He was preparing me for the day ahead. The cold sun rise brought with it the glaring clarity that light often brings. And when I stepped into the conference center again and started to worship I knew there was work to be done here today.

My mind was clearer, but my emotions were no less raw, no further from the surface. I cried through beautiful songs of praise and worship, speaking of God’s love for me and His pursuit of my heart. And as our gifted speaker spoke of Luke 7:37-38,
image23she painted a picture with words of a desperate woman, living a sinful life, risking rejection, glares and PAIN, to get to Jesus, and break her most prized possession, an alabaster jar of expensive perfume to anoint Jesus’s feet. She wept openly, wetting his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. She came as she was, where she was, with her brokenness and her sin, and weeping, left them at His merciful feet. I could almost see her desperation and pain! But she let nothing stop her. What was stopping me?

With desperation and pain my soul cried out to Him for Truth! Slowly over the last year He had stretched me and helped me to trust. Not just Hubby and the kids, the ones that initially broke the barriers on my heart, but over time a whole community of believers that had helped bring His truth and love and light into my life. And with each layer removed, each anxious step, He had made it good. I trusted Him! But how was I supposed to start all over again and trust Him again? Because this hurt too much. And the temptation to listen to those evil whispers, to return to the “safety” of a hardened heart was at times, at my weakest moments, so very strong! I felt everything but strong.

We broke for our personal devotion time and I went into the crisp autumn air thankful for the cold. Hoping it would numb some of the torment. And I opened my packet and started to work through it. Years of counseling and a remarkable therapist had helped me gain insight into my sins, the motivation behind them, and the detrimental effect they’d had on my life. I had confessed these sins, wept over them for the pain they’d caused me and others, and the barrier they’d placed between me and Christ. So, I fairly flew through half my packet when I was blindsided by number 16.

16. What do you desire more than Christ?

My earthly family. Whole, healthy, and happy. My daughter not sick.

They are my alabaster jar!

We were instructed to take our pieces of alabaster and write on them what we had been holding onto as more precious than Christ, image24then bring them to the cross and lay them at the feet of Jesus.

Could I do it? Could I trust Him with my family? With my heart? To be perfectly honest, I faltered. I sat holding that stone, hot in my hands, mind and heart racing and realized….I was still praying! I was desperate, broken, and looked for Him in everything, every person I came across, every piece of scripture He gave me. And I knew. I knew that I would walk to that house of the Pharisees, past ridicule and shame, and bring Him my most prized possession, my alibaster jar and all of my brokenness. Every sharp, painful, ugly shard. And I did.

Oh, there was so much pain in the offering!!! But as I laid my piece of alibaster at His feet and cried desperate, broken tears, I saw Him pick up those awful broken pieces and knew image11He made them new. That I was nowhere near complete, but He would make it good. I went to the safety of the prayer tent but instead of ridicule and shame was met again with His grace and love through another sister in Christ who once again gave me the words to pray when all I had left were tears.

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The Retreat was part of His plan, His perfect timing. And though I left exhausted, I left with renewed faith and trust in Him. I left strengthened in Him to battle the doubts and fears that still sometimes work their way into my head. Though they surface in my weakness, His strength lights my way and they no longer pull me down, broken, onto my kitchen floor.

I keep a piece of that alibaster jar amidst the chaos of my purse, my life, to continually remind me who I’d given it to.

DSC_0166~3.jpgMy alibaster jar

 

 

From the other side of the podium, the same side of the cross, please visit:

Invisible Love, Sisterhood

Aroma

Whew! After writing The Dark, my witty, sarcastic self can only take so much soul bearing, heart wrenching, seriousness. So, here is a little levity.

Recently, during a message at church, our pastor was reflecting on the lingering aroma of a lost loved one. After which, I was pondering the very powerful impact our earthly sense of smell has. A single smell has the power to instantly transport us back in time to a place, good or bad, with all of the memories and emotions attached. Often complete with our other senses, bringing sight, sounds, and touch with it.

For instance, I will never again be able to eat Cool Ranch Doritos. In fact, the very sight of the bag makes me inherently queasy. When my oldest was three he spiked a fever that, in a panic over the inability to get it below 104 degrees, I raced him to the emergency room. While pulling his fevered, lethargic, little body out of the car in the carport of the emergency entrance he immediately lost the contents of his stomach. Into my hair. Those contents consisted of, you guessed it, Cool Ranch Doritos. Sympathetic, merciful, nurses found me some scrubs to change into, but there is only so much you can do “washing” your hair in a sink the size of a mixing bowl with no decent shampoo. Then, I smelled of wet cool ranch Doritos. And it was bad. So bad that, two hours later, when Hubby had to bring our six week old daughter to me so that I could feed her, not even she wanted to be near me! Luckily, her aversion to bottles was stronger than that of her aversion to my smell. My now almost twelve year old delights in asking for this bag of anxiety and nauseousness every time we’re in a grocery store.

As a young child, separated from my mother, I wore a pair of pajamas for two weeks, wringing every molecule of my mother’s scent from them until, in tears, I could no longer smell her in the fabric of those tired jammies. I forfeited them to the laundry hamper but then had difficulty conjuring her image and touch without the scent of her skin.

When each of my children were infants, the smell of their sweet heads was like ambrosia to me. No matter when their last bath was. Over time, that smell has changed from the sweet smell of infant, to the sweaty, earthy, cracker filled scent of toddler, to my daughter’s favorite strawberry shampoo, and the very different sweaty, adolescent, hormone filled smell of twelve year old boy. Every scent touches a place in my heart and makes me smile and I know those precious scents will be forever locked into my subconscious.

Yes, scent is a powerful thing. And if we look at it in the context of 2 Corinthians 2:15 it takes on much greater meaning to me.


 

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

 

What aroma am I giving off? What scent do I leave behind in the rooms, hallways, or elevators I’ve inhabited? I long to be the scent of Christ. Not just when I leave a room, but while I’m still present in it. An aroma so strong, so powerful, so beautiful, that it not only pleases Him, but attracts those who are perishing! That it leaves them longing for that eternal aroma that no amount of Downy can wash out. The kind of aroma that the smell of strawberry rhubarb pie and cow manure brings me to (If that sounds strange, see my First Glimpse ) of faith. The kind of aroma that brings people to the foot of the cross, wrapped in love, covered in Christ’s blood, seeking more of Him. Too often, I fear though that the smell I’m leaving behind is that of, well, wet Cool Ranch Doritos.

The Dark

It had been over a year. Over a year since I’d noticed the tremor in our seven year old daughter’s hands. Over a year of testing, waiting, worrying, doctors, appointments and watching her develop more symptoms. Over a year of praying for answers while He faithfully placed me in a position to receive them.

I was in my kitchen, twenty pounds lighter, bruised heart and body, too much hair lost in the bristles of my hair brush, clutching my cell phone in one hand and my budding faith in the other when the lights went out. It was a genetic disorder, degenerative, untreatable and incurable. My stomach turned over and I struggled for breath as my mind struggled to process the words pouring through the phone. I knew from countless hours of research what the sympathetic, clinical, voice was trying to explain. This was not life threatening. There were 29 other types of this repeat disorder and this was not the worst. It was considered “slowly progressing”. We wanted answers, and we now had them. But I knew our now eight year old daughter had approximately 15 years of mobility. That we would slowly watch her lose coordination, and the ability to walk. That the prognosis includes vision problems, swallowing and speech loss, tremors and cognitive problems. I couldn’t move. My feet rooted to that kitchen floor I somehow ended that call and stood, dazed, and listened through roaring ears to my three children playing downstairs. I honestly don’t know how long I stood there before the front door opened and Hubby walked in. The door closing somehow opened the flood gates of my eyes and as sobs and words came pouring out he held me until my tears wet his shirt and air started to fill my lungs again. I could hear the rain pelting the front door and recognized the sounds of a squabble downstairs and knew our privacy was at an end. As our tear filled, red rimmed eyes met, we both knew I had to go. So he stayed, and I ran. I knew it wasn’t fair but I also knew that the kids couldn’t see me like that. That I would take one look at them and fall apart.

So I left, into the rain, still in the dark. Wondering to where I was running. A year ago I would have had nowhere to go. But over the last year God had been faithfully positioning me for this moment. Slowly breaking down the last of the walls on my heart, stretching me and forging new relationships with wonderful, Christ following, beautiful women and a newfound church family that at the drop of a text, dropped the project they were working on and held me, cried with me, and prayed with me. I caught a breath. Long enough to return to my family and my kitchen.

Over the next few weeks I was like a novice swimmer caught in a raging sea. Pulled under by life’s tides I struggled to breathe. The darkness was so all consuming, the water so cold that my mind and body were numb to anything but pain. I searched frantically for a ray of light to break through to find my way up, to the surface. My prayers were more of an SOS than anything. Because I could barely form words, never mind sentences. But over the next few weeks He mercifully answered my cries for help. Slowly, He met me where I was, unable to sleep, eat, or put hands and words together in prayer, with the light I needed to get through. Lungs bursting, I’d catch a glimpse of His light penetrating the darkness and surface long enough to draw breath to sustain me through the next wave of grief.

He met me that first day with the arms of the husband He gave me. He met me in a room across town as two beautiful women breathed Truth and Love into starving lungs.

He met me a week later, in my bathroom, as Hubby, typically short of words and the first to panic at the sight of my tears told me, “She’s going to be okay. He gave her to us for a reason, and I know He made you the perfect mother for her”. Other people had said similar words, but hearing it from him, whose faith was in such a different place than my own, and knowing the pain he feels seeing me cry and unable to “fix” it? Another breath of Truth and Love!

And the next week, after our third appointment with different specialists I was driving home, overwhelmed with conflicting information when truthfully I still struggled to even pour a bowl of cereal without getting distracted, never mind processing statistics and genetic terminology that would make your head spin. But, through exhausted, tear filled eyes, I looked up! And there, breaking through the clouds was a ray of light that broke through the fatigued, scattered thoughts in my mind. With absolute clarity I KNEW that not one of those doctors knew our daughter’s future. He who made her, was still holding her,and her future, in His hands. And He loves her!! I claimed that ray of light as my own and it followed me all the way home.

He met me in my therapist’s cocoon of an office where she had gently encouraged my faith over the past eight years. As my body wracked with soul wrenching sobs in the safety I’d found in that room, she prayed for me, with me. Putting the words together that my tired mind couldn’t connect. And reminded me that He knew my heart and He loved our daughter more than I could comprehend. More Truth, more Love, more Light.

He met me in His church, with His church. As the pastor spoke of resting in He who does not slumber and I sobbed through songs of praise and worship wearing wrinkled clothes that had been sitting in the dryer for two weeks, hair that hadn’t been washed in two days and makeup washed away almost before I walked into the safety of the worship center, I KNEW that He was talking to me, was with me. Even during the darkest hours of the night when, afraid to leave her, I laid awake, heart pounding, mind racing, stomach turning. It was time to rest. In Him.

So He met me in my two year old’s room at nap time. Curled into the fetal position, wrapped around my bundle of energy, watching splayed lashes over sweetly rounded cheeks, chubby hands clutching his favorite blankie,  silent tears wetting his soft hair, I miraculously matched my rapid breathing to his quiet rhythmic breaths, and sent out a silent thank you prayer…and slept.

Countless times He met me in those first few weeks, in the dark, where I was. With Truth, and Love, and Light. Until I was no longer struggling for every breath, but treading water. There were still moments, sometimes days, where the waves would come, or evil would twist my thoughts, even scripture, like living seaweed wrapped around my legs and pull me back under, but He, ever loving, ever merciful, ever faithful, had prepared me for it and blessed me with so many people, pouring out Christ’s love through texts, Facebook messages, food, hugs and prayers, breathing His word into my life’s lungs,  that I KNEW there was hope. There was still light, even if I couldn’t always see it.


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5


Fast Forward

I wish I could say that after my first glimpse of faith I pursued this newfound discovery. However, I spent my first ten years building a fortress to protect a heart so soft and squishy the Pillsbury Dough Boy was jealous of it and over the next five years, with no one to encourage that planted seed of faith, I perfected this formidable outer crust. This protective mechanism, born of necessity, and honed through years of practice followed me for yet another fifteen years.

I mean, why fix something that isn’t broken, right? By society’s standards I was a success story. When I moved to a small town in the Midwest at 15, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, studied hard, got straight A’s, got a job, a car, accepted to the college I wanted and MY plans were going perfectly! I even made a few acquaintances, which if you have any knowledge of small towns is quite a feat! I was proof of the American Dream, and proof that there was no such thing as a genetic link to addiction. But I look back on that time line and see that this girl’s heart was so hard, so well protected, that she was lonely, full of anxiety and fear of failure, so driven by it, that she not only carried an unbearable weight, but she missed out on so much joy! She really was broken and didn’t even know it!

I used to marvel at people’s testimonies when they literally had a “came to Christ moment”. I often wondered how that happens. I mean, one day they’re vacuuming cheerios out from between the couch cushions and planning what to thaw for dinner, and the next they land, completely surrendered, at the foot of the cross. I’m starting to understand that not only is God’s plan different for everyone, but because He made us all so wonderfully different, His pursuit of our hearts must look different as well.

They say hindsight is 20/20 and I now see that He not only pursued me faithfully my whole life, He mercifully did it patiently and with perfect timing. It took me fifteen years to raise my defenses, and He brought them slowly crumbling down over the next fifteen years. After all, if she didn’t know she was broken, why would she seek help? If she was sure that she could handle the load, that HER plan was working and the best for her, why seek the One whose plan was truly to prosper her? Not by society’s standards, but His? And finally, how was she to surrender and allow Him to carry that yoke with a heart so hardened and full of distrust? Praise Jesus, He knew!


Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens theirheart falls into trouble.
Proverbs 28:14

First Glimpse

Just to give you some of my background, I grew up in a house void of faith. Churches were for weddings, funerals, baptisms and the occasional Christmas Eve service. I loved the stained glass, the “church clothes” (mine and everyone else’s), and the coffee hour or reception afterward but was confused by the (what I thought were) lengthy sermons, sitting and standing every few minutes, and the multitude of books to reference in the (rock hard) pews. But most of all I was confused about the HALF NAKED man, hanging on a cross! No one thought this was strange?! I knew nothing of the trinity and certainly knew nothing of what the blood on that cross meant. And, I didn’t learn for many more years to come.

My first glimpse of faith didn’t come until I was a preteen. I used to spend six weeks of my summer with my Mom in the Midwest. One year she was living with my great-grandmother at the time. This woman intimidated me and intrigued me in equal measures. She lived on an old farm complete with winding dirt driveway, several dilapidated outbuildings, a dozen or so barn cats and a box of a house added onto over the years to accommodate more children and the modern convenience of indoor plumbing. It smelled of the farm animals and since my great-grandmother wasn’t especially domestic, it sometimes looked like they may have bedded down there on occasion as well. Okay, that last may have been a slight exaggeration.

My great-grandmother was a reflection of the farm itself. Old, sturdy and well-built. They both unashamedly screamed honesty and hard work from the chipping of the floor boards, to the bare light bulbs with strings in the upstairs “bedrooms”. They were a haven for anyone who needed somewhere to go. And many wayward family members found refuge under the sagging roof over the years. As far as I know, she welcomed them all, loved them all, and forgave them anything. That being said, she was also blunt, sarcastic, and loud. Not accustomed to her brand of “realness”, I was more than a little afraid of her. But like the several dozen June bugs that made their way in through baseball sized holes in her screens, I was drawn to her just the same.

That summer, I also learned that she was a woman of great faith. She loved God, His church, and her “stories” i.e., “The Young And The Restless”. In that order. It was hard to keep track of her. Although she seemed to like such advances as plumbing, the telephone was not her favorite. After all, it was on the wall, on a cord and she was even worse with phone etiquette than she was in person. If she answered the phone, the conversations were brief, and when she was through talking she often just hung up. So, if you wanted to visit, you took your chances with the winding driveway, parked by the shed, and looked for her little blue car. If it was there, you got out and listened. If you heard “singing” you had only to follow the noise to the massive garden, or to the kitchen. (If you heard nothing, she was sleeping on the couch after watching her soaps.) Now, I use the term singing pretty loosely here. She was not blessed with a singing voice. Really. It was awful. But this did not deter her from singing her favorite hymns, terribly off key, sometimes at the top of her lungs. Someone once told me that when confronted with her less than stellar singing voice she replied, “If He didn’t want to hear me worship, He’d have made me mute! “. Since this sounds like something she’d say, I tend to believe it. She was almost always barefoot with dirty feet (whether in the kitchen or garden), decked out in rollers, and wearing a tattered apron that served a plethora of purposes. If she was out, she was caring for kids, helping families with laundry, with her “church ladies”, visiting people in the hospital, or delivering pie. I would have considered a hospital stay for the strawberry rhubarb.

I observed over six weeks that her faith followed her from garden, to kitchen, to church bazaar, to anywhere someone needed her. I learned that though rough around the edges, she radiated peace and love in a way that was hard for me to understand at that age. I recognized it, but could not understand how someone with such a barren looking life in the way of material things could seem so content and giving with everything she had. How someone who had seen so much and endured such hardship could not only weather those storms, but come out on the other side so….well, happy! I could go into all sorts of family stories but frankly, they would probably make your toes curl and I don’t want to be responsible for any nightmares. Suffice it to say, this lady was tough, and happy, and peaceful, and content in a way I had never seen before in people who had plenty of money, possessions, power and prestige. This little spit fire with the dirty bare feet, ratty apron, crazy curlers, belting out songs of worship while she toiled had more than anyone else I knew. And whatever it was, I wanted it! Okay, since I was just a preteen at the time I wanted it for a few weeks and then forgot about it until I saw the next pair of shoes I wanted. BUT, 20 plus years later, during my first bible study I made a timeline of my “faith journey”, and the first stop in my journey? It was on an old farm, with a firecracker of an old woman who practically oozed Christ’s love.  And as I worked my way through the book of James and both my heart and mind simultaneously understood James 2:18 and it spilled into my life, I knew my first victory!


But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

James 2:18


I could almost hear her screeching rendition of “How Great Thou Art”, taste the strawberry rhubarb pie and smell the cow manure! Not bad for a first glimpse.