Pulse

For a moment, I’m convinced we’ve been left here on our own. Our creator left us on a dying, cold, dark and broken rock alone. I want to reach out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment in the crowd, but where is it? What does the tattered and dusty homespun hem feel like, through desperate and despairing fingers?

Instead, my own fingers found the mare’s pulse in her neck. Frustrated with the stethoscope that didn’t fit and I couldn’t hear anything with, I fumbled around for her juglar. On the other side I could see it, near a batch of dirty fur. Thub, thub… lub.

It’s what slowly dying feels like, pressed in, warm under a soft coat.

She looked weaker today. She isn’t drinking much. That eye. She came 2 weeks ago, the eye bulging grotesquely out of her head. I’ve seen a lot of gruesome stuff, poked abscesses, rubbed ointment in wounds that smelled rotten, daily cleaned a wound I could have stuck my fist in. This was scary. The swelling went down and if you looked carefully you could see the puncture, a white dot round as a pencil. She hit something hard enough to rupture her eyeball. Over the following days the eye shrunk and tissue died, hidden behind half-closed lids and thick white pus. The first day her heart arrhythmia was blindingly obvious in her neck pulse. Antibiotics helped bring it down, I mistakenly thought it was gone, until Heath came again Tuesday. He listened with his stethoscope, sighed almost imperceptibly and handed it to me. He avoided my gaze as I listened.

Suffering.

I know what it smells like. How it feels under my fingers. I have body memory of suffering. Picking out thrushy feet, holding a halter to administer drops in painful eyes, working to get the thick antibiotic solution into the neck muscle. Walking horses to behind the apple tree and bringing just the halter back. That irregular, broken heartbeat pulsing. The heaving body of a horse struggling for breath, who will never be healed, who is slowly drowning as she stands.

Let her go.

There is a horrible kind of cruelty in allowing suffering to continue. In dragging it out. In siphoning hope from truth and pouring it into falsehoods.

Why can’t it be seen? Why can’t I do anything but watch? Why am I supposed to be okay with that? How could I walk away?

What happens in the breath after I say I can’t do this anymore?

This is supposed to be where God wants me. While I watch the devil pick apart my friends, turn my church against itself, while I watch another horse die slowly, while I can’t do any of this anymore, can’t even sleep. So God can take over.

How? I want to scream. What are you going to do about it?!

How can I breathe this in, look at it every day, throw hay to it? How can I not do this anymore, but still do it? Where does God step in?

Or does he just walk with me?

At Bev’s funeral, there was no way I could stop the hot tears, the whole time. At one point I couldn’t wipe them away fast enough. Grief can be pure, and it can be cleansing. There was simply sorrow for a great woman of God lost, sorrow for all of things I felt, washing it all away, and in it: relief. She, after fighting cancer for over two years, was free. Healed. No longer in pain. No longer suffering. Lost, but in God’s economy, not lost. She was now wholly found in him. Complete and perfect. Gone from this place of pain and loss and suffering.

There was part of me that was jealous. The part that has been fighting tears randomly these last several weeks, as I taste the word despair. I want to go with her. I am a coward and broken and tired. I’ve seen enough, done enough, lost enough, carried too much.

I want answers where there are none and I am not permitted to ask, I want to heal the fresh, terrible wounds of my friends, I want to swallow the old and mighty fears, I want someone to help me save this horse by letting her go. I want to be seen. I want to be heard. I want to be held. I want the suffering to stop, or at least let up, or have someone to share it with and take the bite of it off.

In that breath after I know I can’t do this anymore, there is just another breath.

My grace is sufficient for you, he says. My strength made perfect in your weakness.

Somehow there is glory and light in this. In holding Bev’s hand and her smile days before she was gone. In cleaning the mare’s face. In graining the old, stiff gelding. In checking and re-checking and endlessly filling water and simply showing up with my eyes open. In encouraging and loving both sides of the church as it tears apart slowly and quietly.

In each breath, there is the chance to surrender to the suffering or surrender to the grace. To surrender to what I see or to what I know. In the breath I can surrender to praise or dispair. I can be overwhelmed or I can overcome.

Do I dare cling to the whisper that says, I am enough. I have overcome this. I am greater and stronger and love more deeply than the darkest night.

If I am still breathing, I must listen.

And cling to it.

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Pulse

Again

I am 14, 15, 16 again. I am in my room and can hear my parents fighting. I’ve learned who they’re fighting about but I don’t understand why. I don’t know who is right. Maybe the one who yells harder, or the one with more hurt in their voice. Or maybe they’re just more hurt. Because someone needs defending, in all of this. But I don’t know who, and I’m afraid and confused and just listening.

I can’t hear the words but I hear the emotion. In that, I hear the real fight. The pain, the anger, the frustration. Wounds are wounds; there are sins behind them and because of them but how can I judge a wound?

I have no one to talk about it with. They are fighting about her. She is not available to me anymore because she has stepped a bit out of me, and confiding in her would be betraying my mom.

And then it all comes out and they tell me all that has gone on, they use that word “affair” and he’s resigned and it’s over. It’s all over.

It’s all lost.

10 years, a literal lifetime for me.

And again, now.

It’s a fight I hear the emotion from, the accusations and the truths and filtered truths. A fear rises up in me as a consuming silence. These are all people I love, people who are both right and both wrong, who are all hurt and hurting. I have so much invested and I am still just upstairs listening. I have no voice in this. It is all just happening to me. It is playing out and pulling me along and to sides and questioning all I knew and where my loyalties are and it is still just a river moving on that I am powerless to influence. Or even be heard. Because I have still not found my voice and my words are pointless. I am still the teenager with wide, watching eyes and a shattered heart who has lost everything (or is on the edge of it) and it’s so much easier for me to bitterly tell myself, “I saw this coming, this is always coming and get your heart out of it and rebuild that wall you were tearing down.”

It is not safe to have loyalties and opinions. It’s not safe to love. My heart compels me to be dangerous and reckless with my love because that’s what my Jesus did, that’s the bravery I so desire, and that’s what changes the world. But I wonder if I believe the world can change. That these invitable wheels of hope and despair, love and hate, acceptance and rejection, change and regression can actually stop their spin. If it’s possible to get ahead of them, and when I look back if it’s possible say that I’ve actually come from somewhere.

God says his power is within me. But I feel so utterly powerless.

Insignificant.

The one lost in the background and collateral damage.

The child in me wants to hide in that insignificance and wrap that powerlessness around me. Don’t give me hope. It will get stolen. Better to have not tasted it at all. Better to not think that God thinks I’m a warrior, that I can stand up against the world, that there is something more for me.

And there is more, all around me: Those horses that keep slipping through my fingers. My fingers curled in Dixie’s short mane, wondering if I can even face John again. The feel of Sterling’s lope, and his expressions that make me laugh. This church family is fighting and it’s in a much more civil way than before but I am still just watching it all drift away.

This was nearly 20 years ago and still my hands sweat and my heart is in my chest when I go past the stone church on the corner. I can smell it. Can remember the feel of the handles that cranked open the stained glass windows. I still know all the hiding spots. The sound the nursery sliding doors clamoring down their tracks. The feel of cans and boxes we packed in bags after church every Sunday. The worn varnish of the pews under my hands. The thunder of our feet, as children, over the stage. Watching the baptism fill early in the morning with my dad. The sweaty, exhausted smell of summer camp as we all shouted praises.

He said recently that he hadn’t thought about how that may make this new but not new thing feel for me. For many of them, this is their first experience with pain making people choose sides. They don’t think back to being 16, or being 21 in Connecticut and watching it all unravel there, too.

But I’ve thought about it every single time I saw him for over a year, when I first felt this coming in my spirit. I am aware now, more than ever, that it fundamentally and profoundly changed each of my family. I lost my church, the last of my innocence, my parents, and it shoved hope so far down a hole that I often give up looking for it. It broke me by telling me rejection is unavoidable and comes no matter what, even if you are innocent, collateral damage.  Unforgiveness – for himself and not feeling or allowing it from others – swallowed up my father and never let him back out. He stood up there for so long that I can still hear his voice, saying once a month, “This is my body, given for you for the redemption of sins” but to him there is no redemption.

I never really thought about his sin. I see the mistakes and sins and mishandlings now but I see the aftermath more. The results of the storm. It terrifies me.

Do not go into that darkness. Do not become lost. Hold onto hope with your dying breath and with the last of your strength. Hold your ground, hold onto what you know is true.

Because being stuck in my room, while they fight, while I can just watch the storm destroy it all and as I have forgotten how to even look for hope is no way to live. Don’t come here. Don’t stay here. Get out before you understand it, before you get comfortable, before you begin to think this is how life goes.

Get out, and back to the light, while you still can.

Again

Ruby, in the pasture

We lost a horse today. Ruby. You could pick her out of the herd easily, a flashy sorrel overo paint, a unique color, even in our large herd. Young, healthy. Hardheaded and not very willing, but did her job – following the trail with a child on her back – quietly.

I found her laying in the pasture when I went out to bring in another horse. They don’t usually lay down there, at that time, but I dismissed the concern that rose in my chest. When I reached her, she was breathing hard and fast. Her eyes were glassy and she didn’t look at me. She struggled to raise her head, revealing raw spots behind her ears where she had been rubbing it.

Not good.

Colic, I guessed. I couldn’t get anyone on the phone on my walk back to get meds and my truck. Finally got the vet. Heath was at the sale barn, but he promised he’d send someone out. I gave him directions to drive out into the pasture and he quickly hung up. I threw Dex and Banamine and syringes and fly spray in a bucket and drove out to her.

Banamine helps with pain. Dex should get her up.

It didn’t.

She was able to raise up from the prone position but couldn’t hold it for long.

I listened for gut sounds but found none and encouraged her and looked at my phone, but I couldn’t do anything more. I wondered why I didn’t feel frantic. More helpless. Was it because I didn’t particularly like her? Or because I knew each minute the chances of her recovering were becoming slighter? Was it because there was absolutely nothing more I could do?

Maybe it was her eyes. She felt gone already, when I looked into them.

I looked for the vet’s truck while I stood next to her. I hoped it wasn’t the red pick-up. Blue or silver would be okay. The other horses grazed nearby. I helped pull her head up, used my body to hold her up but she kept laying back and it was all I could do to pull my feet and legs out from under her as she came back down. Like I wasn’t there.

At one point she got her feet under her and raised up. But her back legs were so stiff she couldn’t stand. She stumbled a few feet and fell hard on her other side. She didn’t try to get up again.

Not wanting to just stand around, wondering what vet they would send out, I led the 2 other horses I needed that morning back to the barn. One was slow and limping and I took her on the road, even though I’d have nowhere to tie her if the vet came, and I’d lose minutes Ruby didn’t have. Across the stream, out of reach, I watched her spasm. Legs kicking, desperately trying to move or get up or something.

When I came back down the hill, she was gone. Still. Her eyes still open, still unlooking, fixed somewhere else.

And then I cried, filled with the emotion that had been held at bay. Sobbed. Lay on her neck, smoothing her mane, rubbing her nose. Maybe I told her I was sorry, maybe I said her name.

Later, washing the sweat and dirt off in the shower I became angry I didn’t know more. Couldn’t treat colic better with what was in the medicine cabinet. Didn’t have a stethoscope or vet’s knowledge or more experience and the tractor to get her on her feet.

I should have been an hour earlier.

Should have paid closer attention to all of the horses.

Maybe it was a freak accident. Or I could have done more. Could have done more sooner and better and faster.

But I am not enough.

And they say that is a lie from satan, that the One who lives in me is more than enough. And yet we keep failing these horses. Skinny. Sick. Needing care that I can’t provide, can’t even call those who provide. Ending up selling cheap at an auction, after being snatched from slaughter once, and teaching me so much.

They wonder why I care so much. Why I keep going. How I can handle it. Why I do it for no pay and little thanks. Why I am enabling.

But Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr put into words what has always driven my heart: On the parable of the Good Samaritan: “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Despite the war in my head and in my heart every time I step on that property, I can’t look away. It comes at a cost. A continual cost. But how could I walk away from Ruby? From my heart breaking over Red Pepper? For the rawness of the wound of Prince, the hopeless state of Dancer? How could I walk away from Montana, despite the burden she gave me? How could I not learn how to trim hooves and train well and ride well and feed well and do the very best I can with the very little I have? How can I not fill empty grain buckets or walk past dry water troughs?

I will pull on boots again. Rubber boots I just bought, that maybe if I had not spent the extra time in town and paying bills at the table this morning, Ruby would still be alive. Or maybe not.

Heath said to me once, several winters ago when this was all so new and fresh and I knew even less, that we would end up with rescues out of our own program. And we do have them. But what’s more, we have people who need rescuing out of this. Who need healing. Who are wounded more than they are healed and restored. On the phone weeks ago, when I wished desperately we could put the rail-thin mare down but couldn’t get an answer from authority, he said he wasn’t sure he could handle it. I said I can’t.

But I still pull on those boots and my doubts and heartbreak and go back. I still lose battles and parts of myself and hope. But if I don’t go, what will the horses and those touched and healed and helped by them lose?

Ruby, in the pasture

Natural Lifemanship

After a morning of review and questions and a demonstration at the Natural Lifemanship Fundamentals training, it was already time to go in with the horses.

The black and white Gypsy Vanner, Louie, clipped grass, pawed rocks and mouthed a halter on the ground, completely oblivious to me. The sun felt hot on my shoulders, but not hotter than my face. I felt eyes on me, felt where the plaid shirt and cowboy hat was, the only eyes who would really know what I was doing.

I was the first one in the pen, wired with anticipation and urged in there first. It was afternoon of the first day of training and I knew what to do, I knew how to do it. Get connection. Get his attention at least. Have an ear, an eye, his head turn towards me. In the demo, Tanner had gotten him connected, close by attachment and after some time by detachment, also. The big horse, who hadn’t been still the whole morning became quiet, standing in the center of his pen, leg cocked, head relaxed, while Tanner walked around. I watched the horse subtly follow him around in the circle. A nearly unrecognizable cock of the head to pick him up in the other eye. A little swivel of the ear. I knew I couldn’t get that. I didn’t have the practice or the time. But I understood, I’d done a lot of parts of this, I’d been successful. I knew that feeling when the horse first stopped and looked at you.

But I carried a lot into that pen.

My lip was raw from biting on it. The last 24 hours had fully revealed the absurdity and desperation and hopelessness of my situation. This was the step out of my life that I needed. But I carried that desperation, along with unstoppable questions about this Natural Lifemanship work with me. Attending the training was a push toward moving forward, something I finally found that gave me a taste of hope. Of change. Of changing others, of bringing them hope, too.

I kept looking to Tanner, wildly hoping for him to say something, as the horse continued to ignore me. The horse finally responded with mild resistance, lazily walking around his pen as I put pressure on his hind end. When he stopped at the gate and began pawing rocks again, ignoring me, Tanner finally came up to me.

“What are you working on?” he asked.

“Getting some connection.”

“What do you think Louie is feeling?”

He didn’t seem very anxious to me. “I think he’s annoyed,” I replied.

Tanner looked like that was a clue. “What kind of statement is that? Doesn’t that put all the judgement on you?”

Hurry, change your answer. “Maybe he’s anxious.” Tanner nodded, and I think he probably said more, started talking about how to add more energy, but everything caught and clawed in my chest and all I could think of was I always do that. It all comes back on me. I always turn the judgement on myself.

He said something about not being task oriented, about looking for the connection and not a specific behavior like turning to face me. It’s all about relationship. I fumbled around with the lead rope and adding pressure and got Louie to respond a little. But he got stuck again at the gate, his head thrust over it, pawing the metal bars loudly.

I wanted to slow down, back up, start over with an assessment, a baseline instead of jumping right into it, but I wanted to touch the horse. Pet his shoulder. I asked Tanner but he brought more questions. Was it safe to touch him? Why did I want to? What would that accomplish? And how would the horse feel about it?

My words tripped over themselves and I couldn’t answer the real reason. I just wanted to pause, slow down. Get grounded. I touched him anyway as the thoughts still came, as I reached out for the only thing familiar: the strong, solid side of the horse. Damn the horse in this little moment, it was safe for me to be next to him while I caught my breath. In that moment, I saw all of the ranch horses, all the ways I worked with them, knew them. Pixie pawing at the wall and tugging on her tied lead rope. Rocket’s soft eyes as he turned to me from trotting loose around the arena. Tex nearly kicking me on the lunge. Donny gently flexing his sorrel nose towards me.

I wanted to show them, the eyes watching me, that I brought all those horses and all the people that stepped into the arena with me. I was here for them. So that I could do a better job. Somehow add enough time to care for the horses, to be fully present with the people. Somehow this would change things, fix things, fix horses. Validate me and all the work I did.

I scratched Louie’s haunches as he continued to ignore me and I remembered to breathe.

Tanner talked to me about the pressure, about something else but I didn’t hear a word of it. I wanted to say I know this, I know how to do this, wanting so desperately to prove that I did. That I understood. That I’m good with horses. That the 98 that I take care of are in good hands and I can read them and I know something. But the concept of “task-oriented” was spinning in my head, spilling into more, carrying a wider meaning.

I swung the lead rope. I followed the horse, like I’ve done a million times. I willed his ear to flick to me, to give some indication that he saw me and recognized my existence.

And I felt the undeniable pull of the other trainers. The other participants.

How do I do this so you are satisfied? How will I be able to take the pressure from you off? 

The pressure for me was not getting the damn horse to acknowledge my rope-swinging presence, but to do a good enough job. To give them the answer they were looking for. To complete the task to their standards. To know all those horses and people who come into contact are somehow not made worse for knowing me, being dependant on me.

I completely lost sight of the horse in my desperate attempt for approval.

Tanner gently said I’d been in for a while, that more people needed a turn.

“I know, I know,” I choked out. My failure clawed around me and it was not the failure to get the connection with the horse. Moments before, he had given me an ear, good enough for him and me and the time.

Tanner suggested I find a place to end on a good note and I never wanted to get out of somewhere so badly. Don’t make me stay in here, I wanted to say.

The sun was beautiful and bright and the grass fresh and green but it all swam around me as the ranch and my old job and my family and all that I mistakenly put my identity in waited for me outside of the pen, waiting for me to fail.

I was going to fail no matter what.

Let me out of this pen, I can’t be in here with it, with you watching, with such a simple task completely un-doing me.

I “found a place to leave on a good note” and I think I was still breathing while I avoided everyone’s eyes and found a quiet spot and sunk down into the grass while the tears burned their way out and I quickly brushed them away.

How long was I in there?

My whole life? 3 years? 20 minutes?

Someone brought me water and I sat and watched everyone else for a long time, until my heart slowed down and I think I could walk again. Everyone else tried more than one horse but there was no way I was going back in another pen, even with that sorrel that looked like the easiest one.

In the end, the training was life changing, like Corey said. When I slept on all that and all the information, found a clearer head, I was inspired by the possibilities of Natural Lifemanship. For horses, for relationships. For healing and growth and renewal. God and Christ and redemption runs through it all, and is at the heart of it. God desires that connection and relationship more than we could ever know, and that’s where new life comes. Horses bring it out, reveal patterns, show stumbling blocks. The possibilities for programs are endless.

One of the Natural Lifemanship principles is that horses are not mirrors, like some people say. That black and white horse with the feathered legs let me see something, though. Somehow through the hot sun and the trainers with all those years of experience I clearly saw how desperate and consuming my desire is to know if I am enough.

I didn’t answer that question, but the horse started the conversation.

Natural Lifemanship

tearing down realities

I’m not on the throne in your kingdom.

This thing is bigger than idols, though there are idols.

I have created a reality where I can’t win. Where God can’t win. It’s a kingdom built around lies. It is a prison where truth comes in as weak trickles, loosing their power by the time I reach for them. The rules are different here, the laws are not God’s laws, not even the world’s laws. The deception is complete.

Months ago, Tim had a vision of a woman locked in chains in a pit. (El roi, the God who sees me) And then Jesus tearing the bars off the pit, tearing the chains off in his mighty power, and setting her free. It was such a powerful image, one I needed so desperately to hear and see and believe.

The belief has been the struggle.

Last night, driving in the gathering dusk on icy roads, I got the same image, but she – I  – was still in that pit. The chains were gone, but it was so dark and cold and lonely and I was trying to cover myself with a tiny square of a rag.

Later, Jesus said I don’t want to come give you the comfort of a larger blanket. I want to take you to a place where you won’t need it.

What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? What fellowship can the light have with darkness? (How can I bring you peace and comfort when you choose to live in darkness?)

There were 3 songs about his kingship and authority and thrones and altars.

And God showed me this land I live in, this place I’ve created is built on a lie. Just like no lies can stand against the truth of God, I’ve created a kingdom, an alternate reality, where none of his truths can stand up to these lies. Everything that happens, the things people say and do, the words I read, are filtered through lies. They get twisted, they get thrown out, they don’t apply to me. They can’t apply to me. I built a throne to my misery. I deserve it. I can’t escape, I shouldn’t escape, there’s no way to escape. The lies shut me up, keep me in the corner, keep me moving and functioning as they destroy me from the inside out.

God showed me it’s a whole world. Towns built to bitterness, places I can go to torture myself, lies about my identity continually reinforced.

Beauty is devoured and doesn’t last.

Hope tastes stale because there’s no truth behind it.

Loneliness rules the streets.

The will to get up and get out has been crushed, and is continually crushed.

There is no strength, nothing of holiness and goodness that lasts. It is all so fleeting. Truth and hope and grace will not last the night.

But God…

But God shone his light on the devils’s schemes. He revealed the world, the lies, the way it works, the reason my attempts to escape have been so puny and unsuccessful. I can’t just try to find a way out, I have to leave it all behind. I can’t attack one lie with a truth, I need to filter everything, all the time through the word, the truth, of God. I can’t let it come in through the atmosphere of this world I’ve made. When God said take every thought captive, he means to me, right now, every damn thought.

Is this true?

Then walk in it.

And yes, this all seems so simple and obvious and has been told to me a million times. But it always got swallowed up by lies. It was eaten by the beasts of my unworthiness that were strengthened each time I rejected the truth of God for their lies. Every time my heart grew weak at the sound of their breath in my ear. Every time fear ruled my heart.

The foundation of these lies was one that I hear time and time and time again:

No one is coming for you.

It is devastating in a hundred ways. You are not worth coming for. You are not worth saving. You are not worth pursuing. You are too much trouble, too much effort, too damaged, too unstable, too much of a predictable failure. There’s no help for you. If you want out, you have to do it on your own. You have to do everything on your own.  He tempts me to get up, try it. And laughs at my failure. See, no one’s coming for you.

But damn it, it’s the biggest lie.

My Jesus came for me. He left heaven for me. He took these lies and this sin and this alter to destroying myself and overcame it. He finished it. He said “I will tear down this temple and in three days rebuild it.”

He will rebuild me.

He will build his kingdom around me and in me and through me.

I need to live in the world where I am worth coming for. I have been saved, I’m being saved, he will always be rescuing me from the clutches of death and sin and the broken world.

Let the King of my heart
Be the mountain where I run
The fountain I drink from
Oh-oh, He is my song
Let the King of my heart
Be the shadow where I hide
The ransom for my life
Oh-oh, He is my song

I have been running to mountains of rejection, drinking from fountains of unworthiness. Hope has been proven in vain in this world, and the fire of the will to fight has been utterly put out.

But my God is a fire starter. He’s a rescuer. He’s the light. The way, the truth. And I will need to cling to that truth and learn to hear the truth, really hear it in my heart. I will need to learn to find the beauty. I will find my song again.

He is my song. I will sing it to myself, sing it to the darkness, sing victory over lies.

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

 

tearing down realities

Battle Scars

I have scars.

Some are noticeable, the reason I didn’t wear sleeveless shirts for a very long time. The reason I started drinking when I stopped making them for a time. Some are faint, very faint now, though they go deepest to me. Some are lined in neat rows. Some are meticulously random. Some are 15, 16 years old. There’s a big gap of time, marking freedom, and then some are shamefully recent.

They are permanent. They are a reminder. They are forever a part of me. I have wanted to cover them – to mark off the area – with a tattoo. I have wanted beyond words to have Him just take them away. Make them invisible. Heal the skin so I wouldn’t have to carry them with me. So I wouldn’t be reminded. Or tempted. Or both.

I have wanted to use them, somehow, for good. For healing, helping, proof that someone is not alone. But any mention of the practice in random conversation makes my breath catch in my throat. I can’t breathe. Can’t speak. My heart pounds in my ears and I am frozen to the spot. Never mind if it turns personal. So they have been left unredeemed.

Shame grips me like an icy hand. I play with the idea and become locked in the desire and then crippled with the shame.

Unspeakable.

Untouchable.

Inescapable.

I have been searching for ways out of this pit. I was disgusted to find myself here again, adding up behaviors and thoughts and practices to self-diagnose what has never “officially” been diagnosed. Depression. So technical and worldly but an explanation other than one that I am just a hopeless mess. Angry and ashamed and confused I wondered about the where and when and how and why. And I wonder how much of that I need to figure out before I can unravel the twisted mess my mind is.

But God… My faith. The Holy Spirit. Jesus. He’s here and he gives me grace and mercy and words and little bits of hope along this path.

“Chase it down,” I’ve been told. “Press in through the crowd, just to touch the hem of his cloak.”

But, unless you’ve been here, you don’t know how impossibly exhausting that sounds. Getting out of bed is exhausting. Picking up laundry off the floor, pulling weeds in the garden, even everything tiny is wearisome. Some days 3:00 – time to get the girls – comes and crushes me to the ground under the heel of promised failure and unworthiness. And getting that healing from God? That touch I know I need? Those answers and that sustaining hope and whatever other marvelous and beautiful things he has for me seems so far away. Past the ocean of my unworthiness, my practices of speaking horribly to myself, the automatic way I always turn away from his holy face because I don’t think he could even bear to look at me.

But that’s not the truthWhat you see and feel is not true, it’s not the way I see you.

I know that. I know all these things.

But I don’t believe them, I haven’t been able to. Maybe I’m just a failure, or maybe there’s something in the way.

And still, my mighty and endlessly patient God is here, right at my side when I dare to turn to him. He offers words of wisdom, and peace, and peels back the layers without me knowing until he suddenly moves a mountain. And I see the evidence of his working in the rubble, how he has masterfully staged this undoing with a thousand little acts and whispers and prayers and words.

That Sunday night, obedient to pastor’s charge to come for prayer every time but still reluctant in my heart, still wanting to run, I stood at the front. And they prayed.

I know God moved, and it was a good prayer and something felt different but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Until, back in my seat, continuing to pray, I suddenly became aware something felt lighter. Unshackled.

My wrist. My arm. My scars.

They had no more weight.

I did not feel anything about them.

Blissful nothingness.

And then, we sang a song. The Holy Spirit song, that had one line that shot a holy truth right through me:

My shame is undone.

The shackles of shame, that kept me in fear, kept me silent, fed the fires of my unworthiness, were broken away. The beast of shame, with hot breath, will no longer stalk me. The shame was tied to those scars but also to the very thoughts and temptations, the desire to ask for help but finding the words caught up and unspeakable. Also to being stuck back in the pit with the reactions and feelings I hate but am surrounded and stalked by. It shackled all the darkness together, and kept me silent and hiding and believing I could never make it to the cloak of Jesus or walk out whatever came after.

But now it is undone.

By the grace and mercy and unfathomable wisdom of my heavenly Father.

The term “battle scars” has been tossed around but I’d always rejected it. To me they were inescapable and undeniable proofs of failure, of utter weakness, of desperation, of the evil in my heart winning. Of everything shameful.

But take that shame away and maybe they can be battle scars. If I pick up that sword and point it at my enemy, if now the beast of shame has had its teeth kicked in and breath knocked out and power gone, then maybe.

Maybe my God, a creating God, a God who turns water to wine, blindness to sight, life to death, can turn shame to battle scars.

I’m going to find out.

Battle Scars

Brave

It is hard to be brave without hope. Maybe impossible. Without something to rally to, build forces behind, drive you into the darkness and fear. Hope fuels courage, fans the flame. Without hope, bravery is overcome, the breath is stolen from it’s chest.

For me, to be brave means being able to look at myself in the mirror and finding even a bit of worth before I turn away. It means getting out of bed. It means turning to face the beast on the days I can feel the hot stench of his breath on my neck. And on the days the claws are deep in my shoulders, it means asking for someone to stand beside me, sword drawn. It means bringing holy order to the chaos of my swirling dark thoughts. I had to find courage to even consider I’m worthy of healing, of mercy, of my Father God just looking at me. Bravery means turning the shame of my scars into testaments of grace. Believing they will be signs of overcoming, of rescue, of life instead of death, no longer memories filled with guilt and desperation. A wild-eyed, restless hope believes one day I will trace the scars with the sweetness of victory, slowly forgetting the bitterness of defeat.

My Christ can do this. My savior came, and still he comes, to redeem.

Buy back. Exchange.

All of me.

The parts I hide, that I am terrified of, that I am chained to, that I hate but hold close.

“It is finished,” He says and bravery means believing that, claiming that, living that, testifying that to the darkness, finding the breath to scream it to myself.

The beast that stalks me, that I can hear breathing hot and heavy, that I have never really stared down but know intimately, is not bigger than the God in me. But I forget that. I forget that, and then faith is lost in the haziness and fear. Hearing him behind me, his padded paws circling just outside of the firelight, the inevitable heaviness of his sudden pounce as he knocks my breath away wears at my resolve and puts out that fire of hope. I don’t dare to believe I can escape him, never mind turn and fight him.

But my Jesus says he’s overcome. Again he tells me it is finished. There is nothing more for me to do but hope. Stand firm. For I am not the one who shrinks back and is destroyed, but the one who stands firm and is saved, he promises me. And he tells me he is the only one who can speak holy, pure, truth. The hope and courage he offers me is untainted, untouched by even my shame. Holy. Righteous. Victorious. He says this word is my sword. This faith is my shield.

Today I was brave and I remembered what hope was. How to sit, if even for a moment, and feel peace. To be able to do nothing but remember how to breathe in grace. I’d forgotten about it, that it even existed, that I could even taste it. Forgotten how it felt, without fear and shame and self loathing coiling in my back and shoulders and the tension bound painfully in my head. He looked at me and told me I was brave and it caught me off guard;  I was surprised by the light, surprised by the fire of hope coming back to life. The words I spoke, so insignificant on their own but carrying the weight of confession were words spoken in courage.

All I could speak past the shame gripping me were tiny details.

Not about the days I thought about it, fantasized about it. Maybe, deep down, I thought it would keep the beast away or maybe draw him in for the final kill and I could be done with this struggle. I couldn’t show them the small red cuts, carefully made to look accidental, randomly matching the various bruises and cuts from working at the ranch. I couldn’t say that I wanted them lined up. All down that soft inside of my arm. Orderly and painful and bleeding and bringing such horribly sweet relief. How I carefully unwrapped the new blade to his straight razor. How in some sick way I was glad he bought it a few months ago. How I know pocket knives are never sharp enough. How now, as I write these words they tear in shame but I feel the power of this act leaving. The control it has over me loosening. The darkness fading softly, ever so slightly. I can dare to look around for that beast, because I don’t hear his snarl, even from the shadows.

Use that sword on him, my God says quietly. Draw his bloodWound him. Chase him back. Turn that energy and those thoughts and that hate towards your enemy.

You are not the enemy.

You are mine. Redeemed.

There is darkness to be defeated, to be driven back, to be torn down, but it is not in you.

I am here and waiting and ready to overwhelm you and turn those smoldering ashes of hope into a roaring fire but first you need to put down that blade and pick up my sword.

 

Brave