The Aching Orphan

In honor of World Orphans Day, November 14, 2016…

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The Jesus Storybook Bible was given to my children long ago before their questions were as big as they are now. I read it to them, hoping truth would etch their hearts – enough truth to carry them through middle school and high school with all its drama and doubts and failures.

But it became a love story for me, shouting on some days but usually whispering until streams spilled out of my eyes as we read the last lines of each entry. The Jesus Storybook Bible remains one of the biggest influences in helping me understand the Gospel. Oh, I had known it for years, but this amazing work helped me grasp God’s love for me like never before.

One day I stumbled upon this random picture on Facebook. A boy was holding our Bible.

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Study it. See the orphan. See him tucked in a boring mosaic of mass-produced decorating, locked in a pattern of sameness.

See his name taped to his bed, identifying the only space he calls his own. Known to no one. But not really.

See his hands holding the Love Story of all time. 

Maybe he’s been in an orphanage his whole life and can’t know what he’s missing. Maybe he doesn’t grasp how alone he truly is because he’s never known what it’s like to be a son.  But still, he’s human, and our hearts are created to ache until we give them to Someone, until we surrender to the Rescue Plan.

And His heart just might not ache anymore. The boy, he holds the key to an eternity of being known. An eternity of being Someone’s son.

Hidden to the world by a sea of yellow blankets and identical headboards, the Maker knows his name. And as His heart spills over with love for the boy, God defines his worth different than culture and society.

The Maker, He knows my name, too, as I hide among houses that look the same from the sky. As I spin and race and keep searching for a life of meaning. Yes, He knows my name even when I forget to turn my face to Him. Even when I forget to open His Love Story and read it again.

God sees the boy and me both, made to love Him back. Regardless of how alone and forgotten I feel, regardless of how I stumble awkwardly trying to live in community — by believing I was made for a different world, I can truly live in this one.

Are you stuck in a pattern of sameness? Pacing through the status quo?
Are you convinced you lack significance? Lack a life of meaning?
Have you wondered so long you don’t realize the fullness you’ve missed?

Friend, turn and stare your ache right in the face. Run to it. Wrestle with it. Thank God for the boring routines. Hand your loneliness to Him as an offering. The ache is a gift, for He’s telling you there’s more. Telling you that He’s more.

It’s only in giving our hearts to Someone that the ache will be forever healed. Forever satisfied.


You have the fountain of life that quenches our thirst. Your light has opened our eyes and awakened our souls. Psalm 36:9

The Spirit you have received adopts you and welcomes you into God’s own family. That’s why we call out to Him, “Abba! Father!” as we would address a loving daddy. Through that prayer, God’s Spirit confirms in our spirits that we are His children.  Romans 8:15-16

Forgiveness: A Teenager’s Story

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The Wound

It was a normal school day in fourth hour. Some classmates were joking around, holding their iPads like frisbees. As Lucy bent down to retrieve her backpack, she felt a jab and then saw the blood. An iPad had accidentally been launched from Owen’s* hand, hitting her forehead and cutting through three layers of skin. Almost all the way to her skull.

Have you been surprised by trauma before?
Has your heart been pierced all the way to the core? Deeper than you thought possible?

Lucy found herself in the nurse’s office, full of panic and spilling with tears. She answered some questions and waited for her mom to arrive while her wound hid behind a temporary bandage and ice pack.

Are you doing that, too?
Are you trying to heal your wound with a temporary cure? Trying to numb that pain?

Together, Lucy and her mom raced to the Emergency Room only to wait. Sorting through the internal questions… navigating the tension… wrestling with the “why” — they sat for two hours before being invited into healing. She was terrified, for she knew stitches would be the cure.

Lucy, a seamstress, was no novice to needles. She knew their strength, knew the beauty they could create by piecing something together. She had seen needles penetrate cloth with permanency. And this is what terrified her. She knew the puncture was necessary to create, and in her case, necessary to restore. Pain before wholeness.

“The doctor told me he would have to sew through my skin, layer by layer, and that I’d have a permanent scar on my forehead,” Lucy recalls. “I went home after the stitching and cried and cried. You know how physical beauty is so important in this society? I was so angry.”

You, too? Do you feel like your wounds have tainted your beauty?

The Dialogue
Lucy went back to school the next day which proved to be a mistake. Rumors had already been spread that simply weren’t true: Owen had flung his iPad toward Lucy on purpose…she was suffering from a major concussion…her entire face had been cut open…she was being over-dramatic and nothing serious had happened.

Have people tried to sort through your story?
Have they resorted to lies when they couldn’t quite make sense of your struggle?

Lucy wasn’t prepared for all the questions, either. She wasn’t equipped to give explanations or interpret her feelings for everyone publicly. My goodness, she hadn’t even completely faced her reality in solitude yet. Some would ask to see her wound, ripping away any sense of normalcy for the self-conscious girl.

Despite all the attention, she felt so… alone. “People didn’t make eye contact,” Lucy remembers. “They’d either look away from me or just stare. There was no middle ground.”

To help themselves navigate the awkwardness, some would turn to jokes. They weren’t cruel, but they tried to make light of something very, very real. Lucy faked a lot of laughs to go along. “It was very uncomfortable,” she admits.

The Healing
But the seamstress is also an artist. And she turned to paper and water and color for therapy.

rose

In something as delicate as a flower, Lucy began to find strength. She discovered her voice and fell into gratitude. “So thankful for how I’ve grown closer to God through this. It could have been a lot worse, and I am eternally grateful to him.”

And as she began to accept her situation, she knew forgiveness and reconciliation were the next steps. Owen had pursued her immediately. He visited her that first day in the school nurse’s office, overflowing with apologies. His friend had come along, too. Trying to comfort her, he shared his own story of receiving stitches once and assured her she would survive.

“He calmed me down and brought me back to reality that day,” Lucy recalls. Freshmen in high school… empathizing… owning a mistake… asking for forgiveness.

While she was engaged in ongoing conversations with Owen and the school counselor, Lucy’s peers were trying to support her. But remember her initial anger? Well, these kids loved their friend and were furious, too. Some publicly declared their rage toward Owen. They wrote hate notes to him and left them in Lucy’s locker, hoping to make her feel better.

“I had made peace with Owen, though,” testifies Lucy. “We weren’t enemies when the accident happened. I had moved on from the wound, but my friends hadn’t moved on. They had good intentions, but their hate notes weren’t supporting me.”

Have you found yourself wanting to heal but needing to comfort your loved ones instead?
Have empathizing friends who meant well kept you from forgiving?

The counselor urged Lucy find her voice again and publicly urge her friends to get over her situation. She wanted to thank everyone for their support but remind them they could lift her up without tearing down Owen. She turned to the canvas again.

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“We all make mistakes.”
“We all need grace, forgiveness, and a chance to start over.”
“Letting go of past hurt changes you.”

And it worked. People stopped sending hate notes, and she continued to forgive Owen. Her story impacted so many, and she recalls the certainty of knowing that many beyond herself were wrestling with God and engaging with Him because of her story. She drank from the cup of closure and was satisfied.

Friends, she’s only fourteen.

The Challenge
On that day in fourth hour, and in the weeks to come, Lucy’s people were reminded how faith and everyday reality do indeed intersect. How quickly we forget. Through the strength of the Healer and Master Artist, Lucy found the courage to forgive, and even reconcile. And an entire community was marked by her courage.

“If you’re reluctant to forgive,” challenges Lucy, “you have to really think about that person… and your relationship with that person. If you’re thinking about retaliating or choosing the “safety” of ignoring, ask yourself, ‘How could God get glory if I took a peaceful resolution?’ ”

So, my friends, what about your wounds?
Is God calling you to more than just surviving?
Is He calling you to restoration?

“He binds their wounds,
heals the sorrows of their hearts.” Psalm 147:3

 “Visualize this: His blood freely flowing down the cross, setting us free! We are forgiven for our sinful ways by the richness of His grace… Be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through the Anointed, our Liberating King… So imitate God. Follow Him like adored children.” Ephesians 1:7, 4:32, 5:1

*Some names have been changed

photo source | SugarBean Photography

#WhatADoctorLooksLike

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167 reactions. 109 comments. 109 comments! It’s quite a response for a woman’s mid-day, quick Facebook post at work.

She could have referenced an experience from a college class she teaches. Or what it was like to be the speaker at a Breast Cancer Awareness Tea. Or treating patients here in St. Louis. Or how she goes about mentoring medical students. Or her recent submission for the medical column of a local paper. Or her fairly recent, annual medical missions trip to Malawi.

But no. Dr. Hooks-Anderson didn’t pause to tell her Facebook friends about good news. Instead, she wrote:

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Dr. Hooks-Anderson is African American. And despite all she has accomplished and how much she is respected, this was still her reality on Tuesday.

What do you say? No, really — what do you say when you’re white?

I first met Denise when she and her husband applied to our school for their daughter. The Director of Admissions at the time, I asked to hear their story of why they wanted to send their little girl to our community. I should have asked them why they trusted us to educate and care for their daughter.

When I read Denise’s post on Tuesday, I wasn’t yet aware of the Delta story. But I’m aware now as I’ve viewed countless #WhatADoctorLooksLike posts swirling around social media. I hope more swirl around and take the world by storm…

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…Because when it rains, we pay attention. When it storms, we pause and plan before going about our normal routines. We’re more prone to contemplation when the world shields itself from torrents and the weather has halted our plans. We’re less distracted. We’re more focused.

Sometimes we think a little too much, but maybe that’s not a bad thing in this case. For eventually in our pausing and contemplation, we realize it’s not so much about what we think about bias and stereotyping but how our thoughts materialize into behavior.

What do we find when we pause and bravely engage in self-reflection? What is there to discover when we examine our own hearts?  What makes us assume something about a person before introducing ourselves?

Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am.
    Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain.
Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me,
    and guide me down Your path forever. Psalm 139:23-24

While intentional steps are needed to move forward in combating our bias, it’s worth pausing and figuring out what got us here. What’s your story? What were you not told in childhood textbooks? What images were missing in articles you read throughout high school and college? Sometimes what’s missing from the narrative imprints our hearts as much as the noise.

Self-exploration and deep digging and discovery are uncomfortable. But growth is always preceded by discomfort.

We’re a culture that wants to say and do something. Maybe our doing is listening as God reads our hearts back to us. We’ll cringe. We’ll deny. We’ll make excuses and point to those who are “worse” than us. But eventually, soaked with God’s grace and tenderness, we’ll shake our heads in shame and boldly surrender to the truth.

 Like a devoted gardener, I will pour sweet water on parched land,
        streams on hard-packed ground;
 I will pour My spirit on your children and grandchildren—
        and let My blessing flow to your descendants.
And they will sprout among the grasses, grow vibrant and tall

        like the willow trees lining a riverbank.
One will call out: “I belong to the Eternal.” Isaiah 44:3-5

He comes every time. The Devoted Gardner comes and restores and then invites us to join Him in the restoring. He transforms the storm we once feared into cisterns of self-discovery and streams of humility. He pours out His Spirit and grows us up into change-agents whose love is a reflection of His own love for mankind.

Might we say, “I belong to the Lord” and have people believe us.

So what does a doctor look like? One of them looks like this:

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photo source | mario calvo

When You Have to Get to Know Your Kids Again

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As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in New York City while my family is still asleep. I just noticed the last time I published a post on Repurposed was March 20 — almost three months ago. When I grow up, I’d like to blog for a living. But I do believe living a purposeful life sometimes involves pressing “pause” on dreams, rolling up your sleeves, and living the life in front of you.

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(J.K. Rowling)

We’ve been going hard for the past three months, and while I’d like to attribute my silence to our busy work/play/sports schedules, in reality my quiet season is due to something deeper than a crazy calendar. You see, we came up for breath the week of Spring Break, and I realized I hardly knew my kids anymore.

“The days are long, but the years are short,” my friend Jennifer cautions. Indeed. Where has the time gone? I felt like I was keeping up, soaking in every new stage of their childhood. I actually enjoy entering new stages, and I don’t grieve the passing of time. But somehow, this school year swept my son and daughter away and brought back a teen and almost-teen that hardly resemble the kids I’ve been raising the past several years.

It’s rather humbling. If you like control, this experience can really rock you. And if being the most amazing parent has been one of your goals, you have to wrestle with some deeply buried idols. You wake up in the midst of your kids’ middle school years and discover parenting is not about you at all.

Gone are the days when choosing your kids’ outfits tells the world what your sense of style is. Gone is the season when you plan a fun day of activity and everyone goes along with enthusiasm. (And the affirmation you give yourself vanishes, too.) Gone are the moments when you can predict what your child’s response will be. (This might be the hardest one to let go of, for when they surprise you with unforeseen preferences, you feel like you don’t know your kids as well as you used to. And that’s kind of scary. And sad.)

Back to the blogging silence… When you’re humbled and realize how little you know, you sort of don’t have much to say. We’ve all heard how listening is usually better than talking, and these new identities have given me reason to be quiet. I have way more listening to do because I’m getting to know my children again.

I recently attended my school’s Arts Extravaganza, and the choir sang the sweetest poem:
A wise old owl lived in an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard:
Why can’t we all be like that bird?
– Henry Hersey Richards

Um, yes. The more he saw the less he spoke; the less he spoke the more he heard. Their little voices sang this phrase over and over and this middle-aged mommy was quite convicted.

When you bring your kids through the elementary years, you talk a lot. At least I did. When I carry on this tradition with my middle schoolers, they don’t sit there like sponges anymore, waiting for my next insight. Instead, my words are met with stiffened backs and faces that silently say, “You’re not hearing me. You’re not even trying to listen.”

And they’re right.

“Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 esv

I used to read this verse through a me-centered lens, almost as a guarantee to cling to when the going gets rough. I wanted it to say: Train up your child in the way that will help her make respectable choices (spiritually and morally), and when she’s old, she’ll still be living that dream of yours for her life, making you look good.

But slowly, and sometimes reluctantly, I’m choosing to read it through another lens: Parent your child, accepting the way God designed him and helping him discover the story God has written for his life. And when he’s older, he’ll still be living a life of purpose, in sync with God’s plan from the beginning of time.

This refreshed interpretation, well, it’s a lot harder because I don’t get to work hard when I’m frustrated or irritated or down right angry. (Have you noticed we don’t sit idle when we’re angry?) It’s a difficult interpretation to swallow, for it calls me to trust and not do.

What would it look like if we listened more… not just to be polite or to avoid looking overbearing? What would it look like if we listened with the intention of learning and discovering and understanding?

Are you with me? As I parent a middle schooler and rising high schooler, I need to learn God’s story for my children’s lives. I must discover what they would have told me the past several months if I would’ve just stopped talking. And I absolutely have to understand what passions are there beyond those teenage faces staring back at me.

What about you? Who do you need to listen to more? What topics do you need to hold your tongue on for a while, with the intent of learning and discovering and understanding more? You might not be parenting teenagers, but I know you’re wrestling, too. It’s the world we live in — whether you’re trying to be intricately engaged with your local community, or you’re yearning to be a global citizen, or you’re somewhere in the middle.

Your active listening might need to take place in your workplace, or your yoga class, or as you research and write a book. For me, I’m simply going to start at home as I get reacquainted with my kids.

Trust.

IMG_2848There’s heaps of awesomeness about raising teenagers, too, like snapping this selfie at the top of the Empire State Building at 10:44pm.  :)

What I Learned from Our Series on Suffering

fontcandy (1) copy 3Although our Series on Suffering officially concluded last week, I’m compelled to share how I was personally changed over the past few weeks. My hope was to help others — either those in agony or those watching another suffer. By posting updates from four years after the initial story, I hoped to point toward perseverance. There’s something about seeing another’s redemption that helps you reach out your hand when you’re drowning. But once again, I found transformation in the mirror.  I entered the series as the facilitator, but I left the student.

I learned…

… Everyone has a story. Everyone. Why do I forget this? Life would be so much richer and more meaningful if I stopped to listen. If I pursued. If I slowed down enough to be a safe place for others. I must remember the faces in my life have identities. Everyone has so much to say.

… People grieve differently.  There’s no consistent, proper way to get real and deal with pain. Yes, there are common rhythms of grief. But I can’t put people in boxes and expect them to convey their distress a certain way. Some friends are more emotional while others are more rational. There’s beauty in this kind of diversity. Why bring judgment into someone’s healing process?

… It’s cowardly to remain silent amidst another’s pain. The fear of offending someone absolutely can not supersede our practice of living in community. Loving others requires us to feel awkward sometimes. I absolutely must get over myself.

… I whine too much. You see, all those thoughts harbored deep within, whether they pour forth from my lips or not, reflect where I’m at. Proverbs 23:7 makes it clear: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. (NLV)  I’m too self-centered… period… in my peer relationships, my marriage, my parenting. Especially my parenting. There’s nothing like hearing another’s story to put your own in perspective.

… I must fight to prevent my body image issues from impacting my children. I know the standards of 21st century American beauty —  for women and men. I see it everyday at the check-out lane, in Athleta catalogs that invade my mailbox, on television commercials, in the lies I uncover in my own thoughts. I must commit to not complain about the way God made me in front of my son and daughter. I want my children to grow up knowing they’re beautifully created and knowing their identity is in what Christ did for them on the cross. As our world has become smaller through technology, unfortunately our infatuation with one type of beauty has grown bigger. I must fight our culture no matter how daunting the task seems.

… Redemption often looks different than I would have imagined. I believed this already, but I’m convinced even more after presenting these four stories. We pray and claim and beg — and even tell God what to do — and His answer is often different than our original hopes. But He’s purposeful. And He often uses radical, painful situations to convey His counter-cultural message. Regardless, I’ve seen him bring beauty and life to a dying heart. As Jeremy Bedenbaugh, a local St. Louis pastor, says, “Only where the graves are is there resurrection.”

I know God will continue to uncover more lessons for me. And hopefully for you, too. I don’t know what struggle will stare me in the face tomorrow. But for now, I have much to ponder — suffering, healing, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. Come, Lord Jesus. Come to the darkest parts of our stories.