Beauty in the Broken

A beauty of incomparable proportions greeted my eyes this morning. The world has become a shimmering icy landscape. The tiny red berries that grace the leafless burning bush outside my window hang heavy with the weight of their crystal covering. The ground shines with the reflection of the light from across the street.

Oh, nature is paying a great price to be arrayed with such beauty. Limbs and twigs lay scattered across the lawn. Trees once holding their hands high now bend and sag under the weight of the ice. Creaking in the wind, they beg for relief from the load they have been forced to bear. With every strong gust of wind, more small limbs become casualties of this storm. How can such beauty be the result of something so destructive? And yet, it is.

As I sit in my quiet time spot, a squirrel hops onto the porch rail and begins a slippery attempt to make it to the feeder. A smile spreads across my face. He pauses, clutching the rail while staring through the window – is he reprimanding me for taking delight in his slippery predicament? He chatters as I chuckle. Eventually, he lets go of the slippery rail and hops to the ground without the seed he was longing for.

Here, in the midst of this beauty, I meet with the Creator of all things good and beautiful. I whisper prayers of worship and of heartache, of joys and of concerns to the One who spoke the world into existence. How I want my life to reflect the beauty, even amidst the destruction, just like the world around me is glittering beauty amidst the destructive ice. I long to proclaim the goodness and mercies of my Savior in the midst of this current trial.

I must confess it is hard on days like today. Last night, the nightmares came to torment me. I want to say that I don’t know what triggered them, but I do. So, I run. I run into the arms of my Savior, crying out to Him to steady the ache in my heart, the pain in my body from having relived the memories in my sleep. Sin is crouching at the door and I know it – I am choosing to run to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when the ache in my heart and the pain in body are crying to be numbed with the prick of the needle and the rush of poison that will aid forgetfulness.

Sitting in His presence, I read about a man who was instructed to build a tabernacle, a place of meeting, where God would dwell among his people. Moses and all of Israel obeyed. As I read, I am captivated by the God who chose to put the stone tablets where his very hand carved the commandments into the arc of the covenant or testimony. These commandments I have broken – all of them at some point or other, I am sure, if I could see as God sees.

Even while this storm is raging inside of me for poison and its empty promise of peace, God reveals his love. To cover the commandments, the men are instructed to build a covering…the mercy seat. On the mercy seat, blood of the sacrifice will be sprinkled. Tears coursing down my tired cheeks, the realization settles in my aching heart that this God who loves me always planned mercy for me and for you. From the beginning of time, He knew that we feeble humans were incapable of living holy and perfect lives. So, he provided the mercy seat.

Mercy. He chose mercy long ago for the way he would deal with sinful man. Covering the commandments, was the mercy seat, not the judgment seat.

But what is mercy? And how do I receive this mercy? The Mirraim-Webster Dictionary online defines mercy as “compassion or forbearance”; as “a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion.” This is how God covered the commandments he knew we would break. He does not say we were not guilty – that would go against his holiness. Instead, he declares our guilt, but offers His Son Jesus as payment for our sins.

Someone once told me that mercy was God not giving me what I fully deserved. I fully deserve death and hell. I have broken the commandments of a holy and righteous God. “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a) “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Sin is falling short of perfection – and so that makes us all equal in one thing – we are all sinners because not one of us except Jesus Christ has lived a perfect life. Not many people like that word now a days because they find it offensive. But you know what? That doesn’t make it any less true.

So here is this hard, ugly, broken, beautiful redemption. Jesus Christ came. He lived a perfect life, was broken and died the death I deserved so that I could experience the mercy and grace of God. Just like the beauty of my ice storm. He ransomed me through His death on a cross – He paid God the price and bore God’s righteous anger so that I could be acceptable to God. My guilt and shame, my sin and failures, my falling to drugs and my unforgiveness. Jesus, in love and mercy, carried the punishment for that to the cross. It is a costly mercy and grace that He offers me, but through Him, God gives me hope of eternity in fellowship with him. My sins broke His body. My addictions and failures and stumblings nailed His hands and feet to the cross.

Jesus paid with His life to redeem my life, but He loved me that much. And here is the beauty of the broken: “Jesus, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 12:2.

Friend, if you don’t know what it means to be a sinner saved by grace, can I just ask you today to consider the beauty of a love for you that is so grand, so overwhelming, that it showed itself when Jesus spread His arms out willingly on the cross so that you might come to God?

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My True Love

My favorite movie The Princess Bride was playing on television while I was laying on the sofa struggling through a back injury. Nearing the middle of the movie, Buttercup has a dream in which she is introduced as the princess. An older woman in the crowd boos her and accuses her, “… you had true love in your hands and you gave it up.” And then, “Your true love lives. And you marry another. True love saved her …”and my heart cringes. 

Oh, perhaps this movie contains truths I would rather not face in myself. My true love Jesus lives, yet I tethered myself to drugs and alcohol when the  past came back to haunt me – as if they could save me. Jesus saved me in my youth from death and destruction. He stepped into a life marked by brokenness, drunkenness, and immorality to invite me to live a life of grace, hope and love – a life of sobriety and purity – through a relationship with Him. I responded without fear or hesitation. Love. True love saved me – it is what I found in Jesus’s presence. Love that did not wish me harm or abuse me. Jesus’s love is true and pure, protects and gives good gifts. 

When Jesus called me, I wasn’t afraid of what He might ask me to give up or what church said was necessary to live a righteous life. I wasn’t afraid that He would bring me harm. For the first time in my life I understood what it meant to be loved and accepted, to have an Advocate, Someone on my side. Jesus gave me love when I did not deserve it. He surrounded me with people who accepted me for who I was and who taught me to seek truth in Jesus. And His Word became my delight. I spent hours just devouring the Bible, reading, meditating and praying through it. I was a thirsty woman led to Living Water who drank deeply and discovered that true joy is in Jesus. 

My true love Jesus lives! Praise God!

But even so, after knowing His joy and dwelling in His safety for more than two decades, I turned to something else to save me…to give me freedom from night terrors and panic attacks. I swallowed pills, injected poison, and spilled alcohol down my throat. My heart is deeply grieved over the foolish mistakes that I have made, but in the midst of it, I have a true love who did not give up on me. Just like Westley pursued Buttercup when she was being carried away by an enemy bent on her destruction, Jesus pursued me. He followed me into the miry pit of addiction and did not give up on me.  Instead, He relentlessly followed me, called to me, and sought me.  Jesus. Jesus has not given up on me – even when I nearly gave up on myself.

As Westley led Buttercup through the dangers of the fire swamp, saving her from the fire, rescuing her when she steps into the lightning sand, and bearing the injuries from the rodents of unusual size, Jesus is leading me.  Seems kind of strange that Westley led his true love into danger to keep her from harm, but he did. In some ways, Jesus has done that for me. He has led me through the bitter circumstances of my past to keep me from the destruction of living with a gaping  and infected wound.   I am not facing flames or quicksand. Nor am I being attacked by rodents, but there are dangers in my life. The dangers come in whispered temptations to my heart. In the fire swamp, Westley taught Buttercup what to avoid, taught her the warning signs. Jesus has taught me and is continuing to teach me what the dangers are, and how to avoid them. He is constantly sweeping me off my feet and holding me in the safety of His arms. He is my refuge. 

And just like Princess Buttercup, who realizes she is making a mistake and turns away from marrying the evil prince who really intends to kill her, I realized that I had turned to a false love that intended to destroy me. Immediately, I fled back to the arms of my Savior and asked Him to forgive my folly and sin, to wash away my unrighteousness. Of course, I received grace!  He was with me all along, urging me to return to Him. 

For you today: Is there anything that you are turning to for relief from physical, emotional or spiritual pain? If there is, I urge you to turn to Jesus. No matter what you are struggling with, He is the only One able to completely understand and to help you in your distress. Popping pills will only help you to numb the pain or to feel good for a little while. Shooting poison into your veins will only bring psuedo-peace that doesn’t last. Sex will only feel good for a moment. Food will only squash the pain for an instant. Getting lost in a television show will only distract from the pain for a little while. And in the end, these things will begin to destroy you, leave you feeling empty and betrayed. Lasting peace and joy  are found only in Jesus.  

The God who created you loves you and desires good for you. Whatever trial or struggle you are going through, may He give you eyes to see His goodness in the midst of it. May He cause your  mind to call to mind all the ways He has displayed His mercies and compassions to you in the past! I know the road is broken and can be extremely painful, but you are never alone. Your True Love has saved you and is in your fire swamp with you! Listen to His voice and wait for Him to rescue you. 

“I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
 So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”         
                                                                                                                 Lamentations 3:19-24   (emphasis mine)