Saturday, April 6, 2013

Being Grateful for Pain: One of the Many Things my 5th Graders have Taught Me

It’s been a while since my heart was broken.

I kind of lived in a constant broken-heart world for years. I was in an unhealthy marriage, for myriad reasons, some of my own, and some others. My mom was sick the last 5 years of my marriage, so that added a brokenness and a sadness that I walked around with as well.

I managed the turmoil, mainly by eating and building walls around myself, especially my heart. My heart became numb, cold, and it kind of gave up on experiencing happiness or peace.

(FYI - eating and building walls don't help situations...just in case you're wondering.)

After my mom died and my divorce was finalized, my heart was shattered, but it was already in so many pieces, that honestly, the final shattering was more of a gift than a nightmare.

Before the deaths of my mom and marriage, hope seemed fleeting, something I couldn't understand. In fact, I would yell and cry at God to stop letting hope be part of my days or mindset. It was too much of a roller coaster to at moments have hope, only for it to be snuffed out just as quickly as it came. 

I was weary of the continual let downs; I couldn’t take hope constantly being stolen, being hijacked.

I didn’t like hope becoming a 4 letter word in my world, and it was becoming just that.

Obviously, I was putting my hope in something other than the Lord, but even still, part of being human is hoping; I believe it’s natural, even healthy...we hope our relationships would get better, we hope our family members wouldn’t be sick, we hope we could come out of the darkness and not feel so damn hurt all of the time. We hope...

Thankfully, 2009 marked the year that the roller coaster ended, the storm clouds began moving on.

A complete shattering in 2008 allowed me to fully be at the bottom of the pit. alone. only with God.

In all honesty, that’s the most beautiful place to be, because you are relying solely on the Lord, because, frankly, you got nothing else. So, in turn, you experience amazing grace, provision, peace, love, and then God’s kind of hope begins to make its appearance.

I had known the dictionary definitions of all of those words before, but in 2009, God began defining those words for me...not by speaking them, but by living them out, by proving them all and showing me.

I came to realize, those aren’t just words one says, but are experiences, and those experiences are named grace, provision, peace, goodness, faithfulness, love, and hope.

And, unfortunately, you have to need them, or realize you need them, before you get to experience them. For me, my world had to get very dark before I opened myself up to let God in, to let Him show me what He had in store for my heart, for my life.

During the years after 2009, I spent immense amounts of time with God, reading, studying, praying, crying, waiting, listening, and trying my best to patiently walk some things out with Him. I was in desperate need of healing, of transformation, direction, quiet, and understanding; I was in desperate need for God.

I read, I wrote, I listened to music. All three were monumental in recovering from being shattered.

There were so many songs that spoke to me, one being “When a Heart Breaks” by Ben Rector. 

Each time I would hear it, it brought comfort and my soul would feel peace. 

Woke up this morning, I heard the news
I know the pain of a heart break.
I don’t have answers, neither do you.
I know the pain of a heart breaking.

This isn’t easy, this isn’t clear
You don’t need Jesus
until you’re here.

Then confusion and the doubts you had
up and walk away, up and walk away
When a heart breaks

...I don’t need answers, I just need peace, I just need someone to help me get some sleep

This isn’t easy, this isn’t clear
You don’t need Jesus
until you’re here.

Then confusion and the doubts you had
up and walk away, up and walk away
When a heart breaks...

That song would sing to my soul, take me to another place, and helped me heal.

Music is powerful that way.

But over these last 18 months, I could tell I had really began to move on out of the muck of recovery and healing because certain songs didn’t take me to that place anymore. God had brought me out in so many ways, that even the songs of my heart began changing.

It’s been a magical 4 years, hard, but magical.

God has taught me countless lessons, mostly about His faithfulness and goodness. He’s let me have incredible opportunities to go and see and live the life I always dreamed about.

For those who followed my old blog, you well know, there’s been an ebb and flow to it all, but that’s just part of life. 

Then...yesterday happened.

On April 3rd, my mom would have been 63.

This is the 5th birthday of hers I have traveled without her. Each time, it’s a day that can be sad, but usually it’s just a sweet day of reflection and remembrance.

But yesterday was different.

I grieved.

I mean, I really grieved.

In fact, I don’t remember grieving like that in years, and there have been many a lonely night over these last 5 years.

Yesterday, I physically hurt from the grief.

My heart felt so broken and sad, that at times it would take my breath away at how much it hurt. I stayed on the verge of tears, and at times a few fell, and I was grateful that none of my students seemed to notice.

Grief is difficult because there isn’t much you can do about it.

It forces you to turn to God, to something outside yourself...well, unless there's animal crackers, I can always turn to animal crackers, but thankfully none were in sight, and this kind of pain, was beyond animal crackers.

All I could do was pray, I mean, all I knew to do was pray because it was such a deep pain that I knew it would take God to help me with it.

So, I talked to Him, told Him how much it hurt, and begged Him to help it go away.

But it wouldn’t go away, it wouldn’t let up.

It just. kept. hurting.

And as much as I wanted it to stop, I couldn’t help but wonder, do I really not want to feel this grief?

Do I want to not miss my mom?

Do I not want to have experienced a relationship that was such a blessing that now that it is gone, I deeply miss it?

In my Bible class, we took about 6 weeks and created a list of 102 things we were thankful for. We added 6 each day, and eventually reached our mark. It was so interesting to see what the students would say they were thankful for. It became a small window into their hearts.

As we would share our thankful things, it was always remarkable when a student would say they were thankful for pain “because without pain, we wouldn’t know joy. Without loss, we wouldn’t know love.”

For an 11 year old, I’d say that’s pretty insightful...wisdom at its finest.

And as I grieved yesterday, each time I would ask God for help, I was also thankful. I thanked Him that I had been given a mom, who was the kind of mom, one would deeply miss when she wasn’t around.

As my heart hurt, as I felt alone, as I cried out to God, I reminded myself that Jesus was weeping with me, that He was my comforter, that He was teaching me through this, and that feeling grief, meant that I too knew joy, it meant I knew what love was.

Greater still, it meant my heart was no longer numb, was no longer cold, and for this girl, who had so many walls built up, that meant it was a victorious day.

As my heart felt so broken yesterday, and as I begged God to take that pain away, and as it never eased, and even today still hurts, it’s a beautiful reminder that over these last 4 years, God has healed my heart of stone and made it into a heart of flesh.

It’s a heart healed, because now it feels, it grieves, it longs, and it even hopes.

So as April 3rd marked a day of incredible grief, it’s also a day marked for me being grateful for the pain, because I am very grateful for that for 31 years I had an incredible gift, a wonderful mom.

Eventually 3:00 came rolling around, and I sat at my desk, in a quiet classroom as my students worked and read, and I was just trying to finish the day out.

As tears began dropping down my cheeks, I heard a voice next to me. 

She asked, “Ms. Vaughn, can we dance?”

I rarely turn that request down, but today, I didn’t feel like dancing. at. all.

But, her voice resonated with that quiet voice deep within that told me what I really needed to do that day was get up and dance.

So I looked at her, and before I could say no, I said, “absolutely!” 

We all stood up, turned the music on full blast, chose our moves, and danced.

And as we danced, joy infused my veins, my heart, my soul, and I looked at those 18 students, and I thanked God for that moment...the moment He turned my mourning into dancing,

The moment He sent an 11 year old girl to extend a hand and bring me joy. 

“Remember my affliction and my wandering the wormwood and the bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.
The Lord’s lovingkindness indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the one who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord...Let him sit alone and be silent...for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.” Lamentations 3:19-32

Grief is a funny thing.

It comes, and it goes.

It manifests itself in a myriad of ways: in sadness, anxiety, and even physical pain.

It hits like waves of the ocean...periodic and sometimes calm and at other times violent.

But just as storms roll through, they also roll out.

And learning to dance even when it’s raining is something God wants me to do.

So, as I allow my heart to be transformed and opened up to love and joy, fun and adventure, goodness and grace, as I hope once more, I must also accept the pain of grief, of loss, of regret, and let it be okay...take it in and see it as the road I want to be on, the path I choose, and know that it’s the way God intended for me to be healed, to be transformed.

"You cannot love in've got to lay your soul on the threshing floor...the darkness will soon disappear, and be swallowed by the sun." (Matthew Perryman Jones, Land of the Living)

May we all invite the Light to pierce our darkness and watch as He saves our soul.

In Him,

Matthew Perryman Jones “The Land of the Living”

Into the land of the living
black bleeds orange into blue
I am coming to life
light is breaking through

I can hear the bells in the city
across the ancient shore
I am ready to fight
Let down the scarlet cord
It’s time to shed the masquerade

You cannot love in moderation
dancing with dead man’s bones
lay your soul on the threshing floor

between the walls of the river,
shoulders bare the sacred stones
we made it alive
we are not alone

kiss the ground and change your name

You cannot love in moderation
You’re dancing with dead man’s bones
lay your soul on the threshing floor

I heard the distant battle drum
the mockingbird spoke in tongues
longing for the day to come
I set my face, forsook my fears
I saw the city through my tears
The darkness will soon disappear
and be swallowed by the sun

I am coming home, I am coming home
I am coming home, I am coming home

Monday, April 1, 2013

I'm a bit rusty, but here we go!

I flew into Boston today. BAH-stin, actually. I immediately activated my accent and got to it. I haven’t been here in about 12 years. Last time was with my entire family, and when you travel with Georgey Porgey (Papa), you have no need to know anything. You just show up, ready to be given a proper guided tour of any city, including sketchy restaurants only the locals eat at. He knows every street, every building, and most of the history behind things...or if not, he makes it up so you believe he knows it. It’s glorious!

But, this time, I'm my own tour guide, responsible for figuring things out, finding my way, and making this one kick butt adventure!

Last time, I was married, my mom was with me, and anytime I travel to places with memories, it can be hard for a little while. In fact, as I wandered through a store in Concord today, I could have sworn if I had looked to my right, my mom would have been standing right. next. to. me.

She was, twelve years ago.

My heart hurt.

My heart hurts.

I arrived this afternoon and proceeded to get my rental car. Now, I’ve become quite the savvy Priceline and Expedia shopper, so usually I get a rockin’ car for next to nothing. Unfortunately, this trip didn’t quite pan out that way. At least I did get a full size car for the price of a compact, but all they had were Dodge chargers. BOO! But I did figure that I could just pretend I was Ziva from NCIS. So, technically, ability to kick butt #1 - Check!

I promptly jumped in my driver seat only to realize I had no earthly idea where I was going. See, I haven’t thought about this trip one iota. Nope, not for a second. School has been so hectic since the end is quickly approaching, way faster than I wish it would, so, unfortunately, it becomes all consuming. One must make sure all their t’s have been crossed and all their i’s have been dotted. You’re trying to grab a hold of the students, hug them, cheer for them, challenge them, keep them going, yet keep yourself focused and doing everything required of a school teacher...which is bunches.

So, I packed for the trip 9 p.m. last night, and basically did nothing else except verify when my plane was leaving.

I’ve come to Boston to make a run-through an itinerary I have set for a summer trip I am taking with 8 students. I knew I needed to come and walk it out, make sure I remembered where everything is and map out some great restaurants and tours. So as I sat in the rental car parking lot, I knew I was glad I had come, so I stared at the yucked out parking lot that screamed BAH-stin, got my iphone out, plugged in Concord, Massachusetts, and put my Ziva mobile in drive.

Only to promptly hit the exit and see how I was going to immediately need cash for the toll road I was entering. Thankfully, I am apparently not the only nimrod who travels unprepared, with no cash in hand, because there were gobs of signs telling drivers where to go for fuel and CASH. 

I drove in circles, found my gas station, bought pistachios and water, only to be told no cash back would be given and he pointed to the ATM in his best Massachusetts growl. I cheered him on, told him Happy Easter, and told him I hoped the weather cleared. He rolled his eyes while saying, “Ya.”

I grabbed my cash, my stachios, and jumped back in my Ziva-mobile and hit the whirly, twirly entrances and exits of the BAH-stin freeway systems. 

Being the Texas girl I am, I popped open my stachios and fiddled with eating them, while merging and winding, and figuring out these crazy BAH-stin highways.

First off, they have toll booths every 3 miles and they charge you what seems like a gazillion dollars at each one! WHAT?!?!

I almost needed another ATM in the middle of all the toll booths, Good Gracious! I dropped 10 bucks just to go 5 miles leaving the airport. I made a friendly, “Wow! I can’t get over all these toll booths.” to the final money taker, and he responded, “Welcome to Massachusetts.”

I must say, not the best welcome. Rain, cold, wind, and toll booths galore.

But no worries, my stachio’s and I made it out, found our highways with no trouble and headed north? south? no WEST to Concord! The land of unbelievably quaint homes that are only found in movies with Kiera Knightley or Mel Gibson in them. The houses are yellow, red, and taupe; shingled, with barn doors, and huge trees, with a wisp of snow, and a lawn as far as the eye can see.

I long to walk up to one and knock and just ask if I could have a hot chocolate while sitting next to their fireplace...with their yellow lab as my pillow. But I don’t.

Concord takes you back in time. It takes you back to when thought and poetry and reading were king and reality TV and video games would have been considered complete nonsense.

I walked the streets, entered the inns, and crossed bridges. As I entered Minute Men National Park, it seemed like I was walking onto sacred ground. The clouds were low, twilight was approaching, and there were but a hand full of others on the grounds. It was a magical moment. It was a moment I knew God was walking next to me. At times, traveling alone can be hard, but then there's moments like that, and nothing can beat it.

As I strolled, I envisioned what took place there 250 years ago, and honestly it took my breath away. The courage, determination, the grit and soul-moving bravery to claim freedom, a new land, a new story for a people is truly remarkable. 

Today, we might move cities, buy a home, or start a new career, but few of us have planted a flag, stood behind a tree with our musket loaded, knowing we are seriously outmanned, outgunned, but resolved, determined, and ready to start a new life, change the course of history for a continent, a people, a nation, and go up against a seemingly invincible empire sending troops to squash every single one of us.

At times I wonder how I’d respond, how we’d respond if our backs were against that kind of wall...we people of TV watching, angry bird playing, cliff note reading, and instant gratification who seem to become more ADD by the day.

I wonder if I would have stood on that bridge, ready to defend it, fighting for the freedom that I wouldn’t even see, but for those generations after me.

As I walk these streets and wonder about the stories of these people, these hills, these homes, these times...I wonder about the stories of us, of our time?

What battles will we face? What hill will we stand on and defend? What great enemy will come hunting for us, and will we stand against it?

I don’t know, maybe our lives will only be about iphones and kettle corn, Starbucks (YAY!) and Range Rovers...but I tend to think they won’t be.

Those might be the shiny objects to keep us distracted from the battle we should be facing. We might be so focused on the completely irrelevant while our true treasures are being taken right from under our noses.

I feel sorry for those who fight to keep the past alive. It’s quite the calling to preserve a time before. The rest of the world wants to push on, modernize, leave relics for the trash, and push for the new technology, the new way of living.

But then there are those, who inherently know that there is value in keeping hold of the
One of the Lanterns
past, in treasuring what so many want to throw out.

I’m grateful to those who have devoted their lives to keeping the stories of those who have come before us alive, to teach us lessons, to give us some sort of road map, an inspired notion of what our future can hold because of the link to our history.

I truly believe pursuing history helps enrich our present and, in turn, protects our futures.

I have a heart full of gratitude for those who see the value in it more than the rest of us, who no matter how small the crowds are, they keep shining their light, telling the tales, and preserving a treasure many of us ignorantly ignore or forget about.

On Saturday, I walked through Sleepy Hollow. The sun was still rising, so it was crisp, with a nice breeze, and the rays were poking through the towering trees. I roamed the narrow roads and traipsed up and down the hills. It took about 20 minutes before it dawned on me that I was walking through a cemetery, on a quiet morning, on the Saturday before Easter.

My heart was heavy, both from loneliness and remembering my mom, yet my heart was full from being in Concord, on a crisp morning, walking and talking to God on the Saturday... "The Quiet Saturday" before Easter morning.

The more I talked to Him, the more my heart opened up, my grief turned into gratitude, and my heart felt His touch, His presence, His hope.

I began meditating on our lesson from this past week in my class. We read “Lazarus being raised from the dead” from John 11.

That story is one of my favorites. It packs so many wonderful details, but I can’t help but extract 4 incredible truths from it. 

As I waked, I remembered those truths.

As I walked, I felt His quiet breeze.

As I walked, I heard His whispers.

I remembered from reading John 11, that Jesus had a plan. He knew Lazarus was going to get sick, He knew why, and He knew what the outcome would be. In fact, He even tipped off His audience about it, but they didn’t quite remember that when the sick became dreadful, and then tragic.

Jesus had a plan, which means, Jesus has a plan... both for me and for you.

Second, sometimes we have to wait.

The Scripture says, "So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was."

Lazarus was sick and getting worse, but Jesus waited, which means Mary and Martha waited.

They waited and wondered. Where's Jesus? Why is He not coming? Lazarus, the One he loved, is sick. Why won't Jesus come?

Personally, I hate waiting! Right now, my loneliness hurts, I mean physically hurts. My mom would have been 63 in 2 days. Being a single mom, and then without a mom, one’s intimate cheering section can become quiet. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got more friends than I deserve, and my dad and his wife are incredible to me, but there’s something about a mom...that constant person in your corner.

Whichever way you slice it, it hurts. My loneliness hurts.

But Jesus has His timing. In His plans, He has perfect timing, and so often, that timing includes long periods of waiting.

But as we wait, as things hurt, and as our heart breaks, we weep, and guess who weeps with us?

Jesus does!

Which brings me to the 3rd truth from this story.

Jesus weeps with us.

Gosh that's a beautiful picture and an amazing reality.

He shows up, and He weeps right there with us.

That is a glorious, tangible, and comforting gift our Lord gives us.

He weeps with me.

He weeps with you.

When my heart is breaking, when my loneliness becomes palpable, when my confusion becomes overwhelming, or my grief is all I can bear, He weeps right alongside me. 

And then we come upon the fourth truth, and one of the most crucial ones in my book: My disbelief, my forgetfulness or distrust is not more powerful than God’s plans.

In spite of Mary and Martha not remembering that Jesus was doing something with Lazarus for His glory, Jesus still did it.

In fact, Mary even blamed Jesus, “If you had only been here...”, she fell at His feet, weeping...wondering, frustrated, grief stricken.

Jesus didn’t look at her and say, “Well, if you had just trusted Me, if you had only believed what I said a few days back, If you would have only...Mary.”

Nope. He didn’t.

By the grace of our glorious God who is good-beyond measure, He doesn't let our disbelief or distrust thwart His plans.

His plans were greater than their doubt and disbelief, or even anger and frustration.

Right now, in my life, that is one of the greatest truths I can hold onto. 

So often I feel like I have failed. My doubt was too strong, trust was not even present, my lack of ability, my faults, my disbelief, my frustration and impatience...they are just too much, too much for God.

But by His grace, I am not too much.

In fact, it is in the brokenness, in the moments of my disbelief, doubt, and grief, that He seems to show up in a way that knocks my socks off...not just in what He does, but because He was WILLING to do it in spite of me.

May this week bring us all moments where we fall at His feet asking Him to walk with us, and thanking Him for his willingness to do just that.

It's good to be back.

In Him,


Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His Holy name.
Sing like never before, oh my soul
I worship Your Holy name.

The sun comes up it's a new day dawning,

it's time to sing Your song again,
whatever may pass and whatever lies before me,
let me be singing when the evening comes

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His Holy name.
Sing like never before, oh my soul
I worship Your Holy name.

You’re rich in love, and You're slow to anger,
Your name is great, your heart is kind,
for all Your goodness, I will keep on singing,
10,000 reasons for my heart to find.

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul
Worship His Holy name.
Sing like never before, oh my soul
I worship Your Holy name.

And on that day, when my strength is failing,
the end draws near, and my time has come,
still my soul will sing your praise unending

10,000 years and then forever more.