Cobbled Hearts

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Joel 2:12-13

I have a favorite pair of winter boots. My cousin gave them to me for Christmas almost a decade ago, and they’re wonderful, waterproof and classics from L. L. Bean. They have spent considerable time in various cobbler shops in North Dakota and Pennsylvania, and each time I retrieve them, I am rewarded with good fitting, attractive footwear for a fraction of the cost of replacing them. I take them in, scuffed and sad with broken down heels, and pick them up shiny and fresh and ready to go. It’s a good use of resources in the “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” spirit of thrift and frugality. When I first slip my renewed footwear back on, I am reminded of how God renews us.

The passage above, taken from the Ash Wednesday lectionary, always moves me. The entire lesson, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, is a call for communal lament and a reminder that no matter how we mess up, God is faithful and just. God is always there to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and tattered lives, to make of us something new and beautiful in spite of our bruises and cracks.

But what God looks for is not the outward shows of religiosity but the lament of a broken and contrite heart. The Creator of the Universe is good at fixing what we break, even (or maybe especially) when that which is broken is our own self.

We humans are good at messing up, at hurting one another, and at causing others pain. We do it knowingly and we do it unwittingly. We hurt with our careless words, our thoughtless consumption, and our selfish fears and vitriol. We curve inward upon ourselves as the Apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25)

Augustine of Hippo described this tendency as “Incurvatus in se” or the notion of living life inwardly for self rather than outwardly for God and others. Martin Luther took this concept further in his Lectures on Romans, saying

Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake. (Luther’s Works, Volume 25)

While we try to patch together our broken hearts with the duct tape, chewing gum, and spit of this world and all its empty promises, going on as if nothing at all is wrong with us, God invites us to bring the broken pieces of our deepest hurts, our dreams denied, and our shattered faith. Nothing is beyond fixing in the master crafter’s hands.

We will never be perfect–at least not in this life–but when we rend our hearts and return the pieces to God we will be repaired, refitted, and made new. Even with cracks, crazing, and chips we are better versions of ourselves in the hands of the Divine One.

This Lent, instead of trying to hold your hurting life together on your own, instead of facing the world with the lie of a brave face and an independent, untouchable spirit, return your rent, spent, and damaged self to your Creator and be renewed.

Thanksliving Activity

Find something in your house that you’ve been meaning to repair but have instead shoved deeper into a cabinet or closet. Pull it out, examine it, and figure out a way to fix it. If you can’t fix it yourself, take it to someone who can. Give that item a second chance at a worthwhile life and reflect on how God does the same thing with you–over and over again.

Photos by CarbonNYC, flicktone, and SanFranAnnie. Thanks!

My Prayer

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best… — Philippians 1:9-10a

Read: Philippians 1:3-11

Ponder:  “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” — St. Augustine

Reflect: Paul wrote his letter to the believers at Philippi while under house arrest in Rome. He had every reason to be discouraged, but instead he overflows with joy, thanksgiving, and encouragement for this young worshiping community. He praises their generosity, and infuses the entire letter with a sense of hope and belief that this group of Christians will, through love, discern how to serve and be the light of Christ to all whom they encounter.

Sometimes it seems we live in a very dark world. Hate, anger, violence, and fear move like heavy fog across the landscape of our days and nights, settling in life’s deep valleys and the remote crevices of our hearts and minds. We cry to God in the face of injustice, evil, and pain. How can this be?

Paul would, I think, encourage us to live on in love, to continue to find joy in every circumstance, and to trust in God’s gracious presence and never-ceasing love for even the most broken parts of this world.

Even in the darkest and coldest days of winter, light is just beyond the horizon–waiting to dawn and spread hope like sweet honey. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you through the darkest hours of night, assuring you of the promise of light and the presence of love. This is my prayer for you.


Light a candle tonight for peace in the face of evil, brokenness, and darkness. Watch how one small light begins to outshine the dark. So it is with love; love conquers all. Indeed, love has already won. Pray for strength, courage, and wisdom to share and spread love as we await Christ’s coming again into our world.

Photo by thienzieyung and Klearchos Papoutsis. Thanks!

Of Hoodies, Hurt, and Hope

Photo by juxtapose^esopatxuj

I guess you would have to be living under a rock–or at least without digital media–to not know about the tragedy that unfolded in Florida last week that left an innocent young man dead, a neighborhood and town in confusion, and people dismayed and hurting in all corners of this country. Trayvon Martin was on his way home from a convenience store with a bag of candy in his pocket, talking on his cell phone to another teen. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he didn’t “blend in with the scenery,” and it cost him his life at the hands of George Zimmerman, part of a neighborhood watch patrol.

As tragic as this unnecessary death was, even more horrifying is the state of affairs Trayvon’s murder points to: we are still held captive by fear and ignorance. One person uses stereotyping to size up another, and the result is a devastating chain of preventable events ending in loss of life, ruined lives, and increased tensions and hostilities. Click here to read a poem written about the subject.

We humans are fearful, or at least suspicious, of folks who don’t look like us, talk like us, dress like us, or think like us. Don’t think so? Have you ever crossed the street, or picked up your speed, or taken a different route, or looked away to avoid eye contact with a person who fits your own mental profile of someone who might potentially cause you harm?

A friend of mine once shared a “biker story” with me. A prominent business and civic leader, he and a group of friends (all highly respected leaders in their professions) took regular weekend road trips on their Harleys. One time they were out and saw an elderly couple stranded on the side of the highway. They stopped to help. My friend remembered clearly the frightened look incouple’s eyes when a half dozen men in leathers came toward them. Fear and ignorance had helped the couple concoct an impression they never would have dreamed had they seen the same men in their suits and lab coats during the week.

For Trayvon, the trigger was both the clothes (a hoodie) and the color of his skin that triggered the fear and ignorance. I’m wearing a hand-me-up-hoodie that used to belong to my daughter as I write this blog post, but because I’m a middle-aged white woman no one would think a second thought about me in the same situation.

In The House on Mango Street, author Sandra Cisneros chronicles the life of a Latina teen, Esperanza Cordero. Her story is told through a series of prose poems, and Trayvon’s story brought one to mind entitled “Those Who Don’t.” It begins “Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake.”

Esperanza recounts how she and her friends feel safe in their own neighborhood, and she describes some of the people who live there. However, at the end, her tone changes when she contemplates the converse situation, saying “All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That is how it goes and goes (28).”

Will we continue to let this be “how it goes and goes,” or will we choose to give thanks for our neighbor and look for the good, for the common ground, in one another? When will we be good Samaritans instead of fearful, turf-tending folk?  How long, O Lord, before we stop stereotyping one another and hating that which we don’t know and understand?

What happened to Trayvon Martin is one more inexcusable death, and it will take time to process the pain, anger, grief, and disbelief. The hurt is real and must be honored. Yet even in the midst of our pain, we can reach out and take the time to look each other in the eye–whether we are old, young, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, straight, gay, Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal, Christian, Jew, Muslim, or any other “human-defined” category–and see not a label or a stereotype but a beloved child of God. If we can do this one simple thing there is hope. And where there is hope, love may take root and grow.

May God be with and comfort all who are mourning this young man’s death, with those whose lives have been forever altered and whose decisions and choices have caused suffering, and indeed with all of us. Give us hope, Lord, so that we may love one another and You.

Today I give thanks for all people who seek to see others not as stereotypes but as fellow beings of worth, value, and potential. Thank you.

For further Consideration:

Click here to read a startling article about racism playing out in response to The Hunger Games, the blockbuster movie released last weekend that is based on the fantasy trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Thankful for the Promise of a New Morning

Some days are just plain rotten. I bet you have experienced a few days that you’d rather not repeat. You know the kind — the only news you hear seems to be bad news, you’re overbooked and overwhelmed, and if one more thing goes wrong you think you just might throw a hissy fit.

How is it possible to be thankful in the midst of a horrible, rotten, really bed, no good, terrible day? (Hmmmm….seems like I remember a children’s book about a day like that.) Is it possible to redeem some good from the ashes of awful?

The answer, thankfully, is yes. First of all, honor the fact that you have truly had a really, really bad day. Commit that day to the past. Grieve whatever losses or pain you have suffered. Don’t deny the doldrums and dismay. Finally, remember the words of the psalmist “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30b).

You may not have the certainty that tomorrow will be a good day, but you can close your eyes in the reality of the promise of a new morning and the chance for better hours. Your Creator desires good for you and wants to clothe you with joy. If you can’t give thanks for the day, then do give thanks for the promise of another one that just may be better.

Peace and blessing to you and yours! May your Friday be the beginning of a wonderful weekend capped by a restful and praise-filled Sabbath.

Thanks-living Activity

Spend some time reading and praying with Psalm 30. Savor the words of praise and hope. Know that your Creator is near to you now and always, even in the midst of pain and suffering.

Photo by David Shankbone used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!