Today I am linking up with Prodigal Magazine and SheLoves Magazine, two amazing ministries that have joined forces this month on a subject that is very close to my heart: finding beauty, hope, and redemption in brokenness. People from all over are gathering together to share their stories of a Broken Hallelujah: when they found the love of God in the midst of the darkness.
When I first read about this over at SheLoves (which this girl does love, by the way), I immediately knew that now is the time… You see, I’ve had a feeling for a while now that I was ready to share my testimony.
Every Christian has one: a story of how Jesus has changed their life forever. I’ve been a Christian since I was a preteen, but for the majority of those days I was lukewarm. Without really realizing it, I hadn’t given God my all. I had never let Jesus completely take over my whole heart…until it was shattered into a thousand pieces. It was only then that I fully realized that only He can make it whole. And ever since He changed my heart, I’ve been almost bursting with the desire to share the story, to shine His love through my journey of healing and redemption.
But I haven’t felt like the moment was right yet. I haven’t felt like I was ready, not quite ‘there’. I haven’t talked about it much here, but I have been really struggling with finding my place in my fellowship with other Christians lately. I haven’t found a home church here yet, and I don’t really have a group local to me that I can study scripture with and share mentorship. While I cherish the amazing influences I have scattered all around the world, it is so important to have that face-to-face interaction. And I think I’ve been holding out somehow for that, for whatever reason. But I’ve come to realize it’s only me holding me back, and its time to share. It’s time to take this opportunity to be a part of a beautiful movement during the most precious season of all. Now is the time to share my story of a Broken Hallelujah.
If I’m honest with myself, my brokenness began long before the tragic event that tipped the scales in my life. Spiritually, I was broken a long time ago. I grew up the daughter of a spiritual mother and not-at-all spiritual father. His family, however, was religious and I began attending their church with my cousins and sister. While I didn’t quite realize it at the time, this church experience wasn’t very nurturing for me. Although I accepted Jesus into my heart at church camp when I was around 11 or 12, I struggled to develop as a Christian. There were a lot of pressures and external influences that made me uncomfortable and rather than focusing internally on my relationship with Jesus, I judged myself based on ‘religious performance’. I didn’t measure up, so I began to slip away. Before I knew it, I was an experimenting teenager and dabbling in things I shouldn’t have been.
Fast forward several years and I found myself happily married to my best friend. We both felt so lucky to have each other, so blessed to have found love in our best friend. We married young and faced both the joys and difficulties that come along with that. We struggled with defining our faith, both personally and as a married couple — neither of us had a strong relationship with Jesus at the time, and neither of us knew just how to meet each other in the middle to grow together in it. Honestly, I’m not sure either one of us were really ready to commit to it yet. Until his return from deployment in 2007. This was a turning point for us. He had experienced another world and returned home with scars, and I had faced my own difficulties during his absence. When we reunited, there was an entirely different dimension to our love… one that we both knew was greater than us. We were more united than ever, we began attending church together, we even tattooed our ‘life and love’ verse on ourselves together. We prayed, we shared, we gave, we grew, and we were blessed: we finally conceived the child we had been trying for for so long. We certainly weren’t perfect, we still struggled, both together and individually. We still weren’t completely committed, but we were trying. We felt like we were finally growing together, finally reaching that pinnacle…
And then, it was taken from us. Shortly after our child, our Little Man, was born, The Hubs deployed. And he never returned home.
My heart was broken. In a single moment, my heart was shattered and I experienced loss beyond comprehension. Every fiber of my being ached from the moment The Hubs was taken from this world.
And I felt betrayed.
You see, I’d spent every single night, every single morning, nearly every waking breath praying for his safe return. I truly and completely believed that The Hubs would come home. I never in my wildest dreams believed that God was ready for our story to end. It felt like we had only just begun! Although we’d known each other since we were 12 and had been married for 6 years, we had just formed our family and were on the cusp of everything we’d ever dreamed of. I so longed for The Hubs to be able to spend time with his son, this beautiful boy that he had to part from at only three months old. I had dreamed of seeing the two of them together, patiently waited for the day when I could watch father and son interact. I knew my boy needed his Daddy and I knew his Daddy needed him just as much, if not more. And I truly had faith that he would come home to us.
When he didn’t, when that chance was taken from him, I became angry. All I could think was, “Why?!” Why had I bothered praying to a God who was just going to ignore me? Why did I have faith in something that was going to betray me? Why pray if it didn’t matter? Why believe in something that was going to hurt you? What could possibly be a good reason for this?!
I turned my back on God for a long time. I didn’t want anything to do with a God who would take an amazing man away from his family who loved and needed him so much. I didn’t want anything to do with a God who I felt like was so blatantly ignoring my prayers. I didn’t want anything to do with a God who “needed him more than I did.”
But as much as that bitterness permeated my heart, it was ultimately what began dissolving it. I’ll be honest, for a long while anytime I heard the mention of God or Jesus I just cringed. I felt uncomfortable, awkward, angry…I held a grudge, but at the same time felt guilty for it. God kept tapping on the door to my heart, even though I kept turning away. He would wave, I would close the blinds. He would knock, I would walk to the other side of the house. But patiently He stood on the other side of the door, waiting quietly for curiosity to get the best of me, waiting for me to take a few steps in His direction. And in the summer of 2011, I did just that.
Without even realizing I intended to, I found myself opening the door, finally screaming and crying into His face in the most unlikely of places. In August 2011, I traveled to California to join a few hundred other widows for the amazing Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation‘s program, Camp Widow. At this unique convention, I sat in on a workshop called ‘Mad at God: A Conversation.’ Sitting in this room alongside a dozen or so other women who shared the same emotions that I did opened a small crack in my heart… Then when the facilitator (the lovely Michele whom I just adore) played Amy Grant’s Better Than a Hallelujah, I lost it.
“We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah”
I still can’t hear that song without crying my eyes out. (In fact, sometimes I listen just to do so.) It was the first time I had allowed myself to cry in public since…well, a very long time. I’d struggled with allowing myself to feel emotion, much less show it. I didn’t even cry at The Hubs’ funeral. My heart had become so numb, so cold. And here I was, blubbering like a baby in a back row seat at an anonymous convention on the other side of the country. I had finally allowed myself to break down the wall enough for Jesus to peer over it… I had finally opened the crack enough for His light to shine in… I finally opened the door He had been knocking on for so long.
Now, I can’t say that I came home from that trip and everything was magically easy. It wasn’t. And it still isn’t. After that truly transformational moment, I still struggled with anger and confusion over the situation. I still didn’t understand how or why He had allowed this to occur, why The Hubs had been taken from us so soon. I still don’t understand. But over time, I began to lose the grudge I carried. By pouring out my emotions in prayer, by experiencing other situations that stripped me down again and forced me to my knees, I slowly began to understand that the only way I could ever lighten my load was to give it Jesus. The only time I truly felt peace was when I talked to Him, pouring out my heart and soul and truly giving my all for the first time ever. I laid in bed at night, forgoing sleep to talk to Him for hours… I talked to Him while driving down the road, I sang to Him while in the shower, I wrote to Him and talked about Him to Little Man. I submersed myself in His presence; I began studying the Word, began craving His knowledge and wisdom and influence in my life.
And somewhere along the way, I can’t pinpoint when, I realized something incredibly influential: this has been the worst thing possible in *my* life, but isn’t it truly the best thing possible for The Hubs? He’s in Heaven for goodness sake! He’s with Jesus! While I know he would have absolutely loved to have more time here, to watch his his son grow up and interact with him, to sit next to me in a rocking chair on our front porch at age 70 and shoot imaginary squirrels like we’d always talked about… he accomplished everything he ever wanted to on this Earth, he was happy as a lark at the stage of his life he was in when he was taken from this world, and now he gets to exist for eternity in the most amazing place where there is nothing but love. He left this world before he had to experience anything else negative…. shouldn’t that be an amazing thing? Of course the worldly selfish woman in me will always wish he were still here with me, but shouldn’t the selfless part be glad He is in Heaven? There really is no other TRUE way to truly ensure his happiness and safety and love than to know he is with Jesus…
That realization helped me let go of some of the bitterness and see that there is always a beautiful side to every dark moment. God may not have answered my prayers the way I wanted him to, but He never left me. He didn’t ignore me, He didn’t forsake me or The Hubs. There is a purpose so much greater than anything I could ever comprehend.
Since that summer when I finally relinquished control and gave it all over to God, I’ve been slowly discovering a new woman. it hasn’t been easy, I am still growing and struggling and learning. But there is so much more within me than I ever thought possible. God has plans for me, a beautiful story ahead for me if only I’ll keep Him in my heart. And my story isn’t just The Hubs story. We shared a wonderful one, but I have my own as well. I have my own strengths, my own beauty, my own future ahead of me that is filled with grandeur.
But it isn’t my doing.
My strength is found in my relationship with the One who heals all wounds, the One who knows the grand plan behind all of the things we don’t understand, the One who creates beauty in the broken moments and uses them to the glory of the One who loves us all. That is the truth I am so glad to have finally discovered. That is the authenticity I am so grateful to finally unleash. And that is the reason why I am finally sharing my testimony of how God cracked open my heart in the most painful of times and allowed Jesus to seep in and take over my world…
A ‘Broken Hallejulah’ is the perfection description of my returning cry for Jesus. In their post, Prodigal Magazine mentions Leonard Cohen’s lyrics for this project and I think they are perfect. I mean, really: “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Once the light gets in, you can’t help but shine.
Let His light in your heart.
You’ll never be same.
I’m not. <3