Category: Broken

August 12th 2014 / 16 comments

Dear Heartbroken World-

We are going to make it, you and I.

Our hearts grieve the death of our beloved Robin Williams, the helpless and terrified Yazidi people, the senseless death of our young black brothers, the cure-less disease showing no mercy in parts of Africa, the children of Gaza and Israel, the bloodshed in Ukraine, the children on our own borders- without parents, without advocates-

the pain of our own broken pieces of earth.

It all seems a bit cruel right now, doesn’t it?

Roger Cohen for the New York Times recently surmised the seemingly hopeless future of the Israeli/Gaza crisis with this, “Shed a tear, shed a thousand, it makes no difference.”

Although he did not write those words in the context I am applying them to, I can’t help but think they are the sentiment most easily adopted by anyone who has watched the news this week.

Shed a tear. Shed a thousand. It makes no difference.

It feels heavy. Out of control. Frantic, spoiled, hopeless, despairing and fatalistic.

In his brilliant book on the chronic depression of President Abraham Lincoln, Joshua Shenk says, “Hopelessness, in an extreme form, leads people to think that only one thing can break the cycle, and that is suicide.” He goes on to quote Edwin Shneidman, the creator of the field of suicide studies, “The single most dangerous word in all of suicidology, is the four-letter word only.”

Only one way out. Only one option left. Only going to get worse. Only way to find relief.

Shed a tear. Shed a thousand. It makes no difference…

Says the fatalistic heart who sees only death, destruction and heart-ache with no hope for beauty, redemption or joy.

But I say a tear matters. A thousand tears matter. And you and I? We are going to make it here in this beautiful, tragic world because our tears do make a difference.

Empathy matters. Our voices, raised in unison and whispered in prayer, matter. Our love for one another- the child on the border, the teenager walking the streets, the elderly in our nursing homes, the Yazidi cornered into a mountain, the driver in front of you, the person bagging your groceries, taking out your trash, the officers selflessly protecting our communities, our own babies, neighbors, spouses, friends, grandparents- our love, mercy, attention and kindness to each of these matters. Volunteering matters. I don’t care if you save a whale or a chicken! If you are reading to our children, cleaning up the side of the highway, teaching vocational skills in a prison or playing Bunko at the nursing home… it matters.

It matters that you and I show up. It matters that our tears of pain, anger, injustice and sadness pool together; that our empathy- our humanity- is not lost in the current tidal wave of destruction.

It has been said that without vision the people perish.
I would say that without hope, the people perish.

A hopeless society is far more deadly than any war, atrocity or dictatorship. When the bleak, despairing voices of fatalism and defeatism threaten to overwhelm a society- bold advocates of resilient hope, faith, optimism and joy must fight all the more to be known.

Though we are hard pressed on every side, we are not broken.
Though we are perplexed, we are not driven to despair.
Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen.
(2 Corinthians 4:10)

And what of the life of Jesus?

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Jesus in us does not look like hopelessness, death, defeatism or fatalism.
Jesus in us- even in our current collective suffering- looks like life. Abundant.

Joy in the sorrow.
Hope in the broken spaces.
Peace in the midst of chaos.
Beauty overshadowing, prevailing, over every dark dirty day.

We are going to make it, you and I. We are going to do so with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are going to do so as bold bearers of hope. We are going to do so through our tears.

With a firm, holy indignation I refuse to believe that our showing up makes no difference in each others lives. Indeed, our willingness to show up for one another in big and small ways, is the balm that soothes broken hearts and makes pathways out of the chaos and confusion.

Shed a tear, shed a thousand?  Yes, PLEASE.

Because the only commodity you and I can offer a hurting world is our tears.
Tears shed by people who continue to SHOW UP with brave voices of HOPE in the midst of  heartache.

Fight the good fight, friends. Don’t give up. Now more than ever, it matters.

much love, jenny


July 25th 2014 / 13 comments

Little by little I have been turning my manuscript over.

Over to an editor and a copy editor. Over to a designer and a printer. Over to my family who lets me share their story in order that I might more fully share mine. Over to friends whose grace, humor and compassion ebb through the stories that fill the pages. I turn it over.

I have been in the public arena for long enough that I know what comes next. Scrutiny, opinions, criticism, praise and litmus tests by those in the industry who want to predict whether I have created a product that is commercially viable or not. It’s not personal, it’s business. And if I had any business acumen I am quite sure I would run a company the same way. In any case, I have learned over the years that I cannot let the praise or criticism sway me. I must continue to be who I am and do what I am compelled to do. That’s the best gift I can offer.

So when an industry person recently commented to their colleagues that in their opinion, my manuscript felt like, “Wow, my life is really hard,” there were no hard feelings. It is their opinion and they are completely entitled to it. Not having spoken to the person personally- or even knowing them for that matter- I can’t say for certain why that is the only thing they walked away with. But I do know that the conversation that followed prompted that particular group of people to reach out to me and ask if I would consider revising the end of my story to make it a little more palatable by giving my story more “resolution” and giving the reader a few more “benefits” “take away points” or “inspiration.”

They said their intention wasn’t to coerce a watered down, trite or cheesy ending.  Just less of the Wow- life is really hard business and more of the Wow-God’s gonna fix it!  business.  A little less tension. A little less reality. A little more inspiration.

And hear me: I believe God is a healer and a fixer. He has healed and fixed before and God will heal and fix again. I think you and I are always, ever invited to the table to be made well. But I believe many things aren’t physically restored- the way we hope they will be- this side of heaven. Not because God is withholding healing from us, but because it’s a broken place we live in and for every ounce of beauty we encounter, there is suffering- remnants of evil among us. The hard reality of life is that some things, this side of heaven, remain broken. Still, there are many brave people among us who daily choose to live in the tension of being a person of FAITH and HOPE whether their earthly situations are ever fully restored or not. They live in that hope because they know this isn’t the end of the story; the story already has its ending and it is magnificent.

So I’ve thought a lot about the industry people sitting around their table here in Nashville. Discussing whether my manuscript might be made into a more inspirational book, debating whether readers really want to read a book laced with humor, love, insane life stories and yes, tension in the not-yet-arrived happily-ever-after. Wondering whether they could market a “no solutions” book from a Christian. Wondering whether my story shouldn’t end a little more happily-ever-after versus the way it currently ends, all Isaiah 43ish. But on my best days, Isaiah 43 is all I’ve got.

“But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.”

That is all I need from the gospel. Emmanuel is with me. That is enough.

My grandpa passed away last night and gosh did I adore him. I can’t think of a major event in my life that he wasn’t there to witness. He and Grandma made the drive from Mississippi to Texas to be with my sisters and I more times than I can count. I can’t think of a time I said good-bye where he didn’t say, “Okay baby I love you.”  I don’t know what life is like without a loud, funny, brilliant, kind, arguing-with-the-TV Grandpa. He has fought for his life the past six months as his legs slowly became infected, then his blood became infected, then his lungs filled with fluid…then life support, his Priest, last rites and leaving earth for eternity with his daughters holding his hands.

We do a whole lot of living and dying between life and death. This is the tension in our humanity. And the great tension of our faith.

This week alone we celebrated with friends whose baby lived when she was supposed to die and mourned with those whose children did not make it. We told our 5-year-old that she was going to her second funeral in four months. I went to the asthma doctor, the psychiatrist and the dermatologist; places for those of us who are not yet whole. We picked carpet, waited on a house appraisal, had two picnics, went swimming and gathered at the table to cry with a friend who found out devastating family secrets. This week alone planes were shot down, children were herded like animals into filthy holding cells on our American borders and entire people groups continue to bomb and devour each other…

and I haven’t had a chance to respond to the well-meaning, industry people sitting around the table here in Nashville who wonder if I might make my manuscript a little less, “life is so hard, ” but the answer is no.

The answer is no BECAUSE IT IS.

Life is hard. All hard? No. All bad? No. All suffering? No. But hard? Absolutely. And for some people- cruelly hard.

If we acknowledge that life is laced with beauty, joy and celebrations without acknowledging that life is also complicated, confusing and often times painful beyond words,  then we are deceiving ourselves and shortchanging the depths of what it is to be fully human- people of joy and sorrow. We also miss a beautiful connection with God that is most often found in the unknowing, unraveling and unbecoming moments of our journeys.

Truth is- life is short on answers, long on grace. Short on neat bows, long on unraveling. Short on happily-ever-afters, long on God showing up in raging rivers and scorching fires. Short on perfectly curated plans, long on re-dreaming and re-building and re-dreaming and re-building. Short on “Life is perfect!” and long “Life is really hard right now.”

What I am learning along the way is this: My life is short on “God will intervene and fix it” and long on “God will be with me as I walk through it.”

Might you get to the end of my book and think life is hard? I sure hope so. To deny the frailty and pain of our condition as humans is to also deny the beautiful scope of our redemptive existence. Robert Benson says that in heaven there may well be no grace or mercy because all will be well and whole- there will be no need for grace and mercy.*

But here? Now?

We laugh, we celebrate, we dance, we cheer each other on, we gather at the table and we most fully experience God’s rich gifts of companionship, grace, peace, mercy, community, selflessness, bravery, random acts of kindness and deep abiding love for one another because it is hard.

Our stories are the stories of grace and mercy because we are people who live in the tension of earth and eternity.

And to me— that is inspiration enough.

 

 

Between the Dreaming and the Coming True: The Road Home to God
(one of the most influential books I have ever read)

 

 


March 8th 2014 / 11 comments

I totally failed at life yesterday.

I stepped in dog poop, my book manuscript was officially rejected from a publishing house, I cussed and hollered at an invading army of ants in my kitchen as if they could understand me, I lusted over everybody else’s life, and narrated (in my mind) a citizens revolt and takeover of the Department of Motor Vehicles. I may have, in my mind, also killed off some of Jesus’ family-lineage in a coup takeover too. I blame that on Margaret Feinberg.

Margaret’s books have been life-giving to me, but more so, the way she lives her life and treats people at events has awed me from afar. Her faith is rich and welcoming. And it seems to spill out and fall on everyone she touches. But I blame this entire story on her.

Well, some of it anyways.

It all started at the Department of Motor Vehicle. The birthplace of every negative connotation that surrounds the word bureaucracy. All I wanted was to become an official citizen of the State of Tennessee and leave with my peace and sanity intact. I walked into that DMV fully armed. I had every form of identification they could possibly want from me, a granola bar, soothing music, headphones and my Margaret Feinberg 40 Day Lent Challenge loaded and ready to read on YouVersion. Margaret invited some friends and I to join her in reading the entire New Testament during lent. And by ‘invited’ I mean ‘she doesn’t know me and invited millions of us.’  But hey- I took it as a personal invitation from the Lord and Margs. She lets me call her that.

Lent is often associated with what we give up. But giving up something during lent isn’t actually the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal of lent is giving something up in order that we might take something else on.  And that something else we take on is the special invitation to join believers in Christ all around the world in a season of preparing our hearts to deeply abide in, remember, reflect and react to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So Margs says this year, in order to reflect on the life of Christ in a unique way, she is sitting down each day to read the redemptive narrative that is the New Testament. And she is reading the entire narrative in 40 days and I can join her. And I say thanks M-Feiny (another name she lets me call her). I’d love to join you. And I am a day late to the lent party, but I go to the Department of Motor Vehicle with every intention of catching up by reading the first 14 chapters of the book of Matthew. Reading the redemptive narrative of Jesus on my iPhone while I wait in the long DMV line to get my license. A duel lenten challenge of sorts.

Oh the DMV. Oh. Oh. Oh.

Thirty minutes turned into sixty minutes. Sixty minutes into ninety. Ninety to one-hundred and twenty.  The super pregnant lady who was there with her 3-year-old daughter was uncomfortable, antsy and making sure the agents knew how much discomfort she was in: grunts, holding her belly, and switching butt cheeks to sit on. The 93 year-old-woman who could barely walk was stomping her cane. One man, who was told that he needed to wait outside the building with another fifty people who were in front of him in the line, began to yell “Come on bro. You know this ain’t right for nobody in here. NO. NO I’M NOT YELLING BRO but there is a pregnant woman and senior adult lady who ain’t been seen in over two hours bro and you acting like you can’t even hear us. Like you won’t even look us in the eyes bro. COME ON BRO be cool.”

Still, the supervisor kicked him outside to wait and threatened to call the police.

One hundred and twenty minutes turned into one hundred and eighty minutes. That’s three hours, y’all. My original number in line was spot nine and after three entire hours, I had only moved up to spot number six. Bureau-craaaazzzzzzy taken to an extreme new low.

I made it to the Beatitudes.

Except that’s a total lie. A total lie.

I made it to Amon.

Matthew Chapter 1. Verse 10.

That’s as much Bible reading as I got done at the DMV, Margs. I totally failed.

Amon. That rang a bell. I think people hated him. I googled him and it was as I suspected. Some say say he burned the Torah and let spider webs cover the alter. Others say he was just like his dad, sacrificing children at alters of fire and leading out in witchcraft and sorcery. Others say he was lustful, idolatrous and just plain mean. So mean, in fact, that two short years into his kingdom his servants rallied a revolt, started a coup and took him out in a bloody assassination.

And I am NOT ONE TO BE DRAMATIC BUT…

But I’m telling you…

The supervisor at the DMV LOOKED JUST LIKE AMON.

And everyone in that room started to line up in the lineage of Jesus Christ himself. I saw it in front of my very eyes. There were at least two prostitutes. Two or three kings rolling up in their Land Rovers. Lots of ordinary, everyday faithful types. A shepherd boy (under the custody of department of child services) who wants to fly planes in the Air Force. A few Ruth’s taking care of their elderly mother-in-law’s. One sweet lady who was fanning herself in a corner, God love her, and kept saying for all to hear (including King Amon) “Looorrrrd help me to accept the things I CAN NOT change and courage to change what I can.”

And then there was Amon and his cronies.

Those of us who were nearing the four hour mark of DMV hell-dom began to fraternize. We knew each other’s names and the last four digits of each other’s phone numbers. Those were our call numbers when in line. We cheered when people’s numbers were finally called. Audibly. Cheered, hooted and hollered. I would’ve handed out cupcakes and princess crowns if I had them. We knew where each person was moving from and how long it would take them to get back to their home state. We figured we might just have to move back to where we came from if the State of Tennessee couldn’t figure out a way to give us a new drivers license by the end of the day.

We tried to help translate for our non-English friends, tried calming our tyrannical friends down and made seats available for the elderly and pregnant. And finally, at hour four, I suggested to our friends that we find ole’ Amon and tell him, respectfully: We will be seen now. And we found him. And we were immediately seen. A huge oversight, he assured us. And the revolt was averted. And we passed out comment cards and pens to everyone in the building and I launched my own twitter campaign to try and track down whoever was in charge of that building and swore I would run for public office and reform the DMV system. And we left with our own newly formed anarchy of friends, most of us angry to the bone and completely aware that the DMV beat us.

So yesterday, MFeiny, I failed at day one of Lent. But Lent is the preparation of the soul. And if my soul were fully prepared to celebrate the most holy season of the year, I suppose I wouldn’t need the 40-Day challenge or the act of laying things down and taking things up in order to get myself out of the way. As it stands, I need a lot more soul work. Don’t we all?

Grateful I still have 30-something days. 
And a lifetime.