The Unseen

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UNBROKEN

I requested it; waited weeks for it to come off “HOLD” from Scottsdale’s Public Library and now, I finally had it in my hands; “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I dove in like a ten year old at a pool party on the hottest day of the summer.

I had no idea what I was in for. The Olympics, the running, the crazy boyhood life, the spirited jokes, the military preparations, the flying, the crashing, the inhumanity, the horrors of war…

And, like a terrible car crash, I couldn’t peel my eyes from it. It was heavy. Like any great novel, you are transported there. I needed to take breaks where I could stare into my own reality and recover from the events– and I was only READING it! “Unbroken” is many things, but primarily about one man, Louis Zamperini who, along with so many others, was held as a POW by the Japanese during WWII.

Each day I awoke after a night-time reading of it and somehow I’d changed; unable to return to the daily tasks of life without my perceptions being altered.

I’m willing to bet that everyone who reads this book will take away something different from it. Depending on whether you are a WWII veteran, a Japanese student, a young American, a runner, an Olympian, a mother, a brother, an atheist, an alcoholic… your life’s experiences will determine the message. Yet, there is depth and meaning in it for all. Reading Laura Hillenbrand’s flawless, detailed tale of this amazing, passionate, heroic man’s death-defying, horrendous experience, and what he did with it, leaves you changed.

The dark night of the soul—this is a journey you take reading “Unbroken.”

The dark night of the soul; Biblical teachers write of this. I’ve heard it explained referring to King David. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. King David, whom the Bible refers to as “a man after God’s own heart,” had committed adultery and subsequently ordered the murder of his adulteress’s husband. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. This “dark night of the soul” is what’s experienced when one turns away from God. Unwilling to accept circumstances, unwilling to face one’s own sins, and in capable of doing it on your own, it’s an unfathomably deep and immeasurable darkness that suffocates the soul—it’s a place without hope.

Louis Zamperini knows about the dark night of the soul—but his hell lasted way longer than a night.

To appreciate the power of the transitional experience and the depths Louis found his soul in, you must experience the story for yourself. Yet, as I amass library fines to finish my own journey through the darkness he encountered, I remind myself that the title is: “Unbroken.”

There is survival from this dark night of the soul.

Page 175 of the hardcover is where the tumult of his life came to a pivotal juncture. Laura details an encounter Louis had at a Billy Graham revival– “What God asks of men, said Graham, is faith. His invisibility is the truest test of that faith. To know who sees him, God makes himself unseen.”

Invisible faith.

When one reads of the full on HELL that this one man endured, I can see why some might believe that there wasn’t a God looking out for these souls. And in hindsight, one can dwell in that despair or make a different choice, like Louis did when he chose to be unbroken by it and turn another direction.

It’s always a choice to search for the Unseen or to turn your face from it.

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

 

Now that my journey through this story is concluding, if I had to sum this novel up in one word, I would say HOPE. In encountering the humiliation and depravity that Louis’s journey took him on, coupled with the intense and powerful heights of this champion’s life, it’s easy to see that hope drove him on; hope was never lost; hope was His experience.

He chose to be unbroken and he saw the Unseen.

And now, as I pass on this treasure to the next awaiting soul ready to immerse in the story, I pray, as they view every sentence and watch the events be brought to life in Laura’s words, that they too, will witness the Unseen.

What will you see?

Run 2 Remember

Run 2 Remember

“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” John 16:20

Every so often, God’s grace touches down in our lives at the strangest of times…

This is one of those times.

Marne and Me before R2R

Marne and Me before R2R

It was 0-dark thirty, January 6, 2011 and at 20 degrees it is one of the chilliest mornings of the running season. Me and my running partner drove in the warmth of our car down nearly deserted streets to meet up with our friends at a park in Chandler, AZ to partake in a 5K (3.1 miles) race called The Run 2 Remember.

Because of their smaller distances, 5K’s are usually quite fun and festive, with people dressed in costume and loud music blaring. This particular 5K is run in honor of police officers across Arizona who’ve lost their lives. Military, fire departments and others also join in on this race and run to honor those they’ve lost in service.

It’s an emotion-filled, somber race.

Tense with the chill of the morning and the topic of the event, my thoughts turn to those whom I’ve lost and can never forget; I think of who I run for.

My friend, Marne, with whom I was meeting up with this morning, was grudgingly convinced (by me!) that moving from Colorado to Arizona was a good idea. But, with her deep attachments to family and her intense love of the Rocky Mountains, she was only staying a year; after that I was on my own.

Yet that day in 2011, the7th anniversary of the Run 2 Remember marked our 15th year in the desert.

It also marked another unforgettable day.

Having been in track and cross country, I’ve run so many different races, I’ve lost count. But Marne, a gymnast and a brand new runner, with her husband and three kids to commemorate, was running her very first 5K race.

As they go to get donuts, Marne and I begin affixing our race numbers.

She looks at me with a quivering lip.

“Don’t be nervous. You’ll do great; just run your own pace.” I assure her.

She shakes her head and looks down, “Jules, today is the 7th anniversary of when my dad died.” Her eyes well up as she looks at me, “Can you believe it’s been seven years??”

I flash back to the memories I have of her father; rosy cheeked and always smiling, with his full shock of white hair…I remember the devastation in her voice when she called to tell me of his unexpected death those seven years ago today.

Today, already feeling overcome, I simply don’t have words. I just hug her.

Arm-in-arm, we stand at the starting line. The gun goes off and hundreds of running shoes crunch across frozen desert tundra. We wind around the sidewalks and canals that make up this course. We choke up reading the t-shirts with the photos of loved ones lost in the line of duty. Gasps are heard in the midst of frosty exhales as many are also touched.

We can barely breathe as we watch the U.S. Marines, with frozen hands bravely hoisting heavy American flags, racing along honoring their friends, their family members, their brothers who served and sacrificed.

Running is a great coping method; the forward motion of it, the ease of getting into a rhythm where your mind can wander into forgotten realms. Running forces you to breathe and to push forward when you would much rather stay paralyzed in grief and stuck in a stagnant loss.

With each step, our pace accelerates. Mile by mile, we continue passing countless others lost in their very own races against memory and sorrow.

With each foot-fall advanced and breath inhaled, the light of dawn grows stronger.

Something unexplainable happened as we pushed ourselves on this cold morning. As we changed stride and began sprinting across the last few hundred yards of the race, lost in breath and motion, something else lifted us and pushed us forward…We finished exhausted, frozen and exhilarated.

This day, this anniversary for my friend will be one she will never forget.

With her three kids whopping and hollering and her husband and us tearfully cheering, she accepted her first place medal with such a shocked smile spread across her face. (And for those of us who run 5K’s, we know this is a really, really BIG DEAL!)

First Place!

“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Watching her accept her medal and pose for photos, my mind flashed back to the jovial and grinning image I have of her father. This day, the day her father died, but this new day, also her very first race and a first place finish. As if giving her permission to be something other than sad on this day, delivered straight from heaven was something to make her smile on this anniversary.

This was, indeed, a run to remember.

SALT

SALTSalt from seedtofeedme.blogspot.com

Salt – sôlt/noun a white crystalline substance that gives sea water its characteristic taste and is used for seasoning or preserving food. (from google definitions)

On popcorn at the movies, on the soft pretzel at the ball game, in my mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, sprinkled across lunch-time salads and balanced delicately at the rim of my margarita glass–

Salt, salt, SALT–

I LOVE SALT!

The majority of salt on the earth is found in the sea. China and the US are the top producers of it.

Salt, made up chemically of Na (sodium) and Cl (chloride), in its pure form, works in our bodies in conjunction with potassium to keep our muscles, nerves and hearts beating in balance.

Heidi, my friend and culinary mastermind, while teaching us how to create the perfect, most juicy and tastiest pork loin explains, “Salt works as a wonderful tenderizer to the toughest of meats.”

We discover this truth as we feast on the mouth-watering, fork-tender creation. As she sprinkles it across her other dishes, she explains how it works in partnership with the flavors of the meal to enhance it.

Back before refrigeration was common, salt preserved meats, keeping them from spoiling and averting countless families from starving through some tough times.

Not only used to enhance and preserve food, but also as a cleansing agent, in baths and mouthwashes, salt has also commonly been used as a healing solvent.

Salt, in its most natural form… brings things to life.

And yet, like we humans can do, we tend to make things un-natural.

Table Salt– we whiten it to make it more appealing. We add things to it (iodine) to make up for things we lack. We overuse it in processed foods and soups lacking flavor. And in doing this, a beautiful, pure and balanced compound becomes unhealthy.

We’ve bleached it, we’ve changed it, we’ve bloated ourselves on it and made it unnatural.

Jesus teaching his followers in the Sermon on the Mount states–

“You are the salt of the earth,”

Of the earth. Natural. Un-tainted or changed by the world. In the original form. Back to the basic, life-giving, life-preserving, life-saving balanced purity.

Jesus also says, “…but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Matthew 5:13

I believe many of us Christians have lost our saltiness. We dilute God’s message of repentance and salvation. In general, we add things unnecessarily to enhance the basic Truth. We become complacent and allow un-natural elements (like sin) to bloat the message of the cross. We try to “whiten” ourselves to a point of “purity” that creates hypocrites.  Man-made religion, with it’s rigidity and pious practices, has developed followers who forget to love.  Actions, deeds and lives of those who wear the title of “Christian” have become unnatural, unflavorful, and no longer good for anything—except to be crushed under man’s feet.

Like table salt, man-made religion has trampled the pure, life-giving message of Jesus.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” John 13:34

salt of the earth/noun/an individual or group considered as representative of the best or noblest elements of society.

(dictionary.com)

Again, the message of Jesus to his followers is that, “You are the salt of the earth.”

How do we restore our saltiness?

It is painful—like swabbing salt across an open wound, but it can also be healing– we must find restoration in the one place that will never disappoint—The message and life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ–God made human, who took on flesh and walked among us.

Jesus Christ–the Prophet, the Priest, the King.

Jesus Christ–who lived an innocent life and offered up himself as payment once and for all and FOR ALL.

Jesus Christ– the Way, the Truth the Life.

Jesus Christ–who did all things moved by an unfathomable, immeasurable depth of LOVE.

Holding fast to the teachings of Jesus, you are called to be true to who God made you. There is no one else like you.– You, as your redeemed self; you, in your sphere of influence; you, doing what you do best every day of your life; just be you. Be pure –unadulterated by the world. Be the best or noblest element in where God has placed you, keeping your motives focused on Jesus.

Acting out of love.

And, like all of Jesus’s followers in that day who heard his message, they ran to tell others, not wanting anyone to miss out on the life-saving and life-preserving message.

So, whether you are munching on your popcorn at the movies, or crunching your way through the whole bag of Lay’s potato chips (I can never eat just one!), or as you are sipping from that salt-rimmed margarita, remember to BE SALTY!

I DON’T UNDERSTAND…

“You call me out upon the waters

The great unknown

My feet may fail

And there I find you in the mystery”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Malignant Melanoma.

We helplessly watched as cancer swarmed in on our father’s organs and took his last breath of life, dying in the battle against this disease. Our family saw the terror of treatments that seemed worse than the cancer that overtook him. We were in shock from watching. Why does this disease even exist? Why does it shamelessly attack grandmas, fathers, aunts and…children?

I didn’t understand.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

“In oceans deep

My faith wears thin”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

One month later, still reeling from the loss of our father, we lost my grandfather to dementia and lung disease.

I found myself in the depths.

“And I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

That year I sunk deeper and deeper. I would be overcome in sorrow; brought to tears lying sleepless in bed every night, sitting at my desk at work, in line at the grocery store… Then, (it didn’t seem possible,) but things went from worse to worse.

The big “D” began visiting my house and he brought his other “D friend”.

These deaths, now divorce and depression—all in the same year; all as a faithful, praying, seeking Christian.

“Time heals all wounds…”

Really?! I wanted to just barf at the well-meaning people saying this to me.

It wasn’t fair. This wasn’t what I signed up for when I gave my heart to the Lord.

I didn’t understand.

But, I loved the Lord. I clung to him with everything I had. The Hope I had in Him, and His power to get me through, and to bring light into dark places, kept me holding on.

 “Your grace abounds in deepest waters”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And lean not on your own understanding.

In all your ways submit to Him,

And He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3: 5-6)

So, if I loved the Lord, and trusted in His grace to get me through the deepest of my despair, didn’t He also deserve my understanding?

“You’ve never failed and you won’t start now.

So I will call upon your name

And keep my eyes above the waves”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

A couple of years into the depths of this dark time, my Pastor, Jason Daye was preaching on the story of Elijah. (1 Kings Chapters 17-18)  What struck me most in the story of this great prophet of God were the three years of drought that the Lord sent on the land he was in. He endured such fear, such total need, desperation and reliance on the Lord for every single second, of every single minute, of every single day, of every exhausting week for three long years.  Three years of threats against him. Three years of having nothing, being stuck out in the cracked, parched desert and the only thing he had left, for all of his trusting in the Lord, was his life. He survived solely on the Word of the Lord.

“Your sovereign hand will be my guide

My feet may fail and fear surrounds me…”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

God was so near to him for every one of those seconds, providing for him by day and by night.

Those days and nights when I was feeling so lost and emptied, I fixed my eyes on Jesus.

The truth is, in looking back, even as I endured the storms and felt like I was drowning in the engulfing waves–this raw, pure need of feeling so broken and so desperate is when I have, like never before, felt so unfathomably and intimately close to God.

He was my anchor.

As I approached my own three year mark, I felt a foundation beneath my feet. I more often found myself “on shore” and was less and less frequently taken over by the waves. I was blessed with friendships that helped me along, blessed with help from all around me. Blessed to see how God provided for each day and each night.

Maybe there was something to this whole “time healing all wounds” thing.

Three years gone by–I am changed.

I appreciate more. I breathe deeper. I laugh more. I enjoy the sunsets, flowers, and “little things” a lot more. At a different place now, I trust God more.

Just beyond those three years, I took on an additional job and was learning a totally different profession, I was struggling in this new place.  Even after all that I had been through; I still recognized my deep need for God in the ordinary stuff of life.

I distinctly remembered praying to Him for Help.

Then she showed up; the “new hire.” A chance convergence of life paths at this job–Was she my help?

As we navigated the job together, we bonded like we women can do when thrust together in the trenches of life. We shared our stories.

If, as Shakespeare says, “Life is but a stage…,” then I believe that friendships are the musical underscore of this life; two distinctly different instruments, coming together on the stage and creating harmony, melody and rhythms. Creating music that makes us smile and dance, moves us to tears and fills us with laughter. What a joyful tune a new friendship is! And this hand-delivered, divinely unique relationship has become such a spirit-filled one.

Pammy and me

We no longer work together in the trenches of that job, but we’ve kept our friendship flourishing across miles, through life events and all around this stage of life.

Trusting like Elijah.

Then it happened to her:

Her father was diagnosed with cancer, and then died unexpectedly.

One month later, her grandfather passed away.

Then her marriage crumbled and now divorce continually slaps its waves at her face as I watch her sinking into a deepening depression.

All in the same year; all as a faithful, praying, seeking Christian.

I watch her tears flow freely at lunch, at the movies, at the grocery store and spilling across the stages of her life.

She doesn’t understand.

She can’t see above the waves right now.

I hug her. I tell her she’s not alone.

I refrain from telling her that “time will heal all her wounds.”

Instead, I tell her that I don’t understand either.

But, I do know One who understands.

He is our ever-present Help, the Anchor in our storm, the Living Water to quench our thirst and the firm Foundation of this whole stage we play out our lives on.

And I secretly watch her with a twinge of envy because I can see how close the Lord is to her right now. The Hands of God are cradling her. He holds her tears in His hands and draws her into an embrace like the sea around the shores.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders.”

–Hillsong “Oceans”

 

Whether you are in a drought-scorched desert, a raging tempest, or if you may be cresting a mountaintop, May your trust in the Lord go beyond all the borders of our own understanding.