|Anna and me, moments before her surgery.
It's been seven years since I have been in church for Christmas.
I did not grow up in a religious family. In fact, my parents did not go to church. I was baptized Catholic and that was about as far as it went. Around the age of twelve, I began to feel what I later regarded as a "calling" to Christianity. My earliest memory was that of finding a leaflet in the dentist office that had a telephone number where children could call and listen to bible stories. And if you stayed on the line after the story was finished, you could talk to a Sister about any questions you have or concerns about your "life"...whatever those may be at the age of twelve. I had a lot of questions...and a lot of concerns. What those were is another story, but my life up to that point had already held it's share of loss and sadness - my innocence being one.
At twelve I was walking across the street by myself to attend the Lutheran church on the corner and by the age of 16 I had found my way to a country Church of Christ and sealed the deal with a second baptism. I also met the man I would eventually marry. A local Minnesota Bible College student who was preparing for a life of ministry. We dated until I graduated from High School and were married that very summer. We raised five daughters and ministered in Lutheran churches in Michigan, Nebraska, Southwest Minnesota and Wisconsin. The year before our divorce, after twenty-two years of marriage, was the last time I attended Christmas services. I can count on one hand the number of times I have step foot in a church, period.
The service my husband and I attended this past Saturday was good. It was a good service and it was good for me. It was in one of those mega-churches. The kind with gift kiosks and coffee shops. The 18,000 member kind. It's the second time I have been in one. The first time was for more of a production/show and I went there with my mother and a group of Red Hat Ladies. This time was for an actual Christmas church service, with offering, and hymns, and a sermon. Without going into a lot of detail, let it suffice to say that for this service I was at peace. Not that my struggles did not come to mind - but I was in a good place and that place was peace-filled. It's not a traditional place, it's not even what many may find as a conventional place, but it is a place of wholeness, a place of rest and a place of profound spirituality. A place of Creator and created.
At one point in the service, during one of the large screen presentations, a phrase went across the screen and it read, "We are all broken."
We are all broken.
I know where this comes from. I have lived my life of religious dogma. I know the ropes, from beginning to end. I've walked the walk, talked the talk and tried to intertwine black and white into a humanity of grey. I've been saved. Twice, I guess. So my background is deep. Full of good, don't get me wrong. But I do not come from a place of brokenness, nor do I hold the conviction that we are all broken.
This past week my daughter Anna had major jaw reconstruction surgery. We knew it would be a big deal, but seven hours in the OR and almost one blood transfusion later, we had no idea how big. Neither did the surgeon. Moments before they whisked her away he reassured us that after three mock surgeries on plaster molds of her face they were sure they knew the extent of what needed to be done. About four hours into the surgery he called me from the operating room, "I'm sorry Mrs. Johnson, but things are not going as we had planned and it looks like we are going to have to do the lower jaw as well. It will be another three to four hours of surgery. Do we have your permission to proceed?" I told him of course he did, hung up the phone and wept.
In the end, the surgery went well. She spent two days in ICU and was released to our home, where we will care for her over the next two months. The extent of the surgery is beyond what you could ever imagine possible on the human face. Because she is unable to tolerate narcotics she is managing through excruciating pain, swelling and numbness. She is unable to move or control most of her face. I was somewhat prepared for the issue of pain as I know her of her intolerance to pain medication. What I was not ready for was the devastating emotional toll this would take on my nineteen year old daughter. The comment from her upon looking in the bathroom mirror, "Look at me, I'm fucking disgusting!" mumbled through spit and blood, will haunt my mother's heart for as long as I live.
We are all broken.
Like I said before, I know where this comes from. No need to explain the theology to me. I was a bible college student and a pastor's wife for too many years to have missed this one. But if there is anything I could do over in my life it would be this - I would ingrain into the hearts of my children at every moment, at every bedtime prayer, at every bible study, at every meal, at every teen-age teary eyed night-time tucking in, at the end of every boyfriend, at the heart of every mistake and every tragedy - that they are NOT broken. They WERE NEVER broken. That the Creator, whoever and whatever that may be to you or me, is incapable of creating brokenness. We are what and who and how we are to be in this very moment in our life. Period. To fight or not accept this fact has only one end, and that is suffering. How can we be anything other than what we are ? This is a fight against reality we will never win. I would tell them that there is nothing about them that needs to be "saved". I would tell them that all that resides in creation and Creator resides within them. I would tell them that in the depths of their despair and fear that they are powerful, and whole and that all that they need in this life resides within the miracle that they are. That yes, we do need others in our lives. We need doctors and therapists and pastors and friends and family... but these people do not make us whole. They simply bring us back to what has always been there to begin with. They bring us back to ourselves. And this is anything but disgusting. This is anything but broken.
I spent a lifetime thinking that I was in need of being saved. I spent a lifetime looking in the mirror and believing that what stood before me was not good enough. I spent a lifetime correlating my pain with having "fallen away", believing that if I was more faithful, I was somehow a better human being, I was closer to whole, I would know peace. I would reserve my spot in the mansion.
These days, I don't live my life in the black and white. I live in the grey. I am totally okay with not knowing most things in this world. I believe in something bigger than me - Creator, Universe, God, Father...I don't have to put a name to it. Neither do I need to judge, justify or kill for my belief. And I simply don't get those who do. But this is the deal, we are not broken. I am not broken. You are not broken. In the midst of of your despair, you sorrow, your discouragement, your fear, your failure, your hopelessness, your desperation...
You are NOT broken.
You may have made a mistake, you may be depressed, you may be feeling angry, you may be lost, you may be mean and bitter, you may have lost your legs or fallen sick to a life threatening chronic illness...you may be a lot of things, but you are not broken. You are beautiful, and powerful, and a miracle of creation. Fully existing as all of the Universe would have you to exist. Just as you are. And if you can only learn to love, truly love who you see in the mirror and the moment you are in, you will find your way back to yourself. You will find peace. And in that peace you will find the true miracle of Christmas.
You will find love.