Updated: Apr 20, 2020
True courage is a vibrant and open heart.
I know this place.
Snowflakes fall in thick clusters,
settling in the stillness of the thickly wooded path.
Aptly named Woody Island, this original site of Kodiak town is now home to
Camp Woody, a summer camp on this smaller island just off of Kodiak Island.
Just as the time I walked this path only weeks before, a hand holds mine.
The eyes are the same, but this time it’s not the form of the man I just started dating.
It is Jesus.
Silence marks our walk with a tangible peace and comforting intimacy.
My heart is free with this one, for he has romanced me like no other.
I trust him.
(The rest of the world I’m not sure of,
including this man I’ve started picturing a future with…kind eyes and all.)
Our path opens to High Inspiration Point.
Rows of simple spruce benches align toward the large wooden cross
set at the edge of a cliff.
I curl up on his lap, the place I know I am held dear,
and listen to the heartbeat of the one who made my own heart.
Something shifts in this peaceful moment, and he lifts me,
carrying me toward the cross.
He lifts me onto its rough wooden face.
The cry echos in my head as simultaneously he whispers peace
to my soul and climbs up behind me.
No, not behind me. Around me.
I am enveloped.
My breath steadies as our heartbeats synch.
Then comes the thing I fear most.
Blood gushes from my heart, pouring forth completely unchecked.
Only his peace surrounding me keeps my panic at bay
long enough for me to hear these words:
“What pours out of your heart is from MY abundance.
You will not bleed out. We are one.
THIS IS MY BLOOD.”
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Luke 22:20 NIV
What comes to mind at those words?
Plants with heart-shaped flowers? Civil rights or animal rights activism? The Sacred Heart of Christ icon?
Raised in politically conservative middle America, I associate the term with the countless times I heard “bleeding-heart liberals” dropped in condescending tone.
Thankfully, this was not in my own household (high-five for kindness, Mom and Dad).
Still it stuck with me.
For those unfamiliar with the implication, allow me to share the (“informal, derogatory”) definition listed in The Oxford Dictionary online:
“a person considered to be dangerously softhearted, typically someone considered too liberal in political beliefs.”
(In case you are getting squeamish, this isn’t a political post. Pinky promise.)
The Enemy Within
Did you catch that?
Highly sensitive and empathetic, my younger self got the message...
Loud and clear.
My overly tender heart is a weakness, deceiving my otherwise capable brain.
Threatening in nature, the heart must be ignored or walled off for the good of all.
Recent exposure to titles such as Empath or the more scientific HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), has opened my eyes to the estimated 15-20%* of the population that have a heightened response to the world around them.
One common experience this group shares is the physical response to empathy. In other words, many of us share the experience of feeling the suffering of others as if it is our own...often magnified and physiological.
Reinforced by the pain I experienced via heightened empathy, I easily bought the lie that my heart was the enemy.
I know I’m not the only one.
As much as I love God’s word, the church hasn’t helped by pulling this particular verse out of context and waving it about like a scarlet letter:
“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”
(Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)
Thankfully, there has been a shift among Christian leadership to shine a light on the value and beauty of a restored and healthy heart.
Shout out to John and Staci Eldridge, and the staff of Ransomed Heart, who swam against the current to pave the way in debunking the myth that the heart is evil and untrustworthy with books and resources like Wild at Heart, Captivating, and The Sacred Romance.**
“What do you want your tombstone to say?”
Physically healthy and fresh out of high school, I had never given it a thought.
Twenty years later, I still remember what I answered on that Bible study sheet:
“She loved well”
(Make sure my next of kin see this, will you?)
Looking back, I see HOPE for a compassionate heart that would not be ignored.
Still, how does one love well if your vessel of love is stuffed in a closet behind a padlocked door?
Perhaps this is what led me to marry within my comfort zone, rather than waiting on God’s best. (read more of that part of My Story here)
Throughout my life the same messages resonated, like the unmistakable crack of ice on a thawing pond:
Your needs don’t matter
You feel too deeply
Your dreams are unimportant
You are at your best behind the scenes, supporting the REAL front man.
Believing those lies is how I ended up without home, husband, or dog, headed North.
How often we make vows to ourselves without considering the implications.
“Never again will I…marry. It’s a setup for crushing pain.”
“Never again will I…trust. There is no one who values me enough to be faithful.”
“Never again will I…fall in love. Love is a prison sentence.”
The Power of Agreement is a subject that deserves it’s own post, if not book.
Suffice to say, I came out of my Summer of Brokenness having let Jesus in, but completely TERRIFIED of trusting anyone else.
Isn’t it just like God to introduce me to the love of my life at a time I felt incapable of intimacy?
Because he knew something I couldn’t yet grasp.
When plugged into Jesus as my source, my ability no longer dictates my capabilities.
The Third Option
“You won’t see me fall apart. No, ‘cause I’ve got an elastic heart.
Oh, and I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart.”
These words from Sia’s "Elastic Heart" always give me chills…and not the happy kind.
Isn’t this the human experience? Our heart comes under attack on repeat-sometimes intentionally, sometimes less so.
Either way, the result is the same: a heart offered out of it’s own unhealthy misplacement of longing winds up bruised and bleeding.
The only choice seems to be:
1. Build a thicker wall each time…eventually avoiding love and vulnerability entirely.
Just like Miles McPherson writes in his book, The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation, there is…ahem…a third option.
My encounter on the cliff with Jesus came at a time I was toying with the idea of opening myself up in all the areas of my life I had shut down during my divorce.
This wasn’t just limited to romance and marriage. Friendship, ministry, family, work relationships, and my own inner healing were all on the table, begging me to begin again.
I just didn’t see how.
I certainly didn’t feel it.
When you have nothing left to give, that’s just how it is, right? Survival becomes the central goal. Maybe throw in some adventure and entertainment. But nothing that would threaten the self-protection I had built up.
That defensive barrier was the only thing keeping me off the edge of the cliff and safely on the bench.
Just when I think I'm finished. Just when I think there's nothing left. Just when I start to give in to hopelessness.
Jesus speaks and walls crumble to the ground.
But how can you know it's God?
That part is more simple than you think.
It all boils down to relationship.
When I worked at a bank many moons ago, I was taught that the best way to detect counterfeit currency is familiarizing yourself with the real thing.
In other words, the best way to know the voice of God is to know Jesus.
Not know about. Not know of.
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life..." (John 10:27-28)
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you,
you will bear much fruit."
Spending time in the Word and presence of God is the best way to discern the voice of God. This is what will bear the fruit (evidence) of relationship.
Only a good tree with deep roots bears good fruit.
Plugged into the source of life and power, your heart song will sound less like Sia's song and more like these lyrics from Danny Gokey's "Tell Your Heart to Beat Again":
"Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in.
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace.
Yesterday's a closing door.
You don't live there anymore.
Say goodbye to where you've been
And tell your heart to beat again."
Pray and ask God to show himself to you. Look for him in your every day, and also set aside time to be in his presence. This might mean quiet time, playing worship music, or even a conversation with a someone who stirs up your faith. Make pursuing the heart of God a lifestyle. He is most certainly pursuing yours.
Can I ask one more thing? If this story has touched your heart or you know someone who would benefit from hearing this message, will you share it?
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Please leave a comment! Let's make this a conversation.
In Him we live and move and have our being.