Remember Your Death

Earlier this month, I was blessed and privileged to join two dozen of my friends from school on a mission trip to Nicaragua for 8 days. The first half of the week, we went to a center for children where we played and sang and loved with joyous abandon, and where we saw also immense loss and pain. The intense reality of the experience shook me to my core , and I miss it every day that I’ve been back home.

But this isn’t a blog post about my mission work.

This is a blog post about love.

On my flight to Managua, I reached into the pocket in front of me and pulled out the in-flight magazine. On the front – a stunning photo of a volcano, with the words “three perfect days: Nicaragua: paradise found” hovering in the foreground.

Nicaragua! Flipping excitedly to the article, I absorbed all the information about beaches and tropical flowers and coffee aroma and brightly colored barrios. As tired as I was (we had hit the airport around 345 that morning), I finished the article, closed my eyes, and dreamed about what I would find when I woke up.

Cathedral of Granada, Nicaragua. Source: United Hemispheres Magazine
Cathedral of Granada, Nicaragua. Source: United Hemispheres Magazine

(Fun fact: the above photo is from the exact article that I’m talking about – which you can read in its entirety online. Hooray! Find it here for more photos and words after you’re finished all of these photos and words.)

And then I got to Nicaragua – and yes, it was beautiful, just like the magazine had told me.

But I didn’t find the paradise it said I would find.

I found instead pain, brokenness, exhaustion, and suffering.

I found hearts yearning for love more than they wanted wealth, and I found souls yearning for a God that didn’t seem nearby in the heaviness of ever-present poverty.

Photo by Maddie Eichman. Managua, Nicaragua.
Managua, Nicaragua. Source: Maddie Eichman

He gave me his little Polaroid picture, this little 4 year old boy who owns nothing, and a hug around the neck. “It’s so you won’t ever forget me. Don’t ever forget me,” he said to me in rapid, soft Spanish, before giving me a kiss and running off. I started to cry, knowing that this little boy – this little boy who lives in a shack with no door, in a family with no father, in a life with no promise of happiness – just gave me a glimpse of God. I had just seen a glimpse of paradise.

Managua, Nicaragua.
Managua, Nicaragua.

She didn’t say one word to me all day. Her sister tried to explain to me why she is cross-eyed, but my Spanish medical vocabulary limits itself to sneezes and coughs. All the same, before I said goodbye at the end of the day, I looked her in her little cross-eyes and said “Escuchame, recuerda que te amo.” Listen to me, remember that I love you. Each time I told her “te amo, te amo mucho,” her smile grew wider until she couldn’t bear it any more and she launched herself into my arms, squeezing as tightly around my neck as she could manage, and with each little squeeze, I heard her – and God – say “I love you, too.” With each little squeeze, I heard paradise. 

When I spent 8 days in Nicaragua, I didn’t find the Magazine Nicaragua. I didn’t find the Wealthy Fun Relaxing Nicaragua. I didn’t even find the Vacation Nicaragua.

I found the Nicaragua that hurts.

And I found paradise, no question – but not the one the world tells us to seek.

I found the paradise that hurts.

Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Sourced by Wikipedia Commons.
Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Mother Teresa told us the paradox – that if we love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt but only love.

She told us that what we need is to love without getting tired.

She told us that the greatest poverty is the poverty of being unloved, unwanted, and uncared for – and we are mandated to rectify this poverty with our own sacrificial, untiring, painful love.

This isn’t a blog post about my mission trip.

Nor is this a blog post intended to sell the idea of going on a mission trip.

I’m telling you about my mission trip because it really truly opened up my eyes to a new kind of love that God has been softening my heart to receive for months now.

So, this is my blog post about a soft, wounded heart.

This is my post about love.

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A new heart, a new spirit.

This phrase is nestled everywhere in the Old Testament – Lord, give me a new heart and a new spirit.

In the Psalms, David cried out “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

And he said too, in this same psalm, “make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice.”

Wait.

Woof.

Back up.

Let the bones which you have broken rejoice.

Let the bones which you have broken rejoice.

You know, guys, God has really been working me over with this whole “softening of my heart” thing I’m telling you about.

In other words (and you may ask any of my friends if I’m telling the truth about this, which….I am.):

I have so many feelings.

So many tears.

So much love.

And I don’t know what to do with it all.

And it’s funny because I’m not complaining or anything…

But for so long I’ve been kind of walled off and a little bit hardened and cynical. Simply because life is life, and life is hard, and life can be really damn hard whether you let it be hard or not, and it’s just the human thing to do to be cynical and practical and marble and a little wary.

So when I went to Europe for four months, I asked God to just soften me a tiny bit. And I tell people about those four months in Europe with a grimace of bewilderment, because I asked to be softened and I was absolutely melted.

And it hurts.

Because when you love, you’re making yourself vulnerable and exposed and open and raw.

And that will always hurt, no matter what.

And I’m not sitting here telling you all that suddenly I love perfectly, and I love more than everyone else does, and I’m suddenly so in touch with the movements of the spirit and everyone’s auras and I have a heart that grew three sizes that day.

But I’m telling you that my love hurts.

And this is the paradise that He let me see in Nicaragua.

One morning, we walked through a neighborhood to see the homes of some of the people we were working with. Some of the kids that we had met the day before ran out to meet us and were cheering and laughing and swinging from our arms. But their homes…

These families live in desolate poverty. And we stood in front of these broken homes, and these broken families, and we sang Immaculate Mary while the priest with us blessed them in Spanish.

And it was all I could do to keep myself together and refrain from crying.

But that was paradise.

Paradise is broken meeting broken and coming together in love.

I’ll say it again – paradise is broken meeting broken and coming together in love.

And the Nicaragua Paradise the magazine told me about it the world’s notion of paradise. The one that preaches equality and peace and everything is perfect and shiny and no one is unhappy.

But that paradise will never be found on this side of Heaven.

The only paradise that we can find on this side of Heaven is that little glimpse of what Heaven is – and Heaven is an eternity of broken redeemed sinners who come together in love to be loved and to love for all of eternity.

And seeing those little glimpses are hard. They hurt.

Whenever broken meets broken, it will always hurt.

The shards of fallen souls will always crash and grate against each other on this side of Heaven, but these fallen souls are so, so loved.

It’s a painful paradise, but it’s still paradise!

I’m reminded of Christ on His Cross. And the sinner next to Him said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” and He responded to that sinner and He said “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” and the minute He said that, it reverberated through the ages and struck me in the heart, right where I’m soft, right where I’m broken.

Because Lent is about softening yourself, and humbling yourself, and allowing yourself to be worked over and changed and redeemed and hurt.

Let’s go back to that Psalm really quickly, the one I mentioned before.

Fill me with joy and gladness, and let the bones You have broken rejoice.

As we all get ready for Holy Week, we have to allow ourselves to be broken.

We have to allow ourselves to be small.

If we aren’t broken and small, what does Christ’s Passion even mean?

His Passion would be rendered absolutely useless if we were perfect and whole and bright and shiny.

And so paradise is not the absence of that what is broken. And paradise is not the absence of pain.

Paradise is broken meeting broken and coming together in love.

A broken body hung on that Cross and spoke to a broken soul – and today, they are together in paradise.

Whatever bones of your body or heart are broken, let them be filled with the joy of the Lord.

No matter how small you are, no matter how hurt you are – this Holy Week is not about wallowing in that.

It’s about the redemption of that.

It’s about the fact that we are all so small and we are all so broken, and we are all so loved.

But we can’t run from this pain, we can’t seek the easy way out, we can’t just invalidate everything that Christ did for us this weekend.

Because if we think our love hurts, imagine the pain and suffering of Love. His love is perfect. He loves us perfectly. He loved us perfectly and so painfully as He hung on that Cross.

Yesterday at dinner, a friend showed me this status another one of her friends had put up.

This status said, simply, “do not run to the resurrection without tasting death. Walk with Christ, not past Him.”

Remember death, first.

Remember pain, first.

Remember that it’s okay to be broken and it’s okay to be small and it’s okay to be feeble.

Because He was broken and small and feeble as He hung upon that Cross to die out of love for us.

That‘s paradise. Some people look at the crucifixion and it’s gruesome and grotesque and all kinds of terrible things.

But it’s paradise to me.

I have a song embedded in the beginning of this post which I hope you’ve been listening to – or have at least heard before.

The chorus of that song has been my prayer for this week: “Spirit of the Living God, blow through the caverns of my soul, pour on me to overflow.”

Beg the Spirit to soften your heart, to make your heart ready to receive the broken, bruised, beaten body of your Lord.

Let our prayer for this Holy Week be “break my heart for what breaks yours,” and let us beg that the bones which He has broken be filled with His joy, His love.

Let our prayer for this Holy Week, especially tomorrow, Good Friday, be give us a love that hurts.

Give us a love that hurts.

Give us a paradise which can only be won through death.

Give us smallness. Give us brokenness.

Give us mercy.

Give us healing.

And then, through it all, after all the pain…

Crucifix from the Nat'l Treasury, Vienna. Source: Angela Sengenberger
Crucifix from the Nat’l Treasury, Vienna. Source: Angela Sengenberger

Give us love.

 

 

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