The Art of Brokenness
When I was five, Mother pointed to a tiny cluster of stars, and said, “There’s the Little Dipper.” She shifted her finger slightly, and even more excitedly said, “There’s the Big Dipper.” Up until then, I didn’t know constellations existed.
And when I was fourteen, "I stood at the kitchen sink starring at the stain-glass ornament that hung between the dingy drapes. I made it in art class by tapping on tinted sheets of glass with a hammer until they broke, and arranged them meticulously to spell “welcome,” before soldering them together. Mother loved the piece.
My hands trembled like two leaves. The desire for my prolonged existence had deserted me. I pushed the blade deeper into my fleshy tissue, and reflected upon the brief Antebellum era before the internal tug-of-war began. I was six when my uncle stole my innocence and stripped me of everything virtuous, and kind, and normal, and good. I deemed myself “irregular” and had no self-worth.
My lips stammered without restraint as I beseeched an entity I’d never seen or felt. I moaned the words “Help me…” no other words would come. The intensity of emotions rose higher in the room as tears streamed freely down my face. The sound of my voice, weak and frail, echoed through the humble living quarters. It tittered off the walls slowly returning to my ears, magnified a thousand times in its desperation.
Gathering my strength, I breathed deeply, and bellowed from the deepest depths of my soul, “Why me? Is this all life has for me? What have I done to deserve this?”
The hungering shrill of my voice penetrated the cloud of confusion which filtered through my impaired state of mind. In a single crippled motion, I fell to the floor. As I wept, an unexplainable peace swept over me and comforted me. The knife slid through my clammy and numb fingers, and onto the faded linoleum. A warmth moved through my limbs; slowly life returned; bringing with it a shaky, newborn sense of purpose…(a small excerpt from my memoir titled, In the Land of Canaan, Maine: A Little Girl's Giants, to be published)."
Sharp Top Mountain
Recently, my friend Nicole and I hiked the Peaks of Otter up to Sharp Top Mountain. This was my first time hiking it, and her fourth. She met me at my house, and I drove. The conversation went as such: “Morning, Francine! What snacks you bringing?” she asked, hauling a twenty-pound backpack from her trunk.
“None. It’s only a mile and a half hike.”
“You might get hungry.”
“Naw, I’ll live,” I snickered.
“Suit yourself. Is that what you’re wearing?”
“Yes, why?” It’s only a mile and a half, I snickered again, but this time in my head, so not to appear condescending.
Nicole had a backpack filled with fruit, protein bars, water, and a peanut butter sandwich made with whole grain bread: poppy seeds, and pumpkin seeds, and oats (I think). She wore her hair in a long ponytail with a sweatband that stretched across her forehead, blue and gray running shorts, and a Champion’s for Christ t-shirt. I on the other hand wore a pair of black spandex and a long sleeved shirt with Pat the Patriot on the front. I carried only a small orange satchel with two waters.
We parked the car, used the adorable restroom by the ranger’s station, took pictures by the “welcome” sign, and began our adventure up the seemingly user-friendly trail. At first sight, the path was well manicured with log stairs every couple of feet. I skipped up the first few. Five minutes in, I grabbed my ribs, doubled over to breathe, and huffed, “This is steeper than it looks.”
In a matter of minutes, the path went from seemingly easy to seemingly difficult. We balanced across fallen trees, scaled large boulders, inched around sharp corners and jumped rain-filled puddles. I did my best to keep up with her, and tried my darndest not to make it noticeable.
Nicole is a twenty-year-old athlete at Liberty University who enjoys doing burpees, lunges, planks, and strength conditioning in her spare time. I on the other hand, am a forty-ish-old, laid-off of work mother of three with cellulite and stretchmarks, who enjoys napping, drinking coffee, and well, napping.
On the way up, we stopped to rest. Technically, I rested—she kept going. I sat on a rock; she explored a cave. The mouth of the cave was big and open. I could see from where I sat that the leaves had been trampled and pressed down like memory foam into the shape of a very large animal. A bear—maybe? “Watch out for rattle snakes—,” I warned, in a choppy exhausted whisper. Before I knew it, she’d squeezed through a crevasse in the caves ceiling, and was standing on top. “Nice view!” she said, “you should come up.”
“I’ll pass,” I panted, praying that my hip would stop burning.
As we continued, we passed a family with six young boys that ranged from about nine months to nine years old. The oldest two ran up ahead and hid, popping out at hikers as they passed; so we pretended to be frightened. After we passed the boys, we chuckled at their cuteness, and said, “They’ll never make it, but it’s sweet they’re trying.”
The narrow footpath zig-zagged sharply. Some parts were so steep that we descended down the backside before connecting to a set of rocky steps that would take us higher. “Is there even a top to this dog-gone mountain?” I whined at one point. My face was red, like the Swedish fish I’d eaten earlier, my back dripped with sweat, and I wanted to rip the long-sleeved Pat the Patriot shirt off and spike it on the ground, but couldn’t because I failed to wear a tank-top underneath. “How much further?” I lamented a few steps later, while stopping to massage my calves. Nicole smiled widely, reached down to pull me up, and said, “The view is worth it from the top. Come on—” I had no choice but to take her word for it.
After an hour and forty-five minutes, we reached the top. I looked out over the peaks as far as the eye could see. The view reminded me of something my husband said, “A rough and a rocky road can lead to a beautiful place.”
He was right.
As we descended down the mountain, we found ourselves cheering and clapping for all those on their way up. “Just three more minutes,” “Just eight more minutes,” “Just nine more minutes,” we would say. They were incredibly thankful.
And yet, as we neared the rocky stair case, the family with six boys appeared: hot, sweaty, and tired. “Wow! You guys made it!” We smiled hugely and clapped for them, “Just ten more minutes. You guys are awesome!” We stepped to one side and allowed them to squeeze by. We high-fived them all, and cheered them, saying, “The view is worth it from the top!”
“I don’t think they can fix that!” These were the first words someone told me after my nose was badly broken in an accident. However, it wasn’t the first time I’d heard them. I’d been telling myself this for years. Sexual abuse and rape had left me feeling condemned and broken beyond repair—a ramshackle of what use to be. Since the age of six I told myself everyday: “I hate you,” You’re a mess,” “You’re worthless,” “You’re unlovable,” “You’re such a bad person.” These words caused internal conflict.
There is a familiar scripture, "For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." This is uniquely phrased, as the word "lost" isn't lost as we know it, but it comes from the Greek word Apollymi, meaning, devastated, ruined, broken beyond repair.
I must say, that during my childhood, I suffered many broken bones: leg, wrist (s), and multiple fingers and toes, but nothing could compare to the gut-wrenching and emotionally painful day that I contemplated suicide. This was the pivotal point of my internal conflict where I realized that “I was broken and couldn’t be fixed.” It was there at the intersection of faith and brokenness that He reached down to pull me up. For too long, I’d been flapping on broken wings waiting for the fracture to mend, so that I could fly. And it was at the kitchen sink, huddled on the floor, that I felt the Spirit whisper, “Just keep going. The view is worth it from the top.”
Maybe, some things are broken on purpose for a purpose, like the alabaster box or the loaves of bread in Mark chapter six.
By the same token, in some Native American cultures, a woman will weave a blanket and leave one of the corners frayed and open; because it is believed that’s how the spirit enters.
A.W. Tozer said “God rescues us by breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance.” Perhaps the broken places that you’ve been wishing away are intentional. Dare I say, maybe it’s the place in which the Spirit enters in order to give you a shaky, newborn sense of purpose.
Kitchen Sink Moments
As sure as I am that there are constellations in the sky, I am equally certain that redemption comes to those who feel devastated, ruined, broken beyond repair, and have had scary kitchen sink moments. A Jewish rabbi asked, “How do we know when redemption comes if we’ve never had an exile moment?” That’s a good question. Let me answer that—you don’t!
Uniquely, in the Japanese art Kintsikuroi: which is the art of fixing broken pottery; it is believed that the piece is more beautiful and valuable because it has been broken. The intent of the art is not to make the piece new again, or to make the cracks disappear. The glue used to repair the broken pottery is a lacquer resin with gold infused powder. And yes, I said, gold. This brings to mind the verse “For he knows the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
All these things considered, today is my forty-third birthday, and I can understand and relate to The Art of Brokenness—I am more beautiful, because I have been broken! Having experienced the grace and love of a Savior; I can affirm that as emotionally painful and trying as the process was—I made it to the top. Now I have a new and special appreciation for Japanese art, frayed blankets, broken pottery, tinted shards of glass, crevasses in caves, and rough-rocky roads. And like the family with six boys, I now applaud you and cheer to “Just keep going…the view is worth it from the top!”
I Am M.O.R.E than a conqueror…and YOU can be too!