Hearts and Hard Places

Posts 04

I sat by myself on the closet floor with the birthday card in my hand. My tears flowed and dripped off the edge of my chin, leaving a splattering of wet marks all over the front of my shirt. I struggled to catch my breath after a spell of sobbing. I had to read it again. I had to keep reading it until I could do it without crying. My daughter was 4-years-old at the time and I was reading her birthday card from the woman who gave her life. My daughter lost her Momma to cancer when they were both entirely too young for such things. Rachel, my husband’s first wife, left not only a beautiful legacy for our daughter, but she left tangible gifts as well. Despite her desperate fight for survival, she knew the cancer was taking her.  As the end drew near, Rachel ensured that her daughter would always have access to her words of wisdom. She left many treasures behind for her young daughter, and I think the birthday cards are the most special.

I held the Happy 5th Birthday card in my trembling hands and I read it again. The front of it was bright and colorful with decorations surrounding the number 5. The interior of the card held the normal birthday wishes and was signed, “Love, Mommy”. Rachel enclosed a letter and a full-size copy of her kindergarten class picture. The photo was enough to undo me again. The letter was beautiful and heartbreaking. Rachel talked about how fun kindergarten would be. She told her daughter that daddy would walk her to class on the first day of school, and that although she could not be with her in person, she was with her in spirit. Everything she wrote was designed to impart good memories and surround her daughter with unconditional love. And I cried. I cried for the child who lost her mommy. I cried for the mom who was forced to leave her child. I cried for me, in fear that I would never be enough to compensate for this loss.

I sat on the floor of the closet and I stacked stones around my heart. I did not want my daughter to witness me crying on her birthday when we read the card from Momma. I did not want her to think that she was receiving anything other than a very special gift. So, I read the card. Over and over and over. I read it until I didn’t cry at the sight of it, and I didn’t cry at the beauty of it. I read it until I desensitized myself. I read it until I had a heart of stone.

I realize that while this was an act of self-protection, it was not an entirely selfish act. I was trying to protect another’s heart, and in so doing, I attempted to protect my own. I think we all sometimes do this, and the hardening of our hearts can become nearly automatic. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Oh, to have a heart of flesh. Here’s my struggle: hearts of flesh get hurt while hearts of stone feel safe and protected. It’s no surprise then, when we are easily tempted to build walls around our hearts. One by one, we stack our hurts, injustices, and insecurities like expert masons placing stones. We feel secure, but what we really are is hard-hearted.

Who do you think of when you hear “hard-hearted”? I immediately picture a variety of cartoon villains. There is something appealing about the fantasy of a cartoon where the moral lines are clear-cut and obvious. The good guys show the villain the error of his ways. The hard-hearted no-good rascal repents of his bad behavior and everyone lives happily ever after…or at least until the next episode. Real life is not that simple. I wouldn’t describe myself as hard-hearted and certainly I would not want to own the title of villain. My faith calls me to have a heart of flesh, but I often fail. We live with very real pain in a broken world. Pain and grief come in many forms, and whether they sneak in silently during the night or beat down our doors with noise and fanfare, our response is often to steel ourselves. We try to stiffen up and to depend on our own strength. This is not how the LORD calls us to behave. Joel 2:13 says, “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”  Historically, people would tear their clothing to symbolize sorrow or grief. Here, the LORD calls us not to focus on outward signs, but to rend our hearts. He calls us to break down those strong walls we have constructed and return to our hearts of flesh.

Here’s the thing…when we tear down those walls, we can’t put the pieces of our heart back together by ourselves. We can try, but it would probably look like a young child’s mosaic art project. The edges don’t quite line up and glue is seeping out from underneath the pieces. Try as we might, we cannot make our hearts whole without Jesus. He can take our shards of stone and make them flesh. We need our hearts of flesh in order to fully love the LORD and to love others.

Rachel left birthday gifts to go with the cards. My daughter gets a numbered porcelain angel every year. She has 15 of them now, and she keeps them lined up on her bookshelf. Recently, angel number 9 accidentally got bumped from the shelf. She hit the hardwood floor and broke into 5 pieces plus some slivers of porcelain. My daughter was distraught. She placed the broken pieces on the kitchen counter and tearfully asked me, “Is there any way to fix her?” My first thought as I looked at the decapitated and de-winged angel was that we could glue her, but the damage would be obvious. I reassured my daughter that we could repair the angel with glue. I also took the opportunity to remind her that Rachel didn’t leave the angel for her because it was supposed to be perfect. She left it as a reminder of her love, and that can never be broken. Life is not perfect and we all walk through hard times. Friends, when you are feeling like that angel that hit the floor and shattered, remember that you are not meant to be perfect, but you are made to be loved.

Heavenly Father, we love you. Please help us to have hearts of flesh. May we turn to you for help breaking down the walls we build. Lead us in your ways and help us to trust you with the broken pieces. Amen.

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  1. Elaine says:

    Love this Amy!

  2. Rochelle says:

    Beautiful Amy

  3. Rochelle says:

    Beautiful Amy, love it

  4. Alison says:

    Such a wonderful message and reminder! Thank you for sharing your gift!

  5. Deborah says:

    I felt so strange when we lost our 34 year old son (my stepson) last fall. I could not cry. Now I know why. The loss was so great I built a wall; a wall to protect myself and my husband. I thought I was being strong. At least that was my intent. Plus, I knew my step-son was in paradise looking into the eyes of his Lord and Savior. As time goes by the stones of our broken heart will shift and separate letting vulnerability into my life again. I claim the good news that as each of those crooks and crannies are exposed they will be filled by Gods love for me and for all those who built stones around their hearts during this oh so difficult time.

    • Amy Chastain says:

      Deborah, I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I cannot imagine that kind of pain. I am glad that you know he is rejoicing in heaven. Keeping you in my prayers as you walk the hard road of grief.

  6. Mary says:

    Beautiful tribute and message.

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