Tagged: brokenness

What to do when you can’t fix what’s broken


elycefeliz, Flickr Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/28PeRYr
elycefeliz, Flickr Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/28PeRYr

Everywhere I look I see things in need of fixing.

I don’t mean the ceiling fan in my bedroom or those potholes in the parking lot at my health club.

I mean friends who are sick and may not recover. I mean parents who are heart sick over wayward children. (God knows if a father’s sighing and a mother’s weeping could “fix” rebelliousness, every long-lost prodigal would be back home by now. Alas, such things can’t; consequently those kids aren’t.)

I see moms and dads who are wallowing in so much personal dysfunction, they don’t notice the kid in the bedroom down the hall who is in major trouble. I see job seekers who have diligently beaten the bushes and the streets and their heads against the wall. And what do they have to show for all that hustle? Unemployed hearts that are beaten down and beat up all at once.

When I was little and bumped up against a broken edge of life, my mom would sometimes say, “If I had a magic wand, I’d fix it.”

Later I became jealous of Jeannie the genie. Remember that sitcom? Remember the cute blonde in the bottle who could blink her eyes while giving a quick nod…and instantly rectify any problem?

This week while watching cable news I had this thought: I’d like to be a Presidential candidate if for no other reason than I would be able to fix ANYTHING.

Gun violence, discrimination, terrorism, joblessness, Wall Street’s woes, the national debt, illegal immigration, melting glaciers—apparently there’s no problem on earth these aspirants for the Oval Office can’t fix.

I’ve noticed that though they aren’t long on specifics, they are strong in tone of voice. To hear them tell it (i.e., yell it), help is just ahead. Sounds like no matter who wins, we’re only months away from having an omni-competent commander-in-chief who is equal parts MacGyver, Einstein, Mary Poppins, and Dear Abby.

Political exasperation aside, I see behind our fixation with fixing things, underneath our attraction to self-proclaimed “fixers,” an uncomfortable reality: Our fix-it powers are minimal.

Ceiling fans and potholes are one thing. But healing a culture, curing an addiction, rescuing a marriage?

Here’s the brutal truth: You and I can’t fix our own messed-up hearts, much less mend the brokenness all around us. We can’t make the world problem-free and pain-proof, not even for those we love most fiercely. But we try, don’t we? Our quixotic forays into a cancer-filled world, armed with our little boxes of band-aids.

In all my years of life, I still haven’t met anyone with a magic wand. (I suspect because God never meant for us to be in charge of outcomes.)

However, I am discovering this:  Even if we don’t have it within us to fix big things, we can at least facilitate the fixing of those things. We can do the little things God assigns us to do—then step aside and wait for Him to do the big stuff only He can do.

We can pray, for example. So I do. My rambling conversations with the Almighty…daily making a case for those I love…trying to remember that God’s heart is good and His ways are higher than mine…struggling to trust that He is working even when I don’t see how.

With the broken, I can do other small things. I can check in with them, sit with them in their pain, listen, nod a lot, be a friend, encourage (hopefully without offering up warmed-over platitudes).

Those are pitiful little band-aids, I know. But ask any kid. Band-aids have a strange power. Even though they don’t actually “fix” anything, they can make a bad thing a tad more tolerable.

The other day, a guy fixed my badly cracked Camry windshield in 40 minutes flat. “You’re fast!” I marveled. “Piece of cake,” he mumbled.

Now if I could just find out which candidate has a plan to fix the problem of flying gravel on our nation’s highways.

Love in the human lost and found

Once upon a time, before I came, you cried and cried and watched TV all day, until you were a zombie. But then I zoomed down from heaven, through skylight, into Room. Whoosh-pshew! And I was kicking you from the inside. Boom, boom! And then I shot out onto Rug with my eyes wide open, and you cutt-ed the cord and said, ‘Hello, Jack!’


The movie Room is the story of Jack and Ma. When Ma (Joy) was seventeen, she was abducted and locked in a garden shed. Jack, was born out of the horrendous actions of her captor, Old Nick. The film opens on Jack’s fifth birthday, seven years after the kidnapping.

In order to protect him from the ugly truth of their plight, Ma allows Jack to believe the only real world is their tiny room and its contents. Jack narrates his understanding of the world:

There’s Room, then Outer Space, then Heaven. Plant is real but not trees. Spiders are real and one time the mosquito that was sucking my blood. But squirrels and dogs are just TV, except Lucky my dog that might be some day. Mountains are too big to be real and the sea.

As outsiders with the benefit of understanding there is a larger reality, it’s shocking to see Jack’s relative peace with his existence. But his stability lies in his mother’s love, not in his surroundings.

None of us have a vote about the family into which we’re born. Many families muddle through, managing to grow their broods to adulthood relatively unscathed. But far too many children find themselves in homes that are tenuous at best and downright dangerous at worst.

In the fall, I sat in a tiny courtroom with two little boys, their biological parents, and my friend who was their foster mom. I watched as the birth parents relinquished their parental rights. Products themselves of poverty, abuse, poor role models, and addiction—compounded by their own unfortunate choices—led them to this decision. The situation was not sustainable.

In Room, Old Nick’s threats force Ma to confront their own unsustainable life. Jack is their only hope to pull off a plan of escape, but she can’t send him out into a world he doesn’t believe exists. She comes clean about the truth of their life in the shed. He responds to the news with confusion and anger.

Jack: “I want a different story!”

Ma: “No, this is the story that you get!”

After many tears and much discussion…

Ma: “You’re going to love it.”

Jack: “What?”

Ma: “The world.”

The plan is successful and the two are finally free. Even though their rescue is the best possible outcome, the new reality for Ma and Jack is overwhelming. Their simple, co-dependent world built for two is now stretched to accommodate life outside of the room. Jack’s observes:

The world’s like all TV planets on at the same time, so I don’t know which way to look and listen. There’s doors and… more doors. And behind all the doors, there’s another inside, and another outside. And things happen, happen, HAPPENING. 

On April 19, 2016, I entered the same court that sanctioned the demise of a family in the fall. But this time I got to witness the legal rescue of the same little boys. A judge signed adoption papers making my friend their new forever mom. Whoosh-pshew! A new family was born. Love in the human lost and found.

The three year-old was playful and smiling. The five year-old wore uncertainty like the Halloween mask he wore on the fall day that set this arrangement into motion.

He loves his adoptive mother and his new life with her and his brother. But like Jack, his rescue from a simple, but broken life with his biological family leaves him with a confusing mix of emotions.

His forever mommy is willing to lean into the tension of a life that includes the birth parents so the boys will know they were loved on all fronts. But still he is left in an emotional wrestling match of one—trying to sort out where his allegiances should lie.

Jack’s Ma gets pinned by her formidable re-entry opponent and tries to tap out with a handful of pills. While she is recovering in a hospital, Jack continues his acclimation with the care of his grandmother, Nancy. As he becomes stronger, he wants to offer some of his strength to his mother.

In true Samson fashion, he decides to cut his five year-old mane and send the locks of bravery to his mom.

Jack: “Do you think this will work? Can my strong be her strong too?”

Nancy:  “Oh. Of course it can. We all help each other stay strong. No one is strong alone.”

AdoptionMy friend, the new forever mom, has spent most of her life wondering why she has experienced so much pain, disappointment, and disillusionment. Wondering what God could possibly be thinking? I have sat with her, cried with her, and listened. “Doesn’t He care? Doesn’t he see my pain? If only it had a purpose.”

It did. And He saw. He sat with her through it and then looked past it to two little boys who would need her to understand their pain. All the struggle and counseling and wrestling with a life that did not go as planned uniquely qualified her to welcome two tiny souls now battling the same questions. Her trials prepared her “for such a time as this.”

If we could choose our stories, I would guess these brothers would not have picked this scenario. But this is their story. The beautiful thing is, while there are wounds to be healed and hardships to overcome, there is hope.

In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer writes:

Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, yours, ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.

Two little boys burst into the room of my friend. It was unplanned and messy. The truth was ugly and sad. But after the truth comes love. Lots of love. Together, they saved each other.