ex·o·skel·e·ton (ĕk′sō-skĕl′ĭ-tn) noun; A hard, rigid external covering for the body providing both support and protection.
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“You can be right as rain, but when you act like that you’re wrong.”
He’d just driven us 40 miles without a word, only an occasional affirming grunt aimed at the AM announcer crackling through the speakers, an occasional “That’s enough, boys” aimed at the two little ones in the back seat. Other than that, he never said a word. Not. One. Word.
And that wasn’t like him.
But, he said his peace, plucked the boys through the back door, then walked to the house leaving me alone in that old Buick outside that old brick house.
Alone with my shame.
Today I don’t recall the particulars, only that a woman at the store had been rude and treated me poorly, had been wrong, oh so very wrong to my very justifiable how-can-you-not-see Right. I remember that her stance shook mine, rattled my foundation built by never-agains and I’ll swing first next time, so I did the only thing I could do, the only thing I knew to do: I swung first. My jaw slackened and my tongue came unhinged, my lips parted and pursed and threw every punch that came to mind, many more that never made it that far. I cursed and wailed and said “How dare you”.
How dare she.
All this with two little boys trying to stuff themselves into the bulk of the shadow behind me like some strong and sturdy oak providing a place to hide. Only I wasn’t strong, and I certainly wasn’t sturdy.
The older boy sliped out and around with his brother in tow, took my hand with his other and said, “C’mon, Mom. Let’s go”.
That was two decades ago.
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It had been a day, such a long, exhausting day. I’d begun work at 2 am and at 7 pm I was finally sinking myself into sheets and pillows and two yawning, waiting cats. I drifted away swiftly, sweetly oblivious to all that hadn’t been done in my own day, my own life. Tomorrow was another day.
Then, the phone rang. I looked at the number blaring green on the screen in the black of my room. Work? Work, again! I snatched up the phone and barked “hello” with a snarl. Inside I squirmed, rolled over in that internal space, grimaced and groaned. But outside I didn’t care. I was too tired to care.
I raced back to work with not so much as a faint memory of getting there, stomped my way inside, and began to grump and grumble at the caller: an innocent woman doing the right thing, the only thing. The same woman who smiles each morning, says “thank you” each and every time.
Rather than run, she stayed right there beside me, working, correcting the problem, cleaning the mess. She got to hear all about my day, all my hard work, all my long hours. She got to hear how I was snuggled in bed not five minutes before. She got to hear how wronged I was and how unfair the place could be. She got to hear how I couldn’t do it all and how I had half a mind to walk away.
She listened with interest, nods of affirmation, an “I understand, Dear” from time to time. And all the time my mouth is running my inside Self is running from the painful discomfort of my old and ugly Self barging back in. Or, maybe not barging back in at all, but rearing its hibernating head, unfurling its fangs. Maybe that me is still there, after all. All these years later.
And all the time my mouth is running my inside Self is wondering why this woman isn’t running for the hills, running fast and far from this monster in Me, but she’s not. She stays right there.
And I’m astounded, because there are no “maybes” about it. That me is still in Me.
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We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
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She’s a rough sort with a mouth to match. Maybe that’s why I like her. She doesn’t take any guff, says what she means and means what she says. There’s never any wondering, any second-guessing. That appeals to me. She likes me, too, and we meet every morning to start the day, catch-up on the latest. I can tell how her night’s been by the slope of her shoulders, the speed of her steps, the pitch and volume of her words.
One Monday she came in with a black eye and evaded looking at me, evaded my questions. I let it lie, but I knew, or had a good idea, anyway. She was in uncommon form that day, slow and quiet, solemn. Almost timid. That wasn’t the woman I knew; not the roaring red-head tough as three forged nails. But, something had set her back hard, back on her haunches crouched in fear.
The next day she was back, the She I knew full of fire and fists raised, mouth without censor. She spoke swiftly, laughed loudly, said, “I don’t give a damn. To hell with ’em.”
As much as she amused me, there was a sadness behind my smile that day. I saw something I recognized, someone I knew. Pain and fear and sadness weren’t lost on me. Like a separated species searching in the dark of night, I can sense these things, can sniff them out. I followed long-worn tracks right to where she was.
Later that day I enter her room to find another there just about to leave. I look up and see big, voluptuous tears about to fall from her bottom lid. Her face is flushed. She hides her eyes and picks up her speed, scurrying here and there, papers flitering about. I ask if she’s okay.
She tells me a story of the coworker whose husband had died a month before, but just the other day the woman received mail from him, a bracelet engraved with words of his undying love. He’d arranged the purchase, the words, the delivery before his death as assurance to his widow. A remembrance.
“Isn’t that just the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard?” she asks looking me dead in the eye as if this time she truly doesn’t care. To hell with ’em. Let ’em see her cry.
And I saw Her then, tender and bare and beautiful.
So very beautiful.
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Exoskeleton does not grow; it is not a living structure. Exoskeleton limits arthropods maximum size. Although chitin is tough, it is brittle and cannot support great weight without increasing its thickness greatly. Exoskeleton must be shed in order for increase in size – “ecdysis”
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Wouldn’t it be well and wonderful and good to lose this shell we stay in for fear and weakness and habit?
Wouldn’t it be good to lose the constraint of past and pain and breathe fully, deeply?
Wouldn’t it be oh so beautiful to stand naked and uncaring and unashamed before our Lord saying, “Yes, Father, I did”.
I’m sure Paul who was once Saul knew this very thing. He had a history like an iron ball clamped to his heel, but he pressed on dragging, dragging, dragging it along. He’d been stripped bare, been made blind. Then restored. He’d been broken down and then rebuilt, not forgetting the past, not constrained by it, but rather fueled by it. Propelled by it.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to willingly succumb to the breaking away of our hard, impermeable shells, to bow graciously at the peeling away of old and ugly layers, to offer them up freely, sacrificially as both tool and trade, offering them up for both our death and our Life-
for our very Lives.
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Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12: 7-10