I’m tickled to have Naomi Zacharias here today on the blog. She’s the author of The Scent of Water: Grace for Every Kind of Broken. I had the privilege of reading this book, a beautiful rendering of Naomi’s journeys around the world and through her heart. Zondervan has agreed to give away 5 copies to my readers. After the interview, answer the question to be considered!
And now, to our interview:
You are engaged with the world’s suffering. How has that changed your perspective on suffering? How has your view of God changed through your interaction with those who hurt?
In the book I mention the experience of visiting the red light district in Amsterdam. When I first went there, I felt a bit threatened by the women; they threatened a sense of security within me as I watched guys my age and men wearing wedding bands walking through brothel doors. I had been intimidated by the women, but at the end of my first visit there what overwhelmed me was the realization of how little separated us as human beings. I don’t mean our experiences were the same- I cannot begin to understand the horrors she has faced. But as I listened their stories I realized that if the things that happened to her had happened to me, I would probably be on her side of the window, too. What this work has changed in my perspective is to see the person behind the statistic, to see them as human, and to recognize an opportunity in life to be a part of something so much larger than myself and my world. While our stories our different we are all part of a greater story that allows us to see our own brokenness in a much larger picture. My belief in God- in His very existence, in His compassion, in His grace, and in His purposeful calling to each of us reach out to those who are hurting has ultimately deepened in having the opportunity to be in places of utter devastation and tragedy.
When my husband was in Calcutta years ago, he said he could tangibly feel Jesus with him, probably the closest he’s felt in his life. Where, on earth, have you felt as if Jesus was nearer than your breath? Why?
I can understand why your husband said that. Calcutta is a city like no other- it’s the city of course where Mother Theresa said she left her heart. It is is place where for many, life has been wrought with remarkable suffering, and I do think Jesus can always be found near those others have forgotten.
The clear memory that fills my mind when I read that question is one that takes me back several years. For me, oddly enough the place on earth I have felt as if Jesus was nearer than my breath was in Atlanta, GA. My living room, actually. It wasn’t specific to location meaning geography, but rather a state of being and location of the heart. I was devastated and lost and felt so completely alone. I remember sitting alone in the dark, crying out to God. I felt a abandoned, actually. I had been praying for some time but I had not felt any tangible response- not an answer, not even something that felt like comfort. On that night as I prayed I was hurt and a little angry, asking him why he had not, or would not answer. And that night He did answer. I felt like He was sitting right next to me in that room. I remember it so clearly. That had never happened before, and has not happened since. I think He met me in a way I perhaps needed at the time. I not wake up the next morning with an explanation, or “answer.” But I did wake up knowing I was not alone and God had not left me. So my answer to your question is that the place I have felt Jesus nearer than my breath, was in the center of my own brokenness.
What is the biggest change God has wrought in you this past year?
This year has been one I look back on with wonder. My husband and I were married on June 24th of last year. We celebrated our one year anniversary last month and three days later, our son was born. This year had moments of inexplicable sadness when I felt like one more horror-filled story of human tragedy was more than I could handle. It has been filled with the fulfillment of dreams I stopped dreaming some time ago. It had moments of sheer joy, but also of fear- fear of failure, fear of inadequacy. Those fears can be crippling. And I think it is here that God has clearly been at work. To know love is to embrace a kind of vulnerability that cannot be articulated. For me, I have had to work at learning to trust God with my life and the things dear to me, and to trust someone with my heart. Both God and my husband have shown infinite patience. I remember after about 6 months of marriage, noticing the way my husband looked at me and finding it to be both deeply touching and truly inexplicable. After living with me day in and day out, he still loved me. He even still liked me. For me, it also took the birth of my son to help me begin to glimpse something of the heart of God in a new way- to begin to realize what He would sacrifice for us and how much he sacrificed for us and loves us. I feel so inadequate to be the person I want to be- the daughter, the friend, and specifically, the wife I long to be, and now the mother I so badly want to be, too. I believe God is helping me take baby steps in learning not to live crippled by the fear of ‘what if’ and the worry of all that I am not, but instead to learn not only what it means to love, but to lay down your pride and learn to be loved for exactly who you are.
What was the hardest part of writing The Scent of Water? Why?
I absolutely loved the writing process- the chance each day to sit alone with my thoughts and put pen to paper. The hardest part of writing was probably the decision to do it. I remember my sister asking me why I had not initially responded to the suggestion and I finally told her that I had never seen myself as a writer, never thought I would write a book. So the idea of trying, of putting myself out there, was frightening. My thoughts seemed much safer when they remained in my head! The truth is I wouldn’t have decided to try if it were not for her. She encouraged and lovingly pushed me to try and to be willing to put my experience and thoughts out there realizing there would certainly be some for whom it would not resonate, but for even the one that it might speak to.
My blog and website is about living uncaged. As you look over your life, what was the biggest turning point in learning to live uncaged?
I think I would answer that again it was related to my own experience of loss and sadness- one that created some disillusionment about life. As I explored that, God was so faithful. I think He allowed me to ask the difficult questions- He was quite capable of handling that. When I was in this rock bottom place and felt the formulas didn’t work, I couldn’t fix this, and I couldn’t wear this mask of a kind of smooth or flawless living anymore, I was left with a choice. You either yield to bitterness, or you throw yourself at his feet like the woman in the Bible who washed Jesus’s feet with her hair in a demonstration that said, “this is who I am.” That experience of being humbled and the recognition of God’s all sufficient grace drew me to a different kind of relationship with Him. No false impressions of who I was, no ability to pretend. My own hurt took me to places in the world to try to participate in someone else’s story, too.
Instead of the recognition of our shortcomings being a prison, it holds the opportunity to truly experience freedom in Christ- that with all of our flaws and shortcomings, He love us. And He has a purpose for us that will be fulfilled not just in spite of the flaws and of pain, but right through it.
To be considered for one of the five copies Zondervan is graciously giving away, answer this question in the comment section: What has been your biggest turning point in living uncaged?