back-alley heart surgery


gravel is crunching under my shoes as i crouch down low near a dumpster.

my friends, my good friends, are in the bar.  i don’t have a lot of praying under my belt yet.  but i need.  i need so bad.

i need a listening someone with sway.

i set down his keys.  my father’s keys.  i’d put them down on the bar.  he’d given more than his keys.  he’d given tentative trust when he handed them over after weeks of tending to his strung out daughter.

and i’d headed on over to hang out in the old places, with the old friends.

picture frame

my best friend and i had both changed.

she knew i’d told my parents everything.  she knew i was hanging around with other kids. younger kids.  the same age as us, but so much younger.  and kinder.  i’d stopped coming around.  and there was this little detail – i’d met jesus.

i suppose i thought i was gracing them with my presence that night.

look who’s back!  zena’s back!

my friend had a new guy.  he was in and out of jail, slippery like a snake and handsome.  he was hard to resist with that smile that never left his face, except when it did.  they fought as a rule.  passionate and clashing.  she was addicted to him now.

her boyfriend eyed the keys when i laid them down on the bar.

i didn’t see that coming.

we’d stolen a car together before, she and i.  we’d stolen it from her friend.  a guy i didn’t know very well, but liked.  he needed a ride when he was going out of town, so we drove him to the train station and waved goodbye.

just a nice kid.  just a trusting soul.


we joy rode.

we played the music loud and life felt sweeter in a stolen ride.  we showed up to places proud and we left it abandoned when we were done.  i was unconcerned, heartless.

i was no different than they were tonight.

sometimes nothing sounds better than the old places.  singing old songs and sitting next to faces that you know so well.  it kind of feels like home.  it makes a body feel safe.

just a nice kid.  just a trusting soul.

we laughed and we talked and when it was time to go, my hand searched the bar frantic like a five-legged spider.  i’d lied tonight and my barely trusting me parents were going to know.  i was going to have to call them and tell them i was back in the old places, that i was with the old people.

but god was new.

prayer was new.  and i needed new.

fall on me

i needed new because the old was failing me like a rope coming undone from the top of the cliff.  i went outside and crouched down low and looked up at the sky.  it was black and blue like my heart.

like the new heart god was putting in me.

in the bible god makes a promise.  it’s the kind of promise that you don’t even know you need, but you do.  you really do.  it goes like this – i will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; i will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.

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.

i will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

he was taking out the old stone heart.  he was removing it and giving me a natural heart, black and blue, with flesh and blood.  he was performing a back-alley heart transplant on an eighteen-year-old liar behind a dive bar.

i heard the cars flying by on the main road and i begged him to help me find the keys.  i promised the moon and the stars and my first born besides.  and that’s where she found me.

she walked right up, keys in hand.

“here.  jason found these.”

it’s pretty easy twenty years later to connect the dots, but i was just a nice kid.  just a trusting soul.

all i saw was this – answered.  prayer answered.

he was forming me then. forming me into a follower.  teaching me how to pray.  my flesh heart started to beat.  i could have kissed her.  her boyfriend’s plan didn’t work and she was handing me back my dad’s truck, my dad’s trust.  she was a servant of the lord.  and i was going to keep my lofty promises.

at least, i was going to try.


you know, these things i’ve seen and believe about jesus, they’re not just for me.

they’re for you, too.

they’re for your marriage with your spouse who won’t step up the plate because you keep knocking them down.

they’re for you as a parent with your willful children saying whatever they damn well please because you can’t control your tongue.

they’re for you when you go back to the old places and forget that you’re not the only one who has changed.

this heart-surgeon, prayer-hearing, follower-forming god is for you, too.

he’s not just mine to write about on the page, for you to read about when i tell you a story.  he is not mine alone to watch as he makes good on his promises.  he is for you.  he is for you, too.  when you’ve made the wrong choice and are alone in the night, desperate under a black and blue sky.

he’s for you.

writing with emily and heather today…

8 replies on “ back-alley heart surgery ”
  1. this is just wonderful. the way you weave a story into something so beautiful and so powerful that ended with me in tears and on my knees. you have a place where your shoes should be taken off. you have holy ground here.

    visiting from imperfect prose <3

  2. I remember that heart of stone and the tears shed as He began to turn it to flesh and blood, his blood. Isn’t He wonderful? Love you, Zena.

  3. He makes promises we don’t even know we need, yes to this. Such a lovely post Zena, I’m kind of at a loss for words, it has me a bit undone. Thank you for sharing your gift.

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