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Wounded: A Love Story


Friar John-Francis walked to the podium and stood front and center before the large expectant congregation. His nerves had frayed at the edges like the rough Franciscan tunic he wore. A knot of nausea settled like a stone in his stomach. He willed himself to ignore it. It would be the first time he’d share the book in front of an audience; for her sake he wanted it to go well. The monk had been given all the grace a man should ever need. That he stood there at all was a miracle.

Still, he stroked his scraggly beard, an anxious gesture.

O, Lord, make haste to help me.

God must have taken pity. Bible verses flew like angels to his aid. He cleared his throat and inclined himself toward the microphone, clutching the edges of the cool wood. A deep breath. And another, before he prayed a few words from Psalm 69.

“God, You know how foolish I am.”

Twitters of laughter sprang up from the audience. His cheeks pinked as self-consciousness burned in his face.

“‘My offenses are not hidden from you. Those who hope in you must not be made fools of, Yahweh Sabaoth, because of me. Those who seek you must not be disgraced, God of Israel, because of me.’”

Smoothing the pages of the novel flat with his palm, he peered at his listeners. The gentle friar knew that inevitable skeptics lurked in the crowd.

God makes provisions for them, too.

The thought came to him in her voice. She would remember her enemies kindly.

He took a moment and studied the faces staring at him, some with open, eager expressions; others guarded, as if they’d come armed with a refusal to believe. He sighed. The only way in it … is to begin it. But Friar John-Francis couldn’t help thinking of all the travail it took for this book to be born. All the sorrow and suffering that made it possible. If they only knew exactly how much this cost.

It wasn’t Holy Scripture. Only God knew how many people would bother to read it, but to him the book was a sacramental. Isaiah 53 came to mind: “Who would believe what we have heard?” No comforting answer surfaced. He’d have to trust God to convince them. It was a good story. Truthful, whether or not anyone believed it.

“Let me tell you a story,” he said.


“Ash Wednesday …”



Chapter One: Ash Wednesday

Regina Dolores Merritt

I was sitting in church at the Vineyard when Christ first wounded me. Minutes earlier Mike had fingered a cross of ashes onto my forehead.

Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

Sounds like a plan. I shuffled away from him.

Throbbing pain in my knees heavied my steps --- that, and the grim mood of my fellow pilgrims. You’d have thought Mike had forced us to peer inside our own caskets. We trudged back to our seats like mourners in a funeral procession, our footfalls a solemn largo on the red-flecked carpet.

For the heck of it, I pictured my tombstone:

Here lies Regina Dolores Merritt

The world’s oldest twenty-four-year-old.

Mother of Zoe.

To torment myself I filled the blank space after Zoe’s name with all of the people I didn’t have to love me. That made me want to throw down a punch bowl like Florida Evans did on Good Times when her husband died. I imagined shaking my fists to the heavens, shouting, “Dang! Dang! Dang!”

She didn’t say dang, but I don’t cuss.

That was my darkest moment during the whole service, and it had more to do with my life. Death would be an upgrade.

We didn’t do somber much at the Vineyard West. Not that we were shallow, but let’s face it, joy themes garner more enthusiasm. On Ash Wednesday, however, we cloaked ourselves in sorrow, and wore our ashes like nuns wear habits.

When I arrived back at my seat in the near-empty balcony, I thought of how our Ash Wednesday service made me happy deep down in my ragamuffin soul. I could practically hear the dulcet sounds of Donny Hathaway’s crooning coursing through my soul with the slow ease of an opiate.

“Take it from me, someday we’ll all be free.”

Amen, Donny!


One day I’d lay my pain-filled body down, along with my bipolar brain that stuttered between dancing and lying in sackcloth and ashes. I’d take off the cheap polyester dress of corruption, and put on glittering incorruptible couture. Best of all, I’d be with Jesus face to face. That’s all I wanted --- all I wanted in the whole wide world.

Now seated, I closed my eyes to press the mute button on my senses and surrendered to the sweet delights of silent contemplation --- if you can call our worship band softly playing Hillsong praise ditties silent. But I could contemplate with that. Mike had already darkened the sanctuary so we could focus on an image of James Caviezel hanging on the cross. The audio-visual team had projected him onto a giant screen hovering above the worship band.

I definitely wanted to avoid looking at stills from The Passion of Christ. Personally, I found Caviezel way too good-looking to play Jesus, especially when he smiled --- which I have to admit he didn’t get to do much in the movie. And there was the fact that he was James Caviezel. Period. I mean, come on. He played J. Lo’s boyfriend in Angel Eyes. I couldn’t get that out of my mind. If I looked at him, I’d never get my holy groove on.

So, having avoided movie magic, I did what old, black, charismatic folks sing about; I kept my mind stayed on Jesus. Hallelu … Hallelu … Halleluuuuuu jah.

God’s peace enveloped me. I hugged my arms, wrapping myself in His tranquility. It covered me like a soft, consoling blanket. Jesus hadn’t healed me yet, but He always soothed my fibromyalgia-broken body. I exhaled and burrowed deep inside the solace of the Man of Sorrows. He was my true comfort. The only reason I was still alive.

Unlike the other crosses in my life, the marking on my forehead --- that ironically looked like a plus sign --- caused me no discomfort. The migraine headache clawing its way up the base of my neck however, raged like the great tribulation. My limbs burned like they’d been injected with liquid fire. The way my poor knees thumped in agony you’d think they were acouple of talking drums.

I had a hard time driving to church my hands hurt so much; an itch that felt like hives tickled my palms. I assumed it would eventually pass, or some other searing pain would draw my attention elsewhere. My fibro was so severe by then it ignored the eighteen points of pain that distinguished it from, say lupus or arthritis. Pain showed up with no regard to protocol. And I was sensitive to all things: perfume, fabric dye, strong odors --- not so strong ones. Nothing helped.

I didn’t use drugs, not even prescription ones. None of them --- and I do mean none --- worked once the “honeymoon” period passed. On occasion I popped a homeopathic remedy under my tongue, or slathered my aches in arnica gel. Mostly a few simple words kept me sane in chronic pain, if you could call a bipolar sistah with fibro who took prayer over Percocet sane.

My prayer? Share with me, Jesus. A breath prayer I’d come up with as homework when Mike decided to do a series on the Spanish mystics Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross. I dug my little prayer because it was my way of asking Jesus to bear my cross, while at the same time opening my hands to receive a portion of His.

I loved Him.

Without a doubt I didn’t believe I could truly take on the suffering of Jesus, but if even the desire to give Him a modicum of relief from the agony of the cross pleased Him, oh yeah. Share with me Jesus.

Once again I opened my eyes to see if the image on the big screen had changed. Nope. James Caviezel still looked like ground chuck. I squeezed my eyes shut again, my thoughts flying back to the real Jesus.

You could have pulled rank, being God and all, and busted up out of there, leaving the cross far behind You, but You didn’t. You knew nobody would take care of our sin problem like You would. And there You hung, naked and nailed through Your hands and feet. Your side pierced by a sword. And though none could see it, except maybe Your mama, Your very heart had been impaled for the love of us.

Oh, my precious, magnificent God.

Share with me, Jesus.

I could understand what happened if there had been something special about my worship, but I didn’t do anything different or spectacular. Yet, luxuriant peace spread through me so profusely that I opened my eyes from the shock of it, and found Jesus, not James Caviezel, right in front of me.

Tears filled my eyes. I blinked to shy away from the blinding light of His radiance. All the colors of the prism danced within His body. I heard music, unlike anything I’d heard before. My heart stilled, and my breathing ceased. The tangled thoughts that filled my mind unraveled like a knot of thread and fell away as I found the Center of centering prayer. Awareness of anything else vanished.

Angels must have froze and watched in stunned silence.

The Son of God Himself knelt before unworthy me. He picked up my hand and His mouth descended. Then Jesus, with the gentleness of an ardent lover, kissed me, leaving a perfect red rose in my hand.

Excerpted from Wounded © Copyright 2012 by Claudia Mair Burney. Reprinted with permission by David C. Cook. All rights reserved.

Wounded: A Love Story
by by Claudia Mair Burney

  • paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: David C. Cook
  • ISBN-10: 1434799387
  • ISBN-13: 9781434799388