There’s a LOT of heavy, hard things swirling the inter-webs these days. Images, news feeds, fiery op-eds, texting wars on social media. In the spirit of pushing against the tsunami of online yuck, here’s my rescue pup being her sweet, awkward and never socially distanced self. Take that, 2021!
2020: A year of grace & grief, of laud & lament.
As the familiar Ecclesiastical prose has captured since time immemorial – to everything there is a season. In reflection, one cannot deny that this year comprised them all.
Here’s to the weary, the whiplashed & worn.
Here’s to the beginnings that resulted from deeply felt ends.
Here’s to the binds that held us up, held us back, & somehow, when vulnerably shared, held us together.
Here’s to the history makers, the history repeaters, & the humble inquirers of wisdom past for present understanding.
Here’s to the breakthroughs, the breakups, & the bound-up broken in-betweens.
Here’s to our shared humanity & our infinite differences.
It ALL mattered. Because people ALWAYS matter.
Even in the shadows, the silence & sorrow songs that echoed to eternal ears.
Here’s to another turn ‘round the sun.
May the coming dawn shine fresh mercies upon us all.
2020 put him through the wringer, rewriting nearly every norm in his life.
A year of highs and lows and messy in-betweens. But by heaven’s grace, we made it through, along with his sister, to this familiar rhythm of putting up our tree. Keenly aware he probably won’t need my shoulders next year, I breathe deep tonight’s seasonal scene.
Gratitude falls afresh for the momentary peace of lights upon on a dove-topped tree.
I absolutely loved this conversation with Heather Jonsson as we explored life’s valleys and the strong, sure grace that meets us there. While our details may vary, loss touches us all. I hope this conversation meets you wherever life has you right now and infuses real hope in your heart to press forward. That and a proper craving for DELICIOUS croissants!
Give the episode a listen and let me know what silver linings are shining in your world these days.
I want to remember this day: one of watershed truth and marveling at the complexities of the human mind and mortal time and infinite, sovereign grace.
Another sunrise to an approaching setting, yet everything within this pedestrian space has unalterably changed. I’m lost in the wonder of it all, tangibly shaken by saturating light and seismic shifts in understanding.
Though it may tarry, the truth will out in the end. Always.
I want to remember this day.
This boy has changed my life in ways unfathomable, ways mere words cannot convey.
Named for a man of honor who fought off WW2 foes. Sharing a name with another whose life and murder have ushered in an era of reckoning, shifting the tides of racial reconciliation before global eyes. All held securely by legacy and kin.
In a time of pandemic and strife, of unlearning and rewriting national narratives and individual minds, may I be molded and made worthy of the memory and destiny enveloped in these letters five.
Floyd – the name of those who change the world and those who have changed mine.
Last week, my beloved nephew and kids filled a chalkboard with their names. Little did they know the profound weight “Floyd” would hold for our country by week’s end.
I’ve been at a loss today. Words, thoughts, productive anything beyond lament over the evil brought center stage and my shameful lack of urgency therein before now.
Floyd was my grandfather, my Papa – the most honorable man I’ve ever known.
Floyd is my nephew – the most beloved and joyful and long prayed for blessing my family has ever received.
Floyd is a murdered man, a cry for justice, and a spotlight on the heinous, demonic beast of racism woven in and through these “United” States. A kind soul slain beneath a resolute knee.
And, wouldn’t you know, “Floyd” literally means “grey” – a poignant reminder of remaining ambiguous for too long, thrust center stage in our nation’s consciousness.
But there can be no grey here! Neutrality simply does not exist. Racism, in any form, is sin and must be snuffed out completely.
Floyd is my heritage, my family, and my fellowman. These namesakes have molded me, melted me, and this week moved me from complacency to urgency of word and deed. In this heart, in this home, Floyd will be honored, fought for, and never, ever forgotten.
How does one put words to this weight, this reality that has arrested my heart and admittedly escaped my prioritization for far too long?
How could mere words ever be enough?
Yet, in the absence of words, oppression maintains center stage.
This weight of evil, of life’s worth snuffed out beneath a knee. Generational pain and familiar apathy and the luxury of being born a hue not inherently oppressed therein.
Atrocities heinous. Arrogance blatant. It’s all so utterly wrong; its acceptance as quid pro quo is honestly absurd.
And all I have is an ample lack of adequate words.
What can one Irish, divorced, nearly midlife, single mom, American citizen do against the endless tsunami of racism smashing beloved souls again and again and again, relentless as the ocean tide?
What else is there to do but offer my confession.
I have been the eye that turned away to maintain an inner narrative within my comfort zone.
I have taken offense in times past at the notions of privilege. (Honestly – is there anything more privileged than the ability to deny itself true? Pathetic.)
I have allowed insecurities to perceive the weight of woes bore by others with more melanin than my inhereted freckles as threats to the griefs life has required I carry.
I have not listened and I have chosen only to listen to voices that did not call my arrogance into question.
I have claimed Christ’s Name and yet not wept with those who weep nor sacrificially stood in the gap for those surrounded by assailant’s stones.
I have been wrong.
What will fix this seemingly insurmountable foe, this hatred thick as molasses that clings to our nation’s soul? It seems a task impossible at times as its roots run deep as oaks into our veins.
And make no mistake – it touches every human vein, every single one.
Perhaps the stage for slaying generational giants gets set by personal repentance and humility on the part of those who’ve never lived an oppressed reality.
Where I cannot personally relate, I can absolutely listen and elevate another’s cries for truths self-evident to actually be applied to all mankind.
Perhaps knowing what to do begins by confessing what has already been done with personal humility and corporate grief that sees sin as sin without qualifiers.
I have personally contributed to the problem by actively disengaging and refraining from leaning in when it would have cost me personal comfort.
Where I cannot fathom an adequate solution for the pandemic of hate saturating our nation, I can there offer my confession and elevate woes different than my own.
After all, they come from souls created in the image of the divine.
Every. Single. One.
I once wrote a post on life’s blindsiding moments, on life’s before and afters, on grieving and growing through blessings in disguise. The past six days have required me to reread and remember my own words, something I’m still struggling to apply, if I’m honest.
This week began as any other and became, by Monday’s end, another before and after, rendering my youngest son admitted to a children’s hospital with a lifelong diagnosis: Type 1 Diabetes.
This week I watched my brown-eyed boy be cared for in a different hospital by the same physicians who helped sustain my blue-eyed boy’s broken heart 13 years ago.
This week I felt the embrace of sincere community while confined in an age of social distancing.
This week I remembered distinct antiseptic smells and pulse ox alarms, and the significance of small numbers flashed across a screen. I remembered huge, ugly-pink water pitchers and crunchy ice refills and sleeper recliners that never quite get comfortable no matter how hard you try.
This week I experienced the brilliance of bedside nurses, the solidarity of colleagues, and the sacrificial courage of men and women who, having taken the Hippocratic Oath to first do no harm, are often overlooked in times of our own need.
This week I witnessed an eight-year-old boy ride the rollercoaster of grief towards acceptance of a new normal and take immeasurable strides towards maturity within four in-patient days.
This week I gained fresh appreciation for outdoor breezes and sun shining on the skin, of organs unseen and disposable needles, and how a formidable diagnosis may contain the capacity to bring alignment to those otherwise at odds.
This week I reconciled my assumption that certain experiential boxes can be checked only once in a lifetime with the fact that one can never outlive any possibility while this broken world remains.
This week began focused on a pandemic and ended with a new perspective for pondering life’s weightiest things.
This week I returned to the world of fragile, chronic conditions, resilient children, and unanswered questions, of treasured tears captured in an unseen bottle by a Physician, Great and Eternal, and the holy tension of honest lament.
Above all, this week reminded me that gratitude and grief can cohabitate a heart as it cries out to the only One worthy, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”Continue reading
Grace /ɡrās/ noun 1.) free and unmerited favor
It’s a word known and familiar. Regardless of one’s personal convictions, its highly likely that nearly every American and countless many abroad hear the words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” whenever its familiar melody begins to play.
We are deeply touched, even unsettled, whenever we recognize its been given to us. At times, the role of “grace giver” can feel deeply satisfying. This lovely notion that has spurred on artworks and anthems, namesakes worldwide and notoriety to iconic figures through history: A tiny nun who spent her years giving orphans a home. A friendly cardigan-zipping neighbor elevating the dignity of a fellow human being above society’s dividing lines. A Babylonian king extending his scepter at the unbeckoned approach of an unlikely queen. A carpenter’s son who found greatest worth among the least of these. Hymns and homilies and hashtags have waxed poetic of grace in action while traditions and fairytales have shown glimpses of its worth.
We all need it.
We’d like to think we freely give it.
And I’ll bet my bottom dollar, in one form or another, we all crave it. Desperately.
At least, I know I do.
Sometimes I recognize it when given. Obvious signs of favor I neither deserve nor deny. Evidence of mercy’s bestowing opposite twin; where mercy withholds deserved consequences without leverage, grace bestows favor without merit. I see its evidence and feel its weight, warm as a cloak wrapped round the shivering shoulders of a helpless child. It floods my heart with gratitude and fills my sight with awe.
But sometimes, there are other times when its evidence hides in plain sight, when the cloak is not warm but absolute as a deathly hallow, hiding the enclosed contents completely from searching eyes. In times like these, my mind runs rampant. I’ll recall those hymns and homilies, declarations of grace amazing and sweet, their comfort felt sharp as a knife and bitter on my tongue.
If I’m honest (and can’t we all just be honest), I quickly arrive at conclusions on my worth and the grace-giver’s intentions and all the reasons why this gift, by nature undeservable, has deliberately been withheld. Shaming conclusions and damning rejections. I look for grace and find shadows instead. And I determine my perspective accurate, informed, right.
It’s unnervingly easy to come to such conclusions. At least, I find it so. I look for grace like a river while sorrows like sea billows roll.
But maybe, just maybe, circumstances aren’t always as they first seem.
What if the shadows are not vacancies but evidence of a stronger light?
What if the pain is not a punishment but a provision to expose and spark rescue from a subversive deadly woe?
What if felt silence is not absence but rather the quiet nearness of a gentle embrace?
What if when we wrestle through the night, as Jacob did in times of old, what if the resulting limp IS the blessing?
What if hope is not in fact hollow but firmly rooted in a foundation eyes cannot currently see?
It’s a lesson lifelong for this girl named for what she must relearn over and again. A gift often wrapped in peculiar packaging.
Sometimes grace is a shelter and sometimes grace is the rain.
Sometimes grace is a placeholder, holding off the good as it secures space for something greater on its way.
Sometimes grace is a cradle and sometimes grace is a crucifixion.
May my eyes behold this gift when wrapped within various forms, remembering at all times that it bestows favor: unmerited and free.
I’ve found my heart heavy in recent days, heavy with a grief I cannot quite explain.
Loss comes in many forms, you see. Some sudden, some slowly, others in increments over time. I’ve long held to the notion that loss is loss is loss. While the details of our individual suffering may vary, human decency requires we honor its magnitude based on the weight felt by the one required to bear its load.
As the calendar marks another year since my firstborn son died, I’m struck afresh by this mortal proclivity towards comparison. Some who have not walked my road may be tempted to diminish their own woes as less than. In contrast, a grief unresolved could easily seem to outweigh all others.
Death. Disease. Divorce. Disappointments.
We all have our version of “worst case scenario” that life has required us to carry. These differences ought push us towards compassion rather than comparison. While you may never have walked a bereaved mother’s road, I have not had to walk as an orphan or a cancer patient. Where one person’s suffering may exist in external circumstances, some equally weighty exist where eyes cannot see but are just as real as tangible things.
Loss is loss is loss.
There is a kind of loss that, in my eyes, trumps all others by comparison. One that I cannot wrap my mind around and feel honestly blessed to have not been required to bear thus far. It comes in vast shapes and forms, but haunts me just the same.
That of the sudden, the unthinkable, the kind that leave you utterly speechless, the unexplained.
Shootings. Devastating disasters. A sudden lethal heart attack in a healthy wife and mother. A child who never wakes from sleep. Things that should never, ever be.
In the face of such sudden atrocities, my own losses will always pale. Indeed, they fade into seeming luxury by comparison. Perhaps yours feel that same way. What do you say? What can you do? Platitudes cannot and should not suffice in such circumstances. How could they?
Today finds me grappling with such things, with memories of a heaven-bound son and signs of a broken world surrounding. In truth, it finds me with more questions than answers, more prayers of grief for the woes of those known by name and news headlines, more aware of what not to say than words to fill a heavy void.
But even in this space of wondering why, a smallest spark lights up the dark with hope. Not in an outcome perhaps, but in an understanding.
While our details may vary, life has dealt us all a heavy load to bear. We are mortal after all. While such weights can tempt us to comparison, they can also stir us towards compassion – compassion which we all need, that we all have the opportunity to bestow to our fellow man. The losses in my life do not diminish the magnitude of your own, nor vice versa. Instead they bestow a peculiar blessing.
The opportunity for solidarity.
I will never understand life’s sudden losses. I cannot fathom the grief of a parent stripped of their healthy child in a moment nor the terror of receiving that call from an officer. There are wounds you cannot quite grasp either, ones that make your own feel seemingly small.
But what I can do – what we all can do – is allow individual sorrows to fuel a compassion for others, one that stands in solidarity beside the sufferer so they need not grieve alone. We can see them. We can acknowledge the price life has required they pay. We can remember long after the signs and services and sympathy cards have ceased. We can extend our arms once weak with grief to hold up those now in need of lifting. Even Jesus took time to weep. He could have compared the coming crucifixion and found their grievance small. Instead, He wept. So too may we.
While life’s losses can defy explanation, may they fuel compassion. May grieving hearts be kept soft by the solidarity of others who refuse to leave their side.
Though today finds me with more questions than answers, may it also find a willingness to extend a battered heart in compassion rather than comparison, tender with empathy rather than indifference.
Loss is loss is loss. It ALL matters.
Time is a funny thing. At one moment, it flies past at breakneck speed. The next, it creeps along slower than a slug. And often, in a moment briefer than a blink, life flips the switch between the two.
Today held one such switch. A usual Monday around these parts, I woke earlier than I preferred to ready my household for a full day ahead. First get the kids to school then commute to my office for a long day’s workload before an evening of sports, meetings, and possibly – hopefully – sleep. A large mug of dark roast into the day, messages began appearing in my inbox, messages that stopped me in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes.
Congrats on your work anniversary.
You see, its been four years now since I began working for the American Board of Pediatrics. Four years comprised of long days and overflowing weeks and months quickly bleeding into nearly half a decade of employment for the stay-at-home pastor’s wife turned working single mama; far more than hours clocked and commuted, far richer than all the gallons of coffee consumed.
Four years ago my life was in wreckage. Camelot had crumbled and I could barely recognize myself amidst the rubble’s haze. Everything I’d sworn would never happen in my life now dictated the day-to-day. It was there, smack in the middle of the shadows of dead dreams, God began weaving pain allowed into provision and scars into a redeeming story still in the making. There, God began turning bereavement into a bestowed blessing, one that not only provided daily needs but in fact began planting seeds of new dreams.
It did not happen overnight. Indeed, it took weeks and months and years of healing and grieving, of working and learning, of rising early and staying up long past the sun’s setting, to arrive at this working mama’s fourth employment anniversary.
So, as I respond to congratulatory messages with gratitude, I’m found humbled to my core. Today’s familiar blessings would have seemed beyond far fetched four years ago. Now, they mark my day-to-day as new seasons have begun unfolding with sparks of fresh dreams lighting up the corners of this mending heart.
As my favorite quote by C.S. Lewis well states: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
Today’s switch finds me reflecting on the truth of these words, wondering what unseen gifts might lie in store in the days and years to come. To say I’m grateful seems hardly adequate enough.
As 2018 draws near its close, I’m often found in a reflective state of late, taking stock of twelve months come and gone. It’s a humbling practice, this looking back on experienced highs and lows to find the redemptive thread woven through it all.
The year began with a friend’s question, “What is your word for 2018?” I had observed this practice in loved ones’ lives before: asking God for a word for the next year and prayerfully waiting until a word resonated deep in their spirit. For some, it was a virtue to aspire in growth towards. For others, a promise to cling to through a season of waiting or trial.
My previous several years had been admittedly hard, enduring circumstances I’d sworn never to walk through and finding my faith stripped down to sure studs of grace. Something about the nearing new year struck a fresh chord, a distant tune that perhaps this year might be different. So, when I observed surveys circling during 2017’s final days, asking what my word would for 2018 might be, the question stirred curiosity of whether God perhaps held one for me.
Sure enough, whispers of a word rose to the surface of my mind, resonating as true to my wondering heart below.
On January 2, 2018, a group of girlfriends gathered around my table to celebrate and set the tone for this new year. After indulging in scrumptious offerings of cookie butter, waffle biscuits, flavorful pies and toasts to our collective health, we spent hours exploring enneagram wisdom and related spiritual formation tools. We dove deep into our stories, asking provoking questions and offering honest answers to trusted friends. What Scriptures did each of us need to cling to in the new year? What practices would fuel our faith and direct us closer towards the heart of our loving God? And, of course, what word spoke to our souls for 2018? Chalk in hand, 2018 took shape in colors and phrases before our eyes and together, we felt seen, sought, significant before our Maker.
Being an Enneagram Six, the verses 1 John 4:18 and 1 Peter 5:6-7 stood out as timely, passages on the perfect love of God dispelling fear and calling me to cast my worries upon the One who cares most. Disciplines of Scripture memorization and fasting would promote further growth while grounding practices of singing, journaling, and meditating on God’s Word would stir faith where fear often tried to reign.
As for my word, it started stirring my spirit days earlier. First heard as a whisper, it echoed in reverse, growing stronger with each refrain. A notion of new life springing forth from ashes. Phoenix.
Time passed, turning that evening’s events to memory as life for this solo working mama bustled by with ferocity. Those first few months of this new year seemed circumstantially contrary to the practices and promises scribed in chalk. Had I misheard? While “new life” remained elusive, ashes continued to abound.
In time, phoenix fell forgotten.
Now with another year nearly gone, December ushered in a new season of listening for a word. Once work deadlines and scheduled festive mania subsided, I began reflecting once again. What had transpired over the course of 2018? Did the year’s end find me any closer to those elements shared with friends back at it’s beginning?
Thankfully, the chalkboard’s goals and guiding practices had been captured that January night. I pulled out the photograph to refresh my memory. In taking stock of the twelve months past through this renewed lens, a remarkable truth emerged:
Every item listed that night had occurred in 2018.
Scriptures memorized. Seasons of fasting with prayer transpired. Fears and anxieties brought to the mind’s forefront for purposes of growth and healing. Songs sung in secret and on stage. Journaling proven essential in processing the year’s highs and lows and elements between. Lessons in casting cares onto the loving heart of God, learning to believe His love instead of loud fears (though admittedly this is still very much in process).
As for phoenix, evidence of new life springing from ashes covered the year. Signs of fresh beginnings and revived dreams: personally, professionally, and in the lives of my children and loved ones. Encouragement received and distributed in the telling of broken stories redeemed and past pain woven into provision. Though it had not taken the form I anticipated on that January evening, elements of renewed rising had indeed come to fruition by the mighty hand of God. And it proclaimed grace – all of it.
Today finds me in a familiar space, reflecting on a year gone by while holding hopes for the coming year with open hands. The new year’s word came in a moment, tucked within a conversation with my dearest friend and sister.
“Remember being brave doesn’t mean feeling brave and you are stepping into bravery with every part of this. Trusting Jesus when it feels so close yet so far. And maybe part of this is just abiding. Not doing but abiding in the present season.”
It jumped from the screen straight into my heart, echoing affirmation all the way down.
Abide (verb): to bear patiently, tolerate; to endure without yielding, withstand; to wait for; to accept without objection
I know not what this new year may hold nor how this word will take shape as days turn to weeks, to months, to another year lived. Indeed, for an impatient ginger named Patience, this call to deeper resting in my Author’s pen rather than scrambling to take control from my limited perspective feels daunting, unsettling, yet divine. Looking back to find fingerprints of God’s faithfulness has fueled my faith today to trust Him as the unknown soon unfolds.
Beneath the shadow of Thy wings
Mine now Yours, an offering
What word might He hold in store for you this next year?
In my experience, its proven worth the asking.
Every December, a beautiful book comes off the shelf and into my family’s hands. Covered in patchwork colors, it weaves the ancient tail of Christmas from a Garden to a Promise fulfilled, wrapped warm within a manager. Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping The Greatest Gift: A Family Christmas Celebration has become a treasured tradition for this mama. I earnestly hope it’s precious truths sink deeper year after year in my children’s minds and hearts. Only time will tell.
Tonight found us home for the first time this week with a few unrushed hours before bed. Tis’ the season when stressful….I mean “festive”…merriment abounds around every nook of the calendar. First world problems, I know. Regardless, my little brood and I found ourselves with time to spare, time enough for a timeless story. I grabbed this beautiful book from the shelf and turned to December 6th’s reading.
The Gift of Laughter – the story of Isaac
This story, both fresh and familiar, speaks of a promised child to a couple, barren and nearing triple-digit years. A covenant that could only be measured by an immeasurably starry sky. A long-offered prayer answered with a laughable word of hope. Could it be, after all this time, this dream deep and tender might come true? It was utterly absurd, rationally speaking.
“…She laughed too – but Sarah laughed sad…the way you do when you think someone is teasing you, and you laugh brave so you don’t cry hard.”
Even the clinical, doubtful dismissal by a waiting-worn woman would turn to joyful laughter as Isaac eventually entered the world by her womb.
God always answers prayers; He keeps His promises.
As I sat beside my admittedly distracted children, the heart captured afresh was my own. How many times had I heard this story? How often had it impacted my life already? Indeed – enough to name my firstborn after Sarah’s promised son. But tonight’s reading of familiar words and Ann’s poetic prose exposed a needed truth.
At times, I am Sarah who, upon hearing a good promise from a good God, responds with lacking belief or worst yet – interprets it as cruel. The words jumped off the colored page, straight into my exposed heart.
“Sometimes you use laughter like a shield to protect your heart. Could Sarah let down her guard and believe that God would be gentle with her dream to hold a child of her own?”
We all hold something deep and tender as Sarah did. Perhaps it’s for a struggle relieved, a relationship revealed or restored, a recognition long denied or a dream brought to reality. While our details may vary, we all can relate to Sarah’s angst in some way, understand her disbelief that her most precious hope might actually, finally, be brought to fruition. To a weathered soul, it feels an awful risk.
As this Sunday school story revived with tonight’s reading, I was struck afresh not only by the reluctant recipient of a promise but by the resilient generosity of the Promise Keeper. Sarah’s struggle to believe did not sway God’s bequeathing Hand. Rather He, in His perfect way, replaced her bared-teeth grimace with the purest laughter of a blessing made manifest, clenched fists now spread wide as they embraced the embodiment of laughter – in fact, it was his very name – Isaac.
As the story ended and my children dashed off to their next endeavor, I sensed that familiar whisper near while I closed the quilted cover.
“You’ve been like Sarah. And I am the God of Isaac. Trust me to turn waiting into wonder. After all – I always fulfill my Promise.”
Tonight finds me yet again beneath a warmly lit tree, struck in awe at the message of Christmas cast in new light. Like Sarah, I’m prone to doubt His kindness, to laugh dismissively over long-awaited prayers. But He – He is the God of Isaac, from whose line came the Ultimate Long-awaited One – Jesus, the Messiah. It has ignited my faith with renewed hope, not in outcomes, but in the One who came, who will surely come again. He who was faithful to Sarah will surely be faithful to you and me.
May the laughter of this season remind us all that hope placed in Him is never in vain.
It’s been a day, a wearying one, filled to the brim with projects, problems, and parenting. Also known as Thursday.
Before dawn’s light crested the horizon, this household of mine was on the go. Funny how the “most wonderful time of year” never ceases to coincide with year’s end mania. Every arena of daily life seems bursting at the seams with all that must be done. Today was no exception. Tonight finds me weary and worn.
Here, in the quiet of sleeping babes and labors laid aside, of thoughts alight with needed do-overs and never-agains, of small successes and ample failures, I sit beneath a tree.
Warmly lit, small splashes of color clad forest hues, a tree bedecked in memories. Something about its glow ushers in thoughts of holidays gone by, of a Savior child come to live among us. Emmanuel, come to die.
Slowly, surely, the sounds of today’s missed moments and mishaps fade, replaced by a gentler, stronger song: Come. Come let us adore Him for He alone is worthy. Christ the Lord.
And with its silent melody, Peace.
Tonight finds me now grateful: for the privilege of enduring life’s chaos, for the harrowing honor to steward children’s hearts and youth for a time, for the quiet that now fills my home, for the Reason behind a glowing tree. This has become a Silent Night, a Holy Night.
Indeed, all has been made calm and bright.
There’s a sign in my room, crafted of pallet wood and paint. A few inches wide and an arm’s length long. Though unassuming in design, its message carries great weight in my day-to-day. You see, it sits atop a high ledge, this sign, positioned precisely along my line of sight whenever I’m resting in bed. Often, it’s message fills my last gaze before drifting off to dreams and it’s my first sight when I rise.
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C.S. Lewis
The creator of Narnia and apologetic masterpieces, C.S. Lewis was a man familiar with sorrow, acquainted with grappling life circumstances against the Scriptures. He did not shy away from hard things nor did he minimize struggles to match up to cultural norms. A scholar at Oxford and Cambridge, Lewis was considered among the academic elite of his day. He firmly held to atheistic views, such as those summarized by Lucretius: “Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see.” Yet in his pursuit of understanding the world around him, wrestling his experiences with pain and suffering against the theology of the Bible, Lewis became a “reluctant convert”, finding the God of the Scriptures ultimately irresistible.
“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” (Excerpt from Lewis’ Surprised By Joy)
Much has been written of this remarkable man’s life, as indeed much has been scribed by his own pen. He holds my respect, this brilliant mind who only ever believed that which he fully wrestled with until he could find it irrefutable. His stories of a magical Wardrobe filled my childhood as his weightier works continue to challenge and inspire my adult perspectives on life and faith. A library surely is incomplete without the full works from this extraordinary scholar.
This man, well versed in sorrows spanning world wars and personal losses of illness and death, determined that even in the face of such surmounting pains, hope towards the future could still exist. It echoes the Psalmist’s resolution, “Surely I would have despaired had I not been convinced I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
If the Psalmist could still hold fast to hope while running for his life from the one who swore to elevate it, if Lewis could hold firmly to believing in brighter days ahead even while walking seasons tangibly dark with pain, then so can you, so can I.
A dear friend gave me his quote on a gray painted pallet board during a time of dark clouds abounding in my life, and I will always be grateful for her kindness. May we all wake with this reassurance and each night, lie down knowing it to still be true: indeed, “there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” It’s often been a timely reminder for me. Perhaps, you need to hear it too.
Eyes on the horizon, dear ones. Brighter days are surely still yet ahead.
Another long day, grappling past lies and current insecurities and future worst-case possibilities. Craving words of reassurance to raw wounds open, I reach out to friends with said aching, seeking remedy. Disappointment comes again as well-intentioned words fall hollow on these doubting ears. Shame lays another layer down upon a battered heart.
And round about this carousel of craving I go again.
We’ve likely all taken a spin or seventy on this merry-go-round, seeking wholeness in the words of trusted friends for our scarred places, wounded spaces. Guilty as charged. For me, it happens most often come evening. When the world slows, and children finally sleep, and I lie alone in bed.
“Am I enough? Is God still kind? Not to us all but to me. Did my failures today scar my children for life?” These are some of my frequent flyers. I’m confident your list stands ready in the wings too.
What do we do? What do I do? I grab my phone and reach out to people to fill these aching gaps. They respond as best they know how yet my holes within only expand under the weight of sincere yet inadequate platitudes. This cycle repeats until loud lies feel true and worth seems lost and alone becomes more than a place but a defining status.
Maybe it’s just me.
But I know it isn’t.
Life happens, wounds happen, heck – simply human existence happens – and we reach out battered hearts for divine balm from mortal sources. Funny how loneliness often perpetuates itself through the avenues used in seeking remedy.
Recently, I found myself on this well-worn path again. Questions of worth, the purpose for pain, value where history had “proven” otherwise. In the middle of the familiar reach towards my mobile, a soft stirring began to sound.
You’re not alone in loneliness.
I’ve heard it said that if we recognized how often people feel lonely, we’d find community within our loneliness. Or something like that. Bottom line – you’re not the only one aching, the only one seeking, the only one asking these same questions.
What do you long to hear? To believe? To have someone who knows your story believe of you, for you, speak over you?
Such questions gave me pause. What did I truly want to believe as TRUTH in my depths? Words began to fill my mind, snatches of verses often cliched in their application. Words of worth, destiny, beauty springing from ashes and hidden hopes realized.
“Ok, Lord, I ‘know’ all these things are true, but I want to believe them, and I honestly don’t.” His next whisper surprised me.
Who else needs to hear these words too?
I sensed the Lord challenging me to trade seeking for serving, to lift my eyes from sorrows, off licking proverbial wounds, and recognize those surrounding me. It took conscious effort, this changing of perspective: wounds in one hand and desired spoken truths in the other, both held out before the One who ultimately bore all wounds, who alone bestows all healing. And the results astounded me.
Slowly, surely, as names came to mind, a choice lay before me.
No, an invitation: set aside my own wounds to extend balm for another. And if asked of its source, I’d only be able to point to the One who was pointing this all out to me.
Pick up a phone, select a person, type away. Only this time, not in gathering, but in bestowing, in speaking life. As their faces came to mind and words were sent on blessing’s mission, the most remarkable thing occurred: My own ache began to ease and texts started coming in.
“How did you know?”
“I so needed this.”
Grateful, I responded, “Me too, my friend. Me too.”
This paradox turned hurting on its head, bestowing community where moments before loneliness reigned. It’s counter-intuitive when wounds screaming loud bleed raw and words from trusted friends fall flat on aching ears – to lay down craving in place of grace-proclaiming. What if we transformed our intuitions to seek into commissions to serve? Who else might need to hear the very things our own hearts long for?
Simply put – bestow the words you crave.
It’s been a gift, these past 3 months, wrapped in various packaging.
Near & far.
Brief & lengthy.
Joy & sorrow.
Filled up & poured out.
Lessons taught & wisdom received.
Laughter & lament.
Camps, car rides, & cookouts.
Memories. Oh the memories, new & re-remembered.
Summer break brought a welcome respite from our family’s frenetic school year schedule. While lunches still needed packing, this working mama reveled in the reprieve from early carlines & driving east simply to commute further west. Most glorious of all – NO homework! Praise be.
Of my many summers in motherhood thus far, this one stands out unique. A summer of healing, maturing, of digging deep & mending hearts, thoughts, lives.
I witnessed confidence return to a worn child.
I saw faces alight with fresh fun & freckles from days soaking up sea & sun.
I rocked sleeping giants & whispered Truths constant & prayed over dreamers whose hearts I now carried surely as once had my womb.
I learned to listen a bit quicker, to respond a bit slower, to relinquish control a bit less begrudgingly.
I offered broken hallelujahs with bittersweet celebrations, holding more tightly to things lovely while more willingly laying down arms.
I cried honest admissions & harrowing realizations & humbled celebrations of grace freely given.
I watched a daughter rise after a hard, hard season to shine her inherent light again.
I watched a son wrestle life lessons with resilient kindness & curious wonder.
I watched the woman in my mirror start smiling in reflection once more, beginning to dream, to dare for days brighter ahead.
I witnessed grace falling like monsoon rains, undeserved, unrelenting, free.
Three months come & gone. As tonight falls soft, this house quiet with sleeping babes & a mother reminiscing, a wise king’s words resound amidst the silence:
“To everything there is a season; a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
Summer draws to its close as a new elementary academic year begins. When a new season dawns with tomorrow’s rising sun, may it find me grateful. It’s certainly been a summer to remember.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Don’t make mountains out of molehills.” If only I had a nickel for every time I heard that phrase in childhood…
Circumstance occurs. Perception magnifies such & such to grandiose proportions, causing verbose lament of its significance to ensue. Exacerbated parent/teacher/adult/any-reasonably-sound-human-being within earshot gets their fill of said ranting and responds with the classic wisdom: “Don’t make mountains out of molehills.”
This propensity is not merely my own shortcoming. It’s common to us all, old as the Garden itself. How effortlessly we overlook obvious good through laser-focus on the often small-by-comparison lacking bits of life. A vast expanse of Paradise with everything free for the taking except that one little caveat that would ultimately spur Eve’s downfall. She possessed more than a mountain; she’d been made ruler over Created Earth with Adam. Yet of all the beauty – SINLESS beauty – surrounding, her eyes instead rested upon that one fruit from that one tree. And we’ve been following her lead ever since.
Research has repeatedly shown it takes ten positive statements to compensate for one negative. Spend an evening showered in complements and a single negative utterance can drown them all in memory.
Annie F. Downs recently made the case for “keeping the painful parts of your life small to live a full life”. Now she’s not advocating we play Pollyanna. After all, in the sage words of Taylor Swift, “band-aids don’t fix bullet holes”. Silver linings won’t stop a severed artery from bleeding out. No, pain demands attention. Survival, in fact, depends upon pain for, without it, we would befall harm quickly and at great cost. Pain provides necessary parameters for living when it comes to safety as those affected by CIPA (aka the genetic inability to feel pain) will tell you. Though you may not feel the heat of the flame, you still bear its resulting burns and at far greater extent than if you had felt the singe instantaneously.
Pain has purpose.
That said – it plays a part but NOT the whole. A life’s summation must be more than its collective suffering. There must be cause for celebration somewhere. While creation remains under a curse, STILL it cries out in worship declaring the glory of God. If desert sands and parched ground, if ashen hillsides and flooded banks can sound forth praise, then certainly so can I in the middle of hard things. Even the psalmist sang, “I would have lost hope had I not believed I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.”
God Himself declared to Moses, a man He spoke to as a friend, “See today I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose life that you may live, you and your children.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) Both exist in our reality: life AND death, blessing AND cursing, good AND bad, dark AND light. Just as God instructed Moses, so He gives to us: CHOICE. Choose life that you may live. Neither are exclusive descriptors of existence. Where there is life, death also dwells. ‘Tis the way of all fallen flesh. But where there is death, life’s remnant will be found. Decay renders soil more fertile. Ash alkalizes acidity. It’s central to nature, both the law of entropy AND the reality that life will out.
Does this mean Annie’s statement of keeping pain small is unfounded? Not at all. Pain is and always will be present while this fallen earth remains. Pain because of a curse, a curse resulting from a choice, a choice that existed SO THAT LOVE COULD BE POSSIBLE. Love without choice is not love at all and that comes with great risk, at great cost.
Pain is real. It demands attention. But not all of it.
Even darkest nights reveal the shining through of stars.
We magnify what matters. We measure by what we make much of. Query the Psalms, ancient accounts of suffering and song. They face pain head-on, crying out for justice, for mercy. They do not deny life’s sorrows but rather take its full weight before the listening ear of God. Even the most heart-wrenching psalms bear an element of praise, a remnant of hope. Where pain is great, praise is made greater. Where trials rage, thanksgiving rings through and true. The determinant is choice.
With both options ever before mankind of life and death, what realm will we choose to dwell in? Think of your own story. Do you measure it in increments of suffering or joy, of failure or accomplishment, and by what lens do you define the two? When you share your experiences, do you belabor the woes or delight in even mundane moments with gratitude? As you look over your life thus far, what draws your attention, your affection, your energy?
Let’s labor together to take one step towards triumph, towards celebrating even the smallest of wins and not letting pain hold the final verdict on our life. When all seems ashes, take heart. May we be people who face pain headlong with tenacious thanksgiving on our tongue. May we be known more for what we celebrate than the wounds we lament. It takes courage to choose gratitude in what seems a graveyard; it feels an awful risk. But it is one worth taking. In the context of mountains and molehills, we determine which elements of life hold sway over our hearts. May looming structures in our lives be marked by grace and gratitude, by praise resolute with hope, rather than majoring in the minors and magnifying pain over joy.
We all endure the rain. Floods may rise and fall. But if its hope you’re looking for, Charlie Chaplain said it best: “You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.”
It’s been quite a year, this 2015.
A hard one.
Hardest that’s come in my 33 years.
Funny looking back on seasons once deemed difficult, now paling by comparison. Perhaps that’s an encouragement though – those valleys deep seeming shallow in rear view, after their hidden lessons were learned and the Author’s crafting, carrying, through it all made evident. Perhaps those rifts felt foreboding then as these canyon-sized cracks do now. Perhaps it’s just reflection’s rose-colored glasses.
It’s been a year of dark storms and brilliant silver linings, a year of fears actualized and unknown strength rising. But let’s be honest – even that “strength” is simply weakness brought center stage, leading to greater dependence on the only One mighty. If in weakness one is strong, then I’m Miss Olympia.
When walking sorrow’s road, there comes a point when our mortal core cannot carry gratitude’s banner any further, when the silver linings don’t make up for the massive clouds within, when you’re simply, honestly NOT OK and too weary to convince yourself otherwise. ‘Tis the way of all fallen flesh. Whether abandonment of provision, people, or plans, human hope only goes so far.
We cannot save ourselves.
Another exhausted day gave way to sleepless night. As the last of my frayed rope’s end gave way, the guttural cries stored deep from this awful year came pouring out, silence giving way to sobs. My life’s foundational belief in Yahweh, the One True God, the Ever-Faithful, Ever-Listening, Ever-Sovereign, Perfect Author of life itself, met its crux.
All the silver-linings and gratitude-fueled-hope could not sustain the weight crushing within.
“God, I ‘know’ You hear me but I NEED to know You’re with me, FOR me, RIGHT NOW in this make it or I’ll break moment.”
Would my Cornerstone prove sure?
It all poured out with torrential force. Anger. Sorrow. Fear. Every awful emotion birthed from loss. Nothing polished. Raw. Laid out ugly before Holiness in the dark of night.
Here, He showed Himself near.
A middle-of-the-night message sent from a friend woken, prompted to pray for me, for my precious children. Slowly I heard His whispers. I’m here.
Whispered nudges to a spent soul, Open your Bible app. A book of 66 books. Out of all of that, where do I even start?! Just open it.
I love the Lord because He has heard my appeal for mercy. Because He has turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live. The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of Yahweh: “Yahweh, save me!”
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate. The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and He saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For You, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed, even when I said, “I am severely afflicted.” In my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”
How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people. The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the Lord’s sight. Lord, I am indeed Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your female servant. You have loosened my bonds. I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of Yahweh. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house—within you, Jerusalem. Hallelujah!
He heard me.
I read the psalm over and again, awed how its phrases spoke directly to my cries. The clock turned midnight. I opened the app again. A new day’s passage appeared.
I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world. John 16:33
Comfort like rolling tides swept over as the One who holds all things together held me together by His Word, living and active. Colossians. SheReadsTruth.com was studying the book currently. Colossians. Well since it’s after midnight maybe the next day’s post will be up. Opening it read:
So if you have been raised with the Messiah, see what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not what is on the earth. Colossians 3:1-2
Peace like lightening broke through my dark. He heard me. God was speaking to me – broken, battered, ugly-raw me, saving me from what I couldn’t save myself. And His Words spoke Grace. Grace greater than sin, ALL sin, mine, those against me and against those I love. Grace, My child.
And with it – Hope.
It’s now another day into this year, this year that can’t fade to memory soon enough. Perhaps one day those rose-colored glasses will find similar reflections on the valley of now. Much terrain remains to be traveled as my surrounding circumstances haven’t changed. But Ann Voskamp summed it best, “Every person needs hope planted at the bottom of their hole. Because this is the thing. Hope is what holds a breaking heart together. Hope in a Big God is what frees us from big fears. Hope is a thing with keys…”
At the blackest bottom of my hole, God gently placed mine. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Beneath storm clouds still raging, He renewed truth’s song in me.
Great is His faithfulness.