To the God of Hagar— God of wandering people in wilderness places— We know that you see— but we are having a hard time believing what we are seeing and seeing it— still believing that you see. God who has seen all violence done upon the earth— who sees the mothers and fathers fleeing— their babies in their arms only to arrive at safer shores that do not want them. God who has seen every innocence stolen by the hands of wicked men some who claim your name while inflicting unspeakable pain. God who has seen every victim silenced by lies and deceit and the idolatry of the comfort of lies so much easier to swallow than the bitter draught of truth. God who has seen every genocide, every leader drunk on power and prejudice, who values not what you called holy —the imago dei— of all of human kind. God who has seen the ruthless grip of natural disasters tearing houses and lands and peoples apart. God who has seen the ravages of every kind of sickness and disease; we know this is not the first pandemic you have seen. God who himself has felt the sting of sickness that leads to death— the tears of grief for your beloved, Lazarus in the tomb and for the moment out of reach. These times are not “unprecedented” to you. But we are still afraid. We need to know— do you see us here? Do you see every lonely heart turned lonelier by pandemic isolation? I had days where I was scared to make contact— to smile, to wave even to those a street away. The distance has felt more than social. But God, these are small things I know. What about the family members saying goodbye with nothing but a lousy internet connection connecting them to a parent a child a loved one— dying in the ICU? Do you see how the fingertips ache to be squeezed? to be held one last earthly time? Do you see the fear in our eyes— that we (or one we love) could be next to die alone? Or what about the cries for justice God? You’ve been hearing some version of the these for millenia— the oppressor always has his boot pressed against the neck of someone unable to fight back. Some of us are just now beginning to understand this is not the promised land. This is the valley of shadows. I’ve known it since I was seven. And despite all you’ve done to heal and redeem— some days all I can say is: “I hate it here.” Like Hagar running through the night her heart beat slamming her short breaths burning her shaking lungs. forced into service forced into her master’s bed forced to carry the burden of the patriarch’s lack of faith and her mistresses’ abuse— she fled. But where could she go? Where can we find shelter in a world that seems to be tearing always at some new seam we didn’t know was there? Do you see her God? See the tears track down her dirty cheeks? See her face, pale with fears her heart cannot hold? What more can she take God? (What I mean to say is what more can we take?) Is there a spring after all? A spring rising up in this wilderness— water bubbling like the sound of joy from the ground? Would you speak as you once did to Hagar— to ask us where have you been and where are you going? Will you give to the wounded, outcast, abandoned, lonely, bleeding heart— promise of a blessing? Can we name our sons Ishmael—knowing you have heard our affliction? Knowing you have your eye upon us even still? The chickadees in the barren lilac out my window always have enough to eat— will you feed us even here Jesus? Will it taste like bread and water to know you see us still?
“When the old way is dying, we can cling to normal or we can let sorrow lead our search for something better. This is the summer of imagination… Today I pray that instead of grasping for what you used to have, you let your empty hands clasp in prayer. Optimistic clutching for normalcy only can give you temporary relief, but you were made for more than the normal you had. Only grief can grow your imagination for the goodness of the kingdom you belong to.”—K.J. Ramsey
I’ve been to two funerals in the past month. The first was a memorial for my Grandmother who passed away in March, the week that everything in our state shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The second was for my Grandaddy who passed away at the beginning of August, and because of slightly fewer restrictions, we were able to have a small, mask-wearing-service at his home church in Fuquay-Varina North Carolina.
Aside from the season of fear and anxieties and generally vague grief that this pandemic has brought us through, some of you, like me, are also experiencing the sharp grief that comes with deep loss. Loss of a loved one. Loss of a job. Loss of money you had been saving in a 401k—we are all grappling with so much, but some of us more than others.
But it’s in this season that I am remembering and re-learning, that allowing ourselves to grieve over these losses, makes way for more peace. The kind of peace that is independent of circumstances, but that is rooted in something realer than what our eyes can see. The kind of peace that allows us to see our lives with greater clarity and imagination, showing us that our hunger for rightness in not foolish, but a good hunger that will lead us to our greatest satisfaction.
God’s Kingdom is here, and it is also coming. Every broken thing will be restored. The dead in Christ are only the seeds waiting for the proper time to grow into a new and fuller life. Our King is here; and He is coming.
The tension of the already-and-the-not-yet can be a difficult place to live. In the months following my Grandmother’s passing, before her memorial service, I found myself trapped in a grief I didn’t feel like I was allowing myself to process. The pandemic pushed pause on so many things, and I found myself being forced to grieve in different ways. In May my Grandfather gave me a box of my Grandmother’s hair things; brushes, clips, hair ties, combs—because he didn’t want to just throw it away—and I found myself staring at the grey hairs in the hairbrush she had probably been using for 20 years or more, wondering: Is this all I have left?
The question haunted me right into the grief I had been avoiding. I penned an angry poem or two, and that’s when it began to happen. Quite by accident, or quite by the Holy Spirit, my eyes began to clear and I saw what I had been missing. In my attempts to push aside my grief I had said things to myself like, “She lived a good life. She was ready. She’s with Jesus now,” all of which are TRUE and GOOD things to say and believe. But I was using them like a tourniquet and not a bandage. I was circumventing the grief, trying to cut it off at the source, by saying things that I knew to be true, but didn’t really feel or believe in my heart.
The reality is that death is always an unwanted and greedy hand at the table. My loss is great. My mother’s loss is greater. The grief I felt at waking up the morning that I heard the news, knowing I would never see my Grandmother again in this life, was crushing. And why wouldn’t it be? When I finally penned the angry poems and let out all my feelings of pent up rage and frustration, it was then that the clarity came. Crashing against the cold hard reality of death, I broke through into the realer-reality; her glorious eternal life. Grief was the path that brought me there.
Two funerals in a row is a lot, but it has given me time to practice. After my Grandmother’s memorial, I felt the peace that comes with a little bit of closure, and many tears shed with loved ones who also loved the one we lost. When I visited my Grandaddy for the last time a week later, I knew that though sorrow would come with the night, joy would come in the morning. The memory of the peace that would come through grief was recent enough for me to have not forgotten everything I learned for once; and for that I am so very thankful.
Dearest Readers; I know the burdens you carry are heavy. There are so many of you walking around with griefs much heavier even than the loss of a Grandparent or other loved one. The anxiety threatens to crush you some days. The little sorrows pile up and feel heavier than a wheelbarrow full of lead. The weight of uncertainty in this season, and whatever season will come after, adds its weight too.
But I want you to know; there is peace on the other side of this thing you are grieving, when you grieve it in the presence of God. Circumventing your grief with platitudes and comforting phrases (even when those phrases are TRUE), is not the way forward to a lasting peace and a clarity which sees the Kingdom of God at work even in our most deeply devastated and broken places.
This is your written invitation: Let yourself grieve. It’s okay. You are not alone. Your losses are not insignificant, nor do they go unnoticed by our heavenly Father. He is not looking down on you. He is not waiting for you to be stronger. He knows your frame; that you are dust, and He cares for you as His beloved child. The way to the joy of the morning is the sorrow of the night. The grief that needs to come, the tears that must be shed to wash your eyes clean so that you may rightly see what you cannot see right now.
The day my Grandaddy died, I told my husband I needed the beauty of the lake. We packed a picnic dinner and went out kayaking and paddle boarding at sunset. But I got sunscreen in my eyes and they kept stinging my whole way across the lake. I kept wiping them with the corner of my shirt until finally a wave of grief hit me and I began to cry. Later I realized that it was the tears that cleared my eyes from the sunscreen that had been stinging and clouding my vision.
May it be the same for you.
Go in peace friends. The way isn’t easy, but it’s the way we’ve been given—and it is good.
*If you need someone to pray for you, leave a comment below. You can tell us what you need prayer for, or keep it between you and God, the choice is yours. And if you feel led to pray for someone, would you reply to their comment and let them know that you are lifting them up? Grief is done best in the body of believers.*
As the world shuts down around us I keep hearing whispers that part of why this is so hard for our country and community is that we are terrible at actually resting.
I keep hearing that this is almost like a forced Sabbath in some ways. The only problem being that Sabbath is more than a list of things we do or do not do; it’s a posture of the heart. It’s a posture that hears Jesus whisper, in the midst of overwhelming needs, chaos, fears, and lack—to come away awhile, and actually listens.
I love that Jesus isn’t afraid to take his disciples out of the crowd, the pressing needs, the chaos of a life in oppression under the Roman government, to get alone awhile and rest. Though Jesus pokes holes in the Pharisaical interpretation of Sabbath with things like healings in the synagogue on that Holy day, He shows us in innumerable other places that he knows we as his disciples, vitally need rest. And he wants to give that to us.
My family and I are all healthy at the moment; but as I read in an article yesterday, “panic breeds panic”, and photos of empty store shelves and people lining up for miles to be tested for this virus now gone pandemic, and a peek at the stock market (*yeesh*) all serve me up a daily dose of fear right now. So Saturday morning I got out and took a walk.
It was still dark, but the light of dawn was just starting to color the horizon in pink and purple hues, and I kept hearing Jesus remind me to keep my eyes fixed on the horizon. Because this current moment, the world and its chaos, is not all there is. As I wrote in my recent publication with Fathom magazine, “this is all only/the breath/ between.”
And on my walk something new came to me; a chorus and a melody. When I got home I started tinkering with it at my guitar and FULL DISCLOSURE: I AM NO MUSICIAN. But I do love music, and I do love God, and I do need the Lord to remind me of the truest truths beneath chaotic and difficult-to-predict circumstances. I need to remember that his invitation to “come away awhile” is not contingent on all being easy and calm in the world, but is actually all the more critical the more strained things become.
Like Daniel praying in his room when he knew it was against the law—how could he stop praying at a time like that?
So I wrote this song. And like I said, I am no musician, and it probably isn’t very good. But I feel God tugging me to share it with you all, that maybe you would be blessed by what God is doing in my heart in the midst of a season that feels so unknown.
I plan to send the song out with my February/March newsletter in a day or so and you can click here to sign up and make sure that you receive it. (Be sure to confirms your subscription, and check your junk mail if you are already signed up and don’t see it!)
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May you remember in the midst of uncertain days dear readers, the wonderful words of James Bryan Smith.
“I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights. I live in the strong and unshakeable Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not in trouble, and neither am I.”James Bryan Smith
May we hear Jesus’ call to “come away awhile” in the midst of this present darkness, and may we actually listen.
By His grace and for His glory,
We know that you know the beginning from the end.
There is no disaster, no tragedy, no viral pandemic that escapes your notice or is a surprise to your kind and sovereign gaze.
You know how our hearts are fearful God; of the unknown. Of loss. Of lack. Of death.
You know the way we groan in this world that looks so like a place we long to call home; yet somehow isn’t.
None of this, is as it should be.
Multiply our peace by your presence Lord God.
Extend to us the promise of your with-ness, whatever comes.
Help us as we seek to love our neighbor as ourselves—may we steward well the people and places around us, even when we aren’t quite sure how.
Guide us by the wisdom of your all-knowing Spirit.
Jesus this current chaos reminds us once again what has always been true— our days here are numbered.
Our earthly lives, finite and mortal; susceptible since the fall of man, to death and decay, whether by age, accident, or disease.
Yet we know that in all things and through all things you can and will be glorified.
You know every day of our lives, before there is even one.
Calm our spirits O God. Cast out our fear by your perfect love. May we taste your goodness here and now.
We shall not want.
Audrey says it best. When I first heard this song a couple years ago, it absolutely floored me—if you are unsettled in your spirit today, I hope it does the same for you. And please feel free to share if any of this ministered to you.
In case you missed it on my social channels, I was published earlier this week in Fathom Magazine’s aptly themed issue “Fear” with a collection of short poems and essays called, “The Breath Between.” It follows the overlap of my Grandmother and my first child’s lives, and speaks to the angst I have felt watching those I love live and die in a broken world.
In times like these, perhaps it will spark a little hope in you, that there is more to our present reality than what our eyes can see. Just click here to give it a read.
By His grace and for His glory,
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”John 1:45-46
Could anything good come from Nazareth? This poor, armpit of a town?
Could anything good come from the trauma of my childhood? The pain of my present? How could anything good come from the grief of all I’ve lost? The fear I carry of what is to come? How could anything good come from the suffering I have experienced?
Can I really hold out hope that God gives beauty for ashes, when the smell of smoke is still burning in my nostrils?
Come and see.
Jesus asks us for our faith, but it is not altogether blind. He shows up with his wonderful gaze, his promises, his compassionate hands. He doesn’t ask us to believe for nothing, no matter what you have been taught. What he gives, though not always visible to the naked eye, is still real.
Come and see.
I’ll show you my wounds, so you feel safe to begin to share yours. I’ll show you where the healing has already taken place, and where there is still work to be done. I can show you beauty that has come from the pain of my past; such radiant beauty that most days, I wouldn’t even change what has happened—even the most painful parts—because these wounds are where I have witnessed glory.
I’ve been to places worse than the armpit town of Nazareth; and still I’ve seen glimpses of the good to come—slow and steady as the rising of the sun.
That’s the part of Romans 8:28 that we forget; sometimes we see that verse and demand of God “where is my good? Where’s that good thing you promised me?” But we have gotten the definition of good all turned around and screwy in our minds. We forget that God’s best good for us, looked like Jesus. And it is into this, cruciform kind of good, that he is making us.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”Romans 8:28-30
Our highest good, is to be conformed to the image of Christ. Christ who was an innocent—wounded. Christ who laid down his own life for traitors, murderers, abusers, liars, thieves, addicts, adulterers, and idolators—for me.
Christ who by his own deeply painful wounds heals us; by his grace allows our wounds to become places of healing for others.
That’s why I am here. Maybe that’s why you are too?
Come and See. Come and See!
Our life is still full of miracles. The ones marked by the cancer that miraculously doesn’t spread, the semi that almost slides into the side of you on icy roads, but then suddenly slides away— but these are not the only miracles we see.
There is a miracle in the note that I wrote when I was 17 to the boy I loved. The miracle that “I wouldn’t even change it now.” I wouldn’t change the pain of the past; because that pain allowed me to participate in the beauty of that present moment.
Maybe this offends you. Maybe you think I am letting abusers, betrayers and those that abandoned me off the hook.
I’m not. There is justice for these things; and God’s justice is better than mine. I can leave that to him.
But for me, there is also GLORY. Yet I know, I am speaking of what I have not seen. This glory is only the chink of light through the wall of the prison cell. I can see the dust motes swirling in it like planets—but it reminds me that the light is out there. And soon the chink will break the prison wall to pieces and I’ll be standing in the light more marvelous than the sun.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”2 Corinthians 4:16-18
I can only tell you about what I have seen: both the darkness and the light. What I have to offer here are stories—ones so deep and painful that they cost me to share. But even here, there is glory. I get to participate with the Lord in the miracle; offering my loaves and fishes; my tears and my perfume jar; my two copper coins—these stories are what I have. They are what I offer you, because I hope you Come and See.
Because this—this is only the beginning.
I had had enough. The straw had finally broken the camels back. I sat slumped in my chair staring into space—my heart shattered in a thousand pieces by so many burdens and so many pains. Deep regrets fought their way to the surface in the form of tears that couldn’t stop falling. What was the point?
I thought I had heard God right. I thought I had been trusting Him. I thought that the way I was headed was the way He was leading me; then why all of a sudden did I end up in this place? I felt shattered into a thousand pieces; depression slinking around the corners of my heart and a numb apathy coming to dull my mind. What now? How could I possibly move forward in the midst of all this?
I called my Dad.
“Do you have a minute to talk?”
“Sure honey, what is it?”
“I’m just…I’m just so brokenhearted.”
As I poured out my heart and concerns a thread began to emerge; one that I didn’t see coming. Was I bearing these burdens alone? Was I entrusting them to God’s care? I thought that I had been—but now that everything had gone horribly awry I was ready to claim fault for it all. I was ready to act like everything that had gone wrong in this current situation was a direct result of some neglect on my part. I was acting like I was God.
Slowly the realization dawned on me. Once again, in slow and insidious ways my pride had crept in and made me believe that for better or worse, I was responsible. No wonder the weight was too much to bear.
We got off the phone and I knew immediately what I had to do. I needed a sign, a way to represent what I was choosing now. These concerns were too far above me. I am not God. And I needed to roll these cares into His hands and allow Him to do what only He could do.
I got down a basket and labeled it: GOD’S JOB.
I cut up strips of paper, and wrote on them each of the burdens. Each of the cares that had been weighing me down for so long. All the griefs and wounds I had carried, were being lifted one by one as I scribbled, folded and placed each paper in the basket.
Some cares were easier to let go of than others. Some I could only drop into that basket by a slow uncurling of my fist. Then at last, I thought I had reached the end; but there was this nudging in my heart to write one last paper.
I grabbed the strip and the pen and scrawled the final care:
Heal my broken heart.
With tears streaming down my face I dropped that final paper in the basket, and put the basket high and out of reach on a shelf. A visual reminder that these things are way above my pay grade.
I cannot cure the cancer. I cannot mend the fractured relationship. I cannot raise the dead. I cannot be the friend I wish I could be all the time. I cannot be in more than one place at a time. I cannot turn back time. I cannot stop people I love from making destructive choices. I cannot predict the future. I cannot heal my own broken heart, let alone anyone else’s.
These things are God’s job. He is qualified and capable. He is able to do what He says He will do. He never tires of listening to our requests and granting us mercy for the day. No care is too small or two large to toss upon His great and gracious shoulders.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the might hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”(1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)
I invite you, Dear Reader, to cast your cares upon Jesus today. He knows what is weighing you down. He does not applaud your self-sufficiency. Rather, like a child whose parent delights to help him, the Lord delights to help you bear what you were never meant to. Pride is the root of your desire for self-sufficiency, which might be hard to hear, but is actually really great news—because it means that repentance is the path to peace.
My prayer for you Dear Reader, is that you would entrust yourself, and your broken heart, to our good and gracious God today. And if you need a friendly hand to hold, click here to subscribe to receive a five day email series entitled, “Dear Brokenhearted: Letters to the lonely and the hurting.”
Whatever cares you have to add to your basket today, from my broken heart to yours Dear Reader, I pray you always remember that wherever you go, you never go alone.
Sometimes it feels impossible to dream the dream that darkness doesn’t actually win. The space between my head belief—that God is good, in control and on His way back for us—and my broken heart; crushed beneath the cares of this world, is farther than I ever thought. Shortening the gap will take an act of divine intervention.
Last week I was so depressed by all the sorrow surrounding me—too many sorrows, and most of them not mine enough to name here. I have never been depressed really, though I have journeyed through dark days more than once. Sometimes you just can’t seem to remember where to look for the light, when the darkness feels like it might actually be winning.
This is the impossible task: to be Kingdom minded people in a world not our home—to hold out the hope of the Gospel, a tender flame that banishes the darkness from every hidden place, but first, it illuminates it. I’ve seen more darkness now than I ever could have stood ten years ago. Each sorrow, each grief, each horror feels closer and heavier than the last; and yet, God asks me not to be afraid. He asks me to trust him. To look to the horizon and see the faintest lightening of the dawn. To believe that He is coming soon.
How far we have fallen! How broken the world and the people in it! The more I know the beauty of Jesus and all He calls us to, the easier it is to mourn for all the ways we have destroyed the world He made. The curse is found everywhere. There is no escaping it.
But I can’t get stuck here. Because this story does not end in defeat. No. This story climaxes with the King of Love himself journeying into the very heart of this dark world, letting himself be killed on a roman cross, dying a torturous death as he took the burden and the penalty for all our sin and brokenness on himself. And He didn’t stay dead.
Three days later He rose to life again, and showing himself to all the disciples, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through belief in His finished work on the cross on our behalf. Then after 40 days He ascended into heaven once more, leaving us with the message: I am coming again, soon.
Why is it so hard to believe? My heart is so easily fooled. So easily tricked into despair. Can I not keep my eye on the horizon? Do I still disbelieve in the dawn?
He is coming soon. He actually is. Coming to make all things new. Coming to wipe every tear away from our eyes. Coming to bring His children home to a house that He has been preparing for us. Coming to bring His bride to the wedding feast.
But I need the glimpse of heaven now. I need a taste of the Kingdom now. Because the stench of death is in my nose, and it’s hard sometimes to look up to where the light comes from. Sometimes all it seems to do is display the brokenness is astounding relief.
But I know the beauty of Jesus would be enough to make my heart rejoice; if I would open my eyes to actually see. To see the whispered prayer over the sick child, and the mini-miracles as more than just coincidence. To see the prayer for the peace in the midst of the storm answered in just enough courage to get me through. To feel the breath in my lungs as the divine provision of strength for the day that I have asked for, given in advance.
All is grace.
And what a grace it is now that God has finally got me to the end of myself again. If only I weren’t so prideful; so stubborn; so self-sufficient. Maybe then it wouldn’t take so much of a pounding to get me here. Because “here” is the sweetest place of my faith; when I have finally come to the end of all my resources. When I am wrung out and ragged and beat up beyond recognition. When I just can’t will myself to hope any longer; Hope himself comes along and scoops me up, and carries me. Here, I don’t have to “try harder” any more. Here, I don’t have to “figure out” how I’m going to accomplish A, B, or C. Here, I rest in the assurance of a Hope that has proven himself real to me, when I least expected it. When I had given up looking for him. When like Frodo in Tolkein’s Return of the King, I have forgotten what strawberries even taste like…it is then the eagles come for me.
I cannot will my hope into being any longer. And that’s okay. It’s even a good thing. In this place of deep hurt and sadness; when the darkness seems to surround me; when I have FINALLY come to the end of all my paltry human resources—there God is. Waiting. Arms wide open.
Today, I will let Him. But I’m sure tomorrow I’ll try and jump out of His arms again, and it will be this constant battle to lean on the One with the resources, when in my pride, I think I can do so much. Maybe today is a good day to beg for humility. Maybe that is the first miracle that I truly need. Maybe this one act of divine intervention, will open my eyes to see. Maybe then I’ll start to see the everyday miracles in sweet relief.
If you’ve been around the blog for a little while then this piece may look familiar to you. It’s been two years now since Piper’s diagnosis, and just about two years since I first wrote this piece and got my own “Courage Dear Heart” tattoo to remind me to be brave, right there where I can see it on my skin. I hope the revised version of this story meets you where you are today.
I was being strangled. Pulling out of the parking garage, I reluctantly left the hospital and turned my car towards home. It was only then that I noticed the sky. Are you kidding me? How could the sun shine on today of all days? My heart was hammering like a racehorse in my chest, the anger welling up like asphalt in my throat. Yet, I knew even in that moment that this reaction was far from dramatic or over the top; in fact, it felt like the only way to react. After all, I was pulling away from a room of the Children’s hospital, where only a few hours ago my best friend’s 18 month old daughter was diagnosed with cancer.
There’s been some mistake. I thought to myself. They mixed up the results. They brought back the wrong chart. They’ll realize it soon enough, that there’s been some mistake.
But I knew it wasn’t true, as much as I longed for it to be.
Piper had cancer. A deadly disease. Without terrible and painful interventions, she would die. Even with them, there was no guarantee.
WHY, GOD WHY??? Over and over I asked him, my heart leaden with despair. But there was no answer.
When I arrived home I poured myself into things I could control. I organized people to meet the practical needs of my friends who would now be spending the next week in the hospital with their youngest child, while their older two stayed overnight with grandparents. I made chicken enchiladas. I bought food for their fridge. I helped another friend clean in preparation for their return. But the asphalt in my throat turned to cotton in my brain, and when I got all the groceries home from Costco, it took me a half hour of staring at the the pile on the kitchen table to figure out how to put it all away.
I kept putting on my strong face for my children. Or at least I tried. But at the sink you’d find me weeping into the dishes when I thought no one was looking. I was giving God the silent treatment. And somewhere in the back of my heart, the old me was playing stone mason, and desperately building a fortress around my heart. All of me felt like a harp string, tuned too tight, till the notes were sharp and sour. The slightest touch could snap me in half.
The tender me was prisoner in a back room somewhere, but I could hear her trying to scream through the walls of the ever growing fortress:
“God is still good. He makes beauty from ashes. Turns despair into laughter. You can trust him!”
Mostly I ignored her. I slept fitfully, and dreaded waking up each morning and realizing that this wasn’t just some horrifying dream. Then one evening, a few nights after Piper’s diagnosis, my husband began to draw me out.
“You know what’s true” he said. “You need to talk to God.”
“I don’t want to.”
“But you need to.”
“I don’t even know what to say.”
“Just talk to him,” he said.
I don’t remember the words that came out of me, face down on the pillow. I’m sure there were mumblings and groanings and unintelligible words. I’m pretty sure I mostly talked about how mad I was at him. But towards the end I came to this:
“God I know that I’m a toddler, throwing a giant tantrum, because I don’t know what you’re doing. But you’re doing something…even though I don’t understand it!”
Surrender made way for peace to come. Not in overwhelming waves, but in small chunks that began to knock down pieces of what the old me had been building in the back of my mind. Little pebbles of peace chipping away at that fortress, and a still small voice that kept chipping and tapping away at me; You don’t need this… You don’t need this… You don’t need this…
As the vines of hope began to grow again.
It’s been a little over a month of Fridays since Piper’s diagnosis. A week after the original results, we found that instead of just ALL, a childhood cancer that is relatively easy to treat, she has a rare genetic abnormality in her leukemia cells which made it significantly more aggressive and difficult to treat, and made it even more likely that if cured, she could have a relapse.
The first month was horrible. The medications obviously poison. The once spunky little girl turned into a zombie by steroids. Almost all her hair fell out in a matter of two weeks.
Then last week, they had another bone marrow aspiration that would tell them whether or not the treatment was working; if she would be in remission or if she would need to go on the bone marrow transplant list. When the results showed that she was in remission, cancer free for the moment at the very least, you would think I would have been thrilled.
But you know what? It’s hard to hear the bugle of good news behind a fortress of stone.
That’s right. I’m still in there. Desperately trying to escape. The voice of the tender me, the soft me, the me that’s sensitive to what the Lord of hosts is doing; that me was getting louder and easier to hear through the holes that the hope vines were tearing. Through the holes that the peace was beginning to peck away.
But I realized on receiving this good news how afraid I am to hope. How desperately afraid I am to trust God. Because I feel like hope is a trap and a lie. And I was expecting more bad news. I had decided to expect it, as a way to try and protect myself from the painful surprises that life seems to keep throwing my direction like so many fast balls over the past six months.
I was trying to control it. And once again, this surprise, though good, had undermined my shallow attempt to pretend to be in charge of life. To pretend to be able to predict things, and by-proxy, to control them. The old me trying to take over; shouting at the tender me;
“Get out of the way! YOU are going to get us KILLED! Your hope is foolish and the love you claim to believe in is a lie.” The reality is I cannot actually control or predict the future. I am not in charge. I am not the boss.
There’s a toddler in my house; she’s three years old and three feet tall and she’s angry because I’ve given her a bowl and not a plate for her to eat her lunch. She’s raging mad. She’s screaming. Throwing herself down. Insane with the desire to control, and devastated at the perceived loss. She looks exactly like me.
Tender me in the tower is peeking out through the cracks; shouting till she’s hoarse,
“He is good! He is good! Hope is not a lie! It’s freedom! All is grace! Everyday is gift! Every day is joy! Rejoice! Rejoice!”
I want to let her out now, but I’m afraid of the rawness; the gaping wound of a hole in a tower wall that I’ve built to keep me safe. The vines would wreck and break every last part of that self-protection until not one stone is left on another, and then I would be well and truly naked. Out in the open. Vulnerable.
Everyone could see the scars on my heart; the trust I’m afraid to hold on to; the faith that’s so thin, it seems like a paper cloak at times when I know it could be thick as velvet.
But the truth will set us free.
And the truth is that God loves my friends, and their daughter, more than I do. He’s the only one able to work for their good and his glory in all things. He is the only one who always does exactly what he says he will do. He is the only one who has the power to make all things as he sees fit.
He calls the stars out one by one…and because of the word of his power, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26) Then there’s the verse I first tattooed on my skin:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of these will fall apart from the will of your father. And even the very hairs of you head are all numbered. So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31
He knows every hair that has fallen from that sweet little girl’s head. He knew all the days of her life before there was yet one of them. And he knows mine.
He knows the days that I’ll build towers of fear because I’m choosing not to trust him—even though he’s never given me a reason not to. He knows the days I’ll come running back—a prodigal into her Daddy’s arms. Safe and held and deeply known. He loves me. Even me, in my faithless, wandering, orphan heart. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.
And around each bend, and each corner I can hear his voice whisper; louder now than my fears or my demands to understand; “Courage….courage, dear heart.”(C.S. Lewis’ Aslan)
Not too long after I originally wrote this post, I got my most recent tattoo. A picture of Aslan the lion from Narnia, with the above quote. It has served me often these past two years, which have continued to be full of various trials, to remember that God has, and will continue to bring me through whatever comes. He will carry me.
“You are GOOD!” She shouts it from the back seat, her eyes intense in my rearview mirror, her fist pumping the air with all her five-year-old might. And I’m pretty sure witnessing this is just about as beautiful a thing as I’ve ever seen.
My baby girl has known suffering in her young life. Last fall and winter were some of the darkest times for us as she suffering through near constant flare ups of her still-undiagnosed illness. (We highly suspect celiac disease.)
She has looked at me with her wide blue eyes and said, “Mommy? Does God ever forget things?”
“No sweetie. He never forgets anything.”
“Oh, well I was just wondering. Because we asked Jesus if he would help me feel better earlier, but I still don’t feel good. I wondered if maybe he forgot.”
“….No sweetie. No, he didn’t forget,” I said, barely holding back the tears. “You know what? Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want him to. And you know what that means?”
“What?” she asks, tears in her voice.
“That just means that he has something else in mind.”
“YOU ARE GOOD!” I could listen to her shout it from the backseat for a millenia. Singing along to her VBS CD, from a week of lessons about how God is good in the midst of all circumstances. Truth for the children and adults alike. Truth that we’ve needed from the dawn of time. Truth we are so apt to forget.
You are good God.
And watching my daughter in the rearview mirror I see it: the set of her jaw, the flash of defiance in her eyes, the strength of her tiny fist pumping the air. That’s what it takes doesn’t it? To believe in the goodness of God when the world has not been good to you. When suffering has punctured your life in so many places your heart feels like Swiss cheese.
The truth that I whispered over her; time and time again in the moments of her pain and despair holds true: Our God is so powerful that not only could he stop bad things from happening, but he can take even bad things, and use them for our good. Transformation. It is the powerful potter indeed who can take the cracked clay and turn it into something beautiful. The all powerful God is most on display, in the midst of our immeasurable brokenness and this is no exception.
“YOU ARE GOOD!” That the five-year-old can suffer much, and come out trusting Jesus is nothing short of a miracle. That she can shout it from the back seat with all the defiance needed to rattle the gates of Hades is nothing short of a miracle. That she believes it in her heart; for herself— for her friends with cancer, for the family with children her very own age who lost their father, for the hurting around the world for whom we pray—YOU ARE GOOD!
Maybe you’d think she’s just singing along. Maybe you aren’t sure she really believes it. Then I present to you Exhibit B: Boaz is at the dentist. And because of a rather traumatic experience he endured at Urgent Care not long ago, he is terrified of laying down and having anyone look in his mouth. I can’t get him to relax enough to even let the dentist look at his teeth. But then Ellie comes in, and as matter of fact as she can be she says, “Boaz, even when life is scary, God is good.” And though he is still terrified, he leans his head back and opens his mouth enough to let the dentist look at his teeth, as his big sister holds his hand and his heart.
We don’t know it all yet: we haven’t seen the future and we don’t know the extent of the miracle. We don’t know if Ellie will stay well, or for how long. But we know without a shadow of a doubt that whatever comes, God is at work. He is for us. He loves us. And He is Good.
Would you like to read more about my journey with Ellie and her health? I wrote an article for The Joyful Life Magazine this past winter, while we were still in the thick of this season of suffering, and I’d love you to get your hands on it.
The article is entitled; “Splendor: Glimpses of God’s Glory in the midst of Suffering” and it is featured in the Surrender issue which is available to order until the end of August 2019. Just click here to place your order today.
“Make a U-Turn at Roller Coaster Road.” The computer voice from google maps instructed. But to us in that moment, it might as well have been the voice of God.
“Are you SERIOUS?!?” We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry; but somehow this instruction from the google map seemed to perfectly sum up that had been going on in our lives of late.
We started down a path; prayed and sought and confirmed it. The change was coming; it was a big change and it was going to be hard, but we submitted to God’s leading. Then this: all the plans seeming to fall around our ears. We were left confused and more than a little annoyed at the little mechanical voice telling us to make a u-turn, but we were even more annoyed at God.
Why would he take us this direction, only to have us turn around this far down the road?
It didn’t make sense. It was confusing. We felt lost and wondered if he had forgotten about us for a moment; maybe holding the world in his hands really was as distracting as one would think. But no.
We knew there was purpose in this. Even in this. That this was the test of faith: would we follow him, even when it seemed like he didn’t know where he was going?
The thing to remember is that God has never been about the destination only; he’s always and forever interested in the journey. The in-between. The promised land, and the wilderness. Heaven, and the earth. The green pastures and the valley of the shadow of death. Yet he is our shepherd in both places.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”Psalm 23:1-4
Restoration and rest by the green pastures and still waters; comfort and confidence in the valley of the shadow of death. The promises of God’s nearness and provision are in both places, yet the promise for the ultimate destination is not what is focused on here. Of course it is wonderful when we think of the latter half of the psalm; of the table spread in the presence of enemies, and then, the dwelling in the house of the LORD forever. But hear what God isn’t saying: “Just hang on! Just hang in there!”
More and more I realize my own inability to white-knuckle it to the finish line. I do not have the wear-with-all or will power to “hang on” and “hang in” indefinitely; though perhaps I have deceived myself into thinking I do at times. When Paul and Peter speak of “keeping the faith”, maybe they really mean, that by God’s power and his presence, we keep it. You don’t have to look further than the Israelites, God’s own chosen people, to see that we are faithless creatures. I am no different. Faithless on my own, but faithful by his empowering spirit. His spirit that whispers to my soul, “Come near. Rest awhile. Look around for signs of my provision; here in the valley it’s my staff and my rod—in the verdant valley it’s the pastures and the water. But always, and forever, it’s me.“
How tempted I am to trust in the provisions, more than the provider! How often I rest in seemingly secure circumstances, instead of in my always secure place in my father’s hands and heart. Do I look around the greenest valley and fear it’s removal? Do I stand in the shadow of death and forget the one standing next to me, who has already beaten death on my behalf?
Maybe that is what you and I need most, on days where we feel lost in confusion. Maybe we need to just look up and around enough, to remember that no matter where we go, we never go alone. Though the path may seem treacherous and we are frightened out of our wits, our good Shepherd goes with us. He goes before us. He stands beside us. He takes up the rear guard. And because of the indwelling power of his spirit, he also makes his home within us.
Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom.*
Even when I don’t know what is going on, and it feels like every other day is another u-turn onto roller coaster road; even when I don’t know exactly where I am going, or how I am going to get there, I can rest in the knowledge that I belong. I am safe. I am held. I am irrevocably loved.
(*Hillsong United Worship)