On Muscle Memory, Grief & the Rhythms that ground us

THE INVITATION

“Do you want to go on an adventure with me?” 

His question hung like a held breath in the space between us. We lay beneath the sheets in the privacy of our bedroom on a warm summer night, the luminous glow of our cell phone screens awaiting our final electronic signatures on a contract for a house—a house that was two hours by car, and yet somehow a world away. 

“I’m scared.” 

“I know. I am too.” His finger hovers over the space on the form marked ‘X’. “Let’s go on an adventure honey,” he says.

“Okay,” I say. 

And with the last tap of a finger on a screen, everything was about to change. 

Our life had already been turned upside down to say the least. In the fall of 2020, I became pregnant for the fourth time. But a few months into the pregnancy, I began to realize something was different. I was short of breath, my nausea was requiring medication, and by 18 weeks my belly button had already turned itself inside out. When I woke from a startling dream one night, the flutterings I was feeling on either side of my abdomen seemed to confirm that there was indeed more to this pregnancy than one small child turning somersaults in my womb.

“That’s two…there are TWO babies.” My midwife announced. 

“Oh my gosh…TWO babies?” My husband’s voice cracked. 

“I’m not crazy!” I proclaimed—this ultrasound only confirming what God and my gut had been  telling me the past few weeks. 

A few more months and dozens of doctor’s appointments later they were here: our precious boy/girl twins—swaddled and snuggled next to each other in the tiny crib two feet from the end of our bed. We could hear their softly shared breath, precious and close in the dark of our room at night. At two weeks in, we were learning to discern which child it was that was crying, and I was learning to breastfeed them in tandem. Meanwhile, we were also recovering from one of the most traumatic experiences of our entire lives. Those first few weeks my husband and I wept together more than we ever have before. Let’s just say, their birth was not the peaceful or joyful affair I had been hoping and praying for. 

So it wasn’t as though our life had become terribly dull and we needed a change. We weren’t sitting around bored looking for a challenge—tandem feeding two infants for hours upon hours every day was hard enough. Managing the household and three other rambunctious children was quite enough. And yet, adventure knocked on our doorstep in the form of a house listing in our inbox. I was surprised to hear that my husband Willy had encouraged my Mom to go and see this beautiful house in person. She had been sending us house listings in our inbox on and off for nearly five years, an exercise in patience and persistence if there ever was one, but in all those years, never once had we had her go look at a house for us. Yet this home, nestled between a creek and a green hill in the Kiowa Creek Valley, somehow caught more than just our passing attention. 

“They are reviewing offers this weekend,” my Mom told me as she chatted with us after the showing. I sat on our dirty blue sofa in my increasingly cramped 1,000 square foot home which I now shared with six other people, and I knew our days here were numbered. We had known that the whole pregnancy truly. At some point before the twins turned one we would need to look for a bigger place. The twins barely had a corner crib to call their own, let alone a nursery. There was quite literally not enough floor space for two more beds anywhere in the house unless we were to give up on having any sort of living room.

 I looked at this beautiful home on the computer screen with a full basement and imagined my five children erecting elaborate cities in pillow forts, or constructing vast train tracks. I looked at the large back yard and imagined the green hill behind us covered in snow and perfect for sledding. I imagined my children growing up just down the road from their grandparents and my heart swelled.

“What do you think?” I asked my husband. 

We had asked each other this question half a dozen times already. 

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

 We stared at each other, each of us rocking a baby in our arms. 

“I want to put in an offer,” I said. “Just to see. Maybe this is the new season we’ve been asking God for.” 

THE WEIGHT OF MUSCLE MEMORY 

The first thing I noticed was that the locks turned the opposite way; and not just on the back or the front doors. Even the bathroom doors were a reverse arrangement of what I was used to at the place I still thought of as “home.” Our first house, christened “Lady Gray” by my eldest daughter and me, held lovely trees, a spacious lawn, and a built out garden area we used almost as soon as we moved in. It was the first truly successful garden I ever had. There we planted a peach tree we christened “Fergie.” There we let the weeds share space with the grass and discovered the joy of self-sowing Cosmos in the garden bed, and the miracle of asparagus in the spring. It was a sweet place for us—an oasis in the midst of a desert season. And our muscles had grown used to the way you needed to use a little hip pressure to open the front door. We were used to keeping the back door shut in summer, because the little house that faced east, left her backside to bake in the late afternoon heat, and even with the heavy wooden door closed the laundry nook felt like a sauna. We were familiar with the need to keep the attic fan running in the summer, and how quickly the furnace could heat up the cold rooms in winter when you were feeling a bit chilled. I knew my favorite eyes on the stove for each dish I liked to cook. I knew how to make best use of the extremely limited counter space. The first two years I even learned the muscle memory required of life with small children and no dishwasher; though we finally got one the year after I had given birth to our third child. In my tiny kitchen, the turn from the stove and the tap to fill my copper tea kettle was as familiar to me as a breath—

BREATHE IN—lift the kettle and pivot towards the sink.

BREATHE OUT—open the lid and turn on the tap.

BREATHE IN—lean your hip on the counter to fill the kettle.

BREATHE OUT—replace the lid, turn again, flip on the turbo boil. 

During the year 2020, when our worlds all became increasingly small, even as we felt apart of the global chaos of the pandemic, sometimes it was this rhythm of tea that kept me sane. The familiar motions grounding me like tethers in a world that felt fractured and unstable. To return to God, and a sense of sacred settledness in my spirit on any given day, all I had to do was make tea. Now all of this familiarity had fallen away, and what I was left with was grief. 

GROUNDING RHYTHMS

It was the day after our big move, and my hands were busy searching for my copper kettle. I had sifted through box after haphazardly labeled box, to no avail. In the chaotic flurry of our move, all my best intentions for an organized and smooth transition seemed to have gone awry. I suppose, with two tiny infants and three older kids there was only so much I could do as I presided over the packing of the home in which I had spent the last four years. But here on the other side of this move, my tea kettle was missing, and my anxiety was rising.

“Where is it?” I demanded of myself, and of the new kitchen in chaos. All the cabinet space in the world felt meaningless in that moment. I stumbled out the backdoor to the detached garage to see if any wayward kitchen boxes had ended up on the shelf by mistake, the labels from the previous person’s move having confused more than one of our moving-day-helpers. As I picked my way along the weedy pea gravel path, I thought about something I heard once about phantom limbs; how those who have suffered a terrible injury resulting in an amputation still feel the missing limb sometimes, as if it were still there. But it cannot be accessed or used, and it hurts sometimes, they say. I think about how trying to move a limb that isn’t there must feel like the rudest reminder of the pain. A muscle memory that is detached from the muscles it once served. I wonder if that is a little like this. 

All the optimistic and cheerful parts of me want to say I’ve been transplanted—that I am like Fergie, the peach tree we planted three years ago on a rainy day in a Colorado spring. I want to say that I am fresh from a too-small pot, and my roots are a bit beat up and I’ve had to cut them in places, but it’s for their good. So that they can re-grow in the new soil, with just a little water, sun, and time. I want to say that it’s as easy and straightforward as sliding this plant into a new hole, a new home. One that I’m sure will be even more fruitful than the last. 

But instead, I feel this move like an amputation in so many ways. And though I know that there were things that were sickly and damaged and too beyond repair in the life we were living before, I feel only the pain of the loss. I find myself wondering, am I the body? Or am I the severed limb? 

 It took four days to find it. Four days without the grounding rhythm of tea, and my favorite adaptogenic herbal coffee, and then, at last, we found it. Stashed in a box with last minute grabs and completely bereft of any label at all—my copper kettle. It was dirty from our old home still, and somehow comfortingly damp inside, as though it remembered exactly what it was for. As soon as I felt the cool of the stainless steel handle beneath my fingertips, I rushed to the tap of my kitchen sink. I flung open the small round lid, slightly dented just as it was when I bought it, and I filled it with water until the line was just below the spout. Returning the lid to its rightful place, I set the kettle on the back right burner as I always had in our previous home. And though the gas stove was still a change I was getting used to, I smiled at the familiarity of these movements and felt my feet coming firmly to rest on this new ground.

I went about preparing my tea. I filled the metal insert in my tea pot with loose-leaf catnip and chamomile for my evening nerves. When the kettle boiled, I flipped off the burner and reached for the handle, but instantly recoiled. 

“Ouch!” I exclaimed, “it’s hot.” 

The handle of my tea kettle had never been hot before. 

“It’s because it’s a gas stove,” I said to myself, running my fingers under cool water, thankful that my sleep-deprived brain still knew how to reflexively recoil from scorching heat. 

Gingerly, I grabbed a dish towel from where it hung on the oven handle, and used that to lift my kettle and pour the boiling water in my tea pot. 

“This will just take some getting used to,” I said.

And it has. 

And I have. 

NEW LIVES &  A NEW LIFE 

The twins birth was not at all what we expected. It wasn’t even what we feared. In ways I couldn’t have even imagined, it was so much worse. And I don’t know how else to explain it but to say that something broke open in us when we finally left that hospital room after what seemed like the longest day of our life. There we were, two parents who had been awake for nearly four days straight; only a cumulative six hours of sleep total over the course of those four days. I was aching from both a vaginal delivery and an emergency c-section, and we were both traumatized out of our minds. This felt like the last straw on an already heavily laden camel’s back. 

“I’m just so freaking ready for a new season!” I blurted out as we drove the highway for home, willing ourselves to talk to one another in an attempt to stay awake long enough to just get there.

“I know…me too. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but the first thing I thought after the surgery was over was, ‘I just want to go and start the farm.’” 

“Really?”

“Yeah.” 

The farm was a dream that had been brewing for a few years now, but the truth is that I think it’s been in my blood all along. In the fall of 2019, my parents purchased a gorgeous new property in Elizabeth Colorado and declared that this was their forever home. We couldn’t have been more thrilled. The house was quirky and fun, with plenty of large windows and a loft with a chalkboard that had my kids enthused. But it was the land that drew me in—thirty-two acres of green rolling hills, a creek, and trees galore. I could feel the potential in my bones the moment we first walked down the hill behind the house to the creek bed, which still held water, even in October. It was a magical place where we knew our dreams of starting a farm could finally come true. But we weren’t sure how we were going to get down there. There were so many pieces that needed to fall into place for us to begin making this place of which we had been dreaming. Then out of seemingly nowhere, this house appeared like a handwritten invitation from God.

 It’s time. 

Really? With two tiny nursing babies and an incision that ached and our older two kids about to start public school for the first time? 

Yes. 

Really? Leaving behind our church community and our friends and the life we’ve built for the past decade? 

Yes. It’s time. 

Laying in the dark, before the last feeding of the day and before we tried to close our eyes for whatever hours the twins would give us, my husband and I clicked the lines by the Xs and signed the contract to buy a new house. But it wasn’t just a new house. It was a new life. 

GETTING THERE 

 “We just have to get there,” I told my husband once again. We were in the throes of packing up our life, with a wife attached to two babies and marooned to the bedroom. I still wasn’t supposed to be lifting anything post c-section recovery by the time we were preparing the final push for our move. My inability to do life on my own was staggering to say the least.  My daily prayer was monotonous and repetitive;  Lord, help us to just get there. And without him, we wouldn’t have. Over the course of the one month contract there were innumerable times when it all could have, and perhaps should have, fallen apart—but it didn’t. We knew that we must be absolutely crazy. I was afraid we might have been making a terrible mistake. We kept wondering why our lender would allow such sleep deprived people to borrow money. I kept praying that if this wasn’t the right thing, that God would make it fall apart. But he didn’t. Every last thing fell into place. From my husband’s work agreeing to allow him to work mostly remote, to the financial hoops, to the friends from college that I hadn’t seen in years coming to help us pack when I was still so unable.

Then at last came the day in early September, when I piled my five children in the minivan, and to the sound track of two screaming infants, I said goodbye. I pulled out of the cracked cement driveway and drove away from the town where I had spent more than a decade, and nearly all of my adult life. The town where my husband had asked me to marry him. The town where we brought all five of our precious children home from the hospital. The town that still held my friends who had become like family. As I turned onto the highway for the last time, the grief nearly overwhelmed me. But there was also this peace—and a strange sense of release and surrender. 

EMBRACING NEW RHYTHMS

We’ve been here for seven months now. The twins are eight months old and throwing banana bits on the linoleum floor. We have discovered which parts of our gravel driveway will get icy if we neglect to pull out the snowblower, and that our wood stove may be the singular best thing about this house. We have painted the upstairs bedrooms and the basement, and even most recently undertaken a kitchen renovation. And what was once foreign and a hiccup in my daily ritual of tea, has now become second nature, a muscle memory once again. I no longer have to remind myself to grab the hot pad before I reach for my copper kettle; I do it automatically. And with the familiarity of my daily tea rituals once again restored to me, I am beginning to see that perhaps I am the peach tree after all, and not the severed limb. 

This season of transition has been one of the hardest of my entire life. I’m still not sure how long it will take to truly feel at home here, but I can finally imagine a future in which I will feel that way someday. After all this time, sometimes I still turn the locks the wrong direction. I still look for glasses in the cupboard to the left of the sink, because that was where I had them in our previous home. Perhaps this muscle memory is a reminder to grieve. Some things have been lost forever—things more significant than glasses, or locks, or tea kettle rituals. On my better days, I allow myself to be sad. Moving forward and on into a beautiful new future, does not preclude my need to thoroughly grieve all that has gone before: both the good and the bad. I grieve the good because it was good; and that good is no more. I grieve for the bad we experienced right before we came to this place, our new oasis, because it hurts and I wish it had never been. 

 Change has always been a struggle for me, but I can’t stay stuck in the rhythms of the past no matter how beneficial they were for me at one point in time. It would be foolishness for me to continue to try and grab the handle of my kettle without the benefit of a hot pad. It is an old rhythm that would now only bring me harm. Muscle memory can help us with so much; our bodies remember the rhythms and traditions of safety and security, of work and of rest; but just because I have always done things a certain way before, does not mean that I can, or should do those things in that way forever. My new rhythms and new muscle memories are here to help me make the most of the life I am now living, even as my old impulses remind me of what I am still grieving.

Holding two squirmy babies at the same time no longer feels impossible to me. I am gaining a muscle memory for dropping the kids at their new school. I have learned already how to walk through the back door, and avoid the hanging jackets and the piles of shoes that so easily overtake our laundry/mudroom at the backdoor. I know how to turn on the lamps as the sun sets in the autumn, and how to open the curtains at first light in the spring. I know how to thread my way from our bedroom to the twins nursery in the middle of the night. This spring, I will gain a muscle memory for sitting in the rockers on my front porch, for watering the flowers that I am already plotting to plant, and for packing lunches for our summer mornings spent working at the farm. And perhaps there will be peach trees here too. And I perhaps I will cut their roots, and prune their branches, and thin the dime sized spring fruit—and it won’t feel like a cruelty. 

Peace in this new place I am seeing, comes through surrender. Surrender to the good plan of the God who brought us here. Surrender to the process of grieving. Surrender to the process of dealing with the trauma I have experienced in the past, sifting through the painful memories with a dogged determination to find the scraps of light I know are buried there. Surrender also, to the incredible joy of the moments right in front of me—to dance parties in the kitchen, and the cheesy knock-knock jokes of my children, and the way my babies skin feels like satin against my lips.  

In this new place and new season that I deeply longed for, yet never expected—perhaps the greatest new grounding rhythm I can create is the one in which I open my hands. Perhaps my greatest muscle memory is the one in which I turn towards the light, wherever it may be found. 

let me be/ your breath

let me be/ your breath
a poem by Grace Kelley


grow in me—


all that is
new & tender
the unseen seems
more real with each
fluttering sign
of presence.


(the flutters 
gave them away
 after all)
—how I knew
they were two
& not only one. 
Now my desires
are more refined
than ever.


so grow in me—


until the pain
makes it hard
to rise from my sheets


until I’m 
stretched & marred 
far beyond
my capacity


until red stripes
mark my belly
full & heavy 
with the weight 
of the glory 
of you.


grow in me—


until sleep
becomes 
a stranger


until breaths 
feel hard to take—
for the crowding 
of my lungs
is no less Holy
than singing 
praises to the God 
who made you.


grow in me—


until you are ready
to breathe 
with fresh lungs—


until the sweet echos
of your first cries 
tear open places
always meant 
for loving you. 


Until then
Dear Ones,
grow in me—

& let me be
your breath. 

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

All we have left

I stared down at the plastic box on the dryer. It looked almost just as she had left her. Hair clips neatly arranged in a plastic tray, lotions neatly arranged, brushes with missing bristles still full of her shining white hairs.

“I figured I’d at least let you look at it. I didn’t want to just throw it all into the trash,” my grandpa had said an hour before, pointing me to the box where he had set it upon his arrival at our home for a Mother’s Day barbecue.

It was my own Mother’s first Mother’s day without her Mom. She died at the beginning of the Coronavirus panic-inducing-pandemic, and we weren’t able to have her funeral for months afterwards. The lack of closure was as tangible and palpable as the white hairs left in her hairbrush; as the thought that this box of things was only here sitting on my dryer because she didn’t need them anymore.

Is this all I have left? I thought to myself after everyone had gone. Staring down at the hearts on the metal clip she used to pull her hair back into a half-up-do ever since I was a little girl.

And though I was glad to have her clips, the bath and body works lotion that always was her favorite and reminds me of her—these things are far from an inheritance. They are only the small and ordinary remains of a life lived with beauty.

I wonder if the disciples felt the same way. After they had laid his broken body in the grave where they thought he would stay. Which one of them took it upon themselves to open up his traveling pack? Did they find his extra tunic, the comb for his beard, his fishing lures and knife? Must this not have seemed a far cry from the inheritance he had promised to them?

Did they wonder as I do, in moments of doubt: is this all we have left?

I threw away all of the lotions but one. I kept most of the clips. The brush with the most bristles now runs through my short red hair each morning, and my strands of DNA lie alongside the strands of my grandmothers—some of the only earthly evidence left of a life well lived.

It’s too easy to believe that this is it. Her body burned down to ashes mere hours after I received the news in the pre-dawn of a March morning. Sometimes I think I hear her warbling voice singing the old hymns she loved so much. I see her weathered hands holding open the precious pages of her Bible in her lap, her neck bent so she could see, her chin in her hand, pinkie finger extended to her bottom lip in contemplation—the same gesture I catch myself doing at times.

Getting older was no piece of cake for her. She lived in chronic pain for many, many of that late years of her life. When the pain and the meds made it hard for her to have her daily study time with the Lord she told me once, “I just know that God is teaching me something I’ve never learned before.”

The God of the resurrection will have no trouble bringing her back from the ashes that were once her body—they are only the seeds. And be they scattered on a mountainside here in her Colorado home, or in the wood of Washington that she loved so much, it doesn’t much matter.

I can almost feel her long arms hugging me around the shoulders. Her lips puckered to kiss whichever part of my face was closest. Her voice saying words that were always the honest truth: “I LOVE you.”

Like a blessing. Like a benediction. Like Jesus’ words to his Disciples;

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me…Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow with turn to joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

John 16:16-22 ESV

Sometimes what we have left feels like nothing near enough—where was that joy for the morning again, I often ask?

But this is only my shallow perception—my finite mind cannot grasp the weightyness of the glory that is unfolding all around me even now. Nor can I ever hope to fully imagine the glory that is to come.

This isn’t all I have left. There is so much more.

Even so—Come Again LORD Jesus.

Be blessed this Good Friday friends, and as you sit in the grief of the Savior and your own personal griefs that I know weigh heavily still on your own shoulders—may you remember that whatever your “this” is; THIS ISN’T IT.

It’s Friday. But Sunday is coming.

To the God of Hagar

 
 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? 

Photo by Tess on Unsplash

How Grief leads the way to Deeper Peace and Greater Clarity

“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.*

Come Away Awhile

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!)

One other super boring housekeeping detail; if you follow me on WordPress but HAVE NOT signed up through one of my forms, you will get notifications of content in your WordPress feed, but that’s it. I am not allowed to email you unless you sign up through the form. If that’s you, just CLICK HERE to sign up and get ALL the good stuff.

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,

Grace Kelley

A Prayer for those who are Afraid

Lord Jesus,

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.

Amen


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,

Grace Kelley

“Come and See.”

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.

WHAT?

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.

Trusting God with your broken heart

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.

Divine Intervention

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.