Here’s to a sweet & awkward Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day’s can be sweet and awkward at the same time.

The sweetness of your kid’s handmade card, the awkwardness of realizing they think you live in the kitchen. 😂

The sweetness of breakfast in bed, the awkwardness of eating food your kids invented.

The sweetness of looking into the faces of those you love, the sadness that shows up to the party like that awkward friend wearing too much cologne; reminding you of all you have lost.

I have been so guilty of wanting to be either one way, or the other. Good or bad. Happy or sad. But God is inviting me to see it can be both/and. In this world where we are sorrowful, yet we can still rejoice.

This tension is hard to hold, and I know today brings up equal measures of joy and sorrow. So here is to you my friends; those with bedrooms full of tiny blessings, with rooms that still hold memories of children now grown and gone, those who have gained by birth or adoption, those of you whose hearts are full today.

And here’s to you my friends, with some children snug in their beds, but the memories of those you have lost still held close to your aching chest. Here’s to you who have lost mothers—who wish with all your heart that you had someone to call today.

Here’s to you who have met every mother’s day with grief in the face of another woman’s joy, who greet today with empty arms for every reason possible: infertility, child loss, even an abortion you now deeply regret.

Here’s to every woman who has poured a cup of water for a little one in the name of Jesus, who has mothered brothers or sisters or friends on days they needed it most: you reflect the life giving nature of God.

To each and every one of you beautiful souls out there today—whether you be a mother by the worlds standards or not, may you feel seen, valued, and loved by your creator God today.

May you see the ways he invites you into the sweetness of his presence in the midst of your sorrow.

May you see the ways you are blessed in the mundane and awkward moments that will greet you as you step into this day.

And may you remember always that the Gospel is big enough for YOU.

His hand beneath my chin

My twenty month old is my most timid of my children. Though a relatively peaceful and happy-go-lucky guy, he is easily startled and is the most likely of my kids to become frightened in a situation that feels out of control or uncertain. I’ve learned to warn his siblings that he’s going to need someone to hold him when I use the blender.

“It’s going to be loud, okay buddy?” I say in my most cheerful voice, smiling with my eyes to reassure him; but even still, he is afraid. There is little I can do aside from making sure he is held.

Last week it was the same thing when my husband was using a power saw in the backyard. The second the machine roared to life, he came running, terror in his face. I tell him: “It’s okay buddy. Daddy’s just using a tool. Daddy’s in control of it, he won’t let it hurt you.”

It dawned on me that this is how God parents us; he uses his tools to make good and beautiful things, but the tools are often loud and scary sounding. But he never chides us for being afraid—he understands that we are, one of the reasons that the encouragement “do not be afraid” is one of the most common in scripture. He tells us that there is nothing to fear, that he is in control, yet he also holds us securely until we actually believe that it’s true.

Someday my son will no longer fear the buzz of the saw, or the hum of the blender, or the thrum of the lawnmower. Someday he will go to my leg for comfort for a moment, and then turn right back around to appreciate the beautiful thing that his father is making from the pile of wood, from an overgrown lawn, or the smoothie that he will shortly be sipping courtesy of the loud appliance on the counter.

We hadn’t left the house all together since the day my grandma died in mid March: the week the pandemic really set in. It had been six weeks since my 20 month old had ridden in the car, but even with his fears of loud machines and unpredictable things, I didn’t see this fear coming. No sooner did I begin backing out of the driveway, then my son began screaming in terror at the top of his lungs. I pulled over to see if anything was wrong: a seatbelt pinching him somewhere? A toy lost over the edge of the carseat? Nothing.

I began driving again and he began screaming again. It had been a long day, and in my fragile, frenzied and finite mind I only felt the inconvenience of it. I had been looking forward to this drive as my first “outing” in almost a month, and now it was being ruined. I couldn’t comprehend why—why was he screaming? We pulled up to a stop light and the screaming slowed, but it began again the moment we resumed our trek. It finally dawned on me; perhaps he was afraid of the unpredictable movement of the car.

I reached my hand back to rest on his cheek, stroking his soft skin with my thumb until the crying stopped. That was how we pulled up to the office a few minutes later, and that was how I would drive in the relative peace I had been craving the 20 minutes back home.

Pulling into our neighborhood half an hour later it dawned on me how sharp the difference between my parenting and the parenting of God are. I was so frustrated at the child who would not stop screaming. I was angry at his irrational fear. I didn’t understand and I wanted it to stop. But what a grace that God never deals with my fears that way! He always and forever simply drives the car, craning his arm back so that he can cup my chin in his hand and tell me that everything will be okay. He tells me this on the days I believe him, and on the days that I do not.

I need that now just as much as my son did. I need that touch of comfort; that assurance that even when my circumstances are constantly shifting, uncomfortable, and totally outside of my control—that I am okay. God is still in control. He is still working for my good. All shall be well.

The One who knows all things; who knows where this car is heading, is also a God of infinite and kind compassion. He does not chide you for being afraid, though he invites your loving trust. He does not yell at you from the front seat to hush and be quiet, he meets you in the rearview mirror with his tender gaze. He cares for your fears, even as he does not promise to remove the scary situations from you. He will take you where you need to go, even if the way is frightening and you would just rather not go that way at all.

Trusting God, like my son in the car finally trusted me with my hand secure beneath his quivering chin, may just be the bravest and most beautiful thing you ever do. By this child-like trust, the world will know that there is something different about us; we are a people who despite every chaos and calamity, can still rest secure. We are a people who remember who they are in the context of whose they are. We are a people who will one day see this fearful journey for what it was all along; the sweetest most intimate journey of faith.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”

Colossians 3:15 ESV

{Photo c/o Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.}

What is being lost

I haven’t left my house in three weeks. Except for the occasional stroll through the neighborhood, my boundaries have been from the front sidewalk where I shoveled a foot of snow last week, to the the back fence where the chokecherry bushes are getting ready to bloom.

I am moving in small circles lately. From the table, to the dishwasher. From the front door, to the mail box. I rarely need a shoe other than these well worn slippers and the old leather boots I use when I’m gardening.

We are all carving new paths right now—out of many of our illusion of control, of invincibility. They say these are the lost days, but where we find ourselves is historic even as it is painfully mundane.

I find myself asking; is this the desert? Or the land by the stream? I find myself asking; what is being lost?

My human perceptions are no good at telling. How seldom do I actually know what I need for the health of my soul. I feel parched, but perhaps that is because all my false wells are being tarred over. I find myself scraping at the ground in fear, in scarcity, but if would only lift my chin and look up a few inches I would see that that I am mere feet from the clearest, most delicious stream.

Will I stop digging and take a drink?

So much can feel like it is being taken away right now; but what if all that I am losing are the false places from which I pretended to be self-sufficient? My dirty wells are being tarred over.

What if after this pandemic, the words “Jesus help me!” came more easily to your lips in a moment of frustration with a child; in a moment of overwhelm at the kitchen sink.

What if after this pandemic we emerged from our homes a people who believe again in prayers answered by a good God who sees us?

What if we began to see the ways he is intimately pursuing us each and every day in the small things like the kindness of a neighbor, or the startling appearance of a mountain bluebird on the mail box?

God knows the turnings of our hearts. He knows what we most need, even when it clashes with what we most want. Sometimes this fact scares me, but at this exact moment, it brings me the peace that it ought.

When I just want out of here; out of this house, these walls, this sphere that feels too narrow; the days that feel endlessly long, and the evenings full of the fears of the future—God knows that what I most need is not deliverance from my present circumstances: what I most need is the intimate knowledge of his presence and provision in the midst of my present circumstances.

He will bring us out of this place when the time comes; but we will not be left unchanged. Perhaps we will leave our dirty wells tarred over after all this, and only drink from the fountain of living water—the river that God himself provides in the desert.

{Featured Image c/o Annie Spratt on Unsplash.}

Clearing Space for what looks like Death

As I write this, it’s the “Time of Corona”— a season of global fear and pandemic, and my words have gotten jammed in my throat.

The chaos of the present moment keeps getting to me, no matter how I feel I have my feet securely under me one moment, the next I hear something else—another piece of news, another friend with a loved one who is dying, another hard-won business potentially being forced to close their doors—and the rug is ripped out from under me all over again.

I am on the pendulum swing. One day, completely fine as I scrub and clean and prepare food for my hungry children. The next day, an anxious woman weeping over the dishes she can’t seem to remember how to load in the dishwasher.

Last week I was such a woman, when my husband suggested I go outside and get some fresh air in the back yard.

“It’ll be good for you.” He said. And for once, I didn’t argue.

I shoved my feet in my old leather boots and grabbed my gardening gloves and spade in one hand, and the bag of sprouting garlic in the other.

And kneeling in the dirt, I found myself grounded like I haven’t been in weeks. I felt the tethers of my heart returning once again to the earth beneath my feet—my place to keep and tend as my favorite contemporary author Christie Purifoy would say. I feel the simplicity of clearing the weeds, smoothing the earth, digging a hole, placing the garlic in sprout side up. I remember that it is not for me to make it grow, but only to tend in faithfulness, the things which are mine to tend.

As an empath and a helper—the massive and un-meetable needs of the world right now are paralyzing. But I realize last week in the dirt, that what I am being asked to do is really quite simple.

Be here. Sow these seeds. Water this plant. Trim this hedge. Rake the neglected leaves. Cut back. Clear space.

Those are the words that kept coming to me all while I worked in the garden. Clear space.

And I am reminded of John the Baptists proclamation, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

Prepare. Make way. Clear space.

What they thought they were to make was a highway for Messiah to overturn Roman rule. To be their triumphant warrior king who would once and for all squash those who had squashed them.

But instead, what was needed was a path to the cross—and space in a borrowed tomb for the Son of God to be sown like these seeds I plant in the earth.

It didn’t matter how many times he told his disciples that he had to die. It still came as a surprise. It doesn’t matter how many times we read the verse, “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33) —in times of pandemic and crisis, in one of the most well insulated countries in the world, it comes as quite a shock.

In the midst of this so much is being stripped away. We no longer believe we are invincible. Mortality knocks on every door. Fear holds us in its mighty grip. Loneliness is a mantle we wear when we rise in the morning.

But in my garden all this doesn’t feel as much like a loss. It feels like clearing space. Pulling up the weeds that have already started to grow though it’s barely April. Pull out the grass that seeded itself in the garden bed where it never belonged. Stir up the dirt and add the well-rotted compost, and make sure it’s fertile for all the good that will grow here.

I have dirt under my fingernails. Clear space. I hear the whisper.

And in my heart I know it; that even in the midst of losses piling up all around my feet, that my God remains. Here in this space when so much else feels like it is being taken away—even as we grieve those who are sick, who have died in the midst of this pandemic (whether from the virus or not), God is still here.

God is reminding me that what he sows will take root. Every space that feels empty and lost can be filled with more of him. And Good Friday reminds me that what is sown in terrible and devastating loss, is reaped to a new and fruitful life, For:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:23 ESV

Maybe today I am being asked to clear space, for what looks like death.

We are told we will have trouble. Our Savior King road into Jerusalem in the triumph that the crowd expected of someone who could raise Lazarus from the dead—

“HOSANNA!” They shouted “Save us Now! O King of ISRAEL!”

Jesus hears the cries of his people. He answers our pleas for salvation in a way they did not, and still do not expect. Even the smallest among us question his methods.

“I didn’t know that…” she said, “that a King, would come to die?” The words of my then five-year-old-daughter Ellie. So obsessed with fairy tales and stories of Kings and Queens that she was properly amazed to discover the King of all the Universe let himself be killed for love of her.

“HOSANNA! Save us Now!” We shout. In the midst of this global crisis—the stench of death surrounding us.

The cross was not at all what they had in mind. But it is the very foundation of the life we live in the upside-down Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that God has been pointing to since the days that Adam, only just cast from the perfect Garden which had been his home, now was forced to clear space just as I do in this garden bed—making room for the seeds that look like death—believing that they will grow to a new and resurrected life.

Today is Good Friday. And the tension is all there in the name: How we call a day “good” that an innocent man was murdered and made to be crushed under the weight of all our sin, our diseases, and everything that makes this world so intolerably crushing. How his friends wept! This day looked to them like nothing more than death.

But God knew that this seed he was planting would raise more than itself to eternal life. The disciples could not have imagined the Harvest of Life that would come through the God’s own Son breaking the power of Death by his death.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 ESV (Emphasis mine)

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.