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

Abandoned Places

I have this fond affection for abandoned places. It’s weird, and feels misplaced every time it pops up, but there it is with the run down old house in need of love (and a roof) on the busy interstate. I feel it again at the sight of a leaning old tree; dead and grey wood worn down by weather and life. I remember the day that old tree finally fell, and that place on the highway felt lost without it.

There’s an old cinderblock house on Highway 287 north that I wrote a poem about. It needs a roof I think, but my engineer husband thinks it needs a bulldozer. He’s probably right.

There’s an old brick victorian house on three neglected acres just north west of the I25 entrance. It has painted green shutters, the window on the upper level is cracked, and sometime down the road someone seems to have built on a ply-wood addition to the side and spray painted it black. The NO TRESPASSING signs don’t intimidate me. I see the place as perhaps it once was; built with love and attention, facing a southern sky, the land around it filled with growing things nurtured and tended by loving and wise hands. There would have been a barn there for the horses. A carriage house perhaps. It would have been on the edge of the town-turned-city; our ever-expanding home. And no one would have dreamed of throwing a rock through the window, or building on a ply-wood addition and spray painting it black.

Last year I went to see my Grandaddy’s farm for what will probably be the last time. One portion is under-contract for sale; another holds a few head of cattle and the fishing pond my great-grandaddy built when he bought the land in the 1930’s. There’s a small shelter nearby where we park that was probably used for hogs I’m told; but now it’s covered in ivy and only holds the click-click-click of the generator for the electric fence. My father points out the field where they used to plant sweet potatoes. I can still remember in my mind’s eye the sight of the old farm house where my Grandaddy was born and raised, which has since been demolished after it became a danger. He shows me the acre where they planted the family garden, and tells me how they shucked corn every 4th of July for as long as he can remember, to put it up for the cool North Carolina winter months.

This all brings with it such wisps of my own childhood memories; like the time when I was young and my Daddy took my brothers and I fishing at this pond. He left the boys with their lines in the water at one place, and took me around to a different corner of the pond. I’ll never forget how he leaned down in my ear and whispered, “This is the best spot. Don’t tell your brothers.”

I remember how when I got older my Dad told me how he used to pull up old wine bottles from the bottom of the pond; relics of my alcoholic Paw-Paw’s day. I remember how my Dad told me Paw-Paw would say, “I’m going fishing,” in the evenings, and how everyone knew what that meant even if they pretended not to. When I asked him if he drank it, he said it had all turned to vinegar by then.

Places left unattended seem to become wild; they go to entropy without some greater force sculpting them towards order and harmony. Like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden—I am drawn in by the abandonment of these places. All the memories they hold, both good and bad, past and possible future flash before my eyes as I catch sight of a house nearly drowned in ivy on the side of a North Carolina highway. I can’t help but wonder; Who lives here? Who owns this? When did they leave and why? Is there hope for its restoration? What would it cost?

The neediness of a place draws me in. Perhaps it’s partly the solitude these places seem to afford; like the ghost town of Independence, Colorado—a small abandoned mining town at the top of a mountain pass where once gold was found, and then just as quickly, it wasn’t. I read on the internet that the town was mostly abandoned by 1890, and all but one remaining person left after a massive blizzard in 1899 left the town cut off from supplies. I wonder about the last person who stayed for thirteen years alone at the top of a mountain pass, almost 11,00 feet above sea level. I wonder how he felt, as he watched his neighbors and friends flee to Aspen on homemade skis that February 1899. How did he (or she) survive? By 1912 the town was completely deserted, and I wonder if it was as a result of the death of the last remaining resident, or if he too eventually realized that there was nothing left for him there.

Maybe the reason these places pull me in is because I’m so hesitant to ever believe that there’s nothing left worth saving. Maybe it’s because I don’t want anyone to think that about me. Perhaps I feel a kinship to these lonesome and broken down places; perhaps its the Imago Dei in me longing to bring order and dominion to every lost and abandoned place. Perhaps it’s because I know my heart can’t take any more abandonment myself.

When I was seven years old I lost my church and all my friends in one fell swoop. As a homeschool kid those were the most significant connections I had apart from family; and it’s an ache I still carry around with me more days than I would like.

I don’t like telling you this; for fear you’ll see the broken porch step, the dirt pile under the welcome mat, the loose wiring in the living room, the broken tile on the kitchen floor. The truth is, that I was sexually abused by the son of an elder at my childhood church; and when instead of offering some measurable assurance of space to heal and comfort and justice we were told to simply “forgive and forget”, we left. Sadder still—no one followed us.

Abandonment feels like the sharp sting of acrid smoke in my nostrils; and it has haunted me so thoroughly for most of my life that sometimes I imagine I can smell it when it isn’t even there.

I have been guilty of looking at my friends with a sideways glance—wondering if they are about to dart out the door. I look at my husband this way too; this wonderful man who promised to love me forever ten plus years ago, and hasn’t ever done a single thing to make me doubt his commitment to me since. I play out the scenarios in my mind of how it will happen; how I’ll share too much, be too much, take too much—and then it will be too late.

The fear of being left alone haunts me; I worry about who I’ll disappoint when I don’t have things as together as they think I should. I have seen the looks of fear on faces when I express feelings of doubt in the face of my lifelong faith. I think they think that if I express doubt that maybe I’m lose my faith in God; but the Truth is that I have my eyes and heart so wide open on my best days, that I must continually wrestle the darkness that I witness into the hands of the loving God who is himself everything light and lovely. But it’s a fight. I wrestle constantly it feels like sometimes; and there are dark days when I just don’t even know how to believe in a good and loving God anymore. But he always brings me back—and I’m learning that that is the more important piece.

I know he’s going to mend that porch step in time. He’s already got the broom out to clean under the welcom mat. He’s planning a kitchen remodel and the new tile is going to be so much more beautiful than what has been cracked and broken and left to rot in me. And I believe he longs to do the same in you.

But if you’re like me, perhaps you find it hard to see that God really loves you; that he really wants to make all the broken down and bleeding in you whole and healed and new. Perhaps it feels impossible—because if you weren’t valued when you were young and innocent, how could you be valued now that you’ve grown up and screwed up more times than you could count?

I still wrestle with these doubt too, friend. I get it. But I want you to know something—no matter how abandoned you have felt, you have never walked alone. These broken parts are pieces of your story? They are making way for an eternal weight of glory.

I’ve seen it. I believe it. I know that it’s true. And my prayer for you Dear Reader, is that you would begin to know it too.

A Prayer for our Abandoned Places

Jesus—

You see all that is broken and abandoned in me. 
You see where I have placed a pot to gather rain from the leaky roof—
the rugs I use to cover the holes in the floor—
the peeling paint beneath the stack of books on the window sill. 
Thank you for making your home with me, even still. 
Teach me to trust the shuffle of your soft footsteps on my squeaky floor boards.
Thank you that you love me as I am, yet you love me too much to leave me this way.
Do your work in me O LORD—

Amen 

The Anvil

 The Anvil
 

 I.


 Loss is like
 an anvil
 sitting silent on my chest.
 The only noise comes
 when I try 
 to breathe.
 

 The creaking of my lungs
 fighting to expand in this 
 weighted world 
 sounds like the rattling
 of chains softened
 by padded walls.
 

 Words pad the cell:
            “She lived a good life.”
             “It was her time.”
             “She was ready.”
 

 AND IF I COULD ONLY STAND 
 I’D RIP THAT PADDING OFF THE WALLS 
 AND DASH MYSELF AGAINST THE COLD AND SOLID REALITY 
 THAT DEATH IS ALWAYS AN UNINVITED AND GREEDY HAND 
 AT THE TABLE AND THERE IS NO EXCUSING HIM.
 

 I have tried to move 
 the anvil 
 by ignoring it.
 Pretending that I believe 
 padded words 
 are enough to quench 
 embers burning
 a hole in my chest 
 where my heart used to be.
 

 But 
 surprise, surprise!
 It didn’t work.
 

 After sitting in the numbed silence
 for 100 more years I took another 
 rattling breath—my lungs like a bellows
 on the embers of a heart gone
 almost cold as I whispered—
 

             “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”
 

 And the anger lifts the anvil—
 throws it broken to the ground.
 And I do as I said I would;
 tearing padding, dashing
 every part of me against the cold 
 hard stone until
 either my bones 
 or the wall 
 must break. 
 

 

 

 II.
 

 Blind and wounded
 is this how we come?
 Crashing through that solid
 wall of reality
 my bones turned to powder
 my eyes gritty
 my nostrils full of dust
 & funeral ashes. 
 

 Lying under a bright
 & open sky—
 the beauty sharp
 like grief—
 at first felt worse
 

 than the anvil
 that sat on my chest
 1000 years—a weight 
 where my heart 
 used to be. 


 And now this!?
 

 As I crashed through the walls
 to the truth that death 
 was always just a door—
 out of the tower 
 out of the nightmare
 out of the Shadowlands
 

 to Here—
 where air is breathed
 just for
 laughing. 
 


(This poem is an excerpt from my poetry chapbook As the Sparrow Flies, a collection of poems about the various forms of grief that come with love.) 

    Header photo by Yang Shuo on Unsplash 

Beneath my Shed Skin

 I am shedding my skin—
 the old broken down shell
 is cracked and sloughing off
 my shining shoulders. 
 

 I am letting go of the girl 
 I thought I was last year
 two years ago, definitely ten.
 Would she recognize me?
 Would we be friends?
 

 I’m letting go of those questions
 too. They have no place in this pool
 where I wash the soot from my body 
 and watch the way the moon gleams 
 on my brand new skin.
 

 This coal mine cave turned tomb 
 For minerals, miners, and me.
 Presented to the heat, the flame
 as a sacrificial offering. 
 For what god—I wasn’t sure.
 

 I felt the flames lick my heels
 and I screamed until the air gave
 out—I couldn’t breathe
 and I collapsed as the cave 
 collapsed and crushed me. 
 

 But now I am stepping out
 of my skin cracked and scared
 like the granite of the mountain side,
 and I see the new underneath—
 shining hard facets sparkling
 in the light of a young moon.
 

 I realize it then: it takes defiance 
 to believe in joy—to hold both
 happiness and sorrow 
 in your hands at once—
 to believe in hope 
 when the dark is caving in.
 

 I didn’t know it till 
 the sorrow buried me alive.
 I didn’t know till I heard
 the canary sing—
 reminding me that somehow
 there’s still air down here.
 

 Still air in my broken down lungs 
 crushed beneath worlds of weight
 beneath bodies of gods existent
 in the image temples of my heart
 where I worshipped perfection, 
 performance and outward shows 
 of grand love to be praised by man—
 Where I bowed to the love of a god
 who only loved what I had done 
 lately and not who I always was beneath
 this skin I am shedding. Not who I 
 was when the cave roof collapsed. 
 

 And Oh what Wonder!
 the dust clears and I can see
 now these were no gods at all, 
 only toppling stones crashing 
 before the refiners fire licked 
 my heels and made me clean. 
 

 Now upon the banks of a pool 
 on the mountainside, 
 I shed my sodden, sooty skin—
 I wipe the dirt from my neck,
 and my chest thrums with a new
 more solid beat.
 

 Now, beneath the light
 of the young moon, beneath 
 my shed skin, I can see clearly
 what I was always meant
 to become. 
 

 

 

 
 Photo C/O KT 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.*

Now you are the Seed

Now you are the Seed
for my Grandaddy Roy

Now the soil is carved
to make way for hands
that handled seeds with care 
all their earthly days.

                Now you are the seed—

Once you made space 
for what looked like death.
For dried soy beans &
shriveled corn—
dusty field peas & string beans
turnips, collards & more.
(even tobacco seeds—for better 
or worse)

                Now you are the seed—

Once, you sowed faith
small as grains of mustard
in three small children’s hearts‚
                 and by grace like rain
they grew.

Once, you held grands & great-grands
in your weathered hands—
and by grace like rain, 
               we will grow to sow faith 
like you.

                Now you are the seed—

Now, I need the faith
of a farmer like you
to nestle you gently 
in borrowed earth
like Paw-Paw’s sweet potatoes
so carefully arranged—
to plant the seed of you
beside the one for whom you tended 
gardens & roses & feeders full of hope
like birdseed. 

Now, I need the faith 
of a farmer like you
to disbelieve what my eyes 
have seen & believe instead
in fields of glorious green & songs
of eternal spring—the land
from which no sparrow
falls.

Now you are the seed
in the hands of a Farmer
even older & wiser than you—

                and he knows 
                the time to plant
                and he knows
                the harvest
                is coming.

Now you are the seed
we sow in tears—
                but we will reap
                with shouts of joy.

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)