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. 

while it is still dark

before golden light crests the hill behind my house,
I see a dozen small sparrows hopping through the shallow snow
in the predawn dark of my backyard. 


they are bold—almost cheeky, as they peck their way
through the dry grass & weeds & shriveled crabapples
that have fallen from our tree.


I have heard that He is aware of every feather & flap  
& not one has fallen apart from His notice.
I realize He must know which weeds provide the best seeds
& He plants these in summer’s abundant heat. 


these dozen small sparrows do not wonder 
who will feed them their daily bread.
it is still dark while they sing their songs of joyful trust,
knowing a feast has already been prepared.  


then there’s me—with my tear stained face  
pressed to the ice cold window pane
hoping & praying, for a small sparrow’s faith. 





Header Photo c/o Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

The Twin Pregnancy I didn’t see coming

I didn’t see this coming. 

But when I saw the two of them on the ultrasound monitor, kicking and waving, dancing and playing—I felt like I had known them all my life. 

Willy and I were talking last night about taking a trip sometime after they are born, and as we talked about taking “the whole family”—all SEVEN of us, instead of feeling only the over-whelm of having not one, but two tiny babies in the car along with our older three kids, all I felt was a sense of rightness—of completion. 

“This is our whole family,”I said, “these babies are who we have been missing all this time.” 

My husband nodded wordlessly, with a slight mist in his eyes, and I knew he felt it too. The sense of rightness—of an adventure on which not one of our members would be missing.

I should have gotten my first hint from my mother-in-law; but I wasn’t at all ready to hear it. Upon telling her that we were expecting for the fourth time, she almost immediately said, “This time, I think it’s twins.” 

I wheeled on her with shock and probably a little bit of anger and said, “Don’t say that to me!” The overwhelm was immediate, and all I could see in that moment was the birth center birth of my dreams crashing and burning in the wake of a high-risk pregnancy. (Not to mention the fact that these babies were conceived naturally, in my 29th year, and we have no history of twins in my family that I knew of.) 

Northern Colorado has needed a free standing birth center for as long as I’ve lived here. Eight years ago, when I was expecting my first child, I even considered driving to Denver or Boulder to have that midwife led, natural birth experience I had always longed for—but in the end the drive was too daunting, and those centers filled up very quickly. Last year when I saw they were making the final preparations to open a birth center in the middle of my town, right next to our favorite coffee shop and brewery no less, I knew I was ready to have a fourth baby with the kind of compassionate and personable care that would never say to a woman in labor—“Well, do you want to stay pregnant forever?” 

Yeah that happened. 

I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve read it many places—the way a woman in labor is treated will impact her for the rest of her life. It’s a vulnerable place that can very easily become traumatic or ecstatic, depending on the kind of care the woman receives. 

My first born daughter came just 30 minutes after my gentle female doctor with the soft voice and the long brown hair streaked with grey had to go to the clinic for her regular office rotation. I was at the point in my labor when I really couldn’t care less that some guy I had never met would be delivering my baby instead of the doctor that I loved, but the way he came into the room filled me with a confidence I didn’t know I was lacking. He admired me, he encouraged me, he made me laugh and lit up the room with his joyful demeanor. When my daughter emerged at last, he encouraged me to pick her up and lift her to my chest myself. When he knew she was small and would need to be checked for IUGR, instead of making a big fuss, he said, “she doesn’t look too big,” with a kindly smile. And even though this very doctor ended up needing to do some extremely unpleasant things to me within those next thirty minutes to help my “pain in the butt placenta” detach and make sure there was none left inside my very-unmedicated-body—I still have a tender feeling towards this man who delivered my daughter, because he treated me like a person worthy of dignity and respect and not just a body with a baby in it. 

My second two experiences were not nearly as pleasant as the first. My second child born via an un-planned and borderline emergent c-section after ten excruciating hours of labor; my third via a successful VBAC with a doctor who seemed more like she was making fun of me than cheering me on as I pushed with all my might against the fear of what would happen if I didn’t do things her way. I carry these experiences with me; the good and the bad. Whether I want to or not, each of these births has left its scars on me, just as each baby has left me with a few new stretch marks and a few extra pounds.

I brushed off my Mother-in-Law’s well-intentioned comment, until at 18 weeks pregnant, I knew for sure something was different. My belly button had already begun turning inside out, and my uterus wasn’t even supposed to be that high in my abdomen at that point. Then I started feeling the flutterings—those welcome signs of the new life within me—on complete opposite sides of my abdomen, at the very same time. For a baby that was supposed to be the size of a sweet potato, that seemed unusual to say the least. Then, I had a dream of a boy and a girl—twins. The girl was smaller than the boy, with a sweet and mild demeanor. The boy was a bright burst of exuberant sunshine. And when I woke that next morning I could feel it in their kicks; the differences between these flutterings on opposite sides of my abdomen, like the differences between alternative rock and classical radio stations. Two nights later I woke up at 5:30 with a start—and I couldn’t go back to sleep until I had decided on a name for the boy baby. 

I heard it in the silence and the dark—from the mouth of God, a name for the son I still wasn’t even completely sure I had suddenly emerged. A name I had never considered, but loved immediately. Finally settled in my mind, I went back to sleep. 

A few more weeks went by, with days in which I was sure there were twins in my womb, and more days in which I wondered if I had just really messed up my dates somehow and that’s why I was so much bigger than I thought I should be. My sweet husband tried to comfort me by saying; “It’s just one really big baby.” Somehow though I didn’t find this at all reassuring.

The week of my ultrasound finally came, and Sunday morning I woke up full of emotions about what this week would hold. My parents had our other three kids for the weekend, my husband was going to be drumming at our church, and I myself planned to attend the first in person service I had been to in over a year. As I rested and prepared that morning I spent some time praying about the pregnancy and in the depths of my heart I heard the Lord chuckle to me;

“You’re just waiting for science to confirm what you know I’ve already told you—”

The fear welled up in me, but then I heard him again, “I am giving you a double portion.” Like a lightning flash my perspective shifted—not to the weight of the burden I was already beginning to waddle while carrying, but the weight of the blessing. A double portion of children—where I had only expected one. And with it I knew would also come a double portion of provision from the God who gave them to me. 

The peace that enveloped my heart that morning carried me into the week, but by Wednesday evening I was anxious just to know for sure. Then came the text message from the receptionist at the birth center—something had come up with the tech, and they needed to reschedule my ultrasound appointment. 

I felt like an overtightened harp string that had been plucked on a sour note, and the melt down ensued. All that evening and the next day I walked around in a fog, hoping upon hope that the midwives who would be doing my regular pre-natal appointment would be able to tell me something. Just something to confirm that I wasn’t in fact, losing my mind thinking that I might be having twins. After having spent the whole previous evening being angry at God and feeling like he was pulling a prank on me, I felt him inviting me once again to trust him—that I would know what I needed to know, when I needed to know it. 

I have never been more grateful to be in a practice where they actually listen to me and care about my heart. Hearing my whole story, my lovely midwife examined me and confirmed that, yes in fact, I was measuring at 29 weeks, when I was only 21. Yes in fact, it did seem like there was an awful lot of baby in my belly for 21 weeks. And yes in fact, it did seem like there were two heart beats when we used different dopplers on different sides of my belly. 

I felt affirmed, but without an ultrasound, how could we say for sure? 

That’s when the lovely midwives decided to just use the ultrasound themselves, not for anything technical, but just to see if they could see two babies. A short parade down the hallway, some cold jelly and a thousand button presses later—there they were. Two babies, in two sacs, kicking separately from each other. The child on the right, which I was pretty sure was my son, squirming and kicking up a storm with his tiny feet. The child on the left, who I was pretty sure was my daughter— mild and placid, sucking her thumb. 

I wept tears of relief and joy, said something along the lines of “I’m not crazy!” and looked at these babies I wasn’t expecting and felt my heart grow big enough for two more. 

A mother’s love knows that there are things worth giving up your dreams for, things worth fighting for, things worth dying for. And as much as I mourned the loss of the birth I had been hoping for, I rejoiced that in the span of four more months, we will have not one, but two more beautiful babies, God-willing. And whatever comes, I know already that they are worth it all. 

Why do you seek the Living among the Dead?

Starting into the fire pit last night I found myself thinking back on the disciples. On the grace of God that left the disciples grieving on the Sabbath.

When Jesus died that Friday night they buried his body hastily because it was almost time for the Sabbath. It was their weekly day of rest and there wasn’t time to prepare him as properly as they would have liked. I imagine them sitting around fires and tables that Holy Saturday, wondering where it had all gone wrong. Spared from making plans, from trying to decide what would be next for these who had followed this carpenter preacher around for the past three years. Spared for the moment by the rest they were required to take on the Sabbath day.

I imagine Peter’s grief and repentance at betraying Jesus with his words. And the vacuum of guilt and condemnation that consumed Judas. The tears that John the beloved disciple wept with Mary, Jesus’ mother. Was it hard for them to eat that day? When the last meal they remembered their friend and teacher had told them that true feast was his body broken and blood shed for them. Did they remember how he had tenderly washed their feet? Did all his words suddenly come in sharp relief—his commands to love one another. His words about where he was going and how they could not follow him—at least not yet.

Around the fire pit last night I kept thinking that if the disciples had actually had time to prepare his body properly on Friday, they would not have been back at the tomb on Sunday. How it must have irked them to leave his body less than prepared for a proper burial! How it must have burned, and felt like a betryal. Like the last thing from common decency. Yet, this was the very avenue by which they were to discover his resurrection.

The dark of that Sunday morning, as Mary rose in the dark to go to the tomb of her beloved teacher and friend, she had no idea what awaited her. Perhaps she wept the whole way there, Jesus’ other female disciples with her. Hurrying along in the dark, worry about what they would say to get past the Roman guards stationed at the tomb. Hoping no one stopped them from doing what was the least they could do for this man who has somehow changed everything ever since they had met him.

And then to discover—the stone rolled away. The body, nowhere to be found. An angel sitting outside asking them the strangely obvious question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, for he has risen, just as he told you.”

How his words must have returned to them in sharp relief! The lightning bolt of the revelation that their Lord wasn’t there—that while they thought every circumstance pointed to him being dead and gone from their lives forever, the very opposite was true.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, HE IS RISEN.

He is Risen indeed.

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.

Just his hem—

Those who said 
they would help
have only hurt me
more. 

The blood 
won’t stop
coming & all
these wounds 
refuse to be
bound.

But I heard a rumor 
yesterday—
it caused my heart 
to leap inside 
my frail & aching 
chest. 

They say:
a man—
a prophet—
a healer—
has come to Israel 
again.

In the crowd
I hide my face
behind my shawl.
I hope no one 
recognizes me—

I don’t belong here. 

All who touch me 
are unclean &
in this crowd 
I could pollute
dozens—yet do I really
seek to touch him? 

Not him 
I say to myself 
just his hem—
if I can just touch 
the hem of his robe
I know I will be healed—

After all this time 
walking alone 
perhaps I could be
a mother—
a friend—
a daughter—
again. 

When my fingers
graze fabric I feel
the Power working.
My body feels 
more whole 
than it has in
twelve long years,
but with the joy comes
like a lightning flash
both awe & terror.

What have I done? 

But before I can slip 
away anonymous &
unnamed his eyes
turn toward me. 
His gaze is searching
& he’s asking;
“Who touched me?”
And I, shaking 
in a body only 
moments made whole, 
confess it all 
before him. 

I thought 
he would 
chastise me
for making him
unclean—
instead I feel 
his hand beneath
my chin, lifting
my eyes to his gaze. 

He looks at me 
like he knows me 
from the top of my head,
to the soles of my feet.
He calls me daughter
& says my faith 
has made 
me well. 

If only everyone 
could be seen 
like this—
his loving gaze
made well 
parts of me
even miracles
couldn’t heal. 

Photo c/o Luca Lawrence on Unsplash

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