What the skin of my belly knows

As I look down at my ever expanding belly—at the marks which stretch across my skin like red lightning bolts, joining with the other silver marks from earlier growing seasons with other children—I can’t help but think about how love is always expanding us. 

I think when I was younger, I was afraid that if I loved with all my heart any one person, there wouldn’t be anything left. There wouldn’t be any of me left to give. And of course there is wisdom in knowing limits and setting boundaries; but this does not apply to those I have been given to tend, to love, to grow. 

It changes based on the season. Before I had kids, I was a young married college student with a Mother’s heart—and God told me I didn’t have to wait to be a mom to nurture and nourish those in my life. 

So I began inviting people for dinner, and cups of peppermint tea. I carried Ibuprofen in my backpack in case my headache prone friend from Pilates class forgot hers at home. I began seeing people more clearly—because the truest heart of a Mother is one who sees and understands the child better than anyone else. She is first and foremost a student of those for whom she is given to care. 

***

Yesterday my daughter was out of sorts. She had been short with her brother’s all of breakfast, she was getting annoyed about the tangles in her hair and was convinced that she didn’t have anything to wear. (She’s 7.) And in a moment of wisdom that I wish was more common than rare, I asked her to sit by me and tell me what was really bothering her. I boiled the water and made her a cup of black cherry tea, and I tried to listen to the heart in front of me instead of only seeing the irritating struggle and unpleasant behavior. 

It turns out, she was under the weight of grief. For some reason that morning she was worrying about the day she would someday move out and leave home. She was telling me that she didn’t want to leave me, that she was afraid to go out into the world on her own. I told her, I thought that when the time came she would be more than ready, but that I would never make her go. 

“You can live with me as long as you want,” I said. “You can go to college from home, you can live here into your twenties when you have a job—you can stay as long as you want. It’s not my job to kick you out—as your Mom, my job is to let you go when you are ready.” And there were tears in my eyes of course as I told my highly independent daughter that the day she moves out will probably be one of the hardest days of my life. This seemed to comfort her, as a love strong enough to break a heart always does. 

As I find myself thinking more and more about the Mother Love of God lately, I think about moments like these. Moments of wisdom and tenderness; the reassurance that comes from being heard and your heart held. I think about how God has already been preparing me to do the hard work of letting go. 

My mother’s heart attaches easily to those it cares for. My college-pre-kid days are no different than now. The people I let into my deepest heart’s circle, the place I reserve for those for whom I truly and deeply care, have had to leave me often. Be it a job change across country, a drifting apart that neither of us can seem to control, or perhaps a more painful rift that has broken between us—I sometimes feel like a woman who has lost too much. It makes me want to close down. To shut the door. To stop letting the love and the loss pour in and out like the tide.

But I’m learning that whatever the season, perhaps it is my job to love without constraints, no matter the pain. To dish the soup and pour the tea. To cut the sandwiches in triangle halves and pick out any less than perfect grapes—and still be the one standing on the porch waving with a smile, and tears in my eyes saying, “Come back anytime. You can come back anytime.” 

***

These loves don’t make me less me. These losses hurt, but they don’t take away from who I am. Because true love expands. Love grows us and stretches us beyond what we could hold before. And yes it leaves us scarred—but not in the way you think. It leaves us larger as we remember that we too are the child being fed and held; the soul God loves and listens to with patience and attention. We are the ones coming and going, our Father & Mother God on the front porch waving with a smile and tears in his eyes saying, “Come back anytime. You can come back anytime.”  

The skin of my belly knows, there is power in a love that is strong enough to break you—like flashes of lighting cutting through gathering clouds in the hot and humid summer sky. 

Photo c/o Arteida MjESHTRI 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. 

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

Cleanse this temple too

 They were angry with you
 when you turned over  
 those tables. 
 

 The coins clattered
 in the courtyard
 and you could hear
 the cries—the bleating, 
 cooing cacophony 
 of the sacrifice-for-sale.
 

 The offerings offered for a price
 that seemed payable
 that seemed enough perhaps—
 but missed the heart.
 

 Your heart beat hammered 
 human in your chest
 as you, the righteous God-Man
 ransacked the place.
 

 Wrath is reserved especially 
 for we who have eyes 
 but refuse to see.
 

 They were angry.
 They called you a thief,
 a menace—a disturber of the peace.
 They said the prince of darkness
 had paid to have your soul
 

 But you were the One
 who spent 40 days with nothing;
 a wilderness wandering, 
 just so you could return
 and wonder of wonders
 give us a world in yourself—
 the Word.
 

 How many tables 
 have you toppled this year? 
 How many images did we imagine
 were worthy of you, 
 but we see now are rotted,
 rusted with all the rest
 of our earthly treasures?
 

 How many idols 
 of security,
 of normalcy,
 of the easy & good life,
 you have shattered—
 scattered at our feet like coins 
 from the money changers.
 Like the dung scattered
 from the sacrificial sheep?
 

 Who our true gods are 
 has never been more
 obvious.
 

 Where we put our hope
 in the midst of crisis—
 the thread, the shred
 that we hold that helps 
 us sleep at night.
 

 LORD, if it be not 
 the edge of your robe
 then turn it over 
 again—
 

 Turn us into children
 hungry for you,
 O Bread of Life—
 who thirst for water
 that quenches 
 the soul. 

Header photo c/o KaLisa Veer 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 

To my white brothers and sisters; if you think racism isn’t hurting you—think again.

We have all been either in the headlines or the sidelines these past two weeks—observing and participating in what will certainly become a historic moment in our countries’ history. The blood of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others joining the groans of Emmet Till in the injustice and rampant racism surrounding their deaths.

If your peace is defined by your stable walls of a home, and stores being open when you need them, and no one chanting of holding signs or crying out for justice from the streets—perhaps these weeks have been peace shattering for you. Perhaps in your heart of hearts you wish you could go back to the way things were a few weeks ago when *all* you had to worry about was a pandemic.

Perhaps you think this has nothing to do with you. But it does.

It has everything to do with us. Because sin destroys everyone involved—Satan doesn’t want to only steal, kill and destroy our black neighbors; he wants to destroy you.

When lives are stolen in the name of hatred and prejudice—Fathers ripped from the arms of little girls, and you look away in complicity, it is your humanity that is being stolen.

Your compassion went up in flames long before you saw your neighborhood Target burning to the ground.

If you see a black man killed brutality and shamelessly, but you insist you need to know “the full story”; it is your God given sense of justice that has already been put to death in your heart.

If the destruction of property bothers you more than the destruction of black lives and livelihoods; a story that I’m told is sad, but far from new—it is your heart that is bound to an unjust scale. Don’t think for a moment that this weighing of the lives of our brothers and sister of color as less than things you hold dear hasn’t destroyed you.

Do you really think that you can see someone made in the Image of God as less than—and it not affect you on the very level of the soul?

Of this and so much more, I repent.

If you think you can check your social justice box because you are “pro-life,” think again. Because God cares about ALL life womb to tomb, and your witness is defiled if you think you can care for the unborn and not care for the poor, the immigrant, the refugee, the tribe forgotten on the reservation, or your black neighbor.

Our unity is not for uniformity. Our unity is for the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood to stretch deep and wide beneath our varying perspectives and experiences; the Gospel big enough to hold us all in our deepest brokenness both white and black—

O CHURCH REPENT, the Kingdom is at hand!

Not a kingdom built on an uneasy peace won by silencing the voices screaming from injustice. Not a kingdom built on selective care of those made in the Imago Dei to those who only look like us, talk like us, or don’t directly inconvenience us. But a Kingdom in which we all can turn and be healed—healed by the scars of a brown skinned man living under authoritarian oppression, unjustly and torturously executed for crimes he did not commit.

The Pharisees were afraid of the stir he would cause; and we are to be like him. Not sacrificing “one for the many,” to keep the uneasy power and the uneasy peace. But laying down our lives, our rights; our privilege, all of it—for one another; that the bonds of unity would run deep and wide like the river of baptism washing all of us clean in the Gospel of grace.

O Church repent!

Repent of your White American Gospel; and hear the cries of the slaves in the fields singing from the depths of the suffering our ancestors put them through. Hear the stories of their suffering. Listen to their grief. See how the Lord has carried them, and love him for it even as you repent of your complicity in it.

I didn’t want to learn the truth last year when I learned that my ancestors owned slaves. I wish I could spit the taste of the shame from my mouth—of these sins I have inherited—Lord make me clean!

LORD HEAL OUR LAND! May we not wish this moment away. May we not stand idly by waiting for it to pass. May we see that we are here for such a time as this.

The church is being sifted; the differences between the sheep and the goats is becoming more and more clear. Do not listen to the voices that lull you back into your comfortable sleep. The world needs you awake.

Repent O Church!

Awake with new care and compassion! Do not be threatened by the past, only turn from it, knowing that grace is big enough for you too. You don’t have to justify the sins of the past to be set free from them. Only look them in the face, and do just the opposite: acknowledge the part that you have played in all of this, and let the grace of the Lord Jesus who has already lived perfectly for you heal your wounded soul. The Gospel is still the good news you need to hear.

O HOW WE LOVE YOU KING JESUS!

In his house there are many rooms. And in his Kingdom neither moth nor rust will destroy; nor thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19), they shall not hurt or destroy on his Holy Mountain for the Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). And there every tribe and every tongue and every nation will worship him as the LORD.(Revelation 7:9)

Until that day, we bring his Kingdom here—asking God for his grace and forgiveness, repenting of the ways we have stumbled into a prejudice that blinds us from seeing our brothers and sisters for who they really are: beings made fearfully and wonderfully in the very image of a Holy God.

May our hearts be changed by God’s grace, and for his glory, amen.

Even so, COME LORD JESUS.