On mother’s day I rise early to ask the viola’s how they slept. To see the marigold & verbena shining velvety with morning dew. To ask the snapdragon & the daisy if they have enough room. I listen to the chatter of the birds singing glory to the maker of the morning (as they do every day) without question without fail. I think of how the earth knows better than I do how to receive the love of a God who is both Father & Mother— words I am only just learning how to say. In the morning light this day does not feel tangled up as I know some (perhaps most) people feel it to be. Here there are no mothers abandoning their children. Here there are no empty wombs. Here there are no harsh words spoken with anything less than utterly devoted love. Here there are no tiny graves; no buried children of any age. Here no arms ache for the love they used to hold. Here there are no women deceived or forced into life’s most terrible choice. Here there is only dew on fresh flower faces & light & grace & the God who says he loves us— like a mother hen longing to gather us beneath protective wings— like a nursing mother who cannot forget the son of her womb because of the ache in her breasts— the nourishment she must pour out she cannot keep it to herself. And perhaps what I want to celebrate today is not me; someone privileged to be a mother to earthly children; who holds five hearts in her hands like the abundance she knows she doesn’t deserve. A kindness to which she is neither entitled nor guaranteed. Perhaps instead I want to celebrate like the birds the King of Creation— the God of the morning— who loves me like the child that I still am. Who loves me so much it would hurt to turn away. Who loved me to the point of death & life again. The Mother God who is even now preparing for me a feast of welcome & celebration when I have done all my wanderings in these shadowed lands. I catch glimpses of this & more in the shining dew dropped faces of the violas in sunshine. In the tears I know our truest father & mother sheds for the ache of us all.
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.
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.
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
Sometimes the heaviness here makes it hard to breathe. When my lungs are burning for breath I close my eyes & think about the wedding feast. The long table, laid with fine linens & fruits of glorious labor— beloved faces of those I have wept with, rejoiced with, & grieved— all shining like the glassen sea’s surface in summer. I hear the wind blowing fragrance through the trees in the orchard. Joy overwhelms me & I know he’s coming. I lift my eyes to meet his own & when he smiles, I feel it to the soles of my bare feet where they plant themselves in warm grass, like a tree who knows where she’s growing. He laughs easy as breathing & like the sudden break of dawn over mountaintops I breathe in the reality that this sound could fill every crack, every lack every longing of my whole life. I open my eyes, shining with unshed tears & my heart breaks to find myself here again. But the burdens feel lighter with his laughter to buoy me.
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?
1. Ash Wednesday Leaves burned last fall just when yellows and reds should have swept us away with the colors of flame— Instead aspen leaves dropped charred from the sky dark at noon. They crumbled to dust in our hands while smoke made it hard to breathe. Thoughts of our own mortality have never been nearer than these masks that hide our faces but not our fears. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust— fears coming nearer like the lines the fire fighters drew to protect the houses the roads, the school campus in the mountains burning down. Like the lines marked every six feet with signs reminding us to keep our distance. But it’s the loneliness that weighs me down the most Most days I stare out the window and wonder— who are the faithful friends? the one’s who’ll weather this storm too and stand by my side again— when spring finally comes when fresh leaves emerge from aspens scarred by flames of last year’s destruction? It’s Ash Wednesday now a time to think about all that perishes— and what remains. what Beauty is already standing sentry when the pine seeds are sprouting in glorious resurrection? I know the answer like I know the sound of his voice— In this life so full of loss and lack that burns like smoke in my lungs there is only One True and Lasting Beauty: One God who put on fragile flesh to kneel in the dirt, to plant himself like a seed sown in tears in a borrowed tomb. Like a pine seed, awakened by the flames just waiting— to burst forth.
This poem is the first in a series I will be doing, one poem for every Wednesday of Lent. I hope you follow along and that these poems of lack and longing meet you where you are this Lent. To receive updates in your email, click here to sign up for my email list and you’ll be sure not to miss a thing, even if you take a step back from social media for awhile. 🙂
Blessings on you Dear Reader, wherever this Lenten season finds you. And may the only True and Lasting Beauty—meet you there.
*Header Image C/O Malachi Brooks on Unsplash*
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 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
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