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.

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

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 

Where I’ve been

It’s been almost six months since I’ve published anything in this space.

Like everyone else, 2020 kicked my butt in so many ways. From the fear caused by everything from the pandemic to the election—to the too-close-for-comfort wildfires that made the sky turn black at noon on labor day, to the deep loss caused by the deaths of two of my grandparents, to the more mundane losses of any kind of social life, and the fact that I haven’t been to church in person in almost a year.

It’s been a year of grief, a year of stripping away, a year in which I have questioned so much of my life and the way I choose to live it. It has also been a year for making art: for a poetry chapbook that is nearing completion and was almost entirely written during this difficult year (the subject matter: grief.), for silly short stories that will never see the light of day, and the first draft of my first ever novel written during November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

This is the year that I lived in a vacuum in so many ways; it was a year that showed me just how much I use the good opinions of others to prop up these under-inflated lungs. No wonder in this year when the main people who could appreciate me, don’t (my kids still don’t realize that I’m actually an amazing cook 😉 ), I had many days where I felt like I could hardly breathe. It’s like I’ve been on a ventilator of other people’s good opinions of me, and 2020 weaned me off of them. This year God began to teach me how to breathe on my own; with the breath that he breathes into my lungs. Breath that has allowed this year to be a year of incredible creativity; a year of pushing the boundaries of who I thought I was, and what I thought I was meant to do.

This year I began to dance in my kitchen.

This year I started writing fiction.

This year I realized that who others think I “should be”, and who God is calling me to be, very well may not match up. And that’s okay.

I’ve known for the past few years that if I was really going to be able to live into the calling that God has given me, I was going to need to put my people-pleasing to death. Easier said than done; in fact, I realize now that there was literally no way that that was going to happen without some sort of massive Divine Intervention. I have certainly not arrived, but I’m learning. God has had his work cut out for him, unwinding the years of false narratives with which I have surrounded basically every part of my life.

I constantly need to reevaluate my life. Am I only valuable when I am making things? When people notice and aknowledge my hard work or giftings? What if a season of illness or inability keeps me down for months at a time—am I still lovable then?

These seasons keep me honest about what is actually motivating me on a daily baisis. They keep me humble as I must constantly remember the truth: that my value cannot be added to or taken away from by anything I do—I am valuable soley because God values me.

In this prolonged season of grief, I have needed to step away from many of my usual modes of expression; the blog, my instagram, etc. The need came on suddenly and without preamble, but I could feel it in my bones: I needed to take time away from a writing that included external pressures to produce. (Even if those are mostly constructed by me.) There were weeks in a row where I hardly lifted a pen at all; but even when I was not able to write the stories down, God continued to remind me that these stories are still being written on my heart and in my mind.

Dear Reader, I have stories to tell you. So many stories. And someday, I’ll get to share them in ways that befit their beauty. And you have stories too. True narratives that are just waiting to be unraveled from the pain, chaos, and uncertainty that these strange days have held. I hope in the coming days, to be able to create more of a place for us to hear each other stories in ways we haven’t yet before—between a rock and a hard place, there is also The Rock and a Holy Place—a place where we are transformed.

The snow is falling softly outside my bedroom window, covering the thin and craggy branches of the 50 year old lilac like a layer of cream on my summertime farmer’s market strawberries, and I am dreaming of the Colorado peaches I hope the frost does not destroy this year. I am dreaming of finishing a revised draft of my manuscript. I am dreaming of letting go of expectations and of perfection. I am dreaming of embracing the beautiful moments of my right now life, even as I try and take the next steps to prepare for what’s ahead. I am dreaming that hope will become the predominant string being plucked in my heart, that the strings of anxiety and fear will be silenced—and eventually, torn out altogether.

I dream of making art that matters, and I dream of making art whether it matters to anyone else or not. I want to make beautiful things, and I want to encourage you to see the beauty in the midst of your own life’s difficult circumstances, that we may daily be awakened to the goodness of God, and the incredible power of his total redemption of every difficulty in our lives.

All that to say, some changes are coming to this space, in greater reflection of changes that have come to my own heart and mind this past year. I’m not really sure what it’s all going to look like yet, but I hope to continue showing up in this space as more fully myself, and that God will bless these loaves and fishes offered here and make them more than enough.

As I share the salt and sweat of my own wilderness places, I hope you will journey with me as we find that there is a river here… in fact it’s been here all along.

So that’s a little bit of where I’ve been: where have you been dear Reader? I’d really love to hear.

Header Photo by Ilyuza Mingazova on Unsplash

Now you are the Seed

Now you are the Seed
for my Grandaddy Roy

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

                Now you are the seed—

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

                Now you are the seed—

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

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

                Now you are the seed—

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

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

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

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

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

This One is for the Weary

It’s been a season of recovery. The weight of the world had been crushing me for so long, and I, ever the stubborn child, kept taking the load from God’s shoulders and putting it back on my own. A human heart was never meant to carry all that weight—all that grief.

It’s amazing how easy it is to fool ourselves. I thought for sure that I was trusting God. That I was living by His power and strength; but then the strength ran out. And I realized that all along this year it was my strength and not His.

My high capacity—my ability to “do” so much, is also one of my greatest weaknesses. I think I am working by God’s power, until I have no power left, and finally then realize that I have been leaning on my own paltry resources.

My own well has run dry; if you could call it a “well” . It’s easy enough to see now that my own source of water in the wilderness is a muddy hole compared to the sweet stream of the Holy Spirit’s power in the land. And now I am turning again from my own power, and drinking deeply again of His. I think this is what they call repentance.

I am being refreshed; slowly but surely. Maybe this is something you need too.

I think during seasons of intensity, hardship, and struggle it can be really easy to just keep plowing through. It can be easy to think that there is no other way—and of course, to some extent, you do have to keep going. There are people depending on you. Work has to be done.

All that is well and good. But I have found that sometimes I use these “have to’s” as an excuse to never sit still. It’s the control freak in me. It’s the pride to again accomplish all that needs doing by my own will power. And it’s also the fear: because I knew if I sit still long enough I’m going to have to wrestle with the emotional level of what is going on around me, and I don’t want to.

Sometimes the first step to finding God’s provision and refreshment in a dry and desert season, is to stop looking.

Huh?

Sometimes it’s just time to sit down, cry out to God, and wait. Sometimes we are missing the blessing of the refreshment He wants to offer us right here and right now because we are so busy running around doing ALL-THE-THINGS trying to manufacture a life that feels more manageable and under control.

For our family in this season, a rhythm that has served us with consistency has been the rhythm of taking a day of rest: of accepting from the good hand of God our Father, the gift of Sabbath.

Sabbath Rest

I know you might come to this phrase with a whole cart load of pre-conceived notions. Whether you grew up in a faith tradition that practiced Sabbath religiously, or whether you see that word here and think, “hey, we don’t have to follow the law anymore remember?” I hope you can set all those pre-conceptions aside for a moment and listen to the heartbeat of God in this passage of scripture.

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ESV

This is what I hear God saying:

Remember—you were a slave. You were bound to work as long as there was a master standing over you. But now, you have been set free, and I am not that kind of master. I will uphold you the six days that you work, and on the seventh I will give you rest as a part of my provision for you, because I love you, and I want what is best for you.

For me, practicing Sabbath goes in direct contrast with so many of my sinful tendencies. My tendency to control, to be self-sufficient, to earn the favor of God and men by my work, to feel justified in my own over-inflated opinion of myself.

But it also stops me in my tracks when I want to just keep busy so I don’t have time to think: Sabbath is my invitation from God to stop, sit, and be with Him in the middle of whatever I am going through, and in the middle of all the big feelings I may be having about it.

Maybe this is something God wants to bless you with too: with time and space to just be still—to bring Him your cares and your struggles—to allow yourself to grieve all that needs grieving right now, in His compassionate presence.

Maybe this is a gift you are longing to unwrap, but you’re not quite sure where to start.

If so, then I have something that may help. I have created what I’m calling a Sabbath quick start guide for anyone who is interested in pursuing a more consistent rhythm of rest, and it can be yours for absolutely free. Just click the link and give me your email so I can send it your way.

There are so many more words I could write about the way this practice of Sabbath has blessed me: but the main thing I want to tell you is that the more I study what the scriptures have to say about Sabbath, the more convinced I am that it isn’t at all about doing one more religious activity—instead it is our written invitation to come to the Father, weary and broken as we are, to rest.

Sabbath is about accepting the rest that God wants to give to you as provision: even though it might not look the way you hoped or expected.

(But more on that in another post.)

For today, I hope you can ask yourself, what might my life look like if I took intentional time to rest and connect with the heart of my Father God, even and especially in this season of hardship I am going through?

And if you need another resource? Earlier this year I was delighted to partner with my friend Sarah Westfall, as she compiled the voices of so many women who are passionate about clinging to God in the midst of seasons of incredible heartache and loss. She brought us all together for a sweet little 30 day Devo called Be Still: Leaning into God when everything falls apart and you can get either your Kindle or paperback copy by clicking here.

If you have been following me on Social media, especially Instagram for any length of time, you know that I tend to share more about our Sabbath practices there than anywhere else. Starting the first Saturday of the New Year, I began a 12 week series of posts with practical tips on preparing for Sabbath and I’d love for you to follow along. You can find me there and on Facebook @gracekelleywrites.

Blessings on you Dear Reader. May the REST of God bless you today with the refreshment your soul needs.

Gracie

What could ruin the coming of Christ

This is a repost of something I wrote last Christmas. Last December was the hardest month yet with our daughter and her health; but the gems of truth I learned during that time have carried me through the various sorrows I am carrying into Christmas this year too. I hope this blesses you to read again as I know it blessed me.


There is so much to anticipate about Christmas. The time with family and friends. The presents under the tree. The vacation days. The special feasts that invite us to remember the incarnation with songs sung by candlelight. 

But with every anticipated event comes a certain amount of anxiety; for all of us. To get the shopping done on time. To prepare the food for the guests. To teach our children the meaning behind the celebration, and so much more. The anxieties include the small griefs associated with the plans foiled, the cookies we never baked, the gingerbread houses that were accidentally left in the garage, the advent calendar we didn’t remember to start until halfway through the month.

But sometimes these anxieties run deeper. Sometimes they are the deep fears that are the product of deep griefs. Sometimes the current of suffering and grief drive us through the holiday season at a pace that feels unnatural. It can be hard to sing a Christmas song when it seems like everything around us is wrong. 

Fear and anxiety should not be invited to take a seat at our tables during this joyful time of year, but yet sometimes it seems like they’ve pulled out the seat of honor and made themselves quite at home, always without our consent, and often without our immediate knowledge.

If you are worried about this Christmas, that something might ruin it. That the holiday stress will drag you down. That the traffic will make you angry. That the checkout lines at the shopping mall will frustrate you. Or that your family will be angry with you because you have to work…Fear not.

If you are worried that the grief over a loved one missing around the table will swallow you whole. If you are fearful that the constant suffering that plagues your everyday life might spoil Christmas. If you are alone this year and don’t know who you’ll celebrate with. If your spouse is in prison. If a loved one has cancer. If the budget is too tight for gifts for your kids this year. Fear not.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret; nothing can ruin Christ’s coming. Not then. Not now. Not ever. 

Jesus’ birth occurs in the context of a census taken by the Roman empire. The Jews were being taxed by an oppressive regime, who wanted to count and see just how many of them there were as if counting assets, not people.  He was born in a humble town, after a long on-foot road trip. A town so crowded that no one had room even for a very pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth. He was born in a stable, surrounded by the dirt and the hay and the feces of animals. Delivered by his teenage mother in the usual turmoil of the usual way. Caught by a man whom he would grow to call Father, though he himself had biologically nothing to do with him. Unless of course you considered that is was Jesus’ very breath of life that made Joseph’s own chest rise and fall. 

If I wanted to tell a story of a birth plan spoiled, I don’t have to look any farther than the birth of my own Savior. I wonder what Mary thought, in the midst of intensity of labor. I wonder if she held fast to the faith that all this was as God had planned it, or if she doubted, even for a moment, the way the Lord chose for this Savior to come. Did she wonder if his birth was being profaned by the dung and the dust in that moment? Or did she know with certainty that everything was exactly as it should be.

In the fullness of time, he came. Nothing could stop him. Nothing could ruin it. Every strange, painful, and difficult circumstance along Mary and Joseph’s way, only confirmed the prophecies that had already been spoken of Messiah. All of it was by God’s grace, for his glory. 

The maiden girl, the stall, the manger, was exactly the way he had to come.  It was apart of who he was as “Immanuel”, God with us

He was born to breathe that filthy air. Born to feel the pain of a scraped knee. Born to feel the sting of a harshly spoken word. Born to feel the wrongness of people’s anger towards him. Born to submit to the authority of human parents, though He alone was the ultimate authority in all the Universe. All of this before he even would begin his more official “ministry” among us.  And not one iota of those experiences could ruin his coming, because of course; that was why he came. He was born to feel in the flesh, the effects of the curse as far as it was found, even as he came to ultimately break the curse once and for all, forever.  

Nothing could ruin the miracle of his coming. No corrupt governments, no inns full to bursting, no filthy stalls. 

He came for the social outcasts, as well as those who were held in high esteem. The shepherds, who abandoned their flocks for a chance to touch his sleeping face, were just as welcome as the three kings bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

We were going to go cut our own tree this year. We’d been planning it for weeks. We thought we’d take some friends with us. We’d warm up with cocoa after. It would be the snowy family adventure we’d been longing for since the hot hot months of summer. 

Then Friday night came with another auto-immune flare up in our little girl. We were up all night holding her, consoling her. Praying for her. Singing over her. Holding back her hair and wiping the tears from her cheeks. And when the new mercy light of Saturday morning finally came, I knew there was no way we were going to go cut our own tree. 

So we traded off taking naps and watching the kids. We ate leftovers. We cancelled our plans. And when four o’clock came around, I made my husband a thermos of coffee and sent he and our middle son out in the snow to find the perfect tree from a local tree lot. 

Ellie woke up to find them gone, and though she knew we would have been cutting our own tree if not for her flare up of illness, she took it as a kindness that the boys were out finding the perfect one just for us. Just to cheer us up. 

In the fullness of time; even if our timing seems off for everything, God is always on time. Nothing is by accident. All is for our good and his glory. That baby in the manger didn’t come because he wanted to be apart of some idyllic winter solstice celebration—he came because we are broken, and he wants to heal us. 

If you feel broken down and beat up by life right now: Christmas is for you. If you feel weighed down by the burdens of past hurts laid upon you by others: Christmas is for you.  If you are afraid of the emotional, or physical pain that you are experiencing and very well may continue to experience all throughout the Christmas season, Christmas is for you.

If you are tired of muddling through life in your own strength. If you have nothing left when the dawn finds you, then take heart! Christmas is for YOU. 


The holiness of this Holy Night of the Incarnation mirrors the holiness for which God has set us apart: the holiness is not clean and tidy like the stained glass images of the birth of Christ, but in the midst of the mess and the mud and the blood, it is set apart. And if you believe in Christ Jesus, then you are set apart, by God’s grace and for his glory. And nothing can take that away from you.

Glory. That’s what makes the more obviously sacred and the seemingly profane aspects of our lives  the same in the economy of God. Because God redeems profane people with profane pasts into the sacred work of his coming Kingdom. And the redemptive power of Jesus more than defeats the pervasive power of sin and shame. 

Nothing can ruin the coming of Christ.  Not then, not now, not ever.

Not the oppression of governments. Not abuse. Not job loss or relationship loss. Not homelessness. Not the diagnosis. Not school shootings. Not the death of a loved one. Neither height nor depth, neither angels nor demons, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else can separate us from the love of God, made incarnate, in  Christ Jesus our Lord. (Paraphrase from Romans 8:38) 

Fear not. No matter what trials your Christmas holds, the best gift of Christmas is always and already yours to hold; the very presence of God with you in the midst of whatever you are going through. 

You are not alone. If there’s anything I can be praying for you for this Christmas, please leave a comment below, or click reply to one of my emails if you are a subscriber. I’d love to hear from you; and I’d love to pray for you.

Gracie

{Photos shown in post, in order they appear  c/o Francois Pistorius, Dan Kiefer, Davidsonluna on Unsplash} 

This post is dedicated to my three youngest siblings, and all the survivors of the Arapahoe High School shooting on December 13, 2013. 6 years ago I didn’t know what to say. Now, I do. 

Out of the rock

Provision can come from the strangest places. Or maybe strange isn’t the right word: maybe more like, “unexpected.”

When you are walking through the desert; through a wilderness season, and you look around for water and there isn’t any to be found, it can be so life sapping. When there isn’t any water in sight, how can we hope for the refreshment our souls need? It feels pointless at best, and at worst, foolish.

We are searching for the thing: for the what of what we need to survive. But the more important thing to search for is the Who. The Who that provides for our needs. This idea keeps coming back around: that it’s not about the what, it’s about the who.

The Who that holds together every molecule of our being, the Who that ordains the location of every grain of sand in this desert; that Who can bring water out of the rock if He so desires. There is nothing too hard for Him.

To us; unexpected or strange. To Him; as natural as breathing. As natural as a mother, whose child tugs at her skirt saying, “Mama, I’m thirsty.” As natural as pulling a cup out of the cabinet and as simple as leaning over the kitchen sink and turning on the tap. As mundane as screwing on the lid with the child’s favorite straw in place.

It’s as easy at that. This water from the rock. It’s as natural and normal and spectacularly beautiful as a mother giving water to her thirsty child.

Yet, I so often hesitate to even ask. And when I don’t ask, how could I receive?

It’s pride mostly—and fear: they combine in me to form the deadly sin of self-sufficiency. Pride because I don’t want to need God to bring the water from the rock; I want to find it myself. Fear because, what if He doesn’t bring water from the rock, and I look foolish on top of everything else? What if I ask and I DON’T receive? Or what if His provision doesn’t look the way I want it to?

The truth is that it rarely does. The Israelites were led in hope to the edge of a promised land they would not enter for an additional generation, because though the Lord had brought them this far, they couldn’t imagine how He could possibly help them overtake the fearsome inhabitants currently living in the promised land. (Deuteronomy 1:19-46)

I am so like the Israelites more often than I’d like to admit. Oh how small is my belief! I so easily forget that the God who has brought me this far, will surely see me home.

“The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.”

Deuteronomy 1:30-32 ESV

I am no better than they. I too have forgotten the way He has carried me through desert seasons past; the way He has provided so unfailingly for me in the midst of difficultly, loss, and pain. I have forgotten the miracles by which I have come this far. And even when I go astray, even when the path before me does a 360, whether as a result of my own disobedience or just the fallenness of the world, my God, He will lead me still.

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty hears int he wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”

Deuteronomy 8:2-5 ESV

Dear Reader, wherever you find yourself today, I hope you remember to look up and around. Open your eyes to the way God has carried you and led you up until now; and seeing His faithfulness, believe again that He is carrying you still.

If you need a little reminder of how to walk through the hard things of life with the hope that comes from remembering what God has brought you through, then I made this for you. It’s a short little PDF e-book called Scattered: Seven Days to Hope in the midst of Hardship. And for a limited time, it’s yours, absolutely free. Just click the link and subscribe to receive the link to the download today.

*PLEASE NOTE being a WordPress subscriber will not allow you to download this file because I am not permitted to email WordPress subscribers. So if you have been following me here for awhile, and haven’t ever received an email from me (other than a WordPress update) you may want to check and see if you are actually subscribed! I’d love to get this goodness into your hands.*

Trusting God with your broken heart

I had had enough. The straw had finally broken the camels back. I sat slumped in my chair staring into space—my heart shattered in a thousand pieces by so many burdens and so many pains. Deep regrets fought their way to the surface in the form of tears that couldn’t stop falling. What was the point?

I thought I had heard God right. I thought I had been trusting Him. I thought that the way I was headed was the way He was leading me; then why all of a sudden did I end up in this place? I felt shattered into a thousand pieces; depression slinking around the corners of my heart and a numb apathy coming to dull my mind. What now? How could I possibly move forward in the midst of all this?

I called my Dad.

“Do you have a minute to talk?”

“Sure honey, what is it?”

“I’m just…I’m just so brokenhearted.”

As I poured out my heart and concerns a thread began to emerge; one that I didn’t see coming. Was I bearing these burdens alone? Was I entrusting them to God’s care? I thought that I had been—but now that everything had gone horribly awry I was ready to claim fault for it all. I was ready to act like everything that had gone wrong in this current situation was a direct result of some neglect on my part. I was acting like I was God.

Slowly the realization dawned on me. Once again, in slow and insidious ways my pride had crept in and made me believe that for better or worse, I was responsible. No wonder the weight was too much to bear.

We got off the phone and I knew immediately what I had to do. I needed a sign, a way to represent what I was choosing now. These concerns were too far above me. I am not God. And I needed to roll these cares into His hands and allow Him to do what only He could do.

I got down a basket and labeled it: GOD’S JOB.

I cut up strips of paper, and wrote on them each of the burdens. Each of the cares that had been weighing me down for so long. All the griefs and wounds I had carried, were being lifted one by one as I scribbled, folded and placed each paper in the basket.

Some cares were easier to let go of than others. Some I could only drop into that basket by a slow uncurling of my fist. Then at last, I thought I had reached the end; but there was this nudging in my heart to write one last paper.

I grabbed the strip and the pen and scrawled the final care:

Heal my broken heart.

With tears streaming down my face I dropped that final paper in the basket, and put the basket high and out of reach on a shelf. A visual reminder that these things are way above my pay grade.

I cannot cure the cancer. I cannot mend the fractured relationship. I cannot raise the dead. I cannot be the friend I wish I could be all the time. I cannot be in more than one place at a time. I cannot turn back time. I cannot stop people I love from making destructive choices. I cannot predict the future. I cannot heal my own broken heart, let alone anyone else’s.

These things are God’s job. He is qualified and capable. He is able to do what He says He will do. He never tires of listening to our requests and granting us mercy for the day. No care is too small or two large to toss upon His great and gracious shoulders.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the might hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

(1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

I invite you, Dear Reader, to cast your cares upon Jesus today. He knows what is weighing you down. He does not applaud your self-sufficiency. Rather, like a child whose parent delights to help him, the Lord delights to help you bear what you were never meant to. Pride is the root of your desire for self-sufficiency, which might be hard to hear, but is actually really great news—because it means that repentance is the path to peace.

My prayer for you Dear Reader, is that you would entrust yourself, and your broken heart, to our good and gracious God today. And if you need a friendly hand to hold, click here to subscribe to receive a five day email series entitled, “Dear Brokenhearted: Letters to the lonely and the hurting.”

Whatever cares you have to add to your basket today, from my broken heart to yours Dear Reader, I pray you always remember that wherever you go, you never go alone.