Clearing Space for what looks like Death

As I write this, it’s the “Time of Corona”— a season of global fear and pandemic, and my words have gotten jammed in my throat.

The chaos of the present moment keeps getting to me, no matter how I feel I have my feet securely under me one moment, the next I hear something else—another piece of news, another friend with a loved one who is dying, another hard-won business potentially being forced to close their doors—and the rug is ripped out from under me all over again.

I am on the pendulum swing. One day, completely fine as I scrub and clean and prepare food for my hungry children. The next day, an anxious woman weeping over the dishes she can’t seem to remember how to load in the dishwasher.

Last week I was such a woman, when my husband suggested I go outside and get some fresh air in the back yard.

“It’ll be good for you.” He said. And for once, I didn’t argue.

I shoved my feet in my old leather boots and grabbed my gardening gloves and spade in one hand, and the bag of sprouting garlic in the other.

And kneeling in the dirt, I found myself grounded like I haven’t been in weeks. I felt the tethers of my heart returning once again to the earth beneath my feet—my place to keep and tend as my favorite contemporary author Christie Purifoy would say. I feel the simplicity of clearing the weeds, smoothing the earth, digging a hole, placing the garlic in sprout side up. I remember that it is not for me to make it grow, but only to tend in faithfulness, the things which are mine to tend.

As an empath and a helper—the massive and un-meetable needs of the world right now are paralyzing. But I realize last week in the dirt, that what I am being asked to do is really quite simple.

Be here. Sow these seeds. Water this plant. Trim this hedge. Rake the neglected leaves. Cut back. Clear space.

Those are the words that kept coming to me all while I worked in the garden. Clear space.

And I am reminded of John the Baptists proclamation, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

Prepare. Make way. Clear space.

What they thought they were to make was a highway for Messiah to overturn Roman rule. To be their triumphant warrior king who would once and for all squash those who had squashed them.

But instead, what was needed was a path to the cross—and space in a borrowed tomb for the Son of God to be sown like these seeds I plant in the earth.

It didn’t matter how many times he told his disciples that he had to die. It still came as a surprise. It doesn’t matter how many times we read the verse, “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33) —in times of pandemic and crisis, in one of the most well insulated countries in the world, it comes as quite a shock.

In the midst of this so much is being stripped away. We no longer believe we are invincible. Mortality knocks on every door. Fear holds us in its mighty grip. Loneliness is a mantle we wear when we rise in the morning.

But in my garden all this doesn’t feel as much like a loss. It feels like clearing space. Pulling up the weeds that have already started to grow though it’s barely April. Pull out the grass that seeded itself in the garden bed where it never belonged. Stir up the dirt and add the well-rotted compost, and make sure it’s fertile for all the good that will grow here.

I have dirt under my fingernails. Clear space. I hear the whisper.

And in my heart I know it; that even in the midst of losses piling up all around my feet, that my God remains. Here in this space when so much else feels like it is being taken away—even as we grieve those who are sick, who have died in the midst of this pandemic (whether from the virus or not), God is still here.

God is reminding me that what he sows will take root. Every space that feels empty and lost can be filled with more of him. And Good Friday reminds me that what is sown in terrible and devastating loss, is reaped to a new and fruitful life, For:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:23 ESV

Maybe today I am being asked to clear space, for what looks like death.

We are told we will have trouble. Our Savior King road into Jerusalem in the triumph that the crowd expected of someone who could raise Lazarus from the dead—

“HOSANNA!” They shouted “Save us Now! O King of ISRAEL!”

Jesus hears the cries of his people. He answers our pleas for salvation in a way they did not, and still do not expect. Even the smallest among us question his methods.

“I didn’t know that…” she said, “that a King, would come to die?” The words of my then five-year-old-daughter Ellie. So obsessed with fairy tales and stories of Kings and Queens that she was properly amazed to discover the King of all the Universe let himself be killed for love of her.

“HOSANNA! Save us Now!” We shout. In the midst of this global crisis—the stench of death surrounding us.

The cross was not at all what they had in mind. But it is the very foundation of the life we live in the upside-down Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that God has been pointing to since the days that Adam, only just cast from the perfect Garden which had been his home, now was forced to clear space just as I do in this garden bed—making room for the seeds that look like death—believing that they will grow to a new and resurrected life.

Today is Good Friday. And the tension is all there in the name: How we call a day “good” that an innocent man was murdered and made to be crushed under the weight of all our sin, our diseases, and everything that makes this world so intolerably crushing. How his friends wept! This day looked to them like nothing more than death.

But God knew that this seed he was planting would raise more than itself to eternal life. The disciples could not have imagined the Harvest of Life that would come through the God’s own Son breaking the power of Death by his death.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 ESV (Emphasis mine)

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. 

Spring is coming

I had a dream last night that my daughter was making paper mache at church. Her hands and face were covered with the sticky white glue/water/flour mixture. For a Mom of a child with severe gluten sensitivity, this was an actual nightmare.

It’s been seven weeks since her last flare up. It’s been a long hard season, but it feels like maybe we are getting towards the end of it…? I’m always afraid to say that. Like maybe I’ll be jinxing it somehow. Maybe I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

But part of me is almost ready to dare to hope. To hope that maybe this season of intense hardship is ending. Maybe we have done a better job keeping her safe. Maybe we are finally figuring some things out. Maybe there isn’t another shoe hanging above our heads, but just the same shoe at our feet: that she has severe issues with gluten. And maybe it’s celiac and maybe it’s not.

We were told by the pediatric gastroenterologist that we will not be able to get a celiac diagnosis, even if we did a scope, because she has been on the gluten free diet for so long already. 

“Even though she’s still been having flare ups?” I said.

“You could make a case for it,” she said, “but I don’t think it would show up definitively, no.”

She said the only way to get a celiac diagnosis would be to feed her gluten for six weeks straight and then do a scope. 

You can probably guess what my answer to that was. 

Heck NO.

I am not so obsessed with answers that I will purposely hurt my child to get them. 

I am not so obsessed with control that I will break the well earned trust that she has built into me, that what I cook for her, to the best of my knowledge and ability, will not make her sick.

I do not need answers that badly. 

It helps that she’s doing better. Right now, that feels like answer enough. 

She still has tummy aches from time to time, a few every week. I try to keep on top of her enzyme as best I can. I make sure to follow rigorous hand washing when we go anywhere and I wipe down a table before she sits there.

I don’t take her down the aisles with bulk bins and I warn her not to touch the open baskets of bread at the grocery store. I don’t take her to Willy’s hockey games anymore; that was the tragic scene that we are fairly certain caused her last flare up. Gold fish cracker crumbs littered the bleachers, and who knows what other specks that could not be seen. It was probably just a few too many small exposures in one day.

No matter how we covered her hands with her sleeves, I laid out a blanket for her to sit on, she washed hands repeatedly during and after our time there as well as changed her clothes the moment we got home. I thought I had thought of everything. But then next day when she woke up sick, I remembered the dog licking her face. I hadn’t accounted for that. Most dog food contains gluten of course, and I would never let a person who just ate a slice of bread lick her face.

So we try to be careful of that now too. 

It could be easy to start feeling sorry for myself, but when I think back to that season of intense suffering that has only appeared to end a few weeks ago, I remember to give thanks for the little girl with the strength to be sassy to me about how “unfair” it is that she can’t eat/touch/do XYZ. 

It’s understandable she’s upset. But the fact that she calls it unfair and doesn’t automatically shy from that thing in fear, just goes to show how the Lord is healing and protecting her little psyche as well as her body. She is forgetting how bad it all is, and I am okay with that.

Maybe that’s what this in-between season is all about. Learning to be okay. Learning to live with the unresolved. The lack of answers. The lack of certainty about whether or not what we are doing is working, or if it’s something else all together. Time may reveal some of these. But either way; God is with us in the middle places just as he was with us in the darkest nights.

My youngest child has always been a good sleeper, but these past few weeks he’s taken to waking multiple times at night again like he did when he was a newborn. I could bemoan this fact, or I could thank God that he’s doing this now and not while I was dealing with a daughter in flare up in the middle of the night.

A friend has needed temporary childcare help with her sweet 2 year old daughter, and though adding a fourth kid, five and under, does make some things (like a trip to the grocery store) a little more interesting, it’s also just so amazing to me that God has orchestrated this timing. If this had happened a few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to help.

Another friend’s daughter has been in the hospital for the past four weeks; they just finally moved her out of the ICU. And the thought in my mind and heart is that I’m so glad I can offer my help in some small way. Watching your daughter suffer is no easy task, I know it in new ways now that I hope help me to be a compassionate companion.

And you Dear Reader, I am working hard for you; like I’ve never worked before. If you would like to be one of the first to receive my (almost finished) FREE DOWNLOAD: Scattered: A seven day journey to planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering, just click here to sign up, and as soon as it’s finished I’ll deliver it to your inbox.

In Colorado we are transitioning—from winter to spring. And it comes slowly here, where we often still get snow even through the month of May. But the crocuses are opening in the morning light. The tulips and the daffodils are emerging from the front beds that I neglected to clear of leaves last fall. The chorus of birdsong now greets me and my morning cup of coffee. And the clearest sign; the delicious light that lingers over me as I prepare supper in the evenings.

Though I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of winter’s chill, this time does feel like a change in the air. Like the spring that we hoped for might be just around the corner, after all.

It’s almost time to plant some seeds.