All we have left

I stared down at the plastic box on the dryer. It looked almost just as she had left her. Hair clips neatly arranged in a plastic tray, lotions neatly arranged, brushes with missing bristles still full of her shining white hairs.

“I figured I’d at least let you look at it. I didn’t want to just throw it all into the trash,” my grandpa had said an hour before, pointing me to the box where he had set it upon his arrival at our home for a Mother’s Day barbecue.

It was my own Mother’s first Mother’s day without her Mom. She died at the beginning of the Coronavirus panic-inducing-pandemic, and we weren’t able to have her funeral for months afterwards. The lack of closure was as tangible and palpable as the white hairs left in her hairbrush; as the thought that this box of things was only here sitting on my dryer because she didn’t need them anymore.

Is this all I have left? I thought to myself after everyone had gone. Staring down at the hearts on the metal clip she used to pull her hair back into a half-up-do ever since I was a little girl.

And though I was glad to have her clips, the bath and body works lotion that always was her favorite and reminds me of her—these things are far from an inheritance. They are only the small and ordinary remains of a life lived with beauty.

I wonder if the disciples felt the same way. After they had laid his broken body in the grave where they thought he would stay. Which one of them took it upon themselves to open up his traveling pack? Did they find his extra tunic, the comb for his beard, his fishing lures and knife? Must this not have seemed a far cry from the inheritance he had promised to them?

Did they wonder as I do, in moments of doubt: is this all we have left?

I threw away all of the lotions but one. I kept most of the clips. The brush with the most bristles now runs through my short red hair each morning, and my strands of DNA lie alongside the strands of my grandmothers—some of the only earthly evidence left of a life well lived.

It’s too easy to believe that this is it. Her body burned down to ashes mere hours after I received the news in the pre-dawn of a March morning. Sometimes I think I hear her warbling voice singing the old hymns she loved so much. I see her weathered hands holding open the precious pages of her Bible in her lap, her neck bent so she could see, her chin in her hand, pinkie finger extended to her bottom lip in contemplation—the same gesture I catch myself doing at times.

Getting older was no piece of cake for her. She lived in chronic pain for many, many of that late years of her life. When the pain and the meds made it hard for her to have her daily study time with the Lord she told me once, “I just know that God is teaching me something I’ve never learned before.”

The God of the resurrection will have no trouble bringing her back from the ashes that were once her body—they are only the seeds. And be they scattered on a mountainside here in her Colorado home, or in the wood of Washington that she loved so much, it doesn’t much matter.

I can almost feel her long arms hugging me around the shoulders. Her lips puckered to kiss whichever part of my face was closest. Her voice saying words that were always the honest truth: “I LOVE you.”

Like a blessing. Like a benediction. Like Jesus’ words to his Disciples;

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me…Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow with turn to joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

John 16:16-22 ESV

Sometimes what we have left feels like nothing near enough—where was that joy for the morning again, I often ask?

But this is only my shallow perception—my finite mind cannot grasp the weightyness of the glory that is unfolding all around me even now. Nor can I ever hope to fully imagine the glory that is to come.

This isn’t all I have left. There is so much more.

Even so—Come Again LORD Jesus.

Be blessed this Good Friday friends, and as you sit in the grief of the Savior and your own personal griefs that I know weigh heavily still on your own shoulders—may you remember that whatever your “this” is; THIS ISN’T IT.

It’s Friday. But Sunday is coming.

The Table

I didn’t know
what you meant
by  “kingdom”
the words
felt foreign &
meaningless
in my mouth.


Perhaps I pictured
the caste of some fairy tale
aspiration—foreign 
to my modern mind.


Perhaps I pictured 
something archaic
something that cost
more than it was worth.


Perhaps I pictured
a moat & drawbridge
full of beasts
snapping at the heels
of those who don’t
belong.


Perhaps I envisioned
those streets of gold
the palace with your robe,
the temple full of smoke—
But nothing else. 
No true life,
no blade of grass,
no creatures
(except those terrifying 
ones) setting themselves
to sing your praises
for all eternity.


But then I saw it. 
A picture of a long table
on a mountain top.
Cushions littering the ground,
linens & lovely place settings,
a breeze blowing the soft grasses.
I could almost smell
the aroma of a feast
being prepared—


& I knew 
I had gotten it wrong.


The Kingdom is 
a table—


Where those who were
enemies become friends 
with each other & the God 
who made friends 
with us all. 


Where the hungry eat
without price—
	wine & milk
	honey & marrow
in abundance.


Where we dwell
in your presence &
soak it in—
like the lush grasses 
beneath my feet 
in summertime.  


We are not forced
to praise, 
with harps of gold
on nimbus clouds—
rather, praise flows 
from our lips like wine
as we see you
as you are. 


Today, I think
about the last supper
& how you washed
the filthy feet 
of an enemy 
who betrayed you &
dined with friends
who did the same.


Can I help but marvel
at the God who 
still prepares 
wretched sinners  
a table
in his presence?


A table 
that will satisfy 
all the lack 
& longing 
we have felt 
for all these
painful earthly 
years—
 

Where all at once, 
we will be full 
of joy &
satisfied. 

Photo c/o Stella de Smit on Unsplash

How I have longed

I know 
your heart
is full of anguish  
& longing —

      mine is too. 

How I have longed
to gather you
beneath my plumage;
as a mother hen 
gathers her vulnerable 
chicks—shielding them 
from all that would seek
to do them harm. 

I would treat
your wounds
with the balm 
of my presence &
cure your sorrow
with the sound
of my laughter.

        Oh if you only knew
        how I delight 
        in you.

But you have been 
wayward sons & daughters—
Jerusalem the Holy City 
slaughters the prophets
& those who are sent 
to seek and save it. 

         Yet 
         I would gather you
         even still;

—children who cannot 
believe a promise 
only because it 
isn't the way you
imagined it.

—children who cannot
believe my words
because your eyes
have yet to see 
them come true. 

         But it was for this reason
         Beloved
         that I have come. 

Photo by David Boca on Unsplash

To the God of Hagar

 
 To the God 
 of Hagar—
 God of wandering 
 people 
 in wilderness
 places—


 We know
 that you see—
 but we are having a hard time
 believing 
 what we are seeing
 and seeing it—
 still believing
 that you see.
 
 
 God who has seen 
 all violence done 
 upon the earth—
 who sees the mothers
 and fathers fleeing—
 their babies in their arms
 only to arrive at safer shores 
 that do not want them. 


 God who has seen
 every innocence stolen
 by the hands of wicked men
 some who claim
 your name
 while inflicting 
 unspeakable pain. 
 

 God who has seen
 every victim silenced 
 by lies and deceit 
 and the idolatry 
 of the comfort 
of lies so much
 easier to swallow
 than the bitter 
 draught of truth. 
 

 God who has seen
 every genocide,
 every leader drunk
 on power and prejudice,
 who values not 
 what you called holy
 —the imago dei— 
 of all of human kind. 
 

 God who has seen
 the ruthless grip of 
 natural disasters 
 tearing houses
 and lands 
 and peoples 
 apart.
  

 God who has seen
 the ravages of every kind
 of sickness and disease;
 we know this is not the first 
 pandemic you have seen. 
 

 God who himself
 has felt the sting 
 of sickness that leads
 to death—
 the tears of grief
 for your beloved,
 Lazarus in the tomb
 and for the moment
 out of reach. 
 

 These times are not 
 “unprecedented”
 to you. But
 we are still
 afraid. 
 

 We need 
 to know—
 do you see us
 here?


 Do you see
 every lonely heart
 turned lonelier 
 by pandemic 
 isolation?
 

 I had days 
 where I was scared
 to make contact— 
 to smile, to wave 
 even to those 
 a street away.
 The distance 
 has felt more
 than social.


 But God,
 these are 
 small things
 I know.
 

 What about
 the family members 
 saying goodbye
 with nothing but 
 a lousy internet connection
 connecting them
 to a parent
 a child
 a loved one—
 dying in the ICU?
  

 Do you see
 how the fingertips
 ache to be squeezed?
 to be held 
 one last
 earthly time?
 

 Do you see 
 the fear 
 in our eyes—
 that we 
 (or one we love)
 could be next
 to die alone? 
 

 Or what about the cries 
 for justice God? 
 You’ve been hearing 
 some version of the these 
 for millenia—
 the oppressor always 
 has his boot pressed
 against the neck 
 of someone unable 
 to fight back. 
 

 Some of us 
 are just now beginning 
 to understand this is 
 not the promised land.
 

 This is the valley of shadows.
 

 I’ve known it 
 since I was seven. 
 And despite
 all you’ve done 
 to heal and redeem—
 some days 
 all I can say is:
 “I hate it here.”
 

 Like Hagar
 running 
 through the night
 her heart beat 
 slamming
 her short breaths
 burning
 her shaking lungs. 


 forced into service
 forced into her master’s bed
 forced to carry the burden
 of the patriarch’s lack of faith
 and her mistresses’ abuse—
 she fled.
 

 But where 
 could she go?
 

 Where can we find shelter
 in a world that seems
 to be tearing always 
 at some new seam 
 we didn’t know
 was there?
 

 Do
 you
 see 
 her 
 God? 
 

 See the tears
 track down her 
 dirty cheeks?
 See her face, pale
 with fears her heart
 cannot hold?
 What more 
 can she take 
 God? 


 (What I mean to say is
 what more 
 can we take?)


 Is there a spring 
 after all?
 A spring rising up 
 in this wilderness—
 water bubbling
 like the sound of joy
 from the ground?
 

 Would you speak
 as you once did
 to Hagar—
 to ask us 
 where have you been
 and where are you going? 


 Will you give 
 to the wounded,
 outcast,
 abandoned,
 lonely,
 bleeding heart—
 promise of a blessing?
 

 Can we name our sons
 Ishmael—knowing 
 you have heard
 our affliction?
 Knowing you have 
 your eye upon us
 even still? 
 

 The chickadees
 in the barren lilac
 out my window
 always have enough
 to eat—
 will you feed us
 even here Jesus? 
 

 Will it taste
 like bread
 and water
 to know 
       you
       see
       us 
       still? 

Photo by Tess on Unsplash

Ash Wednesday

 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.


Grace Kelley

*Header Image C/O Malachi Brooks on Unsplash*