On Muscle Memory, Grief & the Rhythms that ground us

THE INVITATION

“Do you want to go on an adventure with me?” 

His question hung like a held breath in the space between us. We lay beneath the sheets in the privacy of our bedroom on a warm summer night, the luminous glow of our cell phone screens awaiting our final electronic signatures on a contract for a house—a house that was two hours by car, and yet somehow a world away. 

“I’m scared.” 

“I know. I am too.” His finger hovers over the space on the form marked ‘X’. “Let’s go on an adventure honey,” he says.

“Okay,” I say. 

And with the last tap of a finger on a screen, everything was about to change. 

Our life had already been turned upside down to say the least. In the fall of 2020, I became pregnant for the fourth time. But a few months into the pregnancy, I began to realize something was different. I was short of breath, my nausea was requiring medication, and by 18 weeks my belly button had already turned itself inside out. When I woke from a startling dream one night, the flutterings I was feeling on either side of my abdomen seemed to confirm that there was indeed more to this pregnancy than one small child turning somersaults in my womb.

“That’s two…there are TWO babies.” My midwife announced. 

“Oh my gosh…TWO babies?” My husband’s voice cracked. 

“I’m not crazy!” I proclaimed—this ultrasound only confirming what God and my gut had been  telling me the past few weeks. 

A few more months and dozens of doctor’s appointments later they were here: our precious boy/girl twins—swaddled and snuggled next to each other in the tiny crib two feet from the end of our bed. We could hear their softly shared breath, precious and close in the dark of our room at night. At two weeks in, we were learning to discern which child it was that was crying, and I was learning to breastfeed them in tandem. Meanwhile, we were also recovering from one of the most traumatic experiences of our entire lives. Those first few weeks my husband and I wept together more than we ever have before. Let’s just say, their birth was not the peaceful or joyful affair I had been hoping and praying for. 

So it wasn’t as though our life had become terribly dull and we needed a change. We weren’t sitting around bored looking for a challenge—tandem feeding two infants for hours upon hours every day was hard enough. Managing the household and three other rambunctious children was quite enough. And yet, adventure knocked on our doorstep in the form of a house listing in our inbox. I was surprised to hear that my husband Willy had encouraged my Mom to go and see this beautiful house in person. She had been sending us house listings in our inbox on and off for nearly five years, an exercise in patience and persistence if there ever was one, but in all those years, never once had we had her go look at a house for us. Yet this home, nestled between a creek and a green hill in the Kiowa Creek Valley, somehow caught more than just our passing attention. 

“They are reviewing offers this weekend,” my Mom told me as she chatted with us after the showing. I sat on our dirty blue sofa in my increasingly cramped 1,000 square foot home which I now shared with six other people, and I knew our days here were numbered. We had known that the whole pregnancy truly. At some point before the twins turned one we would need to look for a bigger place. The twins barely had a corner crib to call their own, let alone a nursery. There was quite literally not enough floor space for two more beds anywhere in the house unless we were to give up on having any sort of living room.

 I looked at this beautiful home on the computer screen with a full basement and imagined my five children erecting elaborate cities in pillow forts, or constructing vast train tracks. I looked at the large back yard and imagined the green hill behind us covered in snow and perfect for sledding. I imagined my children growing up just down the road from their grandparents and my heart swelled.

“What do you think?” I asked my husband. 

We had asked each other this question half a dozen times already. 

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

 We stared at each other, each of us rocking a baby in our arms. 

“I want to put in an offer,” I said. “Just to see. Maybe this is the new season we’ve been asking God for.” 

THE WEIGHT OF MUSCLE MEMORY 

The first thing I noticed was that the locks turned the opposite way; and not just on the back or the front doors. Even the bathroom doors were a reverse arrangement of what I was used to at the place I still thought of as “home.” Our first house, christened “Lady Gray” by my eldest daughter and me, held lovely trees, a spacious lawn, and a built out garden area we used almost as soon as we moved in. It was the first truly successful garden I ever had. There we planted a peach tree we christened “Fergie.” There we let the weeds share space with the grass and discovered the joy of self-sowing Cosmos in the garden bed, and the miracle of asparagus in the spring. It was a sweet place for us—an oasis in the midst of a desert season. And our muscles had grown used to the way you needed to use a little hip pressure to open the front door. We were used to keeping the back door shut in summer, because the little house that faced east, left her backside to bake in the late afternoon heat, and even with the heavy wooden door closed the laundry nook felt like a sauna. We were familiar with the need to keep the attic fan running in the summer, and how quickly the furnace could heat up the cold rooms in winter when you were feeling a bit chilled. I knew my favorite eyes on the stove for each dish I liked to cook. I knew how to make best use of the extremely limited counter space. The first two years I even learned the muscle memory required of life with small children and no dishwasher; though we finally got one the year after I had given birth to our third child. In my tiny kitchen, the turn from the stove and the tap to fill my copper tea kettle was as familiar to me as a breath—

BREATHE IN—lift the kettle and pivot towards the sink.

BREATHE OUT—open the lid and turn on the tap.

BREATHE IN—lean your hip on the counter to fill the kettle.

BREATHE OUT—replace the lid, turn again, flip on the turbo boil. 

During the year 2020, when our worlds all became increasingly small, even as we felt apart of the global chaos of the pandemic, sometimes it was this rhythm of tea that kept me sane. The familiar motions grounding me like tethers in a world that felt fractured and unstable. To return to God, and a sense of sacred settledness in my spirit on any given day, all I had to do was make tea. Now all of this familiarity had fallen away, and what I was left with was grief. 

GROUNDING RHYTHMS

It was the day after our big move, and my hands were busy searching for my copper kettle. I had sifted through box after haphazardly labeled box, to no avail. In the chaotic flurry of our move, all my best intentions for an organized and smooth transition seemed to have gone awry. I suppose, with two tiny infants and three older kids there was only so much I could do as I presided over the packing of the home in which I had spent the last four years. But here on the other side of this move, my tea kettle was missing, and my anxiety was rising.

“Where is it?” I demanded of myself, and of the new kitchen in chaos. All the cabinet space in the world felt meaningless in that moment. I stumbled out the backdoor to the detached garage to see if any wayward kitchen boxes had ended up on the shelf by mistake, the labels from the previous person’s move having confused more than one of our moving-day-helpers. As I picked my way along the weedy pea gravel path, I thought about something I heard once about phantom limbs; how those who have suffered a terrible injury resulting in an amputation still feel the missing limb sometimes, as if it were still there. But it cannot be accessed or used, and it hurts sometimes, they say. I think about how trying to move a limb that isn’t there must feel like the rudest reminder of the pain. A muscle memory that is detached from the muscles it once served. I wonder if that is a little like this. 

All the optimistic and cheerful parts of me want to say I’ve been transplanted—that I am like Fergie, the peach tree we planted three years ago on a rainy day in a Colorado spring. I want to say that I am fresh from a too-small pot, and my roots are a bit beat up and I’ve had to cut them in places, but it’s for their good. So that they can re-grow in the new soil, with just a little water, sun, and time. I want to say that it’s as easy and straightforward as sliding this plant into a new hole, a new home. One that I’m sure will be even more fruitful than the last. 

But instead, I feel this move like an amputation in so many ways. And though I know that there were things that were sickly and damaged and too beyond repair in the life we were living before, I feel only the pain of the loss. I find myself wondering, am I the body? Or am I the severed limb? 

 It took four days to find it. Four days without the grounding rhythm of tea, and my favorite adaptogenic herbal coffee, and then, at last, we found it. Stashed in a box with last minute grabs and completely bereft of any label at all—my copper kettle. It was dirty from our old home still, and somehow comfortingly damp inside, as though it remembered exactly what it was for. As soon as I felt the cool of the stainless steel handle beneath my fingertips, I rushed to the tap of my kitchen sink. I flung open the small round lid, slightly dented just as it was when I bought it, and I filled it with water until the line was just below the spout. Returning the lid to its rightful place, I set the kettle on the back right burner as I always had in our previous home. And though the gas stove was still a change I was getting used to, I smiled at the familiarity of these movements and felt my feet coming firmly to rest on this new ground.

I went about preparing my tea. I filled the metal insert in my tea pot with loose-leaf catnip and chamomile for my evening nerves. When the kettle boiled, I flipped off the burner and reached for the handle, but instantly recoiled. 

“Ouch!” I exclaimed, “it’s hot.” 

The handle of my tea kettle had never been hot before. 

“It’s because it’s a gas stove,” I said to myself, running my fingers under cool water, thankful that my sleep-deprived brain still knew how to reflexively recoil from scorching heat. 

Gingerly, I grabbed a dish towel from where it hung on the oven handle, and used that to lift my kettle and pour the boiling water in my tea pot. 

“This will just take some getting used to,” I said.

And it has. 

And I have. 

NEW LIVES &  A NEW LIFE 

The twins birth was not at all what we expected. It wasn’t even what we feared. In ways I couldn’t have even imagined, it was so much worse. And I don’t know how else to explain it but to say that something broke open in us when we finally left that hospital room after what seemed like the longest day of our life. There we were, two parents who had been awake for nearly four days straight; only a cumulative six hours of sleep total over the course of those four days. I was aching from both a vaginal delivery and an emergency c-section, and we were both traumatized out of our minds. This felt like the last straw on an already heavily laden camel’s back. 

“I’m just so freaking ready for a new season!” I blurted out as we drove the highway for home, willing ourselves to talk to one another in an attempt to stay awake long enough to just get there.

“I know…me too. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but the first thing I thought after the surgery was over was, ‘I just want to go and start the farm.’” 

“Really?”

“Yeah.” 

The farm was a dream that had been brewing for a few years now, but the truth is that I think it’s been in my blood all along. In the fall of 2019, my parents purchased a gorgeous new property in Elizabeth Colorado and declared that this was their forever home. We couldn’t have been more thrilled. The house was quirky and fun, with plenty of large windows and a loft with a chalkboard that had my kids enthused. But it was the land that drew me in—thirty-two acres of green rolling hills, a creek, and trees galore. I could feel the potential in my bones the moment we first walked down the hill behind the house to the creek bed, which still held water, even in October. It was a magical place where we knew our dreams of starting a farm could finally come true. But we weren’t sure how we were going to get down there. There were so many pieces that needed to fall into place for us to begin making this place of which we had been dreaming. Then out of seemingly nowhere, this house appeared like a handwritten invitation from God.

 It’s time. 

Really? With two tiny nursing babies and an incision that ached and our older two kids about to start public school for the first time? 

Yes. 

Really? Leaving behind our church community and our friends and the life we’ve built for the past decade? 

Yes. It’s time. 

Laying in the dark, before the last feeding of the day and before we tried to close our eyes for whatever hours the twins would give us, my husband and I clicked the lines by the Xs and signed the contract to buy a new house. But it wasn’t just a new house. It was a new life. 

GETTING THERE 

 “We just have to get there,” I told my husband once again. We were in the throes of packing up our life, with a wife attached to two babies and marooned to the bedroom. I still wasn’t supposed to be lifting anything post c-section recovery by the time we were preparing the final push for our move. My inability to do life on my own was staggering to say the least.  My daily prayer was monotonous and repetitive;  Lord, help us to just get there. And without him, we wouldn’t have. Over the course of the one month contract there were innumerable times when it all could have, and perhaps should have, fallen apart—but it didn’t. We knew that we must be absolutely crazy. I was afraid we might have been making a terrible mistake. We kept wondering why our lender would allow such sleep deprived people to borrow money. I kept praying that if this wasn’t the right thing, that God would make it fall apart. But he didn’t. Every last thing fell into place. From my husband’s work agreeing to allow him to work mostly remote, to the financial hoops, to the friends from college that I hadn’t seen in years coming to help us pack when I was still so unable.

Then at last came the day in early September, when I piled my five children in the minivan, and to the sound track of two screaming infants, I said goodbye. I pulled out of the cracked cement driveway and drove away from the town where I had spent more than a decade, and nearly all of my adult life. The town where my husband had asked me to marry him. The town where we brought all five of our precious children home from the hospital. The town that still held my friends who had become like family. As I turned onto the highway for the last time, the grief nearly overwhelmed me. But there was also this peace—and a strange sense of release and surrender. 

EMBRACING NEW RHYTHMS

We’ve been here for seven months now. The twins are eight months old and throwing banana bits on the linoleum floor. We have discovered which parts of our gravel driveway will get icy if we neglect to pull out the snowblower, and that our wood stove may be the singular best thing about this house. We have painted the upstairs bedrooms and the basement, and even most recently undertaken a kitchen renovation. And what was once foreign and a hiccup in my daily ritual of tea, has now become second nature, a muscle memory once again. I no longer have to remind myself to grab the hot pad before I reach for my copper kettle; I do it automatically. And with the familiarity of my daily tea rituals once again restored to me, I am beginning to see that perhaps I am the peach tree after all, and not the severed limb. 

This season of transition has been one of the hardest of my entire life. I’m still not sure how long it will take to truly feel at home here, but I can finally imagine a future in which I will feel that way someday. After all this time, sometimes I still turn the locks the wrong direction. I still look for glasses in the cupboard to the left of the sink, because that was where I had them in our previous home. Perhaps this muscle memory is a reminder to grieve. Some things have been lost forever—things more significant than glasses, or locks, or tea kettle rituals. On my better days, I allow myself to be sad. Moving forward and on into a beautiful new future, does not preclude my need to thoroughly grieve all that has gone before: both the good and the bad. I grieve the good because it was good; and that good is no more. I grieve for the bad we experienced right before we came to this place, our new oasis, because it hurts and I wish it had never been. 

 Change has always been a struggle for me, but I can’t stay stuck in the rhythms of the past no matter how beneficial they were for me at one point in time. It would be foolishness for me to continue to try and grab the handle of my kettle without the benefit of a hot pad. It is an old rhythm that would now only bring me harm. Muscle memory can help us with so much; our bodies remember the rhythms and traditions of safety and security, of work and of rest; but just because I have always done things a certain way before, does not mean that I can, or should do those things in that way forever. My new rhythms and new muscle memories are here to help me make the most of the life I am now living, even as my old impulses remind me of what I am still grieving.

Holding two squirmy babies at the same time no longer feels impossible to me. I am gaining a muscle memory for dropping the kids at their new school. I have learned already how to walk through the back door, and avoid the hanging jackets and the piles of shoes that so easily overtake our laundry/mudroom at the backdoor. I know how to turn on the lamps as the sun sets in the autumn, and how to open the curtains at first light in the spring. I know how to thread my way from our bedroom to the twins nursery in the middle of the night. This spring, I will gain a muscle memory for sitting in the rockers on my front porch, for watering the flowers that I am already plotting to plant, and for packing lunches for our summer mornings spent working at the farm. And perhaps there will be peach trees here too. And I perhaps I will cut their roots, and prune their branches, and thin the dime sized spring fruit—and it won’t feel like a cruelty. 

Peace in this new place I am seeing, comes through surrender. Surrender to the good plan of the God who brought us here. Surrender to the process of grieving. Surrender to the process of dealing with the trauma I have experienced in the past, sifting through the painful memories with a dogged determination to find the scraps of light I know are buried there. Surrender also, to the incredible joy of the moments right in front of me—to dance parties in the kitchen, and the cheesy knock-knock jokes of my children, and the way my babies skin feels like satin against my lips.  

In this new place and new season that I deeply longed for, yet never expected—perhaps the greatest new grounding rhythm I can create is the one in which I open my hands. Perhaps my greatest muscle memory is the one in which I turn towards the light, wherever it may be found. 

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.

To my black brothers and sisters; I’m sorry and I love you.

There is a certain kind of evil that stares you in the face when an image bearers is destroyed by another image bearer. There is an exceptional evil at work when other images bearers try to justify it—or when they ignore the larger evil which acts like this clearly point to. Racism is alive and well in the country which claims to be the home of equality and freedom.

The biggest problem with our twisted and broken age is our inability to see what is right in front of us; our inability to see that the life in the womb and the life snuffed out by the cruel knee of a soul drunk on power, are of the same intrinsic value to the Creator of them both. That white evangelicals could be so passionate about the former, and ignorant, if neot willfully negligent on the later, is the kind of hypocrisy that allows for terrible evils to continue right before our eyes as if they were unnoticed.

Some say that we are misunderstanding the gospel to say that God would have justice come to his inaugurated Kingdom here and now, but I reject this. We are to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with [our] God,” (Micah 6:8) and how can we do this if we shut our eyes to what is happening all around us? We have been given the ministry of reconcilliation; reconciling us to God through Jesus’ work on the cross, this same work which also removes from us any distinction that would shatter our unity.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3:28-29

To my black brothers and sisters; co-heirs of the promise of Christ—I don’t have much that I can say to comfort you, except to say, that I am sorry. And I love you.

I am sorry for the blindness that has led us to this place; this place where you feel so many in the church disbelieve you and/or willfully abandon you when you speak about what you have experienced. I believe you.

It’s not the same as what you have experienced in such a horrifically systematized way, but I know a little of what it is like when the church turns its back on the abused to protect the abuser. And so, I weep with you.

None of this is new to you; but it is new to so many of us. Saturday I found myself weeping in the garden realizing that the America I thought I knew was always an illusion for the privileged half—the America I thought I knew isn’t dead…she never existed.

This America which we took in the name of Manifest Destiny. Which we peopled with my ancestors and your ancestors forced to come from across the sea; this country which we built on your backs and the remnants of these unjust and evil institutions remain all the more painfully through our denial.

I still have so much to learn. I know we all do. But I’m here weeping with you. And I’m listening. And I’m speaking saying #blacklivesmatter because I know that when the wound goes deep, what should be obvious needs to be said. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

May those words begin to make a way for the healing that hundreds of years of injustice have inflicted.

I pray we will not stop there.

May we in the Church repent of our indifference, and may we bring the world along as we show what it looks like to truly love one another—without defensiveness. Without a thought of self-preservation. Without a fear of losing power; because what we have to gain in you is so much more.

To my black brothers and sisters; I’m sorry and I love you.

Thank you for your love for us that speaks words of truth even when we don’t want to hear them.

You look like Jesus.

His hand beneath my chin

My twenty month old is my most timid of my children. Though a relatively peaceful and happy-go-lucky guy, he is easily startled and is the most likely of my kids to become frightened in a situation that feels out of control or uncertain. I’ve learned to warn his siblings that he’s going to need someone to hold him when I use the blender.

“It’s going to be loud, okay buddy?” I say in my most cheerful voice, smiling with my eyes to reassure him; but even still, he is afraid. There is little I can do aside from making sure he is held.

Last week it was the same thing when my husband was using a power saw in the backyard. The second the machine roared to life, he came running, terror in his face. I tell him: “It’s okay buddy. Daddy’s just using a tool. Daddy’s in control of it, he won’t let it hurt you.”

It dawned on me that this is how God parents us; he uses his tools to make good and beautiful things, but the tools are often loud and scary sounding. But he never chides us for being afraid—he understands that we are, one of the reasons that the encouragement “do not be afraid” is one of the most common in scripture. He tells us that there is nothing to fear, that he is in control, yet he also holds us securely until we actually believe that it’s true.

Someday my son will no longer fear the buzz of the saw, or the hum of the blender, or the thrum of the lawnmower. Someday he will go to my leg for comfort for a moment, and then turn right back around to appreciate the beautiful thing that his father is making from the pile of wood, from an overgrown lawn, or the smoothie that he will shortly be sipping courtesy of the loud appliance on the counter.

We hadn’t left the house all together since the day my grandma died in mid March: the week the pandemic really set in. It had been six weeks since my 20 month old had ridden in the car, but even with his fears of loud machines and unpredictable things, I didn’t see this fear coming. No sooner did I begin backing out of the driveway, then my son began screaming in terror at the top of his lungs. I pulled over to see if anything was wrong: a seatbelt pinching him somewhere? A toy lost over the edge of the carseat? Nothing.

I began driving again and he began screaming again. It had been a long day, and in my fragile, frenzied and finite mind I only felt the inconvenience of it. I had been looking forward to this drive as my first “outing” in almost a month, and now it was being ruined. I couldn’t comprehend why—why was he screaming? We pulled up to a stop light and the screaming slowed, but it began again the moment we resumed our trek. It finally dawned on me; perhaps he was afraid of the unpredictable movement of the car.

I reached my hand back to rest on his cheek, stroking his soft skin with my thumb until the crying stopped. That was how we pulled up to the office a few minutes later, and that was how I would drive in the relative peace I had been craving the 20 minutes back home.

Pulling into our neighborhood half an hour later it dawned on me how sharp the difference between my parenting and the parenting of God are. I was so frustrated at the child who would not stop screaming. I was angry at his irrational fear. I didn’t understand and I wanted it to stop. But what a grace that God never deals with my fears that way! He always and forever simply drives the car, craning his arm back so that he can cup my chin in his hand and tell me that everything will be okay. He tells me this on the days I believe him, and on the days that I do not.

I need that now just as much as my son did. I need that touch of comfort; that assurance that even when my circumstances are constantly shifting, uncomfortable, and totally outside of my control—that I am okay. God is still in control. He is still working for my good. All shall be well.

The One who knows all things; who knows where this car is heading, is also a God of infinite and kind compassion. He does not chide you for being afraid, though he invites your loving trust. He does not yell at you from the front seat to hush and be quiet, he meets you in the rearview mirror with his tender gaze. He cares for your fears, even as he does not promise to remove the scary situations from you. He will take you where you need to go, even if the way is frightening and you would just rather not go that way at all.

Trusting God, like my son in the car finally trusted me with my hand secure beneath his quivering chin, may just be the bravest and most beautiful thing you ever do. By this child-like trust, the world will know that there is something different about us; we are a people who despite every chaos and calamity, can still rest secure. We are a people who remember who they are in the context of whose they are. We are a people who will one day see this fearful journey for what it was all along; the sweetest most intimate journey of faith.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”

Colossians 3:15 ESV

{Photo c/o Kyle Glenn on Unsplash.}

What is being lost

I haven’t left my house in three weeks. Except for the occasional stroll through the neighborhood, my boundaries have been from the front sidewalk where I shoveled a foot of snow last week, to the the back fence where the chokecherry bushes are getting ready to bloom.

I am moving in small circles lately. From the table, to the dishwasher. From the front door, to the mail box. I rarely need a shoe other than these well worn slippers and the old leather boots I use when I’m gardening.

We are all carving new paths right now—out of many of our illusion of control, of invincibility. They say these are the lost days, but where we find ourselves is historic even as it is painfully mundane.

I find myself asking; is this the desert? Or the land by the stream? I find myself asking; what is being lost?

My human perceptions are no good at telling. How seldom do I actually know what I need for the health of my soul. I feel parched, but perhaps that is because all my false wells are being tarred over. I find myself scraping at the ground in fear, in scarcity, but if would only lift my chin and look up a few inches I would see that that I am mere feet from the clearest, most delicious stream.

Will I stop digging and take a drink?

So much can feel like it is being taken away right now; but what if all that I am losing are the false places from which I pretended to be self-sufficient? My dirty wells are being tarred over.

What if after this pandemic, the words “Jesus help me!” came more easily to your lips in a moment of frustration with a child; in a moment of overwhelm at the kitchen sink.

What if after this pandemic we emerged from our homes a people who believe again in prayers answered by a good God who sees us?

What if we began to see the ways he is intimately pursuing us each and every day in the small things like the kindness of a neighbor, or the startling appearance of a mountain bluebird on the mail box?

God knows the turnings of our hearts. He knows what we most need, even when it clashes with what we most want. Sometimes this fact scares me, but at this exact moment, it brings me the peace that it ought.

When I just want out of here; out of this house, these walls, this sphere that feels too narrow; the days that feel endlessly long, and the evenings full of the fears of the future—God knows that what I most need is not deliverance from my present circumstances: what I most need is the intimate knowledge of his presence and provision in the midst of my present circumstances.

He will bring us out of this place when the time comes; but we will not be left unchanged. Perhaps we will leave our dirty wells tarred over after all this, and only drink from the fountain of living water—the river that God himself provides in the desert.

{Featured Image c/o Annie Spratt on Unsplash.}

A Prayer for those who are Afraid

Lord Jesus,

We know that you know the beginning from the end.

There is no disaster, no tragedy, no viral pandemic that escapes your notice or is a surprise to your kind and sovereign gaze.

You know how our hearts are fearful God; of the unknown. Of loss. Of lack. Of death.

You know the way we groan in this world that looks so like a place we long to call home; yet somehow isn’t.

None of this, is as it should be.

Multiply our peace by your presence Lord God.

Extend to us the promise of your with-ness, whatever comes.

Help us as we seek to love our neighbor as ourselves—may we steward well the people and places around us, even when we aren’t quite sure how.

Guide us by the wisdom of your all-knowing Spirit.

Jesus this current chaos reminds us once again what has always been true— our days here are numbered.

Our earthly lives, finite and mortal; susceptible since the fall of man, to death and decay, whether by age, accident, or disease.

Yet we know that in all things and through all things you can and will be glorified.

You know every day of our lives, before there is even one.

Calm our spirits O God. Cast out our fear by your perfect love. May we taste your goodness here and now.

We shall not want.

Amen


Audrey says it best. When I first heard this song a couple years ago, it absolutely floored me—if you are unsettled in your spirit today, I hope it does the same for you. And please feel free to share if any of this ministered to you.

In case you missed it on my social channels, I was published earlier this week in Fathom Magazine’s aptly themed issue “Fear” with a collection of short poems and essays called, “The Breath Between.” It follows the overlap of my Grandmother and my first child’s lives, and speaks to the angst I have felt watching those I love live and die in a broken world.

In times like these, perhaps it will spark a little hope in you, that there is more to our present reality than what our eyes can see. Just click here to give it a read.

By His grace and for His glory,

Grace Kelley

“Come and See.”

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

John 1:45-46

Could anything good come from Nazareth? This poor, armpit of a town?

Could anything good come from the trauma of my childhood? The pain of my present? How could anything good come from the grief of all I’ve lost? The fear I carry of what is to come? How could anything good come from the suffering I have experienced?

Can I really hold out hope that God gives beauty for ashes, when the smell of smoke is still burning in my nostrils?

Come and see.

Jesus asks us for our faith, but it is not altogether blind. He shows up with his wonderful gaze, his promises, his compassionate hands. He doesn’t ask us to believe for nothing, no matter what you have been taught. What he gives, though not always visible to the naked eye, is still real.

Come and see.

I’ll show you my wounds, so you feel safe to begin to share yours. I’ll show you where the healing has already taken place, and where there is still work to be done. I can show you beauty that has come from the pain of my past; such radiant beauty that most days, I wouldn’t even change what has happened—even the most painful parts—because these wounds are where I have witnessed glory.

I’ve been to places worse than the armpit town of Nazareth; and still I’ve seen glimpses of the good to come—slow and steady as the rising of the sun.

That’s the part of Romans 8:28 that we forget; sometimes we see that verse and demand of God “where is my good? Where’s that good thing you promised me?” But we have gotten the definition of good all turned around and screwy in our minds. We forget that God’s best good for us, looked like Jesus. And it is into this, cruciform kind of good, that he is making us.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Romans 8:28-30

Our highest good, is to be conformed to the image of Christ. Christ who was an innocent—wounded. Christ who laid down his own life for traitors, murderers, abusers, liars, thieves, addicts, adulterers, and idolators—for me.

Christ who by his own deeply painful wounds heals us; by his grace allows our wounds to become places of healing for others.

That’s why I am here. Maybe that’s why you are too?

Come and See. Come and See!

Our life is still full of miracles. The ones marked by the cancer that miraculously doesn’t spread, the semi that almost slides into the side of you on icy roads, but then suddenly slides away— but these are not the only miracles we see.

There is a miracle in the note that I wrote when I was 17 to the boy I loved. The miracle that “I wouldn’t even change it now.” I wouldn’t change the pain of the past; because that pain allowed me to participate in the beauty of that present moment.

WHAT?

Maybe this offends you. Maybe you think I am letting abusers, betrayers and those that abandoned me off the hook.

I’m not. There is justice for these things; and God’s justice is better than mine. I can leave that to him.

But for me, there is also GLORY. Yet I know, I am speaking of what I have not seen. This glory is only the chink of light through the wall of the prison cell. I can see the dust motes swirling in it like planets—but it reminds me that the light is out there. And soon the chink will break the prison wall to pieces and I’ll be standing in the light more marvelous than the sun.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

I can only tell you about what I have seen: both the darkness and the light. What I have to offer here are stories—ones so deep and painful that they cost me to share. But even here, there is glory. I get to participate with the Lord in the miracle; offering my loaves and fishes; my tears and my perfume jar; my two copper coins—these stories are what I have. They are what I offer you, because I hope you Come and See.

Because this—this is only the beginning.

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.

Courage Dear Heart

If you’ve been around the blog for a little while then this piece may look familiar to you. It’s been two years now since Piper’s diagnosis, and just about two years since I first wrote this piece and got my own “Courage Dear Heart” tattoo to remind me to be brave, right there where I can see it on my skin. I hope the revised version of this story meets you where you are today.

-Gracie


I was being strangled. Pulling out of the parking garage, I reluctantly left the hospital and turned my car towards home. It was only then that I noticed the sky. Are you kidding me? How could the sun shine on today of all days? My heart was hammering like a racehorse in my chest, the anger welling up like asphalt in my throat. Yet, I knew even in that moment that this reaction was far from dramatic or over the top; in fact, it felt like the only way to react. After all, I was pulling away from a room of the Children’s hospital, where only a few hours ago my best friend’s 18 month old daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

There’s been some mistake. I thought to myself. They mixed up the results. They brought back the wrong chart. They’ll realize it soon enough, that there’s been some mistake.

But I knew it wasn’t true, as much as I longed for it to be.

Piper had cancer. A deadly disease. Without terrible and painful interventions, she would die. Even with them, there was no guarantee.

WHY, GOD WHY??? Over and over I asked him, my heart leaden with despair. But there was no answer. 

When I arrived home I poured myself into things I could control. I organized people to meet the practical needs of my friends who would now be spending the next week in the hospital with their youngest child, while their older two stayed overnight with grandparents. I made chicken enchiladas. I bought food for their fridge. I helped another friend clean in preparation for their return. But the asphalt in my throat turned to cotton in my brain, and when I got all the groceries home from Costco, it took me a half hour of staring at the the pile on the kitchen table to figure out how to put it all away.

I kept putting on my strong face for my children. Or at least I tried. But at the sink you’d find me weeping into the dishes when I thought no one was looking. I was giving God the silent treatment. And somewhere in the back of my heart, the old me was playing stone mason, and desperately building a fortress around my heart. All of me felt like a harp string, tuned too tight, till the notes were sharp and sour. The slightest touch could snap me in half.

The tender me was prisoner in a back room somewhere, but I could hear her trying to scream through the walls of the ever growing fortress:

“God is still good. He makes beauty from ashes. Turns despair into laughter. You can trust him!”

Mostly I ignored her. I slept fitfully, and dreaded waking up each morning and realizing that this wasn’t just some horrifying dream. Then one evening, a few nights after Piper’s diagnosis, my husband began to draw me out. 

“You know what’s true” he said. “You need to talk to God.”

“I don’t want to.”

“But you need to.”

“I don’t even know what to say.”

“Just talk to him,” he said.

I don’t remember the words that came out of me, face down on the pillow. I’m sure there were mumblings and groanings and unintelligible words. I’m pretty sure I mostly talked about how mad I was at him. But towards the end I came to this:

 “God I know that I’m a toddler, throwing a giant tantrum, because I don’t know what you’re doing. But you’re doing something…even though I don’t understand it!”

Surrender made way for peace to come. Not in overwhelming waves, but in small chunks that began to knock down pieces of what the old me had been building in the back of my mind. Little pebbles of peace chipping away at that fortress, and a still small voice that kept chipping and tapping away at me; You don’t need this… You don’t need this… You don’t need this…

As the vines of hope began to grow again.


It’s been a little over a month of Fridays since Piper’s diagnosis. A week after the original results, we found that instead of just ALL, a childhood cancer that is relatively easy to treat, she has a rare genetic abnormality in her leukemia cells which made it significantly more aggressive and difficult to treat, and made it even more likely that if cured, she could have a relapse.

The first month was horrible. The medications obviously poison. The once spunky little girl turned into a zombie by steroids. Almost all her hair fell out in a matter of two weeks.

Then last week, they had another bone marrow aspiration that would tell them whether or not the treatment was working; if she would be in remission or if she would need to go on the bone marrow transplant list. When the results showed that she was in remission, cancer free for the moment at the very least, you would think I would have been thrilled. 

But you know what? It’s hard to hear the bugle of good news behind a fortress of stone.

That’s right. I’m still in there. Desperately trying to escape. The voice of the tender me, the soft me, the me that’s sensitive to what the Lord of hosts is doing; that me was getting louder and easier to hear through the holes that the hope vines were tearing. Through the holes that the peace was beginning to peck away.

But I realized on receiving this good news how afraid I am to hope. How desperately afraid I am to trust God. Because I feel like hope is a trap and a lie. And I was expecting more bad news. I had decided to expect it, as a way to try and protect myself from the painful surprises that life seems to keep throwing my direction like so many fast balls over the past six months.

I was trying to control it. And once again, this surprise, though good, had undermined my shallow attempt to pretend to be in charge of life. To pretend to be able to predict things, and by-proxy, to control them. The old me trying to take over; shouting at the tender me;

 “Get out of the way! YOU are going to get us KILLED! Your hope is foolish and the love you claim to believe in is a lie.” The reality is I cannot actually control or predict the future. I am not in charge. I am not the boss. 

There’s a toddler in my house; she’s three years old and three feet tall and she’s angry because I’ve given her a bowl and not a plate for her to eat her lunch. She’s raging mad. She’s screaming. Throwing herself down. Insane with the desire to control, and devastated at the perceived loss. She looks exactly like me.

Tender me in the tower is peeking out through the cracks; shouting till she’s hoarse, 

“He is good! He is good! Hope is not a lie! It’s freedom! All is grace! Everyday is gift! Every day is joy! Rejoice! Rejoice!”

I want to let her out now, but I’m afraid of the rawness; the gaping wound of a hole in a tower wall that I’ve built to keep me safe. The vines would wreck and break every last part of that self-protection until not one stone is left on another, and then I would be well and truly naked. Out in the open. Vulnerable.

Everyone could see the scars on my heart; the trust I’m afraid to hold on to; the faith that’s so thin, it seems like a paper cloak at times when I know it could be thick as velvet.

But the truth will set us free.

And the truth is that God loves my friends, and their daughter, more than I do. He’s the only one able to work for their good and his glory in all things. He is the only one who always does exactly what he says he will do. He is the only one who has the power to make all things as he sees fit.

He calls the stars out one by one…and because of the word of his power, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26) Then there’s the verse I first tattooed on my skin:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of these will fall apart from the will of your father. And even the very hairs of you head are all numbered. So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

He knows every hair that has fallen from that sweet little girl’s head. He knew all the days of her life before there was yet one of them. And he knows mine.

He knows the days that I’ll build towers of fear because I’m choosing not to trust him—even though he’s never given me a reason not to. He knows the days I’ll come running back—a prodigal into her Daddy’s arms. Safe and held and deeply known. He loves me. Even me, in my faithless, wandering, orphan heart. He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.

And around each bend, and each corner I can hear his voice whisper; louder now than my fears or my demands to understand; “Courage….courage, dear heart.”(C.S. Lewis’ Aslan) 


Not too long after I originally wrote this post, I got my most recent tattoo. A picture of Aslan the lion from Narnia, with the above quote. It has served me often these past two years, which have continued to be full of various trials, to remember that God has, and will continue to bring me through whatever comes. He will carry me.

Kelsey Brown is my tattoo artist and she is located in Louisville, CO. You can find her on IG @kelseyknown.

He is Good!

“You are GOOD!” She shouts it from the back seat, her eyes intense in my rearview mirror, her fist pumping the air with all her five-year-old might. And I’m pretty sure witnessing this is just about as beautiful a thing as I’ve ever seen.

My baby girl has known suffering in her young life. Last fall and winter were some of the darkest times for us as she suffering through near constant flare ups of her still-undiagnosed illness. (We highly suspect celiac disease.)

She has looked at me with her wide blue eyes and said, “Mommy? Does God ever forget things?”

“No sweetie. He never forgets anything.”

“Oh, well I was just wondering. Because we asked Jesus if he would help me feel better earlier, but I still don’t feel good. I wondered if maybe he forgot.”

“….No sweetie. No, he didn’t forget,” I said, barely holding back the tears. “You know what? Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want him to. And you know what that means?”

“What?” she asks, tears in her voice.

“That just means that he has something else in mind.”


“YOU ARE GOOD!” I could listen to her shout it from the backseat for a millenia. Singing along to her VBS CD, from a week of lessons about how God is good in the midst of all circumstances. Truth for the children and adults alike. Truth that we’ve needed from the dawn of time. Truth we are so apt to forget.

You are good God.

And watching my daughter in the rearview mirror I see it: the set of her jaw, the flash of defiance in her eyes, the strength of her tiny fist pumping the air. That’s what it takes doesn’t it? To believe in the goodness of God when the world has not been good to you. When suffering has punctured your life in so many places your heart feels like Swiss cheese.

The truth that I whispered over her; time and time again in the moments of her pain and despair holds true: Our God is so powerful that not only could he stop bad things from happening, but he can take even bad things, and use them for our good. Transformation. It is the powerful potter indeed who can take the cracked clay and turn it into something beautiful. The all powerful God is most on display, in the midst of our immeasurable brokenness and this is no exception.

“YOU ARE GOOD!” That the five-year-old can suffer much, and come out trusting Jesus is nothing short of a miracle. That she can shout it from the back seat with all the defiance needed to rattle the gates of Hades is nothing short of a miracle. That she believes it in her heart; for herself— for her friends with cancer, for the family with children her very own age who lost their father, for the hurting around the world for whom we pray—YOU ARE GOOD!

Maybe you’d think she’s just singing along. Maybe you aren’t sure she really believes it. Then I present to you Exhibit B: Boaz is at the dentist. And because of a rather traumatic experience he endured at Urgent Care not long ago, he is terrified of laying down and having anyone look in his mouth. I can’t get him to relax enough to even let the dentist look at his teeth. But then Ellie comes in, and as matter of fact as she can be she says, “Boaz, even when life is scary, God is good.” And though he is still terrified, he leans his head back and opens his mouth enough to let the dentist look at his teeth, as his big sister holds his hand and his heart.

We don’t know it all yet: we haven’t seen the future and we don’t know the extent of the miracle. We don’t know if Ellie will stay well, or for how long. But we know without a shadow of a doubt that whatever comes, God is at work. He is for us. He loves us. And He is Good.


Would you like to read more about my journey with Ellie and her health? I wrote an article for The Joyful Life Magazine this past winter, while we were still in the thick of this season of suffering, and I’d love you to get your hands on it.

The article is entitled; “Splendor: Glimpses of God’s Glory in the midst of Suffering” and it is featured in the Surrender issue which is available to order until the end of August 2019. Just click here to place your order today.