the difference

I think I know now
how the disciples felt
as they watched the backs 
of Judas and Jesus
amidst the clutch
of Roman spears.

The betrayal so sharp
& stabbing, like a spear
between the ribs
like a man hauling 
himself up on nails 
to get a breath—
to ask for a drink.

Were you giving us vinegar
when we asked for wine? 

Could we really 
not tell 
the difference? 

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. 

Note to my empath-self in times of tragedy

"If I didn't care 
then it wouldn't 
hurt so much." 

something I tell myself 
(almost daily sometimes)
especially when the world spins
on her broken axis and evil seems
to flourish with every revolution—
sometimes I wish I didn’t care so much

"You're too sensitive." 

something I grew up hearing 
(what felt like daily)
my tears were tiny but mighty traitors,
my tender heart— a bitter enemy.

but when I read of Jesus and 
how he heard the crowd 
around Lazarus’ tomb singing 
their songs of languishing lament 
and what he did as he looked Mary 
in her tear-stained face—

“he wept.” 
john 11:35 says.

“How he loved him!” 
they said on seeing his tears
and reading this, I know that Jesus
knows the daily crushing 
weight of grief.

and God did not chide him for weeping
even though he knew how it would all work out.
even though he himself held the power
to raise Lazarus from the dead—
to turn all those tears of mourning
into leaping, dancing shouts of joy.

so I suppose that I am not too sensitive after all—
I who do not know the ending of this story. 
I who have no idea how it will all work out. 
I who can only hope and watch and pray
kneeling at the feet of Jesus, weeping like Mary 
confused and angry—almost accusing:

“if you had only been here
 my brother would not have died.”

this declaration a statement of faith—
my anger a show of trust
in a Jesus large enough to hold my rage, my tears,
my confusion, my longing, my wondering
and all this ache that I can scarcely name.

and in the end, surrendering—
trusting that he can resurrect 
with a word or a breath, 
that he will be there in my weeping 
over all that I must lay to rest.
trusting that the pain I carry 
with all this caring
will also in time
be redeemed.

The Grief of Eve

I think often
of the grief of Eve
giving birth to two sons
only for one to kill the other.
I imagine she wished 
she herself had died 
before she had seen such evil. 

I imagine she thought often
about the promised Son—
the one who would come
to crush the head of that lying serpent
who ushered in death 
by her fruit stained hands
long before Cain swung a rock
at his little brother’s head. 

I hear her asking, 
staring her first born son
dead in the eyes
	“What have you done?”

and then more softly
by the rivers edge 
where her naked shame 
is revealed in her reflection
	“What have I done?” 

I imagine some days
the promise was her only comfort 
in the aching grief that clogged her throat
the burning rage that seared her temples 
making her head pound
turning her once lovely face
into a grief covered frown. 

what other solace could she hold
with Seth in her arms
the son born to her grief in a land 
where brother turns upon brother
for jealousy? or was it pride?
Cain did not heed the warning 
of destruction crouching at his door. 

and what other solace could she hold—
In a land where babies we nurse at the breast can be killed?
In a land where babies we nurse at the breast can become killers? 

what other solace have I? 

and Abel’s blood is crying from the ground and the scriptures say that the earth will uncover her slain and that God himself will avenge the blood of the innocent—that He himself will repay for this evil and this is the promise that now comforts me, for what other comfort is there—

In a land where babies are killed?
In a land where babies can become killers? 

I ache
and I pray
for vengeance— 
for every tear 
and every last drop
of innocent blood. 










**Wonderful image from Hans Hamann on Unsplash**

the Ache

the ache is like a tear
a rip rent in the heart—
like the tears shed by wives, 
mothers, sisters, and daughters 
leaving husbands, fathers, sons,
and brothers behind at borders 
and airports today. 

the ache is like the cramp
in the wrist of the nurse
squeezing oxygen and life 
into the tiny body of a baby
in the bomb shelter basement 
of a hospital in Dnipro today.

it’s in the handcuffed wrists
of the protestors in Moscow
arrested by the thousands
for their constant chant
“No to War”— 
wondering if they will be heard
before it’s much too late. 

it’s in the cracks of the voices
of the Russian mothers on the phone
pleading with their sons not to go there—
“Not to Ukraine! No!
Don’t go there, please—
just get on a plane and come home.“

it’s Ash Wednesday, and the ache is everywhere. 
even in the ashes in the atmosphere—
in the streets above the shelled schools
and the residential buildings 
that are being blown to bits 
with a doubled-down desperation 
of an addict looking for his fix. 

an ache filled by love 
is an ache that can heal—
but you fill your ache with lust
for power and don’t you know
it will never be enough? 
You shall go hungry—
hungrier even than the little boy
hiding with his mother in the basement
in a small town outside Kyiv
only stale air and air raid blasts to eat.

and weren’t you a little boy once?
sitting on his mother’s knee
asking for simple things like sugar
in your tea and receiving it
sitting satisfied?

now a whole country cannot quiet 
the snarling of your soul
and all I can think as I rock
my own infant son to sleep
is how your mother’s heart would ache
if she could see you now. 


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 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 

How Grief leads the way to Deeper Peace and Greater Clarity

“When the old way is dying, we can cling to normal or we can let sorrow lead our search for something better. This is the summer of imagination… Today I pray that instead of grasping for what you used to have, you let your empty hands clasp in prayer. Optimistic clutching for normalcy only can give you temporary relief, but you were made for more than the normal you had. Only grief can grow your imagination for the goodness of the kingdom you belong to.”

—K.J. Ramsey

I’ve been to two funerals in the past month. The first was a memorial for my Grandmother who passed away in March, the week that everything in our state shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The second was for my Grandaddy who passed away at the beginning of August, and because of slightly fewer restrictions, we were able to have a small, mask-wearing-service at his home church in Fuquay-Varina North Carolina.

Aside from the season of fear and anxieties and generally vague grief that this pandemic has brought us through, some of you, like me, are also experiencing the sharp grief that comes with deep loss. Loss of a loved one. Loss of a job. Loss of money you had been saving in a 401k—we are all grappling with so much, but some of us more than others.

But it’s in this season that I am remembering and re-learning, that allowing ourselves to grieve over these losses, makes way for more peace. The kind of peace that is independent of circumstances, but that is rooted in something realer than what our eyes can see. The kind of peace that allows us to see our lives with greater clarity and imagination, showing us that our hunger for rightness in not foolish, but a good hunger that will lead us to our greatest satisfaction.

God’s Kingdom is here, and it is also coming. Every broken thing will be restored. The dead in Christ are only the seeds waiting for the proper time to grow into a new and fuller life. Our King is here; and He is coming.

The tension of the already-and-the-not-yet can be a difficult place to live. In the months following my Grandmother’s passing, before her memorial service, I found myself trapped in a grief I didn’t feel like I was allowing myself to process. The pandemic pushed pause on so many things, and I found myself being forced to grieve in different ways. In May my Grandfather gave me a box of my Grandmother’s hair things; brushes, clips, hair ties, combs—because he didn’t want to just throw it away—and I found myself staring at the grey hairs in the hairbrush she had probably been using for 20 years or more, wondering: Is this all I have left?

The question haunted me right into the grief I had been avoiding. I penned an angry poem or two, and that’s when it began to happen. Quite by accident, or quite by the Holy Spirit, my eyes began to clear and I saw what I had been missing. In my attempts to push aside my grief I had said things to myself like, “She lived a good life. She was ready. She’s with Jesus now,” all of which are TRUE and GOOD things to say and believe. But I was using them like a tourniquet and not a bandage. I was circumventing the grief, trying to cut it off at the source, by saying things that I knew to be true, but didn’t really feel or believe in my heart.

The reality is that death is always an unwanted and greedy hand at the table. My loss is great. My mother’s loss is greater. The grief I felt at waking up the morning that I heard the news, knowing I would never see my Grandmother again in this life, was crushing. And why wouldn’t it be? When I finally penned the angry poems and let out all my feelings of pent up rage and frustration, it was then that the clarity came. Crashing against the cold hard reality of death, I broke through into the realer-reality; her glorious eternal life. Grief was the path that brought me there.

Two funerals in a row is a lot, but it has given me time to practice. After my Grandmother’s memorial, I felt the peace that comes with a little bit of closure, and many tears shed with loved ones who also loved the one we lost. When I visited my Grandaddy for the last time a week later, I knew that though sorrow would come with the night, joy would come in the morning. The memory of the peace that would come through grief was recent enough for me to have not forgotten everything I learned for once; and for that I am so very thankful.

Dearest Readers; I know the burdens you carry are heavy. There are so many of you walking around with griefs much heavier even than the loss of a Grandparent or other loved one. The anxiety threatens to crush you some days. The little sorrows pile up and feel heavier than a wheelbarrow full of lead. The weight of uncertainty in this season, and whatever season will come after, adds its weight too.

But I want you to know; there is peace on the other side of this thing you are grieving, when you grieve it in the presence of God. Circumventing your grief with platitudes and comforting phrases (even when those phrases are TRUE), is not the way forward to a lasting peace and a clarity which sees the Kingdom of God at work even in our most deeply devastated and broken places.

This is your written invitation: Let yourself grieve. It’s okay. You are not alone. Your losses are not insignificant, nor do they go unnoticed by our heavenly Father. He is not looking down on you. He is not waiting for you to be stronger. He knows your frame; that you are dust, and He cares for you as His beloved child. The way to the joy of the morning is the sorrow of the night. The grief that needs to come, the tears that must be shed to wash your eyes clean so that you may rightly see what you cannot see right now.

The day my Grandaddy died, I told my husband I needed the beauty of the lake. We packed a picnic dinner and went out kayaking and paddle boarding at sunset. But I got sunscreen in my eyes and they kept stinging my whole way across the lake. I kept wiping them with the corner of my shirt until finally a wave of grief hit me and I began to cry. Later I realized that it was the tears that cleared my eyes from the sunscreen that had been stinging and clouding my vision.

May it be the same for you.

Go in peace friends. The way isn’t easy, but it’s the way we’ve been given—and it is good.

*If you need someone to pray for you, leave a comment below. You can tell us what you need prayer for, or keep it between you and God, the choice is yours. And if you feel led to pray for someone, would you reply to their comment and let them know that you are lifting them up? Grief is done best in the body of believers.*

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.

Here’s to a sweet & awkward Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day’s can be sweet and awkward at the same time.

The sweetness of your kid’s handmade card, the awkwardness of realizing they think you live in the kitchen. 😂

The sweetness of breakfast in bed, the awkwardness of eating food your kids invented.

The sweetness of looking into the faces of those you love, the sadness that shows up to the party like that awkward friend wearing too much cologne; reminding you of all you have lost.

I have been so guilty of wanting to be either one way, or the other. Good or bad. Happy or sad. But God is inviting me to see it can be both/and. In this world where we are sorrowful, yet we can still rejoice.

This tension is hard to hold, and I know today brings up equal measures of joy and sorrow. So here is to you my friends; those with bedrooms full of tiny blessings, with rooms that still hold memories of children now grown and gone, those who have gained by birth or adoption, those of you whose hearts are full today.

And here’s to you my friends, with some children snug in their beds, but the memories of those you have lost still held close to your aching chest. Here’s to you who have lost mothers—who wish with all your heart that you had someone to call today.

Here’s to you who have met every mother’s day with grief in the face of another woman’s joy, who greet today with empty arms for every reason possible: infertility, child loss, even an abortion you now deeply regret.

Here’s to every woman who has poured a cup of water for a little one in the name of Jesus, who has mothered brothers or sisters or friends on days they needed it most: you reflect the life giving nature of God.

To each and every one of you beautiful souls out there today—whether you be a mother by the worlds standards or not, may you feel seen, valued, and loved by your creator God today.

May you see the ways he invites you into the sweetness of his presence in the midst of your sorrow.

May you see the ways you are blessed in the mundane and awkward moments that will greet you as you step into this day.

And may you remember always that the Gospel is big enough for YOU.