What love looks like

“I love the way you salt things,” he says to me as I stand over the heat of the cast iron pan at the kitchen stove. “It’s so cute. You’re like a chef.” He gives my shoulder a rub and passes by me on his way to settle a sibling dispute.

Later, he rubs my sore lower back while we watch an old sitcom in bed and says, “I love you pregnant. You’re so round and beautiful.”

I look over my shoulder at him, rubbing a hand over the two hearts and two sets of fluttering feet in my twin belly and say “Really? You really think I’m beautiful like this?” He smiles and nods and I say, “Well good. You’d better keep thinking that though, I’m not sure my body will ever be the same after this.”

He laughs and says “I will.”

“Do you promise?” I say with mock sternness, but real hormonal tears budding in my eyes.

“I promise,” he says without humor in his blue eyes, and the kindness in his smile reaches the new lines by his beloved eyes. And for once, I think I may actually believe him.

This is what love in year eleven of our marriage looks like. When we married, we were kids who had begun to grow up together, like two small trees reaching towards the great blue sky, not knowing how high it really was, not knowing where they’d end up, but letting our roots weave together deep in the earth—inseparable and intertwined, for better or worse.

We’ve seen both; better and worse. We’ve broken our promises and made them anew. We’ve hurt each other and failed to love well when push came to shove. We’ve pulled away and numbed, when we should have pulled together. These years have not been without their pain or struggles; in fact, they’ve been chalk full of them sometimes—so full we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to carry it.

I am not the girl my blonde haired blue-eyed husband married eleven years ago. The darkening of his hair and the growing of his beard is not the only change in this man I married eleven years ago. But our love has grown and changed and healed us in ways that have brought us closer to Jesus, as well as to each other. This is the grace I’m seeing now—when I look at a photo from us nine years ago still in our newlywed years and think; I loved him so much then. But it’s nothing compared to how I feel about him now. Even though there were times over these past eleven years, when I wondered if we really loved each other at all.

Now our love looks like me telling my husband that all his open tabs on our shared laptop stress me out, because I’m not sure which ones he’s okay with me closing and too many tabs makes my mind swirl with anxiety—and a few days later I open my computer to see a tab at the top: “Willy’s Tabs 🙂 ” under which are hidden from my easily overwhelmed eyes, the plentiful research he has been doing to know how to replace my mini-van’s busted alternator.

Our love looks like my husband buying me a new hose attachment to make watering my flower beds easier on my pregnant back. It looks like me picking up a six pack of a favorite beer from the store for him to enjoy with the first game of the NHL playoffs. It looks like me cooking dinner, and he doing the dishes. It looks like being the one to volunteer to clean up the toddler’s pee puddle off the living room floor. It looks like my husband reading pages and pages of health insurance legalese to see if we can afford to have one of my midwives attend what is now going to be a very expensive hospital birth. It looks like me reading the bedtime story, and him telling me not to climb into the boy’s bunk beds anymore because he’s worried I’ll hurt myself.

It looks like a few moments of quiet conversation over steaming cups of coffee before the day begins. It looks like emoji hearts sent in the middle of a hectic work day, just so I know he’s thinking of me. It looks like a simple text: “I wish we could meet for a lunch date today.” Even (and maybe especially) when we can’t.

This love doesn’t look a thing like a thought it would when we started out, young and in love and not yet seventeen. But it’s better. It’s not loud or boisterous or even overly romantic. It a love that folds laundry late at night. It’s a love that builds a life together; with threads of deeply earned and honored trust. It’s a love that holds us steady, when it feels like everything else might be crashing down around us. It’s a love that lets us dream of the future days, even as we seek to be present in these intensely beautiful days we are living in now.

It’s a love that plans a garden; that’s not afraid to get its hands dirty. It’s a love that plants seeds together, watching and waiting for them to grow in their time.

It’s a contented love, peaceful with itself. Okay with not being flashy or showy. It’s the kind of love that lets us get away for a weekend before welcoming two babies at once to our family, and we know if all we do is talk and sleep and eat together in blissful silence; it will be enough to give us a breath before this next, very intense plunge of our lives.

It’s a love that chooses every day small actions, instead of big ostentatious airport displays of affection. It’s a love that sticks with it—that rearranges the furniture as many times as it takes to make the room work.

It’s a love that makes room, in our home and our hearts for what’s next—whatever that looks like.

It’s a love that trusts that the good God that has brought us this far, will bring us through whatever challenges lie ahead: by His grace and for His glory.

(Photo clearly taken pre-twin pregnancy)

let me be/ your breath

let me be/ your breath
a poem by Grace Kelley


grow in me—


all that is
new & tender
the unseen seems
more real with each
fluttering sign
of presence.


(the flutters 
gave them away
 after all)
—how I knew
they were two
& not only one. 
Now my desires
are more refined
than ever.


so grow in me—


until the pain
makes it hard
to rise from my sheets


until I’m 
stretched & marred 
far beyond
my capacity


until red stripes
mark my belly
full & heavy 
with the weight 
of the glory 
of you.


grow in me—


until sleep
becomes 
a stranger


until breaths 
feel hard to take—
for the crowding 
of my lungs
is no less Holy
than singing 
praises to the God 
who made you.


grow in me—


until you are ready
to breathe 
with fresh lungs—


until the sweet echos
of your first cries 
tear open places
always meant 
for loving you. 


Until then
Dear Ones,
grow in me—

& let me be
your breath. 

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

The Twin Pregnancy I didn’t see coming

I didn’t see this coming. 

But when I saw the two of them on the ultrasound monitor, kicking and waving, dancing and playing—I felt like I had known them all my life. 

Willy and I were talking last night about taking a trip sometime after they are born, and as we talked about taking “the whole family”—all SEVEN of us, instead of feeling only the over-whelm of having not one, but two tiny babies in the car along with our older three kids, all I felt was a sense of rightness—of completion. 

“This is our whole family,”I said, “these babies are who we have been missing all this time.” 

My husband nodded wordlessly, with a slight mist in his eyes, and I knew he felt it too. The sense of rightness—of an adventure on which not one of our members would be missing.

I should have gotten my first hint from my mother-in-law; but I wasn’t at all ready to hear it. Upon telling her that we were expecting for the fourth time, she almost immediately said, “This time, I think it’s twins.” 

I wheeled on her with shock and probably a little bit of anger and said, “Don’t say that to me!” The overwhelm was immediate, and all I could see in that moment was the birth center birth of my dreams crashing and burning in the wake of a high-risk pregnancy. (Not to mention the fact that these babies were conceived naturally, in my 29th year, and we have no history of twins in my family that I knew of.) 

Northern Colorado has needed a free standing birth center for as long as I’ve lived here. Eight years ago, when I was expecting my first child, I even considered driving to Denver or Boulder to have that midwife led, natural birth experience I had always longed for—but in the end the drive was too daunting, and those centers filled up very quickly. Last year when I saw they were making the final preparations to open a birth center in the middle of my town, right next to our favorite coffee shop and brewery no less, I knew I was ready to have a fourth baby with the kind of compassionate and personable care that would never say to a woman in labor—“Well, do you want to stay pregnant forever?” 

Yeah that happened. 

I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve read it many places—the way a woman in labor is treated will impact her for the rest of her life. It’s a vulnerable place that can very easily become traumatic or ecstatic, depending on the kind of care the woman receives. 

My first born daughter came just 30 minutes after my gentle female doctor with the soft voice and the long brown hair streaked with grey had to go to the clinic for her regular office rotation. I was at the point in my labor when I really couldn’t care less that some guy I had never met would be delivering my baby instead of the doctor that I loved, but the way he came into the room filled me with a confidence I didn’t know I was lacking. He admired me, he encouraged me, he made me laugh and lit up the room with his joyful demeanor. When my daughter emerged at last, he encouraged me to pick her up and lift her to my chest myself. When he knew she was small and would need to be checked for IUGR, instead of making a big fuss, he said, “she doesn’t look too big,” with a kindly smile. And even though this very doctor ended up needing to do some extremely unpleasant things to me within those next thirty minutes to help my “pain in the butt placenta” detach and make sure there was none left inside my very-unmedicated-body—I still have a tender feeling towards this man who delivered my daughter, because he treated me like a person worthy of dignity and respect and not just a body with a baby in it. 

My second two experiences were not nearly as pleasant as the first. My second child born via an un-planned and borderline emergent c-section after ten excruciating hours of labor; my third via a successful VBAC with a doctor who seemed more like she was making fun of me than cheering me on as I pushed with all my might against the fear of what would happen if I didn’t do things her way. I carry these experiences with me; the good and the bad. Whether I want to or not, each of these births has left its scars on me, just as each baby has left me with a few new stretch marks and a few extra pounds.

I brushed off my Mother-in-Law’s well-intentioned comment, until at 18 weeks pregnant, I knew for sure something was different. My belly button had already begun turning inside out, and my uterus wasn’t even supposed to be that high in my abdomen at that point. Then I started feeling the flutterings—those welcome signs of the new life within me—on complete opposite sides of my abdomen, at the very same time. For a baby that was supposed to be the size of a sweet potato, that seemed unusual to say the least. Then, I had a dream of a boy and a girl—twins. The girl was smaller than the boy, with a sweet and mild demeanor. The boy was a bright burst of exuberant sunshine. And when I woke that next morning I could feel it in their kicks; the differences between these flutterings on opposite sides of my abdomen, like the differences between alternative rock and classical radio stations. Two nights later I woke up at 5:30 with a start—and I couldn’t go back to sleep until I had decided on a name for the boy baby. 

I heard it in the silence and the dark—from the mouth of God, a name for the son I still wasn’t even completely sure I had suddenly emerged. A name I had never considered, but loved immediately. Finally settled in my mind, I went back to sleep. 

A few more weeks went by, with days in which I was sure there were twins in my womb, and more days in which I wondered if I had just really messed up my dates somehow and that’s why I was so much bigger than I thought I should be. My sweet husband tried to comfort me by saying; “It’s just one really big baby.” Somehow though I didn’t find this at all reassuring.

The week of my ultrasound finally came, and Sunday morning I woke up full of emotions about what this week would hold. My parents had our other three kids for the weekend, my husband was going to be drumming at our church, and I myself planned to attend the first in person service I had been to in over a year. As I rested and prepared that morning I spent some time praying about the pregnancy and in the depths of my heart I heard the Lord chuckle to me;

“You’re just waiting for science to confirm what you know I’ve already told you—”

The fear welled up in me, but then I heard him again, “I am giving you a double portion.” Like a lightning flash my perspective shifted—not to the weight of the burden I was already beginning to waddle while carrying, but the weight of the blessing. A double portion of children—where I had only expected one. And with it I knew would also come a double portion of provision from the God who gave them to me. 

The peace that enveloped my heart that morning carried me into the week, but by Wednesday evening I was anxious just to know for sure. Then came the text message from the receptionist at the birth center—something had come up with the tech, and they needed to reschedule my ultrasound appointment. 

I felt like an overtightened harp string that had been plucked on a sour note, and the melt down ensued. All that evening and the next day I walked around in a fog, hoping upon hope that the midwives who would be doing my regular pre-natal appointment would be able to tell me something. Just something to confirm that I wasn’t in fact, losing my mind thinking that I might be having twins. After having spent the whole previous evening being angry at God and feeling like he was pulling a prank on me, I felt him inviting me once again to trust him—that I would know what I needed to know, when I needed to know it. 

I have never been more grateful to be in a practice where they actually listen to me and care about my heart. Hearing my whole story, my lovely midwife examined me and confirmed that, yes in fact, I was measuring at 29 weeks, when I was only 21. Yes in fact, it did seem like there was an awful lot of baby in my belly for 21 weeks. And yes in fact, it did seem like there were two heart beats when we used different dopplers on different sides of my belly. 

I felt affirmed, but without an ultrasound, how could we say for sure? 

That’s when the lovely midwives decided to just use the ultrasound themselves, not for anything technical, but just to see if they could see two babies. A short parade down the hallway, some cold jelly and a thousand button presses later—there they were. Two babies, in two sacs, kicking separately from each other. The child on the right, which I was pretty sure was my son, squirming and kicking up a storm with his tiny feet. The child on the left, who I was pretty sure was my daughter— mild and placid, sucking her thumb. 

I wept tears of relief and joy, said something along the lines of “I’m not crazy!” and looked at these babies I wasn’t expecting and felt my heart grow big enough for two more. 

A mother’s love knows that there are things worth giving up your dreams for, things worth fighting for, things worth dying for. And as much as I mourned the loss of the birth I had been hoping for, I rejoiced that in the span of four more months, we will have not one, but two more beautiful babies, God-willing. And whatever comes, I know already that they are worth it all. 

Why do you seek the Living among the Dead?

Starting into the fire pit last night I found myself thinking back on the disciples. On the grace of God that left the disciples grieving on the Sabbath.

When Jesus died that Friday night they buried his body hastily because it was almost time for the Sabbath. It was their weekly day of rest and there wasn’t time to prepare him as properly as they would have liked. I imagine them sitting around fires and tables that Holy Saturday, wondering where it had all gone wrong. Spared from making plans, from trying to decide what would be next for these who had followed this carpenter preacher around for the past three years. Spared for the moment by the rest they were required to take on the Sabbath day.

I imagine Peter’s grief and repentance at betraying Jesus with his words. And the vacuum of guilt and condemnation that consumed Judas. The tears that John the beloved disciple wept with Mary, Jesus’ mother. Was it hard for them to eat that day? When the last meal they remembered their friend and teacher had told them that true feast was his body broken and blood shed for them. Did they remember how he had tenderly washed their feet? Did all his words suddenly come in sharp relief—his commands to love one another. His words about where he was going and how they could not follow him—at least not yet.

Around the fire pit last night I kept thinking that if the disciples had actually had time to prepare his body properly on Friday, they would not have been back at the tomb on Sunday. How it must have irked them to leave his body less than prepared for a proper burial! How it must have burned, and felt like a betryal. Like the last thing from common decency. Yet, this was the very avenue by which they were to discover his resurrection.

The dark of that Sunday morning, as Mary rose in the dark to go to the tomb of her beloved teacher and friend, she had no idea what awaited her. Perhaps she wept the whole way there, Jesus’ other female disciples with her. Hurrying along in the dark, worry about what they would say to get past the Roman guards stationed at the tomb. Hoping no one stopped them from doing what was the least they could do for this man who has somehow changed everything ever since they had met him.

And then to discover—the stone rolled away. The body, nowhere to be found. An angel sitting outside asking them the strangely obvious question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, for he has risen, just as he told you.”

How his words must have returned to them in sharp relief! The lightning bolt of the revelation that their Lord wasn’t there—that while they thought every circumstance pointed to him being dead and gone from their lives forever, the very opposite was true.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, HE IS RISEN.

He is Risen indeed.

The Table

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


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


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


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


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


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


& I knew 
I had gotten it wrong.


The Kingdom is 
a table—


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Photo c/o Stella de Smit on Unsplash

How I have longed

I know 
your heart
is full of anguish  
& longing —

      mine is too. 

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

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

        Oh if you only knew
        how I delight 
        in you.

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

         Yet 
         I would gather you
         even still;

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

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

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

Photo by David Boca on Unsplash

For the days it’s hard to breathe—

Sometimes the heaviness 
	here 
makes it hard 
to breathe. 

When my lungs 
are burning
for breath
I close my eyes
& think about 
the wedding feast.

The long table, 
laid with fine linens &
fruits of glorious labor—

beloved faces of those
I have wept with,
rejoiced with,
& grieved—
all shining 
like the glassen
sea’s surface
in summer. 

I hear the wind
blowing fragrance
through the trees
in the orchard.
Joy overwhelms 
me & I know 
	he’s coming. 


I lift my eyes
to meet his own &
when he smiles,
I feel it to the soles
of my bare feet
where they plant
themselves in 
warm grass,
like a tree
who knows
where she’s
growing.


He laughs 
easy as breathing &
like the sudden break
of dawn over mountaintops
I breathe in 
the reality that
this sound could fill
every crack,
every lack
every longing 
of my whole life. 


I open my eyes,
shining with unshed tears
& my heart breaks 
to find myself
	 here
again.


But the burdens
feel lighter 
with his laughter 
to buoy me. 



To the God of Hagar

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 We need 
 to know—
 do you see us
 here?


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

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


 But God,
 these are 
 small things
 I know.
 

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

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

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

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

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

 This is the valley of shadows.
 

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

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


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

 But where 
 could she go?
 

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

 Do
 you
 see 
 her 
 God? 
 

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Photo by Tess on Unsplash

Ash Wednesday

 1.  Ash Wednesday 
 

 Leaves burned last fall
 just when yellows and reds
 should have swept us away 
 with the colors of flame—


 Instead aspen leaves dropped charred 
 from the sky dark at noon.
 They crumbled to dust in our hands 
 while smoke made it hard to breathe.
  

Thoughts of our own mortality 
 have never been nearer 
 than these masks that hide
 our faces but not our fears.


 Ashes to ashes
 and dust to dust—
 fears coming nearer like the lines 
 the fire fighters drew to protect the houses
 the roads, the school campus 
 in the mountains burning down. 


 Like the lines marked
 every six feet with signs
 reminding us to keep
 our distance. 


 But it’s the loneliness 
 that weighs me 
 down the most
 

 Most days I stare out the window 
 and wonder—
 who are the faithful friends?
 the one’s who’ll weather
 this storm too and stand
 by my side again—
 when spring finally comes
 when fresh leaves
 emerge from aspens 
 scarred by flames 
of last year’s destruction?


 It’s Ash Wednesday now
 a time to think about
 all that perishes—
 and what remains. 


 what Beauty 
 is already standing sentry 
 when the pine seeds 
 are sprouting  
 in glorious resurrection?


I know the answer 
like I know the sound
of his voice—


 In this life so full of loss
 and lack that burns
 like smoke in my lungs
 there is only One True 
 and Lasting Beauty:


 One God who put on 
 fragile flesh to kneel 
 in the dirt,
 to plant himself 
 like a seed sown in tears 
 in a borrowed tomb.
 

 Like a pine seed, 
 awakened by 
 the flames

 just waiting—
 to burst forth.  

This poem is the first in a series I will be doing, one poem for every Wednesday of Lent. I hope you follow along and that these poems of lack and longing meet you where you are this Lent. To receive updates in your email, click here to sign up for my email list and you’ll be sure not to miss a thing, even if you take a step back from social media for awhile. 🙂

Blessings on you Dear Reader, wherever this Lenten season finds you. And may the only True and Lasting Beauty—meet you there.


Grace Kelley

*Header Image C/O Malachi Brooks on Unsplash*

Abandoned Places

I have this fond affection for abandoned places. It’s weird, and feels misplaced every time it pops up, but there it is with the run down old house in need of love (and a roof) on the busy interstate. I feel it again at the sight of a leaning old tree; dead and grey wood worn down by weather and life. I remember the day that old tree finally fell, and that place on the highway felt lost without it.

There’s an old cinderblock house on Highway 287 north that I wrote a poem about. It needs a roof I think, but my engineer husband thinks it needs a bulldozer. He’s probably right.

There’s an old brick victorian house on three neglected acres just north west of the I25 entrance. It has painted green shutters, the window on the upper level is cracked, and sometime down the road someone seems to have built on a ply-wood addition to the side and spray painted it black. The NO TRESPASSING signs don’t intimidate me. I see the place as perhaps it once was; built with love and attention, facing a southern sky, the land around it filled with growing things nurtured and tended by loving and wise hands. There would have been a barn there for the horses. A carriage house perhaps. It would have been on the edge of the town-turned-city; our ever-expanding home. And no one would have dreamed of throwing a rock through the window, or building on a ply-wood addition and spray painting it black.

Last year I went to see my Grandaddy’s farm for what will probably be the last time. One portion is under-contract for sale; another holds a few head of cattle and the fishing pond my great-grandaddy built when he bought the land in the 1930’s. There’s a small shelter nearby where we park that was probably used for hogs I’m told; but now it’s covered in ivy and only holds the click-click-click of the generator for the electric fence. My father points out the field where they used to plant sweet potatoes. I can still remember in my mind’s eye the sight of the old farm house where my Grandaddy was born and raised, which has since been demolished after it became a danger. He shows me the acre where they planted the family garden, and tells me how they shucked corn every 4th of July for as long as he can remember, to put it up for the cool North Carolina winter months.

This all brings with it such wisps of my own childhood memories; like the time when I was young and my Daddy took my brothers and I fishing at this pond. He left the boys with their lines in the water at one place, and took me around to a different corner of the pond. I’ll never forget how he leaned down in my ear and whispered, “This is the best spot. Don’t tell your brothers.”

I remember how when I got older my Dad told me how he used to pull up old wine bottles from the bottom of the pond; relics of my alcoholic Paw-Paw’s day. I remember how my Dad told me Paw-Paw would say, “I’m going fishing,” in the evenings, and how everyone knew what that meant even if they pretended not to. When I asked him if he drank it, he said it had all turned to vinegar by then.

Places left unattended seem to become wild; they go to entropy without some greater force sculpting them towards order and harmony. Like Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden—I am drawn in by the abandonment of these places. All the memories they hold, both good and bad, past and possible future flash before my eyes as I catch sight of a house nearly drowned in ivy on the side of a North Carolina highway. I can’t help but wonder; Who lives here? Who owns this? When did they leave and why? Is there hope for its restoration? What would it cost?

The neediness of a place draws me in. Perhaps it’s partly the solitude these places seem to afford; like the ghost town of Independence, Colorado—a small abandoned mining town at the top of a mountain pass where once gold was found, and then just as quickly, it wasn’t. I read on the internet that the town was mostly abandoned by 1890, and all but one remaining person left after a massive blizzard in 1899 left the town cut off from supplies. I wonder about the last person who stayed for thirteen years alone at the top of a mountain pass, almost 11,00 feet above sea level. I wonder how he felt, as he watched his neighbors and friends flee to Aspen on homemade skis that February 1899. How did he (or she) survive? By 1912 the town was completely deserted, and I wonder if it was as a result of the death of the last remaining resident, or if he too eventually realized that there was nothing left for him there.

Maybe the reason these places pull me in is because I’m so hesitant to ever believe that there’s nothing left worth saving. Maybe it’s because I don’t want anyone to think that about me. Perhaps I feel a kinship to these lonesome and broken down places; perhaps its the Imago Dei in me longing to bring order and dominion to every lost and abandoned place. Perhaps it’s because I know my heart can’t take any more abandonment myself.

When I was seven years old I lost my church and all my friends in one fell swoop. As a homeschool kid those were the most significant connections I had apart from family; and it’s an ache I still carry around with me more days than I would like.

I don’t like telling you this; for fear you’ll see the broken porch step, the dirt pile under the welcome mat, the loose wiring in the living room, the broken tile on the kitchen floor. The truth is, that I was sexually abused by the son of an elder at my childhood church; and when instead of offering some measurable assurance of space to heal and comfort and justice we were told to simply “forgive and forget”, we left. Sadder still—no one followed us.

Abandonment feels like the sharp sting of acrid smoke in my nostrils; and it has haunted me so thoroughly for most of my life that sometimes I imagine I can smell it when it isn’t even there.

I have been guilty of looking at my friends with a sideways glance—wondering if they are about to dart out the door. I look at my husband this way too; this wonderful man who promised to love me forever ten plus years ago, and hasn’t ever done a single thing to make me doubt his commitment to me since. I play out the scenarios in my mind of how it will happen; how I’ll share too much, be too much, take too much—and then it will be too late.

The fear of being left alone haunts me; I worry about who I’ll disappoint when I don’t have things as together as they think I should. I have seen the looks of fear on faces when I express feelings of doubt in the face of my lifelong faith. I think they think that if I express doubt that maybe I’m lose my faith in God; but the Truth is that I have my eyes and heart so wide open on my best days, that I must continually wrestle the darkness that I witness into the hands of the loving God who is himself everything light and lovely. But it’s a fight. I wrestle constantly it feels like sometimes; and there are dark days when I just don’t even know how to believe in a good and loving God anymore. But he always brings me back—and I’m learning that that is the more important piece.

I know he’s going to mend that porch step in time. He’s already got the broom out to clean under the welcom mat. He’s planning a kitchen remodel and the new tile is going to be so much more beautiful than what has been cracked and broken and left to rot in me. And I believe he longs to do the same in you.

But if you’re like me, perhaps you find it hard to see that God really loves you; that he really wants to make all the broken down and bleeding in you whole and healed and new. Perhaps it feels impossible—because if you weren’t valued when you were young and innocent, how could you be valued now that you’ve grown up and screwed up more times than you could count?

I still wrestle with these doubt too, friend. I get it. But I want you to know something—no matter how abandoned you have felt, you have never walked alone. These broken parts are pieces of your story? They are making way for an eternal weight of glory.

I’ve seen it. I believe it. I know that it’s true. And my prayer for you Dear Reader, is that you would begin to know it too.

A Prayer for our Abandoned Places

Jesus—

You see all that is broken and abandoned in me. 
You see where I have placed a pot to gather rain from the leaky roof—
the rugs I use to cover the holes in the floor—
the peeling paint beneath the stack of books on the window sill. 
Thank you for making your home with me, even still. 
Teach me to trust the shuffle of your soft footsteps on my squeaky floor boards.
Thank you that you love me as I am, yet you love me too much to leave me this way.
Do your work in me O LORD—

Amen