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 

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.*

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.

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.}

“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.

Divine Intervention

Sometimes it feels impossible to dream the dream that darkness doesn’t actually win. The space between my head belief—that God is good, in control and on His way back for us—and my broken heart; crushed beneath the cares of this world, is farther than I ever thought. Shortening the gap will take an act of divine intervention.

Last week I was so depressed by all the sorrow surrounding me—too many sorrows, and most of them not mine enough to name here. I have never been depressed really, though I have journeyed through dark days more than once. Sometimes you just can’t seem to remember where to look for the light, when the darkness feels like it might actually be winning.

This is the impossible task: to be Kingdom minded people in a world not our home—to hold out the hope of the Gospel, a tender flame that banishes the darkness from every hidden place, but first, it illuminates it. I’ve seen more darkness now than I ever could have stood ten years ago. Each sorrow, each grief, each horror feels closer and heavier than the last; and yet, God asks me not to be afraid. He asks me to trust him. To look to the horizon and see the faintest lightening of the dawn. To believe that He is coming soon.

How far we have fallen! How broken the world and the people in it! The more I know the beauty of Jesus and all He calls us to, the easier it is to mourn for all the ways we have destroyed the world He made. The curse is found everywhere. There is no escaping it.

But I can’t get stuck here. Because this story does not end in defeat. No. This story climaxes with the King of Love himself journeying into the very heart of this dark world, letting himself be killed on a roman cross, dying a torturous death as he took the burden and the penalty for all our sin and brokenness on himself. And He didn’t stay dead.

Three days later He rose to life again, and showing himself to all the disciples, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through belief in His finished work on the cross on our behalf. Then after 40 days He ascended into heaven once more, leaving us with the message: I am coming again, soon.

Why is it so hard to believe? My heart is so easily fooled. So easily tricked into despair. Can I not keep my eye on the horizon? Do I still disbelieve in the dawn?

He is coming soon. He actually is. Coming to make all things new. Coming to wipe every tear away from our eyes. Coming to bring His children home to a house that He has been preparing for us. Coming to bring His bride to the wedding feast.

But I need the glimpse of heaven now. I need a taste of the Kingdom now. Because the stench of death is in my nose, and it’s hard sometimes to look up to where the light comes from. Sometimes all it seems to do is display the brokenness is astounding relief.

But I know the beauty of Jesus would be enough to make my heart rejoice; if I would open my eyes to actually see. To see the whispered prayer over the sick child, and the mini-miracles as more than just coincidence. To see the prayer for the peace in the midst of the storm answered in just enough courage to get me through. To feel the breath in my lungs as the divine provision of strength for the day that I have asked for, given in advance.

All is grace.

And what a grace it is now that God has finally got me to the end of myself again. If only I weren’t so prideful; so stubborn; so self-sufficient. Maybe then it wouldn’t take so much of a pounding to get me here. Because “here” is the sweetest place of my faith; when I have finally come to the end of all my resources. When I am wrung out and ragged and beat up beyond recognition. When I just can’t will myself to hope any longer; Hope himself comes along and scoops me up, and carries me. Here, I don’t have to “try harder” any more. Here, I don’t have to “figure out” how I’m going to accomplish A, B, or C. Here, I rest in the assurance of a Hope that has proven himself real to me, when I least expected it. When I had given up looking for him. When like Frodo in Tolkein’s Return of the King, I have forgotten what strawberries even taste like…it is then the eagles come for me.

I cannot will my hope into being any longer. And that’s okay. It’s even a good thing. In this place of deep hurt and sadness; when the darkness seems to surround me; when I have FINALLY come to the end of all my paltry human resources—there God is. Waiting. Arms wide open.

Today, I will let Him. But I’m sure tomorrow I’ll try and jump out of His arms again, and it will be this constant battle to lean on the One with the resources, when in my pride, I think I can do so much. Maybe today is a good day to beg for humility. Maybe that is the first miracle that I truly need. Maybe this one act of divine intervention, will open my eyes to see. Maybe then I’ll start to see the everyday miracles in sweet relief.

Why suffering with others is an honor and a privilege

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend time with a friend I hadn’t really seen in a few years. We met at a coffee shop and walked to a park where we sat on metal benches while my two older children played on the play ground. We sat and talked, and tried (and failed), and stop my youngest from putting wood chips in his mouth. It was a good day.

We spoke friendship, (ours is going on 13 years) and we spoke about forgiveness. We talked about the Kingdom of God, and what it means to live here with eternal purpose flowing through our veins. We talked even about times of grief in our own friendship, and I took the opportunity to confess that if I could do it all over, there are some things I would do differently. And then she said something that startled me:

“You were there for me when my brother died, and that’s all that mattered.” 

It wasn’t that I didn’t remember this— the phone call, the drive to her place, the tissues, and the tea. What startled me was this sudden realization, that of all the things good or bad that I have done over the course of our relationship, that this was what she remembered. Being there was what mattered.

As a little girl I suffered. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile then you know parts and pieces of my story. 

It was awful, traumatic, and life-altering. And yet, I wonder constantly now who I would be if I hadn’t gone through that. My suffering wove a compassion into me that I doubt would be there otherwise. 

Walking through suffering with someone else can be intimidating. There is no guide to social etiquette for a hospital waiting room. There is no step-by-step instruction manual for encouraging a friend who has recently lost a child. There is no form for encouraging text messages to someone who’s loved one is dying.

My own insecurities are often the first thing to stand in my way. Questions and doubts plague me: What if I don’t know what to say? What if they don’t want me to come? What if I do it wrong? I wish I could say it gets easier, but I have dealt with these questions just about as often as I have been asked by God to draw near to someone in the midst of unspeakable pain.

This is not to say that care and consideration of the actual needs of those that are hurting is unimportant, it is vital. Sensitivity is key. Asking questions of others who have gone through something similar is invaluable. But the first and foremost thing, is to just show up.

Doubts and fears arising out of self-preservation often lead to inaction; an inaction does not honor Christ. We know what happened to the servant who buried his talent in the sand. (Or if you don’t you can find the parable in the Bible, Matthew 25:14-30) We know that our faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26) We cannot stand saying we believe, and yet choose to disobey all that Christ commanded us because we are afraid we’ll get it wrong.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord. when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”

Matthew 25: 34-40

Sometimes all you can do is pour the tea and weep with the friend who has suffered horrific abuse. The friend who has lost a loved one. The friend whose heart has been broken by marital infidelity.

The hardest part of suffering with others is that it never feels like enough.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t ask me to swoop in like Superman and make all the problems disappear; he asks me to do the practical things, and to be with the one who suffers, as though I am doing it all to Him. When I extend the with-ness of Christ’s presence to my suffering friend or loved one, I bring the Kingdom of Heaven a little closer.

I don’t need to be intimidated as I approach that front door, that hospital room, or prepare to press send on that text, because I’m doing it to Jesus. It is Him I am going to see. And He says it is enough.

If you are walking through suffering right now, I challenge you to take the risk and step out of isolation with someone you trust. My prayer is that God will lead you to that safe person who will sit with you, weep with you, pour the tea for you—even as they ultimately encourage you to look to the God who is ever at work even in the darkest of circumstances. Give them a chance to serve you as unto the Lord.

If you are walking next to someone who you know is hurting, I dare you to step out and be that friend who is willing to walk the hard road. It won’t be easy, but it is an honor and a privilege to be allowed into those moments with people. Show up for Jesus, wherever He is—in the face of a friend confined to a sick bed, in the face of the man in prison, in the face of the stranger who needs clothing—don’t miss out on seeing Jesus just because you are afraid you’ll do it wrong. Just show up, and look your suffering friend in the eyes, and see Jesus, you will.

Years from now, when there is little left of your memory or mine, the last things to go will not be the ways that we wronged each other, but the ways that we were the hands and feet of Jesus to each other. These moments of hardship bind us together; my closest friends are the ones with whom I have suffered, and those who have suffered with me. It’s not easy, and suffering with others is probably the most painful part of true love in a fallen world, but in the end, this must be what defines us:

Did we love? Did we serve the walking wounded right in front of us? Did we love others more than our own comfortable complacency?

When we do, we see it clear as day: suffering with others is an honor and a privilege, because when we minister there, we minister to Jesus himself.


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