Finding quiet amidst the chaos


As a busy homeschooling mother of four, quiet is something of a rare commodity in my life. In the struggles of winter, I have been forced find more of it, as my soul quivers anxious and the wounds bleed out into my mothering and the flow of my housework (not to mention my work as a student and freelance author).


Quiet is my morning walk to the mailbox. Rest is my prayer time up in the woods near my baby's grave while my children take their afternoon nap. Peace is the 10 minutes I spend every evening after they are in bed, while my husband tends the pets, and I sit silent under the stars, alone with God.


At first, I focused hard on prayer. I have a list of people and needs I pray for daily, and they're filed in my head, permanent stamps of impression written indelibly on a compassionate nurse's heart. But slowly, God has stilled my soul. The needs of others prayed for, yes, but moments He steals back to soothe my soul, to quiet the thrashing spirit.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah (pause and think about it). Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (pause and think about it). (from Psalm 46)
He is teaching me slowly - this stubborn mind of mine, this heart that doesn't soak in His water easily - that He is here for me, pursuing me, desiring time with me. I've learned to tip my head back and close my eyes, feel the sun on my face, and simply be. With Him. Without words. Without an agenda. Just be still, and know He is my God.




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The husks emerge


The snow melts slow this year, nights cold and days warm, and water drips quiet into the earth during the long dark night. Slowly the dead plants, the brown grass, the sunflower heads drooping low emerge from the snowdrifts and remind us of that endless cycle, life into death and death into life, round and round.
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (exc. John 5)
My heart beat slows and my medications are tweaked and it is back to the cardiologist, the oncologist, and the laryngologist I go. I join Amy in speech therapy to solve my worsening swallowing issues. I talk to my family doctor about the connection between mind and body, how this whole fall and winter, 6 months of turmoil and old pains risen from their graves to dash my spirit on the sharp rocks of self-contempt and shame, how that affects my body and especially my heart. "The seat of the emotions" (Genesis 6:5; Exodus 10:1; Jeremiah 17:9).

Through it all - suffering, survival, persecution, the terrors of nightmare filled nights, and even worse angst of tear-filled days - the Grace of the Gospel prevails. The truth on which I stand is that I am forever forgiven, forever saved, forever loved and forever He sees the good and erases the bad. For I will be merciful toward Genevieve's iniquities, and I will remember her sins no more. (Hebrews 8:12)

And that, my friends, is available to all of us through the cross of Christ, His everlasting triumph over the judgment for our sin, God's acceptance of His sacrifice in place of ours, the perfect Lamb slaughtered to redeem all the lost sheep of the world. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:2)

Whatever darkness surrounds you, whatever cloud of witnesses shouts your doom, whoever curses the works you do for the Father, whatever suffering pervades your life, He is suffering with you and has forever paid the price for you. You are purchased at a price (Colossians 1:4), and precious in His sight (Psalm 116:15). Don't we feel just so about our own children, for whom we labor and weep and sacrifice daily? Are they not more precious to us because of the cost we pay to have them, raise them, and grieve for them all their lives?

Today an old Swedish hymn runs like an anthem through my thoughts, a hymn I learned from my grandmother and my mother, that captures just what I am feeling today.

I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.

I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

I know whom I have believed,
and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I committed
unto Him against that day.

I Know Whom I Have Believed, from II Timothy 1:12
by Daniel Whittle, 1883


These thoughts, straight from my heart today, are my humble entry for a scholarship to SheSpeaks, a conference helping women connect to the loving face of our Father.


The replacements

The cheerful girl with the moody brunette hair was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them: a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box. "Oh please, Mommy, can I have them? Please, Mommy, please?"


Quickly the mother checked the back of the little foil box and then looked back into the pleading blue eyes of her little girl's upturned face. "A dollar ninety-five. That's almost $2.00. If you really want them, I'll think of some extra chores for you and in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthday's only a week away and you might get another crisp dollar bill from Grandma."

As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her penny bank and counted out 17 pennies. After dinner, she did more than her share of chores and she went to the neighbor and asked Mrs. McJames if she could pick dandelions for ten cents. On her birthday, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill and at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.

Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up and grown up. She wore them everywhere-Sunday school, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was when she went swimming or had a bubble bath. Mother said if they got wet, they might turn her neck green.

Jenny had a very loving daddy and every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing and come upstairs to read her a story.


One night when he finished the story, he asked Jenny, "Do you love me?"

"Oh yes, Daddy. You know that I love you."

"Then give me your pearls."

"Oh, Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess - the white horse from my collection. The one with the pink tail. Remember, Daddy? The one you gave me. She's my favorite."

"That's okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night." And he brushed her cheek with a kiss.

About a week later, after the story time, Jenny's Daddy asked again, "Do you love me?"

"Daddy, you know I love you."

"Then give me your pearls."

"Oh Daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my baby doll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She is so beautiful and you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper."

"That's okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Daddy loves you." And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.

A few nights later when her daddy came in, Jenny was sitting on her bed with her legs crossed Indian-style. As he came close, he noticed her chin was trembling and one silent tear rolled down her cheek.
"What is it, Jenny? What's the matter?"
Jenny didn't say anything but lifted her little hand up to her daddy. And when she opened it, there was her little pearl necklace. With a little quiver, she finally said, "Here, Daddy. It's for you."


With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny's kind daddy reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, and with the other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gave them to Jenny. He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her genuine treasure.

Jenny's father is like our heavenly Father. He also is waiting for us to give up our dime store stuff and seek Him first... so He can fling open the windows of Heaven and pour us out such a blessing that we will not have room enough to hold it.

What are you hanging on to?
~ Author Unknown

Do you have a hard time believing God will exchange those fake treasures you hold close to your heart (your secrets, your joys, your hidden sorrows) for the real thing?

Rest in the exhaustion

It's one of those mornings when night gives way to dawn too soon, and we drag ourselves out of bed tired, pull the sleeping arms of children off our necks, and slide woolen stockinged feet over to the devotion chairs, our own private retreat in a bedroom too small. Crack spines on Bibles and open homework for our recovery group, and pray together. Interrupted as usual, half-way through, by the pitter-patter of feet coming to claim breakfast for growling tummies, the toddler-baby clamoring for a few more minutes cuddling under down with Mama.

The moon meets the rising sun across the cobalt sky, the stars shut out by the glistening dawn on newfallen stone. The big crater there feels like the hole in my heart, hungry always for more time with my lover and more time with the Lover of my soul. 



The juxtaposition of night and day a poignant reminder that time is short and redemption of it in short supply as well. We walk our days like prisoners, often, to routine, to schedule, to tasks. I am  the Taskmaster. The laundry folder, dish washer, floor scrubber, diaper changer, child tender. 

There must be more than this,
O breath of God come breathe within,
There must be more than this,
Spirit of God we wait for You.

Fill us anew we pray,
Fill us anew we pray.

Consuming fire fan into flame,
A passion for Your Name,
Spirit of God fall in this place,
Lord have Your way,
Lord have Your way with us,

Come like a rushing wind,
Clothe us with power from on high,
Now set the captives free,
Leave us abandoned to Your praise.

Lord let Your glory fall,
Lord let Your glory fall.
~Tim Hughes, as sung by Hillsong, Consuming Fire~


The craters on the moon like craters in my heart, always wanting more. Always wanting healing. Peace. Happiness. Injected with the culture from birth, inoculated against true joy and forever searching for pleasure instead. Yet in those empty places where I see the emptiness, He begins to fill. Little by little, the cup fills, and runs over.

To wake up early seems antithetical to rest. Indeed He says, It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2) Then, too, in the consummate book of love, Song of Solomon, the lover tells his beloved, Let us rise early and go to the vineyards; Let us see whether the vine has budded And its blossoms have opened, And whether the pomegranates have bloomed. There I will give you my love. (7:12) And the Psalmist brings his petition early to the Lord: I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. (Psalm 119:147)

So I rise early (most days). And find sleep, blessed or tormented, every night. And wonder at the miracle of rest He bestowed upon us, that renews us and finds us ready to face the next day. I have a history of sleep deprivation: working night shift, pulling all-nighters sometimes several times in a row in college, and I know that it is a spiral downward to sickness of body and soul.

And in the slow, incremental dance toward habit, my husband and I dance closer to together in the flickering pink light of dawn, and souls knit over the Word, and we come to peace with our journey together. God is good, always. Especially in this, this rising early, this going to bed at an ungodly hour (10 o'clock, people! My husband wants his night owl wife in bed at 10 o'clock! I often think it is a travesty...)

And in the between times, the night wakings, the nightmares, the torments in the darkness, I sit on the front steps in the cold and watch the stars in wonder, pinholes in the velvet blanket of the sky, and He heals my soul in the whisper of the wind and the blessed quietness.

Emotional rest is giving soul over to the hands of one in control, giving over exhaustion, confusion, chaos and pain to a God who understands and cries out with me. The God who nudges me out of bed in the  morning for devotions with my husband. The God who wakes me in the night to pray for those I love. The God who is slowly breaking down demons of my past, and shattering the walls self-built that only He can shatter, the walls that hedge me alone. He is bringing me out into the open for the first time in my life.


Blessed quietness, holy quietness,
what assurance in my soul,
on the stormy sea, He speaks peace to me,
and the billows cease to roll.
~Manie Ferguson, 1897~







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The shame that leads to repentance

Winter yields into spring, and spring back into winter, summer birds singing sweetly through the snow-showers, and dogs slogging through the slush. Cars skidding off our road, and children trapped inside by the cold and wet, unwilling to go back to winter boots and snowpants.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dlambpics/5528069703/sizes/l/
November has been our hardest month, following the seasons, for the past 3 years. (see links here, here, and here for an explanation if you are new here.) There follows a slump of digging ourselves out of the graves of snow poured down on our yellow farmhouse, the winter colds and the getting to know each other again after hospitalizations, and the gaps in our routines to be filled back in and built back with mortar of prayer and Gospel grace.

I look back to a chaotic past that didn't follow the seasons. There was an eternal winter over college, sparks of joy like glitter off the snow, but so much time spent hunkered down, finding my place, wrestling with God, looking for the easy out to the life of a Jimmie Buffet song. I wanted out of my Black Crowes existence, I shredded the tape streaming from the Guns 'n' Roses albums, and I smoked Marlboro Reds and covered myself in ugliness to push away a world I thought only wanted to push me further into nothingness. At the same time, God motivated me with my perfectionism, and I streamed through college with a nearly perfect GPA, school somehow floating untouchable above the quagmire of life on the inside of my soul (looking back, a total God moment, as He brought me to the surface through my nursing career, and carried me to heights I'd never known through my ministry with dying children). I lived most of my life in secret and hid behind identities I created for myself with this friend and that friend, holding everyone at a distance, like a girl in a plastic bubble just rolling on toward the glimmering light at the end of the college tunnel and the few promises of God's Word I'd hidden deep in my blackened heart.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (II Corinthians 7:10)
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32)

The truth about discipline that leads to repentance is that it is lined with love and covered in mercy. It is made up of the red river of the Savior's blood that floats us out of our circumstances and into our freedom.

I look back now at the saving Grace that called me back home.

This song speaks deep to those scarred places where I hurt myself, where I sunk myself deeper in my own mudpie, where I slathered the filth of my sin like a cursed woman over all my skin and went looking for a lake in which to drown.

The song is about a one night stand. But the one night stand I had that affected me this way was the one I had with God. A whole string of them. On bended knee, He ministered to me like a Father, sometimes like a Lover, always like a Believer. Knowing the truth of my circumstances, He lowered Himself to walk His Holy Spirit through them with me, side by side. And I felt Him every inch of the sinful way.

Read the lyrics, along with my poem to the other side. I hope you get it. It's an obscure message, but one straight from my past and straight from my present heart.

Grace Potter's One Short Night
One short night with a stranger
One full moon over my head
One false move and it’s over
So I always think of what we said, my baby

Strange how heavy my heart is
Strange how dark it is tonight
Strange the way this all started
I guess I’m losing track of wrong and right

And as the lights go dim
I lie down with him
And as I’m lying there
I can only smell your hair
It’s like your across the hall
With your ear glued to the wall
And as I move to let him in I can
Feel you crawl under my skin
And I can feel you from the inside
Prowling like a devil that I try to hide
I can feel your heart beating
Closer than the poison of my pride
Caught up in a moment
I thought I’d feel no shame because I

Didn’t have tell you lies
When the daylight came but now
Down goes that silver tear
Down goes my golden year
Down we go in a water slide
That’s made up of the tears I’ve cried




Genevieve's One Short Night with my Savior
One short night with a Savior
Full moon showing Him bright
One false move I think He’ll leave me
So I always think of what You said,
I’m right here with you

Strange how heavy my heart is
Strange how dark it is tonight
Strange the way this all started
I guess I’m losing track of wrong or right

And as the lights go dim
I lie down with him
And as I’m lying there
I can only smell God's breath
It’s like You’re across the hall
With Your ear glued to the wall
And as I move to let sin in I can
Feel You crawl under my skin
And I can feel You from the inside
Prowling like the devil that I try to hide
I can feel Your heart beating
Closer than the poison of my pride
Caught up in the moment
I thought I’d feel no shame because I

Didn’t have to tell You lies
When the daylight came
But down goes that silver tear
Down goes my golden ear
Down we go in a waterslide
That’s made of the tears I’ve cried

Voicelessness

I wake up with my hair on fire
I need something to water me down
I can’t keep walking on this wire
I gotta move, I gotta come around
~from Only Love, Grace Potter~

I am comfortable with the short end of the stick when it comes to emotions. I am practiced at numb, I am good at comfortable, I've made my peace with distant. I am in a recovery group called "Wounded Heart" for abuse, and the stronger emotions are there on my list. Anger. Disgust. Passion. Delight. Joy. I wake up with my hair on fire, and I need something to water me down. It's not the shower I often forego to tend the children needy around me. It's not some emotional salve I've bought in this world. It's the Word, washing away the torrent of my anger and my fears.

I sit in a friend's church and listen to a sermon on the Beatitudes. And the passage I am memorizing rises out of the red letters like a sentinel flag of freedom:
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:9-12)
Peacemaker. It's been one of my "labels" since childhood. Always, always I try to find a way to make peace. Even if it means placing contempt on myself, taking blame, shifting it onto my shoulders, freeing others from it.

I am also an expert at compassion. I learned it as a nurse, but built brick walls between the compassion I felt and the tragedy of others. Sparing my own heart. Keeping my wounds silent, secret, fulminating in their dark places where only God and I could see the depth of the pain in my soul. I have known compassion as a mother, and I've gone about it methodical - what is your problem and how can I fix you? I haven't sat in emotion with my kids. I regret the moments I've been nurse/mother instead of mother, the hen who gathers her chicks and dries tears as tears slide down her own feathered face, regretted the ache of my children that I cannot join, for fear of cracking open a box grown pregnant and dangerous with years of keeping the lid on it.  I don't join in emotion with my husband, except for those God-given moments of married oneness when often it is tears, tears I know not whether they are of joy or sorrow or repentance or miracle. When he is angry, I am calm. When I feel rejected, I pile it onto my shoulders like the embers of the past, burning but burning on calloused skin, skin leathery and impenetrable from years of piling on embers and scarring the shoulders.

I've heard the whistle in an empty bottleneck that breathes life into the truth that I cannot comfort myself. I've bathed myself in the carcinogenic smoke billowing from my cigarette, a sorry patch for the anxiety of spirit deep within. I've seen the despair in the empty bottom of a pill bottle, knowing the false peace offered there has expired until the next refill date.

Now, I watch the man stumbling home from the bar where he nurses his wounds, and I wonder if he hears the empty whistle of the bottle just emptied, if the wounds are already seeping darkness back into his soul as he staggers home incoherent.

I watch the smokers huddled in groups outside buildings where their self-medication is not welcome, and wonder if they feel like rejects, know that this quick kill of pain will dissipate in seconds and leave them marooned on their island of no hope.

I take my antidepressant faithfully and wait for the monthly refill.

In the midst of it, my hair is on fire. I feel angry. I feel grief, deep grief like the grief when someone dies and you cannot be with them and it kills you second by second as the wracking sobs herald your powerlessness. I've felt passion unfulfilled and hatred at those who won't fulfill it.

I am on fire.

Your pain seems insignificant in the grand spectrum of the world, of reality, of history. Japan washed over with waves of devastation, and you bring your paltry sorrow to the Mercy Seat? You ask for justice when others mourn what was taken by a force of nature, something they never saw coming, the grief penetrable, visible in every picture emerging from a nation wracked with grief? You cry over your miscarriage. You ask for justice in your city. You beg for Him to take your cause in a meaningless dispute? Yet He is God who hears all, loves all, and is forever the protector of justice and love.

Yet silent. Hand over mouth, trying to put the cap back on the bottle of emotion, trying to figure out where God intends me to spill this. Where does this emotion fit, in a world of Godly mothering, wifing, friending, daughtering?


It comes to me like an epiphany through the mist on the roadside and the mournful drip of the snow through the trees as winter breathes it's last mournful foggy breath into the warm wind of spring.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of need. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. Be still, and know that I am God. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (from Psalm 46)
I remember the song sung in clear sweet soprano at the funeral of a child for whom I let down the brick walls built to protect my compassionate heart, a child who walked fearlessly through the gates of death and into the arms of Jesus, right in front of my eyes.

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is holy
Be still, O restless soul of mine
Bow before the Prince of peace
Let the noise and clamor cease

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is faithful
Consider all that He has done
Stand in awe and be amazed
And know that He will never change
Be still

Be still, and know that He is God

Be still; Be speechless

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know He is our Father
Come rest your head upon His breast
Listen to the rhythm of His unfailing heart of love
Beating for His little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be still, Be still
~Be Still and Know, Steven Curtis Chapman~



When you feel powerless. When you feel rejected. When you feel like you have completely lost your voice. When there is nothing you can say to fix it, to make it better, to make it right. When there is nothing you can do to destroy the lies being spread around. When you feel vulnerable. When you feel weak. When your passion brews up a smoking, billowing fire of anguish deep in your soul.

You have a voice.

You are not powerless.

You are right. You can't fix it.

Sit there. Feel it. Let it sink in.

And know there is always someone listening.

Always someone who will have His revenge for the righteous.

Always someone standing for the victim.

Always someone participating in your pain.

You are not alone.

Your voice cries loud to heaven, to the One who hears. Your spirit groans when words fail you, and the Holy Spirit transmutes those wordless depths to the One who hears (Romans 8:26). The One who cares. The One whose holiness takes your speechlessness and turns it into the power of life itself (II Corinthians 12:9).






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Laying it down


Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)


So here I am, embarking on a weekend to tend to those friends needing healing and help, embarking on a weekend full of work to prepare for dissertation proposal defense, and I am thinking about these big things. The obvious, yes - laying down the dissertation proposal for the sake of these friends who need us today. The less obvious - going silent on Twitter and Facebook so I am not the one throwing logs on the fire of conflict.


Pets. Children. They hustle around your legs just for the contact. They grip your hand just for surety. They pull at your arms to dissuade you from the task at hand. And for what purpose? Love. And what greater love can one have, but to lay down one's life for friends? Not like I'm on a suicide mission for friends. But I am on a sacrificial mission for friends. If I need to stop tweeting, I will. If Facebook grows quiet of me, so be it. If I squeeze proposal defense between the margins of caring for friends who need us deeply, sign me up, Jesus. But I will not let go healing. I have shaken off the dust, and I am moving into a healthier place. There is no turning back, no "reconciliation" that brings me back to a place of shame and dispute. God is drawing me out of there and sweetly, sweetly, into new surrender and new hope.

Hope you have a great weekend filled with love, sacrifice, and hope as well, my friends!

Take hold of something real


The spring mud has sprung. And with it, rainboots, and shovels, and lots of laundry. But the grins on those snowpant, mitten-less kiddos as they come in from their mud pies and explorations...


As an adult, have you forgotten how to play? Do you remember the squish of mud between your toes, the sucking sounds as your boot is swallowed in the wallow and you come up bootless and stranded on one leg like a pink flamingo?


Do you recall the joy of the wheels sputtering along with the flying mud painting your back a caked brown? The glory of the driveway emerging from white and a whole new vista of play to be discovered all over again in spring?


Revelry. We lose it as adults. And so often twist it to mean something different...drinking, long late nights with friends, things that leave us spent and de-energized instead of re-energized.


I go out every day, to a prayer spot in the woods. Near the grave of my son, a short homemade bench made of a scrap 2x4 and a couple of logs. Up in Echo Woods, where our pets and our baby are buried under rock cairns the children add to with each agate find from the driveway. I sit there for 10 minutes, the sun warming my face a rosy red, breathe deep, and pray. Pray for people going home to God, people dying on the vine, people bickering, and wondering, and confused and distraught. I pray for my children, each by name, for their needs for the day. And as those 10 minutes pass by in the blink of an eye, and I sludge back through the muddy grass back to the house, I remember spring. In my gut. The way spring used to be. Slinging mud at my brothers and building tunnels for the rivers of snow run-off in the yard.

Yesterday I sat, in my 1950's steel chair, painted a happily rusting white, and watched my children revel as children do. How do I reclaim that? Is it in the French hip-hop dance-off we hold in our living room after lunch? In the quiet moments spent typing when my mind goes free and poetry flows and photos fly up to match the words I write? Is it the dance at night with my husband, the play together with the man I know every inch of? Is it the thrill of a new friend, or the kitten up on my shoulder begging to have her ears rubbed, or the blues that blare from the speakers while I cook dinner?

You come out of a hard season hungry. Hungry for hope. Hungry for healthiness. Hungry for happiness. I watch the children in the mud and realize that children never lose that - hope, healthiness, happiness. Left to their own devices, they mine it for themselves in something as simple as a mud puddle in the drive-way. 
The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: "Don't push these children away. Don't ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God's kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you'll never get in." Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them. (Mark 10:15 The Message)

I held on so dearly
To the wrong things in my life
But now I see so clearly
I was walking into my own knife
You've got to get up off that street
Stop looking at your feet
And take a hold of something real
And this old man, took my hand
He looked at me and said, little girl, I understand
He said, I know your song, I know your name,
and there was a time when I felt the same

That it's a low low road
You've gotta roll down
Before you find your way, my friend
And it's a high, high hill
You've gotta climb up
Before you get to the top again

And there was a time that I thought that I knew it all
And there was a place that I thought I could call my own
But it all came crashing down and I looked around
And I knew that things would never be the same
~ Grace Potter, Low Road ~




Mist

You drive through it, fog lights on, and all the familiar landmarks are foreign. Only the blackness of the tar in front of you assures you that you are on the road. You slow down. You search for the familiar. You drive beyond your headlights and it is trust that propels you forward, the moving car in the wilderness of white, the waiting for protection, the begging for a clear ravine where you regain your boundaries.

Your vision is dimmed in the mist. You aren't certain of what you see...or whether you'll see it in time.

You stand in the fog, and the horizon has disappeared. Only the faded glow of the moon is visible. The trees are mere shadows, and your house is dark and distant, just a few feet away.

But you hear in the mist. The lone whistle of a distant train. The faint crow of the pheasant pleading through the darkness. You smell the mud, the sap running, the fecund woods breathe life that you cannot see.


You feel the thrum of traffic, the crackle of the frozen earth beneath the sheepskin boots, and the surety of terra firma frozen beneath your soles, the suck of the mud in the trenches of the driveway.

You smell the earthy air, the wetness. Your lungs pull in promise of daylight, promise that this is just a season of dimness.

You know it will dissipate in sunlight, burned clear by the warming rays of the spring sun, the breaking of day destroying the desolation, misdirection, confusion.


God's Word. Sometimes it's shrouded in the mist. You can't latch onto your purpose, and read Scripture skewed through misty eyes, and wonder when daybreak will burn off doubt and confusion and despair.

The reality is the horizon is still there. You see the lights of home glaring through the fog, and you home in and point yourself in that direction. You know clarity is just moments away, through the dark misty night and the fog that confounds.

You look up at the dim reflection of the moon, the craters disappearing in the glow of condensation, but there it is...the moon, the lone star flickering through, the visage of hope in a night of uncertainty.

He's there. Whether you see Him or not. Whether the Word is shrouded in mystery, whether the verses cloud together in heaps of gray, whether hope seems far away and tenuous.

The cold rises up from frozen earth and envelopes the whole world in conundrum, the conundrum of your pain and your grief shrouding His rescue, His provision.

Look for home. Smell the give of earth melting to promise of harvest. Hear the whistle in the dark, the whisper behind you that breathes, "this is the way, walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21) Don't be lost in the sensory fog, the vision lost, the purpose shrouded.

Keep reading. Read on through the mist of the Psalm that speaks uncertainty and find yourself, finally, in the conclusion of praise. Praise for mist and mystery. Praise for unseen glory and shipwrecked humanity.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
(from Psalm 139)

Read on to the praise, the purpose, the glory. For in the mist, He writes our story, shrouds it from our own eyes, so that in the end, it is He who garners worship and praise. When I am in the mist, He is seeing all. When my dreams...my horizon...are shrouded, they are still there, present in His promise, protected by His love, written already in His book, all these misty days of my life when I struggle to sense Him, to sense my direction, to sense my path.
Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed...so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! (Romans 16:25-27)

Feeling


I sit on the front steps
and feel grief in the dry wind
Coyotes howling
sing my heart's song
locked in long

Remnants of rain drip off the roof
the rhythm of my fear
that life is cold and meaningless
and friends all disappear

Cold night air
washes sweet
over life unfair
I look out at
Woods covered in mist
and know Christ
covers grief with His quilt
tear-stained cheeks and doubt
of a still night
in the blanket of his tears

and I am comforted.







New growth

We've been homebound for a long season this winter. Depression has shot a few holes through our family ship. The difficulties of the past autumn still weigh heavy at times, and I am frozen in place, children circling, trying to keep my bearings. But the spring is coming, and I feel myself begin to grow outward again.


In the tulip and daisy cornmeal muffins, the creativity beginning to seep back through my mothering veins. In the church home we've found and start to settle into. In the old friends all new again.


Through all, Aaron has been my rock, my helper, my companion in pain. Driving home from my cancer check-up yesterday, I had Jackson Browne blaring, and these lyrics perfectly capture how I feel about the world and my husband today.

The papers lie there helplessly
In a pile outside the door
I've tried and tried, but I just can't remember what they're for
The world outside is tugging like a beggar at my sleeve

And you know that the world, it's taken its share of me
Even though you take such good care of me
The dreams are rolling down across the places in my mind
And I've just had a taste of something fine

And you know that I'm looking back carefully
Cause I know that there's still something there for me
it hasn't been that easy for a long, long while
And looking back into your eyes I saw them really shine
Giving me a taste of something fine
Something fine
~Jackson Browne, Something Fine

Forced bulbs


We settle into a rhythm at the church of our dear friends, and Katy asks me every week if we are staying. So she can make friends there. With each question, my heart splits afresh for the wounds in the souls of my children. The friends gone, the parents stressed beyond stress, the whole family brought to the brink of breaking, the only saving grace the daily rhythm of home, the safety here.


Wounds not inflicted by those we would call evil, but those we call good. Good people. Faithful people. People reading their Bibles and praying and seeking relationship with God. People building a church. 


Oh, so carefully, I speak of these wounds. But my daughter, my eldest, serious, sweet, caring, compassionate, patient daughter. She like the crocuses who poked their leaves through the melting snow and were covered again by the paralyzing cold of a March snowstorm. To have your heart dashed twice in a season at seven is life-changing.


How I wish it were easy to decide. Easy to find a church "home". Settle into a new routine. But you protect the wounded places. You don't offer the bruised arm to shake the pastor's hand until you're sure he's not holding a bat behind his back. You don't let someone hug that pierced soul until you're sure it's just a hug. Just love. The children's lullaby tape plays during their nap, and I bow head to lament at these simple lyrics, "Love will make my spirit grow. Grow in peace, grow in light. Love will do the thing that's right."


We bring crocuses inside. Protected and warm, they bloom like mad, and we celebrate a glimpse of spring. Purple and gold, and the grape hyacinths little green ellipses ready to pop into bloom tomorrow. And so we feel - like forced bulbs in the greenhouse, being asked to bloom again before our time. Every time Katy asks that question - Is this our home, Mama? - I can't answer, despite the shards of heart shattering for this little child who has lost so much and cannot comprehend why.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly. ~Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)


Taped to my computer monitor is Matthew 18:21-22. Ironically, the verses directly following those on church discipline that have closed off a whole community to us. 
Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said unto him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven."
I wonder if I have this in me, in this wounded heart, in this battered home, in this shipwreck of friendships with the shrapnel of trust floating on the angry waves. Forgive four hundred and ninety times? Only possible when leaning on the Everlasting Arms that offer grace to all, even I, worst among sinners (I Timothy 1:15).

So we go, Sundays. And hold our hearts hostage for a time, hostage to the peace and grace of a Savior who knows all and loves all and in whom we so fiercely believe. We pray for the melting of snow, and the new running of sap through the trees standing silent and cold in the stand of maples, we pray for hearts melting and closing up wounds. We pray for peace that passes understanding and emergence from this dark winter. We pray hardest for these four little souls shipwrecked with us. Call friends and ask for playdates. Draw close as a family, speaking healing into those wounds from the awesome Living Word.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerers through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:35-39 (KJV)
As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God! ~Psalm 40:17 (ESV)

Slaying dragons


Sun don't go down
purple and scarlet and blue
let me pause here
these precious moments are few


When the moon has taken the sky's throne
and turned all the land to shadow
that's when I dream of the little girl
who once was me.


Twirl me around,
and hold me tight,
tell bedtime stories
and kiss me goodnight
then I'd return to the child I've been
The princess who once was me.


High heels, lace veils,
dresses too long and too loose.
In games I was grown up,
a little bit taller than you.
Now that I'm taller, I long to be smaller,
like the gangly, brown-eyed girl
who once was me.


A tattered shoebox
houses my little girl things
Bits of writing,
pearls, fake diamonds, and rings.
A rose that my Mama once gave to me
A picture of Papa by the sea - 
I open it sometimes to have a peak
at the girl that once was me.


Sometimes I go back to simpler days
before the innocence faded away...
how did she escape me, the child I was?
The princess who once was me.

I've asked forgiveness a thousand times if I've asked it once. Still it is on my lips...death dripping, dead deeds rising like bile up from a throat that has long sung the lament and cannot find notes for the joyful song.
How like a widow is she, She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is none to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies...she finds no resting place. All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed feasts. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her maidens grieve, and she is in bitter anguish. Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned! Because of this our hearts are faint, because of these things our eyes grow dim for Mount Zion, which lies desolate, with jackals prowling over it. You, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lamentations 1 and 5)
I hear it like the drum beat of my own heart throbbing for sins I cannot repay. I feel it like the taboo of words of confession long on my lips but never sufficing. But He interrupts me in my mutterings of confession, and a simple image crushes my confessing lips until they are bruised with anguish. For He has bled, drop by drop, for this sin I cannot forgive myself for. He has shed every tear, sweat blood in Gethsemane, and hung naked on the tree to cleanse this sin from the book of my life.  Erased! Erased! Erased! He calls, as I linger on in self-torment. Does my blood mean nothing to you? Would you shed your own, the sinful river of blood running through human veins that cannot repay, when the perfect Lamb has already been slain for this sin you call unforgivable? Would you spend your days in torment in a prison you've built yourself, when everything I own, I, King of Glory, I would give you freely? Joy unspeakable, cup running over, and you trade it for bitter hyssop and a cup full of vinegar and days full of tears?

And as He whispers, deep in the silent night as I sit on the porch steps and watch the storm clouds rolling in, my house asleep, and my sleep destroyed by nightmares. He whispers something of a princess whose crown was ruined long ago. He whispers He doesn't care; He sings of rescue. Something about a castle where that princess was captive. Something about throwing out curses and drawing lines in the sand, and gathering the stones into piles that would have been hurled my way (John 8). Restoring crowns, and redeeming all of us, sinners, scandalous, scorched and scourged.
Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. Daughters of kings are among your honored women; at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir. Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: Forget your people and your house of old. The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord. All glorious is the princess within [her chamber]; her gown is interwoven with gold. In embroidered garments she is led to the king; led in with joy and gladness to enter the palace of the king. (from Psalm 45)

Seeing through lies


I believe it is He that sends the snow crystals floating on the swirling winds, cascading into piles of glitter, transforming our world and lighting the nights with reflection. I can credit Him with that mystery.


Fire. Where did that come from? Just like the breath of life from His lips into our nostrils, it's lit by His miracles. I stare at fire for hours. And think about Him. I credit Him with that mystery.


The sun rises a flame every morning.


And sets in red and gold every night. And though I've searched science and I know enough physics to understand the earth spinning around the sun, I can't come up with any other beginning than a creation. A miracle. That I credit to Him.


I see the figures of the monks and the apostles and the theologians and the saints of old, marching timeless through stained glass. I wonder how many of them doubted. I wonder how many of them saw that there was mystery. If they ever stumbled and staggered under doubt.


If He has the power to create; the power to make things grow; to change the state of water; to direct the seasons; to push the sun up every morning and pull her to bed every night... Why don't I believe He has the power to change me? Why do I think this power over sin I hear about is for someone else, that I am the hopeless case, the one who can't change, the one who is beyond His promise?

I've been praying for years: Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief. (Mark 9:24) I thought I was praying about believing in things like creation and sunsets and tulips blooming and babies growing. But what if what I was really begging for was an answer to my lack of peace? The turmoil in my heart? The pain I can't speak of anywhere, to anyone? The pain I cut away on my arms at 19 and beat into my shins with boards when I was 9 and slammed my head against pavement at 16? The pain I tried to make physical so it would be less about my heart. Less about my sin. Less about my desolation.
‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.” Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ (Ezekiel 36:33-36)
That day He cleansed me from my sins? That was on the Cross. That was on the day I believed, when I was four. That day I was rebuilt, cultivated, become like the garden of Eden, fortified, inhabited. He has spoken. He did it. 

I memorized these words as a child, in a small Bible church in Silver Bay, Minnesota: "Come now, let's settle this," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool." (Isaiah 1:18) My whole life I've pictured it. Soul white. Then sin. Now crimson again. Then washed white as I confess. But the truth is, it's white. Always white. Forever paid for, forever washed clean. The shame that washes over me when I fall in sin again is designed to draw me close to my Father, to give thanks for the forgiveness that has already happened. Not drive me away. Not keep me weary and desolate and alone. It is the false shame heaped on me by a cunning and carnivorous Evil that tries to keep me in that place where all I see is blackness and scarlet, as far as my eyes can see. To see my sin again, although I am forever washed clean, as impossible to overcome.

HE HAS OVERCOME.

I am clean.

Lord, let the scales fall from my eyes so that I see this truth, live in this truth, live like the redeemed. (Acts 9)



There's a girl in the corner
With tear stains on her eyes
From the places she's wandered
And the shame she can't hide

She says, "How did I get here?
I'm not who I once was.
And I'm crippled by the fear
That I've fallen too far to love"

But don't you know who you are,
What's been done for you?

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

Well she tries to believe it
That she's been given new life
But she can't shake the feeling
That it's not true tonight

She knows all the answers
And she's rehearsed all the lines
And so she'll try to do better
But then she's too weak to try

But don't you know who you are?

'Cause this is not about what you've done,
But what's been done for you.
This is not about where you've been,
But where your brokenness brings you to

This is not about what you feel,
But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.

You've been remade.