Archives For death

Someone asked me yesterday if our house had sold and it occurred to me I didn’t give an update. We closed on May 23rd. I’ve already written about some of the things we’ve learned through the process, but I think one of the things we’ve learned the most is what I tweeted the day of the closing:

“Papers signed. We are 100k poorer, but rich in faith & belief. God always gives exactly what we need. If we don’t have it, we don’t need it. I knew someday I would look back at this year and see His sovereignty at work, but I’m grateful that day is today and not years from now.”

A few months ago, looking ahead at the monetary loss before us, I could only imagine the disappointment in my heart growing into a root of bitterness toward the Lord. I knew it would take a long, long time to pull out, its strings going in endless directions, stealing my faith in their journey outward. I am no stranger to disappointments, to unmet expectations, and to losing what I hoped to gain. I have been down this path before and I know the way out.

I drove to New York on Tuesday for a quick respite in the hills and valleys of home and used the driving time to catch up with numerous friends on the phone. We all have had hopes dashed and disappointments furrowed deep within us and it reminded me nobody gets through unscathed. We are all the recipients of Adam’s sin, all billions and billions of us. To believe we alone are the only ones who get it, who have experienced this kind of acute pain, who feel alone in a world full of people who get everything they want is the enemy’s oldest lie. He told himself it first and then fell, and has been telling everyone else it since. “If you can’t beat ‘em, make ‘em join you,” is his mantra. If you have ever felt alone—if you feel alone today—then you have been on the listening end of the enemy’s bullhorn.

To arrive at the day of closing, not a penny richer and many hundreds of thousands of pennies poorer, with a deeper trust in our Father and a greater hope of glory was not at all what I expected, and yet it was what He gave. He didn’t have to and yet He did. And this is what I have learned more deeply than ever: He gives us what we need, only what we need, and if we don’t have it, we don’t need it. And, if we do have it, we need it.

This is a difficult thing to believe, and more complex than a few hundred words can tackle (What about world hunger? Poverty? Health? Aren’t there so many unmet needs in the world?). We can logic our way through anything, but at the end of it all, if all it does is steal our praise from the God of the universe, I question our definition of the word need.

A pastor from my church in Texas always said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen,” and it stuck to me like a burr—annoying and unrelenting. I knew it was true and had seen its evidence in my life a thousand times over, but I didn’t like it. The world is all about creating expectations and heightening them, after all. Making lists, goals, setting our sights on something, having vision for your life, and all that.

But what happens when nothing goes your way?

I know the concept of God wounding us so He can heal us is a controversial one, but it is one I take much comfort in. I tore my meniscus many years ago and my knee pains me still. It swells up at inopportune times and I keep meaning to get it fixed, but hate the thought of physical therapy. Here is what I know though, someday a doctor will slice open my skin and dig his scalpel in. He will do what seems contrary to all evolutionary logic and he will wound so my knee can heal properly. God does this too.

He does it with our dashed expectations, felt rejections, deep disappointments. He wounds so He can reveal the source of the pain, the brokenness, and the infection. And then He heals.

Zack Eswine, in his book Sensing Jesus (now The Imperfect Pastor), says, “We cannot expect to fix what Jesus has left unfixed.” We cannot expect to heal what Jesus has left unhealed. And we cannot expect anything on our timeline. He is the master surgeon, the master healer, not us.

It was a gift to sign those papers last week. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such relief signing my name seventy times over. But the greater gift is one God is still slicing me open and digging inside me to find. It’s the gift of His painful healing, the slow, deliberate, agonizing work of taking my eyes off what the world offers and putting them onto Him alone. The gift of showing me He is all I need.

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:17

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I can’t get a friend’s words out of my head: “The enemy can’t steal my praise.” She says them to us over Eggs Benedict and my first coffee all week. Tears ebbed over the corners her eyes and she says it three times over: He can’t steal my praise. I knew then when I’ve suspected for a while. The enemy has stolen my praise.

I think I knew it months ago when my arms hung limp at my sides during worship at church. Distracted by the Sunday morning to-do list that hangs over the heads of those employed by local churches or by the myriad of other things nipping at my heart for attention, I knew I was refusing to praise right then. The road in front of me split in obvious ways: choose to worship or choose to despair. And I chose despair.

I told Nate months later that every time I’ve been able to get just my mouth above water this year some other thing dunks me back under. I couldn’t praise if I wanted to. This is what I said to him through angry, hot tears as we drove in a UHaul loaded with all our earthly belongings toward some unknown and frightening new direction of life.

My arms still hang limp by my sides.

Choosing to not praise or forgetting how or simply not having the energy or desire to do so—call it what you will, the words of praise are foreign to my lips these days. I should be embarrassed to write it, to say it, to put it out in public places in public ways, but I think desperation knows no shame. I take comfort in the laments of David these days. His soul felt so taken from him sometimes he had to search to find it and command it to worship.

More bad news comes this afternoon and we begin to despair again. Worried. Angry. Frustrated. (God, we can’t bear much more of this. Relent, please?)

A lyric I heard on Sunday repeats itself to me: “We find rest rejoicing.” I think I’ve had it backwards. I’ve been hoping if we find rest it will be followed by rejoicing, but this says it’s the other way around: the way to rest is to rejoice.

Today I clean the bathroom of our small AirBnB in Maryland. I clean the kitchen. I take our laundry to the laundromat. I fold every t-shirt with care and precision. I make the bed. I put away the laundry. I stare into our small and sparse refrigerator and plan dinner. I stare at slate blue and mint green walls. I wish I had a book that’s been packed away since February 3rd. I talk to our realtor. I cry. I hang up Nate’s shirts. I put away the dishes. With every rote motion I say these words to myself: I find rest rejoicing.

I don’t know how to rest these days and I’ve forgotten how to really rejoice. But I do know how to say words with my mouth that my heart doesn’t fully believe, and this is where I will start: God, you are Creator of the universe and you know my name and you know, too, that I am only made of dust. Relent, please. I worship you.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Exodus 33:14-17

G.K. Chesterton said, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children,” but we don’t much like that do we?

It’s been a weekend where I’ve been laying low for multiple reasons, the principle of which is I miscarried again and the secondary of which is I slipped on black ice and have a swollen scraped knee to prove it. I was meant to be at my brother from another mother’s wedding this weekend in New York, but canceled my flight at the last moment because the church family here had a week for the books. It’s really been seven months for the books—my books at least—but this was the culmination of it, and when your job is to shepherd, you don’t abdicate when the storms howl around the flock.

Nate still can’t find full-time work.

I came home from the member meeting at church yesterday and fell into bed and cried the sort of tears we reserve for death of a loved one or agony of the deepest kind. The sort where you hyperventilate and your husband can’t fix anything so he just lies beside you and rubs small circles into your back. I mostly cried but said words too, words I probably didn’t mean and some words I probably did.

Half our friends say the first year of marriage is the hardest, but we think marriage is a breeze, it’s all the other things that are the hardest.

He read the Chesterton quote aloud to me a few weeks ago and we’ve come around and around to it, in these horrible ordinary days. Both of us have believed the lie that if you work hard things will go well for you, if you honor those around you, you will be honored, if you pursue your passions, you will do your passions. We are unafraid of hard work, honoring those ahead of us, and the pursuit of passions. But what we have found is vanity of vanities, it’s all vanities. These things themselves are not useless pastimes, but they certainly aren’t the guarantee of extraordinary lives. My pastor in Texas said once, “You can’t put God in your debt,” and also we can’t put life in our debt either.

Circumstances are not what we planned, nothing about this year has been what we hoped for or thought we’d gain. Here we have been small and faithful people with secreted hopes for greatness. But that is not the Kingdom is it? The backwards upside down kingdom.

Tonight we lit candles and ate pizza from a box, and joked about how this might be our last meal and when we should put the house on the market. I have emailed a realtor on the east coast and Nate has put in months of 60 hour weeks applying and interviewing. There is nothing glamorous in these ordinary days. They are beautiful because they are life, but they are painful, disastrous even, and not at all what we thought they would be.

Earlier this year in the three month whirlwind, where everything good was happening and as quickly as it possibly could, I remember saying to the Lord, “It is so good to feel your love so tangibly these days, but I hope I remember it when everything good isn’t happening.” I think a lot about Job these days. I have walked through many painful months and years before, but never saw myself as kin to him, but now I do. The difference is I trust God in these pains, and though he slay me, still I will trust him. And it makes all the difference.

For the ordinary people in the painful ordinary days, trusting Him—and not our plan—is the extraordinary difference.

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Two weeks ago I sat on the couch in a therapist’s office. The couch was the micro-fiber kind where the color changes depending on which way you’ve run your hand or where you’re sitting. From my vantage point it was light grey.

I was there because I witnessed the shooting—and nobody comes out of that unscathed. But ten minutes into my verbal dump (She’d called it an “Intake Meeting,” which is just an official way of saying, “Tell me all your junk.”) the shooting was at the very bottom of a very long list of very hard things this year.

“It sounds like to me,” she said, “you’re in survival mode and you have a lot of grieving to do.”

It was a statement, but there was an inflection at the end making it a question. And my shoulders fell. I ran my hand along the couch, it was dark grey now.

I mentally ticked down the list of things to grieve this year and she was right. Moving away from friends, our church, our community, losing the newness of an unknown baby, Nate losing his job, my job being more complicated than I could have imagined: yes, we are grieving and surviving each day feels like a win if we can do it.

. . .

It seems to me we Christians are very much about the testimony of “have suffered” or the theology of “we all will suffer,” but very few of us want to talk about the suffering in the middle of it. We pep-talk our friends by telling them All The Good Things They Have to be Thankful For! We use exclamation points and all caps, because, yes, God is good, this is true. But it is also true that God, in his goodness, does hard things. The big news is good, but the small news is bad, and the small news makes better press.

This year has been arguably the hardest yet. The gift of a wedding came smack in the middle of it, timely and gratefully. But it does not change the bookends of January, February, and March, or the last six months. There are some days I feel like I can’t breathe. That’s not an excuse, but it is a reason.

I’ve disappointed a lot of people this year, fallen short of their expectations, not been able to enter into their sufferings, rejoicings, or difficulties in ways I wanted to. I’ve faced my humanity in a way I never have before: my inability to meet with every person, respond to every email or text, think through every situation, or be healthy, happy, and hearty through hard things. I remember a quote from I Capture the Castle, “Wakings are the worst times—almost before my eyes are open a great weight seems to roll on my heart.” That great weight rolls on my heart every day without fail.

I’m not asking for sympathy or forgiveness—though I’d love both. But writing all this out is an attempt, small as it is, to ask if you’re a praying person, would you pray for our 2016? God isn’t limited to New Years and Old Ones, but I suppose he likes a clean slate as much as anyone—seeing as he started with the first one.

. . .

In 2016, I hope:

To write about my marriage. To actually live and write into the depths, goodness, hardness, and beauty of it, without fear for how it will be received. I have struggled to write about marriage because of how my unmarried readers long for it and how my married readers compare theirs to it. The beauty of writing vulnerably is everyone identifies. The mess of writing vulnerably is everyone compares.

To mourn the loss of some really beautiful things the Lord gave and then took away. A solid community, a safe neighborhood, a healthy church, a baby, singleness, time/energy to write, financial independence, Nate’s job, confidence about where we’ll be living or where Nate will be working in the next year, confidence about anything, really.

To be okay with not being okay. To not submit my fears, frustrations, sadness, limitations, and difficulties to a job description or a perception of what being a good Christian is or what people perceive from reading Sayable. I am not a good Christian, only a broken one.

To prepare more people with the reality that I will disappoint them. I am not the Christ. Nate and I talked this morning about nine relationships in my life in the past three years where I failed to prepare them for my humanity and they each carry the disappointment still. I want to learn to not over-promise and under-deliver—because no matter how hard I try, I will always under-deliver. I never pretended to be perfect, and have tried my best to show that I’m not, but I want to say it more in the same breath that I point to the One Who Is.

To remember God has written our story before the foundation of the earth. He knows it intimately, the losses and the gains, the fears and failures, the joys and pains. We may skip over all those small moments, thinking they are meaningless or there’s no time, but He ordains each and every one for His glory and our sanctification and joy.

No matter how blank the slate of 2016 seems to be, He has already filled it and knows the ten-thousand moments within it.

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Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Yesterday was my birthday and in a meeting a little after 11am we heard a rapid succession of gunshots outside our office windows. By the time we looked the shooter was reloading and beginning on his second round of gunfire toward a single officer.

We ducked and looked again. The idiom, “Like a train wreck, you can’t look away,” comes to mind. I asked myself later a thousand times—every time the image replays in my head: “Why didn’t you look away, Lore? Why didn’t you close your eyes?” Right now I fear that image will be in my head forever, but I have lived through trauma and I know it all fades eventually.

I ask Nate why this morning, “Why does he think God has let us be so near to the stink of death and the snuffing of life recently? What is He teaching us? For what does this prepare us?” This all just seems senseless and this morning I message a friend back east: “Sometimes I just want to come home to small town living, to cloister myself away in an old farmhouse, to let this season be about the growing light instead of the looming dark.”

Sin is so dark.

I think, in this second week of Advent, of the Christ-child grown. Grown for one purpose: to look on sin and take it for us all. I think of him in the garden: Father, take this cup from me? Begging to not have to look on sin, to not face the grave so we wouldn’t have to.

But He didn’t look away. And through the grave he brought victory.

. . .

Live a quiet life.
I Thessalonians 4:11

He must increase, I must decrease.
John 3:30

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:23

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:23

They loved not their lives even unto death.
Revelation 12:11

To me to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21

The way up is the way down, I know this and yet the sliver of light above is so tempting to fixate upon. The promise of a little life here on earth seems to be more lasting than eternal life with the Father above.

I checked every door twice last night and rushed into my car in the garage this morning, suspicious of every car parked along our street. I looked both ways twice before getting out of my car at work today and had to take a deep breath before leaving. Fear has never been my nemesis. At least not fear of wicked men and hearts. I fear my own heart more than I fear others. But these weeks have made me fearful. I think again, “I shouldn’t have looked. Why did I look?”

This passage from Ephesians plays through my mind this afternoon, full of the knowledge of the someday coming. All the things we see and think we see and shouldn’t have seen and cannot forget we’ve seen: from these we will someday arise and stand, in the full light of Christ and he will look and shine on us.

For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Ephesians 5:14

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Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the rock of ages,” and I have written about it before. It still stands that I’d rather kiss the wave after it’s battered and thrown me against the Rock instead of while it is battering and throwing me. I am human and therefore value self-preservation.

Honeymoon stage is a phrase I wish didn’t enter the Christian’s vocabulary. If marriage is to be a reflection of Christ and the Church and we are to worship at His throne forever in joy, why would we think earthly marriage should be different? I know just saying that has some of you shaking your heads, “Just you wait, Lore, it’s coming for you.” To that I want to say this: our honeymoon was one week and two days long, we spent it in Aspen, eating delicious food and having lots of sex. It was everything a honeymoon should be.

And then we came down out of the mountains to a new city, bought a house, started a job, lived in a basement apartment for a month, tried to make a new and different church feel like home, and we still don’t know who our people here are. Honeymoon was vacation, this is real life.

In the still dark hours of the morning a few weeks ago I made breakfast, sat down to drink my coffee, and read my bible while the man ran and then showered. He joined me when my coffee was drunk and we had a hard discussion on the realities of life: we need a new roof ($15,000) and his car needs $4000 dollars worth of work. That’s nearly $20,000 out of our honeymoon stage budget.

I got to work and he texted a few minutes later to call him. His contract won’t be renewed for his remote job. He understands and is full of faith, and has a skill set that’s useful and employable anywhere, but the kick in the gut still hurts. This wasn’t part of the honeymoon. He’s been looking now for a month and jobs are harder to come by than we thought.

In September I miscarried. For fifteen days I bled and cried and couldn’t answer the question: why? and what? This foreign emotion of being tied to something inextricably and forever felt alien. I am still learning what it means to live “until death us do part,” but that is a two way commitment and this felt painfully one way.

I say all this because I feel the waves and they’re battering and pressing and bruising, but I wake up every single day confident of the goodness of God in the land of the living. I wake up confident that living means really living, really seeing God’s goodness, not lowering my eyes to the sinking depths of life, but raising them to the One from whom my help comes.

Buechner said, “This is the world: beautiful and terrible things will happen,” and I have thought of it often in recent months. Sometimes Colorado is so achingly beautiful and so achingly hard at the same time. And sometimes marriage is. And sometimes church is. And most of the time life is.

I think often on Psalm 73: the nearness of God is my good, and I ask often that I would not just know his nearness, but I would feel it too.

I don’t know what’s going on in your life today, what waves are throwing you against the Rock of Ages or what beautiful and terrible things are happening, but I know this: He is good and He is near, especially to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. His love for you is not a honeymoon love, fervent in the beginning and waning when real life hits. His love for you is everlasting and always good.

In the mountains and in the valleys. In still seas and stormy ones. He remains.

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I am not so afraid of death as I am of dying, the long slow fall into oblivion. And it is not attached so much to plane crashes and car accidents as it is to the slow death of the everyday. The “punctual rape” Richard Wilbur calls it and it is vulgar, yes, but true of sorts. Every day a little more is shaved off my life and I grow a little closer to the final sleep—and eternal wake. It is the every day dying I do to myself that pains me so much. This is the real dying I fear.

I wake this morning crippled by fears: what ifs and whens, hows and whos. The conversations I must have and the questions I must ask and the corrections to be ministered and the challenges I must accept and the prayers I must pray and the asks I must petition. These seem insurmountable when I list them out in the still dark hours. How, God? and Why Me? —these are the questions I ask.

The thing about death and dying is you can’t stop it. He who numbers and knows our days held the date in his hand before the foundation of the earth. The thing about death and dying to self, though, is it seems like you can stop it. Don’t have the conversation. Don’t submit yourself to correction. Don’t give up what you want. Don’t let go of this grudge or that fear or this offense or that dream. Hoard it all in the belief that you can have it all and take it with you when you breathe your last.

It’s an illusion, see. The belief that we can keep our lives and also we can keep all that is life, or what seems like life. Christ came to give life abundant, but the greatest lie we believe is He won’t and so we must get it ourselves.

I believe it sometimes. Do you?

I fear flying and car crashes, death and dying, yes, but right now I fear conversations and submission and saying, “Not my will, but thine,” far more. The irksome presence of people and demands and desires pressing on me more than I want them to or think I deserve them to.

My pastor recounted a story to me recently about pastoring people and the expectation that sometime they’d finally get it together and his job would be easier. But that’s not the job of a pastor, he said, the job of a pastor is to shepherd sheep and it never ends.

I think this is the role of the person too, at least the Christian person. To shepherd sheep. Dying, bleating, complaining, fussy sheep, who smell and press in and run away and push back—and to wake every morning ready to do it again. To come and die, to lose our lives that we might find them in the face of the great shepherd who leads us—yes us, yes you—beside still waters and restores your soul in paths of righteousness.

And all this for His name’s sake. For His glory. For His renown.

A few nights ago, after spending Christmas Eve in the Emergency Room and then a series of unfortunate events following, I found myself in the pharmacy at midnight. I turned to the man sitting next to me on grimy chairs, both of us bleary-eyed and said, “Merry Christmas.” He grunted in response and I wanted to cry.

I’ve been hesitant to ask many people how their Christmas was, not because I didn’t want to know, but because I didn’t want them to ask back. Mine was memorable, but not in the ways we like Christmas to be memorable.

. . .

There’s a woman whose story I’ve been following a bit over the past few months. Her husband sent me an email months ago asking if I wanted to review her book. Requests like these are many, but his email was different, and I paid attention. Since then I’ve followed her writing and journey with sorrow and joy. Her name is Kara Tippetts and she has cancer. It has ravaged her body so completely there is nothing left to do but call hospice, which her husband did today.

I read her recent post with tears streaming down my face because what a light and momentary affliction my Christmas week was. Even with another roommate in the Emergency Room this morning and with the weight of life falling heavy on another and the business of living on another—what light affliction. What a momentary suffering. This mama is curled next to her babies and they are watching her slip into the longest sleep. This mama has to hand their futures and living over to her pastor-husband and to the Lord in a way most mothers never will, and couldn’t imagine. And yet how gloriously she suffers.

She suffers knowing it is light—even though it is the heaviest thing she will ever bear. She suffers knowing it is momentary—even though she longs to stay here as long as possible, to simply give them one more memory of her smile and her love. She suffers knowing there is a weight of glory beyond all comparison.

I cannot wrap my mind around that—and I am not meant to, not fully. I don’t think any of us can, not really. Not until we are facing sure and certain death on earth, until its cold grip is nearly complete and our soul slips into the warm presence of Christ. But I want to understand it. I’m begging God to help me understand it tonight.

The only way I know to understand, though, is not to set my eyes on my suffering, but to, like Paul said, not look at the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen. I cannot see redemption in this life, no matter how hard I wish for it or look for it. Even my dreams pale in comparison to the glory I know he has prepared for me, so why would I set my hopes on them?

The transient things are seen—and this life, oh this turbulent, tumultuous, tenuous life is so visible, so seen. I see it in every direction of my life and the lives of the people I love. But there is a stayedness in the living dying of Kara Tippets and I am jealous for it. I do not envy her cancer, but I envy the way she has let the cancer eat away at bitterness or fear instead of feeding it.

I let the cancer of fear and insecurity and doubt feed more fears and insecurities and doubt. I stare at my light afflictions, daring them to prove themselves lighter. I trudge through my momentary afflictions, making it a slower and more weighty journey. How much better to set my eyes on the one to whom I run, to run with endurance, and to find myself arrived still astounded at the glory I behold? To spend my life imagining the glory and still find myself surprised at its splendor?

Let that hope of glory be the mark of our suffering, friends.

Pray for the Tippetts family. God, pray for them.

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.
II Corinthians 4:17-18

(Kara’s blog is currently down, but when it’s back up, here’s the link.)

Kara Tippetts

There are things I ought to have learned in science class, but I was too busy hankering for art class to pay much attention.

Did you know that the reason the autumn leaves are so spectacular in the northeast is because the weather has an indecisive air to it? It’s true. One night it’s cold enough to frost and the next day it’s warm enough to kayak in a tshirt. In the mountains the reds and oranges are deep and rich, and in the valley fields the green is vibrant and lush. The sky is almost always a steel blue, nearly grey, but still clear. I cannot describe this well enough, I know. I’m sure I tend to romanticize it because I tend to romanticize everything. It makes for a better story, see?

But trust me: it is beautiful here. Even today, while it rains steadily outside the side porch where I complete my wedding tasks of the day, it is beautiful (of course it helps that my wedding tasks for the day were to take buckets of flowers and make them into eleven presentable bouquets).

Tonight I’m going to leave these bouquets of roses and hydrangeas, seeded eucalyptus and ranunculus here on the porch—outside, where temperatures will probably dip into the forties. I’ll leave them here. And for the same reason the leaves get more and more spectacular, I have no fear for these flowers.

It goes against my gut to do this, leave them outside. Because flowers bloom in the warmest months, I assume that’s where they’ll thrive best. But years in Texas are teaching me that while the heat may force a bloom to open, it does little to sustain it.

We all need a little indecisive air, a bit of a chill, to be sustained.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I had a conversation with a friend the other day and she’s asking the right questions: why does it have to be so hard sometimes? Why does it have to hurt? I don’t have answers for her. I’m finding the more I know, the less I really know.

But I know this: those leaves wouldn’t take our breath away if they weren’t dying in the process.

And I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable. I hate death, it is nothing but stings and barbs. But I love life because it is nothing but newness and cycles.

I love life because I know I will die a million deaths until the final one, but each one makes me a little more vibrant in the process, and each one brings the promise of newness. That’s something I can plant my soul in.

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I said no to a lot of things this year and in every direction branches have fallen. Good, seemingly healthy branches and dead ones too. Their absence has left me feeling naked and exposed, broken and wondering: what did I do to deserve the axe to my soul?

I learned long ago to not make plans, partially because nothing in my life goes according to one, but also because they become a breeding ground for resentment when I am disappointed in their failure. There were seeds of doubt in me this year that grew into fear and developed into anger. Not anger at others, but anger at myself, mostly, and anger at God. Maybe others knew I was being pruned, but I felt unjustly ruined.

It has been a strange dichotomy for me. Before 2010 I lived most of my life perpetually mistrustful of God, with a brooding anger at him. Since 2010, though, his goodness and prevailing trustworthiness has been steadfast and immovable. I have never known anything like it and still am in awe of what a constant God he is when not encumbered by the caricatures and Sunday School stories we make him out to be like. 2014, though, has been a year where I have seen my glaring disappointments and failures front and center. If there were places of pride in my life and heart, places I thought on the brink of full sanctification, this year has wrecked every one of them.

Jill Andrews has a song called Cut and Run where she says, “And it’s just like me // to walk away so early.” All my life that is my propensity. I walk away early instead of digging in deep. But this year He wouldn’t let me. He made me wait, long past the time when everyone else said to walk away. He stayed me, and then still cut me. It felt unfair, the antithesis of his goodness.

Nothing has gone unscathed.

Making the decision to stay in Texas was an act of faith for me three months ago. I felt physically nauseous when I signed our lease; it felt like a death warrant for me in some ways, and I am not prone to exaggeration. It was in part an act of submission to leaders in my life who are wiser than I, and in part submission to the Lord who presses deep on my propensity to run when the going gets tough. I began to submit a thousand small things to others too, in a way I balk against naturally. There have been times in my life when I felt suffocated by submission, no part unscrutinized by others. And there have been times when I have soared in submission, being set free under good leadership who wanted good for me. But this season of submission has felt both restraining and freeing.

The other night my closest Texas friends and I sat around a fire for half a night. The moon rose behind us and the coyotes howled. I didn’t say much, which is not unusual, but I listened a lot. I listened to laughter and sorrow, stories and life. All the things God uses to bring us to today.

He has been healing some things in me in the past few months. Not growing new branches yet, but healing the cuts from the old ones. Signing that lease, living with the four souls in our home, going to my hometown in Pennsylvania, good conversations, intentionally digging in at my church, working on projects that bring me joy, putting aside projects that steal my joy, choosing home more than choosing traveling, saying no to so many things, so I can say yes to what is most important: sitting at the feet of my good and faithful and kind Savior—the true vine, the true root, the true tree.

I can’t shake the heaviness. It’s been there for weeks, months, a year. A funeral shroud. “Where, oh death, is your sting?” Oh, it’s here. All here.

I’ve been thinking of Mary in the garden these days, weeping by the tomb, the empty tomb. Standing by the evidence that her Lord had risen and she didn’t even recognize the man who asked, “Why are you crying? And whom do you seek?”

But he knew.

And that’s what I’m stumbling around all these days. He knew and he still asked. She sought him dead in a tomb and found him raised in newness of life, and still mourned. Couldn’t help but mourn because what she wanted most in the world was gone.

Foresight is the luxury of the hopeful.

Tonight one of my pastors said the same word for steadfastness in Titus 2 is the word for hope. How often is my steadfastness directed toward lesser hopes though? I set my face like steel, my heart like stone, and will accept nothing less (or more) than my savior exactly where I saw Him last.

Why are you crying and whom do you seek?

And then:

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

When I look at the sprawl of this past year, the death of hopes and dreams and plans, every thwarted hope, I’m trying to sort through all the loss and find one living thing. One shred of life among the dead. Like Lot’s wife, I take one more longing look at the loss. Hoping for what? Steadfastly searching tombs for a savior who will always be seven steps ahead of me?

Where are you and why aren’t you where I saw you last?

Today I read, “In the new age of the resurrection, the Lord’s first words to an individual person were to ask, ‘Why are you crying?'” And then I wept. Because all I have felt like is faithless Mary at the empty tomb for weeks, months, a year. Begging my eyes to be playing tricks on me. But never have I noticed the first words Christ spoke were words of acknowledgement, “Why are you crying?”

Because he sees.

It was Mary who did not see and it is me who does not see. But he sees. His steadfast (hope-filled) love endures forever. And he sees.

And then he calls her name: Mary.

Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward we are strong at the broken places.” I wrote that quote on an index card when I read it in high school and didn’t know how prophetic it would prove to be in my life.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Someone said, a few years ago, “Teach your kids they’re broken, deeply broken,” and the internet swarmed and stung in response. No one wants to believe deep inside the horrible, awful, no good truth. That the gears inside of me will keep getting stuck and rusty, jamming up in inopportune places and too small spaces. No one wants to believe the brokenness on the outside points a terrible truth about the inside.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

It’s not a prosperity gospel to believe that the brokenness on the inside of us results in wars and rumors of wars, gunned down black boys on city streets, cancer, and genocide. It is not a transactional brokenness: you broke me, so I’ll break you. Or, more honestly, I broke me, so He breaks me more. But it is a cause and effect of sorts. Deeply broken people don’t turn the other cheek, not only in war, but also at home when the floor doesn’t get swept and it’s his turn to do the dishes and someone was uncaring or uncouth. It starts with the small fractures and leads to the tremors and quakes until we are all shattered pieces and wondering how we got here.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The world does break everyone and it is not for nothing to say we are stronger at the broken places. I heard it said recently that good eschatology says “The bad gets worse, the good gets better, and the mushy middle is done away with.” I groan for that and so do we all.

The mushy middle is what breaks us, that pliable and soft already/not yet we live in. We groan for the culmination of the kingdom, the new heaven, the new earth, but we’re still here, where missiles fall every four minutes and Christians claw their way into a helicopter from an Iraq hilltop, and journalists are tear-gassed and officers act hastily, and my friend has a tumor and it’s cancerous, and where the tears won’t stop falling this morning because we are broken, yes, it is true. We are deeply broken.

But, on our behalf, so was he.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

Earth and Sky
A beautiful collision of grace and grief
by Guy Delcambre

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When I first met Guy what I was struck most by was his weary constancy. Here was a guy going through the motions of life, fatherhood, writing, breathing, and doing it without the woman he thought would be beside him for the rest of his life. I never heard him complain. I watched him put one foot in front of another, fathering, writing, leading, working, breathing. He writes in the same way.

There’s a weightiness to his words, not because they are weighty words but because they carry strength and endurance within them. They are the badge of a man who has sunk beneath the waters of suffering, who has subsisted on the bread of affliction, and who has seen the goodness of God in the land of the living and the dead.

In Guy’s new book, Earth and Sky, he writes of his life with his wife before her death, and what to do after she was taken from him so young. There is a tangibleness to the wrestling Guy does in the book, and I don’t think it’s just because I saw a bit of that wrestling in real life. I think it’s because Guy put his heart into the writing of this book—not for fame or for a name, but for his daughters. He suffered well because he was watched closely. I said to him one day a few years ago that they were learning how to grieve from him, watching him, and I couldn’t think of a better example.

If you are grieving or you know someone who is, I recommend Earth and Sky in the same way I recommend A Grief Observed, because sometimes what we need is not all the answers, but a friend to walk alongside when the answers don’t come easily.

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February 28th is my dead brother’s 28th birthday. Is that what they call the Golden Birthday? He always was the golden boy. The dead often are.

I don’t believe in celebrating the birthdays of the dead, but this one in particular sticks to my ribs, to my heart, and in my soul in a different way than all the rest. It is a benchmark birthday.

Andrew was 14 when he died and it has been 14 years since he died. Life has gone on as normal for 14 years, but now we are on the other side—the side that will have experienced more of life without Andrew than with him. It is a strange thing to celebrate or commemorate, and yet I do.

A few weeks ago a friend said to me, “Sometimes I think about all the things he’s been spared from, just by going on ahead of us,” and I had to agree. A lot of living—and dying—has happened in these 14 years. I am glad he was spared, and I am also glad I was not. God does know what is best and I trust Him in that.

There are things about Andrew that are forever memorialized in my mind, his wide mouth and smiling eyes, his lanky legs and heavy steps, his long fingers and, most of all, his kindness. Andrew was kind to everyone he met, a simple, unaffected kindness. The sort you get from hardly anyone and want from almost everyone. He had time for you, for everyone. He might have taken all the time in the world to get to you, but when he did, he had time.

For many years I felt the injustice of being the one left behind—me, the one who is always in a hurry to get everywhere, him the slow almost plodding one. And yet he got there first.

The irony is never lost on me.