This is the sign

Years ago I lost a contact in a swimming pool.

Something was in my eye after trying to adjust my swim mask and I unintentionally popped that sucker right out into a massive community pool. 

The contact lens was tinted blue.

It was our neighborhood pool, a couple of blocks from our home and the contact was a semi-rigid gas permeable—meaning it was a “hard” lens and neither disposable nor cheap.

Panicked I sopped home with two small kids in tow, so discouraged and undone.

When I relayed the story to my husband, he did not show the same dismay I did or become undone at the idea of a couple hundred dollars for a new pair.

“I’ll find it,” he said confidently, matter-of-factly. 

I laughed when he asked for my swimming mask and took off in his swim trunks.

Less than half an hour later, he appeared with a wide grin and my lens carefully cradled in his cupped hand.

I was astounded.

I have worn contacts since I was 11 and lost only a few over the years because my eyesight is terrible and they are of great value to me.

I cannot see without them and I do not do well with glasses. They are a necessity and it is for this reason I shy away from water activities of almost any kind. Certainly I enjoy them—trips to the lake, the pool, the beach are all things I look forward to but do not ever feel fully immersed in (pun intended).

As JP and Luke continue the series on Jonah on Sunday mornings my thoughts keep turning to the sea, the wild sea with the great wind hurled upon it by the LORD himself. The all caps LORD hurled the wind when Jonah promptly went the opposite direction that God told him to go.

A short-sighted move no doubt.

Even when I am in a swimming pool, I always feel short-sighted and a slight unease. 

Perhaps it is the inherent danger of the water and the fact a life can end there in mere moments. Perhaps it is my struggle with my vision. If I want to fully enjoy the water, I have to remove my contacts for fear of losing them. If I remove them, I can see only what is just in front of me. If I leave them in to preserve my vision, I am constantly making sure I don’t get splashed in the face or dunked under.

Regardless I worry.

I am also known to let wild imaginings get the better of me and as a child in the Jaws era, it always feels like something large is approaching from beneath. 

When I imagine Jonah being hurled out of that boat, I wonder did he feel, did he sense the approach of that massive creature? A fish large enough to swallow a grown man whole had to be felt. Yes the great wind had brought upon a mighty tempest and threatened to break a ship, but once Jonah was in the water, the sea ceased to rage.

To be in that stilled water, watching the ship sail onto safety and feel that approach makes me wonder how long Jonah was in the water before the creature enveloped his body.

Most of my tastes run towards what Flannery O’Connor calls the comic and the terrible and the book of Jonah so distinctly walks this line.

Jonah softened while inside the animal and prayed again to God, crying out and admitting that salvation belongs to the LORD.

Then he was vomited—vomited and once again commanded to go to Nineveh. 

I picture the kind of sulky obedience I get when a child is in no uncertain terms to clean their room after dishonesty and resistance on the subject. I can almost see Jonah’s slumped shoulders on his final trek into Nineveh to deliver the mere eight word sermon in the center of the city:


On Sunday Luke talked about our emotions and the role they play in our lives. They have value and they have their place, but ours emotions must fall before God’s commands. Where there is certainty, clarity with God’s directives, there is uncertainty, blurred vision when our emotions rule.

Jonah was angry that God would save a wicked, foul, foreign people who could compromise the integrity of God’s plan. Jonah’s vision was distorted by his own skewed view—did he lose his lens in those storm-tossed waters? He could not see all that God was going to do. 

God is making all things new and Jonah and his emotions, thankfully, do not have the final say.

I nearly laughed out loud on Sunday morning as I read again Jonah’s prayer immediately following the repentance and salvation of the Ninevites.

It is a comedy of the absurd, the irrational and emotional. The eight word sermon of Jonah’s has rescued 120,000 people who were perishing in sin and Jonah’s prayer is I knew it! I knew you would do this and be gracious and now I just want to die.

That same merciful and gracious and steadfast loving God just simply replies with a kind of modern day and how’s that emotion working out for you? 

Like JP said last week, God uses broken and sinful people. He uses any of us, all of us, no matter where we have been.

As I look around our sanctuary, my home, Georgia 400, the grocery store, my street, I think God uses broken and sinful people because that is the only kind of people there are in the world.

It is truly grace upon grace upon grace as we faltering, flailing, disobedient prodigals decide that we know better than that same great, gracious God who is waiting with steadfast love to use us for his purposes. 

If this prophet of God is unwilling to go where the God (that he professes to fear) tells him to go, how can I, the weak-willed wife and mom of five, accomplish that which I am being called to do?

A few summers ago I had the words “talitha cumi” tattooed on my wrist.

The story of Jesus taking Jairus’ daughter by the hand and calling her back from the dead with those Aramaic words that mean “little girl arise” brought great comfort to me. Knowing that I too have been called by Jesus back from the dead and that one day He will call me again when this earthly body fades away is my daily reassurance. 

As I read the book of Jonah over and again this week I can’t ignore the call from God to Jonah that begins with “arise.” 

Though Jonah directly ignores the imperative, God is gracious in His pursuit.

The pagan sailors also command Jonah with the same word arise, asking Jonah to call out to his God. (And those same pagan sailors would also come to call upon the all caps LORD.)

After his attempted flight to Tarshish God again speaks to Jonah, beginning with arise.

Arise, go to Ninevah.

Arise, call out to your God.

Arise, go to Ninevah. 

There is no doubt that Jonah’s calling is my very own. 

It is the same calling for all of us who believe.

Many a time I have operated in direct disobedience and many times I have been angry and slump shouldered and certain that my way was the better way.

When my only clarity, my only vision has been lost like a contact in the depths of a pool full of emotions, I have not been relinquished. When I have let my emotions rule the moment instead of the commands of God, He has quietly and calmly asked how’s that working out for you?

And in Matthew when the scribe and Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign, he points to this disobedient and prodigal prophet. 

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” 

This is the sign!

This story, like all of those before and all of those after, like the list of the faithful in Hebrews, will point not to the worthy and faithful person or the disobedient prophet but instead to the gracious God who is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love relenting from disaster.

For what is impossible for men is most certainly possible with God. 

When Jesus went into the earth for three days and nights, victory seemed impossible. 

Rescue seemed lost in a wild and raging sea of sin.

Yet, all was not lost. 

Death was stilled.

Jesus arose and in that return from the depths, ours was also made possible.

Jonah accomplished his purpose not because he got his head on straight, but because God took him under and then brought him back to life.

God gave him those eight words and God rescued those 120,000 souls. 

Let us trust not our own limited vision but that of the God who saves. 

“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”

Matthew 12:41


go-for-broke rescue mission

Connie looked at me across the conveyor belt in her checkout line at the Mart.

Find everything you needed?

Staring at the ombre plastic eggs, nerf gun, and gummy bunnies, I thought there is no way.

I smiled and told her I think something’s gotten lost, something’s missing.

When she realizes I mean more than an item missing from my cart, she eyes the Easter cards with scripture on the front and says they are great. 

She tells me she believes.

I tell her I think I want to find a new way to really celebrate what’s going on and she heartily agrees. She continues:

It’s great that He was born and all, but what He did at Easter? Without that…

She trails off.

There’d be nothing, I reply.

Again she agrees eagerly and we both begin to tear up. 

She grabs my hand and grins and tells me it’s a blessing. 

Nodding and sniffling myself together, I leave and turn over in my mind how we are so easily distracted, so easily moved. How we miss it.

We miss Him.Seder 2

The Tuesday morning Bible study I am in has been covering the book of Matthew. I had marveled as Jesus spelled out for his disciples, repeatedly, that he would be killed. They barely respond, if at all.

He told them in chapter 16 he would suffer at the hands of elders and chief priests and teachers. He said he would be killed and then raised again.

In chapter 17 He told them again he will be killed and will be raised again. 

Heading to Jerusalem in chapter 20 He told all 12, He will be condemned and mocked and flogged and crucified and then raised again!

Immediately a mom asked if her sons can rule with him in his kingdom.

What is going on?

I feel like she’s asking what aisle the plastic eggs are on.

They, like us, were missing something.

The day before I stood in the aisle at Walmart trying to figure out how to convey the glory, the weight of this season to my children without candy and eggs, that same Bible study group celebrated our weekly gathering with a traditional Passover Seder demonstration.

For the first time in my life, I saw the intricate details of the meal celebrated by Jews for centuries. It was a specific, beautiful ritual that recalled the Israelites flight from Egypt. The festive occasion marks the beginning of Passover.

It marks our rescue.

In Exodus 13, God commanded the Jews to retell the story to their children. It is the story of rescue and so clearly points to the coming Messiah despite the many Jews who do not see it that way. 

Somehow in the tradition, He is missed.

In chapter 26 of Matthew when the disciples and Jesus move to what is now called Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper, I suspect maybe they are beginning to find what they need. 

Throughout the ritual details of the meal, glasses of wine are consumed—four to be exact. 

On the night of the Last Supper, as Jesus was celebrating that same Passover meal with his disciples, He once again told them.

Matthew 26 opens with Jesus telling them “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matthew doesn’t even record a response from the disciples.)

The chapter ends with Peter denying Jesus as he faces his accusers.

But it is the time in between that He uncovers what is missing.

The sacrificial lamb has come. 

The bread is his body.

The wine is his blood.

Seder 1He shows them, tells them—He is the sacrifice. 

He is what is missing.

This is the rescue even greater than that flight from Egypt.

It is that rescue we are all longing for.

It is what is missing when we are combing the aisles.

It is what Connie tries to put into words.

In our own demonstration, I recognized one of many things I have missed. Jesus did not drink that fourth cup of wine. 

Verse 29 tells us “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

As I gulped down my last goblet of red grape juice at the fancy table in our church sanctuary, I could hardly handle the image of Jesus at that table with those men. I can hardly handle the thought that one day we will drink at His table with Him there—because He became the sacrifice. Because He missed so much for us. 

He watched them drink, fully aware of everything about to happen. He was looking ahead to completing his go-for-broke rescue mission and also thinking of the day when we would celebrate together at His table.

His mission would require everything. It would require His life. 

While the disciples, while we, are easily entertained, enticed and engaged elsewhere, He had set his face towards His purpose.

Thankfully, His purpose was the cross.

His purpose was us.

There is now nothing missing and He is all we need.


“Or who shut in the sea with doors

when it burst out from the womb,

when I made clouds its garment

and thick darkness its swaddling band,

and prescribed limits for it

and set bars and doors,

and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,

and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

Job 38:8-11

A couple of years ago I painted a picture from the Jesus Story Book Bible.

It’s the one of Jesus asleep in the boat while it is being tossed about in the storm. As I painted, my mind wandered to the squalls I was currently in while my worries rose and heaved like the waves I attempted to portray with a paltry tool.

I smiled at the funny, but scared faces of the men clinging to the worn boards of the tossed boat. The momentary smile quickly dissipated as I thought again of the men—frightened men, grown men, men who knew the sea. 

They were acquainted with wind and wave and bad days afloat. They knew the power of these natural forces.

Recognizing the capability of these forces, they were afraid.

It was the ugly, consuming and overwhelming fear that comes from much focus and study on the storm at hand.

I spent multiple days working on the wild water, the cresting waves. For the next section, I worked on a boat that looked like it may or may not hold together. 

Then I came to these fearful faces (including my own) clinging to life inside the boat.

I cling to life frequently the way these strong and salty fellows must have done that day.

Real life and real problems beat us about and threaten like dark clouds overhead. There are serious storms, legitimately large problems lurking—moments of our lives when the fact that we were never in control finally becomes an unavoidable truth. 

Unbelieving loved ones, unforeseen expenses with unknown means to meet them, an illness turned life-threatening, sadness that we cannot seem to shake, guilt from rotten choices, lost jobs. 

They are the thoughts that seem to keep us awake at night.

For me, when it is time to sleep, even the most trivial of worries seems to blow up larger than life. The mind runs awry and the mental waves beat like those on that tattered ship at sea.

It is as if a groove develops and breaking free, setting foot on dry land never again seems possible.

JP covered that stormy scene last week when talking of Mark 4 and Mark 6. Two instances of the worried fisherman battling the immediate and seemingly insurmountable storm.

He reminded us that there are times in our lives when we behave as if we are unbelievers, operating out of unbelief in bleak circumstances. We act like this when we cannot see past the moment.

We focus on the storm, the danger. We dwell on the surroundings. 

I think again of the work on that painting.

I spent so much time on the storm on that canvas—the details of the wind and waves. 

Working to get the angles right on the boat, the boards, the lightning, the effects of the wind.

That was before the obvious shone from the unpainted portion of the canvas. 

There He is.

I AM is in the boat.

The penciled in portion, not yet painted, almost glowed with His simply drawn face—eyes shut in peaceful slumber, a smile even at his stilled lips.

The lips that would open upon His waking and still the wind and waves instead. 

He was not only in the middle of the storm, He was able to sleep peacefully within it.

His mind is not perturbed, turning flips with the worries we have. He isn’t shaken and surprised by our suddenly overwhelming circumstances.

I’m in the boat, rolled and tossed and weary, but He is in the boat with me!

Initially I smiled, even laughed because the grown, weathered fishermen looked scared and nearly foolish much like me. But how could they be?

Jesus was on board, asleep even. 

My smile is back as my slow-to-understand mind fully wraps around that clear thought. He is also on my boat. 

He’s in it.

He isn’t asleep.

He is not afraid and He is in control. 

tangible brokenness

You don’t want to see it.

Trust me on this one.

The gruesome image of my husband’s ankle split wide apart—bone exposed—taken by an audacious ER nurse who couldn’t believe his eyes is unsettling at best.

The incongruity can only be fully understood by knowing that my husband is a natural athlete. He throws a football 65 yards in the air from one knee, launches a golf ball 350 yards. Grown men just stand quietly and gawk.

The night he came down on another guy’s foot while playing volleyball, however, ended with a break, a gaping wound. It was hard to absorb, comprehend. Everything I knew of this strong, brave, powerful man was dramatically altered in that moment on the gym floor with a bone exposed. 

Again grown men stood silent and gawking.

This is not how life is supposed to go. This goes against the very design.

When JP talked last week in the ongoing series about the life of Jesus, he worked through Luke 7 when Jesus healed the centurion’s son and later brought the widow’s son back to life. 

He talked about death. It is a part of all our lives. Inescapable.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Romans 6:23. 

Ultimately the result of our rebellion against a good God, death is the final wage paid for our own disobedience.

So JP poses that question, why is death the consequence? Why is it the wages of sin?

He explains that God reveals what our lives would look like apart from Him. Feeble minds grasp, strain to comprehend the gravity of life away from Yaweh.

God gave us life. We were made to live and yet we chose death.

God literally is life so when we choose to go away from Him, we are choosing separation, a broken relationship that is the equivalent of death.

Our choice of sin over God is a turning of our backs on life. 

This is a fracture. This is a tangible brokenness—like a bone protruding. It is a no-doubt-kind of broken thing.

When sickness, brokenness, death enter in, there is a suffocating desperation for it is the literal cutting off from the source of life. It goes against the very design.

JP goes on talking about death and funerals and this reality we all will face. 

My own family is fresh off a funeral—that of my sweet father-in-law. We are still processing what life is like on the other side of that. Do you actually move past death? It is a raw and ugly learning of what death does to life. It shakes all those left living right down to the core. The closer you were to that one now dead, the more altered your ongoing life now is.

The ripple effects of that life lost rock all that is your world. 

So it had to have been for that widow in Nain. Her only a son, a young man that must have borne an abnormally larger weight without a father at home to help ease the burden of caring, supporting, providing. Her affections, her lifeline were severed with his loss. Already reeling from a husband lost, now this. 

This is not how life is supposed to go. This goes agains the very design.

The wages of sin is death because it is the ultimate separation from life and it is only grace that lets us see and grasp this.

We see that bone coming out through skin and know that this is not how things should be. Pain and suffering remind us we were not made for this.

We see a the body of our loved one in a coffin and know that this is not how things should be. Death is separating us from love, from life.

We see a mother with no prospects for life as her son is carried out for burial and know that this is not how things should be. 

A broken, fractured and sinful world lets us see fully the absence of communion, see the horror of sin and separation. 

That mother’s hurt must have been enormous, desperation palpable.

Only in these moments of magnificent deficit can we begin to understand the beauty of rescue.

The beauty of His life set against the barren backdrop of death is what reveals the glory of God.

We see best in the darkest moments by the light of His life.

The King of all creation gazed upon death, upon that mother and had compassion. 

Jesus saw her and her need. She saw the wages of sin. 

He could see her through the crowd and while grief consumed, he pursued her.

The wailing crowd encompassed this mother and her son laid out on a platform.

The bier held his body as he was carried outside of the city to his eventual burial spot. According to Jewish law, touching a dead body would make a person unclean—in fact it was considered a pollution of sorts. 

Death pollutes. It defiles the living. Impurity is imputed when the living is touched by death.

For a person to touch death meant a cleansing ritual was imperative if one was to rejoin the living, to go again to worship.

Jesus saw the depth of her ache and despair and the overwhelming death that isolated her and He walked right into it.

He offered comfort with words and then Life touched death. He reached into impurity, uncleanness, defilement, and brought back life.

“Young man, I say to you arise.”

Suddenly and without doubt, the contrast of separation from God and the reality of His presence brought fear and then worship.

Jesus would one day again walk right into death. 

He would willingly take it on and again triumph.

The disciples minds must have run wild, not unlike mine trying to find a way to get help for my broken husband, not unlike that widow wondering wildly what now? Their world was shaken.

This is not how life is supposed to go. This goes against the very design.

The giver of all life hanging on a a cross allowing death to rule was the turning point. 

That moment of surrender inevitably alters all that comes after. Life itself could not be ultimately overcome. 

The glory of God is revealed in that barren backdrop when Life fully conquers death and a tomb is left empty and we are no longer left alone and separated.

The wages are paid.

When they are paid we find that  

  • the rebellion that leads to death has been permanently staved.
  • the broken body, wide open and exposed is healed and covered.
  • the ripple effects of a life line severed are stilled despite the storm.
  • the ritually unclean is made permanently pure.

When we have looked the desperation fully in the face and recognized its depths, we can begin to comprehend the heights. 

It is grace that shows us that nothing else will satisfy, not for a moment, not for eternity.

It is grace calling us again, stripping away sin so that we are not deceived and so that we too will rise again.

This is how it is supposed to go. This is the very design and it is something you will want to see.

Fresh cut

Three days before my father-in-law died, I visited a local florist seeking some cheer, for me, for all of us.

Stepping through oddly placed, automatic, glass sliding doors that had been an afterthought on an old house felt like stepping into open jaws ready to consume.

Willing to be eaten, I entered to find promises too high for their deflated follow through.

I waited alone and stared hard at outdated, patterned carpet and paneled walls for what seemed like far longer than needed.

The sweet smell of fresh cut flowers that first greeted me quickly turned sour, like an overly powerful perfume that makes the stomach turn. 

My mind bounced around trying to imagine the suffering he was experiencing in stage four pancreatic cancer and all of its quickly accumulating complications. 

Tomorrow would be he and his bride’s 58 year anniversary of “going steady.” A bold 17-year-old had persuaded this girl that going steady only made sense. After 53 years of marriage, two kids and eight grandchildren, his point had only been made over in a million little ways. Together they made sense.

The garish insides of this florist shop did not.

Outdated, undersized, overpriced teddy bears lined the shelves and weird displays betrayed the intent of the place. 

The initial sights and smells intended to invite celebration were really only a covering of the truth. 

That constant, droning of the large refrigerated displays were like the sound from the waking side of a dream that pulled you back to reality. Loud and annoying it was like they were giving away the end game: Everything you are looking at is already dead, we are just here trying to give the appearance of life.

I tried to push it away that sad day as I held out hope that he would make it to tomorrow to celebrate again with his bride, a milestone in relationship, a joyful moment in the slow march of coming sorrow and separation.

It is true for him. It is true for us all.

From the moment we are born, we are dying and all of the rest of this is an attempt to keep it at bay, to stay alive for one more moment of celebration, to make these lives worthwhile.

Not unlike the fresh cut flower, we are beautiful and fragrant that moment of birth, visibly bursting with life.

Yet like the flower on the vine, once we are cut away, the death and decay are in full pursuit.

Those refrigerators remind that their work is to keep beautiful its already dead inhabitants. 

Once cut, we give them water, oxygen and preservers but after a short time, that sweet smell begins to unintentionally reveal the stench it hoped to cover.

A hospital bed rolled into a living room is an intrusion into our lives we think. It is delivered and assembled awkwardly, trying to find a way to fit it with the decor and the life it is interrupting. 

Rolling it in only rolls back our covering and reveals the truth of life, we are all going to meet this moment. This intrusion is part of life for all of us as much as choosing that living room decor. 

The sound of an oxygen machine has the same awful mechanical rhythm of those refrigerators holding dead flowers. 

Without intervention, when life begins to ebb, there is only a thin thread holding us tied to life but not life eternal. We claw and strain and hold fast to the mechanical hum of machines. The oxygen is pumped from its tank to refresh a body succumbing. 

The sweet turns sour.

The pleasures turn painful.

Sin stains and sets back.

We hold tighter though all the while what we need is release, relief from this sinful, fading body of death.

We need resurrection, new life, a life line without the artificial tying us down.

There is but One.

When my father-in-law talks candidly about his own approaching death he tells me he knows that this is God’s will. He tells me that he is okay with it because though he doesn’t understand it, he knows that there is One who does. 

I sigh deeply, grateful in the acknowledgement.

The One who knows is the One whose own body was destroyed. 

It was a life yielded up to God’s will.

The flesh was destroyed, blood lost. He was fresh cut, but those fresh cuts ended with flesh restored through the very instrument of death.

Jesus became our lifeline in the end for His


end was resurrection.

That One body was life restored, renewed, complete. 

The fragrance raised there was that of eternal life.

A few hours before his breath gave way and the pain and struggle subsided, he told me he was hoping it would be the night that Jesus would come to take him. 

So instead of holding fast to fading hope, labored breath, we are held fast by renewal and grace and an empty grave. 

All that is left on this Eve is the crown

As I sat reading this morning while drinking diluted, doctored coffee, my eyes and mind went over and again to this Advent countdown with cutout cardstock in the center of the kitchen table.

My youngest and I have worked our way, day by day, cutting and sorting and displaying the individual steps.

I realize as I stare that all that is left on this Eve is the crown. It is the final piece and with it we are to crown Him King.

Each of the steps has walked us through the reality of that mind-boggling event.

The baby is in the manger.

The shepherds have been stunned.

Joseph and Mary have both borne shunning but now become something more. They are now bearing Grace, Relief, Comfort not yet fully known.

Wise men have perceived and studied and journeyed.

Jealous rulers have raged.

The angels have declared, proclaimed and worshiped.

The Innkeeper gave the only small space remaining.

We are down to this final piece, here on the table.

That crown.

That crown and the question of what we do next.

As I rejoice in a home that is literally warm on a cold winter morning and was filled with laughter into late night hours, I am thankful.

I am thankful for a 23-year-old who would choose to be home with siblings and enjoy silly times with third graders and teenage girl sisters and a best friend brother.

There is a part of me that still feels broken.

The breaking part comes when I think of unrest, unwelcome, cold, desolate ones who aren’t experiencing these same grace-filled moments. Strangers on borders looking for a home, mobs in stores emptying shelves, those fighting and tearing one another down, death and disease—there is desperation all around. 

I think of brokenness and it lurks within my own heart. It is all because we have enthroned self, not Savior. The crown is still looking for its rightful place.

My own heart has chosen self.

I think of this Christmas Eve, the Eve of all eves.

I recall original Eve and there it is again, original sin. It is the choice handed down, born in time and throughout the ages. Choosing self even in the midst of beauty and wonder. 

We chose that one other thing we didn’t have, hadn’t tasted. 

Not unlike today, there is one more think I didn’t have, I haven’t tasted and thus the tree in my living room is stacked high with gifts. Like a tree in a garden bearing fruit that was not intended that way. 

I stop and thank God on this Eve that He has more than restored what was wrought in that Eve.

This King arrived in humility and arrived to give all that He had. His very life yielded up willingly that I can sit safe, rescued and reassured that this is not for naught.

He has overturned the selfish choice by demonstrating that selfless love. 

He entered the mess and made the way.

So that cutout crown lies in the middle of my table and the last step is my choice. 

What to do now with this God King, humbly cut out, cut up, raised up on a tree. 

I look to Mary and Joseph in that quiet moment on a silent night and find rest in the grace of the One who came to save.

This Eve I rejoice for the King who came to save and gladly give up the crown.

Holding Fast: When Super Glue Isn’t Enough

My husband will not willingly go to a doctor.

While this is not an uncommon trait, particularly among men, the circumstances that make him actually go are the kind that will mentally and physically undo the normal, average human.

Several years ago I was talking to an acquaintance about her husband’s occupation. He was the guy who is in charge of sending out ambulances to accident scenes during any given shift. Further into the conversation she mentioned an email that was circulating among his EMT friends. It contained a photo of a guy who’s ankle had been split so wide open it didn’t look real. There was exposed bone. It was so garish that those EMTs who deal with trauma every day were shocked by it and thus continued forwarding the email.

That picture was of my husband’s leg.

It was one of only a handful of times I recall him willingly going to the doctor and that meant an ambulance retrieving him from the volleyball court.

The majority of the time, he is a tough-it-out guy. He may tell our kids if there is no blood or bone, they will be ok.

He still may not adhere to that for himself.

He is the one who first explained to me that Super Glue was used to stop bleeding for soldiers injured on the battle field. In Vietnam it saved many a life by allowing medics to stop the flow of blood and get the patient to a hospital.

Super Glue is our friend.

Circular saw cut on the meat of the hand? Super Glue.

Exacto knife slice? Super Glue.

The thing is, it works. It holds fast when there is an injury, a tear to the skin. It stops the bleeding.

It is strong and provides this barrier to keep out the bad and hold together to allow time for the healing.

Once the Super Glue is in place, however, you do not want to try and remove it. That fast hold hurts fierce when stripped away and can take with it skin—only increasing the divide, the injury.

When my brother preached these last three weeks on marriage and its purpose from Ephesians 5, he had us turn to Genesis 2 and God’s original uniting of the first man and woman. The beautiful account of Adam’s deep sleep, Eve’s creation and then their purpose brought me here, what it means to ultimately “hold fast.” In verse 24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

The bond that comes with holding fast makes two into one. Divided, separate parts are made whole. It is a powerful union.

Growing up I always heard the King James version of that Genesis 2 verse and would later often here churchgoers refer to “leave and cleave.” The man and woman would leave their parents and cleave to one another—just another way of saying hold fast.

Cleave is literally sticking to, adhering, gluing if you will.

That is the primary definition for cleave.

It is also the primary purpose of marriage.

Yet somewhere along the way, the secondary definition of the King James kind of word has become the one we seem to know. Most know the cleave that means to split or divide by or as if by a cutting blow.

Somehow those two definitions that are so far apart—not unlike that leg split wide—share just a razor thin difference whether to divide or unite. In a nation, a world, where divorce is more common than staying together, the cleave within the marriage means everything.

The same word has two primary meanings that are entirely opposites. The one implemented will make or break a union.

The end of this month will mark 25 years of marriage to my amazing Chadd.

While there are others I know (one couple in our church in particular who will reach 70 years of marriage this month!) have and will far exceed that number, today I think that is more abnormal than normal.

Our silver anniversary is a profound moment. I contemplate all those years, all that life lived, through five children and five surgeries and 12 homes and deaths and hurts and joys and failures and successes. There is not a secret formula for Chadd and me.

We are holding fast and it is not always easy.

When my eldest daughter tells me that she wants what we have, I smile and love that what she sees is something considered desirable. I also quickly tell her that what we have is hard fought. It has been attacked from within and from without.

Throughout scripture, we are commanded to hold fast to God’s covenant faithfulness to us.

In Deuteronomy we are told to hold fast to the LORD your God—repeatedly. In the Psalms God promises to deliver because of us holding fast in love. We are told to hold fast God’s commands in Proverbs and his covenant in Isaiah and love and justice in Hosea. Hold fast to what is good says Romans and 1 Corinthians and Philippians to hold fast to the word. Hebrews ask that we hold fast our confidence, our confession, our hope.

The mystery boggles my tiny mind. I often tell people that the wisdom I have to share is primarily a warning of what not to do.

I stare at a print in my office of a woman from a shipwreck washed ashore. She is barely out of the waves and pulling herself up by the cross beams of a cross. Holding fast to her rescue.

This holding fast is like that Super Glue, covering a divide, a split, leaving time for healing—a way to stop the bleeding.

Yet much like my husband’s ankle, the wide open breaks and tears will require more than the glue.

Following Chadd’s second surgery on his ankle, a wound care specialist taught me how to pack cow intestines into that wound. Yes, cow intestines. The split was so wide that the skin needed something to hold onto and provide a stable surface—a spot where the cells could adhere and begin to build to close that gap for healing.

There is a lot of holding fast couples can do by sheer force of will, many times the cleaving of their own power may be able to cover a wound. It is the deep and harrowing, the stomach churning hurts that will not be repaired this way.

And many of those wide wounds come within the marriage itself. That is why the One wounded deepest is the only qualified physician for those type of tears and damage.

Without access to this Doctor, to this kind of healing, to this kind of holding fast, marriages do not survive.

Chadd would tell you the same himself. Without Jesus bridging that wide gap, that spot that may have been cleaved (and not with the first definition) there is no unity, no one surviving. The two become one when they are fully reliant on the One wounded on our behalf.

It is a learning process, of the lifelong variety.

I would never have thought to use an intestine to help bring healing to a deep wound, but that is why we looked to someone who did.

When Jesus was broken wide and completely for me, for Chadd, it was His demonstration of holding fast. We look to Him. His willing death meant His own holding fast to a cross He could have come down from. His blood flowed and there was no stopping it. He held fast then and He does it now.

It is like we are just now learning what love and marriage look like—25 years in! Submission is an easy directive when the one to whom you submit has been broken for you. Husbands called to lay down their lives learn that the healing and resurrection follow.

Like the Savior leaving the tomb behind, new life grows out of a life willingly laid down.

The relationship we have in marriage is a clear and perhaps undeserved example of our ultimate relationship. Verses 32 and 32 leave no doubt: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound , and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

When we celebrate our relationship reaching a milestone in a couple of weeks I want it to be clear to those around me that it was bought with a price and that we are holding fast because we have been held fast.

An open letter to my adult children

For the second year in a row, one of our children is graduating from high school. The eldest just graduated from college and there are two still to go.

It is almost unfathomable the children I birthed are considered “adults.”

This is scary. 

I know so little and think I have showed them even less. 

Just yesterday, Noah was learning to ride a bike while Emma was learning to walk and Seth could barely hold his head up. 

Though they were and are all delightful human beings, that period almost now seems a blur of dirty clothes, diapers, tears, pink eye, stomach bugs, ear aches, spills, and the like. They were funny and adorable and a joy. My mom told me to treasure the time because it would be over in an instant and because this was the easy part. 

I could not fathom how either of those were true, but like almost all insight given by those who have gone ahead, it’s nearly impossible to grasp until you get there.

Seventeen years gone by proves my mother right once again. 

The issues of yesteryear are not the issues of today and while we have many restful nights and far less to clean up, the issues now are, well, life altering.

Then it was easy to know what to do, what to say.

Absolutely do not stick your fork in the outlet. You are not allowed to put your hands in toilet water. Stop pulling your sister’s hair. This is how you tie your shoe. You say thank you when someone gives you something. 

Many, if not all of our directions at that time, were straightforward, common sense that young children have not yet developed. The subtle and scary depths of parenting “adults” is a far different task. 

Just three week’s from Seth’s graduation, my mind will not let go of what I want them to know, what I pray for them every day…


To my adult (and soon to be adult) children wanting to make their way in the world:

There are only a handful of things I know that I know after 46 years of living and attempting to grow up myself. Despite foolish mistake after foolish mistake, God has graciously, mercifully pursued me and continued to reveal himself.

I have turned away, He has turned me back.

As you live your own life, I can guarantee yours will include some mistakes of your own. That’s part of it. I pray now though, you will grow through them and learn He wants so much more for you than you can even imagine. 

Remember this!

1. First and foremost, God loves you. 

This isn’t a passing fancy, an “I-like-the-way-you-make-me-feel-about-myself” kind of feeling. This is an unshakable, unchanging, unfathomable love like you have not know known from anyone at any time. As much as your dad and I adore you all and want the best in your life, our love looks like garbage next to this towering miracle of grace. 

I may have thought I was going to die giving birth, but this God died so that you could have new birth. He died to give you life. Whether or not you cling to that now, my prayer is that you will one day recognize and cling to it for eternity.

God loves you. 

God loves you Noah. God loves you Emma. God loves you Seth. God loves you Macy. God loves you David. 

2. We are all broken people. 

Even the best of the best—the top of the class, the star of the team, the CEO, the guy next door, we have things that have utterly broken us. There is no escaping this. Some of it is our own fault and some of it is inflicted upon us, but regardless of the circumstances, none of us get out of this place unscarred. 

Because of this, relationships are hard. We are the broken trying to find ways to piece ourselves back together. There is this somewhat humorous irony: I don’t know that we are supposed to be put together. It is in the brokenness we find the same God who was broken for us. He was broken to know us in our own hurting places and to eventually heal us there. 

It is in brokenness that we can begin to understand and connect with all the other broken people around us.

If we let Him, He is faithful to use the pieces in ways we never thought possible.

3. Life doesn’t get any easier. 

In fact, it is probably only harder from here on out. The living part is just hard.

There is a reason people want to re-live the glory days of high school, cling to the college days. There is also a reason they are always looking to the next best thing. Life will be so great once I just graduate high school, graduate college, find a job, find a spouse, have a kid, pay off bills…

From the moment the lie that God does not love us entered the world, things have only trended toward difficulty. 

It is hard to earn a living. It is hard to find someone to love you (and no one will do this perfectly). It is hard to get along with people. It is hard to see the suffering in the world. It is hard to do the right thing.

Despite a scary world and difficult circumstances, do not be discouraged.

4. There is a plan for you. 

Though there are so many times we feel alone and abandoned. We know and can trust there is a plan in place, in motion more like it. It was established before the foundations of this world and your part, you participation is essential. It doesn’t happen without you moving forward, making choices, finding your way. 

It requires some trust on your part to know you are not forsaken. He will not leave you. He will call you by name and beckon you to Himself. To understand your role, you will need to hear His voice. 

Often we just want to know what to do. We say we would do it if we could see clearly what it is we are supposed to do. I have learned though, this is like cheating on a test. It is being given the answers when we are really here to learn. We learn from the hard stuff, taking one step at a time.

5. To find the plan for our lives and understand it requires communication with God. 

This comes through the written word, spoken word and living Word of God. He is literally the communication and all too pleased to do it with you as much as possible. He delights in it in fact. It is in this communication (communion), you will find Him and find yourself. 

Relish your down time, away from the noise, the social media madness that has swallowed us all. Look for places to find Him. He isn’t hiding from you. He is the one pursuing and there is great comfort in this. 

His written word will encourage every single day. No time in prayer is ever a mistake. Through these, you will know the Living Word Himself.

6. Pursue Him, pursue that plan for your life knowing that He is in it with you and will absolutely never leave or forsake you. 

When you have discovered His call, discerned the sound of His voice, you can wholly, completely, unabashedly follow Him. You will find so much grace you will be overwhelmed by it. If it were possible, you would drown in it. 

Freedom is the gift of this grace. This freedom will give you the joy and peace to pursue His plan, the glorious vision He has for you.

In the pursuit, know you will fail and fall and stumble along the way. It is inevitable. This, however, in no way disrupts the process. It is part of it. Thank God for it and keep on moving toward Him and all that He intends for you.

7. Lastly, when some seasons seem particularly difficult or seem out of control, or even if you doubt any of these reminders, be sure you never forget the first thing.  

God loves you. 

who is to blame?

“For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, CHRIST DIED FOR US. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whole we have now received reconciliation.”
Romans 5:6-11
When my mother called to tell me a jumbled story through tears that my brother was dead, I was driving our minivan with my family on a hot August afternoon. 
It was the minivan I was reluctant to get in the first place, the same one that this same brother had told me was cool, that he liked it. That had made it easier for me to drive.
The back was full of my four kids eager to go see a movie. My husband in the passenger seat immediately knew that this normal Saturday was no longer that.
He pointed, as I talked loud and out of control, for me to pull over.
Nearly 11 years later I can’t drive past that spot without recalling the moment.
He got in the driver’s seat and I reeled as I processed what she’d told me.
I told him through irrational cries and screams that Jed had been killed in a wreck.
The rest of the way home left my children disappointed and confused in what was the closest I have come to an out-of-body experience.
Nothing made sense.
I screamed and cried and flailed my arms, scaring everyone in the van I’m sure.
I remember thinking what is wrong with me? Why am I out of control like this? This isn’t even how I cry.
It was unfair, illogical and I could barely understand how it was late in the afternoon and my mom heard from a brother three states away before we knew just down the road that my brother had died in the wee hours of that same morning.
My brother was dead.
All I could think now was that I had to get to my mom and dad. Someone could make this make sense but it was not me.
We would later all slowly assemble the pieces from people there.
A late night with buddies, outside of a bar, resulted in a joy ride in an empty parking lot in a God-forsaken Jeep.
The suspected high and intoxicated driver would walk away barely scratched asking the other passenger from the back seat to lie with him and blame the dying man for the wreck.
When the awful realization hit the driver that not only had he wrecked his car, but that one of his friends would not get up, fear and overwhelming guilt must have wracked his body and mind.
Let’s blame the guy that is dying. The frantic need for escape from consequences, from instant guilt. It was only fitting. He had to hide, to find a cover for this awful mess leading to death.
Suddenly like the Adam of old, in a garden far away, a finger pointed to someone else.
We have all been there.
That moment before sin is extraordinarily tasty and desirable—the excitement, the rush. Letting go of inhibitions for that wild moment of self-gratification. 
We don’t want to admit it, but it’s so pleasurable we go back again and again.
Let’s feel the air as we go little faster and take this speed bump.
Taste this juicy, dripping, ripe fruit with me.
Just one more shot.
Send that message to someone that doesn’t belong to you.
Tell that story that was to remain untold.
Watch those images of uncovered people, filling the mind with sin again.
The moment is so delectable.
That instant after, however, is unnerving like nothing else.
Pain, despair, guilt and fear is like hitting the pavement hard. 
When I let grieving subside for the moment and I want to point and blame I think of this modern day Adam and what he has done to my brother. He was seeking a story that would cover him and free of him of shame and certain death.
Adam of old pointed to Eve who pointed to a serpent cunningly wrapped around a tree.
That serpent began it all by pointing to, questioning God. 
A serpent on a tree blamed the Creator. 
The same Creator who would go on a tree and take the blame.
In sadness and desire to find peace, I want someone to blame. I point to Adam and guilt and sin and realize suddenly that I too am a guilty woman looking for covering and pointing to a dying man. 
When I am looking for someone to blame, I am just trying to cover my own shame.
I want hurt to subside, the kind caused by others, the kind caused by me.
I think of pieces of gravel from the hard ground in a lonely parking lot where lies are told.
It calls to mind a body torn by shards of gravel, rock glass embedded in a whip. A body that was beaten bare. It was the body of the only, truly innocent One and I was there pointing and blaming Him.
When my heart strays so far away and I think thoughts I shouldn’t think, I watch things I shouldn’t watch, I say things I shouldn’t say and do things I shouldn’t do, deep down I am aching in the aftermath for covering. 
So I point.
I make up stories.
I blame. 
I blame Him. 
The only one who doesn’t deserve the rotten end of a made up story still takes it.
He died on the tree for me while I was still a sinner.
He hung there struggling to breathe in a body He created using final breaths to say I forgive You.
As we approach Easter and I go back in my mind over JP’s sermons approaching the cross, I once again see this is all there is.
This is where forgiveness is given and received.
This is where we are exposed and at the same time covered.
This is where blame is given and taken. 
This is where death is swallowed up in victory.
Three guys in a Jeep and Jed was the only one who knew Jesus and the only one who would not survive. 
Someone finally made this make sense.
And yet, Jed did survive. He survived because his own guilt and shame were covered by the One who truly took the blame. 
Jesus took it and when He died, it died with Him. 
And because He rose again, we will also rise.

Do not lose heart

Running is the worst.

I get it if there is a specific purpose in mind—a child is headed for the road and a life has to be saved, a fast break in basketball and you just want to score.

I ran somewhat unintentionally two days ago and I’m still hurting, the good kind of sore they say.

Running just to run is not my thing.

My brain apparently loves running and not the kind that’s good for you.

It’s the kind that starts the moment the light in the bedroom goes off and a weary, worn body is just ready for rest. It is that kind that begins when all else is ready to drift away and find some type of restoration before another day starts.

You might even call it racing.

It is when I purposely try to slow the onslaught of thought, of worry. Every thing that seemed manageable—though perhaps barely—during clear-eyed, daylight hours is suddenly an insurmountable obstacle or an event that will cause my demise or perhaps my offspring’s demise.

In the dark hours be they night or early morning, it is as if my mind cannot see the light, any clear way out. Logical, thoughtful response has scattered and left me groping and fearful in the mystery of all that could be.

I will attempt to focus and quote scripture to myself, particularly that part about renewing my mind. I will pray and grasp for God’s peace. Yet it seems so very far.

My child is not yet home and it is storming and roads are slick. What if there is a wreck? What if she injured? 

My mouth is sore and achy. What if that tooth is infected and I wake to swollen jaw and excruciating pain? What if the antibiotic doesn’t work? What if it has to be removed?

What if the lady from the car wreck decides to sue?What if he doesn’t get this job?What if she’s pregnant? What if he does get that job? What if someone hurts him? What if a dictator attacks with nuclear weapons? What if someone brings a gun to my kid’s school?

I could never win a marathon but my mind will out run the best of them. It is absurdly fast and veers off the tracks of the rational with the flip of the light switch.

Scary hypotheticals abound and my mind won’t stop running.

I want peace. I am asking for it, for just a piece of His grace in that moment. He tells us that He will not give more than we can handle. He will never leave us or forsake us. Why do I feel forsaken?

Last week my brother preached on Ephesians 3.

Paul expounded on God’s mysteries.

I thought of Paul’s joy and grace and love for those he’s ministering to, writing to. He talks of the unsearchable riches of Christ, hidden in God.

I do not want them hidden! Please reveal them to me in the dark moments.

Paul was encouraging, revealing, worshipping. Then I read and remember in verse 1 that he was doing all of this FROM PRISON.

He was there in the midst of tribulations telling everyone else to not lose heart. This is the peace I am looking for. This is the piece of His presence that I need in dark hours.

Not only am I not in prison.

My child was not in a wreck.

My tooth is not infected.

No one brought a gun to my child’s school today.

Fully reliant on God’s presence, he was not sitting somewhere quietly writing about what would happen if he got thrown in prison or if he got snake bit or if he got shipwrecked.

He did. And God was enough, more than enough.

That is how, that is why Paul could write words like these while he sat in a prison cell:

“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;  to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,  in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”

He is asking that his brothers and sisters not lose heart while he suffers.

I am losing heart while not actually suffering, putting myself in the middle of every imaginable scenario.

Oh heart ache.

There it is again. Me, in the middle. A place I frequent so much you’d think it’d be recognizable by now.

One of my favorite quotes springs to mind: “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” ~Donald Miller

What a whopper it is. It is the lie I battle every single day.

This is not my story.

It is all His story.

This is not about me. Putting ‘me’ into every circumstance that I am not actually in is actually pride, vanity.

This does not mean those things could not or will not come. We are in fact promised that the suffering will come. The moments of life that I was in true trouble, God graciously stripped away every earthly solution. When it wasn’t a ‘what if’ scenario, it was the real heartbreak, God was absolutely, unshakably faithful. This is the mystery of what is.

I could bear the moment because I was in it and He was as well. There was no more searching for solution elsewhere, no more self-reliance.

It is the complete removal of me.With that was freedom to focus solely on Him and He has endured it all and then more.

Roman lawyer and orator Cicero said: “There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.” He was talking about crucifixion.

Jesus did not imagine that things were bad. They were. As he approached death, He even asked if there was another way. Stripped, beaten, nailed, butchered mercilessly with forgiveness on his very lips. And His story did not end with death and defeat.

Thank God this is His story and not my own. That He is faithful in the moment. That when it comes time to rely on Him He has endured it all and more.

Paul was free from himself, focused on bringing that same relief to all those who would follow in the faith.

I read on to the final verses of chapter 3 relinquishing the what ifs and holding fast to what is:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Bringing the far near

Grover from Sesame Street made me laugh out loud when he explained the difference between near and far.

There was a skit where he would stand close to the camera and tell the kids “this is near” and then run, huffing and puffing, far away, until he looked small and yell from a place nearly off screen “this is far.”

This went on more comically each time as he would make the trip back and forth, out of breath, clarifying for watchers the difference between the two.

Life operates oddly within these realms. Sometimes things seem far away and like they cannot affect me, in the here and now, in the closeness of near.

Death is one of those things. It seems so far removed, a future reality that’s out there somewhere though not affecting this moment. Until it does.

And the nearness can be nearly suffocating.

Then a week like last week happens. A beautiful high school senior named Grace dies on a winding Georgia road, a faithful servant named Ralph quietly crosses over from the arms of his beautiful bride to the very presence of Jesus and children in a school are brutally assaulted in a place where they should only be safe.

The far comes near.

The outward, physical reality succumbs to every worst inward fear.

Life is swallowed by death and what we want near seems oh-so-far.

These are the times that it looks like grace is gone and we are alienated, strangers in a hostile world.

It is a world that is hard and unbending and unwilling to dwell on grace and truth.

Social media, regular media, have only magnified the underlying ruin of sin that erodes communities, society, the world at large.

When the now becomes engulfed in the nearness of hostility, of death, it is easy to feel crushed and defeated.

We fight back and defend and know that something is missing. There has to be a solution, answers.

The natural inclination is to fix it.

Let’s find the problem and eliminate it by changing some things. We have this power, we think.

There must be some blame for a crash—the road is too dangerous, the speed limit too high.

A doctor can run some more tests, find a new treatment, prescribe a new medicine.

There must be some kind of law to put in place that will stop people from shooting kids, shooting each other. Take away guns, work on mental health issues.

There has to be something we can change that will keep hostility, even death, at bay, far away.

Even in the solution-seeking, we cannot escape the hostility because everyone has an answer. Laws and arguments are convoluted at best.

Solution-seeking devolves to conflict and we seem to thrive on the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.

People pick sides and not one another. We are desperate and we know our way is the way and the result is heavy, sad and not what anyone really longs for.

At the very core, we want life.

It has eluded us since we chose to live apart from the Creator of all life.

So when JP talks more about Ephesians 2 and reads: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” hope wells again within.

I only have one sermon my brother says. It is always only Jesus, he says.

Not long before the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, Mary anointed him with nard, or spikenard. It was an expensive oil used traditionally to prepare someone for burial.

At the time Jesus was very much alive in this world and the disciples were indignant over the waste of something so valuable and the death of their leader seemed only a distant, far off notion.

They protested and insisted it would’ve been better spent on the poor somewhere far, not near and now, on this lowly king.

Spikenard is made from a flowering plant that grows in places like Nepal and Kumaon in the Himalayas. To extract the oil, the underground stems are crushed and made into the powerful, aromatic oil. It is expensive.

This King made man was also crushed so we no longer have to be.

I realize that Mary was giving away more than oil of significant value in John 12. She was worshipping by pouring out, giving away what was costly to her. Could she have known that He would be crushed and the sacrifice would be the one pleasing aroma to God?

Then I think this is what is required to heal hurt, bring strangers near, to even conquer death.

We must follow Mary’s lead which is Jesus’ lead and pour ourselves out for one another.

It is a costly venture, but we have the single most valuable gift to share that will help prepare others for burial.

Grace is not gone.

There is life still and it comes only when we’ve poured out the one true gift, revealed it through love for others to see, to understand.

At the end of a week full of earthly death, I was grocery shopping. Nothing enticing, not a what I’d call a good time. But that particular Friday, there was no school and two of my boys went along.

On the frozen aisle of Walmart, my 7-year-old stopped me to say that he asked Jesus to save him that morning.

We’d been discussing this gift of eternal life for the last several days over The Chronicles of Narnia and the approach of Easter.

Holding my hand with a wide smile, he stared up at me.

My brother has it right.

There is the only one sermon worth preaching, every day and with all of our lives.

It is the one sermon that will bring the far near without fear, without worry.

It is the sermon that brings all of us who were far near to the cross.

It is the one sermon that will kill hostility for it crushed a King and it doesn’t end with a burial but with a resurrection and reconciliation.

But God

I love to floss.
My husband often says that I do it too much and when I visit a dentist I like to mention that. 
“You can’t floss too much,” the hygienist will counter and I will nod in arrogant agreement.
This latest checkup, however, reveals what a clean, white exterior will not.
There is decay beneath the pretty sheen of a crowned tooth.
Somehow the rot got in, under, beneath the pleasant exterior. The x-ray unveiled the sham, it acknowledged what was lurking below.
That tooth may need a root canal. 
The underlying decay will eventually cause pain, an unrelenting kind, as the nerve warns of a tooth that is headed for death unless there is intervention.
I was taken back by the revelation and gravely disappointed.
My brother stands at the front of our church building during worship service and tells us all that sin has gotten into everything. 
All of the world is affected, infected.
I think of my tooth.
It is something I know and firmly believe and even more so the older I grow and this is only one more depressing reminder.
There is no escaping in this lifetime the awful effects of sin. And sin, like the underlying decay, hastens death be it physical, or worse, spiritual.
Those who do not know that they know this, still actually do. 
There may be no conscious acknowledgement, but when a Super Bowl commercial for a pickup truck has to tell people we are created equal and can accomplish great things, it is blatantly obvious that something here is broken.
We have lost our way.
Lost because we do not understand this place, our place.
When early astronomers did not yet understand the proper orbit of the planets or that the planets rotated around the sun, not the earth, the numbers simply did not add up.
Johannes Kepler set straight the idea of planetary motion when he discovered the course was elliptical not round just as Nicolaus Copernicus had done when recognizing the sun was the center, not the earth. Scientific observations of planets in motion did not make sense until these basics were established and acknowledged.
The sin that infects and invades can be traced to that moment we took our lives out of their proper orbit.
When God gave Adam and Eve a choice, they—we—did not choose well.
Their choice removed creator God, Center of the universe, from His proper place. 
When we chose self, we subverted the design. As each generation ignores this reality, we make the sinner the center and the numbers do not add up.
Now nothing moves or operates in the way in which it was designed. 
God created, designed, loved and allowed a choice. The moment that choice meant redefining the proper course of all bodies, all of the universe tilted away from the Son.
To accommodate that shift, the world grows weary with propping itself upon the visible, the instant glory and gratification.
There is a grasping at any and all to tilt, to shift things back to a way that they make sense, to a way to balance the weight.
We know things are off-kilter, we sense that the weight is unbearable, but to straighten things out, to bear things up?
As long as the sinner is in the center, there is no possible way. 
After Copernicus and Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton would again enlighten minds.
Newton’s  first law of motion: Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed theron.
In and of ourselves, we will continue in the way that we are going—even when we know it isn’t right. 
After the poor choice of a gardener and his wife, depravity became the norm.
The misalignment throws the weight off and balance is lost. Wickedness prevails as bodies continue in uniform motion.
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts o this heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5.
“And you were dead in the responses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:1-3.
That is the sheer horror of sin. There is no way to break out of the pattern of this continual uniform motion.
Death is inevitable.
Then two of the greatest gospel words offer that glimmer of hope, the hope of an outside force in a sin-wracked, lost, decaying world: But God.
Verses 4-6 of Ephesians 2 is the force that compels the change by impressing upon us.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages hie might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
When God saw that every thought was evil and began again with Noah and a flood, Genesis 8:1tells us: “But God remembered Noah and all of the beasts and all of the livestock that were with him in the ark.”
When depravity was the norm, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5).
When the rot and decay have reached the sinner at the center, there is death. 
When the Son inhabits His rightful place at the center, His own death will lift the unbearable weight and the sinner will not be crushed.
The weight that is too much for the sinner at the center, the nerve that cries out in pain—these are the mercy of God at work in our lives. 
The disappointment comes.
The flood destroys.
The flaming sword protects the way back to the tree of life.
The wrath, the death, the struggle all actually point to the way of life.
Before a tooth dies, there is a lot of pain, warning cries. There is a reminder that grows day by day as it is ignored until finally it is unbearable.
When the decay reaches the center, it brings death. And while we may prop it up and even wear a crown of our own, there is no relief until an outside force unveils and restores the decay.
Relief is restored when the weary sinner sets down that weighty burden of the center.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

vigorous resistance

Killing me is hard.

Long, busy days flow over into time reserved for community and grace. I grow tired and angry and resist the opportunities to meet with others to show love, to be loved.

Without exception, doing battle with me is treacherous. It always seems most dangerous and inevitable after periods of peace and calm before the Lord. Seemingly out of nowhere the self wells in rebellion. That this follows such precious moments feels counterintuitive and yet perhaps that is the root, the logical initiation of the cycle: Growing up and in knowledge of this good and gracious King will only bring about change. We cannot help but be changed by time spent in His presence.

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful,” Flannery O’Connor poignantly observed.

I know (head knowledge know) that Psalm 22, He has done it! He has accomplished His ultimate saving purpose and it is my day-to-day dealing with, well, me that undermines that knowledge. It is that painful change.

My daughter and my husband like to catch snakes. I have seen it many times. It most often involves a long stick or pole for pinning the animal’s head to the ground so they can carefully move in to grasp it and avoid a bite.

My sin nature that lies beneath looks a lot like that writhing snake body resisting capture, resisting being held, resisting being beheld. I am liable to bite. As a redeemed creation, how can that be? Perhaps because if I am fully seen, fully known, there is no hiding the ugly, slithering side of self.

Paul says something along those lines in 1 Corinthians 13. We have dim, not fully developed view of ourselves. Seeing Him face to face will reveal full knowledge. And “then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

I am already fully known despite my resistance, my lack of ability to trust His all-knowing love, His grace. I am already beheld and He has not turned away. And there that verse is smack in the middle of yes, love. It is the love chapter that soars with descriptions that most certainly look unattainable. Does any one really love without envy or arrogance or irritability or resentfulness? Does anyone really endure all things?

I do not.

This forces me to that dim mirror and to the killing of self. The hard and painful ache of change.

Reading through that entire chapter, I find joy in verse 9. “For we know in part and prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”


I could stop there and look fully, contentedly.

The answer is yes. It has to be. Yes, someone really loves without envy or arrogance or irritability or resentfulness. Someone has endured it all. That would be Him—the Perfect.

He has come and in His coming there was a treacherous battle. It was on a cross and the writhing, slithering snake of self was destroyed.

It wasn’t me that was killed. It was Him.

This makes my painful change not so painful anymore.

It makes learning to be beheld possible. It makes my resistance futile.

I am able to move back to peace and calm before God. I am able to behold Him who is perfect love. I am able to trust His gaze and the change it brings.

lifted up

Wrestling and writhing uncomfortably in the night, he had no ability to be still. Something about this Man in this place was simply undoing this leader of the Jews. His education in the rabbinical law should have dispelled the discomfort. His knowledge should have been enough but there was something about this Man he could not avoid and he knew it.

So in the dark he went searching and for what he was not completely sure. Hid did however know there was only One place to go for the answers he needed.

Nicodemus approached Jesus in the night. His timidity was overshadowed by his restless heart. He knew his own education would likely be ridiculed if he were seen turning to the Man who was not appropriately educated. This expert among the Jews was seeking deeper truth and this Man might be able to reveal it in the dark. What Nicodemus did not yet know was that this truth can not be hidden. This truth is the Light of the world and cannot be covered by the dark.

Jesus cut to the heart and plainly revealed the need of Nicodemus who struggled to follow the teaching.

“How can these things be?” Nicodemus rebutted.

Patiently, the true Rabbi led this searching one where he had to go. Carefully the Light of the world cut through the clouded reasoning with an example Nicodemus would fully comprehend. Jesus used Nicodemus’ OT knowledge (Numbers 21) to give a glimpse of himself.

Moses in the wilderness with the Israelites who have once again forgotten their rescue, their faithful God. Relieved of their slavery, led out on the way to a promised place, they grow impatient and cry out “why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die?” These people insinuate that God is not good. It is the lie that leads us to doubt, fear, lack of gratitude. It is sin. So the fiery serpents slither in and the poison of doubt takes hold. Some die, and again, the cry for help rises. Again gracious God relents in love.

Moses was instructed to put the fiery serpent on the pole.
Moses lifted it up.
People looked and lived.

Now Jesus calls Nicodemus to look to Him and live. Jesus tells him that He, the Son of Man, must also be lifted up.

Serpents spouting poison was not a new story. Nicodemus knew it full well. That story went even further back. The lie could be traced to Genesis. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” (Genesis 3:1)

It began with the serpent in the garden casting doubt, insinuating God is not good. In their moment of weakness, a man and a woman believed that lie was true. They took the poison lie and ingested it. This fall they took for us all. The Israelites couldn’t stomach it. We now still sputter and choke and gag on the lie.

When Adam and Eve recognized they were bare before God, exposed, they took to hiding from His presence in the trees. That deep and wide chasm ached and the poison instilled fear and insecurity where once was rest and trust.

Mighty God was not through with them, with us, when by all standards He should be. Refusing to send them out exposed, He took the life of an animal to cover them, cover shame. Driven from the garden for their own protection, they fled to a dark world–one that now still writhes and groans for relief, redemption, and rescue.

So greater rescue was coming and Jesus wanted Nicodemus to catch the vision.

Like Nicodemus in the dark, we look for answers. We are drawn to the Light. When we draw near, we are able to see. And if we get close enough, we see the Son of Man lifted up. If we dare to look upon the dreaded tree, we will find our rescue. For it is on that tree that Jesus became the ugly insinuations and held fast while the evil one writhed and fought.

He dispels the lie.
It was crucified there.
He was willing to take on the lie, the insinuations, the sin as He remained there suffering on our behalf. There is no way to miss the truth when you look at the Son of Man lifted up: 
God is good. God loves us.

And the Son of Man was again lifted up, lifted in life. He rose from the fall, from the death that overshadowed us all. The night is gone. The lie is not true. He has purchased the rescue we all need. Our lack has been supplied. Our nakedness has been covered.

This year’s art show theme is “lifted up.” We are seeking entries that reflect this idea that can be traced from the garden, to the Israelites wandering, to the death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you would like to participate, please visit for details on how to enter. The deadline for entry is March 4.

Waiting on Shrinky Dinks

Staring hard through the dirty oven window I watch mesmerized as the cut out shapes begin to curl and bend. I am instantly transported to second grade and the absolute marvel of the Shrinky Dink. Coloring hard on that rough side of the paper with stunted colored pencils I could never fully get the desired finish.

Watching the transformation, however, always amazed me as I tried to wrap my brain around the concept. There seemed to be so much danger and mystery in that paper, that miracle in the oven.

This piece of flimsy paper in the oven just shrunk down to a charm for my necklace! It is now strong and unbreakable and something to cherish.

Recently I discovered that Shrinky Dink makes plain, pages of this magic material for creating your own designs—whatever you want! Gleefully, I purchased two sets excited to return to second grade splendor. Surely my kids would delight along with me. We eagerly followed directions and feverishly drew delicate designs ranging from Darth Vader to Wes Anderson characters.

We carefully followed instructions, step by step, to Shrinky Dink glory.

I watched my kids watch the transformation. As their designs contorted and writhed on the cookie sheet, I reassured them that the directions said this would happen. Confidently I told them not to worry. The pieces will right themselves, flatten back out and they would be pleased with the results.

Success and relief followed and they marched on merry ways. Once their interest waned, I continued experimenting with other ideas of my own. Watching oh-so-intently my last experiment began to curl over upon itself as none of the other designs had done. Though I’d read and re-read the directions, worry slipped in. I frantically looked over the directions again:

“Bake approximately 1 to 3 minutes. After piece lies flat, allow an additional 30 seconds of baking time to complete the process. Occasionally, a piece may stick to itself. If this happens, cautiously reach into your oven and pull pieces apart. Allow piece to complete the baking process.”

I was anxiously trying to determine if this was one of those “occasional” moments that required my intervention. I am notorious for burning myself. Going in to the oven was not ideal. I kept telling myself to trust the process as I could not take my eyes off of this curled up sheet.

Do I open the oven? If I try to pull it apart, do I do it bare-handed? Will I make it worse? Can I remove the whole tray to repair it and put it back? Will it just uncurl on its own? This doesn’t look right!

As I watched the timer on the oven nervously and felt it wasn’t going to recover I began to open the oven to intervene. I reached for the hot tray and could not determine if the piece was on the way to retracting and unfurling. I pulled out the tray and set it on the counter only to see that it was immediately beginning to harden in the greatly undesired position. So I put it back into the oven and quickly closed the door and let the Shrinky Dink do its shrinking. It finished without any more interruption and turned out lovely.

That 1 to 3 minutes felt like forever.

Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit nudges me at the oddest of (occasional?) moments. My white knuckle grip on the oven door while frantically deliberating the fate of my Shrinky Dink (and how desperately my oven needed cleaning) was one of those times.

It looked an awful lot like my messy life.

God has given me clear and explicit direction throughout His written word. I try to read it every day. I pray and ask God —at this stage of my life where even the simplest things sometimes are impossible to recall—to make the word of God the one thing I do recall. I pray that He would allow His Spirit to seal it within me, that I would know the truth. I read and re-read. I pray. I write.

Yet, somehow, when I am waiting and staring hard at my circumstances, I focus intently on the process over which I have no control. I panic. I wring my hands. My intervention must be necessary. I must get in there and fix this situation. Forget what the directions tell me to do. Ignore that it is a hot oven.

The process is frequently not pretty with contortions and changes that look like mistakes, failure even.

This is when I feel the gentle tug of His sweet Presence. “Be still.”

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” Psalm 37:7

“I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined and heard my cry.” Psalm 40:1

I think of Eugene Peterson and his explanation of what it means to wait on God, wait on God in prayer: “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts,” Like anything that requires discipline or denial, I am not very good at it. Here is where actually following the directions leads to real change, real success.

There are multiple circumstances in my life right now where I am so caught up in the details and micromanaging them. They are things I am praying about, saying that I am trusting God with and yet they just don’t look right! Surely it’s time for me to open the oven and start fixing things.

Perhaps I will get burned. I may even interrupt the process. I am beginning to find that when I loosen my grip just a bit and look again to the beautiful and mysterious Creator who’s at work, instead of the circumstances, I can trust His process. He is trustworthy. His directions infallible.

Where the untrained eye sees warped and twisted circumstance, the clarity of the Gospel lets me focus instead on finished work. The finished work is the part that astounds. We cannot comprehend the height and depth and breadth of His love—the mystery and majesty that take what is twisted and distorted and shapes it into something beautiful and glorious.

A cross that most certainly looks only like death and destruction and humiliation is somehow, someway nothing short of absolute beauty. Without this process, without this reshaping we do not have the depth and durability and finished work.

Christmas has come

The wee hours of Christmas morning, maybe even still Christmas Eve, I recall heart racing as I huddled under the covers with dad’s digital green glow watch. Not able to necessarily “tell time,” I stared and waited for the numbers 5-0-0 to come across the face for that is when I was instructed to return to my parents’ room. This seemed an eternity staring hard at the glowing face, anticipation building. It wasn’t long in reality, in the larger context of tired parents who’d been up late to assemble, to set up, to lay out.

They (I would later understand) were equally excited about what was to come and their plans were delightful but because they were the parents, they knew the appropriate timing. They knew what should be—for their sakes and mine. Even on the simplest of levels, fatigue and health, they had my best at heart. I had no realistic sense of this, only the promise of what was to come and my own unbridled excitement and limited knowledge that it would.

Over and over again God teaches through my children and He uses my own childhood and perspective gained as a parent now looking back. I fully recognize now their cooperation, their giving, their kindness and gentleness in the face of my impudent longing.

Our great God has held fast by His own gentleness and encouragement in long, dark hours.

Abraham comes to my mind. The promise—the calling of what anyone of stature and prominence would have during that time and place—to have a family name that stretches boundlessly throughout generations. To have the stigma of barrenness eliminated, erased. The promise fulfilled would do just that, but the timing must be right. He endured for more than 25 years just to receive Isaac. For Sarah and Abraham to watch month to month while evidence of pregnancy evaporates—dirt and heat and filthy rags reminding the waiting weary. Hopeful hearts diminish to the point of “helping God.” It must be time they demanded—their own timeline pulling a handmaiden into the plot. It’s like any of us fumbling in the dark, all the way to our parents bedroom, insisting in the dead of the night that morning is here!

Hard consequences chase foolish decisions in moments of second-guessing faithfulness. Just ask Eve.

I think of John the Baptist who knew that he knew from inside the womb. Ready, proclaiming, unworthy to unloose sandal straps. He speaks truth. He knows that Christmas is coming. He’s seen Him with his own eyes, but locked away on the whim of a guilty leader he awaits the morning. He doubts his own assurance in dark hours, sending word by disciples to Jesus: Are you the one to come or shall we look for another? (Matthew 11) He waited, expecting, believing and found all confirmed the moment a drunken Herod succumbed to take his life. Our God is faithful to the end, in the darkest of moments—never asking more than what He himself fully gave.

Today we look hard at the time, the times anticipating all the promises, all the good we know to come. Our own longings and long hours weigh heavy on heart and mind. Wasn’t it more than this we were promised? He has plans for good, we know.

A groaning world groans louder, longer. The ache of the broken, the lost, the angry thunders loud all around. Rumors of wickedness flourish, and worse the rumors are true. “As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:10)

The world asks the taunting question while we turn again to Christmas, and a baby.

Mary’s excitement over an angel’s pronouncement must have faded some as whispers around from family and friends suspected the worst. Joseph surely fumbled with words and felt face warm with shame when he stared hard at the love of his life and tried to take in the prospect she could be pregnant without him, without any man. Surely this is not the way God intended.

Yet once again He sent word of encouragement, of assurance. Angels appeared. Cousins cried out. A baby lept for joy. Shepherds witnessed in amazement and went searching for themselves. The wise from afar recognized the signs and followed to logical resolution—the King has come.

The singular Word of all—of encouragement, of rescue, of promise fulfilled—was made flesh. Because He was, because He is, we can hold fast in the dark. We can stare hard at the light of His promise under the cover of a dark place and know the promise is true. Every longing will be filled to overflowing. Real rescue is palpable and Christmas has come. This day. Every day.

the Prince of Peace

Once, a very long time ago, there was a land full of people.

It was an extensive society with a great history. There were stories of triumphs and failures, of peace and war, of unity and division.

These people lived in a land that was growing weary. For thousands of years people had lived and died here. Some had lived long and happy lives and died quietly in their sleep. Some had lived but a brief breath of a moment. Others had lived “normal” lives with happy days and sad days, rich days and poor days. Regardless of the life lived though there was a dark cloud of discontent that had settled over the land. The people living there now could not remember a time without the cloud of discontent.

There were stories of another time, maybe even another land nearby where days were only sunny and delightful and full of life. Some of the grandparents and great grandparents still told stories of the sunny days in the happy place. They would explain that everyone living at that time did not grow tired. People were not hurt, not sad, and they lacked nothing. They never got sick. They had all they needed and more. Many people would scoff and laugh at these stories. It was difficult to imagine and those days, that place, just seemed like fairy tales to the people living here and now.

These days were plagued by people who did not have what they needed to live. For some people in this land, that meant they were hungry many days. Some people, however, had so much food they made themselves sick. Some people, even for some of the kids, did not have a safe place to live. Others lived in homes with high walls and barbed wire so no one else could enter. Some had broken hearts. Still some had angry or lonely hearts. There was great lawlessness and frequent chaos. People worked hard but did not ever achieve what they’d hoped. Whatever the case, this place no longer had sunny, happy days.

There was one family living in this time—the dark time—that had heard the stories of a happy place not so far away with sunny days. Not only had they heard the stories, they’d seen them. Their great-great-great grandfather had written the story down. He had written a book that not only told of the sunny days in the glorious place and plentiful food and happy hearts, it told of a man. He was the main character of great-great-great grandfather’s book. He was known as the Prince of Peace.

It was a fantastic storybook! It told all about this good and kind man who was also rumored to be an heir to the throne of this glorious land. When the family would read about him, they would always whisper the part “heir to the throne.” The story told of how he would concern himself only with loving others. It told of how he would give away riches to anyone living under his rule. It told of how he made beautiful places and delicious foods just by saying a word. He taught people to love one another and live together with joy. And everything he did was for the good of his people living in his glorious land. He just sounded too good to be true.

Great-great-great grandfather Hope had passed the story and the book down to his son and to his son and to his. Now the family of Hope lived here in dark and desolate times and found it hard even for them to believe. They would leave the book on the shelf. They had once read it regularly and found it gave them encouragement, but as the days seemed to grow longer, always with more work to be done, they read the story less and less.

The youngest of the family, however, refused to let go of the Hope family storybook.

His name was Trust. He had, as soon as he was old enough to read, asked every day to take down the story book from the shelf so he could study it for himself. In the beginning, his mother Weary would not often let him see the book. She was afraid that the worn pages would tear and the Hope story would be marred. She also knew that her husband Busy would not be thrilled with the idea. He didn’t object to he book for mere subject matter. He objected because it was one of MANY things he considered a waste of time.

Staying after school for a game of tag—waste of time. Reading the comics—waste of time. Reading books not necessary for work—waste of time. Busy always had more to do and why would he give up time he could be using productively?

Trust was relentless. As days seemed to only grow darker, and longer, Weary would relent. She knew Trust had little to be excited for and he was an obedient boy. She wished for him to have the joy that her own father-in-law had had before he died. Her father-in-law, Provider, had held fast to the Hope family story. As he had aged and grown sick, she thought he might have let go of the Hope story, but he did not.

She knew that Busy would not be home to see Trust read the book, and if he did not see, he would not know about the waste of time.

So like his grandfather before him, Trust would read the story and find himself thrilled by the Prince of Peace. Even when his own school and work day was long. Even when it was well after dark and he felt like his mom, Trust would at least open the book. Though hardly anyone believed the way he did, Trust thought in the deepest, quietest places of his heart that this dark and sad time could not be all that there was. He believed and he could hardly even admit this to himself in his room all alone—that there really was a Prince of Peace and he really did live in a glorious land and he really did take care of all his people and he really was (whisper) heir to the throne.

When Trust was very young he would tell people unabashedly about the story. They would nod and smile and pat him on the head. As he had gotten older people would smirk and stop listening. So he stopped telling. He so wanted someone else to be excited with him. He had often thought of entrusting the story to his very best friend at school—Ornery. Ornery was a good friend though Weary wasn’t always sure about that. What Trust loved so much about him was that once he was your friend, you knew he would never not be your friend. If nothing else, he was loyal.

After much worry and internal debate, Trust decided to share the story with Ornery. It was hard to find time since everyone his age not only went to school, they all went to work for several hours after school. They even worked on weekends. Today was a special early release day from school and they did not yet have to be at work. He had ceremoniously led Ornery to his room, shushed him along the way, closed and locked the door. Ornery was a little confused by the big ta-doo Trust had made but he also thought this must be something good. Whatever it was, Ornery was curious. Trust carefully slid the book out from under his dresser. Trust instantly was overwhelmed with the excitement of the story. He talked fast and furious as explained the book, and the story, and described the Prince of Peace. Even though he spoke so fast Ornery could barely keep up, Trust still whispered heir to the throne.

When he finished speaking he stared at Ornery expectantly and nervously. He knew this would not end their friendship but it might make it a little tougher. Ornery stared down at the pages of the book and then at his friend. Slowly a grin spread across his face. This was the best story he had ever heard. It was beautiful and exciting and full of hope. “May I hold the book?” he asked Trust carefully.

Trust was so relieved that Ornery was even interested, he handed it over gingerly and held his tongue on telling him to be careful with it. Ornery turned it over, turned pages slowly, felt them between his fingers. It was an amazing book. What amazed him even more though was the obvious belief that Trust had in the story. He loved the idea of believing like this. He sat quietly looking for a long time. So long that Trust became nervous that his mom would want to know what they were doing.

Finally Ornery spoke. He explained that years ago he had heard his great aunt tell a similar story to his older brother. He had been expected to listen but could not sit still long enough to pay attention. After hearing Trust explain it, all came rushing back. The memory of visiting his great aunt in the Old People Place, the weird smell in her room, her breath that smelled like cheese when she tried to kiss him hello. But now this story was familiar. She had told it with a twinkle in her eye and he had ignored it. Just like his brother Erratic had.

He flipped again through the pages and stopped short as he reached the end of the book. Trust was eagerly awaiting its return. Ornery just stared though. “What about this ripped out part?” he asked casually.

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” Trust replied loudly. “Nothing is ripped. I take great care of that book and mom will kill me if I don’t,” he said as his voice got higher and more nervous.

“Right here,” Ornery pointed.

How he could never have seen it before, Trust did not know. The hours he’d sat studying and pouring over its pages. This was the last page, the very end, next to the cover. As he looked he could clearly see it had not been haphazardly ripped out, it had been carefully cut maybe even with a sharp edge. It was cut cleanly, up until that last fiber near the top of the page. You could see the torn feathered edge at the top part where it had been pulled free at last.

He was appalled, devastated, confused. Trust stared hard and his eyes began to water. First for fear for himself, and then for disappointment. It didn’t make sense. The story ended well, it wasn’t like you finished reading and thought something was missing. Why would a page be gone? Who would take it out? Why? As his mind sped along every theory it could muster he could only murmur aloud.

Ornery looked at his watch. “I have to go,” he said flatly. “The Farmer expects me early since we got out early.”

Trust nodded as he left. He was numb with disbelief. As he began to grasp the notion that someone deliberately removed whatever was at the end of the book he began to think about who it could possibly be. In his lifetime hardly anyone looked at the book. In his mother’s maybe only a few more. Beyond that he did not know.

He had to know and he had to find the missing page.

The following day Trust talked to Ornery about it at school, probably too much. They had to sit out of recess because of talking during the lesson. They did get to sit close enough though to continue the conversation. They agreed that the page had to have been removed for a bad reason. If it was something good, why would it be removed? Then again, maybe it was something someone thought was crazy or too good. They could not agree on motive but they could agree they wanted answers.

Their plan developed throughout the day. The best they could figure was to start with Trust’s house. Since it had been there for years, at least see if possibly someone at home took the page. On Thursdays Weary cleaned the house of their neighbor up the hill. It was one day the boys knew she would not be home for at least a two hour stretch.

Next Thursday they would have to sneak away from school during recess, take a look around, and make it back before the kids were called in. Trust had NEVER considered anything like this before but he could not explain the weight of what he was feeling. This was something so big, he just knew it.

On Thursday they began a frantic search of the small house. Nervous and excited they were still careful to return things to their original positions so that there search would not be discovered. They checked kitchen cupboards, bedroom bureaus, the desk Trust shared with his older sister. They looked carefully through mom’s only personal space at the end of her closet. Nothing. Their time was quickly running out.

Standing in the main hall of the home, Trust realized he had to search Busy’s desk. He’d almost started there. If he was wrong and he messed something up there the consequences would be severe so he’d subconsciously avoided it until now. He began to rummage. It did not take much, however. There were several cubbies on the mid section of the front of the antique desk. There were envelopes standing on end in the second cubby that Busy used for mailing off bills. Slid further back from all the envelopes was a yellowed sheet. He immediately recognized the texture and size and even the cut and torn edge. He motioned to Ornery as he pulled it out.

As he unfolded the sheet he realized it was more than he could have imagined. It had to be the too-good-to be true option. There was a map. There were directions. There were beautiful drawings. He could not fathom what he was seeing. He could not believe it had been removed from the book.

Ornery brought him back to reality as they realized they only had six minutes to get back to the school yard. They ran fast, Trust with a giant smile on a dark day with discontent all around.

That afternoon he soaked it all in. He knew he would have to return the map to its hidden spot or risk being discovered. He recognized locations on the map. Everything did not have the same name now, but he could tell based on a couple of major landmarks in town. He knew where the old church was. It had long since been unoccupied. People worked too hard. There was no time to rest, to go to church. This map pointed beyond the old church and down a side street that no one in their right mind would drive, much less walk down—the Robber’s Highway. These were definitely walking directions. The map’s final destination was what mesmerized. There was a gorgeous colorful picture sketched there. He did not understand all that he saw, but it looked like a golden road, jewels everywhere, trees drenched in fruit he had never before seen, bright light, and oh-so-sunny skies. It was as if that one corner of the map lit up the rest of the dark page.

The road to get there was quite dangerous. Everyone knew that those who had completely given up to broken hearts, to anger, to hunger, to the worst of the worst spent time along the Robber’s Highway. They hid in the darkest places. There were dumpsters and a couple of shacks nearby. There were stories of people stealing, killing, destroying.

This map led down this road and it looked like through a what was drawn to be a dark and scary overgrown forest. At the edge of the bright and beautiful spot it looked as though there was an enormous stone wall. In other words, getting to this place must be nearly impossible.

He looked at the margin of the page and recognized Busy’s handwriting. There were notes scribbled here. One said Strength, May of 1990. The other said Creed, September of 2012. He wondered if Strength could refer to his great uncle he heard about. He was a huge man, powerful, scary if you did not know him. He did the hardest work around with the greatest ease. People from all over would come to him for help and he almost always did. Trust had never met Strength. He knew he’d been in a terrible accident and didn’t live past his 30th birthday. He didn’t know the date of Strength’s death but thought maybe this was what it meant. He just didn’t know if had anything to do with this map or if his dad had used it to jot down notes before he’d realized what he was writing on. Perhaps if he knew who Creed was it would make more sense.

At school that week Trust found that answer without even trying. In his history class they were talking about local historical figures. Turns out Creed was a local lawyer who had been known for his innate sense of justice and his desire for righteousness. He was also known as a brilliant man. Some thought he was a genius. He knew the law inside and out and was able to apply it and use it and help others with it. He firmly believed that if people just knew and understood the law, their land would be a better place.

The teacher explained that after years of service he believed he could find a way to restore their great society. He thought he knew of a way to eliminate discontent. He set out to teach the outcasts that they just needed to know the law.

People thought that Creed had lost his mind as he’d aged. The teacher lowered her voice as she explained that he began to believe in some crazy stories of living happily ever after with a prince in another kingdom, somewhere without lawlessness. That is not something that will be on your test she said. It is only local hearsay she said. Sadly, Creed died out on the Robber’s Highway she explained. The vagrants there did not appreciate being told they needed to obey the law. He was found bloodied and bruised at the edge of the mysterious forest. It was a mysterious story on its own but now considering Trust’s map discovery, it was miraculous.

That evening at dinner was rare because Busy made it home in time to eat before the kids had to go to bed. Trust was particularly geared up over his newest discoveries. Though he thought he might be a bit daring to ask, he could not resist. (They were after all studying this in school.)

“Dad, have you ever heard of Creed? Creed Justice?” he asked at the table. Busy looked mildly surprised and said yes and wanted to know where he’d heard of him.

“We are studying local history and our teacher told about him today and about how he was killed back off the Robber’s Highway.”

“Wow, what are they teaching you guys these days? Why in the world would they give you those kinds of ugly details?” he replied.

“Well, we weren’t supposed to know about how he died or how people thought he was crazy at the end and looking for a way out.”

“Out of where?”


“I don’t know what you mean, son.”

“The teacher said we aren’t supposed to talk about it but that Creed was trying to point people to another place, a better place, ruled by some kind of prince.” Trust said as if he was unsure, even though he was absolutely positive. He didn’t want Weary and Busy to know how much he knew of the story and the implications, much less begin to understand that he actually thought it was all true!

“Well, that sounds a bit much,” Weary said as she stood to collect plates.

“This sounds like a waste of time to me,” his dad replied as he picked up his brief case and headed to his desk. Trust would have been worried except he’d slipped the page back into its spot this afternoon while mom vacuumed. He had copied down every detail of the map he could. He’d tried to recreate the intricate drawing. He written his dad’s scribble notes in the same spot.

He helped his mother and his sister with the dishes and then hurried to his room. He locked the door and opened the book. He pulled out his hand copied map and studied it some more. What if Strength had also died trying to get to the sunny place where the prince ruled? He thought. I mean, what else could this place on the map represent he thought. What if someone who’d needed help came to Strength because they had heard of the prince and the glorious land. What if he had tried to find the way?

And Creed, he was such a smart man. People thought he was a genius until they thought he was crazy. What if he knew something Strength did not? What if he had recognized a better way?

It was hours before Trust could fall asleep and when he did he dreamed of an amazing place where people did not work all day and all night, where people did not go hungry, where his dad would be willing to waste time. He dreamed of people being kind and helping one another, obeying the law. Just before morning light he dreamed of the Prince of Peace. He felt warm and relieved and peaceful. In the dream he came and looked Trust in the face. Trust told the Prince about the beautiful place he was thinking of and how he longed to find it. The Prince smiled and said, “I am the way.”

Trust woke suddenly. For a moment he thought the Prince was there. He could not handle it. When he realized it was only a dream, his excitement dimmed and yet he still felt hopeful.

As he worked at the grocery the following afternoon, he stared out the window onto the sidewalk. He saw a young boy asking a lady leaving the store for some change or a piece of bread. The lady almost looked sympathetic for a moment and then quickly put her head down and moved past the boy. This boy didn’t go to school. Trust had seen him before but had been told to stay away from him. Someone said his mom had worked near the Robber’s Highway. Trust couldn’t image. He didn’t know how it could be safe. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the second half of his roll from lunch. He reached down for his dustpan and took it to the front door to empty. He didn’t even look at the boy as he handed him the bread and hurried back in.

As the door closed behind him, his decision was made. He was going to try and follow this map. There are too many people with too many hurts. We cannot go on like this. Maybe it’s dangerous. I dreamed of the Prince of Peace. He said he was the way. I have to know. Maybe I’m going crazy like Creed.

But he didn’t care.

He nonchalantly told Ornery the next day that he was going to follow the map. Without missing a moment, Ornery said I’m going too. Trust was surprised and happy. Ornery looked nervous though.

“What is it?” Trust demanded.

“I have to tell you something.”


“I am afraid you will think I am crazy,” Ornery explained.

“Really? After all I’ve told you lately? After saying I want to follow a map to who knows where, a map that leads through some dangerous spots? Please, just tell me.”

“Well, I had this dream,” Ornery began. Trust immediately began to shake on the inside and held his breath without even realizing it. “We were in the beautiful place from the map. And, well, I saw the Prince of Peace.”

Trust stared with his mouth hanging open, eyes welling with tears.

“He talked to me,” Ornery continued. “He said, ‘I—Trust cut him off mid-sentence.

“He told you he was the way, right?!” Trust almost shouted.

Wide-eyed Ornery stared back. Now his mouth was hanging open. “HOW DID YOU KNOW?”

“I had the same dream.”

The began to plan for their trip to find the glorious place. They knew the direction they needed to head and they knew it would be dangerous but did not think it far. Still, they wanted to be sure they had plenty of time to get there without being noticed as gone. The only logical opportunity was next week. On the fourth weekend of the month, kids were allowed to have a Saturday off from their apprenticeship. Rarely, Weary would let Ornery sleep over on that Friday night. Occasionally, Ornery’s mother would let Trust stay over. They decided they would both say they were staying at the other’s home. This way they could leave Friday afternoon. It didn’t get dark until 9:30.

The week seemed to go on for months. They could not wait until their journey.

Friday afternoon finally arrived and the boys met behind the grocery store. They had decided they would not try to bring a weapon of any kind. It seemed like the logical thing to do considering they were headed for the Robber’s Highway. Somehow much of this did not seem logical so they were going without. They did however bring jackets and masks. They thought it best to wear some sort of protective gear for the overgrown area, if they made it through the highway.

The made their way past the old church. Kudzu covered the side of the building and wound up to the roof peak near the steeple. It didn’t feel right. As they looked at Trust’s map the turned the corner and saw darkness ahead. This was more than the usual cloud of discontent. This was a deep darkness, visible everywhere. There were two men ahead on the left side of the road who looked as though they could barely stand. There was a woman opposite them in torn clothes and matted hair. A little boy sat at her feet crying. She rolled her eyes.

Ornery touched the sleeve of Trust’s jacket. They pulled the masks down over the faces and moved forward. They stayed in the middle of the road and both barely breathed. The lady perked up and half smiled. She asked if they had any money on them. The boys shook their heads no simultaneously. The sped their pace. “You don’t gotta be like that!” she yelled and the little boy cried louder. They heard a scream down the alley. They thought someone was saying help. They looked straight ahead.

The two men stared at them. One whispered to the other as he stumbled their way. The boys moved faster. “Get over here!” The man yelled through crooked yellow teeth. Trust froze. He had always been considered an obedient kid. Sometimes he didn’t like the way he always listened to older people. He knew he didn’t have to listen to this man and he was scared, but for some reason he stopped. The man was in front of him breathing heavy with an evil grin.

“Where you two goin’?” he demanded. “You don’t live around here.”

“No, we don’t.”


“We are following our map, just passing through.” Trust sputtered.

“You don’t know the way,” the man slurred.

“The Prince of Peace is the way,” Trust said trying to sound confident.

Fear flickered in the man’s eyes and he backed away from the boys. He grabbed the other man by the crook of the elbow and they stumbled into the dark together.

Trust grabbed Ornery and the moved off the highway in the direction of the overgrown path at the edge of the massive forest. It was dense and dark, but you could almost see a soft glow deeper in. They were afraid and excited. As they moved closer to what looked like used to be an entrance. They saw massive trees overgrown with vines of all types. There were massive thorns everywhere. It was an immensely tangled mess.

It looked like this was the end. There was no possible way they could cut through this, even if they’d had the tools. It was like nothing they’d ever seen. Ornery was sure he’d seen a snake slither under the far corner. That was unacceptable.

They looked at one another. I don’t know what I was thinking Trust thought. Then he said it.

“You were thinking we’d find a way. You were thinking we’d be heroes. You were thinking everyone could follow us and find relief. Find comfort. Find him.”

“Yes,” Trust replied.

There is no way through he said suddenly through tears. They held onto one another, though they had never done that before. Trust cried not caring what Ornery thought anymore. Ornery patted him on the shoulder. It was quiet and still.

The boys noticed a fragrant smell. Trust breathed in deeply and stopped crying. He looked up at the top of the tangled mess and saw multiple rose blooms. He must be smelling them. He dropped his head again.

He turned from the dense overgrown area and saw a warm and radiant light moving ahead of him. He reached out and grabbed Ornery’s arm hard though he didn’t mean to. Ornery lifted his head. He clearly saw it too. The light moved closer and the closer it got, the more they could see it wasn’t a light, it was the shape of a man—but not like any man they had ever seen. It was him.

The instant they fully recognized who they were seeing, the could not withstand it. They both fell to the ground, excited, trembling, out of control.

“Boys,” came the most radiant, comforting voice they had ever heard.

They both slowly looked up at the Prince of Peace. “Ornery, Trust, get up.”

He knew their names. They could hardly contain themselves as the stood before him.

Trust spoke, “We thought we could find your place. We had a map. Busy said no. Creed might be crazy. There is no way through.” Trust didn’t make sense as he spoke. It seemed clear before the words got tangled on their way out of his mouth.

“I am the way,” the prince answered, just as he had in their dreams.

He moved past the boys and began to walk straight into the thick overgrown path. The boys didn’t know what to think. As he walked he didn’t just glide through, untouched. The thorns began to sink into his skin. He began to bleed.

The boys were horrified. This doesn’t make sense they thought. If this is the way to his place, he knows how to get there. He is not like us, he should not be hurt. But he was.
The snake they’d seen earlier slithered through and under. Clearly the prince was unafraid, but he was hurting. He pushed through and his strength began to move the mass of branches and vines and thorns. He was clearing it as he went. It was not easy, but he was making progress.

He told the boys, “Follow me.”

Carefully they moved ahead.

He continued on. By now his clothing had ripped. The sharp pointed vines and branches were leaving terrible marks on his skin. He breathed heavy.

They followed slowly and suddenly heard a shout. The drunken man from the highway charged at them. He held a bat. He swung wildly and the prince stepped between them and the man. He took the blow. He bent low and then stood again. The drunk man was afraid and fled. There was an immediate bruise across the side of the prince. He turned back into the brush and continued ahead.

The boys were undone. “Please, you are hurt. There has to be another way.”

“I AM the only way,” he replied. “Just follow me.”

They both were crying now, watching as he moved slowly, deliberately, powerfully, and painfully ahead.

It seemed like hours. It seemed like evil was all around and yet the warm glow of his presence held it at bay.

Finally they saw a giant stone wall. It was massive and thick and looked like it weighed tons. The more they looked, the more they realized it wasn’t only a wall, but a gate. It looked as though it could possibly be raised but not without some massive piece of equipment. As they strained to see the top, the glow radiating from over the top was incredible. They thought they could hear some kind of music even. They couldn’t begin to fathom what it might be like on the other side.

The prince looked worn. There was so much blood. His skin was torn in places and he breathed heavily. “It’s time to go in,” he said.

“But how?” Trust said almost exasperated.

“I am the way,” he said almost with a smile.

The Prince of Peace reached down and began to lift. It was a struggle, but he slid his fingers that were calloused and worn beneath the edges of the massive stone. For the first time Trust could see his hands were already scarred. He strained and pulled and the sound of the stone grinding on the pieces next to it was overwhelming. The crevice now visible between the ground and the bottom edge was blinding. The light from within pierced the darkness all around. He lifted slowly, steadily.

The boys shielded their eyes.

“Go in,” he said as he strained with his might to hold open the massive stone.

They looked at each other and then walked across the threshold. As they crossed over,
they could only gasp at all the beauty before them. They’d never seen the sky so bright and clear and beautiful. There was not a single cloud of discontent. Birds chirped. The wind whispered sweetly. The air was rich and fragrant. Ripe and glorious fruit dripped from the tree branches and a bubbling brook ran between the trees. Cozy cottages dotted the green hillside. Peace rested on this place. They felt strong and restored immediately as they crossed into the land.

As he lifted further the massive stone gate cracked and was loosed from its bindings. It groaned and scraped and began to fall. The boys looked on in horror as it was began to fall and the Prince of Peace was crushed beneath its weight. It fell back and out and the sound of its landing on the forest floor was unlike any they’d ever heard.

They ran to where the prince lay slain. They screamed and cried and buried their red faces in the folds of his garment. His blood was now on them.

Trust felt a powerful hand upon his shoulder. A more delicate one rested on Ornery’s. They looked up to see Strength and Creed looking down at them.

“He’s dead!” Trust cried out.

“He has opened the way,” came Creed’s reply.

“So what,” said Trust.

“So what? It means everything!” said Strength with excitement in his voice. “This is his land and he has called us here. He called you here but there has never been a way before. He is the way, he made the way.”

“We dreamed there was a place like this and it is more than we could have asked or imagine and now that the door is open, anyone can come,” he continued.

“I thought if I taught people how to follow the law, how to behave and do things the right way, I would be rewarded and people would be allowed in,” Creed explained. “But no matter how hard I tried it was never enough. It only created more lawlessness.”

“My strength was weakness compared to his,” Strength agreed.

“But what now?” came Trust’s quiet, sad voice.

“Now you go and invite everyone in,” Creed said.

“Of course I will, but it will not be the same if he is not here,” came Trust’s reply.

The boys could hardly stand to leave. The slain prince was still beautiful. This place was like nowhere else. They were excited, confused, somewhat frightened, but Strength and Creed helped them up and told them you have to go and tell everyone that the story is true, the way is open, and they are all invited.

Bewildered they made their way home. They passed by the church and found that the vines were no longer growing up the sides. As they traveled, their excitement grew the more they thought of what was ahead. They thought of telling their parents that all their burdens were gone. Weary would find rest. Busy would be still. The angry ones would find peace. The sad people would be happy. The hungry would be full. The sick would be well. The broken would be repaired. The lost would be found.

For the next couple of days the boys told anyone and everyone they knew of all that had happened. They told them they could come along. To their dismay, some scoffed and laughed. Others thought it sounded silly and they couldn’t afford to take time off of work to see if it was true. Many listened. Many thrilled to the idea that they could live a new life in a bright and beautiful place. People talked and readied to leave.

Trust and Ornery led the growing group back across their town and down the Robber’s Highway. They reached the edge of the forest and were delighted to find light breaking out across the hills and through the overgrowth. The way was still open.

When they crossed the threshold again on the third day, every hope was fulfilled. There was joy and laughter and peace. There, on the throne, was the heir. He stood and welcomed them in.

grief and glimpses of glory

To be alone with me
You went up on a tree
~Sufjan Stevens, To Be Alone With You

When my brother died I looked for him everywhere. I knew without a doubt that his faith had become sight and now he’d seen the King. I know where he is.

Left here on the faltering gray earth though I’d found my sight frequently dimmed. So I would look for him. When the sky was particularly beautiful, I would stare hard at the edges of the lit-from-within clouds thinking I might see a sliver of his healed and whole face. When I drove down the road, I would look to the passenger seat and think for a moment of his nearness. Maybe I could see the outline of him there. When I was out and about, I would often find the shapes of young, shaved-head men. I’d catch sight of one walking away, see the back of his head, and imagine it was him.

It’s silly I know and yet it is comforting. In this lifetime of ours there is much emphasis on sight, on vision. So much of what we believe is correlated to what we see.

Round the clock news channels offer us a continuous view of all that is happening across the gray globe, be it good or evil. If I listen only to these voices though I would absolutely be focused on the latter.

This week, Doris, the wife of a dear Godly friend went to be with our good and gracious king. She’d languished long, aching to go home. Gary had lamented alongside his bride. He wanted her restoration and rescue although separation was an obstacle of heart and mind.

She looked angelic every time I saw her. The brilliant white hair and glorious pale skin and a touch of pink. Despite pain and sadness she still had an impish grin. Faithful 68 years of marriage gave them both a glow of the bridegroom.

I think now the loss is cavernous. When life has grown up around you, intertwined, united with roots so deep, the loss can only tear and undo and hurt. Like the upending of a great and weathered tree, roots are exposed. The dirt flies, the groans are loud and long. The hollow must ache and pull like nothing else. Suffocating.

The eyes tell us she is gone. We see her there, but not.

I think that was a big struggle for letting go of my brother. I did not get to see him again. The brutality of death would not allow it. My mother and I so longed to just see a glimpse of his skin again. Just to graze his freckled arm with a fingertip. To see and know he’d gone on. Maybe that’s why I looked for him everywhere. To my puny mind, I’d not seen his end. I had only had lunch with him at Moe’s, listening to him tell funny stories and watch him laugh with my son and daughter. I had only hugged him that last time, grabbing him, feeling his absolute solid physical presence.

My need to see him however was superseded by his vision now, vision I long to have.

It is vision I pray for Gary.

My brother’s faith became sight; he has seen the King.

Doris sees Him now as well.

I read this week of a dear family friends whose two youngest daughters suffer a rare and fatal brain disease. They work hard every day to to care for, enjoy, treasure their girls despite knowing the ache of separation is all too close, too real. Yet their faith holds fast.

They also cling to greater vision. The immediate and unrelenting now forces them to focus on things they cannot now see. The ache and desperation provides greater perspective. Their perspective grows every day as does their vision. It is a vision of glory, of God’s goodness in the darkest moments. It is trusting in what they cannot yet see.

I long for this vision. To step back and get a good glimpse. I think of 2 Kings 6 and the prophet Elisha as he prays for his servant to have vision. Early in the morning the servant finds that he and the prophet are surrounded by the horses and chariots of a greatly troubled Syrian king. He was greatly troubled because somehow this prophet knew what he was going to do before he was going to do it. It was irritating.

The king sought to seize the prophet.

“What do we do?” was the cry of the servant and the calm and measured response came from the man of faith, of sight. “Do not be afraid.” Elisha prayed for the servant to see—and did he.

“so the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

In the moment of fear and desperation, the servant only sees the enemy and imminent destruction. He needed vision and Elisha knew it.

It is the vision we all long for whether we know it or not. We are called to trust. On occasion we are offered a glimpse of eternal proportions.

The only one we are called to fear is God. And He is the one who gives us the sight, for there is nothing He does not see. (Hebrews 4:13, Psalms 33:13)

So I pray now for the hollow and lonely places of those who are hurting and alone after 68 years of communion and oneness. I pray for those who daily deal in the reality of things we only dare whisper to one another. The faith and vision of the King is enough for us all. The tree He went up on has reach even deeper than the roots of the oldest around.

Restored vision is achieved here. This is where we behold full-on the glory and majesty of all we hope for.

When we gain perspective, when faith becomes sight, when vision is restored it is because we understand that the story is not about me. I am not the central character upon whom all hope is laid. Our struggles, our suffering, our grief does not end here with us.

All the world would deceive, would turn us over, like the reflection in the concave mirror of the spoon. Everything is upside down on this side of eternity, us alone, at the center. None can withstand the pressure of being the center of the story. To be the center means being suffocated, eventually killed.

Thankfully that One is not us. That One was killed. That One did upend the tree when He burst forth from that dark, deep, buried place.

We are pressed down, held under, we face the broken, sinful, wretched curse of death. Yet it is in the darkest places that our eyes strain to see a glimpse of light. And here in the dark, it is somehow easier to spot the light. As we draw nearer to it we begin to gain greater vision, to see the story clearly. Here we find freedom to breathe freely as our faith becomes sight.

“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
2 Corinthians 5:6-9

no discernment in the dark

Bombs and gunfire and fear.

Fridays are fun days and Paris is that place, that place that conjures love and food and romance and wine and wistful getaways. This twisted Friday the 13th tore a hole in the heart of that city and those of us across the ocean who sat mesmerized.

It was not unlike that September day when our minds tried to assimilate, make sense of the horror unfolding before our eyes.

This cannot be. Not again.

Can you believe this? Can you see it?

People cut down. Made small by mad men, sick with sin. Desperately sick, desperately in need. Men who, with their own devices, hurt and destroy in a feeble attempt to heal their own empty hearts.

This pervading evil has reached full mass and boiled over out of black and empty hearts. They have filled full with the rancid that will not soothe or comfort or restore. And when the venom they thought medicinal is ingested and does not repair the way they thought it would, their hearts and minds frantically writhe and fight and spew it back on those who dare to disagree. Not even those who disagree, even just those who exist outside of their venom-induced hallucination. The poison has gone down deep, so deep that it’s not just those in disagreement, it is all those that are other. Others upon whom they have thrown their assumptions. It is a path with no boundaries, no borders, no safe places. When we cast upon others assumptions and judgments that are not ours to make we end in ugly, dark, despairing places. The boundaries have disappeared. All has become dark.

Their own failure is highlighted, their own lack of peace is so glaringly obvious. And just like the hurt and angry cornered animal, they lash out in a most dangerous fashion. Their own hurt must morph, must move on. They push it out in hopes that they will eventually be soothed. Violence begets more violence and the solutions allude.

There is no relief. There is no comfort.

This is a fight we all face.

There is a darkness within. It is birthed from a conversation we should’ve never entered. The whispers of the slithering serpent are lies that should never have been entertained. Once we’ve listened and the venom makes its way in, we feel we are worthless and must fight to make people hear and understand. We think we must achieve to please God. God will only be pleased IF we DO this thing. Fill in the blank.

There is a blank that has to be filled in. He will only be pleased if you kill the infidel. If you bring a meal to the family in need. If you donate this amount of money. If you behead the unbeliever. If you sacrifice your children to their own devices. If you detonate yourself. If you volunteer enough time. Without the safety of those boundaries, without a well-lit path, it is easy to lose your place. Even the things that seem good are missing the mark. There is no discernment in the dark.

The blank is actually a deep and dark chasm that will never be satisfied.

At least not when it’s left to us to fill it.

It doesn’t matter what you put in the blank, as long as you are putting something in it. If you are filling that dark, gaping hole with some performance of your own you will not find relief, or repair, or rescue. Left to our own devices, we will self destruct.

The only answer is that we are not the answer.

We are not seeking an achievement. We are seeking an antidote. The venom of the evil one has invaded all.

Like men who are bolstering their own absolute fear by lashing out, we must lay down our weapons and defenses. We have to recognize our need can only be met by One.
This One who covers us all, fills us up, heals the hurt, soothes the pain, repairs the brokenness.

He is the one that walks the streets of Paris even now. He sees the broken and is there to heal. He sees the grieving and is there to comfort. He sees the angry and is there to calm, to forgive. He is paving a way back. He is creating the safe place. He is leading His own back home.

For those of us who’ve seen the Healer at work because we’ve been healed ourselves, it is time to point the stranded, the struggling, the suffering to the only One deep enough, wide enough, more than enough to fill every black void. We struggle and strain and stretch thin and feel we don’t have answers. We only need point to the One who does.

He is never stretched thin. His reach is enough. His outstretched arms have borne it all—the bullets, the bombs, the hatred, the fear, the loathing, the insignificance. He has disarmed the enemy and staved the venom and crushed the serpent’s head.

pity parties and answered prayers

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” ~Flannery O’Connor

I felt small, and not the good kind of small. Not the kind that meant the black you wore was flattering and the muffin top was less visible. This was purely the less visible kind. The kind where you are feeling less than. This was the kind that makes your cheeks burn hot. As I walked fast and furious I recounted the slight. It made me walk faster and push back tears.

What was really a simple miscommunication made me feel left out and alone. I tried to fight the feeling and be positive. My response was “I can walk on my own, listen to some music along the way.” When I couldn’t find my earbuds, I erupted.

Not finding them wasn’t simply frustration over an item misplaced. It also signaled something deeper. I had many sets of nice earbuds, hardly used. My ensuing irrational train of thought began there. They were rarely used because I was rarely alone. There was always a child nearby in need and to luxuriously block out what was going on with music was close to unheard of. Yet this one moment (that I was trying to make the most of) I couldn’t even do that because I couldn’t find any earbuds. I couldn’t find any earbuds because one of the kids that always needed something had invariably taken them because they’d damaged or lost their own. Flustered and moving faster, I paced and let angry thoughts run wild.

No one cares that I don’t have a way to listen to my music, they don’t even care that I was left out to begin with. I’m not on the radar at all. Where have I gone wrong that I give up all I have for my kids and this is what I get?

Now that kids are in school, I am looking for a job. Employers see a resume with holes gaping of years spent not in the paying world’s work force but in that one that goes without paycheck and little other notice. I tell myself that is my calling and I did what I was supposed to do.

I recall a recent impromptu phone interview that had awkward pauses as I tried to make myself sound valuable, sound knowledgeable, sound big. I floundered. The memory recent is humiliating as my value in those eyes is directly tied to my hours in, pay earned, contacts made.

My thoughts go further to years back accepting a job as a magazine editor. I took the position with three kids at home, one school age and two others not yet. Two days into the job, I found myself explaining to the publisher I’d made a giant mistake. Those kids were my primary responsibility no matter how much I wanted to be an editor, to design pages, direct photo shoots, write stories. I needed to be there for them first.

As I walked and cried and sweated with no music to soothe. I only grew angrier.

I prayed.

God. Help. Please.

This is an ugly cycle. This is going nowhere. This is a pity party.

Please help me see You move, You answer prayers.

Before my emotions could be allayed, I was angrier even. I put aside so many things to be this mom. I can’t even say it’s a job I have done well. I have sat in dentists’ offices with the nurse explaining half a dozen cavities and died a little thinking I was too tired to help floss so many nights . I have sat across the table from a teacher telling me again that this child will not sit still and listen and there are others who deserve this spot in this class. I have had teachers send notes home that they made my child buy a lunch because what was packed did not look like enough. That’s what happens when you are all to happy to let a fourth grader pack his own lunch when time is short. It’s not like I’m a stellar mom with star students and athletes and no discipline issues. This job wasn’t done well and now all of these years of “experience” count for nothing when you want a job so someone somewhere will notice you, will deem you worthy.

God, please help me.

I think of scripture. I know the answers. I’ve known them all my life. How now does that get me out of this hideous pit? I know that I should not live by my emotions. You act on truth and let the emotions follow.

When the emotions grab hold it is so hard to shake them.

I am ready for the meat. The meat to be the gospel truth healing my heart. I am ready to see the power of God’s word remaking me. How do I break free?

I tell myself the truth. I am a child of God. He is sovereign. He sees me. These years are important, not wasted. The eyes of the world may not see success but there is so much it will never see.

I don’t want to be like this, worried about what others think. Worrying about be considered valuable and not small. I have prayed often to be more than this selfish me, to have more of Him and less of me.

I am trying to hold fast to truth. In that angry, emotional moment, I struggle so hard to hold on to it.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

My night ends with a loving husband, listening, patiently. I tell him I KNOW the answers. It just seems like a great time to feel that they are true. When does faith become sight? How do I get to the reality of the words?

I cried. A lot.

The following day I found what I always find after that kind of night, swollen puffy eyelids and under eyes, a terrific addition to my smallness.

The next day, for some unknown reason, my husband asked me to take a short business road trip with him while kids were in school. As we drove, my mind again wandered to my future, this next step with kids in school. Previously I saw it wide open, fat with optimism. I could go and be anything. Now a few weeks in and job prospects thin at best, it’s a different landscape.

I think again about feeling small. Why do I feel so small? I am putting my identity into what I do. Suddenly, gently, the Holy Spirit nudges and I recognize a prayer is being answered. How I couldn’t recognize it is instantly astounding. I have prayed time and time and time again. “More of you and less of me.”

Rarely do we like to think of answered prayer as such a painful process, or at least I don’t. In my small mind, there is a magnificent thought of only happy people in happy places with no job losses, or illnesses, or suffering. Answered prayer is healing and peace and smiles and rainbows.

I thank God as I realize yet again when I always seem to forget: This is not about me.
I am praying for Him to increase, for me to decrease AND HE IS ANSWERING MY PRAYER.

Words of CS Lewis immediately come to mind: “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

It hurts to feel small. It hurts because I am wanting it to be all about me. When I focus on me, me, and then me some more, perspective skews wild.

Donald Miller said it beautifully: “The biggest lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.”

The anger melts. Frustrations fade as I once again find my great God faithful.

“For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” Psalm 33:4

My anger, my sadness shows a distinctive lack of trust, of gratitude. I spent years enjoying the people, the gifts He has so graciously given. Then like a spoiled child, I stomped around saying I’ve gotten no credit for this. I could have had a job where people pat me on the back, say nice things, pay me money, take notice. I deserve credit! Give me Yours!

There it is, the absolute heart of the gospel. He did.

He has given me all of His credit. There is nothing He has withheld from this spoiled child. He laid it all down and I am demanding what? Something else? His earbuds, perhaps?

There is nothing He does not notice.

He’s making a way even now. This God who made the heavens by a word, is continuing to patiently remake me. He is gently stripping away the subtle idols I have put in His rightful place. Being a mom does not overshadow being His child. Being an editor does not make me more valuable to the Creator of the universe. I don’t need a title, a bullet point on the resume, a salary to be someone. (Even now the flesh cries out, “a salary would be nice though!”) UGH.

When I was young, people would wear bracelets with PBPGINFWMY printed on them. I thought they were silly and now I think I need one. Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.

love letters

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  1 Peter 1:8-9

When I was in college, I fell in love.

The man I would eventually marry was a student at the University of Connecticut. I was a student at Texas A&M. The semesters we spent apart seemed long because the love of my life was 1,786 miles away.

No one was emailing, much less text messaging. There were phone calls, but they were expensive, 15 cents a minute is a lot for poor college kids. What we had instead were actual love letters. These letters on a page spelled out words that relayed a story of love—literal love letters. He took the time to consider me, my feelings, to relay his own. He let me know his plans and his thoughts about the future, our future.

Checking my university mail box was an essential part of my day. It informed how my day went. If it was a letter day, if I heard that I was loved and thought of and cared for, things were oh-so -good.

If it was not a letter day, I would survive but I would also wonder if he had thought of me that day. I wonder how much he cares, if it meant anything that he’d skipped a day on letters. The distance hurt more when our communication lagged.

We had letters. We had plans. Now we’ve had 22 years of marriage, five kids, 12 homes. We now can look one another in the face and speak the words we want to say and when we are apart there is texting and emailing and cheaper phone calls. Our relationship is more than enhanced by our communication. It is dependent upon it. Our words to one another keep our relationship alive. The events of my life are not fully lived until they have been shared with my husband. They seem fictional until he knows about it. The reality of making choices, moving ahead only happens when he has spoken and responded.

I am thankful to have this kind of relationship. As deep as it is, it is only a distant second to the life-sustaining relationship with the God of creation. He has spoken to me, before that, he spoke me into existence. And His word, written and alive, is the one that holds me together.

The incomprehensible, life-giving word of God, the word that has the power to bring the dead back to life cannot be contained. As a writer, the very idea of attempting to capture it—in words no less—is daunting, an impossible task. There is no capturing, no taming of this power, this power that holds all of creation together.

Hebrews 1 makes the power clear:

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

He upholds the world and all of life by the word of His power. My existence is at His mercy, is only possible because of His word. Consequently the only thing I can do is work within this realm where He has made me, designed me, and given me the words I write to attempt to honor that same Word of life that gives me my own.

God’s greatness is unsearchable in a world where everything is searchable.

Because God is God, when He speaks there is a physical response. Creation has no option but to respond when the Creator is speaking to it. The Word is life. The Word sustains life. The Word came to restore life.

God spoke, we were created. God speaks, we are redeemed. God’s Word alive is a person, the Person. John 1 tells us plainly:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

It is no coincidence that John chooses to call Jesus the Word of God. These letters arranged spell out words that reveal the Word, the living Word whose name is Love. Just as Jesus is our life, our resurrection, the written word of God is our life, our directive. It is our direct connection to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

It is our love letter.

The days I wrestle and thrash and doubt the most are likely ones when I have not checked that mailbox, looked inside to find He wrote to me. I survive, but I miss what He has written to me. Doubts are allayed. He reveals His thoughts, His desires, His plans for my future—our future together.

It is relevant in this very moment. Hebrews 4:12-13 “For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

On its face, these verses have always struck a certain fear within me. This does not sound like a love letter I think. A piercing sword sounds painful. Naked and exposed are not things I’d like to be. I have heard these verses so many times in so many ways. Yet, I look again.

They are talking about, describing the written word of God. And then there are pronouns for the word of God: His, Him. This written word of God is alive, but how can that be? When God speaks, there is a response in creation. It must be this way. God’s written word is no less powerful. Jesus is the Word of God. Here we find Him. In this verse, on this page, on every page. If we will just look.

He is our love letter.

These verses though, still sound scary. Because of this living Word we do not have to fear. We will survive the piercing of the sword because He was pierced. We can be laid bare before Him because He was naked and exposed for us. This Word discerns our thoughts and intents because He made us, He knows us.

We still feel the sting of separation, the fear of exposure. As exiles waiting to be rescued, we look for encouragement.

So we keep reading.

“Since them we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

There is the encouragement for the moment, the promise for our future together. He has gone ahead. He has made a way.

Though we feel far and long for that face-to-face relationship, we can hold fast to this love letter.

Our lives are made real when we speak with, commune with the Word of God. We gain life, real relationship when we let the Word of God speak His truth and graciously encourage and change us.

We find a life-altering, eternal relationship with the Word of God, in the word of God.

1 Peter 1:23-25. “Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God for All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”

these aren’t the little things

I didn’t plan to have a fifth child. Actually that is true of the fourth as well. Regardless, it is symptomatic of an underlying idea that I think I am actually in control of something which is pretty funny in and of itself. That fourth child, that fifth, remind me of the Ephesians 3 prayer that closes with the acknowledgement that God can and does do more than we can ever ask or imagine. They are light in a lot of dark places.

Number five came along when all the other four had survived until school age, made it past my fumblings and failings long enough to make into the educational system where someone else could be responsible for their well being for more hours in the day. From the moment I saw that second line on the pregnancy test, I immediately cried out with thanksgiving. Anyone that knows me can easily testify that is not my normal first response to anything. And yet, the grace of God overwhelmed me with this last unexpected gift.

Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of his attitude and nature as number five has had a grateful heart from so early. He thanks me for everything I do for him. Part of it is purely that childlike contentment that seems to allude us once we pass about second grade. But his gratitude is humbling, contagious. I’ve seen it affect others. In turn I am grateful.

So as I approached this school year with apprehension and as much courage as possible, I still dreaded the day this light would go into another realm to brighten others’ days the way he has every one of mine for five years.

The struggle is more than just his departure, it is what it means for me, at home, alone. I have always wanted to work, to find value in a salary and achievement. With my first kids it was such a wrestling match with God. I kept trying to find a way to do more, to be more. He kept providing a way for me to be home, with more kids. This approaching departure from that pattern did not assuage my angst. If I am honest—which I a more often not—in the recesses of my mind I always thought I would “become something” when I had the time to myself.

We live in a world that explains this is only possible outside of home or when a paycheck is involved. It is an ongoing battle for me. It includes my recently inaugurated job search. The kids will be gone, I have to “do” something more. I need to be more than, well, me. As I have not yet found any such job, there is a vague sense of defeat already.

As apprehensive as I was about this moment, my little man was that thrilled. His excitement was palpable. He was so prepared for this departure that I was and am amazed. Here I believe is the contribution of four much older siblings who talk of lives away from home. He idolizes these older brothers and sisters and desires to emulate them. The only natural progression is to go to school the way they all do: junior in college, junior in high school, sophomore in high school and fifth grader pave the path.

First day jitters were nonexistent for this one who knew his friends were waiting for him in the classroom. (Kids he’s never met are already friends in his mind, be it the playground, the classroom, or passing by on the street.)

Approaching this day made me ponder Abraham taking his promised child to that mountain top. I too, bore a child in old age. Mine was unexpected delight. I cannot fathom the strain and the foreboding as Abraham followed God’s directive to do away with this long-sought-after, long-awaited light of his life that promised so much more for future generations. Surely his knees were feeble beneath him climbing to that inevitable place. Mine were, just getting out of the car to find the kindergarten classroom.

Abraham followed through. But God followed through first. He provided a substitute to foreshadow The Substitute for us all. And there is the origin of gratitude.

My kindergartener hardly looked up from the table once he found his spot. He immediately chose a crayon and went to work. I didn’t drag it out to appease my own pitiful departure. My brave and beautiful fourth went happily to her classroom.

The older siblings have graciously been given a new venture in a Christian school. When I say given, I mean it wholeheartedly. It was another unexpected, highly unlikely happening at the hand of God. As I left them at their new school, I thanked God for delightful surprises like these–this child I didn’t expect, this school I didn’t think possible.

As soon as the quiet approached and I understood where I now find myself, I focused on being thankful, dwelling in the gratitude. Thankful to my Better Way who has provided all along the way. The One who is in control despite my illusions of such. I thanked Him and then thought of my new life without kids during the days. I still have much responsibility for them, to them, even when they are not in my presence.

I thought of the parable of the talents. Immediately I think, I am that guy who only was given one because I don’t have much responsibility, no job of significance. In attempting to stop the negative strain, I thanked Jesus for this role even while thinking I am something of failure alone. Being a mom is not the role of great value, but there is even less of me when they are away. I am not the one with the 5 talents who doubles the fortune. But as in Matthew 25, I want to be faithful, to be commended for being faithful over a little. I prayed as I drove home alone, “Help me to be faithful in the little things.”

I believe He answered immediately:

“These aren’t the little things.”

I gasped.

My precious people are not the little things. I have made them this in my hierarchy of provable success. This life I have been given is not of little significance. There is great responsibility. This is my assignment for this moment in time. Yet I have continued to make plans, believe I am in control, and think I need so much more.

The plans have been made for me and they are those of the Ephesians 3:20 and the Isaiah 29:11 kind. It’s better than I’d hoped for. It’s more than I can ask. I have a future and a hope, whatever that may be. And I am following my kindergartener’s example by clinging to gratitude in this moment.

i am in the way

“I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”
~Flannery O’Connor

This is the ‘i’ society.


While Apple may take credit for the little ‘i’ naming phenomenon, it has more than caught on. Most likely this is because the ultimate little ‘i’ is well, me.

When anyone at any time could “go viral” in a virtual world, it is no surprise that much of life begins with ‘i.’ It’s all about self, making things available for me, to me, about me. Communication via the latest tech has made it the ‘i’ in isolation. It is a selfie nation run wild wielding selfie sticks threatening to pound one another into internet oblivion.

The ‘i’ we project is usually filtered, flattered, and false. When we are actually—not virtually— faced with who we are in real community, how and what do we do with our “me”-ness? Our little ‘i’ issue?

Unfiltered us is often ugly. When we can’t cover, we want to fix.

A friend and I recently lamented our personal struggles, the real, the daily, the disappointing behaviors we admit and long to have repaired. We ache to be made new. We rejoice in redemption received and wrestle with sanctification. We want to be fixed.

The desire to fix, however, often fixates us on us. This is where the problem lies. What’s wrong with me? Someone help me. How do ‘i’ fix me? It is the unpleasant cycle that returns us to the ‘i’ issue. Recognizing the need is essential. We usually stop there though and focus on the need while problems only loom larger.

We can trace this family problem to garden lies that were all about this small ‘i.’ There is something little ‘i’ am missing, a knowledge ‘i’ need. This is the small ‘i’ lie: it’s all about me.

It’s why Flannery O’Connor’s pleas in her prayer journal resonate to my depths, “I do not know You God because I am in the way.”

Little ‘i’ am in the way! Help me push myself aside.

I find my struggle reminds me of the upside down economy of God’s kingdom. There was a man with a bit of an identity issue, who in a moment of frustration—perhaps righteous rage even—took the life of another. He covered it up. When the deed was uncovered (and his little ‘i’ confronted) he ran. He ran to hide his ugly little ‘i’ problem. He could not, however, outrun the solution. In Exodus 3, as he lays low shepherding a flock, content with the quiet he meets the Word we all need.

“And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.’  When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’  Then he said, ‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey… And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’
Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’
Moses is given his calling in the midst of hiding and readily admits his own insignificance, his own lack of authority. Moses is more than acquainted with his own short comings, his little ‘i’ problems. (Return where I am wanted for murder?) I have issues that need addressing. If you are sending me, what can little ‘i’ say that will possibly make a difference? Then comes the answer that we all desperately need.




Can you feel the exhale?

Little ‘i’ is no longer an issue.

This is insignificant ‘i’ before the face of I AM. There’s no need to tack on some meaningless object to that name, no iPhone, no ithis, ithat. I AM is the Word alive, the Creator and Sustainer of any and all. There is no hiding in obscure, filter-filled, avatar-laden, alter-ego worlds. This is where we build the altar and lay that little ‘i’ on it. This is where we bow low. This is where the focus shifts and the little ‘i’ that leaves us ultimately alone and isolated is replaced.

Discernment is possible because we have shifted, held down the shift on that small ‘i’ and find capital I AM is all there is to need. Faced with Author, Finisher, Healer, Redeemer, rest is readily available. Fretting forgotten.

It is not a superficial shift. It is the sanctifying variety. It is facing I AM who created, who knows. He knows about the buried bodies. He knows about the running and hiding. He knows about the little ‘i,’ the insignificance, the ugly. He burns it away and we are left with focus restored. I AM knows what needs repair.

He knows because He was there. He answered the call when they sought Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. We exerted our little ‘i’ in a garden, creating the problem. Big ‘I’ in the garden solves our problem. In John 18: “So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’”

This I AM, the living Word of God, spoke the truth about his all caps existence. The power of those words overpowered those armed and ready to arrest. Verse 6 tells us that “when Jesus said to them ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” The big I in the garden always trumps the little ‘i’ there.

And perspective is regained here.

Though the power of His Word spoken was enough to defeat his captors and flee, instead I AM submitted fully. He submitted to death on a cross. He let go of self.

Let us follow this lead.

Let us let go.

Eyes off ‘i’ and on to I AM.

We have the opportunity, the ability to cast the care there. To cast it where it is redeemed, restored, swallowed up. We can acknowledge the need and rest in the rescue. The problem is solved and now we initiate a new identity. We are made for bigger things, bigger than us.

Our small and fragile finite fixing is overshadowed:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

We plead, “push me out of the way.” We fix our eyes on I AM and find the only way to know the One who fixes us.

the thorn isn’t leaving

I look for tidy answers to tiring days. Those long days, moments discouraging seem to run me down, even during what should be sabbath rest. It’s as if attacks are more prevalent when we’ve celebrated worship, rejoiced in The Victory. I can run down lists of all the ways the kids are awry and how I long for it to be made right. Running down the list though is more like running down the kids, pointing out flaws. The consequential sting spreads and aches and I swell hurt. I recognize myself. These short comings and failures are equally my own.

So I look for happy, quick-fix answers.

There is a verse for this somewhere, some devotional that tells me I am not a bad parent. They will “get it” and grow up and be kind and love others, even their own siblings. My own weaknesses overwhelm those thoughts and I recall 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul receiving the not necessarily quick-fix answer in the face of fleshy thorns, trials, hurts, longings for those he’s been striving to bring along in the faith.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (NKJV)

I have plenty of that last part to go around. So if it’s made perfect here, He’s made perfect in this weak fleshy moment of mine and my kids, where is it? When is it becoming perfection? How do I see it?

I know it is true and authentic and applicable today. I believe it is true. Is this the faith without sight? Because it doesn’t look like strength is abounding when a child says they are no longer sure they believe. It doesn’t feel like strength when tempers flare, egos swell, and no one “likes” each other anymore.

Perhaps this isn’t a simple solution I am offered. Maybe underneath that isn’t what I am really seeking, or more importantly really need. The need is to first acknowledge the need, for the need to fulfill the intended purpose and drive me to that intimate space, that quiet where I meet Strength. How else is anything made perfect? Flare prayer with instant results would not teach or train or accomplish heart mending at deepest levels for the long term. It would only be instant gratification and a moment fixed in a world overflowing with these things. And those are not the things that last.

I need to need Him, to long for Him, to ache for repair and the repair begins here when I meet Strength. I only begin to glimpse that as I go to my knees in these times, the times when I recognize I cannot do this. The shortcomings fall long and failures pound me down to the earth.

This is where I find Him.

We all want the simple, smooth answers. We request ________, He grants__________.

The simple. The slick.

I think relationships that only exist this way may not actually be relationships. Could this God who is relationship in and of Himself, possibly want more from and for His children? The gritty, zipper-stuck-push-and-pull of a true knowing, true relationship. He isn’t content to leave me slick and falsely satisfied. We aren’t moving on without the knowing that comes in the struggle, the gritty moments.

Consider those you truly love, truly know. Not the idols, the idealized versions of someone you think you want to know. Knowing comes with that rub, the rubbing off of the rough edges, the changing one another.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (ESV) Proverbs 27 tells us for a reason. That sharpening means we are having the dull, the useless parts filed away. It does not feel good. It does, however, accomplish His purpose.

God wants us here. This is where, this is when we know Him. When we know strength.

Here, bowed low, I find immediate relief and strength for the moment. When I recognize that this too is in a sovereign plan, I can breathe. When I remember  Strength was truly perfect the moment He went up on a cross, that moment when onlookers only saw weakness, I can know it isn’t all on me. I am not alone and there is a work in progress—in them, in me.

It is the Jacob wrestling the angel reality, the push and pull for souls in Sodom. It is Paul pleading repeatedly to have this thorn removed.

Paul receives that answer. This thorn is not leaving. This particular trial is necessary now for humility, for purpose accomplished. So Paul leads by example, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (ESV)

There is no other way to truly know Him, unless we know Him in the struggle. When we can wrestle and then declare His grace all sufficient. When bad is worse and He is still more than enough, it is only then that we do know.

When it doesn’t look like strength, when it doesn’t feel like strength, I have to let go of the perception and hold fast to the reality of God.

I hold fast to the God who knows me and is enough.

secret identity

“Super ladies? They’re always trying to tell you their secret identity…think it’ll strengthen the relationship or something like that. I say, ‘Girl, I don’t wanna know about your mild-mannered alter ego or anything like that. I mean, you tell me you’re uh Super, Mega, Ultra Lighting Babe, that’s alright with me. I’m good…I’m good.'”

~Frozone, The Incredibles

Laughter subsides, reality pops back. Art reflects the culture, a cartoon character goes straight to the almost unbearable truth of a world that is content to focus on the masks we all wear rather than the reality behind them. Furious pace of electronic connection buries people. It shovels dirt into this hole where we are trying to bury the truth.

I certainly don’t post video of the argument my kids had over who ate more oatmeal cream pies out of the box I bought yesterday, or upload selfies from the time I cried my eyes swollen, overwhelmed with ache that one of my children is hurting or that I have hurt someone else, again.

As we all starve truth and gorge on the emptiness, we find ourselves anemic, weak, distorted in our view of reality. We are engulfed in “reality” everything. Yet there is this vague acknowledgement in the backs of our minds that this is anything but. The momentary shot of adrenaline approval—whether it be a like, a view, a follower—is a fleeting fancy with no tangible sustenance. (And if you are here thinking that those things can result in the tangible, they can. It’s not, however, of the life-giving variety.) We are not fed or fulfilled. So we do it again, like the Pavlovian dog or the rat trained in the maze.

The anorexia of the soul consumes.

We shovel some more.

Born into sin, we immediately and innately sense our ultimate need, our lack, and we yearn for more and better. We seek approval. After our divine design was marred in the garden, we instantly began to mar one another and assign blame for our ensuing lack of security. Once we have lost sight of identity given by God, we reach for the first fig leaf we can find to cover and just try to act natural.

This ongoing attempt to validate ourselves, to find ourselves valued, to find ourselves loved, most often results in that same reach for the leaf. We cover the unmentionable aspects of ourselves, revealing only what we think is acceptable, desirable, beautiful, in hopes it will garner the affection we crave. It is the starving of our true selves.

After awhile, we forget the Truth. We no longer know who we are, lost in the mad shuffle of shifting morals and madness. We think we will find rest, relief for our weary souls by feeding elsewhere, online. We emerge with the secret identity well-hidden, only our Super Selves on display. We may parade in a mask of bravery, courage. It is not really what we want. The deepest need is not met.

We will exhaust every avenue, changing anything and everything about the truth of who we are. If we aren’t married, maybe marriage? If we are married, perhaps divorce. If we are young, let me just be older. We have aged, if only we were young again. Don’t have money, work really hard to make as much as possible. Change hair, change eyes, get thin, surgically alter my physical identity, gender even. I will find a way to fix myself, to change to something, someone better. I know I will like who I am now.

Herein lies the ugly secret. Here is what we are trying to cover in that hole. Like a Poe character attempting to hide the evidence in the floorboards, it will not be silenced. Whatever we project, whatever we think we want people to see is not only not reality, it isn’t even what we want known. We want to be fully known just as we are and fully loved that same way.

We can undergo a total physical transformation, inherit all the money we could ever want, land the perfect job, wear the perfect clothes but when we wake up in the morning, it is still just us. The exterior can look however we want. Circumstances will always fluctuate. It is still just people striving, shoveling.

None of us can change what actually needs changing.

There is only one true Super Hero. There is only One capable of validating you. And the you He validates isn’t Ultra Lightning Babe, or because you’ve gotten 100,000 followers or because of how you look, or feel, or act. He validates the mild-mannered alter ego. He falls in love with the one behind the mask, the secret identity you. He rescues the you He designed. It is the you He made you to be.

When there was nothing admirable, lovable, delightful in your identity, He sacrificed His own perfect internal beauty. He gave it up, gave it away. This is the One to whom every knee will bow, every tongue will confess. And. He. Loves. You.

He designed you. He works from the inside out, the upside down of the world. He created the identity that can only be complete in Him.

David wrote it magnificently in Psalm 139:

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
 you discern my thoughts from afar.
 You search out my path and my lying down
 and are acquainted with all my ways.
 Even before a word is on my tongue,
 behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
 You hem me in, behind and before,
 and lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
 it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
 Or where shall I flee from your presence? 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
 If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 
If I take the wings of the morning
 and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 
even there your hand shall lead me,
 and your right hand shall hold me.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
 and the light about me be night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day,
 for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts;
 you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
 Wonderful are your works;
  my soul knows it very well.
 My frame was not hidden from you,
 when I was being made in secret,
 intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; 
in your book were written, every one of them,
 the days that were formed for me,
 when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
 How vast is the sum of them!
 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
 I awake, and I am still with you.”

He made you. He knows you. He loves you.
The proof is in the action, not in the uttering of words, or typing words on a page.

He didn’t like your post. He didn’t follow you on Twitter. He didn’t send a friend request on Facebook.
He went up on the tree and laid down His life. And for all of our shoveling, we could not bury this Truth.
When He came back from the dead, He brought your identity with Him. Your secret identity is not a secret to Him.

Leviticus and how God wants you (yes, you) near

This learning curve is steep.

New job, all new terminology, volumes of unfamiliar acronyms and unfamiliar operating systems are a tad overwhelming.

I could chalk it up to a lot of things— age, background, disposition—but it is now a moot point. In the last three weeks I have learned more than I ever thought I would about Georgia motor vehicle laws, chain of custody for a vehicle, weight classifications for truck tractors and straight trucks, millage rates, replacement titles, property taxes and insurance lapses. 

When I try to sleep, the DOS based software I am fumbling through flashes behind my closed eyes.

It is as if I am lost in a scene from The Matrix. The screen is blinking with numbers and codes and to someone insightful they mean so much more. There is so much detail and every inch of it has a meaning whether I fully grasp it or not.

It is as if I am in a foreign land and do not speak the language. I just nod and smile and ask for help over and over again. I plow forward hoping that at some point this will suddenly click and what is now foreign will feel familiar and ways I feel I’m failing and a hindrance will transform into some type of success and helpfulness.

When JP began the current series on the Pentateuch, I loved the overviews of Genesis and Exodus and took ravenous notes reminding myself of the beautiful details of so many stories I have known since childhood. They are a reassuring continuum of God showing his faithfulness to an unfaithful people.

As he turned last week to Leviticus, the foreign feeling I have been grappling with at work came flooding in. So many times I have attempted to trudge through the readings of entrails being washed with water, hands placed on an animals as they are killed, the blood thrown on the sides of the altar and the processes for ritual purity.

The feasts, the sacrifices, the blood shed. Burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and scape goats—Nadab and Abihu consumed by fire for unauthorized fire. It can overwhelm the mind and, not unlike a code you’ve never seen and are trying to learn, seem like it makes no sense.

This moment in history is yet one more beautiful reminder of the God we desire to know, the God who has called us to love. He chose the people. He chose their leader. He answered their cry while laboring under oppression and slavery. He called them to himself time and again while they chose to turn away.

At the beginning of their relationship, God called to Moses from the burning bush. At the beginning of Leviticus, God called to Moses from within the tent, the tabernacle, He had instructed them to build. Once constructed, however, no one was able to go in.

They could not bear to be in His very Presence.

It is the great divide in need of bridging for every person on the planet. How do sinful people draw near a Holy God? 

The details required and contained within Leviticus seem so foreign and strange, and at times barbaric. But like JP explained, they truly become the most amazing component of it all. In the middle of the details, there is the one detail that matters. The one that amazes.

This is what it takes to have sinful people draw near. 

And this Holy God, He wants them near.

He wants us near to Him.

He wants you near.

Author, Creator, Finisher, Perfector is seeking you. He is seeking a relationship that will change and shape and remake.

Whatever it means to let us into this dwelling place with God, He will prescribe a way. There is a standard, a code, that brings order and ultimately a solution to the sin problem.

If the steps to get there in Leviticus seem monumental and daunting, they are. To approach God, who is like no other in heaven above or the earth below, offers a way to approach, it is no wonder it boggles the mind. It is essential, it is the least that could be done for someone to approach and still survive.

Laws are in place to protect people There are codes that provide order and keep people surviving.

Like a renewal on your car’s registration, however, this type of solution must be repeated. If someone takes ownership of a vehicle, a tax is due. It is the cost of having an ordered society where people can come and go on safe streets and with protection in place.

The sacrifice required to approach, to find relationship is astonishing. It is the cost of a people who continue to choose sin as long as they are bound in earthly flesh. Year after year, day after day, sacrifice and rescue are imperative to continue the relationship. 

But much like dreading going to a job day after day with details I don’t yet fully comprehend and certainly have not mastered, the day in and out of offering sacrifices was wearisome. It was a system that was only foreshadowing a more perfect solution. The One Perfect Solution.

Hebrews brings Leviticus into focus through the lens and person of Jesus.

Leviticus was straining to see the glory of what was to come and Hebrews reflects the beauty of what He accomplished. The context unlocks that mysterious code and ritual:

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him….

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ2 had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:8-14

Like the flashing numbers that are so foreign, and the rituals of blood and sacrifice. There is meaning in every detail. The rituals of sacrifice foreshadowed the One Sacrifice that would put it all in place. His One perfect offering brought an end to all others and relationship is granted, established. 

Here we find rest in a finished work as we move towards greater understanding.

I will move ahead and trust that The Perfect Sacrifice offered in my place will take my fumbling and failings and use them. There is a purpose and He has already accomplished it.