repost: a light between here and there

the Grandma I wrote about in this post passed away today. she was an example to me of a love that endures at a time when I needed it most.

My Grandma I wrote about in this post last summer passed away today.
She was, and will always be, an example and encouragement to me of a love that endures at a time when I needed it most.

Someday, I will write about that, but tonight, before I tuck myself into bed, I just want to go back to my earliest memories of her and smell those cotton sheets.

* * * * *

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. — Matthew 5:14

When I was a little girl, my parents packed us into their old, red Datsun mini station wagon and traveled north from Denver to Casper.

I don’t know how many times we made that trip to my grandparents’ house, or how many times we drove those hours at night. At eight years old, squished with my brothers in the back seat , the drive (which might be just four hours) seemed an eternity. Even with my dad singing cowboy songs.

Somewhere behind us, the lights of the city disappeared, leaving only black nothing ahead.

Miles and miles of darkness. No highway lights. No inside car lights. No light-up games. We floated through space.

Lone beacons in midnight fields, like bright stars, reached out with comfort  — and questions.

Who would live so far out in the nothing? Wouldn’t they be lonely? Where would they go to school?

Someone chose this solitary place. A rancher, maybe, with a thousand head of cattle. An oilman with a hundred wells. A lineman, quiet and content with the company of tumbleweeds . . .

Finally, we’d reach a rise and see, off in the distance, the white-blue glow of Casper. Almost there. Always, it seems, it was then I would fall asleep.Midland Pennsylvania at night

More than an hour from the first sight of city lights, through town and out again, into the dark countryside once more, was a country school in the middle of nowhere where my grandparents were caretakers.

Noisy vibration of wheels hitting cattle guards jostled me awake. A floodlight on a lonely road marked our destination.

Into the driveway, around the school, we coasted toward light pouring through the windows of my grandparents’ house, inviting us out of the cramped car onto the lawn and into the glow.

I can still smell the cotton sheets of the bed grandma had made up and waiting. Stretching my legs under the covers, I drifted into darkness again — the feel of the road in my limbs as the journey replayed behind closed eyelids.

This quiet home — a light, far from town, a shining dot on a dark landscape — was Grandma and Grandpa’s house. A place of wide open spaces and adventure and cousins and giant sprinklers and stories and jeep rides on scary back roads and arrowhead hunts and a refrigerator full of name-brand soda in cans.

There is a place for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

I wonder how long we will live along this dark highway. . . in the daily-ness of nurturing, guiding, growing, of learning to be faithful in small things.

Because sometimes, I wrestle with the limits of my little light.

Sometimes, I am reduced to flickering – a candle wick bent, weary, drowning in wax. And I begin to envy the power of the luminous city, of the brightness that cannot be hidden. And I become a lamp, out of oil, puffing stinky smoke . . .

Sometimes, I want to pack up and leave the quiet place. To find significance as part of a big thing . . . cars drive past in a hurry from here to there . . . 

But somewhere, in the middle of the night, someone is searching. And a small light will illuminate his steps, even if just one step at a time.

On the journey through darkness, a solitary light marks the way: Keep going, you are almost there.

A solitary light gives comfort:  Traveler, you are not alone.

A solitary light gives courage — It’s possible to live in the middle of nowhere for a very long time.  

Even a solitary light holds back the night. Even a glowing ember can be revived. And a dimly burning wick He will not quench. 

This is the light God gave me.

 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:15-16

Sometimes a city, set on a hill. Sometimes a lamp, on a stand. Sometimes a flickering candle. But always light. Always and ever dependent on the Father of Lights for filling to fight against consuming darkness.

. . .  there is a purpose for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

Since through God’s mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart . . . .But we have this treasure, this light, in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:1,6-8) 

* * * * *

Thank you, Grandma Barrick.

filters for our words, part two

This forum is so immediate. Not like the “old days” when reaching an audience of more than a couple of friends was a very big deal and took time.

Social media has been kind of a gift to me. You, too?

I ride the fence of introvert/extrovert, so it’s the perfect blend of safe and risky. I get to ponder my words, instead of self-consciously searching and stumbling over my imperfect mouth . . .

No, I don’t always think through what I post on social media — I can be just as reactionary or impulsive as anyone — so I don’t want you to think every word is calculated and weighed, because . . . frankly . . . well . . . It isn’t.

But here, on this blog, I have to take time to process and pray. Because I could inflict a lot of damage on my home.

I started blogging two and a half years ago, and I visit this question every time I post: where is the line between what is helpful for the reader and harmful for my family? Which might explain a little of why I blog so infrequently . . . it’s a pretty effective filter.

But over and over, God makes it clear to me that people need to know that drug addiction isn’t just for dark alleys and crack shacks, that drug addiction is as possible for a pastor as it is for a prostitute, AND that it’s possible for a family to be ripped to shreds by the nightmare of drug addiction and yet make it out the other side intact.

The problem is, though, so much of this is really Dave’s story to tell.

So, I show Dave the things I write about him and let him decide if it’s too much. Because if it were reversed, if I was the pill addict who dragged him through hell over and over until one day I was done with that life forever — I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to read the ugly past through his eyes. I think everything in me would just shrivel and hide.

And yet . . . it was the secrets that had us buried in shame. When the closet door was opened and the skeleton fell out, relief of release came in waves concurrent with the pain. It wasn’t long before we wanted to share this freedom, give warnings about the pitfalls of pills, AND hope of recovery and grace.

God has used Dave already to reach so many people — many because he was willing for me to write about the hard things here.

However, being so vocal, even guardedly, isn’t for every relationship. It definitely wasn’t always like this for us.  He had a few years of recovery before we put our story out into cyberspace.

In “real life,” I made it a practice long ago not to talk negatively about Dave to people. Not because he’s faultless, but simply because it’s how I want him to treat me — as  person who makes mistakes. It’s a good rule of love.

But I want to make an important distinction here, though, because I erred on the side of silence for too many years.

I had to find balance. Hiding your pain and suffering alone, and airing your grievances with your husband to everyone you know are two extremes of the openness spectrum. If your husband is an addict or abusive, you need to get help.  Tell a friend, counselor, recovery group, sister, police officer, lawyer — keep asking until you get actual help. Venting to your 300 “closest” friends on Facebook, on the other hand, can be extremely destructive and defeating. Maybe not for you, but definitely for an addict in recovery. It’s just not a safe place to share. Not remotely.

I do believe there is nothing more powerful than hearing/reading how someone else gets it and you are not alone. But if you value your loved one’s recovery and want them to succeed, caution is critical.

If Dave is uncomfortable with the amount of “my truth” I share on the stage of life, filtering my words about him, through him, is the most loving thing, and the least I can do with the story that is just as much about him as it is about me. Words can wait.

Some writers can do truth-telling without tearing down their home. They’ve calculated the cost and are carefully walking the tightrope of saying enough to help others while protecting their family. I respect that. My short time in this forum is showing me it takes great discipline to walk that line. Discipline & restraint — things I’m not so good at with a keyboard in front of me.

Over the last month, as I’ve worked on our story, I’ve really had to sift. And sift. And weigh. And sift. And even invite a few people — including Dave — into the writing to help me weed out not just words destructive to Dave, but others as well.

This forum is so immediate. Not like the “old days” when reaching an audience of more than a couple of friends was a very big deal and took time. To actually send words off to someone you had to care enough — and care long enough — to grab a pen, paper, envelope, call and get an address, drive to the post office, buy a stamp and mail it. Time. Time to consider and weigh. And to share with the world? Getting published took years — and editors. Filters, filter, filters.

We have to make our own filters today. There is so much power in words.

The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint. Proverbs 17:27

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  I Corinthians 13:7

The wise woman builds her house,
but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.  Proverbs 14:1

a light between here and there

I wonder how long we will live along this dark highway. . . in the dailyness of nurturing, guiding, growing, of learning to be faithful in small things.

Because sometimes, I wrestle with the limits of my little light.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. — Matthew 5:14

When I was a little girl, my parents packed us into their old, red Datsun mini station wagon and traveled north from Denver to Casper.

I don’t know how many times we made that trip to my grandparents’ house, or how many times we drove those hours at night. At eight years old, squished with my brothers in the back seat , the drive (which might be just four hours) seemed an eternity. Even with my dad singing cowboy songs.

Somewhere behind us, the lights of the city disappeared, leaving only black nothing ahead.

Miles and miles of darkness. No highway lights. No inside car lights. No light-up games. We floated through space.

Lone beacons in midnight fields, like bright stars, reached out with comfort  — and questions.

Who would live so far out in the nothing? Wouldn’t they be lonely? Where would they go to school?

Someone chose this solitary place. A rancher, maybe, with a thousand head of cattle. An oilman with a hundred wells. A lineman, quiet and content with the company of tumbleweeds . . .

Finally, we’d reach a rise and see, off in the distance, the white-blue glow of Casper. Almost there. Always, it seems, it was then I would fall asleep.Midland Pennsylvania at night

More than an hour from the first sight of city lights, through town and out again, into the dark countryside once more, was a country school in the middle of nowhere where my grandparents were caretakers.

Noisy vibration of wheels hitting cattle guards jostled me awake. A floodlight on a lonely road marked our destination.

Into the driveway, around the school, we coasted toward light pouring through the windows of my grandparents’ house, inviting us out of the cramped car onto the lawn and into the glow.

I can still smell the cotton sheets of the bed grandma had made up and waiting. Stretching my legs under the covers, I drifted into darkness again — the feel of the road in my limbs as the journey replayed behind closed eyelids.

This quiet home — a light, far from town, a shining dot on a dark landscape — was Grandma and Grandpa’s house. A place of wide open spaces and adventure and cousins and giant sprinklers and stories and jeep rides on scary back roads and arrowhead hunts and a refrigerator full of name-brand soda in cans.

There is a place for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

I wonder how long we will live along this dark highway. . . in the daily-ness of nurturing, guiding, growing, of learning to be faithful in small things.

Because sometimes, I wrestle with the limits of my little light.

Sometimes, I am reduced to flickering – a candle wick bent, weary, drowning in wax. And I begin to envy the power of the luminous city, of the brightness that cannot be hidden. And I become a lamp, out of oil, puffing stinky smoke . . .

Sometimes, I want to pack up and leave the quiet place. To find significance as part of a big thing . . . cars drive past in a hurry from here to there . . . 

But somewhere, in the middle of the night, someone is searching. And a small light will illuminate his steps, even if just one step at a time.

On the journey through darkness, a solitary light marks the way: Keep going, you are almost there.

A solitary light gives comfort:  Traveler, you are not alone.

A solitary light gives courage — It’s possible to live in the middle of nowhere for a very long time.  

Even a solitary light holds back the night. Even a glowing ember can be revived. And a dimly burning wick He will not quench. 

This is the light God gave me.

 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:15-16

Sometimes a city, set on a hill. Sometimes a lamp, on a stand. Sometimes a flickering candle. But always light. Always and ever dependent on the Father of Lights for filling to fight against consuming darkness.

. . .  there is a purpose for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

Since through God’s mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart . . . .But we have this treasure, this light, in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:1,6-8) 

In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.
― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging

a dimly burning wick He will not quench. (Isaiah 42:3)

* * * * *

when I fear I have lost my flavor

Sometimes, discouragement knocks hard on your door and it takes everything in you not to invite it in to share a giant piece of chocolate cake.

Sometimes, discouragement knocks hard on your door and it takes everything in you not to invite it in to share a giant piece of chocolate cake.

Sometimes, you let it in. And you eat the cake. And the leftover spaghetti.

Sometimes, discouragement crawls into your bed and keeps it warm while you drag yourself to make breakfast and get kids to school and return to pull the covers over your head and shut out the world.

Sometimes, it sits beside you on the couch and watches brain-sucking cartoons all day while your toddlers run around in their diapers and cowboy boots and stop stinky and goobery in front of your face to wipe away your tears.

Sometimes, discouragement drives you to work, sits uncomfortably in your chair, stares at a blank screen . . .

When you’ve been sick and it’s gone on for a long time and no one has answers.

When you’ve been fighting battles with your child and every conflict throws failure in your face.

When you’ve worked overtime to finally get ahead and come home to a pile of bills that will set you way back.

When you can’t seem to find where you fit and no one invites and no one asks and no one notices.

When you finally take a deep breath only to discover your addict is at it again.

Discouragement knocks hard, relentless.

Discouragement whispers worthlessness and failure in your ear and tells you you can’t.

Discouragement spins a friend’s success or happy post into a jealousy or regret.

Discouragement suffocates in the darkness with questions and tears.

Discouragement chokes out life-giving words and seasons speech with self.

Discouragement tells me I have lost my flavor and am of no good but to be tossed out and trampled.

Can salt be made salty again?

I wonder . . .

When I fear I have lost my flavor, I disappear.

Disappear like Moses — to be alone with God.

Disappear like Jonah — a long shadow of fear, jealousy, envy or discontent has eclipsed joy.

Disappear like a leper — to heal and seek a doctor for a cure.

* * * * *

Sunshine beckons me. 

I lie on the trampoline in the yard, soaking in afternoon light, sifting through sickness, disappointment, hurt, regret. I hear nothing. No words of comfort.

Somewhere below me, the tide is out.

A breeze passes over sun-warmed sand, mud, shells, carrying the sea to me and I breathe deep . . .

One day I will look back on this season. A season of physical breakdown, a season of letting go of a child, a season of wordlessness, a season of discouragement.

But I am not in the looking back.

* * * * *

Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. Psalm 25:16

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8

* * * * *

This morning I remember the thing about discouragement.

How sickness, exhaustion, anger, hurt and loneliness open the door to it.

How it wallows in the past, thrives on lies, heaps on guilt, compares and finds wanting.

How it sucks everything into its mire and drains the world of sunlight and sea-salt air.

How you could drown in it. How you need to be pulled out.

If you are sinking, reach out. If a sinking friend reaches for you, take her hand. Do kindnesses for her. Listen.

And if words are necessary, let them be always with grace, seasoned with salt.

* * * * *

Grace has been shaken over my life.

I am grateful for the one who sits beside me for long hours in a waiting room. For the one who draws me away from my solitude to get some lunch. For the one who shares tears over tea. For the one who brings dinner. For parents who call just to hear my voice. For children who bend down to wrap their arms around me. For a husband who listens in the middle of the night. For a doctor determined to help me get well, starting with removing my gallbladder.

I am grateful for Sarah Young, for Philip Yancey, for Ann VosKamp whose little books have become a permanent fixture on my nightstand, and remind me that a flavorless season is survivable and can become a beautiful and encouraging thing.

I say thanks out loud to God for blessings and ask Him to sift the rocks and dirt from my little bowl of salt.

And then I hear it — the gentle whisper of love I couldn’t hear over the beating on my door.

* * * * *

* * * * *

Are you discouraged? Feel free to comment — anonymously if you wish. And I will pray for you. It will be good to take a little sabbatical from myself.

blessings for healing: mercy

Dave thought the camellia was the bush I was referring to when I said, “That bush is ugly, and now I can see it through the bedroom window.”

Unfortunately, we have three bedroom windows . . .

Camellia buds.

I noticed them yesterday, and I can’t wait for them to open. But I won’t be able to see them out my bedroom window like I almost could last year.

Because Dave thought the camellia was the bush I was referring to when I said, “That bush is ugly, and now I can see it through the bedroom window.”

Unfortunately, we have three bedroom windows . . .

He was so pleased to surprise me with cutting back the offensive bush — and then so crushed by his terrible mistake. Camellias remind me it’s actually spring when for all the world there is no difference in the weather here from winter to July.  I had waited three years for the rosy red flowers to grow that last foot to the window so I could see them from inside the house. I cried — a little.

But the sudden flash of memory of To Kill a Mockingbird and Jem with Scout’s baton whacking away at budding camellias in a blind fury made me laugh. For some reason, I had always pictured a hydrangea as the recipient of rage.  But hydrangeas grow back to their full height, even if you cut them all the way to the ground. Camellias do not. They are slow. And I suddenly understood how Jem whacking the tops off the camellias really was “getting back” at Mrs. Dubose.

So, I point out the camellia buds and Dave apologizes again and we laugh and I remember how I accidentally broke the top of his convertible when we were dating . . .

We’re celebrating our 21st anniversary. And we’ve been through so much worse than these mistakes.

* * * * *

A picture of mercy rests comfortably in my mind.

A man, beaten by robbers, lays by the side of the road . . .  a foreign stranger rescues him while the poor man’s own countrymen pass him by. I feel compassion toward the wounded, desperate man. After all, he was a victim. It was nothing he did. He was attacked.

I would like mercy to stay there. To be that. I can muster that sort of mercy.

But there are other pictures of mercy. . .

A servant, deep in a debt he can’t repay begs mercy of his master, and the master graciously forgives every penny. But when a fellow servant owes the newly-debt-free servant a small amount of money, instead of forgiving (as he has been forgiven), he throws the man in prison.

This is harder. As much as I don’t want to be the wicked servant in theory, I am, too often, in practice . . . but I can follow this, too.  Do unto others . . .

* * * * *

Sometimes, I think it is a miracle that he is still married to me.

I have been so exacting. So critical. So judgmental. So reminding. So merciless. And so very, very right.

I have wanted to draw a line in the sand and make my case. To say, Teacher, did you not see what he did?  He’s an addict. He lied. He stole. He broke my heart.

But I can’t draw that line. Because Jesus already did.

There was a woman, caught in the act of a sin — punishable by death by stoning, according to the laws given by God to Moses. And the people came to Jesus, ready, with the stones in their hands.

We don’t know what Jesus wrote in the sand. But when he finally looked up, everyone was gone except the woman.

. . . He never told them they were wrong. How did I miss that? What He said was, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

I read this story in a book at a time when I needed very much to hear it:

I wonder whether, when these teachers of the law first signed up as young men to devote themselves to a life of service, they had warm hearts for God and for others. Weren’t they in fact motivated by love? But over time, something had happened. All their learning about Scripture filled them with pride. All their efforts at obedience filled them with disdain for the less devout. All their giftedness filled them with impatience toward those who were weaker. . . and they became as enslaved by a cold heart as an addict can become enslaved by crack cocaine… at least with the sins of the flesh, you find out you have messed up. With the sins of the spirit, you may not even know. You just walk through life with a stone in your hand: judgmental thoughts, a superior attitude, impatient words, bitter resentments. — John Ortberg

They were right, you know. The people. Right about the rules.

And there is the awfulness of it all. Letting go of rightness for mercy.

Has God punished you to the fullest extent of the law for your sins? Well, then . . . mercy can’t be about what we deserve.

Dave knew he was a sinner in need of mercy, but I had seen myself as a martyr and saint. I didn’t really, really believe I was in need of mercy, too. At least not to that extent. And that was the turning point.

Mercy is forgiveness. Mercy is restraint. Mercy is risk.

And mercy is also love.

It isn’t love to allow someone to destroy themselves or to abuse. It isn’t love to cover an addiction or crime. I have been there, too. When I dropped the rock I held against my husband, God, in His mercy, kept Dave there.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,
not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  Titus 3:4-5

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

“Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.” Tim Keller

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

* * * * *

I would like to write more about mercy. All day long. But today I want to spend time with the man who loves me.

If you want to read more about mercy, here are two wonderful links I came across. The beauty of mercy is almost too much here: http://www.taize.fr/en_article6825.html and here: http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T4234 And of course, I highly recommend Everybody’s Normal Til You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg.camellias

 

blessings for the broken part four

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .
When did we buy the lie that happiness is the means to happiness?
That what feels good is right and what is painful is wrong?
Hungry is not comfort. Thirsty is not pleasure.

We are at a crossroads.

Poor and powerless. Grief-stricken. Broken.

In any direction, as far as we can see, the landscape is exactly the same. Dry, dusty, barren, flat.

Nothing distinguishes one path from another.

Turning around seems like the smartest decision.

Going back by a way we know.

Going back to what? We’ve come too far.

It doesn’t matter which path we choose now.

They are all marked suffering.

* * * * *

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .

When did we buy the lie that happiness is the means to happiness?

That what feels good is right and what is painful is wrong?

Hungry is not comfort.

Thirsty is not pleasure.

It’s true in our physical being. And true in our spiritual being as well.

If we fill ourselves with real food, we’ll crave more good and be filled. If we fill ourselves with junk food, we only want more — more junk, more anything — just more.

The bad takes away our appetite for good. The bad takes us on a high and abandons us to crash. Snickers does not satisfy.

But we try.

And we keep trying. Over and over.

The cake when we’re stressed. The gossip when we’re hurt. The computer when we’re lonely. The money when we’re rejected. The applause when we’re insecure. The rage when we have no voice. The drugs when we can’t face the day. The busy so we don’t have time to notice . . .

The goal of all this stuffing life full is to be unconscious of our thirst. Hunger hurts, so we have numbed it. We numb it until we don’t feel longing anymore.

* * * * *

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.

Jesus at the well. A woman, draws water for herself. Jesus asks for some. She recognizes him as a Jew. She is a Samaritan. Jews do not associate with Samaritans. She objects.

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (John 4)

She wants this. Never to thirst again. Never to take a weary walk to a well in the heat. Never to carry heavy jars home and watch them empty fast.

Go, call your husband and come back.

Wait. What? I don’t have a husband, she says.

You are right. He says. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.

Uh. Wow. We were just talking about water.

No. We were talking about what you crave. You thirst for fulfillment. And you haven’t found it. Given up yet?

* * * * *

We have come to this crossroads.

The cake has made us fat. The gossip has gone too far. The busy has given us an ulcer. The virtual relationship led us to unfaithfulness. The money is gone. The applause has faded. In rage we have beaten others, ourselves. The drugs have destroyed our life.

Now it’s no longer possible to numb. To deny. To excuse.

We can go back to numbing.

Or we can choose to feel the pain and hurt and ache and longing and let it be what it is.

We can choose to accept our hunger and thirst.

* * * * *

So what is this righteousness?

What is this thing that I seek first instead of clothes, comfort, food, money, success?

The people gathered around Jesus on the mountain want to know, too.

They are hungry. They are thirsty.

And Jesus tells them their hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.

They don’t get it either — unless they are the poor in spirit, unless they mourn, unless they are meek.

Righteousness isn’t about not doing or doing. It’s about Jesus Himself.

We will not know how He satisfies until we admit we are not satisfied by anything else.Until we drag our poor, powerless, broken selves through the desert of suffering to the Well instead of going back.

My soul yearns, even faints for the court of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:2

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after thee. Psalm 42:1

In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Blaise Pascal

“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” St. Augustine

blessings for the broken, part two

We used to wear our grief.
Black for a day, a month, a season, a year . . .
To show loss.
To let the world around us know we carried sorrow.
Appearance had meaning.

We used to wear our grief. 

Black for a day, a month, a season, a year . . .

To show loss.

To let the world around us know we carried sorrow.

Appearance had meaning.

We treated mourners with respect. Spoke differently around them. Guarded our conversation to avoid heaping sorrow on complete strangers.

I wonder why we stopped. Why long, visible mourning has gone out of fashion. . .

* * * * *

Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus said.

In every version of the Bible, the English word, translated from Greek, is mourn. 

Grief manifested; too deep for concealment. Often . . . to weep audibly.

(Now we cover. Allow ourselves acceptable sorrow, but keep calm and carry on. Mourning is for poets. Wailing is for pagans.)

But Jesus spoke the Beatitudes to people who bore grief visibly. No makeup or drops to hide weary eyes. Faces revealed hearts. Clothes told stories.

I think, even then, mourning had lost something.

Because they used to show real grief over sin by putting on sackcloth and ashes.

In ancient times, recorded in the Old Testament, garments were torn by the grieving. Rough, dark, shapeless clothes replaced them. Ashes on heads. Ashes in which to sit.

Ashes, the remnants of sacrifice. A symbol of sorrow. A sign of humility. Of desperation. Ashes to cleanse. Israel, David, Nineveh . . .

Public displays of repentance had become a show for Pharisees. See how religious I am?

* * * * *

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation.” 2 Corinthians 7:10a

God knows when mourning of wrongs is just for show.

Sometimes we know, too. Or sense it.

Because addicts repent a million times. This is the last time. I’ll never do it again. And yet they do . . . and we cannot make them be sorry to the point of change. Preaching at and pleading with cannot induce real repentance.

And we are the same. We who believe we are free from destructive vices.

We repent when we are caught. In gossip. In aggression. In spending money we don’t have.  . . and at once we are consumed with self. With how can I get out of this and still save face. . .

. . . Books of mourning sit beside me on a shelf. Spiral bound pages, words poured out in tears. Sleepless nights, hollow-eyed days. Bitterness and belief intertwined. Pride shredded until I thought I had none left, but I was wrong.

Mourning isn’t pretty. Mourning feels like dying.

* * * * *

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus says.

It seems He is speaking of comforting those who have suffered tragic loss. Of wiping away every tear from our eyes.

Comfort — this one word in English means so many things in Greek. Parakaleō: to call to one’s side, to summon, to console, to admonish, to encourage, to teach. I recognize it from Bible school. The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit . . .

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever. John 14:16

* * * * *

Mourning and comfort. Both are process. Neither can be rushed. Sowing tears and reaping joy takes time.

Comfort ye my people, God told Isaiah. And it was more than 400 years before the Comforter came . . .

Blessed are those who are broken. Who grieve deeply over their wrongs. Who feel trapped and helpless in their chemically dependent body and throw themselves at the feet of Jesus, begging for healing.

Blessed are those who are broken. Who are exhausted from trying to fix the broken people they love. Who are afraid if they stop, no one will pick up the pieces. Who grieve over the pride that keeps joy hostage.

Blessed because they receive power greater than themselves.

* * * * *

There are hidden places where grief is still worn. 

Where masks of I am fine are set aside, confessions are made, and encouragement is given. Where tears of sorrow flow freely, waiting for the Comforter to wipe them away. Some stay months, others stay years.

We confess aloud that there is a Power greater than ourselves.* 

That God exists,

that I matter to Him, and

that He has the power to help me give up addiction, pride, control . . . whatever has broken me.  * 

* * * * *

A little more about mourning and comfort: Psalm 30, Isaiah 61, Lamentations, Shattered Dreams, A Tale of Three Kings, A Grief Observed

* * * * *

silent alarms

Bank corner. Laurel, Mississippi. Russell Lee 1939,
Library of Congress Collection

I’ve run into our past again.

Not just once, but repeatedly.

I want to write about these meetings, but I wrestle with the words for days and weeks until I choke them out.

It’s funny, isn’t it? How something innocently trips a wire and sets off alarms no one hears but you.

Someone must hear it . . . But no. The world hears nothing. Sees nothing.

* * * * *

The first came up in a meeting at work. I was sure the alarm showed on my face, so I looked down, writing nothing on a creative brief.

Ah, relief! — I didn’t have to write this story that created an instant knot in my throat. And then, weeks later, I did.

Edit this and rewrite it with more emotion. 

The story was about a little girl whose daddy went to prison for credit card fraud he’d committed to support his prescription drug abuse.

The hours I spent in that job were a George Bailey-esque angel journey through what might  have been.

Even now, looking back at an old email exchange with a lawyer, I feel a little faint.

At the time, I didn’t understand. All I could see was a debt that was being repaid by garnishing his wages . . . all of them at once . . . leaving our family in poverty.

Some would say, and did say, he deserved it.

That we, the kids and I, deserved it, they would never say. And yet, our lot was tied together . . .

The debt was paid off by God’s grace and provision within a few months, but we were left to wonder if there was more coming. And to this day, we don’t know.

I wrote. For hours. With a box of kleenex.

* * * * *

Deserving . . . a filter I must constantly apply to my fundraising writing. Will donors see the person as deserving? Of their dollars? Of their sympathy? Of God’s grace?

The wire is tripped in a conference room by someone whose vision and passion for outcasts pierces my heart:

Jesus came to set prisoners free. And all of us have been in a prison of some sort: anger, abuse, greed, discontent, unforgiveness . . .

We nod in response. We believe that not one of us is deserving of God’s grace.

There is a debt hanging over our heads and we are blissfully oblivious. All of us fall short. All. Not just law-violators. Not just cheaters. Not just drunks. All.

. . . but now we’re back to what is marketable. What Christians will respond to.

People respond to transformation, someone says.

* * * * *

Another story comes across my desk.

A family leaves Southern California in search of a new life in Washington. What they find is no work, welfare and rain.

But can you make it compelling? they say.

Easy. . . It’s my story, too . . .

I haven’t been back to Tacoma alone in eight years and it’s only an hour away.

I am surprised, after so many years in the country, to realize we’d been such city-dwellers. Our old house is just blocks from downtown.

Curious, I take a side street and drive to the house.

How many times did I walk up and down these streets, pushing a heavy double stroller, coaxing my older kids and bribing them with a popsicle, worrying about what we would eat, about how we’d pay the rent?

I see myself — she’s so young, so thin (but thinks she’s fat), and has so much hardship to go through still. I feel like she’s not even me. A lifetime ago.

How have you experienced transformation?

The question takes me by surprise. I’m not prepared for this.

And yet I am.

Down the street from the room where we sit is the bank with the great, ornate, old-world hall where I sat small and pleading, weak with misery, eight years ago . . .

The manager places stop payments at no fee. She closes the account and sets up a new one in my name only. She gives me a small line of credit. The kindness I received from a corporation still astounds me.

Up a few blocks is the unemployment office where Dave reported in every week. Where he waited in line with the rest of Tacoma’s poor. Where month after month the job search was fruitless.

The sun pours through the tall windows, and I think how to answer this big question.

Transformation is not just something I market. We have lived it. Dave and I.

We are not the same people who came to this city ten years ago. We are not the same people who thought they were experiencing rock-bottom right here, just blocks away. We are not the same people who left a ministry years now ago, in shame.

I know real transformation is possible. I say. I have seen it in my husband. He is nearly five years sober and a changed man.

Amen, they say. And I am freed by their affirmation.

So I tell them that I am still in the process of transformation. A transformation that began right here in this city when a good little Baptist family in seminary was blindsided by addiction. A transformation that is still going on.

I tell them that I understand now what I didn’t even then — that there is no difference between me and an addict. We are all saved by God’s grace and mercy.

I tell them I’m still discovering that I am a sinner. That though there were times I thought I was better than Dave, I really wasn’t.

I tell them that my sins of attitude, of speech, are “acceptable” ones. The ones we find not as repulsive as dirty-and-sleeping-on-the-streets drunkenness. And yet I know that they are.

We are all addicted to something, says one . . . .

. . . . I’ve read your blog, says the other. It’s why he wanted to meet me.

Keep writing, they say. There is not enough written about addiction.

I am astonished. They do not know I have been overwhelmed with this burden of writing hard things. Pestered with feelings of worthlessness. That I’ve been shrinking from the fight to be heard in a noisy world.

And another wire is tripped.

This time, however, the alarm that sounds is just a still, small voice. A voice I strained to hear in this very city. The voice that told me to stay when I longed to run. The voice that tells me someday this will all work together for your good and for My glory. 

And He says, You see, I told you so.

dreams of gold

Boys’ sack race, Russell Lee, 1940, Library of Congress

Every time the summer Olympics roll around, I’m reminded of what I am not.

I’m fairly certain my parents knew early on that I was not destined to be a great gymnast. I wasn’t graceful, or bouncy or fearless — or athletic — at all.

Like all little girls in 1976, I’d been mesmerized by Nadia Comaneci.

But I must have forgotten my dreams when the Olympics were over . . . because in elementary school, I dabbled in baton twirling, kickball, basketball, swimming and soccer. (In case you were wondering, I was good at none of them.)

For some inexplicable reason I don’t recall, dreams of gymnastics perfection revived in the 6th grade.

Suddenly, I was determined to work very hard and dedicate my life to the sport. (Never mind that I was way too old to be starting the training for Olympic gymnastics.) I began a class with girls half my size and age and practiced every day.

But there was a problem with my plan . . .  My family was moving to the other side of the world.

I was 11 years old. I told my parents they were ruining my life and destroying any chance I had for greatness by carting me off to a gymnastics-less third world country.

They didn’t give in . . . apparently the need for a Bible in the common language of a billion people outweighed my dreams of acrobatic stardom . . .

But while I was mourning the loss of the gold medal I would never win, God was shaping my life, directing my steps.

In Bangladesh, that regretfully gymnastics free country, my brothers became athletes and military geniuses. And my sister and I began to make up stories. And act. And sing. And play the piano just enough to call ourselves musical.

I attended my first writers’ master class when I was in the 8th grade. High school was by correspondence from a stateside university. I wrote and wrote and wrote.

There was literally one program a day to watch on TV, no computer, and not much for an American teen girl in an Islamic country to do. So I read — everything my Canadian-missionary-auntie-teacher-nurse-writer handed to me. Dickens. Lots and lots of Dickens.

By the time I was 15, I was “well-traveled.” I had a context for history and a compassion for poverty. And I began a lifetime habit of journaling my thoughts and prayers.

I was in training. Intensive training for what I would become. I’m not a retired gymnast. I’m a writer. My parents’ decision, it turns out, did not ruin my potential for success.

I honestly have no idea how long I harbored small regrets about the-Mary-Lou-Retton-I-could-have-been.  Possibly until my daughter came along. I did everything I could to make her a gymnast: starting with tumbling and ballet in preschool . . . And she would have none of it. All she wanted to do was sing and act out stories for our cat.

* * * * *

I’m thankful, now, that my life-long dreams didn’t rest on my sense of spatial relations. I will never step foot out of bounds and lose my shot at a piece of the glory.

No one will ever announce to the world that my performance was “Disastrous! There goes the gold!”

Better still, I will never age out.

I may never top the bestseller charts or even gather much of a tribe, but I am a writer. And God has directed my path in such a way that I’ve become one.

* * * * *

I’ve been pondering these things . . . watching the Games.

It isn’t gymnastics this year, but distance running that captivates me.

Athletes from the poorest nations on earth, disadvantaged to our Western eye, compete side by side with our highly trained athletes on a level playing field. 

They may not have had a gym, or a pool, or a tennis court, but they had fields and paths and deserts and jungles in which to run.

Who would have dreamed that something so terrible as fleeing for your life from danger as a little boy in Sudan would prepare you to be a marathon runner?

A simple footrace grips my heart, and gives me so much hope.

Sometimes, when your family has struggled through the mess of addiction or divorce or some other life trauma that earns your family the label “dysfunctional,” you worry about your children. How they will turn out.

You beat yourself up about the life they didn’t have. You were an addict. You lost your job. You were homeless. You had to work and give up homeschooling. You made too many promises. You stifled their noisy, childish play. You snapped and scolded when you should have embraced and applauded. You were preoccupied with your own troubles. Not all the time. But enough to leave a weight of guilt . . .

. . . we talk, my friend and I. She feels this weight, too.

And she reminds me of terribly dysfunctional families whose children turned out not only great, but epic. Like Joseph who was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery.

She reminds me that God needs people who have been wounded. People who understand deep hurt because they’ve been there. People who aren’t afraid of messy lives others would avoid.

I believe that.

I want my kids to be moved with compassion for outcasts the way Jesus was.

I want them to be a testimony that God redeems the past no matter how ugly it’s been.

I want them to understand that forgiveness is as much a real and healing choice as it is a point of theology — because they have witnessed it in their own home.

I want them to have love that suffers long, hopes and believes.

After all, we are not training them for a moment in the spotlight, but for endurance.

We cannot change what life has been for our children. And we do not know how the past will shape their future. But we can pray that God will refine the adversity of their lives, both imagined and real, into gold.

* * * * *

. . . endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us . . . Romans 5:4-5

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
Proverbs 16:9

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race . . .the wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. Ecclesiastes 9:11

But he knows where I am going.
And when he tests me,
I will come out as pure as gold.
Job 23:10

* * * * *