Category Archives: Poetry

Lighting the Star

Familiarity breeds contempt, which is why a sanctified imagination is an important ingredient in the Christian life. When we get over-used to the stories, the miracles, and the wonders, we miss opportunities to go deeper into the knowledge of God (Col. 1: 10).

Every year for about a decade, I have prayerfully written an Advent poem to help refresh the wonder and glory of the incarnation of Christ. C.S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, calls the incarnation of Christ the central or grand miracle of the Christian life. “We believe that the sun is in the sky at midday in summer not because we can clearly see the sun (in fact, we cannot) but because by it we can see everything else.” While we will never fully understand the miracle of the incarnation, by the Incarnate Christ, we are invited to more fully understand the very nature of our God (Heb. 1:1-3). The reality that God, the creator of time and space, would insert himself humbly into his creation for our salvation deserves a lifetime of wonder and intentional inspection.

As I have been reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, my heart has been pulled toward Abraham and Sarah. I love how God, like any incredible writer (or rather, every incredible writer gets his cues from the ultimate story writer who is our God), ties in the details in a masterful way.

The promise Abram received in Ur was to become the father of many nations (Gen. 12:1–3). Abraham and Sarah’s story, set on the backdrop of a desert and including the profound imagery of numbering stars and sand, focused on the receiving of a promised child (Gen. 13:14–17; Gen. 15: 1–6). The story of Abraham finds its climax when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his beloved, only, miraculous son, Issac. Without a moment to spare, God steps in and stays the trembling father’s hand, providing a ram (Genesis 22).

Lighting the star

I love how God allows a uniquely bright and perfectly-timed star to show off the birth of the better Isaac, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham. I love how Jesus’s story involved lots of desert and dust. I cannot imagine what those realities must have meant to Abraham as he watched from the presence of God as God’s promise came to full fruition through Christ.

Lighting the Star

Did Abraham watch in wonder as you lit the star?
Did Sarah’s laughter of joy serve as kindling?
Desert sands, promised sons, stars afar!
The chasm between promise and fulfillment dwindling!

The pulsing promise of a miraculous son;
Progeny more numerous than lights in the sky;
In Isaac, immediate fulfillment had begun,
But the ultimate fulfillment now drew nigh.

A strangely bright star, so recently spun,
Indicating the arrival of the Lamb,
The eternally-begotten beloved Son —
This time there would be no ram.

The father of nations sees the Son of Man,
As Sarah erupts again in holy laughter! 
This Son was the zenith of God’s plan!
He is the Savior long sought-after!

Shine brightly, star! Show off his birth!
Weary world, receive Him of infinite worth!

May Christ kindle a fresh curiosity and wonder in our heart as we approach the Advent season. May we hear his voice over the clarion calls of consumerism. As we decorate our homes, may we be reminded that our deepest, truest home is being hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).

Parenting Teens: Growing Together

My middle fella turns fourteen in a few days. My oldest fella recently experienced a big disappointment over which I had zero control. We have come a long way from organized play dates and tightly-swaddled lives. When I was pregnant, I was warned about swollen feet, but no one told me that my heart would swell like this. Maybe they tried; I probably was not ready to hear. After all, I had read all the books and I thought myself to be a capable human. Love hadn’t wrecked me yet.

Everyone did say that your parenting was the age of your oldest with whom you experience everything first. As such, we are experiencing high school together. And, I swear, I think its harder the second time!

God is teaching me so much about his heart for me as I feel all the feels with our teenage sons. My heart feels so deeply entangled with theirs, yet my involvement and vested interest in their lives is a drop in a bucket compared to God’s covenant-involvement in the lives of his children (parents included).

If I being rock-hearted am shattered with sorrow for my children, how much more does God’s heart ache when his children hurt. If He takes no delight in the punishment of the wicked, he certainly does not stand back stoically watching his adopted sons and daughters suffer (Ezek. 18:32; Lam. 3:31-33).

If I, limited in wisdom and power as I am, stand ready in the wings to step towards my children in relief and response, how much more does God Almighty stand ready to rescue his hurting children.

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut. 33. 26–27).

Lately, my mind has been musing on the mysteries of quantum entanglement, but my heart has been experiencing the entanglement of love which is even more profound. God so orders the unseen particles that make up all matter so that two electrons that interact briefly are forever entangled even when they are light years apart. If Einstein didn’t get it, I surely won’t. However, I know what it feels like to have one’s heart willingly entangled by love in the lives of others. If we, being human, feel this reality, how much more does God himself who has graciously tied himself up with his children?

Entangled

If unseen electrons remain entangled
Even as they travel light years apart,
If tiny particles stay tied and coupled,
Then what hope has a mother’s heart? 

When life punches you, I bruise.
When your dreams break, I shatter.
Our seconds and souls are bound
As mother-son entangled matter.

One look of pain from you slays me;
I read the stories behind your eyes.
When life knocks you down, I fall, too;
But we’ll crawl to the Greater prize. 

The fire that singes you scorches me,
Removing from us doubled dross.
I grieve and grow right alongside you,
As we prayerfully process each loss.

One day, He’ll answer every question,
He’ll wipe every tear from your face.
Then we will be fully, forever, freely,
Entirely entangled with His grace.

May you know that the Maker of quarks and atoms has set his love on his children and involves himself in their cares and causes. May such an unbelievable reality stretch and pull you towards your Savior!

When Your Prayers Seem to Hit the Ceiling

C.S. Lewis wisely wrote in a letter to a friend, “We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”

It’s hard to be honest when you know all the oughts (and when you are a pastor’s wife by training and calling and a perfectionist by personality). To bring a raw heart being the living God is an act of great faith.

This week, I found myself being gut-level honest with my husband and a few friends. My disposition changed from a forced smile to spontaneous tears when I admitted that if felt like God was not hearing my prayers – such an elementary-sounding, ye-of-little-faith statement. I could list of a thousand ways God has been faithful to me (as I have been and will continue to rehearse as fact no matter what I feel). Even so, Christ feels far off and I feel like one searching desperately for the felt nearness of his face.

I could tell you all the theological answers to this reality: God is not far off; he is the one in whom we live and move and have our being; he doesn’t change; he is closer than the air we breath. Yet the feelings of stuck-ness remain.

I know I am not the only one. I had a tearful conversation with a friend just yesterday who expressed feeling the same thing for years.

A few things have been helping me in this drought-season of my soul: one picture from my everyday life, a pair of verses, a quote, and a poem.

  1. You can’t get much closer to someone than when you are wrestling with them. Wrestling is an intimate, entwining act. As a mother of three boys, I am a self-appointed expert at watching impromptu, unofficial wrestling matches. Arms all braided into backs, legs around necks, the whole deal. Sometimes, in the midst of wrestling, one cannot view, whether partially or fully, the face of your wrestling partner. That does not mean that he or she is not close. In fact, the closeness obscures the view.
  2. Psalm 65:4-5 came as a soothing balm to my stormy soul this morning. “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation.” God has met my deepest need for a Savior; everything else is icing on the cake. But catch that tiny word with in verse 5: “you answer us with righteousness.” God answers my every prayer with his righteousness. The answer to my every prayer is that he will make me more like him (which he knows to be my deepest need, despite what I think I want)…this leads me to my third help.
  3. In his classic book The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee says the same thing in another way: “God makes it quite clear in his Word that he has only one answer to every human need- his Son, Jesus Christ…It will help us greatly and save us from much confusion, if we keep constantly before us this fact, that God will answer all our questions in one way and one way only, namely, by showing us more of his Son.”
  4. When my soul feels starved even when I am spending hours in the word of God, I often need poetry to tell me the truth slant. For, in the words of Emily Dickinson, “truth must dazzle gradually.” Sometimes the oblique angles of poetry can reach my heart better than the direct angles of prose. A poem from Christina Rossetti, “They toil not, neither do they spin,” gave me an image of the truth mentioned in Psalm 65.

“Clother of the lily, Feeder of the sparrow,
Father of the fatherless, dear Lord,
Tho’ Thou set me as a mark against Thine arrow,
As a prey unto Thy sword,
As a ploughed up field beneath Thy harrow,
As a captive in thy cord,
Let that cord be love; and some day make my narrow
Hallowed bed according to Thy Word. Amen.”

A ploughed-up field under his harrow describes exactly how my soul has felt. Though I have been taking deep dives into Scripture, I feel like I keep coming up empty-souled. I feel stuck and trapped. But I love how Rossetti said, in essence, “Do whatever you please, for I know it is done in love; only, make me more like you in the end.”

He hears our prayers. Even when they seem to bounce back without their desired answer, they come back to us with more of Christ – and Christ is the very best answer God could ever give us. Press on, my prayer-weary friends. You are being shaped into His likeness even in what feels like emptiness.

Even the Ravens Do His Bidding

Our dogs have a strong distaste for crows and ravens (which is a nice way to say they lose their ever-living minds when we see one). Halloween is not a good season for walking these fools, since everyone loves to decorate with creepy crows in our neighborhood!

Corvids are a family of birds that include ravens, crows, and their kin. They appear creepy and have been associated as harbingers of bad news (thanks to Edgar Allen Poe for ruining them for us all). They have a highly developed avian society and are known nest-robbers and scavengers. Essentially, crows are like the mafia of birds.

I used to be creeped out when they landed in our tree like foreign spies gathering intel; however, lately, they have been reminders of the goodness of God.

For months, the story of Elijah and the ravens from 1 Kings 17 has been continually brought to my heart and mind by the Spirit. It’s a short tale, and a favorite for Sunday School classes for its unique and memorable nature. But as an adult, it is been shaping and strengthening me.

That our God would command his prophet Elijah to hide in a harsh place from an angry ruler does not surprise me. That He would create a draught yet provide for His servant from His own provisions is not shocking to me, though maybe it should be. But the ravens? They have my jaw-dropping.

Ravens are notorious for stealthiness and selfishness. They are cunning and have long been associated with bad news, harbingers for evil and ill. Yet, in a singular display of His gracious sovereignty and care, He commanded such birds to provide for God’s vulnerable servant. His powerful provision made them harbingers of hope.

Birds known to steal shared. And not just once, but twice daily for countless days.

When God call His people to extremity, He provides richly and uniquely. While most of us won’t know what it is like to hide in a deserted place in the middle of a drought in the kingdom of an irate ruler, we all have our own seasons of extremity. Extreme financial distress. Extreme loneliness. Droughts of hope. Deep hunger pangs for direction or company.

In these places, we must sit with Elijah in expectance of the Lord’s gracious provision. He knows our haunts. He knows our hunger. He knows our frames (Psalm 103:14). And He who apportioned such lots also commands the necessary provisions. While He could have easily commanded angels, he chose ravens to do His bidding.

The earth is the Lord’s and all the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has established it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers (Psalm 24:1-2).

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens, he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:2-3).

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things (Psalm 104:27-28).

He may not send you ravens. But He will provide for His children. Our extremity is His opportunity. Not only that, but He commands us to be ravens to one another, to be the unlikely harbingers of hope.

Even the Ravens

The ravens which circle
I’ve sent to do my will.
Even in fierce famine
Mine will eat their full.

Even evil omens become
Servants at my command.
Even ravens can deliver
Provisions from my hand.

When silos seem empty
My storehouses, unseen,
Supply son and daughters;
My love is never lean.

To whom is He calling you to be a raven this week (a messenger sent with timely provision from a loving Father, be it physically, emotionally, or spiritually)?

What ravens has he sent your way of late?

The Friendships of Women

Every year the stores put out their Christmas decorations early. Y’all, I have no candy for Halloween and no concepts for costumes. In fact, I think I just filled out the last of a legion of “Back to School” forms. Such preemptive action in the commercial world is encouraging me to prepare liturgically.

I woke up this morning thinking about Mary and Elizabeth’s friendship, specifically, and the friendships of women, generally.

You know the urge to call or text your sister or your tribe when you have news, whether weighty or wonderful. You have heard the laughter of two women sitting at a coffee shop reconnecting and remembering. You have seen women hugging, attempting to hold each other up under unthinkable loss. God made many mighty and beautiful things, but few can compete with the transformative power of human friendship.

As astounding as Mary’s visit with the angelic herald must have been, I found myself more moved today imagining her subsequent visits with Elizabeth.

As soon as she could, Mary ran for the hills, quite literally the hills of Hebron, to tell Elizabeth the news. She knew to whom she could safely carry the news that she was carrying a child! I am certain that as she traveled, both anticipation and nervousness grew. She had plenty of time to think about Elizabeth’s potential responses. How would she receive such strange news? Would the fullness of Mary’s cheeks and chest serve only as a reminder of Elizabeth’s long-empty womb?

Imagine their shock upon greeting one another, each brimming with life and an unlikely story to share, each eager to find a resting place for their fears, hopes, and insecurities. It was probably a good thing that Zachariah couldn’t speak, because he probably wouldn’t have gotten a word in anyway!

But as I imagined the joy, I also could not help but imagine their shared sorrow. While we don’t know how long Elizabeth lived, it is possible that both women bore and buried promised sons who died painful deaths.

Imagining these two women sharing their burdens together, laughing and wondering at the interwoven stories God was writing left me thankful for God’s gracious gift of ordinary friendships. It is no small thing to have a safe place to know and be known in a largely anonymous world.

Two Women, Four Hearts

Two women, four hearts.
A pair of promised sons.
Crying in fits and starts.
Laughter-laden lungs. 

“Mary, A miraculous child so young?”
“And you, a miraculous child so late?”
Immanuel from Heaven flung?
A son after so long a wait? 

Interwoven stories, intermingled tears. 
Kinship coupled with kindred souls. 
Angelic messengers, human fears. 
Different women, similar roles. 

Poised to magnify the other’s joy, 
Both destined for terrible pain;
Each would be bereft of a boy;
Their losses spent for our gain.

Two women walking side by side, 
Multiplying joy, dividing sorrow.
Comforting places to confide,
As we move toward the morrow.

I bet Mary and Elizabeth smile from heaven every time they see women walking alongside one another, pointing one another back to the hope their sons gave their lives towards.

All Without an Asterisk

In a world prone to hyperbole and full of lofty promises bound to disappoint, it is easy to grow cynical and become distrusting of words.

But God’s words are both sure and pure, making wise the simple (Pss. 12: 6; 19:7). Distrust is a wise disposition towards self and the world, but a dangerous disposition toward God.

All the Alls

As I have been studying the Word lately, all the alls have stood out to me. It’s such a small word to carry such a huge connotation. A lot hangs on such a small word. Below is a small sampling of the”all” verses upon which I have been meditating:

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corin. 9:8, emphasis mine).

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8: 28, emphasis mine).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinth. 1: 3–4, emphasis mine).

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence”(2 Pet. 1:3, emphasis mine).

“For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corin. 1:20. emphasis mine).

Incredulous Hearts

if I am honest, I often approach these alls with a squinting, searching, cynical eye. It’s hard to turn off the tendency to want to read the fine print hidden underneath promises.

My flesh wonders if all grace would abound to me even if I lost a child or received a cancer diagnosis. My flesh assumes that the God of the universe could not possibly care about the common trials of my day. My flesh tells me that there is scarcity, not abundance, in God’s provision. I buy the same lie that baited Eve: God is withholding.

My flesh finds it hard to believe and receive the reality that God’s all means all without an asterisk. No fine print. No hidden clauses.

But God’s all means all. He does not lie. He never changes. Even when we are faithless, he is faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

All Without an Asterisk

We live in a batteries-not-included world 
Offering inflated promises (with fine print).
Over-hyperbolized, we doubt promises;
Incredulous, we search and we squint. 

Our God gave all with one small asterisk-
Forbidding that which would cause harm.
Dangerously deluded, we dared disobey,
Initiating pain we could not disarm.

We ruined all without an asterisk.
Our sin sent shockwaves near and far. 
Self-bent love leaves indelible stains.
It’s notorious for its ability to mar. 

He gave all without an asterisk,
Coming as man to take on our curse.
He spilled his blood and offered his life,
In his own body the curse to reverse.

He asks all without as asterisk – 
Full submission without reserve.
Trembling trust is a fitting response 
To costly love we don’t deserve. 

He provides all without an asterisk- 
We have full access to all that we need.
In seeming lack, we still have Him:
The high priest who lives to intercede.

We are called to trust him entirely because he gave himself entirely.

Widowed Yet Still Wed

The word widow comes from the Middle English word which meant to be empty. Even before that, it was derived from the Old English word meaning “to separate or to split.” While it is easy for me to look up the etymology of the word, it is far more difficult to watch those that I love become widowed.

My precious mother-in-law is adjusting to life as a widow. Another dear friend lost her husband this week. Additionally, I have been reading Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot who was twice widowed. The compounding of these realities means that my heart and mind have been thinking deeply about those who have experienced widowhood.

To separate or to split: that works well for wood (which shares a root word with widow), but it is not cut so clean when it comes to covenants and vows. Ask Naomi who was so overcome by grief that she changed her name to mara meaning bitter. Ask my sweet mother-in-law whose hands still set out two tea cups from over fifty years of muscle memory.

Expensive, covenantal love leaves expansive gaps when it is severed by death; however, for believers in Christ, there is another covenantal love which will never be severed. Those who lose an earthly spouse need never lose their heavenly one. Even though they are widowed, they are still wed. The following are only a sampling of verses wherein God speaks to his people as their truest mate.

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness (Hosea 2:19-20).

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is In Her and your land Married, for the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married to him (Isaiah 62:4).

For your Maker is your husband, and the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called (Isaiah 54:5).

I am learning so much from my widowed friends. I am seeing the inordinate weight I tend to wrongly place on my own marriage. I am reminded how many widows long to be seen and known and engaged. I am reminded that there will be no marriage in heaven since our souls will be wed fully and finally to the One with whom they were always intended to be eternally wed. I am reminded that gospel hope is resilient and buoyant even in the deep, deep waters of loss.

Widowed yet Wed

I find it hard to breathe without you.
In oneness you became my other lung.
And although you’re no longer here, 
Your name is always on my tongue.

As certainly as love’s first drops 
Leave both its drinkers drunk,
It’s sobering last sweet sips 
Leave each survivor sunk.

I didn’t see how high we’d climbed, 
Or the height our love had grown.
But now I marvel at the elevation 
As I slowly climb down all alone. 

In all those years of side by side, 
Hardships worked on us like glue.
I long for even one more such day,
As I make one and one from two.

Though I’m widowed still I’m wed
To a Savior who dwells on high.
As our love led me more to Him,
Your absence now draws me nigh! 

Yes, He will make a new song 
From my barely humming heart.
My Maker is not through with me; 
From a stop, He’ll make a start.

A Conversation about Confidence

Faith, trust, and confidence. In both the Old and New Testament, these words share common root words (in Hebrew, batach and in Greek, pistis). While I am admittedly a word-nerd, these root words are truly at the root of the Christian life. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “Without faith, it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Life with God hinges on our faith. Thus, trust is paramount. The direction of our trust determines our confidence. The vulnerability of the object of our trust will determine the vulnerability of our confidence.

A Conversation Then

Though this reality is laced through the entirety of Scripture, God has a concise conversation about confidence with his struggling prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is often nick-named the weeping prophet, as he penned both Jeremiah and Lamentations, which are books woven with great woe. But he had every reason to weep as a prophet raised up in a particularly dark season in the history of God’s people. As such and understandably so, Jeremiah often found himself lamenting and complaining before God. After one such session, God responds to Jeremiah with a powerful word picture about confidence and trust.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the steam and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’ (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

The communicator par excellence, God knew that a picture is worth a thousand words. As such, he draws a verbal juxtaposition for Jeremiah between trusting in God or trusting in man and made things.

As someone who lives in an arid climate during a time of drought near an actual salt sea, I can tell you I don’t want to be the first shrub. But so often I find myself trending in that direction. I so easily let me trust leak all over to lesser things. I trust in my schedule. I trust in my performance. I trust in my effort and grit. I trust in my husband. I trust in my children. I trust in our government system. The list goes on and on.

But we are invited to trust in an unshakeable God. We are made for trust in the Trustworthy One. When our soul seeks satisfaction and security in Him (rather than self or circumstances), we have access to the river whose steams make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4). As those made right with God, we are invited to abide in Christ which means that we have a settled security in Him (John 15).

The word picture is compelling. But you and I both know that living such confidence in God is complicated, isn’t it?

A Conversation Now

God gave me a little picture of confidence this week in a few strange crevices of my home. You see, I do not like spiders. But Annie Dillard did a number on me in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

“I allow spiders the run of the house. I figure that any predator that hopes to make a living on whatever smaller creatures might blunder into a four-inch square bit of space in the corner of the bathroom where the tub meets the floor, needs every bit of my support.”

Ever since reading her, I have mixed emotions when I see a spider. My instincts say, “Squash the sucker!” but my heart says, “Live like Annie.” Thus, I have grown to be a close watcher of two particular spiders in my home: one on a planter in the front yard and the other in the back. When I water my plants, I watch in wonder as they go about their web-making work.

If I wanted to, I could blow hard enough and break their lives’ work. I could put the hose on the jet setting and destroy their entire world. As strong as their webs may be, they are but threads compared to human strength. And the distance and difference between me and the spider is nothing compared to the distance and difference between my Maker and me.

All the places I place my confidence are but fragile filaments compared to trust in God. My spider friend and I have similar trust problems.

To a Spider

Though you long have startled me,
We share more than I once thought.
We both trust in silky threads-
A practice with danger fraught.

Don’t get me wrong, my friend –
Your woven web is a wonder!
But all your exquisite work – 
It’s so easily torn asunder.

You teach me not to trust 
Webs of my own weaving;
They appear so intricate,
But looks can be deceiving.

Belayed to the Blessed One,
Tho’ every strand be swept,
Though all shake around me,
Yet by my Maker I am kept.

I’m sorry, many-legged friend;
You’ve not such a strong hope.
You have left me with a lesson;
I’ll gladly leave you to your rope! 

Spiders and trees are training me to trust in the Strong and Unshakeable One!

Overtaken

Deuteronomy reads like a father sharing his last bits of wisdom with his child before dropping them off at college. Moses, the faithful leader of God’s people, has led his wandering, often whining nation to the brink of the Promised Land. Knowing he won’t be entering with them, he prepares speeches laced with blessings and curses, reminding his beloved people to obey the Lord who had rescued them from Egypt and made them His chosen possession.

It is all too easy to read Deuteronomy through a moralistic lens. In fact, I found myself doing just that this week my studies led me to Deuteronomy 28 in which Moses begins another speech about the blessings of obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, and the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:1-6).

That is quite a laundry list of all-encompassing blessings. Moses uses powerful the powerful imagery of a wave of blessings overtaking, overcoming, and surrounding God’s people if they would only obey. The Hebrew word nasag literally means to reach, to overtake, or to catch. And this word is more than a mere word for Moses’ original audience. Remember, these are the children of the refugees who were almost utterly overtaken by the ensuing chariots of the strongest military in the then-known world. In fact, the exact same word is used to describe Pharaoh’s army catching up to God’s people as they were encamped by the Red Sea.

If only imaging a wave of blessings overtaking us were motivation enough to enable our obedience. However, both history and the human heart show ample evidence that Moses’ impassioned pleas were not enough to secure the obedience of God’s people.

The Christian worldview offers so much more than a list of blessings for those who obey and curses for those who don’t. Every other religion offers those. Karma promises that good will catch up to those doing good, while evil will catch up to those doing evil. Christianity alone offers a Savior who was overtaken with curses that we might be overtaken and surrounded by such abundant, undeserved blessing. Curses encompassed him so that blessing could encompass us.

Overtaken

A wave of curses,
Gathering strength
By human weakness,
Overtook the One
Who always obeyed
In total meekness.

The consequences and
Curses we earned
By hearts bent on self
Caught up to Him
Who ought inherit
All eternal wealth.

Evil overtook Him
Who hung cursed
Upon the tree;
Blessing overtakes
All who to Him
For hope flee.

Today I’m overtaken
By blessings from
The overtaken one.
Goodness catches
My sin-caught heart,
In love I am undone.

What Death Put On Display

We had “said goodbye” at least five other times, but we knew this time was different. Parkinson’s Disease is a marathon, not a sprint; however, the finish line was finally in sight. My husband hopped on a plane while I busied myself at home, doing chores, running errands, holding down the home front in the frenetic busyness that is usually my first line of response to grief.

It only took one picture to shatter my busyness and bring me back to gospel reality. My husband snapped a picture of Appa’s closest friend whom we call Jose Uncle, sitting by the bedside reading Scripture to his friend in his last days. I lost it.

Neither of those men who met at engineering school in India could have engineered the stories they would walk each other through. Yet here they were loving one another to the end. Impending death was putting on display a few things that we all too easily overlook as we go about life.

The Extraordinary Blessing of Ordinary Friendship

In a story only the Lord could orchestrate Jose Uncle and Appa ended up in the same place in the massive United States. Having been through their college years marked by dreaming and a seemingly endless horizon of possibilities, they lived the reality of their adult years together in Houston, Texas. There were parties, but there was also pain. Jose Uncle’s wife experienced two strokes that left him as caregiver, while Appa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease that left Amma as primary caregiver. A world away from India and worlds away from the futures they imagined, their friendship has continued.

When we buried Appa, sweet Jose Uncle came up to give one last tap to the coffin before his body was laid beneath the ground. Another gesture of enduring friendship that both choked me up and sobered me up to the reality of our fleeting days on this earth.

In a world obsessed with following the extravagant and dramatic lives of the rich and famous, ordinary friendship seems underwhelming. In a day and age that has flattened friendship to a screen and trivialized it to a few emojis, the depth of the real friendship they put on display refreshed and challenged me. It reminded me of King David’s grief at learning about the death of his friend Jonathan and his father Saul (despite all the tumultuous waters that had passed under that bridge).

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and death, they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions. You daughters of Jerusalem, weep over Saul…How the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle!” (2 Samuel 1:23-25; 25).

In a world of flash, friendship is an often-overlooked gift given from God Almighty for our days as elect exiles on this earth. Death became the dark backdrop that put such ordinary beauty back on display for me. It made me want to savor times walking with those who have walked through so much life with me. It made me want to call loved ones and catch up with them. It made me want to not forsake meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but rather to continue to stir one another up as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24–25).

The Power of Covenant Love

I have written extensively about the lessons I have learned watching Amma care for Appa. If what C.S. Lewis says about romantic love lighting the slow coals of covenant love is true, their marriage is even more astounding. Their covenant coals were lit only with the fire of promise and trust. They give my husband and I a moving, real-life picture of the love between Christ and His bride.

They married only have met one another a few times, but Amma fulfilled her covenant vows to the end. She put skin on the skeletal promise, “In sickness and in health.” They don’t make many movies about caregivers because care-giving is a messy sludge in a culture that loves sterilized ease. But I am thankful for the front row seat I inherited to watch the power of covenant love on display even and especially on the dark backdrop of death.

The Universality of Gospel Hope

We had the privilege of sitting through Appa’s funeral service in the Mar Thoma church. While Paul was pioneering the gospel to Asia minor, as is recorded in Acts, Thomas was bringing the gospel the southern tip of India; thus, the Mar Thoma or St. Thomas church. Outside of showing me how accustomed I have become to hour-long services (man, do they have some worship endurance!), the service was a beautiful reminder of the universality of the gospel.

As an American and as a sinner, I have this strong tendency to put myself and my culture in the center of all things. Listening to (and attempting to sing) hymns in Malayalamwas a refreshing reminder that the gospel belongs to every tribe, nation, tongue, and dialect (Rev. 7:9). While death is a universal reality for every human, the gospel is a universal invitation to a pathway through death and into everlasting life. Listening to priests from both the Indian Church and the Syriac Church as they declared the same gospel truths we declare in our little church plant every Sunday fortified my soul. They wore different robes and chanted in different ways, but they held to the same gospel hope through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Such realities put me rightly in my place and postured my heart for the worship that will exist in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

For the believer, death doesn’t win. Resurrection life through Jesus does. What is mortal will be swallowed up by an even fuller and more lasting life (2 Corinthians 5:4). Death becomes the sobering backdrop that puts on display not only God’s dazzling offer of life but also his gracious provision of all we need to pursue him in this life (2 Peter 1:3).

Before we lowered Appa into the ground, we left roses on his grave. It felt right to bury him under the weight of so much love. It will feel even more right to see him resurrected with no trace of Parkinson’s Disease. We have a lot of living left to do, so let us seek to number our days that we might gain hearts of wisdom in a death-weary world (Psalm 90:12).

When Death Comes for Me

When Death comes for me, 
Let there be little to take. 
Let all be given, entrusted
Into hands nothing can shake. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let me see him only as friend,
The mean doorway leading
To His presence without end. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let him find me already spent,
Poured out as living sacrifice
Laid down in delighted consent.

When Death comes for me, 
Let me remember whom I serve,
The One who conquered death
To give me love I don’t deserve.