Category Archives: Poetry

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. 

Sons are Slippery

I cry during commercials and movies, but I weep at weddings. I can usually hold it together when the bride walks toward her groom, but I officially lose it during the mother/son dance.

As a mother of three sons, I cannot help but imagine myself in that position in the future. In a moment, my mind flashes back through a montage of memories with each of my boys: dancing in the kitchen, watching them ride a bike for the first time, remembering the first time they failed at something significant that broke their heart.

What seemed impossibly far off when they were toddlers toting their blankets becomes more realistic every year. One day, I will send these boys off, not merely to kindergarten or the prom, but to their own future. While they will always be my sons, the intervals between check-ins with their mother have been slowly lengthening. I remember being nervous to leave them for a thirty-minute jog when they were infants. I remember mutual tears at preschool drop-offs. As recently as this year, I cried tears dropping them off for middle school.

Sometimes I want to cling to them, to try to clutch them too close, to corral them in realms I can control. But the best way to hold these boys of mine is with one hand tightly holding the Lord and one hand loosely holding them.

Seamus Heaney’s poem Mother of the Groom perfectly captures the slipperiness of sons. While I don’t know if the Lord has marriage in store for my boys, this poem captures a mother’s heart and the slippery nature of sons well.

“What she remembers
Is his glistening back
In the bath, his small boots
In the ring of boots at her feet.

Hands in her voided lap,
She hears a daughter welcomed.
It’s as if he kicked when liften
And slipped her soapy hold.

Once soap would ease off
The wedding ring
That’s bedded forever now
In her clapping hand.”*

Heaney’s mention of a voided lap and her clapping hands reminds me that there is joy in every season. My older boys have long since vacated my lap. Their disproportionately growing feet barely fit in my lap these days. But they will never vacate my heart. And, as one who has hope in the Lord, I can smile and even clap at the future (Proverbs 31: 25).

Photo by Vytis Gruzdys on Unsplash

For this season, God has entrusted these boys to me. These days are slipping by and these boys of mine are growing increasingly slippery. But the Lord who has entrusted them to me has a love that is steady and sure. To teach them to stand firm in him is one of the highest calls on my life.

I don’t want to pitter away these precious days filled with sweaty socks and deepening voices and constant snacking. I don’t want to miss the fleeting moments that happen as we drive to school or on our occasional hikes. I want to bottle them up and treasure them in my heart.

As I raise them, I have to fight the urge to place my deepest identity in mothering. Such an ill-founded identity will fail them as quickly as it will fail me. My deepest identity must be found in being the beloved of the Lord, the daughter of the Perfect Father, the dwelling place of the brooding-like-a-mother Holy Spirit. As I fight for this identity, my prayer is that it would bleed into their own.

Then, when my lap and these bunk beds are voided, I will still have a lifetime of being siblings in Christ with these slippery sons of mine.

*Seamus Heaney. Opened Ground. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998, 66.

The Transition to Teens: Showing Hospitality to the Strangers in Your Own Home

As a family, we are committed to practicing hospitality. This does not look like a Pinterest-inspired meal with neatly-folded napkins and elaborate, earthy centerpieces. It looks like a commitment to make space for the other and to seek to see the stranger and the alien in our midst. It takes effort and intentionality. It often causes stress and stretches us. But it is worth it because God is worthy.

As those who have been recipients of the hospitable God who makes space for us to such a degree that he actually stepped into space to save us, we reflect his image even in our shoddy attempts at showing hospitality to others. God’s word commands it, and his love compels it.

I thought I had been stretched appropriately in this arena; however, lately, I have been learning a new form of hospitality: making space and room for the resident aliens in my own home (our teenagers).

Resident Aliens

Teenagers are strangers, even to themselves. Outside of their initial growth as babies, at no other time are they changing, growing, and stretching so much (physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally). It helps me to remember this God-ordained reality when the boys with whom I have shared my heart and my home for fourteen and fifteen years suddenly seem like an alien species. Their voices are different, the synapses in their brain are being re-circuited, and hormones are rising like sudden tsunamis that neither of us expect.

Their interests are changing (sometimes daily), and that often leaves me feeling like I’m lost without a map in uncharted territory. As soon as I get my mind around being a skater-mom and start to understand skateboard brands, they have moved on to surfing or videography. I knew that the teenaged-years would be a transition for them, but I don’t think I knew it would be such a transition for me as well.

I find myself continually grateful that Jesus lived through this phase himself, thereby acknowledging and sanctifying these years. I find myself in places of deeper dependence upon prayer than I have since those early newborn days. I am having to keep shorter accounts. I am daily confessing my idols of control and facing my own insufficiency. In fact, the pages of my Bible are growing thin in a few places.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8-9).

Peter challenged the early church to remain fervent or earnest in their love for one another, knowing that they would need God’s abundant love to cover a multitude of sins, mistakes, and missteps in their attempt to do so. The Greek word, ektenés, translated earnest or fervent, literally means “stretched out fully” and is the root word for the English terms “tense” and “tension.”

I am so thankful that Peter chose to use this word, as it aptly describes the tension and the strain involved in loving one another earnestly and showing hospitality to one another, even to the ones who live in our homes. These verses leave me clinging to another verse:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

A Delicate Dance

Teenagers need both space and presence. Loving my teenaged boys looks like a delicate dance with lots of stepping on toes, apologies, and tearful conversations on both sides. But it is an incredible dance that leads me to both dependence and delight.

Our Dance

I struggle to get the spacing right
As we learn a new kind of dance. 
I loved our past choreography-
Its simple steps, your typical glance. 

There’s a depth now to your eyes,
Matching the mystery in your soul. 
We still move in a partnership, 
But I’m a bit unsure of my role. 

You keep growing and changing,
Finding your own tempo and pace.
Balancing proximity and distance 
Requires great measures of grace.

I’m learning to let you lead, son.
You are learning you know how,
We’re both preparing for a future 
When another will kiss your brow. 

The dance isn’t always graceful;
We’ll step on an occasional toe. 
But know it’s my distinct delight
 To dance with you as you grow.  

These resident aliens are keeping me on my toes and on my knees. What a privilege it is that God would entrust them to me.

Lessons from the Border

Our first mission trip as a family was an assault on the senses. We took in so much in such a short amount of time while moving at such a dizzying rate that I am just beginning to prayerfully process nearly a week later. Two particular images keep coming to my heart and mind: the tidiness of a tent city and the cartwheeling son of a fire-breather.

The Tidiness of a Tent City

Our first full day in Tijuana, we went to serve at a shelter for those seeking asylum in the United States (currently waiting at the border). When we parked the car, I was overwhelmed by the dirt, feces, and subsequent flies in the street. I held my son’s hand tightly as if to protect him from all he was seeing for the first time. Thus, you can imagine my shock when we walked into the semi-open-air shelter of corrugated metal to see a tidy little city of well-kept tents. The place was immaculate by any standards, but especially considering the fact that over one-hundred-fifty women and children were living in such a small space.

The families living in the shelter seemed to take great pride in the fact that they were among the lucky few who had shelter, food, and bathroom access for three months. As we were playing with the children, I even found myself feeling something like jealousy at the kind of community they had become. The children acted like siblings to each other, and the adults stepped in to love, direct, and even correct the children, even those who were not their own.

Having so little, they had a vibrant, generous, ordered community life that few Americans experience though they have so much. We gave them medicine, but they gave us the better medicine of a joyful heart despite jarring circumstances (Proverbs 17:22). Those tidy tents taught me a thing or twenty about community, gratitude, and grace.

The Cartwheeling Son of a Fire-Breather

We all know the statement that truth is often stranger than fiction, but it can also be sadder. After three incredibly long days of helping put on multiple medical clinics, our crew loaded up in our over-filled car to head back home. We anticipated the long wait time at the border and I thought we were accustomed to the things we would see as we waited, but I did not anticipate the way one of the side-acts would since take center-stage in my mind.

As we were waiting in the long, slow lines of traffic, my eyes were drawn to a father and his two sons. Leaving the younger child in the stroller, he stopped and began a fire-breathing act along the barricade. While the fire-breathing tricks initially did their job in grabbing my attention, the son of the fire-breather stole my heart. Seeking to help his father earn some change, he began doing some unbalanced and unpolished cartwheels and handstands of his own.

At the time, I catalogued this act along with countless others who were performing songs, playing guitars, and selling their wares. But this one was different, as the Lord would continually bring it back to mind and memory.

As many times as I have read or taught on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, you would have thought I would not have missed the moment. But I did. I fell right into the role of the priest: “Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31). We are usually quick to assume the worst about the priest, but it is likely he had been serving all day, fulfilling his priestly duties, and meeting needs in sacrificial ways. Having “clocked out,” and being wearied from service, few would fault him with following convention and tradition to avoid an unclean situation with someone who was not even among his flock. But he missed it. He missed his chance to see and experience and become more like the Savior whose coming he eagerly sought. And I did the same.

Cartwheeling Son of a Fire-breather

Cart-wheeling son of a fire-breather,
As you did your tricks, I turned away.
I tried not to notice your plight,
Yet you come to mind everyday.

Your earnest, eager desire to please,
To add to your dad’s dangerous show
As if your life depended upon it
Shakes all that I think I know.

Tired from serving, I sat and watched,
But now, I wish I had run –
Through traffic, past convention –
To point you to God’s Son.

You don’t have to grab his attention;
You live always under His sight.
And, unlike me, his broken servant,
He never turns away from your plight.

I don’t want to keep being the priest who missed his moment with the Lord he served. I want to have eyes wide-open to encounters with the Christ who in the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “plays in ten thousand places/ Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/ To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

I don’t want to be led by convention or convenience. I want to be compelled and controlled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

The Best Ten Minutes of My Week

Scott Van Pelt does a segment on his sportscasting show called “The Best Thing I Saw Today.” If I were to have a church planting show (which would be weird) I would have a segment called “The Best Ten Minutes of My Week.” Only it would not change, as the best thing that happens every week has been the same since the beginning of our baby church a year ago.

It may not seem like much to an outsider looking in. It definitely doesn’t start in a fancy manner. In fact, it starts with an early morning trip to a neighborhood grocery store. The receipt simply shows a loaf of fresh bread and a plastic jug of grape juice. But, even as I pour the juice into tiny plastic cups, I get excited for what will come.

We are a small, but growing church of around fifty adults weekly (and a slew of precious kids and teens). We worship in a borrowed space. Often our sound system does not work right. One time our baptismal leaked into the basement. There is usually something to giggle about after the service. But every week, after we hear the Word opened up and are carefully pointed to Jesus, we line up for a family meal. Thus begins the best ten minutes of my week.

There is no hiding in a small church plant. We know each other, which means we know each other’s beauty and the brokenness. We enjoy each other’s gifts and often experience each other’s besetting sins. But as our people line up to receive the bread and the “wine,” I am brought to tears each week.

I watch as my husband and our co-pastor offer a personal blessing to each of our flock. I watch downcast eyes and dispositions change as our people are reminded of the truths of the gospel. I watch them eagerly receive a piece of simple bread (sometimes too large a piece when my hubs is handing out the elements) because they know they are starving for the grace and strength that only Christ can provide. I watch my husband offer his children the bread of life as a peer and sibling in the Lord. I watch our two pastors humbly offer each other the bread and “wine” that they both so desperately need.

We line up to receive and remember and reenact (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

And in those few moments in the family meal, I temporarily forget all the work of rearranging chairs and making coffee and cleaning bathrooms. People are hungry to hear the truth, not only those who know and forget and know and forget, but those who have not yet known. I need to eat this bread and drink this cup with these people. Every week. This is why we are working alongside Jesus as he establishes this local flock.

Greater than the miracle of manna in the wilderness is the reality of God’s love displayed on the Cross. Better than meat delivered by ravens is the Spirit’s delivery of the Scriptures to hungry hearts.

Madeline L’Engle introduced me to two powerful lines from a Conrad Aiken poem entitled “Bread and Music”:

“Music I heard with you was more than music, 
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;”

Those lines perfectly capture our experience Sunday by Sunday. Bread eaten with this flock is more than bread, not because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus has already done.

Our ten-minute meal fuels us for the week ahead where we will fumble through our days attempting faithfulness. Our ten-minute meal gives us a taste of the abundant love we will need to remember if we are to cover over each other’s faults and foibles in the coming few days (1 Peter 4:8). Our ten-minute meal levels the classes and divisions that the world will use to categorize us as soon as we walk out the doors. It makes us siblings and peers at the table of our impartial heavenly Father.

Every week in this church planting adventure there are unexpected hurdles or hard conversations or heavy burdens. But those only make me more eager for the joy I expect for the best ten minutes of my week.

Let Loneliness Lead You to the Faithful Friend

Underneath the noisy newsfeeds and behind the flowery photo opps with lovely lattes, many women are living what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” I know this because I feel it myself, and I regularly hang out with women who share the same sentiments. Beneath the busy schedules and surface relationships, many women are starving for authentic friendships.

When Mother Teresa visited the affluent Western world, she was wise enough to make the following observation:

“In the developed countries, there is a poverty of intimacy, a poverty of spirit, of loneliness, of lack of love. There is no greater sickness in the world today than that one.”

The Long Loneliness

Dorothy Day who helped found the Catholic Workers Movement and lived faithfully among the poor and working classes had her own sense of poverty: a relational one. As a single mother and as an ordinary believer living in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God, she experienced what she called “the long loneliness” all of her life.

I love that phrase because it honestly depicts an ongoing struggle with feeling alone or never fully known or at ease. We all experience it though to differing degrees and in differing seasonal lengths. As an introvert who does ministry, I feel loneliness both acutely and chronically. Usually when the creeping sense of sadness and aloneness starts to creep in, I try to busy myself to avoid it. Fill the schedule. Work on a project. Read a new book. Get things done.

But as I age, I am learning to lean into loneliness even though it feels scary and vulnerable. For loneliness is a costly invitation to walk more deeply towards our faithful friend, Christ.

Long More, Not Less

I used to deal with unfilled longings like Whack-a-Mole. When one came up, I immediately sought to shove it down and pretend it never showed itself. But this approach to longing and life is more Buddhist than Christian. Desires, as much as they may cause us to ache, remind us that our hearts are made for far more than even the best this earth has to offer us. Piercing desires are homing devices that keep us aligned with our true North and help get us back to our eternal nest.

As such, I am learning to sit in the loneliness I sometimes feel. In the moment, I am learning how to drag such seemingly unmentionable hungers to the throne room and tell God honesty what I feel. I love how Robert Hugh Benson, a spiritual writer from the early 20th century, captured Christ’s desire for our honesty:

“As our God he knows every fiber of the being which he has made; as our Savior he knows every instant in the past in which we have swerved from his obedience; but, as our friend, he waits for us to tell him.”

I tell him how alone and unseen I feel. I’ve done that for a while. But lately, I have also been honest enough to express my frustration and lack of faith to him as the One who could ultimately fix these feelings but, lovingly and patiently, lets them persist. I bring my wrestling with him to him, and he listens. In my complaining about lack of kindred friends, he shows himself to be the epitome of a faithful friend. What a gracious friend we have in him! What a wonder!

Long in the Light

While I have always been comfortable being honest with God, being vulnerable with people has been a slowly-acquired skill for me. To even let my precious, trustworthy husband of sixteen years into the battles of my brain and the howling of my heart takes effort and courage. I often can’t do it until I am so tired and needy that I have no choice. I usually wait until we are both about to fall asleep because its takes me all day to gather the strength to be so exposed. But over the years, the time it takes to drag my longings into the light has shortened. I am beginning to wonder if this should be a more real measure of maturity than a sanitized, sacrosanct soul.

When we walk in the light, others open up about their longings. This does not mean we seek to meet each other’s longings or fix them (though often our reflex will be to try to do so), it simply means that we validate those longings and point each other to the One who will meet them all, whether sooner or later. I love how Henri Nouwen (another brave struggler with long loneliness) captures it, “It is in the intimate fellowship of the weak that love is born.”

Long for the Faithful Friend

God is such a good and faithful friend to us that he has given us ready-made language to express the deepest, most seemingly unutterable desires of our hearts. In the Psalms, our dearest, most faithful friend has provided prompts to help us share vulnerably in the safety of his sheltering presence.

“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:14).

There are literally innumerable reasons to praise God since he is inexhaustible in both the quality and quantity of his goodness. But lately, I have found myself camped out in the reality that the God of the universe would call us friends (John 12:15-16).

May this short poem from the book The Friendship of Christ by Robert Hugh Benson remind you of the faithful friend you have in Christ this morning and for eternal mornings.

“He is as good as he is great.
His love is as ardent as it is true.
He is as lavish of his promises as he is faithful in keeping them.
He is as jealous of my love as he is deserving of it.
I am in all things his debtor, but he bids me call him friend.”

Baseball & Broken Plans

Real talk: our youngest who breathes baseball did not make the All-Star team. In the grand scheme of things, this really is a blip on the radar. However, God has been showing me so much about my own heart and His heart through something as insignificant as baseball.

This is not a post about the dangers and idols of youth sports, as there are plenty of those. Nor is it is a rebuttal explaining the way youth sports are an inroads into the last frontier of neighboring in our increasingly isolated culture (though one day I want to write that one, too).

It’s about the heart of an earthly parent and the better plans of a perfect Heavenly One. It’s about how my heart breaks to see my son’s little heart crack a bit over baseball. It’s about how his forced smile and attempts to shake it off cause tears to puddle in my eyes. It’s about bearing double disappointment as a parent. It’s about the mysterious mixture of largeness of love and lack of control that marks parenting. It’s about God’s gracious response to the feebleness of my faith when things don’t go my way or their way as a parent.

We pray that God would give our children not only exposure to the truths of Christianity, but real, nuanced experiences with Him personally. In a world that screams, “Be impressive” our prayer for our children has always been that they would be impressed by God, His Word, and His ways. And I mean it.

Most of the time. But sin creeps into even Spirit-sealed hearts. The insidious lie that we can have uncommon intimacy with Jesus by following the common way and with all the creaturely comforts and accoutrement has crept into my heart. Jesus was so gracious to use broken baseball dreams to expose it.

In his gentle way, Jesus led me to a pair of rhetorical questions he once asked a disappointed prophet:

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5).

If I am this disappointed by God redirecting baseball plans, how will I respond when harder suffering lines the paths of my son’s lives? The resilient faith I pray for my children and myself requires meeting resistance early and often. But I am excellent at regularly resisting resistance.

I am so thankful that we rely on a perfectly Heavenly Father who disciplines according to perfect knowledge unlike earthly parents who do their best with their limited knowledge (Hebrews 12:7-11). I am thankful that our good God does not cave to our constant cries for comfort and ease. I am thankful that the scarred hand of Jesus holds the quill that writes the stories of my children. He gently chides me when I attempt to grab it to write a less-glorious, more controlled story.

I can trust the One who write their stories because He wrote himself into our tragedy. He bore unthinkable pain and lumbered under the punishment of our sin so that we could be brought into the story of His redemption. His stories are far better than mine. The largeness of His love swallows my love for my own children whole. He gives me ample practice entrusting to him these children who have been his all along and will be his for all eternity.

The Quill

You can pray, process, and point,
But you cannot steal the quill. 
You can help me hold the paper,
But you cannot change my will. 

Besides, you wouldn’t want to
If you saw what I have in store. 
Every loss and limp and lesson 
Is an attempt to give them more. 

More humility, more dependence,
More soul space for more of Me.
Momma, move out of my way,
For I have plans you cannot see. 

They won’t know uncommon love
By following the common way;
Let me lead them by the hand,
Let me order each and every day.  

I know it seems small and silly, but I am learning so much from baseball and broken plans. I am thankful that as I walk my children in one hand, I am held by God’s greater grip in the other. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but thankfully, our Heavenly Father knows that in ways we never will.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)..

Inscape in an Escapist World

Our newsfeeds, both the ones in our minds and the real ones that capture our attention, constantly bid us to escape from our realities. They invite us to wish we were on a secluded, tropical island or exploring the French Riviera. They tell us that if we could only get a new set of mid-century modern furniture and some macrame hanging plants, our lives would be richer, simpler, and more beautiful.

Our escapist culture allures us, whether explicitly or implicitly, to run away to external things for renewal and refreshment. On the backdrop of such an escapist world, inscape, a concept termed by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, resonates deeply.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Down Things

Hopkins used inscape to describe the unified and complex characteristics that give each thing its uniqueness, and he captures this concept poetically in his famous poem God’s Grandeur where he wrote, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

While the world bids us look out, Hopkins invites us to look deeper into the things, places, and people all around us. When I find myself imagining that a trip to Hawaii would satisfy me, Hopkins would invite me to fight to see the beauty of the Hibiscus flower growing in a pot in my own backyard. When I find myself buying the lie that what I need is a new set of circumstances, Hopkins gently invites me to ask God for new eyes to see the same things more deeply and differently. With the help of the Holy Spirit and an attuned focus, the mundane drives to soccer and baseball practices with my sons become opportunities to see who God has made them with fresh eyes.

When the world lures me to run away, Hopkins bids me grab a spiritual shovel to begin digging for a dearer freshness deep down the things and people in my present life. Hopkins can say this because he knew that those who dig deep enough would eventually find God, the Creator, at the bottom. For freshness can only come from the abundance of the life-giver and source of all refreshment: the Triune God.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Within Us

Scripturally, we see a similar invitation in the Word of God. Although Christianity is the farthest thing from navel-gazing and looking for life in things and people themselves, Christ gives his children new eyes to see God in all things. The Scriptures are replete with terms like “inner man,” “within,” and “the secret place” which reminds us that God sees us all the way through. While the world looks upon the outward appearance, God looks upon the heart or in the inscape, to borrow Hopkins’ term (1 Samuel 16:7).

Our God desires truth plastered not only on our newsfeeds and walls but more significantly within our deepest parts: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). The psalmists found hope and stability knowing that even if the earth gave way and the mountains slipped into the sea, God is in the midst of his people therefore, they would not be moved (Psalm 46:2-5). Similarly. the Apostle Paul prayed that the church in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17).

Freshness without our sin-flawed hearts only happens by grace through faith in Christ. For Christ alone had truth in his inmost part and wisdom in his inmost place. He alone constantly drew strength and life from the source of life. He always saw as God sees, looking past appearances to the reality. Yet, he took within him the foulness of our sin, drinking to the very dregs the wrath of God we deserved. After rising and ascending to the Father, he sent us the Spirit who would dwell within us, making his home in us and inviting us to make our home within the Triune God.

The Holy Spirit within us gives us the dearest freshness deep down at the soul level. Even if outwardly we are wasting away and the world around us is fading, yet inwardly, we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to begin to see as God sees and to think with the very mind of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16; 1 Corinthians 2:16). As such, we don’t need to escape our circumstances, but we need to run and hide in the arms of the One who lovingly ordered our circumstances (Psalm 16:5-6). We get to ask him to show us more of himself deep down in the places and people of our everyday lives.

Spiritual Angioplasty

I came into this week thinking it would be a normal one. But as I sit here on my couch this morning, I feel like the Lord has begun to perform the equivalent of an angioplasty in my soul.

When arteries are clogged due to the slow build up of cholesterol (whether inherited, induced by habit, or the common combination of both), doctors often perform an angioplasty.  A small catheter is placed into the artery and then a ballooning technique is used to stretch and reopen the artery so that more blood can flow through it.

If you asked me even on Monday if I was aware of racism in the world and its roots in my own heart, I would have said yes and been honest in saying so; however, after a week of hard conversations and convicting moments with the Lord, I feel like I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with multiple clogged arteries of the soul.

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I didn’t realize how little I have listened to my friends who are people of color or even asked about their experiences with racism. I have been open to conversations, but I have not initiated them; rather, I have expected them to come to me and open up about hard things. Even that exposes a position of power in my heart that I did not realize I have had.  This spiritual artery needs some unclogging.

I have failed to address the significant shaping power of culture in spiritual development and discipleship. As one who loves to address family of origin with those I disciple, I have largely missed the culture of origin level in discipleship. As such, I have unintentionally shown my disciples that I am interested in most of their lives, but not all of it. This spiritual artery needs some ballooning.

I have been tempted to be defensive, to point out all the ways that I have loved and engaged in the lives of my friends of color.  I felt misread and wrongly judged and overly generalized into a lump stereotype. Until I realized that those exact feelings are only a tiny sliver of what my friends of color have been experiencing daily for most of their lives. Another clogged artery.

If am honest, I sat down to meet with the Lord this morning defeated and exhausted, exposed and sore. Until I remembered that it His great love for and commitment to me and His bride that He would appoint for me a spiritual angioplasty (or a series of them).

He won’t leave well enough alone (Philippians 1:6). He will not settle for anything less than Christ-likeness in His children (Galatians 4:19). He will not leave our soul’s arteries clogged with even unintentional narrow-mindedness and partially working flow of the Spirit. He will look right through us with His gently exposing gaze and will flag every place where the flow of His Spirit through us is clogged or limited.

He will painfully insert His Word into us and will stretch us in ways that feel uncomfortable (Hebrews 4:12-13). He will make space in us to contain love for His entire body. And all of this is for our good, the good of the body, and the good of the world and His glory.

I want a heart that fully functions. I want a heart that is unclogged and wide open, not constricted and strained. I want to look like my Father whose heart is expansive; I want to be shaped to be like the Son whose blood was literally poured out for the world. This will only happen by the surgical expertise of the Holy Spirit within me. While He is always ready to do His healing work, He does not force or coerce. He allows circumstances that reveal just how clogged our hearts have become. He waits for consent and readiness in His patients.

Please be tender with the hearts of those around you. Surgeries, both minor and major, are happening all around you.

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire”

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

A Legacy of Covenant Love

Every time I walk down a certain hallway in our home, I see, among the family pictures hanging on our wall, a picture that nearly arrests me. A stunning woman looks askance at a handsome, proud young groom. Her eyes show the anticipation we normally associate with weddings, but they also betray a look we don’t expect: a nervousness which is closer to fear than wedding jitters.

She had only met her would-be husband two times, yet she was walking to the altar to vow a covenant of lifelong love to him. No wonder her eyes revealed mixed emotions.

My parents-in-law, as was the custom in their culture, were arranged by their parents. The decision was prayerfully and carefully considered. Each set of their parents saw in the other a good match for their children.

The concept seems foreign to me, one raised in a culture where there is no need for a descriptive adjective before the word marriage. When all marriages are love marriages, chosen by the marrying parties (and often blessed by the parents), there is no need to distinguish between” love” marriage and “arranged” marriage.

As an outsider looking in for the past fifteen years of their long marriage journey, I am astounded at the depths of their relationship. I am humbled by the way friendship and romance grew out of covenant and choice. I am deeply indebted to their marriage, not only for producing my husband, but also for painting a realistic yet regal picture of covenant love.

Their marriage exemplifies what Thomas Hardy so poetically and powerfully captured in his classic book Far From the Madding Crowd.

“Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.

A mass of hard prosaic reality is an understatement. They worked hard to move their family to a foreign nation where they had only tertiary contacts and tenuous hopes. They weathered losing jobs, raising children, and moving multiple times. While there marriage is neither dreamy nor perfect, it is weathered and well-woven.

The strength of their covenant love has been highlighted by over a decade of being tested by the slow, steady decline of Parkinson’s disease. Amma serves as Appa’s primary caregiver, bathing him, feeding him, managing his litany of interventions and appointments. She rarely leaves the house. She has to steal a few moments away for a relaxing trip to the grocery store. Her world has shrunk considerably to match the needs of her hurting husband.

Yet, there are still moments when the two laugh together over Appa’s less-than-lucid thoughts. Playfulness pops out in the midst of the plodding perseverance. Watching her serve him so steadfastly with all of her life literally brings tears to my eyes and refines my view of marriage.

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.

Covenants and Coals

If romantic love is flame
Lighting covenant coals,
Their love is hard to name:
The arrangement of souls. 

Barely more than strangers,
They vowed longterm love,
Trusting their arrangers,
Depending on God above. 

As they walked through life,
True companionship grew.
As they navigated strife,
One formed out of two. 

After a decade of slow decline,
Years of suffering and serving,
They stand with covenant spine
In their tested love unswerving. 

Coals without first fire lit
Still offer steady heat,
God by His hand has writ
A lifelong love still sweet. 

To God be the glory, great things He has done!