Death bursts on to the scene, forcing you to take attention, requiring you to question everything; like an unwanted stalker it appears, steals the spotlight, and burns it to the ground.
Smoke and ashes remain, like an *asterix on your life. Always there. Always a clause. The fine print. A fine print that deserves to be shouted from the rooftops so everyone can understand why you do the things you do… why you are so awkward… why you’re not normal.
Oh, it’s not just death that has left things unaltered.
Anxiety is a devil all its own.
It lurks, eyeing its prey, taking it down before it even gave second glance. You’ll learn its name someday, learn to curse it away, and slaughter it with a sword you didn’t know how to use.
But it’s with bloody knuckles and bruised knees that you’ll do so, and the scars will both remind you of where you’ve been . . . and remind you of how far you’ve come.
We all have a story.
A mile long.
Like a train we drag behind, but not one of lace and promise.
Like a dreadful burden, that was never easy to carry… but threatens to break the bones after years. Like a withered limb that we love and hate. Crawling we come.
And just as suddenly, like the crack of stone, like the rumble of earth years unmoved, violently thrust up revealing layers of past and present and future… something else appears. If you stared at this momentous happening, it would blind your eyes, leave you grasping for reason and logic and finding none.
It covers that list, stroke after stroke of blood-red paint.
A Crafter’s hand, an Artist’s eye, a Creator’s power, swiftly moving over the story. Over the list. Over each *asterix until they are changed.
That train, that burden, that withered limb … it becomes a masterpiece.
Oh, don’t ask me how. I could never explain the glory of a dawning morning. The warmth of an embrace that should never have been. The crash of the oceanic against the rocks of ages. They are mysteries, just as the story of how the Creator redeemed the story.
I’ll never grasp how a crippled soul like me, could jump and leap in the presence of a King. I’ll never comprehend how one who doubts like I, could be privileged to hear His whispers. In all of the earth, why does He waste time on me?
There it was again. Did you hear it?
LOVE called my name.
It is above me. Beyond me. Out of my mental grasp how any of this could be so. It defies everything. But I am not what was. I am not what is. I am not what will be.
I don’t know where it went, all those labels that were apart of me. The photographic memories of days long past are no longer worn like a badge.
Somehow, I have become His child.
I don’t know when it happened… or was it always this way?
Was I His child when I knelt in the kitchen, age seven, so tenderly innocent, and gave Him my heart?
Was I His child when my mom died? Her eyes staring into mine, her hand grasping mine? Was I His child when I lived through the horrific?
Was I His child when the days were long and hard and there was no light at the end of a very dark and lonely tunnel? Clinging to faith with white-knuckled fists?
Am I His child now? A weary mother who feels like the greatest of hypocrites?
I am His child because He is my Father.
My story remains, but this crippled soul has run and fallen into the arms of Jesus. Look at Him! Look through me to the one that has spoken promise, woven healing, cleansed the tragedies, and been faithful every. single. day. Look at how He makes things NEW. Look at how He puts a song in my heart!
How does He do this? I don’t know. I don’t understand. But this story, this history, those tragedies have been paid-in-full. He’s taken them upon Himself. My wounds are now His, and my withered hands are… strong. My memories remain, but they are draped with LOVE. Seeped with LOVE. For LOVE was always there. And where there is LOVE there is life.
Look to LOVE.
See His story.
See His faithfulness.
Will you fall into His arms, and just see what He can do with a crippled soul like you? Just see… what He… can do.
One day we’ll gather together with Him, for a feast. And we’ll look around that table and we wont see the scars, the wounds, the withered limbs… because they wont be there anymore.
We’ll only see Him.
We’ll only have eyes for LOVE.
I hear so much “bad” about churches. It seems like the people with the loudest voices are the ones who have a perverse or crooked message to spread, and those with hurting hearts latch on to the message and say, “See?? You’re all the same.” But listen… here’s the deal. I grew up in the church. And the church was not a building. It was not a set of rules. It was not a club or a click where you had to do certain things to belong. It was a family. I have an amazing blood family, and I have an amazing family in the Church. And it’s a family that spans borders and continents. And yes, there are some that claim to be apart of it that have no idea what it means and end up turning people away. And yes there are people that are apart of this family that are human and make grave mistakes and turn people away. But there are even more . . . like family, who invite the masses in, the broken, the healed, the mourning, the joyful, and the strangers and the friends, and call them “family”.
But hear me in this… the Church. The body of Christ, us people as His hands and feet on this earth, is the best part of my life. I was nurtured with my blood family and loved fiercely, and I was nurtured and loved in the Church with people whose eyes well up with tears just like my own grandma when they see me after years away.
So for all of you that have had terrible experiences in the church and with Christians, let me just share with you a few examples of what the family of God has been like to me.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer and spent 6 months fighting for her life, my parents’ mail box was flooded with cards of encouragement, constant offers to help, people paid for house cleaners, and daily meals were brought for over 6 months, and longer until there was too much food and we had to ask them to stop. The Church family helped right alongside my own family, helping, cooking, cleaning.
When she died, over 1,000 people showed up at the church that day to mourn with us. Their hands raised to the sky weeping with us, thanking God for our time with that amazing woman, and questioning along with us… “why?” They brought comfort to a family that was in complete shock.
Every time I made the drive to Redding during that time, which was every 3 weeks and more, people would slip me money to pay for the trip. Nick and I never went without, even though hundreds and hundreds of dollars were spent making sure that I could spend precious time with my mother. My own family did the same… slipping hundred dollar bills in my pocket. People called me to check on me, people sent cards, messages . . . I was never forgotten. My own family would embrace me and cry with me, and in the next moment, my Church family would do the same.
Each time we have moved, friends of the Church and family have given us gift cards to help make the transition smoother. Every time I have had a child, heaps of food and gifts and gift cards have been given. Even when I miscarried a baby, the gifts came. Food came. Hot meals to bring comfort. And I must say too… even people that wanted nothing to do with the church… they brought comfort as well. Showing up at our door just for love’s sake. They hugged, they cried, they prayed. They carried our pain.
When we moved away from Oregon and drove halfway across the country into the unknown (North Dakota), we were scared. What were we doing? But the Church was waiting. They met us at our door and brought food, snow clothes for our kids (because somehow they knew we would not be prepared for sub zero temps ;). And even more showed up to help us move our furniture in temperatures so low you cannot imagine. They gave phone numbers, several would check in on us before they drove home after work, just to see if we needed anything. Honestly, I cannot tell you how loved we were then, by strangers, and how loved we still are today. But this experience is not new to us. This is how we have been loved so much of the time . . . by the Church.
And yes. We have been hurt by the Church. Hurt by people with good intentions, hurt by people with bad intentions. But thank God above that we did not walk away from this family because of those that hurt us. Think of the love we would have missed out on! Those that have hurt us are a drop in the bucket compared to those who have loved us!
I could go on and on. I have testimony after testimony of what the Church family has been to us.
And that’s the thing I’m getting at. Here is my point. If you have known good family, good loyal friends, then you known what being apart of Church can and should feel like. If you are attending a building that is rules, and regulations, and clubs and clicks… then keep looking, because you haven’t found it yet.
If your idea of church is how you dress, how you act, how you pretend . . . then you haven’t found Church yet.
If your idea of church is pointing fingers, shaming people on the street, humiliating those who are not like you . . . then you haven’t found Church yet.
I have recently heard that the church is racist. Well, if that’s your experience with them . . . then you haven’t found the Church yet.
If your idea of church is a group of people who are perfect and will never make mistakes and will never ever hurt you . . . sigh. Then you haven’t found Church yet either. I wish it weren’t so . . . but have you noticed how broken we all are? Can you honestly tell me that you have never hurt someone? I have. I have hurt so many. Sometimes I did it in the name of Christ, with the best of intentions. God forgive me. God, please forgive me.
Perfection does not await in the family of God. But family does. Mercy does. Grace does. Forgiveness. Comfort. Help. Unity. Community. And the thing that unites us is our faith and love in the unseen, one true God. We believe in His message . . . God is love. He defined it first, He defines it now, and He will define it forever. If you will, He is a perfect Father, calling us in as His children. None of us can imagine a perfect Father, but for some it might be easier than others.
And in that love, He invites us in. To be a family. To love each other and to love the world around us, and to serve. To help each other, to comfort, to protect, to serve, to love. Because face it… we can’t live this life alone. We need family.
And the entire reason that this is on my mind today is because our church is out in the city serving. Some are working at a horse ranch that needs help, some are giving away free food to those in need, some are repairing, moving, cleaning at places that need help. And they are not the first church we have been apart of to do that. Many churches do that. There was a time in Oregon when we were all very sick, and had been for a while, and our lawn was so piled with leaves that it was embarrassing. We woke up one morning to find a group of families raking leaves in our yard. A church on the hill had decided to go out and help their community. Most people had turned them away because… they thought it was weird. But they came to our yard, saw what we needed help. They bagged up 12 bags of leaves that day. Just to help us. And they didn’t even know us.
And you know what? You’re apart of that family too. Even if you’re the one that stays home and sits on facebook and just talks about all the bad you experienced from one group of people. I’m so sorry that that happened to you, but don’t let those people who hurt you rob you of more love than you can imagine. Keep looking. Find a church that will invite you in with open arms and call you family… because THAT is Church.
Find a church that hugs you like your grandma. That helps you fix broken things like a father or grandfather. Find a church that welcomes you when you walk in. And let the light of God so shine on your heart, that joy, despite your circumstances, floods from your lips in song… because you have seen the goodness of God, because you have felt comfort of God, because you have experienced the LOVE OF GOD through the hands of His people.
And if you have not yet . . . then keep looking. It’s out there. Sometimes it’s closer than we know. Sometimes it feels so far away. North Dakota felt a world away at one time in my life. Now? It’s right outside my front door.
One example of what the Church looks like to me, comes from someone so dear to me. She is like a mother to me. She never had the chance to meet my own mom, she hasn’t even met most of my family, though I hope she can someday, but she stepped in and has done her best to love me like a mother. Nine years ago, Nick and I were running a college group in California. On the first night, a group of college freshman stumbled in and took the table covered in food. That was night we met one young man . . . who would later go on to be mentored by Nick, who would go on to become one of our dearest friends, and whose mother would take to us like we belonged to her. Nearly a decade later, we are still family. We are half a country apart, but we are family. All because of the Church.
These are some memories… blood family and Church family. There are many not pictured because I wasn’t sure if they would want that. But hear my heart… if you gave church a chance and they hurt you. . . try again. Find Church. Find family. Because Church is supposed to be like family. I am so thankful to have both . . . a blood family, and a Church family, to do this life with.
I hear the grave groaning tonight. Not this one.
Please, God, not this one.
He whispers again, just as He did the night I held my mom one last time. He reminds me, His great wings flutter above settling down over the devastation. And His love, a heavy blanket of warmth and comfort and a peace I have yet to find elsewhere wraps around us all.
Tonight we groan and we grieve and we ache and we moan. Our hearts torn. Rent in two by this loss. And we rest in Him, a Father who draws us near and says, “Yes, I know. I know how it hurts. And just as I hold you now in this arm, I’m holding him in my other.” It feels a world away, but we are still one family. His blood running through us calling us brothers and sisters, friends, children who can lay their head upon His breast, upon the heart of Emmanuel.
Listening to His heartbeat, the heartbeat of a King whose side was pierced and whose dying breath silenced all of creation. Whose rising again signaled the defeat of death, and shouted and shone and echoed glorious ripples throughout all of eternity.
And I nod against the heart of my Father. And realize. The grave groans because it is empty. Dear Jesus, it is empty! Oh death, where is your sting! Oh Lord . . . ease the sting. Tonight. Tomorrow when morning comes. Every day after.
Lead the aching and broken where they do not know where to go. Each foot in front of the other into your wondrous healing, into the unknown, upon those great waters where trust is without borders. Where we ask “why” and we question and trust flows fluid through out veins, because love paid it all.
Today, love won in the heart of my dear friend.
Jordan Reed, beloved husband, father, son, friend. A legacy who, with one bright-blue-eyed smile, gave you a glimpse of Jesus.
(Jordan, seeing his beautiful wife-to-be)
If you would like to contribute to the medical fund and give a little to help Jordan’s family, please click here.
Morning makes its entrance. Glorious colors spill across the earth. The rich, scented dirt that connects us to each other, runs deep. The farmer works. Caloused hands to the till, skin weathered, wrinkles moving with each step. Sweat trickling before the hour has passed. This is toil and work and effort, each muscle coaxing the breaking of this portion of the world. Begging life from the dead.
I am he. I am the farmer. But this soil, it is my life. Years of gain and loss. My breath catches in my throat, and I am reminded to name it. Anger. Loss. Pain. And to set it free. I plunge my hands into that richness that grounds me, reminds me I am but a human, but a breath in the wind. A breath still alive. A heart still pounding.
There are moments where my faith has eyes and the vision stretches beyond my present kneeling. I can dig deep with hands of purpose, overturning earth, planting seeds, and believing that they will grow and live and produce. And the effort does not tire me, the pain does not blind me, because love is stronger.
Other times, like tonight, this mountain seems greater than I. Can it be moved? Is it fertile? Will my efforts lead to a harvest? My heart knows it is so. My mind has seen it before. This road is not new. But I hate this doubt. It weakens. I know it will pass as the night does. I will be renewed in the morning. But for now, I am sunk low between the rocks.
I picture myself, knees to the ground, dirt pressed to my forehead, wondering. No. Yearning for harvest. Yearning for the fruit that will testify the worth of this pruning.
This garden is not the garden I want. Everything in me wants another. A kingdom. Heaven on earth where He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own. Can I have but a glimpse here?
Then the children shout with glee, blissfully unaware of the reality of the pain. They breathe air that is light and clean and not soaked full of fear. They laugh, and it echoes from far and wide, and in that sound I can hear forever. Forever. A taste of that heavenly garden descends into my earthly toiling and I recognize it. I want to give it all for one day of that beauty and yet I long, I pray, and I plead for a lifetime of it here and now.
I am longing for the throne room.
And as I pull air in and out of my lungs, I can feel it. Yes, I am not alone.
Creation, too, is groaning for the throne room.
And in that whisper of wind, the mountain moves. A sliver of green life unfurls from its bed, and the ground, so broken and torn, births a bud. And just like I named the anger and pain and fear, this too shall be named. In the name, I find hope. He is Jesus. He is here now. Amidst the staining mire of suffering, He calls to me. And I am home.
Of the wife, a survivor herself, who holds the hand of her husband as he fights for his life, seven . . . eight . . . hours a day; she watches the chemo flowing through the body of the one she loves and her soul cries.
Of the mother. Two babies to hold on earth. Several more in heaven. She grieves and wonders and holds her fist to the sky, loving this God that she does not understand.
Of the motherless woman.
Of the fatherless woman.
Of the mother who chose to give up her babies. Those unborn and unborn. Maybe she wonders if forgiveness can ever be hers. Or maybe she has forgiveness and yet her heart aches.
Of the woman who longs for joy. Grasping at it with white-knuckled fists. Begging for mercy. And she clings. And she refuses to let go. Because even in the pain . . . there is beauty. There is breath in her lungs. Blood in her veins. A pumping heart that burns with a love as hot as fire for her children and as steady as forever- glowing coals for the man whose name she claims.
Today, as I stir the soup and fold the dough, I think of you, women. The women in the trenches. And I pray for you. You know who you are.
This was one of the last things my mother ever posted to facebook. I hear those words this morning, as if letters on a keyboard had a voice, whispering in the back of my mind.
My bed beckoned to me late. Despite the comfort I found there, I knew it would not last long enough. Shortly after my eyes would close, a little boy, still new to the word, would cry with hunger. I would feed him in the dark, knowing he was precious, yet too exhausted to see. I would stumble into bed and pray that he would sleep the rest of the night, and yet knowing he would not. Once more, he would cry too early, and I would feed him again, just as morning was dawning. And as my eyes would slip closed for those last moments of sleep, that have become gold to me, I knew my delightful daughter, who wakes with the day, would soon crawl into my bed anxious to live.
But this night, before it all played out in the story that is my life right now, I decided I would wake up differently. Instead of longing for my bed and groaning as I would rise to care for my brood… I chose to be thankful for life.
It seems obvious. But after months of sleep deprivation, the lines are blurred. Things become routine. The coffee brews, the bagels toast, the sun rises, and my vision blurs.
But not this morning. I was woken by my daughter. I was too tired to see which one it was, but when she spoke, I knew. It was my oldest, and her voice was happy.
Thank you, Lord.
I rose slowly. My body protested. A body alive and well and healthy.
Thank you, Lord.
Their daddy had fed them breakfast before he left for work, and so in the quiet of morning all was peaceful.
Thank you, Lord.
I washed some dishes while my coffee cup filled and watched through the window as steam rose from the hills. Fog rolled through the vineyards that are only visable from my kitchen window in the winter. Through naked trees, I watch the earth awaken. The sun is blinding, and though my heart yearns for rain, I am thankful. Thankful for the break of a new day.
Thank you, Lord.
My middle darling, the most delightful person I’ve ever known, tells me her dream. Then rushes to make a book. She colors, she talks, she eats, she considers, she postulates, and all in a matter of minutes.
Thank you, Lord, for this child.
My oldest darling, one who is often ruled by her emotions, is amused by her sister. She smiles, and that smile is as bright as the sunlight to me. My soul pauses.
Thank you, Lord, for this child.
My baby beckons. He’s growing now. Standing. Wanting to walk. He yells and it sounds as if he’s a quarterback, poised with his team, calling out a play. I feed him, I change him, and he explores. His laugh rings out as he discovers something new.
Thank you, Lord, for this child.
And my mother’s words echo, written from the depths of a soul who longed to do the simple things again; to fold laundry for her daughters, to wash dishes with hands that did not burn, to breathe breaths that were not numbered, to awaken to a day with endless possibilities.
Thank you, Lord.
I cry because I miss her. I cry because I know she is alive and well in that place of glory. I cry because I will embrace her again.
Thank you, Lord, for hope.
I see this day, stretched out before us like a snow-white canvas begging to be permanently altered.
A wise woman once said to me, “There is such a thing as too much fun.”
That’s what comes to mind when I think of camping.
Every year around this time, it seems like everyone I know makes a mass exodus for the woods, as if they’re coming out of hibernation or something. But not me. I know what you’re thinking. I’m just some prissy city girl that doesn’t want to get dirty, right? Wrong. The real truth, is that I don’t want to get eaten.
I did my time. Camping was what my family did growing up. At Christmas, they gave camping gifts. For birthdays, camping gifts. Vacation? Camping. Anytime. Anywhere.
Even though there’s a picture of me being potty-trained on a stump in the woods at age 2, my earliest memory of camping is a little later. My parents packed up their tiny gold pickup with the usual gear, drove into the wilderness (Code for: Big Foot country), found a place as far off the road as the truck could take them, and set up camp. We were probably hunting, but my early memories are that we were doing nothing more than torturing me. I slept in the front of the cab with one eye open all night watching for bears.
Of course, I have good memories too. Like the summers spent camping with the entire family. We’d rent out an entire campground, fish all day, fish all night, and end the week with amazing fish fries. Sponge bathing under the camping shower and finding doodle bug holes was glamorous. I didn’t mind the red muddy lake water or the fact that man-eating sturgeon lurked just below the surface.
My mom had insomnia and so nothing ever happened at camp that she didn’t know about. Perhaps that’s why she made such a great children’s church pastor. In the mornings, while she cooked breakfast, she would tell me about the cougar she watched prowl around camp while the rest of us slept.
And therein is my problem with camping. In the words of Jim Gaffigan, “Camping’s fine during the day. But night time comes and we’re all gonna die.” I know this is an exaggeration. Of course. It’s easy to be rational when you’re sitting in your living room, and not snug as a bug in a sleeping bag in the boondocks.
So what is it that calls our name? Why, when winter slips away and spring’s chill fades into summer’s warmth, do we rush for the woods and the rocks? What is it about summiting things that makes us feel invigorated? What’s so different about the air up there?
I think it’s because we can see Him more clearly.
And by Him, I mean, the One who made it all.
Our agendas fade away. There’s nothing to do, but just be.
And the greatness of it all is quite unfathomable at times.
The last camping trip I took with my large family, was in 2000. I went out, for the first time, on my uncle’s boat, as he and my cousins fished in the bay. I didn’t last long. Sitting out there, in the tiny boat, I was shown, literally just how small I was in the vast universe. The piece of sturdy plastic and fiberglass was lifted up each swell, over and over again, only to dip back down again, with the black, vast depth of water all around. I was overcome with complete reverent fear. That God brought it into being with one. single. spoken. word. A blast of His incredible power, released, and an ocean, a world of its own, appeared. And there I was in the middle of it.
And that that very same spoken word took on flesh and walked among us as Jesus because He loves us is almost too much to comprehend. We can try to understand, but really . . . we cannot know, we cannot fathom such greatness.
But He feels closer, somehow, doesn’t He? While sitting around a campfire, with the music of a guitar below and the explosion of stars above.
When I was 14, I sat around a fire with my classmates and gazed up at the stars. One classmate, a boy that would live for 4 more horrible years and be crushed by a semi truck when he turned 18, followed my gaze and looked up. I don’t remember our exact words, but I wondered aloud that the God who made those magnificent stars loved us personally. And this boy, who had always doubted God’s love because he had been rejected by his own mother and father, considered aloud that God’s love might actually be real.
He feels closer, though, doesn’t He, this Creator. Everythings comes into focus. It’s easier to believe when surrounded by the work of His hands.
When I was 16, I backpacked up Union Trail with some friends. We stopped just before the trail made the climb up to the snowy caps above. The flowers that lined the circled valley were as tall as I was and a bear wandered among them. It rained profusely that day, and we huddled together in tents eating cold mac and cheese. And that night, when the clouds cleared, and the sky above peered down on us, all we could hear was the rushing of the creek. The freezing runoff from the peeks above, rushing down through the little valley. And we remembered that the Bible refers to the voice of God as the sound of many rushing waters . . .
He feels closer, though. It’s not so difficult to see that it was all fashioned by perfect hands, by a power greater than ourselves. The idea that it all happened “by chance” is so preposterous when seen up close.
I spent a handful of summers camped out on the lake; fifteen houseboats, 250 students and adults, there for one purpose. To know Him more. To experience life, to laugh, to adventure, to enjoy, and to put it all into perspective. It’s so much easier to understand His love when you see the rainbows of the sunset spilled out over the lake, like a gigantic canvas.
How many bapitsms have I witnessed with the magnificent sun rising up over the hills, pouring in through the trees, and the steam of night lifting into the air? We sang, we laughed, we cried, as many entered the waters and committed their lives to Christ. Oh to those that do not understand, it must sound ridiculous. But to be there, face to face with a declaration of faith- there’s nothing else like it. Fathers baptizing their children, wives and husband renewing relationships, vowing to love one another as they pursue God, a woman in a wheel chair too crippled to walk on her own- carried into the water by loving hands . . . All dipped beneath the water for a brief moment in time, coming up anew. The old gone. A fresh start.
All for the One who made it all.
It’s been a while, but I’m starting to remember it all. It’s easy to throw off the notion when babies arrive. The decision to give up camping was made easier when I married a man who understood others’ fascination with the outdoors as much as he understood Latin.
But that’s changing too. A few days ago, I was putting a diaper on a squirmy baby when my husband came in. He didn’t say “goodmorning” or “how was your night?” No. He said, “I wish we had a tent. I know it’s impossible, but I’d sure like to go camping.”
Hmmm. I laugh. And just like that, all the reasons I thought I hated camping disappear And I remember.
I remember. And I want my children to experience those memories too.