There Came A Man Sent From God, Whose Name Was Jack

I know I am taking some liberty.

It’s not that I am trying to re-write the God-breathed love letter given to us humans that points us back to glory.  I know what the narrative really says. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.

The man I speak of was named John, too, but I knew him as Jack.

Jack Casey wasn’t some desert-dweller, some camel-haired coat wearer.

I never saw him in anything less casual than pressed khakis and a cardigan sweater. When I knew him at church he wore a suit and tie.

He wasn’t some grub-eating preacher living on the fringes of society. Jack ate regular food as far as I could tell and he lived in a split-level home in a neighborhood, that I thought was, in comparison to where I was living at the time, reserved for people with money. Middle class was not on my radar.

There was nothing fire and brimstone about Jack.

The only time I heard him raise his voice was when he was laughing. And laugh Jack did. You see, he was an Irishman and an Irishman is known for a few things; two being his laughter and his tears. Jack was rich in both.

I was a shattered kid when I met Jack.

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A gangly, snaggle-toothed teenager, hollowed out by the abandonment of my own father and living among soul-broken ruins, I met Jack at a place called Faith Fellowship.

Somehow the spirit of God had taken up residence in the Blackstone Valley where I lived and a bunch of people got caught up in the windstorm. I had no idea about any of it, except that my mother was also one of those people and I was along for the ride. I didn’t know at the time that I was about to collide with the Jack Casey fortress of love.

Jack was not put off by my brokenness.

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Instead, he embraced it.

I could not walk past the man without him offering to hug me. I could not dodge His words of kindness and affirmation. I could not escape his welcome. At church, if I tried to exit out another door, Jack would do the side-step shuffle until he managed to reach out and tug on my sleeve; “How are you doing, today?” Then, with gentleness I couldn’t resist there would be a Jack Casey embrace and God- words from his mouth spoken directly to my heart. I could feel a piece of me being put back into place, Holy Ghost mortar securing it forever.

I never asked him, but I did wonder.

Does he not see the ash heap of my heart?
Does he not see the unworthiness I wear?
Not like a coat of many colors, but the tight wrap of graying and decaying grave clothes?

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(Christo-‘wrapped bottle’)

I wondered.

Who is this man who loves so easily?
Who does not abandon, but welcomes.
Who follows the broken one out the door.

In some ways, Jack was like the desert-dweller; the other John.

He prayed. All the time.

It was like he was compelled to talk to God about everything. Perhaps is was because he really believed God is always present and he wanted to pray for you so you could know it, too.

I wasn’t the only one he would follow out the door. I wasn’t the only one for whom he would do the side-step shuffle. There were other sleeves he was tugging on.

Getting caught up in a Jack Casey embrace meant you were about to get prayed for and blessed. He’d always begin his prayer with “Lawd…” dropping the ‘r’ in Lord, as he invited Jesus into the situation. Like the desert-dweller John, Jack was always pointing to the One whose sandals he would never bring himself to untie.

See…there He is. He’s the one. The one who can heal you. The one who will never leave you. 

And like the desert-dweller, Jack was relentless.

He took my eldest son from my arms every Sunday to pray for his healing from a liver disease that threatened to kill him before his second birthday.  Jack, haven’t we prayed enough? Never, he would say. Give me that boy.

Two years of Jack saying give me that boy and then… one day that boy’s belly shrunk to normal size and the doctors had no answers for the miracle they were witnessing. That boy lives as a husband and father of two, banging on the drums his own rhythm worship that resonates the faithfulness of God with every percussive beat.

Jack imparted blessing to each of my children after that. Even after I moved to Maine, whenever I visited the Blackstone Valley with a new baby, Jack always seemed to be there to pray, to say give me that baby; his eyes swimming in tears and his voice garbling like fresh water over river rocks the blessings of God.

Years later on a cold day in March shortly after my fifth child was born, I got a call from Lois, Jack’s wife. They were in Maine and wondered if they could drop by. Of course.

Later that day in the living room where my baby lay, Jack knelt, his eyes brimmed once again and his voice caught on the blessing he imparted to a little girl named Mary Grace.

Grace.

It certainly was a grace to know Jack Casey.

A grace-gift not deserved, but given anyway to a broken girl who had lost her way.

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Jack may not have screamed the word ‘repent’ from the rocks and caves like the desert-dweller, yet, his unbroken resolve to love others no matter what helped make this girl turn and go a better way.

There came a man sent from God comma.

This little comma sums up all of Jack’s life. It’s where he lived out his journey with Jesus. This tiny mark encompasses the story of his compassion and relentless pursuit of God’s love for himself and for others. It is in the comma where Jack, throughout his life, pointed to Jesus. See…there He is. 

Jack’s days of pointing to Jesus came to an end on a Saturday.
Today he is seeing Jesus face to face.
Today he is the one being embraced.

There came a man sent from God, whose name was Jack.
For this I am grateful.

So, Jack, here are my words, quoted from the crazy Irishman in the story, Braveheart:
“I will see you later.”

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(The Burren, Ireland 2008- my collection)

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When You’re Janis, Not Stevie

On social media I will never be the “hot” wife.

In our enlightened century where being “real” is tantamount to sainthood, I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to be in one of those Dove ads where you see real women in their underwear. (Meaning that in 2018 a size two woman with perfect proportions isn’t a real woman?)

Hasn’t society always tried to change the perception of beauty through the externals? Powdered wigs, an exposed bosom; a hoop skirt, short skirt, Boho shirt; some of these are considered works of art or an act of civil protest. Others, like a pair of Levis, a plain necessity. It’s easier to pan for gold on your knees when you’re wearing durable pants.

When it comes to humans and beauty, let’s face it, it really is about the face.

All women are real women, but not all women are beautiful women.
Did I just say this out loud?

When you look at a woman who looks like Elizabeth Taylor…
Come. On.
This is astounding beauty.
This is rare beauty. It’s one of a kind. Like Victoria Falls or the Grand Canyon.

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What if you’re not a rare beauty Elizabeth Taylor?
What if your beauty isn’t like Stevie’s, but is more plain like Janis’?

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(image: creative independent)      (image: last.fm)

I don’t know about Stevie, but I read once that a sinister darkness entangled itself around Janis’ heart because she knew she wasn’t beautiful. She had been swept up into the lie that a certain kind of beauty was all that mattered.

Yes, there is the rare beauty reflected in the faces of Elizabeth Taylor and Stevie Nicks and it is a marvel.

Then there is the beauty that hides in plain sight; that one has to go looking for to see. Goes beneath surface and skin. Bores deeper into soul and spirit.

Janis missed that.
She believed for beauty to be valued it had to be obvious.
She didn’t know that the beauty of a woman is a mystery.

Sometimes a woman’s beauty dazzles like a sun-soaked sky.

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Other times her beauty can be found shimmering in the misty places.

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Both fashioned and sculpted in the image of God.
Both exquisite in ways that cannot be explained.
Both veiled in mystery.

We’ve all met a woman, and yes, a man, who on the Beauty Richter scale wouldn’t rock the world in any cataclysmic way. And yet, there is something about this person, something a finger cannot touch, something stunning that comes forth that cannot be described. We know in some unexplained way we are seeing beauty at its most mysterious.

When a man posts a picture on social media with the label “my hot wife,” could it be that he is exposing her in such a way that takes away her mystery? Has he forgotten that the word “hot” not that long ago was used to describe a woman’s sexual nature? Instead of sharing how pretty she is, could he be exposing to the world how intimately desirable she is? Could he be sharing with everyone what is meant for him alone?

I daresay in a flesh and blood exchange, where humans congregate shoulder to shoulder, a man would be considered honoring his beloved if he uttered the words, “Let me introduce you to my beautiful wife…” I daresay, in that same situation if he uttered the words, “Let me introduce you to my hot wife,” his beloved, and those around her, would sense no honor at all.

Perhaps I am making mountains where there needn’t be.
Perhaps I, like Janis, still struggle with the lack of obvious beauty.

I was forty two years old when I got braces on my teeth. I spent the better part of those years not smiling for the camera. Like Janis, I knew I wasn’t a dazzler and I believed my crooked teeth clouded even the tiniest shimmer. Arriving home after spending the afternoon receiving a mouthful of metal, my husband was in the dining room working on the computer. He wheeled his chair away from the screen. “Let me see.”

I took a breath.
I pulled my swollen lips over my teeth.
And then I smiled.

Laughter blasted from my husband and he promptly fell out of his chair.

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I ran into the bathroom, grabbed a comb and parted my hair down the middle, pinning the sides back with two of my daughter’s hair clips. Giggling, I came out of the bathroom, put on some reading glasses and declared, “Take a picture of this!”

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My husband pulled the camera out of the drawer, snapped the button and then… he embraced me.

He pulled me into his arms, his breath, his laughter, fanning through my hair,and he told me I was beautiful. The crazy part is, I believed him.

I believed him, not because I am beautiful, but because I am his.

I knew in that moment I belonged to him and him alone and not to a world who proclaims the obvious, platforms the obvious, values the obvious.

For many of us, we think beauty leads to being wanted. Like Janis, our narrative becomes if I feel alone, then I must not be beautiful. 

Yet when we know we belong and were created in loveliness and mystery in the image of the One who is the loveliest of all, then we can embrace the beauty that we are, whether we dazzle or whether we shimmer.

We hear God’s words:

You are like a dove that hides in the crevice of a rock. Let me see your lovely face and hear your enchanting voice – Song of Solomon.

I will never be the “hot wife.”

Whatever beauty I possess or whatever beauty I lack does not determine how much I am loved because I belong to the One who dazzles the brightest like the Morning Star and shimmers in the hidden places like the rose of Sharon.

Beauty doesn’t guarantee belonging, but belonging guarantees beauty.

This is why not all real women are beautiful women. It is not until a woman knows under the surface of her own skin she belongs to someone greater than herself that she discovers she is truly beautiful.

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So…after writing this piece, I stumbled upon this timely little blurb. I do not know what the entire content of this movie will be, so I am not advocating for the film, per se.  I most likely will not see it as I tend to favor historical dramas and romantic comedies where I don’t have to scrub my brain afterward. However, upon viewing this trailer, I think it captures the essence of what so many women are struggling with and uses humor to speak a very real truth.

Shimmer on.

May I Take Your Coat, Please?

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They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

When what you wear tells everyone around you who you are and what’s most likely in your bank account, then handing it over can be a really big deal.

It’s wearing your Rolex to the gym, or your stiletto Manolo Blahnik’s or Jimmy Choo’s to the grocery store; everybody gets it. You don’t need to show the money.

When what you wear on the outside tells your community that you might be somebody, laying it down in the mud only to be stepped on by some donkey becomes a public act of defiance. A defiance of all that you’ve been thinking might define you. You might as well throw that Rolex or those designer shoes into the trash can at Wal-Mart for all to see. It’s like you’re saying your stuff and who you are doesn’t matter.

But, maybe you’re poor. You got nuthin’. Choices or circumstances keep the cupboards bare. Everything hinges on the third week of the month. Almost everything you have has been given to you. You choose food or medicine, but never both.

Perhaps you are somewhere in the middle. What you have you worked really hard for. And what would your middle-class friends think if you just up and laid it down for another kingdom?

This week, the last week Jesus walked the planet, I find myself in all three places.

No, I don’t own a Rolex and my shoes, if a pair has a designer label on them at all, it’s because I got lucky at the consignment shop. If I dare to compare myself to most humans; the displaced, the trafficked, the marginalized, the war-bitten, then I am rich indeed.

How do I  know?

Because, I rarely think twice about my toilet. I don’t have to scan my street for possible danger before going outside. I have at least 14 choices to choose from in my refrigerator. I am an American.

Yet, it is here that I am most assuredly somewhere in the middle. Working class parents, working class husband. Everything is worked for, everything is justified.

I need it.
I saved for it.
I earned it.
I borrowed against it.

It can actually be harder to let go of things when you’re in the middle.

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I can be wretchedly poor as well. Perhaps not in the tangibles, but poor nonetheless. Poor in generosity and kindness. Poor in time management and fruitful living.

Poor in trust and belief.

There is something about following Jesus through his last week on earth that exposes what is lacking in me. Like those other branch-wavers and those coat layer-downers, at the beginning when things seem to be going according to plan, I am there, too, waving and laying it down.

Do it Jesus.
Do what you said you were going to do.
In the way we all think you should do it. 

But then He doesn’t.

Instead, He literally upsets the apple cart and all the other carts and yells something about prayer being The Thing. Then He spends a couple of days talking about fig trees and fathers loving wayward sons and wanting to invite people to a marriage feast that no one else would really want to sit next to.

He breaks down all of the rules carved onto stone tablets and etched into parchment to just two: Love God. Love people.

This makes a lot of people really mad, and then they lose their minds when He says, “Boys, it ain’t about religion.”  It only leads to hypocrisy…and wearing Rolex’s and designer shoes to the gym.

Jesus spends His last week on earth not giving the people what they want;  freedom from the tyrannical boot of the Romans; that will come later. Instead He kicks out the weak beam of religion declaring there is a better foundation.

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But some things need to happen first.

A meal.
The washing of feet.
A betrayal.
A garden taking on blood and sweat.
A kiss.

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That’s when all the palm branch wavers and coat-layer downers scatter into the shadows. Things are not going according to plan.

Expectation is a funny thing. Hope is so tied to it that when expectation is tipped over onto its back, hope tends to run for the shadows, too.

Twenty years should be long enough to pray for a mother’s healing, right?

What about each and every child that birthed out of you? If you give them Jesus their whole growing up lives, they will still follow Him after they leave home, won’t they?

If you pray forty years for a skeptic to recognize the One who has loved him beyond measure, well, God’s gotta answer that one doesn’t He?

The last week Jesus walks the planet is a hard one. Religion and hypocrisy are being thrown up against the wall, the very life choked out of them. It is violent and bloody because it is the only way to kill evil and what leads to the death of our souls.

I wish that none would perish…

The only death Jesus is willing to embrace is His own.
No one is laying down a coat for that.

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(PXHere photo)

There is just one garment on the ground now and it belongs to the one dying on a cross.

It is here on a Calvary Hill where expectation and hope are restored to their rightful places. It is when resurrection breaks forth that an invitation to a table happens, a banqueting table, where the rich, the poor, and the ones in the middle get to sit and eat together with no falseness, no shame, no comparison and no coats. What we think defines us won’t matter anymore because we’ve shed the externals for what’s real.

We’ve been invited to a table where real love happens. The tears of the last week have been forever wiped away. There is so much joy, so much laughing.

Jesus is asking, “May I take your coat, please?”

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Fences and Walls That Love Built

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Don’t let the barbed wire fool you.
This criss-crossed boundary maker is a mean fence.

I’ve tangled with them many times and felt the initial scrape, then the sting of its puncture. I’ve watched the thin red line as it bloomed where metal razor-ed my skin, a dot dot dot of blood clotting fat and round.

In the summer, laziness and daring married into a perfect storm as I attempted to climb over the bending wires instead of going through the gate in my effort to get to Mr. Howard’s barn before my sisters. It cost me a twisted fall and red-faced embarrassment.

In the winter after packing snow for a trail all morning to get it “slicker’n a bean” as my dad would say, and in my zeal to go airborne over the road on my sled, I often missed the rusted thorns protruding from the snowbanks. It cost me a shredded coat and a ripped wrist. A sort of jagged justice for not watching where I was going.

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Fences speak.

They tell where the boundaries are. They announce what needs to be kept in or kept out. Some fences even declare a belonging. Most of us want to be on the right side.

The trouble is, trouble comes when we think we’re on the right side of a fence but we’re not. The trouble is, trouble comes when we think we own our own lives.
When deny our own remarkable creation.

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With a hammer in hand, or our finger plucking strings; with our paint-stained canvases or our eye pressed into a telescope, we believe we are the creators, the music-makers, the color splash-ers, and the universe finders. It’s a lie. But it isn’t the first lie, it’s the second.

The first lie happened in a garden a very long time ago when the first and most noble of all creation were told they could be like God. In those days there was no need for fences or walls.  It was all very good living there. Nothing needed to be kept in or out. Nothing needed protection. With the exception of one tree, it was all there for the enjoyment and well-being of the first man and the first woman.

Belonging was a way of life.
Communion was as natural as breathing.

It’s when we believed the first lie that we can be like God, having all knowledge of good and evil, that humanity slid into the second lie: God does not exist.

All there is us.
Just us.

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.” 
“I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.” -Stephen Hawking

So God built a fence.

Not a tangible fence made of split wood, or twisted metal, but a word fence.

God’s words, His fences are ones of provision and care, of blessing and peace. His fences hold communion and belonging. They are about living within sacred parameters because of one thing: Love.

God’s fences are gracious boundaries for the safety of our souls.
They should never be moved.

Don’t remove an ancient boundary stone that was set up by your ancestors.- Proverbs 22:28
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The Burren, or Boireann, meaning rocky place in West Ireland, is so named for its limestone landscape that goes on for miles. Despite the amount of moon-like rock everywhere, the Burren flourishes with foxgloves and rock roses. Butterflies abound.

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The dry-stacked stone wall, so common in this part of Ireland, zigzags along the road and throughout the tufted fields. Put up with little security and no mortar, these walls are easily knocked down. However, it is this very thing, the fear of injury from their collapse, that keep livestock safe within the confines of their pasture.

Throughout County Clare and up through Galway thread famine walls built during the Great Potato Famine for the sole purpose of providing work and not just charity for the starving Irishman and his family. The stony landscape needed clearing and the Irishman needed feeding.

These walls speak bread.
These walls speak honor and dignity.

Fences and walls, the sacred ones, are good for us.

Sometimes we don’t pay attention. Sometimes we ignore the warning signs. And sometimes we just don’t believe. We think our life will always be like a warm summer day and if winter does come, it’s a such long way off, so what does it matter?

Some would call God’s fences rules and when fences become rules then often the fence becomes an offense, and heaven knows we’ve enough of that already.

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” -1 Peter 2:7-8

Some say rules are meant to be broken, that “rules” is a bad word. The truth is, rules, these fences and walls that come from a good, good Father, are surely not meant to be broken.

Something happens when I break down my neighbor’s fence and take what I want. Something happens when I let my own walls break down and something is taken from me.

Besides, the One who was broken for us all did all the breaking that needed to be done.

God’s fences are meant to embrace us because what is beyond His fences is a whole lot of hurt. But some deny, some forget, and some don’t know.

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I ran for my life once after coming face to face with a black bull that I hadn’t seen until it was too late. I am terrified of bulls. This one was at the far end of a field I wasn’t supposed to be in because it was too close to the slaughterhouse down the road. The field was for animals awaiting their fate,and therefore were skittish and not to be trusted. Ignoring my mother’s admonition, I hauled myself and my little brother over the forbidden fence… just because.

The field, full of black-eyed Susan’s and Indian paintbrushes, was a wildflower’s paradise. Queen Anne’s lace swayed in the tall grass. Grasshoppers jumped and bees buzzed. Because of the beauty, it seemed right at the time.

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I didn’t see the bull until my brother and I were about thirty feet from him. He wasn’t tethered. Hearing us he turned his head, his eyes a sharp white against the blue black of his hide. I froze. With his eyes zeroed in on us, he put his head down and began a slow trot in our direction. Then, faster.  I screamed, “Run!” and turned toward home.

I didn’t pick my brother up to help him. I just kept yelling for him to run and hoped his five year old legs would keep up with my ten year old ones.

See, when you’re on the wrong side of the fence and things go terribly wrong, it’s every man for himself. It becomes all about self-preservation.

That day in the field it was all about me. Of course, I kept looking back and yelling for my brother to keep running. I kept looking back hoping he wouldn’t fall yet doing nothing to help him. We made it over the fence safely, the bull stopping short about ten feet from us.

I hoped for the best for my brother, but in my fear, I didn’t do much about it except a whole lot of yelling. There is no peace, no safety, no provision, no care on the wrong side of things. For the thirty seconds or so that it took to get back over the fence my brother did not belong to me. When it’s every man for himself there is no communion.

Sacred fences, God’s sacred words about everything in the whole wide world, His words about marriage and sexuality, the poor and the rich, the refugee and the immigrant; our identity, our womanhood and our manhood; being young, being old, giving and receiving, living and dying; all of them spoken to preserve communion with God and his most noble of creatures, us.

Sacred fences declare a holy belonging.
Holy walls speak of provision and blessing.
Within their boundaries are mercy and grace.

Inside, a communion as natural as breathing.

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You Can And You Must

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She was born on a Sunday and turned twenty-four on a Tuesday.

Tuesday was a much milder day than the day she broke through the womb. That day was a hard-as-blue steel day, the ground under two feet of snow.

Tall grass poked through the snow in the fields off Old Chadbourne Road. Every now and then the copper colored stalks would vibrate in the wind that blew off the back field giving the landscape the feel of an Arctic plain; flat, desolate and so cold.

I’d gone for a walk when early labor injected its first pulse of pain. If all went like the four others, I had plenty of time before heading to the hospital. When I turned the corner onto Old Chadbourne, I let the cold air assail my nostrils. I felt alive and clean. I thought about the baby. I thought about becoming a mother for the fifth time. The twinge of what was to come splayed across my belly. I prayed in the cold. I knew what I was in for.

As it turned out, I was wrong.

At first, everything was the same as the others. The pain level, the intervals, the breathing. The walk around the nurses’ station over and over and over again. The moment I stopped talking and crawled into the bed. It was just a matter of time.

But this is where the youngest stopped birthing according to plan. This is where she quit flowing with my natural rhythms. Everything came to a stop and I lay there in a vise grip of pain with nothing to show for it. The end was such a long way off and I was in too deep to turn back. My body. My baby. All had gone silent except for the pain.

It suddenly became all about endurance.

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Nothing changed for a very long time. This middle place where nothing appeared to be happening kept taking from me. It took my strength. It took my courage. It took my resolve. I was done in. I quit.

I lay my head on the pillow and whispered, “I can’t do anymore.”

A warm breath in my face. My husband’s words coming through a veil. Yes. Yes you can.

Sweat drenched hair stuck to my cheek, my head a slow motion side to side shake.

I closed my eyes wanting some place real quiet.
I never, ever want to work this hard again.

A woman’s voice.
“You can do it.”
She poked. She prodded. Her eyes found mine.
“You can. And you must.”

It is not at the starting line where we choose to keep going. It’s not even the the finish line. It’s somewhere in the middle when the distance ahead of us is still so far away and the distance behind us is too. It is in the middle of nowhere that we decide if we’re going to keep going. To keep trying. Keep believing.

Do I keep moving forward even though I cannot see the outcome anywhere in sight?      Do I keep believing when all around me say I’m a fool?
Do I keep trusting when the odds are stacked against me?                                                      Do I lean into the pain and make it work for me?

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I remember standing in a classroom watching a child hell-bent on destruction, tearing things apart, tearing himself apart.

What am I doing here? In the middle of chaos and human fracturing, watching a child shatter in pieces, I was tempted to walk out of the classroom. To not look or hear or feel. What difference could I possibly make in this life? The writing was clearly on the wall for this kid.

A psych ward.
A medicated brain.
Statistically speaking, a jail cell.

Can’t I just go someplace real quiet?

Except I don’t get to walk away.

See, I follow Jesus and he never walked away. He leaned into the hard thing.

Somewhere in the middle of a garden he leaned in.  He leaned in the middle of an interrogation and the lash. He leaned in the middle of thorns and in the middle of a stumble in the street.  His father’s voice coming through the haze. You can. You must.

He walked a calvary road right into the jaws of pain and death and for what?
Just the joy of heaven and the whole wide world.

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The nudge to stay put in the classroom was real, so I did. I prayed for God to intervene, intercept, to do whatever he needed to do to rescue in that moment and in all the other moments to come. I walked toward the broken child and embraced all the pieces.

You can. You must.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s the only way to keep moving forward.

Minutes before midnight the Pixie Girl finally emerged from my spent body; the last baby for me because of the difficulty and the blood spill afterward.

This last one who laughs loud and sparkles fierce showed me when I find myself somewhere in the middle where all is hard to the point of quitting, I can and must remember if I lean into the pain and make it work for me I will keep moving forward.

O’ the joy!

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You can and you must.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.-Galatians 6:9

Photos of mothers courtesy of google images.

Hearts and Ashes

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Valentine’s Day heartbreak meets Lent’s Ash Wednesday.

Why are we once again holding vigils?
Why are we once again offering our thoughts and prayers?
Hasn’t there been enough mourning, enough tears to fill an ocean?

What is happening?

Guns.
It must be the guns that are all over the place.

School prayer.
It must be that government sanctioned prayer has disappeared from our schools.

The re-definition of marriage.
It must be un-checked liberalism. Maybe it’s rigid, judgmental conservatism.

Perhaps it’s a wall. Perhaps it’s a dreamer.
Maybe it’s a white. Maybe it’s a black.

Does anyone know?
Isn’t this the question of the day?

HOW ARE WE GOING TO FIX THIS THING?

Dare we go to the heart of the matter?

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Dare we travel quietly and humbly into the place where we have lost our own way?

Or shall we shout louder to let others know where they have lost theirs?

We all have a heart that has been lost on the ash heap of ruin. Perhaps there is the smudge of sin’s dirt in our eyes and we are missing it.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

The blue planet is so confused, rotating on a double-minded axis.

We so sincerely, really and truly, believe that all lives matter, yet do we realize that, for many of us, our geography of birth sets the course for our paycheck, our education, our incarceration?

Our Valentine date is Fifty Shades of Freed while we stand up for “hashtag me too.”

We choose to stop a beating heart before its time to leave the womb and call it unwanted, yet we wail over the wanted children as their hearts bleed out on a classroom floor.

There isn’t a law or a wall or a government sanctioned prayer that can shape a human heart.

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The one who fashioned the first beating heart from the ashes is the only one who can fix a bleeding heart.

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Hearts and ashes came together this Valentine’s Day in horror.

Not one human can fix that.
But, God…

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

We are a planet full of crushed souls.

A planet full of killers and robbers, pretty little liars and fakers. Most of us will never wield a gun. Yet, if we dare to get to the heart of the matter, to actually get dirty,  we know that in our own hearts at some point in our lives we have hated. We have lusted.
We have stolen and we have perverted.

We have harmed some one. Some thing. Our very own selves.

Yet,we are not beyond fixing.
There is one hope for our one broken heart.
Jesus.

For some this is just plain silly.
Nothing but foolishness to anyone of any measurable intelligence.

It is not lost on me that Lent, a time of reflection and repentance began on Valentine’s Day, a day for celebrating love. And it is a curiosity to me that this Easter, the celebration of Jesus resurrection, will fall on April Fools’Day.

It is true. Jesus’ kind of love does look a bit nonsensical.

I suppose it is, in all of its extravagance and devotion and forgiveness and acceptance and welcome. My broken heart God will not despise. He won’t walk away from it. He hasn’t walked away from the planet, either.

When we give him our broken heart, He just comes closer.
He has my heart and my ashes.

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Where The River Takes You

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It was daylight the morning I walked across the bridge on my way to Kathy’s Diner. I was meeting friends for breakfast later than usual. When I was teaching I would have to meet my friends much earlier to get to school on time, which meant I was crossing the bridge in the dark.

But I am not teaching anymore. I am in between things.

It was cold like January can be that early in the day. Hard, flinty; brittle and bright like a blade. The sky was just beginning to pink up and the day held the promise of a warm sun, but that would be hours away.

I heard the sound the moment I stepped onto the bridge. The applause of loud water.        I looked to my right.

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Normally the Little Androscoggin is quiet this time of year, but with the recent thaw and then another day of rain and snow, its waters were a fierce tumble. White spray was shooting up from the rocks and clouds formed and immediately floated to the bridge’s rails.

I know it isn’t Niagara Falls; the little river doesn’t even compare to its big cousin breaking over boulders in downtown Lewiston, but I am in awe just the same.

No matter its size, there is something about the power, the pounding, the pushing of a river. Even when it is slow and meandering...everything must go with the flow.

No matter what ends up within its liquid grasp, it will either be taken for the ride of its life, or scraped down and polished… smooth as glass. Changed forever.

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I looked to my left. This part of the river was silent. Snow lay on top like a blanket. The river, exposed near its banks, revealed a faint shimmer of movement. Mostly it was a still s-curve of whiteness.

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Where I stood on the bridge that morning is the place right before the spilling, right before everything changes. The in-between place.

Jesus followers call this in-between place the now and not yet:
Jesus has come.
God is here.
Just not in his fullness.

It is when we have glimpses of God’s glory. Touches of his healing. Revelations of understanding. In the dark. In the pain. In the questions.

“Richard Rohr calls this place “liminal space”—-a particular spiritual position where humans hate to be, but where the biblical God is always leading them. The Latin root limen literally means, threshold, referring to that needed transition where we are moving from one place or state of being to another. Liminal space usually induces some sort of inner crisis: you have left the tried and true (or it has left you), and you have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.”  –Ruth Haley Barton, Life Together In Christ

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I love watching a river. I always have.

As a child, if I’d managed to get the passenger side of the backseat of the car, I would press my face against the glass of the car door and watch the Sugar River, a small tributary of the Connecticut River, as it ran alongside the road near my home in New Hampshire.

In winter, snow would mound like white mushroom caps on top of the boulders standing sentinel as the river swirled around them, water constantly moving moving moving, but never freezing, and I would wonder where it was all going.

Swift River - White Mountains, New Hampshire

The river changed color all the time. On really cold days it would be a deep indigo blue and where the trees thinned and sunlight shone through, pockets of diamonds would sparkle among the rocks and snow. On cloudy days, the river ran black, a dark charcoal line against the snowbanks. No twinkling on these days. Just a muted palette of grays and blacks.

In the spring, I would roll the car window down until I got cold and I’d watch the river roll over the boulders, many of them completely submerged except for the really big ones. I could hear the roar of the river above the sound of the car motor and sometimes I wished my dad would stop the car so I could run to the river’s edge and and let the roar of it run through me.

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Summertime brought a canopy of leaves hanging from the trees that lined the banks; a fairy wonderland. Moss appeared on some of the boulders and the river trickled a bright golden ribbon. My sisters and I would step lightly in the clear waters to collect the speckled rocks we could see so clearly now. One day my not yet five year old brother straddled two big rocks and caught a small trout with his bare hands.

aSummer river Moose Brook NH

When Autumn came the river would snake slowly, now a shallow place, an exposed place. Sometimes I would notice a fallen leaf here, another one there, floating down down down like a little paper sailboat. Rocks that were once hidden only months before were now open for viewing. What was not seen, now revealed.

Lost River Gorge in New Hampshire

I dream about rivers. Mostly when I’m in the middle of a big life change and I haven’t the faintest idea how it’s all going to turn out.

In the wee hours of my dream sleep I will be walking about when suddenly a massive river will spring up out of nowhere and I have to quickly figure out a way to navigate my way across the rapids.  Sometimes I have people with me, other times I’m alone. I am never afraid, but I am always perplexed. After much hard thinking and a good bit of Providence, I manage to get to the other side every time. It is quite the adventure and most of the time I wake up feeling hopeful. But it is not lost on me that it’s in the in-between places, in the now and not yet where the real navigation happens.

I am on the threshold of something I know not of. What has been tried and true for me for so long is no longer part of my day to day routine. I am under a blanket of snow, a quiet shimmer of wonder and listening. Listening for the sound of the river’s roar and where it will take me next.

This is one of my favorite scenes from Lord of the Rings. When I first saw it I cried. God knows my heart for the beauty and the power and the life that is in the river.

 

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved. God will help her when morning dawns. Psalm 46

 

I could not find any photographs of the little Sugar River so the last four photographs are similar rivers from the great state of New Hampshire. The Swift River, Moose River, Lost River Gorge and Pemigewasset River.  (Google Images)