The Fresh and Fierce, the Light and Dark

January.
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She comes in softly and deeply.

She comes in sharply and steely.

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She is in the field past the grove of trees, ice shards blanketing over hidden pools of water from yesterday’s thaw.

She is in the light that blinds.

She is in the sting of tears when there is too much beauty and pain. Sometimes I have to close my eyes even when I don’t want to.

It always happens when the landscape here in the north bites white under  blue.

In January, all at once my town goes hard and flinty and soft and shabby.

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My beautiful, ugly little town.

Gnarled and broken elms grasp toward swaying pines.
Wedding cake trimmed houses overlook broken down, down, down dwellings.
Sprawling lawns give way to trash-laced, chain-linked yards.

A kid runs to school, hurdling a snowbank and skipping over the big ditch, his LLBean coat cape- flapping behind him. Another kid barely threaded, barely coated…zipperless, runs beside him.

The Haves stand fence to fence with the Have-Nots.

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The Satisfied sidles right up to the Empty.

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January  is like that.

And on the first of her days she always begins with a clean page.
A hope canvas. Words shout through my pen.

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Things are going to be different around here.

I will be kinder, gentler, happier.
I will remember people. Just because.
I will wish them more than a Facebook happy birthday.
I will remember thankfulness is a way of life, not just a way of saying.
I will embrace sorrow and repentance like the healing balm that it is.
I will remember I need to be washed in it daily.

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Then January second happens.
Then January third…and January fifteenth.

The tension of beauty and ugliness living side-by-side is not just on my street, but in my heart.

A January thaw is needed to melt the hardness that is me.

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Forgetting I am beloved and beautiful to the One who sees, I slam a door and whisper ugly on my tantrum walk up the street.

Forgetting the blessing of abundance from the only One who can create anything, I still put too many leftovers in the trash.

Forgetting that I’ve been given a coat of righteousness, I keep picking up the dirty strait- jacket of selfishness.

I remember so much on January first, but by  January second, I’ve lost my memory. Like the house, it can go so dark this time of year.

Fade.To. Black.

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When January speaks Hope amidst hopelessness, when she proclaims New alongside broken, she speaks the language of the Divine and human.

Even if we don’t know there is anything or any One beyond what we can see with our own eyeballs, we all know that we are all broken. Even if we don’t believe there is anything at all on the other side of this life, we all know we are all hopeless.

The whole wide wide world knows it.
Anyone with a heart knows it.
And in January so many of us are trying to fix what it cannot possibly fix.

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Not in January.
Not in February.
Not in July.
Not ever.

All is dark without the Light.

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So when the sun goes down around here, I turn on some twinkle lights.

I’ve always needed light around me.
I’ve always needed light within me.
I’ve always needed the Light of the whole wide wide world.

And right there, on a January afternoon I saw it.
Wrapped up in dried straw and twigs the little silver medalion spoke loud and clear.

Faith.

It takes faith to turn the page. It takes faith to ask for help. It takes faith to turn on the lights. Because in the doing of all these things we are saying there is more to be had, more to be done, more to be risked, more to be transformed, more to be loved.

January tells the truth.

She doesn’t hide the ugliness of winter’s beating, but shouts forth the glory of winter’s dazzling light and beauty.

January is fresh and fierce, she is light and dark.
She tells the truth about us and Jesus.

She lets the Light back in.

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“You might think that your woundedness or your sinfulness is the truest thing about you or that your giftedness or your personality type or your job title or your identity as husband or wife, mother or father, somehow defines you. But, in reality, it is your desire for God and your capacity to reach for more of God than you have right now that is the deepest essence of who you are.”– Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

Thanksgivings Up0n Thanksgiving

I say it every Thanksgiving. To someone. To anyone. I repeat the story every year somewhere. Sometimes it’s at a women’s retreat, or a breakfast bible study. Sometimes it’s over coffee with a friend. Sometimes I’m saying it to my mother. Sometimes I’m writing it.

I am a repeat thanksgiving offender.
I am in good company.

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73.

It’s how many times God mentions  thankfulness…gratefulness.
Do this…Be this. Seventy three times.

God… on repeat.

Some things we know, but most things we don’t. I knew when I was awakened at four o’clock in the morning thirty three Thankgivings ago that my womb was about to be broken through for the first time. I just didn’t know it was the beginning of repeat thanksgivings for the rest of my life.

The moment we are born we are given a death sentence. Even our conception begins in brokenness.

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When our lungs gulp air and we wail our first cry, we are already condemned. It really is the first day of the rest of our lives. We come out of a dark womb into a dark world. We may perceive light for the first time, but it is not the Light of the world we are looking at.

It was the same for the boy. He didn’t know, we didn’t know, that the dark world of missing enzymes and metabolic mis-firing were lurking in shadow.

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We didn’t know in a few months there would be a collision with the One whom there is no shifting shadow.

Imagine. So much Light there is no room for shadow. Nothing stands in the way of this kind of Light.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

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When Light comes, darkness turns tail and runs.

When good, really smart doctors say to prepare for the worst, they don’t know what Light can do.

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So the story gets told again. The Drummer turns thirty three today because the Father of Lights gives good gifts and shadow has no say in that.

Today. My thanksgivings upon Thanksgiving.

Really smart, good people don’t know everything.
Turns out they didn’t know about all the thanksgivings that were about to unfold.

They didn’t know about the little girl that would come. The one who dances in the Light.

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They didn’t know that Light always has the last word.

I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together

That Autumn when the rest of the leaves had finally fallen and the sky was blanketed low in the way it seems to do in late November, I was twelve years old trying to cook Maltex on an old gas cookstove without burning it. At the same time I was wondering where I’d put my schoolbooks and hoping my sisters wouldn’t miss their bus.  I left the stove for the bathroom to see if I smelled like pee because my baby sister, whom I’d shared a bed with and who wasn’t quite potty-trained, had wet the bed. On my way out of the bathroom, I caught my reflection in the mirror. Making a face, I asked myself why my teeth were so crooked and my breasts weren’t growing.

Well, one of them was.
One small perfectly round lump on my left side imperceptibly protruded from my sweater.
Sigh.
I’m a boob cyclops
.

The sharp scent of maple snapped me back to my present.
I ran to the kitchen. Only days before my dad had announced he was leaving the family and now I’d gone and burnt the Maltex. So began a season of stumbles and falling downs.

Life’s fury has a way of unexpectedly sweeping you off your feet and you find yourself with a mouthful of carpet.

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Some days you are thinking…how did I get here? What has become of my life?
On top of everything else, is it possible to have one good hair day?

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You need relief.
A release.
A reprieve from the perfect storm of bewilderment and pain.

It’s not that you want to live in denial. It’s just that your best medicine for a brief moment may be laughter.

It must be stupid, belly-aching, thigh-slapping, tears running down the face laughter.

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In the 1970’s, I laughed like that every Saturday night. When all my days were a weighted November gray,  Saturday night was my relief, release, reprieve.

Carol Burnett was on television. For one hour I forgot about the Hamburger Helper split six ways and free school lunches and cheap department store underwear that left an elastic mark across my belly button and made me feel like an old lady.

I forgot about my crooked teeth and my funnel chest and the acne that was taking over my chin. I didn’t think to check the smell of my armpits or wonder if I’d go to prom.
I gave no thought to zits, bras or boys.

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The sadness over my mother having to work extra weekend nights and wondering where my father was got shoved into the background of my heart.
For the moment everything was okay. Abandonment moved to the sidelines.

I was laughing.

The Carol Burnett Show kept my feet on the ground when all I wanted to do was run away from my life. For one hour every Saturday I learned it was okay to be goofy and awkward.

I became a fan.

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Not the crazy, stalking, sleep-on-the-sidewalk-outside-her-apartment kind of fan.

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Just a kid who saw herself in the funny girl.

A kid who realized that not everyone gets to be the pretty girl. Besides, the pretty girl’s life isn’t perfect, either. Everyone has a broken heart.

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Carol Burnett did not save me.
She did not shed any of her blood for me.
She did not blot out my transgressions.
She did not heal any of my broken places.

She simply made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry.

You can’t cry all the time.
Sometimes you have to laugh.

Like when you’ve grown up and you still can’t find a bra that fits right.
Ever.

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Or when you decide to try a radical new hairstyle before the prom. Or your wedding.

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When you think you have fashion sense. But you don’t.

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When you are out of the loop and no one will tell you anything and you have to resort to eavesdropping.

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When your children tell you that waking you suddenly from a sound sleep in the middle of the night scares them so they deal with their nightmares and puking on their own.

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When you realize that some people are exceptionally blessed and it makes you want to scream.

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When you come to the end of a brutal election season….

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Life can be a mess.

Sometimes it is all we can do to push our mop and bucket around our heart spills and soul-shattered pieces.

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Time goes by.
November isn’t as gray as she used to be.
You’ve come into a new season.

There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…

God knows all your weepings and mournings.
He also knows all your laughings and dancings.
He makes time for them all.

God lives in the tension and mystery of hunger and satisfaction.
We can find Him between the weeping and the laughter.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

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Carol Burnett said hello to me once.

During the “bump up the lights” segment of a concert she gave at the Hanover Theatre a few years ago, people were given the opportunity to ask her a question. My friend Vicki, an amazing performer herself and who happened to have floor seats at the same concert, raised her hand. I watched as Carol pointed to her.

How great is that? My friend, another life-long fan is getting called on by the Carol Burnett! What’s her question?  Maybe she’ll get invited to come up onstage!

Then, these words…

“My friend Mitsie McKellick from Maine, who is sitting just up there, would love a hello from you.”

Wait…what is happening….and…. just like that Ms. Burnett turned toward me, put her hand up to her mouth Tarzan yell style and hollered, “Hello, Mitsie McKellick from Maine!”

I stood and waved.
Speechless.
Grinning.
And deeply, all the way to my guts, humbled.

My friend gave up her question. Gave up her chance in the spotlight with a comedy icon.
Gave it up for me, the kid who always saw herself in the funny girl.

A small thing in the lens of eternity, perhaps, but a gift, nonetheless.

Did I have a question for Ms. Burnett that night?  Not really. If I did have the opportunity to speak with her I would simply say thank you. Not because she had the superhuman power of taking a broken twelve year old girl and putting her back together again.  I know that Jesus is my one and only put-back-together-er. I know that I live under the smile of God and that quite possibly He used a funny lady to ease some of my sadness.

So I would look Carol right in the eye and say thank you. Because when life is really hard, sometimes all you can do is let out a Tarzan yell.

Thank you, Carol Burnett,  for showing me how it’s done.

What We Humans Do

 

Most likely a bird dropped the seed. It could have been the wind, but there would have been more of them here and there and this little flower stands alone.

All I know is, I didn’t plant it.

The rest of the garden is bleeding golden at the end of her leaves because it is the middle of September. A few black-eyed Susans and the last of the pink garden phlox are all that’s petal-ing right now.

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The garden is dry.

Despite me yanking the garden hose around, the soil, when I poke my finger into it, remains dusty up to my second knuckle.

Time away to water my own soul had left the little flower beds neglected, so upon returning I took a look around to see what needed tending and there it was, a lone stalk, its leaves a bit frayed by something biting on them, its pink petals beginning to open up to the world.

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I bent low. Whispered.

“Well, look at you, you little piece of pretty. How is it that you are coming into bloom at the end of things?”

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Sometimes plants will give off a second flush, like the daylillies in the front yard. Many Autumns I have walked past the bleached stalks and wilted foliage thinking it’s about time to uproot the dead and there they will be, a few pink and yellow blossoms giving it a go one more time.

20160915_154645For some of us ground-diggers and soil-tillers there are the gourds and pumpkins and the endless zucchini that push their life expectancy into late October.

Fruitful longevity.

This is what every farmer hopes for, what every soul longs for.
A planted garden, a well-lived life, that bears fruit for a long, long time.

Then.
There are the surprises.

When you spy something growing and you get low, your face screwed up in that look of perlexity you get because you’re pretty sure you didn’t plant it. You would never stick just a lone seed in the ground. It wouldn’t be prudent. Yet, there it is. One tiny glorious thing right there in front of you and all you can do is smile and be thankful.

20160915_160123This is what wonder does.
First you are surprised.
Sometimes you are in awe.

Then, you are simply, profoundly thankful.

Everyday I peek around the fence and examine the lone stalk. It flourishes despite the dry heat and when it does rain, the pummeling.

I look at the little flower, the result of spilling, and think this is how it is with us humans.

We do this. Every single day.

Unknowingly we are like a bird or the wind casting seed. Good or bad.
Everyday. Every place.

Seeds are spilled when we wait in line at the box store and the person in front of us doesn’t have the right card or enough cash to pay. Seeds are brushed onto those that interrupt us, cut us off, rebuke us, revile us. Seeds are embedded in an unexpected embrace, in the whisper of forgiveness.

Seeds fall from our lips and our bodies whether we take the time or not to actually engage with someone else.

We are always spilling something because we are always carrying something.

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“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.

We do not know who stands before us.
We do not know what will become of our own children or the ones in the classroom, the ones on the street.
We do not know the decades of impact and influence spilled by the elderly man struggling to work the ATM.
We do not know why that woman is so overweight, or why that teenager won’t make eye contact from their hoodie.

We may not know, but knowing or not…we still sow.

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This is how it is with us humans when….

We sow seeds of grace sitting across the table of a screwed up teenaged girl trying to make sense of her abandoned life.

We sow seeds of “you are not forsaken” when we stop what we’re doing every Friday afternoon to get that girl from college so she can spend the weekend hearing God’s love song for her.

We sow seeds of authenticity when we tell the girl that we were screw-ups once, too. Then we pull out our guitar and sing songs that tell the girl God loves screw-ups very much.

We sow seeds of truth when we tell the girl that she has to forgive, that she has to let go. Then we pray for her right then and there and let her wail and blow snot in our kitchen because we know she’s being healed on the inside.

We sow seeds of friendship despite the 30 year age difference between us when we invite the girl to sit at our table and pour endless cups of coffee into her while she tells us her story and we do our best to tell her Jesus’ story.

We drop the seed of generosity when we give the girl a place to stay and work to help her prepare for her upcoming wedding.

We scatter the seeds of “you are part of a family” when we bring the girl and her whole family into our homes, into our beds, over and over and over again. We throw the girl a bridal shower. We let her sleep in a pretty room the night before she is to be married.

We sow seeds when we don’t know the girl is watching us love our children, love our husbands, love our God.

This is when the wonder happens. Most of the time we don’t even know we’re doing it. We’re just living our lives and giving away everything we have because we have so bought into copying Jesus and one day when we’re not looking, a flower appears.

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One day the girl grows up.

Like the flower she isn’t perfect. If someone were to bend low and look closely, they would see quite clearly that she’s got some frayed edges, some bite marks. If one were to scrutinize, they would see that she suffers still. Adversity can be a killer, but in this girl, it has served as a potter’s tool, shaping and forming her into exactly who she was meant to be. A seed sower. A grace spiller. A Jesus copy-er.

Like the flower in the back yard, she is a late-bloomer.

She is okay with this.
Autumn, it turns out, is her favorite time of year.

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Thankful for these grace seed spillers and sowers. Because of you the girl still blooms.

Ray and Connie Blais
Jack and Lois Casey
Allen and Donna Dykstra
George and Janet Visbeek
Norm and Donna Picard
Pete and Judy Schotanus
Jack and Gert Moorey
Bill and Trina VanDyke
Leo and Mary Wiersma
Andy and Marge Lund
Phil and Joanne Jacquart
Bob and Paula Menard
…and Pauline Hayward, my mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Someone To Run Toward Me

I live in a one hundred and ten year old house. It sits on a mixed foundation of granite and brick. There is a basement, but only under the kitchen. I venture down there occasionally to re-set the circuit board when I forget I can’t blow dry my hair, make toast and run the dryer at the same time. The remaining foundation is a spider-infested crawl space that I hope I will never have to go into. My husband has mine-shafted into it by shimmying his man body through an opening in the floor of the bathroom closet that is hardly big enough for a ten year old.

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I love him so selfishly in that moment because I do not have to do it.
I would let the house flood.
I would never add insulation or a water vapor of any kind.
I would not put up a support beam, instead let the crack in the dining room wall inch its way toward the ceiling.

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I hate tight places.

To be trapped, pressed, and crushed in the dark completely alone is one of my worst nightmares. The only way I could endure is if I knew someone was coming for me.

But, I live in a small village in a smallish state in North America and no one is raining barrel bombs from airplanes on my little New Englander that sits near a railroad crossing and where one would probably say that the side yard is where it’s the prettiest. The only invasion comes from the occasional chipmunk and some sugar ants when the weather is hot and dry.

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So.

I don’t have to worry.
Or think about what’s happening far away from me and my spider-infested crawlspace.

Then, last week in the car, I turned on the radio.

The reporter was simply, mundanely, reporting the death of a man who regularly went into blown apart buildings to rescue people suddenly hammered into the ground with their tables and couches and teapots and lamps and bedframes and bureau drawers and the morning’s breakfast crushing them into the most devasting bone-breaking dirt-eating alone-ness.

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Every day, sometimes all day, ancient brick and mortar homes much older than mine are torn apart by barrel bombs raining from the sky that leave stone upon bone. People who refuse to leave their beloved city whimper and wail from crawlspaces too small to crawl from.

The day of the radio broadcast, I waited out the red light on Minot Avenue and learned that someone actually takes the time to fill a barrel with nails and splintered wood and shards of glass and metal and all things wire designed to puncture and shred.

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As I made the left turn onto Court Street I found out that a “double tap” is when, after a pilot drops the first barrel, he circles in the sky to see where it lands and waits for a crowd to gather around the smoke and rubble. He watches as rescuers run toward those needing help and then he drops the second barrel.

I felt my jaw tighten. It happens when I’m trying not to cry.

I leaned over the steering wheel at the top of Goff Hill that overlooks Lewiston, my closest city, and that’s when I discovered the terrible reality that in some parts of the world killing is not enough.

A person’s home must be so completely destroyed it can never be re-built.
A person’s body must be so ripped apart it can never be healed.
A person’s soul must be so utterly condemned it could never be forgiven.

There is an enemy bent on destruction right down to the very ashes of brick and bone.

The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy…

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So…this man who died.

Turns out he’s famous, but I wasn’t paying attention two years ago to know that after yet another bomb blast, Khaled Omar lay down his weary body on a pile of rocks to rest after digging for hours looking for children thought to be trapped under the ruins of their home. While he lay there, he heard a baby cry.

Khaled went toward the sound and began digging again and sixteen hours later from the moment the rescue operation began, he reached into a hole and felt the swaddling clothes of a ten day old baby and he pulled.

…I have come that they may have life,  and have it to the full.

I made the left onto Turner Street and the broadcast replayed the audio of this rescue from 2014 and I could hear the sound of men, their crazy excitment, their crazy anticipation, and their crazy hope manifested in the timbre of their voices all coming together in a symphony of chaotic joy.

I was a mess at the roundabout near Starbucks.

I barely made out the rest of the story about this  Khaled Omar and others like him called the White Helmets. A group of volunteers in white hard hats that, while everyone else is running away from the bombings, they run toward it.

The reporter ended the broadcast by saying when the people of this besieged city were asked why they stay in light of all the danger, especially being trapped under a bombed out building, they responded by saying, “This is our home and we know if something happens, someone will come for us.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

I couldn’t get out of the car. I had pulled into the plaza to make a Goodwill drop off and I was undone.

This time, not because of the terrible things I’d just heard.
This time, in a parking lot, I was undone by Hope.

Someone will come for us…

When all hell is breaking loose from a barrel or an addiction or a terrible diagnosis and everything normal isn’t anymore, sometimes the only way we can endure is knowing that someone will come for us. That they will run toward us in our entrapments, our addictions, our shame.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

While we are a long way off…

Seems like the whole wide world is a long way off.

Tilting into violence in everyday places.
Toppling into addiction.
Teetering into identity confusion.

Khaled Omar was killed rescuing others.
This is what the enemy does.
He thinks if he can kill the rescuer, he has won.

He thought Calvary was his greatest triumph, but the tables were turned again and that victory belonged to someone else.

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For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.

Jesus ran toward humanity that day.
He reached into our entrapments and pulled us toward Him and it cost Him everything.

Therefore, we can endure anything.
We know someone has come for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am A Psalmist

The whole wide world seems to have been stripped naked of any cloak of decency and her whole wide broken self stands battered and bruised.

So many tears streaming down faces and so many tears ripping the flesh of both the innocent and the violent.

So much blood on the pavement.

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So many taking their last breath inhaling asphalt.

So many walking hollow, never to be put back to rights again.

Our world, a fractured fairy tale indeed.old bible

The persuasive rhetoric, the biggest guns, the strictest laws…they all pretend.
Pretend that they can actually change the human heart.

I know my own heart, as dark as the most violent of men, has never been changed by any of these things.

The girl was five years old. I was twelve. She was a neighbor’s daughter that I babysat sometimes because the money was good and the gourmet leftovers stashed in the back of the refrigerator were out of this world. However, I did not like this child. Despite her young age, she was mean. She cussed and hit and didn’t play nice. She was a bully. She bullied her little brother and she bullied my baby sister. One day I decided to end it.

It was one of those summer days when you can hardly take a breath the air is so heavy. The girl had come by to play with my sister and sure enough the taunting and bullying began. Something rose up in me. I’d had enough of the choking, kicking and hitting.

Some might call it justice, but it wasn’t. True justice is noble and compassionate and full of light. I was not noble or compassionate that day. I was full of darkness.

I called the girl to me. She hesitated so I quickly grabbed her by the arm and shoved her behind the sliding wooden door that was the entry point of the old warehoue where we lived. As I started to pull the heavy door to the right, she tried to escape but I blocked her with my right leg and used all the muscle I had to close the door. I stretched my legs between the framing and held onto the door handle.

I knew it would be only seconds before the screaming began.

Where she fought, pounding with all the strength a five year old could muster, was pitch black. I know because I battled fear in that room every single day, waiting for my eyes to land on something, anything, familiar just to get upstairs. I would grope my way for the metal poles with flourescent flowers painted on them that brought some semblance of light so I could see something that would make the black go away. It was the darkest place I’d ever been and fear licked at my heels in that room every day. I knew it was breathing down on this little girl in full force. I did not care.
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I was justified. And my justification made me a retaliator.

It doesn’t take a weapon in my hand to prove the violence that can reside in me.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Without God and given the “right” circumstances, the right pain, every one of us is capable of taking matters into our own hands.

Because when God doesn’t matter, in the end, no lives matter.

Where does love even come from? From where do mercy and forgiveness originate?

If we are all fading to black in the end and love is just this subjective thing and my rights and comforts in this life are the only thing that matters…then it’s okay to keep a little girl in the dark when she’s being a jerk, right?

 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our transgressions.

God always goes first.
Love always begins with Him.

When I was twelve I didn’t know God. He didn’t matter to me and the little girl screaming and begging me to open the door didn’t matter either. I was taught that justice was about teaching someone a lesson.

Then, when I was seventeen,  Jesus showed me that justice was about Him and His mercy triumphing over judgment. Jesus, who was stripped naked and indecent, bruised and battered…who tasted the blood of thorns and bled His blood on a crossbeam, showed me that He came, not as a retaliator, but as a Reconciler. Violence meets Love in the flesh and it is the violence that eventually dies.

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So I became a psalmist.

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I don’t write songs or hymns.  I cry them.

I cry the questions of the psalmist when I want enough to be enough.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

I lament the lament of the psalmist when the world keeps weeping over and over again.

I am worn out from my groaning.
My eyes flood my bed every night.
I soak my couch with tears.
 My eyes blur from grief.
    They fail because of my enemies.

I confess the confession of the psalmist when I want someone to be taught a lesson.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

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When God matters, you are able to see the cross of Jesus Christ in places of shame and you learn that His love covers a multitude of sins. You see that His mercy triumphs over judgment because He has taken matters into His own hands. The cross crosses the great divide between me, once a retaliator, and a God who reconciles.

I don’t have to stand on a bridge.
I am able to cross it.

This is where we see really see Justice in all her nobility and compassion and light.

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Then I thank the thanks of the psalmist.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

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Good Friday’s Clarion Call In A College Town

I am a disturber of ducks.

I see the mallard first, standing on one leg atop a small rock near the reeds. He is so still, so perfectly iridescent with his blue green head. I instinctively grab my phone and stupidly try to sneak up on him. He drops his hidden orange leg. I see movement of a speckled brown and white mound. The mallard’s mate is ruffling her body up and over a divet in the ground she’d been lying in. I could have stepped on her lovely, camoflaged self.  She and her companion slip almost imperceptibly into the pond. It is clear in the way they make small circles in the water and shake their tail feathers they are agitated. I slide the phone back into my pocket. I am a disturber and an agitator. All I  wanted was a picture of a one-legged duck I could post on Instagram.

On a rare Friday off with nothing needing doing, I had headed to Bates College for a walk around the pond. I needed to get out of town, away from the familiar walking path I normally take in my neighborhood. Bates is pretty and small in that New England collegiate way. I love the place. It’s a miniature sanctuary in the middle of the city. Even though the sound of traffic can be heard in the distance and students and faculty are always out and about, it never feels crowded or noisy. The cat o’ nine tails that edge the pond and the path that encircles it seems to buffer the mad, mad world that contorts a few hundred yards away.bates.jpg

I love it when I’m lucky enough to hear the bells toll. They make me think of God. To me they are a clarion call to pray, to celebrate, to remember. Sometimes they peal wait. Sometimes they clang make haste. 

On this day I was trying to find my way back to right thinking. On the first go around the pond, it was the mallard that reminded me how reflexively tied I am to getting the right picture instead of picturing the right thing. I quickened my pace. I was thinking that school is hard and that the brokenness of children was taking its toll and nothing in this mad, mad world seems right. Nothing at all.

We are Alice falling down the rabbit hole.
Up is down. Down is up.
Right is wrong. Wrong is right.

These children.
Living in a world so far off course it is hardly recognizable.

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These children are not afraid of the monsters under their beds, but they are afraid of going hungry. These children are not afraid of the latest horror movie or the blood-fest video game some teenager has shown them, but they are afraid that they’re stronger than the adults in their lives who are supposed to be taking care of them.

They’re afraid that getting to school, preparing a meal, finding clean clothes and staying away from abuse is all up to them.

“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

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These children. So quick with a hug and a fist.
So quick with a profanity, so quick with a gift. Here, I made this for you.
So quick to hold hands, small fingers imperceptibly lacing through mine.

The tales they tell while they are coloring.

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It is on the fourth go around the kid hurt that tries to choke the hope out of me by whispering, “You will never be able to fix this,”  is loosening its grip.

Of course, it’s true. I can’t fix it. Every school day I am confronted with the reality that humans are a messed up lot and we’ve messed up our wee ones. However,  I do not have to give in to the Despiser of our souls, the one who loathes children from their womb- beginnings and is hell-bent on destroying them the moment they inhale their first God-given breath. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

By not giving in to his lies that all is lost in the next generation, I become a disturber and an agitator of another kind. I become like Jesus, who turns tables on the plans of the enemy.

When the bells tolled four o’clock as I rounded the bend near the Arts Center, I was awakened  once again that I am not the fixer. I am a bringer. I can bring what has been fixed for me on today’s Friday, the Good One.

I can bring mercy and I can bring hope.
I can bring hands that guide, pick up, and rescue.
I  can bring hands that wash, hands that button and zip against the cold.
I can bring hands that wipe tears.

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I walked up the natural amphitheter and turned back toward the pond. It was settled for me again that to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is to believe that the cross is enough for a mad, mad world and all its children. To believe that Jesus fixed it like He said He would back in the beginning. This is my clarion call. This is my prayer. Let the bells toll.

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But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.