The Threshold of August

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving in a part of Maine that I am not familiar with and it was a typical August day.  Hot, sticky and heavy-laden.

I drove up through the hollers near Black Mountain, the road winding in sharp curves, the lush of summer’s tall field grasses and wildflowers lining the asphalt on both sides of the road.

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Wild country is here, mixed with a picket-fence congeniality on one side, and a rusted unfriendliness and washed out drive-way on the other.

One side says “welcome”, the other, “keep out.”

I drive around one corner and come upon a perfectly preserved New Englander with forest green trim set against stark white clapboards. Geraniums fill pots on the porch and down past an old well, a 40 by 40 garden spills, corn already up over a man’s head. I drive around the next corner and the trees have closed in over the road like a big a leaf tunnel, my view dark as twilight even in mid-day. Tucked inside the overgrowth on the left sits a small building, tin-roofed and tar-papered in places. A pick up truck is parked next to piles of trash, broken toys and parts of an old refrigerator.

The first house stands up tall, smiling for everyone to see.
Look how pretty I am. Come! Come in! The second house sulks, backing up into the darkness, almost wanting to stay hidden. It whispers, it’s all gone now.

All on a day’s drive, light and dark,  life and death, side by side

This is August.

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I was born in this month and I’ve always carried with me its sense of something fading, almost bleeding into something new.

August is a month when the sun brims hot and the landscape swelters, but on some days it lets autumn come close and linger at its doorstep. August, especially near the end, is a threshold between what is withering and what is about to come to life in living color.

What was growing since spring has become fat, bursting, sagging and succulent.
August is a juice running down your chin kind of month.

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It is also a fraying at the edges season. The tips of the lily leaves are burnt. The weeds have taken the walkway hostage.

When I was little, I spent hours lying in fields looking up at the sky, wondering about everything. I became familiar with the changes summer brought and when August came and I lay in the field, the grass would be stiff and dry, not pliable and wet like they were in June and July.

Indian paintbrushes circled around my body and I saw how the blooms were black then red then orange, like the embers on the end of a burning log. My legs itched from the flower’s stems scratching the backs of my thighs. I hated to lay on them. I hated to see them bent. Even as a child I could see the beginning of the end.

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August is a time to celebrate all that life can be in its fullness, taking in every minute we can because we know that she is also pointing to a time when all of it will retreat back into the earth where it came from in the first place.

The good news is, this future that August points to will not happen before one glorious, color-splashed, fresh air breathing thing.

Autumn.

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There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

           a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot…

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It’s Not Worth Breaking A Bone

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I broke my baby toe trying to avoid a Lego.

I was barefoot, nine months pregnant and in the grip of perfectionism.

It happened one night while my four children were sleeping in their beds and I was attempting to set up a quasi- nursery area in the only spare corner left in my bedroom. In my arms were two dozen, brand-new, puffy, pristine and precisely stacked cloth diapers.

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FYI: When you’re nine months pregnant, carrying anything larger than a bread box compromises your perception. Look at the front of any pregnant woman’s shirt. There will be multiple food stains. When a woman gets a baby bump she is suddenly looking at life through a new set of lenses with the words “objects are closer than they appear” written at the bottom. A pregnant woman is either dribbling food onto herself or missing the mark altogether resulting in half of her meal shlumped into what used to be her lap.

Back to the Lego incident, but first a little backstory.

Our house in those days was very small. It was super cute, but we found out years later that parts of it used to be a chicken coop. This was before the trendy re-claim-all-things-wood-and-metal scene, so it was somewhat embarrassing to learn this little fact, however it explained a lot of weirdness we discovered about the house after we moved in. I grew up on a farm and I know chicken coops. You don’t want to live in one. Remember, I was in the throes of perfectionism.

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By the way, you don’t need to have a lot of money to struggle with perfectionism. It is not a disease reserved for the upper middle class. It is a disease of any soul that is compelled to compare itself to everyone else. Some of us are born with it, a sort of learned genetics. Maybe our mothers or fathers were perfectionists…our grandmothers or grandfathers. You know. What will the neighbors think?

Maybe we latched onto perfectionism because someone didn’t like our teeth or our legs or our voice or our coloring paper or our science project. Maybe they didn’t like where we lived. Or, maybe they DID like our teeth and our legs and our voice and our science project and where we lived. So we learned how to keep it all propped up.

Back to my small house. Trust me, there is a point.

In this house, I could take three steps in any direction and be in three different rooms. I could stand in the kitchen and my girls’ bedroom at the same time. This meant I became Master Of Storing All Things. Anything left out in the open was an invitation to disaster. If you were running around the house for any reason you were likely to knock over a chair in the dining room, which would then domino-fall into the living room tipping over the one good lamp that didn’t have a crooked lampshade. Jumping off the side of the short set of stairs leading to the loft could result in pulling the Christmas tree down, taking the framed Jesus collage with it.

To avoid massive injuries in a middle-of-the-night walkabout to the bathroom, it was imperative that the floor be a toy-free zone at the end of the day. The kids usually did a good job picking up their toys before bed. I made sure of that. I was a maniac.

However, toys cannot be trusted. We have seen Toy Story.

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I saw the Lego lying on the rug, all red and innocent as I walked Tim Conway old man style through the dining room, the diapers making me smile because they were so…neat.

I won’t go into detail describing what it feels like to step on a Lego while barefoot.

Let’s just say the pain is attached to some very specific language. Language that would make the characters in a Martin Scorsese film turn fifty shades of pink. Even if you manage to keep this sort of language from escaping your mouth because you love Jesus and your children, there will be screams, which again, if you have ever stepped on a Lego barefoot, these are the screams of one who has been suddenly shot through with a blow dart and no one just says “Ouch” when this happens.

So… the Lego.

Thinking I could just step over it, I shifted my weight and lifted my foot. The white pillars wobbled. NO! NO! NO! My twenty four beautifully bleached, baby bottom covers!  I had to protect this architecture of perfection from falling into a pile of un-folded chaos at all costs!

My belly surged forward, I raised my arms high still holding the swaying diapers, and to avoid the Lego, I shifted wrong and brought my foot down backwards on itself.

A word AND a scream came out of my mouth. My baby toe was broken.

In agony I hopped three times to my bed and lay the still-perfectly stacked diapers on the comforter. Injured, but triumphant. I turned to grab my foot in an attempt to massage away the pain. I couldn’t reach past my shin.  So I cried.

It’s what perfectionist pregnant women do.

Especially near the end when they want everything to go perfectly; instead they have to figure out how to construct a make-shift trundle bed that will go under the crib they shoved under a window, so three girls can fit in a bedroom made for one. The house worked perfectly fine with two children, but now there is going to be five. Does anyone know how many Legos this means?

Perfectionists cry because they think people are laughing at their outdated wagon wheel light over the dining room table that hangs so low all the tall guys at bible study keep bumping their heads on it just to reach the onion dip.

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They cry when their husband runs a garden hose through their bedroom because it’s the only way to siphon the water out of the basement after it flooded. Again. What will friends think back home?

They cry when they discover the new puppy has torn from the kitchen wall an entire sheet of new wallpaper that took months to save up for and it wasn’t even top of the line paper.

And they cry when they cook and clean and decorate and exercise, the whisper: “It must look like this…You must look like this,” in their ear.

When you’re pregnant, things look closer than they appear. The imperfections of life,  like the stretched skin of a pregnant belly, seem more pronounced. What isn’t working, what can’t be done, what is always lacking. They have a way of zooming into the broken places when you’re in a season of waiting, or when life has you off balance.

Perfectionism hides the good thing that is right in front of you.

Like the husband who has a way of figuring things out and making you laugh out loud  when he comes up from the basement covered in what he hopes is just mud.

Or when the guys who bump their heads on the wagon wheel pray for you and your family when things get hard. Or when you hear the giggles of three little girls in a bedroom made for one.

Then there is the time you watched your wallpaper eating puppy who had grown too big for your house lick the face of a little boy who lost his dog in a blizzard and has come to adopt yours.

When you try to avoid pain by covering it up with perfectionism, this is when you really fall.

Perfectionism tells you to get it all right for everyone else’s sake. Perfectionism says that life has to be lived under certain expectations that no one can ever possibly meet. It tells you that you are standing up straight when you are really falling down.

Perfectionism lies to you and everyone around you.

It says that your house, your face, your voice, your writing, your music, your art, your whole life is under the scrutiny of a hard taskmaster, when the truth is your whole life through Jesus Christ is actually under the smile of God who calls you his poema, his masterpiece, created for good things.

Perfectionism is a religion; it’s just another way of way of pretending.

God pried my fingers one by one from perfectionism many years ago. Much to the relief of my family and much to the relief of me.  It was an exhausting, soul-killing way to live. Thankfully, God took my perfectionist heart and re-shaped it into what He intended it to be. Real.

Last week I heard someone say how they would describe Jesus in one word.

“Jesus is relaxed.”

Such a simple thing,  but it turns out these were holy words for me. And they’re true. Once Jesus began the un-hurried, non-stressful and merciful work of releasing perfectionism from my grip, I became a more relaxed person who is learning to see God in all things.

I still clean my house. I still wash my face. I still write and I still create art somewhere. I still keep an eye out for the rogue Lego. And I have not relinquished my title of Master Of Storing All Things. I call it Container Art.

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But now, instead of wondering what someone else might be thinking how I should be doing these things, I do them because they bring me joy. I am learning that when I am more whole-ly myself, I am more present to God. Like this geranium, I am good with the fading parts and the budding parts.

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I am thankful for all that God has done and is doing with me in this place.
And I am so #grateful it all happened before Instagram.

It’s a good thing, because these pictures are blurry.

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“We need to review frequently the truth that our performance and our acceptance by other people has nothing to do with our dignity and value, since this is determined by God and not by the world. When we suffer rejection and indifference, the pain will be real, but it need not destroy us, since we have made the radical decision to look to God and his resources alone for our true and unchanging identity and worth.” –Kenneth Boa

Photos of diapers, chicken coop and wagon wheel light fixture courtesy of Google Images
Photos of Legos and flowers are mine.

When What’s On Netflix Becomes A Prayer

With a pained expression mixed with a tinge of hope, Louisa asks Martin what he wants.

She is angry and frustrated at the dancing around they’ve been doing in their relationship…are we supposed to be together, are we not…

Louisa loves Martin.

She loves his intelligence and intensity. She loves him for his commitment to do his job as a doctor thoroughly, ethically, and yes, punctually.

She loves him despite his rudeness, despite his seeming indifference to the feelings of others, and despite the fact that he is a grumpy, anti-social curmudgeon.

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Martin is a pain.

His social awkwardness hinders his relationships and his lack of community keeps him from dealing with his own emotional brokenness stemming from a lonely and neglected childhood. He has difficulty communicating much of anything besides anger and irritation, which hampers his ability to profess his love for Louisa. You see, Martin has a hard time with love. He doesn’t have a clue how to break out of the carefully contrived patterns and systems he’s lived with his whole life.

It’s not on his radar that breaking out is even an option.

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Life is work. And more work. Everything is the same. Nothing ever changes. Why would it?

Get up. Get dressed. Turn on the espresso machine. See to the patients. Bark orders to a secretary, tell a child to shut up, kick the dog. At the end of the day, one must put paperwork in order, rinse out the coffee cup, tinker with an antique clock for a bit and finally go to bed only to lay there unable to sleep.

When Martin meets Louisa, all the walls he had precisely built around his heart begin to shift. The once mortared places start to crack like little hairline fissures spreading in a thousand different directions. Sometimes Martin has a moment where he is about to give in to love, but he usually ruins it by saying something stupid thereby promptly walling his heart back up and putting on the British stiff upper lip.

After all, one must get on with things.

We all do it; this getting on with things when life becomes too full of unanswered questions. Sometimes it’s easier to build a wall then deal with the stuff of heartbreak and failed community.

It’s easier to stop asking questions when we think there won’t be any answers.

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Then one day, out of the blue, someone asks us question.

Martin! What do you want?

Louisa, frustrated that Martin is so pig-headed and despite her fear that his answer won’t be any good, confronts him anyway in the middle of the road. She has come to the point where she must know. It’s now or never.

Martin!

Suddenly, emerging out of some fog that seemed to have held him captive, Martin’s normal ghastly look of irritation softens, the wrinkles around his eyes relax and he looks at Louisa with this longing…this love that he has kept protected in the box that is his heart, but now…now it’s out and spilling all over his face.

His heart has been pulverized.

Instead of averting his gaze, which is what Martin usually does, he looks Louisa right in the eyes. He pauses as if he’s waiting for the answer to arrive from the deepest place of himself and when it does, his answer to the question, what do you want, is:

“Something… New.”

Martin doesn’t give Louisa the classic answer she may have been hoping for. He doesn’t declare his undying love for her or ask her to marry him. (He does that later)

Martin does the unexpected. He bypasses the conventional and gives an answer that reveals the layers of all that is in his heart.

He is tired of his old life.
He is tired of building walls.
He is tired of himself.

Martin tells the truth. And it comes in the form of a simple, all-encompassing answer.

When he says he wants something new, Martin is actually declaring what Louisa has become to him: She is his something new.

He realizes that if he is with her everything from here on out will be new, too. If it means he becomes new as well, then so be it. Martin is ready to give up his old patterns and systems.

Knowing her has broken through everything he has ever known up until this point in his life. His defenses are gone. His truest self is beginning to emerge. Dare he hope that he could be transformed just by loving her and being loved by her?

As I watched this climactic scene from the British TV show, Doc Martin, I had just come from a time of intense weeping while standing on a ladder, paint splotched in my hair and streaked across my chin. As I swished my brush back and forth I had been thinking about some recent challenges of loss and heartbreak, along with some disappointments and questions I have regarding a few things that need a remedy. The remedy seems so far away it is more like a fairy tale than anything real, never mind possible.

A lament without words came over me on the ladder and I couldn’t continue painting, so I decided to eat lunch instead. At least I could breathe for a few minutes.

I settled in with a salad, some tea and a little Netflix, glad for a break in the emotion.  The show Doc Martin makes me laugh, plus the scenery is as beautiful as Cornwall England can possibly be. Fields of wildflowers and ancient architecture makes me ache with joy.

But when the character Doc Martin said the words….Something New, I began weeping all over again.

And then a strange thing happened.

All at once it was like God was speaking to me, for me and through me. And I was speaking to him, although I uttered not one word. It became a strange and glorious dance.

Like Martin, I was jarred by the question.

What do you want?
God’s question. My question.

Something new.
His answer. My answer.

A sacred kaleidoscope of communion.

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This is what you were asking for in your lament; Something new.

This is what I am giving you in this moment; Something new. 

This is your heart’s cry for others…Something new. 

Weeping on the ladder and again in the flowered chair next to my tea and salad, I realized I really do want something new. I want all the old stuff to be gone, the old self, the old thought patterns, the old fears, the old lusts, the old illusions, the old complacency’s…the old cracked walls that are nothing but ruins anyway, I want it all to be pulverized.

In that moment with Netflix, God named what I really want.

Jesus is my something new.

This mixture, this communion of thought and emotion, questions and answers, all stirred up together somehow felt as if He was listening and speaking and answering and I was lamenting and questioning and understanding and being understood; knowing and being known; exposed and vulnerable, yet clothed and strengthened.

God is always clothing us, isn’t He?

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This dance was the way the trees dance and sway with the wind, back and forth and around and around; not resisting, but bending in sync to it. Or maybe it’s the dance of the ocean as the waves tumble forward while at the same time drawing back in its own endless rhythm of beauty and power.

Sitting in my chair watching Doc Martin and feeling a bit awed that a scene from a TV show took on the glint of the sacred, it dawned on me what this dance of questions and answers and knowing and being known is called. It is called prayer.

And for me this kind of prayer was something new.

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Photo of Martin Clunes in Doc Martin from Google images.

Re-Shaped By Loss To Shimmer Like Hope

Seven days. The time it took for a sacred Breath exhale to bring all things into being followed by the holy rest of satisfaction in the goodness of it.

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Six rotations of the earth plus one sabbath go round equals seven days of what real life is supposed to be…the stewarding of things without toil and sweat followed by a cease and an ease that flows like a river into a space of being where you are present in His presence. It’s a holy rhythm. It’s the way life should be.

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We know it’s true. Into the deep some of us must go to find what we really want to possess. Buried within the human heart is a longing for more goodness, more beauty. More kindness and more truth. Even if the heart cannot name them, the longing for the way life should be eventually makes its way to the surface like stones in an Irish field.

This longing has even been slogan-ized and stenciled on a sign where I live.

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Except real life here in Maine or anywhere else on the spinning blue ball isn’t what it should be at all.

Sometimes there are seven days of heartbreak.
Sometimes there are seven days of loss.

The trouble with that little four-letter word loss is how many layers it has.
It’s a small word with a big footprint.

To lose some thing implies there was once a possession of that thing; a holding, an owning of it, and now it’s gone. But, can everything you no longer possess be considered a loss? Maybe you sold it, or you gave it away. It’s possible you destroyed it.

Loss is hard to define.
It could have been stolen or misplaced.
Maybe it was let go.
Perhaps it was good-byed.

You may not be eloquent enough to define loss, but you know loss when you see it.
You know loss when you feel it.

There are so many things to lose and so many ways to lose them.

There is lost time, lost money, lost weight, a lost limb, a lost parking spot, lost joy, lost voice, lost dog, lost hearing, a lost child, lost game, lost mind, lost ring, a lost friend, lost sight, lost virginity, a lost place in line, lost love, a lost soul.

You navigate up and down the levels of loss and you quickly learn the differences.

Losing a spouse or child to death is not like losing keys to the bottom of the sofa cushions.

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One…a bone-aching, heart crushing thing.
The other, a frown-lining, lip-pursing annoyance.

Seven days.

This time it was a seven day ride through a maze of different levels of losses beginning with the good-bye of the second son, The Traveler, and his family to a place where the buildings scrape the sky and six-lane highways thread the landscape full. Only a six hour drive from The Traveler’s first home, yet far enough away that his new home looks nothing like Maine. Far enough away where the spontaneous visit isn’t possible anymore. Far enough away where hugs are measured in months instead of days.

How many throat clutching tears can one lose standing there on the sidewalk next to Kathy’s Diner after the last breakfast?

More tears were lost when news came of the decisions of those loved most who chose to walk in different directions than expected. No one knows how it will all turn out in the end because the stakes are high and the convictions seem low. Rehabilitations and new habitations up-ended the status quo and things are just different.

Then in the middle of the seven days it was learned our friend’s bones began aching deep and his heart began crushing fierce over the loss of his wife to cancer.

Our funny friend Vicki. Still young. Now gone.

Finally, on the seventh day came the breath-sucking, shoulder-sagging loss in the learning of betrayals in marriage. So much collateral damage rippling like a bee sting, sharp and throbbing at the same time. In this kind of loss there is no prediction of the future because this kind of loss rips up the past while taking the wind out of the present.

Seven days of crying over so much more than some silly milk spill. In the same way as  milk splashed all over the floor, these losses, these things that are no longer held, can never be put back the way they were.

So when you’re standing over the washing machine after your diamond suddenly broke away from your wedding band and plunked into one of the holes of the wash tub, forever lost in a maze of gadgetry, you have to face the hard truth that some things are lost for good. Looking into the Clorox-ed abyss, you realize you’re going to have to live with the loss. It will become your new normal.

There is a temptation to get lost in the narrative:
This is the way life is; get over it. Don’t even think about how it should be.

But…God.

But…Hope.

Hope is the shimmering shadow over the ash heap of loss.
It glitters like a holy gauze the way the late afternoon sun sparkles on water.

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Hope says I will see The Traveler and his family again soon.

For the ones loved most, Hope says that they are under the gaze of the One who loves them best and He beckons toward a better road just one step away.

Hope says my friend will see his beloved wife again. It is a blood-sealed promise.

In the meantime, in the middle of loss or perhaps on the other side of it, maybe there’s a a way to turn what’s left into something unexpected.

Maybe your beloved will take your broken ring and have it pounded and reshaped into a symbol of his love that can never be broken.

Maybe after you have been pounded and reshaped by loss, you will find that you shimmer and sparkle into hope.

Maybe your broken life, marked by loss, becomes a reflection of the redemptive love of Jesus, Who suffered all the losses there ever was and  all the losses there ever will be only to become your ultimate Gain.

Maybe it’s the way your life is meant to be.

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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)

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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