I’m sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops. Heart rate up. Chest and throat feeling heavy and clogged with unshed tears. I’ve just texted a friend the anxiety I feel over still more social media posts expressing one political stance or another, and my jaw is tender from another night of teeth grinding–ordinary personal stress perhaps, but more likely the result of feeling it as this country and any plausible excuse for civil public discourse dissolve into a riot of angry voices, none of whom are actually listening to each other.

Meanwhile, people–especially children–are suffering. Truly, suffering. Whether we’re talking divorce or city budget or war, children always pay the costliest price for the choices of adults.

Everything I believe about who God created us to be, everything I believe about God’s loving intention in creating this world, calls me to heartache for real suffering. For wanting to alleviate it in whatever way I can. I am willing to go to the mat if necessary for children who do not have enough food or drink or shelter or clothing or care. Of course, I don’t have to go further than a few miles from my own home to find such children, never mind anywhere else in the nation or the world…and sometimes, I think this is the very root of our problems–we excel at expressing moral outrage and righteous indignation at national or global events and find it all too easy to ignore the very same issues in our very own backyards. 

The current issues in the US surrounding immigration, the detention of minors, an influx of refugees, and what possible solutions might be to it all are literally keeping me awake at night. And I find the snark, social media hot takes, memes and blame-casting that pass for addressing the issues far more harmful than helpful.

Y’all, I am begging–begging–us to put the damn knives down and have some real conversation. As one of my loved ones said last week, “We’ve gotten so far right and so far left when it comes to immigration that we cannot even have a real conversation or seek real solutions.” Right now, across the board, and in all sorts of ways and with all sorts of issues, we are letting Congress lead the way in a strictly bipartisan, ego-driven deadlock. 

America has always been at its best when her people lead the way. Not just her government.

I am no immigration law expert. I’m not even a policy expert of any kind. And so what I am about to write, I write as someone who 1) believes in a just, loving and always-present God, 2) truly feels as if I have no political voice in our current deeply divided landscape, 3) fiercely loves people with starkly opposing views on immigration and US borders, 4) often, in my listening, hear people with those opposing views actually seeking the very same things. 

With all that said, here’s what I am praying for in the face of what is destroying us:

Humility. Of the biblical sort. The kind that seeks to listen, serve and care with deep compassion. What I mostly see is arrogance–an assumption from all corners that there is one particular viewpoint to blame. Y’all, this southern border crisis did not develop overnight. It did not even develop in the last few years. It has taken decades of leaders unwilling to really confront the issues, decades of pretending that war and unrest in South and Central America would not eventually affect North America, decades of holding some lives more valuable than others, to get us where we are. Sweeping policy change is necessary. And that takes time, cooperation, and hard work. It does not happen overnight. And it does not happen with a house divided. It also does not happen when just about every single politician, of every ilk, is way more interested in campaigning than they are in offering real solutions. There are exceptions to this, I know. But the thing about exceptions is that they are exactly that….

Humanity. As in the ability to see it in one another. I am vividly recalling a story about one of my heroes as I write this–Will Campbell, a southern and Baptist and writing preacher who devoted his whole life to seeking and extending justice, equality, and unconditional love for people, and who lent his voice to the Civil Rights movement in ways that changed our nation and our churches. He also once took communion to the (at that time and imprisoned) Grand Dragon of the KKK, and shared it with him, offering the most powerful witness I’ve ever seen to the truth that God’s love and grace are truly for all people, sometimes most especially the ones who do the most harm and breed the most hate. 

Brother Will did not excuse the Dragon’s actions. He did not condone his choices or behavior or sins. He simply recognized him as a human being, created by and loved by God, and y’all–this is everything. Recognizing this in each other is a game changer of the highest sort. It completely changes how we interact with one another, how we make decisions, and how we behave both individually and corporately. 

Honesty. And here I mean taking an honest look at what drives our deeply held beliefs and our behavior toward those who do not agree with us. We are, all of us, baggage-laden, and our life experiences have shaped who we are with definite precision. A person’s politics emerge for all sorts of reasons (so does a person’s theology and general life philosophy, but that’s another blog post…), and those reasons are never as black and white as it seems. And if your current definition of any Democrat is an unborn baby killer, or your current definition of any Republican is a racist, then it might be time to check yourself and your own ingrained experiences, biases, and journey. 

One small example of all this: I once knew a church member who got more than a little nervous when the congregation he belonged to chose to engage in dialogue and fellowship with a local Muslim community. At first, this got written off as hate of anyone different. The truth is that this man was a decorated veteran with five tours in the Middle East. Five. Tours. Of course he could not separate what he’d seen there from his daily life; of course he wanted desperately to keep his fellow church members safe; of course he had some reservations. And once this reality was known? Once his truth had been shared? Tension eased. Some understanding emerged. Perfect harmony? No. Not by a longshot. But at least an honest and humble recognition of his humanity and what had led him to that particular moment in time. 

Do not mistake me for being either Pollyanna or conflict averse in what I write. I get accused of both on the regular, and I’m familiar with the sort of things I write that lead to such accusations. I am not for one second defending hate, and I refuse to accept the status quo when it means people suffer. Dissent can be so valuable, and free speech matters. And conflict, when practiced well, leads to needed growth. 

But what I also know is this: in the last few weeks, I’ve heard multiple people, from various political corners, talk about our border crisis. And not a single one of them wants children to be suffering alone. Not a single one. They may not want entirely open borders, or they might. They may think we need a border wall, or they may not. They may have voted for our current administration, or they may not have. But not a single one wants children to be suffering alone. 

And in this tiny but mighty space of common ground rests my equally tiny but mighty hope. 

I don’t know what all the answers are. But I know a problem of this magnitude, with such far-reaching implications and such immense trauma, never gets solved in the vacuum of ego or tribalism or social media screaming. 

I also believe that prayer matters. I really, really do. Not as a magic wand or Christmas list…but as a way to examine our hearts–individually and corporately–and offer what we find there to a God who is not only at work among us, but who calls us to work, too, with that same God’s love as our first and most important guide along the way.

And so I pray, desperately these days, for real solutions to all that threatens us as a country; for families who find the prospect of leaving all they know and love better than staying; for those who create national policy; for those who are waking up every day to meet the immediate needs of those suffering; for the fear and anxiety and anger that plagues our nation; for the tension in my own heart brought about the disagreement of those around me; for you…for all of us.

And, always, I pray for love to win–preferably sooner rather than later.


by the scruff of the neck…(on being pulled along)

I was 23 years old. Sitting alone in an apartment in Lexington, KY, my dad having left the night before after helping me move 7 hours north from my beloved Georgia. It was the first time I’d lived on my own, and so far from home. And the next week, I was beginning a 90-hour Master of Divinity degree and beginning work as the Student Associate for Youth Ministry at a church in Bardstown, KY. I was pretty darn terrified, and I was attempting to ignore the fear by reading a book I was supposed to have finished before class started the next week.

It wasn’t working.

There came a knock on the door. An insistent one. I opened it up, and on the other side stood a very tall, very smiling, very eager fellow student who I’d seen in passing earlier in the day. “Hey! I’m Joby,” he said, “and some of us are going down to get a drink at Charlie Brown’s and thought you might want to go.”

I equivocated. Made mumbling excuse. I was grumpy, afraid, and also unshowered. I had no desire to be “social.”

But Joby insisted. Maybe he saw that I needed encouragement. Maybe it was just his way. But the next thing I knew, he’d taken the book I was pretending to read from my hands, walked back to the bathroom of my apartment, turned on the shower, and hollered at me to “Clean up! And meet us downstairs in a half hour!”

Too stunned to argue, I did as I was told. And by the time I got home that night I had both new friends and a new favorite place to be. Charlie Brown’s was cozy. Bookshelf-lined and full of couches and friendly bartenders. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many afternoons and evenings I spent there over the next few years.

Ever been dragged along in a moment when you needed just that? Probably you couldn’t voice it, but exactly what you needed was to have someone who cared to grab you by the scruff of the neck, and insist that you make forward movement of some sort, because you’re so mired down by the muck of life that even thinking about such a thing is exhausting?

Ever been pulled along through a situation you weren’t quite sure how to navigate? Had a hand to hold as you moved through a new relationship or a new job? Or a crisis? Or a traumatic event? Or just a really, really bad few days?

Ever been buoyed by the strength of those around you? By those who are refusing to let you fall, even as it feels like maybe the entire floor of your existence is going to give way, and you cannot imagine how you’ll rise above the wreckage?

Nope. Me either. I was just wondering if maybe YOU had (#sarcasmfont).

Look, if you’ve been lucky enough to have been loved enough, to have been dragged, pulled, encouraged, held along through one of life’s more difficult paths…well, thank the angels, because far too many folks in this world fall through the cracks. And hear this: there is no shame in it. At all. And here’s how I know this–whoever is pulling you along? Whoever is insisting that you Will. Not. Fall? He or she has been there. I promise. Someone pulled them along. And all they are doing is reaching back to pull someone else after them, paying forward the blessing.

I got a message last week from a woman who is living through some unspeakably difficult days. And ahead of her is a very long road of recovery from deep heartache, righteous anger, and terrible loss. She asked for some words of encouragement. I’m still wondering at her trust, marveling at the strength it took for her to ask for help, and humbled that I might have anything at all to say that might be helpful in these days she is stumbling through. I felt her pain deeply, so much that I had to speak it to a trusted friend of my own.

And that friend said to me, “You will help her, because you know what it is to be pulled along. And when we have been pulled along, the next thing we learn to do is to reach back and grab those behind us, so that they have a way forward, too.”

Gut punch truth. Deeply and compassionately wise my friend was to say those words to me.

Y’all, you know I say this all the time, in one way or another, but there simply is no getting through this life alone. This myth that we must be independent and forge a path in isolation, or that we do anything at all without standing on the shoulders of countless others–it is utter and complete BS. Turns out John Donne was right after all and no one, at all, is an island. And to pretend otherwise is utterly pointless (and maybe even a wee bit arrogant when we do so at the expense of others).

And I know, I’m lucky–I have, from the first moment of my existence, been surrounded by real community. I speak from that privilege. And I used to take this horribly for granted. But not anymore. Now I’ve seen what isolation and loneliness can do to a person. Now I know what happens when we take a stab at acting as if our individual lives don’t have any bearing on the community as a whole. Also BS.

So what I’m saying is this–if you’ve had the very good fortune to be pulled along at some point in your life…a really great way to express some gratitude for that would be to reach behind you and pull someone else along now.

In other words, be for someone else, what someone else has been for you.

Be for someone else, what someone else has been for you.

It is, in many ways, a wonderful time to be alive. And it is, in many ways, a really shitty time as well. But y’all–the way into whatever’s next is only to be found when we’re willing to find it together. When we’re willing to brave some vulnerability, extend some compassion, open our hearts and our lives to someone who needs both, and offer these words, “Never alone.”

Never alone. I’ve got you. Let’s go.


Perfect Mercy

(NOTE: I owe the first thoughts of this little post to a FB post from author Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote about how she wanted to be the perfect caretaker as her dear one lay dying, and how she failed miserably, and how that dear one said to her that Elizabeth’s job was never to be the perfect caretaker in the first place, but to show mercy, perhaps most of all to herself.)

A few weeks ago I woke up one morning to find the middle finger (yep, can’t make that up!) of my right (read: dominant) hand actively swelling and painful. Over the course of the day, it got worse, and by evening I was full on immobile sausage finger, ibuprofen and ice barely even touching the pain, and my mother the nurse saying, “Yea…you should probably go on to urgent care.”

Antibiotics, prednisone, a whole lot of ice, and several days later, and things started returning to normal. I was beyond frustrated for those several days, constantly asking assistance for basic tasks, cranky with pain, and using the “voice text” feature on my phone to send work emails. The assumption is that something bit me and caused an infection–I swear I’m wearing gloves when I dig in the dirt and tend the backyard from now on.

That finger is still a little stiff sometimes, and a tender spot exists right at the joint. It was damaged, you see…and damage, while it can be healed and repaired, leaves you different than you once were. And in that sense, my sore finger joint is nothing…nothing at all…in the grand scheme of things…

…because our lives, our existence, our place in the world–it’s all full of the jagged scars of lives and communities broken, relationships shattered at their foundation, lives marred by heartache and pain and regret and sorrow. We never succeed at perfection. It isn’t possible. No matter how good our intent, no matter how true our efforts, we always, somewhere along the way, break something, and it seems to me that acknowledging this is where healing begins.

Forgiving ourselves is the hardest, most painful work of all, and yet, our ability to be at real peace with the world, to forgive those around us, even to find a real way forward…it hinges on whether or not we are able to offer ourselves even the tiniest bit of mercy.

Mercy does not ignore what has been broken. It doesn’t even excuse it. What it does do is make room for what has been broken to be made whole again, even if scarred, tender, and maybe even a little stiff on rainy days or when the atmospheric pressure is just right.

Whole does not mean you will never hurt again. It is no guarantee against another break, either. And it is very far from perfect. But I have a theory it does bring us closer to what we were created for in the first place. I believe with all that I am that God does not cause our pain. I also believe that God does not waste our pain. Into the crevices of damage, of brokenness, into the deep, sore, bruised places of our lives, God’s love extends mercy if we’ll let ourselves receive it, and in the mercy is a chance at hope, the possibility of wholeness, even if a wounded sort.

I don’t know that the tender spots ever go away. They have not for me, anyway. But I’m not sure that’s even the point of healing. Sometimes the tender spots tweak just enough to remind me where I’ve been, what heartache I’ve known, and on my best days, this is enough for immense gratitude for what Wendell Berry calls, “the grace that keeps this world,” and that, I am convinced, as brought us this far.

No perfection. But more perfect mercy. This is where our salvation, our wholeness, our other side of heartache and into new life, is to be found.


Wound Up (and finding new ways to be…)

NOTE: I specifically asked my daughter if it was okay to write these words and share them. I generally do that for anything I post on social media that has her image or words. I have not done that much with my blog. But this felt like permission was needed. She graciously granted it, adding, “I mean, it’s fascinating, Mama–someone else might think so too!”

The Curly Girl was born with ankyloglossia (aka, “tied tongue”) which is essentially a congenital anomaly in which her tongue is quite literally tied to the floor of her mouth by a piece of tissue. It restricts range of motion, along with other issues, and in her case, the tie is severe, and that means she has never 1) stuck her tongue out at anyone, or 2) actually licked an ice cream cone (she nibbles). Such ties as hers often cause speech impediments, and a decade ago, when we were seeking advice about hers, the general counsel was “don’t worry about it unless it affects her speech.” If you know my girl at all, you know that her voice has not–in any way, shape or form–been impeded. And so her tongue has remained as it was at her birth.

Fast forward to the present and a couple things have changed–her tongue tie is now affecting potential orthodontic work, how she eats and digests food, even how she breathes and how her posture is held. I know–it sounds like it can’t possibly be, but over the last decade, research has grown leaps and bounds in this field, and it turns out, our tongues, and the way they function, are pretty darn important and have impact on our bodies and overall well-being. We’ve been in the care of three excellent professionals for the last year as we’ve tried to figure out best steps, and the short version of the story is that this Friday, Curly Girl is having a frenectomy–the fancy medical term for getting that extra tissue cut out (via laser) and cleaned out which will release her tongue. This will be followed by several months of what’s called myofunctional therapy–a form of PT, in essence, that will teach her how to use her tongue and all that it affects properly.

Two days ago, I was reading an email from the doctor who will perform the surgery about what to expect post-procedure. I expected her to mention soreness–I did not expect her to say that soreness will manifest itself in M’s ears and throat. I expected some fatigue–I did not expect her to say that for several days, M will probably sleep more soundly and need more rest as her body adjusts. I expected that things will be different–I did not expect these words: “Some patients feel a brief wave or release of emotion… after [tongue] release [especially in] folks who move from being very restricted to suddenly free.  It’s natural and important to allow her time and space to let that out should it occur…. Her body had a lot wound up in the old patterns and has to find new ways to be.”

Her body had a lot wound up in the old patterns and has to find new ways to be.

Y’all? I’ve never heard more sage words from a doctor. And also y’all? That ain’t just about ankyloglossia.

As you might imagine, I have some thoughts…

First, I’m thinking this: The soreness post-procedure will manifest in her ears and throat because that’s just how our bodies work–everything is connected, something that affects one thing, will affect others. These bones and muscles and organs we have–they all work together, and when one is injured, or out of whack, well…the others feel it too (…But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. –excerpt from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

We have completely forgotten what it means to be of one body. To be of one community. To be of one life, together, the things that happen to one of us affecting the rest of us. We are isolated, and sad, and alone–more so than we have ever been as a people–and the suffering of our neighbors goes unheard far too often because we’re so caught in our own lives, often even in our own suffering.

There are any number of examples I could pick from here, but because this particular example has completely shattered my heart, I’ll use it: When our children continue to gun one another down inside the walls of their schools, and we cannot listen long enough or well enough to each other to find a way to keep them safe, we have forgotten that we belong to each other. The image of a terrified grade schooler, being walked out of her school in Colorado because the high school next door has a shooter in it, should bring us to our knees, begging for forgiveness as a people, and willing to set aside any personal interest in the name of keeping our children safe. Full stop.

Second, I’m thinking this: We’ve all got “a lot wound up in the old patterns….” In our personal lives. In our workplaces. In our communities. In our country. In the world.

Somewhere along the way, M taught herself how to work with the body system she was handed. She has been comfortable in it because it is what she knows. It feels fine to her. But what we know now is that the system she was handed has not been in her best interest, even if she’s learned how to navigate it effectively. Even if it feels perfectly fine to her. And truthfully, if I had chosen not to run down the rabbit hole of research related to tied tongues, she would, in all probability, be fine. For the most part.

And there was a time in my life when “fine,” was OK–as good as it gets was, well, as good as gets, you know? But no more. My girl deserves better.

And so do YOU. So do WE.

I’m going to spell this metaphor out for you, just in case you’re wondering why I’m still harping on my kid’s oral surgery…

  • We deserve better than politicians who are primarily interested in their own election campaigns and bank accounts (and this is a widespread, bipartisan problem, so don’t point fingers, y’all, unless you want them pointing back at you).
  • We deserve better than underfunded public schools.
  • We deserve better than tax liability designed to make those of great wealth even wealthier.
  • We deserve better than a contrived overarching narrative that divides us along economic, social, ethnic, religious and political party lines.
  • And dear, sweet, baby Jesus (and I say that in full reverence, y’all) our children deserve better than all this and more. They deserve safe shelter and excellent education and nutritious food and warm clothing and a chance..a freaking CHANCE…at not just survival, but pure thriving into the gorgeous, incredible, creative children of God they were born to be.

Our system, our body together, is broken. At least in part. And the broken parts make it harder for the functioning parts to do their job. And even if we are still comfortable in it, still trying to find our place in it, still trying to navigate it so that we can make do, because, after all, it is what we know…it is not functioning properly. And our refusal to reach down deep into the depths of our souls and find new ways of being, even if with painful steps and harsh breath…it is making us less than we were created to be. As individuals and as communities.

We have a lot wound up in who we have been. And finding a new way of being, a way that fosters community and gives everyone a fair shake and that also still values freedom and individual expression and truly welcomes diverse cultures…it seems impossible. I know. Believe me. I. Know. Every day I fight back hopelessness with my dogged belief that somehow God is at work in the madness I see around us every day, and hope for the strength to take my place in that God-work when and where I am able.

It’s hard to find a new way to be. Anyone who has gone through significant life transition (voluntarily or involuntarily) knows this. We’re stubborn and fickle, both, us humans, and sometimes we give ourselves far too much credit and take ourselves far too seriously. And moving from one way of being to the next takes a whole lot of emotional and mental muscle–pure grit, actually (an ingredient we’re sorely lacking in our life together these days if you ask me…).

But time and time again, we’ve proved its possible to rise up against that which should not be any more and lead the way into something better. Something more whole. Something more like what we were created to be.

I don’t know…maybe I’m pushing the metaphor too far…but it seems to me we can learn a whole lot about the communal body by paying attention to our own bodies. Especially if you believe, as I do, that what happens to you, matters to my own well-being.

We’ve got a lot wound up in our current way of being…my great hope (and, tbh, some days desperate prayer) is that we’ll have the courage to unwind…and so live into everything that’s so beautifully possible and good and full of grace.

Dear, sweet, baby Jesus. May it be so.

(PS: And yes, at this house, we’re having lickable ice cream cones for dinner Friday night! New ways of being are best begun this way….)


When Redemption Wins: broken hearts and songs of praise

In the last week, via the work I do, I’ve heard two stories about pastors’ families that have broken my heart. Left me in tears and whispering incoherent words of prayer for these families and what they are facing as they make some attempt to move forward through what’s left of the lives they once knew.

As if there isn’t already enough to break your heart these days.

You don’t need me to tell you how completely shattered this world is, how completely weighed down with heartache and hate the very earth seems, how hard it is to find even the tiniest glimmer of hope for the future our children are growing into.

And you don’t need me to itemize it all either. You know. It’s a terrifying world, and, on the one hand, I do not have time to be afraid; on the other hand, I often have to fight the fear back, and I find myself breathing such quiet prayers of thanksgiving for the simplest things, the simplest moments, because not a single bit of it can be taken for granted in a world where getting shot just because you went to the grocery store at the wrong time is a reality; in a world where real, struggling, honest working families already living paycheck-to-paycheck are learning that their tax liability this year is considerably higher than last year and so have to make really difficult choices (meanwhile, college admissions and degrees are essentially being purchased by those who can afford to do so…); in a world where we seem incapable of real conversation, much less actual relationship, with people who do not look like, think like, act like, or believe like we do; in a world where there are mamas literally fighting for food and water and safety for their children; in a world where there are papas trying so hard to protect their families and love their children against the chaos of a world trying to define those same children by their appearance or bank account size.

It’s all utter nonsense. Excuse me…utter bullshit.

I know and love people who were taught a faith that says, essentially, “Follow God, say you love Jesus, and all will be well. Do what the bible says, and you’ll be okay.” And this works just fine…until it doesn’t.

Because sometimes awful, terrible, gut-wrenching, life-changing, horrible, unimaginable things happen to the very best, the most faithful, the kindest, and the most gracious folks. Faithfulness is no guarantee against pain.

I don’t know when this one particular message began to form itself in my soul, when it began to etch itself on my heart, but I am grateful every day that it did. And that message is this: that it isn’t about God preventing our pain, it’s about God standing in us with it.

It isn’t so much about Jesus giving us a list of to-do’s for success and happiness; it’s about taking into our hearts a way of life that seeks to love others as we have been loved, to do kindness, to love mercy.

It isn’t so much about “doing what the bible says” (’cause lemme tell ya, that’s a slippery slope if you’re going to take every single sentence literally–even in the New Testament); it’s about this magnificent testament of faith poured onto paper by centuries of people who believed mightily that life is best lived with God. With God. And the bible is the best way they knew to express that–and it’s the best way I now know to live that life with God, even if, full transparency, my own bible is currently dustier than I would prefer it to be.

Look, here’s where I’m headed–it’s easy to love, to practice kindness, to foster mercy when things are going well. It’s easy to be generous of spirit when we are feeling as if we have and are enough. It’s easy to extend grace when we are feeling graced ourselves. It’s easy to proclaim God’s love and bless God’s name when the sun is shining down on us and the road is abundant with goodness. Or, as Matt Redman sings:

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

And there’s no shame in this. It’s understandable, even.

But the thing is, while the bible is a bit nebulous on more than a few things, and it is complicated and difficult to grasp on more than a few other things, it is very clear, Jesus is very clear, God’s history with God’s people is very clear, on this one particular and very important thing: God is love.

God is love. And so God is good. And so God is with us always. No matter what.

Love does not cause pain. It carries you through it. Goodness does not create evil. It fights against it with you. And God’s presence is not dependent upon your choices or behavior or mistakes or failings. It is unconditional.

And so, as Matt Redman also sings:

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering 
Though there’s pain in the offering 
Blessed be Your name

You see, redemption isn’t about completing a set of “back to good graces” tasks assigned to us by some divine generator. It isn’t even about just saying “I’m sorry,” and being done with it. And it isn’t about trying to be better.

Redemption is knowing that good, bad and even fiercely ugly, we are not alone, and that even in our deepest pain it is possible to know the love of a God who will not let us go, and who stands with us as witness to goodness and grace. I have to believe this transforms our hearts. Calls us to a way of being that, while it isn’t required as some sort of payment to some divine benefactor, is a right and real and proper response to having been loved so fully and completely.

Because loving, really loving, begets loving.

Goodness, real goodness, begets goodness.

Presence, real presence, begets presence.

Out of our broken hearts, it is possible to sing praises to a God who has not, and will not, let us go.

This is grace.

This is redemption.

This is love.


When Redemption Wins: From my backyard…

I’d been sitting there, staring at this squirrel, watching and listening as he jumped from tree to tree, chatting about goodness knows what with whoever or whatever, for about 10 minutes. And suddenly I realized I’d been doing so–realized that for 10 minutes, I’d thought of nothing else but that squirrel. And the warmth of an early spring sun beating down on my face and legs and shoulders. And how amused I was at his chattering.

Honestly it was the emptiest my brain has been, the most “at rest” it has been in longer than I can remember. For a blessed 10 minutes, only one browser tab was open on the desktop of my brain. And when I finally broke away from the squirrel-induced reverie, I actually felt like a wee bit of peace and quiet had settled across my soul.

This is not something I take for granted. Not at all.

I crave quiet and still at this stage of my life. It’s rare, and that’s something to be thankful for on the one hand–it is the result of a very full and very busy and very, in many ways, blessed existence. It is also something that wears at me…because finding quiet and still is hard. No matter who you are. But for me especially, and perhaps you, it’s hard because I am always, it seems, “on.” I’m either (and always this first) Julie, mom; Julie, development professional; Julie, writer who does not write enough; Julie, (fill in the blank with other roles in my life or yours). And so my brain tracks accordingly. Always on.

And I am forever thinking “big picture.” Wondering how in the world it is that we, collectively, right the ship we’re all on in this country, and this world–one that seems bound to wreck itself because we cannot get over our own interests or desires or fears long enough to see that our salvation as a whole people rests entirely and completely in the willingness to see the Holy–to see God–in one another.

I struggle to see this, even as I know it is true. On the daily. Maybe you do too.

Anyway, I think my point is this: we fuel our own anxiety so often. Technology makes this worse. Social media certainly does. Last night I picked up my phone, not even thinking about it, to scroll through and once I got to the umpteenth bit of political snark, the millionth ad telling me how to be better, thinner, prettier, whatever, the 5000th clickbait post, I thought, “What the actual hell am I doing?”

So today I got outside. Not because I wanted to. But because I knew I had to. I needed the Vitamin D and the manual work of laying mulch and the amusement of my dog barking her brains out as I worked just outside the gate that keeps her safely sequestered in the backyard, “I wanna help, Mama!” I swear she howled.

And I thought of my grandmother. Racille liked to dig in the dirt, too, and be outside. She loved to make things people liked to eat, too, and yesterday I invented a barbecue turkey meatloaf (I cannot stand regular meatloaf) recipe that honestly was delicious and I think she would have been proud of. These two things: being outside on a lovely day and cooking good food for people I love–they can put me back in perspective pronto.

And apparently so can a lone squirrel raising a holy ruckus in my backyard.

I’m not even going to begin suggest I know what would be best for your soul. I resent it when people tell me how I need to worship or reflect or pray or restore myself, so I won’t do that for you. But I will say this: I suspect that when redemption wins, it will not be through the cacophony of advertising or social media or 24 hour news cycles or the damn rat race we all find ourselves caught up in. And it won’t be in the midst of stressful or anxious-driven moments when we can’t see past our current situation or fear or busy-ness or heartache.

I think it will be in the midst of something very human and simple and real–like watching a squirrel run across the tippy-tops of your backyard tree and realizing that there’s so much life out there. So much goodness and joy. Even as we struggle to work through the brutal heaviness our days, weeks, even years can bring.

Because redemption means knowing we’re whole. Loved. Holy and sacred by the very breath we take and worth caring for, worth walking beside, worth having been given life in the first place.

I love more than a few folks carrying more than a few heavy things these days. And I know you do, too. Because such is life. And so for all of us I pray the redemptive grace of knowing that we are not alone. And that in the stillness of even a tiny moment, it is possible to remember what matters most, possible to breathe again, possible to see that Goodness is still at work and Love will, eventually and always, win.


When Redemption Wins: Pain

“Oh it’s not that bad today,” I told the therapist, “just a little tense.”

She smiled (in retrospect it was a bit of an amused smile…) and said,”Ok…well, let’s see what we can do,” and she went to work on my left shoulder, an on-again/off-again source of pain, tightness and general discomfort in my life–no injury, just a bad-luck draw from the gene pool, exacerbated by hunching my shoulders when I thought myself too tall as a teenager, and now from lots of time spent at my computer.

Her experienced hands ran down my shoulder blade and then, ouch!!, I felt it, and so did she–a giant knot rearing its ugly head, provoked, and unhappy about it. I gasped. And I heard her chuckle and murmur, “Yep. There it is.”

Today my shoulder is sore–not from tension or shoulder-hunching, but from the hard work it took to relax the muscles and ease that damn knot–a tender reminder of pain felt and dealt with, even as I thought, “I’m fine!”

Because this is how it is with pain.

Of any kind.

Be it physical or emotional or mental or spiritual, or a combination thereof, pain will not be ignored, and any attempt to do so will only serve to one day wake the sleeping giant of what we’ve tried to push back, force deep inside, or gloss over with manufactured “happy.”

I’ve written before that I don’t believe God causes our pain. And I stand by that. God is first and foremost and always Love-all-consuming and unconditional. No matter what.

Cause our pain? No. But perhaps use it to work some healing grace in our lives? Absolutely.

Because I also believe God does not waste our pain. Generally, there is something to be learned in the midst of pain, even as it threatens to undo us with its awfulness.

I have a friend who once told me that she has spent the vast majority of her life attempting to avoid pain–physical or emotional either way, she’s built up walls to protect herself, hedged her bets, tried to exact control.

And of course there are ways to prevent pain: not touching a hot stove with bare hands…avoiding substance abuse…striving for healthy relationships…practicing self care. But the truth is that if you are going to live, you are going to hurt. If you are going to truly, madly and deeply love and know joy, you are going to suffer. All-encompassing joy and transforming love do not exist without pain nearby, waiting, because eventually, loss comes. Grief strikes. Destruction happens. And sometimes, this will knock you to your knees, breath gone, with no clue as to how you will actually get up off the floor, never mind take a step or two forward.

Such is the risk of loving…of living.

The greatest gift I believe we can give another person is to recognize and honor their pain. To understand that it might not ever go away, no matter how many positive thoughts we have or how mighty our will to conquer it might be. To see the pain, acknowledge it, but not let it define the person. Or ourselves. And then to simply be in it with them. To not turn away, but to face it, head on, and let it do its slow and agonizing work. No fixing. Just presence straight through it.

Because in the working through it is redemption. I know this sounds impossible. But in the work is redemption, mercy that falls like the sweetest of soft Kentucky spring rains across the burned-out shells of whatever lives we once knew, making space for grace to grow, winding its way into our hearts and reminding us that not once have we ever been alone.

When redemption wins, it will not be because there is no more pain. It will be because despite the pain, there is life, even when it has to be fought for, dug down deep for, pulled by the scruff of the neck along the very rocky road, until one day, we stop for gasping for survival and begin to breathe deep again.

With hope. Tenuous though it may be.

It can all hurt so deeply, y’all. I know. But this is what we were made for. To love and live so completely that it’s possible to be brought face-down into anguish.

And it’s possible, too, to rise from the ashes of what was into the possibility of what might be….