I am hardly ever able to sort through my memories and come away whole or untroubled. It is difficult to sift through the stones, the weighty moments and know which is rare gem, which raw coal, which worthless shale or slate. So, one by one, I drag them across the page and when one cuts into the white, leaves a trail of blood, no matter how narrow the stream, then I know I’ve found the real thing, the diamond, one of the priceless gems my pain produced. “There! There,” I say, “is a memory worth keeping.” ~Nikki Grimes“Poems”
I have tucked-away memories that still scratch my tender skin: when they surface, I tend to bleed at the recollection, feeling the familiar sting behind my eyelids and upside-down stomach.
Some people work hard to completely bury painful history, unwilling to allow it back into the daylight to inflict even more harm.
I don’t welcome overwhelming memories back, but when they come unbidden, I grant them access only because I know, as this happened to me long ago, I will feel the sharp ache of sorrow when I witness bleeding in another.
I was there too. I am there with you now. What happened was real but done. Its healing leaves behind only a thin line where the bleeding was.
Every few minutes, he wants to march the trail of flattened rye grass back to the house of muttering hens. He too could make a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it to his ear while the other children laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him, so little yet, too forgetful in games, ready to cry if the ball brushed him, riveted to the secret of birds caught up inside his fist, not ready to give it over to the refrigerator or the rest of the day. ~Naomi Shibab Nye “Boy and Egg” from Fuel
Gathering eggs on my childhood farm was a source of wonder and terror: the pleasure and challenge of reaching under a downy breast to wrap my fingers around such smooth warm wholeness.
Daily I fought my fear of a hen muttering under her breath, staring warily at me, her beak at the ready, ready to defend what was rightfully hers and not mine.
It was a game of chicken in the truest sense, a stand-off between a four year old girl and two year old hen: we locked onto each other’s eyes while I bravely grabbed the egg and she pecked at my hand. I would never let go of her egg or her eyes and, as part of the daily game, she allowed me to have both.
Like the game of chicken I watch my dogs play daily now, their eyes locked in mutual respect, intimidation and affection. They need one another for this game of love: give and take, take and give.
A new book from Barnstorming and poet Lois Edstrom now available for order here:
May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet as honey, so absorb our hearts as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven. Grant that we may be ready to die for love of your love, as you died for love of our love. ~St. Francis of Assisi
Maundy Thursday is a day of letting go while still holding on.
If I am to see Jesus and know the power of His love, I must let go of this life and walk with Him with every step to the cross. I have only a tenuous grip on this world, utterly dependent on the Lord taking care of me.
This day, I am reminded of a few basics: No arguing over who is best. No hiding my dirty feet. No holding back on the most precious of gifts. No falling asleep. No selling out. No turning and running away. No covering my face in denial. No looking back. No clinging to the comforts of the world.
But of course I fail again and again. My heart resists leaving behind what I know.
Plucked from the crowd, I must grasp and carry His load (which is, of course, my load) alongside Him. Now is my turn to hold on and not let go, as if life depends on it. Which it does — requiring no nails.
The fire of His love leaves my sin in ashes. The food of His body nurtures my soul. From that soul and ashes rises new life. Love of His love of our love.
My Lord, my Lord, Long have I cried out to Thee In the heat of the sun, The cool of the moon, My screams searched the heavens for Thee. My God, When my blanket was nothing but dew, Rags and bones Were all I owned, I chanted Your name Just like Job.
Father, Father, My life give I gladly to Thee Deep rivers ahead High mountains above My soul wants only Your love But fears gather round like wolves in the dark. Have You forgotten my name? O Lord, come to Your child. O Lord, forget me not.
You said to lean on Your arm And I’m leaning You said to trust in Your love And I’m trusting You said to call on Your name And I’m calling I’m stepping out on Your word.
Into the alleys Into the byways Into the streets And the roads And the highways Past rumor mongers And midnight ramblers Past the liars and the cheaters and the gamblers. On Your word On Your word. On the wonderful word of the Son of God. I’m stepping out on Your word. ~Maya Angelou from “Just Like Job”
Once again — and again and again — bullets have been fired out of evil intent by disturbed and hate-filled men, striking down people who look (and are) just like us.
Weeping never needs translation or interpretation, no matter what color cheeks they moisten.
Distrust and fear continue to impact us daily, settling like a shroud over the most routine activities – going to school, going grocery shopping, going to church. It isn’t just a virus that threatens us; it is being targeted in someone’s gun sight.
In order to even walk out the door in the morning, we must fall back on what we are told, each and every day, in 365 different verses in God’s Word itself:
Do not be overwhelmed with evil but overcome evil with good.
We shall overcome despite evil and our fear of each other.
The goal of this life is to live for others, to live in such a way that death cannot erase the meaning and significance of a life. We are called to give up our selfish agendas in order to consider the dignity of others and their greater good. We are called to keep weapons out of the hands of those who would use them to harm themselves or others, which means better screening, longer waiting periods, improved tracking of ownership.
It is crystal clear from Christ’s example as we observe His journey to the cross over the next week: we are to cherish life, all lives, born and unborn, even unto death. Christ forgave those who hated and murdered Him.
Our only defense against the evil we witness is God’s offense. Only God can lead us to Tolkien’s “where everything sad will come untrue”, where we shall live in peace, walk hand in hand, no longer alone, no longer afraid, no longer shedding tears of grief and sorrow, but tears of relief and joy.
We shall all be free. We shall overcome because God does.
We shall overcome
We shall live in peace
We’ll walk hand in hand
We shall all be free
We are not afraid
We are not alone
God will see us through
We shall overcome
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe We shall overcome some day
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Strength to Love
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread. ~William Stafford, “The Way It Is” From Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems.
I had been told how the old-time weavers, all the while they were making their beautiful and intricate patterns, saw no more than the backs of their shawls. Nothing was visible to them but a tangle of colored threads. They never saw the design they were creating until they took the finished fabric from their looms.
The parallel to the mortal lot is plain. Human experience appears to us – as the shawls did to the weavers – to be no more than incomprehensible tangles of colored threads, whereas in fact life represents the ordered threads in a great design – the design being woven daily on the loom of eternity. ~Ernest Gordon from Miracle on the River Kwai
Although the threads of my life have often seemed knotted, I know, by faith, that on the other side of the embroidery there is a crown. ~Corrie Ten Boom in My Heart Sings
What does it say about me that I’ve covered the backs of countless embroidery projects so the tangles are no longer visible?
There is a sense of shame in the need to hide the messy and too often painful side of existence, not wanting to admit how really chaotic and tragic life is at times.
Yet out of the incomprehensible comes beauty. Out of the mess comes order and harmony. What appears knotted and tangled and makes no sense is turned right side up to become grace on our heads, like a crown.
These are the essentials of what Jesus asks. Basic, simple, gentle, emphatic, encouraging. So why don’t I follow through? Why do I hand myself over to anxiety and fear? Why do I fail at what should be so simple? He knows I need reminders. He knows I am weak. So He says it again: don’t forget this. Remember me. I will remember. I will remember You.
1 Matthew 6:26. See also Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens.” 2 Matthew 6:28; Luke 12:27. 3 “Drink from it, all of you” (Matthew 26:27). Norris uses the King James translation here. 4 This stanza is a series of Jesus’s commands from the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7, King James; also Luke 11:9). 5 Matthew 7:13-14; also Luke 13:23-24. 6 Matthew 6:25, 31; Luke 12:22, 29. 7 Matthew 7:1; Mark 4:24; Luke 6:37-38. 8 Matthew 7:6. 9 Matthew 8:13. 10 “Do not be afraid” – a frequent command by Jesus; for example, Matthew 10:31; 14:27; 17:7; 28:10. 11 The healing of Jairus’s daughter: “Little girl, get up!” (Mark 5:41; also Luke 8:54). 12 The healing the widow’s only son; Luke 7:14. 13 The healing of the man with the withered hand: Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11. 14 Jesus’s healing the paralyzed man: Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26. 15 Jesus’s command to the ocean: Mark 5:39; also Matthew 8:26; Luke 8:24. 16 Jesus to his disciples in Gethsemane: “Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me” (Matthew 26:46; Mark 14:42). 17Jesus’s two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. … You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39; also Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). 18 Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 17:4.
In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world? just to hear his sister promise, An unfinished wing of heaven, just to hear his brother say, A house inside a house, but most of all to hear his mother answer, One more song, then you go to sleep. How could anyone in that bed guess the question finds its beginning in the answer long growing inside the one who asked, that restless boy, the night’s darling? Later, a man lying awake, he might ask it again, just to hear the silence charge him, This night arching over your sleepless wondering, this night, the near ground every reaching-out-to overreaches, just to remind himself out of what little earth and duration, out of what immense good-bye, each must make a safe place of his heart, before so strange and wild a guest as God approaches. ~Li-Young Lee “Nativity”
“What’s wrong with the world?” asked The Times of famous authors. “Dear Sir, I am. “ Yours, G.K. Chesterton
I’m not ashamed that I still ask the hard questions, just as I did when I was a child, lying in bed, fearful in the dark. Some call it a lack of faith: if I truly believed, I would trust completely, so asking such questions would be “out of the question.”
Yet God throughout scripture encourages questions, listens to lament, isn’t intimidated by uncertainty and weakness. He waits patiently for His people to make their hearts a safe place for Him to dwell – a place of wings and songs and awe and worship – even when resounding with questions.
My heart is a womb where our strange and wild God seeks to reside in this world. “Why me?” I ask, pondering yet another hard question in the dark. “Why not you?” comes His response: a question for which He awaits my answer.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4
To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness- especially in the wilderness – you shall love him. ~Frederick Buechner from A Room Called Remember:Uncollected Pieces
I usually think of wilderness as a distant peak far removed from anything or anyone. From my farmhouse window on a clear day, I can see a number of distant peaks if the cloud cover moves away to reveal them.
Or perhaps the wilderness is a desolate plain that extends for miles without relief in sight.
Wilderness is also found in an isolated corner of my human heart. I keep it far removed from anything and anyone. During my televisit computer work, I witness this wilderness in others, many times every day.
A diagnosis of “wilderness of the heart” doesn’t require a psychiatric manual: there is despair, discouragement, disappointment, lack of gratitude, lack of hope. One possible treatment to tame that wilderness is a covenantal obedience to God and others. It reaches so deep no corner is left untouched.
There come times in one’s life, and this past year especially, when loving God as commanded seems impossible. We are too broken, too frightened, too ill and too wary to trust God with faith and devotion. We are treading life simply to stay afloat.
During this second Lenten pandemic, God’s love becomes respite and rescue from the wilderness of my own making. He is the sweet cure for a bitter and broken heart.
Are Job’s successes — even his holy successes — his treasure? Or is God his treasure? That’s the question everyone of us must ask. And there is no reason to believe that God will not test any one of us just as he did Job. When he takes it all away, will we love him more than things, more than health, more than family, and more than life? That’s the question. That’s the warning. That’s the wonderful invitation. ~John Piper in “I Was Warned By Job This Morning”
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God. Job 19: 25-26
The warning of the Book of Job is that it could happen to us too -– everything we have strived for, cared about, loved and valued — taken away. If we are stripped bare naked, nothing left but our love for God and His sovereign power over our lives, will we still worship His Name, inhale His Word like air itself, submit ourselves to His plan over our plan?
I know I have fallen far short of the mark. It takes only small obstacles or losses to trip me up so I stagger in my faith, trying futilely to not lose my balance, falling flat-faced and immobilized.
This past year, in particular, I’ve seen people lose almost everything in the pandemic: their health, their loved ones, their financial security, their home, their worship community. I’ve looked hard at myself and asked if I could sustain such loss in my life and still turn myself over to the will of God. I would surely plead for reprieve and ask the horribly desperate question, “why me?”, girding myself for the response: “and why not you?”
The invitation, scary and radical as it is, is from God straight to my heart, asking that I trust His plan for my life and death, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering, no matter how much, like Christ in the garden, I plead that it work out differently, that it be closer to something I would choose to do, somehow that it not hurt so much.
His plan for my life was written before I was born, personally carried to me via His Son, and placed in my hands. It is up to me to open it, read it carefully, and with deep gratitude, respond with an emphatic RSVP: “I’ll be there! Nothing could keep me away from your invitation to me.”
Or I could leave it unopened, hesitant and fearful to reveal its contents. Or even toss it away altogether, believing it really wasn’t meant for me.
Even if, in my heart, I absolutely know it is meant for me.
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ ~C. S. Lewis from The Great Divorce
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
I laughed in the morning’s eyes. I triumphed and I saddened with all weather, Heaven and I wept together, and its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine. Against the red throb of its sunset heart, I laid my own to beat And share commingling heat.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come. Halts by me that Footfall. Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest, I am He whom thou seekest. Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me. ~Francis Thompson from “The Hound of Heaven”
My days are filled with anxious and sad patients, one after another after another. They sit in front of their screen and I in front of mine, so close yet so far from each another – a wilderness of unexpressed emotions.
They struggle to hold back the flood from brimming eyes. Each moment, each breath, each heart beat overwhelmed by questions: How to take yet another painful breath of this sad life? must there be another breath? Must things go on like this in fear of what the next moment will bring?
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the knowledge that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse. There is no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived. There is only fear of the next and the next so that now and now and now is lost forever.
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than any viral pandemic. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. I wish there was a vaccine to protect us all from our unnamed fears in the wilderness.
I want to say to them and myself: Stop this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop. Stop expecting this feeling must be “fixed.” Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort. Stop resenting the gift of each breath. Just stop. Instead, simply be in the now and now and now.
I want to say: this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone, this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light. Shout for joy in it. Celebrate it. Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips and stop holding them back.
Stop me before I write, out of my own anxiety over you, yet another prescription you don’t really need.
Just be– and be blessed– in the now and now and now.