He is Going Before You

“Is Daddy going to be ok?”

At 10:30 p.m. on December 23, one of my children was brave enough to utter the burning question that I didn’t have the courage to ask. I was scrambling to get out of our house and follow the ambulance to the emergency room. Only minutes earlier, my healthy, strong, full-of-life husband had suffered a stroke. I had no idea what the next hours and days would hold. But the question demanded an answer.

How does a parent offer hope and comfort when the reality of circumstance is a dangerously wild animal—unpredictable and threatening to destroy more than we could bear to imagine?

We plan and read parenting articles and labor over decisions that we think will define our kids’ lives, but the truest tests of parenting (and of life) arrive unannounced and unanticipated. Pop quizzes turn out to be final exams, revealing the truest truths about what we believe.

Every fiber of my momma-being wanted to reassure my children that everything would be ok. That they had nothing to worry about. I wanted that same reassurance for myself. But somehow, we all would have known that I was offering a shiny pink band-aid to cover the gaping wound inflicted by the children in the Garden.

“I don’t know,” I responded. “But we’ll pray that he’ll be ok, and no matter what happens, the Lord loves us and will provide what we need.”

In the days and weeks that followed, my hopeful declaration proved to be true. The Christ we’ve read about and talked about and sung about is, indeed, alive and with us. He loves us and provides, even in the most unthinkable circumstances, all that we need.

The Gospel of Mark assures that “He has risen…he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (16:6-7 ESV).

Eugene Peterson offers a tangible, real-life application:

In every visit, every meeting I attend, every appointment I keep, I have been anticipated. The risen Christ got there ahead of me. The risen Christ is in that room already. What is he doing? What is he saying? What is going on?. . . I have taken to quoting before every visit or meeting: ‘He is risen. . . he is going before you to 1020 Emmorton Road; there you will see him as he told you.’ Later in the day it will be: ‘He is risen . . . he is going before you to St. John’s hospital; there you will see him, as he told you.’ When I arrive and enter the room, I am not so much wondering what I am going to do or say that will be pastoral as I am alert and observant for what the risen Christ has been doing that is making a gospel story out of this life.

The promise is true.

“He is risen. . . he is going to the bonus room before you, where you’ll tell your children goodbye and answer hard, hard questions.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to the emergency room.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to the neuro-intensive care unit.”

“He is risen. . . he is going into your children’s bedrooms, steeped with fear and tears on behalf of their beloved daddy, before you.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to every speech therapy and cardiologist and neurologist appointment.”

“He is risen. . . he is going before you to all the places where you’ll be faced with unknowns—about health and work and life in the future.”

It’s the answer to all the pop quizzes that life will spring upon you and upon me:

He is risen.

And he is going before you.

Tell it out with joyful voice:

He has burst His three days’ prison;

Let the whole wide earth rejoice:

Death is conquered, we are free,

Christ has won the victory.

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New Year’s Eve 2015. May we never forget.

_ _ _

Given all that has transpired in our family through these past months, I haven’t written anything since before Christmas. It was my great honor to write this piece in collaboration with other artists from my church community as part of an Easter devotional series, Out of the Depths. Take a few minutes to listen to Christ is Risen. Words by Cecil F. Alexander. Music by my friend, Stewart Fenters.

Said the Angel, He is Risen (Lyric Video) from Church at Charlotte on Vimeo.



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Fear Not

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I wrote this post the morning before Christmas Eve. At 10pm that night, my husband had a stroke. Changes in circumstance can’t change what is True. We were, are, and continue to be grateful.

– – –

A vivid imagination can be a heavy burden to bear.

My daughter has a mind that doesn’t stop. Her creativity is a joy – and a mess – to behold. This Christmas season, she concocted a new tradition: Crafting ‘til Christmas. She researched and planned a list of daily crafts for us to make together. Despite my inner “I don’t have time for this” pining, I chose to partake. Our dates, marked by hot glue and tissue paper (and the occasional emergency run to Michael’s craft store for reinforcements), have filled my soul. To say that I’m in awe of her creativity is an understatement. Her vision for transforming raw materials into something beautiful inspires me.

But there’s a downside to having a robust imagination. Particularly when the world around us is flooded with news of mass shootings and threat indexes and refugee children freezing to death. My daughter has entered the twilight of adulthood. She’s just waking up from her little girl slumber, where all is well, to discover the harsh realities of the grown-up world. It’s a shocking awakening.

When talking about the hardest things with our kids, we balance our conversations on the head of a pin. Tip too far to one side, and we’re unfairly (and unwisely) sheltering them. Tip too far to the other side, and we’re prematurely introducing them to the depths of human depravity.

Parenting from a posture of wisdom is an ongoing struggle: we want to balance truth with discretion. My daughter needs to know much. She doesn’t need the gory details. But sometimes, the gory details have a way of finding the cracks in our carefully constructed parental presentations and seeping into her great big beautiful imagination. Snapshots from a television screen or bits of overheard adult conversation become seeds, quickly planted, in her fertile mind. The same rich soil that produces beauty and craftiness and endless ideas is also the ideal environment for growing unspeakable images and haunting nightmares. A vibrant imagination can be a heavy burden to bear.

I’ve struggled with how to handle my daughter’s fears. Perhaps that’s because I’ve struggled with how to handle my own.

God is good. But life can be unspeakably hard. Both statements are true.

“The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.” N.D. Wilson

At some point, we all wake up to discover the world is rated R: through images of mass shootings and stranded refugees, unexpected diagnoses and failing bodies, and relationships crippled (or broken or shattered) through betrayal or neglect. Our minds provide fertile soil for grown-up nightmares. We learn to deny the pain, or too often, we begin to believe the lie that it will never end.

Yet there is Christmas.

Light comes into the darkness. Hope is born. Promises are fulfilled.

When we experience the bleak circumstances in the world, in our homes, and even in the darkness of our own hearts, we are tempted to believe that those snapshots define reality. As if starting to read in the middle of a book, we don’t have a larger context for the events that are taking place. Our vision and our understanding are limited.

Christmas tells the fuller (truer) story.

It reminds us that we have an anchor as ancient as “In the beginning.”

It guarantees hope for the future when He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. It promises us that He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

So this Christmas, and every day to come, let’s remind each other of what’s True. Since the children in the garden, the world’s suffered brokenness, violence, despair and loss. But darkness will not win. The battle is over. The war was waged and won by the baby in a manger.

The stories are true.

Fear not.

“… And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:9-11

 

– – –

If you would like to get an update on his progress, feel free to visit David’s Caring Bridge page. 

 



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Building Bridges

bridge We knew that marriage wouldn’t be easy. Or we thought we knew. We said our vows and enjoyed our honeymoon and set about the business of building a family. We each brought a blueprint of the envisioned finished product. Surely our blueprints will be similar, we assumed. Surely we want the same thing. We each toted tools that had been accumulated through the years. Knowledge, wit, gifting. Persistence, resolve, denial. Tools used to shape our renditions of how life “should” work and look and feel. Surely, if we combined our resources and committed to the process, we could construct a bridge over the abyss between souls.

We planned and hammered, measured and cut. We worked hard in our own ways – so hard our hearts bore painful blisters. Yet we continued to labor. Months into the project, it was clear that the foundation of our bridge was unstable. Try as we may to walk lightly, life’s storms were too strong. Life’s weights, too burdensome. On paper, our plans for the bridge called “marriage” were similar, but the ways in which we set out to build were radically different. I demanded. You denied. I spoke. You were silent. The bridge became longer through years and memories, but longer doesn’t always mean stronger. The structure was sufficient, but it wasn’t ideal.

Yet as the years unfolded, we began to change. Grace intervened. We saw more clearly. Some of our tools had been more harmful than helpful and were discarded. Others needed to be refined, developed and shared. We watched friends build well and learned from their example. We reconsidered the process, the blueprints, the design.

The sturdiest bridges in the world, the ones that have outlasted empires and elephants and natural disasters, are bridges constructed with arches. The keystone in the center of a compression arch bridge bears the weight of the rest of the bridge (and its load). The heavier the load, the more pressure. The more pressure, the stronger the structure becomes.

“The good that emerges from a conflict of values cannot arise from the total condemnation or destruction from one set of values, but only from the building of a new value, sustained like an arch, by the tension of the original two.” Dorothy Sayers

 

As we welcome our twenty-second year of marriage, I’m grateful. For a husband who is willing to be broken in order to be rebuilt. For the pressures of life that require a support greater than we could possibly muster. And most of all, for and unwavering Keystone. One who bears the weight of the world – including all our hopes and dreams and failures – until the day when all will finally be made new.



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Foreshadowing

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Merry Christmas  from the Silanders – 2014

Every year, the onset of Advent brings with it a small degree of (self-imposed) pressure to make the most of the season. We’ll never have another Christmas when the children are their current ages. I want them to remember. To capture smells of peppermint cookies and fresh pine, sights of white lights and red bows on the trees, and sounds of Yo-Yo Ma, Sufjan Stevens, and Andrew Peterson’s Christmas music. To tuck away their experience in an emotional time capsule – one that can be excavated when life down the road gets hard and they need to remember.

We may not have another Christmas when we’re all in good health. Or in our current home. The list of what could, and probably will, change in the next twelve months is longer than Santa’s scroll filled with names. Once the season slips by, it’s gone forever. I want to live fully in the moment – in the story unfolding before me – but I can’t help grieving the little (and big) lost opportunities.

This year, we won’t be sending out Christmas cards. I just couldn’t pull it together to get a reasonably good family picture taken, much less to order color-coordinated cards, then address, stamp, and get them in the mail. It’s a small thing, really. But there will never be another Christmas 2014 – the last one with a ten-year-old in the house, and the last one before our eldest son gets married. And I missed capturing it in a glossy 4×6. The calendar flips and the children grow up and we say goodbye to a season that’s gone forever.

It’s hard not to look back.

Among the many decisions to be made each Advent is, no surprise, is what we’ll be reading. This year, it will be a lesser-known Christmas story by Charles Dickens and a re-read of This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer. But of particular importance is the choosing of an Advent devotional. We’ve accumulated quite a selection. Personally, I keep returning to God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And for the family, despite the countless options available, we keep returning to the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Our children are hardly wide-eyed little ones anymore. There will be no baby doll paraphernalia or Rescue Hero action figures found under our tree. Rather than spending these days reading (and rereading) cherished Christmas picture books, we’ve been wrapping up school projects and tweaking papers. Much to my enjoyment, my thirteen-year-old has been taking a Literary Analysis class from which much of our daily dialogue flows. Words like “protagonist, conflict, and foreshadowing” pepper our conversation. I miss the fair-haired little boy sitting on my lap while we read, but I’m sure having fun with the larger version’s rascally smile and quick sense of wit.

Earlier this week, in order to catch up with the reading schedule (yes, running chronically behind), we read a few chapters out of the Jesus Storybook Bible. Then we read a few more. Here’s how they ended:

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As we closed the book, my boy turned his face toward me, and rather pleased with himself, proclaimed, “Foreshadowing.”

This year, he has learned a new word that represents a much more complex concept. Through months of example, analysis, and practice, my son has developed the skill of reading words on a page – then looking beyond what is seen to anticipate what is to come.

Perhaps that’s the purpose of the Advent season: to prepare the eyes of our heart to look beyond what we can see. To anticipate the coming of the One who makes all things new.

If it’s been a hard year, take heart. Advent is for you.

For you, friend, who feels the pressure of having to get it right. In your relationships, your career, your parenting, your choices. In the million minor daily details like creating and sustaining holiday traditions.

For you, friend, who’s grown weary of longing. Who feels paralyzed in the twilight between hope and despair. Who flirts with the temptation named numbness, which protects from pain, but suffocates joy.

For you, friend, who is fighting for your marriage. The marriage that felt so solid to you and looked ideal to others. The one that is gasping for life in an atmosphere running dangerously short on oxygen.

For you, friend, who received the diagnosis. The diagnosis that’s only supposed to be delivered to “other people.” The one that brought life to a screeching halt and has permanently rerouted your plans for the future. The one that terrifies to the core and steals dreams.

For you, friend, who is broken and wounded. Who feels too tired to move forward. Who is weary and losing hope, because life isn’t what you’d thought it would be. Who lives in regret of lost dreams and what could-have-beens.

It’s hard not to look back and remain tethered to the past. It’s hard to believe that life is more than the joy, sorrow, hope, fear, delight, regret, love, and loneliness we experience.

But Advent is here. Readjust your eyes. The text is pointing to a Truer Truth than the sum of what we can see.

Foreshadowing.

Light will drink up darkness.
Hope will snuff out despair.
Love has already won.

The stories are true. 

He’s been whispering them since the beginning of time.

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Less than Ideal

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It’s been a hard month at our house. I’m not sure when the tone started taking a turn – I think maybe sometime late summer. Life had been moving swiftly down the track, a rhythmic clickety-clacking through each sports event, date night, business meeting, and coffee with friends. Yet the track ahead had a sharp bend – one I didn’t see coming. Clackety-click shifted into an ominous creekety-lurchety screech. It didn’t sound good.

My child who loves and breathes activity developed a sharp pain in his foot that wouldn’t go away. After first dismissing his complaints (with five children, dismissing is a legitimate step in the process), we finally went to the doctor. What had seemed to be a temporary ache was actually more serious. He couldn’t run or jump for any length of time without significant pain. The combination of his intense activity and his rapid growth had contributed to a semi-chronic condition that could last for months. Although stretching and ice should bring eventual relief, time was the only guaranteed remedy. Despite his determined spirit, he wouldn’t be playing basketball this fall. He wouldn’t be playing much of anything this fall. My boy had received his first dose of grief. Sometimes, the world is less than ideal.

The early weeks of school are always bring transition, but this year was different. The simple, quiet life that we’d worked so hard to build could no longer be maintained. Although the shift is appropriate given the children’s ages, I’m grieving the closing of a sweet window in life. One day, I found myself driving the same stretch of road twelve times. Twelve. Times. Thus was my initiation into this next phase of parenting. I’ve been there before with our older kids. I know what to expect. Yet I found myself feeling profoundly depleted – after three days. Driving up and down that street through congested afternoon traffic, Ionging for a jog or a book that were no longer options, I could feel the frustration mounting. I knew the correct spiritual answers to my predicament. They couldn’t tame my discontent. I was bored. I was grouchy. I was irritated.  Life was less than ideal.

The same week that school was off to a hobbling start, we happened to notice that my husband’s ankle looked thick. Not swollen – thick. He’s an avid athlete, complete with all the requisite injuries and strains, so we didn’t give it much thought. Until the next day. A precautionary visit to Urgent Care turned into a concerned visit to the ER. “Nothing serious”, we were told. Probably a twisted ankle. Yet the voice of reason outweighed the ER’s diagnosis, and he learned three days later that indeed, he had a blood clot. “Fresh”, “acute”, and “deep” were the terms that applied. Not good news. The weeks to follow were full of unknowns. They still are. Although grateful for a correct diagnosis and treatment, the athletic options for my active husband have become quite limited. Multiple visits to the doctor and trips to the hematologist lab have replaced long jogs on these beautiful crisp mornings. We’re not sure what the next several months will hold. Not ideal.

In a defiant act of hope, I planted my fall garden. My fingers meandered longingly through the dark, moist earth. The earth that would eventually bloom life. In the still point of that late August afternoon, it dawned on me like the obvious answer to a riddle. It was death that had prepared the soil – hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of decaying plants. Plants that had once been green, soaking in sun, giving the good gift of oxygen, drinking in rain. They had served their temporal purpose on earth. Yet it was through death and decay that their impact would be generative. The process was far from immediate. Yet it would be lasting.

Ancient seeds were planted long, long ago. Hidden deeply away in the darkness, they are germinating. Their soil enriched with the death of convenience, ideals, comfort, security, and preferred agenda. If I readjust my eyes and look closely, I see the beginnings. Small signs of growth. Glimpses of what once flourished in the Garden and will be formed fully again. Unfurling are the tender leaves of thankfulness in my son, contentment in my husband, and patience in me.

Perhaps “less than ideal” is ideal after all.

 

 

 

 



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Posture

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I recently had an ugly fall while running. I lost a layer of skin on my hand, mobility of my jaw, and a modicum of dignity. I gained six stitches squarely at the base of my chin and a healthy fear of pavement. Months later, I’m grateful to report that the external injuries are no longer visible. My body had totally healed. Almost.

Despite my recovery, one nagging reminder of the painful incident remained. My jaw wouldn’t close completely – at least not without intentional effort. It’s amazing what we take for granted every day. Eyes that blink. Fingers that grasp. And a jaw that closes when not in use.

Weeks rolled into months. There was no longer pain in my jaw – just a nagging reminder that something wasn’t quite right. Surely time would heal that as well. When time didn’t heal, my dentist nudged me in the direction of a physical therapist.

I confess that the few minutes spent filling out paperwork were marked by a combination of pride and irritation. I’m rarely sick. This would eventually get better on its own. For crying out loud, I don’t even have a primary care doctor. Doesn’t that say something? I should have waited it out. I have better things to do with my time. Then the physical therapist walked through the door.

After asking the prescribed battery of questions and assessing my condition, she made a few, measured comments. If I didn’t deal with the cause behind the issue, permanent scar tissue could develop. Full healing might become impossible.

The recommended rehabilitation for my jaw included daily ice packs, isometric exercises, and the need to hold my head straight (rather than tipped forward). I read a lot during the day. A whole lot. Actually, most of my activities result in my head being tipped forward ever so slightly. Apparently, this didn’t help my jaw; rather it stretched out the very muscles needed to keep my jaw securely closed. If these actions didn’t remedy my problem, we’d have to resort to a high dose of topical steroids. “We’ll see,” I thought. After all, we were heading out-of-town for several days. Surely, it will get better on its own. Pride and denial make a powerful cocktail.

I promptly disregarded all instruction while on our trip, except I was intentional about correcting my posture. Head up, jaw back. It turns out that I didn’t need ice packs or exercises. I didn’t need steroids. Within days, the tension in my jaw had vanished. It closed easily and without effort. A change of a few degrees in posture had changed everything.

Some injuries are obvious. The gash in my chin and subsequent flow of blood made it clear that a visit to the emergency room was in order. Six stitches, and I was on my way toward healing. Other injuries are more subtle and easier to disregard. Like my achy jaw, they may not demand immediate attention, but if left untreated, long-term damage can occur.

I have “achy jaws” in many areas of life.

~ Relationships that aren’t completely healthy, but that I’ve chosen not to address. “It will get better over time. Surely.”

~ Envy of others who are smarter, more disciplined in their pursuit of fitness and nutrition, better parents, etc.

~ Laziness masked as busyness. If my life is full of (fill in the blank), I can’t possibly have time to attend to (fill in the blank).

The chronic, muted ache is a warning sign of a deeper problem. One that won’t go away with time and could prove to be insidious if left untreated. At the very least, it’s a problem that will prevent me from flourishing.

Yet if we’re willing to listen to the ache and have the courage to address the root cause, then there’s hope.

Sometimes hope comes in the form of excruciating surgery.  Sometimes it’s found in years of adjustments and rehabilitation.  In the midst of the uncertainty and suffering, we can take courage. We are under the tender care of the Great Physician.

But occasionally, our pain is more subtle. It’s the result of spiritual misalignment – the seemingly innocuous habit of looking down rather than looking up.

Sometimes hope comes from a change in posture.



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Why I Need an Editor

“It looks,” (pause… pause… pause) “good.”

Mental note: Not a good sign.

“Most people out there are smarter than I am, so I think they’ll get it.”

Translation:  “It was hard to follow.”

He was right.

—–

David, my husband, was being kind. I’d worked for hours on an article for a newsletter and had finally asked him to review it. It was late. We were tired. But he was willing to take the time to read it – really read it – and give me feedback. And I wanted to hear what he had to say. To some folks, that wouldn’t seem extraordinary. For us, it is.

In the early years of marriage, I was convinced that I could do it (whatever “it” was) myself. I took pride in my ability and independence. Great for career. Not so much for marriage. In our own separate spheres, we were each able to make life work. Successful (whatever that is) careers, friendships, and involvement in meaningful ministries donned our family resume. They say a potential employer scans most resumes in less than thirty seconds before forming an opinion. If you followed the thirty-second principle and didn’t dig too deeply, we were in pretty good shape. We had moved through some difficult seasons, but those turbulent times were behind us. Life had become peaceful. Life had become manageable.

Although David and I hadn’t yet learned how to rely on one another, healing and growth were happening. I started journaling as a way to process and document my own journey. Writing forced me to synthesize longings, fears, discoveries, and a myriad of rambling thoughts into something coherent. It helped me to create a sense of order out of what felt like chaos. Writing gave me a voice. It put words to (my) truth.

As a by-product of working through our own story, I developed a heart for others who were struggling and felt alone. Shame, fear of rejection, and the legitimate need for protection and confidentiality can create a thick hedge between the one in pain and the outside world. Often, folks who are the most vulnerable are also the most isolated and lonely.

One afternoon, as words of pain and despair tumbled out of a friend, I ached for her. I wanted to say, “I know. To some degree, I understand. You are not alone.” But my role that day was simply to listen. To be present. To be safe.

In the following weeks, our conversation came to mind several times. I wanted to find a doorway through the hedge that had grown around her. Although the specifics of our situations were different, there were common themes. Her words had echoed many of my own. The same words that I had arranged, rearranged, and finally put down on paper. I pulled up one of my old journal entries and sent it to her. I had found a door.

That same scenario replayed itself on other occasions with different friends. Slowly, it dawned on me. We are all sustained by the same Hope – a Hope that promises not to disappoint. But along the way, pain, unexpected trials, bad theology, and sheer exhaustion can cause us to lose perspective. Sometimes seeing the life of another, a story that bears resemblance to our own yet is further along the road to redemption, offers a glimmer of what could be. It was at that point of discovery that I began to understand the power of story. Consequently, I committed to write more regularly, more publicly, and as honestly as possible.

Therein entered my need for an editor.

David wouldn’t have been the obvious choice. He spends his days reading documents and computer screens. By the time he has a few minutes for leisure or relaxation, reading for pleasure isn’t at the top of the list – if it’s on the list at all. But I was putting my thoughts out on the world-wide-web for all to see, and I wanted to be responsible with such a privilege. I wanted to be clear and truthful in what I wrote. I needed an editor, and my husband was accessible and willing to play the role.

The first piece I wrote for publication, I spent hours writing and rewriting. Finally, it was ready. David read carefully and scratched notes in margins. When we sat down to discuss, I had anticipated that he’d report a few typos and then congratulate me on a job well done. He did encourage me with his comments and surface a few minor errors, but he suggested a more substantial change as well. On the outside, I smiled and said I’d take his feedback into consideration. On the inside, the once-aspiring attorney in me was constructing an impenetrable case. Really, what did he know about writing, anyway? I was the one who had been writing for years. I had thrived in my rigorous English composition class in college.  My thoughts were well-developed. My syntax correct. Yadayada. You get the picture.

But when I calmed my indignant insides down enough to revisit his comments, I was shocked at what I found.

He was right.

David’s feedback didn’t come from a posture of criticism or competition. He wasn’t trying to control my message or diminish my voice. Quite the opposite. My husband had vision for what my writing could be. More vision than I did. He had suggested that I dare to be more transparent. He wanted me to give the gift of truth, which is often as ugly as it is beautiful, for the purpose of loving others well. Even others I would never meet.

There are times when my writing is too wordy, too full of imagery, too cloaked in symbolism. My words get in the way of what I’m trying to say. David sees with more objective eyes. In being willing to speak truth, he helps me become more of who I was created to be.

There have been occasions when I have disagreed with his feedback. I wrote a short piece of fiction that was outside of my usual comfort zone. David wasn’t crazy about it. It was too much of a stretch, too different. I listened, considered his perspective, and decided to publish it anyway.  In order for us to have a healthy working relationship, I have to respect, consider, and evaluate what he has to say. But just as my perspective is limited, so is his. There have been times when  I’ve chosen to move forward despite his feedback. At the end of the day, I’m the one signing my name. And he’s been graciously supportive. Although David may not have been the obvious editorial choice, it turns out that  he is precisely what I need.

As of this week, we’ve been married for nineteen years. We’re beginning to get a taste of what marriage was designed to be. At least I think we’re closer. I no longer take pride in doing it (whatever “it” happens to be) on my own. Quite the opposite. I’ve found great comfort and delight in relying on my husband. After nineteen years, we’re far more willing to speak truth into each other’s lives. Truth that is fueled by wanting what is best for the other, rather than truth spoken to support our individual agendas. Our separate spheres have merged into one, still giving plenty of room  for individual growth. Actually, more room.

I’m deeply and infinitely grateful for my editor. He encourages and inspires, but that’s not the best thing about him. The best thing about my editor is his willingness and ability to draw out the best in me.

Happy Anniversary, David.
And thank you.
I’m a very different person as the direct result of you being in my life.

—–

 



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The Problem of Forgiveness

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This post was originally shared with Redemption’s Road, a ministry of The Barnabas Center. Take a few minutes to visit and read about others’ experiences as they journey the road of redemption.

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There are times when forgiving another comes easily. Bridges are crossed and damage is repaired.  Yet at other times, the choice to forgive feels too risky, if not impossible. We’re frozen. The following piece is written from the perspective of one who can’t seem to move forward. Perhaps you’ve been there as well.

— — —

The icy waters wrap around me like a dark deadly blanket. My body, initially shocked, is becoming numb to the pain. There’s a strange comfort in numbness – granting temporary relief while causing excruciating damage.

It’s your fault, after all. This predicament I’m in. Each act of betrayal, each harmful word, and even your deafening silence. They doused buckets of frigid water into this vast pool of pain.

The first wave brought shock. I was unprepared. Disoriented. Confused. With each icy blast, the warmth I’d always known was stripped away from me. I thrashed about wildly. Despite all my scheming, I was trapped.

Eventually, I adjusted to the new environment.  The numbing water did its work. I wanted to forget what it felt like to be warm, to be comfortable, to be safe. Those memories had become more painful than the insidious cold death creeping through my veins. Every moment that transpired, life-giving blood moved more slowly.  Tissues were starving. I was dying.

In the dark, cold waters, I became consumed by my struggle to survive. I had little awareness of anything other than my immediate crises. Unbeknownst to me, a shift had occurred. You had entered my pool of pain and were moving toward me, moving resolutely across the frigid sea. I braced for the next wave to hit. I squinted and tried to assess the situation, but my vision was distorted. All I could see through fear-clouded waters was a shadow of someone I thought I had known. I could no longer see you clearly. Rather, all I could see was a shadow moving toward me. One that was no longer safe.

I didn’t consider that you had taken this risk to jump in with me.
I didn’t know that you were trying to help.
I didn’t care that you were sorry.
I didn’t want to take the risk.

Frantically, my eyes scanned the horizon for options.

Then I spotted it. At first, I struggled to see. Then the image became clear. Just outside my grasp floated a life-preserver. It was old and tattered, covered with scarlet stripes. Stripes that hade been singed into the surface 2,000 years ago. It offered a way out. For both of us.  I had a choice to make.

I could take hold of the float and extend it to you. We could emerge from the slow, frigid death and let the sun warm us. Thaw our bodies and hearts. Bring us back to life.  My heart skipped a beat. This nightmare could be over.

But what if the waters came again?
What if I found myself helpless once more?
No, that’s a chance I cannot take.

Indeed, there’s a strange comfort in numbness.

So I’ll tread my icy waters and turn away from the raft.
I won’t be hurt again.
I’m in control.

I’m drowning.



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Notes From a Toilet Paper Tube

After almost two decades of marriage, we have a problem. It’s not deeply distressing, nor is insurmountable. But the problem has become an irritating reality in our everyday lives.

The toilet paper roll no longer makes it onto the dispenser.

I’m not sure how it happened. For eighteen years, without effort or discussion, every new roll of toilet paper dutifully replaced its predecessor.  When the empty cardboard roll could no longer serve its purpose, it followed the prescribed process and landed in the trash can.

Yet mysteriously, over the last few months, there has been a shift.  Partial rolls of paper, sometimes two to three at a time, have congregated on the bathroom floor. Rarely does the new roll find its way to the dispenser. This unexpected phenomenon raises two obvious questions:

~ After so many years, how did this bad habit develop?

~ Why hasn’t someone corrected the problem?

I’ll tackle the question of origin first. I’m not sure, but I’m assuming that the child who routinely uses our bathroom made the initial move (or lack thereof).  Most likely, it was not premeditated. Rather, a child with much to do and see in life can’t be bothered with such mundane details.  One displaced roll led to another, and the exception became the rule.

The second question is a bit more challenging to answer. In addition to said child, two adults with combined bathroom etiquette experience of almost a century should know better. In my defense, for a while, I tried. Daily, I remedied the recurring problem. Although it hasn’t been verified, I’ll give my husband the benefit of a doubt that he tried as well. Honestly, one day, I got tired of fighting what felt like a losing battle – and I stopped.  It wasn’t a conscious decision.  It just happened.  For no good reason, I simply left the roll on the floor. More quickly accrued. The beginning of the end.  And here we are.

Although trivial for some (unspeakable for others), the abandoned toilet paper rolls collecting on my bathroom floor are representative of so much more. The cultures of our families, churches, marriages, and friendships are rarely defined by lofty one-time experiences or dramatic decisions.  Rather, they are formed over time.  One small choice after another.

Some decisions nourish and build. Those choices are often intentionally-developed habits that come at a cost. Other decisions deplete and destroy. They are often more subtle and seem harmless enough. Over time, however, their collective pressure slowly siphons life from relationships.

If I’m not careful, the occasional exception becomes the rule.

~ When I don’t take that few seconds to look my husband in the eye and greet him when one of us arrives home.

~ When I choose to return emails rather than admiring a Lego creation, playing a game of UNO, or baking dog biscuits (my girlie’s original recipe) with a child.

~ When I chat with a friend about schedules and activities rather than risking the more vulnerable conversations about the state of their (or my) heart.

Whether we admit it or not, we’re all subject to the thermodynamic principle of entropy. The physical world is quietly, dependably eroding away. You can almost hear the haunting gasps for air from a wounded, tired universe (or church, or friendship, or marriage) that seems to be in the final stages of life…

“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”  T.S. Eliot The Hollow Men

Yet that is not the end of the story. As we age, there are specific ways to counteract the effects of entropy upon the human body.  We fight back. We watch what we eat.  We exercise. The physicist says that in order to do battle with the effects of entropy, energy from outside the system must be infused into the system over a period of time.  There is hope.

The Author of all time and energy has given us a glimpse of the inevitable end. And guess what.  Despite my affinity for Eliot, I’m grateful to assert that it will sound more like a wedding celebration than a whimper. We’re promised a final chapter where all wrongs are made right, all hurts are healed, and death finally dies.

“This world is beautiful but badly broken… I love it as it is, because it is a story, and it isn’t stuck in one place. It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story. And like every good story, there will be an ending. I love the world as it is, because I love what it will be.”  N.D.Wilson Notes From a Tilt-a-Whirl

No, I don’t want to be naive regarding my small, seemingly insignificant choices. Without life and energy breathed back in, the things I take for granted can quickly deteriorate.  Yet I also don’t want to make the exhausting mistake of believing that I have the ability to control my world.

Thankfully, our destiny is not one of exhaustive effort or ultimate defeat, but it is one of promise.  We know the ending and it is good. Rather than living life in denial or despair, we have been invited to live in hope. And it is that very hope which can provide the “energy from outside the system to be infused into the system over time.”

As hope is transfused from our Maker’s heart into the veins of our souls, let us rest and be renewed.  And from that renewal, we find strength to make different choices. To love well, to be vulnerable, to remember the “little things” that matter to others, to live the fully in the life we’ve been given.

And maybe even a new resolve to pick up and throw away the empty toilet paper roll.

 

 

 

 



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The Gospel According to Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn

 “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally.”  Frederick Buechner

At the heart of the gospel is The Story of us all. We are created to live in reliance on the Father, yet we often choose independence over dependence. He is relentless in pursuing his children. We are loved infinitely in the midst of our unloveliness. We need to remind each other. We need to be reminded. Thus, the power of story.

We all have a story to tell. Sometimes, we need others to go first.  Eighteen years ago, I married David, a single father of two young children. Within the span of six months, I became a wife and full-time parent, took a new job, we moved to new city, and took the first tentative steps on the journey called marriage. Eventually, we became part of a small group of folks from our new church. During our first several meetings, we spent time getting to know one another by sharing life stories. I’ll never forget one evening in particular. We were meeting at our house. I burned the spaghetti (yes, I was newly married and figuring the cooking thing out). I asked one of the women if we should make a new pot, or if that one would suffice. She gently said that a new pot may be best. It may seem like an insignificant detail, but such gently honesty became a hallmark of the group.

The most memorable part of that evening, however, was not the culinary near-disaster.  One of the couples was nestled into the love seat in our small family room. These friends were measured, yet generous, when sharing their story. They were open, honest, and genuine. They were warm toward each other and laughed easily. Within a span of minutes, they spoke with consistent cadence and tone about their enjoyment of one another as well as significant struggle. But the wisdom that burrowed into my soul, and still has a home there today, came in the form of a brief, passing comment. The couple, who many of us held out as having the”model” marriage, had been married for eighteen years. She turned to him and said, as casually as if they were reaching agreement upon when the tires were last rotated, “Yes, I think we’ve had five really good years.”  The last five. Out of eighteen.  Oh my.

Immediately, the twin emotions of dread and relief flooded my heart. After one year of a difficult marriage, was it possible that we may need to log in thirteen more before experiencing “really good years?”  Just thinking about it was exhausting. Yet oddly, at the same time, the pressure was off. The cat was out of the bag. Our friends had given words to unspoken truths, and confirmed a sneaking suspicion. Marriage can be really, really hard. There are rarely quick fixes. But there is more.

That night, our friends gave us an invaluable gift. They spoke truth. Without apology or despair, without false hope or empty promises. They put to words what we were feeling, and as a result, we had the courage to speak the “t” truth (life as we experience it).  Marriage, and life for that matter, wasn’t what we thought that it would be. It all seemed to fall quite short of what should have been.  By putting to words the “t” truth of experience,  our friends made it safe for us to struggle with questions of “T” Truth (ultimate Truth):  What had we really been promised? What could we depend upon with complete certainty?  Where were we wrong, or defiant, or just naive in our thinking? They went first, which made it easier for us to speak when our turn rolled around. Yes, our friends entered the darkness with us. For us. When we didn’t quite have the courage to go there ourselves. They gave us hope.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Fast forward sixteen years. David and I had just discovered Andrew Peterson’s music, and friends happened to have two extra tickets to his sold-out Christmas concert. As we took our seats, one glance at the stage proved promising. Several guitars, a cello, violins, and a piano waited silently, pregnant with possibility.  I might add that large cardboard cut-outs of Star Wars characters were dappled among the instruments. Not your typical Christmas show backdrop.

Eventually, without pomp or fanfare, folks filed onto the stage, one by one. Their presence was one of humility. Andrew introduced his friends, and thus began the “music in the round.”  Each took his turn sharing a song or two, along with the story behind it.  Andy stepped forward.  He shared briefly, then sang  Any Other Way – a song written about the hardest day they’d experienced in marriage.

I was stopped.  It had happened again – only rather than being spoken in the family room of our home, the cry of our hearts was being sung from onstage. Andy and Jill shared words of truth. Without apology or despair, without false hope or empty promises. They expressed through music what we had experienced, and doing so, validated the “t” truth about marriage. About life. They went first. Making it easier for others to speak the unspoken truths in their own stories.

When I listen to their music, I’m given the gift of reassurance. Like an intimate conversation with a dear friend who “gets me”, I’m reminded that I’m not alone. In the struggles, joys, challenges and dreams of life. Jill speaks volumes in just the first few lines of A Lot Like Me:

Sometimes I think you hesitate to say the way you really feel
Like there’s no way that I could understand where you are coming from
But if we could tear down these walls of bricks and mortar built with fear
I think we’d be surprised to find how small our differences become

We’re all in the same boat
Sailing on the same old stormy sea
If you look real close
You’ll find you’re a lot like me

So, outside of the fact that they’re two of the most genuine folks I’ve ever met, that is my brief explanation of why I’m so very drawn to and grateful for Andy and Jill. Their music affirms the dignity of struggle, the joy found in “everyday” moments, and the promise that we’re known and loved. They are storytellers who are gracious in sharing their very personal stories with us. In doing so, they invite us to consider our own. And ultimately, they gently redirect our attention to the Author of all Hope. The One who spoke first. The One who knows us intimately. The One who is relentless in pursuing His children. The One who loves us in the midst of our unloveliness. Andy and Jill remind us. At the heart of the gospel is The Story of us all.

~~~~~~~~~~

Andy’s new album, Beyond the Frame, was released today. For a most-excellent review and a bit more on Andy, you can read the review by Jonathan Rogers here. You won’t don’t want to miss this album. Go ahead and buy a few extras for your friends. Available for purchase here at The Rabbit Room.



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