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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Twin Towers and a Manger
Looking Back: Books of 2013

Fear Not

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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Every Valley

"Every Valley" by Sam Silander, 9 yrs.

It’s a strange thing to be making cookies and wrapping presents,
When wars are raging,
When families are crumbling,
When parents are burying their children.

The news is hard to watch this week.
Tears come easily, yet so does relief…
Which brings with it a twinge of guilt.

How do we reconcile the great cosmic chasm –
Our world has more than its share of darkness, pain, and evil,
Yet we move in and breathe the reality of Starbucks, Amazon, and Buddy the Elf.

Perhaps it’s more of a dual reality to be acknowledged than a chasm to be crossed.

This year during Advent, we’ve been working our way through listening to Handel’s Messiah (schedule found below). Each day, we’ve been listening to a few of the songs after reading the corresponding passages of scripture.

We’ve read, then listened, then listened again. I’ve heard the music of the Messiah throughout much of my life, yet this year, it’s as if I’ve really heard it for the first time. As we’ve listened intently to each song, a divine magic has transpired. Handel’s music, echoing its ancient truths and promises, has become our own. To enjoy, to discuss, to savor, to absorb.

The children composed poems in response to several of the songs.  I’ve woven a few of them together as a memorial stone for this Advent season. This is Handel’s Messiah, as seen through the eyes, heard through the ears, and experienced in the hearts of my young ones:

Heaven kissed earth
He came as a whisper, a snowfall, a spark

 He was born in a manger
Dingy
Dirty
Dusty

 Heaven crawled through the dust
He played in the garden
He healed the sick,
Yet his work was not done

 He was beaten and whipped
Crushing
Cruel
Cold

He wore a crown of thorns on his head
Stinging
Sharp
Steel

He let himself be hung on the cross
Piercing
Painful
Perfect sacrifice

He rose from the dead
Amazing
Awesome
Awestruck

He will come again victorious
Blinding darkness with light,
Death will gasp its final breath
Evil forever defeated,
Then all the wrongs through history
Will finally be made right

 Ribbon will wind through
The hot dry desert
Rainbow to straighten curves

 Every mountain will become low
Every valley high
Every mansion will become small
Every cottage will grow

 The hungry shall have banquets laid out before them,
The imprisoned shall have their chains dashed to the ground

The large rocks will shrink
Pebbles will grow to boulders
All will be even

The valley will rise
Mountains will disintegrate
All will be even

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

 

We spent days contemplating the implications of twelve words uttered by the prophet Isaiah, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low.”

Every valley.

Do we really believe it? Down deep where our core beliefs compose the background music that sets the tone for our everyday lives?  Even when wars rage and children are murdered? When evil rears its head and seems to be winning? When our lives, our plans, our dreams are crumbling?

Every valley.

That’s what He came to do, after all.

To heal the blind.

To bind up the brokenhearted.

To make all the wrongs right.

For in this, we can place our hope.

So bake your cookies,
and wrap your presents,
and sing the carols for the world to hear.

Through each small hopeful act,
You’re shining a light into darkness,
Taking part in raising valleys and lowering mountains,
Preparing a way in the desert
For the One who was,
And is,

And is to come.

 

 

Artwork by Sam Silander, 9 yrs.

– – –

Day 1 (11 minutes):

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5

1. Symphony
2. Recitative (Tenor) “Comfort Ye…”
3. Air (Tenor) “Every Valley…”
4. Chorus “And the Glory …”

Day 2 (6 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Haggai 2:6, 7, Malachi 3:1-3

1. Recitative (Bass) “Thus saith the Lord…”
2. Air (Bass) “But who may abide…”
3. Chorus “And he shall purify…”

Day 3 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:14, 40:9, 60:1

1. Recitative (Alto) “Behold, a Virgin…”
2. Air (Alto) “O, thou that tellest…”
3. Chorus “Arise, Shine…”

Day 4 (10 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 60:2-3, 9:2, 9:6

1. Recitative (Bass) “For behold, darkness…”
2. Air (Bass) “The people who walked in darkness…”
3. Chorus: “For unto us…”

Day 5 (8 Minutes)
Scripture Reading: Luke 2:8-14

1. Pifa
2. Recitative (Soprano) “There were shepherds…”
3. Recitative (Soprano) “And, Lo, the angel…”
4. Recitative (Soprano)” Ad the angel said…”
5. Recitative (Soprano) “And suddenly…”
6. Chorus “Glory to God in the highest…”

Day 6 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Zechariah 9:9-10

1. Air (Soprano) “Rejoice greatly…”

Day 7 (7 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 35:5-6; 40:11, Matthew 11:28-30

1. Recitative (Alto) “Then shall the eyes of the blind…”
2. Aria (Alto) “He shall feed…” and “Come unto me…”
3. Chorus “His yoke is easy…”

Day 8 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: John 1:29

1. Chorus “Behold the Lamb…”

Day 9 (11 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:3, 50:6

1. Air (Alto) “He was despised…”

Day 10 (7 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:4-6

1. Chorus “Surely he hath borne…”
2. Chorus “And with his stripes…”
3. Chorus “All we like sheep…”

Day 11 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 22:7-8

1. Recitative (Tenor) “All they that see him laugh…”
2. Chorus “He trusted in God…”

Day 12 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 69:20, Lamentations 1:12

1. Recitative (Soprano) “Thy rebuke has broken…”
2. Arioso (Soprano) “Behold and see if…”

Day 13 (5 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 53:8, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 24:7-10

1. Recitative (Tenor) “He was cut off…”
2. Air (Tenor) “But thou didst not leave…”
3. Chorus “Lift up your heads…”

Day 14 (2 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 1:5, 6

1. Recitative (Tenor) “Unto which of the …”
2. Chorus “Let all the angels…”

Day 15 (4 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 68:11, 18

1. Air (Bass) “Thou art gone up…”
2. Chorus “The Lord gave the word…”

Day 16 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10:15

1. Duet (Soprano, Alto, Chorus) “How beautiful…”

Day 17 (1 minute)
Scripture Reading: Romans 10: 18

1. Arioso (Tenor) “Their sound…”

Day 18 (3 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 2:1-3

1. Air (Bass) “Why do the nations…”
2. Chorus “Let us break…”

Day 19 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 2:4, 9; Revelation 19:6, 11:15, 19:16

1. Recitative (Tenor) “He that dwelleth in heaven…”
2. Air (Tenor) “Thou shalt break….”
3. Chorus “Hallelujah!!”

Day 20 (5 ½ minutes)
Scripture Reading: Job 19:25-26, I Corinthians 15:20

1. Air (Soprano) “I know that my Redeemer…”

Day 21 (2 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15:21-22

1. Chorus “Since by man…’

Day 22 (10 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15:51-53

1. Recitative (Bass) “Behold, I tell you a mystery…”
2. Air (Bass) “The trumpet shall sound…”

Day 23 (5 minutes)
Scripture Reading: I Corinthians 15: 54-56

1. Recitative (Alto) “Then shall be brought…”
2. Duet (Alto, Tenor) “O Death, where…”
3. Chorus “But thanks be to God…”

Day 24 (5 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:31-34

1. Air (Alto) “If God be for us…”

Day 25 (6 minutes)
Scripture Reading: Revelation 5:12-13

1. Chorus “Worthy is the Lamb…”

(Reading schedule was discovered here: http://morningtimemoms.blogspot.com/2014/08/25-days-to-handels-messiah-advent.html)

 

 



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Catching Up: Conferences, Cliffhangers, and a Movie Critic

photo-49

Lots of life happening at our house these days.

A friend recently asked me if she needed to re-subscribe to Greener Trees – she hadn’t received anything in her inbox for a while. I tried to log in to the blog’s administrative page to work on a few things and couldn’t remember my password. Apparently, it’s time for an update.

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

inkwell-art1-1

A little over a year ago, I was honored to join a team of wonderful folks over at Story Warren. You can learn more about their mission here. I’m delighted to share that Story Warren’s inaugural conference, Inkwell, will be held in Charlotte on June 21. On that day, two of my favorite worlds will collide. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. The conference is sold out, but there are still tickets available to the Andrew Peterson and Randall Goodgame concert to be held later that evening. We are lucky ducks, indeed.

* * *

NOAH

Last summer, Greener Trees Reads (online reading group) read Jeffery Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly together. In the fall, I was able to meet and chat with Overstreet during the wonderful weekend called Hutchmoot. We talked about the possibility of working on a future project together. Months later, the idea became reality. Here it is:

Once upon a time, two total strangers — one a mother and a teacher with a background in business; the other a writer, editor, and film critic — became friends after she invited him to join an online discussion of his book about film. They were both Christians. And they met at an arts-and-faith gathering called Hutchmoot in Nashville. They both agreed that they wanted to work together on something someday. You can continue reading here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lookingcloser/2014/04/noah-2014-part-two-of-a-two-part-commentary/#ixzz331Sgw68s

This summer, we’ll be listening to and discussing the recordings from Hutchmoot. If you have an interest in the intersection of faith and art, you may consider purchasing the 17 hours of audio here. It will be well-worth your investment.

 * * *

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A simple assigned writing prompt surfaced this long-forgotten memory. We have much to learn from each other – far more than initially meets the eye. Over at Art House America:

Not much was said as we hiked up the trail. Words would have tarnished the moment. The Colorado mountains were doing their thing — offering the fresh taste of reality in a saccharine-laced world. The climb provided ample time to survey the landscape. I was overcome with the beauty, so thick I couldn’t swallow it all in one gulp. I had to take in little sips. You can continue reading here.

* * *

In March, David and I celebrated twenty years of marriage by taking a few days away in the Big Apple. It was a rare grown-up playdate – complete with Broadway shows, unbelievable food, and my first visit to the Met. I’ve binged on the life and works of Van Gogh this spring, so standing before Starry Night was a hi-light. We’re deeply grateful for twenty years of struggle, joy, friendship, community, and far more detours from the assumed path of life than we could have imagined.

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* * *

Perhaps the biggest news coming from our home is the newest addition – Little Lucy. It’s amazing how much joy this sweet little pup has brought into our home. She’s six months old and we are all smitten.

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photo-47

Happy summer from our home to yours!

 



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Hope from an Unlikely Place

wb_pandora

During the season of Lent, we’re reminded of our humanness. From dust we were made, and to dust we will return. We attend church services marked by ash, read devotionals to focus our minds, and abstain from sugar, caffeine, or the internet to redirect appetites. The forty days serves a solemn reminder. This year, the season feels particularly weighty. The stark reality of cancer, deeply fractured relationships, and untimely deaths have seeped deep into the Lenten liturgy of our community.

We begin most mornings with a family devotional, which is followed by the current read-aloud. Today, after naming and praying for a number of folks who are walking through incredibly painful situations, I was given pause. Although brief, it was a “Why does any of it matter anyway?” moment. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the small cheerful book covered in red and gold cloth. To transition from our world filled with pain to one marked by myths and fairy tales felt foolish. The moment passed. The show must go on. There are tasks to be completed and boxes to be checked.

Half-heartedly, I opened the book and began reading where we’d left off. The world had been a paradise full of beautiful children. There was no sickness, nor aging, nor despair. Yet Pandora couldn’t be content with perfection. Her companion, Epimetheus, was no help. The ornate box in their possession, full of mystery and promise, drew Pandora closer. With a slight touch of her hand, the golden knot at the enclosure was untangled. The box flew open. The grave deed of all deeds had been done. For the first time in history, the world knew evil passions and diseases and sorrows of all kinds. Again, I was given pause. This make-believe world was a mirror of our own. It was tarnished. Soiled. Full of despair.

But despair wasn’t the ending. It was the beginning.

Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner with his back towards Pandora; while Pandora flung herself upon the floor and rested her head on the fatal abominable box. She was crying bitterly, and sobbing as if her heart would break. Suddenly there was a gentle tap on the inside of the lid.

Hope had been born from the place of deep darkness.

“As long as you need me,” said Hope, with her pleasant smile, – “and that will be as long as you live in the world, – I promise never to desert you. There may come times and seasons, now and then, when you will think that I have utterly vanished. But again, and again, and again, when perhaps you last dream of it, you shall see the glimmer of my wings on the ceiling of your cottage. Yes, my dear children, I know something very good and beautiful that is to be given you hereafter… Trust in my promise, for it is true.”

And so they did; and not only they, but so has everybody trusted Hope, that has since been alive. And to tell you the truth, I cannot help being glad – (though to be sure, it was an uncommonly naughty thing for her to do) – but I cannot help being glad that our foolish Pandora peeped into the box. No doubt – not doubt – the Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased in multitude, rather than lessened, and are a very ugly set of imps, and carry most venomous stings in their tails. I have felt them already, and expect to feel them more, as I grow older. But then that lovely and lightsome little figure of Hope! What in the world could we do without her? Hope spiritualises the earth; Hope makes it always new; and, even in the earth’s best and brightest aspect, Hope shows it to be only the shadow of an infinite bliss hereafter! —Nathaniel Hawthorne (A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys)

Perhaps the days we feel least like reading stories of knights and dragons, of giant wooden horses and sea serpents, and of mythical gilded boxes filled with the problems of the world – are the very days that we need to catch a glimpse of the shadow of Hope. In the beginning, Hope spoke while hovering over darkness. In the end, it will sound like rushing waters and blaring trumpets. But while we’re waiting, Hope’s whisper can be heard in the most unexpected of places – like the funerals of saints and the flutter of fairy wings.

– – –

This piece was originally published at The Story Warren.



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The Courage to Keep Going

LITTLE PRINCESS, A (1995)

“I don’t think I can keep going,” I told my daughter.

We were mid-chapter, and the story had taken an abrupt turn. The bright little girl, so full of hope and life and love, was minutes from receiving devastating news. She would have to trade in her pink satin birthday frock for a black dress of mourning. In an instant, her day of celebration would become one of unbearable grief. The life she’d known as an adored, lavished-upon daughter was to be no more. Unbeknownst to her, the little girl’s father had died. Fate had left her a penniless orphan. Life would never be the same.

I’ve been present when such devastating news has been delivered. When the hot coal of truth was passed to a child, searing the tender soul and leaving an indelible scar. I remember wanting to stretch those last moments of blissful naivety into years, where innocence could romp and play through the fields of childhood. Yet the hard realities of the world had intervened. I had no control. The truth had changed life’s landscape forever.

The real world is one thing, a story quite another.  In the world of ink on paper, I possess the power to freeze time. With the closing of a book, heartache and evil can be kept at bay. I didn’t want to read further. I wanted to prolong the party, taking note of every detail, and basking in the enjoyment of fanciful dresses, the bounty of refreshments, and the crowning present – a beautiful doll, complete with a wardrobe fit for a princess. My heart dropped. I couldn’t bear what would happen in the next few minutes. It was all too familiar.

“But we have to go on, Mom,” she said to me. “We can’t just quit, or we’ll never know what happens. It has to get better. We just have to get through the hard part.”

My girl’s steadfast words spoke volumes.

We’ve been at this juncture before.  When Tacy’s baby sister dies. When Elizabeth Ann must leave the safe, protected world of her Aunt Harriet and Cousin Frances to live with strangers who felt like foreigners. When the cholera outbreak in India leaves Mary Lennox an orphan.

As we’ve walked with these characters-turned-friends through valleys of grief and hardship, a pattern has developed: Life is as it should be. What feels like unbearable hardship interrupts. Provision is made. Adjustments occur. Life, although not what was expected, continues. Like a river quietly cutting a path through stone, with time and repetition, such a pattern is engraved into the heart’s memory,

As my daughter’s insistence to continue reading nudged me out of my sentimental stupor, I was reminded. Of the power of story. Of the unexpected turns in life. Of the truth of redemption. Of a Storyteller who is often unpredictable, yet always good.

Ultimately, our quick conversation about little Sara’s plight left me hopeful. That when disappointment, hardship, betrayal, or heartbreak enter into my daughter’s story, a still, small voice will echo back to my girl (and to me, and to you), “We can’t just quit, or we’ll never know what happens. It has to get better. We just have to get through the hard part.”

* * *

 This piece was originally shared in Story Warren. Drop by and visit. You’ll be glad that you did.


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The Art of Darkness

negativespace

 

Look at the picture.

What do you see?

My eye is drawn first to the two profiles facing each other.

I could stop there and would be correct in my description. Partially.

But if I’m willing to take a step back, look away, and view the picture with fresh eyes, I’ll gain a different perspective. I’ll see more. While the darkness reveals the profiles, the negative space reveals an urn. The darkness exposes the white paper that had always been there.

~ Rembrandt used darkness to draw the viewer’s eye to the light.
~ Haydn used bold dynamics in  Symphony 94 (his “big surprise”) to capture the listener’s attention for the rest of the (much quieter) piece.
~ And the darkness found movies can give us a new perspective on the light that is, and always has been, present in the world.

Sometimes looking into the darkness can help us see the light.

* * *

Welcome to our discussion of Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet. Feel free to join in the discussion, even if you’re not reading along. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Week 4 – Art of Darkness
Movie of the Week – Apocalypse Now

I’m grateful for the experience of Taxi Driver, as disturbing as it is. It reminds me of what others are experiencing outside of my daily routine. For many of these individuals, a kind word, a conversation, or a gift could come as a bright and guiding light in a time of crisis. – p. 246

1. How can some movies, which are disturbing and hard to watch, result in the viewer having a softened heart? Have you ever had that experience?

 

They’re (people pedaling various modes of escapism) after us like paparazzi to celebrities – salespeople eager to sell us redemption at a reasonable price. In seeking satisfaction along these misguided paths, we ensure that we, as a culture, remain dissatisfied. Pursuing happiness, we try to steer clear of anything difficult or inconvenient, convinced that there are shortcuts to joy. As a result, we end up unhappy, disconnected, weak, and lonely – p. 254

Clearly, the heart is the problem. Both Apocalypse Now and Titanic show ambitious human endeavors that lead to catastrophic failure. – p.286

When Bruce’s  (from Bruce Almighty) definition of love is self-referential – seizing the freedom to do what pleases him – he is not capable of finding or receiving love. Some freedoms are only accessible through the denial of ego, along the humbling path of service. Freedom to follow one’s baser appetites is not freedom of all, but slavery. – p.290

2. Many movies focus on characters who live beyond boundaries, who have achieved “the American dream”, and who indulge in their hearts’ desires. At first glance, these films could seem dangerous, drawing us deeper into worldliness and depravity. How could they, like the black and white picture above, result in our seeing the light more clearly?

 

I suspect that these films (Alien, The Thing, The Shining) resonate not merely because they’re outrageous but also because we know they are illustrations of the truth. Evil does exist as a force outside of us, seeking to lure us into error. That leaves us to determine if we are ultimately helpless, or if there might be a power greater than evil seeking to help us escape the monsters. – p.273

Code Unknown (and other similar movies) could be, for some viewers, nothing more than an 118-minute downer. But the watchful may find glimmers of hope. And perhaps we can find understanding by noting what is absent from these confused lives. – p.264

If a heart opens to reveal ugliness and corruption and we respond by recoiling and turning away, we also turn away from the possibility of redemption. – p.267

3. What do you make of Overstreet’s thoughts on the depiction of evil in movies, and of the possible resulting redemption?

 

4. When you think of darkness in movies (in a character’s heart, a society, situation, etc.), what movie comes to mind? What redemption could come from watching that particular film?

 

* * *

If you’d like to join us or to catch up on the conversation:
Introduction/Schedule
Week 1 – How We Watch
Week 2 – Saving the World
Week 3 – Fools and Jokers
Intermission – Raising Arizona: An Appreciation

 

 

 



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Moving Forward

photo-33

It was a big day today. I went on my first run since the accident over four months ago. After my fall, I vowed that I’d never let it happen again. It was a vow that wasn’t hard to keep during the winter. I don’t like cold weather, and my jaw has continued to serve as an achy reminder of that painful autumn day.

It was time to find an alternative form of exercise. One with less impact on my knees. I am in my (early) forties, after all. This was a sign. I retreated to the safety of my elliptical machine, but it just wasn’t the same. The Carolina spring has been casting its spell, and I finally succumbed to the enchantment.

I chose my path carefully. Dirt trail, not pavement, just in case. The first step evoked a strange combination of terror and exhilaration. My heart raced, not from increased work load, but from a rush of adrenaline brought on by memories of blood on pavement and a long ER wait. One slow, careful step led to another. Step after step, I was tempted to stop. Step after step, I chose to keep moving. It was an unimpressive run at best, but I couldn’t help but to feel a small sense of victory. I was no longer gripped by fear. Although slowly and cautiously, I was moving forward.

A friend recently asked me what I thought it looked like to forgive and move forward after having been hurt or betrayed. Forgiving is one thing. Trying to heal a severely wounded relationship is quite another. I found myself grasping for words. I’m not a fan of trendy, positive clichés. Too many have been tossed my way, causing further pain rather than the intended encouragement.  After stumbling around in my head and trying to piece together some semblance of truth, I found I had little to say.

But now maybe I do.

While taking my first tentative steps on the trail today, I realized that for me, running would never be the same. What had once been pleasurable and instinctive has become a cautious act of will. I would never again run with complete abandon. The doctors still don’t know what caused my foot to go numb, so there is no assurance that I won’t fall again.  The reality is that I could.  In order to move forward, I chose to believe that what lies ahead is of greater value than that which staying still will protect. There was risk involved. It was an act of hope.

As my brisk walk morphed into a slow jog, I was granted an unanticipated gift. Before my accident, I had run without much thought or concern. As a result of my fall, I had become acutely aware of the miracle of each step. Innocence had been replaced by gratefulness. I would never again take the ability to run for granted. Although riskier, it now holds much greater value.

For four months, I had structured my world in such a way to allow for healing. I didn’t put myself in a position to be hurt again. Having gravel being dug out of my chin isn’t something I want to relive anytime soon. Protection for a time was appropriate, but with time came healing. Eventually, I had a choice to make. I could live in fear or dare to hope.

Most of us tiptoe through life avoiding pain at all cost. It’s not that we underestimate the pain of the fall. It’s that we underestimate the cost. We may gain self-protection, but we pay a high price – the price of forfeiting deeper dependence on our Maker and a life marked by freedom, peace, and the deep abiding joy for which we were created.

If I’d have given in to the strong (understandable) compulsion to play it safe, I would have missed the long-awaited warm spring day. I would have missed the chattering chipmunks’ playful game of chase. I would have missed the heads of determined blooms, which were pushing through the darkness toward the light. The very soil from which they grew and drew sustenance was a byproduct of death. Each vibrant green sprout testified that death is necessary in order to birth new life. Death, even of a dream, is to be grieved. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

In fact, it may be what comes before the very best part.

“Most of human life is Holy Saturday, a few days of life are Good Friday, but there only needs to be one Easter Sunday for us to know the final and eternal pattern. We now live inside of such cosmic hope.”   Richard Rohr

To forgive and move forward starts with grieving the death of what was, yet daring to hope for what could be. It means leaning in, exchanging a posture of self-protection for a posture of loving another. It means coming to terms with the frailty of human relationship, yet being willing to depend on the Father (rather than another ) to meet my needs. It means trusting in the goodness and power of my Healer, regardless of what the future may bring.

To forgive and move forward means choosing to believe that the power of Easter Sunday can resurrect and breathe new life into the dead.
And then to live like I believe it.

 

 



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The Problem of Forgiveness

preserver

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.

— — —

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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Miracle

clouds bright sky miracle

My chin hit the pavement. The compact area of flesh and bone, no more than a few inches in total, absorbed the impact of my entire body in unhindered free fall. I was certain that my jaw was broken.

Scene I – The Fall

Last week, after several days’ procrastination, I could no longer deny the call of Eden-like autumn weather. I laced up my shoes and set out for a quick run. One step, then two. As I’d taken a thousand times before. But step three threw a rather large glitch into the dependable process. From the ankle down, my foot went numb. Rather than holding my weight and propelling me forward, it seemed to disappear. There was no mitigating stumble forward to be caught by the alternate foot. If I were watching through a window across the street, I’d imagine the scene would resemble the toppling of a cleanly hewn tree. Only faster. In an instant, I saw the crimson trees ahead, then blood on the pavement. Nothing in between.

Scene II – Emergency room

Waiting. Bright lights. Sharp pain transitioned into dull throb. Test results were announced. No break – only stitches needed. Dear friend came to hold my hand. All would heal.

Scene III – Recovery

Within hours, my speed of had dramatically decelerated. Everyday scenes, which normally roll by with a steady fluidity, were reduced to a series of plodding individual snapshots. My movements were slow and deliberate. Each minute had expanded, allowing a space for heightened awareness. I looked at my hand. Skin left upon the pavement was already being replaced.  Specialized white blood cells invaded my palm like FEMA infiltrating a disaster site. My jaw, which had taken the brunt of the impact, was already doing the silent, steady work of repair.

When I take account of the events that transpired, I’m stopped by the “what-could-have-beens.” The doctor said it could have easily been a broken jaw. Or a concussion. Or worse. My husband, who had been minutes from leaving town, could have been long gone. Rather than appearing at my door within minutes, my friend could have been too far away to help.

Yes, “what-could-have-beens” have the potential to cast a threatening spell of fear. A dark cloud hovering, power found only in its suggestion.

Scene IV – Surprise ending

Most days, I am tragically unaware that atoms of nitrogen and oxygen are dependably, tirelessly scattering the sun’s rays of light throughout the atmosphere. The blue sky is a miracle. But I just might not notice it until the clouds come.

For the past four decades, my lungs haven steadily taken in oxygen and disposed of carbon dioxide, providing a constant source of fuel for this organic machine.

My foot, the one responsible for my fall, has been faithful to support me for millions of steps.

My jaw, now bruised and swelling, has allowed countless meals to be enjoyed, loved ones to be kissed, and songs to be sung.

My nerves, skeleton, and flesh have worked together in seamless concert as I’ve danced, run, given birth, washed dishes.

Yes, I’m grateful that my fall wasn’t worse. At first, I claimed the absence of disaster as the miracle. But as my halted pace of life has allowed time for further consideration, I’ve been surprised by my shift in perspective. Or perhaps I should say my by my corrected vision.

Each step. Each breath. Each heartbeat. Each new skin cell. Those are the miracles.  Our dismissed blue skies.

The miracle is found in the

unnoticed

unfathomable

ordinary

of the everyday.

 



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