Monday, August 26


This weekend I led my final women's retreat with the friends who all came together as a result of our time at The Next Level Church in Denver, Colorado.  It was a bittersweet time, just coming off the firing, reworking my identity from pastor's wife to friend, moving between bursts of laughter and sudden tears. But in the midst of our silence and solitude I heard the Voice say, "Share what you've learned."  And because I follow these nudges, this is what I said.


When we met back in May to plan the retreat we couldn't have forseen its bearing, couldn't have presumed its import.  We knew that some of us would be working through the book of James soon.  James who says, "Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance..."  James who pushes us into good works, into painting a better picture of that eternal hug of salvation.  Undaunted seemed to be a good way to begin, a good way to re-envision, a good nudge into "go."

The very day we decided the retreat, I met with a friend who gave me a future.  A future I didn't know I'd desperately need now.  A job doing things I was designed to do and a nudge into "go."  It was an important day, but its meaning was lost on me until now.

We soon left for sabbatical, a time of waiting and silence, and at its conclusion I went to Maine.  There I engaged in some personal challenges: traveling by myself, living with strangers for four days, hiking a course hand-over hand through boulders, tougher than anyone envisioned.  One new friend said to me, "If I'd have known what the path would be like, I wouldn't have gone."  

Two days before our trip, our host announced her breast cancer.  Immediately she messaged our team to fill us in and she said, "Be prepared to come to Maine with joy."   And so that first night we all gathered from Denver and Indianapolis and Texas and Connecticut.  She told us what her health was like, and what it likely would become.  She told us what we needed to know to live with her for four days.  And she said, "Other people meet these sudden challenges and ask, "Why me?"  But I'm asking, "Why NOT me?"  I began to fill in her blanks:  why shouldn't I be thrust into the very side of God?  Why shouldn't I be the one to grasp and reach for God to give me my very next step?   Why NOT me?  Why shouldn't I be chosen to face this giant with joy?

Why not me?  The message obviously stuck.

I returned from Maine and the next night I went to TNL for the first time in two and a half months, eager to reengage with my community.  That night we sang, "I Surrender All."  I had no idea that the very next day surrendering all would be required of me.  I had no idea that I would have to lay down the two biggest pieces of my identity: I was no longer a pastor's wife.  I was no longer a homeschooling mother.  I had to surrender them both.

Our challenges surprise us: Breast cancer, job loss, relational switches. As much as I've been trying to prepare for the work that God gave to me, to us, I've never felt prepared for the toughest challenges.  But God continues to give them, to roll them out wrapped in invitation and hope and pain.

Our challenges require surrender:  We have to surrender our egos, our plans, even our dreams.  We have to surrender our hats, our very identities tied to the wrong trees, our assumptions, our fears.  We can't push forward into the challenge with our hands full because sometimes the hiking is hand-over-hand.

Our challenges are for us:  Last week I found a video from one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor.  In it she was talking about pain, but she said that if I can trust that whatever comes into my life is for me then it will break down my idols and isolation.  If I see that every challenge is for the purpose of building me I can move forward with trust and wisdom.  If I let the challenge do its work in me, breathe it in, then ultimately it's for my health.

Saturday I met with a friend who really picked inside my head and heart.  I was struggling hard, everything just below the surface.  She said, "Debra, you're free."  You're free to become the person God has designed you to be.  You're free to do that in any way you need to.  No one will put their thumb down on you.  No one will stuff you into a mold.  Then she said, "This is a gift.  Not a punishment."

Our challenges are a gift, but they require surrender.  Our challenges are for us, but they force us to breathe them in and see them that way.  Seeing my current challenge as a punishment was what I needed to surrender.

This week my husband had coffee with a pastor in town to process and make some sense of these past days.  He had been through a similar situation, had been let go from a church for confusing reasons.  Out of that experience he wrote a book and he brought a copy for my husband and signed it with the words a woman said to him at that time: "Consider what has happened to you as God's kiss upon your forehead."

When we surrender and push through danger, difficulty and disappointment to follow God in what he's asking us to do, we see him, we know his touch, we sense his presence, we take part in his strength.  We all came with our own challenges, not just the communal one that has been thrust upon us:  caring for a mother in a wheelchair, confronting a father, adopting and fostering children, grieving the passing of a sister.  I've seen you rise to these challenges and you've inspired me.  You've surrendered to a will greater than yours. You've been thrust into the very side of God.

In order to follow God we have to surrender and believe that this thing that's come into our life is ultimately for us.  But when we surrender we don't surrender to a person, or a group of people or a circumstance.  We surrender to Jesus.  He is your good and beautiful God and he loves you.

I hope that you leave here empowered to go, to be the hope, to be the change.  And as you go into the challenge that God has for you don't say the path is too rough, or ask, "Why me?" Say undauntedly, "Why NOT me!  This is a gift. God's kiss upon my forehead. I don't know the path, but I'm going anyway."

Monday, August 19

Healing Place

This yard has been my healing place. 

Last summer, just as they were beginning to spread broad leaves and delicate flowers, the bursting plants faced the pounding hail -- and lost.  All season I mourned the damage to what I had planted; the ragged Hostas and broken Jack Frost, their beauty punched full of painful holes.

But this spring they rose again, whole and full.  And the storms have stayed away and let them flourish.

I've spent so many early mornings out here. Talking the plants through their traumas, reading words of inspiration, writing thoughts.  And listening.  Because somehow in the rustle of the leaves of the apple tree, the call of the chickadees, the silence of things growing I can hear the sound of God.

From within the very blades of the grass He calls me out here to be with him.  To sink my feet in.  To linger. It seems fitting to begin a new life in this very space where I most hear him whisper and comfort and nudge.

When the turmoil hit this week, we poured our mourning friends out onto the grass hoping that the whispers would reach them too, that the comfort from being where everything is still breathing life would be just the right setting. And it was. They came from everywhere to be present with us in the mending shade of the vines.  It was right for us to be together, to move into pain and move out.  It was right to throw up our hands in the midst of creation and say, "We don't understand."  Because creation shows us the enduring love we're grasping for.
For his invisible attributes... his eternal power and divine nature... have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. -- Romans 1:20
Four sunsets after the hit, we gathered on the grass again.  The new friends and the familiar.  The hurting and the hopeful.  And in those moments we moved from questioning the fall of man to asking each other for help in our own falling.  We handed each other checks and set up coffee dates and prayed for one another and ran home for just the thing this new friend needed.  We said, "This is what I need."  And then we said, "I can meet it."  Out of this lawn, grew the church.

I will keep coming out here to listen.  But now I will also come out to remember and to give thanks for healing.  When I'm shaken and weary and worn, I will come out to hear the whisper of God.  I will come to the matted grass to sit in the print of friends and feel their companionship when I'm ragged and torn.  I will look to the perfect leaves of the Hostas to know what it looks like to be made new.

Though the storms come and shred us in a season, we burst back forth again and bring new beauty and purpose in the next. "Known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything."   -- 2 Corinthians 6:10

Healing is coming.  It is here.  I can walk within it.  

Saturday, August 17

Moment of Grief, Moment of Good

There was this quiet little moment this week.  It was the moment my middle son with grit and delight walked out to his first day ever of full-time school.  His first day out from under my wing.  The first day I had to trust someone else to be there for him.  And my heart waited, subdued breath, for the return of his lucent smile.

But when he re-entered our home that afternoon I couldn't leap up and welcome him.  I was frozen.  I couldn't offer him the cookies I had planned.  I hadn't made them.  I couldn't offer much but a lingering hug and an honest inquiry for him to tell me all about it.

I had my mom-game-face on.

His father and I had been sitting on the couch letting the time tick away toward the meeting during which, we'd learned, he was going to be fired.

And yet this moment was important. In this moment our affirmations and joy would breathe confidence into our son's heart.  It was the moment he would decide his posture toward the next day.  So we pushed ourselves to get there, to be there with him, to sit face-to-face and let him spill his story of the good day, and knowing it was going to end badly.

Oh, to be able to go back and have the day to repeat.  Why couldn't the grief have played out on another day, not the milestone day, not the day when I'm already melancholy weepy-eyed?

Grief doesn't wait for us to invite it in. It moves in and thrashes about like a snake, crushed head, taking down everything with his thrashing tail.  For hours and maybe days we brave the fight until at last its energy subsides, heaving descends, body collapses and the corpse lays bare on the heart until it can fall to ash and blow away.

Grief begins already in the lead.  And we have to let it roar and rampage before we can catch it.  That evening when we told the children their father's fate they raged and wailed.  We whispered, "I don't know why" as often as they breathed in their shaky, sobbing breath.  And when the children were done crying we dried them off and assured them and put them to bed with all gentleness and then we, ourselves, wept over their pain and later went into their room and helped them vomit and prayed at their bedside.  Grief was winning.

Maybe this was the more important moment.   This was the moment when we let it all be played out in front of the kids; the puzzling explanations, the shock and fear.  When we all had a question to ask, bouncing between compassion and gasping.  This was the moment we taught them to fight the snake:  in spite of the hits and stings you just keep crushing.  Maybe this broken moment was the one that would matter more.

Maybe we keep our grief guarded and circumspect.  Children publicly feel pain and disappointment but see adults calm and collected.  Maybe we ofttimes have the answers before they can ask the questions.  Maybe we can learn to grieve by following their lead:  feel the pain rather than stuff it, share it, grasp for one another.  When the circumstances involve them, we shouldn't do their grieving for them, filter out the hardest emotions in hopes of sparing them.

In the morning he was weary, but he left again for school, doing the hard thing of moving forward in affliction.  In that moment, that important moment, he was learning that grief would lose its hold, that strong living crushes the dying. And when he returned home, all I could do was wrap my arms around him and ask about his second day knowing that in time overcoming the grief would breathe confidence into his heart and help him set a posture toward all the hard things that were yet to come.

Friday, August 9

Wanting In

I planned the road trip knowing that it wasn't all about me; suspending options means parenting poorly.  But my secret wish was to go in the caves.  And we did.  Hiking out to the tubes we ventured below. Inside I felt the grace of physics holding back the weight of the rock above me.  Moving among rubbled boulders I breathed the gritty air, heavy steps crunching the lava remains.   I was in.  


Nineteen years ago I married him and we've taken a strong turn toward loyalty and longing.  When we first began I longed for the future, just to get some miles behind us.  But now I sometimes long to be less independent, to be able to crawl inside his chest just to hear his staunchly beating heart.  Being with isn't enough.  I want to be in.


She said it was like a beautiful golden fabric lovingly wrapped around all of her body.  She could feel it.  She could see it.  She laid there in bed after the cancer diagnosis and asked, "God where are you?" And he said, "I am all over you."  She is in him.

I sit in the guest house listening to the rain hitting the roof; dripping with invitation. I stand on the veranda in the spray and wait for the group to say, "Let's go anyway."  And they do, all.  We strap the packs, pull the slickers, push the hair under hats and venture out.  In this place I've dreamed of I let its bigness and goodness be as close as skin and as far as fog.  I walk the craggy rock on ocean's edge.  I smell the mossy earth on shady path.  I am one in a line of adventurers journeying through blessing and brokenness and gift.


I wondered when this Call to Union would happen or how I would know.  In the Autumn, when I learned the Teresan Mansions I identified myself firmly in a mansion that intrigued me more than it fit, like a beautiful new coat that looked better on the hanger than it did on me.  My mansion is all about a call to union with God.  I've seen the hints of it; listening in prayer more than speaking, doing work that meets with worship, pushing through woundedness in order to be nearer and nearer still. I have been wondering when life "in Christ" would supercede even life "with Christ."

I've been paying attention; it's above me, it's around me, it's all over me. Right about now.

Thursday, August 8

Pushing Into Abandon

I laid in the bed clutching him, breathing him in.  The morning would bring another separation.  This time, I was leaving. 

Didn't I just move through the house without him for two weeks?  While he was on a boat in the Sea of Galilee, hiking to a waterfall, walking through ruins I was balancing the checkbook, meeting the neighbor, consoling a confused brown belt, reserving lodging for the trip, pulling trash to the curb, grilling sandwiches, moving them into showers and beds.  It was a time of total assumption of self.   I had to be everything that we are together.   It was full.  I was full.

I was about to assume the other place; leaving him to get them places, to quietly slide teeth from under a hopeful pillow, bake the pizzas, check on the bills, and move them into showers and beds. 

Abandonment ran through my head and left a trail.  There on his chest rising and falling I gave instructions for the boys he himself made.  But as with all the manuals he tosses aside, he would work on intuition and get it right.  I couldn't program their days or take the weight off or be the buffer, the helper.  I was going to leave.  And while abandonment wanted to grow its cloud over me, self-abandonment called me to go.

James Brian Smith wrote, "We play because our God is good.  We play for joy.  Play is an act of self-abandonment."
I was going to play.  To be engaged in beauty, to take things in, to explore and discover.  I fought not to make it a spiritual exercise, a kingdom journey.  Can a mother justify and leave for something other than silence and solitude, mountaintop experiences, purposeful accomplishment?  I had to tell myself, "yes."  Sometimes we need to journey outside of ourselves rather than deeper in.  We need to let go of the ascetic and embrace the artistic, reach the fingers far from the fearful and self-controlled to touch the joy.

Letting go of ourselves, our serious business of living our own lives, and pushing into self-abandonment is spiritual exercise too.   Jesus calls us to abandon.  Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  Shake the dust off and leave.  Leave father and mother and cleave to a wife.  "And leaving everything he rose and followed him."  When we abandon things and processes and expectations, we cling to Jesus.  When we abandon self, we cling to life and find abundance.

As I drove the long easy roads from the city, to the island town, I tuned the XM3 to the songs of my youth, the days of inhibition and possibility.  I drove roads that reminded me of that homeplace when emancipation was immanent and freedom came from within.  I remembered the winter play on Lowell Hill, the dances in the commons, the adventures in the city, the cars.  We knew how to play.  I sang the songs of that soundtrack and touched it all again.
"We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn."  -- Matthew 11:17
I don't want to pretend righteousness and sit out the dance.  It is time to play.

Saturday, August 3

Reading Now

July's reading felt wedged in -- pushed in-between the dentist visits, soccer camp, baseball practices, math tutoring, and swim lessons.  Instead of diving into the words while my husband was in Israel two weeks, I listened to podcasts or an audio book and even mindlessly played streaming movies while I attempted to organize family photos at night.  Even time on the deck was spotty.  Despite my distractedness several things happened for me, in order of my enjoyment:

When God is Silent: I'd read it over and over again, especially the second sermon, whenever I forget -- and we easily forget -- that the voice of God is actually charged with power and fright.  We say we want to hear it, but we don't know what we're really asking.

The Burning Word:  Was my morning deck book. Short ideas interrupted by exercises that stretched my reading of the Word and gave me grace to interpret it a little more fully with imagination, intuition and innovation.  I highly recommend it.

Traveling Mercies: It feels like cheating to call myself an Anne Lamott Fan only having actually read one of her books all the way through.  I'm not even joking; I own five and I've only read Bird by Bird (over and over).  This was very worth it for her depictions of faith and grace. I love that she was doing memoir long before it was trendy.

Franny and Zooey:  I enjoy reading existential works by authors who don't ascribe to my faith.  It gives me a mirror to look into and rubs off the rough edges of publicly living this life.  And, it's Salinger in his classic young-life turmoil element.

The Reason for God:  I never would have read it page by page because of its depth, but this one jumped at me from the library audio book section and I needed something to engage my brain, while I worked with my hands.  This is, of course, very philosophical and I missed a good deal, but I loved the clarity of this one thing:  God is love; He can only be so if he is multi-relational, triune, because love requires the interaction of beings.  He cannot be love (and a loving being is what most people assent to) if he is a singular personality.  I hadn't made that connection before.

Wonderstruck:  This is my second time through Margaret Feinberg's newest book because I was leading other women through it for a book discussion.  It's an easy read with a lot of personal narrative mixed with some scriptural insight and it made for some good discussions regarding friendship, forgiveness, restoration and creation.

Kingdom Journeys: I wanted to finish this before I made my little solo trip to Maine in August. Maine isn't a pilgrimage, but I wondered if this would bring more insight into the act of journeying.  Sadly, the author limits the reader by saying that there are things completely missed and never learned until submitting to a kingdom journey... a long trip filled with dependence and grasping and wonder.  The absolute tone turned me off and additionally it contains a brief story of a friend of mine that's inaccurately told.

The Journals of Jim Elliott: I read (skimmed) the first section of this one and decided to set it aside.  Up to that point it was all of Jim's personal insights into the book of Genesis.  Sometime, I'll pick it up for its commentary usefulness.  *Note to self, don't make all of my journals "notebooks."  Intersperse the learning with the living for my sons to read and know who their mother was years from now.

The Open Secret:  I'm still working on it.

August's Line Up

Thursday, August 1

When There's Tears Because You're Done

Several years have passed since I went through a midlife internal debate:

Who am I?  
How do I live greater purpose? 
When is the time for more?

As I lived that span asking these questions to the walls and the wind, I sent my oldest child to school after letting home be his eleven-year learning ground.  I graduated my youngest child from kindergarten. I experienced my final day teaching my second child, bittersweet to the core of my heart.  I gained a high-schooler who out-grew me months ago.  Milestones don't wait for mothers to know who they're going to be next.


This summer, my youngest figured out swimming. I no longer sit poolside watching all three, turning my head to view one, missing the achievements of another.  I only slather sunscreen on one.  I don't keep my eye on the kiddie pool anymore at all. To watch him incorporate side-breathing into his front crawl simultaneously sends waves of pride and lament.  A great swell of  'He can do it!' is instantly shattered on the rocks of  '...without me.'  

And, for the first time, there's no one coming up behind him to soften the blow of these last things.  No one else is waiting, wiggling, on the sidelines for his chance at being big. 

On this day, there was a little boy; moving soon into three, flaxen hair, striped swim trunks knocking him mid-shin, dimpled elbows swinging with his puffy running feet.  He wanted to move the pool chair over to his mama.  Sweet determination in him, he found an empty one by my feet and mustered his toddler strength to lift it.  I smiled at his strength of will.  I've seen that so many times.  

But the chair bested him, attacking his toe leaving the sweet one to declare defeat as toddlers do so well.  I giggled privately; just one of many defeats, little man.  You'll get it one day if not today.  

His mother tenderly came to him.  His words came out with a cry, "Kiss it!"  And she did.  And the world was made right again, mama moving the chair for him to sit at her side.  I smiled; their preciousness always trumps their pain. 

And in one instant -- a splash, a drop, a flash -- my inner giggle turned to outward sob.  Tears formed behind my sunglasses before I could turn to see who was the woman crying at the side of the pool?  From the depths of my memory, all my toddler boys and their defeats, I knew I'd never be able to kiss something and make it better again.  That they all could make things better with their own strength of will and character. They all could get from one side to the other, breathe as necessary, pull and kick and get somewhere.

I sensed the weight of all the years' battles lifted at once; the struggles and fights had all been won.  The self-consciousness, the worry the exasperation and fatigue -- all defeated and, in that moment, all counted as victories.  Future struggles would belong to them.  I'd be at the side, watching, smiling a private smile and offering a prayerful boost.

Under the shade of locust tree,  morning breeze blowing my graying hair, I was caught up.  I'm quite certain that the breeze took with it all the curative power held in my aging body and moved it into my young son, gasping his way across the pool with determination and with strength.