After These Things


I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the stars.

It started years ago, when I was given a small, plastic telescope that I would drag out across our backyard late into the night. I convinced friends to sleep outside without a tent so we could stare at the stars. I was heartbroken when, after doing renovations to our house, I lost my beloved skylight that enabled me to see the glistening lights of the country sky.

We’ve always had a love affair, the sky and I. But I fell in love with him on the other side of the ocean, where I would climb onto the roof and spend my evenings under the African sky. I fell deeper in love with the stars the night I went back to Senegal, showering under a full moon in a tin shanty with a bucket full of rain water.

But I fell truly, madly in love with the full moon and stars when I realized that they were a symbol, a love letter, between the God that I love and the God who loves me. 

The thing is – I forget. I forget, over and over again, of His faithfulness. I push it aside in the dark times, and I am quick to respond in fear when I long to respond with trust.

But the full moon and the stars keep appearing. They are the thin place, the sacred ground, where He and I meet, and I whisper to Him heart cries and He whispers to me faithfulness.

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The very first words in the story of Abraham and Isaac are three words. After these things. Up until these past few months I had skipped over them, barely noticing their place in the story. Abraham and I, though, we keep meeting. We meet in conversations. We meet in words. We meet in names. And I have spent these past months sitting with those nineteen verses, and they have come alive to me. Some day, maybe, I’ll write the story, but for now, this is what needs to be said:

those three words –

after these things

are so important

They aren’t meant to be stepped over – prodded over – pushed aside.

They tell you what has happened and what is to come.

We can’t fully understand the story of Abraham and Isaac until we know the story that was before. And those words – that idea – is as important to us as readers of Scripture as it is for us as doers of Scripture.

Don’t disdain your story. 

Do not disregard the journey it has been to get you to the place you are. The broken pieces, the heartbreak, the loneliest and darkest of nights. All of those things, summed up in three words – after these things.

Before,

during,

and after –

He is there. It’s the only way we can understand who we are:

when we understand who we have been.

And so I keep going back to the stars, and the full moon, to remind me of His faithfulness. The tears I have let fall before Him. The whispers of faithfulness in return.

And I am ever thankful –

that after these things – 

the moon still rises, the stars still glisten,

and He is in the midst of it all.

 

 

 

Dear Heartache

Dear Heartache,

When you visited me that night, I was hoping your visit would be short. I figured you’d move in, settle in for a bit, but once we visited you’d be on your way to the next home.

For awhile I pretended you hadn’t taken up residence in my heart. But one day I came home, and you’d unpacked your bags, changed the curtains, and settled on the sofa. I sighed with reluctance.

Still, I was sure that quick visits here and there would be enough. Every once in awhile we’d have a chat, some days ending a few hours after it had begun. Always, though, your presence was there. When I woke up, when I went to bed. You were always nestled away somewhere, as if I could feel you even when we weren’t talking.

I began to resent your presence in my life. I wondered how I could pack your bags when you weren’t looking. I wondered if I could somehow leave the door open, the place too draft-y, so you’d go find residence elsewhere. Hadn’t you had enough of me?

But until those long days, when I finally curled up on the couch with you, I hadn’t realized that you had something to say. You’d been whispering it when I was around, but I was too busy to notice. I was so focussed on figuring out how to get you to leave that I hadn’t even asked you if you’d had something to say.

But you did.

“Don’t rush me,” you’d said. “I have something to say to you.

If you let me, I won’t just remind you of the memories you feel have slipped away. I’ll remind you of what’s ahead, too. I’ll whisper to you your worth when you’re curled up beside me. I’ll remind you that hearts hurt because that’s what happens when love bounces back from the place you sent it off to.”

And finally, with a deep breath, you whispered,

“For so long you’ve been asking me to leave. But you’ve missed it: there’s room on this couch for one more. Heart pain,” you’d said slowly, as if for me to catch the words and hold them close, “always needs a healer. I can’t heal you. Visiting with me won’t heal you. But I can point you to the One who does.

And with a deep breath that I feel all the way to my bones, I see Who’d been sitting behind you on the couch. The only One who had the power to rush in, to turn a heart of stone into something soft. To heal the bruises where love had bounced back. The only One who could hold these broken pieces and make them into something beautiful.

Oh heartache – I am so sorry. If I’d rushed through our visit, I could have missed this.

Broken pieces

being healed

by the Broken. 

Lovingly,

A.

One

‘I always thought I’d just have one,’ I tell her that night. She’s sitting beside me outside her house, the car running idle, and I’m staring at the lights down at the intersection as we talk. Until I look at her. And I see her meet me in the pain and sorrow, and she responds quietly, ‘I know. I did too.’

One great love story. The one you spend so many of your years waiting for.

And instead of one great love story, you have chapters ending. Beginnings becoming bittersweet memories.

‘I think the hard part,’ I say, ‘is realizing that God uses broken things.’

Broken things. Endings.

She nods beside me.

When you spend your days waiting for the one to end the search, some days you get so caught up in the story you forget God’s goodness isn’t tied to just one.

You realize that they’re all just vessels for His goodness to enter your life,

even if it’s just a season.

When you realize God’s goodness isn’t tied to just that Person, maybe that’s when you realize how to fully love. How you fully risk. How you take the leaps of faith when there is no security on the other end.

And maybe, in the end, we’re all just broken vessels, broken so that His love seeps through the cracks.

happy.

On a table in the corner we both sit. Words are sparse, and we both know that we aren’t the same as the last time we stood in front of each other. You’re quiet; I’m quiet. Deep breaths – we sit in the weariness together.

For just a small moment, we are quiet.

Until we speak. Slowly. Surely. Heart pieces laid on the table, brokenness shared. We break bread,

breaking,

and we drink

drinking

all lavished in grace.

We break and we drink, hold open hands, receiving His grace. Some days His grace is like water in a dry desert. Today is one of those days.

When I walked by him earlier that morning, he pulled me in for a hug and tucked me under his arm for what seemed but just a moment. “You look happy,” he said to me, his only words, as I walked away. Happy? Joy?

And I think, hours later — breaking bread,

broken.

Drinking wine,

lavished in grace.

Some days – maybe most days – we are broken to meet the Healer. Parched to drink in His grace.

His words still echo in my ear and I hold them close to hear them again.

Happy?

Yes, I finally whisper to myself. Happy.

The Valley of Baca

He tells me in his little office that I should think about reading the Psalms.

“There’s a lot in there,” he says slowly, “and it seems to me that David has a lot to say. He expresses his wishes, his hurts, his pain.” He pauses. “And God doesn’t strike him down.”

He says all this to me after I tell him I have a hard time asking God for things. Feeling as if it’s a question of His plan. I leave his office and as I drive home in rush hour traffic, tears stream down my face and I do. I let my heart pour out like David’s did.

Days later, I am still devouring the Psalms. I’m paying attention to the patterns, the words. David says some wild things, crazy things. But he says a lot of beautiful things, too.

 

There is a Psalm that talks about a place called the Valley of Baca. A place that as they walk through, turns into a place of springs and pools of rain water. This valley, some say, was part of the journey to get to Jerusalem or to one of the cities of refuge. Dry, treacherous, dangerous – this valley needed to be walked through in order to get to where the Israelites were going. Some translations call the Valley of Baca the Valley of Weeping – and I am struck by these verses – how the Israelites had to literally walk through the valley of weeping to get to a place of safety and refuge.

David talks about how that valley of weeping is redeemed. How those who rest in the refuge of God find the dry valley filled with springs of water.

To be honest there have been times since that night in his office that I tell God I can’t do it. I can’t walk through sadness, and I can’t walk through pain, and I long for it fixed and made right. But He whispers, to my tired, reluctant soul –

“The Valley of Weeping is meant to be walked through.”

I am always so quick to push away pain. To wipe away tears. Feeling as if, the sooner I get to the other side the better.

But yet – it’s meant to be walked through.

And I sigh deeply, tears brimming – knowing He redeems each valley –

filling them with springs

and pools of water –

because even this is not far from His redemptive touch.

The Blanket

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There’s a blanket on our white couch, blue and white, folded haphazardly on the side of the armrest. It’s quite imperfect. There are two strips of colour in the middle that are slightly smaller than the rest. There’s a missed stitch somewhere that you can notice if you’re looking just right. The blanket was started and torn apart about three times, and the pattern evolved almost as much. It wasn’t just a labour of love, this blanket of mine; it was an offering.

It became prayers stitched in while the big blue hook made it’s way under and over, and under again. It was tears mixed in with the remnants of yarn left behind as it moved across the white couch. Questions were murmured amongst the whispers of praise. I asked Him to meet me when the blanket was finished, each stitch done, beautiful in its imperfection. Would He answer the questions I kept laying down at His feet?

He doesn’t. He just gives me more of Himself.

And I am wondering if the times when He is silent – when He makes His peace more palpable, and His presence more visible in the tears and the laughter and the warm breeze that breaks in through blinds in the middle of the night –

I am wondering if, then, you and I don’t really need an answer. We don’t really need the steps ahead of us illuminated in quite the way we think we do.

I am wondering if His silence and presence are really a whisper –

A whisper that you’re on Holy Ground.

I’ve given you all you need to take the steps forward. To make the decision. To choose the path to walk down. I’ve given it all to you because I am all you need, in every moment, in every decision, in every unknown. I’ve given you a mind and a heart and tears and feet and all you need to do is move, sweet girl. Just move. Take it all in, with a deep breath and a shuddering cry, and just move. Knowing I desire more to be the answer, then to give you an answer. 

That’s all you really need to know right now. Take all that I’ve given you – those eyes that see, that mind that thinks, that heart that feels – and go. Do. Decide. Commit.

And go fully –

Knowing I’m right beside you as you do.

Holding Broken Pieces

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I had been looking at it all wrong.

Holding these broken pieces in my hand, I’d let them define the story. I’d let them become who I was. I’d let them label me unworthy, failure, incompetent.

When all along they’d been broken pieces in need of a Redeemer.

I’d whisper a prayer of forgiveness and still, shame would be nearby and I’d feel the fingers pointed towards me. Never getting it right. Always returning.

Until the morning – with Christmas lights nearby, cold coffee in a mug beside me, the previous late night still effecting this blurred mind –

I read,

“Why are we afraid of broken things?”

I think of the broken pieces I seem to always hold in my hands. The ways in which I fail, and don’t measure up, and the impossible and often confusing stories that are right in front of me.

I hold the mug of coffee closer and I stare at her words again, and I realize in that moment –

I’d been looking at the broken pieces so long I’d failed to see what they really were.

Because broken pieces are really just an opportunity. An opportunity to see that in our weakness, He is made perfect.

When I’d come to Him in desperate need of His grace, I’d stopped short at describing what I held in my hands. I’d stopped short when describing my brokenness – and failed to ask Him to enter into the brokenness and redeem it. To show up. To make something new. To let me see how He is working all things for His glory.
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Broken pieces do not mean broken people. Maybe that’s the Truth I am in need of today.

Broken pieces are in need of Holy Hands to stitch them back into something beautiful. Broken pieces are meant for a Redeemer who was broken in order to make us whole.

And in amidst the cold coffee and the twinkling lights –

I offer Him my broken pieces and ask Him to make them something beautiful.

The Soul Feels Its Worth

Tears threaten to fall and I lean forward, head in my palms, feeling the tear make its way down the side of my cheek. Say what you want, but that first tear? Always a dangerous sign that more are to follow.

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I can feel it welling up in me, and I bite my lip. (Why would pain cause pain to cease? I’m not sure where this rationale comes from.)

I want to weep.

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I pray the words, not sure why, but begging God to give me these two hours until I can weep fully. Until I can stop wrestling to contain the tears.

I flip through the pages of my well-worn Bible until I find the words the preacher says from up above:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of darkness, on them a great light has shone.

img_7581I hear his words from where my head rests again, in my palms.

“Sometimes God breaks you in order to heal you,” he says, like salt to a wound. Moments later: “His silence is sometimes His greatest gift.”

Tears still brim along my lashes and I force myself to sit up again. The Israelites, waiting, wandering in darkness. His silence.

And then there is light.

They walked through the darkness to get to the light. And her words ring true today as they so often do: sometimes we need to walk through what we don’t want in order to get what we need. 

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Because He’s always before us, lighting our way, knowing our deepest needs before we even speak a word. He is seeing us, knowing when we rise and when we sit. He knows when we begin and when we end. He is the knower of our thoughts, our wants, our heartaches, our tears.

He is for me. I scrawl it across the purple notebook, for my eyes to wander back to for salve to heart wounds – He is for me. He is with me. Even in silence, even in darkness – for darkness is not dark to Him – there is not a place where we can go that His love isn’t present.

And I hear it, when my heart is tuned to it –

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I hear that He is for me in the crunch of leaves as my boots glide through, and in the gradient turquoise that reaches for the horizon. I hear Him tell me He is for me as I stir the spaghetti sauce mixed with tears. And I hear it in bright joy-ed faces and whispered I love you’s across a screen.

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He is for me.

He is for me.

Always appearing – 

until finally,

the soul feels its worth.

 

Chicken Soup for the Soul

I stir the pot in front of me, watching the yellowed carrots and parsnip twirl around in the wake of the ladle. I offer up prayers to Jesus, laying down heavy burdens as I stir. Knowing that there is a paper waiting to be started in the other room but my soul needs this chicken soup instead.

I pick each piece of meat off the cooled bones and drop it into the broth. Growing up, I remember her doing it so well. We would wait anxiously for the pot of soup on the stove, her famous chicken noodle soup. Each time it was a bit different, with a little more carrots or a few more noodles, whatever was found in the pantry. But each time it tasted like only her soup could. I wrote down the recipe the first time I moved away, on a faded pink index card tucked into my recipe box. But recipes made with a pinch o’ this and a pinch ‘o that never could be written down.

When that Crack in our family appeared so long ago, a lot of things washed away in the aftermath. A lot of dreams sifted away. And so did the memories – even the good ones – because somehow they were marked with a Loss now, too.

Years later – sometimes they slip back in. Sometimes it’s the feel of a chocolate milk container that brings me back to when I was five. Sometimes it’s the feel of chicken beneath my bare fingers, bringing me back to cool winter nights and a mother’s famous soup.

I make that soup my own way now. I add parsnips and rice and my own concoction of spices I find in my cabinets. The pink index card with my scrawl and her words rests inside my recipe box, and I make the soup with a little bit of soul and a little bit of hope. Sometimes murmured prayers, too.

And the thing I’ve learned about memories is sometimes they have a way of finding their way back to us. Sometimes it’s years later, when you think you’ve tucked them back into the recesses of your mind where it doesn’t hurt so much. Maybe those memories are just waiting, waiting for the time when you’ll hold them precious again. Waiting ’til your heart’s a little more healed so you hold them close, let the tears go, and remember –

the warmth of the wood stove, smell of soup in the nearby kitchen. Cracked and scarred wooden floors beneath running feet. Blankets nestled over the floor’s vents, heat trapped to warm up cold bodies. Fallen Christmas trees anchored to the wall. 

Somehow they all hurt a little less with a pot of chicken soup on the stove,

made with just the right amount of soul and a little bit of hope.

 

 

Broken Cracks

To the one who feels left behind – 

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I sit in the old wooden pew, the stained glass reaching up to the sky above me. It’s dreary outside – rain softly making its way into swirling puddles below. The umbrella shields us from the rain, but the humidity clings to us in dampened shirts and unruly curls.

It’s silent in the old church. Tall, echoing, we make our way into the old pew. I lean forward and I pray for you. Tears in my eyes, I feel the weight of the burden so deeply upon my heart I can’t help but fold hands as an offer of surrender. I wish words were enough to take away the sting of your hurt. I wish I could tell you, in the most simplistic of ways, you’ll be okay. You’ll walk through the heartache and you’ll cry and it isn’t fair. Oh, how it isn’t fair and words will never take away the unfairness of it all.

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The protective part of me wants to reach forward and take that hurt away from you. I want to take it on me. I want to be the one that is stinging from his rejection, from his back, from his words. I don’t want you to be wrestling with it. 

I want it to be mine.

And yet, in the old church, lit candles that flickering as we walk past – it is all so clear that I cannot take the pain from you.

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And if I keep reaching, keep begging you to lay it on me – I’d miss the point.

It’s supposed to change you. But don’t let it make you bitter. Let it push you to be the one who you were created to be – the one that doesn’t follow in his footsteps. The one that stands taller. The one who lets pain wash over them and break knowing that in a moment, you’ll be healed. Broken cracks are there to let light in. Let line shine in the cracks.

Let light shine in.

I can’t offer you more than that. I can offer you my tears, and I can offer you my prayers, and I can offer you a promise – I’ll be with you every step of the way. I believe in you. You aren’t forgotten and you aren’t left behind.

As we sit there in the pew, I pull out the bound blue book. I assume it to be a book of Common Prayer in the old Anglican cathedral, but it’s not. It’s a Book of Common Praise.

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And I sift through the pages until I come to one of the hymns that I know, Be Thou My Vision. And I wonder why words of praise are in front of me, as tears dry on my cheeks – and I remember – the light. The only way we’ll ever find hope in the midst of broken cracks is to let some of the light in. And so I read the words over and over again – a prayer –

a search for the Light. The Goodness that’s found in all things.

I pray you find some of that light today – in the broken cracks – in the rain filled puddles – in the way a tear makes its way down your face. It’s there.

I promise.