On Writing

You ask me to tell you about my writing. Wherever we end up – after church in the chairs, or on that picnic blanket, or over text – you always ask. You’re always in my corner, cheering me on and reading my words, and I hope you’ll always be in that corner with me.

I don’t know much about writing but I can tell you the way it makes me feel: it makes me feel as if puzzle pieces are slipping into place. I have this feeling, and maybe one day I’ll find out I’m wrong about this, but when ink meets the page you are standing on holy ground. You need to break open; it’s not an option. Unless there are pieces of you in between your words, they will be shallow and empty. No one likes a wading pool. We always want the silky, navy water that disappears into the horizon, and that’s what you must be. You must be the water that holds both the mystery and familiarity: the sound of the waves you hear in the shells and the depth of the ocean you feel in your bones.

You must be willing to lay bare the broken pieces to see Redemption in them. To write requires a vulnerability, a willingness to invite others into the brokenness with you.

An invitation which (and this is the part that often stings)

may or may not be accepted.

But we must write and extend the invitation anyways.

To write is the solace you slip into when chaos bounces around you. To write is to learn what you know and what you long to know, and the places where you feel lost. It is to feel the humanity of grief and joy and discover that we all break. We all heal. And we all just don’t want to do it alone.

IMG_2566

Because isn’t that what we are all really searching for, seeking Someone to meet us in our loneliness?

And maybe that is what writing is: putting pen to page and discovering our loneliness is just a masked invitation, a hand held out, a whisper in our darkness. We don’t have to be alone. We aren’t alone. We are all just puzzle pieces waiting to click into place, and words help us do that. Words help us see the things we missed … or maybe the things we just didn’t want to see.

And that’s the beauty in it. So can I tell you how to write? No. But I can tell you that when you do, and you feel those puzzle pieces clicking into place,

you’ll feel like you’re coming home.

 

Recognized Weakness

I want you to know that the dream that you’re holding onto,

          it’s not going to make you Whole.

 I want you to know that the family you long for –

          they will not be your Home.

 I want you to know the person you search for in every crowd –

          you will not be Found when you are finally in their arms.

IMG_1393

And these Truths, the ones you’ll discover as your pen flies across the pages of your book, these Truths will shake you to your core and you’ll come undone.

There will be nothing left to strip away. Because it’s in that moment that you’ll discover you are already Whole. Home. Found. Not because of a dream, or a family, or a person –

but because of Who made you.

IMG_1329

That’s what it means to delight yourself in the Lord – to know that He’s the only One who’ll ever fully satisfy the longings tat keep you up at night, the aches that break you wide open.

Only Him.

But because you’re human, you’ll doubt it. You’ll go back to the dream, the family, the person – and you’ll whisper … if only. And here is the only antidote to those words, to those fateful two words that can lead us down the path we’ve just returned from:

Help me.

As the man prayed, so long ago, in that well-worn book you keep close to your bedside but not close enough to your heart – Lord, help me in my unbelief.

It’s the only way. Because in recognized weakness

lies our strength.

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.

IMG_0584

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.

Safe

There’s going to be a lot of things that won’t make sense to you.

There will be plans set aside, a heart that feels broken, a bank account that’s mostly empty, and an unmapped future – except for those leftovers in the fridge.

You’ll sit on your bed, the elephant patchwork quilt underneath you, and you’ll sit in silence for awhile because a friend suggests you do it. It’s time to listen, she’ll say.

And your mind will keep wandering, and you’ll try to focus on the beeswax candle that is flickering in the corner. But that doesn’t work. And so you rub the frayed edges of the elephants, and you curl into yourself, and you whisper some words because silence is too heavy. And it’s a half hour of you struggling, of you trying so desperately to listen, until there’s only one word that’s whispered to you in the silence: safe.

Safe.

You realize a lot of the unknown, and the pain, and the unmapped future is all simply, unsafe.

And you keep putting a lot of your hopes, and your plans, and your hands cling to all of the things – feeling as if you figure it all out, you’ll finally feel safe.

Oh girl. That’s not how it works (although, you’re stubborn, and sometimes a little controlling, so I’m sure you’ll keep trying).

Unless you place it all in the hands of the One who is safe – you’ll keep wrestling. You’ll keep coming up empty. You’ll keep feeling frayed, and on edge, and lost. The only place you are ever fully safe is in His hands. In that silence. The only place your plans, and your heart break, and your empty bank account, and your unmapped future –

are truly safe – 

are in the hands of the Only One who is.

Keep wandering into the silence. Keep wandering into the unknown. Keep letting your heart break.

For it is in the unsafe places – 

we find that we are truly, always safe –

in the arms of the One who holds us close.

 

Entrust

She sends me the email on a fall day, when the yellow leaves are crunching beneath my boots. The stroller in front of me, I feel the vibration and I open her words.

14882164_10154300204594340_2598949042525165661_o

Entrust. The word stands out in the middle of her email, a soft but firm reminder: you’ve got to entrust Him with this. 

It’s not what I want to hear because the truth is: I do not know what entrusting even means. What does it mean to hand over to God the things I hold most close? What does it mean to see that all these things – these gifts – are His anyways?

The leaves dance wildly at my feet, and I push the stroller forward and I tuck her words close to mull them over. And I remember her addition at the end of the email:

“But remember to enjoy, sweet girl.

You’ve got this.”

Months later, there’s snow in place of golden leaves. Instead of her words staring up at me, there’s the small voice of His, asking me to entrust. To lay the Isaac down on the altar. To trust the Promiser instead of the promise.

And I wonder again at her words. What it looks like to even entrust what I hold close to Him.

I search for the word in Greek, in Hebrew, in the concordance and lexicons until the notes in my journal are long and in depth. From the Greek word pistis, to entrust means to be persuaded. A gift from God, unable to be produced by people.

IMG_7922

To entrust to Him –

literally means to be persuaded by an act only God can do. 

And because I am a chronic forgetter – I so often forget all that He has shown me, all that He has done, and the ways in which He so persuades me to place my trust in Him. To entrust my plans, my dreams, my love in the only place they are safe – in His hands.

So I pray – for I cannot do this on my own – to entrust what I hold close to Him.

“Persuade me,” I scrawl across my journal, tears brimming.

“Persuade me to entrust you with it.”

And the exchange – of laying it on the altar – is far more painful that imagined. But there is something beautiful in the persuasion, in the exchange, as God reveals love in a way only He can do.

Hands Filled

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 12.54.27 PMI’ve been staring at this blank space for awhile. Words haven’t come easily lately.

Today it’s raining, and it’s the middle of January. The snow has almost all but melted. I’m drinking chocolate flavoured coffee, breakfast dishes are still on the counter, and I’m still waking up … even though I climbed out of bed a long time ago.

And the blank space is still here. Still waiting … still staring at me.

What do I have to say that has not been said before? What do I have to share that has not been shared before? What words can fill this space that bring Holy Ground closer to our feet?

I say a prayer over this space – this emptiness – knowing that God voices words in my soul that are far greater than my own.

And maybe the one thing I’ve learned these past few days, and one maybe we’re all learning –

is that so often in the mess I just want to seek answers. 

I do not hold uncertainty well. It does not bode well for this soul that clings to things that bring consistency and knowing and firm ground to stand on.

I do not stand in the mess very well. To be quite honest: I’d rather wash the mess off my clothes, and move on as quickly as my feet can move.

I meet God in the mess. I know He’s here. I know He’s in the trenches with me. And I write out my prayers to Him – I lay out the questions I am seeking answers to. I invite Him into the mess. Into my unknown.

And I hold out my hands for the answers. Hopeful for Him to return the requests with a nice little bow on top of the gift I am longing for, and I’ll smile, and thank Him, and move on.

But He places His hands in my own instead. No bow. No answer. But Him.

And I think in the uncertainty, in the seasons (or life?) of not knowing we just want to know. But … “faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”

And I am not sure if I can let go of my fear of uncertainty –

unless my hands are filled with His, instead.

What would you say?

Fingers wrapped around the steaming brew, I’d find my eyes. The big ones that strangers stop and comment on, the ones that I can’t quite decide if they are blue or green or somewhere in between. I’d lean forward – listening for the words spoken and the things left unsaid. Reading between the lines.

I’d reach across the table – grasping the dry hands I can’t seem to bring back to life. And I think that I’d cry, too.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-11-34-39-pmI wouldn’t tell you the words you tend to say, the words that are harsh and that tell you to wipe away the tears and stifle the cries. I’d tell you to feel it. I’d tell you to reach into that heart of yours, and grab the sharp pieces, and let them have their way with you.

And then I’d tell you

I’m sorry.

I’m so sorry for the mess you’re sitting in right now.

But I’d also tell you this –

The mess doesn’t make you less beautiful. The confusion doesn’t make you less sure. The unplanned road ahead of you doesn’t make you lost.

It makes you human.

And there’s something so wonderfully human about being in the desert. Of aching for the water. Of searching for the hidden places. I want to be in that place with you.

Let’s search for the water together.

Two are always better than one, anyways. Walk into the dry land just a bit further – 

you don’t know the oasis your heart might find.

Dear Great Gram

Oh Great Gram.

A couple weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a start. I felt my ring finger, instinctively, for your ring that rests there. It was gone. I rubbed a little harder, up and down the finger, just to be sure. My stomach dropped.

Hands reaching across the bed, I searched for your ring. I patted down the sheets and shook the duvet and lifted the pillows. It wasn’t anywhere in that bed, and my stomach dropped a little further.

What would I do if I lost your ring?

And then I remembered, and my eyes looked up to the dresser where I’d taken off the ring the night before. Resting in the darkness, unbeknownst to the terror it’s absence had caused.

I breathed a little lighter again.

I wonder about that day he gave you the ring. Were you dancing on air? Did your heart flip? Did you feel confident in your choice of a mate, down to the tips of your toes? Did you look ahead at all the future held, so bright with possibilities and filled with a lifetime of hopeful dreams?

That ring that sparkles in the sun – some days I slip it on my wedding finger and for a moment, I dream about what it feels like to walk down the aisle. I wonder at what a lifetime of choosing another looks like.Choosing another. What a beautiful picture and yet, if I’m honest, one that somedays terrifies me.

Months – maybe even a year ago – I told a friend, “I’m so scared of being vulnerable. Of opening my heart to another. I think I fear it, you know?”

And she looked at me and she said, “Angie, you are one of the most vulnerable people I know.” I laughed because she didn’t know me well enough to know the thoughts that paraded my mind. She didn’t know the fear that crept up at night, or when I sat down to analyze conversations between he and I. She just didn’t know.

But it turns out, she did know. She knew who I was and who I could be. And the thing that I’ve learned in the months since then – vulnerability is damn hard. And yet, the times I feel the most beautiful seem to be the times that I am the most broken because I broke down the walls and I opened the dams and I was true and honest and I chose another.


screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-10-30-15-pm

 

And maybe that’s what choosing looks like. It’s hard and it hurts. I am sure your ring did not always shine. I am sure you did not always feel the dance of your heart in the depths of your toes. But you were true and honest and that’s what made you beautiful. Maybe that’s what makes all of us beautiful. When we are broken to be healed to be broken again. When our brokenness brings us closer to the One who broke for us.

Viola – the one who carries your daughter’s name – she made me hot chocolate tonight. Filled to the brim with marshmallows, which I can just imagine you laughing at because of the sweetness. We carry so much of you in us – our creativity, our roots, our love for home. You aren’t just a ring on my finger, Gram. You created a family that loves hard and breaks and somehow finds its way back in the breaking.

She made me the hot chocolate to be the salve to a sad heart. And yet this sad heart? How alive it makes me feel. How full I feel as it beats beneath my skin. That ring of yours – in all its sparkly glory – it’s a reminder to me. Keep choosing. Keep breaking. Keep opening the dams, sweet girl.

Let yourself break.

Sometimes you find that it’s the place you’ll feel most alive.

Always remembering,

Your great-granddaughter

Blank Pages

It is always the blank page that is terrifying to me. The beginning. When there’s emptiness, needing to be filled, where does one start? How does one know what is to come, where the words will take you, what they will say?

It starts with one letter, one word, until there’s a paragraph. And then you find that there’s a page. Sometimes the words come quietly, softly, until they’ve filled the emptiness with something whole. Other days – the words come slowly, painfully – and it is more of a laboured journey than a discovery of something beautiful.

I’ve been staring at blank pages a lot lately. Each day that there is a deadline scrawled across my agenda. Afraid to start. Putting it off until time is ticking by and I am desperate to place words on page.

Why do I do that? Why do I fear the emptiness and the unknown?

There is something stark about the blank pages in life. Blank pages haven’t just been on my screen; life has felt a lot empty these days. A lot of unknowns. A lot of sitting in the waiting room of life.

Sometimes I feel like that little cursor, blinking, staring blindly up at me. Sometimes life feels much like these blank pages. I am waiting. Afraid to put words on paper – yet everything in this soul of mine is desperate to fill pages with words and see stories unfold.

It’s the beginning that causes me to sit still, to worry, to wonder.

She asks us in the quietness of the classroom – wearied minds, tired eyes, students entering the end that seems so far away – how have we been looking at this world? What concepts, what perceptions have been shaping how we view what’s before us? 

I bow my head as she reads Scripture and it washes over this broken soul. A broken soul so in need of a Saviour, a Saviour to shape and change these ways in which I view this world.

Hope instead of despair.

Faith instead of discouragement.

Joy instead of cynicism.

I pull out the chalks that night, sketching something across rough paper. The next morning I lay in bed far too long dreaming and hugging blankets closer. When I shower, I stop to feel each drop hitting my body. What am I missing in these moments? I ask myself – rushing, tackling The List, never quite reaching the level of Perfection I clearly outline in the sand?

img_6989-jpg

Dying trees peer up through the window as I ready for the day, snow melting it’s way down the ravine behind our building and I stare up at the whitened sky above. Oh to be alive, I think. I reach hands overhead and stretch each muscle. Am I really living when I look at blank pages and fear the beginning? Am I really living when I am in the waiting room and refuse to leave? Refuse to find joy in the season of sitting, of waiting, of unknown?

Doesn’t God promise to be here, too?

Doesn’t He promise He’s here in the waiting, in the humble beginnings, in each letter, in each word – in each step forward even when we don’t know where we are going?

Soul weary, my prayer: oh Lord, make me a lover of humble beginnings. Of unknowns. Change this broken heart to rejoice in the waiting – in these seasons of blind faith, knowing that it is in the darkness you are always passing by, in the trembling – You are always passing by
.