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.

Two Feet In

Dear Friend,

You’ve moved a lot these past few years. You’ve packed things into boxes, booked plane tickets, filled the cars. You’ve held new keys and opened fresh pages to a chapter.

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But the thing is – and I am learning – you have to be all in.

You can’t really have one foot in, and one foot out. You’ve got to have them both in one place, in one season, in one story.

Life is too short to straddle the fence. It’s too short to let yourself be stretched in two places, between two stories, between two lives. You’ve got to do the life you have well and you’re not big enough to live two lives.

And I think that might mean jumping in – feet first – until you’re all wet. I think it might mean crying the ugly tears that things have ended. I think it might mean holding on tight to the one who’s right in front of you. And I think it might mean saying goodbye, and meaning every syllable.

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You just need to be all there. The ones in front of you need all of you. They can’t just have pieces of you, my friend. You were never meant to be broken pieces but whole. All there.

It might be easier to let go if you let it all go at once. In one breath, as the doors shut and the keys are handed over, you let it end. You don’t cling to it. You don’t live in it. You don’t try with every piece of you to stay – but you keep walking. You don’t know what’s ahead of you but you need to find out.

Goodbyes are never easy but they are as necessary as hellos. I don’t know much more than that, but I know that somehow, endings are always beginnings, too. I know that sometimes you need to find the end of yourself to really find where you begin.

So be all there, sweet friend. Change your address instead of clinging to the old one. Stay close by even when some days you just want what was before. Sit down next to strangers even though your life feels too full to add another. Write the endings because you get to turn the page and find a new beginning.

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Be all there. Two feet in, heart fully present. Even if there’s tears in your eyes, look ahead, because you can,

‘with one eye squinted,

take it all as a blessing.’ 

Always yours,

a.

Finding God in the Nursery

It’s dark in the nursery. There’s a waterfall noise coming from somewhere in the room, and the curtains are doing their best to keep out the late evening sun. She’s crying – and I’ve lost count of the minutes since I walked into scoop her up – and I hold her, swaddled, in my arms.

I try the rocking chair, but the slow motion seems to turn her wail’s to the loudest volume. So I stand, and I bounce from one side of the room to the other, soft pats on her back, until the cries become intermittent and I can finally lean back in the chair to rest her against the armrest.

We rock back and forth for awhile, she and I. Her eyes flutter open and she stares up at her auntie for a moment, before they shut again. We go back and forth. My broken version of You are My Sunshine, her quiet whimpers turning into deep breaths. We are creating a strange symphony, and as the eyes settle shut, my own tears replace hers.

My confession, written here to remember: sometimes shame cloaks deep heart wants. Sometimes, writing out the desire’s of one’s heart, the unmet dreams – there’s more shame than hope there. In the dark nursery, the babe in my arms, I feel that shame. I feel that hope dwindle, that prayer that one day I’d hold my own sweet girl in my arms. God and I – we meet in that room. I tell Him my hopes and I lay down my sadness. And gently, as He always does, He points me to the baby in my arms.

Not my own, but beloved by Him. Knit together by Him. And in my arms.

Had He given me those desires, I would have missed the one that lay in my arms. I would have missed her. I wouldn’t have gotten to rock her to sleep, or sing her broken verses, or pray for her. And He reminds me, in that darkness, that His ways are not my own – but they are so, so much better. And I am thankful – I bow in thanks and grace – that He saw something in me to bring me to that moment. Holding sweet Em. Holding His beloved.

And I am humbled that I get this moment – this gift of grace – to be His hands and feet. And so I give her one last hug, and place her back in her crib gently, thanking God for this life. Praying for her life.

Thankful that He is always, always found where we least expect it.

When Beauty Is Right There


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We walked into the barn, straw beneath our feet, cool dampness in the air.

The heat was held back outside, behind the thick, whitewashed walls.

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The stalls stood empty, long since vacated by the cows that had once made this place their home. Cobwebs stretched wide across the windows and walls, remnants of a life and living tucked safely into yesterdays.

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I pointed the camera again and again, searching for the beauty beneath the layers of dust and webs.

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But with each click, each image saved, the beauty wasn’t hidden.

It was there. In the dirt. In the shadows. In the empty echo of a cat’s cry.

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In the forgotten tag, the cracked walls.

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Waiting – for eyes to stop,

eyes to see,

eyes to behold.

It’s always there. Always waiting.

Food for the joyless soul – the hungry soul – aching for more grace.

When it’s too easy to miss the moon

She tells a story of a moon. (And yes – I know I talk about the moon a lot, but bear with me in this story).

Beside her, six kids are readying for dinner. Dishes are scattered across the counter and food is ready to be played. Behind her her husband comes over, waving to her. “Come here,” he says. “You need to see this.”

But her eyes are on the dishes and the readied food and the hungry babies. “Now?” She asks

“Now.”

“Can’t it wait until after dinner?” Eyes on the clock.

He’s insistent. And so she follows him, to where he stands, and then his hands are on her shoulders and he steers her to where she can see. The moon. Beautifully high in the sky, casting a glow on the fields below. “I thought you’d want to see it,” he says quietly, and after a nod from him, she picks up her camera and is all legs as she hurries out into the field.

And all I can think about as she writes of this moment is how often we miss the moon. 

We fill minutes with things and people so time passes us by. I never want time to pass me by. I never want to fill it so full that I miss what I’m even filling it with.

I pile expectations higher and higher and higher until I am drowning underneath them. And their weight threatens to destroy me. But I keep piling.

And in the process of to do lists and dreams and unwashed dishes and unfinished laundry and a never perfect body … I miss the moon.

I miss the moon.

And I am so afraid I’ve lived 26 years and missed it. I’m so afraid I’ve done big capital L Living I’ve forgotten life is lived in the moments in between. When we see who’s in front of us. When our feet slow even though we’re late but the lilacs wrap their scent around us and stop us in our tracks. When we laugh at the ducks that waddle up to picnic blankets and dance and bellow and wail in the middle of a traffic jam. When we find ourselves in the middle of a mosquito-filled patio, raspberry pie stinging our tongues with it’s sweet tartness.

I’ve longed to press forward these days. To skip tears and heart breaking and be on the other side of the valley.

But I’m afraid if I did I’d miss the moon.

And so I breathe and I ask God for more grace and more days to see Him in the little things. And to trust that those are what make the long days, the hard days, beautiful.

If only we keep stopping to see the moon.

{ps – the Story and all of her other amazing words can be found here and here}

Triumph.

When she entered the world, she entered it with potential. Newness stretched across her taught, reddened skin, eyes offended by the bright lights. Her voice had never been heard before, her fingers untouched, her smile undiscovered. She held the whole world in her tiny, curled up hands.

When her mother wrapped her hands around her, the beginning of life formed as skin touched skin. Cries mixed in with tears and words and prayers created a masterpiece far more beautiful than any her mother had ever laid eyes on. Life was breathed into that hospital room; it was heard, it was felt, it was a Presence all on its own. It was tangible; life in human form.

Her mother admired the way her hair pressed against her chest, the way the  breathing of the child in her arms mimicked her own. She was there, fully present. Not imagining the day before as it used to be; not imagining a tomorrow. There was just a today, a today that delivered a family of three that moments before had not existed.

Life begins in triumph. It emerges in a cacophony of sounds and smells and in a way that will never be repeated. It will never be felt that way again. It will never be revealed with the same cry, nor felt with the same touch. The clock that ticks as life enters will never tick by those seconds again. It is an extraordinary moment, etched in memory but never to be felt in its beauty again.

In the same way, just as her life began in triumph, so too did it end. Her body, wrinkled and weathered, no longer was new. Her skin had been touched tenderly by her love; it had been stretched taught as life grew within her. It held the scars of a life lived well and at times, foolishly. Her eyes, so long ago white in their newness, were gray, but still held the light that had always danced when her lips turned up into a smile.

Her voice, once unheard of, had been heard of and never forgotten by those she passed by. She built up with that voice, she whispered love even when tears fell. She also hurt with that voice, sometimes intentionally and other times with deep regret. She clung to her words though. She adored them. Not only her own, but those around her, and conversation – words mixing with others, creating that beautiful sound every other noise paled in comparison to – was her favourite sound.

Her fingers no longer remained untouched. They had been tugged by little ones she had bore and ones she had loved as if they were her own. They had gathered her own tears; they had curled themselves around her in the moments she felt most alone. They had caressed, and they had held. That was what she was most proud of. That those plump, reddened fingers had been instruments of life in the broken places.

When she smiled, she was open and most herself. They were never dishonest smiles; they were the kind that revealed the heart behind them. If she was broken, the smile curled just the slightest up towards her eyes. If she felt the joy down to the tips of her toes, her smile was a doorway that let it all out so that it was no longer just hers. That smile, oh how it pointed to the one who gave it to her. It was always a mirror: of the one across from her, or the One above her.

The moment she entered the world, in that hospital room, she was merely a beginning. The day that she left this world, she was everything in between. She once was the one who held the world in her hand, but when she left, the world held her. It held her in the lives that she had been a part of, and it held her in the echoes of her laughter that wouldn’t be forgotten. It held her in the lives she had formed inside of her, and it held her with the words that filled journals and conversations and letters and cards. In the beginning she held; in the end, as breath left her lungs and Life left her side, the final brushstroke was completed.

A masterpiece, a life both beginning and ending in triumph.

In the Middle of a Walmart

When I walk into the store, I see her near the clothing section, making her way into the aisle. She spots me, and with one hand wrapped around a skirt and the other around her purse, her eyes follow me as I make my way towards her. She doesn’t say anything until I come close to her, and her face softens. “Ang,” she says, using the nickname she’s used for as long as I can remember. “You are so beautiful. Do you know that? You really are.”

I brush off my mom’s words, but she repeats them, emphasis in her tone this time. We change subjects and move through wardrobe options, and it isn’t until later, as I climb into my car and drive away from her, that I realize something about that moment. My mom has always been someone who uses her words to convey our worth. Our relationship has not been perfect, but she has never failed to remind me she loves me, to tell me how proud she is of me, or to tell me of my beauty. All of us kids have laughed when, out of the blue, she tells us in a time of silence, “Guys – I love you!” or when we receive a text message in the middle of the night reminding us how much she cares for us. We’ve taken her words for granted, I am afraid.

Three days ago, I am amidst a project for work, paint splattered across my hands and caked beneath my nails. My co worker sits across from me, and as we methodically work, we ask questions. Questions about family and loss and love. We talk about family dynamics and relationships. Conversations flow as does my paintbrush, up and down, finding the masterpiece hidden in the cardboard.

“What is the love that you wanted from him?” she asks me, her face soft and inquisitive. I’ve never been asked that question before. It shocks me to the core, and I look at her, as I had just laid bare the heartbreak that you sometimes carry from hoping for love and never receiving it. Of seeking it, doing your best to earn it, but it never being enough.

Of always feeling as if you weren’t enough.

And so I look at her, shocked at her question, but even more shocked that I do not know my answer.

And then, three days later, I do.

And I find the answer in an old box store called Walmart. I want to tell her, I know the love that I’ve always wanted. It’s the love you don’t always get from everyone, but when you do you cling to it. It’s the love that tells you you’re beautiful in the middle of a row of cheaply made cotton skirts. It’s the love that tells you you’re the best thing that’s happened to her at midnight when you’ve just finally fallen asleep. It’s the love that puts down the phone, looks across the table and says, “I miss you. I’m proud of you. And I love you.”

In the moments that that love finds you, it wraps you in grace and safety.

That’s the love I wanted. I still want. 

I might never receive it from him the way I wanted to. But I’ve got it. And I’ll cling to it, but only so that I can give it away, too. So that I can pour it back out and whisper I love you’s until they are imprinted on hearts and ringing in ears. I’ll whisper you’re beautiful’s until they’re the words that stare back at you in the mirror.

It’s the love that I want, and the love that I’ll give, too. Love that doesn’t let you go to sleep until I’ve told you you’re loved. The kind of love that sometimes find you, of all places, in the middle of a Walmart.

 

Be.

 

The wind was cold as it blew across my face, and I watched as my skates slid in between the slivers of ice below me. I made my hips move, side to side, as my body glided across the frozen surface below me, magically moving without lifting a foot.

The cold makes you feel alive. That’s what I thought as I moved in a circular motion around the ice. I watched as a father rubbed his child’s socked feet to bring them back to life. I watched as kids tumbled, over, and over again across the hard surface, finding their way onto their feet again. I watched as a couple delighted in each other as they held the child between their hands. I watched as redness slipped onto faces, the cold breathing life into pale, winter faces.

Amidst all of these thoughts, I slipped out my phone and I held it in front of me, capturing a shot to send out into the world that this moment was making me feel alive. That snapshot didn’t, though, and I realized that words would convey far more about this afternoon than any filtered, red-lipsticked photo ever would. Why is it so important for me to capture moments in a touched up, simply worded picture? Why can’t I just instead watch the world around me, feel the wind on my face and the frozen thighs that keep moving, and paint a picture in words instead?

And I think maybe it’s because, when we put down the phones, and we don’t live our lives through social media, and we actually stop to be where we are, it’s a hard place to be.

Because it requires something of us.

It requires our eyes, and it requires our heart, and it requires the giving of ourselves in exchange for something. It’s always something better. It might be a few tears for what we actually let ourselves see. It might be vulnerability in a moment we would rather filter through Instagram’s lens. It might be a swollen heart as we take in the feeling of our heart dancing or the way the stars make our mind wander to our Creator.

I sat on a couch in a house full of people, and I told him that my New Year’s resolution was to be more present. It really is. I want to learn to Be. I want to stop reaching for my cell phone to capture each moment for other’s to see. I want to drink in life’s beauty, letting it sink in so deep that I can’t help but let it change the way I see things. The way I feel things. The way I do things.

I want moments to be written across the pages of my heart, not captured in an perfectly edited photo.

If there is one thing that 2015 has taught me is that sometimes the greatest things are found in the messiness of life. They aren’t found in the easy days, or the conversations that skim the surface level because those don’t require much of you. Life is found in the messiness, in the overflowing emotions. It’s in the wrinkled shirt because you were too busy living life to stop iron it. Life is found in the imperfect house, in the moments you get sidetracked by people you never thought would walk into your life. Life is found in the heartache when you’re curled in a ball with tears drenching your pillow but you keep breathing a thank you because you’re so glad you know what it’s like to love and hurt and hope and risk. 

That’s where life is found.

And my New Year’s Resolution isn’t as much a promise as a whisper of encouragement to my soul: keep searching for it. Keep living it. Keep finding it.

Rain & Snow.

Rain.

I walked out of the door and into the soft drizzle. A melodic, spring-like rain in the middle of December. It should have been snow.

Snow.

Making everything new in its wild, beautiful way – but instead, it was rain. And it fell on my face and it mixed with my tears and I hated the way that in that moment, the world around me reflected the world inside of me.

I heard one thing on that drive home, as my hands mirrored the wiper blades and pushed away the unwanted tears. ‘Don’t be afraid of the darkness,’ the Rain said to me. ‘Don’t be afraid of the tears and afraid of the rain. Just walk into them. Let them do what they were meant to do.’

I let the tears run free.

I walked slowly in the rain to my door.

And sadness, when it’s felt, and it isn’t tiptoed around and avoided – somehow becomes a lot less scary.

Somehow it becomes a little more gray than black,

a tattered heard that not’s destroyed but in need of a mending.

And even though it’s rain in the middle of December, and there’s no snow to make things beautiful and whole again – somehow the rain does its job, the one it was always meant to do.

Standing Under the Clouds

Oh, friend.

I need to tell you something tonight. Bundled up in that thick duvet, a Kleenex box and Bible your companions for the night, I need to tell you something that you need to hear but probably don’t want to:

You need to stop letting fear tell you stories.

You know, the ones that you think you write the ending to. The ones where hope is lost, hearts are broken, and tears ensue.

Yeah, you know the ones. You think somehow, based on the past or your version of it, you can climb into the future and pick the disaster that is waiting for you. You need to learn to hope for yourself, friend. You need to hope. And believe. And stop letting fear take the pen to write those endings.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself here.

When you let fear take the pen, you let a whole host of other unwelcome friends visit: anxiety. High walls to keep vulnerability out. Words that tear you down instead of building yourself up.

And the truth is – when you hand fear that pen – you become your own worst enemy.

You need to let Love be your friend first. That’s the only way to stop listening to those stories fear tells you. You need to listen to the louder Voice: the one that hopes, that believes, that’s patient, that rejoices. Those might be pretty words friend, and you might wince at them because you’re still thinking fear makes more sense. But it’s just because you’re used to listening to his voice instead. Trust me. 

Stop going back. Stop listening. I know it’s second nature to you, and I know right now that voice seems loudest. But you haven’t given the others a chance. You haven’t let love speak louder, you’ve covered your ears. You haven’t given hope the chance to shine its face on you because you’ve been too busy standing under the clouds.

Stop standing under the clouds. Stop handing fear the pen. Stop writing the ends to stories you were never meant to touch. Some stories are written for you, friend. You are just meant to live them.

Yours,

a.