New Heart Day: Incision


That was the word I choked on as I tried to repeat the anesthesiologist's telephone report to my husband. It's a ridiculous word, one we don't usually use, one you're certainly not supposed to hear applied to your child. He'd called and asked me to repeat Josiah's birthdate to confirm my identity, and then calmly said, "The first incision was made at 10:01. Your next update is scheduled for 11:30." As if that were a normal thing to say, and the earth hadn't just stopped under my feet; as if I could breathe in a hospital cafeteria while my baby was cut open down the hall.

We'd all done well that morning; a 5:20 alarm urging us out of bed, packing bags, brushing teeth, letting the dog out.

It was the first day in a week that we'd had rain, and I nodded at the sympathetic sky.

In effort to avoid falling apart in a waiting room filled with curious eyes, we'd gathered to talk and pray and cry a bit in our own quiet living room before making the drive to Vanderbilt and starting the routine: Leave the car with the valet. Sign in. Repeat the birthdate a zillion times. Put on bracelets with his name on them. Wait to be called in, handed a hospital gown (he calls his dad from the bathroom to say, "how *does* this thing go on, anyway?"), then get in a bed and wait some more.

The staff was amazing. They asked Josiah about his plans for the fall and he said, "Africa. I'm going to Africa on a mission trip." We kept things light, and were all laughing as they rolled him away toward surgery at 8:30, already loopy on medication just starting to kick in.

My plan to get the crying part over at home had worked well, I thought.

Until that 10:02 call.

Remember what Simeon said to Mary, when she came to present the infant Jesus at the temple?

"And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." Luke 2:34-35

It is a great and grave thing to be a mother. I'd wondered if it might be like this; if I might feel the blade from the waiting room. I'd been taught these words of Simeon were a foreshadowing of the future; a warning to Mary of the pain she would go through at watching the crucifixion of Jesus. Now I believe it was more.

Now, especially, I think Mary, watching, felt in her soul the sword that pierced Christ's side as only a mother could.

It felt like a weight, an elephant, a pain in my chest unable to be resisted, forcing tears to the surface.

For the rest of the day, the calls came every hour and a half.

11:30 "Everything's going well. We're going on bypass now."

Ah yes. Now his heart has stopped beating; now blood is being pumped out of his body and chilled and sent back through the system but skipping the heart so that this amazing work can be done through a six inch incision.

I finger their names around my neck.

We try to eat lunch with minimal success, move from one room to another, waiting.

1:00 "We're getting to the nitty-gritty of the surgery now; the homograft is thawing and the doctor is preparing to sew it in."

His broken aortic valve is removed and set aside for research; his pulmonary valve is removed and then sewn in place of the aortic valve, and now, whose loss has been miraculously changed into gain on our behalf?

2:30 "Things are good, but when we went off bypass, we saw a slight leak so we had to go back onto bypass to repair it."

This should have been the call that the process was over. Instead we learn they've done this crazy thing of stopping and restarting his heart, not once, but twice, and it wasn't perfect, yet. I frown til the next call comes.

4:00 "Things look good. We're closing up now, and the doctor will come out and talk to you when he's done."

I breathe more deeply than I have in the past eight hours. The exhausted doctor meets us in the waiting room to report a job well finished; the leaks repaired, valves in place and an expected full recovery. He puts his hand out, and I hug him instead.

There is more waiting ahead; it's three hours before he's finally settled in his room in intensive care. I tell Rob I'm nervous, he says he's only excited, then proceeds to almost faint when we walk in the room and are confronted with tubes and wires and an IV pole that looks like it could power all of Nashville. There's something here for every function of his body, it seems, while it learns to live again.

Three hours later, twelve after the call that turned me into a poor copy of the sky, my baby returned to the world, opened his eyes.

They were watery, blinking, having a difficult time focusing under all the bright lights--just as they'd been as I watched them open seventeen years before. This time, they were beautifully deep brown rather than murky baby blue. It was like he'd come back to life, come back to us, and when I put my hand on his he moved his thumb over mine and squeezed. It was 10:02 pm, Wednesday, May 24th, 2017, and one of the best moments of my life.

The incision was closed.

This One with the Broken Heart

He first broke apart right under my heart, this one with the broken heart.

And there was nothing I could do about it.

We mamas, we are made to shelter. Our babes make their first homes in us before we are even aware, the date on the calendar known only to the One who wrote it in His own before the earth's first turn. Once they are not, and then the next moment they are, an invisible dot full of concentrated, particular potential. And then the dot expands, and each child grows, pushing organs aside and enlarging our ribs and causing our own hearts to expand in return, the blood pounding heavier in our very veins.

But first the breaking.

As a mama, I'm wired to surround and protect. We spend lifetimes building foundations of love, shaping and crafting outer walls of security, layering on roofs of understanding. We want our children shielded from all that could harm, and we're determined to build that shelter out of our very selves.

Yet each person begins as this split right down the middle. All human life, then, is built of breaking. One combination, and then hundreds, thousands of splittings--millions and billions over time. Every scraped knee accelerates the process, every new thing learned, and it doesn't stop until we die. We grow, not because our cells enlarge, but because they break.

He was born in our little house on a cloudy Monday morning after hours of erratic, irregular labor. We'd called the midwife to our home and then sent her away once already the day before, sent the kids away to a friend's and brought them back home again as hours ticked by with no baby. Finally, there was no question the day had come, but after many hours of labor, he still hadn't. It took all my strength and a word from his daddy to finally free him from a tangled cord wrapped around his neck and chest, ten pounds and two ounces wedging shoulders in tight. I'm not sure who cried hardest when it was all over, but a few hours later we all realized it wasn't.

We'd wrapped him in a blanket, wondered at his size, his deep blue eyes. Passed him brother to brother and back to mama. He'd nursed and slept, and everything looked good ... except the thermometer. He wasn't holding his temperature, no matter how we wrapped and snuggled him. And when he cried, his color looked off to me. Finally, we headed to the hospital knowing something was wrong and we had no idea what.  I didn't cry then until my best friend from high school called as we got into a hospital elevator and asked if I was okay.

I wasn't.

They weren't quite sure what to do with us since he hadn't been born in the hospital, and when it was obvious to everyone I wasn't letting this baby out of my arms they finally tucked us into a children's room where I could climb into the bed, though he was the patient. Doctors flurried in and out looking at this and that, running this test and the next. Tests finally showed what was going on; the hole between the chambers of his heart had not yet closed. It happened occasionally, and they expected it would close on its own in the next day or two.

But there was something else on the ultrasound that we would have missed otherwise and maybe never known: he had a bicuspid aortic valve. Normally three leaflets, his was made up of two. It appeared to be functioning well, but the cardiologist explained that one day, it wouldn't. He couldn't tell us whether we'd be back in two weeks or fifty years, but at some point, that valve would give out. We'd need to monitor it weekly and then monthly for awhile so we'd know when the deterioration began and replace it before that giving out happened.

Two weeks after he was diagnosed, the valve currently in use as a replacement in newborns was recalled. Apparently, it had a tendency to stick shut. My own heart stumbled over the words. Because what do you do when the thing you've used to fix your baby's heart sticks right shut?

The hole closed on its own within the first 24 hours, we brought our perfect baby with the hidden broken home, and God and I began wrestling. What on earth was this about? Why was this happening? And what on earth was I supposed to do about it? Because if there was something to be done, I was going to do it. I was on a hunt for answers, and I wanted them now.

Most of the wrestling matches took place late at night and early in the mornings, coffee on the table and open Bible and often Josiah himself on my lap. The first clue came from a passage in Exodus chapter four. After being called to speak to go back to Egypt and plead with Pharaoh for the release of his people, Moses argues with the Lord about that calling ...

“Please, Lord, I’m not eloquent. I never was in the past nor am I now since you spoke to your servant. In fact, I talk too slowly and I have a speech impediment.” Then God asked him, “Who gives a person a mouth? Who makes him unable to speak, or deaf, or able to see, or blind, or lame? Is it not I, the Lord?"

I unraveled a little. Because I'd been looking for someone to blame.

What had happened? Was it the devil who had gotten in somehow and caused this problem? He'd certainly be the convenient one to pin the problem on.

But here in Exodus, God upset that idea. Right here He took ownership of the situation, reminding me that He was the One who had made Josiah. Which could mean only one thing ... this broken heart in my precious baby? He'd made it that way. 

Deep breath.

So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?"
Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life"  John 6:67-68

There was nowhere else to go, so we'd have to get through this together.

Somehow brought to my attention next came the story in John 9, where Jesus heals a man who was blind.

"His disciples asked Him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?'" Looks like I'm not the only one looking for a place to lay blame. Jesus replies... "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:2-3).

All right; so God also would get glory somehow from this situation. That was a bit easier to get my head and heart around; light at the end of this tunnel. Every week we brought him in and the doctors stuck the monitors onto his little chest, passed the monitor over a baby ribcage throwing pictures onto the screen, and told us what we could see without them--Josiah was doing fine; this broken valve looking strange but functioning perfectly.

Finally, I went back and read the scriptures which had given our Josiah his name; the ones about Josiah the long-ago king of Israel. Their words described him like this: King Josiah “walked before the Lord with his whole heart.” That's what we wanted: I told the Lord that obviously, Josiah would have to HAVE a whole heart in order to walk before God with it, so that was what we would believe for.

And so we have. Eventually the visits were stretched to every two weeks, then once a month, and for many years we only made an annual trek to the hospital. His heart continued to work well without surgery, without medication, without any of the expected interventions.

Until about two years ago, when things began to change.

Fifteen years had gone by since we were first told a breakdown of the valve was inevitable, and one day he began to have some chest pain. Over the next few weeks and months, occasionally his heart would pound hard, and exercising could make him a bit light headed. We found his blood pressure had started to go up. Doctors frowned at the screens during his checkups, noting some leakage of the valve, a bit of bulging of the aorta itself. "Aortic insufficiency," they called it, and called for an MRI. Six months later, numbers showed progression of both issues, plus an enlarging left ventricle. Our recent move brings us to Tennessee, to Vanderbilt and a new doctor, and someday has finally become an actual date on the calendar.

We're not really ready. I wonder if it's possible to be prepared for such an unnatural thing?

How's a mama desperate to shelter supposed to wrap her mind around knowing her child is literally being built of a zillion tiny breakings she can't even see?

My baby towers over me now, and confides that he's anxious mostly to have it over with, and I can relate to that. To have had this hanging over his head for many years has been a weight I understand only from a distance.

And so the unimaginable imagined is about to happen. We'll report for pre-op on Tuesday morning, May 23rd, and I suppose they'll tell us then all the details we've heard from far away and tried not to pay too much attention to. We're still watching for a creative miracle as I know God is capable of showing off. However, if that's not the story God's writing here, surgery is expected to be an all-day affair May 24th, with two or three days in ICU and a few more on the cardiac floor to follow, probably a week total, before they send us home for several weeks of quiet recovery.

I still wonder if I'll feel the blade from the waiting room.

"It's not that your heart isn't going to break; it's how you let the brokenness be made into abundance afterward." ~Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

And so, we wait a couple weeks to be broken and remade. The calendar is thankfully full of events competing for our attention; we've had graduation and there's a dance recital for his sister this weekend, and then we'll all escape to Florida to dip toes in the sand and splash in the ocean, squeezing in a week of vacation and one last bit of hyper fun at the cusp of summer so we don't lose all of the season to recovery. 

If you think of us, we would certainly appreciate your prayers. And if you see me, you might remind this mama to breathe. And to keep watching for the glory I know must be coming.

"God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" Numbers 23:19

Pray that our Josiah comes out of this experience with a truly whole heart. And that my own would expand in the breaking.


What's in Your Hand this Easter week?

The Story is loud this week.

You can't really escape it, and no one bothers denying that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was crucified one Passover some 2,000 years ago.

The only thing in question is, will you wave a palm frond or a hammer?

If you turn your nose up at Him; turn away to yourself, your intellect, your addiction, whatever "god" you've made for yourself-- be assured, we all worship something-- the hammer's in your hand. The problem is, you may have killed Him but you leave yourself still in need of saving, because nothing and no one else can ever do the trick. The responsibility and guilt for all your flaws and failings remains on your shoulders.

It's no wonder so many of us are tired.

This Easter season, would you consider again the story of Jesus? Would you ponder the stories you heard as a child, the stories that have compelled millions to find shelter in His sacrifice, the normal people turned saints through no good works of their own, who have been freed from the unbearable weight of sin and guilt and the desperate loneliness of thinking themselves some individual cosmic mistake?

Would you look deep into the life of this Christ who weeps, and find yourself there; Him longing to bring you home?

Beauty from Ugliness

At the end of last year, this meme was going around. 

Last year seemed to be more than a little rough for most people I talked to.  There were lots of people with cancer diagnoses and other sicknesses, some marriages and other relationships crumbled, celebrities (and loved ones) died, and let’s not even mention the political season.

As we entered 2017, so many people around me breathed a sigh of relief to be starting fresh in a new year. Sadly, depending on who you ask, 2017 hasn’t shown much improvement so far. This New Year was born screaming -  and appears to be colicky. What if this year is no better than the last? What if it’s worse? How much of this can I take?

Tired of my griping, I sat with a friend of mine and nearly wailed, “I don’t want to be so negative!  How can I be joyful when there’s so much ugliness and grief?” And my friend very gently said, “You have to go search for it!” And, she’s so right!

We used to say we live in a fallen world with only a slight shrug. Now, it seems, we say it with the same resignation as a cancer diagnosis. Ever since the first sin, this world is bent towards pain, ugliness, and destruction. Maybe we’re just becoming more aware of that ugliness. But as those who belong to God, our focus doesn’t need to be so downcast. We look towards Christ who conquered the world; and not just the ancient world, but every desperate hopeless point in history from then through now and on to when He comes again. We need to keep our focus on Him and not on the world. How can we do that when things seem so bleak? This is what Paul said that we should do: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Let’s think about times when God turned ugly situations into something beautiful. When the sin on earth became so bad that God decided to send a flood to wipe out the majority of mankind, it was a beautiful rainbow that He chose to show Noah and his family to remind them of His promise. When mothers go through the pain of bringing life into this world, they have the sweetness of a baby at the end of their very literal labors. We’re constantly told that things will be hard for us here, but at the end there will be rest. (And to this mama, rest is a beautiful, beautiful thing.)

Since we will go through trials and troubles, is it okay to be upset? I think so.  Jesus Himself got distressed, but He remained focused on the Father. But the Bible says to “take every thought captive to be obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) This isn’t a command for God, but for US. God desires that we not be burdened by things here on earth, and focusing on the negative, ugliness of this world takes away from the salvation that God has already given us.

So, give yourself time – A few minutes?  A few days? A year? --every situation is different--to feel the pain of a situation.  But be sure to turn these thoughts back to God, who is always ready to turn our mourning into dancing. (Psalm 30:11) There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)  But joy doesn’t come while we cross our arms at it and scowl, daring it to be as bad as the night before. 

Regardless of the circumstances, we are called to see and to be the beauty in them. Either the beauty of gratitude, the beauty of being a blessing, or the beauty that God will bring out of the situation.

How might reminding yourself that beauty is coming change your own bad days?


She cried when she told the story, and we listeners, we cried, too. She'd had a discussion with her sweet preteen son, who struggled with learning differences, and what he'd said cracked hearts wide open around the room ...

"Mama, it's hard when I'm with other kids.  I never say the right thing, and I'm not sure anyone likes me. I'm so glad you listen to me and know me.  Really, you're my best friend."

Could there be a greater compliment?

They're a mystery sometimes, these bundles of joy who so quickly wriggle out of their wraps and take off running into the sunset.  Each child is a complex combination of talents, personality, learning strengths and weaknesses, interests, preferences ... the list goes on and on. Each is singular, unique, different.

Some seem more different than others.

Those of us raising children who struggle with particular brands of outside-the-box-ness so often feel alone. We know mental illnesses exist, and yet they still tend to carry a bit of a stigma, as if a diagnosis implies we've done something wrong, somehow.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sally Clarkson writes, "I did not have all the resources available now to understand his (Nathan's) differences. I mostly had a lot of critics who made me feel like a failure as a mom."

Sally and Nathan Clarkson know this fight from the inside--the fight to not only define but embrace differences; to find the help necessary to tame the harsh edges that so often cut on both sides, to encourage rather than give up in frustration as a parent trying to train a child in the way he should go.  This book is a window into their own struggle, and also an invitation to enter into our own more fully.

After years of studying Nathan, listening to him, finding ways to reach his precious heart, they finally had their list of letters--OCD, ADHD, ODD, plus a handful of learning issues and of course his own personality!  But every person is, of course, much more than a list of letters. Sally writes,

"Our boy was not a diagnosis.  Not a problem to be solved nor a disorder to be fixed. He was a child to be guided and trained and gloried in. And Nathan's differences--yes, even the ones which sometimes exasperated him and us--were, like Nathan himself, also part of the gift he is to the world and to us." 

If you're the parent of an outside-the-box child, the wife of an outside-the-box husband, a friend to another mama who's parenting an outside-the-box son or daughter--or even if the outside-the-box one is the face looking back at you from the mirror--I believe this book will bring insight, encouragement, and inspiration. Find it at .

Of Words, Brokenness, Thanksgiving, and Jehovah-Jireh

I run into her as I turn tail and head for a quiet corner, me a guest so grateful to be invited to this space where I know only my hosts and they within community have many relationships to warm themselves by, anxious to be out of the way and breathe a bit, this introvert wishing for the superhero trick of invisibility once again.  Lanier Ivester is as lovely as her unique name portends, and when we find ourselves face to face in the theatre aisle which is my only path to a quiet corner she says hello, graciously inviting me into this circle which belongs to her, too, though I don't know it yet and hadn't heard of her work before (so grateful I have, now--find Lanier here).  We circle, trading bits of our stories and selves, and looking back it's easy to see what we're doing, this dance old as the hills in my imagination, taking turns revealing ourselves, trying to see if any of our pieces match: we learn we are both writers; she tends goats and chickens on a farm and I miss the ones we had years ago; we both love England, though she from actual memory and I from afar.  Somehow the conversation turns to the difficulties found in writing, or not writing, or wrestling words to the page or whatever it is we call this thing we do (or more often, don't do) and suddenly I am telling secrets, things I hadn't even said to myself though I'd pondered them many times.

I tell her how I love words but they feel scarce to me; how so many race through my mind in a day I seldom find time to catch and write them down and yet I'm sure there must be a limit to them somehow.   Deep down I'm afraid there's no way I have more than a few good stories to share, a few good ideas happened upon, a few things to say worth anyone's time to read, that there's a quota and I'll quickly reach the end of mine.  So perhaps the truth is that it's not merely a matter of all the *things* in the way of me actually writing--not just the kids and laundry and cooking begging doing--maybe I'm guarding my words jealously, hoarding ideas, afraid I'll be poorer for the pouring.  She smiles and nods. I'm not alone, its seems, and I'm grateful as I walk away thinking I've found a new soul- friend.

Our church congregation took communion this past Sunday as we do every week, and as I stood in the crowd sharing this deep remembering and looking forward to Thanksgiving, the words washed over me again ... "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them (Mark 14:22-24). And the place Paul looks back and instructs the church ... "the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;  and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes." (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Do this in remembrance of Me ... whenever you eat this bread and drink the cup.  When I read these words I can't help but believe that He was commanding more than ten minutes during a formal church service. The disciples, after all, were gathered in a candlelit upper room, feet freshly washed, reclining before a table laden with food, as they had done many other nights and would do many more nights in the future.  "Whenever you eat this bread."  How often do we eat bread? To me this statement expresses Jesus' intention for us that every meal is to be a reminder.  Not just the nibble and sip at church, but every. single. time.  Every time we gather to be nourished around a table, we are to remember.

Because we are prone to forget.

Ann Voskamp's new book, The Broken Way, reminds us of what happened in that room.  Jesus gave thanks, and then He broke the bread so He could pass the pieces around. She reminds us that brokenness is an imperative step in the process--His as well as ours; that brokenness is the common thread of the human condition and if embraced and entered into wholeheartedly, a key to the healing of our world--just as Jesus intended. This passage left me undone ...

"In His last hours, in His abandonment, Jesus doesn't look for comfort or try to shield Himself against the rejection; He breaks the temptation to self-protect--and gives the vulnerability of Himself.  In the sharp edge of grief, Jesus doesn't look for something to fill the broken and alone places; He takes and gives thanks--and then does the most counter-cultural thing: He doesn't keep or hoard or hold on--but breaks and gives away. In the midst of intimate betrayal, He doesn't defend or drown Himself in addicting distractions; He breaks and is given--He gives His life. Because what else is life-giving?"

He doesn't keep or hoard or hold on--but breaks and gives away. There's a lesson in there for me.

A lesson for all of us, perhaps, this Thanksgiving, as we gather around tables nationwide, with family and friends and neighbors who are themselves broken because they are human, who have perhaps broken us for the same reason ... to have the best and truest Thanksgiving doesn't require the best hospitality, the best china, the best recipes, the best decor, but a willingness to break open and give.  Because this is how we remember best; the way we honor His broken -and -given -ness; by resisting the fear that we will run out.  By denying the enemy's lie that our time, our love, our talents, our bread are limited--because we have come to know ours may very well be but His are not, and He has given us all things, swung the doors of heaven and the storehouses wide.  Jesus has passed the broken pieces of Himself, His very body, round a table as big as the world for thousands of years and there is still more, always more, always enough.


Longing for the Shore (Or, Life on the Sea)

When she took her life, mine flew off the rails with it.

Of course, she didn't mean for that to happen. Wasn't thinking about anyone else or anything but the pain that had grown too big for her to bear, somehow; at least that's how I imagine what must have happened the day our landlady taped a note to her door and ended the existence grown too heavy to bear.  I sat with her friends and family a few weeks later, souls all stunned and broken a bit, wounded by her wounding in ways they'll never quite shake, and wondered, If she had any idea how many people felt so glad about her life and mourned the loss of it so much, would she have thrown it away?

It's a question that will, of course, go unanswered. I have to shake my head when people nod wisely, as if they understand exactly what led to such a desperate decision--or what follows it.  I know God is gracious, know the Good Shepherd doesn't lose a sheep, know He loves life and know we are trusted with guarding this Imago Dei and there's nothing the enemy would love more than to snuff out that image which must shout with every breath of his own imminent final defeat.  But that is all I presume to know in the face of such mystery.  I am grateful I'm not the one in charge, and I don't have to have answers. 

The ones left behind, we let go of balloons her favorite color and they rush away from us into the clouds.

In the wake of this tragedy, the house we loved had to be sold, nullifying what would have been our second two-year lease. So in the past two months, our family has been uprooted from the place we loved; the place I'd declared, "I could live the rest of my life in this sweet town!" the place we wrapped and carried our first grandbaby to the park to listen to concerts every Friday night; where our second son married his lovely bride in the backyard amidst roses and lights; where we had neighbors who popped over with cookies and donuts and sometimes gathered with wine and music in the grass for no reason at all; where our best friends were there for crises and joys both small and great; where the kids finally had sweet "neighborhood friends" and could barely be found for their constant playing outside; where the weather was somehow perfect and the mountains that had called to me all my life loomed majestic; where summer meant too many trips to the ice cream store just two blocks off; where winter meant twinkling lights in all the trees downtown and piles of glittering snow and horses blowing puffs of warmed smoke from their nostrils as they pulled carriages down our street.

Had to pack up and pick up and go, had to leave all we loved there; and it all started because the lie of the sea became too much for our friend. 


I don't blame her, certainly.  And I know God is orchestrating my life and is the Conductor of this symphony and everything comes filtered through His hands. Neither of those knowings, though, are making any of this any easier, this tearing away from all we knew and wanted so much to keep knowing. The day we drove away and so many people I loved and this wonderful place were left behind felt like having part of my soul torn away, roots pulled raw from the ground, dirt still clinging, broken pieces left exposed to the drying harshness of the air. 

The truth is, life is hard to hang onto, sometimes.  Wild and unpredictable, as if we are unwitting passengers on some sort of sketchy, barely-sea-worthy vessel in an unending, ever-changing ocean which can throw us about like so many rag dolls on its tumultuous waves, threatening to pull us right under its salty depths some days.  My legs, so unsteady, tell me I'm not made for the roiling deep; I'd prefer land, thank you very much, but as that isn't possible, it certainly would be nice if we could have more sunny and calm days out here. Because there are those, too; brief days, it seems, when things go our way and we look out to a horizon full of diamonds on the water, playing hide and seek with the sun, and lie down on the deck to be rocked to sleep, that sun's penetrating heat soothing our very souls right through.

Maybe that's the problem: on the stormy days, all we can feel is the sea. It presses, insisting it's the only reality, that nothing else exists.  Below us, tossing us where we don't want to go; above us, rain bearing down; all around us, soaking our clothes and our skin and our souls with its brine, making us believe the sun has abandoned us and will never reappear; that we are doomed to the waves trying to take us under.  The stormy days hide the sun behind the sea which has taken up residence in the sky, salty clouds blotting it right out 'til we wonder if we ever saw a sun before at all; was it only our imagination that we remember once feeling warm, feeling safe, feeling still and able to see something besides all this water threatening to bury all we know?

And something within us, longing for the peace of a calm, storm-free day.

We are people living on the sea, longing for the shore.

I want to go home.

We read it in Genesis, the explanation: we are a people displaced.  We were meant for the garden, meant to have feet and hands in the dirt we were birthed from, walking with the One who made us. We read that our great-great-great-parents rejected that authority,  preferred to hold the position for themselves (just as we would have--just as we do) and so we have all been launched onto the water, too often tossed and overwhelmed by the sea. 

The feeling of being stuck in a place we don't belong, it stokes our unsettledness; we are not yet at home, though we're not sure we can explain what we mean when we say that.  But somehow, there's enough knowing to unearth a longing.

C.S. Lewis said this:

"If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world."

Maybe that's why home is so hard to find.

We filled boxes with books and dishes and clothes and our calendar with last-minute must-dos ...  and cried. A lot. All that brine so full it spilled right through our pores.

One last trip to the groomers (and Starbucks next door), one last gathering with friends, one last neighborly hug, one last deep breath as I squeezed my sweet grandbaby and clung for one last moment to the kids staying behind ... and then by sheer force of will and desperation we let go and drove away, bits of our hearts surely clattering noisily to the ground in the wake of the moving truck.  I wondered that the sky didn't open right up.

The clouds rolled dark even though the sun was shining, salt rolled down, and the road swam under me, this sea tossing all I hold dear two different directions, a shattering loss we weren't ready for. 

My son says the Brazilians have a word for what we're feeling: Saudade.  It's Portuguese and means "the physical ache of missing someone." Exactly.  If I've felt it before, I've never felt it quite like this.

This breaking, this ache, this longing for the shore. 

It's a Beautiful Life. That's a Statement of Defiance.

There are crimson roses in the front yard and glistening rainbows in the dishwashing bubbles.  My nine year old wanted to hold hands most of the time we spent at the zoo today.  A tower of multi-colored vegetables lends jewel tones to my counter, ruby strawberries topped gaily with green caps nestle in the fridge, and on our drive home tonight there were beams of light shooting down from the sky into the mountains that I'd swear you could climb straight to heaven.

Life is beautiful.  But that's not all it is.

The truth is, I am grateful so many pieces of life are so beautiful especially because of all the parts of it that just ... aren't.  Each one of us lives a kaleidoscope of color and light, darkness and shadow, and the crazy thing is that most moments are wildly layered concoctions of both.

The end of the school year found my family spinning, a crash unlike any I could have predicted or expected, leaving me desperate for answers and absolutely unsure we'd ever find any.  Weeks later I'm no closer to pulling in all the loose pieces, and to be truly honest (is that a thing we can be, here?) there have been many days I'd have liked to stay in bed (and a few afternoons I did spend an hour or two of retreat with a pillow and puffy comforter.) 

And here's what I know ... I'm not alone.  It's a big world and it's all broken, which means others of you must be hurting, too.  Faithful friends have listened and prayed for me, held my arms up, pointed out the beautiful pieces in the piles of shards.  Might I step into that place for you, today, friend?

The writer of Ecclesiastes was said to be the wisest man who ever lived.  After years of study and exploring many philosophies and ways of life, he said this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”~ Ecc. 1:2 (NIV)

Well, then.  That's helpful ... not!  I'm so glad these words are in my Bible!  The BIBLE, y'all.  When you're down or things feel dark, when you feel like you want to hide in a pile of pillows or all the towels you've thrown in, you can know this: you're not the first one to feel that way.  Solomon said it long before you cried out from your own tile floor, from behind the bathroom door, from the open window as you sped down a flat stretch of highway.

What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. ~ Ecc. 2:22-23

I don't know about you, but when the piles pile too high and start toppling over, I'm so tempted to believe that it's all been meaningless.  The enemy slithers, whispers, shouts, "Your work has meant nothing.  These situations are awful and will never change.  This is hopeless and you have wasted your life."

He's a liar.

I'm grateful to live on the other side of the cross from Solomon. 

Grateful to be one of the Sunday morning people, the ones who know darkness is part of the rhythm of life and seeds only grow after they've been shoved down, down, down, into dark dirt that has been cut open and tilled apart, the seed unable to breathe and then covered til there's nothing but seemingly endless dark between seed and sun.

We want life to be at least somewhat fair, don't we? Want things to add up, to make sense.  We want all our effort to produce something and we want that production to happen NOW.  When it doesn't work quite that way, we wobble.  Solomon wrote the truth about the way things often occur instead ...

The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.~ Ecc. 9:11

Time and chance.

And yet ...

There's an applesauce cake cooling on the counter, ready for tomorrow's first-week-of-summer breakfast.  The sun will rise and new blossoms will open.  Bubbles will glisten in the dishwater before the dirtied water runs down, down the pipes.

And we will begin again.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

     a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
     a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
     a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
     a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
     a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace. ~Ecc. 3:1-8

It's a beautiful life, even though it doesn't always look that way.

Let's make a deal, shall we?  You point out the mountain climbing light-ladders to me, and I'll point the breaking-through leaflets busting through dirt out to you.  Let's look the ugliness in the face and declare "It's a beautiful life."  It's a statement of defiance.  Let's point to a ram caught in a thicket and an empty tomb and a Prince riding on a white horse to bring us home and let's declare that in the end, He will make all things new--

He has made everything beautiful in its time. ~ Ecc. 3:11

If it's not beautiful, it's not over.  Hold on--dawn is coming.

~ Praying for you and watching for the sunrise,


When Communion Surprises

Church has felt very ... personal these past few weeks.

Situations that have made my desperate need of the gospel so clear; family difficulties and disappointments that have wrung my heart hard; watching the book of Acts translated to dialogue and music and dance played out by our local teens in homeschool co-op; walking through the events of Holy Week and the joy of Easter ... Everything is striking a heart already raw, and I find myself often in tears at the very immensity of the story; our story, the Gospel.

But last night, communion? It surprised me.

I've received bread and wine many, many times over the years, of course.  I try to breathe deep, to stop, to still, to ponder.  But last night, as all of life's distractions whirled insistently and I put the cracker into my mouth and the whole church bit down--

How often have I bit down with my mouth, crushing His body?

It brought me up short, froze my mouth right at the moment the bread broke into pieces, tears filling my eyes once again.

Proverbs 14:1 tells us, "The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands."  This is such a powerful verse, and I've often thought it needed a parallel one that used the word "mouth" in place of hands.  How often have you heard a woman do that?  How often have we been women doing that--tearing down our homes with our mouths? 

When we do it, we crush the body of Jesus, right between our teeth.

Lord, help us.

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:14-15


Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.~Prov. 18:21

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. ~Eph. 4:29

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. ~Matt. 15:18

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak... ~Matt. 12:36

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. ~Jas 1:26

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! ~ Jas. 3:1-12

Well, then.

I am grateful that Jesus body *has been* crushed; that He has already paid the price for my thoughtless, hurtful, rash words.  I am also incredibly grateful that His payment was not merely for my sins but for sin, and that He therefore is capable of working in my heart and helping me change! 

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.  ~ Prov. 16:24

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. ~ Prov. 25:11

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. ~Prov. 16:23-24


This is my prayer today: "Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!" (Ps. 141:3) And make this true of me, Lord--"She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" (Prov. 31:26).

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. ~Ps. 19:14


Can You Hold On Until They Let Go?

Always let them let go first. 

I read that somewhere.  Always let your children let go of you first, because you never know what they might be needing.  It was profound for me when I first read it, and it’s cutting edge hasn’t dulled over the hundred (or so) times I’ve whispered it to myself as the closeness began to linger.  In a harsh reality, I believe that time is sharpening those edges as it bears down, honing that response in me, especially knowing that my nature is to pull away. 

There are those days when my time has no moments for solitude and I have to tell myself to love close.  I know these moments of needing and wanting and just loving out of joy will wane, become fewer and fewer as the days wear away and I don’t want to miss a single second of his heart to my heart, but oh, does it cut on some days. 

Why does it seem so hard to do the all-in love some days? 

And yet, because we love our babies of every age, our hearts on the outside, we do it… We sacrifice for them.    

Sacrifice…  an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.  We sacrifice because we know their hearts are of eternal significance to their Father, because we love them more than we love ourselves, and that is a worthy, worthy cause. 

But really, sometimes it just doesn’t feel good and that thought feels worse, and sometimes, I’m just spent.

You see, I have this son.  By grace, He has been given this ability to really, deeply love me.  The me that is the most unlovable at times and the me that has been harsh with his heart over the years, and the me that is just often at a loss for how to love him best.   He forgives it all, even before the request has left my lips, and reaches again for my heart and my love and my approval. 

His nature is not to push away. 

His nature is to draw close… And though sometimes it is a sacrifice, I try to fully give myself in each moment of his hugs that push in, trying to get all the way inside, because I know it is there that he knows true love, true acceptance, true comfort.  I know, too ... this is, I am, his first picture of Jesus.  The One who loves without end or fail, who bears, believes, hopes and endures, the One that keeps no record of wrongs and rejoices in righteousness (1 Corinthians 13), the One that shows us that there is no greater expression of Love than to lay down one’s own life for someone (John 15:13). 

I want my loves to trust. .. 

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.  Isaiah 43:2

And my sweet boy will learn best if he can live it first.  He needs to live it where he can be held and hold on, until that satisfied breath that tells the story of peace leaves both of us; as often as he needs it. 

So I will continue to hold on just as tightly and for just a moment longer than he does, and to whisper my I love you’s into his ear, even though my heart and voice might break a bit, because I know that time is short; there are only so many more summers, and late nights, and breaths that we will share in his childhood...  Only so many more moments that I can point him to the One that will keep him forever.  That is worth the sacrifice of my comfort zone, my time, my patience, my own insecurity, and my heart

So mama, can you hold on until they let go?  

I know that you can...

Because He told me that you can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens you (Phil. 4:13) and that Love NEVER fails (1 Cor. 1:8).

Keep holding on.

 Many Blessings,


A lesson from Psalms ... and turtles

Ever since I went on a mom's retreat this weekend, my mind and heart have been focused on mothering, and all that word includes. This morning, my Psalms reading from the Book of Common Prayer took on a different meaning than I'd seen before.

"Mom-ing" is HARD. It is exhausting. Many days it feels like they suck all that is good right out of me, y'all. But it is MY CALLING. They are my mission field. So...

Psalm 62

1 Truly my soul finds rest in God;
    my salvation comes from him.
2 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

3 How long will you (my children) assault me?
    Would all of you(my children)  throw me down—
    this leaning wall, this tottering fence? (as a mother)
4 Surely they(my children) intend to topple me
    from my lofty place;
    they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,

    but in their hearts they curse.

5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
6 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
8 Trust in him at all times, you people (mothers);
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.

Do you ever feel that your sweet children are assaulting you? Well, physically, hopefully not, but spiritually and emotionally? YES. As moms we are trying to be a wall, a fence, between them and the things of this world. And so often we feel are "tottering", about to crash down. I know. I KNOW. But God has a plan. He has the answer. It comes right before AND after those rough verses! He has SURROUNDED us in His promises! My soul, my soul, can find REST in Him. Trust in Him at all times, and pour out your hearts to Him. And He will be your refuge.

I love object lessons. I loved them in Children's Church when I was growing up. I love doing them now with my kids. I love how concrete things that seem simple can teach us real spiritual truths. And this very morning, after I read this, I experienced one.

I was driving my teen to a rehearsal, and the car opposite me on a two lane road was stopped. The lady inside hopped out and ran right into the street in front of me. Thankfully we weren't going very fast to begin with, so I quickly stopped, which is when I noticed a turtle hanging out in the street, right in the middle of my lane! She gingerly picked up the little guy and began carrying him to safety.

He, in turn, started to pee. Projectile peeing, right at her. I giggled as she stretched out her hands and continued walking him to safety. As this was going on, other cars stuck behind us started honking, angry that they were being inconvenienced. As she ran past me, I shouted, "That was AWESOME!"- and she gave me a quick thumbs up.

Driving away, the parental object lesson hit me like a ton of bricks. Sometimes we need to run right out in traffic to be that wall, that fence for our children. And they won't like it. Like the verses above say, they curse us in their hearts. They figuratively "pee" all over us, right when we are trying to get them out of danger! It is tough. Many moms have been in a position just like this. The community around you may start honking at you. Why are you taking all this time, this energy, to save one who appears not to appreciate it at the time?

Can't they see what you are doing? Maybe not, but God does. And sometimes, other moms do too. So, when you see another precious mom in the traffic, yell it out-- "GREAT job!" I can tell you, she will appreciate it. That might be all the encouragement she needs--and it may be all she gets until heaven when she hears, "Well, done, my good and faithful servant."

Kirstyn Wright

On Keeping the Sabbath....while being a MOM.

This past week I taught some 2nd grade boys about "Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy". In researching ways to make this concept applicable to young boys, I learned a lot. And then, just yesterday, I learned a little lesson about it myself...

I love Sunday afternoons. I nap. Almost every week. I take that "day of rest" idea LITERALLY. As a mom of 6, it's usually my BEST sleep of the whole week. Those few hours after Sunday lunch, before evening service are a haven to me. I close the blackout curtains in my bedroom, snuggle with my pillows and blankets, and whisper a little "Hallelujah!" before I drift off. Sabbath activity complete.

With my Bible class, we learned about how God demonstrated the idea of a day of rest, a Sabbath, even before He gave the Israelites the commandment. He rested after the 6 days of creation. Now, I do not think that the act of creation was "work" for God, and that He *needed* the rest. After all, He just SPOKE it all into existence, right? That is how powerful His words are! He was demonstrating in that day of rest, that WE need it. Then, when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, and He supplied the manna for them, He also gave them a Sabbath from collecting their food. This again was before He gave the 10 Commandments, with Commandment 4 of "Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy."

We learned about the Old Testament consequences of not keeping the Sabbath, and how later the Pharisees took that very seriously, eventually trying to trap Jesus, in Matthew 12 and Luke 13, when He healed on the Sabbath.  Jesus said, " It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

We talked together about how "keeping the Sabbath" for us might look a little different. It is all about a change in emphasis, in perspective, on that day. It is to be "Holy", which means "set apart". How can we "set apart" this day so that our focus is on the Lord? We brainstormed ideas such as writing letters to missionaries, having worship music on in the home, making a picture of your blessings, Bible journaling, collecting old toys to donate or sell to raise money for Missions, etc...

The day should look and feel different from a perspective point of view, not just different because I get to take that blessed nap.

So enter yesterday...Super Bowl Sunday. I did get a little nap in, so yes, that was awesome. But when I woke up, I was informed that my husband had invited my parents over for the Super Bowl. I had sort of been looking forward to staying in yoga pants and digitally scrapbooking ALL evening. After all, there was no Sunday night service, which meant I did not have to go teach Children's Choir! I was getting an evening to do whatever I wanted! But now, I looked around my trashed home, dirty bathrooms and kitchen, and realized that my fantasy evening was dying. It's not that I don't enjoy having my parents over (in case you are reading, Mom), it's just not what "I" had planned for my DAY OF REST, y'all! So, I started cleaning furiously, simultaneously  starting to cook for the festivities. I was running back and forth from the kitchen to other rooms, and all the while having a VERY BAD ATTITUDE. My husband was literally lying on the couch watching TV as I was doing EVERYTHING. I was glaring at him at each pass. Of course, He didn't notice. I was thinking how awesome it must be to be a guy on Super Bowl Sunday.

Then I remembered what Jesus said to those Pharisees. "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." It is GOOD for me to serve my family. It is GOOD for me to make their fun evening enjoyable by cooking their favorite snacks and desserts. It is GOOD for precious memories to be made watching the Super Bowl with grandparents. It is GOOD for me to more hospitable. It is GOOD for me to serve them with a smile and not a bad attitude. THIS is my ministry, my everyday mission field of eternal souls.

So sometimes, as a mom, my Sabbath may not be a literal day of rest, but if it is truly about my perspective, and serving the Lord as He wants me to, then in my service, I can certainly make it Holy. 

Bone Dry

It’s 4 AM.  My 2 year old toddles into my bedroom whimpering slightly.  “Mommy, my ear is hurting,” he says. He has a fever, and I sigh. After some ear-numbing drops, a dose of ibuprofen, and a few snuggles, he’s feeling well enough to go back to bed.  And I trip back to my bed as well.

It’s been a rough season of sickness in our family.  Our family vacation in October was cut short by a baby with a stomach bug. The week of Thanksgiving was completely hijacked by another stomach virus that hit nearly everyone in our family.  And, now it’s just past Christmas.  We’ve traded a cold, accompanied by a nasty cough, between the members of our family for over a week, and it’s developed into ear infections in two of my five children.

And I’m tired. Physically tired.

I don’t think I’ve had a full night’s sleep in a month after getting up with children who are ill and uncomfortable at night.

It has also been a season of paring in my life.  Dear friends have moved away recently, either physically or emotionally.  Some dear loved ones have suddenly passed away in the past few months. My children have heart issues that must be handled so carefully yet swiftly.

And I’m tired.  Emotionally tired.

And I’m spiritually tired too.  Taking time away from church to stay home with little ones who are sick. Neglecting personal devotions and bible studies to take care of my babies as well as trying to catch up with the never-ending tasks of housekeeping, homeschooling, and motherhood in general. It all takes its toll on my spiritual health.  And I despair in my tiredness.

Trying to catch up with a friend, I make a quick glance at Facebook to see that someone has posted a picture on her page.  Its caption says, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.  Take care of yourself first.”  I give a mad cackle of laughter seeing that since I’ve been bone dry since sometime in November.  But, as the day goes on, I ruminate on what I read. 

via Stock Images

via Stock Images

This particular day ends in tears.  There are just too many people and things pulling at me. I cry out to God, that I can’t do this anymore alone. And, very gently, he reminds me that I’ve never been alone in any of these times (Isaiah 41:10).  He reminds me that he is rest (Matthew 11:28), and that, if I look, I’ll find him right there with me. (Jeremiah 29:13) Where he’s always been. 

I finally realized that God had really and truly been with me, even though I was exhausted.  I thought I was dry, but it was God who refilled my cup each and every time.  Now, each morning, instead of dreading the day before me, I thank God for his new mercies every morning, and I pray for him to fill my cup one more time.

Artwork by Chris Wright via Verses Project     s ource

Artwork by Chris Wright via Verses Project    source

Hugs and blessings, Charlotte