Sunday, August 28, 2016


Sorrow, sorrow everywhere
splattering world headlines with its stare,
making worry-lines on the faces of
those I love, and some I've yet to know;
yet sorrow is the strand that binds us,
find us, weaving us into God's ancient tale

Broken, broken everywhere
within our hearts, or bodies hale;
cancer cells and expectations stale
growing unchecked can usher death—
brokenness devours both body and soul
with all its demands it is never full

Heart ache, heart break everywhere
and many are the ways to cope—
mothers cry, their faces aging,
men grow sober and waste away,
heart-hungry, not for food, but for hope,
dying for want of the Water of Life

Echoes, echoes everywhere
of Eden and of the Fall—being God
is our desire, to have and to control;
to cry out, "I don't love you anymore!"
and have it reverberate in all divorce,
in every act of our damned selfish wills

Bleeding, bleeding everywhere
from hands and brow, feet and side,
from the broken hearts of those betrayed;
death presses on mortal men, they are afraid...
But glory! Blood atones from the Sorrow-Man,
Redemption shouting into God's story

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


It is said that grief makes our hearts break;
this is both figurative and literal truth—
because when I cry, I quiver and shake,
my heart splintering with a violent ache

Not merely beating, there is actual pain—
my broken heart spills out of my eyes,
a white-hot, cleansing sort of soul-rain,
wracking my worn body again and again

Breaking comes quickly, mending is slow,
impetuous thoughts voiced in an instant
take years to root out, for truth to re-grow,
and in their stead, for healing waters to flow

Healing water dripping at the tip of my nose,
all freckled and snuffly—as my soul mends,
my physical heart shudders, its beat slows
into rhythm, works its way into lyrical prose

Weeping may endure for the soul's dark night,
but the tears do not write our story for us,
our deep Joy dawns with the morning's light—
we yearn for all manner of things to be made right

Friday, August 19, 2016

Resuscitated by the Arts

Does music ever make you see? Does it break your heart, spilling it hot over your lashes? Does music become your voice when you cannot find the words to express your grief, sorrow, or hope? Music paints vistas on the mind—sunsets over mountains, starlight over tawny grasses bent by the breeze, snow on trees, russet leaves kicking up in the dirt lane. Certain songs carry a mood with them—autumn fog and rain, driving under sunny skies, poignant sadness, golden morning light. Music breathes life into weary souls, stands us on our feet, bows our heads—it even gives us earthbound creatures wings. Music heals. Music speaks what we cannot, when we cannot. Music opens the storeroom of our memories. Music flies us beyond ourselves into the great, wide world and the space beyond.

When I see a musician who is intent at his craft, playing for pure pleasure, joy wells up in me—and a bit of envy, too. I wish I could make a heart soar. . . or sing. . .or see. Though I cannot express myself in music, I know the intense concentration, the pleasure in my craft. It happens when I write sometimes. At other times, writing is an exercise and discipline, like musical scales.

Every craft has its learning season, disciplines, and the ability to sweep the craftsman or artist into its heart and flow so deeply that time passes without notice. But what I have noticed is that various crafts and arts influence one another. Music and stories often inspire me to paint, draw, or write. The visual arts encourage poetry or music to flow out of me. Poetry makes me want to be alive, to attend.

I have a deep respect for my friends who are writers, musicians, woodworkers, leather artisans, weavers, gardeners, and embroiderers. Their words and music and crafts all breathe life into my heart, into my veins. They remind me that Beauty comes in many forms and fills life with pleasure. The time poured into a craft is a form of tangible love given to others. 

I treasure my pincushion made from cloth designed and woven by one sweet friend, a wooden box carefully fitted and joined by another, words crafted into letters, stories, and poems by many dear folks, and pen-and-ink drawings of dragons and pictograms by yet another friend. I carry in my heart the deep strains of the cello, the lilting violin, the steady piano, the magical guitar picking I have been privy to over the years. And I delight in my friend’s whimsical illustrations and story of an island of creatures that must be saved again and again by one very patient saviour, who constantly goes unthanked.

My friends are a talented set, whether through the arts mentioned above, or the art of homemaking, hospitality, and keeping beauty in their homes and hearts. The creativity of God overflows in so many directions from people, it is rather amazing. And it breathes, breathes life into others in some way or another. Creativity is constantly begetting, expanding in life and Beauty. Creativity brings wholeness and healing into a world shattered by the Fall. Artisans and craftsmen are healers, then. Agents of God to breathe Beauty and life into others. Creativity gives room for expressing what we feel but cannot name, for expressing love and inclusion. Creativity builds what we all long for so deeply: home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

One...One Flesh...One Body

Somehow, upon turning thirty-one, I became more interested in blog posts about relationships, health, and inspiring fictional characters. I started thinking more about my retirement plan and drinking Jasmine green tea. I’m still sane, I promise. My proof? I have not stooped to getting into yoga (probably because I’m not flexible—among other reasons). Nor have I taken to drinking copious amounts of pour-over coffee…or any other kind of coffee, for that matter. I save so much money this way—we’ll say nothing of the amount of tea and chocolate I buy instead.

My friends and family might question my sanity, though, if they knew how many relationship articles I read regularly. Some are essays on the needs of introverts or how to maintain healthy work relationships. Others are about the benefits of solitude or how to nurture friendships as our lives shift with work, raising families, etc.

However, the relationship articles I read most often are about healthy dating and marriage practises. While I can sometimes spot things that I know are unhealthy in marriages, I now know the four things that strangle and kill those relationships. I am often reminded to be both kind and honest in my relationships. This usually comes out in other people’s stories about how they learned to get along with in-laws, how to treat someone on a first date, and how they continue to learn to love and forgive.

I have gained insight about dating and marriage from these blogs, as well as from many dear friends. It has been reaffirming to hear why marriage is good from various friends. Amidst all of my learning, growing, and deepened understanding, however, I find that I am content in my singleness.

Ergo, I want to write a bit about being single-hearted. By that I don’t mean hating-singleness-but-pretending-to-like-it. Nor do I mean giving up dating in hopes of having your spouse finally ‘granted’ to you. Nor do I mean resigning yourself to being single if no one has asked you out in a while (or ever).

What I mean by single-hearted or single-at-heart, is that some people thrive in singleness—to the point that they tend to become less themselves when they date.* There are, in fact, sane people who enjoy doing things by themselves or coming home to an ’empty’ house (which I would call a quiet house). Being single-at-heart means—in part—that you feel fulfilled and delighted in your singleness. Being single does not mean being lonely. In fact, people who flourish in their singleness have many deep relationships, investing their heart and soul into others.

Allow me to add a caveat here: I enjoy a good wedding. I’ve been to dozens, and have been in several. I am beyond excited to be in my best friend’s wedding this autumn. I already have my outfit selected and I can’t wait to toast, to dance, and to cry at how glorious it is that God made us male and female, to complement one another and show a multi-fa├žeted picture of Jesus and the Church. But even more than a good wedding, I love a good marriage. I love watching my married friends work through differences, walk through difficulties together, raise their children, love other people well, labour together, laugh together, and host together. It is so good and right to get to share in that as their friend.

Marriage is a wonder-filled union which I take seriously; I enjoy it in all of its depth and beauty from my outside perspective. But, the idea of me being married rather frazzles than dazzles me. My left shoulder tightens at the very thought. Not because marriage is hard—all relationships take work, aren’t always pretty, fall short of our expectations at points, and inflict wounds. I’ve heard these things again and again about marriage as well. I understand that marriage takes effort and sacrifice. But so does being a daughter. And a sister. A close friend. A co-worker…an employee. I set aside time every week to talk with my best friend, my sister, and at least one of my parents. I pray for them, think of them often, and talk about them to anyone who will listen. I seek their wisdom, counsel, and cheer. We cry together. Get angry together—and sometimes we get angry at one another. We share memories, inside jokes, many laughs, and hugs upon hugs.

Being single is a glory that many seem to overlook. I suppose it is lifelong-companion people who don’t comprehend the joy in singleness. A married friend was recently teasing me, saying I was obviously single by choice, chasing men away with a stick (she was being kind in her way). Her lifelong-companion mindset popped up at once in her next comment: “One day you will find the right man whom you won’t want to beat off with a stick.” I just smiled and said my stick was was pretty stout, choosing to laugh and not be disheartened that she had glossed over the truth: I am single by choice. Not because I think I’m something awesome that no one deserves—that would be insane beyond yoga and me drinking pour-over coffee, not to mention arrogant beyond comparison—but because I thrive in being single. I am content in my calling. Yes, I strive with not allowing contentment to become complacency, but every person wrestles with that balance in some area.

Single-at-heart does not mean that I fear or hate the opposite sex. I like men, I like them a lot! I am good friends with several fellows, I have dated some excellent men, and I am often around men of high-caliber at work. I am satisfied to enjoy friendship with these men. Yet, I have discovered something—when I am in a quandary (does he like me? do I like him? what is going on here?) or when I am unsure about whether I should be dating, I become me-focussed a hundred times more than normal. I wear stress like it’s part of my body, and I ask my neighbour to crack my back at least once a week. I become critical and over-assess everything about the person who shows interest in me. I feel stuck and my contentment jumps ship, leaving me at sea without a rudder. I often feel like I’m sans anchor in those seasons—but I am not. I have a soul Anchor who keeps me from drifting away or crashing on the rocks. He is the One I must fix my eyes on, not a man—or any other person.

Singleness is not a magic solution nor the secret to happiness. It is not all smooth sailing and sunny days (thankfully, because I love fog and snow…and being on land). Singleness takes effort. I have to go to work, pay my bills, take care of my car, do the grocery shopping, make my own meals, clean the house, take out the rubbish, arrange my travel plans, scout out hiking ventures, and strategise for my future—all without a spouse. There are days where I want someone to hold my hand and walk with me. I want someone right here to be vulnerable with, to laugh with, to be with. You know, someone I don’t have to call and hope they pick up. Someone who isn’t busy with their own life when I need a companion. But, just like being married does not mean that your spouse fills your every longing or meets your every need, being single does not mean that a person is always—or even mostly—lonely or helpless or unhappy.

In some ways, being single makes me over-confident, perhaps even intimidating. I don’t need a man to grill for me, my dad taught me how. I don’t need a mechanic to change my oil, Dad also taught me that skill. I don’t need a man to take out the trash, my mother raised me to do that for myself. Am I appreciative when a man does grill, work on my car, pick up my rubbish, open a door, or offer to carry a heavy box for me? You bet I am! My mum also taught me to have manners and a grateful heart.

Still, I have to take care of myself, so I do.

But really, I don’t. I think I’m autonomous, but I am not. I have a wonderful dad who gives me car advice and life advice, who shares wisdom from Scripture and wisdom from his life experience. I have a mother who taught me how to cook and read and keep things in order; how to love Scripture and make time to be in the word each day. I have friends who don’t mind telling me more about their insurance options or financial planning or how to get a license plate in this state. I have neighbours who discuss politics with me from a more thoughtful, studied, and insightful perspective than I possess.

My co-workers encourage me and pray for me when I’m having a rough day; and they are friends enough to tease me on the good days. They leave sweet notes, coffee mugs, and chocolate in my mailbox; and they dole out a lot of hugs. My roommate girls are continually having me over for dinner or joining me for tea and walks; they share their fears and joys, their sorrows and struggles; and they let me join them in celebrating new jobs, school acceptances, birthdays, surviving strokes, and all things British. There isn’t enough room here to express my gratitude and love for my sister and best friend, both of whom have walked through many joys and sorrows with me.

Singleness makes me realise more fully that I am part of the body of Christ. I am cared for, accepted, corrected, and encouraged to use my talents and skills for others. When I get snappish with my co-workers, friends, or family, I am often humbled by their response of kindness or gentle rebuke. The humility of their response leads to forgiveness and restored relationships. Being an integral member of the body means being part of something bigger than just myself and my desires. It is working together to bring glory to God.

I am in various types of relationships—like everyone else on the planet—and must learn to communicate with grace and truth, with kindness and firmness, with a willingness to seek a solution or middle ground. I don’t do this perfectly, or even well, at times, but I am learning, again and again. Part of being in the body means being invited, included—it means inviting and including. It means celebrating life stuff—big and small. It means opening your home, your tea cabinet, and your kleenex box to those in need of a cosy Hobbit hole and a listening ear.

Single-heartedness is a calling for fewer people. Not for those who thrive in companionship, who long to be married. I don’t begrudge them their longing, and I often wish I could help them find someone to thrive with (though, I think one must learn to be content with who God made them before they will be content in any kind of relationship). Single-heartedness is for those who take joy in their role as a single person within the body of Christ. It truly is a gift. Those who are single-at-heart do not try to dissuade their friends from getting married, nor do they think their married friends are somehow lesser than themselves (or somehow greater, either). Both singleness and marriage are gifts—very good ones to be used in different ways. Both gifts are for a season (hopefully a lifelong season, for my married friends). However, for single-hearted people, singleness is likely their lifelong calling. For lifelong-companion people, that idea is repugnant, but those who are single-at-heart are delighted by the possibility.

Whether you are single-at-heart, single-for-a-season, or married, your identity lies in being a member of the body, with Jesus as the Head. Your identity is reflected in your relationship status: a bondservant, a child of the King, the friend of Jesus, and the bride of Christ—the Church. And with our every act of love, the Kingdom of God is more fully realised.

*Others, of course, thrive in a coupled state, rather like oxen pulling together—though that imagery might not be romantic. Some folks tend to think there are only two states: married or miserable; the pair of oxen or the lonely mushroom. But that is a false dichotomy, as you will see above.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Unforced Rhythms

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”1

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?" Well, yes. Yes I am, I thought upon reading those words one morning. Summer is hot—full of sweaty, heavy work. Summer is crowded with delightful people visiting my state, inviting me to join them for celebrations or conversations. This is excellent—but also draining. I crave weekends with no plans or expectations. I tend to burn out like a sparkler sometime in late July. Everything is an eager spark right until the end of the wire. Then I'm simply a bare, hot piece of metal—useless and a bit dangerous.

As if this were not already a difficult season, this summer has been full of more violence than any other which I can remember. Our country, culture, and world seem to be gathering speed for a headlong crash into something history-making, or perhaps even history-breaking. My emotional empathy feels stretched to capacity, to shattering. News reports begin to glance off of me, as if real humans were not killing others or being killed. I feel stuck inside an insidious nightmare from which I cannot wake. I fear losing feeling in my heart—in my outstretched hands wanting to comfort, wanting to heal, wanting to help those who have been bereft of loved ones, safety, and homeland.

Sometimes I shove grieving off to a more convenient time, because I simply cannot bear it and everything else my daily life calls out of me. So, I run to whatever will help me escape the things I don't want to consider or process. They might be the exact same things that normally breathe life into me, but rather than receiving them as gifts, I grasp at them, hoping they will save me. I try to force stories or visits with friends to block out the darkness, the bleeding wounds I cannot heal, the world full of people whom I cannot turn toward God.

Jesus calls, "Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest." Come. I drag my heels a good bit. Rest is deeply appealing, but when? When do I have time to get away with Jesus? It all depends on what I long for. There is always time to do what my heart longs for. One more dinner with friends, one more chapter, jotting another e-mail, a walk under the stars before bed. . .But am I seeking to meet Jesus in those places, or am I using them to distract myself from the destruction I cannot control or stop?

Patiently, so patiently, I hear my Saviour invite, "Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it." Watch how I do it. How can I do that? The answer is not difficult: read the gospels. Study Jesus. How does He treat broken people? How does He treat hardened people—like the arrogant religious leaders? How does He seek rest and refreshment for Himself? What is His motivation, His heart's desire? What work is He is doing which He is calling us to join?

Digging through the gospels shows me layers of answers to all of those questions. In recent years, I have discovered that the last two go together. Over and again in the book of John, the desire of Jesus' heart is to glorify His Father and to obey His will. What is that will? The Father desires to bring His Kingdom to earth. But here is the astonishing part: that is the work which Jesus is calling us to join in with Him! He has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. He has chosen the weak things to exhibit His strength. The Father is bringing His Kingdom through Jesus working in us. We are repealing the corruption and darkness of the Fall by the wholeness and light of Jesus in us.

 “What you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. 
Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings, and for that matter, one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honoured in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.  
God's recreation...began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God's people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit...what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.”2

Our sorrow and suffering are not meaningless. Our work and creativity have an eternal purpose. God's own beauty, infused in this world and spread through us, is not made for destruction. We are building the Kingdom of God with every act of love, with art and creativity, with thankfulness, with every meal shared. We push back the darkness by the creative and recreative light and love of Jesus at work in and through us. It is not something demanded of us, rather, it is a gift given to us that we get to join Jesus in building the Kingdom.

I begin to understand what Jesus means when He says, "Learn the unforced rhythms of grace." Grace, charis. It means both thanks and favour. God's favour is not forced upon us, and we are not forced to give thanks for His gift. Thanksgiving or delight is an overflow of the heart, the spontaneous response to God's favour. There is that thrumming rhythm of God's grace gifted to us, our thanks to Him, and our delight or joy in giving thanks. So it goes, over and over. It is our choice to receive the invitation into the dance, to let Christ through us build His Kingdom. We must constantly lean into the rhythm, to learn to step into the dance "freely and lightly."


1. Matthew 11:28-30 The Message, trans. by Eugene Peterson
2. Wright, N T, Surprised by Hope (New York: New York, Harper Collins, 2008) 208-209