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how to keep living in this broken world

There’s a sadness weighing the world today… the ache of rain-drenched branches bending low, reaching for this muddy earth, reaching for me, maybe reaching for you. I walk beneath the weeping willow, stretch my face toward their whipping, grasping claws, the rain hitting full on my face.

How do you give thanks here, in this place, where the darkness presses in, where life beats angry against your already broken spirit? How do you peer through the cracked walls of your heart hoping for the storm to abate, just for a while?

I’m asking these questions for myself, for others, especially for the family whose little boy was killed in a farming accident this past weekend because how do you carry on in a world filled with so much sorrow?

But then I see you.

I see the way you cling white-knuckled to joy when it comes past, how you count with ferocious tenacity each and every blessing, how you smile sometimes tired smiles but you smile all the same and I want to be there with you, stand next to you and beat back the darkness with His light… because you’ve taught me this: hope is found in the recognizing each and every God moment.

Maybe all these years I’ve got it wrong.

Maybe hope isn’t a light shining into the cracked walls of our hearts but instead, it’s a light shining out, this flame lit by a faith in a God who works all things together for good.

And when my faith grows weak and the sadness presses in, I can look toward you, toward the Light you exude and together we will walk, together we will love, together we will live and breathe and hope for a better tomorrow.

And maybe the next day, you’ll need to look towards me.

“Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends and His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness.”

 Lamentations 3:21-23, NLT

Our prayers are with the family of Rylan Decker. Hold to the God moments. Hold white-knuckled to every blessing. Hope and faith are a beautiful thing and it’s okay to lean on others for these during this difficult time. Thinking of you.

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the long way home (part 3)

“Yet why not say what happened?” – Robert Lowell

There’s two of them, this session, in the room with the couches and their practiced smiles that try to convey this: trust us. Please trust us. We won’t hurt you. Let us help you.

“We’re both in agreement and we’re going to start you on two medications,” the psychiatrist says. “One for depression; the other a mood stabilizer.”

I scan the small room. The windows, four stories high. The door, closed. I imagine sinking into the couch, then, until I am one with it, this inanimate object and I hold my breath, willing myself to stop living, to stop existing but then my chest rises without my consent and I live on in this new reality.

“You’ve been brave, telling us your life story. We know this isn’t easy. There must be some part of you that knows you need to get help,” he continues and I want to hate him, want to but I cannot because I know he’s somebody’s grandfather and he’s being kind to me too and then he asks, “Are you going to take these medications?”

I nod, trying to force the words out I so desperately want to say but cannot, as if my body has been rendered useless in this new world I find myself in and for a horrifying moment, I imagine myself on the coffee-stained floor, then, at my parents, having to learn to crawl again, to form words, to walk and eat non-pureed foods.

“How long…” the words jerk unsteady from of my mouth. The room is silent, then, only the soft shuffling of one of the psychiatrist’s feet against the floor. I give up then and imagine myself as a caged animal, imagine the restless, lazy walk of the bobcat I saw at the zoo, how the front of the cage had a worn path around a small tree, past his food bowl, this trajectory caused by paws going up and down, up and down and how I knelt then, put my hand against the glass and felt only sorrow even as the excited banter around me continued, and I wondered how long he would walk until his spirit longing for freedom was crushed. I wondered how many times his nose had to bump glass before he stopped trying to find home, and I cried then, there in that crowded zoo and I’m crying now too, here in this tight room and I wonder if I, like him, will ever find my way home.

the long way home (part 3) photo

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“How long…” I ask again and the doctor sighs and shakes his head. “Likely all your life but that doesn’t mean you won’t learn to live above it,” he replies and since that day, I’ve wondered if he wasn’t trying to tell me something: acceptance towards today’s trials is not synonymous with giving up hope for tomorrow.

In an instant, I snatch the prescriptions from the doctor and exit quickly, head bent low as if against a bitter wind and all I want is to go home.

But what is home? Does home still exist? Will my wife, when she finds out, stay? I imagine myself buying her a plane ticket, a one-way ticket home and begging her to escape this person, no, this monster I’ve become. I have heard if you love someone, sometimes you have to let them go but our love isn’t like the usual love. It doesn’t sit idle with cliché statements and it breaks down walls that supersede the imagination and if I were to give her the plane ticket home, she would march straight to the shredder and be done with that notion and she would wrap her arms around me and tell me that sometimes, when you love someone, you have to stay and fight.

That night, it’s just us against the world and we find each other while the moon lands in stripes across our bed and eventually, we lay in the gloss-edged darkness listening to the hum of the fan and I say it, trying to whisper the words but they come out loud, as if forced into a world not yet ready for them.

“I’m bipolar.”

“Really,” she whispers.

And then she does the most remarkable thing. She yawns as if bored, curls herself into my arms, tucks her iceberg toes under my legs and falls asleep.

I’m left awake, then, alone and yet not lonely and I know this place, next to her, will always be home.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 38:8-9)


To read part one and two of the “long way home” home series, click here and here.

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once upon a time I got lost

“Once upon a time, I got lost in a place.” – Unknown

We’re sitting down to hamburgers, finally, after a day of working and I glance outside, notice the early, darkening sky, how the leaves have become burnt umber overnight before falling silently, recklessly to the earth.

“What happened to summer?” I ask.

“I wish I knew,” she replies.

We sit then, in silence, like an elderly couple though we aren’t and I think…

About a flipped kayak, sunglasses bobbing down the river bed, lost, maybe to me, but maybe they took on another life as a home for two energetic fish named Herman and Geri.

About a campfire, the leap and dance of hypnotizing flames, their warmth against our skin and whispered conversation between lovers, the stars above, the dogs snoring at our feet.

About bike rides and hikes and learning there is never enough butter coating a pie iron. About the clang of a disc hitting the chains. About digging through rotted stumps in the woods to find a geocache. About getting in a fight with a snake and a dog. About lying in the sun with the water gently bumping the dock, a novel in hand. Sleeping late, countless sunsets and not even one sunrise.

once upon a time I got lost photo

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Yes, somehow I got lost. I’ve stepped away from emails, from my phone, from all the extra clambering of this noisy world and I’ve focused on finding peace because peace often looks like mindfulness and mindfulness is only found through quietness.

Peace requires self-reflection, a painfully hard look at all we are, all we want to become, who God wants us to become. The results can be alarming, uncomfortable, daring even because God never lets us sit with a stagnant faith, this dried-up piece of bread we continue trying to nourish ourselves with.

No, I’m learning He more often calls the willing; not always the most capable to step forward into deeper water, asking us to hold onto Him, trusting Him when the water gets choppy and the rocks slippery. He calls and we step with a shaky faith into a plan far bigger than we can see and maybe that’s okay, I think, because so often I realize looking back how very near-sighted my own eyes are.

So we sink the sign reading “For Sale” into the dirt and we trust.

Here’s the catch: people will judge. Getting lost in God’s plan requires a radical faith often resulting in a radical plan and this getting lost in His will and going astray can look the same to the critical heart. I am convinced of this more, this radical faith, when I read about the life of a Carpenter, this man who came to earth and changed everything that was conventional and fought against the idea of Salvation being gained by being traditional, this algorithm of dos and don’ts. He overthrew tables in a church, forgave prostitutes, and dined with politicians. He loved the outcasts. He loved the ones the world loves to hate.

And people judged. So much so, they eventually nailed Him to a cross.

In contrast to what Jesus forgave, the judgments I feel pale in comparison. Knees hit the earth. The words come quietly then, there with head bowed against the bitter chill of an offended heart.

“For he loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” John 12:43

“No,” I whisper. If a Carpenter can forgive those driving nails into His hands, the least I can do is forgive these minor offenses. So I sink the “For Sale” sign deeper. I remember how God sometimes requires more than merely a Sunday meeting with Him. And I chase after a God who leads with confidence and it’s quiet again, in my heart, even though there are house plans, loans to be secured, and new careers. Even though the noise and the busy come back, now that the days are getting shorter and the nights cooler.

But peace isn’t only found away from the chaos of life; the truest peace is found in trusting a God who guides us right through the chaos.

  • What out-of-your-comfort-zone experience is being asked of you today?
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for when you can’t quit worrying

You lace up your shoes; tie them tight, double-knotted, like you’re trying to bind up all the loose ends to this day and you wish it were only that easy.

The day has tossed you around from the very beginning, chipped away at your spirit like the thin edges of a sea-shell breaking, tumbling inward, then out, as if the entire ocean washed open your front door this morning and was there all day simply to drown you.

So you do what almost always works: you lace up your shoes and focus your breathing, in and out, in and out, feet hitting pavement, heart pounding in your chest, hundreds of thousands of beats reminding you you’re still alive, that no matter how bad the day has been, you will live through it.

for when you can't quit worrying photo

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But then you run down the street with the old man always tinkering on rusted cars in his garage and there, in front of his dilapidated house lies a cat, dead, flies buzzing, landing on the red and angry bits jutting out amongst its soft, black fur. There’s another cat, maybe its lover, standing on the roadside and he doesn’t move when you run past, just stares at you solemnly as if he’s waiting for the dead to rise again or for the dead to be carried away, as if he’s waiting for someone to tell him how to grieve.

You think about the son, then, how he screamed as you pulled his slumped father from the car onto the ambulance garage floor and started CPR, how the tubes from his recent heart surgery squirted onto your pants. But most of all, you think of how the son buried his face in his father’s almost cold hand fifteen minutes later and begged for a life that had passed.

You think about your friend whose stepdad held a gun to his head the day before Father’s Day and chose that this one precious life wasn’t precious enough.

You think about cancer attacking your wife’s friend and how the husband, when asking “how long do we have”, was told simply to enjoy every remaining day they were given together.

You think and you think.

And then you stop running. The breath comes jagged, sharp in your chest. You double over, panting hard. So you turn around like you want to make this right with the cat because this is the only thing you can do. But when you turn around, you think about how absurd this is, trying to bury the dead and heal the world with your bare hands. So you linger there, bent over just staring at the cracks in the pavement on School Street and Randolph and wondering how you can sink into them forever and one second you’re laughing and the next you’re crying like a mad man dying in a war.

You turn again; turn back toward the open road and your heart beats wild again and you just let the tears and sweat mix and the miles turn into more miles until you find yourself exhausted, on the stairs leading up to an old church with a steeple pointing firm toward the clouds and isn’t this how it always is: you can never truly outrun life’s worries and when you finally stop, everything you were outrunning lies there waiting.

Knees hit the steps. Head bows. Sweat drips from the tip of your nose, a puddle of all this life’s angst growing bolder on that concrete church step.

“God.”

Sometimes half the battle is won in acknowledging you can’t stand under the weight of this world and the other half of the battle is won in acknowledging someone Who can.

“God, why can’t I let go?”

“Because you don’t believe in the end I’ll get it right,” His reply comes quick.

And there it is.

Worry is what takes over a person, slowly, like the tide of the ocean rising steady and you’re stuck there in the sand, consumed by the fear, unable to move as the waters rise. Yes, worry is what happens when faith in a God who works all things together for good isn’t relied on, when casting all your cares on Him seems impossible because the water is already up around your neck, this noose of life squeezing.

And then it happens.

The water rises more and you’re stuck there, toes stretching for the sandy bottom, pushing yourself up, bobbing, trying to keep your head above water until the ocean floor is gone and it’s just you, out there, floating in the deep, wondering how long until the worry goes away, until this tide of fear flows back into the dark depths where ships will steam over it as if it were nothing at all.

You float and the sensation of not being in control isn’t so bad so you lay your head back, stare straight into the azure sky and the sun is warm on your face and you wonder why it took you so long to let go, why it always takes you nearly drowning before relying on Someone other than yourself to hold you afloat.

And your tears slide silently into the ocean, mixed there, salt joining salt and you think about how not even the oceans could contain the love God has for you and this is what you decide to think about instead; how your tears of regret mix so easily into the vastness of His love… as if every worry and fear you ever had are now forgotten, are now forgiven.

The steeple sways dizzily against the clouds and you’re brought back, lying there on your back on the stairs of a tiny country church so you sit up, tighten your laces again and push toward home. Yes, you push through this scary, messy existence called life: you push toward Home and you remind yourself once again, there’s One to guide you all the way.

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you don’t always have to understand to still love

The paint brush falls, twisting, this cosmic splash of color dashing toward the art studio floor and my wife, watching me from the couch, says “I’ll get a rag.”

“No,” I whisper to her, gentle, then turn back to the picture emerging from the canvas. These coincidental accidents bring beauty to not only art, but to art studios themselves, I think and that’s so true of humanity too, how so often it’s the differences that give vibrancy to an otherwise dull world.

So she sits there, watches me paint, watches the way I dip the brush, watches how a stroke of green merges with blue and the waves of an ocean take shape.

The paint brush, fallen, lies on the floor, a puddle of blue drying beneath it.

And she resists the urge to clean because she understands something I’ve been trying to learn all my life:

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The day in the emergency room is over and I’m sitting in my chair, drinking coffee and I open the news app. My breath catches, bitter bile rises. My coffee sits cooling as I read. So many dead. So many wounded. Oh, Orlando, I’m praying for you. I close my eyes, lean back, sigh deep.

I remember her well, the way I met her in the ambulance bay and she couldn’t get out of her car, couldn’t catch her breath because she was crying so hard.

Her partner’s panicked face met mine and we struggled together, her and I, to get her into a wheelchair, into a room and I placed a bag around her mouth, rubbed her shoulder and told her, “Breathe with me, slow and steady, in, then out…” Because that’s all you can do when hatred pours raw and ugly down around you and the darkness closes in; you reach toward the few who love and just breathe together.

“I’ve been working every day this last week.” Her words come in staggering, clipped gulps. “And they called me again today because we’re so short-staffed at the nursing home and I know they need help but I just can’t…”

She slumps against her partner, wipes the tears against the sleeve of her shirt.

“And my dad called when I was getting ready for work and he just yelled at me.”

“We just told everyone about our relationship,” her partner explains.

I offer her a tissue, squirm in my chair.

“Those old people at the nursing home,” she whispers, “I love them. And they love me. They need me. I just can’t go today and I feel so guilty.”

“Once a nurse, always a nurse,” I smile at her. “I know the feeling all too well.”

I leave then, leave them together beneath warm blankets and they cry together and when I sign them out, now much calmer, she reaches for me, wraps her arms around my shoulders and says, “You were the best nurse I’ve ever had. Most people can’t look past the blue hair to see me.”

“Thank you,” I reply. “Today’s been a hard day and not all people are as nice as you.”

I go back to my desk, close my eyes, breathe deeply because the patient in the room next door who just swore at me has their call light on again and I’m suddenly weary from trying to heal all the hurting in the world.

Love. Just love. You don’t have to understand.

I stand, go into the room and I’m thinking of another Man who came to earth and loved the prostitute at the well, how He ate dinner with the embezzling tax-collector, how He loved a murderer as they hung on the cross together in pain… how He left such a powerful witness to how we should truly live and love.

“What the **** happened to me?” the man asks lying on the cot.

“You were found in only your socks wandering the streets, completely naked,” I explain this for what seems the hundredth time. “Somehow you hit your head or someone hit you. You were bleeding a lot when you came in.”

“Am I going to bleed to death?” he slurs.

I smile.

“Not on my watch. I’ll do my absolute best to keep you alive.”

He lies still. Then grabs my arm, pulls me close and I feel as though I’m getting drunk myself off the alcohol from his breath. “You’re a good man. I don’t want to die.”

I smile broadly.

“Then I need you to do something for me. I need you to keep your clothes on first of all. None of us enjoy seeing all that. And I want you to lie perfectly still so you don’t start bleeding again from your head.”

He goes rigid, still, determination to live through this day. I smile. “Yep, just like that. That way you won’t lose any more blood.”

The Band-Aid on his head covers the already clotted off head wound.

I laugh.

It’s true. You don’t always have to understand to still love.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them who only love you in return, what reward have you? (Matthew 5:44-46)


**the situations, dates, names, locations, genders etc… have all been omitted or changed to protect the identity of the individuals in the story

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