Packed up the china, the folding chairs, the plaques; stuffed a thousand memories into a jar and pretended it didn’t bother us that they were held captive there, their lights slow and steady at first, then quietly dimming, their wings beating desperate like butterfly kisses against the glass.
We pretended the sadness didn’t pervade then, when we flipped off the lamps, shut the curtains, turned the thermostat to “off” that warmed our tiny house.
We pretended until one day, upon waking in our new house, we looked at all we had been given and murmured, “This is home.” Because a home is more than the sum of memories but is also where hope burns passionately for the future.
I have found this about hope. It is something I come to now, today, without shame because in the past, I had always believed a person like me didn’t deserve goodness, didn’t deserve mercy, didn’t deserve all the blessings God somehow kept giving.
I still don’t believe I deserve anything. But I am learning to be hopeful of everything. Because through this God I serve, everything is possible… everything is hope-filled. (Matthew 19:26)
He is, ultimately, in the business of restoration. Of redemption. Of hope. And He is completely and utterly delighted in me. And you. (Psalms 18:19) He is enamored in the restoration of all the thousand mistakes, of all the broken pieces you see looking back at you in the puddle of your despair.
Life has met this rhythm for me, once chaotic with highs and lows, now the steady hum of one lost in a trance and I keep waiting for the shoe to drop, per se, for this hope to collide hard against the floor of my optimistic soul.
But it hasn’t happened.
And I keep waiting.
I find this anticipation every morning upon waking as if it were lying next to me, its sour breath upon my pillow, willing me to accept the reality that today, definitely, will be the day when all goes bad.
The dog growls grumpily, begging me to open the door.
The poof of his tail, flouncing, nails clacking across the floor.
The sunshine spilling through the door, warm upon bare toes.
Coffee sputters, the fireplace dances. Life, in all its wonder, continues to be a joy.
This life, I’ve learned, is under no obligation to give us what we deserve because there are no limitations to God’s love.
I sit here this morning and I find it: hope. And I open my heart to trusting that tomorrow and the next day, this promise of love will settle comfortable where fear once resided in my heart.
“Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, ‘Wait and Hope.”
When I roll back the curtains covering this one little slice of earth, I see her, the fog, how she came in the night, how she crept beneath bushes and over barbed wire fences making her way to our house. She is tranquility exposed, peace visible and I want to stand there, sipping my coffee and watch her, the way she waltzes with such grace, so effortlessly in and amongst and around.
I reach out my hand, rest it against the cold glass, these fingers smudging, pressing, reaching for so much peace, and I wonder if maybe God Himself isn’t tired too? If perhaps He doesn’t wish to spend a little more time in the snow-crusted fields of Northern Iowa this morning instead of on the raging streets of Washington D.C.
Maybe you’ve been reading the news, too. Perhaps you heard about the marches, the fight against misogyny and bigotry, the flags being lit up, this tiny spark of rage becoming this uncontrolled wildfire. Maybe you’ve also read about the foreign affairs, how relationships are changing, and nuclear warfare, and its all just one tricky line to walk because no matter how much you trust, no matter how much you guard against fear, it slips unnoticed sometimes into your heart.
I turn from the window, sit next to the dog snoring softly, head on the pillow, and I pull the Book toward me, this life-raft in this raging world.
Maybe it’s the coffee, lackluster in its bravado. Maybe it’s the snores of Ervin. Maybe it’s the fog floating across the river, but the Book slips, falls with my eyelids.
A scream. A yell of triumph. Pain. Maybe fear. I cannot tell. A battle cry, this time, I’m sure.
I search madly, run down the streets, and turn to see the masses walking along this street. It’s paved with the gold and glimmer of broken souls, these souls once meant to be free but now shackled, splintered – all this shimmering brokenness being trodden on by boots, marching, polished, a rivalry of soldiers yelling, “Hail, Trump. Hail to the Führer.”
And the church doors swing open. Loud, they bang like a cannon fired. The people spill into the street, fists raised and signs high for human rights. Their voices get louder. Their leader is a lady yelling about her God-given rights, and it’s the only time God is ever mentioned, there at the top of their screaming, teeming madness.
And then I see her, this veil of white rolling in and I think maybe it’s tear gas, desperate attempts to control the riot, but then I watch as she tumbles in and around and among the people, how she cloaks them in peacefulness, waltzing this way, waltzing that way. And she wears a coat of many colors, of every race and gender and personality, how she is one being, but so many of everything put together in this beautiful, messy existence of perfection. She tosses her hair, then, laughs, places her hand against her heart, and I see it then, this trail of blood-red she drips wherever she walks.
And the people are confused, the church-goers and the liberals, the politicians and the self-righteous and one small child breaks free from the jostling throng, falls, touching his lips to the trail of blood and then, he too stands and starts to dance.
Only a few follow the boy. Only a few shimmer in white. Only a few dance free.
Only a few, there in the middle of that street paved with gold.
I wake slow, unsure of reality, my heart thrumming wild against my ribs. The fog has left for the day. She has slipped silently toward the horizon while I slept. My coffee is now cold. The Bible has fallen.
I sit up.
I shake my head, dizzy.
Oh, how I wish to dance free.
“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
2 Corinthians 3:17 NLT
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
He struggles across the horizon, against the wind whipping and snow blowing, against all the bitterness of the world and I wonder how I too, can spring with such resilient joy in the face of such adversity.
I trudge on, calling his name, this dog of mine, but the words are lost in the lonely howl of winter’s play.
The trees are thicker now. The chaotic tumble of branches reach down upon the narrow trail I’m following and then there’s a fallen log across my path, so I kick my snowshoes off, climb over, sit, catching my breath, this plume of white exhaled, inhaled, exhaled.
How do you keep breathing when the weight of the darkness presses hard against your chest?
I replay the scene from the dinner table, mashed potatoes piled high, the smooth carve of knife meeting ham, the bread, broken together, this holy communion of friends meeting after church. And how the conversation soared, took on a flight of its own until someone said, laughing, “Guess who I met the other day?”
And we all know her, the lady with four jackets, multi-colored, scrawny, like she doesn’t get enough to eat and how she carries on talking to herself, one second an FBI agent, the next an airline pilot.
“She’s absolutely crazy,” someone says and the laughter tumbles onto the table, this ugly hate and someone carries on about how “cuckoo” she is and then someone asks serious, “Don’t you think she just needs a good laying on of hands? Someone to pray over her? To cast the demons out?”
I cannot breathe, the weight of all the ugly misunderstood weighing down and my face flushes hot in embarrassment as I recall standing in line at Walgreens, waiting for pill bottles filled to stop the voices inside my head. I want to announce it, loud, “She’s schizophrenic, maybe bipolar. We don’t know what she’s lived through to be who she is today. It’s a chemical imbalance, not a demonic presence.” I want to say it, but I don’t because Southern Gal squeezes my hand, then, under the table and sometimes that’s all it takes: just one person knowing what you’re going through and you have the strength to stay silent or speak up or do all kinds of brave things.
Because when, when… oh when, did the church become this? When did the church, this one place that should be the safest refuge on earth, become a place with no room for the broken and imperfect? When did “oneness of spirit” become “oneness of attitudes, culture, and traditions”? When did we start exposing the broken people as unfixable, unlovable and when did we start casting the first stone against them, these dear people with stories different than our own? When, oh when?
So here I am, walking through the woods, even in a storm because sometimes the weight of all the hurting in the church rests heavy on my chest. I see the depressed, the overweight, the socially awkward, the labels – thousands of names we throw on people that are different from the rest, and we choose to judge instead of love. I’m so ashamed of how we treat the very people Jesus came to save, how we treat the “least of these” He spoke of so passionately.
Here also, alone in the great outdoors, if I’m perfectly honest, no one can hurt me.
I see a tuft of fur ahead, this bounce of a tail against the flurry of snow and I follow Ervin off the path, see a well-worn trail not yet covered by snow. It is an animal trail, hollowed out from use and there are dog prints, too, smaller than Ervin’s fresh ones, and I think about the coyotes in the area.
“How do you bind up the slow bleeding of your one broken heart and still believe wounded warriors win, still believe that there is no remission of sins or the crossing of finish lines without things getting downright bloody, still believe scars and wounds and broken places might become you and become who you are?” says Ann Voskamp in The Broken Way.
The trail narrows, curves around trees fallen and ancient, rotting fence posts and the wind pushes hard against my face, throwing the stinging sleet in my eyes and then it’s over. We are in a clearing, a small, hollowed out space of refuge and above me. The ice has collected on fine branches like a chandelier, this dance of light reflected and projected. And the snow filters soft, down from the trees around, and it sparkles in the air, falling, like God Himself is sitting at a piano welcoming me home. My knees hit the ground, and Ervin, clutched in my embrace, licks my face, licks away the tears from all the cold in this world.
“How do you live with your one broken heart?” It echoes in the sudden silence.
A rabbit peeks at us from beneath the bushes. It sniffs the air, pausing there, letting me see it, and it see me. and I think maybe this is how you live with your one broken heart: you let others see you and you see them. You find that one other broken person and you bear them up, love them, live this one life right alongside them. You find, like in this haven, your own tiny church of misfits and the broken lonely.
“Forgive me,” I pray. “Forgive me for all those I’ve hurt in my hurried intolerance. Help me to see the heart of others how You see their hearts.”
Night is falling, the darkness pressing in but I don’t want to leave this space.
“Help me to love even the ones throwing the stones.” I whisper this last one, like a silent, desperate plea.
“My body was broken for you, for them… my side was pierced, my hands split wide open. I died a broken man, and no man shall come to the Father except through me. No man shall enter the kingdom of heaven unless he first enters into the brokenness of who I am, of who he is…”
I walk home, then, take off my snowshoes on the porch, step inside and Southern Gal, she stands at the sink washing the last of the dishes.
“How do you love others who are different than yourself?” I ask.
This past year, I joined a challenge in which I was the only contestant.
Sometimes, when you’re trying something new, it’s good to leave the back door open in case you get bored and need to flee to the Land of Quiet Failures. Ironically, I learned this after a few years of realizing around January 13 that food tastes way too good not to eat and we’re only given this one precious deep-fat-fried life, aren’t we.
That said, this year, I committed (with no real commitment) to reading a book every single week and last week, I completed 52 books. I celebrated like only a nerd can celebrate: by going and sprawling in the aisles of Barnes & Noble and glaring at small children making noise in this sacred space.
Lying there, I struck up a conversation with another human (yes, bookstores are one of the only places I make eye contact with humanity) and after hearing about the 52 books, she asked, “What were your favorites?”
So here goes. I thought maybe after you’re done buying everyone else a present or two this holiday season, you may want to buy yourself the Gift of Escape. These were the only books out of the 52 that I gave five-star reviews. (The links below are commissioned links and help maintain the cost of this website. Thank you in advance.)
Every person, especially medical professionals, need to read this one. It made me a better person. It is written by a neurosurgeon who finds out he is dying of cancer and his wife ends up finishing the book after his death. I ugly-cried through the last pages of this one but it was worth every tear.
Be careful with this one. It made my top 10 because I couldn’t get the story out of my head. But it is highly controversial, attacking issues of political injustice and socialism. A fast-paced story on top with deep allegories.
If you struggle with a mental illness, please know this book is full of triggers. At 832 pages long, it also takes a huge time commitment. This book tackles issues such as self-mutilation, depression, suicide, racial tensions and equality of life choices. This book has some adverse language in it.
About a Cameroonian family coming to live in New York City. The writer challenges racial bias, issues of immigration and assimilation. When you finish a book and you feel like you now know a family in New York City, you know it has totally captured you.
Technically, I read this book in 2015. But then I re-read it in 2016 because it was the best book I have read in years. If you haven’t taken the time to devour this novel, stop what you’re doing, take a mental health day from work, and enjoy.
I would like to make a personal thank you to Book of the Month for the amazing job they do at finding all the good books and making me wait impatiently by my mailbox each month. This was the best club I’ve ever joined and I can successfully say I’ve been one happy, loyal and active member (unlike my dusty gym membership). If you join using the link above, it’s only $10 a month.
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 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.