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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?

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.


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.


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:


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


the long way home (part 2)

To read part one of this series, click here.

I went to jail when I was nine years old.

The day started just like any other horrifically normal day, the day I went to jail. I ate my mini-wheats, soaking them just long enough to make them smoosh but not long enough that the white frosting slipped silently into the milk. Then I brushed my teeth, remembering to scrape my tongue because, as I had learned, that’s where the stinky bacteria lived. I gagged but did it anyway. Then, before tucking in my shirt, I lifted it to make sure no lint was stuck there, in my belly-button.

Once I had found lint there and that day was an awful day because things hadn’t been right, right there from the beginning so I sassed someone in charge and broke a rule or two and everything just was wrong all because of that one piece of fuzz from who knows where.

So when I went to jail, that day, on a day that no lint was found, on a day that I had brushed my tongue and eaten the perfectly sogged mini-wheats, I couldn’t figure it out.

“That’s enough,” the teacher had said, then plopped this box, probably something a washer or dryer had come in, right over my head, right over my desk.

I remember wondering what happened to my daydream bubble, the kind that was always in the comic strips above people’s heads. Did it squish through the cardboard bars only allowing me to see the chalkboard and nowhere else? Did it hover above my head, smashed, flattening toward the corners of the box? Why didn’t the teacher care about the daydream, haphazardly throwing that box over its head and why couldn’t she have given me some notice so I could’ve released it back to the other clouds, back to its friends in the sky?

I’ll have to be its friend, I thought, and I liked this box, instantly, the way the lights glaring were cut out and I wanted a candle to flicker across the paper in front of me, to cast a cozy glimmer across the picture I’d been drawing for the cloud above my head.

“I suppose that was the first memory,” I tell the therapist, this bald, shiny foreheaded man with kind eyes. “That was the first memory I know of where my reality couldn’t be seen by others.”

“Do you remember what was happening before that?” he asked.

“I knew my spelling words. The teacher wanted us to write them five times each. It was such a waste of time. I remember talking a lot, goofing around. I was the life of the party. She kept telling me to be quiet. I couldn’t. I laughed at her. She got mad. I didn’t care. I kept going, going. Everyone thought it was fun.”

“Did you have many days like this?” he prompted.

“No. Not until I got older.”

the long way home part 2 photo

“What made you realize you needed help?” he asked.

“My wife. It had been a good day at work. I remember wishing there was more to do. I remember how happy I was; how my coworkers became incredibly interesting and I poked fun at them. I had the perfect comeback for every joke. Colors were bright, flying at me. Thoughts came even faster than the colors. I couldn’t keep up; couldn’t sit still. On the way home from work, that night, I saw a man standing by the road. I thought maybe he needed help. So I pulled my car over onto the gravel shoulder and yelled at him. He just looked at me, sad-like and walked into the woods. I screamed at him. Screamed loud enough that he could hear over my car’s engine. But he just kept walking. So I shut my car off and stumbled after him, using my flashlight on my phone the best I could but I tripped over some twigs and some viney thorns ripped at my pants. I wasn’t scared. I stared up at the sky trying to make sense of where I was but the trees had covered all the stars. I couldn’t find my way back to my car. I suddenly shivered and it was like I woke from a horrible dream. I started shaking and crying and I wondered if maybe I wasn’t dead and this was hell, being alone in the woods at night. I eventually found my car and drove home. When I got there, I went straight to the shower and threw my clothes in the washer when I was done. Climbing into bed, I wrapped my arms around my wife and imagined giving her a one-way ticket back home, begging her to climb on a plane headed away from me, away from whomever I was becoming but I knew she wouldn’t take it. That girl loves me something fierce. I don’t deserve it. Never have. I vowed to myself that I would get help, that night. For her, mostly. So here I am.”

And that’s the magical, craziest thing about love; someone else can hold us together when we’re undoubtedly falling apart.

“You have to tell me something is wrong with me. You have to. Everyone has their limits. What if this happens when she’s around? Worry is killing me. I can’t sleep. Can’t eat. I won’t be able to hold it together much longer,” I told him. “Pretending is horrible. I’d rather be dead.”

And I thought about the swerving of a car, sudden, into a concrete underpass or walking slowly into a field, the corn tall, letting my arms hang loose by my sides and the sharp edges of their leaves cutting at my arms, reminding me of what I’d come out here to do…

“Something is wrong,” he replied, as if everything I told him didn’t scare him and this surprised me about him, how calm he was in the face of a monster and I thought maybe he was a little like God in that way, unafraid of even my darkest secrets. “But it’s not something wrong with you. It’s something wrong with your brain…”


for days grief won’t go away… it’s okay

Sometime while we sleep, the moon slips behind clouds, hides behind their walls — building, rising, thunder rolling, lightning striking.

And when day dawns, we listen to the coffee maker drip, draw open blinds to stare across a gray Mississippi horizon, watching the way the sky turns into itself, puckering its face as if the heavens themselves were sharing in our grief, this day we lay to rest a man who taught us all about true redemption.

for days grief won't go away photo
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The dirt from the recently dug grave turns to mud and is this really the way it has to be, God, I murmur, can the sun not shine on this day we so desperately need it to?

Maybe I’m sad too, He whispers and I find comfort here because so often I forget God feels what we feel. He came to earth a human, felt the joy of life, the sting of death and when our hearts hurt, His hurts alongside it.

It’s okay, I whisper, Thank you for sharing in our grief.

Here’s the thing about grief; it shows up when we least expect it. We may be able to hold our tears back on the day the coffin is carried across the gravel, across the mud… but a week from now, maybe months, when we pour coffee into two mugs instead of one, grief knocks us to our knees.

Maybe it’s when Mother’s Day rolls around and she’s been gone for years, this lady with soft smiles and gentle words but then you see a bouquet of flowers, lilacs, her favorites, and your face turns shiny, heavenward, there in the grocery store next to the cards you no longer buy.

We are all only a phone call away, a six-inch dotted yellow line away from this grief, knees hitting the ground and the screams echoing loud inside our head. But can we remember, also, that we are all only a prayer away from heaven, the One who knows all and holds all and loves all?

The throne of grace is only reached through brokenness; is only touched when some manner of healing is needed.

I spoke with a man, once, who had driven his tractor over his own wife, him not realizing she was there bringing him a sandwich and lemonade for lunch.

“I don’t remember,” he whispered, “I don’t remember the funeral, the weeks following. Even now, I don’t know what color her casket was. What I remember most was climbing alone into the mountains where we often went for picnics, her and I and the girls, and I found this place where we used to go and there were rocks, huge rocks, where we used to sit together and watch the day end. I started screaming,” he said, “I screamed and screamed and I flung those rocks hard down the mountain. I knew nothing but rage. Nothing but pain. And then the sun went down. I watched the way it fell into the lake below. I’ve never seen a sunset since that was more beautiful. I stayed there, then, holding my knees to my chest, just sobbing and the moon came out and the stars along with them. I felt God, then. He slipped his arms around me. I knew at that moment that the emptiness I felt was only going to be filled with love.

Yes, we can fill the emptiness of grief that way, by continuing to love what is gone, by reaching to love those left behind, by filling ourselves full to the brim with God’s love.

So when Mother’s Day comes, it’s okay to take a moment in the card aisle and hold close some words that remind you of her. Maybe you buy her some dark chocolates and remember her each time you take a bite. Maybe you take your motherless daughters up the high mountain with the big rocks and you sit there watching the sunset, drinking lemonade and eating sandwiches and remembering. Maybe you pour two cups of coffee instead of one, then sit extra long drinking from them both, watching the day rise and remembering your years together.

It takes great bravery to face grief, to experience the sadness of it all… but the brave, I realize, have faith in a God who will see them through.

So when that storm rolls in my friend, and the sky bends low to the earth, maybe it’s God way of leaning close to your ear and whispering, “We’ll get through this… We’ll be okay…”

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalms 34:18 NIV