Psalm for a Lost Child

A month ago today, my dear friend lost her twelve-year-old son unexpectedly. He went to bed one Friday night in September with a cold, and the next morning, he didn’t wake up.

In my life, I have been shielded, so far, from debilitating griefs like this one. Loss is an ocean, and I am out of my depth as I try to tread this dark water with my friend. I don’t know how to “walk through this” with her, and I’m starting to hate that phrase — as if there is any “getting through” this kind of thing at all. As if I could do this “with” her — as if this were anything but the loneliest kind of grief.

Still, I’m learning to show up in the unknowing. To have the courage to talk and to ask — even if it means I say the wrong things more often than I say the right ones. Most mornings, all I can do is clasp my own remembrance necklace around my neck to remind me to hold the empty space. To remind me to pray. To remind me of Jack.

Today is the one-month anniversary of Jack’s death. Today I’d like to share the piece I wrote for his funeral. This is the best way I know how to join my friends in their pain, to make space, to remember.

photo credit: Filo.mena via photopin cc

photo credit: Filo.mena via photopin cc

If this was your plan, God, it’s a lousy one.

There. I said it.

What sense could there be in taking a healthy twelve-year-old while he sleeps? Contrary to the sympathy cards with their pastel colors and cursive sentiments, I do not believe you needed another angel in your heaven – filled as it is already with so many we have loved and lost.

You were there, God, in the moment Jack stepped from this world to the next, and you did not stop it, did not intervene, did not give us the miracle – and we want to know: What master plan would make this all okay?

You have plunged us into an ocean of grief, and we find ourselves confused and angry, pitched back and forth by questions with no answers. Why and why and why?

Here in this place, Hope feels as small and flimsy as a piece of driftwood.

Let it be enough.

Remind us that, in fact, your plan is not death, not death, never death – only ever redemption. That in spite of all of this grief, you have always been about repairing what was broken, returning what was lost, making things right.

Let this be the solid thing that we cling to, a raft that carries us through the grief. Where there are no answers, Lord, let your Love be the Answer, strong enough to hold the full weight of our anger. Our pain. Our broken, bleeding hearts.

If we’re being honest here, God, Heaven seems like a cheap consolation prize for an empty twin bed, Lightning MacQueen sheets still rumpled and waiting.

Teach us to lie still, our backs against the sturdy raft of incomprehensible hope and look to the sky.

Show us the stars as they come out, both visible and invisible, pinpricks of light scattered across the whole of the dark. Lighting it just a little, just enough. Let those stars be signposts that point us to that foreign city where all is being made right, where we will find each other again.

May heaven become real in our hearts – that place where Jack is running, where Love is winning, where that terrible machine of Pain and Death is being dismantled, finally, one piece at a time.

You are standing at finish line that is also a starting gate. Teary-eyed, open-armed, waving that checkered flag. Calling us home.

One Year Bookaversary

when we were on fire - landscape 2 - smaller

My book is one year old today!

This morning, I went back and re-read the round-up for the When We Were on Fire Syncroblog that we did during release week last year. And I was floored all over again by the wisdom, insight, and clarity of your words.

The details of the stories are all different, and yet there are so many common threads that tie our faith journeys together. Striving and failing. Believing and doubting. Waiting for someone to say You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.

If you haven’t read the book yet, this would be a perfect day to order yourself a copy! It’s at Barnes and Noble or IndieBound or Books-a-Million, or of course, that giant mogul Amazon. You can also read more about the book itself here and watch my cobbled together “book trailer” here.

To celebrate one year, I’m going to eat cookies for breakfast. And also give away three copies of When We Were on Fire. To enter, simply leave a comment below telling me something good in your life today.

Thanks for sticking around, friends. It’s been quite a year.

In Transit

photo credit: ** RCB ** via photopin cc

photo credit: ** RCB ** via photopin cc

It’s Sunday afternoon, and both of my flights from Peoria to Minneapolis are delayed.

I’m mostly not bothered by this, though I do wish that there was a restaurant in the Peoria airport. Still, the airport seems as good a place as any to write and watch online TV and recoup from a busy weekend speaking. I learn that my flight has been pushed about the same time that I realize that my only dinner options here are nachos with pumped cheese, heat-lamp pizza, or a bag of Lays. So I decide on wine instead.

There is only one option for red and one for white, and when I order the cab, the woman in fluorescent pink shirt at the bar fills the glass up all the way to the top so that the red wine is flush with the edge. “Wow,” I say, taking a few classless slurps like a puppy before I can finally pick it up and drink it. “For $7.50 a glass, this is how I pour,” she’d said grinning a wide-crooked-tooth smile, her whole face glowing holy in the thrown light of the football game on hanging, sports bar TVs.

And who knows? Maybe it’s that over-filled glass of airport cabernet, or maybe it’s the afterglow of the weekend itself — exhausting and intoxicating and beautiful. Sorting through faith past and present over wood fire pizzas and fancy coffee, heavy chocolate cake and salted caramel ice cream, eating and talking with the pastor and his wife and my childhood best friend late until way past my bedtime. Maybe it was speaking that morning at their beautiful little church, the homeless man in front grinning at me under a mop of unkempt hair, the audience nodding like they understood exactly.

Whatever it is, I can’t seem to stop looking around. I can’t seem to open my computer and make myself write. I want to make small talk with the woman working the bar. She’s having her first baby, her stomach just beginning to round. It’s a boy, she says. We found out early because he was showing it off. I want to talk to the guy next to me, who shows us pictures of his six-month-old daughter and talks about the book he wants to write — the one about his grandfather and the war.

The airport is overheated, and we’re all sweating under the lights, and even though I know it’s perspiration and overhead lighting, it looks to me like they’re glowing. Like they’re straight from an old episode of Touched by an Angel, an open beam of heaven pouring over their seats.

Sometimes I’m stopped still when I ask questions. When I listen. When I stop trying to figure out how to write my own story and listen to someone else’s. So I sit at the airport bar and slurp my extremely full glass of cab, and I am dazzled by the beauty of all these strangers, loved as they are by God, known as they are in all their details. I’m almost disappointed when the flight gets un-delayed, and I have to abandon them mid conversation and hurry to my gate.

But there are people glowing there too — flight attendants talking wryly about the O’Hare delays, rolling their eyes about furious customers. Like we have ANY power to change anything here, they say under their breath to me. Their airport uniforms have little bows tied stiffly under their chins. I ask if they’re itchy. You have no idea. One of them says to me, and then she tags my carry-on and takes it into the airplane for me.

There are six of us on the flight, and it only takes a half hour to cut across the endless farmland between Chicago and Peoria. The thin Indian man who gets off with me has been in town to meet a girl that he met online. How did it go? I ask. He looks at me sadly, Not good, actually. 

We walk at a quick gait through O’Hare, pulling our rolling, carry-on luggage behind us, and he tells me how perfect it seemed in writing, and how quickly it disintegrated. I don’t say much, just listen and nod and make sympathetic sounds.

When it’s time to part ways toward different gates, he turns and says, How do you stay so positive? And this would be a great time to tell him about Jesus if I knew what that meant anymore. Once upon a time, I would have known how to segue a perfectly leading question like that one into a three minute testimony and a quick gospel presentation.

If I said Jesus, it would be the truth…but I don’t think it would sound like truth. It would sound like a sound-byte, a reduction, a cliched religious gold star.

I want to tell him that he is beautiful; that everyone here is so beautiful. That every so often, it feels like the heavens part open Touched-by-an-Angel-style, and I can see everything so clearly: we are all in transit. Weary travelers, being led quietly home.

I want to tell him that I’m thinking of God, that I’m thinking of Love, that I don’t understand how God can be close to all of us at once, but that in this moment, I believe it more deeply than I have in a long time.

Instead I shift and grin dumbly at him. He looks at his watch, Keep smiling, he says. And I do. I smile at the woman in the leather boots and the old man on the electric wheelchair and at the woman at gate C8. Did you have a nice weekend? I ask her. Busy. I was moving, she says, scanning my ticket. Next to her, a tired eyed woman fields an angry call. I can tell because she keeps saying, I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry. Yes I know. I’m sorry. I ask her about the move and she talks and talks. She tells me about loud neighbors and unpacked boxes and new possibilities, and her eyes shine with hope.

In the waiting area, I smile at the woman next to me, who tells me that she just got a new job in Boston. When she leaves, I smile at another woman, and she tells me that she’s heading to a job interview. So many people. So many stories. Listen, listen, listen.

In transit, I never do tell anyone about Jesus. But it’s like Jesus is telling me about them. It’s like he’s pointing out each person, showing me his great love, one by one, all of us found. One by one, strangers tell me their stories, unbidden, and it’s like God is filling my cup all the way to the tip-top with goodness, like it’s more than I paid for, more than I bargained for.

My flight is two hours delayed, and I am exhausted and happy, knocked off balance by all the beauty. The plane boards, and we all settle into our seats. We are in transit. We are, all of us, on our way home.

Rethinking the Why

photo credit: milos milosevic via photopin cc

photo credit: milos milosevic via photopin cc

Somewhere in the total catastrophe that is my guest room, there is a binder that I kept the summer of 2011, when I was getting ready to start a blog.

The binder is full of scribbled tips from The Pros on blogging and social media. I think there is a haphazard list of evangelical terms and clichés that I planned to write about and a running list of blogs I was following.

And then, there’s the Why. At the top of a sheet of notebook paper, I wrote the question, Why are you writing this blog? And then, in my hastiest my-kids-are-finally-napping cursive, I made an attempt at an answer.

I had lots of reasons for starting the blog (not the least of which was because my agent made me). But the primary drive for me then was that I wanted to be part of The Conversation.

What this Conversation was exactly and where it was occurring, I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I was that there were a few glaring Issues with the way we were doing faith, and I had Things To Say about it.

What I failed to factor into my righteous indignation and blog planning, however, is the fact that I’ve never been great at large-group discussion. In high school, I regularly got docked participation points because I preferred to sit in the corner and doodle, listening intently, but rarely engaging. In fact, the only time I regularly spoke up in class was that year in graduate school during my Mad Season, when I showed up for class every week semi-blitzed on margaritas. Then I had all kinds of wacky things to say.

Anyway, when I finally did stumble upon The Conversation in the blogging world, it was every bit as electric as I thought it would be. For the first time in a long time (maybe ever?), I felt movement and discussion around faith. My voice echoed and was echoed by other beautiful, smart, incredible people, and it felt empowering and exciting to me, like the maybe I wasn’t alone after all.

Things were changing and growing and shifting – and in the process, space was opening up for questions and healing and recovering. I loved it. I love it still. I love the thoughtful ways that people of faith are engaging with the past, present and future. I love the ways that Christians are learning to value story and vulnerability. Really great questions are being asked; there is less fear around the gray areas, more willingness to make room for tension and mystery.

And for that first season of blogging, I felt like I got to be a little part of it. I got to tell my story. I got to ask questions about the words we use when we talk about faith. I got to do it in some really unexpected and fun settings like On Faith and Relevant and Christianity Today.

And it was amazing. And it was terrifying. Out came the Internet Trolls, telling me all the ways I’d gotten it wrong. Out came the uncertainty, the second-guessing. The Conversation seemed to require that I have coherent answers to all the hot-button issues, which I don’t.  The more I participated in these high-level discussions, the more exhausted I became.

I still really value The Conversation happening around faith. I really do. I am so deeply appreciative for the ones at the forefront of faith and culture, carving out the space, fighting for understanding, making a way forward. I’ll probably still creep out of my classroom corner from time to time to offer a few words there. And yet, it’s become less and less of a driving force for me in my writing.

What is driving me are the lowercase-c conversations. The little ones. I came back to this blog (even though my book is still not done) because I missed these small explorations, working out my faith in words, sharing the deep parts of my own journey in the hope that somehow intersects with yours.

*

Look, there are a hundred million blogs on the Internet.

Why should you read this one?

Read it because living in the tension of faith and doubt is hard and lonely, and it shouldn’t be.

Read this blog when you’re not ready to go back to church. Read it if you’re looking for a church – a place, your people ­– and it’s breaking your heart. Read it as you sort out your baggage and try to figure things out.

There is no Band-Aid Jesus here. Only real, broken hearts, somehow — miraculously — not crumbling into dust.

Come to this space when you find yourself at that narrow edge between cynicism and hope, looking for a way to move forward, not sure at all what it is.

Come to re-imagine.

Come because you don’t have to be good to be loved…and because it’s so hard to remember that.

If you’re a pastor, and you’re looking for ways to engage with the cynics, the former church kids disappeared, read this blog. I don’t have Big Picture Answers or step-by-step instructions, but I will tell you about my own cynic heart. I will share my messy journal as honestly as I know how. In the comments, you will see brilliant insights and stunning vulnerability, and it will help you understand.

Read this blog because it’s fall now, and the sun is getting farther away. The world is getting darker and colder, and it so often feels like God is absent.

But the ducks are rising winged off of the pond, and God is the air that carries them. Carries all of us.

Come here to breathe in. Breathe out. Begin again.