Weep with Me

an uprooted tree

About a month ago at our rental home, I stood at the sliding glass door with my heartbroken boys watching our beloved magnolia tree lacerated and ultimately severed with an ax. I felt each hit in the pit of my stomach as I watched. We’ve lived in this new place for less than a year, but it has been a hard-hitting year for my boys. One of the bright lights, in these difficult months had been our large backyard and in particular that tree. They’ve climbed this tree, swung from it, read under and in it, collected its funny pine cones, discovered treasures in it like a beautiful bird nest, and dug for worms in its shade. It has been a source of joy on some very hard days. And right outside that glass a paid worker was hacking away at that piece of goodness in our lives to reroute a drain system.

As I stood later watching an excavator ply at the root system of that ancient magnolia, I could feel why the year that had included a move to a different state had been so hard on my boys. Oh the roots! They were so much more intricate and elaborate; they were so much stronger than I knew from looking at the above-ground version of the tree. Watching the worker push that strong trunk again and again with that mighty machine, unsuccessfully trying to displace that stump from the ground, was both mesmerizing and unnerving. The machine itself would tip up off the ground as it tried to get enough traction to ply the trunk from the ground. It took hours getting it all out.  As I stood watching, I felt the crushing guilt of moving my boys, of uprooting them and all the manifold network of roots that were severed in the process.

a frozen waterfall

Strangely, later that day I was driving my boys down the mountain we live on when I caught sight of something that was both breathtakingly beautiful and yet somehow hit me as hauntingly sad. It was a frozen waterfall—the first one I’ve ever personally seen. It clung to the rocks, a cascade of icicles, frozen mid-motion. There it loomed above us a crystal chandelier, dangling from rocky crags, an extravagant spectacle of beauty, and yet also somehow cold, hard, and piercing with its myriad spiked edges. For weeks I haven’t been able to get that image from my mind. Did it have a meaning? Why had I seen it the day the magnolia died?

I’ve been wondering about it, rolling it around in the back of my mind. I know it didn’t have to have a meaning, but somehow it felt meaningful to me. As a person who has spent many years of my professional life telling people’s stories, I’ve noticed what a masterful storyteller God is. I’ve marveled at the way he weaves symbols into our stories, the way he shows us themes and ironies, and how he cares about our character arc and our resolution. And so I mulled the meaning of the tree, which felt so obvious, and the meaning of the frozen waterfall, which did not.

an invited guest

A week or so later, I couldn’t sleep. Tears kept slipping down my cheek and onto my pillowcase. It was after midnight. My husband was sleeping peacefully next to me. I didn’t want to wake him. I didn’t particularly want to be comforted. I just wanted to cry, and let the weight of many heartaches fall.

I slipped out of our room and into the family room. I sat on the floor next to the same sliding glass door where we’d watched the magnolia fall. And with the moon lending its light over that hollow place in the earth, I wept. I poured out my heart to Jesus not just about the ache I felt in uprooting my boys but about other sorrows I’d been carrying and wept and talked some more. There was no magic at the end. No real resolution. But afterward I felt spent and ready to sleep. I had wept and Jesus had wept with me. It was what I needed. I felt heard, seen, understood.

In my life I’ve known deep and meaningful friendships and since I’ve been married the depth of a truly intimate friendship with my spouse. But there is a way in which none of us can be completely known, completely empathized with, except through Christ. As Christians we have an unsurpassed intimacy with Christ. He has truly felt our every emotion alongside us. He has experienced with us both our highest joys and deepest sorrows in ways that even the most kindred of our friends, family or even spouse cannot. As George MacDonald writes, “In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter. I say not it is the innermost chamber.” There in the innermost chambers of our hearts we are known. This is intimacy.

a lyric of love

The next Sunday at church, our music minister sang a song from Rend Collective I’d never heard before called “Weep With Me.” The lyrics so perfectly encapsulated my after-midnight meeting with my Savior:

Weep with me
Lord will You weep with me?
I don’t need answers, all I need
Is to know that You care for me
Hear my plea
Are You even listening?
Lord I will wrestle with Your heart
But I won’t let You go
You know I believe
Help my unbelief
Yet I will praise You
Yet I will sing of Your name
Here in the shadows
Here I will offer my praise
What’s true in the light
Is still true in the dark
You’re good and You’re kind
And You care for this heart
Lord I believe
You weep with me
Part the seas
Lord make a way for me
Here in the midst of my lament
I have faith, yes I still believe
That You love me
Your plans are to prosper me
You’re working everything for good
Even when I can’t see
You know I believe, yeah
Help my unbelief, oh
Yet I will praise You
Yet I will sing of Your name
Here in the shadows
Here I will offer my praise
What’s true in the light
Is still true in the dark
You’re good and You’re kind
And You care for this heart
Lord I believe
That you weep with me

Songwriters: Ali Gilkeson / Chris Llewellyn / Gareth Gilkeson / Stephen Mitchell / Patrick Thompson
Weep With Me lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

I listened to that song on repeat every chance I had for the next week. It was full of so much truth. In it, I could hear and remember Christ pausing in the pregnant moment of time to weep with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead before nightfall, but he stops, he sees Mary in the depth of her pain, he experiences the pain and loss and sorrow with her, and he weeps (John 11:35). In the song, I could also hear the doubt and the faith of the man who had come to Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). And I could hear the echoes of Job, who could in the midst of his sorrow, say, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15).

three funerals, two hospital rooms, and a glass bottle

This week loss has echoed through my heart. My cousins lost their Dad on Thursday. A friend from college lost her husband and the father of their three children, the same day. And another friend lost his teenage son on Wednesday. Two other friends have children battling cancer in the hospital. And as I think of each of them, my heartaches seem small, but these truths loom even larger. Our Savior sees. Our Savior feels. Our Savior weeps.

And so as I’ve been mulling the haunting beauty of that frozen waterfall, the answer has come to me at last. I’ve long loved the verse in Psalm 42: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have washed over me.” That line comes from a psalm replete with questions (Where is your God? (Ps. 42:3), Why are you so downcast, oh my soul? Why so disturbed within me? (Ps. 42:5), Why have you forgotten me? (Ps. 42:9), Why must I go about mourning? (Ps. 42: 9). It comes from a Psalm famous for its longing: (As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you. (Ps. 42:1)). The psalmist feels flooded by wave upon wave of sorrow. And yet amidst that flood, deep calls to deep. Something deep within the heart of God calls to something deep within the heart of man.

Another passage in the Psalms, which has often given me comfort is: “You keep track of all my sorrows, you have collected all my tears in a bottle, you have recorded each one in your book” (Ps. 56:8). To me it is a reminder that not a tear has been shed which God has not seen, not a moment of loss is unimportant to Him.

In the shortest verse in the Bible, time itself seemed to stand still: “Jesus wept.” Jesus paused with Mary to weep over the Lazarus whom he would soon raise. And in the midst of the torrent of waves and breakers washing over the psalmist, time stands still. He hears deep calling to deep in the roar of the waterfalls. He feels known. And in the midst of my own sorrows, the sorrows of my children, the sorrows of my friends and family, he pauses for a moment from the always-forward work he is doing, from the story he is telling, he pauses to put his arms around us and weep with us.

If you could build a monument to the Savior who stands and weeps with us, I think it might look like a cascade of light and beauty, frozen in time. I think it might look like the hard, cold edges of sorrow, looming large from the crags of the mountain above, yet somehow transformed to a spectacle of glory as prisms of light invaded each frozen shard, as the pieces of the whole joined together to form a breathtaking masterpiece, as the very impermanence of it all spoke forth a truth that this is but a moment, a frozen breath, that whispers the story is not yet finished.  Maybe you’ll think I’m crazy but I think that’s why God drew my attention to the frozen waterfall the day the magnolia died. It was His ephemeral monument to the intimacy of sorrow shared, and heard, and known. He let me glimpse the tears caught in the bottle—his and mine and yours—frozen in time, and the light shining through them.

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Leap-aversery

Nine years ago last month, my husband, Mark, and I took a leap of faith. Shortly before, I’d taken the jump from a job I adored into the arms of stay-at-home parenting. And now that our firstborn was 10 months old, we took an even bigger leap to say farewell to his paycheck and the luxury of a company health-care plan for the dream of working from home and being his own boss.


We made the decision with caution. We had saved up enough to give the dream a go for six months. If we didn’t see signs of encouragement after those six months, he’d scour the job-search engines and circulate his resume again. Thankfully, when six months rolled around, he had done well enough that we took a deep breath and said we’d give it a go for another six. We’ve continued to set mini-goals and re-evaluation check-points along the way, but so far God has continued to give us the green light on the dream. And though there have been some very dramatic downs and ups, God has blessed our leap and our faith and that is how we find ourselves nine years on the other side of the chasm of the unknown.

Up until the time Mark turned in his resignation, he had been dutiful and productive in his work, but not happy. He was earning a living, but not loving the life it gave him. I knew him well enough to see that and to encourage him to give what looked like a risky venture to the outside world a go. While not everyone gets the joy of loving his or her job, I knew that if it was at all possible, I wanted Mark to spend his 9 to 5 doing something that would bring him deep satisfaction, just as my work as a writer had given me.

I often joke that my husband got the left brain and I got the right and together we make a whole brain. But in all seriousness, it hasn’t always been easy for me to understand what exactly it is about numbers and spreadsheets and studying a company’s quarterly earnings that makes him love working as a long-term investor for a living. But I have always respected the way God made him enough to see what makes him come alive and cheer him toward the godly use of those gifts.

The point of this post isn’t to pat ourselves on the back. Certainly, every provision we have received has been a gift from God’s hand, a mercy, and not a right or guarantee. God could have let those dreams fail and still been a good and faithful Father. But I bother sharing our leap-aversary at all because I think there is a goodness in taking a risk in faith and for the right reasons. My husband longed to be a part of the daily life of our family. He longed to use his gifts at that intersection of God’s glory and his deep gladness. And God blessed the dive.

Maybe God has been nudging you in some area to take a risk, to splatter some paint on a blank canvas, to speak into a void, or open yourself up to the pain of possible rejection. Have you stopped to listen? Have you stopped to dream? Risk is at the heart of the Christian life. Love risks. Faith risks. Faith can risk because faith has a faithful Father, willing to catch us even if everything falls apart.

So let me encourage you to slow down a minute. Ask the questions. “Where, God, are you calling me to take a holy risk?” And ask him to help you have the faith and the confidence in his character to sow your seeds of faith generously (2 Cor. 9:6). May I leave you with the words of one of my favorite poets, Rainier Marie Rilke:

“God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.”

Who knows? Maybe a year from now, you can write and tell me that you are celebrating your leap-aversary.

Awakening

Looking outside in this season of what Rosetti called “bleak mid-winter,” it is hard to imagine life is getting ready to burst out in splendid renewal. All we see are limbs standing naked of their glory, fields cowering beneath in their barrenness, and clouds shrouding the brightness of the sun. The earth beneath is hard and cold and unforgiving.


Just as the world outside us goes through seasons, I believe our souls do as well. In my life, I feel as though my inner creative world has been going through a long winter’s nap. Undoubtedly, for me the demands of five children under the age of 10 are such that the creative self has little room or time for blossoming. But lately, as I’ve pushed myself to truly practice Sabbath rest, I’ve felt a stirring.

The creative spirit needs Sabbath.

It began with just a simple yearning, a hunger I filled with His Word. It led from there to an ache for beauty. I slaked my thirst with gazing deeply at Jesus, but also beholding His glory in nature and poetry and music and dragging two toddlers with me to bask in beauty at our local art museum (this by the way, is not the ideal way to enjoy art). And it has led from there to tender shoots of inspiration—a gift, not a guarantee—pushing up through a cultivated soil.

“See I am doing a new thing,” the Lord says to the prophet Isaiah, “Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

As I meditate on these new awakenings I wonder. Perhaps the birth of all new things in our lives begins with a void. The emptiness gives ways to longing. The longing morphs into season of waiting, of aching. And then sometimes in the mercy of God, a new thing bursts forth, surprisingly in a way we could not have expected or imagined. “See I am doing a new thing,” the Lord says to the prophet Isaiah, “Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

From what I can tell, we don’t have much control over the seasons we face in our lives. But in every season, we worship God through a posture of faith, gratitude and expectancy.

Even the ache is a gift that can lead us to Him…

May I encourage you—if you are in a season of deep mid-winter—look with the eyes of faith. Even the discontentment, even the ache, is a pathway that will lead you to Him, if you are brave enough to follow it. God works wonders in the hidden places. Even resurrection began in the dark.

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How to Weather Adversity Like My 2 Year-Old

About a month ago, my sweet James caught his foot under him while playing in the basement. We didn’t see the moment that it happened and at two and a half, communication is still less than perfect. At first we thought he’d just stubbed a toe, but after a day went by and he refused to put any weight on the foot, we knew something was definitely wrong. After a trip to the pediatrician, the radiologist, and the orthopedist, he came home with a bright blue cast on his right foot—and a diagnosis: a fractured first metatarsal. There were a few tears at the doctor’s offices, but overall he was a brave boy. He even managed a smile on the ride home.

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This being my inaugural fractured bone as a mother of four boys, I didn’t know what to expect. But I’ll confess, I feared it was going to be a challenging several weeks. The first night we got home and I was putting him to bed he said, “Shoe off, mommy?” And then I explained to him that his blue boot couldn’t come off for at least four weeks. There were tears and more repeated requests that night and the next for me to take “the shoe” off, but after that he didn’t ask again.
Instead, he taught me a few lessons about handling adversity with a sweet spirit.

1) Accept your limitations. Since it basically rained most days here in the month of May and getting his cast wet was out of the question, we had to set pretty strict rules about him not playing outside most days. And even on the days when it dried up for a few hours, we couldn’t let him play in the grass where it was still wet. Several times he stood at the glass door like a forlorn puppy, while his brothers got to play outside. But he didn’t throw any tantrums or drive us crazy whining. He accepted his limitations with grace and looked around to see what else was available to him. Because no matter how small your yard is, you’ll waste what has been given you if you spend all your time looking at the fence.

2) Discover new strengths. With outside time being off limits and mobility up and down the stairs to the basement being somewhat a struggle, James turned his attention to puzzles. Before he got his cast on, we knew he had a slight interest in puzzles. Now 4 weeks later, he has absolutely amazed us. Since my other boys never really gravitated to puzzles, I didn’t have a whole lot of them around the house. I did, however, have a set of continent puzzles I’d gotten for teaching my 6 year old homeschool geography this year. James started out mastering South America. I was pleased, but with only about a dozen pieces I wasn’t surprised to see him memorizing the puzzle. Then he turned his attention to North America. When I noticed that he was matching the shapes of 50 states, Canadian territories, Mexico, Central America and the islands to the puzzle outline I called my husband to stare with me in disbelief. A day later, our 2.5 year old had conquered Asia, Europe, and Africa as well, all the while refusing help from anyone who offered and persevering til he finished the very last piece. If he hadn’t had the cast, who knows if we’d ever have discovered his hidden talent. Sometimes it takes a weakness to discover a strength we didn’t know we had.

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3) Love on others. There is only one member of the family less mobile (for the moment) than James and that is baby brother, Beau. James seized the moment amidst his trial to spend his “down” time with baby bro and give him some love and attention. Because no matter how bad things are, there is always someone else who could use your love and encouragement.

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4) Break expectations. When we finally had a dry enough day to play outside for a bit, with just a little bit of help on and off, James took immediately to his tricycle. Basketball and backgammon were also on the agenda. While we do have to accept our limitations, that doesn’t always mean we have to be defined by them.

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5) Let others help.  It was so sweet over the course of the weeks with his cast on to watch his brothers learn compassion and service. Each night, Isaiah faithfully prayed for James’ foot to heal. Luke was sweet to offer James his hand or build a special Lego surprise for him. Both boys served him by clearing his plate or bringing him his milk. It was a sweet reminder to this mama that sometimes our trials are God’s opportunities to help others learn service and compassion.

 

On Tuesday, we went back to the orthopedist. Thankfully, the bone appears to have healed. While James is still a little unsteady, he is on the road to full recovery, but we’re richer from having watched him walk through this trial with such grace. Next time I’m faced with something hard I hope I’ll remember my brave and cheerful little 2 year old and weather the storm with a smile.

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