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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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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What God May Want to Teach Us through Our Exhaustion

rusting windowLately, I’ve felt exhausted. If it’s not the physical exhaustion from waking up multiple times a night to feed my four month old, it’s the exhaustion that comes with trying so hard to instill character and discipline in my 2, 4, and 5 year olds. But the reminding, the instructing, the modeling, the reinforcing—well, as any parent in the trenches knows, it’s a lot. It is hard work that takes everything you’ve got… and then some.

The other night on my way back from a book group I attend, I was thinking about some of the other mothers I know and how there is this same look of exhaustion and, at times, almost desperation in their eyes. I was thinking about how often we long to spend more time with each other, but we simply don’t have any more of ourselves to give when it comes to the end of our days. And then I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me with this question:

Do you think there might be a purpose in the near-constant state of exhaustion that we feel as parents of young children?

“A purpose?” I wondered. “Why would there be a purpose to our exhaustion?”

1. “You Need Me.” The words came as a loving reminder. A newborn baby relies on his or her caregivers for everything. From feeding, to changing, to swaddling, or even burping—a baby is an adorable bundle of need, but a bundle of need, nonetheless.

But like that baby, we as mamas are needy, dependent beings too. We face taxing physical demands: night-wakings, carrying little ones, feeding, bathing, changing, dressing, undressing, cooking and laundering for them. And beyond the physical, as our children grow, there are the almost moment-by-moment dilemmas we face in questions of discipline and priorities, the trying of our patience, and the doubting of our own wisdom.

Perhaps, God wants us to begin parenthood feeling completely at the end of ourselves because that’s the place where good parenting begins. When we realize that we aren’t enough, when we realize how desperately we need God to show up, perhaps that’s the place where everything that is any good happens.

2. “You Can’t Do It All.”
I tend to burn the candle on both ends. I have a hard time turning in when something I’m working on isn’t finished. I have to remind myself that the Bible says, “In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:2)

Part of the discipline of trusting the Lord, is trusting that he has given exactly the number of hours we need to do the tasks he wants us to do. We rest in his grace and not in our power or works, when we go to bed at a reasonable time or even take a nap when we need it. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Jesus, himself, moved within the limits of a twenty-four hour day. Certainly, he could have worked later or gotten up earlier…healed one more, taught one more parable, but he trusted in the limits God had put on his physical body. How much more should we trust God with leaving things undone! He is in control. And rest is his gift of grace to us.

3. “You Are Loved, Just Because.” Sometimes when we are exhausted, we just can’t. We can’t take the meal to the family who is in need. We can’t sign up for the ministry that could desperately use an extra hand. We can’t even perfect our talents or gifts because quite frankly, we don’t have the time or the energy.

And you know what, it’s okay. (Gasp!)

Yes, it’s okay. It’s okay because God doesn’t love you for what you do for Him. He loves you simply because He is love. It’s okay because the success of God’s great plans doesn’t rest on your shoulders, but on His. It’s okay because life has seasons, and you are in an especially demanding season.

When I was younger, I read the biography of Amy Carmichael, a famous missionary to India who cared for hundreds of orphaned children. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was what she learned at the end of her life. After a lifetime of “doing” for Jesus, she was stuck in bed. While her mind was strong, her body was not. And for the first time, she learned that God did not love her for what she “did” for him—as if God actually needs anything from us—but that he loved her, simply loved her.

While God certainly is pleased when we join Him in serving others, He does not “need” us. He loves us even when all we can do is lie in bed. He loves us for who we are in Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly sure God is trying to teach me something through the exhausting, desperate days of parenthood. What better place to start the journey than at the end of ourselves. What better way to love our kids, than to know that while we are finite we can point them to a God whose strength is infinite. What better way to rest in what we have to give today, than in knowing we are loved, simply loved.

So dear one, if you are exhausted, breathe. Go to bed early tonight and trust in the limitations God has given you as part of His grace to you. Trust that the little you have is enough, if you give it to Him. Trust that He loves you, and rest.

 

Isn’t it good news that God is speaking to us in even the hardest places? I’ve come to live expecting to hear from Him in all kinds of places… places of hope, of desperation, and of joy. He whispers to us in all of these if we listen. Would you join me in expecting God in our everyday lives and struggles? If I could encourage you in this listening…in this living expectantly, it would be my honor to have you sign up to receive these posts straight to your inbox.

Two Gifts to Give Before Valentine’s Day

IMG_0547It was summertime. The car was suffocating, but it wasn’t because of the heat. It was because neither of us were talking. If we hadn’t had 3 kids in the car making their own racket, the silence would have been deafening.

The day had started out as a lovely idea—a late afternoon trip to Harper’s Ferry. We’d show the kids where William & Clark laid in supplies for their famous journey; we’d sit out on a patio somewhere and enjoy dinner in the late summer air; and later, we’d walk down to where the rivers meet. But like so many lovely ideas that begin so well in our imaginations, it had ended with us grumpy, irritated, hurt, and frustrated.

It was a series of little things: whiny children, overpriced food, a closed museum, pet peeves, unmet expectations and it culminated in a moment where we both felt the other had woefully missed the mark. It was a narrow sidewalk with cars passing. There was a couple kissing in the sidewalk and a lady taking pictures, apparently an engagement photo shoot. I was trying to keep the kids from stepping out into the road. He thought I was being rude to the couple in their special moment. I thought the smooching couple (who had been there for at least 30 minutes trying to capture the perfect on camera smooch) was being inconsiderate of a pregnant woman trying to keep two kids from oncoming traffic (albeit very slow traffic) and a dad with a baby in a stroller. My husband called my name in an exasperated and embarrassed voice. And I felt like crawling under a rock and dying right there I was so embarrassed. He felt frustrated and embarrassed by how inconsiderate I was being. At that moment, I thought he considered someone else’s bride more important than his own.

Petty. Small stuff. Stuff that looms enormously large at the moment, in the raw emotion of the moment, but which even a few days or months later just seems insufferably inconsequential.

But it’s what we do with this kind of thing that makes marriages either crumble or grow stronger. Do we stuff it down? Do we put on a civil face but inside fume and fester? Do we burrow down in our own little bitterness hideout? Do we bring it up? Snap it in one another’s faces at the most inappropriate times? Do we add it to a list, a list which will come out to hurt and haunt the other at just the worst time or a list which we mull over again and again in a growing pleasure of discontent? Do you see?

What do you do with this kind of stuff?

Before I got married, I took a trip to the tiny country of Rwanda. In a country, hardly bigger than Maryland, in 100 days, close to 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutu were killed. I went to interview these brave survivors, to hear their stories and to hear how people who had lost children, parents, a husband or a wife were now radically forgiving those who had hurt them. I heard how former enemies were now caring for one another, helping one another, rebuilding their lives.

Now fast-forward 8 summers later. And there you’ll find me—uncomfortably silent, seriously having trouble forgiving my husband for wanting me to move a few inches over out of consideration for someone else on such a special day. Um hello? Yes, I am this petty. I get caught up in my own self, in my own thoughts, in my own agenda.

But I’m glad that I began my marriage with writing a book about radical forgiveness. Even though it doesn’t keep me from stupid misunderstandings and hurt feelings and unkind words I wish I hadn’t said. It does often harken me back to reality. It makes me say:

“Can we talk about what just happened back there? I want to tell you how it made me feel…”

It’s tough sometimes to swallow your hurt and anger and frustration enough to open up this kind of conversation. But if you can, and if you can really listen, often you’ll discover you didn’t have the whole picture. Often you’ll discover a way to have compassion for each other, a way to have empathy for one another. And perhaps, you’ll find it in your heart for what comes next.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t seeing things from that angle.”

“I’m sorry. I would never, ever want to make you feel that way.”

It leads to me taking the time to get my heart to a place of true forgiveness because I know just how much it matters. It leads to words of forgiveness. It leads to burying the matter in the past and moving ahead together.

Because here’s the thing, when we keep that list—the one where we keep track of the wrongs against us—pretty soon we only see our loved one through the hazy lens of that list. Pretty soon, no matter how hard your spouse is trying or what good things are also happening, every moment is seen through the tainted focus of the list of disappointments and wrongs. And when we stuff it down and can’t talk about the hard stuff, we don’t get to enjoy the intimacy of knowing another better, of loving another with a more intricate knowledge, of discovering empathy.

So, before you get to this Valentine’s Day. Could you do yourself and your spouse a favor? If you’ve been keeping a list, or keeping score, or burrowing with the hurt, could you deal with it?

Here are two gifts I recommend that we all could give:

In every relationship—be it marriage or friendship or parent-child, we will all play both the part of the offended and the offender. Two little words—“I’m sorry”– wrapped ever so carefully, ever so sincerely, these words can begin a trajectory of restoration. They can begin a conversation of healing.

Three words can be given as a gift even before they are spoken. “I forgive you.” True forgiveness—sincere forgiveness–not only is the key to unlock our own prisons of bitterness, but it is also a gift that can change someone else’s heart. It can start to work its miracle before a cold heart has even acknowledged a wrong. Forgiveness thaws. And once that thaw begins… winter’s grip is never again so strong.

So, I’ve taken a moment to be vulnerable with you. Would you take a moment to be vulnerable before God? Would you be honest with the ways you’ve been petty? Would you be honest with the things you aren’t forgiving? Would you be honest with the ways you’ve wronged the one you love?

Flowers, dinners out, chocolates, or cards mean little if there is an unhealthy relationship just below the surface. Why not give some better gifts this Valentine’s Day? Before you speak a word to your spouse, talk to God about these gifts. Ask God to show you how you’ve wronged the one you love and ask God to give you the grace to forgive the ways in which you’ve been wronged. Ask Him to help you to turn conflict into opportunities for growth and intimacy. And then ask Him what next. Chances are this gift won’t be quite as easy as flowers and candy, but there’s a guarantee that it will be sweeter.

 

(By the way, just in case you were wondering, my husband was in 100% agreement with me sharing this post. He’s awesome like that. ) 

And if you’re new here, I’d love for you to find a friend here in this little corner of cyberspace. I’m reaching out trying to encourage myself and others to live a deep and fearless faith. Hard things like forgiveness are part of it. Radical things like joy are too. Sign up to have these posts delivered to your inbox or follow me on Facebook. I’d love to walk this journey with you.

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