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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The Making of a Home: The View from My Kitchen Window

snowball fight

It’s been 3 days since our epic Virginia blizzard and I’m staring out my kitchen window at my husband hurling snowballs at our two oldest boys. He’s pressed pause on his work on this particular Tuesday afternoon to make memories with our 4 and 5 year old boys and what for us is an unreal 3 feet of snow. I’m dawdling over the dirty dishes so I can watch them, finding myself falling in love with this good man all over again.

My oldest son has carved a trench in the snow and he’s been saving up ammunition for dad’s appearing. There’s a big smile on my husband’s face as he ducks and dodges the barrage–friendly fire.

In a few minutes, my husband makes his way to the top of our steeply sloped backyard with the four year old, sleds in hand. I add some more soap to the suds and watch the silent movie unfold.

When you add little ones to snow, you have a wintry mix calling for abundant patience. A child plodding through 3 feet of powdery snow on an upward slope plods slowly—pain…fully slowly—along. Once atop the hill there’s the displaced mitten that needs replacing, there’s the hat that needs to be pulled down again, and there’s the sled that needs to be held in place while the abominable snowsuit clumsily piles on.

I watch this man I married patiently, gently waiting: letting the little one struggle with the things that make him stronger and helping with the things that simply exasperate. It’s a good father who knows the difference. Finally the minutes of patience pay off with seconds of glee. Open-mouthed, hollering glee.

And then they repeat: plod, patience, push, glee. On the third go round, they decide to share a sled. It’s cute: full grown man and little man sharing a two foot disc of plastic careening down a hill, twisting, turning, heads thrown back in laughter. This is the good stuff– the moments kids remember when they shut their tired lids at night. And perhaps just perhaps it’s that earliest memory that somehow makes it into adulthood, the one that grounds you with a deep mooring of being loved and held, and of being caught up in joy and adventure and wildness, of simultaneously being daring and of being protected by someone bigger than yourself. I smile: I get to watch it.

sleddinghappy sled

high fiveI love having a front-row seat to this man who won my heart growing into the kind of father who is winning the hearts of his boys. When we set out on this journey of marriage we both only had vague notions of what the other would be like as mother or as father. That kind of love sees the bud, but it is breathtaking to see the blossom, and I pray and hope that one day will be even more satisfying to taste the fruit of years of faithfulness. My husband wouldn’t like this analogy, I think as I chop the onions for the chili. He’d need something heartier, meatier, more manly. Prospect versus World Series winner: there we go, I think. I’m glad I was a decent scout.

But the truth of the matter is when you set out to build a house, you think about paint colors and floor plans, tile and carpet, but when you set out to build a home, you think about the people that are the weight-bearing beams. Houses are built of timber and brick and concrete; homes are built of heart and vision and faithfulness—and a man who has these in abundance is hard to find.

I’m draining the grease off the ground beef when I see my husband dart over to the trench my five year old is continuing to secure. The little one’s face is contorted in pain, tears stream down his face while daddy bends down to comfort him. That tenderness, that love–there it is again. In a few minutes, the tearful clouds have passed and they return to their play.

helping

By this time the baby has stirred and so I stop my dinner prep to tend to him and then to the toddler who’s awakened from his nap. A while later Dad heads back to his home office for a bit more work before dinner. He must pay the toll before passing, however, and I thank him for being such a good daddy as he places a snow-cold hand on my back and gives me a kiss. He doesn’t know I’ve been spying on him from the window, thanking my sweet Jesus for gracing me with this man.

Soon boys stomp snow covered boots on the back steps. And then there’s a flurry of wet socks, snow pants, jackets and mittens piled into the laundry basket and a mess of half-clad boys clamoring for hot cocoa. I tend to them and then to dinner.

After dinner, I find myself back at the kitchen window, washing up the chili bowls and thinking again about the view I have on the man I love.

Kitchen Window

There aren’t many people in this world that we get to view up close. I’m thankful that the man I get to see each day is the one who faithfully shovels the snow out of the driveway, who works hard providing and bears the heavy burden of planning for our future, who plays well and laughs often, who hugs and wrestles our boys and loves me with the kind of love God knew would make me flourish. I’m glad that whether or not I’m there watching, he’s being faithful, not perfect but faithful to love us well.

And as I’m looking out that back window, for a moment, I get the feeling that perhaps God is watching me from the other side of this same window. I sense that he sees the dishes washed, the onions chopped, the boys fed, dressed and re-dressed, the baby held, the tantrum soothed, in other words, the quiet ways I’m trying to be faithful too. I sense that perhaps he’s smiling at me, the other weight-bearing beam in this home being built on love.

I’m thankful that God is the foundation of this home. The solid rock which still stands even when we falter and fail, because we don’t always love well or parent patiently. And I’m also grateful that even though my husband’s not perfect, that God gave me the perfect man for me. I pray when he reads these words he’ll catch a glimpse of the view I see through my window.

 

If you’re reading this, chances are there is someone whose faithfulness comes to mind for you too. Perhaps you’ve seen the faithfulness of your spouse, or your own mother or father, or a daughter or son as they grow into a loving parent. If so, would you share this with that person and thank them. Tell them what you see through the special window God has given you and thank them for the way you’ve been blessed because of it.

Accustomed to Him

“Some of the greatest beauties [of this world], are its briefest.”—Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

shelter-from-the-storm-

I’m in those hazy days of night-waking to feed a 3 month old. On the night stand, I’ve got size 2 diapers, baby wipes, a water bottle, tissues, and a well-marked book of poetry, Rainier Marie Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I know: one of these things is not like the other. But as mother of four boys under the age of six in the midst of diapers, dishes, fights, and fits, I find myself hungry for beauty. And while I can’t feast on beauty like I’d like to, I snack on it when I can.

There’s not enough solitude in my life right now. Not enough quiet. Not enough alone time for this introvert. My soul longs for quiet walks in the woods, for a morning to sip tea, to read or write and stare out the window at a blanket of snow-covered ground. But these days, there is rowdy bustle, clamoring for mommy, there is a broken dishwasher, and a pile of unfolded laundry.

So I’m learning and leaning and listening in for beauty like I haven’t before. I’m parched. One of the little snippets, I stretched for in the middle of the night, with the lights dim, to keep baby in that sleepy state as I nursed him, was this line from Rilke’s Book of Hours, it reads:

“We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times we just hear them more clearly.”

The “you” here is God. We become so accustomed to Him, that we no longer look up. We become so accustomed to His beauty, to His goodness, to His faithfulness that we no longer look up. When the ordinary things around me glow with His shadow, how rarely I see them. How rarely I acknowledge them. For all things, sing His praises, at times we just hear the melody more clearly.

I close the book and let the words sink in. I realize His shadow has just fallen across the page I’ve been reading, my page on this night and I look up. I acknowledge Him. I acknowledge this moment of beauty and then I turn my gaze to my sweet baby. He’s dimly lit. His cheeks are filling out. His hair is coming in finally, perhaps a quarter of an inch. And his face, his sweet perfect face. When the feeding is done, I gaze at him asleep for several moments longer than any sleep-deprived person in her right mind should. I drink Him in. He’s a masterpiece in the middle of my mundane. He’s a stunning work of art from God to me that I alone get to gaze upon and enjoy in this way, for this moment. Sure, I trust and pray that he will grow and bless others in manifold ways, but on this night I am the only one awake to witness this shooting star glimpse of the glory of God displayed in a baby, my baby.

Beau sleep

I must remember this. I must acknowledge the glow of God on this page, on this day, on this life.

A few days later, the dinner was done and the dishes finished. We were enjoying some of those alternatingly sweet and cringe-inducing moments with our boys before bedtime. There was the clamoring for firsts, and turns and mine, and there were the “play with me, mommy” and the child who crawls on the lap eager for just your presence. In other words, there was the simultaneous sweetness and senseless stuff of parenthood.

My husband had built a roaring fire and the big boys were for a moment enthralled in its warmth and glow. I had put on my favorite cd of George Winston’s Winter and had checked out for a moment to lay beside our sweet littlest one on his playmat. As I lay there watching his face, the song Joy came on. It is an arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and I love it so much, I chose it for our wedding march. Somehow the arrangement seems to accentuate the joy in that beautiful piece of music, the joy in the heart of one who desires Jesus. So as I was laying there, listening and watching, my sweet baby smiled with one of his brand-new grins and then began to coo at me.

Beau fire Beau Grin Beau Smile

The moment was so brief, so brief, but it was so beautiful it literally brought tears to my eyes. The music reminded me of God’s faithfulness to me on my wedding day; the smile reminded me of God’s faithfulness in giving us children. A moment later there was fighting and fussing. Ten minutes later there was the blur of bedtime routines and teeth-brushing and one-more-story-please-mommy.

Later, I scribbled down in my journal, “sometimes life’s greatest beauties are its briefest. We dismiss these because they are here one moment and gone the next, interrupted. Why don’t we instead treasure them for what they are? Why don’t we string them together in our minds like the beautiful pearls they are? Each glimpse deserves reverence for what it is: a glimpse of ultimate joy and beauty, a glimpse of the One who created and authored beauty, the One who is all-beautiful and all-good. The fleeting nature of these moments shouldn’t rob from them, but instead remind us that that which we long for is not of this world, it is eternal. We are thirsty for more because there is indeed more and because we are made for more. We are not satiated with interrupted grace because there is a source of unending grace.”

So I’m learning to not begrudge these little glimpses of grace and sips of beauty because they are fleeting. I’m learning to take them, accept them as the shadow that falls across the page I’m reading, as the feeling of a presence which makes me look up. They come in so many moments: in the sunrise of a smile, in the nestling head upon my shoulder as I read just one more story, in the whispered “Amen” of my two-year old, in the roar of a fire, and the first-fall of snow. Let me treasure these, string them together, lay them at His feet in praise. Let me not become so accustomed to grace that I no longer look up.

 

I couldn’t give you pictures of the exact nights that these happened–I try to be in my moments rather than behind a camera– and I’m not a great photographer, but I still wanted to give you a few of my beautiful Beau. I’m learning to treasure the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary and offer these moments back to God in praise. If you are new here and interested in reading more, sign up to the left to have these posts delivered straight to your inbox and check out my devotional journal for expectant mothers, Waiting in Wonder.

Parenting with an Eye to the Harvest

Harvest Parenting

It won’t be long now before we wake to a nip in the air. Soon enough days will be upon us again where maples blaze like Horeb’s fire, birches melt into gold, and redbuds bear their garnets and purples with royal dignity.

I’ll admit to you that I’ve already marked my calendar for apple-picking. I’ll admit that I get uncommonly giddy at the jeweled tones of root vegetables, of pumpkins popping color from every neighbor’s front step, and the perfect blue of a cloudless fall sky. But though I’m a lover of all things fall, when I examine myself closely I must also confess that I often largely miss one of the harvest season’s chief lessons.

Somehow in my world where dirt only gets under my fingernails when I’m cruising construction trucks out back with the boys, I miss the whispered truths known so intimately by those who stay attuned to the earth’s rhythms. I miss this law that is fundamental to the way God created the world–the law the farmer knows so keenly: we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).

In a world where I can plop down my credit card and receive the fruit of the sweat of another man’s brow, it’s easy to take for granted the patience, the foresight, the diligence, and the perseverance of the one who follows life from seed to sapling, from first fruits to final harvest. My character hasn’t been shaped by the long arc of expectation and toil. And I know I’m the poorer for it.

I’ve been thinking about this law of sowing and reaping a lot lately, especially as it relates to raising children. When I look out to the horizon, to that cusp of time where my children will change oh-so-gradually and yet oh-so-quickly into adults, (the way the sunset is both gradual and yet quick) I can’t help but think about this present moment. I can see that glimpse of the kind of men I want my boys to become: passionate for God, secure in Him and in who He has made them to be, wise, bold, and true to their word. I can see that glimpse and yet be so careless as to the numbered days between now and then.

I’m used to immediate results, the waxed perfection and uniformity of the produce aisle, and the fruit devoid of the sweat it took to taste it.

But the good news is, I can come to the Lord of the Harvest knowing my ignorance, my impatience, my lack of discipline, my short-sightedness—in short, knowing all the weaknesses I bring as a parent–and pray. I pray for my children and for that eventual day where all that my husband and I have sown into their young lives bears or fails to bear fruit.

I can come asking for that which I do not have: I can ask for the patience to persevere through many fallow days. I can plead for the foresight of the one who surveys the field, who studies the curves of the land and the composition of the soil and who carefully calculates what and when and how to plant. I can petition the Lord for faithfulness and diligence in the daily care of tender saplings. And I can groan for the grace it will take to trust that He is ultimately the Lord of it all, the one who enables the plant to grow, who provides the rain, and who ordains whether or not that tree bears fruit. I can come in my weakness, expecting His grace, wisdom and mercy.

And so I come knocking on Heaven’s door these days, for the strength to be the kind of person I want them to become and to love, and live, and parent each and every day with an eye to the harvest.

 

 

For our further meditation: Matthew 9:37-38, I Corinthians 3:7, Galatians 6:7

For our personal reflection:
One of our goals as Christian parents is to raise children who walk in relationship with Christ, depending on Him, finding their joy in Him, listening to and leaning on His words. How are you doing in modeling this? Is there a joy your children see in you—a joy they know that comes from walking closely with Christ?

 

Like what you’re reading? Click the “subscribe” button to your right to get these posts delivered to your inbox. Want to read more from me? Grab a copy of my devotional for expectant mothers for yourself or as a gift (Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting). Not your cup of tea? Check out my chronicle of a most unlikely story of forgiveness: As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda

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