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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A Half-Full Cup of Coffee: A New Perspective on Our Interruptions

coffee


The half-drunk cup of coffee is a running joke in our family. At the end of many a day, my husband will be loading the dishes into the dishwasher and will find my half-empty cup of coffee sitting cold in the microwave or resting idly on the counter. With four children under six, the morning ritual was of course interrupted by the baby’s cry, by the toddler needing help at the potty, by the fight which needed breaking up, by the “Can you cut my waffle, mommy?”, the tantrum over not getting to be first, and on and on the list goes.

There’s a glorious inefficiency to motherhood. It doesn’t seem to matter the task, there are always ample interruptions before it can be completed. This, of course, is because there are so many little people who depend on us to do the most basic stuff of life: from pouring milk to wiping noses to intervening in conflicts.

There are points in my day where I do nothing but hold. The baby needs holding because he is fussing. Just about the time I get him down for a nap, the toddler wakes up from his nap grumpy. He refuses to be put down and so I hold him, loving him happy again. About that time the baby has woken up again and needs feeding and a fresh round of holding all over again. And whatever task loomed large in front of me, is still undone.

By the time the day is done, the tasks are still half-done, like my half-drunk cup of coffee. There’s this tantalizing satisfaction that eludes us. If I could just finish… If I could be left alone long enough to… If I could even complete a thought… how wonderful it would be to finish something—especially that cup of coffee.

Perhaps it is because the work of raising children is so abstract, that we long to complete something, anything. But in our lust for completion if we’re not careful, the children come to be seen as obstacles, impediments to our progress.

It’s hard to remember amidst the pure drivel of mundane how deeply important all of those interruptions are. In fact, perhaps it would be better to see things in reverse: the tasks (laundry, dinner, cleaning, our work outside the home, etc.) might, in fact, be the things which interrupt us from the main work of loving these little people into mature adults.

So here’s another perspective: art has never been an efficient process. An artist doesn’t sit down to his canvas and think, “How can I finish this process most quickly so I can get on with the other parts of my life?” We’d laugh if we heard an artist say that. We might wonder: “Where’s his passion for his work?” “When did something of beauty come quickly?” we might rightly ask.

Van Gogh once said, “Christ is more of an artist than the artists; he works in the living spirit and the living flesh, he makes men instead of statues.”

Perhaps, mothers work in this same domain. It is a work which happens in cooperation with the Spirit of God and only through His empowering, but it is a work nonetheless. It is a work which does not belong to us, isn’t completed by us, and yet somehow, we get to participate in it for a time.

Did you have to stop loading the dishwasher to teach a child to share? You work in living spirit and living flesh.

Did you have to put a pause on supper to help a little one acknowledge his wrong and say he’s sorry? You are making men, not statues.

Did you put down your phone, or computer, or turn off the TV to hold a crying child, to let her know she is deeply loved. You are working in the realm of something which will outlast time itself.

Can we find a little dignity in our duties if we see ourselves as apprentice artists with Christ—allowing God to work through us in the clay of molding and shaping the character of our children, graciously chiseling away at the bad habits, quietly brushing away the debris of sin and selfishness? Can we be patient with the process—remembering that in His time He will bring completion to His work?

Most importantly, can our children become the masterpieces in our eyes and not the impediment to it? Maybe, then we’ll see that half-drunk cup of coffee at the end of the day in a new light. We won’t feel sorry for ourselves, but rather remember how caught up we were in the beautiful work—God’s beautiful work. Maybe we’ll see the glass half full.

 

Thanks for reading–I pray you found something here of encouragement.  Perhaps, there’s a line here that will help someone you know love a little child a little better today–would you mind sharing this post with your friends? And if you aren’t a regular here, consider signing up to receive these posts straight to your inbox. It would be great if we could keep on spurring each other on to live a deep and fearless faith.

Fearfully, Wonderfully Snowed In: God in the Blizzard

snowfallAs a Florida girl living in Virginia, right in the bullseye of Jonas, I keep looking out my window utterly amazed. The snow is up to the roof of my children’s playhouse. I see the little chimney of it poking out with a pile of snow on top, a little frozen smoke puff. I know friends further north have seen more, but for this girl, this is the most snow I’ve seen in my entire life. And I keep having two simultaneous thoughts: how beautiful and how terrifying. As these thoughts keep colliding in my mind, I can’t help but think that all this snow has something to teach us.

The snow has made a new world out there. Everything is pristine, blanketed in purity. The trees are bedecked as brides. The limbs shimmer with powdered diamonds. Even the wind is in on the party, tossing sparkling confetti on the festal firs. As far as the eye can see there is the blinding brilliance of white. And just as when a bride enters the room, there is that reverent hush of a world watching in stillness and in awe.

snow in trees

And yet even as I stand back admiring this lovely world, there is another part of me that is afraid. The snow is so high; it’ll be days before we carve our way out. It is so soft and comes so lightly and yet it has the power to smother, to break, to bend, to bury. Even our toughest machines get caught in its drifts. Even our might is no match for this light beauty, should it continue to fall from heaven.

And as I feel the weight of wonder, I’m moved to remember a God who is simultaneously all-loving, all-good, all-beautiful and yet all-powerful, almighty, a force with which no man can reckon. Love the Lord. Fear the Lord. The burning brilliance of holiness is both something which compels our eyes and causes us to fall on our faces.

Like the awesome Aslan of Lewis’ Narnia, we might wonder with Lucy, is this lion safe? “’Safe?… Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” This world blanketed in white is a reminder of both aspects of our good and mighty God.

So what are we to do with this beautiful and yet fearful God? Like the snow, we better be prepared. For those well prepared, the snow holds no terror. But for those who have shirked its power, there is fear. God is good; but God is also coming and He is a mighty, beautiful force with which to be reckoned.

So how do we prepare for His coming? By confessing that we are utterly unprepared. By falling at the feet of this terrifying, beautiful God and pleading for His mercy. Repentance: I am undone by your holiness, Oh God. Belief: You alone can save me.

And here’s the wonder, He has and He does. God has turned that whole crushing weight of His wrath on His own Son, Jesus, on the cross. He was smothered, crushed, buried, that I might not be. The weight of this heavy load fell on Jesus that I might only feel the light cloak of righteousness on my shoulders. Oh weighty wonder. Oh heavy lightness! Let me remember both as I stare out my frosted window.

 

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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.

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