The Both-ness of the Holidays

The Both-ness of the Holidays

I’ve got these red jar-style drinking glasses in my cupboard. I found them scattered on a dusty shelf in a chain store in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. They’re cheaply made, and the red flakes off if they’re anything but gently hand washed, but we love using them for holiday dinners. The harder clean-up is worth it to my family. I’m coming to realize that the holidays may be sweet as we move forward, but they may never be easy again. I wrote these words to a friend this week, the same friend whose family sat with us around our table in the tropics, pretending that the roast chicken was turkey and laughing as my youngest held her red glass high in ridiculous toasts to everything. The same friend who spent part of her Christmas break two years ago carefully...

Read More

The Same Ache

The Same Ache

I was halfway through sweeping up the crumbled edges of leaves carried in by my kids’ feet when it hit me that gratitude can feel a lot like sadness. These are grateful days, with the light slanting golden and rust through changing trees and our hours full of the things that matter most. The grace of it presses and aches in my chest the way grief did before in the unexpected leaving of home and community and ministry. And I remember again the abundance in letting go. The winding weight of those long months carved a canyon to welcome this rush of beauty now. Somewhere along the way the bitter ache bled slowly into the sweet, and I couldn’t tell you where one ended and the other began. Grief and gratitude aren’t separate. They’re one continuum, one story. They both...

Read More

When Your Healing Story Turns Out to Be an Epic

When Your Healing Story Turns Out to Be an Epic

The leaves are stubbornly green. The calendar says October, but the weary heat is still spread thick, like someone forgot to pack up summer and put it away. It’s exhausting to wait while a season hangs on long after it was supposed to change. October holds echoes of a lot of loss for my family. Most years hope sings over the echoes, coming in on cool autumn breeze while the trees glow a golden promise that all things are being made new. But this year the hot air is still, and the leaves are just curling brown on tired branches. It’s like the Carolinas have forgotten how to move forward in the wake of the hurricane’s trauma. Oh, beloved Carolinas, I understand. Trauma’s a funny thing. Sometimes it feels like the turning seasons have wiped most of it away, and then...

Read More

Living Tender in a Sandpaper World

Living Tender in a Sandpaper World

A picture of my friend’s blue-eyed baby girl hung on the wall as we sat at her kitchen table and caught up on life since I’d last hugged her neck four years ago. Last time, I met her for a hurried lunch as I passed through Nashville. This time my sister was with me as my relief driver on a quick up-and-back work trip, and my friend opened her home to us for the night. My sister sat there asking gentle questions about the little beauty on the wall, and the ache in my chest was no less than it was the first time I heard the story. A sudden seizure. Scans and tests and answers they didn’t want. Last memories, a fast decline, and a tiny grave just days before Christmas. My friend talked softly about the community that had come around them as they grieved. One young...

Read More

The Messy Middle

The Messy Middle

One of the hardest things for me during our years in family ministry was unfinished stories. More often than not, we watched our students blossom and their families flourish, but there were times we could do very little to help move a struggling family towards healing. It’s a special kind of hard to see a train wreck coming for people you love, and having to let go and leave them in their mess. Occasionally we hear updates about former students that remind us that it can take years for the waves of sin and trauma to crest, and we ache for them all over again. We couldn’t stop their pain then, and we can’t stop it now. The reality of ministry – the reality of life – is that there will always be unfinished stories, where the hopeless mess seems to be winning. I was...

Read More

No Shadow of Shame

No Shadow of Shame

I usually don’t even feel the words burrowing until they’re already under my skin. A little comment here, a critical thought there, slipping in and lodging like tiny splinters that feel like they should be easy to ignore. And there they sit, taking root until I’ve incorporated their poison and pain into my movements like they’re just part of who I am. Sometimes I don’t realize how much I’ve slowed and stiffened until things that used to come easily just don’t anymore. Taking a full breath. Loving without fear. Letting myself be seen. Those splinter words are seeds of shame, and when they’ve grown a bit they can be downright paralyzing. Shame is an expert impersonator. It mimics our own voices, pretends it’s familiar and trustworthy, convinces us it belongs. After...

Read More