A Blessing For This Weekend

Photo by Achim Ruhnau on Unsplash

May you see spring birds puffed up on branches to stay warm as they forage seeds, and may it remind you that God provides and cares even more for you. May you see diamonds in rain drops on buds and leaves. May your baby plants flourish with the promise that summer is coming.

May the weekend give you golden moments to be less efficient and more human, and may your inefficiency include walks in blowing snow and naps in warm blankets and conversations in real time. May someone hear your heart under your words, and may you listen to someone else in a way that helps them feel less alone.

May the strong arms of God, the compassion of Jesus, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit hold you.

A Benediction for Your Weekend

Because I believe that Christians should be people of benediction (bene: good + diction: speaking) here’s one for your weekend. I hope to be dropping benedictions here and there (blog, social media, cards) the next while.

May sweet, glad birdsong surprise you on your walks. May golden light highlight greens and whites, and if golden light isn’t happening today, may it fall on you sometime this week. May you eat enough fluffy carbs to make your soul happy, and enough protein to make your brain strong.

May your bones not break, and if they do, may you receive so much support and care that it makes you cry. May your grey hair stay well camouflaged, and if they spiral out in odd angles, may you remember all the goodness that brought you to this good age. May you take time for at least two naps.

May your heroes be people who love God supremely, love you like Jesus, and make you a better person. May the skin tones you see and the languages you hear give you a sneak peak of our eternal home and the wedding feast that will never end.


A List of Lists

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I am not one of those organized people who makes lists in order to feel good about their day. I hear them talking about writing a task on a list so they feel happy crossing it off, but I can’t identify with that.

However, I’ve discovered a way making lists that is enormously satisfying. I’m taking a 10-week writing course with the inimitable Rachel Devenish Ford. Twice a week, we meet over zoom, a dozen ladies across as many time zones, and Rachel, in Thailand’s sunshine, coaches us in writing from the heart. One way to write is to make lists, and then craft paragraphs from those lists.

The exercise reminded me of several years ago when I had an overwhelming decision to make, and I was paralyzed with fears. My pastor said I should list those fears. When I did, the fears suddenly didn’t feel so big or so many. Since then, I’ve often handed the same advice to someone who was overwhelmed. When they have too much on their mind and their nervous system is overloaded, writing a list is something they can manage.

It also reminds me of how I’ve kept a Thanks Journal for years, which is a daily list of something to be thankful for, some points of light to remember. It’s not eloquent or poetic. It’s quick and minimal but enough.

The beauty about lists is that they can be spare, ragged, choppy, and incomplete, but they carry the essence of what we want to express. In our writing course with Rachel, we’ve made lists about these subjects:

  • Who I am
  • What I notice in a favorite photo
  • The kinds of writing I feel the most drawn to
  • What I notice where I’m sitting (I had never noticed that I have green dolphins at my desk until I made a list of what I noticed.)
  • Impactful moments
  • What we want
  • What we have (I noticed that my want list included only one thing that costs money. Right afterward, Rachel coached us to list what we have, and I choked up because I have. So. Much.)
  • What we’ve learned

Some days, I amuse myself by thinking about all the fun lists I could make. Here is a list I could list:

  • Beautiful things
  • What I noticed in church today (includes many colors because that’s what I notice)
  • Things to do with one arm in a cast
  • Distractions
  • Cool things about living in America (could include interstate highways and pancakes the size of dinnerplates)
  • Uncool things about America (could include synthetically fragranced fabric softeners)
  • What I love about my people
  • Reasons to cry
  • Topics I could write about
  • Why I can’t write
  • Favorite parts of favorite books
  • Memorable meals
  • Heavenly fragrances (would not include fabric softener)
  • What I like about my age
  • Ways people have helped me
  • Lovely sounds (would include rain on a metal roof)

You might try this yourself. If writing a blog post or a poem or a letter feels like too much investment, or too weighty, try making a list and see where it takes you.

At the very least, you might surprise yourself at what you notice and what you have.

Promise and Paradox

Last Sunday afternoon, in a quiet moment between events, I read a message from a friend whose family has, in the last month, moved to a Greek island to help with the refugee crisis.

Two nights ago, as a little inflatable raft was crossing the sea, a young mother and her baby somehow fell overboard. Another passenger, who couldn’t swim, risked his life to rescue the mother but her precious baby was lost at sea. Today, this young mother sits in camp in shock and grief with no baby to suckle at her breast. [My daughter] sat with the passenger who rescued her and listened to his story, feeling so helpless as he shared his pain.

I wanted to crumple into a heap and wail at this awfulness but I had other obligations. I went early to a choral Christmas program where my friends were singing. I chatted and laughed in the front row with my cousins, taking in the ambience of candles, greenery, and lots of friends gathering around us. I was in my happy place.

But between the beautiful songs and poetry, my mind’s eye saw the black, choppy Aegean Sea and a baby falling from his mother’s arms and a rescue team unable to make everything ok.

I don’t have energy or space here to unpack the concept of paradox, but for now in this Advent, all I can say is: I’m riding a wild, rocky wave of both/and AND either/or. These days are deep and dark but I’ve discovered a level of peace and stability in storms when I identify my current situation and decide whether to name it paradox or promise. When I know which one is washing over me, I’m ok, and I know I won’t drown.

On Sunday, I was living in paradox. Basically, I always live in paradox.

  1. Mothers and babies all over the world are crying from things that should never ever happen AND right now joy and beauty surrounds me.
  2. I carry heavy griefs that I name only to those closest to me AND I’m living my best life now.
  3. People are broken and damaged and hurtful AND people are beautiful and breathtakingly exquisite and splendid.

I also always live in promise. This is a binary, either/or frame of reference where I can rest my whole soul. Because one option is untenable and unbelievable, I have only one option to hold, and this grounds me.

  1. Either God is with me here or He’s not. 
  2. Either God will keep me every moment (like Psalm 121 repeats three times) or He won’t.
  3. God either loves me or He doesn’t.

This is not  a spin of positive thinking or a mantra, even though sometimes breathing short lines in and out helps, like little breath prayers. Inhale: I’m weak. Exhale: He’s strong. Sometimes I find beautiful breath prayers in @blackliturgies on Instagram, like this one: Inhale: God, I do not know the way. Exhale: Go before me in the dark.

Every Advent season, I’m always chagrined at how Advent series seep out of every author’s pen, and my inbox and social media feed overflows with offers for this or that Advent reading series, and I have no time to read them all. The little quotes and nuggets that writers highlight to make their words sound empathetic and thoughtful only weary me. It’s like everyone is trying to wring out something original and winsome and it all overwhelms me.

This year, Advent for me is darkness that knows light will come–a crashing chaos of paradox and promise, and I can recognize/name both, which keeps me from sinking. When I don’t know what is true, or I have trouble naming what IS, it’s time to talk with someone who can help me define the promises and the paradoxes. Some of those conversations this month sounded noisy and shouty and ugly, but it’s part of the process of naming what is.

For now, I’m reading Malcom Guite’s beautiful reflections in Waiting on the Word, which is like breathing in rich fresh air every morning. Beyond that, I’m not following all the Advent series out there. I’m listening to a lot of music, walking, reading multiple books, and making art. I’m limiting sugar, and prioritizing sleep. I feel like a racoon going into a hibernation, knowing spring will come.

It’ll be a long time coming, but it’s a promise.

Are You a Theologian?

My friends and I used to amuse ourselves by inventing cutesy, cringy names for women’s devotionals:

  • Coffee Time with God
  • Puppy Snuggles with God
  • Tea Cups and Promises

Our amusement came from what we saw as fluffy women’s devotionals that were packaged to make the content as winsome and inviting as possible, and we had no time for it.

I still don’t.

Observation 1: The devotional guides I’ve seen for women have disappointed me by being consumer-driven, comfy platitudes that try to make readers feel better. If you’re partial to a book or writer, and if you’ve found life in that content, I’m happy for you. There are some good writers out there but exceptional women’s devotional guides are rare.

Observation 2: Women need life-giving, rich input from God in order to fill their responsibilities well. I look at moms and the ways they see after their children, household, and neighbors with deep love, wisdom, and skills, and I think “How does she does she do it? She’s heroic!” Singles have other ways in which they give and feel depleted, but we all need so much more goodness and light than we can produce on our own.

This why I’m SO excited about the new Bible study guide, Kingdom of Priests! And until December 8, you can use a discount code to pre-order it: FRIENDS&FAMILY10. Run and get it for yourself and your friends, your small group, your neighbors. This is a meaty, serious, solid guide that you can take with you and be fed. A bonus for me is that my good friend Kristi wrote it, so I loved hearing her voice in it!

As a pilot tester, I got to do five of the ten lessons in the book. I loved the scope of the study, and how it explores the theme of priests from Genesis to Revelation. For years, I’ve been been thinking about the theme of temple—the places where we meet God—so studying priests fit perfectly into my line of interest.

The last few weeks, I began each day doing part of a lesson, and later, in the cracks of the day, my brain was pinging with ideas and words and concepts about priests and temples, the ways God shows His glory, the ways fallible humans represent God to their world. How does He trust us with so much! I kept thinking how much dignity and worth this calling of priesthood gives every person, how much responsibility women carry to represent God well regardless of their life calling.

In addition to probing the specific subject of priesthood, each chapter/lesson introduces a tool or a lens for exploring any Scripture passage. This give readers ways to study themes and passages of their interest, ways to teach Sunday school, and methods to study or lead Bible studies.

Probably the biggest weakness with women’s Bible studies is that we rush from the text to ourselves. We think “What’s in it for me? How does this speak to my situation?” I think that’s why those cutesy titles are wrong: they serve the reader who loves coffee or puppies instead of calling the reader to serve the text and its intentions.

Instead, we need to come to Scripture asking “Where is God here, and how is He revealing Himself? What is the author’s intent? How can I align my life with the ways God reveals His heart in His story?”

Imagine the results if women would sit in circles to explore these questions instead of talking about recipes and décor and gardening—all worthy topics in their places—but let’s not give ourselves a pass from studying Scripture, shrug, and say we’re not theologians or leaders. We ARE theologians—priests—in all the ways and places that we represent God to our world.

He doesn’t require us to be perfect, silver-tongued teachers, but shouldn’t we aim to be the best representatives of God we can be?

My Friend Ella

Our friendship began with my grudging, dutiful invitation to breakfast. It was in 2009. I’d heard that four German girls were touring Ireland and visiting our church Sunday morning, and I knew the right thing would be to ask them to my house for breakfast on Monday. I felt I was too busy, and I didn’t feel like hosting strangers, but it felt like the right thing to do.

God and Ella gave me far more than I deserved at that simple, pretty, dutiful breakfast. I don’t remember remember what food I made that morning—I’m sure it involved folded napkins and coffee—but I remember it only took a few minutes to discover the four ladies were delightful, fun, and gracious. Especially Ella, who was four years younger than me. She and I recognized each other as kindred spirits, and when it was time for them to leave, I didn’t want them to go. Esther was one of the four friends, and now she lives in Canada and I help edit her children’s books, but it was Ella who picked up the friendship right away.

Ella had bought my book, found my email address in it, and started emailing me in the next year. She was an English teacher in a Christian school in Germany, loved young people, loved life and travelling, and loved Jesus. She prayed about everything, and she pursued me and my interests more than I pursued her. I often felt like I was riding on the wave of her exuberance and love and enthusiasm, and it was delightful because usually in a friendship I feel I’m the one with the most words and energy.

I moved to Poland in 2015, and now we were closer neighbors. We brainstormed of ways and places we could spend time together. We emailed epistles to each other, moaning and dramatizing and dreaming and sharing delight about life, our English students, and our different worlds. She sent me Lindt chocolate frogs in hopes that one would turn into a Prince Charming.

We exchanged countless emails and gmail chats, howling around, laughing or groaning or complaining. During one chat in a dark, depressed November week, she suggested I join her in Ukraine for a youth mission conference the next week. “I’ll translate for you! You can meet nice people and see a different part of the world!” I bought tickets the next day, she arranged a ride for me from the Kiev airport, and we were set!

At the missionary conference, Ella forgot to translate most of the time, but we met lovely people and I had a great time in a camp where youth were lectured for hours on the importance of being missionaries. I still have the lesson plan that an English teacher gave me there. Ella explained Ukrainian/Russian Baptist culture, how I can’t pay for hospitality but can give gifts, how the women work so hard and age early, what’s appropriate between single men and women, and what’s expected of an American. Late at night, Ella and I laughed until we cried over my faux pas.

November 2012

Ella always talked about how much work she had as a teacher to grade papers, prepare lessons, and plan trips for her students whom she loved fiercely. She was equally loyal to her friends for whom she was always planning or hosting bridal showers or special birthday parties, and she would be out of breath about everything she needed to do, plus see after sick family members. She lived at an insane pace, but she was happy that way.

We wanted to go to Russia together. (She’d been born in Kazakstan.) She had family in Moscow whom she frequently visited, and we could take the train. She said it was too dangerous for just us two to go alone, and she had a guy cousin who could accompany us. I checked into tickets but I couldn’t afford the visa. I’m sad I never got to go with her. I was fascinated with her Russian Baptist take on the world, especially her deep distrust of Russian government. She talked about when they visited Kazakstan: “And we all got sick because, you know, the government poisoned the water.”

Ella travelled more than anyone I know. Every year, she led student groups to Pensacola, FL and New York City, plus multiple European cities. When I moved to PA in 2015, we discovered I lived two hours from Ella’s sister Liza and her family in Pittsburgh. Several summers, Ella visited and we’d spend a day together, talking as fast as we could about the art teacher she was in love with at her school, and our broken and stubborn hopes and dreams for romance and what were we going to do with our lives. We always laughed a lot because she was so dramatic and enthusiastic about everything. She gushed and gushed about her English classes and how fun it was to teach The Great Gatsby and she persuaded me try to reading it again. In a magical day with her and her nieces and nephews, I felt like I’d been in Europe again and it was so refreshing.

Summer of 2018

Ella had no space in her hectic life for social media because she prioritized her people in real time and presence. I don’t know how our long-distance friendship survived so well. When we got smart phones, we graduated to voice messages and stopped emailing. We loved the immediacy of voice and video. Again, she was always the one who pursued me, asked how I’m doing, sent me meaningful music videos, and always said she was praying for me. 

Then finally, finally, in 2020, after a long on-again, off-again relationship that stretched over the last years, she and the art teacher, Niels, got engaged! She asked me to be her bridesmaid. But of course with the year it was, I couldn’t consider going. During our stay-at-home season, she video called me out of the blue. “I’m trying on my wedding dress in the dress shop, and the sign says to turn off your phone, but I just HAD to call you so you could see this!” 

After their wedding, she’d update me on their house renovation, and how long and hard the process was. Then she got a tumor behind her ear, and was in a wreck and needed weeks of therapy. Her life was unravelling, and she’d message to ask for prayer and ask how she could pray for me. She got very sick with covid and suffered from long covid. It was a dark, hard season for her and I felt helpless to help her.

In April 2022, after a long time of covid keeping me from travelling to Europe, I started planning a June trip that would include Ella and Cologne, Germany—her home and her husband whom I’d not met. I also wanted to go to Poland, but I didn’t know if the war in Ukraine would make it unsafe to go. “Oh yes, Poland is so dangerous,” she laughed. “You need to plan to stay in Germany with us the whole time, and not go further east! My brain is exploding with so many ideas for what we could do!”

“We’ll go up to the North Sea where Neils’ family and their church is having a conference, and my in-laws want you to stay with them.” They’re from a closed Brethren group that doesn’t celebrate holidays, but they had a conference over Ascension day, and I was so excited to get in on it. They carefully planned our lodging: Ella and I would share the guest room and Niels insisted he was happy to sleep on the couch. From the North Sea, Niels would go home but Ella and I would train to Berlin for a weekend, where she’d show me her favorite places. She booked a hotel and made our schedule work with her school schedule.

Then: “Would you like to go to Mallorca when you’re here? I have Christian friends there and it’s so beautiful!” That’s why I loved Ella. With her, everything was possible and beautiful and wonderful. She’s one of the few friends who has more superlatives and adjectives than I do. But we couldn’t fit Mallorca into our week’s plan.

On May 20, she voice messaged: “Have you bought your ticket to Warsaw from Berlin? I just got out of the clinic. I have cancer, but we don’t know what kind. It has metastasized. You’re still welcome to come but I don’t know if we can go to Berlin.” She cancelled our Berlin booking, and we decided we’d roll with whatever happens when I got there.

She met with her oncologist June 2, the day I arrived in Cologne. Ella had arranged for a niece to meet me at the train and take me to her family until Ella could come. I loved being immersed in Russian German culture again. They are very special people, so comfortable and hospitable. One niece told me how much Ella raves about The Great Gatsby to her too. I determined again to try to read it. Ella’s diagnosis was grim: she has weeks or months left, and no recommended treatment. We had bread and cheese and tea around the table and talked about heaven and the uncertain summer ahead. 

Ella felt fine and wanted to show me her beloved Cologne that evening. She was an enthusiastic tour guide with back stories and experiences at every street corner. She didn’t feel like eating anything but we walked around the old streets at sunset and it was wonderful and we were happy. For just a bit, everything was right with the world and nothing was falling apart.


We stayed with her parents for the night, just outside the city. Ella’s their youngest daughter. She was gracious and happy, but distracted, and we prayed she could sleep well. Her parents had no English, but her dad would greet me with a hearty, sober “Boker tov!” that delighted me. I could understand most of their German: “The table is set for you. We welcome you because you’re God’s child.” Her mom cried to me, saying parents shouldn’t have to bury their children. When I stood in their kitchen and listened in on their Russian conversation, I felt like I’d stepped into a painting. 

We weren’t sure how to reconfigure my trip plans since she needed to be with her family now, not sightseeing with me for the next week. Ella matter-of-factly said she’ll buy me a ticket for Ireland. Of course I refused her generous offer, but I was able to get a ticket to fly home to my family in Ireland the next day, which seemed so novel.

For two nights and a full day, Ella and I talked fast, laughed, walked, prayed, sang. She drove us via the scenic route to her house in Gummersbach 40 minutes away. Old German towns are like walking in another world, and she loved sharing the wonder with me. She gave me a tour of their house, and I finally met Niels! We were very in the moment all day, but with some valid distractions. We decided that one of two wonderful things will happen: 

  1. She’ll get better and I’ll come back to Germany and we’ll visit the North Sea and Berlin another time.
  2. We’ll find each other in heaven and go exploring there.

Niels served us wonderful donor kebabs, Coke, tea, and baklava for our last meal in the sun in their back garden. We laughed a lot. There was so much goodness and sweetness and humor around us and we were here for all of it. I felt that Niels was suffering the most because he was going to lose the most. Ella knew that she had nothing to lose in death, but he knew he was going to be a widower, but wasn’t yet, and it was a terrible place to be. We were in a very thin space, where earth and heaven mingled in startling, sacred ways.

We prayed at the top of the steps and they took me to the train. The ticket machine refused our money, so Ella cajoled the conductor to let me pay on the train. “She’s from America and doesn’t have a ticket. You’ll help her, won’t you?” We hugged quickly and said “See you in a better place!” and the train took me away. Later, the conductor refused to let me pay for the ticket he printed for me. 

They waved me off.

At the airport the next morning, the check-in agent informed me that my flight to Dublin was cancelled. I messaged my family to pray for an alternative itinerary then burst into tears. I hadn’t cried while I was with Ella but the whirlwind of change and joy and sorrow made me fragile. When an unhelpful agent finally got a delayed alternative for me, I tried to drown my sorrows with a wonderful coffee and croissant and cried some more. 

I had hours to wait for my flight, so I breezed through a duty free shop and this perfume caught my eye. There was just one box left, and it wasn’t expensive, and I liked the fresh but musky scent. Best of all, the name was “Celebrate NOW” and I knew I needed this and would wear it in honor of Ella. I love wearing it! 

Over the summer, Ella kept telling me that they’re seeing miracles every day, and the doctors can’t believe she’s not in bed. She sent me a picture of all the hair that fell out one day onto the shower mat, and I cried but she was brave. They got a friend to take their pictures before she lost all her hair. I was in awe again of how Ella’s face exuded joy and vivacity. She glowed at normal times, but in these pictures, she was incandescent.

In the last month, she couldn’t message anymore. Up until then, she’d ask briefly for prayer, and ask how I was. Esther, our mutual friend, put me on the German chat group for updates. I understood very little of the voice messages but I’d swipe the texts, copy it into Google Translate, and follow what was happening. Ella’s friends cared for her, sang, bundled her up and opened the windows when she couldn’t breathe, prayed, laughed, cried. Esther shipped her big harp from Canada, flew to Germany with her baby, and played for Ella for hours. One day this week someone organized a 24-hour prayer chain sign-up sheet and in less than two hours, over 100 people had signed up. 

Ella had loved prodigiously, fiercely, shiningly all her 44 years, and everyone wanted to give something back to her. This week her pain was off the charts, her face was gray, and they couldn’t warm her feet. We prayed for her and Niels’ faith to stay strong, and that she could go quickly. This morning she got to go home to Jesus and we are so sad and so glad.

The Muddling Middle

Photo by SUNBEAM PHOTOGRAPHY on Unsplash

When I first joined Instagram, I followed artists and calligraphers. At bedtime, I relaxed while watching the swoosh of their swoopy lines and the gentle colors curving out of their brush or palette knife. Now several years later, very few artists post real-time videos of their works in progress.

Same with cooking videos. They’re carefully edited so that their project appears in a few magical blips, or the time laps shows the completed product in impossible speed. Because of course no one has time to watch the laborious carrot peeling and chopping, or the vinaigrette blending, or the donuts rising.

In this culture of same-day Prime™ delivery and made-to-order food-to-go, the normalizing of unbelievable speed is working on me—and on all of us. Our moms learned how to depend on pressure cookers and microwaves, and our generation has taken speediness to the next level. I’m not mad about progress and efficiency, but I’m saying it’s messing with my sense of real time and my expectations.

I’m a very impatient person, (even though I try awfully hard to be polite and not demanding) and I care enormously about efficiency and not wasting time or energy. I’m also a dreamer and an artist, so when I imagine something, I feel that it should become reality instantly. Why do I need to walk down the steps if I want to get outside? Why can’t I just want to walk outside, and then I’m there? My personality in this culture of instant gratification is volatile in daily life. And on the level of spiritual growth and character development, my impatience really takes a beating.

I read a book years ago about a missionary doctor. It was a good-sized book, well over an inch thick, and it told of amazing developments and improvements in the doctor’s ministry in Africa. I remember thinking that it was a good story, but unrealistic because 1.25 inches of story couldn’t possibly portray the agonies and rigors of 20+ years of ministry. Turns out any story, any photo or video or beautiful testimony, can never capture the creaking reality of the time it takes to get to the finished product.

There’s no way to hurry the slow, tedious processes of tiny increments of progress. The finished product I want, whether it’s a lovely painting or a gorgeous cake or wise character, only emerges after laborious, un-documented, inefficient steps that often look like muddling and wasting time.

We want to treat life like a Starbucks drive-through where we get to hold exactly what we want, exactly as we like it within two minutes—double shot, extra hot, half-syrup—and if it takes five minutes, we want to talk to the manager.

Instead, in the pursuit of a cherished end product, we need to embrace the process of time it takes to get there instead of despise the wait or get mad when it doesn’t happen in a one-minute clip.

We need to value the journey just as much or more than the destination because that middle muddling space is where most of life happens. I hate it, but it seems to be true. This slow reality calls for a radical shift of expectations and a new definition of normal.

In my experience, the healing, growth, and good thing I want doesn’t instantly appear in the space of one eloquent prayer—and not even after ten or a ten-hundred good prayers. What I long for eventually takes shape in teeny, tiny ½ second bursts of light and insight that add up over umpteen repetitions of invisible, boring days of showing up and doing the next right thing. So those unseen acts matter. The middle muddle is important, not something to hate or talk to the manager about.

This week my piano teacher had high praise for what I played her. (As opposed to last week, when I played the worst ever. She’s always super gracious but there was little to praise then.) “What did you do differently this week?” she asked. I hadn’t done anything different. I’d only set the timer, practiced and practiced, and the repetitions came together at the lesson to produce my best performance.

I don’t know why God keeps me—and all of us—waiting so long for good things. In God’s economy of time, it often feels like time isn’t part of His equation. Being over time and controlling it, He doesn’t need time to make His art or complete His projects. He isn’t bothered with inefficiency like I am. Could it be that He sees more value in the process than in the product?

God’s ways are mysterious, because while He’s irritatingly unhurried, His sovereignty still aligns our finite time with His bigger plans with surprising precision. We slice and dice our time because it’s a precious resource. We stack our schedules so we can do several things at once. We plan tight time frames, breathlessly racing from one obligation to the next. He’s not so rushed or frantic, and His plans still produce beautiful results.

I don’t speak glibly about waiting. I have no illusions that patience is easy.

But I know He knows that we’re dust and that time is hard for us to live in. And He never forbids us to dream up, long for, create, and want good, beautiful things. What I love about God is that He wants goodness and beauty even more than we do. I think our biggest job is to join Him in the tedium, the ache, the muddle, the impossibility, and watch Him make everything beautiful in His time.

And if that seems too much like a fairy tale, castles in the air too good to be true for you to believe it, let’s wait it out. I’ll wait with you.

Writing Poetry

A charming shop front in St. Malo, France when I visited in 2009.

For a long time, I admired poets and felt they breathed rare air. I had the words and the emotions they had, but felt that if I’d write poetry, I’d shatter. 

Then in the summer of 2020, my friend in England killed herself. During the next ten days, there was another suicide, a teenage cancer diagnosis, a mom with brain cancer, an adoption process stopped, all connected to people very close to me. The sad bad tragic news felt relentless, and I spiraled down into a blackness that lasted for about a year and a half.

That initial spate of summer tragedies fell right during the time that I was taking a five-week Creating Writing course. Every day, we were assigned to produce two writing projects, and the next day we’d share one of those projects to the class for their critique. That class was the most wonderful narcotic in my devastated, awful season. Every day I’d walk into the classroom and for ninety minutes I was in a parallel universe that felt light and airy and delightful. We played with words, read beautiful lines, gave suggestions to improve words. We laughed and cried and sometimes we still talk about Jonny’s “polysyllabic flamingo” because his flamboyant phrase, created in that class, will never die.

I started writing poetry because it was an assignment. I thought the textbook looked boring. I might be justified for feeling this way:

But the book was fascinating, accessible, and gave me endless ideas. Then I surprised myself and enjoyed the challenge of writing poetry and liked some of my lines. I was told I need to keep writing poetry. And instead of shattering me as I’d feared, writing poems started healing me, started bringing back pinpricks of light.

I’ll never be a great poet because I’m too impatient to work long and hard at it. But what’s greatness? The point of poetry is to communicate in a specific, concise form, and while most of my pieces are pathetic and will never be public, I feel more whole and at rest when I let a poem dribble itself onto the page—especially when I’m troubled, sad, or mad. I’m not proud of this, but I can be very articulate when I’m angry.

Early one morning last month I scratched down sad, angry lines and felt better all day for it. Maybe it was a seed of hope planted. Maybe it was part of self-regulating. Maybe it was only inked long-hand scrawled on every other line that will never see daylight.

Poetry is a viable outlet for lament, I’ve found. Lament is hope, and to lament in poetry on a page embodies, for me, my answer to the mysterious, alluring call of hope. 

Poetry also lends itself to exuberance. Think of Miriam, Hannah, Elizabeth, and the forms their joy took in dramatic declarations and vivid word pictures. 

My poetry hasn’t become exuberant yet. It tends toward lament, abstraction, or reflection, which is what this last blog post was. Incidentally, that poem was from an assignment in the class that introduced me to writing poetry, and the idea of an abstract poem came from that boring-looking book.

More lines may or may not appear here on the blog in the future. Don’t hold your breath, but don’t be surprised.

Abstract Painting

A craggy cove of Irish green and spray

Rome’s sun-washed marble plazas and diminutive espressos

But before that, shiny copper toes and nose of Bremen town musicians

Jerusalem’s crookedy paths, coaxing vendors, spice mounds

Piercing glacier breeze in Swiss Alps, milk chocolate bars on chewy bread

Acres of rainbow fields below sea level and pristine curtain-less Dutch windows

Mediterranean, Aegean, Irish, Baltic, Galilean, Dead Sea waters splashed throughout

Southern Cross, Iguazu Falls, mandioca, churrascaria

Syrupy, flaky baklava and two bald brother hills of Mars and the Parthenon

The fish wife in Waterford, children with shining eyes reaching for ice creams

My Polish mom who fussed me soup and heard my silent tears and kissed me quiet

Neighbors who regaled me with stories of feeding cats and shutting the courtyard gate.


Place and people

Splashed color

Flung texture

And the ring of the globe

Circling its frame.

Travel Tears


Three years ago, I spent a week each in Ireland and Poland. Travelling went smoothly except my luggage came a day late in both places, and I had a complicated itinerary and by the end of the trip, I had let anxiety get the best of me. I couldn’t relax and enjoy the journey because I felt so alone and unable to cope with the uncertainties that come with travelling solo.

I came home and cried to my mentor that I’m so done with travelling alone. She heard my story and said, “I’m sorry. That’s hard. But you’ll travel again.” She said it gently and confidently, but I wasn’t sure I could believe her.

She was right, of course.

Last month, I travelled alone in Europe for three weeks. Alone, as in alone in the airports, trains, and bus, as I went from place to place to see friends and family. I got to see lots of favorite places and lots of favorite people. I wasn’t a tourist so much as I was connecting with people in their spaces and it was a rich, intense, beautiful vacation.

However, I cried a lot in airports—something I’ve never done in all my travels. I’d always internalized the stress of travelling, or gotten angry or anxious, but this time, the distress came dripping out in tears.

In Cologne I hugged my terminally ill friend goodbye and we said to each other, “I’ll see you in a better place!” but I didn’t cry then. The next morning at the check-in desk, the agent said the flight to Dublin is cancelled. I messaged my family to ask them to pray about it then burst into tears. Later, after an agent rerouted and rescheduled my itinerary and I found a lovely coffee and pastry to drown my sorrows, I still cried.

I cried into my coffee in Dublin airport, reading the Sermon on the Mount with big feelings. When I got to Copenhagen and ran a mile to my gate and found it closed, I cried.  When I got to Warsaw, my luggage didn’t come, but I didn’t cry then because I was glad to finally be there. I did ask myself why I go to the bother of travelling when it brings this much upheaval but when I saw my friend who’d come to meet me, I remembered why I travel. The luggage came 36 hours later.

On my last layover, headed back to the US, in London Heathrow, I made myself buy something sustaining to eat, and as I ate a falafel and hummus bowl, I got the message that my youngest sister had just lost her baby. I’d been with her two weeks before, and when I’d hugged her goodbye, I’d said, “I’ll hold your baby at Christmas!” The pregnancy was 15 weeks along, but the scan that day showed no heartbeat. So I cried in an airport again. Alone, far away from anyone I know, and so, so sad.

It’s a weird, alien feeling to be surrounded with hundreds of people and be crying alone.

However, on this trip, for whatever reason, I enjoyed and interacted with fellow travelers and crew like never before. I saw so much beautiful humanity in people, laughed, surmised, discussed which lines moved the fastest, watched their luggage. Laughing with strangers is magical!

But bigger than the tears and human connections, two concepts grounded me and kept me from the anxiety and anger I’d felt three years ago. These ideas colored my trip more than the tears and distress.

The Lord watches over the alien. I’d found this verse in Psalm 146:9 and read it on behalf of all the refugees in the world. But I decided to claim it for myself on this trip. I wasn’t a refugee, but I was a lone stranger in foreign places and I needed to know God was watching out for me. And He did. In all the cancellations and delays and reroutes and tears, I knew His eye was on me and it was going to be ok. I felt a deep peace that went way beyond positive thinking.

I understood that I was experiencing privileged loneliness. Often in those three weeks, I heard myself say, “Oh this is so good again. I miss this so much.” It was wonderful to be in Europe and I reveled in it. I felt overwhelmed with the goodness surrounding me and felt small and undeserving of experiencing so much richness. All I could say was “Thank you thank you thank you, God.” So I was very lonely in spots, but it was a privileged loneliness, and a place to feel deep gratitude. The goodness around me was immense, outrageous privilege handed to me without even having asked for it.

Strange how that works. The deepest voids are the places where God’s goodness splashes all over.