Pain and Goodness

On the second night of February, I’d been working late and was walking home in the dark at 8:30. I was excited about having wrapped up a writing class, and was oblivious to how the temperature had dropped drastically after the day’s rain. That meant there was smooth ice on our gravel path and before I knew what was happening, my feet shot out from under me.

On my back on the ice, I thought to myself that usually when one falls, it hurts their knee or shoulder or head. But nothing hurt except my wrist, with a blinding pain I’d never felt before. I howled and rolled around in pain on the snow beside the path and found a way to get back on my feet. My housemate was gone for the weekend. The house was dark and when I walked in, my wrist had an egg-bump. I cried and googled what to do for a sprain and found frozen cranberries to put on it. Surely it was just badly sprained.

I wanted to call my neighbor friend to come help me but she was gone for the weekend too, so I cried more, not sure if the tears were from pain or from being alone. I knew I needed to sleep more than I needed to spend the night in the ER. So I managed the shower, pain pills, a pillow to elevate my arm while I sleep. (Managed became the operative word for the next months.) I slept decently, which seems like a miracle.

The next morning, I managed to walk to work in a winter wonderland. My coworkers said I need to get the wrist checked out. My doctor said she’d call the x-ray order in to the medical center because she doesn’t want to ask me to drive to see her first. It was one of the blowiest, snowiest mornings of the year and my friend took me in her car and we crept into town on bad, hilly, snow-covered roads. It was a nightmare. But we were kept safe.

In the waiting room, I bumped into sweet Omani friends, which was a lovely distraction. Waiting for the results, I asked the receptionist where I could get a drink of water, and she brought me this tall glass of cold water–well beyond her line of duty, I’m sure. And my coworker friend went beyond her duty to stay with me the whole morning, plus hand me a package of salted dark chocolate on the way home.

In the waiting room. I deeply feel the irony of the book title in this context!When the x-rays and CT scans were read, I learned there were two diagonal breaks at the tip of the radius. Maybe that explained the terrible pain. Maybe it was double the pain of one break. It was too late to go to ortho for a cast, and because it was Friday, I had to come back Monday for that. I spent Saturday chasing the sun in my house, studying to lead prison Bible study, and playing big, sweeping Christopher Tin music from the next room so I wouldn’t feel so alone. I cried because I had to cancel the next months of piano lessons and was excited to pack an overnight bag to celebrate a cousin’s 30th birthday party. The harrowing weekend was the beginning of months of paradox: managing so much pain AND being given so much goodness on every side.


At ortho, the specialist didn’t seem super confident or competent. I need my wrist and I was terrified he’d miss something and I’d have to live with a damaged wrist. He said I’m not out of the woods for possibly needing surgery, which terrified me more. The first day with my cast, I wrote Bible study notes on my fingers to take into jail. The notes didn’t work great but the motherly Jehovah Witness lady who always goes in with us helped drape my coat around my shoulder because my arm didn’t fit into my sleeve.

The rest of February blurs into memories of pain pills, a cold arm, voice-dictated emails and Word documents or typing with one hand, working extra hard all day to get less done than normal. I couldn’t even do Ctl+C or any other shortcuts with my left hand so I got used to doing them with my right.  I didn’t do anything for Lent because my cast was enough suffering. I’d collapse on the couch in the evening and manage to get back to work every morning. And I drank lots and lots of tea. And I was very thankful that I’m right-handed, even though that hand got so, so tired doing all the things. Sweet cards from friends came in the mail, wishing me quick healing. One friend sent a box with all kinds of treasures squished into it. My housemate tied my shoes for me until I learned how, and did all the house chores that required two strong hands.


After two weeks, the specialist I was dubious about said I didn’t need surgery, which seems like an enormous miracle, the way the breaks slanted.


There were sweet moments of beautiful reprieve sprinkled throughout the month. Two nights a week, I joined a writing class on Zoom with a teacher in Thailand. We crossed 12 time zones and bonded over beautiful words and still stay in touch. The classes helped to keep putting words on paper instead of spiraling down into pain and boredom. At the end, our teacher wrote verses about each of us, and mine seems to say more than she knew.




I  got to go to Lancaster to a writers and artists’ conference and met one of my favorite poets. I don’t have words for how special it was to love Malcolm Guite’s poetry, and then to hear him recite his own poems and give some of their backstory. He was uncommonly gracious and accommodating. “And you hurt your arm,” he commented after we posed. I’m proud of this picture, except for the plastic bag. Hearing him speak about the way he respects words and lets them do their work was a concept I want to keep. The warm experiences of my old and new friends sharing that rich weekend still gives me deep joy.

After three weeks in a cast, my wrist swelled and my fingers got tingly, and I was terrified about nerve damage. Orthopedics assessed it and after a technician sawed off the cast, she motioned to a sink and told me I could wash my hand, and then she left the room. I washed and washed, and wiped and wiped the weak, wrinkled hand and arm for a long, long time. It felt like something rubbery that could maybe come alive again. They sent me to an occupational therapist who fitted me carefully with a removable brace. The therapist was the most delightful, positive, helpful person I’d met in that department. She made my whole month better.

I had the brace for five weeks with instructions for no weight-bearing. The tingling went away, and the daily exercises went better every day. I’d sit on Zoom or in classes practicing my stretches and fists. And I could type with two hands! I could get so much work done with so little effort! I kept the arm elevated as much as possible every day and every night. It made for many praise sessions in the car as I drove. If your hand is raised anyhow, it’s a good time to pray and praise.

But the body remembers, and many times as I walked home on the gravel path and across the little dip where the ice had been, my gut felt shivery and shaky, remembering the spot where the trauma happened.

The day the specialist signed off on me and said I’m good to go, I got a large Coke to celebrate. I wanted to cheer for my brave little wrist that was able to hold a whole full glass all by itself. The golden arches in the mirror was a happy accident.

Gradually, I wore the brace less and less. My wrist still catches me by surprise: my left hand can open a whole heavy door all by itself! I can carry a laundry basket in one hand and a laundry rack in the other. This is a remarkably efficient way to do laundry. I can wash dishes and sweep the floor again, and my hand does what I ask it to even though it’s stiff and aches every day.

One of the first weeks free from the brace, I was washing dishes at a friend’s house and broke THREE cups with my uncoordinated left hand that crashed things. I still feel awful about it. I kept thinking about stroke victims and others who have to build a life around a dysfunctional limb. I had learned ways to manage my handicap, but it took enormous energy, focus, and creativity to compensate. Plus, after that first terrible weekend alone, I had willing people around me to help with anything I couldn’t manage.

I hesitated putting this story out there because it could seem too much like a great-aunt’s organ recital. But the nice thing about a blog is that no one has to read it and no one is watching you delete it from your inbox. But for those still reading: I haven’t come to profound conclusions and life lessons about this story. For now, I’m acknowledging the crazy mix of hard and good, loss and gifts poured out, privilege and disappointment.

Apparently, life is never all one or the other.

Comfort and Forgive

Recently I’ve been lingering in Psalm 25, particularly verse 18: “Look upon my affliction and my distress [I need comfort.] and take away all my sins [I need forgiveness.]” This pairs with the gospel song with line “He took my sins and my sorrows.”

At the cross, we find both comfort for what’s been done to us and forgiveness for the wrong we’ve done. Beyond that, there’s more at the empty tomb, which I’m still exploring.

Last week one morning, this acrostic poem seeped out of my pen. And yes, I’m reading The Hobbit right now, so that found its way onto some lines as well.

Come closer, friend and savior Jesus
Or I will
Move off the path to where
Foul goblins lurk to
Overwhelm my heart. I want to walk with You to
Rivendell where
Time slows and music lingers in the leaves

And cake and wine heap up but
Not too much to long for more.
Desire and dust

Fill my mouth and still holy water
Offerings will never ever wash or
Rinse the dust and
Grime and wrinkled skin of
Inconvenient, stubborn
Except you hold my hand and clean and caress each crevice.

After Saturday Night

Photo by Łukasz Łada on Unsplash


He saw me first.

I saw a garden hand

With grass-pressed tunic,

Soil on toes,

Eyes at ease with a job well done.


He saw my tears yet didn’t flinch—

No garden hand had ever asked me

About that water swelling

In stormy cataracts on cheeks.

They’d taken my Love—He’s

Broken, stabbed, now stolen.

My love is gone, is gone, and

I would wail and run

Five thousand furlongs if only this garden man

Confides to me the hiding place that

Holds my love, my broken love.


He said my name, my truest word:

Mary, once bitter, now sweet.

He was a garden man, but

More—the one I’d lost. I knew

Him by that voice and by

Those eyes, new, knowing.

They caught the morning light and

Calmed my own frantic, swollen ones.


Where had He been? What ablutions

Rinsed crusted blood and water from olive skin and linen?

What had He seen and how did this morning’s Father

Turn toward yesterday’s forsaken Son?

What words had made my sad untrue?


Quiet mystery surrounded, hovered, haloed Him—this

Garden-loving, light-bearing frame of holed and holy clay.

He didn’t tell me where He’d been. (He never tells me everything.)

The rose-gold sky back-lit His frame.

My Love

Found me


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.

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.

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 fishwife 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

Farmer 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.