“Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:10 (NLT)
Sometimes it is the place of deepest anguish where God meets us and answers our prayer. The gift He has to bestow in that moment, will radically change us.
And sometimes, it is the witness. That bitter cry that brings notice to bystanders. That they may see a soul drown, not in chemicals or cutting or comic attention, but in the crawl to the place where peace caresses a broken heart. The alter of God with soft edges and a gentle touch. With ears to hear and hands to hold and abilities that are limitless.
Those rising from that place walk a little different than the rest of us. Their purpose is plain. They no longer sway. They have been through our worlds dark places and discovered the hem of a robe to hold onto that showed a path out. They have learned to sleep with the light off, to hold their discouraged tongue, and to quietly lend a hand to another human groping for help through the pain.
Hannah’s empty womb was her shame and her pain. She was deeply loved by her husband, but even he could not heal what felt so broken. Only her Lord could cure what felt so cursed. There will be some who will never be able to interpret the moving of our lips. They will point and call ‘folly’ and misread the pain.
But friend, they are of no significance to you. They are merely crying out through their own misplacement. They are fighting through battering storms they think they can control, but in reality, they control almost nothing. You only control your next step. Your next decision.
Hannah made the decision to leave the dinner table. She walked to the tabernacle and bowed low and gave all grief to her Lord.
Please choose Jesus. Choose the one who opens barren wombs. Choose the one who disciplines the wind and the waves. Choose the one who cuts out cancer, who cradles one and a half pound babies, who makes man and woman one and commits to helping them choose each other each and every new day.
Something you may not know about me. I love to ski. I’m not a jumper, and I leave the moguls to those that get something out of the jarring. But I love to ski. I love the push of a blue just as much as I love the mental force of a black. I love to ride the wonder carpet behind my littlest and listen to him chatter about an imaginary snowboard race he’s about to take part in. I love the wiggle of skeletal trees when the wind puff’s its way across participant spotted runs. I love the quiet chair lift ride, with my face exposed to the open air and the sound of joy braided into the sound of the fiberglass edge of a ski pushing through groomed snow. I recently spent two years sitting on a couch while cancer and chemotherapy vied for my destruction. My lungs and muscles took a big hit and it’s taken a while to remind them that I’m really not as old as I have felt some days. Being healthy enough to get out there and ski, gives me back a compelling. A way to breath deep and listen to my own soul. Skiing gives me a place to see the majesty of Christ’s power. His power to heal me, and to love what has been sliced apart and made new. His power to watch three kids bear downhill with a sense of boldness only granted to those who know that, once upon a time, today might not have been. His power to stand a broken girl up on the precipice of faithfulness and fun, and slide down in surrender with skies overhead and saving grace gushing up under her coat. His power seen in a marriage that had every prescribed reason to fall apart, but instead fell into place and solidified itself in the concrete of covenant. And, yes, all this happens out there on those hills. Skiing gives me a chance to bend at the knee and brave the bumps and nod ‘yes’ at the beautiful way He’s allowed me to live this one life. Skiing is a gift to me that I am so grateful for.
In her book, “H is for Hawk”, author Helen Macdonald writes, “There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are”
I have my own holes. Spaces patched with scraps that blend well enough a human in a hurry would walk right past and never notice. Most of the time, I prefer it that way.
But I met a man through letters, mostly, who told me about His own holes. Another writer who pours out His passion on Biblical pages, and I’ve come to realize I’m His ideal reader. He’s told me about the long absence He’d gone without living with His Father, but how they never lost touch, except in this one broken moment. He writes to me about the even longer absence He’d had away from His kids, and it punctured Him straight through every time He tried to make contact with them and got told ‘No’. He’s described the losses. How His kids give up on dreams, hopes, and promises, but how He keeps offering new ones, only to lose again. And the loss that He takes the hardest is when the key to home get’s thrown away into dank places. When they walk away and hurl sickly words over their shoulders that it was never real to begin with. The pain I read between the lines is palpable. This timeless writer, He’s promised that when we meet in person, He’ll even show me His holes. The obvious ones are in His hands and feet, but, like me, the deepest pains are seen only when one sits long and listens close.
The thing is, I believe Him. There’s something about the concrete evidence of massive missing that allows one to accept the truth of another’s story of heartbreak. It takes only a quick blink to time warp back to what was bloody, what was suffocating, what was hammering, and one finds it possible to shift back and nod slow and believe.
It takes a lot of courage to sit and listen. To accept and believe. But here’s why I keep reading these letters over and over, because there is comfort in them I don’t find anywhere else. There is hope that hovers over every hole. This is not possible to do with my own pain. But it is possible with His because He is the great Healer. He is the hole filler.
There was a whole lot of waiting that went on before the Christ child was born. Years and years. Generations and generations. Folks spent their time making a life, but also glancing at the broad sky and wondering if the story was true. If the promise was large with life or just one big empty space with pretty twinkling lights.
We too wait. We wait for the days to click down to the eve. The eve of new birth, new hope, and newly made bravery. And while we wait, we create, because the God of all Creation is about to finalize His most perfect art. Jesus, the Christ child, lies entombed in the womb of a girl just barely turned woman. And while her body is bulging at the whole beautiful mess, we hover here at home and wait for that booming Gloria in excelsis Deo!
We count days, and light candles, and play carols on the old black upright piano. We marvel at the art of a manger scene made out of straw that Ben brought back from Africa last year. And we sit around the farm table each evening and read through scripture. We follow the journey of the Jesse Tree created by Ann Voskamp, and remarkably, but not shockingly, find ourselves in just about every page. Along with the creating of all-things-Christmas, we too have created sins that are messy and worth hiding from. We’ve created ways to break rules, and break promises, and break hearts. But God reminds us that He broke code and sent His Son, who would create a love connection with us like nothing we’d ever felt before, and then He would allow himself to be broken on a tree with our names carved into the palms of His hands.
A Blue Spruce stands boldly in our small living room. The kids have opened tins and reminisced over each ornament before choosing a branch to hang it from, and it’s a reassurance to me that we also have become a branch, chosen to grow with a little bit of new bravery from a family tree etched with royalty and guaranteed to extend into eternity.
So in this season of creating, I want to remind you to read through the Bible which holds THE most beautiful love story you’ll ever come across. A masterpiece woven with words that wind themselves into wounded hearts and usher in glory.
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NLT)
It may be that Paul was out of words at the time he wrote this line in his letter to friends in Corinth. I can almost imagine his fingers splayed across his concerned forehead when he finally gave in to ‘indescribable’. But it didn’t stop him from giving thanks.
I never want to stop, either.
I want to thank Him for settling my soul when wildfires rage so close it’s hard to breath.
I want to thank Him for offering me a life that’s blessed here and a life that’s eternal up there.
I want to thank Him for holding my heart when it’s split open and offering me the chance to glorify Him even in that moment.
I want to thank Him for being able to see the tired fall finally get to slumber and being able to recognize the smell of the coming winter in the air.
I want to thank Him for sticky chairs, scattered buttons, and mountains of laundry because it’s living proof my greatest wish came true. That there are kids tucked into quilts, snug and warm under this old farm roof.
I want to thank Him for love that never fails from a husband who sometimes does, but who reaches across bedsheets to ask forgiveness and cradles me close until we both fall asleep.
I want to thank Him for the gift of knowing how to hold the hand of three humans whose fingers are so small they barely cover my fingernail.
I want to thank Him for the foggy framed memory of walking up to a new born baby in a hospital bassinet and being able to study the face of my new son, given as a gift from another Mama leaving the hospital without him.
I want to thank Him for seeing someone worth giving four of His unique creations to to raise. That He trusts me that much, because, Lord knows, I’ve done nothing to deserve them.
I want to thank Him for offering an awkward girl a place of belonging.
I want to thank Him for helping me find my voice in a noisy world where I can finally proclaim as boldly as Oswald Chambers did when he wrote, “In all the world, my God, there is none but Thee, there is none but Thee.” and feel it in my bones.
I want to thank Him for His words in red that call me ‘blessed’ and ‘redeemed’, that name me ‘daughter’ and ‘believer’.
Two weeks ago, we left our kids with a friend and traveled cross country to a writer’s conference. The ticket agent printed it in ink to give validation to the bump we were experiencing. “Interrupted Travel for Brower/Kathy”. Bold, black font branding me with a label I didn’t want. We were stuck shuffling back and forth in terminal C. We had already missed our connecting flight and knew, even before we landed, that the next flight didn’t go out for another 6 hrs. Which put us at our final destination after midnight. This was NOT how we had scheduled our trip. The original plan had us landing in time to pick up our rental car, check into the hotel, and go have a quiet dinner. Instead, we ate in the airport, face timed the kids, and did a whole lot of people watching.
But it didn’t end there. Our final flight landed, and we exited the ramp. Instantly, Ben heard a chime on his phone. The time was 12:06 AM. It was a message saying the hotel had given our room away. We weren’t there. So they gave it away. While Ben dialed a number to figure out a plan B, I focused on our next move. Find our suitcase, and the rental car location. He stayed on the phone and tailgated me through the crowd of sleepy travelers. By the time I checked off both items on my list, he had found us a room in an already booked city.
Sitting in that terminal waiting for that flight, I began to wonder if I was wrong in taking this trip, especially when, 5 hrs after we left I got a text from our daughter that the littlest had a fever. Ugh! The Mama guilt settled right in. Should I turn around? Should I go back to what I know, what is safe, what is my first calling? Should I shelf this idea of writing? Is God closing doors that I mistakingly thought were opening? Friend, this girl KNOWS how to carry guilt.
This is also not my first experience as an ‘interrupted traveler’. Although the questions hung large, my soul has learned to trust the Teacher. There was a moment during that conference that I stood quietly in the back and KNEW. I knew I belonged there. I am convinced it was peace sent from the God I trust letting me know that the path had its bumps, but I held on and got to see my own story unfolding a little bit. I got to hold His hand and let the King do the guiding.
You might be in the middle of an interruption. Name it, and let your trust in Christ settle deep in your soul.
I’ve been working on a few things lately, and part of the course work for some of it takes place today. I’m eager to share with you, my reader, but it’s going to have to come at a later time. What I want to share with you now, is how I got here. How I’m able to move from a broken heart, to a grateful heart. How I see Christ blessing all of my bruising, and how I’m actually grateful to have a few bruises because it shows our journey together. October was, and still is, my chosen month for a wedding. Ben and I almost had an outdoor ceremony, but Chicago weather can be skittish, and I’m not much of a risk taker, so we went with a traditional church venue. I still love spending our anniversary at the highlight of changing leaves. October is also the month the high-school Ben and I both attended holds its yearly alumni gatherings. Mine was fantastic this year, and I’m waving to those of you who were there. And, October is my youngest sons birthday. He’s one incredible miracle. All of these things make me smile. All of them bring me great joy. October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’ve been hyper alert to this since my own Mama went through the crushing disease at the age of 44. Since then my younger sister, three cousins, and now myself, have all gone through the ugly-beautiful remaking of our physical bodies so that this disease would hopefully not destroy us. Sadly, my mama and one cousin are now resting in the Lord.
After being overtly aware of all the pink ribbons for breast cancer, I’m also, now, owner of pink & blue wristbands. The kind that flex and twist. The kind that people wear in the shower and pass out profusely to anyone willing to grab one. The pink and blue ribbon stands for Infertility, Infant loss, and Miscarriage. My pile of these added up to too many for several years.
October is host to heavy material for me. But, all of it humbles me. All of it communicates to me to cancel out carelessness, because I commune with a gracious God. On my tired days, sure, the remembrances float with an irregular heartbeat and I feel the presence of panic. But on most days, when light and color filter through the morning trees, when I can only whisper in the company of God my Father because I feel Him so close, when the music of my soul lets me sit quiet with all of this, I find myself incredibly grateful.
And November rolls in and the last leaves fall from the trees and I’m falling back into the habit of journaling all I am thankful for each day. This is not a trick. This is a plan with purpose. Slowing enough through a racing day to jot down a few things that I know are gifts from Him. Stripping away distractions to digest words of the Holy Word, so that I gain ground on October’s pain points. It’s been a tradition for the kids and I to read scripture verses of thanksgiving and jot down what we’re grateful for each day throughout the month of November until we reach the traditional American Thanksgiving Day. Habits begin young, and I can’t miss this opportunity to show them how to shift. I want them to notice how Jesus gave thanks before He broke the bread, before He let them break His body. I want them to notice how He gave thanks before He served over 5,000 hungry people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. I want them to notice when He gives thanks to God for hearing him, and then calls forth dead Lazarus from the tomb. I want them to hear the buzz of people talking about those who see miracles because they choose to give thanks in all things. It is impossible to stay distanced from God when you are accustomed to thanking Him. Our very pulse becomes dependent on our gratitude because it grows our dependence on the One who loves us most.
Why is it we seem to want explanations for the bad things, but do we ever want to know why the good things happen? “Why Lord have you taken my son from me? Why, Lord, do I have to go through breast cancer. I’m still raising my kids. Couldn’t this wait? Why me, in the first place?”
Or, “Why Lord, You gave me back two more sons. You doubled my portion. Even after I knew there would be no more babies, you gave me more. Why? You kept my one and only daughter alive even when she stood against impossible odds like her twin brother. You healed my body from a disease that should have consumed it. You have been the Navigator in our marriage, keeping us close, keeping us growing together and growing towards you. Although these storms for grief could have snapped the supporting lines of our covenant, you didn’t allow that to happen. Am I really worth all of this? And so, the shifting happens. This is all of James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” The wonder of who God is and how intensely He orchestrates the cosmos, changes the seasons, and provides a cure for genetic cancer when there used to be none, is worth noting.
Oswald Chambers writes, “When a truth of God is brought home to your soul, never allow it to pass without acting on it internally in your will. Record it with ink and with blood – work it into your life. The weakest saint who transacts business with Jesus Christ is liberated the second he acts and God’s almighty power is available on his Behalf.”
Friend, when you see the goodness of God, write. it. down. Keep on going until you’ve rewired the path of wailing in your brain. Give thanks the moment the bantering bully of discontent and poisonous prose begin to swell along the cortex of your mind. Don’t allow it to filter in deep. Fight back, friend. Realign the rhythm of how you worship and see a God who works miracles. This is how we go from grief to gratitude. This is the way to see blessings through pain.
November opens with a falling of first snow here, and the dark hours last longer that the light ones. We’ve blown out the water lines to the garden and the goat pasture, and we’ve clipped the last of the leaves off the pumpkin vines. The tea kettle is on, and the journal is out. It’s time, friend, to practice praise. Join me? What are you thankful for in this moment?