Light Breaks Through


Originally posted December 24, 2012/ edited December 23, 2014:

“O God, let me rise to the edges of time and open my life to your eternity;

Let me run to the edges of space and gaze into your immensity;

Let me climb through the barriers of sound and pass into your silence;

And then, in stillness and in silence let me adore You,

Who art Life-Light-Love

Without beginning and without end

Who has bound heaven to earth in the birth of a Child” 

-Sister Ruth “The Oxford Book of Prayer”

It happened 14 years ago, when I experienced the first Christmas without my mother alive.  And it has continued every year since.  I have grown weary of Christmas songs and have longed for and cherished Christmas hymns.  I think I noticed this for the first time when I heard “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and I…

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When Life Was Simple

When life was simple I held you in my arms and the greatest mystery was the beauty of your fingers and toes and how quickly you seemed to change day to day. Now at times so much of you is a mystery and when called upon, I struggle to explain you to Other Adults,to Concerned Adults, who are just wanting to know why you said or did what you did. I should know. I should, I’m The Mom. But I don’t always know the whys and wherefores. I don’t know your mind, though I try.

When life was simple my biggest, most important job was to fill your most basic of needs, to feed, clothe, and nurture you. Now I admit to feeling conflicted about what my job entails. To protect you? To equip? To shadow you? To let you go? I have tried, though failed in many small ways, I know, to guide and challenge you, and to love you through each difficulty. And I have let you out into the world where there are so many opportunities, but also so many places to stumble.

When life was simple everyone oohed and aahed and cooed and cuddled, tickling your toes and inhaling the freshness of your new life. Now mingled with kind and encouraging words and praise of who you are becoming are calls and emails with concerns and questions I want to be able to answer.

When life was simple I knew every inch of you as if you were still a part of me. I sensed quickly your patterns and understood your needs. Now so much is a question mark and even as The Mom I furrow my brow in puzzlement because sometimes I just. Don’t. Know. But if I don’t, who will? And if something inside of you is broken, then as The Mom, am I responsible for the breaking? What do you need from me? What can I do? What should I do?

When life is simple, I want to recognize it. I don’t want to miss the sweetness of small moments as I get lost in the complications that surface with each year of life. I want you to be who you are and to grow into who you will be. But in those moments when I am feeling ill equipped and scared, I long for the quiet moments of innocent childhood that continue to slip so quickly through my fingers as I try to hold on.

Thank God it is not up to me, even when it feels like it is. I thank God that He is there to fill in the gaps I so clumsily miss and that His love covers not just my child in its strength and purity, but it covers me as well. I don’t always understand it, and I don’t have to. I can just rest in the beauty of it.  It’s that simple.  

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Not The Way I Wanted

Image Sometimes there are events that crash into your life that have no apparent reason and which inflict the always unwelcome pangs of pain and grief. Yesterday our sweet little 2 year old cat, named Max, died unexpectedly and with no visible explanation. Crash. I found him. I screamed, horrified at the sight of my sweet lifeless cat, but also with the realization that this would be the first significant grief experience for my children, and my heart felt like it would tear open to think of their reactions. No. No, not this way. I want them to learn all that there is to know about the preciousness of life, about compassion, about how deep joy often is only felt or understood after deep sorrow has left its marks. But not this way. Not through this loss with no reason, no why, no warning, no nothing. Just crash. There are deeper losses, tragedies that rip families apart, parents from children, children from parents, things unspeakable and wounds that run to the core and don’t ever heal completely. I know that. This is not so big it will encompass us. This will heal. We will heal. But right now it hurts. I miss Max, but more than that, I ache for my children as I watch them, individually and collectively, face the cruelness of grief. I want to spare them from this, shield them, take it away. Away. But I can’t. This is part of their story now. This is imprinted in their hearts. My hope is this: that the way we grieve together, the way I allow them to ride the waves and follow all the emotions where they take them, will be just as imprinted. Because loss is part of love. And if they can learn now to love deeply but freely, and to release what is gone while holding the connection that remains, I may one day be able to see this as a time we all grew through our pain. It is not the way I wanted. But isn’t that life? It is not going to fall into the neat pieces we planned. It is messy and cruel and beautiful. It is not ours to control, but it is ours to cherish. I want so much for my children, and I have often bristled at the cliché that we all just want our kids to be happy. Because really I think we all want something bigger than happiness. We want strength, hearts of kindness and mercy, love given and received freely, compassion, wisdom, joy…And the mystery is that all of these seem to emerge in their truest sense through heartache and loss. But we don’t want it that way. It’s too hard. I would take all the pain if I could. Because my children experiencing pain is not the way I want. Ever. But here we are. We are knee deep in this moment of loss. It seems senseless and random. But it need not be wasted. It can still have meaning and import and yes, even push us as a family and individually, to a different, deeper, better place. Not what I wanted, but where we are.


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Live Forward

Image These words are inspired by a conversation I recently had with a newly widowed woman who, despite her grief and disappointment, felt compelled to, in her words “live forward.” They are also based on a reflection I wrote for a time renewal and rejuvenation I took part in for my hospice colleagues, during which we took time to release the pain we come into contact with and experience, and move toward working, and living, at our best.  There are times for all of us when we are weary, worn and heavy.  We feel the weight of a million little burdens on us like a hard rain that pelts down without mercy.  We have taken on the pain of others and had our hearts broken. We crumble under the stronghold of words that were spoken out of haste or unkindly, sometimes by others, sometimes by ourselves.  We sense the constraint of time and the demands of each day.  It is daunting.  We are alone and suffocating. There are the times we feel stretched, so stretched, thin, weak, unusable, like a threadbare rag.  We have a deep seated fear that we are infertile and impotent, that we are incapable of producing anything meaningful or beautiful.  We are fruitless and discouraged. There are times we cry alone, within the safety of our walls, because it is too hard to show the vulnerability of our heartache, and we honestly don’t know if we could put words together to make sense of it all even if we were asked.  There are moments when the ground underneath us turns to mush, when we have no conscious awareness of an anchor.  We are unmoored, knocked about by waves, anticipating the inevitable crash. In these very moments when we fight our secret battles while holding it all together on the outside, we find ourselves perhaps more open to the possibility that we were not meant to manage all of this on our own.  Here the words of Madeleine L’Engle, which inspired the name of this blog, find themselves planted firmly in the soil of my mind:  “It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.”  It is good to be still, to take a deep breath, and to press down and feel the rock, the solid ground underneath.  Because there is solid ground, there is an anchor, there is a shore, and there is peace. We are not alone. There is a peace in the knowing that these moments do not define us, and they do not need to isolate and silence us.  They are real moments and it is good to acknowledge them.  But if we are wise, we will take the next step, the step of knowing “this too will pass.” And then the next step, the step of feeling the solid ground under our feet, the Rock, the One who never leaves us or forsakes us.  Then the next step, the step of seeing a hope and future that is held out before us. Step. Step. Step. Step, continuing on in faith, continuing on in a hope that is defiant in the face of all the hurt, sorrow, and disappointment we have encountered.  This faith, this hope, these are what define us and propel us to keep steadily moving on. And when we have taken these steps, when we feel the solidness of our faith, we are able to stand a little taller, feel a little bigger, more useful, and more alive.  And we are able to reach out to others, speak out kindness and encouragement, and receive it in turn, adding fruit to fruit, light to light.  We are able to live forward. Because each day that we choose to take one small step, trusting that each step leads us on, our faith in the solid footing grows.  And we can claim and act upon the courage and the strength to continue on, and not just to continue on, but to actively live our lives in forward progression, in hopeful expectation, no longer alone, no longer fruitless, no longer without an anchor, but flourishing with the strength, joy, encouragement, and peace that are rooted deeply within our hearts.        


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“It’s hard to keep things white:
Dirt loves it, blood loves it, sin loves it.
If one were baptized in black,
It would not show the dirt picked up along the way.”
-Carl Grose and Annamaria Murphy
Tristan and Yseult

I have been pondering what it is to be broken, to carry around the dirt and messiness we all seem to pick up along the way. Thoughts of brokenness have surfaced as I have encountered it in myself and feel the ripples of it through the lives of others.   It comes as no surprise to me that parenting brings my own weakness into sharp and uncomfortable focus.  There are few more humbling experiences in this life than trying to raise up little human beings.  Sometimes I feel I am in a constant state of  holding my breath and praying I haven’t messed up too much so far.  In a conversation I had the other day with my husband about how we parent in our own individual styles, I just looked at him and said “You know, I am just parenting out of my own brokenness.”  And as I spoke the words, the truth of it penetrated me to the core.  I am.  I am parenting out of brokenness.  I am also working out of brokenness, serving out of brokenness. and living out of brokenness.  I am broken. What does  this mean?  It means so much of what I do is tinged with so much of the me I would rather keep hidden.  The parts of me that are wounded, and seem to either recoil or lash out at others.  The secret insecurities and soft spots that I work so hard to mask.  The ubiquitous pride that  sticks like the dickens to almost all my wrong choices.  The need to be right (even when I am so clearly not).  They are all in there, in the dirt that can quickly soil the whitest intentions.  Dust one off, there is another.  Blot out a blood stain, and it resurfaces.  “Out out damn spot!” It felt good, in a way, to say it out loud.  It is freeing  to come clean and confess, to lay it all bare at the altar.  It is a release  to speak out the truth  and to feel the heaviness lift, even just a little, whether in whispered prayers or moments of intimate transparency.   But the release is short lived and the freedom elusive.   Unkind thoughts, the sharp edges of pride and envy, a tongue quick to criticize and ears quick to take offense are just a few breaths away at any moment. It’s so hard to stay clean.   “It’s hard to keep things white.  Dirt loves it, blood loves it, sin loves it.” So, stained, broken, and somehow not only existing but actively participating in this life.  Here I am. And there she is, and there he is.  Here we all are.  Broken and covered in dirt. And the hurts that we simultaneously despise and desperately protect pull us somehow toward injuring one another.  The wounded becomes the wounder.  The broken become the breakers.  The stained, they are sometimes the first to throw a dirty mess at someone else. No one walks away from this crisp and clean.  No one.  We all have been hurt.  We all hurt.  We carry in us the brokenness that it is to be human. And we break. I know this because I have been convicted of wounding others.  And because I have felt the sting of someone else’s brokenness seeping out and into my own.  I have received the unkind words and actions that I know come from another’s own personal well of hurt.  What I have come to understand through time is that I cannot absorb this pain.    That is not for me to do.  The weight of what breaks them is not for me to carry.  The dirt is not for me to examine.   For all of us, it would seem, that under the first layer of dirt is a deeper layer, and another, and that the deepest layers cannot be seen and cannot be cleansed by anything less than the Divine. So what do I do with my own stains?  How do I function as I should, how can I parent, work, serve, in this broken state?  I cringe as I inwardly review words I have said, things I have done, and I want to know that somehow, in all of this mess, God is still moving.  In my quiet moments of reflection with Him, I hang my head and tears slide down my cheeks.  It is painful, facing the mess, and it is lonely, wondering how He can use His daughter in these soiled garments.


Then, if I stay around long enough to listen,  in the stillness, He breathes His assurances and words of comfort into my heart.   “It is not for you to worry over each stain,” He says,  “and if you could, you would see what I see, that even the traces are gone.  I am renewing you.   When I promised ‘whiter than snow’ it was no exaggeration, no fool’s hope.  It is truth.  And do not waste so much time reviewing each place you are cracked and broken, allowing yourself to become mired in discouragement and self-pity.  Where you are cracked, My light shines through, if you allow it to.  Remember, it is in your brokenness that I use you.  I am always making beautiful things out of dust and I am forever creating beauty out of the ashes.” And so it is.  I come to the place where I can say yes, I am broken,  I am weak and sometimes I am  just plain foolish.  And in this “mortal coil” I will continue to trip up and yes, live and act out of a state of brokenness.  But I have come to see it not as a chain holding me back, and not an excuse to behave badly, but as a constant reminder to go back to the place of cleansing, back to the wells of living water, and then up and out and into my world.  And when I go up and out into the world, I can be filled with a deeper grace for all those who walk with me, and a trust that some will be offered to me in return.


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Out of hibernation


I wish it had not been so long.  I must have been hibernating.  I have so many thoughts, though, and they are stubbornly wanting to get out.  I hope to have a new entry out this week.

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Here with you

 couple-holding-hands-300x199 I have been wanting to blog now for awhile and I keep putting it off.  I have a post or two in mind about being busy, but, well, I have been too busy to get around to it. And so it goes. But I have had a thought I cannot let go and I want to get it down while the moment is fresh. I have lately felt like I am caught in an undertow and I am struggling to crack the surface of the water so I can catch my breath and find that lifeboat that I know is just above me.  Life has not only been busy, it’s been hard.  There have been disappointments, pressures, trials and failures, and the strain of trying to adjust to the inevitable changes of life. I work in the area of grief and loss, and it should not surprise me how loss is at once unique and achingly isolating, while also so completely universal that there is almost a resounding sigh of “yes, I know” in the atmosphere when someone expresses one of the truths of grief. There is something unifying (beyond the old “misery loves company” saying) in sharing a burden, in silently holding a pain, even for a moment, that is not your own, but you know it just the same.  I have experienced this with family and close friends in my own, life, but nowhere more deeply than in my marriage. Sometimes it is just a slight hand squeeze laying in bed, bracing for a new day, when the last one was just too cruel.  Sometimes it’s letting the tears fall and knowing no words will do what simply being there will.   Sometimes it is staying up way too late being the sounding board for jumbled thoughts and emotions.  Sometimes it is the look that says “we will get through this,” and sometimes it is the secret joke or healing laughter that helps us do just that. We have been married 14 years now, and I know we in some ways may have just broken the surface.  But from what we’ve come through already, I could not be more certain that this is what it means to become one, to be united to another beyond all that is temporary, so that when the storm has passed, what is left is strong and sure, a treasure worth fighting for.  And I know that storms do pass, and that under clear skies, with multitudes of blessings flying around like the beautiful leaves outside, we are closer for what we came through together. There is a song I love, one that has become a favorite of ours,  that I can best describe as a lover’s lullaby.  I’ll end with that, saying only that I have been both the giver and receiver of this kind of quiet, sweet, burden sharing love, and I think there is almost no more pure love, this side of heaven, than this.

Here- Neal and Leandra

You see deserts in the distance, but you don't have to 
cross them yet
Raging rivers without bridges that will drown you in your loneliness
You see storms on the horizon that take away your 
very breath
I know these things are true and I know I love you
There's nothing we can do 'til we get there
Right now we're here      

Here, where the day is ending
Here, where the sky has finally cleared
And no one can hurt you
Here, you don't have to say a word
And you can cry your tears
Because I know what you've come through
The stars are falling, the night is full
And for at least this moment love won't disappear

You've been burned before, I know it, and you think 
your heart has been consumed
But there are doors you haven't opened, the heart has got so many rooms   
I can't heal what has been damaged, but you can walk
 through any door you choose
I know this much is true, I will walk with you
The road is long, but some day we'll get there
Right now we're here

I will not leave when the next storm blows through
When it's too dark to see, I'm right beside you

The stars are falling, the night is full
And I promise you this love won't disappear
All we've got is here

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