March 6 | Beloved

You Who Never Arrived, by Rainer Maria Rilke

You who never arrived

in my arms, Beloved, who were lost

from the start,

I don’t even know what songs

would please you. I have given up trying

to recognize you in the surging wave of

the next moment. All the immense

images in me — the far-off, deeply-felt

landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and

unsuspected turns in the path,

and those powerful lands that were once

pulsing with the life of the gods–

all rise within me to mean

you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all

the gardens I have ever gazed at,

longing. An open window

in a country house– , and you almost

stepped out, pensive, to meet me.

Streets that I chanced upon,–

you had just walked down them and vanished.

And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors

were still dizzy with your presence and,

startled, gave back my too-sudden image.

Who knows? Perhaps the same

bird echoed through both of us

yesterday, separate, in the evening…

I don’t know what to say besides the fact that I could have written this. I don’t know the original context in which this was written, but it applies to my life in this season. That’s all I can say…

March 5 | Focus

Focus

The ability to focus on one thing for a long period of time is glorified in our society. A Lenten promise to focus on for six weeks. A plan for a half marathon that lasts 12 weeks. A new eating plan that is supposed to last… forever? If you stick with it, you’re a hero, and if you fall off the wagon, you failed.

I’ve tried all these types of intense focus, from marathon training plans, to Lenten/Advent habits or rituals, eating plans.. and to be honest, I always fail somewhere along the way. I miss a day, have one too many cheat meals, just don’t feel like running that weekend. And I feel down about it.

So in order to have more focus in my life, I’ve tried setting more measurable and specific goals. Instead of saying, okay, I’m going to commit 100% to this half marathon plan, I’m going to look at the plan for every day. Narrow the scope a bit so it feels much more doable. Sure, I’ll probably hit 90% of the runs for the plan because if I don’t,  I won’t have a good race, but I also allow some leeway in there just in case.

This is not to discourage wholehearted attempts at creating new patterns or habits, especially if they’re healthy or good ones. I just refuse to look at it as a do-or-die thing. I keep my focus by getting to the heart of it: I see the benefits it has for my life, whether it’s keeping up with a daily devotional, running 3-4 times a week, or eating less ice cream (sad!). I’m much more motivated and focused when I’m not a slave to whatever plan I ascribe to, but rather a willing and involved participant.

March 4 | Restored

Restored

I have no better explanation of “restored” than the result of work that Jesus did on the cross: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21 NASB). There is nothing on Earth that compares to this single act of love, compassion, and selflessness. When I think about it, turn it over in my head, envision what He went through, it wrecks me every time.

“Death in His Grave,” John Mark McMillan
Though the earth cried
Out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Billows calmed on raging seas
For the souls of men she craved
Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious love would taste
The sting
Disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a king
Laid down in grief
But woke with the keys
Of hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The man Jesus Christ laid
Death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The morning sun
Of righteousness
But rose to shame
The throws of death
And overturn his rule
Now daughters
And the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood
They owed was rent
When the day rolled anew

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a king
Laid down in grief
But woke holding keys
To hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The man Jesus Christ laid
Death in his grave

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a king
Laid down in grief
But woke with the keys
Of hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The man Jesus Christ laid
Death in his grave

He has cheated hell
And seated us above the fall
In desperate places he paid our
Wages one time once and for all

March 3 | Seeds

Seeds

In my Bible I used to have several mustard seeds folded into a little piece of wax paper, as a reminder of the verse where Jesus talks about how our faith can be as tiny as a mustard seed.

It was a good reminder after awhile when I opened my Bible, but I ended up being annoyed with it and throwing it away. I was always confused by the ‘mustard seed’ thing. Maybe it was a cultural thing back then to refer to a mustard seed, but I’d surely seen smaller seeds.

I also am horrible at tending to anything plant-like. I’ve killed a cactus, I’ve killed perfectly good (and supposedly hardy) petunias and begonias. I’ve tried to grow things from seeds and then plant them. I failed at it all. It was hard for me to imagine a tiny seed actually growing into something that would produce tomatoes, or peppers, or flowers. It seemed preposterous, really.

So I gave up and blamed it on the desert. I had better things to do with my time than get up super early to water everything, and weed everything at other times. Eventually my pots with dirt sat out in the sun, rain, wind, whatever. And we left them all at the house in El Paso when we moved.

Here in Maryland we have a deck, and I’ve talked to my husband about getting a few pots to plant things. He laughs because he knows my track record. I say, ‘No, it’ll be different this time. I think things could live here, you know?’

Maybe.

March 2 | Emptiness

Emptiness

Today marks two years since my husband came home from deployment with the Army. He spent nearly 10 months overseas. That was the longest we ever went without seeing each other.

There is a specific type of void in life when one’s spouse or significant other is gone, even for a short period of time. An emptiness. As painful as the emptiness can be at times, it’s amazing how instantly it vanishes and life goes back to some semblance of normal once he returned. It took probably six months for ‘us’ to get back to normal, but we were together.

In other ways, the past two years have been difficult. We’ve had lots of job changes, financial decisions, a cross-country move, and of course, we’ve been trying to expand our family the (mostly) ‘natural’ way. So far, nothing but emptiness. Literal emptiness.

“And the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten some of the produce of the land, so that the sons of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate some of the yield of the land of Canaan during that year.”

Joshua 5:12 (NASB)

Within this struggle, I’ve been surviving on the manna given to me every day. I haven’t had the mental or emotional energy to begin planting and harvesting my own crops. I’ve been tending to my most basic needs. Now, I’m turning a corner. I have hope that it will rain, the sun will shine, and my crops will grow. I can look back at the desert not with disdain and regret, but with joy that I got through it, or in other words, that I was carried through it. I can look ahead to the river valley and see that there is opportunity.

A part of me will always feel empty.  And that’s okay. Being healed doesn’t mean that there aren’t scars or reminders. Even with the scars, healing is one reminder of the great grace we’re shown by a compassionate, loving God, Jehovah Raphe. And for that, I’m so thankful.

by Keller Hawkins

she was perched on a branch

feathers withered,
crumpled
her head hung low

she sang with sorrowful earnest
a song
that sent shivers down her spine
and deepened the ache in her heart

she sang and sang
waiting for someone,
anyone
to hear

until one day
she remembered:
she had wings.

so she flew.

March 1 | Healing

Healing

My schedule today is different than usual, so I’m doing this devotion at Panera while I wait to teach my evening class. My thoughts are definitely more coherent in the morning, when I usually do this.

I designated this Lenten season to surround healing, restoration, and rejuvenation for me. I think so far, it has been. And it’s no coincidence that it’s nearing spring.

As much as I’ve wanted to just crawl into a hole and spend the six weeks alone and isolated from the outside world, I can’t do that. I look for the spiritual moments in the mundane, and have found that they’re often one and the same.

They say that time heals, and I think that’s true in most situations. At the very least, time moves us away from the event that caused us pain, allowing an ever-growing buffer. I’m glad for that and for healing.

February 29 | Brokenness

Brokeness

This Lenten practice of writing a little every day about a prompt is difficult. Not because I can’t think of what to say – I love writing in almost any form – but because it’s forcing me to ‘come clean’ about things. Not to ‘confess’ my sins or anything, but to actually start saying out loud what’s been in my soul for months. That said…

I’ve felt broken for most of my life. When I was a little girl, I felt broken because I was the ‘smart’ one, and was therefore made fun of, cast out of social groups, etc. (I also developed an immense arrogance about my intelligence, which was probably a way of trying to make myself feel better.) When I became a teenager, I felt broken because I felt like my body was just… weird. I got super tall, super fast, and then towards the end of high school I really ‘filled out’. My feet seemed huge (size 10-10.5), my hips and bust seemed too big, and I had cellulite! Imagine! My aunt reassured me that I was proportionate, but I felt anything but.

From the time I turned about 20 until now, it’s been a struggle to love my body. I’ve fluctuated in weight, but maintained a certain weight for a long period of time. I’ve struggled with my love of food, specifically sweets. I’ve struggled with my desire to workout or commit to training.

Now that I’m (almost) 30, I’m coming into a season where I’m beginning to love and accept my body. Technically I’m overweight right now. Post-deployment and trying-to-conceive stress manifested itself in emotional eating and (some) emotional drinking.

However, since the new year, I’ve turned a new leaf and really enjoyed running and working out, and I’ve been able to have some more self-control. We’re getting up around 5 AM to work out most days. I ran 56 miles in February. We applied for new life insurance policies and therefore had to have bloodwork done. Mine came back with flying colors. The only thing that was too high was my good cholesterol. The results made me feel good, that despite being overweight by somebody else’s standards, I’m still healthy. My body can still do good things despite not being able to get pregnant.

Yay, right? Good for me, right? Look at me, I did that! Except not really. I can try as I might to manage my own brokenness. I can try to modify what I see in the mirror, but true healing of brokenness only comes from the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Sometime in the past couple years or so, I had a revelation. I thought about my elderly relatives, one of whom will turn 100 this summer (100!!!), and I think about what we’ll say after she’s gone. ‘She was a loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother. She was patient. She was a faithful wife.’ None of those statements have to do with her body, or how many pounds overweight/underweight she is, or how many marathons she ran.

It then occurred to me that what I want to think about on my death bed is not how well I maintained my ‘ideal’ or ‘happy’ weight, or how many miles I ran per month, but how complete I was in Christ. How I did His bidding, and completed my earthly tasks with grace, dignity, and excellence. How I let the Holy Spirit continually heal and mend me. I don’t want to leave this earth with a trail of brokenness behind me.

Will your grace run out
If I let you down
‘Cause all I know
Is how to run

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful

Will You call me child
When I tell you lies
‘Cause all I know
Is how to cry

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful

You make it beautiful
You make it beautiful

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful

I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies, oh yeah
But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Beautiful

‘Brokenness Aside’ – All Sons and Daughters

February 28 | Home

Home

Beannacht

(“Blessing”)

On the day when

the weight deadens

on your shoulders

and you stumble,

may the clay dance

to balance you.

And when your eyes

freeze behind

the grey window

and the ghost of loss

gets in to you,

may a flock of colours,

indigo, red, green,

and azure blue

come to awaken in you

a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays

in the currach of thought

and a stain of ocean

blackens beneath you,

may there come across the waters

a path of yellow moonlight

to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

may the clarity of light be yours,

may the fluency of the ocean be yours,

may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow

wind work these words

of love around you,

an invisible cloak

to mind your life.

~ John O’Donohue ~

The prompt for today was to respond to the poem above. Today’s word is ‘home’. I’ve been living away from where I grew up for almost five years now, in two different states. In Maryland, we’re significantly closer to our ‘home’ in Illinois (about 800 miles compared to 1500 miles in west Texas), but it’s still pretty far. Maryland looks and acts more like Illinois, and that’s comforting.

But for the time I’ve lived away, I’ve struggled with what to call ‘home’. The poem above talks about going home, but sometimes I don’t know if that’s my house in Maryland, or central Illinois. It can be both, I think. Not an either-or. I tend to see life in black and white; it’s part of my analytical personality. But I think it can be both. They say that ‘home is where the heart is’. Sometimes it’s here with my husband, and sometimes it’s with my family in Illinois.

Perhaps what this poem is talking about is our home in heaven. That is my true home, where I was originally born out of. I came from the dust, and to dust I shall return. I want my heart to always be with God, regardless of the physical trappings of this world. Then I don’t have to question whether it’s in the right place… it will be in the place.

February 27 | Burden

Burden

 

These few lines came to mind when I read the word for today:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(Emma Lazarus, 1883)

And also these verses:

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and My load is light.”

(Matthew 11:29-30, NASB)

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to determine the best person with which to share my burdens. Of course, my husband is one of those people. I have close friends and family members with whom I share burdens as well, and they are happy to help me carry them.

But I end up putting my burden-sharers on pedestals of expectation. I await responses in the form of calls or text messages, and get disappointed when they’re busy with other aspects of their lives, because how dare they not be able to help me every time I need help.

I know this isn’t healthy to expect so much from people. It’s good to have relationship with others, but there is only one Person who can perfectly share our burdens and perpetually make them lighter to carry.

Something interesting about the verses above is that Jesus didn’t promise us that we wouldn’t have burdens and loads to carry. But He did say that with His yoke, they would be easier to handle. That speaks volumes to me, and brings me peace in this life, which can often be grief-stricken.

I think something I can do better is first going to Jesus when I have a burden I can’t carry on my own… or for that matter, with any burden. And then, if it edifies or blesses another person, I can ask them to also help me.

“For Thou hast been my help, And in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to Three; Thy right hand upholds me.”

(Psalm 63:7-8, NASB)

 

February 26 | Mystery

Mystery

Mystery in life is one thing that brings me peace. There are just some things we, even as humans, cannot understand or explain.

This used to drive me crazy. If we have science, why can’t we explain everything? We should be able to by this point in mankind’s existence. Now that I’m older and wiser (?), I find solace in the fact that not everything needs an explanation.

The trick is accepting that.

“Cease striving and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 (NASB)

That’s really all we need to know, that God is God. He is I Am. He is eternal and all-knowing, and we are not.

Even through the couple of years in college where I was questioning how to couple my faith with science, I never let go of that fact. Even during my intellectual strife, I had “I Am” in the back of my mind.

One thing I still struggle with is the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” I don’t know if this is true. It’s really not comforting when you’re the one grieving. It’s probably the last thing you want to hear.

Maybe a better alternative would be, “I know you’re hurting right now, and we don’t know why this happened. Maybe one day we will know, or maybe we never will.”

Something I’ve been praying for lately is not for a specific outcome to my struggle. So many people want to pray for specific things, for us to have a baby. I mean, who would pray for us not to have a baby? But really, what I need in this time is peace and a continued trust in what God is doing.

I don’t need to strive to find all the answers, and I have limitations for what I want to put myself, and us, through, and I’ve reached those. So I’ll make peace with the mystery.