the second day: when we don’t know what’s ahead

We walked the woods and I wandered to the spot where we buried someone precious a few years ago.

the second day

The piece of bark was just laying there, right over the grave. This skin torn off of a living thing, leaving it exposed, vulnerable, and in pain.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

I think often about this “second day” space: this time between heartbreak and victory, between the bloody cross and the empty grave, when we don’t know what’s ahead.

We hoped for something huge and desperately longed-for, but it was thrown in our face and spat on. We didn’t know what was coming.

We tried to build a fire for warmth and light, but we’re still freezing, the smoke is getting in our eyes and we can’t see anything else.

We thought those contractions meant we were close to delivery, but found out we were only dilated to one and a half centimeters.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

The Kingdom is on the cusp of something amazing and huge. He is waking up His people in a way we haven’t seen in our generation, and maybe in a way He hasn’t done in many generations. This is a great time to be His people, but we have to endure the hard work of waiting.

We walk a tense line between faith and not moving ahead of God to push fruit, forcing something to work on our own. We don’t want to miss His move of certainty by stepping without Him, tired of waiting for the prophets and giving the sacrifice on our own. We don’t want to build the golden calf in our impatience for God’s answer, as the Israelites did when they squandered their loot from Egypt in making a work of their own hands to worship.

For weeks now, God has been reminding me that He restores, redeems, and refines us in our encounters with Him. And we often encounter Him in our need, in the quiet, dark place of the second day where we hurt and have no answers and are brought face to face with our need for His light, His answers, and His comfort.

In this second day space He is putting things back together for His people, as though He was working in the dark soil of our very foundation and identity, and making things right in ways they have never been before.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

– John 16:20-22, ESV

The second day is a day of smoldering ashes. Our woodstove is the grave of that tree. We lay on more kindling and push things around a little closer to the coals.

We shut the door. We watch.

The smoke starts spinning in there, the coals start glowing and flickering. It’s only a matter of time before you hear it – the deep whoof, the sound of ebullition — all is bright and burning.

It is the second day. We’ve been waiting for a long time and the momentum is increasing, and God is about to ignite something ferocious, contagious, and powerful for the Kingdom.

“Does bark always come off in the shape of a heart?” Cham asked.

No, I told her. Only God does that.

praying shelter: how we bring safety to our streets

You can’t possibly have missed it, the news is everywhere. Facebook is alight with grief and opinions, the talk shows are full of hype and outrage, and the celebrity news anchors are still speechless but that hasn’t stopped them from sharing clichés and propaganda.

praying shelter: how we bring safety to our streets

And none of this is about race or racism. It’s a problem, but it’s not the root issue: there’s always a Thing behind the thing. And that is what needs to be dealt with, or the other thing will just keep happening.

The Thing behind the thing is multifaceted. We could call it evil, but that’s also cliché – what we have is a culture of fear and pride, people insecure in their identities and their mission. And as a result they are unsafe.

Unsafe. As in, they might not be safe, but also, they might not be safe to others, either. People who have forgotten they are the Beloved are afraid, and afraid people do stupid things.

The enemy seeks to kill, steal, and destroy and his primary weapon is fear. But his other weapon is distraction.

The enemy attacks, distracts, tries to keep us from praying on the offense against his schemes – and sometimes it works. But if we are alert and aware of it, we can use it to divert our focus to something more powerful, like going from simply praying against an attack to praying for the hearts and repentance of the attackers.

We stop hacking at the branches and start attacking the root, because two can play that game and God’s already declared us the winners. We can do more than thwart enemy plans. We can also cause his players to defect to our side.

We can let people know they are safe. We can let them know they are loved. We can remind them they are the Beloved.

I don’t mean this in the vapid, politically-correct kind of way that throws around the word “love” like it’s the latest trendy hashtag and we can’t disagree on anything without calling it hate. We can and should disagree. We can and should hold firm to our deepest beliefs even if it offends people. And we should be safe to do so. We should be loved and loving whether we agree or not.

This is not rocket science. This is maturity.

We can’t make everyone feel safe and loved. But we can pray against fear, pride and insecurity. We can pray for people to have mature identities instead of just impassioned knee-jerk ignorance.

We can pray safety into our streets like there’s no tomorrow. Because for some tonight, there’s no tomorrow.

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We can pray deep and wide: deeply and often for our neighborhoods and our families, and wide and scattered over the intersections and businesses of our cities. In His authority we can cover these places with safety.

We can pray for government buildings, sidewalks, and bus stops. We can pray security into people as we pray over their homes, their workplaces, their driving routes.

Because all of these lives matter. Yours and mine and theirs.

We can pray shelter over each other, flinging it wide, everywhere we go.

in pieces: why we need to remember we are the Beloved

It happened when a six-year-old was crawling on the kitchen counter to get a cup out of the cabinet. She slipped and dropped the cup, which landed on several other dishes next to the sink, including Vince’s favorite mug…the handle of which immediately broke into three pieces. Did I mention it was handmade pottery?

in pieces: why we need to remember we are the Beloved

She knew it was her fault – an accident, a sad loss, but not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. But when it came to apologizing, something flipped.

“I didn’t break it!” she insisted. Technically, this was (sort of) true…the cup she dropped is what did the breaking. And yet she was the one who dropped it.

We went round and round with the logic of this, but the real battle wasn’t logic. The real battle was two-fold, part of which was admitting the truth — because if we admit the truth we must also admit responsibility for our part in it. The other part was fear clouding her identity, and she forgot that she is more valuable to us than a broken dish.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we’re the Beloved so we can be secure enough to face the truth.

It’s imperative that we teach this to our kids. If we don’t, we’ll end up raising a generation of middle-aged juveniles who would rather be willfully out of touch with reality than admit their own mistakes. And we really don’t need any more of those.

Avoiding truth and responsibility are both rooted in fear, and given enough time they distill into narcissism. We think of narcissism as something that values self over others to an extreme measure, but the truth is that it’s the essence of insecurity.

And our culture is full of it. We diminish our own value out of insecurity, and then entirely eliminate the value of others in self-defense. Like a bully who picks on the weak to hide his own fear, the nation that justifies slaughter and harvesting of body parts for scientific advancement is a nation steeped in its own self-loathing.

We don’t need to look to ISIS for atrocity. We have evidence of the most barbaric acts on video, in our country, against our most vulnerable, for profit. It has occurred without the influence or design of any religion. It does, however, have the backing of an inflated government and a culture drunk on its own narcissism and insecurity.

It’s not that these videos show how wrong abortion is – abortion is wrong whether it is done for profit or not, whether it happens in the third trimester or not, whether the baby is wanted or not. What these videos reveal is how debased we are as a culture that it takes something this barbaric to wake us up to the evil of it.

If we deny what is so clearly shown here, we are willfully out of touch with reality – because if we admit the truth, we must also admit that we are responsible.

Our culture is responsible. Our silence is responsible. Our turning away, not wanting to be made uncomfortable, is responsible.

And I want to say, I’m sorry. We have dropped it, we have caused breaking, we have allowed a culture to grow up around us that divides the unborn into pieces for profit, and doesn’t even care if the heart is still beating or not.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

While no life is perfect, every life is beautiful and has purpose beyond being relegated to a bunch of line items for Planned Parenthood.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are the Beloved. You, reading this. Me, typing this.

This one, with this face.

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photo source

He was only six months younger than this one, with this face.

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We see a culture rising up out of this that knows what it is to take responsibility. We see generations who are willing to look reality in the face and say No more of this, not on our watch. We see families and churches stepping in to do more than say they are pro-life but are also showing that they are pro-child – adopting, fostering, providing, and praying. We have a culture that is moving from the relative comfort of shaking their heads in disgust over headlines to stepping into the front lines to stand up for children, born and unborn.

When we know we are the Beloved, we’re not afraid of the truth. Insecurity is no match for people who know they are image-bearers. And those who recognize their own value are those who also value the lives of others – not as a commodity for personal gain, but a person with inherent value — because they are also the Beloved.

not overcome

We’re usually pretty good about using up leftovers and not having science experiments in our fridge, but twice now we’ve accidentally fermented pineapple.

It’s okay, though. We’ve been learning a little about probiotics over the past few years, and after some cautious investigation we discovered that it is not only edible, but full of beneficial microorganisms. Usually a bit more planning is involved to turn various foods into healthy fermented goodness, but apparently you can also do it by completely avoiding the kitchen during seven weeks of morning sickness.

not overcome: choosing to rise when conditions are rotten

One afternoon while I’m doing some research, Cham brings me a book and asks me to read to her. She wants Fancy Nancy – and well, it could be worse. (Amelia Bedelia, I’m looking at you.) But still, I’m in the middle of something.

“Oh…do you really want to read that?” I ask. “Don’t you want to learn about water kefir instead?”

“No.” As in, No way, you weird loony.

And I give in, consoling myself by giving every hoity-toity character a voice like Effie Trinket. May the odds be evah in your favah.

Last week was a vacation, of sorts — more of a staycation meant to be a “workation” to get some projects finished — some studying, some writing, some time together, some catching up. It started well, and was going well, until the middle of the week. And without meaning to, the week turned into something else with a phone call.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

– James 1:2-4

That brave lady I’ve mentioned before – the one who taught me to fold fitted sheets, make soup, and see in the dark — had taken an early morning trip to the ER, and by the time I got there, things weren’t looking good and a medivac team was on the way to fly her to Anchorage. My dad met me in the lobby and whisked me to her room.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

– James 1:12

She was unconscious, tubes and lines everywhere. The nurse filled me in and said her heart had stopped for four minutes that morning, and they did CPR and brought her back — and when I heard that, my heart stopped a little, too. I stayed with her till the medivac team came. She was freezing; I kept my hand on her forehead and prayed. I kept asking the medics if I needed to leave, if I was in their way, and they said No, you’re just fine, and worked around me, priming lines, switching out bags of fluids and medications, and passing instructions to each other. And I whispered in English and prayed in tongues over my Baptist grandma for thirty minutes or more until they were ready to put her on the other stretcher and wheel her outside.

I was in the parking lot, on the phone with Vince, when the helicopter lifted off. I watched her fly.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

– James 1:16-18

We spent several days on alert, on the phone, on edge, on our knees. That first day I was fine and faithful, but the second day I turned somehow and was in tears constantly. I plowed through typing up the kids’ curriculum for the new term, and realized I was crying. I finished submitting Upside Down for paperback, remembered Grandma, and cried again. I did the dishes, wiping my eyes with the same towel and I didn’t even care. The whole day alternated between tears and productivity. Repeat. Repeat.

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Know Jesus, know peace – and even still, that peace has to be fought hard for when we confront loss, and not everyone is equipped the same way to handle it. For some, it looks like control or anger, in the same way insecurity often looks like pride or narcissism. For others, fighting fear looks like grief, on edge.

A mother watches a son fall further into depravity and she grieves and prays. A woman faces betrayal, fear, and upheaval, and a community prays for a family’s future and safety. A city walks on edge, unnerved over terrorist threats and lost lives. We face sin that has fermented into awful, putrid heartbreak in a million directions.

A Baptist uncle speaks of trusting in God’s will and sovereignty, and his charismatic niece speaks of trusting in God’s goodness and truth. And really, we’re talking about the same things.

We sit and wait, wanting answers in the midst of emergency, and we either ferment into faith or fear. Our choice determines what will we be when life takes an unexpected turn — enduring or decaying, rising or rotten. Something healthy, or something sickening.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

– James 1:19-20

Seven days after her heart stopped, she woke up and did a little physical therapy. The next day, my husband sat with her in her room and made her laugh. She told him how much she misses her cat, he charmed her socks off, and they prayed together.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

– James 5:11

You are so very blessed.

The best way to see in the dark is not to keep stumbling on, but to reflect the One who created light with a Word.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

– John 1:5

And we are still praying, and so grateful for healing and progress that amazes doctors and glorifies God. This woman in her eighties who finally retired last summer, who raised five boys and then put in more than her fair share of time with me — this is the lady they tried to keep sedated but, well, she kept waking up because you can’t keep a good woman down, and the odds are always in our favor.

thrown a curve

Don’t hate me, but my husband is amazing at doing the laundry. He tackles most of it on Mondays when I’m puttering around the house with other projects — and I guess I never noticed this before, but even though he does the bulk of it, I’m usually the one who folds the fitted sheets. I finally realized this because as I was getting fresh sheets out of the closet, they looked…well, not like I had folded them. More like they’d been used to loosely mummify someone’s forearm, and then firmly stuffed into the shelf to avoid unwrapping. Vin later confirmed that this was exactly what he’d done.

thrown a curve: navigating unfamiliar territory without fear (Copperlight Wood)

Now, if the fitted sheets in your closet look like that, I’m not judging you. I never thought fitted sheets were actually supposed to be folded once they came out of the package, but that for the remainder of their days the owners must resort to wadding them up like a fat gauze bandage. Or, like a huge replica of a salvaged roll of toilet paper after Knightley has unrolled approximately three miles of it.

But I was nurtured by a sweet and savvy grandma who not only introduced me to Jesus, but also taught me mysteries of the gospel including, but not limited to, old hymns, soup on Sundays, and the art of folding a fitted sheet. And no, height wasn’t an excuse, because she was just a wee nudge past five feet tall. Despite the fact that I had grown up thinking that it just isn’t done, she au contraire’d me and showed how simple it was:

It’s the pockets. Make sure they’re empty – no straggling socks or unmentionables hiding in there – and just tuck them in each other. Fold over, retuck. Fold in the curved sides. Fold again, with straight sides, and done – a beautiful rectangle of linen closet goodness.

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It was not impossible. It was amazing. Anyone can handle a flat sheet with straight sides, but the fitted sheet throws us because of the curves. Like so many tasks in life — dumb stuff, big stuff, life-changing stuff — what seems to be impossible is usually just unfamiliar territory.

Buttercup: We’ll never survive!

Westley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.

– The Princess Bride

Every endeavor that we tackle has innumerable details and problems that we don’t know how to solve at first. Starting a business, starting a family, starting a mission, or just starting over – we quail too early, too often, when thrown for a curve. So much is at stake in our wavering.

We all know the stories about how the American Revolution was a difficult and often desperate struggle. But we forget in hindsight how unlikely it was that our forefathers would succeed. Many times defeat seemed all but inevitable. Yet that small band of patriot-statesmen achieved a victory against a long-established ruler of seemingly unlimited power and authority. They did so by remaining dedicated to America’s cause and to each other…fighting hard at every turn…knowing that their success or failure would determine whether they, or possibly any people, would ever fight again for the great cause of self-government.

– Paul Ryan, quoted from Imprimis, July/August 2014 (reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College)

I get confounded over the dumbest things sometimes. Most of them involve technology. We’re formatting Upside Down to paperback (and then we hope to move into large print…!) and it took me an embarrassing amount of time just to learn how to delete a page that I couldn’t even figure out how to access. That done, I had to remove a footnote separator that had been plaguing me for months. Little details left undone, pockets left with unmentionables hiding in them, stalling the clean look of a finished product.

It’s a learning curve, and sometimes I don’t want to learn. But after some tense touch-and-go strife with the lens cap, I even figured out how to use our new camera. Then I finally discovered how to change my contact email on most of my important accounts, and then, oh unstoppable momentum — tada! — converted to a Pinterest business account. All roads lead to Pinterest.

We tend to mistake the unexpected, unknown, or inconvenient for the impossible. But…au contraire

And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

– Judges 6:14-16, ESV

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

– Joshua 1:9, ESV

More than fitted sheets, more than irritating technology (or whatever your personal bane is), we face circumstances and events not bargained for on our knees. We do not know how to do this, we don’t know how it’s going to work out, we don’t remember signing up for this. We don’t know if we’re strong enough.

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But we do know that champions aren’t made on the easy paths, where every plan goes perfectly. Roads with curves are far more beautiful than straight highways. And maybe this is just my Alaskan bias, but rugged mountain landscapes always trump the flat, treeless prairies. People don’t stop in wonder while driving through flatlands like they do when they see the mountains and valleys wrought by tension that made the earth shake and change its shape.

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Your story, and my story, is more breathtaking with curves.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

– Ephesians 2:17-19

What we really need is someone to show us the way through the unknown. We fight the feelings of it just isn’t done with the au contraire of the Father who loves us and has good plans for us in the midst of the unexpected.