When words fail

Words fail me.

Maybe that’s the point.

Some things are spoken most truly without words. Isn’t that why there are sunsets and roses and hugs? And people who sit, silent, and hold the hand of a young mother losing her only child?

“I sat with her today, and held her hand as she cried, because there was nothing else I could do. The words ‘khudawan meraban as’ stuck in my throat, not because they aren’t true, but because just at that moment that seemed like a cruel thing to say.  ‘God is kind,’ so . . . he will take away your only child? And I had heard those words said over and over, like a mantra, by those around me – the same doctors and mothers of other children who were also telling her not to cry, there was nothing to cry about. The kindness I wanted to tell her about was the kindness of a Father who was crying with her.

Then her husband came in, followed by two other male family members. I watched as this tough [ethnic] man quietly cried as he touched his little girl, and I watched as her uncle, only young himself, maybe in his late teens, pulled back her hat and laid his hand on her head, as in a prayer, as tears rolled down his cheeks.  And inside I just felt like screaming at the injustice of it – 5 month old girls should not be yellow, should not leak[1], should not be gasping for breath. Especially not when they came into hospital with a tummy bug, that developed into pneumonia and sepsis.”

“God is kind.” It is one of those things that even God, who formed worlds with words, knew could be heard only through the single wordless Word who curled himself small and helpless and came into the mess of our real, uninsulated lives, surrounded by the pungent scent of fresh dung.

Coming as an infant (the Latin root means “not speaking”), coming, without words of condemnation, into the mess: it’s the way He speaks the truth that it’s not the ideal me that is loved. It’s the real me. It’s the messy, beautiful, fearful me who longs after Him, but not nearly enough. The me who loves and struggles and tries to do what only He can do, and then remembers and lets Him bring me close again. It’s how He comes right into the places where we feel past knowing what is the truth, and wraps us tight in arms that declare, “This is the truth.”

This is the truth. I am the Truth.” He silently cries it, submitting gladly to the dark crampedness of our inmost spaces. Surrendering to the violent pains of our birthing through his own. Opening those places wide with the bloodied speaking of the speechless Word so we can receive the truth long hidden in the spoken words and know that God is kind. That He is Love.

Five month old girls should not be yellow, should not leak, should not be gasping for breath. No. Nor should the God-man suspended between heaven and earth leak blood-sweat and strain for each breath. But to speak only words into our daily pain would have been futile. So he let himself be spoken, the Word wordless for a while, Creator in created flesh, the Strong powerless, so we could bear his coming near. He gave himself to be cuddled and cared for so he could return our baby embrace with his stronger, truer one, the embrace which had held us from the beginning but from which we, in our fear, had run. This is the truth, arms that lead us through that valley where His death and ours unite in the hope of death swallowed by love.



[1] From old IV sites, because of the severity of her illness

When you need to hear gospel again

Every moment, it seems, I need it again, a reminder of the truth that He can be trusted. That Christ comes behind me, covering and healing all the places I fail. That He goes before me, guiding and protecting and calling me every moment to begin again to trust. That (hear this) grace never runs out!


This morning, gospel is whispered through the words of a man whose bones lie shattered in a hospital bed after a truck raced down the wrong side of the road and crushed his car. “Are you angry?” “No, I know I am being transformed, so we will see what comes!” He knows God holds him, holds those he loves, holds the future. Knows that it’s what God is doing that matters. So he forgives. And trusts.  And he does it by the power of Spirit within him, not by his own strength.


This afternoon, as I feel myself utterly inadequate for what I’m called to, gospel shouts to me in Paul’s words: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-30) Do you hear it, the gospel truth that sets us free? In God’s upside-down kingdom, everything rests on His accomplishment, not on our achievement.


And, this evening, needing to hear it yet a third time, I pick up the half sheet of card stock lying with my journal since it was handed out in church two months ago, soak once more in the truth of being enfolded by love. I share it here in case you, too, are longing to crawl deep, deep into the love offered, and rest there.



“Christ behind me

Christ before me

Christ beside me

Christ beneath me

Christ above me

Christ within me


Christ behind me

In the past, all that has been good is in His keeping. I need no regrets, no mementos. 
I can let go of all that was good, knowing that it is precious to Him.
 (Give thanks to God for all His goodness.) 
All that was bad, hurtful, shameful, I consign into the depths of His mercy.

All the hurt which I have caused, all the hurt which others have caused me,
 I lay at the foot of His Cross. May the Lord have mercy on us all.


Christ before me

He is the Way stretching before me 
from where I am now, 
from this actual situation I am in,
 right home to our Father’s house.
 He is the Way: the Way prepared. 
He has gone ahead into tomorrow to make it ready.
 The future is a journey home.
 Through all the dark valleys He will guide, 
and He will provide times when my cup of happiness will overflow.
 I face the future knowing the Way.


Christ beside me

“I am with you always.”
 He is in this situation sharing it with me now.
 His strong shoulder is under the burden I carry.
 Every joy and every sorrow He shares with me.
 He will not fail me nor forsake me.
 Nothing can separate me from His love.


Christ between us

To sever and to reconcile. To shield us
 from the sin in one another.
 To bless all that is good and true. To cleanse from pride, possessiveness, 
lust. To give laughter, tears, understanding and peace.


Christ beneath me

Underneath are the everlasting arms, 
cherishing, upholding.
 When I fall, it is into His arms that I fall, 
and He will lift me up again.
 His strength undergirds my weakness.


Christ above me

As a hen gathers her chicks, 
so His love is spread over me,
 comforting me, shielding me.
 I claim His protection from all attack and oppression.
 Under the shadow of His wings I am safe,
 and in Him will I trust. 
(At evening: I will sleep in peace under the shadow of the Almighty).


Christ within me

I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.
 My body is Christ’s body, 
bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh.
 By the bread broken and the wine poured out,
 I know that you, Lord, are in me and I in you.
 You will accomplish the work you have for me to do, 
and Your grace is sufficient for me.


Christ behind me in the past, before me in the future, beside me in the present, beneath me to support me, above me to shield me, within me filling my life. Thus enfolded, armed and led, I go forth in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”  (This meditation, written by the Reverend Ian Cowie of the Christian Fellowship of Healing, Scotland, is based on St. Patrick’s Breastplate.)



At the start of a new year: surrendering to love


I’ve stumbled through the first week of the new year, making 18 months of niece giggle with a laugh so contagious I couldn’t keep from joining her. Tucking in a nephew. Playing the last few carols of the season, talking over decisions to come, and eating too much chocolate. Then making my way back across the country and readjusting to a clock set four hours earlier. And somewhere in the midst of it all, thinking back over the past year. What have been the most significant insights gained, lessons learned? I have not reread my journal to glean again things forgotten. These are the things that have “stuck,” things that have impacted me sufficiently to return often to mind in the beauty and mess of daily life. They are not things I have “learned” but things I’m “learning,” things I expect to keep learning for years to come. But the echo of these truths through my days keeps before me the confidence that there is more. “. . . not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. . .” (Phil 3:12) Others have gone before and testify that the joy is worth the cross. Press on.


1. God really is in control

“You must utterly believe that the circumstance of your life, that is, every minute of your life, as well as the whole course of your life – anything, yes, everything that happens – have all come to you by His will and by His permission. You must utterly believe that everything that has happened to you is from God and is exactly what you need.” (Mme Guyon) Her words challenge me. Perhaps it’s overstated: where’s the room for the role of evil and the natural consequences of sin in causing suffering? But still she is right that everything comes to us by God’s permission, and that He is in every detail, actively working to bring us closer to himself. (Rom 8:28-29) Her words make me look again at the details of daily life, and delight to find God in places I never expected.


2. God really is love.

And He’s far more gentle with me than I am with myself. I’m always loved – not just the me I think I should be, but the me who doesn’t ever seem to quite have it all together.


3. Everything in life contains a call to come closer.

Day dreams and night dreams. Relationships – both the lovely and the painful bits. Beauty, making us long to be part of it. Physical, emotional, even moral and spiritual weakness, bearing the call from the One who loves us, “Come closer. Let Me be your strength and sufficiency.” The cry comes, too, through our bodies: the joy of getting hands in the dirt to plant tulip bulbs, listening to a Mozart sonata, sitting on the grass with a kite tugging the other end of the string. All of our senses are given for this: to know God. To see him in the sky and hear him in the voices of friends, to touch and taste and see that the Lord is good.


All this, the whole year of growing, boils down finally to three words: “surrendering to love.” It’s the love that keeps the surrender from being fatalistic and crushing and hopeless, and makes it possible and beautiful and, yes, worth it many times over.


And at the start of this new year my heart sings my surrender with these  young people, them singing theirs in a most unlikely place. “You can have all the rest, but give me Jesus.”


And my heart offers words borrowed from John Wesley, lines that I can sometimes pray honestly, and the rest of the time can only ask to be made able to pray them.


“I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt; rank me with whom thou wilt;

Put me to doing, put me to suffering;

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee;

Let me be full, let me be empty;

Let me have all things, let me have nothing;

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.


And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”


It’s that startling line near the end that makes my heart fill with joy and enables me to pray the rest. “O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine!” In the end, isn’t this, really, all that matters?


This, this is what we’re made for. Being His. This alone is where we come alive, begin to become who we already are. And this alone, surrendering to his love, a grand and beautiful love that can be not merely believed in but experienced, is what enables us to enter another year on tiptoes, confident that the love which has carried us safely through the past year is carrying us on into the future.

How to become lovely


She’s still unsteady on her feet, often stumbles as she walks. But she’s a big girl for her months, and strong, and a little frightening to the other babies when she tries (usually successfully!) to take their toy. At first she seemed to me rough and demanding and awkward in her anxious energy. Prickly and unlovely.


But she does it often now. Comes near as I sit cross-legged on the floor. Snuggles her body in next to mine, and rests her head on my shoulder while I hold her close. She stills, then, and rests long and contented. She has awakened love in me. She has become to me lovely.


I see myself in her, and let the little one lead me. I look at me and see the unloveliness: the sadness and frustration, the anger and fear and awkwardness. She shows me how to come close anyway. And His strong arms hold me gently and He makes me lovely by His love.


I learn it again today, the relief in not trying to push away the anger or fix the sadness, but lay the heart open before Jesus, the head on His shoulder. I find myself loved there, become quiet and gentle.


Once more I learn that we see differently. Where I see mess, Jesus sees places He can come closest.


Related posts:


When you don’t have it together


When you have nothing to give

When you fear Satan’s power {OR Why to lay it all down}


They write from all corners of the globe, Satan’s power very real and immediate. I know this power. I have felt it too, the crushing weight of evil. I have seen the violent fear, the burning hatred in the eyes of the woman whose broken body housed a demon.


I have witnessed, too, the greater power in the name of Jesus as she learned to pray, and her husband to pray for her. I have experienced the power of Jesus transforming my fear, His love in me rising in anger at the demonic bully who tight-clenched the jaws of his victim so she could not at first whisper the name of Jesus. Anger now at the same bully who keeps us tight-bound in the jaws of a lie.


It’s not been more than a few days since I again felt fear at the power of Satan.  A dream. A run of nights disrupted with the urgent call to pray.  An unshakeable fear as I entered into battle.


Fear . . . until the Mighty Lion roared and freed me with the truth. Satan’s head has been crushed! He and his hordes have been disarmed, their final weapon taken away. His power lies now in the strength of deception. As long as we believe that his final weapon, death, is loaded and dangerous, he has us by the throat, cold fingers of fear squeezing tight.


But when we lay it all down and pick up our cross, choosing to die instead of running from death, we find that the weapon which was once pointed fiercely against us now works for us. Through Christ, death has become a door out of our tiny cramped space of terror into the wide open space of infinite love that exists within God.


The knowing of this doesn’t set us free. We have to enter to see, experience to understand. The freedom comes in the laying it all down.


When we’re open about our weaknesses, Satan can’t hold them over our heads anymore. Our tight clinging to reputation and self-image dies, and with it the fear of death by exposure.


We can learn to receive every day from God, knowing that no matter what it holds, it is His perfect will for us in that moment, His gracious gift of exactly what we need (if not exactly what we think we want!). In dying out of our own plans and dreams and into His better ones, we die, then, out of the anxiety of tight control and into the freedom of contentment and joy.


And in the moments of fear when we struggle to lay it all down, this truth remains. Satan is only an angel, a strong and powerful being, but not God. The Spirit of God Himself lives in us, the One who marks us as God’s own and keeps us safe in the truth. The power of Almighty God surrounds and holds us, shielding us until the consummation of our salvation. And the One who experienced first hand the power of the devil in the desert and the garden sits now in the presence of our Father, having taken our weak flesh through death into glory. (Does he still pray as He prayed for Simon, that our faith may not fail?) Jesus sits now, Satan and all his hosts under his feet and hundreds of thousands of angels at his command. And this truth remains: in laying it all down, we do not die into an unknown, but into union with this powerful and loving God.


“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that through death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Heb 2:14-15)


Related posts: When you’re afraid of the daily dyings