Take Pain Like a Pussy

I know- the title is a bit obnoxious. Still, I feel obligated to give due credit to the creature who taught me an important lesson while simultaneously poking fun at the ridiculous insults about my gender being weak. We all know how untrue that is! 

Everywhere you look, Kitty is there!

  Sixteen months ago, my life was suddenly divided into two parts in a split second. Anytime I think about something in the past, my brain forces me to determine if the event was BC- Before Caleb died or AD, After his Death. It’s a permanent geographical feature of my life as if a volcano erupted and split my property into two parts, with a rocky lava flow right outside my front door that I am forced to navigate every time I step outside. This divide also distorted my sense of time; it feels like the story I’m about to tell you is from a long, long time ago. In reality, it happened a short seven years ago. 

Kitty guarding the gates of Thirsty Goose Farm.

   While we were building our little farm in South Carolina, we were adopted by a feral cat. The neighbors said she had been wandering around those parts for a couple of years, but she decided it was time to settle for whatever reason, and we would be her people. She was incredibly affectionate and full of personality, the kind of cat that made cat haters say, “Well, I still hate cats, but this one is pretty special,” as she fell asleep purring on their laps. We spent months deciding on a name and creatively landed on “Kitty.” 

our photogenic Kitty

   Kitty just had one problem. Well, three, as we had three dogs on the farm, and they all wanted to chase her. One of the dogs had a strong prey drive and tried to eat her. We were terrified she was going to get hurt or killed and did all we could to calm the dogs down and keep her safe (I would not have chosen to put a cat in this situation, but please remember, she was the one who moved in). After a few days of this stress and worry, I was at my wit’s end, and then I witnessed Kitty’s incredible, instinctual wisdom. I saw our tuxedo kitty streak down the driveway from my kitchen window with the crazy killer dog behind her. As I bolted out to try and save her, she stopped, dropped to the ground, and calmly faced the hyper-fixated dog. To my amazement, the dog stopped, sniffed her a bit, and sat down. The other dogs came over excited, and Kitty calmly lay there, letting them get used to her. It took a few weeks for the dogs to adjust to her presence; every time they chased, she would lie down, let them sniff and bark, and eventually get bored and walk away. Soon, they regularly lounged together in the shade, watching the crazy humans sweat buckets while laboring in the sweltering heat.

Kitty is claiming her turf.

  I’ve shared this story several times over the years, bragging about the brilliance and bravery of our beloved barn cat. Then tragedy struck, and I experienced the instinct to run from the awful monster that had just hijacked my life. The moment I locked eyes with grief, I was utterly undone and sure it was going to destroy me. This terrible creature took over my entire house, efficiently sucking out all the air and light.   With every breath, I smelled its stench and struggled against the crushing weight of its presence. It didn’t take long to realize I couldn’t outrun this beast of grief. I’d seen many people try and fail, as the coping mechanisms used to fuel their running just multiplied their pain and tripped them up. I decided to be brave and take a lesson from Kitty. I sat down, reluctantly acknowledged its presence, and fell silent.

Kitty chilling with the dog who wanted to eat her.

Initially, I feared and resented grief and concurrently understood the necessity of hosting it. As my acceptance of our cohabitation increased, it demanded less space. Grief slowly became less of a monster in my perception. Surprisingly, I found its company refreshingly authentic and comforting, and my curiosity developed. I began asking questions and found grief to be non-judgmental, gentle, and wise. Although I would have never chosen to know it, let alone live with it for the rest of my life, I no longer feel like a hostage held against my will. It still feels strange to admit this, but I think we have become friends. I realize this may sound like a twisted Stockholm Syndrome situation, but it’s not. I have the freedom to kick grief out or make it live in the basement or the garage, but I realize this would be to my detriment. Its presence has increased my humanity, capacity for love, and pleasure and appreciation of all the good still in my life. I’ve decided I want to keep my heart open and alive, and I can only do that by giving grief its rightful space. Grief still sometimes takes over the whole house, but most of the time, it just sits in the room with me and reminds me of the great love that brought it to me in the first place.   

Let it Leave You Softer

A poem written for my family by a close friend mourning alongside us


Let it make you softer

Until you twist and bend

Into a shape you’ve not known yet

This shape, she’ll be your friend.

She’ll show you hope

That sweet old pain

That promises to birth

The things held deep inside you

that beg to be unearthed.

She’ll take you into moments

You couldn’t have foreseen.

She’ll guide you through the lows,

The valleys and ravines.

Oh, those ravines

How treacherous they can be

Filled with sorrow, loss and grief

They can leave you on your knees.

She’ll teach you to weather moments

With space and grace and truth

Soaked with the longing for

The past to be here, too.

The past whose face you knew so well,

Your fingers drew it in their sleep.

A past you so tenderly grew,

To be yours, to keep.

That past Who made you laugh so hard, he’d often make you cry.

The past who called you dad and mama

And just for you, he tried

To make you proud of his tender heart

His strong arms and mind

A faithful and loyal friend,

no better could you find.

But then

that stubborn, stubborn Present

That thinks better than to care.

That Present left your hands empty

and your future, too bare.

Yet then, even here,

I hope that you will find

That the pain has made you tender

And the loss has made you kind.

The love has left you melted,

Softening those lines.

The lines that keep you separate

From those who’ve wished you near.

Being present in “here” moments

Not giving into fears.

Don’t give in

In those moments

With the pain you cannot bare

When the suffering is so acute

You feel it everywhere

Until you’re just a big patch of pain

Of loss

Of grief

Of sorrow

Unknowing where to go and

How to make it through tomorrow.

The loss, we give it back

Please take with it, the pain

of losing his future and his kindness

How great did heaven gain

A boy who saw

the needs of others, plain as day.

His joyous heart to meet them

With his Father’s heart displayed.

How do we join

These two ideas

Of hope and of pain

Of suffering and sorrow

And grief, it’s demands, remain

With joy and hope and kindness

And the future with today

With all that’s good and holy

But broken and decayed.

But this, somehow, sweet love

Is where you will find

The light that breaks the shadows

And fills up the skies.

That my peace and my comfort

With love, combine

To make a sweet trinity

That lasts the stretch of time.

So take that promise

And hold it tight

To walk with you through heartbreaking days,

and then, those harrowing nights.

And then my sweet, my dear,

my love,

Forget this not, please try.

Remind your heart, your mind and bones,

To not bury where you lie

The love

And that passion

That’s molded you to might

Mobilized you everyday

With kindness that shines bright

So warm on all our faces

Beckoning what’s good and right.

So take these things

My promises

Pain, grace, truth

and light

And Know that you are fought for



Held tight.

And in the quiet moments

Of this treacherous terrain

Know that here, I am with you

Forever, to remain.



my love

let it leave you softer.

By Emily Anne Kyle


I never dreamed there would be a time when I would dread Christmas, but here I am, sitting alone in a quiet house because I don’t have the emotional energy to join any of the festivities around me.  I’ve been craving this solitude, a small bit of time I don’t feel pressured to pretend in order to keep every else’s spirits at a level where we can all manage to make it through these festive days that somehow feel even heavier.  I’m grateful we have been able to stay cohesive and hold on to each other, respecting the fact that each of us is experiencing this loss in a different way, but feeling united because we all love and miss the same man. He was always crazy about Christmas, which makes this season even more bittersweet.  

  The thing about Christmas is despite the challenge of going through the motions while grieving, it’s the very thing we need.  I’m not against the decorations, parties and gifts- they are a fun attempt to acknowledge the gift God gave us when he came down from heaven to be with us.  But the fact is, he came to us in as simple a fashion as possible, and he came straight to the people who needed him most, the poor, sick, invisible, overwhelmed.  I can appreciate the simplicity of presence right now.  My heart is broken because I am missing my son’s presence, and it’s only the gentle presence of God that is holding it together.  

 I’m contemplating what pastor Ryan Rhodan reminds us of each Christmas; Jesus coming to earth was not a “rescue” mission, it was a redemption and restoration mission.  Just as the devoted religious of his day missed the fact that God was right there with them because they were looking for a different kind of messiah and king (the human preoccupation with power), they wanted a rescue from their present circumstances, I also could miss what God has for me if I choose to be embittered that God hasn’t shown up the way I expected. He didn’t keep my son from dying.  All those years of praying for safety over my children and my worst nightmare happens.  If I only understood God and his sovereignty through the human eyes of power and control, my faith would be devastated right now.  Of course I would prefer a rescue right now – for God to somehow undo what happened or to have stopped it in the first place.  I would love to walk away from this reality, the constant pain and the unknown future.  But God in his love offers something different. He gave Himself.  Immanuel, God WITH us. He is here with me in my sorrow.  He brought redemption and restoration of all things with his presence.  This gift is a process- my own personal restoration and the restoration of all creation.   We don’t get to snap our fingers and flee from the hardship and brokenness (I wish it was that way!)  But how would I ever come to know him or grow to reflect him if it were not a process, a journey, step by step?  


you loved each other so much

Besides the morning after you died, last Monday was the hardest Monday I’ve ever slogged through.  First, we managed to keep ourselves together and host Thanksgiving for a table full of heart broken people.  Then we spent the weekend helping your grieving widow put your entire home into boxes, take it to a cold, quiet storage unit and wipe all proof of your existence, even the coffee stains on the carpet.  I was doing my best to stay on task and not think about what I was actually doing, but I kept finding traces of you.  This I can assuredly promise, you will never be forgotten. You will always be with us. We just had to close this chapter so your beautiful wife, now widow, could take a step into the new life that’s been forced upon her.

 Believe me, none of us wanted to do this.  With every cell in my body I don’t want to live without you.  Maybe that’s why I ache from my head to my toes. My body remembers the flutters and kicks as you were growing, the sweet cuddles you often initiated, the smell of your hair and the sound of your (loud) peaceful breathing when you were little. I miss the tone of your grown up voice as you said “Hi Mom” whenever you walked into our home, the feel of your big biceps pulling me in for a hug, the reassurance and joy of your presence.  

my silly little boys

Josiah was recently telling me about microchimerism-  a fantastical biological process where fetal cells become part of a mother’s body; fetal cells have been found in mother’s bones, skin, liver, spleen- they even cross the blood-brain barrier and become neurons in the mother’s brain.  I know you will always be with me in my heart and soul, but I’m finding special comfort in the thought that I still have some of your cells floating around, maybe even some neurons with your name on them.  Now when I crave Ben and Jerry’s or turn around to admire the noisy diesel truck that just drove by, I’ll know why!

 I don’t want to do this, living without you.  But it’s our only option.  We’re doing our best to be in sync with the land of the living, but sometimes our hearts feel buried with you.  Sometimes I even fool myself into thinking I’m ok- I can look so normal on the outside, pushing away the taunting ghost of my pain, rarely does anyone catch me talking to him, begging him to go away.  They don’t see how he always gets the last word, like a kick in the gut.  I think deep down there is a fear that if I allow myself to unravel just a little, I won’t be able to stop.  If I don’t keep a tight grip, I’ll get lost in the pain.  I don’t really know how to do this, none of us do. 

the Leigh bros and their proud momma

 We’re holding on tight to your memory, to each other, to Jesus. And we are living as fully as we can, while suffering the pain of your absence.  At times I worry that you are looking down and seeing us going about our lives, looking like we are back to “normal”, and maybe you feel sad about that.  This is probably irrational, but it’s often where my mind goes.  But if you look closely, you will see our sadness, our deep grief. Our smiles don’t reach our eyes.  But we are still smiling, because there are things here that still bring us joy, like our baby Selah James and the terrible music your wife has taught her to demand.  Like your big brother marrying his perfect match.  Like your little brother bravely moving forward despite your absence (but because of your support).   Like the love and affection that has grown deeper between all of us as we hold each other together.  I think you would be proud of us.   I pray you live in the knowledge of our love for you, forever.  

Twelve Weeks

A few years ago while our family was together I let it slip (it wasn’t really a secret, just something we never considered important) that Caleb was our only unplanned child; his siblings found this quite amusing.  We were half heartedly using natural family planning and surprised ourselves with a pregnancy when our first baby was only five months old.  It was a shock (shouldn’t have been) and a wonderful gift wrapped up in the same moment.  We loved him as soon as we comprehended the two pink lines.  I did my best to contain the news until the twelve week mark, but i was so excited about this unexpected baby.  Oh what a gift he was.  

Read more: Twelve Weeks

 We just passed the twelve week mark since his death and it seems to have opened the dam of grief and tears for everyone in his inner circle.  Most all of us have shared that this last week was unexpectedly tough.  I know I shared the same sentiment at the two month mark, but we are finding that time is only bringing more revelation of our loss and a greater intensity of pain.  Just as our joy and excitement grew as he developed inside the womb and the date of his arrival grew closer, the heaviness of our loss is increasing as his presence with us is growing further away with each passing day.  

They loved and championed each other so beautifully

 Every time I looked in the mirror the last couple of months of pregnancy I couldn’t imagine my body being able to stretch any more- but it did!  On and on the growing and stretching continued.  I couldn’t believe my body was capable of carrying such a  load. Sometimes I felt a bit claustrophobic with this huge belly I had to navigate through life.  I would walk into walls and furniture  and I struggled to keep my balance as my center of gravity was continuing to change.  There was no break from it- every move I made had to accommodate what I was carrying.  Work, home, sleep- me and my baby belly.

Now I look in the mirror and can’t imagine carrying anymore sadness; it seems impossible to feel more grief than I already have, yet it keeps growing.  Again, the burden feels impossible  at times and I desperately want to run away from it, but it’s a part of me and I have to learn to navigate through life with it.  I’m finding I need to make space for my pain- I can’t walk through doorways like I used to, I cannot sleep like I used to, I cannot plan my future like I used to. Strangely, there is a necessary nourishing involved, a respect the pain demands.  I’m learning to accept this, there is no running away and leaving it behind.  I’m rearranging life so there is more quiet, more time to sit with the pain and the sweet memories, space created for the processing my brain and heart are demanding.  

 Josiah was still a baby when I was pregnant with Caleb, so I often carried two babies at once.  It was challenging as my belly grew and I had to get creative, but I was alway strong enough to do what had to be done.   I’m learning again how to carry two different things at once, as there is also goodness, joy and sweet gifts in my life alongside the pain. It’s not so much switching gears,  as one never gets to set the pain aside in order to only feel joy.  Its more learning to accept the continual presence of pain while giving space to something else.  

Throughout my career I’ve worked with many chronic pain patients, and while some lost their existence to the loss, anger and addictions their pain pushed them to, others managed to live full lives by accepting it’s presence while pressing forward – not pain free, but also not void of joy and goodness. Some of these people are the strongest, most beautiful and compassionate humans I’ve met.  Instead of shriveling up and breaking down, they accepted the hardship, as unfair as it was, and grew to meet the challenge.  

Could never pass up a power tool!

I realize I’m never going to get over losing my son- I’m carrying this pain until the day I die, but I also have a life to live that has so much love and goodness in it.  Three weeks after Caleb’s death, his sweet niece, Selah, was born.  Holding her often opens the floodgates, as my heart and body vividly remember holding baby Caleb, and at the same time some of those tears are from joy of her existence and the perfect gift she is to us, especially during this season.  I can’t separate out which tears are which, they blend together as they fall.  When I cry with Erin, Caleb’s widow, most of those tears are pain for her loss, but mixed in are tears of gratefulness that he experienced such amazing love because of her.  When I cry with my husband and children, mixed in are tears of joy from our memories and the years we had with Caleb and the things we loved about him and the difference he made in our lives.  Since Caleb’s death we’ve been blessed with a beautiful daughter in law who is everything we wished for our son Josiah, and when I think about what an answer to prayer she is, my tears of joy for our new daughter are mixed with tears for our missing son.  I wish we were all together and Caleb was here to welcome his amazing new sister in law into the family and hold his sweet baby niece, but that will never happen.

Wonder what sort of yarn he was spinning here

.  I don’t want to miss out on the rest of my life, overcome with resentment of the pain I will always live with; on the other hand my pain needs a proper place- a healthy space where it can exist without crowding out all the other elements of living.  I’m a bit uncoordinated carrying both joy and pain, but I trust with God’s help I will develop the capacity to do so.

The Slow Soak

Friends have asked me to share my journey through writing.  This is a bit scattered and rough- just like my brain these days:) I am willing to share my thoughts and feelings if there is good to be gained from it.  If nothing else, you will know some of my personal process.  Grief is quite individualized as we are all thrown into it with different personalities, experiences, relationships and beliefs.  On the other-hand, grief is a universal experience.  We have all experienced loss (or will in the future).  I feel this process is making me more human, better able to connect with others who have also suffered similar pain.   I know the frustration our family and friends feel at not being able to “do anything” for our pain, as I have felt that same frustration many times as I witnessed the suffering of those I love and live amongst.  I want you to know that your presence does matter and your love does make a difference.  There is a soft cover of comfort just knowing you are there and grieving with/for us.  

Caleb and his Nina

 For nine weeks death has pinned me to the ground, taunting me night and day. I know he is not the true victor.  I know this is not the end of the story.   Redemption is coming.  But this hope feels weak and distant as I struggle to breathe against the crushing weight of his power.  Acknowledging the pain, finality and powerlessness in the choke hold of death does not mean I have lost faith.  I believe God is good and sovereign and is coming to renew all things, restoring all of creation to his original dream and purposes.  At the same time, death has stolen our child and we have absolutely no hope of bringing him back.  

Caleb loved his siblings and took good care of them. Here with Isaac and Grace

   My body and soul are stretched tight, slowly recovering from shock, my mind struggling to grasp the fact that he is gone.  He is never coming back.  I  repeat it over and over, “My son is dead.”  My brain is gradually comprehending these four awful words.   This is our new reality, not a bad dream I’ll be relieved to wake from.  Worst of all, there is nothing I can do about it. All the other difficult situations I’ve experienced in life had options and some semblance of power; I could work harder, seek help, embrace the pain in exchange for growth, adapt, change my attitude.  But death- there is no changing it, and there is no “everything will be OK” blanket to throw over it.  I cannot press on and tell myself I will someday contentedly look back and be glad for the lessons learned and the growth in my life.  Yes- my prayer is that we will grow and experience more of God through this, but that will never make me at peace with losing my son.  

Josiah and Caleb with Uncle Marc

  I can waste precious energy thinking about all the “what ifs”, I can shake my fist at God, I can cry and lament, I can run away or make major life changes, but none of these will bring him back.  Sooner or later I have to accept it.  I have to live when he is not. 

 I never imagined life without him.  He grew inside me, kicking all times of day and night.  I pushed him out of my womb and into my arms.  Before that joyous moment he already inhabited my heart.  He always will. 

  Caleb, I never intended to live life without you smack in the middle of it.  I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t want to do this.  

 I find it strange that I’ve been counting time in weeks, just like pregnancy.  There have been other similarities: the waves of pain that come and go with no warning, my desire for quiet as I breathe my way through them, the unnerving realization that I cannot stop this process- I can only submit to it and pray there is life in the end.  As my heart begins to feel the pain of his absence, my mind runs to memories of his birth, the first weeks of holding him and breathing in his innocent baby smell and marveling that he was mine.  The way he always wanted me  within sight and was easily contented with a touch or a kiss.  As he grew his attachment remained and he wanted to “help” me with everything- sitting on the counter to stir bread dough, opening doors with handles he could barely reach and carrying bags of groceries that weighed more than he did.  His love and attention nourished and expanded my heart.  I know he didn’t intend to, but he smashed my love soaked heart to smithereens.  

My cute cuddle bugs

 Week seven was from a chapter of the fairytale when the evil witch casts a spell on the land and it all turns into stone.  My daughter in law, husband and children each told me within a few days of each other that they were also feeling this way.  It started at my head, as I began to grasp what death has done,  and it’s working it’s way down.  My heart is numb, my arms are heavy, my legs are unsteady. I may look and act normal on the outside, but please don’t expect me to be “myself”.  That woman is gone.    I don’t yet know who will be replacing her.    I intend to make peace with her and carry on with life, but right now I am under the sleeping spell and I wish the bad dreams would go away.  

he was so stinking adorable!

The hellish reality is slowly leaking out from my brain into my heart.  It is been a slow soak of pain, like a light rain on a dry landscape.   This last week I’ve begun to feel as if I’m moving in slow motion.  Everything takes so much effort. People are beginning to ask gentle leading questions, with the hope that my answer will be an affirmative “yes, I’m feeling better and getting on with life again”.  But this loss is not a typical injury.  When one breaks a bone or has a surgery,  we call the day of trauma “day zero”.  Day one is rough, day two is typically the hardest and by day three the swelling is starting to calm down.  All that pain is from inflammation which is your immune system efficiently bringing in the troops to clean up and heal whatever is wrong. The body begins to heal the very second the trauma is over.  As a nurse I’ve coached hundreds of people through pain and could always speak with hope and assurance that their body was created to heal and their injury was in that very moment, even in great pain, healing.  But death is a bullet that keeps on tearing through the heart doing damage.  The trauma goes on and on.  I don’t know how this one heals.  My heart will be facing fresh trauma the rest of my life.  Last night as I was falling asleep I realized we already had our last Christmas with Caleb and it felt like a razor blade smashing through my sternum.  Every time a diesel truck drives by my lungs automatically suck in air. Every cute little blonde boy I see brings tears to my eyes.  When I hold his precious little niece, I mourn the fact he doesn’t get to love on her and encourage the development of her “naughty side” (cause we all know that’s exactly what he’d be doing).  Every special event in our family will be laced with the pain of missing Caleb.  

these two were so sweet together

The heart must have a special healing mode, somehow capable of working even while bleeding.  

No, I am not feeling better.  I am not adjusting or getting used to it. I am just beginning to feel it. My pain has just started to kick in.  Maybe for others the fact of his death soaked in, they cried and felt sad and then life goes on.  I understand- I’ve had that experience many times myself.  But this time is different.  I am fading.  Falling.  I don’t know when or if I will hit bottom, or what that even means.  I just know I’m free falling and there’s nothing to grab on my way down.  Maybe God will catch me before impact? I’ve asked my precious friends who have walked this dark valley what i should expect. When does the free fall end?  How does it end?  Does it end?  They have few answers.  This is an individual journey, different for each of us for many reasons.  All they can say is I am held and loved and somehow I will carry on.  i know they are telling me the truth, because they are still standing and I see their beauty. A beauty that came from  intense fire and pain that no one would ever choose.  Except God. 

Caleb and Erin during their dating years on a visit to spend to Christmas with us while we were working with YWAM in France

I am in pain; my soul is crushed, my mind overwhelmed and my body exhausted, but I am not in hopeless despair.  I pray that will not be part of my story, but if it is, I trust God to rescue me. I am leaning into his presence and love and trusting him to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death into whatever is on the other side.  I look forward to getting there, someday.  In the meantime, I cherish the loved ones and faithful friends who are circling around us, making space for our pain and processing, holding memories of our beloved Caleb.  We don’t want to lose the past, it’s all we have of him now.  

I’ve no snappy or tidy way of wrapping up these random paragraphs from the last few weeks, so I’ll leave you with this.  My gratefulness for your presence, prayers and love.  

Still Standing

When I last lived in Kona I was grieving the loss of our South Carolina farm and all the hopes and dreams we planted there.  I ended up spending all my free hours sitting under a certain tree at Old Airport Beach. I had no words for my disappointment so I just sat there soaking in God’s beautiful creation and learning to be quiet in his presence.  I began to refer to it as my “office” and my friends knew they would find me there. A few days after the life altering phone call brought the news our precious son had just died in an accident, I began to long for my tree in Kona.  I knew I needed to sit under it’s shade again, the tree where I learned to grieve with God. 

Continue reading “Still Standing”

Dust Storm

While ambling through my neighborhood this afternoon, gratefully absorbing the warm winter sunshine (and then peeling off my jacket) my mind wandered through the last week and I found myself stuck in a familiar “thought” ditch.  I’m continually dismayed at my lack of patience and grace.   Some days I feel like a piece of prairie during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s; a  little gust of frustration and my kindness swirls away like a dark cloud of dust, revealing the hard, dry ground underneath. If my life is a field (please go with it- I love farming analogies.  So did Jesus, I might add) then I have to admit that my topsoil needs some work.  It’s too shallow.

  There were two main contributors to the calamitous destruction of the Dust Bowl-  the relentless drought and a lack of resiliency in the soil due to severe clearing and mono cropping (native grasses had root systems that averaged five feet deep and many up to 15 feet, whereas the root systems of most annual cereal crops are only one foot deep.) Scientist estimate that 850 million tons of topsoil was lost during the “Dirty Thirties”, that’s an average of 480 tons of topsoil per acre!  One Sunday in 1934 became known as “Black Sunday” as three million tons of topsoil in Oklahoma blew away.  Kristin Hannah’s incredible novel, The Four Winds”,  and Steinbeck’s classic, “Grapes of Wrath” gave me a little peak into what it was like living in that period of history.  

A chart comparing root systems of North American prairie plants and  bluegrass. : r/ecology

   As a child, my “field” was full of deep rooted native grasses that nourished my spirit- imagination, solitude (usually while enjoying nature), friendship, simplicity, spontaneous worship, dreams, playfulness.  Somewhere along the way, I was convinced that mono cropping a field full of productivity would be a wise investment.  It required I dig out some beautiful shade trees and mow down the pretty meadows of wildflowers- no “wasted space” allowed. I wanted to be a good farmer and provide for the needs of my family and community, so I enthusiastically planted all the productivity I could fit in my field.  I didn’t know anything about soil health, the need for biological diversity and water holding capacity; I was just following the example of the apparently successful farmers around me.  Little did we know how weak and destructive our processes were.  

We are all suffering the affects of the “Covid drought”- first the anxiety, death and sickness that spiraled into ugly politics and non stop fighting.  So many fractured relationships and frazzled souls.  The ugliness of this season has mirrored the destruction of those awful dust storms.  Just like those devastated prairie farmers (and all farmers everywhere for that matter), I don’t have any control over the weather, but I do have a say in what crops I am growing and the methods used.  I’m learning the value of deep roots, rich soil and compost (making space for death and stinky things and allowing them to turn into something life giving and nourishing) in place of artificial fertilizer and pesticides (seeking identity by presenting a brushed up false self to the world, accomplishments instead of authentic relationship with God and others, work and striving in place of peace and contentment) that poison the land, water and ultimately all living creatures. 

This challenging season has motivated me to pursue habits that will help build deeper, healthier top soil that will nourish my soul and bless the people around me instead of filling their nostrils with dust.  I was recently listening to author Justin Whitmel Earley on The Habit Podcast.  He shared his story of an anxiety breakdown and explained, “It’s possible for your head to go one way and your habits to go another way, and there is a gap……..your heart will always follows the habit.”  I’m tearing out some of my field and interspersing with healthier morning and evening routines that include more scripture and less phone and news, daily sessions of silence, less work and more play (vacation coming in 10 days and several little trips to see friends this spring and summer), a book club with thoughtful people (this has been on my bucket list for years!!  Our first meeting is already on the calendar), even less social media (using a timer) and guilt free flower planting and beautifying of our property (I mostly have this one down already, but I still struggle with guilt when I’m not being “efficient”).  It’s a well known fact that pursing growth and change within community (perfect examples are AA and NA) gives us the best chance of success, so I’d be happy to support you and pray for you as you pursue healthy habits and I’d appreciate the accountability as well.  Please feel free to message me:)

The Mystery of Small

We had one day.  In the midst of managing a tired team of people through yet another Covid surge and the depressing winter weather of continual clouds and rain, we packed our camper and ran away to the Oregon Coast to spend one heavenly day where the forecast called for sun and 65 degrees in January!  The thunderous sound of waves, the summery smell of salt water and the infinite blue horizon saturated my senses.  The ocean has a way of simultaneously quieting my mind and stimulating my soul.  The sensory overload felt like a weighted blanket and I reflexively relaxed as I felt the heavy presence and goodness of God.  

Beautiful January day on Oregon coast

  After finishing the last chapter of an excellent and timely book, “The Divine Commodity” by Skye Jethani, I slowly ambled through the sand contemplating what i had just read, the fact I turn fifty in a few short weeks and what I want to accomplish with the rest of my life. (I may force my body to take a day off, but my brain refuses.)  I struggled with the fact I inhabit a world that is all about “Big”; power, influence, money, popularity.  It’s assumed that any talent, gift or ability should be magnified (and commodified) as much as possible.  Sadly, much of the church is held captive by these same standards. If you can lead then you should be aiming to lead as many people as possible; if you can preach or teach then of course the larger the crowd the better; if you can sing then why not produce an album; if you can write then better start on that best seller. It’s unspoken that true talent should be magnified, and a gift that is poured out locally and not multiplied is a gift that is wasted.  

 We are a world of influencers and leaders all scrambling to gather followers so we can prove we’re doing something important with our lives.   After almost fifty years of dizziness on this “bigger is better” merry-go-round, I’ve begun to question the assumption.  Am I just questioning because I’m disappointed in myself? Have I failed to muster the discipline and courage to be all I could be?  Have I foolishly spurned opportunities and therefore missed a chance to make a big difference with my one, short life?  Have I disappointed God?  I cried these questions out only to have them swallowed in the noise of crashing waves.  

As I reached the end of walkable beach I passed some craggy cliffs.  Surprised to hear the faint flow of water a few feet away from the roaring ocean,  I stopped in my tracks, consumed with curiosity.  Turning towards the sound, I saw a small spring of water trickling down the sharp, towering rocks. The realization that a few gallons of water somehow managed to steal my attention from the Pacific Ocean made me pause.  That small voice (it has never been audible, but it bubbles out of my heart- not my mind) asked me, “if you were stranded on this beach, which of these water sources would keep you alive?”  “The small, trickling stream” I whispered back.  This powerful, amazing, massive ocean holding one hundred and eighty seven quintillion gallons of water would only hasten my death by dehydration.


Small stream in the cliff

God is the ultimate “BIG”!  His kingdom is beyond our imagination.  His power, goodness and lovingkindness we will never fully comprehend.  He is a million times more than one hundred and eighty seven quintillion universes, yet over and over he shows preference for small.   Throughout history, when He was going about something big, He chose small means.  Moses, David, Gideon, Mary, Israel, the widow’s oil, the boy’s lunch, manna, a lamb, a pearl, a prodigal, his arrival as a baby, twelve confused dudes.   

A small stream

In the same manner, it appears God wired our lives and spirituality to subsist on tiny conduits of power.  While it is possible to amass large quantities of attendees or followers,  emotion and enthusiasm, money and power and fame (these often end up blowing a fuse and catching on fire) the truest and best gifts in life come in small packages.  Intimacy, obedience, hospitality, contemplation, authenticity, faithfulness, prayer, solitude- these are the trickling streams that sustain us while we walk beside the deafening roar and temptation of bigness.  

My burning bush

Bigness in and of itself isn’t bad, but it is often deceptive, regularly destructive and frequently a thief.  We have all witnessed many who grew  talents, businesses and ministries so large they were swallowed by them.  The very thing we give our lives to nurturing and building can grow up and go rouge, sucking the life out us.  For those who find themselves stewarding Big, it is vital to have the character and discipline to not be fooled by it’s shine, but to continually stay on their knees and drink from the small life giving streams.  I no longer envy these people.  Theirs is a heavy responsibility.  

Thankfully, the vast majority of us are blessed with smallness.  For most of us, our influence will end within a couple of miles from where it began- in our home, school, church, place of work, neighborhood.   Only so many chairs will fit at my table, only so many people I can live alongside and be available to and love well, only so many trees and plants I can maintain ( I wish it wasn’t so!) only so many patients I can care for,  only so much knowledge my average mind can contain, only so opportunities I can take.  This used to frustrate me, as I was convinced if I could somehow increase my capacity I would live a fuller, more important, more impactful life.  

In his kindness, God revealing a glimpse of himself

   Consider how Jesus chose to live his life- focusing his few years on earth to loving God and leading the small tribe of people who chose to walk with him into God’s kingdom.  He did not write books, travel the world preaching or create a brand. He didn’t even start a 501(c)(3).   He lived a small (geographically and number of people encountered), faithful life and trusted his Father to do with it what He wanted.  I am encouraged to do the same, and leave the impact/influence/importance in the hands of my Father who loves me as I am-small, ordinary and always excited to spend a day at the beach.  

I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve Seen Rain

I’ve been giddy for days, obsessively looking at the weather app on my phone and smiling with relief each time the little white clouds spilling blue raindrops were still on the forecast for Saturday morning. Last night I could barely sleep, my ears anticipating the sweet sound of rescue, the joyous smell of nourished earth, the enveloping drench of mercy.  As I sit in the pre-dawn light and watch my trees and bushes and vines and flowers and garden soak in the desperately needed water, I am washed with so many emotions.  The plants reflect my feelings as most of the branches and leaves are dancing in the rain, some are trembling, and a few are frozen still, reaching up and begging for more. 

  Its been five months since we had rain.  That is not unusual for this area, but the cycle of unusual heat, drought and fire in the last decade has been a heavy burden that some of the land has been unable to bear, and it’s now desolate and even more vulnerable to the devastation of drought.  Last week one of the many uncontrolled fires was only one and a half miles from my friend’s doorstep.  She was packed and ready to run at a moment’s notice.  The fear and trauma was thick in the air, mixed with smoke that made it almost too heavy to breath. 

  Breathing.  This has been a season of slow, deep breaths that fuel quick desperate prayers.  I’ve found myself constantly coaching my heart and mind to breath.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.  Breath in God’s kindness, love and mercy- blow out the frustration, anger and fear.  I’ve never really paid attention to be breathing before, it was an automatic action of life, but as the atmosphere has grown darker and heavier I found the normal drive to breath was dampened; too often I was unconsciously holding my breath as I concentrated to hold back the natural negative responses of my heart to the ugliness around me.  Breathe.    

   As the drought continued, week after week, month after month, I did my best to manually water all these plants I had recently placed in the ground.  I promised them that soon the rains would come.  Some of them gave up and withered away as the sun scorched their leaves beyond recognition.  Thankfully, most of them survived- a bit scarred and possibly stunted, but they are alive and I believe the stress has built in some extra resilience and strength for the future seasons ahead.  The only plants I did not worry about were the old oaks in my backyard, the ancient horse chestnut in the front and the massive magnolia in the chicken yard.  These trees have deep root systems that have adapted to drought over decades.  As I fretted over my baby fruit trees and berry bushes, they stood as witnesses that all will be well.  They have seen worse and survived.  We will make it. 

My staff and our community have been pummeled by covid.  Just when we thought we could finally take a day off after many months of seven days a week work, a new surge came out of nowhere and the sickness and death doubled.  The fatigue floated in and covered us like a thick fog.  The grief and frustration were stifling.  Little fires began to burn, sparked by anger and fear.  The dryness of the season allowed any feeble flame to ignite all those around it.  Families and friendships became stressed, and with the ongoing drought, many have completely given up finding common ground and died. Now, even the smallest difference of opinion is enough kindling for a full-on forest fire.  Now, even the ancient sequoias are in danger.  We need this rain. 

  Thankfully, the rain is gentle.  The parched ground is slowly soaking it in instead of being washed away.  The steady sound of water washing leaves is also washing the disappointment and discouragement from my heart.  God is still good, and He is still with us and He still loves us.  We are going to make it.  In Him we have the opportunity to grow stronger and more resilient.   In Him, I can grow deep roots and resist the drought and fires that come my way.  In Him I can respond to the stresses of life with love.  Thank you, Father, for being with us.  Thank you for the rain. 

Raindrops on young grapevine

Shower, O heavens, from above,

and let the clouds rain down righteousness;

let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;

let theearth cause them both to sprout;

I the Lord have created it.

Isaiah 45:8

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shallmy word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11