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in sleeplessness

“The time when you deliberately say, ‘I must sacrifice this, that, or the other’ is when you do not supremely desire the end in view. At such times you are doing your duty, and that is admirable, but it is not love. But as soon as your duty becomes your love the self-sacrifice is taken for granted, and, whatever the world calls it, you call it so no longer.”
— Dorothy Sayers, The Whimsical Christian 


Sleepless eyes open wide
Dark and dusky smudged
To weak-willed limbs and fractious words,
Nausea, disgust.

A tumult and a labor are
My sluggish, foggy thoughts:
It brings the monster out in me,
Not the love of God.

But I remember watching you,
Weary restless nights
When ache and pain racked your frame
With breathless moaning sighs.

What milk and chocolate couldn’t soothe:
A wordless weary grief,
The quiet desperate pleading for
A terminal relief.

Chair or bed no difference made
To pangs on every side
So yawning at the table, we
Would measure out the night.

There we waited, hushed, for day
And found a kind of peace.
Or was it the effect of grace
Commending us in this:

In much endurance, hunger, thirst,
Affliction, toil, pain,
The hardship God has set for us
The loss that is our gain?

Today the mirror tells me that
This grace is something learned
And long-lost nights of sitting by
Your pain, the skill once earned,

Remind me of the strength that can
Be made for me anew,
The Spirit-living effort that
It takes to love one through


…in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left…  

2 Corinthians 6:4-7



Psalm 22

A paraphrase.
(Written while reading Side By Side: Walking With Others in Wisdom and Love by Edward T. Welch)

My Father, why are You far away?
I don’t see You near to provide for me.
I ask day and night for what I need;
You are silent.
Yet I know that You are set apart:
The incense of Your people’s prayers enters Your throne room.
In You they have trusted,
And You have always shown up.
They cried for help, and You provided;
Their trust in You was never disappointed.
But I am like a little roach,
Creeping, cowering, dirty before You,
Having nothing, in need of all things.
Will You rescue me?
Do You delight in me?
Still this I know: You are my Maker.
You cared for me from the time I was born.
From birth I have depended on You, my God;
Where else can I go?
Come near to me again, now in my trouble.
You are my only help.
Like a circle of empty wagons my needs surround me,
They hem me in with no way out.
They creak and whine in the wind,
Dry, bare, mocking my empty hands.
My hands are empty!
My heart melts: fear, oppression,
Despair in a desperate land.
My mouth is dry, my lips are cracked,
Here there is only dust.
How can I live?
The vultures will find my dead body,
Bandits will raid my possessions.
Nothing is left to me!
How will I survive?
But You, my Father, are with me;
You know everything I need.
Run to my rescue,
Spring up in this howling waste.
You won’t let the wild bull gore me;
You won’t let coyotes ambush.
I will speak Your name to my brothers,
In Your terrain I will speak Your praise,
Because You are faithful.
You hear my every word,
Your face is turned toward me to listen and to act.
You hold all my tears,
And You stand up to defend me.
My brothers, praise the Lord our Rescuer,
My sisters, the Lord our Provider!
He redeems every part of our lack.
He hears and defends the destitute.
We will eat together and be satisfied,
Together we will rejoice in the Lord!
You are our glory and our joy.
In Your presence we find water and food;
You give us all we need.
All earth will see Your salvation come.
Every family under heaven will one day praise You,
Our Father, our Shepherd, our King.
You rule over us with severity and grace;
Dead or alive, all will see and worship.
All will bow down and do homage.
For You give life, and in You we find life.
We will tell our children;
They will come with us to declare Your praise,
For You are good, and all You do is good,
And You have done it.


Bouncy curls like ribbons,
Tiny nose a bean,
Little legs a-wobble
Investigate the den.
Hasty hands discover,
Inquiring within:
Reaching into mischief,
A dimple in her grin.
She seizes on a dog bone,
A ducky, puzzle, train;
When caught, out pops a giggle,
A grunt when she’s restrained.
She clambers up the table,
Holes up behind the chairs,
The gate her final hurdle,
Her Everest the stairs.
The only risky business
To threaten her domain —
The dogs — are brisk and breezy,
Their tails not nearly tame.
She watches them with caution
In deep mud-puddle eyes,
But only bursts out crying
When they catch her by surprise.

a Tolkienish story

(adapted from a letter, 1/2015)

Faramir and Eowyn have always been the best romantic story in my mind. Not till recently, though, did I really think about the other part of Eowyn’s tale: before Faramir appeared. She had several experiences similar to those of you, me, and many women who long to get married.

She was in a very lonely, isolated existence where options were few (Wormtongue, anyone? I didn’t think so). Then in dashed a man for whom she fell head over heels — and who could blame her? Aragorn was handsome, mysterious, gallant, courageous, a leader among men: the returning king, even. What more could one ask for? Yet as God, or fate, or a very skilled narrator would have it, his heart was already taken by someone else. He left Eowyn’s company with kindness and compassion, but nothing more — and no hope of ever offering her more.

Then followed much toil, danger, and fear. Eowyn dared much, following the call of God or fate or a very skilled narrator to fulfill a duty and destiny that neither she nor anyone around her could have guessed or imagined (Ephesians 3:20-21 hearkens to mind). Out of deep pain and broken-heartedness, loneliness, unmet desire, even despair, she fought and she found victory. And more wounds.

Only after a long rest and specific healing (ironically, given in tenderness by the one who “rejected” her) did she emerge and look up to find someone with her — someone beside her, someone looking at her.

Faramir is wonderful because he embodies C.S. Lewis’s idea of a friend: one whom we find running along beside us, parallel. He had been bent on following his own calling, fully invested in protecting his father’s kingdom. He was wounded after and during hard-fought battle that proved to be (ultimately) victorious. And as he healed, he looked up to find someone beside him, and “she is my match in every way.” So he pursued her.

My point is not that their story tells ours in every particular. My point is to encourage you: God is the very skilled narrator who is drawing out your story and mine. He doesn’t put eligible men who are “taken” in front of us in order to tempt us (James 1:13), trick us, disillusion us, or break our hearts.

He is about His glory and our good: He is maturing us out of our pain and calling us into “greater things yet to come” in which we will praise His name.

And in the midst of our callings, along our ways, He brings us one to share — and enhance — the journey and the fight. One even more fitted to each of us than we could ask or imagine; one prepared by Him to grow along with us. One as much better (for Eowyn) as Faramir was than Aragorn.

We can have many wonderful Aragorns to love as brothers, but God calls us to save our hearts for our Faramir. You are really fighting for your future with him, and practicing for the time when your heart will belong all to him.

for His own glory

Having finished our reading through (most of) the Bible, I am introducing to my students the Catechism.

1. Who made you? God made me.
2. What else did God make? God made all things.
3. Why did God make you and all things? For His own glory.

The simplicity refreshes me. It catches in the mind and spirit: reaffirmation of simple truth. It must do the same in my children’s minds. The same afternoon I introduced these three questions, one student was retelling the Bible chart about Jesus’ death. I asked, Why did He have to die on the cross? Her answer: For His own glory.

Yes, little one. You have grasped onto more truth than you know, for every single thing He does is for His own glory. This deepest act of love in which He gave Himself up for us was not only and ultimately for us — for in our highest good is also embedded His highest glory. (How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!)

A friend who recently finished training with a missions agency told me that their commencement speaker said this: “You don’t really go overseas or into ministry to evangelize or teach. You go for more of Christ. If your supporters knew why you really go, they wouldn’t support you. They would go themselves.”

My church is studying Mark together, and in chapter 1 this was preached: Our message is not, “Jesus works for me; try Him.” It is, “I have rebellion in my heart; I want to be God and do what I want to do. Jesus has been crushed in my place so that He can put down my rebellion: the only way I can ever be at peace with Him. He is King: the Son of God. He has established, in His own blood, the freedom for me to put down my weapon and worship Him as King — which is the only thing that will satisfy my soul.”

In other words:

Who made you? God made me.

What else did God make? God made all things.

Why did God make you and all things? For His own glory.

C learns to read

Her eyebrows pucker, as do her lips. Small, long fingers tightly hold the little book. One finger under the letters: first sound, second sound, third — now try them together.

But the first is gone already. And the second may or may not be right — is it eh, or uh?

Okay. Try again.

I slide through the sounds with her, spread them out, slow to help her catch each one.


Yes. Now for the next…

It is a work and a struggle, this learning to read. It doesn’t come easy for her, no immediate recognition or sudden breakthroughs. No bursting through sentences and paragraphs and pages, like her fellow first-year elementary friend.

For this girl it is a mountain to climb, one steep step and foothold and tightly-grasped ledge at a time. Slow, slow is the progress: many sounds remembered, but often they refuse to combine in her head.

Hearing doesn’t help. She can’t memorize what she hears.

Seeing sometimes helps, but much repetition is needed.

I try many ways to come at it with her, but ultimately I cannot teach her to read. She has to learn.

All we can do is the steady working together, sliding through it slow and then “say it fast.”

Let — us — pet — the — dog. 

Her joy in books drives her. “I know that word! Let me read it.” Some days it’s enough and we reach a peak. She reads many words in a row, smiles, and skips to put the book away.

Some days we stop before a boulder and have a good cry of frustration.  Too many letters swimming together on the page, stubborn, nonsensical, refusing to give up their secrets. Her head goes down on the table. “It’s too hard. I’m too tired. Can I have a rest?”

I’m learning to read her

To know when to push for more, and when she has reached her limit. When encouragement is all she needs, when a little help might propel her through, or when it’s time to lean back and say, “You can do it. Read it to me.”

When it really is time to let her put her head down and rest, before the strain of effort makes her hate the work.

Because as a wise woman told me, the goal is not necessarily the end. It is about the process.

It is about curling up together to enjoy a good story. About showing a friend the picture and saying, “Guess what I learned?”

About unburying the mysteries of those strange black markings on a white page so that she can discover for herself the rest of her life.

It’s about the joy. And that, she already has down pat.

So we will try again tomorrow.


three continents: a thought on culture

After a 16-hour trip and three or four days of my stomach trying to get back to normal, I think I’ve recovered from my trip to France and North Africa.

Monday and Tuesday, my school had a short staff retreat at the Isle of Palms. I realized while out looking at the grey water and white sand that this is the third continent on which I’ve gone to the beach in the past two weeks. So strange!

I saw both sides of the Mediterranean — Europe and Africa — and they were nearly identical. Now back to the familiar Atlantic so soon after, I find it duller and not as pretty.

Nothing compares to deep blue sky over rocky mountains and that blue-green, cold water, so clear you can see the rocks at the bottom even when you can’t touch them.

On the other hand, nothing compares to the homey-ness of salt marshes, creeks, palmetto trees, St. Augustine grass, and cicadas singing in the humid South Carolina air (though we heard them, too — les cigales — on both sides of the Mediterranean); the white dunes and sea oats waving by the boardwalks; the pelicans swooping over grey waves; the intracoastal waterway lapping at the posts of rows of restaurants, white boats trolling in and out.

This is what feels like home to me.

I thought a lot, these two weeks, about Maria Montessori’s “absorbent mind” concept — especially whenever I heard little toddlers and children speaking Arabic and French and Dutch and German in their baby voices, and parents and grandparents responding.

Montessori wrote, “The child…enters into the world, and whatever the conditions into which he is born, he forms and adapts himself to live there, and the adult he is to become will be happy under those conditions….”

“Whether it be the desert which receives him, or plains bordering on the sea, or mountain slopes or the frozen fields of the arctic, he enjoys them all, and only where he was born and bred does he feel at his best” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 266).

Such a strange thing, language and culture: how it gets inside us from infancy, literally forms our brains and understanding of the world, stays with us and is home to us throughout life.

How “third-culture kids” (of whom I know a few) survive and feel lost, moving between cultures constantly, yet even they create their own community through shared experience.

How even as adults we are flexible enough, in our humanness, to bend: to adapt to a different culture, learn a new language, understand other worldviews (even if always from the outside), and even influence people in that culture through relationships — and be influenced, sometimes to the point of “going native.” (Taking on the new culture as a second or third — or permanent — identity.)

How we can be so different while living in the same skin, same senses, same relationships, same earth.

How astonishing is the variety that God built into us, and yet He gave us the ability to bridge it and connect anyway.

The earth is the LORD’s,


we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

a prayer for rest

Some notes from last Sunday (Shane Parker, May 11, 2014):

“Mark 6:30-52 — What is real rest? The apostles are returning from exhausting ministry. Jesus calls them apart to rest because they can’t even find time to eat.

v. 30-44 — they realize He isn’t going to sent away the crowds to guarantee them rest. He doesn’t see a crowd in the way but “sheep without a shepherd”…Jesus looks at the people with the eyes of the King (Ezekiel 34). The disciples see Jesus making them work: giving them a task they can’t complete. He is actually telling them to do what they should know by now: Look to Him. Out of nothing, He completely satisfies all the people. In the wilderness He gives them food: He tells them, Look to God as Moses did. I am God; I produce food.

There is a deeper rest than inactivity and unplugging from life physically. We need Jesus to nourish our souls in order for us to ever rest.

v. 45-52 — The disciples are in the boat alone, unable to make headway against the wind. They and the multitudes don’t doubt what Jesus has done, but who He is. When He walks to them on the water, He’s not just showing them that He can do it. Moses cried out to see God’s glory, and God passed by him. Job 9 — He treads upon the heights of the sea; Were He to pass by me, I would not see Him.

Jesus says the same thing God said to Moses: “It is I. I am.” He says what in the Old Testament only God said: “Do not be afraid.” He seeks to show the glory of the Father to the disciples. He gets in their boat and shows them: what you never could see, you see now.

Physical rest is vitally important, but our soul gropes to find the rest it needs in Him. When Jesus calls the disciples to rest, He shepherds both them and the crowds. He proves that He is sufficient to be Lord and King. …

God rested because He was satisfied — in His creation and in Himself. We can only rest when we’re satisfied in Him.”

I know a lot of people who currently need rest. My friends the Wayfarers, separated for an indefinite time so he can devote his energy to a job where he currently fills at least two positions, unrelenting in demand. My friends the Pebbles, recovering from a recent attack that topped an exhausting year of new baby, spiritual warfare, travel, and unexpected events. My dad, working this weekend for a coworker who’s having chest pains from stress, and seeing the family a couple hours each night between working 6:30-6:00 and going to bed at 8:00 so he can do it again. My brother and his classmates, especially the two brothers of a student who committed suicide the week before finals. My director and coworkers at school, recovering from the shock of a student’s recent choices and abrupt leaving, and figuring out how to move forward with other families with whom there’s been conflict all year. My brother the Brewer and his family, and our friends the Penguins, who just each brought home a newborn to adjust to life again with two and three little children, respectively.

To each of us, give the good gift of sleep which You give to Your beloved, unhindered and satisfied, untouched by evil, because we are Yours, hidden in the shadow “under [Your] wings of gold and silver.” Beyond physical rest, grow in each of us the deep knowledge that comes from Your deep, deep love: You satisfy our souls.

You are God. Your presence is what we long for. We come before You, lay our burdens down / We look to You as our hearts remember / You are the only God / You are our only God

Show all of us, emphatically, that You don’t call us to do impossible tasks out of our own dry resources.

You call us to look to You.


On Friday, my church had a Good Friday service in which every word was gold. They asked us to fast from something until Sunday; I chose Facebook, and instead of it I re-watched the last episode of “The Bible” mini-series (about the resurrection and Acts: despite some shortcomings, it “hits you right here,” as a friend of mine would say). I also read a lot of Acts to get a time and place perspective, feeling how close it all was to Jesus’ time and how new and crazy and exciting those days were for the disciples.

This was a really good Easter. Maybe the FB fast, “Bible” episode, and reading focused my mind and heart more than usual. I felt the disciples’ stunned disbelief and shock at the sudden, final end of their Teacher’s leadership. The “long Saturday” of grief and helpless, hopeless wondering — what now? — “we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” — while all creation waited with bated breath to see what the Father would do. Then the incredulous hope-against-hope of Sunday morning: “some women among us amazed us” — and the sharp shock of ecstasy at the realization: it’s Him. It’s true. He’s here. He’s real and alive.

No wonder they exploded out into the world and went everywhere with the Gospel, “while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.” No wonder they were unafraid to die and rejoiced at being counted worthy of suffering in His name. He defeated death — for them!

These are two of my current favorite songs, both heard at church over this weekend:

The earth was shaking in the dark
All creation felt the Father’s broken heart
Tears were filling heaven’s eyes
The day that true love died, the day that true love died
When blood and water hit the ground
Walls we couldn’t move came crashing down
We were free and made alive
The day that true love died, the day that true love died

True Love, Phil Wickham

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with Him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave!

Christ is Risen, Matt Maher


God’s gifts to me (remember when waiting)

An incomplete but representative list:

He pardons all my iniquities
He heals all my diseases
He redeems my life from the pit
He crowns me with lovingkindness and compassion
He satisfies my years and desire with good things
He renews my youth like the eagle (Psalm 103)

He hears my prayer
He lets my cry for help come to Him
He does not hide His face from me in the day of my distress
He inclines His ear to hear me
In the day when I call, He answers me quickly
He regards my prayer and does not despise it
He set me free, who was doomed to death (Psalm 102)

He makes me like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, bearing fruit, not withering
He makes me prosper
He knows my way (Psalm 1)

He blesses me, the one who takes refuge in Him (Psalm 2)

He is a shield about me
He is my glory, and the One who lifts my head
He answers me from His holy hill when I cry to Him
He sustains me and wakes me up
He lets me sleep
He arises and saves me
He smites my enemies on the jaw and shatters the teeth of the wicked (Psalm 3)

He answers me when I call
He relieves me in my distress
He hears when I call to Him
He lifts up the light of His countenance upon me
He puts gladness in my heart
He alone makes me dwell in safety
He lets me lie down and sleep in peace (Psalm 4)

He gives ear to my words
He considers my groaning
He heeds the sound of my cry for help
In the morning, He hears my voice
By His abundant lovingkindness  I enter His house
He leads me in righteousness because of those who lie in wait for me
He makes His way straight before me
He shelters me, that I who love His name may exult in Him
He blesses me
He surrounds me with favor as with a shield (Psalm 5)

He is gracious to me and heals me
He rescues my soul and saves me because of His lovingkindness
He hears the voice of my weeping
He hears my supplication
He receives my prayer (Psalm 6)

He has blessed me with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ
He chose me in Christ before the world’s foundation, to be holy and blameless before Him
In love He predestined me to adoption as His daughter through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will
He freely bestowed on me His glorious grace in the Beloved
In Christ He gave me redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of my trespasses
He made the riches of His grace abundant toward me
He made known to me the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention purposed in Christ
He gave me an inheritance, to the end that I should be to the praise of His glory
He sealed me in Christ with the Holy Spirit of promise, the pledge of my inheritance
He gave me, as part of the church, Christ as head over all things
He made me part of the church, His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1)

He made me alive together with Christ, by grace, being rich in mercy, because of His great love for me
He raised me up with Christ
He seated me with Christ in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus
In the ages to come, He will show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward me in Christ Jesus
He has saved me by grace through faith, not of myself
He created me, His workmanship, in Christ Jesus for good works
He prepared beforehand good works for me to walk in (Ephesians 2)

He gives me refuge
He saves me from all those who pursue me, and delivers me
In His anger He arises; He lifts up Himself agains the rage of my adversaries
He arouses Himself for me; He has appointed judgment
He judges me according to my righteousness and integrity that is in me
He establishes the righteous
The righteous God tries hearts and minds
My shield is upon Him, who saves the upright in heart (Psalm 7)

He takes thought of me
He cares for me
He makes me a little lower than God
He crowns me with glory and majesty
He makes me to rule over the works of His hands; He puts all things under my feet (Psalm 8)

My enemies turn back, stumble, and perish before Him
He has maintained my right and my cause
He sits on the throne judging righteously
He will be a stronghold for the oppressed in times of trouble
He has not forsaken me, who seek Him
He does not forget my cry when I am afflicted
He lifts me up from the gates of death
I rejoice in His salvation and deliverance
He has made Himself known
He puts the nations in fear and lets them know that they are but men (Psalm 9)

He does not forget the afflicted
He has heard the desire of the humble and afflicted
He will strengthen my heart
He will incline His ear to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed (Psalm 10)

He is my refuge
He is in His holy temple; His eyes behold; He tests the righteous and the wicked
He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face (Psalm 11)

He sees the devastation of the afflicted and hears the groaning of the needy
He will arise and set me in the safety for which I long
He will keep His words, pure as silver refined seven times
He will preserve me from this generation forever (Psalm 12)

He considers and answers me
He enlightens my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death
He has dealt bountifully with me (Psalm 13)

(Who else could do this? Who is like You, LORD?)