A Miracle for Kelly Gissendaner

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Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted.” -C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Today is the last resort.

Tonight, Kelly Gissendaner faces lethal injection, the reality of an early death, a reality that snatches miracle away from her prayer-clutched hands.

Last night, hundreds gathered on Emory’s campus to remember her, to pray, to try to be part of the miracle. Today, we continue to light our candles and pray. We continue to seek.

I imagine when you’re face to face with death, your senses are fully alert. You know every smell, every sight of every person who passes by you. You feel every tear’s weight upon your cheek, and the air seems to speak in whispers, gathering the voices of everyone you’ve ever loved right to your side. But shadows hover, and there is a heaviness, even in lifting head and hands to the glory of the goodness of God.

But then the miracle intercedes. Then all the walls that you thought were tightly held up come swiftly crashing, and all dangers evaporate on the breath of the wind.

Today we pray for the interceding miracle, for justice to work, for Kingdom to come, for grace to cover and clean again and again.

Today is our last resort, and today, Kelly, we pray for you to be our miracle.

We rejoice in your life of lost and found, of broken and redeemed, in all of your deepest places.

And when we see your face, hear your name, touch our own children, we remember you, and we pray with David:

 Generous in love—God, give grace!
    Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
    soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
    my sins are staring me down.

You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
    it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
    whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
    in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
    Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
    scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
    set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
    give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
    shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
    or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
    put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
    so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
    and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
    I’ll let loose with your praise.

We all need the miracle, the sun’s light bursting through darkened brown canopy.

Be our miracle, Kelly.

Amen.

#KellyOnMyMind

The Child’s Magic: a surrender

Children have an extremely beautiful power in their bones. It begins in their hearts, reaches forward through their bloodstream, and somehow travels to their crescent-moon smiles and glitzing eyes.

It is their ability to bring joy to the darkest places, to create hope and fullness in the most trivial moments.

They find life in cookies and milk, in pretend tea parties and cheese sticks, in stacking blocks and bouncing balloons.

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They watch birds and marvel at the misplaced leaf that’s fallen from the oak tree.

And the true magic, I think, is how my boys find my beauty when all I feel that I’m giving them is my angriest heart, my most impatient command, my constant stress over their boy messes.

And yet, they rejoice, creating joy out of worry, curious life out of void boredom.

And they pull it out of me, my heartiest laugh, my surrender to that same magic, that let’s-believe-in-Santa-and-dream-dreams kind of surrender.

It is their gift to us, their presence in all of our hum-drum and bah humbug.

They bring us miracle daily– may we be patient enough to stoop down and see it.

The Church Doors

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As much as I love a good, lone few hours at a coffee shop, sometimes it’s just not where I want to be.

Sometimes, I just want to drive. I want to feel the hum of the road beneath me and see street lights buzzing by like fireflies.

Sometimes I want that kind of quiet.

And sometimes, I wish I could find a Catholic church with her doors standing wide open to me. I’d go inside and sit in the pew, and the priest would come and ask, “Daughter, who are you looking for?” and I’d quietly say, “Jesus. I just want to find Jesus.” and he’d pray for me and I’d leave, quieted.

It’s not just the occasional movie scene, someone looking for God at the preacher’s door.

It’s not just a fictitious story.

When I sit and drink my coffee and stare out the window and write, I find Jesus there.

But there’s a deep and knowing solace behind the doors of a church, a sacred space that pulls the truth out of our darkest and most undeserving corners.

Right now I still find myself looking down at a latte. I still feel the steam cover my doubt.

But maybe one day, it’ll be the church that draws me in, one of these Atlanta holy places to fill my cup back up on a cold and stormy night.

When Embers Glow: a lesson on God & fire

It’s been so cold out the past few days, we’ve made some attempts to keep a fire going.

It’s everything I love about the bleak cold– we get to wrap ourselves in warmth, inside the comfort of home.

When the boys went down for a nap, I started on the tiny remaining pieces of wood, hoping to get a little fire for myself, in the quiet.

I found an old phonebook in the recycling bin and used its pages to kindle a fire, praying Please, please catch. Names like Salon Chop it Up and Cash American Pawn, all consumed in a tiny blaze of glory.

Finally it caught for about 10 minutes before dying back down again.

But in that space, I watched brown turn to black, and I thought about Professor Bhaer from Little Women, the German man throwing scraps of old papers into his fireplace to keep the embers glowing.

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It’s usually just a luxury for Americans today, a toasty fire to romance-up the place or make us feel cozy and warm.

We forget that fire once was– and still is for many all over the world– necessity.

It’s the only hope from the dangerous chill outside, the lone protection against the sting.

So, that fire did something necessary for my soul. It warmed me against the cold, and it reminded me of safety.

And so it is with the Father, who covers us with His hand, shelters us from the wreckage of ice and frost and bitterness.

So it is with the Father, who beckons us come to His hearth and rest.

Amen.

The Day After Ash Wednesday

For the past week, I’ve been trying to carefully and prayerfully decide what to give up for Lent.

And I can’t figure out what it is, what I need to let go of for six weeks to focus deeper in on the cross.

So, I jump to extremes, because I’m awful with the middle-of-the-road.

I’ll give up music! All of it.

No more movies!

I’ll sacrifice sleep– and wake up before the boys.

And the truth is, I’ve done some of these things before, and there’s abundant blessing in the practice of letting go.

But for some reason, this Lenten season isn’t asking me for something massive and extreme.

I told Travis my troubles, and later in the day he left me a note–

“Just walk in peace in this season, knowing your identity.”

This seems to be the boundless power of the cross-

It may ask me for the huge and mountain-like things, or it may whisper to the tiny places of the heart that are left unattended to for so long.

So, this year for Lent, I’m going to give up the fight, the constant battle to DO more, to fix myself and bandage my own wounds without proper healing.

The ashes on my forehead remind me that I’m indeed broken and in need, but they also cover me in the promising peace of the cross.

Hallelujah, that God meets me in the tiny space inside, and beckons me nearer, still.

And hallelujah that He calls those tiny places worthy of His love.

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So Travis and I gather into the coffee shop quiet, and the boys spend a few hours with some dear, new friends from church.

And in this space, we work and plan and make space for future days.

And we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. 

And we cherish Lent, for what it teaches us about the cross of Christ and the heart of the Father:

Oh, what joy for those
    whose disobedience is forgiven,
    whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
    My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. 

Psalm 32

Gifts Called Out: the church & who we’re asked to be

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It takes time to come to that vulnerable and often cracked place that asks, What am I to do? What are my gifts? And it’s especially hard to ask them in the presence of others.

But when you’re thrust into an especially generous, abundantly encouraging group of people, it’s salve, and opening that place becomes simpler.

Yesterday at church, Randall gave me a kind, Randall-sized hug, and told me he was proud of me in his kind, Randall-way.

Later in Sunday School, he brought my tiny celebration to the whole room, and I awkwardly tried to explain my role in Listen To Your Mother before Travis helped me explain.

“Well, we’ll be gettin’ tickets, and if there are enough of us, I’ll drive the church bus,” he said, matter-of-factly (this is just the thing I love about Randall– he just IS).

And in the quiet moments after, when David spoke our hearts’ prayers out loud to the air of heaven that was in that room, he prayed for me, listing my gifts, thanking God for the things He’s called and continues to call out of me.

And I couldn’t believe it there, still can’t believe it today, the way others call these things out of me, and I just let them slip out and mold me, the whole time with child-doe-eyes.

I suppose it’s just another kind mystery of God and His Church, our ability to notice and then help cultivate the things we’re each carefully wired to do.

But there are two dangers in the cultivation, two ways we starve out the roots of the gifts before they have space to nourish and bloom.

First, I can “humble myself” so low down that I actually reject the gifts, and cripple myself from being used to give life to the Church.

Or, I can take the gifts and run, and run so high up my own mountain that all that’s left at the top is lonely little me with no room for anyone else. There, the gifts are useless.

So, as in many things, we choose moderation.

We accept, with child-hearts, the kindness of the Father, and we walk in what He calls us to.

And when we sit in the quiet stillness of prayer and hear our gifts voiced, we say, Thank you, thank you, and tether me tighter to you, still.

———————

Find quiet space and ask yourself, ask the air of Heaven, who you’re called to be.

Let’s walk in it together.

On Valentine’s Day: the overflow

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If I could tell you something about the relationship between myself and this particular holiday, I’d say this:

We’re not close.

I don’t necessarily appreciate the consumerism that makes a profit by reminding men everywhere to make their partner feel special with a bouquet and teddy.

But Travis came home with presents for each of us yesterday– a balloon & blackberries for Isaiah; wasabi almonds for Eliot (I KNOW.); and tulips, chocolate & a bottle of wine for me.

I recently received some pretty exciting news, and I still can’t describe what it means to me– being a part of Listen To Your Mother 2015 in Atlanta will open me up to something beautiful, I know it.

And since I found out that I’m in, we’ve been in nearly constant celebration, joy for the things that happen, things we’re just really thankful for. Travis has poured praise over me time and time again, told me I’m proud of you. I’m so proud of you.

And so I sit here, having already forgotten what today is, until my barista handed me a latte with a heart in the middle as he exclaimed, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Oh, right.

And when I go home, I’ll see tulip bulbs on the table by the window and that bottle of wine in the fridge, and I’ll remember the little overflow that’s come out of a love that’s already giving to me every single day.

Yes, Valentine’s Day is overrated and not quite worth the money we spend on it, but if it celebrates love that’s already being born day after day in the kind seasons and in the difficult ones– well then, I can’t protest too much.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day, loved ones. May today be a kind and simple overflow for you, too.

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We Are The Well

I’ve been feeling a lot like a well lately.

The other night I lay wide awake, trying to figure out why sleep wasn’t grasping me as quickly as it always does.

It was either the 10:00 sweet tea, our neighbor’s music, or Jesus. I suspect a combination of all three is likely possible, too.

It was sometime between one and three that I still tossed and turned, wide awake, and began the descent inward, the slow settle down into the darkness, brick walls surrounding.

It’s the deepest I’ve gone in a long while, and I was lost there, searching the cold water for truth.

And I woke up Saturday unsettled, but I felt like I’d been drilled into, built into, swelled up by something.

Or, maybe I was doing the drilling, trying to reach the depths of God as He drew me in.

But I can barely touch His surface.

So I cry out, Help me find You in the deep, quiet, tender, unsearched places.

One day, years ago, we sat in Caleb and Erin’s living room and we plucked guitar strings and bowed our hearts, lifted our eyes up in our favorite way.

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All of us there, our vocal chords exercising praise along with every other fiber of who we were, with Aisling rested in her mama’s arms, with teapots and coffee cups, a Christmas tree with lights, and shoes off and peace.

We were reaching there, down into our own deep wells, each of us.

We were searching the cold face of the water for Him, all of Him, any of Him.

Hallelujah, that we barely know all of His mystery.

Hallelujah, that He goes deeper, still.

I drove in the car tonight, and I raised up thanks for so many things I’d forgotten are good.

–and there, He brought me deeper down, just barely sinking my big toe into the water.

And tonight, when the quiet sleep overtakes me, He’ll be there with me, and He’ll be there with you, easing us deeper and deeper down, ever so tenderly, to the places we haven’t even fathomed to be there.

Because He is endless, and He is our endless peace.

Amen.

“Human beings were made for boundless happiness and peace, and when we see that we are starting to move in that direction, we don’t have to push ourselves.” –Thomas Keating

The Kindness of Coffee

I drove to worship practice last night, my mind wandering to another reality as I pressed forward. I listened to a famous pop singer and wondered how many cups of vanilla latte she can buy in a week. One a day? More, maybe? Then, for that second, I thought, That’d be so nice.

But then I remembered the day. I remembered the gift given in a big black box with ONYX Coffee inside, a birthday present from my parents and our dear friends in Fayetteville to celebrate Trav’s 29 years of life.

He opened that box slowly, cherished the scents rising from the thick cardboard and the silky black bags of beans. It was then that we knew what we wanted for our afternoon.

I got down the chemex that’s been hiding above the refrigerator, because when Trav leaves at 7 in the morning for class, we opt for the click of the coffee maker button over the slow, kind pour.

But there, we’d decided, and chose the cherish.

I thoroughly cleaned the Publix brand beans out of the grinder, and we popped open a bag.

Travis looked at the beans and smiled.

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We poured them into the grinder. We listened. We boiled water. We waited.

Then the slow pour, then the kindness of coffee sweeping through our household.

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We prepared our cups, carefully choosing from those hanging on our old windows against the wall. And the boys begged for some, too. Even Isaiah, 1 1/2, knows his taste buds and appreciates the brew.

So as I drove in the car that night, I stopped myself from dreaming the silliest of dreams, because if I could get countless cups of whatever I wanted every single day that I wanted it, I’d never experience the kindness of this cup, of the gift of friends and family from far away, who reach right into the heart of Georgia to meet us in our little home.

There is kindness in a coffee bean, kindness in an afternoon breath of quiet in the midst of everything busy.

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When We Dream ( a lesson from daniel tiger )

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If you’re not a parent to a toddler, you may not know Daniel Tiger, the friendly neighborhood Mister-Rogers-Turned-Friendly-Feline. He sings songs. He expresses feelings. He imagines.

So, I channeled Daniel’s power of imagination.

After a week of tough days, of long stretches of time and battles against our flesh-and-blood-selves, I needed to just imagine some things.

During the boys’ nap, I escaped to the quiet of the living room and began to dream.

I browsed pictures of potted plants on balconies, asked how to grow herbs in a hanging cloth shoe organizer (yes! it can be done!) and brainstormed the possibilities of composting with minimal stink.

I sought simplicity and looked around our place for the ways it could be done. I stared at the books that line almost every nook and cranny, and I thanked God for the gift of learning, dreaming for more of it in future days.

We received a box of late Christmas presents, and tore into them, joy shining on our faces.

My sister gifted me an IKEA book of textiles, pictures and pictures of beautiful spaces covered in fabrics.

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She gave me more space to dream, just when I needed it most.

If we allow ourselves to notice, we see that God’s gift to us is the ability to dream at all, from the imagining of toddler boys with a cardboard box to our adult selves, closing our eyes to see what could become of us in the months and years ahead.

The reality, of course, is that I won’t recycle every bottle, and I may not have a home full of refurbished furniture, or eat all of my veggies from our patio garden.

But if we only dreamt for what always fully happens, we’d miss the beautiful process of dreaming just for the sake of our peace today, for these moments.

So, if you really need to, watch a PBS Daniel Tiger episode, and connect with your inner, dreamer self.

Or, just curl up for a minute on the couch and think about what you hope for yourself, for your family, for your life.

And dream, dream, dream, for the sake of dreaming, and for the sake of quiet peace.