Listen to the Wind

22 04 2017

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He was born April 22, 1955, the third son of a full-blooded Macedonian father and a blonde, blue-eyed Ohio farm girl with Welsh ancestry. His parents married right out of high school and had six kids before they were thirty.

Their first son was an adventurer, the second a star athlete, but this third boy? He was born with a poet’s soul, and as he grew, the ordinary brokenness of the world lay heavy on his beauty-craving heart. So he ran after comfort as many do, rebelling against conformity, and attempting to assuage the ache with drugs and other empty pursuits. He longed to belong — to be truly seen and truly loved — but the darkness only grew darker and uglier, and it was slowly crushing him.

He was bruised and tormented, but he wasn’t alone. One whose name is Love patiently prepared that wounded soil until one summer day, at the age of eighteen, he sat alone in a barn loft with the ancient splendor of the Appalachian mountains filling his view.

It was time. All his efforts to anesthetize his pain were powerless against the Creator’s magnificent canvas. The mountains burst forth into singing, the trees of the field clapped their hands, and a question rose from the deeps and escaped his lips.

“Who are You?”

The wind whispered soft. The setting sun kissed the tips of the trees and slid into purpling shadows. He heard no answer, but it was coming.

The boy returned home to Florida with the question still burning. Then one evening, he opened a Bible and read the book of John. When he came to chapter 14, verse 6, he had his answer.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

There’s a wonder to God’s ways with His own. He knows the heart’s language and how to make Himself heard. To an eighteen-year-old poet, he awakened the ache with beauty and wrapped truth around it with the Word. How did this young man know John 14:6 was the answer to the question he’d asked in the loft?

He simply knew.

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The wind blew, and the boy understood. And he wrote a song — an eighteen-year-old poet’s song of salvation. Here it is.

Testimony Song

I listened to the wind and I began to see
Through people and my heart and my mind, I saw me
And I saw something beautiful
Oh, I know ‘cause the wind brushed my eyes

We each have something good to give
But it’s often hid by the way that we live
Let Truth and understanding be our guide
Let Truth and understanding be our guide

I want to shine just like the Morning Star
I want to say something beautiful to you

I listen to the wind and I begin to see
Through people and my heart and my mind, I see me
And I see something beautiful
Oh, I know ‘cause the wind brushes my eyes
And I know the Lord Jesus fills my life

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Today that boy turns 62. He’s a devoted husband, father, father-in-law, and grandfather; a poet, musician, and steward of Creation; a servant, provider, and friend; and a man of the Word who still follows hard after Truth and understanding. No, he’s not perfect. Through the years he has stumbled more than once and even fallen hard, but the One who is able to make him stand has never for a moment forsaken him. His testimony of Jesus’ faithfulness remains, and as one who has journeyed by his side for 38 years, I can tell you that — in more ways than I can begin to count — he shines. Just like the Morning Star.

In honor of his birthday, you’re invited to listen to his Testimony Song — recorded decades ago on a little cassette tape player — and to catch some glimpses of the “something beautiful” those of us who love him have been privileged to see.

You’re also invited to follow his example. Listen to the wind. Let it brush your eyes. Perhaps you will begin to see something beautiful, too.

 





Transition

27 01 2017

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Today I realized something for the first time.

Roughly nine months after abortion-on-demand became the law in America, in the autumn of 1973, I was born for the second time.

During those months when many women were embracing their new-found reproductive freedom, God was forming me in the womb of faith, preparing me to become His child.

I could say a lot more about what happened that day, when my sixteen-year-old self first felt the irresistible urgency — unseen forces from without and within pressing me toward my emergence from the dark womb of spiritual sleep into the dazzling radiance of faith.

But the one thought that demands my profound awe in this moment is simply this: God is a redeemer.

Always, in every place and at every time, God is making all things new.

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A few years later, when I was in my early twenties, I was reading Malachi 4 and was inspired to write a song. This morning, when George read the same passage, he reminded me of it and said we should revive it. Maybe so. But meanwhile, I can share the words with you here.

The Day is Coming

The day is coming, burning like a furnace,
And all the wicked will be chaff.
The day is coming when the righteous will rejoice
And leap from the stall like a calf.
The day is coming when the Sun of Righteousness
Will rise with healing in His wings.
And all the holy ones will be before Him
And crown Him King of kings,

Alleluia.

Come, Lord Jesus; come, Lord Jesus,
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”
Come and bring us the day of our deliverance
When we will be revealed as sons.
For creation is anxiously longing,
And we ourselves grown within.
But the day is coming, the end of our suffering
Because we’ll be found in Him.

Alleluia
Alleluia
Alleluia
Jesus, Come.

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Romans 8 says God subjected the creation to futility on purpose — that all this groaning we see, hear, and feel is the pains of childbirth, meant to assure us that deliverance will indeed come.

I had the holy and awesome privilege of watching my daughter and my daughter-in-law give birth — one at home, and one at a birthing center — both without the use of any drugs.

I watched and prayed as they entered fully into their labor, breathing into the pain, working with the contractions.

As the hours dragged on, I watched them battle through the dark and awful fear that deliverance would never come — that strength would fail, and life would be swallowed up in death.

And I watched as they entered the phase called transition — that sacred and solemn space, where the world disappears and the whole body, soul, and spirit is consumed with bringing forth life.

Watching was like catching a glimpse into eternal mysteries — the hope that the creation itself  will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. The hope of redemption that contracts the soul of every believer with prayers that are groanings too deep for words.

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When I consider the brokenness of the world today — the desperation of refugees torn from their homes yet feared and rejected by many in the world, the immensity of modern day slavery and human trafficking, the selfish demands of the privileged, and the ignored oppression of the poor, the orphan, and the widow — I feel exhausted and tempted to despair. Perhaps deliverance will never come. Perhaps strength will fail, and life will be swallowed up in death.

But then I remember Who subjected creation to this prolonged ordeal, and hope rises. Perhaps we’re on the edge of transition — that holy and solemn space where the soul gives itself to a higher purpose.

Perhaps the church will shake off her anesthesia, enter fully into her labor, breathe into the pain, and work with the contractions, and perhaps new life will come forth from all this agony.

This is my hope.

And my prayer?

It hasn’t changed.

It’s still the same aching, exquisite cry that belongs to the Spirit and the Bride.

“Jesus, Come.”

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Christmas Presence

20 12 2016

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Hey, friends! Guess what? Christmas is only FIVE DAYS AWAY!

 

Maybe you’re one of those museum-worthy souls whose ducks are not only all in a row, they’re wearing Santa hats and singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” in perfect four-part harmony. I’m (sort of) happy for you.

But what about the rest of us? Those of us who live in the midst of all kinds of messy?

Today I’m over at The Consilium with GOOD NEWS: The messiness of life is the point of Christmas! Here’s a little glimpse.

“Jesus’ entire public ministry consisted of living into our messy. He tasted poverty instead of privilege, weariness instead of wealth. He gave instead of receiving. He served instead of being served. He healed the sick, raised the dead, gave freedom to captives, sight to the blind, and dancing to the lame. And He laid down His life instead of refusing the cup of God’s wrath because that’s exactly what He came to do.”

I hope you’ll take a few moments to join me over there.

Whether your perfectly ordered ducks have now finished singing carols and are performing The Nutcracker Ballet, or you haven’t even started your shopping, you can still celebrate Immanuel — the God who is with us. Merriest Christmas, friends. And may He light the coming year with His peace.

Love, Jeanne





When we don’t recognize the answers to our prayers

11 11 2016

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To state the obvious, there’s a lot of pain, confusion, fear, and disappointment in the aftermath of the election. We’re all processing what happened and trying to predict what it might mean for the future. Tensions are high and words are often harsh and accusatory. And I’m not even referring to the general populace. I’m talking about those who identify as believers in Christ.

So, I thought it might be good to preach a little gospel to myself and anyone else who wants to listen in. Feel free to grab a cup of tea and get cozy.

Our culture may be saying a lot of things about us, and we may be saying a lot of things about each other, but God has also said some very specific things about His people. Here are a few of them:

We are created in His image, covered by the shadow of His wing, held in the palm of His hand, fearfully and wonderfully made, created for His pleasure and glory, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, taught by the Holy Spirit, known, protected, shielded, shepherded, disciplined as beloved children, grafted into the vine, loved, cherished, set apart, adopted, His workmanship created for good works that He has foreordained for us to walk in.

Exhale.

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One good thing I already see happening post-election is that Christians in America are distancing themselves from political affiliations and reexamining their identity. As believers, we’re called to be in this world, but not of it. We may be citizens of a nation, but we’re called to live here as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom. No earthly ruler is responsible for accomplishing what God has commanded His church to do.

God is calling His people to deep, meaningful, and powerful community. Can you imagine what would happen if we really believed all the truths God has spoken over us — if we walked into our inheritance and united our hearts, our creativity, and our energies in loving this broken world?

We need to own our identity as God’s sons and daughters and co-heirs with Christ, because the kingdom we live in determines the lenses through which we see all things, including the promises of God.

Consider Psalm 84:11-12. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

When you read the words, “the Lord bestows favor and honor,” what comes to mind? Or what about the phrase, “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”? If we view this promise through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, we remember that “favor” from God may look like loving discipline of His child, and “honor” may look like bearing reproach for His Name, and the “good thing” He won’t withhold may be the suffering or persecution He knows we need to be conformed to the image of His Son.

The more we look through the lenses of the upside-down kingdom, the less God’s Word becomes about our personal or social agenda and the more it becomes about His glory and His kingdom.

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The only way to accurately see God’s promises and commands is through the right lenses, and when we do see clearly, life becomes a glorious adventure with Him. When we don’t get our way, we can still give thanks, because we believe in His sovereign plans and purposes and power. We trust that, whatever He chooses for us, it is an indication of our Father’s favor and His faithfulness to give good and perfect gifts to His children.

God is always only good in what He gives, and always only good in what He forbids. Therefore, the only true freedom is found in absolute submission to Him.

So, how do we live in submission to this King? What are the principles and laws of this upside-down kingdom?

They’re the exact opposites of the principles of the world or the so-called law of the jungle.

Jungle law says it’s every man for himself.
Kingdom law says consider others as more important than yourself, and the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all.

Jungle law says might makes right.
Kingdom law says the weak confound the mighty.

Jungle law says kill or be killed.
Kingdom law says turn the other cheek, go the second mile, if someone asks for your coat, give him your shirt as well.

Jungle law claims that only the fittest will survive.
But kingdom law says become as a little child, the meek inherit the earth, and the pure in heart see God.

And here’s the secret to freedom and the unexplainable joy of God’s children. We know that the best gifts He gives are actually the ones that bow us the lowest, because God resists the proud and draws near to the humble.

God’s ways are higher than ours. He knows what we actually need (as opposed to what we think we want), and He is willing to crush us if that’s the way to resurrection. We see this imagery again and again in scriptural word pictures.

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Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and the Father is the gardener. He prunes us according to His wisdom. To us it may look like He has cut away what was most beautiful in our lives, but He always prunes with purpose, that we might abide more deeply in Him and that we might bear much fruit.

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He is the potter and we are the clay. We feel the pressure and we want to squirm out of his grasp, but He is shaping us, molding us for His purposes. We can trust God’s love to be behind every painful stroke of His hand.

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He is the refiner and we are His gold. Left to ourselves, we would remain dingy lumps of metal with dirt clinging to our surface. His fire cleanses, purifies, strengthens. He knows exactly how hot the fire needs to be to burn away all our dross until He can see His face reflected in our lives.

We want these things in theory. We may even ask Him to prune our dead branches, to shape us into useful vessels, to burn away our dross. But when it happens in real life — when the sheers cut deep and the pressure feels unbearable and the fire burns hot, we can easily lose sight of God’s purpose and forget that the suffering is not only for our good and His glory, it’s the answer to our prayers.

Have you noticed that we never fathom the fullness of God’s ways? There’s always more than we can see. We look for physical healing and God heals our hearts. We ask for blessing and He sends pain that splits us wide open, because He knows that’s the only way our souls will ever learn to breathe.

Right now the people of God in America have an opportunity to be salt and light for such a time as this. May we welcome His working in us and trust His ways. And may we recognize the answers to our own prayers, even when they come disguised in the most surprising and unexpected packages.





The Anatomy of an Ann Voskamp Book Signing (because this is what you need on election day)

8 11 2016

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Best-selling and much beloved author, Ann Voskamp, just completed a ten-day, seven-city book tour, during which she appeared at ten different bookstores to sign copies of her new book, The Broken Way. When she wasn’t being fully engaged with the hundreds who showed up for the signings, in her spare time (aka, the few remaining hours between catching flights or snagging a quick meal or squeezing in a brief sleep), she also sat for numerous interviews with every imaginable form of media, from major network TV to whatever is at the opposite end of the media spectrum.

This pace and publicity would exhaust even the most attention-starved extrovert. But Ann isn’t hungry for attention. And she’s an introvert. So, why does she do it?

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It’s hard to know what to say about Ann. Not because I can’t think of a hundred beautiful things I’d love to say, but because I know she would prefer people not focus on her at all. She knows we are created to be worshipers, not to be worshiped. To be givers, not takers. I’ve said this before, but she’s like the character Lucia in Max Lucado’s, You Are Special. While all the other Wemmicks are preoccupied with earning and assigning dots (criticism) and stars (praises), the stickers won’t stick to Lucia. Because her worth is fully realized in her Maker.

You won’t find dots or stars on Ann.

We caught up with Ann at signing number nine out of ten — her third and final event in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I knew she was exhausted. That she’d not only been pouring out for days, she’d also taken to heart the stories she’d been hearing all along the way — people who felt safe to share their brokenness because she’d trusted them with hers. People who wanted to say thank you for the life-changing ways God had met them in her words.

So, even in her bone-weariness, this is the anatomy of an Ann Voskamp book signing.

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I don’t have to tell Ann my story of brokenness. She already knows it. Before either of us say a single word, she pulls me into this hug. There’s nothing shy about Ann’s hug. It’s like a wordless expression of all the compassion in her wide-open heart.

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Then she recognizes Jacob. Look at her face. George and I look like the ones who’ve been wrung out for days. This is the face of un-self-conscious, genuine love.

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Then she begins to sign. I have eight copies, six with post-it notes explaining to whom they will be given and a few words about each person. I watch as, book after book, she writes to complete strangers personalized messages that are encouraging, specific, and at times stunning in their application. We may be standing on no-frills commercial carpet at Books-a-Million, but this is holy ground.

And, of course, I had her sign a book for us, too.

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Finally, because I was on the launch team for The Broken Way, Zondervan’s Tom Dean took our picture together. And then I moved on.

But Ann remained. Hugging, signing books, smiling for photos, being fully present. And listening.

Story after story, she listened. Story after story, she let her heart break. And this is her secret.

Ann doesn’t have a career plan. She has a Redeemer. And she wants everyone else to have Him, too. So, after counting her thousands of gifts, the next step became clear.

Become the gift. Live broken and given, like the bread at the Last Supper. Because Jesus gave thanks, and then He gave — not only the physical bread, but His own body. And from His brokenness, we all receive life.

Tonight, Ann will return home at last — back to the farm and the strong arms of her Farmer, to her seven children and the happy chaos of ordinary family life. Tonight, the USA will elect a new president. And I can’t help but think, with all that’s going on in the world, it’s no coincidence that this invitation to the church comes right now.

To whom much is given, much is required. And we have been given so much in Christ. We have peace in a world full of tribulation. We have light where darkness presses hard. We have hope where fear shouts the loudest.

So let’s be the gift. For such a time as this.

 

 





The Broken Way

1 10 2016

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I know a teacher probably shouldn’t have favorites.

But the eager light in his eyes. That disarming smile. His quick mind and the way he asked the best questions. His presence in the classroom set a tone that infected everyone in the best way. Including me.

And he was only nine years old.

When he was no longer my student, our paths occasionally crossed, and he always acted as though nothing mattered more in that moment than talking to me and catching up on life.

Brilliant, kind, thoughtful, and extravagantly gifted, he grew up to become an accomplished musician and film editor. An artist with a tender and sensitive soul.

This week I found out that he took his own life.

He was twenty-seven.

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I’m sitting in this ache. Thinking of him. Thinking of his parents. Of their loss. He was their only child.

Who can carry grief this heavy?

We are broken. All of us. And we spend much of our time, energy, money, and prayer on trying to get ourselves fixed. We look to doctors, preachers, politicians, plastic surgeons — and yes, even God — begging to be made well, worthy, safe, beautiful.

We spend our lives grasping for wholeness and come away empty handed. But maybe we’re so busy trying to mend away or pretend away our own brokenness, we’re missing the point?

I’m currently reading Ann Voskamp’s new book, The Broken Way, which releases October 25. I signed up to be on her launch team — partly because I love Ann and want to help spread the word about this amazing book, but mostly because I didn’t want to wait until the end of October to get my hands on it. And can we just be real? Helping launch a book by Ann is like helping launch the sun into the morning sky. The book is going to soar, not because a team of advance readers successfully launched it. It’s going to soar, because it is desperately needed truth for right this minute.

Brokenness is crushing people. Broken hearts. Broken minds. Broken bodies. People like my former student — who may look great on the outside, but inside they’re dying. And I’m afraid, in too many cases, the church is distracted by lesser things.

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“By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” That’s 1 John 3:16.

And in John 13, after Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, He says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

We see this pattern repeated again and again. What Jesus did, we are also called to do. But somewhere along the way, a whole lot of our western-culture theology became about “me.” My comfort. My peace. My purpose. My best life, and I want it now.

Jesus was always only about His Father’s will. He came for one reason. To be broken for us.

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“How do you live with your one broken heart?” Ann asks.

And God answers. “You give it away.”

So maybe it’s time to stop grasping for personal wholeness and embrace the truth that the only way others can see His light in me is through the cracks?

Maybe it is only in my brokenness that I am qualified to enter yours?

The Broken Way is the account of what happened when Ann said yes to God’s second dare.

The first dare? To count His One Thousand Gifts — to find Him in everything, and to let her perspective and her whole life be transformed by living fully aware and fully grateful. But gratitude is a beginning, not an end. At the Last Supper, Jesus didn’t stop with giving thanks for the bread. He broke it. And He gave. Then He told his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Do this. Break as I am broken. And your brokenness will be made into abundance.

The second dare? Lay down your one life — the handful of moments granted you — and pour them out as an offering to Him.

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This book is a masterpiece painted with words — a stunning depiction of the upside-down, sacramental life my soul craves when I let the Spirit speak louder than the magazine headlines. I’m only four chapters in, and it has already spoken to the deeps in seismic fashion. Don’t be surprised if I have a lot more to say about it in the days ahead, but meanwhile, you can learn more and pre-order at TheBrokenWay.com.

How will you live with your one broken heart?

There’s a way to fullness of meaning, fullness of purpose, and fullness of joy. It’s the way Christ chose for Himself and the one He beckons us to follow.

Here’s my hand. Let’s go together.

 

 





This Many

10 09 2016

img_6416Yesterday I used the “I’m this many” photo above to announce my fifty-ninth birthday on social media. The responses were fun, enthusiastic, and appreciated. But there’s no getting past a simple fact. That’s a whole lot of fingers.

Have you noticed that a year is only twelve months, and a month is only a handful of weeks, and a week lasts about five minutes? At least it feels that way. Like I’m not just over the hill, but this hill is getting steeper by the second, and the brakes on my little red wagon gave out long ago.

The older I get, the more I can identify with those scriptures that say we are like grass, springing up in the morning, and mown down in the evening. The green is fading, and I can hear the mower engine cranking up in the distance.

Life is short.

img_6470This aging thing is getting a little too real, but I have to say, yesterday was a good day right out of the gate. First I was greeted by these flowers and this commonest of birthday phrases, whimsically lettered by a hand that holds my heart in the most un-commonest of loves.

This is one of the best gifts, and one that only time can buy. It’s the knowing that comes with overcoming together again and again — choosing against all odds to believe that broken things can be restored, that pain is purposeful, and that love is a battlefield worth defending. It’s hundreds of forgiven hurts and thousands of shared joys and a belonging that no amount of wrinkles or gray hairs can threaten.

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It started with the flowers. Then he took me to lunch at a French bistro. Lobster bisque, and warm goat-cheese salad with walnut vinaigrette, followed by a delicious fluffy-mousse-with-fruity-drizzle complimentary dessert from our waiter, which we’d mostly devoured before we remembered to take a picture.

But the best part of the lunch was the conversation.

“So, I’m fifty-nine,” I said. “Got any advice to offer from the other side of sixty?”

I was sort of joking/not joking, but he paused and then answered seriously. “Actually, to be honest, turning sixty kinda messed with my head. There’s no stopping this train, and there’s no going back.”

And then, almost in unison, we expressed the same thought — the same sense of urgency to make the most of this gift of time, redeeming the moments, filling them with meaningful, eternal pursuits. Let’s be fully present, we said. Fully engaged, fully aware — embodying the hope we’ve been given, the goodness we’ve tasted and seen, the gospel we believe.

While we have breath, let us praise Him with our words and our lives.

Even the best French cuisine can’t compete with that.

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Then, after lunch, a visit from grandchildren, with hand-drawn birthday cards, and sweetly sung birthday songs, and — later by text because they forgot but meant to — recordings of angelic voices lisping birthday prayers for Emzee. Early faith, fresh in the bud, sure to be tested, God’s to keep and mine to pray for, to love, to listen, and to speak into, when we sit in our house and when we walk by the way and when we lie down and when we rise up.

Grandchildren. Another gift that only time can give. A treasured jewel in the crown of “this many.”

In the evening we walked across the street to my father’s house — the place where we spend most of our evenings, sharing a meal, telling stories, watching tv. Tonight George has planned a special dinner, and I’m not allowed in the kitchen to help.

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It’s pork tenderloin stuffed with mushrooms and spinach, grilled butternut squash, and buttery dark-grain toast, followed by FaceTime fun with far-flung beloveds, opening cards and presents, blowing out candles under the loving gaze of the tenderest daddy on the planet, and then a thick slice of ridiculously rich chocolate cake served with vanilla gelato. And I honestly want to know. What could be better than this?

I may be edging my way past middle age, but I have no inclination to mourn my youth and no need to resist the relentless march of time.

I’m this many. This many years of experience. This many memories of grace. This many songs sung, friendships grown, adventures shared, roads journeyed, and fears conquered.

This many selfish ambitions let go, simple gifts received, and dreams refined.

This many assurances that all things work for good, all things serve His plan, and all things will be made new.

I’m small, fading like the grass, seen, known, and so very deeply loved. My little red wagon may be flying down the hill, but the wind is in my face, and I know the One who sets its course and knows the way I take.

Happy Birthday to me, fifty-nine fingers and counting. Thank you, friends, for all the ways you’ve made this journey amazing. You’re a beautiful part of “this many.”

 

 








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