Alleluia, Our Father

18 04 2014

10168088_10151956417937352_865719595_nMusic is everywhere. On our phones, in our cars, piped into the grocery store and doctor’s office and elevator. It’s common to every culture, and often one of the first sounds babies produce. And yet, music is far from ordinary. It’s this remarkable, powerful, who-can-find-words-to-describe-it thing.

I don’t pretend to understand all the physics behind sound waves and harmony and why the blending of tones can hit the ear and simultaneously break the heart. I just know that music is more than. It’s mystery.

It’s a gift from God and a foretaste of eternity.

When Jacob nearly drowned he lost a lot, but one thing he didn’t lose was music. He can no longer carry a tune, but the music is inside him and rises up and out of him, a fragrant offering to His creator who hears with ears tuned to our hearts and not our ability to match pitch.

Some mornings, after we read the Bible and pray together, Jacob and I sit at the piano and sing. Today, Good Friday, was one of those mornings. With hearts full of the wonder of redemption and the scandal of a love that lays everything down not only for His friends but for the vilest, most hateful enemy, we lifted our voices to the One whose death is our birth and whose life is our life.

And I decided to do something I’ve never done before. I decided to record one song on my phone and to post it here, not because it’s musically superior in any way, but because it’s true. And anyone who has ever worshiped with Jacob knows that it doesn’t get any more real than the mask-less offering that rises from his brokenness in gratitude for the grace that makes all things beautiful.

So, today you’re invited into our living room, to sit beside the antique upright grand piano, and to enter the courts of the King, simply, humbly, and amazed by His grace.

Alleluia, Our Father


Alleluia, our Father,
For giving us Your Son
Sending Him into the world
to be given up for man.
Knowing we would bruise Him
and smite Him from the earth
Alleluia, our Father,
in His death is our birth
Alleluia, our Father,
in His life is our life.

Good Friday, my friends. From me and Jacob, with love.

Who they are

10 09 2012

The coffee shop bustles with activity. Moms in work-out gear grabbing a latte for the road, business people conferring with colleagues or tapping away at their computers, and probably at least one writer, fingers poised over keyboard, awaiting caffeinated inspiration.

All the tables are taken, so we carry our coffee and scones to the counter by the window and perch on stools, a hodgepodge of humanity coming, going, talking, and laughing around us.

I’ve known her only a couple of months, but it doesn’t matter. We commune as sister to sister, soldier to soldier, our connection immediate and soul deep. She, too, has a story of beauty from brokenness, and she laughs with the freedom that comes from knowing nothing can separate her from God’s love. No stranger to pain, darkness, and hope-waiting-long, she lives in the tension of already-but-not-yet, confident in her assurance that all things must serve His purpose.

This confidence lights her smile with peace.

I drink deeply the river of life flowing through her and over me — swallow it right down to my bones, because the truth is, I’m tired. Tired, and thirstier than I realized.

Our conversation ranges wide, all its paths winding back to Truth, and I sense that these moments matter — that they won’t be lost but are etched in eternity. She shares her journey (she already knows mine), and as story begets story, I tell her about a time I glimpsed true greatness.

We’re both amazed by the higher ways of God’s upside-down kingdom, and then, without warning, it happens.

There may be a thousand reasons God wanted me right here, right now, celebrating His faithfulness with this friend. But what she tells me next rips a veil from my eyes, transforming this busy coffee shop into the house of God and the gate of heaven.

It’s the story of a mother and her son. And it’s so much more.

When Michael was born, the doctors told his mother, Angela, that he was missing a chromosome. They said he probably wouldn’t live more than a few months, and even if he lived longer, he would never walk. Never talk. Never live a normal life.

Michael did live. He’s going on his eighteenth birthday. And he not only walks, he dances with joyful abandon. But his condition causes complicated problems that aren’t easy to pinpoint or treat. He can’t talk, and even though he can use an iPad to communicate, Angela is often left guessing what to do for him. The past eighteen years have been spent in and out of medical facilities, and many nights she is awakened to come to his aid for one reason or another.

One night she was up yet again at 2:00 AM, massaging his feet, trying but failing to relieve his pain, and she wept for sheer exhaustion and frustration. And then God spoke.

Do you know what a privilege it is to serve Michael?

The question startled her. But that wasn’t all God said.

You have no idea who he is.

These words — this truth — it blazes with the sun’s brilliance, blinding me with reborn sight. This is it! The puzzle piece I’ve been groping for, the mystery I’ve been missing. I’m looking at my friend, but I might as well be looking straight into the eyes of Christ, because Jesus is speaking these words to me here, now, as surely as He spoke them to Angela in the dark night of her discouragement.

You have no idea who he is. Who she is. Your son with his brain injury. Your mother with her Alzheimer’s. Your heavy-laden father with his tender, generous, broken heart. You have no idea.

And yet, shouldn’t it have been obvious? How could I have missed it? Here I’ve been, purposeful parent to the one and dutiful daughter to the two, stoically taking up my cross, enduring as though Christ’s kingdom, the salvation of my loved ones, and everything good and holy depended on me.

You have no idea who they are.

Oh, yes. I’ve been obedient. And prayerful. And much of the time I’ve even remembered to cast myself on the Lord, leaning on His grace moment by moment. (Of course, I’ve also noticed myself doing and being these things — the self-righteous always do.) I’ve taken to heart that I’m called to be salt and light, but deep down I’ve wanted a bigger, more glamorous hill for my little city to shine on. I’ve imagined the beautiful things I could be doing for God if only I didn’t have these obligations, and I’ve comforted myself with the hope that He’s using these difficult days to sanctify and equip me for fancier, funner ministry — a ministry that makes better use of “my gifts.”

Ugh. Am I really that pathetic? My son. My mother. My father. They are the gift. And infinitely more.

Jesus never said, “Impress presidents, and you’ll impress Me.” He never said, “Win awards on earth, and you’ll win awards in Heaven.” But He did say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for Me.”

You have no idea who they are. It’s time to wake up.

We’re still sitting in the coffee shop, perched on our stools amidst a rush of sights, smells, and sounds. But in the realer Real a ladder reaches from here all the way to heaven. I’ve been asleep in the middle of nowhere, beating my aching head against this stone, and now I’m stunned awake and find myself face to face with God.

I came here today to meet a friend, and Jesus showed up. Words can’t express the wonder of such a kind, undeserved, unexpected gift. But I know it doesn’t mean the challenges are over — that life from now on will be all music and roses. And that’s okay. Because He gave me exactly what I needed to enter these moments fully with gratitude and holy joy. No, I don’t have it all figured out, and I’m sure I’ll struggle and stumble again. But this one amazing, humbling thing I do have, and I pray I never forget.

I know who they are.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for (#576 – 601)

holy places everywhere
stories that help us remember
birthday flowers from George
Luke at the door with birthday surprises at 7:30 AM
a clean house
traveling mercies
conviction of sin
the promise of wisdom
George’s voice over the phone
grace that covers even the oldest, deepest wounds
Sarah’s insight
Luke’s servant heart
a serendipitous meeting on the way to church
Naomi in my lap on the shuttle bus
worship with beloveds
a long chat with Grace (who wears her name so well)

Celebrating the Greatest Day

10 05 2012

He was just like any other kid, only not. A first born is never ordinary — two becoming one in a tiny, eternal soul. Parenthood remains as it has been since the garden, a holy stewardship granted to the clueless. But the God who gives is always good. He provides.

And this one, he kept us on our knees. Strong of will and body and mind. A presence to be reckoned with. He came forth from the womb fighting, and his intensity only increased. Surely the Lord had mighty purposes in store, we thought. Surely He would harness this passion to His purposes. We prayed, and we believed. We loved and we delighted (sometimes in spite of) and we turned each page of this unfolding story with prayerful joy and expectation.

But God’s ways are not our ways. And can we still say, when our whole world crumbles and doctors offer little hope — when the unthinkable becomes reality, can we still say God is always good? That He provides?

The story unfolds as written, and sometimes He means to set ripples in motion — to bring others into the story and to make our stories part of theirs. The Author knows His craft. Beg though we might that He edit these portions clean out and bring us our Happily Ever After in the big middle of the Painful Right Now, He writes with design — plans formed long ago — and perfect faithfulness demands that we live this chapter before the next will make any sense at all. He asks only that we trust, and even the grace and power to do that, He gives.

And so, slowly, he comes back to us. Awakening to the new, much of the old gone forever, washed away in the waters of God’s severe mercy. He comes back to us, weakened in body, weakened in mind, blazing radiant in spirit.

He comes back to us and to the many who entered his pain and shared a portion of this baptism and whose lives will never be the same. He comes back with a new song to sing, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.

Today is the greatest day, and he is in it. It was the greatest day when he made his entrance into this world, ten-plus pounds of feisty fury. It was the greatest day when he first penned those words at fifteen and taped them above his bedroom door. And it is still the greatest day today, his thirty-first birthday.

The story continues, and we turn each page with prayerful joy and expectation. The always good God provides. Really, truly, He does. And that’s a beautiful thing to celebrate.

{Dear friends, if you would like to wish Jacob a happy birthday in the comments, I will be delighted to pass along your wishes to him. Love to all this great day. What a gift to be in it.}


the beauty of fractured glass (the rest of the story)

13 10 2011

It started with a phone call from a friend that led to my sitting in a studio in Nashville, telling our story to a man behind a camera. And if we had time, I could trace the thread all the way back to a time before the guys in this band were even born, but all we really need to know is that the whole thing was part of a greater design — God’s light shining through a kaleidoscope of intersected lives and music and the mystery of all things redeemed.

Would you take a few minutes to hear my heart today? I’d be honored, and I know they would be, too.


Love, Jeanne

What I would still say

15 08 2011

Today I shuffled through the contents of our lock box in search of the deed to this house. I found it, along with our wills, passports, papers of guardianship, birth certificates, and other important documents. I also found an envelope on which I’d printed, “For Jacob, Grace & Luke in the event that anything happens to their parents.”

I didn’t remember when I’d written it, nor did I have a clue what I’d find inside. Bank account numbers? Our lawyer’s contact info? It wasn’t sealed, so I opened it and unfolded a single sheet of paper. No date, but the first sentence told me I’d written it in August or September of 2006. Five years ago.

Have you ever wondered what you would say to your children if you had to condense your whole heart to a one-page, handwritten, farewell letter? Would you confess shortcomings? Offer practical advice? Steer them clear of mistakes you made or share secrets of your success?

Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Jacob, Grace & Luke,

Daddy and I are leaving soon for our trip to Europe. I fully expect to return safe and sound, but knowing that there’s always the possibility we won’t, I want to say just a few things.

1. I love you.
2. God loves you more than I do. If He removes your parents from your life, you can be sure He will meet all your needs without our input.
3. Receive God’s gifts with gratitude. All of them.
4. No matter what happens in your life, know that God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect. Trust Him.

Every breath is grace. As long as God lends you breath, use it to glorify Him.

One way or another, I’ll see you soon.

Much, much love,

A lot has changed since 2006. Grace and Luke have both married and become parents themselves. And I wondered, should I write a new note? Update it? If I did, what would I say differently?

Other than adding the beautiful new family members’ names, I honestly can’t think of a single thing. Because, even though life may change in many momentous ways, truth doesn’t.

The trip to Europe is a fading memory, and obviously we returned safe and sound, but the letter? I read it again, then slipped it back in the envelope.

Every breath is grace. As long as God lends you breath, use it to glorify Him.

The letter is back in the box.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for:

#199 every breath, grace
#200 cicada song outside my window
#201 George in the kitchen voluntarily washing dishes
#202 Jacob’s grin as he counted to ten in Spanish
#203 lingering at the table after dinner, pondering Philippians 1:3-11
#204 friendships that span decades
#205 the prayers of the saints

You are my sunshine

16 05 2011

We have the official document with the mayor’s signature and seal proclaiming November 8, 1996, as Jacob Damoff Day. There was a ceremony, dedicating the day and a new rehab wing in the nursing home to Jacob, and the mayor showed up and made the presentation herself. A gift among many gifts during those excruciating days — God reaching into our pain through the compassion of this community, calling us to see beauty and purpose even through the blur of our tears.

She gave our son his own day, and she gave us a much needed reason to smile.

I’ve seen her off and on since Jacob Damoff Day, and I saw her again last Friday at the gym with her husband. They both retired years ago, her from public service and him from a successful local business. He suffers with some form of age-related dementia now. I watched her retrieve his file from a cabinet, then lead him to a treadmill in front of my elliptical machine.

He smiled at me and asked where I was going, and I returned the smile. “Same place you’re about to be going,” I joked. “Nowhere fast.”

Undaunted by my pessimistic prediction, he started his machine and she stepped onto the next one, matching her pace to his. They walked silently side by side to a slow, steady rhythm, but they hadn’t gone far when he did what I would only dream of doing. He threw back his head and sang to the beat of his steps.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . .” he belted. If she was embarrassed, she didn’t show it. She turned her head — her in her bright yellow shirt and me thinking how very much she looked just like the words to that song — and she smiled at his childlike exuberance. And I, following right behind them in this serendipitous, stationary parade, alternated between sheer delight and a valiant effort to suppress the urge to sing harmony.

When he finished that song, he plunged right into, “Row, row, row your boat,” and followed that with a rousing rendition of “God bless America,” with the traditional crescendo into “my home, sweet HOOOOME” at the end.

I somehow managed to refrain from joining in, but I didn’t hold back my applause when he finished. He glanced over his shoulder and grinned. “Did you like that?”

“I loved it,” I said, my feet still pumping away. “It was amazing.”

He was quiet for a minute or two, and then he started again, this time mixing it up a bit with Row, Row, Row first followed by You Are my Sunshine and his go-to finale, the ever-stirring God Bless America. But then he surprised me and launched into a song in Spanish. He got about halfway through and stopped mid-phrase. She quietly coaxed him to try again, and he cranked it back up from the beginning with unwavering gusto.

I wish I knew how to describe the fullness of those moments. Why is it often the most heart-breaking realities that embody the most beauty? This life with its endless opportunities to die to self and then the glory hidden in the giving, a sweetness never tasted by those who refuse the cup. And for some reason I’m thinking of photographs I’ve seen on the obituary page — someone who died at 92, but the family chose to remember this moment captured long ago, when the hair was thick and dark, and the eyes sparkled with laughter and a lifetime of dreams still to come. It all makes me want to cry and hug the people I love and shed this ridiculous sense of propriety that keeps me from adding my voice to the song, because we only live once, and shouldn’t we live singing?

I joked about going nowhere fast, but maybe it’s not about going places or how fast we’re getting there. Maybe it’s about stooping low to give someone a day all his own, about holding someone’s hand and being someone’s sunshine and not being embarrassed by the gifts that make us slow down and see.

Maybe it’s about giving someone a much needed reason to smile, because you’ll never know, dear, how much I love you, unless I live it.

Giving thanks in community for:

#99 the privilege of living in community, joys multiplied and burdens shared
#100 this beautiful day and Jacob outside in a lawn chair, music in his headphones, his voice and hands raised high
#101 a sparrow tapping at the window, a reminder that I am seen
#102 good food, friendship, and laughter
#103 forgiveness and always another chance to learn love

To join the chorus of thanksgiving, visit Ann Voskamp’s site.

In awe of the gift

9 05 2011

I wasn’t sure if I heard it or felt it or both, but I awoke with a start at 4:30 AM. After the briefest hesitation, I rolled my bulging body out of bed and rushed to the bathroom. The waters had indeed broken. The time had come. And what better day to bring forth a first-born son? May 10, 1981. Mother’s Day.

“Great with child” doesn’t quite describe my condition. I was humongous with child. Weeks earlier, the veteran Lamaze nurse had taken one look at my petite frame with its ridiculously swollen belly and assumed I was having twins. When I told her the doctor assured me there was only one, she raised an eyebrow, unconvinced. But the doctor was right. I wasn’t having twins. After laboring all day, at 9:00 PM fetal distress prompted an emergency c-section, and suddenly everything made sense.

“Someone get this kid a hamburger and fries,” the doctor quipped, as our 10 lb, 4 oz. son wailed his hello to the world and a Happy First-Ever Mother’s Day to me.

Thus my adventure of motherhood began, and I was in awe of the gift. An eternal soul, entrusted to two so young who — like all parents before us — would have to learn this sacred stewardship on the job. And who were we to be honored with such a calling? My comfort lay in the assurance that God wouldn’t have given us this child unless He intended to equip us for the task, and with joyful expectation, I bundled my very bouncy baby home.

We soon discovered that this newborn chunk of masculine humanity had a will to match his size. I remember when he was only a few weeks old, the subdued dread I felt watching his bassinet rock back and forth with the force of his tiny fury. When he got a little older and I took him to parties or events, I couldn’t understand why other babies sat in their carriers, cooing at their moms while mine squawked to be held or fed or diapered on demand.

If I had to describe Jacob’s personality with one word, it would be intense. And that never changed. His sister and then his brother came along, both weighing in at around 7 1/2 pounds, both the contented, cooing sorts, but this first-born remained larger than life, pushing his limits, testing his boundaries, putting us through a non-stop, head-on crash course in how to parent a titanium-willed mini tyrant.

More than anything he kept me on my knees. I had to believe God had a reason (or a multitude of reasons) for this child’s ferocity, and I prayed that his passion would be turned toward the things of Christ. Much to my great joy and relief, when Jacob was a young teen, I saw God’s hand on his life, watched him own his faith, and wondered with delight what he would become. He was brilliant and gifted and daring. A natural leader. What couldn’t God accomplish in and through him?

Then, almost two weeks after his fifteenth birthday, the waters broke again, and with them my hopes, my dreams, and my heart.

There’s a saying that to become a mother is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. Much of the time, that means her heart’s delights are multiplied a thousandfold, but it also means when her children suffer, her pain is likewise multiplied.

May is a momentous month in my motherhood adventure, and this one is also a milestone. The Lord gave us fifteen years with Jacob before the waters broke the second time, and this May marks fifteen years of watching Him create beauty in the ripples. I suppose I could be self-indulgently sentimental about that, but one of the most important lessons Jacob teaches me is to embrace every moment for its own worth. Today is the gift, and I receive it with deep gratitude.

“Today is the greatest day, and I am in it.” Jacob wrote those words and taped them above his bedroom door shortly before his baptism by fire, and he lives them now. That intense passion he displayed from the womb has been refined to a flaming brightness, arising from and pointing to one Source. I see him, so reduced in the externals, but so in love with the One who created him for his own pleasure and glory, and I return to a question once thought lost forever. What can’t God accomplish in and through him? He who took five small loaves of bread, gave thanks, broke them, and fed multitudes. There are no limits to what He can do with small, broken things placed in His hands.

We never know all that God is doing, but we can always trust that He is at work, bringing to pass plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness. His ways always higher. His values upside down from ours. The least are the greatest, and I find myself back at square one. Who are we to be honored with such a calling? My comfort still lies in the assurance that God wouldn’t have given us this man-child unless He intended to equip us for the task.

Tomorrow my first-born turns thirty. Happy Birthday,  dear Jacob. And Happiest Mother’s Day to me.

I’m still in awe of the gift.

Giving thanks in community for:

#94 Jacob’s life in two glorious fifteens
#95 awaiting Naomi’s soon arrival with joyful anticipation, Luke’s and Sarah’s plunge into the adventure
#96 the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead, Who also gives life to our mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in us (Romans 8:11)
#97 blue for the sky, and the color green
#98 the Word of God going forth in a quiet dining room evening after evening and not returning empty

To join the chorus of thanksgiving, visit Ann Voskamp’s site.

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