Nothing Is Wasted

It was almost November, nearly six years ago. The glory that is October in Philadelphia had spent itself and we were in the grey days of late autumn, when the remaining leaves are matted along the curbs, waffling between slimy decomposition and brittle trash gatherers depending on the weather.

The CD player in my car still still worked back then and I’d burned a copy of the special edition of Jason Gray’s new album, A Way to See in the Dark, so I could listen as I drove. My tires turned over the familiar concrete and asphalt of 413 between home and work and work and home and I heard it for the first time: “Nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted. In the hands of our Redeemer, nothing is wasted.” I wrote out the lyrics of the song on my blog and said to a friend, “I don’t need it right now, but I know I have in the past and I know I will again.”

One month later I lay on my bed listening to the song as tears made their paths down my cheeks. I’d just returned from the ICU where a dear friend, hit by a car, lay in a bed from which he would never rise. It was the start of my year of hell and the beginning of a fog of tragedy and brokenness which would only begin to lift eleven months later as I made my way for the first time to the gathering of the community which introduced me to Jason Gray—The Rabbit Room.

On the airplane flying to Nashville, I read these words in N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl: “The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long. There will be butterflies.” A healing from the hell year began that day. At that Hutchmoot—my first—I met people who changed my life. I heard stories that reignited my imagination, and I made a decision that I would come back, resident nomad that I was. I had found a home.

On Sunday afternoon of Hutchmoot 2017, Jason Gray took to the stage to sing “Nothing Is Wasted” as part of a liturgical journey in which we moved from fear to grief to hope to service to community to work to praise.

I had spoken on lament just a few days earlier and talked about the turn in it—from remembrance of pain to remembrance of God’s faithfulness. From the dirge to the second line. From sorrow to joy. From grief to hope.

It was the very turn I experienced a year after I heard Jason’s song for the very first time. The turn that altered my life’s path and opened new avenues for relationship, community, creativity, fulfillment, joy. It was the turn that moved me to a new place. It was the turn of my life, the pivot, that set me where I stand today.

And Jason sang just at the moment the liturgy turned from grief to hope: “From the ruins, From the ashes, beauty will rise. From the wreckage, from the darkness, glory will shine.”

And I stood in the ICU, over the bed of my friend who I could see was already gone. I got the phone call that my boss had died, just three weeks after the cancer diagnosis. I watched my professor’s mind taken from him by the brain tumor. I read the vicious responses to change that I had to sift through every day at work during that year. I walked again through those months of the year of hell that I can barely remember and I saw that ruins, ashes, and brokenness are the seedbed for beauty—for we have One who redeems all things and in His hands nothing is wasted.

The Mess at the Wall

About a week ago, I posted a new piece at the Church at Charlotte blog.

I was recently disappointed. It wasn’t a huge thing, but the disappointment is real and it’s been roiling around in my soul for a while now and I’ve been wrestling with God over it. Around the same time, a friend asked me about my walk with the Lord during a period of time a few years back that I refer to as my “year of hell”—tragedy after tragedy compiled with stress after stress as I walked through an emotional and psychological crisis period. The funny thing, I realized when my friend asked, was that my faith wasn’t shaken during that time. Through it all, I saw God as God and God as good. I continually watched His faithful care in the darkest moments of grief and tragedy.

But something about this current disappointment is different. It’s not that God is not good. Not that He is not on His throne. Not that He is not showing Himself as faithful. It’s just that I’m sick and tired of this stuff.

Read more.

Pieces Go Missing

first wrote this post two years ago. There have been years in my life when I have deeply needed the encouragement to welcome December with tireless hope. Perhaps this is a year like that for you; if so, I pray these words speak to your soul. -Cg-


I was reminded this morning that tomorrow, December 1, marks the day of an accident two years ago that took a beloved and friend and mentor from this earth. It was the start of a hard Christmas season. One where tears held their own against the joy and the laughter.

It was the start of a year of sorrow followed by sorrow—a year that changed my whole life in many ways. A year that I can look back to now with a measure of joy, seeing the hand of the One who shapes all my experiences with His grace and mercy, but a hard year, nonetheless.

There are pieces missing from my life now which were all comfortably settled in place just two years ago.

I could say the same thing about a cold, snowy January day almost five years ago. And another one four years back. And a hot, humid July one sixteen years back. I’m certain many of us can point to those days—those periods or moments—in our lives when everything changed, when the bruises formed for the first time, when we began to carry our burdens, when the cracks fissured our hearts.

And Christmas is a time when those bruises, those burdens, those cracks tend to lose the veneer we’ve washed over them for the rest of the year. Some of us have families who we can honestly share our burdens with. Some of our families are the source of those bruises. Some of us have found communities of friends that have helped heal our broken hearts. Some are still seeking them.

But, somehow, we still enter Christmas thinking perhaps this year will be different, this year will be the year we’re far enough from the hurt not to feel it anymore. We still look to January first as a new page, a new opportunity to try again.

I was struck this morning by the lyrics of Sleeping At Last’s song “Snow.”

The branches have traded their leaves for white sleeves
All warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe
Scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees
Christmas lights tangle in knots annually

Our families huddle closely
Betting warmth against the cold
But our bruises seem to surface
Like mud beneath the snow

So we sing carols softly, as sweet as we know
A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go
Like young love still waiting under mistletoe
We’ll welcome December with tireless hope

Let our bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
May the melody disarm us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

The table is set and our glasses are full
Though pieces go missing, may we still feel whole
We’ll build new traditions in place of the old
’cause life without revision will silence our souls

So let the bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
May the melody surround us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

As gentle as feathers, the snow piles high
Our world gets rewritten and retraced every time
Like fresh plates and clean slates, our future is white
New Year’s resolutions will reset tonight

“We’ll welcome December with tireless hope.”

We humans are a people of hope. In light of everything that has happened in the course of human history, it seems a bit foolish. Why would we hope when we know that every lifecycle ends with death? Why would we hope when we see broken relationships all around us? Why would we hope in light of war, famine, nature’s destruction?

We hope because we are made in the image of God. We are a broken, fallen people, and we are offered wholeness and restoration.

We hope because the Son of God came to earth one Christmas and fulfilled His calling:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

–Luke 4:18-21, ESV

He came to this earth to partake in the human condition and to overcome it. He came to share our broken hearts and to make us whole. He came to rewrite the world.

May your December be filled with hope. May you remember who you are: You are unconditionally cared for by One who shares your scars.

Watch Sleeping At Last’s video for “Snow”

Sleeping At Last is offering a Christmas Collection (including “Snow”) for download at Noisetrade. I’m loving listening to it so far this season. Go get yourself a copy and leave a tip!

Three New Twitter Followers

You know it’s a big week when you get three new followers on Twitter. Fine, sure, I know that some people get follows in mass quantities regularly. I’m not that cool.

But this week I must have been brought to the attention of some fine folks and they managed to find me in the Twittersphere and therefore I now have my ego stroked enough to last me for a couple of weeks, I’m sure.

Why did I come to people’s attention?

Well, it may have been this recent blog post at the Church at Charlotte blog, “When Everything is Broken, Remember”:

There is something wrong with this world.

We know it, deep in our souls. When we see a 24-year-old young woman on hospice care, we know it. When we hear of refugee children drowning in the Mediterranean Sea as they try to find a safe home, we know it. When a marriage falls apart, when a child dies, when a man is beaten on the street—something inside us says, “This isn’t how it is supposed to be.”

Everything is broken.

Or it might have been this story up at Story Warren this week, “A Man Named John Smith”:

A snippet of Jamin Still’s amazing illustration for my story.

Once upon a time there was a man named John Smith. When Mr. Smith was little, he was very concerned that with such a plain name, he would be lost to history, forever forgotten in a sea of John Smiths down through the ages. If you make it to the end of this harrowing tale, you shall discover that young John’s worst fears were realized. Do not worry, though, I haven’t given the whole thing away—there’s still a surprise or two waiting for you just down the page.

When Mr. Smith was a little boy—(How little, you say? Well, littler than me. And probably littler that the eldest among you, but certainly older than the littlest ones.)—Anyway, when John was a boy, he lived on a farm—(Where was the farm? Indiana. But that really doesn’t have any bearing on this story at all. Now hold your questions to the end or we shall never get through this.)

Or maybe it was the exciting news that I get to present this year at The Rabbit Room’s Hutchmoot 2015. I’ve written about Hutchmoot before, and The Rabbit Room has certainly been formative in my life for the past few years, so I’m utterly honored and grateful to be speaking this time around. And getting to do so with Russ Ramsey on the topic of baseball? Yeah…so cool. I’ll let you know how it goes later!

(See what I did in this post? I turned a “catching up” post into a real one. Tricksy. I may just attain the level of coolness my Twitter followers expect of me someday.)

Poppy

Christine sent me a text message today with a photo of a poppy. “Remembrance Day poppy. Worn by Canadians for the two weeks leading up to November 11,” she wrote.

PoppyWhen Trent told her they wore them for two weeks, she tells me she replied, “You guys are serious about this.”

Canada poured a lot into World War I. Five years of war. Five years of volunteers. And an ocean separating those at home from the battles themselves. Canada itself was not in particular danger during the war, but she knew the stakes.

I stood in a Canadian WWI cemetery in France in the summer of 1998. We’d spent much of our time on that trip exploring the history of the end of the Second World War—we’d seen the Normandy beaches, the American Cemetery with its white marble crosses—but that day it was the Canadians who drew our attention.

I walked through the brick arches and down the steps to the lines of graves, and, looking over them, I whispered familiar words:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
                   –John McCrae

Seven years later I was driving to work on November 11, and at an intersection an elderly man was walking between the cars, passing out poppies. He dropped one on the ground, and as he reached down to pick it up, the light changed and the driver of the car in front of me impatiently scooted around him to go through.

The man straightened, holding the little red flower. I pulled my car forward, rolled my window down and reached out for it, smiling at him. He smiled back and gave me the tiny scrap of wire and cloth in his hand, now mine to hold high.

***

It seems remarkably fitting that I ended this month of posts with one about Remembrance Day. Sights bring memories, but only if we tell their story will the memories remain for the next generation. Let us not forget—neither our joys or the sacrifices and sorrows of those who have given us the chance to see and remember.

Oops, I Forgot

I’ve got a good memory. One of the reasons I chose the theme of exploring memories was because I knew I had lots of them.

But here’s the thing: I know it’s beginning to diminish.

Last night, I forgot to write a blog post. No big deal, but not something I would have forgotten five years ago. It’s strange to be able to see my memory growing weaker. Terrifying sometimes. But mostly just strange. One of those things that comes with age…and you know that you’ve got plenty of beautiful things like wisdom and experience and gray hairs coming with age, too, but you feel that one thing slipping from your fingers.

And you wonder if you’ve made it an idol, and whether you’ll be able to survive without it.

I can’t remember nearly half of 2012. Well, no, it’s there—deep in the background—but I can’t dredge it up very well.

At Christmas that year, when Christine and I began to decorate our tree (accompanied by Filipino Christmas music, hot chocolate, and a YouTube crackling fireplace), Christine couldn’t find her ornaments. When we’d packed up the tree the Christmas before, she’d put them somewhere and they were nowhere to be found a year later. But we had mine, and she had the ones that she’d bought during 2012 (she’d traveled through Europe that summer), so we made a go of it. As she pulled out ornaments from their packages, she held up one, smiling, with an expression of, “Remember this!?” on her face.

It was a ruby slipper. I looked at her, blank.

1450972_600499194342_1410669521_n“From the Smithsonian?” she said. “Dorothy’s slippers?”
Vaguely, the memory of the museum came to me. “That was this year?” I asked.
“It was January,” she said. Then, there was a pause as she looked at me. “Wow, you really did have a rough year.”

The first half of 2012 was one of grief, of stress, of overwork, and pain. I remember those things. I remember those I lost that year.

This past spring I flipped through an old notebook—the one I take with me to church and everywhere and jot notes and thoughts and story ideas whenever they come to me.

One page is dated early January 2012. The next is dated in July.

The forgotten months.

Pieces Go Missing

I was reminded this morning that tomorrow, December 1, marks the day of an accident two years ago that took a beloved and friend and mentor from this earth. It was the start of a hard Christmas season. One where tears held their own against the joy and the laughter.

It was the start of a year of sorrow followed by sorrow—a year that changed my whole life in many ways. A year that I can look back to now with a measure of joy, seeing the hand of the One who shapes all my experiences with His grace and mercy, but a hard year, nonetheless.

There are pieces missing from my life now which were all comfortably settled in place just two years ago.

I could say the same thing about a cold, snowy January day almost five years ago. And another one four years back. And a hot, humid July one sixteen years back. I’m certain many of us can point to those days—those periods or moments—in our lives when everything changed, when the bruises formed for the first time, when we began to carry our burdens, when the cracks fissured our hearts.

And Christmas is a time when those bruises, those burdens, those cracks tend to lose the veneer we’ve washed over them for the rest of the year. Some of us have families who we can honestly share our burdens with. Some of our families are the source of those bruises. Some of us have found communities of friends that have helped heal our broken hearts. Some are still seeking them.

But, somehow, we still enter Christmas thinking perhaps this year will be different, this year will be the year we’re far enough from the hurt not to feel it anymore. We still look to January first as a new page, a new opportunity to try again.

I was struck this morning by the lyrics of Sleeping At Last’s song “Snow.”

The branches have traded their leaves for white sleeves
All warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe
Scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees
Christmas lights tangle in knots annually

Our families huddle closely
Betting warmth against the cold
But our bruises seem to surface
Like mud beneath the snow

So we sing carols softly, as sweet as we know
A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go
Like young love still waiting under mistletoe
We’ll welcome December with tireless hope

Let our bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
May the melody disarm us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

The table is set and our glasses are full
Though pieces go missing, may we still feel whole
We’ll build new traditions in place of the old
’cause life without revision will silence our souls

So let the bells keep on ringing
Making angels in the snow
May the melody surround us
When the cracks begin to show

Like the petals in our pockets
May we remember who we are
Unconditionally cared for
By those who share our broken hearts

As gentle as feathers, the snow piles high
Our world gets rewritten and retraced every time
Like fresh plates and clean slates, our future is white
New Year’s resolutions will reset tonight

“We’ll welcome December with tireless hope.”

We humans are a people of hope. In light of everything that has happened in the course of human history, it seems a bit foolish. Why would we hope when we know that every lifecycle ends with death? Why would we hope when we see broken relationships all around us? Why would we hope in light of war, famine, nature’s destruction?

We hope because we are made in the image of God. We are a broken, fallen people, and we are offered wholeness and restoration.

We hope because the Son of God came to earth one Christmas and fulfilled His calling:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

–Luke 4:18-21, ESV

He came to this earth to partake in the human condition and to overcome it. He came to share our broken hearts and to make us whole. He came to rewrite the world.

May your December be filled with hope. May you remember who you are: You are unconditionally cared for by One who shares your scars.

Watch Sleeping At Last’s video for “Snow”

Sleeping At Last is offering a Christmas Collection (including “Snow”) for download at Noisetrade. I’m loving listening to it so far this season. Go get yourself a copy and feel free to leave a tip!

Nothing is Wasted: Redux

Over a year ago, I posted the lyrics to Jason Gray’s song “Nothing is Wasted” on this blog. I wrote:

This has become a theme of my week – not because I’m going through anything particular, but simply the truth of it – and its applicability to past and future events. Its been, for lack of a more somber word, “refreshing” to remember that Christ redeems sorrow and pain.

Little did I know that the less than a month later I would be listening to the song, tears streaming down my face, holding tightly to the truths of its words the evening after I sat in the ICU  knowing my friend and mentor in the bed was gone from this earth for ever.

Little did I know that I would turn back to it again and again and again in the past year and a half as life has been wracked with sorrow and loss.

Jason Gray tells the story of choosing “Nothing Is Wasted” as the new single off his album A Way to See in the Dark in a new post at The Rabbit Room. It’s a story of how God worked in the hearts of a group of people to point them to use this song rather than another because they knew it was the song people needed to hear most. Like He knew I needed to discover it in late October 2011, when I wasn’t going through anything hard, but just before the onslaught.

Go read the story. Listen to the song.

Know that in the hands of our Redeemer, nothing is wasted.

Starry Nite

The evening’s activities put me in mind of the event a year earlier. The tone both similar and worlds apart – a celebration of the start of the Christmas season, but this year without the aching heart and scratchy eyes of the day’s grief. As I walked away, the voices, amplified by microphones, echoed off the trees, the strains of the violin soaring above them.

I walked toward my car, alone in the deserted lot at the far end of campus. The tenor, the alto, and the violin together, haunting echoes of the originals, rode the chilly, crisp air: “O night, O Holy night, O night divine!”

And alone, I wept at the beauty of it all, that the Conqueror came in peace1, on a quiet, holy night, to be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; to take upon Himself the chastisement that brought us peace, to turn our sorrow into joy and our mourning into dancing. The power of Death was undone by an Infant born of glory2.

1 Jason Gray. “Easier.” Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy.
2 Andrew Peterson. “Gather ‘Round Ye Children, Come.” Behold the Lamb of God.

“There Will be Butterflies.”

I came across the line on the airplane. I had decided only days before the conference to read the book, and here I was, on my way, with half of it left to go. Ah, well, I’d thought. If I don’t finish, I don’t finish. No one will be upset with me.

But then I started reading, and words and phrases jumped off the page at me, rattling my notions of how the world works and reminding me that the God I serve is just as micro as He is macro. That the world of molecules and the world of galaxies are magical places, painted by a Great Artist. That the Great Artist loves and cares for and comforts His people.

And I sat on the airplane, devouring the book, almost grateful for the flight delay as it would give me more time on the tilt-a-whirl.

Then I came to the line. I’m not a margin writer. I don’t generally underline. I avoid dog-earing page corners. I like clean pages and post-it notes. But I have journals full of lines from books, the ones that strike me just right that I can’t set aside, that I must keep and find again. So when I came to the line my first instinct was to dig in my backpack for my journal. And then I reached for a pen…and came up empty-handed.

I had grabbed the essentials – wallet, chapstick, Asian coffee-flavored hard candies – from my purse when I put it into the bag being gate-checked. Somehow I had missed a pen.

I was frozen for a moment, torn over the need to mark the passage and my distaste for marring pages. I glanced out of the corner of my eye at the man next to me. His burly arms were painted with colorful tattoos, his goatee long and frizzled. He read a graphic novel. It was the graphic novel that made me hope. Tattoos and a grizzly goatee might be on a biker guy, and I’d be less likely to expect him to carry a pen. But the graphic novel made me feel a little kinship with the man – though I can’t say I’ve ever read one. I know people who read graphic novels, and I know that they have creative minds and hearts. He might have a pen.

“Excuse me,” I asked, still slightly intimidated by the gauges in the ears and the hipster glasses on his round face. “Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

The pen was a sea-green Bic with sparkles in the plastic. He was not a cap-chewer. He went back to his graphic novel and I dove back in, to the line, and began writing on the first page of my new journal.

“To His eyes, you never leave the stage. You don’t cease to exist. It is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”i


In an instant I was back in a hospital intensive care unit on December second, knowing that the man in the bed would not recover, would never play piano for me again. I was sitting in my sister’s bedroom on April ninth hearing on the phone that a woman I loved and worked with daily had died the evening before, three weeks after the cancer diagnosis. I was at the memorial service on May fifth, thinking of the man who had been my teacher, and watching his wife and children and grandchildren mourn him.

And I thought of what Lisa said when she woke up on that Easter morning that she died. Her sister came into the room and greeted her with, “He is risen.”

Lisa sat up in the bed and said, “He is risen indeed.” Then she gathered her energy enough to speak again. “It’s Resurrection Day, and my boots are in the closet.”

“There will be butterflies.”

And I thought of losing Keren, and losing Aimee, and all the other coffins that have been tragedies. But not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”

If nothing else this weekend at Hutchmoot reminded me of that hope. I serve the Creator God who chose to enter the anthill, the Second Adam who chose to lay down his life fighting the dragon in order to save His bride.ii Whose people create works that point to Him in various ways, like setting a story in a house called Maison Dieu, which is haunted by a Spirit, which welcomes all travelers to the central Chapel where they are reborn.iiiWhose greatest stories plant a signpost at the end that says, “The story goes on that way.”iv

“Death feels so wrong to us because death ends a story that was meant to go on.”v

But this life and these deaths are the foundation for a new work, a new creation, built on the old…

“Our hope is not for a happy ending, but for a happy beginning—a new story.”vi

“There will be butterflies.”


i Wilson, N.D., Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.Thomas Nelson. p. 113

iiWilson, N.D., Ideas presented in session on Adventurous Storytelling and in Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.

iiiGoudge, Elizabeth, Pilgrim’s Inn.From Sarah Clarkson’s session on Spiritual Subtext.

ivPeterson, A.S., Idea presented in session on Tales of the New Creation.
vPeterson, A.S., Tales of the New Creation.
viTrafton, Jennifer. Tales of the New Creation.