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!

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!

“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.

On a quiet road in Maryland

Written 28 November 2010


Dear Aimee –
I went to your grave today. You weren’t there. I didn’t expect you to be; you left your earthsuit almost a year ago.
I stood quietly for a moment. It was cold, but not nearly so cold as the day we buried you. February’s chill hasn’t yet come. Then I read a part of First Corinthians 15 – one of the best parts, the part about earthly bodies and heavenly ones. The part that says we bear the image of the Second Man in our heavenly bodies. I wonder what you look like now.
I didn’t have anything to leave at your grave – it was sort of a whim to come by today. There were flowers there, though. Someone else came this week. I just read Scripture and then whispered to God.
I asked Him to hold your family tightly. To comfort them particularly in the next few months. I saw them a week ago, and we missed you. You were with us in our shared memory, but we missed the particular lilt to your voice, which didn’t enter the conversation, the particular turn to your smile which didn’t take part in the merriment, the particular tune of your laugh which didn’t ring at the jokes.
We talked of you some, we thought of you more, and when we parted, we prayed for one another. And I thanked God He’s protected them all this year. I thanked Him for holding your dad, for comforting your mom, for strengthening and encouraging your brothers, for caring for your sister. Some people might not think, knowing everything your family’s been through this year, that thanking God for what He’s done in their lives is the right attitude. But those people haven’t met your family – and they haven’t met their God.
I went to your grave today, Aimee, and as always, you pointed me to God.

Losing Aimee – Transformation

On the loss of Aimee Powell, 21 January 2010

A friend asked if I would write about Aimee…about losing her, and grieving. My friend said it would help her know how to pray. And it made me wish I was closer. Wish it hadn’t been a few years since I’d spoken with Aimee. Wish that we kept in contact more than through Facebook and our mutual friends. Wish I were the right person to write about losing her.

I’m not.

But I am a writer.

So maybe I’ll try.

You know those friends you have sometimes in life, who you’re not in touch with every day, or even have been really close to – in the way you’re close to a best friend – but who you’ve always known, who you’ve shared times with – good times, and who, no matter how far apart you get, you love?

That’s who the Powells are to me. Who Aimee was. I don’t know when I first met them. I first remember spending time with them during our year in Hong Kong. We visited Taiwan, and hung out with the Powells a lot. As soon as I heard about Aimee’s accident, vivid memories of chasing a spider in her bedroom into the corner behind the dresser and squashing it there came flooding back. They were followed by the Taiwan conference that year – when I hung out more with Aimee’s brothers than her, but remember her there on the edges, playing with her sister Allison, a blonde toddler at the time, on the open lawn. The memories jumped ahead a few years – our touches during my teen years were rare and brief – she was three years younger than me, and when you’re 11 and 8, or 15 and 12, that makes a difference.

But Aimee came back into my life in college. I was a senior, and RA, and she came in as a freshman. I don’t think she requested my dorm – though she might have – but God knew where to put her: right across the bathroom from me. We didn’t become best friends, or deep bosom buddies. But we shared our lives for a school year. There were jolly conversations into the evenings, boggled laughter at her roommate, Cammy, who would surprise us with random information like the fact that shooting and field dressing an eight point buck over Fall Break was nothing compared to the alligator she’d once hunted, and good talks – talks about being an MK, about what it meant to “re-enter” a culture you didn’t know you belonged to.

After that year we went our separate ways. Aimee went on to another school. I graduated. I honestly can’t say if I’ve seen Aimee since then. I think we may have connected once, in New Jersey, but I’m not sure when that was…For six years the river of time has flowed past. But Thursday, when I first heard of her accident, my mind jumped back almost twenty years, and then slowly worked its way forward from scene to scene to the present. In every single memory, Aimee’s joyous smile and sparkling eyes stood out.

I read in one of the articles about Aimee that she recently wrote she felt “settled” for the first time in her life. And I know exactly why she wrote that. Most of our mutual friends know why she would write that. We’ve all experienced the rootlessness that comes from growing up as a TCK, an MK. We know what it means to try to be rooted now that we’re adults, and the itching that comes to the soles of our feet when we leave them in one place too long. It’s no surprise to me that the people who Aimee and I both know are grieving across the globe – posts from California, Hong Kong, Michigan, Taiwan, Maryland, Germany, Pennsylvania, China, Alaska are filling her family’s Facebook walls.

When I’ve worked with MKs going through culture change, one of the things that we talk about is citizenship. The definition of a TCK is someone who spent a significant portion of their formative years in a culture different from that of their parents’ passport culture. Citizenship is a confusing concept for a TCK. But God seemed to know the needs of TCKs when he inspired the words of Scripture. He had Paul pen this: “But our citizenship is in heaven,” (Phil. 3:20a). He gave TCKs roots, an unchanging citizenship.

But here’s the thing…Paul doesn’t stop with that phrase. He goes on, “and from it [heaven] we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20b-21).

Heavenly citizenship isn’t about having roots, though that’s an effect of it. It isn’t about feeling settled, though it gives us a place to belong. No. Heavenly citizenship is about transformation…change from the weak, dark, painful, hard world we struggle through – with bodies and minds diseased by sin – to His glory.

Heaven’s grown closer for me this year. That concept of transformation is played out in my mind’s eye as I see my niece – who was limited and handicapped in this world – running, jumping, and singing with Jesus. Aimee lived across the bathroom from me the year Keren was born. I don’t remember how much we talked about her, but I’m sure we did. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Aimee remembered; that would be like her. So, maybe today Aimee’s playing with Keren – reveling in the transformation that’s taken place for both of them