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.)

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.

Grief and Birth

I’ve been trying to figure out if, and if so how, I should add my voice to the many speaking out regarding the proposed name change for Philadelphia Biblical University that was announced this week. On the one hand, everyone is hearing my voice, because I’ve been a part of the team crafting emails, blog posts, and responses to comments “from the University.” On the other hand, no one is hearing my voice because none of that is going out under my name, and it is the official language.

But at the same time, I’ve been realizing that the official language is what is coming out of my mouth when I’m talking to people or coming through my fingertips when I’m typing, and I’ve been trying to figure out if that’s just because it’s familiar language or if it’s because I really think these things.

You see, while the bulk of the population only heard about this potential name change this week, I heard about the possibility of it last fall, and learned the actual name over a month ago. I’m well ahead on my processing from many others, and I didn’t document how I felt when I first heard. (Silly me, I have a rule about that at work – “Always put it in writing as a follow-up for reference, even if you had the conversation.” – but I don’t follow it very well).

I do remember one of my first thought being, “Ugh, that will be a ton of work.” Really, I think that thought overshadowed others for quite some time. But that ton of work, while still looming, has taken on a new meaning since my boss, Lisa, died after a brief illness a couple of weeks ago. She was so excited about this prospect, and she was so concerned when she was in the hospital that we would lose momentum on the progress made. Now that she’s gone, the work isn’t quite the burden that it seemed it would be. Instead, it’s a memorial to her, a stone I’m setting up in her memory to remind me of who she was and of how to move forward, taking in all the things she taught me.

So this week, when the announcement was made, the social media-verse exploded into action. We’ve been watching, responding where appropriate, and trying to take what people are saying with consideration and grace.

But the ones that have hit me hardest are the many folks who are questioning if this is the beginning of the end of all things when it comes to the centrality of scripture as the core of all that PBU does. Sometimes what they say is hurtful because, to me, it implies that they think we’re lying. I’m realizing that people may not really pay any attention to the things I’ve crafted that arrive in their mailbox on a regular basis. (I do know that I really shouldn’t take it personally, of course). Or, if they do pay attention, they seem to think that changing the title of an institution negates everything that has been said, over and over again, for the past three (well, more, but three that I’ve been involved with) years. There are times when I want to just yell, “We are still a biblical university! That will not change! Haven’t you seen us recommit to that as the nature of who we are in every issue of the magazine, every letter we’ve sent, every page on the website? Do you think that pulling the description from our title and instead allowing us to use it as a descriptor (you know, the way it’s built, being an adjective and all) means that everything we’ve said for the past three [or 12] years is a lie?”

In writing with an alumna from the days of PCB when my parents went there (when it was located at 1800 Arch Street), I finally found something new to say that is mine, something that really encapsulates how I feel about what’s going on, the changes that are taking place, and prospects for the future. I’ve adapted it for this space.

I grew up surrounded by 1800 Arch Street-ers and I grew up hearing the stories of those days. As a lover of all things historical, I am glad that that is where “my” university’s roots go. And “my” university (I graduated in 2003) was also a very different place than today’s institution. Not as different as the 1800 Arch days were, but different. I look back at my experience and I realize that I saw the very beginning of the birth-pangs of the changes that have taken place the past twelve years. I feel as though the past three years that I’ve been on staff have been the tail end of the birthing and that we are now poised to begin a new life; like a child from a parent, still the same blood, DNA, and genetic code, but an individual in his own right.

So I am praying for this University, no matter what the name ends up being. Because like any child there is absolutely the risk of losing the Way, no matter how much he says his identity is that of his parents, but we need our “parents” – those who’ve gone before as alumni, faculty, friends – to support us and help us to take new steps in this new world, challenging us to remain strong in our commitments, our core values, and our central focus on Christ and His Word.

That focus and foundation isn’t changing, even with a new name. And if it were to start to do so in my lifetime, I would rise up and tell the story of what is happening now, pointing to the figurative stones that are being set up right now as we approach this Board decision and saying, “We are founded on the Word of God. That is our very DNA. On the day when we changed this name we chose ‘Cairn’ because it gave us a marker to point to and say, ‘Look at what God has done. Walk in His Way.'”

And I will teach the next generation about these things, because my biblical university education taught me to do so (when I studied Deuteronomy 6 and 2 Timothy 2 J).

In the past two weeks in my department at PBU we’ve had a death and a birth. And while we’re still grieving the loss of Lisa, our VP for Communications and Marketing, we’re also rejoicing in the healthy delivery of Sierra, daughter to my friend Jodi, who worked in our department and now is the Assistant to the President.

I hear the grief in the loss of the “old PCB/PBU”, but I also hear in my mind the cries of a prospective newborn “Cairn University.”

They’re lusty cries, healthy ones, and I can’t help but rejoice in the prospects and opportunities new life brings.