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.

A Raggant in Aerwiar

Wingfeather Kickstarter

Two years ago today, I arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina—my official move from northern climes to the south. The move was a bit haphazard in that I had come down for working visit a few weeks earlier and didn’t move my belongings down until a few months later, but March 31 was my official arrival. During my transition time after arrival I stayed with friends so I didn’t have my own address. I therefore used my work address for all necessary mail.

One of these necessary mail items about a months after I arrived was the reward from Andrew Peterson’s The Warden in the Wolf King Kickstarter project. I’d had the privilege of proofreading the book so it wasn’t so much that I needed to get it in order to read it as I needed to get it in order to find out if the right number of dragons had fought and died and lived in the final battle. That said, my excitement was not diminished for already knowing how the story ended.

In the day or so before the package arrived I took to haunting the mailboxes at my workplace, waiting to see if my books had arrived. There, the morning before my package arrived, I got into a conversation with two of my coworkers about what I was waiting for. I told them about the Wingfeather Saga and the Kickstarter.

My coworker Lynn said, “I know those books! My son loves them!” She said they hadn’t gotten in on the Kickstarter, but that her son Roch was eagerly awaiting the formal release of the final book in the series.

“He could borrow mine,” I said.
Lynn looked at me a little confused. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I just read it a few months ago when I proofed it. I just want to count the dragons and then Roch could borrow it.”

So when my package arrived I took it home for a night counted the dragons (the right number lived and died this time) and then took it back to work the next day for Lynn to take to her son.

Roch devoured the book, and when Lynn returned it to me with profuse thanks, she said, “Okay, so can you help me know when the book actually comes out—there’s one more thing that Roch wants—it’s a little book that goes with it, some kind of encyclopedia?”

“Ah,” I said, “Pembrick’s Creaturepedia. Yes, I think they only made a limited edition of that, so there won’t be many available. I’ll keep my eyes out.” I hadn’t yet had the chance to meet Roch, but I could tell this 11-year-old boy was my kind of kid.

Some weeks later, still a month or so before the book’s official release, I was out in Nashville visiting the Rabbit Room. I had a brainstorm while I was there and realized I could pick up a copy of Pembrick’s Creaturepedia for Roch. I got the copy and took it back to Charlotte where Lynn realized the timing was perfect. Roch was performing in the skits for our church’s VBS that week and the book would be a gift to him for all his hard work.

At the end of the week, I was sitting at lunch in the kitchen at work and Lynn and Roch entered.

“This is Miss Givens,” said Lynn to a bathrobed Roch—I presume his costume for the VBS skit. “She’s the one who brought you the book.”

Roch made his way across the room and pulled his already slightly battered Pembrick’s Creaturepedia out of his bathrobe pocket and dove right in. “Have you seen this one? And this one? And here at the end how you can draw your own creatures? I drew this one and I’m thinking about another.” He paged through the text and showed me some of his favorite creatures. “And this one this one is the best!” he said. “I just think this is so cool—” He flipped to a page with the picture of a small, multi-eyed beast that looked a bit like a winged rhinoceros and began reading the description, “Something is surely amiss. Of all the odd creatures I have discovered, some rumor existed of each. But this raggant (a name which came to me the moment I set my eyes upon it) has no precedent, no mention in the volumes of Aerwiar’s history…”

As he read, I looked at the picture and thought to myself, Wait I know that creature… I had not flipped through my own Creaturepedia yet. Roch was giving me my first introduction.

“Roch,” I asked, “have you read the 100 Cupboards books by N.D. Wilson?”
“I read the first one,” Roch answered.
I pointed to the page. “Isn’t this the creature from those books?”
“I think you’re right!” said Roch.

It was one of those delightful little discoveries—those ones that make you love an artist even more because he made a nod to a thing you love. Ever since that day, I’ve wanted to know how a raggant came to be found in Aerwiar—and which cupboard door Henry might have opened for an entirely different adventure.

My great wish may never be fulfilled, but I haven’t stopped hoping for it. You see, there’s another Kickstarter going on right now (it finishes on April 4; you’ve still got time to support it!). They’re aiming to turn the Wingfeather Saga into an animated series. Yesterday they hit one of their stretch goals—$175,000. In addition to being able to animate Peet the Sockman, one of my favorite characters in the series, this stretch goal includes the reward of a story in the world of Aerwiar written by N.D. Wilson and illustrated by Joe Sutphin.

I can’t say I’m not dreaming of seeing a raggant in Aerwiar yet.

Moments

I tried to keep my eyes open for something today, something that would trigger a long-past memory. Instead, at every turn, the memories brought to the fore were all recent, remnants of full days with good friends. So, a few glimpses:

***

photoThe voices singing a hymn this morning from the opening of Bible study at church reminded me of Jenny & Tyler’s performance last Thursday evening.

Andrew Peterson announced them and they stood, and I—surprised—turned to my friend Leah with delight. “Jenny and Tyler are here!” I said. “They have this one song…there’s no way they’d play it, but it’s one of my favorite songs in the world.”

And they reached the stage and began to sing an old hymn, their first of two songs. And then, from all their repertoire, they pulled out their second song: “Skyline Hill.” My song.

Of all the bands with all the songs in all the world—Jenny and Tyler sang my favorite to me last week.

***

I ran my fingers over the cover of The World of Narnia this morning as I ate breakfast. I like the texture of the stock.

When I handed Jonathan Rogers a stack of my books to sign, he asked if I’d met his son Lawrence. I had not, so I turned to him and struck up conversation (in part so as not to awkwardly watch JR signing, trying to read his messages upside down).

“Lawrence, hello!” I said. “Where are you in life? What’s your story?”
Lawrence took a breath. “Well, it’s really a coming-of-age tale.”
“Yes?” I was already delighted at the direction this conversation was taking. “What genre would you say? Drama? Horror? Comedy?”
“Comedy, I think. Maybe even a Romantic Comedy,” Lawrence said.
Jonathan was distracted for a moment from his signing. He looked up. “Romantic Comedy!? What don’t I know about?”
I ignored the anxious father. “Ah, I see.” I said to Lawrence. “And the soundtrack? What style? Bluegrass? Pop? Southern Rock?”
Lawrence shook his head. “K-Pop,” he stated. “Definitely K-Pop.”

***

imageI took off my shoes when I arrived for a visit at the Kellers’ house this evening, and I recalled the moment I sat down on the floor at the front of the room where Nate Wilson was showing “The Hound of Heaven.” He sat in a chair, talking about the film, and I sat at his feet—and he had purple-ish shoes that matched the carpet perfectly. And that made the moment even better.

***

My wine at dinner tonight at David and Kelly’s house made me smile, remembering Jason and Jeremiah at dinner on Saturday night.

Taking a sip, savoring the flavor, Jason said, “This is the first alcohol I’ve had in a few days.”

Jeremiah held up his glass, looking into the inky red liquid. When he opened his mouth he spoke with as much relish as Jason. “It’s my first since midnight last night.”

***

I finished a story draft today, the seed of it sown in the phrases of two songwriters:

Arthur Alligood stood to play and strummed a chord on his guitar. “I wrote this song a couple of years ago,” he said. “I actually wrote it on Andy Osenga’s guitar. He let me borrow his guitar and I stole a song from it and gave it back.”

Just a few moments later, Andy Gullahorn followed with this: “There’s a lot of times I just show up with a color or a feeling and see what the guitar gives me, ‘cause I feel like it’s so much smarter than me.”

***

Andrew Peterson challenged us to fill our lives with liturgies that train us to love rightly. May these momentary memories be just that—daily reminders of what is good and beautiful and full of laughter.

Backdrop

RedeemerI’ve spent a significant portion of the past two days sitting in a sanctuary at a church in Nashville which I can only describe as “warm.” It is a building which seems to stretch its arms out in welcome. The older parts of it are made of wood that holds the patina of the years. In the sanctuary itself, a newer section, a deep crimson wall, inset with a large leaded glass window and an unadorned wooden cross has formed the backdrop for words and music that have shaped me in the past two years.

It’s the place where I first heard N. D. Wilson describe the Fall as the man failing to fight the dragon and save the woman, and the Second Adam as the one who rescued His bride by sacrificing Himself in her place.

It’s the place where I saw Eric Peters as a noisy Chewbacca and Jonathan Rogers as a properly electronic R2-D2 in a Shakespearean rendition of Star Wars.

It’s where Ron Block sang the words, “Let there be beauty for beauty is free.” Where Andrew Osenga shouted, “Space!” Where Pete Peterson has wept and Andrew Peterson has geeked out over Rich Mullins.

It’s a place I heard words of healing as Andy Gullahorn sang, “The story isn’t over yet.” And I’ve heard words of challenge from Father Thomas McKenzie. I’ve heard words of encouragement in art, faith, love, community, hope.

And in the past two days it has been the backdrop for moments like Son of Laughter singing “The Meal We Could Not Make” and Jenny and Tyler singing “Skyline Hill.” It has stood behind Rebecca Reynolds talking of the Blue Flower and Russ Ramsey holding up a Vermeer print and Andrew Peterson plugging in his phone to play Marc Cohn’sWalking in Memphis.”

It is a backdrop full of memory for me—and I’ve only visited on yearly occasions. For those who come weekly, it is the backdrop for the breaking of the bread, the drinking of the wine of the new covenant, the truth of the gospel taught, of prayers covering and lifting pain and sorrow to the ear of heaven’s throne.

Rebecca Reynolds said this morning, “Any old church is a familiar friend.” Arms open, they invite us toward the altar of worship.

New Guest Post at Everyday Liturgy

I had another guest post go up today at Everyday Liturgy titled, “A Romance It Certainly Is.” Here’s a snippet:

We cannot avoid the reality of this world. We see its dark underbelly in everything from the news to human trafficking to the person who pushes past us in a crowd without apologizing. This world, and we people in it, are broken, cracked, and bloody.

But as believers, we have a second sight of sorts. We see this world as it once was and as it will be again.

Check out the rest over Everyday Liturgy!

Radio Silence

I’m planning on going dark on social media over the next day or so. Partly, it’s for my own sanity; once in a while, I just need a cleanse. Need to stop being bombarded by the constant noise of online interaction. I love it – don’t get me wrong. My extrovert comes out in full force on social media; likes and comments, retweets and interactions are her drugs and she just needs a fix. But sometimes I realize that I’ve been living so much through my online interactions that my soul has begun to fray around the edges. And so I go dark – maybe for a day, maybe for less, maybe for more – and I shut off the noise, and I detox.

But this time it has a secondary purpose. I’ve done this radio silence at this time of year before. It is especially meaningful now, this weekend, more than others.
For this is the time when God went dark.
I wonder what it must have been like on the day of the crucifixion to see the sky growing dark in the middle of the day. I wonder if there was silence in the Temple after the priests heard the veil rent from top to bottom. I wonder how John must have felt, this woman, his Teacher’s mother, commended to his care, with no more chance of hearing the caring tones of the One who brought them together. I wonder if Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea spoke as they took the Christ’s body from the cross and moved it to a tomb. I wonder how Peter longed to hear his Lord speak words of forgiveness of his denial.
There is silence in death. Whatever commotion comes before it, when the last breath is breathed, quiet falls. Whatever grief and keening comes after it, there is a moment – however brief – as the realization settles in, when silence reigns.
There is darkness in death – both spiritually and physically. The eyes close, light no more to enter or exit them. The light that is personality, life, spark – the beaming smile, the sparkling eyes – goes dark. Before candles are lit in memory there is the closing of a casket, shutting out the light.
The Tenebrae service recognizes the darkness of death, the quiet of it. One by one, as the passages walk us through the darkness of betrayal, the darkness of Gethsemane, the darkness of denial, of accusation, of death, of burial, candles are snuffed and the light goes slowly from the room. And in the end, we sit, silent, in the darkness.
I’m going dark this weekend to meditate on the darkness of the death of Christ. The silence of God in a time of need.
I am fortunate to know what John and Mary, Joseph and Nicodemus, Peter and the Priests did not know. I am fortunate to know that light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. That knowledge changes my purpose as I take part in the silence, as I consider the darkness. Darkness now is not hopelessness. Death is now not an end.
The extinguished light in death is still real. The silence after the death rattle is still real. But I see them differently with what I know about the first fruits from the dead. A walk through a graveyard is a different experience when you know about resurrection.
Russ Ramsey, in “The Last of a Generation,” writes:
Over the years, as this church’s property has yielded to progress, the original sanctuary has expanded to add a wing of classrooms, offices, and the small chapel where we gathered to remember Nana. Filling the yard to the east of the sanctuary is a cemetery with ghost-white limestone markers dating back before the Civil War. They stand tall, thin, and rounded. I see one that actually bears the inscription “R.I.P.”
When it came time to build a fellowship hall, the land to the west was already developed to capacity. So they built a stand-alone structure on the east side of the cemetery. The strange effect is that for a person to go from the fellowship hall to worship, they have to pass through the center of this garden of graves.

As we walk, my cousin points at a headstone bearing my mother’s maiden name-Aspinwall…Just like the others, this headstone offers nothing but a name and a date. Yet for every pilgrim moving between the fellowship of men and the sanctuary of God, these headstones-like a choir half buried, half rising from the dead-sing the same refrain: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, a time to die, and a time for the life that happens in between…

I don’t have all the time in the world. One day I will leave this fellowship of the saints I love so much, and I will step across that threshold into an eternal sanctuary of exultant praise in the presence of the Maker and Lover of my soul. Between the two I will be buried. People will gather and offer words in my memory. They will lay my body down in a grave and my headstone will rise from the dirt and join the chorus in the land of the living, singing: “A time to be born, a time to die, a time to live again.”
Nate Wilson says that in death we are planted, that graveyards are a garden planted with seeds.2 “These are seeds, these are human seeds waiting a long time to break the earth, to grow…As Christians with faith, we know that when we walk a graveyard we are walking a Farmer’s field. And we’re not the Farmer. This is not our field. This is Somebody else’s field. This is His crop we’re walking on…the entire globe has gone from one little garden to an entire sphere that has been planted. This world is God’s garden. This world is His field, and there is going to be an enormous harvest. The corn will see the springtime. When the end does come, I think we’ll see an eruption. I think the resurrection is going to come with thunder and it’s going to be more dramatic than any spring has ever been.”3
Where, O Death, is now thy sting? Swallowed up in victory.
I’m going dark for a time this weekend. Radio silence. I am taking time to consider the darkness, to listen to the silence.
For anticipation is part of the gift. Crocuses bloom through dead leaves, making them beautiful again.
Easter is all the more beautiful when examined through the lens of Good Friday. Resurrection morning is coming. It will be all the brighter if I consider what it took to get there.
Notes:
1 Ramsey, Russ. “The Last of a Generation.” The Molehill, Vol. 1. Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2012. p. 189-191. 

2 Wilson, N.D. Notesfrom the Tilt-a-Whirl. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009. 

The Center Point

It often seems that my Advent meditations center around a single idea – often something meaningful to my reflections on the past year. Sometimes they’re painful meditations. Sometimes they are joyous. Sometimes they are revelations. Sometimes they’re old truths.

This year’s meditations have focused the coming of the Christ as the center point of history. From creation to new creation, it all revolves around this one moment, in a little town in Judah, when the Redeemer of the world arrived as a newborn infant. Creation, Fall, Redemption: all wrapped together in skin and laid in a manger.
Jesus: the Lord saves. Emmanuel: God with us.
This has been, for me, a Rabbit Room year. Yes, technically my sister introduced me to the place more than a year ago, but this is the year when I’ve really experienced the community: had my eyes opened to the life being lived in that community and joined it myself. The Rabbit Room had a community Christmas gift exchange this year, and, while I didn’t have the time to get involved myself, I wanted to share my thanks for the gifts the Rabbits have given me.
The artists who lead the community have blessed me beyond measure with the liturgy they’ve worked. Their songs, their stories, their essays, their insights have opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the world God has made and our role in it as Christians.
The people who populate this cyber community have impacted me in ways they may not know. They’ve guided my steps as I’ve started this journey of discovery; they’ve shared their stories, their lives, their sorrows, their risks, their hearts. I have been encouraged. I have been challenged.
Without these groups, I may have considered Christmas differently this year. I may not have seen a Boy’s birth as the center point of all history. Perhaps this was what God intended me to see this year anyway, but He used the members of the Rabbit Room to point and say, “Look.” So here are some glances at the Christmas story as I’ve experienced it this year. May you see the Center Point and never look away.

from N. D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:

“Plan the event. Arrange the reception. The King of kings is coming. He will shoulder governments. He will be called the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor…

“The Lord of all reality is coming to your hemisphere. And He, the pure Spirit, will take on flesh and need to eat and breathe and move His bowels, and have His diaper changed…

“He will be a carpenter, with splintered and blistered hands and cracking nails. One of His grandmothers was a whore of Jericho. He will enter the womb of a virgin and expand in the normal way. He will exit her womb in the normal way. And then she will suckle Him as the cows do their calves. Because, well, He will be mammal…

“The Lord came to clean the unclean. He brought the taint of Holiness, and it has been growing ever since. He was born in a barn and slept in a food trough. Maybe the livestock all took gentle knees, cognizant and pious, like the back page of a children’s Christmas book. Maybe they smacked on their cuts and continued to lift their tails and muck in the stalls.

“The angels knew what was going on even if no one else did. They grasped the bizarre reality of Shakespeare stepping onto the stage, of God making Himself vulnerable, dependent, and human–making Himself Adam. And so, in a more appropriate spirit, they arranged a concert and put on what was no doubt the greatest choral performance in planetary history.

“Were the kings gathered? Where were the people with the important hats? Where were the ushers, the corporate sponsors?

“The Heavenly Host, the souls and angels of stars, descended into our atmosphere and burst in harmonic joy above a field and some rather startled shepherds.

“But the crowd was bigger than that. The shepherds were a distinct minority. Mostly, the angels were just singing to sheep.

“I’m sure those animals paid attention, and not just because there was a baby in their food bowl.”

from Russ Ramsey’s Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative

“Though no one could have known all of this at the time, Jesus was the priest who became the sacrifice, the king who took on the form of a servant, the prophet who was himself the Word of God. He was Immanuel, God with us–Son of God, Son of Man.

“But the death and resurrection of Jesus only makes sense through the lens of his birth. God’s eternal Son, who was present at creation when God made man in his likeness, humbled himself and took on flesh, born in the likeness of man. The Maker knitted him together in Mary’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully forming each tiny part in the depths of her waters. God saw his unformed body. Every day ordained for him was recorded in his Father’s book of life before a single one had come to pass.

“And now he has come.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

from Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God: The TRUE Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
He gave up His pride and He came here to die
Like a man

So rejoice, ye children sing
And remember now His mercy
And sing out with joy
For the brave little boy is our Savior
Son of God,
Son of Man