Part III: Peaks and Valleys

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. You can read Part I and Part II or keep scrolling or skip it entirely, I’m not the boss of you.

*   *   *   *   *

If you’ve seen any of my Instagram posts from Europe, then you’ll know what my biggest crush was on the whole trip. (Hint: croissants were a close second.)

(I’m skipping over a huge chunk of our trip, from Paris, France, to Bavaria, Germany, some 500+ miles we did NOT do in one day. Everywhere we visited, we experienced beauty and kindness. But there was something inexplicable about the Alps: what the view did to me, stirred in me, and I can’t wait anymore to tell you all about my bae.)

We toured Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the castles built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was intended to be his “summer palace,” built on top of the ruins of a much older castle, perched in the most perfect spot between mountain peaks. What we learned of King Ludwig II’s life was enigmatic and sad, and his deep appreciation for the arts and sciences was evident throughout the castle. Our entry tickets included a very informative audio tour through several rooms open to the public, but I am not a history buff (#dead #oldnews #letsmoveon) and I’m pretty sure you can wikipedia all that if you want.

(In contrast, my history buff husband read EVERY. SINGLE. PLACARD. at Mozart’s birthplace. You guys. Mozart spent less time there as a child than my husband did as a visitor.)

I have always been a mountain girl, infatuated with and inspired by them, love at first sight. Something magical happened, as we were driving away from the rolling golden French countryside and back into and across Germany. A pit stop in the Black Forest in Triberg, Germany, for lunch and window shopping gave me a hint of what was in store. But even the steep mountain village of Triberg couldn’t prepare me for the deep-down soul-stir just waiting to happen.

I probably slept on the way to Bavaria, so things escalated quickly. We went from: “Cool mountains, bro,” to: “Take me, I’m yours!” as if the Alps had dropped from the sky, catching me off-guard.

I sent this very text to several friends: “The Alps: I’ve been swooning for two days straight now.”

I wrote pages in my journal during our two days in and around the Alps. I sent lengthy emails and posted instablogs. The view of those majestic (that doesn’t seem adequate enough) mountain peaks quite literally (and I’m using that word properly) made me weak in the knees, to the point where I didn’t want to move on.

The one evening we stayed in Salzburg, Austria, we booked a hotel in the mountains (The Gersberg Alm – all the heart-eyed emojis for this place) overlooking the city, and it was all I could do not to quietly hide in the closet until everyone else left and forgot I was still there.

I daydreamed about walking off into the mountains and staying there, maybe raising Alpine mountain goats, or selling pastries on the roadside, or renting bikes to American tourists. The Alps moved me, in a way that none of the other lovely, interesting, quaint, exciting cities we visited had.

When we visited Sacré-Cœur and Notre-Dame in Paris, I was predictably awestruck. Cathedrals are designed to dwarf her visitors; we are made to feel very small and insignificant in the face of such grandeur and divinity. And it worked. It was humbling, not just the size of these magnificent buildings, but the rich, long history of the saints who came before, etched and carved and painted on every surface.

But if the cathedrals made me aware of God’s divine grandness, the Alps reminded me of His intricate nearness. Every mile we drove between destinations was picture-perfect, a love letter from a creative God to the earth we stand on.

And I think that’s why that piece of the earth resonated so deeply with me. There, at the foot of those mountains, is where I experienced God’s love so clearly and closely. I did nothing to articulate it, or understand it, or even explain it (like I’m trying to do now, go me!).

I just sat in complete awe and let the mountaintop experience own me.

On the morning we left, headed back to where we started, I stood in the mountains, on the edge of Salzburg, and promised myself I would be back. I promised myself I would remember and recall – often – just how I felt taking in the view, letting the earth I could see in all its beauty seep into my bones.

I would remember and recall – though not often enough – the tenderness of a God who writes love stories with mountain peaks.


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Part II: Arches and Spires

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. You can read Part I or keep scrolling or skip it entirely, I’m not the boss of you.

*   *   *   *   *

After crossing a few time zones (six to be exact), we were understandably pretty exhausted for the first couple of days. As soon as we got in the car, I would promptly fall asleep (don’t worry, guys, I wasn’t driving). So when we left Champs-Élysées to head to Sacré-Cœur Basilica less than 5 miles away (plus another 20+ minutes of trying to navigate the narrow, hectic streets of Paris in an 8-passenger van), I was snoring/drooling on my little airplane pillow while we (my dad) made the short but scenic drive up Montmarte, the highest hill in Paris.

I woke up/wiped the drool from my cheek just as we came around the final curve to see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris rising from the hillside. Yes. It was as dramatic as it sounds. It was the stuff sonnets are made of.

A Sequence of Events: I woke. I wiped drool. I looked up. I gasped and breathed aloud something like, “Oh, my heavens.”

When I was in college, I wrote a thesis on mathematical induction in ancient architecture. (It was riveting, PROMISE). I included a few paragraphs about cathedrals focusing on the innate geometry of their arches. (Yeah, are you still with me?)

Here’s what I learned in college: the angles of a cathedral’s arches have to be meticulously calculated, or else the roof will cave in. Here’s what I did not learn in college: the angles of a cathedral’s arches will floor you, steal your breath, send shivers down your spine.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been in many American cathedrals and other beautiful, sacred places. But the sheer magnitude and divinity of Sacré-Cœur was nothing, not a thing, like I had seen before.

And then, after we had toured her glorious sanctuary, we walked out and saw the entire city of Paris laid out beneath us. We got lucky – it was sunset and it was breathtaking. I stood on the top step of Sacré-Cœur dumbfounded, and I wanted to stretch out my arms from one end of Paris to the other and literally hug that beautiful, twinkling City of Light. I was starstruck.

The next day we had another glorious cathedral on our agenda: Notre-Dame de Paris, built sky-high on an island in the middle of the River Seine. We got there a few minutes before noon mass began, waiting in line just as the bells began to toll the hour. Notre-Dame has earned every bit of her fame and praise, with the stunning stained glass windows, the intricately sculpted façades, the fascinating chimera (un/fortunately none voiced by Jason Alexander), the thousands of years built and lived and worshipped within her walls.

Within Notre-Dame, they have learned to cater more toward the tourist, offering interesting tidbits on previous popes (and one who’s interred there I think? I don’t know, the placard was in French), the history behind the famous Rose Window, and what is kept in the cathedral treasury. I ALMOST stole from the Roman Catholic Church when I breezed into the Treasury, unaware there’s an entrance fee. Within the Treasury is the (alleged) Crown of Thorns and a sliver of wood from (allegedly) the cross upon which Jesus died.

This might surprise like, no one, but I love actual, physical touchstones. I still have the extra party favors from our wedding. I’ve kept the hospital bracelets from both my children’s births. I’ve kept every journal I’ve ever written in (SHOCKER).

So knowing these relics exist, soaked with meaning, kept behind locked glass cases and a stern Frenchwoman collecting Euros – regardless of whether or not they are the ACTUAL Crown of Thorns or fragments of the Cross of Crucifixion – awakens that too-often-dormant awe of Jesus Christ: who we as the Church believe He is, and what we as the Church believe He did.

From Sacré-Cœur and her view of Paris to Notre-Dame and her ancient religious history, touring these two awe-inspiring cathedrals were downright worship services, as meaningful and enriching as any sermon I’ve heard. Even though I’m not Catholic, the belief system I hold so dear descended from the Roman Catholic Church, and from the teachings of the apostles and saints, and from the very life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is certainly no small, brief thing. And standing on the steps of Sacré-Cœur or before the high altar of Notre-Dame helped drive even my faith deeper.

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Part I: Jet Lag

Last month, my family and I spent ten days in Europe, gallivanting around Germany, France, and Austria. It was a whirlwind trip we had spent almost an entire year planning, mapping our course of nearly 1,500 miles, a dozen different cities, twice as many landmarks, and approximately two metric tons of French pastries and German everything-else. (Beer! Brats! Wine! Chocolate!)

It was a trip that we’ll all remember, one that left me exhausted, dazed, and deeply inspired. And because I’m a girl who writes love letters to people, places, and food (definitely food), I came home with pages of a red composition notebook FILLED. Don’t worry, I’m breaking it all up into parts. Sorry/you’re welcome.

*   *   *   *   *

I’m sitting at my dining room table, before anyone else has woken up, drinking coffee out of a mug I bought at Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Germany. The mug is hand-shaped, hand-stamped, fired locally, available only (only!) for purchase in the gift shop of King Ludwig II’s summer palace. It has Ludwig’s lions and shield on it, his coat of arms, glazed Bavarian blue with a swipe of shiny gold paint to signify his royalty.

It is my favorite souvenir from the whole trip.

I drink out of this mug every day because it reminds me how I felt when we were in Europe, driving through hundreds of miles of French and German and Austrian countryside. It reminds me, a little anyway, how I felt when we first caught glimpses of the hillside vineyards on the banks of the Mosul River, and the Palace in Versailles with her sprawling gardens, and the Eiffel Tower overlooking the River Seine, and the famous glass pyramid of the Louvre, and the Mona Lisa IN REAL LIFE with her sly smile commanding crowds, and the Arc de Triomphe planted dead center of a busy, bustling, trendy shopping avenue, and Sacré-Cœur and the view that gave me shivers, and Notre Dame – THE Notre Dame with the arches and the spires and the bell tolls and the Sanctuary! Sanctuary! – and the climbing, dense mountains of the Black Forest, and Neuschwanstein castle nestled on the most picturesque mountain peak, and the very same instrument where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sat and composed nearly half a dozen of his operas, and Maribel Lake with her mirrored beauty, and the Alps – oh, my heart be still, those Alps.

It reminds me, to a degree, of the pure gratitude I had while traveling in countries so different from ours, through quintessential European villages with ancient buildings older than these United States.

Every city and town and village and tourist destination we visited was breathtakingly beautiful / historically mind-blowing / understandably fascinating / can’t-wait-to-go-back. And I could fill pages describing every last thing. (And I did, actually, in a red composition notebook I’ve read and re-read, trying to capture again and with the same gasp of surprise or flutter of my heart, any given moment of awe or gratitude or marvel or wonder. It’s not quite the same, but you knew that already.)

The timing of our trip worked perfectly; we got home to America and then to Tennessee just in time to get ready for an early bedtime, waking up late the next morning refreshed and back in the Eastern Standard timezone. My body and sleep cycle recovered easily; but my mind and my heart and the way my soul woke up are still somewhere in the mountains between Germany and Austria, or the golden fields stretching across the French countryside, or maybe on the stone steps of Sacré-Cœur, the highest point in Paris overlooking the City of Light.

It’s a kind of jet lag I don’t suspect I’ll get over soon.


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Healed and Whole

Daughter, you took a risk trusting me, and now you are healed and whole.
No one sees me slip through the crowd. I am good at being unseen; it has been the key to my survival.

For twelve years I spent everything I had, poured every ounce of hope into healing. I paid and I prayed, losing every last thing. And still I bled. For twelve years I have been weak, cursed, exiled from my neighbors, unclean.

I had heard of this Jesus, rumors of His power, the miracles that seem to fall from the sky around Him, like manna. If I could get close enough to touch Him, certainly a brush of His robe would be enough. I had heard the blind gained their sight and the lame could walk again with just a word from this Jesus invoking the power of Heaven.

I am almost close enough to touch Him. I can hear the voices of His closest, most faithful followers, men and women who dropped everything to remain at His side. He can’t possibly be a fraud, not with this many people surging around Him.

Jarius, the local religious leader, has pushed through the crowd, pushed in front of me. I shrink away, take up smaller space. From where I crouch, I hear the grief and desperation in his voice, rising above the many circling Jesus, and there is something deeply familiar in his heartbreak it cracks me in two. I stay close to the ground, my head down, bent half in pain, half with the intense need to remain unseen. If I am seen I will be cast away, shouted down because of my illness; my uncleanliness demands it.

I hear Jarius speaking of his sick daughter, his plea twisting in the air, his brokenness so different from mine yet so intimately known. Jesus has turned His attention away from the crowd, standing still and focused on Jarius as he pleads for his daughter’s life. I will not interrupt; the Healer has much more important work to do.

But then Jarius leads Jesus away, toward his home, and a new well of anguish bubbles up and over. Quickly, feverishly, I crawl closer, and Jesus pauses in mid-step as if waiting for something. Quickly, feverishly, I reach out for the hem of His robe, stained, caked with the dirt of His travels. The fabric is rough in my hands, and for barely a breath, I hold on.

It is immediate. I know. It is a memory of the Galilean sea rushing over me, this healing that throws me, flattens me, overcomes me. A heartbeat and I want to shout my gratitude, but no, I cannot. I have stolen something divine and powerful, so I slip away, just as unnoticed but irrevocably altered.

“Who touched me?”

His voice carries over the crowd. They quiet. He asks again. I am almost to the edge of the sea of bodies, almost free to disappear. They point out the size of the crowd, the absurdity of His question, but there it hangs unanswered, tethering me back. Because I fear God more than my own body, I turn back; I cannot help the trembling in my bones. Jesus has been watching me, as if He knew all along who indeed had dared.

The people part a path back to Jesus, and I drop to the ground at His feet, weighted down by what I have done, what I have claimed. I confess it all to this God-Man and to the crowd. I am on my knees before Him, my face hidden in the sand, in a deep shame that shivers and shakes over me. My neighbors, fellow villagers who have for years now skirted around me, ignored me, cast their eyes away from me – I feel their stares openly now as my confession tumbles out, darkening the dirt at His feet.

I cannot look up from the pit of my despair. I do not hear Him so much as feel Him in every cell of my body, in my very marrow, answering a longing so buried I had not recognized it before.

“Daughter,” He says to me, His touch – His own this time, not a stolen brush against the threads of His robe – burning that word, that identity into my soul. “Your faith has made you healed and whole.” He has lifted His voice for the whole crowd to hear. My faith, He tells them, has healed me.

“Live well, live blessed.”

The extravagance of Jesus is staggering. He has given me wholeness, yes, a way forward in holy healing.

But more than that, intimately more than that, He has called out my shame, my illness and my suffering, and has transformed it into something worthy, a story redeemed and redefined. I owe Him everything. Faith in this Jesus is easy; the lightness in my gut tells me I’ve been waiting my whole life to follow Him.

* * *

This season of Lent, I am pulling out some of the questions Jesus asked with the intent of digging into (some of) what he might want us to know. I want to tell these stories as if I had been there myself, as if I was the one staring dumbly at Jesus on a crowding lakeshore when he asked, “Who touched me?” found in Luke 8:40-48.

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Where Can We Buy Bread?

Wild Barley

Jesus of Nazareth could draw a crowd. Even from small, scattered villages, people flocked to Him. This Jesus was a truth-teller and dealer of miracles, dynamic, charismatic, unabashed. People came for the show and stayed for the word.

There was enough truth or purpose in Jesus that I had dropped everything to follow Him as He traveled from village to village. His message never changed, but transformed into something new every time He spoke. There were the show-stopping sermons, the ones magnified over crowds of hundreds or even thousands. But there were also the stories shared with us, the twelve and His most devoted followers. There were the prayers He murmured to Abba Father, an intensely personal relationship. It felt like eavesdropping, those moments when Jesus sought solitude.

There was an energy to Jesus. A sense of urgency that hummed beneath His words and acts. The way He saw the crowds, not as a ceaseless current of strangers drawn in to Him like water on dry sand, but as if He saw every single face, heard every single heart beating. When He spoke it was as if Heaven pressed in a little closer, mysteries of our ancestors’ faith a little thinner, warmer and clearer. There was something ancient about Jesus, something timeless, the way He spoke of our God and of man and of the proximity of God to man. It was revolutionary, the attention of the Holy One toward someone like me, someone ordinary and bland, no special education or training or knowledge of this unknowable God. More still, the attention of God toward someone in the margins, otherwise forgotten, unseen, shunned.

Jesus brought God the Father closer, to the very table we sat.

Jesus’ message was so full of hope. That was a common thread of His message, no matter how many different ways He managed to tell it. And He seemed to empty Himself before the crowds, spilling truth and healing and every ounce of wisdom He could hold in His head and heart. He spoke often of the work to be done, as He gazed out across the crowds, parched and starved for His words.

* * *

On this day, He seems spent. He edges away from us, His followers, and we who have been with Him since the beginning know He sometimes seeks this seclusion, a way to replenish what He has poured out. But even as He walks away, another crowd gathers. They begin to form around Him, villagers calling out to one another to come closer, to hear this Jesus of Nazareth and all the things He has to say. The healing He performs, they tell each other, have you seen what He can do?

Some of us try to head off the crowd, to block them from getting to Jesus. Some of us try to press them back, ask them to come back later, like bodyguards of truth. But Jesus knows they are coming; He always knows. I’m sure He heard them gathering, but more than that. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus sees and hears everyone on a completely different plane, some other realm away from this dusty earth. As if He hears their need just as clearly as their feet and fidgeting coming closer.

Jesus turns back toward the crowd. The look on His face gives us permission to step back, to let them come. And they come. I watch Jesus as He watches everyone else, hundreds now, maybe even thousands, and there is something infinite and tender in His expression. I wonder how Jesus can have such compassion on people He has never seen before, but even as I wonder, I know the truth. Jesus has seen them before, every last one, in a way I will never understand but can only trust.

He speaks over the crowd, teaches them from the ancient texts, reaches out and touches them, heals them. In a sea of thousands, Jesus sees every single soul. Every single soul knows they are seen.

His message of hope and healing stretches on into evening. The sun begins to set, but no one seems eager to leave. We all know it deep in our souls; here we are standing on holy ground. Here we are closer to God in heaven, and no one wants the spell to break.

Jesus turns to His disciples, calls Philip close. “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?”

We exchange looks. We check the crowds. No one seems to want to break it to Jesus. “We should send everyone home,” we tell Jesus, “so they may eat.”

“Even if we worked for months we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” Philip is the boldest of us tonight, saying what is on all of our minds. We were nothing but poor fishermen and farmers before giving it all up to follow Jesus; and now? After leaving behind our very livelihoods?

“Go out and see what food you can gather,” Jesus tells us, and so we weave through the crowd, a loaf of bread here, a small basket of fish there. As Jesus continues to teach, I am struck by the generosity of those around us. A boy hands me his own packed meal, a meager offering in the face of such an enormous crowd. No less than five thousand men, then the women and the children, reluctant to return home, not even for supper. The hunger in their guts nothing compared to the hunger in their hearts, a quenching of their very souls on this holy hill.

We make our way back to Jesus. Five loaves, two fish, boundless doubt.

Something about Jesus had at once compelled me to drop everything and follow Him. Something big and inarticulate, a weight settling on my shoulders impossible to ignore. But following Him seemed almost incidental, maybe even mutually exclusive, to the day-to-day believing Him.

We are all skeptical, watching Jesus raise the food and give thanks to the Holy One. He instructs us to hand out the broken loaves and divided fish among the groups seated and scattered along the hillside. He instructs us to give abundantly, as God the Father has given us, and even though we raise our eyebrows at His directive, we face the hungry crowd to feed them.

The people I approach are grateful, their physical hunger being met as sufficiently as their souls’ have. I try not to hesitate as I break off meal-sized pieces of bread and fish, try not to focus on how much I truly lack. These villagers help me forget, raising their eyes to the sky in blessing and thankfulness, and I move on. It isn’t until the third or so group of men, women, and children I feed that I notice my supply has not diminished. Not one bit.

I look up at the other disciples spread out among the crowds, gathered in small groups to eat, and we seem to all have come to the same conclusion at the same time. The loaves and fish in our hands are as full as when we started, though nearly half the people have been fed. Slow, slow understanding comes to me, and I am again amazed at my own short-sightedness. Jesus, all this time, bows in prayer while His audience replenishes.

I reach the edges of the crowds, the last to be fed, and I am hundreds of yards from where Jesus stands. I want to hurry back to His side, to know what just happened, to label this thing a miracle. But as soon as we return, He instructs us again to gather up whatever food is left, empty baskets in hand to collect what was beyond fulfilling to thousands.

We set at His feet the broken remains of five small barley loaves. Twelve filled baskets.

It is a miracle and a metaphor, the abundance with which the Holy One provides. A grace so sufficient, so extravagant, to carry us well beyond our need.

* * *

This season of Lent, I am pulling out some of the questions Jesus asked with the intent of digging into (some of) what he might want us to know. I want to tell these stories as if I had been there myself, as if I was the one staring dumbly at Jesus when he asked, “Where can we buy bread?” found in all four gospels, Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6.

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Jesus Asked

Recently, a core piece of my personal theology was shaken. Something I had grown up believing as uncompromising Truth-with-a-capital-T gave way to a lot more gray, and – I cannot exaggerate this – it floored me.


Suddenly, a significant way I thought about and wrote about and consumed and even taught scripture was turned on its head. It felt like the bottom dropping out, and I wasn’t sure where I would (or even should) land.

For a few solid days, I read a lot of articles and commentary on theology (I went down so many wiki rabbit holes, you guys). I started (and then deleted) rambling, needy texts to seminary friends. I wrote angsty prayers to God in my prayer journal (He’s used to it) asking for insight.

Eventually, I revisited how exactly I had even come to this particular belief in the first place. (Probably should have led with that but, I mean, hindsight, you know?) I wondered how much of it was God-breathed truth, and how much was just a way for me to wrap my small mind around a big, puzzling, enigmatic God-in-Three.

After reading scripture and commentary and praying (uttering, really), “What have I missed all these years?” I came away with this actually uncompromising Truth: when it comes to God, we aren’t even scratching the surface.

And I think that’s what really drove my despondence. I have studied this God for over twenty years now. I have followed Him, more or less, for decades, and surely I was expert by now. People should listen to me; I know things. (Don’t worry, I’m currently in recovery of this.)

A deep sense of personal pride had been shaken; exposed, bleached clean, the dust beaten from the edges and cracks. I was long overdue for a Come-to-Jesus-ing.

And it all started with a question. Someone had asked me a pretty simple question, after I made some bold statement, my peacock feathers standing straight up, tall and solid. A question that forced me to look at this cornerstone of my theology at a different angle, and it threw me into a tailspin.

(I’m still spinning a little, but when I figure it ALL OUT I’ll let you know.)

Here’s the thing about Jesus. Jesus did a lot of things on earth, only a few of them recorded in our New Testament. In a biblical snapshot of a few-ish years, Jesus traveled and truth-told, laid holy healing hands, called simple or questionable men and women into his inner tribe. Despite his godhood, despite being the infinite and all-knowing incarnate, Jesus asked.

Jesus taught and healed and called…and asked.

So this season of Lent, I’ll be pulling out some of the questions Jesus asked with the intent of digging into (some of) what he might want us to know. I want to tell these stories as if I had been there myself, as if I was the one staring dumbly at Jesus when he asked, “Who?” and “What?” and “Where?”

On this side of history, with records of Jesus’ birth and life and death and resurrection in our back pockets, we at least have a fuller picture, a little deeper insight to his seemingly simple questions.

When Jesus asked, I figure we should lean a little closer to the answer.

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Ash Wednesday : Where Are You?

09_ash_crossOn this day, I will walk up to the altar of my home church. With ashes from last year’s triumphant palm branches and anointing oil pressed from olives, my pastor will trace a cross on my forehead and remind me of the dust from whence I came, and of the dust to which I will return. I will bow my head and close my eyes as the lights dim, aware and somber, reminded of the Garden and of creation and of the ache to return. I will remember, a muscle memory from my ancient past, the God-breathed Spirit in my soul awakening to the longing, the question: Where are you?

* * *

The breeze is cool, welcoming, perfect. It is Eden in the evening, the spoken-into-existence sun setting over the created horizon. My skin tingles raw; leaves and soil and the very breeze that whispered in the Garden is rough, prickling and shivering over me. I am naked, afraid, the nakedness nothing new, but the fear all at once awakened and alive, famished.

He calls for me: Where are you? 

God the Creator, knower of all things, asks a question for the first time in human history.

Where are you?

I am hidden in the Garden, a place of perfection created with beauty and completion in mind, a home to walk side-by-side with God-in-Three, the Holy of Holies Trinity, arms swinging wide to take it all in, the wonder and magnificence of an infinite God poured out into finite things, reaching trees and wild animals and expansive skies.

I am cowering beneath fig leaves, thorns in my bared side, as I hear His continuous call. I want to respond as I once was, eyes fixed only on the identity God gave me when He formed me, when He first breathed eternity into me.

But everything has changed.

Where are you? 

As if He doesn’t know, as if He truly cannot see me His image-bearer anymore, stained as I am with disobedience and disbelief in His goodness. I show myself, heavy as lead, admit my fear and my bareness, my reason for hiding.

His next words are more questions, more invitations to explain myself.

Who told me I was naked?

Did I eat from the tree?

What have I done?

Only God knows the depth of my betrayal, the permanence of my mistrust, the legacy of it all born in my belly and inherited by the cursed earth itself.

I am nothing more than clay breathed alive by Life and Love Himself, my Spirit-soul still eternal, trapped within a crumbling-back-to-dust body.

* * *

This evening I, descended from disobedience and exile from Eden, will sit in my pew with an ashen cross rubbed against my skin, and I will listen for the question stirring among the Garden breeze.

Where are you?

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Troubled Waters

Water is already rare and extraordinary in the desert. But these waters were even more so. These waters were said to be holy. These waters, they said, fed by unseen springs beneath the desert, were stirred every so often by God’s own angel. A messenger of Heaven sent to spread holy healing. Superstition or legend or miracle, it was all the same. It was sacred hope, the very last wisp of it for the many crowded around its edges.

It had been nearly forty years – almost his whole life – of total paralysis. We aren’t told how he got to the pools of Bethesda, only that he had made it there. Maybe his family brought him, his last resort, maybe out of pity or charity or even good riddance. Regardless, he made it as far as the pools’ edges, folded into the desperate crowds anxious for healing.

The air was thick with broken bodies, each pressing closer through pain to the water’s edge, relief, hope just a stirring away. How long this man waited is unclear, irrelevant. He was as close as he could get, close enough to see the water, to smell it, this promise of wholeness. But he was alone, no one to help him slide into the pools, not one person who knew his name, willing to bring him the last few precious feet to the healing waters. He was ill for so long. Cursed, he was taught, suffering from crippling sin, his unmoving body so close, so still, still broken. Unable to reach out on his own accord for the health he believed was inches from his grasp.

His heart must have broken a hundred different ways, hope and wholeness shimmering just a few staggered steps away. There was nothing – not one thing – he could do to cross those last few feet into the healing pools.

So he, with everyone else, would wait. Every last one of them holding breaths against the pain, waiting for the waters to stir; any other time it was just water. But when the waters stirred, something sacred was happening. Healing was happening.

This man, his whole life dependent on the charity of others, would wait for the unseen angel to trouble the waters. There wasn’t anything else he could do, anywhere else he could be. So he would wait, staring into the pools as if he, a mere man, could bend the will of angels, of God Himself.

And then the waters would stir. Maybe slowly at first, barely a ripple, hardly noticed. Or maybe all at once, the huge heavenly host churning the pools into waves. The man would see it – how could he miss it? His every last hope pinned on the moment the waters so much as sighed differently. Even the subtlest flicker across the waters he would catch. This man was here because he could not control his own body, this dead weight. But maybe, because he wanted it desperately enough, because his mind and heart and soul felt ready to burst with longing…maybe he could move himself just enough to fall into the bubbling waters.

Maybe some days he came close. Maybe he thought he felt a muscle twitch in response. Maybe he called out to those around him to take him with them as they slipped into the rolling waters. But then the waters would still. The healing hour had come and gone. Those who had made it would rise up whole somehow, their brokenness restored. No doubt this man witnessed hope and relief on the other side, breaking the surface of the now-calm waters, smooth as glass.

A hundred different heartbreaks, a hundred missed-out hopes.

Maybe this man held fast, clutching the far-off chance he’d one day reach into the waters. Maybe this man had long given up, yet remained by the pools because he had no choice. He might have been there days or weeks or months or even years. Who could know any one man’s story lost in the endless press of desperate people?

However long he waited on the outskirts of hope, we do know the day everything changed.

On that day, this man, his life consumed and defined by his brokenness, was approached by Jesus. Jesus, God in the flesh, divine authority wrapped in human skin with the holy power to heal with just a word or a touch or a slather of mud, approaches.

I try to imagine how Jesus must have felt, surrounded by such extravagant suffering, such tailspins of last resorts and final breaths.

Jesus, His good, good heart beating bold for every broken one gathered around the miracle pools, leans down to this man, overlooked by everyone else, forgotten, unseen, and Jesus knows. Jesus knows his story, his illness, his desperation, all forty years of it. This man, lying flat and unmoving mere inches from the healing waters, and Jesus, Lord of all, Son of God, sacred healer, asks, “Do you want to get well?”

What a question to ask this man, or anyone journeying to Bethesda, for that matter.

Do you want to get well?

I know this Jesus. I know the infinite tenderness He poured onto the suffering, the broken and weary. I can hear the exquisite gentleness in His question to this man, one man out of dozens or hundreds.

Maybe the man knew Jesus’ reputation. Maybe he had just hoped this stranger, in His kindness, would help him into the waters. This man encountered Jesus in the flesh, face to face, asking him, inviting him, to wholeness. Jesus asked a simple, loaded question, packed to bursting with life-changing, life-giving meaning. You and I know Jesus was offering this man so much more than the ability to walk again. You and I know the offer was for complete wellness, for restoration, a reconciled relationship with God Himself.

Every time I open my Bible, every time I pray, every time I speak to or focus on or serve my God, He leans down, leans close, and with soul-stunning tenderness asks me, “Beloved, do you want to get well?”


When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?” -John 5.6

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Begin, Again

Thank God for beginnings. Thank God for milestones and brand new calendars to draw our focus and intention.

I get that each new year is mostly an illusion, a mental trick to living better lives. I can totally get behind the reasoning that Every Day is the Best Day to Start Something New. Resolutions are SO last year, I MEAN, COME ON.

It’s a kindness, really, this symbolic start-over, a way to bracket all we wish to leave behind and begin, again.

Beginnings are fun. Beginnings are powerful, filled to overflowing with meaning and potential and rose-colored glasses. Thank you, God, for beginnings.


Two of my favorite chunks of pure-poetry scripture start with, “In the beginning…”

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…

In the beginning was the Word…

Even though we, in our humanness, tend to timestamp everything, I, in my faithfulness, believe “in the beginning” is only the very best way our minds can absorb an infinite God. We assign a beginning to the story, all the while knowing we’ve dropped into existence somewhere near the end of it. We collect dozens of histories and letters and testimonies to compile a clear enough picture of a God radically bigger than any frame we hold up. God looms larger than what we can fit in our brains and hearts and hopes. He bleeds onto the next page and the next and the next, described in words we haven’t even invented yet, divine groanings only heaven comprehends. God did not begin.


It’s tough — impossible, actually — to understand the depth of God’s all-knowledge, to wrap my small mind around God’s intimate awareness of every. single. detail. He is a grandiose God, extravagant in His interest and grace, His infinite attention drawn to me, and to you, so individually and completely it stuns the soul.

It’s a kindness to have the ear and the heart of this endless (and beginningless) God, my life and hopes and dreams a breath against the eternal, and the invitation He gives me to begin all over again.

It’s a kindness, all over again, to be made new.

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The Others

I’m still processing the election results. I’m still in mourning. I hear the calls for unity and graciousness in defeat and to keep moving forward, to keep fighting the good fight. And I promise you I will get there.

But for now I am bone-weary, on the literal verge of tears or nausea – or both – every second of the day. Anything could tip the balance; everything will. A text or several from my dearly beloveds checking in on me and on each other; a corporate lamenting with acquaintances the shock of it all; a wordless, heavy-sighed hug.

The best way for me to digest this is to write. I need to shout into the void why this particular election and outcome felt deeply personal, and deeply wounding. I want you to understand.

I am a woman of color. And let me be very clear in qualifying those labels: I am a woman, but a dual-income middle class one. A real-life, SUV-driving, church-volunteering soccer mom, raised in a loving, secure home with plenty to eat, drink, and wear. My husband and I work hard at decent jobs every day to earn our livelihood; we live responsibly, ethically, charitably, BUT we both received a leg up from the word go, standing on the shoulders of our hard-working, white-collar, college-educated parents.

I was taught by my parents that my femaleness was not a hindrance or an obstacle to overcome; it was merely biology.

And my color has always been a source of cultural pride and ancient rooted heritage. Outside the walls of my home, I was a person of a different ethnicity, but one that was more a curiosity than a danger, one less threatening and less threatened. As a woman of color, I somehow ended up with a corner-store privilege other women and people of color only hope for.

But here is where I need you to hear me. If not to understand, then at least to know. To acknowledge my story, even if you don’t care to buy it.

Growing up in Alabama, I learned pretty quickly all about my Otherness. Every year each school had to take a census based on gender, age, ethnicity, even household income. And every year I checked a box literally labeled, “Other.” I was not White; I was not Black. For years, those were the only choices I was given before having to label myself, “Other.” It was a small thing but damaging nonetheless, particularly to a young girl just trying to fit in somewhere.

As an Asian, I was called many things, out of ignorance or jest or both. A very short list of the more creative nicknames about my brown skin, given to me by my white friends: Kiwi; Wheat Bread; Ethnic Kim. One classmate in fifth grade refused to call me anything other than Connie Chung. She wasn’t the only famous woman of color I was compared to, not because I mirrored their success or talent, but solely based on my approximate resemblance to them. There was also Kristi Yamaguchi, Margaret Cho, Mulan. Not one of these women are Filipina.

One particularly heartbreaking reminder of my Otherness came when a boy I went on a blind date with turned down a second one because I wasn’t white and his mom would flip out. His hard pass didn’t break my heart; his racism did. Surely he was just not interested, but to use racism as a valid reason in this century?

Ever since junior high, my loud, outgoing personality attracted this same wry observation more times than I can count: aren’t you Asian women supposed to be quiet/meek/submissive?

To this person of color the lesson was clear: I don’t behave the way I should; alternately, lighten up, it’s just a joke.

My father taught me from an early age to work hard and right and bold, to fight for every inch, and to deserve every inch I won. Not just because hard work is something to be admired, but because there are plenty of people who can’t wait to watch us fail. Because there is very little room for error when you’re a minority.

As a person of color navigating a very white south, I learned to laugh at the jokes and to make some myself, to thicken my brown skin, to stay alert to and aware of my Otherness, lest I forget I don’t really belong here.

As a woman, I have fought the same battles nearly every woman in this country has fought, regardless of color or station or class. I have never been sexually assaulted (thank you, Jesus), but I have been sexually harassed. I have been catcalled. I have been pressured or guilted into catering to a man’s will, physical or otherwise; I have been dismissed or name-called when I would not. I was told, presumably complimented, by a male coworker, when I was eight months pregnant (and married), he would still definitely, “hit that.” I have been told, as a young girl figuring out what exactly to do with my body, “modest is hottest,” and to not be a “stumbling block” for my “brothers in Christ.” That my femininity and virginity were my greatest attributes, my most honorable offerings to the world of men.

Hear this: this is a daily reality for women everywhere. Every woman knows what it feels like for a man to determine her worth, every woman knows what it feels like to lose a piece of herself, her spot, her value at the rough hands of male privilege.

Hillary Clinton’s emotional concession speech is a speech we women know well. It’s the same speech we have given ourselves and our daughters time and time again, loss after heart-wrenching loss. Her speech was all of us taking it on the chin while knowing our work and worth was not quite enough, may never quite be enough, played out on the grandest stage.

Outside the warm walls of my home and family, I was taught this world is not built to be kind to women, and every battle will be hard-fought and barely-won, in constant danger of slipping from our fingers if we so much as breathe too heavily.

To this woman the lesson was clear: I don’t own my own inconvenient body; alternately, who am I to want to take up equal space in this world?

This week my country scrutinized a more qualified, more experienced career politician who just happened to be a woman, and gave her job to a man whose entire career and campaign were built on exploiting and bullying the marginalized, the minority, the perceived weak. My country saw a politician whose missteps overshadowed the good, hard work she had accomplished and found her less electable than a man with no political experience and buckets of gross misjudgment, the very embodiment of white male privilege who spoke and behaved from that privileged place irresponsibly, condescendingly, hatefully toward women, people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ, the disabled…in other words, toward us the Others.

Half – HALF – of my voting neighbors and fellow Americans weighed their options and decided this man was preferable to that woman. A flawed woman blamed for everything from her appearance to her husband’s infidelity, but a woman more qualified, more compassionate, more experienced, more proven.

To this Other the lesson is clear: today, in 2016, we are not meant to feel safe in our own skin.


We will always be the Others.

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