how faint a whisper

glimpses of God in a heaven-crammed earth

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dying beautifully


Yesterday morning it was cold. I walked the gravel path, hands tucked up into my sleeves to stay warm, hood up and framing my face against the late fall morning. I walked because I could – because I was in a place where, slipping out early enough, I would see no one else and hear nothing else but the rustle of leaves, and my shoes on the path. I walked because I needed the clarity of prayer that sometimes it seems only movement can bring me. I felt full to the brim of conversations that bring life, and glimpses of joyful hope. Yet I felt stripped by sin, by shared grief, by the weight of love of those I prayed for as I walked. I felt like the leaves under my feet.

Familiar words drifted across my mind, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…” Sure, the parable is easy to see when we’re speaking of seeds, but trees don’t grow from their fallen leaves. They just bloom and grow to fall and die again, year after year after year. In my state of heart it almost seemed cruel, a purposeless cycle of nature.

Walking along the path I turned to the right to see a quiet cemetery nestled away just down a hill – its edges rimmed by trees of every imaginable color, and a blanket of red and orange coating the ground. Walking down the hill and crouching near to the ground as the sun began to fight its way through the clouds and trees above me, my restless heart was silenced, as I desperately hoped it would be, by the reminder of a deep, simple, truth: yes, the leaves die, and they fall. But in their process of dying and of falling, they make the world more beautiful.


The process of death requires much change in the leaves. When they hold on, staying on the tree and embracing a process which can only lead eventually to falling, when they allow the change to be visible, it is stunningly beautiful. Sometimes the wind rattles the trees, more vehemently it seems as the season increases, as death comes closer. And so often the leaves must withstand much wind before they fall. They cannot help being moved by it, but they are beautiful both in their moving and their holding on. Sometimes, it is that last, hard, cold blast of wind that causes them to fall. But often they fall when there is no wind at all, or the gentlest of breezes. Have you ever watched a leaf fall on a still day, all the way from the release from the tree, with seemingly no logical explanation? It doesn’t so much fall as float, in graceful arcs and swoops and turns, bending willingly to unseen movements of air, beautiful even in the surrender of falling. And then it lands, seeming to settle into the ground with a sigh, and it is still. And the stillness is beautiful. It becomes a part of coating the grass with color, and then it dies.

Of course, these are trees. They don’t think about anything like this, not do they have a choice in their surrender. But somehow the Lord still finds it purposeful to repeat this pattern again and again, maybe more for us. For the reminder that while most of the time we long for similitude, we are mostly called to change. That while most of the time we may wish for beaches of endless summer, narrow roads are usually found in rough terrain, subject to the effects of seasons. We are continually somewhere in our own cycles of dying and new life, and perhaps we could learn something from the willingness of the trees.

I have a friend who is walking through a long process of dying. Not a physical death, but a death nonetheless, with the grief which surrounds it: the dying of a dream, a career, a ministry, a decade of work and seeming worth. I had been praying for her as I walked that morning, and it was her real-life example I saw paralleled in the fall leaves. As clear and vibrant as the red and oranges around me, she is making the world more beautiful in her process of dying and of falling. And not only the world, but my own life, as she allows me to walk beside and watch. Her openness to allow the Lord’s changes to be visible in her is stunningly beautiful. And the coming of winter is slow, and sometimes uncertain, and no doubt it would be easier to shake the leaves free and be done with the tension of this active process of dying while still being asked to live. But willingly she waits, a picture of beauty to who knows how many passing eyes, clinging hard through some strong bitter winds, up and through the moment only the Lord knows. It may be a few months or a few years, but she will have to surrender, let it fall, and let it die. And when that day comes, I have no doubt the stillness in which it settles will be the hardest, but most beautiful of all, as it reflects the stillness of a heart which knows we are rooted in the One who conquered the grave.

How I long to die so graciously as I am privileged to watch in her. It is a death that trusts in the promise of new life. That trusts that barrenness comes only for a season. That trusts that even when she cannot see or understand it, there are those who are being blessed by the colors of the change of dying who could not have been in the season of lushest life. It is a death that trusts that we are created to make beautiful things, and enrich the world, and then die to them. Their beauty was never our own to hold.

The process of dying will never be easy. Never. Sin brought it into the world, and in it we are constantly reminded that this is not as it should be. We are reminded that we are not as we should be, and that that is the very reason that death is required, a letting go of even beautiful and good things, because our life does not consist in them, and because for whatever reason this is the time that the Lord has decided we will be more beautiful, and more glorious, and shaped more into His image, by the process of a season of dying. And in that knowledge, and that trust, we can understand how it is that we can be both stripped, and oh so full. Grieving all that is not as it should be, while filled with joyful hope in the glimpses we have seen of what can. Life is lived most often in both of those realities held together. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Dying, and yet we live.

How thankful I am for the strength the Lord has given my sweet friend, and that it comes from the strength of Christ. How I long to, in the slightest measure like Him, make the world ever more beautiful by the process of my dying.

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to two little men

You won’t always run and throw your arms around me. Especially not outside the school door, with all your classmates around.

“When I grow up,” you said, “I will make a law so they can’t cut down so many trees.” Solving problems will not always be so simple.

Hand knit sweaters will not always be cool.

IMG_8226smallYou won’t always want to talk on and on and on about anything and nothing…ten minutes about the next lego set you want without even a pause for a comment. Someday you may not want to talk to me at all.

Life will not always seem so conquerable as, “when I grow up, I’m going to be an inventor,” nor as selfless as, “so what would you like me to invent for you?”

Picking up and dropping again helicopters fallen from oak trees to watch them whirl their short journey back to the sidewalk will not always be amazing.

Playgrounds will not always be pirate ships.

It will not always take twenty minutes to walk two blocks, crouching every three steps to pick up a leaf and hand it to me to put in my pocket, “so it doesn’t blow away.”

In fact, leaves won’t always seem beautiful enough to comment on with genuine rapture.

You won’t always want to hold my hand.


Little one, you will not always be as you are now. But you will not be altogether different, either. This is you. The boy will become the man. Grow up! I cannot stop it even if I wished to, and I don’t. In the boy hides the man, and I cannot wait to meet who the Lord will make you to be.

Little tree law maker, you will be a man. I pray you will tackle problems with the same level of resolve you possess now.

Little pirate ship captain, you will be a man. I pray you will never lose your thirst for adventure.

Little inventor, you will be a man. I pray your heart will be as selfless with your gifts as you now demonstrate so intuitively.


Little hand holder, leaping into my arms hugger, you will be a man. I pray you will show affection and emotion to the women in your life, even, and maybe especially, when others are watching and listening.

Little leaf saver, you will be a man. I pray you will extend compassion as readily to grown up and far more needing recipients as your tender heart does now to fallen leaves.

Little lego lover, you will be a man. I pray you will talk long and passionately about the things that matter to your heart.

IMG_8201smallLittle sweater wearer, you will be a man. I pray you will be able to discern between true beauty and all else which imitates it.

Little helicopter whirler, you will be a man. I pray the simple things will still fill you with wonder.

Little leaf admirer, you will be a man. I pray you will still recognize beauty, and comment on it with genuine rapture.

Right now, little man, you are so small. And there is much we grow out of that we should instead grow into. You will not always love Jesus like this, but by the grace of God, you will love Him more, and with understanding. And the One you love will not have changed at all. Oh how I pray you will grow into Him! As Aslan to Lucy, may you find Him every year bigger, yet every year more surely the same.


I do not have the answers to the road of your life. I cannot even see it, much less protect you from it’s stumbles. But I know that whatever the question you face, the answer will be found the same place it has always been,

“Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”
– Jeremiah 6:16

Little man, I pray you will stand. I pray you will ask. I pray you will believe. But most of all I pray for grace from the One who holds the boy, and who will hold the man.


“Go back, go back to the ancient paths,
Lash your heart to the ancient mast,
And hold on boy, whatever you do,
To the hope that’s taken hold of you
And you’ll find your way, you’ll find your way
If love is what you’re looking for,
The old roads lead to an open door,
And you’ll find your way, you’ll find your way
Back home.”

Andrew Peterson, You’ll Find Your Way

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Early morning found me driving out of the city, the mist seeming to rise from my heart as surely as the sun was burning it from the land around me. I left the highway for a curvy small-town road, and then one without lines or shoulders or rails, and followed it between empty hills, the sun over my right shoulder.

I almost didn’t stop. Driving down the road, my eyes were less in front of me and more often turned to the side to catch glimpses of the sun glancing off the dew and mist of the overgrown fields, but still, I almost didn’t stop. In a rare exception to the current pace of life, time wasn’t even an obstacle: I was meeting a friend, and she had just let me know she was going to be late, but I still almost didn’t stop. I was clearly caught in wonder, almost irresistibly drawn into the beauty that wanted me to meet it at a slower pace than possible on wheels, but something in me still groaned that it was too much work to stop and answer. The field had those ugly yellow private property signs every 50 feet, the death of far too many wanders before they even begin – what if I got in trouble? (Because whoever owned this un-purposed field was clearly going to be driving by early on a Wednesday morning to chase away fringe photographers.) Besides, the pictures might not turn out. It might be too bright, or the scene flat, or I may not have the skill to capture it in the way I want. Or I might crest the couple feet over the edge of the field to find the other side was actually a dump, or a construction site, or something equally opposite from the beauty I was imagining. In an instant I had a hundred excuses, which really came down to one: what if it was safer to stay in the car and content myself with sideways glances of backside glory than put myself in a position to fully embrace it and risk being disappointed?

I stopped. Turned off the car, grabbed my camera, waded through the dew of a semi-trampled path between brush, and turned to face the sun:






It was not what I was expecting, but it was literally breathtaking. Ethereal. And beauty was given a new definition I never would have considered before that morning. A field of spider webs, really? Yes, beautiful. Yet they, and the moment, were fragile. The light was shifting right before my eyes, the mist rising, the dew evaporating, the heat of the sun breaking through. The picture was changing. And these webs, the result of what must have been hours of overnight labor, would likely not last through the day. It was a glimpse. But I saw the beauty of the Lord in a new and fuller way in that glimpse, and so did not even ask the question of worth.

It might not have worked out. It might have been too bright, or the scene flat, or have turned out to be a dump. I might not have had the skill to engage with it in the way I wanted. I might have even gotten myself into trouble. I might have gotten hurt, or lost, or worst of all, been disappointed. It might have been too fragile to last. It might have been safer to drive on. To try to forget that in my prayers I begged the Lord to bring me to the edge of this beauty. To allow me to travel this road and engage with this dream, this emotion. And once here, I don’t want to make the effort to get my shoes wet with dew and “waste” fifteen minutes to possibly see a definition of beauty I have never previously considered, simply because I have a distorted view of what may define it as “worthwhile,” and that definition is markedly selfish.

Oh how this deserves my attention! Not because it is guaranteed to be beautiful, no matter how pure the longing for it may be. And not because it won’t be fragile, a fleeting beauty I can’t hold onto. But because if I do not stop, I won’t see it at all. If I do not take the dream, the emotion, the longing, and engage with it; if I do not enter in to ask the question of why I am even on this road, and why now, I do not place myself in the path of possibility to have my definition of beauty, and my understanding of the Lord, blown wide open once again. And really, following a God who promises to make ALL things beautiful, even if beyond my sight at times, what do I have to fear?

It is the graciousness of God to place me on this road. Because He knows, and deep down, so do I, that my heart will not be satisfied with a sideways glance from the pace of my life. I must stop. See, feel, attend. And let the fact that He has called this road beautiful be the only definition of worth by which to judge whatever I find over its edges.

The old hymn-writers were right: Oh, what peace I often forfeit…oh, what needless pain I bear…

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my Father’s Word

I sit on my bed, sunlight and summer warmth streaming through the blinds, the world fully awake outside my windows, but I don’t have to enter it yet. Only the intangible and unwritten calls for my time and attention today. That which is most important and too often first overlooked. I reach for and open my Bible, and instantly I feel it. I feel it – an ache, a physical ache somewhere between the heart and the gut. Somewhere in that deep, unnamed place of emotion, I ache. And as I breathe deeply and uncurl from it, I don’t even fully know why, except that I need this Word. I need this time, and nothing pressing into the end of it. My heart, heavy with the weight of weeks, as if triggered today by just the mere opening of these pages, cries, “ah! here is my burden carrier!” And suddenly that which was numb, pressed down by the necessity of the moving forward of time and responsibility, has been released to life again in that rush of blood and the oh-so-painful pins and needles that follow. The Lord, in His infinite wisdom and care, knows how much we can stand to feel, and when.

A week ago I read these words from Jeremiah:
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.”

The Word in this season has literally been my daily bread, that which I am incapable of functioning without, sustenance for a starving soul, sometimes shoveled in so quickly I barely have time to taste it. But I know I absolutely need it, and have been hanging on by no other strength. There are seasons in which we need to be reminded that we are daily existing in a strength beyond our own, and then there are seasons we are so weak we cannot help but be constantly, painfully, and gratefully aware of that truth. And so I ate, thankful for the food that is continually available before me, to remind me of my need. Your words were found, and I ate them.

But today I sit down to the feast table. Today the Word is the joy and rejoicing of my heart. And the more I eat, the more I realize how hungry I was. How hungry I am. How close to collapse. Matthew Henry’s commentary expands the verse from Jeremiah this way:

“I did not only taste [Your words], but eat them, received them entirely, conversed with them intimately; they were welcome to me, as food to one that is hungry; I entertained them, digested them, turned them into blood and spirits, and was myself delivered into the mould of those truths which I was to deliver to others.”

Today, the Word became blood and wine, the physical reminder of the gift and sacrifice of Christ that my life is to give daily evidence of my reliance on, whether that evidence be by fullness or need. And today the Word pressed me into the mold of truth, reminding me, at times gently and at times forcibly, of that in my life which does not align, does not fit. Reminding me that yes, to cut these things off is real loss, but it is also deliverance.

And so my heart rejoices, because today the Lord both knew I needed this, and faithfully gave it. Today I needed to move from food to feast, that the joy of fullness may lift the weight of lack, though not of need. Today I needed to remember that I have much to be molded into, but in that process I am called by His name, and no other.

So maybe I ache with thankfulness. With need and with longing, but mostly with love. Love for this Word, the strength and joy it provides, the tastes of the Lord’s goodness, and the fact that I am called a daughter of its Author. And as a daughter,

“This is my Father’s world,
Oh let me ne’er forget,
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done,
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.”

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a psalm

IMG_6628 smallA few weeks ago I sat on a concrete roof in the early Sunday morning Peruvian sun and turned to the psalms. The ten of us in that circle were halfway through a three week trip and my co-leader and I wanted to lead the students somewhere intentional, somewhere that would help them think through and articulate where they had been and where they were going. And so we turned to the psalms, rich in their realness, testimony, and tension. Focusing in on thanksgiving and supplication, I read out loud portion of psalm after psalm, one after another, letting the language and the themes roll over us and resonate deeply: testimonies of the character of the Lord and what He had done and pleas for Him to hear and act again, sometimes uttered in the same breath of the same verse.

We then challenged the students to write their own psalm, in their own particular mode of expression. Tell what the Lord has done, we encouraged them, both in your life as a whole, and how you have specifically seen Him this trip. And then ask Him for what you long to see Him do, both in our remaining days together and the years to come. We spread out across the rooftop and in rooms below, communing in shared silence for the next hour or so. Some students wrote in prose, as a letter or a prayer. Others drew an image, or wrote a song, and then later, we shared them, and it was a gift.

As I sat in my own little corner of the roof, I found myself once again in Psalm 84. For several years now, the Lord has been pressing those words deep into me, using them to challenge and strengthen and break and renew and re-orient, different lessons for different seasons. I had shared earlier in the trip the incredible imagery of the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem digging pits in the desert and waiting for the rain, to be sustained again for the next stage of their journey, and now once again the Lord was returning me to a new lesson of the desert. A new appreciation, perhaps. A new understanding of what contentment looks like with rain and without it, and the love which sustains it.

And suddenly that morning tied into months of learning and growing in the seamless way only the Lord can. And suddenly my thankfulness for the Lord’s faithful working had grown, as had my deep-set supplication for it to continue. So often the Lord’s most intimate gifts are not changes in any outward circumstance, but instead a righting of our understanding of His character within it. A looking to who He is and what He has done, for the courage to ask, and to wait, for what He has yet to do. How beautiful is that tension, and the dependence it requires.


O God, how bold it is to say,
You are my Father, even though you dwell in heaven,
You are my Husband, even when I am alone,
You are my Provider, even as I go without,
You are my Portion, even while I long,
You are Good, even when I cannot see.

Your love has never failed,
nor will it ever waiver,
nor can I ever fall from it,
nor does it ever lack.
And who I am is in that love,
It created me, it saved me, it encompasses me, it upholds me, it defines me.

I do not deserve the pools of blessing,
nor the desert of longing,
though I have had both in abundance,
and come to see
that I drink dry the strength of the rain of Your presence
not to carry me through the desert as quickly as possible
but to carry with me into the desert,
and know that sand and brush and unrelenting sun
still drip with the abundance of your presence.

There in the desert, I am loved for nothing I bring,
and love You for nothing You give.
I need nothing but Your grace,
I offer nothing but brokenness,
And long for nothing but to help other pilgrims
know the hope of rain.

Father, help me to remember: I have been given much.
And not only the pools of strength,
but the much of the desert:
the dependence it demands,
the self it blows away,
the silence that requires my stillness,
the beauty that requires my attentiveness,
the gifts that require my praise.

And so much is given, and much is required.
May I be obedient to dig,
in joy or in sorrow,
in fullness or in longing,
in strength or in weakness,
but always in grace,
that by faithfulness my life may display
how beautiful,
and sweet,
and satisfying,
is both the promise and the presence of Your rain.


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“The practice of paying attention is the rarest of gifts because it depends upon the harshest of disciplines. So uncommon is it for us to grasp the beauty and mystery of ordinary things that, when we finally do so, it often brings us to the verge of tears. Appalled by our own poverty, we awake in wonder to a splendor of which we had never dreamed.”
– Belden Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes


The sun was shining yesterday like healing after a long, cold winter. The trees have exploded into buds white and pink and green, tiny fragile versions of their full selves. Every year I tell myself I’m going to notice. I’m going to watch and see the actual day when they first appear, when the green tendrils start sneaking up the brown blades of grass. But every year I miss it. Every year there is some morning when I wake and all of a sudden spring is here. The buds are open and the grass is a shade of green I had forgotten existed. The wonder of new life is bursting forth from every crack of the earth.

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attentiveness (a Holy Week prayer)

It’s Holy Week. I want to pay attention.

If all of Lent is a time to enter into the sufferings of Christ, to attempt to understand just the tiniest fraction of what He lost and what He sacrificed and what He carried, then Holy Week takes this entering in to another level, because we know some of these stories. We know some of what He did this week. We know how it started, with the triumphal entry worthy of a King, and we know that just 5 days later, those same adoring crowds were calling for His death.

5 days. I wake up and get dressed and go to work and eat and talk and drive and lie down again and 5 days can pass without hardly a thought. How can an entire city, a worldview, a belief, change so unbelievably quickly? Exaltation and hope to hatred and comtempt in 5 days. A blink of an eye.

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days of small things


give me eyes for the small things
and in them to see
Your likeness and
Your desire and
Your blessings
but to need them not for any of these
but only for the reason that
You have seen fit to call them good
for me
and for Your glory

put my hands to the plow
not of usefulness
but of beloved-ness
in that to rest
in that to work
sowing seeds of Kingdom fruit
at times in joy, at times with tears
who I am defined in Your righteousness
not in my sowing
not in evidence of growth

let me believe that what I take in
matters eternally
the life giving Word
the glory of creation
the intention of relationship
scream of Your grace and, by that pursuit filled,
lesser desires are emptied, that I may
hold my peace and
find my life
in faithful days of small things

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and this is love

Today is Valentine’s Day.

My last date on Valentine’s Day was in fifth grade, when my dad took me out for breakfast before school and gave me a heart shaped balloon with a teddy bear and the words “I love you” on it. I still have that balloon.

Yes, it’s a made up holiday. Yes, it’s a chance to make money. Yes, I have rarely spent this day as much of our country does. But I don’t mind.

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all that she has sown


I went to my bookshelf tonight in search of an old copy of Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English.  I opened its pages and, gently flipping through, was stopped by some neat, cramped handwriting I knew to be my grandmother’s. Turning to the front to confirm, there was the sticker, in the old-fashioned use of a husband’s name we too easily scoff at today: Mrs. Gerald E. Willhoft.

Over the past few years I have become the inheritor of books from both sets of my grandparents. Growing old, paring down, they have made stacks and filled boxes and it has become known that I will take them. Almost all of them. Just this week my grandfather sent me a book from 1830, not knowing what else to do with it, but wanting it to be appreciated. Box after box of earthly goods have passed through my parents’ house, and I have sat many hours with my mother and sorted through it all. Kitchen goods and sewing items, furniture, antiques, pictures, gifts once given – now returned. It tells the story of their lives, and says something about life in its reminder that at the end we keep none of it. Much of it has continued on, gone to garage sales; but the books – I have a hard time letting the books go. I love their worn fabric covers and yellowing pages, their smell and their fragility. But most of all I love that they belonged to my grandparents. That before I was born, before my parents were born, they were read and treasured. Perhaps my grandfather pulled this one off the shelf to prepare a sermon one Saturday night. Perhaps one of my grandmothers stole a quiet moment away with this one, scribbling some words in the margin, reminding herself of the truth that is the same truth I receive. The only thing that doesn’t get old. Maybe these books cause me to grasp at something timeless, the fact that in a world with almost no other similarities to mine, my grandmother underlined these words in Timothy, in her characteristic one-word-at-a-time underlining, and that I hold that same confidence.


I stood there, staring at the small scripture references in the margin in my grandmother’s handwriting, and I wept. It was the first time, really. The first time that I cried for her since she passed away on Dec 20. Not because I felt nothing, or because I was experiencing denial, but simply because the mind that read these words, that rejoiced in them, that wrote a whole page, still tucked in this Bible, about the reason for suffering – we lost that part of her years ago. We had already grieved, for years, in that uniquely painful way of long illness and slow decline when the mind is first to go. But tonight I remembered not the years at the end, but the years before that.

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