On the Legal Limit

A sheriff came to my door the other day.

I watched, dust cloth in hand, as he casually pulled down the narrow street, slowed, and maneuvered his vehicle into my crowded driveway.

In those halting moments I watched, incredulous, while my heart took inventory of where my children were.

One, on the train to a Red Sox game.

The second, visiting relatives in another state.

The third, getting hours for drivers ed.




I watched, frozen, as he got out of the cruiser and adjusted his sunglasses, prayingprayingpraying Jesus let them be okay, let them be okay, let them be okay.

By the time I forced my feet to the front door, my eyes had filled and I stood trembling, waiting to hear if (again) the future I thought I knew would be exchanged for one that I had never asked for, never expected, never wanted.

The trooper’s puzzled expression softened as I blurted out the explanation, that last time, a year and an eternity ago, when police showed up at my door.

What is the legal limit on grief?

How much is too much, how long too long, how deep too deep?

Because the thing about grief is you never know what might trigger. When opening the wrong drawer can cause collapse or a credit card offer addressed to your lost boy, despair.

How do you not frighten the youngest when he finally arrives home, whole, and you rush to embrace him, sobbing?

I was just driving, Mom, forthelove.

No. Such. Thing.

Because he was there, that other day, mowing the lawn when the police came and everything changed forever.

He knows.

Sometimes – most of the time – always – all you can do is grab hold of the hem of Jesus’s robe and whisper truth over yourself.


He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 

Be strong and very courageous for I am with you.

Be still and know that I am God.

Let us approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.


These promises fortify when our collective hearts hurt and give us strength for the moments that catch us off guard.

Because the thing is – and here is something I can barely admit – it could have been – the accident – it could have been so much worse.

You see, when my son crashed his car into a tree, he was beyond the legal limit.

There is nothing I can say that will change this sad truth, but not saying it when maybe, just maybe, it might keep you or your son or your friend or your brother from similar tragedy seems the height of irresponsibility.

How I wish I could go back to that day and remind him of all the times I told him Iwillcomegetyounoquestionsasked just pleasepleasepleaseplease don’t get behind the wheel when you’ve had too much to drink.

When the police came to the house to tell me there had been an accident, they weren’t sure at first who the driver was, and for a fleeting moment I thought, perhaps, it wasn’t him.

Imagine, though (speaking of wishes) wanting the dead driver to be somebody else’s son.

How could I – ?

I could not. I can not.

Instead, the one miraculous thing about that day is that even when it turns out he had driven close to 40 miles at speeds too terrible to contemplate, not one other person was harmed. He had been alone in his folly, and God protected the other motorists from his reckless choice.

I am thankful for that.

What my son did is irrevocable. I cannot change it, though it forever changed me.

We cannot control how other people hurt themselves, or us, or those that we love.

As I struggle to find the grace to live within these new boundaries that God has placed around me, I wonder how many people I have hurt with my own carelessness or intent.

All I can do, all any of us can do, is approach His throne, sometimes running, sometimes just barely crawling, confident that there is mercy and grace there for all of this messy broken, these jagged edges.


My son did not wake up that fateful day and think today I am going to die. 

But because he knew Jesus, because, from a young age, he had grabbed hold of that merciful hem, those of us left behind can be free from the kind of crushing grief that is, in itself, a kind of living death.

It’s the kind of freedom that covers and enables and empowers us – to forgive and ask for forgiveness, to live focused on the next world while still having stumbly feet in this one, to have the kind of longsuffering love that is forgetful and patient and kind.

To caution others, for the time is always shorter than we think, but it’s never too late to celebrate your independence day.


Luckily, the sheriff that came to my door this past week was simply looking for the previous owner, some other legal matter.

There is the robe. 

Hang on.


On a Double Portion


T.S. Eliot once scribed that April is the cruelest month, but for me, now, it seems to be the month of May.

It wasn’t always that way.

Once, May held nothing but happiness and celebration: my wedding anniversary, my mother’s birthday and my husband’s, summer’s arrival with pansies and parties and Memorial Day parades, and, of course, Mother’s Day.


Why God chose to allow May to become a mockery of all that once-was for me, I do not know.

When my youngest and I were hiking the Appalachian Trail back in 2010, we heard of another young boy and his father. They, too, were thru-hikers, and because little boy thru-hikers were a rare commodity, the father and I became Facebook friends, sharing intel and hatching a plan for the boys to meet somewhere along the 2,179-mile corridor.

One day, the stars aligned, and we all had lunch together at a shelter in a back hollow of Virginia. While the two boys shyly sparred with twigs and skated across the smooth floor of the shelter in their ragg wool socks, Tecolote (wise owl, he) and I discussed depleting fisheries, trail food, Lyme ticks, and homeschooling.

Eventually, we called the boys back, and Tecolote asked the boy Venado (wee dancing deer, he) to “recite the litany.”

Starting from their first day on the trail, 8-year-old Venado listed, in order, every place he and his father had ever spent the night on the trail.

Thistle Hill Shelter, stealth camp, stealth camp, Velvet Rocks, Moose Mountain Shelter, stealth camp, Imp Shelter, stealth camp, and on and on and on, until he reached the spot they had tented the night before.

Owen and I spent 158 nights on the trail; Venado and Tecolote, even more.

It was quite the list.

A long litany.

Sometimes, I am tempted to catalogue the catastrophes that have struck my life, in May and beyond. My own personal litany of loss.

Disease, drifting, divorce, death.

It might be tempting to linger there, reciting wrongs ad nauseam, but to what end?

Better to think in different terms, because God doesn’t do math the way we do.

His equations are unbalanced and unfair.

More for less.

Freedom for captivity.

Light for darkness.

Joy for mourning.

Life for death.

In fact, the prophet Isaiah assures us that God will provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty for ashes…Instead of your shame, you will receive a double portion.” Isaiah 61:3, 5

It’s Mother’s Day, and I think of my son, the lost one. Ashes now.

What does a double portion look like in the face of such loss?

How do you ever replace one precious son?

His brothers and sister pull in close, and we form a circle, tight and strong. There’s healing there, a crown of beauty.

It is then that I look around, and wonder…

There are middle school boys everywhere. I’m surrounded.


One is cruising along on a bike. Another is trotting faithfully alongside, huffing a conversation. One is cradling a lacrosse stick, another hitting him good-naturedly with a towel. One is throwing his backpack up in the air while still another repeatedly attempts to pelt it with any available object: ball, rock, hat, shoe.

Later, during room inspection, I watch an 8th grader dust his desk with a lint roller, another seek to conceal his dirty socks under a beanbag chair. There is wrestling.

I look upon this endless stream of boys, son upon upon upon son, stretching on forever, as far ahead as I can look. Mine once lived here.

Could that be it, my double portion?

Could I have been the mother to these boys had I not lost my own son?

It was not a choice that was mine to make.  Only God knows, and this is the hand he has allowed me to draw.

Pato and Tim and Briggs and Kin Wing…are these my boys now? An infinity of boys for my lost son? They are not replacements, because no one can. But they are here, while he is not.

God’s math.

His one Son, for the sons of man.

When my mind wants to rehearse my litany of losses, I will remember instead God’s promises in Isaiah.

A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

The year of the Lord’s favor.

Mays will come and Mays will go.

I will always be a mother.

Everlasting  joy.

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On Remembering Well

Today, you would have been 23 earth years old.

There is so much I want to remember about you, so today I pull out old snapshots and try to place myself back in each scene, willing the weather, words, wisdom, and wonder to bring me back to that time when you were here and whole.

Baby-you and college-you, silly-you and sober-you, you in tubs and ties and T’s and teams, in costumes and cowboy hats, surrounded and alone.


It’s an ache-y pursuit.

I’ve been trying to throw away your old dorm fridge, the one with the Holderness stickers and the magnet that says life-is-not-measured-by-the-number-of-breaths-we-take-but-by-the-moments-that-take-our-breath-away.

Charley used it last year, and you know your brother. It came back dented and done, but still I cannot will myself to drive it to the dumpster and bid it adieu. So it rides around with me, round and round and round, until we end up where we began.

It’s crazy, I know that. It’s just a fridge, and a broken one at that.

But still.

I’ve just read C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, and the great man has me a bit unsettled.

Granted, I only understand about half of his words, but some of the things he confesses are darker than I thought him capable of.


Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any new bend may reveal a totally new landscape….sometimes the surprise is the opposite one; you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago. That is when you wonder whether the valley is a circular trench.

Or a fridge that follows you around.

But it isn’t, Lewis writes. There are partial recurrences, but the sequence doesn’t repeat.

The sequence doesn’t repeat.

That I understand.

Some days I gaze at a picture of your face and I can manage. I can pick up my bag and my mug of coffee and march into that rowdy room of middle school boys and smile and laugh and almost forget that tenuous place in my heart.

Other days, though – like today – like when Coach Sink reaches out to give me a hug in the dining hall and I choke it all back, chokechokechoke back the grief, hold it in until I can scurry to the closed-door-behind-me of my apartment and give that grief my full attention until it almost breaks me.

People are nice to us, Love, since you left. They are just so, so nice.

What good is it then to think of your cold hand?

What good to remember the phone calls from police or the sound of your brother collapsed on the floor, your sister’s sobs?

Grief could so easily become the dry that wastes me, but I am not interested in its insistent, vice-y grip.

I want to remember well.


So I gather myself, meet our friends for dinner – Aggie, Zach, Ralph, Sue – and talk about heaven, of constellations and Jesus and an eternity of guilt-free gluten.

We remember you, son.

You were lovely and kind and courageous and strong, and you propped me up when I couldn’t do much more than slump through the day. You’d be so proud, now, of your brothers and sister and momma and friends.

We are remembering.

Thank you for the feather that blew across my path on the way to class this morning. The lone widening contrail pinking the sky when I woke. That fat robin singing on a dew sparkled branch.

It’s your birthday and I remember you.

How could I ever forget?

On Sowing Hope

The boys are home.

Two brothers, large and loud, that fill the space in my tiny house with their piles of shoes and their dirty T-shirts and their hey-ma-can-you-slide-me-a-few-bones-heh-heh-heh?’s.


I suppose you never know how quiet it has become until the void is filled with he-volume and you find yourself yelling over the classic rock pulsing out of the bluetooth COULD YOU PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE PUT YOUR DISHES IN THE SINK?

I’ve been trying to be still.

Stuck in what seems like a never-ending season of disappointment, I’ve grown weary of trying to fix it all.


How do you fix winter?


Cold and dry and dead, the scenery of my life seems frozen in the casualties that have mounted loss upon loss upon loss until I am wary of holding anything close to me ever again should it, too, be torn out of my grasp.


Seasons aren’t supposed to last forever. Autumn follows summer follows spring follows winter, especially in New England, best place on the planet to live, so I am aware that these sneaky snows will one day give way to greengreen grass and budding branches and streams of living water flowing fast and full.

What to do in the meantime?

Where does the new growth dwell, before it becomes a brass blade bullying up through the ice or a bulb busting open, spilling its tulip or crocus or daffodil up to the sun?

Dormant, these seeds lie lifeless under frozen soil waiting, waiting, waiting for the precise moment when promise crosses opportunity.


Jesus knew a thing or two about hibernation. In predicting his death, he said, “I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Jesus, You were the seed. 

Your body broke open and died, fallen under Roman hands and Jewish “law,” but didn’t You startle them all? And although I feel we are living in the most exciting time on earth, where Church Age and Kingdom Age seem to be colliding at an ever-accelerating rate, I think I would give anything to have been there to see the reaction when You first came strolling down the beach.


Talk about a change in season. What hope!

Because Jesus also tells us that we are the seed.

Here’s the The Message translation of that same passage: Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

Our seed-lives, if kept on a shelf quietly decaying, will never produce so much as a sprout of life.

But bury that seed in the sod, tamp down the dirt and wait, through seasons of summerautumnwinterspring, at last, unrestrained, it unfurls itself courageous and bold, becoming life, life, and more life: forever life, real and eternal.

Paul put it this way:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4: 7-12)

I think of the son no longer here in body, no longer loud.


His quiet presence permeates everything and everywhere, his life-seed broken loose on that awfulbeautiful day.

He was here for a season, and if we are to learn anything from his unfurling it might be this: hold things loosely; be reckless in your love, never allowing regret or bitterness or anger or unforgiveness to spoil the landscape of your life, for if you do this, you may find that the harvest is reproduced many times over until it “yields a crop a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13: 23)

So we sow hope and reap joy, through long seasons of winter and chill, because spring is coming, it is, even when we are tempted to doubt, even when we can’t see, even when we feel like giving up.


Don’t give up.

(I’m preaching to myself here.)

Believe this: the Master Planter is at work.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-17)






On Bowls of Gold

I’ve had a hard week.

Light shone in a dark area of my life, but the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:5).

Have you ever prayed so hard for something that, although you do not sweat actual drops of blood, as Jesus did in the garden before the Roman nails, you feel as if the very life has been drained from you, as you ask and you ask and you ask?

I have.

In the year 2000, just months after my youngest son was born, I started training for a marathon. I had been a runner all my life, but I never managed more than 10 miles at a time. With great hope, I found a book with a reasonable enough sounding training program, and began to really run.

My long runs grew until they hit their peak at 16 miles, and then, disaster. In some convoluted every-body-part-is-somehow-connected scenario, my hip was thrown out of whack, perhaps from the milage, and the calf muscle on one leg refused to cooperate with me any longer.

Stubborn, I tried to push through.

Every time I attempted to head out, I would be forced back by a searing pain in my calf that made running impossible. I might be able to go a day or two, perhaps a week, before the rebellious thing had me in tears, but eventually I was brought to a complete halt. I had missed the marathon, and, worse, was unable to achieve even a fraction of the modest milage I had run before the injury. I was done.

At the time, I was a brand new baby Christian, so I thought, I know. I’ll pray.

So I prayed. And I prayed. And prayed and prayed and prayed.

Our family moved from Michigan to New Hampshire. I prayed.

We moved to a different town. I prayed.

God gave me a best friend, and she and I walked, walked and walked and walked, the streets of our neighborhood, praying praying praying that my leg would be healed inJesussnameamen.


It was as if God had closed the vault of heaven, and whatever treasures were locked inside, He had no intention of showing us the key.

One morning in church, there was a tipping point. When almost every friend and family member I knew were off running a local 5K (with free beer at the finish), I surrendered. When the invitation for who-needs-prayer was announced, I limped up to a vacant seat, and a dear sister prayed agreement with me.

Lord, I surrender. Lord, I don’t understand. Lord, I fully believe that you are able to heal this awful leg, but I will no longer ask for you to do it. I accept whatever Your hand gives.

That very week, a miracle.

I saw a new chiropractor, he fixed my hip, and I was able to run again. Hike 2,000 miles. Finish an Ironman.

You might be thinking coincidence, but don’t you dare.

10 YEARS, hundreds of thousands of prayers. Nothing.

1 moment of prayerful surrender. Key.

What unlocked the door – the years of prayer or the surrender? Both? I can’t answer that, but this I know: prayer changes things. It might be legs or it might be hearts, but when you pray, heaven moves and things happen, sometimes with an excruciating slowness that pains the soul, but happen they do.


When my son died, I did what some might think an audacious thing.

I went to the funeral home where his body had been taken and prayed that Jesus would raise him from the dead.

Ever practical, I brought along a bag of his favorite comfy clothes because the paramedics had made short work of whatever he had been wearing at the time of his crash, and he would be embarrassed to have to drive home with his momma in his birthday suit.

It was faith that compelled me, faith and the mandate that Jesus had sent out His twelve with: Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay (Matthew 10:8).

Day and night, night and day, I went. I went alone and I went with others, Adrienne and Shawna and Myles and Joe and Scott, men and women who dared to believe that Jesus meant what He said. I asked the funeral director to hold off as long as possible cremating my boy because I believed, I believed, that prayer is what changes the things we want changed, prayer is what makes things happen.

His bag of clothes still sits in my car, and there is an urn where my son used to be.

Does God answer prayer?

If He didn’t, why would we pray?

Did he raise my son from the dead?


My son now sits with God’s own Son, high in the heavenlies, and he is very much alive.

Could God have caused my son to kick free of the zippered morgue bag, put on his comfy clothes, and stun the world?


However, God didn’t ask me which choice I preferred, boy-in-clothes or boy-in-clouds.

God is God.

#1, He knows everything, and #2, whether we like it or not, He knows best.


This week, God closed the door on a prayer I have been praying for many years.

I believe the Bible stories about the persistent widow and the mustard seed of faith and the if you ask believing, it will be yours. I do.

So do the men and women who have stood with me year by year, shield to shield and sword to sword, gathered together twoorthree: Aggie and Margaret and Cilla and Greg, Shane and Bruce and Judy and Bill, Ian and Emma and Gareth and Raye, Shannan and Rick and so many others, believers all.

It’s who we are. It’s what we do.

I wonder if my cloud-y boy can see the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, falling down before the Lamb, each one with a harp and holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people (Revelation 5:8).

Does he know the scent of his momma’s prayers?


There’s so much we cannot know. God protects us, I think, from many of the prayers we pray. Becarefulwhatyouwishfor because we don’t always know what we don’t know, and our prayers are often crazy, often reckless.

But the good news is, we pray big and God moves strong and in the end it is we that are changed.

He gives us what we need, not necessarily what we think we want.

So keep filling those bowls of gold. God is as pleased with the aroma as He is pleased with us.

And He will answer.

In His own way.

In His own time.


On Giving Hard Thanks

My two sons and I just returned from Montreal.

There is a doctor there, a kind man, whose hands know how to heal.

He probes and presses until he finds the damage done by tackles and checks and poor posture and slumpy stomach sleeping; he finds those places rent with ache, and then he does a surprising thing.

Instead of backing off these islands of sore, giving them space to cower and be, he assails them with gadgets that jackhammer and electrodes that stim, pushing and pushing and pushing these places of pain until they yield and relax, conform at last to their created contours. They surrender to his hand.

I’m thankful for this man.

The last time we made this trip, two Thanksgivings and a lifetime ago, I had three sons with me; this is the first Thanksgiving without the lost one.

How do we give thanks in the midst of our hard?

When there are empty places at your table and empty places in your heart and it feels as if the assaults of the enemy keep coming in, wave after wave after wave, until you are barely able to lift your eyes, never mind your hands, to the One who is worthy of all of our thanks?

We are told that God’s will for us is to “give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

All, Abba?

Could you define all?

Because I’m pretty sure that giving thanks for cancer and and poverty, riots and racial unrest, errant loved ones and dead sons could not possibly be included in Your all.

Could they?

It would be easy to protest. To remind the Creator-Sustainer that He couldn’t possibly understand what it feels like to stagger under the weight of seeming loss after loss after loss. The separation. The loneliness. The sorrow.

Until you remember.

Oh, yes.

Father, You lost Your own dear Son.

As You watched, He was beaten and mocked, spit on and struck, bloodied beyond recognition, hung and shamed upon a hill until He, yes even He, cried out in his suffering, “My God, my God, why Have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

It would have been easy to think that all was lost. Disciples scattered, one a betrayer, another a denier. Gloating Pharisees. A stinking tomb.

But the God who calls us to give all-thanks has given us the besteverreason for our hearts to hope. We know how it turned out.



A resurrection.

A promise.

The Father’s hand behind it all.

To give hard thanks means that we can, we must, remember that our God is a good Father, who loves us in hard ways, who pushes and pushes and pushes until at last we relax beneath His hand, until we stop pushing back, learn that to trust Him does not guarantee us an easy. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite, living in this dirty world.

To thank God for our all means we need to look forward, not behind, to see with surrender the treasure stored up for us by the One who knows us best.

I am reminded that, after confirming that Jesus was not, in fact, in the tomb, the disciples never returned there. They turned their back on apparent defeat and with faith-filled hearts, followed their triumphant King into a battle that continues to rage 2,000 years later.

We, too, are not to go back to the stink, but ahead ahead ahead!

We are to raise our tired eyes and our empty hands and in a rebellious act of will say, Thank You, Father, thank You thank You thank You. 

Thank You for the good and thank You for the hard and thank You for your pressing hand and thank You for how You will “work it all for good for we who love You and are called according to Your purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Perhaps the prophet Habakkuk said it best.

He really leaves us no room for doubt, when pondering all.

All means all.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

 “Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

I will thank Him for it all.

On the Things You Miss

Suppose you have a little green-eyed son.

On the night he is born, you walk the streets holding hands with his soon-to-be daddy, through the warm night of an April where the contractions are so kind and easy they are merely breaks in the hushed conversation.

They foretell.

Soon his beauty and charm press your heart-walls until your chest aches. That laugh. Those dancy feet. The way he carries a fallen maple leaf in pudgy toddler hand, blond hair dazzled by the wind of a coming Michigan winter.

He learns to skate. To write. To love. To drive.

You try your best to be his mommy, to guard his ways and warn and trust.

Put on your boots. Finish your carrots. Turn off your light. Text when you get there.

You pray: Father, guide him. Father, save him. Father, protect him.


What is it about this boy that draws people in? He’s funny without trying, kind without guile, quick to lend or offer or grant or give.

You know his hidden insecurities, the way he hates to try something for the first time, how you must sometimes subtle him into something you know he will like, the faith inside himself too small without yours alongside.

Soon, he is an eaglet, soaring alone. His life is his, and as you let go piece by piece, you are rewarded with his visits home and sweet hello’s and silly texts and coffee in the kitchen in the dust-mote quiver of an early sun.

He was grumpy that last morning.

It was uncharacteristic of him; being asked to move a broken refrigerator out the all-too-narrow front door when you’re late for work would bring out the crabby in anyone, so you tease and thank and forgive and say good-bye for what will be the last time.

It’s impossible to remember your last words to him, looking back; it was an unremarkable morning at the beginning of an unremarkable day at the end of an otherwise unremarkable week.


And now.

Oh, what you miss.

He used blow through the front door trailed by a wake of friends, not ashamed to call you Momma or say I-love-you or drop a naughty word just to get a rise. You miss that.

Events trigger.

Settled sediment of the past, stirred up afresh.

Your first parent-teacher conferences in the teacher role, reminding you of his first ones, he proud and happy, you amazed at the scholar he is becoming.

Driving through college town along the route you used to take a few times a week to gather him up or drop him off, before he figured out how to outsmart the parking nazis and leave his car on campus.

Seeing his friends walking ahead of you at a recent football game, the one you all went to together to cheer his team and see the helmet stickers his former coaches had made in his honor – watching their futures stretching ahead of them and imagining him in their mix, shoulder-bumping and insta-thinging. They see your wet eyes and draw close.



The memory of driving home from junior boarding school that first time, he abuzz with Athens and aqueducts and his roommate Allen. You can’t keep up; he has taken ownership of his education and you cannot be more pleased.


Photos, the memories of their snap, when he would feign shock or shy, arm wrapped around a brother’s neck or a sister’s shoulder, the glue that pulled us in as the turbid waters rose.




Smells. His favorite muffins. Old Spice, like your own dad when you were small. Hockey gear fresh with sweat. The inside of his car.

You try not to remember that horrid day when you must dig through bloody glass to find his phone, any clue, the first sight of the impossible angles of fender and broken wheel worth a lifetime of horrors.

You don’t miss that.

Things remind you of what to miss. You pull out the running shirt he gave you a few Christmases back, bought with own-job money and son-love, a size small, which makes you want to laugh and cry, your child’s perception versus the reality of you.

You miss the obvious things, of course. Sound of voice and touch of hand. But the layers of miss…the not-yet and never-will-be. The never-bride and never-babies, the never-career and never-failures that you might have celebrated or counseled or encouraged with him.

You discover it is possible to miss something that never was.

He never saw your new tiny house, your new black car, or you in your perfect new office at your perfect new job. These things are just benchmarks on your way back to him.


Good is relative now.

You miss that feeling you used to have waking up, knowing he is, no matter where, no matter how many miles apart you might have been. The simple possibility of him.

You ponder heaven, the where of it, what matter of distance separates him from you. You consider that perhaps it is measured in sighs and tears rather than feet or miles, at least from your end. That it is real is what anchors your soul, remembering all that Jesus promised and clasping what-will-one-day-be tight when you’re not sure you can endure.


You miss and miss and miss and miss until now it’s your eyes that ache and your arms and your gut and your soul.

You remember that you are “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses”  (Hebrews 12:1). 

Your green-eyed boy is now one of these, exhorting you to “run with perseverance the race marked out” for you.

There is something about these backward roles, he-cheering-you now instead of you-cheering-him, that stops your heart.

Run, Momma. 

Don’t miss me too much.

Run, run, run because soon – and I mean Jesus-soon, Aslan “all-time-is-soon-to-me”- soon, you will be with me in the unshakeable kingdom.

There is nothing to miss here.


What else do we need but our great, great King? 

On a Place for You

The day my son died, I bought a new pull-out couch.

That morning, while he was running around a lacrosse field in 90-degree heat, I was breezing through air-conditioned furniture stores trying to find the most comfy, best looking, Goldilocks-just-right pull-out couch for him to sleep in the house I was about to buy.

He was already an itinerant in this world, but I didn’t know it yet.

Moving from a spacious four-bedroom, three-bath to a four-room tiny had its challenges, and one of them was finding a place for all of my kids to sleep. The two youngest would have extra-long twin beds crammed into one small room, the young marrieds were content to sleep on camping mats wherever they landed, but because Gordie was planning on living most of the time in his first real off-campus apartment, he would be assigned the sofa bed.

So while my son made the fatal decision to get behind the wheel of his car and start driving home – HOME I tell you – I was driving home from a showroom full of fluffy comfort, happy I had found the perfect place for my son to sleep when he came – well, home.



Before HE was about to die, before HE was about to return home, Jesus comforted His disciples with these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)

The place where He is going?

Those disciples had a lot of questions, as so, of course, do we.

What does this house look like, Jesus? Will we live in it, like we do here, in our families, or does heaven negate the need for such distinctions, since we are all your family, the body of Christ? Is it a real, brick-and-mortar house with bathrooms and such? Can you make sure Gordie has a bed?

There’s been so much new in my life lately.

I find it interesting that when you buy or sell your house – both of which I did a few weeks back – they call it a closing. It’s the perfect word to describe what transpires when you box up your life, walk the empty rooms of your old house with a heart heft with memory, and say good-bye to the former things.

The door jamb with the pencil record of your children’s growth.


The trees you loved to watch cycle from green to red to bare and back again.

imageThe few steps it took to see your best friend’s face.


The spot out front where your lawn mower stood for days, keeping silent vigil, abandoned there after the police showed up at your door.


My new street address is #88. I find it interesting that the number 8, Biblically speaking, represents Resurrection. Regeneration. New Beginnings.


Only God!

And 88 – double 8 – is said to symbolize Immanuel, Godwithus.

In all this new, I want to train my eyes on the Timeless One.

The One who told His disciples to “take up your cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24), and maybe I’m slow, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus told His disciples this before He went to the cross Himself. 

He is never going to lead us where He has not already gone.

Sometimes it’s shiny, and sometimes it’s scary, and sometimes it feels as though you are blundering through tunnel darkness that never seems to end. But I’m beginning to understand that through it all, adventure awaits when you squeeze the hand of your Savior and stop kicking and screaming long enough to just hold tight and follow.

When I’m sold into God, into oneness with Him, I listen – and can hear His voice.


I obey – and the power of sin is destroyed.

I weep – and He comforts me.

I pray – and He answers, in the subtle wind of my soul, like the touch of a feather, gentle and quiet and perfectly right.

Go there. Call her. Say those words. Run. Walk. Wait. Be still.


Sometimes, I stand on my deck and look at the moon, that faithful witness in the sky, and it feels like I’m camping. Temporary. Itinerant.

I pull my son close and breathe him in and wait for a sign.

Where are we going, Papa-God? What will You do next? Is it safe?

Jesus’s words come echoing back.

Do not let your heart be troubled.

I am coming back.

There’s a place prepared.

For you.









On the Arrow That Was Our Son

I used to hate getting flowers.

Raised by an impossibly frugal mother, I felt the money spent on a product that was ultimately destined for the compost heap was a waste. I know this baffled my husband, and to his credit, he kept buying them for me despite knowing my odd position.

I realize now that I totally missed the point. That to a man whose only intention was to love and to bless, I must have sounded like the very voice of Judas himself.


“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.’  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

‘Leave her alone,’ Jesus replied. ‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.'” (John 12:1-8)

Our house is full of flowers now, of the fragrance of their perfume.

Beautiful bouquets of roses and irises and lilies; vases of gardenias and lilacs and sunflowers and hand-picked buttercups and rhododendrons; spiky fronds and milky-veined leaves, all slowly, slowly, slowly dropping their petals as they march off the day-beats since our son died.

We have come to know something of sacrificial love.

What these flowers tell us – and the bowls of fruit, and the baskets of muffins, and the meals, the cards, the frequent check-ins, the prayers – that our son was loved, that we are loved.

That when a life well-lived is cut short, people will do anything – anything – to honor the memory and comfort the grieving.

I’ve become okay with flowers.

Because you, our dear friends, are Mary to our Jesus. The sweet nard of your care has made the loss of Gordie bearable. Hopeful, even.

You may not think you were pouring yourself out on the Savior’s feet, but this is what He says: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Since our son died, we have felt like the least. And there you all are, doing for us what we could not, cannot, do for ourselves. We are beyond grateful.

The funeral director told us that he had never seen such an outpouring of flowers. Here is a man who deals daily in grief, moved by the aroma of your coming-alongside. A kinder man I cannot imagine – one whom no one ever wants to meet, but who made gentle our walk through death. Thank you, Steve Purdy.

We have heard some amazing stories since Gordie’s accident. “Coincidences” – like my cousin in Connecticut meeting the mother of one of Gordie’s closest friends one night last week in a nail salon. Gordie’s name written in the dormitory desk drawer of one of his younger brother’s friends. Gordie showing up in the background of a hockey photo taken of another friend’s son in a game played years ago, scrolling across this man’s computer screen late the night of the wake.

Our limo driver sharing our grief as he, too, had lost a son.

On the way to the Celebration of Life, our family tucked safely into his slick, black vehicle, I had a moment of panic. I expected him to turn left out of our neighborhood. That was the way I thought we should go, and it was the way I had told my brother to go. We were on our way to my son’s funeral at a church I had never been to, and I did not want to worry about being late or my brother getting lost. But he turned right, and my heart sank.

Then a miraculous thing happened.

I felt God whisper encouragingly, “Are you ready to let Me?”

I looked up at the Garmin plotting our route, considered the man at the wheel who did this for a living, asked God what He meant by letting Him.

Stop trying to take the wheelHe said. Let Me drive.

I know where you’re going – you, Gordie, all of you. I know the way, and I know the times. Your job is to trust. To cooperate. To listen and respond. I’ll do the leading. All you have to do is release.

Let Me.

I think what God is telling us through these stories is that He is on the throne. We may not understand why Gordie had to die at 22, but the tiny fraction of the picture that we see of this thing called life is just that – a fragment, a piece, an infinitesimal glimpse of the incomprehensible diorama that is TRUE LIFE. And the most comforting thing of all is that, because Gordie trusted Jesus, he can see. He now knows.

I pray that everyone who knew Gordie will also make that same choice. Trusting Jesus, letting Him drive, is the only way we can ever navigate.  It’s the only way, the only way, I can keep putting my feet on the floor every morning and walking forward into the day, because some day, one day, I will see my son again, in the perfect radiance of God’s good light.

I’m thinking there might even be flowers.

What follows is the eulogy I read at Gordie’s Celebration of Life. His dad wrote a letter to Gordie and suggested I write a letter to God.

It turned into more of a hopeful prayer, really.


Dear God,

Well. Wow. Here we are. What can I say? I want to talk to you about Gordie, but I’m not even sure where to begin.

I read in your book a few nights back that children are your best gift. I think the way you put it was “Oh, how blessed are you parents with your quivers full of children!” I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the awesome honor of being Gordie’s mom. He was one sharp arrow, that kid.

Here he was, living the most amazing life right under our very noses. He asked so little of us but gave so much. With Gordie, there was always a danger of there not being enough seats to go around, but now that I think about it, that would have been OK because he would have happily given up his.

He was usually too busy dancing.

And laundry! I know you’re smiling now, God, because you saw that boy hauling his laundry home from UNH every week, and you and I both know he did that just as much for the clean clothes as he did to check in on me to see how I was doing. I’m going to miss those lazy couch-sits and lively book discussions and crazy which-Borek-has-the-better-calf-muscles debates when his siblings were home. And while none of us was watching, he’d be quietly doing all our laundry and folding it, too.


I’m going to miss our Emoji wars, too, God. I know I’m probably showing my age, but I never knew you could have a whole conversation with someone and never use any words. Not sure why they call it texting. Anyway, our conversations would usually start with a few lines about how-did-your-exam-go-honey, or what-school-did-you-work-at-today-Momma, but it would always end with what I came to call the Emoji wars. I don’t know what he might have called it or even if he knew that I considered it “our thing.”

I’d send him a heart.

He’d send back three.

I’d send a chocolate frosted donut.

He’d send back an alien head and a pig snout.

I’d send him the smiley face with the puzzled expression and he’d send me the one with the big bulgy eyes.

And on it would go, until one of us would send the sleeping face, the other would send the z’s, and it would end. Or so I thought, until I’d wake up in the middle of the night to find he’d added another heart or three or five or ten.

Sneaky little arrow, he always won.


I know you saw us, God, his one-less-than-family, yesterday morning watching your beautiful sun rise over the beach. We know you were there. Gordie too. Thanks for reminding us of your constancy; that because you are faithful every day to send us that sun, and were faithful 2,000 years ago to send us your own precious Son, we know we can trust you with this. Yes, even this.


I know he wasn’t perfect, God. Which of us could ever claim that? Yes, there was just enough naughty sewn into that boy to keep me on my knees. But you knew him, Lord. It wouldn’t be long after he had said or done something unkind or unwise that he’d be back, wrapping the offended party in a hug with that big wide grin on his face. He was, by far, the world’s best apologizer. Make me more like that, Lord.

And friends, God! That boy was always drawing a crowd. Thank you for blessing Gordie with so many wonderful friends. You know he had a way of making everyone feel like they were his best friend. Look at them, God – aren’t they something? I can hardly look for fear my heart might burst. How that boy did love. Could I ask you to do something, God? Would you be sure to keep a careful watch over them? Help them to take care and forgive much and love well? Help us all?

I’m not sure, God, how we’re all going to handle this new normal. As you know, without Gordie, it’s going to be a whole lot harder. I know that whenever I find the sole righty stick in a pile full of lefties, or see a bewildered kittycat wandering around an empty room looking for her favorite human, or hear the words “LuLu Lemon” that I might not be able to hold it together. Thank you, God, that, because of your strength, we all have more than enough hope to run this race. Help us, Lord, to run with the same grace and sweetness and abandon that our Gordie did. Because ultimately, he was your son. We just had him on loan here for an all-too-little-while.


Thank you for making him so happy, Lord.

I’ve got to be honest with you, God – it’s not easy that our parental quiver is now diminished by one.

But we want to thank you, Father, for the arrow that was Gordie.

I think it’s safe to say that he hit the mark.

Gordie, I love you. We all love you. I can’t wait to see you again, dry-eyed and full of joy.




On 40 Degrees

A friend made an interesting comment the other day as a trio of us prepared to start a morning run.

I love running with this group of women. Talented and funny, strong and vulnerable, they form the backbone of a loosely defined support team. They are the peeps, the ones in whose company snot-rockets and mad dashes to the woods to pee are not only tolerated but cheered. For whom GNO is wine on the couch and kicked-off shoes and a healthy dose of gentle sarcasm.

For runs, tradition dictates that a group text summons us to meet at a given time in the center of their neighborhood – I must first drive over from my own – then we walk to the edge of the block, shivering and chatting, preparing our aging (sorry, gals – speaking for myself here) bodies to pound out a “beehive 6” or a “luxury 11.”

Between the 7 of us and our crazy schedules, and the few tested loops whose sparse traffic permits running in a cluster, there are endless permutations for fellowship and distance, but one thing is standard on every run: unequivocal honesty.

There is something about movement and sweat and feminine solidarity that opens the door to sharing life at its most elemental level.

Whether it is mild grousing about a husband mis-shelving a jar of pickles, tearful maternal confessions of perceived inadequacy (child backtalks at dinner; child suspended from school; child shows up in the local police report), or the joyful unity of hearing about a college acceptance, a new company car, or an empty dishwasher, running with these women has a way of lifting up the rocks of our lives and exposing both the dark ugly and the vast rich.

These are women who stop at the house of a man whose wife passed from cancer, harness his husky to a sturdy leash, and allow her to pull them up the street for miles because that is what kind neighbors do. These are women who offer to drag a pile of downed tree limbs from the yard of another because prospective buyers are on their way in a matter of hours. These are women who will say “no, thank you” to said offer, knowing the lives of her sisters are as harried and hectic as her own.image

One morning a few weeks back, a casual comment uttered by one of us – I can’t even recall who (it was awfully early) – stuck with me, sticks with me still.

It was this: “I don’t know what to do with 40 degrees.”

Of course, we all understood at once what our sister was saying literally. A run on a 30degree morning requires tights, gloves, a fleece hat. Layers. At 50 degrees, ditch the hat and gloves and don the capris – or even shorts, should a later start time portend a rise in temperature as the miles are checked off. 60 degrees and above in New England, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of us (except maybe you, PA – bless!) in anything but shorts and a Tee.

But 40 degrees?

It’s a troubling temp, the in-between-ness of it precipitating multiple pre-run excursions to the front steps to test the air, multiple looks at the weather app, multiple gear changes right up to time of the actual neighborhood meet-up: or sometimes even after, as we live in a town where depositing a balled-up half-zip in a friend’s mailbox while cruising by is the epitome of normal.

Metaphorically, however – how that 40 degrees comment has resonated.

I feel that the last 3-plus years of my life have been spent in a sort of holding pattern, a 40-degree vortex, where I was not permitted to go back, and all attempts to move forward were blocked.

Efforts at marital reconciliation failed, bills piled up and my house grew unmanageable (both in debt and upkeep), and I limped along on an endless course of subbing gigs while the job rejections piled up quicker than I could recycle them.

Until, until, until!

Until last week. In the space of three days, my house sold even though it wasn’t even on the market, and a dream-job fell into my lap with no effort at all on my part.


I’m starting to sense the rhythms of God, even as I strugglestrugglestruggle to accept them as His good and perfect will.

It’s the in-between times, the hours and weeks and months and years, where we wait and hope and hope and watch and watch and pray, that God uses to chip away at our stone-stubborn resistance with His chisel of truth and his rasp of grace.


Waiting refines us, reshapes us, repositions us to be better equipped to handle the blessings we desperately seek Him for in our life on this dirt sphere.

And in the seeking, a strange and beautiful thing happens.

Joy enters our hearts; bitterness leaves.

Forgiveness comes; anger goes.

Love in; strife out.

In the 40-degree climate of the Big Wait, we learn to rest – not in our own strength, our own strivings, our own logic or understanding – but in His.

When Jesus was preparing His disciples for their Big Wait, He didn’t tell them that He was going to take all of their troubles away. Jesus knew that things were going to get nasty. He knew that He was going to be murdered in the next 24 hours, that the wrath of Rome and the religious rigidity of the Pharisees would soon test His most beloved brothers to the absolute breaking point, that the road to following Him would lead to isolation and persecution and martyrdom.

In fact, in the upper room, after He had revealed He would be going away – some day, one day to return –  He tells them, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).

I for one am glad we have a Savior that is brutally honest with us, who tells us in advance that in this sin-stained world, we cannot expect that we will always get our way. It is all but assured that, most of the time, we will not.

So how, in light of this reality, does Jesus comfort us?

With something that is totally alien to this earthly station, but is the marker of His invisible, eternal kingdom: peace.

Peace in the midst of strife, not in the absence of it, peace in the not-knowing-what-lies-ahead because of the One-Who-Does-Know, peace that is not an emotion or a feeling or a circumstance, but a Person. 

Jesus gave many instructions while He walked among us, but the one thing He said more than any other was “Fear not.” He knew that when our faith is placed in Him and not in our own crazy, we can have peace.

He explained this puzzling tension to His disciples in this way:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid…I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 14:27; 16:33).

I am starting to accept the Big Wait rather than fight it, to allow God to un-trouble my heart, to believe that, in His timing, as I watch and hope, good things will come. Sometimes all at once, in a startling suddenness that leaves me breathless.

What are you waiting for? 

Is your thermometer stuck at 40 degrees?  Does it leave you feeling that the diagnosis is terminal, that foolishness will never leave the heart of your child, that your prodigal will never come home?

As we wait for these things to be fulfilled, these desires of our hearts, we can rest in knowing that the Artist is never finished with us. He continues to sculpt our flinty souls, rough cut after rough cut, filing and sanding and buffing, until slowly, slowly, slowly, we begin to resemble His precious and perfect Son.

His strong hand knows every intimate swell and curve of our heart, and He is never closer to us as when He is at His exacting work.


Daughters we are, and sons of the King!

Our waiting is not a stressful striving, but an expectant eagerness that floods the soul with He will, He will, He will.

Some day. One day.

And until then…

Take heart.

Fear not.











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