Grief and Gold


Last week, April 14th marked eleven years since my brother Jeffrey passed away. Each year that has come and gone has taught me grief cannot be calculated, expected or pushed around. Grief comes and goes as it pleases and rarely gives you any kind of notice as to how she might arrive.

Some times she rolls in like a wave, moving in perfect rhythm to your favorite sad song. Some times she floats in like a whisper, causing you to close your eyes and reverently remember. Other times she bangs and crashes in like a drunken and unwelcome relative who holds little respect for your boundaries. You feel overwhelmed by her abrasive presence and, although part of you wishes to accept her, you really just want her to get the hell out. Whatever way grief chooses to arrive, I’ve learned to open the door widely and create an open space for whatever expression she needs. I’ve learned not to judge her but to honor her voice for the importance it holds.

Last year, on the ten year anniversary of my brother’s death, the drunken and unwelcome relative version of Grief visited me. The whole day, my soul felt raw and ached in all the deep places. All the memories of my brother and that dreaded day he died washed over me anew and fresh. My insides felt bruised and tender as if the blow had just happened. I spent the whole day doing all the self-care things I needed to do: I called family and reminisced all the old stories; I allowed the tears to flow – whenever/however; I enjoyed a cold glass of chardonnay in the sun with my sister while we remembered together; I read beautiful poetry and Bible verses that bring me comfort. Grief needed a spacious place and so I consented.

This year was much different. This year Grief was more like a quiet whisper. Throughout the day, she quietly and softly tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Do you remember?” And I did. I remembered his green eyes, radiant smile and the contours of his hands. I remembered how he was the master of laughter in our home. I remembered how I looked up to him for comfort and protection whenever my parents weren’t near by. I remembered the first parent-less ride in the car he took Kara, Brent and I on after he got his license on his sixteenth birthday.

As Grief gently yet persistently asked me to remember, I also remembered the harder moments. I remembered all the years filled with heated discussions and tense arguments he had with my parents about the trouble he was getting into at school. I remember what it felt like to sense I couldn’t trust what he said to me… I didn’t know what was true. I remember seeing his insecurity and the need for affirmation buried deep in his emerald green eyes. I remember the very first time I ever stepped into a prison to visit him. I remember his tear streaked face as he confessed his heart-break to me over years of self-destructive decisions. Yes Grief… I remember.

After so much time, the one thing my mom and I talked about over the phone this year on his anniversary is the sadness you feel when life goes on and the people in your life no longer remember him. It’s not sad because they should remember him, but because you wish they could remember him. Beyond our family, his memory fades because so many of the people in our life now never even knew him. It’s a part of our lives that very few people still share. And so we just hold a space for Grief to occupy that reality.

Today I am mindful of these beautiful words by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

Even though Grief still visits me, and always will, this year I find myself especially grateful and thankful for my brother’s life. I personally experienced so much pain because of my brother’s story – every single one of us in our family did. From that pain, my own story took deeply painful twists and turns I could never have foreseen: an eating disorder, an abusive relationship, a wandering and shame-filled identity for years and years. During those seasons in my life, I felt deeply saddened by how my brother’s life negatively impacted mine. But with time and healing, I’ve found beauty in the process God allows us to walk through. Yes, I still experience Grief over the loss of my brother and the pain my brother experienced in his life on this earth. But I also hold a deep well of gratitude for the gifts my brother’s life and death has brought me, even in the midst of a broken reality:

He gifted me with a thirst for quirky humor and soulful laughter when I would have taken life much too seriously all on my own.

He gifted me with a longing and ability to be able to look past our skin-deep exteriors and see the gold and the beauty that lies within each person.

He gifted me with a compassion for those who are wounded, silenced, stuck, over-looked, numb, pretending and feel like they’ll never be enough.

He gifted me with a real-life picture of how God is truly ABLE to redeem our scattered and torn apart lives here on earth.

He gifted me with the chance to see exactly how beautiful, strong and resilient God made me to be.

This is the treasure. This is gold. I’m holding these gifts close to my heart and I’m thanking Grief for visiting me. I’m thankful for the chance to be able to see a glimmer of how God moves us through Grief to get to the Gold.

If Grief is visiting you or someone you know, I hope you can be encouraged and reminded today that our only job is to open the door widely to her and see where she might be pointing us towards the Gold.

From my heart to yours,


Soul Whisperings

Offer… Return… Listen.

When I get still and listen, that’s what I hear: Offer… Return… Listen.

When I look outward… Things get foggy. And inevitably I start hustling for my worth. Not on purpose, mind you, but because I was made to be connected to my Creator. Looking outward, no matter how innocently it begins, has a tendency to put my eyes on human comparisons, numerical production, and impossible perfection in nearly every realm. All of this pulls me away from my Creator. I forget what I’ve heard, I forget the two-square-feet where He’s placed my feet, and I ultimately forget my true self.

When I turn inward… when I get small enough to return to my Creator and listen, the fog lifts and things become clear. A deep inner calm wraps around my insides, like a faux fur blanket for my soul. I’m sure of what I’ve heard, I remember the holy two-square-feet where He’s placed me, and I know my true self.

We live in an insatiable world, with an insatiable appetite for the next big thing. On the contrary, we serve a God who satisfies all our desires with good things and who created us and said, “It is very good”.

So, as a creative, as a mother… how do we keep creating, teaching, being from a true place? How do we keep showing up and participating in sending up our offerings as an act of worship to the God who made us?

And I just keep coming back to slow and steadyBit by bit.

I send out my offering… I return to the One who calls me… And I listen for His whisperings.

I don’t want to be the next flash in the pan in our modern era, but a child of God who answers His call to be his hands and feet with a resounding “Here I am. Send me.” I want to be someone who is steady and true and trustworthy with what He has put in my hands. And honestly, this entire steady-stance in and of itself keeps me returning, because it’s not in my natural nature. Instead, I tend to be an “all or nothing” type of personality. Yes, you can read into that and say patience is a challenge for me. Practicing this rhythm is a practice in and of itself.

In the writing world, “they” the experts tell us to be on social media daily, to produce profitably. But when I try for this, when I put the pressure on myself to create at a pace that gets its cues from an outside voice…. I burn out. Listening to “they” tends to lead me to a place that feels a little bit like Soul Death.The whisperings in my soul tell me something else. Something echoing freedom.

The whisperings in my soul tell me something else. Something echoing freedom. So maybe my rebellious act in this world, in this season of my life, is to not listen to the experts but to listen to my soul. That whispering voice that tells me to slow down, to return, to listen and offer from a place that is rooted and grounded in His love.

So where does this leave me?

This leaves me walking out a rhythm with palms up, eyes fixed and heart content with small and simple. Tending to my soul means trusting that as I listen, God will make my paths straight. Trusting that what He has for me is good. Trusting Him to grant me peace in the places He invites me.

Turn up the Soul Whisperings and turn down the noise… I hear freedom.

What soul whisperings do you need to honor? Do you need to rebel against what ‘they’ say? How can you set aside time to listen to what God is saying to you?

Leaning In and Returning

True confession: Yesterday morning, I shared in my insta stories the truth that God is in both the beauty and the mess of our present realities. Whatever we hold in our hands today, God is right there WITH us.

But even as I was encouraged by this truth in the morning, just a few hours later I found myself staring at my computer screen, swirling down into the no-good land of self-judgement. I was overwhelmed by the big picture of the project in front of me and I sat there like a deer in head lights. I was buying into the smoothness of the Soul Bullies. I was holding onto fear just a little too tightly. And I was forgetting all the things God’s done for me and in me.

Somewhere during my growing up, I came to believe that good, faith-filled people don’t struggle with REAL struggles. Good, faith-filled people don’t wrestle the same thing over and over. Good, faith-filled people don’t forget the Truth. But the more I’ve allowed God into my personal struggles and weaknesses He’s turned that flawed perspective upside down.
No one – not one – is exempt from struggling, wrestling, or forgetting. No one is free from the humanness that resides inside each of us. Sometimes when it comes to our true, God-given identity, we nod our head in agreement that, ”Yep, we’ve got it”. Two thumbs up. But then we wonder off, we get mesmerized and mess things up. But God is not looking for us to then turn on ourselves, beat ourselves up and wallow in it. No.

I’m learning that what matters more than the struggle itself, is how we respond to it. Do we “lean in” or “lean out” of His love? Do we run or return to God’s Truth and offer of freedom? I often find myself wishing life and faith were not a process (ugh). Wouldn’t it be great if we just figured it out and stayed put. But slowly – oh so slowly – I am learning that being human is more about a rhythm of leaning in and returning.
We lean into the Truth.
We struggle.
We return.

We lean into His freedom.
We wrestle.
We return.

We lean into His love.
We forget.
We return.

He really is in the middle of our mess and our beauty. And He’s bidding us to lean in and return with His tender eyes of mercy. So when the self-judging thoughts find us, we return to what is true about us. Instead of serving our fear and holding tight, we choose to let go and lean in just a little bit more to freedom. Even though we forget where we’ve come from, we remember whose we are.

Two Square Feet

Our modern world can be absolutely deafening.

All the ideas, images and people. So many products, movements and slogans are put in front of us each day. It’s enough to make me want to seclude myself on a dessert island. Something in me whispers to me that we were not created to consume so much. These messages permeate my soul and an anxious, overwhelmed feeling creeps in and begins to constrict not only my chest but also my heart.

Maybe it’s my personality. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. Heck, maybe it’s because I’m human. But certain days or weeks demand I silence the noise and get intentionally small. In the past, perhaps I would have wondered what was wrong with me for being so overwhelmed by it all. But these days, I tend to see how the vibrancy of my soul depends deeply on seeking out purposeful silence.

I love these words from Pico Iyer:

Purposeful silence better allows me to hear God. So I still myself out discipline and great need – when I have been otherwise distracted, overwhelmed, too busy or, possibly, even afraid of what He might say to me. Sometimes this looks like taking a break from social media. Sometimes this looks like hiding in my bathroom for a few minutes, away from my kids. Sometimes this looks like sacrificing something in order to create space in my life.

Recently, I started back at running after taking a nearly one and a half year break during my pregnancy and postpartum with our fourth baby. And as cruel as it may be, my neighborhood demands I run hills. Yes – insane hills. I force my body forward with each step. My eyes focus on the two square feet of street in front of me, while the brim of my hat blocks my upward view. I have to remind myself to keep my eyes fixed on the two square feet in front of me. Two square feet. Because if I look up? What I see is daunting and impossible for my post-baby body.

Silence and discipline of focus. This is what is at the forefront of my mind.

I’ve been reminded over and over recently to keep the eyes of my heart fixed on Jesus. If you’ve been a believer very long, you’re probably familiar with the verse in Hewbrews 12 that says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” This has been on repeat, running through my mind constantly. Because I’m easily distracted. Beacuse I get caught comparing myself, my story, my life with others. Because whenever my mind gets noisy and my heart starts looking around, that’s exactly when discontentment, discouragement and FOMO creep in. And thank goodness God knows how imperfect we are… He reminds us over and over where to put our eyes, our heart, our attention.

Whenever we are faced with a challenge, a task, a calling that feels FAR too big for us… We remember the importance of silence in order to hear and we remember the two square feet in front of us as we climb that mountain. We keep our eyes down, away from distraction and comparison and any shiny, pretty thing that passes by. We tune our ear towards His voice and we Fix. Our. Eyes.

Proverbs 4:25-27 (MSG) says it this way:

“Keep your eyes straight ahead; ignore all sideshow distractions. Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left…”

What could you block out in order to fix your eyes on Jesus and what He is calling you towards today?

My Word for 2017: Freedom (From and For)

As New Years rolled around, I missed all the regular New Years-y posts on social media. I didn’t share my dreams, goals or my word for the year. And I did this on purpose.
I did it because I needed to be free to not do what everyone else was doing. Most of the time my writing and sharing comes from a deep welling up and pouring out of the heart. And it has everything to do with how God created me – with the desire for artistic expression. But on this day, I could sense I was wanting to write something beautiful, something compelling – but it wasn’t coming from a soul place. I knew it was coming from a place of wanting validation. I wanted to write something for people to “like”.

And THIS posed a problem for me, a conflict within. Because my deepest desires and longings aren’t actually for other people to like me or validate me… Not Really. Of course that’s a human-y thing we all get trapped in from time to time. But in the very core of my being, I long to KNOW that I am loved by my Creator and KNOW that I am free to love who He’s made me to be. So I said to “No” to any sort of reaching for superficial validation. I said “Yes” to more freedom.

My word for 2017 is FREEDOM.

Over the past number of years, I’ve done a lot of internal healing. Healing old wounds, unhealthy patterns and modes of operation, and ultimately, healing how I experience God. Believing I was not enough was a way of being and self-love seemed impossible because I didn’t think God truly loved me – flaws, scars and all. And although I see healing, wholeness and freedom as a fluid, ongoing, lifetime process… I know that it’s time for me to lean in to the wholeness and freedom God has offered me. He has healed more of my heart than I knew possible. It says in Galatians 5:1 that freedom is exactly why Christ came. He’s invited us into FULL freedom and offered it to us freely if only we’ll choose it. So it leaves me asking myself the question: Am I going to lean in or am I going to lean out of His love and freedom??

Over Christmas, I heard a priest share how he practices FREEDOM FROM things so that he can experience more FREEDOM FOR things.

Oh my goodness – Yes.

So what is it I want to be “free from” in order to be “free for”???

I want to lean into being FREE FROM…

* Holding others’ opinions higher than God’s

* Doing things false to myself just to please others

* Operating from a place of ‘not enough’

* Comparison

* Self-criticism

* Any kind of fear about who God has made me to be

* Making myself small

* All the “should”s

* Thinking I need to perform to be loved

* Making sure I’m liked

I want to lean into being FREE FOR…

* More listening to God and how He is speaking to me through my day

* More space and breath to offer myself and my family

* More capacity to love others from a whole, true place

* Fully showing up to the things God is inviting me into

* More love for myself (instead of judgement)

* More alignment in the truth of who God made me to be with how I act and live

* More internal peace

* Letting go of all the ways I feel I need to control things

* Being available when God needs me

Honestly, I look at these ideas (perhaps even ideals) and I understand these are considered life goals. Not things I can transform in a singular year. But if I can point the arrow of my heart in this direction… If I can move ever so slightly towards God’s glorious offering of freedom? I’m going to say YES.

I say the biggest YES to more FREEDOM.

Coffee with Jesus

In this journey of reclaiming our soul voice, it’s not about simply learning to be loud or learning to be confrontational or direct. And we don’t want to mistake finding our voice for an excuse to become overly focused on ourselves. Being on this journey, holds far deeper meaning.

It’s about healing the broken parts inside of us so our soul voice can be brave, strong and free. It’s about learning to be in touch with who God made us to be and then living from the fullness of that beauty. It’s about silencing the lies we’ve believed and, instead, allowing His truth to rejuvenate us at our core. It’s about trusting God to love us and use us exactly how He’s made us. It’s about perfect love casting out fear.

But how do we do all of this? I’ve learned this can only happen through our own personal encounters with the Holy Spirit.

The small, still voice had interrupted me before. I had heard it whisper to write my story at a time when I was wondering what my purpose was. I had heard it whisper to hold on, you’re not alone at a time when I was disrupted by suicidal thoughts. I had heard it whisper to go on a radical journey of self-love at a time when I could not love myself.

Amidst all the cacophony of noise in my soul I knew, beyond doubt, that this voice was true. This voice was leading me towards wholeness and peace. This voice was saving me.

So when our church challenged us to be still and pray fifteen minutes a day, I was IN. Each morning, I set my alarm early – really early – to ensure some quiet before my kids woke up. I’d pour a piping hot cup of coffee, tip toe over to my favorite chair, wrap up in my faux fur blanket and I’d sit. Coffee in one hand, iPhone (opened to Notes) in the other. And I’d wait. I waited until I heard that still, small voice begin to speak to me. Some days I’d have to wait longer than others, depending on the noise in my head. But eventually, I’d hear.

My child…

Do not be afraid…

I am with you…

Trust me…

Put your hand in mine…

I love you…

Because self-doubt is second nature to me, every once in a while, I’d wonder if what I was hearing was actually God. But then I’d remember a simple explanation I had learned: the Holy Spirit sounds like our stream of consciousness in our head, but it speaks only what is good, lovely, encouraging, convicting and true. In essence, this voice produces what is known as “the fruit of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).


Bit by bit, morning by morning – coffee in one hand, phone in the other – I’d hear truth. Truth about who I was and who I was not. Truth about where I had been and where I was going. Truth about my pain and how I was healing. I’d imagine Jesus sitting in the chair next to me, I’d imagine him looking at me and it always came back to those eyes. Those eyes that loved me tenderly, deeply – ever FOR me. I’d type down what I’d heard and let it sink into my soul. If something was weighing on me that day, I’d ask what he thought about it. Drip by drip, my “coffee with Jesus” moments breathed life into me when I was in a season of feeling entirely breathless.

Have you ever stopped to be still and just listen?

Looking Upward

Was I ever going to be able to get out of this pit? Was I always going to feel buried by shame? Was I ever going to be able to experience freedom?

I remember, I had gotten to a place of being able to fully acknowledge the presence of my soul wounds. I had acknowledged them. But it wasn’t easy. Every day I was desperate to get out doors to run, just to process the broad range of my emotions – anger, sadness and grief. I knew the process was necessary – I couldn’t live like I had been – but I was feeling fearful of having to clean out my wounds. As I ran down the boardwalk on one particular morning, I prayed for God to meet me in my pain and fear.

Then a picture came to my mind.

I was trying to climb my way out of an impossibly deep, sandy pit. I envisioned myself trying to climb out, but my attempts being of little use. I was overwhelmed by the height I needed to climb in order to be free. Every time I began climbing and clawing, the sand just kept giving way. There was no possibility I was going to get out on my own. Then I looked up – past the wall of sand – toward the bright, blue sky. And there was Jesus. Reaching and extending his arms down to me. I locked my arms with his and looked up into his eyes, as he said, “Keep your eyes on me”.

That vision was one of the gifts that carried me through the intensely challenging season of dealing with my ‘stuff’. There is no question – it is difficult to truly look at our wounds. But if we want to heal, we can’t just coddle our wounds and wish them away – we must clean them out so they can truly heal. This vision reminded me that Jesus was WITH me and He was promising to pull me from the pit I had been stuck in.


Along the way, we might freak out and feel full of fear that we’re never going to make it (I sure did). But that’s exactly when we must practice looking at Jesus, rather than the mountain we’re trying to climb. This reminds me of the story of Peter from Matthew 14:22-33, when he got out of the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus. Even Peter had a moment of freak out. David Benner writes about Peter:

While he (Peter) had the courage to step out on the waters at Christ’s bidding, he also experienced the terror of beginning to sink when he looked at the waves rather than Christ. – From The Gift of Being Yourself

If we are going to make it through this difficulty of getting to the root causes of our pain, shame, smallness and voicelessness, then we are going to have to keep our eyes on Jesus. I love the Message’s version of Hebrews 12:2-3 where it says:

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Have you ever felt stuck in a pit before? How can you begin to practice setting your eyes on Jesus instead of your mountain?