Darkness is not prevailing Covid 19 fell like an avalanche wiping out practices of life as we knew them. Racial unrest surged— the dam broke:its torrents of pain and violence carving tortuous new paths through community. Brick and mortar rubble: fires and tornadoes, and air-sucking anxieties darkened the atmosphere. But darkness is not prevailing. Real people unfolded wallets and schedules from their safety nests the kindling of kindness burgeoning in their chests as match to wick kindness set candles of compassion aglow in the darkness - like question marks. Kindness is the middle child sweetness by which the Spirit of Holiness tutors us in how to live and grow hemmed in, yet disconnected from one another Middle child in the house down the street kissed the Stone called Selflessness, and asked Mommy, how can I help? Nickels and dimes gleam in the grand scheme of things winging like iridescent butterflies. Hidden neighbors, hungry for righteousness (it's taste not wholly familiar) felt the palpable thirst of colored skin and asked the Keeper of the storehouses of snow and hail, Won't you fill the deep racial crevasse? Shovel in hand, Won't you fill...? A stick cross middles the hill marginalized outside of town; outside of belonging or protective walls, outside of resources. A lone transceiver picks up the signal of hearts in distress. Kindness kindles Compassion roars into flame - jumps another crevasse. It is finished. We are the embers of this eternal flame from which hope is born, and reborn Kindling of kindness finding the margins—Hope is reborn. jfig 10/2020 Often we feel marginalized, either in our distress; or in our ability to help. I've experienced both this week, my energy dampened by weariness and discouragement. When I sent out a quiet distress signal, asking people for help, it was the small measures offered with kindness, that made a huge difference and reset my outlook. An email saying I am praying for you, a shared moment of laughter, a flower intentionally put in my hand and another gently taken from it all pulled me back from the brink of despair, and filled me with both gratitude and hope. There was some chocolate, too. But since it is still in the wrapper, it was the kindness of the gesture and NOT the chocolate that made my heart happy. We are all on journey, some aspects long and wearying, others glorious and exciting. You may get to travel only a short leg with someone. Remember the kindling. Another's matches may be all wet. Ephesians 2:4-7 says that God gifts to us the riches of his mercy and grace...in kindness toward us through Jesus Christ. Lord Jesus, might we, by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, celebrate and emulate God's gifting of kindness toward us, and thereby become couriers of his mercy and grace. Amen
She Only Said It Once
Her ‘voice’ barely registered
skimming along the fibers of my optic nerve.
A concise, comprehensive gesture—
it’s in there.
In my haste
to keep us moving toward task completion
(that trajectory of necessary stuff
like getting to work, being prepared)
In my haste
she ‘spoke’ of something else,
missed my question.
Thank God, I did not scold
just kept parroting my question.
But she only answered once.
Twenty minutes later…
when I stopped looking everywhere else,
and listened to her,
she forgave me;
but that is her story.
My daughter Brie, is 22 years old. Clinically speaking, she is nonverbal, as well as discernibly developmentally delayed. In practice, however, she is at times profoundly articulate. This was one of those times.
Brie works two days per week at a farm supply store. Stellar job coaches, engaged co-workers and graciously committed administration support her efforts. It is almost magical. Brie enthusiastically wears a vest that identifies her as part of the store family and the legacy that goes with it. She excels at go-backs, and job-site morale. Work was item #4 on the day’s list. We couldn’t find her vest.
As we prepared (in advance, I might say) for her work shift plus line-items 5 and 6, I said, “Brie, it would help if you found your vest for work. It is almost time to get in the car.” We finished putting on shoes and I left to load up activities 5 and 6. When I came back, she sat in the same spot, closing the zippers on her overnight bag ( she likes fasteners). No sign of the vest. It is not in its place in the closet. Not to worry, I think I have seen it… Where did I see it last? Vest or no vest, it is time to get in the car. As Brie buckles in, I ask her, “Where, ” and she makes one clean gesture toward her bag. Meanwhile I am looking: Perhaps it is in the horse bag, or still in the car from Monday…This may seem inane disorganization to you, but we take really good care of that vest. I could not find it in any of the places I had ‘last seen it.’
” I know you are excited about your overnight bag (item #6), but right now we need to find your vest…” By this time Brie and the bag were in the car, and I was still talking to the air about finding the vest – for twenty minutes. Finally, we had to leave, so I grabbed the back-up vest, lacking her radio headphone safely stowed in the pocket; when it dawned on me that Brie had answered my question. Once. And I had failed to listen. I underestimated her listening and her capability and the completeness of her response – repeatedly.
Woe to me, when I am too busy multitasking to listen to a quiet, less frantic, vulnerable voice. Whoa to me when I am too busy getting the job done, to regard and listen to another who is participating in that work.
In practice, Brie is sometimes profoundly articulate: some of my friends would say, Jenny, you are being too hard on yourself. She couldn’t say it out loud, and that would have eliminated the disconnect. (It has been a twenty-two year decoding journey.) But that would miss the point. She can’t answer me in words. Or in sign language. Or with a voice box. She can’t answer me in the kind of voice that I am most used to hearing. She answered me with a gesture, with the means at her disposal, and I failed to listen. If I listen, with understanding, only to those who speak in ways familiar or readily comprehensible to me…perhaps I need to change my pattern of listening.
Some further thoughts: I probably understand Brie in real time, better than anyone else on the planet (except perhaps my husband.) If we are invested and willing, yet still falling short; how narrow is her window for being understood?
How reflective is this incident of my finesse in listening to others who speak in a form to which I do not gravitate, of matters less readily understood? I am not comfortable with loud, angry voices. I am not attuned to all forms of oppression. I can tell you I do not like assumptions being made based on the color of my skin. In Brie’s case, as a parent, it is my job to ask Brie to be respectful and appropriate. To work on maturing. But it is my job, my choice, my privilege, to listen. Am I willing to miss critical information because I cannot fully appreciate the way it is delivered? Or will I choose to learn something new, in order to understand, to facilitate someone else’s better today?
Am I in charge? Not really… How willing am I to listen to others’ good ideas about effective solutions?
In spite of all we thought we learned from the early months of Covid 19 about caring for one another, and what I thought I knew about prejudice; I am invited anew in 2020, to pause in my frantic hurry to where I am going, and listen to those whose stories are different, whose needs are different, whose dreams may be different, but at the core, sound strangely familiar. To choose to listen, for the nuances behind the content and method without assuming that those voices sound strange to my ear because they are somehow less capable or accurate. To first lose the oppressions in how I listen, in order to lose the oppressions in living.
jfig lessons of 2020
When pain is raw
out there pulsing on the floor
like a live thing—
wiggle room is scarce.
When pain thunders deep and wide
beneath one’s breastbone,
the fortitude to engage grace—
give and receive
When suffering is long…
we don’t really know how long,
unless one asks, or has been there
seasons of the journey.
Mud and muck cling to one’s shoes
and laughter bursts
at hidden ridiculousness.
Oh, God, let us
keep sharing laughter
in journeys long and deep.
When pain is raw
the wiggle room to extend honor—
grace-filled speech and action,
is narrow – barely squeezing by
CAUTIOUSLY: so I don’t tear open wounds
that might just begin to heal.
My power to heal
to effect and sustain change
is only so great as the source from which I draw it.
Come to the well, dear sister.
Come to the well.
I am talking to me.
After a career-long of assessing and addressing pain, it remains apparent to me, that each person’s pain, is enough. That our service is not so much to avoid or get rid of it, but to hold it with and for one another, in order to strengthen what remains. To carry it for seasons, in often less than capable hands, through the grey dusk of mourning, while we wait together for healing to come.
It is not hidden in scripture, that God commissions his followers to heal. I love the passage in Luke 10:1-11, regarding this commission:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. Luke 10:1(ESV)
Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ Luke 10:8-11(ESV)
I love that we are sent – invited to go – where Jesus himself is about to attend. I love that we are invited to bring Jesus close to the hurting. I’m reassured that we are given permission to leave when we are not wanted. That we are not meant to carry away with us, the weighty dust of, ‘You are not welcome here.’ That we are meant to leave with the attitude of our message intact: Nevertheless, the kingdom of God has come near.” Jesus also reminds his followers, (vs. 20) that the thing to be celebrated, is not the ‘works’ they have done, the authority they have wielded over demons. The thing to be celebrated is that they are among the company of those who have received grace unto salvation. The thing to be celebrated is grace. So far as I can tell, none among any of us is given the authority to say who receives grace unto salvation. None.
“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20 (ESV)
Raw pain demands our attention. We look at our smallish hands, stunned…how can we, as individuals, as a society, hold this much pain? “Nevertheless, know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.” Oh, that I might be a bearer of the kingdom… with smallish hands.
The story in Luke 8, where Jesus, in the middle of a crowd, is called to the bedside of a dying girl, speaks. The child is ‘about 12 years old.’ Jesus is detained in responding. He chooses to be detained, to engage a woman who grasps his robe, pleading for help. She has been bleeding for 12 years. As long as the young girl has been alive. Each person’s pain is enough. Jesus attends to all: to the girl and to the woman; to the father oppressed by fear. He draws each of them up with kindness. He also has choice words for the ‘advocates’ in both situations. Please see Luke 8:40-56
“Luke 8:1 (NLT) – Soon afterward Jesus began a.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Jun, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/luk/8/1/p1/s_981001>.
Jesus, may I be one who bears the news of your healing presence, as you draw near to those who are hurting. May I quiet myself enough to realize where you are about to make yourself known; what town you would have me visit. Open my eyes, not just to the pain of the one who is dying a distance far-off, but also to one who is bleeding out along my path. Help me choose to carry kindness, the comfort of your impending presence. Give me caution to not fan the flames of false heroics, nor torch anyone with my words, or actions, but to look for the fire of Your Spirit in the night sky, and follow where you lead. Follow you toward hope and healing, toward freedom and abundant life. Gird me with patience to hold the pain of others, its hot unwieldy expressions; that together we might see the healing dawn of your powerful grace; watch you resurrect life from the ashes of our self-absorption and hatred, our disdain for others, and woefully, for You. We need you, Lord Jesus. We need you, Father God. We need you, Holy Spirit. Bring your healing love that honors and resurrects life in the tiniest of increments. Come Lord Jesus. Amen
“Luke 10:1 (ESV) – After this the Lord appointed.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Jun, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/luk/10/1/p1/s_983001>.
“Scripture quotations marked ESV are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001, 2007, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
Photo: Corinthians 1:8-11
This poem is written to and for persons of color, your family and friends, in response to expressions of persistent pain and suffering you experience due to racial injustice. In the Book of Philippians, Paul and Timothy write, “I hold you in my heart,” to the believers in Philippi. Believers who at least symbolically, were among those Paul had previously persecuted, even unto death. This poem is loosely patterned after that prayer. Philippians 1:1-7
Hold you in my heart
I hold you in my heart
reaching out blood-tinged hands
across the barriers of history
to gather broken pieces of your soul
out of the ashes.
I don’t presume to
‘put you back together’
but to hold your story
as the sacred missive it is,
and lean with you toward
One Who Can Heal.
I hold you in my heart
defenses momentarily unlaced
by a glimpse – mere glimpse
of your suffering,
the color of your blood
draining ochre into the soil
on which we now stand.
for this is a journey;
wretched soil for all of us
to leave behind.
I hold you in my heart
examining the color of mine
to ask where it might celebrate—yours.
wake late to the dream
birthed out of your nightmare;
that the passages that carried you through the night to freedom
might tunnel through the dark once more
bring me to your door
in a fellowship of love, art
music, work, laughter
and the overarching grace of Christ’s righteousness.
I hold you in my heart
(it takes such a long while to quiet its thunderous beating)
I purpose to wait;
to not simply acquiesce
in verbal acknowledgement of complicity,
but to wrestle with the discomfort
until I can hear the faint, strengthening beat
of life’s muscle in your chest.
This is a labor of love.
I hold you in my heart
Your freedom is not for sale
Truth is, one cannot buy, nor sell, freedom;
Our freedom was purchased
before black or white or red ever set foot on this shore.
But I would like to scour stains
of what it has cost to realize your freedom,
by the washing of your feet;
pour the oil of joy instead of mourning
into the fissures in your soles
that black feet might dance once more.
I hold you in my heart
The journey to acknowledge white privilege has been messy for me. If it were not for confidence in the grace which Paul describes, I doubt I could engage the difficult questions. #stillonjourney
Scripture reference is Philippians 1:1-7 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001, 2007, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
to feel oneself abandoned
by the human race.
This crisis is not in the streets,
where twin daggers of hatred and despair
before a body ever hits the ground.
Crisis is in our hearts
each blooded muscle seen
by the holy eyes of God,
first with love, then with untainted justice.*
To be mourned is the heart that has so swelled with fear,
then hatred; another who so fears judgement
that neither can beat in rhythm with their Creator,
synchronized…in the brother/sister-hood of humankind
by the recurring image (image) ((image)), of God.
What do I know—of fear?
That is part of the problem.
If I am uncommonly awake with it now,
may its shallow gasp turn to vigil;
keeping watch, prayer-like
over others like me, if only in that they, too, bear the image of God.
Prayer-like, because my prayer alone, is not big enough for this;
must be joined by other choirs.
Fellowed, not by default
but by inventive grace
that keeps one on her knees
patellae buried into soil rich and deep
where mighty oaks might grow.
Once there invaded
the poisonous oppressions of sin,**
but I have seen a flower—
sprout and flourish
against a broken bed of shattered rock.
My bent frame
just that far. ***
* Php 1:1-7
** Isaiah 61
***Isaiah 58: 6-12
When we received confirmation from the genetics clinic, of a diagnosis for our seven year old daughter’s disability, our other children were 11, 13 and 14. They had some questions: “What does this mean?” “Well…if Jesus healed her, would he change everything?”
Where are the disciples? Has anyone seen Thaddeus…Andrew, James, John
? Did any come with leprosy. Who brought them? After how many seasons in quarantine??
? Did some wait sun-up to sun-down and into first light, like refugees, lined up with diseases like displacement and poverty, the adverse experience of terror
? Did Matthew really mean all: he was a numbers keeper, you know:
“soon the people were bringing all their sick to be healed and all who touched him were healed.”
? Was there a panic, what if I can’t get there in time?
? Did anyone get sunburned, lying in the marketplace.
? What ointment did they have
? Who carried cups of water
? What questions did the children ask ? What answers were they given
? Did people talk to the beggars – or were they considered ‘unclean’ And at the end of the day?
? Did anyone, listening to the stories, sneak away to the harbor, freshly healed—to attempt walking on water. This I would really like to know…
? Were some taken aback at transformations; others’ ills completely unknown. Not just acquaintances, but family members, friends…
? Were the newly healed, newly clothed. By what method?
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 ESV
? what did healing look like. The way things were before, or did God’s kingdom coming in the Healer Jesus bring a new normal
? did old scars go away – the jagged lines disappear
? Does Jesus see me
? Who is He – really…………………………………………………who will I say that He is?
“Matthew 14:34 (NLT) – After they had crossed the.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 24 Apr, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/mat/14/34/s_943034>.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
“Isaiah 61:10 (ESV) – I will greatly rejoice in.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 24 Apr, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/isa/61/10/s_740010>.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001, 2007, 2011, 2016 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved
One response that you could make to this post, is to share your heart’s awareness of the names of organizations/nonprofits that you feel are carrying out the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Thanks…j
And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
“Mark 6:56 (NIV) – And wherever he went into villages.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 14 Apr, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/mar/6/56/p1/s_963056>.
My Friend Alex
My friend Alex
strolls the marketplace
She has a keen eye for color.
invites her back the next day.
My friend Alex
surveys the market
Shades in justice catch her eye.
paint swatches in hand.
My friend Alex
hurries to the market – determined.
“Examine these hues
Something is amiss.
My friend Alex
storms the market:
“Why?” “How long, O Lord?”
“Where is equitable?”
Day after day
she carries questions on the palette of her heart.
My friend Alex
‘moves’ to the market.
Study the fabric:
this Jesus garment.
It takes hours,
“Teacher, What does it cost
to allow one’s heart to be broken?”
What questions is Jesus writing on the palette of your heart? Is there something to which he is calling your attention?
Mark 6:53-56 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout the whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever the heard he was. And wherever he went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
“Mark 6:53 (NIV) – When they had crossed over.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 3 Apr, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/mar/6/53/p1/s_963053>.
Three years ago, I started working in a place where nearly everyone was visibly broken. There was a time, when I was afraid to get too close, for fear society’s ills would, leprosy-like, creep up my flesh. I did not yet know, how well I reside among the broken. That Jesus could walk by to find me groveling in the dirt, his tangled fringe grasped in both begging hands, and still, with eyes of compassion, see himself reflected there. Being among the ‘sick’ made me brave enough to examine my own festering wounds. And offer them up, for His cure. Today’s poems reflect moments in this ongoing journey.
‘They’ lie in the street -hovel deep
need so mottled and stark
one cannot even
conceive a dream.
Our only recourse – CRY OUT
at the pain we feel…or perceive.
Entitlement stoops clumsily
…to lend a hand up?
Jesus, we wait for you
Perhaps in the waiting
our knees should hit the dust
She does not need me to ‘announce’
what is wrong with her.
Funny…she already knows.
Nor to endorse a cure.
Leaking ‘helper’ need
does not increase her chances of survival.
By all means – draw near.
In helping to lift her wasted hand
both hers and mine will brush His hem.
Where do you find yourself in the Jesus story – among the broken, or tending wounds, perhaps? What do you see?
all the toil of Genesis 3
in the soil of grace
all the thorns and thistles
briars and invasive species
outside the gates
the hills are alive…
in the colors of grace?
What if, all the toil of Genesis 3, were wrought in the soil of grace?
The question that stops me in my tracks this morning, suspending motion, is this: What if God knew all along, that as Adam and Eve, and you and I spaded our way through the clay that sucks at the soles of our muck boots; what if God knew we would keep turning over… grace? That as we scratched out a living, and healing and hope down in the harsh dirt of living, we would turn over… grace? Not in the garden – in the warmth of Eden’s sun- but in the hard, cracked soil of all the desolate places outside? What if at Golgotha, skulls decaying in the margins of error and shame, one man amended the fields forever with blood-red grace? What if he knew that as we turned over life, clumps clinging, weighting the treads of our toiling steps, that this dirt would be good, not just for vegetables, but for journeying souls. What if Jesus allowed himself to be led outside, because that is where we are?
What if the fields of grace are ALIVE, breathing with organisms, to decompose the stench and misconceptions and broken ideas of sin; lies about who God is; lies we’ve propagated? What if this toil down on our knees, troweling through the dirt, painstakingly weeding the small creepers, rooting out this…and that which holds back fruit; what if all that dirt under our fingernails, turned over rich one day, and scratched out painfully the next, what if ALL of it… is grace?
Genesis 3:17-19 And to the man he said,
Luke 23:26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.
Luke 23:32-34a Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Luke 23:26 (ESV) – And as they led him.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 28 May, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/luk/23/26/p1/s_996026>.