Grace & Hope

Where God Exists (and an excerpt from my upcoming book)

Does He know fully well?  In days too undone and nights darker still, where is God?  Busy with the cosmos, waiting for Forever, un-winged by our unbelief or tending to bigger brokenness than we know, perhaps?  There have been times when the cool of swollen waves have swallowed most of me and lost, in the most dislodged sort of way, pushes into my thoughts - my heart apart from my head.  In those times, the question grows emphatically, demanding attention and all of life, from beginning to now, looks diseased.  Good couldn’t have possibly existed here.  Somehow, the goodness in life appears to have always been bad just waiting for the opportune time to strike, and it is as it always really has been.

Suffering has a way of sickening all of life.  Many different faces draw upon suffering - death, illness, divorce, brokenness, abuse - tragedy of all sorts.  There in the moment every fleshed person, whether faith is confessed or disavowed, sneers upward, “How could you?”  Every fairy tale and happy ending is perverted, and we feel tricked by a feeling of good.

Here’s a truth I’ve learned: not every ending is a good one.  At least, not in the way we consider goodness to be good.

In the writing of my book, Earth and Sky, I wrestled with the question.  I wondered if God truly knew how deeply affected my heart really was or if He truly cared.  Fear lurked in life upended.  In grief, something that looked just like security fractured deep within me.  Frailty rushed over faith, and strength was matched by circumstances too big for me.  Here's an excerpt of a chapter entitled, '9 Degrees':


This is the ageless question asked by everyone drowning in painful, uncontrollable circumstance. Where is He? He’s present in dark times, when powerful waves grind against the sides of our faith, when we’re disoriented by suddenly changing conditions. No matter the severity or the suffering, Christ remains aware. When our distress flags wave and we can withstand no more, when we float lost in the frailty of all that we are and have become, we can still be assured that God is good. His power isn’t diminished by changing conditions. His goodness lies in His unmatchable ability to redeem and make uncontrollable wrongs right.

Jesus asked His disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Their feet were soaked. Their hearts still pounded. They still drew breaths deep and out of rhythm. . . . but everything was eerily calm. The threatening wind suddenly was no more. The water was as still and flat as glass. Jesus was wet, too, yet His eyes were calm, as if nothing had happened. He understood why His friends had been terrified. He had seen the waves; He had heard the howling wind. But He wanted them to see something else. Now. Afterward certainly, but even now. “Why are you afraid?” invites us out of the wind and waves, beyond our panic and dread, and into His moment of security.

Afterward. Even then.

We’re just like them—transfixed by the storm, wondering when it will stop (or kill us), waiting for people and love to make sense again. We expected a life so bright, right there at our doorstep. In our sorrow, we try to make it right, but we only make it worse. Finally, we find the One who can still the storm in our souls. That’s grief. Embracing yesterday and wishing it well. Embracing now and holding it tight. Wanting so badly to be whole now.

So what, then? Faith. Have you none?

I realized my life would be ruined if I didn’t let go of fear. I had to endure the storm of what-ifs and hope-nots. Fear consumes us when we can’t let go. We run around in panic and assume the painful present will last forever. Life ebbs and flows, circumstances threaten to swamp our lives, but hope exists even in quiet thoughts. After the darkest of nights, the morning will bring a new dawn. Fear had consumed me and changed me, altering words and perspective. The problem, I realized, was the fear of losing, not the losing itself. Loss is the lasting reality left in the wake of fear.

Grief isn’t just sorrow. It includes faith in the future. It’s releasing what can no longer be and becoming open to new possibilities. I have to trust that Jesus is standing there right in front of me. He is wet, too. He never left me during the stormy moments. His eyes are calm, loving, and patient. He sees my panic, calms the storm, and whispers, “Why are you afraid?”


Your cause for breaking might very well be different from mine, but make no common mistake - we are all broken.  We all reach a point where we wonder just how much the sky separates us from God’s knowing care.  Out of timelessness, He fleshed himself and entered our world to own all pain and abandonment.  And then, He returned to timelessness with it all in His hand.  Yes friend, He knows well the day in which you walk right now.  He knows your pain and your fears and right in the midst of it all, an invitation extends to you, too.  Go his way.

3 Things NOT to Say to Someone Suffering.

Morning would always arrive too early, and in each minute a thousand days were lived. My feet would shuffle along while the world spun by, a regular blur of normality and happiness alien then. Everyone seemed so okay and days just kept going on. People spoke and I smiled and that was all. Suffering isn't something we're akin to talking about. We hide. Often, we suffer silently due to the shock of loss, of something missing, misaligned and broken. The face of suffering looks like divorce, abuse, abandonment, loss of a career, injury and even death. We feel alone. Many drown in the confusion of just why or how this - whatever 'this' is for them - happened to them.

We who watch life pull apart in those moments have all opportunity to outlast suffering in the lives of those we love - not with our words or enlightened ideas, but with our hope. Hope always blooms in the harshest winds and darkest nights. Just as morning too early arrives overcoming night, hope in a new day owned by our faithful Creator usurps suffering.

Here are three things not to say to someone suffering: Time heals all wounds. (Not true; healing belongs who mourn. Matt 5:4) I know how you feel. (This only serves to diminish the reality of the person's suffering.) Be strong. (Lasting strength begins with our need and dependence on our Savior.)

Rather than offering quick words to those suffering, let us offer lasting Hope and suffer well with them.

"Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." 1 Peter 4:19

Forever good.

Gustave_Dore_Inferno32one sun will set forever a day unwarm to the name called you no hints will warm the hearts of those with shared blood gone     and then Forever

my name is a disease cured by resurrection fooled by all that my momentary hand holds i am immortal today immune from extinction brave until i fall again then i spy the small that i am

and know i am getting older. slower.        prouder. more attuned to Forever, to the sky whispering joy divorced again to the day once fought for when i matter to those i don’t know

a nameless man     is no better known     than the moment he disappears into today     and then Forever

Always larger than your to-do lists and calendar notes and goals is a question nestled deep within your chest, urging every effort toward accomplishment and begging you toward success.  In the stillest of night and the quiet of morning I think of it, of myself in years ahead and the measure of meaning then, of me then.  Even in days I soar with success, I feel the nibbling of needing more and wanting more than what I have now.  And when I’m not careful, I’m convinced to run erratically into the day and turn over conversations and tasks for evidence of worth and acceptance - sometimes to convince myself that I am enough.  I am not.  I know this in my head, but it’s my heart that echoes empty wants. I am inconsistent at my best.  They know - my friends, my family - yes, they know well just how inconsistent I can be.  I am the only one still unconvinced, sure I can make it on my own and measure good enough.

Every time we strain against grace and reach back for good, we frame faith in the past, as if all that God has redeemed was us then.  And so begins our wrestle with good and grace rooted in a myopic attempt to save ourselves and be gods.  Grace is so much heavier than good, outweighing all attempts that will always fall short no matter the equation we follow or figure.

This is the Gospel: if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Our aim is to belong to this Truth, not betroth ourselves to any image of a better us that is good at good.  There is not one good other than Christ.  We are no more than moralists when our good attempts at following Christ is confined to categories of dos and don’ts and acceptable and not.  The Gospel swallows us whole, all of us; our yesterday, today and forever.

And then so what is the result?

The result of the Gospel’s work in my life means me as a husband who learns to love as Christ loves us, a father who learns grace and to accept his children independent of their bucking, a friend who gives all without measure and a neighbor who’s light never wanes in the dark.  I admit, I am not this man fully, but I belong in Forever by Grace’s strong embrace.  And it is Grace’s doing that keeps changing me.

Friend, what happened then on the cross, before you knew, before you began stretching for good and name and accomplishment, has been indeed done, Forever.  May our strain to be cease in our belonging.

the glow beyond then.

IMG_3067 Few days I go back, deep into the abyss where those days hold the stillness of a mausoleum, memories cataloged beauty and yesterday.

When I do revisit those days, I find the most perplexing piece of my life lived.  Like a garden pushed up through soil holding death and pieces of what once was, I only gaze upon goodness flowering death and disappointment, a sure evidence of God’s immeasurable grace.

And soon, another evidence of good grace stands ready to fill our lives raising us from four journeying hearts to five. I can’t help but realize God foreknew of the goodness to come, all seen now and much more far into tomorrow.  Even in the darkest days following my first wife’s death, the horizon glowed with hope and passage to promise.  Little felt sturdy under our feet and the present day then seemed to stretch longer than my resolve.  Still the horizon glowed in contrast to the faded hues of then and whispered invite and rest.  When we shuffled lost and weak stepped and she meandered through life sure but curiously wondering of beyond, he knew.

Into the new horizon, the new day, hope swallowed death in a momentary microcosm of eternity arriving as always echoed.  Only weeks away from the light of new day warming our faces, we couldn’t be more ready to enter in.

Let me be lovingly clear, she’s not the horizon, nor the salvation; she’s the evidence of his resolved grace.  And grace continues to be the most formative teacher shaping life beautiful behind and warm joy ahead.  God doesn’t keep score or measure fair of all good and bad in our lives somehow having to managing balance.  Grace invades where it’s not welcomed, grabs our hand and leads us through.

The new day pushing in requires a new me – the days after yesterday brought me here.  Through those grief wrenched days following death, I learned to be a different man who sweats the same, yet talks with a heart hallowed, then filled again.  Grace primed me in my darkest to stand, to love and belong again.  Death fits as a defining memory behind and little more than a looming reality somewhere ahead, while life rushes deeper and freer closer to the feet of God.

And so life independent must swing to life together, merging messy, lines blurred into a new color of two now together.  Much of my life has been a strong lean into grace and furious falling forward each day.  The approach to each day fixed into a rhythm of not focusing so much on how we made it as a family so long as we did make it, but life merging from the four of us to the five of us demands more stability and intentionality, not mere happenstance and butterflies.  My love must be ready for more than just affectionate high fives and romantic date nights.  After all, she is someone my heart will be tied to and my feet will find cadence with until there's little distinction.

I’m learning how to practice love that cuts through me – my fears, my circumstance, my past, my worries, my mistakes, my deficiencies – for sake of belonging to her and us and now and promise not always seen.

[II Cor 4:16-18]

the next 48 days.

To say part of me is not a little afraid is to whisper loudly in the hush of sacred grace.

To say all of me is not overjoyed is to withhold praise.

My heart holds quiet all dreams and hopes and smiles reserved for tomorrow, for that day has yet to mature, and still it will.  The future always houses the hope we struggle to see.  We writhe and struggle to be okay, well fit in the burning of today.  Our eyes condition to the dimness of today seeing mostly behind, less of now and even less of all ahead.

I woke earlier than the sun shivering cold in single digit temperatures. Overnight the fire had died down to a pile of glowing ash and the small heater built into the cabin wall had reached a limit. In the dark, I finally crawled off of the sofa and stumbled close to the stone fireplace to thaw. Nine degrees read the thermometer. I remember thinking the morning appropriate and just right, the cabin cold and lonely. Realizing the smoldering heap of ash and coal would provide no comfort, I laced up my boots, added another jacket and double checked my pack for paper and pen. Within minutes the forest surrounded me. Each frigid step forward gave cause for worry.

What if I don’t find Him? What if the moment I’ve been seeking is silent and all calms to being unfair still?

I had come to lose all that was already lost. My mind kept bringing me back to why she died, more particularly, why would He let her. Like a child going sick on a spinning merry go round, each day soured my stomach even more. Death overshadowed life, cooled the warmth of love in my heart and smeared goodness with the ashes of life lost. I found the cabin in hopes God would find me. I didn’t feel found waking that cold morning only the lingering sting of death and anxiety of silence.

So much of my life has been redefined these past three years. I’ve lied, hidden my heart, retreated from friends and kept telling myself God is good, all while a heart war between grace and justice, with tomorrow its price, waged on. Anger flashed in moments worn too thin to be okay. Beneath the surface of my heart made up to look healthy, grief boiled and hissed monologues twisted in truth and pain. Deadlier than my wife dying was the dying of my own heart.

Back in the forest nearly lost that frozen morning I medicated my heart with distance. I sewed my wounds together with words and ideas that sounded heroic and safe but didn’t take faith. Those sutures insulated my heart from the reach of hurt as best as possible. On my shoulders I would carry my daughters away from death into a brighter day. I didn’t need love to be happy then, but my parched heart craved it. Careless words jabbed at God like an ant at the universe while He mostly stayed quiet and close.

In each subsequent sinking day, I learned to swim in the current of God’s unquitting grace. Never have I lived a day when all has been lost. That’s the brightness His love conditioned my eyes staring back into the void to see; a grace strong enough to swallow it all, the good and bad.

He knew then, three years ago at the mountaintop, what I know now.

Grace finds us shivering in the cold of life faded and lifts us higher than the tallest mountain.  Three years removed from losing myself in the cold shadows of the Ozarks, I live a life undeserving of the feeble strength my quick retreating heart holds.  My heart had to die completely in order to belong to any other day than the lost one behind me.

And here I stand, friends, removed and stronger, hand in hand with an amazingly resilient woman whose compassion inspires me and truth challenges me.  Just 48 days from marriage, my heart couldn't be happier.  Marissa and I come from different lives whose paths have curled and bent around roadblocks but managed to merge, spurred by grace's determined touch.  Years from now we may find ourselves thinned by life and struggling to hold on, but grace will not let go.  it is with God that I go and full confidence that I rejoice both in now and every day ahead of us.

I could dream of no one better that I'd rather win and lose in life with, love and laugh with and pursue God's dreams with that this woman who loves me so well.  I'm reveling in each of the next 48 days, a new start arched and framed in beauty and grace.