The Offering of Brokenness

Quick  update: We’re back on the south coast of MA.  It’s been quite a transition, and we appreciate the prayers and encouragement we’ve received from so many of you.  With each passing day we feel a little more settled and affirmed that we are exactly where we are meant to be.  We are spending the first few months here focusing on helping our kids adjust and making connections.  I am also working on a new blog that will be up in the next couple of weeks.  In the meantime, I’ve tried to make some sense of my thoughts lately...


It’s been a tough few weeks all around.   We are reminded daily of the evil that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.  More bombs. More shootings. Racial tensions. More fears cloaked in cowardly violence. Families fleeing oppression only to be rejected by those from whom they sought shelter. More brothers and sisters fallen victim to the disease of addiction.  Sometimes it’s hard for hope not to waver.

All my favorite people are broken.  It’s true.  It’s also one of my favorite songs by Over the Rhine that I’ve been listening to quite a bit lately.

…We’re not afraid to admit we’re all still beginners
We’re all late bloomers
When it comes to love

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know

Orphaned believers, skeptical dreamers
Step forward
You can stay right here
You don’t have to go…

“All My Favorite People” by Over the Rhine

We’re all in this together, friends, and there’s a sweet comfort in knowing we’re in good company. Here we can lay our vulnerabilities on the altar together and allow the fire of the gospel to consume them as our offerings.  The problem with living sacrifices is that sometimes they crawl off the altar. Can we truly offer hope and healing to others any further than we have received it to mend our own brokenness? And how can we fully receive healing unless we recognize our own desperate need for it?


Throughout the past month I have come to appreciate what Henri Nouwen refers to as the often-painful “gift of self-confrontation.”  When we engage compassion and enter into one another’s sufferings,  we come face-to-face with our own brokenness.  We begin to trade specks for logs as we face our own pain and fear of rejection. Our search for affection, safety, affirmation, and trust are mirrored in the faces around us. Though our battles may look different, underneath it we are all fighting the same enemy.  Owning our brokenness and turning it into an offering may seem like weakness.   I am learning, however, that it’s the only way to silence the darkness and bring restoration.  A seed needs to be buried and broken before new life emerges.

In the heartache of the fringe

I recognize the brokenness in myself.

Pushed to the limits of my thin love,

I attempt to stretch it over pride,

Over fear and lies

Like a too-small blanket.

Light pierces through the veil of compassion

Exposing the cracks in my own heart

And I weep over the times I should have said something —

Should have initiated

Should have stood my ground

Should have listened

Should have shut my mouth

And buried the pat answers when true lament was required.

I see it in my impatience,

The harsh tone of my voice towards those whom I love the most.

Comparisons invade my thoughts

Insecurities whisper in my ear

you are not enough

or sometimes


Shut up

You don’t have anything worth saying

quiet down before you push everyone away

Where is God amidst these shards?


God with us.

With us.

He does not hide His face

Or run away from brokenness;

He steps into it.


Making himself broken,

And in so doing,

Making all things new.


“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.”
John 12:24  (The Message)

Exciting Update!



Hello, friends!

While this site has been sleeping over the past year or so, a lot has been happening behind the scenes.  I’ve been working with several different ministries and agencies to help fight trafficking in the Greater Cincinnati area.  Most of the work I’ve been doing with Woven 139 focuses on outreach ministry to the  women and men who are caught in the cycles of prostitution, poverty, and homelessness.  In addition, I’ve had the chance to connect with women in recovery homes through Refuge For Women as they transition from the sex industry to recovery and meaningful employment.  Recently, I completed some training with End Slavery Cincinnati to offer informational presentations on human trafficking.

I’m excited to announce that this summer my family and I will be moving back to Massachusetts to begin an outreach ministry for people who are being exploited (both sex and labor) on the south coast.  We are specifically focusing on the cities of New Bedford and Fall River. New Bedford is a fishing port of about 95,000 people, and Fall River is a manufacturing city with a population of about 90,000.  We are in the very early stages of developing this ministry, but are excited and encouraged by the many possibilities that are already taking shape.

In the next few months I will be shifting to a new blog that will serve as a platform to keep those interested informed about this ministry.  If you would like to keep in touch, please begin following this blog and I will make sure you are added to the new one.   I’m also happy to hear from you through email if you would prefer to connect that way.

Thanks for your prayers and encouragement.  They mean more than you know.





Showing Up

It was about a quarter to eight when I finally pulled up the steep driveway, gravel dancing beneath my tires.  It was that sacred time of evening when the golden sun brightened the dark green Kentucky hills. An indigo sky waited in the distance with the promise of rain. There had hardly been another car on the road as I drove deeper into the hollow.  I had to turn around more than once to find my way to the Safe House.

I came here to meet some of the survivors at Refuge for Women, a ministry that brings healing and hope to women who have been sexually exploited or trafficked.  I brought my small electric harp with me.  I had no plan of what to do; I just sensed that I was supposed to play for these women and listen to what was happening in their hearts. I had been looking forward to this for a month.

After I parked my car, Maggie* came out the back door to greet me.  She was warm and friendly and insisted on carrying in most of my gear. She bubbled with spunk and enthusiasm, yet I could see in her eyes that she was tired. I liked her right away.  No sooner did I step into the door to the kitchen than I met Brenda* with the beautiful smile and an African scarf wrapped around her hair. Her eyes shone brightly as she offered me something to drink.  Heather, the intern, stood next to her and greeted me kindly.   Fresh out of college, she is the go-to girl for these women.  A lifeline. Julie* was standing at the counter and turned around with a shy smile.  She had long, dark blond hair pulled back into a ponytail. I could sense almost immediately that we had things in common, yet I didn’t know what. Yet.

We made our way into the living room and I began to set up.  They wanted to know how long I had been playing and where I was from.  I shared a bit of background with them. I told them where I was from and where I had been.  I told them about my husband and children, where we had lived and what I do now.  I talked about teaching and kids. Then I told them why I had wanted to come.  I told them some of my story….about the hard parts I’d like to forget.  I told them even though our stories weren’t exactly the same, we’ve fought many of the same battles against a common enemy, and He who is greater than the world has already won the victory for each of us.

We prayed, and I shared the scripture God had put on my heart for them. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Then I began to play an old Vineyard song, “Hungry.”

Hungry I come to You ’cause I know You satisfy

I am empty but I know Your love does not run dry

So I wait for You

So I wait for You

I’m falling on my knees

Offering all of me

Jesus, You’re all this heart is living for

Flashes of lightning lit up the landscape outside the window and the rain fell.

Brenda’s tears began to flow, then Maggie’s.  Julie curled up with her Bible and listened. Heather sat silently next to Maggie.

I played a few more songs, improvising as I went. After awhile I paused.

Each woman was clutching her Bible and journal. Some were writing.

“How are you doing? Does anyone feel like God is telling you something?” I asked.

The girls began to open up about the struggles of staying clean. They talked about broken relationships with their families. They shared about mental illness and meds. We talked about self-hatred and being used. We talked about eating disorders and spiritual warfare that is real and intense. They spoke of children they put up for adoption and the cruel irony that now they were getting clean and on the right path, but their bodies couldn’t have children anymore because of their “extensive background” (as the doctor put it).  They long to be good mothers. They long to have a man cherish them. They proudly showed off their rings they received the day before at a purity ceremony in which they pledged to remain sexually pure until their wedding night.

One girl said,”I’ve never had a ring on my finger or a real job or been able to sit still and be clean.  This is the first time ever.”

They talked about how hard it is to re-program their minds after years of distorted views of love, men, and God.  But they also talked of a Savior who loves them.

“Right now as you were playing, I just kept hearing God tell me He loves me,” one of them said through tears.

That’s exactly what I had been praying they would know.

I played a little more as the girls pored over their bibles and wrote in their journals. As I sensed the time was getting late, I set my harp down.  Julie told me a few weeks ago she was reading through the book of Psalms and was struck by all the references to harps. She kept having thoughts of “I wonder what it would be like to play one….”

Then the director told her I was coming with a harp.  She about jumped out of her skin.

I invited her to come play my harp, “Little Betsy Blue.”  As she sat down and began to gently touch the strings an enormous smile spread across her face.  Phones came out of hiding and the girls snapped pictures of Julie playing the harp.  It sounded beautiful.  One by one each girl took a turn plucking and running their fingers over the strings, enchanted.

We talked about David and Saul and music….how music can change your mood for the better (or sometimes the worse, they reminded me.) There is certain music they know they can’t listen to because it will pull them down faster than a stone sinking in water. They talked about the importance of filing our minds with truth and beauty.  These women are strong and insightful.

We wrapped up in prayer and hugs and a new friendship and a hope to see each other again. Brenda and Julie helped me load up the car and we talked for a bit more.  Brenda has a beautiful voice and performs spoken word.  I promised to email her a powerful piece from the IF:Gathering that I thought she would like.  We hugged goodbye in the muggy evening as the fireflies glittered like a thousand stars around us.

As I drove over an hour back home through the Kentucky dark, I was overwhelmed with a fierce love for these women. I reflected on the time leading up to tonight. The past week I had been anxious about this for some reason–doubting that I had really heard from God to take my harp and play here. I doubted my abilities. I wondered if it would make a difference.  I prayed that God would use me despite my inadequacies. I’m learning that if we wait until we feel ready to do something it will never happen. God just asks us to show up with what we have, and the rest is up to Him. The greatest treasures I took away from tonight are the new friendships he’s given me.  These are truly some of the most courageous women I’ve met.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized my journal was missing.  I had taken it out of my bag and set it on the chair in the living room when I was packing up. In all the talking and hugging apparently I overlooked it.

I guess I’ll just have to go back.


* In order to protect the identities of the women in this story, names have been changed.*

The post I almost didn’t write…

*Disclaimer* I realize there are like five people who read this blog (thanks, Mom.)  Some of you may know my struggles and know I have had a history with depression.  Just wanted to reassure you that this post was not written out of that place.  Sorrow is a natural emotion and when dealt with properly, can actually become a tool for growth.  I’d like to think I’m moving toward that. But sometimes people just need to be sad.  And that’s ok — as long as we don’t stay there.  I hesitated to even share this, but I know I am not alone in these thoughts and feelings and pray that my words may help someone else.  I welcome any feedback as well — I think that too often we try to dismiss tough emotions like sorrow to make room for the prettier ones.  So if you’re still willing, read on, my friend….

So the thing about grief….it’s always with you to some degree.  Sometimes it pierces sharp and rubs your heart raw.  Time seems to stand still for you as you lie frozen in sorrow while the rest of the world spins on ahead.  Other times, you might not even realize it’s there. Even after you’ve moved through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), you can still find yourself drifting back now and then. On the surface, everything is running smoothly. But there’s an undercurrent that can catch you off guard when you least suspect it.  You’ll be going through your day: taking kids to school, paying bills, going grocery shopping.  Then all of a sudden — smack in the middle of the mundane —  a memory, a song, a smell….something pops into your head and triggers your heart to snap like a rubber band as you’re standing in the checkout line.  That was me recently.

I was standing in line at Kroger, silently cursing myself for choosing the longest lane.  I was trying to guestimate the total damages in my cart when a newborn cry pierced through the din of the store and tore at my heart.  I don’t know what it was about that particular instant, but all at once it was all I could do to not burst into tears as I silently remembered our two babies we never got to hold.  It had been three years already.  Why was this happening now?   The cashier deftly swiped each item, unaware of the turmoil that had now entered my soul.  The bagger asked if I was following the Reds and if I thought they’d make it to the World Series.

“The who? Oh…um…yeah, I guess they’re pretty good right now, huh?”

He looked at me like I had six heads.

I was not thinking about baseball.  Or groceries. Or how much per gallon of gas I could save if I used my Kroger card.  I was thinking about loss and love and a hole in my heart.  Everything else seemed trivial.

My first thought was to dismiss the pain.  But  I’ve  numbed the pain before, and it only makes it worse.  To try to not feel pain also keeps you from feeling joy.  And hope.  No, I want to feel it all.  It means I’m alive.

So I gathered my groceries and hurried to my car as the gray clouds condensed and hovered over me.  I crammed the groceries in the car between soccer gear and camping chairs and slammed the cart into the corral.  I made it back and laid my head on the steering wheel just as it started to rain.

I cried for the children I never got to hold.  I think of them everyday, but sometimes it’s especially hard.  Sometimes I feel like this is something I should “be over” by now, but clearly I’m not.  Statistically speaking, one in every four women has experienced the pain of miscarriage.  Even though it’s not necessarily a taboo subject anymore, it’s still not something that is openly discussed very much.  But for those of us who have experienced it, giving ourselves permission to grieve, while difficult, is necessary to let healing begin.

I think that, for me, the deep feeling of one sorrow opens the door to feeling sadness for others, too.  I remember friends who have lost their children much too young.  I think of others mourning the loss of a marriage. I think of a dear family member who is my age and has an incurable disease that will most likely shorten his life significantly.  It’s. Not. Fair.

The rain comes down hard.

I want to scream.


How long, O Lord?

How long until every relationship under the sun is brought into the fulness of love You desired it to be?

How long until I see my loved ones healed of disease?

How long until every parent’s heart is united with their children?

How long until You return and set all things right?

Living in between times — that’s what we are doing.  Caught between the “now” of a broken world  and the “not yet” of a perfect one to come.  Yet sometimes heaven breaks through and breathes new life into dry bones.

Beauty from ashes.

In the Christian calendar, the season of Advent will be upon us in just a couple of months.  A time of expected waiting….for the coming Savior who will bring all things together.

And yet He’s already started.  With us.

I’m still trying to get my head around that. While we try to make our way in a broken world where nothing ultimately satisfies, He breaks in and realigns our vision.  He begins new life in us that will continue for eternity…

Heaven is an affirmation and confirmation that the beauties and sanctities of the visible creation — tree and rock, Jesus and Eucharist — are not illusions that trick us into what cynics think of as naive, useless, and silly practices of love, hope, and faith, but are realities that are in strict correspondence with what has been begun in us and will be complete in us.  (Eugene Peterson — Reversed Thunder)

When I try to see life in this light of eternity….the number of years, months, or days we spend as living human beings on this earth is much less significant than the everlasting life we are given through Christ.  From  embryos to the elderly, He has begun a good work in us all.  One day it will all come together, and it will be thrillingly beautiful.  Until then, I will continue to keep my sights set on eternity while I live in the middle.

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  (C.S. Lewis)

So, Who Do You Think You Are? (Part 2 of 2)

A psalm of David:

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”   (Psalm 8:4)

David might as well have asked, “Just who do we think we are?”

I’m reminded of a children’s story by Max Lucado.  It’s called You Are Special and it’s a beautiful metaphor of a loving Creator and His children. It’s worth a short re-telling here, but I would encourage you to go to your local library and check it out for yourself.

This is a story about the Wemmicks.  The Wemmicks were small wooden people who were carved by a woodworker named Eli. Eli’s shop sat on top of the hill overlooking the Wemmick’s village.  Each Wemmick was different.  They were created in all different sizes, shapes, and colors.  Every day the Wemmicks wandered around their village putting stickers on each other.  They had a box of golden star stickers and a box of gray dot stickers. Some Wemmicks were talented and smart, and had smooth paint  and lovely features.  The other Wemmicks would come and place star stickers on them. But some Wemmicks could do little.  Their paint was chipping and perhaps they couldn’t do what some of the other Wemmicks thought was important. They would get dots.

Punchinello was a Wemmick who had many dots.  People would see all of his gray dots and give him more simply because he had so many dots to begin with.  He began to avoid the other Wemmicks for fear of receiving more dots. What’s worse, he began to believe that he was no more than the dots that covered him.

Then one day Punchinello met a Wemmick unlike any he’d every seen. Her name was Lucia, and she did not have any stars or dots.  It wasn’t that the other Wemmicks didn’t try to give her stickers, but neither the stars nor the dots stuck to her.  Punchinello was astounded and asked Lucia how she did it.

“It’s easy,” Lucia replied.  “Every day I go see Eli.”


“Yes, Eli.  The woodcarver.  I sit in the workshop with him.”


“Why don’t you find out for yourself?  Go up the hill.  He’s there.”

So the next morning Punchinello set off to see Eli.  When he entered the shop, he was frightened.  What if Eli gave him a dot, too?  He turned to walk out when Eli called his name.


Punchinello turned to Eli as he examined the small wooden person.  Noting his dots, Eli could sense Punchinello’s sadness.  Punchinello tried to explain himself to Eli, but the gentle woodcarver didn’t seem to care about the dots.

“Oh, you don’t have to defend yourself to me, child.  I don’t care what the other Wemmicks think.”

“You don’t?”

“No, and you shouldn’t either.  Who are they to give stars or dots?  They’re Wemmicks just like you.  What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello.  All that maters is what I think.  And I think you are pretty special.”

Punchinello had never had anyone speak to him like this.  Eli went on to explain that Punchinello was special because he made him.  Punchinello was his, and Eli loved him.

Punchinello asked Eli about Lucia.

“Why don’t the stickers stay on her?”

The maker spoke softly.  “Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think.  The stickers only stick if you let them.”


“The stickers only stick if they matter to you.  The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.”

–from You Are Special, by Max Lucado

We assume our identities through a myriad of different channels.  We let our jobs define us.  We let where we’re from define us.  We let our relationships define us.  We let our achievements define us.  We let our failures define us. We’ve all received stars and dots.

As I write this I join with millions of people around the world in looking forward to the start of the Olympics.  Thousands of world-class athletes are about to converge in London to perform their best in hopes of receiving a gold medal — the ultimate star sticker.  These dedicated men and women (and children!) have dedicated themselves to their sport.  What they eat, their sleep, their training, their conversations with their trainers — everything has gone into producing the best athlete possible.  We will watch as world records are broken and Cinderella-esque stories unfold on the field and on our screens.  These are the best of the best.

We’ll also see some devastation. Tears of defeat will glisten in the eyes of some athletes as an injury occurs, as they stumble on the balance beam, or as they run their hearts out but are just a tenth of a second too slow.  You can bet that some of these athletes (our heroes) are giving themselves some gray dots.

Studies have shown that professional athletes and Olympians who have retired often go through severe emotional issues (like depression) as they are faced with the reality that they have peaked professionally and can no longer maintain their level of performance.  I think of gymnasts who, in their teens are reaching the height of their career.  What then?  Or what about professional football players who have lived the dream, receiving (in my opinion) way too much money, endorsements, and fame, and are then tossed aside to make room for the up-and-coming star quarterback?  How do they define themselves then?

What does it all matter, really?  What will a gold medal or a Pulitzer Prize or a Grammy mean in the whole scope of eternity?  Yes, these achievements are impressive, but what happens when a new generation doesn’t recognize your name 50 years from now? And what about regular people like us, who don’t win awards, walk the runway, or play on a major league team?  To what do we try to cling to ensure our “legacy?”  Our jobs? Our community service?  Our families?  These are all good things too, but they cannot define us.

So maybe the question we need to be asking ourselves is not “Who do you think you are?”   Maybe we should be asking ourselves, “God, who do YOU think I am?”

Here’s His answer:

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  (Romans 8:15-17)

“The spirit of sonship.” It’s taken me a long time to learn this lesson — and I’m still learning.  I know this on a cerebral level.  I let it rest on the surface like a thin gauze of truth I tape over gaping wounds.  But I want more than that.  I want it to seep into my pores and become the life-blood of who I am.  I want it to heal those wounds from the inside out.  I’m too often like the street kid who’s been adopted by the King, yet continues to dive in the dumpster for scraps rather than sit at my Father’s table and feast.

But how do I change that thinking?

By spending time with my heavenly Father.  He knows my mess and my shame, my hurt and confusion.  He sees the stars and the dots — and  He sees through it all to the heart of His creation:  a precious child, wholly and dearly loved.

It’s a love that is overwhelming, all-consuming, and yes — a little frightening to a trembling heart. But it is pure and good.  Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to grasp — it’s not of this world.

“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zephaniah 3:17)

This love is tenderly powerful. My response is to surrender to this love and let it transform me.

Therefore, I urge your, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God —  this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12: 1-2)

Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.  He is good.  I can trust the One who died for me.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.  Stars and dots don’t matter.  They only stick if you let them.

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. When we fill our minds with truth there is no room for lies.

I know these things.  I really do.  But I need to keep reminding myself.

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is an illusion.

— Brennan Manning

What would it look like if we humbly defined ourselves in this way?  What if we truly saw others not as wooden people with stars or dots, but as fellow children of a loving Father, beloved by Him?  Neither pride nor insecurity could bind itself to this truth.

You are beloved by a powerful and loving God.  And that is more than enough.

So who do you think you are? (Part 1 of 2)

“A two part blog entry?  What on earth does she have to say that is so important?” you might be asking yourself.  It’s a fair question.  The title, “So who do you think you are?” has been a question that’s been swirling around in my head lately.  How do we identify ourselves?  By what we do?  How we look?  By what books we read or the people we socialize with?  I know first and foremost that I am a child of God.  But how does that affect the way I “do” life?  How does that trickle down to all of my relationships, my work, and how I spend my time?

And what about those things that try to pull me away from this identity?  What about the voices that constantly nag, “You’re not _________(fill in the blank) smart enough, thin enough, talented enough, patient enough, creative enough, pretty enough……good enough….?”

The goal of this post is not to beat myself up.  I can do that quite well without the help of a computer.  But I do want to process some things, if you’ll allow me.  There are some old demons that I thought were gone, but seem to have slipped back into my thoughts through a window I’ve carelessly left open.

Through several recent conversations and experiences, I have sensed this overwhelming urge for others’ approval.  Call it narcissism, insecurity, or a combination of both, but I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Anyone else?  Alright then, maybe it is just me…

One of the events that has brought this issue to a head for me was a recent performance.  But before I dive into the event itself and the way I see myself through it,  I’ll give you a little more insight into the whole shebang.

Dreams (or “Delusions of Grandeur”)

Here’s the back-story:

Many people who know me understand that I have a long history of…um…well….very strange dreams.  As a child I had several dreams that would reoccur on a regular basis.  In some I was flying (fun!),  in others I was being chased by a giant claymation figure (not fun.)  One of the craziest recurring dreams I remember involved Gary Coleman, Count Chocula, and hot dogs.  It even had a narrator that always began the dream with, “On a dark and stormy night…..”

I kid you not.

I’ll spare you the details, but know this:  it was actually quite horrible.

The earliest dream I can remember was so vivid that I woke up screaming and pounding the headboard with my fists. I must have been about four years old.  This nightmare was so terrifying that I distinctly remember calling out for my dad between gasps for breath.  The main villain in this treacherous tale?  The Cookie Crisp Cereal Policeman. Seriously. To this day I still hate Cookie Crisp.

I’m sensing that some of my trust issues have stemmed from my negative experiences with children’s cereal characters.  Clearly I need more therapy.  But I digress…

Fast forward to me in my mid-twenties: It had been awhile since I’d experienced any recurring dreams, or even remembered my dreams at all.  Then one ordinary night I had The. Best. Dream. Ever.

I was standing on a large stage with these guys:

If you don’t know who they are, then…just….please — stop reading.  I mean it.  Stop — you won’t get it.  And also, you’re making me sad.

Anyway, I couldn’t really see them but I knew they were there.  Blinding lights were flashing around the stadium and scores of thousands of people were amped up for the U2 experience. There was a divine energy in the air as the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.  I was wearing black leather pants, some funky t-shirt, and had an electric harp.  I heard the keyboard playing a sustained chord and I knew where this was going.  I looked to my right where Bono was standing, waiting.  He looked over at me and gave the ever-so-slight head nod.  And was that a wink he just gave me behind his sunglasses?  I knew I was up.  I gave a nonchalant nod back like I had done this a thousand times before.  I leaned in to play, and the first six notes of “Where the Streets Have No Name” rang out from my harp so purely I thought I might weep.  The audience went crazy and I totally rocked out with U2 that night.  I always woke up before the song ended, though.  Then the next week we’d do it all again.  And the next.  This dream went on about once a week for two months.  I don’t think there was ever another time in my life when I couldn’t wait to go to sleep.

What does it all mean?  I asked myself.  Maybe, just maybe….Yeah, um…probably not gonna happen, Sarah.  Seriously, get a grip.


Fast forward again to Christmas 2011.  There was a large box for me under the Christmas tree from my husband.  Thinking it was a picture to hang in our newly purchased home, I unwrapped it very carefully.  But as I reached my hand in to take hold of the object, my fingers stumbled onto a row of….levers?  Yes…underneath a red piece of fabric I distinctly felt a row of small levers, following a gentle curve.  I knew at once it was The Harp.  I had been lusting after a blue electric harp for a few years, and now it was in my hands, this holy grail of instruments.  I cried.  No surprise there.

I had been trying out my Little Betsy Blue with the worship team at my home church as well as with my church-away-from-home (and having way too much fun, I might add.)

One day after the service a cool guy with a gray ponytail approached me and said, “Hey — I have an opportunity for you.  How would you feel about playing this thing (motioning to my new harp) at the local Cincinnati TED conference in a few weeks?  I’d really like you to play something unexpected…”

“Unexpected?” I repeated.  My mind raced.  I’ve done Stairway to Heaven before — but that’s becoming a standard “wow look what I can play on the harp” kind of thing for many harpists.  No, I didn’t really want to do that.

“Yeah…maybe start with something traditional and then switch to something off-the-wall, you know…”

“Sure. Umm….Could I….Could I play U2?”  I held my breath.

“Yeah, that would be perfect!” he grinned.

I liked this guy already.

Long story short: I arranged Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” and U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and played it at the TEDxCincinnati conference. (Many of you have probably seen a TED talk on the Internet.  TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. This platform is backed by Bill and Melinda Gates. TEDx is a local version of the TED project. More information on TEDx can be found  here.

I was a mess of nerves that day — not only was this the first time to play this combo outside of the comfort of my own living room, but I had to stand on a table in front of a very high window to be seen as part of the performance.  Let’s just say I’m not terribly fond of heights.

So I prayed before my song. First of all, I prayed that I would not lock my knees, keel over and fall out the window.  Then I prayed that the music would touch people…that it wouldn’t be about me, but about connecting to people.  I asked God to open the doors for the audience to feel and experience something that would draw them closer to Him.

No, Bono wasn’t there, and it turns out I didn’t fall out of the window.  That in itself was a miracle to me.  The performance went reasonably well, and I had several kind souls share with me their encouraging words.  I felt happy that the music connected with them.  I was also incredibly relieved it was over.


And this is where the “Who do you think you are” part starts to come in…I never realized how much I cared about what other people thought of me until this performance was posted on the internet.  To say I was disappointed in the way I looked (the camera angle made me look about 30 pounds heavier, in my opinion), the way I played (there are so many mistakes I hear as I listen to it) would be an understatement.  Just who do I think I am?

At first I didn’t want anyone to see this video.  I was afraid of the way people would see me –the way I saw myself through eyes that have been darkened by lies. This 3 minute and 45 second video is all some people will know of me.  I wanted it to be better.   But then I remembered some of the responses I got after the performance.  It seems as though God did answer my prayer as I spoke with the other attendees. If that’s the case, which I believe it is, then I don’t want to hide this little light of mine, imperfect as it may be.  Because you know what?  Nobody’s light fills the darkest night on it’s own.  It’s only when everyone shines that the darkness fades.

And in reality, people don’t think about us as often as we think about ourselves.

So what about you?  Who do you think you are? Is the image you project to others true to who you really are?  Where do you find your identity?  These are not a rhetorical questions. I’m genuinely curious about what others have to say about this. I’ll be looking for some comments.  After all, this is only Part 1 of 2…

In the spirit of authenticity, here’s the video.

Weeding the Garden of Grace and Love

It’s called a Grace Garden — inspired by one of my favorite writers, Ann Voskamp of A Holy Experience.  She writes a lovely description and tutorial here.  Basically it’s a miniature Easter scene created out of dirt, plants, rocks, etc.  It’s a great visual reminder of the promise of Easter.

Being a not-very-crafty person, I thought this project was something I could handle with the kids. It involved no sewing, gluing, or papier-mache.  And while I am by no means a competent gardener, I do love getting dirt under my fingernails, so I was totally on board with this idea.  So yesterday the kids and I scavenged an old pot we found in the garage and filled it with dirt, grass, and flowers we dug up from the yard.  We used a small flowerpot turned on its side for the empty tomb and covered it with some dirt and clover.  Ben tied two sticks together to form the cross, and Eliza carefully placed the rocks just so around the “pond” (a small bowl filled with water).  We wrote the words “grace” and “love” on a couple of rocks.

That’s when some thistles started to pop up in the Grace Garden.

Immediately there was outrage over where to put the “grace” and “love” rocks.  It escalated a little something like this:

“I want to put grace next to the pond!”

“But that’s where I want to put love!  You can put grace by the tomb.”

“No!  There’s not enough room!  Move your love over there.”

“Oh yeah?  Then grace can go in the grass.”

“Mom!!!! She won’t let me put my rock where I want!”

“Well, he’s being mean!”

Exasperated, I tried to point out the irony of their grace/love/Easter garden controversy, but by this point I was getting a headache and honestly wasn’t feeling so hot.  Plus I really just wanted to get this thing finished so I could check it off my “make something meaningful with the kids” list.  Stellar attitude on my part, I know.

After reclaiming some semblance of control and a brief discussion on the absurdity of this argument, we did manage to make room for both grace and love between the tomb and the pond.

I thought about this fighting over the placement of grace and love.  Something in my heart twitched.

I want grace and love where I decide.  I want it for me.  And sometimes I’m lousy at giving it back.

Bono’s words ring in my ears: “Would  you deny from others what you demand from yourself?” (from Crumbs From Your Table by U2)

I want grace there.

I want grace when I don’t feel well and I’m too tired to make dinner. I want grace when I put my foot in my mouth.  I want grace when I forget to call my friends back.  I want grace when I raise my voice at my children.  I want grace when I have $30 in library fines.

But I have a hard time giving grace to you, friend, don’t I?

I want love here.  I don’t want love there.  

I want to be loved and I want to love others in return….but sometimes Love interrupts my schedule.  It means putting something off that I want to do in order to spend time with someone who needs to talk, to pray, or to be driven to the grocery store.  I want to be loved when I’m in a good mood as well as when I feel like a failure.

Sometimes it’s hard for some of us to receive love, and therefore harder to give it away freely.  Pride has many disguises, and I’ve learned how to wear many of its masks to cover up this ugly monster.  But underneath it’s still the same.  Love costs us something. To feed Love is to starve Pride.

Which is exactly what happened on Good Friday.

Philippians 2:3-8:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Father, have mercy on me.

Friends, as I receive grace and love from my heavenly Father, so will I try to let it flow out to you.  Please forgive me for the times when I allow pride to cut off its flow.

These boots are made for walkin’. And stompin’. And trudgin’. And dancin’.

No, this is not a post about current foot fashions.  God knows I am not an authority on fashion, but I must  introduce you to my favorite pair of shoes. I love cute ballerina flats as much as the next girl, but they pale in comparison to these beauties.  Meet my trusty hiking boots. They might not be pretty, but they are tough and dependable — always ready for an adventure.   I bought these boots 10 years ago at an EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports) sale in New England.  As a 23 year old newlywed transplanted to Massachusetts, I think I was more excited by all the hiking and camping gear we bought that weekend than by the boxes of new china waiting to be unpacked.  All-weather sleeping bag?  Check.  Heavy-duty-ready-for-New-England-winter-parka?  Check.  Sturdy hiking boots?  Check.

Little did I know when I first took these Garmont boots out of their brand new box what adventures awaited.

These boots have sloshed through streams, balanced on fallen log bridges, gone looking for rattlesnakes (don’t ask), and hiked countless trails.

They have gone in search of wood to warm a remote Canadian cabin.  Their soles have skipped over the rocky Maine coast and hiked up lighthouse steps.

These boots could tell a thousand stories.

They have accompanied a loyal dog through long walks in the woods.  Recently they also pressed the shovel into the earth to make room for his tired body.

They spurred me on through the Green Mountains of Vermont one Thanksgiving weekend when I felt the first waves of nausea  announcing the early beginning of new life.

Years later they discovered a hidden daffodil field and caught the tears that fell there.

They have gone apple-picking with a toddler in hand and a baby on the back.  They have climbed over rock walls, stood on fenceposts, stomped down weeds, and danced in the mud.

Currently my boots are covered in plaster dust from renovating our first home.

The thing I love about these boots is this:  they know what they were built for.  They don’t try to be something they’re not. I can’t disguise these hiking boots as a pair of pumps to slip on with a little black dress — that’s not what they’re for.  Boots like these are not afraid of the the rocky terrain, the icy streams, or the whatever is beyond that next hill.  I’m not worried about scratches or scuffs.  Rather, I look at them fondly, knowing that each mark is a memory.  Tallying each one up and taking an inventory of my adventures causes me to pause in gratitude for each place, each person, and each lesson that was connected to these events.

These boots are nowhere near the end of their useful life.  Aside from changing the laces a few times, these things show no sign of wearing down.  Which is good–because I’m going to need them again.  And again.

My boots are always ready for action.

When I lace them up I feel the explorer rise up inside me.  I think about strong women who pushed beyond their physical limits through mountains, plains, and rivers.  Suddenly I feel like Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman, and Laura Ingalls all at once.

Sometimes I wear my boots as I go about the mundane — grocery shopping, yard work, and taking sick kids to the doctor.  They remind me that adventures and challenges do not only wait for me in the woods.  They are everywhere.  Cars get crushed.  Houses need repaired. People get sick.  Relationships need watering.  Dark clouds quietly creep into minds and chaos wreaks havoc on the lives of those I love.

This week in particular has been a challenge for many who are dear to me.  Some of my friends and I are wearing our boots all week as a sign of solidarity. I know it’s not going to magically make our situations better, but it’s a good reminder that we are equipped to weather whatever storms may come.

But I must pause to remind myself of something here:  It is not my strength that carries me on.  As hearty as I think I may be and as sturdy as my boots are, I am not strong enough to walk these valleys or climb these mountains on my own.  I am keenly aware of my limitations.  I wish I had more endurance.  I also have a horrible sense of direction.  God forbid any of you should depend on me to get you somewhere without a GPS.

Yes, God does call us to push on and carry our crosses.  But he also bids us to come and rest and lay our burdens down.  As I lace up my boots today, I pray for strength and courage for us to hike the trail before us.  I pray for wisdom to know when to push on and when to rest.  I also pray for discernment, because I know that we are in enemy territory, and Evil has set many traps along the path.  We must be on our guard, or we could easily become ensnared and cause those around us to stumble.  We need to listen to those who can see farther down the path than us.  If we heed their warnings (“Watch out for this thorn bush!”) and take their encouragement to heart (“There’s a stream up here where we can sit down and eat lunch!”), the journey will be even sweeter.

I woke up this morning to images of hiking through the woods, and Robert Frost’s words practically jumped out of my mouth:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep

(From “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost)

We have many miles to go.  But we are not walking them alone.

Flippin’ Resolutions….

I’ve never been great at keeping New Year’s resolutions.  Like many people, I start off with a list of noble intentions.  I’ll eat healthier,  be more organized, run four times a week, read the Bible more, write more letters, and volunteer more.   About half the time these resolutions result in some kind of positive action that usually lasts for a few weeks, then fizzles into guilty oblivion.  One year I tallied up 43 resolutions.  Needless to say, I failed miserably in keeping even one.

Don’t get me wrong–I think it’s beneficial to step back and take a look at the things we’d like to do differently in a new season of life. Replacing bad habits with good ones is a worthy pursuit.  Re-evaluating priorities and carving out time for the people and activities that are most important to us is necessary in balancing life.  But if you’re anything like me, you can too easily create an unrealistic picture of what you want your life to look like, and then run yourself ragged in trying to keep up with it. For me personally, I struggle with this notion of always resolving to do more.  

Try harder.  

Be more disciplined.  

Stop doing this.  

Do more of that.

It doesn’t take long for me to feel defeated when I fail to live up to my self-imposed (and usually self-righteous) expectations.  Paul’s words narrate this inner battle of my heart:

…For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing…..So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!  (Romans 7: 18-25)

It’s not that I don’t want to do the right thing — it’s that I am powerless in my own strength to do it.  Grace rescues me from this battle, but I am still learning to fall into grace’s net.  So I’m trying something new this year.  Rather than creating a list of desired behaviors and accomplishments I would like to achieve this year, I am flipping New Year’s resolutions upside-down.

If I could sum up my desire for this year in one word, it would be this:


Instead of resolving to do, I will choose to surrender.

Rather than trying to fit the square shape of my own skills and ideas into a round hole of opportunity, I choose to become clay, to be surrendered to the Potter’s hands. I want Him to mold me into the shape He desires in order to fill in the places He chooses.

I choose to surrender my time and my comfort when it is least convenient for me — like when my child needs some extra time to talk heart-to-heart in the midst of my own agenda.

I yield my heart to the warmth of my Savior’s love, even when it is frosted over with bitterness and disappointment.

I will give a sacrifice of praise even when my heart burns with sadness.

I surrender each choice I make–what I consume, what I give, how I spend each hour, how I care for my body, the words that I speak, and the attitude of my heart.

I will not do these things perfectly, but in a continual posture of surrender, my prayer is that there would be less of me and more of Him.

“Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'” (Luke 9:23)