Mercy in the Darkness

What does mercy look like when the person who did the hurting doesn’t acknowledge it? Doesn’t remember? Maybe chooses not to remember? What if knowing that he was hurt too isn’t enough?

See, every year about this time, I feel a contradiction. The weather gets cooler even in Texas (eventually) and the leaves change color.  The pumpkins start showing up among the produce. And I love all that. But it’s also the time of year when ragweed grows. And my body reacts to its harmless pollen as if it is attacking me. As if it can hurt me. My head aches, my eyes water, and I blow my nose until it’s chapped. I try to laugh it off. Try to convince everyone that I’m actually not a carrier for the plague as I sneeze and reach for another tissue.

And I’ve started to wonder if there’s more to it. Is my body remembering old wounds? Times when something that seemed innocuous suddenly wasn’t? Is that even possible?

I don’t know. But now more than ever, I know that the body isn’t disconnected from the soul, from the spirit.

And either way, I’m trying to keep breathing. To have the courage to feel what I’m feeling and remember what I’m remembering. Which is stuff that’s devastating and that still has tentacles that touch today. Stuff that’s easier to put in a closed drawer and leave there.

Somehow, being honest about what happened when I was too young to know how to speak up for myself helps mercy matter. It doesn’t make it easier–I don’t think it ever gets easy. But it makes it more real. It makes it a battle worth fighting again and again. Not because it feels like justice. The part of me that wants retribution is still there. But there’s something underneath. Something truer. Something sacred. Something pure. I think it’s grace.


I was sitting in my living room gazing at my screen one Sunday evening after liturgy last fall. I hit save and considered whether to keep writing or call it a night. It was getting late and I was tired after a long day. Then the doorbell rang. After ten o’clock. Which was a little weird. My heart beat faster as I pushed my barking dogs aside and looked out the front door. A young man was bending to lay down on the porch, muttering something I couldn’t make out. 

Kyle left for the airport hours before so I was alone. With obviously empty houses on either side of mine.

My mind assured me that he was most likely harmless. Just someone drunk or high or confused. I pondered what to do as he moved to sit in one of the chairs on the porch, ringing the door bell again, still mumbling. Who was he talking to? Probably himself. But were there others out of sight in the shadows? If another person were home with me or if I could text my old neighbor Lobo to come over and see what was up, I’d have asked him if he was lost or needed bus fare. But as it was, it seemed better to let the police talk to him; make sure he wasn’t a danger to anyone including himself or me. So I dialed, heart pounding. As I spoke to the dispatcher, he rang the bell again and again. And again. The woman heard through the line. “Is that him ringing again?” It was. At this point, I figured, it should be obvious that if people were home, they were choosing not to open the door. What was his deal?

Finally, the police came. Made him take a sobriety test. And, a very long while later, they drove away without a word to me. It was after midnight by this point. I couldn’t tell if they’d taken my visitor or not and when I called the police to check, no one knew. So was he down the street? Would he be coming back? They’d ask one of the officers to call and let me know. I tried to sleep. And I wondered…

Coincidence? Maybe. But sometimes, it seems, the darkness talks back.

And yet. And yet. I don’t believe the shadows win. There is another Voice that speaks. Another invitation remains to mercy that is extravagant.

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…” 2 Peter 1:19

starry night

{photo credit}

Love & Marriage

This time last year, Kyle and I were on a trip to celebrate a quarter century of married life. I’ve been married longer than I’ve not been married. Which is kind of crazy. We married very young. I’m sure many thought we wouldn’t make it. The odds were certainly against us. 

But we loved each other and God and made a life together even without much support or community in those early years. By the time we were in our early thirties, we’d helped plant a church and numerous ministries. People were regularly asking us for marriage advice and telling us how they wanted their relationship to be like ours–full of laughter and partnership and mutual respect. But the truth was that there were some chinks in our relationship. Many of which we didn’t recognize ourselves. And they widened into a chasm during a series of devastations. We both felt like failures. We both felt abandoned by the other. Trust was broken in various ways. Life was turned upside down. It was a time of unspeakable darkness.

From the beginning, we’d promised never to say the word divorce. But I said it. Because it felt increasingly impossible to imagine a way back. On our twenty-fourth anniversary, I was in a hotel room alone in a far away city. I needed space to search out how to move forward and discern what God’s invitation was. Our marriage felt broken beyond repair. I didn’t know what to do but I knew it felt dishonest to celebrate a wedding anniversary that year.

We had so wanted to be different. We believed in marriage that lasts a lifetime. Still do. But we were naïve, idealistic. I can see at least some of the mistakes that led to that day. Kyle was an incredibly hard worker (good) but left precious little time for family and self and sabbath (not good). I believed in him and us and the work we were each pouring our lives into. But I didn’t speak up about my concerns loudly and often enough. And there was lots of ignorance in both of us about how commitment and relationship really work. See, we are both persisters. This is a good thing but without wisdom it’s dangerous and eventually toxic. I think we thought commitment had to be something something dogged and hard. But love doesn’t work that way.

We were the teachers. We were the role models. We had a plan and could talk about it clearly and passionately. But it was too much head and not enough heart. It was too much vision and not enough laughter and play. Too many scheduled meetings (more often than not to go over our calendars) and not enough just being. Too much focus on the why rather than simply living the what. 

And yet somehow the pieces began to come back together. Because of God’s love and mercy. Because we didn’t stop fighting. We kept seeking wholeness with God as individuals and with each other. Kyle began to seek health in some important ways for him and for our relationship.

And a year ago, trust and friendship and romance were being rebuilt. We were laughing together again. And so, to celebrate renewal, we took a trip to an island neither of us had heard of before. It was fun and beautiful.

On our anniversary, we spent some time reading all kinds of wedding vows. We needed to make some new promises. The old ones didn’t resonate anymore. We chose the traditional Quaker vows from a 1675 London meeting and added some nontraditional vows that were relational and felt sustainable and wise. And then on a deck overlooking the ocean and the stars, we spoke those vows to each other. We promised to love each other and embrace mystery together. We promised to respect each other and honor differences. We promised to face change together. We honored an assembly—in this case of trees and stars and waves and of a cloud of witnesses of our brothers and sisters that have gone before us and felt nearly tangibly there. We promised to be loving and faithful. We spoke our trust in divine assistance, knowing now more than ever the degree to which it is our best and only hope.


1988 in East Texas

Off Dominica

2014 in Dominica

In Champagne

2015 in Champagne

What we love about Mom

I came across this wonderful list today looking for another document. It was written in honor of my wonderful mom’s birthday a few years ago. We love you, mom!


Mom: All the women put our heads together to do something different since this is a very special birthday. We don’t tell you often enough how glad we are that you are part of our lives. We want you to know some of the things we love best about you.


  1. I love your selflessness. You instinctively put others before yourself.
  2. You are a true servant and a tireless worker.
  3. You celebrate all that is beautiful in God’s creation whether it is music or landscapes or people or dwelling places. You make anyplace you touch more lovely.


  1. I love her humble ability to laugh at herself.
  2. I love the way she loves her husband.
  3. I love that you can see her pursuit of God in the way she rose out of a difficult early life.


  1. I am thankful for a praying mom. I know there is no way I could ever know the amount of prayers you prayed over me. I love your prayerful heart. “I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” Abraham Lincoln
  2. I love how you see beauty in everything. In nature, an empty wall, an empty room, a piece of fabric.
  3. I love how you taught us how to be a lady. Not by meaningless drilling into our heads but being a perfect example of a lady who loves the Lord and serves Him and others with all her heart.


These are traits that I love/appreciate most about you.

  1. I love how kind you are.  Whether it’s your family, church family, clients or friends you are always so kind and selfless.  Even though I think you need to spend a little more time on yourself, it’s something I’ve always admired of you.
  2. I also love how creative you are!  I love how it’s brought you success and I love looking at magazines or watching HGTV and seeing how similar our tastes are.
  3. Finally, I love all your quirks!  We may joke about your quirks but I love realizing more and more of things that I’ve inherited from you :).  Like using the goo gone to get rid of the sticky on my water bottle because I want to keep it and it was driving me crazy!  You looked at me and said how scary it was that I’m becoming like you.  They’re what make you…you and we’ve all learned so much from you.


  1. She is one of the best listeners.
  2. She truly cares about the details of our lives and tries to help.
  3. If she can fix it, she doesn’t hesitate to start.


  1. She is always loving and caring.
  2. She never gets mad (at least around me J).
  3. She loves the Hunger Games!!

2013-11-30 14.42.27-1 copy

Terrible Beautiful Things

Last night I dreamed of spiders.

I was in this odd space. It was a neighborhood that was also a sort of camp or community. Everyone had chosen to live there because they worshipped at the same church. They’d gather in this community hall for dinners together in front of a huge stone fireplace. And I know what you’re thinking. But it totally wasn’t a cult. I think.

I was visiting a friend who had a lot of kids. I headed toward the back door as I arrived. And as I walked I kept seeing these spiders. They beautiful actually. They looked like Mexican sugar skulls. They were black and velvety with pink and blue and acid green markings like icing.

My friend’s kids were playing in the courtyard and they were surrounded by webs. They were on gutters and eaves and doorposts. But the kids didn’t seem to notice them.

I asked my friend about them. Yes, they’d bite but they couldn’t kill you. It’s not that big a deal, really. If one attaches, you just tap it and it’ll drop off. You’ll lose some fluids (something clear, not even blood). Nothing to worry about. Oh, just don’t pull at them or they’ll rip off some skin, too.

I went to the room where I was staying. In the dream, I kept imagining spiders biting me. It felt like I was covered in them. And it definitely didn’t seem like no big deal. It seemed like it would hurt more than my friend was willing to admit.

Something terrifying and painful was being made normal, even trivial. They were just living with the spiders when they should been fighting them. How could they just let their kids get bitten all the time? Why were they content to be surrounded by these horrible things just because they weren’t deadly?

In my dream, I was a little troubled by this but nothing like I would be in real life. Even though I had this vague sense there was a problem, it was like everything was a little hazy. Like I (and everyone else) was a little drugged or something.

Lots of other things happened. An old woman dressed in pink came to see me for spiritual direction. She was lovely. That part was wonderful. It was a meandering kind of dream.

And then I woke up. And I couldn’t stop thinking about those terrible beautiful sugar skull spiders.

Oh, God. There have been so many spiders in my life. Terrible things that don’t look so horrifying on the surface. I have been lulled by darkness into not trusting my instincts. The evil and brokenness and pain have been real. There have been horrible things wearing terrible beautiful masks. And I’m scarred by them. And too many people in my life have told me–with words or with silence–to live with it. To call it small or unimportant.

I need Your help to call things by their true names. I need Your help to know when to fight and when to run. I need Your forgiveness for the times that I’ve been the one telling someone it’s no big deal. How could I? I’m so so sorry.

So, my prayer? It’s that You will help me and heal me. That You’ll love me and not ever leave me. That You’ll fight for me.

And please let me be a healer, too. Please show me how to fight for people in a way that sets them free.



{photo cred}

identity theft

Sometimes I am ok with taking their own time. Some days I can celebrate process and journey. I have a sense of grace that reminds me of goodness and growth and God’s kindness even through suffering. Other days, I’m distracted and impatient. I’m frustrated that I still have so many questions. So many things I don’t understand. So many things that I should be over by now. But then I realize.

Maybe it isn’t surprising I’ve had a hard time figuring out who I am, who I’m meant to be, who I can be. Because of things like this–>When my dad remarried, he and my stepmom had a son together. They gave him the name that I would have had if I’d been a boy. And get this. He was born on my birthday. The poor kid actually stole my birthday. What are the chances? I’ve told people that strange story over the years and no ever seems to know what to say except ‘wow…weird.’ I have always hoped someone would help me figure out what it means.

But what it feels like is simple and clear. I was replaced–edged out–erased. It felt like I became nothing. Forgotten. A girl.

I remember going to visit my dad once. I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I wasn’t invited often even though for most of my childhood he lived fifteen minutes away. But on this day, I was there for some reason. I think my mamaw (that’s east Texan for grandmother) might have been in town. Dad wasn’t there when I got there. He was hunting or fishing with friends. I remember a lot of people around when he arrived.

I was excited. I couldn’t wait for him to notice me–I thought he’d be so happy and surprised since he wasn’t expecting me. He was distracted by showing the fish or deer or whatever it was and was talking happily to everyone there. Everyone except me. As the moments passed it became clear he was ignoring me. He was embarrassed I was there or something.

I was crushed.

Finally, a friend of his named Chris whose sandy blond hair was stylishly 1980-something short said, ‘Barry, aren’t you going to say hello to your daughter?!’ You’d think that would have made my humiliation even greater but it didn’t. I was so grateful to her. She saw me. And she made him see me.

As a kid, a lot of times I tried to disappear. It seemed like that was what I was supposed to do. It seemed safer to blend in.

But sometimes, I’d take a chance. I worked so hard to get my dad (and others) to notice me. To be proud of me. To like me. To find something worthwhile in me. Writing this made me realize I’ve bragged more to my dad than any person I’ve ever known.

Dad, my favorite color is the same as yours. Dad, I’m a good Christian. Dad, I’m a good student. Dad, I like books and music like your wife does. Dad, I’m graduating with honors. Dad, I’m getting a pool. Dad, I’m a good cook. Dad, I travel like you. Dad, my house burned down. Dad, I wrote a book.

And the answer is the same as it has always been. Silence.

And I get it. (In theory at least). This is my experience. His couldn’t have been easy, either. I’m sure he had his own hurts and confusion and conundrums. Maybe he felt shut out of my life. Maybe he thought it was best to let me connect with my new family.

And I didn’t make it easy for him. I was annoying and bratty and way too eager to talk about me, me, me whenever we were together. And when I was older, I started to vaguely say ‘yeah, let’s get together.’ But then I wouldn’t call. Just like him. But my word is my own. I could have called. I wish I had.

At first, he was young and probably didn’t know what to do. And when he wasn’t young any longer, the patterns were established. Inertia is a powerful thing. And it’s not his fault. Many things have conspired to make me believe all kinds of terrible things about me besides this.

But it happened and it matters and it’s the story I’m telling today.

The darkness has tried so very hard to make me disappear. To make me be quiet. To make me afraid and alone and ashamed. I guess that’s what I was supposed to get out of the whole half-brother-with-my-birthday-and-almost-name scenario. And the dad who didn’t want to be part of my life. But it hasn’t taken, somehow. The light keeps calling me. It keeps telling me my name.

And you know what’s great? I’ve always loved my name. I like the sound of it. I like the way it’s spelled. Most of all, I love what it means. It’s earth in Latin. Ground, soil, womb of life. I know we’re supposed to get a new name in heaven and I have to admit I’ve always been a little sad about that.

Some how, against all odds, I know who I am. I know I belong to the Light. I know (I can’t deny that I know) that the Center and Origin of all things calls me by my name. And loves me. And likes who I am. Even as he is making me new. Even now.

“But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

If this story sounds like your story, you should listen to this song by sleeping at last.


The Daughter I Haven’t Met

We would have received our referral for Camilla on this date in 2011. We still miss her, love her, and wish things could have been different. Lament is as important as laughter so I’m remembering her and acknowledging loss and sadness today.

terra firma


too late and too soon

Three years ago I became a mother again.  At long last, we got the referral letter for our Chinese adoption.  That meant it was finally time for us to be matched with a child who needed a family.  We’d been waiting five long years for this email.  But it came too late.

For reasons I am only beginning to understand, it was clear that with us was not the best place for this precious girl to be.  She would have been somewhere between 6 months and a year old.  She would have been small for her age after spending her first months in an orphanage and she’d have had dark, almond shaped eyes and shiny black hair cropped short.  We would have scurried home from the airport where I’d read the email to wait for our adoption agency to send more about her.  On the…

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Three Days In Marfa

Marfa Lights
{Last April JRF and I took a road trip to Marfa. It was magical. As we approach this holiday weekend, I am really ready to sit by a pool and enjoy a refreshing adult beverage but, alas, I have three papers to write, an exam, tons of reading, and a sermon to prepare. (All of which is wonderful and exciting so please don’t feel too sorry for me. Oh, you weren’t? Good. Anyway, I am taking a trip down memory lane. Come with me, won’t you?}

Our third annual girls’ trip couldn’t have come at a better time.  I needed a breath of fresh air in the midst of wedding planning and Jenny needed a break from her busy and wonderful two year old.  We are both city girls at heart but wanted something different.  A road trip seemed like just the ticket—a few days to unplug, see some beautiful country, read, and soak up a little sun.

We knew we’d come to the right place as soon as we got there.  The tables at Padre’s were full of people finishing beer and tacos and a few haphazard rows were set up in between.  A makeshift screen had been set up and the lights were dimmed.  And everyone was there for the same reason—to watch Marfa’s 60 Minutes segment airing that night.  Morley Safer and his staff did a great job of capturing the crazy juxtaposition of quirky artists and hipsters with cattle ranchers, border patrol way stations, and dust storms.  The best part was how everyone watching laughed at all the same lines and got excited together when a friend appeared onscreen.  When the segment ended, everyone applauded, the lights came up, and two bartenders started closing out tabs.

Morley was right about Marfa.  It has sparse beauty and small town charm.  The sunsets and openness of the land somehow make it easier to take a deep breath here.  And there’s something about the countryside that makes you want to create something beautiful.  I can see why artists are drawn here. There’s a semi-permanent Andy Warhol exhibit, Donald Judd’s boxes are scattered like cattle in a field near the Chinati Foundation, and a growing number of wonderful small museum spaces are here, too.  Ballroom Marfa is even building a drive-in movie theater and stage.

The food, when anyone feels like opening up, is surprisingly delicious.  I might have had the best cocktail of my life at Cochineal.  There are even some great places to stay. You can sleep in a real live teepee if the mood strikes and there’s not a hail, lightening, or dust storm.  And, of course, the Marfa lights are mysterious and amazing.  (My money’s on the aliens.*)  The Davis Mountains, hot springs, and the MacDonald Observatory are all within an hour drive.

But in the end it’s the people that make Marfa.  What we saw in those first moments was only reinforced the rest of the week.  It was fun to see locals of all ages hanging out and catching up wherever we went.  At Future Shark, old-fashioned (yet delicious) cafeteria food is served on long tables flanked with benches.  And nearly every one of them was full of people with wrinkles and white hair meeting kids in their twenties or thirties for lunch.  It made Jenny and I both realize how much we wish we saw that kind of thing everywhere.  Everyone was glad to be there.  And everyone we met, with the exception of one cranky store clerk, was super laid back and friendly.

I’d heard of Marfa before but couldn’t understand why anyone would want to make the eight-hour drive to get to a flat, dusty wasteland.  Now I get it.  Marfa is in the middle of nowhere but it’s full of people who love each other and their town.  And how could anyone not fall in love with that?

**We met a cute couple from Austin who watched the Marfa lights with us. She was a pastry chef and he a PhD student at UT. We got to see the moon and JUPITER through his fancy telescope=WIN.

dust storm 2013-04-15 14.35.23 2013-04-15 23.28.34