Because Sometimes We Need a Song to Remind Us of What’s True

jumping Lily

This is a familiar story (though I’ve never told it before). I’m sure you have your own version. It’s a story about how one song comes to represent something big: young love, say, or new parenthood, or that one particular summer when the weather just couldn’t be believed.

It actually was summer, and, yes, the weather couldn’t be believed. The coolest Chicago summer in a decade. I’ve never liked hot weather, but I was heavily pregnant and extra grateful for lake breezes.

I’d emerged from the long, dark tunnel of infertility. I’d survived the euphoria and illness of the first trimester. I was cocooned in the mellow hormones of the third trimester.

I’m sure it wasn’t all mellow dreaminess, but that’s how I remember it. The worst was behind. The earthquake that is a first baby was still to come. My husband and I took long walks. Went for long drives. Ate out in all our favorite restaurants.

That summer we could hardly turn on the car radio without hearing the song “Yellow” by Coldplay. Perhaps it only happened once, but when I think of that summer this is what I remember: a nighttime drive down the length of Chicago’s lakefront, overhead the city lights like glittery stars, windows rolled down, a baby girl filling me up, and “Yellow” playing on the radio.

That song and my firstborn: they’ve been tangled up in my mind ever since.

Which is a good thing.

Now when I hear that song, I’m taken right back to a place and a feeling it’s important never to forget. I hear the song, and I remember all of the joy and love and hope that a mother feels when her baby is tucked up inside, still unknown.

It can be difficult (often impossible) to hold on to those feelings through sleepless nights, temper tantrums, sibling fights, meltdowns over homework … well, all the ordinary awfulness of day to day life.

And my own mother-failures are the most awful of all.

But the ordinary awfulness is a distraction. It’s not the real thing. It doesn’t tell us who we really are. It tries to obscure the truth of who our child is.

More and more, I’m convinced that good parenting is learning to coast through the awfulness without losing my grip on the truth.

And the truth is this: life is magical, motherhood is an indescribably good gift, and my child (yours too) is more precious and beautiful than even the nighttime sky.

That is the truth, and this song helps me remember.

Just in time for Mother’s Day: a gorgeous cover of “Yellow” by Renee and Jeremy:

From Chaos to Shalom

I thought it would be hard to fit Good Friday into Spring Break. I thought it would be difficult to clear space for the cross in a week devoted to beach, pool, and mother-daughter shopping.

I was wrong.

In the car, on our way to the dollhouse store, her voice pipes up from the back seat. It’s hard to hear, the radio too loud, but I know she’s just said something about Daniel. I want her to stop talking. I can’t bear to hear any more about Daniel.

“That’s where Daniel lived.”

“Daniel is gone now.”

“Daniel is the first kid my age to die.”

Then she repeats the words I’ve heard so many times these past few weeks: “I wish I knew what happened.”

My daughter wants to understand how her second-grade classmate died. She wants to know how his little brother died. And how his mother died. We’ve talked about it a lot, but when it comes to the details, I’ve been vague. I’ve spoken of mental illness and accidents. I’ve never spoken the word murder. I can’t bear for her to know how dark the darkness really is.

It’s amazing, really, that she doesn’t know. With all the television cameras camped in front of her school, the grief counselors gathering the children into circles on the floor, the adults whispering at the bus stop, and me, trying to turn the tv off, the radio off, whenever she walked into the room, it’s a wonder that we managed to protect her from the full story. Because, of course, the full story only leads to an unanswerable question: why?

Why did this happen to these beautiful boys? God, why did you let this happen?

The small voice from the backseat says, “Daniel is in the ground now.” With these words, I find my voice again, and I tell her what I believe.

I tell her about Good Friday. I share the word gospel, and I explain that it is so much bigger, so much more beautiful than I understood when I was her age.

When I was a child, growing up in the church, I thought the gospel was this: “I am a sinner so Jesus died and rose again to reconcile me to God. Now I can have a relationship with God.” But I only understood a small part of the story.

My personal salvation is precious to me, but it is only one, small part of the Easter story. When I face evil, like the darkness which led to Daniel’s death, my personal salvation starts to look small. Insufficient. Sometimes, I even dare to whisper this dreadful doubt: “Do I want to be in relationship with a God who allows such things?”

Confronted by the brokenness of our world, I want more … so much more.

On Good Friday, God gave more.  He entered history at one, specific moment and he bore on that cross all the brokenness which came before and all the brokenness that comes after. Including Daniel’s murder.

When God’s own son, Israel’s righteous King, chose to suffer and die he unleashed rivers of justice and peace that will one day flood all of creation. This is a kingdom flood. A flood of living water. A flood to make all that is broken whole again.

When Jesus spoke his final words, he meant not only that his ministry on earth was complete, he meant that death, sin, and all the brokenness of creation were ended.

It is finished.

Can we trust him when evil continues to rear its head? Should we turn to him when our questions push us towards despair?

We know that God gave his own son to suffer and die. We know that God did not abandon his son to the grave. I am convinced that he has not abandoned Daniel. He will not abandon me.

He has not abandoned his creation. He is making it new.

Sometimes we see only a trickling fountain. Sometimes we glimpse the roaring river, but we who have pledged ourselves to this King have been given living water.

For now we share that water with our thirsty neighbors, and we look forward to the day promised each Easter, the day when there will be no more desert. No more thirst.

“Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

Isaiah 9:7



(photo by yours truly)

Holy Week in the Dollhouse

(photos by yours truly)

It’s Holy Week. It’s also – in our house – Spring Break.
Which means there are fewer quiet prayers and meditations, more picnics at the park and kids screaming in the car. In other words, the holy is not hard to find. It’s in my face, and it’s ringing in my ears (quite literally).
My Bible has stayed mostly closed, and I’m not sure if Friday’s Tenebrae service is appropriate for my eight-year-old, but this may all be for the best. 
There has been time, after all, to cross one item off of my most important to-do list.
Flowers for the Doll Family. 

(the dollhouse dining room prepared for Easter brunch)


Advent (Day 11)


Is Advent a hushed season? A time for quiet reflection?

I’d like it to be. I love quiet like few other things. “Silent Night” is my kind of carol.

Of course, my children prefer “Jingle Bells.” The five-year-old, especially, loves singing it at top volume at the dinner table.

I suppose there’s room for both of us this time of year. Room for quiet as I read the Advent devotional each night by candlelight (well, we’re at least aiming for quiet each night). Room for joyful noise from kids too excited to keep it all in. Presents! Parties! Bunkbeds at Grammy’s house!

Scripture, I fear, is not on my side in this tug-of-war. Once again, the child-like response may be the more spiritual (regardless of my own headache at one more round of “Jingle Bells”).

Mary did not wait in silence. Having responded with child-like faith to the angel’s strange pronouncement, she sang a song.

The silent one? Zechariah. Having heard the impossible news that he would have a son who would prepare Israel for the coming Christ, he said with the reasoning of an adult, “How can I be sure of this?” And, so, his mouth was shut (I suppose in order to keep him from uttering any more foolishness). His tongue remained tied until he held his miracle baby in his arms.

Somehow, this time of year, our house is actually noisier than at any other time. The volume, in every sense, has been turned way up. As much as I’d like to dial us all back down, I do believe (deep, deep down) that joyful noise is the only honest response to the story we’ve been given. Do you truly believe that God himself once visited us? That God both created and then walked upon the dirt beneath your feet? How can silent solemnity be the most appropriate response to such glorious ridiculousness?

Yes, I do mean to write ridiculous. We Christians put so much effort into trying to make ours appear to be a rational, reasonable faith. Personally, I think the whole idea of incarnation is so marvelous, so impossible, so unimaginably good, that to call this faith reasonable seems to do it a disservice.

Alas, my faith is not reasonable. God is not reasonable. A King born in a stable? Totally unreasonable.

Remembering this, I want to laugh like Sarah laughed.

Maybe tonight, after the Advent reading, we’ll sing a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells” by candlelight.


The Jesus of Prostitutes and the Purity Ball

mom & daughter jump

A brief story about a Purity Ball in my Sunday newspaper catches my attention. There is an image (a church altar decked in lace like a bridal veil) and there are words spoken by a twelve-year-old girl (“I’m saving my purity for my husband”), and I feel troubled, as if there is a small pebble in my shoe.

I don’t know why I am troubled. These are my people, after all. We speak the same church-y language, we love the same Lord. And goodness knows we need more fathers like this one, fathers who dance with their daughters and whisper prayers over their heads.

It would be easy to keep turning the pages, forget the nagging pebble, but I do have an eight-year-old daughter, after all. I hold the paper still and say to the sky, “Lord, do you have wisdom for a firstborn girl raising a firstborn girl? I’m troubled, and I don’t know why.”

And I can’t say if it’s an answer to my prayer but what comes to me is a story: the woman at the well. The woman with five husbands and one who wasn’t even that. Considering her, I decide that she wasn’t created for a husband (or five). She was created for Jesus. 

In fact, she was so highly esteemed by him that Jesus chose her to be the first to hear his earth-shattering news: the Messiah you have longed for is here. I am He.

I want to take this lovely twelve-year-old girl by the hand, look her in the eyes, and try to explain (but how to explain?) that purity isn’t some thing wrapped up in a box. It isn’t a commodity exchanged for a price. It’s a fire, it’s a light, it’s a fountain, and, yes, it turns the values of this world upside down because it’s holy and it’s a sacrifice.

What I would try to say is something like this: purity is a renewable gift, not a thing to grow dingy and worn (though I’m not quite sure who is the giver and who it is that receives, is it me? Is it Jesus?).

But the best news of all? Husband or no, you are invited to live the kind of love story in which even a prostitute can be the belle of the ball.

So, dear little girl, may your light shine, may my light shine, may the light given my daughter and my sons shine and shine. For He is ours, and we are His.

Good news.

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