Having a chronic illness is like trying to take a relaxing stroll through a muddy path.

I feel held back, always. 


I’m forever moving a bit slower than I’d like because my thoughts are so focused on how I feel—not necessarily that I feel bad, just gathering data. What would it be like to not feel this heaviness in my chest and on my shoulders, always slowing my steps?

My pastor says often to “trust the liturgy.” Sometimes when you come to church, you’re just not feeling it. You don’t want to talk to anyone, you don’t want to sing, you don’t want to pray. As you trust the liturgy—say the words, stand up, sit down, bow your head—the hope is your heart will catch up to your body. 

Over the last year, I’ve been trying to apply his advice to my life outside of the sanctuary, in my work towards being well.

Coffee in bed.

Stretching when it’s time to get up.

Greeting my son with kind words every single morning, no matter what kind of mood we’re both in.

Reading at least one thing I don’t “have” to when I first sit down at my desk at work.

Pausing mid-day to close my eyes, plant my feet on the floor, sit with my hands open, and breathe.

Refilling my water cup at 10am, 12pm, and 2pm.

Making sure “I love you” is that last thing my son and husband hear from me before they go to bed.

Taking my medication.

Stretching again.

Reaching for my husband’s hand and whispering the Lord’s Prayer when I feel that precious fog of drowsiness roll in.

I’m building a liturgy of my days that I can trust and lean into (or fall onto, sometimes) when things feel hard. And even when they don’t.

I’m clearing the mud path for my body and heart.

Make room

I fill the space with things: tasks to finish, books to read, emails to answer, texts to send.

They aren’t bad things. But the human heart has a way of twisting perfectly fine, necessary things and making them everything.

“Make room,” He whispers—a whisper that travels up my spine, taking root at the base of my neck.

“Make room for me.”

It’s not just the margins He wants. He wants front row seats, the prime real estate in the heart He created.

“Make room,” He says again. It’s louder this time, coming to me through conversations over His Word, through His prophet Hosea.

“For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.”

He’s not here to rearrange things; He’s here to purge. Maybe not to remove the things taking up space, but to remove their power—their hold over me.

“Make room for me, Valerie.”

My chest aches, my back—there’s warmth. His Spirit settles into my heart, stretches and rolls like an infant in the womb. The spiritual meets the physical; they become the same thing.

He is making room.

Sights and sound

She has shifty eyes, but not in the way that phrase usually works. She isn’t shifty; she expects everyone else to be.

Even in—especially in—moments of deep conversation, when souls and secrets spread out, her eyes dart from point to point. She’s always looking, searching for something to anchor her outside of the moment.

Despite this air of constant wariness, her smile is quick and her laugh loud and sudden. The sound seems to surprise her more than anyone.

Quote harvesting: Glorious Weakness

I have no idea how Alia Joy’s Glorious Weakness came into my life. Twitter was involved, I think. Since I’m not sure of the specifics, let’s just credit the Holy Spirit and get on to the good stuff: Alia’s words.

“No one wants to need. No one wants to be found lacking. No one wants a ministry of weakness.”

“To believe that the experiences we have are valid, that the feelings and expressions of them are true and real and worthy of being listened to, is one of the greatest mercies we offer each other.”

“We rarely develop stamina in our faith when there are other routes available, as avoiding complete depended has been our default since Eden.” 

“We learn how to settle. We learn how to accept our weakness but never ask for God’s strength. How to accept our poverty without expecting provision. We learn to live with the ache of never enough. We pray to God as if we don’t know him at all, we live with bastardly longing—because a true child would ask. A true child would crawl right up into God’s lap and ask for a better story.”

“If this grace a true, a weary world rejoices because we have been claimed by a devastating love. But sometimes I’d rather have effortless love. I want an affinity group, not a community, not a body, not a church—only a Savior for myself, not a King of a vast and scandalous kingdom. My husband’s cousin Peter, who is a pastor says, ‘It’s not community until someone you don’t like shows up.’ Truer words were never spoken.”

“I didn’t know then that sorrow is sacramental. Sorrow is sacred. Suffering is not an indictment against God; it can be the single space we identify most deeply with Christ, who knows it best.”

“Jesus paid attention. Jesus wept. Jesus broke bread and laughed with his friends and healed the sick. He tucked himself away to rest and pray. He want to parties and took naps. He walked this earth in a body that easily be broken. He said come unto me. And in so doing, he royally ticked off a lot of people who despised how common he made grace. But Jesus knew how to read the room. When we look at Scripture, we see Jesus offered comfort, presence, and mercy, but he also met people’s needs right where they were. He fed them and healed them and served them. He gave them water, washed their feet, and helped them fish. Jesus didn’t fear the fleshiness of our existence, our faulty or our failing. He came near, God with us. As Christ followers, we must be willing to practice the art of nearness. Of with-ness.”

“I wish I had known that sometimes this life will ache with emptiness and it’s okay not to rush to fill it. It’s okay to leave some questions on the books. It’s okay to be angry and to admit we can’t see the good of it all right now. To sit on the floor in my baby’s room and weep over the blankets and the onesies and the car seat that would be packed back up. It’s okay to grieve the lost things you held only as the flutters of hopes and dreams. It’s still loss. How else do we make peace with the present? I wish someone had told me it was okay to relent to sadness, to doubt, to the divine ache and the catastrophe that is death. We can lie on a gurney with God and allow the sorrow and suffering its due. We let God reckon with death, and we acknowledge that things are not as they should be and we are not the only ones offended by the tragedy coming for us all. I wish someone had told it was okay to succumb to anger, to the great and formidable why? I wish I had understood that God is undaunted by my humanity.”

“Lament says you belong to me, and I belong to you and will enter in with you.”

“There are so many among us who hurt, and we may never know we’re sitting next to someone barely holding all the pieces together when we gather on a Sunday to sing rickey hymns and hear God’s Word cracked open for us. I can tell this truth because I’ve learned the ministry of honest words, of weak spaces, of holy dependence and admitting our deep hunger. This is not a litany of complaints, this a lament of love. And sometimes, when honesty is our invitation, we find that those silent ones, the ones among us we never knew were hurting, the hungry ones who can no longer hear their Savior’s psalm , they come and knock at our door. We pull out a chair and welcome them to the feast.”

Practice makes natural

A quote from Henri Nouwen popped up on my Twitter timeline a few weeks ago:

As disciples of Jesus, we are sent to where there is poverty, loneliness, suffering of any kind.

We are given the courage to be with suffering people. We can trust by entering into places of pain, we will find the joy of Jesus.

A new world grows out of compassion.

He’s right—in my experience, Nouwen usually is. But here’s a thing we need to remember: being with suffering people, entering into places of pain takes practice. Practical practice, not role-playing. Getting knee-deep in the muck, not standing near it.

Here’s another thing we need to remember: it won’t get easier with practice. But because we are humans, and because God made us to be together, it will feel more natural.

Like a new, challenging exercise. Or parenting.

Eventually you stop feeling like you’re walking around with your legs on backwards.

She lets silence bloom

No one would describe her as chatty. Fun? Yes. Friendly? Absolutely. But she’s not one with the need to fill open spaces with her words—although it probably would be welcomed because her central North Carolina accent is as charming as all get out.

When a person’s rambling comes to a stop, she takes the moment most would use to get a word in to just…pause. She usually smiles. A nod—she’s just making sure you’re finished. That moment can build you up or completely undo you. Maybe both.

Sometimes you’re not finished and keep going. Sometimes you are, and after that pause you get a gentle but eye-opening wallop of truth. It’s not unlike what I imagine being smacked in the face with a big magnolia blossom would feel like.

I wonder if she knows how much power she carries—and wields—in that pause. All because she makes the decision not to talk.

Unorthodox McDonald’s

The way my next door neighbors ordered McDonald’s fascinated me as a kid. In my family everyone told my mom or dad what they wanted and then the order would be placed. One meal per person—no more, no less.

Their family did it differently. Their mom or dad would go to McDonald’s and just order a bunch of stuff: a few burgers, a few boxes of chicken nuggets, several containers of fries, a couple milkshakes. And then they just put it all on the table, and everyone would graze. Maybe you’d have a few nuggets and then split a burger with someone. Milkshakes would be split into faded Tupperware cups.

It felt wildly, wonderfully unorthodox to me. The handful of times I was invited to join them, I would stare—wide-eyed and amused—as I timidly helped myself to the piles of food in front of me.

At my house you were handed what you specifically asked for and then you ate it. I imagine my parents did this to avoid fights, which worked. Come to think of it, other than the haphazard McDonald’s ordering, the other thing I remember most about our neighbors’ house was how much screaming went on over there.

But it might’ve been fun to order their way one time.

Opening, cleansing

It was like a rubber plug was ripped from a drain and water gleefully glugged through this sudden and new opening.

Accept the water was tears and they were glugging all over my face.

I’ve cried a lot of tears in my day, but these felt different. Simple. Clean.

Not unlike the tears I cried when my mom called me to say our dog, Buddy, had been hit by a car and died. I was 22. We’d gotten Buddy when I was 12. He was a good dog, and I was sad.

Only sad.

Not mad-sad. Not disappointed-sad. Not hurt-sad. Plain, old sad.

The tears I cried in this moment felt like those tears. Free from layered emotion, they just flowed. I didn’t feel the need to stifle them or justify them or replace them with another response.

I was sad. And I cried. I wept—but not bitterly. No wrong had been done. No guilt exposed.

Tears of spring water, not vinegar. Cleansing, not burning.

Just sadness and the response to sadness that God gives us.

Maybe not holy tears, but something close.

Quote harvesting: A Grief Observed

I’m in the early days of a new writing project which, for me means reading what lots of other people have already written about the thing I want to write about and then filling many pages with quotes.

(I call it my “quote harvesting” phase, hence the title of this post.)

I read C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed a few weeks ago and spent some unexpected free time on Friday transcribing the passages I highlighted during my first pass through the book.

Here are some that just wrecked me—with a little commentary, if I may.

“I keep on swallowing.” (I love that he found this notable.)

“I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging it—that disgusts me. And even while I”m doing it I know it leads me to misrepresent H. herself. Give that mood its head and in a few minutes I shall substituted for the real woman a mere doll to be blubbered over. Thank God the memory of  her is still too strong (will it always be too strong?) to let me get away with it.” (The “clean and honest” part cut deep. Feelings—even if they are painful—that can be categorized easily are so much more bearable, in my opinion. Once emotions are layered they are suffocating.)

“It’s hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter. I look up at the night sky. Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn?” (JUST SAY THE WORD, EVERYONE.)

“One flesh. Or, if you prefer, one ship. The starboard engine has gone. I, the port engine, must chug along somehow till we make harbor. Or rather, till the journey ends. How can I assume a harbour? A lee shore, more likely, a black night, a deafening gale, breakers ahead—and any lights shown from the land probably being waved by wreckers. Such was H.’s landfall. Such was my mother’s. I say their landfalls; not their arrivals.” (I had to look up what “lee shore” meant, and it took me a long time to understand—I don’t have much nautical context from which to pull. Once I got it, wow. I’ll leave you to look it up yourself so you can experience that wallop yourself.)