When Friends Stop By

My son’s buddy rings the doorbell. My daughter’s friend rides up on her bike. Friends pull in the driveway and come in through the garage.

We always wanted to be a home that others felt comfortable entering, the kind of place other people’s children trust.

When we lived in Copley, this open door policy extended to several families in our neighborhood, but none more than our backyard friends whose sons became so close-knit we merged their names: “Benry.” Our son, Henry, went to visit Benny this last Sunday night, overnight. Ever since, he’s been mourning again the loss of that best friend tucked in his back pocket, the way they used to stand up from the sandbox and tell each other, “See you tomorrow!”

“I had way more friends in Copley than in Ashland,” he lamented last night. Fresh on the heels of his visit, it might feel that way. There isn’t a little boy we’ve found right around the corner just yet, and the season in Copley for Henry was an unusual gift of the kind of friendship that probably won’t ever fade away.

Brandon has friends like that, friends he was literally born across the street from. I have a friend or two like that, women I can call today who knew me as a gangly tomboy not much older than Henry is now. Near or far, we’re able to be ourselves again together, pick up very nearly where we left off.

There’s something powerful, something precious about history built and weathered with a friend. These are the friendships my kids are building now. “Just stop by” friends. “Just thinking of you” friends. “How are you really doing” friends.

Come on in, dear ones.

The Gift of Writer’s Residencies

Tonight, I attended the opening reading for the Ashland University MFA program where I used to work. After knowing every student, faculty member, and visiting writer for the first seven years of the program, it is still surreal to walk into that space and not recognize most of the faces.

But what was especially lovely and what hasn’t changed: the pre-reading warmth and laughter. The variety of faces and ages, the clusters of like-minded writers together, gathered to hear one distinct and celebrated voice read from their work.

Justin Phillip Reed and his poems and his shadow and the light

It reminded me what a gift spaces like writer’s conferences and residencies can be. There aren’t many other spaces where you are given long stretches of time to join in the intimate wrestling through of other humans’ truth telling. Monasteries maybe?

Yes, there are craft seminars and workshops in which we critique the syntax and character development, the line break and form. But each writer brings some ball of twine they are working to unwind, drags behind them a field of mown or trampled straw they are trying to gather into perfectly contained bales. We get to bear witness to this truth telling, this truth making, collectively as a community. We get to celebrate when the bales have been hefted by sweaty hands and backs and stacked on the wagon, caught by some capable editor of bale-balancing.

Somewhere, a writer in workshop mode is thinking, She’s really letting this metaphor get the better of her. I know, I know, just let me have this moment in the field, with the straw and the twine.

I drove by one such field this afternoon, with its circular bales tossed in perfect random patterns, and now it’s here, too, dragged along with all my other straw to be woven into this little truth, my little truth about ordinary life for this particular ordinary day.

Ordinary Time

Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

I know I’ve already said it here, the thing about this season of unproductivity and feeling at a loss for words for most things, and it’s true—in the last year since The Family Bible Devotional came out, any time I’ve sat down to type a thing, anything not tied to some dollar-generating deadline, my fingers have hovered anxiously over the keyboard. What do you really have to say, Sarah?

But sometime in the last month, I remembered poetry and playfulness. I remembered how fun it is to make a thing sound beautiful, to let language dosey doe some, to spin a little ditty, to tell a simple story just because this small moment is a moment of human experience, and isn’t it just beautiful?

Also sometime in the last couple of months, I began another devotional compiled by Sarah Arthur—At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time, and the concept of “ordinary time” caught my curiosity. Again, being a member of a church that doesn’t follow a traditional liturgical calendar, I had never heard of ordinary time, the long season in the church calendar between Eastertide and Advent, during which the followers of Christ just go on living.

It occurred to me early on in this devotional that this is the exact season of my life. I am in ordinary time. There is no advent preparation for and celebration of new life; all my babies are born and school-aged. There is no Lent, no deep season of sacrifice and lament leaning heavy toward the grief of Good Friday and the resurrection of Eastertide. Our immediate family unit is in the long season of in-between: No one is being born. No one is starting school for the first time. No one is graduating. No one is getting married.

Ordinary time could be filled with the tediousness of survival. We eat, we drink, we sleep, we work, we play, we find ways to keep our children occupied. Ordinary time sometimes feels this way. In the gaping yawn of ordinary time, it’s easy to become anxious for the disruption. What if’s creep in. I find myself worrying over when the next Lenten season will be upon us, who will suffer, which loved one might we lose, and how bad will I sink in that grief?

When tragedy strikes others in ordinary time, it’s as if I’m watching an approaching thunderhead, flashing with heat. I find myself counting up the seconds between the light and the roar. Is it coming closer? Is it coming for me and my own?

The fear of the storm on the horizon knocks the wind out of whatever contentment and joy I might have otherwise had in this season of the ordinary, when my child begs for a bedtime snack, insists he kiss every section of my face before saying his final goodnight.

Ordinary time is the longest season in the liturgical calendar. It’s what makes up most of our days on this earth. There are only a handful of miraculous anniversaries each of us celebrates and remembers; in between are all of these minutes. I want to inhabit them more fully, abide with the holy ordinary.

That’s why I think I might try to write something daily, something unburdened with the weight of saying something, something solely for the sake of noticing. I’m weary of rebutting the world’s loud opinions. The burden of taking a stand on this issue or that does not feel mine to carry and yet I’ve felt some self-inflicted pressure to be loud, righteous, just, to join the noise.

Maybe that’s why writing has felt so stifled these last twelve (to eighteen) months. Maybe I’m asking too much of it. Do we really need yet another megaphone in a sea of megaphones? Maybe by seeking after the ordinary, I can find that still small voice I most long for when coming to this keyboard. Maybe I can be witness to the microscopic miraculous, and find solace in the monotonous.

There’s so much ordinary time ahead. I wonder what tomorrow will give.

Joy Comes in the Morning – The Power of Eastertide

Between Midnight and DawnFor Lent this year, I picked up a different kind of devotional compiled by a writing acquaintance of mine, Sarah Arthur. The book–Between Midnight and Dawn–provides a selection of Scripture passages (Psalm, Prophet, Epistle, Gospel) paired with poems and excerpts of fiction from both contemporary and canonized authors for each week of the Lenten season. When I first bought the book, I assumed that the devotional was just for the period of time leading up to Easter, so as I hit Holy Week and still had a good third of the book left to read, I wondered what more could be waiting for me after Easter Sunday.

The traditional season of Lent is supposed to be a period of time to give up chocolate and lose weight… I mean, to reflect upon the days of teaching and conflict that led to the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus. It is a sober period, and not just because we tried to abstain from alcohol this year (loosely… we’re a fallen people who live in freedom and may have had a couple of celebratory drinks with friends). Lent reminds us of our tendencies toward selfishness and our deep need for grace and illuminates again for us God’s incredible covenant commitment to love and accept us in spite of ourselves.

Our denomination (Brethren) is a “low church” tradition and doesn’t typically follow a liturgical calendar, and I didn’t grow up with any real sense of the seasonal rhythms of the church, but most people know about Lent and lots of people know about Easter. After 40 long and punishing days of remembering Jesus’s suffering, we spend one day celebrating his resurrection. He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today! And then for most of us, we go back to normal, ordinary time.

But did you know there’s a whole other season in the church calendar after Easter called Eastertide?

I didn’t know that, and after spending the last 18 years in regular church attendance, I feel a little robbed. Eastertide is another 40 days or so blocked off to remember Christ’s resurrected ministry, the freedom and Word and light we are all welcomed into and supposed to live into daily. It’s a period of rejoicing, joining the earth in singing praise to the God of the Universe made man who conquered death and grants us life and life abundant. Sing praise! Sing praise!

Ironically, during the Lenten season I found it difficult to get low and reflect with any emotional reaction to the suffering of Jesus, but during most of the weeks of Eastertide, the opposite is true. I’ve just been melancholy – pockets of joy and delight and laughter, yes, but underneath there’s been anxiety, foreboding. The sour taste that sometimes accompanies those moments you feel surrendered to beauty. Bittersweetness whispers, “You are happy, now, but just wait. Just wait. This will be taken from you.”

So what do you do when you’re happy during Lent and sad during Eastertide? You keep bringing yourself to the table to listen and be reminded of the fullness of Christ’s love, the totality of Christ’s presence with us during both seasons of sorrow and seasons of joy and seasons of mysterious gloom.

Even when you aren’t feeling it–whatever “it” might be–He is there, the Comforter, showing his scars and preparing a dinner over a beach bonfire. And there: joy, separate from the emotional experience of happiness or sadness. Fullness. Gratitude. Love.

A Time to Mourn, a Time to Dance

I spent this weekend with my mom and daughter in Savannah, Georgia. It couldn’t have gone any better – the weekend felt scripted and presented to us in a ribbon-tied package filled with as much stress-free and joy-filled time as possible. We toured and walked and ate and drank. We sunbathed and swam in the ocean. We watched chick flicks and took many Uber trips.

Elsewhere, others inherited new burdens of grief, worry, loss, and tragedy. A friend learned her lifelong hopes of bearing children probably won’t be fulfilled. A friend’s sister is extremely sick again and needs another expensive surgery. A writer I love and admire is dead at 37, leaving behind a husband and two babies under 3 years old.

It is hard to hold so many distinct and disparate realities at once, joy sharpened and made bittersweet by the awareness that it will not always be like this. We have these seasons of peace; if we forget that grief and loss are never strangers for long, we might just miss a moment to let love and joy pierce our hearts, and by their wounds, keep us whole.

It does not seem possible – yet, even, still – that my mom is sick with stage 4 kidney cancer, because right now everything is almost fine, almost well. The sun shined over us all weekend, and now we are burnt. We each have different shaped hands and feet but the same funny looking pinky toe with a little bit of nail polish color on it. The future tried to elbow in through graveyards and sideways comments from Uber drivers about stages of kidney disease, but they were brief, fleeting reminders – awareness grief is out there, waiting, then shooed away on the Savannah breeze. The only care we had, right there, right then, involved choosing our next restaurant and deciding who was going to pay. Not wondering why, or how long, or when this season will come to an end.

The only way to weather this strange and often cruelly indifferent world is carrying what we are given undergirded by love. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. When grief and pain and suffering and loss drop their weight on us, love carries us and draws us together – those who grieve and those who rejoice. In that space we hold each other.

Keep holding on, friends. We need each other.

On Not Writing

You guys, I used to be a writer. I used to have thoughtful thoughts all day long and scribble them in notes on my phone to reference later in a blog post or article, sometimes three or four a month plus writing projects and essays in which I thought more thoughtful thoughts and then sent them out to be published and read in small literary-sized pockets in the world.

I used to write things.

When blog posts dry up on other writers’ blogs they’ll chime in sometimes and say, “Oh, sorry I haven’t been active here lately; I’ve been so busy working on my soon-to-be-published-by-a-New-York-Publishing-House-guaranteed-best-selling-memoir. It’s coming soon! Pre-order on Amazon!”

That isn’t happening here. Other than one poem I wrote last week because the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire on the Monday of Holy Week and how can you not write a poem about that, all I’ve been doing with my writing is feeling guilty about not doing it.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Dinty posted a quote from Mary Oliver, “The most regretful people on earth, are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” I’ve thought of that quote several times since, wondering if I will ever feel the call to creative work again, or if I’m neglecting the creative call, straight up ignoring it, not giving it the time of day, starving it, backing my car over top of it ’til it’s good and dead, etc. etc. etc.

Maybe the part of me that used to be a thoughtful, reflective human committed to processing out loud for all the world to read hasn’t shriveled up and died but just retreated for a time. Life is very full these days. The children rise and sleep on schedules far more similar to my sleep requirements than ever before, and they require so much more attention these days, now that they aren’t alien preschoolers but real, actual thoughtful people. They want to talk about things. I need to listen longer. There aren’t as many windows for me to space out and let the miniature meditator wander around in reflections.

Also, the husband who used to travel all the time has a normal job now. I don’t have as much time to reflect on how sad and lonely I am with him gone because he isn’t gone anymore, and I’m not sad and lonely nearly as often. And there are so many episodes of Parks and Recreation to watch! We have so many series to catch up on!

Also, the weather is getting nicer and I’ve gained, like, 20 pounds in the last three years, and it’s always been true that when I set my mind on exercise, there’s no time for writing. The reverse is true, too – when I am writing, I tend to not exercise. I want to prune trees and plant a garden and take a hike and pack the camper for the weekend and walk the dog and ride a bike and shoot some hoops and play catch and there’s walls to paint in the house and groceries to unpack and meals to prepare and laundry to fold (ohhhh shoooooot. The laundry.)

Sing it with me, folks – there’s only so much time.

My children are almost 13, almost 12, and almost 8. We are swirling in the busiest days of our family’s life, working full days, busing children to afternoon activities, aiming to live full lives with friends and family. I put together a lamp the other day and bought house plants.

And I didn’t make time to write.

I love to write. I love to play with language and make connections and think thoughtful thoughts and share them. But before the life can be reflected upon it has to be lived. It has to be inhabited. This current habitat is tender and full, green and lush. I have spent seasons of my life observing the moment, listening for the memory or soundbite so that I could reflect and write about it later, instead of just being.

Just be for a minute.

That is what is happening these days. I’m being a wife. I’m being a mom. I’m being a daughter. I’m being a director of content marketing. I’m being a friend. Or at least I’m trying to be. I’m trying to be here, active in this quite real world.

And this is probably all the writing I’m going to be doing about it.

Looking Back… When I Used to Write:

2018: Birth Stories – Three Clerihews
2017: Earthiness
2016: This Week in Books and Words and Legos
2015: April in Books and Birds
2014: April Showers
2013: Tragedy and Faith
2012: Books 4 & 5, 2012: A Double Life and Bring Down the Little Birds
2011: Explaining Easter
2010: Nada. The whole month. Because I was pregnant in April, and then not pregnant in May. This is the post before our fourth miscarriage: Elasticity Is Heaven
2009: Easter Saturdays and Thunder

What I’m Reading:

It’s been a great start to 2019 for books – I’m currently reading Between Midnight and Dawn, a devotional for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide compiled by Sarah Arthur. It’s a beautiful collection of poetry and Scripture readings that have brought new light and inspiration into this season for me.

Before that I read Peter Drucker’s Effective Executivea practical and in-depth look at what it means to be a leader of professionals. I’ve thought of the content in Drucker’s book many times since reading it. I highly recommend it for anyone who finds themselves in a position of leadership with a bunch of other really smart people.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Look at all of the writing I just did about not writing!

 

The Lost Babies

Henry: “How old would the other children be if they were born?”

Me: “I think 14, 13, 10, and 8.”

Henry: “I would’ve liked the 8-year-old. We would have been buds.”

I don’t know if it’s strange or awesome or awkward that all three of my kids know about our multiple miscarriages. We don’t talk about them, really, but I guess the few times we have made an impression on Henry. I haven’t told him that there’s no way we would’ve had seven kids… or that if even one of those lost babies had survived, none of the amazing little people living in my house right now would be here – not with their particular genetic structure or personality or mannerisms. Maybe he’ll realize that one day, but for now, I like that they would’ve been buds.

I like to believe there’s some kind of soul recycling machine God employs for babies that don’t make it (I know, it sounds a bit like reincarnation, but I’m not making a theological argument right now – just a wondering.). Maybe Lydia, Elvis, and Henry were false starts the first time around and caught the next ride into this world to arrive as they are now. Probably not, but it sounds like something the God of the universe could figure out.

It’s all such a mystery, all of it – the conceptions, the losses, the redemptions, the births, the questions, the pockmarked and cratered bits of answers. Part of trusting God is leaning into those questions, and part of trusting God is resting in the mystery, without a whiff of a composed word in reply, except, perhaps,

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:1-3)


body-coffin-essayMy essay, “The Body Is Not a Coffin,” is now available for purchase on Kindle. It explores the complexities and questions having miscarriages can bring to one’s faith in God. My husband and I experienced four miscarriages – a partial mole pregnancy, a very early miscarriage, a miscarriage when on birth control, and a miscarriage after hearing the heartbeat. Our first two miscarriages happened before we had babies and our second two happened between when our second and third children were born. Each of those experiences changed and shaped our understanding of God and our relationship to the Creator of the universe. If you’ve experienced a miscarriage yourself, I hope this essay helps you feel less alone.

Download the Kindle version.

(Previously published in Under the Gum Tree and selected as a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2018)

On Failed Resolutions

I chose as a word for 2018 “resolve,” which seems a little lazy, given that the New Year is all about resolutions: “I’m resolved to be happily married in thirty years. I’m resolved to be healthy in thirty years. I’m resolved to be wiser, humbler, and more closely aligned with Christ in thirty years. Will those things happen? Is it possible my train will get derailed and misfortune or tragedy might strike? Yes. But I want to live with the resolve – and hope – that this future is mine to reach.”

I may not have checked back in very often to this resolution, but perhaps I managed to weave that hope into the year.

I also made a list of resolutions that I don’t think I’ve revisited since the day I wrote it. So much for resolving. Here’s the results of my non-resolved resolutions list from 2018:

  1. Read 24 books (this will be tough without an audiobook commute, but we’ll see what happens!) — I made it to 20… although I counted as “read” the book I wrote. So. Perhaps I’m a little farther off.
  2. Choose a new book-length writing project and begin work — nope.
  3. Plan at least one family vacation (weekend / week-long) with each side of our family – victory!
  4. Schedule 2 date nights a month with Brandon – unscheduled, but we watched nearly all of The Office together, again
  5. Retreat three times this year with Brandon, without the kids – We went to Europe. I think that counts
  6. Practice yoga twice a week – fail
  7. Take the kids to six state parks or recreation areas to explore more of Ohio’s natural landscape – it was close; we went to Geneva State Park, Punderson, Mohican, and Charles Mill with our camper. If I count Freer Field in Ashland and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park trails next to Brandon’s parents, then I can check this one off 😉
  8. Connect and serve in a more active way at church – check
  9. Get involved with one cause/organization in our community by volunteering or giving – fail
  10. Practice with my family all of the devotionals I wrote in 2017 before the book is published this fall – true confessions, we didn’t get through all of the devotional before the book was published
  11. Eat no more than three meals with animal protein a week (aiming for a plant-based, whole-foods diet, while keeping room for celebration and freedom and cheese) – major fail on the vegan front.
  12. Write three articles/blogs a month between here, work, and Off the Page – fail, Off the Page ended, I haven’t been blogging at work, and I wrote no more than once a month here. To be fair, I wrote 15 posts leading up to our 15th wedding anniversary, so surely that counts for something.
  13. Get away with girlfriends for at least one weekend – check – went to Cedar Point overnight with some girlfriends
  14. Spend time with girlfriends at least once a month – WIN – Book Club!
  15. Stay off my phone from 5 p.m. until the next day – fail
  16. Take walks with Izzy and Brandon (as soon as the weather gets better… or as soon as we buy her a sweater) – check
  17. Spend a lot of time in our backyard, shaping the landscape and hanging with friends – “a lot” isn’t a very measurable goal, but we spent some time in the backyard, with friends, so I think that’s a win
  18. Plan a day-long or overnight thing with one kid alone at least once each – nope, but it’s a fun goal.

8 for 18. If resolutions were baseballs, I’d be a major league hitter.

Setting aside this list, that word – resolve – and the more broad goal, to position myself for a life well lived, ran like an undercurrent through 2018. There was rest and restoration. So when resolutions fail, there is still this promise: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Even though I haven’t been writing much, I’ve been thinking about what comes next in 2019. I have goals I want to work toward, yes, and some of the measurable items above help me move the needle toward those goals. There’s a great comic about the state of the world from 2017 that keeps getting updated each year:

why-so-optimistic-about-2019-everything-is-such-a-mess-39492804

The word rolling around at the start of 2019 for me feels like grow. In order to plant flowers, you have to have a patch of land. You need to own your space. You need to weed and dig and sow seeds and weed and water and wait. So much of my life feels settled and sure these days, and I’d like it to stay that way. This season of our lives can bring tornados, threatening to rip what we love up by the roots if we’re not careful – but if we sink those roots in deeper, reaching heavenward and stretching downward – we can weather whatever comes.

So, for 2019, I want to grow in faith and faithfulness. I want to grow in joy. I want to grow in peacefulness – to be a source of calm for the anxious and a source of rest for the weary. I want to grow in love. I want to grow in self-control. When you resolve to grow, there is no fail. There is only steady good work toward completeness.

Seasons of Unproductivity

I haven’t been writing.

Even as I try to type these words I’m fighting to keep my eyelids from closing. It’s Monday morning and I’m up at the time I set my alarm so it’s just me for a moment, just me and the Christmas tree and the clinking of radiant heat. I’ve already heard stirring from the recesses of our house, where Lydia wakes early, like me, and soon she’ll be out here too, making tea and breakfast for herself and talking. And then Brandon will wake, and then the boys, and then the dog will want to be on my lap and Henry will want to snuggle, and then it will be time to get dressed and ready for the workday. And then my time to write will be whisked away.

When our children were much younger and Brandon was traveling for work on the weekends, my hours of productivity began at 8 p.m. after the kids were bathed and in bed. They extended until 11 or midnight or later, sometimes, the bright overhead light tricking my mind into believing it was still daytime and okay to be processing everything, until a text message from Brandon would urge me to “go to sleep, tiny dancer,” or I’d glance up in alarm at the time and reluctantly shut down whatever work I was burrowing in.

It was easier back then to write, to escape into whatever essay project or poems I inhabited while the rest of my life swarmed around me in their own pretend worlds and Play-Doh. It was easier back then, to withdraw from loneliness into a meditation on marriage while the one I wanted to be with lifted off in airplanes on weekends.

But now it’s different. Our kids are older. Brandon is home. These people in my life demand attention; I can’t just sit in the kitchen or living room anymore and zone out the rest of the residents of our home.

I intend to write in the mornings, or read or catch up on Beautiful Things submissions, or go to yoga, so I set my alarm for 5:45 a.m. and then again for 6. I plan to do these things. And then Izzy follows me out of the bedroom, and we sit on the couch and listen to the radiator pipes clink. And then Lydia says good morning and begins opening and closing cabinet doors in the kitchen. And then Brandon wakes up and it’s “Good morning,” and “Did you see that so-and-so famous-person died,” and “Looks like it’s going to snow,” and other such normal morning words. And then it’s time – past time, usually – to go and start the day.

Look at the time, already, passing. It’s 6:30 now, and I’m only just getting to my point which is this: There is a time to be fruitful. There is a time to sow and to wait and to cultivate and water and tend and harvest.

There is also a time for fields to lie fallow.

I keep thinking that I should be writing. I should be meditating on what I see and hear around me, responding to the politics and religious debates of the day, offering up some alternate angle or thought so I can get a few more thumbs up or likes on Facebook and maybe nurture along someone else’s journey, hold out a virtual hand for a moment and say, “I know what you mean. I get you. Let’s not walk alone.” I should be doing these things.

But I’m not.

There are people in my life that are here right this minute, unzipping their backpacks and opening the refrigerator. In four years Lydia will be driving and in six she’ll be in college and then it’ll be just Elvis and Henry, and then a split second later Elvis will be out of the house too, and then it’ll be just Henry who will not want to snuggle early in the morning because he’ll be taller than me and a teenager eager to go and do the things teenagers do.

Farmers let their fields lie fallow to restore their fertility. It’s part of crop rotation – you nurture this plot of land while another rests so that when you return to it again, it’s able to produce good fruit.

There are people in my life right now. This minute. After so many years now of writing within the crevices of the day, folding words into every spare minute, I’m trying to be content with a season of unproductivity, a season where the field of words lies fallow. This season’s harvest is here, ripe for the picking. My children want to be with me, now. My husband is here most of the time. My life is full of demands I enjoy meeting.

A verse of scripture I return to often is from Ecclesiastes, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well” (11:6). I have taken this verse as a daily mantra – do good work during the day at the day job and nurture your children in the evening and tend to the writing in the late hours before midnight, because any of them could succeed – don’t neglect any of them. But there is also a weekly rhythm, a long-term rhythm of work and rest set:

“For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove” (Exodus 23:10-11). Rest is written into the Law of Scripture. We require it – daily, weekly, every seven years – it’s absolutely necessary.

And now it is 7:08, and Henry is snuggled next to me, and my dog is on my lap, and there is no more room for words this morning, okay, it is okay, it is more than okay. These fallow fields will rest and reap a harvest again. Just not today.

When Rape Is in the Bible

annie-spratt-554761-unsplash

Let me tell you a familiar story: There is a beautiful girl, dressed in beautiful clothes. A man finds her attractive and schemes with a friend how he can have her. When she is alone with him, he grabs her and demands that she go to bed with him. When she cries out, No!, he doesn’t listen, and since he is stronger than she is, he rapes her. Afterward, his affection turns to hatred and he leaves her, body and spirit shattered. When the girl tells others in her life what happens, they tell her keep quiet and don’t worry about it. So the girl folds inward. So the girl carries the shattered glass of herself throughout the world.

It is not a new story, the way we ask people to bury the hurt and think it can be put away, without consequence. In fact, this story begins in 2 Samuel 13, a book in the Old Testament of the Bible. In that story, Tamar is the girl, and the rapist is her half-brother, Amnon. Her brother, Absalom, is the one who sees her first after the rape and says, “Is it true that Amnon has been with you? Well, my sister, keep quiet for now, since he’s your brother. Don’t worry about it.” The words make me shiver.

Do you know who Tamar’s father is? Do you know who is the father of all of these children? It’s King David. David, the man after God’s own heart.

“When King David heard what had happened, he was very angry. But he did not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn. And though Absalom never spoke to Amnon about this, he hated Amnon deeply because of what he had done to his sister” (2 Samuel 13:21-22).

No one does anything right for Tamar in this story.

I have been thinking about the ways we say Shhh. Be quiet. Don’t talk about that. I have been thinking about the ways we shut down the ones who try to speak up and then somehow are surprised and appalled to find so many marriages broken, so many teenagers depressed, so many babies aborted, so many families suffering from drug and alcohol addictions, so many lives quietly bleeding out in self-destruction. Somehow we are surprised and appalled that people are angry at injustice, angry and shouting and violent because no one has heard, no one is listening.

I thought I could find God’s response to the atrocities of this world spelled out clearly in those gold-lined pages, that when I looked into those words I would see clearly the portrait of God.

But when the man after God’s own heart’s daughter, Tamar, is raped by her brother Amnon, God doesn’t make an appearance. Not once does God show up in a dream or a vision; he never sends the angel of the Lord or a pillar of fire or a whisper on the wind. No narrator says, and then the Lord came, and Tamar was comforted.

What happened instead? Shh. Keep quiet for now. He’s your brother. Don’t worry about it.

Surely that isn’t the end of the story, right? It isn’t. It isn’t. Silencing and neglect spin to hatred and broken relationships. Years pass as bitterness sinks its teeth deep into Absalom’s heart over his father’s neglect until finally he takes justice into his own hands and schemes to kill his half-brother, Amnon, which he does. Absalom flees his father’s kingdom to live with his uncle for three years, and after David has mourned his other son’s death, he longs to be reunited with Absalom, but does nothing.

We cannot do nothing. We cannot let pride and anger and hatred rule. We cannot turn our backs on the broken. We cannot write off responsibility and excuse the guilty for unspeakable actions, we cannot say Shh. He’s your brother. He’s an athlete. He has so much potential. This will ruin his career as a politician/pastor/athlete/businessman.

“So Tamar lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house” (2 Samuel 13:20b). Desolate. A place deserted of people. A state of bleak and dismal emptiness. Ruined. Wasted. Depressed. Bare. Abandoned. Forsaken.

Lord have mercy.

What are we supposed to do with stories like this living in the Bible? Stories of incest and drunkenness and murder and lust and possession and slavery and adultery and so much brokenness, and Lord, Lord, Lord, where are you?

There are portions of the Bible that read like a reflection of who we are with—and without—God. This sacred text is a portrait of humanity, when it has gone right and when it has gone terribly, terribly wrong. It includes stories with no mention of God and stories of God interrupting the pattern of humanity to correct our steps, to set a new path of love and mercy and action and forgiveness.

We are given these stories as warnings of what happens when we do not act. When we do not love. We are given these stories to see the depths of our humanity in both directions: when we have turned away from God and when we turn toward him.

How does God redeem Tamar’s life? I can’t find it in the story line—Absalom names his daughter after his sister, and she is also called “beautiful.”

I find redemption in Tamar’s story only when I pull back from the character’s lives and see this text before me.

Her story is recorded.

Someone broke the silence. Someone spoke the truth so that we might see, so that we might turn, so that we might know the right from the wrong and be strong enough to speak on behalf of the voiceless and victimized.

For what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly. David’s family did not do this. Redeem Tamar’s story and thousands of other stories by speaking. Acting. Seeking justice. Loving mercy. Walking humbly.

No more silencing.

This article originally appeared in June 2015 as “Protecting the Rapist” on the now-defunct website, Off the Page.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash