Suffering and surety

At the recommendation of a couple people who are smarter than me, I’m currently reading Fleming Rutledge‘s The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.

You know, just a little light, Lenten reading.

It’s dense stuff, but I’m slugging through it because I love Rutledge’s insistence that we cannot talk about the resurrection without talking about the crucifixion. She put it in this way:

“The setting of Easter over against the cross and its significance is in conflict with apostolic preaching. There was no thought of separating cross and resurrection, or of elevating one over the other. If you’re making a ham and cheese sandwich, you don’t ask which is more important, the ham or the cheese. If you don’t have both of them, it isn’t a ham and cheese sandwich. Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, you can’t have the crucifixion with the resurrection–and vice versa. The resurrection is not just the reappearance of a dead person. It is the mighty act of God to vindicate the One whose very right to exist was thought to have been negated by the powers that nailed him to a cross. At the same time, however, the One who is gloriously risen is the same One who suffered crucifixion.”

I appreciate her position on the matter–and this particular passage–for two reasons. One, I will always get behind any attempt to explain elements of faith with the help of sandwich references. Two, her argument that glory and suffering go together speaks directly to my experience as a Christian and as a human.

I used to hesitate to refer to my depression as suffering. This refrain would bounce around in my head, looped over and over: I’m a middle class white person living in the United States. My husband and I are both employed. My family is healthy. We want for nothing. My problems are nothing compared to what other people go through.

Well, Present-Val calls bullshit on Past-Val. As my friend Kristin told me once, “Your potatoes might seem small compared to other people’s, but they’re still your potatoes and you still have to carry them.”

Suffering implies pain and hardship that someone must bear. It’s both a verb and a noun. It’s ongoing. It’s relentless. And even if the context of your suffering is different from someone else’s, that doesn’t make it any less terrible–or any less important to God.

So, yes. I suffer. I suffer every day. Every single day. I like to believe that my suffering has made more empathetic to the suffering of others. And I know that my suffering has given me little-to-no patience for those who seem to think that pain, sadness, and despair are somehow failure of faith.

I will say I’m fortunate in that I’ve been spared the platitudes so often thrust upon Christians when they share their struggles with depression, but I might be an exception there. You know, statements like ,”You need to focus on all of the good things God has given you” and the SUPER HELPFUL “Have you tried praying about it?”

Those statements aren’t bad things to say and suggest. We all should meditate on how God cares for us, and prayer is good. But when uttered in the context of someone bringing his or her burden and pain to you, they’re dismissive of the very real suffering being felt. And, in my opinion, these statement carry with them the implication that a person can’t experience true faith and true hardship at the same time.

I can love God and hate my illness at the same time.

I can glorify His presence and grieve for my losses at the same time.

I can believe wholly in God’s goodness and in the world’s (and my) brokenness at the same time.

I can rest in His care and wrestle with my pain at the same time.

I think God wants us to bring both the “good” and “bad” to Him; He wants to sit with us in both. And I know I would not be able to approach the realities of my depression were it not for the assurance that I have in who God is and what He has done. I could not even entertain approaching the abyss of my mental illness were it not for knowing that I am tethered to God as I do so.

Were it not for my suffering, I might not know God’s glory.

I don’t say that to imply that I think my depression is a gift. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t think I can ever know that this side of heaven. But my faith has never been of the happy-clappy variety. There are moments of inexplicable awe of peace, make no mistake, but at this point in my life, it’s typically very raw and fraught and complex. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it feels like suffering.

But Jesus suffered, too. I find comfort in that. It was through his suffering that He was brought to glory–and brings us to glory, too.


I’ll leave you now with some scripture that I refer to as “A Psalm for the Depressives.” I’m mostly joking when I say that, but when you read it I think you’ll find that I’m not wrong. For me, it’s one of those parts of the Bible where I just nod the entire time I read it.

Psalm 77

1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Who I’m trying to be

JR and I are working our way through Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet. I remembered loving A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid, and once I read the opening sentence (“It was a dark and stormy night”), JR was hooked.

At this point, we’re a few chapters into the audio version of A Swiftly Tilting Planet. It’s the third book in the series and is built on the premise of Charles Wallace’s task to travel through time (and through people’s mind) to prevent nuclear war.

Yeah. Heavy stuff, given the current whackadoo feeling of the times.

JR is partial to the first book, but at this point I’m all schmoopy over the second one: A Wind in the Door, due much in part to a paragraph that occurs early on in the story. Mr. Murry is attempting to comfort his wife in a moment of desperation. Not just desperation, really. More like borderline hopelessness. He says…

Those words were like a punch in the gut to me when I first read them. But a good punch, if there is such a thing.

Yes. That. I remember thinking, feeling a lump rise in my throat as I read the words aloud to our son nestled in the crook of my arm. I had to pause and blink back tears before I could go on. There’s something about holding my boy tucked into his bed that makes everything about the world–good and bad–seem so much more…more. Everything feels so big and so small at the same time.

You see, I want those words to be true. Sometimes I even believe they are. And in the times when I’m less sure of them, I want to at least be one of the people Mr. Murry is talking about.

I want to be a person who keeps promises. Let’s all be that. It’s a start.

It’s quite something, really.

Not in my house but in my heart…always

I remember where I was when I found out he was coming.

His mother pulled me aside after church and whispered, “I’m pregnant. Seven weeks.”

I hugged her tight, willing my excitement to somehow transfer from my heart and brain and arms into her so she would know–really know–that this news was an answer to prayers I’d said for her and her husband for months as they waited for this to happen.

I remember where I was when I found out he was here.

A text from his aunt popped up on my phone as I stood in a friend’s living room celebrating the impending arrival of another dear friend’s baby. It was five days after I turned 30. I’ve always considered him my belated 30th birthday gift. Because this child is–without a doubt–a complete gift in my life.


There’s something just get-you-in-the-gut amazing about watching your friends raise their children. Seeing them parent, parenting alongside them, and watching their (and our) little people grow into who they are. It’s not always easy and is pretty much always messy, but I try to do what James tells us: “Count it all joy…” Because…man, what a privilege to witness such things.

I mean, think about it. You’ve got this friend–or friends, in the case of the little guy I was talking about earlier–who you love and enjoy so much. And then they have this little baby who has parts of each them–either through biology or bonding–BUT ALL WRAPPED UP IN ONE PERSON.

I can’t not be completely in love. I don’t stand a chance.


I am the parent of an only child.* But that doesn’t mean I have one child in my life. I carried one, gave birth to one, and am currently raising one, but I am blessed to have so, so many to live life with and to love fiercely. Even though they don’t live in my house, they live in my heart. They’ve burrowed into it and made their marks, and I am forever changed.

(Happy birthday, Grey.)

*I don’t like to say “I only have one child” because that somehow implies that parenting one child is easy. Maybe it is for some people; it depends on the child and the parents. My point: you don’t know how easy someone’s parenting life is until you’ve spent time in his or her brain.


When JR was around a year old, he started doing this thing when he needed help. It was sort of a whine, sort of a goat-ish whinny.

Eeeeehhhh. Eh. Ehhhhhhhhhh!

As you can imagine, hearing that on repeat day in and day out gets to a person. So in order to preserve my sanity, I offered him an alternative that was a little more verbal, a little less guttural.

“Help, Mama,” I suggested. “Say ‘Help, Mama,’ and I will.”

We practiced it–me showing him how to shape the sounds in his mouth, him pushing out his interpretation of them: “Hep-ama.”

As time went on, he eventually mashed those sounds together, and they became “Hama.” And because much of a mother’s (or parent’s) role in a child’s early years is to provide help, I soon became “Hama” to him. When he needed help, I answered. To him I was no longer Mama; I was Hama.


For the last several years I’ve participated in a weekly Women’s bible study at our church. We’re studying Mark this semester, and today we looked at Chapter 10. Jesus teaches about quite a few things in this chapter, but we spent a good chunk of our time talking about three short verses:

“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”

Most of the women who attend this study are mothers to young children, so it was easy for us to imagine how children receive things: relentlessly and joyfully, without pretense or hesitation, and with unfiltered expectation and acceptance.

That’s how Jesus wants us–all of us–to receive Him. That’s how he wants us to come to Him.

What if I could approach Him in the messy, grabby, stoked way a child pursues what he or she wants? What if I accepted His grace in that way? What if I believed–like really, deep-down-in-my-gut-believe–in what Jesus says about the Holy Spirit in John 14?

Oh the have that kind of faith. A faith that changes His name to Help, Jesus.

Words of others (because I don’t have any…yet)

I haven’t written much of anything in a really long time. And I’m not just not referring to the tumble weeds rolling around this joint. I’m still managing editor of the family section over at RVANews, but that’s more editing (as the title suggests) than writing–both by the nature of the job and by choice, really. I said so many things for so long that I just didn’t have anything to say. I needed to shut my yap for a while.

And it’s been good. Turning inward a bit and tempering my tendency to share all! the! things! has been positive all around. But lately I’ve been feeling the urge to write more. The only problem? I still don’t really have anything to say. When that happens, it’s usually best for me to read everything I can get my hands on. This practice can be both good and bad. Good: reading good things makes you want to write good things. Bad: reading good things makes you think you’ll never be able to write anything as good as that so why bother OH GOD WHAT AM I EVEN DOING HERE ON THIS PLANET.

I’m kind of dancing back and forth over the line of those two places write now, which isn’t such a bad place to be. Nervous energy, we’ll call it. I still don’t have anything to say, but I can feel it coming. And in the meantime, I’m soaking up the really great sentences other people have put together. I want to share some of them with you. Maybe you’re in a similar spot. If not, it’s always good to hear from people who can write the shit out of a thing. So here you go…


“And still tired from yesterday’s ranch work but cooking breakfast for us anyway, my mother is my mother and father and God, and my sister with her makeup and Jon Bon Jovi-in-a-leather-jacket poster is a teenager, and my sleepy-eyed brother is a boy, and I am a boy: tow-headed and loved, delighted by everything, confused by everything, growing right out of my hand-me-down blue jeans and hungry for the new day. “(from The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up on the Big Dry by Joe Wilkins)


“‘Hey, I like that in a girl. Look, if you don’t have a bad attitude and lots of things wrong with you, no serious person is going to be interested. If you feel scared, outraged, confused most of the time, come on over. Have a seat.’” (from Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott)


“We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us.” (from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr)


“Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears. Take in what is there and give no thought to what might have been there or what is somewhere else. That can come later, if it must come at all.” (from Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis)


“I didn’t know how to be in the world without her.” (from The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd)


“…and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.” (from The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison)


“And now, from beneath the audible, came a low reverberation. It came up through the soles of my feet. I stood still while it hummed upward bone by bone. There is no adequate simile. The pulse of the country worked through my body until I recognized it as music. As language. And the language ran everywhere inside me, like blood; and for feeling, it was as if through time I had been made of earth or mud or other insensate matter. Like a rhyme learned in antiquity a verse blazed to mind: O be quick, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet! And sure enough my soul leapt dancing inside my chest, and my feet sprang up and sped me forward, and the sense came to me of undergoing creation, as the land and the trees and the beasts of the orchard had done some long time before. And the pulse of the country came around me, as of voices lifted at great distance, and moved through me as I ran until the words came clear, and I sang with them a beautiful and curious chant.” (from Peace Like a River by Leif Enger)

A thing

This afternoon we will go to JR’s second soccer class. It’s very important to JR that you all understand he is not on a soccer team; he goes to soccer class. He doesn’t feel confident enough to play on a team yet, so we’re going this route to build up his skills. Then we’ll see. We aren’t going to push him either way. Ross and I are both non-athletes (I don’t count schlepping myself to-and-fro in the name of cardiac health as being an athlete), so we didn’t expect to have a sporty kid on our hands. Even if JR does look very much the part when he dons his headband before heading out onto the field with his teammates classmates.

The way we see it, right now it’s our job to expose him to a variety of different “things”, in the hope that one day he’ll find his “thing.” He did Tball last Spring and swimming the year before that. On the 28th he’ll do his second kids run. And in the summer he’ll take a stab at coding with CodeVA, an awesome organization in our area that is fighting to make computer science more than an elective. His soul-crushing obsession with Minecraft tipped us off that this particular activity would probably be a good fit.

I’m interested to see how it all goes. As someone who doesn’t really have a “thing”–I mean, I can be funny sometimes, and I think I read more books than the average mother of an elementary schoolers, but I dunno–I’ve always felt like I’ve missed out. I don’t play a musical instrument or a sport or make anything with my hands on a regular basis–no skill that I’ve taken time to cultivate and turn into something. I really want that for my kid, whatever it turns out to be.

Unless it’s Minecraft. I might have to exercise my parental veto on that one.


Apparently I only like to post here A) about once a year and B) when we get a bajillion inches of snow.

Here’s a picture I took on Monday morning:

So now you know why I’m here. JR had Monday off for Presidents Day, and then school was closed for snow on Tuesday and Wednesday. They’re closed tomorrow as well, and since it’s only going to be about 3 degrees for the rest of the week, I think he and I will be likes peas-and-carrots until Monday morning.

(I love my child, I really do, and I’m grateful for the time with him. But I’m also grateful that bourbon is a thing that exists.)

Anyway, some updates…

I’m happy to report that Ross is still my husband. He brings me a cup of coffee in bed every morning and tells me I’m pretty/smell good every day, which is wonderful of him considering he’s been putting up with my crazy self for almost 12 years. I love and like him very much.

JR turned 6 in November. I’m still recovering.

He’s in kindergarten at our neighborhood school, and he’s doing well, especially now that he knows he doesn’t have to say every thought that pops into his head. His teacher is kind and smart and looks like a Disney princess. We think it’s going to be a great year.

JR loves video games, LEGO, and insisting that he can’t read even though he totally can. He also loves having long hair and doesn’t care that tucking it behind his ear would keep it out of his food. He still lets me kiss him goodbye at school drop-off and prefers for me to cuddle and sing him to sleep every night. I’m grateful for these gestures because I fear that days as the apple of his eye are numbered. That is ok and natural and sad.

I’m still working for our church. Currently two out of the three women in our office are pregnant. I am not one of them. I just make sure the kitchen is stocked with snacks that make neither of them want to throw up.

Running is still one of my favorite things, although an injury to my Achilles tendon last spring/summer and then various illnesses and crazy weather spells have made it hard to keep at it consistently. The Monument Avenue 10k is in a month, and I’m not sure if I’ll be ready. I am sure that I probably won’t die.

I read 35 books in 2014. My goal is to read 40 in 2015, and I’ve already made it up to 11. And yes, I’m counting the chapter books I read aloud to JR because, hey, books are books, dudes.

Shooter and Zapp, our two dogs, are still with us. Shooter is almost 12, and Zapp is 10…ish? Shooter’s eyes are getting cloudy and he’s either going deaf or becoming a real dick because he doesn’t respond to his most of the time we shout it at him. His old age has earned him the right to join us on the couch in the evenings. There he snores and passes gas in the way only a grumpy old dog can. He is still quite handsome. Zapp is still gorgeous and prancy and dumb and incredibly sweet. JR tolerates them most of the time and will occasionally assault them with bursts of affection.

That’s where we are now. I’d love to hear what you all are up to. Hopefully I’ll be back again soon.

Coming up (or out) for air

In the last two weeks, JR has gone to school one day–maybe two, I can’t remember WHAT WITH THE FOURTEEN (14) DAYS OF NON-STOP PARENTING THAT HAS TURNED MY BRAIN TO MUSH. We got a little snow, you see. And then a little more snow, and all things came to a grinding halt.

I love my child. But I also love others things, too. Like going to work so we can have food. And talking about things that aren’t Ninjago or who’s the best Powerpuff Girl.*

I’m told they’ll be back in school tomorrow–two hours late, I’ll have you know, but back in school nonetheless. I’ll believe it when I see him walk into his classroom. And then I’ll turn around and run like hell.

Here’s a picture from the 15 minutes JR spent in the snow over the last two weeks.


*JK, I’ll talk about this whenever. Because it’s Bubbles.

I couldn’t *not* do it

We experienced a big loss in Richmond this week–well, not me personally. Not directly anyway. But it was a loss nonetheless, and one felt by many.

Meg Menzies, a wife and stay-at-home mother of three young kids, was hit by a drunk driver while she was out for her morning run on Monday. And she died.

From what I gather, Meg loved running and she was really good at it. She was a member of Richmond Road Runners Club and even ran the Boston Marathon. She knew how to run and how to do it safely; this seems to have just been a tragic example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She just happened be in the path of this man who made a horrible decision that morning that forever changed so many lives.

As a way to honor Meg, people in Richmond pledged to run, walk, cycle, whatever on Saturday, January 18th. The time or distance you logged didn’t matter; just get out an move to celebrate Meg and tag any Tweets, Instagrams, of Facebook posts with #megsmiles–that stands for “Meg’s miles”, but reading it as “Meg smiles” was apparently appropriate as well.

Before the end of the week, tens of thousands of people around the world pledged to run for Meg, and today, just following the hashtag on social media was enough to bring on the ugly cries. There were so many people out there running to honor this woman they never even met, never even heard of until this week.

Everyone had their own reasons for doing it. Mine was that I simply just couldn’t *not*. I didn’t know Meg personally, but I know someone who does. I also couldn’t help but noticed similarities between us the more I learned about her. Both in our early 30s. Both mothers to school-aged kids (well, kid, in my case). Both runners. Both believers in Jesus.

I also know what it’s like to lose someone to a drunk driver. Right before I turned 14, my grandmother (my mom’s mom) was one of several passengers in a van that was hit by a drunk driver. And she died. And we were all forever changed.

So this morning, I ran for Meg. It was cold but beautiful, the sky bluer than we’ve seen around here in a long time–appropriate considering blue was Meg’s favorite color. I ran three miles for her, one for each of her sweet babies. It was the least I could do, really. Because I have no doubt that if it had happened to someone else, Meg would’ve been out there running with the rest of us.

And anyway, I kind of feel like she was.

The old man

You might recall that we have two dogs: Shooter, a German Shepherd mix, and Zapp, a hound mix. Once upon a time, they were my sweety schmoopy babies. Then I had an *actual* baby, and suddenly their loud, dirty, canine hijinks became much less endearing and much more reminiscent of a giant pain in my ass.

Don’t get me wrong; I still love them. It’s kind of like you have certain family members who drive you absolutely insane–maybe even to the point where you’d never actively choose to spend time with them but will when called upon. You love them, but don’t like them so much.

(I know, I sound horrible. But, guys, they can be stunningly annoying.)

Zapp’s quirks are a bit easier to deal with because they can be attributed to the fact that she’s really tall and skinny and kind of not smart. She likes to crawl under the fence and stand in the alley, barking until we let her back into the yard. She runs into things on the regular. She likes to eat things she’s not supposed to and then eat grass which makes her barf and then she eats more grass because dogs eat grass when they don’t feel good and, augh, trust me, she’s dumb. But I can forgive dumb.

What I cannot forgive is intentional buttheadedness, which Shooter really, really excels at. Some examples:

1. If we take too long to feed him in the morning, he will make himself throw up.
2. He loves to eat poop. What’s more, if he knows there is perhaps a stray piece of poop in the yard (we try to pick it up all right away), he will refuse to come inside.
3. He barks all. the. damn. time.
4. He’s never not staring at me.

Ok, I guess I can’t necessarily call this buttheadedness intentional, but it feels intentional–so much so that I basically view Shooter as my household nemesis determined to sabotage my every shot at relaxing or just spending a few minutes not taking care of someone.

It’s a layered complicated relationship, really. And it’s made more complicated when I remember that this damn dog is going to die someday, and I’m going to be really sad when it happens.

I took Shooter to the vet last week for his annual checkup. He needed his rabies vaccine, and the prescription for his epilepsy medication requires a blood panel every six months. Shortly after we arrived, Shooter looked like this:

Because he is a rude and cranky old man. He spent the remainder of the appointment slamming his face into my legs, trying to get the muzzle off of his face–that is, when he wasn’t alligator rolling every time the vet tried to examine him.

Once we got all the necessary procedures done–a process which left me and our vet sweaty and covered in dog hair–she gave his file a final skim.

“Ok, so Shooter is almost 11, I see.”

“Yep. He’ll be 11 in the spring.”

“Well, he looks really good for his age and his size,” she said. “He’s probably got a couple more years left in him.”

I think she meant that as a good thing, but I was stunned. Because, apparently, it hadn’t yet occurred to me that Shooter is, in fact, not immortal.

“Oh. Ok, well a couple years is good,” I stammered in reply.

We chatted a bit more about possibly increasing the dosage of his medication, what we can do to help his gross-disgusting breath, and what not. I mostly heard what she said, but as I walked out, I found myself kind of in a daze.

Holy shit, this dog is going to die one day. One day soon-ish.

I mean, I know I knew that, but it was the first time it really registered with me. We got Shooter shortly after we got married, so he’s been with us for the whole ride. If he’s old, that means we’re old (meaning our marriage–although Ross and I are both starting to feel pretty old these days, too). And when he goes, when we say goodbye to him, it’ll be like saying goodbye to that first iteration of us.

Damn dog. Now instead of just making me crazy, he’s making me cry, too.