On Writing, Risking, and Giving It Away

At some point last year, I found myself surrounded by piles of finished and half-finished poems, sitting at a crossroads of sorts.

It was rare for me to be squeezing in this much writing on the edges of my other paid writing work, and I felt lucky. One by one I was harvesting a windfall of autumn fruit, and it was slowly piling up into baskets.

Not all of it was beautiful; some had worm holes right through them, others had grown into odd-looking shapes. But it was all there, mostly edible, piled up around me. And I felt at that moment confronted with a choice: do I simply let it sit here, and risk the chance of it going rancid? Or do I take the risk to give it away?

There is an inherent tension in art – and I’ll speak particularly to writing since it is what I know best. Continue reading

The Invitation

It is hard to believe that we are nearing the six-month mark of life with COVID-19. Six months of social distancing, increased isolation, ordering everything to-go, and (for many of us) a new routine of working entirely at home.

As I reflected back on the past six months recently, I thought about where I have seen God at work. Like all of you I’ve traveled the ups and downs of this season; I have struggled hard against the limitations it has presented and learned some sobering truths about myself in the process.

And it is here I have seen Him working: in the discomfort we are all being forced into, and all the questions that it raises. I have seen Him at work in both the softening and the unsettling places. I have seen Him draw out people’s hopes and dreams, move them towards self-sacrifice, give them courage. I have found Him in the beauty and light that still rises to meet us each morning and the arms of darkness that wrap around us each night. Continue reading

The Infinite You Possess

Recently I’ve been reminded of events that cause me to reflect on the past five years of our lives. It’s easy to look back and ask, What have we really accomplished? 

In the emotions of this question I gain the tiniest glimpse of what it must be like to look back on seventy or eighty years of your life and say, I still have so much more left I would like to do. These infinite desires are not something to be squelched: they are the echoes of eternity within us. They tell us something about what it means to be human. 

I think all of us in this season have had to reckon with, and rein in, our natural desires. Our desire to see or hold family members anytime; our desire for a casual trip to the market without planning and precautions; our desire to travel or work anywhere we want. Part of living a life well does mean learning to have mastery over our desires and finding contentment even in imperfect circumstances. Certainly this season has given us ample opportunities to practice this. 

But I also think there is an essential piece of truth in the fact that God created man and woman as hungry beings. This cycle of hunger and fulfillment was not merely meant to be an inconvenience, a way of reminding us of our weakness and dependence upon the earth. It was not something that came after the fall, something we will “grow out of” in the new earth. In fact, eternity is often compared to a great feast. 

Catherine of Siena writes about eternity: “But, in this way, hunger continues: Those who are hungry are satisfied, and as soon as they are satisfied, they hunger again. In this way their satisfaction is without disgust, and their hunger without suffering. 

“Thus your desire is infinite, or otherwise it would be worth nothing.

…The only infinite thing you possess is the affection and desire of your souls.”

I’ve grappled with this idea in many of my poems this year because I want to learn to cultivate the right kind of hungers: the hunger for justice over serenity, the hunger for growth over predictability, the hunger for connection over insecurity. But most of all, I want to cultivate the kind of hunger that can only be satisfied by the Infinite. 

Someday, if I get the chance to look back on my life fifty years from now, I want to be the one who says, What an incredible gift. But I also want to be the one to say, What’s next?


All your life stretches out before you

And you will never reach the end

Of the banquet table. 


Welcome to the feast!


four trays of varieties of fruits

A Call to Prayer

There is a call to prayer that broadcasts from outside my window. Generally it comes about three times a day. You can’t miss it.

It goes like this: First, you hear the pained but incoherent words of an older gentleman – intoxicated, unwell. He is my neighbor. We’ve passed each other on the street, but I’ve never been able to find out his name. The words get louder. Then they culminate to the loud and anguished wail, “Oh, God!”


I don’t know what to do with a cry like this. No matter the inducement, it obviously comes from a place of deep, deep pain. We’ve done what we could to reach out to this neighbor. When friendliness failed, we called the non-emergency police line and asked for a welfare check. Some would say he does not want help; I would argue that the help he needs is not available. Either way, it does not feel like enough. And every day, when I hear his voice in the same inflection, “Oh, God!”, I find my heart responding, Hear our prayer. Like the voice crying in the wilderness, like the anguished prophets of old, like the prayer of all the desperate blind and lame. Lord, have mercy.

Last night, shortly after one of these calls to prayer, we read Psalm 31 aloud. The first six verses are very familiar to me, as we pray them before bed several times a week. But when we reached verse ten, I immediately saw in my mind’s eye the face of this neighbor. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble. As we continued, I could almost hear his voice reading aloud with me. I have become a reproof…among my neighbors; my acquaintances are afraid of me, and those who see me in the street shrink from me.

Then suddenly, it shifted. I became filled with the sudden realization that this was Christ’s psalm, that He was praying it along with me, and through me, that it was His voice who identified with this suffering. And in a flash I saw that this meant that my neighbor was showing me the face of Christ.

Who am I, after all I read of the ways God works in the world, to doubt that this neighbor of mine is closer to the heart of Christ than I will ever be? Who am I, after claiming to follow a Savior who was “despised and rejected by men,” who had “no place to lay his head,” to fail to see the image of this Savior who is before my very eyes?

Instead, with Christ, I will pray these words over both of us: My help has been in you, O Lord; I have said, “You are my God.” … save me for your mercy’s sake.

Let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon you.



The Scent of Life

“Wherever we are, this is our school of love.” 

I wrote these words just hours before stepping onto a plane and flying thousands of miles to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. When it finally touched down on the dark, humid runway, my first immediate, frighteningly honest thought was, “I’m not ready.” 

I tried to talk myself out of it. I knew it really didn’t matter whether or not I was ready – I was here, and there was work to be done, people to care for – love to be learned, right? But the truth is, my brain and body knew the truth. I wasn’t ready. 

What would it mean to be ready? Even after three trips to Tanzania, I have no clue. Every trip confronts me in the exact same and yet entirely different way – with my dependence on comfort and pleasure, my physical weaknesses, and my social and spiritual ones. I am confronted by how little I have to offer, how much I must receive. I am confronted by my smallness. 

Every trip I try to seek out where God is alive and working in these communities. Like a spiritual easter egg hunt, I’m seeking the scent of life, the glimpse of hope and promise. On this trip, I waved the white flag for one entire week. “God is here, God is working,” I wrote. “But I feel like extra baggage.” 

It always takes me a while to remember that this feeling of smallness, of being inconsequential, is actually a good thing. In fact, it’s kind of the point. While my job with an international nonprofit is arguably an important one, the truth is that when I leave the community in two weeks, I did my job well if nobody notices the difference. The leaders I serve and support, they are the ones who are investing in these communities for the long road ahead of them. If, when I leave, they feel seen, heard, and empowered – if this equips them to do their job well in the year ahead – then I have succeeded at strategic smallness. Even better if I can work myself out of a job, help them support and encourage each other even more in the year ahead. 

I am here for two weeks, but they live this. That reality stares me in the face every time I visit. It’s not about building anything that lasts for myself. When I’m gone, they don’t have to miss me. When I accept this, then I am free to encourage and empower others without worrying about myself. Because the bigger point is: If Edward was gone, what would that mean for the community? If Sypora burned out, how would that affect teachers? 

Exactly one week after I arrived in Tanzania, I sat in a circle with eighteen young women pouring out their hearts about all their wrestlings with God. I looked into their eyes as they shared how they felt forgotten or overlooked by God, and struggled with doubts about unanswered prayers. I heard their pain as they told stories of how their trust was broken by others – so how could they truly trust that God is good? I held each story as a precious jewel in my hand. After a week of smallness, I could truly look in their eyes and tell them they were not alone, that sometimes glimpses of God’s goodness could be found most brightly in the eyes of one another. Together, we – the beloved family of God – carry each other and so fulfill the love of Christ. 

God is here. God is working. And maybe, after all, this was exactly the school of love I needed – a reminder that in the midst of my smallness and weakness, He will carry me. He will carry us all. 

The scent of life wafting through the open doors of all our eyes will never see.



Of Your Own Have We Given You

If I were to paint you one picture that I hoped you would carry through your life, it would be this:

The golden November light slants through a large, elegantly curved window onto a small wooden table. Behind the table is a person facing the window, their entire being lit up by the dancing rays. Arms lifted, they raise their cupped hands to the heavens in offering. And inside their hands is the entirety of the world. Continue reading