Magnolia

Oh sweet magnolia, crushed by snow and ice!
Is there hope that you could grow again and ever look so nice?

Your branches once stood tall, reaching toward the sun
But now your limbs are broken and it seems circumstances have won.

This is what we thought, as we surveyed the damage years ago,
And we almost cut you down, figuring you were too battered to grow.

If only we could have seen what we can see now!
How you would grow and persevere some way, somehow.

The scars of the storm remain, but new branches have grown in too,
And every spring, your blossoms now remind me of hope that is true.

There is a metaphor rooted underneath that I can only now see,
And a lesson to be learned from you, a single New England tree.

It is possible to survive and even thrive in the aftermath of a crushing blow,
There just needs to be time to heal and care to grow.

Storms are real, and their impact can be devastating.
But His creative hands are always working and always recreating.

Someday, I will look back on my life with a clearer view too,
And see another testimony of grace and hope ever true.


Behind the Words

In October 2011, a severe snow and ice storm battered New England. While the region is no stranger to winter weather in its proper season, the timing of this storm resulted in danger and damage of a greater magnitude than if a storm of the same intensity hit a month or two later. The trees had not transitioned to their dormant winter state and many of them were still holding onto their leaves. Heavy, wet snow weighed down heavily on every branch. Throughout the night of the storm, the startling sounds of tree limbs cracking and crashing to the ground interrupted any semblance of slumber. By morning, yards and streets were littered with branches and sometimes entire trees on the ground.

Surveying the damage in my yard with my dad, we found that our beautiful magnolia seemed decimated beyond repair. The snow and ice pinned several main branches to the ground while numerous other large branches were snapped in two. The tree seemed on the brink of death. We were skeptical that it would ever be a thing of beauty again and considered taking the remnants down. My mom somehow convinced us to take away the broken branches but leave the rest, just to see what would happen. She still had hope for it, despite it being a sorry-looking sight. For several years after this storm-induced pruning, it looked lopsided and sparse, like a relative of Charlie Brown’s humble Christmas tree. It was alive though, and its roots were established deep in the soil from years of growth, unaffected by the burden of snow above the ground. Soon, new branches started to grow where broken ones were torn away. Over the course of more than a decade, the tree defied the odds and the circumstances that nearly crushed it. Today, it is once again a beautiful, thriving tree. While some of the scars of “snowtober” are visible if you take a close look, the tree has a new lease on life and a person unfamiliar with the storm would not know of its once dismal state.

Like this tree, we too sometimes face storms that permanently alter our lives. We may find ourselves feeling defeated, hopeless, and broken, like the magnolia tree buried under the weight of snow. Nonetheless, thriving is still possible in the aftermath. We belong to a creative Creator that uses even (and perhaps especially) the difficult circumstances of our lives to prune, shape, and restore us. Our lives may look beyond repair, but all we need is time and the powerful, artistic hand of the One who sees hope where others see no hope at all. He who can breathe life into dry and dusty bones is surely able to breathe new life into the shattered remains of a broken life. He can even transform brokenness from circumstantial pressure into a careful pruning that simultaneously forces us to let go of broken branches and gives us the opportunity to branch out in ways that were not possible before the storm.

When we are rooted in the nourishing soil of His word, we can be like “a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought…” (Jeremiah 17:8, ESV). We can thrive in all circumstances, unafraid of what the future holds. Storms will come and breaking will occur, but our roots can survive wind, rain, drought, or snow by His power and grace. After the storm, there is a mess, but there is also an opportunity for new life to spring up and for hope to be renewed. Like the magnolia, we can stand firm and we can recall His promise to make all things new. Whatever comes, we can grow according to His will and His way. Thanks be to God.

Among the Daffodils

Find me among the daffodils, with their sunny yellow hues,
Dazzling in rain or shine though surrounded by dismal views.

They started as bulbs sown with hope months ago,
But now is the time they were destined to grow.

And so they boldly rise, while surrounded by vestiges of winter all around,
Shining bright as they bloom from winter’s relinquished ground.

They bravely reach towards the sun, despite the threat of a late freeze,
Believing in the spring even when enduring a chilly breeze.

Though they are susceptible to the weather’s teasing threat,
They join other brave flowers to welcome a season of here and not yet.

So find me among the daffodils, bold and full of hope that shines so bright,
For I, too, want to reach towards the sun even when all seems dark as night.

Still the Anthem

“Things will get better” and “there is hope” may be true,
But sometimes these words are like sugar for a cavity too.
For, life is not gentle to hopes built on cliches and decorative sand,
And in a storm, some hopes have no legs with which to stand.

I am no stranger to seeing hopes battered and shattered,
And the remnants remaining blown far and scattered.
Some have disintegrated in slow and steady drifts,
While others have succumbed to sudden circumstantial shifts.

Either way, hope deferred makes the heart gravely sick,
And the progression of that disease can be scarily quick.
“Stay hopeful” is easy to say, but in the valley, it is hard to do.
Especially when it seems like you’re trapped rather than passing through.

Yet, in the desolate places, I have discovered I am not alone.
You are with me in the darkness and I am not on my own.
Your hands are skilled to make broken and cynical people whole,
And therefore, I can say that Your hope is still the anthem of my soul.

You are faithful and you will not put me to shame,
Nor will you quench this weary, smoldering flame.
Though the wind still rages and many days seem dark as night,
Your hope remains faithful, shining like a candle oh so bright.


This poem was inspired in part by Switchfoot’s song “Hope is the Anthem” as well as my own personal experiences, especially relating to the sudden death of my dad. I hope and pray it is an encouragement for you in your own valley.

Juggle

I juggled so many glass balls, or at least so it seemed to me–
They all shimmered with such delicate beauty from what I could see.

With each careful toss though, I feared gravity’s eventual toll,
And how they’d be destroyed with no hope of being made whole.

Not only is shattered glass beyond best efforts to repair,
But the shards could hurt others without remorse or care.

So I kept juggling, though my arms were weary and sore,
Doing all I could to keep each ball from the hard, uncaring floor.

Yet though I juggled so many, there was one I long left on the shelf,
Afraid to touch it lest it falls or it breaks at the hands of my broken self.

It glimmered on the shelf for years, with beauty words cannot tell,
But though it was safe, it was so far from well.

What good is its beauty if it stayed tucked away?
It was not made to be hidden from the light of this day.

So, with fear and trembling, I finally reached out to embrace
And in doing so, the rest fell to the floor like they knew that was their place.

As they crashed to the ground, I discovered they are not made of glass at all!
But rather shining plastic that can withstand an occasional fumble and fall.

Still, this new one I now hold seemed much heavier, like a true treasure of glass
And oh, if I dropped it, what horrors would be sure to come to pass!

Yet its Giver assures me it is not like the ones I juggled with prideful dedication,
Nor it is just another ball to add to the ceaseless rotation.

To hold this gift is to be held in hands much more capable than mine,
Ones that do not juggle but rather hold everything in line.

And though my eyes see something delicate, like what I juggled before,
Somehow I know that even when I fail, this will not shatter on the floor.

Glimpses of Grace

When I trace the lines of the past’s confines I see a hundred threads of grace,
And each strand speaks of thousands more weaved together within Love’s embrace.

By grace, I’ve seen tears transformed into joys and lessons I now hold dear,
For when my dreams seemed far and dashed, His presence proved near.

By grace, the lives of those before me were woven into my story,
Leading me closer to Him for my good and for His glory.

By grace, He has used even the weaknesses I despise,
And led me to write these words from the strength He supplies.

When troubles come my way, the past reminds me that He is in control,
For His grace has already carried me through many dark nights of the soul.

I do not say these words to gloss over hurts of the past that still sting,
Nor do I say them to boast that I now understand everything.

Far from it – no – hindsight doesn’t give me 20/20 vision,
But it does give me a beautiful view of Love’s perfect work and provision.

There are still wounds in my heart and many things I do not understand,
But through these glimpses of grace, I trust what He has planned.

One day I will see more fully, though for today I see in part,
He is still creating, carefully weaving together His work of art.

Looking back, I know that His faithfulness was and will remain true.
Though trial and trouble may come, He will see me through.

That Joy and Grief Collide

It’s beginning to look a lot like that annual festive season,
But I’m not feeling so cheery and for a good reason.

There is an empty seat at the table and a missing impish grin,
And all the frivolous merriment is honestly wearing quite thin.

Every merry season’s greeting seems to sting by default,
And I cannot tell if it’s an antiseptic or if it is salt.

Still, under all the hollow exuberance is something I cannot deny,
A Hope so deep and true that runs steadily though all else has gone awry.

This pain is real, but it is not a reality in a vacuum alone,
There is also a gracious comfort, more than I’ve ever known.

Emmanuel is still Emmanuel and no pain can scare Him away,
He still draws near to the brokenhearted and weary today.

Yes, there is a dark shadow cast by death and loss,
But I cannot deny the juxtaposition of Hope from a manger and a cross.

And here I find, that grief and joy collide,
For even the deepest darkness cannot find a place to hide.

There is still light shining brightly in this season,
I cannot look away from it and for a good reason.

Kiln Fire

The Potter lights a fire and so it burns,
Till one thousand nine hundred degrees it turns.

The temperature is hot, but it is the only way,
It shall not destroy but rather transform simple clay.

The future outcome of the work never leaves the Potter’s sight,
And so, He continually feeds the flames even through the night.

Though the process to us seems long and slow,
He knows glaze will turn to glass and vessels will glow.

And what emerges from the fire will be what once only the Potter could see,
A beautiful, finished work of art in actuality.


Did you know?

Pottery often has to go through some sort of extreme heat or fire for it to actually be usable. In the case of simple redware pottery, the pieces are heated to about 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit. In the days before modern electric kilns, this meant constant monitoring and feeding of the kiln fire for 24-48 hours. Talk about dedication! Sometimes circumstances in life hurt. Sometimes circumstances are just downright hard. Yet God remains through it all. He stays even in the darkest part of the night. He gives peace and strength to endure. He uses these circumstances to make us grow. He uses all things for the good of those who love Him. Sometimes life feels like going through a fire, but God sees us to the end. Thanks be to God.

Read more lesson’s from the Potter’s Wheel here.

A photo of fire in the opening of a brick kiln at night

A Kind of Love

Oh what kind of love the Father has lavished on the weary,
A kind of love that surpasses every earthly notion and theory.

A kind of love that lays down one’s life,
A kind of love that is unafraid to enter into our strife.

A kind of love that casts out fear,
A kind of love that beacons sinners come near.

A kind of love that permits a betrayer to eat,
A kind of love that washes the dirtiest of feet.

A kind of love that forgives seventy times seven times,
A kind of love that keeps no permanent record of our crimes.

A kind of love that runs to embrace a prodigal child,
A kind of love that desires we be reconciled.

A kind of love that welcomes the broken with nothing to offer,
A kind of love that can change even a hardened scoffer.

A kind of love so strong yet gentle, patient and true,
A kind of love that can make everything new.

A kind of love that chooses to stay,
A kind of love that is faithful even when we go astray.

A kind of love that called by name,
A kind of love that will never leave us the same.

Oh, I don’t understand this kind of love, so wild and free,
But thank God almighty, Love understands you and me.

To Seek What He Speaks

Lord, some days it feels like you’re so far away,
And on those days, I am overcome with doubt and dismay.
Does Your perfect love really cast out fear?
Did I misunderstand the promise that You would stay near?

You said “I am with you” and I took You at Your word,
Even though many voices say those words are absurd.
I believe, Lord, but help my unbelief too!
It is so easy to look at the waves around instead of You.

Troubles without number surround me now and I cannot see,
I am weary and my heart faints and fails within me.
The darkness is closing in, but I know I cannot hide from Your sight,
So here I am again, calling for Your help tonight.

Even in my distress, I know where my help comes from,
Though I do not understand all the ways it can come.
My faith feels weak but by His mercy I still seek,
And so He draws near and in grace chooses to speak:

“I am with you in the valley, the mountain top, and the distance between,
In the joy, in the pain, and in the mundane routine.
I know you, I see you, and I will not leave,
You need only be still and still believe.

Even in the darkness, when everything is far from alright,
Do you see how the shadows prove that there is light?
So too, My love remains present and true,
Even when you struggle to keep it in view.

I am with you even in moments of deep doubt,
Standing on the water, reaching my hand out.
When you are weak, I will remain strong,
And when you cannot walk, I will carry you along.

Your fears may be fierce, but they do not get the final word,
My love will cast them out just like you have heard.
By My grace, dear one, you are reconciled,
And nothing can separate you now, oh weary child!

In these waters, I am with you so you can stand!
Even though you cannot now understand.
You are mine, and mine you’ll always be,
Seek me now, even when you cannot see.”

Prodigal

Have you been wandering? Do you feel you’ve lost your way?
Does the night seem to overcome the brightness of the day?
Are you afraid that you’re too far gone yet still sinking deeper?
Does your mind sometimes fantasize about meeting the grim reaper?

Take heart, oh weary prodigal soul, I know that place.
And I also know that you are not a hopeless case.
You may have wandered and squandered all on your own,
But you need not now starve in the desert alone.

I don’t know what you’ve done or what’s been done to you,
But I do know that none of those things disqualify you.
No brokenness is beyond His ability to restore,
And where sin abounds, grace still abounds more!

While we were enemies, Christ died so we could be reconciled,
And the Father is not ashamed to call a prodigal His child.
He is running with arms to rescue and embrace,
To bestow on you a celebration of amazing grace!

How do I know that these words are true?
Well, I’ve been the running prodigal more times than a few.
Yet, He has been faithful to me through all my years,
And He has called me back, delivering me from all my fears.

I speak these words today because of His grace alone,
And I do not speak them by any strength of my own.
God is faithful, steadfast, patient, generous, and true;
And His grace is for people like me and like you.