Sad Poetry

Christmas has come and gone. I received one text saying merry Christmas and the 28 second phone call where am I child told me all she could do was say Merry Christmas and hang up. There were relatives standing by, I could hear them. They were the same ones who stood by and congratulated me at my wedding. The same ones who said they cared. Not a single message explaining: just the silence of complicity.

There’s a possibility I’ll see them this weekend, but I doubt it. There’s no visitation arranged for January or anytime soon. there is a motion to dismiss my case, because nothing has gone wrong since July. I was guaranteed visits, between six and twelve of them. I saw my two kids once or twice, but haven’t seen my oldest since July.

So I walk in the cold and write poetry, wondering if next year will be any different. I doubt it. In the meantime, the cold reminds me I’m still alive and the pain is lifted like a prayer. At least I have no more bruises than the ones I have on my heart

Twenty eight seconds
and one "Merry Christmas" text:
What did you expect?
Contact was all you wanted
so that's what she took away.

Will the court help me?
Does the sun rise twice a day?
That seems more likely
than for a judge to enforce
when the victim is father

Different Holidays

One of the strangest things about the holidays is dealing with the expectations of other people. I say that it is a strange thing, because it can be quite surreal and odd at times. People have expectations about what it means to celebrate holidays that are often reinforced by the culture at large. Holidays are meant to be “happy.” There are expectations that people will be spending time with loved ones and friends.

Everyone has an image of what the holidays are meant to be, but on occasion they come across someone like me: a person-shaped stumbling block between them and their ideal vision of the world. People are meant to be with people they love at the holidays, but that person over there has no great plans. People are supposed to see their loved ones and families, but my only close family in state is traveling to see the rest of my family while I remain behind to work. People are going out of the way to see kids and grandkids while I am waiting for a court order to take effect that hasn’t even been filed at this point. If everything works out, I just may see some of my kids for the New Year weekend, but I’m not even bothering to assume that will happen at this point.

Some people try to fix the problem by inviting me to come and join their holidays, which is lovely, but I want to see my family for the holidays. Some people try to fix the problem by suggesting a new legal strategy or by urging me to somehow force other people to do things they are not willing to do. Some people get quite frenetic about fixing things.

They can’t fix things though. To use recovery language, there are things I can change and things I cannot change. For the people trying to help, there are things they can change and things they cannot change. I would love it if they had a solution based on the things that they can do, but the reality is that there is no solution that falls under the category of “feasible.”

As my attorney put it, there is a system of order in our country, not a system of justice. The system is biased and unfortunately it would take a truly criminal act on behalf of my former partner for me to even be heard. It doesn’t matter if my former partner is, in the words of my attorney, the least cooperative and least Christian person he has seen while working in the family court system. The system does not care and that’s not going to change today. As one person put it quite clearly: “Family courts don’t separate children from their mothers. Period. Hard stop.”

In truth, without going into the religious aspects of things, there’s only one person who could truly change any of this: my former partner. If she had some kind of Christmas Carol experience things might change, but dreams of vengeance seem to be the only dreams she has carried for most of a decade. I’m no stumbling block on the path to her happy holiday, for I am the refuse tossed by the side of the road to be discarded and forgotten by her, her children, and everyone she knows.

So, yeah, there’s no amount of turkey and stuffing that will make this a happy holiday. There’s no party or gift that will suddenly make things better. There isn’t even the possibility of cupid coming on the scene with hope for the future, for even the idea of trusting someone in those ways is beyond my grasp. Every time that idea even comes to the surface it is shot down with extreme prejudice. I simply am a stumbling block between others and their ideal vision of the world.

My holidays are different and they’re not suddenly going to get better regardless of what you do. In a few weeks I’ll get another year older, another year wiser, and thanks to circumstances, I will probably be a little more of a miser who needs to pinch every penny so he can pay for his kids to have another happy year without him as he remains out of sight and out of mind. These holidays are going to be hard and there’s no getting around that reality.

I wish you could fix my holiday too, friend. Unfortunately, the only thing I want for Christmas is something nobody can provide.

Good Tears

Today I found myself driving down the road towards my home when a song started playing from deep within “My Likes” in YouTube Music. Years ago I was obsessed for a time with the movie Brave. I watched it with my kids, listened to the music as I drove around with them, and acted generally as a fanboy for team Merida. Even when Anna and Elsa came on the scene, I looked down my nose at them. I had found my favorite Disney Princess and she was a raucously independent archer who had all of the confidence and self-assurance that I wished for my children.

So today, the song “Touch the Sky” began to play and I listened to the lyrics.

When the cold wind is a-calling
And the sky is clear and bright
Misty mountains sing and beckon
Lead me out into the light

I will ride, I will fly
Chase the wind and touch the sky
I will fly
Chase the wind and touch the sky

Where dark woods hide secret
And mountains are fierce and bold
Deep waters hold reflections
Of times lost long ago
I will hear their every story
Take hold of my own dream
Be as strong as the seas are stormy
And proud as an eagle’s scream

Songwriters: Alex Mandel / Mark Andrews
Touch the Sky lyrics © Reservoir Media Management Inc, Walt Disney Music Company

The last few days I have been feeling very strange. This week I will learn if the court is going to help me see my kids before the year ends. I haven’t had the visitation the court set in place since July and I don’t have a ton of hope that suddenly the court will start to care, so I have been down in the dumps. Tack on the amount I have been working and the reality behind why I don’t feel safe conversing with my former partner even over kid issues (see any of the posts about Domestic Violence from October and they’ll paint a picture in broad strokes even if they never describe things in detail (on purpose)) and I have been really really really down in the dumps.

I have been trying desperately to get a hold of my feelings and my emotions to get them in check before any further bad news pushes me down further. I have been trying to understand what’s happening within as something kept feeling off.

I found myself crying as I drove in the car today because I had a moment and finally understood what was happening. Why haven’t I been hitting the punching bag as aggressively and why have I been taking more pictures of nature? Why did I choose to take my camera on my long walk today and why did I spend most of it texting another father in my fatherhood support group? Why?

As I had been walking earlier an angry song came on my phone and I reached within to connect with what has felt like an endless pit of anger for over a year. When everything else was lost, I could dip into that pit to find fuel to walk another mile, punch the bag for one more set, or even to just stew while driving. It has been so constant and a companion for many miles as I have walked. That deep sense of grief, anger, and sadness has been there for the 1,915 miles that I have walked this year (according to Fitbit). The anger has been as constant as hunger, thirst, and soreness as I have walked on and on.

I had reached in and nothing was there. The bucket hit the bottom and I had been worried that I was broken. What does it mean when you reach in to find the angry part of yourself and find nothing is there? Does it mean that you’re doomed to be unfeeling and lost?

I started crying as the words to the song to Brave came on because I recognized something in them: “When the cold wind is a-calling and the sky is clear and bright, misty mountains sing and beckon: lead me out into the light.” Do you know that there’s a growth on a tree on the Catharine Valley Trail that looks like a snail?

There’s also a ton of damage to the ash trees, likely from a combination of ash borers and woodpeckers. The sight is truly tragic, but also beautiful when you are walking around the woods and suddenly bleach white branches pop out of the woods that are so brown!

Do you know that there are green things that are neither evergreen nor willing to turn brown? Do you know that there are these weird bamboo looking things popping out of the ground in the middle of December? Do you know that the moon is almost full and it can look like fingers of bare branches are reaching into the sky to caress the moon as it rises? Do you know how amazing things are out there in the woods today on the edge of winter? Even as the sun continues to fade for a few more days, do you know how beautiful things are our there?

I cried because I reached down within me to find anger and only found the bottom of a well that hasn’t been empty for a while. I cried because I realized that I understood the lyrics to that song at last. In the midst of the cold wind, I heard the beckoning call to open my eyes and see what God had created. Legs that have walked miles have grown strong enough, skin that has known sun and darkness is thick enough, and even my own sense of fortitude has grown elastic enough that I can take time, even in grief, and see beautifully amazing things.

The song has a second verse that goes ” Where dark woods hide secret and mountains are fierce and bold, deep waters hold reflections of times lost long ago. I will hear their every story: take hold of my own dream. Be as strong as the seas are stormy and proud as an eagle’s scream.”

I’m filled with grief and sorrow, but there’s another part of me that has grown as strong as the seas are stormy. I’m frustrated I need the court’s help to even see my children, but I know what it means to walk miles and see the beauty in the depths of the woods with the endurance to decide that 6 miles into a hike is exactly the time to go wandering down a hill to get a closer look at that bleached white tree down the hill.

Even now, I want to cry because there actually is pride in the person I am becoming. I reached down for anger and found nothing, but I opened my ears and heard a reminder that I am becoming the person I once dreamed of being. Mile by mile, step by step, I am being reforged into someone that my children and I can look upon with joy and pride. I don’t have to be sorrowful today, for I am becoming exactly the kind of person I would have been proud to be when I was young.

This isn’t the road I would have chosen, but it is the road I have, and I am walking it well.

Sharing a meal

I have the kids today! The only time I can see them again between now and the end of the year is if I exchange them with their morning Sunday morning at 10:00 AM two hours by car from where I have church at 10:15 AM. That part of things is awful, but today I see two of my three kids for the only time from October through December.

So, we broke out the fancy serving dishes and made macaroni and cheese with carrots and hot dogs. It seems silly to put such a simple meal in a nice dish as I never need a serving dish when alone, but this is a good silly.

Break out the good plates:
garnish with tasty extras
and join your children.
To eat while you're not alone
is a fleeting gift these days.

The Stumbling Block

I wrote this poem while thinking of the passage from Matthew 18:6-9, which says that it is better to be drown in the sea than to cause someone else to stumble. I am trying to come to a place of peace with the frustration which is continuing to take root in me despite my best efforts. I am working as hard as I can to burn off the anger through diet, exercise, and even spiritual disciplines, but there are times when things are simply wrong and more than an irritation. There are times when people do real harm to you and that pain becomes a thorn in the side that will not go away.

Even if there may be divine punishment for the person who causes another person to stumble, it still hurts deeply to be the person with broken toes, scraped knees, and a noticeable limp. I don’t doubt for a second that all that is happening is noticed and noted in the Book of Life and any equivalent book with opposite purpose. It would still be nice if there could be some relief.

Broken heart longs for them
The hugs, smiles, and dumb jokes
as joy is hard to coax
when you're alone

Prayers flow as I walk
Burn the anger with fat.
I look more and more flat
but rage lives on.

Walking, praying, fasting:
I curse this stumbling block
as on the Door I knock
and ask for help.

Even so, upon further reflection, a better passage to consider might be Romans 14:12-19 which is far more balanced in perspective. What I mean by balanced is that Paul does a decent job in Romans in balancing the concerns. Yes, it is wrong when someone else causes us harm, but Paul writes in a way that invites people to look inside before looking at one’s neighbor. It is not right for your neighbor to harm you, but first consider whether or not you will be ashamed when you give your account to God about how you lived your life and what you did, which is different from what your neighbor did to you.

So, how do I live with this pain in my side and sorrow in my heart? I see wisdom in Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians 12:7-12. I have asked time and time again for this thorn to be removed, but it hasn’t budged. I guess that God’s strength is shown in my weakness, so I’ll keep trudging down the road while remembering the simple truth from a few verses earlier in Romans 14:7-10:

“We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God. This is why Christ died and lived: so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God”

Romans 14:7-10, Common English Bible

This life I live with thorn-gifted pain is the life that I have to live. My “neighbor” may look at me with disdain or judgment, keep me from my children in defiance of the court order, and teach them that it is dangerous to speak with me (since I might call Child Protective Services if something goes wrong and the kids are in danger). Even with that sorrow and pain, I am called to live, so I will live. When the day of my death comes, even if I am alone I will die in the Lord with hope in my heart that:

“We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:2-5, Common English Bible

Thorn in my side or not, I will live in hope and I shall not be ashamed of the Lord. I will seek hope all of my days, even with broken bones in my soul, for God loves me and will make all of this right one day. Even with broken places in my soul, I am still fearfully and wonderfully made and God loves me. I am God’s child and I trust that my Parent will hold me as close as I wish I could hold my children.

Post-Court Lament

I should change my name.
"Curse God and die already."
Job’s name would fit well,
as I, also, do refuse
to give in to the sorrow.

Here I sit in ash:
Emmanuel hear my cry.
As sun sets again,
I would prefer a whirlwind
to agonizing silence.

A Poem born from Lamentations

The other day I shared a blessing from the United Methodist Book of Worship “For a Victim or Survivor of Crime or Oppression.” Since that day I have been working toward raising awareness by writing poetry based on the suggested poetry found in that blessing.

Today I wrote a poem based on Lamentations 3:1-24, which can be found in the Common English Bible through this hyperlink. As I pondered the reading, it seemed pretty dark at first. I was wondering what the compilers of the Book of Worship were thinking until I came across the shift from verses 19-24, which I found startling and incredibly powerful.

Verse 19 compares the feelings of homelessness and affliction to being poisoned to the brim with bitterness. I understood those feelings as I consider my past. I remember more than the feelings that came about in the first days after I filed for divorce. I remembered tears from a broken heart behind closed doors, sodden pillowcases, and the bitter feeling of knowing that promises made at the altar meant nothing. The shame, the guilt, the uselessness, and futility still come to mind easily even after time has begun to heal my wounds.

After all of this comes to mind, does Jeremiah give up hope? No, instead the very pain in Jeremiah’s soul transforms from a place of broken doubt to a place of stubborn waiting. The grief and loss do not translate into a faithless existence but into a spirit that will steadfastly wait for God to act. This! This is a feeling I know! “Waking” after sleepless nights, pulling on my boots, and stepping into my role as a minister with all of the confidence I could despite my own sorrow. This I know!

Helping church members say goodbye to loved ones with the compassion that comes from knowing what it is like to come home to an empty home! That was an act of faithful waiting! Sharing communion with people with the understanding that comes from knowing what it means to share a “meal” with others when you eat alone the rest of the week. That was an act of faithful waiting! Listening to the troubles of others knowing what it is like to have nobody at home to listen to my struggles. That was an act of faithful waiting!

Even now, I wait. The poem I wrote is as much a prayer for God to act as it is a piece of poetry inspired by this passage. I hope it is helpful and brings to mind the reality that brokenness does not mean that healing is beyond you.

"Homeless and poisoned in my inmost soul"
I ponder the broken and sleepless nights.
Endless tears fell into fathomless hole
as I thought of all of my stolen rights.

Future empty and present in shambles,
hopeful words called out from the ancient past
before wounds left me with frothing rambles:
that place where only ashes seem to last.

I remember the hope flickering faint.
I beheld the light that would not go out.
Even shattered, the call to be a saint,
not of perfect life, but one lived through doubt.

I remember and still I sit and wait
for the Just One to come bearing our fate.

October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Under the Weather

I received my booster shot yesterday. I’m trying my best to take it easy after feeling unwell while walking my dog last night. Today my arm aches and I feel more tired than usual.

When I was married I saw our vows as promising that I would care for her when she was unwell and she would care for me when I was unwell. I was naïve to think that we both understood that commitment to each other when we were twenty five.

Today I’m alone. My attorney called to give me an update about working towards finalizing my divorce yesterday. I’m grieving that loss today while remembering how it felt to believe I could rely on someone.

Nobody is here to help me feel better today, but nobody is here tearing me down either.

If I were to give someone advice in similar circumstances i would relay to them the truth that there are lonely days when seeking peace and safety. It is possible to get through them and even to thrive because of them. I would tell them to have patience with the process.


October has been Domestic Violence Awareness month since it was first introduced by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1981. Regardless of the month, domestic violence is never okay, no matter the circumstances. If you or someone you know is in desperate need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

Oakdale Mall Poem

I had an eye appointment in Johnson City and went to a store where I used to take my children to look for Christmas presents and winter coats. I wanted a coat as I have been losing weight. It is closing and so many places where I took my children for six years stand empty, closed, or closing. I wrote this poem

Some days I wander,
walking past empty storefronts
Where family walked
looking for nice and warm clothes
to bundle up family

Now its always cold
and the memories burn low
Time changes faces
as old sweaters keep fraying
and worn sneakers still trudge on

“Here” and Life

The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day Prompt for today is “here.”

This has been a really rough week for me. I have had more than one wise individual in my life point out that it was likely always going to end this way. One friend with a long history in the legal profession said “If you were the mother, things would probably be very different. Nobody wants to be the judge who gets a reputation for separating kids from their mothers.”

So, I have fewer rights and will see my kids less. The system is broken and there’s nothing I can do about it but pray. What’s my consolation today?

I weep, Jesus weeps, but we’ll laugh.
I feel impoverished, Jesus is sacrificing, but we’ll be rich.
I am empty, Jesus is emptying himself, and we’ll be full again.
I had to choose my religious profession or more visitation, Jesus faced persecution, but there’ll be blessing.

Also, those who laugh will mourn.
Those who feel rich will be impoverished.
Those who are full will be emptied.
Those who have everyone speak well of them will go the same way as the false prophets.

In the end, it is going to be okay. Justice is in the hands of a just God who sees what has happened. My attorney tried to lighten the mood by asking if lightning bolts or karma would strike first, but that’s far above my paygrade. Another friend later chimed in that karma may make me spend the rest of my days wondering if God answers prayers, but it isn’t really about that kind of thinking for me either.

Maybe they’ll repent someday? Maybe they’ll seek forgiveness and make amends for their sins? I have no idea, but their sins are in the hands of God, not mine. I don’t need to be vengeful as God is still God. I don’t need to threaten anyone with wrath, because the wrath of the New Testament falls on people who choose to bring it into their lives. What comes out of the lips comes from the heart, regardless of whether those are words of blessings or empty accusations. In the meantime, I’ve texted my kids that I love them and now am choosing a picture.

When everything was in the hole Tuesday after a sleepless Monday night, I knew where I could go to find solace, peace, and safety. I went to church. Sometimes I go and meet with my lawyer on Grand Island, and I pull into my home church’s parking lot to just be near the place where so many holy things took place over the years. On Tuesday, I went to the church to work. As I worked, I was drawn into a world bigger than myself. By the time we had Council, we were having discussions about how the church was a blessing to us and how we can share that blessing with others. Being at the church transformed my day, my attitude, and my hope. The church truly is a a place where we can just be “here.”

A Court Prayer

Why seek victory?
Peace and love; all I desire.
I love my children.
Their mother also loves them.
We both love and we both long.

They live life halfway
without ever wanting this
chaos and discord.
They need their roots to sink in
and give them a peaceful life.

Where do we go now
when all is in the wild winds?
Tumbling through this life
as we wait to know what’s next
and each pray for an answer.

I don’t know it all.
YaH, You know what should come next
and I will listen,
even if I hear through tears.
Please watch over my children:
they matter more than I do.

“Cared” and Tiny Flowers

The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “cared.” In thinking about an image that showed care, I immediately thought of the lovely little flowers growing on top of my aquaponic fish tank.

Perhaps you are thinking that this is a strange choice with the prompt “cared.” Well, there’s a story here that has to do with the fact that there have been few flowers in my life over the years.

One of my shortcomings as a husband over the years was my inability to remember to bring home flowers for my wife. I did my best to remember, promised to get better, and worked diligently at trying to wrap my head around the fact that it mattered to my spouse. A few months into separation I was setting up the top of my fish tank to grow herbs and was trying to decide what I should grow.

I had talked with a few people over the previous months about how I felt abandoned, lonely, and really hurt by the ways that everything has happened. It took a lot to move past sitting in sorrow when not working and losing myself in my work as often as possible. My first move was to start walking, taking pictures, and forcing myself to look through a camera lens to look at something outside of myself. There was a ton of guilt, grief, self-accusation, and woundedness that had to be acknowledged and grown through before I got to the point where I was not only willing to think of doing anything joyful beyond the bare necessities of living, much less doing something new like growing plants with my fish.

As strange as it sounds, I had to accept that I had worth before I could do more than work, engage in spiritual practices that I had previously learned, and do the minimum to survive. In time, around January after the healing story of Christmas began to take root in my soul, I had begun to move beyond looking at everything I had done wrong to acknowledging a simple fact: I had wanted flowers too. I like flowers. I enjoy the look of them, taking pictures of them, trying to grow them, celebrating their little successes, and generally being around them which makes my allergies a real pain sometimes.

While looking at the seeds at the local Agway for seeds in the middle of winter, I acknowledged that nobody had bought me flowers and nobody would buy me flowers. I acknowledged the pain of being criticized for not bringing home enough flowers when the last flower I had received from my spouse was a flower to match my wife’s bouquet on our wedding day: one flower for me, a whole bouquet for her.

I wanted flowers, so I bought flower seeds, and now there are little purple flowers bringing joy to my home. Nobody has to buy me flowers and I never asked my spouse for flowers, but now that I am on my own, there is nothing wrong with growing flowers to bring joy into my life and into my home. I now not only have those flowers, I have the joy of seeing my children enjoy the flowers whenever they visit home to be with their father. Cue the cute four year old saying, “Look Dad! There’s another flower!”

In the section of the beatitudes that we are focusing on this week, there’s a lot of weight behind the words. Luke 6 does an excellent job of saying that we should neither expect praise for following Christ nor expect that everything is going right when we receive all of the praise and accolades. In the end, my flowers have little to do with my journey with Christ other than to acknowledge that God created a good creation in me.

Will I receive blessings from God if someone thinks a man shouldn’t grow flowers or want someone to give him flowers? I somehow doubt it. I do know that my value and my worth as a person does not depend on whether I fit the typical norms of my childhood. I have lavender aftershave and deodorant; God loves me despite the fact that some might question the scent that wafts about me. I like taking pictures of flowers and enjoying the beauty of these lovely plants that I cannot grow for the life of me; God loves me despite the fact that I take pictures of other people’s flowers because I need a hydroponic/aquaponic system to grow anything more complicated than a spider plant.

I don’t believe I will receive special blessings from God after being persecuted if someone picks on me for my liking flowers. I do believe that God cares about me and will bless me through the situation anyway because of God. I don’t believe every criticism I ever receive falls under this beatitude, but I do believe that God cares about me deeply and will bless me with love (at the very least) when I accept and honor the good things God has placed in my heart.

In other words, when I actually do manage to grow flowers, I see them as a gift from God. I may never receive flowers from a spouse, but I happily receive them from God.

Thank you God! They’re lovely. I really appreciate it.

“Present” and hunger

The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “Present.” As it is a Monday, our devotional points us again into Luke 6:-17-26. This week we are focusing on the contrasting concepts of hunger and fullness.

While it can be difficult to come up with a connection between the Lenten Photo-A-Day and the theme of the day, today was an easy selection for me. I know of the perfect present that has taught me about a hunger that goes deeper than just a craving for food.

I spent last Thanksgiving with my brother and his wife. For the first time in years, I did not spend Thanksgiving with my wife and it was the first time in 13 years that my eldest was not around complicating things. It was a heartbreaking experience that I know many others have experienced over the years.

After Thanksgiving, I had an opportunity to visit with my kids. In a red folder, I received a picture from my youngest. She had colored a picture of a turkey and wanted me to have it.

I practically ran to hang it up in my bathroom. When my kids are around, they see the turkey hanging there and I remind my youngest that I love it. I truthfully tell her that I say a prayer for her each time I notice it, whether it is the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.

Once upon a time, we had so many pictures come home from school that it was hard to choose. When my eldest was in second grade and my middle child was in kindergarten, our refrigerator was practically a battlefield when we had to decide what picture would go where. My refrigerator was “full” of pictures.

Now, the pictures are few and far between. I am hungry for pictures from my kids. I never realized how lucky I was to have all of those pictures filling my fridge. Like almost all parents, but not in the same way as most, I went from a full nest to an empty nest overnight. I long for the days when the kids are here in our house. I long for those moments when I could hug my kids after school and celebrate their pictures.

In the devotional, the very heart of what I am trying to get across is found at the beginning of today’s reading: “One of the greatest challenges of using the beatitudes found in the Gospel of Luke is that they use slightly different language than those found within the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel.” The hunger listed here is not qualified by a connection to righteousness like in the gospel of Matthew. As it says later today: “As we look at hunger throughout this week in Jesus’ teachings, we will notice that it relates to questions around wealth from the previous beatitude and to questions around sorrow and laughter in next week’s beatitude.”

I know that I hunger for something that is connected with both sorrow and an impoverished heart. As we go through the devotions this week, I hope everyone finds a place of connection. I also hope that they find safe spaces to express any sorrow that they feel while on this journey.

“Alone” and Compassion

The #RethinkChurch Lenten Photo-A-Day prompt for today is “alone.” What a word for contemplation, especially for a father in the midst of working his way through a separation! “Alone” is a word that I have pondered many times over the past few months.

A phrase stands out in our devotional reading for today: “Even when put in a challenging place, Jesus responds to challenge with compassion.” If we are called to become more like Jesus during this journey towards the cross, then what does it look like when we seek to respond to our challenges with compassion?

When writing this section of the devotional, my life was in a far more different place. As I work through this devotional alongside the members of my church, it is with a sense of wonder. Who was the person who wrote these words? I remember the hours working on this devotional, but now see the passages with different eyes and definitely answer the questions differently than I would have when I wrote this devotional.

In selecting a photo for today, I wanted to think about what it means to truly be alone. At the beginning of this oddly horrifying and challenging set of circumstances, I found myself filled with grief over the quiet house, the silent bedrooms, and the challenges of cooking for fewer people. Now, I find myself often coming across beautiful and wonderful things that are bitterly sweet.

Black Diamond Trail in Trumansburg, NY

I took this photo on a cold winter’s day while walking with my dog down a nearby trail. The path was empty of anyone, although there was clearly evidence that I was not the first person to enter the woods. For the entirety of the journey, I was alone with my dog. The wind blew through the branches, the dog snuffled through snow drifts and marked the snow, but it was otherwise silent.

It was beautifully still and silent. A world of icy stillness and solitude for just my dog and me. The sunlight shone through the branches and the snow sparkled underneath golden beams. It was truly amazing that I was able to see such beauty and it felt like that moment was for me and me alone. In the beauty and quiet, I felt as if God was walking right there with me.

It was sweet to know that I still matter enough that God draws near to me in such still spaces. It was sweet to know that God loves me deeply and truly despite the challenges of the past few months. It was also bitter to realize that I might have shared such a moment with my children a year ago.

How do I respond to these challenging moments with compassion? How do I love the people who have broken my heart through either their choices or simply doing their work? These are thoughts for my journal and not my blog, but I can state that this is where the journey for me begins today.

Fourteen Years of Chinese

After a week of indecision, I have decided to have Chinese today. Fourteen years ago, on Valentine’s Day, I burst into a liquor store with what felt like the stupidest question on my lips. “It is Valentine’s Day, my wife just gave birth two days ago, and we are having Chinese. What wine goes with Chinese food?” The clerk did not know what to do, what to say, and quickly suggested sake before we both remembered that was Japanese.

Fourteen years later and the marriage is over. There is nobody to share Chinese with tonight, but I still remember bringing home Chinese while exhausted. I remember both of us passing out from exhaustion on our couch as our baby slept while swaddled nearby. I don’t even think either of us even bothered drinking a glass of the wine. I remember all of these things and walking exhaustedly to try and help my wife have a nice dinner on Valentine’s Day with food we both loved.

She isn’t here. Those moments are gone, but I still remember pushing my legs to go out to the car and get dinner. I remember the adrenaline crash after getting everyone home safely after the first car ride with a used car seat and then heading out to find my wife the closest thing I could find to a romantic dinner. I do not want to lose the memory, do not want to lose the feeling of “bringing home the bacon” to a family for the first time, and I remember being proud of myself for something that was so simple. I do not want to forget how my child changed my life on that Valentine’s Day or how I found something far more wonderful than diamonds to give to my wife. I’ll have Chinese anyway and I will remember the most beautiful Valentine’s Day I ever experienced, even if I remember through tears.

"What goes with egg rolls?"
The stunned clerk was quite flummoxed
but did a good job
At least, I think that she did
I do not remember now