Comfort & Encouragement

Table of Contents

“Over Bridges Broken”

Over bridges broken,
through valleys dark,
at the very end
and back at the start,
I am with you forever,
brave little heart.

A light in the shadows,
a guide up ahead,
a knock on the door,
a story you read:
I’m speaking in whispers,
I’m with you in words.

This body was broken,
this blood it was shed.
These eyes, they have cried.
These hands, they have bled.

I didn’t do it for nothing;
I was sent from above
so I could die for you,
dear heart that I love.

You stumble, you falter,
you waver and fall.
You wonder at midnight,
through darkness you crawl.
But I’m reaching out always,
I’m standing right here.

When you’re ready to see me,
when you’re ready to learn,
when you open your heart
and from shadow you turn,
I’m still here waiting
after all this time
ready to claim
the one that is mine.

The secret to sunlight,
the joy in the dawn
is that no matter the journey,
I always hang on.

So don’t think you’re worthless,
so don’t think you’re lost.
I’ll never let go,
no matter the cost.

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“Anchor”

Sea-sickened on your storm-tossed sea,
      you’re trapped on a 
  pitching ship
        crushed by thunder and the hail of life.
No one’s there but 
      you
   on your tear-slickened deck.
The lighthouse winked out in the blackness
        and every prayer and cry is 
    silent as a dead whistle.
Helpless, you see the waves, 
    fear you’ll be ripped
                                              out to sea.
In your lonely hurricane hours you ask
        Where is God?
He’s not brightening the lighthouse 
        to guide you home, 
   and you don’t see these waves parting 
      or Someone walking on water
   to save you.

In times like these, look deeper, 
      for God is your anchor.
Though unseen beneath the crashing waves,
        He’ll never budge.
           He’ll hold you fast
                                       and strong.

 

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“Nigh”

John 6:16-21

I ride choppy water
long into the night
to fish for a truth,
to seek out the light.
The storm finds me first;
I’ve got nowhere to go.
Doubts toss me aside
from all that I know.
My boat floats away,
my fears crowd and call.
I’m alone on the sea
gripped in a squall.
The shore is far gone,
I’m not sure what to do,
but in these dark moments
that’s when I see You.
Across choppy waters
You walk into the night,
fishing me out
and bringing Your light.
I call out to You
and You answer my cry.
Though I’m here in dark waters
I know that You’re nigh.

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“Broken branches”

Romans 8:26

Beyond the miles of a failing mind
you wait with a sun-tanned hand on the telephone.
On partly-cloudy days
you break through the forecast.
The voice of an oak comes through the line.
You have long, deep roots, but the branches are broken
and the leaves fall into a pile of memories I collect for you
and hold in my library.
When you need your stories I will pull them off the shelves,
leaf through to the right page, and let loose the perfect, musty scent
of knowledge printed long ago.

You were the arms that carried me,
and the burden that I carry.

I have asked God why, but He does not respond.
There is no why. I must ask a new question.
I hear you fall again, another branch lost to the wind.
On my knees gathering wood and leaves, I am beneath
what once sheltered me but the canopy is bare.
You summer life is gone, but mine is golden yet,
and I will pray for you in winter as you prayed for me in spring.

God who listens, God who speaks, hear our pain of tumbling leaves.
Whisper across the gap of time and words between us,
and connect our hearts with Spirit.

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“Change”

John 2:1-11, John 6:1-15

At some point we all face
plain water 
      filling up jars at wedding beginnings.
Cool, simple, and familiar, it beckons
     us to leave well enough alone
     for now.
Too often we freeze in place where you
    moved into miracles, splashed into
rich red tomorrows. 

I am the boy with the five loaves
      and two fish who you met on your
journeys in the desert. 
I hold out my meager collection of
    courage and hope and ask that you
multiply these pieces
        until I have enough 
to feed a multitude. 

 
 

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“Foundation”

Nehemiah 13:14 “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.”

Weary hours crush
     your shoulders.
The foundation you dug
    for your dream is now
    another hole in your field of years
       like the backside of the moon:
                          a bit closer to the stars,
             but full of craters. 

You dug deep and sure,
   worked alongside friends,
   poured in your soul—
and watched
            greedy soil suck it dry.

You won’t dig again.

I join you, trembling tearfully to see
     you stare at another lost foundation.
You, the wise one, the encourager,
     the longest fighter. 
What did each hole bring you?
They are candles without enough wick,
     so bright and perfect, and then they run out.

I sit beside you at this latest hole.
         I have no words for the future; I am young and
         still imagine rainbows behind black clouds.
But in this moment, 
   from what I’ve seen so far,
I tell you this: 
Every shovelful you took
    showed me your passion,
    dedication, and daring.
Every new dream you worked for
    taught me I could work for mine.
Every bit deeper you went, 
     grace and tenacity and boundless faith
     dug lines into your hands, curling
        around calluses like calligraphy
            spelling out your love for creation.

I do not know if this field
     will hold the answers, 
but still,
     I pray you will dig again.

 
 

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“Wings of the Spirit”

despite the years I could run down the street
    to find you, turn a corner and embrace you, now,
when it seems to matter most,
my feet can’t cross
     the miles and my hands can’t 
reach your face. 
Ground and water lie between, and we are
       connected by fragile 
               phone lines like threads of tinsel
       laying over dark evergreen. 
Bridging the wound of
            distance now is heaven’s gift of spirit. I swear to you
                that my soul knows wind and sky by name and has flown 
      your way to watch over you, wrap around you,
and whisper peace to you. Turn the corner in your heart
        and I am there.

 
 

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“The Bleeding Christ”

“In his [Jesus’s] anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 NRSV)

I follow the bleeding Christ
who did not get the deliverance He prayed for in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Stepping away from His last free moment,
He met the stab of betrayal.
He took the wound freely
and bled loss, despair, questions, pain, and humanity.
Hanging on the cross alone, He did not get His answers, and they say
the sun turned black.
I think I know what that looks like.
“What is resurrection?” I ask atop Golgotha.

Answers do not live on Golgotha but in the hard path forward.
On my way, I have found stubborn, fighting, compassionate, longing love
bursting from darkness to the clarity of life.
Passing on the passion, Christ rose from defeat into eternity in us.

I follow the bleeding Christ.
He carried on when He did not get answers, and so will I.
I follow because resurrection is the other side of my grave of pain.
Resurrection will be change. I will not be made again as I was before,
but I will be whole.

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“Hammer Blow”

Hello, hammer blow, 
  visiting again, iron to my
      glued-together glass. I scoop together
my pieces and look up weakly. It hangs
            overhead in shadow, its cold metal
a brewing storm. My eyes fix 
       on the invisible weight that might fall
       from the doctor’s lips. 
Then I 
     stand up. 
Fall what may, grace shields
       my glittering soul and
           arms of the Spirit hold my fragility.
I wait in trust.

 
 

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“Question mark”

“Be still and know I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

I see you staring at me, question mark, 
     like a scar on paper.
You aren’t the elegant, looped symbol
     I grew up practicing to read and write.
On the page you are written in six letters: c a n c e r.

I cannot forget you, 
                      escape you, 
                             or answer you 
        with a thousand distractions, 
                 a million miles, 
                     or a billion books.
I pray to understand, to fight the question, to erase the mark.
       But God has not answered or erased anything.
Instead God listens. He sits with me in waiting rooms, 
           holds the shaking reports in my hands, 
                and stays awake with me while I am staring at nothing. 

God just 
    is
       when I am afraid 
                          to be.

When the lights are out, 
         the treatments fail, 
            and the goodbyes sneak up on me,
all I have from God is: be still. Know I am God.

It is, in the end, my only answer
to the question mark.

 
 

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Prologue to “Grief”

Death smears our race with pain, clogs our media, and follows us home. It seems to be around every corner. We face it unprepared.

In the story of Jesus and his friend Lazarus, we read about the pain Jesus felt from his loss of a close friend. What struck me this time as I remember this story is that the short verse, “Jesus wept,” is in isolation. He is alone with his grief in this moment, much as his name and this verb are alone. Nothing distracts or diminishes the hurt described here. Yet, this small sentence is part of a larger context, a story of resurrection. We must keep reading to see it.

This small sentence, though, is mourning. It is God’s pain and humanity’s pain, unfiltered. Jesus wept. We weep. That is what I capture in this poem.

To the grieving, God bless, and keep reading.

“Grief”

it is gut-wrenching, time-stopping phone calls.
it is not enough time, a last goodbye, or no goodbye at all.
it is numbness and it is yelling at the sky every question clawing up our throats.
it is photographs in shaking fingers and tears hidden in pillows.
it is a circle of hands and a lone, wavering voice saying prayers.
it is a long, heavy box carried on our shoulders.
at the end of the day it is the sound of a melancholy song loud on the stereo
while we sing along to the tune playing from our heart.

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“You are Hiding”

You are hiding.
I know this because when you were a girl
you were a blossom of creativity, a lively brook of dreams.
You spun worlds out of color and endless ideas.

Your path to your full potential
did not last.
You listened to fear’s senseless whisper, you dropped your flame.
Though your talent bleeds like sunrise through your skin
you covered yourself in cloaks and learned to shuffle in gray shoes.

You are hiding.
I watch you at arm’s length, unsure what I could say
to help you throw off the muted world you wear.
The best I come to is this:
Do not fear what you could be.
Fight for it. Love it. Love yourself.
Loving yourself is a risk, for all love is dangerous,
but all love comes from God and therefore it can look deeper,
touch our tender bones, and bring out the joy that birthed creation.
We are bearers of future.
Do not hide.

I am waiting.
You know this because I stand nearby
never ready to give up my hope,
sister, mother, daughter, woman.

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“To keep”

Romans 8:38 (NIV) “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The day is dark, God.
Tell me you will keep me.
To keep is an embrace when the lights go out,
surrounding hidden hurt with healing arms;
it is shelter and steadfast;
it is a promise.

Another one is gone, God.
Tell me you will keep her.
To keep is to lift her to new heights of spirit,
transforming and renewing with Your light’s bright touch;
it is trust and change;
it is heaven.

I have no answers, God.
Tell me you will keep me.
To keep is a firm hand on shaking shoulders,
steering me out of the ash to fresh blue air;
it is tireless and true;
it is peace.
 

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“In Winter”

You have been looking for beauty in the winter
and a masterpiece in the shrieking storm.
You are rain-whipped and weary,
but for them, you must be strong.
For them you tell of rainbows and silver.
For them you are the warm hearth in the blizzard.
You keep your eyes open
to never miss a second or a cry.
Passersby say words to you like snowfall that blow cold
and then fall into the blanket of white ashes
where you put up a sign called Reality.
You hide the sign behind your skirts. They must not see.

In this season where you are the single pillar, I can only say:
Pray remember who is your ground.

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“Lighthouse Path”

You tuck your pain behind brave smiles
like a shattered window behind a curtain.
I’ve been looking, but I haven’t found words for you.
I stand nearby feeling like a lighthouse
with a broken lamp. Meanwhile, you’re
out in the black bay where I can’t reach.
You will make it to shore in time, and I will
meet you on the sand. I still won’t have words,
but I saw the path through the wilderness from up
in the lighthouse, and I can walk
beside you on the way home.

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“The Last Photo”

The moment snaps
like an old Kodak camera – click –
captured in the glare of a flash
on darkness. Your weakening breath and slack fingers
are imprinted in the silent cacophony of the end
I didn’t want.

I am holding old pictures in
a quiet house as disarray hangs
upon me, stealing direction.
Atop each photo of birthdays,
beach trips, and family vacations,
the last image of all perches
with black raven claws.

I am moving through albums,
and it takes me years to turn
pages. It takes the constant embrace
of love and perseverance to push
off the raven claws and teach
me how to hold my hands to
capture new moments.

I reach,
breathe out – click.

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“Seawall”

a single prayer request echoes over
the microphone at the front of the sanctuary,
and the congregation moves.
I stare, moved without moving,
a mere visitor in the pews today
as these storm-battered people
rise from their seats and wrap around
their pastor, who gives them
direction and prayers week after week and now
stands before them speechless,
shadowed by uncontrollable
circumstance. Hands reach out
to touch him and his ailing wife in an interlocking
wall of hands on shoulders,
firm and sure as a seawall standing fast
against the hurricane. Clustered together
in matching purple and white mission trip t-shirts,
we visitors watch this cloud of witnesses live the line from the old hymn
we wear on our backs today:
When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.

Acknowledgment: Request for a “cloud of witnesses” poem from Wesley bible study group at University of Delaware. Hymn reference from United Methodist Hymnal, text also available here: Tindley, Charles Albert. “512. Stand by Me.” Hymnary.org. http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/UMH/512. Accessed March 21, 2014.

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