This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

When Light Breaks Through the Darkness


They called it a bomb cyclone; I call it forty-four hours without power. Forty-four winter hours with no heat. No light. And not even cell service.


We were all bracing for the winter nor’easter to rear its ugly head, interrupting our weekend plans with sheets of driving rain. We wondered if we would make it to our daughter’s lacrosse game in northern New York given the storm’s predicted snowfall there.


The storm ended up catching us all by surprise. Where my daughter was expecting 15 inches of snow, she got 3; we expected rain and instead got 50 mph winds and a 6-inch blanket of snow heavy enough to knock out power in 300,000 homes. The storm had caught us all completely by surprise.


Life’s storms are like that, aren’t they? Life is running along smoothly when an unexpected and devastating storm rips through our world, upending our tranquility.


At church yesterday, one of our pastors said, “Lent is a time to sit in the darkness and appreciate the light.” He was speaking, of course, about the darkness of our sin and the lightness of our savior, but yesterday, forty hours into my cold, dark experience, his words held greater significance for me.


In the dark, we discover what inconveniences us. And I have realized that it doesn’t take much! As evening fell, the darkness began to envelop us. We sat huddled together, pooling the light from flickering candles and beams from our small headlamps. We washed our hands in cold tap water to conserve what remained in the hot water tank for the next day’s brief showers. The first night wasn’t too bad; the house was still over sixty degrees and honestly it still felt a bit like a pioneering adventure. But once day one stretched into day two and the house hit fifty-five degrees, all sense of adventure had worn off! Without cell service, we were truly in the dark, literally and figuratively.


As I walked through these hours of darkness, I really did appreciate the moments of light with a more grateful heart. A walk in the warm sunshine the day after the storm. A lunch out in a warm place. An invitation from a friend to come to dinner and bring our dog! A place for a hot shower and a hair dryer on day three. These moments where light broke through the darkness were the sustaining moments that enabled us to persevere as the season of darkness lingered.


Glimpses of light are essential when we are walking in the dark.



I have experienced another type of darkness, an extended season when there were no respites of light breaking through. My son had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and I was angry. Angry at God for allowing my son to get this devastating disease that took my brother’s life and has afflicted my sister since she was sixteen. More than being angry that this wasn’t my plan for my family, I questioned why a loving God would allow such an awful thing to happen to my son.


And so I pushed God out of my life. Stopped up my ears and squeezed shut my eyes and declared that I didn’t want to hear from him or see him again.


And the dark became very dark, indeed.


It settled in and lingered. What I first noticed was the silence. Like the stillness of my powerless house with no humming appliances or electronics, my mind went completely silent. Gone were the conversational prayers that would flow in and out of me throughout the day. But I was okay with that; I was angry at God. I didn’t mind the silence, at least not at first. But like the silence of the winter nor’easter, the silence eventually became deafening.


The darkness continued to settle in, heavy like a suffocating blanket from which I couldn’t free myself.


In time, my anger began to abate, and I sought once again this God I have known my entire life. I expected the light to break through in glorious fashion and end my exile. What I discovered instead was the wisdom of a God who knew there were still more lessons for me to learn in the dark.


And so the silence lingered.


And the darkness grew darker.


It’s in the dark that we really appreciate the light.


In the dark, we see what we cannot see in the light. Once our eyes adjust to the dark, we begin to really see.


And truthfully, I didn’t like what I saw. In the dark, questions loomed large: is God still good even when my world seems very bad? Or is he only good when things work out according to my plan, and devastation doesn’t hit too close to my home? With the faintest flicker of light illumining me, I saw the warped theology I had fashioned: God isn’t good all the time; God is only good most of the time.


I had tangled up the sorrow I was experiencing over my son’s life and health with the goodness of God. Before I could step back into the Light, I had to settle this matter of the goodness of God.


Slowly, gently, I began to see that God is always good, even when life is bad and terribly unfair. I needed to be swallowed up in the darkness and in the silence to truly grasp the beauty of the Light. This Light never goes out, even in the darkest of nights and the most ferocious of storms. We just need to keep looking into the Light.


A Light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. ~ Saint John

Ashes and Chocolate


Chocolate and ash. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. An odd pairing, isn’t it? Inconvenient, actually. How do I celebrate Love’s Big Day with all the expected pomp of a fancy dinner, fine wine, exquisite desserts, and of course, chocolate, when Valentine’s Day happens to fall this day on the Church’s Big Day of penitence and abstention, Ash Wednesday?


Could there be a way of celebrating both days at once, and in so doing enrich the meaning of each celebration? Perhaps the question I should ask myself this Ash Wednesday is not so much, “What should I give up?” as “Who can I love in your name, Lord?”


I have explored these thoughts in a new piece I wrote for ESA, an organization that thrives in partnership with Eastern University, not as a typical “think” tank, but as a “do” tank whose purpose is to mobilize movements for constructive social change. I hope you’ll give it a read right here, and consider joining me on a 40-day dare to put love into action!

Keep Alert for Changing Conditions


I became an empty nester in the middle of a January snowstorm.


The snow began falling thick shortly after midnight. Plenty of time to turn black asphalt into a sloppy white slippery mess by 9:00am. Despite the thermometer reading 16 degrees and the sky reading more snow to come, my calendar read drive my daughter back to college.


And so, today was the day.


Regardless of the road conditions.


Or the condition of my heart.


I had expected my empty nest to come last fall. My emptying was delayed by 5 months due to my son’s unexpected health challenge. But with his return to college last week, today, the emptying has come.


Just as it should.


Driving straight into a snowstorm is not my idea of a good time. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good snowstorm. It is my favorite excuse to hunker down and get cozy. When my children were small I would take full advantage of their snow days and not move from the house until they returned to school.


But drive in the white stuff? Don’t even think about asking me to do that! I have spun 360s on too many patches of ice driving my children to and fro to ever again relish the idea of driving in the ice and snow.


And so I clutched the wheel tightly, my white knuckles matching the sea of white all around me.


Emergency road signs blinked their warnings: Slow down, hazardous conditions ahead.


How fitting. Here, on the cusp of living life without my children around me for the first time in 24 years of motherhood, I too had better slow down. Slow down and reflect on the joy of having taken them this far. Slow down and be thankful for all that they are becoming. Slow down and recognize that there will indeed be hazardous conditions if I don’t release my children to God, in trust, knowing that he loves them more than I ever could.


And perhaps most of all, on this day of letting go, I must slow down and recognize that God will also care for my mama heart – the mama heart that longs to nestle my children in my arms just a little longer and protect them all the days of their lives. God has my heart too as I release my children to their adult lives and to his care.




I heard it before my eyes understood what was happening. The sound was like a truck horn, but longer, deeper, strangely distressed in tone. The sound of a semi-trailer truck blaring its horn, the noise reverberating through the nearly 1-mile long tunnel. Was he trying to communicate with me? Was he getting closer and closer to me? Yes, the horn was his way of saying, I can’t slow down. I can’t change course. Get out of my way or you’ll get hurt.


How often have I been like this with my children as they grew into young adults? Unable to slow down and walk by their side, without feeling compelled to tell them which steps to take. Unable to change course and offer them support in the decisions they have made rather than offering them criticism for not making the decisions I would have made.


The thing is, our children do grow up, and they will change. They need us still, but they need us less. And they need us differently. They ask us in a million ways to slow down, to change our course. To love them still, but to love them differently. It’s time to pay attention to the changing conditions, or someone will get hurt.


Ignoring the double yellow line, I change lanes just before the 18-wheeler barrels past me and out through the tunnel, with two other semi-trailer trucks right on his tail. Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way.




I ascend the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, the gray-white of a snow-laden sky rising up before me. Everything my eye can see is shrouded in white. Forests of sugarcoated trees emerge from a thick layer of white icing coating the ground. It is a vision taken straight from Candy Land, or perhaps Elf’s journey through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, and in a blink the sheer beauty of the scene has transported me back to the sweetest memories of long ago days spent with my young children.


Interrupting my reverie, another emergency road sign catches my attention. Keep alert for changing conditions. Another fitting reminder for this mama on Emptying Day.


Everything about the condition of my home is about to change. I will return to empty beds. Empty dinner chairs. Rooms will remain tidy days after I put everything in its place. The silence threatens to be overwhelming.


The boots lay strewn on the laundry room floor, as if she’ll come waltzing in the back door and slip right into them. His bed left unmade, with only the coolness of the sheets beneath my fingertips to remind me that he hasn’t just emerged from them, his long lanky frame sauntering into the kitchen to bid me good morning.


There will be holidays spent without my precious children by my side. There will be holidays spent together but shared with their new loves by their side.


At the crest of the hill, the white road seems to disappear into the white sky, leaving me no choice but to trust that there is indeed a road ahead on which I may safely travel.


I don’t know what lies ahead. Will I enjoy my new freedom? What new activities will occupy my time and attention? How will my man and I rediscover a love that was originally shared by just two? Stretched to encompass the dimension of five, it will of necessity find a new shape when it is once more shared by two.


The wise King Solomon once said, There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.


Today I enter the time between two seasons, a time to keep alert because the conditions are changing. These are the days to pray for comfort as the tears fall when I long for what used to be. These are the days to offer prayers of thanks when joy fills my soul for all that will be new in the days ahead of me. And these are the days to receive God’s grace as I accept the moment I am experiencing, irrespective of my emotional response to it, and know that I am exactly where I should be.




Come, O Light, Come


A heavy blanket of darkness envelops our world on this the darkest night of the year. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this winter solstice, this stopping of the sun, heralds the end of the disappearance of light and the beginning of its return.


But all we notice is the dark.


Today in Philadelphia, we will turn our faces upward to catch a slim 8 hours and 20 minutes of light. Barely enough, but far more than our Alaskan compatriots who will wait to see a mere 3 or 4 hours of sunlight this day. During the deep midwinter, most of us long for greater illumination from this most-treasured of celestial orbs.


Most of us don’t typically like the dark.


Unless we are dining by candlelight in the cocoon of darkened walls, enhancing the glow on friends’ faces, on fine china, on elegant crystal. Unless we are nestled around a roaring fire, whose radiance takes the chill out of a winter night laden with stars.


In the dark we are always searching for the light.


The darkness awakens in us a sense of foreboding. It disquiets our soul and awakens in us the knowledge that we are no longer fully in control. In the dark we realize how much we walk by sight, taking steps forward only when we can see the road ahead. The dark swallows up our assurance, leaving us with a choice to make.


Stay still, or begin to walk by faith.


O come thou Day-Spring,

Come and cheer

Our spirits by thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight


How we long for the light. This third stanza from the haunting Christmas carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel reminds us that it will not always be night. As surely as the dawn follows the dark, we can be assured that the true Light will spring forth like a new day.


Like a light into all of our darkness.


And so we wait. But like the awakening of a new dawn, it may take time. At times we too live in a bleak midwinter season, where our own piece of earth stands hard as iron, water like a stone, and we struggle to glimpse any beam of light at all.


What is your present darkness that you are plodding through in hopes of making your way forward to the light?


This time last year I had no way of knowing I would bury my father in one month and my mother in two. This time last year I had no way of knowing the new medical challenges that would stalk my family this year. I lost count at 66 medical appointments for two of my kids and me this year. You can do the math. That’s more than one medical appointment per week; that’s a high number.


But to me, it’s more than a number.


The number represents loss. A loss of time. Time scheduling appointments. Time researching options. Time driving. Time waiting. Time conferring with doctors. Time paying bills. Okay, let’s just say it…time worrying. And at the end of all this time, when there is still little resolution to some of these concerns, it all feels a bit like I’ve been wandering around in the dark, bumping into unseen obstacles in my path, and wondering when the light will break through and show me the way forward.


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light.


Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong light. Perhaps I’ve been confusing resolution to long-prayed prayers with moving forward. Could there be a journey in the dark whose worth far exceeds any journey we take in the light? It is in the dark that I must yield my need for control to the practice of trust.


Trust not that I’ll get the answers but that God is the answer.


This is the kind of trust that makes room for hope, and hope always welcomes the Light and prepares it a way.


Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel


We can choose to move forward in the dark, in steadied hope that the light will indeed come. Waiting in the literal dark of this Advent reminds us that no matter how dark a season of life may seem, light will always break through, for the Light has surely come. When we wait in faith, we can catch glimmers of light before the dawn, before the Day-Spring, that invite us to step further into the light.


The world lays still tonight in darkness, but things will not always be thus. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!


Advent Hope


I’m wrestling with Advent this year.


I desperately wanted this Advent to be a season of peaceful reflection and soul gripping hope, but to be honest, hope feels especially far beyond my grasp this year. All the Advent talk of desire and anticipation, of waiting and watching, of hoping and dreaming has seemed to shine a spotlight on all that I am still waiting for.


On all that I have just about given up hope for.


I didn’t grow up in a tradition of marking time through a church calendar. For me the month of December meant one thing and one thing only – Christmas! Christmas and all that went with it – the lists, the gift buying and giving, the lights, the cooking and eating, the carols, the laughter, time spent with those we love, and most of all, the Nativity. The birth of Immanuel, God with us.


There’s nothing wrong with this approach to December and Christmas. But for me, it was almost as though December was about my getting ready for everything I had to do, and then on Christmas Eve I would prepare my heart for the coming of the King.


When your heart is as prone to wandering as mine is, perhaps 48 hours just isn’t enough time to prepare for the arrival of the King of Kings.


For the past several years I have been worshiping at a church that celebrates the liturgical calendar, and with it, Advent. And because of that, I now have a slow four weeks to prepare my heart and mind for the coming of the King.


In the Advent scriptures and devotionals, I keep reading about hope. And that despite all the turmoil we see around us hope still wins because our hope is to be anchored in Christ’s having come and in his coming again. And while I believe all that to be true, this year my heart whispers, but what about all my hopes for today? For this one life you’ve given me to live today? Am I not to feel the least bit sad when the same hoped for, prayed for desires still go unfulfilled at the end of another year? Am I allowed to even voice that kind of disappointment in the presence of the King come as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes?


It’s not that everything in my life has gone wrong this year. I don’t want to give that impression. There have been plenty of joy spots this year. But the deepest desires remain unfulfilled.


Where in the Advent story of optimistic waiting and watching and hoping is there room for my still unfulfilled hopes for unanswered prayers? Does Jesus really say that because Advent contains the promise that he will return one day, that I have no business feeling sad about my unanswered prayers?


I don’t think so.


Jesus’ ancestor, the wise King Solomon, declares in Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”


Can I just be brutally honest with where I am right now? Saying my hope is in Jesus’ return and therefore that should make everything else okay just won’t cut it for me this year. It’s another year of waiting for healing. Waiting for direction. Waiting for a doctor to have an idea. Waiting for release. Waiting for real hope. Waiting for human dignity to be restored. Waiting for some semblance of peace on earth. My hope has been deferred again and my heart is, well, frankly it’s sick. I love Jesus with everything within me, but waiting thru Advent with only the certain hope of his return just isn’t enough hope for me. Not this year.


Is there a remedy for this sick heart of mine? This sick heart that cries out for real answers to hard prayers. For fulfilled longings? This year all the talk of waiting and watching and hoping has fallen flat. I want to experience hope fulfilled.


Come desire of nations come.



I long to have the deepest desires of this earthbound journey met. I long to have my sharpest hungers satisfied. Could there be another hope for me this year? A different type of hope? A hope that comes not from the satisfaction of an earthly desire, or the knowledge that Jesus will return, but from the assurance that Jesus has never left me?


I stop dead in my tracks. Right there in those first six words from Proverbs, hope deferred makes the heart sick, the God of the universe, the God of Advent has given me permission to feel the full weight of all my deferred hopes.


Yes. They make me feel sick. Sick at heart.


And they make him sick at heart too.


But because he is the God of resurrection and redemption, and because he is in the business of bringing new life out of dead things, he doesn’t want me to remain stuck in the dead place of deferred hope. His promise is his name, Immanuel, the God who stays with me. And he draws me deeper into his name, deeper into his promise.


A new hope emerges – a hope that even in all the mess, God is still at work. Even in all the sorrow and pain, nothing is ever wasted. Not one tear. Not one more disappointing doctor visit. Not one more dead end. Nothing is ever wasted. It may not all work out good, but God is still working good thru my unanswered hopes.


The baby born in the manger, this Immanuel, God with us, is the very tangible reminder that I do not walk through the pain of deferred hope alone. This God with me sees the sick of my heart and promises that none of my pain is in vain, none of it is wasted when I offer it back to him, trusting that even these ashes he can transform into beauty.


This is not an easy offering to make. This is the hard work of offering a sacrifice of praise when I would rather utter a howl of complaint. Offering God my unanswered hopes can only be made from a posture of trust. Trust in the God whose name is Good. Trust in the God who promises to do all things well. Trust in the God who took on flesh so that he would know my pain, because his name is Love.





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