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ANDREA BURKE
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Dear Hormones, Trust the Lord.

Andrea Burke

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It’s 5:25 a.m. The birdsong and frogs in the pond woke me up while the earth was still gray and foggy. Early morning commuters are splashing through the fresh puddles on the road and I’m here, in my yellow chair, Psalm 7 open in front of me. The lilac bush outside our bedroom window is nearly ready to burst with fresh flowers. And the rest of the house sleeps.

Yet, my mind is the opposite of the world outside. Fears, worry, lists, busy noise. It won’t let me sleep. As heavy as my eyelids are and desperate to crawl back into bed next to my sleeping husband and sprawled out toddler (who happened to find his way into our bed again during the night), my mind cannot rest.

I’m on the other side of 35 now. I’m a few years away from 40, having just passed the tree-line of 36. The hill rises above me and though I have not gone over it yet, I feel my body preparing.

“We’re getting older,” a friend said recently. She’s a few years ahead of me and we were rattling off the most recent health concerns in our own failing bodies. These bodies that aren’t meant to be preserved and pristine. These internal clocks that tick toward the end. My latest slew of doctors visits and lab work have to do with the infamous hormones that rise and fall within us women. The ones that make us feel like we’re losing our minds. The ones that help us feel deeply. The ones that make us vibrant and joyful, and exhausted and weary, all in the same 24-hour stretch. The ones that aren’t so simple and predictable.

Everything is fine, I whisper to myself at the edge of the morning. Everything you feel is not true. Everything you fear is not certain. The rise of the wave of fear mounts within me about nothing in particular. It settles on a prey and then devours that thing. My kids. My future. Finances. The garden. The church. Culture. Friends in distress. My own body. Like a roaring lion, it seeks something to devour. My hormones cue stress and I sit in the silence trying to tell them, “Everything is fine. You’re ok.”

My own mother tells me this morning, “Relax today. Destress.” I laugh a little. She knows. “De-stressing” sometimes feels like the most stressful endeavor.

I wish I could tell my hormones to trust in Jesus, I tell my mother. I wish what I knew in my head started to trickle down into my body. I feel a bit like David in Psalm 103, facing my own skin and bones, blood and organs, body and mind to say —

Praise the Lord, my soul;

   all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul,

   and forget not all his benefits

who forgives all your sins

   and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit

   and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things

   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.


This is not some prosperity, health and wealth gospel. This is me telling my body to trust in the Lord and remember him. This is me picking up the quivering chin of my inward being to say “Look at him. You can trust him.”

Dear hormones, trust the Lord. Everything is ok. He’s holding it all. Dear organs, worship him. Dear mind and heart and blood and muscle, praise the Lord. This is not an exhortation; this is a command.

The rain stopped this morning but the birds continued to sing. I read scripture again and prayed. I traced over Spurgeon’s words about the Lord who heals and wasn’t disgusted by humanity’s broken bodies. I crawled into bed next to my two sleeping men and I went back to sleep.

The Invincible Summer

Andrea Burke

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The days are long and gray. A bland color palette greets us each morning. That is springtime in New York. A heavy fog that settles over our fields, our homes, and further enhances the ashy hue of our hearts. When it’s April and snow is still in the forecast, you understand why people move south. Why their skin begs for sun. It’s easy to forget in the long winter that it won’t last forever. My daffodils have bloomed but they’re small. Much smaller than they should be. They persisted through the autumn leaves that piled and came out to say a weak, but definitive “Good morning.”

My twitter-friend John Blase recently posted “When I was a boy, I was told to steer clear of booze, and sex, and drugs, and rock'n'roll, and...I still keep my distance from some of that, but now that I am a man, I know the great enemy is despair.”

Despair — the heavy darkness that seems to lure its prey with the idea of solidarity but only to suffocate it with its weight. We are at first tempted to think that despair is a friend to the battered, tired heart. A ringing bell of reality to which we must pay allegiance. Springtime in New York reminds me that despair is more like the mud that I slog through in my boots. Dark and cement-like. Deep and deceptive. Just on the edges of everywhere we step.

It isolates, chilling us inside invisible walls. Everyone else is happy. Everyone else is fine. Everyone else is living their dream. Out of nowhere, it grips us on the back of our necks, a feline-like grip of control, rendering us helpless, limp, rag dolls until we’re dropped where it leaves us.

It seems to come when we least expect it to. The uninvited guest in the middle of the day when I haven’t yet put on makeup. The middle of the night phone call that requires clarity of mind before you’ve left dreamland. The doctor’s report that is just obscure and vague enough and makes you wonder if the horizon of your life is closer than you thought it was. 

Despair is what brings many women through the doors of my home, our church offices, my inbox, my phone messages. Despair is the burden on their shoulders they point to when we sit eye to eye. How do we keep our eyes on heaven when the world feels too heavy? 

There is no easy, fast answer. Despair feeds us a meager serving of slop. The pilgrimage to home may feel long and weary, and we could easily think that slop is our portion. But it’s not. The Gospel was never meant to be a diversion. It’s not a placebo. 

Don’t get me wrong — it is indeed the source of all joy. The bottomless well of peace. The fountain of unmovable strength. But it is not a cream we apply. It is the bed we lay down in.

We are living in a dark world. Full of the dust of feet, the stain of sin, the continuous ramifications of a world leading one another around in the pitch black night. We swing lanterns for each other along the path. We say “Let’s talk about the way home.”

We keep going back to this: read the letters from Zion. The scripture is full of reminders of people who had burdens too heavy to bear, fears that seemed insurmountable, and yet, they made it home, faithfully plodding along, one step at a time. Somehow (by grace we know) their steps lifted. The pilgrim hearts knew that despair wasn’t a verdict. Those with hearts set on home, as the writer sang in Psalm 84, had Zion written in their hearts.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion”

They knew the road, like a well-worn path in front of them. The Psalm sings “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” We can repeat those words in the shadowed doorframe of our heart. No good thing has he withheld. Even despair, which longs to tell us that our happiness can be traded on the black market for whatever it is our soul thinks it needs, even despair can take a backseat to this reminder. He reminds us he has not withheld. And we can tell our weary hearts that in the day we need him to sustain and provide, he will not keep one hand behind his back. God is not in a cat and mouse game with us. 

Scripture reminds me that he catches my tears in a bottle. 
He knows our frame; he remembers we are dust. 
He is near to the brokenhearted. He binds up their wounds. 
A bruised reed he will not crush. 
He doesn’t snuff out the smoldering wick. 
He sees the outsiders. 
He loves those on the fringe. 
He didn’t come for the healthy. 
The poor in spirit are blessed. 
That He’ll sustain us to the end.

Despair may linger but grace lingers longer. 

Dear pilgrim, throw aside the burden that strangles, the fear that entangles. I have slogged through enough spring mud to tell you this — it doesn’t keep the plants from growing. It doesn’t stop the summer from coming. Maybe you come through it with not as much bravado as we hoped. Maybe you’re more aware of your stature, like my daffodils, smaller and a little more aware of fragility. We may lose some life along the way, some early spring vigor, but that which can persist, does. And the Spirit of God will not be smothered underneath an ashy, disheartened fog. The French philosopher Albert Camus said “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” This is the fight against despair. To believe that God sees and knows and sustains within you a heart that is set on Zion. He brings life where you see only dirt. He turns valleys of tears into doors of hope. He is the invincible summer.

Good Enough

Andrea Burke

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I talk with a lot of women. All the time. As the director of women’s ministry at my church, this is my day in and day out. Through texting, emergency tear-filled phone calls, the humming soundtrack of coffeeshop conversations, the quiet of counseling rooms. I hear their stories in my DMs, on Sunday mornings while my children run amok, at our community group when the women gather around the sink, the snacks, the couch. I’ve prayed for them over paninis, challenged them over omelets, listened to their hurt over oat milk lattes, shared my story while sitting on a sun-cooked park bench. They’ve been 18 and hurting, 25 and hopeful, 32 and broken, 47 and tired, 60 and encouraged, 80 and laughing. Married, single, divorced, abused, tired, successful, driven, widowed, broken, sinful, bold.

And if there’s anything I’ve seen in the myriad of different faces I’ve sat across from, it’s this — there is a thread of gold within each moment. In each tear, in each prayer, in each question that claws at the earth, in each breath, it’s this — the world cannot deeply and wholly satisfy. The hope of the Gospel is the answer.

Really and truly.

And yes, there are some immediate treatments. There are bandages and salves, words of comfort or rebuke, stories and snippets of wisdom to apply immediately. But at the core, when we’ve exhausted our worldly depths of wisdom, there is only one thing that remains.

Christ is enough. He sees you and says, because of Him, you’re held, sustained, kept. From beginning to end, from author to finisher, from first breath to final gasp, He sees, loves, intercedes, and is near.

In every bend and curve of our life and femininity, there is design, there is hope, there is a chance to be made new.

I’ve heard time and time again of the heavy burden of the world. I’ve seen how it has contorted thinking. I’ve seen how in my own life, my own habits, my own shortcomings, how I’ve feasted at a table that cannot ever fill. How I’ve binged on Eve’s fruit. I’ve believed the world could answer my appetite, be the standard-bearer for beauty, and make me wise. 

It was an empty well. A deadly tree. A counterfeit truth.

My friend Lore and I have a text thread. One that looks a lot like updating each other on life, asking how the other is doing (“Friend, how is your heart? How are you really doing?”), and then things like this — “Why is the message for women so loud and so wrong?”

One day we asked why and then spent hours texting about the doomed mess that is the messages of “You’re an amazing mermaid!” And “Trust yourself always.” And “Go get what you deserve.” And “You don’t need to change. Everyone else needs to accept you the way you are.” While we elevate ourselves, we also have become masters at destroying every good gift He’s given us. From our hips to our thoughts, our homes to our wardrobe, women hear that we’re not pretty enough, slim enough, sexy enough, smart enough, brave enough, rich enough, funny enough, and on and on. Everywhere we turn, the message is saturating my feeds, my meetings, and even my thoughts. What seemed harmless and silly a few years ago now has a following, a conversion rate, an influence, a platform.

And because of all the faces who look me in the eye week after week, because of the young woman I’m raising in my own home, the cost is too high to turn a blind eye. I can’t pretend that it’s not trickling down into thought, practice, families, homes.

So Lore and I decided we’d take our conversations public and start a podcast. Good Enough is going to exist for this reason — in a culture that tells us who we are and what we do is never enough, God breathes into these bodies of dust and says “It is good.” When we are weary of all that we cannot carry, when the burden is too heavy, Christ says “Let me keep you. Let me sustain you. Let me remind you of who you are in me.” 

We’re going to look at 14 different ways the world tells us we need to strive more, believe more, taste the fruit, feast at the empty table. And then we’re going to find the better way. We’re not going to get it all right. We’re going to make some blunders, no doubt. But I told her at the end of the podcast, when we ask “Was that good?” We can say, “Eh….it was good enough.”

Good Enough launches in May 2019. Stay tuned.

When You Make Your Bed in Hell

Andrea Burke

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It was a dark and stormy night. Quite literally. Texas thunder, apocalyptic lightning, and a frightened 23-year-old girl pacing the carpeted hallways of her apartment.

I traced my finger along the words of scripture. As if I could read it again and find a different edge, a different meaning, a different way to interpret it so that I could fall asleep. On my laptop, I had pulled up multiple websites that told me what I was doing was ok. They had even given me scriptures. They told me how I was actually doing what was good, necessary, life-giving. I found comfort, ears brushed with a gentle breeze that told me I wasn’t walking into the blistered arms of sin. They told me the words I read were misinterpreted. They asked “Who really knows if the Bible is true at all?” They told me repentance wasn’t necessary. Suddenly the teachings of the church and of the Bible seemed archaic, outdated, and I was misunderstood.

But the scripture burned my heart. The Bible felt heavy in my hands, gravity pulling at its edges and my knees.

The words of Christ were the edge of a sword that was ready to cut me down.

From the outside looking in, things were going fairly well. To anyone who met me, I was living a decent life. I was a recent transplant to Denton, TX from New York. I worked long hours for the regional newspaper office as a page designer, writer, and occasional photographer for whatever event they wanted me to cover. I attended church and was making new friends. I was even in the process of becoming a member and had joined a small group. I went out with friends on Friday nights and introduced them all to my boyfriend as if everything was right, good, and not blowing up in my face.

Which it was, by the way. It was a massive dumpster fire.

Because my boyfriend was also someone’s husband back in New York. I had left New York when news of our affair became public and I needed a place to disappear. I wanted a new life, to start over, a new identity. For awhile, I considered even going by a different name. I tried, asking new friends to call me by my middle name. I could rewrite my identity, give myself a new name, create my own future.

I figured if I could change my home and my name and the faces that knew me, then maybe I could change the outcome of my life. Maybe I could change the verdict. If I didn’t want God or the church telling me what to do, then surely I could rewrite my own story.

I didn’t want to be told I couldn’t be with him.
I wanted someone to tell me it was ok.
I wanted the Bible to fit my story. I didn’t want any impositions.

So I’d spend hours at night, searching websites for a truth that fit what I felt. And I found it. Other people with the same story. People who knew what I felt and thought, “How could God possibly be against this?” I built entire friend circles of people who didn’t tell me I was wrong, who celebrated my freedom, who wagged their finger at those “judgmental Christians.”

I marveled at stories of American heroes like Johnny Cash and June Carter. If they could make it work and everyone loved them still, so could we.

And one night I faced the choice. The lightning lit up the parking lot and I could see the outline of the trees, the buildings, the alleyway where I parked my bike. It felt like darkness was hiding me in that small one bedroom and I rounded my shoulders under its weight. As I looked at the idea of Christ, and looked at what he had to offer, and then considered the man with whom I shared my heart, my home, my bed, I realized I didn’t want what Christ had to offer.

“If it’s you or him, if it’s heaven or hell, I’ll take this earthly joy and pay the price.” I slammed my Bible shut. I asked to make my bed and lie in it.

Even typing the words now sends a cold slice of fear down my spine as it did the day I whispered them.

Psalm 139 says “Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

Years later, I think of that girl. The one who thought she could run from the “Hound of Heaven.” I think of her, knees shaking, stomach knotted into nausea while she thought she could tell God to go ahead and let her go.

I thank Him that he didn’t take my direction. I thank God that He kept me when I asked Him not to. I marvel and wonder that He thought it best to hear my words and not willingly grant me my ask. That somehow within a few years time, when I had followed the path that gave me the most earthly freedom and joy and I realized it was all dust in my mouth and moths in my heart, He was still there. In fact, when I made my bed in hell, He was there. When I said “Let darkness cover me and the light about me be night,” He never once took his hand or eyes off of me. On my darkest night, when I whispered those words and prayed that the sword of the son of God would stop gutting me, He was immovable, compassionately detached from my pleas, sovereignly unmoved by my rebellion, eternally faithful to His own promise in my heart.

I couldn’t change my name, as it turned out. My identity wasn’t mine to write. By his mercy, he preserved me. He upheld me despite my kicking and screaming.

So dear friend,

when you’re wringing the words of Christ and looking for away to get out of your contract,
when the Bible feels heavy and the sword cuts deep,
when the words of the internet bring more comfort than the Spirit,
when you realize you’d rather make your bed in hell than trust him with your despair,
let me save you some time.

There is no greater joy, no greater pleasure, no sweeter love, no deeper knowledge, no truer identity, no steadier grace than the one that comes from the hand that preserves, that slays, that keeps. And my prayer is that you’ll see as I did—

One day he would let me die so that I could live.
That one day I’d see the bed I’d made was in His hands.

My Mother's Table

Andrea Burke

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I grew up with my mom’s Bible open at the breakfast table. She wasn’t always there. Work called early for an RN who walked the floors of a hospital. I’d be slopping milk in a bowl of cereal and see where she sat just hours before.

Her open Bible, her notes in cursive fresh in the margins, a mug with one sip of tea left at the bottom, a cooled tea bag resting on a spoon. This was a familiar sight.

If mom ever writes you a note, you know it’s going to include scripture. It’s going to include a verse that she’s praying over you, or something she read that reminded her to write. Years ago, when I was dining with the wayward and drinking my fill of what the world had to offer, my mother would write me notes and slip them into my room, the mail, in e-mails. Floral notecards with her familiar handwriting, a hint of her perfume in each opened envelope. Without fail, she’d speak scripture and it would slice me open, expose me, and make me wonder why I ever walked away at all. Even when she knew I didn’t want to hear it, she sent it. She never defaulted to the wisdom of the world. She knew what had sustained her and offered me the same bread. It was a familiar call from mountain to valley. Echoes of what I had once known.

Mom’s open Bible was so normal and seemed so easy. It was an extension of the rest of her. 

But today, I’m at my dining room table and my 10 year old is trying to explain to me the mnemonic device she learned to convert Kg into mg and gallons into cups. Meanwhile, my toddler is crying that the toast he asked for isn’t the toast he asked for, and that his pencil isn’t blue with a pink eraser as he apparently is convinced is necessary in this moment.

I have re-read the same 10 verses in 1 Corinthians 1 about 5 times now, each time with more frustration, more annoyance, more feeling like a failure to each of these things: my eager 5th grader, my attention-desperate 2 year old, my hungry and tired heart.

And then I remembered my mother’s Bible. No doubt (because I remember) she cracked it open when we all flooded her with questions and conversations. It sat open when I cried about boys. It sat open when my brother and I bombarded her with complaints on her day off. It sat open when the vacuum ran, the dishes clanked, the voices raised. My mother understood something that I’m just now learning.

Sitting at scripture isn’t something to check off my list. It’s not always a solitary feast. It’s where I dip my toes for a moment to remind me of the water that fuels my spirit. Somedays I have time to study. Somedays I have time to open a commentary, to dig deeper into the text, to know it and realize I don’t know it in 100 different ways.

But today I read “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And I ask my 10yo while she checks her homework and fills her backpack, “What do you think that means?”

She stops. “What does folly mean?” she asks.

Oh, she’s actually listening. 

And we talk. About how the world may laugh. How friends won’t understand. How even we sometimes don’t get it. And yet, it’s the water, it’s the meal, it’s the sustenance, the Gospel that keeps us. She asks more, the Bible stays open, the toddler cries a bit more because now the milk he has is not the milk he asked for, and I am moving around like a blur. A robed, slipper-wearing worker bee who is meeting the needs of body and soul this morning. My coffee is nearly done and yet it sits, cooling, by the open book, my notes scribbled on a small notepad nearby. 

In one moment I look down and I see it. No, I see her. I see my mother and the faithful, well-worn path she laid before me. Our breakfast table wasn’t about the cereal and the tea and the toast and the coffee. It was a feast she laid before us, remnants of what she had found, morsels that whisper “Walk this way.”

So, mothers of young children, lets walk the well-worn path. Let’s open our Bibles while breakfast is served, while the bus watch is moments away, while the coffee is poured and the bananas aren’t banana-y enough, while questions about the metric system and “Can we have a sleepover” are bouncing around the table. Open the Bible, trust that even in imperfect, quick moments, the Bible is far more capable of doing the work it was created to do. To cut, to plant, to grow, to sustain. All right here. 

Help Us to Embrace Obscurity

Andrea Burke

Photo by Honest to Goodness Photography

Photo by Honest to Goodness Photography

“Help us to embrace obscurity,” my pastor once prayed. I scribbled it down in the margin of my notebook. I wrote it down on another piece of paper and put it somewhere to remind me day in and day out.

Yes Lord, help us to embrace obscurity.

Help us to embrace the ordinary ins and outs of a faithful life.

Help us to embrace the steady rhythm of living. The air in, the air out, the one-thing-at-a-time mindset in a world that tells you everything matters all the time right now.

Help us to chew our food and taste it. Help us to choose ingredients that taste like real food and recipes that feed our bodies.

Help us to embrace an empty calendar. Help us to do this by choice.

Help us to shun the cultural mindset that the movers and shakers are sleeping less, traveling everywhere, and starting something new every day. Help us to be moved into a place of trust. To not require shaking in order to anchor ourselves in you. To get enough sleep, plant some roots, and trust the ancient paths.

Help us to embrace quiet. The kind that makes even the sock-covered feet move delicately. The kind that makes the old house creak just to remind us that it’s still here.

Help us to live like our Lord, who went to solitary places, who sought out times to be alone, because the noise and the crowds and the demands wasn’t the goal.

Help us to feel the hot water and the dish soap, to be a part of the simple work that is necessary. To let a finger fall gently on a piano key and feel the way the note reverberates into your arms as though it’s just an old woman doing her duty, humming the song she’s always known.

Help us to pray in the in-between. To take our fears and remember that for all the things I fear will happen, today someone might be actually facing that thing. Remind me to carry them with the same burden of weight that I feel when I dread that it could be me. It is them. Remind me to bring that to you.

Help us to be pilgrims. To open up our hands a bit more. To leave what can be left behind, behind. To talk about home more. And no, not the home where we sleep every night. I mean to talk about the home that we’re journeying toward. The place where we’ll finally lay down our burdens. The place from which our Father runs to meet us. The long dusty road toward the party. Help us to remind each other “We’re not home yet” and to reminisce a bit about the place we know exists but have never seen.

I’m coming up on my 36th year. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this — the world doesn’t need you. It will go on without you. The reminder of age will creak inside you when you least expect it and you’ll suddenly be aware that you don’t want the world anyway. Not the one that is peddled and curated and marketed and on the clearance rack. You want the storied blankets. The golden sun. The early mornings with the people you love. You want the ease of people who know when you’re not fine even when you say “I’m fine.” You want the creaky floors of a life well-lived, day in and day out, faithfully, steadily, mostly in obscurity. Help me to embrace it, Lord.

Numbering Our Days

Andrea Burke

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8 more summers.

50 gardens.

10 Christmases.

I’ve been counting lately. Each day, I feel the tick tock rhythm of a life that is heading from dust to dust. I promise you, not in some dark and dismal sort of way. Something struck me this year as I planted and worked the soil around my old house.

It’s our first year in this 130-year-old farmhouse. These old walls, these ancient trees, this plot of ground belonged to several women before me. Three women, in fact. Two generations of mothers and a daughter. Two families. Two farmers. This was our first full stretch of seasons on this old homestead and since the snow thawed in April, I’ve been daily making note of the land. Tulips under the old maple tree. Irises under the black walnut. Irises on the edge of the woods under a forgotten eastern redbud tree. Peonies and lilacs and rhubarb and lilies of the valley. Every where around me the soil is a reminder that I am not the first to love this land and likely won’t be the last. There’s not nearly enough time to do all that I want to do. And I sit back and wonder — how many chances will I have to try and grow flowers and a garden that do this piece of earth justice? 20 chances? 40 chances? 60 if I’m feisty. 

Tick tock.

I watch my daughter’s legs grow long and her brow furrow more. She has just arrived at a decade of life, and I’m realizing we only really have 8 more years with her until she bursts out of these doors into the the world that awaits. 8 more summers. 8 more years of routine. 8 more years of school concerts, art shows, conversations when she’s off the bus, the sound of her laugh and feet kicking high into the trees. 

Tick tock. 

My parents are aging. My mother speaks of death with no fear. Her silver hair wisps across her forehead and she reminisces of a life that was full of mistakes and grace, joy and sorrow, and now looks to the future without a hint of doubt. I see photos of her at my age and younger, her laugh crinkling her eyes, the same crinkles that I see now when we share tea and a good story. But she won’t be here to walk me through my entire life from end to end. My father, the one who has never failed to pull me into his arms and remind me how loved I am…he won’t always be there to remind me I’m loved or send me just the right song that he knows I’d appreciate at just the right moment. How many more summer dinners? Christmases? Teas and hugs and the presence of people who know you better than you know yourself? Not enough.

Tick tock. 

A few years ago, I hosted a panel of women at my church. One of the women who sat on the panel was a widow in her 80s. A question was presented from the audience that went something like this — “I just got married but I can’t stop worrying about losing my husband someday. How can I fight off this thought?” And the older woman with her white curls just smiled. She briefly reminisced on her 60+ year marriage. The vacations. Their children. The memories. And then she sighed. “It just won’t feel like enough,” she said with tears. “Even after all this time, all of those memories, it really just doesn’t feel like enough.” So enjoy it now, she went on to say to the young bride. Enjoy all of it, every little moment together, knowing that you can’t have your fill. Death will always feel like a thief.

Tick tock.

There’s a reason the Psalmist prayed “Teach us to number our days…” Not so we can accumulate as much as we can in that time. Not for ample time to run wild. Not to fear what we’re losing or try and hold on tighter to sand in the hourglass. But rather “…so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” This seems the most obvious fruit of a Christian heart that knows this world is temporary. By the work of the spirit, we gain wisdom. We know when to say no. We know a yes can be a gift or a theft. We know that time spent here means less time there, and sometimes we have to choose to run out of time for things that just don’t matter.

Wisdom teaches us to put down our phones and make eye contact with our children. Cup their sweaty faces and say “My time is yours.” Wisdom teaches us that an hour on Netflix is an hour not spent walking and using our muscles, working in the garden, or meeting that neighbor who lives two houses down. Wisdom teaches us that sleep is a daily acknowledgement that we can’t do it all, be it all, and continue going going going. We must stop. We must let time pass over us with the night and we must give in to letting God be the sovereign one.

And maybe the goal isn’t to carpe diem or YOLO. Maybe we’re a lot more like hourglasses than we want to admit. Each minute passing with or without our complete attention. Even then, when we try to grasp it and hold it tighter, the sand slips through our fingers and we ache over the brevity.

Even Jesus knew that at the end of our fears and worries and anxieties, we’re all listening to the clock. “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” He asked in Matthew 6. Which of us by collecting all of our things, moments, items, and tallying them all in a list of “life we’ve seized” can actually add time to our days?

Wisdom teaches us that anxiety gets us nowhere. Fear and grasping is vanity. So Lord, teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom. That we would show love while we can. So that we’d empty our good-news-filled cups for the thirsty that surround us. That we would pour our lives out for our neighbors, our children, our spouses, our friends while we still have energy, resources, ideas, time. Only so many more dinners where everyone is at the table. A numbered amount of sunsets. Only a few more nighttime book readings, snuggles under twinkle lights with lullabies, seedlings breaking through.

We only have so much time.

Tick tock. 

Oh For Grace to Trust Him More

Andrea Burke

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I have forgotten how to happily move along this earth within my own body. I feel betrayed by her. By her heavy-laden limbs, her disease-ridden organs, the internal mechanisms that fail to work as they ought, reminding me these bones aren’t heaven bound. Only the soul within. The soul who looks at the edges of her skin and sighs.

I have forgotten how to laugh with a laugh that surprises me and bubbles out of my throat in immense joy and catches the hearer a little off guard. I have allowed my mind to be a residence for fear, and I’ve given it far too much time to relax, take off its shoes, stay awhile. I must change those locks.

We have passed through more than half of October as I write this. Today I walked around the garden, the last of the zinnias still tower over my head, unashamed to be blissfully out of place. A field mouse has eaten all of my lettuce. The garlic now sleeps beneath the straw. The field is brown, painted with that ever-present patina of autumn. The one that glistens copper in the morning frost. Under the heavy storm cloud, the trees bend and surrender. Leaf after leaf. “We are done,” they say. “We are tired and the burden of carrying is now too much to bear.”

Do you know I can’t remember the last time I sang? No, no, not for others. I mean, just for me. Just for the Spirit who lives within me. I hummed a verse of ‘Tis So Sweet the other day because I’ve forgotten most of the words. Except for these few, “Oh for grace to trust Him more.”

I think of these words as I watch the garden slip into slumber, as my children grow and learn that bruises come when you least expect them, as my husband works from 5am until midnight when his head hits the pillow, when the doctor calls and gives us some choices, none of which we really want at all, when the phone dings with a message that those we love are no longer here on earth with us.

Oh for grace to trust Him more.

I walked through hospital hallways recently, visiting a dear friend from church. As I walked the sterile corridors to her room, I passed picture frame after picture frame, photos of local parks, waterfalls, flowers in bloom in springtime, lilacs heavy on green branches. It occurred to me then how terribly empty these photos feel when you’re hooked to an IV drip in your hospital bed. Tiny, tiny glimpses of a world outside that is alive and growing. Pictures of a world that feels like a lifetime away from the beeps and alarms and smells of a hospital floor.

Not much unlike how Heaven feels here, earthside. We see tiny pictures. We think we are living our fullest dreams and lives, but really we are sick, bound to our hospital beds, imagining what a world is like where there is no suffering. There hanging on the wall, we see a picture of a world that is more alive than anything else in these four walls. Could it be true? Does it really exist?

Oh for grace to trust Him more.

We’ve received a handful of bad news lately. Not only ours, but from people we hold dear. People we carry in our hearts like family. When it all seems too much to bear, I’ve done what I do best — gather in all my pieces, my heart, my voice, my commitments, my family, quieted down, and then hide in the quiet places of my home and mind. Light some candles at dusk. Hold on to the ones I love. Face the unknowns with our hands held and enjoy some good food along the way. I dig in my heels and fight

for the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth 
over and around us lies; 

I anchor my hope not in what I can see or feel or measure, but in the even steady depths of my Redeemer.

And then by candlelight and broken bread, I whisper “Oh for grace to trust Him more.”

The Same Old Story

Andrea Burke

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“I saw your story,” she’ll say. 
“That’s when you ran from the Lord, right?” he’ll ask. 
“You’ve come so far from when I last heard about you,” she’ll mention.

Yes, yes, I know. 

It’s quite a miracle that I’m here, alive, smiling, breathing, used by the Lord. It’s a miracle for any of us, really.

I think about the woman at the well often. You know the one — the one everyone else avoided. The woman who went to the well when everyone else wouldn’t be there because she likely didn’t want to talk to anyone. She didn’t want to hear the whispers. The other women talking about who she’s with now, whose house she was at last night, what she was even doing getting water at their well.  She’s getting water in the heat of the day when the rest of the women probably went at night. She’s avoiding the crowd. She’s had enough of being on the outside. She’s made a lot of mistakes, ok? And everyone knows it. She’s not going to go to the wells when all the other women do, because we know how women are.

I think about how she was alone. Finally. 

And then here comes a man. A man not of her nationality, her city, her kind. A man who begs the question “Doesn’t he know what mess I am?” (Hint: he does.) A man who by all appearances shouldn’t be giving her the time of day, and yet he greets her and then asks to share a drink.

I think about how he read her mail. I wonder if with every bone in her body, if she wanted to run. “Not another one,” she could think. Not again. Not here. I’m so tired. 

I’ve been this woman. I’ve been the women with a trail of bad decisions and doing my best to avoid being seen. I’ve been the hardened sinner, bitter and hiding. I told myself that finally I had become “who I was” and that this was me now — that I was no longer pretending to have it all together, no longer saying the things that made everyone in my life happy, no longer singing worship songs I wasn’t sure I believed — “this is me now” became my anthem. Life found me seeking for water in the middle of the day, avoiding anyone who might remind me how much I’ve failed. I was the Samaritan woman, for all intents and purposes, an outsider with my list of offenses, avoiding confrontation and correction, knowing I didn’t and couldn’t ever measure up again. So why bother?

Then Christ showed up. He showed up when I was tired and exhausted and my mantras had failed me. He showed up when I was bitter and removed in the desert. He spoke kindly to me there and captured my heart. 



A few months ago I sat back in the Texas heat at a restaurant with a friend. She was someone who knew me in the middle of it all. Years ago, in a small group where I confessed what a mess I was, she was there. In a church where I didn’t know up from down, she was there. As a church leader and a friend, she saw the span of mess to messier to redeemed.

We talked about my story. How I wonder sometimes if it’s even worth telling anymore.

And she reminded me of the story of the woman at the well. 

The woman who had a messy and messier story on her hands until Christ changed it. Then she did something that was evidence of her faith and his life changing power — “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’….Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’” (John 4:28-29, 39)

The very things that identified her as a sinner and ostracized her from the crowds are the very things she stood on top of to shout the name of Christ. There is no one who heard her speak who probably also didn’t end up hearing what he revealed about her. The more honest she was about her mess, the more amazing and incredible Christ became.

— 

Recently, I met someone I looked up to in the Christian world of who’s who. Within 10 minutes of talking, they made a statement that alluded to the fact that they knew my story. They knew I had screwed up years ago. That I had wandered and failed. 

It’s not like it’s a big secret, but it was a quick and sharp reminder that it’s always there. I will never be able to walk into a room and impress the crowd. A quick Google search will expose all my sin and they’re all penned by me. I’ve gone first, lowered the bar, let out the skeletons. There are some who have said I should stop talking about it. That I shouldn’t write about it at all.

But I want to make the name of Jesus great. In fact, at the cost of my own impressiveness and reputation, I want people to believe in Jesus when I say “He told me all I ever did.” I’m not interested in telling any story that doesn’t reveal who I am in light of Him. For the rest of my days, I might be “that woman who did that thing”… BUT CHRIST.

So maybe I won’t ever have a season of my life where I won’t be known for what I did. Maybe I will continue to sit at restaurant tables with strangers and friends and have my worst sin become fodder for dinner table talk. As long as Christ is revealed, as long as maybe someone believes, someone sees, someone hears my voice carry across the wells to say “He saw me. He told me everything I did. He is the Christ.”

Wells of water seem to be a place where things happen in scripture. Do you know what happens at wells in the Bible? Betrothals. The man travels from a foreign country and comes to a well where he meets his bride. An ancient reader would’ve been familiar with this scene. They know where it leads. It is no coincidence that Jesus has come to this world and meets a certain kind of woman at a well — he reminds us his bride may be broken and world weary, but she is his. 

I will forever tell how he met me, exposed me, and then set me free. That is my soapbox. Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.

It's Been 13 Years Since I Died

Andrea Burke

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I was 22. Careless in my accountability. Lawless in my imagination. Arrogant, isolated, and in full-time ministry.

So it should not shock you when I tell you that 22 landed me deep in the fire of sin through an affair with a married man. My tendencies to try and be “the savior” to the hurting and also a deep desire to be loved and wanted led me straight into the lion’s den.

And I did not make it out alive. Not really. I died in there. The old Andrea did. Her hopes. Her dreams. Her reputation. Her purity. They all were torn to shreds. Torn by the teeth of the one who devours. Torn by my own hands. Torn by the slicing words of other Christians who whispered behind closed doors and made up their own stories of how I got there.

As I died 1000 deaths within me, I faced the scrutiny and shunning of the local church. I desperately searched for rock bottom but it wouldn’t find me for a few more years. I had a free fall in to darkness and somewhere along the way, I tried to make peace with it. I searched the scriptures for reasons that I was ok. I sought out teachers who wouldn’t tell me I was in sin. I tried to blame it on this thing, or that thing, and tried to answer the question that everyone else was asking — “How did this happen? Right under our noses?”

It happened under our noses just as any sin does. I wonder if Eve walked around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil frequently. I wonder if she strolled past it and wondered how that fruit tasted. I wonder if David knew where Bathsheba lived. I wonder how many times he was with her in his head before he demanded her body. Even Lot’s wife looked back.

We tell the world they need to repent but then we make our quiet, private sins our pets. The things that seem like no big deal. The thoughts that linger too long. And we don’t hate these things. We deem them harmless and raise wild lions in our own homes, imaginations, hearts. We give them nicknames. We love them, really.

Until we hate sin, we will not long to be free from it. We won’t want freedom if our jail is home. Until we find God beautiful, we will not hate the things that dim our vision.

It’s been 13 years since my public moral failure. 13 years since I disappointed everyone I loved. 13 years since I died.

But grace.

The grace and mercy of Christ who never lost me. I may have tried to throw myself off the cliff, but he wrapped me around his neck and carried me home. He resurrected things I thought were dead. He gave me back what I thought would never return. Restoration after repentance has been long, and may always feel like an unfinished work in my heart, but He never left me. Someday when I get home, I'll lock my eyes on Him forevermore.

The mercy and kindness of God reveals sin and brings us to repentance. Before you’re caught, before the lions circle you, come clean. Kill your darlings. Be ruthless about your head and heart. Ask the Lord to help you hate that which you currently call harmless. Suffocate your sin before it devours you.

Behold the beauty of a merciful King.

Lord I believe; help my unbelief.

Then and Now: Pruned

Andrea Burke

THEN, KELLER, TEXAS, 2010:

I realized it as I spoke the words aloud. "I'm tired of being pruned. I just want to grow." Life, God, all of it, has wrecked me and I'm tired. Is this how it feels when the shears cut deep?

Mom had a lilac tree out by the swing. The swing that creaked, that swayed when we shared tears, dreams and stories. The Lilac Tree was a gift. Lilacs bring my mother to life. She can smell them a mile away. So it was only fitting she had one of her own in the yard.

She tended it with care. I remember watching her in the evenings, fingers gently lifting the young branches, tucking soil around the new roots.

New roots take a while to find their homes. Especially on that slanted hillside.

One day we almost lost it entirely. An overeager landscaper sliced across the young sapling with a weed wacker. My mother cried, searching for the roots.

But they remained. Tiny thriving arms were still there, and they slowly began their work of growing back to the sky.

Not to be wounded again, the tiny tree was marked. We were sternly directed. The tree was not to go anywhere.

It grew. Slow. Tall. I started to learn how the whole process worked. At the right time, my mother would stand proudly in front of the bush, its branches strong, suggesting at what's to come. She would pull out the large clippers, and start snipping.

Precisely. Intentionally.

Pruning it with the greatest ease and affection.

"But why?! It's so tall!" I would shout from the porch steps.

"It won't grow flowers without pruning!" She shouted back over her shoulder.

Cut. Cut. Cut.

What's a lilac bush without lilacs? Just a bush, I guess. Just something with lots of potential, but nothing actually worth admiring.

I find great comfort in the pruning. As painful as it is, it means he is standing near, breathing very close to my tired arms.

And very precisely and intentionally, the Master Gardener starts to prune.

So I can bear fruit someday. So there's something worth all the pain.

The pruning is always with love.

So yes, I'm tired of being pruned. I want it, but I'm tired of it too. I just want to grow. But I see now that the two go hand-in-hand.

Unless I just want to be another random plant among the brush.

I don't always desire self-discipline. It's one of those want to want to want. I'm thankful for grace in that my lack of desire for self-discipline only drives me to Jesus. After all, it's a fruit of the spirit, not of the flesh. It's not something I can produce out of choice, or even do well out of habit. It's something I have to allow and submit to the Spirit working in me.

That being said, when I ask, there's an answer. I beg for some fruit. I'm asking for my roots and the threads of life in me to go back to the Tree of Life, and not the one of good and evil. I don't need humanism or moralism. I need grace.

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NOW, UPSTATE NEW YORK, 2018:

This is our first spring in our new house. We bought this house in July, when the land had already yielded half of its floral fruit. Peonies only green in their stems. Tulip leaves standing alone.  But when we first looked at the property, it was mid-spring. What stood out most to us was the lilac bushes — three of them. Two around the house, one by the barn. Massive trees that would return again in their purple hues next spring. 

That next spring is now this spring. Lilacs seem to return again and again in my story. A mother who nurtured them. Trees that need pruning. Friends who bring their branches across thousand of miles. Old barns and century-old farmhouses.

A reminder that in its season, things bloom. In the right time, the hopes that were once a far off dream and only served as analogies and quiet hopes in glass mason jars in the dead of Texas heat, now grow outside of my bedroom window. The prayers I begged of God from an empty heart eight years ago now echo around my head and heart when I remember how faithful He's been.

I have had seasons of stretching my limbs from one direction to another, and watched as God pruned me from stem to trunk. With a sharp blade, I felt Him near. I’ve felt the stark cold hit my bare soul when all that I thought was alive fell off dead into a trash heap. And I’ve felt the fresh growth push against my skin, forcing the miracle of life against my own grief. I’ve seen something bloom bigger, brighter, better than if I had held onto spindly, branches that produced nothing but instead only sucked life from my core.

So as the lilac climbs the side of our house and I can reach out my bedroom window to pick its branches, I give thanks. For the pruning. For the sharp amputations of heart and soul branches. For the miracle of how he turns light and living water into real stuff, and how He kept me alive through all of it.

This year I hope to open our windows, lift the screen and take a deep breath of those floral blooms.

And when the season ends, we will prune. 

The Quiet Faithful Life of Ruth Lee

Andrea Burke

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Ruth Lee.

I’ve heard that name since I can remember remembering. My sister was given her middle name because of Ruth Lee. Her name is echoed in our family stories and probably will be until the day I die.

She was the thin-framed woman who lived across the street from the wild Knefley family. My mother’s wild family to be exact. My mom was one of 8 kids in a family of Irish Catholics. They have stories of reckless adventures, Grandpa’s songs and family sing-alongs around the old piano, bruises and scars from siblings who still claim they were in the right, and the laughter and grief of a home that was full of people who really needed the Gospel to change their lives. Mom tells how my grandfather would wake the house to his rendition of “The Burning of Rome” and there’s probably no better choice of songs since he was the one sitting on the proverbial hillside watching the pain that he himself caused. They were a quintessential Irish family — loudly singing, full of life, keeping secrets, and hoping for a new day of freedom.

And then there was Ruth Lee. Mom tells me how Ruth would bake them cookies, welcome each of their ruddy faces into her home, and tell them again and again that she was praying. She was a safe haven from the stormy seas of home life and she went to her knees day after day, praying for that home.

Mom would tell us this as we grew up.

“Ruth Lee prayed for me to know Jesus,” she’d say and I’d nod my head, probably rolling my eyes and full of a 15-year-old’s rebellion and angst.

“Yes, mom," I'd reply. "You always tell us about her."

Ruth Lee wouldn’t live to see my mom come to faith in a small country church in upstate New York. She wouldn’t see my mother walk my older sister and two brothers, all under the age of 10, to that humble white building on the hill on the way out of town. She wouldn’t see my grandparents confess faith in Christ only years before their death. She wouldn’t see my sister lead worship and raise 8 kids to know the Lord. She wouldn’t see my one brother travel to Tanzania as a missionary, return to lead worship for thousands and then plant a church. She wouldn’t see my other brother pursue ministry in bible school, lead kids, students, worship, trips and ultimately become a pastor of a church in northern New York. She wouldn’t see me, stumbling my way toward grace, serving in ministries and missions throughout the years and now working on staff at my church. She wouldn’t see each of us teaching our children, day after day, whispering their names in prayer as they sleep.

She wouldn’t know that every time she baked cookies, opened her kitchen door to the Knefley kids who probably made a ruckus in her quiet country home, and then whispered their names in her prayers, that she was doing holy work.

But really, isn’t that what it is? I don’t know what dreams Ruth Lee had for her life. I don’t know what grief she suffered or what hopes she never saw come to pass. I don’t know how she decorated her kitchen or how clean her floors were. Yet she is not forgotten. And it’s not for her beauty, her wit, her food or her style, but the faithfulness of someone who kept their hand to the plow and when no one was watching, stayed faithful anyway.

She was doing Kingdom work when she’d pour another glass of milk. She was doing Kingdom work when she’d pat my mama’s curls. She was doing Kingdom work when she said those simple words, “I’m praying.” In her quiet, nearly invisible life, Ruth Lee was faithful. 

You don’t need a platform. You don’t need everyone to know your name. You don’t need the crowds to gather to hear you sing, or the pats on the back after you speak. You don't need the attention of a million followers, the clicks of the crowds, or even the praise from the people who see you day in and day out. The amazing and good news about this upside-down kingdom of our God is that you can be the most effective, the most faithful, and leave the greatest legacy simply by being faithful in your quiet life. The ones who impress the least, who live in small towns and are forgotten by 99.9% of the world are the ones who change generations.

I’m here because Ruth Lee prayed. A faithful woman sowed seed and someday when I get home, I’ll find her in the middle of the crowd and through my tears say “Thank you.” She’ll probably be so taken with Jesus that she won’t even hear me.

Be faithful in your field. Bake some cookies. Love those wild kids. Whisper their names at bedtime before the Lord. Trust Him with the rest.

Surviving the Cold, Hard Winter

Andrea Burke

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(Excerpt from the unedited, unpublished book that may or not ever see the full light of day.)

Have you ever seen the Northern Lights? Aurora Borealis. The very name feels like a dance of words.

One of my favorite books is a child's picture book — The Fiddler of the Northern Lights. It's about a man who plays his fiddle on a frozen pond and that's when the sky comes out to dance for him. He was a man of mystery and appeared out of nowhere. I swore I heard the fiddler that night. I could feel his strings bending and singing as I locked my gaze on heaven.

In the middle of February in Point Hope, Alaska, "cold" didn't just mean that you filled a mug with coffee to keep your hands toasty. Cold meant you kept track of the minutes on the clock while you were outside. The locals gave us their fur-lined coats and warned us not to wander around at night because the polar bears were hungry. They were known for hiding behind doors, ready to pounce. They told us the story of one who stood back against the wall outside of a bar in the night, looking to snatch an unlikely patron who tried to stumble home. So we stayed indoors mostly — taking the occasional outing to speed off on snowmobiles, get thrown about on dog sleds and walk under the giant whale ribs that lined the border of the cemetery.

But there was the one night when the world swirled with wonder.

I put on my coat, the one I brought. The thinner one. The one that definitely wasn't designed to withstand an Arctic chill. And then I put on the coat they gave me. The fur and skin. The one heavy with warmth and history.

I cracked the door slightly to see, and yes, there it was. The colors of another world seemed to break into the atmosphere, larger than life itself. Silent waves crashing against the black sky, spilling into one another like a watercolor wash. The milky way under a river of green.  I wasn’t sure if I felt fear or awe, or if that was what Godly fear was — wonder and joy while shaking in my boots. I pulled the fur close to my face. Five minutes. That’s all I had before I was in danger of any kind of damage to my skin. So covered my mouth, and I breathed in deep. I smelled the icy air. I stood alone in the snow just off the steps from the porch and I looked up.

I know I felt small. In my memory, I feel small. If there was ever a moment I wanted to fall on my knees and pray for my heart to be one with space, and the moon; the stars and the sky and the One who created it all, it was then.

Five minutes came to a close and I stepped back inside. It’s no wonder that the coat of another man's work and hunting was my cover in that season. I felt a lot like Jacob. I felt like it was possible God was going to forget about blessing me. I couldn’t get things right and I was pulling on someone else’s beliefs of faith and prosperity and pretending they were mine. I pulled on fur like Esau’s arms and reached toward Heaven, asking if He’d accept me that way. Could I possibly perform enough to get him to accept me? Under the electric gaze of heaven, I begged.

But I know now, that wasn't what He was after. He saw me already. I stood under that sky and asked Him where He was. If God was here in this land, He surely didn’t show His faithfulness in green trees and ripening fruit. He showed it in the provision of animals; in the spilling of blood. Heaven was reminding me then that if I wanted to see the beauty of God, some blood had to be spilled. I needed the protection and the cover from a life that was not my own. But I didn't see that then. I saw only barren land and emptiness in my heart. In the earth where the permafrost stays, you keep the things that nourish. That's what the native people did. So I dug into my heart and I tried to find a place to put God. But I felt like it was getting colder and harder by the day.

And the polar bears were everywhere.

A Dead Thing in the Vents

Andrea Burke

Photo by  Ian Espinosa  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Something died in the heat vents.

Something died in the vent and it makes my entire kitchen smell like death. Something is rotting and it’s 12” below my feet but it might as well be right on my table, in my drinking glass, on my plate.

The smell.

The smell.

The smell.

“Can’t you smell that?” I say to my family as I pry open every window just to get some hint of a breeze to take it away. I’ve thrown a small throw rug over the grate in the floor and stacked shoes in hopes the air will find another exit.

I’ve lit the most pungent Glade candles and diffused oils, and yet under it all, it remains. Like something out of a cartoon, the green haze seems to be underneath every floral and cinnamon scent.

“Apple Cinnamon Death”
“Fall Flannel Dead Mouse”
“Orange Peppermint Thieves Rotting Animal”

And I told my husband last night that it’s the perfect analogy.

Because my sin that I don’t deal with, address, or confess … smells.

And everyone knows it.

The rotting stench of something dead rises from within and we all try to use throw rugs to act like it will fool everyone.

We try to cover it up with theology, good works, impressive words, instagram posts, and smiles on Sunday. Whatever we can do to try and cover it up. Whatever we can do to avoid what lies in the dust and darkness of our own hearts.

“Look over here!” we say and we try to distract from the very real truth that something within us is rotting.

And everything we do and say lingers with the smell of death at the end. Something is not right and we know it to our core.

I can’t get to the dead animal in our vents, but I can get to the stench within me. Something died in the vent and it needs to be dragged into the light.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” — 1 John 1:8-9

A Spouse is Not the Happy Ending

Andrea Burke

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The story of how my husband and I met is a good one. It’s twisty and imperfect, but it’s one of the good ones and full of all of the little details that make a love story worth reading. We met in unlikely ways and he was the prototype of the man I didn’t even know I needed. Every reading of Pride and Prejudice did not prepare me for the real life drama that we endured. We had years of hanging out within a crowd, countless conversations where he clarified his intentions of being my friend (and that alone), years of prayer, tears and letting it go, several awkward “break-ups” of a relationship that wasn’t really a relationship, and through it all a deep friendship that seemed to anchor us both near one another more and more.

There was the conversation in a park in the rain in which I read a letter out loud to him that bared my heart and he said not a word. The raindrops splattered the ink and we sat in silence until we left and my heart felt like it cracked in two. The next day I recanted it all and asked if we could still be friends. There was the time he left for a trip to Ireland and we had decided we weren’t going to speak anymore, and he left his guitar at my house for safekeeping and I stared at it for weeks wondering what that meant. There was 3 years of wondering if I’d ever have to watch him fall in love with someone else.

And there was the August night where he invited me to actually be his, to join alongside of him in life as more than a friend. And I think I cried and lost my breath, and a few weeks later he’d spin me in his arms under star light after kissing me for the first time. There was the Christmas proposal three months later. The winter wedding. He was the guy who was waiting for the right girl and I felt like I came crashing into his world as a hot mess, a single mom, a devastated dreamer, and yet he never walked away.

He has taught me loyalty. Faithfulness. What it looks like to love someone in a steady ebb and flow sort of way. Like the ocean that is faithful to return with gifts from her depths every day, I find this is the sort of love we have. We’ve now brought another little person into this world to add to our already family of 3; a toddling 15 month old who has a million dollar smile and a penchant for falling down like he’s drunk. We’re making a home in a 100 year old farmhouse, staring at an old barn and pushing our kids in swings on ancient trees and wondering how this became our life.

And so many have said to our story (and as I’ve been so tempted to say) “You got your happy ending!” In the eyes of this life and this world, I suppose that could be true in some ways. If what we’re all aiming for is “a better story” and happy endings, I’ve found mine.

But as Jed and I recently went through my unpublished book and read chapter by chapter of all the wrong decisions that led me here, I’ve remarked again and again how the thread of hope in my story is never “but someday, my true love would come.” The thread of hope in my story is that “Someday, I’d see that Christ was calling me to Himself the whole time.”

Jed was never meant to be a happy ending, a prince charming, a knight in shining armor. The burden of being the hero to our home is too much for any man to bear. He cannot redeem my past. He cannot fix what was broken. We are no Hallmark movie. He’s a man, broken and sinful, drinking from the same cup of salvation that I am.

For if he’s my happy ending, what happens when arguments can’t be resolved, conversations go sour, or he cannot provide every want and whim I have? What happens when neither of us are able to make the other person feel that deep sense of wholeness that we so long for? What happens when we look at each other and see all of the worst and none of the best? Is he still the man who rescued the damsel in distress? Should I hang all my gratitude on the fact that he deigned to look my way and in Jane Austen fashion, slowly found that he loved me “despite the inferiority of my connections”? (He never said this, obviously. I just needed one more Austen reference for fun.)

No, I love him and will choose him every day, but he is not my happy ending.

We sat around the fire the other night and I marveled that he did choose me. What a grace to me that this man, strong and wise, decided to take all of us on an adventure that was only once a far off dream. We watched the dwindling flames and discussed the chapters that he’s reading. How they’re heavy. How they’re hard. Story after story where I took the wrong turn, made the wrong call, chose the wrong thing... a frustrating read. And then each tale echoes through time that God was still merciful. Running away with a married man, lying to people who trusted me, rejecting church discipline, cutting off relationships with family, blatant disobedience to the conviction of the Lord, seeing infidelity and destruction in my own home, walking the road of a single mom...and yet, God was still merciful.

There is no happy ending in my story that does not point to Golgotha and a garden tomb. There is no prince except the one that traded His crown for a cross. There is no rescue except for the one in which my mess was somehow covered and made new. So I think perhaps this should be etched on my tombstone. That after all the life I live, every moment with the man I love, and every step I take, good or bad, beautiful or sludge-laden, it applies: “....and God was still merciful.”

And that my friends, is a happy ending.

A Promise Within a Woolly Bear

Andrea Burke

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


[ This is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of the unedited work of my unfinished life. As I'm re-reading these old chapters now and rewriting, and sitting in the general discomfort of things in the past, I'm also hopeful. The Lord is faithful. He leaves no stone unturned. ]

My window is open which is a small and gentle grace today. I am working to the soundtrack of drops of rain and falling leaves while my daughter shouts to me from the still green backyard.

"Mom, do woolly bears like wet stuff?" she hollers at my window, her boots covered in autumn mud and her hair wild as ever. I make-up an answer, a convincing yes, and tell her to look again in the fairy garden and under the leaves that hang low on the corner of the house. She nods and runs off again, magnifying glass in hand. Today we are searching for the almanac-friendly caterpillars, and she is desperate to hold one, balled up brown and orange, in hand. I used to be her. I used to spend my autumn days looking for their tiny bodies. The fun is in the hunt, so I prod her to keep looking.

"Woolly bears cocoon for the winter," I shout to her. I'm reading the explanation of them online and stop when I get to the words, "Their hearts stop. Their guts freeze. Their blood stops."

Their hearts stop. But their life doesn't. Something in them preserves them through the season when everything else dies. They are born to gently graze death and beat it by the warm thaw of April. Sometime in spring, an Isabella Tiger Moth emerges. A new purpose. A new name. A new shape.

I guess I know this lesson of nature well. And maybe you do too.

Sometimes, in order to get from here to there, from this side to that side of things, from the running leap of faith to landing on your feet in Tomorrowland, something has to happen. Something must happen and will happen and it may feel a bit like death.

Your heart will stop and your blood will freeze and from all outside angles and all interior feelings, it will feel as though your life has come to an end.

This is the message of autumn. Gather the fruit. Collect inside what you’ll need to sustain through winter. And when the pitch of a winter night falls heavy, and you feel as though all is slipping away into the dark, remember that the message of hope is wrapped up in the cocoon of a farmer faithful caterpillar. 

We are not promised a hope that shrivels and dies. We're promised a living one. When the grave closed over Christ, death seemed to have conquered. When I was at the end of my exhausted rope of selfishness, I didn't find that the cross wasn't enough. Instead, within me I found something pounding against the darkness. Not my own strength. Not my own blood. But the kind of living hope that springs eternal. The kind that keeps seemingly dead things alive when they probably shouldn't be (by all natural explanations.)

So take heart, your spring is coming.

You Were Looking for Something?

Andrea Burke

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Oh again I sit here because I need to write. Windows open and the sound of late summer crickets outside in the yard. One child sleeps, the other is at school, the dog is curled at my feet, slowing licking her paws. The morning is easy and quiet and I'm restless. I need to write not simply for content, for clicks, for shares or likes, comments or tweets. I write because I desperately need to see what I think and to put some words as a placeholder for the myriad of thoughts that meet me this morning.

Someone searched “affair” on my blog recently. I don’t know who. I only know that was the only word they searched for on my site. I don’t know if it was someone I know, someone who wanted to read my story again, or someone looking for dirt on me.

I suppose it doesn’t matter.  I’ve written very publicly about my past, so it’s no secret. When people whisper, “I know what you’ve done,” it’s very freeing to whisper back “So does everyone else on the internet.” Being open about the ridiculous redemption of my life, from grave to cradled, has been one of the most fruitful journeys from the Lord.

But to know that after 12 years, that that’s still the word that follows me around wherever I go still feels like a punch.

Early on, I felt that I had the choice — I could move on and not talk about it, and still enjoy the beauty of redemption for myself. Or I could brazenly tell the story of God’s relentless pursuit of my ragamuffin heart in all of its hard truth and watch how He used it to set others free.

I went with door #2.

So in the face of the enemy who would love to use my past to continue to shame me, I'm going to remind him that Christ won and Christ continues to win. The only happy ending to my story is that Christ is my defense. I've cried about this shadow — I've asked friends "Why won't this just go away?" But how quickly I'd forget if it did. By continuing to write and speak about it, I'm raising my tired, bleeding hands toward my Savior to say that He fixed what I thought couldn't be fixed. He saved what I thought was lost. He rescued what I thought was dead.

My story is a reminder that God is merciful and running after the hearts that are prone to wander. My past is a reminder that sin is destructive, the local church matters, and that there is no perfect person. Jesus comes for the sick, not the healthy, and he found me starving to death in my kingdom made of straw.

Every now and then, I think about blowing the dust off of the book. Last night, my husband and I sat by the last fire of summer and while the embers faded from red to black, we talked about what all those stories and pages mean. Are they worth revisiting? Is it worth telling? Is it worth rekindling the fire of memory? The book wasn't meant to be a tell-all; it was a brag on the graces of God. The one I started three years ago and shelved for various reasons has resurfaced in my head and heart and I’m thinking of taking it down from that proverbial box and sharing it in pieces. Maybe here. Maybe I'll see if there’s anywhere to go with it now. Or maybe I'll just remind myself that my past isn't under a cobwebbed lock and key, and that Jesus showed up in every area of my life that needed a Savior (which, for the record, was ALL OF IT.)

Maybe you have a word that's following you around. Maybe you're tempted to think it has become your identity. 

This is what is upside-down about following Christ. Our greatest failures become his trophy. While the world may try to tie a word to my identity until the day I die, and it might always be linked to my name in search bars, whispered behind closed doors, and in public statements about what I did once upon a time, there’s only one word that is stitched into the fabric of my soul, put there by the engraved hands of Christ, and it’s this — redeemed.

The Only Cure

Andrea Burke

I remember the year the trees were taken up with the gypsy moth. Wrapped in shrouds of a foggy grey web, branch by branch they died. Subtle and fatal, all at once. Tree after tree along our streets, back roads and driveway. "That one is next," we'd say, pointing at the adjacent healthy tree whose leafy arm brushed against the white web next to it. 

No one told me this is what death would feel like. Like a slow grey hue, subtly pulled over your eyes, arms, legs. I found out at 20 when a friend died of cancer. Death and grief come instantly and slowly, creeping in a fast fatal blow to any green limbs you have stretched out toward life. 

No one told me this is what sin was like. Like a shroud that seems innocuous at first but is the first bell of danger. I found out at 22 when I saw the web around my feet. It will spread. It always spreads. 

I remember the year of the gypsy moth — how they came and devoured our foliage while we watched. It was beautiful and devastating all at once. The end is deceiving and seemingly triumphant. 

But it's not. Don't be fooled by the shroud. In a garden, it was pulled back and folded up, shown to be defeated once and for all. 

Hope in Christ is not an analgesic. It's the cure. In him, death and sin are never the final word. Not in the balmy summers of my childhood. Not when I was 20. Not when I was 22. Not today. 

When a Moment Becomes a Memory

Andrea Burke

I've been going through all of my old documents lately. Digging up thoughts and piecing them together, finding old stories and remembering the places and people I've put in to words over the years. I've decided this year I'm going to post a mix of old stories, words that haven't been perfect and thoughts that aren't adequately formed. But bit by bit, I'm going to get it done and out, and whether anyone reads or not...well, that's secondary. 

Quickly moments pass into memory. In an instant what is becomes what was and it's so bittersweet, sometimes I can only fight to just stay present. We are coming up on our anniversary in a few weeks. With a 6 month old on one hip and a loquacious 8 year old on the other side, it’s easy to forget what was before I said "I do." Those years were full and hard, beautiful and fast. That’s why I write sometimes — just to remember. I write because I know that in a few years I won’t remember stories like this one. I’m sharing this with you today because maybe you need the reminder that life goes by fast and 1 a.m. girl chats with your eldest are necessary and sometimes over before you know it. And sometimes you don't know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.


November 19, 2014
 

Last night, her six-year-old body was tucked in next to mine. She normally sleeps in her own bed, the one down the hall with the purple tulle draped around it. The one covered with stuffed animals and pages and pages of drawings that she creates night after night. Pictures of tinker bell, rainbows, leprechauns and mathematical equations (yes, you read that right). But every so often, when she wakes from a nightmare or if the house feels especially colder than usual, I find her body next to mine. Her hair is always knotted into a bun and slight curls wrap around her still perfect cherub cheeks. Last night she was awake when I crawled into bed. I was feeling especially sentimental. It’s a mix these days. She asked me to cut her hair because the responsibility of brushing out long, twisty curls was the cause of too many tears. So now she swings a long bob, and the just-too-short pieces are laying against the nape of her neck. Her eyes are big with glee when she sees that I too am crawling into bed.

“Your hair is just like mine, mom!” she points at the lopsided bun on the top of my head. Under the white blanket, she grabs my hand and invites me to share a pillow with her. She is growing so quickly, I think. Most parents have this moment — the one where you look at the babe you once birthed and realize they are quickly running out of the reach of your arms, but never your heart.

Early this evening, the man who has been winning our hearts and slowly, gently moving into a place carved out for him in this home, we talked about marriage. We talked about the days ahead, commitment, changes, the possibility of more children, all of the things couples talk about when the future is laid out before them as a vast unknowable thing. We reached our arms to each other across the couch and dreamed a bit about the nights when I won’t have to kiss him goodbye at the door but can kiss him goodnight on the pillow. We talk about covenants, fears, broken hearts and all of the things we’re laying out on the table of promise. 

But now, it’s just me and her. Just her head on my pillows. Just her tiny voice filling up the dark space of my bed. 

“Let’s have some girl talk,” I say. It’s well past 1 a.m. but that doesn’t matter. Not when time waits for no one, not even your mama heart. 

She squeals, pulling the blanket up over our heads. She rattles off about the “cutest boy” who waves at her across the hall, some questions about life and what I love about the man who just hours before swung her upside down. It’s nothing life-changing, but maybe life-building. Maybe not the conversation that shapes her dreams and choices, but the kind that hopefully will lead to more that give her time and space to share what can only be shared by the quiet whispers of pillow talk. 

But these days, these six years of endless mom and me time, hours and hours of knowing there was no one else to compete for my attention, and an unknown future of questions — they’re slipping more and more into memory. Parts of these days are ending. The exclusivity of our relationship is slipping into past tense. “Remember when it was just us?” she’ll ask and we review story and adventures before a men held our hands and swung our hearts and bodies high into the sun. Memory leaves out the aching tears when she asked why she didn’t have a father here. The nightmares of abandonment. The questions I couldn’t answer when she asked why she can’t feel God’s hugs. Memory pushes these away into tiny fragments under the blooming memories of train trips, plane rides and movie nights. 

Today I sat across the table from a mother who has been where I’ve been. Once upon a time, she was the single mother. She cradled her baby alone for years until God saw fit to send her a man to step in as husband and dad. Now more than 15 years and three more kids later, she nods and listens as I tell her that I feel a tinge of sadness in all of this joy.

“You have to grieve the loss of what was,” she says. “To lose one thing for something greater is a good thing. But to acknowledge that you’ve lost it is an important thing too.” As Dr. Seuss said — sometimes you don’t know the value of something until it becomes a memory. 

We are making room for a man in our lives. We’re learning about expressing love, receiving love, opening our home, couch and hearts to an answered prayer that each of us has sought God for many times over the years.

And here he is, texting me that he’s arrived safe back at his home, and for this night and not too many to come, I’m holding just her at my side. She is giggling about the boy who waves and I’m kissing her matted curls. I’m savoring this even as it slips into the dark and the days of old, knowing soon enough she will be waving goodbye at my door, making promises to someone else.

Someday we will hold these six years as a golden bubble of provision. Years of fighting for repentance, receiving grace, seeking restoration, hoping for better, believing for good, savoring the best. Not long from now, my bed will not be mine alone. My pillows will not be reserved for girl talk only. But here at my side, where a scar remains from where she was pulled from me, red and passionate, screaming and waiting to be held, here she will always have a place. Here where my body still aches to remember what it was like when I held a soul apart from me but somehow part of me. Here, even when the man reaches for me across the space, do I find the place for her. Here in the beauty of memory. 


An Intentional Bed

Andrea Burke

{I posted this last year at Grace Table, but I'm reposting it here this year because...Christmas.}

Sunday night was the night for Christmas cookies. Gingerbread rolled out and royal icing whipped, dark and white chocolate chips poured and butter creamed with sugar in the most beautiful sort of way. All of these concoctions resulted in our table being a floury mess and my clothes covered with whatever I happened to brush up against as we worked. We danced around each other in the kitchen, and I made more than one correction to which my husband finally laughed, “Are you sure you want us involved in this process?”

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