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ANDREA BURKE
Rochester, NY, 14620

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Broken When I Arrived, Broken When I Leave

Andrea Burke

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I was broken as I came into this world. For nearly 56 seconds, I didn’t breathe. Any parent will tell you those first silent seconds are excruciating as you wait. My parents waited. For nearly an eternal minute.

Then my legs. There was the issue of my legs. The shorter one. The hip that didn’t form correctly. I came in silent and malformed. Deformed. Broken.

For months and years, I was in and out of operating rooms. My legs were pinned and stabilized, scarred and wrapped in plaster. I dragged myself around in an army crawl, affectionately earning the nickname “walrus” from an older sibling while my broken body healed in a cast that kept me immovable from the waist down.

Broken when I arrived. 

Scars are interesting things. They have the potential to scream in nerve pain or go completely numb. I can remember being a child, running my finger along all of my scars, tracing the ones on my knees, my hips, my thighs, my stomach, and realizing I felt nothing. A part of me that wasn’t a part of me. Broken. A part of me that told a story but a story from which I felt somewhat detached. 

My heart would go on to drag more raw wounds across my own memory. Searing marks of error. Scars that screamed with pain for years until the One with the balm drew near. Scars that went numb because sometimes healing means losing something that was once alive.

A few years ago, the news of the kidney disease that is slowly destroying my kidneys and liver came suddenly. Like a snap in my normal day to day living, the words fell disjointed into my lap. It’s taken years for what is happening inside of me, invisible and undercover, to start to show up in the way I move, live, and breathe. Except now I feel the discomfort and unease of a body that is broken. Now I have regular appointments on the calendar that remind me. Medication taken in a steady rhythm of routine, reminding me that there isn’t a cure. Just buying time. “Get blood work done” marked on my calendar with a star so I don’t forget that this is important, life or death, broken. 

Broken when I arrived. I’ll be broken when I leave. 

And lately when I feel the acute reminders that my body has betrayed its own flesh and blood, I think of Jesus. I think of the night he dined with the men who would betray him. The bread broken, the wine poured, the knowledge that betrayal and brokenness was the way of mankind and that was why he was here anyway. 

I think of this as I feel another pang of pain, another message from my doctor, another prescription in the mail.

His body, the incarnate Son, the unbroken passover lamb, who willingly laid down his life, allowed his flesh to be split, his blood to be spilled, who knew the feeling of when your body gives out. The man who gave his body for his body. He who knows what the betrayal of your own flesh feels like. The man who knew that we were irrevocably broken from the moment we screamed our first breath until the moment we raggedly breathe our last. Broken when we arrive, Broken when we leave. 

And so he came to make a way for us to be made whole in Him. So that when we leave these bodies of death, we will be whole. For once. For the first time. Completely, wholly unbroken. His hands which have the scars of redemption. The scars of atonement. The scars of undoing brokenness. Scarred so that someday the scars that I trace my fingers along will be erased, revived, restored. 

The promise was never that we’d be completely whole here. It was never a guarantee that this aging and cursed world was the pinnacle of being whole. The promise was that through the brokenness, through the raw edges of incurable bodies, scarred knees, wounded hearts, we’d see that he was making all things new.

Broken when I arrived. Broken when I leave.

And then, at last, whole.

Just Beneath the Surface

Andrea Burke

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“Look underneath the leaves,” I tell my daughter this as we’re elbow deep in berry brambles. Thorns tear at our hands and forearms as we straddle the vines and a skunk hole just beneath our feet. We wouldn’t normally be here on this corner of the woods, but today I have a white bowl tucked under my arm and we’re hunting for black raspberries. This little cove of thorns and vines boasted a crown of berries catching the afternoon sun so here we are.

“I think I’ve got them all,” she says. Her fingertips are purple and a handful of berries piles into my bowl.

“Did you look underneath?” I ask again. “That’s where the best ones are hiding. Just underneath the surface.”

She lifts a leaf with her fingertips, trying to avoid the branches that are sure to draw blood. “Whoa,” she remarks. “Ok, yeah, there’s more.” There under the sharp edges and the now barren surface is a world of fruit. Shaded, healthier, less likely to be picked off by birds. A robust harvest of black raspberries spills into the bowl, piling it up to the surface. 

“I think we need another bowl,” she laughs.

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I never intend for all of my interactions with the teeming nature just outside our back door to be moments of lessons. I can’t help but see Romans 1 in action everywhere I turn. While all of our culture seems to be living out Romans 1:21-23, I’m going to keep returning to Romans 1:19-20 —

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

There is no error in creation. No analogy that isn’t there with intention. No picture of God that is there by coincidence or “Isn’t that interesting?” moments. It’s all intentional. And for those of us who see it, it becomes clear. God’s creation shouts of his character, his attributes, who he is. 

I see again it today as we fill a ceramic bowl with fresh wild raspberries and my daughter asks to learn how to find a berry patch. 

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I’m thinking of every moment I’ve felt invisible. Every moment I’ve felt hidden while the ones who manage to make their way to the surface get picked and I feel stuck under a mammoth leaf. I think of every faithful pastor, mother, friend, worker, bible study leader, group leader, elderly woman, single dad, reserved child. I think of every time I’ve tried to get attention for the good in my life and it seems God is more interested at doing work at something below the surface where no one else can see.

I think about the fruit that grows healthy, sweeter, and vibrant just underneath the surface. The stuff that no one else can see. The stuff that seems non-existent until someone lifts the edge of a leaf and a world of fruitfulness is revealed. 

Fruitfulness in the homes that aren’t making it to influencer-level status on instagram. Fruitfulness in the marriages that are faithfully working it out every day. Fruitfulness in the mother who needs the grace of God to sustain her on another long summer day. Fruitfulness in the bible study leader who won’t ever make it to a main stage but who knows what it looks like to disciple someone. 

This is all I’m thinking of as our bowl fills.

Fruitfulness in the single parent who pours into their children at bedtime, with no one else to take note. Fruitfulness in the person who seems ordinary, not shiny, not that impressive. Maybe just someone you’d normally pass by assuming they don’t have much to offer.

Fruitfulness in all of the shaded corners, surrounded by skunk holes, fallen branches. There things root deep into the earth and find their growth.

Just underneath. Just hidden. Fully healthy. Content to grow without the fanfare of being seen. Content to grow to full health, protected, covered.

And it may seem obvious. It may seem like another analogy packed into nature, ready for anyone who wants to see it.

(Which it is. That’s the point.)

But today, if you feel hidden, invisible, unseen, trust that the One who makes you fruitful has not forgotten the place where He’s planted you to grow. Those massive leaves aren’t shadows. They’re protection. Grow healthy there. Be fruitful. Just underneath. 

Clotheslines, Enjoyment, and Work

Andrea Burke

Photo of our clothesline taken by  https://www.honesttogoodnessphoto.com/

Photo of our clothesline taken by https://www.honesttogoodnessphoto.com/

“Why do you do that?” a friend asked me.

The lace tablecloths and patterned sheets fluttered like flags on the evening breeze. Yes, I have a dryer. Yes, I know that I can just put them in the dryer.

But have you ever seen the way a rose-stitched tablecloth moves under the golden sun? Have you ever laid down at the end of a summer day under a quilt that smells like the edges of spring and the sweetness of rain? They can’t capture this stuff in a Tide bottle. 

“I do it because of the way it smells,” I laugh. We all chuckle. Why haul a heavy basket of wet laundry out behind the barn, at the edge of the daisy-filled field to hang sopping wet blankets, cloths, and bedding just for the smell?

Tonight, I did it again. A basket sidled up against my hip, maple clothespins pinched to the edge of my tank top, a summer breeze, an empty clothesline. I tried to reason with myself as I walked. 

“I could just put this in the dryer,” I muttered. “But I’m also saving on electricity and that seems to matter these days, right? But that’s not why I’m really doing it.”

I hang up the first blanket. It’s our winter comforter. The one filled with goose down. I’ve just stripped our beds from all of the cold weather bedding and I’ll wash it all before it goes into a plastic tub until November. It’s heavy but the wind picks it up without a struggle. The kids will run through it later, their tiny faces peeking around it like a stage curtain. In November, when I pull it from the gray bin, I’ll remember summer, the hot sun, and our burned noses.

Our matching sheets are next. Like a sail, the fitted sheet billows out. The hay in the field moves with it. A quiet symphony for anyone who cares to hear, anyone who stops to witness and pay attention. 

These wandering thoughts continue until I’m snapped back to reality when I’ve run out of clothespins. The beauty and the earth, the ordinary work of laundry, and the common grace of wildflowers and summer winds — this is why I do that. I don’t need a moral or economic reason for everything. I don’t need a cause or a purpose for the simple act of enjoying the very accessible gifts God has stretched between those two ancient walnut trees behind my barn. 

I do it because it makes me love it all more. The earth, the summer, the laundry, the people, the fields, the wind, the sun, the work. All of it. I wonder how much we all avoid doing things we simply find beautiful and good because we’re so laden down with the need to explain ourselves. 

Why are you eating that ice cream? A million reasons we could answer, but in reality it’s because it’s sweet and a delight to our tongues. It reminds me of childhood and little league games by the creek. Why are you laughing? A hundred points of why, but really because we still can. Because in this messy world, when grief and wickedness abounds, we still find ways to laugh and let our souls lift for a moment.

Why are you planting those seeds? Why are you wearing that nice dress? Why are you singing? Why are you painting that? Reading that? Enjoying that?

Because before we were consumers, we were consummate enjoyers. I cannot get to Eden from this side of Heaven but I can remind my heart that when the wind blows, I can step a bit closer to that thin veil where the sound of music from some faraway land makes ripples on my skin for just a brief moment. 

Simply because I want to. 

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” Ecclesiastes 3:12-13