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When You Make Your Bed in Hell

Andrea Burke


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 Suddenly the teachings of the church and of the Bible seemed archaic, outdated, and I was misunderstood.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.