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Rochester, NY, 14620


The Invincible Summer

Andrea Burke


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


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


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.