Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

Rochester, NY, 14620



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

image (1 of 1)-354.jpg

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


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


“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


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


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.




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


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


(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


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


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?”

Read More

Carta Marina

Andrea Burke

So there I am, salsa chicken in the crockpot and I’m dumping a pile of cinnamon-and-sugared apples into a pie crust and I feel lighter. I do. I feel like God has given me a simple joy in seeing a bunch of random ingredients come together into a pie dish just for the joy of enjoying this battered world for a few scrumptious minutes. 

Read More

The Afternoon Light

Andrea Burke

Once upon a time I felt prolific. Then I started typing.

I don’t know what I plan to do here, kicking about half-written entries and half-thought-out ideas inside of Google Drive documents, my head and my desk. With the return of September, routine finds its way back into our lives. I’m sitting at a newly built desk with the hum of a fan and the sound of a child in a red wig playing in another room. The wig makes no sound, but the personality does.

I’ve been wrestling with the shadow of contentment for more than a few months now. It’s devilish. And the absence of writing has left me without a place to as Stephen King said, "...find out what I think."

I need the outlet of words. Several fiction pieces spilling out of my mind and onto screen have been revived and I find myself desperate for an hour or two of writing silence. I crave the evening hours when all is silent and for a moment, I can see a form of something, someone in the shadowplace where my writing once stood. She stands there with a lantern. Her voice haunts me a bit. I think it’s me.

I’ve been thinking about this culture who dresses up their dead after they’ve been long gone, and then I see ads for anti-aging, and I read about Seneca the Elder who said,

The final hour when we cease to exist does not itself bring death; it merely of itself completes the death-process. We reach death at that moment, but we have been a long time on the way.

I wonder if we’ve become so comfortable with this world that we forget our bodies are meant to die. I want to write several lines about how we’re painting corpses while there are withering hearts in the houses next to us. I want to ask why we are plumping up our skin with fluids while there are eternal souls are dying of thirst. I want to, but then my daughter comes in to the room to declare that the watermelon herbal tea I’ve made her is not what she wanted. This is the end of all things, it would seem, and she is in tears asking for another cup.

“I’m not making a different kind of tea right now,” I say and she throws me the look of absolute devastation. Or perhaps more of deflated loss. She knows I won’t change my mind and I wonder how much I’ve just disappointed her that I am not bounding out of my chair for the umpteenth time today to make sure she’s happy. Sometimes I can’t worry about whether or not she’s happy. Sometimes it’s a lie to teach her that her happiness is the most important. I want to write about that.

I want to write about being married, and how nine months feels like a lifetime of learning and how going from a single mom to wife has been more difficult than I anticipated. But then I think we’ve only been married nine months. No one wants to hear anything about marriage from me. I don’t want to hear marriage thoughts from newlyweds. I want to read things from people who are seasoned. Who have some years under their belt. That’s not me, so I turn and kiss my husband instead. I can’t tell him enough how wonderful I think he is. He’s broken too, as am I. The brokenness sometimes sits with both of us in painful ways. But we’re asking God to heal us. As our pastor told us in pre-marital, we need more people championing good marriages. We need more people talking about how marriage is hard, but also fun. It’s a broken reflection of a perfect thing, but the perfect thing changes us day by day into something more beautiful if we let it.

I want to write about a friend who sincerely asked me if marriage fulfills me. She wants to know, “Is that it?”

“No,” I tell her. “It’s not.”

She tells me how she’s waiting for that thing. That moment when she can breathe with relief for just a moment having arrived at that exact place she always hoped she would. That the gnawing ache within her that is ravenous and screams in the silence and longs for something more will just *poof* be gone when she achieves the next thing.

“It won’t,” I tell her. “As soon as you arrive there, it will disappear and you’ll find it’s moved on to something else. It won’t come from marrying the man of your dreams. It won’t come from having children. It won’t come from traveling or writing, fleeting fame or losing that weight.”

She's clearly disheartened. She knows this to be true, but to hear it again, well it's a sober reminder. “Then what will make me feel that way?” she asks, almost begging. “What is going to fill that thing within me? Is there anything that will take it away?”

“Jesus!” I laugh. I laugh because it seems too obvious, but I laugh too because even then, it won’t go away. “Even then,” I say. “We see just a dim reflection. I don’t think we’ll ever feel completely at rest until we’re home. This world, and all of its limitations, will keep us running after false things or longing for the real thing.”

I want to write more about this. Because I know as easy as it is for me to tell her this, I'm still convinced I'll be the happiest person in the world once I lose 50lbs or publish a book. The mirage has moved. 

I want to write about my dear young friend who said to me, innocently and without judgement, “You could’ve been something!” as she listened to my CD from when I was 20. Maybe, I say to her. Maybe not. Sometimes it all feels so random. But then I realize I’m inching closer to my mid-30s, the novelty of fresh-faced 30 a few years behind me now. We live in a culture that celebrates youth, perhaps to a fault. Because I know a whole slew of 20-somethings who walk around panic-stricken as if the clock of success is ticking for them. As if the tipping point is 30 and after that, well, you could’ve been something. But now you aren’t. You won’t be. It’s ending.

I want to write about all of the changes. The moving. The marriage. The decision to homeschool. The radio silence on my memoir that is now collecting dust.

I want to write about the neighbors we’ve met. The faces we’ve nodded at. The strangers kissing pennies and throwing them into wishing wells.

But my daughter comes into the room to ask what "The sleeping fox catches no poultry" means. This brief moment of lifting my head away from the screen is enough to pull me out of the writing world. I am not disciplined enough to hold my breath and come up for air. Each conversation, each noise, person pulls me out of the water and when I come back I’m swatting at waves that don’t make sense.

Once upon a time I felt prolific. Then I started typing.

Being a writer is a strange disease. The desire to write is never gone. The words with which to do it are. Until the right afternoon light strikes my desk, its slanted rays falling across letters to be mailed and insurance cards in a small pile, and somehow I feel the chair begging me to come sit. We have made it through a morning of homeschooling. Volcanos drying with plaster of Paris on the dining room table, minds full of stories about Leif Ericson and “Vinland” and “Thor” and short proverbs to teach both spelling and manners. A half-eaten apple pie sits under foil on the table top, the dog is napping at my feet, and I have this moment, right here.

I want to write, and this fall, I have every intention of spilling out words again here. Words of incomplete thought and of a faith that is being worked out. Words of a woman who is still finding her place and also finding her nearly-mid-30s to be a place of a little more ease. A little less “What will they think?” and a little more "I can't really worry about that." Words breathed at 5 am over tea, during autumn afternoons and those few brief minutes in the evening when I can hide here after the day has swelled.

"I'm going to cut the fox out," she says, startling me out of my words. "And glue it. And then cut the other words out. And glue those too." 

"Great plan!" Time to step out of the afternoon light. It will return tomorrow, as will I.

The Welcome Doormat

Andrea Burke

It’s another night of spaghetti and sauce overloaded with meat. Noodles sticking to the insides of stainless steel pans and tomato sauce splashed against the stove top, drying until I come along with a sopping wet sponge to clean it up.

Half-filled mason jars are scattered around on top of our old bookcases and paint-covered trunks. We’ve always used mason jars. Our moms always washed out the jam after the summer supply was spread, and we were left with jar after jar shoved into cupboards. I’m carrying on the tradition, filling my shelves with the remainders of stocked pantries and farmer’s market purchases. I feel like this is poetic for what we’re doing here. We want what has stood the test of time; things that are ok with feeling used. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Friends and strangers have kicked up their feet and I’m lending a book to someone I’ve just met. We are forging a little community here over hot rolls fresh out of the oven that soak up sauce and brownies that melt in our mouths. It’s amazing how one invitation of food becomes an invitation for hearts to feast. I want every person whose shadow passes through our doorway to know they’re loved, they have a place, a meal, a makeshift family, a stack of books to peruse, a jar of water, a friend to ask them “Tell me what your life looks like these days” and then sticks around for the answer.

I love community and I will keep finding a way to make space for it.

But even still, I feel wary of community for community’s sake. I want to turn the fresh rolls and red sauce into broken bread and holy wine. I don’t want our community to function for its own sake; for our own satisfaction and self-congratulatory pats on the back that say, “Look, we have accomplished it.” I’ve just started leading a women’s discipleship group at our house and one of the primary calls for the group was to not be a place to meet your new 10 best friends. This hooked me. Discipleship is not the cool kids club. True community is not elite, exclusive or always comfortable.  We want our home filled with people, not just to grow in friendship and relationship, but to grow in roots and truth.

Stop me at the stove and tell me what’s really going on. Let’s talk for a minute about how to win hearts and not just follow rules.

We’ll be honest with you and tell you what has been hard about the years in our lives and the lives in our marriage.

Ask the question about how to deal with this major cultural issue and we’ll unpack it here, where we’ll look to the Word for answers, where we want to be people of the Gospel and of grace. And we’ll make a lot of mistakes. We’ve already screwed up and surely we’ll screw it up again, but that’s why we want to keep pointing to Jesus.

My husband and I have talked about the (not-so) new mantra that suggests we can dispose of “negative people” and “toxic relationships” to improve our lives. Cut them off, some say. “Break up” with the friendship. Surround yourself with people who make you a better person.

And while I know that all relationships need boundaries, I can’t help but wonder if we’re missing the point with building circles out of our 10 best friends. Us four, no more. Granted, we are not designed to be doormats for the world but we are meant to lay down our lives (and sometimes, that might look an awful lot like letting someone walk all over you.) We are called die to ourselves. We cannot save the world. We cannot fix the broken world. We cannot smart-talk our way to a hardened heart or make enough spaghetti to dissolve the hunger of arrogance and hatred.

But we can be the fish and the bread. And we can be broken so that some will see the miracle that a life broken for Jesus does not fall apart, but is instead multiplied. We can love Jesus, serve Him and do it all in a messy, imperfect sort of way and let him use our crumbs and lunch scraps to serve the world.

Maybe this is the hardest lesson of all. We can’t just break up with broken people, but we can be broken up for them.

I don’t know how to do this well. I want my new 10 best friends to be with me all the time. I want to know that I’m always and forever in a group of peers who love me, respect me, cherish me and value me.

I don’t want to be in a group of peers who might eventually deny me, betray me, lie to me and question me.

But that’s who Jesus is. And I am a far cry from that kind of community leader.

“Everything you have is given to you to push back darkness around you,” my pastor said. I scribbled it down quickly. Push back darkness. In me. In our town. In community. In our home. Everything I have is not given to me to make my life suitable for me and the 10 people who I think are are the most awesome 10 people I have ever met. Everything I have is not meant to make me feel better about myself.

“When you primarily look at yourself,” my pastor said later in his message, “whether you see a slug or a rockstar, when we’re not just thinking too high of ourselves but rather think about ourselves too much — that’s pride.”

I write down as much as I can until my hand almost cramps in the forever posture of trying to write down something I'm sure to forget.  Amidst a culture that says to put yourself first, close the doors, save more, fulfill your own dreams, prolong youth — God calls us to die to love a little more every day. Like the one we follow, our lives will feel spent, split and spilt and because He did, we can do this without pressure to perform, the need to impress or the panicky feeling that suggests we aren’t building ourselves up enough. Maybe in the dismantling of our pride, we can find that the best community isn’t built on us at all.

What a relief.

I Doubt It All

Andrea Burke


She screams this in my face. Her face, scrunched. Eyes clamped shut.

We learn a lot things in the stumbling act of parenting. How high the sky is, what happens when you pour salt on ice cubes and the magic of gooblick. 

And we learn what it means to show love. To give love. To be a messenger of what God's alive and breathing love still looks like. 

So when I’m walking slowly up the stairs, and I can hear her disappointed tears muffled in her pink and blue quilted pillows, I pray “Give me grace to see what you’re doing in her heart.” 

I’m tired. Dinner is barely finished. The chicken was still hot and the rolls still steaming when we sent her to her room. The husband and I exchanged the “you or me” look at the table and I volunteered. “I’ve got this.” He nods and gives me the half-smile. The "You've got this" twinkle. He stacks my dirty plate on top of his.

Each way we turn right now we see life and hearts, messy and unfinished, needing lots of cleansing. 

I'm outside of her door and I tap lightly against the wood. A tiny paper airplane swings on a piece of string. A little note on the door says "stay away" and another says "we are bise" (busy).

“Sweetheart, can we talk?”

She grunts. She’s curled into a ball on her bed, but her furrowed brow and hazel eyes are on me when I open the door. She’s angry. Today, we didn’t show up for the book fair. She reminds me of this again. An absolute parenting fail. Again. “I thought you were going to BE THERE!” she screams. And then sobs. Her snot is mixing into her tears, but I don’t mind. Mothers usually don’t. I slowly wrap my arms around her squirming body.

“I know,” I say. “I’m so sorry we disappointed you today. We will go tomorrow.” But this does little to assuage any anger. I am holding the fraying ends of a child who probably just needs to go to sleep. It's been a full afternoon of this. Attitudes unraveling, words spit out in anger, disrespect, cold shoulders and ignoring words of correction. All of the characteristics that children exhibit without hesitation. All of the things we do as adults but pretend aren’t that bad. 

“LET ME GO!” She screams, but I say no. I’m not in a wrestle of power here. I’m in a wrestle of love. And until she sees that, I’m not letting go. She twists inside of my arms, free to wiggle out in any direction, but staying, determined to tell me she wants me to leave her alone. She arches her back and I continue to whisper quietly, “I love you. So much. We love you. We love you. Whether you’re good, or bad, angry, sad. We love you. I love you.” 

This goes on for at least 10 minutes. I’m sweating and near to tears. The fight for love is sometimes not letting go. Sometimes it's just presence. Tonight it's consistency. Beneath all of the attitudes and anger today, she really needs nurture. Maybe it's the Spirit showing me this; maybe it's my intuition. But something inside of me says, "Don't let go."  

She’s screaming at me, red-faced. “I DOUBT THAT YOU LOVE ME! I DOUBT IT! This last "doubt" is drawn out and tongue shaking loud. My ears are ringing.

But then I see it all, the messy tears, the wrestle, the fists raised toward Heaven and I’m seeing all of us, shouting at God that we doubt it.

I doubt it all. 

I doubt that you love me. That you remember me. That you’ll stick it out to the end of this fight.

I doubt you’re long-suffering enough. I doubt you have the time. I doubt you. Let me go. 

But he doesn’t. And I didn’t. 

And suddenly her arms went from battering fists to gripping me tightly. 

She's sobbing now, her body in heaves. “You do love me!” I hear in my neck. She’s sweaty and snotty, but she’s almost laughing. “You really do love me!” I cry, she cries and the fight turns to rest. Here we talk about what went wrong earlier. We talk about her hurting heart. We talk about how we all make mistakes. How mom and dad make mistakes too. How we apologize because we love each other. We don’t want broken relationships. Not here. Not in this home. 


Today, I woke up before dawn in hopes to eek out some quiet moments before the day’s running began. But the noise of my coffee grinder stirred the little person upstairs and she walked into the kitchen, sleep-drunk and eyes half open. 

“You love me so much,” she says, pushing her nose into my hip. “I love you so much.” 

I squeeze her still bed-warm body, "Yeah birdie. I love you."

Today we begin in love. Today we’re determined to remember that above all. We are not wrestling for position or to win battles. We aren't fighting against a tired God. We aren’t beating our fists against a moody or forgetful King. Today, we’re kids. We're born desperately wanting to believe in true love but age with the begging ache that says "Prove it." Sometimes we all want to know that there is someone who is holding on even when we let go. No person here on earth can promise this forever. Not one.

So, we find our way back into the love of Jesus that doesn’t just soothe us and comfort us, but fights to hold on, long after our strength has screamed her wild energy out, red-faced and sweaty. 

The day is new and we start again.

The Fake of Death

Andrea Burke

My great-aunt passed away last weekend. She lived a long, full life. 96 years of friendship, camping adventures, walking, gardens, story-telling, farm tales and more. We sat on the front row at her service, the casket open displaying the body of a woman I once knew.

This is death. The flickering candle from a jar of oil. The somewhat hidden electrical cord running along the baseboard behind the casket stand. It's tangled a bit, running up to the lamps with pink lightbulbs, shining on her body. They're probably supposed to give her a glow of life, blood still rushing under her sallow skin, heart still pumping. It seems no one wants to really look death in the face. We want to pretend she's still there, sleeping. 

"I always look to see if they're still breathing," my own mother says. 

"Me too," I whisper back and we giggle a little, watching her very still hands lay on top of a very still body. The music coming through the speakers is a piano version of The Little Mermaid's song, "Part of Your World." I find this incredibly comedic. Disney and Ariel and nothing at all what I imagine at a funeral. Except, perhaps in this moment, maybe it is perfect. We're the mermaids. We don't have our feet yet.

"If I go first, make sure my funeral is a lot of fun," my husband whispers. "Tell a lot of jokes." This makes me laugh and then cry for some reason. Maybe because I realize someday, funeral homes might be more common in my life than wedding bells.

"Are those happy or sad tears?" he asks.

"I don't know," I say and reach for the tissues. "Funerals make me feel all of the emotions."

"As opposed to the rest of the time..." he snickers and I elbow him in the side. 

Now "Wind Beneath My Wings" is the canned music. A keyboard and synth strings play the melody line. 

"I like the wallpaper," I say to my husband. "I wonder where they got it."

"I hate it," whispers my mother. I don't know if we're talking about the wallpaper anymore.

This is death. The creeping, spine-tingling silence of hushed voices and a room full of people who don't know each other that well. Someone laugh, I want to say. Someone talk louder. Aunt Margie would hate that we're all being so proper. 

The minister steps up to the casket to begin the service. 

"I didn't know Miss Margie personally," she says. Is this the worst thing you can say at the beginning of a funeral? I feel like yes. Don't announce that. Don't let on that you're memorializing a life which you never witnessed. But this is death — the immediacy, the end of things, the strangers milling around who don't know her middle name. Hey, even I didn't know her middle name until today. So I suppose that makes me no better.

I stand up to read Mary Oliver's poem "When Death Comes." I'm in a room of some family, mostly strangers, many closer to the end than the beginning (which really is an illusion anyway. None of us really know where we are in our timelines.) I read how death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades.

It doesn't feel like that so much today. Today it feels like death came like a warm blanket in the middle of winter. It feels like death came like the last candle blown out before we all say goodnight. Margaret has painted pink lips. She almost looks like she's smiling. I think they do that on purpose. 

"I hope I don't make it to 96," a woman says to my husband and I. She knew my great aunt for more than 40 years. She is in her early 80s, I gather, based on her telling me about her ailing husband at 84. "I really hope I die sooner than that. I don't think I'll make it to 96. Not based on how I'm feeling now. That would just be awful."

She looks toward the casket and we awkwardly stare at her. Do I say, "I hope that for you too!" No, no. I don't know how to respond so we nod. 

"Losing either all of your physical body or your mind," she tsks. "Just awful. No thank you!" 

I can't say I blame her. The thought of ending my life that way doesn't appeal much to my vanity either. 

But this is death — the stealing. Of time, of energy, of strength, of mind. Of memory, of opportunity, of people, of story. Of Eden. 

It was never meant to be real. It isn't anymore, not really. It isn't actually the end. Margaret knew this. She was waiting to go home. She was ready.

The photos cycle through on the slideshow. There she is. Young and in hula skirts, surrounded by family, girlfriends sitting on rock hillsides or front stoops. This is her life and I'm here analyzing the wallpaper and laughing that now the music piped through the speakers is something from " Ah, I don't know. It's definitely Andrew Lloyd Webber."

My husband nods and we sit in silence again. Someone gives us a box of molasses cookies. We make lunch plans.

This is death. The living in spite of it. The guessing, the company we never acknowledge, the painted lips and last breaths, the icebergs and the candles. The going home.