Smiling in the dark

Smiling in the dark

I mindlessly scrolled through my feed until I came across a photo of a woman in a hospital bed, smiling with her whole body, without a strand of hair gracing the top of her head. She was surrounded by three of her closest ones, wrapped in the deep love of family. The caption read that she was finally going home, and I smiled. I don’t know this woman, but I know she has been given a gift. I sometimes see faces like hers as I walk the halls of the hospital. The photo’s caption went on, describing their blessings and God’s goodness toward their family. All this through a variety of hashtags, with words smashed together because time is so crucial, not enough available to give each word its own beginning and end. Time was moving on, and her life was out there waiting to be lived. What a gift she had been given.

But then my smile fell. God’s goodness sent her home that day healthier than she had been in months. God’s goodness had made her stronger and whole, had extended her life, had buoyed her and those close ones during a dark time. I am truly thankful that such miracles exist.

But my ache is still raw and my thoughts go here:

what about when it doesn’t happen that way?

God’s goodness may not always feel that good. Sometimes it feels like a lonely house. A broken relationship that keeps gnawing at you. Being the new girl in the room. Stepping out of your comfort zone. Staying late when you don’t have the time. Sometimes it feels like the phone call that never came or the horrific one that did. Accepting help when you wish you didn’t need it. Ignoring the hurtful words of a coworker.

It’s a mess of things that can feel and truly be quite messy.

It can be hard to pull yourself out of bed and put on a brave face when it feels like God and his goodness didn’t show up, at least not in a way that you were wanting or expecting. Although unbearably tough at times, I listen to my heart beating softly and certainly. I hear him there. I reach out through the blurry tears to find a hand to steady me. I feel him there. I let someone hold me just a little bit longer.

So what does it take for us to continue repeating God is good during those times when we want to scream that he is not? Maybe simply separating God’s goodness from the good things that happen in our lives and the good feelings we experience throughout our days. These things are not the same. Maybe settling into the discomfort and knowing he has settled in too. I wish I could say that I have the answer, but of course you know I don’t. His goodness is a mystery that leaves me wanting more. I want daily to understand, to be more capable in the processing of my hurts and the hurts of others, to identify God’s goodness in every situation, no matter how dark, and still be able to smile with the gift.



I watched my grandmother slowly disappear over the last six months and yet the moment of passing was so full of shock, I still feel as if I’m reeling. I’m still quite sure that if I drive up her quiet neighborhood street, she’ll be there in her garden. Tending to tomatoes, okra, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, maybe even carrots.

She was always tending.

Tending to me and to others, in a way that a substantial loss such as this leaves me feeling sick to my stomach, empty, and angry. I once wrote about her here not knowing how deeply my own words might comfort me one day. Because those words are true, and I miss every quirky and perfect thing about her.

As my husband and I drove to my grandparents’ house the evening of her passing, I told him how much I wanted to be like her when I grow up. The words spilled out in a soft and silly way, an attempt to bring a smile to my own dismayed face. She was faithful to the life God gave her. She loved her husband well and gave fully to her family, her grandchildren, her friends. And she could befriend just about anyone. I can’t count the number of times that I warned my friends, “My grandmother will hug you when she meets you.” She rode bumper cars and roller coasters with us every year at Dollywood. She helped me grow my first garden. She was my and my brothers’ own personal nurse, with the dining room as her exam room. She was always one of the first people in the stands at my basketball games or track meets, walked miles on end to support my brother in golf tournaments, and adamantly sat in the front row to hear my oldest brother speak at church. She sought simplicity by nature, never fooled by the bright lights of this world. She showed up when it mattered because it always mattered to her; I knew I could count on her.

But with so much sadness comes an abundance of gratitude for having this woman in my life who cared so deeply. She was full of life and love and joy. Her hugs were full of energy. How proud she was of all her grandchildren and me is humbling. Having known her gives me confidence. The world would be a stronger, more forgiving and encouraging place if we all had one like her who fully believed in us. My heart hurts this week but in the best of ways, for my grandmother was a good one.

A spunky, beautiful, loving good one.



Be kind to one another, for those great burdens that weigh heavy on your mind and are carried through your days look quite similar to the burdens of your neighbor. Perhaps not. Perhaps yours are more complicated or more contained, larger than your arms can hold or stuffed into a backpack for long-term travel. Maybe your burdens are new or old, hairy or smelly or itchy or odd. But look next door and you’ll see that they’re the same, if you’ll let yourself believe that, if you’ll do yourself the favor (and your neighbor too).

I let myself cry today because the air felt safe and appropriate and true. Water spilled over the edge of my face mask in a hospital room that has grown too familiar; with a hidden smile, my eyes reveal all. I felt thankful for the kindness those around me offered, to allow the mystery of tears, to even share in it. My burdens seem so big to me; I know yours do as well to you. And they are. And I see that. So I plead with you to be kind to one another. For the world needs a ballooning of grace and joy and kindness to glide through the sky and overcome temporary, sorrowful burdens below.

For every bullet point on my gratitude list, I feel as if three more arise to oppose. On tough days, I’m too tired to bother. But kindness pulls me through. It can pull us through together if we’ll let it.

Blackberry freezer jam

Blackberry freezer jam

We finished your blackberry freezer jam today. I stood at the kitchen window, in our new home, no longer the one that your family dug deep roots in for decades, but I can still feel your presence. I sometimes still find your grandson with tears streaming down, missing his grandparents. I still imagine you at your own kitchen window, the center of a room where you spent hours preparing meals for your family, meals I know we all wish could be eaten one more time. I still remember you later sitting in your daughter’s kitchen, those big hugs you offered, those jokes you would crack, those smiles you shared. It’s been two years, and we just now finished your jam, still so sweet and fresh, like memories. We found it tucked away in your chest freezer, along with other frozen goodies, excitement in our eyes, anticipation for such a yummy treat. You have fed us over and over again for the past two years. I like to think you knew the importance of taking care of your family, even from afar. A simple gift with such big meaning. We finished your blackberry freezer jam today, and though the jar may be empty, our bellies and hearts are so full.