Poetry & Words

“What Does Mercy Mean?” How to Answer a Child’s Question

What Does Mercy Mean? How to Answer a Child's Question | How can I explain to a three year-old child the concept of mercy? I don't feel like I can reduce these mysteries to a sentence.  I'm worried I'll go wrong somehow.

“Do you love Bible?” She looks up at me with those big eyes of hers. “And does Papa love Bible too? Because I love it. So much.” It’s spontaneous, this declaration of hers. She keeps talking, looking up at me as she pushes her unruly honey-colored hair out of her face. “Where’s God now?” “What is a soul?” “What is mercy? Read more Bible, mumma.”

We just returned from seeing Fernando Ortega in concert, and she is humming the songs as she asks me these questions. “Why,” she asks earnestly, “Why did dat man say dat song about da fire of angels is sad? Why is it sad, mumma?”

I sing to myself before I answer. I think of all the nights I fell asleep with this melody in my soul:

“I never knew the dusk could seem so sad,
an empty aching in my soul.
In this bright hour I speak your name in the wind,
the shining world outlasts us all.

Even the mountains seem to know you’re gone,
the foothills shimmer where they stand.
The sky is still and much too beautiful,
and I am missing you again.

Lift me over the San Gabriels, leaning into the southern sky.
The foothills burning in the afterglow, an angel fire passing by…”
[Fernando Ortega, Angel Fire]

At three, her tender heart knows nothing of the aching in one’s soul. “It is sad, baby, but it’s beautiful too, though, isn’t it, that song?” I can feel the tears begin to burn. How can I untangle these questions, when even I don’t understand why people slip away and leave behind the empty foothills, burning in the light?

How can I explain to a three year-old the concept of mercy, when I still can’t wrap my head around the marvel of it all?

And what is this intangible thing inside me, this soul of mine?

She stands in front of me, eagerly, waiting for answers.

What Does Mercy Mean? How to Answer a Child's Question

I don’t feel like I can reduce these mysteries to a sentence.  I’m worried I’ll go wrong somehow. But I know Jesus told us to learn what mercy means [1]. And I know love and mercy is how everything — all of this, this big, overgrown mess of earth and humanity — is made whole. Death is swallowed up[2], and the old system of law is fulfilled [3, 4].

So I tell her what I know. I tell her about His love.

My words aren’t perfect, but it doesn’t matter.

“We must try to speak of His love. All Christians have tried but none has ever done it very well. I can no more do justice to that awesome and wonder-filled theme than a child can grasp a star. Still by reaching toward the star the child may call attention to it and even indicate the direction one must look to see it. So as I stretch my heart toward the high shining love of God someone who has not before known about it may be encouraged to look up and have hope.” [A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy]

And when it comes right down to it, it’s that high shining love and mercy He crowns us with [5], not rules. The rules can never redeem, transform, make whole. And so I point her to that great Love, toward Him, and I take her hand as we run toward the rain.

…[she] grew up in that Florida rain
They were carried along like leaves on a river of faith
They’d float
All the way home…
And they walked in the rain of His mercy
Let it soak them down to the bone
And they splashed in its puddles
And danced in its streams as they’d go
And, oh, they walked in the rain of His mercy
All the way home….”
[Andrew Peterson, All the Way Home]

What Does Mercy Mean? How to Answer a Child's Question

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Adoption, Humanitarian, Poetry & Words

POETRY & WORDS :: I was a stranger & you invited me in

Image Credit: LifeSong for Orphans - Zambia Children's Choir / Celebrate Life Concert Tour
Image Credit: LifeSong for Orphans – Zambia Children’s Choir / Celebrate Life Concert Tour

Last night, I sat in a church and listened to Zambian children sing. And I heard something I’ve never heard before. No, not the sound of a drum sans drumsticks, not the sound of the soaring notes. 

Actually, it wasn’t a song at all.

Each of the kids — students at the Lifesong for Orphans school in Zambia — shared their favorite school subjects, dreams, and favorite passages of Scripture. It was an endearingly real moment — stuttering, laughter, forgetting words. One girl recited Psalm 23 from beginning to end, another quoted Romans.

But then it was the smallest boy’s turn to speak. And he leaned into to the microphone and looked into the crowd. “My favorite verse is Matthew 35 verse 25”, he said in halting English. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Oh, my heart!

It’s one of those verses we’ve read a hundred times, isn’t it? But honestly? When was the last time you heard a friend say it was their favorite verse? It’s a passage we’re familiar with, but not a passage we’re accustomed to seeing highlighted and memorized and repeated and claimed as a personal promise and emblazoned on t-shirts and bookmarks and greeting cards.

But this is Jesus. This is real. He’s among us — feeding, loving, caring, doing.

Sometimes, I think we lose that connection between Jesus-the-Ethereal-Being and Jesus-the-Man. I think we lose the connection between hypothetical love and practical, get-your-hands-dirty, work-hard love. We over-spiritualize it. We complicate it and organize it and delegate it and analyze it and create ministries for it and philosophize about it and invent words about it.

But it was a real, I’m-right-there-with-you, here-is-a-meal, here-is-a-bed  kind of love that spoke to this boy’s heart.

It’s what Jesus’ love,
made human
and tangible
and touchable
and present, looks like.

And I never want to forget it.

“Sometimes the best way to bring good news to the poor is to bring actual good news to the poor. It appears a good way to bring relief to the oppressed is to bring real relief to the oppressed. It’s almost like Jesus meant what He said. When you’re desperate, usually the best news you can receive is food, water, shelter. These provisions communicate God’s presence infinitely more than a tract or Christian performance in the local park. They convey, ‘God loves you so dearly, He sent people to your rescue.'” -Jen Hatmaker

Life in Photos

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: One thousand, four hundred and sixty-one days

Four Year Anniversary, photo via Oaxacaborn

Four years ago, I walked down the aisle to this song, and back up the aisle to this song.

(Oh what a thing to do.)

And then we moved from California to Florida, and then back to California, and then back to Florida again.

(I swam across, I jumped across, for you.)

Josiah, oh, I truly love you more now than I did then.

(Look at the stars, look how they shine for you, and everything you do.)

Poetry & Words

Look at the stars, look how they shine for you

Three years ago today, I walked down a grassy aisle in Grandma C’s backyard to Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me.

walking down the aisle with daddy - outdoor Norcal wedding

I want to walk with you
On a cloudy day
In fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high
So won’t you try to come

Come away with me and we’ll kiss
On a mountaintop
Come away with me
And I’ll never stop loving you

And I want to wake up with the rain
Falling on a tin roof
While I’m safe there in your arms
So all I ask is for you
To come away with me

And so we were married in the mountains of NorCal, with the grass beneath our feet, the towering California trees overhead, and our family and friends all around us.

NorCal wedding outdoors

We had these verses from Isaiah 41 read during the ceremony. Non-traditional, yes, but oh, so beautiful.

I the Lord will answer them;
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
that they may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

NorCal outdoor wedding

A dear family friend and missionary to Japan officiated the ceremony.

NorCal outdoor wedding - classic urn and column with ivy and white flowers, lisianthus bridal bouquet

We walked back down the aisle to Coldplay’s Yellow.

Recessional  - Dried red milo berries on grass

Look at the stars,
Look how they shine for you,
And everything you do,
Yeah they were all yellow,

I came along
I wrote a song for you
And all the things you do
And it was called yellow

So then I took my turn
Oh all the things I’ve done …
D’you know you know I love you so
You know I love you so.

wedding party - bridesmaids and groomsmen in black

Josiah and Gina - Wedding Portrait with Lisianthus Bouquet

It was all kinds of perfect.


All images courtesy of B. Sarah Klein, who, along with her sister, is preparing to launch A Sea Apart: Two Sisters, Two Countries, Two Photos a Day.

Poetry & Words

Together in the Morning Light: My Waking Thoughts on Life with my Two Loves

blue Moroccan lantern with green and black canvas in background

purple yarn with wood grain table in background

vintage corticelli silk thread / belding richardson button hole twist

wooden kitchen chair with white IKEA RITVA cushion and IKEA RENS sheepskin

We wake up too early, to the uneven rhythm of traffic slowing and starting again as a multicolored ribbon of cars passes in waves through the toll booth. Aveline stirs and fusses, increasing in volume until the sputtering grunts grow into a jarring cry. She presses her teary face against the slats of the crib, gripping tightly with dimpled hands as she wobbles her way into a kneeling position.

I sit up, glancing upward at the cacophonous din of pigeons who’ve taken up unwanted residence in an opening in the eaves. The water pipes groan and heave, and I hear the splash of hot water making its way through the shower head in the adjoining room as Josiah prepares for the day. I rub my eyes, reach out my arms and smile through a tired fog as Aveline’s fingers quickly grab onto me. I pick her up and pull her close. She buries her warm face in my shoulder and breathes a sigh, kicking her legs in happiness.

I carry her into the living room, letting my eyes truly see all the colors and light and beauty the new day holds. The white light enveloping the chair in the corner. The bright hues of the yarn and thread on the table. The hint of red in Aveline’s hair. Give me strength for the day, Lord, I quietly pray. Thank you for life. I change Aveline’s diaper, tossing her green pajamas into the laundry basket, smiling to myself at the sight of the heap of tiny, rumpled clothes. I pull a bright yellow mod dress off a hanger, and slip it over her strawberry blond head. The sixties-esque daisies on the dress make me smile.

Josiah walks into the kitchen, his wet hair hanging in curls. He reaches for Aveline, holding her in one arm while he measures out coffee grounds. My heart nearly overflows. My two loves, sleepy-headed and happy, together in the kitchen in the morning light. She’s learning how to make coffee, he says, and she turns around to look at me, grinning from ear to ear.

Later, she sits on his lap while he works on the iPhone game he is creating. I sit across the room, letting the bold flavors of my coffee curl around my tongue. I stare into the steaming liquid. Coffee and chocolate, I think to myself. Exactly the color of his eyes.

I read Genesis, and Jacob’s blessing speaks to me.

The God before whom walked
my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
The God who has been my shepherd
all my life long to this very day,
The Angel who delivered me from every evil,
Bless the boys.
May my name be echoed in their lives,
and the names of Abraham and Isaac, my fathers,
And may they grow…