when you are too small for Aleppo

I feel weird sharing this, and I would feel weird not sharing this: I wrote two versions of my last post, about Aleppo, and they said nearly opposite things.

As I pondered Aleppo, I wondered, too, about all the war zones I don’t know about—the ones I don’t have the energy for. And my fingers flew off on something of a tangent that, in the end, I recognized as good and true but I also felt myself resisting. It was true for someone or sometime, but that night my own heart needed another cry. And that other cry is the one I published.

The first draft was for another me: the me who is so often overwhelmed by this world and so often unable to cope with her own small fears and wounds, who would be drowned so easily by it all if there weren’t grace for her, too. Although this week my own call was to pay attention, keep vigil here for Aleppo, just as often, I learn that my calling is to let it be; it is held. I hesitate to say this is a balance; that sounds like a skill you could develop or a decision you could make using a flow chart. Finding a place between a compassion that stretches you, and an acceptance of your own finitude even in this regard, and then again the knowledge that God calls us sometimes to a compassion that breaks—this is the work of the Spirit. It is a mystery, not a balance.

It can be true that we have a responsibility to lament and, at the same time, that you have a responsibility to rest, or to lament for something closer to home, or to hold those who lament. If Aleppo, so far away and so unbearable, is too much for you to hold this week, here is your permission to unfollow.


Our technologies push us beyond our limits in countless ways, but for some of us, this is the most persistently bewildering. It is beyond us to process a new disaster every week and every day, to carry news of this civil war and that kidnapping, this famine and that drug war, let alone the occasional reminders that refugee camps, climate disasters, human enslavement, utter poverty grind on and on every day, far from the front page. No one could respond appropriately to any one of these things over any course of time, but they appear, rapid-fire, in our feeds. We breathe prayers and give a few dollars and we feel that it is nothing, and it is nothing, and we flick the thing away before it drowns us in despair.

The expanse of humanity is more interconnected than ever before, but is that even a good thing? Can you encounter the expanse of humanity with an open heart? Or would it tear you open at the seams?

I submit that if you tried to direct fifteen minutes of your full attention to every disaster, crisis, and tragedy that crossed your field of vision, you would be crushed. Try to absorb it all, and blow after blow will leave you gasping against a wall; try to carry it all, and you will stumble, too tired to lift your face from the mud; try to love them all, and you will suffocate as the weight of your body and theirs halts your breathing, alone and covered with wounds.

Only one person has ever been able to hold it all. But not before it killed him.

You are small, faithful one, and grace frees you to admit that. You are allowed to breathe prayers and give a few dollars and return to the work you are doing in your own heart, in your own neighborhood, in your own state. Yes, it is enough to send a letter to your Congressperson advocating for refugee resettlement the United States. Yes, it is enough to light a candle. Yes, it is enough to lament. Yes, it is enough to feed your neighbor or to have sent all your money to last week’s cause, because anything but paralysis pushes back the darkness. If you are asking the question, then it is enough. If you are open to the voice of the Spirit, then you will know when it is your day to mourn for strangers. If you are faithful to your own daily work, then you will have made room for God to do God’s work.

Look, friend, before we were connected by the lights and bytes zinging around the globe, we were connected to each other by the dust from which we were formed. Scientists are just discovering what Jesus had told us all along: that nothing exists apart from the webs of life that enfold and ground it. To say your actions in Tennessee affect people’s lives in Syria is not simply a metaphor. And the more we learn about the problems of the world, the more we see that this is true: the destruction of the planet is the poverty of its poorest is the violence of its most desperate is the indifference and isolation of its wealthy. It feels like bad news, that no single problem has a single solution in this weary world. But if all of our problems are connected, then all the solutions are, too. Your own generosity and patience and peace are the restoration of something and a saving grace to someone else. They are miracles, they are ripples in a pond, they are the very most raw materials of the Spirit’s transforming work in the whole earth.

You will know the people, places, and politics to which you are called. Some of us are keeping vigil for Aleppo, fighting for local food, and holding potlucks for our neighbors. Maybe you sacrifice for other things. These are all simply offerings to One who gathers them together, breaks them, and by a miracle feeds a hungry world. He holds it without your help, and he holds you without any anger at your smallness. Let it be. It is beyond you. He weeps for all that you cannot.

notes on a clear moment

At 12,000 feet I stopped to scruffle the ears of the happiest dog I’ve ever seen. It was the high point of my hikes in the Rockies last week, a couple hundred feet above the freezing alpine lake where my boyfriend was swimming and hollering to every columbine and rockslide in the range.
“That’s his happiest place,” I told the dog’s owner. “Really cold lakes.” She didn’t seem to mind the whooping anyway.
We chatted about where we were from, and I let slip: “I almost didn’t come out here to Colorado.”
“Really?!” she said with more incredulity than seemed polite.
“Yeah… I kind of needed to work this week.”
She nodded in that way that says ‘I hear ya’, and then said the thing I’ve heard echoing ever since: “Yeah, but that stuff is always there.”

That stuff is always there. Always something to save for and spend on, always some voice saying you haven’t done enough. Always the world will measure you in clock punches and bank accounts – the moments you take to love and celebrate and simply be in awe, those moments are always marked ‘stolen’ on that ledger.

That ledger tries to whisper ‘the mountains are always there’ – advises trading today’s wild chances for imagined somedays when the time is right. Here, that ledger says, in work and pennies saved, is the place for a young person. Life bright is the privilege of people with heavier furniture and lots of kinds of bank accounts, whose futures are secure and whose vacation time is dearly earned. Adventures have to cost you, worried days and careful saving for everything else first.

The thing is, at 12,000 feet, with jagged heights punching ever higher, temperatures plummeting from 80 to 40 degrees after dark, wind scrubbing the trees from rock faces and leaving only miles of wildflowers – it doesn’t take an avalanche to know that nothing is secure and everything is precious unearned gift. Here are the stark and solid things insisting that these are the facts, escaping these truths an illusion; the world’s ledger lies.

It is not the mountains that are always there. It is our pretense at productivity, greed and striving and proving and obliviousness to this very real world beyond the rim of the screen – these will go on when pollution chokes the columbines and the glaciers fade.

Yet grace requires only that you accept it, and the mountains require only that you go. Test the voice, and nature will prove its falsehood to some part of you that simply knows beyond knowing. Only go.

i don’t believe in grace

Not really.

This is a confession. Not a tongue-in-cheek confession with a twist; just something I need to get out of my head.

I don’t believe in grace. I believe in second chances, but not third and fourth ones. I believe in gifts with conditions. I believe in making myself a better person.

I believe in ruthless and relentless responsibility. I believe I “should …” a hundred times a day. I believe in not enjoying the present until the future is sure.

This is how I get things done; this is how I stick to my morals; this is how I achieve and fix and don’t let people down.

Of course I believe in grace for others, the weaklings, but I will not see myself weak.

Then I do anyway, and then I want to believe in grace. But I don’t always feel it, and when God seems far away I am a shivering, stammering wreck trying once again to curry favor.

Sometimes I shout about grace to hide from myself the fact that my heart is still hiding from such an overwhelming love. Such a love could carry me on a wave to the ends of the earth and back. Such a love could turn me light, dancing, and what if I forgot to do my paperwork?

I was thinking about some problem, and knowing my hopes were too high, my solutions not pragmatic enough. I shouldn’t be so idealistic, I thought, and then God said – God just said –

I love you idealistic.

but i don’t think i believe it.

What I should do – what I should do – is try harder to believe it. I should look up some Bible verses or something.

But I think instead I’ll just rest here a while, and dream some more dreams, scary as it feels to love my foolhardy ambitions for this world so much. I think I’ll act like I believe it and trust that that is enough for the God who sees me and calls me whole, calls me his. I will not strive and I will not cower. I will wait confident upon the Lord. I will be myself and no more, as if I believe what I do not see – grace.

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