To the Ones Who Miss It

It takes incredible courage to look on the broken and painful things in this life…to not look away when others shield their eyes. To be willing to enter in with another human being, and carry suffering together awhile. I’ve written before about the “courage to see.” Those who are so brave are greatly blessed with the most sacred of gifts…the nuggets offered by a soul willing to lay their own hearts bare in a world that may not know how to receive the offering, in order that you may see the treasures hidden in a human heart. The beautiful gifts God weaves through a life…the beauty born from ashes…the gold refined from another soul walking through the fire.

There are also the ones who miss it. The ones who stay away. The ones who shield their eyes, because it is too difficult to lay down the shield and look. Because, looking may graze the carefully guarded pieces of our own hearts. Places we don’t want to revisit. Those who, for whatever reason, miss out on receiving the gifts waiting for them when they lift their eyes to see.

Tonight, I had a book signing for Sufficient Grace, in the hometown of my parents. It’s always a swirling of nostalgia, mixed and intense emotions, when I visit their town. There were some dear to me who were there in the gathering of hearts tonight. Those who have always been brave enough to look, and to love us, even in our darkest times. And, there were a few empty places…noticed only by me and a handful of those who know me well. Places left empty by the ones who miss it.

I have spent some time in my life, lamenting the ones who miss out on the most valuable gifts, and sometimes my lament has been selfish. I’ve considered how their absence has brought me disappointment. How I’ve felt left alone, or rejected in that moment. I walk around in human flesh, after all.

But, tonight, I felt great sorrow…not for my own feelings…because, in truth, my heart is filled to abundance with the blessings God gives…with the connecting of human hearts, I could never imagine…with the immeasurable gifts of seeing those who do come and feeling astounded at the miracle of being even the smallest of cracked vessels to deliver His message of grace, love, and powerful redemption. My sorrow is for the hearts of those who miss it. Who sit out the dance…who stay away from the challenges. (And, believe me, I know what it is to try and muster the brave to go when you want to hide in the safe place…I know the excruciating courage it takes to make yourself go to the places no one wants to go…again and again.) Those who cannot see beyond the pain for a moment…those locked in the bitter broken. I struggle often, not to carry the weight on my own shoulders, as if there were some way I could physically carry them to a place of healing…pry eyes open to make them look, and reach inside their hearts…past the carefully built walls…to help a heart see, not only the bitter broken…but more…the grace-filled healing love He wants to pour into them.

But, I am not…nor will I ever be the One capable of breaking through the broken to find a path of mending. Only my Jesus can do that. Only the Holy Spirit can nudge a soul toward His truth.

I was awakened in the wee hours, at 2ish a.m. to a text from one of the boys from my kitchen, reading my book. (Well, actually, I was awakened by Mr. Gerken’s snoring and the residuals of a migraine.) He is one who has had the courage to venture places few are brave enough to go, to expose his heart to the things others miss. That courage has led him to lead great philanthropic efforts to support Sufficient Grace Ministries, as a college student. His willingness to see the very hard things has helped further our mission, so that other mothers will not have to walk this path alone. He, and many other boys from my kitchen who stuff bears and give speeches about baby loss, and send me notes of encouragement, when they have no idea how much I need to know that this humble offering is making a difference in the lives of others.

The picture of him bravely seeing, reading the words from the deepest places of my heart…the words of a mother whose life was forever changed by the words… “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.” That picture stood in stark contrast to the empty places of those who miss it. Those who remain shrouded in the pain, disappointments, fear…who stay in the broken places, because sometimes the path to mending means feeling the full brunt of things, leaving the false security of the numbness and leaning into the sharp shards of the shattered shrapnel from past disasters to allow the pieces to pierce through our carefully built walls…to allow whatever pours out to ooze real and raw and true. So the Mender can begin His mending.

I do understand the courage it takes to go when you want to stay, to look when you want to close your eyes. And, I’ve kept my eyes closed too…a time or two. Because I’m His, I’m never allowed to shy away for long. But, the thing is…we do have a choice. I could resist when He prompts…and sometimes I do…and I miss what He has for me. The beauty…the gift.

The good news…the amazing, hope-filled…never leaving us in the muck news…is that as long as we have breath in our lungs, we will be given another chance. That’s the grace we are given. Grace that doesn’t run out. A love that relentlessly pursues us. I am sad for those who miss it. But, as long as I have breath…I hold on to hope in the One who will never stop giving us the opportunity to come and receive the fullness of what He has for us.

There is always a great gift, in showing up, in going when He prompts, in looking on the places that are hard to see…in being stretched beyond our zones of comfort. Here’s to praying that we can muster the courage to see…so that we don’t miss it. And, here’s to being ready the next time, if we missed out on this opportunity. For all of life, every moment, holds opportunities to see His love and grace at work.

Lord, help us to see. Give us strength and eyes and hearts that won’t miss the gifts you give. How ever they may be packaged.

Opening Night

When I was in high school, the musicals were a huge production and those who starred in them, or played any part at all, were like mini-celebrities in our small, rural community, where our school building was tucked in the midst of a cornfield. We performed to a packed gym, standing room only…for three nights. A dress rehearsal, opening night, and Saturday night. It was a given. Full house.

I remember well, standing behind the curtain, shaking with anticipation, refusing to look on the other side of the curtain. Nervousness. Sweaty palms. Dry throat. When I opened my mouth to speak, would I remember my lines? When I opened my mouth to sing, would I have a voice? Would my body betray me under the weight of the panic rising and the pressure of wondering if the months of preparation would hold up in the moment. One moment. Would my offering be worthy?

I overcame the panic, by reassuring myself that I was the character. It wasn’t me standing on that stage. It wasn’t my performance on the line. I disappeared under the costume. Covered safely beneath the makeup.

It was Minnie Faye, or Mrs. Banks, or Rosie.

Not Kelly.

It made the pressure tolerable.

Hiding there freed me to soar beyond the crippling limitations of stage fright.

Rewind further back to eighth grade. My memory is poor. So, I cannot tell you why this moment is crystal clear in my mind, as if it happened yesterday. Other than it was one of those significant memories the Lord saw fit to tuck away, knowing it would be relevant to the shaping of the future. Relevant to this moment, standing backstage, wondering if my offering would be worthy. Wondering if anyone would come. Wondering if my knees would buckle beneath the pressure.

We were riding the bus, which was a rare occurrence, being a town student who had always walked to school with friends. Perhaps we were on our way to a field trip to tour the high school. As we drove past the building, I looked over at my friend Nicki…the one to whom I could safely whisper all of my secret, sacred dreams…the one who held them close to her heart, safely, and never mocked the sacredness. I leaned in closer, and spoke one of my deepest “What ifs” aloud.

“What if I never become a writer?”


It was a faraway dream, like the ones I’ve heard boys whisper to and from carpool. Dreams of standing on the baseball field…or football field…or golf course. Crazy, farfetched dreams of making it to “the show.” Becoming a professional athlete. And, yet…I craved it at the time, being an author, as if it were something to be grasped. As if it were possible. Youth…the magical season of life, a time when crazy dreams seem attainable. A time, untainted by the death bed, the dashed hopes, the disappointments of the drudgery of everyday…the grim realities of missed opportunity and regret and not measuring up. A time where dreams come true and Santa just might be real.

In a flash, I traded one dream for another, when I told my mother I was pregnant the week before my graduation from high school. Teachers would be disappointed at the lost potential. Family members were disappointed. My mother was not, or if she was, she tucked it safely away. She knew about trading dreams. I knew instantly, that this dream was far more valuable than any other I had dared to hope for. The trade was not even a blink in my eye. I have no regrets. I knew from day one of being a mother, while life was still being knit together in my womb, that this treasure was far more precious than words on a page, than life on a stage, than any accolades or accomplishments the world could offer. The boy I held in my arms at the tender age of eighteen became my new dream. The sacredness of being his mother. Of creating a family, and maintaining that family. I learned to pray when my knees buckled under the weight of the responsibility. Being a mother was far more significant than any other title I could ever hold, any role I would perform. I didn’t look back.

We filled the years, with birthday parties, and Christmas mornings. We dreamed dreams of a quiver full of children and stood beside tiny graves instead…holding tightly to the one God gave us when we were young and fragile and growing up before our time. We traded our old dreams for new…again and again. Another miracle filled our arms, and we continued on with baseball games and golf tournaments, trading dreams, living life, washing dishes, shaping concrete (Tim…not me), realizing that cheering them on at the sideline was so much more than any dream we dared to grasp for ourselves.

And those in this small railroad town. Those who once filled the gymnasium to receive our humbled offering…prayed prayers for our little family, as we stumbled and held on.

When God said it was time to write the words again, to tell the story that I never dreamed of telling, a story I would never have asked to write, I obeyed. And, the words flowed from my heart like therapy. A healing elixir. For ten years, He shaped and molded, weaving the story through our lives, a tapestry of grief and joy. For ten years we continued on about the business of life, standing by more graves, cheering on the sidelines, blowing out birthday candles, fighting and making up, serving in ministry, building up a dream from our broken, standing on stages again…this time…not to perform…but to give a far more worthy offering. Not to please the audience before us…but to serve an audience of One. To give an offering of hope, redemption, grace, and salvation from the One who gave His life, that we may live.

One of the hardest things to do, was to declare the offering finished. Complete. Worthy.

How desperately, I still wanted to give a worthy offering. How much I wanted it to be perfect. And, yet, the book born of my labor, is gloriously imperfect. Just like life.

The day the books arrived in the mail, I tore open the package and dropped to my knees on the kitchen floor, tears dripping down my face as decades of emotion rose from the depths, emotion I cannot describe bursting forth, like an erupting volcano. It was like giving birth…the myriad of grief and healing, accomplishment, joy, defeat, victory, humbling broken and sweet redemption.

I longed to run across town with the book in my hand, bursting through the door of my mother’s house…to say that I was a writer. To show her my offering.

And, at the same time, I longed to quietly lay the offering at my heavenly Father’s feet, knowing full well that it wasn’t mine…and that any identity I had was not in being a writer, a mother, or anything else…but simply in being His.

And, in the wee hours of this night/morning, when I stand behind the curtain for this next opening night, quivering, knees threatening to buckle under the pressure, dry throat, sweaty palms…wondering if anyone will come…if my humble offering will be found worthy, it isn’t a character I hide behind, or a mask of makeup covering my face, reassuring me that it isn’t about me or my performance. It is the shelter of my Father’s wings I nestle safely under, it is in Him, where my identity finds solace.

If for a moment, I wonder if anyone will come to receive the most of my heart and my Jesus I know to give at my little book signing, or if I take a stage in front of an audience or church, I find comfort in knowing that my God doesn’t measure success the way that we do. He concerns Himself not with a full house, but with one heart at a time, receiving the love and grace He has to give. Each sacred conversation we’ve shared, from those who have stopped to buy my little book at SGM and told me a piece of their hearts…or their dreams…or those who give in various ways to support grieving hearts through SGM. Or those who have written to say how a word on a page spoke to your weary soul. That has already, for me…humbled and blessed my heart more than I can say…that has already shown this tiny offering to be a worthy one. And, not because of me…because of the Author of my life and the Perfecter of my faith…and yours. Because of our great God. From the moment I said, “I will” when God said, “Will you?” the victory was already won.

Of course, I would be blessed beyond words if many of you would come to the Deshler Library tonight (from 6-8pm) to show love and support, and let me sign a book for you. Even though I’m just a little nobody girl from Deshler, Ohio. And, my offering is small and imperfect. (Because let me just say, it is really frightening to put yourself out there…to pour out your heart with the most you have to give, and to wonder if anyone will come.) But know this…whether one of you comes or several, it matters and it is always worth it to have gone when God says to go…because one heart is worth it. Always.

Because in His eyes, our offering, no matter how small or imperfect, is worthy. Because He is the Planter and Nurturer of the dreams placed in your heart…of the abilities you are given for His glory. Because He is the Author of our lives…the Perfecter of our faith…the Redeemer of our souls…the Healer of our broken places.

Because the words I write to comfort a grieving heart are more valuable to Him than anything grand or mighty I may attempt to accomplish in the world’s eyes. Because the song I quietly sing in the hospital room over the tiny babies in the arms of their mother are perhaps more sacred to the One who sits on the throne than those I sing to a full house.

Because every heart…every life matters.

For more about the book, Sufficient Grace, click here.

A Cover Story ~ What The Picture Reveals

Full SG Cover

It wasn’t our first photo shoot. It was one of several during a phase of my life where gravity is making itself quite known and I have never weighed more, other than in pregnancy, of course. Not a season where photo shoots are relished. We needed a cover for my upcoming book, Sufficient Grace, and we needed it quickly. The options from our previous shoot, the ones where only part of my face was showing as I re-enacted weeping over my bible, were not working for the publishing team.

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We tried several ideas.

Me holding three candles.

Me holding three baby bracelets.

A gorgeous picture of a bold, red petunia growing defiantly through the railroad tracks. Because that’s what sufficient grace is…beauty, where it doesn’t belong. Where you would never suspect it. I will save that gem for another post.

A storm was gathering the evening I donned my black lace dress to stand in alleys and tiptoe into the dirty reservoir, with my worn, tattered bible clutched close. Ever close.

I agonized over the cover. How will we ever capture what this journey has meant for me…for my family? How can one picture encompass all of the grace and grit?

Rachel Sharpe, my ever patient, ridiculously talented, up and coming birth photographer extraordinaire, and SGM Remembrance Photographer….said we needed to drive out into the country. The sky, darkening behind us.

I wanted it dark. A storm brewing is exactly what those days felt like. A storm, surrounding one girl, with only her worn, tattered bible to cling to for shelter and comfort.

“One more,” she said. “Can we do just one more?”

We drove to the country road. I couldn’t see what she saw from behind the lens. I just stood in the middle of the road, holding the same bible I clung to years ago, the one filled with teardrops, as I grieved for Faith and Grace and wept through the days I carried Thomas and the days I longed to hold him again. The bible my Dinah gave to me, many years ago…a lifetime ago.

sufficientgrace

The wind blew my hair back, and my mind wandered to those days, as I felt the question, spoken with such accusation, “Where is your God, now?” The days I searched for Him. The days in my own fierce storm…the storm of my life, when I looked to Him. I held my worn bible tightly, lifting my chin. I can handle the storm, when my eyes remain steady on the One with grace that is always sufficient.

The storm can be viewed today as behind me…with a future ahead. Or harkening back to those days of birth and loss, it can represent the upcoming storm. And, me…standing in the midst.

The lines on the road. So much behind me, and yet…so much ahead.

Looking back on that time, years ago…the lines…the wondering which direction to go…our choice for the life of Thomas…our choice whether or not to stay married…our choice of which voice to listen to – the doubtful sneer of the accuser or the gentle whisper of my Father, still and small. I’m not looking at the road in front of me for direction. I’m looking off at something else. Someone else…for direction. I am armed, prepared, protected from the storm behind me…with my tattered bible in hand.

The dress, the heels…well, aside from the fact that every girl needs a little sassiness… they represent beauty in an unexpected place. That’s the grace He gives. That’s what this walk looks like. Heels and black lace on a country road.

Someone else commented that the telephone poles looked like crosses. I have often described that season of grief as the heaviest cross we had been asked to bear…so far. And, of course….we know that the cross signifies, always and most importantly our salvation…the blood our Savior spilled, so that we could be saved…redeemed…His.

In the end, no matter how strikingly gorgeous many of Rachel’s pictures were…this is the one. This is the one that tells our story.

I hope you will read it, and find encouragement and hope in the pages of my humble offering! Sufficient Grace is being published by Comfort Publishing, and will be released October 7, 2014.

It is NOW available for pre-order:

On our page: http://sufficientgraceministries.org/sufficient-grace-the-book/

Midpoint Distribution: http://www.midpointtrade.com/book_detail.php?book_id=82149

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sufficient-Grace-Kelly-Gerken/dp/193838847X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1410356896&sr=8-2&keywords=sufficient+grace

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sufficient-grace-kelly-gerkin/1119458376?ean=9781938388477
(And, yes, they spelled my name wrong. Humility. ;)