As the Ruin Falls: A Poem for a Hot Mess

A bridge ruin

Are you a hot mess? A broken soul? Ruined and a wreck? Check, check, and check- all in the past two weeks, I’ve been. But there is a balm in Gilead. There is a poem for that, as your ruin falls. 

But I am not a poet and—if haiku and limericks are excepted—I do know it.

Still, poems bowl me over in ways most prose can’t. A good poem cools a hot mess and soothes a broken soul.  A great poem kindles my heart and nourishes my spirit. The best of poems have undertones that you can’t quite name on the first read-through. I turn the page and say, I don’t get it all the way. But the words are tantalizing, and I return. I know it is there.

It was there, like that the poem,  “As the Ruin Falls.”

As The Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I’m mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.
Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love- a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek-
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.
Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.
For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

—C.S. Lewis, Poems, Edited by Walter Hooper

It was to these words I returned this week, as my ruins fell.

Let us not love in word or talk. (A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek.)

Like a partly-pieced puzzle left on the dining room table, I kept returning to those lines, trying to make more pieces fit. But turn the lines as I might, this line, And everything you are was making,  would not conform to my prose-formed mind. Those words were an itch I couldn’t quite scratch, a word stuck on the tip of the tongue. I was deaf to its meter.

But I persisted. I kept going back to that poem until I could read that third stanza right.

I think it finally happened last night.

First, a word about stanzas one and two.  Because if we’re honest, we are here: fallen image-bearers, lost and ruined by the fall, all of us with pride-tainted, self-seeking, mix-motived love.  In our heart of hearts, we all know our flashy rhetoric about loving God—and his children too—sometimes feels like hollow, empty talk. A scholar’s parrot may talk Greek. 

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth, the beloved disciple wrote. Because words are cheap. Then, when friends correct us and break our rules or dare make us wait. Then our love-talk rings hollow. We see how much our love was all about us.

Yes, there is a gap.

I see the chasm. And everything you are was making…

Now enter the third stanza. The one with tricky line with you are was above. Those words threw me and kept me coming back to decode.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

I see the chasm. Everything you are-was making my heart-into a bridge-by which I might get back from exile, and grow man. That’s it in prose. The -‘s mark the pauses as I read. Read like this, I think I finally understand what Lewis meant.

I see God, the God I say we love, the God who is love over the chasm of my self-seeking, separating sin. And once I see Him, I am undone. Like Isaiah, I see my unclean lips. Lips that speak lightly of love. Flashy rhetoric.

My heart a bridge…And now the bridge is breaking

Do you see what so long eluded me?

That everything you are was making, is God’s mercy? That He is folding all of our hot-mess wrecks to build a bridge back to him? The sooner we see that the crumbling bridge is meant to loosen our grip on the things of earth, the fitter and more free for both heaven and earth we’ll be. We’ll see that the Great I AM- Lewis’ YOU ARE – our God, HE IS working all things together for our good. 

Those broken dreams, that cancer, those tests were a bridge he built (then broke) to bring us back to him.

We see the measures God would take- and everything you are was making our heart a bridge to get back– to cleanse and reclaim us sinners ruined by the fall. He would remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. 

I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

There is a hound of heaven.  There is  a Creator who reclaims his own lost and ruined by the fall from sin’s hard exile. Ruined sinners to reclaim is why Jesus Christ came. So yes to Mr. Tolkien: Everything sad will come untrue.  The Man of Sorrows makes all things new.

But denial of self and death to the flesh hurt. Ruin and pains come before everything sad comes untrue.

Pains more precious

Once we’re back to God, once our warfare is completed and we are reclaimed and remade new, we’re still this side of heaven. The bridge will break. In mercy,  He will shake us from the chains that bound us. And surgeries and getting old and broken dreams just might be the ruins falling.

But His love is in the crumbling ruin, too.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

The suffering that’s not worth comparing. The pain that builds in us a longing for a better place, where no moth and rust and thief destroy and where there is no crying or dying or heartache.

But we’ve got to be longing for that gain. We’ve got to be longing for his appearing and not looking back across the bridge to where the ruin fell.

Don’t Look Back at Your Ruin

Lot’s wife looked back. Remember her, Jesus said in Luke 17:32. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.  And in Luke 9:62 he warned, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

Saints look forward. Hebrews 11:15  says, If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.

So, no. Saints don’t look back. The faithful  recognize these pains- of dying to self and slaying pride- as a saint’s growing pains. And they welcome them as a mother welcomes a baby’s kicks in her once barren womb. It is Christ being  formed in you.

The ruin- even our ruin-must fall. As it falls, will we echo Saint Paul?

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

Will we come to the meek and humble one and bless him as your ruin falls?

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden
Lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry ’til you’re better
You will never come at all.

-Joseph Hart

Not Mine To Hold: Lots, Portions & The Gift of Letting Go

Would you rather listen than read? Great! Here’s the link to the Keep On With Abigail Wallace podcast.

I’m not good at letting go. Sometimes I hold on to dreams that aren’t God’s plan for me. For better and for worse, I am the bee—the busy bee that won’t rest until it extracts sweet nectar from every flower. I look for the good.

But I am also the frantically, futilely buzzing bee,*

That booms against the window-pane for hours

Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.

Yes, for better and worse, I am that bee. I hold on to dreams that aren’t God’s plan for me. I’m not good at letting go.

Triggers and Portions

This May everything triggers me. Because this spring more of my long-term, sweet parenting dreams have been dashed. Which means every graduation picture, academic award, and smiling family is a trigger. God’s good gifts to others are not guaranteed to me. They’re not my portion.

But what is a “portion” anyway?

In the Bible the term was sometimes translated “inheritance,” as in the allotment of land God gave to Israel when they entered the Promised Land. All the tribes received a physical space, land to call their own—all except one.

In Deuteronomy 10:9, we read about the priestly tribe whose portion was not land, but the LORD. “Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him.”

The Bible has a lot to say about the Lord who is our portion.

  • The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. Psalm 16:5
  • You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words. Psalm 119:57
  • I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Psalm 142:5
  • My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
  • “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:24

I want to count it joy that the LORD—not successful sons, or a famous husband or a thriving ministry— is my portion. My chosen portion. I want to believe, I do believe, what Elisabeth Elliot said, that what God does to me, he does for me.

Which means I must stop buzzing at the window and choose to hope in him to receive the lot for me.

How to Reframe Pain Points to Trigger Your Joy

This blog is for softer, stronger saints who embrace—not just survive, but embrace; not just go through, but grow through—God’s sometimes uncomfortable grace. It’s about a faith that can reframe trials as joy. It’s about using our pain points—like upbeat posts of what is not our lot—to prompt us to take joy in what is our assigned portion.

This is just another way we count loss as gain. We do feel the loss, and can grieve what is not. But then we do the 90-second reset, and reframe the pain with a truth script. It might sound something like this:

The Lord is my portion. I will sit at Jesus’ feet. I choose the good portion that can never be taken (Luke 10:42).

By grace and with effort, we can use the triggers to push us to the One who is wisely working all things (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:28) and who will perfect that which concerns me (Psalm 138:8). We can choose to renew our minds with truth.

Can we use our “triggers” not to set-off envy, self-pity or grief in our lot, but to push us to the perfect portion we’ve got?

Self-Inflicted Pain

I used to think letting go was weak and grasping dreams was strong.

To be sure, sometimes clinging is strong—like when Abraham “hoped against hope” that he and Sarah would bear a promised child. But Abraham had a sure and personal promise from God. These sort of dreams we must never release.

But I’m talking about my personal dreams, the ones that become nightmares as they crumble.

Mary Lowman explored the “the gift of letting go” in her podcast this month. She says letting go of these five things—our past, the small stuff, the desire for revenge or have control, and, yes, our dreams—is both freeing and peace-giving. I agree.

But there’s one more thing she said keeps looping through my head. It did when, in my garage, I heard that buzzing bee. When I let go of a dream, I realized how much of my pain was self-inflicted. Which reminds me of what Jonah prayed in the fish’s belly, Those who cling to worthless idols [read: my mama dreams] forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

This month I feel that. And I don’t want to forfeit God’s grace.

The Strength Of Letting Go

Now I see strength of character revealed in those who let go of personal dreams. They don’t cling.

These friends have freedom and peace. They refuse to allow a dream hold their joy captive. They refuse to let “the givens” and “the not givens” steal their peace. These people live like the Lord is their portion—not will be their portion, but is, right now, today.

Whether or not a husband, wife, or children, health, wealth, or house, graduation or award are given, these meek people have chosen their lot and in it, they find peace.

These quiet, strong saints know how to let go.

Not Mine To Hold

Elizabeth Elliott wrote,

I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Does the intellect balk at that? Can we say that there are things which happened to us which do not belong to our lovingly assigned portion? Are some things then, out of the control of the Almighty?

Keep A Quiet Heart

Heaven is not here, it’s there. If all my dreams were fulfilled this side of heaven, I might settle for this world rather than the next. I forfeit God’s grace if I keep buzzing at the windowpane, if I don’t let go of my dreams.

I don’t hold my lot. The Lord holds my lot. He is my portion. In him, not in my accomplishment or my sons’ success, is my portion.

The portion he gives is best. So I will let go, trust God and rest.

The Bee I Shall Be

I write a lot about bees—bees elegantly working and critically stinging, futilely buzzing and unfairly stinging. But today it was about bees who stop buzzing.

So can you guess what happened after this last, wing-weary bee video I filmed in my garage?

I gently took the bee off in a tissue and shook him out into his lot, which happens to be a yard full of thousands of blooming daisies.

* * * * *

I was the triggered, buzzing bee and, so help my God, I shall be the quiet, free bee.

Because left to my own will—clinging to my dreams, ignoring my portion, and outside my lot—I would have died upon the windowsill.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Isaiah 30:15

*‘If we could speak to her,’ my doctor said,

‘And tell her, “Not that way! All, all in vain

You weary out wings and bruise your head,”

Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,

“Let queens and mystics and religious bees

Talk of such inconceivables as glass;

the blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,

Look there – ahead, ahead – the flowers, the grass!

”We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows

What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)

And shake her out – and gaily out she goes

Where quivering flowers and thick in summer air,

To drink their hearts. But left to her own will

She would have died upon the window-sill.

– C.S. Lewis, Poems

Bee letting go and sipping nectar from daisy
Released & Free

At the Gate of the Year: A Message for Uncertain Times

Poem is read at 3:07.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

I think of these lines as December runs out. They’re from a king’s speech to his fearful people—people of one of the most powerful nations on earth in a time of great uncertainty and three long months at war.

More than eight decades have passed since King George delivered that message, but its truth is as needed as it was then. Because the times they are a-changin’. And the order rapidly fading and the roads rapidly changing isn’t all good.

It wasn’t so good then, either.

Peace In Troubled Times

Great Britain had entered the Second World War in September 1939. In the three months since, air-raid sirens had been ringing in their ears and tension was rising. Anxiety and fear over the New Year pressed into English hearts and minds.

King George VI was England’s reigning monarch in December 1939. As was the custom, the king addressed the nation on a BBC radio broadcast on a Christmas day when all was not calm and bright. He told the people of the only true source of peace in troubled times. King George concluded the message with the part of a poem introduced to him by his 13 year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

The king read the poem to encourage the English people that even during the dreadful war their future could be bright and secure.

That’s why I share it with you on the gate of this year. If your hand in His, you will walk by faith in him, your way will tread safely and rest secure—come what may.

Here’s the poem.

“At the Gate of the Year”

by Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957)

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

Gate

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

God knows. His will is best…Our fears are premature. He will provide for all time.

For all your days and times.

Our Days Are Numbered, And That’s Good News

All of our days are numbered. They were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Priest and missionary Henry Martyn said, You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete. And since God loves his children with great love, this is very good news.

So I echo the king at the gate of our year, May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all. Amen.

Now heart, be still, and rest. For he holds our hand.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’ I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD. Your Redeemer is on the Holy One of Israel. 

Isaiah 41:13-14

My times are in your hands.

Psalm 31:15

When Your (Good) Plans Get Ruined

Couple romantic dinner plans

I had my plans. But here I was again as they fell apart, getting bent out of shape, buzzing like the bee,

That booms against the window-pane for hours

Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers

My laden flowers? A few quiet hours alone with my man on Friday night. That was my plan.

How My Friday Night Plans Fell Through

6:15 pm– I plopped the groceries on the counter, set the oven and kicked off my shoes. I’d gone straight from work to fetch the boys and a friend, then to settle them in at the waterpark. Now came the sigh.

And the ringtone.

Mom, you have to come get us! Sam’s really sick. He’s just sitting here with his down and I don’t feel so good either.

Weary Mama rolled her eyes. Why don’t you get some fresh air and take it easy and we’ll come get you in 2 hours. Good-bye.

6:23 pm– Undeterred, I rubbed the salmon, poked the potatoes and set them baking. I was tearing greens when the phone rang again.

Hi Mom. He’s really sick. You need to come get us now. Please. 

This wasn’t my plan. I hadn’t even sat down. You can last an hour. Besides, $50 is a lot a money for one hour of fun. 

Hanging up sounds heartless, I know. But that son can be Chicken Little, and the caring adults were all around.

6:35 pm– Jim got home and the salmon was done and my phone dinged again. My sister, also at the waterpark,

Can I bring the boys home? Sam looks pretty sick.

Jim called back. I filled our plates, lit a candle and sat down.

And Why I’m Glad

I wasn’t glad. I was grumpy and mad and starved for a quiet dinner alone with Jim, who was calm on the phone as I sat stabbed at my salmon.

They’re on their way. Your sister’s bringing them home.

We were eating our last bites as in they walked in smiling. All better. Their friend Andy wanted to stay and play games. So we cleared the plates and set out Codenames. And in between obscure teen-ager clues, they introduced us to their music and soon Andy had Sam at the piano plunking out tunes.

I wasn’t so blind to miss those. Those answers to prayers I pray almost every day. That the boys would enjoy using the gifts they’ve been given, make and be good friends, and that we’d have more fun as a family.

Then this: Do you trust my plans are better than yours?  I ruined your plan to answer your prayers. I nixed your quiet night to give you this. 

Trust His Better Plans

It all boils down to trust issues, again. I need a consistent trust. I trust God to wake me each morning and bring me safely to heaven, but I can’t trust him with my dinner plans?

This is not to say we shouldn’t make plans. Only  that we should hold them loosely. James wrote, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). So sit loose. As we make our plans for tonight remember that God may have different and better plans than ours.

My plans have come crashing down before. And I’m starting to understand that when, in infinite wisdom and matchless love, God ruins my plans, he’s really wanting me to trust him. Because, 

God knows infinitely more than we do, and can do infinitely more than we can — should we be surprised in the least when he has planned differently than we have? Plan on it. He has, and he will…Disruptions become welcome reminders that God is real, that he is almighty, and that his plans always prove wiser than ours. 

Marshall Segal, “Few Are the Plans of Many

The disruption of my Friday night was God’s kind reminder that he is wiser than me. If I’d have had my quiet night, I’d have missed His better plan.

 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.

James 4:13-15