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

When Taking Is Giving: A Lesson on Food and Love

child giving yellow flowers
Image by lassensurf from Pixabay

What Do I Even Take From You?

That dagger was thrust at me by someone I love very much. Someone close who declines invitations for meals. Someone who doesn’t realize that sometimes to receive is to give—that sometimes not to take is to take.

Honestly, before this week I hadn’t realized it either. I had never thought about giving and taking this way. Not until I learned a new word.

Enter lambano. It’s a Greek word occurs about 260 times in the New Testament. About half the time, lambano is translated “receive,” as in Matthew 7:8, “Whoever asks, receives,” and Matthew 20:10, “He received a denarius.”

Nothing to write home about. But there’s more. Lambano is also translated “take,” as in Matthew 5:50, “If anyone wants to take your tunic,” and Matthew 10:38, “Take up your cross.”

Yes, and? Why does lambano deserve its own post? And what even does it have to do with my dagger wound?

What you don’t take is what you take.

Picture a chubby little palm holding out dandelions, or yellow forsythia blossoms. Not to receive them would be cruel.

What did you even take?

I answered the one I love with tears first. Then this.

You took my joy. By not taking, by not eating with me, you deprive me the pleasure of giving.

Because sometimes the best gift we can give is lambano—to take and to receive. Conversely, sometimes the most heartless thing we can do is not to take a thing.

Which reminds me of The Count of Monte Cristo. I read it 20 years ago, but that scene is etched. Near the end of the book, the Count attends a banquet at his enemy’s home. He will not eat a bite of the rich food offered to him.

Why? Because to eat his food would be a sign of friendship. To not take was to take. Not to eat was a dagger.

God is eager to help.

God wants to feed his children. “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 89:10b) God himself told the Israelites. He wants us to take food and help, to receive life and health from him. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). Our Father “hears prayer” (Psalm 65:2), and listens to our pleas (Psalm 66:19).

He wants us to call to him because he wants to give us his help. Our cries for help don’t bother God.

The Psalms in particular celebrate God’s eagerness to hear and help his people in their “day of distress” and “time of trouble.” David testified that God had been to him “a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress” (Psalm 59:16, also 9:9; 37:39; 41:1).

David Mathis, “God will Answer in Your Crisis

If God calls us to call upon Him and He is eager to give us help, then it’s not a big stretch to think that not receiving his help might actually grieve him (Ephesians 4:30). I’ve written before how “grieve is a love word.” You can’t grieve people who don’t love you.

Which brings me to the dagger.

Taking is giving.

Meals, time, love—this is what I want to give. My dear, when you don’t receive these from me you take.

This little dagger wound and grief is a gift in that it helps me love God more. The perfect Father knows infinitely better than I could ever imagine what it is to have dear ones refuse to receivefrom him. (See Isaiah 30:1-22.)

At their peril they refuse to to take his food, his drink, himself.

All day long, he held out his hands to a rebellious people (Isaiah 65:2). All the while he offers food that will satisfy and water that will quench to the the end (John 6:35, 4:14).

But his people won’t all receive.

What then?

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.

Isaiah 30:18a, NIV

Our generous God wants to give. So our good Father longs to give, and in godlike fashion, he exalts himself to show us compassion.

And he waits for us to take.

God wants to give, so take.

The world’s religion are summed up in the idea that you must give something to appease the gods. But the essence of Christianity is the exactly the opposite. We are invited not to give, but lambano, to take.

We can’t bring anything to save or commend ourselves to God, but we can take the salvation He offers.

One of the very last sentences in the Bible includes lambano, take.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Revelation 22:17

What an invite! C.H. Spurgeon notes, “All the prophets of the Bible, all the apostles of the Bible, all the threatenings of the Bible, all the promises of the Bible, gather themselves up, and focus themselves into this one burning ray, ‘Come to Jesus. Come, and take the water of life freely.’”

Who could imagine such grace?

So come, take, eat.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said,

“Take, eat; this is my body.”

Matthew 26:26, ESV

Bone-Breaking, Rage-Taking Words

This is a true story about the bone-breaking power of words. At least if what my sister told me about her friend Jan is true. I’ve met Jan and I think it is.

Jan was a 40-something blonde on her way home from an event in the city. She was lost in thought when roused by a blaring horn.

Suddenly she noticed the traffic piled up behind her—in the left lane on the interstate. She looked back, switched lanes, and drove on.

Seconds later, she was side-by-side with two angry young men in a loud, low car. She read their lips and winced. The passenger guy caught her eye and gestured. You know the one.

The car raced off. Jan drove on.

But within minutes, the loud, low car reappeared—somehow behind her this time. In the rearview mirror, she saw the same rage, and the car tailed her for a while.

Jan prayed. But Jan did not drive on. 

Powerful Words

That’s when Jan did an incredible thing. I am not endorsing it, but this is what Jan did.

She exited at the rest area. The loud, low car did too. Jan parked, and the car did too. Then Jan got out and strolled toward it.

I’ve heard kindness is the best defense, and smiles are disarming.

Then Jan did the next amazing thing. She smiled. “I’m sorry I held you up back there,” she shrugged. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

Now for the last surprise. The raging driver man smiled back and said, “No problem, ma’am.” And he was back on the road again.

By patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.

Proverbs 25:15 (ESV)

Our soft tongues, our gentle words, can break hard things, bones or otherwise.

More Powerful Words

Gideon, of wet fleece, rolling loaf, and trumpet and jar fame (see Judges 6:36-7:25), also knew the power of soft, bone-breaking words. He was a judge of Israel. After his fantastic defeat of Midian, he faced harsh words from countrymen who had not been part of the victory force.

When the jealous men of Ephraim “accused Gideon fiercely,” his words were soft:

What have I done in comparison with you? […] God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?’ Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.”

Judges 8:2a-3, ESV

God used Gideon’s gracious words to soften angry men’s hearts. He can use our words the same soothing way.

Soft Words Break Hard Hearts

I saw the power of soft words up close and personal this week. One night, our son was very late. My husband was hot. Hard walls were up. But we learned more and my husband wrote soft words in a note. The son received the words, with a “Thanks, dad,” and a lately-elusive smile and

That might not sound like much. But in this house, these days, it was huge. It was God’s mighty, bone-breaking power on display.

It was an example this naturally harsh, exacting truth-teller needed to see.

More proof that soft moves hard.

So don’t you want to try softer? Don’t you want to give grace? And for God’s sake, let’s not be afraid to say sorry.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (ESV)

‘Tis The Gift: Unpeeling Judgmentalism, Freeing Me

tis the gift of love and delight person walking in Yosemite Park Valley by mountains

Maybe this one beautiful life is a grand unpeeling, humbling, coming down. Maybe this is the gift.

Onion-Peeled Me

The layers keep coming off. Parenting peels. I can’t count the judgmental, “My child would never do…never say…never those grades,” layers that have been stripped away.

Three years ago I couldn’t have imagined. Time froze the first time the attendance office called. It froze again last Monday the moment I realized that for the first time in months, the call office had not called. I couldn’t have imagined the hard choices we’d be forced to make, the big plans we’d have to change, the full reframing of how family life would look.

I couldn’t have imagined so many layers peeling.

It’s more than parenting. It’s seeing my part in what is, like King David saw his part in his lot. And in trusting that God is always working, freeing, peeling for good in his children’s fraught days.

Always. Which is why, if you’ve run into me lately, you might have heard me hum.

If you did, it was probably this. ‘Tis the gift.

‘Tis The Gift

It’s an old Shaker song, but I’m appropriating it. Because the lyrics perfectly express the gift God is giving me.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where I ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed;
To turn, turn, will be my delight.
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Joseph Brackett, a Shaker in Maine, 1848

Simple Gifts performed by Yo-Yo Ma & Allison Krause

But it’s not just epic events. It’s seeing the spot on your shirt and spinach in your teeth after you were out. It’s realizing your skills aren’t as all-that as you thought and that you really do need help.

He that is down fears no fall.

John Bunyan

But more, it’s feeling what comes with all that—all that humbling, peeling, coming down—as a gift. It’s bowing and bending and turning without resenting. It’s seeing the ruins fall as freeing not devastating.

Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Because, he that is down fears no fall.

‘Tis the gift.

Un-Dragoned Me

In C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—the book that opens with the best line, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”— I see me. And I see the gift.

Eustace is a proud, selfish boy at the start of the story. On one of the islands, he steals away to a dragon’s lair. On goes a golden bracelet and off Eustace goes off to sleep. Lewis writes, “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” The bracelet digs into his large dragon leg, and his dragon claws can’t get it off.

After lonely, agonizing dragon days, Aslan leads him to a large well. Eustace figures that if he could get in and bathe it would ease the pain. But Aslan tells him to undress first.

He tries. But no matter how many layers of dragon skins Eustace manages to peel off, he was still a dragon.

The Pleasure of Feeling the Stuff Peel Off

Here Eastace explains what happened next.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off … And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 

Perfectly delicious, swimming and splashing—doesn’t that sound freeing?

Oh sure, it hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

‘Tis the gift.

‘Tis the Gift to Come Down to Where We Ought to Be

Now if you see you see me around town and hear me humming, you’ll know my story.

It’s the unfolding, ongoing story about the simple gift that can feel as painful as the undragoning of Eustace and the multi-layered peeling of an onion, but is in fact as delightful and freeing as can be. You find it in the valley.

By now you know. The gift is humility. It’s being freed from the tyranny of me.

God in His wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly. Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humour, compassion, humility, or meekness by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult conditions. Perhaps He has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Or perhaps He wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit.

Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to Himself...

—J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

Psalm 25:8-9 (ESV)