when madeleine l’engle kicked my ass


after i hung up the phone and told joshua what i’d just learned, we knew that our tiny church plant was done.  there had been signs leading to that moment in our kitchen.  but this was it.  the final nail.

he leaned over onto the counter and put his head down.

and that was a while ago now.  almost two years.

two years of trying.

two years of getting over it.

i’ve never had words to talk about the whole experience.  i’ve only had the wanting to get away from the one word that spoke most loudly.



there is the quick looking away and ending up just saying, “i don’t know” when i am asked why did we do this thing.

did god really tell us to move to detroit and start a church and we failed?

i don’t know.

did we want to move to the city and convinced ourselves that it was god calling us?

i do not know.

i don’t know.  i just don’t.  the roots of certain choices we make are buried deep and even when i dig them up and slice them looking for the answer in the cross-sections – even then it’s not that simple.

so i sat down and talked with madeleine l’engle.  sort of.  i’m reading her book.  books really.  just finished wrinkle in time and am now reading walking on water.

she saw me coming, i think.  she’s very personable, mild-mannered even and all friendly like – until.

until she isn’t.

until she pulled back and hit me dead in the face.


“One time I was talking to my spiritual director and I was deeply grieved about something I had woefully failed at.  Finally he looked at me and said calmly, “Who are you to think you are better than our Lord?  After all, he was singularly unsuccessful.”

That remark has stood me in good stead, time and again.  I have to try, but I do not have to succeed.  Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success.  

It has to do with love.”

i reeled backward at the force of the punch.

i have to try.

but i do not have to succeed.

following christ has to do with love.

the penny dropped and i have my answer now.


we moved to detroit to try and start a church because we wanted to say i love you to jesus christ.  that’s why.

and did we do that?


we totally did that.


i didn’t fail at that.

the why and the unearthing at the root for the reasoning behind it – it’s still important. it’s right and good to learn from what we did and what went into the choices we made.

but the waste was never waste.

we told him as loudly as we could manage at the time.


so let this be a lesson to you.

when approached by a gentle choir director or a helpful volunteer librarian, someone who looks as though they would not hurt a fly, you may want to keep your eyes on their hands and look close on which foot they are placing their weight.

because there is power in lives well-lived and written down.

there is strength in years closely maintained with the fine-toothed comb of truth.

beware the left hook of madeleine l’engle.

9 replies on “ when madeleine l’engle kicked my ass ”
  1. AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH YOU JUST PUNCHED ME IN THE CHEST AND RIPPED MY RIBCAGE LOOSE FROM GRIPPING FEAR AND Oh my goodness. I can breathe. I can breathe. The discouragement is misplaced and the failure isn’t.

    Thank you, Zena. And Thank You Jesus for showing this to her. And thank you Madeline and her preist. Thank you thank you thank you

  2. “But the waste was never waste” it’s true Zena! And it was never a failure. I’m happy to see you writing about this!:) love you friend!!

  3. I have never met you, and know that one day in heaven I will see you and embrace you. Thank you so much. This was our story, and now I have some framework to look at those years. gulp, tear, really, thank you.

  4. I’m convinced Father sometimes just wants to test our “yes” and the outcome has nothing to do with it. So…consider a visit to your alma mater for a “nourishing/kind” of refreshing, and to get some oil in your lamps.

  5. Who knows what wonderous thing you began in the people of Detroit in your “failure”. God works in ways we don’t understand. What you are doing everyday is Jesus’ work too. I KNOW you two…you are always doing God’s work with every breath. Love!!!

  6. This. Because of this we can take the plung. As we sort through everything we own, mark them with a price and see them walk out the door… shackles break and we are a little more free. Free to jump, free to follow where we feel called, free to live this thing called love… and quite possibly fail… Yet even with this thought the yearning does not cease… so we prepare to jump. To follow. To risk.

    I have to say- that left hook may just be exactly what we need. Because without breaking can we ever truly live?

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