The grey coat

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Some nights I curl into a ball tight under mountains of down with the anxiety of good, because I’ve grown so familiar with the weary.  Like an old peacoat I wore so many years that I reach for it’s tattered sleeves when they are long since gone. A prisoner who wishes he was back in the solidarity of grey.  It’ll be different this time around, I swear. And yet dinner will again grow cold.

So I take this fabric and rip it.  I sew round buttons upon it, and a ruffled lapel, and buy tall black heels with a hint of red underneath, because there is no price more worthy than to rise above the grey of ashes.

And in this coat I travel miles and heartaches to reach him. He is supposed to ride into this town upon a donkey, this man who changed things and built things and sees things, and yet I have no more living to do.  So I flap the wool before me like a parachute as I let it float softly down.  Down to a puddle on the ground, mixed with sand and leaves.  Sticks and ants.  It’s all just dirt and death to me. And below lay an old refashioned pile of rags, rain soaking in its fibers like the earth and the rain and the stones and the coat were all working in stride with one another.

I suppose we were all preparing for a great love that marks you.  For a kiss that surprises you.  For a fire that refines you.  And I curl up in that familiar tight as he draws near, wanting to scrape the earth feverishly with my fingernails to let me in like a brother.  Oh please, hide me from this crushing sense of gratitude that I have not earned, and a grace I have not paid for, and a fear that I will not be enough for the lives I’m responsible for.  So much of my life has been altered, and my vision limited, and so many years pushed and crammed into this very old soul.

It is the same image I had years ago at a conference when the speaker asked where we might have fit in the loaves and fishes story. I was hands and face down, just swaying in the dust, eyes clinched shut.  I couldn’t get low enough.

And yet as tears fell into the puddle beneath me I am caught with the flash of a golden sun ricocheting from the dirty water, and I look up to see an animal’s hooves treading and stopping, and for a moment my weary eyes rise to see what peace looks like passing.  All I have is this one useless thing, and it’s all spread out and soaked up, but I don’t say those words because they’ve already been spoken.

My back, the one that was curved from all the hiding, straightens.  And the grey, it starts to shine like silver. I had no idea I was so broken because now I’m standing tall and I didn’t realize how short I had grown from the stooping.  The black hole of my eye is gone as I reached forward and I felt a brilliant light pass through me. He clicked the back of the donkey as it moved on, down the way, down the road, down around the branches and off beneath the setting sun.

I leave the jacket.  It’s warm out. I feel the earth between my toes and narcissus around my nose and my heart is a white-hot coal that radiates.  I step over the fabric as the dust settles – down the way, down the road, down around the honeysuckle branches and off toward the summer nights to come.

 

photo:

http://www.modcloth.com/shop/coats/midnight-in-michigan-coat

Stitch by Stitch

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I walked out of an OB/Gyn’s office today, thinking of lunch dates and meetings, deadlines and duties. I slid into a crammed elevator next to a woman clinging to a lab slip, trying so very hard to stifle her tears. I watched her struggle for breath.  Struggle to keep angst trapped inside the thin walls of her own self.  I wanted to reach out to her, past her messy ponytail and smudged mascara and trembling fingers.  Yet I stood still as stone as the lit-up numbers ticked down.  My heart was yearning to whisper in her ear that this shall pass.  Pain doesn’t linger.  After the band-aid is ripped, my sweet girl, numbness will settle. And yet the elevator door opened and we all filed out, us Busy People.  The woman turned left and I turned right, my high heels clicking along the floor like a woodpecker.

As I passed hallways I’d trod before, on carpet I’d worn down, I headed to my car praying hard.  My mind raced and my lip quivered as I saw those same lab slips before me, dripping with blood cell counts and cancer.  And yet despite that fact my soul was ripped and my own blood shared,  I bore children on this earth who will outlast me.  Fruits of my womb and outpourings of my own tender heart. As I climbed into my car balancing papers and bags and keys and all the luxuries of modern civility, I wept.  For the woman in the elevator. For my friend who lost her father.  For a life that is so rich and bountiful and for a God that is the only water who will satisfy my unquenched lack of worth.

Before a meeting began I remembered the fire that raged in my abdomen after my daughter was lifted.  I recalled the black nights of a marriage ending.  I remembered being on an elevator, stifling back my own tears and wondering if morning would come.  And yet like old photos in a box I saw my mother’s smile and the way she pulls at her shirt for no reason whatsoever.  I smelled my dog’s rotten bad breath.  I peered at onions shooting from the garden ground and the way oak limbs rub against my old metal roof.  My home, my books, my lover’s eyes that are piercing blue. They all blended together, the ugly and the good, the lab slips and valentine’s days, to form a quilt that enveloped me. Busy People showed up for the meeting and we began to talk about surveys and statistics, contract terms and deadlines.  But my mind was on the woman in the elevator.

Oh, my friends and enemies and dear sweet strangers  – I beg you to be kind to one other.  We are all part of this great journey, and this story, and this collection of people.  Some days are glorious and you dance atop clouds and other days you are sitting slumped by a dumpster wiping sweat and drool from your lips. I regret not reaching for her.  If I could take back time I’d lay my hand softly on her shoulder right there in front of everyone and say I’m sorry.  I’m so very sorry.  We are in this together.

Woven in this quilt of life is suffering and singing, weeping and guffawing, the death and the living and the love and the darkness all connected stitch by stitch.  Let’s envelop each other in the dark times, so we can remember the good, even when our own fingers are trembling.

 

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Photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/joodles/3191641279/sizes/m/in/photolist-5S2ZKV-bVJ9MY-dJLqbN-dtNfft-dQYU6B-dR5sLu-dR5tcQ-5FWKKU-ab9xDF-682qzR-682qFk-93zoX6-7sZULv-ccwekw-c1PjZh-35TgfG-35TgK1-dJFRGu-c1Pqyd-9YYtmz-4xTwMk-c1PBZ5-c1PBDw-gk9tk6-4PYAK5-9XCymz-6HUnZX-6HUnux-eXBR7x-5U1m9S-jVpoiJ-4ksPTW-3kZshr-eGzLzE-e8M5Jg-4e1xUW-viu9M-azidZw-7pWSoD-7bRFJm-a9qiLL-a9nvwM-5BxZHq-682qut-aWyA8k-fHKkhu-2EZ5Pc-7bRDD9-6DMP3L-9TNNXy-dLCYdd/

Saddle Bags

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I would imagine if I were starving and placed at the forefront of a great feast, I’d be filled with angst.  How would I carry it all away and save it for when there was none? I couldn’t possibly enjoy a corn soufflé knowing it wouldn’t last and the pheasant would turn to bile and the next day it would all be empty and dry again.  Just bones in the dust.  Hungry.  So I’d sit at the head of the table smiling whilst stuffing dinner rolls in my saddle bags.  We just can’t help but to carry around the angst of our past, wondering if the good times might fade away.

I think of the last few years as a trench that I’ve been living in, just hunkered down with my provisions, escaping for food and coming back to the hole with a heavy sigh.  It’s natural when you’ve been beat down to want to protect yourself from attack and make sure you stride more watchfully into the dark night.

When my foot touched down upon a different future, naturally I was still burdened with the memories.  Nights in the hole.  Bombs dropping and shells exploding and haunting faces in my dreams, hollowed out and empty.  But when you leave a warzone, there is no identifying tattoo speed across your chest.  Separated by enough continents and time zones you just seem to have appeared from somewhere, like you went on vacation with a svelte new frame and more coy responses.

So here I am.  I look down to see jewels on my fingers.  I sit at the fancy table with shimmering lights and roses, where men ask to call and tell me I’m pretty.  And in the middle of the room as I cross it in heels toward the door my insides just rage with fire and bristle.  I remember the hole.  The ache of starvation.  The pit of my stomach is just as far to the ground as it was in the worst nights, and I find my hands clasping around a hard dinner roll. I slip it in my pocket.  Just in case.  The funny thing is that the fear of death and the fear of living have the same effect on me.  Both are filled with the unknown, and that causes my stomach pit to flare.

At 3 am this morning I woke, filled with that familiar dread.  The pain that all this bounty will come crashing down.  The high will subside.  The peace broken. Pheasant always turns to bile in the end.  And yet as I lay there with my two children, huddled to my left and to my right, I heard the strangest thing.  My daughter, who appeared to be giggling.  In her sleep she was laughing, and I heard the manifestation of dreams. I held my children tight and let tears well and realized that God is to my left and to my right.  He stretches beyond me and is far behind.  What, and whom, shall I fear?

I dress for dinner in a house bathed in peace. I have a night ahead filled with laughter, with new heels just for the occasion.  In my slumber I see new life sprouting.  I take the saddle bags, the ones filled with old crusty rolls, and I leave them sitting by the garage door, leaning over just so.  A smile spreads from the ether of my former self, the one who remembered.  The one filled with fear.

I have no need for these any more, it seems.

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/puuikibeach/8666735287/sizes/m/in/photolist-ecRhst/

Luck of the Irish

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This girl can’t pass up a good groupon, so when an Irish restaurant in town offered a four-course menu for four for $99, I ran toward the computer with my credit card in tow and snapped it up like last call.  Not that ye Irish are really known for their food, and I’ll be honest about a vague stereotype I had trapped in my mind of a bunch of burly men in pubs eating Guinness rabbit stew, but still.  So when said groupon was about to expire, I gathered up three besties and we wore our St. Patrick’s best. Come on, it’ll be fun. They’ll be potatoes.

So off we go toward this random restaurant set high on a hill like a movie set and as we pull into the parking lot and leave the vehicle I have a sense that we’ve grown ten feet tall and what’s in front of us is really a hobbit’s house or maybe a hovel for gremlins.  But we approach what appears to be Hansel and Gretel’s cottage and open the creaky door, it opens to a front-porch-like haven of horrors with little dolls and St. Paddy’s paraphernalia. My nostrils are hit with the smell of old-people’s homes but with someone baking soda bread in a far-off forest. It’s a confusing combination.

I start to back my way out, because perhaps we’re in a dream and this place has swallowed up my children and there’s no hostess stand or normalcy and why for the love are there so many dolls.  For a fearful moment I thought we stepped into Frodo’s neighbor Marge’s living room, who has been alive since well before Eisenhower. But alas – another door in front of us creaked open and my other girlfriends were in fact inside, perched at a table covered in lace.  They looked frightened, or maybe hungry for rabbit: hard to tell.  But there were normal-looking people inside, everyone just sitting around as if they were eating a blooming onion at Outback on a Tuesday. My friends waved and I sighed because if we are going down an Alice-in-wonderland tunnel at least I wouldn’t be alone.

So there we sat in the hobbit house, trying to not hit our heads on the ceiling, just a simple table covered in lace.  My friend Jess kept wiping her eyes because the prices were all wrong and there was a bottle of wine on the menu for thirty-five thousand dollars and she thought maybe they laced the air with hallucinogenic drugs.  But alas the waitress came along, just a wee girl of fifty wearing a prairie dress with spitfire hair and told us that bottle of wine wasn’t actually for sale. “It’ll kill ya perhaps, young lassies, with all the air bubbles and such trapped inside.  But it’s a family heirloom, yeh.” So we decided to live and order the house red and the lady’s voice said “Aye, a good choice,” and the cadence of her voice rose and fell as if she descended from the streets of Dublin and I WAS TERRIFIED AND ENTHRALLED ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

So the courses began, and us girls all sat around giggling as the potato soup was served and we attempted small talk as if we are not all in a hobbit house sitting around a table covered in lace.  After a while my friend needed to use the restroom so she transcended into the bowels of the earth somewhere to the left and came back to the table as if she were having a life-threatening brain spasm. But in reality it was just the facilities, which included a green bathtub and a faucet connected together by strands of electrical tape and a cherub that looked out the window at nothing that overcame her. So my other friend Becca braved the dark and I offered to tie a string to her so she’d never get lost but she went in like a hero and took iphone pictures of the statute of a woman staring at your private places holding towels.

So between the salad and the beef they brought out a palate cleanser, but not the real kind, just lemon sherbet from Wal-mart, and we were just so giddy about all the absurdities we looked around and realized no one else was laughing and we must in fact be caught in a dream. But our best friends are all there so it was actually quite delightful and I drank red wine that in hobbit-money probably costs thousands.  I had a hunch the other patrons were in fact staged and it was all some big gag and a muskrat dressed in a three-piece suit would very soon appear with signs that said “Happy 40th, Josephine!” and we’ll all say “no, no, you’ve got the wrong girls.” But no one jumped out from the kitchen so we sat eating carrots cooked in maple syrup, but not the real kind, just Aunt Jemima’s from Wal-mart, and we toasted our future travels to Ireland where we could start a gang because we were all a good six-inches taller than all these other red-headed hotbloods and we could take this place down.

So we finally got the bill and although I had a groupon they said the actual cost of the meal would have run us about $469 so the suggested tip was around a hundred bucks and we’re like “but we live in the real world, thankyouverymuch” so we paid for our wine and we took our iphone pictures and we ran out of the hobbit house as fast as our legs would carry us.

I haven’t laughed so long and so hard in months and when I think of that green bathtub and my friend having a brain spasm and that waitress in the prairie dress and the hobbit house as we sat around a table covered in lace I am exceedingly glad we went, because it was all just so brilliant and colorful and strange. And it’s times like this that memories are seared and if we were all just sitting around eating a blooming onion at Outback on a Tuesday night we’d have no great stories to tell.

Because life, my dear friends, is a huge book that can’t close because it’s so jammed with stories. I’m so blessed and delighted to live inside of it, with friends who laugh and a heart that’s open and a life that sings, so when we run out of little houses after sitting around tables covered in lace we can say we had a life well lived, and friends that are well worn, forged in the tunnels of green cherubs staring into nothing.

It’s just luck of the Irish, I suppose.

 

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/oddwick/1818264035/sizes/m/in/photolist-3LF5xV-dBG5Wu-K1VqU-baB7S6-Kip22-4N9Hrk-6wUSCK-583X-583w-58bV-58dm-586v-4sBzEG-dKYm1U-58dn-586X-585h-6iP4Bz-4sHfUN-7RuKdq-6xEgpv-6wAzZf-9Jqer-61ApCX-61Aj7V-61Ajpt-61AkM8-61Ey19-61EyKL-61EA4w-61Ewyb-61EvXA-61EtzQ-61AmwH-61AiMi-61Ex8j-61AomP-61Euoy-4GTSg2-61Axbi-61Eyu7-61AixX-61Akdp-dCS33M-4GTRPc-PVEp3-axnmiZ-e2PfPq-be7FQz-bV62oZ-9fgs5Q/

The Breaking of Bread

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I’m not Catholic.  And yet in church when all heads are bowed I make the sign of the cross on my chest because somehow it feels holy and special like I am a part of a secret club.  My Catholic friend Dawna invited me to attend her church once, and I gleefully knelt up and down and was practically giddy as I listened to the archaic priest-who-never-married repeat things in Latin. I proudly stand like a soldier when we repeat en masse the Doxology and the Lord’s prayer and I once sang in a baroque acapella group. So if you think this girl lives in a modern world you are SADLY MISTAKEN.  My soul is trapped somewhere in the 1800s and really only get out to drink lattes and watch Netflix and buy fun little apps on my iphone.  I love tradition, and things that are deeply rooted, and for this reason change is my adversary and I struggle breaking things apart that are long-lasting.

So when I see churches with names involving rocks and stones and new life and cafes in which people-drink-coffee-with-Jesus I get confused. Not because these are bad things.  There is no bad as far as I’m concerned when it comes to worship and love and being in community with people who are trying to row the same direction.  But I wonder how these churches will be able to build the type of roots that stretch deep through generations.  How one who is impoverished and hungry and living in a broken-down shack in Ireland where everyone shares the pisshole and living on the dole get excited about coffee with Jesus like they do about First Communion. Because there’s something holy and sacred about traditions, and relics, and stories that have been handed down from King James and wafers on tongues and the body of Jesus, broken.

Last Sunday, I thought about bolting after the last hymn.  After all, I had laundry to fold and errands to run and friends to text. The whole concept of communion is slow and old and antiquated.  It’s times like these I wish I were drinking coffee with Jesus and singing praise songs on a Jumbotron. I sat there and wondered what this must look like to the outside world.  Just a bunch of silly chaps eating bites of bread and taking grape juice shots in little plastic cups before noon.  But I waited, because it’s rude to leave and I had nowhere really important to be.  I waited while the choir sang and the little trays were passed around.  I wondered if I had a missed text or if I’d eat leftovers for dinner, and I looked at the ushers going from row to row to row like they did every first Sunday of the month.

And then the tray was passed.  The body of Jesus.  I smiled and took it, which I knew was just a loaf of Hawaiian Original Sweet Round Bread from Kroger and wasn’t the literal body of Christ, but as I tore off a hunk and put it in my mouth something happened.  It just cemented itself like a glob of peanut butter and I couldn’t choke it down.  Try as I might it wouldn’t move, and tears welled up in my eyeballs as I sat there in my new hat wondering if I had any missed texts and whether I should have bolted after the last hymn.

I could feel thousands of years crash into one. Tradition came up deep like drawing water from a well, and I remembered the times as a child I waddled up to the communion rail and sat next to my father in a suit and the nights I cried and sobbed over the fact that the son of God had to suffer on our behalf and how deeply metaphorical and beautiful and special this last supper was so many years ago.  And then the cup was before me and I drank the sweet juice and I felt small and humbled and so full of gratitude my hat couldn’t hold it all in so I held it down as I walked to my car and felt inextricably full.

I swallowed. Greedily my body devoured it.  Hungrily my heart absorbed it.  I accepted that love without feeling paralyzed by guilt or haunted by pain because it was freely given, and despite just being a loaf of Hawaiian Original Sweet Round Bread from Kroger it was the body of Christ after all, broken and torn and laid out for the redemption of sins.

 

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photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5602245847/sizes/m/in/photolist-9x3YvD-9x3Ys8-9x6Yh7-9x3YtH-9x3YuH-9x6Ygw-9x6YfW-9x3Yu6-9x6YgL-9x6Yi1-9x3Ywn-9x6YgU-9x6Ygh-9x3YrH-9x3YvT-9x3Yun-9x3YrZ-9x3Ytz-9x3Yrx-9x6Ygs-9x3YtM-9x3Ywa-aWPv6e-dNiTEN-xfVBS-aa31Jj-7hob2i-asScmW-asSbDY-9qErJQ-azh1qr-3bN9e9-9rYS9M-9s2QiN-9rYRQP-6C3WyY-eUPpA9-FUyaf-9DTPeX-9qXbWg-4RbXLV-A5bAr-8sUosT-9x6YgA-9x3Yuz-9S1QCW-3rEUnT-QSCo4-dGyARJ-7BMWmN-7LZZav/

Before the dawn

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Before I wake I want to feel breezes dust my face and kisses so light they fail to touch my skin and I want to roll to my left and curl up in you.  And when I close my eyes I see bursts of blue and gold and crimson red and I will shudder at the  chill.

Before I dine I want to slow cook and rise high and marinate for a long while so you’ll see my heart poured into what is spread before you.  A feast that I created for the first look when you take a bite and nod.  Yes, my love. Fit for a king.

Before I hit midlife  I want to cry so hard for a suffocating loss that takes my breath and stomps it into concrete.  Because when redemption gallops through darkness I will admire it more like a stallion racing and sing my thanks like butterflies wings flapping, fast and quick my heart will dance as his muscles pound on racetrack sod.

Before my heart is hardened you appear like the twinkling of dawn and you take my breaths and blow them back inside of me. And as I run you run and as I dance you dance and I scream for you to leave me be because I do not deserve such pretty talk and such beauty.  But as you drive away in a cloud of dust you turn the truck back around and come back to the place where you started.

Before I sleep I want to see you resting on your left arm because I’m reading and you can’t stand it when I’m reading so you tickle and fuss and we roll together tangled in heat for your fierce jealousy of the words that capture my heart.

Before I grow too damn old I want to rest upon your strong arms and you will remind me of our summers and our winters and our glory days.  I will smile and shuffle on at the memory and the taste of you when you’re long past gone.

Before I die I want to have strength to offer praises, for as it turns out, this ain’t no middle-ground life.  I thank God for what was good in my future that I was too blind to see. For redemption that was inches from my face and yet my inveterate stubbornness prevailed.  And with wrinkled skin and a burned heart I turn to God and cry out in gratitude for the blessings so freely given.

Before I complain, instill in me gratefulness.  Before I judge, let me show mercy.  Before the dawn, grow my boldness.

Before I give up completely, allow me to persevere, for the future is coming right around the bend.

 

Photo:

http://(threew’s).flickr.com/photos/wynandbasson/11449434875/sizes/m/in/photolist-irKm6z-8Sbek8-32Re6G-cZXNW-dS2LVn-dB8JTy-jde5Tm-9epjtp-9UMsaB-dEtbXt-4yaQVV-awwtbq-9PN17E-9PMYMq-9PMYqb-9PN21G-9PN2kE-9PN1AE-9PMZDU-71cMAJ-foyNxk-9PN2GJ-ihF34z-6AbJYU-2iJ35S-7Xso5Y-cZXLN-cZXSP-cZXEG-cZXR5-cZXGz-iq6i5A-4f4Vfh-dPR9zF-jX6rc-7ipEVu-d1cqUq-8goiju-9DxCgU-3F7r2Q-7D6pQk-5YQfMp-7xzQtA-2JKNkb-7xzPME-7xzNYd-kLWHV-aNuK86-737Y7b-545aje-ab4dUT/

Ode to Mothers

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“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.

‘Pooh?’ he whispered.

‘Yes, Piglet?’

‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’”

—-

My grandmother died this month. She was old and it was not completely unexpected and everyone said things to our family like “she’s in a better place” and “at least she’s no longer in pain” and I thought there might be a class on the subject back in school because everyone had mastered the lines.  Although what exactly does one say in this situation, anyway.

My sister and I shared every holiday with my grandparents, five minutes from our house. They lived on a hill with a stained-glass door where breezes flowed over the porch like heaven’s whispers.  Growing up we spent almost every weekend there.  Birthday parties. Christmas Eve.  Easter Sunday.  Fireworks. All my childhood memories are wrapped up in that house and my grandmother’s presence and the knowledge that I could always come back home.

That’s big in our family – the rooting of home.  It’s a safe place where you can let down your guard and be true to who you are. And when you sit chewing on a piece of grass on the side of the house, looking for secret pennies or colorful rocks my grandfather hid in the concrete walkways, you could dream or think or fall asleep under the weeping willow, later wandering through the sculpture garden filled with deer and cactus and rock creatures who stare into the sun like we will not be moved from this place.  My grandmother wanted to die in the home where she reared three children, and she did, peacefully in her sleep. Just one day she was here, and then she wasn’t.  On the day of the viewing, mom kept wanting to say “I can’t wait to tell mother you came” to all the guests, but of course that was silly.  We all feel so silly for our daily routines in times like this.

My mother calls me a lot.  Sometimes it drives me mad when she just keeps ringing when I don’t answer or have a bad day and I sometimes I treat her like my dirty laundry takes precedence.  But when I was in the hospital in Philadelphia being radiated for melanoma, I called her.  My shaking fingers dialed her number with one working eye and I just cried into the phone because it hurts, momma, and her voice on the other end, well it was enough.  She was there when I had seizures in the ER, or when my abdominal pain from my staph infection raged through my post-partum belly and made me feel like fire itself, or when I lay on my bathroom floor in a puddle of tears screaming out loud at the unfairness of a torturous heartbreak.  She handed me a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, told me to eat: keep your chin up.  But mostly she just listened.

A mother has a way of seeing through your ugly, and always bearing your burdens.  She prays hard and makes you feel that there is love in the universe when you can’t see it and a beating heart when you can’t hear it and consistency in her acceptance even when you feel lost or thrown away like a used diaper. And she reminds you that God redeems, and we must always forgive, and everything we do must be rooted in kindness.  Like a song chorus, she repeats it until I nod my head in agreement.  Redemption, forgiveness, kindness in all things. I seriously have laundry waiting, for the love.

When my grandmother’s body lay vacant in a casket, her soul in a different place, the empty set in.  This was my mother’s mother, the model for who she is and had become, a woman who let my mother be herself and always, always loved.  And inside this caretaking relationship was a filling of time and space and when it ended, a void grew vast in my mother’s grieving heart and it burned like my abdomen and my eye and my broken heart all wrapped up into one ball of flame and I just let her cry it out and I said here, have some coffee and a piece of toast, please eat: keep your chin up.  There is a lot of listening to be done.

I am a mother now, and there is no love greater than the love I have for my children.  I’m hesitant to ever remarry because I know that no one can love them the way their father and I do, and when they are not here in my home there is a strangeness that hurts when they leave and a filling when they come back.  From my mother did I enter this world and from my loins did my children arrive and there is a bond between us mothers that holds generations and families together.  There are recipes and stories and birthing and bathing and it’s more powerful than spider’s silk and it is what makes us human beings greater than lions.

Our Heavenly father loves, but so also do mothers, and that’s why thinking of Jesus’ mother upon his death is so immensely heartbreaking.  From the moment they are born, children take from you and you willingly give, and all you want to do is keep on giving until you have no more breath or power left in you.  And when you see the one that went before you pass, it’s an immense weight that you might not have done enough or loved enough or been enough. But you did, and you are, and you will be for your own kind.  I pray that I can be the type of mother that my daughter respects – the kind that is always accepting, praying hard, loving long, and calling her even when she hates it, because there’s laundry to be done and boys to date but honey I’m your mother so you’ll just have to make the time. 

Oh, mom.  I am so sure of you.  You are a tethering place. You are the rooting between my soul and solid ground.  The steady rock that remains when all the sand is washed away. Thank you for all you have been, and what you’ve done to create in me a feeling of worth, and for never, ever letting go.

Art without Ego


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If an author is passionate about sharing words to motivate or inspire, he writes.  He hides in an upstairs guest room converted to an office with computer cords and plastic cups of water and a few used Kleenex wadded up and thrown down by his feet. And he writes – when his kids are asleep and his wife is asleep and the whole world seems to be asleep but his own overactive mind – accelerating past words like a stallion.  Because it’s not about being sexy, it’s about the story that is escaping him soon enough.

And if a singer wants pull at heartstrings, she starts to strum on her guitar and raises an arm and pours our her soul into the microphone like she’s praying out loud.  Nobody knows she wrote that song after her mom died and that was the only way she could stop drinking and pick herself up off the pavement.  And she didn’t care if she looked too religious or not religious or just plain silly perched on a stool with her eyes closed singing about a man named Jesus, but through her mascara she drug it out anyway, weeping and exhausted from the energy it took to retrieve.

I’ve seen artists sit by water and in damp dark studios wishing for a better place to paint, but there’s no luxury for more than the canvas they re-purposed from Goodwill.  Their hands are moving to the imaginary sound of wings that are beating from doves that are landing on a fence that has yet to be formed in oil.  And as they draw the brush they think of money they don’t have and laundry they need to fold and a life that was only half-lived, but this fence and these birds, they are liberating.

And God is sewn through these artists, a tapestry woven and stitched.  It’s the outpouring of love, blanketed around the world like a slow burn.

But then the author gets a book deal, and a media page, and begins to focus on the reality of publishing.  There are hits and strategies and followers and clubs. They are campaigns and tours and the advance for another manuscript.  And all of a sudden the writer is not creating, but churning, and expecting, and beginning to think of himself as One Who Writes that needs to be on a podium with a microphone.

And the singer gets discovered. After the tears of joy, she gets a label and an agent and a manager and a road crew.  And she starts to care what her hair looks like and what her friends look like and feels the naked skin of the roadie.  She can’t make it for Christmas or Mother’s Day either because she’s got a gig in Nashville and what’s more important, really?

Ego ruins art.  It’s the quickest way for our ministry to become our biggest liability.  We start to falsely believe we’ve earned the right, and earned the fame, and begin to tell others how to do things instead of praying that we are doing them well.  When the urge to create is overshadowed with the urge to be successful, we’ve lost it.  It’s the moment when the spirit leaves and we’re left focusing on ourselves, and a void grows in our heart where love used to live.

Let’s not become Martha Stewart, who runs an entire empire based on hospitality and craft but might lose sight of being hospitable.  Let us instead find our inner-Julia Child, captivated by the wonder and joy of it all.  Let’s undo the shackles and focus less on publishing, recording, speaking, and signing.  Let’s create for the sheer pleasure of worship, and using our talents for a higher purpose, for when we write well and we sing well and we paint a masterpiece on paper, we are lifting up and pushing out and sending beauty into the world.  That’s an honor, and a privilege, and one to be taken seriously.

Go out and create, artists of the world.  With messy hair and messy hearts and shaking fingers.  It’s not for your glory, because you didn’t create it to begin with.  It just so happened to be found within you, and you are simply releasing it back into the kingdom from which it came.

 

Blogging the Bible: David & Goliath

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Caravaggio, my favorite painter of all time, painting David and Goliath

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I think everyone knows this story – there’s this big mean giant that keeps taunting everyone, and the Israelites are afraid of him, but young handsome David rolls his eyes like “seriously ya’ll – he’s only like six feet tall, so quit shivering in your sandals like total weasels and buck up already.” He casually walks over to the front of the line, picks up some shiny stones, pulls out his little deerskin slingshot, and hits the giant with a pebble square between the eyes. The giant falls down, David chops his head off like “that’s how I roll, folks,” and there’s probably a Jaz-Z song playing in the background.  David walks in slow-motion up to the commander, and at the end of the day he’s writing folk songs on the hillside and later becomes king.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.  And honestly, that’s not super practical for my day-to-day life.  But now that I read it with new eyes, more emerges.

So the story begins with the Philistines on one hill and the Israelites on the other with a valley between them, gathering for war.  I suppose in those days, war was a more civil affair, with no fear of chemical weapons or hidden warfare or land mines that blow shrapnel into your armpits and eye sockets, and they all just charged at each other like buffalo.  And Goliath stood out in line and taunted the men of Israel for forty days, which seems a little excessive if you ask me, like “yes yes, we know you’re a bad-ass.  Please stop it already with all that narcissistic bravado.”

But one day when David, a mere shepherd, was bringing food to his brothers, he overheard a discussion about Goliath and asked who this fellow was that kept causing all the fuss.  He was told by the men that whoever killed this man would have all sorts of cool things like money and the king’s daughter and an exemption from taxes.  Don’t get me started how kings are always passing their daughters off like trophies.

So David was pumped, because who wouldn’t want money and a fair maiden and no taxes?  Now I see how he’s able to play the guitar in the meadow.  So David went to the king and indicated that if he can fight off bears and lions while tending sheep, this arrogant prick was not going to be a problem.  He shrugs off armor – what good is that anyway? – and goes straight up to Goliath and his shield bearer.  I really want to explore more about this poor little shield bearer – did he have to lug that heavy thing out there every single day for forty days? If the fighting got super icky did he just hide underneath it like a turtle? Doesn’t that seem a little wimpy for Goliath to need a caddy?  These things are not explained.  Figures.

But here’s where I really spent some mental energy – David said some pretty strong words to this Philistine.  He stated: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

After reading that, things shifted.  I didn’t just see David as some punk teenager killing a giant with a slingshot.  He might have had the body of a child, but he had a brave heart that belonged solely to God, with a confidence that the killing of this man was a mere afterthought.  It was as if he was setting one foot atop the water and knew that it would hold his weight.  David was making a statement that the things of this world – swords and spears and harsh words and burdens and death and cancer and all other worldly things – are nothing compared to the strength our Lord Almighty provides.

God’s name would not be defiled, and the battle, my friends, had already been won.

Jesus commanded that “if you have faith and do not doubt. . . if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done.  Matthew 21:22. But rarely is such belief displayed. David believed so assuredly that with the power of God he could defeat this man that the entire Israelite army feared, and only with a stone. There was no quiver of fear from the depths of his heart, and no arrogance in his claims.  This was not about David himself, or winning money, or being tax free.  Only arrows of truth were proclaimed, and it was to be.  God had won this fight.  David was only His servant pushing that message through the air with string.

I’m bowing down today at this assurance.  That I will not be shaken.  That when the taunting begins, and a giant is yet again in front of me, I will fear no evil.  For God is with me, His rod and His staff -  they comfort me.  And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  David wrote that, in Psalm 23, because he had a personal relationship with the Father. He knew that there was nothing bigger, and no giant greater, and all those gathered will know that it’s not by sword or spear that the Lord saves, but by grace, and mercy, and love deeper than any man.

Sometimes the battles we face are not on a hillside, but in the relentless grinding of the day.  The taunting of one who hates us.  The anger at one who is shamed.  We sigh deep at the reality of cells eating at our breast tissue, or weep at the coffin of a small child that was ripped from our arms.  We keep wiping away tears in the carpool line because ENOUGH, Lord.  It’s too much, and too heavy to bear, and we don’t have any reserves left to fight.  And sometimes, we just want to lay down our weapons and curl up in a corner, unable to keep rising, and keep smiling, and keep moving.  There is only so much we can take, and we are bending under the weight of it.

So we lay in a ditch with a dusty throat, shivering in fear, unable to croak out even a prayer, and see a child walk by.  Just a boy who watches sheep.  And he says with all assurances that we are more than this.  That God’s name will be praised in all things.  That the Lord will deliver those who are faithful.  And we are paralyzed as we watch him defeat a giant, and use his own sword to sever his head, and we are in awe of such courage.  It’s then that we swallow hard, walk over to David, and fall at his feet as king.

Thank you, child, for reminding me that I am protected.  That when I wander, even though I am one of ninety-nine billion, God will not leave me to my own devices.  He will search, and ache, and reach to the depths of the earth to find me.  Who is the greatest in heaven?  Jesus placed a child among them, and preached about the lost, and the found, and the faces of the obedient, and the lowly.  And in the dust and the bloody chest of a fallen giant, I see the greatest among me is not me, but He.  I see that this child has believed, and accepted that the battle has been won, and I surrender.

Thank you, oh God, for this victory. 

 

photo:

(three w’s)then: flickr.com/photos/ergsap/9633080076/sizes/m/in/photolist-fFf46w-fEXtHt-fEXtHZ-7K5Ub9-532XUQ-69N7De-8SikSL-bpdJED-8teVbd-6qidN1-6Qk1K8-6Qk1UX-Mh25N-6Qk24n-6Qp7Q5-5i6BER-BwEYH-fgLmmb-6mnXxg-8piu6J-8tPR7F-g1Xxj-b663Rr-4DVv3y-6Qk1En-kSF8j-9unWjj-N3juc-5yvQ6U-6Qk2nv-sxX1G-5HtV7G-a9NCgb-6Qp6Qo-dX9jfB-6Qp8bG-5JHbBC-7YKJS4-azcujL-bFAMgZ-5PvKMp-8xoWUe-dDqZW-6Qk1kn-4MiyPD-2BBeQE-62dUqo-5nWy8Z-hr5UZ-bFqZoB-51LZBc/

A Fresh Start

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Today is a new beginning for me.  For those who have also had to start new journeys, I’ll offer this poem from Veronica Shoffstall that speaks for me so well.  I am confident that God does not half-way restore, but restores completely.  We don’t lose in life and are left clutching consolation prizes.  Sometimes when our prayers are seemingly unanswered, we just have to look above in faith. Right around this dark corner might reveal a world we are so much better suited for, and I welcome what God has in store.  Hello, bright new dawn.  Your shine sparkles to me like diamonds.

“Comes The Dawn”

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
With every goodbye you learn.

photo:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/the_yes_man/5051757749/sizes/m/in/photolist-8Gpzzx-cTx7M-7hTMU6-5u1F7x-7SC3Te-7xfGQV-6i4k2g-4kha57-3yUu2R-9Htn8J-62a1jQ-9KHNcN-dqbCKA-dq6jfk-8eJ7U3-ExYiG-7hb6nj-6KuWTt-9YoS37-5tyi9F-6Mu3xm-6Mu2Xm-3Z6wx-u8LH8-9t13xP-72z89D-6AnkKJ-66JBnq-fmbimA-fmbmm9-fkW8Jx-fkWafp-fkW7JD-fmbhQE-fkW9rx-fmbmaC-fkWbFk-fkW6RV-fkW74F-fkW9Uc-fmbktq-fkW95P-fkW8yT-fkWaNV-fmbhuL-fkW6zK-fkWc5x-fmbk6G-fmbmWb-fmbjF7-fkW85F/