Saturday, September 23, 2017

On poetry, self-absorption, and making requests of God

I spent a month early this year praying and writing poetry. I am not a poet. I find it hard to understand. With poetry, you have to slow down and read aloud and ponder and come back and reread. I get too impatient. This past winter, as my world began to fall apart (little did I know), I was moved to write poetry, prayers of lament and grief and hope, begging God's favor.  God did show immense, enormous favor. His favor has exposed the walls of my house, revealed hidden decay, sent me far and near in search of help.

I believe He answered the prayers I prayed in these poems. The shock of it. Prayer is definitely not safe. We know not what we ask. It is not safe, but it is good. Why would I want to stay in a sepulchre? Silly me, looking for safety. Safety is not to be had in this world, but goodness is.

At least I know God isn't finished with me yet. If you please, Lord, keep speaking. I am almost fearless. Almost. There's always something else we don't expect, so I say that with caution. Oh, the mystery of God.

Anyway, I wrote a series of poems early this year, prayers which God answered. Most of the poetry I would not share because wow is it bad. But this poem is kind of what I meant, all grief and passion and self-absorption and hope. We humans are so self-absorbed and passionate. By we I mean me. And do not preen if you think you are rational and objective. Trust me, you are not. Your passion and self-absorption are buried deeper, but they can and will come out. Get acquainted with yourself. God already knows you. He's not surprised.

Just a bit after the month of poetry, Ivey and I saw Electra performed in Dallas. I identified with Electra, and that scared me, but okay. This year has been revelation and devastation, and that is not hyperbole. I know not what the future holds. But-- unlike Electra and Cassandra-- I know who holds the future, and that right well.

Okay. Done talking. Here is the poem.


Lord, come to me, hear me
I will tell you my grief
Alone, invisible.

I am Cassandra.
A woman of words
Lies do not become me.

Dwelling in silence,
I speak words no one hears.

They feel, but don't listen.
Speak of the weather
Their looks pierce my heart.

I am March,
I am sun, and then wind.
Warm and cold.

I flail, I falter,
I hold onto hope
Pursue joy, I fail.

Needs, needs, needs!
Crowding around me
Desperate needs.

Principles, scruples,
Rules condemn
Not that way, this way.

Desperate needs!
Lord, help me stay true
Focus on flowers.

I cannot I cannot
I cannot.

I will not pretend!
is not the truth.

Where to find help?
Father of fatherless,
Judger of widows.

Oh, Lord, lead me
to the rock that is high
I come to thee.

You are higher than fathers
Higher than husbands
Higher than humans

They, broken,
break others
I sorrow for them.

I desperately trust
Your provision, Lord
You will provide.

I am cast out
Community faults me
I chose wrong.

Choices, Lord.
I want no choice
No choice anymore.

You choose, Lord
I want to ride
the wind of your choosing.

I trust your guidance
Hide me in the rock
of your God-ness.

How can I sink
into you, Father?
Tell me the secret!

I will know your will
When I know it
I will do it.

People fall
Away from me
You are my good guide.

Remove these scales!
These strictures
These rules

These rules are not yours
They are social capes
Strip them from me.

Lead me back
to the beginning
of your will.

You make me
Safe without shields.

Father, you are
Coach, Counselor
Hearer, Exhorter

Reminder of mortality
Hope of eternity
Strength in battle.

You stay right by me
Your presence buoys me
I rise again.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Social Media

When I was a teenager, I read a book called The Keeping Days. It focuses on a deep, insightful girl named Tish who lives in Yonkers around the turn of the century. Keeping days are those days when everything aligns and you feel a strong awareness of unity and good.  This was a very important book for me.  So important that I bought it for my own girls.

I have keeping days too.  I had one at Christmas. One of the girls' friends came to stay with us a week. She is Jewish. It was Hanukkah. She asked if she could light the candles and pray, and we agreed. All evening, this makeshift menorah, a combination of tapers, votives, and tealights, sat on the dining room table. All of my children were home, Bradley was home, no one went anywhere. It was a rare moment.

It's hard to know what to do with those moments. Tish drank it in, recited it to herself, wrote it in her journal. I took a photo and put it on Instagram.

Funny thing about social media. We use it to be heard, to communicate, but our most meaningful thoughts tend to get lost in the flood of everything at once. Scroll, scroll, scroll.  It's a strange combination of loneliness and togetherness. Although, I suppose no one was reading Tish's journal, either.

Myself, I love social media. People are comfortable there, they reveal more, perhaps more than they intend. I learn a lot about a person's true nature by following them.  It's much easier than meeting them in person with all their noise and energy coming at me.  I take what I know of them in real life, pair it with what I see on social media, and gain a better idea what kind of human they are.

Plus, I find it easier to respond to people on social media. Real life conversations move so fast and only skim the surface. A lot of social media only skims the surface, too, but I tend to limit myself to people who go deep.  I've found good conversationalists online, and by that I mean people who listen as well as speak. Social media is a mixed bag, but if you edit your feeds and limit your time, it can be great.

I want to feel connected to others. I don't get that very often in real-life social settings. I connect when I'm one-on-one with a person, no one else there, they are focused on me and I on them and both of us on the task at hand.  A task is essential to good communication, seems like. For instance, in piano lessons. I learn so much about these individual souls that show up fierce and expectant.  Kids are such people. I love one-on-one teaching.

Group activities/tasks are a much bigger challenge for me. Needs and agendas clang against one another, it seems almost impossible to move forward without stepping on someone.  I hate stepping on people.  If we took enough time and went deep enough, I think we could negotiate outcomes that meet everyone's needs.  But people don't. They check off lists and go to the next thing, encouraged by the powers that be.  Stinking powers. I want a slower life. That's hard to find in a group.

I'm still deliberating about social media. I've thought all along that it simply magnifies what people already are. It remains to be seen if that magnification is healthy or destructive. Social media gives a voice to those who are trapped in real-life power structures.  There is a lot of pain in the world, beautiful rowdy people with something to say. We can learn a lot from those who are different. Lively online debate will certainly improve the accuracy of the picture, despite the false news that inflames peoples' fear and anger. If we exert ourselves to listen, we will hear the voice of the oppressed. This is a good thing.

Think of Martin Luther King, Jr. A lot of people wanted him to shut up. But fifty years later, we are so thankful for him and his ideas.  We realize, oh my goodness, he was right, and we couldn't see it. He said some very uncomfortable things. People told him to stop, he was making things worse. He upset the status quo, but in a good way. I hope we can use our social platforms the way he used his, with patience and grace and stalwart dedication to truth. For good.  He just kept speaking, not quiet, not shrill. He just kept speaking and would not go away, even when they arrested him.

There is beauty and there is truth. There is justice and there is mercy. Social media can magnify these things or it can diminish them. Depending on us. Me, I'm going to keep posting, praying my barbaric yawp is true enough, balanced enough, redemptive enough, and refining my choices as the picture becomes clear. Meet me there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Voice of the Dove

When we lived in our old house and I was alone most of the time with three small children, two doves came and sat on our back fence every morning. I heard their cooing as I changed diapers and fixed breakfast and got the wheels turning on the day.
Doves always remind me of God. It was a dove that brought news to Noah that he could leave the ark. After Jesus's baptism, God's Spirit alighted on him in the form of a dove. Christ and the church are compared to two doves devoted in the Song of Solomon. We are told to be wise as serpents... and gentle as doves.
Doves seem to me to be a symbol of the Holy Spirit which promises to come to us, to comfort us. I've always needed a lot of comfort. I'm usually fretting about something. As a young mom, I got to where I looked every morning to see if the doves were there. Every morning, there they were. Those two birds on the back fence comforted me.
We eventually moved from that house to a brand-new neighborhood. We built our home and watched other houses go up one by one. Lots of excitement for my 2, 5, and 8 year old children. I chose the bricks for this place, the carpet, the tile, the tree in the front yard. Bradley and I bought new furniture, the most important being a large dining room table which we placed in the center of the house. We used the front room for home school lessons, the front yard and bike trails for our playground. There was wildlife in this back country, but I didn't see doves. Perhaps the rough-and-tumble of building construction was too loud. I didn't notice their absence. I was busy making schedules and planning menus and reading to my children.
We've lived in the new house thirteen years, fourteen in September. This is no longer the new neighborhood. (I recently discovered it's not even considered the nice neighborhood.) The dust has settled, people have moved and left their homes to renters who don't pay HOA dues. But we're still here.
Our kids are mostly grown now, my baby is 16. The dining room table is as important as I thought it would be, the most important thing in our house. The finish is worn and sticky, but the leaves still work, extending the table into the walkway whenever we have company. We bought new chairs several years ago from an antique mall, sturdy cherry-finished chairs that stood the test of time, courthouse chairs. My grown children tilt back in these chairs and I haven't the heart to remind them to stop. They are telling me their dreams and adventures. Oh well, chairs. Sorry for you, but you are solid, I bet you can take it.
And the doves are back. I hear them in the early morning and late afternoon. I'm still home most of the time. It's harder to get the wheels turning in the morning without little ones needing something every other minute, but I work in the yard and walk the bike trails by myself. The front room is still for lessons, music students trooping through the afternoons and evenings, and for the ferreting out of books.
I don't see the doves; I see the renters' children chasing one another, so innocent; the teenagers who will do things they shouldn't; the parents driving fast to get to the next thing, outrunning failure. I hear reports of break-ins and shootings and the stupid politics of community. Then every morning the sun rises, and I hear a dove say, "I'm here, I'm here. It's not safe, but it's good." And I think, Okay. Okay, God. Thank you.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Honesty and Grace

How did we Christians get this idea that we shouldn't share the ugly scary problems that keep us up at night? We stay home alone, terrified, pretending, instead of getting ourselves to the church with our honest broken hearts. And if we do show up and take that risk, people sit silent or minimize the situation or level accusations of sin. Because Christians aren't supposed to have these wicked complex problems, we're supposed to be spiritual giants, able to leap tall crises in a single bound. But Christ-followers are struck down just like others. And where else do I want to be when I am falling, falling, except with people who share my hope of salvation? I don't remember signing up for a club where the rule is, "Pretend it's fine when your world is crumbling." I refuse to be bound by the rules of a club I didn't know I was joining. If my reality is messy and tearful, I may show up that way. Perhaps someone will be brave enough to meet me in the mess, awkward and stumbling and unsure how to respond. It's okay. We don't have to have all the answers. "Figure it out" is terrible theology. Instead, let's be together giving voice to our astonishment, knowing that while we can't leap tall crises in a single bound, we know One who can. Forsake appearances and join me. It's much better on the honest/messy side of the fence.

Thursday, February 09, 2017


A friend shared this article with me last night. A quote:
There is a way in which you oppose somebody and you define boundaries and limits and you are even willing to lay your life on the line to stop them from doing something.   At the same moment, you don’t close your heart to them.  And what they experience because they are in their minds, is they see you as an enemy.  But their hearts know differently.
This reminds me of the maidservant, Martha, in The Secret Garden. Martha is an older teen who serves a rigidly strict, harsh housekeeper. She befriends Mary Lennox, a sour and neglected child just back from India. Martha quietly opposes the housekeeper's cruelty as much as she can. She encourages Mary to visit and play with the sick boy, Colin, who is kept shut up in a far part of the house. This is strictly forbidden, but Martha knows children need to be children, need fresh air and companionship.

The housekeeper finally breaks down after "losing control" over the household, because she fears the wrath of the absentee father. (He has his own issues.) Martha finds her overwrought and sobbing, sits with her and comforts her-- comforts this woman who has given her so much grief, scolded and even rapped her on the head.  First, Martha opposes her with heartfelt compassion, like water flowing past a stone, then makes it easy for her to return to grace.

Me, I want to do this.

As the article says, I must first let go of self-righteousness, the lies I tell myself that I know better than to behave the way that other person is behaving. I'M not like that. Haha. This is me forgetting where I came from, forgetting that I come from a place of sin.  I may know better now, but it's because of learning and light, and there's a good chance whatever that other person is doing is something I had to learn not to do because it's very hard to not do it.
A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the cruel upclimb. (Betty Smith)
I don't want to choose the forgetting way. If I have climbed uphill until I've gotten to right action and proper behavior, if by God's grace I have good habits, in rising above it I want to never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in my heart for those behind me.

But what if I've never struggled in that way? What if my bootstraps didn't need pulling? What if, from a child, I was given guidance in good habits, and nothing occurred to derail my learning?  What if my disposition and circumstances are such that, as Jane Eyre says, "It is so easy to be careful"?

There's a scripture for that. It's in Romans, that good letter Paul wrote to remind us we are saved by grace, that no one should boast, that no one should choose the forgetting way.  After a long list of ugly attitudes and behaviors, Paul writes:

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
  Regardless of personal experience, this applies to us all.  It's there in Romans.
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
You, me, and the cherry tree. None good. None means none.  And as for right action and proper behavior, anyone who bets on that better get every single thing right. Every. Single. Thing. It's all or nothing with the law:
For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 
And see what he did there? He said making sure you read your Bible isn't enough. Being in church isn't enough. You have to actually act righteously ever moment of every day. And that is impossible for us, even those of us who find it easy to be careful.  Because, well, pride. Pride is a sin.  We do well, and then we get puffed up, and then, boom. In fact, we prop up our good behavior with the sin of pride ("I know better than to do that!") rather than asking God to uphold us with his free spirit. (Psalm 51:12).

By we I mean me, of course.

I get SO MAD. Fighting mad. Because I've learned the things. My goodness, other person, CATCH UP.

I've learned a few things, but I haven't learned a great many other things. I need to catch up, too! But gosh, all this running and striving... the writer of Hebrews says rest. Depart not from God. Resist being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (I think pride is the most deceitful sin there is.)  Let us labor to enter into that rest. It is indeed a labor, because pride is deceitful and tells me I have arrived. Oh no, lying heart. You have not arrived until you rest in Christ. It is only through Him that everything is covered.

I find I oppose myself as this person in front of me opposes himself. I feed my lust as he does. Do I like my opinions a little too much? Do I preen myself in the sunlight of my own behavior? It is possible for a person to disdain selfies while indulging many snapshots of her own 'righteous' attitudes and behavior. God knows the heart.

Yuck. The heart can be so horrid. But I need to examine it to find compassion for those who create suffering, who oppose themselves. There is only One righteous, and I'm not Him.

The most amazing thing about Jesus is that He is perfect and also perfectly compassionate. HOW DOES HE DO THAT? Wow wow wow. I get one thing right, and I'm all over the place admonishing people to catch up.  He gets everything right, and still treats wrong with lovingkindness. His yoke is easy. Amazing.

All that to say-- it's hard for a Pharisee to turn over a new leaf. But all things are possible with God.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Proverbs 18:24

There are those who condemn and those who work things out. 
There are those who walk away and those who stay.

And there is One, only One, who remains through everything,
Who never leaves at all.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Open My Hands

I believe in a blessing I don't understand
I’ve seen rain fall on wicked and the just
Rain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us
I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain
That broken find healing in love
Pain is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me
I believe in a fountain that will never dry
Though I've thirsted and didn't have enough
Thirst is no measure of his faithfulness
He withholds no good thing from us
No good thing from us, no good thing from us
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me
No good thing from us
No good thing from us
He withholds no good thing from us
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic yes
To all that You have for me
Written by Alli Rogers, Sara Groves • Copyright © Music Services, Inc

Saturday, February 04, 2017

True Love

How risky it is to truly love. For the beloved, the true lover sacrifices wishes and hopes. It is not possession, no, the lover lets go, caring only for the beloved's good. It is the definition of longsuffering and crucifixion. And sometimes, like Christ resurrected, a phoenix rises from the ashes. The lover secures the beloved. Desire is purified and refined into love. There are no guarantees in this process.

The Maiden Phoenix

 This royal infant--heaven still move about her!--
 Though in her cradle, yet now promises
 Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings,
 Which time shall bring to ripeness: she shall be--
 But few now living can behold that goodness--
 A pattern to all princes living with her,
 And all that shall succeed: Saba was never
 More covetous of wisdom and fair virtue
 Than this pure soul shall be: all princely graces,
 That mould up such a mighty piece as this is,
 With all the virtues that attend the good,
 Shall still be doubled on her: truth shall nurse her,
 Holy and heavenly thoughts still counsel her:
 She shall be loved and fear'd: her own shall bless her;
 Her foes shake like a field of beaten corn,
 And hang their heads with sorrow: good grows with her:
 In her days every man shall eat in safety,
 Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
 The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours:
 God shall be truly known; and those about her
 From her shall read the perfect ways of honour,
 And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.
 Nor shall this peace sleep with her: but as when
 The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
 Her ashes new create another heir,
 As great in admiration as herself;
 So shall she leave her blessedness to one,
 When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,
 Who from the sacred ashes of her honour
 Shall star-like rise, as great in fame as she was,
 And so stand fix'd: peace, plenty, love, truth, terror,
 That were the servants to this chosen infant,
 Shall then be his, and like a vine grow to him:
 Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,
 His honour and the greatness of his name
 Shall be, and make new nations: he shall flourish,
 And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches
 To all the plains about him: our children's children
 Shall see this, and bless heaven.

William Shakespeare, Henry VIII