Wednesday, March 15, 2017

a simple guide to love

You can love anyone
if you really look at them.
Notice the delicacy
of their eyelids
the unique color
and texture
of their skin.
to the rhythm
of their breath,
hear the longings
of their heart.
Study them
like a poem
or painting.
Look long
enough to see
the layers and lines,
crevices and curves.
Human-beings are
breath-taking works of art.
Fleshy machines, both
beautiful and complicated.
When you really look
how could you not
fall in love?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Dark Blossoming

This January, I experienced a miscarriage. It has been a season of grief, sorrow and pain like none I have known before. An unpredictable storm of emotions has accompanied this loss. There are moments of empty numbness and others of anguished weeping. There are flurries of shame and guilt and anger. This is a loss so deep and intimate that it can at moments feel debilitating and isolating. But what has surprised me even more than the depth of pain, has been the abundance of blessings of this time. Love, comfort, hope and healing glimmer like stars in the wide darkness of my grief.

People I hadn’t seen in years sent kind messages sharing their love and their own journeys of pregnancy loss. Countless friends offered their love, prayers and support through texts, messages, e-mails, phone calls and cards. Some brought meals or sent flowers. My tribe (some of whom I know well, and others who until now have been mere acquaintances) have held me with such tenderness. Even if they could not fully understand my grief, they were attentive to it. In the midst of the darkness of my pain and sorrow, I have felt seen, treasured and loved.  I have been reminded again and again that I do not walk alone. With each kind word and thoughtful gesture these dear ones have been acting as midwives, guiding me through this dark season of pain, to find rebirth. When I thought I would be washed away entirely by the ocean of tears, you held me and kept me from being swept away.

One of the ways that I seek solace and healing is through creative practice, and these last few weeks have been an outpouring of writing and making in my life. In the coming weeks and months I hope to share some of it with you here. But the first thing I want to share is this collage piece, made primarily of the many beautiful sympathy cards we received and a black and white photo from photographer Dave Heath (his amazing work is currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in KC). 

This is my valentine to all of you, representing the ways that through your love, hope blossomed in the midst of my darkest days.

This is for all of you who poured out your love. Every word typed or written was like bread sustaining me when I was starving. Every prayer, every kindness, every touch, was a seed planted in a barren place. Your tender care helped me not only survive the wilderness of grief, but to find deep rivers of resurrection and renewal within its landscape. Thank you, thank you, thank you: for walking beside me during this shadowy season; for loving even when you didn’t understand; for holding onto hope when I couldn’t carry it myself. You will never know the difference it has made. You will never know the way your love grew blossoms in the darkness. You will never know the beauty you helped me find even in the breaking.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Blessing for Anyone

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.' -Matthew 11:2-6

Blessed is anyone
Who is not offended.
But who could not take
Offense? When you tell
Us so bluntly to change
Completely. To give
Unsparingly. To seek
Eternally. To forgive
Lavishly.  To love
We are offended.
Our sensibilities, our schedules,
Our bank accounts, our desires,
Our politeness, our sense of propriety,
Our sense of self.
All Offended.
All Disrupted.
This gospel,
This good news,
This revolution
Demands so much
more than we think
we can bear.
So rather than claim it,
We find excuses
to be offended.
To critique, analyze, judge.
And there you are,
Grinning like a prankster,
Still offering with open arms
A blessing to anyone--
Anyone at all-- willing
To uncross their arms
Long enough to receive it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

the art of mending.

the art of mending.
a post election poem

we are torn apart
as if we had forgotten
we are one fabric--
cut from the same cloth
of flesh, bone, and desire.
Separate as we are
we cry like children
ripped from
their mother's arms
or a limb wrenched
from the body,
uselessly flailing.
We must now
take up the art
of mending--
threading our lives
stitch by stitch,
seam by seam
until we are bound
by the frayed truth
that has always been:
we belong
to each other.

Monday, May 23, 2016

the great day.

This poem by Carl Dennis is a gentle reminder that the great day may never come. We may never compose our opus. We may never make a pilgrimage to the place of beauty we've painted in our minds. We may never achieve the mystery or passion or success that we've imagined for ourselves. But each day offers an invitation to enjoy the here and now, with such adoration and wonder that it becomes extraordinary. This poem beckons us to take the good china off the shelf and feast on the banquet of life just as it is.

The Great Day

What if the great day never comes
And your life doesn't shine with vivid blossoms,
Just the usual pale variety?
What if the best china never seems called for,
Those dishes reserved for the friends you love the most
On the day they return from their endless travels?
To use them now, for the only occasions available,
Would be to confuse the high realm with the low.
But not to use them, doesn't that seem wrong too,
To leave the best wine undrunk in the cellar
For the next owner of your house to open?
What then? Can you will yourself to see a common day
The way a saint might see it, as a gift from heaven,
Or the way it appears from the window of a hospital
On the first morning the patient feels strong enough
To edge across the room and look out?
There on the street an angel policeman
Is directing the flashing mosaic of traffic.
Or can you see the day as the dead might see it,
Not the ones who'd rather rest but those delighted
To abandon the gardens of Hell, however fragrant,
For a chance at crossing the sea again in a storm?
The day their ship, long given up for lost,
Steams into the harbor, all flags flying,
Would be a day to be toasted with rose champagne
In heirloom glasses. Down the gangway they come,
A little thinner, a little unsteady,
Eyes wide in wonder at their rare good fortune.
Can you see what they see as they look around
Or feel what their friends feel waiting on the dock
Must feel as they run forward?
"Let me look at you," they keep saying,
Suspending their formal speech of welcome.
"You look good. You look wonderful."
~ CARL DENNIS in *Ranking the Wishes* © 1997, Penguin

Saturday, January 16, 2016

100,000 Versions of the Universe

At 3am I wake again to your crying;
piercing and insistent you urge me
from the warmth of bed into the familiar
darkness of the hallway. Your restlessness
pulls me forward down the now well-worn
path to the doorway of your nursery.

As soon as I lift your small form
from the crib, you lean into my body
and fall quiet; You burrow like an animal,
desperate only for my touch, as if my presence
were your air, your food, your water.
I hold you and we rock in the big gray chair
that was picked out when nights like these
were just a premonition and you were just
a dream growing in the dark soil of my body.

As we rock, you grasp at anything
you can grip in your tiny hand:
my hair, my finger, my ear.
You hold me tight, like a life preserver
as if the raft of one another is the only
thing keeping us from drifting away into oblivion.

Every now and again your eyes open
and you smile up at me with sheer
contentment and joy as if you can't
believe your luck; the same look of someone
who touches their fingers to their lips
after a first longed-for and unexpected kiss.

I think of the 100,000 versions of the universe
that do not contain this exact moment.
A universe where rational thinking compelled us
to wait a day, a month, a year to try to have children.
Another where I heard your cry, but chose
the lure of sleep instead, resting in the knowledge
that you would be fine until morning.
Another where my husband and I never met,
or loved, or chose this particular life and
are instead living in other houses, in other towns,
sleeping in other beds, next to people who are strangers.
Or the universe where you simply slept soundly
on this one night, unstirred by cutting teeth,
or cold toes, or shadows in the corner,
and we are both dreaming our separate
dreams on different sides of the wall.

And so I silently praise the monsters under the bed,
and the stoplights, and the floor plans, and the meaningless words
typed or exchanged over cups of too hot or too cold coffee, and
the hundred doors that opened or shut with such precision, and
the split second decisions and coincidences and happenstances
that all added up to this particular moment,
in this particular chair,
in this particular universe
with you.

Friday, December 25, 2015

the honest prayers of Christmas

This year one of the most powerful things about the Christmas story for me has been the reality of God entering a broken world through the incarnation. Through the gospels we get glimpses of an ancient world very much like our modern one: with corrupt religious institutions, oppressive governments, and flawed, brave, hopeful, loving, terrified, broken people. Too often at Christmas we sugar coat the gospel into something warm and fuzzy. I do it every year as I watch 100 Christmas movies, sing all the carols, buy and wrap all the presents, and almost convince myself that these activities are what the season is really about. But scripture doesn't tell a warm fuzzy story. It tells a story of a God becoming vulnerable to a violent, corrupt, beautifully broken world. What has struck me particularly this Christmas is that God doesn't need us to pretend to be okay. Christ enters an imperfect world. God doesn't need our lives to look like a picturesque scene in a snow globe. Christ enters into our fear, our doubt, our longing. In Jesus, God enters the world just as it is. Flaws and all. So this Christmas Eve at our 11pm worship, when we lit the candles for the last time, instead of a traditional pretty prayer, I wrote these honest prayers of Christmas, reflecting on the hurts and longings of people in the real world and how Jesus, God enfleshed among us, can still change everything.

Reading One - Hope

Another job interview, another rejection… and at home, another and another and another bill that has to paid. The pile just keeps getting bigger: mortgage payment, water bill, electric bill, car payment, insurance, student loans, credit cards. They just keep coming and I don’t know what I am going to do. I feel like I am letting everyone down. Maybe if I had made different choices we would be a different situation. Maybe if I had worked harder. But I can’t go back in time, here I am without a job, with all this credit card debt, with a family I am letting down. Sometimes it feels like I will never be enough, like I should just give up. I am at the end of my rope. God, if you can hear me, I just need to know there’s hope. I just need to know things could get better tomorrow. Could you please open a door? If you can come and redeem the whole world, you can redeem me right? You can help me and my family get back on our feet? God, if ever there was a time for you to show up, this is it. I need some money to help me get by. I need a job. I need a way forward. I need a little Hope. Most of all, I just need You.

Reading Two - Peace

I remember seeing fire and hearing loud noises. Booms and crashes and explosions, that made my ears ring like there was a bell inside my head. We had to pack everything we could carry and get out as quick as we could. Now we are living here in this crowded camp with all these other people, just waiting, trying to figure out when we can go home again. Mommy said to be brave, so I am trying. I miss my room and my nightlight. I miss my bed and my toys. Mom and Dad say home is wherever we are together, and most days I believe them. Home isn’t a place, it is the people you are with. Like when my silly sister tickles me until we are both laughing so hard we almost can’t breathe. Or when my Dad tells me the best stories where I am a hero who wears a cape and flies in the sky. Or when my mom sings me to sleep. I want everyone in the world to feel at home, to feel safe and loved like I do with my family. I guess that’s what it means to have peace. They say that when I grow up I can help make the world a better place, and I can’t wait. If all of us worked together, I know we could do it. We could make every place home. Tonight that’s what I want: peace, not just for my family, but for everybody in the whole world. Peace, so there’s no more bad guys. Peace, so one has to run away anymore. Peace, so no one ever feels alone.

Reading Three - Joy

Finally, here we are. Christmas Eve, the marathon of the last month is finally finished. Instead of feeling happy, I mostly just feel relieved that it’s over. We put up the lights and decorated the tree. Hundreds of cookies have been baked and frosted and eaten. I made the costumes for the Christmas play, we went to the kids concerts, we stopped by as many parties as we could fit in, we sang all the carols, and sent all the cards. We visited Santa, not once, not twice, but three times. I’ve bought and wrapped the gifts; And still it feels like everyone always wants one more thing. And my to do list keep getting longer and longer. Always more laundry to do, more food to buy, one more errand to run, one more thing to fit in the schedule. I love my family more than anything in the world. They are my life, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed, so tired. When do we get to just sit and enjoy each other? I know this is supposed to be the most joyful time of the year, but sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions. In the midst of all this busy-ness, how am I supposed to find real joy? If I could ask for anything this year, that’s what it would be it. Enough time to stop and experience real rejoicing. So, Jesus, that’s what I’m asking for. Tonight, would you bring us the real joy of Christmas?

Reading Four - Love

This has been the hardest Christmas season of my life. The first one without my Betty. The kids have been wonderful, bringing me to all the family functions, trying to include me in the festivities. But at each happy event, it’s hard to smile, when all I feel is grief. Everything reminds me of her. Every song, every decoration, every place we go, and thing we do. After so many years with one person, they become an extension of yourself. What’s the point of any of this without her here? I miss her hand on mine, I miss her reading the paper in the morning and telling me the news, I miss sitting quietly together at the end of the day as we drank a cup of tea. I even miss the things I always thought I hated. Those terrible hard as a rock ginger snap cookies she would make every year, the way she sang Christmas Carols a little too loud and a lot off key, the way she’d nag me to put up the Christmas lights even when it was cold as death outside. I try to convince myself to be joyful. I know she is in a better place, singing with all her gusto in the heavenly choir. I know she’s looking down on me, telling me to just snap out of it already. This is the season of Love afterall. Time to remember the love of Jesus that is present all around us and all that. But, to be honest, it is all a lot harder than I thought it would be. God, I have to wonder how can I experience the season of love with a broken heart? Will you please come and heal this ache in my heart and just help it to hurt a little less? Will you teach me how to love this life again? Betty used to say “God is Love.” I could sure use some of that love right now.

Reading Five - Emmanuel, God with Us

O my beloveds, how amazing it is to see you through the eyes of a baby. You look so beautiful. I am so excited to be with you in this wonderful and broken world. I know this life can be so hard, sometimes it feels like more than you can bear. That’s why I’ve come. To bear it with you. To feel the hurt for you. To hold you when you feel alone. Look at me, my loves. I am here to heal your hurts, to bind up the broken-hearted, to give hope to the hopeless. I’ve come to be with you. No matter what. When you are lost, when you are afraid, when you are anxious. I am here. Even when you forget me, when your lives are too busy, and your minds are too full. I will wait for you. I want you to know that hope, peace, joy and love are possible. I’ve come so you can experience all that and more. I have come to love you, I have come to save you, I have come to light a candle in the darkness. I have come to change the world.