thoughts about faith and writing

letters

i may regret this later, but i’ve never been so grateful.

god is generous.

i have work to do.  real work.  real service.  a way to love my neighbor as myself.

and it doesn’t have to be a church building that you can walk into on sunday,

it doesn’t have to be sandwiches made for the poor.

“in you, o lord, i take refuge;
     let me never be put to shame.”

lighter

it can be sitting in a chair.

it can be letters to a place.

choosing words, one at a time, to tell true stories.

i’ve heard this is also a way you’ve formed a body to work, lord.

and i’m thankful.

“i will rejoice and be glad of your kindness,
       you’ve watched over me in my distress,
not shutting me up in the grip of the enemy;
      but enabling me to move about at large.” – psalm 31

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a word is worth a thousand pictures

today

i heard good things today.

richard foster praised silence for writers.  bret lott shared that we will never master writing because it is filled with self-doubt and loneliness.  anne lamott said that writing takes much longer than you think it will and remains a struggle always.

this is good news.

i was told to keep a metaphor journal.  i think i’ll start right now:

the moon sat fixed behind back lit clouds like the eye of god.

a deer lay still on the side of the road like a baby not crying for too long.

okay, it needs some work!

but being willing to work is the beginning of working.  being willing to sit down at the keyboard and write is the beginning of writing.

i bought a book.  i drank coffee.  i chatted with other festival attendees.  i laughed out loud.  i sat by a pond.  i skipped a session.  i laid on the grass and the sun warmed my winter face.

again

the faith and writing festival offers what writers need – time.

time to talk and think.  time to listen to poems and stories.  time to cry.  it offers a glimpse into a life where time is wasted on purpose.  anne lamott said tonight, “we are hungry for the time we don’t waste.” 

she suggested staring out of windows, cat-like, more often.  she told writers to waste more paper.  she argued for wasting time not multitasking so that one might enjoy the moment and the person right in front of them.

and she’s right.

richard foster said that without silence a writer has nothing to say.  he said we expect to sit down to write and be endless founts of words, wisdom.  no.  instead we have to exist quiet, listening; expectant – and in silence the soil of our hearts will be cultivated and then, when we write, from that place, there will be words.

and he’s right.

people boarded planes to be here.  people drove for hours.  what are we hoping to find?

today i found this – life and writing are both hard, but if i’m not willing to do them well then i might not be doing either one.

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i love to tell the story, because i know ’tis true

book

the faith and writing festival begins with chapel.

i like a poet in the pulpit, leading with poems and prayers.

we sing ‘come thou fount’ and i watch the singers first.  then i look over to where the poet sat down and notice everyone’s mouths moving in unison.

we’re sitting in the round and sure enough, when i continue to observe everyone; that grey-haired wendell berry gentleman farmer looking guy and that woman, eyes closed, hands raised – we all know this one by heart.

we sit together, this assembled group from far and near.  we sit together and we sing.

festival

that night james mcbride tells the truth when he says this ~

“i sit down and write everyday because i can’t not do it.  god has planted story in my heart and it’s my responsibility to write it out.”

he talks about learning to fail.  he talks about moving on to the next thing in the blink of an eye, not to get caught by bitterness.  i walk around calvin college and something i didn’t see coming is sinking in.

i’ve become bitter about failure.

i’ve put my heart into a couple of endeavors that didn’t go the way i’d hoped.  trying to plant a church, writing a book that went nowhere.  you know, just a couple of small things.

now i find i’m looking for shortcuts.

but here’s james mcbride in his hat telling me to write the curve and to give myself and my neighbors the chance to make mistakes – and that when things fail, you’ve still got a friend in jesus.

he’s telling me to write the truth that i know.  he’s saying that it takes real time.

marks

the air changes when a hopeful group sings songs to god.

it happens in chapel this morning.  every top and bottom lip in the room is forming the truest words:

“prone to wander lord, i feel it.  prone to leave the god i love.”

i wonder if it’s true.  i wonder if everyone in this room was sought by jesus when a stranger, rescued from danger from interposed blood.  i don’t know, but here we all are because we hold this one thing in common.

we love stories.

the stories we’ve read and the stories that we’ve written.  we love the stories that have formed us as people and shaped our very lives.

i follow the lead of the woman with her hand raised and close my eyes, too.  time to stop observing.  i’m going to receive what’s given and sing along again, protect what is still innocent in my heart.

i’m part of this old, old story and it’ll be my hope in glory.  i love to tell the story of jesus and his love.

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grandfathers and writing conferences

ohio river

i left town last week.  i’m leaving again on thursday.

i couldn’t leave soon enough when my children were small.  little hands hooked around my neck and breathing so close, too close.  no quiet.  always taking care.

it’s not like that now.

now it seems like time sneaks up on me and my ride is at the door.  i say goodbye to every child two or three times too many and i leave wondering if there was more i could have done.

village

i’m going to the faith and writing festival this week.  i’m not counting down the days and really, i haven’t caught up on the rest that i need from going away this last weekend.  if i didn’t go, that’d be alright.

but i think i’m going to find myself there anyway.

that might be the best way to go to any place.  low expectations and believing that home is better than the destination i’m going to end up at.

i’ve lived the other way for far too long.

oakmont

i visited my grandfather this morning.  he’s been in an assisted living facility for a couple of years now.  i brought him a doughnut and a cup of coffee and we sat at his small dining table; he in his wheelchair and me in a real chair.

i told him i was going to a writing conference.  i picked up my hand and mimed writing when he asked me to say it again, his hearing not so good.

he used to take me out on country roads and get out of the driver’s seat.  he’d walk around to my side and have me get out to drive; giving the lessons he thought a grandfather should.  i was the only granddaughter and the youngest grandchild.  he’d done that same thing six times before with every boy and he didn’t leave me out.

he nodded a little and sort of smiled about the writing conference.  i knew he had no idea what i was talking about.  then i helped him out of his wheelchair and back on to his bed.

it’s good to give things their proper place.  it’s not wise to ask why the former days were better than these and more foolish still to imagine that what’s coming up on will transform life for the better.

there is today.

best to make peace with it whichever way you can.

i’ll be blogging from the festival this week…
look for thoughts on writing and writers.  see you in grand rapids.

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dear vanessa

IMG_7630

the difficult parts of life don’t come with instruction booklets.  it’s just us, hammering out the days we’re given with flesh and blood.

it can be a messy business.

add to the mix the odd desire to share that process with people on the internet through a blog and it can get messier.

or better.

or both.

a reader responded to my last post with a much different spirit than the one i wrote the post in.  i wrote it wanting to affirm mazzy’s personhood – the commenter said i was deceiving myself.  i wrote it wanting to share how i’ve had to change as a person to accept that disability isn’t wrong or bad – vanessa said my response was cruel and damaging.

it’s odd, the internet.  it’s nameless, faceless hands reaching for your shoulders and shaking you up sometimes.  i know some things about vanessa.  she, too, has a daughter with down syndrome.  and i know her name.

vanessa.

i really like that name.

it’s so grand.  it’s big.  it goes on and on and seems like it could encompass great places, people and things.

and i think in some ways vanessa was right.

paper

As a mother of a young adult DS daughter, your response to your daughter deeply concerns me. It’s cruel, damaging even…this is bad business in not being upfront and honest about why she can’t speak and sing like those around her. You aren’t deceiving her as much as you are deceiving yourself. She knows that something is different and you are attempting to gloss over her very valid worries about it…In your own way, since you know her best, have the hard conversation about why she won’t speak like those around her. ..Your daughter isn’t afraid of her own voice – and DS kids do not speak like typical people – why are you afraid to confront that?…It’s not easy and be prepared for many tears, but it is in the best interest of your daughter to reduce the illusion that all is the same. No one wins, especially your daughter.

no one wants to be seen as a bad parent.

all the parenting books in the world can’t answer the moments that take what’s in us, good and bad, and drops it right in the hearts and minds of the children we’ve been entrusted with.

i think with mazzy i was leaning towards osmosis.  i figured she knows she has down syndrome and she knows that she goes to a different school than her brother and sister and she knows that she’s different, she just knows.

but reading vanessa’s comment, i asked myself, have i really had this kind of conversation with mazzy?  have i sat down with her and talked explicitly about her differences caused by having down syndrome?

and honestly, i had to admit that i hadn’t.

so i did.

pen

i asked mazzy about her voice.  we talked about it.  i asked her about having down syndrome and how her differences made her feel.  she was thoughtful and had a lot to say on the subject, much i hadn’t heard before.

the conversation was necessary and surprising and teary and filled with prayers, love and hard questions with no answers.  it was had and it was good and we’ll have more.

so vanessa – thank you.  i hope that you saw what my heart also said in that post, that we as parents have wanted to create a loving, accepting home for a daughter to thrive in.  and i think that it’s true that because we have such a home, such hearts, that this harder conversation was had with relative ease.

but you were right, too – and you were honest.  and i like truth tellers, so again…

thank you.

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telling kids (and moms) the truth

quiet girl

“something is wrong with my voice.”

every once in a while mazzy will ask her dad or i this question.

“what’s wrong with my voice?”

pink

hat

and we know what she means.

she means that she loves to sing, but when she opens her mouth it doesn’t sound the same as the songs she adores.  she means that she watches her brother and sister walk up on stages and sing from their hearts, but she sits in the seats and watches.

she means this – what is wrong with me?

perfect

when mazzy was six months old we started working with a communication specialist.

he’d spent his career working with kids with disabilities and their parents with the strongly held conviction that nothing was wrong with these kids.  he taught their parents how to slow down long enough to get into their children’s worlds.

i remember the first time he said it to me.

“there is nothing wrong with mazzy.”

he said it and he knew i didn’t believe it.

he said those words and something in me broke.  it was my heart.  and it broke because of how blind i was, how wrong.

but it’s a funny thing about broken hearts – they get softer afterwards.  my heart before those words was hardened against people who had down syndrome, even my own flesh and blood.  i needed words strong enough to break a stone heart.  and we all know what kind of words do that.

true words.

mazzy

so when mazzy asks us what is wrong with her voice, we always tell her the truth.

“nothing mazzy.  nothing is wrong with your voice.  you have a beautiful voice!  i love to hear your voice!”

and she looks at us hopeful, wondering if we are telling the truth.

we look right back into her lovely face without deceit and let her know that yes, we’re telling the truth – there is no flaw in you.

today is world down syndrome day – take a minute and watch the video below.  it’s so worth your time.

Posted in beauty, disability, mazzy, mothering | 8 Comments

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when lent gets in the way

lent

lent is a little tough for me.

it can seem like a further cementing of the basic misunderstanding of god’s heart for relationship.

that misunderstanding goes like this:

if you give up the things you really like and settle for a life where you’re always wishing you were doing other things, denying yourself and being bored out of your skull – well then do i have the religion for you!

basket

the big secret of friendship with god is the failure of keeping the forty days.

the lent worth paying attention to is the one that points out how i can’t pull myself up by the bootstraps and give up the things that are killing me.  the lent that matters is the one that brings sin into the forefront, not spiritual perfection.

because without sin folks, there’s no need for good friday.

stained glass

on our dining room table we have a basket   it’s filled with construction paper cut into squares and there’s a red pen in there, too.  a few of the papers have been folded up tight, hiding what’s been written upon them, secrets to god.

we count sins during lent because we want there to be a reason to celebrate on easter morning.

if this basket is empty come good friday, if i’ve given up my vices and kept my soul in check with nary an error – then jesus up on that cross is little more than an icon.  he’s an idea of necessary element to the human experience at best.

but is he a savior?  a real life someone who tells the truth of my human condition and gives me a way out through love i can’t comprehend?

it doesn’t seem so to me.

blank

not if i’m fine, not if i’m able to muster up a lent once a year to prove i can do it just fine on my own.

i need a lent that points out what i can’t do, not what i can.

so i uncap the pen and i sit and i think of what i’ve done, of what i’ve said.  i write down the secret thoughts i haven’t spoken out loud.  i write a letter to the only one able to write back and look forward to easter sunday.

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the ghosts of childhood

girls

how will you write?

will you be as blank and wide open as the page before you?  or will you cloak your story in poem and character so deep underwater that you come up for air only once in a blue moon to let your reader know that yes, yes – there still is a point to all this madness?

ella

star

i only know this.

i see people who live in more freedom than me.  and i don’t like it.

oh, i like it fine for them, but i don’t like what it says about me.

when did i start to settle?

when did i start writing a story that no one would want to read?  when did i start caring so much who read it?

mazzy

hug

there is an art to life and to living.

and if that is true then it follows that we’re artists.

i’m not interested in bad art.  or even mediocre art.  i’m interested in liberation artistry.

the kind that sets people free as they look upon it or hear it or read it.

the kind of life and art that casts out demons and wakes up while it’s still dark to pray.  life that is art that is more than i live or create now.

sisters

that way

i don’t know.

maybe it’s just the coffee, but i’m off to chase the ghosts of childhood today.

i’m off to find out what i was made to do, to write like no one’s reading.

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your life from here

white

there’s a man out there in the snow with his dog.

he’s clipping back the vines on these frozen lanes.  my romantic notions of owning a vineyard evaporate a little bit because that’s what these lines represent.  the hard work of a farmer.  the day in and day out.  those posts are just necessary means to an end.

but still, i wonder if he sees how beautiful they are.

work

probably not.

the vineyards likely wait outside the window of his warm farm house like a work day.  his dog is circling his legs and he’s drinking coffee gearing up, getting ready to face the snow and the hibernating branches that will bear fruit in summertime.

but i’ve driven out to the peninsula this morning.

i’m not used to the rows of waiting wine and the planted lives of bay side farmers.  i’m just a person who needs beauty like vines need water, even the frozen kind.

snow day

life

and what about your own life?

your own day in and day out?

doesn’t seem too lovely, right?  it’s not something someone would drive an hour or more to look at from afar, nothing there to make that driver slow down and get right out to take a photograph or two?

well, don’t answer too quickly now because the farmer loses perspective.

when life is lived close up, the bigger picture gets lost in the details of daily bread and rumpled sheets.

morning

blue

but you’ll just have to trust me.

it matters.  your hard work shows.

the tending of your own vineyard looks better than you could ever know, friend.

so drink your coffee and kiss those ones you love.  your branches will bear fruit come summer and we’ll drink the wine together.

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when i am not enough

 

tubes

ella's coat

prayer books assume a lot.

they take for granted that a body needs to take time to pray at least three times a day.

at least.

up

i’m being towed up on a line.  i am mentally preparing myself to tube down a ski hill. when i do, the first few seconds feel like a really bad decision.  the learning curve is steep, but the brain catches up and i know that i’m not going to die and then it’s kind of fun.

sort of.

but what i really like is the perspective.

i watch the people get little and the sky get big.

i’m ascending without effort and it changes the way i think, the way i breathe.

fun

boys

prayer books assume that one day is enough to wipe a person out.

they ask for grace just for the morning.  then at midday they ask again.  when the stars make their way out, prayer books pray for a peaceful night of sleep.

they start out from a place of need.  it’s page after page written from a place of empty needing to be filled.

prayer books may be on to something.

ella

i need perspective to remember that this day has a beginning, a middle and an end.

i need a tow rope to pull me up and out of what each day holds.

i’m trying not to be afraid of that.

i’m trying to embrace that a day can bring more than i can bear and that i just might need to pray to begin this day with joy and end it in deeper love of my brothers and sisters.

i need to open books and fly down hills that remind me that i am not enough.

Posted in community, depression, grace; free gifts, prayer | 4 Comments

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