in and of itself

belle

i’m hoping to make a sacrifice, i’m hoping to make some time.

distractions abound and i find myself racing towards them.  thankful lists compiling activity and people fall short of the kind of gratitude i’m lacking as of late.

but i’m not so sure i can pull it off.

agua

aslan

well then, how about a minute or two?

an hour?

a day?

some brief, dedicated time to sit free of distraction and for what purpose exactly?

queen

pascal says it simply and best -

“we run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us from seeing it.”

thomas morris follows that with this explanation -

“death is the abyss.  we want desperately to avoid it.  we want just as desperately to avoid having to wrestle with the issues it raises.  we try to do everything we can to create within us a sense that death is not near, that it can be ignored, that the ultimate issues are mists far beyond the horizon.”

ain’t it the truth, thomas?

living wateri have finite time on this planet.

as do each of my children.

as do you.

and diversion isn’t wrong.  in and of itself.  some are noble and good.  family, work, justice.  and relaxation is also necessary.  tv.  novels.  flitting from here to there.  vacating.

but if i’m honest, the scales of my life have tipped.

i’m out of a rhythm that includes the contemplation of what is needful for a good life, that asks the ultimate questions.

must i wait for tragedy to strike before i examine my own existence?

maze

become like a child

the scales tip toward distraction and diversion.

and so i’m going to put some weight on the other side today and tomorrow and the next day, too – i hope.

i hope to make that sacrifice.

i hope to make the time.

Posted in childhood, contentment, time, writing | Leave a comment

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ode to scott cairns’ ‘hesychasterion’

lightwhen i make our bed i will take a leafy branch and with it, smooth the sheets of softest green, down to wait until the day dims and we find one another again.

blue

signs

lovleywhen this daughter finds me writing in the shifting shadows on my morning porch, i ask her,

“do you know you have my heart?” 

and with her back towards me so i can button this play dress, she answers,

“yes, i do.”

contestworkers

tasketmy heart is a stone, a rock, a piece of granite in my chest.  it would weigh me down and drown me in the clear, sun-filled waters i so love.

but for you, o lord.

teacher who has taught how to etch, how to carve, a way in and through and there in the grotto of my heart, to prepare a silent place to meet with you.

read cairns’ poem here…

Posted in beauty, good life, hidden life, prayer, writing | 1 Comment

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accepting jesus: not as simple as once believed

welcome

i’m setting up chairs for bible club.

joshua and i teach children’s church once a month at the little detroit body we’ve been calling home on sunday mornings.  the sun is flooding in through second story windows and i’m feeling humbled.

i tried to plant a church.  whether or not you think i tried hard enough, i tried.

and here i am three years later, getting ready to preach.

chairs

jesus

but apparently kids are a real threat.

children that have been taught to love jesus are being beheaded in iraq.

i don’t have imagination enough to make that real in my mind, in my heart and i don’t have stomach enough to google the images and videos i’ve read about.

i didn’t know this when i set up the chairs in a semi-circle yesterday.

i didn’t know this as we read about paul being a missionary, being stoned and beaten in lystra, and i said these words, “sometimes doing the thing that god asks you to do can be hard.”

the children play with lincoln logs after we pray asking that if god wants any of them to be missionaries that they’d be brave enough to go and that he’d keep them safe.

dry erase

accepting jesus.  confessing jesus as lord.

look a little closer at the terms.

neither one is an easy thing.

it’s not simple to accept something.  it’s a process.  say your daughter told you she was gay.  you’d be processing that until you looked your friends in the eye and said, “i’ve accepted that my daughter is gay.”

it’s not simple to confess something.  if a suspect for a double homicide were taken in for questioning and after hours and hours of denial he finally confesses, “yes.  yes!  i killed them both.”  that’s a lot different than hearing a four-step plan of salvation and with a shining smile saying, “yep!  i confess that jesus is lord.”

confession and acceptance.

not a once believed fleeting assenting to a set of beliefs, but rather a process, a tear-stained admitting that yes.  yes.  jesus is lord.  okay?  fine.  i accept it.  it’s true!  i confess that there is no other name, alright?

chased down and cornered until i surrender to jesus.

burning bush

so people are being killed.

children.

jesus – why?

what would the amish do?  can you forgive in the face of such grotesque evil?  the absolute bait of war?  of religious war?

readywe’re reading from the thin pages and looking at a drawing of paul’s hat getting knocked off as the rocks hit.

what in the world?

jesus like the pulse under the finger of humanity.  the source and the answer.  the question and the confession.

i have no words.

i stack up chairs and lead the children, my own children, back down the steps to the room where these lovely detroiters just took communion and now are singing, sharing food.

it’s just another sunday morning among those who have admitted that jesus is lord.

Posted in childhood, christian culture, death, detroit, jesus | 2 Comments

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wanted: one husband

sand dad

i’ve spent the summer with my family.

my husband has blurred.  he’s one of the five of us.  we’re all in this together.

but i don’t know.

sometimes i miss the two of us.

dad timeapparently he could have been found on the beach in his wayne state hat making drip sand castles.

that’s where i could have found him this summer when he wasn’t working.  or pulling weeds.  or fighting with a broken lawn mower.  or fishing.  or playing music and dancing in the dining room.  or playing minecraft.  or board games.  or tucking in his children.

i could have found him all those places.

but what about just him and just me?

secret beachthere are the four minutes in the morning when we both wake up or are woken up by a small person or people.

there are those two minutes when he makes his way to kiss me while he rolls his bike away from the fireplace and onto the front porch to head out to the library.

there is dinner.  there is bedtime.  there is netflix with him and reading books on pillows, eyes barely staying open.  there are nights when goodnight kisses go off the rails.

is that when when we’re together, just him and  just me?

right here

this person i live alongside with.

i want you.

i want to see you when we are five.  when we are two.  when you are one.

i don’t want to miss you when you’re right in front of me.

so let’s go out to breakfast, just us.

and let’s go to the beach one more time, just the five of us.

and yes, i’ll watch the kids so you can go and just be joshua somewhere else.  just like you let me go and be zena lots of times.

the boundaries of your love have fallen for me in pleasant places.

Posted in childhood, family, joshua, love, marriage | 1 Comment

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what myra said

thinker

when i met myra i was in full-on church recruiting mode.

she was a neighbor.

perfect.

i got along really well with her.

perfect.

her live in boyfriend was an asshole and we could hear him yell at her before he slammed out of the screen door and drove off.

just perfect.

i told her that i loved jesus and she was cool with that.  we’d sit on her tiny cement porch underneath her buddhist prayer flags and talk about god and spirituality and cleaning houses with natural products.

but always somewhere, i hoped for more.

i wanted her to go to church with me.

i wanted her to ditch her loser boyfriend and meet a good guy.  i wanted her to know how deep she was loved until it sank into her bones and she wouldn’t need a neighbor to tell her.  i wanted her to meet jesus like i had.  quietly, and by the spirit.

one sunday i heard about an opportunity to bring our “non-christian” friends to.  no pressure, all were welcome, free food, good conversation.

perfect.

i told myra about it and lo! she said she’d come.

we showed up at my church that night and sat at the table with four other people to talk about god.

i looked at myra and her eyes were shining.  she was open and happy and felt the love.  i was happy, too.  i understood at that moment that the jesus i had conveyed to her was the one she was expecting to find more of and i felt sure that she would find more tonight.

but i was wrong.

perspective

myra started to talk.  she started to tell her story and her experience of god.  two of the people at the table were the leaders of the group, man and wife, and the female member of this couple was bugged.

she was bothered.

she didn’t like the way myra talked about god.

it was a night to bring friends.  it was night to be vulnerable about the topic that is so easily attacked when exposed.  it was a night for myra to try on the clothes of christianity.

“um, myra?” the wife’s voice interrupted her finally, “could we stop using those new-agey terms?”

and just like that myra looked like she’d been sent to the corner.

because really, she had been.

dia

myra didn’t live at church.  she hadn’t absorbed the weird christian vernacular.  she said karma because she had insight into reaping what you sow.  she said mantra because she’d been experimenting with prayer.  she said consciousness because she wanted to find more than she’d known so far.

but that wasn’t the right code.  that was the wrong christian answer.  she failed a test she didn’t know she was taking.

a test i brought her to.

my spirit sank.

myra didn’t say another word for the rest of the night.  i wrote a scathing letter a few weeks later to the organizers and they responded and were very apologetic and worked to get to the bottom of it.

but on the ride home all i could do was say how sorry i was.

myra reflected as we drove and it was clear that she was hurt.  but she didn’t say that.  she just kicked off a little further from organized christianity that night, like a swimmer, turning for her next lap.

i told her that i had expected something different.  i had expected that the conversations would be more like when she and i talked.  and she laughed.

“well you know what they say about expectations?”  

i didn’t.  i was surprised she was laughing and even more surprised that she had some wisdom on the whole affair.

“no.”  i answered.  “what do they say?”

“they’ll fuck you every time!”

and she sort of kicked her foot when she said it and just erupted in giggles.

i laughed, too, but there i was in the wife role, uncomfortable with the word choice in order to describe a spiritual truth.

friends

i don’t know what to say when an honest person is interested in god and finds no room at the inn at the local church.

and i don’t imagine that i have it any more together than anyone else.

i just know that it’s happened to me on more than one occasion that when i have a friend who is spiritually open and they get close to the church, they back way up and things change.

i will say it’s been ten years and more since i was myra’s neighbor.  i laughed along with her that night in my car, uncomfortable and not really understanding the connection to her words and the situation.

but i get it now, myra.  and you’re right.  expectations do fuck you every time.  thanks for trusting me all those years ago.  i hope i deserved it.  and i hope you and your boyfriend are doing alright.

i hope all good things for you and thanks for sharing the truth with me.

Posted in christian culture, friendship, jesus, pride | 4 Comments

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the perfect christian life and anti-depressants

(this article originally appeared in catapult magazine.  the topic has been on my mind, so i thought i’d bring her back out and put a new dress on her.)

A close friend knocked on our door a few weeks after our daughter was born.

He told us he’d waited these six weeks before coming by, what with the baby being so new and all, but now the time had come. He wanted to let us know that our child was in need of healing. This Down syndrome she possessed was in fact possession, and we could start tonight, we could pray it away.

This was not God’s intention for her.  We could call the devil by his name.  He asked us to imagine her healed and walking across the stage receiving her high school diploma eighteen years from now. He said we’d sit in the bleachers and we’d cry and say, “God did that!”

I held my baby, not yet two months old, in her blankets.

Life’s surprises had left me numb and now this? Now him in our living room — our brother, our trusted friend — delivering such a word from God?

I’d hoped he would want to hold her, praise her newness, but he hardly looked at her except to see what God wanted to fix.

What I held in my arms now was little more than a thermostat of my faith.

The Christian life has a lot of those: ways that determine how much faith we have, how much we deny or obey God based on what we will or won’t do.  What we do or don’t believe about things other than Jesus Christ.

kids

I’ve taken anti-depressants for years now — another one of those things.

Taking medication for depression can be a Christian no-no.

I’ve internalized that prevalent thought and every night, when it comes time to swallow down another tiny orange pill, I sometimes think that I’m doing something wrong. I believe that I’m less than the one who doesn’t need to do this, less than the super-Christian I used to be. I wonder if I’ve lost my creative edge. I believe that I tell the truth at a slant now. Everything that I have achieved is, in part, not valid because I’ve done it while managing depression with a prescription pharmaceutical.

Is that true?

These two stories share a similar lie that boils down to this: there is a better Christian way of being and it can be achieved in this life.  Extra behavioral choices added to believing that I’m saved by grace.

Is that true?

It is true that some life situations are better than others — managing depression through prayer versus alcoholism, perhaps? Or having no mental disabilities versus having a cognitive delay? However, none of these situations is any further away from or closer to God.

We’re all a million miles off the mark and will continue to be so.

If our daughter were healed of Down syndrome, she’d still be far from realized.

If I stop taking medication and don a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, I’d be no closer to or further from Jesus than I am today.

I still having trouble believing it is so, but it is.

Grace contends for its way and God decides some people will have Down syndrome.

He also loves people who struggle with depression.

Revolutionary, I know.

forgive me

Grace speaks this over and over: it’s not about us.

It’s about God and what He does or doesn’t do.

Maybe one day, we’ll all get it right — perfect people with a perfect score.

Oh, for that glorious, extremely boring, day!  I need to pray that I don’t hope for such a day.

But until then I’ll walk down the street having taken my anti-depressant, holding the hand of my daughter who has Down syndrome and I will say that I am loved and, by the grace of God, I’m still welcome.

photo credit: amykimballphotography

Posted in depression, disability, grace; free gifts, the church | 2 Comments

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psalm 34:18

the lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed.

summerour friend tells us that he’s been tore up ever since his mother died and i’m thinking that he doesn’t know how right he is.

the words brokenhearted in the bible translate in the hebrew like this:

to tear the inner man into pieces.

skythe summer days dawn and shine until nighttime and it feels even worse to those walking around torn up on the inside.  it should be grey when your heart is broken.

green leaves hovering over blue water when the people you love are sick? laughing and summertime when your brothers and sisters are diagnosed and waste and die?  vacation plans and cannonballs when the hopes you’ve held forever are answered with a resounding no over and over again?

so we try for a fix.

maybe a drink?  maybe a relationship?

maybe we fly across the world only to find that the inner man comes with us and holds our hand as we walk off the runway.

there is no way to heal yourself up when the heart is torn to shreds.  i’ve tried.  i still try.  i try without realizing i’m trying.

and it never works.

nightthe first time jesus teaches publicly he says that he was born for this reason -

“to bind up the brokenhearted.” – luke 4

this is what jesus does.

he is binding up the shredded insides of men and women.

he is tightly winding bandages around what’s been torn so that healing can begin and hearts can mend in the way they were meant to.

set sailthere are things i can’t do.

there are places on the inside that even the most beautiful days and most loving friends can’t touch.

come, lord jesus.

Posted in depression, detroit, grief, healing, real hope | 4 Comments

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call for songs of loudest praise

art

“why do christians sing when they are together?  the reason is, quite simply, because in singing together it is possible for them to speak and pray the same word at the same time; in other words, because they can unite in the word.” ~ dietrich bonhoeffer

a stack of two-pocket fading folders with fasteners.  thirty pages of songs sung by the faithful.  come to the light.  step by step.  isn’t he.  alpha omega.

my faith started this way.  singing songs.

and it continues like this, too.

city

last night it happened again.  i sat in a living room and sang songs.

i remember being seventeen years old and doing the exact same thing.  shuffling in, making small talk, and being handed a blue two-pocket fading fastening folder.  someone telling me which page to turn to.

and then singing.

singing about crucifixion and a crown of thorns.  singing about meeting god in the morning and learning to walk in his ways.  singing about how far the east is from the west.

and love.  always singing about love.

a bird

a plane

and there’s a quote i can’t find about how the early church was always singing.  that it didn’t matter what was done to them.  prison, death, thrown to the lions – they just kept gathering together and singing.

i like to think of it.

that from the ascension until this morning there has always been a song being sung. songs never ceasing, just like we sing about.  from the first moment until jesus returns, every time one song ends, another one begins – generation after generation.

for two thousand years and more.

super man

so do your part.

take your eyes off of your life and open your mouth and sing with abandon in somebody’s living room.  i know it sounds awful, ridiculous even.  but you just gotta trust me on this one.

sing while the day is still called today.

Posted in christian culture, community, faith, healing | 1 Comment

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i don’t know if there are harps in heaven

tree shadows

when winter was done, truly over, i noticed that i had an odd reaction to the signs of summer.

every budding summer tree made me see autumn.  after freezing pipes and days we couldn’t step out the front door, the sight of the progression back through the seasons sent a chill down my spine.

it’s taken a while for me to thaw.

orchard

tomorrow’s the last day of our family’s vacation and if there were ever a signal that fall will be returning, i guess this might be it.

but that’s alright.

we hiked on the hills through a cherry orchard and if god’s heart is on display in nature, what are we to make of orchards, vineyards and farmland?

children

national

when i walk through the rows i imagine what words i want on my tombstone.

because i’m convinced that the hereafter can’t be too far off from life in the center of a cherry orchard.

this great what’s coming next.

the fear of watching the signs that point out yes, winter will come again.  and the fear of watching the signs of those you love growing old, getting sick and yes, that our time here is limited.

jubilee

this summer, if you have a way, get out into the exposed heart of god in nature.

read the words written in rows, in cherries and in sunlight.

they tell you what god is like.

kindness.
beauty.
generosity.
provisional.

and we will take that knowledge into the harshest seasons of this life.  we will hold it close when the trees are bare.  we will remember to make it through.

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all to reveal a secret we can’t hide

 

when

during communal prayer at church, anyone can say anything.  i’ve heard mothers weep for children and homeless men go off on political rants.

last sunday i had a prayer in my throat.

but i think and rethink.  i wonder how i’ll say it.  i’m always writing my words.

finally i pray.

and as soon, as soon, as i quiet down a woman’s soft voice rises behind our pew and prays this:

“lord, have mercy on all the arrogant believers.”

we open

prayers continue to float across the room, but i know that she said that for me.

at least i think i know.

i’m the arrogant believer who  needs mercy.

i feel small and ashamed.  it bothers me.

our eyes

during the week i hear a sermon where the pastor talks about the rules not applying to everyone.  that some believers hold others to high standards but for themselves, the rules change.

don’t you watch that movie, but i can.
don’t you eat that dessert, but i will.
don’t you go on that website, but i do.
don’t say those words, but i will.

for that believer, the rules don’t apply.

“lord, have mercy on all the arrogant believers.”

and

by the middle of the week, the barely audible prayer for mercy feels more like a blessing than a curse.

one afternoon, i’m talking with the mormons on my front porch.  it’s the third or fourth time they’ve been by.  i’ve read the parts of nephi that they told me to and when they ask if i believe that the jesus in that story is the same one i know, i say no.

“no, i don’t think it is the same jesus.”

the sorrow that comes into the earnest eyes of those faithful young men almost makes me feel bad enough to change my mind.

almost.

later in the week, i sit with my friend in a car and we talk about forgiveness.  that we both need it.  i tell her that my faith, my messy, arrogant, bold, imperfect faith, is not just for me.

i tell her the truth when i say that i’m in the exact same boat as everyone else.  one beggar telling another where i’ve found bread.

dream

today i’m wishing that after every prayer i pray there’d be a woman’s soft voice rising up somewhere from behind my back.

“lord, have mercy on all the arrogant believers.”

because i need it.

i’ve rarely known such an abuser of grace who tries hard and fails hard.  i’ve rarely known such a generous god willing to give his spirit to those who ask.

gratitude journal ~ one thousand gifts ~ 2293 – 2305

rental properties
this sun room
mazzy’s bald head
other lakes
vacation
one heart looking different now
green leaves
repenting of sin
sincere mormons
drew and dianne
de-stressing fights
basketball in the woods
fair rides

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