seasonal help

windy

there is a prayer and it goes this way;

“lord, i do not feel like i used to feel.”

it doesn’t worry god too terribly much though.

because god’s not interested in “used to.”  not one little bit.

branch

god is always, “look!  see!  i’m doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?!”

always new.

or at least new-ish.

this autumn, the cool nights and the changing leaves, this is brand new.  fall 2014 has never been here before.  but all the autumn days prior have landed us down in these days.

god is new, but not unheard of.

before new

we’ve been here before, lord.

where i feel far from you.

that is not new.

but it’s new in that i have peace, perfect peace, that you will find me.

i’ve been here before where i’m changing my days, making choices that set me in your path.

that’s not so new.

but it is new because i have no faith in my ambition, my words or my efforts to bring you closer here.

you alone are god this time.

hope

i alone am lightless.

and shallow.

together though…together we might just be on to something.

together you alone are still god, but in your love, i reflect light and it’s by your grace that i have depth at all.

Posted in faith, hidden life, real hope, waiting | 2 Comments

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godfathers and cancer

6'4

“i spread a bunch of marigold seed, but only a few came up this year…i don’t know what went wrong.”

my father is sitting next to his brother on a golf cart.  they’re riding around on the 3 acres i grew up going to every weekend or so.  he’s smoking a cigar and he’s got an axe in his hand.  my uncle bill, who is also my godfather, is deciding which pile of wood he’s going to have his brother split next.

this place is as close to a family farm as i have.

my great-grandparents lived out here and so my dad and his brother grew up coming here, too.  they grew and grew, such that when i came around i was used to looking up to men with hearts over six feet tall.

that’s my normal.

axe

brother

and so a few months back my uncle was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

i imagine him standing next to my parents at the baptismal, me in christening gown, and watching a baby either quiet or wail, as the priest poured the water on my head.

i don’t remember that.

but walking around on this fine september day behind my godfather’s house i do remember him, tall and strong, with a visor on playing tennis with my dad.  my cousin and i sitting at the net running to get yellow tennis balls, fingering the blades of grass made white with chalk.

i remember swimming under the moon with so many people in the 4 foot pool, two of which were over six feet, and it still feeling huge.

i remember fourth of julys and walking along the fence at the back by myself and pumping water and ringing the dinner bell outside the small house up front before he built the big one out back.

i remember my truest childhood.

my father picks up another log of cherry wood and sets it down to split it and i feel my eyes fill up.  i don’t want to spoil our afternoon with crying, so i walk away until i can keep on having a perfectly nice time.

water

belleville

my aunt rosie put down those marigold seeds, just like any other year out on the farm, but this time they didn’t come up.

she’s not sure what went wrong.

and none of us are sure what’s gone wrong when the 6’4 strength of a family is getting around on a walking cane he fashioned himself, bones closer to the surface.

we don’t know what has gone wrong when cancer shows no mercy and the strong man has to watch his brother from the golf cart, pain tapping him on the shoulder telling him it’s almost time to go in and take another pill.

sometimes things go wrong.

IMG_9565

chris

bill

and there’s my dad.

he’s sweat clean through and he’s splitting wood for his brother.  over and over he hits the iron wedge with the sledgehammer so hard he breaks it – as if to beat cancer itself.

because he would if he could.

if there was something to be done, just name it brother – and i know my dad would do it.

but there’s nothing.  there’s nothing anyone can do.  we all know it and it makes me walk away by myself from time to time.

so we spend a sun-blaring, end of summer day together with cancer and cherry wood and cold beer.  we each take a turn with the rifle and try to hit the can my uncle’s got up on a board for a target.

we kiss thinner faces, say our goodbyes and drive the back roads home.

beating cancer

brothers

sometimes the marigolds don’t come up no matter how many seeds you sow, no matter how hard you hit.

but if we could, you know we would uncle bill.

you know we would, brother.

Posted in cancer, childhood, family, grief, love, time | 5 Comments

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the last day of summer vacation

low

i’m trying not to complain.

trying to keep it close and finish the summer well.

but self-care is real.  introverts are real.

and one person caring for three people everyday for three months is a draining occupation.

lily

bridges

i’m past entering in.

i’m past getting myself to a yoga class.

i’m past a girl’s night out.

i feel feral.  my thoughts consist of a few ad slogans from the 80′s, snatches of pop song lyrics, cartoons and swear words.  i can barely string two original thoughts together.

the summer has reduced me.  i’m less now than i was before it.

once upon a time i led my children down country lanes and lilac trails.  i led them by the hand.  we still visit the same places, but now these children outpace me.

easily.

once in a while they look over their shoulder to call back at me to hurry up.  i see now that one day they will leave me in the dust entirely.

summerand that’s okay.

but could you just hand me that coffee cup there?

and would you join me in a moment of silent thanksgiving for the public school system?

and would you please excuse me while i slip out the back door and head into the woods where no bird or small, four-legged creature asks of me one single thing.

Posted in childhood, me, mothering, rest, time | Leave a comment

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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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