Tuesday, April 28, 2009

speaking of the right words

people sometimes ask why this blog. because it's cathartic? maybe. though a private journal could contain my catharsis. because it's what i do; that's some of it. writing is what i've always done, what i've always taught, what i've always loved. and i don't know how else to do this thing that i'm living, whatever it is...so that's part of it. because it's a way to invite people in? yes, in a marginally-safer way, in an i'm-not-even-sure-if-you're-there kind of way. (welcome in, glad you're here, i guess, whoever you are).

and then i read this, on the blog of this person who is my irl* friend (whose blog i very much recommend), who borrowed it from the blog of this person i don't know, but who i think is her irl friend (whose blog i now also very much recommend), who quoted this person, who i also don't know, but who has definitely found the right words, the rest of whose words i'm thinking i want to read:

(*irl = in real life, which i learned from this person, who i also don't know but whose blog--which is absolutely unrelated to this post except for the irl* thing but very much related to some other posts and also this thing i'm living--i definitely recommend)

All ambition has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self....
So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.

Still, there is something that any artist is in pursuit of, and is answerable to, some nexus of one's being, one's material, and Being itself. The work that emerges from this crisis of consciousness may be judged a failure or a success by the world, and that judgement will still sting or flatter your vanity. But it cannot speak to this crisis in which, for which, and of which the work was made. For any artist alert to his own soul, this crisis is the only call that matters. I know no other name for it besides God, but people have other names, or no names.
An artist who loses this internal arbiter is an artist who can no longer hear the call that first came to him. Better to be silent then. Better to go into the world and do good work, rather than to lick and cosset a canker of resentment or bask your vanity in hollow acclaim.
We come closer to the truth of the artist's relation to divinity if we think not of being made subject to God but of being subjected to God -- our individual subjectivity being lost and rediscovered within the reality of God. Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God's means of manifesting himself to us. It follows that any notion of God that is static is not simply sterile but, since it asserts singular knowledge of God and seeks to limit his being to that knowledge, blasphemous.

Christian Wiman, "Love Bade Me Welcome"

i've wondered why, oftentimes when i can't sleep at night, it's this thing or that thing i want to write that won't let me rest. this thing or that thing that i'll post on this blog or that one or this other one for someone or maybe-you or no one to read. or that other thing i'll write in my journal for certainly no one to read. or even that email response, electronic conversation such as it is, that i have yet to finish, whose just-right words--or what if they're just-wrong?--may make or break the creation we call relationship.

i'm not sure i'm ready to weigh in on the genre of the blog, whether it's an art form (and oh! the definition of art and ever-so-many delightful intellectual rabbit trails we can walk in person some day maybe), though those bloggers, friends irl and not, who i mention above are certainly artists-at-work, as their blogs show so clearly. but if writing is a craft, at least, then the craftsman is in question for sure. from whence comes the call to create?

(and may i add that i've been thinking about dreams a lot lately, too, and where they come from? you'll see why--that is, why i add this--in a minute.)

"Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God's means of manifesting himself to us." if God gave us our imagination, created it and all its workings, why not use it to be with us and in us and molding us? if God gives us the capacity to think, to dream, to paint or sculpt or write, why can't He use these very capacities to reach us? i love the idea that if we pursue Him in our craft, we are by so doing being pursued and filled by Him who gave us the capacity to create, even He who invented creation and Creation...and dreaming and drawing and dancing.

i know that God uses the artwork, the craft of writing, of so many irl and not-irl friends to teach me, but for Him to use my craft to be with me--my sleepless nights thinking of things i inexplicably somehow need to write--well, that's ever-so-much better. "subjected to God": i'll take it.

i'll be writing tonight, whether you're reading or not.

Monday, April 27, 2009


sometimes words feel graceful. slippery, even, they slide out on their own. like i couldn't hang onto them even if i tried. other times, they're awkward. always just the wrong one. and there are some things they just don't make words for.

and then there are the times that someone else's words fit just right. i didn't think this was one of those times.

God, if you're there, I wish you'd show me,
And, God, if you care, then I need you to know me.
I hope you don't mind me asking the questions but
I figure you're big enough. And I am not big enough.

on saturday, i heard that song for the first time in a long time. it's a song i knew so well once, but before saturday, if you had asked me to sing "big enough" by chris rice, i would probably not have even remembered the tune. but as soon as i heard it, all the words came back.

and got stuck in my head.

i used to think they were pretty cheesy words, to tell the truth. convenient rhyme. nice tune. catchy. but not all that deep. not my words, they didn't fit all that well. but that song does get stuck in my head. i heard those words--again and again and again--in the soundtrack in my head all night and all day sunday.

and i think heard it for the first time.

and then sunday night, i sat down to start a new book, a mother's rule of life by holly pierlot, and read in it this prayer, prayed by the author at an admittedly low point in her walk with God:

God, if you're there, I figure it's your responsibility to show yourself to me. I've done everything I can with my life here. If you want me to get to know you, you need to reveal yourself to me; and it's up to you, because if you are God, I'm sure you can find a way.

i don't believe in coincidences. so i'm listening.

i think, when i used to hear that song, i used to have in mind my big--and not so big--intellectual questions. the i-can't-wait-'til-i-get-to-heaven-and-can-ask-God-about-that questions. free will and predestination. mosquitoes. all those planets. the stuff i lose sleep over when i have nothing else to lose sleep over. but i'm not sure i care all that much about those questions anymore.

i am not big enough. amen. that is the part i'm hearing for the first time. i am not big enough to work out anyone's--even my own--will or destination. i am not big enough to figure out the tiniest little bug or the biggest universe.

and i'm thinking i can be glad that i'm not big enough.

i'm a story-reader, not so much a fan of poetry. give me well-developed characters, gripping plot twists and turns, soul-full dialogue. all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players (okay, so shakespeare and i have more than a little bit of history, but really never the sonnets. really.). i believe real life is full of great stories, and those are some great ones to read. the real ones. jacob. job. Jesus.

so i've never been so much into the psalms. poetry and all that. but this weekend's words that i couldn't escape reminded me of some other good words, words that haven't really seemed to fit before.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. (Psalm 42:1-3,43:2-3)

if david, the Lord's anointed, could ask God, "where are you? and are you big enough? because i am not big enough," then i figure i'm in pretty good company if i do the same. i'm going to quit losing sleep asking for explanations of the things i'm not big enough to hold. i'm going to let God hold those things for me, like He has always wanted to. i'm going to ask God to show me and know me and bring me to dwell with Him. simple, really. honest. and raw. and i trust that He wants to hear it.

and i'm going to remember to thank Him, too, that i'm just not big enough.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

metaphorically speaking

you know when you get hit by a metaphor that's just so good you can't wait to write about it? can't stop thinking about it?

okay, so maybe that's just me. anyhow, this one feels that good.

what follows is excerpted from an article by Ellen Kuwana, a staff writer for Neuroscience for Kids. it was published in 2003 at http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/reeveb.html.
(as a former plagiarism detective, i am now satisfied to share the excerpt).

Actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed eight years ago, can now breathe on his own thanks to an experimental surgical procedure [...that...] was possible because Reeve's phrenic nerves were not injured in the accident eight years ago. Phrenic nerves carry the signal for a breath to be taken. In Reeve's case, the phrenic nerves are intact, but they no longer receive the signals from the brainstem to initiate a breath. [...] Researchers at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, had experimented with attaching electrodes to the diaphragm in the place where the phrenic nerves innervate the diaphragm. This area is called the "motor point." When the motor point is stimulated, the muscles in the diaphragm contract, bringing air into the lungs. When the nerve is not stimulated, muscles in the diaphragm relax and the lungs deflate. This cycle of muscle contraction and relaxation is the way we breathe.

Reeve can "breathe" this way for approximately 15 minutes. His muscles need to build up tone again, after many years of not being used.

i remember reading this about christopher reeve back then. and i also remember reading that some people were upset by his public appearances when he seemed to breathe normally, talk normally for fifteen minutes or so. because he wasn't, really. and he was so exhausted by the work of it that there wasn't much left afterwards. but on the talk shows when he shared his inspiring story, all we saw was the miracle: he's breathing on his own! talking! amazing.

that's how my "normal life" muscles feel right now. not firing like they used to before the trauma. i can flex those muscles for a little while and put on the act: amazing. she's back on the horse already. but those public appearances are all i've got. those normal life muscles only have a couple hours before they're too worn out. they need to build up tone again.

but speaking of building up tone, how does one do that, really?

As his muscles continue to get stronger through these 15-minute training sessions, Reeve should be able to breathe on his own for longer and longer periods of time. Not only will he enjoy the relative quiet of his own breathing, he will be able to smell scents and to talk. Reeve has had trouble talking with the breathing tube in his throat. Right now he can only talk in a whisper, but with time, his voice should get stronger, too.

Reeve has again proved that hard work and medical advances -- and staying hopeful about his future -- are the keys to his amazing progress.

training sessions can only be so frequent. and only so long. if i want to build arm strength, i have to lift weights. but only for a little while, every day. i can't just move into the gym and work out full-time. with time--with fifteen minute training sessions over and over and over--my arms will get stronger. and probably my shoulders and back, too.

but if the keys to reeve's amazing progress were hard work, medical advances, and hope, what are the keys to training my normal life muscles? hard work, yes. but not so much mine. you see, i have to be willing to be worked on. just like reeve, actually. sure, his were the muscles being trained, but he had trainers--lots of them, for sure--helping him do it. telling him how to do it. and then he just had to jump in and do the work. a little bit at a time. every day. being coached and worked on and trained. and, of course, staying hopeful.

so i'll do my work little by little, trying out and flexing my normal life muscles little by little. i'll rely on my trainers and my Trainer. and i'll hope and trust that i'll be breathing on my own before too long.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

her share and my seat

it's a question of where to sit.

for the past three years, i have joined an amazing group of women on wednesday mornings to study scripture. we meet in one friend's livingroom, seated in a group comprising two couches facing each other and an assortment of chairs completing the circle. we are women from all walks of life: grandmothers and new mothers, singles and wives, experienced moms of school-aged kids and moms with miles to go before we sleep. did i mention it is an amazing group?

three years ago, we were barely a handful. as we dug into scripture together, we dug into each other's lives. and though we can rarely sort out each other's problems--other than to redirect each other to the One Who Can--as women, we can certainly sort ourselves. that is, we've always known where to sit.

even when we were a group of just eight--and especially now that we're a group of more like twenty--we brought along a lot of kids. all in varying stages of independence. the ones who are old enough to be away from mom but not yet school-aged spend their time upstairs with two wonderful, amazing (so thankful for them!) babysitters; but there are always among us those children in varying stages of not-yet-independence.

for whose mothers are reserved the seats on the couch.

of course, a pregnant mom certainly deserves the cushiest seat in the house. and a nursing mom needs the throw pillows to prop up her arms and baby's head. a mom of a snoozing baby needs a comfortable place to be still and still and still so as not to disturb the all-important nap.

it's always been an unwritten rule that seats on the couches are reserved for those moms. and for almost three years, a coveted corner of one couch--throw pillows and arm and all--was reserved for me. in fact, as our study started up this fall, i often benefitted from part of the center square of that couch, too. because i had a baby--a growing baby who took up more than her fair share of space--for almost three years.

more than her fair share of space.

when our study resumed after the christmas break this year, i showed up that first week not knowing where to sit. an amazing number of babies and about-to-be babies were now part of our group, and all needed their seats on the couch. and i didn't. so i moved to a chair, where i now regularly sit between two vibrant, fun, intelligent "grown-up" mothers of adult children and grandmothers of grandchildren, women i so respect and admire and hope i'll resemble someday.

but women whose life stage is so not the same as mine.

because that more-than-her-fair-share of space that eliza consumed is empty now.

which is not to say that i don't think often about whether and when i'll sit on the couch again. i won't fill her space, a space whose emptiness literally aches. but is there another space? part of me is content in the chair, luke happily at school and no longer in need of the nursery care upstairs, my arms free to hold my bible and my study book and even a drink or a piece of homemade bread made by my grown-up friend sitting next to me. my back doesn't ache (because no matter how many throw pillows, two hours of holding a forty-pound "baby" takes its toll). i'm not spit upon, diaper-leaked-upon, weighed upon.

an empty space is a lonely space. i don't--will never--begrudge eliza the more-than-her-fair-share-of-space she consumed in my life, nor will those women begrudge her the space she consumed in our group or on that couch, i know. but how will i ever move back to that couch while maintaining that big empty space?

because i want that space. empty.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

forgive AND forget

i grew up in the catholic church. so now that i attend an anglican church, the liturgy is very unsurprising. very. it's not often that something new jumps out at me. but this sunday i was struck in a way so very unfamiliar by some very familiar words:

The Lord has promised to remove our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. When the Lord forgives our sin, He remembers it no more.

we have a God who is So Big. He knows everything, sees everything, understands everything...past, present, and future. and yet He forgets. He forgets. He doesn't just forgive.

how many of us can say that? i certainly can't. sure, i'll forgive you, but will i really forget--in the sense that the offense is absolutely gone--how i was wronged? doubtful.

but with God, we always have a clean slate. He does not think, "oh, she did it again," or, "won't she ever learn?" each time we wrong God--after thousands and thousands and thousands of times--it's as if there's no history of having done the same, no future full of the same offenses. we're totally clean, totally forgiven, our offenses totally forgotten every time.

our God forgets. we, forgetful people as we are, can't get a million little offenses out of our minds. oh, we can forget God's goodness to us, His faithfulness, His love. we follow in big footsteps historically; even as He rescued them from slavery in egypt, God's people forgot His care for them--day after day after day--and grumbled against Him. but do we forget our neighbors' mistakes? our friends' betrayals? no matter how much we forgive, it's so much harder to forget.

so here's the big news: when God forgets, the offense is gone. because it's all His. and if He gives it up--or more accurately, takes it away--it doesn't exist anymore. it is gone. all those offenses i've been forgiven...how can i forget to praise God for his forgetfulness?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


there are lots of things that aren't much good until you get past the outside. pistachios. eggs. tootsie pops. corn on the cob.

but i'm thinking more of a watermelon.

to have a husband with whom i am completely honest, completely open, and completely raw all the time is an amazing blessing. i could never think to ask for more. but to have a friend who searches out the raw--splits me open to the get to the inside--is an incredible bonus gift.

like a watermelon.

there's good, sweet, juicy stuff inside. and some hard seeds, too, not good for much, except maybe enjoying the spitting them out. but a watermelon has a thick skin. it requires a sharp knife, a strong arm, to get through to the raw insides. which have a sweetness that compares to nothing else.

i have a beautiful, strong friend who, with the delicacy, precision, and confidence of a surgeon, splits me open.

i can count on her, whether i like it or not, to split me open. a sharp knife, applied in just the right spot with just the right amount of pressure. the juice begins to spill almost immediately. it's sticky. but she's in it all the way to the sweet center, laughing as we spit out the hard seeds and endure all the messy stickiness that comes with getting to the raw sweetness.

my skin is thick. it means nothing to her. just like a watermelon rind is good only for what is secreted away inside, so my thick skin is only what hides away what she loves about me. and she'll get it, no matter what knife she has to use.

come to think of it, those seeds we spit away probably have their purpose, too. probably.

(she'll laugh at my comparing myself to a watermelon, too. and i'll love her for it.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

family photo

(this post is supposed to be a picture thing. if you keep reading, you'll see why it's a good thing my words tend to turn out better than my pictures...)

i can't tell you how much sleep i've lost over pictures recently.

i'm not sure what i thought i'd find different there today; i go every spring, after all. she was only there once...but i had a picture in mind.

it was a spring sunday, and the azaleas promised to be at their best. we were already dressed up for church, the sun was shining, the camera was in the car. so we drove to raleigh in search of the azaleas. they were amazing, as anticipated.

(much better than my phd [push here, dummy] photography.)

pictures of the flowers, pictures of the kids.

we scoped out the perfect spot, then searched for someone we might to ask to snap a picture for us. a dad was taking pictures of the rest of his family; i offered to take one with him in it, and he did the same for us. with my little phd camera, the man i wish i could find to thank took the beautiful picture of our family that everyone knows.

what did that man think? like others who didn't know her, couldn't figure her out: wow, that's a big baby...such long hair for a baby...she's sleeping right through it...she's so well-behaved...smile for the picture! i'd like to find that man and thank him for not asking and for taking the picture that would represent our family so often.

so the neighborhood azaleas have been blooming this week. time for my annual pilgrimage. prepared, with my new fancier camera and pictures of before in hand.

i don't know what i thought i'd find there today. she was only there once, after all. but i had a picture in mind.

the garden is indeed alive and beautiful as every year. not so my camera battery, it turns out.

see, it's not the cemetery that gets to me; in my mind, in my memory, in my picture...she was alive and beautiful and mine in that garden. i didn't know what to expect going there today. but the pictures i intended to take--of what, i don't really know--weren't to be.

i can't tell you how much sleep i've lost over pictures. the pictures i didn't take. i've been plagued by my lack of pictures of her in the last month and a half of her life. the last picture i have is a halloween picture of her dressed up as a bunny; she died just before christmas. how can i recapture all those days in between if i don't have any pictures? how can i prove she was alive and beautiful and mine all those forty-two days if i don't have one picture?

how will i remember what that garden--that alive and beautiful, perfectly blooming azalea garden that was mine for just today--looked like without a picture?

i hope that man's family picture came out as well as ours.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

come home

mama, i just found something that used to belong to eliza, and it makes me think about her a lot. and it makes me feel sad. it makes me think, "come home."

it's Easter Saturday, that weird, i-don't-know-what-to-do-with-it day in between Eli, Eli and He is risen. yesterday, we erected our wooden cross in the backyard; buried luke's Lambie, wrapped in a towel, in a cardboard box tomb; rolled a backyard stone in front of the box's opening. luke was sad to leave Lambie out there all by herself all night. it rained and stormed; i, too, wanted to bring her in. or at least check that she wasn't getting wet. sam went out and wrapped her in a plastic bag, just to be safe.

there's someone else i'd like to bring in from the wet dirt, too.

what did the disciples do on Easter Saturday? we can dye eggs, hunt treats, and prepare for tomorrow--He is risen, Hallelujah!--because we know tomorrow comes. all the disciples knew that saturday was that their friend, the one they thought was The One, was alone in the tomb. dead. gone. on Good Friday, we reenact the Passion, reenact the horror and absolute evil of the crucifixion; on Easter Sunday, we reenact the rejoicing and celebration and blissful surprise of the resurrection. what do we do with In-Between Saturday?

i'm usually in too much of a rush to get to sunday to worry too much about my theology of saturday. prepare the treats, cook and bake for a big dinner, dye eggs...friday's over, after all (whew), and sunday's coming. i can safely use saturday to get all the preparation for sunday done (because there's no church today, whew again), so sunday i can rest and rejoice.

but i'm hung up on saturday this year. i'm living in the already and not-yet. every day is In-Between Saturday. eliza is in the tomb, dead, gone, and i can't wrap her up to protect her from the storm. she doesn't need protection from the storm, after all, because we're not going to bring her back inside tomorrow, back to snuggling in bed with us, like luke will with Lambie. here's the thing: it's not friday anymore for eliza, but it's not sunday yet for me. her suffering is over; she's already in the already. and i'm stuck in the not-quite-yet.

but what if i use this In-Between Saturday to prepare for Easter Sunday? that is, how do i prepare for the feast, the rejoicing and celebration and blissful surprise to which eliza has gone ahead of me? the disciples mourned; they didn't know that sunday was coming. i know. i know.

i'd like to think eliza and luke might be sharing the very same thought today: Come Home. so i'm going to get ready. i'm going to clean house and tidy up and prepare for the feast. The Feast. Matthew 8:11 says that "many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." praise God.

i'm using my saturday to get ready.