The Prodigal Inheritance

In the corner of eastern Tennessee, on the bordering edge of the Carolinas, there is a smoky, blue curl that rolls with twilight and it shouted Look! into my ears as it hovered the elevated mount the summer I was

pure seventeen.

Blunt, short, sunwashed tresses tousled, and voices of friendships whispered in the dark, smiling like warm.  Chilly nighttime air ruptured to a tiny wave of goosebumps and I opened my eyes to listen.

What?

Composing, constructing, erasing, and rebuilding….and words and language-art engineering; why does this thing always haunt me like a parasite, dwelling in me, demanding strain, hurdle, and to vault-ricochet toward it?  This propulsion kisses my skin, and tongue, and whisper-stroke skimming in my ear, and squeeze-locks around my muscle heart, a voice that is antithesis calm against my rigid, ruffled agitation.  Always since my childhood it says….keep writing it.   Speak aloud about Love, about Faithful, about True.  Speak aloud about the God who is there, who saves, who makes new.

Pen scribble

-fly,

pen, down-drop disgust,

walk away from it,

pen: goodbye.

  And no I don’t want to touch it and

bleed outside onto

pages anymore.  I flick it across the room away and choke-swallow vomit and watch that pen skid on dusty, creaky hardwood floors and land alone, because I am forgetting how this story starts and how it ends and it feels good to suppress it so it doesn’t convulse and relapse and lay me out.  With my own hands I reach up from pretty, painted pedicure to my heels through my legs to pelvis and into my gut and rip it out, ravaged with a jerk and bayonet hook, to be gone. Hot to the touch revolver in my hands, bang, bang, BANG, in roar-shouting burst succession.  Reload, cock, and unload again.  And I have blood on my hands, strewn over the pillow my head lays on to sleep.

A ghastly, first-degree sin.

~~

In eastern Tennessee are moist, wet rocks that graduate upward like stairs, rising out of the tumbling whitewater and some of them circle around and up in a spiral to the trees.  The sun bakes the rocky places dry until they fold out extended and jut over as a cliff hanging over the patch of calm, deep water before it turns turbulent.  More rocks litter the deep, wide, mountain-river floor bed, water crashing and swimming over them, a flurry flight.  Droplets hang in the air and sunlight bursts through and you can see it like a curtain hanging in the atmosphere, creating prisms of color over swimming bodies.

Wet hands on wet rock, palms slapping, gripping, and biceps flexing. Lifting torsos, feet joining, and leg muscles appearing until whole bodies emerge and water rolls and drips from them.  They jump up flexing and scatter the rock staircase, gripping hands, ducking under pine.  Soft needles stick to wet feet and they pat-pat pitter over the sunned cliff and soon hands lock together, clasped in tight and knuckles grip hard, and calves tighten and spring up in anticipation, feet run, and tips of toes push off the very last bit of rock.   Push hard and out as far as possible, screaming ecstasy through white teeth and soft pink throats, and fly.   Hands separate and loose to free.  Arms open up and twirl mid-air and feel the breeze flash through wet lycra and the curtain mist droplets spraying darkened, summer skin. Spinning and looking back and friends smiling and calling and living and life, star stretched floating, this fly-falling joy and gravity fastening and locking down.

Crash.

The water erupts and opens to encircle bodies again and again.  There is a Truth.  And my head submerges into crisp, cool depths and I feel for hands and kick hard up until my head explodes on the surface, hair wet against my shoulders and water dripping over eyelashes and lids and lips.  There is another Truth.  We usually look for hands to hold and security to find us when we are in the depths, but I’ve only ever found one Constant there securing me.  That is when I stop to listen.

What?

When I was ten sat in a wooden church pew and I prayed to God and told him I would do anything, anything, as long as He didn’t send me far away.

It is a call I’m trying to avoid kill.  Why am I the one who has to write it?  Why am I the one who has to stare and observe it and touch it, walk it and burn within it and tell it and scribble it and click my keyboard fierce?  All the good parts yes, but all the bad parts too?  This love and hate, this war in myself, of writing and Truth.

~~

I am almost 32 years old now and there is a man that knew my husband and I once; I fall into his wife’s arms first and then into his, smelling their shoulders as I sink into them.  And he tells us…..those were good years.  I force tears down and away as I nod my head because he sat in his office strewn with papers and soccer cleats and hockey sticks in 1997 and looked straight into my eyes and told me he was proud of me when I was sixteen.  Half my lifetime ago.  And he cried when my heart was broken-betrayed and he offered, “Tell me”.  And those were good years.  And sometimes we’ve been away so long, I forget that the people there

know us.

It is home, to be known.  And so–

Pen scribble,

-fly.

Click, sticky keyboard

-rush.

Breathe in, and out, those word thoughts, bittersweet and lyrical.

Wisdom is a muscle that needs to be built.  Calling is a thing that we seldom get right on the first try.  Truth is the thing we must learn to accept over and over again.

It has been years since then, the start, but I am a girl turned woman needing to grow up who has tried to erase these parts of her memory I’m telling. I’ve tried to rewrite it by forgiveness and then by forgetness and change it to never happened and turn it back in time and eradicate it down to nothing. And all our flaws that push to the outside I bury deep inside to dissolve them, flux and fuse to disintegrate.  But they explode back out of my small frame because I am not meant to hold them in captivity.  They are the antithesis to Theos, and need to be told.  Need to be redeemed and rescued.  The bad parts are part of the story, too.

Tell daughters and sons to be patient, pure of heart, and stand guard because it took more than a decade to reconcile. The heart crushed diversely and several, but somehow still beating, these boys intrigued with girl hearts and these girls looking for something that doesn’t exist yet but carries them away anyway.  And the parts where I plugged my ears to God and took to my own; those damning parts need to be told as well.  Because there is no such thing as neutrality.  Because “living in the moment” is often sinister code for apathy in my life.

There is evil outside of us, yes, but it is there inside all of us.  And we come to one another broken clay pieces trying to touch each other’s rough edges that cut deep on impact and we attempt to bandage them up and kiss them with our own brokenness to heal but it doesn’t work that simple.  How do we rid ourselves of this evil?  I am prodigal with an inheritance I’ve dashed to the rocks and burned and then laid in the manure  with the pigs in my rags and crawling back to the homeland I’ve cried out, Abba.

When I was fifteen I begged God to let me be.  It is a vivid memory:  standing in a downpour of rain in the dark, my soaked shirt sticking to my chest, my back, and my abdomen as my knuckles slam into the tree: bleeding.  Anger surfacing because I knew I could never get away.  He would always keep me in the palm of His hand.  I tried like a sledgehammer breaking through concrete to escape and I couldn’t.  Unbreakable covenant of love that won’t let go.

True love, we are told, will never disappoint or make us cry or cling, or beat away.  But it does; and it will.  Don’t believe those lies that say a man will not make you cry, a woman won’t make you bleed. Don’t believe those lies that say God won’t make you die in mountain rivers, with rocks at the deep parts, and submerge into the cool pools, and that you won’t crush inside to surrender to Him.  Don’t believe those lies that say love is easy, or that you won’t have to slay-fight deep down.  Love is the cruelest death.  It will hurt and burn and kill you.  Obliterate in poisonous slaughter and asphyxiate.  It will tear away the disease and the demons and hurts buried deep. It will hold you and peace-give you and intimacy surround you and never let you go and then push you to the surface to gulp in oxygen as your head breaks the surface.  Life risen out of death-ash.  Finally—the meaning, the interpretation, the purpose.  Life.

It is an ouch-no pleading, a touch searing, petition Stop. Begging.  Please, no more.  Please.

I stopped fighting Him who loved me to death and He ripped out my terror fears.  Dear God, please show me.  His scarred hands that reached out to mine and I stretched for them in the plunging depths.  Found.

I am pride-fool prodigal personified in real time on a mountain I didn’t create.  Inheriting a kingdom I don’t know how to run.  And the tragedy of it all was that the summer I was seventeen, I thought I knew everything.   I asked for my inheritance and ran: God, let me go.  I have my own life to invent.

Carry me.  Carry me from lakes and rivers of the Great Peninsulas down away south into mountains, and valleys, and peaks, and summits, and forests, and rocky depths to up again.  Down in hot, sweltering Dixie, to journey and come back again someday.  The rise and fall, the ebb and flow, the ecstasy summit and the despair pit.  Carry me back to home; pilgrim in lands that change me and turn me over and break me and burn me and turn me back toward. An immigrant that receives the gift of returning to the homeland.  Prodigal gained wisdom to handhold the given inheritance, with humbled frame low.

It doesn’t happen the way that you think.  It is harder, and grander, than that.

Love Aging

2013-07-27 09.16.34-1

He speaks with his hands, fingers spread and grasping the air with one palm, the other tucked under his elbow. And he paces and publishes oral language, trusting me with first draft pings and scatterings, a book of mind thoughts expelling loud-furious.  His eyes have a smiling, a flashing, inviting.  His brow furrows and I can taste the logos he passionately teaches.  My iris and pupil focus on details like his nail beds, etched white gold that circles round, his straight tooth, and his deep, dark facial hair against olive skin; animated axis revolving.  This anchor that surrounds his soul, his deep thrusting heart, I see it in him, locked in ballast security.  A stirring, a rousing of intoxicating thought adventures, winding.

It is a witness I’ve stood to since we were young.  This old soul teacher, a marrow-vitality, inviting me to join him in the aging forest with sunlight streaming through.  In it, fragile veins stretch outward to five corners, photosynthesis overdrive.  Reaching, reaching to heaven.  An intense, green shadow populates the slim, smooth arms that grow out of the trunks.  Layered, one over other, feather-fanned out in sprawling lime.  Transparent, midmorning Light transmits through our paper thin orbs.  It is a floating canopy made alive by a freshwater Breeze, a spirit that rustles our growing green like rippling silk, and then the leaves settle again, like a protective mother hen with tent-wings draped over the granules of cold sand around trunk bases.  This is my painted mind-picture; us.  The Light illuminates and gives Life to what the Planter put in place and motion, and the Breeze rustles.  And I entered into the range of trees of this forest with my love when we were still teenagers; young.

Growing up I used to go to the lake house on the peninsula every summer.  The Lake and surrounding forest is a captured replica of my childhood grown to adulthood, layers and pages and duplicates and drafts.  The blue expanse of ripple-waves, swell-stretching beyond the horizon, further than one can grasp with their squinting eyes, prevailing.  The tide, moving in and out like song during the day and leaving little rivulets on the lake floor.  A tiny ocean without salt.

It is a real place that permeates a tiny corner of the world, near the rock-caves my cousins and brother and I used to jump from into the clear, cool water, and also lives and moves in my memory.  A treasure place of comfort-clutched, swaying repose.  I can close my eyes and hear the lake lapping the sand shore littered with footprints and tiny, transparent, white shells, breezing through the cottage windows in summer twilight heat, smell the musty oak of the walls, lulling me to sleep under vintage floral sheets.  Because it is seared to my soul, cauterized.

It is aging, and fermenting, this bound together love we own together.

And I surge backward to him when we were young, sitting in class and scribbling on paper, prompted by teacher: he journals exposed thoughts in my peripheral vision, scrawling with lead and smudged eraser.  Sometimes I wish that my today self could go back in time, to him in the past.

One day my daughter asks her Daddy, solemnly, how chopping down with axes, how divorce, can happen.  Why, Daddy?  And he looks into her eyes, and talks calmly, always so calmly and articulately, smooth fluid like wind-whispers through leaves, explaining to baby green ears that have been planted and growing– explains to her pain and hiding and running.  And then he reveals this: that it can’t happen to her parents because vows braid together like tree roots deep, and they once bound a man and a woman forever to one another.  Only once and forever, to grow intertwined.  One cannot live without the other.  They have scars, and rivuleted gash-trama lacerations, visible on bark.  I know that wounds alone do not cut down, but heal.  They will drown together, burn together, die together if they must, to a fresh new life but not to expiration.  A rebirth, a saving rescue like Christ and his Church.  Like Hosea and his bride.  Melding and melting together to refined.  Soft, smooth gentle in the universal God’s hands.  Planted strong and planted deep.

I translate his words spoken out to her and it jump starts me again, pushing up to the surface and gulping oxygen and buoying.  I know I did not chose this on my own.  It came to me and owned me and took me inside, enveloped, and pulled him in too, and he and I will forever be two persons, but one existence.  A picture of the reality of our Lord.

And our children grow up high and strong beneath us, and our siblings grow round us, our parents and grandparents grow above us, harmonious unity, this forest.  And all of our trunks bear the mark of the Planter.

And a drum beat-pounds deep in my gut, up through the hollow of my ribcage and surge-charges my insides with a voltage, a stomp-pound marching, a battle-cry Gospel that rips out the disease and lays out slain the despair that latches to me black and malignant.  And it rises up and up, a shout and cry of war that bashes my devasted and dead insides apart on boulders before God’s hands refashion them back together in Life; hope-waves undulant.

I watch my grandmother’s broken heart bleed rivers at the passing on of her beloved; I know it comes for us too.  It will come all too soon.

I move to invent independent and his voice jerks the string, placing his hand over me and says, “No”.  I remind him to etch out his despair with the Truth of cross nails of the Savior and he wades out of the murky depths.  From shifting sand to solid rock and lifts my hand to beside himself.  Iron that sharpens iron.  I am not to run sideways out from him, but to latch hands and hearts and minds and souls and walk with him.  This William I am locked to, even his name means resolute protector.  This Erin he has been made to grow intertwined with, her name means exalted peace.  And when I suffer exposed he is angered and comes to fulfill the essence of a bulwark, and we are given Peace over and over and over that does not wear out.  Because our Savior secured it and now it lives and breathes in our lungs.

It keeps aging, but it doesn’t wear out, this love.  Like thin, web-roots that thicken and fatten and deepen to strong.  That weave to unbreakable.  A wild and comforting forest of sanctuary, commitment, rescue. Ransomed, and bought, and owned always.

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When Men Cry

Tears;

the outpouring breaches the surface and

twirl,

inside-out–

crash-shattering.

A jagged ache and throbbing beneath, under-internal, that forces the tiny distresses violently to their birth then to a sudden, dry death.  Erupted exposure, then suffocated.  Tears are not just drops that fly from ducts and slide through eyelashes toward their doom, caught away by the loving hands of family.  First, I feel them like long, vibrating, lightening fingers–reaching electric through my neck, the plates of my skull, my finger nails. Swimming through my body before they arrive to–visible.  An ominous churning in the foundation before breaking.  A jolt and a burning.  A perpetual buzzing and clenching and twisting and tension through dense muscle fiber.  An agonizing and uncontrollable constriction and contracting of the body.

These buzzing and tingling sensations interrupt the surreal state.  Looking out of my eyes, like through smudgy, dirty windows, it looks like hazy, looks like clouded.  But these exposures and fingers tell me that the pain is very much actual and absolute and indisputable.  And they also tell me that I’m not outside it, but whirling within it.  Like a knife burying slowly, steady into the chest and the consciousness of pain comes on, not immediately as one would think, but several seconds later, delayed.  A live-streamed reality where the audio comes shortly behind and never quite matches the physical motion of parted lips.

But somehow I stand on a Rock in the midst of the whirling storm around me.

Strong, steadfast men sit uncovered.  They grip hope and they own it in sadness, and I see them suck in their breath and hold it and let it out in exhale and wipe their eyes, integrity and vulnerability mashed together.  They weep openly, with soul-tearing cadence. These sons, these grandsons. Then quietly, quietly. They are like faint echoes and inflection.  A sweet, vibrating hymn.  A pulse and a lilt. Tears. A psalm-song plays in these bodies surrounded.

His aged, broken, and paralyzed body lay.  And my grandmother prayed for mercy under a dark sky and moon from God, and He heard and He answered. Slipped from here into a newness, a glory-life built, in a whole body, waiting for all of us who are here still, restless but trying to be patient.  A very loved, compassionate soul, leaving a void that aches down low and hollows thunderous in hearts that called him their own.

When I witness men cry I come undone; needles of reality become and they center into my flesh, and sorrow mingled with joy arrive and puncture.

I watched him use his hand to wipe his own tears mere days before, as men flew on airplanes and drove in cars to come to him and pray with him. I stood and watched as a man slowly passed from this life into the next over days.  Slowly, so slowly, but terribly fast.  A tear, and a hard squeeze of the good hand, and a paralyzed half-smile, and an I-love-you-whisper, and a “wow” from his lips as he looked upward, and his children on his shoulder, and forehead to forehead with his soulmate wife, and a–gone.  It will be a long time before I see him again.  That is why men cry.  For the time between the goodbye and the welcoming, comfort of love-embrace.

In an instant, bricks can crash, and crack, and smash, and sound suddenly lurches to meet the live-streamed motions–a rupturing, a weighted severance shouts with deafening shrill, in garish finality.  My mind rummages frantically to memorize in haste, to replay, replay replay until it is automatic:  his familiar, gentle voice, his soft limp and gait, his eyes filled with love and compassion, his hands clasped over mine, his curved down smile, the tiny beat and inflection of his laugh, his fresh cologne smell, and his devoted presence, before I forget them.

This tearing removal, this harsh division from a self so loved, is a testament, a confirmation.  A terrible glimpse into the Father and Son cut-severed during bodily death, before final Life.  An arduous, but humble willing— this tearing apart hurts and burns and scars forever like a branding, and frees.

Love.

This is a death that must take place.  A death that leads to life.  To real.  A death that will come for us all and only One Way to cross over into.

Funeral roses actually smell sweet, and fragrant.  An unusually soft and velvety comfort.  We pull them from the casket and rub them on our cheeks and they hold and melt and absorb the tears, these soul aches, into their death and we hang the stem and petal to dry and remember.

As if through a mirror dimly, faces smudge on frosted glass.  And I smell him when I walk into my grandparent’s house, mingled with the smell of my grandma, because he really was there once, and now he is not.  A veil that cannot be crossed until it is our turn, but I can see him turning and looking, his familiar blue eyes and his smile that turns downward and I know he would say:

The one that you loved, cherished, embraced; the one you now weep for, ache for, and recognize; that feeling, a void deep down, for the man that you knew to be compassionate, slow to anger, forgiving, loving, steadfast, faithful, true….it was not me!  But it was Him.  It was my Jesus whom you ache for.  It is what he told us while he was even still with us.  Not I, but Him.

And this is the legacy of my Grandfather….that God is real, and greatly to be praised.

Open Road

079

E.H.Uminn

The brassy blonde fields roll out, extended.  Stretching high, arms of impending harvest.  It is golden and waving, surrounding the open road traveling West.  Bathed in the early, July sunrise, heat is absorbed into the stiff stalks.  An energetic haze and glow hovers over the expanse.  At summer dawn, only a few cars dot the distressed pavement.  Motors and metal frames carrying passengers are welcomed into the fields.  Entering, passing into, and swallowed by the land.

Tired and worn, the vehicle tires circle and click along the western road, the hum and rhythm of rubber on blacktop.  Click-click, click-click, click-click, click-click.  The driver rubs his eyes and replaces his thick, clear, plastic frames on the bridge of his nose.  They slide down and he pushes the center of them again, up to the middle space between his eyebrows and moves his hand up and over his head, pushing back unwashed, dark hair.  He holds the wheel with light placement of his wrist at the top, mesmerized and sleepy from the hallucinating terrain that lulls him into listlessness.  Next to him is the snoring Robert, passed out after taking a turn at the wheel for the better part of the graveyard shift.  Passengers recline in faded bench seats behind the driver, the sweet summer heat curling, sweet summer breeze billowing, into the cabin through open windows. Whipping, whipping, whipping against upholstery, skin, and glass.  Softly rippling the gauzy, floral silk blouse of the young woman.  She picked it up at the thrift store back in Tennessee for two dollars and fifty cents with a story of its own.  Her head resting against the spongy seat that her body is curled into: legs pulled into the chest, arms wrapped around knees, loose curls of sun-bleached hair brushing her soft skin beaded with perspiration.  Sweaty, sticky….heated with comfort as her shoulder blades rise and fall with slow breathing.

And they could go anywhere.

The pink dawn streams through glass windows, illuminating dog nose smudges paired with thick fingerprints left behind.  A primitive maze-map of soul-persons and companions.  Left for a little while until they are scrubbed away by a dirty, gas-station squeegee.  Another young woman sprawls out next to the first and there is a third in yet another bench seat, along with two more men, one with an unkempt beard, the other of them unable to sleep, peering out the window, looking and watching.  Two drops of salty blood fall from his nose before he can grab a tissue to stop the bleeding and tilt his head.  A collective of friendships, a mashing of mortals, mingling and moving down the open road.

Are they running?  Escaping?  Chasing what is ahead of them in a feverish rush?

The  infinite distance beckons them to fill the underground space awake inside, under the skin, cognizant in their chests.  The dog stirs and stretches paws on the red, carpet floor of the vintage station wagon.  He closes his eyes once again.

The woman with the thrift store blouse wants to place her bare feet on the rocks that jut out over the coast someday, to see the white foam peaks of the Pacific.  Robert clutches his cigarettes in his sleep and breathes in an anxiety with his cap pulled down far over his forehead, hiding his eyes.  Pearl may throw them out if she finds them.  The Rockies are not too far.  And all of them eat hotdogs at stands when they spot one and drink sodas from the vending machine bought with quarters. Except for Dina who doesn’t eat sugar or processed food because she’s worried about her figure.

The lullaby of the tires is always humming when they are sleeping, or talking, or crying, or laughing.  Hanging forearms out of open windows, elbows resting and palms sinking and rising, sinking and rising against the push of the wind.  A lullaby hum that cradles and rocks the baby in her infant seat, ready to start up again when they stop to fill the dry tank with more fuel for more miles, and miles, and miles.

They chase and explore, they stop and they look.

They sit and feel grass under their backs, tree bark with their palms, and lake water with their toes.   The heat from a bonfire is set to a brilliant blaze of color: red and blue and orange and blurred.  It burns their faces to blush.   Heavy quilts wrapped around bare shoulders, clutched with fists and knuckles.  The baby is quiet, fingers in her mouth, sucking.  And Arthur tells stories with his violin, echoing into the settling dusk.  He’s calm when he plays and closes his eyes, with his arm swift and quick, punctuating lonely folk-notes that reverberate and jump start and shatter while they sit and sip drinks and listen.  And they pile in the bench seats and crash onto the carpet floor and sleep, and think, and someone turns the ignition over with a great roar and rumble.  They move again out West.  On the open road.

The Giving and Taking

118

(lyrics written by Matt Redman)

Blessed be Your name

In the land that is plentiful

Where Your streams of abundance flow

Blessed be Your name

One girl falls in love with one boy on a tandem bike ride around an island.  Latched together, moving in harmony against heat, and waves, and wind, and water.  Pushed and pulled by the brevity and the infinite.  Blessing and trial to come; blessing and trial to come.  And tender, young-love lifts off into a lifetime of sacrifice-love.  Forever and surrender-love.  Giving-up-ourselves-at-all-costs-love. Opening like a book to be read, and treasured, and held bosom-close, and cherished, and hurt, and scared, and welcomed, and home.

A touch, and see, and burn, and give-love. 

One girl and one boy so fixed and steadfast that it hurts–an indisputable love. A constant that will hold them, gripping to the depths when all will soon seem permanently vanished.  Lost.  And shortly they will begin to learn and to know where this relentless, persistent, Ever-Love comes from.

A hardy, little sailboat embarking on a maiden voyage.  Champagne bottles crashing and christening against her, pushing her off.  Catching the salt-wind gusts in bright, warming sunshine, a tiny vessel amid the great, vast sea.  This new, untested, pioneer-love.

Blessed be Your name

When I’m found in the desert place

Though I walk in the wilderness

Blessed be Your name

A man weeps openly when he is witness to the unashamed, exposed felicity of others. For he has an inability to feel joy.  A burning-low and barely-seen love.

Little boat, tossed to-and-fro, as the thundering, rolling-grey storm sets in.  In the dark of night, it comes.

 A woman escapes into the forests where the beach house is nestled near the Lake, the familiar sand gripped tightly into her fists, to find a peace on the shore that eludes her.  It is fleeting, and the chasm of emptiness is always there.

Hurts and isolation and loneliness are weighted on them like concrete, pulling them down and apart, though they fight it.

Man and woman, escape again running.  A hiding as old as Adam and Eve.  Little life raft turned to a distant memory of wounds and brokenness, fleeting snapshots of loss and heartache.  Of dreams dashed against rocks, feeble boat smashed and swallowed, it’s passengers left to sink.  And murky, dismal waters envelope and crush.  A death-love.

Blessed be Your name

When the sun’s shining down on me

And the world’s all as it should be

Blessed be Your name

Sometimes there is a serene eye in the center of the storm, or one storm ceases before another begins.  It’s as if the clouds part and you can glimpse the sun and feel it’s warmth as a reassurance that it actually exists.  This reality washes over, even if only briefly.  In these moments of slow-motion glory, of eventful truth and joy, I breathe deeply into my lungs, gulping and feeling them fill to the brink.  Like a woman in labor, catching her breath between oxygen ripping, body-clenching contractions, knowing there is more bearing down, more to tend, more to toil through until the end.  A sharp-low struggle, deep-soul tearing, stripping away, reaching into the secret chasm, before newness and joy emerge.  More death. This transformative-love.

Blessed be Your name

On the road marked with suffering

Though there’s pain in the offering

Blessed be Your name

She can’t sing the song with words, but they are  fire-branded deeply, a severe and excruciating claiming and owning of her soul, and pride is purged in each tear that dashes over skin, catching on tired, pale cheek.  A never-letting-go love, a hanging-on-at-all-cost love.  And it doesn’t even touch the grief that Job suffered, or that her Christ Lord pulled onto himself, but she feels just a sliver of it, and it hurts.  It hurts and burns to be rescued.

And the torrent rains come washing down, from dark clouds to the sinister, onyx water.  A baptism of man and wife, going under, and sinking, and drowning, and dying.  A letting-go for gaining-it-all, love.

You give and take away

You give and take away

My heart will choose to say

Lord, blessed be Your name

An all-costs, to the bitter-end of it all, love.


True or False

There is no objective, absolute truth. 

There is no god. 

Pencils are scribbling on paper, pages are being flipped as I read the above statements.  I rest my forehead into my palm, knowing what my answer will be.  I also know that the professor sitting comfortably in his chair, feet reclining on the desk while he scans a slightly crumpled Gazette, is sure to swiftly mark it with a big X.  I face a dilemma: answer the poorly worded question in such a way as to have it graded correct or answer the question according to it’s own logic and have it graded wrong.  I can’t have it both ways.  I grip my pencil and circle False.

~

In the summer of 2001 I skipped my family’s annual trek to the Wisconsin peninsula on Lake Michigan to take Sociology 101.  They set off to the beach house, tucked away in the serene forests of Whitefish Bay, while I worked second shift and took the morning course at the community college.  It was a beast of a class…3.5 hours each weekday for 8 weeks, long tests full of 50 to 100 true/false, multiple choice, fill the blank questions, plus 5 or so essay questions each Thursday.  My brain felt fuzzy and drained each time I walked out the door.  It was one of the most mentally exhausting exercises I have ever participated in.

My professor was a tall, middle aged man with large, squared glasses.  He wore his blonde hair to his shoulders, socks with his Birkenstocks, smelled faintly of cigarettes and aftershave, and paired Hawaiian print shirts with khakis.  He was openly against the idea of the existence of a god, mostly due to corrupt motivations and behaviors in the church, and had moral indignation toward Christianity in general.  Hence, I was the embodiment of everything he disdained: a middle-class white girl with a penchant for silently digging her heels in.

I had considered the soul and the will for the last several years, and I believed in God and the Bible.  When I was fifteen my boyfriend declared himself agnostic and shared, very matter of fact, that he simply didn’t agree with the premise of organized religion.  Several months later he told me he might be an atheist.  I mention it because it was my first encounter with someone I deeply respected and cared for who didn’t hold the same beliefs about origin that I did. I wanted to listen; I wanted to hear what he had to say.  Throughout the next several years I encountered friends who asked probing questions of my reasons for believing in God, or to defend my position on why I thought the will might be free (or not).  The summer after I graduated a friend declared, severely I might add, that I while I spoke often of loving people unconditionally I had done a bang up job the way he saw it.  I had wrestled with belief and subsequent behavior, the supposed idea of science vs. religion, for some time.  I knew that my sociology professor was trying to save me from what he deemed as propaganda and brainwashing without understanding or caring that I had thought long and hard about all of this.  My basic beliefs were not irrational, blind, or hasty.

Sociology, as a field of study, deals with the origin, development, organization, and functioning of human society.  According to the dictionary, it deals with the fundamental laws of social relations and institutions.  Fundamental means basic, or primary, implying that there are basic, primary beliefs that humans hold that cannot be proven in infinite regression.  What this means is, at some point every person on earth has to take a leap of faith on something.  Sociology is highly linked to philosophy, religion, and science because it attempts to answer the primary questions all humans ask in life: Who am I?  Where did I come from?  Why am I here? What do I do with that information?

I answered “incorrectly” to a myriad of questions on the test, including an essay question.  I went on for a page and a half in scrawling, handwritten thoughts, rationalizing my answer.  It didn’t matter.  This wasn’t Philosophy 101 or even a course on logic and rhetoric.  It was sociology and we were coming from two completely different presuppositions about origins.  Apparently there was objective truth in that classroom. I received my test back a week later with a big, red D….and I knew it was coming.  There were many more tests and many more poor grades.  It was my first, albeit poor attempt at rationally defending my belief system to someone who angrily disagreed, with tangible consequences.  My professor held my GPA in his hands.

Regardless of the belief system that I held or he held, I answered False out of mere principle: It is contradictory to claim zero objective truth and demand that your students adhere to that statement. If there was no objective truth, my 19-year old self reasoned, then why should I have to agree with his statement?  Apparently, some very real, difficult experiences still tasted bitter to him.  He was valiantly going to save the minds of his students, turn the lock, and hope we didn’t desire to find the key.  I honestly believe that he honestly believed his motivations were pure and noble.  No one in that room could doubt his sincerity.  But I just couldn’t figure out why he cared.  All I kept thinking was what had made him come to these conclusions?  What experiences did he have that caused him to stake his claim the way he did?  What fear did he hold against God?  I chose to consider rather than to speak out loud.  I only voiced thoughts on test questions every Thursday morning from 8am until 11:30am.

He built the entire course’s premise on our need to ask questions rather than blindly take leaps of faith.  He told us we were right to question authority and seek answers for ourselves, something I deeply agreed with and supported.  But his big, fat “D” in red ink on my test paper told a different story.  Even though he wanted me to question authority in theory, he didn’t want me questioning his authority.

I also received a D in that course, learning more about real life than I have in any other.  I was searching inwardly on what it meant to see people, to listen, to observe. For all the worth that science holds, human beings do not come to study science (or sociology) value-free.  They come at it with presuppositions that form their hypotheses.  Human beings do not form basic, fundamental beliefs about life and their existence based on scientific fact, but on experience and observation.  What we experience has everything to do with our perspective.

Why do we think the way that we do?  Why do we behave as we do?  What basic assumptions do we make about one another?  I once sat under the teaching of a very wise man who said that just because a Christian believes in a God who controls and designed the universe doesn’t give him a pass to sit back and call case closed.  It doesn’t let him off the hook in considering the nature of reality, the basic beliefs that we hold.  These questions eventually landed me into the field of psychology in graduate school, where I was forced to look myself in the mirror and consider my relation to others.  To listen before speaking.  To feel the pain and the brokenness of souls, my own and those around me, and the subsequent desire for freedom and peace.  All of these fields of study lead back to the same basic Big Question: What are we and where do we come from?

What do we do with that?

What do I do with the questions that I ask and are asked of me?  And then, what do I do with the answers?  That is where integration of life begins.  Fragments of souls scream out to be assembled cohesively, to make sense of this jarring and magnificent world.  People who have been abandoned, unloved, lied to, violated, brushed aside, uncared for.  I am also one of these, seeing and feeling their confusion and frustrations.

What do I do with that?

Changing in This, My Ordinary Life

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In my natural state.  🙂

Confession: I think way too much about what I should include on this blog and what I shouldn’t.  It isn’t all bad.  A blog has to have a specific voice and purpose to be useful.  Mixed with the author’s personality, the blogs I follow have something in particular that give information.  Much of the time nothing seems worth sharing on my blog.  It’s like that weirdness that occurs when you say a word over and over and over to yourself and then the word begins to sound strange, like nonsensical jibberish.  (I know I’m not the only one out there who does this.  No, really, I’m not.  Neither are you.)  Blogging is a difficult thing for me because I am always drawn back to it, but it often eludes me.   There is a delicate balance between a blog being a constant conversation with oneself, sharing the most mundane things possible, or never posting at all because it all seems so trivial and self-important.  It’s hard not to be an exhibitionist in our digital age.

So how do I find the balance?  The only way I know how is to declare that I live a very ordinary life and to embrace it as such.

An ordinary and average life often seems unimportant to share, but it is what I know and experience. 

 I’m not unique in having joys and trials; we all have had them.  I don’t believe that my life is much more joyful or painful than yours and so I just have to share it and essentially say, “Look at me! Look at me!”  I have hobbies and interests, but I’m not accomplished in a way that makes me an expert on any one thing to hand over to those around me.  Most of the time, I am just trying to wrap my mind around what happens in each day.  I feel like every year in my life, especially the last decade, has been a crazy whirlwind.

In the last year alone I:

* Interviewed for a position I never thought I would get, just to keep myself adept at interviewing (my nemesis!), landed the job, and turned it down

*Went from homeschooling full-time to sending my children to private school

*Took up substitute teaching in a classical Christian school and falling in love with my passion again

* Started my own furniture painting design business called Dixie Dutch Design

*Completely re-hauled our budget and financial life with my husband

*Graduated (um, finally!) from graduate school but opted out of walking in the commencement

*Started running and training for long distance races

*Got my health back on track after a scary 2011

*Took a positive pregnancy test and then experienced miscarriage

*Looked at a house with my husband as we consider what the future holds

*Buried a grandparent

*Made myself sit in my chair and write more often

*Started another part time job (alongside teaching and painting) this summer in retail clothing

*Applied for position at the university

*Took up reading again like it’s my coffee

  This is just naming a few surface details.   I’ve made mistakes, (some big, some small). I’ve had heartache and crazy blessing along the way.  Much of the time, the things that I desperately want don’t end up falling together.  Sometimes they do.  There are moments when I am completely blown away and surprised at things I’m given and I needed but didn’t know I needed until they showed up in my lap.  I’m hoping that I’m learning more quickly now than I used to.

The challenge is how in the world can I be fully a wife, fully a mother, and fully passionate about my work?  Are they all mutually exclusive?  In short, how do I stop living compartmentalized but integrated in all these things?  I’ve been learning that lesson for the last 11 years and I’m still learning it! When I started out in this thing called adulthood I was optimistic, bright-eyed, and had a basic philosophy of life that everything always works itself out in the end.  Maybe a lot of it was the fact that I was head-over heels in love with my husband (then boyfriend) and love makes everything hazy :).  Even though I am first-born, I must have been a late bloomer.  I was always the anti-type A personality.  I was go-with-the-flow, flexible, adaptable, a non-worrier, and confident.  It’s why I was married at the tender age of 20, pregnant a year later right before my senior year of undergrad, and just kept trudging along without much thought except that life works itself out.  Along the way, I’ve been dragged down not just by circumstances but my own perspective.  I’ve made mistakes, gone through disillusionment and disappointment, had my dreams turned completely upside down and set backward, only to see them reemerge in ways I never would have imagined, for good or bad.  In short, I started out at the base of the mountain with a lot of overconfidence, brushing off life as easy and enjoyable the whole climb up. I wanted to quit a quarter of the way through, hated myself for wanting to quit and give up so early in, and slowly started to learn how to keep moving upward even though it was painful, difficult, and circumstances unpredictable.

I’m still climbing that mountain, but I’m a different person than when I started at the base.  I started out holding everything in life very loosely in my hands, taking it all for granted. In time, I began hoarding what I had, trying to control it and keep it close as dreams started slipping through my fingers.  I’m learning how to live with open hands again, but I pray I do so with wisdom.

The ordinary is quite amazing, scary, and breathlessly good, if we are willing to stare it full in the face. 

I like poignant and strong word pictures and phrases (I am a reader/writer/thinker after all), but I bristle at dramatics, over-sentimentality, and over simplified philosophies.  A philosophy of life (like, life will always work itself out) doesn’t do me much good when I’m constantly looking to invent or build a life that is not what I own.  I recently read a quote from an amazing woman that hit me full force:

Whatever was God’s providence for me, it was His to lay out and mine to obey.  No longer did I have to invent myself. ~ Dr. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Unlikely Convert

No longer did I have to invent myself.  That phrase struck me so deeply this week, that I’ve been thinking about it for days.  I scribbled it on scrap paper and stuffed it between the frame and glass of the mirror that sits in our kitchen.  I wrote it across my Moleskin notebook so I won’t forget it.  A freedom from the pressure to build a masterpiece that outshines the one next to us.  I often live life with my private faith compartmentalized in one corner and my public persona in another, with my daily realities and roles of wife, mother, and self somewhere in between.  Do you do this? Along the way, I’ve put this enormous pressure on myself to be an adventurer, to forge this untraveled path of my own.  In short, to invent myself, as Rosaria states so eloquently.  It promises to be exciting and unknown and I always receive the message that if I am not a free spirit wanderer,  (or an eloquent writer of profound words) I’ve settled for “less than” in this life.  That if I’m not living the fast-paced, well-traveled life, then I’m not really “living”.  (Thank you Pinterest for solidifying this with all your simplified quotes on the meaning of life with the ocean as a backdrop.)

What if the adventure is right here, in the quiet recesses of my own heart, mind, and soul?

I’m not talking about the often over-stated idea of “just” counting your blessings, finding contentment, and being thankful for what you have.  All of those things are true, but we often say them so much, in such a flippant, off-handed way.  Or we count those blessings just to cope….to make ourselves feel better about the bad without ever really getting to close to it….like plugging our ears and closing our eyes and saying, “I’m not listening!” to what is around us, even if we are suppose to look at it and hear it and learn from it.  I’m just too used to those phrases glossing over what is going on at a deeper level, and those ideas have slowly lost their meaning for me.   Again, like saying a word over and over until it sounds nonsensical.  I’m talking about sitting and facing yourself fully, looking deeply into the soul, looking deeply into the soul of others, trudging through big, enormous questions of life, and pushing past the fear of what answers are to be found.

Often, the would-be adventurer is a wanderer, running away from their own solitude out of fear.  Don’t let that fear rule.

So I write on this blog, not because I am an eloquent writer (I mash up my phrases and edit too quickly all the time.  I use “but” and “and” as sentence starters often, which is breaking the golden rules of writing, and I am always in internal turmoil over this fact.  I am a hopeless “rusher”.  I’ve edited this post four times and I’m just ready to click publish, for crying out loud.)  I write because the soul is a combination of intellect and emotion, and this life is made up of reality and truth, and I like to find it in the ordinary corners of days and weeks and months and years. So I promise to wrestle with the questions and share what I learn, and how I fall, and how I get up, and why I can even get up.

Thank you for letting me think and live out loud.  Thank you for listening.