11/21/14

soul flesh

i have a purple pillow
a square covered with fleece
i tied the knots around it
to hold when i’m asleep

tied to this orb of dirt by
beats of blood; breaths of air
it’s nice to hold a softness
and let my spirit stare

10/4/14

Moon / Shadow / Moon


The moon wanes in degrees, changing from light to dark in less than two weeks, visible to invisible in only thirteen days. One night you look up and the moon is a golden, yellow plate, so close you could eat off of it. The next night it looks the virtually the same, even though things have already begun to change. When you stare up at a full moon, it’s hard to imagine it getting any smaller or that it might someday disappear from sight completely, and yet it happens again and again, month after month.

Once, when I was very small, I went to bed early, all by myself; but I couldn’t get to sleep. It was around eight o’clock, but still light outside. The windows were cracked, and a warm summer breeze fluttered through the sheer, fluffy curtains. I don’t know what house we were living in, but the entire room seemed yellow in the fading sunlight, from the paint on the walls to the fabric I was curled beneath. Suddenly, I felt very scared and alone, so I began praying for God to help me not to be afraid. Then I asked him to hold my hand until I fell asleep. I pulled my hand out from under the covers and laid it on the pillow beside my face. I opened up my palm and waited. Just as I began to doze, I felt a light, gentle pressure in the middle of my hand. I squeezed it back and drifted off to sleep.

On another night, when I was twenty-eight, I went out for a walk because I couldn’t stand to be home alone while my husband and our two small children were gone. It was a couple of months after my second miscarriage and John had taken the kids out for dinner in order to give me a break, but the quiet house was too quiet so I put on my tennis shoes and headed out the door. We lived in a townhouse community, and as I got closer to the empty playground in the middle of the neighborhood, I decided to sprint to the slide. I ran as fast as I could but I only made it a hundred yards before I started crying. Crying made it harder to run and even harder to breathe, but I didn’t stop until I climbed the slide stairs and lay flat on my back. I stared up at the grey and white sky as the last of the tears trickled down to my sweaty hairline.

“Where are you, now?” I yelled out to the muggy air. I opened my eyes as wide as they would go, searching everywhere for a bit of warm color. I listened as hard as I could, begging for whispered assurance to blow across my skin. Then I raised my empty hands to the sky, praying to sense God’s presence, but there was no hand reaching back for me. There was simply nothing. So, nothingness took over for several weeks, until the light came back again.

I couldn’t see the moon that night, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Like my faith, like God himself sometimes, it was merely hiding behind a shadow.

When I find myself in a dark place, I tend to think I’m the only one who’s ever felt this way. So I isolate myself and don’t ever talk about what I’m going through, which only makes me feel more alone and more afraid. However, when I open up and share with people I trust, I feel less alone and less afraid.

This morning I picked up a book of poetry by Madeleine L’Engle but instead of turning to a poem, I read the foreword by Walt Wangerin. As he describes her sonnets at the end of the book, he says this:

“The very process of writing one’s grief into the starkly ordered form of a sonnet, and then of a sonnet sequence, is to seek meaning in confusion, to seek light in darkness – and the search itself illumines.”

That sounds a lot like creation to me. It makes me think that when we reach into the chaos of our lives and attempt to make a new thing, we are reflecting the image of God – bringing light into formerly dark places. When I first wrote about these memories, the metaphor of the moon helped me make sense of two very diverse experiences. I thought to myself: sometimes the light is hidden by shadow; there’s no shame in not being able to see.

I felt relief, and it was good.

Then I let someone else read what I’d written. First, I shared the piece with my husband, and then with Jonathan Rogers as an assignment for his online class. They both seemed to understand it and they both told me they really liked it. A few days later, I realized that the vision of my memories had changed. Now, when I looked back into my childhood bedroom and at the night on the playground, I saw John and Jonathan in the memories with me. They both stood at the edges smiling at me, their eyes brimming with compassion and sympathy. Suddenly, I felt more than relief. A wound turned into a scar. And that was very good.

This is the wonder and blessing of living in creative community. The twofold act of capturing and sharing has become a hand reaching back for me on that dark playground nine years ago. It helps me believe that the moon was, is, and will always be out there somewhere. Whether or not I can actually see it.

9/15/14

A Therapeutic Memory

** Author's Note: I just finished taking an online writing course led by a friend of mine, Jonathan Rogers. It's been incredibly challenging and has helped me better understand the areas I really need to grow in as a writer. Each week we were given a short assignment and I wanted to share one with you here. This one will leave you hanging a little since our word limit was only 500. However, this little scene is a crucial starting point for the book I've been working on the past couple of years, so hopefully you'll get a chance to hear the rest of the story one day. As always, thanks for reading...


I was twenty-two years old the first time I saw a counselor.

It’s a strange thing to go to therapy for the first time, like inviting a complete stranger over for tea and greeting her at the door in a swimsuit. When I called my therapist to set up our first appointment she told me that she usually met with clients in the back of a portable trailer that was currently in use as a crisis pregnancy center.

Good, I thought, that’ll make this easy.

I drove over by myself on a Saturday morning and sat in my parked car staring at the empty gravel parking lot for a full five minutes before getting out.

As I walked up the wooden ramp made for wheelchairs, Gail opened the door and met me on the porch, smiling.

“Hey, there Janna!” she said brightly, offering her hand, “I’m Gail.”

We’d seen each other at church before and there were no other cars in the parking lot, so it felt a bit like she was pointing out obvious things on purpose. I guessed it was a necessary introduction though, the polite thing to do.

I half smiled and gingerly shook her hand. “Um, it’s really nice to meet you,” I lied.

She pointed the way into the building for me and said “My office is down the hall on the right, just across from the bathroom.”

I walked through the musty, half lit hallway and sat down on the small sofa in her office and grabbed the ratty pillow with faded flowers lying on the seat next to me. Gail sat down behind her beat-up, second hand desk and then remembered the noisemaker on the floor, just outside the door.

“I can turn that on if you want,” she said pointing to the small box in the hallway. I just looked at her with a confused expression.

“You know,” she waited, “... for privacy?” I hesitated, blinked, and nodded -- the universal sign of understanding.

“But since it’s just the two of us here today, it’s really not necessary.” Her tone was meant to be reassuring.

“Yeah …” I stalled, waiting for another option, something that meant we weren’t about to get all serious and personal. She gave me nothing.

“Okay.” I told her, noting the open door, another luxury afforded by “just the two of us.”

“It’s fine, I guess.”

Gail asked me how I was doing and I mumbled out something and stared at the floor. She was quiet for a minute, then she said, “Well, if you ever think you’re pregnant again, I’ve got access to free pregnancy tests,” she smiled for half a second, until she saw the look of startled surprise on my face. It was kind of a funny thing to say to someone who’s come to see you to talk about postpartum depression.

My look faded slowly, but Gail was unfazed.

“Free is always good, right?” she probed. “So you know, just, uh... let me know…”

7/18/14

midsummer meditations...time for us to fly

 
here's what i remember: i was writing a book, trying to tell a story...

and it's so hard now to get back into it, to pick up where i left off, to remember how to let the words spill out; mainly to ignore everything else around me and focus on what's in my head. there's so much else crying out to be done right now: eating, cleaning, shopping and planning, even putting on make-up. they all seem to be tasks of utmost importance, yet they are not. they'll still be here when i'm done. it's okay to ignore those things for now, to take advantage of the quiet moment and practice. there's no time for a marathon right now but that doesn't mean i can't stay limber and in shape. i don't want to get so rusty and stagnant that I can't make it down the street anymore. (man. am i hungry! that sandwich is not gonna cut it. even though i need it to. i really can't afford to waste so much time eating all the damn time.)

yep, and now i need to pee again. it tries my patience to be so closely bound to this mortal coil of flesh.
(if that's ^ not a pretentious sentence then i don't know what is)

it's raining pretty hard outside. just started. not sure the asphalt was even warm enough for the smell of creosote? to form today. and this is what it is, trying to write. trying out words, putting together sentences, forcing my fingers to strike the keys, whether or not my thoughts make any sense.

i can't shake the jittery feeling though and i feel like i could cry. i just want to go back to sleep and get back on a regular routine so my bowels can get themselves back in order.

there is nothing here. it feels like...i don't have the words. any words.

how can my first baby be turning fifteen on Monday? how can the cone headed newborn i saw for the first time just yesterday, be old enough now to drive a car? to sit at his laptop in the room next to me and listen to David Bowie sing about 1984? how is this slow, yet paradoxically fast, time travel possible? where is the pause button? why can't we make it stand still?

now the rain is gone as quickly as it came and i am halfway through a single size serving of coconut flavored yogurt. my head feels congested and it's getting hard to breathe in through my nose. the tears refuse to stay put behind my eyelids. why does it feel so shameful to just let them roll?

our family vacation begins next week and my sister turns forty the week after that and my daughter picked up a back-to-school list at wal-mart yesterday, and i cursed its very existence. i'm not ready for these children to advance another grade, to age another year. and yet i need them to go if i'm ever going to be able to get back to work and finish the story i've just begun to tell.

a book about time. and faith. how one affects the other and vice versa. maybe this is why we don't make a habit of watching the sun rise every morning. why we no longer sit on our porches in the evening and let it sink out of sight. perhaps it would break our hearts too much to welcome each new day with joy, knowing its farewell is a mere fifteen hours away.

and so it goes and so it goes, i'll try to follow the advice i heard on the radio this morning, to say what needs to be said, even if it's "too much." i don't want to be the kind of person others have to steal love from because i was unwilling to give it. best of luck to all of you, still trying to do the same.

7/11/14

Where feet may fail

I went on an impromptu picnic three weeks before school let out. I got up to do my usual routine, sent the kids to school and the husband to work, cooked my breakfast and sat down with my Bible, pen, and a notebook. My Dad told me long ago that whenever I didn’t have anything to study, I could read five Psalms and one chapter from Proverbs every day for a month and it would last me an entire month. It’s a habit I’ve come back to again and again over the years, even though I’m convinced there are many Psalms I will never understand, and I continually dread nearing the end of Proverbs because of that one passage about The Virtuous Woman.
Anyhow, I wasn’t planning to go anywhere that day. My plan was to stay home and write. There were only three weeks left until summer, which meant I only had fifteen days left of free time to get a head start on my book. Every spare moment had to be invested. There was no time to waste on beauty, or Spring, or relaxing and having fun. No, it was time to work, work, work, all the time, with never a moment to rest.
After I read and prayed, I just sat for awhile thinking about what I was going to write. Then I stood up because my cup of tea was empty and I needed to go to the bathroom. On my way down the hall I glanced out the window to see if the recycling had been picked up yet, when the sunlight caught my eye. It was shining so brightly that a singular gleam bounced off the edge of the brown bin and beckoned me to drag it back from the curb of the street to the edge of my driveway. As soon as I imagined how good the sun would feel on my skin when I walked outside, I knew that I had to pack a picnic and drive to a park for lunch. Suddenly, in my head, I heard a bit of a song we’d sang in church the day before. And the phrase that spoke the loudest was this: you call me out.
God was telling me to find a new location for work that day. He wanted me to spend some leisurely time with him, enjoying his beauty and drawing from his strength, before I sat down to write. It was something I’d done several times before. Letting the Holy Spirit lead as I work on this book means several different things to me. Some days it’s as simple as folding laundry, preparing a salad or even taking a short nap before I can get still enough to hear the beat of my own heart, to see the visions of my past and the paths I have to follow to be able to pave this trail. But the words had been coming more and more easily the past few days and I had a goal I was trying to reach before that final summer bell rang. I’d been so busy producing, and I felt so good about everything I’d accomplished, that I almost forgot about the process. But now my heart was telling me that staying inside for the rest of the day was not an option. It was time to pull back from the canvas for awhile and imagine a new color.
There was a particular place that popped into my mind when I first thought of an outdoor picnic. I wanted to drive there as soon as possible but by the time I got everything ready to go I was really hungry. And when I get hungry like that I feel jittery and sometimes those jitters turn into anxiety. I drove past my kids’ school and suddenly knew something bad was bound to happen to them if I drove out to that park by the water that was over twenty minutes away. No, I had to go and sit in the park right next to their school. I needed to be nearby so I could go and scoop them up when the airplane suddenly crashed into the playground and they were left all by themselves, hungry and alone, in the middle of a fiery crater, filled with noxious fumes and burning debris. Yeah, my imagination is nice like that sometimes.
Luckily, there was a woman training for a race on the greenway next to the bench where I ate my sandwich. I watched her go by enough times that it began to feel like I was invading her privacy as I ate my turkey, mustard and provolone sandwich, with a nice slice of juicy Roma tomato on top. So, after some protein entered my blood and the jumpiness left my heart, I decided to head to that park after all.
It was a warm spring morning and the drive to this remote little spot was winding and shaded. I turned on one of my favorite CDs and began to hum along as I followed the road and thought about the brightness and serenity of the waiting park. My arrival lived up to the anticipation. The water was calm and there were only a few people hanging out so there was plenty of room to spread out all by myself. I chose a shady spot up on the hill where I could see the water as well as the railroad tracks across the bridge. I smoothed out my blanket, stirred up my yogurt, and breathed. The moment was pure bliss.
I felt at ease, knowing there would still plenty of time to write, after spending time in the three dimensional world. I pulled out my notebook and a pen and began to journal a prayer. Before I knew it my eyes were watery. I admitted to God, on paper, that I was scared. I told him I felt guilty for spending my time this way, daydreaming and thinking, rather than cooking and cleaning or sitting in an office and bringing home a paycheck. After all, there were summer trips that needed planning and ways to pay for those trips that I hadn’t thought of yet. There were dishes to be washed, floors to be vacuumed and closets to be cleaned. I wondered if I was lazy and selfish to be spending my time sitting outdoors, trying to write a book. What good can this possibly bring to anyone? Isn’t it vain and pompous to tell stories that are only all about me?
It didn’t surprise me that these feelings were dancing around in my head. There was a letter in the mail the day before, telling me that a manuscript I’d recently submitted for a children’s story had been rejected. Again. It was only the second rejection, but the sting was still fresh. I couldn’t help thinking I’d wasted thirty-seven years of my life, and I’d never be good enough to accomplish what it was I wanted to achieve: my name on the spine of a book, my story on the shelf in a bookstore, my vision become reality.
I filled up a page and a half with whining and told God that I needed help trusting him to continue providing for our little family. Even though I had a running list of all that he’d done since I left my job in January, it was hard for me to believe the goodness would last. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of doing all the work little by little, one day at a time. It’s just too hard, I thought to myself and then I wrote this paragraph in my notebook:
Please help make my faith stronger. Sometimes I feel the need to trust you with all of eternity, right here and now. But maybe you just want me to trust you right here, right now. To take the next step, whether in the dark or in the light. I know you’re in front of me leading the way. Help me to feel the tug of your hand and follow where you lead, even if I’m scared.
My mind wandered to a very specific request at that point and I wrote another paragraph about that before I finally looked up from my page. I had just quoted Psalm 29:10, which is all about water, so I looked away down the hill, to the water in front of me. That’s when I began to pay close attention to the middle aged man and a small young girl who’d gotten out of their car ten minutes earlier. They didn’t walk to the gazebo and open up a basket for a picnic lunch. They didn’t get out their fishing poles and begin adding bait to their lines. They didn’t unload a canoe like the young guys on the far side of the bridge, either.
No. They simply walked over to an outcropping of rocks that led several feet out, to a point in the middle of the lake. The father went first and his daughter held his hand and walked behind him. When they came to a large crevice he let go and stood in the gap to catch her in case she slipped. Then she reached out and grabbed his hand again as she gained sure footing across the crevice. He walked slowly for her and they took their time looking out at the sunshine rippling across the water. Then he picked up an old piece of driftwood for her to throw and she gathered her strength and sent it whirring a whole two feet until it sank, then bobbed again along the surface. Finally, they made their way back to land in much the same fashion as they started out. Him going first, her holding his hand. When they reached the grass she jumped in the air and shouted for joy. I was already crying by that time but the words she yelled out cut loose a sob in my chest, and I took off my sunglasses and wept.
“I did it, Daddy!” she cried as leaped up the hill toward their car. They were too far away for me to catch his response but I feel like I know what he said to her in return, as he patted her head and smiled.

“You sure did, sweetheart. You sure did.”
As I opened my laptop and started working, the rest of the song came back to me:


So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine


6/11/14

Untitled

Like Eve with her apple
and the young ruler with all his riches
I don’t believe that you are good

“He’s holding out on you,”
the slippery serpent tongue says
-- I turn my ear toward his hiss

“Just look at this shiny red skin
and tell me its juice will not be sssweet.”
“These coins are the bessst way to make sure you stay sssafe.”

So I place my gifts above the giver
And bow at the altar of all he’s created

God, give me faith to believe
you know what’s best; and break apart
these shimmering idols clutched beneath my breast

6/3/14

Dear Jesus,

Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe
and to love you.

Today, however, I would prefer not to have a sore throat,
and a dirty house,
and three kids at home.

Sincerely,
your least devoted follower