Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Gift

Today is my birthday.  A few hours from now, I will go to a church filled with people who love me, and give thanks in "Joys and Concerns" that on this day 56 years ago, my family had the stupendously good fortune to be introduced to me!  Later, I'll read Psalm 139 and remind myself that I am "fearfully and wonderfully made."  For this one day, I'll ignore the questions that raises about my having been made with cerebral palsy. I'll remember that God celebrates my birth, as God celebrates every birth, which means God spends a lot of time celebrating.  He's just a partying kind of God!  I give thanks--today and every day--that I know my birth is worth celebrating.

My mother died almost a year ago. She was beautiful, wise, and loved--and never really believed she was any of those things.  I hope God has spent the last year healing her.  She needed healing more than I ever have.  The inability to know you are loved is the worst disability I can imagine; far worse than having cp.  My father lies in a nursing home.  The last time I talked to him, he was in pain.  I hope he wasn't in pain today.  Sometimes his words make no sense and all I can hear is fear.  It breaks my heart.

I spent yesterday afternoon at Starbucks, drinking lattes and reading my sister Leslie's recently published book; admiring her words and her persistence in writing them.  The latter is not a trait I possess.

To miss my mother deeply, to grieve for my father's pain, to love and admire my sister, and to know that I am loved--  It's all a gift.  The gift of a lifetime.  Happy Birthday me.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Showing Up and Turning the World Upside Down

My friend Jolin is a pastor and painter in North Carolina.  She and a colleague are co-sponsoring an art exhibit titled Spinning the Parables in the fall.  They want artists from various genres, particularly under represented folks, to help people think about Jesus' parables in new ways. Seeing as how I am a writer from an under represented group and Jolin likes me, she asked me to write a poem.  My first response was panic--  What if I have nothing to say?!  God always laughs when I ask that.  Still. . . .  "Poems either do not succeed," says Mary Oliver, "or they feel as much delivered as created."  Amen. Amen and if God doesn't deliver, poets are sunk.  Amen and I have this abiding fear that Saul's experience will be repeated in my life. 

Saul was king before David came along, and when Saul was king, for most of the time Saul was king, God's spirit rested on Saul and everything was hunky dory. Saul got everything he wanted.  Everyone loved him.  Life was good. . . until that shepherd boy with a sling shot ruined it all.  Who said God doesn't play favorites? God withdrew God's spirit from Saul--Don't ask me why, but he did--and gave it to David.  The only time Saul felt any peace after that was when David played the harp for him.  Music soothes the savage king.

Writing is an odd thing.  I decide what to write about; I choose words.  I change my mind and choose other words.  My name goes at the end of the poem or essay or story.  Good, bad, or somewhere in between, I am responsible for the words on the page.  And yet. . .  And yet if I think too hard, if it's all a rational decision, if I replace words in a sentence the way a mechanic replaces a muffler, it won't work.  If writing doesn't flow from someplace deep within me, it will sound wooden.  If God doesn't show up, I'm sunk.  I'm afraid one of these days God won't show up.

So the other morning I woke up thinking about Jolin's request, and I started to sit up.  Halfway into a sitting position, I noticed my legs were even more spastic than usual:  I couldn't put my foot flat on  the floor.  Talk about panic!  What's going on?  What if this is permanent? I wondered.  And then!  And then these words came from out of nowhere:

Your body speaks through the tension in your bones,
And you are as persistent as the widow before a judge
In following its lead.

I love it when God turns the world upside down!  I love it when God takes the crappy things in our lives, and uses them to make art--Poetry, paintings, music.  Vivid, intense, richly textured paintings from the mire of Van Gogh's depression, Kaethe Kollwitz's arresting charcoal drawings from the horrors of war; clear words in the midst of spasms. . .I love it when God wrests beautiful from ugly!

In case you haven't seen it, here's the poem I sent Jolin:


The world looks at you and says "Weak."

Your body speaks through the tension in your bones,
And you are as persistent as the widow before a judge
In following its lead.

How has God wrested beauty from the pain in your life?