Archives for March 2016

When the Fate of the World Rests on One: The Voltic Word

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We sat in the Regency room on gold chairs with blue velvet seats, like a flock of colorful birds with some of us clothed in pink hair or permanent ink, and others clad in bright knit sweaters and blue jeans. The room was meant for hosting royalty, and was decorated as such to host the Prince Regent, George IV in the 1800’s. Today, it hosts poets, novelists, and artists of the non-royal variety.

Each of us held a thick packet of paper handed out by the professor with snippets of poems and passages printed on it. Before we read the examples, he explained a theory he had developed over a lifetime of reading and writing. He suggested that a work of poetry often contains a “voltic word”, and this word has two characteristics: One, it carries a charge or a current, expressing more than the letters it contains, and two, it turns our attention and casts a light on the rest of the work.

As we read through each piece, we tried to identify the voltic word, the one on which everything else turned and pivoted, the one that electrified the piece with a deeper meaning than the words themselves implied. Once we recognized what we were looking for, simple words like “too” or “and” began to take on new significance. They changed our perception and our understanding of what the author wanted to convey. The voltic word was the one on which the poem hinged open, revealing its deeper meaning.

As we celebrate Easter this weekend, I am aware that this world is waiting for it’s coming King to return. We prepare our hearts like a room decked in gold and blue, and ready ourselves for Jesus Christ our King to come again, to set things right, to rule over a world that is ill-prepared and groaning and crumbling like dust.

All of history, all of humanity, all of the mysteries of this age and beyond, have turned on a single voltic word. They’ve been charged with meaning by the Word become flesh. Jesus, bound to earth by skin and muscle and bone. Jesus, son of God and yet fully man. Jesus, the rejected cornerstone upon whom the hope of the world rests. He is the voltic Word of God, the one who turns our attention and casts the brightest light upon every word of scripture. He is the one who gives meaning and life and redemption. In Romans 5:17 we’re reminded  “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One , Jesus Christ.”

This one man, this voltic Word, changed everything. Let us live like we know this truth down to our own flesh and bones. Let us live like the redeemed, like the ones who build our life on the cornerstone, like the ones who allow the light and charge of the Word to turn us into a new creation.

Happy Easter, dear friends.

***Many thanks to HL Hix for his illuminating lecture on the voltic word. His words shed light on everything they touch.

How to See: Finding the Holy Hidden in the Everyday

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Whether she missed the ball or caught it, her eyes slid my way afterwards. She turned them to where I sat on the bleachers, seeking my thumbs-up approval or my better-luck-next-time shrug. The ball usually caught her by surprise mid-sentence or when flipping her hair or readjusting the little knot on her t-shirt. Had I ever possessed the courage to stand on a court, I would’ve missed a sure shot in lieu of flicking my ponytail too. This was the longest hour of every week, and also one of the sweetest. She ran like a gazelle with long, strong legs that kicked the sky when she made a basket. Big eyes like glowing orbs caught my own to make sure I saw it. I saw her.

An hour later, the older boys immersed themselves in their own game. There was no conversation or singing of Taylor Swift lyrics on the court. There was hustle. They offered small crooked smiles at mistakes, pumped fists at a three-pointer, but also, the same searching eyes asked the question–did you see me? My boy scanned the seats during every game to find my eyes fixed on him, and I gathered all of his nearly imperceptible nods like tiny treasures.

At some point during every game, Coach Coyle and I met eyes across the gloss of the gym floor. We sent small signals–I see you, I see them, I see us right there on the court singing or dribbling or looking for our approval. They were the holiest, hidden moments where we saw ourselves clearly through each other’s eyes–we are seen, we are loved, and we offer the same gift to our children.

I never thought I’d see love written in glances across a basketball court. But, every winter Saturday, I sat in my yoga pants in a crowd of mothers and fathers listening the the squeak of sneakers across a gym floor, waiting to catch eyes with the ones I love. Waiting to acknowledge their wins, accept their flaws, and watch them kick the sky with joy.

One Small Way to Steward Your Life Well

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“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” ~Prov 29:18

Some time ago, Christie and I met for lunch in a little village in the middle of Pennsylvania. After lunch, we strolled through an eclectic street fair selling afghans with huge dog faces printed on them, hanging next to cheap t-shirts and dreamcatchers with trailing feathers. It wasn’t really our scene, so we made our way to a garden center filled with the scent of soil and growing things.

Gardening tools, bags of bulbs, and books on planting lined the shelves inside. As we browsed and ran our hands over the garden gnomes, Christie told me that she planned and dreamed of her garden well before she knew it would exist. She gathered books, studying the care of flowering trees and the best time to plant bulbs. Long before her garden existed, the vision for it took root in her heart. She gathered garden stories like the trees gather the wind in their leaves.

Today, she tends to the garden of her dreams with a back bent toward the earth and dirt beneath her fingernails. She continues to imagine what it could be, but there is growth now, it is alive today because she dreamed and planned and read it into being.

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I’ve been on a entrepreneurial bender lately. I’ve listened to multiple podcasts on starting one’s own business, and I read a few books like #GirlBoss and Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It. At first, I thought this sudden interest in being a self-employed artist was an attempt by my subconscious to avoid doing housework or writing (this remains a very real possibility).

I don’t have any entrepreneurial leanings, nor do I have any skill set that might lead one to believe I could create and sell something. I make a wicked lop-sided coconut cake, but that’s the extent of my creative abilities. But, lately I find myself continually drawn to these concepts about using one’s gifts, setting goals, sticking to a path, and using one’s time well.

Listen, I do dirty dishes and laundry for a living. My sudden interest in running a business doesn’t make much sense in the context of my current life situation, until I began to see a recurring theme in all of the information I consumed. It sounded like a bell ringing in the distance, and it rang with the word Stewardship over and over.

The Parable of the Talents has popped into my inbox and my earbuds lately, and it’s so familiar, I tend to brush it off. However, the heartbeat of the story is stewardship–stewarding our gifts well so that we receive a return on our investment. All of this brushing up on time management and using creativity to actually create something of value doesn’t seem to have much of a practical application for me at this stage of my life. But, when I view it in terms of stewardship, I see how easily the smallest choices of how I spend my time, what I think about, and how I steward my writing and my relationships have an impact on my hope for the future.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of now. I don’t have a garden now, so why study the seasons? I don’t have a business now, so why learn how to manage my time better? I don’t have my dream now, so why stir up my belief in it? I want to live in the present, but I also want to plan well for my future.

Over the years, I’ve learned to lean into the direction of my interests and whims. When I find myself drawn to a particular subject, I lean in, I read, I study it. In doing so, I often discover useful nuggets of wisdom, and I plant them like seeds for the future. This is how a vision takes root, and grows into something alive and life-giving and fruitful.

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What are you drawn to today? What are you reading and listening to, and what themes do you see emerging? How does it fit in with your future vision? How are you stewarding your gifts and your time?

Start with Kind Words: Giving Ourselves Permission

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To celebrate my birthday last week, I gave myself an entire day of permission. I gave myself permission to do whatever pleases me, and to refuse anything that does not. This means I spent the better part of my birthday ignoring the dishes calling me from the sink and the silent washing machine begging to be put to use. Their voices shout, loud and demanding, so I filled the empty space with other people’s voices from the pages of a book.

I gave myself permission to read for an entire day while the kids were at school. In a manner befitting Marie Antoinette, a manner of utter indulgence, I drove to my local library and gave myself browsing rights with no time limit. I gathered an armful (eight, to be exact) of books I want to read and I brought them all home. One is a large, coffee table book of an artist’s rendering of the green pastures and white-capped mountains Switzerland. The thought of browsing through it page by page, allowing it to spark vivid memories of our time living there, gives me pleasure.

More than giving myself permission to enjoy the gift of time on my terms, I promised I would only say good things about myself all day. This played out in the battle field of my own head. I decided to reject every negative thought about my own shortcomings, every ugly thought about how frustrated I am with my meager accomplishments, every bitter word I speak about my own self. Not only did I reject these thoughts, I forced myself to replace them with a kind word, a gentle internal gesture of gratitude for the person I’ve become.

It was nearly impossible.

It felt more indulgent than anything else I experienced that day. Even the Lent-breaking slice of carrot cake, thick with whipped cream cheese icing was easier to place in my mouth than a kind word about my own self. I hadn’t realized how ingrained the negative thought patterns have become. Why is it so hard to simply like one’s self and celebrate her? It feels undeserving somehow, and yet I am made in God’s image. I am known and loved by Him, and by family and friends too. Yet, it’s difficult to extend myself this same love, difficult to say “I am loved. I belong here. I have good and important work to do.”

I gave myself one day of permission to simply be me, to enjoy the things I love, to look in the mirror and call this creation good. It was such a small thing, but it shifted something hard and cold inside of me. Today, I want you to give yourself permission too. It may not look like an armful of books, or Swiss art, or carrot cake. But it should certainly begin with kind words of love for your self. Begin to cut new paths of good, gentle, joy-filled words about the inner person you know yourself to be. Become a raconteur of your life’s story. You’re the only one who can really tell it.

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What else might you give yourself permission to do today if there were no consequences like calories or little people wanting clean underwear?

 

 

What’s Saving Me Today: Poetry

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When my sister-in-law was in high school she had a boyfriend who shaved his head regularly and wore ill-fitting, dark clothing. He was a Calvinist, which led to much consternation on the part of my mother-in-law, and much sharpening of arguments on the part of my soon-to-be husband. He was also a teenaged poet. He read us a few poems as we sat circled around the dinner table once, and with that, he sealed his fate with the family. Everyone but my husband deemed it inscrutable and devoid of meaning. It was charming and mysterious when the poetry remained an idea, but once the words gathered in the space between us, we wanted to immediately connect with them in some way. We wanted simple. We wanted easy to grasp, spell-it-out, transparent meaning.

With the exception of my grumpy twelfth grade English teacher Ms. Antonelli, the short-lived boyfriend gave me one of my few early brushes with poetry. I cut my teeth on fiction growing up. I read innumerable novels, suffered through non-fiction, and attempted to enjoy short stories. But poetry remained a complete mystery.

As a teenager and young adult, I was closed-off, and emotionally disconnected from my inner self. I had yet to discover my own writing, and without a tool to excavate the deeper things, I struggled on the surface. I was so vulnerable, to open the door to my inner life a crack–to question, to dream, to explore my inner landscape–would have released the dam holding me together. I fear I would have drowned in it. Had I been brave enough, I think poetry could have saved me.

When I start to feel like life is pressing down heavy and I can’t breathe, reading is air to me. Poetry has become pure oxygen. I struggle to understand it more than your average reader, but to breathe free, it’s worth the effort. I have little books of poetry scattered throughout the house, in the car, and in my email in-box. I’m not a poet, but I connect with how they too, see through a glass darkly. Their words help me see myself and others more clearly.

My thoughts have turned to poetry lately because I’m wrestling with some emotions and fears I’d rather stuff down. When I get squirrely, I begin to rebuild the dam that stories and poems and my own work have quietly dismantled over the last ten years. It is good to know my weaknesses, and have words to turn to. Now I understand why seasons of my life have been wallpapered with the Psalms. They cut straight to the heart of things, don’t they?

I’m grateful for the bald, Calvinist, teenaged poet, however inscrutable his poetry. He was dismantled, transparent, brave. He was also weird, and I have a deep appreciation for everything left of center, because it is everything I’m not. I’ve grown weary of toeing the line of normalcy, and rebuilding this dam to hold all the things together. Time for a little poetry.

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*A note for you, dear reader: As a writer who hopes to be published, I’m supposed to be writing things like “Ten days to thinner thighs”, or “Five ways to fix your marriage without fuss or fighting”. I’m not supposed to be writing about things like my late-blooming love for poetry because it doesn’t offer a “take-away” for you, the reader. But, I don’t buy it. I think you’re smarter and deeper than that. I think you can connect to my struggle because we’re all human and we’re all squirrely and we’re all hiding behind something. What draws you out? It’s probably not poetry, but it’s something. I’d love to know what brings you healing and makes you a whole person. We’re all a tiny bit left of center after all, aren’t we?