Saturday, February 15, 2020

If History Teaches

If you've been around the church circuit for at least a minute, then you've likely heard or discussed the idea that the Old Testament is foretelling of the New Testament.  In other words, much of what's written in the pre-Jesus books of the Bible are telling us that He's coming.


More than just a few of those earliest stories are easily read as future-telling, and Abraham's story is no exception.


Genesis 22 has always been one of the most perplexing (though promising) chapters that I've ever read.  I have, in fact, completely avoided it at times, unable to fathom the sacrifice that God asked of the father of many nations.


If you are familiar enough with Biblical history, then you can't help but see the story of Jesus’s crucifixion in the story of Abraham and Isaac.


“Take your son, your only son…” Genesis 22:2 OT


“He gave his one and only Son…” John 3:16 NT


As I've been recently re-reading Genesis with a small group, I have been stricken by so much more than just that most obvious comparison.

Check it:


“Abraham got up and loaded his donkey.” Genesis 22:3


“Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it…” John 12:14


“[Abraham] took with him two of his servants…” Genesis 22:3


“Two rebels were crucified with him…” Matthew 27:38


“Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders…” Genesis 22:6


“Carrying his own cross, he went [to the hill on which He was crucified…]” John 19:17

Each of these accounts stand alone as huge implications of God's merciful, immeasurable love for us, even if viewed through the haze of a terrifying reality. Apart from evidence that supports my belief, there must be something to learn in the then-and-now of these stories.

Nearer the beginning of Abraham's story, God said, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you."  And Abraham went.  He left it all behind and went with not much more than God's promise to provide.  

Part of the promise was that Abraham would eventually have "many descendants."  Years and years and years would pass.  A baby was born outside of Abraham's marriage to Sarah, apart from God's will and promise.  More years would pass before the birth of Isaac, the child that God foretold.

Isaac was the hope fulfilled, the certainty of many nations yet to come.  And then God called Abraham to give him up.

When Abraham left his home, he gave up his past life to God.
When he took Isaac up the mountain, he also gave his future.1

Each time, even as he had no idea what might happen, what kind of reality would unfold, he acted in complete faith in the one who did know.  

Sacrifice in the simplest terms means to give something up.  The best definitions of sacrifice ~ in my opinion ~ include that something is given up for the sake of something better.

Whether I mean to be or not, I am a student of patterns and repetitions.  When the same or similar things happen over and over again, I notice.  The best patterns ~ in my opinion ~ draw our attention to something greater than the pattern itself.

Whether I'm reviewing Biblical history, world history, or my personal history, I can observe that even through the haze of a sometimes terrifying reality, God is demonstrating a merciful, immeasurable love for us.

Whatever it is for you ~ a hurtful past, a difficult now, an uncertain future ~ I pray that you will give it all to God.  Even without knowing what might happen, I pray you know that there is no better reality than his love for you.



1 A paraphrase of something Jen Wilkin said in our study, God Of Covenant

Friday, January 31, 2020

I'm Not Laughing You're Laughing

Have you ever been that kid?
The one in the back row, 

Putting on a one-kid show.
One is the loneliest number.
It says polly-tickle.
Your mom goes to college.
Those are "jokes."

And finally, the teacher has had enough and calls you out.

Mrs. Parish, please come to the front of the classroom, and
Prove that [ cos(x) - sin(x) ][ cos(2x) - sin(2x) ] = cos(x) - sin(3x)
Here's a highlight from my life.
One time when I was about 15 years old, I came home from some thing


~ pretty sure the thing was just me and some 
parents watching their kid have a good time ~

And I was just on fire.
Like, I came home funny.
Jokes like I hadn't told since my "drunk Harry" routine in the third grade. 
Am I making any sense?
I'm saying that when I got home that night, I launched into my version of a comedy routine that was good enough to make my mom laugh a pretty good minute...
And then ask me if I was high.
"High on life," I squealed, and I feel like I'd never heard anybody else say that at that point in my life, but I can't really be sure about that part.
I just know I was funny.
And I wasn't high.
And I liked it a lot.

If you don't know or remember the story of Isaac, this and this should get you close.
Read it or not,
know this:

Sarah said, "I didn't laugh."
And the LORD said, "No, but you did laugh."

     And the LORD said, "No, but you did laugh."

          And the LORD said, "No, but you did laugh."

I've read that story countless times, but having read it again recently, I can't stop laughing (to myself!) about that one little part.

No, but you did.

via GIPHY

I was with a group of ladies recently, watching a video lesson about this story.  It's all very serious and the speaker was very informative.  At right about the part where teacher lady was explaining the reason that Sarah laughed, a friend from a couple of tables over sent me a text that made me snicker out loud.  I texted back, and just like that, we were a two-kid show.

Back to Sarah in Genesis 18:15.  It had only been a minute earlier when God spoke to Abraham, and Abraham laughed.  My smaller group of ladies met after the video and discussed the reasons that Abraham and Sarah responded the way they did to God's promise.  In any case, both of them laughed about what God was telling them, and God said,
Please come to the front of the classroom, and prove...
If you're really and truly reading this story in Genesis, it's pretty easy to see how disappointed Sarah might have been about her circumstances, to see that she was living with some real grief.  And it's not hard for me to read "Sarah laughed" through all kinds of lenses, reaching all kinds of conclusions about why she did it.

Have you ever been that kid?    

Sarah eventually had a baby and you know what that baby's name means?

He laughs.

I've been thinking about goals, 
Which is essentially asking
Who I want to be.
I want to be that kid.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

I Give Up

Having served with my church's thrift shop ministry for as long as I have, I've learned some things about giving things up.

Sometimes it's easy.
Sometimes it's other people's stuff, and
There's no struggle at all in
Letting it go.

Sometimes it's crushing.
Sometimes you've been holding it for so long that
You can hardly tell where you end and
It begins.

This time of year,
Whether the reason is spring cleaning or
The season of Lent,
People are giving up their things.

I'm not an expert in any field, but
I'm always aiming to learn,
Always hoping to be teachable, and
I have asked to be taught a new thing.

Church folk ask one another:
What are you giving up for Lent?
I don't know if this is a correct answer, but
I am giving up my life.

Do with it
what you will.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Salt and Shadow

Sometime recently, I was sitting in the shop kitchen with a couple of compadres1 when one of them said, 


"Sugar:  I eat too much, I'm good for a minute, but the downer that follows is way down."

And joking, I said, 


"When I go to the doctor, they call that manic depressive."



"Joking," I said.

I don't think they call it that anymore, even in good fun,
And you don't need to know my medical history, anyway.

But as long as we're on the subject, 
let's talk about extremes for just a minute.

Pattern recognition is a peculiar hobby of mine ~ I've recently realized ~ and one of the patterns that's recently caught my attention is my own system of a down.


I'm UP
and then

I'm way down.


The cogs that turn this wheel are many and weird,
And also, not what this is about.


more (on that) later.
maybe.
because

It seems that I am either going to talk way, way too much,
Or I'm not going to talk at all.

My system of extremes.
My tic and toc.


In that light, be it known that this season has been one of the downest that I've had in a very, very long time.
So much that even if I'd wanted to talk, I've known better than to put some of this out there into the ether.

But the Ether already knows.

I've been living(ish) for Jesus
don't freak.  he told me to be true.
for most of my life.

As I now also work for Jesus, 
every single thing that I say 
may be, 
should be, 
will be 
examined 
by the everlasting light.
by the Everlasting Light.

And that holds me up to a high standard, which is
Good and bad.
Encouraging and exhausting.

So, as I've spent this season trying to say zero 
harmful, 
stupid, or 
embarrassing words, 
I've turned completely in on myself.

I've talked (only) to myself until I'm blue in the face!


My deeply intentional words to people in grief are that 
you must not 
under any circumstances 
or for any real or perceived reason
go radio silent.

So thank Jesus for the radio!

When I cannot or will not say words, the radio (often) says them for me ~ and I'm not sure I'd even know where I've been this season were it not for my playlist, which I've maintained in (mostly) silence.  

So as I emerge now from the desert 
~ (Lord, I pray) ~ 
here is the path I've taken:


some of these have bad or difficult or triggering words.
as with everything else I say, listen at your own risk.

"I am early in my story, but I believe 
I will stretch out into eternity, 
and in heaven I will reflect upon these early days, 
these days when it seemed God was down a dirt road, 
walking toward me. Years ago, 
He was a swinging speck in the distance; 
now He is close enough I can hear His singing. 
Soon I will see the lines on His face." 
Donald Miller

Swimmin Time
Coping Mechanism
Hurricane
Morning
Robert Creeley


dam’s broke,
head’s a
waterfall.

"I've been told there is a power in the blood
Is it enough to carry me back 
from where I am to where I was?"
Everything Now
No Hard Feelings
I Will Survive
Not Waving but Drowning
Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
Rising

As I drafted all of this out this morning
~ not realizing that's what I was doing ~
I had a vision of the woman washing Jesus's feet with her tears.2
And then I saw my own face, my own tears.
And I felt his hand on top of my head
And I felt in my hurting heart
How much he loves me
In spite of all my extremes.
My salt and my shadow.




And that's all I have to say about that.



1 this happens a lot, and I just had one of my really great ideas!
1a and also, why do I keep saying, "compadres"?
Forgiven Much

Monday, December 24, 2018

Untitled Twenty-Four

Fair warning:  I've put this where it's least likely to be seen.  
I need to say it, but you don't need to read it.

Sometime in the last few weeks, two of my favorite friends and I wound up sitting together in the shop kitchen, each of us Decked Out in total festive absurdity.



FF1:  I hate Christmas.  I don't know why, but every single year, I'm just more depressed than the one before.

FF2:  I know exactly what you mean.  It's like you put your chin down and just pray your way through it.


ME:  I know exactly.



Remember that very-nearly-the-end Matrix scene where Smith finally catches Neo unprepared, and inflicts not only the mortal wound, but just keeps firing and firing, and Trinity can only watch as Neo finally relinquishes?  


That's what this last year has felt like.  
Or the last couple of years.  
Or the last whatever.


I've heard more than one person say that they just don't understand how anybody could feel this way or cope that way.  I've encountered people who either can't or won't believe that it's possible for somebody to look normal ~ festive, even ~ and still be ...  not.

So if you do happen to be reading this, 

and if you do happen to know exactly, then,
chin down, 

prayers up, 
and remember:  
Neo does make a comeback.



Saturday, April 28, 2018

Not Mine, But Yours

Last week, my youngest girl graduated from a drug rehabilitation program.

As she ran toward the rope climb outside the building where it happened, she explained to me, "I own these ropes.  I used to climb them when I was 16."

16.
No longer a child, but still under my roof, under my care.  
Not yet grown, but still my kid, my responsibility.

16.
As if it were a lifetime ago.

Did it start before or after 16?...

From the start, Em's life has been so dramatic and "different" from other lives that it would take me ~ well, the internet doesn't really have enough pages for me to share all of her history ~ but as she is beginning her New life, and because I must share in ways I have not shared before, I will start where the "seriously scared witless" began...

Monday, June 2, 2014


can we just call this poetry?

the incessant barking
that morning i walked to your place
two days before you would be gone to who-knows-where
to check on you for what may or may not be the last time 
(may or may not is always the thing with you) 
could not pray
could not concentrate
could only hear the dogs barking
and wonder
if i would remember that sound two days from now
May or may not ~ really and truly ~ has always been the thing.
Would she?  Wouldn't she?
Maybe.  Maybe not.

She was living literally around the corner from us when I made that post,
as she was being evicted from her apartment,
having nowhere to go,
one day before she would come to me in tears to ask if she could stay with us,
when i had to answer, "no,"
as if I had no heart,
two days before she made the exodus,
and literally, all hell broke loose.

I still hear the dogs.

Two days later, I finally came out with it.  Came out, that is, to the broader audience, to the whole world, I suppose, as I sought desperately for what to do, how to live with what was happening.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


For The Zombie Mommas

I’ve pondered writing this for a long time but have a host of reasons for having not. I’m doing it now for this reason: I am not one to look back with regret; rather, I look forward and wonder what I’m going to regret.

That said,

I care little for the zombie culture.  For me, it’s just one more manifestation of a desensitized society.  (But you go ahead!)

I’ve had this really weird theory about the coming zombie apocalypse and how drug addiction will be its genesis.  Turns out, this is not one of my less plausible theories if you have a look at some of the latest drug trends.  Which I don’t actually recommend doing.

But I’m beating around the bush.

I’ve re-written this paragraph forty hundred times, trying to decide what to say, how to say it, whether I have a right to say it, whether it’s a good idea to say it. Finally, I’ve decided to say simply:  It seems I’m losing one of my girls to drugs.



That’s a sentence I’ve put off writing for a long, long time, thinking that I’m breaking some kind of hipa law, or at the very least, I’m disrespecting my girl by telling her business.

But.

She came through me.  I raised her (right or short-coming-like), and fought for her for all her years (realized or short-coming-like).

She is my girl, my daughter, my child.

And it seems that I am losing her.

It seems that we are all losing.

That’s all I wanted to say.

And needed to say.

Because I have no idea what else to say.
Or what to do.
And I know there are other zombie mommas out there, also not knowing.

So I’m raising this like a banner and a prayer for us all.
Thank Jesus, we did have her boy in safe keeping, though we'd had him already, and we may or may not discuss until Jesus comes back how much this had to do with the unraveling of events.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Fade To Black

I looked up to see a teenage girl in the street, bags scattered around her, her pacing and watching nervously until a vehicle came around the corner, and she threw her things into it and rode away.  Several hours passed before it occurred to me that she was probably somebody else's zombie daughter and that I might have made a difference in that life somehow.  I might have just opened the door, stepped out into the yard, and asked her, "babe, are you about to make a regrettable choice?" Instead, I'd just watched the whole thing as if in a stupor.  

It's the same thing I do most days. 

Regrettable choices.  How many have there been now?
I'd ask who's counting as if to imply that nobody's counting but somebody is.
Somebody's always keeping score, at least in the game that I'm not even playing.
I'm losing, by the way.
Even though I have the most points.

I saw the girl through the window as I was sitting and staring, wondering what it's like to become a zombie, in fact.  Is it a slow fade?  Do you snap into it the same way that people snap out of things?

Like, I don't know ... denial, maybe.  Sometimes you snap out of that and what you get is a bite of red-hot reality.  I'm not really in denial.  I just really like the way that last bit sounds and sometimes I say things just because I like the sound of it.

But the real truth is that some parts of reality bite and I am regularly watching in stupefied wonder.  There are some situations still not getting better, some people still not coming home.  There are some places that I would bleed out if I thought it would make things better but I know better.  Knowing better might be making me bitter.  Just a bit.

I'm obviously writing mainly for myself now.  Except for the others like me.  I do know you're out there.  I saw your daughter yesterday in front of my house.  I'm sorry, so sincerely, that I didn't help her.
It seemed to take the entire next year to fade completely.  November 27 was my sister's birthday.  On 11/26/15, I spent my last Thanksgiving with my sister.  Em had been arrested the day before.  My sister died while my daughter was in jail.  Those days ~ my God, those days were dark.

However, as is often said of folks once incarcerated, or once some other means of rock bottom is met, those days in the clink ~ and maybe, just maybe my little sister made a little impact ~ gave my girl some time to dry out and to think.


Here again, I'd like to spend several pages writing about all that happened over the next two years, but I'm already writing outside the margins.  Suffice it to say that she took the reigns of her own life, her own fight, and she fought for her recovery.

[(I must share this from a sense of pride:)  she could have been out of jail and on the streets within a couple of months; she could have gone to this rehab facility or that; but what she did was Insist on getting a chance at Path of Grace, a place that I will henceforth refer to as a "life recovery home."]




(musical interlude as I step back into real life for a few...)

"Do you snap into it the same way that people snap out of things?  Like, I don't know ... denial, maybe.  Sometimes you snap out of that and what you get is a bite of red-hot reality.  I'm not really in denial."



The next couple of years ...
I just can't.
Dealing,
denying,
whatever.
Win some,
lose some.
Good days,
bad days.
Life,
loss.
We all
just
got
through it.

And got us to graduation night.

There were about 50 people in the room, mostly women currently in the program, some previous graduates, a few board members, her sisters, Pop and me, a couple of nieces, her son.

Em sat at the front as we passed a token around the room, each sharing words of encouragement, love, and well wishes.  (I could write a page about just that:  all.those.women. speaking to my daughter ~ to the grown up Em, who is her very own self in this world.)

Normally, what's passed is a rock, but in this case, we passed a prayer coin which had been given to Emily by a man ~ one of our people ~ who'd begun to feel some years back that he'd been given a very specific responsibility to pray for her.

The room was full of tears and laughter as people took their turns sharing their personal history with Em over the last two years:  "you were scary."  "you were mean."  "you gave me the stank eye."  "you have grown, have changed, have overcome, have demonstrated love and sincere care, have helped so much, so often, have saved so many animals!"

Then an older gentleman took the coin, and was several sentences in before I realized how prophetically, poignantly he was speaking.  He began by telling that he'd studied the meaning of Emily's name, and that he'd found she had origins in Scotland, Ireland, a bunch of places, but he somehow wove a path back to the Israelites.  Once there, he explained one of the ancient Hebrew practices of ritualistic bathing.  He said that he'd watched Emily during her time at Path of Grace ~ watched her spiritually cleansing herself of the old ways.

There were several more hands that held the coin before it got to me, my other daughters, and then almost last to speak was my oldest granddaughter, McKenna.  I snickered at first when she said, "Aunt Em, I've listened to what everyone else has said, and all I have to say is, 'just keep bathing, just keep bathing.'"  One of my other kids had to nudge me and point out that it was a Finding Nemo reference that pointed back to the older gentleman's words.  It was suddenly one of the deepest things I've heard in my entire life.

It took me a few days to start this piece, and I am finishing it now, almost exactly two months later.

But if there's really an end to this, it's that there really is no end until Jesus finishes the work He started.  Until then and forever after, they are not my children, but His.

Not my will, Lord, but Yours.



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Vigil

i must have been eight years old the first time i saw Aslan. i'd already experienced several girlhood crushes, but the Lion ~ he was my first great love. and it was the terrifying, wrenching, insurmountable kind of love that you might put away into some unlit corner for a time because (wrench) the pain of it, but you could never, ever forget it.

oh God, the Lion's eyes as his mane fell onto the stone. the painful but determined resolve with which he laid himself bare!

i didn't know.
i did not know allegory at eight years old.
i did not understand sacrifice, or the precarious nature of life, or what it meant to give your life to the service of others.

i cannot speak for my sister who watched with me ~ she, five years old ~ we, holding hands in stunned silence and solidarity ~ both of us hating the cold white witch, and surely understanding in the depths of our created hearts what it is to be tempted.

i cannot speak for my sister because she must speak for herself, albeit from the other side now, where surely she has found Aslan alive, has touched his mane, has been healed of every hurt, every crush, every temptation to turn away.
.
.
Vigil
by QUAN BARRY

Tonight we will function like women.
The snow has gone away, the ice with its amniotic glare.
I clasp my sister’s tiny hand.
We will not turn away
Though spring, spring with its black appetite,
Comes seeping out of the earth.

The lion was sad. He suffered us
To touch him. When I placed the bread of my hands
In his mammalian heat, I was reminded
That the world outside this world
Is all vinegar and gall, that to be a young girl at the foot of a god
Requires patience. Timing.

The White Witch has mustered her partisans.
Because I am fascinated by her bracelets strung with baby teeth,
I will remember her as the woman
Who grins with her wrists. From my thicket of heather
I note that in her own congenital way
She is pure, that tonight she ushers something new into the world.

I cannot stop it. I cannot stop it just as in that other place
I could not keep the planes with their spiked fires from coming.
Though in this closed realm the smell of camphor is overwhelming
I have nothing but my hands to use
In ministering to the dead. Here too
My hands must suffice.

Hush now while I testify. They are shaving him.
The corona of his mane falls away
Like pieces of money. In the moon’s milk light
Her bangled wrists grin as she raises the blade.
Something is diffused. In whatever world he comes again
There will be women like us who choose to.
.
.
i wrote and re-wrote this until it spoke my piece, and then i checked the publication date of the bbc production, the one to which i refer.

it was nineteen-EIGHTY-eight, which means that i was eighteen and not eight, that my sister was fifteen and not five.  it means that i had a one-year-old daughter, and that i'd known more than just a few "childhood crushes."  it means that i knew a lot more than i did when i was eight years old.

but there's no changing this.  i wrote exactly what i see in my memory, exactly how i feel in my heart.  i was eight; she was five; we were holding hands.
.
.
in the first months after my sister died, i was searching one day for someone else to say for me what i couldn't.  it was a quick find, something i've known ever since was not an accident, and i go to her still when i don't know what to say.  Grief by Richard Brostoff via T.  whoever she is, she is also my sister.

if it seems i've followed her lead, then yes, absolutely.