Flame-Maker

We have officially welcomed March into our midst.  Hello, dear friend, we said. I trust you’ve brought the promise of spring with you? 

Yes, said she.  But cold remains.  Winter, like a bell that rings from the steeple, echoes yet.

And so it does.  And so we wait and pull our stocking caps down over our ears and shove our feet into forlorn boots and mumble idly about how we miss the sun.

I admit, even though the UV index of said sun is higher than it was in February, its rays still feel painfully far away and unaffecting.  I struggle to find enough gumption to go outdoors, except to feed the chickens (who are also irritated at winter’s persistence) and to gather firewood from the shed.  Sparrow, too, loathes being told she ‘has to go outside because it’s good for you’ and will often beg to eat a carrot as an alternative because, in her mind, healthy things are interchangeable.

Once coaxed outside, though, she usually has fun.  I will hear her singing to herself or looking toward the river and doing random curtsies, as if the river were her dance partner and the forest, her ever-attentive audience.

On this particular day, she delighted herself in a game of collecting sticks.  Snapped off twigs, birch bark and balsam bows, gathered in abundance to make a pretend fire.  She was so busy and after an hour, had amassed quite a pile.  Clarence, hound dog extraordinaire, had lengthened the process by intermittently stealing sticks from the pile and carting them off to unknown locations.

I watched her, amazed as usual, at how exacting and full her imagination is.  Huddled over the pile (singing, of course), she rubbed her hands together and held them over the invisible flames.  And if my rational adult brain didn’t know better, I’d say she actually warmed herself.

It was beautiful to witness.  And I could have marveled all day at her, her flawless skin glowing in the brilliant light of thin air.

But then I remembered I had a lighter in my pocket.  An actual flame-maker.  And maybe I should’ve left her to her imagination.  Maybe I should have let her alone, let the spark of her mind keep the fire kindled.

But then again.  So I sat down next to her and, without a word, let the lighter’s tiny flame ignite a gnarled strip of birch bark.  And she gasped.  A gasp of genuine delight and together, we sat in the snow and watched the real fire blaze.

I have no doubt the fire in her mind was vivid.  But in her imagination, was there a symphony of intriguing sights and sounds?  Crackle and hiss of dried balsam needles burning. Twig tips shimmering like gold.  Ashy ribbons of smoke rising from the rubble like song.  Sharp, stinging taste that catches first in the nose and then in the throat. Heat that reaches out and finds your skin like a kind word finds an anguished heart.

Sentimental, maybe but oh, how good it is to experience the real thing! How much more, the flesh and the bone, over aberrations of the mind.

We sat with the fire until it was gone.  And then we went inside.  Flinging her coat and snow pants off, she clambered up on the counter and retrieved her poetry journal (yes, she has one) from the cupboard and found a pencil.  And this is what she wrote:

A Fire

We were once cold.  So we collected
and collected, sticks and bark
and ideas and soon, it was done.
My mama, with her hands, started
the flames and they burst, orange
on orange and we were very warm.

How I love her.  And how I love that, in her mind, I am the fire-maker.  Buttoner of buttons, braider of hair, scratcher of itches and maker of flames.

It is good to be viewed through the mind of a child.  It is humbling and very, very good. Because truth be told, I’m really not that great. But she sees me through her mind, through her beautiful child-like eyes, the one’s wearing impenetrable lenses of love.

And I’ll tell you what, I know these feeble, erring hands could never coax flames forth, but her love for me makes me feel like maybe I could.

Love is good like that.  Love makes spring in all the places winter threatens to reign. 

And because we’re a poem writing family, here’s mine:

Warmth

Slowly, the flames start, tiny tongues
speaking in a hundred languages
of love. How quickly then, until everything
is engulfed. A bright, emotive fire
with heat enough
to cut even the bleakest cold.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35

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Which Word Are You Standing On?

I’ve had a poem mulling around in my mind for a few weeks.  I started it back in the middle of January, when our little hamlet had a cold snap and we all walked around the house like zombies, sniffling and complaining about cold feet.  (At least that’s what I did. Andy rarely lets the cold get to him like I do.  In fact, he rarely let’s weather get to him at all.  He’s is the less fickle member of the family.)

The cold does get to me though and, while beautiful, tends to make me feel melancholy and blue.  So it was -20 and I was melancholy and I wrote a draft of this poem.

But I wasn’t happy with it.  It seemed too surface-level and trite.  So, I set it aside and let it percolate.  I came back to it today and saw that the cold was a catalyst for me to address a deeper issue, one that goes beyond temperatures.

It dawned on me, that each morning (pun intended), when I wake up, I have a choice. What to wear, yes.  And then, what to eat for breakfast.  (Coffee, of course, is not a choice but a necessity!)   And then I can choose whether I will complain about the weather or not.

But, before all of that, I get to choose what word will describe my day.  Is my day going to be described in terms of Love?  Gentleness?  Hopefulness?  Or am I going to move about my day with fear coloring everything I do?  (I struggle with fear, I admit.)  Or impatience? Or hate?

 

So, this poem turned into a sort of pep-talk to myself.  A call to action, the action being a dogged determination to claim joy and hope and love when, let’s face it, there’s 101 reasons to despair.

To stubbornly stand, unmoving, on words like Joy and Hope and Love (especially when the whole world seems to be operating with adjectives like fearful and hateful) is to engage in a small-scale revolution.  And I’m all about revolutions.

January, -18 F

I woke today
with hesitation, some unnamable fear
snagging again the thread-bear remnant
I’ve somehow become. Once malleable
and able to bend
in the shifting moments, my mind
feels brittle as branches
snapping in wind’s brisk hand. I want to blame
something: so, maybe
it’s winter, the way it crushes
everything with dark and ice.  Only the birds
rise above and even they
flit slower, pausing at the feeder
to shake cold’s heaviness
from their feathers. Or maybe
it’s the state of affairs: the radio
broadcasting only one story, Cain and Abel.
But instead of stone
there’s guns and words. Hate, reinvented.
Yes, maybe that’s what makes
the sun on my kitchen counter
seem more like shadow then light.
Maybe that’s the snag.  But then, the infant,
my son, who hasn’t learned yet, smiles
gleefully, tiny bubbles of spit
forming on his pursed lips. And his big sister
leans over a notebook, pencil perched
in her hand.  She’s learning
to write and read and she’s so proud.
I watch them, bewildered. What’s happened
to me?  So wise I’ve forgotten.
So knowledgeable, and for what?
I want to go back
to the book I learned from. Unlearn it,
page by page.  Linger on the lessons
of joy (so much easier to spell
than mourning) and hope (one simple
syllable to despondency’s complicated four).

 

 

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Sacred Dust

Last night, Miss S., Caleb River and I went to our town’s production of Beauty & the Beast.

Sparrow, always looking for a reason to dress-up, picked out her favorite ‘gown’ for the occasion.  As she came down the stairs from her bedroom, my heart stopped a little, as it often does when it catches a future glimpse of this woman I’m attempting to raise.  She’s five, soon to be six, and she’s all little girl and skinned knees and spilled milk and crocodile tears over things that don’t really matter.  Day to day, I am so immersed in the five-ness of her that sometimes, it makes me feel crazy.  She is so five.  So, so, so five.

And yet, there is this sense of who she is becoming that I detect from time to time.  And it takes my breath away.  Not necessarily because she’s becoming something wonderful (though I pray and trust that she is) but simply because she’s becoming, right in front of me.   In the midst of every mundane moment that happens during our days together, she is becoming.

When she asks to pour the milk into her own cereal and then spills the entire gallon into her bowl, she is becoming.  And when she builds a house with Lincoln Logs and then the dog runs by and knocks it over, she is becoming.  And when she asks me for the two-hundredth time how to spell birthday and then still leaves the i out, you guessed it, she is becoming.  And when we read the same Winnie the Pooh tale over and over, and she laughs at all the predictable parts like they are brand new.  And when she falls on the floor, hysterical, because I won’t let her have a piece of gum.  And when she beats me at Candy Land and Memory and Sequence and Guess Who, all in one day.

She’s a patch-work quilt and there are a hundred different needles and a hundred different threads and a hundred different hands, some of them mine, some of them not, and furiously, we are stitching together this person, this human, this eternal soul.

And, oh friends, I am working so hard to trust that God sees every stitch and won’t let even one slip outside His intention.

Because I know that some of the stitches will hurt.  Really bad.  And some will seem poorly placed, to my eye or to hers.  There will be unstitched parts that she or I will want to stitch up before the appropriate time has come.  There will be rips that need restitching and worn parts that need patching.

And it’s all happening, has been happening, since the day she was born and sometimes, in the midst of spilled milk and booster seats and repetitive (boring!) games of I Spy, I forget that she’s becoming.

And then, she’ll walk down the stairs in a sparkly red dress and as my heart skips a beat or two, I’ll remember.

And I will be humbled to my very core.

In his essay, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote (among other fantastic, profound things): “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”  And he is right.  This child in front of me, the one with the blueberry stains around her mouth and dirt in her nails, is, as my friend Emily wisely wrote, “a most precious, immortal soul.”

She is not just my daughter, not just a person I’m obligated to do life with.

And she’s not the only one. There’s Caleb too.  And everyone else in the wide world.

Every day, we are walking around, talking and eating and losing our tempers and hugging and driving and laughing and, let’s face it, passing gas (!) in the presence of other immortal souls who are in the process of becoming.  What a dichotomy, this life.  This doing the laundry and buying groceries in the presence of souls who bear the image of God himself!

What a wildly, wildly important dichotomy.

Friends, as we prepared to go to Beauty and the Beast, I bent over Sparrow’s little head and braided her hair.  I braided the hair of an immortal soul.  I tried to let that reality soak into me but I couldn’t do it, at least not entirely and definitely not sufficiently.  If I was capable of fully understanding it, fully realizing it, I think I would find that my day to day conduct would be very different.

But, my inability to fully realize it doesn’t make it any less true.  Does it?

Because writing a poem helps me to process, I wrote this one.

I Braid My Daughter’s Hair

while she draws a picture. And maybe
I should be thinking
about smooth strands, even tension, symmetrical sides
but my mind is too overwhelmed
with the radical task
of raising a child, a soul,
a Godly image-bearer. She is so much
flesh and blood and basic need
and yet immortal, untouchably
precious.  And so it is with all of us,
milling around the planet, aging
while preparing for rebirth.
Sacred dust, these bodies
of ours.  Perhaps to be human
is to do what I am doing right now.
Gathering a strand
of the eternal and intertwining it
with a strand of here, a strand of now,
a strand of the ever-fleeting moment.
Over and over, with every breath
we take, this braiding
of heaven together with earth.

It’s weighty, isn’t it?  The reality that we aren’t just dealing with mortals and meaningless interactions and mundane tasks and inane details.

So now what?,  you ask.  And I ask it too.  Now what?

I’m not sure, entirely.  But I think it has something to do with going about our days with
slowness and intention and with minds tuned to the eternal.  I think it’s about trying to see beyond what our limited eyes can see.  I think it’s about remembering that, while dust, we are sacred and precious and ought to treat each other accordingly.  I think it’s about asking for the grace to help each other along, in this arduous process of becoming.  

I will leave you (and myself) with these words, written by my dear friend, for her daughter:

Your blithe spirit rises up and fills
Every space you enter.
You grow. For you are a most precious
Immortal soul.
Emily Austin Dennison

Posted in life, love, Truth | 1 Comment

The House That Schmidt Built

We’re building a house.  Did you know that?

Because our current house is falling into the river.  No joke.

Andy is milling all the logs himself.  And then he’s going to build it.  And then we’re going to live in it.  And it’s going to be that easy.  Right?

Right.

Today, our friend Lucien came over to help Andy run the sawmill. He took this rad time-lapse video of Andy sawing one of the logs.

I am amazed that perhaps, someday, eventually, hopefully, those logs will become a house. For us.  A house that isn’t sliding into the river.  A house that will welcome many guests, with walls that will hear many stories and songs and outbursts of laughter.

Instead of Jack, this will be the house that Schmidt built.  Complete with hound and rooster and cat.  But, in this house, Andy will wear Carhartts and his tattered, old sweatshirt with the Richard Brautigan patch.  And, instead of a high-waisted dress, I’ll be wearing the same gray sweater I wear every day and the only pair of jeans I own.  There will be no red-flowered hat on my head because I have dreadlocks and can’t get any hats to fit on my head as a result.  Sparrow & Caleb, hand in hand, will not look prim or proper but will be wearing something stained. Because everything they own is stained.  Because I’m really bad at laundry.

And, in The House That Schmidt Built, the rat won’t eat the malt, as the poem goes. Because we don’t keep malt around (who does??) and because we don’t have rats this far north.  We’ve got mice, though. And pigs that get out of their pen, ransacking the neighborhood and scaring the horses.  We’ve got water pipes that freeze.  And banjos made out of cookie tins.  And a deer carcass nailed to our tree to keep all the woodpeckers and chickadees fed over the winter.

In short, we’ve got shenanigans.  Shenanigans crazy enough to write a nursery rhyme about.  Hmmm…I think I’ll do that.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, stop by and visit.  Help Andy mill a log.  And later, help us raise some walls.  Come be a part of the shenanigans.  If you’re lucky, you just might find yourself in a verse of The House the Schmidt Built.

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Keyboard Confessional

If I had gotten what I deserved from my family tonight, it would have been this:

Sparrow would have packed a small bag of her most precious belongings (pink blankie, sequined skirt, crayons, sketch pad, Walkman [yes, our daughter has a Sony Walkman] and her cassette tapes, the most critical being Jack Pearson’s Fax Yourself to Jesus and the Mary Poppins Soundtrack) and announced, meekly, that she would be moving in with the neighbors.  Because, according to my actions and words, her presence was no longer desired in our household.

Andy would have looked right at me and told me to ‘shut up.’  Then, he would have drug me off to the bathroom, thrown me in the shower and turned it on full-cold, full-blast. League of Their Own style.  And I would have deserved it.

Because I was raging around the house, yelling at Sparrow to be quiet and stop being annoying.  And I was raging around the house, yelling at Andy because you just don’t understand what its like and you get to extol wisdom then escape to the garage, leaving me to deal with this, said emphatically and with a gesture of my hand that indicated everything and everyone in our house.

Then I chopped the carrots really, really hard and really, really fast.  And I had irrational thoughts like ‘if I cut off a finger doing this, Andy will feel pity for me and he’ll take the blame for making me so mad.  He’ll rush me to the hospital and tell the ER doc that it’s all his fault…he could’ve been a better husband.’

Then I slammed cupboard doors and silverware drawers and toaster levers.  I barked at Sparrow to set the table now and I scowled at Andy and kicked the dog because he was in between me and the fridge and…

I could go on. For a long time.  And it wouldn’t be pretty.  Because I was acting really, really ugly.

And here’s the ugliest part.

I was acting like this because Caleb River, sweetest 3-month old to ever grace the planet, had taken a short nap.  And because I’d felt compelled to wash the dishes first, hadn’t gotten to take a shower before he woke up.

Give a girl a real reason to rage and she’ll rage.

Friends, if you’ve ever wondered how wretched I am, let me help you wonder no more: I am among the most wretched of the wretched.

So you see now why I would’ve deserved the afore mentioned responses.

Instead, my family, in the aftermath of my earthquake, did this:

After setting the table, Sparrow asked for two pieces of orange paper (which I gave to her with scorn in my voice and anger in my movements).  While I  pulverized garlic, she made a crown with little red construction paper diamonds.  She covered my chair with a beautiful cloth and transformed pink blankie into a robe.  All the while, she kept saying “Don’t look at what I’m doing Mama.  It’s a surprise to make you feel better.”

While bowls of chicken dumpling soup sat on the table, steaming like the woman who’d made them, my daughter crowned me queen.

And when dinner was finished, my husband retro-fitted the bathroom with calm lighting and drew me a bath.  While I soaked in a wildly undeserved tub of hot, bubble-filled water, he read to Sparrow and put her to bed.

And what did Caleb do? He slept because, like Andy had (wisely) said earlier “I’m sure our son will sleep again.”

Here’s to grace, lavishly displayed and peace, passed without judgement.  Here’s to Christ, even in my midst.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:10-12

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Digressions of a Grapefruit Eater

I am sitting at my small kitchen table (the one my husband lovingly made. the one my daughter spends hours per day at–coloring, weaving, drawing. the one that boasts spills of hot cocoa, nail polish & blueberry juice. the one we gather around for each meal, giving thanks and feasting.  the one that stands at the center of our small house like an ebenezer of how good the Lord is to us, of how much we have to be thankful for).

I am sitting here peeling a grapefruit.  The pith is thick, pale yellow and stubborn. Painstakingly, I pick it off, making a pile of it beside my laptop.  Something in the way it looks or feels reminds me of the paper I made in Italy over a decade ago (I am getting SO OLD!!) while studying at an art institute.   I made sheets and sheets of it, each page speckled with found objects like string or seeds or petals or strands of a dear friend’s worn out sweater.  It was hard work and took a lot of time.  After hours pulverizing the pulp, it still took hours to flatten and then more hours to dry and for all that work, one piece of paper was produced.  As a writer and lover of words growing up in a throw-away world of paper bought by the ream, the art of paper making made me pause: if all paper were as precious and hard-won as the paper I made in Italy, I do believe I’d choose my words a lot more carefully.  I’d make sure they were worth it.

And then, years later, I stumbled on a fabulous poem about this very subject. It’s by a poet named Suji Kwock Kim.  If you’d like to read the whole poem, it’s worth it. Her whole book is worth it.  But for the sake of time, I will draw attention to only the last couple of lines.

After numerous stanzas detailing the arduous process of paper-making, written from the voice of a traditional Korean paper-maker, Kim ends the poem with these three lines:

Now you know how hard the labor is.
If your words aren’t worth
my work, keep your mouth shut.

–from Hanji: Notes for a Papermaker

Note: Hanji is a traditional Korean form of paper-making that may have begun around the fourth century.

Those lines slay me.  I think about them all the time.  Because I write a lot.  And I’m not so sure all my words are worth it.

And because I can easily draw a parallel between a piece of paper and my life (can’t you??) the more important question is: am I living a life that is worth the Sacred breath that is granted to me each morning? Am I teaching my children, sweet bird Sparrow and brave Caleb River, to conduct themselves in a way that honors the sacredness of each fleeting day?

Most days, I admit, I am not.

Because day in and day out, the moments get kind of mundane, don’t they?  I mean really, my days usually look like this: wake. breakfast (oatmeal, again?). change diaper. harp at daughter to pick up her legos. change diaper. lunch (soup, again?). change diaper. harp at daughter to pick up her crayons. change diaper. take a walk. dinner (venison, again?). change diaper. remind daughter to go to the bathroom. read books. brush teeth. kiss. kiss. sleep. Repeat ad nauseam.

If I’m not careful, if I fail to be mindful, the laundry list (literally!) of daily events I just rattled off becomes my reality.

And if I’m not careful, if I fail to be mindful, I grow lazy.  I pass through each moment haphazardly and without thought.  I scribble nonsensical jargon on the metaphoric page of hand-made paper so tediously created.

If my life is a small stack of priceless, hand-made paper, I best determine myself to write beautiful, True, worthwhile things on them, lest they be wasted.  Lest they be no better than kindling for the fire.

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. -Annie Dillard

Posted in life, writing | 4 Comments

Advent Poem: Week 3

I am typing this one-handed, with a two month old trying to nurse himself to sleep after a marathon day of church, Christmas pageants and frantic packing for our trip home to see family.

Driving home from our church’s Christmas pageant tonight, my mind reeled with all the things I needed to get done in the two hours before I’d be too tired to function.  (We leave for Iowa tomorrow morning and I will be lucky if I remember to pack both children.) While mentally listing off my must-do’s, I remembered, with a pang of remorse and disappointment, that I hadn’t done an Advent poem and here it was, Sunday night.

As we drove, Sparrow prattled on in the back seat about the Christmas cookies she’d eaten after the performance, Caleb started to fuss, having woken up to realize no one had asked if he wanted any cookies and I mentally rebuked myself for not taking even a moment to consider Christ’s birth during the hectic week.  How pitiful to spend a week preparing for countless Christmas related activities while not considering Christmas itself! Instead, I mostly ran around like a chicken with its head cut off. Or, in my case like a mom/wife/friend/daughter/sister/human trying to do all the things on my list.

I’d made cookies and gifts and helped Sparrow memorize her lines and fitted wings onto tiny backs and led a bunch of congregational Christmas hymns but I hadn’t given a single intelligent thought to Christ and His coming.

Shame on me.

And then, while Caleb ramped up and Sparrow raised her voice to be heard over him, the thought I’d needed to have all week finally came to me: the story is real.

Yes, the angels in every Christmas pageant ever done wear tinsel for halos and clothes-hanger wings like ours did tonight.  But there really were angels, a whole host of them singing glory to God and burning with a brightness that rivaled the sun.

Those shepherds, the once depicted by kiddos in cotton robes and fake beards, they were real and God announced the birth of a Savior to them in a field of hysterical sheep.

Mary & Joseph really rode on a donkey to Bethlehem, really had a baby in a stable, really wrapped him in cloth and laid Him in a manger.

And just like all those Christmas hymns say, the ones we sing mindlessly this time of year, He really is the Savior of the world, Emmanuel, God with us, Israel’s consolation, hope of all the earth.

The God of the universe really came to earth as a baby.  To wage war on sin and death and sadness and loneliness and meaninglessness and thoughtlessness everything that has ever been wrong with the world.

He really came to set His people free.  FREE. 

Why? Because He’s madly in love with us.  Us, who fail to love Him back.  Us, who go days, weeks, a life-time, without even considering Him or His Lordship. Us, who are woefully undeserving.

The Christmas pageant is real, friends.  It is a real story with life-altering, life-saving implications for all those who ever have lived and ever will live.  The story is more true than any other true thing you’ve ever heard.

Joy to the world, the Lord really has come.

Amen.  Come Lord Jesus.

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Advent Cookies & Poem: Week 2

First off, here is the recipe for our Advent Week 2 Cookies:

Grandma Sasa’s Spritz Cookies

1 Cup Sugar
4 sticks of butter
1 Egg
4 Cups of Flour
1 tsp. Almond Extract

Cream together sugar and butter.  Add eggs.  Mix until smooth.  Add flour and extract. Use cookie press to form cookies.  Bake at 350 until brown.

If you don’t have a Spritz gun, I highly recommend one.  They are absolutely delightful.

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And now, Advent Week 2 Poem:

During this second week of Advent, I wrestled with whose perspective to consider Christ’s birth from.  I toyed with every idea from a donkey to the stable itself.

Then, while singing the familiar hymn Joy to the World at the nursing home today, my mind got stuck on the third verse which reads:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

That refrain.  His blessings will flow as far as the curse is found.  As far back as the curse is found.  All the way back when Eve reached out her hand and altered the course of humanity for ever.

What would Eve have been thinking when Christ was born?   How wonderful and strange that Salvation was brought into the world via the pain womankind was cursed with after she ate of the fruit.  And of all the people in the history of humanity, it seems she and Adam might have rejoiced at Christ’s birth with a sincerity no one else could match.

So, I’ve written about Christ’s birth from Eve’s prospective.  I worry I took too many liberties with this perspective…I do hope I am theologically sound. But, regardless, writing it allowed me to marvel at another aspect of humanity’s Salvation.

As we continue in the season of Advent, this season of waiting, may we all be gifted with moments that help us to marvel anew at the story we’ve heard so many times before.

Eve Recounts the Birth of Christ

Under the curse
I ushered in, she cried out in agony, startling
the animals who stood awkwardly
around her.  Under the curse
I ushered in, she bit down hard
on the scrap of cloth
Joseph tore from his garment, the drops of sweat
on her brow glinting
in the oil lamp’s faint light. Desperate
to be out from under
the curse I ushered in, she clawed
at the dirt floor, raking bits of broken straw
and hay between her pale fingers. Muscle
and sinew bearing down.  Heart reverberating
in her chest.  The curse I ushered in
relentlessly devouring her strength.
All into the night, it sought to ruin
the one who would usher in
the Blessing.

When she finally collapsed
back into the pillow of linen
and straw, I wept.  And at the sound
of His shrill cry, we danced, Adam & I.
Like two children, wild
and finally, finally free.

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Advent Poem: Week One

In celebration and observation of Advent, which is upon us, I am writing one poem per week that recounts the birth of Christ from an unusual perspective.  I am a bit behind–the first week of Advent is nearly over!  I am finding it difficult to have intelligent thoughts these days.  Characterized by diapers and midnight feedings, my profound thoughts come slowly and sporadically!  But, I managed to eek this one out with one day to spare.

A note to the reader: Bethlehem, in Hebrew, is Bet Lehem, [bet ˈleχem], “House of Bread”

Common as Bread: Bethlehem Recounts the Birth of Christ

My streets are narrow, thin
like a beggar’s limbs and dirty as the beasts
children lead.  Donkey and sheep, dust
and dung.  My women
wear tunics sewn of the plainest
weave, chaff of wheat clinging
like a sad embroidery to the hem.
All day long their daughters
sweep and sigh–a dirt floor’s never
clean.  And my men, hands full
of callouses, not coins.  Once, I was
great. City of David, fortified
and strong.  Now I am a city common
as bread.  Least among the least.
Imagine, then, how I rejoiced
the night I heard His cry.
Common as bread, a baby’s cry.
But not His. His was a song.  The stars
recognized it as the lullaby
they’d been made to.  I knew it
as the psalms my king sang, his harp
like a prophet’s tongue.  In fodder
gathered from my fields lay He
whose new-found breath
gave life to Adam’s lungs.
Born here, a baby, common as bread
broken to feed the hunger of every man.

Perhaps it was only the evening’s moonlight
that made my streets, still narrow
and trod by beasts, glow as if paved
by finest gold.  Perhaps, though,
it was not.

Posted in Advent, Truth | Tagged | 2 Comments

Of the Yet Unnamed

For those of you who have not heard, our baby has arrived.  Born on October 10th at 12:03pm.  I will disclose more details in the later days (I am still, as Mary, pondering it all in my heart.  His birth was quite miraculous and beautiful and feels deserving of contemplation and time).

And, as many may have noticed, we have not released any public pictures of him.  Not because we are trying to be sneaky or stingy or rude. (Quite the opposite! We are so excited to share his life with you!) We have not shared a photo because, even as I write this, he has no name.  Much to the surprise of my beloved and I, we are completely stumped and so are choosing to wait (quite impatiently) for the appropriate name to find its way to him.

It seems strange to post pictures of an unnamed child.  So, we (and subsequently, you) are waiting.  Sorry about that.

But, I wanted to share a little thing I wrote this afternoon during a gifted moment of quiet. Writing this poem put me at peace with waiting for a name.  Writing this poem made me realize why we don’t have a name yet and why it’s okay that we don’t.  So, until then, let this poem be a foretaste of who this new little creature is.  I promise, there will be pictures eventually.

Birthday
for our son

All fall, we waited.  Watched ditch
flowers brown, burst.  Tiny seed heads scattered
each time the dog barreled through, nose
to the ground. Finches came, packed
their purple bellies with thistle and left, leaving
the feeders to juncos and jays who possess
no concern for the sanctity of song.  And still,
we waited.  Slipping further from the sun, falling
into patterns of early sleep and late waking, dusk
like dust on curtains and panes.
Dawn’s white puff of deer breath, hoar frost christening
the pine’s sap blisters, smoke slithering slowly
from stovepipes.  All of these things
and still, we waited.
We dreamt no more
of tomatoes ripened on tangle vines or of potatoes
pulled like brilliant thoughts from dark minds.
Aspen relented to gold, maple to azure, then both to rot.
Branches, relieved of weight, scratched sky
in search of something. And when it finally came,
those late October rains,
everything seemed too strange
to speak of, too sacred to even name.

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Posted in life, love, Truth | 3 Comments