When I Need to Get Back

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I sit on the back step wrapped in a blanket, the steam from a coffee mug curling up my chin.

The sun is a happy smile strutting across the sky, looking this way and that, melting all winter blues with its cheery disposition.

Can I hang onto this sadness when spring is so pregnant with promise? 

The exhaust pipe at the back of the house emits an aroma of chicken and potatoes from Mom’s crockpot.

I’m suddenly twelve years old, cocooned in a nest on the dry portion of the steps, with piles of March snow still heaped in the backyard, and heaps of books and notepads and pens piled around me.

I’m filled with nostalgia, and an ache as deep as this year’s winter. A longing for home that is not of this world.

Jesus appears on the step below me, resting his head against my Afghan-covered knee, and I get the impression that the happy strutting smile is his. When I need to get back! That smile is the light left on….

I have so much to give you, he says–an observation, a promise, and an invitation all at once.

My sadness feels penetrable only by his sentiment–a lifting of the spirit–because it holds no condemnation for where I’m not, only hope and expectation for where I will be.

I want to receive all of it, I tell him in return, and I’m grieving because there is so much of my heart that would settle for a natural landscape, for a home in the physical. There is so much of me that doesn’t recognize the gift he is offering, that of himself.

My only promise for the spring.

To refuse him would be to continue in an internal winter. But how do I accept?

This conundrum: my connection to God the Father being Jesus, and my connection to Jesus being Holy Spirit, and my connection to Holy Spirit being my spirit, of which I am so unfamiliar!

A spiritual landscape planted invisibly in a natural one, and I would’ve settled for the natural one. How to see beyond the visible? 

I cannot escape this desperation for home, my own striving to work and earn and apply and secure and set up and maintain a rented house, when all he is looking at is my rest in him, so that I can become his resting place where, by his Spirit, he supplies all things.

I am the home.

He is the home.

We, together, belong.

How do I leave this effort in the natural to reside in the spiritual? How do I receive all Jesus wants to give me?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Does it start with the recognition that I have nothing, if what I have is in the natural? That God wants to move me to a reality where all I have is him? That to lose my life for his sake is to find it?

Does it begin with internal emptied-ness? Embracing the emptying because it makes room to be filled with the kingdom of heaven, which is spirit.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 

And this, the sadness.

The recognition that the process demands a mourning of many things, which may last  the long, dark night of the soul, but cannot swallow up the joy of the morning.

Night’s mourning, and joy’s morning.

It starts with the emptying of the sadness–my choice to lay down a mourning that has had its time–and begins with the filling of his happy, strutting smile–the choice to receive what he is waiting to give me.

Receive the comfort of his presence, by which I will encounter all the home I could ever conceive.

It’s starts–and continues to the end–with that childlike instinct, trust. Do I believe him, that his Spirit is in me and equips me to learn the kingdom of heaven.

He is infinitely patient, but the choice is ultimately mine: will I rest, and trust, even indefinitely, that the Lord will teach himself to me?

He’s gone away to prepare a home for me.

He’s promised to come back and get me.

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Bedsheets

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Picture: Juha M. Kinnunen

In my spirit, everything is white.

Like clean bedsheets. Like freshly laundered blankets and sheets and pillowcases whispering on the line.

Like light pouring through the window onto bare walls—not sunlight, varying in its golden tints, but plain, white light.

As this morning: the winter sky is overcast, though not slate-gray, but salt-white; and snow falls in the lightest, tiniest grains.

It is white above and white below,

and white coming through every opening to reach my soul.

Is this what it is to be a young wife?

White. Space. Peace.

Silence.

Clarity.

Like snowflakes, quietly, exquisitely in freefall. The white, the space, the clarity, the snow—they fall around me with purpose: a mercy-covering for the ground in the cold season, blanketing seeds long-sown that will emerge with life and color in the spring.

Mercy for the hibernation.

I am slumbering under a cloud of white blankets and sheets, stirring long enough to turn over and find your body next to mine—still a surprise.

I’m not yet used to the permanence of your presence, this home you have made in my deepest places… and at the same time,

the recollection of life before you is slipping away.

The Watching Tree

under the greenwood tree

-September 17, 2017-

I went out on the front stoop one Thursday afternoon to find they had cut down the big tree on the other side of the fence.

At first, I couldn’t figure out what was different about my yard and stared absently at the sprawling shadow of the volleyball net across the creeping Charlie, until the colossal gap between the neighbor’s pine and the elm across the street glared at me, like it was offended I failed to notice its haircut immediately.

They cut down the tree! Something painful seized my heart and wouldn’t desist in twisting. It’s just gone!

Riveted to the stump sticking out alongside a slab of concrete sidewalk, I started crying—big, fat tears of dismay and regret, because, although I had never considered myself a tree-hugger before, the fact remained that I would have liked to say goodbye to the old tree before the city felled her.

What was worse, I’d had the opportunity because it was I who answered the door the day before, when a scruffy, toothless city worker knocked to ask if mine was the car parked across the street.

“It’s not,” I’d told him, while six other men in orange vests watched from their tree-gobbling machine. “Did you check the neighbor’s?”

He nodded. “We’re just going to post it and come back tomorrow. Make sure your cars are moved by 7 am.”

I promised, and texted the girls to inform them also, but not once did it occur that the fated tree was not across the street, but the one just outside our fence—the tall, watching tree, with three prominent boughs like a troop of soldiers that were known to frolic with the branches of the tree across the lawn, or wave at me through my attic window, or sigh over me in the stillness of sleepless nights when I lay on my back in the grass.

That tree had become a friend during a long season where God did not speak to me directly, but whispered in every rustle of its leaves, gave away his position with every sway of its branches.

And some unfeeling men had come through with a job to do, lopping off its branches and grinding its roots with a hungry chainsaw. They might as well have cut off my right arm, because—who needs that limb? Or dug out my heart valves, because, at the rate Minneapolis was hacking down trees along Penn Avenue, there wasn’t going to be enough oxygen-production to make city life worth living anyway.

Vaguely I wondered if, had I known which tree was posted, I would’ve planted myself beneath it in true tree-hugging fashion and refused to budge when the city arrived in the morning…

Probably not.

Deep down, I knew it had to go. It was diseased, I noticed a few prior—the leaves had turned brown and speckly. It had that sad, scraggly look of something that has been dying for a long time, and just wants to be put out of its misery.

Maybe the city workers were not so unfeeling after all…maybe they spared the tree in our front yard from catching the disease, upping oxygen-production in the long run.

I knew I didn’t need the tree anymore. God was speaking again, and I had to remind myself that the season of secret wonder wasn’t lost just because the tree was gone.

Even now the axe is laid to the root…any tree that doesn’t bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Perhaps the felling of the tree was just a continuation of the way God had always walked with me: providing tangible, naturally-rooted things (no pun intended) to represent supernatural realities.

It represented the limbs in my heart that he had cut off during the eternal, fiery summer, so that what was already producing fruit would doubly flourish.

Perhaps he just wanted to show me, if I could care that much about a tree, what was available in the caring of his people?

Fox Hair

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Through the black bedroom window, I can see a full moon casting its iridescent glow beyond the limbs of the snow-saddled maple tree.

It reminds me of the pearl earring I removed before applying the henna dye to my hair.

I sit in an old white t-shirt and shower cap, looking like a mushroom with a little red fringe peeking out from underneath.

I mixed the powered henna plant with a little allspice and chamomile tea, a spoonful of white yogurt. The paste turns out green, but once applied, heated occasionally, and rinsed, turns my hair a fox-red, like the drawing of the animal on the box.

It’s a long-held girlish fancy of mine, to have red hair.

Without meaning to, my hair styles have come to coincide with whatever season I’m in with Jesus. A natural, physical reflection of a supernatural, spiritual reality.

Dreadlocks for a season of grieving, a shaved head for a new beginning, a pixie cut during true self-discovery, the disheveled, asymmetrical growing-out process during an overseas season of suffering…

This is a first for me, dyeing it other than a color close to my natural blonde.

But what’s the reason? What’s the season? Why is now the time when I take my interest seriously and go to a full-day’s effort to turn my hair red?

I suppose it’s a re-turn.

A returning to lots of things I would call “girlish fancies.”

Girlish fancies being the things we–Jesus and I–did at first, when I was young captured by romance, and long before I ever attributed the whispers of love to Jesus Christ, but only found “the ring around that moon enchanting.”*

Every few minutes I pick up the hair dryer and heat the shower cap through, and the shadows on the snowy yard shift slowly with the movement of the moon.

This is a returning to the natural, instinctual endearments of a child, before the first fracturing, the first heartbreak, the first clumsy attempt to bind–with self-protection, or people-pleasing mechanism, or withdrawn silence–the wound left by bitter, cynical adults who were all too eager to welcome you to “the real world.”

Let the little ones come to me.

A return to innocence and simple delight.

In the basement, I rinse my head over the laundry room sink and blow-dry the vibrant, wet strands, giggling nervously at the shocking red-orange tint.

The color will deepen, and shift ever-so-slightly, in the next few days.

Back under the covers, I lie awake in the company of a moon with its own orangish hue. I am a fox, flitting between shadows, striking red against the white snow.

I’m returning to my first love.

 

 

*See for reference: Anne of Green Gables

Hibernation

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Across my social media, I see clips of weather radar,

the current temperature, decreasing

the wind chill,

negative

.

Everyone

in beanies, with scarves

meeting in the middle

so only their eyebrows peek out,

the one patch of fur

growing from our red, raw skin, and

does Minnesota think man

tries to dupe her with synthetic

wolf coats and bear hats

?

I wonder

if she is a little like you,

humoring herself in her unpredictability,

in man’s annual exclamations of “Why do I live here??”

Just when we think we’ve

figured you out,

you send the first snowstorm and we’ve all forgotten

how to drive.

Are we so arrogant,

these synthetic-fur-wearing-warm-blooded settlers,

that we jump our batteries

and flex our four-wheel-drives

in recognition of our superpower,

busyness

?

I wonder

if you long to be noticed

in the way

I walk out the door

and my breath momentarily

fogs the lenses over my eyes.

 

In the way

the snow lies naked and white,

a mercy-covering for fallow ground,

majestic in its glittering beauty

and quiet in its boast.

 

In the way

the sun shines brightest, clearest

the colder the temperature

falls.

 

In the way

you are sovereign over every degree

and send a bitter wind to see

if we will stop

.

And pay attention to the truth:

 

that your beauty

is revealed in adversity,

 

that you are never

in a hurry

,

that you long to quell

every fear and anxiety–

which will surface in the slowness–

with a mercy-covering like snow,

 

and

 

that you give us this day our daily bread,

the aboriginal rest

our bred-in-captivity lies can never slice

or deliver.

 

 

The Pizza Guy’s Here

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© Columbia Pictures 2006

For a persuasive moment, I see the evening unfold before my eyes:

Me in sweats, an old beanie.

A movie on Netflix, likely a rom-com,

a glass of wine,

and a microwaved Lean Cuisine, still in its plastic tray.

The vision jams in my mind’s eye and begins skipping on replay, mocking my Friday night, Saturday night, every night for the rest of my life;

and, really, it’s the sequence from every rom-com ever made, showing the same scene over a time lapse, only with a different sweater, a different lounging position, and a mound of take-out cartons piling up.

I suppose it’s all those rom-coms that’ve stuck the scene in my head in the first place.

Still, there’s an appeal in it.

Netflix has got some great originals…and French wine is available at Top Valu for under ten bucks.

As I move toward it in my heart, with victimized resignation, my spirit does a backwards somersault, as if trying to create reverse momentum. Why would you choose that?

Obviously I have no comeback that would satisfy my honest places. Excuses are for the parts of us that have already departed from the truth, and the Spirit only deals in truth.

It’s aggravating in this moment, but truth is the most satisfying channel of life right now, aggravating because it’s also quite narrow in its permission. I’d give anything to be working an evening shift, or unpacking boxes in a new apartment, or even to have a book I’m excited to read (taking suggestions, by the way.)

Truth, by its nature, is sufficient, however. Even however limiting it may feel. You can spend many an evening with nothing to do, no one to do it with, and apparent little to look forward to, and still be satisfied with only the truth.

The truth of who Jesus is for you, and who you are to him.

The truth is that a lifelong addiction to romantic comedy is not my destiny–pardon my French. (Are we confessing the truth? Because I’m drinking French wine as I write this. Don’t worry, I’m not under its influence. I ate the Lean Cuisine earlier, and it was full of rice.)

Why am I taking up a victimized heart posture as if that’s all I amount to? Even for a single evening, I don’t have to resign myself to less than who I am created to be.

Truth is like your friend, the pizza-delivery guy, who always arrives in the last fainting moments of craving, with permission to be honest like an extra side of cheesy bread.

(Tip that guy, because no one delivers like the Holy Spirit.)

Honesty ushers in grace, and grace is the channel to receive love–a need of which you buffered a rom-com in the first place.

Take whatever it is you do on an aimless evening and ask yourself: why do I do this?

And then ask yourself, is it consistent with the truth in me?

The truth is, I’m supposed to be on the wrestling mat of my soul, where Holy Spirit wants to pin me.
Instead I’m bobbing-and-weaving around him, avoiding some painful truth–’cause let’s be honest, truth is also the scalding cheese on top of the pizza that blisters the roof of your mouth for a week.

…I’m boxing the air, feigning a warmup, because I know I’m supposed to be wrestling him, I’ve just left the honest place for Excusez-moi, there’s just one thing I need to do first…

My spirit knows it, it’s telling me so. It’s practically doing gymnastics in my stomach, and I think drinking wine is the solution to decompress??

It’s called a holy unrest, people.

It’s meant to agitate, to get you to pay attention to the fact that your soul is not free. Your freedom is the best tip you could give Holy Spirit.

During these aimless evenings, whether it’s momentary or a movie-marathon, slow down enough to confess the truth: you are made for more than what you’d choose for yourself.

Then ask Jesus, what exchange would you make? 

I bet you every evening of the rest of my life he’ll tell you this truth: I’ll give you my life for yours.

Four Quarts

 

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I am
crushed
in the depths
of the winepress,
skin-split and oozing,
the best of the season’s fruit.
I am
much
trodden into
little,
four quarts.

Pour me out
as a free-will offering,
a sacrifice of faith.

I am
a wild olive vine,
sprung from flinty soil,
grafted into growth
I had nothing to do with.
Seven years
to firstfruits,
then:
bough-beaten, berry-gleaned,
the mill is a stone rolled,
both to crush
and to resurrect.
This oil press,
my gethsemane.

Pour me out
unendingly
like the jar of the widow.

I am
an alabastron
of spikenard–
your covenant of peace poured
on me,
poured back on you.
Broken seal, beheaded spout,
the anointing
of a husband,
the preparation
for burial
of all the loves I have kept
in my Samaria.

Pour me out
in consecration
of your desire,
in consummation
of your broken-rib-
and-poured-out-blood,
a free-will offering of love.

 

Flight

Through the airplane window, winking lights and rain drops.

Wing joints flex, stretch, and open.

Vibration beneath me, the ground moves, slow at first, then gathering speed.

I put my life in your hands, pilot.

The aircraft inhales and pushes away from the earth, my stomach falling away with the rushing pavement.

I feel your exhilaration, your arms snug around me, fingers intertwined with mine.

The first day of the rest of our life?

Rain smears the window and fog engulfs us with a tremulous shudder. Sometimes the ride can be a bit turbulent, but I settle in.

How is it that I can trust the pilot with this gray haze before my eyes?

He has coordinates, instruments, transmitters…tools that are unaware of inclement weather.

Your face is close to mine, watching the swirling atmosphere. A precise, infallible sight that lifts above what natural eyes can see.

The aircraft breaks 10,000 feet and shoots through the cloud bank:

Pale blue sky, and a liquid-orange bulb brightening over a runway of golden cloud.

Pink shadows flutter like opening eyelids.

You’re grinning, pleased with yourself. Pleased with me.

Aqualand

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Maybe it all started when I chose underwater-breathing as my superpower.

You see, throughout my childhood, I loved the idea of magic. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the RingsHarry Potter.

I reenacted the stories, and wrote my own, full of magical weapons, secret lands, and girl-heroes.

When I reached adolescence, romance was the magic. I loved chick-flicks like Serendipity and You’ve Got Mail, stories of chance meetings and stars aligning, and belief making impossibilities normal.

But when I met God a number of years ago, it became a problem.

Here was an all-powerful being, who, I finally started to believe, loved me unconditionally, with all the magical possibilities of my romantically-saturated heart at his disposal. Because I didn’t yet know him, I innocently assigned portents for the way he worked. He’s a God of signs and wonders, after all.

You (might) know, stuff like seeing “signs” in the letters on a license plate or searching for meaning in nature. The eagle became a sign of fulfilled promise, the color fuschia a representation of spiritual condition, my extra heartbeat a harbinger of holding people’s stories…

I never could prove for certain that it was God, though, so eventually I gave it up. Along the line, I realized I had to believe God at his word, not at the demonstration of his powerful arm.

I had to trust that he loved me when he said, “I love you,” instead of inserting him into the ways I wanted to feel loved.

Nevertheless…I still maintain that belief in signs is evidence of our intrinsic desire to be intimately known.

Fast-forward three or four years to summer 2017.

While I was soaking in prayer and worship one day, I saw in my spirit an image of an aquaman suit. Not the superhero, the diving suit, the shoulders and helmet-head, mostly. Something like this:

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I had no idea what it meant, but I filed it away.

Six months later, in Ireland, I saw this colorful mural painted on a wall in Belfast:

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© 2017 Extramural Activity 

I still didn’t know what it meant, but I laughed.

Six months after that, I saw (belatedly) DC’s Justice League, in which the superhero Aquaman appears as a side-character.

I laughed a second time.

Another six months, bumping into last week, when I saw the Aquaman movie in theaters, thoroughly appreciating the underwater fantasy world and story of Atlantis.

It wasn’t the ethereal setting or snarky script or Aquaman’s body that captivated me, however. The magic happened for me at the three-quarter mark, when the protagonists pursue Neptune’s Trident to the Sahara Desert, of all places.

An aerial camera provides a sweeping view of the ocean rolling onto the shore of the Sahara Desert, where I had been myself not two weeks before.

My shout of laughter from the front of the theater turned to silent tears.

In an instant I was transported to the pink-orange sand of the dunes, the scorch of the sun, the trickle of sweat down my back. I smelled fish, and felt the rush of icy water and broken shells, and heard the flap of tent sides.

I remembered standing in the swell of foamy green sea on the edge of the African continent, with the dunes at my back, and hearing the voice of God promising to carry me out of the longest, darkest season of my life.

Now here I was, sitting in an American theater, watching the last two years roll before my eyes like an old movie reel, the faithful love of God at my back, bookmarked by the image of an aquasuit.

Tell me he isn’t a God of his word, and a God of signs and wonders.

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Breathing Gas

deep sea divver
Photo Credit

Strengthen in me contentment,
that fragile, tenuous
umbilical cord
connecting my stomach to your womb.

Three strands of heart, spirit, soul
wrapped ’round each other
like a double helix of DNA,
the double of your make-up,
Father, Son, and Spirit.

Helium, oxygen, nitrogen,
a breathing gas to dive
into the depths of my gestation,
to inhale through the tube
of your endless breath,
the secret to being content in all situations.
My confinement in you
is a smallamountofspace
for a l o n g a m o u n t o f t i m e,
and mankind has not begun
to understand what lies in the depths
of the ocean.

Does an infant know anything but need?
Anything except skin against skin
and the instinct to feed?
Even my desire to be content in you
is given by you,
like the nutrients of a mother’s body
is fed through the cord to whet
the appetite for a life outside the womb.

Is there an ache inside your stomach
like the stretching,
tautening,
and snapping
of a heartstring
after the cord is cut
and my wean is complete
and the infant can toddle off
to find contentment elsewhere?

What risk you take in Fathering
this double of your double helixes!
All those late nights knitting
the skin and freckles of my frame,
knowing what I need
and knowing I will forget,
but choosing to release me
so I can choose to come back.

In a way, contentment
is your tether to me.
Your contentment in this agitated,
kick-in-the-ribs, squalling child draws me into
contentment of you,
’til I’m subdued by the strength
of a fathomless threefold cord.