Scrambled Eggs? Well, it’s not what I’d hoped for but if you have ever attempted to name a website or blog, you’ll understand. Whatever subliminal urge prompted that name, ( the breakfast dishes abandoned on the counter ) it was accepted and I embraced it. Mine. It feels appropriate and freeing. I can discuss anything under that rubric.
So, who am I and why am I here? I am the second eldest of six, widow of one, mother of three and grandmother of eight. From childhood I believed my name did violence to my character. Lois – stodgy and serious where I was quick and funny. And Ann – without an e. Dead boring. But immaturity aside, the significant journey of my life has been discovering who I am as Lois, daughter of the Most High King, created in his image to reflect his glory and to serve his purposes in advancing his kingdom on earth. Boring? How could life anywhere in proximity to the very creator of the universe be less than amazing!
Life holds so many delights, a dizzying, dazzling panorama of joys to experience: family, food, friendships, gardening, birds, and poetry are a few of mine. ( Yes, I know, there’s pain too.)
But the primary passion of my life would have to be seeing captives set free.
Hence my appearance here. We were created by God for freedom, love, joy and peace – all within the context of relationship with him and our fellow man. Just a brief glance around shows how few lives are thus characterized. The words themselves almost seem a mockery of 21st century reality.
Although born into a home where faith was scorned, I found myself believing in God from childhood onwards. To my unjaded eyes the order and wonder of the natural world not just spoke, but had stamped on every surface, Handmade by God. How could anyone think otherwise? Indeed. My poem ‘Believing is Seeing’ in the Poetry category speaks of this journey.
I’m new at this. I hope to improve the site as I get more familiar with the format and the possibilities. Right now it’s under construction and I’m working on the foundation. I’m excited for the adventure.
I wonder how many of us practiced social distancing and wearing masks long before it became mandatory. There was a time when I experienced so much shame about my many failures, flaws and shortcomings that I kept friends at a distance. It felt like the safest way to live – even in the church. Perhaps even more so in the church. Rather than setting me free, my understanding of the church kept me in chains.
I had no idea who I was, what I believed, and what I liked. I’d learned early that being conciliatory and charming was an effective way to keep as many people as possible happy. Often, by the end of the day my face hurt from the smile I continually wore. Eventually the mask chafes and cracks. It was becoming difficult to hold it all together and I found myself coming undone – in inconvenient places – crying in libraries, grocery stores, public streets. Try as I did, I could not fix things on my own.
A counsellor suggested I attend Alanon, (any twelve step program is a good place to start). For several years I did the difficult work of examining the events and beliefs that had shaped me. I felt like I might die in the process. Of course, instead, I found life – or life found me.
You can see through glass.
You can see in and out.
You can hear through glass.
You can live almost normally.
No one knows it is there
until they try to draw near
and are rudely deflected.
by its cold hard touch.
Everything is safe -
just one quick wipe
with Windex once a week.
Then He ambled by
with love so tangible
I flung one window wide,
blind to His hammer.
Love has to touch you.*
Much of the healing in my journey was mediated through my amazing and patient friends who spoke truth lovingly, and prayed powerfully and repeatedly until I finally came to believe that my life had some value. The joy of finding that my life has purpose, that what I have learned, and who I am can bring hope and healing to another struggler is still a precious gift.
The “He” in that poem is Jesus. And the incredible truth is that He died so I might live.
*I struggled with including that line lest it be misunderstood. The Lord has never been anything but loving and gentle with me. But, the walls that shut out life and community had to come down. The church is a body not a building, and connection is a must. Anything less than that is a travesty.
I thought I would add an index just for the poems as it is a bit of a journey to go back and find a particular one though all the posts. There is a search bar at the bottom of the page so if you enter the title in that space it should take you to the post. Should. I have much to learn about this platform.
The Hollow Eggs (sonnet)
There’s No PLace Like Home; You Must Be Born Again
A Cry For Justice
I Fold; Forty (from The Difficult Years)
Naked and Unashamed
Fish Tales (ballad, humor)
Stoneboat (a narrative in three parts – for Karen and Harvey)
The Seventh Hole
Deep Rooted (from The Difficult Years)
Sylvia Was Right (humor – sort of)
Into The Void; Be Bread Broken
Sun Dried Memories (sonnet for Magdalena)
Morning at the Laudromat (from The Difficult Years)
I rather enjoy the restrictions forced by form: a sonnet, haiku, limerick, or ballad. Even Twitter’s original 140 character limit was a good challenge, requiring every word to pull its weight. ( My tweets felt flabbier when they doubled the allowed number.) And now, what joy! I just discovered a website devoted to sonnets.* This poem is (I hope) uncharacteristically bleak: I’m quite stubborn in my insistence on redemption. But the last 2 lines are at least a little thoughtful, and I can imagine them leading to more self-reflection.
As the incredible lyricist Richard Rogers wrote, …” nothing came from nothing, nothing ever could…” Likewise, this somber sonnet did not spring from nothing and looking back I can identify the seeds from which it sprang. The positive and negative influences which fostered this sonnet are, first the positive, a favorite CS Lewis quote:
and the negative being Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”, which I first read almost 6 decades ago.
The lacquered eggs? I keep them in a bowl,
Locked in a cabinet, safe out of reach
Of avaricious eyes. Yes, like my soul,
Safe, out of reach of those who’d like to leech
The life that I’ve safeguarded over the years.
A shell around the heart’s no guarantee.
One slip, one fall – and what good then are tears?
The murrelet builds her nest where none can see.
Hollow? Yes, I sucked out the insides.
But, savor these rich colors and designs.
Each one a jewel. I take great pride
That they remain unbroken. All are mine.
Still, the eggs that I collected as a boy
Seemed heavy, warm and redolent of joy.
Vulnerability is a vital and healthy aspect of all intimate relationships. But, truth is, once we have been wounded a few times, vulnerability seems foolhardy. As you wouldn’t hand just anyone the keys to your home, neither should you hand anyone access to your heart. A shopkeeper and a trusted friend have different privileges. But within the accepted boundaries of the relationship, vulnerability must be extended. An intimate relationship where vulnerability is withheld does not allow for the free exchange of that life which is so necessary to keep it thriving. But vulnerability cannot thrive where acceptance, mercy and forgiveness are withheld. The knowledge that our flawed, imperfect self is accepted and safe within a relationship is what makes for healing, growth and life. And, of course, the unassailable knowledge that we are accepted, loved and forgiven in Christ, by God, gives us the courage to go and do likewise.
As the maxim says, you gotta break a few eggs to make an omlete. Live dangerously; choose life.
My old word processing program used to measure the time I’d spent revising – and there were poems that I worked and reworked for dozens of hours before I was satisfied. But this little poem popped into my mind fully formed. And, perhaps because of that, it’s one of my favorites.
I’ve had that happen a few times and it quite interests me. The whole thing of creativity – being made imago dei. I love working with a group exploring a common idea or theme, the amazing riches different people bring to the equation – the various ways we see things. I envision mankind like an incredible multi-faceted gem – each facet reflecting a different aspect of God’s glory. That means its okay for me to be just me, to be okay with the fact that others can bring the many insights, gifts and skills that I lack to any particular situation.
I think perhaps the richness of God’s grace is so vast that I can sometimes – okay, maybe often – take it for granted. Until I wake up one morning and realize I have been running on fumes for a while. And God, in His great mercy, doesn’t force us to spend time with him nor does He withdraw his love when we foolishly think we have more important things to do. But He just may let us experience thirst and even drought if we so choose. At that point, when we realize that all our longings are only met in him, then the satisfaction of that thirst becomes top priority.
I've drunk champagne
and wine and ale
that did not satisfy
She met me on the street and knew at once.
“You are in love and don't you dare deny.
We’ll go for tea - and you shall tell me all.”
I smiled, (again)
“Okay - I will oblige,” and let her lead me on.
We waited till our tea had come to talk.
“Now, I must know the who, the where,
what has he done to make you glow like that,
and most important -
does he have a brother?”
“His feet are lovely.”
“His feet are lovely?”
though callused, scarred and dry.
He traveled far and suffered sore
to wake me from the trance,
to wake me to the dance."
“And does this lover have you so abased
you cannot rise above his feet to meet his face?”
“Oh no, my dear, you just don’t understand.
He’s lifted me to reign with him on high.
But when we dance - for no one ever led like this
in waltzes wild, fierce and free -
then I, in bliss,
would kneel and kiss
his lovely feet.”
Alas, I am not a good dancer. Over the decades, my husband and I had contrived moves that almost looked impressive, but pity the other poor soul who invited me onto the floor. I step on my Lord’s feet regularly when, instead of moving with the gentle pressure and direction of his hand, I chose instead a move of my devising, out of step with love. Yet, his hand is always stretched my way, inviting me to dance, and when I attune again to Him, I find again the joy and power of his leading.
His love has led me to places I would never have gone on my own: some scary, some difficult beyond imagining, some lovely, some exhilarating, all enriching. Left to my devices I would have spent my life buried nose-deep in a good novel. But Jesus has invited each of us into this incredible dance of life and love, liberty and unity. The inimitable Malcolm Guite appeared on my Youtube feed this morning. Both the message and the messenger are amazing and I can hardly think of a more delightful way to spend an hour. “Dancing is love’s proper exercise.”
Apparently Nietchez once said he could only believe in a God who could dance. How I wish he’d found Him.
“And you were dead…” What a bizarre statement. I was reading Ephesians 2 last week, and that phrase shocked me anew. You were dead. The past tense verb assumes that the recipients of Paul’s letter were no longer dead but alive. Which takes us back, back to Genesis 3, when God told Adam and Eve that if they were ever to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die.
Quite obviously they didn’t die physically – the human race is still carrying on some thousands of years later. Had Satan rightly said, “You will not die…” when he accused the God who had placed them in in the Garden of Eden, where everything they needed was at their fingertips, of holding out on them. Did God lie? Was He just a cosmic bully, threatening and manipulating in an attempt to control them and keep them from forbidden pleasures? (So many still see the church that way.) Or was He perhaps a little wiser, a little more knowledgeable, and a lot more loving than they ever imagined?
God does not lie nor does He utter empty threats. So how are we to understand that scene? Years ago I read a great passage by Dallas Willard on the various levels of life on the earth. A cabbage, a kitten, and a man are all alive, but they experience life on different levels or planes. A cabbage is alive to the world of sun, soil and water but it can’t respond to a ball of string. A kitten, although it can play with a ball of string, cannot respond to poetry or math. Likewise, man can be biologically alive but cut off from God, unable to respond to His spirit.
Cut off from God, Adam and Eve became the first of the living dead. Zombies. Or, perhaps a more palatable metaphor, energizer bunnies whose batteries were running down. As human beings made in God’s image, we are meant to be fully alive, body, soul, and spirit. Cut off from God, unable to respond to His spirit, humanity is most often just going through the motions, lacking purpose, hope, answers, and the help and strength that come from the Spirit of God. .
So, here are a couple of poems on the motif of death – and the possibility of life. While the first is a bit dark for the season, ( my apologies), there actually are people, who given the choice, prefer death to life on God’s terms.
There's No Place Like Home
I've made my bed with the dead.
I've made my bed with the dead.
It's not zoned residential,
But it's damn confidential
So I've made my bed with the dead.
I choose to dwell in the morgue.
I choose to dwell in the morgue.
I smell like hell
But there's no one to tell –
So I choose to dwell in the morgue.
The walls are thick in the morgue.
The walls are thick in the morgue.
No, I'm not a tortoise –
It's just rigor mortise.
The walls are thick in the morgue.
You Must Be Born Again
Because a corner of your soul
died that day, and deep inside
the shock waves ripple yet.
Because rough hands bruised you,
though your soul, already calloused
did not feel.
Because nameless, faceless hands
make worse the wound,
and the only cure you know
makes matters worse.
Because your anger and your pain
are fertile ground for seeds of noxious weeds
to send forth shoots, and the long roots
of bitterness stretch
to the farthest reaches of your soul.
And the doctor says you’re dead mate,
and the undertaker too,
and the pallbearers hurry to the wake.
Because of that, you must be born again.
Why am I sharing this now? Haven’t we heard enough about death in Dec 2020? The reality of death has been played out before us more this year than any time in the past many decades. A respite from the grim numbers we hear nightly on the news might be nice. Why? Well, because Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ who broke the power of death. “She will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins…” Matthew 1:21. Ultimately His death on the cross paved our way to life. He carried the weight of our sin, shame, guilt, and made a way for us to be reconciled to God.
People who have experienced this rebirth invariably comment on how everything changed the moment they believed. Though it was a long time back I remember the fresh resplendance of the world, as if I were seeing it for the first time in Technicolor rather than black and white – as if I’d woken to a new and improved reality. That transformation has never been portrayed more joyously than in the old Allistair Sim’s version of Scrooge, in Charles Dicken’s ‘The Christmas Carol’. Watching that movie is the holiday tradition I most relish.
Christmas 2020 will be unlike any in my lifetime. There will be many heartfelt losses and sorrow for them. But, as is my custom, I will be the first in my household to wake on Dec 25. In the still dark dawning of the day, I will stand by the window, look up to the heavens, filled with gratitude, awe, and love for the Father who loved this world enough to send His son to reconcile us to Him.
And, as Dr Seuss triumphantly proclaimed in How the Grinch Stole Christmas…
“Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!”
Wishing you and yours a very merry and blessed Christmas.
That I exist, breathe, enjoy beauty, interact with others, think, feel – all this astonishes me. I am deeply grateful for the life I have been given. I was born in a free country, and have never lacked the necessities of food, shelter and clothing. But for all that there were decades when aside from my name, I could not have answered the simple question, who are you.
Being able to answer that question, positively, lays the foundation for a healthy life. Often people answer it with what they do – their function: butcher, baker, candle-stick maker. That wasn’t the question. Who are you? I’m sure we have all heard the maxim – that we are human beings, not human doings. But what does it mean to be a being?
The Eternal God, the creator, referred to Himself over and over again as I AM. Jesus enraged the Scribes and Pharisees by referring to himself the same way, I AM. Christianity, one of the three monotheistic religions, differs from Judaism and Islam, by worshipping a Triune God. The concept of the Trinity is admittedly difficult; theologians have written shelves full of books on the subject. I make it simple; how could God be described as love – eternally – had been no ‘other’ before creation? (It’s easy to be loving on your own. Adding another person or two or three – aye, there’s the rub.)
Life is a mystery; it is riddled with questions. Though I don’t understand everything, I experience the love of God daily. I experienced being brought out of the darkness into the light by Christ’s death on the cross. And I experience the ever-available power of the Holy Spirit to live a life pleasing to God, as I focus on Jesus in the Word.
The who question for me is answered in relationship. I am the much-loved daughter of the most-high God, created ‘in His Image’ – three of the most powerful words ever written. My identity, my purpose, and my strength all spring from my relationship with God. My roots draw nourishment from the rich soil of His love.
And what would relationship be without communication? Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” He tells me who and what I am. I work out that identity within the context of relationships with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. I am child of, mother of, grandmother of, friend of. I am patient or not, kind or not, generous or not – only in relation to others.
How vast the chasm of meaning, purpose and hope between arising from primordial goo – an accident of an evolving universe – and being the intricately designed and fashioned child of the creator of the universe. We use phrases – like father, like son – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – a chip off the old block – the spitting image. Your perception of your lineage has a huge impact on your attitude, your behavior and the hope that underlies them. To learn you are a child of the king changes everything.
From the goo to you via the zoo – or John 1: 12 & 13
Before the beginning of time
before the world’s very foundations were laid
for His joy, for His purpose
in His image you were made.*
And He delighted in you.
How does His spirit shine through you,
a flesh and blood spirit and soul?
It isn’t in rules and externals,
a long list of should nots or shoulds,
but simply to love and be loved
by a Father eternally good.
He is the potter who fashions the vessel,
The gardener who shapes the tree with great skill,
the sculptor who chisels each stone till it’s perfect;
all you need do is submit to His will.
*Psalm 139, Ephesians 1:4
He prunes, shapes, and chisels because He is an artist. Being the object of these verbs, though often uncomfortable, is always beneficial. God, who creates beauty, five times remarked of his handiwork in creation, that “It was good”. After creating man in His image, male and female, He said, “It was very good.” We were created for his pleasure and purposes. We find our highest joy in knowing Him.
With all that is happening in the world right now I find this song especially comforting.
The world-encompassing rollercoaster ride called 2020 has not been optional for any of us.
There have been enough twists, turns, and terrors this year to satisfy the most crazed adrenaline addict and to unsettle most everyone else. No line-up for tickets for this ride! But here we are, with the threat of chaos following the US election looming on the horizon. It’s enough to drive a man to drink – but perhaps more wisely – to pray.
I sailed once on a 20foot Jollyboat during a fierce storm and the exhilaration of being flat out on the trapeze and experiencing the power of the wind in the sails is a long remembered thrill. Although I couldn’t even swim, my confidence in the captain of the boat quelled whatever fears I might have had – all I had to do was listen to his commands. When the waves are blowing wildly and threatening to swamp your small vessel it’s good to have an anchor, but even better to listen to the captain and experience the joy of riding the storm – knowing He won’t let you sink.
Decades ago, when I was a teen, I read a novel, Green Dolphin Country, by Elizabeth Goudge, that affected the course of my life. The book (based on true events) set in both the Channel Islands and later, New Zealand, during the late 1800s, recounts the story of two sisters who loved the same man and the events that followed his mixing up their names in a written marriage proposal. The wrong woman gladly undertook the dangerous 12,000-mile sailing-ship journey to join him in the wilds of New Zealand. (Spoiler alert – he cannot send her back and spends the rest of his life learning to love her.)
Although I could not grasp the depth of it, one scene etched itself on my heart. In the heat of one of the Maori uprisings, Samuel, a much-loved missionary/pastor, was taken captive and forced to climb a cliff from which his captors intended to throw him. Samuel had enough favor with some of the Maoris that they granted him a last wish – that he not be thrown, that he be allowed to go freely to his death. Not just freely, but gladly as he runs from the cliff like a bride going to meet her lover.
There was much more in the book that impacted me, but something about that line, that image lingered in the back of my mind. It was years later, when I myself encountered Jesus, the object of Samuel’s affection, that I was able to make sense of his behavior.
Someone dear to me once accused me of being careless – where I had seen myself as carefree, (surely a good attribute). My natural optimism, now married to faith in an all-powerful, loving God often runs athwart the prevailing sentiment of despair and gloom. There is so little that any of us can control in most situations that surely faith in a sovereign God is not foolish but wise. I have known Him now – for more decades than I like to admit to – and He has never failed or forsaken me. In truth, the upside of aging is knowing Him better. Which brings me to this poem.
Enough with guilt -
leave off the constant sorrow
of the world.
This cannot be submerged -
it bubbles to the surface
persistent as a spring.
The evenings’ news
is solemn stuff indeed,
and all man's woes.
But the giddy trill of brook
on stone cannot be stilled
while all creation fiddles.
Collapse and contagion are real,
not to mention
But the melody rings louder yet
and cannot be ignored.
And so I dance.
"You must descend."
I shall plunge from the cliff
– laughing and jubilant -
into the welcoming arms
of my lover.
The well known Canadian professor Jordan Peterson, famously challenged young people, (who have been inundated since childhood by media, educators and politicians focussing on every flaw and weakness in the history of Western Civilization), with the statement, “Clean your room.” He helped thousands of them discover that maturity, self-worth and hope come from taking responsibility for your own life before striking out to change the world. Or as Charles Spurgeon so eloquently put it: “To attempt national regeneration without personal regeneration is to dream of erecting a house without separate bricks.”
Justice is a huge and contentious issue. People have studied for decades, written books, spoken to thousands, been persecuted and jailed for the cause of justice. I have done none of those things. Who am I to say anything on such a complicated issue? * But I tend to subscribe to both the ‘all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten’ and the ‘keep it simple, stupid’ theories. So, here goes.
On several occasions, over the course of ten years, I was able to visit Burundi, a small, impoverished African country, where injustice abounds. Systemic injustice. Where people are hated, often killed for the tribe they were born into, where there is almost zero chance of improving your lot in life, no matter how hard you work because the very laws are rigged and crooked, where the government is utterly corrupt and there is nothing the oppressed poor can do about it. The result of this injustice is soul crushing, heartbreaking poverty.
When I think of governments systems that have murdered innocents by the million, governments that have divided and destroyed families, corporations that use, abuse and discard people to incease profits – I get angry. I long to see justice. Just a cursory glance at the annals of history reveals that there has always been injustice and oppression. According to the prophet Jeremiah, the heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked, Jeremiah 17: 9 – 11. One man can cause harm; give that man unlimited power and he can wreak havoc.
I am by nature phlegmatic. The amount of raw emotion in the Psalms has sometimes seemed over the top to me – especially the imprecatory ones that call for destruction of the enemy. To feel anger is an appropriate response to injustice. I have experienced injustice and anger rose up within me and a desire for vengeance along with it. What helped restrain that is God’s wisdom in James 1: 19 & 20, “The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” I know that to be true – and yet at times it leaves me feeling unsatisfied. What then does accomplish the righteousness of God? How do we bring about justice?
As a Christian, I believe God is both good and sovereign. How then does evil boldly stalk the earth? Does God see? Does He care? Although it would be easy to be cynical about the subject, evil exists because God gave man free will. We all choose evil – regularly – of our own free will. Psalm 73: 1 – 10. Corrupt politicians frequently pass oppressive laws to maintain power and enrich themselves. Business leaders overlook inhumane work conditions. People exploit and abuse women and children. We all, by sins of commission or omission, choose evil
When I examine my own heart, I realize that I, myself, am frequently guilty of the very offense of which I am accusing someone else. God looks past the actions – He peels back the layers to discover the motive – and when I do the same with my own heart I am often sobered by what I find there. Then, at that point, I cry out for mercy for myself, for the grace to forgive others and for the power to change – to grow in love.
If you don’t know your own heart to be equally guilty, I suggest you may need a better mirror. The word of God is a good one. All the virtue signalling in the world cannot atone for the evil in our own hearts and the resulting behavior.
Does this mean we ignore injustice, sweep it under the carpet till we break our necks on the mound? No, of course not. God hates injustice. But He, and He alone, sees the whole picture. The call on our lives is to follow God wherever He leads. If it is to Sub Saharan Africa to stand against the on-going slave trade, to India to help serve some of the 160 million ‘untouchable’ Dalit people, or to inner cities in the US, where fatherlessness and inadequate schools fail to prepare young people for productive lives, to any and every place where injustice exists, we are called to care, to love, to speak up for the oppressed. There is no shortage of injustice for us to deal with. Our hearts, households, neighborhoods and work environments are good places to start.
Remove God from the equation – try to achieve perfect justice and equality – the utopian dream – and the most common result is chaos and destruction. God’s law, as revealed in His word, is designed to bring justice and harmony in every area of life – personal, family, church, business, government. A godless 20th century saw more death and injustice in the name of justice and equality than any previous century. Ideas have consequences: bad ideas have victims.
If our cry for justice does not deal with our own hearts first, but sends us rushing headlong into vengeance to correct the wrongs of the past, we may end up pulling not only our own houses down around our heads, but our whole civilization. In the short term, God has dealt with the sin problem on the cross – long term – there is a day of judgment coming.
Cry For Justice
When the clamor of the battle,
sounds and resounds in my mind,
whisper your name in my heart.
When darkness overwhelms me
and I can’t find your face,
breathe on the flickering flame in my heart
When the stench of death obscures
the fragrance of your presence,
let my praise rise as incence.
When sin destroys my appetite,
Lord, be the bread of life for me.
Let me taste and see that you are good.
Where the enemy assaults and wounds,
bring healing and restoration,
by your Spirit.
Lord, if you were not our strength,
if you were not the one who makes us stand,
we would fall.
Rescue the opressed,
Rout the enemy.
Tread him down in your anger.
As for me,
in your blood bought victory.
I will stand
God is a holy and righteous judge, and eventually, we will all stand before Him. The wrath of God is not a popular subject in 2020 – we prefer to believe that God understands, that He overlooks sin, but the wrath of God is every bit a part of His character as the love of God. He hates sin and injustice and He is not mocked. I will be eternally grateful that Jesus paid the price for my sin on the cross. In all this, I can find no better words than these by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small;
though with patience he stands waiting,
With exactness he grinds all.
Recently, I was working with several other women, helping to weed a friend’s large but overgrown garden. As we each attacked a section, restoring it to beauty and order, I remembered this song I’d learned in childhood, “Jesus Bids Us Shine…you in your small corner and I in mine.” That’s where justice starts. And just now I remember another childhood favorite, “Jesus Loves the Little Children …red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…” Those two simple children’s songs, songs that I learned in kindergarten, contain a world of wisdom, truth and, if we practiced them, hope for our fractured communities.
It’s taken me a long while to get this written and if any of you are wondering why I would bother or even consider doing so, two reasons. First, I can’t help but wonder how couples are faring during this challenging time, how increased proximity, possibly homeschooling, job loss – and financial stress, plus fears of illness are affecting people. And, second, if you are spending even a minute of your precious time reading this, I want to do you the honor of being as forthright and honest as I can be. So I shall share my failures, fears, and idolatries. And the fact that there is hope. If anything I have learned along the way can help, encourage or at least offer hope then my pride is a small price to pay. I have a favorite verse from 1 John 1. 7 that states, “If we walk in the light…we have fellowship with one another. If we say that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
These poems, just a few taken from the folder titled ‘The Difficult Years’, were written in the middle of the struggles and challenges of my marriage – in the muddy, muddy middle of repentance, healing, and restoration. They reflect the emotions I was experiencing and the narrative I believed. For too many years I let myself be ruled by and interpreted life through the lens of rejection, fear and insecurity. I cringe when I read some of my old journals: I don’t like that person – small wonder my husband didn’t. But, I am not that person anymore
At the tender age of 18, I made vows – the official church vows – the scary, are you kidding me, almost impossible ones. I was aware of the gravity of them – I thought I was mature. And although I took them seriously, reading, rereading and meditating on them regularly, determination alone did not make it easier to keep them. The same way knowledge of the law itself has never been able to make people holy, determination was not enough to make me whole or healthy. All my striving could not overcome my inherent flaws nor topple the idols that demanded obeisance.
Youth and beauty were played early.
Empty handed I fight to win your love.
I think the cards are marked.
Are aces high or low?
I cannot win this game.
No one told me
that the rules had changed.
Are jokers wild?
Nothing up my sleeve -
I played every card I had.
I took a few tricks,
but I never knew the trump.
At forty, the masks are flung down.
Life no longer smiles sweetly, lies lightly
of joys to be won;
dandled delights are revealed…
“Made in Japan.”
Origami – rain sodden,
sun bleached, foot trodden.
And my heart, in the gutter,
Product of a dysfunctional family, I married with a host of weaknesses and shortcomings and my husband had a few of his own. How lovely it would have been if somehow we could have worked through these together, supporting one another in our attempts at growth instead of blaming and withdrawing, or rejecting and controlling. Neither of us had the foundation, the skills or the character qualities necessary to complete what we had started. The fault lines barely visible at the start, gaped wider with each tremor and eventually, after 42 years, became terror inducing chasms.
This is not something I am proud to publicize. Only God knows how painful those years were, but I don’t resent them nor am I bitter about any of it. The monsters hiding under the bed had to be confronted, the wounds healed, the idols cast down. For close to a decade I worked through the issues of my sin and brokeness and when I came out the other side I was not the same person. It must have felt like a bait and switch scam to my husband. He’d quite liked the girl he married.
The beauty of Christianity is its redemptive narrative. The story of the poor orphan child who is discovered to be the lost or kidnapped child of the king is a familiar one. We love it. When I found myself to be that child with a new and powerful identity, I was filled with faith, hope and the courage to face the giants as I confronted them. This song is one I sang over and over again during those years.
Like all journeys mine was not straight forward – there were wild curves, cliffs and washouts. Deeply ingrained habits of thought and reactions to be overcome, fears to be faced down. I was being stretched so much there were times I thought I’d snap – but a lovely line from a Rilke poem often sustained me, “…with each disclosure you encompass more and she stretches beyond what limits her to hold you.” If that’s what it took to become more Christlike – well, it was a small price to pay.
If I sink my roots in this softening sod,
will your pulse throb in my veins,
sap green shoots pierce my heart’s shroud?
What are the odds on one timorous,
tremulous, querulous bud,
cajoled by arbitrary April,
surviving the North winds blast?
And if indeed the sun should shine,
where is the guarantee, where is it written
that the requisite showers will follow?
Which is worse – thirst
But even if
earth, sun, rain,
are faithful, there remains,
more faithful seems than they,
the North wind.
I wish thick clouds would shroud
the siren sun and leave me in the dark.
As I matured in my faith and my understanding of God’s love, I began to understand that my security and safety did not depend on my circumstances and that my worth was based on my identity in Christ, who had loved me enough to die for me. Through AA, a series of counsellors and many faithful friends, I began to work through my ‘stuff’ and by God’s strength and power was restored to some semblance of wholeness. Still flawed but, amazingly, loved and forgiven.
Not The Stepford Church
I used to have a picture of the perfect family;
smiling Daddy, smiling Mom, smiling progeny.
My husband would be perfect in a three piece navy suit,
working hard from nine to five, bringing home the loot.
I’d look like Martha Stewart in a spotless home,
serving perfect scrumptious dinners out of pots of polished chrome.
Aside from being brilliant and spiritually astute
our children would be respectful, musical, hard working, athletic,
honest, compassionate, responsible, patient and cute….
in little matching three piece suits.
And to complete this lovely scene, on Sunday morning we’d be seen
reverently praying, singing, hearts at peace and all serene.
Sitting with the other saints, row on row of smiling faces
perfect Christians, polished Christians barely needing any grace.
Now we’d have it all together - every person knew their role,
and maintaining this illusion was my all consuming goal.
But His kingdom ain’t for fakers, perfect folk need not apply.
What the Father’s heart is seeking is the broken hearted cry.
With great love the Father broke me, stripped me bare of my disguise.
Though I shrunk from this exposure, love was shining in His eyes.
How on earth could I smile brightly? How could I hold up my head?
My life in ruins all about me. How I wished that I were dead.
In the dark hours of that long night, tossed by waves of doubt
He has taught me I can trust Him, that His love is always near.
Death of hope, death of dreams, death of pride and reputation,
From the ashes of our lives God intends to build a nation.
I hope you’ve read this far. I would hate to leave you in some of those dark, despairing places. But I recall the Psalms and how often King David cried out in grief, anguish, anger and despair to the Lord – and then a few lines later is proclaiming his absolute confidence in God’s goodness. That is my testimony. Single, married, divorced, widowed – He has been faithful, good and gracious through it all. I expected condemnation and rejection from God for my failure – He lavished his love on me in amazing ways.
Divorce may be commonplace but it is a gut wrenching experience. It took me 5 years to even use the word – to apply it to my life. I still hate it. God hates it. Marriage and family are his idea, the foundation of a healthy society and one of the most important metaphors He uses for his relationship to us – so it’s important to take it seriously. People and relationships are worth fighting for. God is in the restoration business and can do wonders.
I fully believe that given the power of grace there is hope for every situation. I am amazed that anyone can hold their marriage together without the many means of grace He has given us – forgiveness, repentance, humility, his word and his spirit. I have seen several marriages restored and reclaimed from the brink of destruction – and some, sadly, that have not. I know of many, many successful marriages (though not a one that has been without challenges) so I ‘ll leave you with another song which I hope will encourage you.
I bless you and pray each one of you will know his love, grace and amazing power. As He promises in Isaiah 61.3, He gives us – beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heavieness. http://blb.sc/003N2x