POETRY & WORDS :: When She Asks You What Mercy Means


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“Do you love Bible?” She looks up at me with those big eyes of hers. “And does Papa love Bible too? Because I love it. So much.” It’s spontaneous, this declaration of hers. She keeps talking, looking up at me as she pushes her unruly honey-colored hair out of her face. “Where’s God now?” “What is a soul?” “What is mercy? Read more Bible, mumma.”

We just returned from seeing Fernando Ortega in concert, and she is humming the songs as she asks me these questions. “Why,” she asks earnestly, “Why did dat man say dat song about da fire of angels is sad? Why is it sad, mumma?”

At three, her tender heart knows nothing of the aching in one’s soul. “It is sad, baby, but it’s beautiful too, though, isn’t it, that song?” I can feel the tears begin to burn. How can I untangle these questions, when I don’t understand why people slip away and leave behind the empty foothills, burning in the light? How can I explain to a three year-old the concept of mercy, when I still can’t wrap my head around the marvel of it all? And what is this intangible thing inside me, this soul of mine?

She stands in front of me, eagerly, waiting for answers.

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I don’t feel like I can reduce these mysteries to a sentence.  I’m worried I’ll go wrong somehow. But I know Jesus told us to learn what mercy means [1]. And I know love and mercy is how everything — all of this, this big, overgrown mess of earth and humanity — is made whole. Death is swallowed up[2], and the old system of law is fulfilled [3, 4].

So I tell her what I know. I tell her about His love.

My words aren’t perfect, but it doesn’t matter.

“We must try to speak of His love. All Christians have tried but none has ever done it very well. I can no more do justice to that awesome and wonder-filled theme than a child can grasp a star. Still by reaching toward the star the child may call attention to it and even indicate the direction one must look to see it. So as I stretch my heart toward the high shining love of God someone who has not before known about it may be encouraged to look up and have hope.” -A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy

And when it comes right down to it, it’s that high shining love and mercy He crowns us with [5], not rules. And so I point her to that great Love, toward Him, and I take her hand as we run toward the rain.

“…[she] grew up in that Florida rain
They were carried along like leaves on a river of faith
They’d float
All the way home…
And they walked in the rain of His mercy
Let it soak them down to the bone
And they splashed in its puddles
And danced in its streams as they’d go
And, oh, they walked in the rain of His mercy
All the way home….”
-Andrew Peterson, All the Way Home

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POETRY & WORDS :: Rich Mullins, the Homeless Man


Rich Mullins, Ireland, Photograph by Ben Pearson
Image Credit: Ben Pearson

September 19, 1997. Seventeen years ago. Seventeen years ago, Rich Mullins walked right out of this earth and slipped out of his body and right up through the veil that the Cross had already split apart for him and for us all. Seventeen years ago he went “out like Elijah, with a whirlwind in a chariot of fire”, just like he used to sing.

It was seventeen years ago, and I remember exactly where I was standing in the kitchen in the middle of a tiny town in Wisconsin, and how the words echoed out of the little fridge-top radio when I heard that he had flown. And I remember how I was just a teenager and just figuring things out, and how I wore out my Rich Mullins cassette tapes that year, until you couldn’t even hear the scratchy songs anymore. A little later, I sat in the basement of a tiny church and listened to Mitch McVicker, who was with Rich in the fatal car accident, sing songs from Rich’s posthumous album, The Jesus Record. Tears streamed down my face and into my heart and I knew Jesus was my own deliverer, my very own, and I knew right then and forever, “He will never break His promise, He has written it upon the sky.” And then later still, when I was yet again a little older but still figuring things out, I didn’t even get a chance to wear out An Arrow Pointing to Heaven because I kept giving my copy away and buying another one.

I can’t even tell you what passages or words or songs of his mean the most, because how can you pull out one line from a poet’s canon and separate it out from all the rest and say, “This is it.” You can’t. It doesn’t work that way. In the documentary “Homeless Man: The Restless Heart of Rich Mullins“, Father Simon said, “And I think that’s one thing that Rich and Saint Francis had in common is that they were both poets. They both had a vision and they were both willing to live that vision. Their poem was their life, not so much what they wrote.”

When Rich sang of Abraham “how one star he saw had been lit for me, he was a stranger in this land, and I am that, no less than he,” I could see the sojourning thread that ties us all together. Being one of Abraham’s stars and having roots all over, but none deep in one place, can sometimes feel like the edge of being from nowhere, the edge of not belonging. But we’re pilgrims, all. Rich was a sojourner and Jesus was a sojourner — and if the Son of Man sometimes didn’t have a place to rest His head and that detail didn’t mess up redemption one bit, then I know that anything that happens to me is gonna be okay, too.

And this man — who was once mistaken for homeless outside a church before one of his concerts — this man really was the single most influential person I’ve never met. He’s where I learned that this life is a little crazy and it’s a little hard; but nothing, really nothing, of earthly value worth holding on to that tightly, anyway. We’re not put here to pretend to be perfect, and piece together these unblemished lives and create a nice bubble for ourselves, we’re here to be real.

And to be alive.

And love and live with wild abandon.

And stand up loudly in the land of our sojourn, not caring what anyone thinks, and just be those wild arrows, pointing straight to heaven.

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me

…When the old world started dying
And the new world started coming on
And I’ll sing His song, and I’ll sing His song
In the land of my sojourn

In the land of my sojourn
And I will sing His song
In the land of my sojourn.

And in that new world, I think, music will be danced out across the strings of a hammered dulcimer.

LISTEN NOW to Land of my Sojourn, I’ll Carry On, and Elijah.

POETRY & WORDS :: Don’t Let Darkness Cause You to Hide From Beauty


Don't Let the Darkness Make You Shink From Beauty

There was a lot less rambling here, this summer. Because there was a lot more of this, and this, there and there and there and everywhere.

And so I wrote less.

Because it’s so heavy to know, and yet not know what to do.

Because it’s so heavy to hear all about the death and the disease and the abandonment and the starvation and the cries, and be so heart-wrenchingly aware that you still just stand here with the ability to just turn it off and stop listening.

And so I wrote less and showed up here less often, and shared fewer pretty things, and stopped saying, please, just would you look at the sunrise? And would you just look at the person next to you, and realize how alive they are? And I stopped coming here to nudge you to see the beauty in the clouds and in the rain, and in your cold coffee and in your traffic jams and in your sleeplessness.

But that’s not right.

When a mountain top is ravaged by wildfire, and the stones crumble and the trees turn to powder and ash and the blackness covers everything, when in that trembling heap a small green stem unfurls and pushes through and raises his brave head to show us his brightly colored petals, wet with dew — when that happens, we don’t turn away because there is ash all around. No, we lock eyes with the flower. We see the sun shining on it, we see the contrast between death and life, and we embrace that little jewel of life with all the strength our weak arms can grasp.

We’re not afraid that loving the flower means we don’t grasp the seriousness of the ravages of disaster.  We don’t ever worry that our voice, tiny in this world, calling out “Look! There is beauty! See it burst through!” makes the burnt mountain worse — we just love every precious delicate petal and call out and cry out and cling to the light and the beauty and the hope of it all.

So maybe that’s why some of us are put here on this earth. We see the fear and the disaster and the starvation and the longing for Hope, and we also see the flower pushing through the rubble of it all. And maybe some of us are put here to be voices calling others to look to the Light. Look to the Hope.

There is Beauty still.

POETRY & WORDS :: Another Little Sojourner Heart


Little Sojourner Heart

Aveline watched Fiddler on the Roof this weekend for the first time. I think she’s discovered a new love, musicals (are any of us really that surprised?) This afternoon, we listened to the soundtrack at her request, and she burst into tears listening to “Far from the Home I Love”.

Dat girl, she was singing she wanted to go to da home she loved and she got on da train instead!

She gets it, this kid. She feels the pull that tugs hearts in many directions. Only three years old and already so many trips to our various homes to be with the people we love, and always leaving, to go back to Florida again.

Another little sojourner. <3

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: The greatest miracle of them all


Aveline, a portrait on www.oaxacaborn.com

Sometimes, in the middle of the hustle and bustle that ranges from chaotic noise to the mundane, I look over at her and

time

just

stops.

It stops, and for that split second — for that little sliver of a spin around the sun — the earth is still and I breath it in and my heart can hardly hold the miracle of it all. I am overwhelmed by the overwhelming reality of what we call life, all this breathing, moving, walking, seeing, feeling.

And simply to be here right now, present and alive — well, isn’t that the greatest miracle of all?

INSPIRATION :: Mary Oliver on Writing


“I want to write something so simply about love or about pain that even as you are reading you feel it and as you read you keep feeling it and though it be my story it will be common, though it be singular it will be known to you so that by the end you will think— no, you will realize— that it was all the while yourself arranging the words, that it was all the time words that you yourself, out of your heart had been saying.”

Mary Oliver, that beautiful poet soul, expresses exactly how I feel about the words I weave. I want to give wings to the secret voice you, the reader, cannot — or are unable to — utter. I want to weave these threads together so you can hear your unspoken words in mine.

I want to write something so simply about love or about pain that even as you are reading you feel it and as you read you keep feeling it and though it be my story it will be common, though it be singular it will be known to you so that by the end you will think —- no, you will realize -— that it was all the while yourself arranging the words, that it was all the time words that you yourself, out of your heart had been saying.” -Mary Oliver

Dear Internetz, I’m Done with the Negativity


Dear Mommy Blogs, I'm done with the negativity. I choose joy.

Dear Internetz Dwellers of the Mothering SubGenre,

I know, I know. I’ve read your weblogs. Mothering is hard. Our small people spill the milk, squeeze the juice boxes until they resemble Old Faithful, chew the corners of favorite books, and keep hours that make us wonder if they have second jobs as miniature convenience store clerks. There are too many choices when we shop, our kids won’t eat their leftovers and we went out with a melted Cheerio stuck to our heads again.

In the last decade, dear Internetz, I’ve watched your weblogs shift from GeoCities to LiveJournal to Xanga, and now to insta-infinity and beyond. And I’ve noticed something. I’ve noticed the chronicles slide down the negative path. Now, from where I stand in 2014, it seems the Mothering SubGenre is firmly entrenched in despair, doom, and dirty diapers — with a side of crude talk and bodily functions.

Haven’t you noticed, Internetz dwellers? The written pieces with the most clicks and comments — the ones your Facebook friends are sharing and your wifi-enabled friends are scrolling through while they’re sitting next to you — are the very blog posts raking the coals in the smoldering Mommy Wars. I watch as mothers sort themselves into teams; home vs. hospital vs. pool. vs cesarean section vs. octagonal hand-tanned artisanal reindeer leather yurts, then draw lines in the strewn toys and lob posts back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until the child in the woven sling vs. structured carrier vs. five point harness vs. car? flex fuel? peddle bike? organic donkey of burden-seat screams in frustration. (And editors of mothering publications? I’ve seen the guidelines and the pitch suggestions for the kinds of articles you want us to write. You’re fanning the flames.)

I’ve been listening, dear Internetz Dwellers of the Mothering SubGenre. I’ve been listening, and I’ve been reading, and I’m done.

I’m done clicking into the negativity.

I want no part of the lie that mothering is nothing but a sticky-fingered, foul-mouthed, angering pile of negativity.

I’m done, and I raise you an armful of joy.

No, not the kind of joy you mock when you blog about that woman in your playgroup who smiles a lot. Real, honest-to-goodness joy that spills down from the heavens and over all of us and over our homes and over our child(ren). Real joy, joy with roots, roots that run deeper than the storms and deeper than the pain and deeper than these momentary tribulations which are preparing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory [1].

There is enough real horror in the world without manufacturing negativity. There’s enough actual tragedy in the world without perpetuating artificial debates. I don’t know about you, Internetz of the Mothering SubGenre, but when I read that Meriam Ibrahim’s tiny newborn daughter is permanently injured because Meriam gave birth in chainsin chains! — there wasn’t a single ounce of my strength that had any will to raise up a stink about plastic vs. wooden toys. There wasn’t any strength left in me to do anything but cry out, “Oh Lord! Have mercy on this bruised and battered and fallen world!” Hearing how this woman — our sister — brought life into this broken world while shackled, should scream louder into our collective consciousness than BPA-free plastic, the Golden Arches, and the woe-is-me laments of our gilded excess.

Friends, the world is broken. The world is full of pain, and there is more abject suffering outside our circles than most of us, thank God, will ever know. There’s more than enough lifetimes of tragedies to break our hearts thousands and thousands of times over.

But despite this all, because of this all, as for me and my house, I choose joy. As for me and my house, I choose to rejoice — choose to search out the hidden joys, lift them up, and shout — without shame, condemnation, guilt.

This doesn’t mean my heart doesn’t cry out for the hurting and the broken. This just means I know the brokenness can’t win. The Healer has already triumphed. This doesn’t mean I deny the suffering around me. This just means I know that the darkness can’t win. The light has already triumphed.

And so I choose joy.

What about you? “Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?” -C.S. Lewis

POETRY & WORDS :: Five Months Ago, She Slipped Away


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Five months ago, she was met with the loudest hallelujahs.

I didn’t hear any of them.

Five months ago, she slipped free from this realm.

I’m still earthbound.

These five months have been the longest, and the shortest.  It feels like I should be able to walk backwards, at any time, and fall right back into where I was when we were all a decade younger and a decade louder and only a decade away from the day when she’d fly home, right there, in front of all of us.

Oh, if we would have known then that those Friday nights were once-in-a-lifetime, if we would have known then that’s all we were given on this side of the sky. But we didn’t know, of course; we never knew and we still don’t know. Today we might very well be sitting inside the same kind of golden moment that will we’ll look back on from the next decade, the same golden moment that we will look back on through the fading edges of time. We’ll want to grab it; but we won’t be able to.

But we can hold on to this moment we’re sitting inside of now.

We can hold onto it now, and hold on to our people, and hold onto it all while we can, hold onto it with open arms and wild abandon and the kind of joy that’s poured out of heaven’s lap itself — we can hold onto it all until it’s time to let go. And then we’ll hold onto our God, and he’ll hold onto us, and he’ll hold us there in the storm so we won’t fold over when the winds grows fierce and the winds rip up the roots and the winds change it all.

And in the quietness and in the roar, through the tears and the laughter and the journeys that make up everyday living, I can sing –

– it is well

it is well

it is well with my soul.

 

MONDAY’S PRETTY THINGS :: Green, green, green (plants)


If you follow Oaxcaborn on Instagram, you know about our succulent planting adventures (see below photo) so it’s no surprise that this week’s Monday’s Pretty Things is all about greenery! This was inspired by a couple of things — one, the incredible Urban Jungle Bloggers project, and two, the fascinating conversation here about the challenge of spending time outdoors if you, like many people, are an apartment dweller. (Most people don’t actually live on a rambling ranch!)

Hopefully these Pretty Things — and the #UrbanJungleBloggers Pinterest board — will inspire you to create your own green oasis no matter where you live.

Inspired by #UrbanJungleBloggers

Hanging plants, plants in interior design - indoor/outdoor room via Atelier Solarshop - Monday's Pretty Things on Oaxacaborn
Hanging plants via Atelier Solarshop

succulent in urban window with textile coaster - Rennes on VSCO as seen on Oaxacaborn's Monday's Pretty Things
Urban window via Rennes on VSCO

Wit and Delight Floral Workshop
Floral workshop via Wit & Delight

Japanese home renovation with lots of plants via Spoon and Tomago
Japanese home via Spoon & Tamago

White interior with single green plant via ukkonooa
White interior via Ukkonooa

via Oaxacaborn on Instagram
Fika via Oaxacaborn on Instagram

SCANDINAVIAN SUMMER :: Midsommar, Noc Kupały, and Juhannus


midsommar midsommarafton via mokkasin
Image Credit: Midsommarafton [midsummer] via Mokkasin

One midsummer when I was probably eleven or so, I remember spending the weekend at my great-grandparents’ lakeside cabin in Upper Michigan. The scenery everywhere up there looks exactly like this, even though these photos are from Finland, and not Michigan. Fascinating, isn’t it, considering how many Nordic immigrants settled in the Upper Peninsula?

Brett Seward
Image Credit: Sweden in summer by Brett Seward

That weekend, in between carving my name in the paper-white bark of birch trees, eating sour wild strawberries and floating in the cold lake, I remember the Finnish-language program Suomi Kutsuu playing on the little living room TV, showing what seemed like endless footage of a bonfire slowly burning in the middle of the lake. I didn’t put two and two together then — I wasn’t what you’d call an observant child — but I was at my great-grandparents’ place over Juhannus!  Although you might not know Juhannus by name, you probably know Swedish midsommar, and you most certainly know summer solstice.

Midsommar crown
Image Credit: Crown by Mendocino Floral Design via Style Me Pretty

In the northern US states of Michigan or Minnesota, both around latitude 46° N, the summer solstice marks a magically late sunset — no wonder I didn’t get much sleep that weekend! Can you imagine midsummer’s eve in Stockholm or Helsinki, at 60° N? Incredible, the daylight must stretch on forever! [As a comparison, Orlando is at 28.4° N, and Oaxaca, where I was born, is even further down at 16.9° N)

Midsummer traditions vary among different Northern European countries, but my favorites are the lake bonfires, or kokko, of Finnish Juhannus, the floral crowns of Swedish Midsommar, and the glittering floating lanterns of Poland’s Noc Kupały.

Although a sky full of lanterns or a water’s edge bonfire might be a bit hard to pull off where you live, you can still celebrate midsommar. Do you have plans this weekend? Maybe you’ll celebrate with a maypole and a Swedish smörgåsbord (pickled herring and dill potatoes!), or maybe you’ll gather flowers and make a pretty floral crown.

Or, maybe, your nod to the summer solstice will simply be tossing and turning, wishing you’d purchased blackout drapes. ;)

However you celebrate, god midsommar!

POETRY & WORDS :: Patriotic Eagle Hawk-Birds who Invisibly yet Condescendingly Guard the Gate


Orlando, Florida, the South, Trader Joe's and Hipsters

Aveline is in swim class now. This means, for 30 minutes every other day, I sit on a plastic chair pool-side,  and sweat buckets of water. It still a mystery to me how a human body physically can produce beads of sweat when the air around said body is already 100% saturated with water. Given the excessive humidity, it’s something of a physiological miracle. I’m not to dangle any appendages in the pool, because I’m not a resident of Exclusive Subdivision, and therefore unclean. So, I sit, sweat, and squint in the sun’s general direction, trying to suppress my motherly instincts and my own fear of treading water while Aveline sinks like a rock and the teacher (bless her heart) patiently shows her again how to do All the Things You’re Supposed to do to Avoid Looking Like a Penguin Attempting to Dog Paddle.

I live in the same zip code as Exclusive Subdivision. Well, it’s not actually called Exclusive Subdivision. People around here call it Patriotic Eagle Hawk-Birds who Invisibly yet Condescendingly Guard the Gate. It’s about 2 blocks from Lakes of the Large Stoic Aquatic Bird, next to Excellence in Everything School, which is just across the boulevard from where I live, Grassy Plains of the Imaginary National Monument (press two for English).

Neighborhoods here are funny. Even at the public parks, the official man on the golf cart can kick you out if you don’t live nearby. No, wait. That statement might be confused with something that actually makes a modicum of sense. The official man on the golf cart can kick you out if you’re not carrying a paper card, issued by the community office, which duplicates the address already printed on your driver’s license. These fanc-eh paper cards have a clip-art image of a crested tropical bird, and are only available at the town hall and the grocery store, next to the cigarettes and the whooping cough vaccines.

This spring, when I tried to sign Aveline up for Pee-Wee-Super-Tiny-Bordering-on-Ridiculous Soccer  (the soccer balls used vary between the size of large spring peas and large tomatoes), the soccer organization told me they weren’t permitted to run a soccer team in my neighborhood. The neighborhood association was concerned, they said. Kids without clip-art cards might try to join.

I’ve managed to live here for a few years now without getting a biodegradable ID card, but I do kind of have to duck and run whenever the official man on the golf cart starts trawdling* in my direction. [*not actually a word.]

The ironic thing is, this community isn’t actually high-brow. (I say this with a smidge of authority, since I’ve lived in approximately 4,028 different neighborhoods in my three decades on earth.) In fact, the newspapers here have been buzzing about the latest terror sweeping the streets: Trader Joe’s is coming to town. Being a Californian and interested in such things, I tried reading the news stories about the impending Grand Opening this month. I only got as far as (and I quote), “it’s a hellscape of scarf-wrapped hipsters.”

Apparently nothing strikes fear into the hearts of Patriotic Eagle Hawk-Birds who Invisibly yet Condescendingly Guard the Gate residents like chocolate-covered almonds and seaweed snacks.

Well, I know what I’m noshing on during Aveline’s next swim class.

I’ll leave the scarf at home, though.

LIFE IN PHOTOS :: June is always full of hope


Tropical Blooms, Sidewalks of June Tropical Blooms, Sidewalks of JuneTropical Blooms, Sidewalks of June Tropical Blooms, Sidewalks of June Tropical Blooms, Sidewalks of JuneTropical Blooms, Sidewalks of June Tropical Blooms, Sidewalks of June

More so than January, June always seems poetic, young, full of promise. Even in the tropics, where there is no line of demarcation between winter and spring, between brown and green, between cold and warm — even here, June is full of hope. I turn the calendar page, and I hear it sing.

“Did it grow flowers yet? Did it grow flowers?” she asks of crumbling earth and tiny seeds and an old clay pot.

“No”, I tell her. “Not yet.”

But maybe this will be the year.

POETRY & WORDS :: Writing Every Morning


An Exercise in Writing Daily“It is by sitting down every morning to write that one becomes a writer,” says Gerald Brenan. “Those who do not do this, remain amateurs.”

I do not want to remain an amateur.

And so, this ordinary morning, with my bowl of ordinary cereal, with the sounds of an ordinary washing machine swish-swishing in the background, I sit down to write.

I do not have hours to type, I do not have hours to think. I do not have a quiet room and an empty day holding nothing but blank pages and shifting letters. Instead, I have the luxury of a room bursting with life, bursting with shouts and squeals and sliding-off-the-couch thumps. I have a morning with coffee and a three-year-old, the latter holding more energy than the former promises.

And so, I write.

And I walk out into the heat, into the sweltering summer, toward my wild-child’s first swimming class, and into this new habit of daily writing.

We can both try something new.