The Poetry Pub is hosting a November Poem-a-Day challenge. I’m not sure I’ll participate every day this month, but we’ll see! It’s good to stretch my writing muscles in a non-commercial, non-blogging way. You can see the prompts for each day of the challenge here, on The Poetry Pub’s Instagram account. The first prompt was “hello”, and here’s what I wrote —Continue reading “Nasvidenje: An Original Poem”
We start the school year inside one set of walls, and wind it down inside a new set of walls down an old-new highway, further away from the maddening din. We fling open the curtains and let in the newfound light as we hold the books in our hands. Our left hands grow heavier and our right hands grow lighter and lighter as we creep toward the end of the school year, page by page by page.
We rearrange the shelves and fold paint over the walls and fold up sweaters and make the beds and unroll rugs and dream of where we’ll plant sunflowers and cherry tomatoes.
The coffee maker hums and my brain runs back and forth, jumping from track to track: eleven-year-old and two-year-old, eldest and youngest, deodorant and diapers. I swing from Chinese to Greek to toddler English, drawing brackets around grand middle-grade essays and then enunciating consonants and vowels for the smallest little friend. The light rises and falls, rises and falls, rises and falls.
Outside, the news rages. Zealots call for cancellation, call for vengeance, scream at you for the wrong kind of silence or the wrong kind of words, screaming for no reason at all. We all weep. The news cycle drains and spins, drains and spins, drains and spins.
Inside, we sing: Kyrie, eleison.
The marquee at the gas station around the corner winds up. I look away. Someone texts more doom, another soundbite, more fire and ice — another way the world will end.
Music floats in and out and in again. I reach, and grab it.
We press on: dishes and poetry, mopping and tantrums, sunrise and bedtimes.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Choose rest. This phrase is everywhere right now, emblazoned on mugs and novelty socks and faux-aged farmhouse signs, slipping its way into the vernacular with very little thought given as to what it really means.
See, there’s a big difference between choosing when to rest, and choosing to have an attitude of rest. The former retains control over how and when (we’ll decide); the latter is a posture of surrender to the life God has given to us now, in this very place and time.
As an introvert and a lover of my home, I thought I had a handle on this. “I’m okay with rest,” I would have answered if asked; “I’m fine with downtime, with hobbitesque weekends burrowed away.” “Ask me anytime,” I would have said, “and I’ll gladly acquiesce to expanding margin and simpler schedules.”
But when Lochlan was born prematurely, everything changed.
Five years ago. I don’t wish time to stop, because if time had stopped then I wouldn’t have today in all its glorious tumbling mix of beauty and brokenness.
No, I never wish time to stop.
This photo from the past is a femtosecond suspended in space — a single transient moment in time’s flight over us.
We’re in my favorite place on earth, high above the sea overlooking Bodega Bay, and the white-bright sunset is casting slivers of diamonds over us, by the handful. My pants don’t match my shirt, and I’m wearing my brother-in-law’s too-big shoes. She’s set to bolt away and grab fistfuls of sand. The sky is molten. We are hands on a clock, dials on the face of the sun.
And time flies on.
I feel stretched out, sometimes, pulled and twisted and at odds in the middle between the world of the writer and the world of the blogger. One is born a writer, but made a blogger.
For the writer, the sky itself shouts and whispers. Words fall down all around me from the sky, and I gather them up by the armfuls and pour them into the lines, giving my book a little shake at the end to settle in the errant punctuation.
But the blogger writes for function and purpose; proposals and contracts call for a practical list of countable tips that scrape away the cloud-words and add in keywords which screech and rasp against the lyrical rhythm.
Everyone needs a place where time can’t find you, where the landscape swallows time the way the water gulps up the shoreline every second of the day. This corner of the world is detached from time, wholly present, endlessly still, yet always in motion. The water sees to that.
It’s good to disappear sometimes.
I’m drawn to the changing of the seasons, the time of the year when everything is on the cusp and the old world starts dying and the new world starts coming on . ( Each new day does this too, but the rising sun doesn’t bring out the poetry in me. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to liturgical holidays— this neat and tidy slicing up of seasons, tied to the calendar but not the clock.
It’s a reminder that mercy is new, always.)
And I like the changing of the seasons for the nudge to pause and breathe. It’s a time to take stock of whether or not frenetic busyness has creeped in, unnoticed, encroaching on our calm and peaceful margins. Margin is important to me. Margin is vital. I cannot thrive without margin.
In the 1990s, Dr. Richard Swenson wrote about this in his book “The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits“, saying, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore?”
The changing of the seasons, for me, means a reminder to cultivate those still waters in my own home. I have good intentions, of course, but they are prone to slip, and the seasons give me pause to reconsider whether I am still being intentional about my goals of rest.
Rest doesn’t happen on its own. We must fight for rest.
There’s no escaping it this time of year in Eastern Europe and in the American North. The leaves surge with one last burst of chlorophyll, summer’s flowers tuck their heads, and heirloom rugs are rolled up and beaten outside, clearing the stage for fall, scouring the home for winter, and steeling one’s heart against the coming wintry blast. All of nature is preparing for the quieter, slower season.
There’s no such meteorological shift in the climate, here. I’ve never seen anyone take a rug out of the front door to clean it. But the days are lengthening, even if the air plants still cling to the palm trunks, and the egrets never stop sifting through the marshes for brunch. But I don’t need an obvious equinox outdoors to prepare my home and heart for the autumnal shift, setting out pumpkins on the stoop, simmering ginger and spice on the stove, singing along to my favorite music, and pressing vinyl cling leaves up against the window panes.
This takes time and intention — and more often than not, it takes saying no to things, even good things. You might feel silly saying “no” to that extra event, that meet-up, that task you’re not even obligated to do for the committee. You might feel self-conscious regularly scheduling in an entire day (or a week!) to breath in the scent of the autumn blend wafting out of the diffuser, stash away the clutter and close the laundry closet doors, pick up the toys off the floor and switch out the bathroom hand soaps. After all, tomorrow, the laundry doors will be open again, the LEGOs will be strewn — but you know what else? Tomorrow, the leaves on the window panes will catch your eye and the lingering aroma of clove and cinnamon will still flutter in and out of the curtains. And there’s a certain transforming power this has on the heart. Somehow, I find that when the house is clean, when corners of the home hint at the changing season, I feel more calm and purposeful.
I suppose this is a way of presenting a visible reminder of worship before my eyes. And in the autumn especially, when all of creation is storing and stockpiling and preparing to slow for hibernation, this visible reminder of worship pulls me into the present, and slows me. It’s easier to sit down and drink in the Word, when the clutter isn’t pulling my attention away. It’s easier to help my daughter navigate that non-stop brain of hers, when I’m not stressed over the neglected housework.
No, I’m not perfect. I haven’t learned this art yet. My home is not a spotless showcase. I know a slower rhythm doesn’t solve the pressing problems of the world. This doesn’t instantly heal what hurts. We are real, and real people are messy people. But real people can also be purposeful people, fighting for what matters.
Preparing our homes and hearts for the season sets the stage for contentment, and for cultivating margin. That makes a big, big difference.
You see, it is difficult to pursue purpose without margin.
It is difficult to even complete tasks effectively — to say nothing of cheerfully or contentedly — without margin.
Dr. Swenson told the story of how at one point before his epiphany of rest, he was so overwhelmed, overloaded, over-scheduled and burnt out as a physician that he actually deeply resented his patients for being sick. I find in my own life, that in times of marginless frenzy, I resent my tasks as a wife, mother, and full-time educator (that last one takes up every waking hour — can you relate?)
But I refuse to glorify “busyness”. I refuse to put “busyness” on a pedestal. I’d much rather fight for margin and rest, wouldn’t you?
It’s not a popular choice. Possibly, fighting for rest for your family might put you in uncomfortable situations. It might make you unpopular for a time. But it will also make you peace-filled.
Swenson writes of contentedness: “It has so little cultural traction that I don’t even hear it in casual conversation, let alone preached or praised. The word contented has been replaced by driven, aggressive, hungry, ruthless, relentless.
Taking a deeper look, however, we notice that contentment has been a principle in good standing throughout history, endorsed by philosophers, statesmen, men of letters and theologians of all religions. Even if times were marked by destitution, tragedy and pestilence; even if gutters were filled with beggars, doorways filled with prostitutes and people beat each other with chickens; still, contentment was lifted high. Thought leaders endorsed contentment as a source of hidden comfort and riches, treasured within a human heart despite circumstances.
It is only recently that contentment has fallen out of favor. With the escalating totalitarianism of progress and economics, something had to give, so contentment was replaced by unbridled ambition. No one stopped to have a memorial service nor slowed to light a candle.” 
This autumn, won’t you join me in making margin and rest your ambition? Let’s slow down together, and purpose to let our hearts rest in contentedness, no matter the storm outside.
I’ll light a candle or three to that.
I’m in her bathroom, sighing at the wasted toothpaste carelessly squeezed from the sticky tube, the splashed water, the dozen unclipped plastic barrettes dropped near the container, the towel on the floor. I don’t see the shaft of light, the breakthrough, the miracle. I only see the stony ground.
But from the living room, I hear her singing the catechism. Her voice soars, light, innocent, and the winged notes swirl and pierce into my blindness, my preoccupation, my heart complaining though manna is raining all around.
I too often see only wilderness with my blinded eyes, but these rust-colored tiles and this lumpy berber — this can be hallowed ground.
The light does not require a perfect vessel in order to shine brightly.
I fold the towel over the rack and wipe off the faucet and bend down closer to the earth and she sings, “Can anyone hide in secret places / so that I cannot see him? / Do not I fill heaven and earth / declares the Lord?”
Here, earth. He fills this place.
This can be hallowed ground.
I stoop to retrieve the dropped towel.
She is still singing, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place / He sees their every step / His eyes are on the way of man.”
And I lower my eyes. My heart takes it all in. He is already here. He is waiting, standing next to me always, just patiently waiting for me to turn my eyes to Him and sing His truth.
How often do we, in our self-centered, blind-mole ways, invite God into our presence, when the opposite should be true? Our lives would be transformed if we stopped repeating by rote — “Lord, be present here” — and turned around and looked up and stretched out hands to the waiting Savior and said, “Lord, open our eyes to your constant presence.” It’s not “Lord, lead us”, as much as it should be “Lord, open our eyes to your leading.”
Make us willing to be led, for You are always willing to lead.
I turn off the bathroom light, ignoring how sticky it is. I think of how we are to be like children if we are to enter His kingdom. (“Where is His kingdom?” she asked me yesterday. “Here and heaven, right, mumma?”) I walk past the last vestiges of Christmas — a strand of lights I’m not yet ready to put away — and I think of how poetess Luci Shaw is always reminding us that infancy was only the beginning of incarnation. We celebrate the infancy with pomp and circumstance, forgetting that it leads to Good Friday, and we mourn Good Friday forgetting that it leads us to the Resurrection.
Redemption does not end at the manger, thank God. The earth-rending story of redemption — begun long before — was brought into view there, set into motion, changing everything forever.
Epiphany reminds us of that. Epiphany, the dramatic appearance. The manifestation. The precursor to the second glorious appearing, which would be rendered powerless without the first. Yet like the travelers on the road to Emmaus, we miss it sometimes. He is in our midst, resurrected, incarnate, hands outstretched, and we look past Him.
Epiphany reminds us that God is flesh. God with us. God is among us. God appears as is His Son, born to be king, born to be pierced, born to die. The Man Jesus acquainted with grief, no stranger to sorrow, rejected by so many. Born to be Light Eternal not just for the Jewish people in that Middle Eastern town, but to be my Redeemer, my Light Eternal too.
And then Epiphany reminds me, too, that he grew. He stood in the river and spoke to John. He showed up at Cana, and how could they forget that? Those who walked shoulder to shoulder with Him, those whose sandals were streaked with the same dust and the same splashes from the River Jordan, they missed Him too. Even when God sent a dove, opened the heavens, and said “Look! Open your eyes. It’s HIM. You’ve been waiting. This one here. He’s the one. Don’t miss Him” — even then, some still missed Him.
And we miss Him, over and over and over and over again. Like the wanderers in the wilderness, like the once-rescued, twice-forgetful, like the disciples, we are stumped and we don’t know where He is and we ask Him —
“But Jesus! Did we ever see You?”
And He says, “When your world was rocking and you were sure you’d drown, I was asleep, right near you, in the very same boat on the very same sea.
And it was I, underneath that dove, in the river, when you were craning your neck elsewhere, searching for Messiah.
It’s Me every time you read, Word-made-Man.
It was Me at Emmaus.
It was Me in the other room, waiting to take your weary burdens, when you were making yourself sick with stress over preparations.
It is Me in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the fatherless, the ones with no voice, and the ones with a voice to which you’ve turned a deaf ear.
It was Me, this morning, in your living room, when you were grumbling about the dirty bathroom and your daughter was singing, head tilted toward Me, face up against the veil, in my presence, kneeling on holy ground.
It was Me.
And I put away my cleaning rags, and lay down my pride, and walk into the living room, and ask that I, too, might see.