Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ode to a Tree

I see you out there
Don’t think I don’t
Standing there, arms stretched up to the sun
Soaking in the Vitamin D
Swaying with each movement of the breeze
Mocking me
Taunting me
And I am undone by jealousy

I push my rolley chair back and pick up a fax
You sway forward as if moving with me
You almost touch the glass window that separates us
Then you sway back
And I notice how blue the sky is
And how black my plastic desk phone is
And I sigh

You sway again toward the window
Are you inviting me out?
Don’t you know
That I am as rooted to this reception area
As you are to the ground?
Of course you know
And you’re mocking me again

I put on my sweater
Protection from the waft of artificially cool air
Your fluttering
Surrounded by natural air
And I know it smells like lavender with hints of ozone
I should quit my job and join you outside
I won’t

You’re laughing at me again
But I’m laughing now too
Because when I put on my sweater
I remembered
In a few months you will still be rooted to the ground
But the ground will be covered with snow
And your arms encased in ice
While I will be toasty warm
With my toes wiggling under the space heater
And I won’t envy you anymore

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Devotional on Complaint

Why should a man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
Lamentations 3:39 NKJV
How would the sinner answer this question?
Because it isn’t fair.  God is supposed to be loving.  If he loved me, he wouldn’t hurt me.  To punish me for sins, which he created me to want to do, and which everyone else does, isn’t fair.  If he is really a loving God, he will forgive me when I mess up.

How would the repentant answer this question?
Because it isn’t right.  I already confessed my sins so I shouldn’t still suffer for them.  I am supposed to be forgiven.  What good is forgiveness if I still have to suffer for my mistakes anyway?  I gave up a lot to come to Jesus and it wasn’t so I would just still be punished for my sins.

How would the saint answer this question?
Because I am his child.  I may mess up now and then, but I’m not nearly as bad as the people in the world.  There are people in the world who are murderers and thieves and they don’t get punished for their sins.  I am his child.  If the people in the world see that even God’s children suffer when they sin, why would they ever want to come to Christ?

How would the Savior answer this question?
Surrender.  Jesus didn’t complain when he was lifted up to suffer the punishment for my sins.  It wasn’t fair; He didn’t deserve to die.  It wasn’t right; He hadn’t sinned.  He was the beloved Son of God, the only holy child of God.  When he faced the punishment for the sins of mankind he asked, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Why should I be punished for sin?  He answered his own question with a declaration of surrender.  “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”

How would my relationship with God transform if my response to the punishment for my sin were surrender? 

Into your hands, my God, I commit my spirit.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Every Summer Morning

Every morning this summer the bass from my neighbor’s car wakes me up at seven.
He parks his two-toned cream and brown car along the curb because his parents’ cars fill the driveway and their extra belongings fill the garage.  I’m pretty sure the car was living a Sandford and Son existence when I was born because the only things that seem to work consistently well are the speakers.  What kind of man clings to something so old and ugly as if it has value?
The kind of man who can’t do better, that’s who.  When you are in your thirties and still living with your parents beautiful, functioning cars aren’t your priority in life.  In this case, as best I can piece together from living next to him for fifteen years with only occasional nods and half smiles as communication, his priorities are: first – smoking pot, second – loud music, third – sitting in his garage on a metal folding chair, fourth – a job.  Somewhere much farther down the list is a belt.
Each night, once I have tucked myself in and drifted sweetly into a dream I awaken with a startle.  The sound is far away at first, but as the car nears his house my windows start rattling.  Then as he sits in his car for ten minutes my ceiling fan will swing from side to side, dancing to the beat.  The length of time he sits in his vibrating car depends on the night of the week, Mondays – not so long, Saturday – at least a half hour.  Either way, I know the torture is over when I hear his car door slam shut.  Once I am asleep again time passes quickly and the next thing I hear is the sound of his bass, the only difference is now the sun is peeking into my bedroom.  His morning routine isn’t the rushed hurry to the car and speeding down the street I do when I’m going to work.  He lingers.  He starts the car and sits in it for five minutes, long enough for me to give up any hope of going back to sleep.  He drives off slowly so the resonance from his bass fades one thump at a time.  And I get out of bed and reach for the Excedrin. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

What do you do when a purple cow wanders into your dream?  If he tramples a line of people waiting to use an ATM you turn him into a metaphor for consumerism.  If he knocks over the display of Waterford crystal on the second floor of Macy’s, he’s a parenting lesson.

When your mother calls you at ten pm to discuss the details of her best friend’s nephew’s third divorce you could fake a fire in your kitchen and hang up or you could get out your pencil and notepad to exploit his suffering for your secondary character development.

Inspiration comes from three places, each having its own benefit and its own danger: dreams, life experiences, and scripture.

Dreams tap into fantasy, the unbridled, untamed explosion of action and color that break the rules of social behavior.  These ideas take your story to unexpected places, but our memories don’t hold the details.  Writing from a dream can feel like trying to grab a cloud; you know you are catching some of the substance, but you can’t retain the whole.

Life experiences are an unavoidable source of inspiration.  Our human successes and failures are the shared, universal experience and connect our writing to other people, making it relatable.  The danger of this muse is that our experiences are knitted together with our emotions.  Writing from experience requires a determined effort to exploit our own sorrow and joy.

Finally, it is scripture that inspires the spiritual elements of our writing.  Scripture gives us truth and bridges the great distance between our temporal world and the immaterial realm.  Art and literature can never be complete without tapping into our spiritual nature.  The danger of scripture based inspiration is that we risk alienating a portion of our audience.

My favorite writers fearlessly incorporate various sources of inspiration into their work.  So, the next time your three-year-old flushes three rolls of toilet paper down the upstairs toilet creating a Noah-level flood and collapsing the kitchen ceiling don’t surrender to temptation, weeping and rending your clothes.  Channel the tidal wave of emotion into a compelling chapter where your protagonist is washed over the stern of a Victorian Era steam liner.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In Front of a Church

In front of a church.  That’s where a man raped me.  I didn’t know him.  He didn’t know me.  I was wearing black track pants and a pick sleeveless shirt.  He was drunk and sitting on the sidewalk.  I jogged past almost tripping on his foot and thought how fortunate for him I sidestepped his leg.  I could have hurt him.  He thought I looked like a victim.

In front of a church.  That’s where I almost died.  My torn clothes fell off my body and my blood mixed with the dirt on the sidewalk.  But, even though I felt entirely alone, someone was watching me.  He had been working late in the office of the church, writing a sermon on the Good Samaritan and had gotten thirsty.  At the kitchen sink, leaning over to fill his glass, he looked out and saw me, barely visible under the streetlight.

In front of a church.  That’s where a man saved me.  He rushed through the doors yelling into his cell phone.  He said the paramedics told him not to move me, and he wouldn’t leave until they came.  Then he prayed for me, words so sad I stopped crying for myself and cried for him.  He begged God to let me live.

In front of a church.  That’s where I began to live.  My mother pushed my wheelchair and knocked on the door.  Neither of us knew if it was okay just to go in.  We waited for two minutes and almost gave up.  Then he opened the door, caught his breath, and hugged me.  He taught me to pray.

In front of a church.  That’s where a man kissed me.  I had prayed for the first time.  He had promised to help me.  Then he looked up through teary eyes and kissed my cheek.  I said good bye but didn’t mean it.  I knew I’d be back.

In front of a church.  That’s where I fell in love.  Day after day my mother wheeled me down the sidewalk that connected my house to the church on the corner.  He would open the door with a smile and we would talk for hours.  With each trip I fell more and more in love with the man who had save my life and prayed with me.

In front of a church.  That’s where a man married me.  I promised to love him and help him serve God.  He promised to love me and protect me.  We kissed in front of the door as our friends and families cheered.  Then he pushed my chair to the sidewalk into a new life.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Greatest Book

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 
John 6:60
A great book should alter the reader in fundamental and eternal ways.  It should canvass the recesses of the human heart, searching for seeds of apathy and inhumanity, then lift the seeds to the surface and rip them out.  It should wound and heal, break and repair, melt and reform. 
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” 
John 6:63
Profound and meaningful truths can never be swallowed with a spoonful of sugar.   They burn our lips, set fire to our bellies, and erupt back out in violent, unexpected ways.  Our bubbles are fragile.  We wrap ourselves with thin, transparent layers of reality and convince ourselves we’re safe.  We sit, bubble after bubble, worried we are going to pop and have to face the pain outside ourselves.  A great book, like an oversized black boot, steps down on the sea of bubbles and crushes our weak shells.  We are exposed.
As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with him anymore. 
John 6:66
What we do with our exposure matters.  A great book wounds and heals, breaks and repairs, melts and reforms.  It cannot leave us to reassemble our humanity on our own, cannot leave us melted on the floor in despair.  It must guide us to truth.
The greatest book has unhinged me with every reading, has also wrapped around me during the moments of my greatest sorrow.  It defines humanity in the honest eyes of its creator.  This is who you are.  This is who you should be. 
Father, you’re book is truth and life to me.  You break me, unhinge me, melt me, and wound me.  But if you didn’t I could never be healed and reformed.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Devotional 2011

Easter Devotional
And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do you answer nothing?  What is it these men testify against You?  But Jesus kept silent.
Matthew 26:62-63 NKJV

You had balled your hands tightly into fists, your knuckles white and your veins bulging out from your wrists.  Your arms, stiff and tight, hung out from your raised shoulders.  A firm line formed at your mouth, as silent and intense as your fixed gaze.  You were dying and there was nothing I could do to stop it.  I could have run to you, shaken your shoulders, and screamed into your ear, “I’m not worth this!”  But it wouldn’t have stopped you.  You would have brushed me off without turning your eyes.

It didn’t matter what they did to you.  They could rip you, bruise you, taunt you, or strike you.  Nothing would make you turn your face away from them.  Nothing would make you cry out in pain because you didn’t want to be remembered as a victim.  No one could make you choose your life over mine. 

I watched you from a distance, wishing I could bury my head in your feet, wanting to lash out at them, needing to stop you from doing this.  I wouldn’t have died for you.  You shouldn’t have died for me.  Your life for mine is such an unfair trade that you should have known better.  Maybe you did.  With your last breaths you showed love to your mother and forgiveness to your tormentors, while I wept knowing the death should have been mine.  The determination in your eyes slipped away to the empty afterglow of life.  Then the cross was also empty and I was alone, and the injustice of it all sank in.  You died.  I lived.

This Easter, when I look up at the empty cross, I will not think about your suffering.  You held back your agonized cries on purpose, unwilling to torment me with your pain.  I will not remember your wounds. Instead, I will meditate on bravery, on the courage it took to die in silence and peace.

Father, someday I will die.  When I do, I pray it is bravely, with my gaze fixed on your face.