Elegy to Innocence

Life doesn’t thrive in darkness
which is maybe why you feel dead.
Dark eyes in a dark room doing dark deeds.
The only light, a computer screen.
Dirty mattress on the floor,
bars over windows, locks on doors.
You wait to be seen.

Led down a staircase, tripping
over a shoelace you are
too young to tie.
You brace to meet the face
of your next admirer, knowing
it’s no use to cry.
His erected affection leaves no
room for objection.
This is subjection of the basest kind.

How to breathe? How to swallow this
air of dirt and sweat and fear?
So you close your eyes, remember:
A time where no shadows blocked the sun.
When you ran and sang, and what was that word?
Fun? Brothers, friends, mama, hens…
flash through your days of old, and then
it is over. He’s done. A tear falls, he runs.
You close your eyes, whisper:
Goodbye.

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Grandpa George

I still think of you when I taste
the tart of a fresh raspberry.
Imagine it covered in cream and sugar
until it’s so sweet you could drink it.
You left memories with all of my senses
So that I can close my eyes
and remember you with my whole body.

Tight smooth skin when I reach
the shine atop your head,
the unassuming blue
of kind eyes,
Or nuzzling in the crook
of your neck, breathing in
sweet tobacco and sweat, the
ripeness of a day’s labor.
And with my head against your chest,
the beating of a pacemaker
tapping the tune to your song
as you rock me slowly to sleep
singing “bye oh bye oh baby bye oh
bye oh bye oh baby bye”

I grow taller as you bend over
under the weight of ninety-four years.
The last time I see you, you’ve traded
your overalls for a black suit.
There are potholes in your skull
breaking smooth lines.
Your blue kindness hidden
behind closed lids.
Tobacco and sweat erased by
formaldehyde, and in the silence
I strain to hear your song, but it’s gone.
Because you’re gone.

So I repeat our last conversation,
where you told me good-bye, with a smile
I asked if you were scared, no
sad, no
ready, yes oh yes, so tired
So I pretend you lay your head in my lap
and I rock slowly,
sing you to sleep.

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Under the Willow Tree

inside-the-willow-tree

You waited for me under the willow tree
but selfishness kept me away.
Then sorrow, then fear, as everything dear
ushered me slowly, slowly, to today:
I parted the leaves, stepped into the shade
with no hope- I was there to get closure.
In the name of Freedom I’d walked my path
and it had wrecked me over and over.

I look into green flowing knots above,
strange to see from the angle of my love-
my daughter, who, happy and dry and fed,
used warm hands to draw my face to her head.
My hair fell around us, as nose touched nose,
wild spirals that, like a curtain, closed
us in together- all sound was made dim
as I kissed her features: cheek, nose, and chin.
In each other’s eyes we smiled, we dined
And the seconds, generous, took their time
to let us sing in this glad warm chorus.

Now I see- you’re here! I survey your face,
drink the green sunlight as fear is erased.
“How long” I ask, “have you waited for me?”
“You know. You see. I never left this tree.”
Both with nothing and everything to say
we remember back to the very day
twenty years ago when you made a vow
which you have kept from that day until now.
My wandering heart cannot bear the shame
of leaving you here, not taking your name.
And the wind shakes the leaves to weep with me.

“Can you take me now or has love gone cold?”
“For joy you are mine! I never lose hold-
forever I will burn white hot for you!
I am unchanging and I make it true.”
I inched in, a caterpillar, a worm
to cocoon with you in the tree, and turned
into a butterfly, a creature new-
transformed as one: you in me, I in you.
Consummated then as husband and wife,
giving your faithful, long-suffering life,
and we danced to the song of the redeemed.

Think back to it now, fifty years more gone-
lifted from my midnight into your dawn.
Love, my sunrise! Fill my life with your light!
Lead me into ever increasing height!
You, always you! You’re the head of this heart,
so we were, are, will be, never to part.
Bow my head low, let the canopy fall.
My hair forms the branches closing out all
but you- my husband- my life in that tree.
With you I am truly, endlessly, free!

Need into Want

I had the privilege of hearing from Jill Briscoe at the IF:Gathering this past weekend. As she made her way across the stage, my ears perked up. The only true veteran among the group, this white haired 82 year old woman had my attention before she even opened her mouth. And then the moment she did, I was riveted. Poetic, humble, and wise, she spoke winsomely and with authority. I waited for God to tell me, through her, what I had come to hear. I forget though, he tells me what I need, with no guarantee it will be what I want.

I had been primed with the theme of the weekend, calling us to the small daily acts of faith, rather than the grand large-scale endeavor. Called to the invisible. Can I just confess that that feels like a let down? Don’t we all hunger for the magnificent? And (is this a safe place?) don’t we all crave being seen? I’m not talking about the spotlight.Not everyone craves that. But don’t you long to be recognized in some way for what you do or who you are?

But what Jill had to say to me was an affront to those wants. Speaking about her own conversion in a hospital bed at Cambridge, she said:

From now on, the orbit of your life, the place between your own two feet at any time, is your mission field….And what we’ve got to do is go where we’re sent, stay where we’re put. Unpack; as if you’re never going to leave. And give what you’ve got. And he might move you on and you say it again. Maybe circumstances will move you on. But until you’re moved on to whatever, you give everything you have, between your own two feet….What is the Calling? Matthew 28, Go into all the world and make disciples and teach them to make disciples and teach them to make disciples. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. Between our own two feet. Now. Don’t worry about Judea and Samaria, guys. Where are you now?

And if that wasn’t hint enough, I got in small group with discussion questions crying out the theme, like the beating of a drum:

What holds you back from believing God wants to use you right where you are?
How might God be wanting to use you right where you are?
What is the risk in letting God use you right where you are?

Yes, God. I hear you. Right where I am. Be right where I am. Stay right where I am. Unpack.

Of course, I wasn’t physically going anywhere. But in my mind, I have voyaged elsewhere….taking with me all my desire. Can I confess that as a stay-at-home-mom I have struggled with the joy in it? That as a person who loves mental stimulation, art/beauty, and adventure, that reading board books on repeat, playing “I Spy” on repeat, finger painting on repeat, “adventuring” to the grocery store on repeat have left me feeling deficient? When I still have so many things I want to do and the opportunity seems gone already?

But as I work this out with God, as Jill put it, “sitting on the steps of my soul in the deep place where nobody goes” I have come to see that what I want is not to NOT be a stay at home mom. I want to not be a disciple-maker. I want my time, my gifts, my adventures to end on me. To serve my purposes. My life. Me. My. Mine. Because I can’t agree there isn’t glorious purpose in it. Just a purpose, God help me, I have a hard time desiring. One of being invisibly poured out.

And Jill keeps going:

It’s not a glamour trip. Well you know that because he said, “Take your cross with you.” You’re going to need it. You’re going to have to die to yourself, you’re going to have to die to your choices, whether I get married or I don’t. You’re going to have to die to your prejudiced little mind. You’re going to have to die to what you’d like to do.

I heard myself saying in discussion, “It’s so hard to say, ‘I’ll do that later. It can wait.’ But the truth is that I can do that later. The opportunities before me now have an expiration date. They won’t ever be mine again.”

I am reading through Ecclesiastes. Solomon is explaining the futility of toil for everything under the sun:

All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.

But let’s rise up above the sun. Enter the upside down Kingdom of God and the opposite is true. You pour yourself out and stay filled. You lose your life to keep it.

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.

And there is God on the steps of my soul again. You need to make disciples. Not that you can. But it’s what you really need. It’s the adventure and beauty your soul thirsts for. The reason you feel deficient and unsatisfied is that you haven’t been making disciples. You’ve been reduced to a stay-at-home-mom under the sun. That’s not what I’ve called you to. Rise up.