Monday, February 25, 2013

Taste and Touch the Skin of Freedom

(Taking a break from the Lenten series today to join SheLoves Magazine.)

I am six years old standing in my front yard with my bicycle thrown to the ground.  Pliers and a wrench are scattered around unattached, rusty training wheels.  “Let’s go.  Try it again.”  My dad’s steady voice covers my mounting frustration.  He gives me a final push and I take off.  My mom immediately stands up from her perch on the front stoop and claps wildly, hooting and hollering.  The speed, the balance, the momentum, they all fall in line, and I am soaring.  And for the first time, I taste the buds of freedom.

I am 15.  My hands shake as I ignite the lighter and hold the cigarette.  My friend stands in front of me to block the wind and to keep watch for vigilant mothers.  We hide as we smoke down by the creek after school.  Finally, we are old enough to be trusted but still too young to be unchained.  I am thrilled to be breaking the rule but terrified of getting caught.  This must be freedom, right? 

I am 18.  It is August in North Carolina, and my dad is dripping sweat from hauling my things up nine flights of cement stairs.  I shake hands with my new roommate.  We hang posters and arrange the desks.  For the first time in my life, no one will know when I come or when I go, but tomorrow I will eat breakfast among strangers.  And the campus that I thought was large with possibility, now just seems large. My parents and brothers say goodbye.  I sit at the end of my new bed and wipe my slippery face.  Isn’t this the freedom I’ve always craved?    

The rest can be found at SheLoves Magazine.  Continue reading by clicking here:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Art and Fear

This Lenten season I will focus my writing on what I have experienced in the relationships between suffering, faith and creativity. 

Suffering, Faith and Creativity

Part 2: Art and Fear

Sometimes it feels like torture, this stripping down to the bone that grief demands.  It can be a cold and exposing experience, the shedding of concrete layers, the unraveling of protective walls that took years to build.  But there are moments, holy moments, when this painful process of living and suffering, is more truth than torture, and more refining than exposing. 

There were reasons I shied away from my art when life came easily and hurt came in manageable waves.  I now see these reasons as excuses, shallow defenses that never actually gave me the safety that I craved.  “I am too busy,” I would say as I juggled work and home.  “It is just not that season of my life,” I would defend when encouraged to make space to do what I loved.  But beneath all the words, under all the excuses, waited a fragile soul, desperate to create but strangled by fear.    

Isn’t this really why we choose not to create, why we choose to ignore the sparks that God ignites?  Aren’t we really just afraid?  The risk of standing naked amongst the chorus of “not good enough” drives us to reach for leaves to cover our bare souls.  I put on one leaf of worrying what others might think.  I covered myself with another leaf of constant busyness.  Finally over them all, I placed the leaf of fear of failure.  For of course, there is much to fear.  There is deep risk involved.  Rejection, disapproval, the unbearable shrill of silence, all wait for us on the other side of stepping into our art.  They hold our creative selves captive and loom like a grey sky over every ounce of inspiration that we carry.  I know them well.  

But when we stand among the ashes of the life that we once knew in the garden, when we walk through the wake of our wretched grief, all is not lost.  For we find that those leaves that we have hidden behind for our whole lives, have also been blessedly burned.  We finally stop searching for assurance that never was, and start looking for art that has always been.  Though we stand naked and undone, broken and forever changed, we stand behind the only One in whom we can truly hide.  And yes, this feels a little bit like fear, but it feels a lot more like freedom.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Drip, Drip, Drip

See this post

Ice cream date 

Evening snuggles

Tire swing joy

Boys at Jeff's alumni basketball game

Jack (left) and Webb (right)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Out of Ashes

This Lenten season I will focus my writing on what I have experienced in the relationships between suffering, faith and creativity. 

Suffering, Faith and Creativity

Part 1:  Out of Ashes

I stood behind a veil of endless darkness that dropped down after my son died.  I walked among the hopeless rubble and wondered what to do with the all the threads, instantly unwoven, in my life.  Before, I dwelled in a garden, where life flourished and beauty grew.  I saw it as good.  But this grief, this sorrow—it was a wasteland to me.  I was convinced that nothing good could grow amongst the thorns and weeds of its entanglement. I believed that life in the wake of this tragedy would forever be spent muddling through the ashes of a burned down garden.  I believed that darkness was forever my air to breathe, and night forever my day to live.    

It was then that I decided to write my way through the ashes, to try to find something to say, though nothing could be said. For didn’t God first speak in the darkness?  Yes, His first utterance came in the void of black. And in the beginning, God created. He looked at the world without form or order, and He pressed into it to bring forth life.  This is the very work of an artist.  If I, indeed, am made in the image of this Divine Artist, then I, too, must create. Certainly art grows in the light of the garden, but it also must grow in the dark of the ashes.    

Beginnings and ends weave together this life on earth.  We all know what it is to stand among the ashes, and to wonder what will become of us.  When I first stood behind the black veil of sudden grief, and the road ahead looked like one endless ocean of emptiness, I wondered this too.  How could I possibly reach into this deep sea and pull up something of worth?  What could I possibly say that would not slowly drown in the vast waters of wailing?  What could I ever create that would not be squashed beneath the heavy hand of sorrow? 

But in this exact place of unknowing, in this process of undoing, we are ripe for making art.  The rawness, the tenderness, the fear relinquished, they all push us to get down on our knees and to come up with something new, to somehow bring forth life.  Deep suffering is truly a death of self and dreams, but certainly not of identity.  For our identity is most deeply rooted in the image of the Divine Creativity.  And no fire can touch those roots.  Yes, this goes against logic and understanding, but it falls in line with the heart of our Creator.  For our Creator makes beauty out of ashes, time and time again.

But the great mystery and the blessed wonder of it all is that while we create, while we make art with the rubble of our lives, He is creating art inside of us.  And though we stand among the ashes of a burning garden, though we drown in the wake of our wails, we are lifted by the painful process of becoming His broken works of art.  We become the very beauty that He creates. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013


My intent eyes could have burned a hole in the thread-thin pages of my old Bible.  I imagined those delicate pages erupting into flames, all because I had rubbed determination against perseverance over and over again, morning by morning.  Surely the two forces combined could cause enough friction to generate the Spirit to move.  I sat on the end of my couch, folded up like an envelope wrapped around my rock hard heart as I darted through the Psalms, then plowed through the Gospels.  I was desperate to sense a stirring from God, eager to hear an utterance from Him.  So I dug into the Word like a spade into clay, convinced that if I could just keep digging, God would speak. 

Morning after morning turned into week after week, and I grew tired of jabbing into impenetrable scriptures only to come up with silence on my spade.  Determination wilted into resignation and resolve into acceptance. Perhaps it was time to settle into God’s silence.  For if He did not speak to me in His very Word, what word could He possibly have for me?

It was then that I picked up the book that had been calling to me for months.  I had read poems by Wendell Berry, but Jayber Crow was the first novel of his that I would read.  I was captivated shortly into the first chapter. The pages turned slowly, like one long poem.  I was both ready for the events to unfold and hesitant because each turn brought me closer to the end.  I felt my spirit winding down while widening out, making space to breathe.  I opened the book, evening after evening, filled with anticipation, alive with wonder, expectant that I would be stirred.  It was fresh and rich, and when I dug in deeply, I pulled up crop that nourished and fed.  I was wrapped up into the story, caught up in its grief and joy.  In the most curious way, I felt the pulse of Love in this work of fiction, and I knew that it was from God. 

Friends and family have read Jayber Crow and responded differently.  Some could not quite get into it, and others found that it just wasn’t their style of writing.  Perhaps had I read it at a different time, I would have felt the same.  What I do know is that God chased me down in that novel.  He bent down low through the prose of Wendell Berry to touch the stone of my heart.  I thought He was silent because I couldn’t hear Him in scripture, but all the while He was whispering to me through story. 

And isn’t He always whispering?  Isn’t His pulse of Love beating through all of it?  Yes, in the scriptures, but sometimes just as loudly in the beauty of the art and in the sweat of the sport.  I sense it in the grit and the glory of the hard work of mothering.  He is no more confined to the pages of the Bible then He is to the walls of the church.  So instead of demanding, “Speak to me, God,”  I must instead choose to listen.  I must choose to use that spade to grow a heart that hears and a spirit that senses how alive He is, in all of it. 

And when that Word feels harder than clay, might I put down my spade for digging, and raise up my hands for receiving.  For only then, like reading Wendell Berry’s great novel, will I find myself soaking up the holy scriptures with a heart full of wonder at the mystery, a soul captivated by the romance, and a spirit enfolded in the adventure of the Love in the one, true sacred story.     

“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out - perhaps a little at a time.”
“And how long is that going to take?”
“I don't know. As long as you live, perhaps.”
“That could be a long time.”
“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.”