Essence After Death

 

I remember the physical presence of my friend from childhood, who played on my basketball team, and was a romantic at heart. She passed away too young, like the most beautiful souls seem to do.

My last job was at a school for children with special needs. A little girl named Abby stood close to me not long after I started to work there. She looked up at me with blue eyes, clear as the sky is when the sun comes up after a snow, and asked, “is it okay if I give you a hug?”

There were endearing distances between each of her teeth and it nudged a memory in me. When I said yes, a smile lit up her face. Her mouth becaume unbelievably wide–gorgeous. It was when she wrapped thin arms around my waist that I realized what the memory was. The friend from childhood, who passed away over five years ago.

Her essence was there in my slender new student.

Memories from the earliest part of my life elude me completely. I have theories as to why: trauma, anxiety, hyperactivity. I only remember photos of my friend when she was the age of my student, one specific photo comes to mind of her dressed in a Wal-Mart princess costume with a silver tiara.

God, I miss her.

Abby, my former student, has labels placed on her: cognitively disabled, socially impaired, disgraphic, among clinical diagnoses that I didn’t have time to read up on. Inside of the school, her reality is good. Hovering teachers police social interactions, diffuse potential bullying.

I wonder if my friend’s reality would have been good. She was cognitively and socially impaired, I know that much. That was part of why I loved her, and chose to be as loyal a friend as I could be (loyalty definitely isn’t one of my core values. I work at it.). I have always felt freer, more at peace and enlightened in the company of “disabled” (but not really disabled) people, particularly children. Were she still alive I would be able to analyze her, apply words in my head that make sense of her. Yet she is dead, which  makes no sense at all.

Having loved disabled students (really loved them, mind you. Not just-for-a-paycheck love) doesn’t mean I am, was or ever will be exempt from ableism, just as having loved a man does not exempt me from sexism, nor does having loved people of color exempt me from racism (Ableism: . Urban Dictionary ). In fact, I identified ableism within myself more for the time I spent at that school. Hopefully, I will continue to identify this and move away from it.

I wish my friend was still here, not just so I could feel her arms wrap around me in a gangly hug like that from my student. I wish she was here so I could feel her essence, that bubbly uniqueness that challenged me to release my hold on society’s hierarchical view of humanity. Everyone had a fair chance on the playing field of her mind, which is rare to find! Most of all I wish I had extra opportunities to speak up on her behalf. I wish I had 1,000 chances more to defend her, claim her, stand by her side.

I try my best to do this every day. It’s selfish, really. It makes me feel alive to speak for those who can’t engage with the world on its’ rat-race level. Advocating for those marginalized by physical and/or cognitive differences brings a level of liveliness to my life. Society’s structures, biases, prejudices make me want to float away. Those who see things clearly (and more creatively!), ground me.

Abby’s hug, her itch for attention, physical stimuli, or whatever prompted her to request a hug, was a gift from the one already gone. I squeezed her meaningfully in return. For who she is, and who my friend was, I embraced her, and kissed the top of her head, crowned with golden hair.

 

 

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An Orange and Grief, A Poem

I ate an orange

on the way to my parents house

last weekend; I placed the

peel on the rubber mat at my feet.

When I arrived, I asked:

“Where is the compost pile?”

Which is to say, I asked:

“Where does this peel go to be sewn

into the Mother?” (Having served

its nutritive purpose.) Is that what the

tornado asked when it picked her up and carried

her?

Did it know where she would be

sewn back into the Earth? It did so

violently.

I punctured the orange peel, but with

a gentle thumbnail.

10 Lessons of Hope

I have accumulated some great nuggets of knowledge over the past year and I want to share them! Not because I know it all, or even half of it all, but because I know different things than you do, and sharing our lessons is a good way to practice loving each other and living wise.

Here we go…

  • Wherever you are, be there. Community is built by people who invest in the lives of those around them rather than spend time searching for the group to be in. I realized this last summer when I noticed that the “favorites” list on my phone was over a page long, and full of people I did not talk to on a weekly basis. I had accumulated a list of the people I thought I needed to be with, and that had only served to damage the community God had placed me in. I trimmed the list down to seven people: it is far more user-friendly now, and I do not so often feel stretched out and stressed by the demands myriads of friends used to place on me.

“There isn’t anything on earth like relationships to make you holy.” ~Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 146

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” ~Acts 9:11, ESV

  • Be refreshed by the things you like to do. If you tend to overwork yourself (like me), you may find no space in your life for activities you enjoy. Change that. You need to do frequent, inexpensive things that you find refreshing. God gives us these pleasures as blessings; they help us through the ache of everyday life. For me it is yoga, and writing in my journal. Other people go on walks, cook, or build bonfires outdoors. (**Beware of idolatry: don’t turn these blessings into curses by giving them the heart that only belongs to God.**)

“But a heart alive is a heart that is awake and curious and pressing in to more.” ~ Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 115

  • Be (extra) kind to minorities. Not because they are any more desperate or less important than the ethnic majority, but because, odds are, things in their family tree haven’t gone so smoothly. Why else would they be far from their biological roots? Just subtly offer to pay for dinner when you’re out with a friend who is a minority member, or get plugged in to a mentoring program for at-risk youth. America has a situation on her hands. What are you gonna do about it?

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 7:12, ESV

  • Own what you’re good at. I’ve wasted too many compliments, shrugging them away, saying, “Oh, it’s nothing, I’m not that good.” Take the compliment! Don’t be puffed up with unrighteous pride, but don’t apologize for being good at something either. I struggle with math and science but I’ve wowed some college instructors with essays and short stories. God has made me this way so I can serve HIS amazing purposes!

“God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.”  ~Ephesians 2:10, CEV

  • Learn to say “no” to demands people place on you. Practice it if you have to; I did. This is especially difficult and of key importance if you have an enabling personality. Ask God, not men, what he would have you do with your time.

“Made in the image of God, we were created to take responsibility for certain tasks. Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is knowing what is our job and what isn’t. Workers who continually take on duties that aren’t theirs will eventually burn out.” ~Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, 27

  • Be OKAY with not knowing. No one knows it all. Don’t drive yourself mad searching for the answer to every question that flies through your head in a day. *You don’t have to win the arguments.* Doing research, learning, and seeking council is good, but no amount of historical data or advice or analysis can set your heart to rest. Only God offers real rest. Trust him as you spend a lifetime learning the truth.

God, show me the truth and show me the lies.

      “We are not uncertain about God, but uncertain of what He will do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.” ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 120

  • Beware of people who do know. Again, no one knows it all. The president, scientists, your parents, your mentors, your pastor, your therapist, they may have pieces of truth that cultivate discernment within you but they do not know it all. Our not-knowing is what makes us human, and spurs us forward to humble reliance on God. His ways are **not** our ways. Look out for people who have the answers to all your questions. Imagine a librarian who, when asked for books about World War II, starts reciting her personal knowledge of the war. You’d probably walk away slowly and Google it later. Surround yourself with people who don’t have all the answers, but are quick to point you in the right direction.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”~1 John 4:1, ESV

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~Hebrews 5:14, ESV

  • Grieve. It’s OKAY to cry when you leave a job you have only had for two years. It is OKAY to spend an entire afternoon writing down memories of a loved one who passed away. If you need to weep, weep. If you need to take time thinking and wading through your emotions, set aside that time. You can experience the pain now or let it snowball for the rest of your life. God wants to bring healing to the pain in your heart, it’s part of your restoration.

“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 30:17, ESV

“Jesus wept.” ~John 11:35, ESV

“Smooth sailing does not make a good sailor.” ~Louis Zamperini, Devil at My Heels

((for more on grief check out Prayer as a Place, by Charles Bello))

  • Ask God what his special love language is for you. Heather Nelson (http://sunshinedreams2u.blogspot.com/) told me this at a retreat a few weeks ago, and little did I know, God would reveal our special language to me less than an hour later. I stood next to a window and the sun slowly peeked around a thick tree. The white rays pierced glass and kissed my forehead. Sunlight. Sunshine. That is one of the way God speaks to me, letting me know he is near. Today I basked in that same glow, feeling alive and rejuvenated by this tangible taste of everlasting love. Perhaps he speaks to you in dreams, or via shapes or sounds. Just ask!

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” ~Ephesians 2:17&18, ESV, emphasis mine

  • If you are not a slave to God, you are a slave to death. In a way, slavery is our only option. But the slavery of God leads to fruit, to life! With God as our master, we find true freedom and the ability to rest in his grace and do good things. The other option is default mode: remaining in bondage to our own fickle, wounded hearts. None of our decisions are for good when we live by the flesh, but though the war rages on when we live by the Spirit, we are able to surrender to God’s excellent plan for the redemption of our souls and this planet.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” ~Romans 6:16-18, NIV

“Give your life away in exchange for many lives, give away your blessings to multiply blessings, give away so that many might increase, and do it all for the love of God.” ~AnnVoskamp, One Thousand Gifts, page 197 (http://www.aholyexperience.com/)

Have a new year filled with hope, friends. Happy 2015!

Jordan River Poem

The Jordan River

stretches out wide
and yet the far bank
so close I may reach
arm out, try
and slip pink
fingers into Mamaw’s
bony hand, blue vein beelines.

The closeness a mirage,
tossing waves driven
to death dance
upon small dark boulders
dotting shore.
People necromance,

they call God unfair
for He took her away.
I hear His gentle whisper,
Jordan River breeze rustles
ribbons of hair against my chin,

It is not yet
your place or time:
wait. Attend to your soul,
attend to the still-living.

You shall not fear them for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.~Deuteronomy 3:22

O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or earth who can do such works & mighty acts as yours?~Deuteronomy 3:24

Voiceover

Thursdays are not typically exciting days in my life. The usual order of events goes like 1) class, 2) study, 3) work. That’s it (what a trip, I know). Today class happened and after beating my head against a Physical Science textbook for a good 30 minutes I scuttled into my creative writing instructor’s office for a visit. Ms. Sandy is a Northerner (from the upper half, give/ take a state or two, of the U.S.A.). I have had mixed experiences with Northerners due to cultural differences but one thing I will say: they call it like it is. Cut and dry. Black and white. “You stink.” “You’re extraordinary.” “What exactly are you referring to?”

That being said, nearly the first thing out of Sandy’s mouth to me was: “You have what it takes to go as far as a writer as you want. If you want to get your master’s [degree], write [professionally], you can do it.” 

Compliments happen. Warm fuzzy feelings, gushed gratitude. Blah blah.

But when Ms. Sandy said those words my heart sang. I laughed until I cried in my truck on the way home because the words Ms. Sandy said are true.

Truth is the driving force behind joy.

At a dear friend’s request I met with 4 other women this afternoon to form a panel that was consulted on issues faced by young people today. We contributed our voices hoping that the curriculum our interviewers create will offer insight and guidance to a generation in tumult. Sitting in the dim light I noticed something about the 4 of us. Two of us, myself and one other, have lived the most utterlysplendidprivilegedlives for which any girl could ask. Have they been hard lives? Yes. But they have been lives filled with love and Truth and opportunity. We are extraordinary blessed. The other two–girls dear to my heart–have not been granted the same gifts. Neither have Godly father figures to turn to for help or support and both carry deep scars not yet fully healed. Of the four of us, myself and the second “privileged one” were the quickest to speak, the most eager to voice our opinions. Though their stories and opinions are arguably more gritty and riveting, the other two had to be coaxed, and still did not speak as much.

When I have something to say a fire burns in my belly until it is said. I know that it is my human right to be heard. I know that my words are important. Knowing this leads me to treat the words of others with equal importance. It’s respect, the right thing to do.

But when you’ve been ignored your whole life? When a man has never asked you what you think about…anything? When no one has taken the time to get to know you? When you’ve been yelled at and treated like an unwanted pest?

Inevitably, you start to doubt the value of your own voice. You begin to question the importance of what you have to say. You decide it is better to keep quiet because no one wants to hear it.

So there they sat, the girls with the most to say keeping quiet. I blame the powers of darkness for the loss of anything on their hearts that went unsaid. I praise the One who gave them the courage to utter the few words they did into floating microphones. And further, I recognize my small role in the puzzle God is masterfully putting together.

He has nurtured and grown me via parents and community, literature, travel, and music, to speak eloquently and boldly on behalf of the Truth. Not just the blessed Truth of the Gospel, but also the Truth of individual experiences all around me. Harsh realities, tragic memoirs, unique celebrations, epics of the downtrodden: the stories of timid ones need to be told. Minorities are cast aside, virginity is cruelly stolen, words are misunderstood, drugs drive knives through families. And those people keep quiet because they have been told that their words carry no weight.

Their words do carry weight, and they are burdens God created me to bear.  He sent a blunt Northern woman to reiterate the truth of my gifts: I am a writer. Not every word I pen is perfect (HA!), but writing creatively is one thing on this earth that will come naturally for me. Oh, the freedom of knowing that is true! By His guidance and mercy I speak, I write, and in so doing I will flesh out a small corner of His plan.

One woman with a host of hushed people trailing a humble King. It’s a weird story, but it’s mine.

When condemnation grips my heart
And Satan tempts me to despair
I hear the voice that scatters fear
The Great I Am the Lord is here
Oh praise the One who fights for me
And shields my soul eternally

Boldly I approach Your throne
Blameless now I’m running home
By Your blood I come
Welcomed as Your own
Into the arms of majesty.

~Rend Collective Experiment

All the other Thursdays have (and will) serve an equally great purpose, but today was a big mile marker in the journey of arriving for my purpose here on earth.

Your story is valuable, as is your voice.

Speak.

Year of Two Griefs

2013
2013

2 years ago I tutored a girl named Aaliyah.
1 summer ago I met a woman with 3 daughters trailing behind her.
That summer I realized that I had to have real faith or no faith at all.
I knew that it was not enough to serve people I did not know.
I knew I was cheating God to emotionally clock in and out of “ministry”.
I knew I had to care.

Then I said, ‘behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’~Hebrews 10:7

Back to the girl named Aaliyah.
I started showing up at her apartment, chatting with her mom.
I started bringing strawberries after school.
I felt awkward and unsure of everything except for one thing: God’s plan.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.~Micah 7:7

He was leading me, Little Old Me, and I was doing my best to walk in the shoes He had for me.
I searched and searched and kept coming back to apartment 119 in the projects.
Then I took three girls to the park.
Then I took three girls to the library.
Suddenly–I can’t remember when exactly–a relationship was born.

Rumor has it that other languages have words for what English speakers call “adopted family” or “fictive kin”. I wish English had a word for it. The three girls are not my sisters, they are not my kids. “Entourage” doesn’t cut it either. They are something more miraculous and unusual. We became blood-kin not by our parents but by our Savior. His love compelled me to their door. His love made sure there was a place for me in their life. God’s whimsy, His creativity, His mission brought us together and made one great year.
There were apologies and snacks by the pool. We ran spontaneously into the sprinklers at Peabody Park and we went to church together on Sunday afternoons. We danced in the talent show and we played tips with the Church’s Chicken basketball. We read books together and we watched Beatles videos until we got bored. We wrestled, we danced, we swam, we clapped, we sang, we prayed. We were humans–little girls–together. Jesus’ loving ability to meet our needs bridged the gaps between us.
There were times when I felt I was banging my head against a wall of sin and rebellion. There were times when dancing in the kitchen with them was therapy for me.
Our love for each other turned heads. I like to think that people felt an inkling of divine involvement when they saw me and three chocolate swirled girls happily packed into my truck.1452329_763019423714930_46172494_n

Now they have relocated and left a gaping hole in my life.
The anvil is on my heart again,
Like wounding a wound.

The English language falls short once more.
Suffice it to say, God’s dreams are the dreams that overwhelm and delight.

As I read Isaiah 30 I can feel God whisper to my tore up soul:

This is the way. Walk you in it.

What the Tornado Took

He bolstered me for a trial of which there was no foreshadowing.
God was so near. In the blue lights, His Spirit took hold and spoke through me, when my shock was great.
Those are moments that I ask for the strength and memory to hold in my head and heart as pillars of faith in a living God.
Selfishness, frustration, and lack of faith bares its ugly teeth,
All while I seek to enter the pain again and again, to be rid of it.
It hurts now to laugh as family and friends seek to cheer me up;
Their support is invaluable.
May Jesus’ people be mobilized to support those with no (loving or living) family.
I had forgotten how physical the pain of a broken heart is.
There is a a heavy rawness in my chest
That wells to the forefront of my emotions when I see the wreckage, see the swathe of destruction.
My mind takes me to the place where the curtain was torn in two;
How much worse was Christ’s pain?
I could have washed my friend’s feet many times over with the tears that I have shed for her.
Let me live in such a way as to be washing the feet of those I love
(everyone)
Daily by my actions and sincerity of heart.

He takes our transgressions away, as far as the East is to the West.
He loves us to the sky and back.
(Psalm 103)

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord
more than the watchmen for the morning
more than the watchmen for the morning.~Psalm 130:3-6