Friday, November 12, 2010

The Leaving

The upper world ablaze
Quiet trees in slow-simmered murmur
Hissing death in brilliant splendour
Remembering the Crucifixion

Green grown dark, blood-red,
With royal golden crown
The pruned and manifested light
Glorious surrender from a green-steeped life

And falling with
Height-drunken and subdued ballet
They sink into the brothy history
My own rich and layered seasoning

Becoming muffled testimony
Of that most-stretched reach,
The branching death and Life-thawed birth
That beckons all

Whispered staccato of rain falling
And changing of old guards
From firefly evenings of loose-tied cloths
To a weaving of the grayer cocoon

Where we will draw close
With communion once again
By fireside and thick warmth
Humming our anticipation of emerging buds

In high strung breezes
In crawling golden afternoons
Of woodsmoke and God's own confetti 
We find the oldest song of love

Jillian Rose

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Valley of the Shadow

I've been pondering shadows lately.

I grew up loving the 23rd Psalm and always thought the "valley of the shadow of death" (in verse 4) to be an eerie place filled with gray light, traversed with all muscles tensed, brightened only by the presence of God in the midst of our deepest or deadly troubles.  I have walked through whole days, months, and unfortunately, even years in the shadowy gloom of my unreliable emotions, or shadowed indecision, or even with the shadow of a friend or loved one's death hanging overhead. I've spent much time just not knowing what to do, or say, where to go, how to get there, how to have joy, or just asking why. But I think there could be more to shadows than just bad.

After all, how would we define sunlight if we didn't have shadows to compare it to? How would we have shade if not objects in front of the sun? Or what about hiding - usually you pick the darkest, most shadowed spot when hiding from enemies. The philosophical content that lives in the mere topic of shadows and light is vast - too deep for me to attempt explanation of or even proper enlightenment with in just a whimsical blog post, but it's a subject I've been contemplating for some time.

George MacDonald said, "Afflictions are but the shadows of God's wings." Psalm 91 states that "he that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."

I am on an airplane.

Contrary to my blissfully uncontainable love for travel of all kinds, I hate flying. It terrifies me to be up so high and at the mercy of something as manmade and breakable as an airplane, not to mention the concepts of physics (that I don't understand) that are being employed, and the gravity that is being defied. My friend Jill sits next to me. I have volunteered the fact of my overwhelming fear of flight just minutes prior, out of sheer last minute panic before takeoff, and she has said she will hold my hand if I like.

We are speeding down the runway and my eyes are closed, my stomach turning, my hands tightly gripping the armrests. I feel the loss of control, the separation of wheels from the ground they were built to turn upon, as we are suddenly airborne. For a moment, as we gain altitude quickly, it feels as though the air is pressing down all around me, in uproar at the arrogance of man so nonchalantly mocking physical laws. The day is slightly cloudy. There is some turbulence as we push through the layers of cumulus and mile high fog, and I can see rays of light trying to pierce the cloud cover.

But then we break free of the gloom and I am suddenly enthralled by the brilliant sunlight, the bird's eye view, the shadow of the plane on a particular thick cloud just below. Another shadow. But different in every way, this. This is a shadow that serves to illuminate my location, high above clouds and turbulence, in a place of bright, uncorrupted beauty.

It's just a thought for today. Perhaps the shadows in our lives serve to further illustrate the light. Maybe we are meant to see trials and afflictions as simply a gray canvas on which Providence will paint in bright and lasting color. 

Romans 8:28 is reassuring when I stand in a melancholy, dimly lit place, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose." No matter the shadow or the seemingly permanent gloom, there is a sparkle around the corner. There are muscles to be had in walking this dark place, and compassion and encouragement to be given to future friends in need of it. Unbelievably, there is gratitude that will pour involuntarily from my heart for every having gone through this valley - because I am stronger, wiser, and more effective from living through it. No matter the ingredients of the hostile air that surrounds me, there is grace available for me - I just need to breathe it in.

When I'm walking through a place of fear or uncertainty,and cannot remember what the warmth of light felt like, with whatever circumstances that may entail, I must remember that I'm also in a place of peaceful shadow, under the wings of my Heavenly Father, safe in His infinite care. I need not worry about the threat of destruction, the clouds of sadness and regret, or objects standing obstinately in front of the light, for they must ultimately serve His purpose in my story. Another part of Psalm 23, verse 6, promises that "surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
No matter the shadows, no matter the valleys, no matter the hopeless days and futile situations.

His goodness will have the last say in my life.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Great Expectations: A Ream of Dreams

I'm reading Great Expectations right now, one of Charles Dickens' most beloved and widely read novels. What riches I am finding inside this wise story! I'll spare you the book review but at the very least, the contents of this book make me think of my own great expectations for my life and what I hope to see and achieve in my lifetime.

Like the expectations I have for my writing. I've been writing all sorts of things since I was a kid - poetry, short stories, a few magazine articles here and there, some newspaper articles and a zine in college, and now I've been trying to be more disciplined by writing on this blog. But I want to get published. How scary to type that last sentence, realizing the real weight of all the commitment, calling and sweat that is required. I want to be a real, too legit to quit author of something meaningful and inspiring. I realize my expectations are not in line with my disciplines. Writing is way harder than it looks. And I'm so very inconsistent. For me, it's all about making it a daily practice, and pushing myself to work hard when I don't feel inspired or eloquent or philosophical. It's about stretching myself and writing for practice, not just to be profound or amazing or original. I've never done this kind of thing before. I can feel the growth. I can see the stretch marks.

I have expectations for my reputation. Oh, nothing glamorous or fame-laden, if you would know, but I'd like to be a role model for teenagers. And a support system and sounding board for fellow moms. One day, I'd like to do foreign mission work full time. I'd like to be known as an artist. And a godly woman. I'd like to be a cherished wife and mother, a jewel in my family's setting. I want to be trustworthy, self-controlled, discreet and honest. I want to be an excellent friend, one whose words are like "apples of gold in settings of silver" (Proverbs 25:11), properly timed and seasoned with grace and love. I want my children to think of me as loving, gentle, adventurous and protective. I want Derek to think I rock all mics!

Then there are the expectations I have for my family. I have visions of us making incredible memories and doing great things together: cooking delicious meals together, scuba diving when the kids are older, travelling the world, going on family missions trips and playing musical instruments together. I see us hiking part of the Appalachian Trail, standing in front of the pyramids in Egypt, the Mayan ruins in Mexico, and camping at Yellowstone. But these things will never happen unless I take the first step. I cook with my kids almost daily and we've been upping our hiking mileage every time we go, but I haven't really started pursuing any of my other family goals. It's not even about going and signing up for a missions trip or booking a campsite at Yellowstone for 2011 (yes, you have to book them that far in advance). It's more about keeping our family goals always before me, in the front of my thoughts, alongside the mental grocery list and weekly schedule of events. I am learning that if I don't pursue these things on purpose, they will fall in at the back of the line behind small things that no one will remember when they are grown and gone.

Habakkuk 2:2 says "Write the vision, make it plain on tablets so that he who reads it may run with it." This verse inspires me to write my goals down, to pray over them, and to see them happen. After all, God made me the woman I am and He had the full knowledge of my driven personality - He knew these would be my goals and I believe He gave me the creativity and passion to dream them up. He knew I'd marry an incredibly zany and adventurous guy who grins from ear to ear when I start brainstorming about random road trips. This verse encourages me to run with my vision, not crawl or walk or trot, but run! All out sprinting toward those green pastures and still waters (see Psalms 23). 

I have expectations for my health, including a goal weight and a certain lifestyle of fitness and eating really well, expectations for my ridiculous, uncooperative hair - I'd like for it to look good every once in a while. I know Derek has plans for his career, and we both have plans for our education. These things can seem so untouchable when I lift my head out of the murk and flow of daily life and look at them there in the distance, so far off. But attacking them now, if only in prayer, is never a bad idea. I know God holds my life, my plans, my heart and it's most treasured desires in the palm of His hand. I am learning not just to trust Him, but to dream big! I am learning to step off that cliff of practical safety and take a little bit of risk, have a little more faith.

I have expectations for my house. I want to have a cheerful, quirky, elegant and artistic home, with peaceful lines and colors and bright splashes of color, with handmade items, timeless pieces of furniture and some funky modern ones too. I know furniture isn't the most important thing in life, it's really not very important at all. But as an artist who hopes to inspire others to a new idea or color or lifestyle choice, the palette and design of my home matters some. It is the place that I create, the place I retreat to for comfort, safety and freedom. It is the symbol of warmth and invitation for loved ones. For me, the way my home looks is the backdrop to my life.

As you can see,when it comes to great expectations, I have no shortage. In fact, as I start to brainstorm, more and more ideas come. I could sit down and write ideas out for every category in my life for hours. Dreaming comes second nature to me. And I've always thought it was a bit like window shopping. Why even look if you can't buy? But I've recently changed my mind. This window shopper thinks maybe God can handle all of my expectations and then some. Maybe there are some that will never come to pass. Some of them can't happen for a while, while maybe others can be worked in somehow. But I'm looking to the One who made the sky blue and the stars innumerable. The One who spoke all the layers of this world into being and then used His hands and breath to make me. I'm thinking of a Creator spinning webs of food chains, sea life, ecosystems and life cycles without any help. Fashioning dinosaurs. Inventing color. Building brains and dreaming up music.

And I'm starting to see how silly I've been in putting dreams aside. Ephesians 3:20 supports my sneaking hunch that I haven't yet begun to dream, "Now to Him is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine...."
Just the words "immeasurably more" give me a physical reaction. Chills all up and down my spine. Goosebumps of anticipation in realizing that I was meant to dream for all that this life could possibly hold. I am intended to be the best possible version of myself, to live life abundantly, created by God and crowned with His purpose. The possibilities are endless!

Maybe you've stopped dreaming. Maybe you're waiting until this current season of life has passed to pick up where you left off with your biggest hopes.
Maybe you should stop waiting. Maybe you should write down every far fetched and wildly delicious hankering you have and after quietly considering if there could be anything else you might have forgotten, wave that paper skyward with a ridiculously huge grin on your face.

Because I have a feeling we were meant to fully realize our greatest expectations.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Overnight Pothead

I am so excited about all the huge free pots Derek scored from the landscaping company at the next door neighbor's house this weekend! Some of them are huge.

We live up on a hill here in Tulsa and I haven't been able to grow much in the ground aside from green beans and a teensy bit of unhappy basil because our soil is mostly clay. Even the green beans seemed like they weren't thrilled. I was so excited about gardening in a full four-season climate when we moved here from Florida and then when the soil proved to need much doctoring that I wasn't willing to pay for since we are renting this house, I decided I'd have a container garden next spring. But I have quite a large gardening appetite and knew I'd have to find those many containers at a garage sale or in Home Depot's dumpster or somewhere cheap or better yet, free. When I noticed our next door neighbor Jeremy planting a bunch of crepe myrtles and other large plants and flowers this weekend by way of a landscaping company my eyeballs immediately lit upon the massive stack of various sizes of black heavy duty plastic pots and tubs.

I sent Derek over to do my dirty work. He came back with a smile and a stack of about eight massive black tubs. Score!

Now I know black plastic is not the most aesthetically pleasing material in the world in which to garden with, but let's face it. It does the job. So until I am an independently wealthy millionaire who can afford to purchase fifty amazing artisan handcrafted mosaic masterpieces in which to house my vegetables and herbs, I shall be happy with what God has so obviously dropped out of the sky on my head.

Now they are all stacked up in my garage and since I'm still a bit under the weather from this cold, I have nothing better to do today than to take care of my daughter, who is also sick, and run around plotting what I shall start growing immediately. I have already called Derek at work three times and it's not even 11:30 yet. Albeit, one of those times was to tell him of the brilliant epiphany I had at around 8:30am to slipcover our nasty couches, but I'm pretty sure I squeezed in some gardener talk too.

Now, to figure out what I can actually grow during the winter seasons. Hopefully, there will be something, else I might have to attempt being the first gardener ever who grew tomatoes in snow.

Is there any better drug than gardening? Not for this overnight pothead.

Wish me luck.