Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Good Insteads

Maybe it is I who is in a state of winter.
Finding that all of what I am is being said in a symbolic stutter all around me.

That it is cold there, and frozen solid. A once fragrant heart pushed into a Ziploc bag and shoved away for a later thaw.

Maybe I've forgotten just how good You are.

Maybe I'm full of insteads.

Each new dawn, I see Your new mercies that sit feather-light on the top of my soul and I kick them to the side, like old, out of style clothing.

No, thanks.

I'd rather wear something a little more fashionable today. I need an edge. I push the hangers around, searching for the proper attire to meet the cold world.

A glittering dress of cynicism. A straight jacket of control, in the finest fabric imaginable. Doubt, the handheld mirror in my purse. Did God really say? And the Knowing, a scarf wound endlessly around my throat and ears.

I walk into the light of the sun and feel the melting urge and wonder why it doesn't move me like it used to when I was so naive and pale, a shadow of my now stiffly sophisticated self. I struggle against the raging tide of sadness that leaps to steal all my joy - the gloom that settles deep when I realize just how far gone this world truly is. How far gone I truly am.

I forget the simplicity of green pastures and still waters, the assurance that surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

Instead, I start to build, relenting to the cold, planning an occupancy that will cost me time. Years, maybe.

I trade all of it, for the Knowing.

Like in that garden.

Biting off the syrupy fruit of My Way and Did He Really Say in order to have more. And feeling the doubt as they felt it and how it made them full. The more becomes less. I so willingly trade the brighter gift of innocence for a distracted installment of adulthood, penance of sweat and toil, intuition of pain.  

And forever we feel the bitter dredges, the slimy residue of that bite in our very marrow.

So maybe winter comes to me as a gift? Maybe it's an all out, no expenses spared attempt to give me another chance, a cleared table on which to place the nourishment of shouting spring?

But the cold settles long and deep and You wait for me there in the warmth, Your chair pulled up to a fireside of such proportions that my doubt would never let me imagine. A hot cup of nail-hole-filler at the ready.

Two chairs there. Two glowing chairs.

The ice crusts around my soul, I walk limping through the trees, the fashioned trees, and I take in the malicious wardrobe of those whose heart became stone long ago. I listen carefully to their serpentine ramblings. I let the gates to my heart swing wide open.  I shake my head and disagree that You could ever be so visibly good, so thermal. I agree with them instead.

O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Is. 2:5)

I want to remember, in every nucleus of every cell, in every follicle and drop of blood, in taste buds, the older truth. The taste and see truth. I want to let its buoyancy be in charge once again, to feel the thawing float, the bubbles of grace that burst and actually change the air I'm breathing, the fizzy pop of Your grandeur and joy, the manifestation of Your smile in the waterfalls and smoothening river stones. The one strong song that sings under all the others, allowing them a reason for their existence and a road for their melody.

That You are good. ...and your mercy endures forever.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Being Winter

I am in awe of the snow.

Sitting in my bed this morning, drinking my coffee in my usual custom, I watch it come down, falling recklessly and heavily out of the sky.

I think I find You in the snow.

You are the white.
Pure, glistening, blinding white in the stillness.

The only sound is the falling, like thousands of hushed brushstrokes.

You are the sound too, aren't You?

And the light, the graceful gray-dressed light, with a soft hand for my flaws, covering all with the comforting murk of rest.

You are here in the cold, reminding me where home is. Hiding Your magic in the plummeting mercury.

And the wind suddenly throws everything into a swirl, sweeping white clouds across, briefly dusting the windowpanes with millions of tiny, individual, uniquely crystallized flakes, taking my breath away with its power. Showing me Your willingness.

And that you know about sweeping me too.

Later, I find You in the strong branches. Bare but unmoving, immobile against the bitter elements. I see roofs caved in, cars waylaid and pipes burst, but my trees remain steady. Stoic promises of the building of a life, the stretching out of roots, the blooming and falling of leaves, and the near-approaching spring.

I find You in the laughter of the children, bundled and packaged in warmth to the hilt by mothers who cannot afford to take the risk. They run and throw, slide and skate, dig and build in the frosty air. Our breath shoots out, visible steam, and I am thinking of the molecules and atoms, the tiny components that make up everything, even my heart and brain, and are fueled by a life force that is You. 

You building in miniature and super sizing it all at once.

I try to simply find winter, but it is not just him that I see. The lines blend and sway in the chilled, gelatin dusk and I find only You instead, holding the reigns to it all, stopping to cup my chin in the frigid night, to stroke my cheek with your cold,white brush, the stars lighting our ballroom moment.

But you are not an only, are you? That would be like saying everything everything. Or You Are. Or I am. But you are I am.

My I am.

My winter I am. 

You are winter.

You are more than green, and life. You are more than autumnal fires and campouts in the thin-aired hills. You are more than fireflies and summer nights of droning bees in busy flight. 

You are here in the cold too. Helping me to understand that you won't leave me. Even when no fruit is on my bare tree, you stay.  Making sense of the frozen and singing along the thaw.

Being winter and promising spring.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Gradual Ascent

When I wake this morning, I can hear the birds beginning their daily shift. What seems like endless drudgery to me, the call to rise before the sun every morning and sing their hearts out, greeting the day before it exists, setting the mood before I throw covers off and stand in the cold air, is joy to them. It is their art, their love, the purpose they rise to, the clock they live by, the structure and harmony that unify their every heartbeat. There in the feathered dark, they sing, calling things that are not as though they are. Trilling the very soul of hope into my darkened room and eyes and sometimes, heart.

I sit up quickly in bed, out of alarm and startled from the solitude of sleep. Morning has come and I feel no friendship between her and me. We are so different. Me, slow to warm, slightly suspicious of everything that moves, naturally in a lazy state, wishing for more darkness at times, longing to live in dreams, keeping the bright part of myself back until all the doors are locked and it is perfectly safe to emerge. But not her.

Morning rises like a dancer, slowly, with grace and tempered light. She picks her wardrobe, explores blues, grays and whites with enthusiastic advancement, and usually settles exuberantly on gold. She is lithe and bright, with blooming flowers all done up in her hair. She sings sporadically at first, in the lilting soprano that sends the crickets to their beds, but then, she builds her birdsong, weaving a harmony, adding a player here and there, swelling the symphony at perfect pitch and tempo, but differently every morning, to eventually match that of the sun's arrival over the horizon.

I sit in bed drinking my coffee and striving to become one with the hope that is morning. Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness. (Lam 3:22-23)
Every single morning. My mind stretches her arms out blindly to grasp a truth that seems a lie. I sip quietly, and the children start to rise and Rosey begins preparing breakfast for all of us and I stumble through the house, putting articles of clothing into tiny, splendid, waiting hands, saying good morning in my frog-grumpy voice, hating speech, hating light, wishing for gray rain and soft quilts and quiet. Wishing for all of the things that would take this miracle of family mornings away. I climb back into bed and continue drinking my coffee.

The light outside my windows is changing. The birds have worked themselves into the height of song that tells me that any minute now, over the distant hilltop that I can see from my backyard in winter when the leaves are gone, the sun will begin to break forth, first in simple greeting that grows and burgeons into ecstatic, shouting light with the birds as accompaniment. All of the night-darkened melancholy world will begin to feel that daily lift, the aligning of ourselves to the light of a new day.

Is this the physical manifestation of those new mercies? I puzzle it over while I finish my coffee, still sitting in bed while my family continues in their morning cycle around me. "Mommy, can you put a braid in the front of my hair today, or two on either side?" 

"Mommy, did you see the dinosaur I made for you? I named it Jillian, since that's your name. That's your name Mommy! Your name is Jillian."

"Mommy, I can't find my other shoe and the laces on this one are too short."

"Jillian, do you want me to make you a smoothie or a fried egg with toast?"

The questions are my final signals that it's time to engage, my catalyst for immersing myself in the daily routine, usually with all the excitement that most people have for jumping into frigid water. I stand and rub my eyes, drain what's left of my coffee, and shudder involuntarily at the thought of being up before the sun, waiting for the promised new mercies to kick in. Where are they? Doesn't He know how badly I need them? 

Everyone is dressed and eating breakfast while I begin to pack lunches.
"Mommy, can I have two cookies today instead of one?"

"Mommy, I showed Mrs. Schwenk my carrots yesterday and she said I was lucky that my mom gave me healthy food."

"Mommy, will you put my necklace on?"

"Jillian, can I take you out for lunch on my break today?"

Amazingly enough, I answer the wonderful we-need-you questions in a voice like a zombie, still striving to awaken to their needs, their hopes, their beauty, their love. I am in slow motion, moving through these early minutes like someone wallowing in thigh-deep mud.

I can still hear the birds as I start the car, letting it warm up for awhile before we all pile in, now that the sun has fully risen they are more subdued, maybe in awe of the golden light, or in awe of how the old, sad world looks fresh and young once again. Perhaps they are just being reverent. How I wish to be like a bird, preparing joyfully for the rising sun, singing lustily with all of those in my home, swirling in an instrumental symphony of enthusiasm and grace, that crescendos and climaxes into a towering sound of life and reverent gratitude as I become increasingly aware of the sun and the light. My Sun and Light. From Heaven.

It is not until we are in the car that the Light starts to have its way with me. Driving down the hill toward the front of our neighborhood, on the way to take everyone to work and school, I naturally start to shift. I notice the naked trees, their limbs stretched up in cold surrender to the quickly brightening winter sky. I see the folks out walking their dogs, the steam rising off of cars, the fog lifting from the hollows everywhere. I see the dew, like glimmering jewels, almost wasteful, all over the dead brown grass. I notice where standing pools of water on the roads and sidewalks have frozen into ice, vast mystery enclosed in tiny dirty ruts. My mind begins to worship. Kindness for my family arrives. But it is late for this. Five minutes later, they are all gone, at school and work, and I am left to myself for the day.

It is then, as I drive home in a now silent car, with the beautiful well-made world scurrying all around me in her winter state, that I realize they were there all the time. Did I think new mercies an intangible emotion, or a spiritual state? Did I fancy they would be like that of an abduction of all of my most hostile morning thoughts, a lobotomy of my tendency for early suspicion? No. They were in the open hearts of those I love, the simple acceptance of my human inability to be cheery in this fragile state. They were in the sweet declarations and the hopeful questions of need. They were in His love for me, His placement of all of this around me. All of this! His mercies, new in every way, treating me as the best, while I swam in the knowledge that I was the very worst, humming over me while I trudged and dreaded and stumbled. All of this loving-me-as-I-am forcing me to realize.

All of it. All of it is a mercy. My whole life is a mercy, given newly, given freely, every single day.

Oh teach me. Teach my heart to rise joyfully to each new day, to hold reverently these early moments, to see, really see, the untold riches I am given, the grace that permeates my life. Teach me to see your mercies, to recognize them at the onset of every dawn, to prepare for them even in the darkness.

Teach me to know everything that You are for me, and in every place.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Secret to a Clean House

Rearranging furniture is seriously one of my favorite pastimes. And painting walls. My kids are totally used to it. Sometimes when they go to school their room will be yellow and the bed will be under the window. When they come home, the walls will be green and the bed will be on the door wall. Sometimes the bed will be in someone else's room because that's not their room anymore.

Kidding, kidding. I've never switched rooms on them. But there's an idea...

All of my friends from childhood know this about me. If you have ever been any kind of good friend in my life at any time, then you've probably had your room rearranged by me, and a lot of you have had it painted. I used to go over to friend's houses to spend the night on Friday night and after doing the normal girl sleepover stuff, you know, painting our nails, talking about boys, being mean to little brothers, watching Jonathan Brandis and Leonardo DiCaprio movies, and choreographing a new mime to Margaret Becker songs (What? You don't know who Margaret Becker is!?), usually we'd sit there for awhile, crimping each other's hair for a homemade modeling shoot or telling scandalous secrets until finally, I could bear it no more and would burst out with, "Hey, let's rearrange your room!"

Such fun! I love the possibilities that four walls and a bunch of random, mismatched furniture hold, especially when you use what you already have. I am at my decorating best when utilizing my already existing resources.

When I got married, I think Rosey was shocked the first couple of times he came home and everything was totally different or a lone wall was painted red or yellow. One time, in our first apartment, I even painted words on the wall. "Hope Dies Last" in bright green on a white wall. Kind of morbid. I don't know, back then it seemed so inspiring...

It wasn't like I hadn't rearranged both his college room and bedroom at his parent's house while we were dating, but I don't think he knew it was my permanent mental state.

That's why I think it a very good thing that there's a perk to my constant need for change.

I always clean.

I have a "clean as you rearrange" policy, and it has never failed me so far. Having a new room, so to speak, justifies itself with the need for cleanliness. And I mean clean. I scrub the whole room from top to bottom usually, so it can really shine in every way. And so my house is almost always clean. But nothing is ever in the same place. Well almost never. There are three instances in which something could be in the same place, and that would be:

1. I really really like where it is for a longer than normal amount of time (but this has only happened once, back in 2002, and it only lasted about a year).

2. That particular piece has simply made its circuit around the house to all the other conventional places it could be, and now it is revisiting this place for a little while, while I decide whether or not to sell it, paint it or put it somewhere totally unconventional, like the front porch.

3. It just seems to be in the same place, but it is actually three inches to the right of where it was last time you were here.

Yes, I clean my house like normal people, when it is dirty. But that reason is usually too boring to motivate proper scrubbing action. My favorite way to clean is by rearranging and decorating.

I like a clean house. It's inspiring, refreshing, reassuring, safe, fun, bright, new. A clean palette. A fresh canvas. An excuse to invite people over. Conducive to a good night's sleep. Something to be proud of. A wonderful symbol of order and peace, my home, as an island in the midst of a sea of chaos, the crazy world out there.

Whenever I get a new piece of furniture, which usually comes from the trash, a garage sale or thrift store, since I am not filthy rich and I'd rather spend good money on travel (and paint), and I like to be free to paint or saw or hammer the pieces I find, I feel quite rich. With placement possibilities. And encouraged that my house will keep on staying really clean because I will keep on being inspired about it.

What about you?
What forces you to clean your house? 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Where I Attempt to Fortify You (and Me)

So this is what you have to do. First you have to know that you are meant to do this thing that some would call work, but you will always call art. Maybe it is dancing. Or singing. Writing, teaching, mothering, ministry, what you love to do. You know it requires work, but the feeling you have after putting your whole self into it is more than work. It is joy. It is freedom. It is song. It is calling and purpose. You know this is what you are good at, but you also know you need all the help you can get. There is a mixed pride and humility, a confidence in all that God is doing through what He has gifted you for. It is immeasurably fulfilling. You must keep this assurance close to you, wear it like clothing, ingest it like medicine, digest it like nutrient-rich sustenance, for it will carry you through those nights where you lay awake, full of God-doubt and self-doubt and art-doubt. You must tattoo on your soul that we are not given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.

Power. The ability to create, to transcend, to inspire, to speak straight to the heart of something. To heal, to mend and bind, to change.

Love. For your audience. For your judges. For your enemies. The ability to see the person, to love the person, to know the beauty this person is undoubtedly endowed with and will hopefully and ideally master someday.

A sound mind. Confidence. Creativity. Trust. The ability to walk surely and securely through previously uninhabited territories of your own soul, the hope that all Truth will come true in your life, responding with assurance to those who would lead you astray. Discernment.

Then you must be brave. You must fully realize that if God is for you, then who can be against you? You must understand that not all people will love your art, that some will hate it, and some will think it mediocre or not even care at all. That's okay. You must not allow people to validate you, Artist. You have to strengthen yourself with the certainty that this is the path you were born to walk, that you will make a ton of mistakes, and that anyone who chooses to circle you like prey and kick at you with steel-toed shoes, and jeer and laugh is not your friend. You must shake them off. Shake these poisonous relationships off, forgive them, and walk on.

Find your people. God will provide them. Your people consist of anyone who is willing to be on your cheering squad, anyone who will pray for you, hear your heart, root you on, encourage you, and speak the truth in love to you. It is your human support system. These people will be well-equipped to speak into your life in many different ways. Some of them will take action. Understand that no one person will be equipped to provide everything you need. That can only come from One, and that can only come from faith. It is a crucial ingredient to understand that in some ways you will feel alone, alienated, cursed to walk a quiet path. It isn't true. People aren't meant to fill you, Artist. Only God can. And He will never leave you, never forsake you, never give up on you. No one else can do this for you.

Set your sights. Aim high, there is no other way to aim. Aim true. And straight. Let your art take its natural shape and swirl determinedly around your most profound Center. Let all the different angles, all the lovely lightings and timings and voices come through. Represent the vast and unknowable mysteries of God by creating. Shine forth the simplicity of Love with all your happy layers. Open yourself, spread wide every pore of you to the rivers of living water that exist only to cascade from your life and into those around you. Defy cynicism, that proud and blind boaster of knowledge. Become like a child in your observations and really see. Place high priority on wisdom. Flee legalism. Guard your mind from pointing its fingers. Guard your heart from regurgitated philosophies of this world. Let His mercy, beauty, grace float bouyantly to the surface, a bubbling hope bursting forth, a ready shout eclipsing all gray waters. Hone your art. Prune it. Plant it. Achieve excellence. Train yourself. Stretch. Grow. Change it up. Tell the truth. Watch others carefully. Listen even more carefully. Work hard.

Surrender. There is only one way to do this and that is by opening your hands. By jumping off. Let it all become nothing to you. Lose your sense of importance. Find yourself under the wings of an Almighty God. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? You are not an artist because of you, you are an artist because the Artist could not help but create you to create. In the beginning, God created...It was the first thing He did. And His love for you was such that He gave you this life, this ability to feel a part of who He is, to place your calloused fingers upon the heartbeat of Heaven, upon the pulse of history, upon the skin of Eternity. Believe that this is not of you. Be willing to give it away, be more willing to walk away from it. Begin to hear His voice. Do you think your art is a luxury, a selfish indulgence that you hide from His eyes because He would never allow you this freedom? That is a lie. He made your art as He made you, fearfully and wonderfully, and for it to come fully alive, for it to fill out and color deeply and begin to sing you must give it back to Him.

Do you think that all of this was done, that trees were made and flowers born, that every color of the rainbow resides in frogs, that seasons faithfully arrive throughout the year, for a bunch of rules? You are mistaken. All of it, every beautiful thing, Life, Music, Creation, Eyeballs, Brain cells, Redemption, Art, it was created for Love and with Love and by Love. Everything is built on Love. It started with love and continues with love. You could give all you had to the poor, you could have a faith that moved mountains, but if you didn't have love, it meant nothing. You must let Him be the inspiration that never runs out. Let His love be your main weapon, your most broken in tool, your frayed paintbrush, your tooth-gnawed pen, your ever present help in time of trouble. You must tap into the complex star-sung melody that weaves itself in and out of every good thing.  You must believe that there is no other thing for you than to be an Artist and surrender.