Monday, January 28, 2013


Yesterday, I sure felt like I might be having a baby.
Then it all stopped.

This is familiar territory. Last time around I had several weeks of pretty intense prodromal labor, followed by a sudden birth.

I'm enjoying working my way through the birth stories on this blog; it's very encouraging to know that this sort of thing happens to other women too. And that it will all be over . . . sometime in the next month or so.

On the bright side, slipping in and out of labor does have it's poetic advantages, and I'm having fun tweeting the experience. Not progress updates, of course; just micropoetry.

In night grown tender
with moon's dread light, I hold
my full-orbed belly.

Yes, contractions make me melodramatic, even when they don't actually produce a baby. 

Meanwhile, I've been reading some good stuff around the internet:

Sarah Winfrey has some great insights about helping kids deal with their emotions. (It's good advice for grownups, too!)

Sarah Bessey's writing is like a glass of cool water for the soul. Here's a gorgeous and bracing meditation on the sufficiency of Jesus.

Tania Runyan's haunting new poem explores similar themes, posing the question to Sarah's answer, I suppose.

And Jenny Rae Armstrong explains why you should stop treating your husband like a toddler and actually respect him.

What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

These Words

There do exist some things which would be best
forgotten, if indeed we could forget.
That being beyond our skill, we let them rest
beneath our heedless words; unseen, and yet
the shape beneath the surface. There are also
things that we would like to remember, but
that is impossible as well. We grow
a smooth forgetful pearl before the cut
of sand can dig too deep and make us change.
We may have spent the bulk of our life in search
of a way to carve, or maybe stretch the range
of the forgotten, until suddenly we lurch
awake at each familiar grain of sand,
of which there are many, between the sea and land.


"The truth will set you free."

It sounds sounds so pretty, but since when does the world work that way?

The truth didn't set Oedipus free. It didn't set Pandora free.

And tasting from the tree of knowing sure as hell didn't set Adam and Eve free.

"The truth will set you free."

This is not an insight into the nature of reality, but a greeting card sentiment; one of those pretty little things we say when we can't handle the truth.

Truth is brutal, and there's a reason why we avoid it. It will destroy us if we let it.

And yet, here we have this crazy promise: "If you remain in these words of mine, then you will be my true disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

The Pharisees response to him was something of a joke: "We are children of Abraham, and have never been enslaved to anyone."

This might have been more convincing if they hadn't been right in the middle of the Feast of Booths. You know: the big yearly celebration that was supposed to remind them of their humble origins as escaped slaves wandering around in the desert.

The Pharisees were convinced that having the truth automatically set them free, and Jesus exposed this for the big fat lie that it was. (Paul goes into this in more detail in Romans 2.)

"But if you remain in these words of mine..."

Under ordinary circumstances, truth is more likely to destroy you than to set you free, but there's something wildly powerful in those red letter words.

I feel it. I'm experiencing it. Something crazy is happening, and those words are changing everything for me.

As the words of Jesus start to burn inside me, as I slowly learn to live in his kingdom of grace, the scales are falling off my eyes... but more importantly, I'm finding that I don't need those scales anymore.

My need to shield my eyes and hide is melting away, and by a strange miracle, the truth really is setting me free.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fullness of Time

Birth is a long, slow process for me. The fifth time around, I'm finally learning what to expect. I'm finally learning how to expect, how to wait in the fullness of time.

Birth is long and slow, and sometimes it happens in the twinkling of an eye.

Did it take a month, or ten minutes? It's hard to say for sure. There was no certainty to hang onto in between.

So this time around, I'm learning to rest in my labor. I'm learning how to wait.

And in a long, slow lightning-flash I'm learning that to wait in readiness is the same as to be ready for the waiting.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Obscurantist Found Poem?

My friend stared at the whiteboard, clearly perplexed.

"That's the theorem Andrew's been working on for the past few weeks," I explained. "It has to do with the Gergonne point."

"Oh, I hadn't looked at the math yet. I was trying to figure out the poem."

I wasn't sure what she was talking about, so I came around to have a look. And sure enough, there were some very esoteric lines scrawled to the left of the geometric figures.

orange, "Let's...

It was a list of spelling and punctuation corrections from one of the twins' creative writing assignments.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

At the Well

'Water Flow 1' photo (c) 2009, Luke Addison - license:

He met her at the well.

Jacob's well.

Jacob, who, in search of a pure bride of spotless lineage, had traveled far from home, to the well where his father's bride had been found.

You must not marry one of those Canaanite women.

So he traveled far in search of a bride, and he met her at the well. Dazzled by her beauty, he worked seven years to pay the bride-price, and the seven years were as a day.

Then seven years more, because the father gave him Leah instead; Leah of the gentle eyes, who had no form that he should desire her.

Yet it was through her that the promised one came; the stone that the builders rejected that has now become the cornerstone.

It was through Leah that he came, and when he came, he had to pass through Samaria, and he stopped to rest at Jacob's well.

He met her at the well, a Canaanite mongrel; broken, rejected, and used up.

He met her at the well. He asked her for a drink, and she asked him why. She was no Rebecca.

But an hour is coming and is now here, when neither on this mount nor in Jerusalem...

And he cried out with a loud cry:

If anyone is thirsty, come to me! The one who believes what the scriptures say of me, from that one will flow rivers of living water.

He met her at the well, and he speaks to us now, reshaping all our fairy tales until the fact is more beautiful than all the lovely shadows.

He has slain the dragon, and rescued the ugly stepsister, transforming her into a valiant princess. He restores our souls, and he meets us at the well.

He is the well, and he invites us to draw water, not for him only, but also for his servants and camels.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I'll add chicken to yours if you like, but I will have mine plain.
Just melted cheese, like the liquid golden sun
that would warm my back, crisping the sand
soft and grainy as tortillas, as the memory of rippling water
while my clothes dripped dry in the radiating coolness
of the thick stone walls around the stove
where she made us quesadillas.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Prayer Before Birth

Sometimes my soul is afraid, because I know I must walk through that valley.

I have tasted death's shadow, and tasting the shadow of death, brought forth new life; new life that must suffer also.

Lead me, kind shepherd, as I walk through that valley.

Comfort me with your rod and staff.

Under your protection, I will feast with gladness before my enemies eyes, knowing that though I fall, yet I will arise.

Dying, I'll be born to life anew; I will fear no evil if I'm with you.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Tonight, the words aren’t there.  My head is thick
and strangely self-indulgent sad songs blare
throughout the bright cold room.  The floor is slick
with sudsy water sloshing ev’rywhere.

I do not want to mope.  I want to write.
But ev’ry word I’ve written now falls flat,
And pictures everywhere accost my sight.
“Oh, look at this—no, this!—now look at that!”

And I would just get up and pace a bit,
Except the floor’s so slick, I’d fall—fall flat
As words, tonight’s flat words—and so I sit.
I sit, but still I can’t sit still, for that

Is something that requires the space to move,
Like moving needs the force to just sit still.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Complaining Song

Today I feel like Humpty Dumpty,
who I presume was rather grumpy
upon becoming bits of eggshell
covered in that stinky egg-smell
that's all that's left when white and yolk
are smithereened and garbled broke.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Augustine Remix: Invocation

Great you are, oh Lord, and to be praised,
with virtue great, and wisdom beyond count,
yet I, your little creature, slightly dazed,
must nonetheless attempt to scale that mount.

To pour the wind-tossed salt-sea in a cup,
I'd count by far to be a simpler task
than learning how to call you; lift me up--
unless you answer first, I cannot ask.

But you've compelled this thing that can't be done,
making me a vessel of your praise,
just as at your decree the lame will run,
and at your word, the wind itself obeys.

Beneath the wind, you measured out the sea;
make rivers now of worship flow through me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

e.e. cummings: i love you much(most beautiful darling)

Usually, when people talk as though the analysis of art automatically gets in the way of its enjoyment, I just roll my eyes.

Of course bad analysis can destroy any experience. But good analysis? That would only be a problem if beauty wasn't real.

If beauty has no rational basis, then aesthetic enjoyment can't be anything other than an escape from reason. This is the attitude toward beauty that flows through our culture, and that I'd absorbed unconsciously.

I remember the morning when I changed my mind about beauty. We were sitting in the university cafeteria eating waffles, when that strangely intense young man began talking about Lewis and Schaeffer, and laying out arguments for why beauty had to be real, and why that mattered.

I was actually quite hostile to the idea, terrified of believing anything so wonderful. But after a few hours of futile struggling, he convinced me that there was really no way around it, and I may as well just resign myself to living in a glorious world where goodness, truth, and beauty are real and deeply intertwined.

My life has never been the same since. I began to operate under the assumption that the more I know about a thing, the better I'll be able to enjoy it. It was a risky leap of faith, with the potential to destroy all my enjoyment of everything if I was wrong, but it turned out well. There were some things that I'd previously enjoyed, that crumbled under analysis, but that was a small price to pay in exchange for all the deeper beauties that I found, and for the certitude that they really were beautiful.

I fell madly in love with the intense young man who brought the glad news, and we've been married for ten-and-a-half years now. Our life together is one big conversation, and it's utterly continuous with that first conversation in the cafeteria, although more complex now. Our souls have grown, and tiny new souls have begun to chirp out their own contributions, but it's still the same conversation.

All that is to say that I'm surprised to find myself loving this poem without knowing why, and without even needing to know why.

But I do love it.

Analyze it if you wish--I won't mind. In fact, I'll be grateful. The poem is lovely enough that I'm utterly certain that there's good solid reason behind its loveliness.

And by now I'm so confident of that, I'm okay with not yet knowing exactly why.


i love you much(most beautiful darling)

more than anyone on the earth and i
like you better than everything in the sky

-sunlight and singing welcome your coming

although winter may be everywhere
with such a silence and such a darkness
noone can quite begin to guess

(except my life)the true time of year-

and if what calls itself a world should have
the luck to hear such singing(or glimpse such
sunlight as will leap higher than high
through gayer than gayest someone's heart at your each

nearness)everyone certainly would(my
most beautiful darling)believe in nothing but love

Monday, January 7, 2013


'melting' photo (c) 2009, liz west - license:
It's a strange and surprising sensation, but this year I feel as though Epiphany is almost better than Christmas. I will spend my whole life trying to slowly unwrap the deep and mysterious gift of the incarnation, but the gift of Epiphany is ours to enjoy now.

The gift of Epiphany is that all the gifts of Christmas are for us. Us!

The gift of Epiphany is the gift of grace. Not just for the special people, but for whosever-will-may-come. Not just for shepherds and angels, but for astrologers and tax collectors, and even pharisees like Nicodemus and St. Paul. Even for me.

In the dead of winter, Christmas candles glowed bright with the promise of redemption. Now the ground begins to soften and thaw beneath the sun. It is still cold, but spring is coming, and I feel its nearness more each day.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Pressing outward from the deep unknown
within; the salt-splash waves in which you swim
in tender-glowing shadows soft and dim.
Carefree, you fill this world up all alone,
a rumbling lullaby my every groan.
You press beyond your round world's tiny rim;
sweet child, how small my womb seems to have grown.
'A cluster of galaxies about a billion light years from Earth, located in the constellation Aquarius.' photo (c) 2008, Smithsonian Institution - license:
Soon the wind will touch your startled face,
fill your little lungs like small damp sails.
Newly now outside me, I'll encase
you in my arms, and whisper through your wails

that I am far too small to be a world,
and you too large to stay so tightly curled.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Visual Literacy

"Now, you shouldn't ever sit on top of a ladder. That's dangerous."

"But Daddy, there's a picture of somebody sitting on top of the ladder!"

"Ah yes. Do you see that little circle with a  line through it? That means that you shouldn't do it."

"Oh. Okay. But it's not dangerous. It's just that you could get really hurt."


So what other elements of visual literacy do we take for granted?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mercies Ever New

'sunrise' photo (c) 2011, Sean MacEntee - license: year, for as long as I can remember, I've been plotting, planning, and scheming how I was suddenly going to become a better person.

Forget New Year's resolutions. Every sunrise was a fresh opportunity to decide to become a brand-new, superbly organized, utterly holy, and perfectly disciplined me... after I hit the snooze button a few more times.

It's dawning on me that this hasn't worked out very well.

This year I want to give up on trying to be the one person in all the world who doesn't need God's mercy, and just focus on saying "yes" to God's free gift of grace.

Accepting God's free gift.

That was the focus of every Sunday School or VBS altar call that I can remember, and a source of great anxiety for me. Every gift must be received before it can be possessed, but what on earth does it mean to accept God's grace? How do I know if I've really done it?

It was a little vague and abstract for me, but I figured that all this meant that my eternal destiny depended on having the right subjective emotions.

This could make me pretty irritable sometimes. When people were obnoxious, they didn't just annoy me, they threatened my sense of eternal security. That made me very angry.

I'm pretty sure I was missing the point.

Accepting God's free gift of grace has a whole lot less to do with how I feel, and a whole lot more to do  with how I treat other people.

This year, by the grace of God, I want to stop worrying about how sincere I am in my heart, and start living in such a way that it would actually be safe for me to pray the Lord's Prayer with sincerity.

Father, forgive us... in the same way that we forgive.

Because of what Jesus did for us at the cross, God has offered us a free and completely undeserved invitation to enter into his Jubilee. To step out of the world of demanded rights and just deserts, into the world of forgiven sins and cancelled debts.

Because of Jesus' freely offered sacrifice, I now have a choice as to whether or not I really want to keep hanging on to everything that I deserve by rights. This includes courtesy from other drivers, mind-reading from my husband, non-embarrassing behavior from my kids, and a whole lot of other really nice things that mean a lot to me. It also includes eternal damnation from Almighty God.

This year I want to let go of all the things that I deserve by rights, and start saying "yes" to God's mercy.