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Thursday, January 24, 2013

It Starts to Feel Like Something Big

I measure the grounds, three heaping scoopfuls because I drink my coffee like gasoline, and I get the mug ready. It looks more like a soup bowl than a coffee cup but there is much to be done today, pages-long lists of writing deadlines, emails to send, assignments to complete, calls to make.

It starts to feel like something big, some days.

Writing a book or two, going to college, giving speeches and having a blog and writing deadlines and things filling up a calendar. It’s a dream come true, after all.

I ponder the bigness of it a minute, feeling all of my 33 years for a change, like my words are taken seriously, like my foolish prose might amount to something that buds from my heart someday, something worth these eye-strained hours but just the sheer love of it.

So I pour it dark and sweet and breathe it in, and think much of me with my bowl full of coffee and my little words today. I am glad I have persisted with my tiny big thoughts, glad I have kept click-clacking the keys with contemplation and questions, challenges to those with bigger brains and bigger titles than me.

I think, today, I will have my coffee hot and strong and I will nibble the end of my glasses while I think. I will drink from my bowl over an email to my publisher and feel right distinguished with myself, for a moment.

But the thought is fleeting. 

Five plump fingers rest upon the flesh of my back thigh, just beneath the pink ruffled robe he likes to be wrapped up inside. I did not hear him coming.

“Mommy,” he cracks in his sleep-stuck voice, pulling at the robe ruffles. “I don’t want breakfast yet.”

(I hadn’t offered.)

“Mommy, I just want to snuggle.”

He rubs his eyes and drags his gray blanket across the floor, across dinner crumbs and the shabby teal rug that was new only weeks ago but already looks destined for the garbage. Twelve trampling feet will do that to a carpet. 

They will do it to a mother too, from time to time.

And even though I feel it now, the strain of this body premature for my years, it stings and groans for the hours I have not sat, the years I have not rested.

Bowl-mug in hand, we head to the couch and his head finds my belly, pushing gently into the body gone soft under the laps of three babies, tempered by the gnawing worry over all those not-born babies too, the one whose face I never got to see or kiss and all the ones who wore size 11 Nikes and called me mom just for a season. I am trampled shaggy and soft, body and heart, by those pink baby feet and those smelly boy feet, and those patent-leather-heeled feet. I have gone shaggier than the teal rug in my kitchen. 

It starts to feel like something big, some days.

Like all the mothering and loving and gnawing with worry amounts to more than all the words I could collect in a lifetime.

No title is bigger than mother, I think. None which I am after, anyhow.

So I settle into stale sleep breath and blonde bedhead and savor coffee and feel rightly distinguished, here, in this. 

Not for words, not for notice, not for anything but the elevated place of being the carpet below these precious toes, of a down-pillow belly holding up this sweaty head with its drooping blonde Mohawk.

I ponder the bigness of it, and smile.

It starts to feel like something big, some days.


Linking up at Emily's place. Join us? 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

When I Was Held Hostage: On Gunmetal and Grace

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.
~ Frederick Buechner


Yesterday was heavy with hopelessness for humanity.

I feared for the life of my boys last night inside a fast food joint where an agitated, mentally unstable man paced the floor and rallied angry, held his fist in his pocket grasping what might have been a weapon...and everything I thought I believed about nonresistance challenged me the instant my faith came up against my fear.

Our french fries sat steaming but untouched. We were, in a sense, held hostage. The man's writhing angry body draped across the dirty floor, blocking that swinging door with its golden arches cursing and forbidding any of us to leave, his guttural groans bouncing off walls and tables. My heart beat for the Lord's touch of grace upon this man, for God's will in this scary thing, but when the man pointed and laughed maniacally directly at me, singling me out with a terrifying glare, first I wished my husband was there—a military-trained expert marksman—with the concealed weapon he used to carry. 

With careful hands I texted Ryan, telling him I loved him and that I was scared, and avoided the foreboding words I wanted to say:

If I shouldn't come home, take care of our babies. Make sure they know I love them.

“I want you to get a pistol again...soon,” I texted instead, knowing the words would surprise and sober him as much as they did me. I was afraid for our lives, and I wished both for peace and for pistol. He has rallied for having one again, a pistol I know he would never use to harm unless an innocent person's life was at stake.


It breaks my heart all the same.

We are none of us innocent people.

I do not like guns in general and I do not believe they are the answer to an epidemic of hate and hurt. I don't honestly know how you can turn the other cheek toward Jesus, toward peace, with a pistol in your pocket. I grieve today that my heart reached for violence in the gripping midst of last night's fear, that it leapt for safety and not first for salvation. 

This is not about politics; it is about peace. Peace that transcends all understanding.

So I muddied the waters of what once was crystal clear because when the fire got hot, I valued my life and the lives of my family more than I trusted in the name of Jesus. I trusted the assurance of my husband's expertise, trusted that a bullet in a crazy man's thigh might really save our lives...every one of them already saved.

Yesterday, I saw humanity at its bleakest, a gray haze over the world I'm tempted to call home.

But it isn't.

It isn't home, this earthen-house, so broken and blood-soaked. It's so tempting to forget its temporal nature when the days run long and the body aches hard and I forget the joys of this life are only notes in an orchestra of heavenly preview. I forget that I am in this broken world only on official business...my passport stamped with redeeming blood, my permanent address given at Calvary.

In fear, I forget.

The police took twenty minutes to arrive, minutes I spent texting my husband, praying beggy prayers of safety and desperation, eyeing the crazy man's pocket and planning our escape at the first glint of gunmetal. By the time the lone officer pulled slowly into the restaurant, armed and heroic, the crazy man had been swallowed by night. Only then did I pray for this man's healing, for his safety, for his soul if it needs it, and his hurt and his life worth much as mine.

He was gone and life went on. No fanfare. No media. The police took interviews. The fry machine sizzled and sparked into business as usual. Hamburgers were chewed by teeth still fear-chattering while we strangers all looked around at each other's goosebumps and stunned faces and wondered what we were supposed to do now, our frail makeshift family, united in an instant over terror and iced tea. 

The boys and I got to the car and headed back southward, silent and shaken on the highway. The scene recurred through my conscious on a loop, restarting every mile until my husband's call broke through. 

He announced that the two kids at home needed an immediate treatment for head lice, which we later learn were passed on by my daughter's cherub-faced friend, curls always adorably tangled, whose home is filled with filth and animal feces but is starkly empty of a mother. Hers is just another kind of broken home, I know, reminiscent of this earth which stinks and crawls with the infestation of destruction. I groaned with the inconvenient timing of this minor plague, so desperately needing something of beauty to redeem.

I stopped at a store and scanned grocery shelves for the three-step RID kit in the white box, the one that makes me nauseous to purchase, but a woman, worn with wrinkles and raspy cigarette-stale breath, began yelling at her husband and the pharmacist behind the counter beside me.

“CANCER?! When did I have cancer? I DIDN'T have cancer, you lying sack of shit! I'm perfectly healthy! I'm FINE, damn it! I WILL NOT DIE!” 

She thrashed tearful at her husband's shirtsleeves; misty-eyed man hushing and pulling her close, the woman swinging and spitting on them both. 

So much hurt, here. So much darkness. 

Have mercy.

Forty seconds later, a different woman passed by, crying into a cell phone that her husband had started making meth again, that she didn't want to live anymore, and the whole black night reeked hard and heavy of Hell on Earth. I wanted to give up my citizenship right then and there in the Beauty department, to cash in the earthly heartbeat I'd been so scared to lose hours earlier just to make the madness stop. 

I tried to muster hope, to bring a holy thought to mind that could bring me back from this nightmare, but I could land on nothing but the question of where gunmetal fits into grace. 

...where gunmetal fits into grace.

Recoiling again at the darkness that flooded these desperate lives, I feared despite truth that evil could triumph on a night like this, and I wept.

Just a few blocks from home the radio sang loud, “Though darkness fills the night, it cannot hide the light. Whom shall I fear?” but the song ended before the darkness did, so the music faded into a radio interview. A meek and whisper-thin voice gathered strength in narrating her own horrific survival story through the car speakers, and our scathed spirits sat seatbelted stiff in our bodies, wincing at the endless grief of the night.

“I love Jesus,” the woman declared in shaky whispers, “because I know He forgives me for being a battered woman.”

The airwaves went silent; the interviewer, wordless.

Did you catch that?

She loves the Lord who forgives her for being battered...beaten and stabbed by a man whose heroin addiction split her lips and broke her legs, whose violence killed their unborn child. 

Forgiven. For being battered.

After hearing the story, I only know what I don't know at all. 

I don't know what forgiveness even is for a God like that, for a person like me. I don't know what it looks like to act justly and to love mercy anymore, when evil breathes near enough to tickle my neck hair.

I don't know what faith looks like so full there is no fear. I don't know how to long for the heart of Jesus more than I do, how to gather trust up around my neck and settle into its warmth and assurance when it's all I can do but to whisper, "My God," at the madness. "Have mercy." 

I don't know how to pray or what to pray for when the world seems eclipsed with suffering. I only know that no bullet can take me. No bullet will save me because a nail already has.

What I know—all I I know—is that there is no genesis in wickedness. Evil cannot create. It can only destroy. Darkness disintegrates and deteriorates the sound of that angel orchestra, the familiar melody of home still faint in the weariness of my heart.

Demolition does not stop demolition. In response to creation, we create. In response to destruction, we create even more. We can cover gray haze with orange paint, redeem hopelessness with the redemption and beauty of words made gospel, songs and movement and laughter and wonder that shines pinholes of grace-light through cloaks of fear, singing the joy-song of home.

In creation alone, I stop wishing for safety and start seeking my Savior. I call Him in with words in graphite, words of sacrifice, of love, of the home my heart sings for. Evil destroys but holy creates. Holy redeems and holy survives. Holy glimmers bright with glory, brighter than bullets and gunmetal, brighter than anger, brighter than fear. 

Have mercy.

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