Category Archives: Poetry

Birth is Just the Beginning

Every Advent, I try to write a poem to help re-apply the Christmas Story to a heart and mind grown familiar with the tale. This year, I am down to the wire on all things: wrapping, packing, and writing.

Lately,  I have found myself thinking about Mary, the new mother who was likely scared, elated, and everything in between. After the long journey that was forced upon them late in her pregnancy and the birth in the back room with the livestock, I imagine Mary had quite a lot to process.

Every mother experiences that moment when the adrenaline wears off, the meal train grinds to a halt, and a new reality sets in.  Life will never be the same. All those months of preparation for the child have come to an end, but new life as a mother is only beginning.

After the shepherds left, the story had only begun.

There would be a flight from infanticide. An unexpected prophecy of maternal pain from Simeon. A strange visit from scholars from the East. Long middle years of normalcy and monotony, broken up with moments of perplexity like finding her adolescent Son confidently teaching grown men in the Temple. Swift tides of change as her son matured and veered from His father’s trade toward the less stable itinerant teacher track. Her Son’s sudden spike in popularity, quickly followed by threats and near-death escapes. His fate seemingly riding on the fickle waves of public opinion.

alejandro-barba-2f5OnFnHNYA-unsplash.jpg

Isolation. Relief. Confusion. Frustration. All culminating in anguish unspeakable as she watched her first born Son suffer in excruciating pain, as she heard His name mired in undeserved shame.

Elation when her grief became glee as the younger Mary told her the joyous news of the  Resurrection. Equal parts excitement and hesitation as the disciples told her about His Ascension back to the Father from whence He had come.

I wonder, if you found Mary later in life, what she would have said about that first night with her Son in light of all that came later. I wonder what the first few years were like after her Son’s ascending back to the Father in an even more mysterious and miraculous way than He had come. I wonder if she and John sat around and laughed while crying, telling stories about Jesus, the son, the friend, the Christ.

I imagine that His Ascension, like His birth, was a beginning. A beginning of a life simultaneously longing to be with Him again, yet presently attesting to His life, death and resurrection alongside the inchoate church.

Tears fill my eyes as I imagine that first hug between Christ and His mother when we all receive glorified bodies in the New Heavens and the New Earth. A third new beginning that will never end.

No mother knows what her motherhood journey will entail. The process unfolds just as organically and often imperceptibly as her child seems to grow. Yet, Mary walked in faithful obedience, trusting that the God who had sought her out would sustain her.

Birth was Just the Beginning

Travel. Travail. A baby’s wail.
Birth was just the beginning. 

Sleepless nights. Fleeing flights. 
A momma’s heart is spinning.

Long days. Quick years. Real fears.
Her love on His heart imprinting.

Horrendous cross. Unthinkable loss.
The mother’s hope is thinning.

Reunion. Resurrection. Perfection.
The pair cannot stop grinning. 

His Ascension. Her heart’s tension.
This, too, is just the beginning. 

Oh, that we would faithfully walk out the days He has ordained from us from before there were days. That we would trust Him with our beginnings and ends, that we would live in light of the new beginning that will usher in our eternal tomorrows. That we would remember His coming, His cross, and His coming again.

 

 

 

Recharged

When I am spent, I find my soul seeking refuge and refreshment in nature. The compounding stress of carlines,  deadlines, and headlines crushes out a fresh sense of wonder and expectancy in my heart.

I cannot say it better than the wordsmith Gerard Manley Hopkins did in God’s Grandeur.

….And for all this, nature is never spent;
     There  lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though  the last lights off the black West  went
     Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the  Holy Ghost over the bent
       World broods with warm breast  and with ah! bright wings! 

Awe is not automated. It is not the result of a formula, though I wish it were. The recharging of a soul is far more nuanced than the electrical re-charging a phone. And such we should expect, considering the comparative significance of souls to stuff.

IMG_6818.jpg

This Fall was an incredibly busy and bustling season for our family. The busyness was necessary and intentionally selected  personal, familial, and organizational development.   It was productive and powerful;  yet, it has left me trying to kick the leader’s addiction to adrenaline. All Fall I have sighed, wanting slowness. But since the slower Winter has come, I have found myself inwardly rebelling against the stillness.

IMG_6788.JPG

This past week, multiple appointments were cancelled, leaving me a few  precious pockets of time to explore my favorite regional park with my favorite four-legged companion.  Those few hours did what coffee shops and books have failed to do for the past few weeks. God used them to begin recharging me.  I should not have been surprised,  as Psalm 19 so clearly describes the way they sing the Creator’s restorative song.

IMG_6820.jpg

Awake!

Today the Scrub Jay delivered to me
A message of momentous import.
But, fluttering, he fled the scene
Before I did respond to his report. 

The heavens declare the glory of the Lord;
Awake,  slumbering soul;  get on board. 

Clumps of mud collected on my feet,
Bidding me to slow my hurried pace.
Bristles of breezes tickled my cheeks,
Gently guiding me to lift my face.  

The skies shout out His great name.
Awake, slumbering soul; do the same.

The droplets mustered for the Master,
Gathering, awaiting word to descend,
As Brave blades of fresh green grass,
Coaxed by His command did ascend.

Creation listens to His gentle direction;
Awake, slumbering soul; pay attention.

While nature may not be one of the sacred pathways by which you connect with God, I challenge you to look into Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways to find the unique ways God has wired your soul to recharge in Him.

Deep as the Curse Has Dug

He comes to make His blessings flow/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as, far as the curse is found. 

Few Christmas carols have had the staying power of Isaac Watt’s Joy to the World. Even those who don’t practice the Christian faith loudly belt out its chorus at candle-lighting ceremonies and holiday gatherings. We hum to it while shopping for stocking stuffers. Its tune floods our kitchens as we make cookies enough for a small nation.

The catchy, well-known tune is undergirded by a bedrock of rich theological realities meant to inform our living well beyond the holiday season. The Coming of Christ as an infant into time and space left eternal ripples that changed the very fabric of human  existence. The song reminds us that the ripples of His coming are to reach to the farthermost places where the curse has been wreaking its havoc.

When Adam and Eve first distrusted and then quickly disobeyed the Lord’s protective commands, shalom was shattered. Devastating fissures were fixed between God and man, within mankind  both inter-personally and intra-personally, and between mankind and nature.The Son born in Bethlehem of Judea was the beginning of shalom being restored.

I know this theologically; however, I deeply struggle to believe this personally and experientially.  Sometimes I am overcome and overwhelmed with the darkness out there in the world. Other times, I am completely paralyzed and appalled at the darkness in here, within me. This past few weeks have been the latter.

joshua-sortino-rAqzj79GUmA-unsplash.jpg

Despite the innumerable blessings around me, I find complaining and discontentment squatting in my heart. Even though I am attempting to fight the consumerism that marks Christmas, my heart gets distracted by the siren songs of the Dollar Zone. Even though I want to live intentionally, I still find myself frittering time away on screens or through an  instinctive desire to keep busy. In these patterns, I realize just how deeply the curse has dug into the caverns of my soul.

I need to know that Christ came not only to make his blessings known far as the curse is found, but to let them drip as deep as the curse has dug.

Deep as the Curse Has Dug

You came to make mercy known
As far as the curse is found;
But can it be possibly drip
Into dungeons underground?

The curse has crept into crevices,
Pooling in pockets of my soul.
I’ve so grown used to its effects,
It’s hard to imagine being whole.

Deep as the curse has dug
Can Your love descend?
It seems unthinkable that you
My damaged heart could mend.

May Your Triune Presence
Pervade both far and deep.
Let Your Agape love into
My deep darknesses creep.

Son of God Most High
Who descended into Hell,
With Your power permeate
This my soul’s murky well. 

Change me into Your image,
As Your love casts out fear.
It is cold, damp and dark,
But there’s room for you here.

Contrary to the popular notion of a barn, our Christ was most likely born in a cave. The custom of the time was to keep one’s animals sheltered in caves underground, as barns as we think of them were not common. As such, it seems fitting that Spirit would descend to make His home among the caverns of the human heart. There, He does His work of applying the gospel deep as the curse has dug.

Fitting Feet

‘Tis the season of eagerly awaiting the footfall of the Amazon delivery men and women. ‘Tis the beginning of the season when adults eagerly check the mail, eager to open Christmas cards with glad tidings from their friends and family. Feet of those bringing good news and good gifts.

Even those largely unfamiliar with the Bible have likely heard the phrase, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” taken from the prophecy of the biblical prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7).

For the past few weeks, I have been digging more deeply into the 51st and 52nd chapters of Isaiah which lead up to the festive feet of him who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’ (Isaiah52:7). “

The good news that Isaiah predicts and proclaims becomes even better news when one begins to understand the context into which they were spoken. God’s people have been taken away from their homes, their land, their livelihood and their customs. They have been taken captive as exiles to Babylon.

Rather than trying to capture for you how desperate and desolate God’s people felt at such a reality, I will let them tell you in a song. Psalm 137 poetically captures the sentiments of God’s people upon being taken into exile in Babylon.

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres…How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Psalm 137:1-2 & 4.

Hanging hope, hanging harps, hanging heads. Into this context, Isaiah boldly speaks God’s words of hope for His people. A messenger was going to come with very good news to bring them home. In hindsight, we know that this prophecy found its historical fulfillment in Cyrus, a Babylonian leader whose heart God turned to send to His people home.

christopher-sardegna-iRyGmA_no2Q-unsplash.jpg

Yet, in addition to the historical fulfillment, there is a clear Messianic fulfillment in the person of Christ. After all, He was the One sent from Heaven to not only boldly proclaim  but also to become the salvation and eternal peace promised to God’s people.

The Apostle Paul borrows these lines for his letter to the Romans later in redemptive history, for those who are ambassadors of Christ, publishing the Good News of the gospel to those who have yet to hear (see Romans 10:15).

As I was studying the words to the proclamation more closely, I realized that the Hebrew word translated beautiful literally means lovely or fitting. Those words struck me as deeply paradoxical considering the literal feet of the Messenger who also was the Message.

Fitting Feet

How fitting? 
How fitting the feet of Him
Who made All that exists
Being knit in the womb
Of a descendent of Eve?

How fitting?
How fitting the feet of Him
Who fetched the sun
Fetching items on errands
As a carpenter’s son?

How lovely?
How lovely the lips of Him
Who spoke earth into orbit
Sealed in silence as a
Lamb before its shearers?

How lovely? 
How lovely the lips of Him
Who trained the oceans,
Parched and pursed in pain
Before Roman persecutors?

Fitting, indeed, the feet of Him
Who purchased peace by pain. 
Lovely, indeed, the lips of Him
Whose loss was our great gain.

As we approach Advent, may we remember that the infant feet of the One sent from Heaven became crushed feet on a Cross. Those same feet walked out of the Tomb will one day walk with us in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

It is only fitting that we would kneel before those feet in faithful adoration and follow those feet in obedient service. Fitting feet, indeed.

When Tears are Your Brine

Thanksgiving week is upon us. The turkeys are thawing, the foil industry is booming, and families are preparing their homes and hearts for Thursday. As we stir our gravies and sauces, the holiday season has a way of stirring our hearts. For some that stirring kicks up fond memories of the past and bright hopes for the future; however, for others, the holiday happiness stirs up painful memories and serves as a stinging reminder that the future looks bleak.

andra-ion-qsPHXC4T2cY-unsplash.jpg

An Ancient Poetic Pathway to Hope
If tears are your soul’s brine, know that you are in good company. You are not alone. In fact, the Psalms are replete with accounts of honest cries of human pain unto God. The Sons of Korah, a band of ancient Israelite poets and artists, provide a helpful pattern of processing low seasons in the midst of high holidays in Psalm 42.

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise; a multitude keeping festival. Psalm 42:3-4.

The writer remembers having once been among the happy throngs, leading the procession in singing and making merry as they approached the house of God for the feast days. But those days and their accompanying happy, hopeful sentiments seem far gone. The writer wrestles to remember God’s goodness  in the midst of deep suffering and pain. Warm feelings have fled, but he refuses to flee from God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls;  all your breakers and waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:5-8. 

The writer literally invites us into the alternating waves of hope and despondency he experiences moment by moment. Throughout the psalm, we ride the waves with him, sinking into the troughs of despair and then cresting with rolls of hope only to sink again.

Unlike Hallmark holiday movies, we are not left with a saccharine sweet glowing moment. Rather, the psalmist leaves us with his present pain and his future hope. His situation has not yet changed. He is not leading the holiday parade to the house of God. He remains wrestling, riding out the waves, anchoring his hope in the God he cannot  currently feel or see consistently.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11.

He gets through the holiday slump by pressing into a further future, even if the near future’s horizon doesn’t hold out much change or hope.

A Modern Poetic Pathway to Hope
In her sonnet Weariness, Elizabeth Barret Browning offers those seasoning their turkey with tears a similar poetic pathway.

Mine eyes are weary of surveying
The fairest things, too soon decaying;
Mine ears are weary of receiving
The kindest words  —  ah, past believing!
Weary my hope, of ebb and flow;
Weary my pulse of tunes of woe:
My trusting heart is weariest!
I would — I would, I were at rest!….

There is a land of rest deferr’d:
Nor eye has seen, nor ear hath heard,
Nor Hope hath trod the precint  o’er;
For Hope beheld its hope no more!
There,  human pulse forgets its tone
There, hearts may know  as they are known!
Oh,  for dove’s wings, thou dwelling blest,
To fly to thee, and be at rest!

The Christian’s hope, in holiday seasons or out of holiday seasons, on the heights or in the depths, is anchored in the person of Christ. He is the thrill of hope that makes the weary world rejoice still. He has died and risen, and He is coming again. The day when we see His face, He will wipe all traces of tears from our faces. That great eternal holiday will swallow up every other holiday.

Torn Ships & The Trusted Anchor

A fleet of paper ships, torn and tattered. This is the image that comes to mind when I think about our local body of believers. Some may be thin as newspapers and others as thick as corrugated cardboard, but even the strongest of us are torn and limited as compared to the wild waters of life.

Months of planning and preparation for our church’s bi-annual women’s retreat have finally culminated and crested. The Lord was so gracious to bring together over one hundred of the precious women of our flock for two days of rich teaching and fellowship. The decorations were stunning, the food was rich, and the teaching was sound. Yet, it is the weakness of our women that leaves me with tears in my eyes today as I process and celebrate.

In a world obsessed with empowerment, it sounds almost criminal to celebrate our weakness, so please allow me to explain.

ksenia-makagonova-fqkLiegc5ZE-unsplash

It takes great strength to bear your brokenness before people, especially other women. And while the church is supposed to be a hospital for the sick to heal and become whole, she can all-too-often look like a social club of shiny people. Not this weekend.

This weekend, I watched some of the most talented and lettered women I know (PhD, DMD, and lots of other combinations) show the tatters and tears in their ships. I watched them receive each other and offer tears and the tape of biblical truth to reinforce breaking places. I saw their eyes tear up as a sister shared about God’s faithfulness to her young family as they have been weathering the terrible nor’easter called childhood cancer and all the sister storms that follow in its path.

I heard sighs of relief and compassion as another sister shared honestly about the cumulative effect of the small storms of miscommunication in marriage. She put their tattered ship honestly on display that other torn ships could admit their own hidden storms. But she also showed them the trusted anchor of gospel truth that carried she and her husband through the worst of the storm (Hebrews 6:19).

I sat beside yet another sister who showed us the torn ship of her long season of singleness, inviting other paper ships into the secret of contentment that is found in the person of Christ who is the Commander of our paper fleet (Philippians 4:11-13).

My mentor shared, among other things, the privilege of women getting to choose the weaker position of submission to their own husbands in order to model our Christ.  He, though being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or utilized, but made himself positionally weaker by submitting to Father as an obedient Son to reclaim our fleet (Philippians 2:1-11).

As we trust in His goodness and provision, we are enabled the strength to follow after Him, entrusting our souls to a faithful Creator even in the midst of persecution or pain (1 Peter 2: 23-24 & 1 Peter 4:19)

I was reminded of a portion of John Donne’s beautiful poem A Hymn to Christ, at the Author’s Last Going into Germany.

In what torn ship so ever I embark,
That ship shall be my emblem of Thy ark;
What sea soever swallow me, that flood
Shall be to me an emblem of thy blood.
Though Thou with clouds of anger disguise
Thy face, yet through the mask I know those eyes,
Which, though they  turn away sometimes,
They never will despise.

No matter how torn our ships, we know the One who will bring His fleet home to His harbor in the New Heavens & the New Earth.

For Christ, the unsinkable ship, became a paper ship and allowed the Father to steer Him directly into the storm of all storms where He was torn on the cross that should have been ours. He arose, the firstborn from the dead. He ascended to the right hand of His Father, where He continues to captain the seemingly struggling paper fleet that is His church.

I am so proud to be a part of this paper fleet; in her weakness, she points to the strength and reliability of the Words of her Captain.

 

Learning Limits

Faster, stronger, higher, greater. In modern society, limits are pushed, not praised. World records drop like pages on a pull-away calendar; new devices for multitasking and limitless work are devised daily; commitments are getting crammed into tighter and tighter crevices.

Let us juxtapose our limit-pushing with the limit-protecting ways of the rest of creation. Many animal species create scent boundaries. When each group stays within its appointed limits, peace and prosperity are more likely to outweigh conflict and competition. Leaves don’t hang on when its time to fall, they seem to accept their limits. Desert dwellers don’t try to push into temperate regions, nor do arctic animals force their way to the tropics. Seasonal flowers don’t attempt to bloom year round.

img_7091

The lower creation does not have as much choice regarding the learning of limitations as does humanity, the crown of creation (Psalm 8). This is both blessing and curse for fallen man. Endowed with reason and stamped with the image of God, we have the capacity to press our limits. From the fateful bite of the forbidden fruit to the towering limit-testing in Babel to the Titanic boasts of an unsinkable ship, humanity has been pressing its limits.

Pressing limits is not all bad, as anyone who has been treated with medicine rather than leaches can attest. However, when humanity’s hubris denies and/or defies the Divine Creator and His Created order, we enter into dangerous territory.

Each of us limited in time, limited in space, limited in capacity, limited in gifts, limited in power, limited in knowledge. We intrinsically know this on a grand scale. We laugh at a child who claims he will dig his way to China or call a man who claims to fly or travel through time a lunatic. We don’t expect one person to win a Nobel Peace prize, a Pulitzer and a Heisman trophy.

However, on the smaller scale, we tend to both deny and defy our limits. We even celebrate those who push limits. The busier, the more successful. The stronger and skinnier, the healthier. The more over-committed, the more important. As a result, we are a haggard humanity, frazzled and frayed, over-stimulated and under-satisfied.

Our culture abounds with tips about rest and satisfaction, yet our attempts at vacation, relaxation, meditation and simplification seem to produce a short and surface-level peace and rest. While addressing symptoms, these solutions fail because they do not get to the root of the problem.

Into this limit-pushing hubris of humanity, Christianity speaks a desperately-needed word:

Only true humility leads to true rest.

Humanity is created and, thereby, dependent upon and subservient to a Creator. Peace and prosperity, health and hope flow when we submit to this truth. We cannot be all things to all people at all times; God alone can. We do not know all things; God alone does.

Through His Word, we learn His created order and where we fit into it. We learn of  Good Father whose limits are meant our peace and prosperity, one who longs that we would be dependent upon Him. We learn of a God who not only encourages, but commands Sabbath rest wherein we are reminded that God alone is God and we are His children. When we rub against the grain of the universe, we will get splintered. When we humbly submit and obey, we find true rest.

Learning our limits is a sign of maturity. Living within our limits is a sign of humility.

Raindrops dance in descent,
Leaves know when to Fall,
Yet we resist humility,
We, the crown of all.

Clamoring to make self known,
Competing, clawing and such.
We refuse our proper place,
Thereby missing His touch.

Waves bend at boundaries,
Monarchs follow their flight.
We alone refuse our limits,
Exacerbating our plight.

Bowing beneath the Greater,
Accepting our finite frame,
In submission we find rest,
Kneeling we find our true name.

Droplets and deciduous darlings,
Waves and all winged wild,
Put us to shame in humility,
Teach us how to be mild.

The One who whispered the wind,
The Commander of every crest,
Took on the form of a servant,
In Jesus alone we can rest.