Friday, October 26, 2018

Seasons: Limbs and Branches

September found our leaves light green,
like the early leaves of balmy spring,
but the nip in the air mixed the colours
into gold and rust, an autumnal dream
that shone three months on us

January came with blustery wind
and the letters flew between us, friend;
like flakes of snow on our branches bare
were those white word-pages we would send
for weeks and months on end

December blew you into my home,
like a leaf adrift, liked a half-read poem,
full of moods: mirth and sadness;
full of restless blood that made you roam,
flowing from your broken heart

May in two years more brought word,
a banishment of sorts had occurred
for us both, mine short, yours long—
Alas! You became a flightless bird
Giving your wings away to me

November dawned in glittering gold,
in a gift and a letter, for lo and behold!
I was to fly to our beloved England,
to drink it in, gain knowledge to hold
in my hand like a gift. . .from you

April saw my return from abroad,
changed, humbled, full, and awed
my leaves flourishing, blossoming,
but yours, I soon saw, were flawed,
as if frost or hail had visited

February two years down the road
had seen hard times for us both
again, while my roots were strong,
you seemed to be withering slow
and steady from within

July brought news of ill health
for your mind, once a wealth
of jolly poems, songs, and dreams,
now afraid. Your confused self
sought safe home-hermitage

January many a year I strove
to send word that you were loved,
but your blighted tree withdrew
into your world of books and stove,
while mine flourished and grew

September dawned on one black day,
your tree hewn, you went away
and left me all alone to grieve,
my flourishing seemed to decay
your once vibrant tree


________


Choice is the only thing we're given

For one to live, another dies
One road says hello, the other says goodbye. . .
Tonight, [friend], I'm gonna break your heart
Mine was broken from the start, broken from the start
— Jon Foreman, Broken from the Start


Saturday, October 13, 2018

When it Burns Like Third Degree

Grief is simply love with nowhere to go.


Nowhere to go. . .That feeling when you come home from work and can't decide if you are hungry or not. When you can't settle. When you feel all of the loose ends unravelling. I have wandered aimlessly through the house, feeling both lost and as if I had lost something too dear to name. 

One moment I will laugh over a line in a letter, the next I will break my heart over the ache of the emptiness. Over the loss with no chance to reconcile this side of the veil. It is love wanting to reach the one loved, but that one resides in a place I've never known. . .A place I've longed for all of my life. But how does love cross the chasm of death? 

Death can't stop how life works; not truly. But it sure as Hell seems like death is winning; like death has the upper hand over life. Death stepped in and stopped the end goal of my love: my friend himself. And now that love wants to run on, over Sunset Hill, across the water, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, up to the top of the golden mallorn tree, where my elven-friend must dwell under the stars. But though I've seen many glorious golden trees with milk-white stems, and though I've stood beneath a silver shower of starlight, my love seems to whirl away on the crisp breeze, as lost as I am.

In the lostness comes the haunting fear. The fear that I will forget. That I will go on with life and not remember the reason why my life took a turn for the better. I am afraid that I will forget to say 'thank you' through my life itself. I want my friend, quiet though he was much of the time, not to be overlooked or forgotten. And I am so afraid to let go of the ache, of the tears. I am afraid of this gaping wound healing over. . .

When your fear is currency
And you feel that urgency
You want peace but there's war in your head
Maybe that's where life is born
When our façades are torn
Pain gives birth to the promise ahead

Out of this pain has been birthed the most urgent desire to reach the Kingdom. The promise of what lies ahead. Reuniting in an unfallen, unbroken place, where the bell of doom has been unrung and the deplorable word—mine!—has never been uttered. I long for that place. So. Much. But I love this life, too. Today I asserted that wondrous line, "Dear old world, you are beautiful, and I am glad to be alive in you." And I am. Glad for the Beauty and the grandeur, for the friendships and the love spilling over. . .And I am desolate, too. Both together, rolled up in this dichotomy I don't even understand. I ache when I am alone and let myself remember. Yet, oh, I want to remember!

If you could only let your guard down
If you could learn to trust me somehow
I swear, that I won't let you go
If you could only let go your doubts
If you could just believe in me now
I swear, that I won't let you go

When I first let these words run over me, I cried. Oh friend, I wish you could have let your guard down with me, with your family, with some other friends. . .And I wish I had been worthy of that, and of your trust and friendship, too. I will always carry you in the fabric of who I am. So in a way, I can't forget. I can't love anyone else with the kind of love I have for you, my fair elven-friend. And I can only pray that this love that has nowhere to go in this life will be poured forth, refined and purified, into the man I will one day meet again in the realised Kingdom. 

There ain't no darkness strong enough 
that could tear you out from my heart

There ain't no strength that's strong enough 
that could tear this love apart


Never gonna let you go




______

"I Won't Let You Go" by Switchfoot
Songwriters: Jonathan Mark Foreman / Timothy David Foreman

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Created for a Place I've Never Known



"I've got my memories
Always inside of me
But I can't go back
Back to how it was...
...Created for a place 
I've never known"

Memories—I have those, too. But they are intangible. A stack of letters, smooth under my fingers, they are tangible. They hold your ruminations, a hundred quotations, illustrations, and aspirations. But letters cannot give me a bear hug. So I have your blue plaid flannel shirt wrapped around me. But where are your strong arms, my friend?

I can't wander back to the Lodge and find you there. Can't find you perched atop a woodpile at my parents' house...or at your parents' house, either. Believe me, I've looked. I've seen your bookshelf, the beautiful things you crafted, your writing desk, the footprints you left in the closet, your handwriting on the mirror. But you have gone on without me—beyond the veil to a place I've never known. A place I yearn for in the beautiful, aching moments. You've run ahead to a place I long for more earnestly now than I ever have.

Looking back over your letters has become something of a yearly tradition around our almost-shared birthdays. Ever since the day I first met you, I have known you were different than other people. Sometimes that difference was frustrating, as I just wanted an answer about your favourite food or your week's adventures. But more often, your different-ness was perceptive and inspiring. You once sent me a heart-full poem, asking for my advice, only to have me mutilate it—blind until years later to the depth of sorrow and beauty commingled therein.

I should have known that the soul of an artisan-poet, so well-versed in the language and habits of the King's world, wasn't long for this fragmented, still-fallen one. Perhaps part of your restless wanderlust stemmed from never quite feeling like you belonged here. There seemed no corner of the earth that could quite be your very own, my elven-friend. So you chose to step out of this world to find the place you had never known, but longed for all your life.

"This is home
Now I'm finally where I belong
Where I Belong
Yeah, this is home
I've been searching for a place of my own
Now I've found it
Maybe this is home

Like Jewel says in The Last Battle, 'I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.' But there you are; you've gone further up and further in, without me. I envy you. So. Much. And I look forward to the day when I will get into Narnia and you can teach me the ways and words of the Kingdom. Who knows how long that will be, life is too dear to leave it without Aslan deliberately calling me away. But when He does—O friend!—come meet me. Show me sylvan glades where the dryads play. Teach me all the colours I haven't seen before. Tutor me in the names of the trees and the contours of the Kingdom. And help my trembling, tied tongue to learn to lisp the language of Heaven, until it becomes familiar to taste the words.

You have always shown me the world through different eyes. You have shown me beauty and wonder—ever my guide into Faerie Land. You have asked the questions I didn't even think to question. You have valiantly lived, trying to reconcile confusion and the constant hurricane of thoughts and fears. 

"And now after all my searching
After all my questions
I'm gonna call it home
I've got a brand new mindset
I can finally see the sunset
I'm gonna call it home"

Do you remember the time that you told me that your family went to the beach on or around Christmas, and that you saw a wall of water rising up and the sun behind it? Those lines from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  sounded so naturally like something that would actually happen to you. And now you're in Aslan's own Country, the Utter East. Perhaps you sailed so far West from the Grey Havens as to arrive in the East. But you left me here without you, friend. In many ways, you left me for another world years ago. I always hoped you would find your way back far enough to reach out your hand to me once again. But we can't go back to how it was. And maybe that is for the best. I don't know if I could have borne the changes in you since that last visit. They were already apparent then...and they hurt to see. But know that I never stopped loving you and being your friend, even from a distance.

Perhaps it is better that what I do remember is you running to ring the unringable church bell in Pagosa. You, sitting on the floor, reading The Silmarillion aloud to me. The vast amount of ham you could eat! 'Phoners' and enthusiastic letters. The artistry of your hands and the music you played. The enthusiasm you had for music and lyrics and poetry. 

You were hard for me to understand, my friend. But not hard to love. You were hard for me to know how to help in fits of depression. But it seemed to be a joy for you to help me—even when I didn't always know it was your hand reaching out to me. You visited me when I was lonely. You gave me one of the greatest adventures I've ever taken, and were an integral part of my other grand adventure. You gave me the gift of your friendship, even though it cost you dearly to be open to loving another living thing. When you withdrew that gift, I felt abandoned, betrayed, unwanted. But now I know it was not because you didn't care, you cared more than you knew how. A part of me ceased all those years ago, and now part of me has died with you, friend. There are things that will never heal this side of Aslan's Country.

Missing you hurts like Hell, Aaron. Because it is Hell that stole you from me, from your dear family, and from a world that needs to see through your eyes. 

'This is worse than Mordor!' said Sam. 'Much worse in a way. It comes home to you, as they say; because it is home and you remember it before it was all ruined.' I remember you before the enemy set about to ruin you, to try to take you. But though you have gone further up and in, while I am left in the Shadowlands, neither has the enemy succeeded. You are now safe forever from confusion and heartache. You get to know how fully loved you are. You belong. 

Your seed has fallen into the ground in order to bear much fruit. In so many ways, the Lord has already borne good fruit through you, my friend, but the harvest continues. I can't thank you enough for being you. I love you. So. Much.

"A truer, nobler, trustier heart 
never beat within a human breast" 
—Lord Byron





But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 
C S Lewis, The Last Battle
___________

Song lyrics: This is Home by Switchfoot
Quotation 1: The Last Battle, by C S Lewis
Quotation 2: The Return of the the King, by J R R Tolkien

Thursday, August 2, 2018

How My Shirt Changed the Day


For the second time in a month, I had a conversation in the grocery checkout line that left me reeling. This time it began while unloading my produce and grinning at the two big-eyed, energetic young boys behind me. Their mom caught my eye and and she looked friendly as she inquired, "What is that?" The red cabbage in my hand? I thought. "I'm sorry, my produce?" She clarified, "I've seen those shirts on people around town, what is it?" 


"Oh, it's from an organisation that helps women get ultrasounds and see their babies...to help them stay healthy. They sort of hang out around planned parenthood facilities and help women want to keep their baby. You know, save a stork, since people say babies are delivered by storks." I smiled as I made air quotation marks around the word storks.

It wasn't the most eloquent or elegant thing I've ever said, but it was the grocery line, and it was moving pretty quickly. She looked engaged, so I was startled when she said, "Oh, so you're against abortion, I get it." I quickly replied that I was pro-life and she said,  "I thought it was going to be something cute." I said the first thing that popped into my head, "Well, your little guys are awfully cute." Her response stunned me, "Yeah, well, we planned each one of them. I donate to planned parenthood every year because I believe in science. I take them to the library so they can read more than one book." As it was my turn to check out, I responded that her comment made me sad and that I, too, read more than One Book. 

I wished them a good evening when I was finished, then walked to my car. Tears welled up in my eyes as a response whispered its way out of my mouth, "But planned parenthood cuts babies into pieces. How could anyone support that?" 

More tears made driving blurry as I thought of all the things I could have said to that kind-looking woman in just ten seconds: "I believe in science, too. A baby has DNA from the time the egg and sperm meet, and its heart begins to beat at fourteen days. When someone ends an innocent human heartbeat, we call it murder, don't we?"

The words of the song I was listening to pierced my heart:
"I try so hard..to turn away and not become
Another nail to pierce
The skin of One who loves
More deeply than the ocean
More abundant than the tears
Of a world embracing every heartache"*

A world embracing every heartache, I thought. Embracing pain under the name and guise of science, knowledge. And yet it is lack of Knowledge that blinds them, and they swallow the pill, not to kill the pain but to kill the child...to increase the heartache. 

Then came the angry tears—for the second time in recent weeks, I had failed to share truth with someone in an adequate way. I was so unprepared in the moment to give that ten second reply, because I simply hadn't thought to prepare any words to say if someone asked me. I hadn't planned to have to explain my shirt when I debated about what to wear in the morning. I had gone back and forth and finally landed on my Save the Storks shirt because it's one of my favourites. I briefly thought that it was a bummer so few people ever asked me about the shirt. So, I didn't prepare. I walked into a store minding my own business, and my shirt changed the tenor of the evening. One simple choice this morning opened up a conversation... A conversation that I wanted to have, but where I failed to say anything beyond, "That makes me sad," when I had much more I could say. Much more I wish I had said.

How can I give someone food for thought if I'm not prepared with my own questions to counter theirs? I want to be kind, but I also want to make people think. I want to ask something for their own mind to to close around, rather than simply making insipid replies to their questions. 

Last time I was in that same grocery, I was totally unprepared for the conversation that sprang up in the checkout line. There was no way I could have known a question as simple as, "Where do you go to church?" from the cashier would lead to them telling me that they were in the midst of a gender transition. This time I could have been prepared for the questions, but I wasn't. 

Slow as I am, I'm realising that I should pray for the Lord to direct my mind and conversations before I step into that grocery—or any other grocery. And not only the grocery, but also restaurants and the sidewalks of my town; before I drive my car and as I prepare for each day. Perhaps, like the scores of other times I've walked into the grocery or worn this shirt other places, nothing will happen. But what about the one time in the midst of those scores when someone asks the question, when someone blurts out their hurt or their heart? To be ready in that moment means to pray before all of the moments that might be. 



*— Worlds Apart by Jars of Clay

** If you would like to learn more about Save the Storks, this video shows what they do to help women, born and unborn, around the country.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Passing of the Shadow




In the gloaming
across the sere grass
I see a shadow roaming
up the hill, across the loam
I see the dark shape pass.

Golden evening light
has given way
to misty twilight,
the shadow's flight—
or was it descent?—lost in grey.

Who was it
walked that hill?
Who was it
passed by without seeing—
the porch, the cat sleeping still?

And who, indeed,
let their shade-self walk
across the bare grass's screed,
sanding their shadow-feet
upon stem and stalk, root and rock?

The rambler merged
into the falling night,
not changing form, purged
of his soul, but submerged
into a deeper dark, without light...

Light, making stark
edges upon stiff grass,
cutting a shadow-leaf upon bark,
Light, making known the dark
and bidding it to pass.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Empty Hands



I want to hold my worth in my hands;
to trace my accomplishments
in gilded letters on spine and cover;
to smell them in ink and paper.

But my desire is a dream awakened,
and all I can trace are tears
of shame, that I have nothing
to hold out in offering but empty hands. . .

Empty hands—not clenched fists,
angry, or grasping at given gifts;
Empty hands, ready to hold another's,
to serve, to open and receive. . .

To receive trust—a hand placed
in mine by a friend or a child;
to receive that broken bread,
spoken over, speaking over me: "You belong."

To belong, to be welcomed,
is not something I can close my hand
around—my palm is empty
on this pilgrimage, ready to give.

I cannot hold my worth in my hand,
but I can hold His most precious Body;
hold the hand of one in His Body;
be a hand in His Body—empty. . .

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Hallelujah!



Proof of the healing God has been doing in my life and heart the last year or so: I was just hoping that tomorrow was Sunday, because I was looking forward to going to church. I just spent parts of the past four days at church for Holy Week. . .and I wanted to go again tomorrow.

"My heart overflows with a good theme," and "my tongue is the pen of a ready writer..."

Thanks be to God!

Friday, March 9, 2018

What if the Season is Barren




They are like trees along a riverbank bearing luscious fruit each season without fail.

Their leaves shall never wither, and all they do shall prosper.

—Psalm 1:3, The Living Bible



What if the season is barren

rather than bearing?

How if the leaves have curled

and the river has curved

away—away from from this tree, empty?



“Empty? Why art thou empty?”

Asks the Spirit-wind,

rustling through parchèd leaves.

“Have you ceased to delight in

my Word—written, spoken, spilled down?"



In the stillness after the query

hangs an echo from ancient days:

“Who told you you were naked?

Why are you afraid? Have you disobeyed,

eaten what I forbade?”



“Yes, Lord,” I whisper in shame.

“I have known good, but evil is now

natural to my broken frame.

I have not delighted in Your Name,

to Your Word I refused to bow.”



“Yet all these days

I have guarded your ways—

return to me, delight in me.

My arm is not too short to save,

remember this and offer praise.”



Like a long-waited rain to a dry tree

were His entreaties to me.

I took delight as I meditated,

both day and night, upon

His Word—written, spoken, spilled down.



_______

Photo by Peter Oslanec on Unsplash

Friday, January 26, 2018

Dear Elf-Friend

Ten years have disappeared,
Slowly, so-very-slowly in ways,
yet how fast and bleared
go those years of days 

So much has changed, 
and I've changed, too,
but some things stay the same—
like how I miss you

I missed the gift
of your letters, your self,
only when there was a rift
between you and health

Five years, nearly,
since I last saw you, so altered—
I miss you dearly,
even the way your words faltered

So much has stayed:
my foolish words and blind eyes—
but for change I often pray,
and the Lord hears my cries

I miss your songs
and poems, your wonder
and childlike joys, gone,
mind and reality torn asunder

Years and disease
have made you disappear, my friend—
Sorrow brings me to my knees
at how we came to an end

So much might resolve,
but my hopes wane,
as the days and years revolve,
and you don't write again

I miss who you were,
miss what I didn't value
enough when I had it, sir—
oh, if only we knew. . .

If we but knew
how to order our loves,
our minds, our days so few—
how to give thanks to Him above

Had I known
ten years ago,
had I received with thanks,
what difference would that make?


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Unmerited


















Kindness
flowing out
in wine and chocolate chip cookies,
in smiles and eyes, in words and hidden acts

Grace
flowing down
in water and wine and blood
over dark soul nights, to unworthy us

Love
flowing over
from hearts and hands, eyes and lips
in forgiveness again, and again—every time

Gifts
ever flowing
that we cannot earn, cannot repay,
we humbly receive with open, empty hands

Full
over flowing
hands and hearts, eyes and lives—
Lord teach us to receive with gladness and joy!